Let’s Review, Part 2


June 8, 2013 by lucieromarin

The previous post summarised the salient points about the individual experience of burnout. The second part of this review is a summary of the points related to the context of burnout, to the subcultures and conditions which produce it. I concluded with this question:

5. So then, how did it happen? I mean, if orthodoxy is the true faith, how can it create casualties?

One reader answered that it is ‘Because orthodoxy is espoused through the mouths of sinful men and women, who thus accompany the truth with sinful actions.’

Well, yes, this is it in a nutshell; what I’d like to do, though, is to offer a succinct-yet-detailed outline of the context for those actions. We need to ask this question, not because we need to blame anyone, but because we need to understand ourselves.

i) The best and fastest way to understand the context for orthodox Catholic roadkill is to read apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. I’m not joking. I’m thinking, in particular, of the following: Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, John Christopher’s ‘The Death of Grass,’ Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage,’ John Wyndham’s, ‘The Day of the Triffids,’ P.D James’ ‘The Children of Men,’ Jose Saramego’s ‘Blindness’ and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road.’

ii) The enemy in each story is different; vampires, killer plants, religious fundamentalists, infertility, environmental destruction. Each novel differs stylistically and psychologically (in the degree of hope offered to the characters and the reader.) They were written in different countries and in different decades, by persons of different spiritual and intellectual creeds…yet every writer describing the collapse of government and social order (even where it is replaced by a totalitarian order) returns to seemingly unavoidable themes.

iii) Artificial leadership. The sudden, horrible void of authority makes it necessary for men who would otherwise never have been required to lead anything, to lead. Self-appointed leaders, and unwilling leaders appointed by circumstance, find themselves having to protect women and children, fire guns, trek great distances, draw up legal charters, judge crimes and criminals, and all sorts of things that they would never have had to do if the police, the courts, and the economy had not disappeared.

iv) Security. Women find that the security and the fidelity they’ve taken for granted disappears almost overnight. It becomes obvious that the only thing that stands between a woman and violation is the man beside her. (This is why there is no dystopian fiction or film in which a female character is the social or physical equal of the male characters without the possession of some kind of preternatural gift or superpower.) So relationships change; women can be bought, given, or sold; sexual availability is assumed (by the male characters) to be a fair exchange for physical protection; this protection also buys the male characters the right to commit adultery.

v) Babies. Babies become important. One way or another, there aren’t enough of them. Children are not just a blessing or a choice, they are a mission.

vi) Communities survive in small groups. And then they stay in those groups. And it never happens that groups meet other groups and say, “Hey! Let’s get together and be a bigger group!” Survival becomes so much the object of the day that people become unable to trust groups outside their own, even when those other communities seek the same ends; even when, forty years previously, they were a single community. In ‘The Day of the Triffids,’ for example, people who were once all Londoners are now, in one place, espousing serfdom, in another, traditional Christian morality, in another, polygamy. They all want to survive. They all differ about how to do so.

vii) A higher level of endurance is assumed to be necessary for the sake of the mission. (In ‘The Death of Grass,’ the protagonist doesn’t even talk to his teenage daughter after she’s raped. In fact, I’m not sure he talks to her at all, except to give orders. It’s assumed that there’s no time for it – if they don’t keep walking and shooting, they’ll die.)

viii) The Wall. Sometimes, security requires some kind of protective shield. It might be a natural formation (high rocks and waterfalls), a physical wall (an old prison or stadium ‘repurposed’ as the setting for a community) or the ring of light that keeps the monsters away at night. Sometimes, the wall doesn’t keep its characters safe (think of the imprisoned characters in ‘Blindness’ and how quickly the men become willing to offer their wives’ bodies in exchange for food).

viv) Well, for many Catholics, the seventies, eighties and nineties, were this apocalyptic and dsytopian nightmare. The collapse of religious life, and the seemingly overnight appearance of gibbering modernists where bishops used to be, coupled with apparently- uncontrolled and unstoppable experimentation in Catholic churches, schools, seminaries and universities, was the equivalent of the end-of-the-known-world in each of these stories. And it happened with the simultaneous rise of the savage monster/ravening hordes/military dictatorship in the world outside the Church. They saw the authorities vanish, a virus race through the population, and an army of slobbering monsters on the horizon.

x) So, they did what everyone in this situation does. They hunkered down; they formed small communities, and decided to trust no one outside those communities; they made survival their aim; they turned inwards for leadership, and sought leadership from men who were never meant for it, or accepted it for want of anything better, and then found that they could not be rid of it; they increased their protection of women; they exhorted one another to the having of babies.

xi) This is the context for roadkill. Let’s follow those points one by one: Bullying lay leaders became possible, because there was no one around to do a better job. Women, understood to be no longer safe (and, in fairness, read the news), had to be fully clothes and chaperoned at all times. Parents, could, for the first time in history, see themselves as persons saving the world. (In 1934, St Josemaria Escriva’s ‘The Way’ describes children as necessary for the human race in general, but not necessary for you. In the 1990s, in a talk on contraception, Kimberly Hahn urged women to encourage their friends to have another baby, so that they could have “another soldier for the Kingdom of God.”) Small communities fought as intensely with each other as they did with the rampaging hordes, because security and survival was now associated with the group. Endurance became essential, and not only because you had to endure horrible liturgies or be in mortal sin. A high level of commitment was required of each group member, because fighting on behalf of the group was part of survival, not just in this world, but in the next. Thus, it was okay to bully people into attending your meetings or signing your petitions or changing their theology or lengthening their hemlines: this is how a tribe survives. And, of course, there is the shield; the little world created by Catholic media, which, not only kept the vampires out, also kept the self-perpetuating cycle of artificial or celebrity leadership in. (I am grateful for Catholic media, by the way! I’m just saying that, when success as a Catholic is measured in media-celebrity-terms, there’s a problem.)

xii) This is why that married guy patronised you this morning. This why that artistic director scolded you for taking time off to recover from sickness. This is why you had to listen to the same talk about the awfulness of everything over and over again. This is why that Catholic agency expected you to work in a role they’d never hired you for. This is why that woman froze when you told her where you went to Mass. This is why that magazine is all about how every other orthodox Catholic is wrong. This is why that stranger approached you after Mass to criticise your clothes. This is why that young man fought with you last week about wifely obedience. This is why you had an identity crisis when you turned 35 and had no vocation. This is why that man said, “Really? You value your study more than the lives of the unborn?” when you told him you couldn’t go to his prayer-rally.

All those things that got you down…it didn’t happen because of the faith. It didn’t happen because of God. It didn’t happen because your faith was false, or because your desire for holiness was a mistake. It happened because the emergency behaviour required of an apocalypse…stuck.

It will pass.

11 thoughts on “Let’s Review, Part 2

  1. Amanda says:

    Really interesting (and persuasive) analysis. I think you see pretty much the same thing with the US evangelicals and in conservative strands of political Islam. There’s a really good blog here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/ about the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull lot.

    But don’t you think there’s an extra element in all these examples? The fact is that your ‘apocalypse’ was an apocalypse of the imagination. There weren’t actually any flesh-eating zombies, no one was literally going to ravish the women, and there was really no need for extra babies since the world population had not in fact been drastically reduced by a global pandemic. And so this ‘apocalypse’ panic mode put into place mechanisms of community control that weren’t actually required except in the imagination. There’s loads of writing on this sort of thing – concepts such as the ‘imagined community’ (cf Benedict Anderson), the creation of ‘the other’ (cf Edward Said), and loads built on top.

    So when you say that things got ‘stuck’ in ’emergency behaviour’, are you sure you aren’t giving too much credit to people? It sounds to me as if a lot of them love the power they’ve got in the community – whether it is to sneer at other people, exploit their labour, insist on their personal right to the pleasure of a subservient woman, and relish every moment of the moral superiority that comes from belonging to an allegedly beleaguered community that alone in the world is radiant with the Eternal Truth (and God will punish all their enemies!). Will they be willing to surrender the intoxicating fantasy of apocalypse, and learn to have the healthy doubts about their own behaviour that are surely an essential part of Christian humility?

    • Amanda says:

      I just realised that when I wrote ‘of the imagination’, it might sound like a belittling. But I said that meaning imagination as about the most powerful thing we have, and inhabiting an imagined apocalypse must be as vivid an experience as anything short of actually being in one.

    • lucieromarin says:

      Thanks! I’d say though, that, in its early days at least, it wasn’t an apocalypse of the imagination at all. The emptying of religious houses and the changing of the liturgy are facts of history; likewise the theological movements that drove these changes. Unfortunately, those dancing clowns were real! And as for monsters, you can take your pick – militant Islam, ‘fundamentalist’ atheism, the New Age Movement, forced sterilisation campaigns, the normalisation of pornography, you name it – there were and are plenty of monsters around, and no bishops to fight them off (in the West, that is. The imprisonment and torture of bishops, priests and religious in Communist China, then and now, offered a different example.)

      I’m not sure it’s giving too much credit to people to say that they got stuck in that emergency behaviour, because, in some cases, it was that very unwillingness to relinquish temporary power that kept them stuck. I suppose it started out as a defense, settled into a habit, and then, for some, became an addiction.(An aside: to me, it’s just a variant of both the modernist and the extreme Protestant addiction to personal authority and interpretation of matters religious.) But I think the number of those who have that addiction were much smaller than the number of those who were just settled into a habit. That’s why there’s more movement between communities than there used to be; the addicts may remain addicts, but the ‘settlers’ are shifting, and the landscape changing because of it.

      • Amanda says:

        Yes, but my point is that the emptying of religious houses, changing of the liturgy and so on aren’t exactly an apocalypse requiring real-world ’emergency’ measures like the concrete effects on the lives of women, etc, that you’ve been detailing in this blog. It is only through an act of the imagination that they seem significant. As for the monsters, I also don’t see that any of them affected your standard Catholic in the west (qua Catholic, anyway) except imaginatively. I also don’t see what bishops of any kind – pre- or post-Vatican II – could have done about any of the things you mention. In any case, there are still millions of Catholics romping around the planet, the Vatican has its seat on the UN, the secular law in many secular nations (especially in South America, but not exclusively) is still captive to the will of the Catholic church. The reason I’m pushing this point is because I think it’s an important distinction. Clearly the majority of Catholics did not perceive an apocalypse – many, I understand, were pleased by the changes, or didn’t think they went far enough. So why did some Catholics choose to find themselves in the midst of an apocalypse? For individual choice it clearly was.

        Historically speaking, there have always been people in the Catholic church (and, as you say, in various Protestant churches: I know less about that) who have seen the church and the world in a high state of apocalyptic crisis. It’s a major strand in Christian thought, for obvious biblical reasons, and you see it expressed one way or another by pretty much every generation. And it’s very interesting to see who thinks, fears, talks and acts in these terms, and who doesn’t – and why, and what they achieve (or lose?), personally and collectively, by doing so. Medieval Franciscans and their episcopal allies, for example. I’m sure you’re right that there’s an element of addiction and an element of crisis-as-habit. But there’s got to be a personality/psychology element at the outset as well – what kind of person, with what kinds of spiritual (and other) needs, is attracted to the perception of a state of crisis and in many cases the corresponding need to act fiercely within it? And – especially relevant from the 1960s onwards – what determines whether they act to achieve conservative or liberal ends within that perception of crisis? And then, I suppose, what effect have all these choices and dispositions on how they see things some years later, as you are now?

        PS – what are the forced sterilisation campaigns?
        PPS – I don’t think there’s any such thing as ‘fundamentalist’ atheism – doesn’t the word ‘atheism’ do what you need here? After all, if you don’t believe in supernatural beings, how would you ‘fundamentally’ not believe in supernatural beings on top of just not believing in supernatural beings?

      • lucieromarin says:

        You’re right about the personality/psychology element; I’ve written somewhere about cholerics and their instinctive desire for mobilisation against something,(anything!) and how that plays out in a religious context.

        If you love something, its loss hurts you, regardless of whether other people love that thing or not. The loss of traditional religious liturgy and life was more traumatic to the people who loved them than to the people who didn’t. Whether or not traumatised people can be healed by the assurance that the traumatic event wasn’t really that bad is another question. In any case, the point of the post was to explain a certain type of behaviour in the context of that trauma, rather than to argue that everyone should have been equally traumatised.

        Whether or not these people were correct in their belief that traditional religious life and liturgy were given to us by God is, of course, a question about truth and who has it. Someone else can write that blog!

  2. Cojuanco says:


    Perhaps I am wrong, but as someone who grew up in a non-Anglophone family, I seem to observe that this sort of development in Catholicism seemed to develop primarily in the Anglosphere, particularly in the United States, where Calvinism seems to have a long cultural tradition. Of course, due to globalization it seems to have expanded beyond the Anglosphere, but some of the most idiosyncratic parts of this phenomenon seem to be in America.

    As to your concept of people seeing the Church as in emergency, in anarchy, it’s interesting to note that today, if the threats have not completely gone away, the traditional authorities used to check them, the bishops, are finally largely growing spine and handling things as best they can. But of course, all too often states of emergency last beyond the duration from which they are arguably necessary – ask an Egyptian who was alive between the 60s and 2011, or any Filipino over 40.

    • lucieromarin says:

      No, I think you’re right on both counts. Even today, (if the internet is any authority!) the most aggressive voices of this kind of Catholicism tend to be American (though, of course, not all Americans are so!). I remember, too, that, even in the early nineties, the Catholic periodicals that focused almost exclusively on the destruction of the Church in the Anglosphere acknowledged the heroism of both religious and lay martyrs in China, Africa, and the Middle East- later in India, too. Poland, too, was always understood to have retained the faith.

      Likewise, the gradual reemergence of traditional religious life and episcopal leadership in Europe and America changes the psychological landscape for many Catholics. Like the people of nations who have survived political persecution, we can’t expect an overnight restoration of culture. So there’s an interim stage between ’emergency’ and ‘peace’ – I think that’s what we’re seeing now.

  3. Cojuanco says:


    I suppose that for many seculaization of society was like the apocalypse for them. You have to remember that at least in the United States (I’m not conversant about the UK) there were many neighborhoods where you theoretically could live your whole lives without personally knowning a non-Catholic. You grew up playing with Catholic friends, your entire education was through the Catholic school system, you married Catholic, community events were centered around the parish. It was, as the Holy Father said, a self-referential church, with all the foibles that came with it – instead of living in the world while not being of it, they created ghettoes, mental and physical.

    Then came the Vatican Council, with its message of aggiornamento and reform back to the roots. In restrospect the reforms were necessary, painfully so in some respects. Problem was, we opened up at the same time as the Sexual Revolution, the legalization of abortion through much of the West, the protests of 1968. So for a lot of people, not only was a lot of the old and comfortable going away in the Church, it seemed as if society had lost its marbles. Because society lost its marbles, it tempted a lot of Catholics away from the Church with the promises of the wider culture, which in retrospectbrought disastrous consequences. So some of those who remained unconsciously or not believed that a minor apocalypse had come, usually those who were OK with things as they were, unaware of the problems that had existed below the surface even in the 40s and 50s.

    For most people, even most faithful Catholics loyal to Church teaching, it may not have been an apocalypse. But for a lot of people, the naturally conservative types, the upheaval, even though objectively necessary, was apocalyptic.

    • Amanda says:

      That’s interesting about the entirely Catholic US neighbourhoods. It’s very different from the parts of the Anglophone world that I know, where Catholics were necessarily more integrated in the decades under discussion, although still had a segregated education system. From what you say, the pattern of reaction wasn’t so different though – some Catholics happy or at least accepting of the changes, some resisting them, and others ceasing to be Catholics at all. What happened in the US with the resisting group? Did they generally do as described in the post above, and form their own crisis-centred communities? Also I wonder what the difference was between the Catholics dealing with the rapid social changes of the time, and other conservative elements in the US population? The language of extreme/apocalyptic crisis is still regularly employed in various conservative quarters in order to resist social progress.

      In the UK at least, the alleged extreme social conservatism of the 1950s was rather artificial – it was a deliberate reaction to the uncertainties of the war, the perceived need to get women out of the workplace so that the ‘boys’ could have jobs on return from fighting, and so on. But of course the relative sexual and social liberation of the 1920s, 30s and 40s was forgotten later and the 1950s rewritten as the final decade of a golden age of moral rectitude stretching smoothly back into Victorian times. My sense is that something similar happened in the US – the heroines in 1930s films might have jobs and are as witty and cynical as the men, then almost overnight in the later 1940s they turn into doe-eyed housewives and helpless victims. A similar difference in moral content can be perceived before and after the massive censorship of the film industry was introduced. So I suppose what I’m getting at is the question of how far the ideal of a cosy conservatism that preceded the 1960s was something of a fantasy. As above, I’m not suggesting that a fantasy of lost moral security, or an imagined apocalypse can’t seem entirely real to those who have chosen to inhabit it, or who grew up in it.

      I suppose the other question relates to the following observation. The various players in the world described in this blog are clearly mostly too young to have been alive at the time of Vatican II and if they are having children now or even recently, can only have been children themselves in the 1970s, 80s and possibly 90s. So they cannot personally have experienced much of what is being described as the trigger for this apocalypse. So why are they so invested in a particular image of the past as to be so drastically affected by it in their lives today?

      • Cojuanco says:

        Oh, I would agree that the myth some of them hold of a glurgey, excessively wholesome society before the Pill and LSD is in large part a fantasy, and Rumble and Carty responded to questions about abortion and ABC in the 30s.. After all Freidan wrote in the 1950s, and contraception was only illegal in the United States for a brief period in the late 60s. Heck, even some of the Bells of Saint Mary visions of the past were bad for the Church, and the bishops knew it. When Saint Francis would not be admitted into the Franciscans, you are in deep trouble.

        As to your second question, partly because it’s what their parents told them. Factor that in with some of the world’s most liberal abortion laws in the States and Canada, the gay marriage idiocy, and a media culture that seems to exalt the fantasy of sex with no strings attached, and it confirms in them that it is the apocalypse. Furthermore, a collective trauma can persist even once the real or imagined crisis occurs. In the secular world this happens to societies after war or dictatorships. In America at least this is exacerbated by a Puritan individualist streak that cannot help but seep in. America has never been good with obeying hirearchy outside the family, and American Catholics are no exception, whether right or left.

      • Cojuanco says:


        So yes, many of the resisters adopted similar strategies, though they inhabited in some cases the same structures as pro-Council Catholics did, like Opus Dei.

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