The National Catholic Review

Here is a statement from Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, in response to the critique of her book Quest for the Living God by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Doctrine.  (See blogpost below for more details and comments on Daniel Horan, OFM's site for another reflection.)

Response by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson C.S.J., March 30, 2011:

It is heartening to see the Bishops Conference give such serious attention to the subject of the living God. I appreciate how this statement acknowledges the laudable nature of the task of crafting a theology of God, and the number of issues on which the statement judges that I am “entirely correct.” The book itself endeavors to present new insights about God arising from people living out their Catholic faith in different cultures around the world. My hope is that any conversation that may be triggered by this statement will but enrich that faith, encouraging robust relationship to the Holy Mystery of the living God as the church moves into the future.

I would like to express two serious concerns. First, I would have been glad to enter into conversation to clarify critical points, but was never invited to do so. This book was discussed and finally assessed by the Committee before I knew any discussion had taken place. Second, one result of this absence of dialogue is that in several key instances this statement radically misinterprets what I think, and what I in fact wrote. The conclusions thus drawn paint an incorrect picture of the fundamental line of thought the book develops. A conversation, which I still hope to have, would have very likely avoided these misrepresentations.

That being said, as a scholar I have always taken criticism as a valuable opportunity to delve more deeply into a subject. The task of theology, classically defined as “faith seeking understanding,” calls for theologians to wrestle with mystery. The issues are always complex, especially on frontiers where the church’s living tradition is growing. Committed to the faith of the church, I take this statement as an occasion to ponder yet further the mystery of the living God who is ineffable.

At this time I will make no further statements nor give any interviews.

Show Comments (41)

Comments (hide)

Janet M | 4/16/2011 - 8:31am
Hi.  A few things:

1.  As a body, the bishops have no credibility, nor have they distinguished themselves as theologically gifted or astute in any substantive way.  Their non-response to the abuse crisis makes one suspicious, at best, of any response they try to offer on importatnt matters:  men who don't ''get'' what really happened during decades (centuries?) of power-driven wickedness against minors and vulnerable people, and who basically had to be forced to apologize, would hardly be the ones I would seek out to give me guidance on who the living God of Jesus Christ really is.  These guys don't even get the basic gospel...

2.  I have read all of Johnson's books and find her refreshing and ''devotional'' in the best sense of that word:  she obviously loves God and has given over all her energies and considerable talents to share great treasure with the church.  Perhaps the real issue here is that the bishops cannot discern truth in her works because they are looking for an idol; her work is about the LIVING GOD, and they can't find their dead deity in its they deem it heretical.

3.  It is a very dangerous thing to be fearful of ideas.  But the bishops are men who live in fear and who try to foist that fear upon God's people, so their response here is exactly what one would expect.  Kudos to Elizabeth for her gracious and humble response.  Message to all God's people and those who seek the truth in all sincerity of heart:  Be not afraid!
6466379 | 4/4/2011 - 6:16pm
"Quest." What does it mean? It means to "search" and to "seek." This is  exactly what Sister Elizabeth Johnson has done in, "Quest For The Living God" a book "seeking" "searching" like the Bible, which in its own way "seeks" and "searches" for the Living God, finding Him in a "Burning Bush" or in a "Gentle Breeze" passing by, in the Incarnation. God is wherever He is found. And where is God found? Whereever there is Truth, usually veiled in Mystery which the Living God certainly is. A "Mystery of Love" thankfully!

The Magesterium has every right to protect the Deposit of Faith, Faith in God. But why do so at the risk of hindering enhancement of that Deposit through a respectful "Quest For The Living God," about Whom we know so very little, which is, I believe what Professor Johnson has tried to do. I hope the Bishops and Professor Johnson can get together amicably in joyful quest for the Living God.
Craig McKee | 4/3/2011 - 5:34am
While not all embroiled in this ongoing discussion (apparently in need of some direct refereeing) will procure and read the 2007 book in question, I strongly urge people to
ponder Dr. Johnson's 2008 address to the joint assembly of the LCWR and CMSM. If these short eight pages represent the distillation of the process of theological inquiry following QUEST FOR THE LIVING GOD, then they were well worth the wait and should more than allay the USCCB's fears:
Craig McKee | 4/2/2011 - 12:29pm
Dr. Johnson-
Your theological OPTIMISM gives the bishops too much credit. They don't care about THE LIVING GOD. All they care about is distracting THE WORLD -especially the media, secular and non- from that mess in Philadelphia. And their ploy seems to be working. Don't allow yourself to be dragged down to their level!

Memo to USCCB:
Alas, alas for you,
Lawyers and pharisees.
Hypocrites to a man.
Sure that the kingdom of heaven awaits you,
You will not venture half so far....
Anonymous | 4/2/2011 - 12:32am
Yes, Sister.
Anne Chapman | 4/1/2011 - 5:43pm

Who are we to refuse God's gifts?  Is it humility to refuse God's gifts? 

  Our dignity and our equality are gifts from God.  You have not yet explained why accepting these gifts is cause for censure.  I have asked you twice.  I ask again - could you please explain your thinking?  Constantly quoting from Fr. Hardon does not clarify matters - it would be very helpful if you could explain in your own words why you believe as you do.  Perhaps I misunderstand your meaning - it's impossible for me to tell what you really mean, since you have provided only quotes and links.

Thank you.

p. s.  The link to the NYT article doesn't work.

Juan Lino | 4/1/2011 - 4:17pm
The phrase “get real” generally means “are you kidding!” in my neighborhood and so it does not imply mendacity.  I see that you thought I was saying that you were “fake”, well, that’s not what I meant and I apologize for not making that clear to you.  Trust me when I tell you that I'd have no problem telling you or anyone that they are lying if that is in fact what they are doing.  And so, if I communicate with you again Mr. Cosacchi I will not use slang. 
Yes, I often have typos in my posts, and? 
I agree with you that a peer-review system is vital, that’s not my issue. 
In any event, this is on the edge of getting ugly so I am going to step back.  Peace. 
CM | 4/1/2011 - 3:49pm
As an addendum to my last post, of course you would see lawyers write in law journals. The point was that a theologian writes in theological journals, sociologists in sociology journals, etc.
Juan Lino | 4/1/2011 - 3:13pm
Mr. Cosacchi,
You wrote: “Finally, I would like to return to one final thing of great importance. Just imagine, will you, if a group of people who have no advanced degree in a given academic discipline - say anthropology - were to critique the work of a scholar of that field. That is precisely what happened here.”  With all due respect, unless you can prove that the Bishop’s did not ask one or more theologian’s to look at the book your assertion has no basis in fact.     
You then wrote: “Elizabeth Johnson, as one of the most accomplished theologians in the world, has no responsibility to the Church or the academy to seek approval from a group of individuals that are, quite frankly, inferior to her by way of academic qualification.”  I see, so someone who is “inferior” to you would never be able to discern whether something is true or false?  Get real! 
Moreover, while we may disagree on the degree of responsibility that a theologian has towards the Church (and this relationship is touched upon in the instruction Donan Veritatis) I do not think it is accurate to declare that someone who is a Catholic theologian (as Sr. Johnson is) has no responsibility to the Church.
And you are correct that Sr. Johnson did not have to seek an imprimatur.
Megan McCabe | 4/1/2011 - 3:07pm
I realize it may be a mistake to take your comment as an accusation against WIT, but I ask that it be taken as the comment of only one of our bloggers (that I had unfortunately overlooked), and not as the stance of the entire community as you can find in the post in which we take our stand together. With this in mind, I would maintain that it would be wrong to attribute to us the position for "for/against."

I think it is important to note that the issue with "uppity" which likely being recorded as you cite from the OED, that seems to imply an egalitarian usage than it the history of the word. If I'm not wrong to read your anecdote this way (and I apologize if I am), there is a sense in which the word has been typically used to put somebody of a supposed lower status or human worth in her/his place. That is, it has been employed in racist contexts to put people of color in their place. I have never heard the word used in a context other than one in which a person who is taken to be lesser exerts her/himself as equal in a situation. The word is not employed in a neutral context, between equal parties, but consistently in situations of oppression or marginalization. With this in mind, it does not seem that Johnson's use of the term "uppity" would be fairly taken to mean pride, as an over-exertion of self, but rather the claiming of one's equal dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God.
Juan Lino | 4/1/2011 - 2:48pm
Let me begin by saying that I do appreciate the formal address that Mr. Cosacchi and Megan have used toward me but when I read it it makes me think of my father (or at least someone over 30).  If anyone wishes to continue to address me in such a formal manner that’s OK, but Henry is also fine with me. 
I’ve always been interested in etymology and one of the first places I go to start my research is the Oxford English dictionary and their entry states:
Etymology: up adv.1+ -it-+ -y suffix1: compare biggity adj.
colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
Above oneself, self-important, ‘jumped-up’; arrogant, haughty, pert, putting on airs. Cf. uppish adj. 2d.
I certainly is possible that the word may have been used as you state but I want to highlight that it was not only used against women.  For example, I have uncles and other male members of my family that were called names that, in essence, meant “You’re an uppitty sp_ _ k.”  My point was that Maria’s linking of the word with “pride” was not farfetched, especially if she is not a member of a minority as I am. 
My comment about the for/against was not directed specifically at WIT (you can see in other parts of the blog, I raised this concern long before you started writing comments) but I am a bit confused.
At your site, as of this moment, in the post titled “In Defense of The Quest: An Introduction” it states: We posted yesterday that WIT stands with Elizabeth Johnson against the USCCB, who has recently found fault with her book The Quest for the Living God.”
Perhaps that’s not what you meant to say but reading it at face value I think I’ve read the sentence correctly.  Hence my confusion reading your declaration that “We have not, at any time, said that we are "against" the bishops or the church…”  Please help me understand how I’ve misread the statement?
CM | 4/1/2011 - 2:38pm
Mr. Harden,

Since you cite me and continue to harp on the issue of the imprimatur, it is important to continue clarifying that it is really a non-issue. I am indebted to Grant Gallicho at dotcommonweal for making many great points. He writes,

"While it’s true that in the introduction Johnson says she wrote the book with a “broad audience in view,” no one who has ever perused the Continuum catalogue would mistake the company for a trade publishing house. Just a few sentences later, after all, Johnson explains that the book is “about the work of theology.” Theologians, she writes, “ply their craft by marshaling reasons, laying out arguments, making a case the way a trial lawyer might do, seeking to present an intelligible and convincing scenario.”"

I would also like to make another point about the imprimatur that is often overlooked. That stamp of approval is given by ONE bishop. There is no rule that a book that has received the imprimatur could not then be critiqued by the very same committee that critiqued Professor Johnson's work. The fact remains that obtaining of the imprimatur is a non-issue for many reasons. Finally, I would like to return to one final thing of great importance. Just imagine, will you, if a group of people who have no advanced degree in a given academic discipline - say anthropology - were to critique the work of a scholar of that field. That is precisely what happened here. Elizabeth Johnson, as one of the most accomplished theologians in the world, has no responsibility to the Church or the academy to seek approval from a group of individuals that are, quite frankly, inferior to her by way of academic qualification. In any other field, this document would be treated as a joke, I must say. 
Megan McCabe | 4/1/2011 - 1:27pm
Mr. Lopez, I believe that the use of the word "uppity" was originally used as an accusation against women (in the exact context that Erin highlights above) who sought to resist abuse and oppression; Johnson's use is a reclamation of that word as a way of not letting unjust opposition deter women claiming their full dignity and equality as human beings. 

And just as a minor point of clarification, the women of WIT choose to work through Johnson's work and offer our symbolic support because of our admiration of her as a brilliant Catholic theologian and former teacher to some of us. We have not, at any time, said that we are "against" the bishops or the church as we affirm that Johnson's work is in line with the teaching of the church. While it is possible that you may think this kind of stance is impossible, we humbly request that you do not put us in a position we have not taken. Much thanks.
Juan Lino | 4/1/2011 - 11:45am
The posts over at WIT are very thought provoking but since, as I have already stated, I am waiting for my copy of the book to arrive I think it's wise to wait before sharing my observations at the WIT site and/or here. 

However, looking at the USCCB document it does not seem to be an irrational document to me and it indicates that the book was read in a serious manner (in fact they cite the page numbers where passages they consider problematic can be found).  Perhaps Sr. Johnson is right when she says that they misunderstood her book but perhaps she is wrong.  I am, however, very moved by Sr. Johnson’s response precisely because it is a very measured and apparently “open” response. 

However, to imply that the Bishops have issued a warning about the book because they are interested in “silencing her” (or and other variation of the “power trip” reaction so many use as a criterion for judgment), is, IMO, nothing more than a person’s desire to defend themselves from the impact with the real.  All of us – and I firstly include myself - must strive to love the Truth (which for us is a Person and not an idea) more than our opinions.

Perhaps I am wrong, but as I mentioned in an earlier comment, I firmly believe that the “stands with” / “against” mindset is precisely the mindset that allowed the moving around of “abusing” priests to take place.  In other words, the let’s “stand with” Bobby “against” the bad lay people trying to ruin his great reputation” simply perpetuates the “good old boys / girls club” and may – and I stress may – allow people to perpetuate an unjust cycle of marginalization. 

As John Lay wrote in his comment on "the Case of Sister Elizabeth Johnson" in this blog, "In our age of great confusion both in and out of the Church, with rising polarizations and heated emotions, it would be refreshing for the good sister and bishops to calmly work this out and so let us all 'be' what we would wish others to be: calm, careful, take the time to read the details, give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  Seek to follow the Lord as He's been revealed to us, not as we might be comforable 'imagining' ourselves."
Mark Harden | 4/1/2011 - 11:17am
"Unless the book was being used in a level of education lower than undergraduate theology courses (which I would doubt), it has no need [for <I>imprimatur</i>]..."

Mr. Cosacchi, in fact the very first paragraph of the <A HREF="">Bishops' Statement</A> directly contradicts your assertion:

"Because this book by a prominent Catholic theologian is written not for specialists in theology but for a 'broad audience' the Committee on Doctrine felt obliged, as part of its pastoral ministry, to note these misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors."

It was precisely because the book IS intended for a general audience that the Committee on Doctrine published the review. 
Anne Chapman | 4/1/2011 - 10:07am

I was not asking for the source of the Harden quote, but the quote about "uppity" women - I did not see it in any of the information about Sr. Johnson on this Web site or in other stories about this situation.

I would very much like to get some insight into your thinking as to why claiming one's dignity and pride is "uppity" and should be censured as the sin of pride - but you did not respond.

Could you please clarify and expand on your statements?

Thank you.

Sonja Anderson | 4/1/2011 - 8:08am
Hi Winifred,

WIT stands for "Women in Theology," a blog that Erin Kidd (above), I, and several other graduate theology students write.  If you hover over our names, you'll see the link:
Winifred Holloway | 4/1/2011 - 7:17am
A general plea for those of us not on the inside of blog world:  If you use acronyms or abbreviations, at least once spell out the whole title.  What is WIT?
Erin Kidd | 4/1/2011 - 12:50am
@ Maria,

Dr. Johnson is referring to womanist theology - theology which largely deals with the experience of black women in the US. The "getting uppity" she is describing is the basic claiming of oneself as worthy of basic human dignity, an incredible feat when you are systematically oppressed and exploited. To claim "equality" is not pride. To insinuate in a public forum that it is-in the context of women who have in our country been owned, raped, exploited, underpaid, and killed-is atrocious. 
Anonymous | 4/1/2011 - 12:01am
@ Anne:

The Seven Capital Sins - Part 1
Basic Catholic Morality I – Fall ‘92
92M-#4 Part 1 10-25-92
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Erin Kidd | 3/31/2011 - 10:40pm
We have a series of posts over at WIT investigating some of the larger claims that the Bishops make. 

Having read both the book and the full statement, I think they grossly misunderstand Johnson's book. It is therefore unfortunate that they did not think to consult her before publishing this statement.

Anyhow, check out our blog if you're interested in reading our analysis.
Juan Lino | 3/31/2011 - 9:56pm
BTW, I don't want to hijack the site Mr. Cosacchi so please send me an e-mail with your reasons, if you wish to do so.  I am sincerely interested in knowing what they are.  Peace.
Juan Lino | 3/31/2011 - 9:49pm
As you can see from our exchange Mr. Cosacchi, what one writes can easily be misunderstood, hence the need for dialogue.  I zeroed in on the "courtesy" aspect but you thought I was concerned with academic seriousness.  

In your recent comment you wrote: Finally, I would encourage anyone looking to read any document to not "read it precisely to point out where it departs from the Faith as outlined in the CCC."

Well, perhaps I was unclear when I wrote - "...but, since I work with neophytes and those that are not well catechized, it is vital." - but since I am engaged in catechetics I think it is reasonable to compare what one reads with our primary catechetical document and that not only should all who are engaged in this ministry do this but that they should be certain that is not only fruitful but also charitable because there is a symbiotic link between truth and charity.  

After all, catechesis do

Again, context that makes the difference and so I posit that your statement is not universally true, and most especially not in a catechetical environment. your opinion, is the Episcopal document a "crazy" document or does it contain a certain amount of reasonableness?  What are your reasons for your judgment?
CM | 3/31/2011 - 9:26pm
In order to respond as briefly as possible to the questions posed to me:

I have, in point of fact, read both the book and the Episcopal statement.

Finally, allow me to defend my earlier statements. When I was directly cited in an earlier post, the question was posed, "Wait a minute, are they obligated to?" Since both of my accusations - namely, "academic seriousness" and "common courtesy" had been directly cited, I naturally believed that both were being called into question, and responded in like manner. 

Finally, I would encourage anyone looking to read any document to not "read it precisely to point out where it departs from the Faith as outlined in the CCC." This is an unfruitful (and uncharitable) practice, I am afraid. 

@Anne Chapman - Amen!  
Anne Chapman | 3/31/2011 - 9:02pm

What is the source of your quote in post #4?

Regardless of the source of the quote, it seems that you believe that claiming one's dignity and one's equality is the sin of pride and deserving of censure. 

Why would rightfully claiming one's dignity and one's equality be a sin of any kind and deserving of censure?  The dignity and equality of men, and the dignity and equality of women, are gifts from God - certainly claiming them is what God wants us to do.

Sadly, some men do not believe that women are equal to men, nor that they have a right to dignity. They prefer women to remain subservient to men - in their families, in society, and in the church.  Some men refer to women who understand their own dignity and equality as "uppity."   It is this attitude that is sinful, prideful, and deserving of censure.

It almost seems at times that you do not really rely on the words of Jesus in the gospels, but on the word of someone named John Harden, who is apparently a Jesuit priest.
Juan Lino | 3/31/2011 - 8:51pm
One last thing Mr. Cosacchi, have you read the book and the Bishop’s document?  Are you going to read both as I plan on doing?
Juan Lino | 3/31/2011 - 8:33pm
Mr. Cosacchi,
Just a point of clarification - I’ve read the document, I haven't read the book although I have read another of her books - "She Who Is."
I am not sure I fully understand what you mean when you cite “academic seriousness” but I’ll presume that you mean what I am thinking and state that I agree that the Bishops (or anyone engaged in a critique) are obligated to engage in "academic seriousness" but it hasn't been demonstrated that they have not done that.  From reading the document they issued I get the impression that they actually read the book in a serious way and that they critiqued it in a serious way.  As I understand it, Sr. Johnson is stating that they have misunderstood her - which may or may not be true - and thus the need for a back and forth dialogue, either in writing or in person.  I have, however, noted that Sr. Johnson’s response does not actually address the substance of the points cited and is more concerned with the method used to engage in the critique.  
The charge that "common courtesy" was/is not used when critiquing a public document can be a diversionary tactic and so I am skeptical when a person unfurls that banner.  After all, I don’t think that "lack of social skills" prevents a person from seeing when something deviates from the truth.  On the other hand, a certain amount of courtesy does make human interaction easier and so I am not advocating that we discard social graces at all, just that we keep them in context.
Like you, I am also concerned that the method used to analyze the object - in this case Sr. Johnson’s book - be an adequate one and I think we are in agreement on this point.  But let’s be careful here and not get sucked into something similar to the Monty Python “Stake Your Claim” game.  That is, I say, looking at your post it says this and you respond, I know it says that but I meant this instead, etc.
So, to sum up, I don’t think we are as far apart on this as it may seem.  
Bill Mazzella | 3/31/2011 - 7:48pm
Aren't the bishops in enough ill repute to be committing another blunder. It has been rightly said that John Paul II appointed the worst American bishops in history. Enough said.
CM | 3/31/2011 - 6:51pm
Mr. Lopez,

To further clarify my earlier point, I do believe that the bishops are obligated to both "academic seriousness" and "common courtesy." Actually, I would contend that the bishops should practice uncommon courtesy considering their office. I duly admit, however, that part of their office is as teacher. Having said this, they owe it to Professor Johnson, her students, colleagues, Fordham University (who is affected because they are a Catholic University who employs, and fully supports, Johnson), the theological community of scholars, and the faithful at large. When they interpret things in the document (which you admit you are yet to read) such as scripture, Vatican II, Thomas Aquinas and Enlightenment thinkers, they very much need to present their argument logically. I, along with Professor Johnson, contend they have misread her work. Hence, my concern. 
Anonymous | 3/31/2011 - 6:46pm
She added, “So when women stand up, get uppity, claim their dignity and their equality, God is with them, and it’s even true that God is acting that same way.”

"What’s the remedy for pride? Censure."-John Hardon SJ
Juan Lino | 3/31/2011 - 5:14pm
Dan writes: "In point of fact, this has much more to do with academic seriousness and common courtesy. The bishops showed neither in not consulting Professor Johnson first."

Wait a minute, are they obligated to?  It's a public document isn't it?  For example, am I supposed to send you an e-mail first before posting a reply to your comment?

Let's be clear - she did not write a book for a strictly academic audience but for a general (and broad) audience.  A book that may well be used to teach undergraduates at Fordham as she teaches the freshman core theology course, Faith and Critical Reason.

If it is, then you see the problem becuase I can tell you from experience that the young people I interact with don't even know something as basic as "Jesus is God incarnate."  

I am, therefore, thankful that the Committee has warned us about the book and I will read it precisely to point out where it departs from the Faith as outlined in the CCC.  Now, if I was working with a person with a theological database as vast as Fr. Martin's, that would not be necessary; but, since I work with neophytes and those that are not well catechized, it is vital.
CM | 3/31/2011 - 4:44pm
Mr. Harden,

The point of entering into dialogue with Professor Johnson really does not deal with her decision not to seek an Imprimatur. Unless the book was being used in a level of education lower than undergraduate theology courses (which I would doubt), it has no need of one, as Cardinal Wuerl even notes (See Canon 827). As a member of a religious order, the only difference for Johnson is that she would need the permission of her major superior to publish materials such as appear in the work in question. The fact that she mentions her religious community on page xii of the book leads one to suspect that she obtained such support from her superior (Canon 832). The further support the Sisters of Saint Joseph have expressed to her on their website should prove that point. In point of fact, this has much more to do with academic seriousness and common courtesy. The bishops showed neither in not consulting Professor Johnson first.
Mark Harden | 3/31/2011 - 3:58pm
"First, I would have been glad to enter into conversation to clarify critical points, but was never invited to do so."

Again: if she (properly, as a consecrated religious) had submitted her book to the USCCB prior to publication to request imprimatur, the "conversation" would have taken place in a timely manner. If Sr. Johnson neglected to do so (for whatever reason) then she has no basis today to complain about the Church's critique of her book. 
6466379 | 4/5/2011 - 11:20am
Regarding my initial post above, there is something that I inadvertently  neglected to say but need to say. I have not read as yet "Quest For The Living God" but plan to do so. My support for the book is based entirely on my respect for the integrity of Faith the Catholic Faith, which I believe Professor Johnson has demonstrated in all her writings and which I feel certain also permeates "Quest For The Living God." It is my opinion that the words spoken to the Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton Sheen at St. Patrick's Cathedral by Pope John Paul II, "You have written well" (of the Lord) are just as applicable to Sister, Professor Elizabeth Johnson!  
J Brookbank | 4/5/2011 - 11:19am
Maria, I have read the little booklet of which you speak. I do believe it has value. That you take it so seriously tells me your desire to live your faith is deep and sincere and I imagine we could have a very fruitful and loving discussion of our efforts to live our individual lives by the lights of our faithful.

But I do not believe the booklet's discussion of pride addresses what you suggest, in your reference to it here, does. It never would have occurred to me, even though i do find some value in it, to consider that the discussion of the sin of pride addressed in the Seven Capital Sins booklet might reference the ''uppitiness'' of women seeking to break free of oppression.

Having experienced the integration of my school when I was a child in Bossier Parish, Louisiana and, thus, having grown up in a culture soaked in very overt and highly agitated racial tension, I have always understood ''uppity'' as a pejorative applied to an individual or community who believes that any human being's ''station'' is every human being's ''station'': that of human being, beloved child of God, possessing the full dignity and worth of every other human being.

To be specific, my first experience of the word ''uppity'' was when I heard white adults in the deep South refer to ''uppity darkies''. These ''uppity darkies'' of deep South African Americans was the ''uppitiness'' of demanding their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights as humans. 

(In my Catholic home, to call these people - whose demand was as simple as that they be treated as human beings in the same way whites were treated by human beings - would have resulted in the speaker's mouths being washed out with a bar of Ivory soap). 

The pride you reference - the pride discussed in the Seven Capital Sins - has nothing to do with the belief that all human beings, including oneself, have an inviolable dignity and worth as children of God, as human being, as God's creation, as one of God's beloved ''least of these''.
To be ''uppity'' in the sense Sr Johnson and others here use it is simply to communicate in word, deed and relationship, ''we are, each of us, God's children''.

There is no sin of pride inherent in that, Maria. 

That we are, each of us, the children of God - brothers and sisters, God's beloved, Christ's brothers and sisters - is the Good News spoken to us by Jesus every day, every hour, every moment, every second of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.

In peace and friendship, Maria


CM | 4/1/2011 - 3:46pm
Since I have been accused of being fake until now, please allow one last attempt at authenticity.

In the "real" world of academia, there is a system of peer-review. The emphasis here is on "peer." For instance in academic journals of record, you would not see high school students, engineers, or lawyers (for instance) offer book reviews. Instead, someone conversant in the area is invited to do so. There is a reason for such a practice. The book has been reviewed (in the pages of America and in other journals such as Theological Studies) and reviewed very positively.

There is no such document as Donan Veritatis (I assume you meant Donum Veritatis). That fact notwithstanding, nowhere did I say that theologians have no responsibility towards the Church. I stated that Prof. Johnson "has no responsibility to the Church or the academy to seek approval from a group of individuals that are, quite frankly, inferior to her by way of academic qualification." There is a huge difference. She happens to take her responsibility to the Church and the academy very seriously, evidenced by her thoughtful and classy response. 

As to who the bishops consulted, I assume they consulted Father Thomas Weinandy, but can't be sure because their names are the only listed on the document. We can only take them at their word, which was that this was a decision made by the committee themselves.
Juan Lino | 4/1/2011 - 12:01pm
Even a cursory internet search on the question: "what does "getting uppity" mean?" gives answers such as: Being "uppity" means that one tries to rise above one's place. ChaCha.”; Uppity is affecting an attitude of inflated self-esteem; haughty; snobbish. It is also rebelliously self-assertive; not MORE”; Uppity is to be presumptuously arrogant. Used in a sentence: Bob was getting a little uppity and needed to be slapped down” so to link the phrase to pride is not an irrational leap.

Erin, however, gives us the context of the phrase, and that, of course, sheds new light on what’s being said.  I am personally intrigued by the verbal engineering taking place and thus look forward to seeing the context for the phrase in Sr. Johnson’s book.

I really appreciate the manner in which Anne Chapman frames her comments/questions because they have a beauty in them that I deeply appreciate and sorely lack at times.  A provocation for me and one I thank her for that provocation.   
Juan Lino | 4/1/2011 - 3:37pm
Would you like to address you as Megan or Ms. McCabe?
I, in no way, intend to disparage WIT or its writers especially since I have only skimmed your blog, I was just pointing out that I saw the “for/against” phrase on the blog and thus was perplexed by what you wrote. 
Perhaps it’s because of my own experiences but whenever I see the “for/against” position being used a red flag goes up and I speak out against it.
Regarding your second paragraph, although the word “uppity” is probably not used as much as it was in the past, the dynamic you describe still takes place today the only difference being that different words/phrases are used instead. 
I am obviously being unclear because I am not critiquing Sr. Johnson’s use of the word (and I am generally interested in how it’s being used because a negative word is being reclaimed as a positive word – hence my phrase “verbal engineering”), what I am critiquing is what I perceived to be an unnecessarily harsh slap down of a fellow human being especially because it’s, to me, understandable that a person could link the word uppity with pride if they solely relied on an internet search.  I, am not saying, however, that I am a model of civility and I certainly agree that I may have misunderstood the situation.
Thanks for the dialogue!
J Brookbank | 4/5/2011 - 11:29am
Sorry for all the typos in that last message. Whipped it off quickly. 

Finally, I agree that Sr Johnson's use of "uppity" reflects a liberating reappropriation of that pejorative meaning, that negative meaning, that socially oppressive criticism of "uppity" behavior.  

She - and the others here - are that the values, the beliefs, the behaviors that were traditionall described as "uppity" were behaviors consistent with human dignity and worth. So, in point of fact and in God's eyes, to be uppity is to know that one is a beloved child of God, that God desires freedom, love and all things good for one. They are saying that to be "uppity" is to know that God's love and mercy and embrace, not only from God but from all our brothers and sisters, is no less mine than yours, no more yours than mine.

Again, Maria, that is the Good News Jesus came to announce.  And there is no sin of pride inherent in it.