Lesson 1: Either… Or

A frequent response to the series on Fratelli Tutti was “How can you have dialogue in the present situation?” People appreciated the Pope’s calling for creative conversation but observed he did not have it in his own church. They felt the conservatives are just waiting until he dies so they can replace him with someone advocating their positions.

That seems to reflect the present-day strategy employed by those in every area of society who do not have the power to get what they want. Rather than work together toward a common good, obstruct absolutely everything those who differ from you want until you can regain the upper hand.

I’m reminded of other periods in church history when wicked zeal corrupted the Christian message: the persecution of the Arians who opposed the theology of the ecumenical creeds, the waging of Crusades that used military force to rule the Holy Land, the cruelty of the Inquisition that forced one version of Christianity on all people, and the religious wars that decimated Europe after the Reformation, for example.

There is a place for good zeal such as calling for commitment in a time of complacency. However, there are also times when wicked zeal works against the Gospel. I think St. Benedict was the first to use the term to describe hermit monks who looked down on other Christians but nevertheless relied on them for food and life’s necessities. He felt it was more in line with Jesus’ teachings to gather monks into communities where they could respect and care for one another. If we want to participate in creative dialogue about what the Christian faith means in our time, we have to get rid of the wicked zeal that passes for following Jesus in our society.

There is also an irony in modern technology that has contributed to the conflict. It enables us to use binary thinking in computing to solve many material problems, but also seems to have created an either…or way of thinking that creates social troubles. Even though modern science makes clear many things we once regarded as black and white are actually continuums, this binary way of thinking enables us to retain sharp distinctions based on our own interests, not reality. There is a lot of talk about which side of the divide follows science. We’ll be able to cooperate when both sides acknowledge science does not offer us a black and white worldview.

Those who read a certain naivety in Fratelli Tutti nevertheless hoped for a way beyond the present stalemate. They just expressed frustration about not being sure how to proceed. I’d like to try by critiquing the many either…or claims confronting us. I am not really sure where that will lead, but it seems a decent place to start.

Some of my thought derives from my longtime love for Soren Kierkegaard. He always challenges me to acknowledge Christ calls me to will one thing in many either…or decisions. At the same time, after reading him I always pause to acknowledge Christ also frees me to make both …and as well as yes…but decisions when he refuses to offer precise definitions of some parts of God’s Word.

Right now I am thinking of tackling the easy either…or decisions, such as power or love, warrior or lover in hopes of finding a pattern before looking at the tough ones, such as gay or straight, abort or not.

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