Rosalinda Celentano as Satan

Satan in “The Passion of Christ”

May 31, 2013

Sympathy for the Devil

By Robert Barron

Some years ago, The New Yorker ran a cartoon that perfectly lampooned the loopy ideology of “inclusion” that has come to characterize so much of the Christian world. It showed a neat and tidy church, filled with an attentive congregation. The pastor was at the podium, introducing a guest speaker. “In accordance with our policy of equal time,” he said, “I would like now to give our friend the opportunity to present an alternative point of view.”

Sitting next to him, about to rise to speak, was the devil, dressed perfectly and tapping the pages of his prepared text on his knee.

 I was put in mind of that cartoon when I read a sermon delivered recently by Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. Addressing a congregation in Curaçao, Venezuela, Bishop Jefferts Schori praised the beauty of (what else?) diversity, but lamented the fact that so many people are still frightened by what is other or different: “Human beings have a long history of discounting and devaluing difference, finding it offensive or even evil.” Now I suppose that if one were to make the right distinctions — differentiating between that which is simply unusual and that which is intrinsically bad — one might be able coherently to make this point.

But the Bishop moved, instead, in an astonishing direction, finding an example of the lamentable exclusivity she is talking about in the behavior of the Apostle Paul himself. In the 16th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find the story of Paul’s first visit to the Greek town of Philippi. We are told that one day, while on his way to prayer, Paul was accosted by a slave girl “who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling” (Acts. 16:16). This demon-possessed child followed Paul and his companions up and down for several days, shouting, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Having finally had enough of her, Paul turned to the young woman and addressed the wicked spirit within her, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts. 16:18). And the demon, we are told, came out of her instantly.

Up until last month in Curaçao, the entire Christian interpretive tradition read that passage as an account of deliverance, as the story of the liberation of a young woman who had been enslaved both to dark spiritual powers and to the nefarious human beings who had exploited her.

But Bishop Jefferts Schori reads it as a tale of patriarchal oppression and intolerance. She preaches, “But Paul is annoyed, perhaps, for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.” The Bishop correctly points out that the girl was saying true things about Paul and his friends, but demons say true things all the time in the New Testament. Think of the dark spirits who consistently confess that Jesus is the Holy One of God. That a Christian bishop would characterize the demonic possession of a young girl as something “beautiful and holy” simply beggars belief.

But things get even more bizarre. We are told in Acts that the girl’s owners are furious that Paul has effectively robbed them of their principal source of income and that they therefore stir up controversy and get him thrown in prison. But on the Bishop’s reading, Paul is just getting what he deserved: “That’s pretty much where he put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she too shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does — maybe more so!” She seems to rejoice that a mid-first-century Philippian version of the liberal thought police had the good sense to imprison the patriarchal Paul for his deep intolerance of fallen spirits! You see why this sermon reminded me of that New Yorker cartoon.

That night in prison, we are told, Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise to God and preached the Gospel to their jailors. Jefferts Schori reads this, strangely, as Paul coming to his senses at last, remembering God, dropping the annoyance he felt toward the girl, and embracing the spirit of compassion. Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler and clearer to say that Paul, who had never “forgotten God,” quite consistently showed compassion both toward the possessed girl and the unevangelized jailor, delivering the former and preaching the Gospel to the latter?

What is at the root of this deeply wrong-headed homily is a conflation of early 21st century values of inclusion and toleration with the great Biblical value of love. To love is to will the good of the other as other. As such, love can involve — indeed, must involve — a deep intolerance toward wickedness and a clear willingness to exclude certain forms of life, behavior, and thought. When inclusivity and toleration emerge as the supreme goods — as they have in much of our society today — then love devolves into something vague, sentimental and finally dangerous.

How dangerous? Well, we might begin to see the devil himself as beautiful and holy.

Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary.


The Parochialism of ‘Diversity’

Explaining the naiveté and hypocrisy of multiculturalism.

The Wall Street Journal Online


Boston Marathon bombing defendant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his deceased brother, Tamerlan, lived in Cambridge, Mass., a famously liberal college town. To many of their erstwhile neighbors, that is a disturbing irony.

Consider this arresting quote from The Wall Street Journal‘s April 20 story about the brothers: “Attorney Andrea Kramer said Friday her sons played on the [Cambridge Rindge and Latin School] varsity soccer team while Dzhokhar played on the junior-varsity squad. Dzhokhar ‘wasn’t “them.” He was “us,” ‘ Ms. Kramer said. ‘He was Cambridge’ and part of a community whose ‘strength and beauty’ is its diversity.”

Today’s New York Times features a whole story on the same theme, under the headline “Link to Marathon Bombing Rattles City Known for Its Tolerance.” “Cantabrigians,” as they portentously call themselves, are confused, although they have not lost their capacity for self-congratulation:

Jeff Young, the superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools, said the experience had been disorienting for the district. “How is it,” he asked, “that a person who grew up in a place like this ends up in a place like that?” . . .

“In another school, a kid like that could have felt really alienated, but that’s really not the case at that high school,” said Nancy Alach, a parent of one of Mr. Tsarnaev’s classmates. “It’s hard to figure out how he felt so angry or alienated, that he was able to get to the point of doing something like that.”

Bob Binstock, a 55-year-old writer who has lived here for more than 35 years, found himself looking repeatedly at a photograph of one of his daughters and Mr. Tsarnaev, who graduated alongside her.

“I think that Cambridge is like a paradise of some kind,” Mr. Binstock said. “The fact that you can say about Dzhokhar, for instance, is that he was probably more welcomed and more easily incorporated into the environment at C.R.L.S. than he would have been at almost every other high school in the country, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t big gaps.”

Mr. Binstock’s daughter, Rae, said she and her classmates found themselves defending a hometown that many of them, now in college, are trying to move beyond. “Respect is a big part of it, and it’s a very big part of Cambridge,” said Ms. Binstock, 19, who is studying playwriting and anthropology at Columbia University. “Other communities don’t have to deal with the idea that lots of communities of different people have to coexist.”

Her father continued, “Maybe this is something we can learn from this.” He added: “Cambridge is very welcoming, and it’s very diverse. Maybe the acceptance to that blinds us to the fact that there may be more difficulty than people realize.”

Cambridge, it is clear, is a town full of communal narcissists. What’s striking about this passage is that while the Cantabridgians quoted are quite articulate in describing their own professed virtues, when the subject turns to the cognitive dissonance caused by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s alleged crimes, they are reduced to blather: “That doesn’t mean there aren’t big gaps.” “There may be more difficulty than people realize.” What does any of that even mean?

One is tempted to chuckle at their naiveté and leave it at that. But it’s important to understand the way these people think, because their way of thinking has wide cultural influence. And naiveté isn’t the only problem with the ideologues of “diversity” or “multiculturalism.” They’re also quite frequently hypocritical, which is to say that they are selectively and sometimes harshly intolerant even as they extol tolerance. Anyone who’s spent time on an American college campus in the past 30 years–and that includes a large proportion of Cambridge residents–is familiar with that phenomenon.

The naiveté and the hypocrisy both are the result of a parochialism that is at the heart of this supposedly cosmopolitan ideology.

[image] WNEM-TVWould Cambridge tolerate this?

To illustrate the point, let’s try a thought experiment based on a local news story from 750 miles away. WNEM-TV in Saginaw, Mich., reports that in nearby Bay City, an unidentified man “is stirring controversy in his neighborhood after hanging flags that many find racially insensitive.” The banner is the Confederate Battle Flag, also known as the Stars and Bars. “The worst part, [a neighbor] says, is the confederate flag recently replaced a flag with a swastika on it.”

“I was driving by one day last week and saw it and I thought, Wow,” Darold Newton of the local NAACP chapter tells the station. “Newton admits flying the flag is protected under the first amendment. Little can be done to get the neighbor to remove it. But he says he’s still shocked that someone would put it in their window in such a diverse community.”

Let us pause to note that Newton is a model of true tolerance. The flag shocks and offends him, but he understands that in a free country, its owner has the right to display it on his own property. Other neighbors, according to the station, “say the flag must go,” but apparently they haven’t sought to have it removed by force. The Bay City police “say they haven’t received any complaints about the flags.”

Now for the thought experiment. Suppose the Bay City Confederate picked up stakes, moved to Cambridge, Mass., and put the Stars and Bars in the window of his new house there so that it was visible from the street. How would our tolerant Cantabridgians react?

Perhaps with the same restraint Darold Newton and the other Bay City people have shown, though you’d have to give us pretty good odds to get us to bet on that outcome. It seems safe to surmise, however, that their attitude would not be welcoming–that, to borrow Andrea Kramer’s terms, they would view their new neighbors as one of “them” rather than “us.”

Multiculturalists are no less prone than other human beings to be hostile to out-groups. It’s just that they are willing to accept almost anyone foreign, or otherwise identifiably different, into their in-group. The only out-groups they readily recognize are familiar, domestic ones, like the “other communities” that, according to Rae Binstock, “don’t have to deal with the idea that lots of communities of different people have to coexist.” It all goes back to oikophobia.

A more abstract form of this parochialism is the multiculturalists’ frequent insistence that “only white people can be racist.” In this view, racism is perhaps the greatest moral failing of which human beings are capable–but nonwhites are absolved of moral responsibility for their racial prejudices.

But moral responsibility is the essence of humanity. It is what sets Homo sapiens apart from other animals. Assigning moral responsibility to whites while denying it to nonwhites is therefore a way of dehumanizing the latter. Multiculturalism turns out to be a disguised form of white supremacy.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. Jean-Francois Orsini says:

    Your Excellency,

    I teach management. Modern management is all about the goodness of diversity. Most of my students are black women and they all share in the cult of diversity because they believe it benefits them. But I am telling them that inherently the concept of the cult of diversity is opposite to the search of excellency, it tolerates so much that it tolerates all kinds of errors and wrongs. God bless.


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