In the first of two strong perspectives from women commentators today Kerry Gonzales relates how some words read casually in a journal she came across had a powerful impact on her causing her to lament the lack of questioning in the faith she had been brought up in. She asks if this might be a major cause of why so many have become so disengaged from Catholicism?
The value in questioning...
Recently I came across a few words in the "Cross Reference Journal" of Epiphany Australia (an association of former Catholic priests in Australia and their families see this LINK for further information) that almost literally leapt off the page.They said:
"Questioning is life's way of discovery. Religions that do not question themselves have no defence against their beliefs being used by extremists for evil purposes. Questioning contributes toga healthy rebirth of understanding."
I had not heard of this group before, but their journal presented some very interesting and challenging articles.
At first reading, the obvious assumption to make is that the religion stalked of are certainly not Christian, because such words as "extremist"and "evil purposes" could never be a part of the religions that we contribute to and believe in, could they? Yet, these simple words kept coming back to mind, encouraging me to take a closer look at current Catholicism to see if in fact these words did or could apply. After a lot of thought however, I feel they do, in many ways — both subtle and overt.
In a simple sense the Catholic Church is not into questioning. When my parents were growing up you certainly didn't question anything, because you relied on the Church to have the correct answer ready for all of life's tricky situations. My own generation questioned many things religious,but were generally met with broad statements like "it's God's will".My own children had lots of questions and we had many interesting discussions about the conflicting positions of Church and conscience and its relevance in the modern world. At their Catholic school however any broad ranging moral discussions, if they were held at all, always ended with "that's what the Catholic Church teaches". There is really not much to ponder in regard to the question of why young people are no longer involved in the Church. The great time of questioning during and after Vatican II is now relegated to the fringe of consciousness,where one wonders whether it actually happened at all. So, if the Catholic Church is a religion that does not allow questioning, it cannot be a path to "discovery", or a contributor to a "healthy rebirth of understanding".Yet for me these are essential elements for spiritual growth.
"Extremists" and "true believers"…
In a more sinister and ironic way, within the Church today, the questioners are called "extremists" while the non-questioners become the true believers. To question has become a test of faith, as those who search for deeper meaning and yearn for a greater demonstration of gospel values are labelled faithless and destructive. A religion that will not even allow discussion on an issue such as the ordination of women is a fearful institution that uses such words as "infallible" to demand conformity.Such fear leads to a need to ferociously protect the religious beliefs held and this in turn leads to abuses of power.
I'm very sad to say that I can see, within the Catholic Church, blatant examples of instances where "their beliefs are being used by extremists for evil purposes". It seems radical assertion, yet the more I reflect on what is currently happening within the structures and power base of the Church, the more these words ring true. For how can it be called anything else but "beliefs being used for evil purposes" when Church leaders today, with total sincerity,call a specific group of believers "intrinsically evil", orexclude others for their marital status, or when decision making is controlled by a specific group of individuals far removed from the realities of life in many areas?
Within mainstream society we have come a long way in terms of accepting people for who they are and how they love, rather than on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race or creed. When large numbers of women and children are condemned to poverty and exposure to HIV due to the Church's position on the use of condoms, how can this use of power be anything but "extremist?" Once again, I suspect that most thinking people would place the health benefits of some of the world's most vulnerable people above the need to enforce a religious belief. These are but two examples that come to mind.
Ultimately, while in exasperation we might answer a child, after they have posed some difficult-to-answer question, with "because I said so", it can never be an acceptable response in a religious context with adults. For a life unquestioned, may well be a very secure life,but it is also surely a life that is not lived to the fullest. For as Catholics we should be striving to be true to being "made in the image and likeness of God". The prime responsibility for the Catholic Church, and perhaps the most important Gospel mandate,must surely be to encourage and develop a religion that allows and even demands questioning, whilst acknowledging that it does not have all the answers. That sort of religion is unlikely to be beset by extremist use of power, but will more probably be a religion that is growing and maturing.
So perhaps it is time that all Catholics looked at the structures and methods currently employed by the Church worldwide. Only then can we become more aware of and sensitive to the extreme positions taken by our leaders,and by silent consent, most of us as well. For there is no doubt in my mind that the Catholic Church, by its insistence and hard line on questioning,leaves itself open to further abuses of power and evil acts in the name of a God who would shake his head in wonder at what his Church has become.
What are your thoughts on Kerry's commentary?