People living the Medieval Ages saw the whole world as symbolic. Some say that the real crisis in modern times is that we are impervious to symbolism. That in our linear world, we see symbols merely as pointers. Religion is all about symbolism and if we can't get that, we can't get religion.
Last night's RCIA class was a calibration of what we've done so far. What have we learned, what has disturbed, what has excited and what has dismayed us? "All learning should complicate your thinking," says Father Bob. We were once 6-year-olds who walked into a classroom, had all this Catholic religion dumped into our heads, swallowed it whole and now it resides there like cement. It takes some chipping to knock it loose. Here's a sampling of the many wonderful fragments we've shared:
-- We're recovering our Jewishness and the Jewishness of Christ. Jesus was, after all, born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died a Jew. He is not the founder of Christianity, nor was he the first Christian. And by the way, he was Jeshuva and his mother was Miriam. We have Romanized their names.
-- One of the great weaknesses is that we can't get outside our modern world to understand the ancient world. For example, our relationship with light (as in Christ is the light of the world) is completely different than the ancients. Our modernity can be counterproductive to understanding the fundamental images in the Bible.
-- The Bible stories are our story, too. Religion offers no solutions and no answers. In the Book of Job, Job seeks a reason for everything and in the end there is no reason. It's one book, written by one author with one point of view. The books of the Bible don't agree with each other. "If you take Job literally you are in huge trouble," says Father Bob.
-- The battle in heaven when Lucifer falls is not a part of accepted Jewish or Christian canonical literature. The story is referenced in the Book of Daniel, but is found in an apocryphal writing known as the Book of Enoch.
-- A huge amount of Catholic legend is found in apocryphal writings, including anything about the birth of Mary and her parents. "It's a nice story, but it's not part of the official canon," says Father Bob.
-- What is the responsibility of the ordained and of the laity to update their knowledge?
-- If you've never been to an Easter Vigil, you're missing a huge chunk of Catholicism.
-- Catholics don't give much feedback. They either don't say anything or they walk away completely.
-- How many thousands of dollars in therapy fees could have been saved if only we realized our bad body image stems from Augustine and the Manicheans?
-- Christianity closed its canon within a couple of decades to our impoverishment. Where is our story since the New Testament? It is found in phenomenal writings of the early desert fathers and mothers and of more contemporary writers and thinkers such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
-- Religion binds people together and provides a way for them to read the world. All religions create, maintain and oppose other worlds. That's their function and why they are conservative by nature. It's also why radical fundamentalism persists.