Can Catholicism hold the New? Not yet.


We are stardust

We are golden

And we have to get back to the garden

Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”

When so many Catholics were focussed on the “apples” of the papal resignation, “oranges” appeared  on the White House lawn. 48 environmental activists were arrested for calling attention to the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline will carry tar sands Albertan oil to Texas, dirty oil squeezed out of the bowels of  the earth, the largest ecological footprint in the world in our own Canada. It is in this coterminous event which we will best understand why religion is in stark decline today. On this Valentine Day protest no Catholic bishops were seen. Among the arrested however were  civil rights leader Julian Bond, the indefatigable environmentalist Bill McKibben whose blog is a secular encyclical alerting us to the perils of climate change, the brilliant  NASA climate scientist James Hansen, lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah. And for the first time, the highly respected environmental organization the Sierra Club joined the group. It has moved from moved from education to resistance at this crucial juncture of history.


It is in this secular  snapshot that we see the increasing irrelevance of formal religion whose questions and energies seem divorced from our world and planet. Millions are abandoning  these religions which seem incapable of grappling with the deep questions of ultimate concern. There is nothing wrong with these people. Like most of us they are hardwired for “spirituality”. The difference is that they have abandoned religion as narrow, inward looking and out of touch with life on earth today. It is as if Darwin, Hubble and Teilhard never existed. It is as if cosmology and its younger sister ecology are interlopers and personae non gratae in the house of religion. It is as if Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Mattthew Fox, John Haught, David Toolan, Sean McDonough and Stephen Scharper, all serious Catholic evolutionary thinkers never existed.It as if Thomas Aquinas and his 14th century medieval worldview  is the final matrix of Catholic theology.


Those on the White House lawn are among the many  who have moved from religion to spirituality. They are not angry about religion. With their vibrating antennae they have sensed in an inchoate way the mysterious and holy call of the cosmos itself, a spirituality which has been with us since the advent of homo sapiens, 40,000 years ago. Salvation history for these people (even if they are formally religious) simply does not begin 3,000 years ago with the Bible. The divine Spirit has been a presence since the universe began. It is that Spirit which goes by many names—and no name—which is summoning them to action. The wounded cry of the earth is too much to bear. The 10,000 years of patriarchal domination must end, anthropocentric arrogance must stop.The White house prophets understand at a deep level what humans are doing to the elegance, the beauty, the nurturing and life-giving evolving cosmos and with their lives and actions they are yelling STOP. Political leaders like Stephen Harper seem autistic here, unable to comprehend the oncoming disaster.

And Catholics ask: where is the institutional leadership here? Will a new pope make a difference? Where shall we place our spiritual energy today?


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