10 July 2006

Philip Rieff, R.I.P.

Fr. Neuhaus comments on the death of sociologist Philip Rieff, author of the invaluable Triumph of the Therapeutic, which goes so far to explain American intellectual culture (and the culture of the Episcopal Church and the training of its priests). Rieff also posed some serious questions for reflection by more traditional Christians, as Neuhaus notes:

"...Rieff, a Jew, believed that Christianity supplied the best bet for a sustainable culture, but that’s all gone now. In a 2005 interview with the Chronicles of Higher Education, he says he does not believe that an authentic religious culture could be resurrected, no matter how hard we might try. Following Marx, Weber, and Freud, he argues that modern prosperity, cities, bureaucracy, and science have completely transformed the terrain of human experience. People who try to practice orthodox Christianity and Judaism today, he says, inevitably remain trapped in the vocabulary of therapy and self-fulfillment. “I think the orthodox are role-playing,” he says. “You believe because you think it’s good for you, not because of anything inherent in the belief. I think that the orthodox are in the miserable situation of being orthodox for therapeutic reasons...”

And here is Professor Rieff in an interview in the Guardian last year:

What is it that is so ominous about the third culture? Rieff: “It’s characterized by a certain vacuity and diffidence. The institutions which were defenders of the second world, or second culture–I think cultures are world creations–have not offered the kind of defense or support that would have been more powerful than therapeutic forces. So Christianity becomes, therapeutically, ‘Jesus is good for you.’ I find this simply pathetic.”
So are you a pessimist? Rieff: “I don’t know that I’m pessimistic. Therapies are better than nothing.”

And here's the obituary from the New York Times.


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