I just completed a short blog on “Getting out of prison,” in which I analyzed rigid ideologies affecting the minds and actions of many persons in our uncivil-civil society. I urged self-examination and humility as means to “get out of jail free,” to escape from the prisons of our own making, or of our own choosing. Now I seek to turn reasoned analysis on myself, and wonder if what I am teaching, writing, and living may be for good or for ill.
We begin with questions. What if I am genuinely mistaken about “the Bible,” and it really is or at least contains “God’s Word,” which one may read and discover? Well, in reality I do believe that there is much wisdom in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and that anyone could gain much from reading them intelligently and thoughtfully, and apply what they learn to how they live their lives. The problem as I see it is in effect absolutizing the Bible (or the Qur’an) as unquestionable truth which must be accepted uncritically. It is the lack of thought about what is read, the lack of actively questioning its truth and place in one’s life, that most concerns me.
Second, regarding Catholic institutionalism, am I wrong to claim that the Church is not in reality as “holy” as it claims to be? Am I wrong in criticizing the notion that “Jesus founded the Church,” and set the hierarchy in place, as God the Creator set the stars in the heavens? And what underlies my impassioned criticism of Catholic clergy anyway? The short answer is this: I and no few others have experienced evil committed by Catholic clergy, and even more evil committed by bishops or by Rome making excuses for evil-doing clergy, and covering up their crimes. At the same time, many Catholic “lay persons” simply refuse to see and to deal effectively with clergy who have neglected their spiritual well-being, preached blather to them, deceived them, stolen from them, abused their children, and so on. Anger in me is aroused by the evils and deceits in the churches, all covered up beneath a plastic halo of holiness. The wrongs done to unsuspecting persons and the attempts to continue the evils under cover of “confidentiality” and naked denials should, I believe, awaken the wrath of pacified, often non-thinking Catholics. I personally believe and have said that the Christian community ought to slough off the hierarchy as a snake sloughs off its skin. On this point I may be wrong. (My goodness, could I be wrong? You bet!) And I admit that trying to reform or remake the hierarchy of the Catholic Church seems to lead nowhere, and perhaps achieves nothing good. The attempt may be a waste of time and even damaging, especially when there are at least some bishops and priests who do much good, and genuinely seek to build up Christ in the faithful. Not all clergy members are deceivers and thieves—but many are. Not every Catholic continues to sit passively in pews and unthinkingly accept evils done by clergy—but most seem to turn a blind eye to evil done in their midst.
Having made these points, is it now best to shut up? Is it futile and a waste of energy to criticize the hierarchy of the churches for the evil they do? Would it be better for me, and for others, to keep quiet and to mind our own business? Given how resistant to change Roman authorities have long been, are we just wasting time? Would it be more prudent just to seek God in the silence and peace of one’s heart, and either walk away from the institutional church or at least ignore it? Should Catholics abandon the institutional church for their own spiritual well-being? Or should they stay and seek to grow up, begin to assume responsibility for their own spiritual nourishment and growth, and speak out against evils in clergy as they arise?
Why am I angry because of human wickedness and foolishness, even done under the cover of clerical collars and pious assertions to be “other Christs”? What good comes from such anger? What good comes from the anger of “progressives,” Democrats, or Republicans, who spend so much time hating and attacking President Trump? The man has evident flaws; but who does not? Which President in our “modern history” has not had very serious flaws, and often been self-seeking, and loved power too much? As a political scientist and observer of politics, I cannot name one. If these men did not love power, why would they ever seek to be President (or seek any higher office)? The office of political leadership attracts men and women of a certain caliber: not only those who truly want to “get things done for the common good,” as they all claim, but who at the same time want power, fame, attention, financial gain, benefits for their friends and family members. Should we be surprised that as Vice President, Joe Biden practiced the vice of feathering the nest for his wayward and apparently screwed-up son with huge financial benefits? Should we be surprised that men in the oval office have sought sexual gratification even from young women within their grasp? Should we be surprised that Nixon sought to cover up the crime of the break-in at the Watergate? Or that FDR lied to the American people about the “unprovoked” attack of Japan on Pearl Harbor? Our leaders have been flawed, and often deeply flawed human beings. Do such characters deserve hatred? Is it worthwhile filling our own souls with venom at those we deem dangerous snakes? Are we Americans really so virtuous and good that we expect to elect truly virtuous men and women to the highest offices of the land? Would we even recognize or respond to genuine virtue? Perhaps we are too foolish and too self-absorbed as a people in history even to know who might lead our people in beneficial ways, without being scoundrels or “low-lifers” themselves. “We the People” seem to have become far less virtuous and deserving of good leadership than we believe. We are easily duped, because we are quite foolish.
“What about you, little man?” I know that I am not a virtuous human being—nor do I claim to be. I have never called myself a “just man,” or “a holy priest,” or a “good monk.” I am too aware of the wrongs I have done, and the good I have failed to do, to exonerate myself. Looking back on my life, there is not much of which I am genuinely proud. If I have done anyone any good in my life, it has been despite my flaws and failures, and because the all-good God can and does work in and through our human weaknesses. “Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory.” Why? Because we are not so good ourselves.
Although I know that I am neither learned nor wise, yet I write these little blogs. Why? Because I seek to share thoughts while being open to correction. Knowing that I do not have a poetic imagination, or handle symbols effectively, I still write little, mediocre or poor poems. Even though I am an impassioned man with considerable anger at injustice and untruth—as I see them—I still try to teach in some ways. Do I do harm to human beings? I am sure that I have harmed no few persons, beginning with my own family members since childhood. I can only hope that I do more good than harm; but in truth, I do not know. Nor do I hold myself blameless in any way. I certainly have never dealt with a Catholic bishop who seemed to find me anything but a pest, or worse; no bishop under whom I ever served said that I do a good job serving Christ in his people—the very thing which I sought to do. One bishop loudly and very angrily accused me of “dividing the parish” (in Kalispell, Montana), and quickly threw me out of his diocese. Together or individually, bishops and their priest personnel boards have awarded me no pension or health care in retirement. They have found me unworthy of any benefits. Nor do I ask for any money from any authority in the church—bishop or abbot—or from lay persons. I am well aware that by temperament, character, and beliefs, I do not fit well into the Catholic church, into a monastery, or into any institution. Authorities may well be right in describing me as a “trouble-maker.” And I have made trouble for some in authority, whether they deserved it or not (but I think that they did deserve questioning for their wrong deeds). As for what I believe, I was told by a priest in one diocese that the bishop there under whom I served considered me to be “non-Orthodox,” which I take to be a polite phrase for a “heretic.” I thought he was a kindly man, but entrapped in rigid dogma. No doubt he found my reservations about the dogma of “the Trinity” to be heretical. (At least he did not have me burned at the stake, as some bishops have done for those who question fixed beliefs.)
So what am I to do? I remain a Benedictine monk of St. Anselm’s Abbey, and I remain a Catholic priest. Am I proud of either position? Frankly, no. On the other hand, I firmly believe that I benefited much from being a brother monk of St. Anselm’s, and I genuinely respect and love my Abbot as a man of God. As for me, I am not worthy or suitable to live in the monastery, for my character is highly flawed, and I really am, as noted, a “trouble-maker.” I question what others do not want questioned. I am unable to live at peace with what I perceive as serious wrong-doing, deception, pretense, or unquestioned beliefs. Even as I consider myself a very poor example of being a Benedictine monk, at least I respect the life the monks attempt to live. As for being a priest in the Catholic church, here I feel much shame and disgust. We priests—myself included—have badly failed the people we were ordained to serve. Many of us are scoundrels, who steal, deceive, seek power, swallow all sorts of ideological nonsense and spew it out to others. Having seen what I have seen from some clergy, there is no way I could be proud to be serve among such men. On the other hand, I have known some wonderful and good priests—one of whom is now in prison for doing evil. And a real scoundrel and deceiver runs free to continue his deceptions, thanks to cover up from the chancery. How could anyone be proud to be counted among such human beings?
I look in the mirror, and I see a fairly old man, become rapidly older. I am thankful for my life, despite my flaws and faulty character, and despite my impassioned and unbalanced temperament. I have received much good from the all-merciful God—“far more than I deserve,” as Dave Ramsey would say. It is best that I live alone, so as not to infect others with my anger and refusal quietly to accept what I think are lies or deceptions. There is no way I could live peaceably with any human being, for I am not at peace with what and who I am; hence, I willingly and gladly accept living alone in relative isolation. And in no way do I want to function publicly in any church, or in civil society. Although no prophet or saint, I would probably be as divisive of human community as was John the Baptist—just on a smaller scale, as I am a much smaller human being than was John.
Finally, should I write and make public such statements? If not, why not? What is gained by hiding who we are? Can any good come from what I do or say? In truth, I do not know. But this I believe: “It is time for judgment to begin in the household of God.”
—Wm. Paul McKane
7 December 2019
Are you in prison, or perhaps just temporarily in the local jail? Or have you been living your life imprisoned, and do not even know it? So many have been imprisoned by their own bad habits and addictions for so long that they do not see the walls that close them in. And millions upon millions live imprisoned by ideologies of one stripe or another. They are trapped in their fixed beliefs. And they most likely do not know it, or willingly embrace their imprisoning beliefs, having no idea how to live as free men sprung from prison.
1. Institutional Prison: Often one must deal with at least three kinds of ideological prisons that may intrude on our everyday life. Possibly the least obvious of the three prisons, and probably the least insidious, is the prison of institutional life. It may affect and infect one’s thinking, loving, living. The type of prison I encounter often is what has been called “churchianity.” Among Catholics it is especially marked, because the “faithful” have been propagandized for centuries with the belief that in some non-rational, usually unexplained way, the Catholic Church is “the body of Christ,” or even “the Kingdom of God on earth.” Many everyday Catholics unthinkingly accept that the institutional church is “divinely instituted,” and hence shares to a high degree in divinity and in God’s prerogatives: holiness, unity, wisdom, truth, goodness. Many Catholics have unthinkingly swallowed the belief that their Church is itself a “holy” institution. Consequently, the “faithful” have often been unwilling and perhaps even mentally unable to criticize the wrongdoings of their institutional leaders—bishops, priests, deacons. The clergy have perpetuated the belief in the “holiness” of the church precisely because it produces more docile, uncritical, and willingly paying members. “One holy catholic and apostolic church” easily becomes a cover and a mask for an often highly unholy, non-catholic, parochial clergy. In short, many are the Catholic “faithful” who have been duped into unthinking acceptance of false teachings, foolish claims, and some wicked and destructive practices. If one doubts the truth of this claim, follow the news in our country, or elsewhere in the world, with exposés on one bishop or priest after another who has stolen from, deceived, molested, or badly treated the unsuspecting and all-too-accepting Catholics whom they supposedly “serve.”
2. “True faith” prison. There is a second kind of prison entrapping many in our midst, and this one also strongly affects the “body of Christ,” or self-declared “believers in Christ.” Among Catholics, it often takes the form of an unthinking acceptance of “Church teachings,” including whatever they happen to be told by pontiff, bishop, priest, or deacon. At times it shows up as “Father says,” or “this saint taught that,” or “the official church teaching is….” In each case, what is offered is an appeal to some supposed authority as “true,” without reasoned thinking and testing of the truthfulness of the particular assertions. It is usually more fundamentalistic Catholics who fall into this trap or prison, although the “progressive” wing, too, has been duped by some “leading theologian” who has “seen the light” and proclaims his “certain truth” to unsuspecting and gullible men and women; these “theologians” promise a “transformation of the world” and “revolution” through “social action.” And they fool many.
As bad as the Catholic ideological prisons are, one finds perhaps even thicker iron bars and heavier concrete walls among Protestant, evangelical prisons. Frequently one encounters “Bible-believing Christians” who seemingly have closed their minds and live imprisoned in “the Bible,” assuming and loudly proclaiming that “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” is in “the Bible,” and every word in the Book is “true,” and to be unthoughtfully accepted as “God’s word,” “God’s truth.” These “Bible-believers,” however well-intentioned they may be, however endearing their “personal commitment” and “personal relationship to Jesus” may be, are both deceived and unwitting deceivers of others. They are as imprisoned in their “Bible” as many Catholics are imprisoned in “the holy Mother Church.” It is sad and disturbing to see, but all-too-common.
If one questions some particular assertion of these “bible-believers,” such as assertions about “the Trinity of three persons,” or about “salvation for the elect,” or even about the unchallengeable truth of “the Bible” itself as the “Word of God,” one immediately encounters a mind that is imprisoned in rigid, unyielding beliefs: one assertion follows another, with no attempt by these biblical fundamentalists to stand back from the “Bible,” and question its legitimate claim to be “the very word of God,” and beyond critical examination. “The Bible says” takes the place of well-reasoned arguments open to the light of further scrutiny, examination, refinement, and possible negation. “It is true because the Bible says it is true” in fact amounts to the assertion that “the claim is true because I say it is true,” because each of these “Bible-believers” has her or own interpretation of what particular texts say or mean. Without reading the texts in their original languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek—they claim with certainty to know and usually to understand what a particular writer intended to communicate. The worst of these tendencies becomes apparent when they flip open the Book of Daniel, or the New Testament Book of Revelation, and begin to pronounce on “things that will soon take place.” That the author had no conception of how history would develop, and what the future in truth would look like, seems not to have crossed their imprisoned minds. Nor would this point even register in the finds of these book-imprisoned people, because they actually believe that “God wrote the Bible” (or Qur’an) or at least “inspired” it so that it is all “true.”
A Caveat. Before progressing to examine political ideologies and their “true believers,” a few words of caution seem fitting. First, some of the prisoners of Catholic institutionalism and Protestant biblicism are well-intentioned, kind, good human beings and citizens. I do not wish to impugn their motives or their characters. But they are imprisoned in their beliefs, and I feel some human duty to warn them of their entrapments. Furthermore, as Aristotle wrote while sharply criticizing a particular teaching of his long-time mentor and friend, Plato, “We must prefer truth to friendship.” Yes, we must. Unfortunately, one often finds a relatively weak interest in truth among adherents of various “religions,” Christian or non-Christian. “Believers” often seem to have surrendered their human duty to seek truth to contentment with the various belief they have been taught—Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and so on. My own interest in truth requires me to examine their mental imprisonment in Churchianity, or Bibliolatry, or “Holy Qur’an,” even though I have genuine friends dwelling in these and similar prisons. On the other hand, I am aware of the danger of being too critical of mental prisons such as have developed in Christianity (and Islam) over the centuries. A human being who lives within an ideological prison rarely turns to reason, to philosophy, to mystical experience after the walls of the prison have been exploded, and he has “escaped like a bird from the fowler.” In this regard, the self-proclaimed philosophers of the Enlightenment did a great deal of damage to many persons. They dragged them into their self-proclaimed “enlightened state,” and left them with little or nothing on which to feed. They tore away the living God in the name of the “God of reason,” or “Enlightenment.” In fact, however, the western European “Enlightenment” was a period of intense intellectual foolishness, with some genuine light thrown on real problems. The various “philosophies” (in truth, non-philosophical ideologies) of the late 18th into the 20th centuries were largely destructive of traditional human life. Men hell-bent to “change he world” (young Marx’s coinage) brought much violence, bloodshed, and loss of meaning to real human lives. “Proclaiming themselves wise, they became fools,” and their foolishness often led to mass murder, or at least to the death of the spirit. Far better for a young man or woman to flip through their Bibles in search of “God’s word” than to live godlessly in a world presumed devoid of meaning. “By their fruits you will know them,” and many fundamentalistic Catholics and Protestants at least show their “beliefs,” mistaken though they be, in deeds of charity and human assistance. So a word to the would-be wise: “Let those with ears to hear, hear.” Others may sleep in their prison cells.
3. Secular and political ideologies.
The largest, thickest-walled, most destructive prisons in our midst are not found among churchy or Bible-believing Christians. Christian prisons at least have the benefit of being attacked from all sides in our secular culture, forcing their adherents to engage in some examination of what they believe, and why. The worst prisons by far are found among political ideologues, who range over a wide spectrum: from jihadist, gnostic Islam to “Enlightened intellectuals” to “Progressives” to absolutists and totalitarians of various stripes. Everyday we are bombarded by the intellectual terrorism of these “knowers” who have all the answers. They have “holy Quran” or “Science” or “Progress” at their backs, and they are as hell-bent as Karl Marx ever was to “transform the world” (Marx’s phrase from his Theses on Feuerbach, repeated by candidate Obama in 2008, for one example of recent usage). These political ideologues spew out their poisonous deceit on everyone, usually aided by complacent or even complicit cooperation from the loud mouthpieces of the mass media: television, Hollywood, propaganda-music, politicians, academicians, entrenched bureaucrats, and the like. In present day America (the USA), leftist, self-described “progressive” intellectuals and politicians utterly dominate the public scene with their obscene addiction to “liberating” political ideologies. Again, in this regard, a Muslim jihadist and an American university professor have far more in common than either of them suspects, or could admit: they have “knowledge” (or perhaps ideologically fixed “science”) that gives them “certainty,” and with this weapon in their minds and mouths and sometimes hands, they set out to force their “vision” of “truth” and the “good life” on everyone else. Woe to those who do not share their ideology, because they can be killed in one of at least two ways: murdered outright, as by ISIS jihadists; or have their minds and spirits murdered or at least vivisected by godless, secular, self-inflated “intellectuals,” whom we encounter throughout American society today. One cannot turn on the television without hearing some of these ideologues popping off about whatever supposed evil they are seeking to destroy or overcome, from “climate change” to “the cult of Trump” to “right-wing conspiracies,” when all the time these highly vocal “intellectuals” and “political leaders” are in fact the cultists of the occult, believers in their self-enclosed gnostic truth. The reason they hate their opponents, as is evident everyday in our country, is in part because they are convinced of their own “expertise,” “scientific knowledge,” superior intelligence, or their “enlightened state,” and of course their own “good intentions” and “compassionate hearts” to “make the world a better place.” They are, in effect, terrorists of the spirit.
The prison in which these ideological knowers live gives them the power and the right, they believe, to spew out their “learning,” and to force their views on others. Their most evident victims are the young, propagandized from earliest years in mass education all the way through “higher education” at our colleges and universities, in which genuine freedom of thought and of speech are persecuted and destroyed by these would-be totalitarians who dominate campus and social life. Whereas Catholic and Protestant prisons, briefly described above, are relatively minor in their effects on society as a whole, the political ideologues dominate American society and culture in nearly every aspect of our lives. They most infect the governing and learned “elites.” And rather than remain quietly in their prisons, and in their prison-worlds centered in Washington, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle—to name some of their most intense enclaves—these ideologues are rapidly creating an entire prison network in our country. They are busy building what amounts to an American Gulag Archipelago not restricted to prison camps, as in the former Soviet Union, but penetrating every home through mass media, internet, and our ever-new technological devices. Intellectual and cultural ideologues are building a “New Society,” and it increasingly looks more and more like the concentration camps of totalitarian regimes, only now with a higher degree of mind control.
4. What is to be done? First and foremost, each person must examine himself / herself, and honestly ask how unthinkingly, uncritically they hold to their most cherished beliefs. I do not hold out great hope that most will do this, because the prisons about which I am writing are largely self-chosen, and serve to give the inmate some sense of security and “certainty” in an uncertain and often threatening world.
Second, it is better by far for a “Bible-believing Christian” to study closely and to love the Gospel of John or the Letters of the Apostle Paul, then to abandon any concern for “the word of God.” It is better by far for an institutionalized Catholic to listen attentively to the gentle wit and wisdom of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, for example, then to reject the entire Catholic hierarchy because some bishops and priests have done evil and worked hard to cover their tracks. And it is better for genuinely scientific minds who value the scientific method to caution the enthusiasm of half-learned know-it-alls, and admit that many questions about which “progressives” rant are and ought to be open to study and debate. A strong internal awareness in each of us that we ourselves may be wrong in our most intensely held beliefs would go a long way to restoring some balance and sanity in our ideologically-diseased and damaged body politic. The wisdom of humility is the key to escaping from our prisons. “God alone is truly wise.”
—Wm. Paul McKane
7 December 2019
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