Tchaikovsky: Symphony #6 ("Pathetique")
Mare of Easttown

More Rieff (3)

A brief but telling few paragraphs on the situation of Christianity in the new culture:

What, then, should churchmen do? The answer returns clearly: become, avowedly, therapists, administrating a therapeutic institution--under the justificatory mandate that Jesus himself was the first therapeutic. For the next culture needs therapeutic institutions.

After quoting a writer of the time, John Wren-Lewis, who dismisses all the actually religious aspects of religion, Rieff continues:

[Wren-Lewis] understands that churchmen will be able to become professional therapeutics "only if they break away radically from almost all, if not all, of their traditional religious pursuits." Here speaks the therapeutic, calmly confident that community life no longer needs "some supposed plan underlying experience," that is, no longer needs doctrinal integrations of self into communal purposes, elaborated, heretofore, precisely through such "supposed plans."....

Both East and West are now committed, culturally as well as economically, to the gospel of self-fulfillment. Yet neither the American nor the Russian translations of the gospel can be transformed into a spiritual perception.

Nor does the present ferment in the Roman Catholic Church seem so much like a renewal of spiritual perception as a move toward more sophisticated accommodations with the negative communities of the therapeutics. Grudgingly, the Roman churchmen must give way to their Western laity and translate their sacramental rituals into comprehensible terms as therapeutic devices. (p. 215)

That was 1966. The so-called "spirit of Vatican II" and many other developments would soon prove Rieff's prophetic insight. Clearly a great many Christians, clergy and other, have taken this path toward the therapeutic, not so much by a conscious decision as by having absorbed the view of the surrounding culture, that Christianity is essentially a sort of local  or specific implementation of a presumed general drive toward self-enrichment. 

Wren-Lewis took an interesting turn later in life after a near-death experience, becoming a believer in a kind of transcendent consciousness. 


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In the late 1980s, a young priest at our parish in Buffalo told us that his seminary education had "too much theology, not enough psychology."

Taken in isolation, that could be a fair point--abstractions vs human reality, and so forth. But I suspect it wasn't.

I have heard too many priests talk about their vocation in terms of self-fulfillment. Which, again, *could* be valid, but only in a mystical-ascetic way, which is not the feeling I got from them.

The Church's mission does have a therapeutic aspect, of course, but in modernity this has taken a bad turn towards a "therapy" that more or less serves the unencumbered self. Carl Trueman, drawing on Rieff and Charles Taylor, among others, has done some good work on this subject.

I had intended to read Steiner's Real Presences after Rieff, but got curious about Trueman's recent book--Rise of the Modern Self or however the title goes. It's good, somehow a little on the dry side compared to Rieff.

I read an interview with Trueman somewhere in which he said that he tried to make the book unpolemical so as to present his findings as more or less straight analyses that could be unobjectionable even to readers who disagreed with his thesis. The subsequent shorter version of the book, Strange New World or whatever it's called, is pithier and somewhat more argumentative, as are his various essays in First Things, etc.

I'm about 60 pages into Berry's new one, and so far it's very good. His argument boils down to the idea that America's racial problems are inseparably linked to our economic problems, and that the modern tendency to compartmentalize "race" off into its own separate area of concern misses the big picture, both historically and in contemporary terms, with identity politics and political correctness serving to blind us to that bigger picture. This isn't a new argument, but I don't know of anyone as prominent as WB who's voiced it, especially at book length.

Plenty here to tick off people on both sides of the aisle!

Is that The Need to be Whole? Judging by the description on Amazon it doesn't sound that promising, in that it suggests that he is engaged in a fairly hopeless struggle to turn the industrial-commercial ship around. I'm afraid that it's not going to turn around, just sink. With all hands.

The Trueman book definitely fits what you say was his intention. I don't know if it got him any non-conservative respect.

Well, Berry's looking at the thing from a localist perspective, so the intent is not so much to turn the ship around, but rather to build lifeboats, so to speak. Race and economics are gigantic problems that can't be solved from the top down, if they can ever really be solved at all. I think that what he's trying to get people to see and to get involved in working towards are solutions to the local manifestations of these problems. Urban Detroit and rural Kentucky may have both racial and economic problems, but in two such different places the remedies will likely be different as well. His point is that the "big plans" from both the left and the right are not working and are in fact making things worse in many cases precisely because they fail to take the local element into consideration.

That makes sense. I guess I should know that Berry would not be advocating for some kind of national solution.

I enjoy reading your blog from time to time. I'm sorry to post a question here, but I'm not sure how else to ask -- I believe you wrote a poem about Job once, but for the life of me I can't find it. Can you direct me to it? I remember the ending: repent, repent, repent. Thank you!

Is the email address you left with that comment valid? If so I'll email it to you. You can't find it because I took it down, along with several other poems I posted here. The reason in most cases was that I wanted to try to place them in magazines.

It wasn't Job, btw, it was Jonah. And I've revised it significantly since it was last available here. Maybe you'll still like it. I did submit it to one magazine, and it was turned down with a note that somehow gave me the impression that it was rejected with feeling. Like, not just "we aren't going to publish it" but "we aren't going to publish it, now leave us alone." Probably just me.

Yes, that address is correct. Thank you! Oops — Jonah, of course. I look forward to seeing what you’ve done to it and I hope it can find a publisher some day.

Ok, I'll see what the most recent revision is like. I was having a lot of trouble with it. Maybe should have just left it in its originally unsatisfactory condition.

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