Sunday, 13 December 2009

Catholics Riding the Neo-Gnostic Wave

My last post, '1 in 5 Christians Believe in Reincarnation', prompted a question from an American reader, Phil, regarding the extent to which the sort of neo-Gnosticism that has existed in the US under different guises over the centuries since 1776 had penetrated Australia.

Generally speaking, Australia is not fertile ground for new religious movements, although there are some notable exceptions which, however, only tend to prove the rule. The 'hothouse' religious atmosphere of the US, where a significant new religious movement seems to spring up every decade or so, is certainly not replicated here. That suggests to me that neo-Gnostic movements in Australia might need to be parasitic on already existing religious institutions if they are to successfully infiltrate Australian society (I don't mean to suggest a conspiracy on the human level is operative here, only that neo-Gnosticism is 'in the air' and spreading like a virus. Of course, there most definitely is a spiritual conspiracy behind this).

Prime candidates for such 'infiltration' would seem to be the mainstream Christian churches in which Biblical and creedal authority has been weakened by decades of use of the historical-critical methods of Bible interpretation (most particularly sachkritik, loosely translated as 'content criticism', in which the 'enlightened' modern interpreter sits in judgment on the content of a Biblical text) and liberal theology generally. In Australia that means primarily the Uniting Church, a body formed in 1977 from de-confessionalised Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists, and, perhaps surprisingly to some readers, the Roman Catholic Church, which in Australia has been ravaged by liberalism in the post-Vatican II period.

Click on the post title to read an article by a conservative Australian Catholic commentator on the now infamous case of St Mary's Catholic parish in my hometown of Brisbane, Queensland, for an insight into the nature of neo-Gnosticism in Roman Catholic circles in Australia. Then reflect on the fact that St Mary's is but a high-profile example of something that is happening quietly in countless parishes across this archdiocese, and has been for decades. My personal observation of this archdiocese suggests to me that it serves as one of the most advanced examples of the infiltration of neo-Gnosticism into a mainstream church in the world, and as an example of the disintegration of Roman Catholic culture, I think it parallels what happened in the Netherlands and Quebec.

The irony in this particular case is that the Archbishop who finally, after prompting from the Vatican, exercised church discipline against the priests involved, has himself dabbled in Buddhism, etc, for decades, and is regarded by those same priests as something of a 'grey eminence' in the movement.

All church bodies in Australia and elsewhere must observe and learn from this example. And yes, the photo does show a Catholic Mass in a Buddhist temple.


matthias said...

I got onto St mary's in exile web site and really Pastor,they should be theologically honest and join the unitarians or New Age
No belief in the Deity of Christ or the Virgin Birth. I think they are a theologically comfort station on the way to hell,which they probably also deny.

acroamaticus said...

Hi Matthias,
The disturbing thing is that they still want to be regarded as Catholics and that they have many fellow-travellers still in the Brisbane archdiocese and elsewhere, as the article suggests.

matthias said...

Pastor Mark the Blog of Veith has a breakdown of the USA figures on 'Christians" following New Age practices.
my own Church recently had a 24 hour prayer room. It was meant to be based on Celtic Christian principles. A cross was at the centre of the room.People ,either as individuals or in groups came at rostered hours to pray ,sing ,paint,yes paint pictures, or to read devotional books.
a mate who has come out of the Pentecostal churches ,thought that a prayer room would have people praying in large groups.making supplication to God . There were prayer points put up on the wall. I remain a bit dubious.What do you think?

acroamaticus said...

My comments are only tentative, Matthias, seeing as I wasn't there. It sounds a little bit 'out of left field', but if all the prayers were offered to the Triune God in the name of Jesus and no other gods were prayed to then it isn't syncretistic but definitely Christian. Always look for how God is addressed if in doubt - it has to be Trinitarian. If in doubt, don't participate.

It's probably not everyone's cup of tea, and yes, I would favour a more traditional intercessory prayer group too.

Celtic spirituality -I mean the Christian Celts, not the Druids - is quite popular these days. I'm concerned about why the Anglo-Saxons don't get a look in ;0)

matthias said...

Perhaps because King Alfred burnt the cakes

acroamaticus said...

Ah, Alfred, the greatest Englishman who ever lived. But not much of a help in the kitchen. Still, he had other things on his mind, like marauding Vikings!

Anonymous said...

King Alfred fought the Vikings assisted with a translation of the Bible,and deserves the title THE GREAT becuase he sought to protectChristianity in England.

The second greatest pommie- Oliver Cromwell or churchill??

acroamaticus said...

Yes, I agree anonymous, Alfred was truly great. As for #2, my vote would be for Churchill, primarily for his role in WWII, of course, but also for his history writing. Most Australians are ambivalent about Churchill, because of Gallipoli and also because he was against letting Australian troops return to their home front from the Middle East when Australia was under attack from the Japanese. But I don't think that should prevent us from acknowledging his greatness. I doubt if we will see his likes again in this age of mediocrity.

Schütz said...

That really is a shocking photo, Mark. There is nothing in the Catholic magisterium or even our local official Archdiocesan guidelines on Interfaith Relations which would countenance a mass being said a place dedicated to the worship of another religion. It is not only bad Christianity, it is very bad from the point of view of Interfaith Dialogue.

That isn't to say that one could not pray in a place dedicated to another religion's worship. I have prayed in mosques, synagogues, and, yes, in Buddhist temples. But the mass can never be celebrated in any of these places. It is quite inappropriate, not only to the Christian faith, but to the faith of the other religion also.

One of my tasks working in the field of interreligious dialogue among Catholics is to inform and educate as to the proper parameters of dialogue. The picture in this post breaks all the boundaries.

An interesting question is about whether it could happen the other way around - as in fact it did at St Mary's South Brisbane. Could we allow those of other religions to pray in our churches consecrated to the worship of Christ?

Well, firstly, could we actually stop them? I mean, if a Muslim comes to one of our services, could we reasonably expect them to refrain from praying if they feel inspired to do so while they were there? Or could we stop a visiting Buddhist from meditating during the sermon? I don't think so.

Secondly, what about a rather more formal act? Could a Buddhist meditation group use a church for their activities? (as in Sth Brisbane). If Muslims are visiting our parish, and there is no other suitable place for them to pray in, could we be hospitable and give them a space at the back of the church at the hour of prayer?

I have actually been in a situation where the latter was done, and while it was perhaps not the best situation, I don't actually think that this was to be condemned. (It would be irreligious and inhospitable in the extreme if they were our guests and we sent them out into the rain...). These are grey areas. I would draw the line at anyone setting up a image (eg. a buddha or an image of a Hindu goddess) in the church. And I certainly would not be allowing something like this to happen on a repeated or regular basis - so as to establish a place of prayer or a shrine of another religious tradition in our places of worship. That would be to do "a Solomon".

We live in strange times, Mark. We must not "fudge" (to quote Fr John Dupuche) but at the same time, we do not treat those of other religions as lepers. We can learn to respect godliness and to know the difference between that and the worship of demons, such that we do not categorise all non-Christian religious activity as "demonic" in toto. Great discernment and faithfulness is required.

I don't know how much of this you agree with.

acroamaticus said...

Thanks so much for your comments tonight on this and other posts, David. I'll absorb them over the weekend and reply in full on Monday (big weekend ahead).

One strange thing I noticed with the photo on about the 10th look was that those seated around the priest are all women - if I'm not mistaken - although there appear to be Buddhist monks in the outer circles.

I should add, on a personal note, that my wife was born into a Hindu family, baptised c. 6 y.o., confirmed 8 y.o. but continued to grow up Catholic in a Hindu milieu, before we both decided to join the LCA as adults, which makes all this a very live issue when it comes to negotiating family relations.