Confused teaching? Or correction?

The Doctrine Committee of the U.S. bishop’s conference states that Asian-American theologian Fr. Peter Phan creates “confusion” about Catholic teaching regarding Christ, the Church, and other religions. So reported National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, writing, “The statement at one point accuses Phan of having left behind a ‘specifically Christian’ framework in favor of ‘a more universal religious perspective.’”

The universal perspective is precisely my theme in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Interpreting Christian doctrine inclusively, I cite the findings of mythologists and scholars of comparative religion, who point to many parallels to Christ.

But the bishops’ Doctrine Committee insists Christ has “no parallel in any other figure in history.” It claims, “salvation is always accomplished in some way through Christ.” Other religions, states the document, are merely “a preparation for the Gospel.”

So I was taught in the Catholic schools of my youth. But Catholic educators in my acquaintance no longer teach this, and the Catholic missionaries I know do not feel obliged to convert people of other faiths to Christ. Meanwhile, historians uncover evidence of the many parallels to Christ in the Hellenistic religions, which, in the official Christian view, were “preparing the way” for the Christian tradition.

While official voices insist “the magisterium” has the responsibility to “safeguard the rule of faith,” while the hierarchy declares the Catholic Church the “one true church founded by Christ,” and while the Vatican censures theologians who dare to teach otherwise, the body of Christians is thinking more and more independently.

This is especially true of theologians and spiritual seers. During the last twenty years, the Vatican has doggedly countered the theological current of opening to the great Asian spiritual traditions. But it has little to say about the obvious parallels of Christ and the Buddha, Christ and Atman. All it can do is to keep thundering that Jesus Christ is “unique” and “absolute.”

Spiritual leaders are correcting the exclusive claims of Christianity’s past. It is wrong to limit the Transcendent Mystery to a specific set of images.


Anonymous said…
Hello Jeanette - I'm putting my comment about your Dec 18th St Cloud Times column,” Your turn: Romney wrong about religion, freedom” here in hopes that you’ll be more likely to see it here.

It’s a great column, except for this: “While I see atheists model spiritual values, I also note that they assume all religious people are fools.”

I’m a recent atheist (formerly Catholic and Episcopalian) with a large circle of new atheist friends and don’t know anyone who thinks this way. Please keep in mind that Christopher Hitchens doesn’t represent the thinking of all atheists, any more than the Pope represents the thinking of all Catholics. At any rate, having heard Hitchens speak many times, I doubt that even he thinks that “all religious people are fools.” That would be stupid, and Hitchens is not stupid. No, he and I and the atheists I know think that theists’ beliefs are foolish, and even “foolish beliefs” may be too strong a term for some. Better fits would be “misinformed,” “inaccurate” and “non-factual.” I imagine that you’d be comfortable with these terms too.

Please keep in mind that many atheists were once religious believers who still have many believers in their lives. We weren’t foolish then and they aren’t foolish now – at least not strictly on the basis of religious beliefs. I certainly didn’t become less foolish or more innately intelligent or logical after doing the historical research that led to my atheism. Instead I’m simply more informed, more educated and no longer misled by obfuscating clergy.

It’s an important distinction and one I hope you make in your future writings.
Jeanette said…
Thanks for coming to my blog. You're right, I didn't see it in the Times.
I like what you say here; it's just the kind of discriminating discussion about religions and spirituality that I want to generate.
You may approve more completely of my latest blog writing, which I posted right before I read your comment here.
Anonymous said…
I have recently read Elie Wiesel, "Somewher A Master" (1981), and was struck by the historical Jewish figures encountered there; wandering teachers all, some miracle workers, others flocking to them for guidance and enlightenment, activities not unlike those of Jesus. These more modern teachers carried out their ministeries as late as 19th century.

In light of this, I take exception to the bishops' Doctrine Committe's insistence that in Jesus there is "no parallel in any other figure in history". I wonder if the projections on the person of the historical Jesus will ever be withdrawn?
Anonymous said…
Okay, I guess I have a comment about this post. You seem to be guilty of reverse discrimination against your own religion (Catholicism). You say that you are "interpreting Christian doctrine inclusively". Yet, in your book, when you talk about a global secular religion, you mean to be inclusive toward every world religion EXCEPT Christianity (and, I suppose, Islam). You have thrown away almost every Christian doctrine such that there is no Christianity left. As a Christian, I feel very excluded by your liberal religion.

I talked with someone recently who believes that "there is truth in all religions." So Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on truth? Well, of course, it doesn't. I bet I can find truth in other religions. Then again, I can also find truth in science, philosophy, and in the newspaper, as well as other places besides Christianity. But what does that prove? That I should only read the newspaper and not the Bible?

I am all for welcoming and accepting the truth I find in all religions, INCLUDING the religion of Christianity. But what do we find in Christianity? One of its core teachings is that Jesus Christ is the unique, divine Son of God. He is not just one "image" of the Transcendent Mystery among many. He is the Word of God made flesh. If that's the case, then it makes sense to think of Christian revelation as some sort of "special" or "unique" revelation, some "final" or "ultimate" revelation of God to humanity.

Liberal religionists would suggest that we shouldn't believe in that revelation anymore. But Christians have believed that for so long; and if one tends to think that something has been revealed by GOD, then, for God's sake, it only makes sense for one to "safeguard" it. It would not be wise to discard it so casually.

But isn't safeguarding it somehow exclusive? Well, let's consider Christianity's most exclusive claim that Jesus is the unique Son of God. I would argue that even that claim isn't so exclusive, since I don't have to exclude (a priori) the possibility that Moses, Confucius, Buddha, and Muhammad are also each a Son of God. But, alas, those religious founders never claimed to be divine anyway, and some of them even explicitly denied that they were divine.

As a liberal religionist, Jeanette, one of your hopes, of course, is for Christians to appreciate other religions and for there to be harmony between religions. That's nice; but it is clear that you also hope that Christians reject orthodox Christianity while continuing to call themselves Christian, something that I cannot condone.

-Florian, St. Cloud

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