A Hermeneutic of Suspicion

sepia secretProfessors caution against using the internet as a source for scholarly material. Rightly so. Neil once did a language/linguistics/grammar study of our site and found we’re talking like grad students here. Well, now that I’m a grad student again, I can tell you even I don’t always understand what is posted here. And I mean what comes from my own tip-tapping.

As I get back into the news, I notice that perhaps there’s a bit more and at the same time not so much to that story I saw before retreat about eight-hundred Irish babies dumped in a septic tank. Kevin Clarke at America eviscerates the media here.

In one of my readings last night of a feminist approach to the Spiritual Exercises, the author referred to a “hermeneutic of suspicion” when treating what men say about women. Made sense. Likewise what we’ve been warned about the internet. You’ve heard about “Trust, but verify” in the political sense? How about “Doubt, and if you don’t have time, move on”?

Now it seems the print media is imitating its younger, sexier, more electronic siblings. Our Facebook-inspired culture of voyeurism? Perhaps not as reliable as our friends’ snapshots and such.

The other night my mom was going on about something she saw on Fox News about the president. Did I hear? No I hadn’t, I said, I’ve been on a silent retreat. Did I hear about this same thing, she asked about a minute later. I changed the subject to her health. That was reliable reporting, I can be sure.

Truly, a lot of what the media feeds us today (and I most definitely include the pajama media) is about on the level of gossip. Sometimes somebody at church asks me, “Did you hear what they did?” Even when I’ve heard, I’m more inclined to be a skeptic, nod semi-sagely, and change the subject to something I know a little bit more about, like late-twentieth century feminist perspectives of the Spiritual Exercises. Or how ’bout USA’s chances in the World Cup?

Back to Ireland. Kevin Clarke sums it up:

As for the “Galway, gothic, Irish holocaust,”or however it may come to be officially known, it may prove to be a holocaust mostly of sloppy and indifferent reporting and twitter/Facebook frenzying, e-mail and fury signifying nothing more than how quickly misinformation can travel in our socially-mediated era.

Do we know that the Church mistreated and abused women and children long before the free-n-easy 60’s and Vatican II? Of course we do. Ireland is not unique. I’m sure there are skeletons in a few Tridentine septic tanks around the world. I’m less interested in people who are trying desperately to get my attention. My mother, well, I do care when she wants me to listen to her ills and worries. I do that gladly.

Otherwise, I suggest we all be a little more skeptical about people and things we don’t know trying to grab out attention.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Politics, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Hermeneutic of Suspicion

  1. claire46 says:

    I believe it is Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza who talks of the hermeneutics of suspicion in Bread, Not Stone. But she doesn’t stop there. She gives two or three more steps after that…
    It is interesting that you use it outside of feminism, which is good, for it is relevant.
    Wishing you good luck in your studies — and a lot of fun!

  2. Jenny2 says:

    I notice that perhaps there’s a bit more and at the same time not so much to that story

    Todd, I can pretty much guarantee you that there’s going to be a lot more to this story. A hell of a lot more.

    Oh, not the gothic-horror stuff which has been filling the UK press, in particular, for the last week. For a number of reasons it seems quite likely that the human remains found in the water / septic tank on the site of the former Children’s Home may well *not* be those of the children who undoubtedly died there in the 45 years of its operation. Forensic analysis and proper research will no doubt provide at least some answers.

    What’s more important than where the children who died at the home were buried is the abnormally high rate at which they died – apparently 4 to 5 times higher than the figures for mortality among “legitimate” children in Ireland at the time, even though that was a period of dire poverty. And although *all* orphanages and similar institutions in the “Western” world were then known for elevated death rates (so, for that matter, were workhouses, insane asylums and other such sinks of neglect) the Irish percentages were more than double those of children in similar institutions in the UK. Furthermore, while there seems to be confusion about some of the records of the Home itself – maps, etc – there’s none about the reports by Irish government inspectors, who wrote in published reports about the visibly debilitated, poorly nourished and neglected children they saw on visits there. (About which, of course, the Irish government did absolutely nothing: while the Bon Secours nuns were paid a stipend for each child, assuring really adequate care for these little b*stards and their sluts of mothers would have been an unpopular use of taxpayers’ money).

    And what’s most important for current generations is how much further destruction this wreaks upon the Church in Ireland. Defenders of the institution are already pointing out – as mentioned above – that similar tragedies happened elsewhere, it was the temper of the times, the nuns were no doubt overworked and under-trained, etc. That’s not the point. The point is that the Church has always claimed to be better. Better than that. To be the channel of divine love to the weakest, poorest and most marginalised. To share the perfection of its Founder. To not only uphold the highest standards, but to be the standard by which all other institutions must be measured… and then fall short. Not merely of its own requirements, but of the most ordinary common human decency. (What superhuman qualities are needed to recognise the misery of a young girl cast out by her own family? Of a child dying of preventable disease, or permanently damaged by lack of care and tenderness?). This is only the latest proof.

    Finally, in Ireland in particular the Church, as nowhere else in 20th-century Europe, was entwined with government – indeed, thanks to the long-reigning Eamon de Valera, often dictated to government. And what it dictated too often led to ruined lives or damaged spirits: no divorce, contraception absolutely forbidden, all education below university level in the hands of religious institutions: these weren’t just religious tenets, they were the law of the land. All this and more (the automatic deference granted to priests and nuns; shame and guilt over quite normal emotions and instincts) was justified by the superiority of the Church which required them. And which has turned out to be a whitewashed sepulchre…. filled with the bones of the dead and of all uncleanness.*

    That’s the story, Todd. We’re all going to hear a lot more about it.

    *To get some idea of the reaction in Ireland, go to the Patheos blog-site, where Pia de Solenni is being lambasted in the comments on her posts about Tuam. The writers are Irish, and they aren’t just angry, they’re incandescent with rage. Understandably so.

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