Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Gospel of life

As a practicing Roman Catholic for over fifty years – raised in an Irish household bedecked with images of then-Pope Pius XII – I take the occasion of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s elevation to the Throne of Peter to look at the core problem facing the Church.

The tempest besetting the barque of Peter is not the division between liberal and conservative theologians. Nor is it the sex scandal, as serious as that is. Nor the exclusion of women and married men from the priesthood, even though that means tens of millions of Catholics can no longer receive the Sacraments regularly.

It’s much deeper than that. The Roman Catholic Church worships a false God. Dogmatic Catholicism is a ritualized exaltation of death, and mocks the living imagination that holds the living universe in thrall.

Enter any Catholic Church in the world and every sign and symbol is death-centric: the crucified Christ; 14 Stations glorifying torture and humiliation; statues of virgins, celibates and martyrs who departed the world early and left no offspring; the clergy in funereal black. Even the baptismal font testifies that we must die to this life.

The Church venerates bones, and celebrates bloodshed, beatings and beheadings. But there is no feast of the Great Commandment or the blessing of Peace; no veneration of the Beatitudes. The Nicene Creed says of Jesus’ life only that he was born of a virgin and suffered under Pilate – none of his teachings are deemed worthy of recounting by the same Romans who crucified him.

The one feast that does celebrate life, the Nativity, is immediately followed on December 26th by the feast of Stephen Martyr. And the homilist solemnly intones, “Holy Mother Church in her wisdom wants to remind us that even amid the joy of birth we will soon confront the anguish of inevitable death.”

God is locked in heaven and the Pope alone has the keys. Jesus is locked in the tabernacle and the parish priest has the keys. What sort of God is this that he has to be kept under lock and key? Is it to protect us from him, or him from us? Mr. Pope, unlock these doors!

Everything barren, sterile, celibate, virginal, martyrish is a source of grace in the Catholic Church. Everything warm, moist, juicy and fertile is an occasion of sin. In 2000 years only five or six mothers have been formally admitted into Catholic heaven: preeminently, ever-virgin Mary who is a special case. Wouldn’t a living God give first preference to those who were the most godly, bringing life from life? Instead, to be a Catholic mother is to give up any hope of canonization.

We may take comfort in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but behind that story is a nightmare. Our God is a God at war with himself, creating a bi-verse that mirrors his own bipolar disorder, setting natural against supernatural, which we must internalize as body vs. soul.

All the world’s peoples have creation stories. Ours is unique in maintaining that God does not dwell within his world. Our Father way off in Heaven spent somewhere between six days and 14 billion years creating a cosmic dungeon to serve as a place of exile and banishment from his presence, and even obstruct our journey to him.

To be conceived in the belly of a woman is to deserve eternal hellfire in the belly of mother earth. Only those who repudiate their birthmother, and are born again in Jesus’ mystical blood, will be saved; though not in this universe but in the great beyond.

It is any wonder that the adjective usually bolted before our God’s name is Almighty. And the highest compliment we pay each other is God-fearing? We live in raw terror of one who, depending on his whim, can send a winning lottery ticket or brain cancer. But in any case we must shout Hosanna! This is not reverence; it is passive aggression. This is not conducive to peace within ourselves, or compassion to others, as our history has repeatedly shown.

None of this is rooted in the Gospels. Jesus is neither God-fearing, nor is Abba (‘poppa’) fear-inducing. On the contrary, rabbi Jesus manages to use everything around him to point to deeper insights: lilies of the field, mustard seeds, birds in the air, even bowel movements and menstrual flows. The Gospel stories are deeply rooted in nature.

Old gods die and new ones are born all the time. Or, more accurately, old notions of God become stale and outworn and are replaced as new information is available to us.

The God of the Mass did not create this universe. Dominus Deus Sabaoth – the god of battlefields – could not have made a cosmos of such exquisite harmony. A God who from age to age gathers his chosen ones to himself, accepting our sacrifice and rejecting all others, is not dead; he never existed except in our nightmares. A God who would make all the people and then arbitrarily choose some as favored, and reject all others, deserves our pity or anger but not our awe and reverence. Such a being lacks the subtlety of mind to come up with anything as elegant as quantum chromodynamics.

The natural sciences of the 20th Century have shown us a universe far more interconnected than ever imagined. Not just between plants, animals and minerals, but between matter and mind. Substance and spirit do not inhabit separate realms; it’s all one field and only our fears and uncertainties – often promoted by religious institutions, and not limited to Catholicism - have fractured it, yielding broken minds prone to sanctified bloodshed.

So where does that leave us? Atheists in a godless void? By no means. Something holds all this together, and whether we call it God or Tao or Supersymmetry or Elmer’s Glue is irrelevant. It’s a reality so profound that language is annihilated; words turn into gibberish. The truly enlightened are those who acknowledge they can never be fully enlightened, and are left silent, humble and awe-filled. Only the fool claims to fully understand. Jesus, asked by Pilate what truth is, was silent.

So there abide faith, hope and charity. But underlying these is the conviction we exist in a coherent creation. To think or believe otherwise is to reduce science to mere measurement, and technology to a profit center. And this we see all around us, and no amount of archaic dogmatizing will turn that around.

The smartest physicist in the world cannot completely describe the state of a single atom in the universe; who then can presume an infallible understanding of the mind of God?

This is not to say there is no truth or no God; only to say that those who claim a monopoly understanding of either are usually the furthest from both. And that’s the God’s truth.

Such arrogance is not unique to Catholicism or even to religion. As the natural sciences increasingly use worlds like uncertainty, indeterminacy and relativity to describe the substantial, physical world, our leaders – religious hierarchies, presidents, corporate executives – rework our institutions ever more on the model of certainty, rigidity, and command and control. They no longer serve us; we must serve them. Even as their moral authority withers; their demand for obedience grows.

Movement beyond this dying paradigm will not be initiated at the top, but like all living things will grow from the ground up. Are you ready?


Blogger Chris Purdef said...

Are we to deny that Christ was beaten, humiliated, tortured, and crucified? Are we to deny that most Christians, in the past and today, suffered as a result of their faith? Are we to just say “the magic words” and forget about everything else in our faith and do as we please?

I am not a Catholic, rather member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I ask, where does it say we're to paint a rosy picture of Christianity on Earth? Was the Bible a rosy celebration? The whole purpose for Christians is not to "enjoy" our "worldly" life, rather to repent, believe, and work for the afterlife, our Life with Christ. This doesn't mean Jesus Christ invites us to be masochists, or to forcefully be unhappy. To do so would be as much idolatry as “living the good life” as Christians. But, I'm sure that being Christian isn't the "party”. Or maybe Christianity is a get rich quick scheme? Maybe we can just pick and choose what we like about Christianity and make it something just to cheer us up when we need a pick me up? Is that all Christianity is about, to make us feel good. If so, then Lenin was right, we’ve reduced it to nothing more than the “opiate of the masses.”

We can certainly talk about the inadequacies of the Catholic Church, ALL Churches have inadequacies because of the fact that we all human. Isn’t that the purpose of it all, to admit our inadequacies without our Lord?

Let’s hear about your perfect, church? To be quite honest, when I see the Crucifix or an image of Christ on the Cross- or Christian Martyrs; I see victory, freedom, Truth, and salvation. To be quite honest, when I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I’ll think of “freedom at last,” you can think about only his death if you want to.

Let’s get real in Christ.

Please forgive me if I have offended anyone.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Stephen A. Fuqua said...

Thank you for the honest and heartfelt thoughts. I felt an especial resonance with these words of yours. In the beginning, your words reminded me of why in high school I stopped considering myself a part of the Christian community. And then these words reminded me of why I still consider myself a part of the religious/spiritual community, and in particular find the Bahá'í Faith to be the most appropriate home for me — allowing me to once again consider myself a follower of Christ.

Rare was the fear or anguish of Christ, as passed to us in the Gospels. At His darkest hour (the 9th of His Crucifixion) he cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." He did not rail against humanity, but expressed the human condition. That is what I see when I look upon a Crucifix.

For me there is no more-life affirming message than this: "The most important one [commandment] is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:42).

Chris, you are right that religion that is just about making "us feel good" is an opiate. But Marx's opiate of the masses is more about social control—about those who dominate society by manipulating religion to keep the masses sedated (also see Nietzsche's The Antichrist).

1:46 PM  
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5:00 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

reconnecting-calm? Sounds to an outsider more like hell-fire and damnation. All this anger and condemnation doesn't seem to fit with the name. Sends shivers down my spine.

Many blessings

2:36 PM  

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