07 June 2010


Carl Olson of the Ignatius Press blog posted on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, beginning with the following paragraph:

Shortly after my wife and I entered the Catholic Church in 1997, I had a conversation with an Evangelical friend that was as disconcerting as it was friendly. A.J., who I met in Bible college several years earlier, was curious about the Catholic doctrine that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I say “curious” because A.J., unlike some of my other Protestant friends, was not really bothered or offended by this belief, merely puzzled. After much discussion, he said, “I don’t see what the big deal is. I believe that Communion is symbolic, and you believe it is more than a symbol. But, either way, we’re both Christians.”

Carl went on to speak, appropriately about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  I was, however, moved to put a comment on the post which, after referring to the above statement, continued:
I think this is interesting, and a real reflexion on the gradual erosion of any sort of unified worldview. In a Kantian, post-Cartesian, world, what we believe religiously is a separate noumenal level of reality from the real world of material.
Had you told your friend that Catholics believe there are tigers waiting to devour any non-Catholic who entered a Catholic church, your friend would not have reacted by saying, "well, you Catholics believe that, and we non-Catholics don't, but we're both Christians after all." He would rather have started edging away from such a nut :-)

Our greatest battle today may be just at this level - that reality is one; that the Eucharist is Jesus; and that if that is not so, then we Catholics are either as mad as the man who believes in spies hiding under his bed, or else as wicked as the person who says he has twenty million dollars waiting for you in Nigeria.
I think this is, indeed, the greatest battle we have today.  The great hostility of much of the world to religious believers seems to me aimed almost exclusively at the sort of believer who clearly believes in unity of reality.  He is not satisfied simply with his own spirituality - his own "personal truth"; he insists on claiming that others need to believe this, as well, not merely because it will make them happier, but because it is really true - and, indeed, that there might be personal consequences for them based on their reaction to this.

Ironically, this view is often referred to as 'fudamentalism' - ironically, because, although fundamentalism in its origins is, indeed, a good term to describe what Christians, both Catholics and Protestants believe, it had come to refer to a kind of Biblical literalism - a literalism that was almost purely materialistic ("Gog and Magog are really the Russians", for instance) - and therefore had, indeed, a unified world view, but one achieved by nearly excluding the supernatural entirely, bringing it down to the material.  In so far as I understand Mormonism and the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, their outlook seems similar to me.

This two-level metaphysic, with the phaenomenal level being the real, and the noumenal being almost exclusively the affective, infects us all - believer and unbeliever, Protestant and Catholic.  It is so easy to consider that which we cannot see as being less real than that which we see.  Yet the reverse is true - and it is of great urgency that we begin to live in that reality.  We must walk by faith, not by sight, for:
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor 4:18)
For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7)


Alice Gershom said...

The most offensive thing you can say these days is "My religion is better than your religion." But why else would I believe and practice it?

If they had cancer and I said "My cancer cure is better than your cancer cure," they might understand why I was anxious for them to look into it.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Thanks, Alice.

Indeed - we have been told that we live in an age of relativism, and that is true - but not absolute relativism. When it comes to crossing the street against the red light, people look very carefully. But religious claims, and moral claims, are a different story!