Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Reader Writes: It's Not Just the American Empire That's Falling Apart

Good morning, all. Since I’m still trying to reorient myself with the blog (and am a bit under the weather, something I didn’t mention in yesterday’s posting because I did not want to sound doleful), I thought I’d once again upload a discussion from one of the threads following a previous posting. I’m posting this not merely for convenience’s sake, but because I think the discussion lifts out some important themes that may be missed by readers who don’t follow the discussion threads.

This discussion followed yesterday’s posting about transformative journeys and finding the thread. In that discussion, I noted that I am having difficulty finding the shining thread that, for me, constitutes the raison d’ĂȘtre of my own spiritual journey and of this blog about that journey. When I look at the current landscape of the American political and religious scene, I see an empire in decline through which the threads that delineate a spiritual path simply are not running—not for me.

A good reader of Bilgrimage responded to that observation with sharp, insightful comments about how it is not merely the American empire that seems to be falling apart at this moment in history. The empire of the church is also falling apart.

Here’s the dialogue that ensued about that (and I’ve slightly edited my statements for the sake of clarity):

Brian: You mentioned falling empires and how they fail to ask questions. You were talking about the United States, of course, but I think you observations are the same for other empires, political and religious. The Empire of the Church is falling apart for precisely the same reasons: failure to ask introspective questions and failure to listen and grow. There was a time when the British Empire was colored pink or red on maps of the world and people would sit back and admire "all the pink parts" of the world - the conquest, the glory, the grandeur!

But isn't that how many (most?) people think about whatever must be the True Faith? They dream of a time, either in some sterling past or golden future, when we can admire all the "pink parts" of the True Faith. It's not just Catholicism and Islam, but also evangelical Christianity, some sects of which literally have designated entire meridians of the earth for conquest.

In the future, Vatican II will look a lot less like the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and a lot more like a generous embrace of the humane and godly Spirit.
That church empire is falling away because it refused to look at itself critically, it refused to see itself as a reflection of imperialism and feudalism or, in other words, a reflection of humanity. That church empire refuses to allow humanity to be responsible for itself, to grow and discover what truly is humane and godly.

Teilhard realized that human life and all life on earth is a developing project increasingly directed by human consciousness; “responsibility in the face of growth” might be a good summation. When I think back on decades of schooling experiences, I realize that even if the history of political, economic, and religious systems that have come and gone are taught to students, the present system is never presented as in development. It's as if Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis is actually quite old and has been applied to all kinds of organizations and beliefs.

Growth is ignored; it not only reveals our vulnerability but also rejects ultimately any authority except the Spirit calling. Those empires that claimed to have the perfect clockwork system into which human beings fit like cogs will eventually crack and burst. Consider the strong oak, massive and rigid, that cracks and falls in a violent storm. But the green sapling, seemingly weak and frail, still growing, gives itself over to the wind and survives and thrives.

In some ways, the categorizations of philosophers and social scientists have fooled us - concepts like the age of reason, adulthood, expertise, certifiability, - they have their uses but they can stifle radical and authentic growth if taken too seriously. The high houses of academia revere rigid concepts, and the timid and complacent experts therein rarely go for radicalism and authenticity, as I'm sure you know.

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it" - Karl Marx

That quote, is, of course, an epitaph for philosophy itself and we could expand it to apply to everything wrong with the Church and politics today.

Bill: Brian, thank you for the encouragement to keep blogging--which gives me heart. . . . Your statement is powerful and true. I think we are living through a shift in Christianity that is, in many ways, akin to the crumbling of an empire.

What's crumbling in Christianity today--and has to crumble--is patriarchy. It is a system of social organization bolstered by religion that has to fall apart, because it has become rotten with its own corruption. The churches today are empowering some of the worst possible people, people least well-equipped to carry the Christian faith forward into this millennium. These folks are being empowered solely because they have penises.

And because they believe that possessing a penis gives them an ontological status superior to that of women.

It is a terrible miscalculation--and a terrible betrayal of the gospels--for many Christian leaders to stake the future of Christianity on patriarchy, at a point in history in which the fundamental assumptions of patriarchy are rightly being dismantled around the globe.

And for those of us who long for change, and who had hoped to see it come much sooner, but who now face our own mortality, there is no little anguish in watching the continued resistance to these necessary changes, and the lies that have to be told, and injustices that have to be done, to keep these necessary changes at bay.