Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Denial and devotions: creating some cognitive dissonance!

The Gospel calls upon us to change: to be converted, to radically reform ourselves in Christ.

And in the process, through grace, to help convert all those around us.

Yet conversion is not easy.  We have to face up to two great enemies in this process, namely the devil - and ourselves.

Complacency, lukewarmness and denial

There are many areas in this life where behaviour change is desperately needed: smoker needs to give up smoking; the heretic to give up their errors; the person living in sin to return to chastity for example.

In pretty much every case, the first and biggest problem is to shake the person concerned out of their cosy, denialist world view: a world view where the smoker says it is everyone else who will die of cancer, not me; the world view of the heretic who believes they they know better than the Church; the world view that says God made me like this therefore I can do whatever I happen to like doing and God won't punish me for it.

Let me point you to two classic examples of this mindset at the moment.

The first is the homosexualist activist writing over at The Drum protesting the ban on homosexuals donating blood (he argues that homosexuals might be at higher risk of HIV, but he's in a monogamous relationship so he's ok and he should be able to impose the risk that he's not on the rest of us!).

Another is Ms Hogan's claim over at Cath News that hardly anyone is protesting her agenda of censorship and subversion of the faith over at Cath News.   Quite a few people have in fact posted here on this.  Many more have written to me offline, rightly fearing retribution over there. Far more have read! 

I want to thank the very many people who have written to me offline and shared their experiences, I really do appreciate your support.

There must be a very long pile of correspondence over there that Ms Hogan is in denial about based on those who have contacted me.   So what will it take to create a little cognitive dissonance, and get her to see the problem for what it is?

Keeping up the pressure, making it come from all sides (a few bishops, her boss, the Cath Resources Board would be good places to start!) is one tactic.  Another is praying for grace to pierce the clouds of ignorance and delusion.

So say a decade of the rosary for the conversion of all those over at Cath News.

And in doing that, we can remind ourselves just how important devotions such as the rosary are in counteracting lukewarmness and complacency, and thus why they are so opposed by those seeking to destroy and undermine the Church.

What we've lost...

I posted yesterday on the classically erroneous talk given by Fr Michael Kelly SJ, who is, I'm led to believe, the founder of Cath News.

No wonder Cath News seems to be flawed beyond repair.

One of the interesting points Fr Kelly makes in his talk is how vibrant the devotional life of the laity was before Vatican II:

"But there was something else at work in the Catholic culture of those years of abundance. Parishes were festooned with devotional groups for people of all ages and genders; devotional practices were everywhere – the nine First Fridays, the ten First Saturdays, all night vigils every month in this parish, Benediction every Sunday evening, Novenas as public events and the exhortation to private Novenas for special needs, weekly Confession throughout Saturday afternoon and during all Masses on Sunday, Eucharistic processions every Corpus Christi at Manly Seminary, parish Missions on a regular basis. I remember coming to one here at North Sydney in 1961 or 1962 – at the age of 8 or 9 – to listen to the eloquent Irish Jesuit Robert Nash enthral us with the adventures of Jesuit Missionaries in China and I can still recall being ready to walk to Circular Quay that night to get on a boat to join them. It was a world full of high ideals, religious enthusiasm and appeals to the heart."

Then comes the rationalisation...

Fr Kelly justifies the destruction of this vibrant faith by claiming it was all superstition:

"Then came Vatican 2 and the sober appreciation that a lot of devotional Catholicism was animist, manipulative and debased, that it plays at cornering God into doing things in a magical way, that it cannot withstand the scrutiny of an informed appreciation of the way the world is and how God works and that, above all, it was part of that signal failure of Catholicism since the Reformation – it bore little or no relationship to the foundation of Christian faith – the Old and New Testaments."



By animist, I'm guessing he means stressing the connection between the physical world and the spiritual one, helping us to realise that we live in a universe inhabited by angels and demons.  Yet belief in the existence of guardian angels has a basis directly in Scripture (Matthew 18:10).  The existence of demons is attested to by Our Lord's temptation in the desert, and many of the acts of his ministry.

I'm guessing he is also attacking a piety that takes its reference points from things like the bones of the saints, miraculous images and the like.  Yet this kind of faith is as ancient as Christianity itself!  Think, after all, of Our Lord reinforcing Thomas' faith after his doubts through the physical evidence of his Resurrection.   Of the preservation of the true Cross.  Of the cult of the martyrs so vividly preserved for us by the early catacombs of Rome.

It is true of course that the rationalist inspired interpretations of the New Testament in particular attempt to explain away the miraculous, the other-worldly in Scripture as not to be taken literally. 

Explain to me just how that lines up with the Creed, where we say we believe that God is 'the maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible' (or is that line another of the reasons why most parishes now avoid the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed!)?

Too proud to ask God?

If rejection of the supernatural is one all too common dimension of the errors that have infiltrated the Church today, another is surely the refusal to acknowledge our dependence on God, our refusal to actually ask him for things!  Instead we are asked to 'understand how the world works'. 

Well here is how I think it works.  Yes God has set in place the physical laws that govern the universe.  Yet every moment of creation is part of God's providential plan.  Some graces he bestows freely, without our even asking.  But for others we must ask: ask and you shall receive!

There is nothing 'manipulative or debased' about this, nothing 'magical'.  Rather those traditional devotions serve to remind us of and reinforce the numerous Biblical injunctions on prayer, remind us of the way God has actually constructed his creation as an economy of grace.

The failure of Vatican II

Fr Kelly goes on:

"What followed as recommended in the Council’s decrees was a review of this devotional culture and the encouragement to replace it with a Eucharistically centred and biblically formed approach to our relationship with God. [Really?  I don't think the actual words of the text quite said that!] In many countries, Australia included, devotional Catholicism disappeared..."

And here is the crunch line.  Fr Kelly admits those devotions he views as old-fashioned did actually play a positive role, and nothing has been able to replace them:

"In Australia, little has appeared to replace these devotional practices as a popular means of accessing, recalling and celebrating the mysteries of the faith. And while scripture and revisions to the sacraments have made their impact, we shouldn’t be so high and mighty and say that the loss of this devotional culture is without its costs. The devotional practices and beliefs were the carriers of faith to generations of Catholics who trusted those introducing them to the tradition. Carriers are just that – they carry participants to what is central: the engagement with God. Dispense with them as they lose their purchase and credibility. [But had they really lost their purchase and credibility?  Or were they just suppressed by zealots!] But leave nothing after, and a pretty arid religious world emerges..." [We can all agree on that!]

The revival of Eucharistic Adoration
It is somewhat ironic that the attempt to create a more Eucharistic spirituality has in recent times seen something of a revival in traditional devotions such as Eucharistic Adoration, a revival of Benediction, and things like Corpus Christi Processions.
We need more of that - is your parish/diocese having one this coming Thursday/Sunday?
Efforts to get Catholics to actually read the Bible have made rather less headway, mainly, in my view, because the push on lectio divina has focused on the emotions rather than also engaging the intellect.  Combine that with the dreadful state of what passes for Biblical exegesis these days, and no wonder few are interested!
Thankfully, that too is being addressed in a rather more traditional way, in the rediscovery of the Divine Office, with its solid diet of the psalms, its cycle of readings tied to the liturgical calendar of the Church, and its Patristic explications of Scripture.

Perhaps we are finally starting to emerge from the cloud of delusion generated by spirit of Vatican IIism. 

But for the recovery to really begin, for reform and conversion to truly spread, we need to reclaim our Church institutions, and make them truly instruments of the New Evangelization.

And if they won't take on this role, then we need to get rid of them, and start again.
 So please, do vote in the poll on Cath News I've put to the right hand box, multiple answers are allowed - so if you vote for reformed, you can also vote pray for (and no, there isn't an option to support Cath News as is there, this is about showing support for change!).


Carob_molasses said...

Animism is a bit stronger than that - that physical objects have souls or spirts. This is a wildly crude stab at the dovotional people, I think. He means somethinmg like 'transactional totemism'. On this score, he has some rationale, I think, particularly on the 'manipulative' bit (turned around the other way, it can also be a controlling, compulsive superstition - "Jude/Mary/Christopher etc have to be appeased" etc). Perhaps you should focus on the manipulative vs healthy forms of devotional spirituality.

The point is, if this form of devotionalism was actually pagan/magical and not authentically Christian, what's gained in bringing it back?

We might be in a real sociological hole that follows from an intellectual problem - we've purified our faith to the point where only people who read books are interested, and even then usually not...

Kate Edwards said...

Carob - Give me a break!

What evidence is there that the cult of the saints was ever about manipulative appeasement stuff?

It is a rationalist rejection of the miraculous that is driving this (take a look back at Eureka Street's articles on St Mary McKillop's miracles if you want evidence), and nothing more.

A Canberra Observer said...

The learned are so foolish if they sweep away devotion to the saints by such clever and trite descriptors.

Carob_molasses said...

For starters -


Scholarly article. Have a look at the detail here as a primer of medieval European views. Then imagine the mixture of religious views that immigrants from distinctive cultures (e.g. filipinos, Vietnamese etc) bring which will be analogous, but bear comparable analysis as a mixed bag of practices. "Street catholicism" as it plays out in non-whitebread countries might be rationalisable (!) by you by reference to Church teachings on high, but in practice is in an odd relationship with it.
Next step: our religious practices in Australia are a mix of whats left of Australio-celtic catholicism and the various "street catholicisms" from around the world.
So the question is a look-and-see one - read my email to a few parish priests and get their reflections on their customers!

Here's another angle - you have to acknowledge that syncretic Catholicisms, like that of Haiti, which mix it with paganisms can involve transactional manipulative spiritualities. (NB: CAN, not: ALWAYS DO).
If you can see it in these cases, imagine a sliding scale from there, to Maltese/southern Italian Catholicsm, which has a bit of transactionality going on, or Filipino Catholicsm which is likewise. Then consider German/Bavarian Catholicism, which (whats left of it) is more 'Bookish'/cerebral. (I dont want to say 'rational' because street catholicsm has its own rationale. Then consider new World Anglo-celtic Catholicsm, which was like the Bavarian, but took an even more rationalist turn in the 60s (and a female empowerment turn, but thats another story - Margaret Farley style).
Australia inherits all these people playing out their versions of Catholicism. To deny that devotional practices of street Catholicism can ever be manipulative transactional is to be an ideologue, who has not observed ones coreligionists closely.

Note also - one does not have to be a rationalist total miracle-denier to want to cut down transactionalism. One could also come at it from the movement (I associate it with Anglicanism but it is also in RC) that says 'lets cut back devotionalism/daily-life miracles/magic to accentuate the miraculous status of the Incarnation and Christ's ministry miracles'. I personally dont buy this view, but Ive heard it more often than the pure rationalist view.

The problem is that the same devotional practice can be done with wildly different intentions and background beliefs - one perfectly Orthodox and healthy, and the other creepy quasi-magic transactionalism, and/or neurotic control-behaviour. Hence discussing this stuff is hard, because the healthy Orthodox see my/Fr. Kelly's request to look seriously at manipulative transactionalism as an attack on their practices, whereas it is not as such. Its more subtle than that.

And thats what the V2 generation of priests were trying to do (and were up against); something that requires subtlety and nuance. I suspect that a Benedict would get the point of what I am saying nd has probably made the point somewhere (not so sure about JPII and Mother Teresa - both he and she seem to have more than a touch of the transactional..!).

Problem is that the 60s Churchmen did it amid protestantisation pressures on, and rationalist critiques of the Church from the 1960s, and their stance (which Kelly is reflecting on) is easily mocked as stemming from these two sources.

Kate Edwards said...

Maybe because it did indeed stem from Protestantism and rationalism Carob!

I'm not quite sure what you think that reference proves. That Church engaged in 'inculturation' and that other religions have some glimmer of truth in them is not in dispute. The issue is whether these practices as they were in the period immediately before Vatican II, not centuries earlier, were so harmful as to warrant their suppression, particularly in view of the actual effect of this, which was to create a dreadful aridity and undermine the transmission of the faith.

In fact the usual argument ;ut forward by progressives against devotions is not about their 'transactionalism' (which some of us see us just promoting a healthy realisation that our every moment of existence depends on God's sustaining power) but that they represent a 'privatisation' of the faith.

The usual argument is that public worship is superior to private (true) and therefore anything selse whould be abolished (a non sequitur).

Either way the proof lies in the results - the abolition of devotions, as Fr Kelly admits, has killed the life of the Church. We need them back!

Carob_molasses said...

Kate, again -
The post I wrote summarises evidence of grotesque transactional habits in the medieval period. My first argument assumes that unless it is reformed, secularised, rationalised etc, there is no reason to think that there wouldnt be some transactionalism accompanying the same practices in an 'undisturbed' Catholic country eg. Malta. Then I argued that Australia is a composition of various "street catholicisms', and it is not unreasonable to think some of them contain some transactionalism in their devotional practices. So the first arg went from the past practice to the present.
Argument 2 went from obviously transactional religious practice (Haiti semi pagans - evident) and argued via a continuum, through to it being reasonable to think that Australian Catholic devotionalism in the 50s has some transactionalist elements. Both were based on what I take to be at least evident - the medieval practices and Haiti.

I know transactionalism did exist here in the 50s, because the devotional stuff that exists now has a transactionalist element (as I said and it got mutilated in last post - Please ask your local parish priests about the real state of mind of devotionally-'codependent' in their parish). Also my mother brought us up to be wary of devotionalist excesses (e.g. the 'Rosary rattlers', Medjegorie stuff) which one aunt and one uncle (in different decades of life, and different forms) were into. Thats my family anecdote, Im sure your sane readers could supply others. I didnt want to argue by anecdote so I didnt mention it.

In your final clamour to return to devotionalism (which I agree with to a point, incidentally, I just dont think it solves the problems of people's non-interest in and non-adherence to the Church, or their being moral in a deeper sense), you need to (sigh!: as I said!) take seriously the difference of manipulative transactional devotionalism vs healthy devotionalism.

So far you havent done so, nor do you even seem to acknowledge there is an issue of corrupted vs healthy Orthodox devotionalism. Therefore, once the distinction is recognised, what the v2 generation of priests did has some justification at the time.

Kate Edwards said...

Sorry Carob, I didn't see anything particularly grotesque in what was described, you'll need to explain to me just what you object to!

But in any case in between the medieval period and now there was thing called the Council of Trent which regulated and suppressed a lot of popular devotional practices in all Cahtolic countries.

And what exactly is this 'transactional' problem you see?

If you mean by transactional, we ask, God answers or a saint intervenes on our behalf, What exactly is wrong with that? That is in fact exactly what Scripture instructs us to do.