So, I tried reading all of Jody Bottum’s 9,368 word endorsement of legalizing same-sex marriage. I honestly did. When the Commonweal piece was brought to my attention Saturday morning, I dutifully settled in with a cup of coffee and began slogging my way through it.
Around the 1,000 word mark, however, I realized this piece was more worthy of skimming than reading. That’s the point where he fell into the heresy of Americanism, noting that “We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”
That tidbit of heretical wisdom and just about every other shortcoming of the essay is being roundly criticized elsewhere on the Catholic internet. I don’t disagree with a one of those criticisms. The essay was interminably long, rambling, self-indulgent, shoddily reasoned, and woefully deficient in its grasp of first principles—of what really matters.
What struck me the most, however, was this line:
“The goal of the church today must primarily be the re-enchantment of reality.”
That’s a lovely idea. It truly is. And not entirely wrong. The culture doesn’t know what a beautiful mystery the world is. It doesn’t understand how everything and everybody in the universe is rich with divine meaning and purpose, revealing God and possessing the potential to draw us closer to God. As a people, we’ve stopped seeing the world as a mystery. We’ve lost the sacramental worldview that guided Western Civilization for so long. We now look at reality through the prism of modernism. And that’s a bad thing. It needs to stop. It needs to change.
But it’s not going to change if the Church ignores reality and says it’s A-OK with her if people do whatever they like with whomever they like, natural law and moral law be damned. One of the pre-conditions for re-enchanting reality, you see, is actually living in reality and acknowledging it for what it is.
Even more fundamentally, while I’m all for the re-enchanting reality program, I have a hard time squaring Bottum’s notion that it should be priority number one for the Church with the Jesus whom I’ve encountered in the Gospels.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly re-reading the Gospel of Matthew. And it unsettles me. Rightly I think.
There, Jesus doesn’t talk a whole lot about re-enchantment. But he does talk about sin, repentance, and conversion. He talks about giving up everything and following him. He talks about poverty and persecution, heavy yokes and light yokes, feasting and fasting, loving and dying, Heaven and Hell.
Throughout Matthew, Jesus’ general expectation seems to be that the world will find neither him nor his disciples all that enchanting, that they will, in fact, be reviled and hated. He also doesn’t expect his teachings to bring peace, but rather division, pitting brother against brother. He says few will choose to walk the narrow way, and most will walk the wide and easy path that takes them straight to perdition.
How Jesus must have baffled those who watched him heal and preach, forgive and condemn. At times, they had to think him a madman or megalomaniac, with all that forgiving of sins and calling people to pick up their cross, leave their loved ones, sell their possessions, and follow him.
The God-Man of the Gospels was a mystery then, and he’s a mystery now. He confounded the Israelites and he’s been confounding people of every color and nationality ever since. He is confounding. A sign of contradiction—that’s what Simeon called him.
That’s also what the Church calls herself. She too is a sign of contradiction, a sign that is spoken against, a mother who tells her children not what they want to hear but what they need to hear, a teacher who proclaims the wisdom of the ages not the fancies of a passing moment.
That’s why, regardless of what Bottum says, the world hating the Church for teaching what she’s always taught doesn’t mean she’s doing something wrong. It means she’s doing something right. And her abandoning that teaching for some nebulous program of re-enchantment wouldn’t further her mission; it would betray her mission.
In the end, it comes down to this: Beauty, truth, and goodness walk side by side. They can’t be separated. At least not for long. They don’t do well without one another. They depend on each other.
G.K. Chesterton, for all his love of enchantment, knew that. He would have thought any man who pursued the mystery of beauty without the aid of truth and the goal of goodness a fool. And he would have called any man who called for the re-enchantment of reality through the denial of reality a damned fool.
Bottum quotes Chesterton in the Commonweal piece. All his calls for re-enchantment evoke him. But, despite Bottum’s intelligence and talent, he doesn’t understand Chesterton. Chesterton would have none of the compromising or surrendering Bottum proposes. He wouldn’t dignify it with the word madness, madness being to Chesterton a particular manifestation of genius.
No, I think if he had any advice for Bottum and for those wont to follow Bottum’s lead, it would be this: A little less Chesterton. A little more Jesus. A lot less nonsense.