Monday, October 25, 2010

Sam Harris

This weekend I presented “Science & Spirituality” at the Women & Spirituality conference in Mankato, MN and just now I saw my points repeated in Newsweek.
Lisa Miller quotes Sam Harris, the hero of atheists, who, she says, “shuns the label” of "atheist." For good reason.
Sam Harris believes in God and expresses his beliefs in language similar to mine. I can’t say I’m surprised because I often agree with atheists who distinguish spirituality from religion. I'm struck by the words of Harris that could be mine:
We can live moral and spiritual lives without religion.
See my blogposts indexed under “Spirituality free of religion.”

For Harris, the answer to the question “Do you believe in God?” depends on what you mean by “God.” Find this exact point in my post Does God exist? Wrong question!
Harris doesn’t believe in “a supernatural power.” I concur in my post God is not supernatural.
Harris doesn’t believe in “a personal deity who hears prayers.” I quote Einstein, who said,
I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals or would sit in judgment on creatures of His own creation.
These words of Harris express recurrent themes of mine:
Mystery is ineradicable . . . There will always be brute facts that we cannot account for but which . . . explain everything else.

Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.
Harris has “a real problem” with the word “God.” In my book, blog, and presentations, I use many alternatives. I’m confident Harris and other atheists who espouse spirituality would accept my list of God-synonyms:
Infinity, Source, Eternity, Being, Void, Mystery, Energy, Force, Consciousness, Creativity, Spirit, The Within, The All
Religious people should thank atheists like Harris who make valuable contributions in the current debates about spiritual reality. Both atheists and religious people would be surprised by how much common ground they share if they studied each others’ most thoughtful statements and paid less attention to the most contentious ones.

Sam Harris and atheist author of The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, André Comte-Sponville, reject the same god, the same idol, that I do. Without putting it so bluntly, I think many theologians privately also reject this idol worshipped in the Mass, the archaic language of which comes from Hellenistic liturgies.

We have dialogues and cooperation between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Buddhists, between Christians and Muslims. Why not have dialogues between Christians and atheists? Both sides would be surprised to find much common ground.
What Christians could surrender, should surrender, is language that sounds like idol-worship, “ONLY-son-of-God” and the like. And, of course, the exclusively male imagery. All the “He who” stuff. It wouldn’t be hard to do, and it would gentle the popular, collective mind toward a more inclusive idea of the spiritual reality we call “God”—correcting the Great Guy in the Sky image that Buddhist Christian John Butt referenced at St. John's while explaining Buddhist a-theism.

I’d like to attend liturgies without hearing the irritating "Lord" and “Father” repeated umpteen times. Again I quote Christian speaker Maxine Moe:
If we feel we MUST call God by only male names we have broken the first commandment.
I'm perfectly aware of the Vatican's pressure to move ever farther backward into a tiny corner of religious correctness. Where can we find clerics with the courage to resist? Roy Bourgeois provides a model.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Women’s apostolic succession

It is well known that the Vatican, led by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has forbidden the ordination of women in modern times. Less well known is its rationalization for this stance. The institutional answer to the fact of women priests—clearly they exist; we attend liturgies at which they preside—is to argue that they’re not really priests because the sacrament of ordination cannot be performed for a woman and that Jesus intended only men to be ordained. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth ordained no one and he didn’t found the religion of Christianity.

Roman Catholic leaders claim that women have never been ordained. This is false. Most Catholic priests probably are in the dark, but surely the scholars at the Vatican know that women deacons, priests, and bishops existed in the early centuries of Christianity. There's a word for a deliberate falsehood—a lie.

One scholar who has unearthed evidence of the truth is Dorothy Irvin, Catholic theologian and field archaeologist. She presented evidence of women in church ministry on October 9 at the St. Cloud Library.
The ordination of women is part of our Catholic history and theology, says Dr. Irvin. She has worked for over 30 years to find and identify archaeological documentation of women’s ministries, including ordained ministries, in the early church. She reveals,
Whatever the art form of a particular period and culture, women appear as church officeholders in that art form. Whether it is tomb inscriptions, catacomb frescoes, mosaic floors, or even church architecture, women’s names and women’s faces are presented there as deacons, priests, or bishops. Although much of this material was found and published before 1900, it is still not well known today.
Beginning with archaeological evidence of women’s participation as leaders in Jewish worship, her presentation shows women attested by their contemporary communities as ordained and ministering within the episcopal structure of the church, in fact, even as bishops themselves. The photographs she shows are authentic photographs, not artists’ reconstructions.
Irvin states,
I agree with those who are concerned about the shortage of priests today, and I sympathize with those women who are frustrated in their desire to serve in an ordained capacity, but those are not my reasons for supporting the ordination of women. I support it because it is part of our Catholic history and theology, and is called for by the gospel as much as the ordination of men is.
Read more about her WORK HERE and listen to Irvin's scholarly PRESENTATION HERE.
One record of women officeholders in the early Church is a ninth century portrait in Rome honoring WOMEN LEADERS in the Church. Irvin explains:
Inscribed above Theodora is the word Episcopa, with the feminine ending, meaning a bishop who is a woman. Just as contemporary churches, cathedral offices and seminaries frequently display photographs of previous pastors, bishops and rectors; the mosaic at St. Praxedis reveals the succession of female pastors and bishops from Mary of Nazareth though Praxedis and Pudentiana to Theodora. Like her predecessor, St. Praxidis 700 years earlier, Theodora wears an episcopal cross attesting to her service as bishop of the titular church of St. Praxedis.
After 9 years of study in the Near East and at Tübingen University in Germany, Irvin received a pontifical doctorate in theology, with specialization in Old Testament, archaeology, and the Ancient Near East. She has taught at several American universities, including the University of Detroit and Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her publishing credits are many:
• the book, Mytharion: the Comparison of Tales from the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East (1978).
• articles on biblical and archaeological topics to several books.
• articles for several encyclopedias, including the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East.
• commentaries on the Sunday readings in the entire lectionary cycle for parishes to use in planning Sunday mass.
• most recently, calendars depicting her work on women ministries in the early church, with commentary for each photo. The first five years of calendars, together with articles, book reports, and a Bible study guide, have been re-bound together in the book, The Archaeology of Women’s Traditional Ministries in the Church, also called The Rebound, which can be ordered.

Since 1987 she has been on the staff of the Madaba Plains Project, which excavates in Jordan. There she specializes in linking ancient spinning and weaving tools to the handicrafts of tent-dwelling women today, whom she interviews.

Dr. Irvin is available for illustrated lectures on women in the Bible and early church. Injustice depends on ignorance. Let’s counter injustice in the Church by spreading truthful information.