Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ivan Illich: What sort of Catholic?

Was Illich ever disciplined for his views? And what was the source of tension between him and the "Vatican"? The fact that he was so opposed to the political status quo? That he did not accept what certain members of the Curia were saying about development? Was he critical of the Church because he thought there was too much acceptance of what the industrialists and globalists, the moneyed elites, were putting forth as necessary for development?

Was he ever corrected for what he believed and said about contraception as being necessary, for the sake of sustainability? With regards to abortion, he disagrees with those who claim that fetuses are human. That does not mean he is necessarily wrong, since this is not a part of Sacred Tradition (as far as I can ascertain). But he also advocates the use of abortion as a form of contraception and population control. This is problematic.

Illich seems to believe that the Church has become corrupted by power, and is more concerned with maintaining power than with the practice of charity and the spreading of the Gospel. That is what I gather from the publisher's introduction to The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich, as told to David Cayley, foreword by Charles Taylor, Toronto: Anansi Press, 2004. 252 pp. If Illich is such a radical with respect to his views of the Church, why is Charles Taylor writing the foreword? The book is available at Google Books, so it's on my reading list.

From the discussion of Illich's life in the foreward and introduction we are told that Illich was critical of a rule-bound Christianity, which he believed to be a corrupted version. He was a radical in the sense that he called for a return to the early Church, one that was purified of the worldly institutional Church that is too entangled with politics and too grasping for power (6-9). (Another version of the thesis of the post-Constantinian Church being a corruption?)

Illich makes clear his objections to (privileged) people doing service work in a foreign country in To Hell with Good Intentions, including missionaries. Would he make the same criticisms of Catholic missionaries who are there to evangelize first, and to help bring clean water, etc. second?

Given his relationship with the Church and his [problematic] views, should he be trusted as an credible authority on [economic/industrial] development and its consequences? I think so, since these are not matters of Faith, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be read with a critical mind.

Richard Wall, A Turbulent Priest in the Global Village: Ivan Illich, 1926–2002

Louis Bouyer, in The Church of God, talks about the two models of the Church (and of evangelization) - the Church of believers and the Church of numbers (22-25). He sees the transition between the former to the latter taking place after the Peace of Constantine, when Christianity became "socially acceptable" and soon was socially required.

Only those societies in which members have freely chosen to become Christian can be called Christian; those in which coercion is employed are problematic. But how is a Christian ruler to govern a Christian polity? How does he deal with non-Christians? What is the proper relationship between the Church and the State? What is the nature of the Church's authority over the baptized and civil governments? Illich, Bouyer, and other theologians and Christian intellectuals offer answers to these questions. What are Christians are to do once they gain control of civil authority? Our Lord does give a clear answer within Sacred Scripture, and Christians have been attempting to discern what to do, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of the Church. Does Illich have a romantic view of the early Church?


Winslow said...

You really should read the Rivers North book. It sounds as if you would be quite moved and engaged by its argument, which is based on historial evidence, not hermetic, Bible-driven mediation. And read it in paper, not via Google, which will be incomplete and, well, corrupt. And you can hear him speak on a radio program called The Corruption of Christianity, produced in Canada and broadcast in 2000. Those interviews are the basis of the book. You can download MP3 copies of it from this website: (Just search there for "Illich" and you'll see a list of the recordings they offer; this program is 5 hrs. long, in 5 parts.) It's well worth a listen.

I don't believe Illich "advocates abortion." If you have a reference showing he said anything like that, I'd be interested to see it. What he did argue, I know, was that the Church has no business getting involved in politics, and he argued that at a time when the Church was throwing its weight against politicians in Puerto Rico simply because they advocated open access to contraception.

papabear said...

Thanks for the link. I'll have to see if I can find something on the abortion claim.

papabear said...

I didn't reread the Leopold Kohr piece, but I did a word search on it, so I don't know why I linked to it with respect to abortion. Illich seems to be condoning the voluntary use of abortion as a means of population control in "Tools for Conviviality"?

Voluntary and effective contraception is now absolutely necessary. If such contraception is not practiced in the very near future, humanity is in danger of being crushed by its own size rather than by the power of its tools. But this universal practice cannot possibly be the result of some miracle tool. A new practice, inverse to the present, can only be the result of a new relationship between people and their tools. The universal practice of effective contraception is a necessary premise for the limitation of tools which I advocate. But equally, the psychological inversion that will accompany a limitation of tools is a premise for the convivial psychological pressure necessary for effective contraception.

The devices needed for birth control are a paradigm for modern convivial tools. They incorporate science in instruments that can be handled by any reasonably prudent and well-apprenticed person. They provide new ways to engage in the millenary practice of contraception, sterilization, and abortion. They are cheap enough to be made universally available. They are made to fit alternate tasks, beliefs, and situations. They are obviously tools that structure the bodily relationship of each individual to himself and to others. To be effective, some must be used by every adult, and many of them must be used every day. Birth control is an immense task. It must be accomplished within one decade. It can be accomplished only in a convivial manner. It is ridiculous to try to control populations with tools which by their nature are convivial while conditioning the population by formal education to fit more effectively into an industrial and professional world.

Winslow said...

Yes, I now recall that passage in 'Tools for Conviviality'. I think the key word in the passage you highlight in bold is "millenary." By this, I believe, Illich means to underline the fact that these practices he cites have been in use for ages - for a very very long time, which means that they have been supported by and enmeshed in local cultures. In short, they have long been approved. It is only relatively recently that the Church has, for whatever reason, decided to attack birth control and abortion the way it has. And, as Illich points out in another radio program called "Life as Idol" (also available at the site, I believe), in this effort, the Church - led by Ratzinger himself, when he was a top theologian - has taken the quite surprising step of relying on secular, scientific definitions of "life." It has declared that tiny zygote as a person who somehow is our neighbor whom we ought to face as we might face anyone other person. But, as Illich points out, the zygote has no face. And so forth.

papabear said...

As the response from various bishops to Speaker Pelosi's gaffe last year made clear, the Church's teaching against abortion has been constant (as well the teaching against artificial contraception), even if the theological rationale has not been the same.

papabear said...

As the response from various bishops to Speaker Pelosi's gaffe last year made clear, the Church's teaching against abortion has been constant (as well the teaching against artificial contraception), even if the theological rationale has not been the same--the prohibition of abortion and artificial contraception is a part of Sacred Tradition.

Early Church Fathers: Excerpts Pertaining to Abortion

Regarding contraception:
Catholic Answers

Scripture Catholic