Ages ago, during my journey into the Catholic Church, I stumbled upon Mark Shea's old blog Catholic and Enjoying It. Later, I had the chance to meet Mark at the EWTN studios. We chatted for a while. He seemed somewhat engaged as we discussed my conversion. Mostly he rose up and took notice when I mentioned that, before I entered the Church, I spent years looking into the Catholic Faith. What I found, more often than not, was people who told me that being Catholic means, well, whatever you want it to mean. Catholics believe all sorts of things really, at least nowadays. Most seemed to find that refreshing. Which sounded to me more of a Protestant caricature than most Protestants I knew.
Mark made a quip about Catholics being the biggest obstacle for non-Catholics entering the Church. Or some such. He assured me that this was NOT Catholicism. Catholicism is not a salad bar, where you can pick and choose your beliefs and favorite doctrines. It isn't Protestantism, where you chase after your own version of the Faith and build a new church based on the latest. You can't just take parts of the Church's teachings and ditch them because you don't like them. In answering a question I emailed him requesting more specifics, he made it clear that the Magisterium isn't the latest opinions about Church teaching. And we can't just go back through church history, find obscure teachings or writings by even the Church Fathers, and then use isolated statements to reject what the Church has universally affirmed and taught through the ages.
Which is why I link to this. I mostly ignore Mark at this point. But this is worth noting. Mark has linked to Orthodox firebrand David Bentley Hart. To traditional and little-o Orthodox Christians, Hart is a bit like John Dominic Crossan of the infamous Jesus Seminar (Mark Shea used to eviscerate Crossan for his liberal theological approach to the Faith). Or John Shelby Spong, who incorporated a liberation emphasis with his already liberal theological approach. That is, not only can much of the Faith be dismissed as erroneous, but let's not forget the evil sexism, racism and other phobic teachings. Or, in older days, Hart might be a Moltmann, or a Bultmann figure, or any one of the 20th Century liberal theologians of the Protestant world assuring us that large swaths of Christian teaching must simply be left behind.
In short, Hart rejects fealty to the historical faith. He has absolutely no problem saying the Church has gotten it wrong for, oh, these last 2000 years. Like many who tack left, he has a knack for displaying contempt for those yokels who haven't seen the light. An Orthodox writer I followed during my time with the Orthodox Church posted on Hart's book, in which Hart calls for an end to the concept of heresies (smart move), as well as the doctrine of Hell, and an even more extreme form of Theosis, or becoming like God:
Obviously not a fan. And a bit harsh for my taste. But he's defending the Orthodox Church against the same attacks that liberal theologians have been launching at the Western Church for generations. Attacks grounded in the same secular and theologically liberal interpretations of the Scriptures and the Church's history. You know - you can't take the miracles seriously, the prophets were written after the fact, as were Jesus' statements suggesting foreknowledge, that Isaiah or much of the New Testament was written by anyone other than who tradition says, we can't believe there ever existed a Noah, Moses, Abraham, David (or in recent years, the apostles), or that many of the teachings of Scripture and historical Christianity are from a barbaric time of the past to be rejected. That sort of thing.
What is noteworthy is how Mark, who once railed against this liberal relativism where the historical Christian Faith is concerned, seems to hang on Hart's every word. He does say he's not prepared to embrace Hart's certainty that the Church has been full of BS where the doctrine of Hell is concerned. Nonetheless, he appears to exalt Hart, allow for that particular revised take on Church doctrine, and all while Hart is doing what Mark insisted should never, ever be done. At least what should never, ever be confused with Catholic teaching.
In addition, look at the comments. Notice the casual way that commenters say they used to believe in Hell, but they're felling much better now. Thanks goodness they threw that doctrine out the window. See Mark's statement to me about not being able to do that.
Yet such is post-Christian era neo-Christianity. We can actually say - with a straight face - that the first twenty centuries of Church teaching is not a deal breaker. In our post-Christian era, it's as if we are prepared to rewrite the entire Christian faith in our image. Or at least the image demanded by our post-Christian age.
I can't imagine anything that will render not only the Catholic Church, but the Christian Faith as a whole, more irrelevant than the constant call to reimagine and reject anything and everything from the Faith's first 2000 years. It doesn't seem to be working, as more and more young people are turning away and outright denouncing everything the biblical witness brought to the world. Which makes perfect senses. They've been taught by our society for generations that religion is a lie we tell ourselves anyway. This merely confirms the lesson. Plus, who's to say we're right this time? Certainly it's questionable we're right about some invisible God in an invisible heaven with an invisible Spirit, when the Church can't seem to get a grip on the basics. Best to use Sunday mornings to sleep in at this point.
BTW, in case you're wondering, for many Orthodox Christians, Hart was a sort of Scott Hahn, or for Protestants, a James Dobson type. A layperson they admired because he is quite brilliant, a deep thinker, and not afraid to say what he thinks. And for a long time, his energies were directed at stomping for adherence to the Faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Somewhere and at some time, however, he turned a hard left, and more than one Orthodox observer has echoed the concerns and anger of the fellow above. How and why this happened is, I'm sure, a bigger story than this little blog can speak to. But it has caused as much concern in Orthodox circles as the rise of liberal critical rejection of the historical Faith did to us Westerners. Or at least concern among those who take the historical teachings of the Faith seriously.