Sunday 31 August 2008

My Catholicism- Liberation Theology

To start with, I'd like to share some pictures of my local church with you.

They are taken from the website of the Church, which I'm not going to post a link to, simply because it's written by my priest, a man who is also someone I regard as being a personal friend. But if anyone is interested and wants to mail me, I'm happy to provide the link and if anyone is in the area, more than happy to give them a tour of the building.

It's an amazing church really. It was built in 1928, just two years after the law was repealed that prevented Catholics putting towers on their churches. And they went to town with this church. What we have, here in the heart of England, is a church that feels like it belongs in the south of Italy. It's an unashamedly Byzantine basilica.
And sometimes it's easy to forget just how lucky you are to have such a beautiful building to be your church.

I suppose being brought up Catholic essentially makes you at some level deeply UN-English. I don't see myself as English, I can't really. My great uncle fought the Black and Tans and my Mum came off the boat from Sweden in 1973. England is where I live, it's not in my blood. I like it here, but I still feel essentially I come of immigrant stock.
And Catholicism is by and large an immigrant faith in England. To be sure, the Midlands has, like any part of England, a long history of persecution of Catholics and that, that history is ingrained in me somewhere. To me, Harvington Hall is almost a place of pilgrimage, a testament to the suffering imposed on our faith by that evil woman the English call 'Good' Queen Bess.

But the congregation at my church shows what Catholicism still is in this country. About a quarter of the adults sound like they just left the Emerald Isle, and there are many Poles, Filipinos, Africans etc. And the church is always rammed. This is Catholicism. This little dormitory town has only one Catholic church, and both its weekly services are full to the rafters. It's a living faith.

And our poor priest has his work cut out. Not like the four C of E churches. I think only two of them have regular services now.

The problem Catholicism faces isn't dwindling congregations. The faithful are still faithful- it's the lack of priests. They are dying off. Even when I was a boy, this church had several. It had a college attached to it, now demolished, which meant the church had about six or seven priests attached to it.

I get on well with my priest. He came to visit me when I was on my little break from civilised life and that means a lot to me. He worries when I've not been to mass for a while, because he's a good priest. He knows I'll never be a weekly attender, but he knows at heart I remain Catholic and yes, he would be worried if I dropped out of it completely. He's always glad to see me come up to receive communion and always make sure he grabs me before I dash off, so he can have a quick chat.

We've had some in depth theological chats over the years, and whilst I don't think our theology matches in many ways, he has always respected my theological viewpoints. I think when I was younger, he had some hope I'd take the cloth once I'd had my spell of youthful exuberance.

But a Catholic I am, even so. Some of my detractors have argued that I'm not a Christian, that the views I espouse are a perversion of Christianity. Maybe. I of course, would argue the same of them. And I'm going to explain that.

Actually, I resent being referred to as a Christian. I'm not. I'm not, because I don't rest my faith in the Bible. I don't believe in Christ the Redeemer, the Son of God.
I believe in Christ the Liberator, the great philosopher who proposed a radical system of values to change the world.
I don't believe in a vengeful god who tells people where they can and can't put their bits, I believe in a conscious force directing the universe which you can call a deity if you so wish, but actually lacks any criteria that would define it as personal, or a 'he' and certainly doesn't care whether or not you worship it.

The particular branch of theology I subscribe to- or to be more accurate, my faith is rooted in, is a type that most outside Catholicism might well deny is Christian at all. Even within Catholicism it is regarded as suspect. It has been roundly condemned by this Pope, as it was by his predecessor. I suspect at one time, it would have been pronounced a heresy.
This belief system is called Liberation Theology. Essentially, it's Christian Marxism. It takes as the premise that the problem is sin. Not sin in the prude old fashioned sense that so many see it- but sin in the sense of all those bad bits of being human that taken together mean that we're just not very nice to eachother.

Because sin is real. Not all the things that the moral crusaders say are sins are sins, not really, because as I say, it really doesn't matter where you put your bits.

But it matters if you exploit people, if you use people, if you maim people, if you torture people, if you lie to people.
It matters if you abuse power.

And that, is what Catholics who subscribe to Liberation Theology believe.

It's theology for those who believe that Christ and Marx were seeing things from the same angle.

Because to me, Christ and Marx are almost two halves of the same walnut.

And now to perhaps a controversial statement, because I'm going to offend a lot of people, but it's my historical perspective.

I don't like being called a Christian, because I don't like to be associated with what it has come to mean. Usually, it is taken to mean Protestant Christianity.

And to me, Protestant Christianity is a bastardisation of Christ's message, for the most part.
I don't mean that in a sectarian way.

Liberation Theology would not be possible within Protestant thought largely because Protestant thought is an Oxymoron. Protestants believe in justification through Faith alone. Protestantism ultimately rests on the literal truth of The Bible, and that, to me, can only mean one thing; a religion founded on ignorance and judgement.

Ultimately, yes, I believe in religious freedom and religious tolerance, but that doesn't mean I believe that all creeds are equal in value.

And I believe that the OLD Testament is the book of an ignorant and cruel religion, not much better in my view than the Valhalla of the Vikings and considerably less fun. I don't justify anti-semitism on racial grounds, not at all, but I think that one of the reasons the Jewish people did get such a hard time in the past is that yes, their religion doesn't really have a positive message to offer. The Old Testament is a bigoted, often racist tract which justifies all sorts of unpleasantness and certainly doesn't present the sort of God anyone should believe in.

A key difference between Catholicism and Protestantism is how we regard those books. I think many Catholic thinkers regard the Old Testament as more a kind of background to understanding the culture that produced Jesus than actually being of any theological value in itself.

To be sure, great evils have been committed in the name of Catholicism. How could we expect that not to happen over so many years in an institution that came to dominate the globe and involved the input of so many, many people.
It was and is a Church built up of human beings.

And some of them were flawed.

But Protestantism I hold to be a flawed, bastardised version of Christ's teaching.

Marx invented a term 'Bonapartism'. It's quite an important concept. What he observed was a phenomenon whereby revolutions are perverted by power hungry dictators who then fasten the language of the revolution on to rebuilding exactly what it was that was overthrown.

And of course, Trotsky's supporters used the term of Stalin. So in a sense, Marx predicted what could go wrong in Russia.

I see Luther and Protestantism in such terms. Because yes, you can argue that much was evil about the Catholic Church of the late middle ages. But it was still a force for progress, a counterbalance to the tyranny of kings, to the exploitation of the people by commercial greed.
In killing the monasteries and killing the strength of the church to stand up to the state, Luther paved the way to create the royal autocracies and worse.

For Capitalism is ultimately a Protestant creed.
And yes, it was a necessary phase, it's the how. The way it happened, the values inherent in the WAY it happened.

Because Protestants don't believe in Justification by Faith and Works, they believe in Justification by Faith alone.
It's about getting to Heaven just because you believe.

It's about the Protestant work ethic.
It's about I'm all right Jack.

It's a regression in terms of social thought, Protestantism is a Faith that reclaims the Old Testament and places it above the 'Pagan' philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, that says that in that series of squalid tales of people being struck down, turned into pillars of salt and the like because they asked too many questions or disobeyed a ridiculous commandment, there is something of real value to us.

Yes, maybe. In the same way reading The Eddas is instructive.

I don't think it's anti-semitic to say that the moral system proposed in the Old Testament is often pretty repulsive. It's notable that the Gnostics, an early Christian heresy believed that the God of the Old Testament and the Devil of the New were one and the same, that Christ represented the coming of the true God, to save humanity from the lies of the false one.

I don't believe in a real devil, but I do believe that within Western thought are two opposing moral systems; the moral system that Christ grew up in, and the one he wanted to replace it with. Call them the Old Law and the New. Call them right and left, but the division starts then, and it starts with Christ.

It is the belief in select nations versus the universal brotherhood of man.
It is the belief in judging people, rather than understanding them.
It is exclusive versus inclusive.
It is the belief in the righteous, versus belief in the repentant sinner.
It is the turning of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt versus Christ's embracing of Mary Magdalen.
It is the belief that your main life task is to help yourself, versus the belief that you're part of this world.
It is the belief in simple black and white truths, versus a wish to truly understand.

Protestantism for all its pretence of being Christian, is a return to the values of the Pharisees.
And unfortunately, the Capitalist cycle is marked out by having its birth within Protestantism and by being imbued with the Pharisaical values of that ignorant school of thought.
It is a return to the Old Law.

And yes, maybe by that time, the Catholic Church too had become imbued by Old Law thinking.

You see, to me, Liberation Theology is a return to the real teachings of Christ.

Marx preached the New Law.

At the heart of Catholicism is it's belief in a better way to live, and Marx believed in that too.

The ethics of Marx are the ethics of the New Testament, they are the ethics of Jesus Christ.

To me, it's not about redeeming my soul.
I trust in a far more human agency to do that. That's what I have faith in.

It's about embracing the New Law.

And it's about building the Kingdom Christ promised here on earth today.

Because if that isn't the point, I sure as Hell don't know what is.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Well Crushed, you seem a bit topsy turvey in some of what you say. Protestant Christianity is named as it is to indicate it was essentially a protest. A protest against what was seen at the time as the corruption and perversion of the true Catholic faith. Essentially I guess the early protestants were actually Roman Catholics arguing that Rome had effectively become corrupt and/or heretical. They wanted to get back to what they saw as basics. Diet of Worms, etc …

And boy did they get jumped on for that… I guess it must really be seen as a schism, a splintering. There have been a few changes since then.

I mean I will do a lot to loose weight but you gotta draw the line some where, talk abut bush tucker trial ^_^

Also don’t forget that the Anglican Church is a Catholic church, just not Roman. It’s there in the Nicene creed, “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” Pick the right flavour and you will find incense, confession, etc. Just no Papal authority, infallibility, etc.

As for the Tudor sisters, ’Bloody’ Mary was none too nice to protestants, Elisabeth likely no worse in reverse, Rome certainly tried to off her, not the most likely thing to warm her heart. James was none to keen on the more extreme enthusiastic Protestants, or the Roman Catholics, after the gunpowder plot.

I do agree there is something scarily Taliban like about some the more extreme Protestant believers, but the inquisition also had more than a hint of the Ayatollahs and their religious police about them.

A plague on both their houses. Why do some people feel justified in hating and in extreme cases killing people for believing different stuff? Why can’t they just gently tolerate each other? Why the evil need to force people do what they want even if it literally kills them?

Anonymous said...

In this day and age, being the well educated thinking people that most are, not many are willing to just swallow the party line of any brand of religion holus bolus.

I don't know whether we pick and choose based on our own desires or whether it is more a reaction to I can't accept that particular tenet of the faith I belong to.

Well I am one who advocates a married priesthood should they so desire for the Catholic Church, so that would solve the shortage of priests. One thing that Protestantism did get right in my opinion.

It is a beautiful church, a very wonderful place to attend mass.

Anonymous said...

That is a very beautiful church!

Anonymous said...

Moggs- Except of course the idea that it ever was a return to 'Primitive' Christianity is a myth.

So much of what Protestants removed as having no 'scriptutal' authority in fact long predates the Council of Nicaea.

The Books removed by Luther from the Bible exist in the Bible agreed at that Council, for example. Purgatory is hinted at in the earliest writings of church thinkers and Justification by works as well as faith is actually put forward in the Epistle of James!

And the Church from earliest times attempted to reconcile Greek thinkers with scripture- the roots of the church, after all, are in fact more in the educated communities of Antioch, alecandria and Athens than they are in Jerusalem.

Protestantism invented a myth of what IT believed Early christians believed, which doesn't correspond to facts.

The Anglican Church does not acknowledge the concept of the penitent sinner- the fact that thogh we escape damnation, we have a debt to pay- therefore it tacitly accepts the doctrine of the elect and the damned- justification by faith alone.

That makes it Protestant.

As of course, does the point of mass. To us, it's the second coming, Transubstantiation, when we literally take the divinitity in to us.

There are a number of other semingly arcane points which those who seek to gloss these things over will use to claim that really, the CofE and Catholicism are not quantatively different faiths.

Because the CofE has always tried to sit on the fence in a theological vacuum.

Yes, the inquisition. Not the Church's finest moment, but compare the witch craze that swept Ptotestant Europe.

I agree with your final paragraph.

jmb- Well, I'm lucky I was born into the faith that at heart I think I feel most comfortable with.

Yes, part of it for me, is that it IS my community, it is the faith of 'Holy Catholic Ireland', but also, it's the one intellectually I find most expressess my perspective.

I actually don't quite agree with married priests. Though i see the problem.

It worked much better in the days when everyone turned a blind eye to a priest- if he was a good priest- doing a bit of sinning quietly with his mistress(es).

It is a lovely church, yes.

Cherie- well if you're ever this way, I'll show you round.

The priest is a fine example of what used to be the backbone of the Irish clergy.