Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Catholic/catholic: Believing/Not Believing in the Church Today

Talk about religion gets people's blood flowing.  Yesterday at this site, I had responses to various postings from 1) a gay activist who has, on repeated occasions, larded the comments section of this blog with statements about how religion is absurd and those who believe in God are pathological, and 2) a devout practicing Catholic friend who bridles a bit at Anthea Butler's question to fellow Catholics, For those of you who stay, how can you do it?

As these comments were coming in here, I was involved in the past day or so in a discussion at my statewide free paper's website in which I was simultaneously attacked by 1) a right-wing Republican evangelical who accuses me and other Catholics who dissent from Humanae Vitae of being Judas, and 2) a left-wing critic of religion who says that all Catholics are 100% opposed to women's reproductive rights and gay rights, and 100% behind church leaders as they cover up the abuse scandal.  And so I am a fool and knave for continuing to define myself as catholic, he or she argues.

And then there's me.  Somewhere in the middle of all of these discussions, charges, questions, attacks and counterattacks.  And here's what I believe, in ten bullet points:

1. The choice to participate or not participate in a religious group is a deeply personal decision, one that must inevitably be made between an individual and God.  Only the individual, in the very depths of her soul face to face with God, knows why she chooses to participate or not to participate.  And I have no right to make judgments about the decisions individuals make face to face with God.  I honor and don't condemn Catholics who stay, as long as they don't actively collude in the abuse cover-up and other injustices we now have crystal-clear evidence to attribute to our church leaders.

2. At the same time, I personally experience serious alienation from my Catholic church, and have had no chance except to do so, after Steve and I have repeatedly and definitively lost jobs as Catholic theologians, and had every door slammed in our faces as we sought further employment as Catholic theologians.  We've been pushed to the margins.  Deliberately.  By pastoral leaders who tell us they are the face of Jesus in the world.  And we have no choice except to live with that marginalization, since it's the only place accorded to us.  And as all this has happened, not a single one of our many theologian colleagues, all comfortably ensconced in Catholic institutions and enjoying considerable power as tenured faculty members, has done anything at all to assist us or pull us out of the shadows back towards the center.

3. And so I do very much understand the deliberate choice of many brother and sister Catholics to walk away from a dysfunctional institution whose leaders are now, to a huge extent, countersigns to the gospel, and whose lives and behavior obscure the face of Jesus in our church and world.  And I support those brother and sister Catholics--or catholics, as Anthea Butler suggests we call ourselves.  I find myself in solidarity with them.

4. As I have stated here in the past, I have long been convinced that atheism is a viable option, an honorable philosophical and even religious response to the way in which people of faith often obscure the face of God in the world, and even present a demonic distortion of God to the world.  Atheism may be not only the only possible choice for some people, when they're presented with those demonic distortions of the divine.  It may, in fact, be a moral obligation, and people of faith need to honor that moral choice and understand why some people make it.  Some of the atheists I know are among the finest, most moral, and most humane people I know.  I stand in solidarity with their morality and humanity and their choice to repudiate demonic distortions of the divine.

5. At the same time, I personally experience, in the depths of my own being, the touch of and inclination to the divine, and I cannot repudiate that and remain who I am, as a human being.  I cannot repudiate that and explain what my life journey has been and what it continues to mean, because in repudiating this reality, I'd be repudiating something at the core of my soul and my life journey.

6. I believe that faith commitments can lead and have led, throughout history, both to redemptive and demonic behavior in the world.  The demonic potential of faith communities and faith commitments, which is abundantly in evidence in all faith communities throughout history, is the shadow side, the flip side, of the redemptive possibility of faith commitments and faith communities.  Religion can be uncommonly demonic precisely because it has the power to do such good, to effect such healing, to bring such transformative power into the world.

7. In my Catholic (or catholic) community today, I see evidence of both redemptive presence and  possibility, and demonic behavior that obscures the divine face in church and world.  The demonic behavior manifests itself to me in a very particular way when the leaders of my church assault the poor and defenseless, cover up abuse of children by priests and religious, and make common cause with political and economic structures and elites that promote exploitation of the poor, militarization, destruction of the environment, and callousness towards the human rights of women and LGBT persons.

8. I find myself decisively alienated by the powerful centrist intellectual and media commentariat of my Catholic (decidedly a capital C here) community, who have the strong potential to reverse quite a bit of that demonic behavior on the part of our church leaders, but who do not choose to do so.  My very specific repulsion at the behavior of the powerful centrist Catholic media-academy commentariat in the United States has twofold roots: 1) this commentariat continues to give cover to and collude with church leaders who should instead be opposed vigorously, if we care about the gospel and the future of our church; and 2) this commentariat continues to talk about catholicity, even to define authentic catholicity, while ignoring and deliberately marginalizing many fellow Catholics who resist this group's collusion with and defense of our current church leaders.  This behavior towards some fellow Catholics significantly undermines the claim of the centrist Catholic commentariat to understand catholicity in any adequate way.  In addition to what I posted about this dynamic yesterday, see this posting from last September, which complements yesterday's statement.

9. I became a theologian because of #5.  I did not become a theologian because I was interested in Rahner or Lonergan or Aquinas or Augustine.  I became a theologian after having read Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Thérèse of Lisieux, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Charles de Foucauld, the rules of Benedict and Francis, and others.  And after having read and re-read the gospels.  And after having read Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, G.K. Chesterton, Muriel Spark, Sigrid Undset, J.R.R. Tokien, Francis Thompson, and many others.  And after having spent some years, along with Steve and several other students who were in college with us at Loyola in New Orleans, living in marginal African-American neighborhoods where we formed a community to pray together and do hands-on ministry among those in need.

10. And so, in conclusion, my interest in the Catholic church has always been to find a community aspiring* to redemptive, inclusive, loving, gospel-focused presence in the world that wants to live the gospel in concrete ways--particularly among the marginalized.  I'm more interested in lived practice than in proclaimed doctrine.  I lose interest in the latter when it is not rooted in, and especially when it betrays, the former.  I have never quite been in sync with many of my fellow theologians in American Catholicism, and I have always been baffled by their seeming ability--by the seeming ability of many of them--to behave and think as if their lives have no connection at all to the lives of the poor, the marginal, the dispossessed.  To the lives of the large number of fellow Catholics who are now alienated from the Catholic church.

And who are alienated for understandable and good reasons.  Who need to be alienated, if they care about the gospels and the future of the church.  And who are not being ministered to or even acknowledged by the current leaders of the Catholic church or the complacent centrists who manage to continue walking quite cheerfully right along with those leaders, with no interruption of their complacent steps.  

The complacent centrists who seem not to be seeing the really quite painful and tragic picture of the imploding church that is clear to so many of us now, and who are being deceived by (and are helping to put in place) a new image-management smokescreen as they insist that the current pope--who deliberately set into motion all of the ugly reaction that has led to the church's implosion along with his predecessor John Paul II--is the hapless captive of an increasingly rigid and cruel Curia.  Of the same Curia that, after all, elected the current pope . . . .

*The auto-correction minx had changed "aspiring" to "aspirating" without my knowing!  Sorry for that silly error.

The graphic is from a medieval manuscript, and is a depiction of the Emmaus story in which Jesus is a fellow traveler and fellow pilgrim with his followers, after his Resurrection.

No comments: