Canadian theologian, Michael Higgins, recently made this observation. At the upcoming Academy Awards, two movies will take centre stage, Mel Gibson’s, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and Michael Moore’s, FAHRENHEIT 9/11.
What’s interesting about this, Higgins notes, is that, different as they are from each other, both Gibson and Moore are Roman Catholics, each in his own way very committed to what Catholicism means to him. The secular press of course has quickly marginalized this, calling Gibson an extreme, right wing Catholic, on the theological edges of mainstream Catholicism, and simplistically labelling Moore a secular liberal.
This, as Higgins rightly points out, is not exactly the case: Mel Gibson, whether you like him or not, is not so easily categorized, marginalized, and seen as in some kind maverick on the fringe, in antipathy to mainstream Catholic theological tradition. Likewise for Moore: Like him or hate him, he is not a secular liberal, but a Catholic coming out of the tradition of social justice of Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Thomas Merton. He may well push the political envelope further than they did, but what drives him is not secular liberalism (whose agenda no longer in fact often agrees with Moore’s) but his Catholic roots and the social justice tradition he inhaled there.
I highlight this because, whether or not you were inspired or turned off by either of their movies, there is something significant (and wonderful) in the fact that both Gibson and Moore, seemingly at such extreme ends of the ideological and ecclesial universe, claim the same faith allegiance, derive their inspiration from the same source, and, in the end, worship in the same church. That’s a stretch, but, that’s the point, Catholicism is meant to be a stretch, a huge one, taking us where we would rather not go, beyond our comfort-zone, beyond our own kind, beyond the like-minded.
Jesus said: “In my father’s house there are many rooms!” That’s also meant to be a description, at least ideally, of Christianity, Catholicism, the church, and our theological and ideological embrace. A healthy faith community, a healthy church, and a healthy theological community should find enough room inside it for both Mel Gibson and Michael Moore.
Allow me another example: Most every year, unless other commitments make it impossible, I attend a Religious Education Congress (sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles) in Anaheim, California. It’s always an uplifting, faith-filled event within which more than 30,000 Christians come together to reflect on and celebrate their faith. One of the little sub-themes there that I’ve always enjoyed is the particular placing of some of the book displays in the pavilion where the various publishers sell their wares. Invariably you will find, side by side, the booths for the CATHOLIC WORKER and IGNATIUS PRESS. They’re miles apart ideologically (Michael Moore would shop at the former, Mel Gibson at the latter) yet here they are, side by side, on very friendly terms, participating in the same faith event, both representing something important within the same tradition, neither bent on excluding the other.
There’s something important, I believe, to be learned from this, and not just for Roman Catholics. We cannot build either a society or a church with just liberals or just conservatives. To build community we need to work with more than just those who are like-minded. Any community or church built with just the like-minded is not worth belonging to because it reflects neither what’s best inside the human spirit nor, for those of us who are Christians, the inclusive embrace of Christ. A healthy society and a healthy church includes both the Mel Gibsons and the Michael Moores and everyone in between.
But that doesn’t come naturally. What does come naturally is the proclivity to huddle together in fear and like-mindedness, like the disciples before pentecost, barricaded behind locked door with our own kind, paranoid, suspicious of all who are not of our own mind. Not that all of this is bad. Sometimes we need, for a time, nurturing and healing, a convalescence of sorts, inside a more intentional community so that hearts and nerves that have been frayed by division and opposition within family, community, and church have a chance to be more gently massaged and nurtured. Intentional community of this sort, in essence, is the “upper room” the early church retired to, in pain and fear, as it waited for Pentecost.
But it didn’t stay there forever. Indeed, no real community was formed in that room. They huddled together for a while for a purpose, in fear, in loneliness, consoling each other within a certain fragility; but when they finally felt the real power of God’s spirit, they burst out of those narrow confines. Their narrowness and fear gave way to an inclusivity and a courage which enabled them to speak different languages, languages of both the left and the right, languages of both the liberal and the conservative, languages that both Mel Gibson and Michael Moore could hear and take to heart.