This is Episode Seven of my podcast “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” For the previous six entries, go to that podcast site.
The example of Marcus Aurelius shows how highly developed spiritual seekers can be unconscious of their identity as oppressors.
The previous five episodes in this series on A Course in Miracles can be accessed on my podcast website “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.”
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) has long been an inspiration to me. It is a New Age “channeled” production published by Helen Schucman in 1975. However, the book is often interpreted in ways that discourage social activism — for instance, by its foremost expositor, Ken Wapnick,
My approach is quite the opposite. It sees ACIM as written specifically for North Americans calling them precisely to leave aside any trace of quietism and to follow Jesus’ example of working for the liberation of the world’s poor and oppressed.
So, having finished the heavy lifting on the publication of my novel (The Pope’s Secret) I’m finally getting back to the podcast whose point is to explain lesson-by-lesson A Course in Miracles (ACIM) and its often-neglected implications for social justice warriors. However, before I get to those lessons, this 5th episode continues my introduction to ACIM. For the other four episodes, please see my separate podcast site.
If you’re like many who read these pages, you might be skeptical about religion and its claims. You’re put off by apparently childish beliefs in a God who according to the teachings of Jesus is a loving parent, but who also ends up committing and ordering acts (like Noah’s flood and military slaughters) that can only be described as immoral and even genocidal.
Yet, if you’re like me, you also recognize in ancient biblical traditions powerful sources of wisdom and inspiration for transforming the world. I’m talking about biblical interpretations by Jesus himself, by the prophets, and their more recent embodiments such as Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, William Barber II and Liz Theoharis. You’re probably loathe to throw out the baby represented by the heroes just mentioned with the bathwater of demeaning beliefs unworthy of adults concerned with peace, justice and saving our planet from the ravages of climate change and nuclear war.
If you fall into either category, I recommend that you read Escaping from Eden: does Genesis teach that the human race was created by God or engineered by ETs? It is authored by Anglican priest and scholar Paul Anthony Wallis. The book vividly describes the religious dynamic we’re all used to with its tendencies to enslave and stunt human growth on the one hand and to liberate and call us to our higher selves on the other.
It also offers cogent exegeses of familiar Genesis stories that centralize an unfamiliar theogony that involves us all.
Let me explain.
Perhaps shockingly to most, Wallis’ basic thesis is that the Eden and subsequent stories in the first eleven chapters of Genesis are not about God at all. Instead as the book’s full title suggests, many of the tales describe extraterrestrial aliens (ETs) and their interactions with early humans. For Wallis, recognizing the aliens hidden in plain sight within the Genesis myths and legends can help liberate us from powerful contemporary actors who use religion to infantilize and enslave the rest of us.
Does all that sound too far out? Wallis insists that it shouldn’t. In fact, he argues, his observations are grounded in sound, long-standing biblical scholarship that has puzzled over and/or ignored references to plural gods in a text ostensibly promoting monotheism.
On top of this, Wallis emphasizes the fact that we humans live (and always have) in a universe populated by many human-like species. This is attested to by worldwide myths and stories found among humans everywhere – e.g., in Sumerian cuneiform tablets, in Greek and Roman mythology, in the Popol Vuh, and in the Judeo-Christian Bible. It is also verified by innumerable “close encounters” throughout history, by science-fiction writers like Erich von Daniken in his Chariots of the Gods, as well as by NASA astronauts, the U.S. government and even by the Vatican itself.
More to Wallis’ point, the Bible is an especially noteworthy source attesting to the existence of extraterrestrial agents who visit the earth and interact with human beings. Some of the ETs help humans; others attempt to enslave them.
Though commonly overlooked as such, (and as we’ll see below) interactions with ETs are found in the myths involving the First Man and the First Woman, in the legends of Abraham and Sarah, of Sodom and Gomorrah and elsewhere. They are also found in the prophetic books of Ezekiel and Elijah as well as in Christian Testament conception stories of John the Baptist and Jesus himself. Additionally, they are suggested in “apocalyptic” literature found throughout the Bible.
In all these accounts, one finds tales not only of gods, angels, monsters, and devils, but of giants so large that they make humans feel like grasshoppers, of agents with extraordinarily long lives, of divine beings of immense physical attraction begetting exceptional children with human partners, and of vehicles that we today would call UFOs.
For Wallis, the key to perceiving such overlooked realities is found in accurately translating the plural Hebrew term Elohim which is centralized in the familiar creation myths of Genesis. Normally, this term has been translated simply as “God.”
However, Wallis points out, this fatal mistranslation leads to insoluble problems linked to monotheism (e.g., why is Elohim plural in a monotheistic text?), and to moral quandaries where a biblical God commits and orders genocidal acts of extreme cruelty.
Actually, Wallis explains Elohim’s plural form is correctly translated not as “God” or even “gods,” but as “Sky People,” the “Powerful Ones,” or the “Engineers.” Elohim refers to extraterrestrials who rescue an already created world rather than constitute it from scratch. Among them is that minor entity called “Yahweh.” Eventually, the Mosaic tradition identifies him as the one and only god of the Hebrew people.
In developing these ideas, Wallis shows that a close reading of the first chapter of Genesis reveals that the Hebrew Bible contains no account of the world’s creation at all. Instead, in what is often taken as a creation myth, the earth and seas already exist as does “darkness” which assumes the existence of a contrasting sun and/or moon and stars.
This leads Wallis to conclude that Genesis’ ancient “creation story” is really about a recovery or planetary reset following some sort of extinction level event that geologists tell us occurred following the last ice age, or the collision of earth and a meteor, and/or a planetwide flood. According to this interpretation, the tale in Genesis describes how “Powerful Ones” (Elohim) – extraterrestrials – used their extraordinary powers to restore order to a planet suffering from a post-traumatic stress syndrome.
To show what I mean, here how Wallis retells the Genesis story:
Following a planetary catastrophe, the earth remained shrouded in darkness, empty, barren and covered in water. In response, Spirit-Beings, the Powerful Ones (Elohim) from beyond the earth came to its rescue. They hovered over the planet’s watery surface dissipating its darkness. Soon light manifested itself as the sun, moon, and stars once again became visible.
Next the Powerful Ones separated the earth’s waters to create saltwater seas, freshwater rivers and habitable land. Vegetation, fish, birds, and animals returned to fill the air, land, and seas.
Within a plain called Eden the Sky People created an enclosed safety zone and filled it with animal and botanical life. In the soil of the plain near the Tigris and Euphrates, precious mineral deposits, including high grade gold also came to light.
Using the elements of the earth to make clay, the Engineers next fashioned Earth Creatures (Adam) to look like their makers. Their bodies lay silent and motionless until the Powerful Ones breathed spirit into them.
Once animated the new humans were put to work in the enclosed zone. They ate a vegan diet and lived a subsistence lives in harmony with the animals.
Gradually the Powerful Ones noticed that the humans were depressed. All the other animal species were male and female. The humans needed such companionship too. So, the Powerful Ones generated females of the species from the asexual Earth Creatures’ bodies. As male and female, human society was then poised to begin its journey.
Then one day the humans found themselves in conversation with a Sky Person known as “the Snake.” He walked upright and had arms and legs. The helpful Snake showed the humans how they might achieve a higher level of consciousness. The change would raise their understanding and self-awareness and improve the quality of their lives. Not surprisingly, the humans accepted the Snake’s offer. Here, the female of the species took the lead. The resulting upgrade brought with it moral conscience and sexual awareness. Humans began to wear clothes and gender roles emerged. With the first childbirths, human society began to take form.
All of this incited a long-lasting conflict among the Powerful Ones. Some of them were afraid that the newly empowered humans might become too independent. As punishment for breaking rank by effecting an unauthorized human upgrade, the Snake Sky Person was shorn of its limbs and forced to eat the other Powerful Ones’ dust.
For their parts, the male and the female humans faced parallel repercussions. The Engineers locked them out of the enclosed zone and forced the humans to fend for themselves in the wild, untamed country of Eden. There the humans continued to produce children. However, the land of Eden had not been prepared or cultivated for this eventuality. Consequently, circumstances forced the humans to work hard just to provide for their families.
In addition, exiled from the enclosed area, the humans no longer enjoyed access to the healing plants which before had cured their every injury and ailment. Denied such cures the humans began to die.
As human society grew and became harder to manage, the Council of Powerful Ones decided that the human beings were living too long and took a decision to limit the humans’ lifespans. Additionally, troubling news of abductions of human females and resultant hybridization by some Powerful Ones (bnei Elohim, sons of the Powerful Ones) also reached the ears of the Council. This was not what they had intended. After a period of intense debate, a final solution was reached. Earth was to be wiped clean of the human menace by means of a massive flood.
But not all the Powerful Ones concurred. Along with a warning about the impending flood, the dissenters gave a man called Noah instructions about constructing a rescue vessel, sealing his family inside (together with a stock of plants and animals to eventually reseed flora and fauna) and re-booting the human population with the DNA of Noah’s extended family. Then came the deluge.
In the aftermath of the flood, as human society re-expanded, the people migrated east of Eden. When they reached the Shinar Plain, Mesopotamia – the home of Sumeria and Babylonia – they settled and built a huge tower – as a gateway between the people and the Powerful Ones, a means of reaching the heavens from Earth.
However, when some members of the Council observed the project, they were deeply disturbed. Old fears resurfaced about humans usurping the power of their betters. Another brutal response was called for. Accordingly, the Sky People used their great powers to arrest the development of human civilization. They did this by taking from the humans the language which had united them, confusing their ability to speak so that the humans would no longer be able to communicate with one another and operate as a single society.
Two Types of Biblical Aliens
The tale just reviewed reveals a powerful internecine “Battle of the Elite” hidden in the Genesis accounts and continues to our day. It pits some Powerful Ones (Elohim) who were benevolent towards the emerging race of humans against other Sky People who sought to keep humans subordinate and unconscious.
In the biblical stories benevolent Powerful Ones:
- Reconstitute planet earth after the unprecedented cataclysm referenced above
- Create earth creatures who physically resemble their creators
- Divide the earth creatures into male and female to relieve their creatures’ loneliness
- Provide a safe zone where humans live in the company of their powerful mentors and where food, shelter, and healing plants are provided.
- Instruct the earth creatures (through a Powerful One called “the Snake”) about how to achieve moral consciousness
- Intervene to save at least some humans from an approaching universal deluge
- And eventually in the deified Powerful One, Yahweh, liberate people enslaved by the Pharaohs of Egypt.
Meanwhile, more malevolent Sky People:
- Take measures to keep the earth creatures subservient
- By forbidding humans from attaining moral consciousness
- Punishing them for doing so by inflicting painful childbirth experiences on their women and harsh labor upon men, and by driving both women and men out of their paradisical safe zone, thus depriving them of food and healing plants, while consequently introducing sickness, shortened lives, and death
- Punishing the Snake (the humans’ moral mentor) by amputating its arms and legs
- Sending a universal flood
- Preventing humans from cooperating with one another by eliminating their universally understood common language
- Routinely ordering humans to commit genocide on the Powerful Ones’ enemies
None of this is to say that the stories Wallis examines should be taken literally, though he gives an impression of doing so. My own tendency is to continue treating the stories Wallis examines as myth and legend and as such to mine them for the extremely rich meaning they contain.
However literal or not, the tales in question serve to highlight the facts that:
- We do exist in a populated universe
- Religious traditions across the planet are strangely unanimous in recording close encounters with extraterrestrial entities
- Earthly elites (emperors, kings, popes, and priests) have typically used such records to instill fear within and enslave their subjects
- Those same powerful agents have ignored and obscured accounts with ETs that empower non-elites by inspiring them to rebel against their enslaving masters
In any case, Paul Anthony Wallis’ book calls us to re-examine our prejudices about the biblical tradition, whatever they might be. He suggests that it is more powerful and relevant to our postmodern world than we’ve been led to believe.
Readings for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalms. 128:1-6; Hebrews, 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
I shared Tammy Wynette’s award-winning song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” because it captures the pain that more than half of married people go through when they decide to divorce. Tammy’s opening words, “I want to sing you a song that I didn’t write, but I should have,” as well as the way she sings capture the very sad experience that divorce is for couples who all started out so full of love and hope. As all of us know, divorce is often characterized by regret and feelings of failure especially relative to the children involved. The irony is that many divorced people will come to church this morning and find their pain compounded by today’s readings and no doubt by sermons they will hear.
However today’s liturgy of the word is surprising for what it says about Jesus and his teachings about divorce. The readings tell us that Jesus wasn’t really against divorce as we know it. Instead as the embodiment of compassion, he must have been sympathetic to the pain and abuse that often precede divorce. As a champion of women, he must have been especially sensitive to the abandonment of divorced women in his highly patriarchal culture.
What I’m suggesting is that a sensitive reading shows that what Jesus stands against in today’s Gospel is machismo not divorce as such. Relative to failed marriages, he implicitly invites us to follow his compassionate example in putting the welfare of people – in his day women specifically – ahead of abstract principles or laws. Doing so will make us more understanding and supportive of couples who decide to divorce in the best interests of all.
By the way, the gospel reading also tells us something important about scripture scholarship and its contributions towards understanding the kind of person Jesus was and what he taught on this topic.
First of all consider that scholarship and its importance relative to the topic at hand.
To begin with, it would have been very unlikely that Jesus actually said “let no one” or (as our translation went this morning) “let no human being” put asunder what God has joined together. That’s because in Jesus’ Palestine, only men had the right to initiate a divorce. So in prohibiting divorce, Jesus was addressing men. The “no one” or “no human being” attribution comes from Mark who wanted Jesus’ pronouncement on divorce to address situations outside of Palestine more than 40 years after Jesus’ death. By the time Mark wrote his Gospel, the church had spread outside of Palestine to Rome and the Hellenistic world. In some of those communities, women could initiate divorce proceedings as well as men.
Similarly, Jesus probably did not say, “and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Such a statement would have been incomprehensible to Jesus’ immediate audience. Once again, in Palestine no woman could divorce her husband. Divorce was strictly a male right. Women could only be divorced; they couldn’t divorce their husbands.
So what did Jesus say? He probably said (as today’s first reading from Genesis puts it) “What God has joined together let no man put asunder. “ His was a statement against the anti-woman, male-centered practice of divorce that characterized the Judaism of his time.
And what was that practice?
In a word, it was highly patriarchal. Until they entered puberty, female children were “owned” by their father. From then on the father’s ownership could be transferred to another male generally chosen by the father as the daughter’s husband. The marriage ceremony made the ownership-transfer legal. After marriage, the husband was bound to support his wife. For her part however the wife’s obedience to her husband became her religious duty.
Meanwhile, even after marriage, the husband could retain as many lovers as he wanted provided he also able to support them. Additionally the husband enjoyed the unilateral right to demand divorce not only for adultery (as some rabbis held), but also according to the majority of rabbinical scholars for reasons that included burning his food, or spending too much time talking with the neighbors. Even after divorce, a man’s former wife needed his permission to remarry. As a result of all this, divorced women were often left totally abandoned. Their only way out was to become once again dependent on another man.
In their book Another God Is Possible, Maria and Ignacio Lopez Vigil put it this way: “Jesus’ saying, ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ is not the expression of an abstract principle about the indissolubility of marriage. Instead, Jesus’ words were directed against the highly patriarchal marriage practices of his time. ‘Men,’ he said, should not divide what God has joined together. This meant that the family should not be at the mercy of the whimsies of its male head, nor should the woman be left defenseless before her husband’s inflexibility. Jesus cut straight through the tangle of legal interpretations that existed in Israel about divorce, all of which favored the man, and returned to the origins: he reminded his listeners that in the beginning God made man and woman in his own image, equal in dignity, rights, and opportunities. Jesus was not pronouncing against divorce, but against machismo.”
Here it should be noted that Mark’s alteration of Jesus’ words is far less radical than what Jesus said. Mark makes the point of the Master’s utterance divorce rather than machismo. Ironically, in doing so and by treating women the same as men, Mark’s words also offer a scriptural basis for legalists who place the “bond of marriage” ahead of the happiness (and even safety) of those who find themselves in relationships which have become destructive to partners and to children.
Traditionally that emphasis on the inviolability of the marriage bond has represented the position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It is very unlikely that the historical Jesus with his extremely liberal attitude towards law and his concern for women would have endorsed it.
Instead however, it never was Jesus position that any law should take precedence over the welfare of people. In fact, his refusal to endorse that precedence – his breaking of religious laws (even the Sabbath law) in favor of human welfare – was the main reason for his excommunication by the religious leaders of his own day. In other words, Jesus was the one who kept God’s law by breaking human law.
So instead of “Anti-Divorce Sunday,” this should be “Anti-Machismo Sunday.” It should remind us all of what a champion women have in Jesus.
Sometimes feminists complain that Christian faith finds its “fullness of revelation” in a man. But as one Latin American feminist theologian put it recently, the point of complaint shouldn’t be that Jesus was a man, but that most of us men are not like Jesus. Today’s Gospel calls us men to take steps towards nullifying that particular objection.
More and more I’ve been thinking of the United States as a “failed state.” We’re in need of that revolution Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence saw as necessary when a government fails to meet the needs of its people.
Wikipedia defines a failed state as “a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly.”
To my mind, that definition fits our country exactly. Our government is absolutely gridlocked in terms of serving us. It can’t deal with minimum wage, healthcare, climate change, infrastructure, immigration, the threat of nuclear war, or voting rights.
Moreover, the U.S. president is a criminal. He routinely disobeys international law without a second thought. Think, for example, about his worldwide illegal drone assassination program. It amounts to a mechanized death squad – a gang of robot murderers. Mechanized or not, drone killers roaming the world like that completely contravene international law. That makes the president a criminal – a murderer.
But, of course, Mr. Biden not alone in such designation. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the same criminality has been embraced by all U.S. presidents going back at least to the end of World War II.
Do yourself a favor and listen to Chomsky’s words. He points out that since 1945, all 13 White House occupants have been indictable criminals. Each of them deserved imprisonment if not execution. As such, none of them enjoyed legitimacy.
On top of that, the Supreme Court is entirely dysfunctional too. I’m thinking in terms of rendering unbiased judgments. SCOTUS has been packed with right wing idealogues through a blatant process of hypocritical fraud. Two of them are credibly accused sexual predators. The ideology of those “justices” exactly mirrors that of the Republican Party, an organization that (again) Chomsky has nailed as “the most dangerous organization in the history of the world.”
The GOP merits that title, Chomsky says, because its climate change denial expresses a willingness “to destroy the prospects of human existence.”
By the way, with their tepid approach to climate change and their openness to nuclear war with China (shared of course with the Republicans) Democrats are not far behind their rivals. Such positions by the two major U.S. parties rob them ipso facto of any legitimacy.
That leaves ordinary citizens like you and me governed by . . . tyrants. Yes tyrants!
Remember the cry of our 18th century “founding fathers”: “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” Well, think about it: we’re all paying taxes, aren’t we? But tell the truth: do the people in Congress represent our interests?
I’d say not. Clearly not.
Think about our interests. According to polls, a clear majority of us want a minimum wage of $15; we want Medicare for all, forgiveness of college debt, free access to college for all who want it, increased environmental protection, an end to forever wars. We want affordable housing, renewal of the nation’s infrastructure, daycare, and freer access to voting. Americans want the rich to pay higher taxes.
Each of those is an important issue that affects our daily lives. But our representatives don’t care. Instead, they move in the opposite direction. They give their rich donors tax breaks, deregulation of businesses, and privatized public property and services. They unquestioningly increase the military budget at every opportunity. And they do so even though “our” nation already outspends the ten next highest spenders combined! But then when it comes times for the programs we want, there’s never enough money.
On the election front, I’m even convinced that the Democrats care less about defeating Republicans than I do! How else do you explain their impotent dysfunction before state laws whose undeniable purpose is to disenfranchise the Democratic base itself?
Laughably, the Dems defend their limp surrender on the grounds that the Senate parliamentarian won’t let them do otherwise! Meanwhile, every one of us knows that Republicans would never (have never) eschewed any tactic underhanded or overhanded that would advance the interests of their wealthy base. But Democrats can’t bring themselves to act similarly. They’re too high minded, they want us to believe, and too interested in (one-sided) bipartisanship to stoop as low as their rivals. Please!
Turns out, however, that the real Democratic base is the same as the Republicans’.
In any case, we’re left without representation.
See what I mean about “failed state?” Our government is completely illegitimate at all levels, presidential, senatorial, representational, and judicial.
Time for a revolution. As I’ve argued before, the January 6th folks might not have been that far off.
This is the final chapter of my novel, The Pope’s Secret. (For previous chapters, just scroll down.)
This concluding chapter takes the form of a papal encyclical by the fictitious pope, John Paul III. Though some younger readers might still object to its contents as excessively traditional, the encyclical represents the type of publication I wish popes were capable of authoring. Because of its importance, I’m including the full written text in this posting along with the recorded version above. Here’s what Pope John Paul III wrote:
To the Young People of the World: An Encyclical About Sex
It is altogether fitting that this – in all probability the final encyclical of my papacy – should be addressed, with great fatherly affection, to the young people of the world. As a man of advanced years, I write with an immense sense of urgency and affection. My hope is that what I share with you will help you avoid the errors and destructive behavior which has become the hallmark of the modern world.
Recent tragic experiences among my brother priests have unexpectedly forced upon me new personal insights about the topic of this encyclical. They prompt me to rethink my own life, and my teaching on human sexuality. My wish is to communicate those thoughts and teachings in a series of direct and honest pastoral counsels, which I list below. These counsels will be straight from my heart, informed by my own experience, and expressed without obscurity or equivocation. Their practicality has a twofold intention: first, to offer direct guidance to you, my dearest sons and daughters, and, secondly, to create a context of freedom for those who will soon gather for the Third Vatican Council. As part of their agenda, I want the council fathers and mothers to explore freely in the light of scripture and tradition, the points which I will express here all-too-briefly.
To begin with, let me extend my deepest compassion to every one of you. You are challenged, as the members of my generation never were, by the enticements and deceptions of a modern consumer culture. It inundates you with words and images, songs and mass media advertising which glorify the commodification of life itself. Indeed, the most precious of human relationships – love between women and men – has been transformed simply into one more product, to be bought and sold at the lowest price possible. Nothing could be further from the Creator’s intention.
To deal with the overwhelming temptations and confusions which inevitably result from such commercialization, it is imperative that each of you becomes clear about the place sex has, will have, and should have in you own life. This is a matter for serious reflection, reading and conversation (especially with your parents, or someone else you may trust).
Your own conclusions about the place of sex in your life will depend on what you think life itself is for. This is not easy to determine. TV, magazines, movies, popular songs, novels, and your less thoughtful friends will tell us one thing. The thoughtful people of history (Jesus, St. Francis, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, and the insightful holy women and men of other religious traditions) will tell you something else. So, to begin with, you must decide where and with whom you stand. That will determine all else.
If you are like most people in the world we have inherited, you will agree that life is for “having fun” and enjoying pleasure, for making money, accumulating possessions, achieving fame, and avoiding pain. With this orientation, sex is just one more source of personal pleasure – perhaps the greatest source. So, the important thing is to obtain as much of it as you can for yourself, and, if possible, for your partners. One’s sexual conquests are proofs of personal worth, aliveness, status, femininity, and manhood. One should never pass up a potential sexual conquest or say “no” to sexual pleasure. This approach is especially seductive for us males. It leads us to approach women as “creatures for us.” They are sexual objects. As such, they are fair game for exploitation, voyeuristic gaze, jokes and derision.
The other approach (of the people I called “thoughtful”) begins from an entirely different place. It says that human beings are more than their bodies, more than sophisticated animals. In fact, it says, we are principally spiritual beings. The thoughtful people I’m referring to make four important claims about the purpose of life. They say: (1) within each one of us resides a spark of the divine, the presence of God’s Spirit, our real Self, (2) we can come to an awareness of this fact and live from that divine place with love, patience, kindness, humility, simplicity, generosity and pure intention, (3) it is the purpose of life to do so, and (4) once we realize our own unity with the divine, we will recognize that same spark in every other human being and in all of creation, treating them accordingly. These were the convictions of Jesus, the Christ. Males who adopt this approach will see women as persons like themselves with hopes, ambitions, talents, and vulnerabilities. Women will be seen as delightful companions and men’s equals – entirely worthy of honor, respect, support, love and (when appropriate) protection.
This more thoughtful approach to the meaning of life has led me to summarize its observations and to make recommendations. My observations include the following:
√ Sex is the second most powerful physical drive human beings possess. After self-preservation comes propagation of the species.
√ As such a powerful force, undisciplined sex has severely damaged the lives of an extraordinary number of otherwise mature and apparently successful people, along with the lives of their families and loved ones. You have only to read the daily newspaper to see this. Reports of rapes, incestuous relationships, unwanted pregnancies, marital infidelities, abortions, acquisition of STDs, and/or involvement with prostitution and addiction to pornography show that undisciplined sex can be ruinous. Above all, the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by some of our own priests illustrates this point. All of these instances show how necessary it is to be in charge of ourselves in this area of life – as well as in others that are potentially addictive (food and drink, drugs, work, money, personal ambition…).
√ Obsession with sex passively (guilt or fear) or actively (compulsive thoughts or actions) is harmful.
√ It is important to deal with sexuality in an open, honest, rational, and prayerful way. If not, it will come back to haunt you. Either reckon with it as a young person or reckon with it later. The longer one postpones coming to terms with sex, the more likely it is that the postponement will result in crooked or compulsive (that is unfree) sexual expression. By “reckoning with” sex and “coming to terms” with it, I mean thinking about it, evaluating it and deciding about its place in your life.
√ Members of the opposite sex are extremely attractive to most of us. This is entirely wonderful and a precious gift from God. However, it is very easy to objectify those for whom we experience sexual attraction – to treat them as “things,” rather than as persons of equal value, and comparable hopes, anxieties, and destinies. This is especially noteworthy for men relative to women, because the male-dominated culture of the West objectifies women for commercial purposes in sex-related ways. I urge you to reject that mindset and practice.
√ As for those who find members of the same sex attractive sexually, I can say very little. However, I do trust Scripture scholars who have found that the Bible has very little, if anything, to say on the topic. It is certain that the Bible does not at all address problems of “sexual orientation,” which is an entirely modern concept. I also trust those who claim same-sex attraction when they testify that they have no more chosen their sexual orientation than have heterosexuals. My heart goes out to such individuals because they are so misunderstood and persecuted in the West. I confess as well that the church bears much responsibility for their suffering. Of course, within homosexual orientation, the same guidelines for personal relationships apply as are relevant to heterosexuals. (See below.)
√ Sexual thoughts, use of pornography, and self-stimulation are not matters of sin requiring punishment. However, they can represent self-centeredness, loss of personal control, poisoning of the mind, and objectification of persons. Such diversions from life’s true purpose can easily become addictive, time-consuming, costly, and unhealthy.
√ Once one becomes sexually active, it is extremely difficult not to have sex a part of subsequent relationships.
√ The more partners one has, the easier it is to treat those involved as sex objects, to deceive and exploit them. We must never forget that apart from their spiritual impact, all sexual relationships establish undeniable chemical bonds between those who engage in them. Thoughtless multiple sexual relationships can desensitize one to those bonds and cause heartbreak and pain.
√ Sexual involvement early in a relationship prevents men and women from getting to know one another personally, intellectually, and spiritually. That is, the sexual dimension of a man/woman relationship is easy. However, it should be the last element in a much more complicated and difficult progression of “knowing” that goes from (1) meeting to (2) knowledge of the person’s history and background, and to (3) knowledge of the person’s thoughts and values, to (4) knowledge of the person’s spirit and spiritual orientation.
√ Sexual intercourse finds its proper place only within the context of stable, permanent commitments. However, it is extremely easy to deceive oneself about such pledges. Mere self-seeking can too easily masquerade as “love” or “commitment.” Almost inevitably such deception leads to heartbreak and deep personal wounds. This shows the wisdom of our tradition when it confines full sexual expression to the marriage context.
√ Postponing sexual gratification and involvement with other people is possible. Demonstrating this possibility (despite the reigning culture’s denial) is one of the great services provided by those who have received the vocation to the celibate life. They demonstrate for all to see that one does not really “need” to be sexually active to lead a happy and meaningful life.
√ Postponement of sexual involvement is highly desirable. Sex complicates life and relationships very much. (Think of your friends who are already sexually involved.) Young people do not need such complications while they are still in school attempting to make the most of their studies and athletic potential. Personally, I am very happy that I was free of that while I was finishing my studies and excelling in sports. I did not miss anything and gained a great deal.
√ Saying “no” to early sexual involvement is a greater sign of maturity and strength than saying “yes.”
√ It is important to develop in oneself the ability to say “no” to sexual gratification. Eventually one’s marriage and family may depend on it.
√ Child molestation (along with rape and incest) is abhorrent. Those who engage in such activity urgently require exposure and treatment. This applies to the members of the clergy who have sinned grievously in this area.
√ Abortion remains a concern extremely close to my heart. At this juncture in my life, it is important to reaffirm the church’s concern for human life, and life in general, in all its manifestations and stages. However, too often in the past, the church has transformed abortion into an issue centralizing female responsibility. Instead, it must be seen as society’s problem. It is therefore entirely objectionable for the faithful to be protective of human life within the womb, and not to maintain the same concern after pregnancies have been brought to term. It is wrong for Christians to insist that abortion be outlawed, without at the simultaneously supporting public programs providing healthcare, housing, education, childcare, and a living wage. In other words, Christians are responsible for creating a welcoming atmosphere for all children.
More particularly, for too long, men (and churchmen with no direct experience of women’s sexuality) have tried to instruct and regulate women on this topic. However, despite such uninformed pronouncements, women have for eons dealt with it using their unique knowledge and wisdom. Accordingly, abortion has always been part of women’s special insight, practice, and lore.
Since abortion is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, we are thrown back on such feminine wisdom and practice based as it is on biology and logic in order to reach conclusions about abortion’s morality.
Intuitively at least, women’s biology tells them that spontaneous abortions are nature’s way – the way their female bodies work. They recognize that about ten to twenty percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage (i.e., before the 20th week of gestation) – not to mention pregnancies that are unknown.
Logically, that spontaneous phenomenon reveals something about the divine plan of creation. It suggests that before at least the 20th week of pregnancy, the fetus cannot be considered a human person.
And even subsequently, there is no reason to think that the Divine’s infinite wisdom and power cannot reincarnate any aborted soul in another body when the time is right according to the mother’s judgment.
The bottom line here is that men (especially celibate men) have little to say on this topic., Women must have the final word.
√ Be careful, my dear friends, about the thoughts, images, song lyrics, and other influences you allow into your minds. Our holy tradition teaches that the thoughts we think, the images we put into our minds (sexual, violent, consumptive. . .) shape who we are. Being careful about what we allow into our minds is simply part of taking responsibility for our own selves and destinies. Repeated thoughts lead to actions; repeated actions create habits; habits shape character; character determines destiny.
√ Form as many friendships as possible without complicating them with sex. Sex gets in the way of the real knowledge (personal, intellectual, and spiritual) I described earlier in this letter.
√ Socialize “defensively.” That is, avoid situations which will lead to the premature involvements, commitments and expectations that go along with sex. Meet your companion’s parents. Go out in groups. Plan your outings. Keep busy during the time together (movies, concerts, lectures, sports events . . .) Return home on time. Say goodbye on the doorstep, not in a car or remote location.
√ Realize that sexual involvement is a process, which progresses in stages – holding hands, kissing, touching, touching intimately (another name for foreplay) and intercourse. Once started, it is progressively more difficult to stop and turn back.
√ If despite what I have written here, you decide to have sexual intercourse, never do so without protection. I say this for your own benefit. Literally, it is a question of life and death.
My dearest sons and daughters, there is much more to be said about all I’ve addressed in this letter. What I’ve shared here is, I think, common sense. It is also reflective of Christian perspective in the Roman Catholic tradition. Perhaps that tradition does not have for you the same value that it continues to have for me. In the end, you must decide whether you want to subscribe to it or not – whether you want to accept what it offers as “wisdom” or not. Personally, I have done so. That doesn’t mean that I have not made mistakes in my life. Like you and everyone else, I have committed many errors. However, I do recognize the tradition’s wisdom and am struggling to stay on the path it describes.
My hope is that sharing like this has some meaning for you. Please consider it carefully. At the very least, recognize it for what it is – the Holy Father’s poor attempt to give some guidance to the sons and daughters he cares so deeply about.
With heartfelt affection and love,
John Paul III, Pope
This is Chapter 33 — the penultimate chapter — of my novel, The Pope’s Secret.
For previous chapters, just scroll down.
Please excuse me for forgetting to add the audio file to yesterday’s posting. I’m uploading it here.
There are two more chapters to come.
For previous chapters of The Pope’s Secret, just scroll down.
Please excuse me for forgetting to attach the audio file to yesterday’s posting.
Anyway, here’s what I thought I was publishing yesterday. This is the concluding chapter of my novel, The Pope’s Secret. But wait, there’ll be another chapter and epilogue.
For previous chapters, just scroll down.