Myths from the Past, Hope for the Future

Myths from the Past, Hope for the Future June 16, 2014

Editor’s Note: In the second of three “student” posts, Catherine, a former Catholic chaplain student, discusses losing her faith during seminary and her concerns about Pope Francis’ criticism of seminary studies.

By Catherine Dunphy

It’s been nearly ten years since I graduated from seminary.  In that time I have done what I can to distance myself from the ecclesiastical and bureaucratic ideologies that marked that period in my life.  Though I am no longer a believer, you might be surprised to know that I still keep a collection of my old theology textbooks in my library.  These books range from biblical scholarship, to liberation theology, to church history.  Each is a reminder of my former faith, but more importantly the influences that enabled me to shed my beliefs and to embrace a life without god.

Seminary played a pivotal role in my loss of faith. It was there that I acquired and honed my deconstructionist skills, and I am grateful for those lessons.

Despite the happy distance I keep from faith, I do keep up on the goings on in the Church including the effects of the new Pope.  Many have been surprised and encouraged by his actions and comments.  A modern Pope, Francis has taken a page from the British Royal family and is an approachable, likeable Pope  – not a hard task to accomplish after Benedict.

Francis seems genuine in his desire to grow relationships with those outside and inside the church, but what most people fail to see is that he is a theologian, and like most theologians he picks and chooses his words very carefully.  Recently, he spoke to three Pontifical seminaries, about the study of theology and its reliance on spiritual life.

Though most will not pick up on his criticism, his comments are a scathing reprimand of the theological method and the deconstructionist elements that it utilizes.  He says, “Philosophy and theology permit one to acquire the convictions that structure and strengthen the intelligence and illuminate the will…but this is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on ones knees.”  Further on he says, “And the theologian who does not pray and who does not worship God ends up sunk in the most disgusting narcissism.”

Perhaps Francis is concerned about the lessons learned in theological schools and that students like me are following the obvious path out of faith. As for me, I don’t think that it is particularly effective for the Pope to try to shame seminary and theology students for using reason as a method to understand and communicate their beliefs.

What I wish would happen, and what would be truly radical, would be if Francis would let the rest of the world know that these tenants of faith, and the bible upon which they were erected, are human constructions. I wish that this Pope, with all his good intentions, would lay these myths at the altar of the past, and instead look forward into the future.

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Bio: Catherine Dunphy – A humanist, atheist and former Roman Catholic student chaplain, Catherine is a member and former Executive Director of the Clergy Project.  Catherine is a communications/PR professional, who is currently writing a book about the founding of The Clergy Project and her experience of losing her faith in seminary.

 

photo credits: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/2542875564/”>

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  • You wrote: “What I wish would happen, and what would be truly radical, would be if Francis would let the rest of the world know that these tenants of faith, and the bible upon which they were erected, are human constructions.”

    Would such an admission necessarily devalue them? I suspect the answer is yes for many people, but I think there’s a grater number of folk out there who already understand this. Or, alternatively, that even if the words of the prophets were divinely inspired, that the recording of these words necessarily introduced at least one “telephone-hop” into the transmission and that, over time, the signal to noise ratio has only favored the noise.

  • You wrote: “What I wish would happen, and what would be truly radical, would be if Francis would let the rest of the world know that these tenants of faith, and the bible upon which they were erected, are human constructions.”

    Would such an admission necessarily devalue them? I suspect the answer is yes for many people, but I think there’s a grater number of folk out there who already understand this. Or, alternatively, that even if the words of the prophets were divinely inspired, that the recording of these words necessarily introduced at least one “telephone-hop” into the transmission and that, over time, the signal to noise ratio has only favored the noise.

  • cadunphy280

    Perhaps you are right David, that there are a greater number of people out there that understand this reality, if this is so I would hope that they would stand up and say so. Unfortunately, failing to do so allows for the continued manufacturing of varied “truths”, that only help to buttress the church’s ideologies.

  • cadunphy280

    Perhaps you are right David, that there are a greater number of people out there that understand this reality, if this is so I would hope that they would stand up and say so. Unfortunately, failing to do so allows for the continued manufacturing of varied “truths”, that only help to buttress the church’s ideologies.

  • “Unfortunately, failing to do so allows for the continued manufacturing
    of varied “truths”, that only help to buttress the church’s ideologies.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by the first part of that sentence? Can you elaborate? I guess, my confusion is that my experience tells me that there are many, varied truths, whether they buttress a church’s ideological truths is a second question, I guess.

  • “Unfortunately, failing to do so allows for the continued manufacturing
    of varied “truths”, that only help to buttress the church’s ideologies.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by the first part of that sentence? Can you elaborate? I guess, my confusion is that my experience tells me that there are many, varied truths, whether they buttress a church’s ideological truths is a second question, I guess.

  • cadunphy280

    I think that without stating implicitly I was attempting to draw attention to the difference between truth and “truths”. Subjective experience may reveal many, so called “truths” but that does not make them true or factual. Your original comment seemed to be pointing to this issue of the truth VS truths, correct? Or perhaps I should have used the words truth vs belief. As for the example of buttressing the church’s ideologies by interpretations of truths, you need only look at the concept of the incarnation. Most students of theology have packed away the idea of Jesus as the second person of the trinity, aka the word made flesh, and instead see the Incarnation and Jesus as being something “radically human”. The issue then becomes one of intellectual honesty. Perhaps what theologians should be saying is not what their interperation of the incarnation is, but rather what they have rejected and why?

  • cadunphy280

    I think that without stating implicitly I was attempting to draw attention to the difference between truth and “truths”. Subjective experience may reveal many, so called “truths” but that does not make them true or factual. Your original comment seemed to be pointing to this issue of the truth VS truths, correct? Or perhaps I should have used the words truth vs belief. As for the example of buttressing the church’s ideologies by interpretations of truths, you need only look at the concept of the incarnation. Most students of theology have packed away the idea of Jesus as the second person of the trinity, aka the word made flesh, and instead see the Incarnation and Jesus as being something “radically human”. The issue then becomes one of intellectual honesty. Perhaps what theologians should be saying is not what their interperation of the incarnation is, but rather what they have rejected and why?

  • Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification. We’re touching on philosophical differences, to some extent, as I’m in the camp of perception trumping truths, or perhaps constructing them, and the idea of an objective truth is largely irrelevant to me. Which probably informs my point of view on scriptural evidence with respect to it simply being but one more perspective rather than the immutable, unquestionable word.

  • Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification. We’re touching on philosophical differences, to some extent, as I’m in the camp of perception trumping truths, or perhaps constructing them, and the idea of an objective truth is largely irrelevant to me. Which probably informs my point of view on scriptural evidence with respect to it simply being but one more perspective rather than the immutable, unquestionable word.

  • I am sorry for your loss (of wasted time and education) on something so utterly fake and pointless. How did you get funneled into that ‘career field’ in the first place? #funwithathesim Enjoy.

  • I am sorry for your loss (of wasted time and education) on something so utterly fake and pointless. How did you get funneled into that ‘career field’ in the first place? #funwithathesim Enjoy.

  • cadunphy280

    I was raised in a very catholic home and was the child with so called “spiritual gifts” because of this some type of religious vocation seemed like the “reasonable” thing. When you are raised in such a dominant and authoritarian religious tradition, you don’t question, or think as everything thought and conclusion must somehow lead you back to your presuppositions. It is a sad situation when a person forgoes happiness and well-being, all with the goal of supporting an ideology. I am happy to be on the outside of that worldview. When I observe it in play, as with the example of the Pope, I feel sad that these these long expired ideologies still maintain influence.

  • cadunphy280

    I was raised in a very catholic home and was the child with so called “spiritual gifts” because of this some type of religious vocation seemed like the “reasonable” thing. When you are raised in such a dominant and authoritarian religious tradition, you don’t question, or think as everything thought and conclusion must somehow lead you back to your presuppositions. It is a sad situation when a person forgoes happiness and well-being, all with the goal of supporting an ideology. I am happy to be on the outside of that worldview. When I observe it in play, as with the example of the Pope, I feel sad that these these long expired ideologies still maintain influence.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…I’m in the camp of perception trumping truths…the idea of an objective truth is largely irrelevant to me…”

    How does that work? I assume you don’t mean that EVERYTHING is a matter of perception. For instance, if we agree on the definition of “gods,” do gods exist or not?

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…I’m in the camp of perception trumping truths…the idea of an objective truth is largely irrelevant to me…”

    How does that work? I assume you don’t mean that EVERYTHING is a matter of perception. For instance, if we agree on the definition of “gods,” do gods exist or not?

  • It’s not that everything is a matter of perception but that objective reality is subject to our perceptions and understanding thereof. It’s a blind-men-and-the-elephant sort of problem. As such, I find the idea of an objective reality (and, similarly, objective truth) to be pretty irrelevant to my day-to-day activities and that the subjective differences that we all perceive to be far more interesting and important.

    Things get a little more murky when you begin to consider things for which evidence itself is largely subjective. It’s unlikely that, when confronted with a table, say that the table doesn’t exist. But, some people might find it attractive while others find it ugly; one person calls it la tabla while I say the table.; and so on. Regardless, the table is and denying its existence is problematic at best.

    Gods, on the other hand, are something that (so far) we only seem to be able to perceive subjectively; there’s no divine-o-meter that can tell us that one is present. For me, I’ve had experiences that I choose to interpret as providence rather than coincidence, but I fully recognize that others may choose differently or may choose to see the hand of a specific god different the one or ones that I may choose. In these sorts of situations, perception is all there is which, of course, makes things far more interesting.

  • It’s not that everything is a matter of perception but that objective reality is subject to our perceptions and understanding thereof. It’s a blind-men-and-the-elephant sort of problem. As such, I find the idea of an objective reality (and, similarly, objective truth) to be pretty irrelevant to my day-to-day activities and that the subjective differences that we all perceive to be far more interesting and important.

    Things get a little more murky when you begin to consider things for which evidence itself is largely subjective. It’s unlikely that, when confronted with a table, say that the table doesn’t exist. But, some people might find it attractive while others find it ugly; one person calls it la tabla while I say the table.; and so on. Regardless, the table is and denying its existence is problematic at best.

    Gods, on the other hand, are something that (so far) we only seem to be able to perceive subjectively; there’s no divine-o-meter that can tell us that one is present. For me, I’ve had experiences that I choose to interpret as providence rather than coincidence, but I fully recognize that others may choose differently or may choose to see the hand of a specific god different the one or ones that I may choose. In these sorts of situations, perception is all there is which, of course, makes things far more interesting.

  • Mary Johnson

    Catherine, I think you may be right that Pope Francis is worried about theological training. I know that when I was a Catholic sister, there were great efforts to limit the theological education of sisters in our congregation, with great care taken not to expose sisters to “new ideas.” I’m so glad that you’re in a place now where you can follow your thoughts and speak your mind freely.

  • Mary Johnson

    Catherine, I think you may be right that Pope Francis is worried about theological training. I know that when I was a Catholic sister, there were great efforts to limit the theological education of sisters in our congregation, with great care taken not to expose sisters to “new ideas.” I’m so glad that you’re in a place now where you can follow your thoughts and speak your mind freely.

  • cadunphy280

    Thanks Mary, it’s a hard line for theology students to balance, the inspiration of education and the expectations of the church! I’m so glad too that I no longer have to be concerned with that acrobatics!

  • cadunphy280

    Thanks Mary, it’s a hard line for theology students to balance, the inspiration of education and the expectations of the church! I’m so glad too that I no longer have to be concerned with that acrobatics!

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…It’s a blind-men-and-the-elephant sort of problem… perception is all there is which, of course, makes things far more interesting.”

    I recognize that there are questions we don’t have the means to answer, and that sometimes we have to relate to each other open-mindedly in our shared ignorance. Perception is never all there is, though, and our perception of something doesn’t make it any less or more real. If we really approach things from a perception-is-all-there-is philosophy, we abandon any framework for meaningful discovery of the actual answers.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…It’s a blind-men-and-the-elephant sort of problem… perception is all there is which, of course, makes things far more interesting.”

    I recognize that there are questions we don’t have the means to answer, and that sometimes we have to relate to each other open-mindedly in our shared ignorance. Perception is never all there is, though, and our perception of something doesn’t make it any less or more real. If we really approach things from a perception-is-all-there-is philosophy, we abandon any framework for meaningful discovery of the actual answers.

  • I didn’t intend to indicate that perception is all there is, only that I think it tends to matter more than the objective reality. I’d say this is especially true during interpersonal situations, case-and-point, our own conversation here. In a purely rational, scientific experiment of some sort, perception is to be avoided in favor of the data gathered during the experiment, sure, but in day-to-day life the likelihood of anyone encountering a situation in which pure rationality is brought consciously to bear as it is during scientific experimentation seems vanishingly small.

  • I didn’t intend to indicate that perception is all there is, only that I think it tends to matter more than the objective reality. I’d say this is especially true during interpersonal situations, case-and-point, our own conversation here. In a purely rational, scientific experiment of some sort, perception is to be avoided in favor of the data gathered during the experiment, sure, but in day-to-day life the likelihood of anyone encountering a situation in which pure rationality is brought consciously to bear as it is during scientific experimentation seems vanishingly small.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…but in day-to-day life the likelihood of anyone encountering a situation
    in which pure rationality is brought consciously to bear as it is
    during scientific experimentation seems vanishingly small…”

    Though I’m not sure humans are capable of pure rationality, it sounds like my daily life is very different than yours. I spend a huge percentage of my time sorting out and trying to prevent misunderstandings. I’m at risk for oversimplifying, but the majority of the misunderstandings involve misperceptions. Furthermore, sorting out disagreements after something has happened is nearly impossible unless both sides recognize that their perceptions are not always accurate.

    There are times when it’s critically important that both sides in a disagreement can see how the situation looks from the other side’s perspective. That may be what you mean when you talk about the importance of perception. I can certainly agree with the importance of that.

    When I hear an emphasis on perception, though, it makes my hair stand on end. The only sense in which human perceptions are an important part of my daily life is that they are usually wrong, and when wrong, they are almost always an obstacle to finding solutions.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…but in day-to-day life the likelihood of anyone encountering a situation
    in which pure rationality is brought consciously to bear as it is
    during scientific experimentation seems vanishingly small…”

    Though I’m not sure humans are capable of pure rationality, it sounds like my daily life is very different than yours. I spend a huge percentage of my time sorting out and trying to prevent misunderstandings. I’m at risk for oversimplifying, but the majority of the misunderstandings involve misperceptions. Furthermore, sorting out disagreements after something has happened is nearly impossible unless both sides recognize that their perceptions are not always accurate.

    There are times when it’s critically important that both sides in a disagreement can see how the situation looks from the other side’s perspective. That may be what you mean when you talk about the importance of perception. I can certainly agree with the importance of that.

    When I hear an emphasis on perception, though, it makes my hair stand on end. The only sense in which human perceptions are an important part of my daily life is that they are usually wrong, and when wrong, they are almost always an obstacle to finding solutions.

  • Actually, I agree with everything in your final paragraph, I just reach the opposite conclusion. Because human perceptions are almost always wrong, understanding, anticipating, and managing them is the only way to find a solution.

  • Actually, I agree with everything in your final paragraph, I just reach the opposite conclusion. Because human perceptions are almost always wrong, understanding, anticipating, and managing them is the only way to find a solution.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    I had wondered if we might be closer in our world views than it appeared to me. My perceptions are often flawed, though, so I thought I’d clarify. :^)

  • Maine_Skeptic

    I had wondered if we might be closer in our world views than it appeared to me. My perceptions are often flawed, though, so I thought I’d clarify. :^)

  • I see what you did there. Or should that be, I perceive what you did there?

  • I see what you did there. Or should that be, I perceive what you did there?

  • Steven Newton

    Catherine, I recall seminary being widely discouraged in evangelical circles, when I decided to go into ministry, because too much “book learning” could be harmful to faith. It turns out they were right to be worried! Despite attending conservative evangelical schools for both college and seminary, what I learned about the bible and theology there set me on the path to liberal/progressive forms of Christianity, and then on to atheism.

  • Steven Newton

    Catherine, I recall seminary being widely discouraged in evangelical circles, when I decided to go into ministry, because too much “book learning” could be harmful to faith. It turns out they were right to be worried! Despite attending conservative evangelical schools for both college and seminary, what I learned about the bible and theology there set me on the path to liberal/progressive forms of Christianity, and then on to atheism.

  • Impressive story and journey. Yes, it would be good for the Papa to say some of the reasonable things spoken by the Dalai Lama. Oh the controlling power of hand me down opinions, aka, tradition. Thank you for your role in TCP.

  • Impressive story and journey. Yes, it would be good for the Papa to say some of the reasonable things spoken by the Dalai Lama. Oh the controlling power of hand me down opinions, aka, tradition. Thank you for your role in TCP.

  • Mario Strada

    I don’t want to go all tin foil hat on you guys, but is there a chance that the Pope may also be worried about extra ingredients in his morning cappuccino?
    I was born and raised in Rome. Baptized in St. Peter no less.
    I have been reading some Italian blogs and even some reputable papers where they are quite frank about what the pope’s opposition may be up to.

    Personally, I always found the short papacy of John Paul I very strange. Especially so close to the financial scandals of the Vatican banks and the various financiers hanging by their necks around Europe.

    More on topic, I don’t think we will see the day when a Pope will declare the Bible a human construct.

  • Mario Strada

    I don’t want to go all tin foil hat on you guys, but is there a chance that the Pope may also be worried about extra ingredients in his morning cappuccino?
    I was born and raised in Rome. Baptized in St. Peter no less.
    I have been reading some Italian blogs and even some reputable papers where they are quite frank about what the pope’s opposition may be up to.

    Personally, I always found the short papacy of John Paul I very strange. Especially so close to the financial scandals of the Vatican banks and the various financiers hanging by their necks around Europe.

    More on topic, I don’t think we will see the day when a Pope will declare the Bible a human construct.

  • cadunphy280

    Thanks Chris!

  • cadunphy280

    Thanks Chris!

  • cadunphy280

    You are probably right, they are too invested in the story, it magic gives them the appearance of authority.

  • cadunphy280

    You are probably right, they are too invested in the story, it magic gives them the appearance of authority.

  • cadunphy280

    That makes sense Steven! You are right they had a right to be worried.

  • cadunphy280

    That makes sense Steven! You are right they had a right to be worried.