I’ve not karumphed over my interpretation of religious obedience for many years, but a friend has just reminded me of the kind of advice we were given over 50 years ago as young Maryknoll sisters:
“God doesn’t want your brains, but your love …so don’t get upset after we teach you all this smart missiology and anthropology stuff when the bishop hasn’t opened a book in 40 years! Just obey the bishop and please God.” “I bet they don’t think like that now,” she added.
I suspect most American nuns might not think that way now, which is why the Vatican still has so much trouble with them. Because I know a good number of priests and bishops who certainly still think like that.
This distinction between heart and brain, in other words, between love and intelligence, is bogus power-hungry advice posing as religious humility to keep people in their place. Isn’t it, after all, the excuse that the Nazis used at the Nuremberg trials to justify the death of 14 million innocent people in the gas chambers of their concentration camps? “I was merely following orders.”
As human beings, we survive by using both our capacity for love and for intelligence, and they are inseparable. Does it not take intelligence to care for the sick? to develop a vaccine for ebola or polio or small pox? Does it not take intelligence to teach children to read or develop mathematical skills? Does it not take intelligence to provide balanced meals for the family? Does it not take intelligence to represent a defendant in court? Does it not take intelligence to treat the mentally ill? Does it not take intelligence to respond with compassion to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from war and starvation in the world today? Does it not take intelligence to run a farm that produces food for an entire community?
No: don’t tell me that God doesn’t want my brain. Do not tell me that I will please God if I do what the bishop or president or even the pope tells me to do – no matter how ignorant or damaged or unloving he has on occasion been known to be. I know I might be wrong myself. But I will take responsibility for doing my best to make a judgement based on respect for the life that surrounds me.
I will not willingly denigrate intelligence as merely a form of hubris, or elevate ignorance to the level of unquestioning obedience.
Whew! I didn’t realize I still felt so strongly about this. I think I owe it to what I learned from my parents – one who, when I was growing up, I thought was The Brain, and the other whom I thought was The Heart. But they worked together in socializing their children. I learned something essential from that.