A Church of Flannery O’Connors
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.