Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Resurrection … Reincarnation

Easter re-imagined, April 23
Easter and Christmas continue ancient celebrations of the sun’s annual resurrection in the northern hemisphere—the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. According to Christian scholar, the Venerable Bede, who lived around 700 C.E., Easter was named after Eostre, the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. There were many other names for her, among them Ostara, Ostern, and Eostre.

Every spring, ancient cultures around the Mediterranean celebrated fertility in ceremonies honoring goddesses with a variety of names. Some are mentioned in the Bible—Asherah, Astarte, Ashtoreth, and Anath. Modern people are more familiar with Aphrodite, well-known for her connection with fertility. My favorite non-Christian Easter story—favorite because it so perfectly balances the Christian Father-Son bias—is the one I tell in my post Easter symbolized. More about the Mother-Daughter rites in my post Pagan Easter.
The New Testament, of course, doesn’t mention Easter. There, the universal and timeless theme of death and rebirth pairs the Christian story with the Jewish festival of Passover. This commemorates the Exodus story in which an angel of God kills the firstborn male of every Egyptian household and passes over the doors marked by Jews with the blood of a lamb.
Christ was said to be the perfect Passover lamb who gave birth to Christianity as the original Passover lamb gave birth to Judaism. The symbols work beautifully. But mature Christians need to graduate past worship of a certain man-god to recognizing the universality of the Holy Week theme.

For me, there’s no motif more universally applicable to all of existence than that of dying and rising, because deaths and resurrections form the structure of existence. After our death to the present life, I believe we reincarnate into another life (see the previous post). Even in this present lifetime we go through many, many deaths and rebirths, a reality I meditate on in Resurrection.
Now a postscript. The many names for the Great Mother Goddess expose the fallacy in the Judaeo-Christian boast that our tradition first discovered monotheism. The evidence shows that recognition of one pervading Spirit irrespective of multiple names for what we call “God” existed well before Abraham.

And another postscript. I remembered that I forgot my promise in my April 13 post to distinguish womenpriests from male clerical culture. Holy Week and Easter intervened, but I hope to do it next time.

Resurrection … Reincarnation

"Jesus did not found a religion . . . When did religion enter Christianity?
. . . When Jesus became an object of worship."

Fr. Joseph Comblin, theologian who died in Brazil.

So Comblin implies the first Christians did not worship Jesus, did not relate to him as to a god. I agree. But the same issue of NCR that quotes Comblin also editorializes about the Resurrection:
What happened to Jesus changed not only history but the very cosmos and what we know of human reality on the time-space continuum. . . . [Jesus] opens up for all of us the possibility of life beyond the grave.
I don't believe this and a number of Catholic theologians do not. Comblin may have been one of them.
The man from Nazareth manifested holiness to a degree that spawned a movement devoted to him, which developed into Christianity, but Christian historians find evidence of many different Christian beliefs in the early centuries. Uniformity didn’t happen until Roman emperors forced it in the fourth and fifth centuries. Only centuries later, with enlightenment science, did the belief develop that Jesus’ life and death changed the cosmos and all human reality in our three-dimensional universe. I reject it.

I believe life after death has always existed and explain my belief in my blogspot Channeling & Reincarnation. Belief in reincarnation does not permeate Catholic theology now, but it was a common belief in the early centuries of Christianity and was never doctrinally rejected. Instead of citing evidence for early Christian belief in reincarnation, which is relatively easy to find, I cite something more surprising—a fairly modern prelate, Catholic Cardinal Mercier, who lived from 1851 to 1926, stated that belief in reincarnation is not incompatible with Christianity. Good thing, because about a quarter of European Christians and a quarter of American Christians believe in it.

One of three Americans raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic. A PEW study into the reasons for the exodus of Catholics did not ask about beliefs other than the hot button issues of abortion, contraception, homosexuality, treatment of women, and divorce. Social issues really drive Catholics out of the Church, but independent thinking about them encourages independent thinking about core Christian beliefs and about Christianity itself. It's now common to find Catholics and other Christians who question dogmas. That's excellent.

The last comment to my blogpost Channeling & Reincarnation accuses me of lying. A lie is a DELIBERATE false statement. If the early Church did not accept reincarnation but I believe it, my saying so is not a lie. In fact, there is much evidence to support my belief, as a quick Google search shows. So the comment is false, but I won’t accuse the writer of lying because he didn’t know better.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Women priests reject clericalism

Rosemary Radford Ruether, April 7.
There are times I think I should just give up on the Catholic Church—I’m sure Benedict XVI wouldn’t mind. He and bishops appointed by him and John Paul II are doing their best to get rid of dissidents like me.

But since the 1970s or ‘80s—I forget which—Rosemary Radford Ruether has motivated me on my path of working within the Church because she remains a Catholic and she articulates what I think and feel. My term "God talk" comes from her book Sexism and God Talk."
A premier feminist theologian, Ruether sees Catholicism as incorporating the whole Western philosophical tradition, but she grew up learning to critique it with respect while remaining a Catholic. Her mother already criticized "superstitious, dogmatic Catholicism," notes Ruether. She believes we need “autonomous bases for women’s theologizing and worship” to counter the unspoken official position that feminist Catholics are “just deviant, immoral people.” I join her in being a Catholic who refuses to be confined by institutional Catholicism.

And so I have called myself a "Buddhist Catholic"; someone, to my delight, called me an "honorary Unitarian"; and someone else wrote, "You definitely sound like an agnostic or an atheist, so why not join our group, Minnesota Atheists?"

Apparently, conservative Catholic officials don’t mind that their actions drive Catholicism toward becoming a right-wing fringe group in the Western world. Well, there's nothing to do about that. In the meantime, there are millions still nurtured by the Church but chaffing under the present leadership.
Typical liturgical language doesn’t nurture me—in fact, the sexist language repels me—but thoughtful, open-minded Catholics keep me coming to liturgies. And I revel in the improved liturgical language we use in our Womanpriest Masses, while I shudder at the thought of the Vatican’s imposed language coming out at the end of this year. As my generation dies out, I expect the Church to be less open, less inviting for persons with an inclusive bent.

Ruether, however, also criticizes the women’s ordination movement, as does Mary Hunt, another premier Catholic activist.

Women priests reject clericalism, April 30
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.
Richard Sipe.
Do priests abstain from sex? Sipe, a psychotherapist and researcher into the sexual practices of Roman Catholic clergy, answers,
No researcher so far has assessed that more than fifty percent of Roman Catholic clergy at any one time are in fact practicing celibacy.
So much for mandatory celibacy.
Why do they get by with it? Sipe answers,
Secrecy about all clerical sex is sacrosanct within the system.
Tom Roberts also examined clericalism, quoting a Capuchin provincial minister who described it as
a form of elitism . . . reinforced by the distinctive education and formation, dress and titles that priests and religious receive. . . . [Elitism] can lead to a distorted sense of entitlement, the assumption that one is not bound by the rules that govern everyone else, and that other people (even the vulnerable) exist to serve one’s own needs.
Women priests model a form of priesthood that sharply contrasts with the clerical culture so devastatingly described in the statements above. Women priests are non-elitist. As such, they are non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian, and, of course, non-patriarchal; they don’t insist on their way. No parish council has the familiar headache of coping with a headstrong woman priest.

They bear no titles like “Mother” or “Reverend,” wear street clothing in public and simple vestments during liturgies, and they receive little or no stipend for their service to the Church, that is, service to the people, not the hierarchical structure. They have to work for their living, and their work often serves persons neglected by the official Church—the GLBT community and victims of clergy abuse.
They are not hung up about sex, being married or not, as they wish, and they are deliberately ecumenical.

Oh, and in answer to the question, "Why would you want to participate in the hierarchical system? Isn’t this a sell-out?" women priests say women's ordination is necessary in this transitional time. As I interpret this, it means they don't regard any ordination above lay status to be necessary but only necessary now for the sake of justice, to show that women can stand in persona Christi.
As indeed they do.

Women priests & apostolic succession, April 13.

According to the gospels, Jesus chose 12 disciples in his life time. After his death, one of them, Judas Iscariot, the traitor of Jesus, was replaced . . . But these 12 disciples have left little record of evangelizing Gentiles and founding churches around the world. In fact, the original idea of the 12 disciples probably was intended to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, not a group of worldwide founders of churches from which a succession of bishops descended.
Rosemary Radford Ruether

In fact, most scriptural historians don’t believe that Jesus chose exactly 12 men, only men, to be his disciples. The importance of women in his ministry, especially Mary Magdalene, strikes anyone who reads the gospels with open eyes.

The Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) movement, begun in 2002 with the ordination of 7 women on the River Danube, claims apostolic succession because its women priests and bishops were ordained by bishops claiming valid succession in the Catholic Church. But a Women-Church movement begun in the 1970s rejects the idea of ordination in apostolic succession because, in their view, it cooperates with institutional clericalism.

This concept of women priests imbues the Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community begun in 2005. It ordained a woman in a collective action of their faith community and based this on their reading of early church history. Some Christians in the early centuries had called priests and ordained them by such collective action of their local communities. Hippolytus was elected bishop of Rome in this way, and he described the apostolic tradition as “all the people” together with presbyters (priests) and bishops giving their consent and laying hands on the elected.

Monarchical or hierarchical episcopacy—a bishop with power over others—also existed in the early Church; many different Christianities existed in a fluid mix of diverse beliefs and diverse practices. Competing groups claimed apostolic succession, including Gnostics. Orthodox bishops tried to eliminate differences—from this period come the terms “heresy” and “orthodoxy”—but their kind of order didn’t succeed until Roman emperors, beginning with Constantine, imposed it on the whole empire.

The earliest and best model of a bishop claiming special powers was Ignatius of Antioch, who on his way to voluntary martyrdom early in the second century wrote, “I am God’s wheat . . . to make a pure loaf for Christ.” In other words, the bishop represented God and had teaching authority. But apostolic succession claims in the early centuries had nothing to do with priestly power to make bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and Ignatius never mentioned Peter as a founding apostle.

To summarize, the idea of apostolic succession has no historical validity. The supposedly unbroken line of succession from certain men chosen by Jesus to be priests and bishops is “historical fiction” (Ruether’s term) used to keep unbroken the lines of power in the institutional Church. For this reason and because they despise hierarchical abuse of power, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Mary Hunt, both of whom I admire as Catholic feminist leaders, reject RCWP.

So why do I support RCWP which claims “unbroken apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church”? Because nothing, besides the issue of clerical sex abuse, so effectively challenges the Vatican’s grip on power. Automatic excommunication of participants in RCWP evinces the hierarchy’s fear of RCWP.

Yes, the claim of apostolic succession is baseless, but that women can make it adds to their power in the eyes of the Vatican and in the eyes of Catholics ignorant of history. I have no doubt that many womenpriests know the facts regarding the myth of the twelve apostles, and their own model of priesthood sharply contrasts with male clerical culture.

To learn more about women’s ordination, view scenes of the film Pink Smoke over the Vatican and listen to a fascinating interview of the journalist who made the film. Articulately and cogently, she informs us of the Church’s efforts, sometimes extreme, to enforce sexism. And you may want to read a review of the film.

Friday, April 1, 2011

LARGER Reign of Divinity

I'm so lucky. Friends and acquaintances say they have no one with whom they can discuss deep spiritual questions. I have many such persons.
Recently, a group of us met to discuss a book that fascinates, challenges, perplexes, frustrates, and satisfies us. If you've followed my blog, you've "heard" me talk about it before. To continue my mystifying description, we even said that the book is not well written—“convoluting” was one good adjective offered. And Seth uses sexist language. You know how that offends me.

The book is Seth Speaks; the Eternal Validity of the Soul. Yeah, I know. You thinkers who are atheists just felt your stomach lurch on the word "soul." I'm sorry. It's not what you think.
As I replay our conversation that evening, I find myself smiling. What intelligence! But, no, a different kind of intelligence from the usual meaning. What was it we were saying? Reaching toward the unreachable brings us massive presence, frightening vastness, depth that both warms and alarms. Indescribable.

I’m so lucky that I have people in my life who share my desire to go deeper, people from whom I can learn about the depth, people as bewitched and drawn to the Mystery as I am.

Now darn, this will seem offensive to my atheist friends, but I will say it. I think this is the Reign of God (in the midst of us) that Jesus of Nazareth kept talking about—the reign whose meaning was so abominably corrupted by official Christianity.
You cannot tell by careful watching when the Reign of God will come. Neither is it a matter of reporting that it is ‘here’ or ‘there.’ The reign of God is already in your midst.
(Gospel of Thomas 113 and Luke 17: 20-21
Deuteronomy 30 hints it as well. (Imagine! Deuteronomy!)
It is not up in the sky, that you should say, “who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea . . . No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.
Deuteronomy 30:12-14
And here is my paraphrase of a passage in an Edgar Cayce book:
There is a Greater Reality, there are higher purposes, there are more enduring truths than day to day activities represent. The existence of this Greater Reality is verified in substantial, objective, and scientific data as well as in personal experiences.
But this LARGER Reign of Divinity includes a far greater reality than any of us can imagine. Many non-Christians understand it better than Christians. Whatever our orientation, we need to open our minds and hearts to ever greater possibilities.

Two email comments that came to me demonstrate the superior quality of spiritual reflections today. First David:
I’ve been following the discussion on your blog.
Atheists don’t admit they have a belief system, yet they want proof of god in accordance with their belief in science, which is impossible by their own definitions. Then because such proof is impossible, atheists declare that they have won the argument. Sounds like circular reasoning to me.
I have a problem with belief myself and would like proof but at the same time one cannot deny one’s feeling without being a hypocrite. I feel the existence of something beyond understanding, something supernatural.
Cradle Christians who’ve become aware that the Christian story is myth are searching for spiritual answers. Tom’s meanderings perfectly illustrate the deep and intelligent thinking that’s occurring:
I think calling oneself agnostic can be a cop out, depending on a lot of things.
I know people who call themselves Christians, atheists, agnostics, or whatever, who give religion and spiritual matters little more than superficial attention. It can be just as much a cop out—maybe more—for someone to just say they are Christian. It’s safe, and can be very thoughtless in our culture. It’s just what we all are, right?
I’ve sat around campfires listening to friends saying they know nothing more about religion and “all that stuff” than that we have the Bible. “We at least know that’s true,” one friend told me. “We do?” I exclaimed—and then changed the subject. It’s as deep as he cared to go in his life as far as religion was concerned.
I say, “Right on.” I can’t express it better.
I have been on a life-long quest for some kind of spiritual clarity. I was a very strong believer in the Catholic religion as a youth, but fell away as the myth aspect became quite apparent to me. I read a lot about world religions in my early 20s, learned TM (Transcendental Meditation) talked and conversed and argued with many for years and years, then looked at New Age mysticism—beads and crystals, reincarnation, channeling, meditation—which can be totally separate from religion or spiritualism—and more.
I have really good friends who are very born-again fundamentalist Christians, and I admire them in their lives and families and worship services. I’ve been around them a lot, and love the way they live, but can’t really participate because I don’t share the belief system. I have read about the Dalai Lama for years, and have been reading one of his books (How to Practice). I’ve looked at the lives of religious leaders from across the years and globe, listened to and read Joseph Campbell and many others, and tried to process it all.

I have had (like many) striking incidents of possible spiritual connection—premonition dreams; a personal visit after a fit of rage from a very real and mystical young man dressed in a long, white garment in my father’s shoe shop that had me looking at a shattered window on the front entry door of the store; synchronistic episodes of coincidence that are pretty unexplainable; and more. Like everyone.
Do you really think they're entirely "unexplainable"? Seems to me they're obviously messages from the other side. Sure, there are mysteries. We don't know the “technology” of the happenings, but we know these experiences come from a dimension beyond the visible world.
I can’t bring myself to claim I can define any of that in defendable or definitive terms. I could say it’s from obvious spiritual connection, but it is really a matter of faith. And what is faith but a lack of the defendable and definitive, but believing anyway?
When asked if he believed in God, Jung said, "I don't believe; I know." That's where I am and it seems you are. We KNOW that spiritual reality exists; we are drawn to it; we like to read and talk about it, etc.
I’ve come away with a firm belief that it is all beyond our comprehension, and any attempt to define is not much better than a personal opinion. As I read in a book, it’s like the single cell in a huge system that has no comprehension of what it is part of. Can a single cell have comprehension of its place in a tissue that’s in an organ of a body in an environment that nourishes it, and is part of a cosmic reality that goes beyond our own comprehension, and will someday be freely exchanged within that environment as dead skin flakes off, or its host body dies, or by other means? I don’t know.
Yes, it’s beyond our comprehension. Still, it's so fascinating and there's so much nonsense to correct, that we go on discussing.
Can we know these things of our own lives and consciousness, and even in a deeper unknown and unseen energy or force or deeper consciousness that has been defined for us in countless ways for countless centuries? Does that deeper force even exist? I don’t know. Can we know? I’m at a point in my life where I believe we cannot know. That is just my belief, and it may evolve. But right now I guess that would make me an agnostic—but a fairly tortured one, wanting so badly to know the truth of life and beyond, a truth that I now believe we will not and cannot know.
Do you really doubt that a deeper force exists? In light of your experiences, I don't see how you can doubt that. As I suggest in Agnosticism, a certain core of belief about spiritual reality can be espoused even by agnostics.
William James in Varieties of Religious Experience comments on experiences like Tom’s,
They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for aftertime.
Tom again:
I should just stay out of it! I stopped discussing religion with family and friends many years ago. Everyone is locked into their own version of reality, and it takes a lifetime to get there—one way or another (regardless of actual age).
I don’t think Tom or others like him should stay out of it because they think more deeply than most. But I know from personal experience that discussing religion and spirituality with people who don’t want to hear unfamiliar interpretations can have unpleasant consequences. I'm fortunate in having a large circle of people with whom I can discuss these matters. And I confess that I like to insert kernels into conversations that set traditional believers to wondering a little, pondering, throwing them off their comfortable groove of thinking.
I am just about done with your book . . . I am so enjoying it, and am so amazed by your thoroughness and reasoning.
Thank you.

Reign of God in our midst,  September 14, 2008
A few people—surprisingly very few—accuse me of abandoning my Christian faith because I no longer accept the “one, true church” claim. If that’s the case, I am joined by many Catholic leaders.

Father Ed Hays, interviewed for Sacred Journey (August/September 2008), said,
A core belief is different from a dogmatic belief, such as a faith in the divinity of Christ. . . . When your core belief is that you and God are intimately united as one, the implications are astonishing. For the God with whom you are united is a religionless God, a God of no religion, yet the God of all religions.
Ed Hays is a Catholic priest, but not an ordinary one. He made a prayer pilgrimage around the world, including India and Tibet, and says we should all aspire to mysticism. Ah, that’s it.
Invariably I find that religious leaders who have touched the mystic deep know that no religion can define It. Religious stories imagine that deep Source and its activity in our ordinary world, and their images truly inspire us but they can’t spell out this spiritual reality with literal clarity. These stories are myths, which is not to say they are foolish fiction.
Fr. Hays again:
Jesus came to the realization that he and God had an intimate unity [and encouraged his followers to] seek the same cherished oneness with God that he experienced. 
This, in different words, expresses my belief that Jesus was united with the mystic deep that inspires all the world’s mystics. Thus, he preached the Reign of God in our midst, unfortunately translated “Kingdom” and understood as an external thing we earn by being good.