Menu Close

Digging

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

guest post

There was once a Catholic priest with an inquiring mind. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was a Jesuit. He also believed that Christian teachings are just part of the answer to the question of what we came from and why — and where we could go. Science is another piece of that puzzle, and it could be joined with faith in philosophy, classical and current. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was French.

The Church authorities weren’t always pleased with his work and, while his books weren’t placed on the Index, some weren’t published during his lifetime. In the meantime, though, the prelates, in France and the Vatican, did whatever they could to detour his scholarly and scientific work. (Perhaps it had something to do with his use of the “E word” to describe human development, intellectually and spiritually as well as physically.) So, he went to China, where he joined a scientific expedition that included a fellow Jesuit.

This French priest would have a hand in what was considered one of the most important scientific discoveries of the time:  Peking Man, the oldest set of remains that were recognizably human found up to that time. Among other things, it indicated that the human race was about a quarter of a million years older than previously thought.

During the last three decades of his life, he would return to France only for visits with family and friends.  He devoted his time to research, which took him to Africa and the United States as well as China.  

So, what got me thinking about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? The discovery of remains of Native Canadian children buried on the grounds of Catholic boarding schools funded by the government — and the priest sex-abuse scandals.

I’ll admit that it’s difficult for me not to think about the latter when I hear about the Roman Catholic Church:  I am one of many who suffered and survived that terrible history.  Although thousands of former altar boys and others who grew up in the Church have come forward during the past few years, we are still only a very small minority of those who endured exploitation by those who were seen as God’s proxies:  Many, many more didn’t live to tell their stories.  

Nor did those Native children who, although they died far too young, endured more and greater indignities than most people.  Those kids were taken away from their families and communities, and the schools’ curricula were aimed to, among other things, deracinate them: Their language, customs, spiritual beliefs, and everything else that formed their identities were taken from them. In doing so, the schools made the young people dependent on a church and culture that never would treat them as equals: In many Native cultures, teachings secular as well as spiritual have, as a purpose, making young people able to live off, and in harmony with, the Earth. But, even in its most benevolent forms, Christianity teaches the exact opposite: that humans have dominion over the mountains, rivers, seas, and the flora and fauna that grow, roam, swim, and fly in them.

I have read many reports about the discovery of those boarding school burial grounds. I also made what some would consider a mistake: I read comments that readers left in response. Some condemned the Canadian government and the Church. A few had ideas about what could or should be done. Then there were those who believed the reputation of the Church was being unfairly besmirched. One commenter wondered, “Why do they have to dig up the past?”

I wonder whether the person who made that comment consciously chose that phrase: “Dig up.” I saw it again on the Facebook page for alumni of my old Catholic school. They heard about the priest who abused me and, probably, other kids — and another priest (whom I knew) who took advantage of other kids. Some said, in effect, that those of us who told our stories were lying, which didn’t surprise me. They didn’t want their rosy memories of those “simpler times” beclouded by dark intrusions. In that sense, they were like another alumnus who asked the same question as the commenter on the story about boarding schools.

“Why do they have to dig up the past?” Church officials probably asked the same question about Pere Teilhard de Chardin and his fellow researchers. And, like some of my old classmates and people who heard the news about the boarding schools, they are doing what they can to deny what “digging” has uncovered — and to vilify us for daring to tell, not only our own stories, but those who didn’t live to tell theirs, whether they died twenty or two hundred years or millennia ago.  

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Thanks, MJ. It sure does sounds like the lack of empathy is considered just fine, the norm, no big deal. Children were sacrificed on the altar of the Catholic Church and many of them were white. So why should the empathy impaired care about native children? Shoot, why, it all happened so long ago! If everyone who felt the Catholic Church did wrong and is culpable actually left…it would matter. But too many of these types don’t feel like the institution and priests are the church, but themselves. So they can’t connect depriving the church of their hard-earned cash. Sickening.

  2. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hello, MJ. Very interesting article, and I’m glad to say the U.S. Dept. of Interior is conducting it’s own investigating into incidents here, and not a moment too soon. It’s not going away. Even though Ottowa is going after the survivors of the schools in Canada, this won’t deter them- they’re deteremined to tell their stories and hopefully get the reparations due them. The Pope couldn’t be pinned down into apologizing. Of course not !

  3. Avatar
    grasshopper

    Wikipedia has this to say about Sir Peter Medawar –

    Sir Peter Brian Medawar OM CBE FRS (/ˈmɛdəwər/; 28 February 1915 – 2 October 1987)[1] was a British biologist and writer, whose works on graft rejection and the discovery of acquired immune tolerance were fundamental to the medical practice of tissue and organ transplants. For his scientific works he is regarded as the “father of transplantation”.[5] He is remembered for his wit both in person and in popular writings. Famous zoologists such as Richard Dawkins referred to him as “the wittiest of all scientific writers”,[6] and Stephen Jay Gould as “the cleverest man I have ever known”.[7]

    Sir Peter Medawar had this to say about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s book ‘The Phenomenom of Man’, –

    "Everything does not happen continuously at any one moment in the universe. Neither does everything happen everywhere in it."

    "There are no summits without abysses."

    "When the end of the world is mentioned, the idea that leaps into our minds is always one of catastrophe."

    "Life is born and propagates itself on the earth as a solitary pulsation."

    "In the last analysis the best guarantee that a thing should happen is that it appears to us as vitally necessary"

    This little bouquet of aphorism, each one thought sufficiently important by its author to deserve a paragraph to itself, is taken from Père Teilhard’s The Phenomenon of Man. It is a book widely held to be of the utmost profundity and significance; it created something like a sensation upon its publication in France, and some reviewers hereabouts called it the Book of the Year — one, the Book of the Century. Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. The Phenomenon of Man cannot be read without a feeling of suffocation, a gasping and flailing around for sense. There is an argument in it, to be sure — a feeble argument, abominably expressed — and this I shall expound in due course; but consider first the style, because it is the style that creates the illusion of content, and which is a cause as well as merely a symptom of Teilhard’s alarming apocalyptic seizures. ”

    Read all of what Medawar had to say her. here.

    Take note of the last paragraph –

    I have read and studied The Phenomenon of Man with real distress, even with despair. Instead of wringing our hands over the Human” Predicament, we should attend to those parts of it which are wholly remediable, above all to the gullibility which makes it possible for people to be taken in by such a bag of tricks as this. If it were an innocent, passive gullibility it would be excusable; but all too clearly, alas, it is an active willingness to be deceived. ”

    and ask yourself if it relates to religion and Trumpism.

    Testing tags … pls ignore

    • Avatar
      MJ Lisbeth

      Grasshopper—I did not intend this article as an endorsement of “The Phenomenon of Man” or any other philosophical writing by Teilhard de Chardin. Indeed, he deals in a fair amount of woo which, I think, is why the New Age crowd has embraced his ideas. And, as I understand, scientists are divided over the validity of his conclusions .

      What can’t be denied, though, is his role in discovering Peking Man and Church officials’ reaction to itt and to his assertion, however misguided, that evolutionary science and classical (I.e., from the ancient Greeks to the Enlightenment) philosophy complemented Christian and Church teachings.

      • Avatar
        grasshopper

        I did not mean to sound as if your points about de Chardin were complimentary to his complementary views on religion and science. Indeed, it is remarkable how religious scientists can sometimes deny conclusions that follow from evidence because of their faith. A cartoon by Sidney Harris illustrates this nicely. https://avionod.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/and-then-a-miracle-happens/ .

        de Chardin was also involved in the Piltdown Man hoax, according to some researchers.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Bruce Gerencser