Friday, January 15, 2010

People of Faith as Signs and Counter-Signs to the Gospel: Schillebeeckx, Pat Robertson, Benedict, Mary Daly

A number of valuable articles have come online in the past day or so, which connect to recent postings on this blog. In what follows, I’d like to share these resources with readers.

First, America has just published an editorial statement commemorating Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, who died in December. As do my reflections at Open Tabernacle (and here) (cross-posted to Bilgrimage), the America editorial emphasizes the notion of sacramentality running through all of Schillebeeckx’s thought, his influence at Vatican II, and the way in which his sacramental view of the church calls the church to be a sign of God’s salvific love in the world, and not a counter sign to this love:

This sacramental view of the world, and of the church’s role within the world, remained at the heart of Father Schillebeeckx’s writing, preaching and teaching for over seven decades. It was also central to the vision of the Second Vatican Council, which he helped to shape as an advisor to Cardinal Bernard Alfrink and the Dutch bishops.

In the decades following the council, Father Schillebeeckx was acutely aware of how difficult it had become for many to believe that God holds open a future full of hope amid a world of radical suffering, especially when the church’s own witness had been compromised. In the face of those real stumbling blocks, Father Schillebeeckx reminded his readers that “God is new each moment” and that in situations of injustice (whether in the world or in the church) the Spirit of God is actively at work, prompting resistance, hope, courage and change.

I posted yesterday about Rev. Pat Robertson’s abominable attempt to blame the people of Haiti for the disaster that has just befallen them. For a smorgasbord of valuable reflections on Robertson’s statement, please see
Religion Dispatch’s round-up of responses to Robertson today. As Arianna Huffington noted yesterday in a discussion with former right-wing evangelical leader Frank Schaeffer, Robertson gives religion a bad name.

Several days ago, I noted that a persistent theme running through Catholic thought about gay people and gay relationships is that gay folks and our relationships are self-centered, narcissistic. My posting demonstrates that this contention has long been part and parcel of the current pope’s approach to gay people and relationships.

And Benedict continues the meme: yesterday, the pope met with young people from the Lazio region of Italy. His address to them focuses on “authentic” sex education, which, in Benedict’s view, recognizes that the church needs to say no to particular behaviors and “lifestyles” (code words for “gay”), because these behaviors and “lifestyles” are all about the narcissism of couples who do not procreate and therefore do not contribute in a generative way to society.

If readers believe I’m reading too much into these comments by Benedict, please do a google news search of the terms “pope” and “Lazio” and read the 385 news articles already linked to google’s search engine for Benedict’s remarks yesterday. If you do so, you’ll see that a persistent subtext running through these articles is the generous rightness of heterosexual relationships and the selfish wrongness of homosexual ones.

Finally, I’ve been touched by the powerful memorial pieces appearing online following the death of theologian Mary Daly. I’ve been collecting a number of these, and may do a synopsis of them down the road.

Meanwhile, I’m particularly taken with Francis X. Clooney’s eulogy for Mary Daly at America yesterday. I’m struck in particular by the following observation:

Mary Daly was by all accounts a radical thinker. I am not a scholar of her work, and cannot summarize it with any precision, but my sense that when she assessed the condition of women in the modern world, in religions, and in the Catholic Church, all taken in light of her own experience trying to make her way as a pioneering woman theologian – with multiple doctorates — in a 1960s Church not quite ready for women theologians, she came to the stark conclusion that there was no simple remedy to the bias, as if small changes would right the wrongs and make women equal to men. Rather, the biases and distortions so harmful to women permeated the entirety of human experience, and traditional religions were infected with pervasive bias, in ideas, language, practices, and social structures. Accordingly, women had to be radical in their critiques, taking apart of the whole structures and not just adjusting details. For this, women were better off outside the religions, Catholicism included, and for a time at least, better off nurturing their own conversations and ways of living, without the presence, help or hindrance of men, even well-meaning men. So Mary Daly was a Catholic intellectual who decided for theological reasons, and by personal imperative, that she could no longer be a Christian.

Nota bene: precisely because the church is called to be a sacramental sign of God’s salvific, all-inclusive love in the world, it also has the potential to be a counter-sign to God’s love, when its own institutional life and behavior obscure everything that it exists to signify.

And Mary Daly’s experience of the church as counter-sign explains why she famously would not allow men in her classes to ask questions. As Clooney notes, he actually witnessed this teaching technique of Mary Daly’s at one of her lectures at Boston College—and when he did so, he cam to see and appreciation her point: “[U]nless we ourselves experience marginalization, the brute force of power imposed on us, we really won’t be able to get what it is like to be a perennially demeaned and oppressed person.”