Thursday, July 11, 2013

All Red, All Blue, No Purple? Andrew Sullivan on Religion and Future of the Planet

And, finally for this morning session of postings, here's Andrew Sullivan on how the world in which we live is increasingly either red or blue, with little purple--it's a world in which people and cultures are increasingly riven by religious fundamentalisms that want to resist the project of modernity at the most fundamental level possible:

I’m not sure there can be a political resolution to this in the short term. Obama was as good a try as any – and he has made under-appreciated pragmatic progress in reforming America, shifting our foreign policy back toward sanity, saving us from a second Great Depression or the fate of much of Europe, and even winning universal healthcare. But there comes a point at which he simply hits a brick wall, just as the Islamists did in Egypt and the Green Movement did in Iran and the secularists have in Turkey and the liberal individualists in Tel Aviv against the settlers on the West Bank. 
The only way through this impasse is through religious reform, in my view. This may take more than my lifetime. But proving the ineptness of theocracy, exposing the fallacies of the fundamentalist psyche, while treasuring varieties of religious experience that include within them a toleration of the conscience of others, is surely the only way forward. It will not be easy getting to a more purple world. But if it is not possible, then we face a century of warfare and social dysfunction. The unanswered question, to my mind, is whether this dynamic has so purged religious institutions of free thinkers and writers and theologians and saints that it has sealed its own – and everyone else’s – demise. As a Christian I refuse to believe that. But as a writer and observer of the world, it becomes harder each day.

The only way through this impasse is through religious reform, in my view: I hear Andrew Sullivan saying that the future of the entire world hinges, in a startling and perhaps unexpected way, on whether or not religious communities can reform themselves, and can resist the exceptionally strong pressure placed on them at present to be bastions of reactionary resistance to the modern project (with its emphasis on democracy, human rights, gender equality, and acceptance of the full humanity of LGBT human beings).

If Sullivan is correct, then the question of how or whether religious institutions can reform themselves is hardly confined to religious groups themselves: it has become an acute political question for the entire planet. We all have a vested interest in this question, whether we're religious adherents or not, religious, irreligious, or anti-religious.

And then there's this: The unanswered question, to my mind, is whether this dynamic has so purged religious institutions of free thinkers and writers and theologians and saints that it has sealed its own – and everyone else’s – demise. The purge by religious institutions of free thinkers and writers and theologians and saints: is there really any other way to read the legacy of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for whom the purge of Catholic dissenters, of free-speaking and free-thinking theologians, of mouthy women and uppity gay folks, was a central, overriding papal concern?

It's that legacy that has yielded what Joseph Amodeo calls a church of "command and control" in which hope and charity, which are foundational to the church as Amodeo points out, are eclipsed by the impulse to bark out orders, to whip people into shape--and to purge dissenters. It is this legacy that has yielded, as its direct consequence, the alarming exodus of a whole generation of the best and brightest young Catholics, like Amodeo himself.

Alan Jones calls for storytellers who can point the way to a "story that sees the planet as a holy place and includes everybody." For me as a Christian, it's clear that this very story of the planet as a holy place that must include everybody is central to the Judaeo-Christian narrative. It's already there in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and for centuries on end, has been seen as the leitmotiv of this tradition, when this tradition was rightly understood by its most astute interpreters. It's part and parcel of that  story of charity and hope that Joseph Amodeo rightly sees as foundational to, constitutive of, the church.

And so I have to conclude that Joseph Amodeo's testimony about why he's now walking away tells us something very important about why many Catholics are now leaving the Catholic church: they are walking away because they no longer hear that foundational story of charity and hope in a church whose leaders are increasingly preoccupied with command-control and who were hell-bent in the final decades of the 20th century and the start of the 21st to purge the institution of free-thinkers and free-speakers.

Many of whom--notably among the 100+ theologians told to shut their mouths by John Paul and Benedict XVI--have been quite precisely concerned to retrieve, to hold onto, the central, constitutive narrative of the planet as a holy place that must make room for everyone. They've been ordered to close their mouths because that's quite precisely what they wanted to talk about. They wanted to bring the heart of the Catholic tradition alive for a postmodern culture losing the ability to hear that tradition insofar as it is encapsulated in terms captive to a premodern worldview.

What happens to a faith community, I ask myself, when, in the name of preserving tradition, it sells out all that is most important to its tradition? What happens to a faith community that so succeeds in dumbing itself down by purging its thinkers, its poets, its artists, that the majority of those who remain are no longer capable of or interested in noticing the cognitive dissonance between what the community's leaders claim they're preserving in the name of tradition, and what the authentic tradition of the faith community is actually all about?

Faith communities like that surely don't have a bright future in store for them. And their effect on the culture at large is usually not to be celebrated, as Andrew Sullivan rightly points out. It trends in the direction of bitter hostility to a world imagined as out of control, rather than in the direction of embrace of what is best in the surrounding culture.

Can someone please remind me again why we're canonizing John Paul II?

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