Tuesday, November 17, 2009

JPII Catholics, the Dumbing Down of the Church, and Gay-Bashing: Making the Connections

I wrote earlier today about the dumbing down that has been taking place following the imposition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a doctrinal playbook in the Catholic church, a Catholic answer book intended to quell questions (and suppress thought), to provide mind-numbing answers to every question one might ever possibly entertain.

If you’d like to see the effects of that process close up, I’d direct you once again to the thread that Fr. Jim Martin recently began on the America blog to discuss what gay Catholics are to do today, given Rome’s (and bishops’) unremittingly negative approach to the humanity and lives of gay believers. I’ve linked two previous postings to that discussion.

Since more replies poured into the thread up to the point at which it was removed to America’s archives, I want to encourage readers of Bilgrimage to check the thread again. I’m struck, in particular, by the dismal lack of theological education—let’s face it, by the plain lack of education in general—of many of those who logged in to remind us who are gay that we’re the foulest of sinners. But that they love us, of course. And intend to pray for us, as they admonish us since the Catechism's list of spiritual works of mercy tells them that they're doing a noble thing when they admonish sinners.

(Never mind that it also requires us to instruct the ignorant, which may have been among Fr. Martin’s intents in opening a conversation space in which these oh-so-certain but oh-so-woefully-ill-informed JPII Catholics might hear, for the first time, what it’s like to live inside gay skin. Little of that dialogic exchange, in which the ignorant are instructed, took place on the thread, unfortunately. It can’t take place when those intent on doing the instructing and admonishing already know the answers, and have not a scrap of respect for the humanity and experience of the “sinners” they’re admonishing.)

What might not be evident to some readers of this thread, but is obvious to me, is that the large majority of the zealots logging in to remind us who are gay that we are dire sinners, in case we’ve forgotten that, are young Catholics. They’re JPII Catholics. They have come of age in the papal reigns of John Paul II and Benedict. They are, in the flesh, what JPII and Benedict and their minions in episcopal palaces have wrought in the church. They are the church that JPII, Benedict, and their minions want for the future.

They have cut their teeth on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, these JPII Catholics. They have, many of them, been home-schooled (in many cases, because their parents see any other form of education, including parochial school, as corrupting and as less than orthodox). They have, many of them, attended the handful of Catholic colleges and universities in the United States that the Cardinal Newman Society declares to be the only authentically Catholic universities left in the country.

And they’re abysmally educated. In just about any area to which you can point. Their grasp of the tradition they claim to defend in exemplary ways, of church history and the process of doctrinal development, is so tenuous that they don’t know, for instance, that the Catholic church taught for centuries that usury is a mortal sin, and changed its mind about this issue only as important medieval theologians began to question this teaching when capitalist economies developed in that period.

I’m particularly interested in the responses of several zealous young JPII Catholics on the America thread who wanted to convince me that Jesus wasn’t about healing at all. He was about correcting sin. Sin’s what it’s all about—sin and souls. Not healing and bodies. Not this world. Jesus was all about the next world. He was all about correcting sinners so that they could save their souls, avoid hell and attain heaven.

I hardly know where to begin with this misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, which verges on heresy. So much good theological and biblical work has been done in recent decades on this topic, and the church has said so much about it in key documents in the period of Vatican II and afterwards, that I’m amazed at what a hold the pre-Vatican II understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus (and the mission of the church that follows Jesus) has on the minds of young Catholics of this generation, despite Vatican II and despite the hope for more cogent and effective religious education that that council opened for many of us.

I'm amazed at the grip that this biblically and theologically inadequate understanding of the life and teaching of Jesus and the mission of the church that flows from that life and teaching now has on the minds of the self-professed guardians of orthodoxy in the church today. Of graduates of Catholic schools that tout themselves as more orthodox than any other Catholic schools.

It seems not to occur to several of those who instructed me in these matters on the America thread that, in denying that Jesus healed the sick, they’re actually combating what the gospels themselves say. In scorning the term “therapeutic” and denying that the church inherits from Jesus a therapeutic mission, these brightest and best young American Catholics seem to have not a clue that the term “therapeutic” harks back to a Greek root that means “to heal,” and that it’s impossible to follow in the footsteps of Jesus without intending to heal.

In reducing Jesus’s life and significance to a decidedly non-therapeutic paradigm of admonishing sinners and saving souls, these brightest and best young American Catholics make the gospels meaningless. They ignore something that is central to Jesus's teaching and ministry: namely, the insistence that we love people in their bodies, in their hunger, thirst, sickness, indigence, or we don't love at all.

It's deeply sad that many JPII Catholics cling to a false, spiritualized notion of Jesus's ministry and the church's mission primarily because it is so important to them to score points against their brothers and sisters who happen to be gay. All to retain the right, so essential to these young Catholics and their understanding of what it means to be Catholic, to keep informing their gay brothers and sisters that we’re defective, headed for hell.

When Jesus healed. And when Jesus never said a single word about homosexuality.

The church’s guardians of orthodoxy today have ended up in a strange place—a place akin to heresy—in their intent to reserve to themselves the right to demean their brothers and sisters who happen to be gay. The divorce of body from spirit, the claim that one can reject the God-given embodied existences of those who are gay, even to the point of denying fundamental rights like the right to a job or health care coverage, to those who are gay, while one claims that one is acting out of love, is profoundly false. And profoundly disingenuous.

The claim of those who are making the bodily existence of their gay brothers and sisters a living hell in order to save these brothers' and sisters's souls is downright wicked. This claim departs from what the gospels say and would have us do every bit as much as did the claim of the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages that, in burning the bodies of heretics and witches, the church was saving these sinners’ souls. And acting out of love for those they tortured and then burned.

We haven't come very far down the road in some religious groups in recent years, have we? Unfortunately, I look for us to keep heading backwards rather than forwards in the foreseeable future, in the Catholic church, at least—and in the political process, insofar as the Catholic church continues its alliance with the religious right around key issues, and bolsters the religious right's ugly influence in our political process. More on that later.