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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Church as a Sign of Contradiction

A very chilly scooter ride to work this morning compelled me to think about things other than the cold.  And on my mind was the ongoing debate occurring in the Roman Catholic Church about what it could mean to read the signs of the times, and how it is that the Church is to do this guided by the Holy Spirit.  The recent on-line dialogue between Ross Douthat and James Martin, SJ had me thinking about it, as did Stephen Okey's excellent assessment of this dialogue.

One part of Mr. Douthat's response to Fr. Martin struck me particularly, because it represents a common refrain I've heard in recent months whenever the question of sex and marriage is discussed:
It seems to me that there have been many cases in church history when the faith did need to learn from a changing culture, to read the signs of the times and to adapt. But there are just as many cases, under regimes ancien and modern, when “adaptation” meant corruption, worldiness [sic], the partial abandonment of the gospel. And I always wonder, in our contemporary discussions about sex and marriage, how would-be reformers so confidently distinguish the Spirit from the spirit of the age. By which I suppose I mean: Does it make you feel uncomfortable at all that every power and principality of our age—every establishment, political and judicial and cultural—is on the side of change in these internal church debates? Does it ever make you worry, even a little, that these reforms are truer to a passing historical moment than to Christ?
What Douthat appears to argue here is that the church is called to be a sign of contradiction in the world, and those who advocate for change on the church's viewpoints on sex and remarriage veer dangerously close to accommodation rather than to contradiction.

I think Douthat is right to point to the idea of the church as a sign of contradiction, but whenever this idea is cited with reference to the issues of sex and marriage, these thought always goes through my head: Surely it isn't only, or even primarily, in the realm of sexuality that the church is called to be a sign of contradiction? Is it not about so much more than that?

What we need to discern more clearly is what it meant for Jesus to be a sign of contradiction, to the point that his offensiveness to the prevailing order cost him his life.  And what we see, in my humble opinion and as someone who is not a biblical scholar, is someone who calls his followers to a way of existing as community that was fundamentally different from the status quo; one that called into question the centrality of power, wealth, and domination and offered a way of being community that reversed the predominant 'rules' that characterized his age, and frankly our own.

There's something both terribly frightening and exhilarating about Jesus' call, and something that appears to me to be far more revolutionary and far-reaching than is usually understood.  If I may be so frank, it seems to me that Jesus' message looks more like the Catholic Worker than it does Catholic Vote.

So yes, let's do appeal to the important idea of the church as a sign of contradiction.  However, let's stop fooling ourselves by thinking that the church fulfills this call to be a sign of contradiction when it proposes a sexual morality supposedly at odds with the dominant culture.

It seems to me that the notion of the church as a sign of contradiction is far more serious than that.


Here's my Twitter rant after my scooter ride this morning.  I am, as always, open to dialogue.







Painting above is Rembrandt's "The Descent from the Cross" and was found on www.wga.hu

1 comment:

  1. A concise definition of Bad Religion - everything that Douthat promotes and represents.
    Nobody, especially Douthat, seems to have noticed that Jesus was a radical outsider who was scathingly critical of the "orthodox" ecclesiastical establishment of his time and place. With all of its spirit-killing nit-picking legalisms.

    Jesus of course represents the whole-body of Man (both male and female) completely transparent and thus sublimed by the Feeling-Energy of The Divine Conscious Light or Luminous Radiant Sphere in which all of this is floating.

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