Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Religious Capitalism: Why the Pope is on Short Notice

In what to the Tin Man has sounded like the loudest double speak from the papacy in Rome, the Catholic Church has extended a conditional olive branch to the Anglican Clergy disenchanted by the churches position on marriage of priests. In his communication of Vatican’s decision, the pope has characteristically employed vague legalese hidden in Latin vocabulary to frog jump the Anglicans while being careful not to contradict its celibacy doctrine. Overly ambitious.

But I do not blame the Holy Father for making such a move. How can I? In the wake of dwindling membership not just in the Catholic Church but in Christianity as a whole, desperate times are calling for desperate measures. Like the fall of the Berlin wall which set in motion the systematic decline of socialism, a capitalistic trend in matters of personal faith is forcing the Catholic Church to amend many of its monopolistic practices. The religion market has become capitalist and competition is cut throat. In order to survive, Vatican must compromise.

The Catholic Church is the largest Christian church whose membership comprising a sixth of the world population. The church claims itself as the one and only true church of Christ with the pope as the highest earthly authority on matters of faith, morality and governance. The church has throughout history been a fundamental financial institution. It has been the largest landowner and had enormous income generating from tithes. Ever since the endorsement by Emperor Constantine in Italy in the 300s, the church has been tied to politics and many clergymen, in Italy and in England, have been from royal families.

Trouble begun in the 1500s when Martin Luther protested the sale of indulgences to generate church revenue. In his 95 theses, he questioned among other things why the Pope, despite his expansive wealth, wanted to build St. Peter’s Basilica with money from poor believers rather than his own. Till that time, forgiveness of sins was purchased by making a partial contribution to the church to accompany one’s repentance. Luther’s argument that forgiveness was a free gift from God obliterated one of the Churches main revenue sources. In addition, the young theologian challenged the Pope’s authority by asserting that the Bible was the only source of divine knowledge. That statement exposed the Holy Father’s fallibility and shattered the church's political foundation and weakened its role in governance of the people.

One of the churches tools of monopolizing the path to heaven was the use of Latin as the official language of worship. Luther translated the Bible into German and it was later translated into The King James Version and killed the clergy’s grip as God’s brokers of forgiveness and sainthood. The Vatican control over Biblical interpretations had thus been diluted. But the protestant reformation was not the last of the troubles for the Roman Catholic Church.

On their independence, the British established the Anglican Church and cut their political allegiance to the church in Rome. This presented a compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism. But the Church of England was to face breakaways of its own when the Americans broke away on their independence in 1776. Other nations gradually de-linked themselves either from the Catholic or Anglican Church in the de-Christianization of nations. An anti-clerical movement around the world was seeking to reduce religion to a purely private belief-system. In the new enlightenment of the masses, much of the Churches property was confiscated nationalized and some members of the clergy persecuted.

For the Catholic Church, Jose Maria Escriva presented yet another dilemma. The priest founded the Opus Dei translated from Latin to mean the work of God in 1928. Escriva espoused that saint hood can be achieved by any one through religious materialism. Opus Dei’s appeal to the cast majority of ordinary Catholics threatened the Catholic Church. After a quarter of a decade fighting the sect, the Vatican realized that with its growing wealth and membership, Opus Dei was better in than out. It was accepted it as a personal prelate of the pope in 1950.

Despite the Counter Reformation movement within the Catholic Church itself, it remains accused of being out of touch with reality and steeped in increasingly irrelevant dogma, doctrine and tradition. From divorce and contraception to misogyny in clerical appointments the church is still on the defense against popular logic and public opinion. To remain relevant in a fast changing world with a growing number of more accommodating religious groups, the Pope must lead its congregation to further compromise. Short of that, it must die a Darwinian death.

In inviting married clergy from the Anglican Church, Rome has made a prudent business decision to retain church numbers. But their insistence that this does not mean current Catholic priests can marry remains a hypocritical puzzle. It is complicated further by suggesting corporate consideration of Anglican Parishes for inclusion into the Catholic communion. The people are demanding a freer religious context with less involvement in personal morality. The church is bending their way. The church is creating a monster. The church is entertaining democracy and capitalism. Like Romeo and Juliet, the Church is drinking poison for its love for the congregation.

To stem an imminent breakaway, the Catholic Church has decided to tolerate clerical marriage. The Anglican Church has preceded Vatican with the ordination of women and gay bishops. In the fight for domination in the tithe, offerings and donations industry, will the Pope follow suit? Will the Church, like Russia, openly embrace the new age religion or will it, like China, only veil its capitalist moves behind its traditionalist matriarchic pretences?

I watch with bated breath the making of history.

The Tin Man.

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