Friday, June 8, 2012

Pope's Pet Peeves Proclaimed ~ in Abstract Drivel

This post is a rejoinder to a speech given by the current pope in 1989, posted at Enlightened Catholicism.  (Read it, please, if you can.)

With all due respect to an elderly bishop and theologian, to me his musings on the dynamics of the psyche, his diagnosis of modern man's psychopathology, and his proposal of a cure via philosophical evangelization - all presented in abstract language void of any concrete basis in Scripture or the Fathers - leave the reader awash in a sea of airy abstractions, punctuated by fanciful conceptual leaps.

Driven by the same pet peeves we see today - an agenda with no discernible resemblance to the Gospel - the pope is clearly on a mission laid out 23 long years ago.   And to this clinical psychologist, the speech reads as little more than abstract drivel - missing a human touch - but tinged, I hate to say this, with something akin to nuttiness.  As Shakespeare might have opined:  "Sound and Fury.  Signifying nothing."

Sorry to assign reading, but I beg you, if you haven't already done so, to go and read the speech.  As I want to be fair and allow you to form your own opinion, despite my opening remarks.  But folks...  I am aghast!

Here are some initial parts of the speech (all I could bear to closely analyze), which set the scene for my remarks below (but feel free to skip over 1-19, a tedious necessity, to ensure a careful analysis):
  1. General Pet PeevePeople in the pews are questioning papal authority.  He calls the laity's concerns "difficulties with the faith" = "a litany of objections to the practice and teaching of the Church"  (However, you will notice below that the difficulties have nothing to do with basics defined in the creed!)
  2. Specific Burrs under pope's saddle:   "principal elements of this litany" = pelvic/gender issues (birth control, same-sex attraction) and "sacramental order" (divorce/remarriage & admission to Eucharist, women's ordination) - in other words, our "faith" somehow stands (or falls) on these crucial (Gospel?) gender/sex/marital issues! 
  3. Bottom Line Pet PeevePeople should not think for themselves, since "individual conscience"or "freedom" (of "conscience") = bad, bad, bad ... (This in spite of Vatican II pronouncements to the contrary, not to speak of our God-given free will.)
  4. Concluding Diagnosis:  "They [laity's concerns - #2 above] spring from one and the same vision of humanity within which there operates a particular notion of human freedom."[#3 above]  (How right he is, except most people do not view this as a pathology.  Here we enter different worlds.)
  5. Stop and NoticeNothing about the Gospel.  No scripture.  No Patristics.  (Pet Peeves of a pope.)
  6. Broad generalization:  "modern man would find it difficult to relate to the Church’s traditional sexual morality" = lumping everything together as if people are endorsing prostitution, child abuse, bestiality, polygamy, adultery, promiscuity, etc.  (Sexuality and Authority = the Gospel?)
  7. Broad assumption: "the Church’s traditional sexual morality" is being critiqued "no matter how meaningful [it] may have been under past historical conditions." (No history cited and history might offer a very different view here...  Plus, how dare we question?)
  8. Reformulated Diagnosis: "we are no longer prepared to subordinate [our conscience] to some external authority" = let your fingers do the walking and we'll do the talking.  (There's that dreaded God-given freedom.)
  9. Prescribed Treatment = We will think for you!  (Conscience as a sort of robotic method issued from on high = Rome.)
  10. Stop and NoticeThe proposed robotic method has nothing to do with the Gospel. 
  11. Reformulated Diagnosis:  "aura of morality" [our choices] = "surrender of moral integrity, the simplifications of a lax conscience."  (Laity's failure to bow to Rome's sexual fixations has led us to a point of total depravity across the board.)
  12. Prescribed Treatment = "conscience understood as that knowledge which derives from a higher form of knowing."  (Conscience trickles down from on highWe will think for you!)
  13. Broad strange assumption:  One's relationship to one's body "changes" if we think for ourselves, if we don't follow these norms from on high "as the ultimate arbiter of one’s obligation." (Termed an "assumption" as this appears to be an important part of his "argument" - but no evidence or reasoning is mustered to support the claim.)
  14. Strange logic:  Body now being discussed as if it were an appendage - instead of us!  (Is he delicately referring to the male sexual organ??  Or perhaps due to "robotic" view of how people should or do make choices?)
  15. Strange logic:  "No longer does man expect to receive a message from his bodiliness as to who he is and what he should do..." (You got me, folks!  Where this comes from ...  I cannot fathom.)
  16. Stop and NoticeNothing about the Gospel!  No scripture at all.  No Patristics.  (In this supposed anthropology or psychology which bears no resemblance to Jesus!)
  17. Reformulated Diagnosis (phrased in strange logic):  So perverse [my word] have we become, apparently, that "the body no longer expresses being at all, on the contrary, it has become a piece of property." (Dualism.  At best!)
  18. Strange logic and assumptive leap:  "this way of thinking first became an actual possibility through the fundamental separation—not a theoretical but a practical and constantly practiced separation—of sexuality and procreation."  (Translation:  Birth control has deranged humanity.)
  19. Strange logic leading to Weird Bottom-line Diagnosis and Plan to Assess for Treatment:  
It would be interesting to follow in detail this revolutionary vision about man which has appeared behind our rather haphazardly concocted litany of objections to the Church’s teaching. Without a doubt this will be one of the principal challenges for anthropological reflection in coming years. This reflection will have to sort out meticulously where quite meaningful corrections to traditional notions appear and where there begins a truly fundamental opposition to faith’s vision of man, an opposition that admits no possibility of compromise but places squarely before us the alternative of believing or not.
It is exceedingly difficult for this reader and would-be respondent to even make sense of the abstractions and illogical leaps which I have detailed above.  And that's before he even gets to points 1, 2, and 3.  Nevertheless, it would appear from the paragraph I've just flagged that the pope views faith as unquestioning acceptance of abstract philosophical principles.  In contrast to a relationship with the indwelling Trinity.  In contrast to the Gospel.  And the Good News - to me - is twisted into Bad News.  A dark vision.  Simply to be believed.   Or not.  (As he makes clear.)

Somewhere along the line this man has entered an alternate universe.  Unmoored from the Gospel, so far as I can see.  Taking for "faith" a sort of abstract, philosophical compendium, placed into a blender, poured out as pablum to be swallowed whole, it would appear.  Making of the faithful puppets on Vatican strings.  For I see nothing of this in the words or actions of Jesus or the hammered-out doctrines of the Creed or the close spiritual/scriptural reasoning of the Fathers, or the concept of faith as a relationship.

Only in point #1 does he cite actual publications.  Not for what they contain, but for what's missing:  The "doctrine of creation" he asserts has disappeared from the theological radar screen.  (Restoring this doctrine, apparently, is the basis from which our pablum conscience is to be formed?)  Next come abstract leaps of "logic" yielding this sentence: "In a time when we are experiencing the agonizing of creation against man’s work and when the question of the limits and standards of creation upon our activity has become the central problem of our ethical responsibility, this fact must appear quite strange."  Strange, indeed, is that sentence.  Nevertheless, it gives a flavor for how he mistakes the signs of the times, while revealing a strange tendency to empathize with creation, but not with actual persons.  Followed by a lament that we, as he views it, are unable to read a spiritual message in nature (he calls it the "material world") and he mourns an imagined "demise of metaphysics" which somehow "relates" to a perceived lack of teaching on creation.

I must admit, if this man were in my office, at this point I'd be wondering about hospitalization.

Now, I could go on...  quoting and trying to parse the abstractions he seems most comfortable dealing with, the abstract assumptions and generalizations and so on, all of which seem so far afield from Jesus or the Old Testament for that matter.  So far from the blessed wonder of concrete, nitty-gritty reality throughout the Bible.  Instead, Benedict seems hung up on yearning for an alternate universe.  Of abstractions.  I can imagine Euclidian Geometry would really please him.  Those neat proofs.  No sex.  Triangles and Squares being their different "genders" so to speak, each with their different "roles" so neatly laid out, nothing amiss.  No need for freedom or rights. 

With all due respect for this man's age and years of study and prayer, he seems unable to reach out and touch someone.  As Jesus did.  So I simply can't see how his reasoning is likely to reach those of us he clearly views as degenerates.  Indeed, his thinking, to me, sounds Calvinistic - as if we were utterly depraved.

Let's take a moment to consider:  Where is the Lord of Love?  Where is the Good Shepherd?  Are we not the People of God?  Have we not been baptized into a Royal Priesthood?  

Instead (in point #2) we get:  "The decline of the doctrine on creation includes the decline of metaphysics, man’s imprisonment in the empirical."  Yes, it actually appears that he wants everyone to leave the everyday (as Rahner lovingly describes the world) and join him in his beloved abstractions.  Greek metaphysical abstractions instead of grassroots imagery, so vivid in Hebrew scriptures (mountains leaping like rams) and the Gospels (Jesus feeding the multitudes) .  Instead of faith as a relationship ("Come to me all you who labor and are burdened...")

Dear God!  Please, send someone who is a true theologian, to help me here!   A true theologian as the Fathers viewed it.  Someone whose years of prayer have so melted into humility that the Living Presence of God flows through him or her.  Someone to whom God has granted insight and wisdom and an ability to reach out and touch someone.  With Divine Love and Compassion and Mercy as Jesus demonstrates so movingly.

It's hard for me to comprehend, from this speech, that the pope is actually a theologian.  And heaven knows he is no psychologist - but has deigned to "diagnose" European "man's" current psychic state ("the deep desperation of mankind today") and, without citing either scripture or the Fathers, he deigns to propose a solution to his personal diagnosis - as if we all had been infected by a common brain disease and he alone knows the treatment to alleviate the symptoms he believes we ALL manifest!  (Is this the source of the famous "many" change?)  And why foist the treatment on the US/sisters, when he's diagnosed "European man" - oh, well...

It's clear Benedict has his betes noires.  You could make a list.  Easily.  From just this speech.  The various vendettas going on today ~ laid out 23 years ago.  What is not clear, however, is how in the heck he imagines reaching anyone with this agenda?

Forgive me, Father, but this is abstract drivel.  Sound and fury.  Signifying nothing.

Makes you yearn for a blade of grass.  A flower.  Give me Psalm 1 any day.  The blessed Realities of Scripture:  Creation.  God's calls.  God's visitations.  The Psalms.  The Prophets.  The Gospels.

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!


colkoch said...

Made me yearn for two tylenol.

I have to admire you TheraP for this analysis. I've read the thing three times and can't get past the leaps in abstract logic. In my more generous moments I think maybe it didn't translate well, but this piece of Ratzinger's is.....well....makes less sense than many delusional systems I've encountered from the truly psychotic.

The reason I posted this gem was to let folks know Pope Benedict has been orchestrating his culture war for a long long time, but the convoluted abstract thinking which underpins his solutions are just mind numbing. No wonder I can't get any messages from my body, my mind is numb.

TheraP said...

God bless you, Colleen! It is a relief to get feedback from someone else in this field.

I too at first considered mistranslation. But then concluded that such a detail-oriented man would likely never allow a mistranslation to be disseminated. (Not for 23 years!)

I am so grateful you posted the speech at your blog. (I've spent much of the past week pondering it.) And, busy as you are, it's so obivious why you did not intersperse it with your usual comments. For it takes a great deal of time and mental agility to carefully analyze what more and more looks like the thinking of a mind unhinged.

So what does an institution do, if the man at the top of a self-perpetuating hierarchy (where moving up the ladder requires oaths of allegiance and unquestioning swallowing of infallible statements) has lost his moorings and gone off the rails?

Robert said...

This is a good read. It can give me a chance to take a vacation from posting at the end of NCR articles, which is going nowhere, and accomplishing nothing. I question the wisdom in setting myself up for scrutiny by the temple police in that format.
To say a prayer for the Pope while knowing that in many ways he is a perceived enemy is an act of obedience. Offer it up, I say. Better than the bitterness of spirit that cannot laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
There was a section the the READERS DIGEST that one may have read in the dentist's office called LAUGHTER, THE BEST MEDICINE. I will quote Molly Bloom from UlYSSES: "Yes, yes, yes".
So be it.

TheraP said...

Thank you for your comment, Robert.

Blessings upon you!

Robert said...

In reading this again, I am reminded of the difficulty I had with people in the Catholic Answers website, which banned me forever for questioning with good intentions certain doctrines about Papal power over the soul after death, or purgatory. Some posting on the NCR have the same mindset as the Cardinal, now Pope Benedict. Believe everything the church teaches or leave.
This mindset is new to me, an adult covert during the Vatican II years. I have had some experience with cultic religious groups, but until now immune to what appears to be a kind of Ultramontane religiosity in today's church.
I have a theological background and ecumenical experience. I believe the best assessment would be to liken the present climate in the
church to a cult. The present Pope is willing to create a cult around his personae which must, for its very survival, depend upon unswerving obedience and uncritical acceptance of authority. Given the history of the Papacy, this is nothing new.
What is important is to recognize the evil for what it is and respond rationally, which is to think for oneself and decide whether this demand made by the hierarchy of acceptance and submission to their teaching authroity is legitimate or not.
One of the methods used by deprogrammers when counseling people exiting cults is to suggest that they "do theology". The same applies here.
The issue has profound ramifications. Cults do not, typically, function in ways that are ethical. Ethical actions may include those that edify the human person and do not debase and demean the intellect by subverting the proper action of conscience in the life of faith.
Notice I used the term "human person". This is to dialogue using the same methods as those used by the hierarchy in what passes for profound theological discourse. The tragic flaw here is the in this view, people are reduced to abstractions.
This is a form of brainwashing. Those who are not willing to follow won't-those who do, could just as easily have been a Moonie or drunk the Kool-Aid at Jonestown, in my view. There but for the grace of God go I. And thank God for that grace. Amen.
By the way, I learned a form of spontaneous writing from Jack Kerouac, (not directly) which led to my comment about Molly Bloom. Other than having read the end of James Joyce's book some 50+ years ago in Booklyn, NY I don't know who Ms. Bloom is, except that I have a hunch she was making love when she said something like.
"Tis better to have loved and lost, than ne'er to have loved at all." "Would the power, the giftie gie us, to see oursels as others see us". This last, from Robert Burns.

TheraP said...

Thank you for taking the time to comment, Robert. It's painful, for a convert especially perhaps, though really for all of us who think deeply, to find that leaders of a faith dear to us, have abandoned their responsibilities to the flock and to God - to be foot-washers and lovers. And to set aside pettiness and arrogance and a need to control.

In my blog "Nothingness" (there's a link in the sidebar) I have a couple of posts related to good shepherds. One is on Br. Pierre (true shepherd) and the other on someone now an Orthodox Bishop, a post I called "The Capstone of Holiness."

You have my blessing and my prayers that you may find peace of soul within the God who never loses patience or mercy with his children and will always guide us to the Truth.

Peace be with you. Thanks again for your long comment.

William D. Lindsey said...

Brilliant analysis, TheraP, and so well-written--con brio. I will point readers to this at my site, and am glad you posted a link to in a recent comment there. Thank you for this powerful and insightful commentary!