Ratzinger & Haight disagree

Oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and short attention spans have pushed off the front pages the Catholic Church’s embarrassment over the sex scandal, at least in this country. But I hope pressure on Catholic officials continues so that the wider Church can be liberated from official statements of belief and give attention to authentic promptings from Spirit within.

Roger Haight, Jesuit theologian and past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, wrote Jesus: Symbol of God, which rejects the same literal beliefs I reject in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky—that Jesus is God and his death saved the world. Predictably, Haight was punished by the Vatican’s doctrinal agency that Joseph Ratzinger headed before he became Benedict XVI.

Critics of Haight’s theology complain that it promotes relativism and religious pluralism, which accept the validity of other beliefs. One critic said that Haight reduces the Christian message to something even atheists can affirm, and Ratzinger condemned religious pluralism as the most dangerous movement in Catholic thought today.

But Haight's theology appeals to me precisely because of its relativism and pluralism. We should admit that our way of seeing things is not absolute; it is merely one good set of images that mediate spiritual reality, but it cannot define that reality. Admitting this does not mean abandoning our tradition.
In over-reaction to secular challenges, the Church veers toward literal belief. It fails to distinguish the symbol and myth of Christ from the man Jesus, whose teachings have universal appeal, even to atheists. Understood symbolically, Christian doctrine meshes well with other beliefs, including those of atheists. It becomes universal once we can get over the silly exclusivism and triumphalism.

In a homily that could have been appropriate for Trinity Sunday on May 30, Fr. Dale Launderville stated:
The reality of the divine life is relational; it is dynamic. It is the union of distinct persons who joyfully go forth from one to the other and find their life in such self-communication. This love of the Trinity is the perfect community.
Yes. It nicely resonates with a myriad other Trinitarian images—Goddess, Buddhist, Hindu, and so on, all expressing with a three-fold image the universal truth of unity in diversity. But this symbolic interpretation is accepted by the Vatican only if it refers exclusively to the Christian terms of Father/Son/Holy Spirit, 3 guys in the sky.

Isn’t it sad that what terrifies Catholic officialdom is losing superiority, losing belief that ours is the one and only true faith? To be most joyfully relational and dynamic, let’s drop the superior attitude and respect other belief systems as equally legitimate instead of insisting we have the one and only true faith. How is this dangerous?

In response came this email:
Good job, Jeanette.
I think the CC claim’s claim to superiority and absolutism is another sign of patriarchy. More and more I believe that patriarchy is a root cause of bad theology, morality and spirituality.
It will crash one of these years… Peace,
It’s significant that this, like much of my support, comes from Catholic religious women. One, for instance, frequently says my writings nourish her.

I feel like one grain of sand participating in the shift away from patriarchy. It’s how I explain the drive inside to keep writing about it.


Br. Pax said…
Fear is a powerful thing. What would the church look like if it gave up exclusivism?
Florian said…
It's a false dilemma. One can believe in Christianity as the one true religion and respect other belief systems at the same time. It's not one or the other.

Okay, I left out your phrase "equally legitimate"; but there is no guarantee that all belief systems are equal. (Actually, they are not because I don't think any good person considers Nazism as legitimate.) It would be quite a coincidence if they turned out to be exactly equal.

How is this dangerous? We could turn the question around and ask Jeanette why claiming that Christianity is the one true religion is dangerous. She would say that it escalates conflict between religions. She is worried that certain religious groups might be persecuted. But, certainly, it is one thing to respect persons and their right to worship as they wish, it is quite another to accept their belief system. Obviously, I can't be forced to accept this or that religious belief system as being really equally legitimate, because that violates my belief system, my freedom of religion, and my right to make up my own mind.

Oh, and to answer your question about how relativism and religious pluralism is dangerous, it is dangerous because then even more church members would become liberals.
If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universal Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see: www.religiouspluralism.ca

Samuel Stuart Maynes

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