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Fellow Travelers? Four Atheists Who Don’t Hate Religion

Paul J. Griffiths, Commonweal Magazine, October 26, 2012

My Comment in response to his article:

Paul, I want to thank you for providing such an informed review of the apologists for the Church without Christ (and the Synagogue without Yahweh).

     To put it more bluntly, the secular self-understanding of the liberal state can no longer motivate its citizens to act self-sacrificially in the service of justice. Its failure to find a way to mark death is mirrored by its failure to make passionate collective action a real possibility.

I am currently ambivalent about God, but find myself longing for a Catholic faith community without the Church. What the Catholic Church has come to represent to me is not God but human corruption, self-serving arrogance, and power-hungry pope mongers. The answer is not to give up on God but on the structures of power that inhibit the values of love and self-sacrifice, beauty and reverence, honesty and penitence from becoming present and visible to the Catholic community. The Catholic faithful need to take ownership of these values, take responsibility for their understanding of the message of Jesus, and take over the practice of faithful witness.

I don’t want any priest at my funeral. I may want a particular priest friend of mine, or perhaps a Rabbi – also a dear friend, because each of these friends exemplifies the values of compassion, tenderness, integrity, and justice rooted in a life of reflective, religious faith that I recognize as truly “of God.”

As a victim of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, one of five in my immediate family, the worst way to mark my death for my family would be with an anonymous representative of the organization responsible for our suffering. Even an empty Church would be painful – the context of our abuse. But what about a house with a gathering of loved ones, and the Catholic prayers and rituals of a funeral rite led by those present?  There could be priests, rabbis, druids, agnostics, atheists, as long as each one was a friend representing only his or her own faith in God and/or love of me.

Perhaps one thing of value that can come from the sexual abuse crisis in our Church is that it might make “passionate, collective action a real possibility” among Catholics who are still faith-travelers in search of God, Love, Truth, and Justice. Then maybe more of us can forestall the rejection of God that would bring us, finally, to that empty church and a memorial with no blessing.

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Vatican II Revisionism

Another Voice

The Second Vatican Council — in various jubilee commemorations – is now the official scapegoat for traditionalist Catholic frustrations. 

Our current traditionalist-in-chief, Pope Benedict XVI, is working overtime these days to re-write the history of Vatican II, to misinterpret its significance, and to undo its accomplishments.

On October 11th, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published Pope Benedict’s recollections of Vatican II. His remarks are a clear-cut example of Catholic Newspeak: the current medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of pre-Vatican II church theology and practice. “The council fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different church,” the Pope said. “They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so. That is why a hermeneutic of rupture is so absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the council fathers.”

Hermeneutics is a process…

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It seems that I have fallen under the spell of magical thinking. Although clear about the nature of priestly ordination NOT making any kind of magical, ontological change in the persona of a priest, I apparently still harbored similar ideas about religious vows.

I have treated my brother James as if his capacity to bear the burdens of others was deeper and wider simply because he was a professed religious. It didn’t help that he was indeed more compassionate, gentle, patient and tender than most brothers, or Brothers. This in fact made it harder to recognise how we all in the family were taking advantage of him and expecting him to bear burdens beyond those of ordinary mortals or even ordinary friends or siblings.

The truth is he has borne those burdens, often juggling one parent’s or one sibling’s needs against another – often more than just one other in fact. And he has borne them alone. Unlike the rest of us – with husbands, wives, children, grandchildren – he has had no permanent presence in his life. No daily confidant or consoler. And he has lost many of his dearest friends in the last few years, reducing the number of support people in his life and increasing the pain and loss in his own relationships.

I have shared these reflections with my brother and our siblings, but I felt the topic was worthy of public comment also.

For those who are committed to going forward in the community of the Catholic faith it is vital that we reconsider our view of religious and priests, and most importantly our view of the vows that we have taken. Yes, all of us are under vows (solemn promises to perform an act, carry out an activity, or behave in a given way) taken for us by our parents at Infant Baptism, renewed by us at Confirmation, and reaffirmed by us every time we recite our creed and pray the Lord’s prayer. Implicit in these sacraments, faith statements and prayers is the promise to live by the beliefs expressed. We are not promising to support priests and religious as they live out their “calling,” we are acknowledging that we, too, are called, that we, too, are committing to live out this common calling, this shared vocation.

The Catholic faith community will not survive unless all Catholics accept their role, their burden, their joy of living a “vowed” life. The role of priests and religious should be seen as supporting us all in this life, not the other way around. This is a good time to reclaim  not the priesthood of the people but the people of the priesthood, or even better the people of Christ.

This excites me. This energizes me. How will this look?

I wanted to light a candle for my mother today. The first anniversary of her death. She believed in candles, did mum. Lit several every time I sat an exam. Apparently there were “C” candles and “A” candles! But there are no churches open during the day any more. So I bought a Jewish memorial candle instead; they light them on the anniversary of a death – a yahrzeit candle. I don’t think she’d mind – same God an’ all. And Jesus was Jewish, so was his mum.

Isn’t it tragic though, in a little, poignant kind of tragic way, that the church that got  my mother through so much is no longer there in that way. Even if I were still comfortable doing so. where would I go to offer prayers today? If I still taught in a Catholic school I would  have a chapel, but I work in a synagogue office. People just don’t drop in to synagogues to pray. Take photos maybe, on a historical tour, but pray? Not so much. I do, though, sometimes pray in the sanctuary that is. (It is so beautiful when the rising and setting sun hits the large arched stained glass windows.) Nothing formal just a quiet thank you and a smile ,or a desperate, God help me today,  help me breathe.

I don’t think God minds where we are when we give thanks, or cares for us less if we are bi-religious or religiously undecided. Whatever. If there’s a God then God is wherever I am, always. That’s a comforting thought, today. I hope mum found what she was hoping for, and I hope she’s with her Jim. And today hope is as close to prayer as I can get.

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