Back to Basics

I haven't written anything in a while for this blog.  Part of that involves outside commitments--work has been busy in the last few weeks. But it is mostly a function of not having much to say.  Or, rather, having lots of bits and pieces of things to say, without being able to string them together into a complete thought.  If you were to check out the internal dashboard for this blog, you will see a dozen or so drafts of posts, drafts that I am pretty confident I will never finish.  It's just not been happening for me of late.

I think a big part of this chaos is a mirror of what is going on for me personally, particularly with regard to religion.  I've gotten myself into a rut, and I am not sure how to get out of it.  The rut, basically, is that I am not sure where I belong in terms of my religious faith.  I no longer feel at home as a Catholic in the Catholic Church, particularly on the macro scale of the institutional Church (as opposed to, say, the local parish level).  The things that seem to be important to the institutional Church are either things I care little about, or actively disagree with.  And yet, it is not clear that there is some other situation that fully makes sense, either.

I understand that in relative terms my difficulties are extremely small (making me a little sheepish about talking/complaining about these things), but they are mine and they are a source of disquiet for me.  It's been rough-going of late for me in these areas, and I don't see an obvious way out.

So, I am stuck.  Whenever you are stuck, I have found the best thing to do is to approach the problem from a different angle.  So, instead of trying to figure out where I fit into a Catholic or Episcopalian or what-have-you framework, I've taken the last week to think about what I believe, so that I can then try to see how (and if) these fit into any of these frameworks.  Said another way, I am trying to go back to basics, to use that as a jumping-off point for figuring out where to go from here.

So, I have come up with these Ten Things I Believe.  This is not a comprehensive list--it is focused on the topics that are on the brain at the present moment, and I am sure that I am forgetting important things.

1.  I believe that there is a reality outside of that which we can experience with our senses.  It consists, at a minimum, in a ground of being that is pure being (to use philosophical concepts), from whom/which all tangible creation flows.  "And this," to quote St. Thomas, "everyone understands to be God."

2.  By definition, I believe that we human beings are not going to be able to fully grasp the nature of God.  That's not to say that we can't say anything about God, but that our way of speaking about God will always come in the form of approximation, allusion, and metaphor.

3.  As a corollary to #2, I believe that statements from human beings and the creations of human beings (such as religious texts or institutions) about God must always be understood in terms of approximation, allusion, and metaphor, and we should never presume that any one person or source can speak definitively or "infallibly" about God.

4. Among the many folks that have said things about God, I believe the best of them is Jesus of Nazareth.  His teachings are the most reliable guide to understanding the nature of God and what God wants people to do.

5.  Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of God's promises to the Jewish people and recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.  His followers claim this this fulfillment culminated in His dying and rising from the dead.  I wasn't there, obviously, but I believe those claims to be reasonable, taking all of the circumstances into account.

6.  Since Jesus's life, the Christian Church has attempted to reflect on and understand the meaning of Jesus's life and teachings.  I believe this process has been inspired, and aided, by the presence of God, commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit.  This process of reflection has, on the whole in my view, produced good fruit, and the historical teachings of the Church is entitled to deference and a respectful reading.

7.  Nevertheless, the Christian Church is, I believe, still subject to principle #3, and it is a mistake to take everything it has ever said uncritically.  This is especially true as the Church has a tendency to make claims as to its own reliability in speaking about God that are far beyond what human institutions, even those inspired by the Spirit, can meet.

8.  Like all human institutions, I believe the Church has been influenced by the broader culture of the places and times where it finds itself.  Thus, ideas and values that have been trumpeted by the Church in various times and places, and portrayed as divine commandments, have at times been reflections of the cultural ideas surrounding the Church, and have little connection to God or the teachings of Jesus.

9.  In particular, I believe the Christian Church has an problematic relationship with a basket of issues that can be grouped under the heading of "gender and sexuality."  The reasons for this are complex and multifaceted, but the bottom line is that much of what has been presented as divine guidance on issues like gender roles has been the product of cultural norms that are at best unrelated, and in many cases contrary, to the Gospel message.

10.  Because of #7, as well as other reasons, I believe the follower of Jesus must place Christian teaching in dynamic dialogue with other forms of human thoughts--art, science, politics, philosophy, human experience.  We cannot, and should not, take the position that the Church has all the answers and has nothing to learn from anyone else.

I'll probably have more to say on these Ten Things to flesh them out.  But I hope writing them down can be the start of getting out of the ditch a bit.  Hopefully.


Fr. Justin said…
Mike, are you familiar with the "Wesleyan quadrilateral?" (Forgive me: I'm in Methodist country!) Look it up. Your 10 points are very close to what that the quadrilateral would point folks to. Thanks for sharing.

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