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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Notes on the London Review of Books 41

The venerable London Review of Books recently tempted me to subscribe with one of those sharply discounted promos that as a half-Scot I am constitutionally incapable of resisting. So now every two weeks a lovely treat arrives chez moi full of fascinating reviews, essays, and short notices. (I am just old enough to have grown up on the eve of the digital revolution, and therefore still prefer newspapers and reviews like this in print, but the print subscription gives me access to their on-line archives, too, which is a bonus.)

Part of the reason for having this blog in the first place was to share word of new books in one area--Eastern Christianity--so if, from time to time, I post some ad hoc, unsystematic notes on what I've been reading in the newest LRB it is for the same reason--viz., so that you, too, may benefit from what I've been reading of recent reviews of books across a wide array of subjects. Sometimes these reviews are so comprehensive and skillfully done that I think "Right. I don't need to read anything more." But other times, of course, one is tempted to order the book and read the whole thing oneself.

Volume 41, dated 21 March 2019, is a goldmine of things, including an essay by Madawi Al-Rasheed on the perpetual lies, corruption, despotism, and tyranny of Saudi Arabia, a regime of whose horrors no conscious person should require convincing--unless, that is, you are a part of, e.g., the US government under any and every president and party.

Michael Kulikowski, an historian at Penn State, has a long and fascinating discussion of The Codex of Justinian, trans. Fred. H. Blume and ed. Bruce W. Frier, 3 vols. (Cambridge UP, 2016), 2963pp.

The size, and cost, of this enormous collection would likely limit it to academic libraries, or private libraries of exceptional means, but the influence of the Codex is still considerable even today.

Kulikowski, however, is--as I have been seeing for a decade now among academic historians, especially of antique or medieval Christianity, when they stumble into trying to understand, much less describe, anything theological--utterly unreliable and embarrassingly so when he attempts to sum up the theological debates of the fifth century by saying that "the central controversy was Christological: did father and son [sic] have two different natures in one indivisible divine person, or was their nature single and indivisible." All such questions are quickly dismissed as "hair-splitting" and "baroque episcopal politics...[and] contorted sectarian tractates," which tells us everything we need to know of the ignorance and snobbery of Kulikowski and nothing of the debates themselves. (To be fair, in a letter to the editor in the next issue, Kulikowski, tail firmly between his legs, corrects the error with enough overcompensating bluster as to suggest he's desperately trying to show he really does understand basic theology, or at least convince himself that he does.)

Michael Wood lavishly studs his review of The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht, trans. and ed. by Tom Kuhn and David Constantine (Norton, 2018, 1286pp.) with many excerpts of those poems, to great effect. I have only read a bit of Brecht, but this collection really does make me want to read more.

I think the most interesting review in this issue is Rosemary Hill's. She discusses Desmond Fitz-Gibbon, Marketable Values: Inventing the Property Market in Modern Britain (University of Chicago Press, 2018), 240pp.

I find all such recent works in a range of areas fascinating because I am increasingly convinced of two things: first, our images of, and from, "history" are as much a product of current politics and unconscious desires as anything; and second because a book like this merely illustrates something that others more interesting and intelligent than I--Zizek, Todd McGowan, Terry Eagleton, inter alia--have been arguing for some time: the basic practices and beliefs of so-called free-market capitalism are recondite mysteries and simulacra more properly classified as "religion" requiring a level of faith that makes believing in the hypostatic union easy.

When you think of how highly regulated, and litigated, questions of "property" are today, and all the complexities and intricacies of stock markets, bonds, debts, and the international market in the same, it will astonish you to read Fitz-Gibbon's book about the slap-dash way in which so much of this developed in the United Kingdom, and so recently, too: he notes that in some parts of England there was no agreed upon land registry until as late as 1991.

Michele Pridmore-Brown's review of Edith Sheffer, Asperger's Children: the Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna (Norton, 2018), 316pp. is, not surprisingly, very sobering reading when she describes the horrifying practices of this period.

I have fond memories of my time in that Habsburg capital in 2016, not least my pilgrimage to our father among the saints, Sigmund of Vienna's house at Bergasse 19. But I knew, of course, of the dark shadows hanging over Vienna after the Anschluss, whose effects Freud and his immediately family only barely managed to escape--those harrowing days are well covered in any number of books, including all his biographers; and, in a particular way, the study of Mark Edmundson and the book by Freud's last physician Max Schur.

But I was only vaguely aware of the sinister "medical" and "scientific" experiments going on in Austria in the antebellum period (from 1934 onward). Sheffer's book, according to Pridmore-Brown's review, relays all kinds of horrifying details about the career of Hans Asperger and others around him, who often condemned children to their deaths--while also managing to help some of them. His sounds like a truly complex life.

Beyond the political horrors of the period, the review and book both raise good questions about the politics of "science" which we must always keep before us. Those who claim, as I regularly hear from students and others, that they "don't believe in God because I believe in 'science.'" utter fatuous nonsense, of course, but it seems that they--and too many of us--fail to realize that "science" is not infrequently gratuitously invested with un-challengeable deified authority to dispatch people because of perceived "defects," whether mental or physical. That should make our blood run cold as we realize that too often "science" is just an idol whose politics of devotion requires the destruction of thousands of children for what Asperger and others called "Gemüt poverty"--soul poverty.

In this light, and to conclude, let me note that news is emerging of Jean Vanier's move into palliative care at the end of his long and extraordinary life caring for precisely those kinds of "defective" kids and adults dispatched by Nazi doctors with that banal and ruthless efficiency so well documented by Lifton, Arendt, and others.

Vanier's life stands as an eloquent rebuke to all this, which is surely part of the reason for him being given the Templeton Prize in 2015, as noted here.

I first heard Vanier on CBC radio in the 1990s when his Massey Lectures were broadcast. You can listen to some of that here, but the Ideas website has many links to many broadcasts with him over the years, all of them worth your time. And of course his many books may be found here, including a new one I noted here just last month.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Timothy Snyder on Eastern Europe, Fascism, and Tyranny

Timothy Snyder's several books have attracted the interest and plaudits of not a few Eastern Christians, especially in Ukraine. This interest seems to have begun with his Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and also with his The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999. 

More recently he's taken to warning of the rise of "fascism" and tyranny, as in his 2018 book,The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, and in the book published a year before that, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

This latter turn has seemed to me more problematic, as it always is when people take to trying to diagnose the present and predict the future based on their reading of the past. This review, it seems to me, gives a fair overview of the things of value in Snyder, and the things that need to be questioned.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ratzinger's Guilty Conscience

I thought I'd wait until the immediate rush of commentary on Ratzinger's latest letter had passed in order to see how those comments have shaped up. There has, of course, been the predictable fawning over his letter from the usual crowd, who find in it confirmation of all their devoutly held ideological nostrums about sex and the 60s. I have said over the years that for some liberal Catholics, including many in my native Canada, it's always 1968; but what I didn't realize until now is that Ratzinger the supposed "conservative" and "traditionalist" is himself un soixante-huitard of the most intransigent sort.

"1968" is clearly for him what Vamik Volkan calls a "chosen trauma" conveniently invoked to justify all sorts of things--bad liturgy, bad moral theology, bad priests abusing kids--but nary a word about bad bishops or popes who were themselves abusers or participated in a cover-up, and who bear sole responsibility for advancing to the episcopate the men now resigned in disgrace, deposed from office, or jailed. Ratzinger's silence in this regard is deafening.

But there has also been some interesting commentary "across the aisle" as it were--or, perhaps better, commentary which is not playing to type in some of the things it both criticizes and praises. One of the most interesting things I have noted in the Church in the past year or so is the turning upside down of a lot of the politics. Thus we find Ratzinger's letter being criticized by people often labelled "conservative" and those often considered "liberal" are seen criticizing him in different ways--while both sides end up agreeing with each other in certain limited and unexpected ways. In witness of this, see Carl Olson's editorial on Ratzinger's letter, and Massimo Faggioli's column in Commonweal. But do not fail to consider Justin Tse's fascinatingly original essay which surfaces many of Ratzinger's caricatures while also considering the problems raised by being too much in thrall to von Balthasar's aesthetics.

Apart from Christopher Altieri's column in the Catholic Herald, every word of which deserves careful re-reading, virtually nobody looked at the problems of power and structures in Ratzinger's letter, which fairly drips with sneering condescension at those issues, an astonishingly adolescent reversal from a nonagenarian who, more than almost any other major Catholic leader of the 20th century, had written more extensively and more intelligently on such reforms, and done so going back at least to 1970. For him, at this very late hour, to pour scorn on the very concept of structural and political reform in the Church today can only be taken an an attempt to buffer his conscience from the slings and arrows of his super-ego, which is plainly rebuking him for his failures in this regard, leading to the acute expressions of guilt we find in the text.

But before I criticize him, let me note and underscore that what follows is written by someone who, until this week, ceded nothing to anybody in his respect for the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. I have been reading them since at least 1997, the year I was received into the Catholic Church when my sponsor gave me a copy of Ratzinger's Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology as a gift to commemorate my reception. After that I quickly devoured other Ratzinger books: The Feast of Faith, Called to Communion, Principles of Catholic Theology, Milestonesand The Spirit of the LiturgyThis latter, along with Feast of Faith, are two books I have assigned to students for more than a decade in courses on liturgy.

If you read my first book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, you will see there my giving him credit for being a real pioneer in certain ecclesiological trajectories. I defended him publicly over the years from people--including those in Catholic theology faculties--who were content to slander him without ever having read a single book by him. (My book has one of my favourite pictures of him on the front cover.)

That picture conveys something of the very high hopes I had for his papacy. But my exuberance was misplaced for in the end his papacy did only two things of significance: the enormous good of Summorum Pontificum, liberating the liturgy for local communities to decide; and resigning his office, which as I said at the time and have ever after repeated was a wholly welcome burst of iconoclasm of the best sort: a smashing of the false image of the pope as some demiurge, some super-bishop, some sempiternal "father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world" (as the old coronation formula put it). Au contraire: if every other bishop in the world is expected to resign at 75 there is no theologically coherent reason for the bishop of Rome to be held to a different standard. Within all the absurd mewling in reaction to his resignation one found not a word of theology but only the emotional meltdown of an infantilized people.

The only way I can understand this letter is to see it as an attempted justification of his inaction from 2005 to 2013. He failed, as pope, to do many of the things he said should be done, above all in reforming the structures of the Church. For someone who had--starting at least as far back as 1971, and repeatedly in many places--written about the need for such reforms, the fact that he did nothing must be weighed against him. The closest he came to any action was in 2006 when he monkeyed about with the title "patriarch of the West" but then failed to follow up, leading to wholly unnecessary panic on the Orthodox side which I spent no little energy trying to tamp down in a number of articles and lectures--and again addressed in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy.

So he knew and plainly knows the need for structural reforms, and clearly has a guilty conscience in this regard. There is no other explanation for this new text's fatuous question, "Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed." It is impossible to see this as anything other than a counsel of despair of the most cravenly self-justifying sort. Nobody is calling for the creation of another Church, and the desire to reform the one true Church given by Christ is not an "experiment," nor has it "failed": it has not yet been tried, but it must be, precisely to make her pure for Him who is her bridegroom.

Lest we miss the point, he later elaborates by using the standard tactic of people who inhabit a crypto-monophysite ecclesiological imaginary rather than a real Church. Thus he vaguely waves his hand fearfully in the direction of some supposedly sinister thing called "politics" by immediately trying to claim that calls for reform conceal some kind of "political" agenda:
Indeed, the Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus. One speaks of it almost exclusively in political categories, and this applies even to bishops, who formulate their conception of the church of tomorrow almost exclusively in political terms.
Perhaps there are bishops who do this (can he name any of them, or cite their writings?). But serious proposals for reconceiving and reconfiguring the Church are not drawn from, say, German polities or American federalism, or the Westminster model of cabinet governance. (Even if they were, there's nothing wrong with such provenance necessarily. The Church has long despoiled the Egyptians in many ways. Does he not remember Dvornik's documenting how the very language and structures we still use--e.g., diocese, prefect, metropolia, province--are taken from the political structures of the Roman Empire?)

Rather, serious proposals for reform are drawn, as I do in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power from within the Church's tradition fully conceived and broadly understood. They are first and last theological proposals drawn from within, not "secular" or "political" solutions imposed from without. It's time to let go of this bogus binary.

Ratzinger's letter continues: "the crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the Church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign. But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope."

This is another tedious bogeyman. Nobody who is serious, least of all me, regards the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the "pillar and bulwark of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15), as unacceptable. And nobody is proposing to replace it with a "self-made Church"--whatever that is. This is silliness on stilts.

But it cannot be denied by anybody that the present structures in the Church are plainly and fully unacceptable for they have aided and abetted the present crisis, and are retarding any serious reforms. Such unjustified and unjustifiable structures must be taken up by us, using our hands and minds and brains and gifts, all given by God, to find new forms, new structures, to prevent such abuses--which are always and everywhere abuses of power and sex simultaneously--from ever occurring again. Absent such structural reforms, all the appeals in the world from Ratzinger for better liturgy, for overcoming "atheism," and for "spiritual" reform in the Church will be grossly incomplete and inadequate at best.

Is this "self-made"? As opposed to what? Given his once-brilliant intellect, surely he cannot fondly imagine, like the "Nestorians" in Waugh's uproarious Black Mischief, that the Church, untouched by human hands and fully formed in every respect by God alone, just fell down from heaven during one Good Friday luncheon some years back? Given his ecclesiological self-awareness, he knows the role of humans shaping and re-shaping the structures of the Church--dioceses, conclaves, episcopal elections, parish councils, etc. He himself called for human beings to do more of that re-shaping in his writings going back to at least 1970.

If being "self-made" is bad, why would he call, e.g., for removing many responsibilities out of Rome and back to the regions in the decentralization he advocated in, e.g., God and the World? If "self-made" reforms are bad, then surely Summorum Pontificum should be retracted for it was his very self that made such reforms possible, along with others--e.g., the Anglican ordinariates. Should we retract those arrangements and pitch out former Anglicans?

Surely these and other reforms proffered by him must be reprobated (by the logic of ecclesiological crypto-monophysites) as "self-made"--or is that only a problem when performed by anyone other than a pope?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

How to Be a Sinner

It's that time of year: the semester is winding down. And so last week I asked my students, as we reached the end of Peter Bouteneff's new book How to Be a Sinner, their overall thoughts on the book and whether they would recommend it to others.

I'm happy to report that not only would they do so, but several of my students reported how helpful it had been to them in sorting out sometimes difficult psycho-spiritual issues--especially those wrestling with neurotic guilt they have mistaken for the voice of "God" or of "conscience." Some students also reported to me that they had been quoting parts of it in e-mails to friends, or aloud to room-mates, so compelling did they find the book.

If the recommendations of undergraduates leave you a bit unmoved, then let me echo and confirm the recommendation of this book. It is a very careful and judicious approach to often fraught issues which it handles with sensitivity and insight. As a psychoanalyst manqué, I especially appreciated how helpful Bouteneff is in arguing for clear discernment of the several voices that often masquerade as God, but which in fact are just the tedious eructations of that tyrannical bore known as our super-ego. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Siberian Orthodoxy

The University of Toronto Press sent me their catalogue for books being published late this summer and autumn, and there are several in it of interest, including this forthcoming study: Colonizing Russia’s Promised Land: Orthodoxy and Community on the Siberian Steppe
by Aileen E. Friesen (University of Toronto Press, © 2019), 256pp.

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
The movement of millions of settlers to Siberia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marked one of the most ambitious undertakings pursued by the tsarist state. Colonizing Russia’s Promised Land examines how Russian Orthodoxy acted as a basic building block for constructing Russian settler communities in current-day southern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan. Russian state officials aspired to lay claim to land that was politically under their authority, but remained culturally unfamiliar. By exploring the formation and evolution of Omsk diocese – a settlement mission – Colonizing Russia’s Promised Land reveals how the migration of settlers expanded the role of Orthodoxy as a cultural force in transforming Russia’s imperial periphery by "russifying" the land and marginalizing the Indigenous Kazakh population.
In the first study exploring the role of Orthodoxy in settler colonialism, Aileen Friesen shows how settlers, clergymen, and state officials viewed the recreation of Orthodox parish life as practised in European Russia as fundamental to the establishment of settler communities, and to the success of colonization. Friesen uniquely gives peasant settlers a voice in this discussion, as they expressed their religious aspirations and fears to priests and tsarist officials. Despite this agreement, tensions existed not only among settlers, but also within the Orthodox Church as these groups struggled to define what constituted the Russian Orthodox faith and culture.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Orthodox Blurbers

It was really in the summer of 2001, which I spent teaching in Ukraine, that I realized, I suppose, the theme of all my subsequent academic work--which I then decided to begin the following year by enrolling in the doctoral program at the Sheptytsky Institute, which was then in Ottawa. That theme--dare I call it a vocation?--was the promise and problem of papal authority in the eyes of the Orthodox East.

Those who read my dissertation, which was finished in 2008 and published in 2011 as Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, will know how much time I spent looking at structures of authority in the East and deriving therefrom important lessons for the Western Church, reforms to which I then proposed in light of Orthodox concerns about the modern papacy (which I date largely from Pius IX).

Those who pick up my new book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, will see a similar approach, albeit much more focused at the local and regional levels rather than the universal level which occupied most of my first book. To the extent the pope features here, it is not the structures of his office that I focus on, but the pathological personality cult surrounding him which I challenge sharply. (For some further thoughts on this, see here.)

In both books, there is an especial focus on the Armenian Apostolic Church, a singular body from which Catholics have a very great deal to learn. But other Orthodox Churches--the OCA, the Greek, and the Antiochian among them--also feature in the book. It is, then, very gratifying that senior and internationally respected and prominent Orthodox scholars have said such kind things about the new book. (For somewhat of an overview of the book's approach and rationale, see here; for some thoughts on Anglican 'blurbers' see here.)

Given the focus on the Armenian Church, I was very glad when Vigen Guroian, whom I have been reading and learning from for twenty years now, agreed to read the book and write a blurb for it, saying:
Adam DeVille begins his book with the jolting pronouncement that ‘everything hidden must be revealed’ regarding the present sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. But this is only the first step. Writing with exceptional passion, he turns next, in an unexpected (but welcome) way, to a serious consideration of Orthodox ecclesiology and existing Orthodox ecclesiastical arrangements in order to identify a path that might allow Roman Catholics to move past ‘the current papal-centric structure’ and toward a Church in which authority and decision-making power is more jointly shared by laity, clergy, and bishops. Orthodox may benefit from DeVille’s studied perspective on their own churches, which well illustrates how renewal and reform might be accomplished for them as well.” —VIGEN GUROIAN, Armenian Orthodox theologian, author of The Orthodox Reality: Culture, Theology, and Ethics in the Modern World.
The Orthodox Reality is his newest book. But I used one of his very early works--Incarnate Love --in a course on Eastern Christian ethics I designed more than a decade ago now.

More recently, in a course on biomedical ethics and the pastoral care of the dying, I especially appreciated being able to use his very insightful Life's Living toward Dying: A Theological and Medical-Ethical Study.

Guroian has also written some interesting books on gardening, which I praised in a long essay published elsewhere more than a decade ago. I did not expect to like the books as I have long been an avowed indoorsman, but Guroian forced me to reconsider this.

Apart from the Spanish Jesuit psychoanalyst Carlos Dominguez-Morano (discussed here, though I will be returning to him again in coming days), there is one other interlocutor to whom my book is most heavily indebted, a book edited by Michael Plekon, who says this of Everything Hidden:
In this provocative and serious book, Adam DeVille presents radical ways of transforming the Church through a return to synodal and conciliar structures rooted in the traditions of the ancient Church. If there is to be death and resurrection for the Church, a Paschal renewal, then this must be the return of the Church to what it is: the assembly, not just in principle but in practice, of the whole people of God. His is a strong, courageous challenge to an embattled and damaged Church. —THE V. REV. MICHAEL PLEKON, Professor Emeritus, City University of New York.
I have interviewed Plekon many times on here over the past decade. For the most recent such interview, go here and follow the links back to the others.

He has written many wonderful books, but the one I am most indebted to in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed is the translation Plekon edited of Nicholas Afanasiev's Church of the Holy Spirit. That book is singular and rare in its clarity and boldness of vision, and its refusal to reduce the "laics" to a non-category of "lay" people, that is, people who lack something like ordination or professional standing. It was from Afanasiev (and both Armenian and Anglican experience) that I developed the argument of the necessity for the Catholic church to regard, in her counsels of governance, the laics, clerics, and hierarchs as three equal orders.

Finally I come to what Cyril Hovorun had to say about the book. His was perhaps the most overly generous blurb for the book, making me the most neurotic (but not ungrateful!):
Adam DeVille continues the line of great Catholic theologians who have asked uncomfortable questions and provided unconventional solutions to ecclesiological issues. DeVille takes the baton from the hands Congar, Rahner, Murray, and Küng, in serving the Church with both aggiornamento and ressourcement. But the true source of his inspiration is Eastern Christianity, in its Greek Catholic, Byzantine, and Oriental Orthodox forms, which provide serious challenges to the modern ways of exercising primacy and synodality in the Roman Catholic Church. Without this book, any serious ecumenical discussion between Westerners and Easterners on the church-dividing issues would be incomplete.” —ARCHIMANDRITE CYRIL HOVORUN, director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.
I interviewed Hovorun here about his Scaffolds of the Church, an invaluable book that belongs on the reading list of every course in ecclesiology--Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant. I drew on it very much as I was writing Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed. Indeed, parts of Hovorun's book gave me a shot in the arm to argue things more clearly and forcefully than I was once inclined to do. His is a very brave and important book. I also commend to you his newest, Political Orthodoxies, as well as his earlier book Meta-Ecclesiology

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Justin Tse: Importunate Widow to Unjust Judges of Jung

Just over a year ago I made plain my main reasons for disliking and distrusting Jung, and arguing why I thought Christians who regarded him as a more sympathetic dialogue partner relative to Freud were mistaken. I retract none of what I said there, but I do want to note an important qualification and new insight since then, and it's all due to Justin Tse importuning me for some time--but never more graciously and insightfully so than here--to think again on Jung.

He is right to do so both as a matter of intellectual justice, as it were, as also for "propaedeutic" purposes: I am looking forward to reading the forthcoming (August of this year) Dynamis of Healing: Patristic Theology and the Psyche by Pia Sophia Chaudhari (Fordham UP, 2019). To read that book aright requires, it seems to me, that I be more careful in my assessments about Jung, which I am glad to do. About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores how traces of the energies and dynamics of Orthodox Christian theology and anthropology may be observed in the clinical work of depth psychology. Looking to theology to express its own religious truths and to psychology to see whether these truth claims show up in healing modalities, the author creatively engages both disciplines in order to highlight the possibilities for healing contained therein. Dynamis of Healing elucidates how theology and psychology are by no means fundamentally at odds with each other but rather can work together in a beautiful and powerful synergia to address both the deepest needs and deepest desires of the human person for healing and flourishing.
To be more careful about Jung, I picked up again (though with almost no recollection of the last time I read it) Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections.Vast sections of it remain as I said in my CWR piece: prolix, rambling, and very tedious.

There are, however, two insights I take away this time and had not done so before: first, and rather minor, is the longstanding anxiety (fetish? paranoia?) Jung had about Jesuits! This was amusing to read, and clearly if psychoanalysis did not exist it would be necessary to invent it to understand how such a fear gripped not a few of Jung's generation (and before him).

But the major insight I take away is one where I think Jung is absolutely correct: his judgment about Freud's theories of sex, and especially the way he held on to and defended that.

About Freud and his theory Jung writes this by way of introduction before zeroing in on his point: "I had observed in Freud the eruption of unconscious religious factors" (I would note here that Ana-Maria Rizzuto, whom I discussed in three parts, is the best person for in-depth study of this; Paul Vitz is also useful). This claim of Jung comes after he reports a discussion between the two of them, which seems simultaneously plausible and also a bit cringe-making: "I can still recall vividly how Freud said to me: 'My dear Jung, promise me never to abandon the sexual theory. That is the most essential thing of all. You see we must make a dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark'."

At his best, as I argued at some length in my new Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and PowerFreud is the anti-dogmatist, the great and welcome iconoclast who helps us pry ourselves away from false images, idols, and ideologies. But, as Jung shows here (if this is a true record of their conversation), he can also be something of a doctrinaire figure--though not nearly on the level he is often portrayed as.

Of his theory of sex, then, Jung says that this was a replacement deity: "One thing was clear: Freud, who had always made much of his irreligiosity, had now constructed a dogma; or rather, in place of a jealous God whom he had lost, he had substituted another compelling image, that of sexuality. It was no less insistent, exacting, domineering, threatening, and morally ambivalent than the original one."

Jung elaborates his point, and here continues to make enormous sense to me, saying of Freud that while he wanted his theories about sex to be seen as strictly biological, there was nonetheless and unavoidably something theological at work in his arguments, and this was seen in "the emotionality with which he spoke of it that revealed the deeper elements reverberating within him. Basically he wanted to teach--or so at least it seemed to me--that, regarded from within, sexuality included spirituality" (my emphasis). Just so.

In the end, then, on this issue I think Jung has the upper hand for noticing these things, and for pressing home his point that "if Freud had given somewhat more consideration to the psychological truth that sexuality is numinous--both a god and a devil--he would not have remained bound within the confines of a biological concept."

To which let all the brethren say: Amen.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Imagining Religious Toleration

The question of tolerance, especially among so-called religious minorities, is one that gets regularly raised. Certain founding mythologies of the post-Reformation world are all bound up with fatuous claims about "wars of religion" requiring the supposed peace and tolerance of the nation-state to resolve (a notion William Cavanaugh handily dispensed with). Supposedly "religious" groups were not "tolerant" until the state was founded.

But when cameth this tolerance? Who conceived of it? What did it look like? These are questions taken up in a collection being published later this year: Imagining Religious Toleration: A Literary History of an Idea, 1600–1830, eds. Alison Conway and David Alvarez (University of Toronto Press, October 2019), 304pp.

About this collection the publisher tell us this:
Current debates regarding religious tolerations have come to a standstill. In investigating the eighteenth-century novel, Alison Conway, David Alvarez, and their contributors shed light on what literature can say about toleration, and how it can produce and manage feelings of tolerance and intolerance. Largely reserved for intellectual historians and political philosophers, discussions of religious toleration are relatively limited, with very few literary scholars exploring the subject.
Beginning with an overview of the historical debates surrounding the terms "toleration" and "tolerance," this book moves on to discuss the specific contribution that literature and literary modes have made to cultural history, studying the literary techniques philosophers, theologians, and political theorists used to frame the questions central to the idea and practice of religious toleration. By tracing the rhetoric employed by a wide range of authors, this book reveals the tropes and figures we associate with literary texts, delving into such topics as conversion as an instrument of power in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and the relationship between religious toleration and the rise of Enlightenment satire.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Has the Pope been reading my Book?

In the newly released Christus Vivit I spy at least two places where the message overlaps with my new book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. These two sections would suggest that certain messages seem slowly to be getting through to certain bishops, including the incumbent of Rome, about the multiple problems we group together as the sex abuse crisis. Consider, e.g., this:
42. For example, a Church that is overly fearful and tied to its structures can be invariably critical of efforts to defend the rights of women, and constantly point out the risks and the potential errors of those demands.  Instead, a living Church can react by being attentive to the legitimate claims of those women who seek greater justice and equality.  A living Church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence (my emphasis).  
I talked here about the fact that people who fatuously wants to reduce this crisis to one solely caused by "the gays" have to deal with the newly emerging data on the abuse of women by clerics in the Church.

Even more clearly the exhortation echoes what I have been saying about the undeniably intertwined crises of sex and power both being abused concomitantly (my emphasis):
98. “Abuse exists in various forms: the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience, sexual and financial abuse.  Clearly, the ways of exercising authority that make all this possible have to be eradicated, and the irresponsibility and lack of transparency with which so many cases have been handled have to be challenged.  The desire to dominate, lack of dialogue and transparency, forms of double life, spiritual emptiness, as well as psychological weaknesses, are the terrain on which corruption thrives”.[53]  Clericalism is a constant temptation on the part of priests who see “the ministry they have received as a power to be exercised, rather than a free and generous service to be offered.  It makes us think that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or has anything to learn”.[54]  Doubtless, such clericalism can make consecrated persons lose respect for the sacred and inalienable worth of each person and of his or her freedom.
I address power directly and at length in the book, including the psychology underlying both the "desire to dominate" on the part of clerics, and the equally disturbing desire to be dominated, which one can find in not a few Catholics today, who, like their predecessors going back to the nineteenth century, are only too happy to have the men in black tell them what to do. Both are forms of psychopathology, and the sooner they are rooted out the better. 

Armenians and Turks in the Aftermath of Genocide

Every semester when we talk about the Armenian (and Assyrian and Greek) genocide of 1915, my students are first fascinated and then appalled by the politics of its historiography, especially since 2007 and the murder of Hrant Dink. A newly published paperback edition of a book that first appeared in 2015 helps us appreciate the never-ending nature of this complex controversy: Thomas de Waal, Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide (Oxford UP, 2018), 328pp.| 2 maps; 22 photographs.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The destruction of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 was the greatest atrocity of World War I. Around one million Armenians were killed, and the survivors were scattered across the world. Although it is now a century old, the issue of what most of the world calls the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is still a live and divisive issue that mobilizes Armenians across the world, shapes the identity and politics of modern Turkey, and has consumed the attention of U.S. politicians for years.
In Great Catastrophe, the eminent scholar and reporter Thomas de Waal looks at the aftermath and politics of the Armenian Genocide and tells the story of recent efforts by courageous Armenians, Kurds, and Turks to come to terms with the disaster as Turkey enters a new post-Kemalist era. The story of what happened to the Armenians in 1915-16 is well-known. Here we are told the "history of the history" and the lesser-known story of what happened to Armenians, Kurds, and Turks in the century that followed. De Waal relates how different generations tackled the issue of the "Great Catastrophe" from the 1920s until the failure of the Protocols signed by independent Armenia and Turkey in 2010. Quarrels between diaspora Armenians supporting and opposing the Soviet Union broke into violence and culminated with the murder of an archbishop in 1933. The devising of the word "genocide," the growth of modern identity politics, and the 50th anniversary of the massacres re-energized a new generation of Armenians. In Turkey the issue was initially forgotten, only to return to the political agenda in the context of the Cold War and an outbreak of Armenian terrorism. More recently, Turkey has started to confront its taboos. In an astonishing revival of oral history, the descendants of tens of thousands of "Islamized Armenians," who have been in the shadows since 1915, have begun to reemerge and reclaim their identities.
Drawing on archival sources, reportage and moving personal stories, de Waal tells the full story of Armenian-Turkish relations since the Genocide in all its extraordinary twists and turns. He looks behind the propaganda to examine the realities of a terrible historical crime and the divisive "politics of genocide" it produced. The book throws light not only on our understanding of Armenian-Turkish relations but also of how mass atrocities and historical tragedies shape contemporary politics.

Monday, April 1, 2019

How Apostate Was Julian?

In the 21 Feb. 2019 issue of the London Review of Books, there is a long and fascinating review of H. C. Teitler's recent book, The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2017), 312pp.

What I find fascinating is how--according, that is, to the reviewer, Christopher Kelly, master of Corpus Christi College at Cambridge--Teitler's book demonstrates the extent to which the things said of Julian were largely invented after his brief twenty months on the imperial throne by a re-ascendant Christianity, whose propensity for triumphalist and tendentious constructions of history has in some ways remained undimmed from then until now. The uses and abuses of historical memory, about which I have written so often, are not inventions of the twentieth century, but seem to be built into the human condition. We all want to find patterns in the past, and if they need to be finessed a bit to become patterns in which our enemies turn out to be justly slayed losers, and our tribe glorious victors and moral heroes, then fiat iustitia. 

Julian was not held in great favor even by non-Christians, many of whom regarded him as something of a crank and loser. He seems to have had the common fetish among those of his class for esoterical and ascetical labors proving superior discipline of character over the obese peasants. So when it came time to traduce his reputation it was not a hard sell. As Kelly ends his review, "for a Christianity triumphant, the invention of 'Julian the Apostate' was a godsend."

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Wanted: A Theology of Disobedience

I was gratified to read this week of a French priest flatly insisting that people stop calling him 'father.' That accords with what I argued in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. 

I was told by friends/critics who read my book in draft that my calling for an abolition of the practice of automatically conferring the title "father" to clerics would be the hardest bit to swallow in an already challenging book. But here is one priest in France saying the same thing, and in the book I drew on another (Carlos Dominguez-Morano, about whom see below) who also laid out very solid psychological reasons (to say nothing of theology) for abolishing the title "father."

Morano is also extremely critical of notions, and especially practices, of "obedience." On this score, too, he has led me to change my mind. I now regard both notions--of "spiritual paternity" and "obedience as a virtue"--with far more skepticism than I once did.

Indeed, more than twenty years ago now when I was en route to becoming a Catholic, I discovered a facetious phrase in the writings of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who spoke about certain converts who “exult in the freedom to submit to authority with wild abandon.” I gladly saw myself as such, and went on to publish several articles extolling ecclesial obedience in the thought of the Jesuits Henri de Lubac and Walter Burghardt as well as John Henry Newman.

I cannot bring myself to read those now. Indeed, part of me wants to find old copies and burn them so that no child, no seminarian, no human being will ever think that he or she must submit to a clerical predator because obedience is a virtue—because he demands obedience “under pain of sin” or “in the name of God” or to receive some favor. These stories have led me increasingly to think that demands for obedience in any organization must always be regarded with suspicion—including, now, the Church.

Indeed, let me put it as strongly as possible: the Church should be held up to more suspicion than any other organization whenever it demands obedience in any matter beyond the strictly doctrinal as set down in, say, the universal catechism. I say this because the Church, unlike so-called secular organizations, is singularly vulnerable to abuses of obedience for two reasons: first, it often demands obedience in the name of God; and second, because it thus covers itself with a theological patina, it can more easily cower and frighten people (“disobeying me is disobeying God!”) who are conveniently bereft of any of the safeguards deliberately built into other organizations to prevent abuses of authority. (We have no “whistleblower” lines anonymously to call; we have no HR department to convene a hearing over sexual harassment.) In other words, in demanding obedience the Church has often, inexcusably, forgotten her own central doctrine of original sin which, as St. Augustine famously showed us, very often manifests itself via libido dominandi.

Augustine, of course, discusses that phrase in the City of God in reference to the Roman Empire and other non-Christian forces rampaging about the world. (John Rist's discussion of Augustine on this point is worth your time.) But the problem is that the Church has often uncritically and unconsciously adopted the language, practices, and structures of the empire and other polities since then. As I tell my students, structures we so commonly use today—e.g.,  “diocese” or “metropolitan” or “pontiff”—are all directly borrowed from the empire. So too our now universal practice of ordaining men in a cursus honorum, requiring them to process through a series of “lesser” offices en route to the greater, mirrors exactly how one advanced through the ranks of the Roman army. At one point the Church would ordain a man directly, not sequentially, to the priesthood or episcopate. But by adopting the Roman cursus we changed our practices of ordination (which I treat here).

We might be tempted to think these are harmless remnants of our Roman past, and perhaps they are. But far less harmless is the borrowing of the habits of hierarchical coercion and enforced obedience accompanied by serious (and sometimes lethal) threats one finds enacted by armies and empires, by modern nation-states—and by the Church. While the Church has not convened a court martial and then carried out a sentence of death on those who go astray, she has not been averse to handing such “offenders” over to the secular government, which shares no such scruples about, e.g., executing homosexuals on the Church’s behalf (as a recently published, and seemingly laudatory translation of a bull of Pope Pius V makes clear).

What we require today, more than ever, is a theology of disobedience that will begin to help the Church disentangle her life from that of imperial interlopers and begin to undo some of the damage causes by a perversion of obedience. This is a conclusion I came to after reading Carlos Dominguez-Morano, Belief After Freud: Religious Faith Through the Crucible of Psychoanalysis (trans. F.J. Montero [Routledge, 2018]). I finished it in a few days last August, but have hardly been able to write about it fully since then. It is a tour de force and deserves a very wide audience. (Its Spanish original is now in its fifth edition, and we can and should encourage such a popular dissemination among anglophone audiences.)

Part of my reticence in speaking about it comes from how many and how powerful are its challenges in some crucial areas not just of practice but of faith. My own thinking about Freud and the analytic traditions following from him--especially in Britain with, e.g., Winnicott, Bion, Klein, Coltart, Bollas, Fairbairn, Guntrip, Phillips and others--has generally inclined towards more "therapeutic" uses, whether in an individual-clinical setting, or in questions like, e.g., the healing of memories. I have not, in other words, thought Freud through in the context of, e.g., the father-son relationship between Jesus and His Father as expressed in the gospels. But Morano does this and more in ways that I have found nobody else comes close to doing. (To the extent that Catholic scholars have engaged Freudian and analytic thought seriously, it is the Jesuits who have done more than most, with Morano writing several books in Spanish over the last two decades on Christianity and psychoanalysis; and, in the anglophone world, the late Jesuit W.W. Meissner being similarly prolific.)

I must confess that when I received Morano's book in the mail in late August I was peeved and put out: for I was then on sabbatical and part of my plan was to write, if not finish, a book I have tentatively called “Theology After Freud,” a book I have been thinking about intermittently for nearly twenty-five years now since studying psychology in Canada, undergoing a classical psychoanalysis there, and ever after trying to integrate analytic thought into my work in ecclesiology, ecumenism, and the healing of memories, especially between Catholic and Orthodox Christians (the subject of my first book). But I quickly came, sincerely and modestly, to thank God that Carlos Dominguez-Morano wrote this book for it is far better and braver than anything I would have attempted.

That is nowhere more in evidence than his reflections on obedience. This book landed in my lap in this summer of endless revelations about sexual abuse, which is always also an abuse of power. And as we are hearing these tales, what is the default response of too many hierarchs to those wondering what can be done? Why, pray and fast, of course! But such seemingly pious exhortations can mask, this acutely perceptive psychoanalyst says, a sinister agenda: “religious power structures have never been indifferent to prayer and have so frequently manipulated it to their advantage…. Prayer finds in power a perfect ally and associate to help pursue certain goals, not always clear in their evangelical motivations.” Those goals, I would suggest, usually include the unspoken domination and enforced silence of the people instructed to pray, for such praying, it is confidently assumed, will be not to ask God to “scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts” and to “put down the mighty from their [episcopal] thrones” (Luke 1:51-52). One must, therefore, question the motives of those exhorting us to prayer and expecting of us obedience to these and other exhortations and orders:
on these occasions when the subject finds himself in conflict and in disagreement with certain approaches from authority, it is frightening to hear that old ‘pray on it’ advice. Frightening because we are left doubting whether what is really wanted is that the matter is taken up with the God of Jesus of Nazareth or with the god of that figure in the unconscious, the superego.
Dominguez-Morano goes on to argue elsewhere in the book that one of the key lessons of the earthly life of Jesus vis-à-vis his parents, especially revealed in the incident where they find him teaching in the temple at the age of twelve, is that he shows us how to overcome the problem of earthly fathers and their claims to power over us: “Any type of paternal projection on other social figures must be overcome. Nobody on earth can claim paternal authority. Nobody can exert paternal power or protection functions in the Christian community.”

If we refuse such power and paternal functions, we do so, Dominguez-Morano reminds us, because Christ says “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:14-15). Those who are called to be friends with God must learn to conceive him anew, moving past paternal projections onto priests, bishops, and popes, and all the problems inherent in those. Thus Dominguez-Morano can say that “the Christian should not nostalgically search and long for the father. The father figure dwelling in the psyche of the person must be buried.” Once the paternal image and authority is buried, Dominguez-Morano counsels, it must not be resurrected by us in the secret and perverse ways we so often do. For in the
Christian community, it has to be stated…, the place of the father should remain empty. Father, teacher, or director are not Christian words insofar as they are used to describe a type of interpersonal relationship inside the community. Only God can take that place. 
What does such a radical counsel do to relationships between seminarians and their rector? between priests and their bishop? between students and their professors such as I? How could a Jesuit—famously vowed not just to obedience, as all monastics are, but to special obedience directly to the “holy father” and pope (papa=father!) of Rome—of all people get away with recommending such a radical re-ordering of terminology and relationships within the Church? What would the Church look like—and in particular the Society of Jesus—and how would both operate if we attempted to put this into practice?

Here, precisely as both a good Jesuit and perhaps even more a good psychoanalyst (recall that Freud explicitly expected analysts to exercise what he called “abstinence,” refusing to give directions to patients on how to live their lives), Dominguez-Morano does not say, leaving it up to us to invoke here a perhaps even more famous charism of Ignatius’s society: discernment. In this season of never-ending crisis, we need more than ever to discern how relationships in seminaries and dioceses, in parishes and schools, and religious orders and across the entire Church, can be re-ordered to prevent the abuses that have so often been perpetuated in the name of obedience. As we discern these new structures, relationships, and lines of authority, we must, Dominguez-Morano rightly says, cease patterning ourselves on empires and any other “authoritarian system” in which “domination…fear, and feelings of guilt quite alien to Jesus of Nazareth’s message and to what his message should inspire” are rampant.

At the same time, however, Morano is quite right in saying (even if this needs more development) that he is not calling for an overthrow of the entire idea of obedience in the Church, for to do so can easily give rise to what he calls narcissistic tyranny. Without some order, including obedience to legitimate needs of the community, you can easily have individual egos run amok, creating anarchy and chaos, destroying the very possibility of a "common good" and a communal life, and thereby serving nobody well. Thus he is calling for a much more communal practice of obedience so that it is no longer just a superior and inferior in silence and secrecy making certain decisions without wide consultation and open and forthright discussion in freedom.

The need for such a reconfiguration today is, or should be, obvious to all. My own book Everything Hidden Shall be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power attempts to give several practices of communal discernment and decision-making involving the entire people of God who, once the decision has been made, then submit to it and obey it not because some hierarch feels entitled to demand they do so, but because, by the grace and light of the Holy Spirit, the mind of the entire Church has been moved to commit and obey the Spirit's leadership.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Now and at the Hour of our Death

Before and since giving a lecture at Baylor in 2015 on eschatology and funerary customs, I have kept an eye on changing Christian ideas about and pastoral enactments of the same. It's very clear that much has changed even within the last three decades. But those customs and ideas have changed across the entire span of Christian history, and a book just released this month sheds light on a major change in late antique Christian practice: Moment of Reckoning: Imagined Death and Its Consequences in Late Ancient Christianity by Ellen Muehlberger (Oxford UP, 2019), 264pp.

About this book we are told:
Late antiquity saw a proliferation of Christian texts dwelling on the emotions and physical sensations of dying, not as a heroic martyr in a public square or a judge's court, but as an individual, at home in a bed or in a private room. In sermons, letters, and ascetic traditions, late ancient Christians imagined the last minutes of life and the events that followed death in elaborate detail. The majority of these imagined scenarios linked the quality of the experience to the moral state of the person who died. Death was no longer the "happy ending," in Judith Perkins's words, it had been to Christians of the first three centuries, an escape from the difficult and painful world. Instead, death was most often imagined as a terrifying, desperate experience. This book is the first to trace how, in late ancient Christianity, death came to be thought of as a moment of reckoning: a physical ordeal whose pain is followed by an immediate judgment of one's actions by angels and demons and, after that, fitting punishment.
Because late ancient Christian culture valued the use of the imagination as a religious tool and because Christian teachers encouraged Christians to revisit the prospect of their deaths often, this novel description of death was more than an abstract idea. Rather, its appearance ushered in a new ethical sensibility among Christians, in which one's death was to be imagined frequently and anticipated in detail. This was, at first glance, meant as a tool for individuals: preachers counted on the fact that becoming aware of a judgment arriving at the end of one's life tends to sharpen one's scruples. But, as this book argues, the change in Christian sensibility toward death did not just affect individuals. Once established, it shifted the ethics of Christianity as a tradition.
This is because death repeatedly and frequently imagined as the moment of reckoning created a fund of images and ideas about what constituted a human being and how variances in human morality should be treated. This had significant effects on the Christian assumption of power in late antiquity, especially in the case of the capacity to authorize violence against others. The thinking about death traced here thus contributed to the seemingly paradoxical situation in which Christians proclaimed their identity with a crucified person, yet were willing to use force against their ideological opponents.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

To Love the Church in Such an Hour as This

Elsewhere you can read some brief thoughts of mine on how it is both possible and necessary to still love the Church and all in it even in this dark hour of unrelenting news of abuse and cover-up.

That love, however, as I try to make clear in the piece, cannot allow for perpetrators to be let off the hook, nor for the conditions under which abuse and cover-up happened to go on. Love, in other words, demands serious reforms. Real love requires major change such as I propose in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. Love without such changes is no love at all.

I reference a rather simple and accessible, but still powerful, book that I read twenty years ago but have gone back to with my ecclesiology students: Loving the Church by Christoph Schönborn. It seems today more than ever the challenge is indeed to love the Church when she seems so loveless and unworthy. But love will redeem this situation and all of us, and it will not be redeemed without love.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Sometimes a Kiss is More Than a Kiss

Far and away my favourite example of popes and kisses has to be Pope Paul VI who, in December 1975 fell to his knees to greet the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Metropolitan Meliton, who came to tell him that Orthodoxy was organizing itself to launch an official dialogue with the Catholic Church. Overjoyed by this news, Paul VI fell to his knees and astonished everyone by kissing Meliton's feet. It had a powerful effect on those in the Sistine Chapel with the two churchmen, but on many others in Orthodoxy as well.

This story has been in (limited) circulation for a while, but was written up in a very short little book I enjoyed reading when it first came out, Rome & Constantinople: Pope Paul VI & Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon by Athanasios Papas, trans. George Dion Dragas (Orthodox Research Institute, 2006), 60pp. (There are some photos of the incident here.)

Fast forward to this week's utterly silly furor over the pope's hand being kissed. The question nobody is asking is of course psychological. Outside a liturgical exchange of the kiss of peace, what motivates people to want to do this? And what motivates people to rush to judge Pope Francis over this when the evidence from the event in question seems less than straightforward and admits of several plausible interpretations? For many Catholics, of course, this is just one more piece of evidence of how wicked a man he is for defying such a "sacred tradition."

But why should this be a tradition in the first place? And how "traditional" is it, anyway? Would it be more traditional if he had people kiss his feet, as used to be prescribed by protocol until only a few decades ago? Would he be thought more traditional if he brought back the papal slippers with a cross on them to receive the kisses of the people prostrate before him on his throne? Would that reassure people, and give them an extra frisson at being able to indulge in not one but two kisses, and not of his hand or ring, but of his feet while they are on their knees?

The need to do this is what should give us pause. Already, of course, his most vocal detractors are insisting that people always and only do this to show reverence to Christ, and if he doesn't like it or prevents them from doing it, then he must be like Ayn Rand (as one person put it on Twitter) denying the divinity of Christ. Kissing the ring, then, is a sign of impeccable Christology or something called "orthodoxy."

Some people--perhaps--may see themselves doing it solely for that reason, but I wager they are a vanishingly small minority, and even they are not doing it for that reason alone. One of the things we ought by now to have learned from Freud is that our motives are rarely if ever that unequivocal--even as we remain largely unaware of our motives, which are revealed by our actions. (See his 1914 essay  "Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through" for more on this.)

To his credit, the erstwhile Catholic Rod Dreher has helpfully drawn our attention to these mixed motives in reflecting on the earlier crisis of sex abuse that engulfed Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston in 2002 and how Dreher used the act of ring kissing as tendentiously as today's critics of Francis are doing:
This is nobody’s fault but my own. Part of that involved hero-worshipping Pope John Paul II, and despite having a healthy awareness of the sins and failings of various bishops, exaggerating the virtues of bishops my side deemed “orthodox.” Bernard Cardinal Law was just such a bishop. I count it as one of the most shameful acts of my life the moment when I rushed across a courtyard in Jerusalem to kneel and kiss Cardinal Law’s ring.
I don’t count it as a sin to kiss a cardinal’s ring; what was wrong was my motivation for doing so: I felt so much pride in showing myself to be an orthodox Catholic paying due homage to an orthodox archbishop in that public way.
It was, in other words, and as we say today, virtue signalling. But why?

Again the question before us is psychological. Leaving aside the claims to be demonstrating piety or respect for an "office," why do Christians, all children of the same Father, feel the need to elevate some of their number and prostrate before them? This is a question taken up to powerful effect by another Spanish Jesuit, Carlos Dominguez-Morano in his recent and hugely important book Belief After Freud.

I draw on Dominguez-Morano in my new book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Powerwhere I was forced to spend time on such psychological questions as are engendered by the personality cult around the pope, and discuss in detail three very revealing instances--from a group of laics, from a prominent priest, and from an entire episcopal conference (that of England and Wales)--of this need to prostrate themselves before the pope and engage in self-abasement while figuratively kissing his ring (if not other more posterior parts). Whether you kiss the ring or not, and whether he likes it or not, are all entirely beside the vastly more interesting and important question: why this is a felt need in the first place?
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