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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Religious Identity: Back to The Garden

Sometimes, random things connect in a certain way and then, suddenly, things just begin to "click".

It began with this little 'blurb' in the Century Marks section of November 17th issue of The Christian Century, which lead to a link reporting the full story.
Atheism schism: A rift is growing in the atheist community (see news story in this issue). On the one side are the militant "new atheists" like Christopher Hitchens, who claim that religion should be treated "with ridicule, hatred and contempt." On the other side are old school atheists like Paul Kurtz, who founded the Center for Inquiry 30 years ago to provide an alternative to religion. Kurtz builds alliances with religious groups on issues like addressing climate change and opposing the teaching of creationism in public schools. Kurtz says he was ousted as director of the center in a "palace coup" a year ago. "I consider them atheist fundamentalists," Kurtz says of his atheist opponents ("Morning Edition," October 19, NPR).
'Atheist fundamentalists'?


Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?

Later that afternoon, I was reading the November 16th issue of TIME magazine, deeply engrossed in the article about Hillary Clinton.

When I turned the page, I was not expecting the following article: "A Tale of Two Priests," which began with this quote:
The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church traditionally couch even the harshest disagreements in decorous, ecclesiastical language. But it didn't take a decoder ring to figure out what Rome-based Archbishop Raymond Burke meant in a late-September address when he charged Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley with being under the influence of Satan, "the father of lies."
Well, there it is, then. I could hardly believe my eyes. Dueling Prelates in Purple, locked in mortal rhetorical combat? And they weren't Anglican?

He had my attention at 'Satan'.

You'll never guess the reason for the Archbishop's outburst at the Cardinal. No you won't. Honest. As ugly as things have gotten in the Anglican Communion, this one takes First Prize in the Ugly Religious Rhetoric Contest.

Okay, I'll tell you. Archbishop Burke was commenting on Cardinal O'Malley's decision to permit - and preside over - a funeral Mass for the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

I am not making this up.

Apparently, he and "right-wing Catholics" lobbied the Boston archdiocese to refuse the Kennedy family a church funeral, questioning whether the Senator should even be described as a Catholic because of his support for abortion rights and his rather "checkered" life history.

Robert Royal of the "Faith & Reason Institute" (which sounds like it could be Anglican, right? Not!) called O'Malley's decision to go ahead with the Mass a "grave scandal" on par with the sexual abuse crisis.

Can you believe that? From someone who calls himself 'Christian'?

After visiting the FRI website and reading their Statement of Purpose, I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised at that level of vitriol. Their "purpose" reads very much like Rome's version of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Go ahead. Click on the link and read what they have to say. You'll be amazed at the similarities in the rhetoric of FRI and the IRD.

Lest you think that all Roman Catholics have gone over the edge, let me hasten to reprint this quote from the article:
When told of the archbishop's assertion that pro-choice Catholics should not be permitted funeral rites, Princeton professor Robert George was taken aback: "That's a very different, and obviously graver, claim than that with which I would have sympathy. I haven't heard before any bishop say that pro-abortion politicians should not be given a Catholic funeral."
Mind you, Cardinal O'Malley could never be mistaken for a liberal. He is a conservative on matters of doctrine, and for the past few years, he has been the face of the church's opposition to Massachusetts' marriage equality laws.

Even so, O'Malley didn't flinch. In a September 2 post on his blog - he's apparently the ONLY Cardinal with a blog - O'Malley wrote,
"In the strongest terms I disagree" with those who believe Kennedy did not deserve a funeral Mass. "We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief," he continued. "At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church."
Archbishop Burke, who could never be accused of being a shrinking violet, fired back. According to TIME,
At a September 18 dinner in Washington sponsored by the conservative media outlet Inside Catholic, Burke declared that "neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to "pro choice politicians." The audience gave Burke a prolonged standing ovation.
It was this observation, however, from TIME reporter, Amy Sullivan, that suddenly gave off a loud cosmic "click":
"The debate nominally centers on the question of how to deal with politicians who support abortion rights. Burke and others who believe a Catholic's position on abortion trumps all other teachings have faced off against those who take a more holistic view of the faith. (Okay - here it comes -)But at the core, the divide is over who decides what it means to be Catholic."
The sound you just heard was something in the cosmos clicking something in the inner recesses of your brain.

Hmmmm . . . . . Do da name Robert Duncan strike a familiar note?

Just this past Sunday, there was an interview with Himself in the New York Times Magazine section entitled, "Is this Bishop Catholic?"

Well, if you use Archbishop Burke's standard of saying embarrassing things about yourself in print, then Bob Duncan affirmatively answers the question.

After demurring from the label 'Ultraright' by saying "I wouldn’t characterize us as ultraright. We don’t beat up folks. We are sort of mainstream right, " (Yes, that's a direct quote! See also: You can't make this stuff up), he presents us with one of the most amazing displays of hubris I've ever seen from a cleric - well, in print, anyway.
TIMES: We should point out that you were deposed from ministry of the Episcopal Church by the presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, after you threatened to have your diocese in Pittsburgh secede.

DUNCAN: That was a year ago, but what’s interesting is that virtually no one in the Anglican world accepted that sentence. Within two weeks of being deposed, I was received at Lambeth Palace in London by the archbishop of Canterbury, who continues to consider me a bishop.
Oh, for Pity's sake! Can you believe this? The man has tea with Poppa and all is right with the world?!?! The Archbishop of Canterbury 'continues to consider me a bishop'. Mind you, the ABC has never said that publicly.

Hmmm . . . Wait - isn't Duncan an ARCHBISHOP?? So, if the ABC considers him a bishop, does that mean . . . . .?

Oh, never mind. It's all so silly, anyway. The sight of white haired old men, standing around in full length purple dresses, big old pieces of ornate jewelry around their necks, calling each other "Father" has always weirded me out.

You must check out the thinly veiled sexism in this exchange:
TIMES: Bishop Schori heads the Episcopal Church in this country, and you opposed her election in 2006?
DUNCAN: She was the least qualified, the least experienced, of the candidates, but I hoped that what she would bring if she were elected was the kind of grace that women often bring. She turned out to be far harder, far less willing to bend or compromise, than any of the men.
Oh, but wait - there's more:
TIMES: What was your childhood like?
DUNCAN:My family knew a lot of turmoil, and there were a lot of things that happened in the house that were very unhappy. My mother was emotionally disturbed. She was a very difficult person. There were times when I was not sure I’d wake up in the morning because of her violence.

TIMES: And your father?
DUNCAN: He just died last week.

TIMES: I’m sorry. Were you close to him?
DUNCAN: Again, not greatly close to him. I tried to be a faithful son. He didn’t know how to handle my mother.
See above quote about the Presiding Bishop. You won't even break a sweat connecting those dots.

Why am I not surprised that we haven't seen anything about this interview over on the Far Right, uber-Orthodox blogs?

But, here's the money quote from Duncan, responding to a question about the lawsuits brought about by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to take rightful control of the property and the buildings which the ACNA now occupies:

They may get the stuff, but we’ll get the souls.
They may get the past, but we’ve got the future.

The loud cosmic 'click' you just heard happened when you put together the above quote with the article about the Atheists and the one about the Roman Catholic Church.

At the core, the battle is over who decides identity. From the Atheists to the Anglicans and down the Tiber to Rome.

It's all about the power to decide 'true' identity. Which is always about the opportunity to create something in our own image - as opposed to acknowledging the image which God has created.

Can you say 'grandiosity' children? Okay, how about 'idolatry'? No? Um, does 'hubris' work for you?

Okay, let's make it really simple: It's sin.

It's not uncommon to the struggle over Jewish identity - Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionists. Assimilation is a serious identity concern to all four branches of Judaism.

The Muslims are no stranger to the struggle. "No, we're not a violent religion. Oh, yes we are. Oh, no - we're just a gentle angry people. No, death to America!"

We even see it in those whose religious identity is tied up with their American identity. Isn't it the far-right wing nuts - the Tea Bag Party Republican Evangelicals - who keep telling us what it means to be a 'real' American, even as they try to define 'marriage'.

For some, it means you can't have a name that sounds like it couldn't possibly be Christian. Or, of a color that couldn't possibly be Western European.

So, I'm thinking that we're back in the Garden again. Eden, I mean.

The first gift God gave Adam was the ability to give names to all the creatures - to name and identify them.

It's an almost a primal power, isn't it? And, it's in danger.

Within the sound of the cosmic clicks of insight about identity are the sounds of the death rattle of patriarchy. The dominant male paradigm of power is shifting and some of the Old Boys are getting pretty nervous.

They have become Religious Sheriffs of the Wild, Wild East and West, forming posses and ridding off into the vast religious frontier to bring back the order of "Natural Law" to the land where men are men and women know their place.

Why celibate old men - or any man - should have anything to say about what's 'natural' for my body - my reproductive system or my sexuality or my life or my reality - is absolutely beyond me.

Indeed, why would anyone want that kind of control over another person? Why would anyone want to define reality for someone else? Why would you want to force an identity onto someone else - especially when you would never want that to happen to you?

Why would you deny the sacraments of the church - especially to those who hunger and thirst for Jesus or who are grieving over the loss of a loved one - because they don't follow your rules?

Why would you want to kill someone who doesn't believe what you believe?

Why would you believe that anyone of any religious persuasion should be treated "with ridicule, hatred and contempt"?

Well, I'll let you answer those questions for yourself.

Ironically enough, this picture appeared on the pages of Inside Catholic. It was the illustration for an article entitled, "Heaven Can Wait."

Want to get back to The Garden?

Want to get to Heaven? Want to avoid the pains of Hell?

Follow the sign.

Stay to the Left.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Now there's the highlight of Christian charity, now isn't it? Weighing in on how Christian you are after you are dead.

My uncle restores an old cemetery east of town here as his personal therapy. He has cleaned it up from being virtually covered up in brush. It dates from the 1850's to about 1920. At the edge of the cemetery is a single grave just outside the cemetery boundaries. He did a little research and discovered that the person buried there was considered "outside a state of grace" and was not allowed to be buried on consecrated soil. There is also a slave grave outside the borders. That person was just unfortunate enough to have not been white, to not have been buried inside the boundaries.

About once a year, I go over there, leave a couple of flowers, and read from the BCP for both of them. I like to think that they are enjoying a LOT of grace right now.

Bill said...

The bottom line is that if Jesus were to come back today, He'd pick up the whip and drive them all out of the temple. He would not be pleased that His teachings of forgiveness, love and inclusivity have been trashed by the very men entrusted to lead the church. The fact that they do these things in His name is the true abomination.

Magdalene6127 said...

Reminds me of the line from that old Woody Allen film.... If Jesus were alive today, and saw all the things that are done in his name, he'd never be able to stop throwing up.

IT said...

Awesome post. You nailed it, absolutlely.

I agree with Bill. Or I would, if.... ;-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

@Kirke - I think that's one of the most lovely rituals I've ever heard. I think you make Jesus smile.

@Bill and Magdalene - You're both right.

IT - 'Preciate it, ma'am. Coming from a devout atheist and all. ;~)

Caminante said...

This all is not hypothetical as there is an ACNA congregation that meets one mile up the street and has drawn off and continues to draw off people from here. It makes me exceedingly angry.

word: nesses — as in Loch Ness, those fictitious entities to which people give much power.

Anonymous said...

Arch bp. Burke is about to have more authority than ever. He will have a large part to play in the appointment of future bishops in the RCC. And ... let's not forget Cardinal (above the) Law!

Mary Sue said...

NOW do you see why the other Millenials and myself aren't too terribly fond of labels? They make people get all het up.

It's also why we don't have brand loyalty, we know that no matter what the name over the door is (ECLA, TEC, RCC, ROCOR, et cetera) that we're going to be facing the same power trippers trippin' over their own rhetoric.

It's why we (and yes, I'm including my own happy hippy self in here) aren't too terribly fond of dragging our selves out of bed at 8am on a Sunday to get ready to go to church. If we stay at home, we don't get drug into the dramarama.

Lionel Deimel said...

Wow! I’m sure glad I’m on the same side you’re on!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

@Caminante - Oh dear. In VT? Oh dear.

@whiteycat - I saw that NCR article and all I could do was shake my head.

@Mary Sue - Yes, I understand. And, I fear you are falling into the same trap as those you disdain. Not ALL churches - RC, TEC, etc. - are the same. Shop around. Insist on what you need. Don't stop 'till you get it. Some churches - many churches - really DO make it worth getting up on Sunday morning.

@Lionel - I often think the same of your writing, my friend, so, coming from you, I take that as a high compliment.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy in these attempts to redefine relgious identities . . .

Robert Swires

ladiocese.LGBT said...


it's margaret said...

...grandiosities... oh yes, that's the word I'm a pickin'. 'cuz it's got all them little letters that spell sin...

Excellent post Elizabeth. The way you have connected the dots really resonates. Thank you.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...


episcopalifem said...

My heart feels so heavy when I read these things.

So very heavy.