Unleash the Power of the Lay Alum!

Meet the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding. Every Friday she prays with her Muslim group at the Al-Islam Center in Seattle. Every Sunday morning, she dons the robes of Episcopal priest and goes to church at St. Clement of Rome Episcopal Church.

Turns out she thinks she is both Christian and Muslim.

Muslims are puzzled by this. "I don't know how that works," said Hisham Farajallah, president of the Islamic Center of Washington. The problem is that confounding bit about Jesus being God which Islam tends to strenuously reject. "The theological beliefs are irreconcilable," said Mahmoud Ayoub, professor of Islamic studies and comparative religion at Temple University in Philadelphia. Islam holds that God is one, unique, indivisible. "For Muslims to say Jesus is God would be blasphemy."

Christians are similarly puzzled. How do you simultaneously affirm and reject the deity of Christ?

Not to worry. Rev. Redding has the benefits of an Episcopalian theological education which enables her to digest flat contradictions for breakfast. The Seattle Times clues us in on these subtleties:

She believes the Trinity is an idea about God and cannot be taken literally.

She does not believe Jesus and God are the same, but rather that God is more than Jesus.

She believes Jesus is the son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine — because God dwells in all humans.

What makes Jesus unique, she believes, is that out of all humans, he most embodied being filled with God and identifying completely with God's will.

She does believe that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, and acknowledges those beliefs conflict with the teachings of the Quran. "That's something I'll find a challenge the rest of my life," she said.

Given an approach to the Christian faith as clear-headed as this, it is only natural then that Rev. Redding should be teaching the New Testament as a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University. It’s more or less what I’ve come to expect from our local school “in the Jesuit tradition”.

A friend of mine went to SU several years ago and proposed to do a Master's thesis on the Catholic theology of work. When she went to the theology prof to ask for source documents on this topic, he referred her to Marx's Das Kapital. She replied that she was really looking for theological sources and asked if the Documents of Vatican II might be a place to look.

He replied that he couldn't say but that he really needed to read them one of these days.

In desperation, she asked if Pope John Paul had written anything on the topic. The prof replied that he refused to read anything by "that man."

My friend, who was shelling out fabulous amounts of cash for all this, went away feeling just a bit cheated by the advertising brochures of the school which billed itself as "Catholic". However, since they were already deeply in her pockets, what with the astronomical cost, she persevered in both the Faith and her studies, and the day eventually came when she got her Masters and graduated. I went to the graduation ceremony, along with her Fundamentalist father (she and I are both converts to the Catholic Church).

The head of the Seattle University School of Theology came out and, by way of "Benediction", urged us all to pray "however we felt comfortable" in these terms. "If you want to pray to Buddha or the Spirit of the Northwest, then that's okay." Longtime Seattleites will recall that KIRO-TV's motto was the "Spirit of the Great Northwest". The thought, "We're being urged to pray to the local television station?" crossed my mind. The next thought that crossed my mind was, "How on earth does my friend explain to her father, a man already highly suspicious of the Catholic Church, that this twaddle is not representative of Catholic teaching when the head of the School of Theology is saying it?"

A good question, but then this is the theology department that decided to have a couple members of the Jesus Seminar in a couple of years ago and simply ignored the protests of the archbishop. It’s so important to the faith of young Catholics to hear from theologians who explain that the corpse of Jesus was eaten by wild dogs. (The friend with whom I endured the SU graduation ceremony had a prof there who openly boasted about his love of destroying the faith of incoming freshmen.)

And, of course, SU is hardly alone. One can go on multiplying stories of Catholic schools that betray their mission till the cows come home. From the annual rite of “Vagina Monologues” at campus after campus each Valentine’s Day to the tedious Queer Film Fests to the monotonous rhetoric from the herd of independent minds who analyze everything—including the Faith itself—in terms of post-colonial queer theory raceclassgender deconstructionist bafflegab, the “Catholic” academy in the US is often deeply toxic to Catholic faith. Only the inborn tendency of the healthy, normal student to not take academics nearly as seriously as academics take themselves has preserved sanity.

How do “Catholic” schools get away with this kind of stuff? I suspect the fact that a lot of alumni are not humanities majors has something to do with it. Somebody who got their degree in engineering or business at Apostate U can spend their whole academic career never having to take classes designed to "raise their consciousness" about reproductive rights for San Francisco lesbians. An MBA leaves you blessedly free from having to endure many hours trapped in a room with a ex-Jesuit Marxist bent on proving to you that Jesus (if he ever existed) was a dead rabbi who was puffed up by the misogynist epileptic Paul into a phony deity. A Chem major need never have it drilled into her head that all the stuff you dumb freshmen learned in Sunday School is just patriarchal claptrap invented to buttress Constantinian tyranny. A number of the "hard science" disciplines tend to insulate students from having to endure what humanities majors have to face every day. So many graduates come out of Catholic schools blissfully unaware of the fundamental ways in which those schools have betrayed their mission.

Further, I fancy Golden Memories have something to do with it too. Parents or grandparents who graduated a couple of decades ago simply don't know how much a school has declined. They have fond memories of the Way Things Were and are simply unaware that when they send their kids to a Catholic school and write the checks for the Alum drive, they are now helping to fulfil the grim assessment of Boston College's Peter Kreeft, who bluntly said that Catholic colleges are excellent places to go to lose your faith. So they send their kids off to SU in the fond illusion that when they take a course on the New Testament, they will be learning it from somebody who can, at some elemental level, think clearly enough to know that Christianity and Islam are flatly contradictory concerning what the New Testament says about Jesus Christ. They retain enough trust in the institution not to imagine it would send a fogbound mind like Rev. Ann Holmes Redding to impart utter intellectual confusion and apostasy to the immortal souls of their precious children.

This state of affairs is not, however, written in stone. John Paul II made a stab at changing it with Ex Corde Ecclesia, which has been steadfastly ignored in most schools. The bishops have not exactly made it a priority. But we laity can take steps to change it. And the first step (after prayer, apart from which we can do nothing) is to deny the hogs their feed. Universities run on money and academics are, fortunately, deeply cowardly as a rule. One quick way to send them a loud message very fast is for alums to empty the slop from the trough. I see no reason why any Catholic alumnus should support any academic institution which parasitically feeds off the good will and trust of betrayed Catholics while working overtime to despoil their children of the Faith. I think that alumni and donors to schools which behave like Seattle University or the organizers of the Notre Dame Queer Film Festival would do well to make it plain via their pocketbooks that it is beyond the pale for a Catholic university to so utterly prostitute itself to the god of this world.

That doesn’t necessarily mean cutting off funding cold to the whole university or college. Very often you will find faithful faculty struggling along under extremely difficult conditions, under the thumb of persecuting faculty heads and often crushing ideological pressures. They should not be punished further with draconian budget cuts. Indeed, it may well be possible for alums to earmark donated funds for certain endeavors and not for others. If the Philosophy department is sound and the Theology department is not, then give to the former and not the latter—and tell Apostate U why. If Apostate U will not allow you to earmark your giving, then give to another school—and tell them both why. Even academics can be taught.

Laity have power here that bishops can only dream of. If integrity does not drive allegedly Catholic schools to their knees in repentant shame, then perhaps waning contributions from disgusted alumni and supporters will. If Mammon is their god, then let it be their judge.

Copyright 2007 - Mark P. Shea