Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Paradise Lost and Paradise Found

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

I’ve been reading Andrew Greeley’s autobiography, Confessions of a Parish Priest, during my morning prayers. Yesterday I read of his seminary experience at Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago: “I came to Quigley with a religious faith as unexamined as it was intense. I learned during those years to examine it candidly and objectively without losing either the faith or its intensity.” He describes this as a movement between Paradise Lost and Paradise Found, referencing Paul Ricoeur’s understanding of this journey as a movement from the First Naïveté to the Second Naïveté, “from the uncritical acceptance of a religious symbol through a time of analysis and ‘unpacking’ the symbols to a critical acceptance of and commitment to the symbols.” Greeley uses the example of his own movement from the devotion to Mary as the Mother of God to understanding Mary as signifying God’s Motherhood.

When I was in college and seminary, we talked a lot about “demythologizing” scriptures and tradition, and I must confess my love of story caused me to argue for “re-mythologizing.” Today much is made of “deconstruction” of practically everything. While I believe these practices may be necessary and helpful, they remind me of the time, as a child, when I took apart all my mechanical toys to see how they worked. I couldn’t exactly put them back together again, and they never worked the same afterward.

Greeley is critical of religious leaders who remain in what I would call “deconstruction purgatory,” resisting movement to the Second Naïveté, as well as church members who resentfully reject the symbols and stories altogether, instead of engaging them further. My best friend in high school and college could represent the latter, disgusted that he was taught the biblical stories as if they were true by nuns in elementary school, only to have the priests contradict that in junior high. There are parallels among Protestants, obviously—in fact within all religions that have progressive and fundamentalist/literalist divisions.

I believe one of the reasons that the scholar Joseph Campbell was so beloved was his ability to take a myth apart for his students and listeners and put it back together again, having even greater meaning than before. Thank God for clergy and educators who can do that! The progressive Christian movement needs more Joseph Campbells in our pulpits, classrooms, and lecture halls to move us from Paradise Lost to Paradise Found, but it is incumbent on us all to find such teachers.

Chris will be speaking on “Spiritual Abuse” this Sunday, July 31, during the 11 a.m. worship of the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church in Dahlonega, Georgia.

1 comment:

  1. It's pretty sad that even in the same religion, leaders tend to contradict one another. It leaves the people confused and leads them to doubt the credibility of the whole institution.