Friday, 7 January 2011

Lost in Assisi

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It had to happen at some point. The pope has announced that there is going to be a twenty-fifth anniversary jamboree in Assisi where various religions of the world will again be invited, as they were in 1986. Are we in this case allowed to say 'oh hell', or would that offend our Jehovah Witness brethren who tell me that the Gehennah of fire was simply a rubbish tip outside Jerusalem?

The Catholic Herald wrings its hands long and hard about the pope's reservations concerning Assisi, as expressed in his 2003 book Truth and Tolerance. So what is the pope's justification for the kind of 'multi-religious prayer' that might take place at Assisi 2011 (note that it is not inter-religious, but multi-religious in character)? The Herald explains it thus:

In multireligious prayer, he wrote, the participants recognise that their understandings of the divine are so different “that shared prayer would be a fiction”, but they gather in the same place to show the world that their longing for peace is the same.

What I don't get, however, is why it is at all necessary to show such a longing is the same everywhere. Indeed, I have great difficulty in accepting that what Christians wish for when they wish for peace is what Buddhists also wish for. As Chesterton puts it, the Christians are waiting for the fulfilment of the world's desire; the Buddhists are surely searching for the extinction of all desire.

I have another and deeper problem here, however, and it is this: in the multi-religious format there is undoubtedly some kind of equivalence established between the prayers of all religions. Somehow, all our prayers are made expressive of the same ecology of petition and response. The trouble with that, however, is that the prayer of the Church is the prayer of Christ himself. Of course we would want to encourage any man to pray and petition God, even if he hardly understands who and what God is. But to put the Church in this multi-religious stance (let alone an inter-religious one) is somehow to erode the specificity of Christ's own prayer incarnate in time through his Mystical Body, the Church. We do not wish for the peace that the Muslim wishes for, for his peace would exclude Christ as God, who alone is the guarantor of peace.

We need not even touch on the issue of scandal which the current pope understood well enough in 1986 and in 2002. Why he must persist with this project escapes me, unless it be part of the John Paul legacy in its most radically misguided phase. Who but John Paul could have performed such an apparently syncretist shoe-shuffle before Europe's relativists, and then later on lament Europe's silent apostasy, and on both occasions be a model of unalloyed sincerity? John Paul, the hard-headed Polish priest ... fulfilling the dreams of those who would dissolve all religious differences in a gaseous, universal spirituality? I cannot but shake my head at the picture of him next to the Dalai Lama, holding that silly little plant pot and looking so serious. How did we come to this?


Still, if only he was here! JPII at least would have the nous to argue the toss and the good grace to enjoy the argument. He at least might have engaged with the argument because - and this is where many traditionalists have got him wrong - he was a man who loved the truth of Christ more than himself, even if he made some gross miscalculations. His legion of idolators on the other hand will barely hear a word against him, and no doubt genuflect again to this wretched, misguided simulacrum of a vicar's tea party.

And that is why Pope Benedict's acquiescence to the ghost of Assisi is so unlike him - he, the man who parked the Vatican's tanks overnight on the lawns of Lambeth!

In the first version of this piece, I said all this made me sick. Well, that was probably precipitous. We await to see some fuller explanation and clarification of what will happen. In manus tuas, Domine.

6 comments:

Anagnostis said...

To watch the Papacy pursuing its habitual policy towards its most loyal adherents of following up every titbit of encouragement with a massive kick in the guts, gives me no satisfaction whatsoever.

I am, however, also amazed that this Pope consents, apparently, to the ranking of Christianity as one among "the other world religions". The question is: what are you (plural) going to do about it?

GOR said...

Frankly I was amazed when I heard about this, knowing how Pope Benedict wasn’t happy about the original one and didn’t attend it. However, I’ve learned not to try and second-guess the Holy Father as I really believe he knows exactly what he is doing.

So I’m thinking that perhaps he has planned this to show how it should be done and should have been done originally – a sort of setting the record straight. I suspect he will have some appropriate reflections during the event which will be enlightening.

Ches said...

Anagnostis, Christianity is one of the world religions from a purely phenomenological point of view, which is how the pope unfolds his argument in Truth and Tolerance. What is bizarre, however, is that from a purely phenomenological point of view (I understand that to mean what it looks like prima facie) Assisi corroborates rather than undermines that perspective.

I've no doubt Catholics will do about it what they have always done. Stick close to Rome and not confuse infallibility with impeccability.

Anagnostis said...

Ches, I'm not confused about the distinction between infallibility (in the teaching of the Roman Church) and impeccability - though, to be frank, I'm not confident the distinction is, in practice, adequately maintained by "most Catholics", who'll identify staying "close to Rome" with placing the thing beyond criticism, or swallowing whole whatever casuistical chicanery is trotted out officially in its defence.

If my priest/bishop/metropolitan/patriarch engaged in a public demonstration that made me "sick" I'd take very great care, respectfully, to make my nausea known to him, by the most direct means at my disposal. I would enlist the support of like-minded faithful in begging him to desist, and I believe that it would be my absolute duty as one of the baptised to do so.

Ches said...

To each his responsibility. I don't think I have an absolute duty to do anything of the sort, though if it were my local priest or bishop, the chances are I would.

In any case, the only appetite for an intellectual fight with Benedict comes from the other ecclesial wing. Nobody closer to hand will engage him on this because they will not want to bog him down in an unneccessary battle when there are more serious and deep rooted problems to deal with.

plato said...

I am glad that you quoted Pope Benedict on this...It is really helpful to me and I shall save it:
"In multireligious prayer, he wrote, the participants recognise that their understandings of the divine are so different “that shared prayer would be a fiction”, but they gather in the same place to show the world that their longing for peace is the same."

Then you said the quote below and this is what my comment is addressing:
"What I don't get, however, is why it is at all necessary to show such a longing is the same everywhere. Indeed, I have great difficulty in accepting that what Christians wish for when they wish for peace is what Buddhists also wish for. As Chesterton puts it, the Christians are waiting for the fulfillment of the world's desire; the Buddhists are surely searching for the extinction of all desire." "
It is not all that complicated and I do not mean that to sound sarcastic. But it is the humanity in all of us simply saying, asking and praying, "STOP THE KILLING!' FOE WHATEVER REASON! from governments, jihadhists, whoever...just stop it ...Please, Lord, make it stop...but alas ,God gave us a free will and we must suffer through the fact that everyone has a free will. I see it as an example to the world, ANY HUMAN,regardless of religion to come together in this and ask for it..word for it...Some people are not even aware or think there is nothing they can do...I think it sets a good HUMAN example...Killing, like abortion and even marriage between a man and a woman are not 'religious' issues, or they should not have to be because they are HUMAN issues ,part of our humanity, long before they become a religious issue and people of reason can agree on these things and work together for them in a world going mad...That is my humble opinion :)