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.