By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 24, 2007

In this religiously contentious season,....

Huh? In my neighborhood strangers are smiling at each other as they pass on the street, wishing each other a Merry Christmas-- or maybe, if they're uncertain about the other's religious affiliation, a Happy Holiday. There's literally music in the air downtown; there are signs proclaiming Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All. It's the least contentious season of the year.

But when you're James Carroll-- the Boston Globe op-ed columnist whose main purpose is to bash the Catholic Church-- you see these things in a different light. So you conclude the opening sentence of your pre-Christmas column:

.... it is difficult to think aloud about Christmas as an event of more than commercial significance.

No doubt it is, for someone of Jim's peculiar disposition. Scrooge had it easy; he only thought of Christmas as a distraction from his all-consuming financial affairs. Carroll, on the other hand, is being consumed by the gnawing dread that someone out there might be experiencing religious sentiments-- joy, even-- of a sort that cannot be sanctioned by a former Paulist priest.

People smiling. They're going to church. They're thinking pious thoughts. The horror! Carroll must act quickly. And he does.

In paragraph #2, with a single dogmatic sentence, he announces that Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary who died opposing the Roman empire.

Paragraph #3: Jesus is dead. But some people still like Him. Resurrection? Hehehehe.

Paragraph #4: Oh, and the Nativity story? C'mon.

(Personally, if I were writing columns debunking Christianity, I think I'd start with the Nativity story during this "contentious season." But then I don't debunk Christianity, which is why I don't have a regular column in the Boston Globe.)

With the fundamental tenets of orthodox Christian faith disposed of in those opening paragraphs, Carroll next offers a remarkable analysis of Dostoevsky's famous Grand Inquisitor scene. You know, from the Brothers Karamazov: that cheery little tale that is so often associated in our memories with Yule logs and tinsel-hanging and caroling parties.

And then-- here it comes! wait for it!-- we get the James Carroll nugget:

Indeed, the Jesus who rejects slavish authority for himself and others is the living critique of any institution, the church included, that asks less of humans, instead of more.

Wow. Heavy. Slavish authority: an interesting concept just in itself. And heaven knows we need to be freed of the heavy burdens imposed by those institutions that ask less of us.

But it's the restless passion of Carroll's writing, certainly not the logic, that catches my attention. This is a man with Something on His Mind.

Don't you see? Don't you see?!! It's not enough to go to midnight Mass and receive our Lord and kneel silently afterward before the creche contemplating the awesome mystery of the God-Child. It's not enough to sing hymns and exchange gifts and feast and enjoy the simple pleasures of the human life the Almighty came to share. There's so much more that James Carroll could tell you, and...

You're not paying attention! You're singing and shopping and wrapping and cooking and decorating, and there's a Globe column sitting on the coffee table unread! No wonder this season is so contentious!

Merry Christmas, Jim. God bless us, every one.

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 27, 2007 4:13 PM ET USA

    No, I'm afraid you all miss the point. To Carroll, YOU are the insiginificant grains of sands mentioned by the Inquisitor; YOUR joy and fraternity counts not a whit. The CONTENTION Carroll experiences comes from the bad columnists (THEY count) that he surrounds himself with. I can seem them at last call, grimly surveying the Christmas lights, JUST NOT GETTING IT, and knowing that only some loony rag like the Globe stands between them and actually having to find some useful work.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 27, 2007 9:36 AM ET USA

    The church that asks little of their followers must be different than my church. Maybe it was founded in the late sixties when Jesus became a non-violent revolutionary. My church asks much of us. We try to respond with our whole heart,mind, body and soul.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 26, 2007 3:53 PM ET USA

    We had the parish Vietnamese choir at mid-night. All our Filippino, Vietnamese, African, Latin, Northern European, Southern European, Native and Pacific Island...oh, never mind, ALL our Catholic parishioners were JOY-FILLED! That's the beauty of the Catholic church, especially in America. Such a rich treasure of devotions and traditions! But the liturgy is the same no matter what cultural tradition you come from.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 26, 2007 8:49 AM ET USA

    ...and in a downtown church in Dayton, Ohio, a choir composed of Rwandan refugees sings praises to God in their native tongue, switches to perfect French to welcome the Child Jesus in song, and brings the packed church to tears.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 25, 2007 10:13 AM ET USA

    Here in the mountains of Virginia, Mexican immigrants gladly shared their tradition of "Las Posadas" with their Americano brothers and sisters before Christmas Eve Mass. The celebration, literally "The Inns", commemorates Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem. It ends in Church with the finding of the stable, and the veneration of the statue of the Christ Child before it is placed in a manger. The children celebrate with sparklers and candy. O Holy Night! Gracias, amigos!

  • Posted by: - Dec. 24, 2007 4:53 PM ET USA

    Let's see. The Church I worship with seriously asks us to examine ourselves, confess our sins, spend our time helping others and growings spiritually, practicing brotherhood, selling raffle tickets to help pay school tuition, and pray several times a day. That's asking less rather than more?

  • Posted by: - Dec. 24, 2007 2:06 PM ET USA

    Father Carroll is not a former Paulist priest of course, Uncle Di is just using the popular short hand to indicate a bad priest who is not faithful to his sacramental promises. He may be an apostate but he is still a priest. His whole secular writing career is an exercise of his psychological defense mechanisms to protect his self esteem. He no longer experiences the joy of charity in the presence of the spiritual welfare of others rather he experiences the bitterness and envy called acedia.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 24, 2007 10:44 AM ET USA

    Wow. And I thought the emptiness I felt had something to do with not having eaten two servings of toast this morning. If only I had the Boston Globe.......

  • Posted by: - Dec. 24, 2007 10:30 AM ET USA

    "In this religiously contentious season,...." here in a suburb of Chicago, recent Assyrian immigrants decorate their homes for Christmas, Christians wish their Jewish neighbors a Happy Channukah, the Filipinos crowd a large Catholic church for a Simbang Gabi mass, Polish immigants overflow their SRO masses, Greeks, Ukrainians and Russians anticipate the Epiphany, and Moslem cab drivers are joyous over added fares. Too bad it's not this "contentious" all year.