Ross Douthat's Sunday column argues that the one thing Pope Francis must do is restore the moral credibility of the Catholic Church hierarchy. In explaining why he delivers more of his typically clear-sighted cultural analysis:
In that culture — our culture — priestly sex abuse and corruption in the Vatican aren’t just seen as evidence that all men are sinners. They’re seen as evidence that the church has no authority to judge what is and isn’t sin, that the renunciation Catholicism preaches mostly warps and rarely fulfills, and that the world’s approach to sex (and money, and ambition) is the only sane approach there is.
Such worldliness should not be confused with atheism. Our age is still religious; it’s just made its peace with human appetites and all the varied ways they intertwine. From the sermons of Joel Osteen to the epiphanies of “Eat, Pray, Love,” our spiritual oracles still urge us to seek the supernatural, the numinous, the divine. They just dismiss the idea that the divine could possibly want anything for us except for what we already want for ourselves.
Religion without renunciation has obvious appeal. But its cultural consequences are not all self-evidently positive. Absent ideals of chastity, people are less likely to form families. Absent ideals of solidarity, more people live and age and die alone. The social landscape that we take for granted is one that many earlier generations would have regarded as dystopian: sex and reproduction have both been ruthlessly commodified, adult freedoms are enjoyed at the expense of children’s interests, fewer children grow up with both a mother and a father, and fewer and fewer children are even born at all.
So there are shadows on our liberated society, doubts that creep in around the edges, moments when scolds and moralists and even popes almost seem to have a point. Which helps explain, perhaps, the strange, self-contradictory defensiveness that greets the Catholic Church’s persistent refusal to simply bless every new development and call it progress. (Nobody cares what the pope thinks — and I demand that he think exactly as I do!)
How refreshing to read that -- in the pages of The New York Times no less! -- on the same day "enormously popular preacher and author" Rob Bell gave a mushy endorsement to same-sex marriage because: "I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs -- I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are."
I'm glad Jesus and the Apostles didn't have that attitude! I suspect the church they founded (unpopular teachings and all) will endure long after Rob Bell's fifteen minutes of fame have passed.