I want to present to you the rather odd ecclesiology of James Carville. It is taken from the video at the bottom of this post, (hat tip to Elizabeth Scalia). I think Mr. Carville’s odd bifurcation of the Church is somewhat emblematic of the problems and misunderstandings that many have, both of the Church, and of Jesus. Too easily do people engage in the kind of a heresy, emphasizing some aspects of Jesus teachings to the exclusion of others. And while it is true that there are some tensions in the ministry and the teachings of Jesus, orthodoxy holds these tensions, while heresy picks one and excludes the other to avoid the tension.
More of this in a moment, but for now let’s look at how Mr. Carville divides up the Church into two camps. The first camp he describes as the “anti-sex camp:”
Those who say the primary teachings of Jesus were sexual, and therefore, our 1st obligation should be to prevent gay people from getting married, or intercourse out of marriage, or contraception, or, you know, forcing people who have been raped to have abortions and things like that.
Mr. Carville then describes camp two (unnamed) of which he says he is a member:
There are other people who say that the important part of the Catholic Church should be the way we treat each other. That Jesus’ life was more about how we treat each other, and that you should love your neighbor as yourself.
He then goes on to say that he is distinctly in camp two.
Consider the eccelosiology James Carville sets forth. Somehow he imagines that it is impossible for the Church to actually be both, namely, setting forth clear moral norms in terms of sexuality and many other issues, and also, among these moral norms, reminding us that we must love one another, and both speak and act in truth and love.
We have spoken on this blog before of the masterful work of Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist who wrote the book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. In that book he well describes the problem of modern heresy, which cannot abide the paradoxes and tensions of the real Jesus Christ, or of the Scriptures, and thus picks certain aspects, to the exclusion of others, in order to resolve that conflict. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, seeks to hold these tensions and allow them to balance each other.
One of the great paragraphs of Douthat’s book, worth the entire price of the book, is his description of Jesus, of the complex, balanced, and paradoxical nature of Jesus. Douthat writes:
Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a wise ethicist the next. He’s a fierce critic of Jewish religious law who insists that he’s actually fulfilling rather than subverting it. He preaches a reversal of every social hierarchy while deliberately avoiding explicitly political claims. He promises to set parents against children and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. He makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity, without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness. He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping. And of course the accounts of his resurrection only heighten these paradoxes, by introducing a post-crucifixion Jesus who is somehow neither a resuscitated body nor a flitting ghost but something even stranger still—a being at once fleshly and supernatural, recognizable and transfigured, bearing the wounds of the crucifixion even as he passes easily through walls. (Kindle Edition Loc. 3005-16)
Douthat goes on to conclude:
The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus…..[Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy….The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus. (Ibid).
And this describes well Carville’s fundamental error. To oppose the Jesus who said love one another to the Jesus who forbade even lustful thinking and spoke of unchastity as evil is to fail to hold the balance and end up in a heretical and incomplete view. James Carville of course is no theologian, but he does articulate here a common misconception of both Jesus and the Church.
Orthodoxy is in the balance. The true faith cannot be truncated as Carville thinks, the true Faith is richer than he knows and more balanced than the extreme and incomplete little “camp” that he imagines the Church to be.
As for his other silly notions about Bishops being Republicans, well, a lot of Republicans would surely differ with that claim, and the Nuns on the Bus being Catholic – Well lets pray on that one.
Here’s the Video of James Carville’s strange ecclesiology