"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Friday, November 15, 2019

The Gods of the Marketplace

I was, to be honest, a little amazed to learn that Harvey Cox is still alive, lazily assuming that anyone whose first big book was published in the 1960s must have died some time ago. But he's not just alive, but set next month to release a paperback edition of The Market as God (Harvard University Press, 2019), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Market has deified itself, according to Harvey Cox’s brilliant exegesis. And all of the world’s problems—widening inequality, a rapidly warming planet, the injustices of global poverty—are consequently harder to solve. Only by tracing how the Market reached its “divine” status can we hope to restore it to its proper place as servant of humanity.
The Market as God captures how our world has fallen in thrall to the business theology of supply and demand. According to its acolytes, the Market is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It knows the value of everything, and determines the outcome of every transaction; it can raise nations and ruin households, and nothing escapes its reductionist commodification. The Market comes complete with its own doctrines, prophets, and evangelical zeal to convert the world to its way of life. Cox brings that theology out of the shadows, demonstrating that the way the world economy operates is neither natural nor inevitable but shaped by a global system of values and symbols that can be best understood as a religion.
Drawing on biblical sources, economists and financial experts, prehistoric religions, Greek mythology, historical patterns, and the work of natural and social scientists, Cox points to many parallels between the development of Christianity and the Market economy. At various times in history, both have garnered enormous wealth and displayed pompous behavior. Both have experienced the corruption of power. However, what the religious have learned over the millennia, sometimes at great cost, still eludes the Market faithful: humility.
Cox is of course a Protestant, and I hope it will not be taken as an ecumenical felicity if I mention that I shall read his book second. I will do so after I have read The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity by Eugene McCarraher, a Catholic scholar and writer of singular insight whom I have often cited since discovering him a few years back.

McCarraher's big book of 816 pages, is also published by Harvard UP, and released this week. About it the publisher tells us this:
Far from displacing religions, as has been supposed, capitalism became one, with money as its deity. Eugene McCarraher reveals how mammon ensnared us and how we can find a more humane, sacramental way of being in the world.
If socialists and Wall Street bankers can agree on anything, it is the extreme rationalism of capital. At least since Max Weber, capitalism has been understood as part of the “disenchantment” of the world, stripping material objects and social relations of their mystery and sacredness. Ignoring the motive force of the spirit, capitalism rejects the awe-inspiring divine for the economics of supply and demand.
Eugene McCarraher challenges this conventional view. Capitalism, he argues, is full of sacrament, whether or not it is acknowledged. Capitalist enchantment first flowered in the fields and factories of England and was brought to America by Puritans and evangelicals whose doctrine made ample room for industry and profit. Later, the corporation was mystically animated with human personhood, to preside over the Fordist endeavor to build a heavenly city of mechanized production and communion. By the twenty-first century, capitalism has become thoroughly enchanted by the neoliberal deification of “the market.”
Informed by cultural history and theology as well as economics, management theory, and marketing, The Enchantments of Mammon looks not to Marx and progressivism but to nineteenth-century Romantics for salvation. The Romantic imagination favors craft, the commons, and sensitivity to natural wonder. It promotes labor that, for the sake of the person, combines reason, creativity, and mutual aid. In this impassioned challenge, McCarraher makes the case that capitalism has hijacked and redirected our intrinsic longing for divinity—and urges us to break its hold on our souls.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Killing the Inconvenient and Inefficient

In the mid- and late-1990s, I was a volunteer in the pastoral care department of a large nursing home and was saddened by the neglect of many people there who were simply warehoused away pending their expiration date, which their families certainly found inconveniently far off into the future. And several of the residents themselves, bored, lonely, and often in declining health, felt the pressure to do the decent thing by hurrying along to their graves. The experience of visiting the residents, and sometimes bringing them the Eucharist, bestowed on my far more gifts than anything my poor efforts might have given them in return.

It was during this time that debates in Canada over euthanasia began to emerge, and it was smack in the middle of all that that Pope John Paul II rightly raised his finger in his powerful and still entirely relevant encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Some wrote that off as the "abortion letter" but its critique of the idol and ideology of "efficiency," developed at some length in several parts of the letter, admits of very wide application today, including how we handle the questions of human disease, decline, and death.

As I was reading the late pope's letter, I was also smack in the middle of my Hauerwas period, where I read every one of his books then extant, and even had whole sections memorized. He was hugely influential for my development, and became, unexpectedly, a friend when I wrote to him about my difficulties defending my MA thesis, which was heavily indebted to him and Alasdair MacIntyre. Hauerwas has written a powerful foreword to the new book Euthanasia and the Patristic Tradition by Ioannis Bekos (James Clarke & Co., 2019), 284pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Euthanasia and Patristic Tradition presents secular and Christian bioethics as opposing forces in dialogue, highlights the importance of the Christian Patristic tradition in revealing disguised characteristics of bioethics in our era, and challenges the idea of individualism in modern societies through the development of a Christian individualism. While the book is focused on euthanasia, it also offers important perspectives on other ethical dilemmas. Ioannis Bekos applies Panagiotis Kondyliss theory for the emergence of worldviews as a function of power where all ethical theories have been proved to be subjective. Bringing together bioethical theories and just war theory, he exposes the disguised power claims of modern bioethics over human existence. Then, through an account of the history of thought, society, and politics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Bekos delivers a profound critique of the idea of common morality, popular theories such as principlism and contractualism, ethicists like Peter Singer, and philosophers like Habermas. Using the works of St John Damascene and St Symeon the New Theologian, Bekos shows the fundamental elements of a Christian anthropology regarding the constitution of man, the character of pain and death, and the importance of the free will in man, offering a critique of modern bioethics.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Florensky's Theory of the Icon

If my experience running an iconography camp in the summer, and regularly being asked to give lectures on Eastern Christian iconography, are reliable indicators, then interest in Byzantine iconography remains high today on the part of Western Christians, as it has for well over a decade now. So too does scholarly interest in Florensky. Both themes meet in a new book: Clemena AntonovaVisual Thought in Russian Religious Philosophy: Pavel Florensky's Theory of the Icon (Routledge, 2019, ) 110pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book considers a movement within Russian religious philosophy known as "full unity" (vseedinstvo), with a focus on one of its main representatives, Pavel Florensky (1882–1937). Often referred to as "the Russian Leonardo," Florensky was an important figure of the Russian religious renaissance around the beginning of the twentieth century. This book shows that his philosophy, conceptualized in his theory of the icon, brings together the problem of the "religious turn" and the "pictorial turn" in modern culture, as well as contributing to contemporary debates on religion and secularism.
Organized around the themes of full unity and visuality, the book examines Florensky’s definition of the icon as "energetic symbol," drawing on St. Gregory Palamas, before offering a theological reading of Florensky’s theory of the pictorial space of the icon. It then turns to Florensky’s idea of space in the icon as Non-Euclidean. Finally, the icon is placed within wider debates provoked by Bolshevik cultural policy, which extend to current discussions concerning religion, modernity, and art.
Offering an important contribution from Russian religious philosophy to issues of contemporary modernity, this book will be of interest to scholars of religious philosophy, Russian studies, theology and the arts, and the medieval icon.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Carrie Frederick Frost on Maternal Bodies

I had a very enjoyable conversation over dinner with Carrie Frederick Frost, an Orthodox scholar who is one of the officers of the newly formed International Orthodox Theological Association, whose inaugural meeting I attended this past January in Iasi, Romania--a delightful town which hosted a splendid conference. She told me of her forthcoming book, Maternal Body: A Theology of the Incarnation from the Christian East (Paulist, 2019, 144pp.) and when, several weeks ago, I received a review copy from the publisher, I sent her some questions for an interview. Here are her thoughts.

AD: Tell us a bit about your background

CFF: I was raised in a Carpatho Russian parish in southern West Virginia with no church school or effort to educate its few children, but the hours I logged in liturgy were formative in ways I am only able to glimpse now. I had lots of questions about how the church worked and what things meant, and even though the priests in my life were not always able to answer them or give answers that made sense, I was never shut down or discouraged from asking.

My father’s parents had emigrated from what is now Belarus just before World War I and my mother of Scottish, Irish, and other northern European descent had grown up Southern Baptist, left that community as soon as she was an adult, and then later converted to Orthodoxy after she married my father. They were both, each in different ways, pious Orthodox Christians whose faith inspired those around them. Somehow, all these things worked together, I believe, to propel me into theological studies later in my life. I studied Tibetan Buddhism as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia and, after working all sorts of jobs unrelated to theology, getting married, and starting a family—I went back to the University of Virginia for my PhD in Theology, Ethics, and Culture, which I was fortunate to do under the advisement of the wonderful Vigen Guroian.

AD: What led you to write Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East?

CFF: This book does have an origin story that is different from most works of theology! When I was working on my PhD, my husband and I went through a process of discernment about the possibility of having a third child. To our total surprise, at a routine ultrasound at the end of the first trimester of my pregnancy, we found out that we would be having our third, fourth, and fifth children: triplets. Everyone in the family (me, my husband, and our two older children) processed the news in different ways, and I write about these in the “Preface” of the book.

For me, I became deeply thirsty for spiritual information on motherhood in my tradition. This led to me dedicating much of the rest of my graduate work as possible to studying motherhood in Orthodox theology and ultimately to writing this book (which is not an academic monograph, by the way; it’s directed at a wide audience). I composed this book because I went looking for something I could not find—theological writing about motherhood—and after working with other sources like icons, hymns, and prayers, I ended up engaging in theological reflection on motherhood myself and wanted to offer that up to others who might have the same thirst. The book ended up being about other things, too, which I discuss below.

I feel this book has an audience has a broad audience: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians—and others. Christianity, I’ve noticed, does not have a monopoly on motherhood, nor does Orthodoxy within the Christian world. But, I do feel that there are sources, ways of perceiving motherhood, and, indeed, “a theology of incarnation” found within Orthodoxy that might be of benefit to people both inside and outside the bounds of the Orthodox Church.

Paulist Press made good sense to be because they have a broad readership and I felt the book would find its way into many hands with the Paulist imprimatur. While I do understand that “theology of the body” is a loaded term in the Catholic context, and Julie Hanlon Rubio says as much in her lovely “Foreword,” this is not the case—in my mind—in the Orthodox context, and by doing a “theology of incarnation” around motherhood, I believe I am demonstrating just that. My references to the theology of my Catholic sisters and brothers are a way to welcome them into my work and to open my explanations of Orthodox sources and theology to them. I don’t so much see myself as positioning my work within Catholic debates as engaging in theological hospitality.

AD: One of the problems with the use of that phrase ("theology of the body") in some Catholic circles is that it seems straight out of European romanticism in which motherhood is rendered monochromatically and simplistically. In Orthodoxy, however, as you note in your preface, your research brought forth "other, more complex portrayals of motherhood." Give us a couple of examples if you would.

Well, for one thing, I am quite up front in the book about the fact that the sources on motherhood in the Orthodox tradition are not all sweetness and light. One example: in the Conception chapter, I discuss the church’s broad failure to minister to women and their families after miscarriage; the prayers for miscarriage that entered the service books in the fifteenth/sixteenth century and remain there still portray the bereaved woman as involved in the “killing of another person” and call her a “murderess.” Regardless of any lack of clarity around the causes of miscarriage in the medieval world, there is no possible justification—theological or pastoral—for using these prayers today. So, I do not whitewash the ways the church has failed its mothers.

A different example: In the Birthgiving chapter, I discuss the different ways of depicting Mary in Nativity icons, and what her posture and gaze are thought to indicate. Paulist was generous enough to include color plates in the book, so my readers are able to see an example of the Mary in the contemplative repose posture that I discuss in detail, and that I think offers mothers a model for understanding motherhood as not mutually exclusive from the contemplative life, but, in fact, deeply contemplative in its own right. What I find so interesting and inspiring about these images is that they are a reminder that theology is a living enterprise in relationship with our embodied experience as faith, and, as I note, I am especially curious to see how depictions of the Nativity do or not change over time as more women and mothers become iconographers.

AD: I love your phrase about motherhood being "ferociously physical" (p.xv). You helpfully show how this does not end with birth, or even begin there, but that the sheer physicality is found across the life-cycle:  conception (ch.1), pregnancy (ch.2), birthgiving (3), postpartum (4), and breastfeeding (5). Of these, I especially gravitated to your last two chapters. A few questions here: You allude (p.64) to some possible revisions to the "churching" rite's prayers for purification--which your chapter handles so carefully and compellingly. Would it be possible, in your judgment, to have such revisions include a petition for the "purification" or "enlightenment" of minds darkened by postpartum depression, which has been brutal for several women I know? (Here, to be clear, ritual practice could be seen not to replace but to work in tandem with, e.g., psychotropics or psychotherapy if necessary.)

I would welcome the inclusions of some general language for healing after childbirth. Most, but not all, childbirth experiences include something that warrants healing, be it fatigue (mental, physical, or spiritual), the separation of abdominal muscles, a perineal laceration, anxiety, postpartum blues, or postpartum depression, etc. Although we might be able to speak of “purification” and “enlightenment” in the case of postpartum depression in other quarters, not in these prayers; these prayers must be entirely cleansed, as it were, of that sort of language. As I make the case in my book, our understand of impurity in a Christian context is so thoroughly associated with sin that we cannot disentangle the two, and there’s no need to try when we have other ways of talking about healing.

AD: Your chapter on breastfeeding notes that for some this can be a real process of "trial and error" and does not always go smoothly. You further note that "the effort of producing milk is enormously taxing on the mother's body" (p.68). Let me press on this point a bit with a couple of questions: First, I've been wondering for some time why much of modern Christianity seems ill at ease with the genre of lament. Do we need to be honest and speak of times in motherhood (or parenthood in general) where we are exhausted, frustrated, angry, depressed, utterly physically drained--and needing to voice all this openly in our prayers and rites the way the psalmists did and do?

CFF: I am guessing it won’t shock you then when I say that By the Rivers of Babylon is one of the nursery lullabies in the Frederick Frost household? I think passing one on to our children from the cradle shows the high estimation we have for religious lament.

The idea of voicing the frustration, anger, exhaustion, etc., of motherhood in  prayers and rites is interesting to me because one of the themes of my book is that mothers have not been the voices, have not been the authors of prayers about motherhood in the church at all, much less had the opportunity to consider including any of these sentiments.

AD: I have recently been thinking a lot about the well-known pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott and his controversial lecture in 1947, "Hate in the Counter-Transference" in which he shocked people by honestly admitting that there come times when physicians hate their patients just as mothers hate their children. This, he assured his shocked audience, is a normal and necessary developmental task! Do we as Christians sometimes unhelpfully glide over those moments where even in families we just can't stand each other? 

I have so many thoughts in response here that I hardly know where to start, though I don’t think I have a straight-forward answer to your question. One thing in the background of my book, against which I am reacting, is a very saccharine, sentimentalized, unnuanced portrait of motherhood that one see sometimes in the Orthodox Church today that understands motherhood as the pinnacle of womanhood and allows no room for even ambiguous, much less negative experiences or perceptions of maternity. Besides being theologically spurious, I cannot see that this is a recipe for good relationships or growth.

Another thought: For years I participated in a continuous Psalter read during Lent, in which a group of women divide up the Psalter and rotate through it, such that it’s being collectively read in its entirely every day and each woman reads it through during the fast. The first few years I found myself surprised by all the anger. And struggle, heartbreak, despair, mourning, and bitterness! This was an academic source of interest to me until my father died followed by a personally hellish sequence of events. The following Lent, the only person that understood me was the Psalmist, and I remember clearly reaching back through tears and three thousand years to thank him for his company.

At some point after that, I wondered about the possibilities of a female Psalmist. I know the poet Scott Cairns has composed some “Idiot Psalms,” but perhaps there’s a women out there who will try her hand and add a woman’s voice to this canon of lament?

AD: You speak of how the Orthodox tradition sometimes "denigrates the maternal body" (p.xvi), and I've certainly seen this in some of the hymnody and other texts you cite. Is there context here that as a scholar you can offer to help us understand why that might be? Does that scholarship offer any "aid and comfort," as it were, to mothers who may be taken aback, hurt, or even driven out of the Church by feeling denigrated as "impure" ?

CFF: As I insist throughout the book, the core theological understanding of the body in the Orthodox tradition is that it is creator-fashioned, our venue for communion in this life, and our vehicle into the next—and this is just as true for women as it is for men, just as true for mothers as for anyone else. We are quite capable of sullying our bodies (and our minds) as we wish, but this does not alter its significance.

Therefore, practices such as banning women from communion during menstruation and excluding them from church (and communion) after childbirth based on a portrayal of childbirth as unclean and defiling are inconsistent with these core theological premises. Scholarship about the childbirth prayers in particular has amply demonstrated that the connection between impurity and childbirth is a late addition to the rites; that the versions of these prayers that were in place for some time concerned first the baby; and then when mention of the mother was first added, her “purity” was not a concern. I think all these things are helpful for women and mothers (and the whole church community) to know, but, depending on women’s experiences in the church, for some I am afraid they may be cold comfort. For me, there is thus a real sense of urgency to expunge the church of menstrual bans on communion and to align the words of these prayers with the convictions of our theology so that they are pastorally helpful, not harmful to mothers and their families.

AD: In your epilogue you contrast the relentless march of chronological time with a "deeper sense of time that is lived out in the maternal body." I'm wondering (and here I'm thinking of Catherine Pickstock's brilliant critique in her astonishing book After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy) of modern conceptions of time and how they were foolishly adopted by liturgical reformers in the 1960s in the West) whether you would see a parallel in the flow of the liturgical year rather than the "secular" or civil calendar. Does maternal-bodily time more closely track that of liturgical time in any way?


I am convinced that modern conceptions of linear time are not nearly as reality based as we are led to believe by the culture in which we live. I don’t know Pickstock’s work (though now I am going to look for it), but I think of Peter Berger’s observation that the modern world’s conception of time changed when timelines (as in the charts one sees regularly in newspapers and textbooks, showing a sequence of historical events) were invented and became all the rage in the late 18th century. Think, for comparison, of fourth century Jerusalem when the liturgical year was celebrated cyclically by pilgrims and residents who not just reenacted, but re-experienced the life of Jesus throughout the year; this is not linear time; this could never be represented in, or reduced into, a timeline.

When my children were younger, before we went into church, I would make a show of taking off my watch and turn to them and say, “We are now leaving time; transcending time, and heading into supertime.” This was more than preventing them from asking me what time it was during church; it was a way to emphasize that the liturgical experience is, in fact, outside of time as we might otherwise conceive it.

Aspects of maternity are outside of time, or differently connected to time, too. For one thing, the entire maternal, even female, experience is cyclical, rather than linear—the menstrual cycle is constantly waxing and waning; there is an eternal return. In addition to the sacraments, if ever there is a moment of supertime in the human body, it is the conception and carrying of another human person inside of you. The arrival and nurturing of another person within one’s body is a physical epiphany. All these things are ways that the maternal body experiences time in a non-linear, more liturgical way.

AD: Having finished the book, what sorts of projects are you at work on now?

This fall, all of my energies are going towards teaching and childrearing. I am teaching at Western Washington University for this first time: both an Introduction to the Study of Religion class and a Christianity and Modern Literature class. I worked in some letters of Ignatius of Antioch to the former and I was able to design the latter which includes Flannery O’Connor stories Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” excerpt, and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, all of which have been fantastically enjoyable to teach.

I am also continuing to teach at Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary this fall, and there I am supervising an Independent Study on the topic of “Women’s Roles in the Church: Past, Present, and Future.” Two very different teaching environments—one secular undergraduate, one seminary graduate—but, I derive great pleasure from being in the classroom with my students in any environment.

As for the children rearing: four out of my five children are still at home. I have a sense of how fleeting that time with them is, and I want to place myself in a position to savor it. The bits of time left over here and there are reserved for the nonprofit work I do. I am on the board of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) and we are busy planning our next mega-conference for 2023 (after having wrapped up our first one in Romania earlier this year), and I am on the advisory board for Saint Phoebe Center for the Deaconess and am actively involved in their ongoing work advocating for the re-institution of ordained deaconesses.

All this being said, I am always reading and making little notes and thinking this and that about what major project I ought to undertake next. In many ways, it would make sense for me to compile my work on the childbirth prayers into a book or write a book-length argument for ordained deaconesses in the church today. I have also been thinking for some time about a book on Prayer of the Heart in the home setting. But it is not yet clear to me which of these (or perhaps another topic entirely) is my vocation. The thing about Maternal Body was that it was so clear to me, there was no question that I must write this book; all other possible projects fell to the wayside. I may not ever have that level of clarity around a project again, but I would like to reach some spiritual discernment about my next major undertaking.

AD: Sum up the book for us, your hopes for it, and who especially should read it.

This book is about many things! I encounter Orthodox icons, hymns, homilies, and other sources in Orthodox Christianity, seeking what they have to offer a theological reflection on motherhood; in this way the book is about Orthodox Christian sources on motherhood. Along the way, I address Orthodox practices that have neglected mothers’ bodies; in this way, the book is about living within a truth-bearing but flawed tradition and what this demands of me as a practitioner—a situation in which I am far from alone. I offer a fresh view of our bodies through the lens of motherhood; and in this way the book is a corrective to disparaging views of the body that surround and infect the church. I encounter ways in which women, including mothers, are entering aspects of the Orthodox theological conversation in which they’ve never significantly been involved before (they are becoming theologians, iconographers, hymnographers, etc.); and in this way the book is about the possibilities and hope as women’s voices are integrated into the church really for the first time. In all these ways, this is a book not just for mothers, but for other women and for men interested in any of these topics.

Ultimately, though, Maternal Body is about understanding our embodied experience as humans with joy and better cultivating a relationship with our Creator. May it work in this way.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jesuits and the Christian East

I recently and modestly paid some attention to Jesuit historians who have been and are important for the Christian East, including the best known of them, Robert Taft.

And I have a piece forthcoming in America, the Jesuit periodical, on Jesuit psychoanalysts. So I note with great interest a new book that looks at the diverse roles and contexts of Jesuit ministry around the world over the last 500 years, including in the Orthodox world as well as in modern psychology: The Oxford Handbook of the Jesuits (Oxford UP, 2019), 1152pp.  

About this very hefty collection the publisher tells us this:
Through its missionary, pedagogical, and scientific accomplishments, the Society of Jesus-known as the Jesuits-became one of the first institutions with a truly "global" reach, in practice and intention. The Oxford Handbook of the Jesuits offers a critical assessment of the Order, helping to chart new directions for research at a time when there is renewed interest in Jesuit studies. In particular, the Handbook examines their resilient dynamism and innovative spirit, grounded in Catholic theology and Christian spirituality, but also profoundly rooted in society and cultural institutions. It also explores Jesuit contributions to education, the arts, politics, and theology, among others.
The volume is organized in seven major sections, totaling forty articles, on the Order's foundation and administration, the theological underpinnings of its activities, the Jesuit involvement with secular culture, missiology, the Order's contributions to the arts and sciences, the suppression the Order endured in the 18th century, and finally, the restoration. The volume also looks at the way the Jesuit Order is changing, including becoming more non-European and ethnically diverse, with its members increasingly interested in engaging society in addition to traditional pastoral duties.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Renewal Movements in Eastern European Orthodoxy

Set for release in early December is a soft-cover version of a book noted on here in 2017 when it was first published: Orthodox Christian Renewal Movements in Eastern Europe, eds., Djurić Milovanović, Aleksandra, and Radmila Radić (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 339pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores the changes underwent by the Orthodox Churches of Eastern and Southeastern Europe as they came into contact with modernity. The movements of religious renewal among Orthodox believers appeared almost simultaneously in different areas of Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth and during the first decades of the twentieth century. This volume examines what could be defined as renewal movement in Eastern Orthodox traditions. Some case studies include the God Worshippers in Serbia, religious fraternities in Bulgaria, the Zoe movement in Greece, the evangelical movement among Romanian Orthodox believers known as Oastea Domnului (The Lord’s Army), the Doukhobors in Russia, and the Maliovantsy in Ukraine. This volume provides a new understanding of processes of change in the spiritual landscape of Orthodox Christianity and various influences such as other non-Orthodox traditions, charismatic leaders, new religious practices and rituals.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Florentine Fate of the Epiclesis (Updated)

Given the sheer volume of books emerging today, it is hard to maintain excitement for a lot of them, but there are some coming along to which I am greatly looking forward as much for the topic as for the author, and one such book, just released, is The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019), 380pp., by Christiaan Kappes, whom I previously interviewed about his groundbreaking and revealing work on the Immaculate Conception. I've been on panels with him, and read some of his other articles, and both he and them are always dynamite, so we have every reason to look forward with delight to this new book. I am also in contact with him about a blog interview, to which he's agreed. So I hope to be able to run that in the coming weeks.

The council of Ferrara-Florence has not occasioned a lot of recent scholarship, which is curious if it is indeed the last "council of union" between East and West. Cambridge University Press, back in 2011, sent me a republished copy of Joseph Gill's 1959 study, but apart from that I have not seen a lot. So this book will be welcome for more than one reason.

Before reading the publisher's blurb, listen to what one widely respected scholar, no stranger to this blog, says about this forthcoming book:

“In this book Christiaan Kappes lays before the reader the genesis of an important, albeit often neglected, ecumenical stumbling block. Although the filioque, papacy, and azymes are traditionally considered the three great causes of the Catholic-Orthodox split, for many today the epiclesis debate remains a significant unresolved issue dividing the two churches. By detailing the theology, setting, and personalities of the first stage of that debate, along with the translation of relevant texts, Kappes has indeed provided an invaluable service to all liturgists, ecumenists, and interested historians of dogma.” --A. Edward Siecienski, Clement and Helen Pappas Endowed Professor of Byzantine Civilization and Religion, Stockton University.

And from the publisher we learn this:
The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence is the first in-depth investigation into both the Greek and the Latin sides of the debate about the moment of eucharistic transubstantiation at the Council of Florence. Christiaan Kappes examines the life and times of the central figures of the debate, Mark Eugenicus and John Torquemada, and assesses their doctrinal authority. Kappes presents a patristic and Scholastic analysis of Torquemada’s Florentine writings, revealing heretofore-unknown features of the debate and the full background to its treatises. The most important feature of the investigation involves Eugenicus. Kappes investigates his theological method and sources for the first time to give an accurate appraisal of the strength of Mark’s theological positions in the context of his own time and contemporary methods. The investigation into both traditions allows for an informed evaluation of more recent developments in the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in light of these historical sources. Kappes provides a historically contextual and contemporary proposal for solutions to the former impasse in light of the principles rediscovered within Eugenicus’s works. This monograph speaks to contemporary theological debates surrounding transubstantiation and related theological matters, and provides a historical framework to understand these debates. The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence will interest specialists in theology, especially those with a background in and familiarity with the council and related historical themes, and is essential for any ecumenical library.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Creative Forgetting and its Gifts to (and from) Memory and History

I have spent no little time on here over the past four years exploring questions of memory and forgetting and their possible uses and abuses among Christians divided in part by different recollections of past events such as the Fourth Crusade. There is still a great deal of work to be done here and I continue to plug away at parts of it.

Along comes a new book much more interested in philosophy--especially Nietzsche, Benjamin, Heidegger, Adorno, Arendt (and through her, reluctantly, Augustine of Hippo)--than theology, but containing, amidst at times laborious discussions of their thought, some moderately useful insights: Stéphane Symons, The Work of Forgetting Or: How Can We Make the Future Possible? (Rowman and Littelfield, 2019), viii+207pp.

The insights come chiefly in the introduction, which is an extended essay on the problems of memory studies, a boom "industry" of the last quarter-century which has sometimes created unhelpful binaries between memory-history, memory-forgetting, and forgetting-remembering. Symons' introduction is useful in showing us a number of paradoxes, including the fact "transience as a process is not merely destructive." The act of moving forward in time, of having no choice but to move forward, does not necessarily condemn us to forget everything. We can remember new things or old things differently. In this he calls to mind a fascinating and dense book of history and forgetting in Irish historiography that I discussed here in August.

Symons, drawing on Freud, further notes that "forgetting can enable a specific type of memory" (25) and thus in some ways can prove to be salutary but in others destructive. For Freud, of course, the unconscious never forgets, especially memories of trauma, and thus forgetting is in some ways impossible. As Symons notes, "while living in our unconscious, memories gain an extraordinary capacity of endurance" (94).

Repression of memories in the unconscious is not a one-time act, either, killing the memories as it were. No, as Freud showed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, those memories not only live on, but are actively engaged in destructive cycles of repetition, revealing a resistance to change and an inability to be transformed. Why might that be so? Symons says that such memories are powerful because they fulfill the vital function of "protecting the ego's identity" (100). One could, I dare say, expand that out and come to understand why certain exaggerated, embroidered, or otherwise suspect if not bogus "memories" have such staying power in politics, culture, and even the Church today. They allow the "ego" of institutions to remain intact also.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Human Rights in Global Orthodoxy

As detailed in reviews, interviews, and notes on here over the past five years especially, discussions of human rights are front and centre in much of Orthodoxy today. A book set for November release continues and advances that discussion: Giuseppe Giordan and Siniša Zrinščak, eds., Global Eastern Orthodoxy: Politics, Religion, and Human Rights (Springer, 2019), 276pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This volume highlights three intertwined aspects of the global context of Orthodox Christianity: religion, politics, and human rights. The chapters in Part I address the challenges of modern human rights discourse to Orthodox Christianity and examine conditions for active presence of Orthodox churches in the public sphere of plural societies. It suggests theoretical and empirical considerations about the relationship between politics and Orthodoxy by exploring topics such as globalization, participatory democracy, and the linkage of religious and political discourses in Russia, Greece, Belarus, Romania, and Cyprus. Part II looks at the issues of diaspora and identity in global Orthodoxy, presenting cases from Switzerland, America, Italy, and Germany. In doing so, the book ties in with the growing interest resulting from the novelty of socio-political, economic, and cultural changes which have forced religious groups and organizations to revise and redesign their own institutional structures, practices, and agendas.

Monday, October 28, 2019

On the Origins of Eastern Christian Mysticism

Released in late August is a book that may be too expensive and "academic" for some, but for scholars in the field looks to be substantial: Origins of Eastern Christian Mysticism: AD 330-1022 by Theodore Sabo (Peter Lang, 2019), 252pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Origins of Eastern Christian Mysticism asserts that the thinkers between Basil of Caesarea and Symeon the New Theologian were important mainly for their role in the formation of Hesychasm, a fourteenth-century mystical movement in the Eastern church. The book surveys previous research on Proto-Hesychasm and sets forth eight Hesychastic trends in its practitioners: monasticism, dark and light mysticism, and an emphasis on the heart, theōsis, the humanity of Christ, penthos, and unceasing prayer.
Theodore Sabo integrates detailed and carefully researched accounts of the lives and thought of the foundational figures of Hesychasm into a compelling narrative of the movement’s origins. The Cappadocian fathers established monasticism as the predominant milieu of Proto-Hesychasm and emphasized both theōsis and dark mysticism. Dark mysticism would come into conflict with the light mysticism of their contemporary Pseudo-Macarius, but both currents would be passed on to the Hesychasts. Macarius was a seminal figure within Proto-Hesychasm, responsible for its stress on light mysticism and heart mysticism. Hesychasm itself, the author contends, emerged from two main Proto-Hesychast fonts, the philosophical (represented by such figures as Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor) and the ascetic (the realm of figures like John Climacus and Isaac of Nineveh). The former school transmitted to Hesychasm a virtually unacknowledged Platonism; the latter contributed to Hesychasm’s preoccupation with theōsis, penthos, and unceasing prayer, albeit from a solely monastic perspective. Finally, Symeon the New Theologian emerged as the redoubtable successor to these schools, unifying their distinct traditions in his philosophical approach.
While previous scholarship has documented the connections between Proto-Hesychasm and Hesychasm, Origins of Eastern Christian Mysticism is unique in its treatment of the Proto-Hesychasts as a distinguishable group, and as direct instigators of Hesychasm. This provocative study should be of interest to students and scholars of the late antique history of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as to contemporary theologians steeped in the Eastern mystical tradition.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sightings in the LRB for 26 September 2019

Continuing with some periodic notes and musings on things discovered in the always delightful London Review of Books, I spy the following of interest.

First up, amidst the endless Brexit discussions, it is easy to forget that the roots of some of the "thinking" (or, rather, emoting) that led to the narrow victory for Leavers in 2016 go back a half-century and more. We are reminded of this in Ferdinand Mount's fascinating review essay of Paul Corthorn's new book, Enoch Powell: Politics and Ideas in Modern Britain (Oxford UP, 2019).

Mount's essay contains some acute commentary on modern nationalisms, and avers to a relatively old book which I have long profited from reading: Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism. Mount notes, rightly, that "nationalist rhetoric is so saturated with false consciousness" that none of it can be trusted. All nationalisms have "rubbish heaps of false memories and embroidered legends."

This, of course, puts me in mind of Vamik Volkan, whom I have often cited on here over the years, and found useful in trying to understand, e.g., Orthodox narratives of the Fourth Crusade. Volkan talks about "chosen trauma" and "chosen glory," and these concepts are as useful in looking at nationalist histories as at some ecclesial-national ones. Volkan has written many books about nationalism and its bloodlines, and about conflicts between ethno-nationalist groups in Israel-Palestine, the Balkans, Turkey-Cyprus, and elsewhere.

Back to Mount's essay for a moment. He goes on to argue that we need not be especially concerned with the "sentimental content" of nationalist mythologies. The real problem is their "iron framework: the insistence that the nation is the supreme fact, the one in which every citizen finds, and ought to find, his or her greatest fulfillment and which therefore demands all our loyalties." It is striking how many people nowadays are coming to this realization, questioning at long last the pious certainty many have that the state is that than which nothing greater can be conceived, than which no higher authority exists or could exist. Recent converts to questioning the idolization of the state are welcome aboard, but the great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre got there first in an essay published some thirty years ago now.

Say it with me again, dear friends, in MacIntyre's acid and unforgettable words:
The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf … it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.
When the state refuses to realize it is just like the telephone company, and instead inflates itself all out of proportion and begins demanding one's highest allegiance, then we are on the verge of fascism. A new book from Michigan State Press sounds very timely indeed: (New) Fascism, by Nidesh Lawtoo.

Michigan State is the publisher of a some works by and about René Girard, whose work clearly figures in Lawtoo's book, as the publisher tells us:
Fascism tends to be relegated to a dark chapter of European history, but what if new forms of fascism are currently returning to the forefront of the political scene? In this book, Nidesh Lawtoo furthers his previous diagnostic of crowd behavior, identification, and mimetic contagion to account for the growing shadow cast by authoritarian leaders who rely on new media to take possession of the digital age. Donald Trump is considered here as a case study to illustrate Nietzsche’s untimely claim that, one day, “ ‘actors,’ all kinds of actors, will be the real masters.” In the process, Lawtoo joins forces with a genealogy of mimetic theorists—from Plato to Girard, through Nietzsche, Tarde, Le Bon, Freud, Bataille, Lacoue-Labarthe, and Nancy, among others—to show that (new) fascism may not be fully “new,” let alone original; yet it effectively reloads the old problematics of mimesis via new media that have the disquieting power to turn politics itself into a fiction. 
While on the topic of Girard, I failed some time ago to give you my thoughts on Cynthia Haven's lovely biography of him, which I read on the plane to Romania in January. I should write up a long review, but in the meantime let me simply say that it was a very enjoyable and edifying read and you will not regret picking it up.

In other matters, I spy an ad for a new book from Bloomsbury, Sex and the Failed Absolute by (you guessed it) Slavoj Žižek. If not always edifying, he is almost invariably amusing in some measure, provocative in many others, and rarely boring.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
In the most rigorous articulation of his philosophical system to date, Slavoj Žižek provides nothing short of a new definition of dialectical materialism.
In forging this new materialism, Žižek critiques and challenges not only the work of Alain Badiou, Robert Brandom, Joan Copjec, Quentin Meillassoux, and Julia Kristeva (to name but a few), but everything from popular science and quantum mechanics to sexual difference and analytic philosophy. Alongside striking images of the Möbius strip, the cross-cap, and the Klein bottle, Žižek brings alive the Hegelian triad of being-essence-notion. Radical new readings of Hegel, and Kant, sit side by side with characteristically lively commentaries on film, politics, and culture. Here is Žižek at his interrogative best.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Gender and Orthodoxy

To hear the Rod Drehers and Sohrab Ahmaris and other bores of the world tell it, universities today discuss nothing but sex and gender (especially transgender persons), and do that for the sole purpose of recruiting people into drag shows and then "persecuting" Christians opposed to these developments. At risk of giving ammunition to such know-nothing journalists, let us note the impending arrival of a new collection, Gender and Orthodox Christianity, eds., Helena Kupari and Elina Vuola (Routledge, November 2019), 232pp.

About this scholarly collection the publisher tells us this:
The Orthodox Christian tradition has all too often been sidelined in conversations around contemporary religion. Despite being distinct from Protestantism and Catholicism in both theology and practice, it remains an underused setting for academic inquiry into current lived religious practice. This collection, therefore, seeks to redress this imbalance by investigating modern manifestations of Orthodox Christianity through an explicitly gender-sensitive gaze. By addressing attitudes to gender in this context, it fills major gaps in the literature on both religion and gender.
Starting with the traditional teachings and discourses around gender in the Orthodox Church, the book moves on to demonstrate the diversity of responses to those narratives that can be found among Orthodox populations in Europe and North America. Using case studies from several countries, with both large and small Orthodox populations, contributors use an interdisciplinary approach to address how gender and religion interact in contexts such as, iconography, conversion, social activism and ecumenical relations, among others.
From Greece and Russia to Finland and the USA, this volume sheds new light on the myriad ways in which gender is manifested, performed, and engaged within contemporary Orthodoxy. Furthermore, it also demonstrates that employing the analytical lens of gender enables new insights into Orthodox Christianity as a lived tradition. It will, therefore, be of great interest to scholars of both Religious Studies and Gender Studies.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hysteria Lives--in the Catholic Church

The carryings-on around this pseudo-synod in Rome (so called not because of its content but because, as I argued almost a year ago, nothing in Rome called a "synod" since 1965 has really been such properly so called) are really a sight to behold. The reaction to this synod is merely a more advanced case of the reaction to Pope Francis, which has been growing worse over the last three years especially. But in the last day or so things really seem to have crossed a line with the adolescent antics around some of the Amazonian art which was pitched into the Tiber and has caused rejoicing among a certain sector of Catholics (largely white, North American and Western European, upper middle class at least, and right-wing) on social media.

This sector, I'm convinced, is astonishingly well described by the Anglo-American psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas in his book HysteriaBollas defines hysterics as those who are
“indifferent to conversion, who are over-identified with the other, who express themselves in a theatrical manner; who daydream existence rather than engage it; and who prefer the illusion of childlike innocence to the worldliness of the adult. They also suffer from suggestion, either easily influenced by the other or in turn passing on ideas to fellow hysterics.” 
Elsewhere in this book he notes that "there are as many male as there are female hysterics" and the especially advanced cases are "malignant hysterics" prone to, inter alia, being "transference junkies."

Monday, October 21, 2019

Let's Eat!

Just this past week in my sacraments class I was talking with my students about the different connotations and implications of what we call our Sunday eucharistic gatherings, and for a thought experiment I was proposing that we reconsider resurrecting the name "love-feast" which, by virtue of being unfamiliar and unused, sounds at the very least more intriguing and perhaps less boring than "Mass" or "Divine Liturgy" or "Holy Communion." I was more serious in proposing to them that we resurrect the practice of having a full meal together (or a very substantial coffee hour, which is in effect a mini-brunch), mentioning how common this is in many Eastern parishes, both Catholic and Orthodox, on a regular basis, where the coffee hour is sometimes referred to as the "eighth sacrament."

Along comes a new book from to advance this discussion in what look to be helpful ways: We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God by Kendall Vanderslice (Eerdmans, 2019), 176pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:
The gospel story is filled with meals. It opens in a garden and ends in a feast. Records of the early church suggest that believers met for worship primarily through eating meals. Over time, though, churches have lost focus on the centrality of food— and with it a powerful tool for unifying Christ’s diverse body.
But today a new movement is under way, bringing Christians of every denomination, age, race, and sexual orientation together around dinner tables. Men and women nervous about stepping through church doors are finding God in new ways as they eat together. Kendall Vanderslice shares stories of churches worshiping around the table, introducing readers to the rising contemporary dinner-church movement. We Will Feast provides vision and inspiration to readers longing to experience community in a real, physical way.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Eastern Christian Soteriology

I've previously read, and cautiously recommended, at least one of James Peyton's previous books introducing parts and figures of the Christian East to evangelical Christians in North America. He has a new one just released a couple of weeks ago: The Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy (IVP Academic, 2019), 244pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
How can Christians claim that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is a victory? Yet the doctrine of salvation affirms precisely that: in his death and his resurrection, Christ is victorious over the power of sin and death. The articulation of this tenet of faith has taken different shapes throughout the church's life and history. Eastern Orthodoxy has made its own contributions to the belief in salvation through Christ, but its expressions sometimes sound unfamiliar to Western branches of the church. Here James Payton, a Western Christian with a sympathetic ear for Eastern Orthodoxy, explores the Orthodox doctrine of salvation. Payton helps Christians of all traditions listen to Orthodox brothers and sisters so that together we might rejoice, "Where, O death, is your victory?"
For Eastern Christians a little bit nervous at reading a book by a non-Orthodox, two of the blurbers are well-known Orthodox scholars:
 "James Payton is a theologian skilled in patristic and contemporary thought. He is also a careful and sympathetic reader in all things to do with Eastern Christianity, an area in which he has immersed himself in a deeply insightful manner. In this present study he has surveyed Orthodox thought on salvation in Christ, and the result is an elegant and masterful survey of a major theme at the very heart of the Christian message. His approachable style is unfailingly clear, and this important study will surely be a new standard on the reading lists." (John A. McGuckin, Oxford University faculty of theology)
"Professor Payton belongs to a charmed circle of bridge builders working between the Orthodox and evangelical worlds today. This book brings together a wide range of topics related to the doctrine of salvation in the Eastern Church from creation to consummation and compares it with classical Protestant thought. The author's dependence on original biblical, patristic, liturgical, and monastic texts has produced a masterful synthesis of the Orthodox vision of salvation. Free of artificial contrasts between Eastern and Western theology that are too often made today, this book is carefully nuanced and critically reliable. Readers, both East and West, will find it to be an ideal textbook for theology classes as well as a handy resource for understanding selected topics in Eastern Orthodox doctrine." (Bradley Nassif, professor of biblical and theological studies, North Park University).

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Turkey's 30-Year-Long Genocide of Christians

With the tender ministrations of Turkey in other countries and against other ethnic groups again in global headlines, this book, released just this year, could hardly be more timely as a reminder of very recent atrocities against Easter Christians: The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924 by Benny Morris and Dror Ze'evi (Harvard University Press, 2019), 672pp.

This book, the publisher tells us, is
A reappraisal of the giant massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, and then the Turkish Republic, against their Christian minorities.
Between 1894 and 1924, three waves of violence swept across Anatolia, targeting the region’s Christian minorities, who had previously accounted for 20 percent of the population. By 1924, the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks had been reduced to 2 percent. Most historians have treated these waves as distinct, isolated events, and successive Turkish governments presented them as an unfortunate sequence of accidents. The Thirty-Year Genocide is the first account to show that the three were actually part of a single, continuing, and intentional effort to wipe out Anatolia’s Christian population.
The years in question, the most violent in the recent history of the region, began during the reign of the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II, continued under the Young Turks, and ended during the first years of the Turkish Republic founded by Ataturk. Yet despite the dramatic swing from the Islamizing autocracy of the sultan to the secularizing republicanism of the post–World War I period, the nation’s annihilationist policies were remarkably constant, with continual recourse to premeditated mass killing, homicidal deportation, forced conversion, mass rape, and brutal abduction. And one thing more was a constant: the rallying cry of jihad. While not justified under the teachings of Islam, the killing of two million Christians was effected through the calculated exhortation of the Turks to create a pure Muslim nation.
Revelatory and impeccably researched, Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi’s account is certain to transform how we see one of modern history’s most horrific events.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Orthodox Secularisms and Entanglements

Are there more tedious phrases on the lips of Christians today than "secularism" or "secular humanism"? The whingeing about these developments, which are rarely treated with any attendance upon questions of economics or the role Christianity itself has played in bringing us to the perceived present position, is not only off-putting but also misplaced. We would do well to meditate for a while upon Benjamin Fong's recent observation (discussed in some detail here) that
there is perhaps no more confused assertion, for a critical theorist, than that capitalist society is becoming increasingly 'secular'.
The situation, then, is not at all straightforward even in the Western world, where complaints about "secularism" usually mean nothing more than "declining church attendance" and increasing criticism of Christian beliefs and practices by people (e.g., Beto O'Rourke) who are NQOUCD ("not quite our class, dear").

How much more different and no less complex are the situations faced by several Orthodox countries in Europe treated in a recent book: Tobias Koellner, ed., Orthodox Religion and Politics in Contemporary Eastern Europe: On Multiple Secularisms and Entanglements (Routledge, 2018), 274pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
This book explores the relationship between Orthodox religion and politics in Eastern Europe, Russia and Georgia. It demonstrates how as these societies undergo substantial transformation Orthodox religion can be both a limiting and an enabling factor, how the relationship between religion and politics is complex, and how the spheres of religion and politics complement, reinforce, influence, and sometimes contradict each other. Considering a range of thematic issues, with examples from a wide range of countries with significant Orthodox religious groups, and setting the present situation in its full historical context the book provides a rich picture of a subject which has been too often oversimplified.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism or Tradition

The Orthodox Christian Studies Centre at Fordham regularly hosts fascinating conferences which result in rich published proceedings, several of which I have previously spent a good deal of time on here discussing.

Forthcoming in November is another collection from a recent conference: Fundamentalism or Tradition: Christianity after Secularism, eds. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George E. Demacopoulos (Fordham University Press, Nov. 2019), 272pp

About this collection we are told this:
Traditional, secular, and fundamentalist―all three categories are contested, yet in their contestation they shape our sensibilities and are mutually implicated, the one with the others. This interplay brings to the foreground more than ever the question of what it means to think and live as Tradition. The Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, in particular, have emphasized Tradition not as a dead letter but as a living presence of the Holy Spirit. But how can we discern Tradition as living discernment from fundamentalism? What does it mean to live in Tradition when surrounded by something like the “secular”? These essays interrogate these mutual implications, beginning from the understanding that whatever secular or fundamentalist may mean, they are not Tradition, which is historical, particularistic, in motion, ambiguous and pluralistic, but simultaneously not relativistic.
Contributors: R. Scott Appleby, Nikolaos Asproulis, Brandon Gallaher, Paul J. Griffiths, Vigen Guroian, Dellas Oliver Herbel, Edith M. Humphrey, Slavica Jakelić, Nadieszda Kizenko, Wendy Mayer, Brenna Moore, Graham Ward, Darlene Fozard Weaver

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Christianity in South and Central Asia

This past July saw the release of a substantial volume dedicated to Orthodox and other Christian traditions in parts of the world still often overlooked: Christianity in South and Central Asia, eds. Kenneth R. Ross, Daniel Jeyaraj, and Todd M. Johnson (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 560pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this, and then provides us with the table of contents:
This comprehensive reference volume covers every country in South and Central Asia, offering reliable demographic information and original interpretative essays by indigenous scholars and practitioners. It maps patterns of growth and decline, assesses major traditions and movements, analyses key themes and examines current trends.
Table of Contents:

Introduction
A Demographic Profile of Christianity in South and Central Asia, Gina A. Zurlo
Christianity in South and Central Asia, Daniel Jeyaraj

Countries:
Kazakhstan, Alina Ganje
Uzbekistan, Feruza Krason
Turkmenistan, Barakatullo Ashurov
Tajikistan, Barakatullo Ashurov
Kyrgyzstan, David Radford
Iran, Gulnar Francis-Dehqani
Afghanistan, Anthony Roberts
Pakistan, Mehak Arshad and Youshib Matthew John
North India, Leonard Fernando SJ
Western India, Atul Y. Aghamkar
South India, Daniel Jeyaraj
North-East India, Kaholi Zhimomi
Nepal, Bal Krishna Sharma
Bhutan, Tandin Wangyal
Bangladesh, Pradeep Perez SJ
Maldives, Kenneth R. Ross and Todd M. Johnson
Sri Lanka, Prashan de Visser

Major Christian Traditions:
Catholics, Felix Wilfred
Orthodox, Romina Istratii
United and Uniting Churches, Joshva Raja
Protestants and Anglicans, Arun W. Jones
Independents, Roger E. Hedlund
Evangelicals, Rebecca Samuel Shah and Vinay Samuel
Pentecostals/Charismatics, Ivan Satyavrata

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Crucifixion of Eros

Forthcoming next month is a book I am looking forward to, not least for its reliance, in part, on the work of the Greek Orthodox scholar John Panteleimon Manoussakis: Eros Crucified:Death, Desire, and the Divine in Psychoanalysis and Philosophy of Religion by Matthew Clemente (Routledge, November 2019), 224 pages.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Weaving together psychoanalytical, philosophical, and theological thought from art and literature, this work provides a fresh perspective on how humans can make sense of suffering and finitude and how our existence as sexual beings shapes our relations to one another and the divine. It attempts to establish a connection between carnal, bodily love and human’s relation to the divine. Relying on the works of philosophers such as Manoussakis, Kearney, and Marion and psychoanalysts such as Freud and Lacan, this book provides a possible answer to these fundamental questions and fosters further dialogue between thinkers and scholars of these different fields. The author analyzes why human sexuality implies both perversion and perfection and why it brings together humanity’s baseness and beatitude.  Through it, the author taps once more into the dark mystery of Eros and Thanatos which, to paraphrase Dostoevsky, is a forever struggle with God on the battlefield of the human heart. This book is written primarily for scholars interested in the fields of philosophical psychology, existential philosophy, and philosophy of religion.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Episcopal Hearts of Stone

The last, and arguably most "radical" chapter in my Everything Hidden Shall be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power concerns the episcopate. It was only very late in the process of writing and revising that I included the recommendations in there for major changes to the episcopate based on reading reports (especially in Pennsylvania and California) of how utterly--indeed, demonically--cold, callous, calculated, and uncaring bishops were and are in their responses to people whose lives have been destroyed by the abuse, leading not a few of them to death at their own hands, through drug overdoses, or by similar means. It's not for nothing that Leonard Shengold has called child sex abuse "soul murder."

It was bad enough that bishops moved abusers around and protected the Church's assets first and last. What was truly sickening was their complete refusal even to see the victims as fellow human beings. They were an abstract category--a problem to be made to go away as quickly and quietly as possible, with mendacious promises of reform preferably, a lean cheque if necessary, and a confidentiality agreement in either case.

In reflecting on this, I realized, as Claudia Rapp and others have shown, that bishops have functioned as a self-protecting elite insulated from real life for some 1500 years, and the most important, and most pathological, criteria for membership in this elite is disdain for normal sexual and more generally human intimacy. More recently this episcopal elitism (the nastiest strain of the disease Pope Francis has often criticized as "clericalism") is made infinitely worse by the system which processes and produces these developmentally arrested men, first by requiring celibacy of them, and second by sending them to seminaries at unhealthy ages. In some cases they are taken out of human relationships as early as adolescence, sent to a high-school seminary with all men, then a regular seminary with all men, and on to ordination in a male-only presbyterate.

All the while they are told never to have "particular friendships" or really even human feelings and regular relationships. In addition, they are coddled and catered to, swanning about in collars and cassocks even before ordination, expecting and receiving the "docility" of "pious laity" whom they will shortly be given license to boss about however they see fit. This is a sick system stripped of humanity, and one way (there are many others in the book) to begin an overdue reform is to return, as I argued, to a married episcopate so that these men who are made bishop come from in-tact families and themselves remain human beings molded, humbled, and humanized by having children of their own whose very presence will give hierarchs an otherwise missing element of basic sympathy when confronted with child sex abuse victims.

Along comes a new report confirming yet again the need for such reforms. This story concerns the East Coast. I happen to know a priest of the Archdiocese of New York (to which Egan was "promoted" because, hey, he was good with money and that's all these men really care about) who said of Cardinal Egan (and not a few of his predecessors) that one always and only met the cardinal-archbishop of New York: one never met a human being. That is true for virtually all bishops today.

One is here put in mind of Julia Marchmain's regretful comments (in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited) about the man she foolishly ended up marrying, Rex Mottram, when thinking of Egan and others: “He wasn't a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnaturally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory....He was something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending he was the whole.” Mottram was solely concerned with money and reputation. He would make a perfect candidate for the episcopacy.

That is clearly confirmed in the report of Egan's handling of cases with open contempt and a total lack of humanity. If he has made it as far as purgatory, I hope he's there for a billion years repenting of this and begging the Lord to replace whatever blackened stone he had rattling around in his chest with a beating, human heart of flesh to experience the pain and suffering he inflicted, or allowed to happen, on all the victims in his several dioceses. In a Church concerned about justice, we should pray that the memories of the victims are indeed eternal, but that memories of Egan and his ilk be subject to damnatio memoriae. 
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