My journey from literalism and dogma to liberation
The stimulus for this homily was the Inclusive Catholics retreat in at which time I began to read Michael Morwood’s book “It’s time” and discussed it with Kathy White, Kathy Burt and Heather Wilkins.
At about that time David Tacey’s book “Beyond Belief” came out.
Previously Heather Wilkins had given me an excellent book written by the ex president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Durham Smith, “Search for understanding” so I wanted to bring some of these ideas together as something I could present to you all for your consideration.
Incredible Events in the bible.
I always enjoy the story of Elijah which was today’s first reading from the book of Kings.
I particularly enjoy the Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah built around the dramatic events when Elijah calls down the fire from heaven to burn his offering to the true God and humiliate the prophets of the pagan god Baal.
Another dramatic event described in the book of Kings is Elijah’s ascent into heaven on a fiery chariot.
During my resent visit to Italy, Anne and I saw many such implausible events depicted in paintings and frescos including Eve emerging from Adam’s rib like a obstetric delivery.
In the book of Exodus chapter 20 we read, how God visits vengeance on four generations, the descendants of people who failed to worship him. Do we really believe that God would punish innocent descendants of people who did not worship Him ?“
Another dramatic event, this time in the new testament is the ascension of Jesus where He rose up from the earth and disappeared into the clouds.
These things strain credibility.
Did these things really happen?
The people who believe the Bible is literally true would say, Yes!
Joseph Campbell an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative religion wrote that half the people in the world take the bible literally and half reject it completely.
Let’s move from the Bible to Catholic doctrine.
In the beginning of Michael Morwoods book “It’s Time” we read that the Vatican curia has nine congregations to enforce discipline. The supreme power continues to the present day.
Some unlikely things we are commanded to believe in include, the assumption, the immaculate conception and the virgin birth.
All these are found in the various creeds and in the catechism.
Another essential concept that we must believe in is substitutionary atonement i.e. that Jesus had to die for our sins. This subject is analysed by Durham Smith, an Ex President of the Royal College of Surgeons and an Anglican, in his book, Search For Understanding.
However if we do not subscribe to these beliefs and publicly disagree with them there are terrible consequences, as we found with our pastor Greg who was defrocked and excommunicated for advocating women’s ordination, and Bishop Bill Morris who was demoted for simply even raising the possibility of discussing women’s ordination.
All these beliefs are enforced by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith whose censorship and control extends through the Bishops and Priests to all Catholics.
That brings me to today’s new testament reading where Jesus is very critical of the scribes “who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares”.
Does this not remind us of Catholic bishops, cardinals and many priests?
In response to this there are many people in the modern world who refuse to accept things that are impossible from a scientific point of view and they then end up saying they are atheists.
So the dilemma is on the one hand blind submission to forced belief systems and on the other hand complete scepticism and a scientific “this has to be proved” approach.
So what solution does Michael Morwood suggest? He advocates small Christian groups to discuss these topics and learn about them as a group.
Topics that Michael Morwood suggests should be tackled by such groups are; prayer, nature of God, who was Jesus? and so on.
What are our priorities?
I think we should not get hung up on a culture of protest and aggravation.
There are more important things in life. We need to be loving, spiritual meditative and prayerful people. But I think we also need to think through these urgent questions and I am proposing that we have a group that might meet monthly to discuss these topics and review these important books.
Let us pray: God help us to find the middle ground between literalism and scientific atheism help us to focus on the important things in our spiritual life and assist each other on our exciting spiritual journeys