This article was published in the On Faith section of the Washington Post in 2010, coincident with the publication of my book, The New Enlightenment.
From this week’s news:
Gallup.com: ‘A new low of 40% of Americans view Pope Benedict XVI favorably [Catholic, 61 percent; non-Catholic, 35 percent] … Pope Benedict’s image has deteriorated about equally among Catholics and non-Catholics from its 2008 high [of 63 percent as he ended a U.S. visit]– by 20 and 23 points, respectively.’
Maureen Dowd: ‘The church gave up its credibility for Lent.’
Vatican legal strategy: ‘Court documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press show that Vatican lawyers plan to argue that the pope has immunity as head of state, that American bishops who oversaw abusive priests weren’t employees of the Vatican, and that a 1962 document is not the ‘smoking gun’ that provides proof of a cover-up.’
Can the Cardinals fix the modern Catholic Church? No. Should the Pope “take the 5th?” Probably. Why does the Catholic Church seem to have an increasingly serious problem in controlling itself? The answer is in the question (hint: the word “control”) and is based upon the “cardinal rules.”
People look to religion for spiritual guidance and the “cardinal rules” of all religions are spiritual. These “rules” are a set of fundamental beliefs on which religion is founded and they are the generally very similar across all religions and have always been the same since the beginning of time:
- We recognize humans are spiritual beings;
- We recognize our spiritual nature as the first step in loving God;
- We recognize the equal and identical spiritual nature of all people, which leads us to love all of our neighbors as ourselves – which, from a spiritual perspective, they are.
These cardinal rules have been basic religious building blocks since before the stone tablets, before the Council of Nicaea, before the cave, before the origin stories of all religions.
Based upon the cardinal rules, spirituality is Democratic and a Free Market. The essence of religious spirituality is that everyone has a spirit that guides him or her through their lives. The process is a “bottom up” spiritual democracy where the spirit does the guiding of each individual and the purpose of the religion is to guide people to the spirit (i.e., help them find what the Catholic Church calls “grace”). Since all people are guided by the spirit, a true belief in spirituality means that the collective actions of people responding to the spirit represent the true “will of God.”
So, the problem is not the cardinal rules, but the Cardinals. The Cardinals do not seem to believe in the “cardinal rules” at all. They believe in organization, behavioral rules, and ritual. Cardinals (and Rabbis and Mullahs and other religious leaders) are “company men.”
In short, all religions, over the millennia, have managed to get it all backwards. Religions are authoritarian and discourage “spiritual democracy” (Pope Benedict calls it the “tyranny of relativism”) and they are monopolists (they feel that they have a franchise on the “word of God” and that their job is to stomp out dissent from within and without).
They define “doctrine” as the “word of God,” convert it into behavioral rules and ritual, and impose it all, top-down. They propose that their doctrine is the “true word” and represents an exclusive monopoly. In a real sense, they all advance a view that is, a priori, anti-spiritual.
They, of course, recognize this fundamental contradiction and frame origin stories around the celestial cash cow, the sinful nature of people, i.e., “original sin,” to reestablish organizational legitimacy and the reason for an overbearing organization.
Such a house of cards requires a highly authoritarian organization, rigid hierarchy and discipline, and a resistance to reasonable debate. It also leads to a high degree of secrecy and an imperative to protect the organization, even at the expense of the core purpose of spiritual guidance … probably not what God might have hoped for. The end (institutional protection) is used to justify the means (sacrificing the “flock”).
I have been a management consultant to some of America’s largest companies and I can say that such an organization will make many mistakes and then make every attempt to cover them up … light is their enemy. Ironically, the Church practices exactly the type of corruption (to put exactly the right word on it, since it diverges completely from its core purpose) as the corrupt corporate executives or inept government officials that priests love to condemn from the pulpit. So … claim immunity and take the 5th.
And neither the Catholic Church, nor the other major religions, can correct this problem. They have become so comfortable with the spectacularly successful “Bait” (spiritual guidance, eternal life, salvation) and “Switch” (religious doctrine, rules, and ritual) formula that they confuse organizational protection and survival (banal, material pursuits) with the “will of God.”
Thus, hiding pedophiles, protecting the Pope and Cardinals at all costs, inciting suicide bombing or other violence, starting religious wars, persecuting “nonbelievers,” and coercive evangelism (all, obviously, not spiritual) will continue and get much worse across contemporary religions, not as acts of spirituality, but as a baser form of organizational ambition and rivalry.