Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Atheist spirituality

I was delighted to receive an email from an atheist who found my blog, espouses atheist spirituality, and disagrees with atheists who vilify everything religious. You can read his own words at The Case for 'Spiritual Atheism I recommend Asylum for Broken Rabble if you like to examine ideas in depth, whether you agree or disagree.

For ddjango's site, I wrote a guest post On Enlightenment reflecting on common ground between enlightened Christians and enlightened atheists—how we agree, how we differ.
I quoted the statement, “He is a spirit,” to show how exclusively male language not only distorts gender relationships, it distorts our ideas of what we call God. And the word “a” disturbs me even more than “he.” As the little word "a" indicates, this deity is an object, something out there, an individual separate from the other individual things and persons in the universe. Worshipping such an object is a form of idolatry. If Christian leaders would add God-She and God-Her language to the exclusively male pronouns, the resulting variety would dethrone the male idols and force awareness that what we call God cannot be defined.

I’m also reading The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville, identified on the book jacket as one of France’s preeminent contemporary philosophers. This book and dialogues with atheist friends help me to clarify my thoughts about spiritual matters.

Comte-Sponville observes that theistic religions propagate “belief in one or several deities.” So true. My atheist friends are disgusted by naïve Christian belief in a sky god and a dying-and-rising redeemer god, who obviously parallels pagan gods.

A year ago I wrote a post entitled,Buddhist Christian about an ordained minister who described himself that way as a result of living in Thailand. He echoed my title when he repudiated “the big guy in the sky.” Significantly, he gave his talk at St. John’s University. When my book came out last year, I was surprised by the response it got from monastic religious persons. They are among those who best understand the Christian myth as myth. They understand because they delve deeper into religious meaning than people immersed in the secular world.

So why do they remain faithful to our religion? Why do they identify as Christians when Christian language encourages naïve belief? And why do I stay in this theistic religion? I wrote answers to this question in my first chapter, but Comte-Sponville offers another good one in a joke he tells.

Two rabbis discuss the existence of God long into the night and conclude that God does not exist. The next morning one rabbi catches the other one absorbed in ritual morning prayers. He asks, “What are you doing? We decided God does not exist!” The other replies, “What does God have to do with it?”
Elsewhere in his book Comte-Sponville provides the sequitur to this story:
There has never been a great civilization without sacred myths and rituals, beliefs in certain invisible or supernatural forces.
This evinces a basic human need. Enlightenment science shows that the particular forces imagined by past (and present) civilizations do not exist, but it has not destroyed the human need for relating to Transcendence.

I rarely use the term “supernatural” anymore because I think Transcendence lives right within Nature and is part of everything in Nature. Readers can learn more about my thinking on that in the miracles part of my chapter, “The Man Jesus.”

So I am still Catholic, culturally Catholic. Those of us who have these understandings could also be called Buddhist Christians or Christian Buddhists, depending on which emphasis we prefer. More possibilities—we are Christian atheists or atheist Christians.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mystic atheist & theologian

Mysticism is the direct experience of what we call God. Children experience it. Persons of every possible age, place, and condition feel it. Philosophers and theologians in the past felt it and wrote and spoke about it, and in some cases their expressions of the transporting experience birthed new religions or spiritual movements, or just added to the fund of thinking in a certain religion. Christianity has had many such, Thomas Aquinas, for instance.

The apostle Paul was a mystic. His mystical experience with the crucified Jesus produced the new religion of Christianity.

Mystical experience is universal, which is why atheists experience it and might go so far as to use words like “grand” and “mysterious” if they shy away from “spiritual.” Rare is the atheist today who recognizes his or her experience as a cousin of Christian piety, though that’s what I think it is.

Jesus of Nazareth was a mystic who strove to console his needy fellows—the poor, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst, the peacemakers, and the persecuted—by connecting them with this inner experience, turning their attention to the mysterious, invisible realm within, which supersedes the everyday world we have to live in. Thus the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10).

So how can someone as intensely aware of the inner reality as Comte-Sponville (see previous posts) disbelieve in God? He clearly directs his disbelief at the theistic god, the man-like individual. He refers to “a God,” to a “subject” he can’t believe in, and he writes this: “ . . . to believe in Someone! . . . the God of Abraham and Jacob, the God of Jesus or the God of Mahomet—is what I personally do not believe in.”

I also don’t believe in the god that many adherents of these religions imagine, and neither do thoughtful Jews/Christians/Muslims. The esteemed Catholic theologian Karl Rahner writes,
. . . the mysterious and incomprehensible . . . can never be defined by being distinguished from something else. For that would be to objectify it, to understand it as one object among other objects, and to define it conceptually.
Rahner’s “object” is Comte-Sponville’s “subject,” and the two agree that this imagined object/subject does not merit belief.

It thrills me that these thinkers, one an atheist philosopher, the other a Catholic theologian, both insist on this fundamental realization—God is not an individual alongside other individual things and persons in the universe. This is what distinguishes God from a god.

Rahner quotes the terms “absolute being” and “ground of being.”
Comte-Sponville writes of being confronted with “the mystery of being.”
Rahner writes, “The infinite horizon . . . opens us to unlimited possibilities.”
Comte-Sponville writes, “We are finite beings who open onto infinity.”
A Hindu writer in Parabola glories in the “abundance of The Vastness.”

Vastness, Infinity, Eternity, Being, Void, Mystery, Energy, Force, Consciousness. These abstractions increasingly serve as synonyms for God among Christians whose ancient liturgy still exalts a god modeled on pagan deities. Christian belief is in flux. For more on this, go to my blog index and click on “God is not supernatural” under atheism.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Atheist mystic

Atheists and agnostics help me to clarify my ideas about spirituality. Their beliefs are closer to mine than the beliefs of most Christians—well, those dominating the media, not those close to me.

But my atheist friends reject the word “spiritual,” unable to separate it from religions, to which they direct a mix of contempt, pity, frustration, and anger, assuming that all religious people believe literally and naïvely in religious myths. I confess to having similar feelings as I grew in awareness of the myth of Christ, and I also identify with those who, as one atheist wrote, “have become open about their atheism at personal cost but out of a feeling of moral necessity.”

Personal cost and moral necessity. Yes. Moral necessity because going along with “lies,” as they see it, violates their conscience. Personal cost flamed into view recently in a local paper’s guest editorial. It suggested that pagans and atheists “strip naked and dance around in the moonlight,” and “face life devoid of joy or hope.” The author followed the “promise to live at peace with you in brotherhood” with the promise to try “not to snicker when you freeze your behind off.”

This was such an obviously vicious attack that it generated rebuttals and, I suspect, most readers knew it for what it was. Ultimately it probably did more good than harm.

Because my atheist friends resist discussing spirituality, I’m excited to be dialoguing with an atheist for whom spiritual atheism is a passion. A blogger from Raleigh, North Carolina, at P! (yes, it's a link—go ahead and click on it), he criticizes the new atheism’s (Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, et al) “illogical rejection of all things god, christian, and religion,” and he considers it as dogmatic as Christian fundamentalism. In his view, atheist militancy,
outdoes evangelism by a far piece, conveyed with a Rovian arrogance that is very disconcerting.” And he agrees with my high regard for The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville, which he finds “brilliant and comforting.

Comte-Sponville not only endorses spirituality; he’s a mystic, an atheist mystic. How’s that for a paradox?
Here’s a sample of his deep spiritual awareness:
For any finite spirit, the truth of the universe must indeed be mysterious. How can we expect to understand and explain everything, given the fact that the ‘everything’ was here long before we were, and formed us, and permeates our very being, and surpasses us in every direction? One does not need much lucidity to grasp the fact that being is a mystery.
The mystery permeates us particularly at this time of year, the winter solstice, but the author professes disbelief in God. More about that soon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Trinity & idolatry

The Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) tell us, “You shall not have other gods besides me.” This prohibits idolatry or worshipping idols. I see idolatry whenever I go to a Christian church, where the God-talk never fails to conjure up images of male gods.

Christians defend the Father-Son language by saying they need the comfort of a personal Spirit. But if this were all, Mother-Daughter language would be accepted. Well, goes the argument, we respect the tradition. So let’s look at the patriarchal tradition. Relentlessly we are assailed by the liturgy’s “He,” “Him,” and “His” references to individual male figures.

More damaging than nouns such as “king,” “lord,” and “father” are the masculine pronouns, “He,” “Him,” and “His.” Insidiously they drip into us, conditioning us to feel that ultimate divine power is male and that male power is natural, normal, proper and right, while female power is unnatural, abnormal, improper and wrong.

The pronouns’ deep effect was revealed by the theologian who tried to correct the mistaken perception but tripped over it instead when he wrote, “God is not male; he is a spirit.” No wonder people talk about the Transcendent Mystery as if it were one male individual or three males—3 guys in the sky!

When I entered the world of theology, blows from the he-man language came immediately and oppressively. Secular writers show more sensitivity to women than Christian writers, a painful fact that destroys the Church's credibility when it speaks out on respect for human rights and world peace.

Even in the apophatic Christian tradition, which is intensely aware that Spirit transcends any ideas we can imagine, God-He language intrudes. It spoiled my reading of the classic medieval work, The Cloud of Unknowing. This stirring meditation on the ineffability of Spirit dropped with a thud when the Great Ineffable was reduced to hehimhis.

Another such deflating description was written by Martin Luther, who wrote,
"Nothing is so small but God is still smaller, nothing so large but God is still larger, nothing so long but God is still longer . . . He is an inexpressible being, above and beyond all that can be described or imagined."

The one thing Luther could describe or imagine was its maleness. He can be forgiven his inability to move out of the patriarchal envelope of his time. I am less inclined to tolerate church leaders of today, who have abundant opportunities to learn inclusive language.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Paul vs. Jesus

I just finished a book that forcefully argues one of my points in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky—the discrepancy between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Paul. In How Jesus Became Christian (copyright 2008), Barrie Wilson gives the Jewish perspective on that gap. Vividly he shows the conflict evident in New Testament letters between Paul, whom he dubs “a Jewish dropout,” and the Jewish Christians led by Jesus’ brother James, who continued Jewish practice while upholding the memory of Jesus. Wilson writes,
So the human teacher . . . became elevated quickly into a Christ and then into a God. . . . How did a God come to replace a thoroughly human, Jewish Jesus?
Wilson attributes Christian anti-Semitism to “guilt at having killed off the historical Jewish Jesus in favor of a Gentile God-human.” Jews were witnesses to this “crime,” the only ones who “could ‘blow the cover’ off” the crime, and this explains “the sustained attack on Judaism throughout Christian history,” according to Wilson.

I don’t think guilt explains anti-Semitism; I think it’s the simple human tendency to oppose the other. Christianity persecuted other religious rivals— “witches,” heretics, and Muslim infidels—just as brutally.

I would correct more of Wilson’s assertions. He assumes, for instance, that Jesus was preaching a political “Kingdom,” that he proposed “sweeping away Roman rule.” It’s true that Jewish messiahs were political, but I join the consensus of Christian scholars that Jesus did not follow that line. He awakened awareness of the inner realm of Spirit inside each person; it’s one reason I insist on the word “Reign” instead of “Kingdom.”

Instead of passing on the teaching of Jesus, Christianity taught the myth of Christ broadcast by Paul. This realization I discuss in my chapter, “The Only-Through-Jesus Stance.” Barrie Wilson adds a credible analysis of Acts, providing detail for the scholarly conclusion that the Book of Acts is largely, maybe mostly, fiction.

Acts would have us believe that 2 rival religions—the Jesus Movement and Paul’s Christ Movement—formed a harmonious whole. Wilson and Christian scholars agree it was not so. This is abundantly clear in Paul’s Letter to Galatians and the Letter of James (not in all Bibles) but even clearer in early Christian writings that did not become part of the New Testament.

Wilson accurately underlines the non-historical direction taken by Christianity—away from teaching Jesus’ message to teaching beliefs about Jesus. Despite my differences with some of his assumptions, I appreciate his very-Jewish perspective.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What’s good about the financial crisis

This writing of mine appeared in the St. Cloud Times: “Cutting back is good for planet.”
http://www.sctimes.com/article/20081124/OPINION/111240030/-1/archives
The current financial crisis could be a good thing if it stops foolish consumer bingeing, which is destroying the planet and its people.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Distinguish religion & spirituality

I swim in contrasting spiritual cultures—with those who are attached to religion and with those who are hostile or indifferent to religion. I reconcile them by keeping in mind an important distinction. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, but they are often conflated. I think distinguishing between them could ease communication between two communities that chafe against each other.

Spiritual experiences that happen to everyone are called religious, and this conflation of the two deprives those who want to avoid religion of appreciating their essentially spiritual nature. In a discussion with atheists, I asked whether they didn’t prefer kindness to cruelty. Yes, they said, but that’s not spiritual. Not spiritual! It reminds me of a government declaring, “We don’t torture,” and, when given an example of their torturing, simply changing the definition of torture.

In my July 31 blog post, I cited a feature on artist Meinrad Craighead in the National Catholic Reporter, which stated that her “first real religious experience, at the age of seven, was not in the church but in nature, with her dog.” I would change a word in this statement; her experience was spiritual, not religious. Its only connection with church or religion was that religious people receive something similar in church.

I dare say many artists experience the Presence in beautiful nature but would deny that it’s spiritual. And scientists experience wondering awe in contemplating the universe, but many deny that the experience is spiritual because they associate spirituality with religion, which they regard with disgust as naïve and corrupt.

Those of us who see beauty in religion as well as the fraud and foolishness could help to bridge this divide by refraining from language that implies we own spirituality. Christians are prone to taking ownership of all things spiritual. Someone behaves generously and we call it “Christian.” That’s an insult to non-Christians who are just as apt to behave altruistically.

A family establishes mealtimes as the space for deep sharing and a Catholic might call it eucharist. But that puts a Christian cast on it and it could turn off an educated, enlightened family who desire no attachment to religion.

The great theologian Karl Rahner famously termed non-Christians who express a deep spirituality “anonymous Christians.” A Buddhist gently let him know it was insulting by asking how he would feel if he were called an “anonymous Buddhist.”

Given the right language, every human being responds to spiritual matters. This is why we must distinguish between the terms. Atheists are among the most spiritually inclined people I know. It is the reason they see religious nonsense and corruption and react negatively. But most over-react, and they sweep away what makes humans most human, the spiritual sensitivity at our core.

Some of the responsibility for that must be borne by Christians who have attached our brand onto all of spirituality. I urge fellow Christians to step out of our comfortable envelope where everyone uses language that absolutizes our particular brand of spiritual experience. It insulates us, inoculates against awareness of the harm in our language. Let’s step outside that box and stop referring to every experience that enlarges awareness of Transcendence as religious.

Using greater sensitivity in our language, we could join those who disdain religion in our common quest for truth, beauty, and goodness in all their forms. Honor, honesty, courage, cruelty, loveliness, ugliness, nobility, evil, and deception stir every human heart, whether religious or not. EVERYone, even the most despicable torturer, works for some perceived good.

To those who lump all religious people together, know that educated religious do not believe in the god you reject and ridicule. We’re not stupid. Between you and us lies the common ground of TRUTH/BEAUTY/GOODNESS that we could claim together if religion and spirituality were discussed as distinct from each other.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trinity

October 9, 2008
Before I published God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky I had written several times as much on theological questions. One topic was the Trinity. Since a comment came in on that, I’ve decided I need to write some blog posts on it.

Today I’ll just say that the Trinity is not unique to Christianity. There are Buddhist and Hindu trinities, many Hellenistic pagan trinities, and who knows how many other religious ones, among them Goddess trinities. As many thinkers have stated, the universe tends toward three-fold structures: animal, vegetable, and mineral; maiden, mother, and crone; larva, pupa, and butterfly; solid, liquid, and gas; past, present, and future; the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue; and Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Alert readers will discover many more examples.

I expect I will return to this topic intermittently. ********

It stuns me that as early as the second century some Christians understood what many at the beginning of the twenty-first century seem incapable of understanding: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are images and symbols, not facts.

Valentinus was a gnostic leader whom Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons in southern France, considered so threatening that late in the second century he wrote five volumes refuting him. Valentinus pointed out that names for God such as judge and king are not the same as what he called "the depth," and his followers understood that depictions in scripture do not capture the incomprehensible, mysterious depth we call God.

The author of the gnostic Gospel of Philip stated that
[names can be] very deceptive, for they divert our thoughts from what is accurate to what is inaccurate. . . . So also with 'the Father,' and 'the Son,' and 'the Holy Spirit' and 'life,' and 'light,' and 'resurrection,' and 'the Church,' and all the rest . . .

Christians ridicule believers in non-Christian deities, but we also worship idols when we treat our religious symbols as if they were concrete objects that might be seen and touched. As if they came from history instead of the imagination. As if they were absolute definitions instead of images. As if discussions about them could produce provable information. As if, when we die, we'll meet a male individual with the name “Father.”

The picture of three gods in the sky is so vivid that theologians envisioned distinct roles for them and had debates about which person did what. Was the Father suffering on the cross along with his Son? Did the Son have a hand in generating the Holy Spirit? Proper forms of prayer were discussed. Should it be to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit or to the Father with the Son and the Spirit? These are trivial questions like "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" that medieval Churchmen are ridiculed for discussing.

Ordinary Christians are more apt to wonder, as did one of my fellows at the School of Theology,
How did the Son feel when the Father told him to die for humans?
After hearing this astounding evidence of naïvete, I started saying more boldly what was rising inside me: God is not three guys in the sky!

Seminarians can be completely caught up in the myth and no one informs them during their training for the priesthood that it is myth. The Church uses the symbolic terms as if they were absolute definitions, with the result that intelligent people think our God-images are God. Unlike the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, we no longer envision “the Lord” as a tribal mascot who orders the slaughter of our enemies, but we also profane the Holy One with our gods.

Social implications of Trinity
(June 14, 2009)
I cherish the memory of sitting in his class at the School of Theology when the renowned Godfrey Diekmann OSB confessed to us that he wondered whether there were more persons in God than three. And it was a confession—he asked us not to spread his surmise, afraid of negative reaction.

I wouldn't be surprised if I were the only student in the class who remembers the moment. It was memorable to me because I was chaffing at the seminarians’ incessant father/son/he/he/him/his talk, exactly as if the ultimate mysterious power of the universe were 3 guys in the sky.
A religious sister with whom I shared this asked what I thought prompted him to say that. I wish I had asked him to elaborate. I can only guess that he was realizing the inappropriateness, the inadequacy, of taking Father/Son/Spirit literally, realizing that the Trinity stands for more than these three names, that it’s not 3 specific entities. This realization is common among theologians, and Godfrey was meditating on it mystically.

My questioner also wanted to know what I meant by saying that other language for Trinity could be “I, you, and others.” It's a way of realizing that, while I relate to you or to anyone else, there are many others. Another image used is that of three matches making one flame. The Trinity is simply an image, a symbol to describe the reality of the universe—all the different units united in one. The All includes the many, diversity united in one whole and the parts relating to each other, never completely separate.

Now we arrive at social implications of the Trinity. All are in the whole enterprise together—what happens in one part of the globe affects every other. Unstable countries roil international waters—Somalia lacks a government and breeds piracy. The U.S. mortgage crisis destabilizes the global economy. The Amazon rain forest cleanses the world’s air, and polluting industries of any one country pollute the whole world. The poor deprived of medical care infect everybody else.

But why 3 and not 4 or more? The universe seems to have 3-foldedness in its structure. For examples and further reflection, go back to the beginning of this post and other “Trinity” posts in my index.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Catholic bishops on abortion

Not too long ago I resolved to avoid discussing abortion in this space. It’s more political than religious and my primary purpose here is to provoke new reflection about religious beliefs. This political campaign threw me into the abortion issue again. I hope this is my last post on it but, “never say never.”

I agree with the Christian right that abortion is wrong, but radical pro-lifers fail to consider difficulties surrounding the issue and insist it’s black and white, abortion is murder, and we have to vote for candidates who want to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Catholic bishops quoted in the National Catholic Reporter seem to disagree. In an article headlined “Antiabortion imperative more complex than acknowledged,” John Allen writes that most bishops consider abortion a grave evil but "also recognize that a specific court decision or piece of legislation can never be an article of faith . . . there are other ways, perhaps even better ways, to oppose abortion. . . . The desire to deny Communion . . . is held only by a minority of bishops."

Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles countered the perception that abortion must trump other issues for Catholics, saying that fellow bishops insist, “We’re not a one-issue church.”

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk says about “people who want simple answers with complete surety . . . [they] have to realize that these are complicated questions to which bishops may not all have the same answer and that our Catholic faith is not a whole series of black-and-white positions.”

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., says, “What the church should be focusing its energies on is changing the thinking in order to lead people not to choose abortion.” Now we’re getting somewhere. I hope this means pro-lifers are shifting toward the common ground of reducing the number of abortions, as I’ve noticed the pro-choice side doing.

I wish the two sides would join in campaigning to ensure access to contraception for all women. Right-to-lifers object that some forms of contraception are really forms of abortion. I don’t buy it; it’s a stretch to say that an embryo a few days old is a human individual with rights equal to the mother. John McCain courts the right wing by declaring that life begins at conception but he supports stem cell research—a contradiction.

The Catholic Church undermined its opposition to abortion by also opposing the best way to reduce the rate of abortions—contraception. Dismissing the Church’s unreasonable stand on birth control, the left also dismissed the Church’s valid moral argument on abortion. It is science that changed its rhetoric about abortion. I’m thinking about the striking photo of a baby’s tiny hand sticking out of a pregnant woman’s uterus during surgery. This and other information about the developing fetus put an end to claims that what’s growing inside a woman is merely a blob of tissue.

Pro-choice advocates need to admit that abortion kills babies. I fault them for not facing that reality and for claiming that a woman’s decision whether to abort is her business alone. Society has a stake in this issue as much as in other forms of killing.

There is no reason for pro-lifers to hate Democrats as they do. As I stated in my previous post, Democratic policy could actually result in fewer abortions than recent actions by Republicans. They didn't even try to overturn Roe v. Wade when they had both the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress. At http://www.tricities.com/tri/news/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/article/roe_v_wade_approved_by_republican_appointees/15195/ you can read the letter of an Evangelical Christian who believes, “For religious leaders to continue to blame Democrats for Republican actions is wrong.”

And at http://media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/08/AR2005110801938.html you can read about Justice Samuel Alito’s reluctance to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Douglas Kmiec, a former official in the Reagan White House who worked on briefs seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, announced his support for Barack Obama: "I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence and genuine goodwill. . . . he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights."

I agree.
Obviously this post on election day doesn’t aim to influence anyone's vote, but I feel compelled to correct the perception that Catholics are obligated to base their votes on one issue alone.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama on abortion

In the 1990s the Christian right took possession of religion in American politics with the result that anyone who does not want to overturn Roe v. Wade or criminalize abortion is called “pro-abortion.” But putting women and doctors behind bars would do nothing to help either the unborn or born children.

Here is an editorial I wrote that appeared in the Newsleaders, which gave me permission to post it here. It was headlined,
“An Obama win could result in fewer abortions than a McCain win.”

“How in good conscience can you vote for Obama?” asked a Catholic friend. We were talking about abortion. This is my answer to her question.

I am pro-life, and that’s why I’ll vote for Barack Obama. Back in the days when McCain led my list of honorable Republicans, I admired his positions on the environment, on torture, and on Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. But to win the presidency he took right-wing positions opposed to his original ones.

Pro-life promotes the common good. McCain’s preference for unregulated markets and his shift to cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires threaten funding for public services such as education and infrastructure that corporations don’t provide. Severe economic inequality threatens national well-being on many fronts, even national security.

Pro-life cares about children. Tax cuts for the fabulously wealthy leave children with poor child care, poor health care, poor education, and poor prospects for the future. A quarter of America’s children live in poverty.

Pro-life opposes killing. John McCain supports Bush’s war in Iraq, despite all the evidence that Iraq never was a threat to Americans. Warrior McCain’s only criticism of the war is that we should have killed more effectively. And he maintains that Islamic terrorism is “the transcendent challenge of our time,” a sure recipe for more stupid and costly military ventures. America’s job is to “defeat evil,” says McCain, which a conservative intellectual says “would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.”

Pro-life promotes public health. The Bush administration systematically undermines laws and regulations that protect the air, water, and soil needed for all life. To court the right wing, McCain chose as his running mate a woman known for her aerial shooting of wolves and her far right position on global warming.

Pro-life means more than keeping a fetus alive, because life does not end at birth. Pro-life cares about the death penalty, war, and torture, about economic justice, health care, and sustainable living to protect the planet, about reducing gun violence, all issues on which Republicans have a more shameful record than Democrats.

Obama’s positions on foreign policy and on several domestic issues do not match mine exactly, but I will vote for him because he demonstrates greater intelligence, integrity, and judgment than McCain.

Obama supports “doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies” and he got that into the Democratic platform, but the Republican platform has no abortion-reduction language. Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute showed that states giving more aid to families show a 20 percent lower abortion rate than other states. Such help for poor women would be undercut by McCain’s economic policies. For these reasons, an Obama win could result in fewer abortions than a McCain win.

Criminalizing abortion would not end them—some studies show it would not reduce their number at all—and prosecuting women and doctors for abortion would only add weight to the pro-choice side. Furthermore, it would cause more deaths as desperate women would submit to unsafe abortions. Besides that, it would simply kick the controversy back to the states where it could fester longer and more bitterly.

Abortion is wrong, but as Bernard Evans asserts in Vote Catholic?: Beyond the Political Din, the Judaeo-Christian tradition teaches that our public policies should promote the common good, and its persistent theme has been the charge to uplift the poor. John XXIII said that a country’s prosperity should be measured by its “distribution of goods according to norms of justice.” In other words, not abortion, but social justice should be the governing issue for those of us who vote our conscience.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blog Index

I am elated because Peter Ohmann finished my blog index (Look right below "Blog archive"). Two brothers Ohmann, Peter, a college student, and Tony, a high school student, have been my computer geeks for about a year. They know how to navigate the technology jungle required for a website and blog. It’s so pleasant having smart young people to depend on.

I hope you have as great a time as I did perusing my index to read essays I posted in the past. Now you can just click on titles that interest you and up come my essays. Then click “comments” to respond, or click on the contact button on my website.

The index isn’t finished yet, because it doesn’t include posts of the last two months. We’ll get to it, but the recent ones are easy to access anyway. Maybe you’ll want to request topics or make other suggestions.

Here is the link to Victoria Moran’s interview of me, an Internet radio show:
http://www.ecstreams.com/HealthyLife/wma/acl0827_wma.asx
Enjoy!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Riane Eisler

At the Women and Spirituality conference in Mankato I was motivated to return to a recurrent theme in my writing—the global shift from POWER OVER to POWER WITH.

Keynoter at the conference was Riane Eisler, social scientist, recipient of many awards, and author of the international bestseller The Chalice and the Blade, as well as many other articles and books. She is one of the authors I credit for my realization of the power shift needed, as she puts it, from domination to partnership. I read Chalice and Blade many years ago, but I plan to reread it as well as dive into her latest book, The Real Wealth of Nations.

It corrects Adam Smith’s exclusive focus on unfettered markets in his The Wealth of Nations; Eisler includes the life-supporting activities of households, communities, and nature to sum up the real wealth of nations. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) features not at all, or very little, the caring work performed disproportionately by women, but their work is absolutely essential to it.

A few of us were fortunate to attend a luncheon with Riane Eisler, and that’s when I saw her activist strain as she worked to ensure that her vision has legs in the real world. I intend to contribute to her effort by spreading understanding of her thoroughly researched insights. We need to seize this opportunity of our nation’s financial crisis to build a more caring, equitable, and sustainable economic system.

April 5, 2009
For an indictment of Republicans and Democrats, of past and present American governments despoiling our entire financial system, watch
Rob a bank.
Bill Moyers interviewed Bill Black, the man who uncovered the S & L scandal and is author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. The transcript is also available at transcript.

I got several emails in response to this video, reacting strongly to it.

April 6.
I’ve been getting more feedback on the Moyers interview with Bill Black. One supplied the URL for another Moyers-economist interview a while ago. At American Oligarchs you’ll see Simon Johnson, whose message closely intertwines with Black’s.
One hopeful note from his statements: He said the IMF (International Monetary Fund) does NOT agree with the insider financial elites who got us into this mess. This bodes well because the IMF was given new power and new funds at the G-20 summit.

Gary Younge, a columnist in The Nation, pointed out that the media hullabaloo over AIG bonuses sends the wrong message. It says we envy the rich. That’s not it. It’s about injustice, not envy.
We need to focus on the system that lets the wealthy enrich themselves at the expense of the middle class.

What to do? That’s the response from some. I think Obama sincerely wants to hear from ordinary people. If we communicate with political leaders, I hope our message reaches him through the din of noise echoing in the beltway. If you have good ideas for how to do that, clue us in, please.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Trinity

If you go to the comments after "Sin-talk" you'll see a good one on the Trinity. I apologize for the doubling of my reply—another example of my bungling efforts in technology. I refer readers to this excellent resource on the Trinity: http://www.pistissophia.org/The_Holy_Spirit/the_holy_spirit.html

Friday, September 26, 2008

Evil and fear

Carl Jung observed that traditional Christianity presents an imbalanced view of good and evil, because the menacing dark side of reality—evil—is glaringly absent in Christian God-images. By contrast, images in other religions acknowledge mysterious dark forces both positive and negative. For instance, the Hindu Goddess Kali represents darkness, violence, and annihilation, while also representing Ultimate Reality and Source of all.

In Christian teaching, evil comes from a non-divine Source, but this denies that God is the Source of all. This one-sided view of reality also leads to denial of the shadow—that part of ourselves that we don’t want to look at. If Ultimate Reality brings only perfect sweetness and light, we want to avoid unpleasant realities. We strive for perfection and deny what we don’t like in ourselves. Nothing scares and repels us more than our own shadow, the disorderly, not nice feelings, desires, and drives that complicate our lives. And so we deny and repress them to the point of not knowing what feelings we have.

I still remember my startled recognition about 25 years ago when someone described resentment. Forcefully I said to myself, “I’m resentful. I’m resentful!” It was one moment of enlightenment in my long journey of inner work. Another step in that journey was to express my anger without doing it destructively.

As long as we are alive and lucid we have work to do, uncovering parts of our inner selves waiting to be discovered. Being rigidly moral and begging a god’s forgiveness for our wretched sinfulness does not help us to accept responsibility for ourselves. Preoccupied with doing good and avoiding evil, we refuse to befriend our weaknesses and remain strangers of our total and true selves. But spiritual health requires acknowledging the sludge. It’s the only way to avoid being phony.

The nasty consequence of losing touch with our own nastiness is that we attribute evil to others and fear them, thus igniting all conflicts, including wars. As Jungian Episcopal priest John Sanford writes, “Accusing our neighbor of possessing those qualities we hate and fear so much in ourselves is no help in solving the problem.”

Shadow denial affects all human relationships, including international affairs. It created the current tension between the U.S. and Russia, the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, the escalation of military weapons worldwide, the demonization of Islam, the war in Iraq, and on and on.

We can make pious statements about good and evil, but if we can’t honestly admit our own shortcomings, our pretty talk contributes nothing to a world crying for justice, peace, and healing. Herein lies the key to all human interactions.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sin-talk

I want to give you a taste of the sin-talk mentality that all of us in the Western world have inherited. My examples from Christian literature illustrate the extremes of that thought paradigm.

The Christian Father-god laid down rules and inspired fearful obedience. He was a Big Boss topping a long line of bosses in the hierarchy of the church. This is evident in the words of the interrogator at St. Joan of Arc’s trial:
You are subordinate to . . . our Holy Father the Pope, the cardinals, the archbishops and the other prelates of the church.
He might have gone on to remind her that she also had to obey priests, her father, and all men. She in turn was superior to animals and to all of nature. Relationships in this paradigm are vertical. We either dominate or are dominated in a silly sort of pecking order.

St. Augustine’s words make this clear:
You . . . make wives subject to their husbands . . . you set husbands over their wives; you join sons to their parents by a freely granted slavery and set parents above their sons in pious domination . . . You teach slaves to be loyal to their masters . . . [You] warn the peoples to be subservient to their kings.
Quite a switch from the words in the Declaration of Independence:
that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
We might be tempted to think we’ve moved way past relating in the subservient way. But the following theology was written as late as 1982:
Just as it is not possible to be a father without having a son, so too God cannot be almighty unless he has creatures over which to exercise his power.
In this paradigm, power devolves from above so that we are always looking up to some and down on others. And what effect does this have?

Meeting the demands of the exacting god prompted St. Teresa of Avila to "thinking of how I have offended God, and of the many things I owe Him." It led her to frequent confession and worrying that her confessors were "poorly educated" when they said that "pastimes and satisfactions" were acceptable. She was afraid their lax idea of sin—calling what she considered mortal sins only venial sins—put her in danger of going to hell. "Without a doubt," she wrote, "it seems to me that my salvation would have been in jeopardy if I should have then died."

Teresa was no more scrupulous than were many of us Catholics when I was growing up. It was a vertical universe that demanded strict obedience to higher-ups.

Today we’re shifting to a more horizontal picture. We are breaking the image of the Big Boss over and above us by visualizing the Holy erupting from below or appearing from within. We are learning to listen to an inner voice.

We are shifting from practicing POWER OVER to POWER WITH or POWER TO as in the power to act capably and courageously, even if it displeases some individuals in authority. This more horizontal way of relating invites us to look straight ahead and act with integrity, treating all alike instead of looking up to some and down on others.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Eckhart Tolle

I was pleased when the celebrant at our Sunday liturgy referred to the “Speaking of Faith” program he heard on his way to our service. I’d been listening too. Interviewed was Eckhart Tolle, who raises many of the themes in my book and blog. His deep wisdom and his ability to express what is very difficult to say has given him, in Krista Tippett’s words, “a powerful reach.” Through Eckhart Tolle, Zen Buddhist understanding is now being popularized in American culture.

Tolle wasn’t given his first name at birth; he took it from the 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart. The first time I heard his name, I was drawn to it because I revere Meister Eckhart—not a surprise to anyone who reads my book and blog. I didn’t like hearing that Oprah Winfrey had made Tolle popular because I dislike faddishness, but I was wrong when I feared that popular always means shallow. His message distills the authentic core of spirituality.

Raised Catholic, Eckhart Tolle synthesizes core teachings from many spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and especially Buddhism. After having spent several decades reading spiritual texts, and after a deep and dreadful dark night of the soul, he experienced a sudden breakthrough, a cathartic release, and woke up to everything looking,
precious and alive . . . everything seemed so peaceful, even the traffic. Later, I saw that phrase in the Bible somewhere, "The peace that passes all understanding."
T.S. Eliot has a parallel phrase—“the still point of the turning world.” Another term for it is “the Reign of God.” But Eckhart Tolle said he does not use the word “God” often, giving the same reason I hesitate to use it.
I use the word God rarely because it's been misused so much by the human mind. . . . when you say ‘God’ you make it into a mental idol.
[The word God] has made the timeless, eternal, that which cannot be named, the vast mystery of life itself [into] a thought form. And then you think you know what you're talking about. But of course that's the misuse of the word God. But what ultimately it points to is the essence of who you are and the essence of what everything else is.
The underlying essence of all life.

Words are so useless when we talk about this. [That's why] the first line in the Tao Te Ching is "The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao."
[Tao is] the mystery. . . the great un-manifested power that is behind all life which cannot be expressed in words.
[Laughing] The book says you can't speak of it. And then it continues to speak of it.
He reminds me of how often I struggle to express the Inexpressible!

Like many contemporary seers, Eckhart Tolle sees a planetary shift in consciousness underway. There’s an exceptional readiness in the world, as the explosive response to his message attests. The whole interview is available at Eckhart Tolle's Now

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reign of God vs. Kingdom

In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, I interpret Christian doctrine inclusively. Because distinctions are a good way of helping us to “get” new concepts, I’ve fashioned this table to contrast the inclusive idea of the Reign of God from the exclusive Kingdom idea.

Exclusive Kingdom of God --- Inclusive Reign of God

“Sudden eruption of God’s rule” (end of the world)--- Eternal Field of consciousness (Ground of being)
Literal interpretation --- Symbolic interpretation
Coming in linear time ---Eternal, timeless
Jesus judge and savior ---Universal ideal in each person
Access limited ---Accessible to all
Inconsistent with science; end of world, of physical law --- Consistent with science, with findings about space/time & consciousness
Territory of a male monarch with power over subjects --- Inner dimension with equal dignity of all
Christian frame of ideas --- Universal frame of ideas

August 4, 2012

The range of responses to the prior post delight me. A person who emailed me numbered them from 1 to 9 and said this:
"Some of these I probably would agree with (3, 5, 6, 7). A couple I don't know what you mean at all (1, 2, 8, 9) and would need an explanation. # 4, I really don't know what you mean."
Books would be needed to adequately answer Tule's comment question and this email set of questions, but I hope to partially answer them here, and I invite further questions. It's clear that, in my zeal to speak to the full spectrum of spiritual beliefs, I assume too large a degree of common understanding.

Here goes.
The historical Jesus often spoke about something that usually is translated “Kingdom of God” and traditionally is envisioned as a heaven reserved for people whom Jesus judged worthy at a cataclysmic end of the world. A respected theologian believed that Jesus preached “a sudden, final eruption of God’s rule into this present world.” Many Christians still imagine this “Kingdom” to be so exclusive that only believers in Jesus get in. This and other exclusive Christian claims are the target of my effort to bridge Christianity with other ways of imagining spiritual reality, religious and non-religious.

As I imagine the Reign that the Nazarene spoke of, it is the cosmic field of consciousness that mystics experience in deep meditation and people like Eckhart Tolle discuss. Mysticism is the direct experience of what’s called “God,” a term that unfortunately conjures up a god. Included in the mystic experience is union with this indefinable Ground of being or Source of all that is or could be. “Eternity” could be another term for it (no words do it justice), because Einstein’s discovery of the space/time continuum separates the timeless Source from timed creation.

I believe Jesus to have been one of the great mystic seers of history, but we don’t have to be mystics to have some experience of the Eternal Source. It is an experience of consciousness that transcends rationality and transcends the physical brain, although instruments can detect something happening. Actually all thought, all consciousness transcends physical activity. Apparently Tule disagrees with this.

Another email comment came from Vincent Smiles, the Professor of Theology who read my manuscript and whose expertise in scripture I depend on.

Dr. Smiles cautions against attributing to Jesus our modern consciousness and separating Jesus too much from his own time, which was saturated with apocalyptic expectation. That makes sense. I reach the conclusion that, whatever the man in Palestine meant 2000 years ago, we have to translate its meaning for us at this stage in the evolution of human consciousness. And Vincent says something similar but much more completely and more nuanced:

"In general, of course, I like and agree with what you are suggesting here, but there are a number of complications. We have to keep clearly in mind the distinction between the ancient voices as enshrined in the texts, and our modern sensitivities and interpretations. This means that we cannot in any sense replace “end of the world,” for instance, with “ground of being,” since the NT (almost certainly including Jesus himself) did understand the “kingdom” (or “reign”) to involve God’s imminent closure of history-as-usual. That is why there is a distinctively political edge to the NT, for all that politics as such was neither Jesus’ nor the early church’s primary concern.

"We, by contrast, have essentially given up on “imminent coming,” even though we still profess “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” When Jesus preached that “the reign of God is at hand,” he was not saying, “the eternal field of consciousness is timeless” (or the like); the evidence suggests that, in line with the tradition of OT prophecy, he had in mind some definitive action by God to interrupt the current flow of history and to bring it to fulfillment in accordance with the ancient promises to Israel.

"There was an inclusiveness in his vision that was, and remains, of decisive importance, which is why I mostly agree with what you are suggesting, but the issue of the “translation” of the ancient preaching and actions into present meanings is quite complex, I think. I think there has to be some negotiation between the “revelations” enshrined in the Bible, which are articulated in ancient idioms, and those same “revelations” as we receive and understand them in the context of our times and cultures. There is danger, in my view, in allowing either one to dominate the other.

"Specifically, I think it is important to strive for an understanding of God as active in human history not merely in a universal sense (“eternal field” etc) but also in particular times and places. “The Word became flesh” in a specific time, place and culture; if we view God only in terms of an “eternal field,” then, as I see it, we - very ironically - shrink God; she becomes just an amorphous idea, a concept, perhaps even just a “God of the philosophers.” Personally, I’d be just as happy with atheism. So, while I agree with the thrust toward inclusiveness, I think we need to strive for that in ways that do not compromise the specificity of Jesus – or, for that matter, of Buddha, Mohammed and so on."


I look forward to Vincent’s forthcoming book on science and spirituality.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Divinity in all

My purpose being to bridge Christianity with other spiritual traditions, I’m always happy to see common themes. One such is the idea that individual consciousness is part of the One consciousness.

First a word about “consciousness.” For me “Consciousness” can be a synonym for God, similar to Mind or Thought, and I believe Consciousness/Mind/Thought is prior to the material universe.

I’ve read and listened to more than one kind of atheist. Some only disbelieve in the god I don’t believe in either—the humanlike individual. But some atheists apparently don’t believe in immaterial reality, and that makes no sense at all.

We think, and our thoughts cannot be tracked by the brain or attributed to brain processes. They are more than movements of molecules. Furthermore, our scattered and contradictory thoughts are unified by our minds into a unified sense of self. I know that I am I, no matter how the various feelings and ideas in me conflict. Where does this self in me come from? Ken Wilber explores this mystery:
What in you right now is looking at all these objects—looking at nature and its sights, looking at the body and its sensations, looking at the mind and its thoughts? . . . As you push back into this pure Subjectivity, this pure Seer, you won’t see it as an object—you can’t see it as an object, because it’s not an object! . . . the “Seer” in you that is witnessing all these objects is itself just a vast Emptiness.
This is the Void that Buddhists talk about and the Formlessness I talk about in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. It is infinitely greater than us but not separate from us. Thich Nhât Hanh, a Buddhist monk living in the West, likens our connection with God to a wave’s relation to the whole ocean.

Yann Martell in Life of Pi says,
The individual soul touches upon the world soul like a well reaches for the water table. That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing. The finite within the infinite, the infinite within the finite.
The fourteenth century German mystic Meister Eckhart approached this mystery with Christian language:
The Father gives birth to me his Son.
When the Father begets his Son in me, I am that Son and no other. . . . Thus, we are all in the Son and are the Son.
The Father gives birth to his Son without cease, and I say more: he gives birth to me his Son and the same Son.
God and I we are one.
If we translate Eckhart’s patriarchal symbolism—his father/son language—to apply it universally, we hear him saying that the Source is continually begetting, and each of us is equally an offspring of the Source called God. Eckhart essentially says,
I’m just as divine as Jesus is.
His insight is that of all mystics. Whatever their tradition, mystics are transported into a state of communion with the One so complete that they lose their separateness from It, realizing full union with Divinity. I believe Jesus attained this state, but I do not believe his communion with what we call God was unique and unrepeatable.

Eckhart was excommunicated shortly after he died, but since then his preaching has been received with awe and gratitude by Catholics and others on a spiritual quest, whatever their tradition. One Christian writer said,
To go where Eckhart went is to come close to Lao Tzu [author of the Tao te Ching] and Buddha, and certainly Jesus Christ.
Now to the breathtaking revision in Connie’s comment to my post “God is not supernatural.” An extraordinary ordinary Catholic, she wrote,
I reverse the consecration prayer at Mass by saying, "in ME, through ME, and with ME.
The penetrating insight and courage in that!

My final quotation addresses the consequences of this insight. Andrew Cohen in What Is Enlightenment? writes,
You realize "I am the creator" in the midst of the fact that there are six or seven billion other creators. . . . It means within my own means, I’m going to take absolute responsibility for creating the future. It means we’re no longer deferring responsibility, no longer making excuses.
This theme implicitly gives an answer to one reader’s comment that I cannot “claim to be a Catholic Christian and then reject the divinity of Christ.” I do not reject the divinity of Christ but, as I say in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, the term "Christ" does not refer exclusively to one man who lived two thousand years ago. Divinity infuses the entire universe, and Christian doctrinal terms allude to this: "cosmic Christ" and "Incarnation."

Lincoln on myth (August 12, 2008)
Abraham Lincoln was no mythologist or theologian but he understood the human need for myth. During a discussion questioning whether George Washington was perfect, Lincoln said there was merit in having people believe it.
It makes human nature better to believe that one human being was perfect, that human perfection is possible.
I haven’t seen a better explanation of the need for and power in the mythical Jesus.

I’m reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Reading the book has become a spiritual exercise as I follow Lincoln and his contemporaries combining politics with their moral revulsion over slavery. Lincoln was an astute as well as compassionate politician and, while he advanced the realization of his ambition with canny skill, he absorbed defeats with magnanimity, despite the hurt.

He was not religious; he could not believe there is anything that survives death except being held in memory by others. But he supported his wife’s faith and remains a spiritual model for Americans and the world, prompting Edwin M. Stanton to proclaim at his death, “Now he belongs to the ages.” Lincoln is a clear example of the difference between religion and spirituality.

Florian commented:
Good beliefs are ones that are actually true. It is not good to believe what isn't true. To request belief in what is not true is an affront to our intelligence.

I think you have completely missed the fact that the power of the Christian "myth" comes from the gospel claim that it is not myth but (factual) truth. If you take away the factual truth aspect of it, I guarantee you that the power that the Christian message has displayed throughout history will fizzle out.

You don't even realize that you are a prime example of this. By giving up on literal belief, the Christian message has fizzled out of you.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goddess Mary

National Catholic Reporter has a lovely article about Meinrad Craighead, an artist who grew up Catholic and whose images convey “a keen sense of the brooding, watching, beckoning power she finds in the land around her, in the sky above, the earth below, in the animals, in our dreams.”

I would change a word in the statement that the artist’s “first real religious experience, at the age of 7, was not in the church but in nature, with her dog.” Her experience was spiritual, not religious.

Gazing into her dog’s eyes, Craighead as a girl felt water rushing deep inside her and saw a woman’s face that she immediately recognized as God, “more real, more powerful than the remote ‘Father’ I was educated to have faith in. . . . God the Mother came to me and, as children will do, I kept her a secret. We hid together inside the structures of institutional Catholicism.”

Craighead’s feminine images of the Divine are healing the Christian tradition’s lopsided use of male images and masculine pronouns. “He,” “Him,” and “His” endorsed the oppression of women and also the degradation of nature, because psychically women are associated with nature.

As Carl Jung pointed out, however, Catholicism retained more feminine imagery than Protestantism because Catholics venerate Mary, who plays exactly the psychic role that the Goddess played in pre-historical times—she’s the Great Mother, as mythologists like to observe.

Jung approved vigorously when the Assumption of Mary into heaven was declared in 1950 because, he said, it brought some balance to the masculine Godhead. He did not believe any doctrines literally; his concern was human psychic health. In addition to gender imbalance, he observed Christianity’s low valuation of nature.

Maybe because women give birth and suckle children, they are more closely related in the human psyche to nature than are men. Interestingly, shrines devoted to Mary often have moving water, as Craighead’s vision had. And the Goddess appeared with natural elements such as water and trees.

We need feminine God-images to balance the preponderance of “king,” “lord,” and “father.”
***********

At http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/1565 you can read about a peace activist priest who assisted at a women's ordination ceremony. Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, long associated with the cause of Christian non-violence and attempts to close the international school for military training at Fort Benning, Ga., earlier this month staked his conscience to a different cause: the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.”

A reader emailed me a comment (not submitted for publication), naming Nancy Pelosi as evidence that woman power is not shared power. Her crafty wielding of power does not come close to accomplishing the harm done by other powerful women, past and present, that I could name. That individual women who managed to rise in the male system used male tactics does not invalidate our conviction that woman power is needed and rising.

*******************
I'm responding to the comments after this post.

The gleeful “ha, you want power” opens up thoughts about power. Someone once suggested I run for office but I said I’d be spectacularly unsuccessful as a politician. I’m no leader in that sense and don’t want to be. My “assignment” is to prod deeper reflection than most people are willing to engage in. If I wanted external power, I would not risk dislike by debunking cherished notions.

But the world needs women to collectively acquire more power and it is happening. Called “soft power” in popular parlance, a more feminine kind of power is now promoted as the preferred way to do foreign policy. It encourages agreement with one’s own position without using violence.

Woman power, however, is power WITH instead of power OVER. It is shared power, symbolized by and carried out in circles. A circle of shared power, in contrast to hierarchical power, values the contributed wisdom of EVERYone equally. To do foreign policy or church governance with this model, would require leaders to relinquish their patriarchal role of forcing their own view on others and instead coax out the view from those at the bottom of influence.

Woman power is democracy at its best. Ironically, while the current Bush administration claims to spread democracy around the world, it tramples on democracy at home. Strong resistance from both conservatives and liberals rises from disgust over its underhanded endorsement of torture and its efforts to control public discussion. Its disdain for the views of others resulted in disastrous foreign policy that Condoleezza Rice is now gamely trying to reverse.

Leaders cannot impose their views for long anyhow. Observe the futile efforts of the Catholic hierarchy to squelch discussion about women priests. Relentlessly, historical facts refuting their cherished position that women have never been Church leaders keep surfacing—evidence from New Testament letters, evidence in the catacombs, evidence from monasteries in Ireland, and the list goes on. Burgeoning respect for womanly wisdom can’t be squelched.

The statement “God's masculinity is part of the Christian revelation” in Florian’s second rant would be denied today by every respectable Christian theologian, Catholic or otherwise. But Florian is right in assuming the importance of sexual symbolism in the Christian myth—what he calls its “revelation”—and in its denial of ordination to women.

I’ll refer again to Sex, Priests, and Power by A.W. Richard Sipe, retired priest, psychotherapist for abuser-priests around the country, and a board director of the Collegeville Sexual Trauma Institute. He analyzes the culture of the celibate priesthood and its pathological loathing of women, quoting a treatise as recent as 1909:
“If he is going to treat her as she wishes, he must have intercourse with her, for she desires it; he must beat her, for she likes to be hurt . . . [she] has no desire to be respected for herself.”

Sipe comments, “Although Weininger’s verbalization would be consciously rejected, the essence of his message and logic is alive and well within the celibate/sexual structure of power. One has only to analyze the operation of that system in Rome, in any diocese, or in official documents that deal with issues of gender or celibacy to validate the appeal to nature and God’s will for the place of men and women in the order of things.”

For a healthy priesthood, says Sipe, we must “divorce it from the denigration of women and the arrogance of religious superiority.”

I will accept no more comments to this post. I publish submitted comments if they have points worth discussing, but I have to take the whole or nothing. Unable to edit submissions, I have to subject us all to empty words, words, words. It's the reason I used the word "rant." Please edit your comments for economy and spare us all the clutter. And please stop the ad hominem attacks.

Friday, July 18, 2008

God is not supernatural

We don’t need proofs of divine reality because we all have an innate sense of it, atheists included. The work of mythologists supports the conclusion I reached from my own experience that God is the most natural reality, not some super-natural, extra-natural, un-natural, external-to-reality being we have to be told to believe in.

The Mystery deep within all reality does not belong to religion more than to the rest of life, and any claim by a religion that it possesses exclusive revelation of what we call God is absurd. It is religion’s preposterous claims plus its conflicts, craziness, and cruelties that disgust atheists. Understandable. But let’s not ignore the positive contributions of religion.

A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicated a growing awareness by Americans that God is not a humanlike individual. This is a step toward realizing that the Holy Force is independent of religion. While 60% of respondents said they believe in a “personal God,” a surprisingly high 25% said they believe in an “impersonal force.” I welcome the shift to this more abstract idea of God and away from the Guys in the Sky. As it gains familiarity in public consciousness, I hope that a growing number of people will see how distorting and inappropriate is the steady drip of “He,” “Him,” and “His.”

The poll by the Pew Forum confirmed the importance of faith to Americans, but it also showed dogmatism waning. 70% of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination, including majorities among Protestants and Catholics, said they agreed that "many religions can lead to eternal life."

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune saw the poll results as proof that “the Humble Majority” agree “that no single religion or philosophical system has a monopoly on the Absolute Truth.” He believes, “Humility is the appropriate response to the vastness of the universe and the wonders and horrors of life on Earth.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Women in the Bible

A 1996 study by Sr. Ruth Fox analyzed passages chosen for the lectionary, the book of biblical readings used in liturgical celebrations. http://www.futurechurch.org/watw/womeninbibleandlectionary.htm
She found that passages in the Bible about women performing significant deeds have been omitted or relegated to weekdays instead of Sundays or “neatly sliced out of the middle of the lectionary passage.” The pattern of exclusion could not have been accidental. It was deliberate, and it reinforces the message promulgated by Church officials: Women are subordinate to men in regard to sacred matters.

Fox cites examples in the scriptures known to most Christians as Old and New Testaments. Some omissions are almost laughable because the reading stops just at the point when women are depicted as dignified messengers from God to humanity. And sometimes, writes Fox, “Passages containing positive references to [women] are left out while those containing negative references are retained.”

Women are doing something about this. For information about a campaign to “put women back in the biblical picture,” go to http://www.futurechurch.org/watw/index.htm .

I’m glad women are prodding the Church toward gender justice, but I expect more rapid progress in the secular sphere. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, for instance, changed perceptions about women as leaders. I noticed during a discussion on NPR about federal policies that speakers referred to a hypothetical president as “he or she.”

It’s all about perception. Deletion of passages about women leaders from proclamations of the Word in church reinforces the exclusion of women from decision making in the Church.

But life is not static. Religions, like species, thrive or die, depending on their ability to adapt to changes. My hopes rest on evolving attitudes toward woman power.
Jeanette

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Justice for poor, marginalized

The Catholic Church preaches justice, compassion, and aid to the poor. Over the centuries Catholics have lived out that commitment in many ways, but certain actions of its hierarchy send the very opposite message.

John Nienstedt succeeded the beloved Bishop Raymond Lucker in the Diocese of New Ulm and caused consternation with his hard-line, rightist positions on sexual morality and other matters. Then the ultra-conservative was promoted to become Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Fears of the consequences have materialized. His office has attacked two vibrant Catholic parishes in Minneapolis, some would argue, the two most active promoters of justice—St. Stephen’s and St. Joan of Arc—by thwarting their ministries to the marginalized. In both, their offense in his view apparently was that the parishes affirmed gay and lesbian persons.

A board member of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities called the archbishop’s action “another volley of dehumanizing spiritual violence” under his “reign of homophobic hatred.” St. Joan of Arc parishioners are speaking out. At St. Stephen’s a group broke away to continue worshipping as it thinks appropriate. Nienstedt’s outrages galvanize Catholics who might otherwise slide passively along in a Church with “leaders” who lag way behind their supposed followers.

Conscientious Catholics are resisting the tyranny of cruelty disguised as morality. Another example is the subject of “Community supports ousted nun.
Sr. Louise Lears is a faculty member in theology at Saint Louis University known for her work for peace and justice, for the poor, for survivors of torture and war trauma, and for the homeless. Saint Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke banned her from ministry and from the sacraments, after which he was elevated by the Vatican to a higher position. So much for the official Church’s preaching about justice and human rights.

To non-Catholics it may seem incredible that Catholics stay in a Church with dictatorial and wrongheaded officials. It’s a question I wrestle with in the first chapter of God Is not Three Guys in the Sky.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tax System Unfair

I received phone calls in enthusiastic agreement with my article in the St. Cloud Times.
http://www.sctimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080630/OPINION/106300049/-1/archives
Our democracy is in danger of becoming a plutocracy, a nation controlled by the rich.
A really “free market” would not slather economic rewards on a favored few. We need to tax the wealthiest Americans fairly to avoid going the way of Latin America or Asia.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Shift toward the feminine

Women transforming the world, July 23, 2008
I begin by quoting a Catholic friend Bob Wedl:
Let us not confuse the church and the faith.
Observing that the institutional church’s stance against women and homosexuals destroys faith and insults God—whose supposed error produced these deficient persons—Wedl continued,
We cannot permit the church to continue trying to destroy the faith.
It cannot continue because cradle Christians are changing the church. I'm feeling optimistic because I spent the weekend with women who are helping to transform not only the church but the world.

Gather the Women connects women with each other to activate their untapped feminine well of wisdom and direct it toward solving problems of the world. The women I met this weekend glowed with Spirit’s power. I still see their love-filled faces. Working under and behind the glare of public headlights, they raise awareness by carrying out individual “assignments,” discerned through deep listening to the Divine. They "call on each other to BE the change we want to see." Learn more at http://gatherthewomen.org/gtw/index.htm

I was flattered to hear in the welcoming ceremony a paragraph from God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky explaining the unique set of attitudes, skills, and perspectives that women contribute toward healing the world from the patriarchal bias of several millennia.
To the independence-seeking male, let us add the connection-seeking female. To counter the adversarial inclination, let us apply relationship building. To counter warmaking, competition, and domination, let us apply peacemaking, cooperation, and partnership. To the image of a God or Gods up above, let us add that of living within the womb of Mother Earth, whose air, water, and soil we strive to protect.

Barred from power for many centuries, women are able to practice power WITH instead of power OVER and AGAINST, as demonstrated by their disproportionate presence in peace advocacy. This has implications for global politics and economics as well as religion.
Anonymous commented: I was there at St. Benedict's with Gather the Women and I was very impressed with Jeanette's intellect, her passion, and her commitment to "starting the conversation." As someone who left the Catholic Church in the 1960's, I'm impressed with the ability of women (and men) who are stretching the centuries old boundaries of Catholicism and not finding themselves excommunicated! Things have changed—but not enough.

Jeanette: The only difference between me and many Catholics is that I confess my true beliefs publicly. A large chunk of the Catholic Church has moved past traditional belief but cherishes the tradition and does not want to roil the hierarchy or other Church members who insist on conformity of belief.


Shift toward the feminine
A Public Broadcasting program about a twelfth century crusade reminded me of the damage inflicted by the warrior mind. Richard the Lionhearted led Christians against the great Muslim leader Saladin for control of Jerusalem, considered a holy city by both. And both sides believed they were carrying out the will of God.

Saladin earned the adjective “great” because he stopped his followers from killing Christians after his victory in Jerusalem. Richard, on the other hand, after his victory there years later had thousands of captured Muslims slaughtered. Who was the better “Christian”?

But my bigger point is that the warrior culture of patriarchy valued warlike aggression and called it “heroism” and “bravery.” Seeing the raw brutality of the Middle Ages highlighted for me today’s contrasting movement away from glorified militarism. Even the most aggressive political leaders of today claim their activities are in the interest of peace. Such language was foreign to the Crusaders and Muslims of the twelfth century.

The story of medieval brutality impressed on me the ascendance of feminine values begun centuries past and continuing with growing rapidity today.
Females tend to value relationships more than males, and we tend to hold women accountable for all relationships. For centuries women have done men's emotional laundry--mothers for sons, wives for husbands, sisters for brothers, secretaries for bosses, and so on. Women are typically more sensitive to the needs of others, the empathic listeners, the referees in family disputes. Women are more conditioned to spend themselves for others. These are stereotypes that exaggerate and distort, but they’re useful for understanding what goes on in our lives.

Whereas the male seeks separation, the female seeks connection. While he has difficulty with intimate relationships, she is threatened by separation. He fears loss of autonomy; she fears isolation. While his unhealthy manner of dealing with insecurity is to fight, she wants to submerse herself in a dependent relationship. This information comes from In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan, psychology professor at Harvard. Whether the male/female differences are the result of nature or nurture—I suspect both—the point is the differences.

The feminine value of peaceful cooperation is gaining ground. Between 1914 and 1918 a great Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan said:
I can see as clear as daylight that the hour is coming when women will lead humanity to a higher evolution.
This statement, one of many such by thoughtful observers, expresses what I believe—not because I think women are better than men but because the globe needs a break from male combativeness.

The following message comes from a man in Africa, Credo Mutwa, a Zulu Sangoma (traditional healer).
Awaken the mother mind within every one of you human beings. Our people believe that every human being has two minds: the mother mind and the warrior mind. The warrior mind looks at things logically: the warrior mind sees two plus two is four. But the mother mind sees nothing like that. The mother mind does not think in a linear way as warriors do. The mother mind thinks sideways, and upwards and downwards. We must awaken the mother mind within each of us.

We must feel what is going on in the world. We must not listen to newspapers. We must ourselves feel! It is said by our Zulu people that women think with their pelvic area, where children grow and are born. We must think that way! We must no longer look at a tree but must see a living entity like us in that thing. We must no longer look at a stone but see the future lying dormant in that stone. We must think like grandmothers...that's all.
I hope readers, male and female, can set aside their logical minds long enough to absorb this intriguing message from the feminine realm, albeit delivered by a man.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Christopher Hitchins & Quakers

I’m reading atheist Christopher Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great and finding it more interesting than I expected. He provides details of stories we know vaguely, about the revolting histories of religions and the sordid immorality of religious figures. As expected, he pays little attention to admirable religious activities, but he does call “haunting and elusive” Philippians 4:8:
Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise.
Having observed atheist spirituality before, I was not surprised to see it here. Hitchens tried on Marxism as “a rational alternative to religion,” but eventually he realized it was “comparably dogmatic.” I applaud his insight and honesty in making this admission. But here’s a more intriguing thought: He admired Leon Trotsky, the Russian Marxist, for his sense of
the unquenchable yearning of the poor and oppressed to rise above the strictly material world and to achieve something transcendent.
This could be one definition of spirituality—unquenchable yearning for something transcendent, something beyond the material world. The same yearning that produced Marxism generates religions of all kinds. It motivates the beloved religious women, my friends and mentors, who graciously let me participate in their Sunday liturgy and in chanting psalms.

In one day I go from chanting with nuns to atheist philosophy. How do I harmonize them? By knowing that yearning for the Transcendent motivates both, but they express this yearning in different ways.

I am attracted to the Quaker way of praying as described by Parker Palmer. For the Quaker Society of Friends, prayer is listening for “that of God” inside every person. This inner voice or teacher or light, also known as Christ, is “often muffled or obscured by all kinds of static, both inside and outside of us,” writes Palmer.
So, prayer is first about getting ourselves into a place where the rush and the pressure of modern life can fade into the background and we can slow down so we are not standing in the middle of the freeway, as it were. . . . some of the speeding and clanging and clamoring is going on inside of us. It is not all external, not by a long shot.
Quakers in meeting still the heart “so inner listening can go on” because “a human being is not an empty vessel.” They hearken to the Inner Transcendent, believing we do not need to be “filled up from the outside by someone else’s version of what is good and true and beautiful.”

Could Christopher Hitchens resonate with this? I think so. He does not deny all spiritual reality, and I see compatibility between his sensibility and Palmer's Quaker spirituality. Religious leaders should take note.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The post-Christian age

Recent experience tells me how hard it must be if you’re a member of a religious community or working for a Catholic institution and you believe as I do, or at least are asking healthy questions. I know many such persons. They’re drawn to religion by a deeply felt spiritual awareness but, in contrast to more shallow believers, they have the capacity to scrutinize the statements of religious leaders.

They are likelier than most Christians to THINK, to study spiritual issues. Their scholarship leads to rejection of literal belief, but also to deeper faith, less mundane, less rule-bound, and less parochial. Inevitably, painfully, they see the sins of the human religious institution to which they belong. In my observation, they are more loyal to their immediate community than to the institutional Church, but they choose not to advertise their critical views of hierarchical pronouncements.

The hierarchy still has the power to hurt religious communities, parishes, schools, and individuals who dare to dissent. And less aware Catholics fail to see the trend toward a less monolithic Catholicism. But it’s unmistakable, and the Womenpriests rejection of the Vatican’s excommunication signals something new—they can’t hold us down anymore!

When the ideas for God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky rose in me more than twenty years ago, a religious monk to whom I spoke said, “They’ll throw bricks at your house.” He voiced my own dread. I imagined being shot or assaulted but couldn’t quell the impulse to educate people to my new awareness. That was the climate then. Today the capacity for broadened spiritual understanding has grown astonishingly.

A few months ago, StarTribune columnist Nick Coleman reported that the new conservative Archbishop John Nienstedt forced St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis to stop its popular service, which had “guitars, lay people giving homilies, dancing in the aisles with people who have mental and physical disabilities, gay couples openly participating.” On March 2, 100 or more people from St Stephen’s planned to march to a new home five blocks away “to pray the way we think is right.”

A spirituality rising from the bottom up is clashing with rules and thought control from the top down. Robert McClory, a Catholic critic of his own Church is quoted as saying, “Fierce resistance to change is often the last hurrah of a faltering regime.”

Religious officials try to keep a lid on the ferment by fiddling with picayunish piety. A headline in the St. Cloud Visitor, for instance, announced, “Vatican official questions Communion in the hand.” He feared a weakening of “faith in the real presence of Christ.” The man from Nazareth would tell the cardinal to stop worrying whether the wafer goes onto the tongue or into the hand. He upbraided people for obsessing over cleaning the outside of cup and dish (Luke 11:39).

As lay people gain in education, rule-happy Church authority loses its hold on them. This has been going on for scores of years, but now other factors are contributing. And the changes involve the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid."

A study by The Barna Group of 16- to 29-year-olds shows the new generation is more skeptical of Christian claims. Even among church-goers, half of these young folks criticized Christianity for being judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. A third said it is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

The study finds 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers criticize Christianity’s bias against homosexuals. Unlike older generations, young people have gay and lesbian friends who don’t hide the fact and obviously don’t deserve the contempt given them by Christian churches.

Evangelicals once were obeyed when they told people what to believe, whom to vote for, whom to condemn. The study finds that only 3 percent of the young have a good opinion of evangelicals, who can feel the shift—91 percent of evangelicals think Americans are more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

Other studies show that churchgoers freely switch churches and denominations, forming their own opinions of what’s authentic. "The boundaries that once kept people in one faith, one church, have become more permeable," said Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

These studies only confirm what we know is happening—Christianity is losing its dominance.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Women are ordained

On May 4, 2008, a woman was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, and two women were ordained deacons in Winona, Minnesota. They are part of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that passes the fully valid line of “apostolic succession” to women. Some of its priests and bishops have been excommunicated for it. More information is at http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/

The Church claims that its hierarchical authority comes in an unbroken line of succession from the twelve apostles, who received their authority directly from Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. The scripture scholars I respect say flatly that Jesus did not give this “great commission,” but it was a tool that rival Christian factions used to claim exclusive authority.

While I consider the claim of “apostolic succession” a bit silly, I rejoice that women have this neat way of challenging the patriarchal Church, and I have enormous respect for their courage. Only my continued health problems kept me from attending the event.

The Womenpriests intentionally changed parts of the traditional ordination ceremony. Everyone present was invited to receive communion and celebrants were the last to receive. “There are no exclusions. All are welcome,” said Bishop Patricia Fresen. “The celebrants will receive last. We will use a different model.” It’s a more inclusive model.

Besides “apostolic succession,” the exclusion of women from decision-making power in the Church is justified by an all-male God. In A View from Rome, David Schultenover, S.J., describes the rationale underlying the injustice.

“The masculine God/Allah/Yahweh is the principle of all created beings and order in the universe. Honor is then necessarily associated with maleness, shame with femaleness, and thus we have the birth of patriarchy. . . . Women have value only subordinately, insofar as they support the system.”

That system is starting to crumble. More on this to come.
*************************

I’m happy to report that the women participating in women’s ordination are not cowed, as their declaration shows:
“Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . . . [We] are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women.

“We hold up heroic women in the church's tradition like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc and St. Theodore Guerin who obeyed God, followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death. In obedience to Jesus, we are disobeying an unjust law.”

Since women’s ordination is growing in favor around the world—70% of U.S. Catholics favor it—I don’t doubt that it’s coming. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy adds fuel to the growing determination of women to achieve equality. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church can’t stand against this tide for long.

What fascinates me is the thought process used to justify the exclusion of women. An Associated Press story quoted a Vatican official as saying, “The Church does not feel authorized to change the will of its founder Jesus Christ.” The article said this was “in reference to Christ’s having chosen only men as his Apostles.”

Remarkable. A secular news organization states a detail of religious myth as fact. Jesus of Nazareth did not commission 12 men as officials of a new religion. Neither did he found the Church, as the Vatican official claimed. How thoroughly the Christian myth has saturated our Western frame of reality!

Richard Sipe, a married, non-active Roman Catholic priest, writes about sexual abuse by the clergy, linking it to “the denigration of women” and “the arrogance of religious superiority.” He served as chair of the board for the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute in Collegeville. I picked up his book Sex, Priests and Power in Michigan on the bookshelf of my deceased priest brother.

Sipe faults the hierarchy’s “logic that holds that because Jesus was male, men are superior to women.” He writes, “The ultimate justification for this power structure is that God is sexed.” After God Is Not Three Guys came out, someone actually tried to argue to me that God is more male than female. No respected theologian would claim this but, as Sipe indicates, our power structure rests on the assumption.

And I add that Church ritual and language reinforce it constantly. So do our secular media—always “He, Him, His” in reference to God, as if this elusive power were a humanlike male. It is one reason I began my post “Am I an atheist?” as I did.
**************

In Minneapolis on August 16, 2009, I attended the ordination of three women to the Roman Catholic priesthood and one woman to the diaconate, all presided over by Bishop Regina Nicolosi, a female Roman Catholic bishop. To its shame, the institution’s hierarchy excommunicates these courageous women for ritually claiming and proclaiming a role they have been performing without recognition—representing Christ in the world. The future Roman Catholic Church will either recant its cruel and foolish position or become marginalized and then insignificant. I don’t expect to live long enough for either result.

It is mostly women who act as the hands and feet, eyes, mouth and ears of Christ, the inner divinity that Christians call Jesus. It is mostly women who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick as nurses, wrappers of care packages, organizers of food banks and peace demonstrations. It is mostly women who change diapers of the elderly, who wash up after others, who listen patiently to victims of domestic abuse and family discord, who oil the wheels of social intercourse.

All of it without recognition. Doing the essential dirty work while men held the positions of honor and decision making. While men exclusively performed ritual ceremonies as clerics.

Now women have the gumption to say, “Enough! We could do more good in the world if we had more visibility. If we had more say. If we acted as priests and bishops, cardinals, popes, presidents, prime ministers, and secretaries of state.”

Wait a minute. We DO have women in secular leadership. Prejudice against women plays more prominently in religious institutions than in secular ones. Interesting, what this says about religion and justice. In the same way, religion lags behind the secular world in accepting the findings of science. Interesting, what this says about religion and truth.

No wonder a person who attended St. John’s University writes this:
To me, religion is a sham, a con-game that nobody really needs. Religion sells a mind-controlling drug to the masses.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is a word to describe people acting as responsible members of society, concerned with the rights and well-being of others. I know "christians" who are hardly "spiritual", only going the motions. And, I know atheists who are concerned about the rights and needs of others, and would never think to do most of those things on the "thou shalt not" list. Except, of course, those that command them to honor an imaginary God.

God did not create man, man created God.
Well said. I find nothing here to disagree with (See my other writings to learn about man creating God).
But it’s not the whole story. Yesterday’s ordination ceremony filled me with emotion. I love to sing, but at one point my voice faltered and I choked back tears as I watched these deserving and courageous women calmly claim their sacred roles.

Religion fills a mysterious human need. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t figure so prominently in the world’s affairs. But it needs cleaning up, and that’s just what women are good at. Yesterday’s ceremony was one step in that never-ending task.

The following eloquent statement speaks for itself.
I'm Marvin Smith and I'm here to recommend that Mary Frances Smith be ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. After 33 years as Mary's husband, I consider myself an expert witness on Mary-matters and the bearer of inside information. Sorry, there's nothing of great intrigue to disclose. I, like all who know her, realize there's something about Mary that just fits with becoming a priest.

So what are those qualities that recommend her so well? Clearly among them, are her compassion and reverence for life and her deep appreciation of people as unique individuals deserving care and consideration. Those qualities make her the outstanding and professional psychiatric nurse she is.

Yet there is another essential characteristic she possesses and shares with the other courageous women whose ordinations we've come to celebrate. It is a special quality, deservedly revered, and perhaps needed during these times more than ever. It's an attribute best fulfilled when motivated by a deep sense of justice and guided by honesty, selflessness, and steadfast commitment. Simply put, it's a willingness to do hard things. To quietly stand and advance a just cause when told to sit. To conscientiously speak and thoughtfully act in harmony with what one knows is right in the face of disapproval. It's an underlying measure of strong character that can forge profound change by exposing and eradicating discrimination and injustice to enhance our common humanity.

Mary's pursuit of ordination has been demanding. From completing a Master's Degree in Theology to proceeding through the diaconate and priestly discernment process all while working full time to help finance her children's college education—all hard things. Activities like serving on the Women's Ordination Conference board to accepting facilitative roles on RCWP Committees (this is where the inside information comes in) are among the hardest things for her to do. Speaking before groups and traveling to distant cities may be easy for some, but not for Mary. She's never fancied herself a frequent flyer. Just sitting next to her through turbulence makes one convinced sedatives are a miracle drug. As difficult as these personal challenges have been for Mary, there's a profound paradox at work here.

Yes, over these past years, her priestly journey has been hard, but from my expert viewpoint, it has been the most natural, genuine, and personally correct path she has ever walked. Isn't it interesting, that doing hard things when justly inspired, may be the most innately effortless! Perhaps for us all? If the inverse is true, then rigidly restraining the inner yearning for spiritual equality and liberty expressed by Mary and her sacred sisters will with time only become harder and more impossible to suppress.

I'm here to bear witness that Mary Frances Smith is truly ready to be ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and I feel privileged to witness history being progressively fashioned by the doing of hard things.

**** On December 12, 2009, central MN had an event that would surprise many—a Catholic Mass presided over by a woman priest. Actually two women ordained in Minneapolis in August—Mary Frances Smith and Linda Wilcox—presided in this liturgy of heightened significance. It's been years since I said the creed or made the sign of the cross, but on Saturday I could because the language was cleaned up—God was no longer 3 guys in the sky. Opting out of creed and cross is my way of saving my integrity when I participate in liturgies with male-exclusive language.

When planning for this began, 5 people around a table would have been enough to bring the priest. There must have been at least 50—both women and men—who participated. It was a wonderfully thrilling and warming experience, soaked in love, with people eager to step out of the cramped box of thought circumscribed by hierarchs. Liturgies like this pack more meaning. As someone said of the electric energy in the room, “Who needs drugs when we can have experiences like this!”

Wonderful liturgy, wonderful people. Several times I felt like crying with joy that such gatherings occur.