Sunday, April 22, 2012

Thank God I'm a Heathen.

When I was seventeen years old, I was the smartest human being to ever grace the planet. Oh, there was nothing left to learn I believed, because I had been born with an innate knowledge of everything. I was particularly unreceptive to anyone older, wiser, or more experienced in the ways of the world. As a result of my youthful idiocy, I also became one of the most stubborn individuals on earth. Why else would my first car have been a ten year old, 1960 Rambler American, which refused to ever start and whose new car smell was ‘mildew’? Yes, I had been warned repeatedly against buying it by mechanics and friends. But their criticisms of the wisdom in throwing one hundred hard-earned summer job dollars down the drain fell on deaf ears. I was firmly convinced that I knew better, and that the car was not only salvageable, but that with just a couple of  dollars worth of parts, I would soon be tooling around town in it and thumbing my nose at the naysayers who doubted my genius in getting such a bargain. Through sheer stubbornness and hubris, I maintained this position right up until I paid the towing guy thirty-five dollars more to haul it to the junkyard, which I assume is where it rests until this day.    
You see, the inherent and inevitable down side to being stubborn is that unless you are correct in your opinions 100% of the time (an impossibility, I’ve since learned), hubris, the root of stubbornness, prevents you from redacting previous opinions without losing face. If you are a sensible, mature, thinking human, you will learn to be open to new ideas, weigh their validity, and eventually make an informed decision based on data, rather than emotion. For the chronically stubborn however, logic and common sense has no place in your decision making process; maintaining power and position is all that matters.  

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though being a leader of an organized religion these days requires a Doctorate in stubbornness. Let’s take a look at a recent brouhaha instigated by Pope Benedict XVI, over some recent statements made by, of all people, (gasp) nuns, the second-class citizens of the Catholic Church.

A recent New York Times article (4-18-12) by Laurie Goodstein, with the headline, The Vatican Reprimands a group of US nuns and plans changes opened with the following:

The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest
and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying
that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems”.

Wow. That’s pretty serious stuff. You have to get a little jittery when a pope uses words like “rein in”, “investigation” and “serious doctrinal problems”. Can you say Inquisition? Gee, I wonder what crime these nuns gone wild are guilty of? Could it be Heresy? Blasphemy? Gluttony? You know how much nuns love angel food cake!

According to the article, the members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, dared to question church teaching on male-only priesthood and homosexuality. What’s more, the Vatican added insult to injury by accusing the rogue nuns of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith”. And as if those ‘crimes’ weren’t worth at least two hours on the rack, these sinning sisters of God were chastised for “focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping silent on abortion and same-sex marriage” according to Ms. Goodstein’s article.

I have to interject something here. When this article was brought to my attention by a friend, I found quite difficult to believe it was genuine and not the product of The Onion, a satirical and brilliant online magazine, or one of its many imitators. But then I began to recollect my own years of being associated with the Catholic Church and all doubt slipped away.

As a product of the pre-Ecumenical Council Catholicism, I still bear the scars and guilt of many of its ‘teachings’. Among those lessons was that of the infallibility of the Pope. I was taught that because he was the authorized representative of God on earth and leader of one true holy and apostolic Church. He was by virtue of his election by fallible men, now infallible. As a child, this made no sense to me. It makes even less as an adult. What is to stop anyone from declaring themselves infallible and then legitimizing such a claim with threats or reprisal? That being said, if the Pope is infallible, and his directives are correct 100% of the time, why then is this Church so flawed? Well, the answer is sort of a Catch 22. If you accept that the Pope is infallible, then you also must accept all that he says as gospel. Thus, these nuns are way out of line and in direct violation of the Church’s doctrines. If however you find that the idea of a human being infallible somewhat discomforting (as many Catholics do), then you open the Church’s teachings up to scrutiny and criticism, two things it has always been able to suppress in the past through ostracism, violence and torture.

Having spent the first twelve years of my life deeply immersed in the Catholic faith, I can tell you that in general, nuns are pretty cool people. They live austere lives for the most part, do all the grunt work and get none of the perks that the priests do. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the patriarchal arrangement that the men in the Catholic Church have set up for themselves to see why they balk at allowing women to become priests. Why what would happen if women were suddenly allowed to be equal?  They might become bishops or worse-Pope.

As for challenging the Church’s view on homosexuality, it’s about time someone did. With all the disgraceful behavior of some of its priests coming to the foreground after years of cover-up, maybe it’s finally time to admit that voluntary celibacy is an impossible myth to live up to. Maybe it’s also time to put aside the idea that sex, straight or gay, is something shameful and sinful and allow these religious folk, who want nothing more than to spread love and charity in their communities to simply be allowed to do so. And maybe then, the Catholic Church will start to see its ranks begin to grow again instead of exponentially shrinking as it is now.

How can someone who claims to be infallible even entertain the idea that those who purport to be Jesus’ messengers spend too much of their time on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage? It just boggles my mind.

Perhaps a little radical feminism is needed in Catholicism. Surely it couldn’t hurt. One needs to only look around and see that there are female ministers and rabbis doing God’s work all over the world. The Bible itself is rife with strong, proactive women championing its cause. Joan of Arc led an army and was executed in a most unpleasant way in the name of the Catholic Church. Bernadette was chosen to have beatific visions and Mother Teresa changed the world with her simple message of love for the poor. Why doesn’t the Vatican get it then? The only answer I can come up with is that of stubbornness based on hubris. And the last time I was in a church, Pride was one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

But the Vatican won’t yield to change now because to do so would be admit that it was wrong. And so it will continue to see its congregations and its clergy members diminish over time. It will not listen to the opinions of those more connected to the real world than they. And eventually, it will, like my old Rambler, wind up in the junkyard of religions with a place in history alongside the others who have disappeared.

There is a place for religion in the world, I believe. For all of its flaws and contradictions, the idea of it is one that binds most us morally. Even Karl Marx could see the value of it. His quote, “Religion is the opium of the people” has been battered a bit because it is taken out of context. Here is the actual piece, and it is worth reading.

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.

For religion to work, truly work, it must resolve to make heaven on earth, not beyond it. It must put aside its haughtiness and hypocrisy and acknowledge its humanity. If it believes that we are children of God, made in God’s image, then we are all equal and fallible. To use the idea of God and a distress-free afterlife as a means out of one’s earthly distress is the true abomination. The problems of the world don’t come from gays marrying someone they love or abortion or radical feminism. Those are being used as targets to control people. Freedom to think and challenge conventions are the answer, not repression and ‘investigations’ of those who dare to speak up. Jesus’ teachings or any of those of the world’s religions aren’t based on fear, they are based in love.

I truly hope that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious stands its ground and doesn’t succumb to the Vatican’s bullying. Prove Marx wrong and make us all believers that this is not a heartless or spiritless world. Claim your right to question and better those things in which you believe and others of like mind will find you.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!

1 comment:

  1. Good post. By the way, the Pope is only infallible when he officially speaks "ex cathedra." So he's as fallible as the next guy when, say, he orders red wine with fish.