Note to the humor impaired: Don’t take this article too seriously. It’s full of sarcasm and attempts at irony.)
Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I am tired of all the name calling and the negativity in the current dialogue. Conservative, liberal, orthodox what does it all mean? Can’t we all just get along?
Ann T. Kreisst
The situation has gotten a bit odd, what with cardinals being put out to pasture and all. I have a suggestion that might help. Years ago, a dear friend who had become interested in Catholicism wandered into a very progressive parish, where he took instruction in the Catholic faith. He was quite well read and was fascinated by the idea of transubstantiation. When he mentioned this, the pastor said most progressively, “You don’t have to believe that!”
The seeker asked, “May I believe I if I want to?
To which said progressive pastor, replied, “I suppose you can if you really want to.”
This kind of tolerance leads me to think that perhaps we should do what our Jewish friends have done for more than a century. They disagree with each mightily about points of theology and religious observance, but still manage to recognize each other’s Jewishness without getting too upset.
I warn you that the following is a huge simplification, but I will try to explain how they manage. Just take, for example, Orthodox Judaism. It has adherents called Hasidim, Haredi, Mishnagim and more. Among the Hasidim you have Sattmers and Lubavitchers. Among the Lubavitchers you have those who believe that the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson is the Messiah and you have those who don’t. It is really more complicated, but the inaccurately convenient divisions of Judaism boil down to a major four: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and a new variation, Reconstructionist.
Orthodox Judaism gets its start with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the destruction of the Jewish state in 132AD. Rabbinic Phariseeism seems to have gathered steam in the exile in Babylon centuries before the birth of Jesus. In short, Rabbinic Phariseeism developed a way to be an Israelite without a temple. When the temple was destroyed, the other forms of Judaism, such as the Sadducee-ism and the Essenes lost their reason for existence. But Rabbinic Phariseeism was good to go. It became the normative form of Israelite religion. It rejected the messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth and insisted on the literal application of the 613 commandments found in the book of Moses and the rabbinic interpretations thereof that eventually comprised the Talmud.
This was Judaism for about 1400 years from at least 200 AD until 1837 when Rabbi Abraham Geiger invented Reform Judaism. He believed that Judaism should evolve and shed the anachronistic restrictions of orthodoxy, especially regarding dietary laws and “ghetto-ization.” This new more adaptive approach to Judaism really took off in the New World. Some poor wandering Jew trekking across the frontiers of America had a hard time keeping kosher. Half the animals he encountered were unknown in the old country. Does a beaver chew the cud and divide the hoof, or what? One could starve on the frontier while wondering whether a prairie dog could be eaten or not. Reform Judaism was a boon to the Jewish pioneer. If Rabbinic Phariseeism was “how to be and Israelite without a temple” then Reform Judaism was “how to be an Israelite without a Kosher Delicatessen.”
The other two modern forms of Judaism are Conservative, (tradition, though not absolutely essential, should be respected. Perhaps Reform Judaism has gone too far.) It should be noted that “Conservative” here refers only to things Jewish. It has no political connotation. One can be a Conservative Jew and still vote liberal. Finally, we have Reconstructionist Judaism (Reform Judaism enough. Belief in God should be optional.)
All these different kinds of Jews still manage to call each other Jewish and keep their squabbles to a reasonable minimum. Perhaps this would work for us. We could have Orthodox Catholics who would divide themselves into those who want Mass only in Latin and those who want Mass in English, but still don’t approve of gay marriage. Then we could have Conservative Catholics who like the smells and bells and funny hats, but don’t want to miss the party when their cousin Bruce marries his boyfriend. They could call themselves “conservative” and still vote for pro-abortion candidates. Then we could have Reform Catholics who say “and also with you” instead of and “with your spirit.” They could have married lesbian women priests and giant puppet head Masses and sing all the new songs like “Sing a new church into being” and “Come dance in the forest and bump into trees” and all that groovy new music from the 1960’s. They could call God “mother” and dance around in diaphanous robes.
We could put signs out in front of churches, like “St. Eudoxia’s Orthodox Catholic Church: No hand holding at the Our Father, please.”
Or you have a church down the road with a sign in front of it: “St. Perfidia’s Conservative Catholic Church: a nice liturgy, but no excessive moral demands”
How about, “Church of the Spirit, Reformed Catholic: Come on in and be surprised!”
We could even have a Reconstructionist Catholic church. You celebrate all the major holidays, like St Patrick’s Day and Halloween without actually believing anything at all. You could still dye your beer green and get misty eyed about Irish history, though you reject the faith on which that great culture was built. The sign outside could read, “Catholic Reconstructionist Church of the Assumption: We assume there is a god, but we’re not really sure.”
It would be truth in advertising. No one would be unnecessarily subjected to Latin chant or liturgical dance against their will. As Chairman Mao said “Let a thousand flowers bloom.”
There are only a couple drawbacks to this eminently reasonable solution. Eventually the demographic factor will kick in. Orthodox Jewish birthrates in just the last few years have soared according to Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen. 27% of Jews younger than 18 live in Orthodox households. Orthodox Jews actually like having big families! Part of Orthodox Catholicism would have to be an acceptance of Humanae Vitae and its prohibition of artificial birth control, whereas conservative Catholicism would of course wink at artificial birth control. Reform and Reconstructionist Catholicism would have a special blessing for birth control devices.
Eventually, to be Catholic would be the same thing as to be Orthodox Catholic at least that’s what seems to be happening among our Jewish friends. In the long run it might not work, but it would get us through the next couple centuries with at least the appearance of unity. I close with a thought from a great man, my bishop. “If you invent your own religion, eventually you will find that you are worshipping yourself.”
“May You be with you.”
“And also with you.”