American Literary Slugfest: Papist Upstarts vs. Established Prots

Outsiders?

Outsiders?

In his essay “Religion and Literature” T.S. Eliot makes a most reasonable critical observation, especially given the longstanding close tie between literature and theology (“religion” is a problematic concept as I’ve noted here):

“Literary criticism should be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological standpoint.”

Paul Giles takes up this mantle, when it comes to American Catholicism, in his path-breaking study American Catholic Arts and Fictions: Culture, Ideology, Aesthetics.  There isn’t enough time to go into the details of how he understands the Catholic imagination versus the Protestant imagination.  We’ll leave that discussion for later along with mentions of David Tracy and Andrew Greeley.

For now: wouldn’t this make for one hell of a slugfest (put away the salt Seattle residents)?

“It would seem reasonable to suggest that certain excellent writers have been undervalued because the (explicit or implicit) ideologies of their texts do not accord with what are conceived, often unconsciously, to be American literary values . . . It is this assumption also that may have contributed to the continued underestimation of Dreiser, Kerouac, Mary McCarthy, John O’Hara, J. F. Powers, Edwin O’Connor.  The Emerson-Frost-Stevens triad is a familiar combination in American literary history; Santayana-Tate-Frank O’Hara less so.”

Modern Religious Pluralism is Neither Radical nor Modern

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Robert Wilken: not impressed with pluralism.

Commentators on religion are always harping about how our contemporary “radically pluralist” situation is unprecedented, and more likely than not, catastrophic for the Christian tradition.

Self-styled radical theologians such as John Hick in God Has Many Names, Charles E. Winquist in Desiring Theology, plus John Shelby Spong and Raimondo Panikkar in academically less respectable volumes (whose names I shall not mention), argue that Christian theology must change or die in the face of this revolutionary situation.

Robert Louis Wilken, one of our most important scholars of early Christianity, believes nothing could be further from the truth.  In the volume Remembering the Christian Past (Eerdmans, 1995) he proves that we’re only replaying the debates of early (and medieval) Christians:

“Christians, however, have long had to face the challenge of other religions.  For the first four hundred years of Christian history a traditional religious culture (which was not, as once thought, moribund) set the agenda for many Christian intellectuals, and its spokesmen energetically contested what seemed to be the [exclusivist] pretensions of the new religion.”

As much as I hate grading undergraduate essays that begin with “ever since the dawn of the universe / man / culture / religion / Christianity” or with “those who cannot remember the past . . .” the case of religious pluralism is an instance where one of those phrases apply.

Take a look at the arguments of Porphyry, Celsus, Cicero, and they all pretty much sound like Symmachus when he argues against the Christians:

“We gaze at the same stars, the sky belongs to all, the same universe surrounds us.  What difference does it make by whose wisdom someone seeks the truth?  We cannot attain to so great a mystery by one road.”

They also sound like today’s “radical theologians.”  Closer acquaintance with history should turn our notions who the conservatives and liberals are in the religious pluralism debates upside-down.  It makes all the difference.

As luck would have it, the book is available at a massive 60% discount from amazon.com.