THE “SELL BY” DATE OF THE “ETERNAL” CATHOLIC CHURCH
By Brian Mark Hennessy
Many years ago now, when I used to live on my boat, “Tokina”, in St Katherine’s Haven beside Tower Bridge I used to recline on the deck on clear nights and dream of what lay beyond the stars. The puzzle was, of course, all about the “Creation”. I was already a believer in the “Many Worlds Theory” at that time, but not having the brain nor cosmological learning of the great theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, (a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences – I should note), I dreamed of my “many worlds” more like a three dimensional honeycomb – and I deduced that these many worlds were much like multifaceted geometric forms which had sufficient elasticity to withstand the changing forces exerted by other worlds that were expanding or contacting around them. I never got much further with my theory than an infinity constructed in the form of a gargantuan, three-dimensional, honeycomb made of plasticised bubbles full of gaseous substances and mineral compounds hurtling around in wide, elliptical orbits!
The great Stephen Hawking, himself, did a U-turn on his own “Creation Theory” in his book, “The Grand Design”. Previously, back in 2008 he had said to Pope Benedict XVI that the “laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws”. However, later in his book “The Grand Design”, Hawking said that when, in 1992, a planet was found to be orbiting a star that was not our sun, he first began to realise that there was something else at play and that the evidence that the earth was designed just to “please us human beings” was both less compelling and remarkable than it had been considered to be hitherto. Hawking eventually deduced – and by what process I have to admit I do not have the wits to understand – that, “because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe, and we within it, can create itself from nothing.” He continued, “The reason why there is something rather than nothing is spontaneous Creation – and, therefore, there was no need to invoke God to light the blue touch-paper to set the universe going”. I remain unsure whether that deduction debunks my bubble theory, but I hope not!
However, if I have understood Stephen Hawking correctly, he has not denied the existence of God, but only denied the necessity of God to ignite the Big Bang that produced the Cosmos as we know it. Nevertheless, the existence of God remotely watching the “Big Bang” some 13.8 billion years ago does not help me very much in bridging the void of time between then and the foundation of the so-called One and Only True, Universal, Eternal Catholic Church. That institution was founded formally with a codified creed of beliefs as recently in cosmological history as the year 325 AD when Constantine convened the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea. Why did it take God so long to get that going? Why even did God leave mankind groping around in the dark and devoid of Catholic enlightenment from the time of the Australopithecines some nine million years ago? Maybe the obvious answer is that God was not in a hurry, had all the time in the world so to speak and, as with Creation itself, he was happy to just sit by, let things take their course and see how it all panned out. Of course, being Omnipotent, God would have known what the end result would have been anyway. That makes me feel a little sorry for God when I stop to think about it because He never has the excitement of surprises.
The thought that God was casually sitting by in infinite nothingness with a less than “hands on” role whilst Creation just spontaneously “happened” of its own accord all around Him is a little disappointing to say the very least. Hopefully there was still thunder and lightning all around for the important special effects to mark the moment. Moreover, I have to admit that I am a bit lost without the comfort of my Catechism Creation theory – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. That “kind of” made comforting sense to me not only at the age of five years, but also later in the context of my “multi-world bubble” theorisations whilst gazing at the stars. Nevertheless and however the Creation occurred, since that “awakening” – which in Biblical terms was featured as the “Creation” of Adam and Eve on the Sixth Day – human beings have always given some form of recognition to the existence of the great mystery of Creation – whenever that came about precisely in geological time.
We have been able to deduce through archaeological discoveries that there is a suggestion, if not actual evidence, that some of the most primitive of hominids have had concepts of “religion” in the form of ancestral traditions and rites of the dead that grew and blossomed within some diverse communities and cultures. Have we humans not always acknowledged also the bountiful provision of all the benefits that the Creation has provided to sustain our daily lives? Has not each person in every age sought to give praise, to make offerings of thanks, to express their hopes, and to seek protection and consolation from the Creator – whether we understood his image to be the sun, moon, stars or a larger-than-life human image surrounded by flashing lights is irrelevant.
Nevertheless mankind’s expressions of their acknowledgements of a deity – or deities – from their crudest infancy were also, at the very least, the demonstrable beginnings of the evidence of a well developed formation of social culture as we know it today. We also know that those precepts by which culture developed were as much the result of the necessity to define sustainable behavior in order that mankind would co-operate effectively and efficiently in a quest for survival. They became codified in time by systems of laws such as the Ten Commandments in order to promote peaceful co-existence for the common good. Such primitive legal systems existed in the cultural history of mankind long before any tablets of stone found their way into the hands of Moses on Mount Sinai of course – and those codes of conduct relating to specifically civil matters in the Near Eastern cultures, including that of the wandering Israelites, had largely been based on the Babylonian legal code of Hammurabi and even much earlier Middle Eastern codes of law that long predated the Egyptian Exodus of the Jewish tribes.
In terms of cultural development, however, history also teaches us that when institutional failures cease to provide the security and rights for the continued peaceful development of human societies then, in time, those institutions will self destruct, become redundant or be destroyed by external factors. There are numerous examples in history to be found. The demise of the temples and priesthoods of the Sumerians, Hittites, Assyrians, Minoans, Pharonic Egyptians, Incas and the Aztecs are very far short of an exhaustive list. None of their historic priestly classes and practices have survived at all in anything other than vague, isolated, ritual traditions of curious, if not culturally colourful, adherents in remote communities. They each reached their zenith and usefulness to the course and march of human history centuries ago and largely are now confined to the deep, archaeological layers of pre-history. It would not be a huge leap of faith to suggest that the Catholic Church itself will become a redundant institution in time and might be catapulted by events, either internal or external, into extinction. No human institution in this world is permanent. Two thousand years of Christianity is aeons compared to our individual lifetimes, but is unworthy even of the word “blip” in terms of “eternity”.
Catholicism itself is a belief system, but its presence in this world is that of a highly structured institution. Its active membership is expanding in the Southern hemisphere’s Third World countries, particularly Africa, but the numbers are becoming stable in the Northern hemisphere’s so-called Western cultures. The Pontifical Year Book 2017, which, in fact, publishes only the statistics relating to 2015, states that the number of baptized Catholics continued to grow globally, from 1,272 million in 2014 to 1,285 million in 2015. That is a relative increase of just 1 %. In Africa there is an increase of 19.4%, with the total number of Catholics increasing from 186 to 222 million in that continent. In Europe, however, there is instead a situation of “so called” stability which disguises the fact that there were over 800 thousand fewer Catholics baptised in Europe in 2015, and 1.3 million fewer overall compared to 2014. That decline is likely to increase rapidly because the European population is expected also to decline sharply in the coming decades. There is a similar situation to that of Europe in American and Asian numbers of Catholics – and stagnation in Oceania. In comparison the number of baptized Catholics in Africa has increased from 15.5% to 17.3% of global baptized faithful, whilst in Europe a sharp decline in baptisms was evident between the years 2010 and 2015. Overall there is an increasing number of lay Catholics per priest. In many countries that ratio has risen to over 5000 per priest and that is a clear indication than there are fewer and fewer priests in relation to the number of Catholics they serve.
All these statistics relate to “baptized” Catholics of course – and not “practicing” Catholics. What the statistics are unable, or possibly are unwilling to address with any clarity whatsoever is that there is a uniform, overall generational decrease in “practicing” Catholics in the “Old” world. We do know, however, that the numbers of children baptized today are decreasing year on year in the developed countries overall. Moreover, those who are baptized at the behest of their practicing Catholic parents appear to be less likely to remain practicing Catholics in adulthood. As populations become more interconnected with a Western orientated culture that cultivates rights to self determination in every facet of life, there is evidence to suggest that fewer young baptized Catholics will remain practicing Catholics once they are removed from parental control – and, therefore, are also less likely to baptize their offspring.
In addition, there are other factors in play. Exhaustive academic research into the effects of North American incidents of the sexual abuse of children by clerics of the Catholic Church has caused very significant financial losses of over $300 billion, the closure of hundreds of Catholic Schools, the sale of other Church properties, reductions of civilian staff and the permanent transfer of many former practicing Catholics to the Church congregations of other denominations. Trends often gather pace and no institution is immune from extinction when they continue to demonstrate that they are either incapable or unwilling to rectify gross wrongs and injustices. The hesitant Catholic Church Hierarchy has merely stuck a few podgy fingers in that dike so far, but unless they take extensive, radical and ruthless action on this one issue of child sexual abuse alone, then the whole edifice may suddenly be washed away by a tsunami of distrust and disgust. When a product becomes rotten through and through nobody buys it – and it is rapidly removed from the shelves – despite, in the case of the Catholic Church, the pre-determined “eternal” sell by date.
The “Eternal” Catholic Church, like every other institution, is destined to be less than the smallest calculable “blip” in Eternal, Universal human history. I am sure that Stephen Hawking would be able to tell the members of the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Science that that unit is defined as (tp=5.4×10-44s) – but he would also, no doubt, be able to clarify why that is not truly the smallest unit – just the smallest “meaningful” unit . That being so, a self-inflicted Apocalypse by suicidal inaction on child sexual abuse may well overtake Catholicism sooner than their aged Hierarchy can muster the energy to blink!