Without knowing it, Michael Gerson makes some points about believing.
>According to a recent television ad run by the Louisiana Democratic Party, the leading Republican candidate for governor, Bobby Jindal, has “insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants” by describing their beliefs as “scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical.” Jindal, the attack goes on, “doubts the morals and questions the beliefs of Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals and other Protestant religions.”
>The ad is theologically ignorant — Methodism and the others are not “religions,” they are denominations. The main problem, however, is that the ad stretches the truth so phyllo-thin it can only be called a smear.
Gerson is nit-picking with the “denominations” point, for Jindal thinks the other Christian denominations are wrong, as wrong as anything non Christian, if not more. But here’s why the truth is “phyllo-thin”:
>And Jindal’s chosen tradition is a muscular Roman Catholicism. In an article published in the 1990s, he argued, “The same Catholic Church which infallibly determined the canon of the Bible must be trusted to interpret her handiwork; the alternative is to trust individual Christians, burdened with, as Calvin termed it, their ‘utterly depraved’ minds, to overcome their tendency to rationalize, their selfish desires, and other effects of original sin.” And elsewhere: “The choice is between Catholicism’s authoritative Magisterium and subjective interpretation which leads to anarchy and heresy.”
It seems to me that what Jindal says is actually worse than the ad makes it sound. Not to Gerson’s ears, however:
>This is the whole basis for the Democratic attack — that Jindal holds an orthodox view of his own faith and rejects the Protestant Reformation. He has asserted, in short, that Roman Catholicism is correct — and that other religious traditions, by implication, are prone to error. This is presumably the main reason to convert to Catholicism: because it most closely approximates the truth. And speaking for a moment as a Protestant: How does it insult us that Roman Catholics believe in . . . Roman Catholicism? We had gathered that much.
Way too much fudging going on in this paragraph for my taste. Jindal has asserted that views (religious or not) are heretical and false (not “prone to error” as if they might stray but might not). Besides, heresy is more than an innocuous epistemological designation–it’s more than just ordinary wrongness. It’s outright moral condemnation for people who ought to know better and will or should pay the price for their moral epistemological failing. Speaking of Roman Catholicism, nobody said it most closely “approximates” anything: Jindal said that the alternatives involved “anarchy and heresy.” From all of this, Gerson concludes that Jindal is just being Catholic, as one would expect.
That’s probably not the case (even with the current Pope’s recent pronouncement). But that’s another matter that doesn’t concern us. For us the more interesting question is the way Gerson handles the question of “believing.” Jindal is a Catholic, as a Catholic he will, in Gerson’s world, think everyone else is wrong; the same will be true of Gerson presumably (but maybe not, that’s not the point).
Here’s how Gerson reads this:
>On the receiving end of those expectations, Jindal has given these issues considerable thought. “This would be a poorer society,” he told me, “if pluralism meant the least common denominator, if we couldn’t hold a passionate, well-articulated belief system. If you enforce a liberalism devoid of content, you end up with the very violations of freedom you were trying to prevent in the first place.”
There’s considerable ground, I’d say, between Jindal’s claim that Protestants are dumb-ass heretics and the wishy-washy caricature of “liberalism” he considers the alternative. Beyond that, perhaps people find it strange that Jindal finds it necessary to pass judgment on other people’s religious orthodoxy in light of his fairly new and obviously partial understanding the “magisterium.” And indeed, in light of the role of the magisterium, it is strange indeed that Jindal would find himself qualified to pronounce heresy in the first place.