Friday, August 24, 2007

From Cranmer: Iraq and the genocide of Assyrian Christians

From the blog by Archbishop Cranmer:

It is perhaps one of the great ironies of the whole Iraq debacle that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair - two of the most avowedly Christian leaders of recent times – should have created a situation which has not only destabilised the entire region, but imperils the very existence of Assyrian Christians. In the liberation of the majority Shi’ia from their Sunni oppressors, the Christians, who once lived and worshipped freely under the regime of Saddam Hussain, now face genocide in their own country at the hands of determined Islamist fanatics. The Rev Canon Andrew White, vicar of the 1300-strong St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, recently spoke in Washington, and said: “The situation is more than desperate. The Coalition has failed the Christians. We have done nothing to support the Christian community or the increased Christian suffering.”

To read more: Iraq and the genocide of Assyrian Christians.

The Challenge of the Extraordinary

The following is offered in response to a question in the combox from Jack. He writes:

Great post, Fr. I'd love to have a better sense of what you mean when you speak of Fatima as having a tendency towards "sentimentality and over-rationalization". Just from the position of understanding. I'm actually not someone with any significant attachment to that devotion and not sure if I follow what elements of it you see fitting that profile.

But I was very struck by the part that you put in bold about ecumenism.
Thank you Jack for your kind words. And now my response:

Dear Jack,

My comments about Fatima were in response to some of the things I've come across as I've been do research for my paper in October. For example the film shown on the EWTN, Call to Fatima, is presented in a sentimental, really almost cloying tone--as if the presenter did not trust the events of Fatima to be sufficient to evoke awe in his viewers. Instead, he tried by his tone of voice to communicate to me what I ought to be feeling at different points in his presentation.

I feel what I feel, I do not tell people what they ought to feel and I certainly do not like being told by someone what to feel.

My objection is to to sentiment as such, but what I see as the attempt someone to create in me a particular emotional response (sentimentality). For example, in the Divine Liturgy I turn and say to the people "Lift up your hearts." The injunction is simply given, without any expectation on my part as to the particular affective content of the response form the congregation. This is important since, by the very neutrality of my tone and expectation, it makes room for people to feel what they feel and to lift up the hearts as they truly are at that moment. This leaving people free is important--in Greek, the word for forgive in the New Testament, aphiemi, means (among other things) to permit, to allow, or not to hinder. While word studies have their limitations, it is worth noting that there is an absence of coercion in the term.

Much of what I've seen regarding Fatima seems calculated to get me to respond affectively in a very particular way--I find this rather offensive and frankly violent.

(I should point out, that there are PLENTY of examples of sentimentality in an Orthodox tone. My objection is not to Fatima per se, but to any attempt to manipulate the affective response of another person.)

As for the over-rationalization: Much of that seems to center on the request from the Virgin that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. Leaving aside the theological differences I have with that, there is not a little controversy among Roman Catholics as to whether or not it was done, or done properly. The arguments tend to read like poorly written legal briefs and carry a tone of depreciative criticism and defensiveness that I find curious. I am not suggesting that all these arguments are of equally weight for Catholics, only that they represent a certain tendency towards over-rationalization that seems to have captured at least some people with a devotion to our Lady of Fatima.

Again, this kind of over-rationalization is not unknown in the Orthodox Church--ask any Orthodox priest why we have overlapping jurisdictions based on ethnicity and how we square that with our claim to be the True Church. Better, say that you considered the claims of the Orthodox Church and, because of ethnicity, you have decided that we are no better then denominationally ridden Protestantism and watch the response. At least from some priests yow will hear an almost stereotypical "Jesuitical" response; the casuistry of the Orthodox attempts to justify the unjustifiable is certainly no less subtle then what you might find in a Roman Catholic theological manual of the 19th century.

The point, in both the Catholic and Orthodox examples, is that we do not need to bluster God's grace and the appearance of His saints with our psychological posturing and attempts at manipulation. Tangible appearance in our lives of God's grace--miracles, visit by the saints, visions, etc.--are as they say their own hermeneutic--they challenge us to lay aside our attachment to our own internal psychological states and our accustomed behavior and social structures. In making manifest the hidden grace of God in our lives, they challenge us to live a life that has been made new "from above" (Jn 3.3). The appeal to psychological states or social structures, is simply an attempt to manipulate self or other and is, in the face of our refuse of grace and is, as I said above, profoundly disrespectful to God, self and others.

My suspicion is much of sentimentalizing and over-rationalizing is grounded in fear and, underneath that, the damage done to human will by Adam's transgressions--but that is for another day (and a paper I hope to present next at a psychology conference next April).

Again, thank you for your kind words and your question. Have I answered it at least a little?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory