Archive for category Religion
I mentioned in a previous post that I had signed up for a 2 day seminar on The Political Jesus, which was held November 10th and 11th. An article in The Times piqued my interest and after checking it out a little bit, I figured it might be an interesting endeavor.
Since on a good day, this blog has about 3 followers, and I’d guess over half my Facebook friends are pretty sick of my political posts and have me on ignore, one might wonder why I bother. Well, sometimes I do too. But I think the answer is, it’s really for me, not you. I do this for myself because it’s a part of who I am. Given my knowledge in this area (hint: about as dumb as it gets) I do not seek to preach about anything. Far from it. I simply find it interesting. I have an innate curiosity. If you do as well, feel free to read on. If not, by all means go do something else.
There’s a fair amount of evidence in this blog and on Facebook that suggest I may have an ax to grind with Republicans. Okay, I’ll own that one. The same is not true of Christians however. I have no ax to grind with anyone’s faith practice. We may differ on what works for us as that’s a very personal, individual, and experiential thing. But I like to think I’m open-minded enough to not scoff at they way in which people practice a faith. As far as I’m concerned, knock yourself out. There might be one exception to this. I’ll admit to frustration with those who are quick to espouse strong opinions combined with being not very well-informed. I’ve run into a few people like that, but the majority of people I know and love are intelligent people doing what feels right for them, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
It’s necessary to point this out as this particular seminar combines the two things you’re not supposed to bring up at a dinner party: politics and religion.
I think everyone runs into a few people in their life who are highly influential. Impact players is how I think of them. Sometimes I make a list of the top 5 people who have influenced my life in one way or another. It’s an interesting exercise. The same can be true of authors/books. Sometimes you read something that gives you that aha moment that lasts. Two of mine are David Aldrich – author of www.snohomishobserver.com, and Karen Armstrong – author of “A History of God”
It was hard not to be in awe of just how brilliant Dave was. We used to have a weekly breakfast with a group of guys for the sole purpose of discussing the things you’re not supposed to talk about in a social settings: religion and politics. Absolutely fascinating.
Dave was a modern-day social justice warrior in every sense of the word. He led protests, blogged in favor of the little guy, and questioned authority at every turn. He paid a pretty steep price at times for living by his ideals. He had been at times, very successful in business, but more often than not, his insistence in standing by his principles cost him in the private sector. At a young age he was ousted from Pemco for attempting to organize a union. He believed it was the right thing to do and did until his dying day. But he didn’t care about being rich. He cared about doing the right thing. He was a rare breed.
A History of God gave me an appreciation of highly educated people who have done deep dives on the subject of religion in attempts to tie it all together. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a common denominator – each faith traces its roots back to Abraham.
Admittedly, much of what Armstrong writes is over my head. I concluded her target audience must be mostly other well-educated historians. But I definitely had some useful takeaways.
As an example, when everything is put into the context of a timeline, it’s interesting to find out that as a people, we humans transitioned back and forth a few times between the notion of God in the plural form to monotheism up until about 680 CE. I grew up thinking that pretty much monotheism was settled matter except for maybe during the time of cavemen.
Additionally Armstrong challenges us to go through the exercise of reconciling our religious and political beliefs. Trust me, this is not an easy exercise, but it’s a worthy one.
Speaking of timelines, one other thing I hadn’t considered until reading Armstrong – the books of the bible were written by a collection of authors between 800 BC and 110 CE. That’s 910 years. So there are numerous books that make up what people refer to as “the infallible word of God” written by dozens of authors with vastly different perspectives and agendas. I’ve always felt that explains a lot. I’m 57 years old and the world is a lot different now that it was in 1960. 910 years is an incredibly long time. It then becomes incumbent upon me to put this little factoid into perspective as I move ahead with everything else I learn.
Reading the bios of the presenters intrigued me as I had already discovered that as a self-professed dumb person, it’s interesting to hang out with intelligent people when you can.
The detailed bios of Arthur J. Dewey and Celine Little can be seen here.
Just having a Ph.D. doesn’t make you always right. I get that. One has to be careful about the sources of information we choose to learn from. It’s a good idea to try to sniff out any underlying motivation someone might have for the particular message they are sending. Is it financial? Is it to try to recruit? Is it to espouse conspiracy theories and gain followers? Why are you here anyway?
I was pretty happy with the end result in that the whole time I felt like both presenters were in the education business. Both had written books and yes, they were for sale but less than $20.
Admittedly there were times when I was a little lost just because I’m not familiar enough with the players in history to keep up with the story. But you gotta start somewhere.
Context is Important
We spent Friday night learning about the social and economic context of the early followers of Jesus from the first century. Enter: The Roman Empire.
A full discussion on the Roman Empire in the early centuries CE is both out of scope for a blog post and also, beyond my ability to articulate anything insightful because I honestly don’t know anything insightful. It’s not been a strong area of study for me at any point in my academic career. But I can share a few takeaways. Here’s what I learned:
- The Roman Empire was a brutal regime
- If you’ve seen Gladiator or The Borgias, which would have been several centuries later, you would have an understanding of how brutal the Emperors were in constructing the Roman Empire.
- The Jewish-Roman War of 66 – 70 CE was particularly brutal
- Over 1M people killed. 100,000 enslaved.
- To the victors belong the spoils.
- The Roman Colosseum was one artifact built with the spoils 70 – 80 CE
- Public humiliation was a big part of it, even after the war was over
- Coins that depicted Romans as the masters and Jews as the slaves
- These facts are important for centuries later to give context to the intense anger between the Romans and the Jews
Dyadics and the Social Pyramid
In the graphic below, the top-tier of Senators and Administrators represents 5% of the population. The Nobles, Patricians and wealthy Plebeians represent 10%. The remaining 85% of the population are what Dewey referred to as the Dyadic’s – lesser human beings in more of a servitude role. A simpler way to think of it is, the top 15% considered themselves worthy of the gifts they received. The bottom 85% were there to serve the top 15% – or else.
Additionally the Dyadic’s in general had the following characteristics
- My identity is found in others’ eyes
- My social group defines me
- Change requires going beyond my means
- If one does attempt to change out of this group, they are labeled
- To venture out of the Dyadic group with your thought process is rebellion
Lastly, for the pyramid scheme to hold, the bottom 85% needed to believe they belonged there. The upper echelon addressed this issue though (in large part), fear.
There are artifacts that when closely studied by historians depict the notion that the culture of the Roman Empire was such that the closer you were to the top of the social pyramid, the closer you were to God. If you were a slave, by definition you were out of favor with God. This is important for later when the subject of resistance comes into play.
Now that we have a little bit of context around the timeline and the relationship between the Romans and the Jews, it’ll make more sense to discuss the life of Jesus, the agitator in chief.
First of all, as we all know from history, Jesus was a Jew. Right off the bat he’s not in good standing with the Roman Empire.
There are many examples of Jesus’ controversial teachings throughout the many books of the Bible that illustrate why he might be out of favor with Rome, so I won’t reiterate what you probably already know. The short version is, the message that there was a greater kingdom than Rome, and that God would provide for its poorest members (which was completely counter to the thought process espoused by the Roman Empire), were offenses that were by themselves punishable by death. To top it off, his disciples made the claim that he was the son of God. This was the final straw that put the issue on the table for Pilot to have to deal with. Nothing will threaten the existence of the Roman Empire, period.
The teachings of Jesus by themselves were the earliest form of Christian resistance. Much of what he did were subtle attempts to stick it to the Empire in one way or another. The important part is, he did it by messing with peoples’ heads. Teaching the Dyadics to reach outside their comfort zone and think in completely different terms.
As mentioned earlier, the Roman Empire dealt with its threats through intimidation and fear. They were not the original inventors of crucifixion (the Persians and Macedonians practiced it before the Romans did), yet they perfected it.
Tens of thousands of people were crucified by the Roman Empire. Dewey described it as “the ultimate act of being shamed into oblivion.” An important piece of this message is that not only were you subject to a horrific death – sometimes it took multiple days for death to actually occur – you were also subject to being forgotten. This was part of the deal. It was also punishable by the empire to talk about or otherwise make martyrs of anyone who was crucified. This is important later on when the narrative is around resistance by Christians of the late first, and early second centuries.
Also worth noting with respect to being forgotten into oblivion, Dewey mentioned that there are only 2 known artifacts in history that depict the crucifixion before 400 CE. That’s a full 370 years after the death of Jesus.
That seems incredibly odd to me and suggests that the fear tactics of the Romans to obliterate the existence of those crucified out of the memories of everyone were in part successful.
In the mean time, the books of the New Testament were written as well as many others, so obviously he was not forgotten.
One problem with going back over 2,000 years in time is that there’s not a lot of hard evidence to support some of the assertions that were made.
According to Dewey, it’s not clear that Jesus ever predicted his own death. This claim is asserted in the gospel of Mark (approx. 70 CE, or about 40 years after Jesus’ death).
The Next Wave of Resistance
As mentioned earlier, the Jewish-Roman War from 66 – 70 CE was particularly brutal. Putting this time period into perspective, it was about 40 years after the death of Jesus. If my limited understanding is correct, the last books included in the canonical Bible were completed around 110 CE.
The writers of the Gospels and other New Testament books followed in Jesus’ path of resistance in that they were committed to a storyline that was in absolute defiance of the Roman Empire.
Just the act of remembering someone who was crucified was a poke in the eye. The New Testament authors, some of them martyrs for having taken the ultimate risk in tweaking the beak of the Roman Empire to support the narrative of this incredible man whom they were determined would NOT be forgotten in history, was the ultimate form of resistance.
- The poor shall inherit the earth.
- There is a kingdom greater than the Roman Empire
- Paul even preached an apocalyptic message in his alternative vision
There are many other examples, but these suffice to tell the story of the risks that were taken to keep his memory alive.
Here’s where it gets interesting. In my mind, 100 years is a long time to evolve a storyline. As I mentioned earlier, spread that out amongst several different authors with competing agendas and perspectives, and you have to question whether the stories were written as ‘factual documentation’ or a storyline in support of a narrative the authors wanted to achieve.
I had felt as early as the 3rd grade that many of the stories in the Bible should not be taken literally, but rather, the purpose was to illustrate a point. Jonah and the whale comes to mind.
Dewey confirmed this notion with examples of verses that were provably false as actual historical events, yet served a useful purpose of the authors to get their message across. This tactic of resistance was to get inside the heads of those who held power. Creating a narrative that threatened that power was effective, and given the inability to put forth any kind of physical fight against the Empire, about the only tool they had.
There are numerous examples of this, but the ones we talked about were the story of the Good Samaritan, and the example of how it would be easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than to get into the kingdom of heaven (I’m probably misquoting that a bit). The Good Samaritan example is better because it follows the recognizable pattern of Goldilocks and the 3 bears where the 3rd bowl of porridge was just right. This pattern of storytelling dates back centuries BC.
Did they make it all up? No, I don’t think so. Did they invent a great deal of it? Probably.
Yet another Controversial Assertion
According to Dewey, “the narrative around the crucifixion is predominantly fiction.” Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just means that much of the storyline was invented by the writers to give meaning to the story and rebel against the Roman Empire. This one will take some chewing on.
Constantine the Great
(Here’s where out of ignorance I have to hand-wave and fast forward a couple of centuries).
It’s called the turning point of Christianity because after literally centuries of persecution of the early Christians, all of a sudden a Roman Empire decides to adopt the religion as the official religion of the Empire. (Not a lot unlike how the Republicans stole God from the Democrats and courted the Evangelical voters).
In 313 CE, Constantine decriminalized Christian worship. This is right out of the John Kerry playbook of “I was for the war in Iraq before I was against it.”
In any case, the irony here is off the charts. The very empire that did everything they could to wipe Jesus off the map is now in charge of the religion. They stole it.
There’s a ton written about Constantine the Great here. I won’t bore you with any more of it, other than to point out the historical timeline.
The question came up, as often does, about Faith vs. Works. Dewey didn’t waste much time in answering that question. In short, his answer was the early Christians stressed the importance of “They will know us by our deeds.” That was what I was hoping to hear. I get the faith part, but I’ve always felt the actions are more powerful than words or prayers for that matter.
This topic of discussion always reminds me of the various “profiles” of modern-day churches that seem to have more emphasis on one or the other. Sometimes (and I’d say the Catholic church is a prime example of this, based on my own experience), there’s mass (no pun intended) confusion about which is more important. You’ll see lay people, priests, nuns, bishops, cardinals… who have made social justice their main focus through works. Under the same roof, we have the Bill Donohue’s of the world who seem to have an obsession with the 10 commandments and Catholic doctrine. I’ve always felt screw doctrine, feed the poor. That’s an oversimplification, but it illustrates the point. Additionally, Catholicism includes in its roster Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewiitt, and Bill O’Reilly. I’d really be interested to know which schools they attended because wherever it was, the entire teaching staff should be terminated.
I have nothing against the message of personal responsibility. Just ask my kids. They got the message. What I have a problem with is the Darwinian approach of survival of the fittest with zero emphasis on compassion. Exacerbated by the fact that many of the people who lack compassion were born on third base.
I also believe that Faith alone lends itself to the “Frozen Chosen” moniker that is well deserved by many. I guess I am preaching here a bit. I should stop.
In any case, I felt somewhat validated in my own practice of exercising resistance to the Trump Empire — and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what it is. I also feel like my priorities are in line with action preferred over piousness. Far from perfect. But at least I was able to validate my thought pattern isn’t too screwed up.
React v. Respond
So here’s the nut. Here’s my biggest take away from the 2 day event. Resistance is good. Keep doing it. Shine a light on the Empire, but maybe with a little less reckless abandon. Think things through a little bit before responding and attacking.
A lot of times, my intentions are no different from the early followers. In a not so subtle way sometimes, I’m ‘trying to get in the heads of the upper echelon, as well as the modern-day dyadics who have drunk the cool-aid so-to-speak. Remember, for the pyramid of the Empire to work, the lower 85% has to believe in the system. My mission is to help a few people dis-believe in the Empire.
Twitter will be my biggest challenge. As Dewey pointed out, Twitter is a contest to see who can get the most re-tweets by coming up with the snarkiest comment. This one will be hard for me because, well, I’m pretty adept at coming up with snark. I’ve gotten a lot of practice over the years. My challenge will be to slow it down a bit and think through those responses so that they are not reactionary.
The point of attending was to learn something from smart people and I feel like I accomplished that, so it was time well spent. Writing it up helps reinforce the learning as well. It’s not so much for anyone who might read this as it is a gift to myself.
I don’t feel like I practice enough “works” to be able call myself a social justice warrior, but it would be nice to have time to get to that point some day. Maybe in retirement. This job is a challenge. In any case, whether it’s seemingly pointless tweets or blog posts or Facebook posts, I see benefit in continuing to rail against the Empire. There’s just so much fundamentally wrong with it, it feels like being passive is not an option. At least for me.
This is a subject that has had my attention for the past 30 years or so. There came a time in my late 20’s when it was time to reconcile my religious verses political beliefs. This is not an easy exercise, but I highly recommend it to anyone who feels like they haven’t asked enough questions along the way. I’ve always held that most of us have inherited our faith systems, which were pretty much assigned to us a birth. We did no objective research followed by an informed decision. We were indoctrinated while our brains were still very impressionable. And that’s fine for a lot of people. If it works for you, great, but obviously it doesn’t work for everyone or else I wouldn’t be writing this.
I came across this seminar in Beaverton that will be help on Nov. 10/11. The topic of the two-day event is “The Political Jesus”, hosted by a couple of authors who hold PhD’s in theology (read, a lot smarter than I am), and the topics appear to be around squaring one’s need to be a part of the political resistance with ethical behavior in line with Christianity.
There’s very little doubt that Republicans have masterfully employed Roe v. Wade and guns as wedge issues to capture the fundamentalist vote. That appears to be the only logical explanation for people voting against their own economic interests and buying into trickle down theory.
But I’m more interested in what’s perceived as the better path; Activism or blind faith? I know what the answer is for me today, but I want to hear what some smart people have to say about it. People who’ve studied it for years and written books about it. They will have my ear for a couple of days. It should be interesting. I will let you know what I find out.
I’d like to write a really upbeat blog post about the upcoming year, but I just don’t have it in me. I am sorry. Apologies ahead of time.
I suppose I can take some comfort in the fact that our system of government is by design a very slow change management system. It’s nearly impossible to get changes pushed through (witness the last 6 years of Obama’s presidency).
It’s also true that the Executive branch gets too much credit and too much blame for what happens on his/her watch. An example of this would be that Obama wanted to invest in infrastructure / jobs but the Senate Majority blocked him every step of the way, initially to ensure Obama was a “one term” president, and subsequently, out of spite, they wanted his record to be clear of anything that smacked of an accomplishment. It worked. Ironically, Trump now wants to invest 1 Trillion into infrastructure and the GOP is split as to how to move forward with this idea.
Even more interesting will be to see what happens with immigration. Trump campaigned on the radical idea of deporting 12 million illegal immigrants and got support from the rust belt states who are still hurting from globalization / NAFTA. The majority of people in this country want something constructive done and there are many options on the table from mass deportation to full amnesty. But here’s a prophecy for you. Nothing will get done during the next 4 years for the same reason nothing has gotten done for the last 30. Both parties’ establishment wings benefit from illegal immigration. Major corporations want the cheap labor. Progressives want the votes. For Trump to get his way, he’s have to flip the bird at major corporations and the cynic in me says that’s going to be difficult for him to get through. Anyone heard anything about the ‘wall’ lately?
Maybe we’ll press on with the status quo for a period, but having lost the White House, Senate, House and soon, the Supreme Court, I suspect change is coming in spades.
Not all of it will be bad. Should the welfare roles be reviewed every year for fraud? Yes. I have no problem with the idea of cutting wasteful spending. I do however have a problem with blanket cuts or privatization of Social Security and Medicare that hurt Grandma.
Progressives including this writer are in fact guilty as charged of elitism. I’m guilty of staying mostly in the debate realm on social media and not getting up off my arse to do anything constructive about it. That will change in 2017. It’s time to transition from elitist to activist. On my to-do list is to dig up some sign materials, find the spray paint can and a few staples.
I’ve been watching the country split in half since Bush v. Gore. I’m learning not to be surprised by the outcomes. I seriously thought Gore waxed Bush in 3 consecutive debates but alas the voting population felt otherwise. I was initially skeptical of Reagan’s “trickle down economics” plan and it didn’t take long for me to figure it out. I remember very specifically getting an extra $35 in my paycheck in the early 1980’s. Boy did I ever stimulate the Marysville, WA economy with that! Meanwhile, Reagan’s cronies were ordering new yachts ( to his credit, the yacht building business did boom during those years ).
I was not a supporter of Reagan or Bush, but I didn’t loathe them. Critical policy differences, yes. Loathe, no. Both displayed tolerance for all faiths, minorities, and generally tried to be inclusive as the leader of the free world.
Trump however, cannot seem to go a day without be-clowning himself on Twitter. I mean, what President Elect in history has stooped to the level of pouring salt on the wounds of his rivals with a faux New Years wish?
So I enter 2017 with a glass half empty I’m afraid. Just being honest here. As a very young man in my early 20’s I had my first encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness which resulted in several deep conversations where I learned what they were all about. In the end I said “No Thanks”, but not before learning much about Armageddon and the End of Times prophecies. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to why I’m reminded about these events to start off 2017. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wonder if the Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t perhaps right.
Finally, I’ve read several articles on the 7 deadly sins as they relate to the ego of Donald Trump and as an exercise, you can Google each of them next to the word Trump and fill up 100’s of pages of results. Just for my own personal amusement, I’ve done that.
Happy New Year!
- This is my favorite, with Falwell.
- Envy: No A-List Celebs at the Inauguration. Gee, I wonder why?
Pope Francis appears to be my kind of Pope.
Previously I had posted a tongue in cheek article re-affirming what E.J. Dionne had written about which was the idea that the next Pope should be a nun. I can’t imagine any scenario that could possibly energize the faithful more than a female Pope, however improbably the idea may seem. But the point of the article is, the Church lacks energy in part because it has its priorities all wrong.
I have a prioritized “ToDo” list I keep for work that I evaluate each morning to see if the right tasks are at the top of the list. There’s some stuff down in rows 15 and beyond that I may never get to. I work in a very dynamic environment and new priorities float to the top every day. It’s all I can do to address items 1-10 in a given week. In my last job, some of the items down in rows 20-30 had been there for over 5 years. I suspect Pope Francis has a similar list as he leads the Catholic Church and that he has a task on it that reads:
“Remind the faithful about the sin of using contraceptives” is #56 on his list.
I suspect that is his plan. That’s how smart people get around the issue of being accused of not being on board with all the rules and regulations. They don’t come out against it. They appear completely on board. It’s just too far down the list for me to care about right now.
Here’s how I hope the conversation plays out.
Monsignor John : “Holy Father, there’s an issue in Guatemala where some nuns are making noise women’s role in the Church. They must be disciplined.”
Pope Francis: “Feed the poor”
Monsignor John : “Holy Father, there’s an issue in Venezuela where 30 priests have spoken out in support of gay marriage”
Pope Francis: “Feed the poor
“Monsignor John : “Holy Father, 20 Cardinals in the US have come out in support of ObamaCare even though they want to pass out free condoms as a part of the program”
Pope Francis: “You dumb-ass, that program extends health care to thousands of Children. Feed the poor”
E.J. Dionne has a suggestion about how to move the Catholic Church forward in the 21st Century:
The Vatican conclave should elect a nun as the next Bishop of Rome. Even though Las Vegas odds makers have this probability at 0.00001%, Dionne weighed in with some interesting angles on the idea just for the sake of discussion, and I agree it’s a worthy discussion.
The Church has a numbers problem. The number of men entering the Priesthood has been on the decline to the point where there are now over 1300 Catholics per Priest in the United States. And the US is in better position than other parts of the world by an order of magnitude.
I haven’t been a weekly attendee since 1986, so my personal experiences are somewhat dated, but the fundamental reason I applaud Dionne for having the audacity to suggest improbable reform is I sensed parishioners desperately need a tangible way to connect with their leaders, and that’s been missing for decades. The people I talk with are fascinated by the history of Rome and all its artifacts, but they seldom listen to the messages coming from the hierarchy.
The fact is, when the Priest isn’t looking, the whispers in the coffee and donut area paint a picture of Rome as a bunch of inflexible, out of touch old geezers. Everyone wonders when someone will do something about the role of women in the Church, and why so much hub-bub about birth control. Connection with your leaders is important in any organization, as is a shared vision.
Personal experience tells me that most practicing Catholics take little, if any, guidance from Rome when it comes to their personal lives, struggle with the more conservative teachings of the Church, but carry on just the same as practicing the faith with their local local Parish because they can connect at a local level. This gives their lives additional meaning and purpose in spite of what the Church hierarchy has to say.
There are countless anti-birth control, pro choice, gay marriage supporting, “could care less about celibacy” Catholics attending Mass every week. That’s got to be a tough pill to swallow for those parishioners when the guy at the pulpit is focusing on those particular messages. I guess it’s just ignore for now and move on. Indeed there is even a reform movement amongst Priests to attempt to change the celibacy rules and women’s role, but alas it falls on deaf ears every time.
The fact is, most people have inherited a belief system from our families and in most cases, this decision was made at infancy. The was no objective choice involved in it. Along the way we have not taken the effort to fully reconcile their personal, religious, and political beliefs, and the reason there is, it’s nearly impossible to complete the exercise successfully if you’re a practicing Catholic in the modern world. To complete the exercise might result in the realization that if I get to be honest about it, maybe I’m not really on board with some of the basic tenets of the Church. It’s certainly not reflected in my voting record, which is sort of where the rubber meets the road. And then there’s figuring out what to do about that discovery.
Which brings me back to the hierarchy in Rome. There’s a certain mystique about the flow of successors from St. Peter. Papal visits as recent as Pope John Paul II have drawn enormous crowds in the hundreds of thousands of people, come to be near or touched by the chosen one. As humans we tend to do that though. There aren’t many organizations that span the entire world as the Catholic Church does.
So then the question is, what’s the real connection people have with the Pope? Obviously he can’t go on a continuous world tour, be there to say Mass for us every week and we don’t get to invite him over for dinner, so apart from getting himself a new Twitter handle (@pontifex), what is it that he can do to connect with his flock?
I’ve witnessed incredibly strong connections among Parishioners of several Churches and there is also sometimes a connection with the Priest as teacher, mentor, and friend. To the extent he can deliver messages that touch our personal lives he will be successful in his job. To the extent that he focuses on the more controversial subjects of our time, he starts to lose that connection. Thankfully, Catholicism is not usually considered synonymous with fire and brimstone teachings. I would characterize it as more of an intellectual endeavor for those who see richness in the traditions, find comfort in rote phrases, but not horribly intimate on a personal level as people usually keep to themselves. It’s more unspoken – the sharing of the common bonds we have in all of our upbringings. The values passed down from our parents that help us choose personal sacrifice over greed when we are able.
There are two themes of messages that come from the church in my own personal experience. Quite coincidentally, there is an Old Testament and a New Testament and one can easily get confused about which message should get the most attention or guide us in the modern world. The confusion comes about because people can’t decide if the focus should be on the the Old Testament God who frequently imposes his wrath on those who disobey his commandments with floods, drought, and pestilence, or his son Jesus who preached about humility, forgiveness, unselfishness, and love thy neighbor.
The Old Testament has many messages in it, but the one people tend to focus on the most is The Ten Commandments. For those who’ve been indoctrinated, this is where self-discipline comes into play. Self-discipline is a good thing of course, but the Church over-simplifies the “rules of the game” if you will. Using the Old Testament as documented proof, they proclaim that a broken commandment will result in eternity in hell. They are pretty clear about that. Any questions? No? Okay, time for recess.
This is over-simplifying it greatly, but The New Testament is more about Jesus’ life and his message of do unto others. In the context of the teachings of the Church, it’s much, much easier to connect with the teachings of the New Testament vs. The Old Testament. When I think about The New Testament and its ideas coming into practice, I think about volunteering down at the Oregon Food Bank. I think about how I should be donating more money to charity. About social justice and how criminal it is that we have so many poor among us, especially children live in poverty. About making personal sacrifices so that others can have a chance.
When I observe Catholics today, I have this tendency to put them into one of these two camps. There’s the Bill O’Reilly / Sean Hannity / Laura Ingraham “Old Testament” conservative camp who often suggest, as they were taught, that if only we could just get everyone to adhere to the Ten Commandments and exercise more self discipline in our homes and schools, the world’s problems would be solved. Also known as the “Strict Father” approach. They often staunchly defend the more arcane teachings of the Church including birth control and abstinence, even though they don’t practice these teachings themselves.
The other camp is those who believe the Old Testament is an interesting collection of historical documents, but do not recognize it as their behavioral compass for the the 21st century. They recognize the hierarchy in Rome but truth be told, they think it desperately needs change in the modern world. They are more focused on things like social justice and rolling up their sleeves to help the poor and adopting some of the more traits we identify with Jesus’ teachings. These are the folks I can connect with the most.
It’s sort of baffling to think that these two extremes exist under the same roof, but they do every Sunday. But it’s no wonder when one week the focus is from the Book of Leviticus and the next it’s the Gospel of Luke, the power of forgiveness and turning the other cheek.
Most baffling of all, is the O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh’s of the world and their never ending support for winner take all ‘pure capitalism’. They seem to have no qualms what-so-ever about billionaires amassing grotesque fortunes while 2/3 of the world’s population goes unfed. Is that God’s will? Meanwhile they use their media pulpit to pontificate about the benefits of torture, the latest weapons program, unrestricted access to assault weapons for all, and cry blasphemy whenever cuts to the Defense Department are suggested. This brand of Catholic, I simply do not get and probably never will. All I can surmise is, they must have spent 10 weeks on the Old Testament in class, and about 5 minutes on the New Testament.
Circling back to Dionne’s suggestion of a nun as Pope and my main point that the people benefit the most when connected with their leaders, the very idea of having a modern day Mother Theresa as leader of the Church would energize the faithful more than anything else I can possibly imagine. The connection would be instantaneous and powerful. People can instantly identify with roll up their sleeves leadership who spend their lives in service to others, focusing more on what’s important today – feeding the world’s poor, ending violence, social justice. The message would be 100 times more powerful because it’s not coming from someone cloaked in layers of robes and funny looking hats being driven around in a Pope-mobile perceived as someone whose priorities are completely out of whack, focusing on keeping the clergy an old boys club, only celibate men allowed, to the bitter end.
And speaking of the end, here’s my prediction. The next Pope will indeed not be a nun. He will instead be a conservative like his predecessor. The number of Priests will continue to decline, and Churches around the world will adjust using whatever means they figure are reasonable, Rome be damned.
They will still gather, say Mass without a Priest, recite the Creed, give the sign of peace, sing hymns, have a Gospel reading, take communion, and carry on all of the traditions they were taught and pass them on to their children. A few men in Rome will hold on to “power”, but very few people will care what they say or do.