The UNKNOWN KNOWNS: Another Voice in 2012


Throughout 2012….

I will constructively address the contemporary church problem of the  UNKNOWN KNOWNS.

In 2011 ANOTHER VOICE had just over eleven thousand visits….I appreciate your comments!

John W. Greenleaf

He was never my hero; but former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld did make a statement that I will use as my editorial launch pad for 2012: “There are known knowns…there are known unknowns…there are also unknown unknowns.”

I would add that in our contemporary Catholic Church there are also “unknown knowns.”

The big problem in our contemporary church is that we have an increasingly large majority of laypeople, ordained ministers, and theologians who really do know what it means to be a believer today. And we have an ever angrier, more self-defensive, and more arrogant church leadership that glories in its ignorance of just about everything that the rest of the church has discovered and takes for granted.

Two examples:

(1)    USCCB and Elizabeth Johnson

(2)    Cardinal George and Gay Pride

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First Elizabeth Johnson’s book:

Our US bishops demonstrated their difficulty with UNKNOWN KNOWNS when they condemned and still condemn the wonderfully reflective book by Elizabeth Johnson Quest for the Living God. Her book is positive, rooted in our tradition, inspirational and refreshingly contemporary. Too bad it is an “unknown” for our bishops. Here are three Quest for the Living God  citations:

          First off, a person can no longer be a Christian out of social convention or inherited custom.  To be a Christian now requires a personal decision, the kind of decision that brings about a change of heart and sustains long-term commitment.  Not cultural Christianity but a diaspora church, scattered among unbelievers and believers of various stripes, becomes the setting for this free act of faith.  Furthermore, when a person does come to engage belief in a personal way society makes this difficult to do…. When, nevertheless persons do make a free act of faith, the factors characteristic of the modern world impart a distinctive stamp to their spiritual experience.  This is not surprising, since the path to God always winds through the historical circumstances of peoples’ times and places. Inhabiting a secular, pluralistic culture, breathing its atmosphere and conducting their daily lives according to its pragmatic tenets, Christians today have absorbed the concrete pattern of modernity into their very soul. – p. 29

           Mystical and practical, Christian life then becomes a passion for God that encompasses the suffering, the passion, of others, committing people to resistance against injustice for the living in hope of universal justice even for the dead.  – p. 67

          A simple thought experiment may bring home the depth of this biblical revelation about the nature of God. Is there a single text where in vigorous “thus says the Lord” fashion people are counseled to oppress the poor, to rob from the widow, to put on a big show of sacrifice at the expense of doing justice? Is there a text where God delights in seeing people — or any creatures — in agony? Suffering happens; indeed some texts interpret war and exile as divine punishment for the sin of the people as a whole, sin that includes precisely the acts of oppressing the poor. But even here, God’s anger lasts for a moment, divine mercy for ten thousand years. Taken from start to finish, as a whole, the Bible reveals God as compassionate lover of justice, on the side of the oppressed to the point where “those who oppress the poor insult their Maker” (Prov 14:31). – p. 76

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Now Cardinal George:

And then we have  UNKNOWN KNOWNS and Chicago’s Cardinal George who, four days before Christmas, revealed himself not only as ignorant but a self-righteous and dangerously silly bigot. NCR in a 2 January editorial clearly sketches Cardinal George’s problem with the unknown knowns:

          Whether Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George went into a Dec. 21 television interview intending to compare the gay community with the Ku Klux Klan or impulsively gave voice to something that popped into his mind at the moment, it is clear that he welcomed any opportunity to pick a fight.

          His incendiary comment, spur of the moment or not, betrays a larger context that, in the cardinal’s universe, is no secret. And that context is that anti-Catholic hordes — gays, materialists, certainly The New York Times, politicians who won’t hew their views and strategies to the Catholic line, and other societal forces — lurk around every corner and are largely responsible for all the church’s troubles…..

           But a cardinal who assesses a conflict between the time and route of a Gay Pride Parade and a Catholic Mass with the line, “You don’t    want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism,” diminishes any standing the church might still have in the public arena. The important issues get buried beneath the understandable outrage such comments invite. His words were not only embarrassingly imprudent, they are nonsensical as historical comparison.

          The facts also defy the cardinal’s assertion that he was backing up a pastor. Fr. Thomas Srenn did express concern that the parade route would go past the church this year at a time when the parish would be celebrating Mass. But his tone, in a statement posted on Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish website, was far more conciliatory. He noted the parish has a 125-year history in the East Lakeview neighborhood, is proud of the area’s diversity and considers the Pride Parade “one of the hallmarks that make Lakeview unique and we in no way wish to diminish its place in the community.” As a matter of fact, he met with parade organizers and the time of the parade, which doesn’t occur until June, has already been changed.

……….apologies to all who first of all accidentally received an unedited version. — J W Greenleaf

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