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on June 10, 2004
Before reviewing this book, I must take exception to some scathing denouncements of both Greeley and his works. Apparently, these people & I must not have read the same Greeley books (and since I have read nearly every Greeley book published to date, that would take some doing). If Greeley is a blasphemer, then so am I. If he is going to hell, then I want to go there with him. If Greeley hates God, then I must too, because I see God the same way as Greeley. For the record, I am a minister, a writer, an avid reader, a woman, and an unabashed Greeley fan. I find Fr. Greeley's vision of God is so empowering, especially for women, that I shudder to think of a God who is not like the Being that he describes, defends, and quite obviously, deeply loves. All I can suggest, to those who decry Greeley & his work, is to re-read all of his books-this time without the blinders. If this happens, then I think his detractors will find that Greeley's overall themes are much more beautiful, resonant, and inspiring than they originally thought.
Now, on to the book I'm supposed to be reviewing... "The Catholic Imagination" is yet another example of Greeley at his best. When I finished it, I still wanted more. In fact, I hope Fr. Greeley does see fit to write a sequel to this evocative, delicious, and wonderfully moving book. It felt like he wrote this one more in the same vein as his fiction, and I think it is preferable to the rigid, often dry prose many others use when writing about 'the big things,' (God, Humanity, and the Universe).
Like many others, I especially loved Chapter Two (Sacred Desire). But the chapter that touched me the most was Chapter Three (The Mother Love of God). Seeing Greeley acknowledge the older female goddesses, many of whom represent the same ideals as Mary, made me appreciate him all the more. I like the inclusiveness that resonates in all of Greeley's works (fiction and non-fiction alike), and I can't help but wonder; why aren't there more writers (and readers) doing the same? God is all about inclusiveness, unconditional love, and being in our lives, every second of every day, forever. Greeley gets it. He sees it, and he celebrates it, in every book, and I would imagine every sermon, and every class, he writes.
Once you've read this book, read at least two Greeley novels. "Contract with an Angel" and "The God Game" come immediately to mind. While reading them, remember all that you've gleaned from "The Catholic Imagination," and you will see what I mean when I say that this book was written more like his novels than his other non-fiction work. Greeley's special gift, or rather, one of his special gifts, is the ability to make God and the big issues more real and immediate. He makes them understandable, even the complex or perplexing stuff. What Greeley gives us is the gift of perception, and even, for some of us, introspection. He helps us to be better people, and he shows us a God who dearly and deeply loves each and every one of us, no matter what. That, in itself, is one of the most priceless gifts anyone can give another person.
Overall, I'd give this book a rating of 10, but Amazon only allows 5, so I will give it 5 and ask y'all to double it in your minds. Then, once you've done that, indulge in as many Greeley books as you can. It will be worth more than you can ever imagine.
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on August 5, 2003
I've long heard about U. of Chicago sociologist Andrew Greeley but never had the opportunity to read any of his works. The Catholic Imagination was a very approchable work for the general reader that looks at the Catholic Church's roots in both the divine and the flesh (as opposed to the condemnation of the flesh and worldly things by Reformation Protestants).
Greeley bends over backwards not to trumpet the superiority of Catholicism over other denominations or faiths. He attempts to take the reader on a tour of Catholic iconography and community and explain to Catholics and non-Catholics alike why Catholics are more attached to art, music, architecture, community (over individuality), sexuality and salvation in an imperfect world than other Christian congregations.
He also argues quite eloquently that much of the above aspects of Catholicism are rooted in folk history and the Church's roots in a illiterate, pre-Enlightenment Europe where local traditions held greater sway than detached theological mandates from a distant Rome. Greeley even touches on this conflict in today's Church, believing that improved communication technologies have resulted in friction between Rome and "ordinary" Catholics as the Holy See has attempted to tighten its control over local clergy and laity.
Again, Greeley aims for the general reader as his audience, not the learned theologian. That is the target of his book and the ingredients in much of his arguments in The Catholic Imagination.
This book would be better served by some more color photos of the artwork Greeley mentions in his book, as I found myself unfamiliar with many of the works of art, films and music listed in the essay.
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on July 6, 2003
This book is a short sociological discussion (an argument actually) of the way that Catholicism views the world. As the author asserts, Catholics have an "enchanted imagination" and see the presence of God in earthly things. Catholicism is also filled with metaphors relating nature and human relationships to the nature of God. This is evident after an examination of the inside of almost any Catholic church: statues of the Virgin Mary, votive candles, stained glass, and holy water adorn the interior. These symbols are more than just outward tradition, they are a physical manifestation of the Catholic imagination. Protestants (whom Greeley contrasts with Catholics throughout the book) , on the other hand, are more likely to emphasize the distance of God from our world and hence the image of a stereotypical Protestant church as four white-washed walls. Protestants don't see God's presence in the world in the same way as Catholics and hence they don't surround themselves with these images. Neither view is better or worse than the other, simply different. In essence, this is what the book is about.
Greeley presents the results of many sociological studies and surveys among Catholics and Protestants and then gives various models (interpretations of the data). I won't discuss any more of the results that he arrives at or the data that is presented because these are, interestingly enough, not the strong point of the book. After all, poll results can be skewed by a multitude of factors. And although Greeley's interpretations of the results are certainly plausible, they are obviously only one of many such interpretations. The real importance of a book like this is not in arriving at definite answers as to how Catholics think but, at least for those of us who are Catholic, in its ability to consciously remind us how we often (subconsciously) interpret certain images. I must say that, being Catholic myself, I found much of what Greeley said very accurate of the way I view the world (or at least the way I view the way I view the world). Maybe I just like to think I view the world in this way. Even if that's the case, the book still gives me a vision to cultivate.
I don't have much more to say about the book but I do want to address a certain point I think is important. It is the role of the physical church, its architecture and its adornments, in the Catholic faith. The discussion of statues and vaulted archways may seem peripheral in the domain of theology (and indeed they probably are) but it is not my intention to elevate such items to the dominant elements of faith. Rather, I simply want to point out their importance beyond simple decoration. Greeley addresses the issue in what I think is the most interesting chapter, Sacred Place, Sacred Time. At the end of the book Greeley calls a Catholic church one that "looks like a church instead of a-heaven save us all-worship center." Of course we all know what he means: Protestant churches are boring. I walk into one and I immediately feel...the presence of God? No! I feel like I've been transported to the realm of Clorox (although, I must admit, this makes for a very clean feeling). My little old country church may have rickety pews, loose floor tiles, roughly plastered walls, and a bunch of ceramic statues that look like they were imported from the local flea market (okay, they're not that bad), but I still prefer it any day over mass in an auditorium. What I mean to say is that a church is not just a place where people of a common faith gather, it is a sacred place where God has left his mark and a hint of his presence, not because that specific place was preordained by God to be special but because we his people have made it special. Those are our works of art and our images in the church but they hint at greater images. They are not images of God but images to help us think about God. They are, as Greeley points out, metaphors of God's nature.
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on June 21, 2003
Catholic Priest, socialogists, and writer, Andrew Greeley has written an insightful book. But it should had been a little better developed and bigger, citing more examples (or exploring the examples already presented even deeper), antedotes and history. With the negatives aside, this book still warrants four stars as Father Greeley's talent for writing to a variety of reading levels in one text is outstanding. Whether one reads more academic works or populists books, this book is sure to be a pleasure to read for most.
Greeley's psoition is to write a book to show the differnce between the Catholic imagination juxtaposed against a Protestant imagination in American society in particular. In expressing this difference, the first three chapters exceed in engaging the reader. The fisrt chapter, "Sacred Place, Sacred Time" deals primarily with the Catholic tradition and religious imagery and I think there is a strong difference between the two traditions. As the Protetsant tradition moves further West (I mean West in the abstract), the churches become increasingly more plain and look more often than not as small civic centers, while the Catholic Church, still builds beautiful places of worship, whether the facilities are in an older gothic or contempary style.
The second chapter titled "Sacred Desire" is beautiful. Most of the other chapters are still engaging, but a little less so. The saddest thing is that I think many, if not most American Catholics have lost this imagination. My assertions are mostly from my limiited expierence with Catholics, but besides the strength of family and community, many of the ideas presented in this book do not seem to touch the homes of many American Catholics. This is why, the book should be developed even more and maybe taught to Catholics, because I tthink that Catholics can learn from the book as much as Protestants.
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There's a huge number of catechisms and books out there that will tell you how to "do Catholic," but very few that capture the essence of what *being* Catholic means quite as well as this work of Greeley's does.
As a non-Catholic -- and very satisfied with the depth of my own religious experience -- I will probably never experience some of the phenomena Greeley describes. But it's fascinating to plumb the depths and be given this intimate peek into how Catholicism actually FEELS to Catholics.
I admit, I found his thesis controversial at first: that Catholics have a different way of looking at the world. But without getting bogged down in specifics, he manages to define many of those distinctions from his own wealth of experience.
It's easy to put down another religion if you just look at the surface details. Greeley leads all readers -- regardless of their own religious convictions -- to respect and admire his fellow believers for the uniquely Catholic outlook on and contribution to the world.
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on July 5, 2000
For most of the past ten years Andrew Greeley has been slowly developing his conclusions on "Catholic Imagination." This latest effort is indeed his best. The book never really defines "Catholic Imagination," choosing instead to describe it over and over in various ways -- an effective technique. Seven chapters go through various aspects of life -- place, time, desire, community, authority, etc -- and explain that there is a distinctive and particularly Catholic way of understanding and living those realities. His unique style is to spend the first half of each chapter explaining his point, and the last half citing sociological data confirming his conclusions. The book would be good for Catholics seeking self-understanding and non-Catholics trying to get a grasp of why Catholics are sometimes so different from Protestants. Greeley is a good author so it is an easy book to read. The introduction is an absolute necessity and the first chapter is the most difficult to understand. It would be easy to give up on the book about page 33 or so, but that would be a mistake. It is well printed, good type face, wide margins, but only minimally adequate pictures.
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on December 19, 2011
Though this book was advertised, and bought, as "new", it clearly showed shelf wear on the dust jacket. When I wrote to the company to make them aware of this issue, I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a 33% discount because of the product's slight imperfection. Naturally, I would prefer to have received a perfectly new item; however, I must give credit for the immediate response to my concern.
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on March 19, 2004
Andrew Greeley is a heretic, a blasphemer, an apostate, and an ardent foe of both the true Catholic faith and Christianity in general. He reminds me of Nikita Kruschev's remark about Communism: "We will take you from within." What people don't realize is that Kruschev wasn't lying. They have taken us from within which is why the Soviet Union is no longer necessary. America has been weakened piece-by-piece in so many ways, including by its embrace of the war on God. Greeley has been a faithful member of the team with his poorly written books that lead people astray with a lot of left-wing, basically atheistic, humanistic ideas. This man recently had the nerve to criticize Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" for spreading the message that Jesus died for our sins, a message that this friend of the devil wants to suppress. Those who follow Greeley will burn in hell right alongside him. Frankly, being beside him in Heaven would be enough to make me think I'm in hell.
Run from this evil man and his putrid and blasphemous ideas. Find true salvation through the Bible.
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on April 25, 2001
an astonishingly bad book. i'm amazed a respectable university press would put something like this out. incredibly breezy, sloppy writing, many typos, little theoretical sophistication...just atrocious.
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