Thursday, September 29, 2011

Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Harlots and Pharisees, Agnostics and Routine Believers

An agnostic is not, oddly enough, a person who rejects Gnosticism.1 "Agnostic" has a few related meanings:
  • Noun
    • Someone who is doubtful or noncommittal about something
    • A person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)
  • Adjective
    • Of or pertaining to an agnostic or agnosticism
    • Uncertain of all claims to knowledge
    (Princeton's WordNet)
I've been "agnostic," at least in the sense of being "doubtful or noncommittal" when it came to details about God, His creation, and what happened after the first century. Sorting out conventional attitudes, lurid tales, and historical facts ended with my conversion to Catholicism. Turns out, the Pope says it's okay to wonder about God.

By the way, this is the fourth of seven posts about what Benedict XVI said during his trip to Germany:
  1. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Hope, Confidence, and Looking Forward"
    (September 27, 2011)
  2. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Liberation, Transformation, and Getting Personal"
    (September 27, 2011)
  3. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Scandal, Abuse, and the Cross"
    (September 28, 2011)
  4. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Harlots and Pharisees, Agnostics and Routine Believers"
    (September 29, 2011)
  5. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Dissent, Conversion, and Knowledge"
    (September 30, 2011)
  6. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: We're Not About 'Joyless Saints' "
    (October 1, 2011)
  7. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: 'Where God is, There is a Future' "
    (October 3, 2011)
Now, about the Pope, Pharisees, harlots, agnostics, and folks with a 'whatever' faith:

Harlots and Pharisees, Agnostics and Routine Believers

"Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged German Catholics to remain faithful to the unity of the Church. He warned that those Catholics who view the Church as a mere institution are often further from God than agnostics.

" 'The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world: if she remains faithfully united with the Successors of St. Peter and the Apostles,' the Pope said at an open-air Sept. 25 Mass in the German city of Freiburg.

"Pope Benedict updated the warning of Christ that 'tax collectors and harlots' were closer to God than the Pharisees, offering a version 'translated into the language of our time.'

" 'Agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is 'routine' and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith,' said the Pope...."
(CNA (September 25, 2011))

More Than having My Name in the Parish Directory

What?! Nice, decent folks whose name is in the parish directory and show up for Mass when they can, aren't as close to the Kingdom of God as agnostics? That seems to be what the Pope said, and I think he's right.

Blind (Deaf, and Dumb) Faith?

Rabid Bible-thumpers and atheist zealots are like-minded in some ways. They often assume that faith is:
  • Believing what's 'in the Bible' according to
    • Their pastor
    • Themselves
    • Their friends
  • Faith must be
    • Blind
    • Unquestioning
    • Unthinking
    • Unwavering
That sort of faith can have odd results:


(Non Sequitur, Wiley Miller, used w/o permission)

Folks who never question the faith they learned at their mother's knee won't necessarily get crazy ideas. I think folks who live out their lives with love for God and neighbor, without learning much beyond 'Jesus loves me, this I know,' are blessed.

But I'm not like that. Happily, we're not all supposed to be alike.2

There's more about gnosticism, thinking, and the Catholic Church, near the end of this post.3 Moving on.

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God apparently isn't a place: It's a condition. The Catechism's Glossary says that the The Kingdom of God is "reign or rule of God,"4 "not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17)

Which doesn't mean that Catholics are supposed to stop eating, and that's another topic.

Destination: Kingdom of God

I can't travel to the Kingdom of God, not literally. My 'going' there is a matter of working on me: my heart. Again, not literally. Back to what the Pope said:
"...This renewal of the Church in Germany will 'only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith,' said Pope Benedict. Jesus Christ 'is always close to us, especially in times of danger and radical change, his heart aches for us and he reaches out to us,' he added.

" 'We need to open ourselves to him so that the power of his mercy can touch our hearts. We have to be ready to abandon evil, to raise ourselves from indifference and make room for his word,' he said.

"In practical terms, the Pope suggested that each person ask themselves some basic questions about their personal relationship with God in prayer, in participation at Mass, in exploring his or her faith through mediation on Sacred Scripture and through study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church...."
(CNA (September 25, 2011))
Looks like it's back to asking questions:
  • How's my relationship with God going?
    • Prayer is indicated
  • What about my faith?
    • Meditation?! That's right
      • On Sacred Scripture
      • Through study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
I'm using this blog as a way to make sure that I get into the Bible and the Catechism pretty much every day. Maybe that's not as 'pure' as doing nearly the same thing without the discipline of trying to organize ideas for a post. For now, I'm not going to worry about that.

Tax Collectors, Harlots, Pharisees: And, God Willing, Me

I don't "know" that I'm "saved." In principle, I could decide that I didn't want to spend eternity with my Lord. That'd be a daft decision, but it could happen. Which gets me into free will.5 And other topics.

I hope that I'm more like the tax collector than the Pharisee in this story:
""Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.' "
(Luke 18:10-14)
Jesus told wonderfully concise, densely-packed stories. That one phrase shows the Pharisee's attitude, "The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself...." Then there's the contrasting " 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' "

Apart from tending to have self-esteem issues, I don't think there was anything basically wrong with being a Pharisee. Hey, Saint Paul is a pharisee. (Acts 23:6) Granted, my Lord had to get Paul's attention first. (Acts 9:1-6)

So being a Pharisee doesn't seem to be an insurmountable obstacle for someone headed for the Kingdom of God. Neither, apparently, is being a tax collector or a harlot. What seems to matter is what a person does after spotting the goal:Then there's Nicodemus, who seems to have had a rather steep learning curve. (John 3:1-15) And that's another topic.

More posts in this series:Vaguely-related posts:
In the news:

1 Gnosticism has been define as "a religious orientation advocating gnosis as the way to release a person's spiritual element; considered heresy by Christian churches:" which isn't all that helpful unless you know that "gnosis" means "intuitive knowledge of spiritual truths; said to have been possessed by ancient Gnostics." Sort of like "Luke, trust your feelings!" Only not quite. Gnosticism was a big hit, back in the 2nd century:
"...The second-century Church was threatened by the so-called Gnosis, a doctrine which affirmed that the faith taught in the Church was merely a symbolism for the simple who were unable to grasp difficult concepts; instead, the initiates, the intellectuals - Gnostics, they were called - claimed to understand what was behind these symbols and thus formed an elitist and intellectualist Christianity...." ("General Audience" Benedict XVI (March 28, 2007))
Gnosticism has been back since then, with a new name and updated accessories. It's still a bad idea:
"Since the beginning the Christian faith has been challenged by responses to the question of origins that differ from its own. Ancient religions and cultures produced many myths concerning origins. Some philosophers have said that everything is God, that the world is God, or that the development of the world is the development of God (Pantheism). Others have said that the world is a necessary emanation arising from God and returning to him. Still others have affirmed the existence of two eternal principles, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, locked in permanent conflict (Dualism, Manichaeism). According to some of these conceptions, the world (at least the physical world) is evil, the product of a fall, and is thus to be rejected or left behind (Gnosticism). Some admit that the world was made by God, but as by a watchmaker who, once he has made a watch, abandons it to itself (Deism). Finally, others reject any transcendent origin for the world, but see it as merely the interplay of matter that has always existed (Materialism). All these attempts bear witness to the permanence and universality of the question of origins. This inquiry is distinctively human...."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 285)
About gnosticism, including what's above:
And see:
2 Catholics aren't supposed to be all alike. Sure,we're one body - but like I said before, "what good would a body be that was all gallbladder?" More:3 Gnosticism is a heresy: something the Catholic Church emphatically doesn't approve of. Pope Benedict XVI said that gnostics "formed an elitist and intellectualist Christianity." That doesn't mean that the Catholic Church is 'anti-intellectual.' Which may seem counter-intuitive to folks who are more familiar with America's goofier Protestant groups.

I became a Catholic in part because I didn't have to check my brain at the door. Not that the Catholic Church is the religious equivalent of Mensa. We're all sorts of people, which suits me fine. (August 26, 2010)

I've posted about gnosticism, the Catholic Church, and getting a grip, before:4 From the Catechism's Glossary:
KINGDOM OF GOD (OF HEAVEN): The reign or rule of God: 'the kingdom of God is . . . righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' (Rom 14:17). The Kingdom of God draws near in the coming of the Incarnate Word; it is announced in the Gospel; it is the messianic Kingdom, present in the person of Jesus, the Messiah; it remains in our midst in the Eucharist. Christ gave to his Apostles the work of proclaiming the Kingdom, and through the Holy Spirit forms his people into a priestly kingdom, the Church, in which the Kingdom of God is mysteriously present, for she is the seed and beginning of the Kingdom on earth. In the Lord's Prayer ('Thy Kingdom come') we pray for its final glorious appearance, when Christ will hand over the Kingdom to his Father (541-554, 709, 763, 2816, 2819).
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church) [links to text citations added]
This is a good spot for my usual disclaimer: I've got the teaching authority of "some guy with a blog."

5 God could have made me, everybody, with hardwired responses: so that I couldn't sin. Or practice virtue. Risky as it is, I'm rather glad He made free will part of the package. More of my take on free will:What about "predestination?" It's compatible with free will - from God's point of view:
"To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination,' he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: 'In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.'395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 600)
Do I fully understand how God perceives the whole of creation? No. He's God, I'm not. Enough said.

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Missing an end parenthesis: "(Luke 18:10-14"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Got it: and thanks!

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.