- Boycott the Knights of Columbus
- A wedding sermon.
- An open letter to my parish community.
- How It All began
- Why was a college student in the car of drunken Archbishop-elect Cordileone at 12:26 AM, when Cordileone was arrested for a DUI?
- When the Church married Same-Sex couples.
- The Supreme Court’s Decisions and the New Mason-Dixon Line
- What the Vatican & American bishops DO NOT want you (and Politicians) to know.
- San Francisco in archbishop Cordileone’s sight
- The Morality of Sex, gay & straight.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Life, Spirituality and Religion
A reader wrote the following in response to my last post, "Delivery Salvation." I thought his comments touch on several important points, and so I have decided to respond in this format.
Your anecdote illustrates one of the fundamental differences b/t Catholicism & Protestantism - as you surely know, the former believes that faith + good works leads to salvation, whereas the latter believes that faith alone is enough. Perhaps I'm biased, being a Cradle Catholic, but I always found the latter's approach to be empty, as well as intellectually & most importantly, morally lazy.
Unfortunately, our own church hierarchy has done very little if anything in the way of good works. Sure, there are lay people & religious who are doing so, but I don't see the institutional Church tackling poverty, injustice, etc. with nowhere near the same vigor as it does with opposing LGBT rights."
The differences you cite between Catholic theology and Reformation [Protestant] theology have their foundation in the sixteenth century grace controversies. Essentially, those controversies sought to resolve the apparent contradiction of God’s omnipotence and simultaneously, humanity’s freedom. A more contemporary treatment of this question (1981) and its implications can be found a book by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
In fairness, the thrust of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, is not addressing that particular theological question, since it would still be fifteen centuries before it arose. Moreover, neither Catholicism nor Protestantism existed formally as we now know them today. Christianity at that time bore little resemblance to the post Pauline and Constantinian Christianity that developed between the forth century and the present. Luke is addressing the question of personal spirituality.
While I agree with your assertion regarding the contemporary hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The most scandalous and egregious of these faults has been the implication of the Pope and bishops in the Pedophilia Cover-Up Scandal. Not only was this cover-up a deliberate obstruction of justice, it also created new incidences of abuse by priests who were transferred from assignment to assignment by their bishops.
Additionally, the focusing of material resources, social and political influence to prevent and strip LGBTQ people of fundamental civil rights and human dignity; constitutes a betrayal of the people that the hierarchy is supposed to serve. Not only LGBTQ people and their loved ones, but also workers who attempt to organize to protect themselves and their families well being, and the many people in our society who suffer unnecessary illness and death due to a lack of universal health care. Since these, other pressing issues of social justice have been ignored to advance social injustice towards LGBTQ persons.
That was not the question addressed by Jesus in the passage cited from Luke. In that particular passage, the question is not “collective,” that is, “What must we do to inherit everlasting life?” It is personal, “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?”
Luke who cites the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer treats that particular question. The question treated by Luke also incorporates various other subtleties of the ancient world, specifically juxtaposition between the Semitic and Hellenistic understanding of the person. The word “Amen” is one of the few Hebrew words to survive in the contemporary Christian vocabulary. Its basic translation from the Hebrew is, “I believe this and I live it.” Most contemporary Christians, since ours is a Hellenistic culture believe “Amen” means, I intellectually accept a set of propositions, e.g., The Holy Trinity, the Hypostatic Union (Jesus is fully human & Divine), etc.
Spirituality in the Semitic understanding was the assent of the entire person, mind and life, to a truth that was not a concept, but a living reality, “Truth” is not a concept but “God.” Hellenistic thought differentiated between an intellectual understanding/agreement and one’s life. For example, I can read Marx and Lenin and agree with them on various points, I can be illuminated on various questions by them, and yet not be a Marxist-Leninist.
As written in Luke the question, “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Translates as, “How must I live my life?” That question is still valid twenty centuries later. It touches on the personal quest for meaning and purpose in life. Dr. Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s search for Meaning” addresses this existential question specifically, as does Maslow’s work.
The inherent spiritual danger of a fundamentalist/traditionalist (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or other) approach to religion is that it separates the believer from dealing with this core issue. The believer is simply told how to live and in exchange promised everlasting life. This is a seductive trap both for the believer and for those in positions of religious authority, since neither is authentically engaged in the spiritual life. The former is placed in spiritual stasis (autopilot) and the latter make an idol of the text/institution, of which they become the official custodians. The religious text/institution rather than being an aid to spiritual development becomes a substitute for such development. Hence, the importance of Jesus’ question, “How do you read it?”
Regardless of one’s intellectual understandings/beliefs, each of us must live our lives. Although we may elect to live without reflection on life and its ultimate meaning, Socrates wrote long ago that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates made that assertion, because it was true then and sadly, there are many today who still prefer to live an unexamined life, hence the ageless popularity of wine, drugs and gluttony, to name but a few.
Even so, life continually taps each of us on the shoulder and attempts to move us to consider its (and our) greater meaning. The death of a loved one, the loss of material wealth or of our health, the betrayal of a friend, spouse, or lover; all of these create a tectonic spiritual crisis in our life. Each such crisis is an opportunity to reassess, or to borrow from Socrates, to examine our life.