Friday, January 11, 2019

Catholic teachings change

In a conversation about the Catholic Church's infallibility doctrine, someone insisted that its teachings have never changed. This claim upholds its infallibility doctrine, but the claim is easy to refute. I quickly compiled this list.

The Church changed its teaching on slavery. In Paul's Letter to Philemon, he assumes that the slaveholder Philemon rightfully owns his slave Onesimus but urges Philemon to treat Onesimus kindly. Today the Church teaches that slavery is intrinsically sinful or always wrong.

The Church changed its teaching on usury by first saying it's always wrong to saying we ought to charge interest fairly and reasonably.

The Church changed its teaching on cosmology. I need only mention Galileo, whom the Inquisition found guilty of heresy and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for saying the earth revolves around the sun instead of the sun revolving around the earth.

The Church changed its teachings on women and this change continues. Hierarchical statements in the past disrespected women to the point of doubting women have souls. Today official rhetoric professes to respect women, but actions demonstrate unwillingness to share power with them. Unofficial attitudes range from ignorant bias to pressuring the official Church for more women in decision-making roles. Most Church faithful disagree with the official ban on ordination of women.

The Church continues to change its positions on gender and sexual matters, including the hot-button issues of gays, contraception, divorce, and women's ordination. Again, people outside of the hierarchy or magisterium are leading the way.

Decades ago, international aid organizations started realizing the need to listen to and learn from people in communities they wanted to help. Catholic officials need to do this, but fiercely they resist. I think their resistance is driven by fear and hatred of women's sexuality and power.

So far the magisterium still controls; Vatican bureaucracies remain in place. But they can't prevail much longer. A shift away from top-down decisions is happening in all society and affecting the institutional Church.

Clergy sex abuse finally prods lay Catholics, especially women--as in secular society--to reject the authority of the Vatican. Individuals bypass it and make their own decisions on deeply personal matters. Inevitably, lay Catholics will triumph and change official positions on issues that inflame public discourse.

The question is, how long will it take? And how many more Catholics will leave in the meantime?

Changes on issues inflaming public debate work hand in hand with changes in teachings on divinity and our relationship with it. Libraries are filled with them. Catholic educators today include science and other religions in reflections on transcendence. I detect less focus on the Father/Son myth and more focus on teachings of Jesus. I hope this leads away from worshiping God-images to building healthy relationships.

Although the Catholic Church is changing, its pace is too slow for me. I don't go to Catholic sources when I seek spiritual guidance, but my Catholic heritage accompanies me always. I find that, when an author affects me deeply, he or she often was nurtured by the Catholic Church and then moved on. It suggests that others are walking a path like mine.

For religion it is the best of times and the worst of times. As the shrinking globe feeds religious imagination a richer diet, it is forced to grow beyond the restricted images of one religion. Traditional religions are giving way to generic or what I call secular spirituality, independent of religion. It is an exhilarating time to live.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Epiphany (revealing moment)

When I was growing up, Catholics believed that Epiphany celebrates three kings who visited Jesus in the manger. Today the word epiphany is more pregnant with meaning. Various definitions of epiphany show its intangible quality—flash, insight, inspiration, realization. Epiphanies are sudden flashes of awakening to the inner realm.

To illustrate, I am re-posting a story I wrote about in this space before.
In Fingerprints of God, Barbara Bradley Hagerty never speaks the word “epiphany” but that’s what she writes about,  reluctantly. She was a little embarrassed, “spooked,” to find herself experiencing transcendence.

An NPR correspondent, Hagerty explores whether science can find physical evidence of God in her book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. She wanted to know,
Does brain activity reflect encounters with a spiritual dimension? 
I’m glad she used terms like “spiritual dimension,” “transcendence” and “spiritual reality” and never reduced God to a humanlike individual or god.

Belief in matter-only dominates science—93% of scientists believe God is a delusion conjured up by the brain. Spiritual matters, it’s assumed, are no subject for scientific observation, but in the last 20 years some neuroscientists have started looking for physical evidence of the spiritual world.

Is God only the result of chemical processes? Of a God spot in the brain? Only the activity of nerve cells? Or do people actually touch the Transcendent? Hagerty concludes that science can’t prove or disprove God, but she believes there’s something there.

There is a lobe in the brain that apparently registers awareness of Spirit and there is a phenomenon called temporal lobe epilepsy. Some scientists to believe that religious greats like Moses, Joan of Arc, Mohammed, Teresa of Avila, Joseph Smith, the Buddha, and Paul on the way to Damascus had this condition. But Hagerty doesn’t buy it. She thinks the temporal lobe mediates spiritual experience instead of causing it.

She illustrates. Turn off a radio and you don’t hear the music but it’s still being transmitted by the station. Just so, Spirit is always transmitting, but some brains turn it off or have the volume so low it’s hard to hear.

Others are sensitive to it, attuned to it, and a few have the volume so high they actually may need medical help. Hagerty thinks people with better antennae have more transcendent moments.

Right here is the crux of disagreement between non-believers and believers. Believers can be well aware of religious tyranny, fraud, and foolishness but not dismiss religion entirely. We think some spiritual entity initiates transcendent events. We believe epiphanies come from a reality outside of our individual consciousness, although we can cultivate habits that develop better antennae to receive them.

We can’t be shaken from our profound conviction of Something Beyond this surface world, and we base this on experience. The philosopher/psychologist William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience quotes such persons:
God is more real to me than any thought or thing or person.
God surrounds me like a physical atmosphere.
And he comments about this conviction:
These feelings of reality . . . are, as a rule, much more convincing than results established by mere logic ever are. . . . if you do have them . . . you cannot help regarding them as genuine perceptions of truth, as revelations of a kind of reality which no adverse argument, however unanswerable by you in words, can expel from your belief.
James addresses rationalist pooh-poohing of anything spiritual.
If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. . . . something in you absolutely knows that [the transcendent moment] must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.
Because William James looks at spirituality as a disinterested observer, his conclusions have more credibility for me than those of any religious writer. The same applies to Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s Fingerprints of God. Both console and uplift me.

Vincent Smiles commented, "The notion that scientists reject belief in God because of science is not accurate." For more of his comment, go to Epiphany vs. materialism.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

How Christmas Began

[first posted December, 2011]
The history of Christmas should make us ponder. Christians had no Christmas for more than 200 years after Jesus was born. The origin of the feast had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus because no one knew when he was born.

Bible scholars inform us of contradictions and impossibilities in the biblical accounts contributing to the myth, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (the authors actually are unknown, but that’s another story). Rev. E. J. Niles, a scholar quoted in Unity magazine, says,
I love how Joseph was said to take his pregnant wife Mary 94 miles to Bethlehem to fulfill a type of civic duty (a census) that most women would never have even participated in during those times.
Also factual nonsense are the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which disagree with each other, as do their implied dates of Jesus’ birth. Quirinius was governor after Herod died, not before.

But we don’t need Bible scholars to tell us that the manger myth lacks facts; any intelligent reader can infer its disagreements with science and history. Myths are not about facts; they're about meaning.

Not until the third century, at the earliest, did Christmas begin. It developed in competition with Pagan feasts observing the birthday of the sun on the winter solstice, when the sun “dies” as daylight reaches its shortest point and then is reborn or resurrected as daylight increases. The Romans celebrated Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, “whose annual journey across our sky can be celebrated worldwide as a truly unifying expression of our global family.” This last lovely sentiment comes from Acharya S., an atheist writer. I note this to banish Christian notions that we own Christmas exclusively.

The earliest written record of Christmas appeared in 336 CE, and in 354, a calendar entry for December 25 listed the births of both Sol Invictus and of Christ in Bethlehem of Judea. This double notice provides an example of syncretism, the melding of religious ideas, which, contrary to Christian claims, occurred often in our tradition.

Before the earth was known to be a revolving sphere, the sun mysteriously disappeared in the west every evening, followed some unknown course below earth during the night, then reappeared in the east every morning. Naturally this cycle of nature inspired mythmaking. The Goddess enveloped the sun in her body in the evening and sent it forth in the morning. The Greek sun god Helios crossed the heavens from east to west in a shiny chariot, descended to the underworld, and was "born anew every morning," sang the poet Horace.

The sun's daily descent and ascent also provided rich Christian symbolism. Surrounded by and steeped in Greek myth, Christians of the early centuries imagined Christ journeying to the underworld and rising in the east. "As the sun rises daily for all, so the mystical Sun of Righteousness rises for all," sang a Christian verse. In ancient records Christ was listed as one sun deity among several.

Pagans called their birthday feast of the sun god “Epiphany,” meaning "appearance." The Pagan Epiphany happened on January 6, which also became the date of the rival Christian feast celebrating Christ's appearance in the flesh, showing Christmas to be one solar celebration among several.
Calendar adjustments moved the winter solstice to December 25 and later to December 21. Some quarreling between Christians in East and West broke out when the East continued to observe the birth of Christ on January 6 after the West switched to December 25. Today Eastern Orthodox Christians still celebrate Christmas on January 6.

Because of its Pagan origin, the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas at all, and a few other Christian groups have discredited Christmas for the same reason. But that would also disqualify Easter, All Souls Day (Halloween), and other Christian feasts related to Pagan holidays.

For thousands of years before Christians took over solstice celebrations, human cultures developed myth and ritual to mark it. Huge bonfires were an important part of such events. We can easily imagine that before artificial light existed, the annual shrinking of light down to the shortest day of the year, followed by the steady growth of light foretelling spring, would have had a huge impact on human life.
Today we see the human impulse to light up the darkness in the riot of artificial lighting from November to January. The lights are not necessarily related to the Christian festival, as few people in the West believe the manger story literally anymore.

But for good reasons we continue singing songs that repeat and embellish the myth. There must be something besides commercial value that makes Christmas precious to more than believing Christians. The birth of the Child represents the birth of the precious Self inside each of us, the Christ consciousness in every person—the urge to give generously, the warm feelings of unity with all. This, I believe, is the enduring value of Christmas.

Christmas message, December 26, 2008
Here's my Christmas message along with my consoling philosophy/faith. I learned 28 years ago that I could reconcile my knowledge of Christian myth with my need for spiritual solace by trusting in a Higher Power. It shows Its face in interesting ways when I give myself over to Its guidance.

I was planning to drive somewhere on Christmas Day, having spent Christmas Eve with my son and daughter. In various ways I was prompted to change my mind, sure that it was best to stay home. I prepared to enjoy music and reading. But a friend in emotional need called and we spent much of the day together. I could not have been there for her, had I insisted on my original plan instead of being attuned to the subtle prompts diverting me from that plan.

This sort of thing happens to me often—an inner thread pulling me through the little and big decisions of life. Others attuned to a Higher Power, whether they respond to Jesus or another name, will not scoff at this.

I don’t consider this a late Christmas message. When I was growing up we started the Christmas season on December 25, and it lasted through January. The Advent period before that really did await the day when celebrations would start. On Christmas morning we woke up to the miracle performed by Christ Kindchen the night before. He brought our presents, trimmed the tree, made Christmas cookies—everything. When a school classmate told me slyly that Santa Claus was fake, I was surprised that he’d ever believed in silly Santa Claus. It did start the wheels in my little brain turning with regard to belief in the miracle.

I resent consumerism for stealing Christmas. On this day after December 25, radio stations refuse to play Christmas music anymore, the inspirational, meditative music appropriate to this dark and wintry transitional time between the old and the new. Professional musicians and singers who perform the music know its text is based on myth but appreciate our spiritual heritage. But the commercial world has convinced Americans that material stuff makes up the whole purpose of life. No more buying presents after the 25th, so no reason to play Christmas music. Despicable reasoning.

I wonder what the purveyors of consumerism think “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are about. The twelfth day was Epiphany on January 6, which was the Roman Empire’s winter solstice until a calendar adjustment moved it to December 25. Pagan religions celebrated the birth of the sun on this day and Christians established a rival feast to celebrate the birthday of their “true sun.” When the solstice moved to the 21st in another adjustment, Christmas stayed on the 25th in the West, but Eastern Orthodox still celebrate Christmas on January 6.

Dates and names are less important than the theme of death and renewal—Easter’s theme. For this reason it was a more important Christian feast than Christmas, before consumerism stepped in. Enough of that.

May the economic downturn direct us away from material things during the following year and toward healthy, loving relationships. This is my Christmas wish for all.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Awaken the Feminine

Today promises to be a sunny day, unlike the gloomy past month. I sorely missed the sun hiding behind clouds day after day. While preparing a Christmas card for my nephew and his family in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, I realized they have an even longer darkness surrounding winter solstice. I wondered how difficult it is for him, born and bred in Minnesota. 

Years ago I overcame the blues of sun-deprivation at this time of year by placing it in the context of spirituality and religion. While I was trying to be an atheist, I learned about non-Christian religions. My discoveries appear in my essay for Awaken the Feminine!: Dismantling Domination to Restore Balance on Mother Earth.
Wanting distance from Christian stuff but drawn to spiritual content, I read about the pagan religions I had been trained to despise and got surprising revelations about the Goddess. I learned that human beings had prayed to a Great Mother before the Father/Son myth started.
Accounts of Mater Magna, the Great Mother, creator of the universe, taught me that She manifests the feminine face of the Divine. She is simply an alternative way to think of what is called “God.” That She reigned under many names in pre-historic times obliterated the Judaeo-Christian claim to being the first monotheistic religion. 
Goddess myths center divinity more in the earth than in the sky. The Goddess envelopes the sun in her body every evening and sends it forth in the morning. 
I learned that Christmas copies birthday feasts honoring pagan gods and that, before Jesus of Nazareth lived, pagan gods had twelve disciples, died and rose in three days, were commemorated in rituals involving wine and bread, and so on. 
Promoting their own feast, Christians declared that Jesus Christ is the real sun-god—“the real light which gives light to everyone." John 8:12 has Jesus saying, "I am the light of the world. 

Having learned alternatives to the Christian myth enriches rather than spoils my celebration of Christmas. It also makes me more tolerant of the way our secular, commercial world treats it. 

When displays of Christmas lights appeared before Christmas, I used to strongly resist. I wanted the world to begin Christmas celebrations on the Day, as we did it in St. Martin in the 1950s. But it’s during these dark days before the solstice that the world needs more light. I’m sure that this, and not only the commercial motive of making money, accounts for Christmas lights going up a month before Christmas Day and coming down soon after Christmas Day. 

I leave my lights up much longer just because I was trained that way. But I see that after the solstice on December 21, people are relieved and happy that the sun stays with us longer and longer. So the artificial lights come down. 

Whatever connects us with Transcendence seems good to me. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Dismantling Male Domination

My book, Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses, will come out in spring, but another book with an essay of mine just came out at Thanksgiving. Karen Tate is the editor of this anthology.

Awakening the Feminine...
Dismantling Domination to Restore Balance on Mother Earth

Third in the "Manifesting a New Normal" Series

$15.00 through December 31 (Including S&H in the US only)
Using Paypal - PayPal.Me/karentate
Manifesting a New Normal Series...

Friday, November 16, 2018

Beyond Parochial Faith

Yesterday I sent my completed manuscript, Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses to my publishing company, Wipf and Stock. They publish mainly academic religious works, but mine is a memoir.

I combine my personal story of growing up German Catholic in Stearns County with my spiritual evolution. As a lifelong educator I aim to educate with this book too. It exposes my deepest vulnerabilities to encourage readers as they experience the pain of their own wounds.
I hope my story eases the spiritual work required of absolutely everyone—reflecting on our lives, honoring our pain, and grappling with life's questions. I reveal my secrets because seeing another's story somehow makes it easier to face one's own. 

Beyond Parochial Faith weaves together alcoholic husband and mid-life meltdown, judgmental siblings and prudish aunts, the Goddess and the historical Jesus, the Father/Son myth and Carl Jung, atheists and Benedictines. I aim to inspire self-awareness, to open minds. to broaden horizons.

This book started four and a half years ago with a series of articles in Crossings, the magazine published by the Stearns History Museum. My writers group encouraged me to write more personal stories, which I did, but as I continued writing, I fell back into my usual intellectual reflection. 
The result is this memoir that merges my life story with information challenging the religion I learned in my youth. I had to unlearn a lot. Now you can unlearn and learn with me.

Beyond Parochial Faith reemphasizes the message in my book published in 2007, God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky: Cherishing Christianity without Its Exclusive Claims. Its message is that Christianity mistakes its myth for history and its symbols for facts. With a few clicks on this site you can read excerpts from that book. 

I neglected this blog while I was preparing it for publication. Now I plan to post here more often, probably some excerpts from Beyond Parochial Faith, which will come out in Spring 2019.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Cardinals and #MeToo

When I saw the idea in National Catholic Reporter, I thought, "Impossible." But making women cardinals seemed much more plausible when I read the facts given there.

The rule that cardinals must be ordained is only 100 years old. It was part of a new Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917 to curb abuses in naming cardinals.
Some men had little knowledge of theology, and others were, well, very young. 
One was only 8 years old.

John Paul II wanted to appoint a woman cardinal. I can't think of a less likely pope to do that. Timothy Dolan reported on EWTN that John Paul offered it to Mother Teresa, but she didn't want it. This story was corroborated by Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI.

The list of eminent women theologians suggested as candidates makes another good argument in favor of making women cardinals. I mention only those whose names are familiar to me: Elizabeth Johnson, Margaret Farley, M.Shawn Copelend, Phyllis Zagano.

I still think it can't happen until hell freezes over, but I like putting out ideas to subvert the common mindset that automatically places men as authorities over women.


I aimed to subvert the common mindset in a letter to the StarTribune of Minneapolis last Sunday, September 30. Adding to the discussion, "How to fill the churches: reconciling reason and faith," I said that God was imagined a woman in prehistoric cultures. Myths portrayed the supreme authority in heaven as a great lady.
Before Hera became the jealous wife of Zeus, . . .  She sat on the throne with Zeus at her side. God was known as "Queen of Heaven," "Her Holiness," . . .
Everything changes when God is imagined to be a woman rather than a man.
Greek historian Herodotus wrote that in Egypt, "women go in the marketplace, transact affairs and occupy themselves with business, while the husbands stay home and weave." 
Imagine that.
It's actually not so hard to imagine today because roles in some marriages are already reversed. An American living in Stockholm, Sweden, wrote in Time magazine that he was startled by the number of dads there parenting kids full-time. I have seen the same here and applaud men brave enough to do it.

Thank Goodness, we have made some strides toward equality but what a distance to go! The most pernicious sexist habits happen in church--always, without exception, referring to God as He, Him, or His, and never as She or Her.

Sexist God-talk has got to go if Christians seriously want to address #MeToo.