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The Roman Catholic Church, “Calvinism,” and sex

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Yesterday in my Rumination about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “dream” speech, I mentioned Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion as a “must-read.” Today, Douthat’s column in The New York Times focuses on the traditionally easy-going (according to him) Catholic attitude toward persistent sexual lapses. Here is the link:
http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/26/what-joseph-bottum-wants/?src=recg

My principal objection to this fascinating (and partly convincing) piece is that Douthat, like most converts (he was first a Pentecostal and then became more-Catholic-than-thou), overdoes his allegiance. I am sorry to see his making “Calvinism” an easy target. It is certainly true that there is a “Calvinist” personality–tending toward doctrinal purity and sharp opinions–and I fight against that in myself. But the Reformed tradition at its best has a very different face. I don’t think Douthat has read enough of Perry Miller or, especially, Miller’s great student Edmund Morgan, on the subject of the American Puritans to judge fairly.  Morgan’s essay on the Puritans and sex (reprinted in a new volume called American Heroes)  is particularly discerning and wise.

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