ON CHILDREN, GRANDMOTHERS, AND GROWN-UPS
an essay to kids, in which he told them something very true, and very
important. They would encounter two kinds of adults: the grown-ups,
and the 'shrunk-downs.' By and large, the American Catholic academy
has been 'shrunk down' by an intellectual onslaught only partly its
fault. In the intellectual culture of today it really does seem just crazy,
childish -- at best -- to take the Eucharist seriously, the way your
So, trying to remain faithful nevertheless, many American Catholic
academics do what any of us would do in similar circumstances -- they
fudge. They try to make the Catholic faith as little about 'nonsense' as
possible. They try desperately to be 'grown-up' Catholics, but the first
thing they feel compelled to do is to agree with the culture, that their
own grandmother's faith was at least quaint, if not childish, if not
embarrassing, if not dangerous. So, trying to be grown-up Catholics,
they 'shrink down' a little more.
Of course, the world is not satisfied with any amount of fudging.
The world will continue to wait just outside the offices of these
academics, unmollified, for the world's claim is that to be Catholic at
all, even a little bit, is childish, not at all grown-up. Thus these 'shrunk-
down' Catholics may ironically even feel, not hypocritical, but heroic.
Fudging might feel to them like a heroic defense of the faith in a
faithless world, even if the 'heroism' amounts in the end to nothing less
than apologizing for the faith of your own grandmother -- and to
denying three times that you yourself would ever be a party to
something so patently naive, childish, and objectionable.
There are two problems with this. The first is that New Class
American Catholic academics have not been sophisticated enough to
realize that they themselves will eventually become somebody's
grandmother. They too will inevitably become a source of
embarrassment to a younger generation committed to 'progress,' which
will always be erroneously defined as, a more strenuous apology to
that world which finds Catholicism childish by definition.
The other problem is that Catholics who don't think their
grandmother's faith was naive are inevitably going to be accused of
being naive -- and now, by their fellow Catholics, ever striving to look
Fudged Catholicism is "why bother?" Catholicism. It exists as a
childish indulgence, engaged in at the pleasure of the modern, the
'serious,' world. "Why bother?" Catholics are playing a perpetual game
of "Mother, May I?" with people who don't even like them. Yet the
question remains, asked of us all: what are you going to stake your life
on, or, to put it precisely, "But who do you say that I am?"
1. Mark 8:29 RSV
N.B. This is an html-ized copy of a page from the pdf file, The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology.