Reviews - What do customers think about Virtuous Passions: The Formation of Christian Character?
Society of Jesus? Are you sure? Aug 8, 2003
*Virtuous Passions* has an interesting theme: the ethics of the passions, or the idea that one has to learn ?how to be moved (angered, shamed, delighted, drawn) by the right persons and things, to the right extent, for the right reasons, in the right way, at the right time.? Most people do not think of passions as things that can be right or wrong, but as mere givens about which morality has nothing to say. This is perhaps why Stoicism and eastern spiritualities have so much appeal: because they actually have something to say about the passions and what to do about them.
The author being a Jesuit and writing as such (as the S. J. after his name on the cover indicates), I expected this topic to be treated from a Catholic point of view. But despite the chapters on Aquinas's Treaty on the Passions (or Harak's doubtful paraphrase of it) and Ignatius's Exercises, it is not. To put things bluntly, Harak is a heretic, a wolf in sheep's clothing.
At first, I was merely annoyed by the inescapable ?inclusive talk?, which leads to such weird writing as ?We cannot really comprehend God, so God reveals God's self to us?, simply because the author will not refer to God as a ?He? and to God's self as ?His self.? This made me wonder what Harak's prayers must sound like. ?In the name of the Parent, and the Child, and the Holy Ghost? ? Surely some feminist must have thought of that one...
Then, there is the intellectual sloppiness, this fuzziness about concepts which contrasts blatantly with the scholastic mode of thought. Harak is a man who likes to blur boundaries, to ?melt things? like Phoebe's long lost brother, so that concepts acquire a Dali-like quality in the book. ?Passions? for instance are more or less defined as ?our experience of being moved by the other? (?the other? referring alternatively to people, God and peanuts), so that when your spouse is driving, this must count as a passion...
Conceptual distinctions are anathema to the author. For instance, he resolves the mind-body dichotomy by resorting to Karl Pribram's model of memory as spread out throughout the body (not just the brain)- the so-called ?holographic paradigm? which is so popular among New Agers. He explains that ?once we have dichotomized mental and physical, we have no way of explaining how the mental would ever act on the physical and vice versa.? In other words, he confuses a conceptual distinction with an ontological one, and assumes that dualism is necessarily bankrupt, when Catholicism is dualist.
Based on this ?mind-body meld?, Harak seems to be saying that violence for instance is memorized in our very cells, nervous and non-nervous, so that if you practice martial arts or play console games, you write violence into your biological structure.
The man / beast distinction is also one he disapproves of : ?Humans used to think of themselves as the only subjects... But evolutionary science has changed that, giving us a sense of commonality.? Too bad the beasts cannot read Darwin: the sense of commonality would be mutual, and mosquitoes might stop biting us.
Where Harak diverges most from Church teaching is in his ethics of absolute non-violence, which dissents from the clear just war tradition of the Catholic Church, as stated in its latest official Catechism. ?The self violates itself in preparing weapons that violate another?, he writes. I just wonder how he expects the police to protect law-abiding citizens. By creating human chains around houses and waiting for criminals to beat them down? But then again, there probably will not be any police or government in the utopia Harak dreams about, as he sympathizes with the feminist goal of destabilizing ?the existing social order and its hierarchies of power- religious (!!!), social and economic.?
The Church, by the way, is always referred to as the ?church?, Harak's covert way of rejecting the Catholic structure as it stands today in favour of some mystical body of his own conception, including Martin Luther King, Mahomet and Gandhi as its luminaries.
For the Catholic Church as we know it is all wrong, according to Harak's premises, though he lets the reader draw his own conclusions. Embracing radical feminist critiques, he explains that ?the understanding of power as hierarchical, competitive and exclusivistic [is] the theoretical undergirding for the injustice of violence which so plagues our world.? Hierarchical bodies intrinsically generate violence, in other words, so much so that ?those with a passion for non-violence will be marginalized, and even persecuted? by them. Now since the Church is the arch-example of a hierachical structure, the reader is free to consider the implications.
Traditional Catholics might also be put off by Harak's extreme ecumenism. In an interview, he declared that ?there are thousands of ways of coming to God? and in the present book, he likes to quote non-Christian sources, such as the Qu'ran, George Fox or, for that matter, the popular musical Les Miserables or the Pointer Sisters, who have very relevant things to say about being moved by the other and not being able to conceal the fact.
*Virtuous Passions* is a very disingenuous book, though I would not have hated it half as much if it had been written by a non-Catholic (a Quaker for instance) or better, by a declared enemy of the Church. As such, however, it has got me worried enough to add three books to my reading list: Donna Steichen's *Ungodly Rage : The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism*; Malachi Martin's *The Jesuits* and Joseph Beccker's two-volume *The Re-formed Jesuits*.