“Sing God a simple song
Make it up as you go along
Sing like you like to sing
God loves all simple things,
For God is the simplest of all
I will sing the Lord a new. song
to praise Him, to bless him, to bless the Lord
I will sing His praises while I live
All of my days.”
At times, it seems as if we have had it backward for centuries; we have tended to make Caesar into God and Gods into Caesar. We seem to like worshiping powerful people – we bow to them and want them to look at us. We place crowns on their heads, seat them on thrones in palaces, and pray that they will protect us from all of the demons floating around out there someplace. Fear drives us to create our own gods that will save us.
We are easily frightened about things that go bump in the night. We are often like small children who call out for our parents in the darkness – we are afraid of the dark – of not being able to see or to understand. We struggle with the questions of life and death and then create our own gods that will conquer the many devils that exist all around us. We are afraid of death, but at times, even more so of life itself. Fear comes from our awareness that we are not in control – that existence is fragile and ultimately, there is not a whole lot that we can do about that.
When we choose others to occupy thrones of power, we are attempting to control our destinies – by creating rituals and words of supplication; by doing whatever it takes to appease a god that may become angry and destroy us. We realize our own weakness and lack of power so we observe many gods and work to determine what it takes to defer their anger and aggression. Over the centuries, we have created images, elaborate buildings filled with gold and silver, physical signs of our devotion and obedience. To accomplish these great works of art, we have enslaved others, raped them of their wealth, and fought countless wars, destroying heretics by fire, and claiming that our tribe and our tribe alone knows what the gods demand.
Once we start down this road, we begin to complicate things with rules and regulations, rituals and complex structures. We create positions of authority and power to lead us and establish their own rituals and appearance. There are many who aspire to these positions, at times in order to serve, but at other times, in order to be served – to be worshipped and obeyed at all costs; even to give your life for him or her. We often see people, men mostly, dressed in fancy clothing, living in mansions or palaces, with thousands of servants and others who stand in awe of their position. They are treated mostly with great deference an respect because of their position. And they take great care to cultivate this culture. We read about the great emperors and kings of the past – military leaders, conquering and plundering. We also read that every famous empire of the past has somehow faded away.
It seems that from the beginning of time, with the Big Bang some 14 Billion years ago, energy exploded with such force that what was once simple began to become more complex. Atoms were formed, and in turn created molecules; then cells and mega cells, always containing that which had gone before, but at the same time joining together and becoming more complex. We realize that all matter is a product of that Big Bang – that we are are connected to the billions of galaxies that have formed over the eons, and that continue to form; creation transforming and being transformed. This reality has helped form all of life, including the human race with all of its diversity and wonder. As humanity has moved from the roots in Africa, and followed the food, spreading out across what we call Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa – and developing a wide variety of cultures; structures that helped them to survive.
Also during these times, tribal structures of authority and power began to emerge – while at the same time, language and communication began to expand and to become more complex. From the spoken to the written word; to the printing press, the telegraph and telephone; to the computer and world wide instantaneous communication of thoughts, opinions and facts. As these various cultures continued to evolve, changing their environment and being changed at the same time. All of this time fear of darkness; fear of the other, led to the stories of creation – of the gods of earth and the heavens. These gods demanded worship and tribute, and in turn, would protect them from their enemies – from the demons.
We read about the great empires of centuries ago; the Mesopotamian, the Egyptian, the Mongol or Chinese, the Greek and the Roman, the German, the French, the Spanish and Portuguese, the British empires and so many more that came into being and then in time gave way. These empires or kingdoms created specific class structures, with those charged with management, war, producing food, clothing, etc. These class structures set in place the role of royalty; of place of subservience and obedience. This was true within the political sphere, as well as in those who controlled the role of religion or placating the gods.
The stories of all religions, including Christianity developed from very simple ideas based on nature itself. We also see the common human effort to make religions more and more complex. Structures were established to make visible the place of the gods or God in the world and the demands of worshiping and placating these gods. Great temples were constructed and a certain class of people were developed in order to guide the political leaders. These individuals became a very special class demanding great respect and authority – even over the civil leaders. This special class, almost in all cases, was composed of male leaders. Women, whose role was seen as procreation, were not allowed in the hollowed halls that were sacred. Women were and are still seen as property, or secondary in importance to the men of the tribes or cultures – dependent on the ruling class that was tied closely to the warrior class – both being dependent on the approval of the gods and their emissaries.
All too often, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” as Lord Acton once stated during the battles for power taking place between the popes and the civil rulers – with the pope demanding infallibility and recognition that since his power came from God, all temporal rulers were required to obey him. During the centuries of selling indulgences, appointing teen age Cardinals, and general incompetence, fear of purgatory of hell was always the great motivator – as seen in the painting and story told by Dante. The thirst for power created a culture where the people depended on the clergy for absolution and for heaven. Without a proper anointing or blessings, hell or at least time in purgatory was required.
The Sacraments were seen as signs of God’s blessings, but they were also used as a club over people to instill fear and obedience. The sacraments depended on ordained clergy – who had the power to either grant or to withhold God’s forgiveness and grace – they held the power of life or death. The culture became an intricate system of laws and regulations – with associated rewards and punishments. This culture – not just the Christian Culture, but most religious cultures was dominated by men; they became mens clubs or organizations demanding obedience from women and children. They saw women as temptations to weakness or timidity – as the temptress to their power. Guilt and fear became the weapons of the leaders – to control the people and their own exalted position. Complexity became the cornerstone of all successful empires and kingdoms – but like all complex structures, they eventually die, and from the bones, new life springs forth.
As history demonstrates, we seem to be in the beginning stages of a major transformation. The old structures are falling apart and not able to meet the needs of this brave new world of instant communication and radical cultural change due to globalization. We are living in a world in which the artificial boundaries established in the past; both physical and cultural, are shifting and becoming more complex by the day. This is a most difficult time because it is not necessarily planned or under our control. We are afraid and are looking for God or the gods to protect us from these cultural changes. In one sense, we are afraid to become adults; responsible for our planet and for life itself. We look for God to step in and bring us back to our childhood, where we felt safe -even though that was an illusion.
The complexity of our present world, that is becoming something new, is a bit overwhelming for most of us. We live on a planet that is undergoing radical change and is therefore changing all of life. Much of this change is a direct result of human activities – positive and negative. But as always, change works both ways. We change the world and the world changes us; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This has been the history of the transformation of the world from the very beginning. Adaptation requires change, etc., etc. Christianity, as well as other religions, have changed throughout time in order to better meet the ongoing spiritual needs of each culture. One big change today, as previously mentioned, is the breakdown of artificial divisions or boundaries. Cultural, sexual, class religious and economic divisions also, are beginning to experience breakdown. We are starting to understand that we are all in this together. Within the Catholic Church, fear and guilt used to be the major forces for control. In our current world, fear and guild are being replace by a demand that all artificial class divisions within the church be abolished and that a greater sense of community be established as was present in the beginning. In the beginning all had a voice and were responsible. God loves all simple things. The structures of higher and lower classes is falling apart; not easily nor quickly, but with the assistance of instant communication, a reality.
We can see the cracks in the structure on a daily basis. We are aware of the sexual abuse of children and women by clergy and the cover-up by the aristocracy of the church structure. For centuries, all important decisions have been made by ordained bishops cardinals and popes – celibate male rulers. Decisions have been made concerning marriage, life and death, families, etc., all others shut out of the process. We are aware of the Gay Clerical Culture condemning as intrinsically disordered those who are searching for healthy and life giving relationships. We have learned from earlier teachings, that only Catholics will be seated at the table – will be welcome into the kingdom. All others are not welcome. We have lived the divisions of race, sex, age and national or cultural realities. The upper class have lived the life of the aristocracy for centuries, seeking and hanging on to power; primarily through the guilt and fear. These factors are not restricted to just the Catholic Church, but in fact touch all religions that have created extreme complications in the way that the Spiritual life is experienced. All organizations have a life-span. Birth, action and death are realities of existence from the very beginning. Corruption begins to smell like death – stagnant water where life cannot grow. One message of all religions, including Christianity and the Catholic Community is that of the death and resurrection. Birth, death and resurrection are all ultimate realities of the universe itself. All religions have at their core – life itself. Life is active, changing, adapting and reaching beyond itself. Life is experience as love. Love is the bonding of relationships and we are called to expand our vision of our relationships to be inclusive of all that is and to let go of the illusions of exclusivity. We live in a both-and reality and are called do let go of the either-or illusions of the past. In all of this – there is the experience of push-back – the illusion that we can go backwards or at least prevent change from being the constant irritant. This push-back stems from fear; fear of the dark or the unknown. Jesus said often to his disciples – “what are you afraid of?” Let go and trust – not in yourselves, but in the living God.