Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ethical heroism in the face of institutional religion and self-righteous clericalism...,


WaPo |  As a Protestant, I have no particular insight into the internal theological debates of Catholicism. But the participants seem to inhabit different universes. One side (understandably) wants to shore up the certainties of an institution under siege. Francis begins from a different point: a pastoral passion to meet people where they are — to recognize some good, even in their brokenness, and to call them to something better. That something better is not membership in a stable institution, or even the comforts of ethical religion; it is a relationship with Jesus, from which all else follows.

Instead of being a participant in a cultural battle, Francis says, “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” First you sew up the suffering (which, incidentally, includes all of us). “Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds.” The temptation, in his view, is to turn faith into ideology. “The faith passes,” he recently said, “through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus; in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. . . . The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.” 

The message seems simple. It actually highlights a complexity at the heart of Christianity: Its founder coupled a call for ethical heroism (don’t even lust in your heart) with a disdain for institutional religion and self-righteous clericalism. And this has been disorienting to institutionalists from the start. 

Francis has devoted serious attention to reforming the institutional expression — particularly the finances — of the Catholic Church. But he has chosen to emphasize the most subversive and challenging aspects of Christian faith. He really does view rigidity, clericalism and hypocrisy as just as (or more) damaging as sexual matters. Liberals want to incorporate this into their agenda. But the pope has his own, quite different agenda — which has nothing to do with our forgettable ideological debates. It is always revolutionary, and confusing to the faithful, when a religious leader believes that the Sabbath (including all the rules and institutions of religion) was made for man, and not the other way around.