Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

A Discussion on Faith and Culture

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March 12th, 2011 · 7 Comments


In watching Al Jeezera, I have noticed that the protests always began with young men, who have given an extraordinary example of what the Greeks called thumos, spiritedness. The Arabs peoples feel themselves oppressed, and the spark that set everything off was the self-immolation of a young man whose fruit stand was confiscated by the police.


Susan M. Purviance  has eamined the classical political idea of thumos. 

I examine the Greek notion of the spirited part of the soul which resents injury and resists injustice. 

Thumos has several effects: 

A. Thumos invigorates: Thumos energizes civic life as a spirited pursuit of honor in any competition that is regulated to produce a social good.

—B . Thumos detonates: Thumos causes civic life to explode, as in riot, revolution, factionalism, or stasis, a stalemate of factions in government, making its victims incapable of self-governance.

C. Thumos disrupts: Thumos disrupt civic life positively in civil disobedience and direct protest designed to reveal conditions of injustice.  

By invigorating citizens thumos bolsters civil life, leading to economic, cultural, and political vitality. By detonating or igniting passions for self-respect and good reputation, thumos can lead to actions that destroy civic life, since the agent loses all fear of the sanctions which authorities would impose. Thirdly, thumos disrupts ordinary civic order, but does not destroy it, becoming another form of the public’s way of doing political business with its rulers. 

Thumos is an emotion or leads to the manifestation of emotions. But emotion is not self-justifying. 

Yet emotions alone cannot sanction action. For us, thumos cannot function as an independentfaculty of truth. There must be a rational element which validates, or consolidates the feeling of injustice with the standard by which one knows what is just or injust. 

That is, reason must govern emotions, and anger is the proper emotion to feel to injustice, but an injustice that is rationally discerned, not simply felt (remember Al Capp’s SWINE, Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything?)


Anger gives energy to fortitude in combating evil.  

To endure being insulted and to put up with insult to one’s friends is slavish, so anger has a part in courage.

What has been largely lacking in modern Christianity is a recognition of the role of thumos. Church authorities, like civil authorities, like a docile subject population which will obey, or at least not oppose, the authorities. I have been deeply disturbed in my reach on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church by the lack of righteous anger on the part of both Church authorities and the laity. The Church lacks thumos and has been unable and unwilling to confront the profound injustice of letting children be abused in the name of God.

Tags: Catholic Church · anger · clergy sex abuse scandal

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Janice Fox // Mar 13, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    The church lacks thumos because we have freedom of religious practice. In a free society one votes religious issues with one’s pocketbook and one’s feet. It is useless to criticize a group whose policies you disagree with or to try and change those policies once a religious group gets use to them.

    This is not the case with politics because we all have to live in accordance with the same laws. In my lifetime, segregation and the military draft were defeated legally by civil disobedience and political action. That took thumos.

    With regard to sex abuse, it was covered up because of the shame involved. This allowed people to think that it was a minor problem involving just a few bad apples. I myself thought this in the 1990s. What really bothers me are the people who knew it was going on and did nothing about it because they were capable of protecting their own children from it. These abusers did not pick on the children of the wealthy and powerful, but on the poor and uneducated who did not know how to defend themselves. That made it easy for church members to blame the victims for letting it happen to them.

  • 2 Mary // Mar 14, 2011 at 7:14 am

    Janice, I disagree with your assessment that only the wealthy were able to protect their children from sexual abuse.Better stated would be that certain segments of the secular wealthy were themselves entertained by perverted sexual abuse. Senator John DeCamp’s excellent investigative efforts which were documented in “The Franklin Coverup” for example exposed the links between the ritual abuse of the poor children of Boy’s Town and the perverted desires of Republican Party members who flew them in for entertainment at their DC parties.
    On the other hand the priestly pedophiles and ephebophiles were non discriminant concerning family wealth. The rape of a three year old child whose father was a wealthy Mexican lawyer in the Legion owned Oxford school in Mexico is what ultimately brought the Maciel scandal ultimately to the world’s attention. The father won his very public case and Maciel’s illegitimate children sought him out for representation. As far as “thumos” is concerned, Gerald Celente correctly assessed that riots and demonstrations would erupt in the youth all over the world due to lack of employment as a result of the global economic financial repression.
    They are going on right now in Portugal too, although our mainstream media fails to cover it on television..

  • 3 Vickie // Mar 14, 2011 at 7:50 am

    My impression is that they picked on vulnerable children. In my middle class public junior high school, I we had two African american teachers. Both were fooling around with white pubescent students. I suppose you could say that one made up for it - he married her. All institutions protect their own.

    The fundies still have thumos I think but respectable people think that they are crazy.

  • 4 Mary Ann // Mar 17, 2011 at 8:40 am

    No spiritedness in the Church because no masculinity in the Church. Real masculinity is directed outward, working for others and for the world. We have narcissists and homosexuals and arrested (self-centered) men whose only spiritedness is expressed in bullying and tempter tantrums - both of then self-oriented activities.

  • 5 Mary // Mar 18, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Mary Ann, remember the teachings on Sanctifying Grace in the old Baltimore Catechism? Perhaps that is what is missing? Proper Intention is needed for any valid reception of a sacrament and the sacraments were instituted by Christ so that we may be filled with Sanctifying Grace in order to resist temptation to sin.
    “If a man (heterosexual or homosexual) living a sinful way of life that is completely contrary to the Church should present himself for ordination, the ordination would be invalid as the result of his intention to deceive the ordaining prelate.It is unlikely that a bishop with full knowledge of such a situation could have the appropriate intention needed to validly ordain such person.”
    “Ludwig Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” might be of interest to you regarding the sacraments and their ministers. It’s available at catholic.com and by phone: 888 291 8000.”Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.”
    The absence of this Grace in the world might be explained by invalid Ordinations,when certain individuals seek to bring in others of the same lifestyle into the priesthood.

  • 6 Vickie // Mar 25, 2011 at 6:45 am

    I realize this thread is old but Mary brings up a point that may, I think, articulate the root of the problem. Presumably Ott knows what he is talking about; if the hierarchy is so corrupt we may have lots of invalid ordinations and invalid masses because of lack of proper intention. The faithful are being deprived of Sanctifying grace. I have heard this idea before.

  • 7 Susan Purviance // Dec 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Glad to be of service in the cause of righteous indignation against sexual abuse.

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