[Jesus said,] "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea." -- Mark 9:42
OVER THE PAST WEEK, had been dismayed by a discovery that the book stall at my parish might not be wholly Catholic. The stall carries a number of "bestseller" books by Karen Armstrong who, upon closer scrutiny, turned out to be an ex-Catholic and an ex-nun. Upon browsing, was startled to read that the author thinks that the God experiences (e.g., visions, ecstasies) of saints and religious people were probably created via imagination or some brain convulsions. Raised my concern to one of the stallholders, but she was indifferent, "Go ask our supplier W."
Later, posted an online query and did some Internet search on the author. Armstrong has apparently moved so far away from the doctrines of the Church that she openly supports same-sex marriages and female priests in a gay rights article only two months ago, (Marriages made in heaven). Her writings in a book Beginning the World were quoted as evidence in an atheist Web page Does God Exist?
Sms'ed and then emailed my concern to W. Was rather unsettled to receive an unrepentent reply, "...To preclude and exclude such literatures and thinkings would be burying our heads in the sands.... If there are not dissenting views, that day is a sad day." Are the dissenting views around us not enough? Must a Catholic bookstore add to them? Can we no longer trust such stores to provide unadulterated Catholic literature?
The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, 'Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' " -- Matthew 13:24-30
EMAILED MY SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR about this. Was nonplussed to receive a "let-it-be" reply, "In the gospel there is a parable of the darnel (the weeds among the wheat). God Our Lord allows disordered people and unrepentent sinners to live in the Church even though they have been baptized. There are also many wicked people in this world who are companions of the devils. God gives them freedom, and allows them to do what they want. Misleading books have been circulating in the world for centuries. God knows everyone's heart. At the end of time, God will make His final judgment. Do not worry. God is the master of history and the savior of all people.
"We have to be faithful to our Christian commitment and undertake our responsibilities as Christians. While we try our best to help and save souls, ultimately salvation of souls requires God's power and love. Afterall we have to put our faith and trust in God."
Was baffled for awhile. Is my faith in God too weak? But wouldn't God want me to do something about this -- we are supposed to be God's eyes, mouths, hands, etc., right? But then, in response to some nasty criticism, Mother Theresa had once said, "No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work".
Eventually, decided that i'll just do my part (e.g., point out whatever problems that i can see to the relevant parties as charitably and humbly as i can), then smile, let go and let God do the rest.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. -- Romans 16:17, KJV
Born a Roman Catholic in England in 1945, Armstrong apparently gave up on religion after her time in the convent in 1970s, then went from atheist to "freelance monotheist" in 1980s but has never returned to the Catholic Church or joined any other. (see Interview and article on Karen Armstrong).
In the book The History of God (1993), on pg. 233, Armstrong wrote, "Today many people in the West would be dismayed if a leading theologian suggested that God was in some profound sense a product of the imagination... The idea of God, however it is defined, is perhaps the prime example of an absent reality which... has continued to inspire men and women for thousands of years." (See online quote in Karen Armstrong: Religion in Our Time.)
In another book Beginning the World (1983), Armstrong wrote, "My neurologist once told me that people with temporal lobe epilepsy are very often intensely religious... When Theresa of Avila had her three-day vision of hell, was she simply having a temporal lobe attack?... Is it possible that the feeling I have had all my life that something - God, perhaps? - is just over the horizon, something unimaginable but almost tangibly present, is simply the result of an electrical irregularity in my brain? ... God, if He exists, could have created us with that capacity for Him, glimpsed at only when the brain is convulsed." (See quote in an atheist Web page Does God Exist?.)
Here, she spinned a theory that brain convulsions could cause a sensory (possibly unreal) experience of God, and NOT the other way round -- that a sensory (real) experience of God could cause brain convulsions. While she didn't say outright that God does not exist, she suggested that it's quite possible that God doesn't exist ("God, if He exists") and if at all, only in imaginations and brain convulsions. Armstrong's experiences of God probably come from brain convulsions, as her neurologist said. But this does not necessarily apply to all other people's experiences of God. She must conduct a larger scale research to determine this, and not make unscientific pronouncements.
In addition, with her support for deviant behavior such as same-sex marriages and female priests (Marriages made in heaven), Armstrong has moved far away from Catholic doctrine. As such, her books may have a place in a secular library, bookstore, etc. But they should not be made available in a Catholic library, bookstore, church, etc, where we normally expect to find Catholic and NOT deviant or alternative literature.
By the way, yesterday was Saint Pio's feastday. He had visions of Jesus when very young (Padre Pio The Mystic - Spiritual Life). He also had the visible stigmata since 1918 which later miraculously disappeared upon his death in 1968, just as he had foretold (Highlights of Padre Pio's life).
Note: I have read Armstrong's book, The History of God - a few pages here and there, though not the whole book - at my parish bookstall for about 5-10 minutes or more. The passages which I highlight here are from Armstrong's books and not review comments. They are similar to those that I read in the book then.