Author: David Cloutier

Brooks and Dreher: Getting Beyond Benedict and Niebuhr

David Brooks wades into the Benedict Option debate by posing a contrast between religious stances of purity and irony. Could he mean sectarians versus Niebuhrian realists?!? There’s something I know about. Brooks opts for the Niebuhrian realism, countering the Benedict Option with a recommendation of “Orthodox Pluralism,” capturing well an optimistic Niebuhrian pessimism (realism!), hanging onto “contact with a transcendent ideal” while recognizing that “those purists who aim to be higher than the angels often end up lower than the beasts.” Predictably, the next paragraph strikes into the usual suspects, like medieval inquisitors and “modern Islamic radicals” – though...

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Back to Basics: What is Christianity?

In the midst of reading up on diverse reviews of Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option, (here) (here) (here), before going to see him on a panel in DC next week, I realized the question of what Christians are to do in present-day American culture should go back to the more basic question of what Christianity actually is. Sounds boringly theologian-ish. But we spend enough words arguing about other stuff. I think there is a widespread, often implicit identification of Christianity with three core commitments: A relationship to God, mediated through some kind of practice that nurtures an...

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2nd Sunday of Lent: The Original Call

There is a sense in which the real beginning of the Bible is Genesis 12. If we look at where the gospels begin, it is with Matthew’s genealogy. The gospels reveal God fully in Christ, but who is Christ? “Son of Abraham.” And who is Abraham? He is the one by whom God will bless all nations. And how do we meet him in the Bible? When God tells him, “Go forth.” Here, in the story of the first promise to Abram, we meet the whole architecture of the biblical drama of salvation. We hear a call. It is...

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Unsustainable Cities

The (not failing!) New York Times had two extensive articles recently on the chronic environmental challenges faced in two of the world’s largest cities, Mexico City and London. From Mexico City, the Times details the extreme water shortages that threaten a city already known for its challenges with air pollution. The water shortage problem is forcing more and more reliance on fewer and fewer functional aquifers; this in a city that, when 300,000 Aztecs occupied it (instead of 20 million people today), was literally a city of lakes. Worse, the depletion of aquifers appears to have an even more problematic side effect: the city is sinking… and not at a slow rate either. A Times graphic suggests much of the city sinks 5 to 9 inches per year. Even worse, the sinking has affected the so-called “Grand Canal,” which is designed to remove all the waste water from the central city. The problem? The sinking means that in some places, gravity no longer does its work, and so the canal doesn’t flow or has to be “helped along” by massive (gas-guzzling) pumping stations. the city, with a legacy of struggling government, has no large-scale operation for recycling wastewater or collecting rainwater, forcing it to expel a staggering 200 billion gallons of both via crippled sewers like the Grand Canal. Mexico City now imports as much as 40 percent of...

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Building Catholic Minds?

How does one teach the first theology class to undergraduates? This is a question close to the heart (and heartburn) of virtually everyone I know in theology. In the most recent Christian Century, Aristotle Papanikolaou of Fordham has a marvelous take on this, one I read with particular interest as I am in the midst of teaching this first course for the first time at a new institution. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I emerge from my two sections wondering whether I’m accomplishing… well, what is it that we are trying to do in this class, exactly? Papanikolaou’s article...

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