Monday, August 09, 2010

What You DON'T Need To Have Faith, plus my Montreal scuffle..

There are several good ideas to take home from this NYTimes piece by Simon Critchley.

Can a non-Christian or a non-believer have a "Christian" faith?

He talks about the gospel account of the Roman centurion who had the sick child and asks Jesus to cure him, and Jesus says sure, let's go, and the centurion responds that he is a Roman soldier and therefore not worthy to have Jesus come to his house, but all he has to do is snap his fingers and the kid would get well, and Jesus is really impressed and says something like I've been all over the place and never met anyone with the kind of faith that this "unbeliever" has.

The centurion is an interesting character, and one who is in stark opposition to those who espouse what Critchley calls the "triumphal evangelical atheism of the age". I have friends who wish I were more of a triumphal evangelical atheist. Like them. Their zeal makes me uneasy. Wouldn't want to become the flip side of a coin I despised....

The true Christian might be the one who - maybe often, maybe rarely - has the faith experience, and is not necessarily the one who is baptized and participates in the routine of a church.

Critchley (and Soren Kierkegaard, the theologian about whom he is writing) also talks about the "rigor" of love. Love isn't really a coddling. It is more of a jolt.

But the rigor of love is not the rigor of church membership. It is a personal sentiment. It is not necessarily found in baptism. The centurion didn't get baptized in order to receive his kid's cure and Jesus didn't seem to establish or even imply that this would be owed as the price of the cure. (This, incidentally, is where I drift into the rapids of Catholic heresy. Fasten your seatbelts, even you Protestants. There's many a Christian church that would tell the centurion that unless he were to be formally baptized, yadda yadda fires of hell yadda yadda.)

I particularly like the invoking of Paul to the Romans 13:8 "Owe no one anything except to love one another". That is not a verse of Paul that is commonly quoted by evangelical right wing Christians. It's a little too freeing and precarious for them.

I am definitely like the centurion. Except that if Jesus had agreed to come to my place, I'd have said yes, cleaned up, taken photos and made video.

Speaking of video, our recent trip to Montreal was delightful with only one tense moment. On a pilgrimage to the gorgeous central offices of The Bank of Montreal to visit the account I had established there during the years of our residency in that city, we thought we'd inspect the interior of nearby Notre Dame basilica. An older man and his wife were ahead of me and were turned away because they could not or would not pay the five dollar admission fee. Much more timid than I about the situation, they mumbled something about being charged to pray in a Catholic church. And we were off to the races.

Canon law is either vague or specific about this depending on your read of Canon 1221: "Entry to a church at the hours of sacred functions is to be open and free of charge." This canon allows a pastor to lock his church when it is not in use, but this basilica trespasses church law by establishing an entrance fee to extract money from both Catholic and heathen visitors, proving once again that wallets more than souls constitute the appetite of Catholicism. There is no sign that says entry is free if you want to pray, or that a donation is desired but not mandatory. There is only one constricted entrance for the public and it is where you get fleeced. This church also makes a secondary misinterpretation of the canon when they make exception for anyone wishing to pray. The canon does not refer to private internal personal prayer. It refers to scheduled liturgical activities. Getting into legal squabbling is of no value. What is valuable is the fact that this entrepreneurial church recognized a way to derive money from Montreal tourism. Its hunger for money and its admission booth eclipses any obscure crucifix that might hang within.

What you don't see in the video is that the elderly couple followed me into the church on my heels without paying. Once inside, they thanked me for saying what they felt. I was, however, immediately accosted by two very large men who had been summoned by the feisty lady at the door. They had the nerve to say that since I had entered the church without paying and that since this would be permitted only if I were going to pray, that I now had to demonstrate my act of prayer to their satisfaction! They also asked me to follow them into a side chapel where I could make that demonstration of prayer! The ten minutes devoted to this encounter was about all I had appetite for. Point made, we left the church (which is really a squat and gimcrack cathedral not worth seeing and certainly not worth paying for)  and walked out into the sunshine of the heathen but free Montreal streets.


Anonymous said...

You make some very good points. You don't have to be Christian to be a good Christian.

Will said...

What you write speaks volumes about what's wrong systemically within the Catholic Church. I have often thought recently that it is time for another Luther to arise within the Church and transform it either from within or, probably rejected and demonized as the first Luther was, to lead right-thinking Catholics away from the rotting corpse into a reimagined, simple and truly Christ-like community of faith.

tornwordo said...

You're right that it's SO not worth the admission. I love that you confronted her.

Anonymous said...

In the Book of Common Prayer, on Good Friday and on All Souls Day, we are enjoined to pray for "those whose faith is known to God alone."
As usual, Episcopalians have got you covered.

RawForReal said...

You can't begin to imagine how much that b!tch with the smug look on her face would have annoyed me to the point where I would have immediately phoned the Bishop's office... after she'd accidentally fallen down the steps, of course.

Doralong said...

Sadly, I find often these days that those I encounter that have a truly "Christian" set of values rarely are actual "practicing Christians".

Obviously there are exceptions and I count myself lucky to have some of those delightful people in my life. If there is any hope for organized religion it resides within their hearts.

Not to be trite (even though I really know it is) it comes back to the Ghandi quote:

"I consider western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ’s Christianity."

Hence the reason I am a heathen agnostic. It just makes me so terribly sad that there are so many people blindly following a construct of a church hierarchy that has little or nothing to do in actuality with anything Christ himself would have countenanced.

My apologies for the rant Father T- I have had a belly full of intolerant asshats here of late using their religious views as a proverbial get out of jail card for intolerant, bigoted behavior.

Anonymous said...

at best I'm a poor example of an Episcopal unless of course it's happy hour...but, we (my partner, and I ) recently visited the basilica in Montreal to offer prayer by proxy for a good friend and enthusiastic Catholic about to endure a major surgery. When approached in line for the fee I said "We are just going to light a candle" we was removed from the line and friendly escorted behind the velvet rope and into the basilica. I dropped my Two-ney in the slot lit the candle offered the 'ju ju' and left. While my experience was a pleasant one, I did notice she was waiting for us outside when we left looking at her watch.

Granted charging admission to an Episcopal church just makes sense - what better reason to just send a check.

(btw, great meeting you and hangning out in Montreal! thanks again for coming to pat's art show!)


Tony Adams said...

Hi Rob,
That reminds me. I never got around to posting about the art show!

Anonymous said...


We just put the show on his website so if you need any pictures go ahead.