Perhaps in dread of the next installment of Pope Francis’ environmental theology, Laudato Sí, v.2, Catholic media is turning search lights again on Teilhard de Chardin. With apologies to professional theologians and philosophers, I admit to weariness with zest for heresy-spotting. And scapegoating. If Teilhard’s mysticism came close at times to the edge of the precipice, it was his fidelity to the absolute primacy of Christ that, in the words of Henri de Lubac “saved him from a fall.” [See de Lubac’s Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and His Meaning.]
Argue with de Lubac if you wish. My interest here is not to wrangle over Teilhard’s eschatology. Neither is it to referee between competing depictions of Teilhard as a pioneer, prophet, or pantheist. It is simply to register caution before clanging the wrong alarms in our cultural descent into lunacy. Agreed, Francis is a catastrophe. But put the blame where it belongs: on his leftism and megalomania. Denouncing Teilhard for the uses and misuses of him by others is a dead end.
A recent post on Rorate-Caeli by the pseudonymous New Catholic led off with this bit of snark: ““Yes, Teilhard de Chardin was a racist heretical eugenicist, who even supported Nazi experiments, but at least he wasn’t a believing American Catholic!” The invective continues:
Each additional day with Francis is a day of wonder — wonder at how such magnificent melange of utter buffoonery, tackiness, ignorance, and malice could reach the see of Peter in this “enlightened” age. Maybe it is all a great plot by liberals to destroy papolatry once and for all.
Because when he isn’t promoting half-baked historical lies about despotic monsters, he is praising to high heaven the most influential heretic of the twentieth century, his fellow Jesuit (shocking) Teilhard de Chardin.
Catholics were warned about his works by the pontificate of none other than John XXIII himself. If that were not enough, Teilhard should also be radioactive even for any liberal-minded human being due to his persistently and well-documented racist rantings, his support of eugenics, and his praise even of Nazi Germany’s medical experiments.
Francis’ words, as the words of Teilhard itself, are a pretentious gobbledygook that makes the Christian religion out to be a pantheistic mess. . . .
Sorry, you can’t rehabilitate trash. Trash is trash. Some of it is recyclable, some of it is compostable, it’s still trash. Teilhard is neither recyclable nor compostable, his work should remain forever burning in the landfill of non-theology.
Taking Out The Wrong Trash
A consistently thoughtful commentator, New Catholic has let his distaste for Bergoglio get the better of him this time. His charge of ignorance and malice is spot on. Still, he might have done more homework before broadcasting a complaint against Teilhard touted five years ago by an aspiring academic sniffing the Zeitgeist.
John P. Slattery, Ph.D., indicted Teilhard in “Dangerous Tendencies of Cosmic Theology: The Untold Legacy of Teilhard de Chardin.” His accusations appeared in Philosophy and Theology, published by Marquette University Press in 2017. The abstract reads:
This essay shows that from the 1920s until his death in 1955, Teilhard de Chardin unequivocally supported racist eugenic practices, praised the possibilities of the Nazi experiments, and looked down upon those who he deemed “imperfect” humans. These ideas explicitly lay the groundwork for Teilhard’s famous cosmological theology, a link which has been largely ignored in Teilhardian research until now.
It has taken until now—nearing seven decades—for a minor academic on the make to discern what Louis Bouyer and Henri de Lubac failed to notice in their treatment of Père Teilhard. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s hawk-eyed, withering critique of the priest-paleontologist was equally blind to those Nazi tendencies.
Whatever you might think of Teilhard, Slattery’s embrace of academia’s trendy racial politics—with its faux science of implicit bias—ought to give pause. His brand of thinking, like his scholarship, appears to have been liberated from what Ta-Nehisi Coates called “the malign grip of white standards.” (Coates’ memoir The Beautiful Struggle, damned his own country as “not a victim of a great rot, but the rot itself.” Slattery is on board with the slur.)
In 2017, the year Slattery exposed Teilhard’s supposed ignominy, he was running Daily Theology. At the time it was a one-man blog dedicated to the dogmas of anti-racism, the trinity of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and the stain of whiteness. His racialist postings likely aided his appointment in 2020 to the directorship of Duquesne University’s glistening new Carl G. Grefenstette Center for Ethics in Science, Technology, and Law. Founded in 2019, the Center is consumed with critical race theory—which Christopher Rufo named “the default ideology” of public institutions. Apparently, Catholic universities are not immune to secular creeds.
Slattery’s c.v. states that he “works at the intersection of technology, science, religion, and racism.” As befits the fourth item in his job description, he is an ardent anti-racist ally—an orthodox disciple of Ibram X. Kendi (né Henry Rogers). White racism, like carbon monoxide, is invisible. Detectors have to be fine tuned and at the ready.
In 2020 Slattery re-published his 2017 letter petitioning Notre Dame to remove Luigi Gregori’s historic murals commemorating Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas. His indictment claimed that “Columbus’ fortune, fame and wealth came from the destruction, mutilation and transaction of Native American and African persons.” It asserts that “slavery is celebrated” in the murals and Columbus himself “initiated one of the largest genocides in human history.” (Samuel Eliot Morrison has to be whirling in his grave.)
The topics of Slattery’s blog posts are telling. Begin with “The Catholic Church Has a Visible White-Power Faction” or “Catholicism’s White Supremacy Problem.” A “Theological Reflection on Ta-Nehisi Coates” is an obligatory salaam to Coates and the gospel of critical race theory (CRT). His “Catholic Case for Reparations” appears alongside a Catholic case against private property. (Aquinas’ arguments for private property are deemed “tenuous.”) “Preaching Your First Sermon on Racism: A Guide for White Pastors” assumes the fallacy that racism is a whites-only pathology. (“The only way to expunge the evils of racism is to be actively anti-racist.”) He recommends Ibram Kendi’s anti-white Stamped From the Beginning.
Slattery’s August 15, 2017 entry on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is a rancid stew of distortions. Between a fist pump for Black Lives Matter and the Southern Poverty Law Center, there is this fevered comment:
Nine months ago, as if in response to the groundswell, this nation of immigrants, descendents of slaves, descendents of those that owned slaves, and descendents of the aboriginal tribes voted a man into office with clear ties to neo-Nazi and other racist groups. Catholics and Protestants together voted him into office. Mostly white people. Mostly men. [Emphases and links are his.]
Stirred into the pot is recognition of “the demonic nature of white supremacy,” which the unnamed President Trump personified. He “either supports” violent white supremacy horrors or “is too incompetent to deal with them.”
How much more do you need before you grasp the timbre of our anti-racist Ph.D.? And the reliability of his denunciations?
The Grefenstette Center prides itself on its Bias Education Response Team
The Center is on the qui vive for inklings of systemic racism and wrong think. Its mission is to stoke the diversity delusion under cover of Christian ethics. Reports of perceived oppression can be made anonymously and on line. This gift to wanna-be Stasi—an end-run around due process—is presented in smiling terms:
Duquesne’s Bias Education Response Team (BERT) is a multidisciplinary team that was founded to educate the campus community, to monitor and report on trends, and respond to bias incidents through restorative practices.
The purpose of BERT is to provide educational and restorative responses to bias incidents that occur within the campus community. It exists to engage people who act in biased ways, as well as the people affected by such behavior, and to help restore feelings of belonging.
It all so . . . therapeutic. Students are provided with a White Racial Frame chart by which to track the basal temperature of their progress as anti-racists. Accompanying the graphic are helpful mots like this:”I yield positions of power to those otherwise marginalized.” Do not bother about talent, intelligence, or good faith in the recipient of this racial/ethnic largesse. Skin color is all:
Deeply embedded in American minds and institutions, this white racial frame has for centuries functioned as a broad worldview, one essential to the routine legitimation, scripting, and maintenance of systemic racism in the United States.
Take your time. Scroll around. You will learn that everything in the Library of Congress is tainted by “straight while male assumptions” as the lens through which information is judged. This is white privilege in action:
The traditions of universities and scholarly publishing have been western, globally north, English-language, upper-class, male, and white dominated. Early science societies and journals were white male educators and the white male wealthy who could dabble in scientific inquiry. Broad changes to scholarly publishing have occurred in the last 50 years, but English is still the predominant language for exchanging scholarship and the global north and wealthiest countries are dominant in many fields.
Remember those white male dabblers in science every time you turn on a light, use a phone, book a flight, or take a life-saving medication.
Slattery’s Center is pleased to report that First Nations of British Columbia have discarded the Dewey Decimal classification system because it “has a white colonial worldview.” The Brian Deer Classification System, invented in 1970, better suits their indigenous peoples’ worldview.
Besotted with the anti-white animus of critical race theory, the Center states: “Racism serves the interests of both white people in power (the elites) materially and working class white people psychically, and therefore neither group has much incentive to fight it.” The unspoken carry-over is that white people are pathogens in the body politic. Instead of scouring Teilhard’s opacity for hints of Nazi affinities, Slattery might look at himself. And at the ideological underpinnings of the Center he directs.
In sum, every anti-racist grift needs to smell out racism to stay in business. The Grefenstette Center needs the truffle hunt to keep grant money coming. The true scandal here is the quality of mind at work in the enterprise. It is regrettable that Rorate-Caeli‘s New Catholic did not distinguish between Teilhard’s mysticism—its object and its limitations—and Bergoglio’s use of it.
A Side Note and Sign of the Times
What you see above are not Gregori’s murals themselves. They are facsimile tapestries. In 2020 Notre Dame commissioned them to cover the paintings in lieu of removing them. Notre Dame explains:
Removable for study, the tapestries honor the decision to preserve the murals as an opportunity to appreciate the context in which they were created and to understand the University’s history, while respecting the dignity and experience of indigenous people, especially in the aftermath of Columbus’ arrival. Careful attention to detail informed the design of the tapestries which draws inspiration from Christian and Marian imagery as well as the artwork of the Pokagon people native to this region and the plant life they find important. The tapestries were created by Conrad Schmitt Studios, internationally recognized experts in art conservation and restoration.
Implicit here is Notre Dame’s admission of bowdlerizing to protect contemporary sensibilities too delicate for history. Or the facts of existence.