A kind correspondent has written to me, particularly to draw my attention to an article written by (Fr) Tony Equale, a Roman Catholic priest who left the priesthood and became highly critical of classical Catholicism, especially the heritage of the Council of Trent. The article is Sex, Celibacy and the Nature of God. I have a link to this blog, but I have always come away from it unsatisfied by his “materialism”. What I mean by this word here is not the “consumerism” of the masses but the idea of considering matter as an absolute rather than an illusion created by energy. What is “spiritual matter”?
I haven’t had the energy to study Fr Tony’s work in detail, but I suspect he is more influenced that he would want to admit by nineteenth century philosophies from the likes of Nietzsche, Darwin and Marx. Institutional Christianity does have a lot to answer for, but I see no good coming out of its destruction. As I corresponded by e-mail, I saw a blog article coming out of this, so here it is, reworked and refined.
Like the Modernists of the 1890’s and the early twentieth century, I do think that presenting God in a similar way as we relate fairy tales to children does the Church and the Christian message a tremendous amount of harm. We need to find new and different ways to present the ineffable Mystery in such away as people at different cultural levels can relate to it and develop human knowledge and spirituality. In terms of knowledge of God, the eastern Fathers tended to present an apophatic approach, the so-called “negative theology”, an attempt to approach God by negation. We can only say and think what God is not. We find ourselves in adoration before an ineffable Mystery, something beyond our rational understanding, but recognised to have some kind of ontological reality. Some dimensions of modern science speak of a universal consciousness in which we as humans and living creatures participate by our own consciousness of self, the cogito ergo sum of Descartes. I think and know, so therefore am in existence. Already we have a new approach to which many thinking people of our times can relate as opposed to the usual catechetical teaching given to children, out of which they grow when they become adults. In this, I share the view of someone like Fr George Tyrrell who got himself into hot water in the 1900’s with the Pope (Pius X) for Modernism. If you actually read him, you will see that he was opposed to the demythologising exegesis of German liberal biblical scholars. He sought a notion of God that would be credible to men of science and more spiritual than legalistic and rationalistic.
Fr Tony has a similar kind of aspiration, perhaps to “save” a notion of God from the ruin of institutional religion. However, I am deterred by his insistence on the absolute of matter rather than energy. Traditional theology has distinguished the creator and the created, super-nature and nature. I would tend to favour a more pantheistic notion of everything, including evil and suffering, being divine or participating in divine consciousness. Such a notion might do more to give a spiritual outlook on everything than the “material” that comes into being and dies its death. Without doubt, I have not studied Fr Tony’s work enough to avoid coming out with a caricature, but at least I would say something to contribute to the discussion.
If everything is consciousness and energy, there are certainly more things than are dreamt of in our philosophy, to misquote Shakespeare. Matter would only be an illusion to us who live on that “wavelength”. I can well believe in the ideas of multiverses, or universes existing in parallel, but on different “wavelengths” of energy. Sometimes, there would be a certain measure of communication between the universes giving rise to unexplained phenomena: angels, ghosts, UFO’s, so-called aliens, near-death experiences and many more experiences of sincere people.
What comforts me in the idea that human consciousness, in which universal consciousness subsists, can live independently from the brain and the physical organism. What exactly happens, we don’t know, but the general idea is that we continue to be conscious with personality and memories intact. Tony Equale seems to suggest that our consciousness “goes somewhere” but we no longer have personalities or memories. That seems depressing. There is the possibility of reincarnation, but that creates philosophical problems and is incompatible with traditional Christian eschatology.
We see very quickly that the article is not so much about repressed sexuality but the entire religious construct that brought about such sexual moral teachings. We can easily get obsessed about the issues of sex, celibacy and sensuality. It all exploded in the 1960’s and ended up with disillusionment and AIDS. Many of us have had to deal with moralism and legalism, both very unhealthy. Materialism is no solution, and I have seen few westerners adapt well to eastern religions and philosophies. We can recover aspects of Gnosticism and monastic spirituality that haven’t been institutionalised.
Tony Equale isn’t easy to read and his “line” isn’t easily identifiable. He is not someone I would want to follow uncritically.
Since the US presidential election, I have come to discover a young American by the name of Tarl Warwick living in the Vermont countryside. He is a current affairs pundit, writes books, is a professed Pagan and shows a great amount of talent as a Youtuber. Don’t be put off by his “Satanism” because it doesn’t seem to mean what we find in horror films. Here is an interesting talk –
This young man talks very eloquently and makes sense, both in his political commentaries and his spiritual view. He is not above criticism for his appearance, but it’s a free world. He comes over well on YouTube. I would be too introverted for such work, and have put very little on YouTube. He has written and done video presentations on Gnosticism, Paganism, his journey away from his original Evangelical Christianity and his world view. He is quite gritty, and likes f*** words! Again, it’s his way. He’s something of a character!
One thing that I did appreciate was his idea that wiping the slate clean can be good for some people. After a phase as an atheist, he began to research into what he called satanism, but he tells us that he was not worshipping an evil entity in the way we Christians usually understand Satan, the Devil, or whatever you want to call that dark entity. He seems rather to be interested in pre-Christian paganism, the old Mystery Religions, folklore and things like Druidism or the spirituality of the Native Americans. I think we certainly need to acquire knowledge of such phenomena in history in the same way as St Paul brought Christianity to the Hellenic and Roman world. Keep an open mind, but a critical one.
A part of our pilgrimage is to question and rediscover ourselves and what we believe in. Two forces have been in play from the beginning: Christianity for Jews and Christianity for Latins, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, etc. – the heritage of the Mystery religions which expressed ideas that either influenced the “myth” of Christ or prefigured a fulfilment. I think we need contact with those who live according to a “natural religion” and try to understand something.
At the stage where we are, post-Tridentine Catholicism is a red herring, with no more influence than those who think the earth is flat or hollow with cities ruled by alien reptile Nazis! The real problem in today’s world is the spectre of the jihadist caliphate and the complete rolling back of humanism, the Enlightenment and the Renaissance. We face humanity at its worst, at its cruellest and most base. That is the real enemy along with some kind of Orwellian dystopia brought about by the moneyed elites. We are returning to feudalism with an “aristocracy” far more merciless than in 1789.
Evolving moral consciousness? Only a few of us who think about these things. Maybe the “fools gold” of classical Catholicism is an illusion, but the coming tyranny isn’t! Many priests have abused children, but children are openly sold as sex slaves in countries like Libya and everywhere ISIS / Daesh is found. They don’t have sacraments, priests or liturgies. If we get rid of Christianity, what do we replace it with?
I do think Christianity has to be more personal and spiritual than institutional or clerical. This is happening. I am a priest but very much live the life of an “ordinary guy” with few outward trapping, except when I am in contact with the small institutional Church I belong to.
Where are we going with our reflections? What do we want? A “pure truth” of some kind? A way of life that brings happiness and satisfaction? It is easier to destroy than build anew. This was the lesson of the Marxist ideology that is only seeing something of a resurgence through the opposition of “populism”(both left and right) against elite globalism. The “magic church” now only exists in our imaginations. It is dead and not worth fighting against. But, not all Churches are peddling stories without credibility. It all just needs to be looked at differently.
I am fascinated by the idea of quantum theory, multiverses and consciousness. I was quite overcome when I saw a comparison between a microscopic view of human brain neurons and then a view of galaxies strung together with something looking like nerves. Is it the same thing at the level of the atoms that make up what we can sense? Could the immense view of the universe(s) only be a microscopic view of something even more immense and so forth to infinity? This kind of thinking kept me awake many times as a small boy. Everything is so mysterious and beyond our finite rational understanding. There are those who say that even the sub-atomic particles (protons, electrons, etc.) are pure energy and that there is only empty space or nothingness between them. There goes the matter, but we only experience “matter” because we are on its “wavelength”. However, I admire Fr Tony for his courage and open enquiry into what he seeks to understand and teach.
My correspondent mentioned Jean-Yves Leloup, a French former Dominican friar, who is fascinating. I have read some of his introductions to translations of Nag Hammadi texts into French and have heard some talks he has given via YouTube videos. The Gnostic paradigm needs to be looked into, but not taken literally as we are wont to do. “Fundamentalist Gnosticism” or a “Gnostic Church” would be something quite ghastly! It would be worse than anything else. But at a personal level, it is a breath of fresh air.
There you have it, a few reflections without any real conclusion. Will pre-Christian paganism or Jewish or Islamic monotheism bring us happiness and fulfilment? Would we do better becoming Buddhists or Hindus? We can’t change our culture and our fundamental world view. Materialism and atheism have shown their fruits in the bloodbaths of the twentieth century and to the present day. Does Christianity harm us? Certainly some Christian-based ideologies harm individuals and societies. Christianity has always been more humanist and humane than anything else, notwithstanding the excesses of the medieval Church, the Inquisition and the Crusades. Something is not necessarily true because it pleases us or gives us a pleasant “fix”.
There are apologetic arguments for the truth of Christianity, but they have their limits. There is some evidence of Christ from ancient non-Christian sources. It has endured centuries of persecution and change. Other religions have too. The question keeps coming into my mind: what would we be without Christianity? We would surely be worse rather than better. It isn’t an argument, but it is a good and valid question.
I choose to go on with Christianity, both in my Church and following my own pilgrimage as a priest and a believer.
“There are apologetic arguments for the truth of Christianity, but they have their limits. There is some evidence of Christ from ancient non-Christian sources. It has endured centuries of persecution and change. Other religions have too. The question keeps coming into my mind: what would we be without Christianity? We would surely be worse rather than better. It isn’t an argument, but it is a good and valid question.
I choose to go on with Christianity, both in my Church and following my own pilgrimage as a priest and a believer.”
I would agree with you here. In fact, recently I did an in depth study of Islam in all its varieties and ended up both having an appreciation for the richness and depth of that religion and a near crisis of faith in basic Christian doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation. When you look at how solid and simple, yet deep something like Islam is it makes you question just why us Christians require something like the extremely dense and unfathomable doctrines of the hypostatic union, the Trinity or even the Incarnation. Even the best theologians and philosophers in history have scarcely been able to adequately help us understand how any of these mysteries are necessary or even possible; it’s mostly academic, obtuse and mere speculation.
I say all this all the while remaining a Christian, as it just confirms for me my basic fideistic stance on things. There are certain things one just ought to accept as sheer mystery, and on the authority of the Church, Fathers and Saints. These things like the Hypostatic Union, the Trinity and the Incarnation are like Zen Koans.
Another thing this exploration into other religions has done is given me a sense of how little we really understand about others. Very few people take the time to really learn, not just their own religion, but others religions as well. These days I see no real point to polemics, especially if they are nothing more than an angry, arrogant and fake caricature of what others believe.
Of course I believe in the mysteries of Christianity, but I do not necessarily believe that the mysteries of Christianity are any more “provable” or credible than the descent of the Quran or the prophethood of Mohammed or even the Enlightenment of Buddha. As a Christian I must remain humble in the face of my own religion and pretty much agnostic in the face of others.
Its not my place to judge other people’s journeys. I can only offer the witness of my life as a Christian but cannot prove to anyone any of the mysteries of this faith.
Nice reflection. Islam is in the news because of terrorism. I know little about Islam and I have not read the Quran, but there are peaceful currents like Sufism (René Guénon converted to it seeking a form of Gnosticism). In the western Sahara, they are generally peaceful and respect Christians. Shi’ite Iran has its public hanging and mutilation, and they are in the middle ages with modern technology. Here is a brief article contrasting Sunnis and Shi’ites. The real fanaticism has come out of Saudi Arabia with Salafism, a “reformed” and conservative branch of Sunnism.
If I lost my faith in Christianity (which I haven’t), I wouldn’t be inclined to join a big world religion. I would probably just “go private” and study the ancient Mystery Religions. As things are, I go on as an Anglican priest and an “ordinary guy”.
What I found interesting is how almost all the so called perennialists (Rene Guenon, Titus Burkhardt, Martin Lings,William Chittick, Fritjof Schuon et. al. ) became Muslim. There is definitely something repulsive in Wahabbism/Salafism and the crude literalism that form of Islam engenders, but Islam taken as a whole is pretty profound.
I even experimented with doing the ritual ablutions and doing Muslim prayer for a week or two just to see what it’s like. It was quite beautiful, especially the ritual washing before the prayers, and how the prayers move forward and backward in time throughout the year according to the sun. Islam literally makes prayer obligatory, and the Quran recited in Arabic is in many respects like holy communion, as it is considered the Word of God the way Jesus Christ is the Word in Christianity.
What I still cannot wrap my head around is polygamy though.
I have always come up against a point beyond which I would run out of sympathy with the perennialists. I know that Islam, in periods like the 11th century when Christian culture was quite low, excelled in medicine and art. I can appreciate the positive points like a real commitment to serving God and being in harmony with creation. Islam can and does become evil in its fundamentalist expressions, as can Christianity and Judaism.
It is part of a curious soul to want to experience things from other cultures. Most of us have enjoyed their food like a good Couscous or Indian curries or Chinese cuisine. I have often been tempted to buy an Arabic or north African style thobe and wear it in private at home during the summer. It is not bad to experience other cultures and spiritual expressions – but in the end, Christianity also has spiritual expressions like the daily Office, the Eucharist and various types of meditation and ascetic discipline. There is nothing wrong with being a Christian and doing Muslim style ritual ablutions if they enhance our spiritual life and self-knowledge. However, beware of becoming bored with what we have and looking for the exotic!
Perhaps you can find a way to contact Christian communities like refugees from Irak and Syria, representing Monophysitism and Nestorianism. Or yet there are ancient communities in Africa like the ancient Ethiopian Church founded by the Apostle St Philip. You might find them too different culturally to want to join them, but one can find inspiration.
When I look a the architecture of Churches from the Fourth century and later, I get to wondering how much Muslim ablutions might have to do with Christian ablutions about which we are no longer aware (or informed?). The attention to making “prayer obligatory” gets me wondering about possible connections or simply comparisons with the monastic development of the Hours and Offices, and practices like the angelus bell, too.
To J.D. Polygamy is ok only if you can afford it, and to support any ex-wives!
To Fr. Anthony: Guy shut down his blog a month ago but you can check out John Michael Greer who is a real live Druid. He has written 30+ books on various subjects, some very arcane. His ‘former’ blog The Archdruid Report spans i think 11 years of weekly posts with numerous cogent replies. Although I’m an Eastern Christian, I like his approach to things.
I have had a link to John Greer’s blog for a while. He has tended to come up with “alternative futures” about things like peak oil and society breaking down. He is obviously knowledgeable about philosophy. I have enjoyed his blog, but find some posts heavy-going. I hope he will soon sort out his life issues and post again in the form he can best relate to. I am wary about modern reconstructions of ancient and defunct religions, as I am about “restoring” the liturgy by using sources from Hippolitus, etc. Dom Bede Griffiths was criticised for syncretism, but I sympathise with his approach of seeking the best in Hindu mysticism to give a heightened meaning to his Christian commitment. I should read his books.
I’ve only read The Golden String: An Autobiography, (1954) and his contribution to C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, so far, but enjoyed both of those! I also enjoyed interviewing Martin Lings, another old pupil of Lewis’s (though I think one has to go to Wheaton, Illinois to read/hear the interview).
On another level (e.g., as a descendant of Welsh Morgans and with basic archaeological training), I thoroughly enjoyed Stuart Piggott’s The Druids (1968).