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.


Son of Wisdom said...

Fear is a powerful thing. What would the church look like if it gave up exclusivism?

Florian said...

It's a false dilemma. One can believe in Christianity as the one true religion and respect other belief systems at the same time. It's not one or the other.

Okay, I left out your phrase "equally legitimate"; but there is no guarantee that all belief systems are equal. (Actually, they are not because I don't think any good person considers Nazism as legitimate.) It would be quite a coincidence if they turned out to be exactly equal.

How is this dangerous? We could turn the question around and ask Jeanette why claiming that Christianity is the one true religion is dangerous. She would say that it escalates conflict between religions. She is worried that certain religious groups might be persecuted. But, certainly, it is one thing to respect persons and their right to worship as they wish, it is quite another to accept their belief system. Obviously, I can't be forced to accept this or that religious belief system as being really equally legitimate, because that violates my belief system, my freedom of religion, and my right to make up my own mind.

Oh, and to answer your question about how relativism and religious pluralism is dangerous, it is dangerous because then even more church members would become liberals.