vol 6: Essays
The Church that stole God
'World Youth Day'
So far as I know, the two biggest beasts that ever walked the earth are the Roman Catholic Church and the Chinese Empire. Between them, they have controlled the lives of billions of people over thousands of years. Catholic Church - Wikipedia, History of China - Wikipedia
We are wary of the Chinese, but somehow the Church has slipped beneath the radar. So we, the sinful citizens of NSW, have invited the Pope to visit us and are putting up a hundred million or so for the privilege. The show is called World Youth Day (although it lasts for a week).
It will be a great show, no expense spared. According to the official website, it will attract more overseas visitors than the Olympics (wyd2008.org). Mercedes Benz are putting up a couple of Popemobiles, and Italian ecclesiastical couturiers are making us hundreds of cool vestments featuring the Southern Cross and the Holy Ghost.
The whole exercise is devoted to propagating the Catholic brand of religion and demonstrating the power of the Church. Mao taught us that power comes out of the barrel of a gun. These days, however, the Church is rather more subtle, like that serpent (Genesis 3). The last Pope to ride into battle was Julius II, who reigned from 1503 until 1513. The moral and political power of the Church is such, however, that it can generally rely on the 'secular arm' to handle enforcement of its law. Catholic Encyclopedia, Charles Henry Lea, Homza
As it has become wealthier, the Church has been able to capture the hearts and minds of more people through inexpensive (and often good) education, social welfare and its persuasive influence on governments, universities, philanthropists and leaders of public opinion.
It remains nevertheless a militant organization whose stated objective is to control the mind of every person in the whole world. At least when I went to school, sinful thoughts could send you to hell just as quickly as sinful deeds.
The Church finds its mandate in Mark's Gospel: Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. (16:16). back
The Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church is a child of the Roman Empire and exists today as a cross between a nation state and a multinational corporation with branches almost everywhere. Its constitution, The Code of Canon Law gives absolute power to the Pope: There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff (Canon 333 para 3). Vatican Archive, Canon Law Society of America
Everybody has heard of Julius Caesar (100 - 44 bc), a major warlord. When he was not buying political influence in Rome, he was out pillaging to raise the funds to pay his army and buy more power. Julius Caesar - Wikipedia
Being a smart fellow, he also wrote his own history. De Bello Gallico Among others, he killed about a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. Speaking of the fate of Gaul, the Oxford Classical Dictionary tells us that requisitions of food and punitive devastations completed human, economic and ecological disaster probably unequalled until the conquest of the Americas. Hornblower & Spawforth
Julius wanted to be God but his contemporaries murdered him before he really got going. Augustus (63 bc - 14 ad) did better. He became both God and Emperor, and laid the administrative and ideological foundation for the Empire that dominated the Mediterranean region for centuries. Augustus - Wikipedia. Roman Empire - Wikipedia
The Church grew in this milieu, spreading along the Roman roads and gradually infiltrating the intelligentsia and the public service. By 324 Christianity was the official religion of the Empire. Constantine I and Christianity - Wikipedia The Roman Catholic Church continues to dominate the Western world long after the Roman Empire fell prey Huns and their ilk in the fourth and fifth centuries. Gibbon
In its own history, the New Testament of the Bible, the Church traces its ancestry to Jesus of Nazareth. Everything is based on the claim that Jesus was God, an Imperial Lord with total power on earth. The Pope plays the role handed by Jesus to the Apostle Peter:
Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So now I say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.' (Matthew 16:17-19).
Thus was born the most valuable intellectual property on the planet. The Roman Catholic Church has convinced billions of people over the ages that it is God's one and only agent on earth, with full power to decide what activities lead to heaven in the afterlife and what lead to hell. First Vatican Council
Although the Church likes to model itself as a monolithic eternal and infallible entity like the God which it markets, it has a very human social and political history. Few Popes were paragons of virtue, and religious wars dot Christian history. The Crusaders drenched the streets of Jerusalem in blood and heroic missionaries have risked their lives to bend indigenous cultures to the mind of the Church. Crusades - Wikipedia, Catholic Missions
The worst nuisance in recent times was Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), a prominent Protestant. By Luther's time, the Church was blatantly selling spiritual goods for cash and the organization had become thoroughly corrupt. Simony
Luther saw that we did not need an agent in our dealings with God. We could read His Book and deal with Him directly in our own hearts. Many followed Luther and became a severe threat to Catholic dominance. Europe entered an era of religious war that still bubbles along. Martin Luther - Wikipedia back
Many within the Church saw Luther's point. The Council of Trent was called to reform the Church. But there was no way the Church could agree with the reformers without sacrificing its monopoly on God, its most valuable asset. Instead of opening their hearts to the winds of change the Fathers of Trent spent their time laying down trenchant statements of Catholic dogma and reasserting the absolute authority of the Pope. Council of Trent
Little has changed since then. The Church has responded to every threat with ever more strident assertions of its absolute authority. Pope Pius IX took the ultimate step at the First Vatican Council (1869 -1870) declaring himself and his successors infallible.
The First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ lays down the law:
We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals: and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.
But if anyone -- which may God avert -- presume to contradict this Our definition; let him be anathema. back
I used to believe all this stuff but now (thank God) I have lost the faith and am happy to be anathema (= cursed, condemned, excommunicated) from the Church's point of view.
I think I must have been a revolting child, but I went along with my education, reading a book under my desk and keeping an ear on the teacher in case of sudden calls to attention. At the end of school I became convinced that I had a vocation to the religious life. I joined the Order of Preachers. For a few years I was totally engrossed in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the theological jewel in the Dominican crown. Ecclesiastical and Religious Vocation
Theology is the study of God, and the first step in classical theology is to prove the existence of God. Aquinas proves that God exists by showing that the world is not self sufficient. Since the world exists nevertheless, something must be sustaining it, and this something we customarily call God. So far, so good. Aquinas 13
One of the next books to catch my attention was written by a Jesuit. Bernard Lonergan wrote Insight to bring Thomistic ideas into twentieth century English. In the process, he showed me the weakness in Aquinas' proofs for the separation of God and the World. Lonergan
They are what we would now call model dependent. Aquinas used ancient models, derived from Aristotle and Plato to show that the world could not explain itself. But what if these models did not truly represent God and the world?. What if the Universe can explain itself? Then the Universe and God could be the same thing.
I already knew enough quantum mechanics to be aware that the Universe as we know it is much more infinite than anything the ancients ever dreamed up. If size counted, it could easily be divine. I said this out loud, persistently.
Theology was, after all, claimed to be a science, a matter of conjecture and refutation. In the absolutist Catholic climate, however, conjecture was forbidden and no refutation was offered. I was in breech of some of the 24 Philosophical Theses mandated by Pope Pius X. 24 Theses
In the end the Pope dispensed my vows and I was free to leave (with a new suit). That was forty years ago. Much water has flown under many bridges since then, but now I think I can see what I was up against. back
What I see is a clear case of the appropriation of a public good for private use. The Roman Catholic Church has enclosed God, a public person, for their own use. Using a combination of sword, fire and millennia of highly tuned spin, they have done very well for themselves by making themselves God's sole agent on Earth.
By appropriating God for themselves, they have killed It for us. Without its monopoly on God, the Church has no reason to exist. It is in its interest, therefore, to place God as far from us as possible, a mystery completely beyond human ken.
From a scientific point of view, the worst consequence of the Church's sequestration of God has been the death of theology. While all the other sciences have followed a general trajectory toward broader and deeper understanding of the human milieu, the last significant developments in theology occurred in the Middle Ages. This happened at about the same time as the Church became a military and political power. It began freezing acceptable belief and burning people with alternative hypotheses as a lesson to the others. back
In the early days of Christianity, when people were assimilating the contrasting picture of God developed by the Hebrews and the Greeks, theology as a very lively science. It was a natural science, based on the data available to ancient scientists. But God was too valuable to leave to scientists. It had long been fashionable for monarchs to justify their positions by appeal to God. No one has taken the 'divine right of kings' further than the Papacy.
The Pope claims such a strong bond with an infallible God that he too is infallible, as well as an absolute monarch. The unfortunate side effect of this is that theology is shut down. God is whatever the Church says it is and that's that. No new ideas allowed.
Of course this might all be wishful thinking. If the Pope is infallible, then he has infallibly declared himself to be infallible and all is well. We had better fall into line. But if not?
The alternative is to recognize that God and the Universe are the same. God is not a remote mystery. We and everything else are manifestations of the Divinity. The Bible and all that follows from it is just a tiny pixel in our majestic Universe.
Every experience then becomes experience of God, and since we assume that God does not lie, every experience is just as credible as the Bible. Theology can become a science like every other, based on evidence rather than the congealed opinions of a few crusty old men.
We might call this new approach to theology natural theology (think natural science). For natural theology the window through which we see God is the whole Universe, not just a few ancient books.
It has taken me forty years to get my head around to natural theology. To me this effort is a measure of the the efficiency of my indoctrination as a child. Each of comes into the world both feral and plastic, ready to struggle for our survival, willing to fit in with the system that bore us. Only later do we know enough to criticize our history.
The Church represents the status quo: a dangerous position because the God it sees is severely distorted by institutional forces. This God cannot be expected to guide us effectively because it is a human fiction with precious little ground in reality.
As God is a captive of the Church, so too theology. No new ideas or data have entered Catholic theology for a thousand years. Officially it has never heard of human rights, freedom of thought or freedom of information. It still thinks women are inferior to men. It still thinks a few words can really turn wine into blood, even though it does not look like it. Occasionally individuals rebel against this oppression, but they are soon told to be quiet or lose their jobs.
You will search the universities of the world to find a theology faculty which recognizes that there is more to God than we can learn from the Bible.
God can become public property only when theology becomes a real science, based on the real world of human experience. We need a bit of work with Occam's Razor to cut out the middle men. Then we will see that the Universe is quite able to sustain theology, because it is one, divine and creative. back
We might begin to construct natural theology with the observation that all information is encoded physically. You might be reading a paper and ink version of this article. but it may exist also in computer memory, in disks and tapes, as dots on a screen or vibrations in the air. No matter how it exists, it is always physically embodied.
This idea leads us to think of the observable Universe as God's body. We communicate with God through our bodies, but this no more limits our communication with the Universal God than the ink and paper of Bibles is held to restrict our communication with the Christian God. And, as lovers know, we can get much through our bodies than closer and paper.
Over the last few centuries we have learnt that the Universe is not the inert matter imagined by the ancients. It is better imagined as a physically embodied mind, that is a system ceaselessly processing information, like our own minds. Nielsen & Chuang, Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology
In the last century we have learnt to describe this process with a mathematical model called quantum mechanics. Wherever we can get a clear answer from quantum mechanics, it seems to fit the world perfectly. Quantum mechanics does not see a Universe of inert matter, but a Universe of perpetual motion and potentially unbounded complexity. Jenann Ismael
Four billion years of evolution in Earth have produced us and the living environment that sustains us. There is no reason to believe that similar planets orbiting similar stars may not experience similar evolution. Given the size and age of the Universe it seems quite probable that there are more species like us. Unfortunately, this very size and age make it unlikely that we shall ever communicate with such people. Jean Schneider, Chris Tinney
Creationists say that evolution cannot explain our present condition. They rely on the Christian model of God to explain our existence. This model is, by definition, mysterious. All Christian explanations come to the same thing: Why is it so? Because God made it so. Why did God make it so? Because He wanted to. Why did he want to? To show Himself off to us. Paul Abramson
The founding hypothesis of natural theology is at least as enlightening. We see the present state of the world growing step by step from a structureless point, the initial singularity. From an abstract point of view, this point looks exactly like the thirteenth century model of God perfected by Thomas Aquinas.
The only difference is that we see our Universe growing inside God rather than being created outside it. From this point of view, we are no exiles on Earth as the Church imagines, strangers in a strange land, but insiders, parts of God whose every experience is divine. back
Sounds lovely but so what? As the Roman Catholic Church demonstrates, while a week is a long time in politics, a century is a short time in theology and religion. We cannot underestimate the power of the Church to suppress the human spirit. Its iron grip on theology has not weakened in the centuries since the physical and biological sciences escaped from its control.
We need theology because it is the science of the whole. We need to understand the whole in order to navigate intelligently. We have flown blind through the whole industrial revolution without reliable theology. During this period one technical development has led to another without any overall picture of what is going on. Now we find ourselves overstressing our planet (and ourselves) because the overall task of human guidance has been left to powers which are blind to the real world.
For what does God do? Sustains our lives. What does the environment do? Sustains our lives. Therefore it is natural to equate God and Environment. The judgment of the Catholic God is absolute, and the natural God is pretty much the same. If we do not fulfill the requirements for survival, we will become extinct. If you don't aim the hammer properly, you'll hit your finger. Very simple.
Some might be inclined to say that the environment is not rich enough to fulfill human spiritual desires. I say look again through the hypothesis that it is all divine. Feel the divinity in your lovers, your children, in all plants and animals, in the whole world. And learn to treat it accordingly, with reverence, fear, care and understanding. back
The Pope is not just a harmless old potentate, a legend only in his own mind. He is a legend in a lot of minds. People believe what he says, which is scary. Can you really believe that if you do what the Pope and his mob tell you, you will enjoy an eternal life of blissfully contemplating the glory of God?
This article is a plea to break the institutional hold on theology by reclaiming God for us all. The theological community must become a public community, like the other scientific communities. Science is built on the epistemological principle that we must go with the data.
We must respect history and not just make it up. Since the world is one, science based on the world is also one. If theology joins the scientific community, we will eventually find ourselves with one theology as we have one biology and one physics.
The Roman Catholic Church promises to save us from a paper tiger. There is no evidence for the Fall, although it is clear from ancient literature that many imagined life without work, pain and care when times were tough. It is also clear that the wealthy, in their various ways, set out to realize this ideal of effort free life. On the whole the rich and powerful used violence to enslave other people to build and run their Shangri-Las.
Although we can see the Universe as one and divine, things come and go within the Universe rather like ideas in our own minds. Almost every dynamic process that we observe has a beginning and an end, birth and death. This goes as much for the life of a star as it does for the frying of an egg.
Our particular concern is for our own lives, and, as a consequence, the life (and death) of our planet Earth. We are becoming aware that this is an issue: first because our impact on the planet is increasing all the time; and second because more people are looking at the Earth through increasingly powerful instruments. United Nations Environment Programme
Thus the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is attempting to put together a global picture of the Earth atmosphere ice water system to quantify the human impact on global climate. From such detailed knowledge we hope to assess the effects of our impact, and to avoid further impairment of the environmental services upon which our lives depend. We must learn about and care for every feature of our divine milieu from the sunlight that grows our food to the bacteria that eat our shit. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
This environment is not dead material, as many have thought, but, on the theory presented here, the living God. The first step toward human salvation is recognition of this, and the opening of theology to the reality of God, rather than confining it to the little corporate secret God sold to us by the Roman Catholic Church. We need not just a global view of the weather, but global views of human rights and duties, health, trade, . . . , everything: in short a global theology.
Natural theology is naturally much richer than institutional theology. It tells us that all experience is experience of God. God may be hard to understand but it is no way hidden. God is open for us all to see, and what we see depends on how we look. A tiny fraction of human experience from a very limited region of space and time is recorded in the Bible. Since every experience is a historical document, it seems quite unlikely that such a small sample as the Bible can tell us much about God.
Instead we can see all science, all art, and in fact all life as knowledge of God.
Take the Pope with a grain of salt, therefore, and remember that when it comes to spin, the Roman Catholic Church leaves the modern advertising industry for dead. Smell that incense, listen to that music, and try not to be converted. If we are going to save ourselves, we have to see through all this smoke and get real.
(revised 5 June 2008)