Monday, February 18, 2013

There Are Reasons For The Slide In Mainstream Religious Participation And The Failure To Communicate To The Modern World

Secular Jesus has all the answers for the angst in modern spiritual seekers.

The following is an excerpt of an article Rob Dreher wrote for the American Conservative in response to a NY Times opinion piece written by Russ Douthat, entitled 'The End of a Catholic Moment'.  Douthat's article is a lament for the loss of influence of Roman Catholic thinking in both US political parties.  It's an interesting read in it's own right, but I found Dreher's response much more fruitful.  Hence I have taken some paragraphs from the last half of his post because I think he makes a very important observation.  This is an especially important observation for all mainstream religions, but maybe particularly for Catholicism.

Leaving Benedict’s resignation aside, who will argue with O’Neill that our culture is hostile to the idea of vocation — and, more broadly, with the idea of sacrificing individual desire to higher truths, or causes? Our entire culture is built around the apotheosis of the Self, of the self’s will, the self’s desires, the self’s autonomy. This has required a progressive liberation of the Self from rules, mores, institutions, and customs that bind the Self. We are well within a cultural era in which truth is believed — whether or not people recognize it — to be determined by emotion far more than reason. (I would rephrase these sentences.  The self has been liberated from external norms which had previously been taught and enforced by external authority. In many cases the self's freely given acceptance of norms is not only based in 'emotion' but from an intellectual pursuit of rationality not based in an ill defined 'faith'.

I don’t entirely condemn this, because in some cases, it has resulted in a more humane condition, and in any case I am as personally formed by and implicated in this condition as anybody else. (Me too.) The point here is neither to condemn nor to praise, but simply to recognize it for what it is. This is not something temporary or sudden, but rather the culmination of centuries of social development in the West. Philosopher Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age, writes of the rise of “expressive individualism” as central to our collective understanding of the moral order now embedded in our culture. Taylor observes that the emergence of expressive individualism — that is, the emancipation of the Self — has been a gradual process in the West since the Enlightenment, but really took off after World War II, and, with the Sexual Revolution, became general in society. “This is obviously a profound shift,” he writes. He describes the religious manifestation of this shift thus: (It's not just a profound shift, but indicative of an evolution in how man sees himself in relation to virtually everything heretofor taken for granted as it was passed on from the culture to the child.)
The religious life or practice that I become part of must not only be my choice, but it must speak to me, it must make sense in terms of my spiritual development as I understand this. This takes us farther. The choice of denomination was understood to take place within a fixed cadre, say that of the apostles’ creed, the faith of the broader “church”. Within this framework of belief, I choose the church in which I feel most comfortable. But if the focus is going now to be on my spiritual path, thus on what insights come to me in the subtler languages that I find meaningful, then maintaining this or any other framework becomes increasingly difficult.
The end result of this process has been the severing of what was widely considered to be the necessary connection between faith and civilizational order. Taylor says religious conservatives still assume this connection, and much of their (our) political anxiety is a reaction to this cultural revolution. (This most certainly seems to be true for Pope Benedict who consistently preached civilization will fail without recognizing it's foundation in religion--specifically Catholicism for European civilization.)

This is why, on same-sex marriage, both sides talk past each other. We religious conservatives believe that the secular order must be dictated by the sacred order, however attenuated. Many others — most others, I would say — believe that there is no such thing as a sacred order, at least not one knowable to and share-able by all. The desiring Self is the sacred thing — something I say not as a criticism, but as an observation. In this worldview — which I believe is thoroughly mainstream — to deny the legitimacy of the Self’s desires is felt as a denial of personhood, and of rights. The moral order, then, must be built around the ongoing expansion of individual rights, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality, because Truth emerges from the individual’s heart, not from an external source of authority, such as the Catholic Church. We can’t have a meaningful conversation because we cannot agree on the source of moral order. (I'm not sure 'self desire' is how I would phrase this process.  I think for many people the better expression would 'self discernment'.)


 I appreciate Dreher's piece for a number of reasons, one of which is he gets to a real problem in communication between religious conservatives and progressives.  We really do talk at cross purposes because we are starting from different places.  If Dreher is right about conservatives needing to place a sacred order on civilization and progressives needing to put the rights and dignity of the self as foundational for civilation, then we need to really define the terms 'sacred' and 'self'.  It may not be that these two terms are oppositional and necessarily lead the spiritual seeker to completely different end points.  Another question one might ask is why has the evolution of human thinking led to prioritizing the rights and responsiblities of the 'self' over and above traditional ideas of the 'sacred'?  Or in my lexicon, why is self discernment replacing externally derived truths?

I think it's because we are beginning to intuit some of the right questions about ourselves as self aware conscious beings.  One of the teachings of Jesus that has always intrigued me is why He boiled down the 10 commandments to two and these two commandments are recorded almost verbatim in all three Synoptic Gospels.  The following is Mathew 22: 37-40.

37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it:* You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” 

What I find interesting is Jesus does not reference anything about our physicality. He is expressing his greatest commandments in context of our self aware conscious attributes--mind, heart, and soul.  He does not teach from the perspective of humanity as essentially physical beings.  He teaches from the perspective of humanity as spiritual beings.  The original 10 commandments however, have their basis in humanity as physical beings and deal with how humanity should correctly order that physical expression in a material reality. It is in the ten commandments that we find restrictions in acting out our physical existence and it's not surprising two of them deal with the utmost tangible expression of our physicality--sex--and how that needs to be ordered for the good of civilization.

Jesus' two great commandments place the spiritual reality of the self and it's ability to express love as the transcendent commandments which encompass and fulfills all the rest. His starting point is the eternal spiritual nature of humanity and not it's physical expression.  We may be experiencing a physical existence, but we need to bring our truth, that we are eternal spiritual beings, into this reality and make it a sacred place based in love--to bring the Kingdom to earth, as it is in heaven.  Spiritual consciousness communicates in and through love and that does not change because spiritual beings become physical--unless we choose to let the unique problems of physical existence triumph over love.  And we have for eons because physical reality presents it's own unique set of circumstances.

I also think Jesus went to some lengths to place His teachings in context of living a coherent Way.  This Way was intended to minimize the 'unique set of circumstances' that make physical reality so challenging for inherently spiritual beings, and whose biggest challenge is how that self awareness necessarily develops in a biological reality.  It's not so much about a mythical original sin as it is being born in the real truth of original ignorance, totally dependent on others for both physical and social survival.

I think the loss of influence for mainstream religions will continue as long as they persist in teaching a paradigm that humanity itself is moving beyond.  They need to stop defining humanity as finite expressions of a corrupt physical existence and start teaching from the truth.  We are eternal spiritual beings who happen to find ourselves living in a material reality.  Jesus most certainly showed the Way to deal with this and it's our choice as to whether we ever find the truth in what He taught.  It would make things easier in this discernment if our religious leadership understood most of us don't need reams of rules on how to negotiate this reality when only two would do the trick.  What we need is more leaders who understand those two and actually live them.



  1. Why do conservatives believe in magical thinking and have little confidence in the idea that God is everywhere, even in each of us? Why do so many conservatives not believe in Christ’s two great commandments and his Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount we see the evolution of ethics that is the BASIS of Christianity.

    Early ethics call humanity to the Laws of Hammurabi which were in a sense logical but very brutal, The Jews were able to change on their own the Idea of an eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth by adding the meaning of the word "just" an Eye for an Eye, but it took the Jewish, Jesus Christ, to increase the ethic of mankind to Love of enemies and the Beatitudes.

    Until Christians can begin to believe and attempt to follow these new ethical standards, they are not following Christ. They are not at all Christ-like. As I read current day Conservatives and neocons, I think more of the Codes of Hammurabi and the totally out dated book of Leviticus. Can we have a more Christ-like society. Do conservative catholics who advocate authoritarianism and “do as I say not as I do” have anything to do with following the ethical standards of Jesus Christ? Do the Bishops of the RCC follow Jesus Christ, or simply man-made cannon law? Does the magisterium believe more in Moses or Jesus Christ? We see those who believe in Christ and we know them because they fight against the greed and envy in society. They usually end up like Jesus Christ. Killed in mind or body by the brutal forces of those who follow money and not ethical standards. For so many who consider themselves conservative, the ethical standard is very much confused by seeking mostly money and resources. For so many who call themselves “real catholics,” their god is really money not Christ.

  2. "They need to stop defining humanity as finite expressions of a corrupt physical existence and start teaching from the truth. We are eternal spiritual beings who happen to find ourselves living in a material reality. Jesus most certainly showed the Way to deal with this and it's our choice as to whether we ever find the truth in what He taught."

    Too bad that the teachings have ruined the material reality of us spiritual beings and pretty much twisted our understanding of just about everything. They've been killing us, sending us to their wars, making us pay for their inhumanity. Now they are making drones.

    Everyday someone is committing suicide. The world is fast becoming a place just to die. Some teachers are teaching us how to fall, which seems like the same thing as death. The teachers have gone nuts.

  3. My view is that conservative Catholicism, especially in the U.S., is hugely imitative of evangelical Protestantism--which is almost entirely an Old Testament religion. Evangelical faith is almost in the water in the U.S, and is perceived as being successful. The bishops believe they are simply imitating something that is working, getting a political alliance to bolster their declining influence in the process.

  4. Of course the answer is the love Christ taught. Without it there is only destruction. Doesn't matter one bit if we have a piece of finite truth or not. A great God that created this universe, if He exists could never be compared to us finite beings. Our truth is not the truth it is not His Truth, it is only what we discover through using our God given talents. It does not exist in what was thought yesterday as that has come and gone. It does not exist in tomorrow as we have not discovered that yet. Truth that humans know only exists as we find it for as we believe we really grasp it in our hands it slithers through our fingers like sand. So let's talk of love not of an infallible truth that never exists. That is what Jesus talked about. NO WHERE did he claim to be speaking infallible truth like an omniscient magisterium. Magic thinking just went out of style with the authoritarian who thinks it. dennis

  5. Dennis, thank you for the inspirational writing.

    And for the most part, the clowns electing the next clown to sit on the papal clown throne are no different than the scribes and Pharisees during the time of Jesus. Benedict is essentially a prisoner in Rome now because if he leaves he could be arrested for the decades in which he hid & or enabled pedophile priests, did nothing to thwart, contain, stop, end such hideous crimes. Worse than the scribes and Pharisees are these men and they have hijacked the Church, crippled generations of the people of God into believing nonsense that has burdened the world with suffering, maligned the meaning of faith, hope and love itself.

    The treasure of God's gifts are within each and every person and we need not rely on an external blessing from a worldly leader all dressed up in self-glorification for the masses to behold and bow down to in order to receive & use such gifts or develop and/or come to know that we might have such gifts. This is what Jesus taught as the righteous & the worldly, the deniers of God's Kingdom, nailed Him to a cross. He said essentially, do not run away from the problem or try to defeat such enemies with swords -- confront it and do not be like them, blindly following worldly authorities who try to design God in their own image and likeness. He said, it does not matter what the world thinks. That the Resurrection is not for those. He did not need the world's blessing or a middle-man such as a Cardinal or the devil and neither do we, nor do we need the Pope's blessings or the magisterium. Nor do we need the type of bread that such an institution makes to supposedly feed its flock; a flock whose gifts are rotting on the vine.

  6. In a very real sense we are all essentially insane. However it seems to me people such as Dreher and the company he keeps, or those that call themselves "conservative" are essentially psychotic, both at an individual and collective level.

    Here is an assessment of what they really represent by an American born Spiritual Master who spent 50 years invesitgating every aspect of Christianity.

    At last, and inevitably, the ancient power-and-control exoteric rulerships have failed, and "official" Christianity is now reduced to all the impenetrable illusions and decadent exercises that everywhere characterize previously privileged aristocraccies in their decline from worldly power.

    Now except a Spiritual Revolution renews the esoteric Spirit of Truth, exoteric Christianity is reduced to a chaos of market share seeking corporate cults, and Barnumesque propoagandist that rule nothing more than chaotic herds of self-deluded religionists in the market place of whats-in-it-for-me consumerist religion.

    A note on the last paragraph. Such a Spiritual Revolution will not, and cannot come from within the walls of the heavily fortified institutional church. Although they like to pretend otherwise ALL of the talking-head "conservatives" are just as much involved in whats-in-it-for-me consumerist religion.

    Therefore, the myth (lie) of the cultural superiority of "offical' Christianity has now come full circle. The "religious" mythologies of the "great" world-religions are not only now waging global wars with one another (like so many psychotic inmates of asylums for the mad, each confronting the other with exclusive claims of personal absoluteness), but the public masses of "religion-bound" people - who, all over the world, for even thousands of years, have been controlled in body and mind by ancient insitutions of "religiously" propagandized worldly-power - are now in a globalized state of fear saturated, unconsciously robotized, ego-bound "religious" delusion and social psychosis.

    Comment ; which is to say that much/most/all of what is now called "conservative" is effectively the leading edge manifestation of this collective psychosis. This includes Ratzinger.