Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Poetry, Passion, and Cognitive Dissonance: The Death of Soul in American Catholicism Today

So here’s where things stand for me—and I certainly understand readers who don’t particularly care to read confessional literature or rants or outpourings of discontent.  For those readers, let this be a warning that a confessional screed is forthcoming.

But for those who have followed this blog in the past—and I appreciate you very much—I do want to say something, at least.

Here’s where things stand: there are places in one’s life in which it’s like having your skin scalded to read news about a particular subject that has previously been meaningful.  For some time now, it has been that way for me with news about the churches.

Scalding: when I log onto websites that invite open discussion of matters Catholic, for instance—America, Commonweal, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic—I’m simply overwhelmed by the animosity and ignorance pouring forth from the mouths of a segment of the American Catholic population today.

And by the silence of the liberal center. 

It hurts—it hurts actively—to read some of the stuff posted in these discussions.  It hurts to listen to the ignorance and feel the malice, to try to answer the ignorance one more futile time.

But even more, the silence of the liberal center hurts. How can I divest myself of the sense that solidarity requires that people at least try to show concern, when the skin of others is being scalded repeatedly?  How can I divest myself of that sense, when it seems to me that this is what religious faith is all about?

I can’t imagine the kinds of things being posted about gay human beings on these Catholic websites nowadays being said about the Jewish community, the black community, women—about anyone—and with impunity.  There are not only inbuilt restraints now in decent middle-of-the-road discourse preventing open vilification and spreading of lies about these groups.  There are also editorial restraints against such practices in almost all middle-of-the-road publications now.

And so from hurt to apathy (a-patheia, ἀπάθεια, loss of feeling): the only thing I’ve known to do for some time now, vis-à-vis the rising tide of hate rhetoric and hate-filled actions that flow from such rhetoric in American Catholicism, is to distance myself. 

And now the distancing act has begun to turn into a just-don’t-care act.  ἀπάθεια: the loss of the ability to feel.  I have begun to read the headlines with a sense of distance that makes me numb, where I previously felt my skin scalded:
Response to Same-Sex Marriage: D.C. Diocese Cancels Benefits for Heterosexual Married Employees

Continued Attacks on Catholic Campaign for Human Development: Gay-Friendly and Pro-Choice

New Abuse Allegations Breaking in Germany and Now in the Netherlands

Irish Survivors of Abuse Close to Despair

Anniversary of Ratzinger’s Election to Be Celebrated with Latin Mass at National Shrine in D.C.

Deal Hudson Declares Catholic Democrats Inauthentic Catholics

Bishops Make Last-Minute Appeal for Healthcare Reform

Catholic Theology Departments Increasingly Employ Adjuncts with No Benefits: Tenured Silence

Notre Dame and John Carroll: No Protection for Rights of Gay and Lesbian Employees

Witch-Hunt of U.S. Women Religious Revs Up

Money from Catholic Collection Baskets Nationwide Removes Marriage Rights from Maine’s Gays

I’m now reading as if from another planet.  And as a result, I have nothing to say.

When religious groups and religious people lose vital connection (or appear to lose vital connection) to the pain of others, how can they effectively accomplish what religion is all about: to engage mind and heart?

When poetry and passion recede from religious practice, how can religions claim to be authentic—to be following faithfully their originating impulses?  Which are all about poetry and passion?

Where is the poetry and passion in Catholic practice today?  It’s not there for me.

And when the price people have to pay to remain connected is to tolerate a cognitive dissonance that has become intolerable to increasing numbers of believers, isn’t that price too high?  Intolerable cognitive dissonance: I have covered up the sexual abuse of children by priests, but you must listen to me as the chief and sole moral teacher in the church when I inform you that you are disordered in your very nature, because you are gay.

Cognitive dissonance: it is immoral to violate or remove human rights from human beings, but gays and lesbians should forget about their human rights.  Cognitive dissonance: the law and all the prophets tell us that love is the center of what it means to be in union with God, but I declare your love disordered. 

For me, I think, the really ultimate breaking point has been the refusal of many Catholics of the center to admit, even now, even given all we now know and know that we will continue to learn, any solidarity with their brother and sister Catholics who are coming forth in droves to attest to their sexual abuse as children by priests (and nuns and brothers).  The games being played at the center to skirt that solidarity are sickening to me—the claim that those making these allegations are largely motivated by a desire for money; the claim that “enemies of the church” are working up this scandal in order to attack the church; the claim that dissident Catholics, and, in particular, gay-affirming Catholics, are riding on the coattails of the scandal to score points against the church.

Where is the solidarity that Catholicism is supposed to be all about, in those claims?

And how does anyone think he or she can talk about “real” Catholicism or authentic Catholicism in the absence of such solidarity?
No poetry, no passion, no solidarity, and increasing cognitive dissonance as “faithful” Catholics are required to profess the absurd and to collude in barbaric behavior unworthy of any group that identifies itself as a standard-bearer of ethics: I’ve had it right now.

As I move towards my 60th birthday, I’m looking for (and finding) other ways to keep soul alive right now.  I have to do that. 

Because keeping soul alive is surely what we’re made for.