Monday, 18 October 2010

Liberal Catholics

When I started a spiritual journey via the Catholic faith, more than twenty five years ago, it never once occurred to me that I would one day be labelled a ‘liberal Catholic’. Labels are dangerous. Labels allow people to be lumped into one category with the immediate loss of their unique personality. It is always easier to dislike a group than an individual. Historically persecutions have always been aimed at groups rather than individuals – heretics, mystics, witches, gays, Jews, etc.

Wikipedia the online encyclopedia for the masses describes Liberal Christians as follows:

Traditionalist or Fundamentalist Catholics
Traditionalist or Fundamentalist Catholics are Roman Catholics who believe that there should be a restoration of many or all of the liturgical forms, public and private devotions and presentations of Catholic teachings which prevailed in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). They are most commonly associated with an attachment to the Mass liturgy in general use in that time period (often called the Tridentine Mass, the Traditional Mass or the Latin Mass), but their theological and practical concerns are broader in scope and in some cases go so far as to consider the present-day Church teaching heretical.
Traditionalist Catholics lay stress on strict following of customs prevailing immediately before the Second Vatican Council, such as: abstaining from meat on Fridays, kneeling to receive Communion directly in the mouth, women wearing a head-covering in church, frequent confession, prayers such as the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary, fasting from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. These practices are of course not confined to traditionalists: many mainstream Catholics also follow them.

Conservatism in Catholicism primarily refers to the upholding of the Catholic Church official teachings concerning the sanctity of marriage, the prohibition of artificial birth control, the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, the importance of traditional male clergy, prohibitions on divorce and homosexuality, and other similar theological and moral matters.
All core traditional beliefs of conservative Christians can be found in the three creedal statements, i.e. Apostles' Creed, and Nicene Creed.

Liberal versus Conservative

The liberal Roman Catholic understands ecumenism as welcoming and exploring God through ongoing dialogue with other world faiths while Traditional Roman Catholics prefer to limit their understanding of God, and therefore ecumenism, to the tenets dictated by Church hierarchy. The liberal Roman Catholic understands and accepts personal responsibility by claiming primacy of the Freedom of Conscience guaranteed under Canon Law, while the Traditional Roman Catholic is more likely to defer personal responsibility by more rigorously accepting Church teachings in favour of the Freedom of Conscience. Accordingly a liberal Catholic is more likely to view his beliefs and God as the natural result of evolution wich brings both change and growth, while his counterpart prefers to define his beliefs based on past history and repetitive rituals.

Sadly as these labels indicate, Catholics today find themselves strongly divided by these two polarities. Roman Catholicism unlike most other Christian faiths is centralized and presided over by a pope and an episcopal hierarchy. Under Pope’s John Paul II and particularly Benedict XVI leadership of the Church has shown a more definite conservative trend or attitude. Today, Roman Catholics appear to be deeply divided between those who accepted the changes implemented by Vatican II (1962-65) and those who still hold strong to the values of the Council of Trent (1545-63).

Conservatives in recent years have adopted a more militant position in response to demands for change from their progressive or liberal brothers and sisters. Recent examples of such militanchy are Bishops who publically deny individuals their right to receive communion due to their political positions. While still other Bishops have dismissed Catholic professionals due to their refusal to interpret abortion in strict and absolute terms, etc. And, so the battle lines are drawn.
The most sensitive issues dividing the two groups are: abortion, homosexuality, birth control, same-sex marriage, celibacy, population, and women as ordained members of the clergy.
As the demands for even greater adherence to Catholic Orthodoxy are being made by the current Roman Catholic hierarchy, led by Pope Benedict XVI ,the only losers are likely those liberals who continue to hope for change. This is unlikely to happen until the present regime dies out or the Roman Catholic Church finally collapses under the weight of its heavy handed approach to oust the remaining liberals.

Perhaps the most shameful result underlying these issues is the debate held by both as to who today is the authentic Roman Catholic - this attitude is hardly one that would be ascribed to Jesus Christ. It is a wall that must be brought down if Catholics, liberal or conservative, are to be united as living examples of their faith. So far the Vatican has not shown any interest in doing so.

Liberal Christians tend to regard the Bible as the record of human doings composed of humans encountering the Divine within their specific historical context. They often interpret passages of the Bible as being less a record of actual events, but rather stories illustrating how to live ethically and authentically in relation to God. Some might, for instance, see Christ's death and resurrection in terms not of actual physical reanimation, but in terms of the good news of Jesus' teaching: that God's children are no longer slaves to the power of death.

Some professional exegetes consider the Bible, to a greater or lesser degree, to be a document of its time, taking on attitudes which may not be God's. While they may hold the document as sacred and most certainly as central to Christianity, they are also aware of the historical and cultural context in which it was originally written through archaeological and from critical study. Some scholars feel that in addition to its spiritual components, portions of the text merely reflect the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing, and their cultural sensibilities. The influence of such persons may reflect a heightened spiritual consciousness, or may simply represent people attempting to explain the world as best they could give the tools of the time. Such scholars purport that passages in scripture related to slavery, war, genocide, female marginalization, and sex between men may not necessarily be about God's wishes, but rather about the predominant culture's opinions at the time of the passage's writing.
Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward. The word "liberal" in liberal Christianity does not refer to a progressive political agenda or set of beliefs, but rather to the manner of thought and belief associated with the philosophical and religious paradigms developed during the Age of Enlightenment.

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