Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Problem Of Polarization Is All In The Head

America just posted a very reasoned article concerning the polarization with in the American Catholic Church and the very real need to tone down the rhetoric and stop the demonizing. The following is an excerpt:

This polarization must stop; otherwise our identity as a faith community will be torn asunder and Catholicism will cease to be an elevating force for change. How can we decrease the polarization? A vital first step is to seek out our common ground in the major civic areas where almost all Catholics agree: religious liberty; the sacredness of all human life; the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating abortion; support for social programs that provide a safety net for the poor; the elimination of segregation, racism and discrimination; and respect for differing religious and social traditions and diverse cultures. Few are the Catholics who do not share these principles, which provide a ready-made common ground.

We also need to find a way to foster civil debate and dialogue on how to incorporate and share our values in a pluralistic society. Recognizing the distinction between moral principles and their application, we can disagree in good conscience on the way such principles are prudentially applied in the public sphere. Even when disagreeing over the concrete applications of moral principles, we also must respect the good will of those with whom we disagree. Tolerance, charity and respect are not “weasel words,” nor are they excuses to paper over legitimate differences among Catholics. Rather, they are essential elements for a church in which members work together toward common goals, by supposing, as St. Ignatius wrote, that everyone is striving to act for the greater good. (This is the fundamental flaw in understanding what the Church is about. Jesus did not mandate his followers concentrate on changing society. He mandated they concentrate on changing themselves.)


Following the article are some very good comments, but one, written by Peter Martial, was exceptional in my opinion. I reprint it in full:

Dear editors, your editorial was eminently reasonable, very middle of the road, very Rodney King, i.e., "Can't we all get along?" But, by God's design, human consciousness evolution doesn't work that way. It works by a death to the old worldview and a rebirth to the next (which always presents its own new challenges).

As Jesus said, "I am the sword who comes to divide." In the last 50 years, scholars of human consciousness evolution have identified three levels of mental development, three major shifts in human consciousness which, transculturally, always occur in the same order - fundamentalism, rationalism, and multicultural pluralism. Your editorial was at the rational level. (This is an important point. Consciousness evolution follows the same steps across all cultures.)

As the above comments show, you may tolerate fundamentalism, the level below, but its adherents will not tolerate you for they are convinced they have the truth and, to betray what they think is truth, is to betray God and risk eternal damnation. No amount of reasoning, editorial or otherwise, will convince them absent an inner spiritual death and rebirth. As Jesus said, "ears to hear and they just can't hear." For them your editorial falls upon deaf ears. (This is another critical point. Human consciousness evolves towards inclusion and tolerance. It doesn't start there.)

For those who have evolved beyond rationalism, however, your editorial is not sufficiently nuanced. You talk about spiritual principles vs. how such are applied, a very rational distinction. But as one commenter asks, what does that mean with respect to women priests? Is that a principle or a practice? Same applies to gay marriage. Postmodern pluralistic multiculturalism has shown that much that was assumed to be rational or even natural law has been nothing other then the idolization of cultural prejudices as supposedly "God ordained." (Another critical point. Once one moves past rationalism, traditional arguments based on a self reflective authority do not hold water.

I do agree that all of the people at all of the above described levels are honorable and honest and well meaning. Unfortunately, however, we will never "get along" anymore than Jesus did with his religious opponents, the Pharisees and Sadduccees.

Finally, you seemed concerned with "Catholic identity" in a sectarian sense when "catholic" by definition refers to universal truth. You also seem concerned with the Church as an agent of change, which seems a silly hope since the Church, by and large, has been a reactionary force for at least 500 years. (Touche'. The Church has been stuck in a fundamentalist mind set since the reformation, where as the society in which it's based has moved into a Post Modern pluralistic multiculturalism.)

The Church exists to create saints, people who consciously realize unity with God, a level of consciousness far above the mental levels described above. The rest, in the bigger scheme of things, is nonsense.


The Church exists to create saints. It does not exist to change society. Saints change society, especially saints whose consciousness has evolved to dizzying heights. Spiritual advancement necessitates evolving consciousness because evolving consciousness takes one out of their own self absorbed and defensive ego. In a previous post I discussed the stages of spiritual growth used by Scott Peck. Like Kohlberg's Path of Ethical Consciousness, they too describe this same process.

Catholicism in this country has gone way off the rails, and this includes both conservatives, liberals, and a significant portion of the hierarchy. It seems to me when one spends all their energy on changing society to fit their needs, they have ipso facto given up on the personal spiritual quest. That quest should be for a relational experience with God, or in the case of Catholicism, with Jesus. Attempts to define or control that very personal relationship are counter productive. Some of our bishops are making quite the name for themselves by trying to define and control that relationship. Jesus is quite capable of taking care of Himself and really doesn't need the Eucharist to be denied to people based on particular views about particular cultural topics.

American Catholicism is plagued by far too many bishops who have stopped evolving, and the ones who have evolved have been shouted down by those who haven't. These more evolved bishops represent a real threat to hard line fundamentalists, who see these more pluralistic bishops as luke warm capitulators to rational secularism. The fact is they aren't capitulating to secularism, they have moved beyond fundamentalism. No different than Jesus, who moved way beyond Jewish legalism, and for which He was condemned to death. His crucifixion is a perfect example of how fundamentalists can not hear the invitation to evolve in wisdom, knowledge, and love. They hear a threat to the status quo, not an invitation to something better.

I'm curious to see what comes out of the USCCB meeting this week in San Antonio. I'm sure Notre Dame will be a hot topic, and well it should. This situation surely drew a line in the sand between the more fundamentalist bishops and those who chose not to speak out. If the fundamentalists have the day, that won't be a good sign for American Catholicism. As Mr. Martial writes, those further along in consciousness development can extend tolerance and acceptance to fundamentalists of either the left or the right, but it's a one way street. If the fundamentalists win the day, the polarization of American Catholicism will only get worse.

On a more positive note though, I thought it interesting that Archbishop Chaput made a real effort to work on immigration reform with Colorado's Democratic Congressman Jared Polis. Polis is a gay pro choice politician, but Archbishop Chaput dropped his differences with Polis on these issues in order to push for meaningful immigration reform:

"Immigration reform in this country has been gridlocked for more than three years, and both Democrats and Republicans have created that paralysis. We made our immigration crisis in a bipartisan way. Now we need to solve it in a bipartisan way that involves good people from both parties or no party; and people who may have very different convictions. I’m pretty confident that Congressman Polis and I would agree that we disagree – vigorously – on some very serious social issues. But those issues aren’t on the agenda today. What’s on the agenda today is finding a way to make our immigration laws better. We have a mutual interest in that important work -- and I respect the congressman’s sincerity and energy in trying to do something about it."

Maybe there is some hope after all.


  1. This weekend, INSIDE our Church, there will be a table and petitions the Bishop wants us to sign to establish a people's referendum to stop the law allowing gay marriage in our state. We asked an older acquaintance, walking with a cane, what he thought of this INSIDE the Church. He said, "Love them, that's all God wants us to do". He went on to say that he does not believe in gay marriage but in Church we are only asked to love them not judge them and he would just leave it alone because God would judge him as he judged.

  2. What a wise old gent. Definitely has a consciousness which has been touched by God.

    Interesting you post this today because over on the NCR one of their bloggers talks about how his parish was torn apart over prop 8. I think your bishop is getting very close to walking over the line between church and state. He'll most likely be hearing from the IRS.

    Here's a kind of a thought for the day. "When you die your judgement is carried out by meeting the person you could have been."

  3. "When you die your judgement is carried out by meeting the person you could have been."

    Now THAT can be flat-out frightening!

    Jim McCrea

  4. "respect for differing religious and social traditions and diverse cultures. Few are the Catholics who do not share these principles, which provide a ready-made common ground."

    I have a VERY difficult time with this. Catholicism has as a core principle "one true church". That core principle immediately eliminates any possibility of acceptance of anything other the catholicism. That one principle will continue to make catholicism a divisive religion instead of an inclusive spiritual practice.

    "This polarization must stop; otherwise our identity as a faith community will be torn asunder and Catholicism will cease to be an elevating force for change."

    From my perspective, it already has ceased to be an elevating force. Catholicism as it is preached by the USCCB today strikes me as being only one very small step above domestic terrorism.

    Honestly, after the Notre Dame incident, I gave up hope for the RCC.

  5. I love that 5th Stage Colleen "homo transcendent." I had totally forgotten about that one written back in October of 2008 which seems like ages ago. I am being reminded of this stage a lot lately. In the last two blogs there seems to be a lot of people who have been coming to transcend the old views and come to similar, if not the same conscious realizations. It is refreshing to read a comment such as you posted and that posted by Peter Martial, as well Tom Lee's writings in Catholica Austrailia. It is astounding that there is a book out with a real understanding of the American Right by David Niewert re Eliminationist. These I see as blessings and signs of transcendence or a way to get there.

    As a sidebar, in the molecular evolution of Earth there is a stage called the Archaen Era which was a time of only single cells and a great deal of chaos. It reminds me of First Stage (chaotic/antisocial) spiritual development. There is a certain symmetry to molecular evolution and consciousness evolution.

    The era of the Snowball Earth which took place after the Archaen Era was a period of more order and of multicellular development of animal and plant life. At the same time it was a cold and icey period for most of the earth's surface. The energy from the sun was 6% lower than it is currently. The materials for the steel industry were being born and evolving in this era when most of the Earth was a ball of snow and ice. Stage 2 spirituality sort of resembles an icey era in one's spiritual development if one stays there too long. They'll get frostbite.

  6. Thanks, Coleen, I read the NCR post. Comments are circling back though to you are not an authentic Catholic unless you agree with ALL the Church teaches. Some people must not know their history!

  7. Butterfly, it's interesting that you posted about the evolution in micro organisms. There is absolutely no way that personal and social consciousness does not adhere to the same evolutionary process of increased complexity, organization, and opportunity.

    This concept is exciting as all get out if you really think about it. Jesus showed what we can be and how we need to go about it to bring it fruition. In this sense He was a Divine mutation in human consciousness--so to speak. A mutation that works in the realm of transdemensional energy in the way the mutational proteins work in biochemistry. Different realms but same principle.

  8. coolmom - Remind the fundamentalist of St Theresa of Avila who was an "authentic Catholic" who had to write her book in the third person for fear she would be burnt at the stake for her views.