Sex and Religion


Besides being my two favorite subjects, they are also the heading for Tracy Fessenden's analysis at Immanent Frame of the campaign to canonize, but also completely depoliticize, the message of Dorothy Day. This also answers, in part, Art's query below about the presence, or not, of Catholics in progressive public politics. The post begins:

The current campaign within the Archdiocese of New York to canonize the radical activist Dorothy Day (1897-1980) offers a good example of what Elizabeth Povinelli in her December 13 post (“Can Sex be a Minor Form of Spitting?”) calls the “mutual conditions and secret agreements” that tie the sexual revolution and Catholic teaching together behind the scenes. It isn’t simply that the candor with which Cardinal O’Connor and now Cardinal Egan have described Day’s sexual agency, single motherhood, and presumed abortion signals the Church’s accommodation to new, post-1960s norms of frankness. Nor that the hagiographical plotline of Day’s renunciation of sex on her way to becoming a Catholic nicely embodies the paradox familiar to any schoolchild catechized in the sanctity of virginity— the sexual knowledge required of those being schooled to avoid it. Rather, by promoting Dorothy Day as a penitent Magdalen first and foremost—and not, say, a blistering critic of a war-making government and the depredations of capital— the Church furthers the ideological shift by which sexuality, with its attendant possibilities and dangers, comes to trump every other way that human flourishing might be imagined or pursued. In the case put forward by both O’Connor and Egan for her sainthood, Dorothy Day is upheld as the patroness of all who would (or should) repent of sexual quests gone gravely awry, with the result that the militarism and corporate greed that Day was relentless in calling to account are reduced to comparatively lesser infractions—as it were, to minor forms of spitting.

Later she asks:

Surely the Catholic Church learned something from the Reformers—surely they have had much to teach each other—about the ways institutional power might be augmented in the appearance of being relinquished. . . . . If “religion” no longer serves to define the reigning regime of modernity, then “morality”—sexuality—will have to do. And where sex is, can religion be far behind?

Read the rest here.


Anonymous said…
Penetrating? Denuded? Don't make me have this conversation, Paul.

Seriously,it's a happy surprise to see you link to the Immanent Frame. Winnifred Sullivan and I have been kvetching about the fact that while you can find the most amazing posts there (if you're teaching anything on secularism, look no further), almost no one ever comments. Part of the problem I think is that comments take real work-- if you're going to join the conversation, you might as well write your own posts; partly that we all imagine Charles Taylor or frequent posters like Talal Asad and Bob Bellah looking over our shoulder(wish or fear?); partly the long runway that IF shares with other new academic blogs. But if THIS one could be in touch with THAT one, that would be a good thing.

Just clean up your language, okay?
Paul Harvey said…
Tracy: The post has been cleansed! redeemed! healed! OMG, my keyboard needs its letters washed out with soap.

Seriously, IF has been the subject of several links and posts here, and I look forward to an evolving dialogue with your crew there.

Tell Winni Sullivan to send something my way sometime!

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