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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: A Rahner Quotation That Captures the Health of Conflict in the Church 
18th-Aug-2009 04:28 am
Rahner and Ratzinger
Re-reading Karl Rahner's seminal essay "The Charismatic Element in the Church" in The Dynamic Element in the Church for part of the current dissertation chapter and I came across this gem:
For a Catholic every "clash" with the Church is always an occurrence recognized by the Church herself as an expression of her own life and only to the extent that it is such a thing. (p.49)
The gets right to the heart of something it took me years to realize: that the so-called "conservatives" and "liberals" within the Catholic Church, who spend so much time arguing against or in defense of what they conceive to be "the Church," are doing little more than amusing themselves, largely because they fail to recognize whoever they are arguing with as equally being part of the Church, which in most cases they are. It is this fact that results in their then being confused that the Church doesn't react (either for or against the group or idea in question) in the way that such people suppose the Church will or ought to.

This "clash" mentality is part of the disease of the dualistic thinking we Americans have imported from out political two-party system, along with labels like "liberal" and "conservative." There are few greater luxuries than thinking that one group can be right about everything and the other wrong about everything. In American politics, that way of thinking results in the Right conceiving of the Left as unpatriotic, or traitorous to the notion of America; it results in the Left as failing to recognize that the Right embodies in their "Rightness" the very diversity that the Left claims to cherish.

This perspective, imported into the Church, results in the same kinds of dismissal of the Other. This is where the Christian conception of Love, expressed politically, transcends any anemic notion of "tolerance" that is expressed today, because the person who recognizes the inherent diversity and clash within the Church, as Rahner describes it here – like the human body which lives by constantly constructing and deconstructing itself – embraces that and those from whom one differs as an individual. Thus we come to the Table of the Eucharist together, one Church as internally diverse as the whole of Protestantism, I think, but committed to this one communion together. I think that the particular danger of our time is that that commitment to internal unity despite diversity is under attack in a new way, especially by the overt attempts at recruitment by (and, essentially, incorporation into) American political parties.
18th-Aug-2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
One of my online acquaintances spent numerous emails questioning my political beliefs and religious commitment because I posted an amusing video about Sarah Palin on my Facebook wall (not even a hateful one, just the one where Shatner is reciting parts of her farewell speech as beat poetry on the Tonight Show). She clearly thought, despite my protestations to the contrary, that I hate Sarah Palin and George Bush and Jesus and the Pope - just because I voiced some legitimate concerns about conservative America's legislative priorities and barely checked capitalism. She would not even agree to disagree with me when I told her we weren't getting anywhere, and kept going on and on about how "disappointed" (!) and "baffled" she was by me.

It's not that the sometimes-partnership between evangelicals and Catholics hasn't done some good in some areas of advocacy, but it's also done a good job at making many, many Catholics in the U.S. see conservatism as something akin to or at least far more compatible with Catholic and religious belief than liberalism. Which strikes me as somewhat lazy thinking.
19th-Aug-2009 01:25 am (UTC)
Teaching Augustine's Confessions so many times has gotten me to think of "conversion" as a more general category for talking about human lives, not just in the commonly-used sense of a "religious conversion," but as something that can occur in a variety of modes through someone's life, like Augustine's initial conversion, at age nineteen, to a life dedicated to Philosophy.

This last thing that you mention, the "lazy thinking" of a certain kind of politically-aligned religious faith, whether aligned conservatively or liberally, seems to me a common sort of conversion. Like a conversion to a fundamentalist sort of faith, whether the biblical literalism of Protestant fundamentalism or the papal absolutism of Catholic fundamentalism, such a faith places a high – almost absolute – premium on certainty as a spiritual value. This strikes me as part of that "lazy thinking" you mention: that the absolute certainty of a rigid and simple system is imagined to be the only divine correction to a post-Enlightenment world of moral or metaphysical relativism. If this kind of simplistic-absolutist "faith" becomes only a stepping-stone to a faith that embraces the true complexity and ambiguities in both the world and within the diversity of Christian faith, then I don't worry so much about it. When it closes itself off to further conversion, embracing its own certainty over an openness to further and more complex understandings of truth and reality, then it becomes a spiritual or philosophical pathology. I hope your friend doesn't fall into the latter group.
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