Friday, October 26, 2012

Fr. Emmett Coyne, The Theology of Fear: When Religion Takes Leave of Spirituality

Usually, when I discuss or recommend a book on this blog, I've already read it.  In fact, I can't think of an instance in which a book I've recommended here hasn't been one I've yet read.

Today, I want, however, to tell readers about a book I haven't yet read, but am planning to read.  And I want, as well, to explain why I think this book will be very useful to me--asking, as I do so, whether any readers of this blog may already have read the book in question and if we might talk together about it as a dialogic community on this blog.

The book I'm intending to read is Fr. Emmett Coyne's Theology of Fear.  As this Amazon link to the book indicates, Fr. Coyne published the book this past May in conjunction with Amazon's CreateSpace self-publishing program.  As Fr. Coyne's website also notes, profits from the sale of Theology of Fear are going to Partners in Health, to provide healthcare to those on the margins of society.

The website's summary of the book notes that Fr. Coyne wrote it to foster "a dialogue of change in our understanding of doctrine, morality, and how the Roman Church ought to 'seek first the Kingdom of God' by reading the signs of the times."  It is, in other words, a direct reflection on the theology of Vatican II, which accentuated the concept derived from the theology of Cardinal Newman that doctrine develops, and that in the process of doctrinal development, the voice of the laity, our sensus fidelium, is critically important.

It's critically important because, as Newman maintained, the "reception" or lack of reception of a doctrinal or moral teaching of the magisterium is part and parcel of the truth claims made by that teaching.  The relationship between the truth of church teaching and the laity who receive or don't receive a teaching is not static, in the sense that a commodity full of truth is offered to customers for sale, and customers either decide or don't decide to buy the commodity.

The relationship between the truth of church teaching and the laity's reception of that teaching is, instead, dynamic, in that the truth of the teaching isn't even there in a complete and meaningful way until and unless the people of God "receive" the truth of church teaching.  There is an ongoing, dynamic, continually progressing and developing connection between the people of God's discernment of the truth claims of a church teaching, and whether those claims are even present at all in the "product" being offered for sale by church officials.

And so one reason I want to read Fr. Coyne's book is to remind myself of what is central to the theology of Vatican II as we commemorate the calling of that council by Pope John XXIII in 1962.  Another reason--and it's inherently connected to the first--is that, as Fr. Coyne also notes on his website, rather than relying on the dialogic process Vatican II (and Newman) envisaged for the verification of the doctrinal and moral teachings of the magisterium, the leaders of the Catholic church have chosen increasingly in the period following Vatican II to rely on fear, threats, coercion, and punishment to enforce the truth claims of their teachings.

And this is having serious and radical effects on the ability of the church to communicate those claims both to its own members and the culture at large, even as the papacy and bishops step up their truth claims through overt attempts to coerce the faithful and society at large to accept Catholic teachings in the political sphere.  Fr. Coyne's website says that he came to write the book because 

[i]n its current incarnation, the Roman Church reflects more of Caesar than Christ - imposing fear, power, and control rather than cultivating love, service, and freedom. Its language remains Latin, its vocabulary ancient nomenclature, its clerical vestments vestiges of "the glory that was Rome." It is the only religion demanding to be treated as a political entity, mediating the Kingdom’s message through political considerations. Jesus would be aghast. 

The Amazon site for Theology of Fear contains a review/synopsis of the book by the noted Dominican priest Fr. Tom Doyle, who has done such outstanding and courageous service on behalf of survivors of clerical sexual abuse--and who has paid a steep price with Catholic officials for his willingness to speak out on behalf of survivors.  Fr. Doyle's review develops further the thesis that Fr. Coyne states in the preceding paragraph I've cited from his website: 

Religion and spirituality are two radically different concepts. Religion can and often does pose an almost insurmountable barrier to a true spiritual experience of a Higher Power. This incredible book is about the toxic effects of Roman Catholicism as a religion and not as a source of spiritual growth. The title is spot on in describing the predominant theological force that permeates most of the elements of institutional Catholicism. This book is a "must read" for anyone who has been traumatized and harmed by the oppressive theology of fear that has permeated institutional Catholicism for ages. Emmett Coyne is more than qualified to write this book. He has been a priest for nearly half a century and has lived through the exhilaration of Vatican II and the increasing repression of the restorationist papacies of John Paul II and Beneduct XVI. It would be easy for brainwashed Catholics to dismiss Coyne as angry or insulting to church personages but to do so proves his point. The Church is not about those who control it nor is it about sustaining a power and money-hungry monarchy. The monarchical system has created a toxic dependence between its laws, structures, rituals and customs and the millions of believers. They have become emotionally dependent on this theology of fear and must find radical liberation to have a true experience of Christianity. Coyne's book should be the opening of the door to spiritual freedom for the many who have been controlled by the Church-driven yet totally inauthentic visions of an angry, vengeful and fear-filled God. The author's countless examples of this theology of fear, where it comes from, how it retains power and how it devours the souls of good people are all solidly grounded in history and theology. This is not an emotional rant. It is a solid, factual description of what is, in the hope that by seeing what is will lead to freedom from fear and an experience of the Church as it should be and as it is described in the life of Christ found in the gospels. The book is a must for anyone who has suffered religious abuse from the toxicity of Catholic oppression. It is a must for any cleric who has the courage to want to serve Christ first and the monarchy second.

This line (among several others) catches my eye: "This book is a 'must read' for anyone who has been traumatized and harmed by the oppressive theology of fear that has permeated institutional Catholicism for ages."  Yes.  I can see myself among those who have been "traumatized and harmed by the oppressive theology of fear" permeating institutional Catholicism, particularly as the Vatican and bishops step up their claims about their authority to intrude in and even direct the political lives of secular pluralistic democracies.

I blogged recently about how toxic I'm finding (all over again!) some of the conversations on Catholic blog sites lately, as Catholics battle Catholics re: how to assess moral issues like racism with the elections nearing in the U.S.  In a National Catholic Reporter thread that developed in the last several days in response to a good article about same-sex marriage by Pat Perriello, I've been told by a reader I presume is a Catholic, "We don't like you."

This in response to questions I asked this person's friend when the friend, someone who uses the name William Glenn in this and other threads, maintained that legalizing same-sex marriage is tantamount to legalizing incest.  Glenn had maintained a day or so prior to this in another thread that fewer than 5% of same-sex relationships last more than a few days.

In both instances, I asked Mr. Glenn to provide substantiation of his claims.  In both instances, he has, up to now, simply ignored my questions.  Mr. Glenn's friend, Botch, who tells me that he and his group--"we"--don't "like" me, wonders why he or anyone else should even talk to me at all, since, as he or she maintains, I approach church teaching and the hierarchy with "vitriol" and a "closed mind."  And so there's no need to talk to someone who has a vitriolic and closed mind!

I have to conclude that people who think in this convoluted wayhave experienced some kind of cognitive impairment as a result of what church authority figures have done to their heads.  How else can a refusal to talk to others who try to create dialogue about significant moral questions become a charge that the other person is vitriolic and "closed" in his mind?  When refusing to talk to others while issuing childish taunts about how "we don't like you" becomes an example of non-vitriolic and open rather than closed discussion, up has become down and red has become green.

People can get to this strange space, I suspect, only when the kind of abuse doled out by religious authority figures has been so constant and brutal that their heads have been tampered with--so that they no longer know how to think, talk carefully about serious moral and doctrinal moral issues, or respectfully entertain the views of fellow believers that diverge from their own views.

When we as an institution get to this space--when this becomes normative for more and more of us who hang on as true believers--our religious institution has been sunk spiritually.  It no longer serves spiritual ends and no longer deserves to be taken seriously as it tells us to vote against the gays because they are, after all, promiscuous people who can't hold onto real relationships and letting them marry will be opening the door to letting a brother marry his sister.  

I find what has happened to my church under its current pastoral leaders, and as the William Glenns and Botches of the church proliferate and inform everyone else that we don't deserve to be treated with respect as fellow human beings and fellow Catholics, dispiriting in the extreme.  And this is why I'd like to read Fr. Coyne's book and begin to understand better how we've come to such a sorry state.

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