The good nun who taught me in Grade 6 tried to scare me and my fellow wide eyed 11-year-olds into believing in God. Her fanciful tales of diabolical encounters blended fear of the other with the supernatural.
I remember one of her cautionary tales of a sailor on shore leave in Japan. He barely made it back to the somehow divinely sanctioned home free gangplank of his warship with the devil in hot pursuit. A singed hand print of the pursuing demon on his tunic showed just how close he had come to losing the race and his soul.
My elementary school days in the 1950s were certainly not the most enlightened of times. The civil rights and women’s movements had yet to gain any real steam. The idea of merely crossing the portal of another Christian denomination’s church carried with it a whiff of sulphur and the clank of eternal chains.
Ecumenical collaboration like racial integration and gender equality still occupied the societal fringes. Interfaith dialogue, attempting to open communication with and bridge the even wider gaps in understanding between Christianity and other world religions, must have been the reserve of the truly wild eyed.
The end of the Cold War, the human rights and communication revolutions plus even globalization briefly appeared to be pointing us towards a world where mutual tolerance and a collective focus on the common problems confronting all of humanity would characterize this era. Corporate malfeasance provoked economic shocks, the pursuit of resource hegemony, war, environmental calamities and a host of other factors have pushed us away from those laudable goals. Now a generalized fear and neo-fundamentalism appear to be the hallmarks of our time.
The Times Square bomber and the oil rig disaster in the Caribbean appear as only the most recent manifestations of this malaise. To counter our retreat from hope we need to refocus on the basics. What do we indeed believe in? What kind of world do we long for?
Every year for the last eight or so I have assisted in the preparation of the English language edition of the Latin American Agenda. An editor-in-chief in Panama sends the original Spanish or Portuguese copy to the English edition editor in Washington, D.C.. She then distributes the articles from leading Latin American thinkers to translators across the continent.
My articles for the 2011 edition include one from a noted religious writer, Juan Arias. 40 some years ago in the wake of the Second Vatican Council he wrote a book entitled The God I don’t Believe In. It touched on the landmark leap in the religious conscience of the time. His current article reflects back on that book.
Forty some years ago then Father Arias wrote in part,
“I shall never believe in the God who loves pain … the God who sends people to hell … the God that condemns sexuality … the God who is incapable of pardoning that which many men condemn … the God in which I cannot hope against all hope. Yes, my God is … the other God.”
Arias writes now “Perhaps today other new negative images of God would increase that list. In 40 years much has changed, but I believe that hope continues to live in many hearts of a God that does not condemn, in the God of compassion etymologically understood: of the God that suffers with humanity; in the God of forgiveness, the God that loves our clay, our miseries, like mothers do. In the God that is interested in our planet, in all the disinherited of the world; in all the humiliated; in all those who are different.”
The Tri-High Coffee House will be held in the CYO Hall at 4th and Steele from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, May 14. Come and enjoy music, art displays and coffee house fare as the three local high school social justice clubs celebrate their 2009-2010 accomplishments.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact email@example.com.
Saturday, May 8 – World Red Cross – Red Crescent Day focuses this year on the vulnerability of the millions of people living with inadequate food, water and heath care as a result of rapid urbanization.
Sunday, May 9 – Sixth Sunday of Easter. A suggested reading is John 14:23-29.
Sunday, May 9 – Nelson Mandela takes office as President of South Africa after the first multiracial elections in that country’s history in 1994.
Friday, May 14 – More than 600 die in a military attack on fleeing refugees from the civil war in El Salvador on the Rio Sumpul in 1980.