Thursday, February 11, 2010

Suffocation Tends to be Fatal

Ugh. I'm having another "good grief moment".

Fr Z has a new post praising Wyoming Catholic College with the following little tidbit:
They don’t have distractions, either. The technology policy at the college permits no mobile phones. Students may have personal computers for writing, but without an internet connection. They can consult the internet on a college computer.
I can't judge the students there, I haven't met them. I'm sure some, um, fine young people go there...?

At the same time...I want to scream: What is it with these people!?! What is with all this institutionalism, all this authoritarianism, this whole misguided idea of "protecting people from themselves"?!?

As someone who goes to a big public University with tons of diversity, the possibility of anonymity, and generous tolerance for freedom and independence...that sort of thing just creeps the hell out of me. Yet we see Catholics constantly romanticizing it, especially in their seminaries, but now here in a lay college!

Maybe some collectivist cultures are comfortable with that, but in individualistic America...such policies should raise some eyebrows (though, at the same time, there is something quintessentially American about such utopian social-engineering attempts). Even more interesting is the question of what sort of personality would actively choose to live in such an environment? The whole thing screams cultishness.

College students are adults. They aren't children. Yet in the name of conservative Catholicism...they're being told that they can't have a cell phone?!?!?! WTF!?!


FrGregACCA said...

It all comes back to the Filioque...(and Vatican I).

A Sinner said...

Ha. Vatican I...I basically agree, but it goes back much longer than that (and don't try to tell me Eastern monasteries are any less Institutional. In many ways, they are moreso).

As for the Filioque...I've seen arguments like that from Lossky, for example, that made quite interesting points about its relation to papal monarchism, etc...but I believe the differences between East and West on this matter are actually semantical, something I am intending to write about in my next "Concrete Proposals vis a vis Orthodoxy" article.

But, perhaps the clarification/mutual enrichment on that subject would trickle down to institutional change (though you might get into a sort of chicken-and-the-egg question there).

FrGregACCA said...

I agree that the problem goes back farther, much farther than Vatican I, which was the culmination of a very long process in the Western Church. There is a claim that the magisterium is the "servant" not the "master" of "the Word of God," but IMHO, Vatican I codified the practical mastery of the magisterium over the "Word of God" - the Tradition taken as a whole.

I suspect you will agree that "institutionalization" within monasticism is one thing, something quite different on a college campus (or in a planned community).

My point about the filioque is that if one's doctrine of God is distorted, one's anthropology, and everything flowing from that, including ecclesiology (and how one deals with college students), will be distorted as well. However, I do not see the filioque as a "deal breaker" as long as it is held as theological opinion, not dogma (and that means, of course, getting it out of the Creed).

A Sinner said...

I think institutionalism is maybe "more tolerable" in a monastery than a seminary, a lay college, etc, as (like in a prison) at least they're "contained" (or should be) and so any pathological dynamics won't hurt outsiders or influence the mainstream Church (though in practice that often isn't true; monks have a lot of influence, especially in the East where all bishops are former monks)...

But I still am very uncomfortable with the idea. Personal change and growth is supposed to come from grace, not from natural (and manipulative) psycho-social processes that can be equally replicated in any Total Institution.

I might write a post soon about Mt Athos and how, though I may seem to ride the West pretty hard around here...I have grave reservations about some of those things in the East too (especially some of the superstition and cults of personality that can start to form around certain "starets" Rasputinesquely).

As for the filioque, well, I'm going to do a post sometime about that, as I said, and I'll be sure to include the East's concerns about how ones conception of the Trinity affects all other areas. Many Catholics still seem to see the Trinity as just some obscure piece of trivia they have to believe, a theological paradox, but without any connection to their own life (whereas my own spirituality is very much based on Trinitarian relationality).

I do not believe the West can ever admit that the filioque is "merely a theologumenon" but...I think there is a big misunderstanding between the two sides about what each side is actually claiming, and they may not really contradict each other. I'll probably base it on this Lossky article:

FrGregACCA said...

I'll look forward to it.

Charlotte said...

Dude, if this blog turns out to be what you claim it to be, you are be, you are my new best friend.

A Sinner said...

that's a lot of pressure there, Charlotte...

lol, seriously though, I can only try. I'm not perfect. If my stuff sometimes does come across as biased, eccentric, offensive, demagogic...well, we all have "John Mayer" foot-in-mouth moments. I hope when I do, people will call me out on it, especially when I fall prey to the very attitudes I critique. Which, (surprise surprise) I generally critique because, most of the time, I held them myself at one point; but so their may be lingering elements.

I'd hope no one would agree with me 100% of the time, as some Catholics seem to do with these various personality-cult figures in the Church (and on cable news, and in the blogosphere). Think for yourselves, form your own opinions, draw your own conclusions!

My policy is to call it as I see it. Not to defend or apologize for the institutional church or its status quo (something a lot of Catholics put a lot of mental energy into). I'll try to point out good things (like my recent post on Archbishop Martin) as well as bad things, but critique and reform of what's wrong are sorta the main point, so try to keep that in mind when considering the sometimes "negative" tone of the blog. It doesn't mean there aren't good and right things too.

Also, please remember that maturity, integration, tolerance, sensitivity, empathy, nuance, humility, and honesty and authenticity...are all GOALS, ideals that I consciously strive to achieve. But that doesn't mean I have achieved them perfectly or that my positions are a flawless paragon of them. Those are the destination, they are what we're working for. But it is definitely not a completed project, even in ourselves; I know that I personally still have a long way to go certainly.

Anonymous said...

Would you please explain your use of the term "institutionalism" vis-a-vis Eastern monasticism and monasticism in general. I am having difficulty grasping some of your objections since a monastery is, well, quite frankly, an institution of sorts. Thank you.

A Sinner said...

Monasteries ARE Total Institutions (at least, if they're strict; many Western monasteries aren't really) and I AM suspicious of the mental health of those living in such an environment.

However, mental health is not holiness, and if monks are serving God in their monasteries, I don't really care if they're a little long as they stay in the monasteries where they can't hurt anyone else.

My complaint with colleges like this (and the current seminary system) is that these are people taken FROM the secular world and are going to, soon enough, be released back INTO the secular world. And such an environment is hardly adequate preparation for that.

It's like the problem with ex-prisoners (and, to a lesser degree, ex-military); readjusting back to non-institutionalized civilian life can be hard, which is why there is a high rate of recidivism.

So, yes, monasteries ARE Total Institutions. But the monks are supposed to live there for life and not return to the world. Any pathology will thus be "self-contained" hopefully in the internal culture of the community.

A Sinner said...

As for the Medieval accomplishments of the monastics, I would fully recognize and celebrate these but add that the Middle Ages was simply an entirely different culture, and a Christendom at that.

As I said, "maybe some collectivist cultures are comfortable with that," but lay college aged students in a secular age submitting to this sort of nannyism??? I'm sorry, but that's weird.

"Thus to overly compartmentalize them in a Cartesian spirit is not beneficial for anyone for it can potentially cut us off from learning the lessons that their extremely sane lifestyle has to offer (I do not propose we shave our heads, be strict agrarians, and never talk, etc.--but use them as a reference, as stated before.)"

I wouldn't deny this. In fact, I would promote, for seculars living in the world, much penance, fasting, liturgical prayer, modesty, simplicity, etc etc.

But to make the leap from that to cutting college students off from cell phones and internet...I can't really see.

A Surveillance Society is simply NOT what I support.

"Students who go there have time after class, weekends, semester breaks, etc. to fully immerse themselves in all those things not allowed either during class time or on campus. The colleges know this."

They know it but they begrudge it. I know a guy who went to such a school and ended up losing his faith his junior year from all the madness; he perjured himself, actually, to finish his last year of school because they make the students sign an oath of Faith and no drinking or sex as a condition of attendance.

"It appears to me that you would have these colleges only forbid the immoral and leave the rest to the individual"

Frankly, I don't like the idea of the colleges "forbidding" (private) immoral acts either!

They should proclaim the Church's teachings, not try to "enforce" them coercively.

If people are looking at porn in their rooms or getting wasted or hooking up discretely, it's really not any college's place to regulate the student's private lives like that. That's between them and their confessors and God.

They should regulate academic conduct, possibly have an honor code when it comes to public behavior, but they should not try to insulate the students from the world like this.

"So the Church meets us in our individualism...good. Should we remain there and revel in it?"

There is no need to recreate the medieval or a Christendom as if that's even realistic, and I say that as a medievalist.

To act as if one culture was good and ours is "bad" is silly. The World has always been bad. The Church, however, has worked with whatever was good in it and told people to "go out from her" in every Age.

Trust me, a [post]modern American doesn't have to go live in some ghetto or commune in order to escape "being corrupted" by those things which are decadent in our culture, as if we need to recreate the repression or hush-hushing of the 1950's or Victorian eras in order to save people from themselves.

I know plenty of good people living Christian lives in the secular world who would think you were NUTS if you told them they weren't allowed to have a cell phone or the internet, had to have a curfew as adults, etc