Friday, August 2, 2013

“Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” The cartoon showed two bored office workers, idly gazing out the window, when one of them said, “Let’s go to California and start a new religion.” Fair or not, California has been a starting place for many religious-minded (and otherwise) folk to break out new ways to find and share the religion of their choice. More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, writes Dan Merica of CNN. It is evident that many Americans do not think this is a good thing. According to a Gallup survey 75 percent of Americans said the country would be better off if it were more religious. There may be some answers to why church attendance is slipping ever so slightly, and bored office or blue collar workers are looking for something more challenging. The last fifteen years books dealing with the history and reality of Christianity have become best sellers such as: Charles Kimball’s “When Religion Becomes Evil.” John D. Caputo’s “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” “Water Into Wine” by Tom Harpur and Neale Donald Walsch’s three books on “Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue.” Historian and scholar, Reza Asian, has just published a new biography of Jesus, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” Professor Asian was born in Iran and grew up in America. He accepted Jesus as his savior in his teens. The book relates the author’s spiritual journey while understanding the peasants, priests, soldiers and their daily lives of Jesus’ Palestine. This biography seeks to separate the man from deity. I found the book an interesting read. It shares the epoch-making story through the writings of men who were there before, during and after Jesus. He says he wrote the book “in order to spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor that I once applied to spreading the story of the Christ.” “Ironically,” Asian writes, “the more I learned about the life of the historical Jesus, the turbulent world in which he lived, and brutality of the Roman occupation that he defied, the more I was drawn to him.” Reading this book and a couple of Tom Harpur’s books filled in a lot of gaps in my faith, hope and understanding of religion in general. These books increased my faith because of the honesty and enlightenment they brought. Harpur is a former columnist for the Toronto Star, an Anglican priest and a Rhodes scholar. Twenty-first century believers and unbelievers are questioning about Jesus, the Son of Man, just as they were from the beginning of his ministry. The first 300 years were filled with what we might call “denominations” today. Those with the historical-literalist approach won the battle of “views” and have been with us to this day. That could be one reason people are seeing little relevance in “church going” and want more than set-in-concrete, unquestioning blind observance in their faith: traditions, rituals, rites, demands, regulations, ceremonies and even “know-it-all” sermonizers. I began with a joke about guys starting a new religion. There is no reason to start a new religion, nor a new denomination. The world has more than enough of both. There are many reasons to grow up in our faith and know what we believe and why. Church-goers will find in spiritual growth the dimension that may be lacking. --30--
Are religious women still second-class? It has been, from time to time, a now and then concern of mine for the nuns, sometimes called sisters, of the Roman Catholic Church, whose headquarters in the Vatican, a suburb of Rome, Italy, do some of the finest work of any religion. All women in ministry in this devout organization continue to be second-class employees according to their own superiors. These women lovingly care for the sick, teach the young, and have never been accused of any form of child abuse. Last year the Vatican appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest group of Catholic nuns, saying that the sisters “had serious doctrinal problems.” (Laurie Goodstein, New York Times.) The nuns were reprimanded for publicly disagreeing with the American bishops – the Roman Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals. Being “a man of the cloth” once upon a time, all the religious doctrines, dogmas or traditional values, for me, have always been trumped by common sense. Common sense, which is anything but common, is seldom in the mix for religious leaders in Protestant and Catholic churches. This could be one of the reasons that religion is not making much of an impact on the present scene. Much of the good work the nuns do goes unnoticed, until long after they leave their “earth suit” for glories above, when they might be proclaimed a “Saint.” (But only if there are enough “miracles” credited to her ministry.) Women have been getting the blame for everything wrong since Adam, the coward, pointed to Eve and said: “The woman gave the forbidden fruit to me!” (The Roberts-Fisher song “Put The Blame on Mame, Boys” would be a good title for a book about the eternal plight of the so-called “weaker sex.”) Tis’ strange the Roman Catholics look askance at nuns while making much prayer to Mary, the mother of the historical Jesus. They cannot perform Mass. They take orders from priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and papa, all of whom are men. On the web site, Matthew Pinto writes: “Although the early Church allowed married clergy, the Church later came to see celibacy as a better example of the norm and model of Jesus’ priesthood.” (One thing Jesus never claimed was being a priest.) This Catholic website goes on to say: “Celibacy surely gains the Catholic clergy a hidden respect from many people.” The priesthood has been one of the most unfortunate inventions of the last 1000 years. They stand in for God; confession is to them; power grows as they “lead the flock.” In 306 A.D., the Council of Elvria decreed: “Bishops and other in ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office.” The subject was violently debated for over 800 years until at the Second Lateran Council in the year 1139 sex and marriage was out for priests of the Roman Church. It was still a problem until 1322 when Pope John XXII decreed married men were forbidden from the priesthood. (Read the newspapers of the last 20 years for the results of such Middle Ages ignorance.) Sex has always been a “shameful” thing to Puritans and the Catholic male-dominated hierarchy. Why such fear? Who knows, possibly because a woman is involved? Which brings me back to why women in Roman Catholic society and culture are unworthy to lead? I thought I might have an answer to women being classified as lower than men, when most of them I have met remind me more of angels. Sometimes I think I can solve riddles, or problems, such as the saying: “Save America from Atheists (they are taking-over?); or “God Bless America” (why not the whole world?); or where did President Barack Obama find so many inept advisors? C.S. Lewis said in his book The Great Divorce: “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and work it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.” --30--