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7 comments on “READER’S FORUM FOR An Unknown God

  1. Edward J. Rooney says:

    Chapter I: Is Reform Possible?
    “I write these essays as a stimulus to dialog. They are unavoidably controversial and challenging for traditional Christians. Writing can be robust or conciliatory depending on the level of polemics one is willing to sustain. I have chosen robust and I expect a robust response from my readers.” This was said by Tony in the Prologue to the book. Apparently this response has not yet materialized. That is unfortunalt because of the importance of the journey he has attempted to take us on. But it is never too late. The recent publication of his book may expand its readership and strike chords of disagreement, acceptance, or questions.

    My reactions to the recent completion of my reading are essentially questions as to Tony’s meanings and as to differences between the audience Tony expects and the audience I think he will reach. But I will get to that a little later.

    The book is a reaction to the scandals of the pedophile priests over the past 30 years or so and the cover-up of the scandals by the Roman Catholic Church and the assurance of future victims as a result. The policy of mandatory clerical celibacy demanded by the Church over the past millenium and its mysterious (to me, at least) hatred of sex by the Church after its establishment as the official religion of the Roman Empire was the environment that nourished the eventual growth of these scandals. The Church’s unwillingness (or inability as the Church would put it) to change as a result of these scandals was inevitable after its response to the Vatican II Ecumenical Council and the following request to the Vatican to abandon mandatory celibacy. Pope Paul VI responded by issuing the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which closed the door on any sex except by married couples and even then only if open to procreation. I loved the following quotation of Tony’s near the end of the first chapter: “The Church is so invested in its own immutable self-definition that it has lost the capacity to change. It has systematically eliminated all vestiges of its fallible humanity and now it has nothing left to fall back on as the basis of a new identity. It has locked itself in the dungeon of its own divinity.”

    The first chapter begins with an autobiographical sketch of his early life as a seminarian. He cannot remember not wanting to be a priest, because of or encouraged by the suppot of his deeply religious Roman Catholic family. Tony always wondered what God is like, and he continues to look for that in the journey he is taking us on.

    In 1953, as he was turning 14, Tony (and I too, for that matter) entered Cathedral “College” of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Brooklyn (555 Washington Ave., at its intersection with Atlantic Ave.) two blocks away from the candy store in which we smoked our cigarettes. Besides Latin with Frs. Welch and Gradilone, we prepared for celibacy with all the priests. At 13 or 14 we could take it. After that, masturbation was sending us all to an eternity in hell. But isn’t masturbation what staying away from girls required? Comical, isn’t it: because of the way God or evolution (or both) made us, the only way we were able to faithfully prepare for mandatory celibacy was to march on the road to hell. Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and Rhonda Fleming were the demons who kept me on the straight and narrow (well, it was straight, but not too narrow). “Father, I broke the 9th and 6th commandments 22 times.” “Come on, you can do better than that, Son.” Another occasion: “Father, I masturbated 37 times.” “I know you. You go to Cathedral, right? Don’t they teach you not to do that?” “No, Father, they don’t” The “no girls” commandment eventually arrested our sexual development. Later they became calmer and peaceful (and, in some cases, pedophilic?) Me, I couldn’t take it any more and I left after receiving my high-school diploma.

    Let’s visit Tony’s expected audience (i.e., readers) for a minute. (I’ll talk about it in greater length in the later chapters.) On page 12, Tony says, about the celibacy experiences being discussed: “None of this, I’m sure, is news to anyone reading this . . . .” For some reason, Tony has assumed that all the readers had studied to be a priest — no, a diocesan priest — in their youth. The title of his book doesn’t suggest that it should appeal only to ex-seminarians. I should think it would appeal to anyone looking for God, or, on the other hand, to an atheist or, more likely, an agnostic. Ex-priests or ex-seminarians might have “outgrown” books looking for God. Now, the sentence I just quoted of Tony’s may have been blurted out without thinking much about it. But I was lucky to find it, since it introduces a critical point about the understanding of this book. As I read it (as slowly as I could), I failed to understand a lot of what Tony wrote, especially in Chapter IV. Chapter I was easy for me, since the expected audience was ex-seminarians (like me); but why only ex-seminarians, who might become more bored with this than a general reader might? Non-Catholics, especially, would find this chapter interesting to read and learn about. No harm was done by mistaking the expected audience for this chapter, which reveals interesting and exciting “secrets” about the Roman Catholic Church. I never mistook the goals that this book was written to achieve, I think, but I got trapped by the philosophical language — even the use of words neither I, nor my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition (2,074 pgs., 10 lbs.), had ever seen before. These later chapters had to have been written for an expected audience of Scholastic and Ancient Greek philosophers, and there may not be too many of them around in this time and place. (Perhaps Chapter I is the wrong chapter to have brought this up in, but having just completed the reading of the entire book, it was a problem in the forefront of my mind when I started writing about the book.)

    There is just one more subject I’d like to say something about. I have never understood, even when I was a traditional Catholic: Why is there such a rush to baptize a beautiful infant child? I can’t believe it is to remove Original Sin from its soul. What did Jesus die for? Can’t the Creator make a perfect human child? Don’t say the matter remains soiled. Look at the baby and try to say that!

    Happy Holiday
    Ed Rooney

  2. tonyequale says:

    Thanks for your comment. The line that perplexed you “This is not news to anyone …” referred specifically to the general import of what went right before it, namely, that having no contact with the opposite sex would insure sexual immaturity and possibly something worse. I probably could have been more specific. It did not refer to the facts of seminary training …

    As far as philosophical vocabulary is concerned, perhaps I could clear that up if you could tell me what words you had trouble with.

    The first chapter is different from the others because of its personal and narrative character. It also presents an overview of some christian thinking especially about topiics relevant to celibacy and sex in general … in the hopes of giving a background for the pdeophile phenomenon. I specifically point to my own sexual immaturity and the anguished transition that took more than a decade to resolve. My explcit intention was to draw a parallel between my experience and that of the pedophiles …


  3. Edward J. Rooney says:

    Tony (I answered my first stupid question myself)

    Thanks. I will point out the strange words as we go along. But the real problems I had were not primarily with words. I haven’t looked at Scholastic philosophy for over 50 years, and my knowledge of it was never anywhere near as thorough as yours. Plus, I never read much Plato (maybe the Republic), a tiny bit about Parmenides vs. H . . . (the guy who says that reality is like putting your hand in a river, etc.?) , and nobody else! What I am saying is that I have a lot of trouble with the philosophical concepts I ran across (I’ll try to point them out too).

    So, if I had trouble with the concepts, I think a general reader would, too. That’s what I meant when I said that your expected audience may be different than the people you will be able to reach (viz., philosophers like yourself).

    I’ll be back as soon as I can with comments on Chapter II (unless we get other comments on Chapter I).


  4. tonyequale says:

    Ed, thanks.

    I was not using philosophical concepts because I think they are a good teaching tool. I know they are not. I used them for two constraining reasons: (1) the presuppositions behind most of the settled cultural attitudes in the West come to us from the Platonic Greek world-view embedded in and transmitted to us through “christian” doctrine … and (2) these are the categories that I was formed in … they are burned into my brain … the terms of the endless discussion that goes on in my head. If I am to communicate my vision, insights and passion, I can only use these terms. It’s unfortunate, and “off-putting” even for many people supposedly trained in them, but there is no way out.
    I agree with you. There are better ways to do this. It will have to wait for a better writer than me … I commend you for hanging in there.


    • Tony –
      I’ve started to read these comments because I’ve missed any new postings on your blog to keep me thinking.

      Relevant to Ed’s comment about the audience to whom An Unknown God is addressed, I have a better-than-average background in theology and philosophy, but I found the book tough going. If I’d not been so interested, I’d never have arrived at the last page. But I did and it was worth it. It has hugely transformed my thinking about Christianity, but more fundamentally about the structure of reality and the nature of “truth.”

      Having said that, my own impulse as I read the book was to
      translate it into words I think my bright graduate students with little or no philosophical training but with a great interest the kind of questions you address would understand.

      But I appreciate that the way you write is the way you think. I know you might try to be more accessible to a broader audience, but after a point, it’s like trying to learn a foreign language as an adult and speak it without an accent.

      So despite the very hard work involved, I’m eagerly looking forward to your next publication.

      Terry Sissons

      • tony equale says:

        Terry, hi!

        Thanks for your comment. Happy Easter! I hope you all are well!

        Ed has a point … and maybe when I get through laying my foundations I can write with more focus on my readers than on my “system.”

        But, right now I feel I need to replace an all-embracing vision that was given to me by my seminary education, with a perspective that agrees with the “science” of our time. That “perspective” can only mean a new philosophy and theology, mine or others’. I’m hard at work on it as we speak.

        Thanks for your encouragement. Encouragement is not wasted on me!


  5. Sal Umana says:

    Tony, Ed Rooney, Terry Sissons,
    I am a Sally-come lately-to this discussion. I just want to say that I am astounded at your candor, your depth, your sincerity. As a fromer Redemptorist, and very active married priest, ( Corpus, FCM, Rentapriest, Women’s Ordination Movement, Movement for a Better World, etc.etc.) I feel so at home here on Tony’s Blog. What Tony and Ed said about Masturbation and celibacy in teenage seminarians was the best comment on the whole pedophilic mess that I have yet seen. It also was very, very funny. Imagine, the Tridentine Church that designed seminary training, put us on the broad road to hell by keeping us away from women, guaranteed an arrested psychosexual development, forever ruined “using our bodies for an amusement park” as Mama Costanza said to George.”
    Sal (as in Sally-come-lately) Umana

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