Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What Is It With M Scott Peck, By The Way?

I mentioned an e-mail exchange I had with a regular visitor -- now quite possibly a former regular visitor -- who said that, in insisting that Catholics did not need to avoid near occasions of sin, Mrs Gyapong was the "authentic" Catholic, and I was clueless. (He hasn't answered yesterday's post, and I'm wondering if he's finally decided I'm past his help. I kinda hope so.) Anyhow, this guy is a prominent commenter at the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog, and over the past few years, he's sent me e-mails that must total tens of thousands of words, mostly on fine points of canon law.

The apparent incongruity here, which has seemed more notable just recently, is how thoroughly he seems to be versed in canon law, but how unfamiliar he is with the sacrament of reconciliation. I've got to say that in my five years as a Catholic, I haven't quite memorized the act of contrition yet, but I've gotten pretty familiar with its contents, and from the start, I recognized "avoid the near occasions of sin". It's hard not to ask why this phrase seemed so inauthentic to him.

Over our past exchange, he seems to have exhausted canon law, and he's started to explain M Scott Peck to me, of all people. His point to start was along the line that Irish priests are extra-strict, but Irish priests was where the whole child sex abuse thing got started (huh?), and M Scott Peck, obviously an expert, has the solution. "In his book People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck, MD, notes that people who engage in such acts need cover to avoid discovery and that a fa├žade of holiness is one of the most effective forms of cover." It's hard to avoid thinking my visitor has me in mind here.

M Scott Peck, MD was a Me-Decade pop psychiatrist whose best-known books include The Road Less Traveled (1978) and People Of The Lie (1983). Oddly enough, Peck was very popular with St Mary of the Angels dissidents, especially Fr Bartus, who was most anxious to unmask Fr Kelley as a Person of the Lie. I read that one when it came out, but I've always thought it flattered the reader a bit too much. And Peck doesn't strike me as an authority on much of anything. According to this 2005 obituary in The Guardian:

Psychiatrist M Scott Peck, who has died aged 69, made millions with his first book by advocating self-discipline, restraint, and responsibility - all qualities he openly acknowledged were notably lacking in himself. The Road Less Travelled was first published in 1978. It eventually spent 13 years on the New York Times bestseller list to create a paperback record, sold 10 million copies worldwide and was translated into more than 20 languages. The opening words were: "Life is difficult." This was a pronouncement to which Peck could personally attest. He spent much of his life immersed in cheap gin, chain-smoking cigarettes and inhaling cannabis, and being persistently unfaithful to his wife, who eventually divorced him. He also went through estrangement with two of his three children.

Peck wrote openly of his adulterous affairs in another of his total of 15 books: In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason and Discovery (1995), based on a visit to Britain to see ancient stone monuments. Never lacking in personal honesty, at least in print, he once said he had "the rare privilege of being able to give advice without having any responsibility".

Peck, whose personalised car number plate was THLOST, also spent much of his life seeking religious fulfilment (he was baptised a Christian at 43 after embracing Zen and then Sufism), and used this to explain his infidelities. "There was an element of quest in my extramarital romances," he wrote. "I was questing, through sexual romance, at least a brief visit to God's castle." Such visits, however brief, ceased when he became impotent, he disclosed.

When my visitor tried to hit me over the head with Peck and my supposed need to cover up my sins, I asked him,
Wait a moment. You cite M Scott Peck – not Catholic at all, not a priest, not a theologian – as an authority of some sort. But you don’t cite any Catholic authority that says it’s OK not to avoid near occasions of sin.
He replied,
I cite Scott Peck, a Christian and a psychiatrist, as an authority on the psychiatric disorders behind sexual abuse of minors — not as an authority on Catholic doctrine.
Peck sure was a Christian, huh? And if someone is aware of peer-reviewed papers by Peck on the psychiatric disorders behind sexual abuse of minors, I hope they'll send me the links. I think my visitor's actual point here is that, apparently in citing the act of contrition, I'm not only inauthentically Catholic but secretly lusting after twelve-year-olds and need psychiatric help. I guess I should find this offensive, but consider the source. If he wants to apologize and reset the discussion, I'll be happy to accept his apology.

The problem is what I'm starting to see is a glaring lack of basic catechesis among those closely associated with the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society. I recognize this visitor is not a member of that society and is not a member of the OCSP, but he clearly posts frequent comments on that blog and is clearly sympathizing with Mrs Gyapong in his e-mails to me.

His most recent point, it seems to me, is basically that devout Catholics, or at least those who take the sacrament of penance seriously, have psychiatric issues. I'm puzzled. I was hearing this in late-night dorm room discussions as a sophomore, but I grew up in the decades following. Not sure why my visitor thinks he's come up with anything new here -- and maybe Peck is old hat by now, too.