If you’ve been living under a rock lately there may have been missed the announcement that the Pope, yes the Holy Roman Pontiff, is resigning his post as the vicar of Christ on Earth. Pope Benedict leaves amidst a great many scandals, from the not nearly reported on enough problem of hiding pedophiles from prosecution to the barely reported at all information that he was a member of the Hitler Youth and also presided personally over the relocation of priests accused of molesting children. This is not, however, an expose on the ethical practices of either the pontiff or the Catholic Church. Greater investigative minds than I have spent the requisite time to unearth information pertaining to these and other problems, not least of which was Christopher Hitchens, and large tomes have been written on the history of the Church and its association with so many historical evils. I am not giving a pass here so much as dealing with an issue that I think more pertinent to my own writing, that being the hierarchical nature of spirituality, a systematized feudalism of spirit at the heart of Catholicism and for that matter so much of modern thinking. The resignation that has shook the world leaders into abject self-serving protestations of the Pope’s magnificence usually reserved for a funeral announcement has simply inspired these thoughts, however much a part of me wants to delve into a diatribe.
Before Martin Luther nailed his theses in a piece of carpentry heard round the known world, calling for reform and ushering in a period of incredibly self-serving governmental riding of ideological coat-tails as they thrust off the so-called tyranny of Roman rule, the notion of a hierarchy of spiritual placement was standard for most people. One simply lived their life knowing the means of salvation and talking to god residing within the religious office of priest, friar, monk, bishop and ultimately that of Pope. Resembling the political system of feudalism, this spiritual reality was not a foreign conceptualization to most being as it mirrored the experience of life on earth so therefore must be a reflection of a divine plan, a rather horrid example of Plato’s ideas.
The notion of going to someone else to talk to god, to receive forgiveness and a washing of sin strikes most of us, particularly Americans, as absurd to the point of silliness. We pride ourselves on our individuality and the abject worship of our own autonomous egos, believing in a democracy of social strata where hard work and determination can lift anyone by the power of gravity-defying bootstraps. Within these protests, however, lies a hidden (to those at the bottom of social class it is not so hidden) adherence to the idea of social placement as reflecting some inherent qualitative difference in a person. There is talk of “lifting your eyes to the prize” and “keeping your nose to the grindstone” as if recompense for trials and tribulations exist above one’s current station, allocating to those with more an automatic infusion of greatness those with less don’t have.
Lest it be assumed I am dismissing hard work and determination let me be clear that I am not. For all my belief in certain spiritual percepts I do not find legitimacy in mystical hocus-pocus where thought immediately brings form in some type of magical ritual. As even Ernest Holmes notes: “We should not separate life from living, Spirit from matter…” (Can We Talk to God?) There is a correspondence between action and effect however much action first resonated and was created in mind. Amusingly or not, it is precisely the conservative mind, spouting the rhetoric of Weber’s protestant work ethic, which seems to bring about this magical link between work and reward, leading one to the assumption that reward then must allude to an inherent quality of the person. What I am noting here is that while hard work and so on are aspects of a life being lived they do not inhere any particular quality to the person, they rather emerge from the existence of qualities already in place. So it is then there exists no derivation of extra internal substance to the person. Work and action do not bring about new qualities, they are instantiations of a growing awareness of those qualities one already possesses.
Notice the reversal of the structure here as hierarchy is turned on its head, with the divine singularity residing in us all and in an infinite universe of creative potential through growing conscious awareness we can instantiate this spark in ever-increasing possibilities of behavior. As well, there is now room for context, for those variables that are outside of individual control or conscious contemplation. Circumstance no longer shows us who we are in some form of reverse-identity but is the evolutionary soup within which we grow and have our being. As Holmes declared: “The greatest good that can come to us is the forming of an absolute certainty of ourselves and of our relationship to the Universe, forever removing the sense of heaven as being outside ourselves, the fear of hell or any future state of uncertainty.”
A hierarchy of spirituality is one of separation, of constant existential angst where one is pitted against the limitations of their own creation with circumstance giving meaning rather than the one giving meaning to experience. In this separation is all manner of psychosis and a focus on lack. Here is found the feudalism of spirituality in Catholicism, where another by virtue of holding a particular office is somehow possessed of a greater degree of divine form. If the construct of god as all is used, then divinity as singularity does not inhere within one form more than another, it simply is all.
When one owns the spiritual ground of their incarnation there is an acknowledgment of interconnection such that real power over effect is grasped, similar to when one learns a new skill or is enlightened to a new idea, that light being one of awakening from slumber. Our potential action is not infinite in the sense of being free from context, but it is only individually bound by our ignorance to a greater good. Imagination is the stuff of creation and it is supplied by a constant infusion of one’s recognition of spiritual union with all.