“Confession in America”: I review a history of an individualist country

“Confession in America”: I review a history of an individualist country January 7, 2019

and her Church:

In the 2013 Joseph Gordon-­Levitt romantic comedy Don Jon, the porn-obsessed title character hits the confessional, reels off his ­usual list of sins against chastity, and then cheerfully heads to the gym to pray his Hail Marys while doing pull-ups. You won’t find this moment in Patrick W. Carey’s careful new study, Confession: Catholics, Repentance, and Forgiveness in America. Carey had to set sharp limits on his sources in order to keep the project manageable; he frames his arguments around aspirational texts, theological or hortatory, rather than real or fictional records of what people did and felt. Don Jon is much too sleazy for a history whose citations swarm with cardinals and professors. And yet this cinematic moment manages to capture several of the points Carey makes about the nature—and the failures—of confession among American Catholics.

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