Monday, 19 July 2010

Yes, But ...

Last week I quoted from Diana L. Hayes. it was a good quote (see here), quoting in turn, and in approval, St Augustine about our need for God. In the same small article - written like a manifesto for a new spirituality - she says that churches, synagogues and any of the other traditional forms of institutional religion are not answering the deepest yearnings of people anymore. "Perhaps this is so because these institutions have become so involved in naming and thereby controlling the Spirit that they no longer have it within their midst... They have lost that which they sought and claimed to own and have become 'whitened sepulchers' devoid of life, of knowledge, of hope, of the spirit." (p. 54)  Seems a bit extreme, but it is written as rhetoric, so a bit of exaggeration is mandatory. Would the traditional religion she mentions be like that practiced by St Augustine himself? Presumably. Yes, of course, churches and church people can think that God is theirs, thereby making God into an idol. It is a common human failing, even when the god owned is the more common idol of wealth, power, family, longevity, security, etc. And I think it was Jesus who used the" whitened sepulchers bit", and he was most definitely traditional. (Unless, of course, you think nothing good can come from Israel, and therefore agree with the "Jesus went to India ..." antisemitism.) It seems quite a common practice for contemporary 'spirituality' to take from traditional religion its great insights and truths, cut the truths away from all the practices, beliefs and history that produced those truths, and then claim that, somehow, you know the truth better and can get there from some other route. Call me a skeptic, but it just doesn't hold water. Bonhoeffer, with his hint about a religionless Christianity, is used in a similar way. But Bonhoeffer was traditional. And the great figures who stood for justice and peace, favourites of the non-traditional movements, were traditional Christians. Think of Romero, or Dorothy Day. And then there is the deep spirituality of the mystics like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Brother Laurence, not to mention Francis of Assisi, and so many others that are beloved of new age religion, but flap around like fish out of water in it. The traditional faith and its traditional practices produced the mentioned greats. A strict, traditional sacramental and prayer life, with traditional ethics, theology and Scripture reading grounded the great mystics. Yes, the traditional church fails to be anywhere near perfect, but it has always thrown up the greats like Augustine and Teresa, as well as the ordinary, traditional Christians who do so much good in the world despite their failings, and who will always, it seems, be a disappointment to the new age.

Diana L. Hayes, "Who do You, God, Say That We Are?", in Mary Hembrow Snyder, ed. Spiritual Questions for the Twenty First Century, pp. 53-56.


  1. so, are you back or just blogging automatically whilst still away.
    Incidentally I note that you finally seem to be coming to the conclusion that spirituality is important

  2. I am back. Still jet-lagged.

    Spirituality, what is that?

  3. This is my definition in a nut shell:

    To a Christian, Christ is their beloved.
    To a spiritual person all of creation is their beloved.

  4. I love what you wrote Cecil.
    As a very spiritual person I believe the church is a place one goes to, to learn about God, whereas Spirituality is God reaching out to man and inspiring his mind to understand and know Him.

  5. Spirituality sets a far higher and loving standard of belief then a church could ever aspire to.

  6. I think Diana L. Hayes is correct.

    Jesus was far from traditional - he was a man 1800 years ahead of his time in his philosophy, in that he was a great humanitarian. Once the supernatural nonsense made up by the Church is cut away, we see the clarity of his message and it is remarkable. Fortunately his legacy has managed to survive the distortions and additions.

    Spirituality is finding the Divine within everything, in every moment, and working hard to live in the present moment, being the best person you can be - practising humanitarianism.

  7. Hi Penney,

    I don't think of Jesus as ahead of his time, but that we are debtors to him. He was a man of his time, his influence has continued.

    I liked what you said about spirituality. But guess what, it is a traditional view!! Much of what we think is either from somewhere other than the traditional faith, or has somehow been saved despite the traditional church, is actually part of it. Which is my point.

  8. It's OK to have a traditional view - "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" - but not all views need be traditional if they just don't sit comfortably in the heart.
    "Jesus was intellectually ferocious." (Not my words but I agree with them.)

  9. Quite right. There is plenty of space. I defend the traditional view partly because of the tendency of some to easily dismiss what is so profound.

    And traditional is a very broad thing. The tradition is so broad it is astounding sometimes!

    Thanks for the comment Penney.

  10. I disagree with "M" "I believe the church is a place one goes to, to learn about God,"

    One can learn more about God outside of the Church.

  11. Tell me Cecil Who is God ?