Thursday, November 24, 2011

Michele Bachmann vs Bishop Spong

God calls us to fall on our faces and our knees and cry out to Him and confess our sins.
I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, “Are you going to start listening to me here?”
Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann's god reflects the reified idol promoted by typical Christian God-talk. He thinks and speaks like the dominant males so admired in the paradigm we are in the process of escaping.
Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong articulates the paradigm to which we are shifting. Joyfully I listened to him on MPR’s Midmorning cogently support the messages in my book and blog. Samples:

Science versus the literal “Sunday school version” of faith;
Bible passages contradicting each other and contradicting Christian doctrine (for instance, the idea that Jesus is God);
Atheism (a-theism means not believing God is an external being; it does not necessarily mean disbelief in God);
God-talk excluding the feminine ("It’s always a he.");
Religion promoting prejudice (“tribal hatred” in the Bible);
Christianity dying in Europe (empty churches; “rigor mortis too kind a term”);
Why have faith? (Humans need something that transcends humanity. “I want to offer an alternative to secular humanism”).

As Spong was answering the last question, he spoke of Jesus’ essential message—love. I was reminded of the many times people ask me why the heck I stay in the Catholic Church, given my beliefs. The answer—I find love practiced by Church people. That I am surrounded by many loving, aware, educated Catholics makes me luckier than many who grow past the spiritual immaturity of literal belief but have no community of like-minded Church people with whom they can continue to grow. I can see why they leave.

In answer to a listener question, Spong discussed “the disconnect” between biblical studies and what happens in church. This gets to the message I keep pounding in—liturgies must change! if Christianity is to have any relevance to contemporary life. As Spong stated, “The way we tell the Christ story is not making it in the modern world.”

The growing numbers of Christians waking up reassure me in the face of fundamentalist Christian revival politics.
Now I’m on my way to Thanksgiving dinner hosted by loving, aware Christians who share their bounty with others.


Spong & Stearns churches” September 20, 2009
On September 27, I was in Bobby Vee’s studio, the interesting former bank building of St. Joseph, MN, participating in the Millstream Arts Festival. With me were John and Bob Roscoe, whose new book presents a perfect counterpoise to my writings, which point to the worst in the Church. Their book points to the best. Legacies of Faith presents in colored photos, architectural descriptions, and brief histories all 52 Catholic Churches of Stearns County, MN.

The brothers Roscoe wrote that, when showing their out-of-state brother the beauty, grandeur, and overall magnificence of churches in Stearns, they realized with a shock, “The architecture we were seeing surpassed all but a few of the churches recently visited in rural northern Italy.”

The churches are extraordinary and this county is extraordinary. John Ireland, Archbishop of St. Paul, called it “a new Germany” and that’s half of it. It must be the largest concentration of German Catholics in the country and their churches, inspired by the best of European culture, are architectural gems. Stearns is my lifetime geographical home and I could say much more about its German Catholicism, but not now.

For some people who understand religious myth, Bishop John Shelby Spong tells it like it is. I first responded to his work less enthusiastically. Yes, he did a good job explaining the silliness of literal belief, but he offered no spiritual uplift.

Spong has evolved, as this MPR Midmorning interview with Kerri Miller shows. I like the way he answered my questions and related questions. My faith in the Other Side continues stronger than his, but that’s all right.


"So why stay?" December 1,2011
In response to my last post, a reader wanted me to say more about “why the heck I stay in the Catholic Church.” He wanted to know,
why we should be on the train at all—because Jesus has been polluted and contaminated beyond all recognition.
I agreed to write about this question that I have been asking myself for over 30 years. I wonder if some readers remember that the first chapter of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky is titled “So why stay?”
This reader wanted more:
I hope it addresses not only why you haven't left the church but also why you haven't left Jesus—given the sorry history of Christianity.
Answer: I decouple Jesus from the institutional Church. U.S Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Timothy Dolan admitted this is what Christians do.
. . . as the chilling statistics we cannot ignore tell us, fewer and fewer of our beloved people—to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith—are convinced that Jesus and his church are one.
So let’s not blame Jesus for Christianity’s faults.
Churches are human institutions; I believe Jesus represents the life force we call God.
Church preaching can be mistaken and culturally specific;
Jesus’ preaching puzzles and can be misinterpreted, but it speaks to all humans irrespective of culture.
Churches make and enforce rules, some of which themselves violate morality, exemplified by official Catholic bans on contraception, all homosexual activity no matter how loving, and abortion even when it saves a life instead of taking one. Exemplified further by the Catholic Church’s despicable record on women’s ordination and on prominent Catholics who obey conscience instead of hierarchy. Three examples of the latter are Roy Bourgeois and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Sister Margaret Mary McBride

To appreciate the gulf between Jesus and Christianity, I recommend reading the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew, in this order, with eyes cleansed of church propaganda. A useful aid is The Five Gospels: the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar. Also place the Jesus you find there alongside shamans in cultures around the world. Strip Jesus of the garbage laid on him by Christian churches.

Remember—Jesus did not claim he’s God, he did not tell people to worship him, he did not discriminate against women, did not impose specific prayers on people, did not make rules that people know in their hearts are senseless.
Maybe you will not love Jesus even after finding what the man truly stands for. It’s OK. There are ways to be spiritual without being devoted to Jesus. I esteem Jesus' sharp revolutionary challenges to religious conventions, but I have to admit it is cultural factors that keep me in the tradition. Each person has to find her or his own way.

Friday, November 4, 2011

1% vs 99% in church & state

Wealth inequality finally has entered the political debate, thanks to the Occupy movement. In politics and economics, the issue is unequal money and power. In religion the issue is power, not money. In both church and state, the few at the top look out for themselves while failing to realize that they need everyone else. This is the reason things are falling apart in both spheres.

Science and spirituality agree that every aspect of reality is interdependent with everything else, no exceptions.
On the physical plane, quantum physics shows interdependence between physical objects and human minds in wave/particle experiments. A scientist/observer setting up an experiment on an atom decides which it will be—a wave or a particle. The physical reality observed cannot be separated from human consciousness; it is not objective but united in a web of relations with the mind of the observer.
Quantum non-locality further supports the principle of interdependence by showing that one part of a split particle will change instantly—faster than the speed of light—when its “twin” on the opposite side of the universe changes. Not a single thing in our universe has autonomous, independent existence; no single phenomenon exists on its own.

In the immaterial or spiritual sphere, the principle of interdependence means that altruism, not greed, succeeds in the universe. As the globe tightens in globalization and spiritual awareness, concern for the whole must govern, as indeed all spiritual leaders urge.
One of the reasons I have not left the Catholic Church (And where would I go?) is its stellar record on the issues of poverty and justice. The long tradition of Catholic social teaching has consistently stood in solidarity with those less wealthy, less able, less recognized—the marginalized. Not only in its teaching but in its actions.
As conservative as the last two popes have been, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spoken out for just economies. But they have tightened their grasp on power.

In an interview with Krista Tippett, Buddhist and scientist Matthieu Ricard explains the consequences of interdependence.
What do I do? I create a small bubble, a self-centered bubble, and I take care of my own happiness because after all I'm this separate entity so I just have to build my own happiness. . . . Everyone will become happy in their own bubble and then the world will be fine.
But this is not working. Why? Not just because of the moral issue, because it's bad to be self-centered, but because it's dysfunctional, because it's at odds with reality.
“At odds with reality” sums up the church and state policies that brought on the economic and religious messes choking us right now.
The Occupy movement focuses on wealth disparity with its 1% versus 99% statements. Protesters who expose gross inequity are EXPOSING class warfare, not waging it. Elizabeth Warren speaks to the real wagers of class warfare:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own—nobody. . . . You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory—and hire someone to protect against this—because of the work the rest of us did.
So how does the Church fit into this? To borrow from Elizabeth Warren,
No pope can dictate doctrine on his own, nor can a set of hierarchs do so. The rest of us form popular piety and morality, sometimes with, often without dictates from the Vatican—think of Marian devotions and bedroom issues.
No cleric in this church became one on his own—not one. You developed your moral values from your mother and other women, less often from men. If you were an altar boy, you probably learned how from a woman. The churches you went to were cleaned by women. The religious instruction you received was primarily by women. The Masses you went to were attended by more women than men.
From pope to deacon, the status of every cleric rests on the backs of women, more broadly, on the backs of lay people.
I quoted experts, but it doesn’t take experts to figure this out. Any child knows that no one and nothing stands alone, that interdependence is the way of the universe. A child can figure out that sellers need buyers, that a successful business depends on customers who have the money to buy the goods or services. A child knows that morality and spirituality are taught by moms, families, neighbors, and communities, not by men in the Vatican.

Systems that continue to favor a few winners with more money or power are unsustainable. Ultimately, they are losers.


1% vs 99%, November 11, 2011
I received a flurry of comments agreeing with my previous post. But most noteworthy are more critical comments from outside of Catholicism.
Laura wrote,
I think money is also an issue in churches and religions, not as obviously in Catholicism. Look at all the rich televangelists.
Good point.
Scott Thompson, wrote,
There are items with which I disagree ......."The Catholic Church has ALWAYS stood behind the poor, the less marginalized, etc....? ??
[Consider] the atrocities of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages in its confiscation of personal property, the pogroms of the Crusades, the killings of thousands during the Inquisition, the support of the Nazis under Hitler, and last but not least, the uncovered abuses of the last 50 years ................”
Good points.
Regarding Catholicism today, two items on the front page of National Catholic Reporter show its two faces. Tom Roberts reports on a document coming from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace that urges reform of international financial and monetary systems.
The document speaks of “common dignity,” “common vision,” “common decisions” and “universal brotherhood.” In fact, the needs of the latter, of “universal brotherhood,” say the writers, transcend consideration of the marketplace.
NCR adds that the basic sentiment of the Occupy movement is in line with Catholic social teaching. Praiseworthy. Hallelujah!

But the same front page carries the story of theologian Elizabeth Johnson disputing a claim by the U.S. Catholic bishops conference, which blasted her latest book, Quest for the Living God, a widely popular work acclaimed by her fellow theologians. Johnson replied that the bishops did not follow their own procedures for resolving disagreements with a theologian—namely, to meet with her or him.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, head of the bishops’ doctrine committee, claimed the bishops offered to meet three times and she didn’t respond, a claim that Johnson called “demonstrably and blatantly false.” Publicly posted letters between Johnson and Wuerl show that she asked for meetings, which they never granted. This is only one example in a constant stream of incidents showing bishops clamping down on theological inquiry, judging ideas they don’t understand. A correspondent quoted by Richard McBrien highlights the irony.
It is beyond me how the bishops can claim, with a straight face, to be teachers sitting in judgment on teachers when they plainly cannot understand the arguments much less the conclusions.
How does this apply to my previous post? The front page of NCR demonstrates Catholicism's “stellar record on the issues of poverty and justice” TODAY, not in the past, as Scott points out. But “common dignity,” “common vision,” “common decisions” and “universal brotherhood” are sorely lacking in the hierarchy’s own relationships with the 99% kept out of decision-making.

More irony—the same issue of NCR reports members of the bishops conference complaining that the federal government infringes on the right of conscience by putting religious freedom under “ever more frequent assault and rapid erosion.” How does the government do this? By allowing practices that most thoughtful members of our society, including most Catholics, deem acceptable but the Catholic hierarchy wants to ban—contraception, sterilization, and gay marriage.

The bishops accuse the government of granting rights that they would take away. The BISHOPS are the ones who threaten freedom! Many, many theologians and members of the Church have had their right of conscience assaulted by the Catholic hierarchy. And until now I didn’t even mention clergy sex abuse.