Saturday, September 20, 2008

Good Ignatian, Bad Ignatian?

This morning, I'd like to lay my cards on the table. This may or may not surprise folks, but I hate bullies. As one who was occasionally bullied as a kid, I have a particular disdain for those who like to intimidate or inflict injuries on others. In getting older and gaining perspective, I realized that the bullies who picked on me were typically empty, sad, and terribly lonely people who needed someone weaker than they to make themselves feel strong, fulfilled, and purposeful. 

What interests me is that, as I look back on it, bullies tended to feel themselves as upholding some standard or norm. I remember once a guy in high school getting pushed around because he was judged a "fag" and "his kind" didn't belong in our school. In this case, the bully was defending some notion of hetero-normative behavior and exacted a toll on the guy who didn't comport to his standard. I think bullies do this very often: they set the standard by which they judge and then assault those who do not fit their image. 

It's obvious that bullying never goes away. I see it pretty regularly on the internet, especially in blogs. There's some irony in this: the bullies who picked on me, and who seem to get portrayed in the media, often appear to be pretty stupid and really not capable of having a blog. So the blog-bullies are at least literate enough to express themselves verbally rather than with their fists. Perhaps the blog-bully has replaced the playground-bully; words have taken over for fists, nasty comments have replaced wedgies. 

I've noticed quite a bit of bullyish behavior coming from Joseph Fromm of  Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit. Over the past few weeks, he has posted what are, in my eyes, fairly objectionable posts about certain people such as Terry Klein of Fordham University (a friend of mine and one of the best priests/teachers I've ever encountered) where he labels Terry a "Leftist Fundamentalist."  This label is not only ludicrous (and it sounds like an oxymoron), it's wholly inaccurate. Joseph's post, however, affixes only the "leftist fundamentalist" tag on Father Klein and then links to another blog; Joseph doesn't offer his own reasons for his objection, but allows another to do all the talking. But, then again, why would a bully need to offer a reasoned justification for his labeling of another? The bully, of course, is self-assuredly correct in his assessment of any situation.

Or just this week, Joseph posted a little thing on Ann Lamont. I'm not defending Ms. Lamont, but in the comments section Joseph offered something that really startled me. In responding to Father Mark Mossa, Joseph writes, 

So this got me to thinking: Joseph, what exactly is your Ignatian experience? I mean, you reference that you've had a Jesuit spiritual director, but what else qualifies you to make judgments that, in your mind, work out of a paradigm provided by the Spiritual Exercises or the Ignatian tradition? 

Have you made the 30-day retreat? Several 8-day retreats? Do you have a living sense of the Ignatian tradition - a prayer life informed by the Exercises? Have you studied the Spiritual Exercises with a credible authority? Have you been guided and mentored by a tradition-immersed figure (perhaps someone who actually publishes on the topic in scholarly journals) or received training in spiritual direction? Have you read the Constitutions as an organic framework out of which the life of the Jesuit flows? 

You see, Joseph, without some sense of your qualifications to judge people good or bad, you come off as a bully. Now in a spirit of charity, I'd love to be able to say that you are wholly qualified to make these calls. But it seems to me that you are slipping into some bizarro Ignatian Relativism (you'd not like that latter word, I reckon) where your experience lets you make judgments that are unassailable by others because they are your Ignatian experiences. This suggests that you don't quite get the spirit of discernment that rests at the heart of the Exercises: how is God touching your life and calling you into deeper service as a disciple of Jesus. The "Ignatian Experience" you are purporting to work out of seems to be an act of Ignatian syncretism (another of your favorite words) that has adapted to the relativistic, subjectivistic culture of our day. In other words, you're giving the impression that your selective interpretation and appropriation of elements of the Ignatian tradition make you something of an adjudicator. But without a sense of your standing within the tradition, it gives the appearance of cafeteria Ignatian-ism.  

But let me give you an opportunity to respond. Show us that you're not a bully. Show all of us how your blog somehow contributes to the upbuilding of God's Kingdom; show us how it incites a greater ardor and passion to be disciples. A properly critical blog possessed of a discerning spirit most certainly is able to point out the flaws and shortcomings of our Church, but your blog's smug and self-righteous tone lacks any semblance of charity. 

So help me, Joseph. I want a criterion to judge a good Ignatian from a bad Ignatian. 

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