Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thoughts On Spiritual Pollution

People must fight spiritual pollution, pope says on Pentecost
Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY (CNS) --

Just as the human body is threatened by breathing polluted air, the human soul is threatened by images and ideas that glorify violence or the exploitation of others, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"The metaphor of the 'impetuous wind' of Pentecost makes one think of how precious it is to breathe clean air both with the lungs -- the physical -- as well as with the heart -- the spiritual," the pope said May 31 during Mass for the feast of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit, which was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost and available to every follower of Jesus for all time, is the "healthy air" of love, the pope said.

In his homily during the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope focused on the use of wind or breath and of fire to describe the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

The pope said the image of wind "makes us think of the air, which distinguishes our planet from the other heavenly bodies and allows us to live on it. What air is for biological life, the spirit is for spiritual life."

"And just as there exists atmospheric pollution, which poisons the environment and living beings, so there exists a pollution of the heart and of the spirit, which mortifies and poisons spiritual existence," he said.

Pope Benedict said it is right that protecting the environment has become a priority today, but it is equally important that people begin combating "the many products polluting the mind and heart" today, including "images that make a spectacle of pleasure, violence and contempt for men and women."

The other image used to describe the Holy Spirit is fire, the energy of the Holy Spirit brought to earth by Christ, he said.

Fire is a metaphor for power, an energy that can be used for good or for evil, the pope said.

"Taking possession of the energies of the cosmos -- the 'fire' -- the human being today seems to affirm himself as a god and to want to transform the world by excluding, putting aside or even denying the creator of the universe," the pope said.

"In the hands of a such a person, 'fire' and its enormous potential becomes dangerous: It can be turned against life and humanity itself as history unfortunately has demonstrated. A perennial warning comes from the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where atomic energy used for bellicose aims sowed death in an unheard-of proportion," Pope Benedict said.

However, when human beings recognize God as the creator and the lord of the universe, they tend to be more careful with the way they use power, he said, because they know that the "pure, essential and personal 'fire' is the fire of love."

Pope Benedict said that while the Holy Spirit blows where it will, the story of Pentecost demonstrates that it normally comes when the followers of Jesus are united and are at prayer.

"This is valid also for the church today, valid for us," the pope said.

If the Holy Spirit is going to renew and give new strength to the church and all its members, he said, people must prepare to receive the Spirit through "the humble and silent listening to the word of God."

When the Holy Spirit descends it dispels fear, Pope Benedict said.

The Spirit "helps us know and feel like we are in the hands of all-powerful love: No matter what happens, his infinite love will not abandon us," he said.


The last two sentences of Pope Benedict's Pentecost homily are absolutely critical to understanding the action of the Spirit with in one's life. A true interaction is always accompanied by a vast sense of peace and all powerful love. There is no sense of fear. There is no sense of condemnation. There is however, a great sense of peace and warmth and love.

In the New Testament encounters with the Angelic realm or the Risen Christ, the first words are almost always something to the effect, "Be not afraid" or "Peace be with you". This is intended to short circuit the fear response. The terror, awe, and fear come after the experiences, not during them. This lack of fear makes the memories vivid, consistent, and believable, and not just to the person who experienced the event, but to people to whom that event is then recounted.

One other point, a person always experiences these events or visions with their faculties in tact. There is no passing out, slaying in the Spirit, laughing in the Spirit, or other fugue experiences. One is not completely unconscious, nor is one's free will circumvented--even in a visionary or semi trance state.

In this Pentecost message Benedict rightly speaks about spiritual pollution. There is a lot of spiritual pollution out there, and it's characterized by fear, intimidation, demonization, anger, and scapegoating. It's also characterized by using contrived bizarre mystical experiences to whip up the aforementioned states in one's followers. Rightwing Christianity in it's most fundamental charismatic forms are very good at this kind of thing. They even have camps for kids which specialize in inducing states which produce 'the gifts of the Spirit' while linking these experiences with Christian militarism. Check out this video from the movie Jesus Camp.

Unfortunately, at the same time these 'pastors' are inducing these experiences of the Spirit, they are calling for an actual civil war in the United States over abortion and gay rights and this isn't limited to the Evangelical right, it's just as rampant in far right Catholicism. Today's Scott Roeder is exactly like 1994's Catholic John Salvi III, the lone nutter that opened up on a Boston abortion clinic in 1994. Coupling calls for war while inducing dissociative mental states is a very potent from of what Benedict calls spiritual pollution.

It's also very attractive religious experience for a lot of angry and marginalized people. It allows them to think they have had an encounter with Christ or the Holy Spirit in the midst of all their anger and hate. One does not meet the real power of Christ in anger or condemnation. As Benedict says, one finds real power in the essential fire, which is the fire of love.

The shooting of Dr. Tiller was not an expression of love for the unborn, it was an expression of the anger eating at the soul of a marginalized white male given focus by the anti abortion movement. It is another sad example of just how polluted the spiritual energy of the abortion debate has become. I suspect Benedict sees this and it's why the Vatican has not been as vociferous as some American bishops in condemning all things Obama.

It's time to clean up the spiritual air in American Catholicism and quit contributing to the over all spiritual pollution. We don't need any more Evangelical Scott Roeder's or uber Catholic John Salvi's. Acts of violence and violent rhetoric are the tools of intimidation. They are not the tools that Jesus used or taught. To incite violence in His name is the ultimate form of violence to Him, as He Himself pointed out to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. It's a lesson that is certainly not being taught at the Jesus Camp, but it's one which needs to be rediscovered in the Catholic camp if we're ever going to do much about our own spiritual pollution and stop contributing to the over all spiritual pollution.


  1. Colleen, it sure is time to clean up the spiritual air in American Catholicism!! It really stinks to high heaven!!

    I am tired of right wing hate monger religious fundamentalist absolutists and every time they are hateful they contribute more to the stench. There is way too much stinkin' thinkin' going on!

    Nice picture to portray how the hateful pollutea tree.

  2. Thanks for sharing this very informative article to us.
    spiritual thoughts