Popes? conservatism and the pendulum?s swing

Charles F Moreira, Malaysiakini, May 4, 2005

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Regarding Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Catholic Church?s conservative policy on issues like women priests, homosexuality, etc, one has to realise that while Roman Catholicism is the oldest Christian denomination, one must also be able to see the wood for the trees and realise that not every Roman Catholic rite, ritual, practice or belief is necessarily the result of the word of God or the essence of Christ's teachings.

I haven't read the Bible cover to cover and I'm a freethinker rather than a Christian. But I would agree with Theresa Marie Clare Nochera in saying that if one does not agree with the practices, rules, regulations, culture, doctrine, etc of Roman Catholicism, they are free to switch to another of the over 2,000 other Christian denominations worldwide.

At the same time, there's room within Roman Catholicism to debate issues not mentioned in the Bible, which can be deemed man-made, rather than the word of God.

And whatever limited leeway there is to question what's written in the Bible should include questions on the authenticity or accuracy of certain statements which could be the result of mistranslation, alteration or omission over the several millennia of the Bible's (Old and New Testaments?) existence.

However, whatever denomination or religion one embraces, its fundamentals are immutable and can't be changed at whim.

For some background. My father and most of his siblings were Methodist, while my mother and all her siblings were Thai and Buddhist.

Most of my school days were spent in Roman Catholic mission schools like La Salle, St John's Institution, St Michael's and St Xavier's, where I attended Catechism classes.

In 1967, the young Roman Catholic Brother conducting the ?inquiry? class for non-Catholics taught us some radical theology including the acceptance of the theory of evolution, that Hell was a state of mind rather than a hot place and to rely on one's conscience as a moral guide.

At my Roman Catholic cousin's wedding in 1972, the priest told him and his wife to rely on their conscience on matters of contraception and birth control.

Well, that was the 1960s and early 70s in the wake of the sexual revolution sweeping the world. But things don't proceed in straight lines but rather swing back and forth like a pendulum and the conservatism of Pope Benedict XVI is the other end of the pendulum's swing.

From 1971 onwards, I took a keen interest in the study and practise of Theravada Buddhism, especially from Sri Lankan monks and within the last few years have taken a more neutral position between Buddhism and Christianity.

However, through that experience, I learned to differentiate between the rites, rituals and superstitions practiced by Buddhists and Christians on the one hand; and the essence of Buddha's and Christ's teachings on the other.

Due to their long existence, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Catholic branches of Christianity have acquired many rites, rituals and beliefs which are not part of their essence.

However in general, most religions either don't allow woman priests or subject them to severe restrictions in relation to male priests.

In the broader context, I tend to believe that the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in the US marked the end of that liberal period which began in the 1960s with everything becoming tougher, more restrictive and with relations between people and nations becoming more tense as has been borne out in the past three and a half years.

Where liberals and the left marched together against the Vietnam War, today one is more likely to find the far right and far left marching against the US occupation of Iraq, while the liberals and social-democratic left justify their support of it based on ?humanitarian? grounds or for ?democracy?, ?freedom? etc.

Well, for all their conservatism at least the late Pope John Paul II - like Pope Benedict XVI - opposed US aggression and its continued occupation of Iraq.

Welcome to the second millennium and the 21st century and it ain't the Age of Aquarius - well, at least, not yet.