Deep roots

As I mentioned earlier, I was brought up Catholic. Shortly after I went to university, my participation fell to nothing. I went through a brief revival as part of the Charismatic Movement, but I have lacked any belief in deities since about my mid-20s. I seem not to have the capacity to believe in things for which there is no evidence.

Nonetheless, I have always been interested in religion, especially Christianity. I've studied the history of Christianity. I am familiar with the theology. I used to belong to a forum for discussion of religion, long after I had stopped believing, only because I found it interesting and intellectually challenging. I did not participate in flame wars. I had civilized discussions even with hard-core Bible-believing Christians. I no longer belong to that forum, but even now I am likely to engage door-knockers, at least briefly. They're usually quite nice people, and I'm nice to them. I politely run rings around them logically, and soon they give up.

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the first papal resignation in 600 years (the previous one was to help settle a pope-antipope controversy), I've been reading articles about the upcoming papal election and about what people expect of a new pope. I'm always amused by those who think the Catholic Church is going to modernize more than it has already. There seem to be few people outside the Church itself who understand its history and how it operates.

I am also amused by those who characterize the many Reformed churches as "conservative." They are very often conservative socially and politically (in the current sense of the word), but theologically conservative? Not if you know church history.

The most conservative Christian churches today are the various Orthodox churches as well as some of the eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome. Their theologies emanate from the earliest councils. Their liturgies originate in the second century C.E. They use languages such as Greek, Armenian, and even Aramaic. Very little has changed in these churches for almost 2,000 years.

The Roman Catholic Church is right behind in conservatism. Fundamentally, it's the Latin branch of the original Christian church, with the Orthodox being the Greek branch. Despite the schism, the two branches agree much more theologically than they disagree.

The churches that people call "conservative," and that tend to characterize themselves that way, were born in the Protestant Reformation. The ideas of salvation by faith alone and holding only to the Bible are not conservative ideas. At the time, they were radical. Historically, those churches have a stronger connection to the 16th and 17th centuries than to the early Christian church. In many ways, they are products of the modern world.

There is often speculation about the modernization of the Catholic Church and what that might consist of. After all, we had the Second Vatican Council, right? Didn't that make radical changes? Not really. Changing the language of the liturgy only made sense, since the language was always meant to be understood. It's just that no one speaks Latin anymore. Communion in the hand, revision of the habits of religious people, these things are theologically superfluous. And some of the "modernization" backfired. For its own sake, the Catholic Church should probably have taken a cue from its sister Orthodox churches. The Church strays from its traditions at its peril.

For the most part, the Catholic Church makes only changes that have historical precedent. That is why at some point the Church will allow married men to be ordained but will not allow priests to marry--because until the 11th century, married men could become priests, and indeed have always been allowed to in the more ancient churches. But historically, the Church never allowed priests to marry. That is also why it is unlikely that the Church will ordain women, although I would argue that there is historical precedent for women presiding at eucharistic celebrations. It predates the establishment of a more organized church, however, and I doubt the Catholic Church would go back that far. We shall see. As for birth control, I think the Church will find a way to back down from its current stance. It will continue to teach that being homosexual is not wrong but that sex between people of the same sex is.

If you want conservative, start in the second century, not the sixteenth. And rock the boat as little as possible!

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