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BOOK REVIEW: Why Garry Wills Does Not Understand Catholic Priests

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 16, 2013: With all due respect for the learned and estimable Garry Wills, the historical Jesus was arguably a shaman -- indeed, a very effective shaman.

Once we understand the historical Jesus was a shaman, it would seem to follow that all of Jesus' self-described followers should also be shamans, or should at least aspire to be shamans, as Roman Catholic priests do.

I know, I know, the world's top scholar of the historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan, who is himself a laicized Catholic priest, thinks that the historical Jesus was a prophet concerned about social justice, not a shaman concerned about a spiritual revolution among the people he was called to serve. But with all due respect for the learned and estimable Crossan, I think he is simply wrong about this. I don't think that Jesus was especially concerned about social justice. Instead, I think that the biblical scholar Marcus J. Borg came closer to the mark (than Crossan does) when he (Borg) describes the historical Jesus as a spiritual revolutionary -- in short, a shaman -- in his book MEETING JESUS AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME (1994). Nevertheless, Borg clings to certain Christian conceptual constructs about Jesus, as do both Crossan and Wills. For example, all three cling to the conceptual construct about the supposed "resurrection" of Jesus from the dead. But the claims about Jesus' appearances after his death are best understood as reports about hallucinations that certain grief-stricken followers had after his death.

Hallucinations involve apparitions, appearances that seem real enough to the people who have them. Apparitions and hallucinations involve the same psychological structure that is involved when we have dreams when we are asleep.

According to Jungian theorist Robert Moore of Chicago Theological Seminary, all men and all women have the shaman archetype in the archetypal level of their psyches. Moore refers to the archetype that shamans cultivate as the magician archetype. Thus all men and all women have the potentiality for being shamans.

Nevertheless, the world today does not appear to be in danger of having an over-supply of shamans as effective as the historical Jesus evidently was, not even among his self-described followers. Why not? Evidently, many are called to cultivate their shaman potentialities but few are chosen to be shamans as effective as the historical Jesus evidently was.

Even so, the few among us who are chosen to be shamans are not likely to be as effective as shamans as the historical Jesus evidently was. For example, psychotherapists of all stripes and spiritual directors in all traditions are called to be shamans, but they do not appear to be as effective as the historical Jesus evidently was.

Among people in the Roman Catholic Church, the few who are chosen to be shamans include ordained priests, the target of Wills' learned new book WHY PRIESTS? A FAILED TRADITION. (Viking/Penguin, 2013), and other Catholics who serve as Catholic spiritual directors.

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As a young man, Wills himself at one time thought he had a vocation, a calling, to become a priest. As a result, he entered the Catholic religious order known as the Jesuit order. For a few years, Wills was a Jesuit seminarian. (Disclosure: At one time in my life, I was also a Jesuit seminarian. However, I am no longer a practicing Catholic.)

However, after a few years, Wills left the Jesuits and took a job working for the Catholic polemicist William F. Buckley, Jr., at the NATIONAL REVIEW. Wills went on to complete a Ph.D. in classics at Yale. In following years Wills' vocation as a polemicist emerged and flourished. His new book is yet another manifestation of and expression of his vocation as a polemicist. In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I give him credit for discovering his true vocation in life -- being a practicing Catholic polemicist about the Roman Catholic tradition.

Indeed, Wills is a leading practicing Catholic polemicist against the Roman Catholic tradition. Other leading practicing Catholic polemicists against the Roman Catholic tradition include Fr. Hans Kung, Fr. Charles Curran, and layman James Carroll. For a discussion of the numerous practicing Catholics silenced or otherwise dealt with by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), see Matthew Fox's fine book THE POPE'S WAR: WHY RATZINGER'S SECRET CRUSADE HAS IMPERILED THE CHURCH AND HOW IT CAN BE SAVED (2011).

As I noted above, the world today does not appear to be in danger of having an over-supply of shamans. But we can wonder if the United States today is perhaps in danger of having an over-supply of polemicists. Apart from possibly having an over-supply of polemicists, we may also wonder just how many polemics one polemicist is entitled to subject us to before he or she dies. I say "dies" advisedly, because polemicists do not appear to retire, nor do they appear to reach a point of satiation and stop delivering polemics to us.

However, Pope Benedict XVI has just startled the world by renouncing the papal office at the end of February 2013, which hopefully will be accompanied by the end of his ministry as a practicing Catholic polemist favoring and defending the Roman Catholic tradition. But he appears to be an exception. Nevertheless, his example can give us hope that other polemicists may renounce their calling to be polemicists and retire from that august office in life.

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Now, according to Moore, in addition to having the archetypal potentiality in their psyches to be shamans, all men and all women also have three other great potentialities in the archetypal level of their psyches -- all three of which also call for careful cultivation. One of these other three archetypal potentialities is the warrior archetype, the archetypal potentiality that practicing Catholic polemists of all stripes cultivate.

In short, polemicists such as Wills and the ancient Hebrew prophet Amos are cultivating the warrior archetype in their psyches, not the archetype that shamans such as the historical Jesus and Catholic priests and psychotherapists of all stripes and spiritual directors in all traditions cultivate. The archetype that shamans cultivate is also the archetype that "good enough" mothers and fathers cultivate and that trustworthy teachers of all stripes cultivate, including medicine men and women and even medical doctors today cultivate ("doctor" means teacher).

The warrior archetype that Wills and the ancient Hebrew prophet Amos have cultivated is also cultivated by other public polemicists of all stripes, including all polemicists about social justice (the theme advanced by Amos), by professional lawyers of all stripes, by people in the armed forces, by police officers of all stripes, and by all of us whenever we muster our courage to stand up in public and say or do something that is potentially controversial and possibly even dangerous. In short, whenever we must muster our courage, we are mustering our warrior archetype. Courage is the signature virtue we need to cultivate and regulate the warrior archetype.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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The tradition of the American jeremiad is an honor... by Thomas Farrell on Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 at 12:38:15 PM
than prophet, but there were also aspects of the p... by Richard Girard on Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 at 4:13:17 PM
because they're there, because they're there. It's... by molly cruz on Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 at 5:05:27 PM