Sunday, November 30, 2008


This past week, the Vatican decided to forgive John Lennon for remarks he made in the early days of Beetlemania -- remarks to the effect that the Beetles had become more popular than Jesus.

I find myself deeply tempted to rant. About how ridiculous it is that the Vatican took offense to something so insignificant to begin with. About the utter insanity of a religion supposedly based on love and forgiveness taking over 30 years to forgive a comment by a popular young musician. About how the Vatican might have better uses for it's indignation.

I suppose part of my reaction is that this is the kind of thing that drives me absolutely insane about religious belief sometimes: how elevating something to a religious belief somehow means that it should be exempt from critique or criticism. How questioning or criticism of religious belief turns some otherwise rational people into thin-skinned idiots making mountains out of molehills.

It seems to me that it is one thing to have an opinion of what is good, because if I have such an opinion and you question it I can change my mind, modify my opinion, change and grow. But elevating such an opinion into the will of God (as if such a thing were possible!) makes it into eternal truth, makes me condemn as heretic those who would disagree, prevents me from growing, learning, adapting.

All of this makes me wonder the extent to which this kind of reaction is due to a sense of threat to that which is highly valued. And so I try to imagine how I would react if someone were to make a kind of threat to something I value. For instance, I think of the hurt I felt when a young child at a daycare center heard that my son Patrick was coming that day and said "oh, no! Not Patrick! I hate Patrick!" To paraphrase Pema Chodron, that experience freed me of the notion that I have relatively little in the way of aggression in me.

Still, I do not elevate my belief in the value of my son into divine Truth. After some reflection, I can see how other kids would find Patrick's eccentricities strange or difficult. I am able to broaden my view of my son to see how other children might see him.

So I have a proposal: let's do away with doctrine. Let's have teachings, ideas, and beliefs -- but let's stop imbuing them with divine providence (even the implied divine providence of being official church doctrine). Let's focus instead on ensuring that any teaching, any belief, is ultimately in the service of promoting love, compassion, understanding. And let us explicitly state that we should hold no belief so strongly that it prevents us from showing love, compassion, or understanding.

Any thoughts?


Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Bravo and Yea Yea to every word of this rant and let's have more rants that are as positive as this one.

Katherine E. said...

I'm thinking you're right!

bigboid said...

I've wondered myself, while raking leaves this fall: does the Pope have to be very careful in what he says to his executive assistant? Example: he can't come right out and say something that the rest of us would have no problem using in everyday life, something like: "Thanks for the coffee -- you're a saint!"