Monday, January 12, 2009

An Enlightened Exploration of Integrity and Obedience

In her thoughtful reflection on the theological legacy of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Colleen Kochivar-Bakeris (of Enlightened Catholicism) compares and contrasts obedience and integrity.

Colleen’s post can be read here in its entirety, while an excerpt can be read below.

I’ve always found it fascinating that the word integrity is rarely used by those who appeal to tradition. Obedience is their favorite word. Where I would say Jesus operated in total integrity in His understanding about His Father and His Father’s will, Fr. Neuhaus and others would say Jesus was totally obedient.

I find that notion arid. In one sense it’s saying that Jesus was following a script he was aware of before hand, that he was nothing more than an actor, given very little room to ad lib. There are portions in the New Testament which do seem to indicate that Jesus was following a script. Especially in Matthew, where there is an overt attempt to show that Jesus was enacting Old Testament prophecy. The problem with the notion of prophecy is that it tends to take any meaningful choice out of the equation. If one is the prophecy, then it isn’t a matter of obedience or integrity. It's a matter of prophecy fulfilling itself.

I don’t think that’s true of Jesus, as the Gospels do give indications that Jesus matured in His understanding of His mission and His Father’s will. Jesus spoke about maturation in His followers as well, and if leaving us the Holy Spirit doesn’t indicate an evolving notion of the truth of God, I don’t know why else He would leave mankind in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

An evolving notion of truth is far more in line with how humanity actually lives out it’s life and how we as individuals live our spirituality. If we don’t evolve we kill our spirituality. Jesus wasn’t crucified just because the prophets made some prophecies, He was also crucified because he questioned authority and His ministry led Him to disobey parts of the Leviticus code. He lived His life with total integrity to the two laws of love.

In my book He died for His integrity to His own conscience, not for his obedience. For all I know, His conscience may have contained the entire will of His Father, but it wasn’t obedience which led him to the Cross. It was integrity to His personal conscience in the face of hostile authority.

- Excerpted from Integrity or Obedience?
by Colleen Kochivar-Bakeris
(Enlightened Catholicism, January 10, 2009)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Revisting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Genuine Authority
Beyond Papalism
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)
Tips for Thinking Catholics

Recommended Off-site Link:
“Falling Away” - Mary Lynn Murphy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 4, 2009).

Image: “Enlightenment” by Gregory Williams.


kevin57 said...

While I respect Fr. Neuhaus's intellectual acumen and wish him the reward of the beatitudes, I cannot respect his ideology. His hatred for gays ran deep, declaring among other sordid things that the moment of truth for Benedict XVI would come in how he would crack down on bishops who failed to strictly enforce the no gay seminarian edict.

Yes, obedience. Sad.

Christopher said...

Obedience need not be conceptualized this way. Indeed this way of conceptualizing is not how Benedictines understand the term at all. At the heart of obedience is obedire, "to listen to".