God Ignored?

English: South African Anglican Archbishop Des...
English: South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered a speech at the first International Ethics Conference at the University of Botswana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Religion, says Bishop Desmond Tutu in his book, God is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations, “…should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing.” To the contrary, however, Tutu notes that religion “…has fueled alienation and conflict, and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion,” Tutu writes.

Why in the name of all that is good is that true?

It sometimes feels that God is absent, or perhaps lounging, watching His/Her children be as completely human as they care to be – meaning, God leaves us to our own devices. In many ways, we are like the Biblical prodigal son, who insulted his father by asking for his inheritance while his father was very much alive. Such an act in Middle Eastern culture was unheard of, and should have driven his father to wild rage, writes Kenneth Bailey in his book, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15. Instead, writes Bailey, the father swallowed his hurt and insult, and granted his son the gift of freedom. He watched …as his son made a horrible decision, alienated his family and community, and went off to be as completely human as he cared to be.

In that story, the son “comes to himself,” and decides to go back home, and his father runs to meet him, which prominent men of that day did not do, lifting up his heavy robes exposing his legs so that he could run faster, again, something which was not acceptable for him to do. One did not run; one did not expose his or her legs. This father did both.

Stories like that serve as reminders that God is not absent, but that God really does allow us to be free – even if our being free results in oppression and intolerance and unkindness amongst ourselves as squabbling children.

It makes me want to say to God, “God, please, can you be a little more strict? Can you please cut down or cut back on this free will thing? Don’t you want a good world?” God allows us, as His/Her children, to take our inheritance of love and go to a “far land.”  Yes, we are free! But with our freedom, we are wildly irresponsible, causing so much chaos and pain.

Did God ask us to do things like love our enemy, or forgive folks, or …do to others as we would like done to us …knowing that we would never do it? That the way God wired us made it almost impossible?

Right now, there is a civil war in Syria – amongst religious people. Some of our lawmakers, like Sen. John McCain, seem to be pushing for our country to become involved militarily – like “boots on ground” involvement – in that country’s civil war. The Syrians are doing horrible things to each other, and some Americans want us to help them do it. Protestants and Catholics fought against each other in Ireland; Christians fought against each other in our own Civil War. In the case of Syria, I wonder if those who are fighting each other stop long enough for traditional prayers. My guess would be that they do.

What is it about religion that makes its adherents so incapable of doing what religion is supposed to foster, the things that Bishop Tutu raised in his book?

It seems that very few of us “get it.” The new pope, Pope Francis, seems to get it, that as a religious person, are all held to a higher standard. The other day he interacted with a young boy who has Down Syndrome, inviting him to sit in the pope’s seat in the pope-mobile. A small gesture, for sure, but one that made a profound impact on that young boy and probably changed his life. He’ll probably want to be pope one day so that he can pay forward what Pope Francis gave to him. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/pope-francis-down-syndrome_n_3465684.html)  He has said that “Christianity is incompatible with anti-Semitism,” and says that he is going to work to deepen and improve the relationship between Catholics and Jews. (http://www.religionnews.com/2013/06/24/pope-francis-christianity-is-incompatible-with-anti-semitism/). He is not being a reticent prelate, and his determination to be amongst the people is not going unnoticed. That kind of involvement with “the least of these” would probably help us all be nicer to each other. People have a need to be touched, loved and affirmed.

Is it that religion, in general, is reluctant to mingle with “the least of these” that helps breed what Tutu calls “ghastly atrocities?”

We have God, but we are not all that interested in worshiping Him/Her – if worship means to honor God by following God’s directions. We worship the Bible, wrote the late Rev. Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard University; in fact, Gomes said, this “bibliolatry” has superseded our desire and ability to connect with God. Gomes writes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart,” that “in the absence of a visible God, the temptation is always near to make a god of whatever is visible and related in some proximate way to the real thing.”  Perhaps. Or perhaps we make a god of whatever is visible and related to our own ideologies and prejudices. Ideology kicks theology out of the game.

So, in the name of an ignored God, the late Osama bin Laden, purported to be a devout Muslim, plans and executes a plan to bomb the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, though that part of the plan failed thanks to the brave people on that flight. In the name of an ignored God, churches spew venom against gays and lesbians. In the name of an ignored God, racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism have flourished. So many times the oppression of people and groups have been the worst inside of churches and in spite of a professed belief in God.

God allows us to go to a far place …and stay there.

Maybe we’d do better with a little less freedom.

A candid observation …

 

 

New Pope Caught Between Sacred Past and New Present

Pope Francis Portrait Painting
Pope Francis Portrait Painting (Photo credit: faithmouse)

The whole world rejoiced when the new pope was named, myself included. No, I am not Roman Catholic, but I looked for the white smoke, and when it showed, I rejoiced.

When former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio emerged from the security of the cardinals into the insecurity of the world, everything seemed in balance again.

Though confused as to why the Roman Catholic church continues to elect such old men to an office that has behemoth responsibility, there is something to be said about the peace that the world could possibly be feeling this morning because that important office has been filled.

Now what?

Can an old man address the newness of an old world, with old religious beliefs and practices?

It is true that the world wanted the office of pope to be filled, sooner rather than later, but the new pope has a mess awaiting him. The Roman Catholic church is in disarray, due largely to the reported incidences of sexual misconduct of priests.  That disarray is further exacerbated by the fact that the Roman Catholic church has seemed to be resistant to the way the world has changed. This is not a day and time where Catholics receive a word from the Vatican as sacrosanct, unable to be challenged.  Catholic women want to be ordained as priests. Some male priests are challenging the value of the need for priests to take vows of celebacy. More and more Catholics are speaking up for same-sex marriage, which the new pope reportedly opposes. It seems that there is a search for a new Catholic dogma and doctrinal reality, but from what has been shared about Pope Francis, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any modern or updated changes to ancient Catholic practices and beliefs.

This pope is said to be an extremely humble man, a man who gave up his house in order to live in a more modest apartment, a man who takes public transportation, and who reportedly once washed the feet of men infected with HIV/AIDS. He has a heart for the people, “the least of these,” which is endearing and encouraging to know.

But in his office as pope, it seems highly unlikely that he will be able, or even allowed, to get out and mix with the very poor and forgotten Catholics of the world. What a mark it might make on a world which is filled to the brim with countries that are severely in debt, apparently putting more stock in materialism and the acquisition of wealth, rather than with taking care of those less fortunate. In fact, in these hard economic times, lawmakers of struggling countries seem more eager to cut programs that help “the least of these,” a category of people which seems to be growing daily, than to cut into the lives of the very wealthy.

One wonders if Pope Francis will address that apparent reality? Some would ask if it’s even necessary, but in a day where morality is being investigated, especially as it regards the rights of the LGBT community and same-sex marriage, and, of course, the sexual scandals involving priests and young boys, there seems to be a need to expand the definition of morality. Surely, ignoring the poor is immoral. Surely, taking from the poor in order to protect the wealth of the wealthy is…immoral.  Will the new pope, if he believes along the lines just stated, be able to effectively communicate that widened definition of immorality to a world which isn’t all that interested in attending to the poor?

The issues before the new pope – a man enmeshed in ancient dogma which has not really helped the Catholic church in recent years – are wide and deep. Benedict remained tenaciously connected to the ancient dogma, in spite of many Catholics calling for change. Pope Francis, the first pope to take that name, and who, like so many others, has been moved by the life of Francis of Assisi, will be caught in an interesting place  between the sacred past and the formation of a new sacred present. It will be interesting to watch.

A candid observation …