Social Justice

Not Atheism but Idolatry

posted on 03/09/10 03:46 pm by Fr. Paul Hansen, C.Ss.R.  

This Spring I attended meetings in Rome. I am the North American representative on the Redemptorist General Secretariat for New Pastoral Initiatives. For the past five years the Secretariat has been trying to help our Redemptorist family world wide develop new ways of being vehicles of God’s presence to God’s people in these our times. The meetings have been rich, insightful and a struggle. This year at our meetings at the end of May we spent many hours discussing sexual abuse in the North of the Americas. The church needs to see this scandal in a wider context. It raises major questions about church, clericalism, human sexuality, silence, domination, exclusion and ways of governance. The time has come.

In another place I have developed the theme of “dislocation” or “exile” as a metaphor for these our times. We are truly living in dislocation. Walter Brueggemann, a scripture scholar living in the United States compares these our times of dislocation to those experienced by the ancient Israelites in exile in Babylon. He says that they are as psychologically devastating. The ancient Israelites needed to find “the new deed” being done in order to be liberated from exile and dislocation. Liberation came from unexpected places and persons. I suggest that the same might be true for us today. In order to see the “new deed” being done we need “desert eyes.” Most North Americans run from desert experiences or do not live long enough in the desert to develop the eyes necessary to see and find life in places of dislocation and exile. It is the task of a healthy spirituality to develop desert eyes.

On my return to Canada I made a stopover in Germany. Many years ago I studied theology in Germany. I sat at the feet of those responsible for writing many of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. It was a very rich experience. I continue to be drawn back to the voices, streets, neighbourhoods and breakfast conversations that I found so life-giving and formative. I was also ordained a deacon in Germany by a bishop who had spent 6 years in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Dachau. He dared to speak out against Hitler and the church leadership of his day who were collaborating with National Socialism. When he ordained me, he told me what he had learned in the camps, “Paul, whenever the icon of God – the human – is defiled, you with your life must say no.” I carry those words of ordination with me daily. This year in Germany the topic of conversation was: “Worship of God or Worship of Idols.” It is not atheism but idolatry that is the great enemy of Christian faith. In a world of struggle and oppression Christianity must deal with idolatry and not atheism. Capitalism has become a religion. It defines the way for the human. It structures the world in which we live and it promises the good life. We Canadians have just experienced its presence in Alberta at the G-8 summit.

When I meditate on the scriptures, I read constantly that “the sin” of the scriptures is idolatry. I have been a priest for 33 years and in my experience of sacraments especially the sacrament of reconciliation, no one has ever confessed the sin of idolatry. How far removed we are from a biblical faith. Idolatry represents power. Idolatry legitimates power that controls and destroys. Idolatry places religion at the service of that which exists and is considered the norm. Idolatry dehumanizes. “Thou shall not have strange Gods before me.”

The task of the Christian today and all people of faith is to get it right in terms of God and God’s action in history and culture. The real question to be asked is:”Are we worshipping the living God who comes to us in the flesh or are we constructing a world of idols according to our image and likeness.” A proper sense of God leads to a proper sense of the human. These our times of dislocation and exile cry out for a renewed sense of the journey. The new deed being done is that of the Holy Spirit who is leading us where we would rather not go – to the fullness of life.

Paul E. Hansen

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