"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).


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Idolizing Popes While Ignoring the Abuse of Nuns

It just so happened earlier this week that, ten minutes after reading Sylvia Poggioli's story on the NPR website about the clerical sexual abuse of nuns, I was being interviewed on the local NPR affiliate for nearly an hour about my book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. I'll post a link to the on-air piece and the longer interview on their website when it airs next week.

When I began the book last summer, these stories had not really begun to emerge--they really are that recent. If I were writing the book now, I'd include a chapter on nuns and abuse; but in fact what I do say in the book about power applies equally here as well. The book's arguments about the need for local structures of accountability, about abolishing episcopal-papal monopolies on power, and about dethroning false ideas of "obedience" all equally apply to religious/monastic communities as much as to parishes and dioceses. If bishops must now be held to local account, and if their near-absolute monopoly on power must be removed, so too must superiors-general of all the religious orders (I suggest starting with the Basilians) be stripped of their monopolies of power and their ability to manipulate and destroy people in the name of "obedience" and "God's will" and "avoiding scandal" and "the good of the Church" and all the other self-justifying lies these people tell.

The overlooked factor here is indeed power and the structures by which it is maintained. Some people have not mastered that lesson yet. As I noted here, I first wrote about this crisis more than twenty-five years ago, and these stories no longer surprise anybody. But, alas, these stories have now hardened into a narrative that certain Catholics cling to, excluding any and all epistemic humility by which they might realize that the crisis is not just one of  "clericalism" or "homosexuals in the priesthood." The insistence by which such simplistic and mono-causal narratives are still defended is depressing to behold.

So too is the apparent inability of certain Catholics to walk and chew gum at the same time. If some fetishize one "cause," other Catholics think there is only one "solution." These types obsessively focus on one aspect and insist we can talk about no other. Why can people not recognize that this crisis is about sex, about power, about clericalism, about the structures by which clerics maintain and abuse their power, about misogynistic violence towards women, and about abuse of boys and men by other men? As Christopher Altieri argued last summer, we need to get out of the ideological blind-spots to look at the whole crisis without sparing anyone's blushes. My book does not get caught up in such useless intra-Catholic battles, but says: what can we do, going forward, to build a stronger, more accountable Church?

In point of fact, as the title of the book makes clear, this is a crisis of sex and power--and whether the victims are young or old, male or female, school children or nuns, makes no difference at all: they are all victims and that is the first, and only, thing we need to know about them. Exploiting some victims while ignoring others to advance some pet theory about "lavender mafias" or to push for the ordination of women or some other cause is appalling. The only "cause" we should be consumed with is the one that works to get all the stories out, all the abusers named and removed from power, all the filth purified from the Church.

As we now are seeing in these new stories about the abuse of nuns, it is clear they do not fit into the hardened ideas, ideological stereotypes, and blindly held notions of the Vatican as one giant closet of gays and nothing else. Some people pop up tediously to quote some statistic or other about "80% of victims are male," which claim they brandish to slay any stories about, e.g., the abuse of women (a "distraction" as one man said in reference to the NPR story, apparently with a straight face but clearly not a conscience).

To counter this all-too-human propensity to falling into ideological if not idolatrous thinking, most of which happens outside our conscious awareness, I began the book, and spent the first chapter, drawing in particular on the Jesuit psychoanalyst Carlos Dominguez-Morano to help us bring to the surface the ideologies and idols that so often govern, bind, blind, and limit our thinking as Catholics through myriad distortions. His book Belief After Freud is invaluable in this respect and many others.

I also returned to Paul Ricoeur, who, more than forty years ago now rightly argued that the Freudian project is useful in one key respect: showing us the human propensity for idolatry, and helping us to outwit that. (Adam Phillips has said that Freud was a “man whose project was the destruction of idolatry.")

And Catholics are especially stupid and blind if they think they/we are exempt from the dangers of idolatry--as Carl Olson rightly argued. The Catechism itself says that "Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc." (s.2113). For too long we have not merely revered but idolized clergy, the pope above all. That must end. The whole cult around him, the fawning, the interviews, the endless talking and writing by him and his courtiers: the whole weary roadshow must end.

Let us return to the days when the name of the pope, or any of his ideas, are about as well known as the name or ideas of the secretary-general of, say, the UN or the World Health Organization. We have to Google those people up to find the first thing about them--the pope should expect no more. He's not some oracle or idol, and we must get that through our thick skulls.

Christian Martyrs Under Islam

There is still much to be learned about early Muslim-Christian encounters in the first generations of Islam and its gradual conquest of the Middle East. In the wrong hands, this history can be portrayed tendentiously, as either relentless bloodshed and suffering or impeccable peace and amity. A book released last summer tries to recognize the complexity of decisions facing Christians living under Islam: Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World by Christian C. Sahner (Princeton University Press, 2018), 360pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
How did the medieval Middle East transform from a majority-Christian world to a majority-Muslim world, and what role did violence play in this process? Christian Martyrs under Islam explains how Christians across the early Islamic caliphate slowly converted to the faith of the Arab conquerors and how small groups of individuals rejected this faith through dramatic acts of resistance, including apostasy and blasphemy.
Using previously untapped sources in a range of Middle Eastern languages, Christian Sahner introduces an unknown group of martyrs who were executed at the hands of Muslim officials between the seventh and ninth centuries CE. Found in places as diverse as Syria, Spain, Egypt, and Armenia, they include an alleged descendant of Muhammad who converted to Christianity, high-ranking Christian secretaries of the Muslim state who viciously insulted the Prophet, and the children of mixed marriages between Muslims and Christians. Sahner argues that Christians never experienced systematic persecution under the early caliphs, and indeed, they remained the largest portion of the population in the greater Middle East for centuries after the Arab conquest. Still, episodes of ferocious violence contributed to the spread of Islam within Christian societies, and memories of this bloodshed played a key role in shaping Christian identity in the new Islamic empire.
Christian Martyrs under Islam examines how violence against Christians ended the age of porous religious boundaries and laid the foundations for more antagonistic Muslim-Christian relations in the centuries to come.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Be Not Afraid! (II): Anglican Blurbers and Anglican Content

As I noted in the first installment, the prospects of major structural reform to the Church make a lot of people nervous, and that anxiety is very considerably deepened if some of the alternative structures come from non-Catholic sources, including especially the Anglican Communion. For the Catholic Church has often been not merely a conservative organization--loathe even to acknowledge, let alone tolerate, external change in the world (think how long it took to make its peace with, e.g., human rights), especially if those external changes (e.g., the French Revolution) might seem to demand internal changes in Catholic structures, practices, or beliefs, at which point the Church has historically been not just conservative but in fact reactionary if not revanchist.

And yet...and yet, the Church has changed, and with surprising alacrity when circumstances demanded it. Thus, very quickly, judiciously, wisely, rightly and very recently new structures have come into being to fulfill new needs. In my chapter "The Principles of Accommodation and Forgetting," in the two-volume collection John Chryssavgis edited, Primacy in the ChurchI discussed in detail several such examples in the Latin Church since the early 1980s down to 2010. In that period, the Church has not been conservative and stodgy, but flexible and nimble, creating at least three new structures--personal prelatures, military archdioceses, and the Anglican ordinariates, inter alia--because the needs of the Church required them. So the clear lesson we need to draw is that Church can change structures, and has done so in significant ways in order to serve the gospel and the salvation of the Christian people.

Surely those needs are vastly greater today. Surely, hemorrhaging massively from a crisis that (as the invaluable Christopher Altieri has reported) keeps on going, the need to change structures is even greater today than it was to accommodate small numbers of Anglicans in 2009, or even smaller numbers in Opus Dei in 1982. If the Church changed then in calmer days concerning fewer people in far less dire circumstances, the need to change when so much is under water and sinking fast is indescribably greater today. If, to put it bluntly, the rape of children as well as other men and women, and the utter destruction, including suicide, of their lives afterwards, does not justify major change, then all moral sense has been utterly degraded and the Church is hopelessly depraved.

Those two principles mentioned above--service to the gospel and the people--are the ones that must guide all discussions about change and reform in the Church, and they guided my writings of Everything Hidden Must Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.

I have, in the first installment and elsewhere, recently discussed how much the book was indebted to Orthodox thought, stressing that Orthodoxy has preserved its liturgical and theological patrimony with far fewer scars than the Latin Church has in the past half-century and more. So the idea that structural changes will bring a liberalization of doctrine--a common fear among some--is not borne out by the fact that Orthodoxy's deep conservatism and traditionalism exists within, and not in spite of, much more localized and synodal structures.

Aha! says the suspicious interlocutor, but what about the Anglicans? You not only talk about their structures with approval, but you got one of their biggest names, their most learned and accomplished theologians in fifty years at least, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to blurb your book! (This was my publisher's doing, I would add. Let me publicly pay tribute to John Riess of Angelico Press, who has been absolutely superb to work with. I know editors at far larger and longer established presses who are not nearly half as devoted as detailed as he has been.) About my book, Williams very kindly wrote:
This book eloquently and cogently pleads for the Roman Catholic Church to be released from the captivity of an over-centralized, over-individualized model of authority, arguing that this model is at the heart of many other dysfunctionalities. While we should harbor no illusions about the problems alternative systems may face, Adam DeVille makes a strong case for seeing the existing paradigm as both quite recent in its development and as consolidating a damaging set of attitudes to clerical power. A sober, theologically informed, and very significant work. —RT. REV. ROWAN WILLIAMS, Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, former archbishop of Canterbury, and author of many books, including a lovely book on icons of Christ, and another on icons of his mother, and Dostoevsky and a book on Bulgakov.
But if one Anglican wasn't enough, a second also wrote kindly of the book:

“Adam DeVille’s proposal for cleansing and reform in the Catholic Church today is crystal-clear: the Church must stop being governed by a caste of clerical guardians and start governing itself. How might this happen? The way it has always happened: through the practice of conciliar government, or to speak Greek, synodal government. Councils are not a panacea against mortal ills, but they do excel over all the alternatives when it comes to the cardinal virtue of a system of government—namely, accountability. Conciliar government is shared government. DeVille wants to see it instituted on all levels: parish, diocese, national church, and global communion. In this learned, passionate, and ecumenically informed book, DeVille leaves his readers eager to get to work on his proposal today.” —PAUL VALLIERE, Professor Emeritus of Butler University, whose book Conciliarism I drew on in my own. His earlier work Modern Russian Theology is something of a landmark work, widely read and rightly so.

So you, DeVille, got two Anglicans to endorse your book. Aren't Anglicans the ones who--unlike the Orthodox--have both localized synodal structures and gay priests, lesbian bishops, and innovations and heterodox deviations beyond numbering?! Surely you cannot want them to be a source of anything, a model of any kind of structures that the Catholic Church might want to contemplate?

These are not arguments, of course, but sneers; they are not reasoned claims but smugness and snobbery. And smugness, as Flannery O'Connor once famously said, is the Catholic sin. Since it is Lent, let us set it aside and repent of it.

But let us also make some necessary distinctions between the disciplinary nature of structures and the doctrinal nature of magisterial teaching. For Catholics the former can change while the latter cannot, and the relationship between the two is by no means unidirectional or simplistic--change one and the other changes with it. Nonsense!

Here we also need--as I do in the book--to tackle those questions head-on, noting that as someone who spent the first 25 years of his life as an extremely active Anglican who participated as a voting member in many local, diocesan, and national synods, I know the problems (doctrinal disorder among them) within that communion, but those are not problems likely to be replicated in any significant way within the Catholic Church for reasons I discuss in the book. I also note that Catholics must "be prone to an acute form of sanctimonious blindness to assume that there is no such disarray within Catholicism."

Even with our own internal disarray on doctrine and much else, Catholicism, however, as even the earliest ARCIC documents conceded, has one matchless gift that the Anglican Communion lacks: a formal and binding teaching authority that has, e.g., given us a universal catechism (which I bought and devoured in 1992 when it was first published, a full five years before I became Catholic).

My proposals, borrowed from Anglicanism and Orthodoxy, are modified to take account of certain weaknesses of both, and to fit them more felicitously within Catholic structures. Thus what I propose in the book are modified versions whereby what is best in provincial and regional structures is maintained while also accounting for a significant trans-national role exercised by the bishop of Rome as the universal “sentinel” whose job “consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein)” over “all the particular Churches” in which “the una, sancta, catholica et apostolica Ecclesia is made present” as Pope John Paul II put it so compellingly in Ut Unum Sint, on which I wrote my first book. So, to put it succinctly, in no way do I propose that the pope become the rather impotent titular figure who holds either the see of Canterbury or Constantinople. But neither do I allow the pope of Rome to maintain his totally unjustified and unjustifiable monopoly on power, a situation made all the worse by the disgusting fawning personality cult which has surrounded him for nearly 200 years, the utter abolition and destruction of which cannot come soon enough.

In both books, then, I have followed faithfully the idea of an "ecumenical gift exchange," a notion that was reiterated and given concrete expression as recently as last August when, in the latest ARCIC document (“Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church—Local, Regional, Universal"), Catholics are asked “to look humbly at what is not working effectively within one’s own tradition, and...to ask whether this might be helped by receptive learning from the understanding, structures, practices, and judgements of the other.” This is a notion given detailed consideration by the late Margaret O'Gara in her 1998 book, as well as an extremely valuable and very learned collection edited by Paul Murray, Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a Way for Contemporary Ecumenism.

Monday, March 18, 2019

First Review of Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed:

The Byzantine Catholic deacon Daniel Gordon Dozier is first out of the gate to read and review my new book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. Here is what he wrote on Facebook:
To me, UGCC Subdeacon Adam is one of the most significant contemporary voices in ecclesiology since he is both conversant in ancient Church structures and their history in East and West, as well as compelling in the case he makes for their proper reappropriation into Catholic ecclesial life which has suffered no shortage of folly as a consequence of Catholicism’s later development of an intrusive and utterly novel papo-centrism in practice. This novelty has caused the normal organs of ecclesial accountability to atrophy, as was seen in Nov 2018 with Pope Francis’ entirely unnecessary and unwarranted interference with the USCCB vote on measures to deal with abuse and episcopal accountability.
This folly is also in part to blame globally for much of the turmoil currently underway in response to the clerical abuses of sex and power.
Adam argues in a manner both orthodox and traditional for the Church to return to its proper sense of Synodality at the parochial, diocesan, national, and universal levels, while respecting and upholding a proper sense of Primacy at each level. In doing so, not only would every particular Church potentially enhance the vibrancy of its common life and mission, it would also ensure proper accountability for its clergy and lay leadership.
I CANNOT recommend this book enough.

Arabic Christian Texts in Translation

The other day I received a welcome announcement from the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University telling us of the publication of the first volume in a new series that Fordham UP is putting out, "Christian Arabic Texts in Translation."

The inaugural text in this important series is Revelation 1-3 in Christian Arabic Commentary: John's First Vision and the Letters to the Seven Churches by Būlus al-Būshī and Ibn Kātib Qayṣar and edited by Stephen J. Davis, T.C. Schmidt and Shawqi Talia (Fordham UP, 2019), 192pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:

The first publication in a new series―Christian Arabic Texts in Translation, edited by Stephen Davis―this book presents English-language excerpts from thirteenth-century commentaries on the Apocalypse of John by two Egyptian authors, Būlus al-Būshī and Ibn Kātib Qas.ar. Accompanied by scholarly introductions and critical annotations, this edition will provide a valuable entry-point to important but understudied theological work taking place at the at the meeting-points of the medieval Christian and Muslim worlds.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Be Not Afraid! (I)

Very much in my mind as I was writing Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power was the anxiety I have often heard, and still hear, from those who identify themselves as "conservative" or "traditional" Catholics. Such people often regard the idea of structural reforms to the Church with fear and loathing. Some of this, as I suggested here, has to do with an undiagnosed and ancient theological mistake of a crypto-monophysite sort--regarding, that is, the Church as some purely spiritual body untouched by the grubby concerns about politics and organization, and the politics of organization and structure. 

Much of this anxiety has to do with internal ecclesial perceptions of the last thirty years or so: "conservatives" think everything, including structures, must be preserved unchanged; and those they regard as "liberals" are associated in their minds not only with dodgy ideas and heterodox theology, but with structural reforms to accomplish those apparently nefarious goals. Oppose the reforms--so this thinking runs--and you cut off the necessary route for the imposition of "heresy." But the problem is that we have not had real structures of local accountability and real synods (local and otherwise), but only appallingly easily abused and very shabby simulacra of them, as I argued here. So the fear of structural reforms is (as our father among the saints Sigmund of Vienna might say) merely a fearful fantasy

My task, then, was to show the "conservatives" and "traditionalists" that the current structures, which they want to hold on to, are modern inventions, scarcely a century old, and thus in no serious way "traditional." Moreover, and more to the point, they simply do not work--no matter who the pope is. As should be obvious to everyone by now, even having "conservative" popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI manhandling the structures did not prevent the present crisis from breaking out. 

Quiz: which pope appointed McCarrick to Washington and the college of cardinals? Which pope elevated Pell? Who was bishop of Rome who made Barbarin archbishop of Lyon and a cardinal? Who refused to allow Bernard Law to resign before shuffling him off to a cozy sinecure using the time-tested technique of promoveatur ut amoveatur? Better still, which sainted recent pope appointed not one but two bishops in succession to Palm Beach, Florida, both of whom had to be removed for abuse? 

Assignment: Why not collect a statistic of how many of the current bishops in the United States knew of what McCarrick (and others) were doing, but themselves did nothing, assuming that it was not their job? Do we want to continue to allow them to get off so easily? 

Bonus Assignment: what percentage of American Catholics was edified by watching their bishops last November stand around doing damn all because apparently their brother in Rome told them not to? Who was heartened to hear them claim they could not discipline each other, but only the pope could do that--and since there are 3500 of them in the world, and only 1 pope, the chances of him doing that are vanishingly small? Is any of this a system any sane person wants to hang onto? 

No "conservative" with a functioning brain should thus want to conserve the structures that have given us these disasters--and countless others. No Catholic has any interest in hanging on to the worst structures conceived at the most infelicitous of times (after the 1848 revolutions) and in a context and crisis that have long since past. In holding tightly onto those structures, we are preserving sclerosis in the body of Christ, and preventing it from undergoing necessary reforms and purification. Catholics who resist structural changes today are harming the Church, not helping her. 

My additional task was to show such anxious types that John Paul II's constant call "Be not afraid!" applies to reform in the Church as this dark hour. One need not be afraid of such reforms if one can see that they work elsewhere, especially in parts of the Christian East, almost all of whose churches--Catholic and Orthodox--have so far largely preserved their liturgical traditions intact, and whose theological patrimony has been subject to far less craziness than we have seen in the West for a half-century and more now of "experimentation." 

In other words, if the structures I propose are largely drawn from the very conservative Armenian Church, then anxious conservative Catholics can take some measure of reassurance that structural reforms do not in themselves go hand-in-hand with liturgical destruction and theological heterodoxy. (I also reference structures in the Anglican Communion, which may well cause the aforementioned "conservative" anxiety to spike sharply upwards. I will address that on Monday, for in fact what I propose takes only selective parts of Armenian and Anglican structures and sets them in a Catholic context, allowing for a considerable role of insight reserved to the bishop of Rome and avoiding some of the problems of both systems.)

At the same time, however, the book is unapologetically "liberal" in the sense that the theological case for the liberation of the laics (a term I borrow from the invaluable Nicholas Afanasiev) to take their place in the councils of governance--parish council, diocesan synod, regional, and even international synods--is overwhelming

Equally, the case against the current system--of papal-episcopal monopoly on power at all levels--is overwhelming: such a system is (to coin a phrase) objectively disordered. It must go. Even if there were no crisis at all, I would argue this with the same vigor. There is nothing to be afraid of in having the governance of the Church in the hands equally of laics, clerics, and hierarchs. The current system barring laics from any serious say in the running of parishes and dioceses is perverse

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: My New Book on the Sex Abuse Crisis

I was on sabbatical last year with plans to finish a book ("Theology After Freud") I had been researching and writing for the better part of two years (but, really, for the last twenty-five years). But very early into my time away, and quite unexpectedly, I set aside the writing of the Freud book--temporarily I thought--to flesh out some ideas for reform to the Catholic Church in light of the McCarrick story, which broke in June 2018 and quickly became a story of a global epidemic of abuse everywhere in the Church. I toyed with writing a short article (and ended up writing several for Catholic World Report including this one), then a long one, and then I thought I'd see whether it would be better to flesh things out into a book. I decided to give myself two weeks to rough out material to see whether I had enough to write a book I could be satisfied with--or whether I would simply return to my Freud book.

Once I began writing I could not stop, nor did I have any urge to. I did not write in my usual halting style of drafting, reading some more, redrafting, reading, redrafting, and so on. The writing of this book was an unusual experience for me, unlike anything else I have written (for whatever that is worth, and likely not much). It was written in what I would call a psychoanalytic style not just of (relatively) free association unencumbered (initially) by the back-and-forth of editing, but the process also very clearly manifested to me what Christopher Bollas calls the "unthought known." The writing was merely the vehicle for putting the known into thoughtful form on the page.

What resulted was and is Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico Press, 2019), 154pp.

Those who read drafts last fall regularly described the book as "explosive."

Here is the blurb I wrote for the book:
The most serious sex abuse crisis in Catholic history demands the most serious and far-reaching response. This book is a contribution to that response. Its proposed changes would revolutionize Catholic structures from the parish to the papacy. Unlike other revolutions, however, this one is anchored with great care in both history and theology, including that of the various Eastern Churches.
This book shows that the current monocausal explanations of abuse and cover-up (either “clericalism” or “homosexuality”) both overlook the structural issues of governance. The current centralized structures, which monopolize power in the hands of bishops and popes, must be reformed and in their place new structures of local accountability implemented, in order for the Church to move past the present crisis.
This is a radical book in the original sense of the word: a return to root practices that structured much of Catholic life for hundreds of years. It is thus a deeply “traditionalist” book rooted strongly in venerable Christian practices, but is also an openly “liberal” book that argues in favor of liberating the laics so they can resume with voice and vote their rightful role in the councils of governance.
Here is the table of contents:

Introduction
1 Toward a Future without Illusions
2 Reforming Parish Councils
3 Returning to Regular Diocesan Synods
4 Reforming Episcopal Conferences
5 Married Priests and Bishops?
A Concluding Unscientific Postscript
Annotated Bibliographical Essay
Acknowledgments

Freud and the analytic traditions following after him are very much in evidence not just in the method of the book, but in its contents, especially the first chapter, which is an obvious reference to Freud's 1927 book. I draw on Freud in the first chapter alongside the philosopher Charles Taylor to argue for dramatic changes in what I call the "Catholic imaginary" in which the papal cult of personality is seen for the semi-idolatrous problem it is, and is therefore dismantled. This chapter also looks at the twin problems of sex and power. It may be something of an old saw, but it is nonetheless true as Freud showed us: everything is about sex, except sex--which is largely about power. Chapter 1 shows how we can disentangle these things and why we must do so as we come to conceive of, and subsequently to structure, the Church in different ways.

For most of the rest of the book, the second major interlocutor is Nicholas Afanasiev. Indeed, my book would largely be inconceivable were it not for Afanasiev's landmark and invaluable book Church of the Holy Spirit. In that book he rightly insists on seeing the laics, as he calls them, as an integral order alongside clerics and hierarchs.

This three-fold ordering of the Church shows up in  Chapter 2, which calls for reforms to parish councils, making them obligatory for parish governance as a process of mutual accountability between people, pastor, and bishop.

Chapter 3 looks at the overdue reform of diocesan synods so that bishops can be held accountable by and to their people--both laics and clerics.

Chapter 4 looks at necessary changes to episcopal conferences so that they can become true synods with, again, accountability to the people, and disciplinary power among bishops so they do not--as the American episcopate did so pathetically last November--stand around meekly waiting for texts from Rome telling them when to sit down and when to stand up.

Chapter 5 Was perhaps the most unexpected chapter, and I surprised myself by the conclusions I arrived at there, which you can read for yourselves. It is the most tentative chapter because the changes proposed there would require the greatest, and costliest, changes across the Church.

In the coming days I will discuss parts of the book, including other interlocutors as well as those who very kindly and lavishly agreed to endorse it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Being Honest about the Pathologies in Parish Life

I've sent off some interview questions to my friend Bill Mills about his wonderful and welcome new book, Losing My Religion: A Memoir of Faith and Finding (2019). When I hear from him, I'll be sure to post his thoughts.

I've been recommending his book to my friends in parish ministry, and to those I know in seminaries as well. It is a very important book especially for these latter to read--those preparing for parish life need to know what they are in for, and this book offers just those sorts of invaluable insights in deeply personal ways. It is at its most admirable in its refusal to romanticize parish life, or to gloss over its sometimes deep pathologies which often do lasting damage to clergy and their families.

Bill is very forthright in acknowledging at least one particularly painful attack, and in describing the struggles he had afterwards, putting me in mind of D.W. Winnicott's famous article, "Hate in the Countertransference." Equally commendably he acknowledges his own need for help in dealing with it, and this brave acknowledgement is encountered perhaps too infrequently among clergy schooled on the "just offer it up" mode of coping. Why clergy feel this is how they must cope is a mystery to me. In saying that, I am aware that I have long been influenced by Henri Nouwen's notion of the "wounded healer." And perhaps even more I'm aware of, and find value in, the practice still insisted on by those training--as I once thought I would--to be psychoanalysts: you yourself must be in analysis, and have a supervisor with whom to work out the hostility and pathology you receive in the transference from your patients and parishioners.

But this is not a scandal rag retailing only naughty bits. Like all good books, it is aware of both lights and shadows; and like all Christian stories the "light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." The book ends with both deep Christian hope, and deeply hilarious human experiences. It is, in many respects, a very Winnicottian approach to parish life in showing the importance of the "good enough" approach that avoids the temptations to become liturgical fanatics or perfectionists in other areas.

If you are yourself thinking of, or already enrolled in, seminary, or know someone who is, you need to read this. If you have clergy among your friends, send them a copy of this book. It's a cliché, but you and they will both laugh and cry as you read this book.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hauerwas and Vanier on Violence and Gentleness

The one person who has forced me to think about pacifism and the role of violence within Christianity more than any other is Stanley Hauerwas; and the one person who has probably done more than any other to make me aware of the invaluable lessons we can learn from those with Down syndrome and other handicaps is Jean Vanier. Now the two of them have teamed up to co-author Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2018).

About this book we are told the following:
How are Christians to live in a violent and wounded world? Rather than contending for privilege by wielding power and authority, we can witness prophetically from a position of weakness. The church has much to learn from an often-overlooked community―those with disabilities. In this fascinating book, theologian Stanley Hauerwas collaborates with Jean Vanier, founder of the worldwide L'Arche communities. For many years, Hauerwas has reflected on the lives of people with disability, the political significance of community, and how the experience of disability addresses the weaknesses and failures of liberal society. And L'Arche provides a unique model of inclusive community that is underpinned by a deep spirituality and theology. Together, Vanier and Hauerwas carefully explore the contours of a countercultural community that embodies a different way of being and witnesses to a new order―one marked by radical forms of gentleness, peacemaking, and faithfulness. The authors' explorations shed light on what it means to be human and how we are to live. The robust voice of Hauerwas and the gentle words of Vanier offer a synergy of ideas that, if listened to carefully, will lead the church to a fresh practicing of peace, love and friendship. This invigorating conversation is for everyday Christians who desire to live faithfully in a world that is violent and broken. This expanded edition now includes a study guide for individual reflection or group discussion.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Religious Freedom and Islam

Every semester in my courses on Eastern Christian encounters with Islam, the question of religious freedom, and tolerance of Christian minorities in, e.g., Syria and Egypt, generates very considerable discussion. We have often had to go at the topic piecemeal because of a lack of comprehensive, contemporary and serious scholarly treatments of the topic. But now we have one forthcoming in Daniel Philpott, Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today (Oxford UP, 2019), 348pp.

About this book we are told:
Since at least the attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most pressing political questions of the age has been whether Islam is hostile to religious freedom. Daniel Philpott examines conditions on the ground in forty-seven Muslim-majority countries today and offers an honest, clear-eyed answer to this urgent question.
It is not, however, a simple answer. From a satellite view, the Muslim world looks unfree. But, Philpott shows, the truth is much more complex. Some one-fourth of Muslim-majority countries are in fact religiously free. Of the other countries, about forty percent are governed not by Islamists but by a hostile secularism imported from the West, while the other sixty percent are Islamist.
The picture that emerges is both honest and hopeful. Yes, most Muslim-majority countries are lacking in religious freedom. But, Philpott argues, the Islamic tradition carries within it "seeds of freedom," and he offers guidance for how to cultivate those seeds in order to expand religious freedom in the Muslim world and the world at large.
It is an urgent project. Religious freedom promotes goods like democracy and the advancement of women that are lacking in the Muslim-majority world and reduces ills like civil war, terrorism, and violence. Further, religious freedom is simply a matter of justice--not an exclusively Western value, but rather a universal right rooted in human nature. Its realization is critical to the aspirations of religious minorities and dissenters in Muslim countries, to Muslims living in non-Muslim countries or under secular dictatorships, and to relations between the West and the Muslim world.
In this thoughtful book, Philpott seeks to establish a constructive middle ground in a fiery and long-lasting debate over Islam.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Mirage of Socialism?

To my enormous surprise and delight--never expecting to find such a book in so notoriously a Republican town as Ft. Wayne--I found at a sale at the Allen County Public Library's main branch downtown a copy of John Campbell's Aneurin Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism (Norton, 1987). The timing was impeccable: just as I finished John Bew's new biography of Clement Attlee--discussed here--I found this book of Campbell's almost the next day. I have been reading it off and on over the past few months along with any of the other dozen and more books I typically have on the go at a given time. Fittingly if unintentionally I finished it on the Welsh patronal feast of St. David last Friday.

It is a curious book, largely a biography but also a work of political analysis. It does both well enough to have been enjoyable, though it leaves things to be desired. E.g., it leaves parts of Bevan's biography insufficiently explored--the last year leading up to his very early death gets about two paragraphs, and his wife is never more than a stilted cartoon figure who walks on and off the edges of his life but rarely. Still, we have, as the author recognized, other fuller biographies even at the time this was published more than 30 years ago, including especially that written in 1963 by fellow Labour politician Michael Foot, a book Campbell says is excessively hagiographic.

The title half led me to expect some kind of right-wing attack on Bevan's politics, but it does not do that. Rather, it takes a very sympathetic approach to Bevan's life but argues--and not without a good deal of evidence--that by 1950 Bevan was about the only socialist left in the Labour government, which continued both to run out of steam and in so doing to list rightward. Bevan himself began to lose interest in a wavering government, which was constantly trimming its sails in response to American pressure, financial issues (especially the American demands for absurd increases in defense spending to respond to the Korean war), and the changing politics of Britain, where there seems to have been a direct relationship between the increase in postwar prosperity and the decrease in support for socialism. Bevan constantly wanted to fight things out from first principles, but as time went on he seems to have been an increasingly lone voice in adopting this approach.

Attlee, of course, appointed Bevan in 1945 to head up both housing and health, either portfolio being massive given the huge demands for new housing to be built as quickly as possible. Bevan gave less attention to the latter, building fewer (but larger, and of higher quality) houses than his Tory successor would after 1952. But Bevan's signature achievement, for which he continues to be celebrated regularly as the greatest Welshman of the last century and more, is the National Health Service, which he brought into being in 1948, and defended even against his own party (especially Herbert Morrison and Hugh Gaitskell) ever after.

In addition to that, he was regularly counted the only equal to Churchill in being able to give stem-winder speeches to rally his side or to attack the government. Churchill apparently came to loathe him but respected his ability in this area, as did others, including Attlee, who would reluctantly but reliably trot Bevan out to bring a debate to a rousing conclusion.

If there are lessons here for current American debates about a supposed "return to socialism" they are to be found in Campbell's key word: mirage. The current attacks from the right on "socialism" are all about optics and making certain ideas appear to be terrible without having to define, much less debate, them. But equally, as he shows, fewer and fewer people in the Labour party after 1945 themselves had a coherent understanding of socialism, let alone attempted a full implementation of it--apart, that is, from Bevan, whose own character flaws, and then premature death, combined with a rightward moving political environment, made the achievements of 1945-48 about as far in the direction of "socialism" as any government has ever gone. We can therefore confidently assert that whenever "socialism" and its cognates are trotted out today, they are always in the genre of phantasmagoria.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Edith Humphrey on N.T. Wright

The Orthodox biblical scholar Edith Humphrey, who is a fellow subject of the Queen's Majesty of Canada, and whom I am privileged to call a friend, has a chapter in a new Festschrift for the internationally acclaimed biblical scholar and Anglican bishop, N.T. Wright: One God, One People, One Future: Essays in Honor of N.T. Wright, eds. J.A. Dunne and E. Lewellen (Fortress, 2018), 608pp.

About this hefty collection the publisher tells us this:

Leading scholars from around the world engage with key facets of N. T. Wright's most important work, providing a window onto major debates and developments in New Testament studies in recent decades.

These essays focus on N. T. Wright's contribution to New Testament theology and interpretation over the past four decades. The structure is three-fold, corresponding to the three areas of classic Jewish theology that Wright views as starting points for discerning the shape of New Testament theology: monotheism, election, and eschatology. Working within these broad categories, the contributors critically engage with Wright's work from both biblical and theological perspectives.

I've previously interviewed Edith here and here about earlier books. Since then she has shown herself no stranger to engaging what is good in the thought of English Anglicans as seen by her newest book, Further Up and Further In: Orthodox Conversations with C. S. Lewis on Scripture and Theology (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2017), 301pp.

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Theological Comedy about Contemporary Politics

I've previously drawn attention to Marcus Pound's very learned and suggestive study linking Lacanian psychoanalytic thought with eucharistic and liturgical practices.

He has a new book coming out this fall, Theology, Comedy, Politics (Fortress, 2019), 120pp. It sounds very interesting indeed, not least in the Trump era when I've never understood the endless wailing and moaning about him from people who make the mistake of taking him, or any other, politician, seriously. If you regard him and them--of any party, in any country, at any point in history--as absurd figures, as jumped-up monkeys at best, and politics as nothing more than an opéra bouffe, then at the very least you don't need to self-medicate as much when you read the headlines.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
What relevance has comedy for the global crises of late-modernity and the theological critique thereof? Coming out of the experience of war, a generation of modern theologians such as Donald MacKinnon, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and, more recently, Rowan Williams, in their accommodation to literature, choose tragedy as the paradigm for theological understanding and ethics. By contrast, this book develops recent philosophical, anthropological, and psychoanalytical studies of humor to develop a theology of comedy. By deconstructing secular accounts of comedy it advances the argument that comedy is not only participatory of the divine, but that it should inform our thinking about liturgical, sacramental, and ecclesial life if we are to respond to the postmodern age in which having fun is an ideological imperative of market forces.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed (II)

The clearest lesson of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church to date is that people both lack models of serious structural reform and are too scared to think in these terms. My book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, gives ample argumentation and evidence for both, showing a way forward that is deeply grounded in tradition East and West. I give you a foretaste of those arguments here, with more to come!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Legacy of Athanasius of Alexandria

Fortress Press sent me their latest catalogue, and in it I spy a book I overlooked when it was first published just over a year ago: Thomas Weinandy and Daniel Keating, Athanasius and His Legacy: Trinitarian-Incarnational Soteriology and Its Reception (Fortress, 2017), 144pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Athanasius was a fiery and controversial bishop from Egypt, driven from his See no less than five times. Yet, his work served as a keystone to the settlement of the central disputes of the fourth century, from the Trinitarian and christological debates at Nicaea to the formulation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. In this volume, Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap., and Daniel A. Keating introduce readers to this key thinker and carefully illuminate Athanasius's crucial text Against the Arians, unfolding the Trinitarian and incarnational framework of Athanasius's paramount concern: soteriology. The authors provide, in the second part, a robust map of the reception and influence of Athanasius's thought-from its immediate impact on the late fourth and fifth centuries (in the Cappadocians and Cyril) to its significance for the Eastern and Western Christian traditions and its reception in contemporary thought. Herein, Athanasius is presented for today's readers as one of the chief architects of Christian doctrine and one of the most significant thinkers for the reclamation of the Trinitarian and christological theological tradition.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Two Books by Sotiris Mitralexis

I had the pleasure of meeting the author briefly in Iasi in January at the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association. I look forward to seeing him again at a conference in Syros in June. In the meantime, herewith two notices about his newest books:

Sotiris Mitralexis, ed., Polis, Ontology, Ecclesial Event: Engaging with Christos Yannaras' Thought (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2018), 277pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Christos Yannaras (born 1935 in Athens, Greece) has been proclaimed ‘without doubt the most important living Greek Orthodox theologian’ (Andrew Louth), ‘contemporary Greece’s greatest thinker’ (Olivier Clément), ‘one of the most significant Christian philosophers in Europe’ (Rowan Williams). However, until recently the English-speaking scholar did not have first-hand access to the main bulk of his work: in spite of the relatively early English translation of his The Freedom of Morality (1984), most of his books appeared in English fairly recently – such as Person and Eros (2007), Orthodoxy and the West (2006), Relational Ontology (2011) or The Schism in Philosophy (2015). In this volume, chapters shall examine numerous aspects of Yannaras’ contributions to Orthodox theology, philosophy and political thought, based on his relational ontology of the person, later popularised in the Anglophone sphere by John Zizioulas. From political theology to Heidegger and the philosophy of language, from Yannaras’ critique of religion to the patristic grounding of the theology of the person and from Orthodoxy to the West, this volume comprises a panorama of Christos Yannaras’ transdisciplinary contributions.
The second work by Mitralexis is his Ever-Moving Repose: A Contemporary Reading of Maximus the Confessor's Theory of Time (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2018), 256 pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Sotiris Mitralexis offers a contemporary look at Maximus the Confessor's (580-662 CE) understanding of temporality, logoi, and deification, through the perspective of contemporary philosopher and theologian Christos Yannaras, as well as John Zizioulas and Nicholas Loudovikos. Mitralexis argues that Maximus possesses both a unique theological ontology and a unique threefold theory of temporality: time, the Aeon, and the radical transformation of temporality and motion in an ever-moving repose. With these three distinct modes of temporality, a Maximian theory of time can be reconstructed, which can be approached via his teaching on the logoi and deification. In this theory, time is not merely measuring ontological motion, but is more particularly measuring a relationship, the consummation of which effects the transformation of time into a dimensionless present devoid of temporal, spatial, and generally ontological distance--thereby manifesting a perfect communion-in-otherness. In examining Maximian temporality, the book is not focusing on only one aspect of Maximus' comprehensive Weltanschauung, but looks at the Maximian vision as a whole through the lens of temporality and motion.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed (I)

In a few short weeks my forthcoming book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico Press, 2019), which almost everyone who has read it has described as "explosive," will be published.

In the meantime, here is a very brief foretaste.

I will, over the coming weeks, be discussing aspects of the book on here, and also using this space as a place to discuss reactions to the book.

The Russo-Japanese War

I noted the appearance of this book in hardcover in 2017, but this month sees the publication of a more affordable paperback edition of  Russian Orthodoxy and the Russo-Japanese War by Betsy Perabo (Bloomsbury, 2019), 232pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
How should Christians think about the relationship between the exercise of military power and the spread of Christianity? In Russian Orthodoxy and the Russo-Japanese War, Betsy Perabo looks at the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 through the unique concept of an 'interreligious war' between Christian and Buddhist nations, focusing on the figure of Nikolai of Japan, the Russian leader of the Orthodox Church in Japan.
Drawing extensively on Nikolai's writings alongside other Russian-language sources, the book provides a window into the diverse Orthodox Christian perspectives on the Russo-Japanese War – from the officials who saw the war as a crusade for Christian domination of Asia to Nikolai, who remained with his congregation in Tokyo during the war. Writings by Russian soldiers, field chaplains, military psychologists, and leaders in the missionary community contribute to a rich portrait of a Christian nation at war.
By grounding its discussion of 'interreligious war' in the historical example of the Russo-Japanese War, and by looking at the war using the sympathetic and compelling figure of Nikolai of Japan, this book provides a unique perspective which will be of value to students and scholars of both Russian history, the history of war and religion and religious ethics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Loss and Gain (I)

In 1848 Newman published a novel, Loss and Gain, which was about a young man at Oxford converting to Catholicism. The Orthodox priest and pastoral theologian Bill Mills is not converting to Catholicism, but Newman's theme came to mind in re-reading Mills' wonderful memoir, Losing My Religion. The life of the Christian in general, and of pastoral ministry in particular, is very much one of losing and gaining: losing time, losing struggles for perceived goods, losing beloved friends and parishioners through death, moving away, or irreconcilable conflicts.

But it is also about gaining far more than one realized. Those to whom, ostensibly, one ministers are often the bearer of amazing gifts that come wholly unexpected. I got tastes and glimpses of this in the 1990s in Ottawa when I was involved with providing pastoral care in a large downtown nursing home for several years and when also, during the same period, I worked regularly at a suicide distress centre.

Both of these dynamics come out in  Losing My Religion. In the rest of this series, I'll highlight some of the especially valuable lessons, but also humourous anecdotes, in this book, about which the publisher provides the following blurb:

After four years of college and six years in seminary, William Mills was ready for a parish--or so he thought. He didn't realize much of his time would be endless discussions about bagels and coffee, digging ditches, and parking lot condom patrols.
For six years, community life was just humming along. Then disaster struck. Mills' life came crashing down when nearly a third of his congregation left in a public power play, causing him to question his faith in himself, in the church, and in God. Marva Dawn, a noted writer of spirituality and ministry, said that being a pastor is like being peppered with popcorn: after a while, you just get tired of it, pack your bags, and move on. However, as Mills himself says, "I was either too stubborn or stupid, so I stayed."
Losing My Religion is about the ups and downs, ins and outs, choices and challenges of being a pastor in the twenty-first-century church. It's also about the redemptive power of community life and finding healing and wholeness in a broken world.

Monday, February 18, 2019

On the History of Sobornost (the Journal)

A new book by the Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols is always worth paying attention to. He is easily in the top tier of serious and worthwhile Roman Catholic theologians today, but what sets him apart still further is his life-long scholarly study of the Christian East in a number of books (on, e.g., Maximus the Confessor, or Vladimir Lossky, or Rome's relationship to the Eastern Churches, inter alia), a discussion usually marked by careful, sober assessment untainted by either polemics or romanticism.

All those hallmarks look to be present in his newest book, an historical study of a journal I have read for many years, but always with an inchoate sense that there was something a bit peculiar about it, that its internal tensions were rather volatile, and that it could not quite figure out who it was or what it was attempting to do. Nichols has turned his skills to telling this history of engagement-cum-conflict in Alban and Sergius: The Story of a Journal (Gracewing, 2018), 528pp.

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
In the last century the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius gave to Russian Orthodoxy an opportunity, in a sustained encounter with the Christian West, to speak with a voice never heard as powerfully before in the western world, and from the date of its foundation in 1928, the Journal of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, later Sobornost, sought to strike a good balance between Western and Eastern contributions to Christian thought. It provided an ecumenical encounter principally between the exiled Orthodox intelligentsia of the Russian diaspora and the Catholic party of the Church of England, but also on occasion with Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestants.
In this fascinating account of the work and mission of Sobornost, Aidan Nichols shows how this was to change significantly as the Western tradition began to be seen as taking too many wrong turnings to be a reliable guide for Christian theology at large, and he divides this study into two parts: the first forty years of the journal as a time of encounter more or less on equal terms, and the last fifty years where the meeting of East and West would be increasingly on the East's terms--and, in another striking development, this meant the Greek East rather than the Russian. This process of transformation was only gradual, but by the start of the twenty-first century, Sobornost was fast becoming, especially through its mediation of modern Greek philosophy, theology and spirituality, as well as the more traditional discipline of Byzantine studies, a largely monophonic voice for Orthodoxy in the West. This was a far cry from its origins, even if that voice was also much needed in an often disoriented English, European and North American Christianity. Throughout its history, Sobornost has been invaluable for Western readers in the provision of information about the Eastern Churches, and especially the Byzantine or Chalcedonian Orthodox--always the more important part of both Fellowship and journal. A definitive role for the present and for the future, as they both celebrate their 90th anniversary.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bless Me Father for I Have Lost My Faith....in My Parish?

Though I was privileged to read it in draft form, I was still excited last night to find in my mailbox a copy of Bill Mills' new book, Losing My Religion: A Memoir of Faith and Finding (Resource Publications-Wipf and Stock, 2019), 170pp.

It comes, rightly and justly, bearing a slew of impressive blurbs:

"William Mills has given us a true story told truthfully, a story of a faith lost and found, a story of the church at its best and worst, a story of a priest who persisted in his vocation in spite of everything. Service to the Body of Christ, the church, is not for the faint of heart and yet, in the end, there are blessings" (Will Willimon, United Methodist Bishop, retired, and Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry, Duke Divinity School).

 "William Mills has gone honest and intimate with us in telling his story of the travail of ministry. His drama of mean-spirited betrayal in the congregation and the late unexpected reassurance of support replicates our best story of crucifixion and resurrection" (Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary).

 "William Mills' memoir is a beautifully crafted, honest, wise, and insightful book. It stands in the very best tradition of spirituality--a writer and text that can speak to the real condition of the soul, and the day-to-day struggle that many have with belief. . . Honest and wise books on religious resilience are often hard to find. But this is one of those rare gems, and I commend it for anyone who knows how long our spiritual journey can be" (Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford).

"The Church speaks a lot about truth but isn't so good at honesty. Here is a priest who has learned the cost of this and who, with courage and imagination, encourages us to join him and to say it as it is. We clergy often know the words of religion but miss the music. William Mills calls us back to the vocation of trying to tune our lives to the harmonies of the eternal but only by recognizing emotional and factual truth and in pursuit of justice. Enjoy it and feel yourself defrost" (Mark Oakley, Dean, St. John's College, Cambridge).

 "Losing My Religion is the brave, tender, furious account of how William Mills is lifted, brought low, broken, healed, and made whole. As books about religious life go, it is among the wisest and most honest I've ever read. This book should keep company on your shelf with the better works of J.F. Powers, Larry Woiwode, and Thomas Merton" (Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk: Stories).

"The memoir is entitled Losing My Religion, but it is a testament to all that can be gained by remaining true to one's moral compass, staying honest and authentic, seeking to learn lessons in each of life's challenges. This is a passionate, compelling book, full of meaning"  (Judy Goldman, author, Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap).

So you don't just have to take my word that this is a delightful book, and I'm glad to have the handsome finished edition in my hands to read it again and savor its humility, humor, and candor about the difficult life of parish ministry today. I will write more about it in the coming days, and arrange to interview him (as I have done in the past on here), but for now just wanted to note that if you count clergy among your family and friends, if you are yourself a pastor, or if you know someone contemplating seminary and parish ministry, then you must get this book into their hands.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bombs Away!

It has, for two decades now, often been remarked upon that the Russian Orthodox Church has gone hand-in-hand with the military adventures of Putin--whether in Syria, the invasion of Ukraine, the invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or other parts of the former Soviet Union. (In this it repeats in different fashion the role it played in another context--that of the "great patriotic war" of 1941-45.) But that relationship has not been systematically studied in English in the way it is in this forthcoming book: Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy by Dmitry Adamsky (Stanford UP, 2019), 376pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
A nuclear priesthood has arisen in Russia. From portable churches to the consecration of weapons systems, the Russian Orthodox Church has been integrated into every facet of the armed forces to become a vital part of Russian national security, politics, and identity. This extraordinary intertwining of church and military is nowhere more visible than in the nuclear weapons community, where the priesthood has penetrated all levels of command and the Church has positioned itself as a guardian of the state's nuclear potential. Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy considers how, since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the Church has worked its way into the nuclear forces, the most significant wing of one of the world's most powerful military organizations.
Dmitry Adamsky describes how the Orthodox faith has merged with Russian national identity as the Church continues to expand its influence on foreign and domestic politics. The Church both legitimizes and influences Moscow's assertive national security strategy in the twenty-first century. This book sheds light on the role of faith in modern militaries and highlights the implications of this phenomenon for international security. Ultimately, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy interrogates the implications of the confluence of religion and security for other members of the nuclear club, beyond Russia.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Orthodox Material Culture

Like most things, the study of Eastern Orthodox aesthetics, anthropology, and material culture lags behind similar treatments given to Western communities. But an important new study looks to fill the gap to some degree: Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven by Timothy Carroll (Routledge, 2018), 201 pp,

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
Although much has been written on the making of art objects as a means of engaging in creative productions of the self (most famously Alfred Gell’s work), there has been very little written on Orthodox Christianity and its use of material within religious self-formation. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is renowned for its artistry and the aesthetics of its worship being an integral part of devout practice. Yet this is an area with little ethnographic exploration available and even scarcer ethnographic attention given to the material culture of Eastern Christianity outside the traditional ‘homelands’ of the greater Levant and Eastern Europe.
Drawing from and building upon Gell’s work, Carroll explores the uses and purposes of material culture in Eastern Orthodox Christian worship. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Antiochian Orthodox parish in London, Carroll focuses on a study of ecclesiastical fabric but places this within the wider context of Orthodox material ecology in Britain. This ethnographic exploration leads to discussion on the role of materials in the construction of religious identity, material understandings of religion, and pathways of pilgrimatic engagement and religious movement across Europe.
In a religious tradition characterised by repetition and continuity, but also as sensuously tactile, this book argues that material objects are necessary for the continual production of Orthodox Christians as art-like subjects. It is an important contribution to the corpus of literature on the anthropology of material culture and art and the anthropology of religion.

Friday, February 8, 2019

A History of Mt. Athos

I have over the years noted a number of books and videos, as well as TV shows, about Mt. Athos, a place that continues to enchant or at least attract a good deal of Western attention. Another study, from a major academic press, joins this collection: A History of the Athonite Commonwealth: The Spiritual and Cultural Diaspora of Mount Athos by Graham Speake (Cambridge University Press, 2018), 308pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book examines the part played by monks of Mount Athos in the diffusion of Orthodox monasticism throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. It focuses on the lives of outstanding holy men in the history of Orthodoxy who have been drawn to the Mountain, have absorbed the spirit of its wisdom and its prayer, and have returned to the outside world, inspired to spread the results of their labours and learning. In a remarkable demonstration of what may be termed 'soft power' in action, these men have carried the image of Athos to all corners of the Balkan peninsula, to Ukraine, to the very far north of Russia, across Siberia and the Bering Strait into North America, and most recently (when traditional routes were closed to them by the curtain of communism) to the West. Their dynamic witness is the greatest gift of Athos to a world thirsting for spiritual guidance.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Short Note on Freud's Historiographical Mistakes

The philosopher Jonathan Lear of the University of Chicago is also a practicing psychoanalyst. He has written a number of books in and about both disciplines. The second edition of his Freud is an especially lucid treatment, judiciously sifting what is good and what must be abandoned in Freud's thought. It would make a very useful introductory textbook in, say, an undergraduate course.

His final chapter in that book is devoted to the late period of Freud when he turned his attention to the Future of an Illusion, a book, as I've often noted, Freud himself denounced almost as soon as it was published as "my worst book!" Lear's assessment of Freud in this book and other works is very helpful. He begins by noting--as others have--that Freud very much wanted to situate himself as an Enlightenment rationalist par excellence, and as a successor to Darwin. Such desires led him to some serious mistakes in writing about "religion." As Lear puts it with great clarity:
in the name of analyzing the fantasy underlying religious belief, Freud participated in his own fantasy of inevitable historical progress, which included secularization as a hallmark of that progress. There is reason to think that this closed down Freud's curiosity: he was disposed to see religious commitment as historically retrogressive. If he could find a kernel of wishfulness in that commitment that was sufficient; it was as though there was nothing more to look for. As a result, Freud blinded himself to the possible complexity of religious belief (204). 
This very much accords with my own read of Future. It is insufficiently curious, ideologically pre-determined, and in some ways also very lazy: he never bothers to move beyond sweeping and sophomoric generalizations to investigate the depth and details of what he denounces too facilely. He also represents Christianity in particular as nothing more than a cult of the "primal murder" of the father by the son, a notion that is laughable on its face as a few seconds reading the New Testament will reveal.

As Lear puts it, Freud fails to do to his own analysis what he readily applies elsewhere. But he also makes historiographical mistakes--though, admittedly, these were not uncommon at the turn of the century, when for some time many thinkers had been predicting massive and unrelenting secularization so that, by century's end, "religion" would largely have disappeared. We now know what a crock those predictions were and are. (MacIntyre's 1967 lectures on this are still useful.)
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