Thursday, August 20, 2009

Because Christianity is So Ugly

Stephen Bates of the Guardian comes out as an agnostic.

A South American bishop was recently censured for excommunicating the medical staff who had carried out an abortion on a nine year-old child to save her life after she had been raped by her father, but the fact that he saw nothing wrong with his decision – he also excommunicated the child's mother, though not her father – is a dazzling revelation of church attitudes that are all too common.

This is a dessicated lack of humanity and compassion and, if the church holds it, I am afraid I just can't agree, so I cannot return to mass. The evidence is that many other cradle Catholics share my view. The church can well say it does not modify its views to circumstance, but we are equally at liberty to say that we walk away in the face of such heartlessness.

And lest we think he's throwing his lot in with the "religion is all childish superstition" crowd,

A few weeks ago I was in hospital. The only visitors I received who were not relatives were Christian ones: five in all, including two Catholic priests. None of them tried to convert me – and I didn't stop the evangelical layman who asked if he could say a prayer over me – but I appreciated their brief visits even though I told them I was no longer a believer. They were performing a charitable act, unselfishly and compassionately.

I didn't get any hospital visits from atheist visitors. What might they have said to me: "This is as good as it gets, mate?" The fact that I am edging towards their camp – I guess I am at the agnostic stage – does not exactly cheer me. It just makes me sad.


rick allen said...

Identify for me any religion, any ideology, any political party, any philosophical position, and, with a little effort, I'll find for you someone associated with it who is heartless or unfeeling or otherwise a scandal.

I have a relative that was a devout Catholic, got into a fight with a priest over a very trivial matter, and has been an atheist now for forty years. Funny how the existence of God for someone can turn on something like that. But of course it happens, and certainly more often than from finding a flaw in the Ontological Argument.

One of the things the internet allows us to do is choose our focus, out of the near-infinite subjects available. Like the newspaperman obsessed with lightning strikes, whose paper made every death from lightning anywhere front page news, and who gave the impression to his readers that every thunderstorm was a deadly danger, we can paint things as we wish. To remain balanced is a much more difficult goal.

I am often struck by the difference between religion as portrayed in the media and internet and religion as experienced in the parish. The issue of homosexuality provides a good example. One would think, from the newspapers and the internet, that it is the obsessive concern of most Christians. Yet, in a lifetime half as a Protestant, half as a Catholic, as a fairly regular churchgoer, in Tyler and Dallas, Texas, in Cambridge, Massachusettes, in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, I have never heard one mention of homosexuality from the pulpit. I don't say the teaching of the Church doesn't address the issue. But that's certainly not the focus of the worshipping community, at least none I've been in.

So, yes, I can very well understand how a religion reporter can have a very jaundiced view of the faith--any faith. But I am glad to see that he also notes what goes on in the hospitals, and, I hope, in the schools, the parish halls, and the homes of those who try to hold, almost against the evidence, that there is a purpose behind the world, and someone rather larger than ourselves seeking to have us overcome our alienation and fear.

June Butler said...

Jeffrey John is right. "You mustn't judge the church by some of the people within it."

And in support of his words, Bates mentions that shining light of a living saint out of Louisiana, Sister Helen Prejean, who goes about her business of loving God and loving her neighbors, the prisoners on death row.

Rowan Williams has never recovered from that first, but giant, misstep of accepting the resignation of his good friend Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading due to pressure from the bigots in the church because John was gay.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Steve Bates says this makes him sad. I think the first poster should try to recognise that.

Counterlight said...

What keeps me in the faith is indeed the direct experience of parish life, and in that I've been very fortunate down through the years. I've also been very fortunate to know a number of exemplary (perhaps even saintly) Christians.

But, I don't think the objections of people like Stephen Bates should be so easily dismissed. It's part of our faith to accept a certain amount of institutional failure as a sign of the fallen state of humankind. As a friend of mine said, "wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together, games are played." Basic human selfishness (including self-righteousness) is always there at all levels.

However, this growing identification with social and political reaction by larger church institutions, aided and abetted by frightened and frightening fanatics, alienates the very people the Church is supposed to be for; those outside the big red door.
What strikes me about the complaints of people like Bates is that part of them that is offended is not some sense of permission. The right wing always portrays those who leave the Church as wanting permission to go join in the sex orgy with buffet that the right sees as modernity. In fact, it is not any sense of permission that is offended, but people's deepest sense of what is moral and decent. This is what I find so troubling.

The unchurched once gave institutional Christianity a certain measure of credit and moral authority for meaning well and for generosity. I see that authority gone in Europe and rapidly passing away in the States. As membership declines, the crazies get more and more prominent. Since teevee loves a freak show, the crazy people and the shockingly reactionary pronouncements of certain preachers and hierarchs get far more attention than they deserve, feeding into the cycle of declining moral authority. Christianity is now routinely (and unjustly) identified by the general public with right wing politics. I think so much of this craziness is about very secular issues of identity, and not really about Christianity or religion at all. It is a consequence of the rapid and profound transformations of modern life that create rising expectations for some and deep anxieties for others. So much of the public and institutional church allies itself with the anxious and ignores or tries to squash the expectations. Most people are a little of both; anxious about what's down the road, but hopeful about new possibilities too. I think people are way ahead of the institutional churches in finding their way to what is good and decent in a changing world with few precedents. As best as they can, most people mean well, even if imperfectly and selfishly. People don't believe that the Church means well anymore.

Leonard said...

The very moment Karl Rove, George Bush and their cronies began reporting the ¨word of God¨ in the ¨first person¨ to the spiritually feardriven and emotionally unsound...well, it´s been Hell attempting to deal with this unwholesome mess!

For every person who identifies with and pursues the unsound and fear-driven religious zealotry of extremist/excluding bigots at Church/beyond, there is a grim price to pay. There is a clear loss of TRUST in a God who is tolerant of ALL, all means all, of the beloved and a God commands us to Love God and oneanother.

Loving isn´t the same as marginalizing. Loving isn´t demonizing and persecuting. Loving isn´t abominating or jailing. Loving isn´t hating and loathing ones sisters and brothers at the Body of Christ.

Unbalance zealots are attempting to turn Gods LOVE upside down as these folks appear to LOVE THEMSELVES and wallow in self-righteous wonder Stephen Bates is discouraged with the faux holy dogma spouted off around him at Church and beyond.

IT said...

Counterlight wrote,
People don't believe that the Church means well anymore.

They don't. They are institutionally committed to playing politics and they are just another corrupted interest group.

As for Rick's comment that he's never heard homosexuality mentioned from the pulpit: lucky Rick.

On the morning of our wedding almost a year ago, my beloved went to Mass at an unfamiliar parish near our wedding venue. She endured a hate-filled spittle flecked sermon of a priest raging about prop8 and the evil of the homosexuals, spewing every possible lie about GLBT that was the fabric of the whole pro-H8 campaign. When I picked her up she was sobbing. What she related to me was pure hatred.

From the pulpit.

That's a big reason she's been attending TEC lately.

john iliff said...

It seemed Stephen Bates was pelted with tomatoes from both the theists and non-theists in the Guardian commentary. I feel for him in his pain. There *is* criminal stupidity, callousness and gratuitous heartlessness in the institutional churches. He's quite right. I raged for over a year (and still frequently do) after my son's untimely death - aided and abetted by pious ecclesiastical felons. See my avatar. [And I am hardly unique, just my circumstances].

I don't know how or why I came out the other end with some semblance (though radically altered) of faith intact. It's a mystery to me to this day. BTW, St. Isaac of Syria's prayer: 'What is the merciful heart?' and the Serenity Prayer did keep me same and sober through the nightmare days.

Bless you Doug, your blog is a joy and an education! Thanks!

Counterlight said...

I've always been amazed at so many people I've known who've had good cause to be angry at church and at God, and yet remained in the faith, and happily so.
I remember one young man I knew years ago who was gay, raised Catholic, suffered a paralyzing stroke when he was in his 20s, and would die of another stroke when he was about 35. He left Rome in anger, but spent the rest of his life happily in the embrace of the Episcopal Church. If anyone had cause to be angry at God, he did. Somehow, he and God worked things out together.

Lapinbizarre said...

When he wrote for the Guardian, Bates was far and away the best of the British religion columnists. Glad to see that he got in a hit at Andrew Carey's divorce. Carey is a sanctimonious bastard, whose only claim to fame is being his father's son.