So, everyone is up in arms about Rob Bell’s new book: Love Wins.
Robb Bell’s Universalism! Catholic bloggers are also up in arms!
If you’re out of the loop here’s why all the fuss.
Rob Bell’s nuances are seeming to imply that the much coveted salvation prayer of the Evangelical tradition isn’t the moment of salvation, neither are classes, seminars or other such participations.
HarperCollins’s description of Bell’s book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is as follows:
Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
What I see going on here is a strong movement of jumping to conclusions. Not unfounded ones, but conclusions that are nevertheless premature. One blogger out there has ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK in its entirety. Others, are quick to dismiss Rob Bell and his ministry as heretical. Now, as a Catholic, I’m not usually on Rob Bell’s side. We do not always agree. I do not think he’s always teaching the gospel. But what I see Rob Bell doing in what scant information is available on his book, unreleased as it is, is that he’s questioning traditional evangelicalism and mainline protestantism.
Rob Bell is living out the end of Evangelicalism, like a softer, kinder, more hipster Derrida, he’s found everything without foundation, and is looking to lay a new one. Or at the very least, undo the harmful byproducts of the old one.
An actual quote from the book is not far from the work of C.S. Lewis, the Catholic position, or a reasonable one found in most people willing to question the reformed tradition.
Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.
Rob Bell is simply stating the old addage that hell is a door locked from the inside. But what’s more interesting is that the vision he’s drafted while dangerously close to universalism, is also dangerously close to orthodox theology, and that’s what bothers the Calvinists and the other protestant mainliners. Bell expresses a view that might just decentralize going to heaven, and might just work towards a fuller need for thinking about the Resurrection of the Body. That’s awesome, if it is in fact what he’s doing.
Isn’t that the gospel message? That Jesus Christ enacted a sure victory for God? Isn’t that why we go to mass or church and celebrate? Is the victory of God really so foreign to us that we have to reject any celebration of God’s justice? Now, I’m not going to trumpet Bell’s praises, but I have to say, hats off.
The man took a risk, pissed off a lot of people and has brought a discussion of salvation into mainstream culture. Twitter exploded, Rob Bell was a trending topic, and the blogosphere erupted. This shows me a sign of hope. We live in a culture that wants more out of life and cares deeply about afterlife, despite the overestimations of atheists and some scholars about the widespread nihilism of our day.
The point of this book is in many ways a popular level version of the Theology of Hope by Jurgenn Moltmann, that eschatology isn’t something we should hide until people believe Jesus is the only way, and then spring on them that all their unbeliever friends are hell-bound. Nor is it an embarrassing end-note on Christian theology. Rather, the victory of God should flavor all aspects of our theology.
Lots of people are quoting Bell as saying that Hell is empty.
Now, if what Rob Bell means by “Hell is empty” is, that it is a place of non-existence because we’ve chosen to cut ourselves off from the one who allows us to exist, and hell isn’t a place but ceasing to have a place in God’s love, then that’s all well and good. That’s within the bounds of Orthodox doctrine on hell.
C.S. Lewis noted, “I have met no people who fully disbelieved in hell and also had a living and life-giving belief in heaven”. So, let’s be careful if Rob Bell is accidentally trying to strip our life-giving belief in heaven through shutting the gates of hell prematurely. I mean, N.T. Wright’s book Justification says many of the same things I hear this book saying. The quote above seems to be Bell’s landing pad in the end. That we can choose against grace, and in doing so we can have all the hell we want.
The Unhealthy Alternative
If by “Hell is empty” Bell means that everyone goes to heaven no matter what…we have a problem. If this is the case then, Christ is useless because God has massacred a man for no reason, or even solely for the reason of pouring out wrath on one so he could lassiez-faire the rest of us regardless of our actions. I don’t want to serve that God, and neither should you. This sort of cheap grace as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call it, is exactly the thing I think the blogosphere might be mis-reading into Rob Bell. Now, I don’t think we have enough information to make a definitive decision on what Bell is really saying, but the quote from the book as provided above seems to make it clear that this is not Rob Bell’s point. I might be wrong, and trust me, I’d love to review the book when I can afford a copy, but by that time I’m sure we’ll all know what he thinks unless one of my well-connected readers has an advance copy they can get me.
I think Bell is simply pushing Evangelical culture to look at itself honestly and recognize it has very shoddy doctrine in issues of salvation nowadays. There’s no singular consensus among protestants except for the “salvation prayer” tradition of most evangelicals, and/or the infilling of the holy spirit experience of Charismatics. I think Bell has asked the right questions, even if in the end it turns out he hasn’t provided the right answers.
Evangelical readers: This is not the end of the world. It may be the beginning of the end of Evangelicalism, but that’s not so bad. Bell has set the elephants in the room in plain sight. Take advantage of this to walk away different. You don’t necessarily need to change, but be open to it, and you might be surprised. Look deeply at your beliefs through this book, and ask the difficult questions. Does your theology of hell say that Love Wins? If not, it might be time to examine more orthodox theologies, and see what God really might be saying to you. After all, isn’t part of the fun of the faith journey seeking after God Himself?
Catholic readers of mine, the gospel is unchanged and the Church has taught this from the start: Love Wins. The entire book of the Revelation to St. John says as much, our world expects as much from us. We’ve been lost in an eschatology that’s been emabarassed to tell the Truth because of the enduring problem of suffering people, but the Truth is…God has won and continues to win through the person and work of Jesus, the sacrament of God.
In Christ, we all win; apart from Him, not so much. But I think Bell wouldn’t disagree with that. If he does, we have problems, but I don’t think that’s what’s being said. The jury is out, but I am withholding judgment until we know a bit more.
The important thing in the end that we can take away from this heated debate is that God’s grace is alive and well in the world of today, and calling us all to reflect more truly a love that wins.
On November 12, 2010 Pope Benedict published an Apostolic Exhortation known as Verbum Domini, or in English: The Word of the Lord. I know his comments on Condoms have been making headlines, but this too is important and we need to respect that the Church has issued an apostolic exhortation on scripture.
“Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, May the words of the Gospel cleanse us of our sins.” It is with those words that we thank The Lord for His Son, and the revelation He has given us in mass every week.
The Word of the Lord, or Verbum Domini is Pope Benedict’s post-synodal exhortation to the faithful. It is also the most formative document on sacred scripture in 57 years. That’s a long time, especially given all the major changes in biblical scholarship. The last document that dealt exclusively with sacred scripture is called Divino Afllante Spiritu. I think we’re in a very exciting time for the future of the Church, so I guess in addition to blogging about the Theology of the Body I will be blogging though this very exciting and formational document and commenting on implication of how it can affect our futures. I will likely do this on my main blog which has been a bit neglected recently.
But anyways, let’s get back to the good stuff. Verbum Domini. You can find a link to the Vatican’s Full Text here. There are other websites that are publishing the entirety of the document as well, but I found this one first, so that’s the link I have provided. For a good overview of the document and commentary aside from my own you might want to hang tight with The Sacred Page, a rather super-awesome Catholic blog.
I am tempted to just quote The Sacred Page in full, but I will restrain myself and merely interact with some of his same source materials.
The Holy Father says:
I wish to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal. At the same time I express my hope that the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity. (Paragraph 1)
I think it is important to take the Holy Father’s opening critique seriously. He uses the word rediscovery here. I think it is important we understand that sometimes Catholics are scripture-phobic. As a convert I know I have times when I reflect fondly on my upbringing because it placed the scriptures at the center of faith. Sometimes this focus happened detrimentally, but now that I have learned the place of scripture within the broader context of the Christian life it is wonderful to have a serious regard for and exposure to scripture in my personal devotions.
The Holy Father urges us to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church. He thinks that if this rediscovery takes place it will be a source of inexhaustible renewal. In other words, just because we had a synod, or because a document on the bible has been published does not mean the work is over, or that the conversation is ended. In fact, the Holy Father seems to be urging us to…gasp!! Read and interact with the scriptures.
Holy crap…this pope might be an Evangelical Protestant masquerading around with fancy robes to make us think he’s the pope. At least, when it comes to Catholics and scriptures, sometimes that’s the attitude that prevails among radical-“traditionalists”.
This pope has asked us over and over in his pontificate to take the gospels seriously, to take the Word of God seriously, to take Jesus seriously. He’s worked furiously, and fastidiously to make sure the Church embraces a way of reading both Church History and Sacred Scripture in light of continuity between the two and the Tradition that binds them. He expresses the hope that every ecclesial activity will be permeated with scripture, and that this permeation might be the fruit of our renewed vigor for the sacred texts and their proper role in both our personal and public lives.
We might even say that a good way of summing up Pope Benedict’s work thus far could be the famous maxim by Saint Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Just a personal aside to my skeptical readers: “Before all else, I would like to call to mind the beauty and pleasure of the renewed encounter with the Lord Jesus which we experienced during the synodal assembly.” Pope Benedict knows Jesus, and has experienced an encounter with Him at a synod where the Church was working through scripture in the Life of the Faithful. I know, surprise, surprise, it might be scandalous to some people, but yes, Catholics are Christians.
The Word Made Flesh
The next issue on Pope Benedict’s agenda is outlining how the word is tangible in the writings of St. John, and how this tangibility can help us understand the need for scripture in our midst. He says, “The Apostle speaks to us of hearing, seeing, touching and looking upon(cf. 1 Jn 1:1) the word of life, since life itself was made manifest in Christ.” He goes on to talk about how we must proclaim this gift of the Word which we can see, touch, and behold, and how this enacts communion in the Divine life.
Benedict Continues as follows:
For this reason I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. (Subheading: That Our Joy May be Complete)
Again, the Holy Father is urging all Christians to renew their personal encounter with Jesus, so that we can proclaim and live out the gift of divine life, and His communion can spread throughout the world. This is amazing writing, and I am ecstatic. It is through this encounter with Christ Himself that the Pope seeks to encourage and foster a truly Biblical Renewal in Catholic Culture and life so that “..the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity.”
In closing this post, I want to offer up the words of the Holy Father which are so pressing for our times. Taking his apostolic cue from the Gospel of St. John he invites us to grow in divine communion. Ultimately, working within Jerome’s maxim, what Pope Benedict XVI offers us is encounter with Christ Himself, and the knowledge of Him, through our knowledge of scripture. The Holy Father says, “There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).“
What Follows is a more personal and apologetic reflection on some of the writings in Verbum Domini. The Pope’s latest Apostolic Exhortation is full of wisdom, insight and just generally awesome and highly quotable statements.
From “Dei Verbum” to the Synod on the Word of God
Pope Benedict makes some awesome statements on the Catholic relation to scripture in the bold headline which is the section I am dealing with in Verbum Domini. I think these statements deserve wider notice. I know lots of people are excited about this document, and a lot will be said.
I do not claim to be the best interpreter or commentator, merely a papist with a propensity for pressing admiration and appreciation of the Holy Father, and an affinity for Sacred Scripture.
Catholics love scripture. It’s true.
We love the Church that gave us Scripture, and we love Scripture, but most of all we love the encounter with Christ which we affirm weekly in communal prayer. We love that it is this encounter that drives our reflections on Scripture and the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. We love scripture so much we made reading it into worship. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out this post.
Moving right along…
Pope Benedict says of the synod fathers, “…We were conscious of dealing in a certain sense with the very heart of the Christian life…Indeed, the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word.” Now, there’s a big misconception out there that Christians, specifically Catholic Christians do not know or care for the bible. That’s an urban legend. Are there Catholics who don’t know the bible? Sure. But to be fair, there are Christians of every stripe who are ignorant of scripture.
I know some of you are thinking…”Wait? Catholics say that their Church is built on the word of God and lives by that word?” Well frankly, yes. Catholics believe in scripture, in fact the mass is saturated with far more scripture than your average Protestant service. Further, remember how you have a bible in English? That’s no accident.
The fact that there is an English language at all is largely if not single-handedly the work of monks preserving scripture and culture in the British isles until English began to form as its own language. This language gave us Shakespeare and great poets and brilliant philosophers in no small way is most of English culture indebted to Catholicism and the monastic schools. Monks preserved the scriptures because they were so sacred that to let them pass from society would have been a travesty, this in turn gave us writing. Writing became popular again, which leads to Shakespeare and Coleridge and J.R.R. Tolkien and Chesterton and CS Lewis and John Henry Newman, and so many countless other
Pope Benedict says above that when the fathers entered the synod, they felt the immensity of their dealing with the source and wellspring of Christian life, Christ Himself and the scriptures that testify to Him. Now, I know, I’m a terrible vatican spy, because I’m actually seemingly defecting from the straw-man position that Catholics get painted with often. “How can a Catholic read scripture and still be Catholic?…There are things in their religion that aren’t in the Bible!” some people might say to themselves as they read thi
Well, the thing is, Catholics believe their religion to be shaped by and through scripture as well as the Tradition that comes to us through the apostles of the Early Church. But if we were to run the line of logic that says that Catholics do things that aren’t in the bible, so do Protestants.
I will keep going, just to drive the point home. Sound systems, flashing lights, priestesses, pastoresses, everyone owning a bible, communion with anything other than bread and wine, none of those things is in the bible. Megachurches, feel good preaching, microphones, youth church, children’s church, Wednesday church, sunday night services in addition to a morning service, revival tents, none of those are in scripture either, but neither are driving laws for cars or navigation advice for commanding a ship. So obviously, our view of scripture is wrong if we’re looking to it to be the guidebook of all those things.
The word of God is the heart of the Christian life. It would seem that the above quote implies that scripture is for the Church, which is something fundamentalists overlook.
The Word of God, that is Christ, is for the Church and offers Himself to her in every age and most especially in the visible signs of His presence through liturgy and sacrament. In the culture wars to present Protestant Christianity as the purest most pristine most scientifically accurate, or inaccurate, depending on your flavor of fundamentalism, there’s been something important missing. Christ as the Word of God is missing from the discussion and with Him the entire emphasis on the Church as the Redeemed body through which God’s manifold wisdom is expressed.
The elephant in the room for Protestants is the active role of where and to whom Scripture belongs. Catholics believe that scripture is God’s gift to the Church as an outworking of the Spirit’s guidance of the Church. Catholics have an answer, it’s called The Church. Scripture is for the Church, for her upbuilding spiritually and otherwise, it is for her growth, and her maintenance. It is for her renewal. Protestants may say that the scriptures are for Christians, but what they must mean by that is, scriptures are for those who affirm it through their experience.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important that we remember that we have to experience God, because He experiences us every time we pray, but we have to say that this experience belongs in a communal context. As a former Charismatic protestant, I simply affirm the idea that what Catholics call Tradition, I simply call authoritative communal-experience over time.
I’m still Charismatic-Pentecostal, but merely in the Catholic context, where I feel my charismatic tendencies find their fullest expression. The thing I love about Catholicism is that it is just like scripture. Scripture is a collection of witnesses to the actions of God in the world in His dealings with Man as Father-Son-And-Holy-Spirit.
Just like scripture is not a single witness but rather a polyphony of witnesses, so too Catholicism shares the same idea. No one saint dominates any of the Theology of the Church. Even Scripture is part of a multi-faceted choir which we call the word of God. First there is Creation, a multifaceted ‘book of Nature’ as it is called which testifies to something glorious as our source. The way Catholics and most Protestants read Creation there is more to Creation than naturalism.
Secondly, there’s everything from Genesis to Jesus which also forms the Word of God, embodied in His dealings with prophets and kings. There’s the sacred scriptures, and the apostolic preaching from the early church, the Christ from conception/incarnation to death and resurrection. Then there is of course the handing down of the apostolic preaching in what we call the Tradition.
Justin Martyr wrote a short book entitled the ‘Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching’ in which he emulated the stylistic approach of the apostles, quoting the Old Testament, verifying Christ as the culmination and using those combined things that had been handed on, he interprets the old testament and Proclaims the Word of God, that is Jesus, through the word of God, that is the tradition and the preaching. Finally after all these things and yet together with them is the final written word given to us by the Church in 382 with the decree of Pope St. Damasus I.
Are there distinctive voices that sing often? Sure. But that’s the beauty of it. The Catholic Church isn’t built on the teachings of one man, like a Luther or a Calvin, it’s built on the teachings of Jesus, and all 12 of His apostles, plus the elected replacement Matthias and the 13th apostle, St. Paul.
But it doesn’t stop there, the song goes on through every successive generation, even where some voices drop out due to unfaithfulness, or others become particularly strong, the Church holds that manifold witness and presents a single song with many voices. Every generation of successors to the apostles carries on this song. The Church presents her history to us full of people telling the story of God in the world, carrying on a single tune from earliest days.
It’s nice to have a long-standing witness that God never left the earth, nor did he leave humanity when he ascended. He does continue to speak, not through just a single man, or a single book of the bible, or even only through the bible, or only experience, or even the Pope, though God certainly calls and uses the Pope to establish and lead the Church.
The Church herself is full of other voices, other times and places shaping different parts of the song she sings. She is full of Christ the Word of God, on every level, in fact he is present corporeally at every single mass. The Church’s song is deep, robust and bristling with life and fervor.
The thing about being Protestant is, eventually you realize the song you’re singing is very small, compared the beauty of the choir just across the river. Sometimes as a Protestant it’s not even scripture that shapes your song, but the opinions of a local pastor who fancies himself a pope in his own right.
However, there’s beauty just across the way, there’s immesurable beauty of choirs and witnesses, just over the Tiber River. That same beauty is how Catholics approach scripture, in the fullness of distinctive voices, each author telling a unique but congruent story. It’s like polyphony, there’s multiplicity, but it’s still the same song.
The song that the Church sings is at the heart of the Christian life, we call this liturgy. The Song and the One it is about are the foundation and reason for everything else. It all makes sense when you get the right vantage point, and when you take it seriously enough to listen closely. So, next time you hear that Catholics don’t like scripture, think about music. You might think twice.
Hey all, sorry i have been absent, life has been hectic, welcome back, and thanks for the patience. Let’s get right into it.
Have you ever read that verse and been like…whoa? I know I have.
Anyways, some people i have been talking to recently feel that people received into the Church (still rather erroneously called converts) hate where they came from.
I want to say two things:
1) This is not always the case, and in fact I think it’s rarer than some assume.
2) I think that there are legitimate reasons this appears to be the case.
Jesus says that unless we hate mother, and brother, and father and sister for his sake, we are not worthy of Him. I think many people coming into full communion go through a process where they have to break from the old. They can’t put new wine in old wineskins, much less can they fit the Catholic faith which is broad and wide and deep, into the protestant/other religious life they once had which is often more shallow. The Catholic Church is like having a full set of tools in a big enough tool box. Where protestantism is like having various tools and various toolbox sizes depending on your denomination.
In fact, When I look at the verse I titled the post with I think that there’s something positive to be said about taking an axe to your former faith. I think that there needs to be a pruning, there needs to be a chipping away of the smallness of what your faith used to be. I think there needs to be a cutting away of closed doors. Sometimes this might look like a lot of shutting doors. But I think ultimately we come full circle and find that we’ve been closing extremely small doors, to throw wide the large doors to a large house, the house of the Catholic Church.
I think we find that we’ve closed some small fringe doors to mouse-holes that we’ve taken, but find that there are infinitely larger doors and infinitely larger answers and spaces for our minds to play.
I know that in my life, I’ve tried to be as Catholic as possible for the past year and a half theologically, but I don’t have everything down. In fact, the other day I said something really stupid, and it was foolish and uncharitable, to be honest. I was wrong, and sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we prune the wrong thing, we close the wrong door.
I try to remind myself that confirmation and reception are the fullness of faith, a broadening, a deepening, an opening of new paths. I focus on what new unexplored ventures await me in the counsel of the saints. I try not to be rigid about my faith and I know I still fail at being as gracious as some other converts I know. I think that the time waiting has served me well, but I’m not perfect.
I feel like I have had to close my options from some theologians I used to really enjoy, simply because I believe differently in some areas now. This is not to say I cannot have a healthy appreciation of them in the future, it just means I’m not ready for that appreciation to not dominate my life and make my reception more difficult where they might disagree with my decision to enter full communion.
There are reasons to shut the door on your former faith in some ways, and I’m not presenting an exhaustive list, but here are a few:
1) To solidify a renewed identity in your faith
2) To be stronger in your convictions
3) Because full communion is a heavily internal process
Sometimes converts are less like joyful lambs, and more like yipping chihuahuas. The bark can terrify some people, but these are moments, this is a baby learning that hitting is not ok, this is a child learning to stand on two legs, this is a gardener pruning and tending a garden and killing what she perceives as weeds.
Confirmation and reception for me, are less like uprooting a tree and planting another, and more like taking said tree, and adding a new branch. I see my reception into the Catholic faith as an ingrafting. I have learned a lot as a protestant and without my initial conversion to Christianity, I could never come into the fullness of faith.
Do I always get it right?
But I do know one thing: I am grateful for where I come from.
I am grateful for my Pentecostal/Charismatic school. I am grateful for my protestant friends, pastors and leaders. I am grateful for my own parents who raised me well in the faith so that I cannot depart from it. I am grateful for those experiences which have shaped me, as flawed and unlovely as I can be sometimes. I might be dirty with sin and sometimes with frustrations and irritations that cause me to sin against my protestant brothers and sisters, and for this, I am sorry.
I might have laid an axe to my tree, but only to cut a place where I can make room for a new and growing faith to spring up into fullness right beside it.I may have pruned some pentecostal-charismaticism, but only to fulfill my pentecostal faith with a tree that bears much fruit. I may have taken out some parts of my former faith, and I might be rough around the edges, but I still have a relationship with Jesus; I still love Him. I ask you to pray for me and talk to me along the way, if I’m really rough around the edges, pruning isn’t an easy task, and I could use some loving hands.
The Beginning of the End
Ultimately, with this not-so-little series my goal has been to show that both Fundamentalism and over-emphasis on “relationship” or “spirituality” without structure are both about how I am so much better than everyone else. They are both flawed overemphases of self.
At the root of Fundamentalism, and of Postmodern approaches to faith is the same mitake, one sin: pride. St. Thomas Aquinas affirms that “heresy is a species of pride rather than of unbelief” [Summa Theol. II, part 2, q. 11 art. 1.]. I think at the heart of many if not all Christian heresies, errors in the faith, is the sin of thinking we know better; we think we could do better or somehow make something better than what has clearly been established and affirmed.
I hope that with this series I have invited you into thoughtfulness, and if you have hate mail, I would love your comments too.
My attempt is to invite you into a broader view of what Catholicism is, and perhaps to see that there is more to Christianity than the fundamentalism of some, and more to Christianity than the liberalism of others. I have hoped we could all learn that the faith is deeper than we give it credit for on both sides of the great divorce from Reason in our understanding of Faith. Pope John Paul II said that “Faith and Reason are like two wings by which the human soul rises to the contemplation of truth.” I hope I’ve shown the importance of truth, and virtue in this whole process.
The Catholic Church is wider than some critics admit, and too wide for others. She is wider than disagreements with “religion” and more “progressive” than some care to admit. She upholds social values in an age where “conservatives” more and more care about fiscal policies and immigration than societal values and for the dignity of all humans, not just embryonic humans, though even these smallest of beings she preserves with all her might.
The Church is and always has been a broad place, a welcoming and large home for many children of the faith. Vatican II may not be your favorite Church document, but it’s a document of the Church and speaks to us with authority. Dislike does not give us Catholics the authority to rebel.
Losing MY Religion
I grew up in a religion that taught me about a man in heaven who wanted me to love him, and worship him. I grew up being taught that this was the most important thing in the world. I was never taught how to “play well with others” in regards to my faith. The funny thing is, we teach our children to share, to honor adults and to listen to wise counsel, but reject these notions as we grow up and think we know better.
When the Church found me, she invited me away from myself, away from my own little creation, away from a religion I had invented, and into the broad place, with wide-open doors where I could play with other Christians. Where I could celebrate God in a huge assembly, not just with some otherworldly people who had no idea I exist and who I could not relate to. She invited me to the communion table to share in Christ at the side of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John of The Cross, St. Peter, St. John the Apostle, Pope John Paul II and others.
She invited me into a faith shaped by holiness and sacrifice rather than opinion and conjecture. She invited me into a faith that developed biblically and historically. She invited me into a playground where I could rest with God’s other children, and have a generous faith, a faith that had fences, but no to keep others out. She invited me to understand that these fences were to keep us safe and free from the dangers outside those curtains. She invited me to a tent of meeting, rather than a field where all manner of beast might pass by and snatch the unprotected.
She invited me away from my own idiocy and obstinate lack of virtue, to recognize others might know God better than I do, and to rise up to the level of my spiritual energies. She asked me to take a yoke upon myself, a true and great system of teachings, a new culture, a new life. She took me out of the spotlight, and invited me away from MY religion. She gave me faith in Jesus, a Mother, many brothers and sisters, and an enduring hope for the final day.
I am still developing, sometimes I am weak, sometimes I am angry, sometimes I am broken, but where I am weak and embrace the humility this brings, perhaps it is for our benefit. I know Jesus prayed that we might be one, and sometimes I come off a bit harsh, but this is my desire.
I desire that we might all learn to live together in peace. Peace cannot be had without the difficult and necessarily life-altering encounters made possible through honesty. If we cannot trust one another, we cannot live in peace. I seek that we may all learn to live together. I offer these correctives to Catholics to encourage them to seek out relationships with our separated brothers and sisters. I offer these correctives to protestants who would seek to say that we worship falsely, or are only religious without any spirituality.
I am learning to grow up, one day at a time, and I am deeply sorry where sometimes have failed in charity, or understanding. I can only offer the promise to work harder for my faith, and to embody not only an intellectual position, but a moral and spiritual one as well. My faith is slowly calling me from gripping tightly to a precious but imperfect thing, like the creature Gollum and his ring. The Church has called me into a full faith where we all share the same story, and each retelling might have a slightly different emphasis and perspective, but the story remains the same.
It’s nice to have a faith that calls me away from myself and into a broader assembly. It’s nice to have a faith that circumvents my obstinate obsession with my own opinions, on the one side or on the other. It’s nice to have a faith that strips me of a false precious, and teaches me that the reallly and truly precious thing is others. It’s nice to lose MY religion, to in the end have the religion that really matters.
I’d like to open by saying I find it hard to take postmodernism seriously, as an intellectual position or otherwise. This position is characterized by a strong hatred of any authority, good, healthy, or otherwise, at least on matters that don’t matter. This position questions religious authority, the nature of reality, and the objectivity of meaning, but is ultimately a waste of time. This position also continues to advance medicine as if bodies really and truly matter, and continues to sustain a global market that while in recession economically is ever-expanding culturally.
2) The Postmodern Position
This position says that we should pick and choose everything, because everything is relative. It comes at a price though, because its overarching dogma is that nothing matters except the idea that nothing matters. Nothing holds weight, everything is opinion in this view. In this view the world itself is subject to my interpretation and nothing holds water.
The postmodernist position defeats plurality through a higher singular Truth, that there are no absolutes. But if things cannot be more true, or less true on a spiritual level, why is this the case on a physical level? If one could say something more true and less true about physical reality, why is it suddenly the unspoken sin of modern culture to say that this cannot be true at all or spiritual reality?
“Your view is your view, and my view is my view.” This isn’t Catholic at all, nor is it Christian. I have lots of well-meaning Christian friends who simply want to affirm that anyone and everyone is right, and that all the christianities are Christianity. This simply cannot be the case. While we may affirm the separation of our churches, we should work towards a greater unity, and that unity has to subsist in and be fully shaped by our quest for Truth together.
Sometimes there are legitimate places where we may disagree or have a closely related plurality of views, but when this becomes a dogmatic “there is no Truth, no right answer, only your view and my view” you’re already approaching the argument from a flawed perspective.
Instead of hearing and meeting the other person to quest for Truth, you have imposed your pluralism onto them. Other times, this view takes the form of an over-spiritualistic view that says that the only thing that matters is that we all embrace the “spiritual growth” of one another, without any structure.
The supreme problem with this coalition of looslely associated views is that they form the other half of the problem of fundamentalism. It is nothing but a supreme form of arrogance to assert that a viewpoint is inherently on equal footing with every other simply because it makes you uncomfortable to seek actual Truth.
Further, if we look at how this is related to Fundamentalism we see that the means are different but the end is the same, the supremacy of self above all else. We see that what transpires is my self-assertion and my imposing myself onto reality to make it serve either my obstinate determination that only I am correct in asserting my interpretation of reality, or on the other hand that only I am correct in saying there is no meaning outside of me. Both views arrive at one conclusion: I, not Christ (by whom all thing were made) determine the shape and nature of the universe. Another name for this is pride.
A Brighter Christian Relationship
Let’s face it, we have all heard, if we have protestant friends especially, “it’s not about religion it’s about relationship.” My only retort is: If it’s about relationship, why is it not about relationships? What I mean is, why isn’t it about the way our faith is shaped with others? Why isn’t it about the way that others relationships with God can shape our own?
I think sometimes people forget that the saints had and have personal relationships with God that have shaped the Church far more than politics, or philosophies or any other thing. The saints are leaders, elders in the faith, and we can trust their experience of God because we know that God spoke to them. Such virtuous lives cannot but testify to the work of God, and yet sometimes people look at the lives of the saints and play the pharisee by wondering “By what authority is someone doing such miraculous works?”
The thing is if we took seriously the idea of relationship, we should see that it’s not only our relationship to God personally that matters, but God’s relationship to the entire Church should shape our own. If we took seriously that Christ is the light of the world we might notice that some people in Christian history are indeed illuminated.
A Relationship Together
We, in Christ, can trust each other, we cannot have relationship with God apart from the personal dimension, because all must behold God for themselves in the end, but we have to approach this path together. I think communion of the saints and the authority of the Church as doctrines make sense if we begin to understand the potential for a brighter illumination. If you’ve ever flown in a plane at night, sometimes you see a light or two in dark, rural areas, but what happens when you see two or three of those lights together? They’re much brighter.
In the same way, when we combine our little light, with the light of others, virtuous mothers and fathers in the faith, there’s so much more we can do. We can’t build for a New Jerusalem if we’re so busy building mini-towers of Babel to this or that idea, instead of joining in the one kingdom. There is One Faith, One Hope, One God, One Lord Jesus Christ and He has called us into the kingdom and given us apostles and prophets and teachers that we might learn how to truly follow in the Way of Christ.
As a friend of mine says, “Blessed is the Kingdom.” We bless this Kingdom when we enter into it humbly, seeking to unite ourselves to others instead of rejecting them. We build for the kingdom one brick at a time when we stand with other Christians, the faithful, the tested and the proven as prophets pointing us in the right direction. When we unite ourselves together with others who have light, we can truly build a city on a hill. You can’t exactly build a city without walls, without structures and certainly you cannot do it without others.
I love my girlfriend. And I’m proud of her taking the blog world by storm with her blog The Secret Vatican Spy. Her latest post is awesome, and I just wanted to chime in via the blogosphere and let you know that if you don’t read her work, please do. It will help you, it will make you laugh, you might be able to relate, or at the very least, laugh along. I just wanted to recommend that you read her latest post here.
In other news, I wanted to segue from the high praise of our favorite spy into something that’s been on my mind that is related, the idea of religion vs. relationship that seems to be so widespread nowadays.
Today we’ll address one half of the problem, tomorrow, the other half. Today we talk about Fundamentalism. Tomorrow Postmodernism.
Raised to Hate Religion
Lots of people hate religion. It’s trendy to hate organized religion. It’s trendy to be against the grain of authorities anyways. Our world has sold us the idea that organization is the problem. Of course, anything organized is inherently evil. I myself converted into a highly “religious” nondenominational church where the only rule was, we hate “religion”. Organization was and is evil, it only corrupts things. But when it really boils down to it we don’t mind organized medicine, or organized law, or organized education, because there are benefits to the system, right?
Yet, it seems that when it comes to religion, my personal ideas and experiences should be catered to at all costs. I mean, if the hospital doesn’t cater to my every request and give me a profound sense of meaning, I don’t mind, as long as I’m cured. On the other hand religion for many is a therapeutic product, instead of a spiritual discipline. I think that there have been lacks of emphasis on the personal dimension of faith in the past, but the answer is not to run to the other extreme and make everything personal, and all about me.
There are problems with this sort of personalistic tendency, and the first is that, you have taken the place of all authority and essentially asserted yourself over the Holy Scriptures, the Magisterium, the Tradition, the Saints and God. And this personalism has two sides. The Fundamentalist position, and the Postmodernist position.
1) The Fundamentalist Position
This position is often characterized by a strong sense of certainty, not in the Church, or in the Tradition, or in the wisdom of the leaders of the Church, but in my tastes. Many of my Catholic friends know what I’m talking about. There are holier-than-thou people out there who think that a vernacular mass is just one step above cultic devil-worship or just a cut above a really ugly non-Catholic service. I know some people who have intimated that a Novus Ordo mass is invalid. This position hates the idea that the organization can make a decision it is unhappy with, and vehemently fights for personal preference with a minority against the majority.
Fundamentalism in this sense is, taking my own experiences and turning them into universal law. Taking my own ideas and projecting them as the way the world should will things to be. In other words, a Kantian view of metaphysics, morals and religion. This position doesn’t operate under the authority of the pope, but of a new pope, a philosophical pope, Kant’s view of the universe and not the Church’s shapes such as these. I begin to act as though my own personal experiences should simply be the way things are, and this breeds a profound arrogance. When I am the measure of my own faith, and not the Church or her saints, something is gravely wrong and I might be honoring the wrong sort of authority.
All this is is the supremacy of a very flawed position. A church “looking back to better days” is not what the Church is. In every age the Church has risen to the occasion, from the gentile inclusion to the innovation of a standard Latin mass. Believe it or not, sometimes the Church is scandalously progressive. That we have nostalgia for a yesterday that does not exist, an “earlier” Church, where the issues we face today might not have been issues simply betrays our lack of ability to live “in the now”. Let me tell you a little secret, in every age, and in all generations the Church of Jesus Christ has faced problems and challenges from within and from without, without facing these challenges head-on, we would be horribly inept at saying anything to the world of today.
The Supremacy of ME
Ultimately, this position is an organized form of dissent that says ‘anywhere this system disagrees with MY interpretation of what it should be it is wrong,’ and where we find ourselves saying that, we have found ourselves outside the Catholicity of the Church and her Teaching. It is the religion of Me, the religion of my religion, the religion of my desires and thoughts on laws and strictures of the Church.
If you disagree with the Magisterium that is fine, but unless you have a god-given authority to stand on, like obvious saintly vocation, or some other extraordinary virtues to back you up as you go gallivanting about doing so, stop trying to be Martin Luther reincarnate and be Catholic. If you want to be a protestant go do so, but don’t bring your preconceived supremacy of self to the doorstep of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and expect to be taken seriously.
I grew up in a culture and converted to a Christian faith that taught me the same, to hate religion and prize my own thoughts. They taught me to prize my opinion above all else, when Christ asked me to set myself to death. Jesus and His Church asked me to have the mind of Christ and make myself a servant. I can’t exactly serve if I am always assuming that I know best.
If I am a strong detractor of what I have come from at times, it is because I have learned a brighter path. But we’ll talk about that more, the next time.
Peace be with you.