Center for the Study of
CHURCH AFFECTIVE DISORDER
One of the most debilitating feelings we can experience is emotional isolation. If no one else feels, or has ever felt, our sense of alienation we begin to question our own sanity and competence. Going all the way back to Socrates and forward to the proliferation of Twelve-Step programs in our own time, the therapeutic value of effective dialogue has been demonstrated repeatedly. In an ecclesial disorder, history is part of that dialogue. After all, we are in conversation not only with our brothers and sisters now living, but also with the Communion of Saints in all times and in all places.
THE HISTORY PART (or the contemplative dialogue with the Communion of Saints):
First, last, and always, remember this: You are not alone, nor are you simply the victim of some imagined post-modern ennui. This malady has been with us throughout the history of Christianity. Even a casual reading of the Gospels will reveal that Jesus may have suffered from CAD. Look at some of the admonitions directed toward Peter. Our Lord said of Peter's faith that it was the rock on which the Church would be built, but had to constantly correct this Holy hot head. Certainly Paul gives evidence in the Epistles of this affliction. St. Francis had a dose from time to time. Important as these venerable cases are, we have an important set of Ur Texts defining and detailing CAD for our own time (WARNING: historian on board here, so "our own time" can encompass several centuries): the occasional pieces of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) toward the end of his life. These essays were collected and translated into English by Walter Lowrie and published as Attack Upon Christendom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1944). The following first paragraph from one of these essays ("The Religious Situation," p. 29) will give you a quick introduction to the flavor of Kierkegaard's rhetoric:
The religious situation in our country is: Christianity (that is, the Christianity of the New Testament--and everything else is not Christianity, least of all by calling itself such), Christianity does not exist--as almost anyone must be able to see as well as I.
More recently, Peter Berger sounded a Kierkegaardian note (with an American accent) in The Noise of Solemn Assemblies: Christian Commitment and the Religious Establishment in America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1961), p. 177:
Let there be no uncertainty as to what we are saying: we are suggesting that Christians may freely choose not to become members of local congregations, not to identify themselves with a denomination, not to join the weekly traffic jam of the religious rush hour on Sunday morning. We are suggesting that these decisions might be directly grounded in the Christian faith as it seeks to relate itself to our situation. And we are contending that such decisions might be the legitimate exercise of a Christian vocation in our time.
We hasten to add that one ought not to delight in Kierkegaard's introduction without reading the rest of the essay, nor should one stop with reading only that essay. Similarly, one ought not to delight in Berger's conclusion without reading the argument over the previous 176 pages that brings him to that point. In addition to these two classic formulators of the modern form of CAD, Martin Marty's periodic pieces; particularly those co-authored with Dean Peerman and collected in Pen-Ultimates: Comment on the Folk Religions of America (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962) are worth consulting. Anything written by theologian Stanley Hauerwas and essayist/novelists Anne Lamott will be instructive for this purpose. Some blogs are useful for thinking and talking points, such as "Detoxing From Church," by Jason Zahariades. (If that site does not yield the essay, contact us. We have a copy in the Center's archives. We may eventually put up a menu of such blogs. Please send us the URL for any such web sites.)
THE DIALOGUE PART (or the interactive part):
We suspect that CAD may not have a cure. The treatment for living with it while remaining in faith requires constant dialogue and struggle. Do not deny your bout of CAD. Admit it to yourself and to those in your congregation with whom you have the closest affinity. Most likely at least a few of them will be grateful that someone else has identified and is willing to discuss a problem with which they have also been struggling. Talk with your pastor. There is a high degree of probability that you will hear a sigh of relief, followed by "This sounds very familiar." A surprising number of pastors are the people most isolated and alienated in their congregations. They will welcome conversation that seeks to deal with, work through, and overcome CAD. They will probably soon walk away from conversation that seeks only to wallow in the misery of CAD. Walking away from fruitless exchanges is a pretty good model for all of us who suffer from this affliction (and one could argue that it has scriptural foundation). The dialogues should be just that--talking and listening while giving support and admonition to each other as we seek a way to continue in the Church. Bitching and moaning may have a place in the initial conversation, but such venting has finite cathartic benefit and becomes toxic if we do not move beyond that bit of verbal ritual fairly soon.
The dialogue can be systematic or free-form. It can be one-on-one or in a group. It can, of course, mix these modes. However we choose to deal with it, the point is to talk about CAD with others in order to get beyond it. Ignoring it will lead to marginalization and potentially growing resentment. If any of this strikes a responsive chord, and you would like to join a CAD discussion list, send us a message so indicating. If we can form a minyon, we will indeed start such a forum for the mutual support of those of us afflicted. Electronic discussion lists have begun with far less noble intent.