Saturday, January 7, 2012

Readings: A Cause for Disputation

X
Sometime later today I will have finished reading the sci-fi novel Deus Irae, a collaboration between Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny. Without going too deep into the plot, the story takes place after a nuclear holocaust and involves the goings-on of characters which are among a small remainder of Christians, and characters who worship the Deus Irae -- the God of Wrath -- who has wrought the rubble-strewn world in which these characters survive.


Just now, I was arrested by the following dialogue between a character named Schuld, who is (perhaps) a follower of the Deus Irae, and a character named Pete Sands, a Christian. Here, Schuld addresses Sands:

xxx“… Aquinas cleaned up the Greeks for you, so Plato is okay. Hell, you even baptized Aristotle’s bones, for that matter, once you found a use for his thoughts. Take away the Greek logicians and the Jewish mystics and you wouldn’t have much left.”
xxx“We count the Passion and the Resurrection for something,” Peter said.
xxx“Okay. I left out the Oriental mystery religions. And for that matter, the Crusades, the holy wars, the Inquisition.”
xxx“You’ve made your point,” Pete said. “I am weary of these things and have trouble enough with the way my own mind works. You want to argue, join a debating team.”

I have chosen to write on this excerpt in part because I loved the Plato/Aristotle/Aquinas observation--particularly the phrase “baptized Aristotle’s bones”. How apt! But I chose it more because I am not of Pete’s party; I want to argue about such things. And I do so often. As a man brought up with exposure to the Protestant traditions of both Luther and Calvin (but who is no longer a member of any congregation), I like to argue with Catholics about what I think should be meant by the word “Christian.”

In the past couple of days I have been arguing here and here with other readers -- almost all Catholic or ex-Catholic -- at the outstanding Catholic blog, Vox Nova. In the second of articles linked above, the argument is about the proper Christian attitude towards war. As a Conscientious Objector, who calls the killing of innocent non-combatants under American bombs on foreign soil, “murder,” I get roughed up pretty badly in the comment thread following that one. Have a look at it.

The first link is to a post about a friend of Kyle Cupp, a member of the Vox Nova stable of writers. Kyle’s friend no longer considers himself to be a Christian. I made the first comment on the article, based on a quoted sentence from Kyle’s text:

1. “Catholicism makes more sense than the alternatives to me, and so here I am.”


You seem to be saying, Kyle, that Catholicism appeals to you *aesthetically* more than do its alternatives. That is similar to the reason I usually give to professed atheists when they question the basis of my belief in the supernatural — that I *choose* to believe in a sentient universe, because the alternative universes all bore me.


If the Catholicism that fires your imagination were not exclusive in the ways that it is; inhospitable to visitors, as it is, I would perhaps be drawn to it for those reasons as well. But, as it is, I can only feel it most often as a condescending and antagonistic critic of that which existence has given me thus far. This makes me sad — another aesthetic reaction.

I call Catholicism “inhospitable to visitors” because non-Catholics are excluded from the communion service in Catholic churches. I argue in the thread that if I am excluded from taking communion with a Catholic congregation, I am on that basis excluded from the Christian religion, so far as the Catholic Church is concerned. I fear that if I am loved at all by Catholicism, then--like Willy Loman--I am loved, but not well-loved. It is my opinion that the sharing of communion is the very basis of Christian worship, which is founded on the shared belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and on obedience to his instruction that His followers share the bread and wine in communal remembrance of the body and blood that He gave in order that we might live. It is my further opinion that true Christians will welcome guests in their churches and encourage them to share communion with them. If a congregation will not do that, then I don’t think that group is “Christian” at all. It seems that a Catholic is a Catholic: full stop. If you will not share communion with me and want to call yourself a “Christian,” very well then, I get the message -- fuck you, too.  (And this goes double for any Protestant sects with closed communion!)

That said, I will continue to argue the case for a universal communion so long as I can get anybody to listen. And when the day comes that all Christians--all disciples of Christ--are united in their worship, perhaps I will again become involved in organized religion.

But you’d better hurry up, you stiff-necked assholes. I’m not getting any younger!
X

34 comments:

brian martin said...

Rodak, as was noted in the thread you reference, part of the teaching about communion "within the Catholisc Church" is that not only are you participating in Holy Communion, you are also signifying being "in communion" with the beliefs of the Catholic Church. I believe it is a mistake, I tend to think you are correct, and I further think that Satan dances a jig of glee every time Christians argue among themselves over who is right and who has the best, or in the case of my upbringing, the only way to salvation.
I am glad I found your little corner of the world. If I am welcome, I shall be back

Rodak said...

Thank you, Brian. You are, of course, always welcome. My problem with organized religion is that congregations tend to make an idol of their churches. It's about our relationship to God, it's not about our membership in human institutions.

brian martin said...

No disagreement from me on that point

Rodak said...

I have responded to your last comment on Kelly's blog, but I think that it hasn't yet been approved.

brian martin said...

I think I'll respond here since it is kind of off topic on Kelly's thread. I believe that we are social beings and as such are drawn to community, however, there are among us those who are called to the hermitage, so to speak, whether literally or figuratively. The monastic calls deeply to me, and my transition from fundamentalist protestant to catholic includes a detour into dabblings in buddhism, and then I ran across Thomas merton, and then Basil Pennington, and had married a Catholic and was drawn in through the monastic traditions. I consider myself first and foremost a Christian and i have found the most fulfillment in Catholicism, despite a deep and abiding mistrust of hierarchy and bureaucracy. I hope for and expect changes to occur within the Church that are positive and represent a fuller understanding of all people being made in the image and likeness of God, but I also know change comes very slowly to Mother Church. I agree that ultimately it is about our personal relationship with God, and i believe we are all called to that relationship due to our creation by him. The whole "Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in you" thing. I also agree that often non-christians seem more loving and accepting than Christian, but chalk this up to the knowledge that we are all human. Any group of people has it's saintly people, its good people, it's marginal people, and it's despicable people. It is interesting to note, though, I have a friend who states he is agnostic, leaning toward atheist, and he is one of the most Christian people I know. Interesting in light of Pope Benedict's inclusion of Agnostics at Assissi.

Rodak said...

Yes. One thing I admire so much about Simone Weil is that she was able to be, in a sense, "monastic" but within the context of community. Her only close personal bond was really with God. But she worked within communities and was very dedicated to people. One of my favorite sayings of hers is: "Contradiction is the lever of transcendence."

brian martin said...

I am unfamiliar with her, but this is generally how i am exposed to new and interesing ideas...rather serendipitously through conversations or just happenstance.

I read a lot, an interesting mix of popular fiction and random nonfiction either related to my work as a therapist, or just things that catch my interest.
Currently am reading Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for a Living god, and cannot for the life of me figure out what the hell the Bishops' problem with it is. I find great humor in the fact that there are people like me who never would have heard of it let alone read it were it not for thei unwarranted criticism of it.

Rodak said...

I have blogged about Simone Weil quite a lot. If you are interested, you can check out the link in the sidebar. It will take you to a variety of interesting places.

Ron King said...

I hope I am not intruding. I also read Elizabeth Johnson's book and I too wonder what the hell the bishops are thinking. I do suggest that they are very afraid of her spiritual openness which would be in opposition to their dogmatic beliefs.
Rodak, in order for those who oppose you to see what you see they would have to suspend belief and challenge their core beliefs about catholicism.
Brian, I find Rodak's blog a comforting and stimulating place to visit. He should be writing for vn.

brian martin said...

Ron, as a Catholic I cannot figure out their opposition..There is nothing that falls outside of the teaching of the Church, certainly nothing that outright challenges it.
The only thing that should be threatening about Rodak for Catholics is if their faith is in the Church instead of in God.
It would be interesting to have hime writing for VN, however, I suppose it is a Catholic blog..although they tend to be a lot more willing to allow diverse thoughts than most, which is why I like it.

Rodak said...

I agree, Brian: it is a Catholic blog. I feel it is more than enough that I am allowed to comment there--quite frankly--about what I believe. I have this blog and can, from time to time, post thoughts like the ones expressed in this piece, with links back to V-N. That's good enough for me.

Ron King said...

Brian, I think you are spot on with their(some)faith being focused on the church instead of God. The mystery of God's Love is being thwarted in my ignorant opinion by not allowing open communion.
It seems that your journey has been one of seeking God's Love.

brian martin said...

Ron...I have faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, and believe that some day we will see at least a more open communion...but all my more orthodox friends, as well as my wife who is working on her Masters of theology tell me I am wrong. They also tell me I am wrong in thinking that there will be married and women priests someday too.
I tell them to stop trying to determine for God what is and isn't possible within the Church

Ron King said...

I pray for the same as you. I have proposed previously that Mary is the first priest who brought Christ into the world. You seem very open to the Holy Spirit. Isn't one of the gifts wisdom?

Rodak said...

In the final analysis, it's all about having a professional, hierarchical priestly cult, isn't it? The Church has, in effect, reestablished an outfit analogous to the Jewish one that conspired to crucify Christ in the first place. If you look at all those doctrinal items that separate "Protestants" from Catholics, each of them involves something that makes the mediation of a priest necessary. Of course, this is by and large what the Reformation was all about, isn't it? Jesus said, Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am with you. There is the "Real Presence" -- no need to "add priest and fold until smooth."

Anonymous said...

Ron, wisdom is one of the spiritual gifts.
I once took a spiritual gifts inventory developed by the Catherine of Sienna Institute.
Wisdom may have been one of my possible gifts, however, i don't feel particularly wise. (I try to open myself to the Holy Spirit) healing was one, which is gratifying as I work as a therapist. I would suggest if rodak took the inventory, writing would be a gift.

Rodak, I would suggest that the statement by Jesus "Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am with you" can be true and not preclude certain people having certain roles. Clearly the Apostles were given a special role that not all of his followers were given. I believe that people are called by the spirit to different things, and ministry is one of them. I am against a culture of "clericalism" that seems to elevate priests or ministers to a holier than thou place. They all, including the Pope are every bit as human as you or I, and just as likely to sin.

brian martin said...

Oops, I posted as anonymous...that last post was me

Rodak said...

Oh, sure, Brian -- There is no doubt that different people have different vocations. That is not to say that there are not plenty of people proclaiming this or that to be their true vocation when they are actually doing is for ulterior motives. That may be particularly true of clergy.

brian martin said...

or of you or I..True?
why would it be particular to the clergy? outside of the fact that their "ministry" is the most visible?

So then the question is, can the Holy Spirit still work through those people?
or are we that black and white, for lack of better terms. Say I'm a priest with a jumble of motives that seem to primarily be about self promotion, bringing glory to self etc....can (or does) the Holy Spirit work through such individuals?
If it doesn not work through sinners, then I am in a world of hurt.

Rodak said...

As a "Protestant" I don't believe that anybody needs a mediator to access the Holy Spirit. That is why we insist on our ability (our duty, actually) to read and interpret the Scriptures as the Spirit moves us to interpret them, for instance.
I think the "self-promotion/glory" thing is more apt to be a false motive for non-Catholic clergy. With priests, because of celibacy, the frequency of sexual scandal makes it obvious what the ulterior motive of many men going into the priesthood is: an attempt to hide from themselves and others predilictions that they can't face. Celibacy becomes a disguise for such men. Priests also have considerably more power over the laity than do Protestant clergy--at least those in mainstream churches. Obviously, there a Protestant cult leaders out there who surpass any ordinary priest in that department. And many of them becoming involved in scandal, as we all know. It is not clear from my reading of Acts that the first churches, whose members actually walked and talked with Jesus during his earthly life, are good predictors of the highly structured institutions that developed subsequently. It would seem those structures are based on Greco-Roman political institutions, more than on any instruction given by Jesus. The very etymology of the Greek word "ecclesia" discloses it to have originally described a socio-political, rather than a religious, grouping.

brian martin said...

Rodak, i agree with you to a point. I am not sure where that point lies exactly, but feel that certain people are indeed called to be the "apostles" so to speak. That does not mean that I need someone else to mediate with the Holy Spirit.

A number of quick thoughts...for some priests, celibacy clearly is a way of hiding from things not wanting to face.
I believe the scandal of sexual scandals in the church is not related to celibacy as the liberal side of things would have it, and it is not, bespite George Weigel and others pompous pontificating and willful use of untruth, about homosexuality. Rather, the scandal is in a hierarchy that was more interested in protecting MOTHER CHURCH from scandal..forgetting that if one trusts the Holy Spirit no such protection is needed.

on a side note, I noticed you have written about Gary Snyder. Have you read Practice of the Wild? I bloody loved it.

Rodak said...

No, I haven't read "Practice of the Wild" yet. But I will get around to it.

Ron King said...

Brian, I thought the sexual abuse horror was hidden not so much to protect the church but to protect the narcissistic personalities that are in positions of power.

brian martin said...

Ron,
I believe those Narcissistic Assholes see themselves as "The Church"

Rodak said...

They promote that mind-set in the laity, don't they?

brian martin said...

sure, as do power hungry assholes everywhere, using whatever "ism" or "ity"(patriotism, capitalism, communism, Chritisanity, Catholicism, Protestantism) the choose to wrap themselves in to make themselves palatable to those the seek to impress or lead, those who ultimately give them power.
I would suggest though, that the power of the local parish priest over the laity is in direct proportion to how conservative said parish is.

Ron King said...

Agree

Rodak said...

It would seem to me that there is no point in being "Catholic" if one doesn't cede that power to the parish priest. If one doesn't believe that the parish priest, in fact, has that power, then the whole religion is negated as a religion and just becomes a kind of cultural club, or tribal entity. Which would be fine with me, if the fuckers wouldn't then play politics on the societal scale--but they do. The Church becomes just one more corporate special interest group, manipulating cluelessly compliant constituents to preserve the scope of its institutional power. A beneficial consequence of the fragemtation of non-Catholic Christian churches is that they have that kind of power only regionally, or even locally--which is a good thing.

brian martin said...

I don't cede much power to the priest. He can perform Mass, something I have no desire to do. He cannot dictate conscience.
a bit of anarchist in you, friend Rodak?

Rodak said...

No, I wouldn't say anarchist. If I had my druthers this country would be much more like those European socialist democracies that corporate dollars continually propagandize against. The trouble with Obama is that he's not nearly enough of the socialist that the neocon rightwingers accuse him of being.
As for priests, if they are only a class of celibate "Masters of Ceremony," then, as I say, Catholicism is a sham. If they can't do the magic, they're frauds. If they can do the magic, they are indispensible to salvation. But you can't have it both ways.

brian martin said...

so if I say that I buy that the priestly office is indispensible to the mass, but the individual priest as a person is not, then I guess at this point I buy into the Catholic Church. I don not buy into any thought that the Church itself is essential or necessary for Salvation.
I am Catholic but I am not Conservative because I see little difference between that and the fundamentalism I was raised in. I have a deep abiding suspicion of anyone saying they know God's Mind and know who is saved and who isn't.
If that all makes me a Cafeteria Catholic or Catholic in name only...fine, I don't need other people's approval ov my personal faith...so I guess I carry some of my protestant upbringing too.

Rodak said...

As I imagine you already know, I agree with all of that, Brian. But, then, not being a Catholic, I don't have a dog in that hunt. I would imagine that many Catholics would agree with you, too. I don't know how many of them would say it out loud. And I don't know how selective they might be in deciding to whom they'd say it. But I think they are out there in large numbers.

Ron King said...

I do believe in the Eucharist and that is one of the reasons I returned to catholicism after hating it for 40 years. I could explain in more detail, if you wish how I came to line the Eucharist with the body and blood of Christ through the idea of quantum mechanics and scripture. That leads to my conclusion that communion should be open to everyone. I also believe that there is a significant psychological role in confessing sins to a priest however, it is not utilized in my opinion as it should be. Women should be priests also. Priests should marry if they wish. We should get rid of all the useless garments that establish a look of superiority of clerics over the laity.
Another reason I am back into the faith is to put together in some coherent form the psychology of faith as it is expressed through love and as it is expressed without love and the effects of both. I also want to go through the catechism and point out in my opinion what is love and what isn't.
My wife and I walked out of mass this morning in the middle of the priest's homily when he was ranting about his obvious hatred of homosexuals and how they will go to hell. I will be contacting the bishop tomorrow. The reason I am a catholic is to explore the mysteries of God's Love and identify the obvious hate and fear within the church that makes it on the surface appear to be ugly.

Rodak said...

Ron--Where the Catholic conception of the Eucharist breaks down for me is precisely in the role of the priest. The contention is that only a priest can invoke the Deity. But that priest can have completely lost his faith; he can never have had any real faith; he can be filled with hatred for God and man alike; he can emerge from the back room reeking of anal mucus and the magic still works upon his command. God is powerless to resist the call of the priest under any condition. If you say, "Well God would not want to deprive His people of Himself, and that is why he comes" then I will ask you, "Then why wouldn't He come if you, or I, performed the necessary motions?" Where, in Scripture, is Transubstantiation verified? The Gospel of John does not even mention the bread and wine at the Last Supper, and it was the last one written. Ooops. I'm not saying communion is unimportant. But John's omission of it suggests that it is less than what the Church insists it to be. I think that it is one more instance of the priesthood making its role essential to the salvation of the individual. As for confession, of course it has some psychological benefit. So does psychology, or close friendship.