Wednesday, April 9, 2008

For God or Money?

As Martin Luther walked up the steps to post his 95 theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517, he saw to bringing an end to the indulgencies of the Catholic Church. To him, the church that he would soon relinquish as his own had been more interested in finances than salvation.

In short, Luther believed even the Catholic Church had its price.

Lately, it has been hard for me to accept fault in the Catholic Church. Bias, I had blindly defended everything about it as being infallible. Nevertheless, as I have begun to peel back the layers of the past to revisit them with my own objective conscience, I have seen at times a very cruel and dark history. From the indulgencies which Luther abhorred, to the sexual abuse scandal of the 21st century, I cannot help but acknowledge the sins that have penetrated my religion.

In recognizing the obvious flaws in my own church, I have found it difficult if not downright hypocritical in calling out the faults of other churches as I understand that all of the major religions worldwide share more similarities than differences. However, as a member of a church which has undergone much controversy and strains in the past, I cannot help but notice that history may be indeed repeating itself.

Today there are many religions that trace their origins back to the protestant reformation that Luther initiated. One of which are the Evangelicals who are quickly becoming the new face of Christianity in the modern age.

My first introduction to these “born again” Christians had been during a Thanksgiving service in 2005 when my brother invited my parents and me to see for ourselves. The service had been my first experience outside of Catholic Mass and to my surprise was very uplifting. The band was fresh and hip, the sermon felt relevant for a change and the back of the heads I witnessed were not just the usual gray that one would find in a Catholic mass, but colorful and young.

As the service went on, I was almost relieved (as were my knees) of the informality that the service took. While the singing was at times over the top and the stage set up with giant size screens seemed theatrical and overdone, I could easily understand why people attended. It felt like a rock concert save the drugs.

After the service my brother drove us past the house of the pastor who had just preached about “living our lives like Jesus.” To my disenchantment, I saw a house about 10 times bigger than the one I grew up in. My brother proudly pointed it out from the others as if I were supposed to marvel at its greatness. To me, I found it particularly difficult to understand how this multi-million dollar mansion that was paid in part by my brother who was tithing had anything to do with the way Jesus lived. To this day, I still can’t find anyone to give me a reasonable explanation as to why that pastor lives so lavishly.

Since that time, I have been to several Evangelical churches and have even tuned into the televangelists when I feel like being entertained. Each time I walk away with the same conclusion in my head, “practice what you preach.” It’s an easy enough cliché to comprehend but hard to execute. Sometimes I even revert back to the popular “WWJD,” that made its way onto many a Christian wrist back in the late 90s and whose origin probably and ironically started with the “born agains.”

My feelings towards Evangelicals are not out of resentment. Many of them are better practicing Christians than myself and could do circles around me in terms of their knowledge of the bible. It is not that bible study that I am concerned about, but rather the undeniable profiteering that feeds itself first rather than helpless mouths.

A few months back my girlfriend took me to see Benny Hinn while he was in town for one of his “midnight crusades.” Without knowing much about his ministry, I was impressed at first sight. After passing around the bucket and soliciting his audience for generous donations, he began his “healing,” which I now consider part hypnosis and part bullshit. I immediately had a flash back to Steve Martin’s movie Faith, except this guy wasn’t a con artist, he really believed what he was doing.

At the touch of his hand, I saw him drop rows of people in the crowd under this pretense of being “healed.” He pointed his finger towards the choir up in the balcony and like a tidal wave; they fell limp in their seats. From a distance, I saw old men and women being screened by physicians before they could approach this “healer named Benny Hinn.” Many of them never did get on that stage. Those that did make it, ended up shaking on the stage within seconds of being in Pastor Hinn’s presence. Canes, wheelchairs, glasses and hearing aids were thrown off the stage one after another.

When I got home, I did what any suspicious man who had thought he just saw several thousand miracles would do…I “googled him.” I found what I expected to find all along. I saw pictures of Benny Hinn getting into his $80,000 Mercedes and of his multi-million dollar mansion(s). I watched a 60 minutes documentary on a man who was afraid to talk straight into the camera after being caught red-handed of the lies, deceit and corruption that were a staple of his ministry. All along as I had watched him supposively cure Cancer, arthritis, deafness and blindness, I thought “this is too good to be true.”

I was right.

If you tune into one of these televangelists you will hear a common theme of “sowing your seed.” This merely means, “Give more money.” It’s safe to say that these Pastors, are far more interested in lining their pockets than giving back. Their claim that the more one sows, the more ones money will grow cannot possibly be thought to be doing God’s work. They don’t talk about investing or working harder at ones craft but rather having faith that God places a premium on finances.

What bothers me about this concept and the continuous lectures is that these pastors prey mostly on those who have nothing but hope and a prayer left. As I left Benny Hinn’s service and looked around at the thousands that had filled the auditorium to be healed but were left dealing with their illness, I saw the agent of change to be less of Benny Hinn and more of healthcare. What those people needed was more of the latter. It is my belief that it is almost fraudulent to place the hopes of ones fate and/or destiny on a sealed envelop with money in it.

As a Catholic, I have placed my faith in God. But even with that, I know that my own personal goals have their limits as I am subject to the Almighty’s plan.

As I look at this emerging church whose members total over 400 million, I gasp at the greed and downright intolerance that its members have been asked to accept. Then, just as I am prepared to point the finger at the transgressions that have tainted more Christians, I begin to look inward and see that these are the same mistakes that Catholics have been accused of.

I wonder when and where the next Martin Luther will pop up to post his “theses,” for the world to see. Perhaps instead of being nailed on a church door, this one will reach a broader audience by internet…perhaps by something much like this blog.


Luke Hansen said...

Dare I ask what the pope's visit has done for your faith? Normally people find themselves uplifted and renewed. Personally I saw leadership and true love for his people and faith when the Pope planned a prayer session with victims of priest pedophilers. But then why hasn't the Church fully disciplined and denounced teh bishops that protected the wayward priests. Tell me that you have followed the details more carefully and have facts, answers and opinions. Is your dad going to try to get down to Mass with the Pope? I really wish that I could have been there. I continue to resist Catholicism, but I also continue to look for a leader that provides me a clear path in my faith. Why do I continue to resist the Pope's leadership despite that he appears to be the most learned, holy and caring man that I know of? My American social values too often contradict his opinions. Justify that?

Oh and I wouldn't get all bent out of shape about the transgressions of the Church in the past, just the legacies of its faults. Where do they linger?


JoJo said...

Luke I can't emphasize enough how glad I am to hear you speak of the Pope in that way. Like you, I too have faced many obstacles and have asked many questions while on my path towards Christ. I'm afraid that I must report that it is a journey that still continues.

The Pope's visit has been remarkable in that he has been able to begin to mend wounds and bridge the gap once more between the church and his followers. Beyond Papal infallibility and his ever command influence on my life, I think his message to the people is more than the power that he holds. I want to believe that the man who once enlisted as a member of the Nazi Army, also overcame his own internal struggles and in the end found God and Jesus Christ for himself. His story alone brings me solace in my own doubts and my own peace of mind.

Afterall, it is a doubt that is reflected in some of the holiest of members of the church. The correspondences of Mother Theresa are all too familiar for many practicing Christians. This doubt is not self inflicted however, rather I believe it is a gift send from God as he knows too well what humans are capable of doing with "certitude."

The Church's slow response to the victims of pedophelia are troubling. I cannot merely stand back and accept that is was an appropriate response. Still, my faith dictates that healing is inevitable and must take place and that the "blame game," can only do so much.

There are some who want to blame the Pope for what has been done in the past and as sure as I know that there is a God, I know that this man has taken those sins upon himself and has begun to make ammends with his creator. For that is what a man who has dedicated himself to God and his Church does for his people. As a leader, he has chosen to forgo the luxuries of life, save his ipod, which I a have read that he enjoys immensely.

To offer you advice on your search for faith would be like a thief reprimanding an arsonist. Let me though, leave you with some words from Pope Benedict XVI during his inagural mass:

"Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?...And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation....When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life."

The contradiction that you find within yourself are those that I have fought daily. To align oneself with the views of a sometimes traditional, conservative philosophy is a hard task. Still, I can't see how anyone could look at Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II, in all of their humility and compassion for fellow citizens of the world and not be moved and not believe that us Catholics are indeed on the side of goodness