Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ratzinger & Haight disagree

Oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and short attention spans have pushed off the front pages the Catholic Church’s embarrassment over the sex scandal, at least in this country. But I hope pressure on Catholic officials continues so that the wider Church can be liberated from official statements of belief and give attention to authentic promptings from Spirit within.

Roger Haight, Jesuit theologian and past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, wrote Jesus: Symbol of God, which rejects the same literal beliefs I reject in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky—that Jesus is God and his death saved the world. Predictably, Haight was punished by the Vatican’s doctrinal agency that Joseph Ratzinger headed before he became Benedict XVI.

Critics of Haight’s theology complain that it promotes relativism and religious pluralism, which accept the validity of other beliefs. One critic said that Haight reduces the Christian message to something even atheists can affirm, and Ratzinger condemned religious pluralism as the most dangerous movement in Catholic thought today.

But Haight's theology appeals to me precisely because of its relativism and pluralism. We should admit that our way of seeing things is not absolute; it is merely one good set of images that mediate spiritual reality, but it cannot define that reality. Admitting this does not mean abandoning our tradition.
In over-reaction to secular challenges, the Church veers toward literal belief. It fails to distinguish the symbol and myth of Christ from the man Jesus, whose teachings have universal appeal, even to atheists. Understood symbolically, Christian doctrine meshes well with other beliefs, including those of atheists. It becomes universal once we can get over the silly exclusivism and triumphalism.

In a homily that could have been appropriate for Trinity Sunday on May 30, Fr. Dale Launderville stated:
The reality of the divine life is relational; it is dynamic. It is the union of distinct persons who joyfully go forth from one to the other and find their life in such self-communication. This love of the Trinity is the perfect community.
Yes. It nicely resonates with a myriad other Trinitarian images—Goddess, Buddhist, Hindu, and so on, all expressing with a three-fold image the universal truth of unity in diversity. But this symbolic interpretation is accepted by the Vatican only if it refers exclusively to the Christian terms of Father/Son/Holy Spirit, 3 guys in the sky.

Isn’t it sad that what terrifies Catholic officialdom is losing superiority, losing belief that ours is the one and only true faith? To be most joyfully relational and dynamic, let’s drop the superior attitude and respect other belief systems as equally legitimate instead of insisting we have the one and only true faith. How is this dangerous?

In response came this email:
Good job, Jeanette.
I think the CC claim’s claim to superiority and absolutism is another sign of patriarchy. More and more I believe that patriarchy is a root cause of bad theology, morality and spirituality.
It will crash one of these years… Peace,
It’s significant that this, like much of my support, comes from Catholic religious women. One, for instance, frequently says my writings nourish her.

I feel like one grain of sand participating in the shift away from patriarchy. It’s how I explain the drive inside to keep writing about it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prototypes of Christ

I often say that every school of theology should require the works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. They explain the origin of religious beliefs. No, they’re the first to say no one can really explain the depths of the human psyche, but they come as close as anyone.

When I was trying to be an atheist—it was after I realized that Christian mythology resembles pagan mythology—I did what I see my atheist friends do. I chucked it all, all that crap in the Bible and in corrupt churches. And then I found Jung. And then I was given the gift of my Higher Power. And it all fell into place. I can’t remember the sequence of revelations but Joseph Campbell is certainly in there. Oh, and finding my way back to the monastery that had helped to mother me.

With all this forming me, I now say “Amen” to both religious and atheist proclamations. I do this by translating religious language to a degree of symbolism deeper than most Christians can handle. The symbol of Christ, for instance.

Jung teaches us that Christ is a symbol of the inner self in every human person. It is
not peculiar to Christianity alone (although in Christianity [the image has] undergone a development and intensification of meaning not to be found in any other religion).
Psychology and Religion
Among the prototypes of Christ that Jung mentions are Asian Indian and Persian figures. Native Americans examples abound, and anthropologists can cite examples in indigenous cultures around the world. Joseph Campbell has found thousands in the myths of the world. Atheists can cite dozens of pagan Christ-like gods and goddesses.

Right in the Bible are prototypes of Christ.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus claims,
Before Abraham came to be I am.
The father loved me before the foundation of the world.
The father sent me.
I am the way and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the father but through me.
In Proverbs 8 Sophia declares,
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, . . .
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth. . . .
Happy are those who keep my ways. . . .
Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.
Many other Bible passages have Sophia sayings that were the model for Jesus Christ declarations in the Gospel of John.
We need to understand that Sophia and Jesus Christ symbolize a reality in each of us. I can name many dyings and risings in my life and one huge dying/rising experience that lasted many years and transformed me into a person I can love.
What happens in the life of Christ happens always and everywhere. . . . Christ always dies, and always he is born [in the psychic life of every human person].
C.G. Jung
For greater spiritual depth, we have to take the focus off worshipping an external god, a certain image of God named Jesus, and instead facilitate awareness of every person’s Higher Power, whatever that person likes to call it—the Force, the Holy Spirit, the Buddhist observer, the Hindu Atman, the humanist center of integrity, the inner Christ, the self, the soul . . . It is the wisdom that knows better than our surface thinker. It is our link to the Source of All.

Here is where, I’m afraid, I lose atheists who deny all spiritual reality. I can’t bridge the divide with them, but I hope to bridge with those who scoff at belief in Christian myth but also accept the existence of a spiritual dimension in the universe. They share common ground with thoughtful Christians who have graduated from literal belief to realizing that no religion can define spiritual reality.

We have to realize that all religious language must be understood figuratively, that is, non-literally. Fierce literalism now holds sway among Christians, which, I warn, signals the impending death of Christianity as the prevailing spiritual paradigm.

To us in this period of transition is given the task of preserving the tradition’s spiritual treasures—they are many—by heeding promptings from the Deep, whatever our name for it. We cannot reverse the evolution of human consciousness. Change happens.

This comment speaks for itself:
Jeanette: It seems I am again having problems with recognizing my password. So will respond to you this way for now. I think your statement is right on.

I have read most of Campbell’s works and some of Jung’s. All religions seem to be an attempt to describe mystic experiences. Along the way as the given religion develops a lot of dogma and none related but cultural and historical belief get mixed into the faith and the religion evolves. Each religion takes on the color of its history and ends up being more about itself than about spiritual existence.

It’s is so easy to get lost and distracted by all the noise generated by the different issues associated with religion that one loses sight of meaning. I too tried to be an atheist and failed, for I have seen the impossible and that makes the logic based arguments seem hollow. For logic to work the universe has to follow logic, it doesn’t. We are no more than a nit on a flea, and to stand up and declare there is no god is akin to the nit saying there is no dog.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Catholic sex scandal

Posted September 15, 2009
Fr. Richard McBrien:
. . . it is a relatively new development that the pope appoints all the bishops in the Roman Catholic church.
For most of the history of the church, especially during the First Christian Millennium, the selection of bishops rested with the clergy and laity of each diocese, in keeping with Pope Leo the Great's dictum, "He who is to preside over all must be elected by all."

“Today's common practice in which bishops move up a career ladder from a smaller diocese to a larger diocese, and from bishop to archbishop, was explicitly prohibited by the Council of Nicaea in 325 and again by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. A reform movement in the 11th century tried unsuccessfully to restore the ancient practice where the clergy and laity as well as the neighboring bishops played a key part in the selection process.
This is “consent of the governed,” a principle of democracy.

In today’s Church, suppression is tightening instead of loosening. When the Vatican announced it would study women religious congregations in the U.S., many saw it as unnecessary and potentially divisive. Members of the on-site teams who engage in the study “must be willing to make a public profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See.”

This smells more like dictatorship.

Vatican II stepped in the direction of democracy by calling for collegiality or governance from a wide base instead of top-down. The pope was to be a bishop among bishops, not their boss. For a model in the spirit of Vatican II, a shift from top-down to consensus-style governance, we can look to American religious sisters. Ironically, THEY are the ones the Vatican is investigating, not the clergy who perpetrated the sex abuse!

Perhaps sisters can adapt the counsel given in a novel about nineteenth century China. In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See depicts the compliant response and participation of women in the system cruelly oppressing them. Their only value lay in giving birth to sons. Yet, the narrator’s mother-in-law, in the one phrase of the entire novel that attributes any autonomy to a woman, describes a wife’s duty as “Obey, obey, obey, then do what you want.” This is good counsel for women religious anticipating a Vatican visit.

For decades the hierarchy of the Catholic Church systematically covered up sex abuse perpetrated by members of its clergy. Bishops protected priests who molested children and raped women, and later they punished victims for telling the truth about thousands of priest criminals. Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston, resigned because documents revealed his extensive cover-up in his archdiocese.
Did the Vatican call him to account? NO. Pope John Paul II brought him to Rome and appointed him to posts there, effectively nullifying any possibility that Bernard Law would face legal consequences for his crimes.

Meanwhile, Catholic religious sisters were nursing, teaching, listening to the friendless, giving solace to the bereft, offering spiritual nourishment to seekers, organizing financial and food assistance for the needy, contributing significantly to biblical and theological research.
And who is facing interrogation by the Vatican? The priests and bishops guilty of crimes and throwing dioceses into financial catastrophe as a result? NO. The sisters.

Why? The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is carrying out a “doctrinal assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, citing three areas of concern:
1) ordination (women prohibited),
2) the primacy of the Catholic Church (we’re better than all the rest),
3) and homosexuality (it’s “disordered”).
Unsaid but implied is that religious sisters demonstrate independent judgment on these issues, discomfiting the hierarchy. How to whip them into shape? Interrogate them.

The stated purpose of the papal investigation of women religious is to examine the quality of religious life. But the women will not be permitted to see the results. Why the secrecy?

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Sister Sandra Schneiders stated that it appears
not as an invitation to respectful and fruitful dialogue and ongoing improvement of their lives but as an unwarranted surprise attack.
The current “Apostolic Visitation” . . . is the ecclesiastical analogue of a grand jury indictment, set in motion when there is reasonable suspicion . . . of serious abuse or wrong-doing of some kind . . .

There are currently several situations in the U.S. church that would justify such an investigation (widespread child sexual abuse by clerics, episcopal cover-ups of such abuse, long term sexual liaisons by people vowed to celibacy, embezzlement of church funds, cult-like practices in some church groups) but women religious are not significantly implicated in any of these.

[Features of the investigation] are problematic or repugnant to intelligent, educated, adult women in western society . . . a process that is hardly comprehensible to people not living in a totalitarian political system.
Honestly and courageously stated.

NCR was reporting incidents of sex abuse decades before the scandal erupted in the secular press. And it stoutly criticizes the Vatican for investigating religious women who “have spoken up against personal and institutional injustices” [when its own hierarchy] “has tolerated abuse of children and the rape of women religious by priests, and has protected the perpetrators of such deeds.” It editorializes that we in the church
still tolerate an exclusively male monarchy that operates by its own rules, believes itself accountable to virtually no one, understanding that it can act against groups and individuals with impunity and in secret.
Honestly and courageously stated.

May 15, 2010
These are some liberating results I see coming out of the sex scandal:
• Growing dissatisfaction with repressive governance in the Catholic Church.
• Growing respect for nuns and their growing self-respect, ironically given a boost by the Vatican investigating them.
• Defiance of the ban by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI against even discussing women’s ordination. Not only is the issue hotly discussed, Roman Catholic women priests exist.
• Growing diversity of Catholic identity with beliefs ranging from mystical to progressive to reactionary literalist, theologians dissenting from Vatican positions, married priests, a referral service for married priests to perform sacraments.

I hope for another result—more courage to listen to the quiet voice within and to resist outside authorities mouthing conventional formulas of belief. I hope for growing awareness that religious authority is fallible, for more questioning of its teachings, for burgeoning resistance to doctrinal conditioning. I hope for deepening awareness so that Christians can evolve past literal belief in an external deity—a god or gods outside of us—to the divinity within the breast of every person.

I urge Catholics to leap over the wall of fear confining them to past assumptions and to lead all Christians in growing up and growing inward.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Deformed Catholic power

Power is the aphrodisiac, the hidden cause of this tragedy; everything else is symptom. Pat Marrin

In analyzing what’s wrong with the Catholic Church, Marrin names power and another crucial ingredient:
Isolation and lack of human affection, the absence of real friendship with both men and women . . . can produce trouble in a person. Loneliness, thwarted desire and a structure of obedience that renders a man impotent before his superiors to his own responsibility to choose his life at every stage, all of these dynamics can and do converge on a priest to force the question: Who am I? Who loves me? Why am I so angry and frustrated on the one hand, and so compulsive in my personal needs on the other?
Compulsive celibacy is imposed on men who are divided from women and other men by a wall that proclaims their privileged position but really imprisons them in a shell/cell segregated from ordinary human decisions and growing experiences.
No man ever came to terms with his sexuality, his spirituality, his personality, without the help of a woman, even if it is only his mother. Intimacy, with or without genital expression, is life’s deepest prize.

Not only the sex predators, but all priests would benefit from more PEER interaction with women. Oh, there are plenty of women surrounding pastors in parishes—many even running the parishes—but they work for and under the priest, not as his equal. The Catholic celibate culture of entitlement prohibits equality. And without it, the womanly arts of caring, listening with empathy, mirroring, and deep, deep knowing cannot reach them.

The trouble with Catholic priests is they don’t have women loving them as equals and calling them to account. Imagine the improvement in homilies and ministries if our priests could be checked by ordinary people! If our bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, stopped commanding and instead facilitated spiritual deepening into wholeness! And then how much more of an improvement if we could see a lot of women at the altar! And no more men bearing the insignia of Roman emperors.

Imagine a Catholic Church exercising feminine power WITH instead of empirical power OVER. Hard to imagine.

A Church facing backward
See, I make all things new. Revelation 21:5

No one knows more about secret sex in the celibate system than Richard Sipe, former monk and priest, now married psychotherapist, consultant, author, and expert witness for and about clergy sex predators. Answering whether celibacy is the cause of the scandal, he writes,
As the single factor the answer is no. Vowed celibacy does not drive a bishop or priest to have sex with minors. The answer, however, is also yes. Required celibacy in concert with the clerical culture of entitlement and secrecy is a prominent element for some clergy seeking out minors as sexual partners.
The sense of entitlement, the sense that ordained clergy stand a cut above most, prevented justice from reaching over the walls of their privileged positions. It’s what so frustrates and angers lay people still in the Church and those who’ve walked out.

Sipe explains how the male celibate culture breeds sick sex:
Roman Catholic clerical culture favors doctrinal rigidity, conformity, obedience, submission and psychosexual immaturity, mistaken for innocence, in its candidates. These are the personality elements that lead to advancement and power in the clerical system. Single men are more easily controlled if their sexuality is secret. Double lives on all levels of clerical life are tolerated if they do not cause scandal or raise legal problems. Sexual activity between bishops and priests and adult partners is well known within clerical circles. The secret system forms a comfortable refuge for unresolved gay conflicts.
The Vatican and American bishops assure us that they now get it and are dealing with it effectively, but clergy sex abuse is only a symptom of a wider crisis. Fr. Richard McBrien describes a Church demoralized by tools of repression and reactionary moral stances.

Since John Paul II began his term as pope in 1978, the Catholic Church has been backing into a right-wing corner. This sex scandal is an opportunity to take stock and enter the twenty-first century mainstream of life, but that’s impossible as long as the secret celibate culture of entitlement remains. It’s time for the Church hierarchy to stop obstructing the renewal promised in Revelation.

July 3
Franciscan priest Louie Vitale celebrated his 78th birthday in prison because he called for the closing of the notorious “School of Americas,” which trains Latin American military personnel to subdue voices of dissent. Its graduates learn how to terrorize their own citizens. I have immense respect for protesters of the SOA, but most interesting to me are Vitale’s words about Jesus.
Christians believe that the all-compassionate love which fills our universe fills all creation and is the presence we name “God.” Christians see this presence made present in the human world in Jesus.
Here’s another Christian leader offering another spiritual reflection that carefully distinguishes between Jesus and God. Jesus, he says, is a divine presence in the world and not the only one but the one most revered by Christians. He does not equate Jesus with God, does not make an exclusive claim, but gently conveys reverence for the Christian God-image.

My desire to inform Christians about developments in theology is bolstered by another NCR report, one about Peter Phan. I first wrote about Phan in Confused Teaching? Or correction? Amazingly, the Catholic Theological Society of America awarded him a high honor in defiance, it seems, of the Vatican’s objection to his book, Being Religious Interreligously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue, which argues for inclusive theology.

The Vatican's problem with his work is all about exclusiveness. Its three areas of concern:
i) Jesus Christ as the unique and universal Savior of all humankind; ii) the salvific significance of non-Christian religions;
iii) the Church as the unique and universal instrument of salvation.
Yep, this is it, the exclusive message in a nutshell—other religions have less validity; we’ve got it all with our Jesus. We have authority over the whole human race.

It’s closely related to yet another NCR report. Disagreeing with the Catholic Health Association over health reform, Cardinal Francis George said, “The bishops have to protect their role in governing the church.” That’s the nub of it all right. Not conscience, or reflection, or ethical principles, or just plain doing what’s right. No, most important to the bishops is staying in control, protecting their turf. A bunch of women (Health Association) challenging their authority? Intolerable.