Interdisciplinary book review: The Jesuit and the Skull

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

A man of complicated contrasts, French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a mystical scientist and an obedient rebel. And after reading Amir D. Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull, you are left with the decision to either admire him, scratch your head in bemusement, or both.

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A human animal ponders Creation

In God’s image?

“Who warned you, you serpent’s brood, to escape from the wrath to come? See that you do something to show that your hearts are really changed! Don’t start thinking that you can say yourselves, ‘We are Abraham’s children,’ for I tell you that God could produce children of Abraham out of these stones!” – John the Baptist, St. Luke 3:7-8 (J.B. Phillips)

I was listening to an Assembly of God pastor give a sermon on the radio Sunday, and he said something that struck me. During his closing prayer, he told God that “some sociologists seem to think that we’re animals.” He followed by assuring the Divine that his congregation knew better.

I’ve heard this said before in not so many words, but this time it came on the heels of my completing Amir D. Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull (review coming soon!), a wonderful read about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest/archaeologist. Teilhard was a part of the expedition that discovered a Homo erectus skull in China in 1929, but most of his writings about evolution and how it can be reconciled to Christianity were suppressed by the Jesuit order and the Vatican until his death in 1955.

Part of what has made – and continues to make – the theory of evolution so hard to swallow for biblical literalists is that it demonstrates that humans are a species of the animal kingdom, which puts us in the same category as chimpanzees, polar bears, anacondas and sponges. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us three times that God created Man to be in his own image, and literalists have a problem with the image of God looking like Peking Man. But it is the notion of Man’s “dominion” over the creatures of the earth that gives rise to the belief that we cannot be labeled as animals.

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All are welcome?

While the Catholic Church’s open arms are often a source of inspiration to me, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened by the recent announcement that Rome would happily “absorb” those Anglicans who took issue with their own church’s stance on women and LGBT individuals. It felt a bit like a slap in the face. “You don’t think women and gays* should have full rights within their religious communities? Neither do we! Come on over!”

I admit to feeling afraid of a church which actively “recruits” those who have the most conservative mindsets — that I feel afraid of the places where I feel welcome diminishing, that at any time soon the scales could tip and it could be just too much, that I might give in to a former priest’s suggestion that people like me “leave the Church” if we don’t agree with everything, because a “smaller, purer” church is better than a larger, impure one.

Except, who among us is able to claim purity, anyway?

I’ve  entertained ideas of something of a “church swap.” “Hey, I’ll trade you a bunch of conservative Anglicans for a bunch of liberal Catholics!” These ideas are only half-joking. Because the more welcome we make those who deny full personhood for women and gays, the less welcome people like me become–who fall into both categories. It has me questioning again where my breaking point is, how strong my love and devotion to the faith of my heritage really is. I don’t know the answer to that question yet. Do you?

* I use ‘gays’ for the sake of brevity here, to imply ‘not straight’ and to stand for the whole range of the GLBTQIA spectrum (I’m a ‘B’ myself ;)).