Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spirituality 1

Spirituality versus Religion


Two medieval friars, Mulligar, April, 2011
 In this sequence of posts I should like to devote my efforts to exploring the idea of spirituality as opposed to religion.  My emphasis will be on the former rather than the latter.  I have just been reading The Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville which is in fact light reading and aimed at the general public rather than a specialised audience. André Comte-Sponville (1952 -  ) is a French philosopher born in Paris, France. He studied in the École Normale Supérieure, and is aggregated in philosophy. He is a proponent of atheism and certain type of materialism with a spiritual twist as it were.  In short, he proposes a spiritualization of atheism, which is of interest to the present writer.  However, when I have read the book fully I shall offer a critique here, but it is one of the books that is inspiring me at the moment to explore what spirituality is. The Book of Atheist Spirituality, Bantam (2009) is a translation into English of his L'Esprit de l'athéisme (2006).

I have also been reading the books of Anthony de Mello, S.J., and they are the sort of books I constantly dip into as they are literally spiritual classics devoid of religious overtones or undertones which concentrate on spirituality which de Mello describes as being in a constant state of awareness or of awakeness or wakefulness, whichever is the correct substantive here.  Our Jesuit writer is consummately clear and writes in a riveting and engaging style.  One always feels that one is literally in the presence of a master or teacher pr guru as one reads his books.  His books which I have at the moment of writing piled alongside my chair in my study are in no specific order: Wellsprings (Anand, India, 1984, 1996), Sadhana: A Way to God (Anand, India, 1978, 1985), One Minute Wisdom (Anand, India, 1985, 1990), The Song of the Bird (Anand, India, 1981, 2001), Walking on Water (Columba Press, Dublin, 1998, edited by Gabriel Galache,S.J.), The Prayer of the Frog, Anand, 1988, 2002), Tony de Mello: A Prophet for our Times, by Carlos G. Valles, S.J. (Anand, India,1987, 2003), One Minute Nonsense (Anand, India, 1992), The Heart of the Enlightened, Fount Paperbacks, 1997, originally Bantam, 1989) and finally but not least the beautiful and delightful translation into Italian of one of John Callanan's insightful books on this spiritual master Il Segreto della Felicita' (A cura di John Callinan, S.J.) (Piemme, 2006, Titolo originale dell'opera: Watering the Desert (Mercier Press, 2004).

Religion is about Control, Spirituality is about Freedom

Modern sculpture, Mullingar, April, 2011
The title of this paragraph is, of course, deliberately controversial as I wish to point up some startling differences between these two realities.  Many years ago when I was a very young college student I can remember a theologian and literary scholar, Fr. Bernard Kelly, who was then retired and was teaching English literature part-time, remarking that the writings of Carl Gustave Jung were all highly heretical - in short "for the birds!"  Admittedly, that was way back in 1977 and I hope that things have changed substantially in the Roman Catholic Church since then, but I fear not...  Anyway, to make a long story short, I began to read a lot of the writings by and on the great Carl Jung who, over the years, has become a sort of hero for this writer at least.  I don't think that right-wing people, politicians or scholars or theologians realise that oftentimes their very condemnation of something or someone sends the rest of us so called "more enlightened souls" off to buy the writings of these condemned scholars.  Inevitably, this always happens.

As to the writings of the wonderful spiritual guide Anthony de Mello, S.J., the present Pope, Benedict XVI (born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, 1927) wrote the following condemnation of the writings of the learned Jesuit while he was Cardinal Prefect Joseph Ratzinger at the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 24, 1998, the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist.  Among other things in that document, Cardinal Ratzinger declares solemnly that the writings of de Mello are heretical because:

Religions, including Christianity, are one of the major obstacles to the discovery of truth. This truth, however, is never defined by the author in its precise contents. For him, to think that the God of one's own religion is the only one is simply fanaticism. "God" is considered as a cosmic reality, vague and omnipresent; the personal nature of God is ignored and in practice denied.


Father de Mello demonstrates an appreciation for Jesus, of whom he declares himself to be a "disciple." But he considers Jesus as a master alongside others. The only difference from other men is that Jesus is "awake" and fully free, while others are not. Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God, but simply as the one who teaches us that all people are children of God. In addition, the author's statements on the final destiny of man give rise to perplexity. At one point, he speaks of a "dissolving" into the impersonal God, as salt dissolves in water. On various occasions, the question of destiny after death is declared to be irrelevant; only the present life should be of interest. With respect to this life, since evil is simply ignorance, there are no objective rules of morality. Good and evil are simply mental evaluations imposed upon reality.

(See this link here: Curia Condemnation
In short, religion, then, is about control of the minds of the faithful.  No heresies or private beliefs can be allowed - the party line has to be held at all times, with absolutely no exceptions.  It has widely been the case that many liberal theologians in the Catholic Church have been reigned in by Rome, even dismissed from their posts as professors and lecturers, e.g., Professor, Fr. Hans Küng (1928 -     ), who is a Swiss Catholic priest, controversial theologian, and prolific author. Küng is "a Catholic priest in good standing" (apparently) but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology. He had to leave the Catholic faculty, but remained at the University of Tübingen as a professor of ecumenical theology, serving as an emeritus professor since 1996. Although Küng is not officially allowed to teach Catholic theology, neither his bishop nor the Holy See have revoked his priestly faculties. 

Another notable maverick priest theologian who received a blow of the papal crosier is Charles Curran.  Curran was ordained in Rome in 1958 for the Diocese of Rochester, New York. As far back as 1967 he was removed from his tenured faculty position at Catholic University of America (CUA) for his views on birth control, but was reinstated after a five-day faculty-led strike.   Again in 1986 he was discharged from the faculty of Catholic University of America as a dissident against the Church's moral teaching. He maintains in his 1986 "Faithful Dissent" that Catholics who may dissent nevertheless accept the teaching authority of the Pope, bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Since then, Curran has taken a full tenured professorship at Southern Methodist University and has published personal accounts about his experience with the Roman Catholic Church and his viewpoint on the actions of Roman Catholic Church authorities. Although Curran has been deemed, by the Vatican, unfit to teach Catholic theology, a recent 2008 survey showed that a plurality of SMU students are Catholics, surmounting Methodists by about 2,000 respondents.   Even here in Ireland, the power of the Vatican Curia extends its long forbidding tentacles as Curran's invitation to speak at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, our national seminary in 2006, was controversial, with College President, Mgr. Dermot Farrell forced to deny any involvement, though without actually preventing his speaking.Once again my above sub-title is provocative, especially to anyone who studies philosophy. 


Privileged Access to the Truth

Why should anyone have a door onto the Truth, as it were, that is not available for access by any one other human being? I bring this phrase to mind from the mid-eighties of the last century when I was studying for a post-graduate degree in philosophical theology. I was reading some learned theologian or other who was arguing that mystics were those who had privileged access to the Truth, and that this alone was enough for the hierarchical church to look on them with suspicion because the whole role of the Church as it were is a sort of conduit (my term) for the interaction between God and Humankind as it were. These mystics are fine, indeed, once they keep to themselves and only draw small interest on the part of the faithful. Once they begin to have a lot of followers, which rarely happens, the centralised Church becomes very concerned, very reactionary and extremely controlling. After all, if everyone is to make his/her own way to God, well then the role of the Church or any centralized religion for that matter is called into question.



The Grand Inquisitor is Alive and Well

Once again I am brought back to my student days and to my introduction to the world of Russian literature and philosophy by a brilliant and wonderful lecturer Fr. Patrick Carmody, M.A., M. Phil. who obviously did not get a full-time lecturing post as he did not really tow the party line or canvass for position within the structures of colleges or seminaries.  One of my favourite stories from that period is The Grand Inquisitor which is a parable told by Ivan to Alyosha in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov (1879–1880). Ivan and Alyosha are brothers.  Ivan  is the questioning agnostic or even atheist who questions the possibility of a personal, benevolent God while Alyosha is a novice monk of very deep and personal belief in a good God and in the Church as His sacrament on earth. 

In this tale, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Inquisition. He performs a number of miracles (echoing miracles from the Gospels). The people recognize him and adore him, but he is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burnt to death the next day. The Grand Inquisitor visits him in his cell to tell him that the Church no longer needs him. The main portion of the text is devoted to the Inquisitor explaining to Jesus why his return would interfere with the mission of the church.  In short, belief in the person of Jesus Christ as Son of God is secondary to the power and control of the Church.  The above two examples of power and control (in this case power and control over beliefs and doctrines and the party-line in all matters) as exercised by one religion, namely The Roman catholic Church. The Grand Inquisitor is an important part of the novel and one of the best-known passages in modern literature because of its ideas about human nature and freedom, and because of its fundamental ambiguity.  Dostoevsky structures his parable around the Temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan.  The argument of the Inquisitor against Jesus Christ is that he went for freedom in refusing to be tempted by the power and glory offered by worldly advancement whereas he should have given in to Satan's three temptations.  Why?  Quite simply because the so called faithful do not appreciate and will never appreciate what freedom means at all.  He accuses Jesus Christ of coming back to disturb things that are really being run rather smoothly, thank you very much, by the centralized committee or curia of the Church.  There is much meat here for deep thought.

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