Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 19, 2007
Church should not fear secularism, says Rolheiser
We have creeds, dogmas, a billion people – we are strong
Fr. Ron Rolheiser
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Church does not need to protect itself against even a belligerent secularism, says Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser.
"We don't need to protect ourselves not just because Jesus didn't do it but because the Roman Catholic Church is strong," Rolheiser said during the Anthony Jordan Lecture Series.
Rolheiser said when he looks at the Church today he sees a sincere Church. But he also sees a cautious Church, always trying to protect itself.
"We are 2,000 years old; we have more than a billion people, we have 2,000-year-old Scriptures and we have creeds and dogmas - we are solid."
The strong have to make themselves vulnerable and part of making ourselves vulnerable is to understand that "the world is not our enemy," Rolheiser stressed.
"If you are a family and you have a 17-year-old son or a daughter who is belligerent, that's not your enemy, that's your responsibility. The world is our responsibility, not our enemy."
Rolheiser, a prolific author and lecturer, made these comments during the lecture series at Newman Theological College March 9-10. Nearly 1,100 people attended his three lectures on the theme Naming the Present Moment: Hope and Challenge in a Time of Receding Transcendence.
A former Newman graduate and professor, Rolheiser is now president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He has been writing a regular column for the WCR for nearly 25 years.
In his talk, he said, contrary to common opinion, the Western world is not a post-modern culture.
"By and large most of our cultures, most of us, are still modern. Modernity still drives this planet. The Internet is not post-modern. The Internet is modernism in a box. There is nothing more modern than the Internet. Microsoft is rationality put into a package.
"We are mainly modern but as believers there also and necessarily there needs to be anti-modern pieces in us. As a priest I believe in God and I believe in democracy. But when push comes to shove, my authority is God."
No simple categories
We live in a world in which there is no simple categorization. "If you are a priest, just take for granted that there are at least two-and-a-half separate generations of Roman Catholics sitting in front of you on Sunday," Rolheiser warned.
"It's not that one is right and one is wrong. We are just different generations within the same generation."
Our secular world is itself a child of Judeo-Christianity, the priest said.
The conservative view is that secularity is the enemy of faith, responsible for everything from pornography to the breakdown of marriages. Even Pope Benedict before he became pope used to castigate secularity in his writings.
Liberals maintain secularity has the moral high ground because it brought us everything from feminism to Greenpeace as well as the freedoms we now enjoy, including freedom for religion and freedom from religion.
But Rolheiser said the Enlightenment and all the so-called secular movements that gave us democracy, social justice, Greenpeace and feminism arose out of Judeo-Christianity.
"Secularity is not our enemy but our child. Secularity very clearly historically, and you can trace its roots, arose out of Judeo-Christianity. And the things that secularity carries - technology, social theories, political theories - all of them arose in the Christian West.
"The roots for the equality of women are inside Judeo-Christianity. Feminism arose out of that."
Modernism came about in 1600 when French philosopher René Descartes said you don't organize public life around divine authority but around critical reason. And then rationality became the arbiter of truth and the arbiter for organization.
"What sets itself against modernity is divine authority," Rolheiser explained. "Today if you want to understand the archetype, the struggle between Al Qaeda and extreme Islam, and the West it's exactly that.
"They are anti-modern. They believe that rationality should not be the organizing principle of life; democracy should not be the organizing principle and they are committed to bringing it down by force. They believe that secularity is perverting the planet and needs to be stopped by theocracy."
So the opposite of secularity is not the Catholic Church or Protestant Church or fundamentalist Christianity. "The opposite of secularity is the Taliban; the opposite of secularity is theocracy."
But if secularity is our child, why is it so belligerent?
"Inside the secular world today there is a vicious anti-clericalism, which ironically and paradoxically is most vicious in Catholic countries," Rolheiser said.
"The three most anti-clerical spots in the world today are probably Quebec, Ireland and Belgium. What do they have in common? They are all Catholic. So inside a Catholic culture you get the most vicious anti-clericalism."