Monday, November 28, 2011

The Imaginary Gatekeepers of Love

When I was a kid, I lived in the psychological shadow of an older brother who was bigger, stronger, louder, more voluble, and more athletic than myself. It has been a long, hard path to letting myself off the hook for being, well... me, so I can understand why one of the primary touch-points of Canadian national identity is in not being American. This attitude is everywhere in Canada. It's as though Canadians - fearful of being overwhelmed by the personality of their bigger brother to the south - have reflexively chosen "definition by negation" as a default psychological stance.

Because I was raised as a half-breed, with a shot of Americano spliced genetically into me in my mother's womb, when I moved to Canada for school (after having been raised in a primarily-American missionary community), I endured a certain amount of nationality-based ribbing. I quickly learned to laugh along at TV shows that make fun of the United States, and to roll my eyes and groan when the President started to give his flag-waving speech-to-the-world during the climax of the movie Independence Day.

I have spent my entire life within the ever-fluctuating boundaries of Protestant North American Evangelicalism, and it seems pretty clear to me that this bizarro Christian subculture has chosen to define itself by the same sort of "identity-by-negation" so characteristic of little brothers everywhere.

Although it is obvious (to everyone else) that Protestant Evangelicals are by no means the little brother, anymore, they still maintain that characteristic, cringing defensiveness. The list of examples goes on and on, as Protestants have shuffled off things such as Tradition and Confession in an effort to prove their not-Catholicness.

I am not a theologian, and I would rather not wallow around in the somewhat childish, "he-said, he-said" world of dogmatic religious belief, so I'm not going to try to pick apart the arguments for either Catholicism or Protestantism. That is not, after all, what blogs are for. What blogs are for is whining; so instead, I am going to whine for a while about an area where the Protestant attempt to distance itself from Catholicism has resulted in some serious hypocrisy and damage - the priesthood.

For the uninitiated, the Protestant Christian religion developed over time (starting about six hundred years ago) as a negation - a re-formulation of what it saw as the True First Principles of Christianity, principles that had been violated for far too long by all those dirty Papists. In those days, there weren't newspapers reporting about the pedophilic evils going on in secrecy behind locked Catholic doors; but there didn't have to be, because there were a lot of other violations going on right out in public: things like, for example, the selling of indulgences. These were violations, but I don't think they were the result of Catholicness, per se, but rather the inevitable outcome when people conspire to manipulate the structures of a society in order to gain forcible control over other human beings.

If we were going to be charitable here, we might say that these violations grew, at first, out of a desire to help others make the life-choices that are, in fact, better for them. But the path to the human heart is not mapped in the cold circuitry of law, and moral change can only happen slowly, over time, in an environment rich with love and the free choice that love demands.

Yes, I do understand that in the short term, the rule of law is necessary to protect the weak from the un-loving choices of the strong; but the law itself is an inert tool, no more capable of producing real, human love than a hammer.

This Protestant, protesting movement directed much of its animosity toward what was at the time a particularly malfunctioning tool of the Catholic Church - the priesthood - and began to loudly insist that it was this warped mis-application of power that had led to so many violations of Christ's message. The problem with this conclusion, again, is that it is not the priesthood that is to blame. While ecclesiastic authority is, yes, perhaps too easily adopted by men (yes, men) who would use its power to control the wills of others, there are and have been a great many priests who have not betrayed the message of Christ. It is not inevitable.

By focusing on the manifestation instead of the source issue, Protestants have opened themselves up to the same sort of corruption, with the added hypocrisy of having to now pretend that they do not, in fact, believe in Priests. "Oh, no," they say (loudly, and to anyone who'll listen), "we believe in the Holy Priesthood of all Believers, Bless Jay-sus!"

But just try (I double-dog-dare you) to disagree, loudly and for any sustained period of time, with any of the "important" precepts maintained by the not-priest-priests of whichever sect to which you happen to belong. Just try that, and see how long it is before they start to eye you suspiciously, to doubt your inclusion "among the elect," and, ultimately, to give you the old heave-ho from their little loving community of priests.

By getting rid of the villains in the robes and pointy hats, they've merely endowed everyone with the authority to become a villain, and given tacit assent to the idea that priesthood is really about using whatever power you've got to control others into an illusion of propositional and moral purity. This is, of course, completely antithetical to the message of Jesus, who taught that nobody's pure, and that moral beauty (as close as you can hope to approximate it) is not found in systems of belief, but rather in persistent, sustained behaviors of love.

It is a scary thing, though, to abandon the comforting illusions provided by a Gatekeeper to the Truth. We are very small and the universe is very big, so we feel it better to put our faith in some tangible shepherd. We feel a need for priests, pastors, and gatekeepers, because we want someone to assure us that life is simple, and that everything will be okay.

Would I leave you, then, without a starry-eyed, self-appointed Messiah to guide you along the path to moral purity? Of course not. Instead, I present you with... ME (er, um... hah-hah, he mumbles to himself in embarrassment).

I guess it's inevitable, but Jesus offers a mediator-free path by suggesting that the way to approach God is to approach one another - in love. He gave his life as a bridge to God, an exemplification of the sort of self-sacrificial, grace-full love that transforms an abstract, cotton-candy concept into something human, immediate, and real. He even went so far as to say (and I'm not making this up) that wherever you found people most in need of your love, that's where he was, and that whatever heaven is/was/meant (it's not that clear in the Bible), the way to get there was to shut your pie-hole about all the propositions you accept, and to start loving the people who are in need. Jesus is always starving, thirsty, imprisoned, marginalized, grieving and oppressed. Go there, and you'll find God.

Someone with the "official" distinction of priest (or pastor, or whatever) is marvelously positioned to offer this sort of love, because in an ideal world, he (or she) would love like this, and word would start to get out among the needy. All the rest - all that sermonizing and crap music played on Sundays and blah-blah-blah-christianese - that's all just noise. There are no gatekeepers. The Truth is Love, and it is readily available to anyone who has the eyes to see love-need in another.

My older brother lives in California, now. I see him, sometimes, and when I do, I don't think about how he's better at sports, or socializing, or getting girls to think he's cool. In fact, I sometimes think he's a bit of a dork, living in worldview-weirdoland. But you know what? It doesn't matter. He's my brother, and I love him. He's same-same, but different, and it's not my job to change him. My job is to be me (and a pretty wonderful me I am), and to hug him when he needs it... regardless of whether or not time spent in Governator Megachurchville is turning him into a right-wing nut-job.

1 comment:

  1. From one who can 'rightly pass as a Catholic:'

    “Very well; and pray who sent you on this errand?
    Why, the renowned knight Don Quixote de La Mancha, who redresses wrongs, and gives drink to the hungry and meat to the thirsty.”
    ― Sancho Panza talking to himself

    It's really much worse than you know, and more glorious.
    Obliged, Friston.

    ReplyDelete

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