Friday, June 17, 2011

Dr. Who and the Crisis of Faith

Firstly, you're going to ask, what does Dr. Who have to do with the crisis of faith? We'll get to that.

Second, I'd like to say something to all the "Original" Dr. Who fans who like to criticize the new series with snide comments like "I liked the first season as well...of the original". Get over yourselves. You win no converts by being snide and petty. The new series is not replacing the old. It is reviving the overall story arc. This is why the Dr. Who canon says there have been nine doctors, and only three of them since 2005. Nothing has been rewritten, references to the series that ran in the '60s are made frequently, and the continuity remains the same. The difference? It's not as campy, but neither is the rest of the BBC anymore. It's a little quirkier, but so is the rest of the BBC and British humor in general. And you know what? It's still a delightful show. So to all of you Dr. Who "purists"--GET. OVER. IT.

This leads me to the crisis of faith. Very often we are in search of the "true" faith, the "original" faith, the way the Church functioned in its earliest inception, free of novelty and innovation. These things detract from faith, right? Well...yes and no. There is a trend in non-denominational communities to rely very heavily on the Acts of the Apostles to model the way they live their faith. This is good. To an extent. There is also a growing trend in the Catholic Church to contract and weed out the liberal, post-Vatican II elements. While I agree that many abuses of the Divine Liturgy and sacred worship have occurred, as with anything else, a contraction is best done in moderation.

When we have a knee-jerk reaction to innovation, we invariably fall back on the "tried and true", that which makes us feel safe. When it comes to faith and the pursuit of objective and absolute spiritual and philosophical truth, it becomes hard to accept that not all interpretations of truth are universal throughout time. Innovation is not only necessary to apply the faith to a dynamic world, it can, in its own way, enrich the faith. But, as with contraction, when done in moderation.

Let's point to some non-biblical "innovations" of the Catholic Church. Starting with Papal Infallibility. This dogma was not formally established until the nineteenth century at the First Vatican Council. However, the nature of Catholic dogma is that it is not innovative. It is issued to combat heresy and reaffirm something that has always been believed. Because of dogmatic law, "whatsoever you hold true on earth" etc. etc., it is reasoned that the Successor of Peter has always been infallible, but it went without saying until the First Vatican Council.

Secondly, the Marian Dogmas. These are quite difficult for people not raised in the Catholic faith to get their heads around, much as the Trinitarian Mystery and Hypostatic Union are difficult concepts for non-Christians to understand. But there are four of these Marian Dogmas, and they are requirements of the Catholic faith to claim one is a Catholic and be true to that statement (as are all the articles of faith issued as dogma). They include her divine motherhood as the Theotokos or Mother of God, her immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily and spiritual assumption into heaven. What does this all mean for Catholicism? Mary is the roadmap to Christ who points the way to the Father. As my dear friend Alyssa has told me, who better to get in touch with someone than their mother? A pithy phrase, but awesome at the same time. The "cult" of Mary developed in a time when Christianity was embracing the European pagans, and there was a serious need to connect with them. The worship of the divine feminine was strong, even in the early Church converts (check out the Collyridians for more information), and instead of exiling them all as heretics, adoration of Mary was turned into a positive that enriched the faith and added another layer of mystery to a mystery religion already steeped in mystery.

Fast-forward to the Twenty-First Century. The Catholic Church, which recently under two successive Popes (Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI) have had to defend the Church's position in relation to science--that they are NOT in conflict, despite a wonderful article by George Johnson at Columbia University ( exploring the relationship between the Church and modern science and how the latter was impossible without the former. That being said, the Church is in reaction. Vatican II brought much that was good, but opened the doors for much that was terrible. The mystery of the Church was ripped away and the Church began to look to a more pragmatic outlook. Gone were the days of blind adoration and "don't ask questions, just accept what we tell you!" (an attitude born out of the counter-reformation). Now people could seek and find, and due to a long history of "just accept", the faithful were ill-equipped to properly understand what they found. An exodus of biblical proportions from the Catholic Church began.

Arise the non-denominational churches of the 1960's, 70's, and 80's. A call to pure Christianity, an end to innovation and a new beginning. The faith is in crisis as the great Rome crumbles! Doomsday is nigh, and we, the Pure Christians (tm) will inherit the earth! Well, not really. Nothing happened. Catholicism still makes up about half the Christians in the world, bolstering Christianity and maintaining its number one spot on the religion chart. But all of Christianity is in flux right now. The promised end has not come. Nor did it come 2000 years ago as the Apostles thought it would. Innovation has been seen as something evil to be avoided, and, like the Dr. Who purists, we are deriding what is new and turning back to the old. Maybe the way we did things a hundred years ago will galvanize everyone. Maybe, if we could only turn back the clock...




We can't. I believe in absolute, objective truth. But so did the early Church when they said money-handling was a sin and was therefore the sole purview of the Jewish people. Today, millions of Catholics and Christians in general are bankers. I am homosexual. I am Catholic. I do not approve of much that came from Vatican II, but I do approve of its sanctioning of asking questions. There is absolute truth. There is also subjective truth. The Church and the world are in flux, and just as the Church has adapted and survived through innovation, it can do so again. Let the Protestants leap forward with their innovation just because it's popular to do so at the time. Let the non-denominationals continue pushing for the purest, narrowest road because Acts is the only source. Let Catholicism examine innovation and adapt as necessary, without reckless abandon, and with the cautious optimism that has steered it for 2,000 years of unbroken history.

If Catholicism can do it for 2,000 years and still draw a plurality of the world's population, I think Dr. Who can survive a revival and still be pretty good.

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