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Luke Coppen's Catholic Herald Blog

A Church of Flannery O’Connors

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Ross Douthat challenges Karen Armstrong’s claim that the Church Fathers were undogmatic spiritual seekers. It’s false, he says, to present them as “liberal Episcopalians avant la lettre”.

It’s considerably more difficult than Armstrong allows to separate thought from action, teaching from conduct, and dogma from practice in religious history. The dogmas tend to sustain the practices, and vice versa. It’s possible to gain some sort of ‘knack’ for a religion without believing that all its dogmas are literally true: a spiritually inclined person can no doubt draw nourishment from the Roman Catholic Mass without believing that the Eucharist literally becomes the body and blood of Christ. But without the doctrine of transubstantiation, the Mass would not exist to provide that nourishment. Not every churchgoer will share Flannery O’Connor’s opinion that if the Eucharist is ‘a symbol, to hell with it’. But the Catholic faith has endured for 2,000 years because of Flannery O’Connors, not Karen Armstrongs.

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Written by Luke Coppen

October 6, 2009 at 9:22 am

One Response

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  1. Armstrong’s particular theory comes through in her introduction to A Case for God. In my view, she comes very close to reducing religion to ethics, which is something liberal Protestantism has been criticized for doing. Take, for example, “God is love.” I interpret this as teaching that love is the source or basis of existence. Even though our acts of love (and feelings!…which Armstrong also discounts relative to conduct) involve “God is love” being actualized, there is also the sense irrespective of one’s conduct that existence itself is love. I take the transcendent wisdom of the latter to be just as important as conduct in religious terms. I’ve just posted a critique (http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/a-case-for-god/).

    A Free Spirit

    October 10, 2009 at 10:44 pm


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