Thursday, March 4, 2010

Solidarity and Soul-Making: More Reflections on the Church Today


And so, how to find (and nourish) soul in bleak periods when faith communities appear increasingly unable to facilitate soul-making for many people?  

For me, watching the recent PBS series "Faces of America" has been a soul-making experience.  Far more so than any tenuous contact I now have with communities of faith--with their institutional and liturgical lives.

What has grabbed my attention--and yes, has moved me strongly, in a specifically religious way that my contact with the church does not produce now--as I've watched this series has been the recognition that we're all far more integrally connected than we care to admit, as we shuffle through our everyday lives.  All connected.  Globally.  Every one of us.

Last night's stunning conclusion (at least, I think last night's episode was the culmination of the series) demonstrates through DNA analysis that almost all the people on whom the series focused, from wildly disparate ethnic and cultural backgrounds, are genetically more closely related than anyone would have dreamed by studying their family histories in isolation from genetic research.  That conclusion speaks to me of the inescapable solidarity of the human community.

Of the solidarity that we ought to acknowledge, but don't.  When I fund the war against Afghanistan, and when my funding of the war results in the death of a citizen of that nation, I am Cain murdering Abel.  The man I assist in killing through my complicity in this war is not some alien creature from another planet: he is my genetic brother, closely related to me somewhere along the vast, interlocking chain of genetic development of the human race.

Watching this television series calls on me to alter how I look at people I encounter on a regular basis, whom I find myself inclined to view as other than myself.  No matter how other I would like to make anyone else in order to disguise my complicity in her fate, she is my sister.  She is my mother.  I am the sum total of a vast number of people whose genetic material forms the stuff of my body, whose blood flows in my veins.  I delude myself when I imagine that I live in isolation from all those who have gone before me, from all those who inhabit the world along with me, from all who are to come in the future.

This is part of what I mean when I refer to "solidarity" persistently on this blog.  I think that we have not begun to recognize the radical implications of the challenge to love that Jesus presents through his life and teaching in the gospels.  The philosophy of atomic individualism that undergirds our economic and social institutions permits--it encourages--me to assume that my life is mine alone, that what I do has no effect on you, or that the effects of my actions on you are earned effects.  They are what you deserve because you have not made the wise and virtuous choices I have made.

And so I am encouraged to go through my daily life never seeing the faces of those I pass on the street, in stores, on my computer and television screen, as Abels to my Cain, as my mother and my sister.  I am encouraged by the socioeconomic system in which I live--which is vastly at odds with the faith I hear the church proclaim when it listens to the gospels--to swallow the enormous lie that I can make choices and decisions solely to benefit myself, without thinking about how those choices and decisions affect you.

When I say that the church is failing to elicit poetry and passion among its adherents today, I am speaking, in part, of the church's capitulation to a social imagination of atomic individualism that is fundamentally at odds with the gospels and their message of human solidarity.  And of the implications of human solidarity, of the implications of the inescapable fact that we are connected.

Why do the pastors of the church find it possible to read the gospels and then refuse even to look survivors of clerical sexual abuse in the faces?  They do so because they believe what their lawyers tell them.  Not what they hear Jesus telling them in the gospels.  

In placing legal and financial considerations above the message of the gospels, those now leading the church have robbed the church of soul at the deepest level possible.  Their behavior has so undercut the message of solidarity that is central to the practice and teaching of Jesus that it is well-nigh impossible for many people today to adhere to what makes Catholicism catholic.

And I don't see this behavior changing anytime soon--which tells me, sadly, that an increasing number of those who formerly found their lives of faith nourished by the church will look for soul sustenance elsewhere.