YAY! New Semester, New Year! I just got back from my home visit and my winter retreat and we all know that means…more BLOGGING!
I know you’re all excited, so I’ll just cut to the chase:
[I thought of separating the two parts below because of length, but I think the contrast between each is better when they are together – if you’re not into my more ‘philosophical’ rants, skip to the video. Have fun!]
I was reading a book by a philosopher called Richard Kearney called Anatheism in which he argues for a God beyond metaphysics – a God who neither exists nor doesn’t, a God lacking existence or omnipotence, a God who is weak and cannot do anything without human beings doing it for “he/she/it.”
It’s ironiche cites Hitchens, et al., as a justification for his anatheism, when in fact most of these atheists find the nature of such discussion laughable. It is precisely such people as Kearney that have inspired “New Atheists” to call for the abandonment of post-modern theology, believing it to be a smokescreen for unbelief already. I recall the discussion from the show Yes Minister, where one character asks another (discussing why they should appoint a ‘progressive’ Anglican bishop), “What is the difference between a ‘progressive’ and an atheist?” He responds: “An atheist can’t receive a church salary.”
As even these people joke about it, the weakness of God seems to deprive God of all meaningfulness. It strikes me as primarily emotion shoring up a rejection of logical discussion, as is seen when arguing, via non-sequitur, that God’s metaphysical existence must be rejected because of the Holocaust. If God is non-existent or weak in such a way that He can only act through individual human beings’ own powers, we find ourselves in a world of Thrasymachus rather than one of Christ. The world just is such that the strong will triumph over the weak if left to themselves; this much was quite clear in the years of paganism before the coming of Christ. Poverty and any injustice, frankly and practically speaking, despite generation after generation of utopian programmes will always be with us; the only idea of ending them came from Christian minds, inspired by eschatological hope and charity. Sickness and death pervade the world and cannot be eliminated definitively by any science. In such a world, the claim that human beings should just “try harder” on their own to prevent events like the Holocaust strike me as ridiculous and Pelagian. How many holocausts have happened in history? How many genocides, wars, unjust murderous rampages, etc.? Human power can do nothing to eliminate original sin because it itself is the problem and can only be rescued by someone divine.
To misquote Heidegger in the opposite sense he intended it: Only a God can save us.
The weakness of God theology seems to me to create an idol before which secular humanists can feel at ease. It seems to be designed to console consciences that might believe God would demand something definitive of them, substituting vague modern political hipster-ism in its place (non-violence and non-confrontation above all else). It is the triumph of Nietzschean will-to-power and revaluation to change God Himself into a symbol of secular humanism. It also strikes me as a facile Mottramism; if God isn’t thunder-bolting evildoers, He doesn’t exist anymore except that He might be sort of existing spiritually (only we were too sinful to see Him, of course). Unless God’s grace means something definitive in terms of elevating us as we really are, sanctifying and regenerating our natures in a real way with supernatural power derived from Him, unless He truly became a real incarnate God-man, unless He really will judge the world at the end of time, and unless He has guided history by His Providence, I can see no possible faith in the ‘purely’ human partnered with a God lacking existence or power.
I’d rather believe in the God of Scripture who revealed Himself on Mount Sinai as, “the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
I also got a video recommended to me by Youtube which I watched immediately after reading the above piece:
Of course, being a theologian and more than a bit neurotic, I can’t let this one slide by either!
This video poses the other side of the question that underlies a lot of this post-metaphysical nonsense from the practical side. Post modern theology, specifically the “weak God” theories, create the fiction of God’s weakness to hide its own psychological insecurities and lack of true faith. Fundamentally, post-modern religiosity attempts to divide Jesus from divinity first, then Jesus from religion and the Church. The Church is only an object to be fought, not something we are members of. The Church is an arena for social programmes or an object for reconfiguration of “power” relationships within.
But God forbid that She ever be One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
Then, to pursue the positive side further, why isn’t religion able to be divorced from Jesus? Why is a Church essential to Christianity?
From a Catholic point of view, the viewpoint even of some Protestant saints and certainly of the Orthodox, arguments that the institutional Church is corrupt or full of sinners is a non-starter. One of the very reasons God created the Church was because it could become corrupt. Just read the Old Testament. God didn’t make a mistake in creating Israel who sinned against Him. The point was to purify them both by the elements of holiness, but also by the presence of sin and suffering in their midst. That’s not to say God desires sin or wants people to commit it, but that He uses sin (which He merely tolerates the existence of) to bring about a greater good than the harm caused by sin. In other words, God permits evils even to His chosen nation so that they could grow closer to Him.
Even in the New, Jesus called the sinners, not the righteous. The Cross is the central message of the New Testament and we are all called to embrace that so as to “make up for” the sufferings of Christ in our own bodies, building up the Body of Christ – the Church. Judas Iscariot was called by Jesus for a reason. Maybe even to teach us something important about the very Church He founded. To say that Jesus was “against religion” is a modernist misreading of the Gospel. Unless we are Marcionites who believe that the God of the Old and New testaments were different, we believe that Jesus was the same Person who founded the Levitical priesthood. He never came to destroy, but to fulfill.
God made the Church for mutual dependence and the fact that, to be a good Christian, you would have to depend on someone who was not at the same level of virtue as you and, in exceptional cases, was even morally corrupt. It’s precisely in those circumstances that we grow in virtue. If our priests were constantly the most pure and all the members of the Church were without any sin, nobody except Jesus and the Blessed Virgin would be members.
The ancient heresy of Donatism rejected a church of sinners for a church of the “Pure.” And the chief wrong with this heresy and schism is that it is a sin against charity – love of neighbor. Saint Augustine pleaded with them, feeling a kinship even with schismatics (let alone sinners within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church!):
We entreat you, brothers, as earnestly as we are able, to have charity, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the Church. Of these some are still pagans, who have not yet made an act of faith in Christ. Others are separated, insofar as they are joined with us in professing faith in Christ, our head, but are yet divided from the unity of his body. My friends, we must grieve over these as over our brothers. Whether they like it or not, they are our brothers; and they will only cease to be so when they no longer say our Father.
The prophet refers to some men saying: When they say to you: You are not our brothers, you are to tell them: You are our brothers. Consider whom he intended by these words. Were they the pagans? Hardly; for nowhere either in Scripture or in our traditional manner of speaking do we find them called our brothers. Nor could it refer to the Jews, who did not belive in Christ. Read Saint Paul and you will see that when he speaks of “brothers,” without any qualification, he refers always to Christians. For example, he says: Why do you judge your brother or why do you despise your brother? And again: You perform iniquity and commit fraud, and this against your brothers.
Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptize us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognizing our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers.
I they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.
And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realize that they have nothing whatever to say against the truth; they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.
God puts people on this earth for three reasons, in this order: to save themselves, to reform the Church, and the save the world. In fact, to be precise, all three are really the same singular reason if you consider them rightly. We save ourselves by participating in the salvation of the world (“Whatever you have done for the least of these, you do for Me”) and we can only do that with the means of visible grace Christ instituted in the Church, and in company with those whom He instituted as our fellow citizens in baptismal grace and the leaders He gave Her by sacred ordination.
God didn’t make a mistake by having a visible special priesthood apart from the priesthood of all believers, because He uses it to teach us human beings a lesson about true love: we are called to save others, not just ourselves. We are fundamentally political animals – this is, in fact, one of the definitions of “human being” given by Aristotle. We are truly a family and can only be happy as a family, as a State or body politic united in pursuit and enjoyment of true happiness. I need priests for what they can give me – the saving Gospel and the sacraments – and priests need laypeople (and religious too!) for their prayers, their fraternal correction, and their action in sanctifying the world. Priests even need other priests – no priest can absolve himself of sin!
We are members of the household – the family – of God. We are closer than that even – we are branches on the same Vine which flows with the same precious Blood, we are members of the same Divine Body. And it doesn’t end there – we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, to love all men because they bear the image of that Crucified One in their immortal souls. Even, as St. Augustine said, heretics, schismatics, and pagans!
If you see a baptized brother sinning, even at Mass, and feel disappointed in the Church, know this: Jesus put you there for a reason too. You’re not there to smile, look pretty, and continue drinking your coffee at the after-church social – you’re there to do something.
Which is more loving? To say, “Eat well, stay warm” and to go to a different church or stop attending the Church altogether to pursue a the “Church of Self”? Or to give your brother what he needs? A swift “kick in the spiritual arse” might just be what that is, taking your brother or sister aside and speaking to them calmly, charitably, but clearly. It might be the good example you set by contrast which brings your brother or sister around, without any verbal admonishment. How many people see us make light of Sunday Mass or our faith and then not believe us when we tell them it should be the most important thing in the world? It might just be prayer and good works. It might even be voting a particular way in a general, state, or local election!
If you see corruption in the Church’s ordained priests or bishops: God put you there to love them, pray for them, and bring the Church back to Her purity.
If you see corruption in the morals of Catholic faithful, Christ gave you the vision to see and the grace to do something about it.
If you encounter sin in the world, injustice in society, impurity and evil in your own heart, God’s grace is sufficient for thee.
So what are you waiting for?
Take the Church seriously, because we are commanded by God to honor both our Heavenly Father AND our Mother, the Church.
And nobody wants to piss off their mom.
Yours in Christ,
Br. James Dominic Rooney, OP