Friday, April 16, 2010

Whatever happened to the Catholic Church?

Perhaps that's a stupid question. After all, the Church's history is marked with atrocities more frequent than its great works of charity. That said, there was a period following Vatican II where the Church finally started to look like something the Christ I know would have endorsed, except for one little problem, which they tried tirelessly to hide (but not correct)...

I'm not happy about this. I'd say I'm more not happy about this than most recovering Catholics (I like the sound of "recovering" better than "lapsed," don't you?). The more I hear about the pedophilia and cover-ups within the Church, the efforts of Church leaders to blame everyone but themselves, and the efforts of Pope Nazipants to play this off as a smear campaign against him, the more I don't want to hear about it anymore. I want it to stop.

But, of course, it's not going to stop. What this miserable failure of a pope fails to realize is that whether or not he was directly (or indirectly) involved in any of these scandals, he is responsible for them. As the head of the Church, it is his responsibility to ensure that it adheres to its own moral code and does right by its members. We can quibble about specifics, like abstinence and homophobia, but this problem is greater than either of those things. Adults who want to have premarital sex, whether gay or straight, have options. They can find a way to reconcile their non-adherence to Church dogma and remain Catholic (which many of them do), they can leave and find another denomination that is more accepting (which many of them do), or they can leave the faith community all together (which many of them do... I wonder why the Church's numbers are dwindling...). Children who are being abused, however, don't have the same options. They cannot defend themselves, and the Vatican has chosen not to defend them either. This is a big, big problem.

Look, I can quote Bible verses to you explaining why this is wrong, but nobody really needs the Bible to explain something this simple. You know it's wrong. I know it's wrong. The Vatican knows it's wrong. Hell, even Pope Nazipants knows it's wrong. What he is more concerned with than righteousness, however, is the sanctity of the priesthood. No, not in God's eyes, but in his own. Pope Ratzi the Pedophilia-Endorsing Nazi has his own interests, and what he believes are the interests of the Church (structurally, not spiritually), at heart. He is not a man of faith, but a man of power. In short, he's a stodgy old douchebag who doesn't give two shits about anybody but himself.

As most of you probably know, the Bible as we know it today was canonized in the 4th century. There were many other Christian texts and Gospels circulating before that time, some of which became part of the apocrypha, and others of which were deemed heretical. One of the Gospels NOT endorsed by the early Church was the Gospel of Thomas. Here's a little bit of it, taken from The Essential Gnostic Gospels, translated by Alan Jacobs:
These are the secret words of Almighty God,
which Lord Jesus Christ uttered
and were scribed by his disciple Thomas.

He said, "He who comprehends the inner meaning
of these words will be immortal.

Permit whoever seeks never to cease
from seeking until he finds.

When he succeeds he will be turned around;
when he's so turned he'll be amazed
and shall rule over the All.

If those who lead you say 'God's Kindgom's in Heaven,'
then birds will fly there first.
If they say 'It's in the sea,'
the fish will swim there first.

For God's Kingdom dwells in your heart and all around you;
when you know your Self you too shall be known!

. . .

Make the two into One
and the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner,
the above as below, the male and female into a single One.

So the male isn't male and the female isn't female any more.
When you make two eyes into a single eye,
and a hand into a hand, a foot into a foot,
a picture into a picture, then you'll enter the Kingdom.

. . .

Show me the stone that the builders have rejected;
that one shall be my corner stone.

He who understands all but lacks Self Knowledge lacks all.

. . .

I am the Light above them all; I am the All;
the All issues from me and reaches me.

Cut wood, I am there; lift stone, I am there

. . .

He who knows the real Mother* and Father,
can he be called the son of a whore?
When you make two into One you'll be sons of Man,
and if you command a mountain to movie, it will move. . . .
You can probably see why this wasn't included in the Bible. Beyond the concept of gender equality and the possible reference to sex as a means to salvation, the biggest issue with the Gospel of Thomas is that it doesn't endorse anything that resembles organized religion (aside from a one-sentence recommendation to keep the Sabbath holy). No, the ideas espoused in the Gospel of Thomas are about self-discovery as a way to reach the divine. This concept must have been very threatening to a political body operating under the pretense of religious authority (aka the early Catholic Church).

I feel like there's something to this concept of salvation through self-discovery. It crops up again and again in countless religions throughout history and geography. Aside from the spiritual argument for humanism, though, let's examine the practical benefits: without an organized Church, there'd be no priests to molest little kids (or youth pastors to rape teenage girls, as happens in many evangelical sects); without an organized Church, there'd be no laws of priestly celibacy, which arguably contribute to priestly pedophilia (but even if they don't, they're still pretty dumb); without an organized Church, there'd have been no cruisades, no near-universal condemnation of homosexuality, no Pope Nazipants to tell Africa that condoms will give them AIDS, no evangelical, right-wing blowhards to try to argue with science...

If I wanted to get really tacky, here, I'd quote John Lennon. Instead, however, I'm going to move this argument back into the realm of pragmatism. Organized religion isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And really, organized religion is also responsible for a lot of good. The Catholics are great about pulling out all the stops when tragedies strike. There were a lot of priests and nuns and lay people helping to rebuild New Orleans after Katrina. I'd imagine there are a lot of them helping to rebuild Haiti right now as well. There are church groups fighting for the rights of gays to marry even as there are church groups fighting against them. Religion is not uniformly bad, nor is the Catholic Church.

No, what the Catholic Church needs, rather than dissolution, is more reform. I'm sure you've heard it elsewhere in recent weeks, but you'll hear it here again: it's time for Vatican III. And since we know Pope Horrendous Failure the ∞th isn't going to do it, nor is he going to resign, let's just keep our fingers crossed that his age will catch up with him and that the College of Cardinals will have enough sense to elect someone with equal parts morality and pragmatic vision for the next Holy Father.

Lets hope the next pope is someone who gives a rat's ass about WTF Jesus would do.

*If the other Gnostic Gospels are any indication, the "Mother" mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas refers to the Holy Spirit, which was apparently female in many early Christian traditions. Good thing they got rid of that idea, or we'd have a Trinity that makes sense, not to mention a bunch of women running around thinking they're worth something.


ElSteve9 said...

Not to quibble with the details of a brilliant post, but the biggest problem w/ the Gospel of Thomas is that it was written a hundred years after the other gospels.

The only scholars who don't accept that as patently obvious are all from a small discredited group of nutjobs.

At any rate, I love your blog, and don't mean for this minor quibble to be read as anything other than that. Just touched a pet peeve of mine. :-)

Jocelyn said...

Hey, thanks for the compliments! But, if I may...

That doesn't quite add up with the numbers I've read, though I'll admit I'm no scholar. Thomas seems to have definitely been written after Matthew, but the numbers I saw didn't set it very far apart from the others.

That said, I think the chronology of the Gospels are of the highest importance. None of them, really, were written close enough to the proposed dates for the life of Christ to be expected to be entirely accurate. We have to accept, I think, that the Gospels we have now are the result of different paths of oral and written Tradition, and that the ones which were chosen for the Bible were chosen not because of studies into their accuracy, but because of political reasons.

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