On credulity

26 08 2010

I just watched a film on Slavoj Zizek, who I will no doubt comment on in the future. (The above has nothing to do with the film, but was an interesting clip from another source.) One point that Zizek made was that we live in a much more credulous age than our ancestors (just as we live in a more restrictive age). He made the point by saying that a deconstructionist will never say that “this is a glass of water”, but rather something like, “if we are to accept the dominant discourse wherein we can assert that words can indicate the presence of objects, and if we are to trust our sensory perception, etc. etc., then one could assert that this is a glass of water”. For me such an illustration sort of alludes to various issues of assent that I have been speaking of recently. Zizek also draws a line between culture and religion. When religion is not taken seriously, it is known as culture. It exists in the social space, but without much “moral impact” (like existence of Santa Claus for adults). When people begin to take it seriously, it becomes religion as modern people know it.

When the friars first encountered Mexican neophytes at the beginning of the conquest in the sixteenth century, the indigenous people were taught the Credo, the Pater Noster, and the Ave Maria, and that was pretty much it. Within at least a generation or so, one of them would be able to say that he believed in every aspect of the creed, but would he believe in the same way as a modern person? Modern religiosity across the board has always meant “interiorization”. It is not enough to “follow the rules” or to do something “out of obedience”. Like the hypothetical child in the second video, you have to want to believe in the absolute sense, and will every article of your creed. It has to consume and define you.

This sort of goes with my comment on Stockholm syndrome religiosity: if I am not being treated like shit in terms of my most profound beliefs, the experience must somehow be inauthentic. Everyone wants to be a Kierkegaard with their own Abrahamic leap of faith.



8 responses

23 09 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Supplement to the above post

28 08 2010
Jared B.

I would still say that the privatization of religion — which is really the elimination of “religion” in most senses that word would have meant in pre-Modern eras — is the main stimulus for what you & Arturo call a self-imposed Stockholm Syndrome and I think is might be more aptly identified as “attempted Fundamentalism.” It is one out of many roads that Christians have chosen as a response to Modernity.

I say “attempted”, because try as they might, Catholics cannot be fundamentalists in the same way a Protestant or a Muslim can. Their religions are set up as a more individualistic, just-me-and-God system. But Catholic Tradition inherently has the quality of something received, handed down to us, and not self-made. So while many others can “rebel” against Modernism and create their little fiefdoms comfortably within that orbit, the Catholic has a [rightly perceived] felt need to escape the orbit of individualist choose-your-own-religion-ism…but we can’t, all we do is spin around it faster. So long as Catholicism is, as you said, something merely ‘inserted’ into a world that otherwise is mutually irrelevant to it, those personal fiefdoms are likely as good as we can we can achieve. And those who don’t bother trying to achieve that (whether liberal, conservative, traditionalist or none of the above), get accused by some as “assimilating” or being bad Catholics. I don’t really know which ones are worse off.

28 08 2010

Arturo: It is no wonder that such figures as Ignatius Loyola perfected the examination of conscience and the idea of “sentire cum ecclesia” and that Newman was consumed by the philosophical problem of assent.

It’s quite true that both Ignatius Loyola and Newman’s self-critical views of Catholic doctrine and dogma adapted Catholicism for decadent, indifferent, hostile, and/or (insert malaise) societies. “Thinking with the Church”, a “grammar of assent”, or even the Index irepresent only three facets of deviance control in extra-“Stockholm” societies. These deviance control techniques represent relative and not temporal values. The deviance control mechanisms of the “Stockholm” society, the “early modern” confession and state society, and today’s post-Christian secular society coexist even as we write. At every turn, Catholicism’s insertion into daily life sputters and staggers, with only a small minority latching on to the “is this book/TV show/way of dressing ‘Catholic’?” insular lifestyle.

I disagree with Jared: The individualization of religion, and the disconnect between civil law and religious obligation, has been on a steady increase since Augsburg. Augsburg is a good synedoche for nation-building and the often contradictory road towards republicanism and democracy. Yet the gradual separation between nation and religion that the Reformation initiated insufficiently explains why some Catholics have taken a ferocious Stockholm Syndrome unto themselves instead of embracing a political and social republicanism.

The relatively new phenomenon of “ritualist fundamentalism” (i.e. those who try to create a “devout lifestyle” around the medieval Catholic liturgy) fails to re-create a domestic theocracy. The little ummah of their imaginations inevitably confronts the tertiary and ever quartenary derivations of religion as social control. Perhaps my comments on Humanae Vitae failed to make this distinction: post-Christian society has imprisoned the clerical jailors! The Catholic clergy, derided and stripped of moral authority, have set themselves up as anachronisms for many. The “devout lives” have placed onto themselves a burden more stringent than the valves of social deviance inherent in even the most feudal of societies.

27 08 2010
Jared B.

That makes a lot of sense. Also goes alongside the us-against-the-world militarization of the faithful — which interestingly St. Ignatius also contributed to. It isn’t a coincidence that a figure like Ignatius didn’t pop up until the Reformation, roughly contemporary with the Peace of Augsburg: the first time that European societies could “choose their own religion” in any way. The individualization of religion, and the disconnect between civil law and religious obligation, has been on a steady increase since Augsburg.

I personally don’t have any beef with Humanae Vitae, but sortacatholic is far from the first to identify that as a kind of watershed moment. If the disconnect between civil and religious life led the Church to have greater and greater expectations of people’s personal assent / commitment to the latter, which in turn led to a greater cognitive dissonance in individuals, than it isn’t much of a stretch to see that when things came to a head on issues of people’s sexual identity, the dissonance finally became too much and people just snapped. So ever since, the dividing line in most of the “culture war” has to do with what Mark Shea umbrellas as the “pelvic issues” — sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, homosexuality. With the [weird] exception of Protestants using birth control, just about everybody goes 100% full tilt toward one side or the other on all those issues as a group.

27 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez

The compliment to what I have written here has to do with interiorization, regimentation, and technologies of assent. We have discussed attitudes of higher clergy and other ideological gatekeepers concerning the “plebs” and how they should not be taught things like mental prayer because it would be dangerous for them. However, I think the attitude accompanied another ideological superstructure that is not our own. Such would not be “Stockholm syndrome”, but rather abuse coming from the outside, or at least culpable neglect. But that was a social order where religion was always accompanied by coercion. The ruling class could care less what you thought in your heart of hearts: as long as you went along with the rest of the culture, you could do what you liked as long as you didn’t get caught. That is how “folk Catholicism” formed as an intellectual structure in many places, especially in places that lacked large clerical presence. As long as the church coffers were full and people worked the land, no one cared about issues of internal assent.

Dealing with modern, often anti-clerical regimes, the Church has to have people “police themselves”, often against the grain of the hegemonic secular ideology. Hence, the “feeling like shit” element of modern religiosity. In a place where the Church no longer has police to govern behavior for it, the Church needs the faithful to police themselves. “Do I really believe that?” “Have I really assented to that?” “Is this book good for me to read?” (In the past, such books would not exist since they would be either burned or banned.) “Is this the way I am supposed to feel at Mass?” And so forth. It is no wonder that such figures as Ignatius Loyola perfected the examination of conscience and the idea of “sentire cum ecclesia” and that Newman was consumed by the philosophical problem of assent. But the Church had to “raise the bar” for the faithful, in a manner of speaking, because societal pressure and outright force were no longer methods available to it.

26 08 2010

Jared B.:

That I think is one ‘dominant narrative’ in contemporary tellings of Catholic history: that in many times and places, the clergy promised people salvation of their souls, but deemed the common masses to be too stupid to understand what it meant to have a soul in the first place.

The obverse is post-Catholicism. Zizek’s observation that culture is religion devoid of moral import describes the “dominant narrative” of Catholicism post-Humanae Vitae (even though one might rightly argue that the seeds of dissent began even with the rise of industrialism). Today’s Catholic “common masses” do not trust the salvific promises proffered them by the clergy. Instead, the vast majority of the married laity have decided that the Vatican’s often abstract and obtuse links between parenthood, human reproduction, salvation, and mysticism insufficiently guide them in childrearing. The ever-increasing distance between the exigencies of postindustrial married life and the Vatican’s reformulation of procreative morality and theology has drained the Church’s magisterial credit. The more the Vatican drills on not using the Pill, the less moral authority many laity grant to the Church. Now the hierarchy has taken the fools’ role.

Arturo’s past observation on the Vatican’s post-HV re-engineering of procreative morality in light of birth control and family size in postindustrial nations fits well with Zizek’s observations. HV dissent cannot (and should not) be the textbook case of lay rejection of magisterial authority. It is, however, a good measurement for the “Santa Claus-ification” of Catholicism.

26 08 2010
Jared B.

You’ve mentioned the Stockholm / ‘treating people like sh**’ analogy a couple times before, but never made it clear just why expecting people to ‘interiorize’ their beliefs constitute ‘treating them like sh**’?
It seems to me neither more nor less plausible than exactly the opposite assertion: that demanding exterior conformity while ignoring [or being indifferent to] the interior dimension of man is ‘treating people like sh**’, so the situation with the friars and the Mexicans was more deserving of the Stockholm Syndrome comparison.

That I think is one ‘dominant narrative’ in contemporary tellings of Catholic history: that in many times and places, the clergy promised people salvation of their souls, but deemed the common masses to be too stupid to understand what it meant to have a soul in the first place. If that was the norm in Latin America, I shouldn’t be surprised at the casual anti-clericalism that has predominated.

26 08 2010

Zizek is one of my favorite contemporary thinkers… I look forward to his magnum opus on Hegel, whenever it comes out.

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