Following my post yesterday, Leanna politely pointed out that, despite her Catholic socialization, she is what I think Jung would have called someone who put feelings or what I called experience, ahead of thinking.
It made me realize that I was so focused on analyzing my own thinking that I failed to make it clear that not all Catholics are thinking types, nor are all thinking types Catholics. What I would also like to say is that neither thinking or feeling types are better or worse. We need both, and as we mature, we need to learn to do both. But I tend to agree with Jung that we are born with a disposition toward one or the other. I have been a thinking type for as long as I can remember, which is about the age of two, and I was analyzing how being socialized as a Catholic thinker has shaped me.
In this context, thes issue of thought and feeling is closely related to the question of which comes first – religious teaching or personal experience. The Roman Catholic Church has historically taken a pretty strong position on this issue in favor of thinking. Dogma comes first. Galileo looked through his telescope and concluded with Copernicus that the earth revolved around the sun, not vice versa. Rome hauled him in and said that his observations contradicted dogma. Under threat of the rack, Galileo publicly – if not privately – recanted.
This issue remains alive today. Evangelicals, for instance, reject many of the findings of science on the grounds that it contradicts Biblical truth. There is, for them, an over-riding idea that cannot be contradicted under any circumstances, whatever they experience, whatever conclusions may rationally be suggested by science, or whatever anybody else might think.
I suspect that Catholic theologians more often tend to be thinkers in a way that many Protestant theologians are not for two reasons. The first is Rome’s doctrine of papal infallibility. Under pain of excommunication, one cannot reject teachings which Rome has declared to be infallible. The virgin birth, the immaculate conception, the assumption, the resurrection and ascension, original sin, the trinity of God, for instance, have all been declared to be literally (not just metaphorically) true. Catholic theologians cannot not publicly take another position, whatever their conscience may require. At this very time, a Catholic priest has been excommunicated by Rome because he publicly supports the ordination of women, a position that Rome has forbidden Catholics to defend.
I think that celibacy also contributes to a continuation of a one-sided emphasis on thought among Catholic thinkers. Celibacy is defended on the grounds that it represents a higher calling than a sexual partnership and raising a family. I was taught this and entered the convent with this conviction.
My experience no longer supports this view. I think a close sexual partnership is one of the most demanding experiences of human life. A committed, enduring partnership with another person with different preferences, different points of view, different strengths and weaknesses requires a diminution of ones own egocentrism in the way nothing else does. I emphatically do not agree that a life of celibacy is more difficult. In fact, I think celibacy often permits the celibate (or at least the uncommitted if not celibate) priest to blithely proceed on a path of self-diagnosed belief in the superior rightness of their personal beliefs.
This is not to say that Catholic doctrine in itself tends to produce this outcome. I don’t believe that the teachings of Jesus tend to turn us into thinkers at the cost of feeling. Nor is Catholic doctrine the only system of thought that can give us a sense of righteousness. I have seen scientists as rigidly committed to their theories as any theologian in Rome. Science, however, in the end is committed to the primacy of using experience to validate thought. Rome, with its position of infallibility, emphatically is not.
This is an extremely complex question, and although I obviously have thought about it a great deal, my discussion began as one of self-exploration, and I don’t want it to suggest that I think all believers are rigidly bound to a single system of ideas. They are not.
I would be particularly interested in comments on this topic. If you agree, disagree, or think I’m missing something significant, I’d hugely appreciate your saying so.