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.