By Yvonne Zarowny

“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. . . time when we have to shed our fear and give each other hope. That time is now.”
— Wangari Muta Maathai (1940 - 2011), Kenyan scholar and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize

Roman Catholicism has the potential to be a significant force for shifting us human Earthlings to a new consciousness.

Because of our global reach, if we as community “shed” our fears we could be a powerful source of hope and social transformation — helping to move our societies towards a variety of social arrangements where all God’s Creation has life with dignity.

According to Rev. Felix Just, SJ, the most repeated phrase in both the Torah/Pentateuch and New Testament is “Be not afraid.”

One of the fears we need to shed to realize our potential for soul-mending is the fear of what Cardinal Josef Ratzinger named the “dictatorship” of cultural relativism.

This fear is usually the result of “multiculturalism” done badly. Too few understand the anthropological concept of cultural relativism.

It does not mean “anything goes” as I have heard some state.

It simply refers to the notion that different peoples with different worldviews have different understandings of what is “sacred” as well as what constitutes “right relationship” with self, others, the Divine and all other aspects of Creation. For example, Jesus the Nazarene, a poor male Jewish carpenter from the Galilee who spoke Aramaic had a different worldview than Paul, an urban Jewish male who spoke and wrote in Greek, the language of the Roman Empire.

To me, given Pope Benedict XVI’s own writing on the Divine, his fear makes no sense.

Unfortunately, as brilliant, deep and spiritual a man as he is, the retired pope remained trapped within his own ontology — his own worldview. This was illustrated during his public dialogues with the equally brilliant and deep German scholar Jurgen Habermas.

Habermas, one of the more influential intellectuals of the 20th century, wrote “the” seminal book on critical thought, analysis and theory. The purpose of this approach to the social sciences was to reveal, or make explicit, the “human interests” in our beliefs and social arrangements as well as the lived and Earth realities that flow from both.

This is not to suggest there is no “Divine” inspiration. Rather it is to suggest that it is interpreted by us little human Earthlings . . . and sometimes we get things incomplete or wrong.

If we drop this fear, we have much to gain from embracing the potential of cultural relativism. It can help us broaden, deepen and enrich our understanding of ourselves, our “official” beliefs and traditions as well as our “unofficial” ones.

This is particularly true for discerning Divine Mystery in other cultural expressions. We know from the life and teachings of Jesus as well as our own sacred texts that the Divine is Love; that Divine Mystery is beyond human comprehension and naming; and we are to be a means of growing peace, love and compassion in our battered and aching world.

Wherever we find that in other cultures or our own — we find Spirit alive, well and perking.

Given the ecological devastation, debt and wars that flow from our current dominant social arrangements and the “stories” which justify and enable them, maybe we need to consider reformulating our “stories” or worldviews.

Australian adult faith educator and author Michael Morwood suggests we need to move from a notion of an “elsewhere” God, who is separate from Creation, to one of an “everywhere God” that both transcends and is incarnate within all Creation — including us, the rocks, the birds and the bees.

This is consistent with the concept of a “sacred worldview” where the Divine or Great Spirit is understood as permeating all Creation. We humans are considered to be but one piece in the sacred web of life whose health needs to be maintained for the good of all.

We have much to learn from other cultural traditions.

Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton has stated as much when he speaks of the deep spirituality of the various Aboriginal peoples living within that part of Canada.

Jesus has provided us with the criteria for evaluating what is consistent with the Divine and what is not.

We have nothing to fear and much to gain from mutually respectful exploration of different cultural expressions of the Divine.

We might even experience some mending of our own souls.

HomeArchiveSubmitStaffLinksSubscribeAdvertiseDonateAbout Us 2009 Prairie Messenger