The Head versus the Heart

A couple of days ago, Rachel Held Evans posted a beautiful reflection on her experience of being a "post-evangelical."  As she points out, the term is inherently negative, insofar as it defines you in reference to this thing that you were, but no longer are.  At the same time, for the reasons she lays out, some of that negative space is always with you whenever you leave something, especially something so significant as a religious tradition.  Your view of the world is defined by the place from which you start.  Even if you move on from that place--and all of us do, to one extent or another--that move will always be in reference to the starting point.  You can't avoid it.

As Rachel's husband Dan so perceptively observed, "we are always post something."

In reading her piece, I wondered whether I was willing to consider myself "post-Catholic."  Simply vocalizing the question provided the answer--I wasn't as far down the "post" path as Rachel is.  I recoiled instinctively from the idea that I was post Catholic.

I've taken a few days to think about why that is.

Intellectually, I am definitely "post."  During RCIA, a soon-to be Catholic is required to state: "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."

I could not, and would not, make that affirmation today.  I don't believe the exclusion of women from the priesthood, or the theology underlying the Church's position regarding homosexuality, or the ban on birth control, or Papal Infallibility, is revealed by God.  "Most"?  "The Best Parts"? "The Essentials"?  Yes.  "All"?  No.  And, to be honest, I am not particularly interested in engaging with the ideas and apologetics for those positions any more.  I feel like I am past that.  That's not to say that I am not interested in engaging in Catholic thinkers--I am deep in the weeds of reading as much of James Alison, who is a Catholic priest (albeit of an uncertain canonical status, and gay), as I possibly can.  But I am not interested in the official stuff any more.

But the heart; he heart is not in the same place as the head.
It is true that there is a deep sentimental attraction to Catholicism that is still there, but its more than that.  The heart hasn't move on because there is a part of me that holds out hope that the Catholic Church is capable of changing.  That it is capable of making peace with the politics of certainty, putting down its defenses, and following the lead of the vast majority of the people sitting in the pews.  That it is capable of going back to the vision of Vatican II--the real vision, not the contrived and diluted version promoted by John Paul II and Benedict.

Perhaps this hope is unwarranted--the head certainly suggests that it is.  Still, that hope is real, and it is persistent.  And this hope is why I had that immediate resistance to thinking of myself as a "post."

At least for now.  Because, while the hope is persistent, it is dimming.  And it dimmed a meaningful amount this morning, when I saw this article on Pope Francis's speech in the Philippines.  According to reports, Francis went off of his notes to point out how wise and prophetic Humanae Vitae was, and how we need to protect the family from "ideological colonization," whatever that means.  He didn't have to say any of that stuff.  He said it because he believes it.

You see, much of the hope I was holding on to revolved around this guy.  In my head, I knew that was a mistake.  But I did it anyway.  He's a prophetic man.  His love for the poor and the marginalized is real and genuine.  He's better than his predecessors.  But he's wrong, just like the Church is wrong, about women, about gay folks, about his insistence on these obviously flawed formulas on contraception.  The Church is not going to change in the ways I believe it needs to change, because he doesn't believe it needs to change.  And that, in a sense, is the end of that.

Flames don't just go away; they flicker before they die.  The flame of hope is still flickering.  But I am getting closer and closer to where Rachel is, more and more comfortable with being "post."  And that's why I found Rachel's post so comfortable and reassuring.  As she said:

We are all post-something. 

We are all caught between who we once were and who we will be, the ghosts of past certainties gripping at our ankles. 

There’s no just getting over it. There’s no easy moving on.

Amen.

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