Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


I have done a terrible thing, I have picked up a book by Andrew Greeley from the library.

It started innocently enough. I was (for once) at the library without the monkeys in tow, and so I was browsing the new books section. For some reason The Catholic Myth, Greeley's pop-sociology book on Catholicism in post-Vatican II America, was there, despite the fact that it came out in 1990.

Now, I have every reason to be sceptical of Fr. Greeley, but given that he's the only specialist in Catholic sociology that I've actually heard of by name, I thought maybe I should go ahead and see what he had to say. I started flipping pages.

Wow. Goodness knows a lot of people come off sounding self-satisfied in their writing. Perhaps I do at times. But never have I read anyone (and this is including people from Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter to Michael Moore and Al Franken) quite as egotistically self satisfied as Greeley comes off in Catholic Myth.

Now, to be fair, Greeley isn't a partisan hack. I'm sure he makes all "sides" furious from time to time. While on the one hand he describes the Vatican's reasoning on Humae Vitae as "demonic" and asserts that orthodox members of the hierarchy are only interested in their own power, he also criticizes feminists (saying they're right but have only allowed women to be exploited more) and recounts a fairly unflattering anecdote about Cardinal Bernardine (supposedly admitting in rather course language that Humanae Vitae was destorying his diocese, but saying that he needed to keep up the appearance of acceptance in order to curry favor with the Vatican) which that Cardinal apparently insisted was totally fabricated.

What's hard to take, though, about Greeley is primarily his utter assurance that he is an insightful and fascinating person, and that hardly anyone else is. Most if his chapters start with an anecdote following one of the two following patterns:

1) Greeley is forced to put right an impossibly ignorant person who imagines that to be Catholic you need to believe in Catholicism -- and he does so with great tolerance and weariness because he's had to do this so many times before.

2) Greeley has an insight so brilliant that he's himself astounded by it and spends innumerable hours wondering at how brilliant the insight is.

Along with this certain lack of humility in tone, the book is also very light on actual statistics (I suppose this is what makes it pop-sociology instead of sociology) so it reads like several hundred pages of Greeley stating his opinions with an tone of great authority.

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