I've written of this before. I think we do need some serious catechesis from the highest levels in the Church at the moment on this whole area of Christ's teaching about pharisaical behaviours. I sincerely believe it is not only an issue that cuts to the heart of the torment that the Church, and many individuals associated with it, are going through today, but we also see a manifestation in wider politics and even out to this whole "terrorist" threat that the world is facing today.
The world seems to be dividing into two completely incompatible visions as it were as to who God is and what sort of relationship God calls us into. For all our wealth, affluence, access to good health care, education and all the "good" things of life there seems to also be a paradoxical or contradictory increase in tension and insecurity. In our hearts we are "scared" or ill-at-ease even if we do not necessarily know what it is that is giving us these feelings of being ill-at-ease. We can "see" we shouldn't be feeling ill-at-ease about anything because life is so good to us these days. (For example here in Australia the unemployment rate in recent days has hit a 30-year low and our economy is booming. Despite all that though the rates of relationship breakdown and I am not simply talking of marriage here but all sorts of relationships even children to parents is escalating, and people seeking analgesic-type cures to depression and various types of mental instability seems to be rising.)
Christ, or God, is in a sense presented as the antidote to any form of dis-ease. It seems to me though that there is enormous confusion as to HOW Christ/God is "packaged" as the antidote. And this is the heart of the problem. He can be presented in a form that is little different to an analgesic. This is the pharisaical vision of God as a maker of rules and stemming out of that hoop-jumping behaviours as to how we respond to the rules. Our obedience "to the rules" gives us some reward of salvation, redemption, or he's perceived as "waving a magic wand" and whatever it is that is troubling us will be taken out of our lives.
Most of the world (Western world I'm referring to here) has somehow sensed that that is not the correct picture but they do not necessarily know what the alternative is and the institutional churches do not seem to be of much help to them either. What is going on in Islam today where an extreme section has actually got to the point of bombing other people and even at the cost of the bomber even believing they need to take their own life to force other people to comply to their laws, is not something peculiar to Islam. It reflects a similar sort of tension in our own faith, and in all faiths, and I submit one even does see an echo of it in some of the attitudes displayed by some posters in a discussion community such as this. They are so cock sure of themselves and their interpretation of what the Law is, and who God is, and how God relates to us, and how he wishes us to relate to him, that they are now just about jumping out of their skins such is the lather they are working themselves up into.
People like George W Bush and our own Prime Minister, John Howard, in a sense are actually pandering to this "fundamentalist" shift that has been going on in society and exploiting this sense of insecurity for electoral advantage. Unfortunately I do not believe any of our political or religious leaders are addressing the heart issue of what has led to this rise in insecurity and tension in the world. Our political leaders in a sense want to respond to fundamentalism with a version of their own fundamentalism and I really do worry that that is merely "raising the stakes".
The institutional Church in her public communications just seems enormously confused as to how to respond to the whole situation. Half the time she is giving the correct answers, and endeavouring to lead people to a non-pharisaical understanding of Christ and the next minute the Pope, or some bishop comes out with actions or words that are pandering to the pharisaical sectors of our community. These actions or words quite often have greater communication "potential energy" than all of the good stuff that might have been said, or done by others. People don't know where they stand at the moment. I think this helps explains a significant part of the loss of confidence that people are expressing today in our religious leaders. The interesting thing, which seems to be a relatively new phenomenon on this board, is that we even now have some of the Pharisees becoming as vocal in their condemnation of spiritual leaders as those who are critical on the other side for other reasons.
To me, reading Christ's missives on all of this, the conclusion one has to come to is that one cannot reason with a Pharisee just as one cannot reason with a terrorist (and isn't there some joke that one cannot reason with a liturgist LOL!!! ). What the leadership of the Church seems to have been trying to do is act as some sort of conciliator across the divisions in the Church. This is not going to work though because, in the final analysis, those who are driven by the sort of deep emotional forces that lead to pharisaical/fundamentalist and, ultimately, the terrorist mentality are never going to be persuaded by reason.
The dilemma we face though is that one also cannot afford to try and ignore them, or appease them either. This is the same dilemma that our political leaders face. Ultimately I do not believe the Bush-Howard type responses to terrorism are going to work either UNLESS there is an accompanying public education program not on what telephone number to ring to report suspicious activity (that takes us down the Orwellian "1984" road), but public education and discussion about these underlying tensions that are at work in society at the moment. Funnily enough this would be a place where the religious leaders ought to be playing a role and if they did I think it might do much to help re-establish their credibility and contribute to a sense of re-evangelisation.
At the political level I do think "the fight against terrorism" requires a dual strategy of increased defences and security measures to try and prevent, as far as possible, any further 911, Bali and Djakarta type bombings in the immediate time frame. The second part of the strategy though has to be through public discussion that exposes the underlying tensions bubbling away in society that despite all our economic and social progress some people are literally pooping their pants and trying to erect absolutes and false gods in the wrong places.
I honestly do think we have had a form of "terrorism" going on in the Church for a long time also which is what has been one of the major forces "marginalizing" the Church as an agency for good and for spiritual growth in the world. The leadership has got to come to a realisation that trying to appease fundamentalism in the end does not work. Trying to set themselves up as "bridge builders" and some kind of "peacemakers" between the factions within the Church does not work when one of the elements is fundamentally not open to reason and persuasion. They are in a sense, not in control of themselves. They are driven by deep forces in the emotions and psyche that they simply do not themselves understand. All they want is for a sense of all the uncertainty in their lives to stop and, if they can't get that, in the end as we've seen with the Islamic terrorists they'll eventually work themselves up into such a lather that they also believe they will be justified in acts of force to impose their way.
I believe these teachings of Christ on the attitudes of the Pharisees have very special relevance to the present time. In a sense it is part of the brilliance of Christ in all of this that he could see that this problem of pharisaical attitudes is something that we would always have to deal with.
"In spite of all that
might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley