In this time of crisis, Catholics can choose to live by the faith of Jesus himself
OPINION:In the final article of a series prompted by the recent World Atheist Convention, the state of Catholicism is considered
ROMAN CATHOLICISM faces a crisis comparable to that brought on by the hostility of Roman emperors to early Christianity, before it morphed into a religion more Roman than the Roman empire itself.
It is a crisis comparable to that caused by the rise of democracy and the modern world, in that Catholicism responded by becoming even more of an imperial power over its members than before.
How are we Catholics now responding to this contemporary crisis, which has been brought to a climax by the immoral behaviour of the ruling clerical caste in the broadest sense?
A common response is to give up on religious faith and religions alike, and to opt instead for agnosticism or atheistic humanism.
Jesus would understand that response, for he once allowed that where people could not accept a divinity portrayed by disputing and self-styled representatives, they could read from creation the “works” of the true God, who distributes the sources, supports and enhancements of life to all, good and evil equally and alike.
They could then keep faith with what are the works of the Creator in creation, even as contending representations of God confused them and hid the face of the true God from them.
Through the experience of doing this, they might eventually come to recognise the real presence of God in this world.
This response confirms the validity of the morality-based attack of Richard Dawkins upon religion already conceded; although one might add once again that the attack would come better from a humanist who did not feel she needed to profess atheism to engage in such combat.
This is so if only because atheism can be just as much of a dogma as theism sometimes is when it is imposed by authority rather than resulting from the lived experience of a presence behind the overwhelming goodness of creation.
Then there is the response of the so-called à la carte Catholic; a response invoked by almost all the Catholic laity when a previous pope committed the essentially immoral act of imposing on them a false moral teaching on contraception that threatened and caused such harm to their married lives, their persons and their faith alike.
More specific examples of such damage include the prohibition of the use of condoms to stem the spread of Aids. And there was the life-long disability and suffering visited by relatively ignorant and correspondingly dogmatic “good Irish Catholic” medics on women in childbirth through a largely discredited procedure, symphysiotomy without so much as by your leave.
The à la carte option is more than justified by the regrettable conduct in hierarchical teaching in the case of contraception, by its praxis in the recently publicised scandals, and in many other instances of teaching and praxis.
Unless our priestly ruling class confesses its faults and reforms itself from the top, the à la carte option will rightly continue.
There is also the response of seeking another church or even another religion.
This is fine, provided one keeps in mind the drawbacks to which every religionising of a prophetic faith seems to give rise, and then checks whether these are as much in evidence in other churches and religions as in one’s own.
And last, but by no means least, there is the option of living by the prophetic faith of Jesus himself, without priests or blood sacrifices (particularly human blood), and needing but the one sacrament of the common meal of thanksgiving (Eucharist) in which the celebrants thank the Creator for splurging life in such abundance and unconditionally to all.
This option involves following the logic of such gratitude by the simple sacrifice of offering the food and drink of life to others before oneself, and but one short prayer, the Our Father, which summarises things most succinctly and begs God’s help and inspiration for living the faith by which Jesus lived and died.
James P Mackey is visiting professor at the school of religions and theology at TCD, and Thomas Chalmers professor emeritus of theology at the University of Edinburgh