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James Carroll Just Can't Stop Being a Roman Catholic

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 8, 2014: James Carroll (born 1943), an ex-priest in the Roman Catholic Church who has been laicized at his own request, appears to be unable to stop being a practicing Roman Catholic -- and to stop writing about the Roman Catholic faith tradition.

Carroll has published a number of novels and numerous books of non-fiction -- most notably his fine critique titled CONSTANTINE'S SWORD: THE CHURCH AND THE JEWS: A HISTORY (2001). He has also published the book PRACTICING CATHOLIC (2009) and his new book CHRIST ACTUALLY: THE SON OF GOD FOR THE SECULAR AGE (2014).

Recently Carroll published the opinion piece "Jesus and the Modern Man" in the NEW YORK TIMES dated November 7, 2014 at the website, but to be dated November 9, 2014 in the print edition.

I want to comment on several points that Carroll makes in this opinion piece. I will proceed here by following the order of his piece. As I will explain below, he actually does say something that deserves to be called to the attention of progressives and liberals who are engaged in fighting Roman Catholic theocons and others on the Christian right.

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Disclosure: Like Carroll, I come from a Roman Catholic background. However, for many years now, I have not been a practicing Catholic, as Carroll has been. Today I would describe myself as a theistic humanist, as distinct from a secular humanist.

Because of Pope Francis's well-publicized "resounding defense of the poor, his simplicity, his evident large heart" (except for not allowing women priests and for not approving women's right to legalized abortion in the first trimester and for not approving of married Roman Catholics using artificial contraception), Carroll piously refers to Pope Francis's supposed "moral grandeur." Spare me, please. Pope Francis is a smooth-talking misogynist -- and the leader of Roman Catholic theocons worldwide.

Concerning Roman Catholic theocons in the United States, see Damon Linker's book THE THEOCONS: SECULAR AMERICA UNDER SIEGE (2006).

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Despite Pope Francis's obviously deficiencies, Carroll claims that "institution-protecting conservatives are right to view him with alarm."

Next, after then distancing himself from certain aspects of Catholicism that he does not like, Carroll turns to examining himself and explaining why he clings to his religious faith tradition as strongly as he does. As an explanation, he offers a kind of personalism based on his religious faith tradition and certain persons living and dead.

In addition to this personalist cast of his religious faith tradition, Carroll claims that he also cling to the "liturgical cycle" and its commemoration of "the seasons of the year."

I have no doubt that this cyclicism of Catholicism taps into the deep memory of cyclicism of our human ancestors in Carroll's collective unconscious. Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), has repeatedly reminded us of the cyclicism of our primary oral ancestors -- but without ever explicitly adverting to the residual cyclicism built into the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, as Carroll does.

Eventually, Carroll turns to discussing the historical Jesus and how he came to be considered to be "somehow divine." Carroll claims that the historical Jesus was "a Shema-reciting son of Israel" whose "Jewishness was forgotten" in the four canonical gospels in which a story of Jesus is told "as a story of Jesus against the Jews, as if he were not one of them." Carroll claims that this misremembering contributed to "the anti-Semitism of Nazism" in the 20th century.

Now, I want to return to Carroll's statement about how Jesus came to be considered "somehow divine." Carroll raises interesting questions: "Is it possible that contemporary thought can learn from this old article of faith? What if the so-called divinity of Jesus lays bare not so much the mystery of God as the majesty of what it is to be human?"

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However, Carroll does not happen to advert to the traditional Christian way of referring to this possible psycho-spiritual development as deification.

For historical studies of deification in the Christian tradition of thought, see Norman Russell's book THE DOCTRINE OF DEIFICATION IN THE GREEK PATRISTIC TRADITION (2004) and A. N. Williams' book THE GROUND OF UNION: DEIFICATION IN AQUINAS AND PALAMAS (1999).

If Christians today such as Carroll prefer to imagine the psycho-spiritual development as involving the mythic Christ, this way of imagining this psycho-spiritual development fits in well with patristic and medieval Christian thought.

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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; 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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