Tuesday, March 22, 2011

General Benedict XVI Calls For Spiritual Combat

I choose to believe Benedict has a more positive outlook and isn't nearly as convinced about the need for spiritual combat as he keeps insisting.  In other words I have no ears to hear.
 The following is a fascinating take on sin from Benedict XVI.  He gave us these thoughts at Sunday's Angelus on August 13.  Spiritual combat is featured and dependent dualism is the name of the game:
 .....Lent and the cross exist "because evil exists," he said. And although many do not accept the term "sin" for offering a religious vision of the world and humanity, sin is "the profound cause of every evil," he explained. 
"In fact," said the Pope, "it is true: if God is eliminated from the horizons of the world, one can no longer speak of sin."  (It would seem to  me that when it comes to God, love would be the more critical concept but what do I know.)
He compared humanity's sense of sin to a shadow that only exists in the presence of the sun, and disappears when the sun is hidden. In such a way, he said, "the eclipse of God brings with it necessarily the eclipse of sin."(No, it doesn't necessarily follow that sin--no matter how one defines it-- would vanish if the concept of God was eclipsed.)
"Therefore the sense of sin - which is different from the 'sense of guilt' as psychology understands it - is acquired, rediscovering the sense of God."
The Pope said that King David's Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance written after he committed both adultery and homicide, expresses this sense.
"Against you only have I sinned," David tells God. (So David didn't sin against his fellow man?)
God's attitude is one of opposing the sin while saving the sinner, said the Pope. "God does not tolerate evil, because he is love, justice and fidelity – and precisely for this he does not want the death of the sinner, but that he may repent and live." (Nice job of paraphrasing the ole 'hate the sin love the sinner' mantra.)
He observed that God's saving intervention in human history has been evident from the time of the ancient Jews' liberation from slavery in Egypt. "God is determined to liberate his children from slavery," he reflected, "to guide them to freedom."
"And the most serious and most profound slavery is precisely that of sin. For this, God sent his son to the world: to liberate men from the dominion of Satan, 'origin and cause of every sin'." (I just can't buy this at all.  Choice is the critical component, and we are responsible for all of our choices.  If Jesus came to liberate men from the dominion of Satan, He seems to have done a lousy job.)
"He sent him in our mortal flesh so that he might become a victim of expiation, dying for us on the cross."(It doesn't get much more reductionist than this because if this statement is true Jesus wasted a lot of time teaching The way, the truth, and the light.)
"Against this plan of definitive and universal salvation, the devil is opposed with all his strength, as demonstrated particularly in the Gospel of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which is proclaimed every year on the first Sunday of Lent," said the Pope.  (If Satan really wanted to be successful he would have skipped the desert and concentrated on convincing Pilate to let Jesus go.)
"In fact, entering into this liturgical time means aligning oneself with Christ every time against sin –  facing, both as individuals and the Church, the spiritual combat against the spirit of evil." 
It could be that I am not getting what Benedict is driving at, or this article is not translated nor edited well, but I don't buy that sin doesn't exist separate from God.  Nor do I believe that the existence of sin is dependent on the presence of God.  Even if Benedict is really referring to sin as a specifically religious definition for less than good behavior, I still do not buy it.  In my mind sin expresses some sort of deficiency in our ability to express love in our relationships with others.  Jesus most certainly taught that what we do to others we do to Him--good, bad, or indifferent,  and He defined our relationships in terms of love. Sin, on the other hand, is way too often defined in terms of obedience.  That is one huge difference between the Old and New Covenants.
And I am sure not getting why Catholicism is becoming all fixated on notions of Satan and spiritual warfare and how helpless and powerless we all are in the face of this personified evil force.  It's this kind of teaching that drives me crazy about Benedict.  He can be such a biblical literalist in some areas, but in other areas not so much,  and I can't tell what his thought process is that makes those determinations.  One could say he seems to practice a form biblical relativism.  
I do know though that sin, hell, Satan, and all the attendant fear those lines of thought engender have historically packed churches and brought in many many offerings.  As much as I hate to admit it, sin and hell and those kind of fears fill pews far better than women priests, gay marriage or other notions of social justice and human dignity.  This makes me wonder if religion in the psychological sense isn't a need deficiency proposition and that fact limits it's appeal in post modern cultures.  In cultures that place great emphasis on more optimistic notions of self improvement and self evolution, old paradigms of fear and insurmountable human deficiency just won't fly no matter who is wearing the clerical dresses or pronouncing the clerical words.  
Sin and repentance sound off key when people are working towards self responsibility, over coming personal ignorance, learning key life lessons, and striving for the freedom necessary to do those things.  In the old paradigms of sin and salvation slavery didn't much matter and could be interpreted as an easier life circumstance relative to other states with many more opportunities for sin.  But in the post modern paradigm which emphasizes personal freedoms, individual responsibilities and the pursuit of happiness, equal opportunity and human rights are critical an d slavery anathema.

The New Evangelization isn't going to go very far if it's based on old notions of sin and Satan.  It might go somewhere if it was based in the things Jesus actually taught about what makes life full, brings peace, helps people grow,  and enhances one's ability to love.  People might find out that those states of emotional maturity and intellectual integration will occasionally result in doing the things Jesus did--and that includes casting out 'demons'.


  1. To me, Colleen, His Holiness' comments are mostly proven ground. This Angelus echoes the protestant evangelical exhortations I heard during the proto-megachurch period of the 1980's.

    Perhaps the whole 'No God, No sin/Know God, Know sin' angle is due to the recent study put out by the American Physical Scientists which predicts that formal religious affiliation could become extinct in several 'modern secular societies' (e.g. Australia and the Netherlands) in the near future.

    If God is removed from parlance, there would be no diety to sever a relationship with...so, no sin. But there would be no Grace or salvation, either and the whole of the world would be cast out (by BXVI's reasoning).

    I'm not seeing that as the actions of a loving and caring Divine, but my views on Her mercy and love appear to be more and more distant from Rome on a daily basis.

  2. I know what you mean Tim. Some days I feel so far out in left field I'm pretty sure I'm in the parking lot.

    I didn't read this comment of yours until I posted today's article. Funny how we link the same study. I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would want to "know God" if all that did was let you "know sin". Seems utterly self defeating for both me and God. However over the centuries it's proved incredibly lucrative for the men between me and God.