Monday, March 12, 2018

Reader Writes: "It's This Fear-Notivated Attachment to Belief in Magic That Is, in My Opinion, at the Core of Everything That's Wrong with Both the Catholic Church and Mainstream Protestantism"

In response to our discussion last Friday of Mary McAleese's recent lecture characterizing the Catholic church as a "primary globl carrier of the virus of misogyny," Shaun Lynch wrote a mini-essay that's so good, I now want to lift it from the combox following that posting and share it as a stand-alone posting on Bilgrimage. Shaun's thesis: the core reason many people including many women are exiting the Catholic church "is a straight-up lack of belief in all of the magic that continues to be at the centre of all Catholic practice."

And, of course, I'd say that I think Mary McAleese is also right on target in seeing the commitment of the Catholic hierarchy to a magical-mystical position of heterosexist patriarchialism, which subordinates women to men in the name of a magical-mystical "complementarity," as a big part of the mix of magic that many folks will no longer take from the church. It's a powerful magic within the thinking of the Catholic hierarchy, but an increasingly less compelling one for many of the faithful — especially as they observe the glaring discrepancy between the proclaimed commitment to heterosexist patriarchalism and the actual lives of the be-laced and be-frocked men offering this magic spell to the world. Here's Shaun's valuable statement:

Mary McAleese points out that the patriarchy's intransigeance is driving women out of the Church. This is true, but the damage extends much further and deeper, and I can see it in my own immediate family. My 20 year-old daughter, whom I brought to mass with me for years, and who diligently attended catechism classes in our parish leading to her reception of all of the sacraments through to confirmation, no longer wants anything to do with the Church, or religion in general. The core of the issue is a straight-up lack of belief in all of the magic that continues to be at the centre of all Catholic practice. And it's this fear-motivated attachment to belief in magic that is, in my opinion, at the core of everything that's wrong with both the Catholic Church and mainstream protestantism.

Yes, the all-male hierarchy wants to protect its acquired position of privilege. But all-male hierarchies in pretty much all other realms have been toppled (or, at least, are in the active process of being toppled - hello, Harvey Weinstein!). But observing that there is a power imbalance is neither news nor helpful in addressing the core problem, which is the continued attachment to superstition and magical thought.

So many of the core elements of Catholic dogma are literally unbelievable that it should be no surprise that people have, at long last, come not to believe in them. Without that belief in magic, you can't have coercion based on fear. And without that coercion, the Church is left with nothing that will keep the faithful coming. Let's be honest: there aren't all that many people who attend mass on a weekly basis who are doing so because they derive some spiritual benefit from the droning repetition of arcane prayers or the retreaded bromides that pass for homilies from all but the most gifted pastors. They're going because - on some level - they suspect that NOT doing so will land them in Hell. Eliminate that belief in Hell, and the natural outcome is that those who don't believe will cease to come to mass.

And that's exactly what has happened.

I don't think that people have left the Church primarily because of the patriarchy, the misogyny, the homophobia or the child abuse (although none of those things have helped). I think they've left because THEY JUST DON'T BELIEVE IN THE MAGIC ANYMORE!

But the magical thinking continues to drive the reasoning of the tiny handful of old men at the top of the hierarchy who have absolute control of all decision-making. The liturgy can't be modified into something that might actually be spiritually engaging because we have to make sure that all of the costumed sorcerers utter the proper magical incantations in the right order so that the proper spells will be cast. And we can't change attitudes about the role of women and the natural appropriateness of same-sex affection because such quantum changes might undermine the acceptability of our chanted spells.

I'm not saying that there isn't a deep-seated contempt for women within many of those in high ecclesial office; there most certainly is. But I suspect that what allows their intransigeance to continue driving Church policy is a continued conviction among the steadily dwindling rank and file membership of the Church that the warlocks at the top of the mystical order have magical powers that place them permanently above the hoi polloi; failure by the followers to follow the dictates of their exalted leaders will place them in danger of eternal damnation.

In light of all of that, I'm not sure that the Church ever CAN change. Most of those who have been able to break away from the magical thinking - including my daughter - have taken the next logical step, and have walked away. Of those who remain, most do no more than to robotically go through the motions of the weekly ritual, counting the seemingly endless minutes until they can be released from their dominical obligation.

Meanwhile, it's those who have most fully bought into the magic who compose an ever-larger proportion of what's left of the Church's membership; and they have no motivation to make changes that might pollute the effectiveness of the magic spells.

The Catholic Church seems to go through major turning points or schisms roughly every 500 years, and we're in the midst of a major one now. Only this time, unlike the last couple of times (the Western Schism and the Reformation), this one hasn't consisted of the Church splitting itself into rival factions. Instead, at least in Europe and North America, the schism has consisted of people simply walking or drifting away from faith itself, never to return. There will continue to be some islands of progressive thought here and there, where there continue to be some clergy and parishioners who are able to get beyond the fear of divine retribution for failure to believe the right things. And there will be some minor breakaways, for instance by groups that ordain women but otherwise maintain loyalty to other aspects of Catholic liturgical traditions.

But I fear that the Church as it is is the Church that will be. And I suspect that it won't change appreciably, no matter how loudly those of us both inside and outside of its walls raise our voices in dissent.

And I don't think that any of this is at all what Jesus intended.

(A note of thanks to Ruth Krall for sharing Elizabeth Janeway's book with me.)

No comments: