Is He Dangerous?

Is He Dangerous? January 20, 2012

The “he” in this case is Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, the French Jesuit, anthropologist and theologian.  In a conversation this past week I heard his theological writings referred to as “dangerous, particularly for young minds.”    It turns out that this was a paraphrase of a 1962 condemnation of de Chardin’s writing by the Holy Office (now Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith):

“Several works of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, some of which were posthumously published, are being edited and are gaining a good deal of success.

“Prescinding from a judgement about those points that concern the positive sciences, it is sufficiently clear that the above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine.

“For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers.”

In 1981 this “monitum”  (“warning”) was still treated as in force, though it was not quoted directly, only referred to.

I am open to some discussion about de Chardin.  I am only familiar with him in passing, but what I have seen makes me wish I had the time and energy to read him more closely.  He was probably the first Catholic theologian to take evolution seriously, both as a physical reality and for its metaphysical implications.  He may indeed have gotten things wrong, but it seems to me that he was gloriously wrong in parts, and engaging with these errors and correcting them would be a profoundly enriching exercise.

My real reason for this post, however, is to question this notion of being “dangerous to young minds.”    Look more closely to whom the 1962 warning was issued:  university presidents, rectors of seminaries, and religious superiors (presumably responsible for the formation of their brethren.    In other words:  college aged men and women in religious studies, some or all of whom will obtain advanced degrees.  (I am passing over high school students in minor seminaries; they are a mere bagatelle.)   That such students should not be required, indeed should not be allowed to read “dangerous” works strikes me as profoundly contrary to the goal of their education.  As a teacher, I want my students to engage with texts that are on the edge—indeed, at times, over the edge.   They don’t have to agree with them (indeed very often I don’t agree with them), but nevertheless it is important to engage these kinds of arguments and points of view.   This is true whether or not the arguments contradict the teachings of the Church.  In fact, I would argue that it is more important when they are contrary to what we hold most dear.  If faith is to be more than unquestioned formulas mechanically repeated, it needs to be challenged.

I think that this warning is closely related to the argument that the Church “must” take  such actions in order  “to protect the simple faithful.”  I find this attitude condescending to the People of God and in particular to the laity.  This mindest was well described by  Richard McCormick, SJ:

“Unfortunately, the Vatican’s view of today’s laity seems to be captured in the odious term “simple faithful.”  In a well-publicized paper given at St. Michael’s College, Toronto, on April 15, 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger put it straightforwardly:  “The Church’s main job is the care of the faith of the simple.  A truly reverential awe should arise from this which is the internal rule of thumb for every theologian.”  Moreover, Cardinal Ratzinger has made this the governing rule for ecclesiastical authorities as well.  Their primary responsibility is to protect the simple faithful against theologians who criticize in any way whatever an official teaching of the church.  “The care of the faith of the ‘little ones,'” he insisted, “must always be more important than the fear of some conflict with the powerful.”

This careful protection of the “simple faithful” seems to presume that they will all remain simple and must be protected in this “innocence.”  There is no sense that the responsibility of the theologian (and the bishop) is to help educate and elevate the faithful so that they can engage more fully and deeply with their own faith.   Simply telling them that they cannot read a theologian or engage with certain ideas does them a great disservice.  As St. Paul said,

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. (1 Cor 13:11)

Protecting the “simple faithful” keeps them as children rather than helping them put away “childish things.”

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  • Julia Smucker

    Sounds like Rahner’s idea of engaging doctrine: to question it is to honor it. Do we think it so weak that it won’t stand up to questions?

    I would just issue one caution about McCormick’s generalization of “the Vatican’s view”, which ends up being just as stereotyped as the kind of condescension he is critiquing. As evidenced by the inspiration for your post, that condescending view of the “simple faithful” can be found among the magisterium and laity alike, and the same is true of a much more respectful and dynamic view of the laity (need I mention Vatican II?). But I hope that my caution does not obscure my fundamental pedagogical agreement with you.

  • I have a mixed mind on all this. On the one hand, as an intellectual myself, I too scoff at the notion of needing to be “protected” from ideas.

    Then I remember my mom, and grandma, and uncles, and cousins…and they are not intellectuals, some are frankly idiots, and they are NEVER going to engage ANYTHING on a deeper level, let alone their faith, and reading Chardin would probably just confuse and scandalize them. And then I have to think maybe there is something to this notion of protecting people after all.

    I think we “in the know” tend to over-estimate the mental powers of the masses.

    • Melody

      Ouch! You know your family, I don’t, I’ll take your word for it.
      But I agree with David that the “…responsibility of the theologian (and the bishop) is to help educate and elevate the faithful so that they can engage more fully and deeply with their own faith.”
      And I am grateful for my own family, none of whom had a string of degrees, but all of whom loved a good theological discussion (sometimes argument!)

    • Julia Smucker

      I think that we Catholic intellectuals tend rather to underestimate the level of engagement of the proverbial “people in the pews”.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I tend to agree with Julia, Many years ago, the old left believed that the working class was just as able to master complicated intellectual ideas as their “betters.” There were study groups and lectures and various “schools” whose intent was to equip working men and women with the intellectual tools they needed to confront capitalists on their own ground. In my field, this led to a charming book entitled “Mathematics for the Millions”: a serious attempt to make substantive mathematics accessible. In the Catholic Worker movement, this led to the “round table discussions” that continue to this day.

      The masses may not have been shaped to appreciate the nuances of cutting edge theology, but to assume that it is beyond their “mental powers” is to dismiss them unfairly.

      • Who made this a CLASS issue??? That’s just bizarre to me. There are plenty of upper middle class idiots. This isn’t about class warfare, it’s about living in a world where stupid people bastardize things they hear (admittedly in sometimes very clever ways) because they don’t really get it. Ever seen a discussion on an internet forum or comment thread? Of course you have. Giving big words to those with small brains is like handing a gun to an infant; many people simply lack the capacity to meta-critique what they’re given, and will simply be overwhelmed by ANY authority who can talk above their heads, and so be mesmerized and automatically defer rather than question what they’re being told. I think it’s best they stick to their Baltimore Catechism.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Sorry, I was tired and didn’t fully articulate my thought. My point was not about class but about anti-elitism, and the Old Left view that working men could handle advanced education was in direct response to the patronizing attitude of the economic elites that the working class were unable of benefiting from education, and were fit only to work in factories under their benevolent hand. I feel as though you are making the same argument here in the context of the Church and matters of faith.

      • Except I’m not defining any one “class” as inherently stupid except “stupid people” themselves! I’m not saying that ALL laity are dumb, for example, so keep it to the clergy. I’m not saying all blue collars are dumb, so keep it to the white collars. I’m not defining the group I’m talking about as anything other than “stupid people” considered as a group itself, and such people most certainly exist and exist in great numbers (among both lay and clergy in the Catholic Church!) This is why we must be very careful into whose hands we put ideas (or, rather, words that they won’t really get, but whose idiocy-distorted half-understanding will be extremely dangerous)

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: “elitism is elitism, no matter how small.”

        However you define them, you are setting up an “other”: unter menschen who must be protected and isolated from “dangerous ideas” lest something terrible happen. You seem to believe that some self-appointed elite must protect them from themselves. I just don’t buy it. And yes, I have met a lot of “stupid people.” The solution is education and engagement.

      • Education can’t change IQ…

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Actually, it can, depending on how you define IQ. And IQ is irrelevant: most “stupid” people do not have mental or cognitive disabilities: they are poorly educated and poorly formed in critical thinking skills. They have been treated as objects and not as subjects in their education. But this can be rectified if there is a will on the part of teacher and student to make the change.

      • I’ll introduce you to some of my idiot uncles. If you can refine them enough so that they pass for a duke at the ambassador’s garden party, I’ll give you half a crown…

  • Amen. Nothing else to say. 🙂

  • John ODonnell

    Note the year of the Notice: 1962. I’d be surprised if it has much effect today. But, then again…. I agree with your position that we should engage all opinion. Having said that, I find Teilhard difficult to engage. Jack Mahoney, S.J., has a wonderful book out, Christianity in Evolution, that has several references to Teilhard and is very readable.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, someone was citing this statement with approval, so I guess it has some effect.

  • Two thoughts:

    One is that when de Chardin was first being published in English in the 1960s I was young and still a Protestant, convinced that if I became a Catholic I would have to quit thinking. I tried to read Chardin’s works then, but couldn’t understand them at all. But they did convince me that Catholics were capable of serious and rigorous thought–more serious and rigorous than any Protestant I was aware of. For example when Barth and Chardin are compared simply on the basis of the quality and depth of their thought, Chardin comes across as profound and cutting edge while Barth then and now strikes me as an uncritical defender of the tradition he inherited from the past. So for me Chardin was dangerous indeed–but as a danger to my Protestant biases.

    Just in the past few weeks I’ve been re-reading de Chardin and it’s been a revelation. I’m convinced that his only danger was that he was half a century or more ahead of this time. We just weren’t ready for him in the first half of the 20th century. But thank God he didn’t allow the opposition of his clerical opponents to keep him from writing and thinking, even if they were able to keep him from publishing. Only now are we mentally equipped to receive the gifts he has to give us, and they are major ones–far greater than I had been aware of.

    My second thought is that St. Thomas Aquinas had no fear in reporting the mistaken positions taken by others, and in representing them quite fairly. He understood that doing so is the best way to refute error–and the best way to gain better understanding of one’s own position. This is now a basic feature of all the ecumenical dialogues taking place. My participation in them has convinced me that we very often have the most to learn from those we most disagree with.

  • Are some bishops included in the “simple faithful”? Because some things some of them say show little mastery of basic theological thought.

    Anyhow, as someone who’s raised questions about church teaching and spends his time reading “dangerous” authors like Nietzsche and Derrida, I’m obviously not in the “keep the faithful from hearing criticism of church teaching” camp. Thinking is a dangerous activity, whether the thoughts are two steps from heaven or two steps from hell.

    I see a place for voiced concern, warning, guidance, instruction, and admonishment, but not so much for sheltering the ignorant in a bubble.

  • Kurt

    A number of years ago, I was making a spiritual pilgrimage to that most holy of all cities — Hyde Park, NY — to venerate the equals to the Apostles, Franklin and Eleanor. It was recommended to me to have lunch at the nearby Culinary Institute of America, where meals are prepared and served by the faculty and staff. Delightful, I hihgly recommend it. But as skilled as the faculty and staff are, they are useless in giving directions (or even being aware of the existence) of a small cemetery on campus (technically not on campus, as title to that small plot of land was retained by the previous owner of the property, the Jesuits, who had a Novitiate there). But there is a grumpy old man (or at least there was at the time) at campus security who will drop his gruffness to smile with a twinkle in his eye when asked for the key to the cemetery. For reasons I did not discover, it seems this request gave him some joy. He kindly pointed me in the right direction and asked that I return the key to him afterwards. And there in the middle of the campus of the Culinary Institute one finds the simple grave of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. Bring some flowers.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Grave of de Chardin

      • John ODonnell

        What a delightful post. We always need to remember, in the heat of theological debates, that it all comes down to the simplest and most human of things in the end. Thank you.

  • Mark Gordon

    On the other hand, David, I hope we can all acknowledge that the state of Catholic catechesis among “the faithful” is appalling. Many don’t have a grasp of even the basics of Christianity, much less the finer points of Catholic theology. They have not in fact laid aside “childish things” in favor of a mature, searching faith. Heck, we deal with this all the time on this very blog, trying to pry poorly catechized Catholics away from their devotion to ideologies and movements that contradict the teaching of the Church. I lay all of this at the feet of the bishops, of course, but pastors, catechists, parents, theologians, and individual Catholics themselves all deserve a share of the blame.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO


      I agree completely, but the solution is not to “protect” these uncatechized faithful but rather to work to bring them up to speed.

      • They’re not mutually exclusive. You can “protect” the faithful UNTIL they’re up to speed. And some, of course, will never be up to speed. But you can do both.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        The trouble is, as the original conversation showed, is that the desire to “protect” seems to override bringing the “up to speed.”

  • Thales

    I don’t necessarily disagree with anything in David’s main post. But I think it’s important to keep in mind the distinction I just mentioned in the Sister Johnson thread, a distinction between (1) reading an difficult/questionable/erroneous author in order to wrestle with what they’re saying, trying to understand their good points and understand where they went wrong, thinking about their errors and engaging with these errors and correcting them — and in so doing, learning from them… and (2) using a difficult/questionable/erroneous author to form an unformed mind.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with reading Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Chardin, etc. In fact, in many cases, it’s a very good thing to read them. But the question is whether it’s appropriate to use them to form an unformed mind.

    • What defines a ‘formed mind’?

    • Rodak

      @ Thales —

      It’s not appropriate to use any one point of view (or even any limited set of related viewpoints) to form an unformed mind. It is appropriate to exercise that unformed mind on as many competing ideas as it can handle, so that it grows and learns how to discriminate between that which describes reality and that which does not.

      • Thales

        But when an unformed mind is faced with so many competing ideas, how can it learn to discriminate between that which describes reality and that which does not? It is not “formed” to be able to make that discrimination yet.

        That’s why I think a little guidance in the forming is necessary.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Thales, I agree, but this is a non-issue. My point was to criticize an attitude which says the only kind of guidance “simple faithful” need is isolation and protection.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Yes, it is appropriate. “Fire is the test of gold, and adversity of strong men.” Minds are best honed by confronting hard ideas, even if they are wrong. I would not hand someone Chardin, or Marx or even Thomas Aquinas and say simply “read this.” But I would guide them through these texts.

      • Rodak

        @ Thales —

        It is highly unlikely that any young person will read, say, Nietzsche, without having been guided in some way, both to do so in the first place, and to try to make sense of it in the second place. True autodidacts are almost non-existant in the age of universal education. You may have a problem with who it is performing the guidance, of course, but that is a subjective value judgment. I wouldn’t want a conservative Catholic guiding my childrens’ understanding of anything, if that conservative Catholic were going to be the sole guide. But I wouldn’t object at all to that person’s perspective being part of the larger mix.

      • It is highly unlikely that any young person will read, say, Nietzsche, without having been guided in some way, both to do so in the first place, and to try to make sense of it in the second place.

        This is definitely false, on both accounts; as a philosophy professor I get young people all the time who have read Nietzsche on their own (the usual route seems to be to come to him through Ayn Rand, although this is by no means the only way). And smart young people who read Nietzsche are very often the same young people who misread him because they read without any thought that they might need serious guidance — they are used to being better readers than their peers, and so are more likely to think they understand entirely on their own ability, and in many cases they would not have had access to the necessary resources for a guided study of Nietzsche, anway. And I don’t think this is exclusive to Nietzsche.

  • “dangerous, particularly for young minds.”

    What praise! He’s practically Socrates.

  • “If faith is to be more than unquestioned formulas mechanically repeated, it needs to be challenged.”

    This is fallacious. You don’t need to study falsehood in order to have a genuine knowledge and understanding of truth. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad idea to learn how to go about refuting error, in some cases by studying error. But to say one must become familiar with error in order to genuinely assimilate truth, I submit, is nonsense. If I learn from a young age that my mom is kind and trustworthy, do I need to hear someone accuse her of being corrupt and cruel before my knowledge of her as being kind and trustworthy can be more than an “unquestioned formula mechanically repeated”?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      if the faith were like mathematics, then you may be correct. But the faith is not like mathematics: you cannot reduce it to a series of propositions that follow like logical deductions, clearly delineating truth from error. It is unfolding, it is relational and it is incomplete. As St. Paul said, we see as in a mirror, dimly. As the Catechism points out, we do not believe in the propositions of the creed, but in the ineffable reality behind them.

      In this environment, any adult faith (and I lay stress on the word adult) must be challenged: our understanding of our faith must be constantly re-examined and the meaning of these truths (which are not always self-evident) discovered anew. You cannot doe this by memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, or on a pseudo-sophisticated level, quoting Thomas Aquinas.

  • Thales writes, “But the question is whether it’s appropriate to use them to form an unformed mind.”

    My thinking exactly.

    I consider this analogous to varying parenting styles. My wife’s family was of the strict, protective type with their kids: Always know where they are and who they’re with, and no boy/girlfriends until after high school. Whereas I was raised under the free-for-all philosophy: I was allowed to watch R-rated movies and listen to Richard Pryor records when I was 7, and had “girlfriends” from age 7 all the way through high school.

    I thought my wife’s family’s style would be oppressive and leave their kids stunted and unprepared to face relationships and “the real world” once they were done with high school and college. But on the contrary, all her nieces and nephews are decent and mature, excellent students, have good jobs and are in good relationships.

    On the other hand, me and my siblings, raised in the freewheeling manner, turned out to be college dropouts, drug users, unwed mothers, and in one case chronically unemployed and on her fourth husband.

    This caused me to reassess the way I was raised, and the way I would raise my kids. I have come to believe that, while it’s true that “they have to learn to deal with the world at some point”, there’s no need to rush it. They have their entire lives to learn to deal with that stuff. The first order of business is to lay a good foundation, and only then let the winds blow them about and try to knock them over if they can.

    For example, do they need to learn to deal with sexual temptation at age 15? Or should they rather be protected from occasions of sexual temptation until they’re 19, or for that matter 22, when they will be older and better equipped to deal with it?

    I’m firmly convinced that it’s the latter. And I think it works the same way in the intellectual sphere. Yes, it may be desirable that they learn the ways in which the enemies of the Faith go about challenging the Faith, in order to be equipped to answer them. But there’s no reason it can’t wait until after their minds have been firmly formed in the Faith, during which process they should be protected from error, rather than exposed to it prematurely.

    • I don’t know. I think being presented with theological error “early on” can be a nice kick in the pants. If someone is captivated by an error, they will investigate it, and learn it’s an error. Moreso, I don’t think theological errors have as much attraction as sex and drugs, and plus, the youth may not have much opportunity to act on whatever the error demands.

      And they often must learn more theology before even being able to understand what the error is. And surely that’s not a bad thing.

      Lastly, theological “errors” can often explain something better than the accepted way. It was the heretic Peter Abelard who finally made Catholic sexual teaching “click,” as a college freshman.

      • Michael Carper:

        I wanted to add that my kids are not totally protected from error. In school they are taught about various heresies and so forth, and discuss current moral issues. They are even encouraged to debate both sides of an issue in order to figure out for themselves where the errors lie. I’m all for this.

        So, what I advocate is not sheltering young people from all errors in thought whatsoever, so that they end up believing that no such errors have ever existed in the history of theology or philosophy. But simply, being careful what they are exposed to and at what point in their development, i.e. making sure they are equipped to deal with whatever errors they may be exposed to. And when studying controversial authors, being guided through the process by teachers who understand the issues and can make sure the students are able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

        The more advanced the controversial writer, the more advanced the students need to be before they should be deliberately exposed to him.

        The idea that everyone should be exposed to any and all controversial theology and allowed to work through it for himself, since otherwise he can’t arrive at true faith, seems to have as its premise the notion that we are capable of guiding ourselves into all truth, and the Magisterium is just one among many sources we may (or may not) wish to consult along the way; rather than that the Magisterium is the primary source we should be consulting, and judging other sources by it.

        Before one has attained faith, by all means let him taste the fruit of every tree and see which is sweetest. But once we profess the Faith, we profess to have arrived at truth. Why would we then not want to lead our children directly to the most desirable destination by the safest route, rather than have them waste time and be exposed to unnecessary dangers, and even risk getting lost along the way? The Magisterium are called “shepherds” for a reason. Do we, as Christians, have a problem with being sheep?

  • Agellius, you have now very adequately explained for us why you are such a reactionary, because, in fact, BOTH ways of raising children that you have described are WRONG. A parent who’s being faithful to his or her responsibilities will not seek, beyond the age of, say, 13 or 14, to shelter a child from the world’s realities, but will, instead, allow that child, gradually, more and more responsibility to handle his or her own affairs, but will ALSO remain so close to the child as to keep communication open and will NEVER express shock or rejection when the child falls short of expectations, but will simply correct, and allow the child to try again.

    And, as for the general subject of this thread, I’d suggest that those who wish to shelter the “simple faithful” from the challenges of growing a mature spirituality should read T.S.Eliot’s great essay on Pascal in which that very wise critic and poet explains why it is IMPOSSIBLE in the post-modern world, after the great scientific revolutions, to possess such a “simple faith”–that modern faith is NECESSARILY honed in doubt, and that any faith that isn’t cannot survive the challenges of living in this world now.

    Heck, do the idiots in the Curia realize that JOHN PAUL II, for goodness sake, said, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, that NIETZSCHE is one of the greatest RELIGIOUS thinkers of the 19th century, and that it is necessary, for SERIOUS Christians, to grapple with his thought?

    • (1) The condemnation of Teilhard de Chardin not only precedes John Paul II’s words in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, it precedes his entire pontificate by more than a decade and a half, and thus it’s not clear how we’ve suddenly leaped to ‘the idiots in the Curia’.

      (2) Of course John Paul II would say that; he was a philosophy professor, and it’s true if we are considering Christian thought rather than practice: serious Christian thought needs to grapple with the thought of Nietzsche. It doesn’t follow from this that everyone is equipped to grapple with Nietzsche, however; and thinking that everyone is would be a dimwitted pedagogical assumption, not a serious proposal for Christian life.

      (3) Eliot’s argument is straightforward nonsense, and is in line with his unfortunate tendency to overintellectualize the faith.

      • Ah, yes, we can see that there are still Yahoos and book-burners in the Catholic fold. Fortunately, however, they cannot claim John Paul II as one of their own, but just relegate him to the ranks of the “egg heads” who don’t know what they’re talking about, when they speak of a “mature faith.” You, Brandon, are one of those Mr. Wilson is talking about below.

      • Rodak

        @ Brandon —

        Yes, Eliot’s unfortunate predilection for thought puts him in the same unsavory club of effete intellectual snobs as elitist twits like Thom Aquinas (among a host of others.) What this country needs is the rise of more media-savy reformers like Father Coughlin!

      • I agree with Brandon here. Clearly Christian thought, as a whole, needs to grapple with Nietzsche for example. That doesn’t mean EVERY individual Christian needs to grapple with him in order to have Faith or even a mature Faith. Philosophy is the HANDMAID of theology, NOT her mother.

      • Sticks and stones, digby. You know next-to-nothing about what I think about JPII, and pretending you do is simply nonsense on the evidence you have. Since I explicitly agreed with JPII, and simply denied that you understood him properly, not recognizing the role of his philosophical background here, the disagreement between you and me has nothing to do with any of your absurd speculations here.


        If we were to take intellectual thought as synonymous with overintellectualizing things, no doubt.

        Honestly, both of you, I’m a philosophy professor; trying to interpret me as being deliberately anti-intellectual or dismissive of philosophy is already way down the wrong track.

  • Bill Wilson

    The dictum from Rome certainly drives home the point that there truly is a class structure in the hierarchical church. Our putative leaders are elitist snobs, who think a bunker mentality best protects the community of believers in the world. That’s not how Jesus did it…or St. Paul for that matter. They walked and talked among all kinds of people. Secondly, I don’t know anyone who left the church because of reading Chardin. I know many who left because of the intellectual drivel being foisted on them in catechesis and sermons. As Mawell Bodenheim put it, “No girl was ever seduced by a book.” Moreover, while our hierarchs are splitting theological hairs and “protecting” our minds, their compadres have been seducing our children with impunity.

    [Let’s keep the child abuse scandal out of this. I think it is only a distraction from the main issues.]

  • I recently rewatched “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” and at one point Father Telemond’s (the Chardin Character) theology and writings are put before the inquisition, “to see if they conform to fundamental Christian doctrine” (I reckon FB ‘likes’ and Amazon sales function the same way today, especially for protestants?). Father Telemond claims that he is “one man trying to answer the questions of every man…Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Is there any sense in beauty and ugliness, in terror and suffering and in daily death, which make up the pattern of existence?” Through a series of leading questions, his interrogators eventually come to the ultimate question of “good or evil, right or wrong, in the Christian sense.” At one point the young priest is accused of heresy and ultimately they decide that: “…the works of Father Telemond present ambiguities and even grave errors in philosophical and theological matters which offend Catholic doctrine.” But the inquisition is suspended because the Pope dies and the struggle for power begins. Then Father Telemond says, “…I’m not afraid of being accused. I’m only afraid of being silenced.” But Father Telemond dies shortly after this, thus saving the church a more public confrontation. To their credit, the inquisitors don’t assert that Fr. Telemond offends God, only “Catholic doctrine,” so perhaps those are 2 different things? obliged.

  • smf

    Overlooking a key point:

    The youth, neither then nor now, are not particularly well formed in the faith and certainly their formation is far from complete. Youth are often prone to rebellion and to seeking anti-establishement ways and thus when you give unsound material to someone who does not have the tools to fully understand its difficulites, you are setting up that person to incorporate the ideas into their own thinking even if they don’t intend to (as often even ideas we try to reject take a place in our minds).

    You don’t give bad material to undergrads and expect good results.

    If you want students to deal with cutting edge stuff you should give it to those students on track to enter into research and writing, so for example doctoral students should be in a good place to look at controversial stuff, on the other hand freshmen in college not so much.

    Even while many seminarians today are trying to turn back to orthodoxy, many are finding they don’t know even the basics of the faith even after arriving at seminary. Their parents, pastors, teachers failed to pass on the faith, or they failed to receive it, or both. de Chardin may or may not be wrong, I don’t know, but considering how easily influenced those starving for the true faith are, giving them what may not be safe to eat would be extremely foolish. This same argument would hold for many others, too, I suspect.

    I do not advocate book burning or the like, but we need to exercise a good deal of care in these matters.

    Also, there is a key difference between presenting something as being in error and asking students to find the error, and offering without comment, in which case students that trust their teachers will tend to assume that it is trustworthy material and true.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      ‘If you want students to deal with cutting edge stuff you should give it to those students on track to enter into research and writing, so for example doctoral students should be in a good place to look at controversial stuff, on the other hand freshmen in college not so much.”

      Then I guess we have completely different ideas about pedagogy, because I strongly believe in giving my freshmen controversial material.

      • Julian Barkin

        I’d have to agree with smf. Poor Cathechesis is unfortunately the thing du jour in the Catholic faith today, if one doesn’t seek it out themselves with good solid books by reputable Catholic publishing companies or private Catholic School/homeschool.

        However, I’m all for how David teaches by slapping them with the controversial material. A true teacher will challenge their students and get them to develop critical thinking and other skills. That and who knows, if smf alludes to, the students probably haven’t been challenged in that manner till they hit David’s class, be it faith teaching or whatever his subject of focus is.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Thanks Julian. It is not easy to challenge students, but the rewards are worth it.

      • Thales

        Then I guess we have completely different ideas about pedagogy, because I strongly believe in giving my freshmen controversial material.

        Just a quick observation:
        There is a difference between exposing a student to controversial material and giving him/her direction in how to consider it; and exposing a student to controversial material with no direction or guidance.

  • And I give my SECONDARY students, in the elite schools I tend to work in, “controversial stuff,” as well—knowing that, for the kinds of bright, questioning kids I teach, any discipline that presents itself as closed to investigation and questioning, appears to them to be boring, stultifying and not in the least bit attractive for study. My students have absolutely no inhibitions about arguing, for example, against Nietzsche and FOR “traditional morality” (Nietzsche’s justification of Socrates’ execution, for example, fascinates them, even after they’ve learned to love Socrates), so I know they’d have no issues with arguing against Teilhard, even if they liked what he wrote. They even play “devil’s advocate” against me all the time. A little more faith in the open, questioning mind of the young is in order here; it’s the disillusioned IGNORANT who, when one of life’s tragedies hit them, turn so bitterly against their traditional faith.

  • I think the assumption of most of the commenters here that the point of this would be to protect simple believers from ideas is itself suspect; trying to protect people from ideas in general is a futile activity. I squarely place the blame for neo-Nazis in my high school on whatever dimwit put Mein Kampf on the open shelves of the school library, and it is standard practice of libraries with large hate literature collections to restrict access to them, and rightly so, but in general there’s just no practical way of doing this.

    But there is something to be said for protecting simple believers from idea-people. Teilhard de Chardin went through an extraordinary popular period. I have a book on philosophical anthropology on my shelves somewhere that illustrates this; I picked up the book because I had at some point the first edition and liked it, and it was a cheap second edition, from the fifties, I think. I was very disappointed on reading it. The first edition had been pretty scholastic in character — some things that would certainly have dated, but lots of good analysis in a standard scholastic vein; but in the second edition the author had stripped it all out and replaced it with Teilhard in order to update it. It turned a solid book that today would only be a little old-fashioned and turned it into a purely speculative work that is almost useless today unless you’re a diehard Teilhardian, and probably not very useful if you are. But it’s symptomatic of what was going on at the time. And two of the things I have learned in my life is that intellectuals go through faddish phases and that intellectuals bully people, often without even realizing it. And the combination of the two means that ordinary people need defenses, not so much from ideas as from intellectuals and self-appointed experts who are constantly tempted to push their pet ideas on other people as if they were Gospel truth. And what does a condemnation like this do? It tells these teachers, intellectuals, and self-appointed experts that in this case they have no right to impose their fads on other people.

    And I really wonder how much of the pushback educators and intellectuals give to things like this is due not so much to the love of truth that we flatter ourselves in assigning as our motive, as it is to our fear that someday the CDF could step in at some point and tell everyone else that they don’t have to pay any attention whatsoever to our pet ideas, or the pet ideas of our intellectual heroes, and tell us that we don’t have the right to push them on other people — our worry that bishops would step in and tell everyone that we, or our intellectual heroes, are charlatans and should be treated as such, or, if not charlatans, are so muddle-headed that it’s best to avoid us.

    • Rodak

      @ Brandon —

      When the “intellectual bullies” are silenced, they are inevitably replaced by “ideological bullies.” It’s not, in my opinion, a trade-off going in a good direction. If we had a homogenous society, your argument would be a more practical one. But we don’t. We have to work with what we’ve actually been given. The Gospel truth is in competition with other “truths” and it attempts to supress them at grave risk of having the tables turned.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs


      This whole topic is so huge, I am drawn to more methodological considerations of it for some clarity. You wrote:

      “It turned a solid book that today would only be a little old-fashioned and turned it into a purely speculative work that is almost useless today unless you’re a diehard Teilhardian, ”

      What is interesting about this is that you contrast the works of this famous Jesuit with those of a scholastic viewpoint. Whatever one may feel about Chardin, surely in every single possible way his viewpoint is more close to the views of “today” than the scholastic viewpoint could ever be being many centuries old. You certainly have a right to your predilections. But having chosen a truly anachronistic philosophy –judging sheerly by actual distance of time and not intent necessarily — as something of “today’ (and I assert again that one has the right to be anachronistic on principle if one is not deceptive about it). But you seem to have only been able to do so by ignoring almost everything that culturally or intellectually would comport with the notion of “today”. Unless….unless…what you mean by ‘today” is a special and recondite meaning for a hidden realm of Catholic in-groups. Then, it would have meaning, and be very telling, not only here, but historically.

      By the way, I recently noticed that the Catholic Husserlian Sokolowski uses this same notion of keeping things hidden from people and uses thomas Aquinas to do it in one of his books. Very interesting.

      • Peter,

        No one who has any rational interest in the truth judges arguments on “actual distance of time” from the present. But if we look at actual content rather than timelines I don’t see how you can think you are right; Teilhard de Chardin’s biology is for practical purposes as out of date as Aristotles, his philosophy never caught on except in small circles, and professional philosophers have more in common with William of Ockham than Teilhard de Chardin. We get tiny bits of him here and there in literature — a bit in Flannery O’Connor, nearly unrecognizable bits in genre fiction like Dan Simmons — but certainly less than the influence of scholastic philosophy. At the height of Teilhard’s fame he was probably still less widely read than Maritain. Popular works on scholastic philosophy come out every year; very little of the kind on Noospheres and the like. And so on and so forth. Merely because a person happens to be closer in time doesn’t mean much.

  • Brandon, my dear, you wouldn’t be the first “philosophy teacher” who wanted to set himself up as an inquisitor or a censor. Neither would you be the first one who despised “intellectuals”; why Nietzsche himself despised “intellectuals” and was happy that Aristophanes succeeded in getting Socrates executed.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs


      But Nietzsche loved Voltaire, and dedicated Human, All to Human to him.He hated philosophers.

    • Again with the irrational insults. Where have I set myself up as inquisitor or censor? And where do I despise intellectuals? Simply making up accusations is not rational argument, and does not make you a friend of truth.

      You don’t even bother to get Nietzsche right in trying to use him to insult me; Nietzsche thought Socrates disasterously wrong, and in that sense an enemy of mankind, but a reluctant admiration for him runs through his work. He proceeds, as Nietzsche puts it once, with a wisdom full of pranks, and more than any of his contemporaries manages to create values. But his values are all about death: philosophy, and thus the intellectual life, for Socrates is learning how to die well through self-discipline, and this is what disturbs Nietzsche, who thinks the intellectual life should be all about life, and in opposition to death. Thus Nietzsche takes Socrates to be a sort of perverted Nietzschean: he does the sort of thing Nietzsche lauds but does it in a spirit of what Nietzsche sees as the enmity of the genuine creativity of life. He sees Socrates as proposing, in brilliant ways, death as the goal of life, and regards this as a catastrophic error. It is, of course, Socrates, not Nietzsche, who is right here, for a number of reasons. But if you think that Socrates himself did not have a sober and realistic view of intellectuals, you need to go back and read what Plato and Xenophon have him argue against the major intellectuals of his day, the Sophists and Rhetors.

      Look, it’s quite elementary, and all it requires to see it is that you set aside the hysterics and look at it soberly. Either ideas are capable of being dangerous or they are not. Since being dangerous requires that they be effective and harmful, there are only two ways in which they can fail to be dangerous: either ideas have no real power or they are always beneficial. No serious intellectual can accept the former, since he or she is proof, in himself or herself, that this is not true; the latter is obviously false for a list of reasons longer than my arm. Since ideas can be dangerous, being powerful and not being universally beneficial, either there must be some sort of accountability or those concerned with their transmission, especially with education — or else those entrusted with them are absolutely reliable and trustworthy. Now, intellectuals, like every other kind of human being on the planet, are subject to mere fads and fashions, many of which they have not bothered to think through properly. It is human. And it also means that intellectuals are not perfeclty reliable and trustworthy in how they handle ideas; no more perfectly reliable and trustworthy than human beings in general about handling anything. Thus we come to the question of accountability. Intellectuals are caretakers of ideas, but the natural question here is, who takes care of the caretakers? And obviously the best answer here is that everyone who has an interest in education has some role to play in holding intellectuals accountable. And the greater the legitimate interest in preserving the integrity of the education, the greater the role to play. And so we get to the question: Does the Church, and for our purposes here especially the bishops, have any legitimate interest in the educating of young people in the Catholic faith? And it’s just a fact about the Catholic Church that it is set up so that they do.

      Anyone and everyone can go around saying that Teilhard de Chardin is charlatan simply making things up on inadequate basis — there is in fact some controversy about this — or that his work is liable to be misused — I think the argument here is much stronger. And obviously one can say such a thing as part of a legitimate responsibility. So the counterargument can’t be that the bishops have no right to claim that someone’s work is severely misleading and should not be used to educate people in what the Catholic faith is. Obviously they do. And the argument can’t be that they have no responsibility for Catholic education, since, again, obviously they do. So the only real questions whenever they make such claims are

      (1) Do they do so on good grounds?
      (2) Is this a reasonable use of authority in this particular case?

      Both (1) and (2) came up in the arguments over Jansenism; (1) is the primary substantive point in the recent Sr. Johnson dispute; both (1) and (2) came up in the criticisms of liberation theology, etc. But these are sane and sober questions that can be asked of anyone responsible for education.

      • THEORETICALLY, Brandon, I’d have absolutely no problem with this statement of yours:

        who takes care of the caretakers? And obviously the best answer here is that everyone who has an interest in education has some role to play in holding intellectuals accountable. And the greater the legitimate interest in preserving the integrity of the education, the greater the role to play. And so we get to the question: Does the Church, and for our purposes here especially the bishops, have any legitimate interest in the educating of young people in the Catholic faith?

        However, I simply don’t believe that most of the hierarchs of the Roman Catholic Church that I’ve ever met or heard about give a damn about “education.” What they care about is keeping pews warm and people silent. Catholic education in the United States (see my remarks below) is NOT about deepening the faith of students by allowing them to explore and challenge faith, and thereby foster its growth–which, believe me, I KNOW this, after more than twenty-five years of teaching them, is the only way to successfully engage modern youth–but it’s, instead, about stifling the kinds of probing, intelligent discussions that the “Magisterium” prefers to call dissent.

        I will tell you a little story along these lines, as succinctly as I can. While teaching in that archdiocesan high school referenced below, I heard of a retired ex-Jesuit, happily married and extremely devout (the most regular “communicant” in the whole school), who conducted “inter-faith dialogue” by inviting representatives of other faiths in the area to come and speak to his students. Having participated in “inter-faith dialogue” conducted by Jesuits along the strictest of Magisterial guidelines (honesty about “differences,” up-front disavowals of efforts to “convert,” probing discussion of the moral implications of certain theological propositions that cause disagreements, I decided to attend two of these visitations, with his permission. What I discovered was that he was doing it right–exactly the way I’d watched the Jesuits doing it in Asia. Even when certain belligerent religious fanatics asked a Jewish rabbi if he didn’t “know that he was going to Hell,” this teacher, with the help of his patient, and gracious guest, was able to defuse the situation amicably and with expressions of mutual respect.

        However, when the cranky (and extremely sinister–for reasons having to do with protection of pedophiles and cases against him for it) old Archbishop received several “complaints,” and even after almost the entire faculty protested (but not most of the other dodgy, intellectually-challenged “theology teachers”) protested, the Archbishop’s response was that “if the faith of even one child is challenged by two much questioning of or exposure to other belief-systems, he would not have it in his high school. Then, at a meeting of theology teachers from all across his archdiocese at the end of the year, the old villain LIED and said that only a “handful of parents” had written to object to his decision, when it had been, literally, scores–because this teacher had been there for over twenty years and had a big following in the city.

        The students were infuriated, and disgusted with the hierarchy of their local Church, the theology teacher took early retirement, and, after opining in the staff room that, “to foreclose the opportunity of CORRECT inter-faith dialogue to children of a certain depth of religiouf faith is, in the modern climate, to actively PREPARE THEM FOR WAR,” I left, too. Please don’t tell me that your censorious policy of depriving youth of the opportunity of explorign and questioning their faith should be a part of modern religious training, because I know, from experience as an educator, that it shouldn’t be.

        And thank you for your lesson on Nietzsche and Socrates; it was very useful to me.

      • Thales

        Thanks for your anecdote. Can I ask how long ago this happened? Because it is unlike anything I’ve ever heard or seen or experienced. In my experience, almost without fail, the leaders of the Catholic Church that I’ve met or heard about care greatly about Catholic education.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I cannot go into details, but Digby’s anecdote resonates with my experiences as well. I have run into things which cause me to question whether some bishops want Catholic education to mean grappling in a serious fashion with the faith and the ancillary issues.

  • Julian Barkin

    Unfortunately David, in this post-Vatican II/post-60’s era, where there is such moral ambiguity and the Church’s message has been weakened significantly in the world, coupled with ineffective cathechesis and three generations of “lost” souls, the remainder do need protection from such erroneous theologies and the people who teach them. While my Catholic generation (gen X – early millenials) is definitely becoming more traditionally minded and rejecting the spiritual clap-trap of their parent’s generation, as a whole the average lay Catholic just doesn’t know how to differentiate between controversial catholic theology that defies Magisterial teaching and proper teaching, or heck any kind of spiritual teachings for that matter. Syncretism or the mantra of “all faiths are the same” seems to run rampant. Therefore we do need authority to giude us, lest people drift away from the Catholic faith as easy as they were sacramentally brought into it, a la a “revolving door” so to speak.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, based on the experience of my brothers (who are 1/2 generation older than me) and my study of the Church in the 1950’s, I have my doubts about the virtues of pre-Vatican II catechesis. My brothers were formed in the Baltimore Catechism school, and so were completely unprepared for aggiornamento, or indeed, any substantive examination of their faith as adults. For all the failings of my post- V II religious education (and they were legion), I did come to see that the faith was something that could be questioned, studied, turned upside down and looked at from all sides, and that my faith would survive.

      Out of curiosity, what “spiritual clap-trap” from my generation are you rejecting? (You are probably a bit too old to be my son, but I suspect we are separated by nearly a generation.)

      • Julian Barkin

        Maybe not. I was born in the early eighties so I’m almost 30. As for what my generation is slowly waking up to and demanding or desiring …

        – Recognizing that the general messase of “sunshine Jesus/Jesus loves everybody” teaching is not enough to insipre one’s faith. Rejected clap-trap: “Jesus loves everybody“ lovey-dubey teaching. Accepted: Practicing the faith fully and realizing that there`s more to being a Catholic than Christmas and Easter and that love does not equal tolerance/relativism. Also that teachers who are willing to know and practice the faith externally must take the helm, either clerically in the form of bishops who instruct their priests, and also DREs, catechists, and teachers at the secular/lay level. More on education in a point below.

        – Desiring a priest to “say the black and do the red” as Fr. Z puts it with regard to the liturgy of Mass. E.g. meaningful homilies that aren`t joke ridden or meant to entertain and give a soft touchy feely message, just to keep people in the pews, liturgies without props or themes, liturgies without folk/pop/praise and worship music like Lifeteen Masses. This might be more the USA and worldwide vs. Canada. Being Rejected more often: Anything goes in the liturgy. Being accepted more: Proper liturgies and meaningful spiritual direction/homiletics.

        – More traditional forms of worship: e.g. Eucharistic Adoration, Processions, and even Gasp! the dreaded Usus Antiquor/Extraordinary form and even Gregorian chant, or even more reverent Novus Ordos. As a result of a combined lack of liturgical nourishment and people not uphonding the tenets of the Catholic faith, this is leading some people to abandon the faith for conservative Christian sects (e.g. Episcopalian, United Church, Evangelical, Lutheran), or joining traditional Catholic sects like the SSPX, or flocking to the EF parishes because of a combination of the last and this paragraph. Accepting: More traditional and reverent liturgy/spiritual practices. Rejected Clap-trap: Anti-traditionalist attitudes and anti-“practices of the past” attitude (this can even include to an extent the Rosary!)

        – Priests to preach or touch those dreaded taboo subjects in their Church to SOME extent, (homilies, speeches, seminars, etc.) and teach properly what the Church says about those subjects ACCORDING to the Catechism and Magisterium. We are also waking up to the presence of secular influence in both our separate schools and our parishes and woefully inadequate religious education classes (at both elementary and high school levels). This is not just limited to North America. Here’s one example in the UK (Warning, Not Safe For Work due to controversial videos): A canadian example of the most recently adapted Grade 11 textbook for World Religions is here with a critical review : Sadly Archbishop (now Cardinal) Thomas Collins gave the Impriatur for the book.

        Further, We are talking about misconceptions like it’s OK to contracept, OK to co-habitate, even OK to abort or ALL aspects of homosexuality are OK, When the Catechism says contrary. Example: In the book “Goodbye good men“ here: the author points to how such a secular view of the world penetrated the seminaries and promoted an atmosphere with those mentioned misconceptions. The reviews there (and there are many 4 and 5 star ones) will be enough to give you a synopsis of the content, particularly Tim Drake`s, Bob Smith`s (personal) and “zosimos“ (the best and well written in my opinion on there). This in particuar is one of the key things we the tech-savvy and questioning generation are becoming more aware of, that there are guidelines and a true teaching authority in the church on moral issues and that we can access and read these documents fully including those of Vatican II, and know that what our parents, teachers, and clergy and lay theologians, are either teaching properly or are misinformed on. Rejected clap-trap: Social tolerance, relativism, and incorrect or controversial teaching that counters the doctrine and dogma of the faith and the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. Accepted: The opposite.

        Phew! This should be plenty to chew on.

        Final note on education and the main blog topic: While I do agree that we should be using our intellect and gifts to further explore and understand the Catholic Faith and the Church and reveal new insights, there should be more instruction at all levels HOW to do this without controveining the central tenets of the Faith, or in another meaning, without creating a theology/philosophy or teaching on a matter that is heretical, an -ism if you will, that confuses the average Catholic or earns you a lovely Magisterial note from the CDF/Pope saying your theology/philosophy is forbidden or not for pursual (e.g. Liberation Theology).

        BTW, I am interested in how the Baltimore Catechism prep your brothers undertook actually made them unprepared for the Aggorgiamento. How did it in more detail and how did your brothers handle it? (e.g. They stayed Catholic and as faithful as before, they “quit” the Church, they stayed Catholic but downgraded and practice it like eveyone else). If you don’t want to answer it here in the comboxes perhaps that could be a separate posting (and a cool one at that. It’s sounds like something you wouldn’t expect).

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        You’re 10 years older than my oldest son, but close enough. You’ve said quite a lot, most of which I disagree with, but it would take me way to far afield to respond to it. Thanks for the detailed answer, however.

  • Mark1

    That such students should not be required, indeed should not be allowed to read “dangerous” works strikes me as profoundly contrary to the goal of their education.

    I don’t think that is really any different from how the scientific community operates at large….

    In this case you have views that are beyond the pale of what they commonly accept as orthodox (what’s known as pseudo-science), and as such those views are de facto shunned in the class room. And so what? Are we to criticize the scientific community for not allowing approved biology texts books which fail to seriously treat on subjects like creationism and intelligent design? How about in medicine; are we to lament the fact that the medical community doesn’t teach its med students about the potential power of healing crystals?

    The scientific community reserves for itself the right to choose the approved educational material its students learn from; the Magisterium does the same.

    All this doesn’t mean, of course, that contrary views are forever ignored. They are just operating on common sense here… you have to master the basics, before you can *competently* tackle the more (shall we say) avant-garde theories.

    • Mark1

      Correction: “Are we to criticize the scientific community for not allowing approved biology texts books which fail to seriously treat on subjects like creationism and intelligent design?

      • Mark1, you are comparing apples with oranges. “Creationism” does, indeed, belong in schools–but in the International Baccalaureate’s “Theory of Knowledge” course, or in a good “comparative religions” course. It doesn’t belong in any science course that the practicioners of science can ever, at this point, conceive of, for a very simple reason: unlike Darwinism, which DOES premise the test by which the theory might eventually be disproved, no one in any of the scientific disciplines is able to describe the “test” by which Creationism can ultimately be proved. It’s very simple: no describable test, then no admission into the science curriculum. And that’s how it should be. Pray tell me how THAT is analogous to the discipline of theology.

  • Because theology is supposed to teach the truth. If you want to have a course “Heresy 101” that very clearly tells the students that these ideas are wrong and why, that might be a bit different. But just letting people read it on their own?? That could be very dangerous.

  • Julian has put his finger right on the problem with current Catholic religious formation in high schools with this:

    there should be more instruction at all levels HOW to do this without controvening the central tenets of the Faith, or in another meaning, without creating a theology/philosophy or teaching on a matter that is heretical, an -ism if you will, that confuses the average Catholic or earns you a lovely Magisterial note from the CDF/Pope saying your theology/philosophy is forbidden or not for purusal (e.g. Liberation Theology).

    I know; I was there in one, in New Mexico for a while. The level of instructions is so abysmal, so anti-intellectual in things called “diocesan” and “archdiocesan high schools” that it seems to kids (and it seemed to me, too) to resemble the rote-learning of certain fascist youth groups. It infuriated the brightest kids and utterly ruined the “faith” of those who just wanted to be done with school and go “party.” At first we who were real teachers wondered where the Archbishop went to recruit such dregs, before we figured out that he DIDN’T want meaningful inquiry in his theology classes–just the teaching of conformism.

    Many of the people writing above demonstrate they know little of the adolescent mind’s responses to education, but we who teach in holistic, “child-centred” curricula DO understand that the only thing that works is “inquiry,” and that any discipline that closes itself off from its subjects’ inquiries is dead on arrival. As taught in modern Catholic theology classes for youth, it’s mostly “dead on arrival.” You should have heard the yells of derision emanating from the theology classrooms of the Archdiocesan high school of New Mexico!

    • For goodness sake, I’m only 22 myself, digby, and very much still remember high school (furthermore, I got certified to teach by a very “progressive” constructivist teaching program with which methods I largely agree).

      Now, I was in a public school, but nevertheless I can indeed say a great deal of my own “intellectual” faith formation came from exploring questions and doubts of my own in my head, doing my own research, arguing and debating and having conversations with people in a dialectical manner. Certainly not just taking answers from a book rote (however, neither did it come from reading Chardin.)

      Yes, it can be healthy for people to question, to wrestle with the truth, to interrogate the Church’s teachings in order to find out how various of their objections will be answered.

      But it’s one thing to have students make objections and then (Socratically) provide answers (which they can then further interrogate, iron sharpening iron, etc, in discussion/debate format).

      But it’s quite another thing to provide people FIRST with a bunch of objections (or possible heterodoxies) they themselves would never even have come up with in the first place and then say, “Here! Now YOU think up the answers to these (sometimes very enticing) theories. IF you’re clever enough to answer them (or if your faith is strong enough to believe in spite of them)!”

      That’s a very different sort of “experiment” and one that strikes me as handing someone a snake when they’re looking for a fish, as testing people’s faith rather than answering their doubts.

      Playing the devil’s advocate has it’s place, but only when people have at least the initial motivation to come up with the arguments against your objections. If they’re not prepared, however, they might “fold” immediately under the pressure (or enticement) of the contrary ideas, and you might literally have become the Devil’s advocate for them.

      • grega

        If 22 years into this great quest you really fear that there are ‘dangerous’ arguments/philosphies/concepts out there that have you in danger of loosing your faith you will not stand a chance in the real world to hold onto it
        anyhow – might as well face the music head on sooner than later.
        Our creator certainly gave all of us the capacity to handle the meandering path that real life is.

      • lol. I never said they were dangerous to ME. But ideas can still be dangerous to the masses.

  • If they’re not prepared, however, they might “fold” immediately under the pressure (or enticement) of the contrary ideas, and you might literally have become the Devil’s advocate for them.

    But that’s simply bad teaching: I don’t LET my students “fold,” and, if they attempt to, I come at them from the OTHER side of the argument, and defend the positions they just “folded” against, and make them come up with some other arguments. But, of course, I’m an IB “Theory of Knowledge” instructor, as well as an English literature teacher, and I don’t believe these arguments are EVER over, until you’re dead, and that keeping them on-going is part of what CONSTITUTES “faith.”

    • You may. Other teachers will not. I saw several peers lose their faith over just James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Their teacher, not being Catholic, had no reason to “argue the other side” to try to preserve their faith. If, however, the Church had warned their parents and told them to not let their kids be in that class, they might still have their faith.

      • Rodak

        @ A Sinner —

        It would seem to go without saying that a faith so weak as to be destroyed by the reading of one novella is a faith that never had a ghost of a chance of survival out in the world, in any event.
        Perhaps children, after being told what they believe, should be blinded and deafened in order to ensure that what they’ve been told will never be challenged by any plausible contradiction life and experience may otherwise present them with?

      • If, however, the Church had warned their parents and told them to not let their kids be in that class, they might still have their faith.

        You know, I seriously doubt that’s true, because I don’t think that’s how faith works.

  • Thales, it was the Archdiocesan high school of the State of New Mexico in 2008.