I read the article in the LA Times that me True Ann-Sister linked to, and felt compelled to write to the author, William Lobdell. He was a practicing Christian, preparing to convert to Catholicism, when the scandal of clergy sexual abuse, and the Church's handling of it, drove him away.
Here's what I wrote to him yesterday:
Thanks for your very brave article on the test of your faith. It was a moving and difficult piece.As a fellow spiritual seeker, I want to offer just a few words of my own perspective, which may comfort you:
- if there is the sort of God the Judeo-Christian tradition claims, then that God's path for you has turns and twists in it whose true shape, whose true causes and reasons, may yet be unknown to you, may in fact never be known, as cruel as that may seem. Numerous seminal figures in our respective traditions (like, say, Job, and perhaps even Jesus himself) lacked clarity on the nature and reason for their path until suffering had come to exemplify and even surpass the unbearable. Why? We'll probably never know; on the other hand, we'd never have heard of Job or Jesus, and never learned from them, if their suffering hadn't transcended the rational or bearable.
- There's plenty of literature that ponders why bad things happen to good people (even, as I'm sure you're aware, a very good book by that name). None of the answers are comforting. The Jewish view, roughly speaking, is that God has set a world in motion and withdrawn His ability to control that environment, enabling not only free will but also, sadly, the kind of random tragedy, the suffering of innocents and the more-than-occasional triumph of evil that you depict so clearly in your article. The archetypal exile from Eden is (I think) about exactly this: that we have to till the soil of our earth and our own spirits, live by the sweat of our brow, and generally work like hell just to avoid physical and spiritual starvation. There are no guarantees: if there were, we'd be angels. Exile from Eden is about how we have good and evil mixed together within us, and how we must always struggle to be aware of this, to separate and never confuse or lose sight of either one.
- The terrible problem with organized religion is that it becomes a power structure, and power attracts not only those who long to serve but those hungry for power. They may wear collars or kippot, but all too often a uniform meant to comfort or command can deceive. It is, I'd submit, the sacred duty of individuals to wrestle, not only with their faiths, but with those who lead them in the discipline of that faith. That the Catholic church has failed in this mission is a terrible thing, but in the long run it will lead to either the deep humanization or the terminal humbling of that institution. That this change comes at the expense of innocent people is a terrible thing, but that doesn't change the fact that much good in our lives and lifetimes has come due to the suffering of innocents. I believe we're passing from an era of more corporate control of spiritual life into a time in which the individual, and in a wider sense, the individual community, directs that life. This change won't come easy, and the pendulum will likely one day swing again, but it's always been our task to answer the spiritual call and direct our own spiritual life, and perhaps that's just being made clear by the betrayals we all, in our lonely ways, suffer.
- Reviewing the teachings of Jesus -- and for that matter, of the Buddha, of Swami Vivekananda, or Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Kook, just to name a few -- will show you just how seriously spiritually inclined people took the task of the individual to contend with an inherited or accepted faith. If you're a spiritual person, you have to continually answer the call, or, in fight parlance, answer the bell. It won't leave you alone, because, for whatever reason, that's how you're wired. Part of the task of answering involves arguing, fighting, refusing to accept what seems senseless.
- All this is a long way of saying that a spiritual mentor, and/or community, does exist for you -- even if only inside of you, waiting for you to help it manifest. Despite the corruption and cynicism that grows within any corporate structure seeking self-perpetuation, there's wisdom at its heart -- wisdom that requires (in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) "radical amazement," which you have experienced and which will on some level never leave you. Find a teacher who nurtures and helps you continuously renew that radical amazement, because it is one of your greatest gifts, and one that makes your life an example, and a clarion call, and more open, and therefore, in all likelihood, more painful.I'm writing this at work, for which there really is no justification. I've done so because I believe, as you do, that religion is tarred with too thick a brush of cynical "reason," and that surely the world must have room for both reason and faith. As a reporter and a spiritual person, you embody and contain both, and the world needs people like you to hold onto both.Yours in gratitude ---T.A.