Friday, January 11, 2019

Catholic teachings change

In a conversation about the Catholic Church's infallibility doctrine, someone insisted that its teachings have never changed. This claim upholds its infallibility doctrine, but the claim is easy to refute. I quickly compiled this list.

The Church changed its teaching on slavery. In Paul's Letter to Philemon, he assumes that the slaveholder Philemon rightfully owns his slave Onesimus but urges Philemon to treat Onesimus kindly. Today the Church teaches that slavery is intrinsically sinful or always wrong.

The Church changed its teaching on usury by first saying it's always wrong to saying we ought to charge interest fairly and reasonably.

The Church changed its teaching on cosmology. I need only mention Galileo, whom the Inquisition found guilty of heresy and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for saying the earth revolves around the sun instead of the sun revolving around the earth.

The Church changed its teachings on women and this change continues. Hierarchical statements in the past disrespected women to the point of doubting women have souls. Today official rhetoric professes to respect women, but actions demonstrate unwillingness to share power with them. Unofficial attitudes range from ignorant bias to pressuring the official Church for more women in decision-making roles. Most Church faithful disagree with the official ban on ordination of women.

The Church continues to change its positions on gender and sexual matters, including the hot-button issues of gays, contraception, divorce, and women's ordination. Again, people outside of the hierarchy or magisterium are leading the way.

Decades ago, international aid organizations started realizing the need to listen to and learn from people in communities they wanted to help. Catholic officials need to do this, but fiercely they resist. I think their resistance is driven by fear and hatred of women's sexuality and power.

So far the magisterium still controls; Vatican bureaucracies remain in place. But they can't prevail much longer. A shift away from top-down decisions is happening in all society and affecting the institutional Church.

Clergy sex abuse finally prods lay Catholics, especially women--as in secular society--to reject the authority of the Vatican. Individuals bypass it and make their own decisions on deeply personal matters. Inevitably, lay Catholics will triumph and change official positions on issues that inflame public discourse.

The question is, how long will it take? And how many more Catholics will leave in the meantime?

Changes on issues inflaming public debate work hand in hand with changes in teachings on divinity and our relationship with it. Libraries are filled with them. Catholic educators today include science and other religions in reflections on transcendence. I detect less focus on the Father/Son myth and more focus on teachings of Jesus. I hope this leads away from worshiping God-images to building healthy relationships.

Although the Catholic Church is changing, its pace is too slow for me. I don't go to Catholic sources when I seek spiritual guidance, but my Catholic heritage accompanies me always. I find that, when an author affects me deeply, he or she often was nurtured by the Catholic Church and then moved on. It suggests that others are walking a path like mine.

For religion it is the best of times and the worst of times. As the shrinking globe feeds religious imagination a richer diet, it is forced to grow beyond the restricted images of one religion. Traditional religions are giving way to generic or what I call secular spirituality, independent of religion. It is an exhilarating time to live.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Epiphany (revealing moment)

When I was growing up, Catholics believed that Epiphany celebrates three kings who visited Jesus in the manger. Today the word epiphany is more pregnant with meaning. Various definitions of epiphany show its intangible quality—flash, insight, inspiration, realization. Epiphanies are sudden flashes of awakening to the inner realm.

To illustrate, I am re-posting a story I wrote about in this space before.
In Fingerprints of God, Barbara Bradley Hagerty never speaks the word “epiphany” but that’s what she writes about,  reluctantly. She was a little embarrassed, “spooked,” to find herself experiencing transcendence.

An NPR correspondent, Hagerty explores whether science can find physical evidence of God in her book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. She wanted to know,
Does brain activity reflect encounters with a spiritual dimension? 
I’m glad she used terms like “spiritual dimension,” “transcendence” and “spiritual reality” and never reduced God to a humanlike individual or god.

Belief in matter-only dominates science—93% of scientists believe God is a delusion conjured up by the brain. Spiritual matters, it’s assumed, are no subject for scientific observation, but in the last 20 years some neuroscientists have started looking for physical evidence of the spiritual world.

Is God only the result of chemical processes? Of a God spot in the brain? Only the activity of nerve cells? Or do people actually touch the Transcendent? Hagerty concludes that science can’t prove or disprove God, but she believes there’s something there.

There is a lobe in the brain that apparently registers awareness of Spirit and there is a phenomenon called temporal lobe epilepsy. Some scientists to believe that religious greats like Moses, Joan of Arc, Mohammed, Teresa of Avila, Joseph Smith, the Buddha, and Paul on the way to Damascus had this condition. But Hagerty doesn’t buy it. She thinks the temporal lobe mediates spiritual experience instead of causing it.

She illustrates. Turn off a radio and you don’t hear the music but it’s still being transmitted by the station. Just so, Spirit is always transmitting, but some brains turn it off or have the volume so low it’s hard to hear.

Others are sensitive to it, attuned to it, and a few have the volume so high they actually may need medical help. Hagerty thinks people with better antennae have more transcendent moments.

Right here is the crux of disagreement between non-believers and believers. Believers can be well aware of religious tyranny, fraud, and foolishness but not dismiss religion entirely. We think some spiritual entity initiates transcendent events. We believe epiphanies come from a reality outside of our individual consciousness, although we can cultivate habits that develop better antennae to receive them.

We can’t be shaken from our profound conviction of Something Beyond this surface world, and we base this on experience. The philosopher/psychologist William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience quotes such persons:
God is more real to me than any thought or thing or person.
God surrounds me like a physical atmosphere.
And he comments about this conviction:
These feelings of reality . . . are, as a rule, much more convincing than results established by mere logic ever are. . . . if you do have them . . . you cannot help regarding them as genuine perceptions of truth, as revelations of a kind of reality which no adverse argument, however unanswerable by you in words, can expel from your belief.
James addresses rationalist pooh-poohing of anything spiritual.
If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. . . . something in you absolutely knows that [the transcendent moment] must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.
Because William James looks at spirituality as a disinterested observer, his conclusions have more credibility for me than those of any religious writer. The same applies to Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s Fingerprints of God. Both console and uplift me.

Vincent Smiles commented, "The notion that scientists reject belief in God because of science is not accurate." For more of his comment, go to Epiphany vs. materialism.