Monday, May 18, 2009
The first that caught my eye dealt with Domino's Pizza founder, Thomas Monahan. Monahan is a Roman Catholic. He has started a project in the Naples area of Florida that is a bit reminiscent of the religious utopian experiments of the early 19th. century. He is creating a town, centered around a college that he foresees as being a distinctively "Catholic" experiment. At first, he proclaimed that no store would sell contraceptives or pornography. The Cable T.V. would carry no adult content. Due to complaints by civil rights activists, he has since backed-down on these proscriptions, but such guidelines are still highly encouraged.
At the center of Monohan's town is Ava Maria University, a quite conservative Catholic school. In the article in question, reporter Mitch Stacy quoted one student speaking about the benefits of the school. The young woman commented, "It's just nice to go to a school where you don't feel challenged in your faith."
A second article described how Falwell's Liberty University was "infiltrated" by a senior from Brown University who enrolled as a student while secretly planning to write a book about the experience. He expected a lot of mindless fundamentalism. He found it, to be sure. He also found students trying to make romantic "hook-ups" in Bible class, dorms full of gossip, hip-hop music, and secret viewing of R-rated movies.
I imagine these things are at Ava Maria as well. After all, even many priests are far from sainthood. The world is a funny thing. You can run, but you can't hide. And there is always the problem of the second generation that may not be as "enthusiastic" as the first. It will be interesting to watch the progress of both Ava Maria and Liberty over the years. The 19th century utopians could not sustain their ardor. Can the Falwellians and the Monohanians?
Saturday, May 16, 2009
- Between 1933 and 1945 the Nazi regime systematically slaughtered six million Jews. Yet, for the most part, the Christian church said nothing. This is especially true of the German church-- although the criticism can be extended well beyond the borders of Germany. (I have written about the history of the German church during the days of Nazi Germany and the opposition, if you are unfamiliar with the history, you might want to read about it.)
- Between 1955 and 1968, the US was awash in violence as forces of "US apartheid" attempted to keep an entire race (all citizens of our nation) in abject poverty and subjection. The church largely said nothing. Still, often in the face of continuing racism, the church refuses to speak out.
- Beginning in the 1980's, folks with AIDS became modern day pariahs in our society. The church did not, for the most part, speak out for justice and mercy. The church largely said nothing. In the mid 1980's, I was completing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. My placement was at a psychiatric institution. The other student chaplain found out that several of the residents had HIV/AIDS. After that, he refused to be around, or (especially) touch those patients. I kept wondering how he could ever be their chaplain.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Religious patients were also more likely to request "heroic" measures such as being placed on a ventilator, or a stomach tube during their final week of life. It would seem that religion would make death a more "peaceful" occurrence (if that is possible). Why would the faithful choose this path?
- Perhaps their faith makes them optimistic, even if the situation seems hopeless. They are holding out a hope that God will yet intervene and "heal" them.
- Along that same line, very religious folks may see sickness more as a test of faith than a path terminating in death.
- Perhaps the faith the religious hold on to gives them the strength they need to face a dismal quality of life and withstand heroic measures at the end.
- Maybe it is fear. We know from studies that much of religion does contain a "fear element." Is it possible that belief in an afterlife inhabited by a stern and exacting judge creates a desire to avoid facing that judge as long as possible?
- Is there some fear that they may have been wrong about it all? Being uncertain what the end holds, they wish to remain in the familiar as opposed to the unknown kingdom.
- Or... maybe it's all about sanctity of life-- that life must be preserved at all costs. Of course, there may be a fear element here as well.
Dr, Phelps, the author of the study expressed concern about the findings. Quoting Phelps, "We are worried because aggressive care, at least among cancer patients, is a difficult and burdensome treatment that medically doesn't usually provide a whole lot of benefit."
Yet, there is a caveat. We all probably know someone for whom experimental or "last ditch efforts" worked (I have a dear friend in that group-- I'm glad he went through it). Still, I think for all of us there is a basic fear of death-- the unknown. Is it just possible that religious myths added to strong faith does lead to a greater fear than the absence of those factors?
So, what would I do if I had to face that decision at some point in my own life? I really don't know. Not completely anyway. I have a living will. But, if "push came to shove?" What would I choose? What would any of us choose?
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
One thing is certain, New England does appear to be more, let us say, "liberal" (another tricky word to operationally define). Currently Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut permit gay marriage. Listening to NPR this week, I have discovered that New Hampshire and Maine may soon join those ranks as well. Certainly, when it comes to the issue of marriage, New England is the most gay friendly place to be.
All of these moves have been applauded, in rather official ways, by the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalists. The ECUSA and the UCC are both more decidedly "Christian" than the UU Church. This raises further issues about the nature of these denominations. Both do have a strong presence in New England-- especially the UCC, being the "church of the Pilgrims," at least after a fashion.
Then there are the Concerned Women for America. They are right on top of the situation stating: "While government officials may change definitions they cannot change nature.... The first human relationship was between one man and one woman, and it became the foundation of all society."
Now, there are two parts to that statement. The first is an appeal to nature. It might be incorrect, but it must carry some weight in considering this matter. The second part is based on a religious myth-- at least to some degree. There are many cultures and many myths in this world. It reminds me of an old Jerry Falwell line (a rather ridiculous one at that, I might add), "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."
Back to New England.... Does this just prove the stereotype (or research) that folks aren't particularly religious "up there?" Or does it prove that they are strong supporters of justice, equality, and human rights? What do you think?
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
- The problem of meaninglessness-- Human life seems meaningless, really absurd in many ways. Why are we here? Is there any meaning to our existence? Is this all there is?
- The problem of isolation-- The bottom line is that we are tragically alone. At the final conclusion, it's just us. There is no one else. How do we deal with the problem (one all of us have felt) of loneliness and isolation?
- The problem of freedom-- Humanity is really free. Frighteningly free. We are, in the final analysis actors. We are free actors, though. We usually "make it up as we go along." Since we live in a world devoid of any real meaning and since we are, at our base alone, we must use our freedom to make meaning out of our lives. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility.
- The problem of death-- Humans are unique among earth's inhabitants in that we know that we shall die. This life will end, and we shall be no more. How do we live in the face of that awareness?
I once read that Albert Camus said that sometimes we must give 100% commitment to that for which we have only 51% evidence. The psychologist Gordon Allport has written that religious folks are well aware that they cannot know their position with absolute certainty. Still they hold to the probability, the likelihood that God is there. Probability+faith+love is good enough to provide the certitude they need to have faith.
Life can seem pretty meaningless. Maybe, though Camus and Allport are on to something. Fundamentalist certainty notwithstanding (it is an illusion after all), true faith may trump it all.
Monday, May 4, 2009
As is apparent, his concerns went largely unheeded. Bishops merely "moved" offending priests around. Victims were often made to feel like they were victimizers. It is difficult to understand the status that priests occupy in the eyes of the Catholic faithful (less today). In many ways, it seemed to me as if they were (are?) held in an almost divine status.
But, then again, it makes some sense. The Catholic Church is an authoritarian hierarchy that claims to hold the "keys to the Kingdom." It is a dangerous thing to risk dissent when the priests and bishops have the power to forgive sin, and the whole system is lead by an individual claiming infallibility derived from God Almighty.
In the recent book, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace, Former LA Times Religion writer William Lobdell recounts how his investigative reporting of the clergy sex abuse scandal became one of the main influences in his abandoning religion (certainly not the only factor). At the time when he began investigating, he was deeply involved in RCIA(the adult initiation right of the Catholic Church. Yet, he knew it just wouldn't work. He simply could not, in good conscience, unite himself with those making high moral claims nor accept the moral superiority of Christians making those claims when such little evidence of moral superiority existed.
This sort of situation (the sex scandal) is not unique to Catholicism. Witness evangelicals Swaggart, Bakker, and, more recently, Haggard. We could also write volumes about more flamboyant figures as Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton and others mostly interested in money. Or what of the political powerbrokers in ecclesiastical trappings (Robertson, Dobson, etc.)? Whenever people have almost near absolute control over the thinking of others-- usually willingly granted them by those very folks wanting some other person or organization to think for them-- Watch out! Danger is not far away.