Thursday, February 23, 2006

Life Cycle

An anglican (episcopalian) priest friend of mine once told me about an anglican nun he'd once met, one of the very last ones in Canada. I guess it's no secret: nuns are a dying breed, even in the more nun-friendly catholic church. But anglicans didn't have many to begin with.

He chatted with this woman for a while and then asked her how she felt about her order dying.

She answered that anything that is truly alive has to die some day. The death of a religious institution is just proof that it was alive. It means it has lived out its purpose in life and now must make room for other purposes. She had no regrets, no fears about it.

Her response is not what we would expect. We expect institutions to rage against the dying of the light, to do anything to stop a downward spiral. Death of a religious institution is Bad. It's a sign of failure. There's institutional panic, lots of sermons (and blogs), a mad groping for Solutions. Anything but death.

In the Faustian sense, we could instead sell our souls to become immortal. And many religions do: they give up their faith and replace it with belief and strictures and rules. They place limits on love and compassion, draw careful circles around Jesus' teachings, nail things to the floor with doctrines and books. They allow nothing to be fluid or to flow freely from the spirit; everything mystic is suspect; the past is holy, the present is defiled.

At a certain point, rigor mortis sets in. IMHO some religions are walking cadavres. But never on all levels. I suspect the Spirit has a way of working despite our institutions, rather than because of them.

But maybe there are other options than death and soul-selling. I'm willing to consider that religions could die and be reborn. We let the old, tired-out ways of the religion fall into meaninglessness, then from the ashes find something to create a new thing. It ends up keeping the same name, but it's really something entirely different.

Maybe death and rebirth can overlap - such that at any time, someone could always say "This kind of Quakerism/Christianity is dying," when really, just a part of it is -- and maybe for a good reason. Something is always dying, something else is always growing. Some people focus on the dying bits, others focus on the growing bits.

I'm thinking about what this all means for Quakerism.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Europe and Christianity

Recently, in the midst of the "cartoon controversy" (so aptly named!), a Turkish editorial stated that ‘If Jesus Christ was Depicted as a Terrorist, Europe Would Take to Streets’.

This I highly doubt.

Europe has the lowest religious-attendance rate in the world. In some countries, it's lower than 5 percent. For missionaries, Europe the toughest gig on the planet. Europeans would probably write these anti-Christian cartoons themselves.

I recently read an article about Christianity and Democracy at intelligent russian written by Vladimir Kantor. It explores (from a Russian perspective) the Christian roots of European democracy, maintaining that modern democracy is a Christian invention that rests on certain Christian teachings. Interesting -- I'm not sure I buy his whole argument, but he has some quotable ideas:

The Church (institutionalized Christianity, as it were) played a tremendously important yet dual role: on the one hand, it brought up the nations in the Christian spirit and carried Christian ideas and intuitions into the depths of the masses; but on the other, Christianity’s original doctrines gave way to politically and venally profitable theories and an alliance with the powers that be, while the vibrant religious life gave way to dogmas…

Totalitarianism was essentially an anti-Christian and therefore an anti-European movement that set up, in opposition to reason, a mythologically constructed consciousness that rested on the masses’ impulsive desire to live in non-freedom, without problems…

It may be pertinent to place side by side two utterances by Stepun (who repeatedly spoke of democracy being utterly powerless in Russia and Germany): “I definitely and fully reject any ideocracy of the communist, fascist, racist or Eurasian persuasion, i.e. any violence inflicted on people’s life. <…> I firmly believe that Europe’s parliamentarianism supposedly ‘past its ideological prime’ still contains a more profound idea than the notorious ideocracy. So what if contemporary West European parliamentarianism constitutes degeneration of freedom; so what if contemporary bourgeois democracy is increasingly sliding into philistinism. The ideocracy about to replace it is far worse because it represents the birth of violence and clearly gravitates toward Bolshevist Satanism.”…

Democracy is none other than a political projection of this supreme humanist faith of the last four centuries. Together with the entire culture of humanism it establishes the human personality as the highest value of life, and the form of autonomy as a form of action obedient to God.”…

There is only one thing that can save democracy and freedom of the individual: a religious sanction for cultural values. But to do that the Church, too, has to be free instead of being torn apart by confessional quarrels, to say nothing of smearing itself by servile kowtowing before the powers that be. As for those who feel Christian, the main thing for them is “not to betray the religious meaning of freedom.”…

At the moment we are witnessing the construction of a new global civilization, so far the most successful, that started with European-Christian culture. Its extensive spread proved possible as a result of the secularization of the “Christian world” (which until the 15th century was identified with Europe). Having fulfilled its role of teacher, Christianity exerted a beneficial influence on human mentality within its radiation field, inculcating in it the humanist norms of behavior and morality. It would seem that Christian ideas have taken root in European civilization forming its subsoil, for without understanding Christian symbolism it is impossible to understand the most sublime achievements of literature, art or music. But the experience of the 20th century shows that this referred only to the best of art, while the soil remained perfectly pagan. The revolt of the masses rejected Christianity falling back on the gods of the soil...

Well, you get the idea. It's a long article, so you get just the best nuggets here.

If the gist (and really, only the gist) of what Vladimir is saying it on the mark, then for European-style democracy to survive, it needs a spiritual strength. But for that strength to "take" in modern European culture, it needs to combine humanism (considered the anti-Christ by N.Am. fundamentalist Christians!) with the teachings of Jesus, and then together with a culturally relevant form of of worship + spiritual exploration + community. It couldn't be top-down (Europe has too much experience with totalitarianism), dogmatic (ditto here), or smells-and-bells (too anti-intellectual).

In other words, trying to convert Europeans to the kind of Christianity that many North Americans would accept (dogmatic, top-down, book-centred, liturgical/euphoric, nonhumanistic-- and never mind what this says about North Americans) won't work. So mebbe them missionaries should try a different tack -- like how about asking Europeans what kind of Christianity they would want?

On the flip side, the most church-attending nation in the world in the United States. The state of democracy there? Maybe Christian church attendance isn't enough to support democracy.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Clearcut Blogging

I have been by to visit the Quaker blogs and have been reading them, especially the ones that Martin posts. But I haven't been doing much on this blog since I decided two weeks ago to wade into political blogging.

Gasp, yes, I've become a moonlighter-blogger.

I wanted to do a sort of guerrilla blogging -- you know, drop by a variety of politically oriented blogs and give my comments, seed some new ideas, nothing too strong, just to roll the ball in a different (read: Green Party) direction. I was feeling that for change to happen (read: get our vote tally up over 5%), we have to change the agenda. And the place to do that was the political blogs. So I'm in hip-deep, wading around through the muck of Canadian politics (and rather mucky it is these days!), trying to walk cheerfully recognizing that of God in everyone.

However, to be quite honest, it's harder than I thought it would be. It's a bit of an effort going through the Blogging Tories site to find topics I can comment on gently and persuasively without getting myself flamed or torpedoed. All I can say is I'm glad these people are now allowed to own guns.

I also go to the Blogging Dippers (New Democratic Party) or Progressive Blogs Canada (basically Liberal Party, but I managed to get listed as an affiliate -- ha, successful guerrilla action). They're not so bad, but they seem content to follow the trail of dust behind the leaders, complaining constantly but never stopping to think or talk about something new, maybe a few levels deeper than what's on CBC.

Hm, how to seed ideas, how to comment gently but unoffensively, maybe with a touch of humour. It's a tricky business.

Maybe I just need to develop some psychic callouses. I find I retreat to the humorous sites, the ones who make fun of an issue with a well-placed sentence or two.

Alas, I am a lazy blog guerrilla.

Anyway, that's why I'm not here writing so much.

However, on the other hand, your ministry to me over the past few months, which has spurred some ministry of mine to my meeting, has borne some fruit. A mid-week meeting to study Quaker writings has been meeting now at my house for two weeks. There is talk of incorporating it into Sunday morning twice a month after M4W so that all attenders can deepen their spiritual learning and journeying. So thanks for your little nudges in that direction.

And it looks as if we've found a new meetinghouse option -- YAY! -- a "servage house" attached to a very old United Church downtown with a dwindling congregation. We hope to hear from them soon whether we can move in.

Okay, that's it for today. Back to Clearcut Blogging for me.