"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).

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Human Rights in Global Orthodoxy

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

On the Origins of Eastern Christian Mysticism

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sightings in the LRB for 26 September 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Gender and Orthodoxy

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hysteria Lives--in the Catholic Church

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Let's Eat!

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

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

Eastern Christian Soteriology

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

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Turkey's 30-Year-Long Genocide of Christians

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

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

Orthodox Secularisms and Entanglements

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

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2019

Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism or Tradition

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Christianity in South and Central Asia

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Crucifixion of Eros

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

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Episcopal Hearts of Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trauma in the Church (I)

I've previously mentioned the impending release of Gerald Arbuckle's book Abuse and Cover-up: Refounding the Catholic Church in Trauma (Orbis, 2019). My copy has now arrived. I will be discussing it extensively on here over the coming days, not least in dialogue with my own new book on the structural issues in the Church which have contributed to the crisis, and without changes to which nothing will improve: Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico, 2019).

The theme of the book is picked up immediately in the introduction: the trauma of the current crisis is actually long-standing, going back at least thirty, and closer to fifty years, during which time the conciliar promises of a more locally accountable and synodally governed Church were never materialized--were, indeed, rolled back. So the crisis of abuse has been but the latest in a long line of hierarchical betrayals leading, the author repeatedly says, to sadness, rage, and grief: all three are manifestations of trauma, as I discussed here.

Those betrayals were led by men who, Arbuckle rightly points out, feared "scandal" more than the truth--a point I also made in my discussion, here, of the uses and abuses of the whole notion of "scandal," a word which, in episcopal usage, means "what makes me as bishop look bad."

The author moves quickly into a discussion of cultural theory and the incredible resistance built into cultures, including ecclesial culture, to any serious efforts at change. He notes, rightly as many of us have been saying for some time, that this must be an all-hands-on-deck affair: not just "prayer and fasting" types of change, not just "new evangelization," and not just new structures: the reform required is a radical change in the way we think, pray, structure our life, and act together. One discipline that will help us see the far-reaching and comprehensive nature of the changes needed is cultural anthropology. Here Arbuckle references such key players as Clifford Geertz and, later on, Mary Douglas, whom I am reading with my students this semester.

I had forgotten what an exhilarating ride Douglas is in Natural Symbols as well as Purity and Danger and other works. But I also hadn't realized how merciless she is in the former book, too, which is so tightly written it's almost an act of warfare. She lobs one dense, high-powered sentence after another without warning, introduction, transition. She packs an incredible amount of high theory into a very short book and clearly takes no prisoners.

The author concludes his introduction by laying out the plan of the book. Chapter 1 will look at cultural dynamics in the Church leading to cover-up; 2 will ask what makes the Church uniquely prone to such cover-ups; 3 will focus on grief in the Church today; four will look at new leadership; 5 at new structures; and 6 at other assorted action plans going forward.

In the coming days we will proceed systematically through the book, first discovering what the author argues and then critically analyzing it.

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