Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Jesuit and me

It's easy to forget just how tense relations were between Protestants and Catholics before Vatican II. Or how much they changed. My father had a friend who was a Lutheran missionary in Ecuador in the 1950s and 60s. Before Vatican II, he actually had his chapel fire-bombed by a mob led by the local Catholic priest. After Vatican II, the same priest would regularly invite him for dinner.

For me, the transformation was almost as stunning. When I was in grade school, my father would show a movie at church about the Reformation. The scenes where Luther had to risk his life to enact minor reforms scared me to death. Then in the 5th grade of my Mennonite parochial school education, a kid showed up with a copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs with a suggestion the teacher read it during reading time after lunch. She begged off but suggested the good readers in class should read it themselves. I had nightmares for weeks.

Yes humans can be very barbaric when it come to religious practice and Catholics murdered plenty of Protestants during the Counter Reformation in truly horrible ways. Yet by 1968, I was hanging out with the Kumbaya Catholics at the Newman Center on campus cheering on the Berrigan brothers while plotting the next move in the anti-war movement. Even so, I was quite astonished when a bunch of Jesuits, the shock troops of the Counter Reformation after all, came up with probably the most progressive idea of the 1960s--Liberation Theology.

Since those glorious days of Catholic reform, Liberation Theology has been crushed along with the folks who made it happen. The Catholics who make it on TV these days are usually the most right-wing pigs imaginable. The issue of abortion has been used as a bludgeon to wreck the progressive wing of Democratic Party and with it, the defenders of the New Deal reforms. Add to this the recent revelations of sadism and pedophilia in the Catholic Church and it becomes apparent that she has reverted in many ways to the scary institution of my childhood.

But ah those Jesuits. While it is possible to be a scholar and defend the status quo, it is NOT possible to be a GREAT scholar and not discover something that needs improving. And since the Jesuits want to be thought of as the best scholars the church has and have spent centuries perfecting methods of producing those great scholars, it is inevitable that the Society of Jesus will contain reformers.

And recently, I have had an encounter with (at least) one whose name I do not yet know. It's a pretty interesting story.

In 1993, I attended the American Economic Association Conference in Anaheim California to introduce my new book, Elegant Technology. While walking around looking at displays, I saw one supposedly dedicated to the problem of military conversion to civilian production. It claimed to be running a contest to see who could pen the best essay on the subject "Arms Reduction and Global Reconstruction: A blueprint for the year 2000." As someone very interested in development economics with lifetime credentials in various peace movements, this was an assignment tailor made for me. So I went home and labored long and hard over my entry.

Turns out I never heard from those folks who were organizing the competition. I thought my essay was pretty damn good and was disappointed indeed. So when I finally was able to create a website in 1995, I included it. And there it has sat for 15 years. Then last week I was looking at my web stats and see I have been linked to a page on peace studies. From a Jesuit college, no less. It's a great list of thinking about the subject of war and peace. So hiding there in a long list of excellent essays by folks like Thomas Aquinas and Daniel Berrigan is my long-lost piece on Arms Reduction and Global Reconstruction.

So thank you to the unknown Jesuit(s) at Spring Hill College. I like the crowd you lumped me into. And while I may not be exactly Aquinas, I appreciate that someone recognized the scholarship and plain hard thinking that went into Arms Reduction and Global Reconstruction. And folks, let's return to the glorious days of the ecumenicism of 1968. It's MUCH more productive to cooperate.

1 comment:

  1. Jonathan and I have had discussions about this general topic. And it does seem that the Catholic Church has experienced a counter revolution since Vatican II, just as the US has experienced a counter revolution since the 60s.

    And indeed, if I was going to be a priest, I would want to be Spot, S.J.