Lent (Day 38) — Jimmy Breslin, “The Church that Forgot Christ”

On p. 153, Jimmy Breslin quotes his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a New York politician, and Jewish, after pointing out the Catholic (esp. Irish Catholic) obsession with the Jews as some dark force subverting everyone else, and taking control of medicine and finance.  This is a position which Breslin refutes, suggesting that he’d like to slap some Irish Catholics around to snap them out of their fixation.  

Eldridge’s quote: “Religions were conceived to ensure an orderly society.  They are pure fantasy developed to explain the origins of humanity and provide hope for a future.  Your Catholic Church and philosophers brilliantly conceived the ultimate threat of hell.  What better way to ensure obedience than to threaten people with the ultimate threat of hell.”

I’m not sure that I agree with Eldridge entirely.  I think that religion does serve as a means of control, and certain people and institutions use the threat of eternal damnation as a means of  keeping people in line and to intimidate others.  Even for those who believe in hell or other form of post mortem punishment, I’m not sure the threat aspect always works — e.g. Dante, who seems to have believed in Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, does not endorse the idea that those whom the Church condemns as going  to hell, actually end up there, while popes and other church leaders, who were not so condemned during their lives, do end up there.  Even assuming there is a place of punishment, the Church has no power to determine who will end up there.  What the Church does have, and certainly did when I was a kid in Irish Catholic Dorchester, is to declare someone persona non grata, so that the person is shunned by the community.  That is a mighty power to have.  But even outside of a Church community we can isolate or label someone who doesn’t “fit in.”  

And that not fitting in, but sticking out, that’s pretty scary.  That intimidation has been used for groups that have been marginalized for millenia.  One of the things I don’t fully get is what the tipping point is — for some people known to have done wrong are lionized in the press, or on the Internet, and come away with reputation intact, while others are demonized and their reputation is in tatters.  Chris Christie seemed unstoppable at the end of last year, but with the Bridge scandal and other things now being reported more widely, his reputation is now tanking, and he seems stalled, if not stopped.  Certainly public opinion has changed for Christie, but what was the turning point, and who is responsible?  I’m not sure that any one person is responsible.  The Greeks would look to chance or fortune which would change, so that a powerful individual would reach a peak of some sort and then fall.  And that force seemed somewhat impersonal, and something that might or might not hit, and when it hit, it might or might not be deserved.  In the case of the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church — that stuff had been going on forever, and people knew about it at some level.  The reputation of the Church gave priests and other church officials the benefit of the doubt, which gave them cover, publicly, for a while.  And that was wrong, but was the way things were.  And now, when every priest is viewed with suspicion, we have a situation that may also be wrong (in that the assumption of guilt is there, even if undeserved).  For Breslin, once the veneer of respectability and near-infallibility began to wear off, it had a ripple effect.  If a lot of what he had been taught was not TRUE in some big way, there seemed no reason to believe in a lot of what the Catholic Church preached.  And I think that Breslin wanted to hold on to some of those beliefs, and a belief in the Church, which seems to be why he’s wrestling with all of this throughout the book.  

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