Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Other Catholics: Remaking America's Largest Religion by Julie Byrne, (Columbia University Press, to be published 5/24/2016)


My own spiritual journey has gone all over the religious map, but my childhood was within the framework, if loosely, of the Roman Catholic church.  I was baptized as an infant, we went to church weekly, and I went to catechism (CCD) classes most of my young life.  In 8th grade I attended a Roman Catholic school for one year.  In my 20s I felt called to become a priest in that church, though I didn't get very far along that path.

One of, if not THE, most important message of this book: "Catholic" is not - NOT - shorthand for "Roman Catholic."  Some use it that way, and it's important to realize that for the sake of communication.  However, while Roman Catholicism implies Catholicism, Catholicism does not imply Romanness.

This is huge.  Even if we don't change our word usage, the meaning is vital.

"Other Catholics" refers, here, to all the Catholics who do not claim Romanism.  Specifically, this simply means they are not answerable to the Pope.  These churches span the ideological, theological, and political spectra.  They can be very strict theologically or quite syncretic, bringing in various mystical truths from a variety of seemingly disparate traditions (they aren't THAT disparate, but opinions will vary).

Julie Byrne's primary focus is on the more liberal churches because, as she clarifies, these are the ones with the most influence really, the change-makers.  Frankly, I'm glad, because they are also the more interesting in my opinion (and I don't merely lean Liberal...I own property there, so I'm biased).

Even more specifically, Byrne centers her social study on the Antioch church, founded by Herman Spruit with roots traced all the way back to the Reformation.  Through this lens, we get a nice journey through religious history, and so at least for me, one of my passion pairings, history and religion, was feed generously.  I really enjoyed this book.

At a personal level, in reading the book, I feel inspired to re-integrate Christianity into my spiritual path.  This includes Catholicism itself.  The ritual, the sacraments, the holy orders therein.  A Christianity which allows me the freedom, without outside pressure, of exploration within and without the specific traditions.  A Christianity in which my mother or my sister could become a priest or a bishop should they feel called to do so.  A Christianity wherein my queerness is not only accepted, but is exhalted in the celebration of marriage, should I feel called (and partnered) to accept it.

The weaknesses are minor: there were many repetitions of stories, and redundant re-uses of examples, which I felt grew tiresome at times.  But this is easily forgivable, given how the complicated history is navigated here.  This is a solid four-star book, and I recommend it to anyone who has interest in the topic.

My gratitude to the publisher and to NetGalley for allowing me to read an ARC of this book.  It is forthcoming, and I have already pre-ordered a copy for my personal library.

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