Friday 21 April 2023

Like all good stories, this one has a twist!

It is now time to tell the story of why it took me so long (the full 7 years) to finish my PhD. It is not every jot and tittle about my journey researching, analysing and writing the dissertation - that was never the problem as we shall see. 

In 1985, I finished my Master's on a high - Joachim Jeremias prize for best student article coming out of the MA (published in Second Century a few years later). For reasons unrelated to this story, I couldn't leave Ottawa. There was no possibility of doing a PhD in Intertestamental in either university in Ottawa, so I switched gears.

For the PhD, I was going to look at physical child abuse and Christianity. As I started the research, Phillip Greven's book, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse came out. While I was unimpressed with his Freudianism, the book said everything that I was going to argue in my dissertation. Switch gears!

I decided to focus on the sexual abuse children in Christian environments. "A blessing and a curse!" The kindest thing anyone said was "Go ahead but I don't think there is anything there!" This was the chair of our department at the time (Dr. Roger Lapointe), who was gracious enough to say, "Well I guess you're on to something." when the Mount Cashel scandal broke.

A couple of years in, I had finished course work and needed to do a colloquium about my topic, my hypothesis, etc. The room was packed. One of my professors (New Testament from my MA - a different horror story for another blog) stood up and gave a diatribe about how there was nothing there and I couldn't prove anything, and how did I every think there was a dissertation here. My flippant reply was "Well, if there isn't a dissertation, there'll be a damn good book!" My dissertation supervisor was not very happy with that reply, of course. Other than that, there were positive responses and questions.

Note: everyone including my dissertation supervisor had been trying to get me to do something else, something more palatable, I suppose.

Note: I had already delivered a paper at the AAR and it was published in Patriarchy, Christianity and Abuse: A feminist critique in 1989 prior to the next step. I had also published papers in Second Century and Women at Worship.

The next step was my comprehensive exam. This is where the real problem began. First, you need to understand that I had no say in the composition of my PhD committee, nor would they be readers of my dissertation. It was composed of  a Roman Catholic priest, Rev. (Dr.) Norman Pagé (the chair), an ex-nun, Dr. Elisabeth Lacelle (a Roman Catholic theologian), and Dr. Robert Choquette (ex- RC military chaplain and Canadian religious historian). I submitted the first proposal, then a second one, then a third one. All were rejected by the committee with various unhelpful comments which I followed as best I could. After the third rejection, on the advice of my supervisor, I tried to have a meeting with the chair of my committee. He wouldn't answer emails, phone, etc. I went to see Elisabeth (who was now Chair of the Department). Her response was that she didn't know but Dr. Pagé said it wasn't good enough (and basically that was good enough for her). So I went to see Dr. Choquette. His first response when I asked what was wrong with my proposal, was "Don't know, looked good to me". Then he sort of backtracked and said maybe I didn't show that I knew the difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics well enough. My response was, if I didn't know that, I shouldn't be in this program. He laughed. So no satisfaction.

I then decided that I was handing in no more comprehensive proposals until someone could tell me what was wrong with the preceding three. My supervisor was not happy but I stood my ground. So I continued to write the dissertation, pay my fees, raise my children, interact with my husband and my friends, work in the AIDS hospice, teach part-time, in other words, live my life.

In the 7th year (1993), I let it be known around the office that I was considering suing the department. Lo and behold, I received a letter from the Chair (still Elisabeth) with the date for my comprehensive exam, the names of my interrogators (LOL) and could I please send them in a proposal, which I did. The exam went off without a hitch, I handed in my dissertation with the required 5 copies in August 1993. Then my mother took me on a trip to Israel. When I got back, it seemed that my dissertation had got "lost in the mail" (of course, I had handed it in to the department in person). Never mind, they sorted it out, I got feedback from a couple of readers before the defense. At my defense, I had a psychologist, an anthropologist, a sociologist and a feminist theologian. Highlights were when the psychologist said that she had never thought of it like that but when she started to look at her childhood, she found other examples, like St. Agnes. The anthropologist and the sociologist got into an argument about my analysis of Leviticus on incest prohibitions and blood rights. The feminist theologian was the hardest on me. She said that my theology was all over the place - what could I say, I was raised in the United Church of Canada noted jokingly by all my colleagues as the home of the "bouncing ball of theology". And any specific form of Christian theology was not the point. It was more complicated than that, of course, and my defense of my position was obviously satisfactory.

The decision was that I had to expand my conclusion (which had been deliberately perfunctory for reasons too long to put in this blog) and the PhD was mine. I expanded the conclusion and I received my PhD in 1994. Burnt out was the only way to describe my state of mind. I wanted little to do with formal academia ever after.

Then 11 years later almost to the day of my defense....


Priest charged with sexual assault [1976-2002 Page] - RCC. Boys. Canada flag; Mooney's MiniFlags
CANADA - The Ottawa Citizen by Dave Rogers Saturday, April 09, 2005
A former high-ranking official in Ottawa's Roman Catholic archdiocese charged with sexually assaulting boys has been sent for a psychiatric examination after he grinned and giggled in Gatineau court yesterday.
Police arrested Rev. Norman Page, 73, at his Chelsea home on Thursday. He faces two charges of gross indecency, two counts of sexual assault and two counts of attempted sexual assault on juveniles between 1976 and 2002.
Sgt. Manuel Bandeira, of the Municipalite Regionale de Conte des Collines police, said yesterday the alleged sexual assaults involved boys between the ages of 14 and 18, and took place in Chelsea, where the priest lives, and in the Laurentians.
Before his retirement, Father Page was director of the Office of Liturgy for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa.
He also taught religious studies at the University of Ottawa, lecturing on the history of religious architecture and sacred art, from 1965 until his retirement in 1997.

Yes, it's true. The Chair of my PhD committee was a child (juveniles) sexually abusing priest. My best friend notified me of the arrest. My supervisor emailed that it must be nice to be vindicated. Really! Too little, too late! She hadn't been overly supportive of my work (again, another story - won't make it onto a blog though).

I will leave the reader to come to their own conclusions. For me, I had my explanation.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

On More Thing: Did that little boy have the option to say "no"????

 The previous post is relatively without comment except by implication.

I have friends who think that this man is the next best thing to "god". I hope they don't ask my opinion; I really don't want to lose friends. 

But then again, there are always new friends to be made, I guess.

Wrong is Wrong : A few comments re the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama apologizes after video shows him kissing boy, asking him to 'suck my tongue'

 I can't make this an "I told you so" post because this blog has been focused on the religious culture that that I was raised in. I come from the belief that you clean up your own house (Christianity) first before you try to change other people's houses (every other religious system in the world). Divine sanctions and such!

Just a few things to say: 

1. No religious system is devoid of the abuse of children - physical, emotional and sexual. Power makes a person think that they are above the norms of the general populace - that they are exceptional. 

2. Religious systems are set up to make "worldly abuse" something that people have to accept - it will be better in the next life - or worse. 

3. Remember "Don't buy Thai". (this Wikipage is in desperate need of amplification but I don't have time to do it at this point) You probably don't. But I do because I was a voracious reader and fan of the writings and activism of Andrew Vacchss. Here is a link to his official website, The Zero. Thailand, a devout Buddhist country was (is?) the accepted hub of child sex tourism.

Oh no, my class on the History of Religion is going to be so much fun in the fall (irony, sarcasm and all that).

Monday 10 April 2023

Tangential Issues 1: Groundhog Day anyone!

 Backgrounder to this label. A few months ago, I was asked if I wanted to put together a book proposal and I said yes very quickly. My response rather surprised me because I had, to a large extent, decided that I really had little more to say that I hadn't already said - either academically or in this blog. When people ask why I wasn't still writing, presenting or at least researching in the area of Christianity and child sexual abuse and all the issues surrounding that focus, I said "why bother", nothing has changed, not really. And I don't need the grief! However, I said "yes" to creating a book proposal. I have begun to do my reading  (there is a lot to catch up on) - classes are done, only marking which is not as consuming as teaching. What I have found so far is that, in the end, I was right, nothing much has changed where the big issues are concerned. Things are more informed about "sexual abuse" and "domestic abuse" issues (we can thank #MeToo for that), but I feel like I am Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Been there, done that and it is once more into the breach.

I have found a few things that give me some hope that there will be a shift a-coming but I doubt that I will see it. I figure that I have about 20 years left - give or take - and as long as "the Alzheimer's" doesn't get me, I will still be doing this and hopefully, die with "my boots on".

 I am not talking about what I will propose because it is very specific; so the purpose of this label is to write about things that come up that are related to the topic but are really tangential because, if I don't, they will drive me crazy. 

This morning I woke up to a wonderful email from a student in my class who thanked for me everything that they had learned over the term. It was quite lengthy and brought tears to my eyes. The course was on the history of women in the pre-industrial world and focused on the "creation of patriarchy". Emails like this are one of the things that keep me going and make me realize that yes, what I am teaching does have an impact that changes things, even if in very small ways for one person. That is all I can ask for. 

1. Tangential issues are not triggers. They are issues that are coming up as I read these academic tomes (books, articles, blogs, podcasts, etc.) that are not clearly germane to the topic that I want to address in my book proposal. They just make me angry or sad.

2. Need for external support systems. I have found a therapist to replace Neville who died a few years ago. He will now be my "on-call" support system should I run across triggers related to my childhood sexual abuse as I am doing this work.

In future posts, there are already topics that have come up that I want to write about. "Vicarious trauma" and "Witnesses" the latest buzz words for avoiding pain (I'm such a cynic!); "Triggers" and "Trigger Warnings" - I have a draft post that needs to be finished and will come under this label - for example, I will write about how I deal with those in my classroom; "Theory" - how that box is a real problem; and finally "Stigmas", which will be a re-visitation of my very first post. Maybe I will start another "label" called "They mean well, but..." 

Once more, into the breach!

Sunday 9 April 2023

Sacred Witness 2: Unfinished but a few more thoughts on this book

This is the second part of a book review that I published on October 20th, 2012. Given the research that I am engaged in now, I thought that I would just publish this part as well. It has been in draft mode since November 14th, 2017. There was more that I wanted to say but I am "frying other fish" right now. However, this latest research and writing is definitely related to the problems that I have with this, and many other books. I cannot do a third reading, it would be too depressing. She has written another book called The Bible as Political Artifact: On the Feminist Study of the Hebrew Bible (2017) and article (2019) that I will take a look at over the next couple of weeks.  

Book Review:  It Means What I Say It Means - SO THERE!!

Author: Susanne Scholz
Title: Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible
Publisher: Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2010
Details: 279 pages; solid notes for the most part; no bibliography but index of authors, index of bible and other ancient texts and index of subjects. Nonetheless, a bibliography of cited sources would have been helpful.

With apologies to Lewis Carroll, my main complaint with Scholz' book is like Alice's puzzlement - in this case, texts not words:

"When I use a word [read text]," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less."
    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words[read texts] mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master that's all."
    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"

I will begin with some of the assumptions that are a given in this book.

Assumption 1: the Bible is the sacred word of God, that is, the Bible is still being privileged

This is a facet of Assumption #2. I read this (and many other works) as trying to "save the bible" by arguing that the reader can determine what the text says and what the text means - this way, one can avoid the necessity of dealing with the god that is created in these texts and by these texts.

Assumption 2: the reader's interpretation has primacy over anything else.

Example (I had more examples but see the prologue above):
Page 112: "he [Harold C. Washington] succumbs to an empiricist-scientific epistemology as if readers were not in charge"

To say this in other words, we can carve out our own meaning whenever and however we want to, and to hell with the consequences to the text, to the reader, to the believing community, to the world at large. The ultimate historical "sitz im leben" has no relevance; theological presuppositions have no relevance. And we wonder why people no longer have any idea what is in the Bible or where it came from.

Why this dismissal of all previous research?

Why is this a problem?

Consequence 1:

Proof-texting becomes the sine qua non of biblical interpretation.

Consequence 2:

History be damned. 

Consequence 3:

If we take the "text" out of its historical structure, the destructive social system of patriarchy cannot be held accountable. Why? Because there is no historical social system that matters. If one can make the text say anything that I want it to say, then ultimately it becomes irrelevant. The story of a people's and an individual's grappling with trying to find meaning in the world is undermined to such an extent that it has little to really tell us.

Consequence 4: The biggest consequence of all is that it changes nothing.

Since the reader's interpretation takes priority over everything else, we have reached the apex of individualism.

Let me lay out a couple of things.

First: Anyone who read any part of the "My Story" sequence will have some understanding of where I am "coming from". How they interpret that is out of my control.

Second: I do not believe that the reader's interpretation of a text should hold precedence over historical/cultural/societal readings.

Third: A reader is free to do what they want with a text. However, they should be aware that there are not only consequences for themselves, but for the community of believers as well. It is now broken down into distinct entities - all of whom will - inevitably - want to argue that their understanding is correct. That, in the end, subverts the healing power of community.

Good old-fashioned Christianity: Just in case you thought things were going to change

Pope Francis used an offensive slur for gay men during a discussion with bishops, sources say. ope The Vatican apologized Tuesday “to those ...