When Do People Lose God?

To respond to my comment on the genesis of the monotheistic religions, Charles sent a link to a talk radio program that discussed what nearly all religious people would characterize as gravely sinful material, namely the enslavement of others.

Do the activities of rapists and slavers somehow nullify the perspective of Abraham the patriarch as the ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? The radio hosts discussed the enslavement of non-Muslim women. Does that show that the God of Islam and the Father of Jesus are not one and the same? One might also ask if the sexual enslavement of children by Christian leaders likewise shows that all Christianity is divorced from the One God. Pile on misogyny, discrimination, and movements against women religious and it seems like a slam dunk: the Christian God espouses oppression, injustice, and even gossip.

For his part, Max is concerned that the details of the various Scriptures are divergent enough to suggest separate gods, none of which he takes seriously. Except as objects of derision and insult.

I think we have to look carefully, and with the eyes of discernment, on all of the possible situations when people of good faith find themselves in deep conflict. What is of God? What is merely human?

God permits great leeway to human beings in their lives. Some would say too much. There should be some divine retribution for offenders in this life. Some sign should be given, it is argued, that the unjust should not be given free rein to flourish while the righteous suffer in comparison. That protest is certainly part of the Jewish tradition, and we Christians still sing of it in the Psalter.

Saint Paul also taught that all, everyone, even the self-styled just fall short of the virtue to which we aspire. Then what is the best limit for a person before she or he is cast off into false godliness? Is murder bad enough? Rape, enslavement, and domination? Jesus also condemned these offenses when they were coddled in our innermost thoughts.

If you’re looking to this essay for answers, take a number. I have as little clue as anyone else. But I’m suspicious of the easy answer. It is easy to suggest that all Muslims have rejected the God of Abraham and somehow in the last fourteen centuries have substituted some red-skinned, head-horned idol with a pointy tail. It is easy to suggest that the institutional Church has headed down the road lined with episcopal skulls since 1965 or 1958 or 1903 or 1870 or even 1570.

It is a great convenience to suggest people who don’t think, look, or act like us have lost God, and therefore are deserving of some advance consideration like a Judgment Day anticipated like some 4pm Mass on a Saturday afternoon.

I don’t buy it.

As uncomfortable as it may seem, IS rapists and predator clergy follow the same God. If one is an advocate for early Judgment, it is easier to deny it. But the truth is that human beings can go very, very far off the rails of justice and virtue, denying the grace of God by making a dark pilgrimage in a completely opposite direction of the Lord of Light. And if we’re convinced their god is not our God, perhaps we might look more carefully at our own lives. If others knew what we knew, would they be as ready to disavow us?

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Laudato Si 79: Evolution, Positive and Otherwise

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. It is interesting to read of relationships and participation as leading us to a transcendant God:

79. In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating systems, we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation. This leads us to think of the whole as open to God’s transcendence, within which it develops. Faith allows us to interpret the meaning and the mysterious beauty of what is unfolding. We are free to apply our intelligence towards things evolving positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks.

Human beings certainly influence evolution in the natural world. Can we expect to move things in a fruitful direction, or are we doomed to inflict an inevitable spoilage? Are we just fodder for excited observers?

This is what makes for the excitement and drama of human history, in which freedom, growth, salvation and love can blossom, or lead towards decadence and mutual destruction. The work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time “she must above all protect (humankind) from self-destruction”.[Caritas in Veritate 51]

Pope Benedict’s reflections on the care for creation in his encyclical are worth a review. Pope Francis isn’t just lifted a quote out of context.


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Cinquant’anni Dopo 21-22: Rivalries and Critiques

Fr Ev farewell MassWe conclude our examination of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s June 2015 essay for L’Osservatore Romano. In the previous paragraphs, he spoke of the need for unity. Here, he picks up on the mainstream/traditionalist divide:

In this regard, it is necessary that some should celebrate according to the “usus antiquior” [older usage] and should do so without any spirit of opposition, and therefore in the spirit of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Similarly, it would be a mistake to consider the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as coming from some other theology which is not that of the reformed liturgy. It would also be desirable in a future edition of the Missal to insert the penitential rite and the offertory of the “usus antiquior” for the purpose of emphasizing that the two liturgical forms illuminate each other, in continuity and without opposition.

We know, of course, that a mutual enrichment would be less palatable on the traditionalist side. Aside from a weaker articulation of Catholic theology, the distrust of any sort of reform indicates a deeper unwillingness to engage in conversion. The 1570/1962 Missal is seen in details as some edifice of perfection. No Missal is perfect, except in God’s action in the sacramental rites and in the proclamation of the Word. Perhaps the rites themselves reflect theology at least adequately, but the human application of theology is sorely lacking.

If we live in this spirit, then the liturgy will stop being a place of rivalries and critiques, so as finally to make us participate actively in that liturgy “which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle” (no. 8).

As a final hope, this is honorable enough. But we live in a Church that has fostered critique in its formal documents and official practice for a few decades now. Cardinal Sarah should perhaps look to the CDWDS which he heads for some leadership on this issue.

Notes: I’ve used an “early” translation, attributed here to Michael J. Miller at Catholic World Report. I wasn’t able to find the original essay on the L’Osservatore Romano site.

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Laudato Si 78: Disposing of Myths

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

78. At the same time, Judeo-Christian thought demythologized nature. While continuing to admire its grandeur and immensity, it no longer saw nature as divine. In doing so, it emphasizes all the more our human responsibility for nature. This rediscovery of nature can never be at the cost of the freedom and responsibility of human beings who, as part of the world, have the duty to cultivate their abilities in order to protect it and develop its potential. If we acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.

Ancient peoples saw nature as something to be feared and worshipped. As human power in the world grew, perhaps the dominance in the relationship tilted the other way. But that is just another myth. Pope Francis asks: what is the Christian view, leaving both paganism and exploitation behind.

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Open Thread on Favorable Interpretation

Long-time readers know one of my favorite Catechism sections is #2478:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

The second paragraph is lifted out of the Spiritual Exercises, #22.

On the last open thread, Max locked in on Muslims. I know a lot of Westerners treat Islam with great suspicion. And many people in the world, including Muslims themselves, have been gravely harmed by the actions of those who claim to follow Allah and his Prophet.

On the other hand, other people mistreat Muslims simply because they are strangers–part of the great unknown. Blacks, women, women religious, immigrants, rich people or poor–you name it.

Max surprised me slightly with his vehemence on Muslims. I thought he just had a thing on mass murder. I also know Max no longer professes Christianity, but Saint Ignatius seems to have a highly moral approach that’s cited in the Catechism: interpret favorably rather than condemn.

A friend of mine once criticized a mutual friend, calling her passive-aggressive and another label or two. This would be an example of what CCC 2478 isn’t about. To be accurate, I would say my two friends had a feud. My favorable interpretation is that they were both strong, opinionated women who didn’t listen very well to each other. But when they got engaged in a shared project, it was successful.

This thread is open for people other than Max, too. How do you engage favorably interpreting people in your life? What about events? Where do you stumble on this?

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The Arc From Canon Law To Astrophysics

Rocco whispered on the new rector at Mundelein Seminary. Chicago press release here.

Until recently, it seemed one had to have a canon law degree to move upward in the Church. Father Kartje seems like a capable priest and spiritual figure to lead a seminary. But I was struck by his secular education:

He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1987 from the University of Chicago. In 1995, the University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics conferred a Ph.D. degree on Father Kartje. The title of his doctoral dissertation is “Models of the Optical/Ultraviolet Continuum Polarization in Active Galactic Nuclei: Implications for Unification Schemes.”

active galactic nucleus with jetThe image, left, is a jet emerging from M87’s active nucleus. As impressive as his astronomy background is his background as a scholar of the Psalms:

Father Kartje was ordained in the Archdiocese of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake in 2002. He earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of America’s Department of Biblical Studies in 2010. The title of his dissertation is “Wisdom Epistemology in the Psalter: A Study of Psalms 1, 73, 90, and 107.”

Psalm geeks will recognize those numbers as the first psalms in four of the five books of the Psalter. (Only the 42nd is absent from his thesis.)

And to top it off, the guy was a campus minister from 2009 till 2013. What a pedigree.

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Cinquant’anni Dopo 19-20: Obedience and Unity

Fr Ev farewell MassCardinal Robert Sarah hopes for obedience and unity in his June 2015 essay for L’Osservatore Romano.

But will people have the courage to follow the Council this far? Such an interpretation, illuminated by the faith, is fundamental however for evangelization. Indeed, “the liturgy… shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations, under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together” (no. 2). It must stop being a place of disobedience to the Church’s prescriptions.

My sense and experience is that the age of disobedience ended in the late 70’s as liturgical training and expertise trickled down from seminaries and church leadership. The internet has fostered a sub-culture in which the smallest offenses are selectively criticized or sometimes ignored. As for clergy or lay people who do not cling to the red letter of liturgical law, it requires diagnosis: is it disobedience or ignorance? I knew a priest once who baptized not by immersion or infusion, but by “butt-dipping.” I gently suggested one of the two alternatives: sitting the infant in the font and pouring water, and he objected that he had been ordained for 26 years and had always done it his way. I wouldn’t have thought him disobedient, but more misinformed. What do we do about that?

More specifically, it cannot be an occasion for divisions among Christians. Dialectical interpretations of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the hermeneutics of rupture in one direction or the other, are not the fruit of a spirit of faith. The Council did not intend to break with the liturgical forms inherited from Tradition, but rather intended to appreciate them in greater depth. The Constitution declares that “any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (no. 23).

Cardinal Sarah picks up on Vatican II’s single mention of organic development. But I have yet to be convinced that rupture is always a bad thing. Maybe Peter still did a bit of fishing on the side, but many saints and Biblical figures had stark changes of lifestyle after they heard the call of God.

Like it or not: Roman Catholics are already divided over the unreformed liturgy and the modern Roman Rite. My sense is that mainstream Catholics largely ignore the traditional Latin Mass, except as an occasional curiosity. The internet face of traditional Catholicism is much more harsh toward the reformed rites. Divisions exist, and none of the last three popes has done anything to solve them.

Notes: I’ve used an “early” translation, attributed here to Michael J. Miller at Catholic World Report. I wasn’t able to find the original essay on the L’Osservatore Romano site.

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