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The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism Paperback – July 21, 1999

3.5 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism is a crisp, witty, thorough, and fresh study of the inner workings of the Catholic right. Sociologist Michael W. Cuneo concentrates on three groups: anti-abortion activists, Catholic separatists (who believe that the American Church revoked its authority regarding true Catholicism by distorting the intentions of Vatican II), and mystics and apocalypticists. As Cuneo explains, these groups believe that "the Catholic church in the United States has strip-malled its liturgical life, compromised its doctrine, and squandered its moral capital. Once defiant and blessedly haughty, the church is now a cheap floozy, cozying up to the modern world, smiling, winking, desperate for flattery and approval." In analyzing each of these groups and their distinctive methods of protest against the purported corruption of the American Church, Cunea provides fascinating anecdotes based on wide reading and firsthand encounters. All of them, it seems, pose variations of one essential question--and it is surely one of the most vexing questions at this point in American Christian history: what, exactly, constitutes an ultimate authority worth trusting? --Michael Joseph Gross

From Library Journal

Based on his personal interviews and visitations to communities in the United States and Canada, Cuneo's (sociology, Fordham Univ.) book documents and evaluates the reasons behind post-Vatican II, disaffected Catholic groups, from moderate to extreme. He divides these factions into conservatives (those mostly remaining within the church), separatists (those disaffiliated from Rome), and marianists (those primarily focused on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and on doomsday predictions). Intellectuals, eccentrics, and schismatics also pass through these pages. Cuneo covers lesser-known groups, such as the Canadian Apostles of Divine Love, and the more recognized traditionalists such as Gomar DePauw, Marcel Lefebvre, and marianist Virginia Leukens. More journalistic in style but topically similar to Patrick Allitt's Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America (LJ 12/93), this study will be useful especially for academic religion, history, and sociology collections.?Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Revised ed. edition (July 21, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801862655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801862656
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,031,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on July 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is misleadingly titled: the "smoke of Satan" comes from a statement by Paul VI lamenting the radical abuses which multiplied in the bosom of the Church in the 1970's, and did not refer to either the fairly marginal groups which occupy most of the book or the conservative ones which are detailed in two of its chapters. Far from being "the smoke of Satan," one would imagine that groups like Catholics United for the Faith (who supported Humanae Vitae and also held their noses and attended the New Mass) would be welcomed by Paul VI. The title also speaks of dissent, a label which does not really apply to many of these groups: the conservatives represent a position diametrically opposed to dissent and the various sedevacantist and mystical movements have generally removed themselves from the Church - they are not dissenters within it. Only Fr. Gruner and his Fatima Crusade could be accurately described as dissenting. This categorical inaccuracy betrays the author's prejudices: his introductory description of pre-conciliar Catholicism is tendentious at best. Could the Catholic Church of the 1950's really be considered "spiritually vacuous" compared to the banal consumerism of wider American society? Could Catholic schools really have offered a "second-rate education" in comparison to the public schools? These propositions are both laughable and telling. The cynical indifferentism of the opening chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book. The book is, finally, more of a work of teratology than sociology. Most of the groups it describes have no influence within the wider Church and they grow more withdrawn from it every day.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
St. Augustine once commented that it is pointless to try to understand so as to believe in Christianity, that rather one must believe in order to understand. Michael Cuneo has made his unbelief and lack of understanding of Christianity quite clear in this book. For him, Catholics and struggling Catholic-at-heart people, trying to make out the best of a horrid ecclesiastical situation are but exhibits to display in his printed zoo. No matter how much sympathy he pretends to display towards the persons he appears to have interviewed, the cumulative effect is to make authentic Catholicism and those sympathetic to it look like some bunch of fragmented fools.
The scholarship is rather bad, and seemingly based on all the most outrageous quotes he can find as opposed to a realistic and honest appraisal of the Catholic community at large.
For starters, the whole phenomena is treated as though it were almost totally an American phenomena, with only a couple side trips to Canada. It would be legitimate to say "This is all over the world, but I am going to choose to focus most on that part nearest to my own locale." But instead he equates Catholicism with Americanism, American economics (The Wanderer), American utopian colonies (his "Separatists" - more about that in a moment), and American entrepreneurialism (Veronica Leuken), virtually ignoring the truly international, global, worldwide, universal, "Catholic" aspect of traditionalism.
Beginning with the "Conservatives": This book is typical of the writings of leftist academicians, for Mr. Cuneo, anything to the right of Al Gore is "extreme" in the pejorative sense of that word.
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Format: Hardcover
Cuneo's book is well-written and thoroughly researched, but falls well short of providing a comprehensive overview of Catholic traditionalism in the United States. His book covers almost exclusively groups that have separated themselves from the Church, without any mention of the dramatic growth since 1988 of interest in the traditional Latin liturgy within the Church, a development encouraged by Pope John Paul II in his letter Ecclesia Dei. While these numerically insignificant separatist groups are unquesionably colorful, a book that concentrates on them while ignoring the far larger movement within the Church is ultimately unsatisfying simply because it is a study limited to epiphenomena that appear to be chosen on the basis of which will make "good copy" than on explaining a larger and more significant development. Cuneo should be given credit for thoroughly and reasonably fairly reviewing the traditionalist groups he surveys, and gaining interviews with a number of individuals with a deep-seated mistrust of outsiders of any disciption. However, since these groups are considered completely outside of context, this book can be better thought of as a collection of well-written feature articles than a serious academic study.

In passing, it should be noted that Cuneo's implicit categorization of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars with various sedevacantist groups and fraudulant apparitionists is nothing short of outrageous, and raises questions about his objectivity.

If those questions are unfair ones, I suspect that Cuneo is quite capable of producing comprehensive and fair-minded study of conservative and traditionalist Catholicism in the United States. This book, though, is not it.
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