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christology in the crosshairs

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 09, 2005

The CNS article on the CDF's Notification regarding the errors of Fr. Roger Haight, S.J., includes the following gem:

At the start of his book, Father Haight expresses the conviction that in the postmodern era, with its pervasive consciousness of pluralism, "Christianity in the 21st century must confront new problems and issues that will generate genuinely new understandings and behavior patterns in and by the churches. ... But at the same time Christianity, in this case in its theology and Christology, must remain faithful to its originating revelation and consistent tradition."

OK, I think I know what Haight means in urging that Christianity must confront problems that will generate new understandings. But what could he mean by generating new behavior patterns?

Just what is a behavior pattern? As the word suggests, it refers to regularities (patterns) of discernible activities (behaviors) as viewed from outside the intentional world of the observed object. Entomologists talk about the behavior patterns of gall wasps. Ornithologists talk about the behavior patterns of grackles and swifts. A hard-core disciple of the BF Skinner school of psychology, viewing the human being as essentially a weak-eyed ape, might even speak of behavior patterns discernible in human aggregates -- i.e., as predictable responses to repeatable stimuli. But in what sense could a theologian speak of a theological necessity to generate new "behavior patterns"?

The answer is, in no sense at all.

Haight claims to be doing Christology, but the fact that he calls for new behavior patterns (plural) "in and by" the churches (plural) reflects a strong light back on his true interests. This is the language of prescriptive politics, in fact of social engineering. It implies a "good" knowable by the social engineer (why else must new things be generated?) but not by the individual actors themselves (why else speak of "behaviors" instead of willed acts? why else speak of "patterns" instead of personal responsibility, moral deliberation, choice?).

Perhaps this is a how a cutting-edge christologist talks -- odd, then, that to us outside the guild Haight should sound most like a Democratic policy wonk, circa 1971.

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  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Feb. 12, 2005 9:09 PM ET USA

    I'm willing to hazard 30 silver pieces that a cutting edge christological lightweight would be somewhat unlikely to punch the lights out of a seminarian with wandering eyes in the men's shower, who commits a felony with a minor. The left hook/right cross, would, however, change behavior patterns as the theologian confronted these problems that generate new understandings.

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