Bizarre Encounter with Anti-clericalism

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A few days ago I was walking along in the main building of the University of Vienna on my way to the library, thinking about something abstract and not paying attention to my surroundings, when suddenly a grey haired, vaguely professorial looking man was walking next to me and saying: “Do you know: they used to tell children not to whistle?” I looked at him blankly. “Do you know where that comes from? It’s because they weren’t allowed to whistle in Church.” I was at a loss as to what to say. He regarded me for an instant in silence and then said: “How repressive! Telling children not to whistle! … I experienced this myself!” And then, shaking his head, “I don’t know if you are on the right path, young man, I don’t know.”

I thought to myself: “Seriously? We’re standing in the University of Vienna where year after year clever professors lecture large audiences on how the Church served to dupe the people, keeping them docile to the ruling class, comforting them with lies and illusions, turning the aggression caused by  their oppression away from the oppressors and toward themselves (penance) or toward heretics and Jews; or how She violently repressed the deepest human drives, laying on our culture a staggering burden of guilt, causing all kinds of psychosis, neurosis and so on; or how even now She is a nest of unspeakable hypocrisy and exploitation or whatever… And yet when you see a priest you feel compelled to go up to him and complain about… kids being forbidden to whistle? Seriously?”

Afterwards I came up with three theories about what might have been going on:

1) He had been whistling when he saw me and involuntarily stopped, causing a chain of thought that ended in his bizarre speech. (I didn’t hear him whistling, but then I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on).

2) He meant it as a kind of masterpiece of understatement. As in the young Žižek writing in one party Yugoslavia: “Latest election polls: it looks like the Communists will win yet again!” This would fit with the ironical and understated character of Viennese people generally, and Viennese anti-clericals in particular.

3) (The least satisfying, but most plausible theory). There is no intelligible explanation. It was an act of random irrationality; the social equivalent of a Lucretian swerve.

11 thoughts on “Bizarre Encounter with Anti-clericalism

  1. Eheu! I missed the solemnly promulgated dogma that placed whistling under the interdict. I s’pose I still have a lot of research to do on little-known dogmas. Well, sing hey for modern academia and its compendious knowledge of the Church’s teaching. . . .

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      • No. We Evangelicals did lots of whistling, chortling, and singing hey-diddle-diddle. We specialized in high spirits. We had a glorious corpus of Reformation hymnody–including lots of hymns from the Early Church, put into English by John Mason Neale–ancient Catholic hymns that Catholics know nothing about, from 110 A.D. right up through St. Bernard of Cluny et seq.

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        • Apparently 19th century Protestants considered it “perverse.” Witness a story in a 1890 issue of the St Nicholas Magazine describing the heroe’s friend Bertha:

          She was a child whom her mother was trying to bring up to ” ladylike ” ways, but whose repressed spirits, at every opportunity, broke forth in ways not quite so ” ladylike.” Hence that perverse habit of whistling, and the delight she took in going with her brother to the hay-field.

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    • ‘Si quis non erubuerit dicere licitum esse homini ore fistulato modos exprimere, anathema sit (Cc. Lateranense VI, decretum “de impia sibilatione”, can. 312)

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  2. “Social equivalent of the Lucretian swerve” sounds like an apt description perhaps, but I would still incline to have more sympathy towards the man. There are many offenses against the instinctive inclination of children to be joyful, they do serious harm, and because of the nature of those offended (children) there is often not a forum for an appropriate complaint or reprimand … which might ironically make random social encounters a somewhat appropriate forum. Associating the problem with the Church is slightly different question, of course, but even that strikes me as not necessarily irrational. For example: my first grade teacher was a nun with a Ph.D. in psychology. Her intensive study of psychology didn’t prevent her from being habitually unkind to her students, but she did try to help my parents out by telling them that I was retarded….

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  3. This is indeed rich! Thank you for this wonderful rendition, Sancrucensis.
    @sdcojai Either you are staging a slyly ironical take on the more-rational-than-thou TACer, or your first grade teacher may have been right.

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  4. @sdcojai I did not mean to say or imply that you were in some way detracting from Fr. Edmund. I do not know Fr. Edmund but from all that I have read here your esteem is well placed. Rather, my comment was motivated by puzzlement and irritation at your sympathy which seems to me misplaced. I wholeheartedly agree that “There are many offenses against the instinctive inclination of children to be joyful, they do serious harm….” but then you go on to say “because of the nature of those offended (children) there is often not a forum for an appropriate complaint or reprimand … which might ironically make random social encounters a somewhat appropriate forum.” Really? I’m not sure where to begin with this. Perhaps the first thing to note is that it was not a child who approached Fr. Edmund but a “a grey haired, vaguely professorial looking man” Is this appropriate? defensible? Was he holding in the trauma of repressed whistling for all those years only now to finally stumble upon the “somewhat appropriate forum” in which he could finally unburden himself? Then when you go on to say “Associating the problem with the Church is slightly different question, of course, but even that strikes me as not necessarily irrational.” we descend into the truly weird. Your tone is all wrong. You have taken a “Bizarre Encounter with Anti-clericalism” and drained it of all its humor and piquancy by transposing it into a weirdly seminarial tone. Hence I thought I must be dealing with a master of irony. I stand corrected.

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  5. The first person I ever heard of at TAC was of Sdcojai bussing tables as a freshman at a local restaurant where he was fired because of his peculiar tendency to sit down with the customers at their table to work out math problems on the napkins. Among certain types of people, it’s not unreasonable to see that kind of behavior as bit ‘retarded.’

    Sdcojai’s explanation of “which might ironically make random social encounters a somewhat appropriate forum.” makes sense to me, other than that it’s simply not appropriate to go about complaining when offended, especially of past offences.

    Today people are constantly taking offense at any slight and demanding reparation for present and past offenses when the more appropriate response is to simply smile and move on.

    And speaking of complaining, the space in the photograph is currently not user friendly and in need of furniture as evidenced by the people uncomfortably making due with what is available.

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