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An Interview with Diarmuid O'Murchu


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by Gerry McCarthy

Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu is a social psychologist and member of the Sacred Heart Missionary Congregation. He lives in London, England.

O'Murchu has written numerous books, including:
Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics, Reclaiming Spirituality: A New Spiritual Framework for Today's World, Poverty, Celibacy, and Obedience: A Radical Option for Life, and Evolutionary Faith: Rediscovering God in Our Great Story.

A revised edition of Quantum Theology was published last year by Crossroad. I reached Fr. O'Murchu in Peru to speak about the book and other issues.

Gerry McCarthy: You've spoken about the need to re-conceptualize what sexuality is and what it's about. Can you talk to me about this?

Diarmuid O'Murchu:
I have spent 15 years working as a couples counselor and 6 years as an AIDS-HIV counselor. This provides something of the experiential background for my views on human sexuality.

     Our current understanding of human sexuality strikes me as being heavily influenced by classical Greek thought. One example is Aristotle. For Aristotle, men alone are sexual, they alone possess the seed; women are endowed with wombs, biological receptacles for the fertilization of the seed which hopefully will produce a proper human being, namely a male.

     Thomas Aquinas embraced this view, so did the Council of Trent. Hence the first Catholic theology of marriage, the purpose of which was: the procreation of the species. In this view there is nothing to sex except biological reproduction.

     The view is still widely adopted especially by the major religions. Meanwhile, from about the middle of the last century a new consciousness around sexuality began to evolve, one far more congruent with how humans have understood sexuality in ancient, pre-Greek times. Sexuality is understood to be a spiritually infused, erotic, psychic energy, generative of creativity and intimacy, with procreation as just one possible outcome.

     This is now the prevailing view, and in my opinion will continue to be so, despite the fact that no government or religion has yet officially endorsed it. Perhaps, the consciousness is not yet ready, but meanwhile there is gross confusion around this very central aspect of our human experience. You'll find more on this topic in my books Reclaiming Spirituality and in Poverty, Celibacy and Obedience.

GM: In Quantum Theology you write that: "Although many religions acknowledge and advocate a 'personal relationship with God,' they distrust human feeling and emotion. Love for most of the religions is a rather cerebral concept, often disembodied from real people in a real world." I saw this as an extremely important passage in the book. How do Christian church leaders react when you speak about this? Has this message resonated with people you've spoken to in various parts of the world?

DO: The problem here is the fact that all the major religions operate out of a patriarchal frame of reference, generating a kind of co-dependency that is both subtle and pervasive. It manifests in language like: Father God, Mother Church, children of the faith etc. And the pedagogy in which we pass on faith tends not to embrace the principles of adult learning.

     Now all religions embrace the notion of a God of unconditional love, but consistently experience it as a love that is mediated often with some very severe and limiting conditions laid down. Increasingly, Christians find this oppressive and manipulative, and for growing numbers of women, it is alienating them from Church and religion. Some folks these days feel that they know the love of God much more deeply through nature, or through justice work, rather than through Church life.

GM: You've written that: "The major sin of our time is specieism, the human-structural assumption that humans are the ultimate life form under God and are entitled to lord it over the rest of creation." Since you published Quantum Theology over 7 years ago --have you recognized more acknowledgement of this sin among Christians?

The acknowledgement has definitely grown among people in general and I think it is the general consciousness that has forced Christians to grapple with the issue of anthropocentrism (always prioritizing the human). Christians who grapple with this issue --in my opinion-- do so more outside Church contexts than within. Once again, patriarchal institutions are not amenable to such unmasking of their underlying biases.

GM: Reports on our ecological crisis continue to appear. Last October, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment was released. We learn that annual average temperatures in the north will rise between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius on land and up to 7 degrees Celsius over the Arctic Ocean, with winter temperatures increasing even more. According to some estimates, climate change will mean that over a million discrete forms of life will be extinct by 2050. Have you witnessed more urgency among people of faith to address this crisis?

There are movements within all the religions striving to incorporate the serious ecological plight in which we find ourselves today. These movements need all the support and affirmation we can give them, because in all cases they are a tiny minority within a faith or denomination, and they tend to be looked at askance by the majority of adherents within those systems. They provide important support for people of faith who want to embrace these urgent questions of our time, but they are unlikely to make any major inroads into the churches or the religions.

GM: In Quantum Theology you explain that: "The church --which is rarely mentioned in the Gospels-- is intended to be the servant and herald of the New Reign of God in the world. The major problem facing the Christian Churches today is that they have lost touch with the Kin(g)dom agenda. The churches have largely betrayed the raison d'être of their existence." Do you have any sense that Christian Churches are attempting to get back in touch with the reason for their existence?

In spite of their resistance, the churches are being forced to reclaim the priority of the Kingdom, but we also need to note that the Kingdom is flourishing outside the churches, far more effectively and creatively than within. This is largely the work of lay people from the ground up rather than of leaders from the top down. Lay people who have studied theology or spirituality, or who are involved in justice work, are the pioneers of this new and exciting development of our time. The Kingdom has outgrown the Church now, and I am not sure if the formal churches will ever really catch up, because they are still clinging on to baggage from the patriarchal past.

GM: You've written that the spiritual imagination "needs to be reawakened from its deadening and deadly entrenchment in mechanistic modeling, rational thought, and mental atrophy." Do you see signs that this imagination is being awakened?

Yes, definitely. So many people these days are reading, reflecting, questioning, and exploring spiritual meaning. Many people also do a daily meditation practice. And growing numbers are grappling with work and economics to see how we can infuse that side of human life with more creativity and imagination. That is not an easy one. But it has to be said again that most people don't look to church or religion to feed the imagination.

GM: In Quantum Theology you wrote about our "cosmic homelessness." What sort of reaction to the book surprised you the most?

For me Quantum Theology embraces the same wisdom as that of the New Cosmology explored by people like Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, Rosemary Radford Ruether and several others. We look on creation as being alive, spirit-infused and primed for relationships.

     Many people have been so conditioned and indoctrinated that they fail to realize how alienated they are from their own true selves, and from the deeper mysteries of planet and cosmos. Millions go into jobs every day into which they cannot take their real selves, but feel they have to do it to survive. It strikes me that there is a lot of psychic pain around, and people have been numbed to bear and tolerate it. But more people are also awakening and realizing that things can be different, and that it is worth paying a price to make them different. And there begins the long --and at times painful-- journey to a deeper place called "home," and this has cosmic, planetary and personal dimensions to it. There is more on this topic in my book Religion in Exile.

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