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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Beware the Rumors of a Quake When It Comes to Anglicans Flocking to the Ordinariate

by Martin E. Marty, special contributor

Archbishop Vincent Nichols ordains five priests for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral on Friday, June 10, 2011. (photo: ©Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, famines, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, and many other natural disasters — supernatural disasters and signals to Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson — are prime global and local topics. They inspire prayer and practical responses, but they also provide metaphoric language for religion. Try this, from National Catholic Reporter: “NO EARTHQUAKE FROM OVERTURE TO ANGLICANS,” a story by John L. Allen, Jr. This week he could have communicated as well by writing “No Hurricane after overture to Anglicans.” “Earthquake” works better, so let it stand.

The overture in question is the new Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a two-year-old structure instituted by Pope Benedict XVI to make it possible for hosts of Anglican clergy — and, less-noticed, laity, into the Roman Catholic communion. Don’t know where and why Walsingham is? We don’t need to. Don’t know what an Ordinariate is? Neither did the authors of the Catholic dictionaries on my shelf, but you can figure it out, and may need to if this issue interests you. It made possible the group reception of clerics into Catholicism as opposed to one-at-the-time processing through “conversion.” By the way, Allen wrote on June 8 that the ordinariate numbered 900 laity and 60 clergy “including some newly minted Catholic priests who had already retired from Anglican ministry at 70.”

Some nervous Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and ecumenically-minded “others” had foreseen a surge — see how that metaphor creeps in? — of Anglican priests who oppose the ordination of women. Allen foresees some more ordinariateers when Anglicans welcome women into the priesthood. (By August 19 he revised the statistics to “1,000 laity and 64 clergy…” scattered across 27 different communities.)

Allen says “there’s scant evidence of a revolution,” so this earthquake has to be “downgraded” to near zero on Richter scales, since it represents “roughly .02 percent of the five million Catholics in England and Wales.” That number, he thinks, could go down, or a bit “up” if, as foreseen, Anglicans will begin ordaining women to the episcopate next year. By the way, Allen, when interviewing leaders, makes a point of describing them as “thoughtful” and not antic or frantic. Still, despite all the predictions: “No Earthquake.”

Such a judgment applies outside the U.K. as well. In 1952 when I was ordained, without the help of an ordinariate, we would hear on occasion of a minister in our communion or others who had “defected” from the Catholic priesthood and been “converted” to some Protestant group. Perhaps because the events were rare and the gulf between Catholics and Everyone Else then was cosmic, such pastors became celebrities. Like “apostates,” of whom Max Scheler wrote, they “spent their whole subsequent careers taking revenge on their own spiritual past.” The gulf between communions has now narrowed; the ecumenical spirit has taken the roughest edges off the old abrasions.

Now and then we hear of the move of a Protestant minister to the Catholic priesthood, news accompanied by predictions of a forthcoming surge of such moves. In some circles of the church these predictions create tremors. However, eased ecclesial relations, the sense that the vocation of others is sacred and not to be judged by uninformed people at a distance, and an awareness that even if the statistics rise to .03 percent, we must still say “No Earthquake.” The rumblings may even provide opportunities to listen and learn and not merely to yawn. Or quake.

Martin MartyMartin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, including Pilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


The Ineluctable Modality of Numbers

by Rob McGinley Myers, associate producer

Catching up on my New Yorker reading, I ran across this article from the March 3 issue about the way the human brain is hardwired for math. It reminded me of my own peculiar sense of numbers as a kid, especially the numbers 1-10. At some point, around 1st grade, my brain gave those numbers distinct personalities, genders, and even relationships with each other. The number 6 for instance was an awkward, nerdy boy, and the number 9 was a sophisticated young woman. 6 looked up to 9 like a cool older sister, but she couldn’t stand him, and whenever they were multiplied or added, 9 couldn’t wait for the computation to end. She much preferred the company of 4 and 8, both of them cool, confident boys, though 8 was more disaffected than eager, cheerful 4 (I could go on and on like this).

What’s fascinating to me is the author Jim Holt’s statement that, according to cognitive science, “We have a sense of number that is independent of language, memory, and reasoning in general.” To me, numbers feel like a human invention, just as alphabets and words are human inventions, but it’s apparently more like numbers are a part of nature. And according to this research, our brains grasp the rudimentaries of math as intuitively as we grasp hunger, thirst, and love.

It made me think of Janna Levin’s response on our show "Mathematics, Purpose, and Truth" when Krista asked her, “Does the fact that one plus one equals two have anything to do with God?” Levin said, “If I were to ever lean towards spiritual thinking or religious thinking, it would be in that way. It would be, why is it that there is this abstract mathematics that guides the universe? The universe is remarkable because we can understand it. That’s what’s remarkable.”

About the images: top photo by jbushnell/Flickr and second photo by Genista/Flickr