Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Crisis in Ecclesiology

I was discussing with a friend the nature of dissent and how hard it is to dissent correctly--future book project: _The Diffident Dissident: How to Disagree with the Church_--and I ended up expressing what I thought was perhaps at the very root of the crisis in catechesis.
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Again, my worry is that the biggest part of the problem is catechal: people have very little idea what—or more importantly why—the Church claims authority. From what I can tell working with religious ed with teens and with undergrads at the Newman Center is that the average Catholic’s idea is this: The Church is there to tell us to fight racism and other forms of discrimination, basically to love each other and be decent. They also tell us some theological stuff which is presumably true but so arcane that I’m not interested. However, they clearly overstep their boundaries when they invade my personal life, especially my sexual life. They are almost all—almost without exception—very old white men who have never been in a meaningful relationship with a woman—but who are probably secretly gay—who are so completely out of touch with the modern world that there is no reason to listen to them about such matters. In my heart I think probably a lot of the theology is outdated as well, but as long as I’m not teaching that we should just keep out of each others way.
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I think that's an accurate description of a *lot* of people's attitude toward the Church and it is not without some reason that they have that attitude. It's hard *not* to have that attitude if you are not very historically and philosophically minded. When one is primarily concerned with the historical and philosophical aspects of the Faith one's mind is constantly drawn away from the concrete present moment either into abstractions or the "glory days". Now please keep in mind *I* am such a person, so *I* often overlook the concrete present. But when I do, it is not always a pretty sight. Since most traditional Catholics are very historically and philosophically minded, they tend to under represent to their consciousness the concrete present and all its particular scandal.

It is *right* to put present concerns in proper historical and philosophical context. And when you do, the picture which emerges is a people struggling to follow God often wandering far from the path but always called back to it and full of Saints and sinners along the way. But we can't blame people for being distracted by the bad stuff in front of them or for tending to believe a story our essentially anti-Catholic culture has been telling them all of their lives. Someone doesn't have to be stupid or evil to accept it. People claiming to be from the Church--weeds among the flowers--have given them plenty of reason to believe it.

Key words: dissent, authority, cateches

3 Comments:

Blogger oxi_b said...

Trent,
I agree with you. After I came to US, I enjoyed more liberal atmosphere in the Catholic Church, but now, especially as i attend RCIA classes (I voluntered to sponsor one girl), I understand more what you say. It seems to me that the teaching of the Church and the commandmends are not taken very seriously by people. I don't know all the details of the story, but I heard people disagreeing about the issue of not giving communion to politicians that support abortion. It is a delicate issue indeed, but it seems that we are so concerned about hurting somebody's feelings that we forget about what is at stake and what is really important.

I find this a general trend in US: recently in New York they allowed to change the sex on the birth certificate even if the person who wants to do that is biologically of a different sex and didn't have a sex change surgery. And it is on their birth certificate, which seems strange. So, we will say that some man was born a female just to make him feel better. The gender issue is very touchy, and no doubt that people who feel of a different sex than they realy are should be considered with compassion, but will a lie eliminate the problem?

I also think that in school and in college they are so afraid to tell somebody that they are not working, or may be not that talanted in a particular subject. I once listened to a guy play violin. It was awful, but everybody, including me, said it was good. And he spent several years learning how to play, wouldn't it be better to do something he is good in?

It seems that the lack of self-criticism is present not only in the Church, it is a general trend in US. Philosophy "if I think it's right, it's OK". Not only the authority of the Church, all the authorities (parents, teachers) have been demolished to some extent.

I am not a fan of authoritative style anywhere, but I think that we need institutions of different kind that can speak with authority (Church, school, marriage etc.) After all, how do we know that what we think is right?

In the case of the Church, it has a really long history, and it lived through most of doubts that we have and resolved them. Would the Church insist on "no" to premarital sex for two thousand years if it was not important?

Another aspect of this general trend against authorities is a shift of the position that we assign to an individual in the history. That one individual has a freedom of speech and religious and all other kinds of beliefs is true, but the reliability and the closeness to the truth of one individual's ideas is overestimated. We lost our perspective and the sence of human community: our ideas must be verified by the experience of previous generations and the knowledge available up to now, and this knowledge is vast. The journey to the truth and the union with God can not be traversed by individuals one by one, it is a journey of the human kind as a whole. We often base our statements on what we read in the newspapers or what we heared from somebody, because it would take so much work do dig out the truth.

I rely on the authority of the Church because it has had a vast number of theologians over so many centuries, so many holy people who suffered and died for the truths that the Church proclaims. It would be unprudent to discard all this and to say that I am going to resolve all those really hard issues just by trial and error. Why would I experiment on my own precious and short life to come to a conclusion that is already available for me in the teachings of the Church?

Anyway, those were a few thoughts that I had on this issue.
Oksana

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 2:37:00 PM  
Blogger oxi_b said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 2:40:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

This are wise thoughts. It does indeed seem like people are more interested in protecting the feelings of people who are already too protected--like millionaire politicians--than protecting the sanctity of the Body and Blood of our Lord. And yes, the World wants to lie to people to make them feel good about who they are, to call their problems normal.

There's a word for all this: meanness. How can it not be mean to protect the strong from the sacred, to lie to those in need and neglect their wounds.

And as for the rejection of authority and accumulated wisdom and the associated exaltation of the self,, this is the legacy of the 60's. The children of the 60's hold the commanding heights of our culture: Big Hollywood, Big Music, and the Industrial University. As in the days of Moses, this problem can only be overcome when this generation dies out. Mortality is the ultimate gift to the human race, thus limiting the harm that any one generation can do.

There are those who want the New and Exciting, and there are those who want the True and the Good. It's the fundamental divide in persons. I'm always glad to know some one is safely in the latter camp. Glad to have you along.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 8:08:00 PM  

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