Eastern Christian Books: Wanted: A Theology of Disobedience


I was gratified to study this week of a French priest flatly insisting that men and women quit calling him ‘father.’ That accords with what I argued in Almost everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Energy. 

I was told by good friends/critics who study 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 currently difficult book. But right here is 1 priest in France saying the exact same issue, and in the book I drew on yet another (Carlos Dominguez-Morano, about whom see beneath) who also laid out incredibly strong psychological motives (to say absolutely nothing of theology) for abolishing the title “father.”

Morano is also very important of notions, and particularly practices, of “obedience.” On this score, as well, he has led me to modify my thoughts. I now regard each notions–of “spiritual paternity” and “obedience as a virtue”–with far additional skepticism than I when did.

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

I can’t bring myself to study these now. Certainly, component of me desires to uncover old copies and burn them so that no youngster, no seminarian, no human getting will ever consider that he or she ought to submit to a clerical predator since obedience is a virtue—because he demands obedience “under discomfort of sin” or “in the name of God” or to get some favor. These stories have led me increasingly to consider that demands for obedience in any organization ought to normally be regarded with suspicion—including, now, the Church.

Certainly, let me place it as strongly as achievable: the Church really should be held up to additional suspicion than any other organization anytime it demands obedience in any matter beyond the strictly doctrinal as set down in, say, the universal catechism. I say this since the Church, as opposed to so-named secular organizations, is singularly vulnerable to abuses of obedience for two motives: initially, it typically demands obedience in the name of God and second, since it as a result covers itself with a theological patina, it can additional very easily cower and frighten men and women (“disobeying me is disobeying God!”) who are conveniently bereft of any of the safeguards deliberately constructed into other organizations to stop abuses of authority. (We have no “whistleblower” lines anonymously to contact we have no HR division to convene a hearing more than sexual harassment.) In other words, in demanding obedience the Church has typically, inexcusably, forgotten her personal central doctrine of original sin which, as St. Augustine famously showed us, incredibly typically manifests itself through 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 planet. (John Rist’s discussion of Augustine on this point is worth your time.) But the issue is that the Church has typically uncritically and unconsciously adopted the language, practices, and structures of the empire and other polities because then. As I inform my students, structures we so frequently use today—e.g.,  “diocese” or “metropolitan” or “pontiff”—are all straight borrowed from the empire. So as well our now universal practice of ordaining guys in a cursus honorum, requiring them to course of action by way of a series of “lesser” offices en route to the higher, mirrors specifically how 1 sophisticated by way of the ranks of the Roman army. At 1 point the Church would ordain a man straight, not sequentially, to the priesthood or episcopate. But by adopting the Roman cursus we changed our practices of ordination (which I treat right here).

We may be tempted to consider these are harmless remnants of our Roman previous, and possibly they are. But far significantly less harmless is the borrowing of the habits of hierarchical coercion and enforced obedience accompanied by critical (and occasionally lethal) threats 1 finds enacted by armies and empires, by contemporary nation-states—and by the Church. Although the Church has not convened a court martial and then carried out a sentence of death on these who go astray, she has not been averse to handing such “offenders” more than to the secular government, which shares no such scruples about, e.g., executing homosexuals on the Church’s behalf (as a lately published, and seemingly laudatory translation of a bull of Pope Pius V tends to make clear).

What we demand these days, additional than ever, is a theology of disobedience that will start to assist the Church disentangle her life from that of imperial interlopers and start to undo some of the harm causes by a perversion of obedience. This is a conclusion I came to following reading Carlos Dominguez-Morano, Belief Just after Freud: Religious Faith Via the Crucible of Psychoanalysis (trans. F.J. Montero [Routledge, 2018]). I completed it in a couple of days final August, but have hardly been in a position to create about it totally because then. It is a tour de force and deserves a incredibly wide audience. (Its Spanish original is now in its fifth edition, and we can and really should encourage such a preferred dissemination amongst anglophone audiences.)

Aspect of my reticence in speaking about it comes from how a lot of and how highly effective are its challenges in some essential regions not just of practice but of faith. My personal pondering about Freud and the analytic traditions following from him–particularly in Britain with, e.g., Winnicott, Bion, Klein, Coltart, Bollas, Fairbairn, Guntrip, Phillips and other people–has normally inclined towards additional “therapeutic” makes use of, regardless of whether in an person-clinical setting, or in queries like, e.g., the healing of memories. I have not, in other words, believed Freud by way of in the context of, e.g., the father-son connection in between Jesus and His Father as expressed in the gospels. But Morano does this and additional in approaches that I have identified no one else comes close to performing. (To the extent that Catholic scholars have engaged Freudian and analytic believed seriously, it is the Jesuits who have carried out additional than most, with Morano writing various books in Spanish more than the final two decades on Christianity and psychoanalysis and, in the anglophone planet, the late Jesuit W.W. Meissner being similarly prolific.)

I ought to confess that when I received Morano’s book in the mail in late August I was peeved and place out: for I was then on sabbatical and component of my program was to create, if not finish, a book I have tentatively named “Theology Just after Freud,” a book I have been pondering about intermittently for practically twenty-5 years now because studying psychology in Canada, undergoing a classical psychoanalysis there, and ever following attempting to integrate analytic believed into my function in ecclesiology, ecumenism, and the healing of memories, particularly in between Catholic and Orthodox Christians (the topic of my initially book). But I immediately came, sincerely and modestly, to thank God that Carlos Dominguez-Morano wrote this book for it is far greater and braver than something I would have attempted.

That is nowhere additional in proof than his reflections on obedience. This book landed in my lap in this summer time of endless revelations about sexual abuse, which is normally also an abuse of energy. And as we are hearing these tales, what is the default response of as well a lot of hierarchs to these asking yourself what can be carried out? Why, pray and rapidly, of course! But such seemingly pious exhortations can mask, this acutely perceptive psychoanalyst says, a sinister agenda: “religious energy structures have in no way been indifferent to prayer and have so often manipulated it to their advantage…. Prayer finds in energy a fantastic ally and associate to assist pursue specific targets, not normally clear in their evangelical motivations.” These targets, I would recommend, typically include things like the unspoken domination and enforced silence of the men and women 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 particular ought to, for that reason, query the motives of these exhorting us to prayer and expecting of us obedience to these and other exhortations and orders:

on these occasions when the topic finds himself in conflict and in disagreement with specific approaches from authority, it is frightening to hear that old ‘pray on it’ guidance. Frightening since we are left doubting regardless of whether what is actually 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 1 of the essential lessons of the earthly life of Jesus vis-à-vis his parents, particularly revealed in the incident exactly where they uncover him teaching in the temple at the age of twelve, is that he shows us how to overcome the issue of earthly fathers and their claims to energy more than us: “Any kind of paternal projection on other social figures ought to be overcome. No one on earth can claim paternal authority. No one can exert paternal energy or protection functions in the Christian neighborhood.”

If we refuse such energy and paternal functions, we do so, Dominguez-Morano reminds us, since Christ says “You are my good friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I contact you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is performing but I have named you friends” (John 15:14-15). These who are named to be good friends with God ought to study to conceive him anew, moving previous paternal projections onto priests, bishops, and popes, and all the issues inherent in these. As a result Dominguez-Morano can say that “the Christian really should not nostalgically search and lengthy for the father. The father figure dwelling in the psyche of the individual ought to be buried.” When the paternal image and authority is buried, Dominguez-Morano counsels, it ought to not be resurrected by us in the secret and perverse approaches we so typically do. For in the

Christian neighborhood, it has to be stated…, the location of the father really should stay empty. Father, teacher, or director are not Christian words insofar as they are utilized to describe a kind of interpersonal connection inside the neighborhood. Only God can take that location. 

What does such a radical counsel do to relationships in between seminarians and their rector? in between priests and their bishop? in between students and their professors such as I? How could a Jesuit—famously vowed not just to obedience, as all monastics are, but to unique obedience straight to the “holy father” and pope (papa=father!) of Rome—of all men and women get away with recommending such a radical re-ordering of terminology and relationships inside the Church? What would the Church appear like—and in unique the Society of Jesus—and how would each operate if we attempted to place this into practice?

Right here, precisely as each a excellent Jesuit and possibly even additional a excellent psychoanalyst (recall that Freud explicitly anticipated analysts to physical exercise what he named “abstinence,” refusing to give directions to sufferers on how to reside their lives), Dominguez-Morano does not say, leaving it up to us to invoke right here a possibly even additional renowned charism of Ignatius’s society: discernment. In this season of in no way-ending crisis, we will need additional than ever to discern how relationships in seminaries and dioceses, in parishes and schools, and religious orders and across the complete Church, can be re-ordered to stop the abuses that have so typically been perpetuated in the name of obedience. As we discern these new structures, relationships, and lines of authority, we ought to, Dominguez-Morano rightly says, cease patterning ourselves on empires and any other “authoritarian system” in which “domination…fear, and feelings of guilt very alien to Jesus of Nazareth’s message and to what his message really should inspire” are rampant.

At the exact same time, nonetheless, Morano is very appropriate in saying (even if this desires additional improvement) that he is not calling for an overthrow of the complete notion of obedience in the Church, for to do so can very easily give rise to what he calls narcissistic tyranny. With out some order, such as obedience to reputable desires of the neighborhood, you can very easily have person egos run amok, building anarchy and chaos, destroying the incredibly possibility of a “prevalent excellent” and a communal life, and thereby serving no one nicely. As a result he is calling for a substantially additional communal practice of obedience so that it is no longer just a superior and inferior in silence and secrecy producing specific choices without the need of wide consultation and open and forthright discussion in freedom.

The will need for such a reconfiguration these days is, or really should be, apparent to all. My personal book Almost everything Hidden Shall be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Energy attempts to give various practices of communal discernment and selection-producing involving the complete men and women of God who, when the selection has been created, then submit to it and obey it not since some hierarch feels entitled to demand they do so, but since, by the grace and light of the Holy Spirit, the thoughts of the complete Church has been moved to commit and obey the Spirit’s leadership.


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