14 June 2017

Idolatry?? (1)

Apparently, the English Catholic Diocese of Hallam has on its website advice about how to behave in pagan places of worship ... which pagan cult objects to bow to, for example. This has caused some degree of negative interest.

The advice may very well have been set up without the knowledge of the Bishop. Since I can't find it on the website, it may very well have been taken down by now; quite probably in a proper exercise of the Bishop's episcopal diligence.

The phrase used in this advice was that these ritual gestures "show respect to the host community". This does, of course, provide a rationale for dissociating the gesture from its idolatrous implications by redirecting it away from idolatrous cultic objects themselves and towards the people  to whom we might wish, very naturally, to show proper human respect.

Whether ordinary Christian people ought to be troubled with such semiological incoherences seems to me debatable. Still, perhaps we should not get too hysterical about this. The Hallam situation is, it appears to me, a great deal less scandalous than the "Earth Mother" devotions in which, according to reports, Cardinal Ravasi has taken part. And one recalls the disturbing action, reported and uncorrected in his Wilkipedia entry, in which Vincent Nichols in 2009 is said to have offered flowers to Hindu deities in a Hindu temple in Neasden. (Yes! There really is such a place, even outside the pages of Private Eye!!)

But I do still feel a residual unease about the Hallam situation. Somebody ... probably a local 'Interfaith' clerical enthusiast with some titular dignity in the local curia ... must have been responsible. If so, I think it is fair to ask questions about the degree of appropriate Christian formation of such an individual.

Christianity, the lineal descendant and successor of the Judaic Covenant, is still committed to the principled and unrelenting monotheism of the Hebrew prophets. And, most particularly, the principle of refusing reverence to pagan cult objects was deeply branded into our Christian consciousness during the periods of violent persecution which our Martyrs endured in the centuries before the Peace of the Church.

An apparent assumption that the natural desire to be courteous to our partners in interfaith dialogue renders this monotheistic consciousness 'out of date', seems to me to demonstrate an extremely shallow degree of integration into our own Christian identity on the part of an individual concerned.
To be continued.


Sprouting Thomas said...

My family is Chinese and old-fashioned - when I visited the clan temple last year, my family worried I would offend the gods (not to mention the other families) by refusing the proper signs of respect. In the end, I stood at the back saying some psalms (quietly) while the others worshiped. I was then joined in my prayers by the temple servants, who, it turned out, were all Catholics from the Philippines!

Some proper guidance from the bishops would not be unwelcome. My own practice is to make a shallow nod or bow to the tablets of the dead and statues of the bodhisattvas, as real and departed human beings. This seems reasonable, since a bow is the ordinary Chinese greeting (among the old-fashioned) and not a sign of vassalage, as in the West. I do not make any acknowledgement of the statues of divinities. I attend worship without participating, in accordance with the provisions of Plane Compertum. I do not attend blood sacrifice, nor do I partake of sacrificial meat.

(It is interesting that most of the animals intended for blood sacrifice were and are provided by Muslim farmers and butchers. They are certainly the best at their job, but I would have thought their monotheism at least as unrelenting as ours. China is, above all, a country where people relent, for better or worse. It is, to my knowledge, the only non-Muslim state in which Muslims have been totally and peacefully integrated.)

Regrettably, accidents of birth have made me the family member responsible for offering ancestral sacrifice! I accomplish this by having Mass said for their souls. All that is good in any society is meant for the possession of the Church; the richness and immediacy of the intercessory economy in the old Chinese way of life is, I am certain, intended for completion in Christ.

As Mozi wrote,

"How do we know God loves the people? Because He teaches them all. How do we know He teaches them all? Because He claims them all. How do we know He claims them all? Because He accepts sacrifices from them all...

...Suppose there is a man who is deeply fond of his son and has used his energy to the limit to work for his benefit. But when the son grows up he returns no love to the father. The gentlemen of the world will all call him miserable and without magnanimity. Now God loves the whole world universally. Everything is prepared for the good of man. The work of God extends to even the smallest things that are enjoyed by man. Such benefits may indeed be said to be substantial, and yet there is no thanksgiving in return. And [the gentlemen] do not even realize that this [behaviour] is without magnanimity. This is why I say the gentlemen of the world understand only trifles, but not things of importance.

(Mozi, Book 7.1-2)

Has China not been looking and waiting for Christ all along? I do hope she is next on Our Lady's list, after Russia!

Joshua said...

Years ago, at Lourdes, friends of mine joined the queue for English-language confessions… to disconcertingly discover that the confessor was both deaf and loud.

Imagine the embarrassment of all concerned when the whole queue heard the priest exclaim "Adultery?!" before a very red-faced young lady emerged from being shriven...

I told this story to a priest friend, who pointed out the obvious mistake made by my friends and the other penitents: the confessor, being hard of hearing, had misheard the young lady, who had instead confessed to idolatry!

Unknown said...

However, the act was and is promoting, explaining idolatry and therefore the question marks thereafter are redundant.

Banshee said...

The only place, I think, where any official Catholic okay has been given for "bowing to Mammon" is at a Japanese Shinto temple dedicated to Japan's war dead. It is sort of an iffy place, because it used to be the lead place for the creepy State Shinto cult, but it is also the sort of place that kids have to attend on field trips and where people think you hate their dead grandpa if you do not follow along. So the Catholic hierarchy in Japan said it was okay for Catholics to copy Shinto prayer gestures there, which led to the disturbing sight of Japan's first Catholic PM (whose Catholic family ran an arms factory using both regular people and POWs as slave labor) doing Shinto stuff on his obligatory PM visit there.

But at least that has the excuse of paying respect to the dead. I do not see where one has that excuse when dropping into a random Hindu or Shinto temple.

What Catholics (and tourists who are not pagan) need to know is how to be respectful without committing idolatry. Obviously one answer is "do not go there," but it would be useful if a Catholic policeman, say, could get some guidance on how to pursue an official visit.

And if you have to offend people, it is better to know exactly how and why....

Banshee said...

We have a Hindu temple down a few blocks from my parents' house. It was built when I was in junior high. I have never visited (although I did unsuccessfully lobby my parents to let me take Sanskrit classes there...), because all the open houses have been while I have been working! (Probably a sign that God does not want me rubbernecking.)

But my understanding is that they do not want visitors doing puja or making any Hindu prayer gestures, unless they actually are Hindu. Of course, this is definitely the way to get along in a town that is mostly Christian. They also tend to be a little reticent on detailed public explanation of some of the temple religious features, apparently because the local Hindus follow a lot of fertility deities from Indian farm country.

(Which was hilarious, because our local newspaper had a big story about the temple folks bringing in this giant stone carving from India, which included naming it but not explaining its symbolism at all. I knew what it was, from the name, because I had read some very good mythology books; but there was really no way for the reporter to include that in a family newspaper.... You also have the situation where most of the Hindus around here interpret their religion in philosophical, monotheistic terms, but continue to practice everything in very polytheistic ways. So they don't really want to think too hard about it.)

Once I realized this was the case, I have to say that my enthusiasm for the Sanskrit class kinda dwindled. I also never figured out a polite way to ask any of my Hindu classmates about any of this stuff.

Mario Josipovic said...

I immediately think of the Macartney Embassy to the Imperial Chinese Court, and his refusal to kowtow to the Emperor on the basis that he'd be showing more respect that he would to his own Sovereign.

As a simple Christian, I am bidden to acknowledge and worship my Triune God as having all Glory in the Heavens and on Earth, and I know of no exception given in our Faith whereby I can remotely diminish that Glory by even ceremonially acknowledging another idol.

Put another way, I will eat meat offered to the gods because my God created such meat and the nature of such offering does absolutely nothing ontologically to such meat, but I will never eat such meat in its capacity as an offering to such gods.

I once participated in a friend`s Hindu ceremony involving the shaving of his child`s head - I honestly never figured out the theological import of it all, and was respectfully honouring his invitation as he had attended one of my children's baptism. The Hindu pastor who conducted the ceremony made a point to the audience, consisting of many non-Hindus, that these Hindu divinities were really one cosmic divinity. Following this sermon on polytheism-is-really-monotheism, one of the participants carried around a small brazier from which we were to waft the smoke over our heads, similar to a North American Indian sweet grass ceremony. I politely demurred.

vetusta ecclesia said...

What about removing shoes when visiting (as a tourist) Hindu and Buddhist temples and shrines, and mosques?

Matt Smith said...

At the risk of being a crank, I recall many of us were upset at John Paul II for participating in an aboriginal ritual "cleansing" by smoke rather than the Kyrie at a papal mass in Australia. We were told to shut up.
We were beside ourselves when he kissed the Koran. We were accused of being in schism (or a trajectory toward schism) for criticizing him for the scandal he caused. In fact, we were told that WE critics caused the scandal, not him kissing the Koran.
After JPII's dalliance with other religions and subsequent sainthood, why would Catholics not follow his example and engage in apparent idolatry that needs to be explained away just as JPII did? If apparent idolatry is good enough for a "conservative" canonized pope-saint, then everything is fair game. Perhaps Pope Francis could offer up a sacrifice to Baal or throw a child or two in the fire for Moloch. Anything goes. Don't be rigid.
Sorry, but after witnessing this kind of false ecumenical scandal for my entire life, I'm unimpressed by these latest heretics. As my Yiddish friends say, "Meh."

Unknown said...

The Hallam situation is, it appears to me, a great deal less scandalous than the "Earth Mother" devotions in which, according to reports, Cardinal Ravasi has taken part.
According to reports, as in, maybe? Oh, no, no! There is a video of the said apostate participating in the ritual. For a video click HERE.

OreamnosAmericanus said...

I suggest that Catholics, and other Christians, ask themselves in these situations, "WWMD?" That is, "What Would Muslims Do?"

In the current degenerate state of the Western Zeitgeist, no one would even think of inconveniencing a Mohammedan by putting them in these situations where Christians are supposed to be "ecumenical." And given the absolutely unconflicted and identity-shaping convictions of Muslims that theirs is the only true and the final religion for mankind (about which supremacist exclusivity and dogmatism no one dares to confront them about), you can be sure that Mohammed's legions would simply refuse.

You can find blasphemous and suicidal "ecumenical" gestures by Christians toward the practitioners of our 1400 year old implacable enemy --chantings of the call to prayer and of Christ-denying verses of the Koran INSIDE CHURCHES. ON CHRISTMAS.-- but notE that you never ever see the Our Father or the Sign of the Cross prayed out in a mosque.

The sheer blind foolishness of "decent and enlightened" Western Christians is a form of suicide unique in all of history.

Howard said...

We need to be VERY careful about what we do, not just for our own sakes, but because apparent religious indifference can undermine our witness to the Gospel. No doubt John Paul II had the best of intentions when he kissed the Koran -- but what could that possibly mean to a Muslim who was beginning to question whether he should convert to Christianity in spite of all the hardships this would cause him? If the Koran is so holy even to a Pope, why should he ostracize himself from his family at the minimum and very likely put himself in physical to reject the Koran's religion in favor of the Pope's?

Pelerin said...

Vetutsta -When I once visited the Hindu Temple in Neasden (as Fr Hunwicke writes it really does exist!) I was of course asked to take off my shoes. I felt this was merely an act of politeness and did not feel by doing so I was condoning Hinduism. We used to receive foreign students and the Scandinavians' habit was also to remove their shoes at the door.
When you remember the damage to church floors caused by stilettos years ago it is a pity shoes were not taken off then before entering a church.

Don Camillo SSC said...

I once visited a Hindu temple in Bristol, where there were pictures of a great many divinities. I said to a companion, 'If we look hard, I expect we shall find Jesus.' Sure enough, we spotted a picture of the Sacred Heart! Safe enough to reverence that, I think.