Saturday, January 7, 2012

Readings: A Cause for Disputation

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!