Sunday, November 3, 2013

Substantive Religion And Modern Bias

Same Sex Marriage is a challenge to traditional
Christianity but it also may give us the impetus to
look anew at our faith and ask the questions that
will preserve our Tradition without embalming it.
I saw an article in the New York Times yesterday that piqued my curiosity because it spoke of rabbis and Christian clergy who will perform weddings for couples of the same sex but not when they are of mixed religion.  It struck me as peculiar that a rabbi or minister who was not inhibited about gay marriage would stumble on the issue of mixed faith.  Let me first say that as a Catholic I accept the sacramental theology of our Church that speaks of the Sacrament of Matrimony as being between one man and one woman, each of whom is free of previous marriage commitments and is able to make the commitment to enter into this Sacramental Bond which represents the love between Christ and his Church and who are open to the gift of life springing from their Sacramental bonds.  That is the Sacrament of Matrimony, or what might be called specifically “Christian Marriage.”  On the level of civil law, however, I am no more opposed to same-sex marriage than I am to the civil bonds that unite people who have been divorced or who otherwise would be ineligible for the Sacramental bonds of Matrimony.  I don’t expect the civil law to follow Catholic theology in a pluriform society.   In the same regard, I don’t expect religious communities, Christian or otherwise, who have not developed a sacramental theology to understand why we Catholics see the bonds of Matrimony as representing sacramentally the Mystery of Christ’s Love for his Church or God’s Love for humankind.  There are some theological points which are uniquely Catholic or which are shared with those Churches that one might say are “at the Catholic end of the Christian spectrum.” There are many points in which I am in disagreement with my Protestant or Jewish friends—or agnostic friends, for that matter—but while I disagree I don’t find it necessary to be disagreeable.  Or, actually, while I enjoy being disagreeable—one of my friends often refers to me as a curmudgeon—I do it for fun (or just “for the hell of it”) and not for principle.  I stand up for what I believe, but I don’t use it as an excuse to be hateful.   
I have friends who are in same-sex marriages.  I have friends who are good Christians who are in same-sex marriages.  I have friends who are devout practicing Catholics, who are in same-sex marriages.  Given the legal advantages to civil marriage—and understanding the emotional and spiritual depths of public commitment—I see why they felt a deep desire to take this step.  None of my Catholic friends seem to have any resentment that the Church doesn’t recognize the sacramental nature of their relationship, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t experience God’s grace coming from—and for—their commitment to each other. 
I also have friends who are interfaith marriages—both Catholic/Protestant and Catholic/Jewish marriages.  My brother is a devout Catholic married to a woman who calls herself a Methodist—though for years she has faithfully attended Mass with my brother and her children—and been more involved in their parish than most Catholics.  Some of my friends in inter-faith marriages practice their religion; others do not.  I was curious in The New York Times article why clergy have difficulty in performing an inter-faith marriage when they don’t have a problem with same-sex marriage.
Then I read the following paragraph about the couple the article used to anchor the story. 

As their October 13th wedding date neared Ms. Knapp and Ms. Corey turned to a friend who was ordained online by the Universal Life Church.  The ceremony, held at a conference center, included the chuppa, the Jewish wedding canopy and the breaking of the glass.  The Sheva  Brachot (seven blessings), though, drew from Apache and Buddhist sources, among others.  In recognition of Ms. Knapp’s Irish heritage, one blessing was a Gaelic prayer.

The article explained that Ms. Knapp was born and raised Catholic but currently is a Presbyterian and studying for the ministry.  Ms. Corey’s religious background is Reformed Judaism.  Now, while I am a Catholic, I like the chuppa and the breaking of the glass—and even the seven blessings.  I have no problem with any of them.  There is a liturgical text for the seven blessings and they are lovely prayers.  They do not come from Apache and Buddhist sources or even Gaelic Prayers.  They come from a very fixed tradition, though, while it would take some twists and turns of tradition, I supposed they could be adapted for a same-sex couple. 
Maybe this is why clergy have difficulty with some inter-faith marriages.  There is a point at which the faith being expressed is neither Jewish nor Christian but, while perhaps expressing lovely sentiments, stands apart from either or both Traditions.  We Americans have a long heritage of reducing faith to feelings.  American religion is too often nothing more than what “I feel” rather than the conviction expressed by countless religious figures throughout the centuries—perhaps typified by the words of one of them, Martin Luther, who declared: here I stand; I can do no other.  While I may not agree with Luther’s ideas—or, to be more precise, with some of his ideas—I cannot but admire his conviction to hold to truth rather than to sentiment. 
When I am at Mass some Sundays and I look around and see how few people in their 20’s and 30’s and 40’s are there, I think it may be precisely this problem of “faith” being reduced to feelings.   I hear this line that “I’m more spiritual than religious” all the time, but I am beginning to suspect that what they mean is “I want something that makes me feel good rather than to have convictions by which I can run my life.”  I am not saying that we need a list of dogmas with which to hit people over the head and make them conform to our particularly narrow views, but I do think that we need a Christianity that clearly proclaims the centrality of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord and not hide itself  beneath Apache aphorisms and Buddhist maxims.   There is no doubt that mainline Christianity has to wrestle with some important questions today regarding human sexuality, reproduction, and family life.  Advances in the reproductive sciences, in psychology, in anthropology, in sociology and just in the changes in our contemporary world require theology look anew at certain questions.  Theology is not a stand-alone science.  No field today is “stand alone.”  The reexamination of certain questions may lead to new answers and it may lead to new formulations for the same principles, but the door to investigation, analysis, and discussion must be opened and gone through.  But in the end, we cannot settle for emotive platitudes but must always come back to the basic tenets of a loving God who has created us, redeemed us, and continues to sanctify us.     

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