Christianity Today ran an interview with Sinead O'Connor, now an aging rocker known for a hit album and for tearing up a picture of JPII on SNL (Saturday Night Live). It will make many Protestants who read the article to wonder whether Catholics are Christian (even though many Catholics would argue Sinead O'Connor's not Catholic).
The interview is about her new album based on passages from the Old Testament and titled, "Theology." I found it another distressing glimpse of a perhaps large segment of contemporary Catholicism that is thoroughly influenced by postmodern attitudes.
Now the term "postmodern" might put you off, but you've experienced some of the basic presuppositions of this worldview. They are, in a nutshell:
- All truth, including morality, is relative; nothing I do is a sin.
- Truth claims are ideological at best and lead to violence at worst.
- We don’t “know” anything, we only “interpret,” so pick a worldview and interpret accordingly, but be “open” to others’ worldviews.
- My personal experience and feelings are most trustworthy; yours are not necessarily “real”.
In our new workshop, Making Disciples, we point out how postmodern attitudes effect Catholics, and Ms. O'Connor's comments are illuminating in this respect. For one thing, postmodern attitudes lead many Catholics to be practical Universalists, meaning they believe that almost everyone - or everyone - is saved by a loving God. They also lead to the relativism that Pope John Paul II pointed out as so dangerous. For the Catholic who embraces postmodern relativism, there are many equal paths to God. There is nothing uniquely salvific about Jesus.
Ms. O'Connor is a case in point - here's part of the interview
Christianity Today: Where do you stand in your faith in Jesus?
O'Connor: I think everybody has an individual relationship with Jesus. I kinda really do believe in this Trinity thing, that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all one thing. I understand Jesus as being an interceder, someone you ask when you really need a big favor from God. I also feel that Jesus is inside everybody. It's almost like an energy or a thing that lives inside of us.
CT: How about his role as a Savior?
O'Connor: I grew up in violent circumstances [in Ireland, where religious violence was common], and Jesus was a Savior to me insofar that he would make me forget what was going on. But to say that Jesus is a Savior can sometimes translate as, "Unless people know doctrine, they're not going to be saved." I don't believe that. I believe God loves everybody. And at the end of the day every creation of God goes on to God and his love equally. So I have difficulties with the implication that because somebody on the other side of the world doesn't know Jesus, they don't get saved.
CT: So there's no such thing as Jesus being the one way, truth, and life?
O'Connor: I believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and that whole kind of thing is one particular energy. If you want a put a picture of a body on it, then fine. But I call it an energy. Some people paint a picture of Jesus. But to me, he's an energy. That energy is the same no matter where you are in the world or whose side you're on. If you call it Allah or you call it God or you call it Buddha, it's all the same. I thing God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we're all going home.
CT: So it doesn't matter your lifestyle, we're all going to heaven.
O'Connor: Yeah, I don't think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally. I think there's a slight difference when it comes to very evil people, but there are not too many of those in the world.
Fones: At Intentional Disciples we are encouraging Catholics to consider the invitation from God to enter into a personal relationship with Him. If God is simply an "energy," it's hard to see how a relationship is possible. It's also true that an "energy" can't really make claims on me or my behavior.
Postmodern individualism also warps the Christian perspective on how we should relate with others. Whereas the Christian is willing to love another enough to confront them if they are doing something wrong or sinful (cf Mt 18:15-18 and, oh, any Pauline letter for examples), the postmodern credo is "I should not interfere in your life; that would be presumptuous and judgmental." Of course, the converse is true as well - don't you dare tell me what to do! Again, the interview gives a stunning example of this:
CT: Listeners of Christian music have a high moral standard for artists in the genre. Are you ready for that part of this industry?
O'Connor: I think everybody knows who I am. I'm not trying to act like I'm a perfect person. I'm not going to be personally insulted if anyone doesn't want to have anything to do with me. If someone turns their back on me because I'm not a perfect person, then it's not my problem. It's their problem. If we're all going to turn their backs because they're not perfect, then we're going to be very lonely.
CT: You have no qualms about swearing or smoking. How do you feel about the prospect of losing the respect of the faith community because of those things?
O'Connor: If I did, actually I wouldn't mind, because I'm trying to be myself. God loves everybody the way they are, that's the way I see it. God made me the way I am. If somebody else doesn't like it, it doesn't matter. I could always get a job doing something else. I don't fear poverty.
Finally, if you read the post from the Barna Group survey, you know that Catholics are more likely to believe that Jesus sinned and God is fallible than the general population. Again, Sinead O'Connor gives an example of this:
O'Connor: God's character is very human; he goes through the whole gamut of emotions that a person might go through.
CT: By human, do you mean fallible?
O'Connor: People often say, "If there's a God, why does he let bad things happen?" We expect God to be perfect, but if we're made in God's image, then perhaps God isn't perfect. And that's OK. But I also believe that partly we are God. We are part of God and God is something that's in us and all around us.
Fones: I feel real sorrow for Sinead. She may not fear material poverty, but there seems to be a certain poverty in regard to her relationship to Jesus. Yes, God loves us - she's right there. We were created in love. But we are also fallen, and left to our own devices and without grace we are only poor approximations of whom God calls us to be.