Two Daily Meditations ago, we considered Julian’s teaching vs. bullying.  We mentioned how omnipresent bullying can be—it is, alas– not restricted to children’s playgrounds or high school locker rooms.  It shows up in our economic system and our academic system (is this why Thomas Berry talked frequently about “academic barbarism?”).  It can show up in relationships and marriages.  And politics?    

Matthew Fox on Democracy Now! seven years ago discussing the “sordid mess” of fascism in the Catholic Church, clergy sex abuse, decimation of liberation theology and much more. For more read The Pope’s War.

How about January 6, 2021, when bullies bullied their way into the capitol building while nation’s leaders were counting electoral votes chanting about lynching the vice president, etc.  Bullying went live and close-up on our television sets.  How did parents instruct their children about what that was all about?

Another word for bullying is: Patriarchy.  Might makes right.  Domination.  Power-over.  

Here we can see how Julian of Norwich, so committed to bringing the Divine Feminine into theology, spirituality and culture, stands as a warrior against bullying.  No wonder she was ignored for centuries.  Might bullying and patriarchy receive their chief endorsement from religion itself?

Nathan Phillips (Elder who was bullied by MAGA students) praying with other Native Leaders during the 2017 Indigenous Peoples March. Photo originally posted to Flickr by Mike Maguire.

When the previous pope forbade priests to use the female pronoun at the altar, is that a kind of bullying?  In my book on the history of 34 years of the papacy under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Crusade Imperiled the Church and How It Can be Saved, I necessarily dealt with the topic of bullying because I was dealing with Cardinal Ratzinger.  Ratzinger was made the chief inquisitor under JP II who brought the Inquisition back and managed to “kill theology in Europe” words of a (woman) professor at my alma mater, the Institut catholique de Paris.

I know something about bullies and bullying because I was the object of  Ratzinger’s religious wrath.  During ten of the twelve years he pursued me, I had a strong woman at my side, Sister Lois McGivallry, the president of Holy Names College, whose bravery I will always admire.   

John Paul II and then-cardinal Josef Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Under the JPII papacy, 107 theologians were silenced, expelled from their orders, or banished from the Church.

Unfortunately, she retired after ten years and, with a new administration that was less committed to defending academic freedom and truth, I and my program were gone within two years.  (Then we started our own University in downtown Oakland, which flourished for nine exciting years.)

Some lessons from those who have studied bullies are these: Psychologist Dan Olweus studied the phenomenon of bullying among Norwegian schoolchildren in the 1970’s, and found that much of the bullying led to suicides by the victims.

The story of school bully “Tony” reformed through the Caritas program. Uploaded to YouTube by Vince Towerpast

“Bullies go for admiration, for status, for dominance,” Veenstra, a sociologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands comments.  Bullies like to be in roles of dominance and bullying rarely happens among social equals.  Yet bullies, despite their aggressive behavior, do want affection and approval—from their own in-group which often form a kind of “pack” for protection as well as aggression, the better to intimidate others.

It is easy to see how Julian’s call for a motherly God and a motherly approach to living and empowerment of children is the very antithesis of bullying.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Crusade Imperiled the Church and What Can be Saved, pp. 165-168, 238-241. 

See also Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 45-87.

Banner Image: School bullies caught harassing other students. Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash.

What experiences of bullying have you undergone or witnessed?  Do you find that religion can be a bullying kind of place?

The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic Christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.”   — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

Upcoming Events

Matthew Fox offers pioneering teachings from Hildegard of Bingen at 1 pm Pacific (GMT/UTC-8) on February 2, as one of more than 40 thought-leaders at the free online Mystics Summit running February 1-5. Learn more and Register HERE.
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