Monday, August 15, 2011

Encouragment for Those Disappointed with the Church

By Leonardo Boff

Editor's Note: This article was first published August 13, 2011, on Leonardo Boff's website.

There is great disappointment with the institutional Catholic Church. A double emigration is happening: one is exterior, persons who simply leave the Church, and the other is interior, those who remain in the Church but who no longer feel that she is their spiritual home. They continue believing, in spite of the Church.

It’s not for nothing. The present pope has taken some radical initiatives that have divided the ecclesiastic body. He chose a path of confrontation with two important episcopacies, the German and the French, when he introduced the Latin Mass. He articulated an obscure reconciliation with the Church of the followers of Lebfrevre; gutted the principal renewal institutions of Vatican Council II, especially ecumenism, absurdly denying the title of "Church" to those Churches that are not Catholic or Orthodox. When he was a Cardinal he was gravely permissive with pedophiles, and his concern with AIDS borders the inhumane.

The present Catholic Church is submerged in a rigorous winter. The social base that supports the antiquated model of the present pope is comprised of conservative groups, more interested in the media, in the logic of the market, than in proposing an adequate response to the present grave problems. They offer a "lexotan-Christianity" good for pacifying anxious consciences, but alienated from the suffering humanity.

It is urgent that we animate these Christians about to emigrate with what is essential in Christianity. It certainly is not the Church, that was never the object of the preaching of Jesus. He announced a dream, the Kingdom of God, in contraposition to the Kingdom of Caesar; the Kingdom of God that represents an absolute revolution in relationships, from the individual to the divine and the cosmic.

Christianity appeared in history primarily as a movement and as the way of Christ. It predates its grounding in the four Gospels and in the doctrines. The character of a spiritual path means a type of Christianity that has its own course. It generally lives on the edge and, at times, at a critical distance from the official institution. But it is born and nourished by the permanent fascination with the figure, and the liberating and spiritual message of Jesus of Nazareth. Initially deemed the "heresy of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24,5) or simply, a "heresy" (Acts 28,22) in the sense of a "very small group," Christianity was acquiring autonomy until its followers, according to The Acts of The Apostles (11,36), were called, "Christians."

The movement of Jesus is certainly the most vigorous force of Christianity, stronger than the Churches, because it is neither bounded by institutions, nor is it a prisoner of doctrines and dogmas, founded in a specific cultural background. It is composed of all types of people, from the most varied cultures and traditions, even agnostics and atheists who let themselves be touched by the courageous figure of Jesus, by the dream he announced, a Kingdom of love and liberty, by his ethic of unconditional love, especially for the poor and the oppressed, and by the way he assumed the human drama, amidst humiliation, torture and his execution on the cross. Jesus offered an image of God so intimate and life-friendly that it is difficult to disregard, even by those who do not believe in God. Many people say, "if there is a God, it has to be like the God of Jesus."

This Christianity as a spiritual path is what really counts. However, from being a movement it soon became a religious institution, with several forms of organization. In its bosom were developed different interpretations of the figure of Jesus, that were transformed into doctrines, and gathered into the official Gospels. The Churches, when they assumed institutional character, established criteria of belonging and of exclusion, doctrines such as identity reference and their own rites of celebration. Sociology, and not theology, explains that phenomenon. The institution always exists in tension with the spiritual path. The ideal is that they develop together, but that is rare. The most important, in any case, is the spiritual path. This has a future and animates the meaning of life.

The problem of the Roman Catholic Church is her claim of being the only true one. The correct approach is for all the Churches to recognize each other, because they reveal different and complementary dimensions of the message of the Nazarene. What is important is for Christianity to maintain its character as a spiritual path. That can sustain so many Christian men and women in the face of the mediocrity and irrelevancy into which the present Catholic Church has fallen.


  1. 8-15-11 One can see threads of thought regarding an evolutionary approach in Boff’s essay. For example, “Christianity appeared in history primarily as a movement and as the way of Christ.” Boff is a philosopher as well as theologian as I understand. It is the relevant disciplines of today where we find clues and answers that facilitate our evolutionary journey. Scientific biblical scholarship, philosophy and science trump the age of mythology thinking. A new faith is being discovered not revealed. A new morality or moral agency is in the making. The axial age RELIGION of Christianity, i.e. Jesus as the Nazarene or Jesus as the Christ, has run its course. A post-axial age FAITH is commencing to liberate an exploited people and planet. Christianity is an important and permanent reference, but points to a more inclusive understanding of the Real and the associated requirements of embracing this faith.

  2. I didn't understand that comment at all.

  3. 8-16-11 Thank you Ray for your interest and honesty. You are a man of integrity and virtue. If you are inclined towards reading I would suggest that you obtain (library or purchase; preferably library because the reading list is long) Loyal Rue’s books. Everybody’s Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution and Religion Is Not About God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture Our Biological Nature And What to Expect When They Fail. If you were or are a college student these books could be on your reading list. A university press published each. You will get a sense of the axial age of religions plus much more. People your age have a definitive future that no past generation has been confronted with and the least we older people can do is give you all the help you deserve and that we can give you. ‘Everybody’s Story’ creates a baseline. ‘Religion is Not About God’ gives a big picture of the religious landscape and how the terrain is rapidly changing. If you want more, I’m available in a limited way. Thank you for your interest. I’ve been waiting for this moment for at least five years. Marie.
    P.S. Understanding comes over time with study. You will understand it over time.

  4. 9-2-11 I submitted this to NCR but there is no guarantee it will be published so i am submitting it to the progressives!

    Submitted by Marie Rottschaefer (not verified) on Sep. 02, 2011.
    9-2-11 It is time that people who claim to be Catholic Christians realize that we must further our own education to be able to put to rest (settle) the claims of the Vatican. We are creatures of evolution. We reason (philosophical skills such as the study of logic and epistemology show us how), we look at the evidence (the vast scientific landscape that INCLUDES SCIENTIFIC BIBLICAL-HISTORICAL SCHOLARSHIP) and any other relevant agenda beyond philosophy and science. We do this rather than constantly wrangling (power struggling) with the Vatican, the bishops, the priests, the religious orders, lay people, and aliens of unknown origin. We must develop critical thinking skills, strive to educate ourselves in germane, diverse ways, exercise our well-informed consciences, and act. This education taps into these educational resources using them only as needed, much like a chef choosing from his/her pantry items before creating the entrée du jour._
    As a laywoman I’ve read Theological Studies for years. I’ve stopped reading this journal of late because they are too much under the thumb of the Vatican. It would be nice if they followed the above education formula considerably more._
    If lay people have read and understand the Vatican II documents (a small pocket book sized book and so old now it probably could be purchased at a bargain price) they would realize that responsible freedom and exploration of the relevant academic disciplines and adjunct expertise outside of academia is the ‘nod’ and the permission given at Vatican II that long-indoctrinated people (~2000years old) need to become self-directed people, not hierarchical-directed people. This is the laity’s territory. Then all this wrangling would stop. Talking about ‘aliens of unknown origin’ was meant to be humorous but also serious in that those ‘aliens’ can be our inner fears: lack of experience in matters of study and adult discussion, being a bit overanxious about making a mistake etc._
    This is the Vatican II authorization for us. When we see the fruit of this blossom we have arrived at a new historical age for people of faith, a post-axial age faith leading to a new moral understanding and hopefully moral agency (activity) to restore people and planet thus leading to further evolution not extinction beyond hope.

  5. As a follow-up to my 9-2-11 post for Leonardo Boff and Ray and anyone else who is interested here is an example of the evolution of religious thinking easily found on the Internet.

    “IS JOHN HICK’S THEORY OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM PHILOSOPHICALLY TENABLE? by MONZER J. MANSOUR (Under the Direction of WILLIAM L. POWER) ABSTRACT John Hick advocates the view that the world’s major religions are equally true and equally salvific despite their conflicting truth claims and diverse practices and self- understandings. In support of his pluralistic view, Hick has developed a philosophical theory that seeks to justify and explain how the world’s major religions are all authentic human responses to a transcendent reality that is beyond human thought and whose nature is indescribable by human language. Hick calls this transcendent reality the Real. Hick holds that the various concepts of God or ultimate reality embraced by each of the world’s major religions are authentic manifestations of the ineffable Real. Their authenticity is vouchsafed by the roughly equal success that Hick claims the world’s major religions have had in transforming human beings from a self-centered existence to an existence centered in the transcendent Real. Hick claims that such transformation is the essential and common function of the world’s major religions. The truth of the religions is thus evidenced soteriologically and ethically; by the love and compassion evidenced by the saints or great souls of the major traditions, and to a lesser but relatively significant way by other members of a religious tradition. This study will scrutinize and critique the fundamental components of Hick’s theory and offer a judgment on the philosophical tenability of Hick’s religious pluralism.
    INDEX WORDS: John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, Religious Pluralism, Religious Diversity.”

    If we are moving into a post-Christian faith phenomenon then it’s important to look at possible destinations.

  6. Ms. Rottschaefer,
    I agree with you about this article and much more. I have been studying (as you mentioned) and am now going to read your references to Hick, and all the others you have mentioned. I read a comment of yours on a catholic site about womens religious which led me to your blog and other comments like this one, which is the most recent. I would love to discuss these things ... I am wondering how much, if any, of this change (6th extinction) you think is in the Bible...

  7. Hey I'm the guy who wrote the thing about John Hick and pluralism that you excerpted. It's kind of funny and unexpected to see my lowly M.A. thesis quoted by anyone. I have to say that an attempt at characterizing Christianity as a spiritual path is practically worthless unless it gives strong emphasis to the lived communion with the Holy Spirit. People love to point to this gospel passage or that one or to various ones as the key to understanding of who Jesus was. I join in by letting John the Baptist speak for me as recorded in all four gospels when he refers to Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Imagine that? Imagine what it would be like to be so empowered by the Spirit that you are able to "baptize" (literally submerge or dunk) people in it. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, a mighty healing, peace-giving, joy-giving power made and makes itself available to dwell in and transform all people who sincerely want it. Yes, it's a mysterious thing. But that's the fundamental reality to enter into; the rest is academic.

  8. I am one of the "fallen away," or perhaps better said, "driven away," a cradle Catholic who had attempted unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between what was visible and evident in the actions and polity of the Roman Church and the words that were being said by the Roman Church, and found the gap so wide as to be impossible to cross. The Roman Church, while it may have been institututed by the power of the Holy Spirit, came under the stewardship of human agency, an agency divinely inspired and governed one would hope, but nevertheless an agency all too human, and all too susceptible to human frailty. It is not the human frailty that is irreconcilable for me. It is the demand for unquestioned obedience to an authority that conscience (mine, anyway) characterizes as other than Christian to which I can no longer submit. Dissenters have no voice. Dissenters either recant, remain angrily silent, or they act on conscience, they risk facing the ancient and potent powers of the episcopacy to deny sacrament. Such abuse of power I can longer defend nor tolerate.

    That there have been clergy scandals is, for me, less problematic than the hypocrisy of the episcopacy. The bishops should have been more concerned with the welfare of the people in the pews than with the "good name of Holy Mother Church," for if the welfare of the souls who kneel and pray is not of paramount concern, then there is no good name and I would argue, no longer a Holy Mother Church -- or at least, not one I know and can recognize. Strong words, I'm sure, and ones that many will not be able to bear, but true words from my perspective.

    There are predatory people in all walks of life. In our secular world, we do not permit them license to escape from one venue to pray upon the unsuspecting in another. It escapes me why the Vatican and the the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church would even want to permit predatory clergy to continue damaging and destroying lives. But that is only a symptom of a more virulent disease. The sin of the Vatican and the current episcopal leadership is the sin of narcissism, the belief in the divinity and sanctity of the Vatican's own reflection, and the inviolability of the Vatican's own opinion of its actions. Until the Vatican and the world-wide episcopal authority can admit openly that it is not the ultimate authority on earth, that there is not just room, but an unquenchable thirst for lay inclusion in church governance, that woman and men have calls to the priesthood, that celibacy is not a gift or even a discipline if it is requirement for ordination, that God is grander and more infinite than any human characterization of God can possibly express, then nothing will change. Until the Vatican humbles itself to become like the rest of us, nothing will happen. And so, paraphasing and recasting the words of a former President of the United States, I did not leave the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church left me.

    Fortunately, for me, however, I can testify that God does not limit God's self to living in and around and loving only one denomination come Hell or high water. And the message I was given is that I am responsible for my relationship with God. In fact, I am no longer allowed to submit to the will of some aging relic from another era who wears a mitre and sports a nice ring living on borrowed time in another country to dictate to me how to be in relationship to God. The current Bishop of Rome, whose name I will not use, has exhibited evidence of a conservative bias that is crushing the life out of what is left of the Roman Church I knew. May God have mercy on what will be left.

    1. Dear Anonymous....i am currently enrolled in a Catholic Theological Outpost here...i am back taking classes in everything, one class at a time....i go to mass at a few churches, take in a high mass at the Eastern Rite now and then(love high mass), visit some evangelical churches for the music and some for the preaching...i cannot however take a steady diet of Catholicism...and may i champion your astute observation..."I am responsible for my relationship with God" amen to that