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2005.04.11

Comments

Jenny

What interested me most about that article was the exceptionalism: "Oh those American Catholics are sooooooo.... different." And really, we're not. Anecdotely, most of my friends and family in uber-Catholic Poland take even more of an a la carte approach to their faith than many of the American Catholics I know.

Tony

The written word is unbendable. It is the people who are weak.

Lisa

Well, that was insightful. Thanks so much for descending from your lofty pinnacle to dispense your pearl of wisdom. Your fake e-mail address speaks well of the strength of your convictions.

Would that I had all day, that I might devote myself to prayerful contemplation of your message. I could then figure out the answer to such questions as, "Well, who WROTE that unbendable word? And who brought forth the language in which the unbendable word was written? And from whence was it passed unto man, and by what means?" Because surely, such unbendable words weren't brought into the realm of man by weak people. So how was the gap bridged?

You can see where I'm now consumed with the desire to ponder what appears to be a divine chicken-and-egg question.

MamaKaren

I've had many discussions about this topic with both my mother (a practicing Catholic who strongly disagrees with a number of the more political rules of the Church) and my sister (who could not reconcile her disagreement with those rules with an ability to be a practicing Catholic.) I don't think anyone ever finds a religion that is totally in line with everything he believes, and determining what aspects are the core of the religion and what aspects are the whims of those in power is the biggest struggle.

I agree with Jenny, above. American Catholics are probably not that much further divided from the Vatican as many other countries' Catholics are, I think we are just more willing to be vocal about the fact that we won't pretend to agree.

Much of my faith comes down to acting in a way in my personal life that I believe supports what the Church tells me is right, but I cannot make those decisions for anyone else. Faith is too personal for that.

Shotrock

My mother has the most succinct expression of where she, I, and most of our family fall vis-a-vis the current (and, given Ratzinger, the future) state of the Catholic church.

"I haven't lost my faith. But I have lost my religion."

ginger

I'm amused that Mr. Preachy Off-topic there, the one with the fake e-mail, forgot that it's "unbendable Word," not "word."

Brandy

I don't think anyone ever finds a religion that is totally in line with everything he believes

This is a very interesting comment to me - the idea of religious belief as consumer preference versus truth. I think that may be the real switch between so-called traditionalists and modernists, that their faith is no longer "what is real and true" but rather "what I like and is convenient". It's not just a hallmark of Catholics, although because the Roman Catholic church is such a large, influential body it's easier to identify and discuss rather than in the various smaller groups of Protestant denominations.

I kind of wonder what faith becomes if it's solely based on what happens to suit us. Eventually, doesn't that trend just descend into a "religion of me" - whatever is easiest, most fun, most interesting, most enjoyable for me becomes the definition of right?

determining what aspects are the core of the religion and what aspects are the whims of those in power is the biggest struggle.

Having said the above, I do agree with this portion ... you always have to examine what parts of your religious practice are pure human convention versus a fundamental part of the faith. I understand why some people find dancing or card-playing a temptation to sin, and why they prefer not to do it; but to elevate "this is a temptation for me" to "nobody should ever do it, ever" is just the flip side of the "I am the determiner of what is right" mindset. Many other conventions - how one takes Communion, what liturgies are used, which feasts are observed, what kind of worship music you like - are not core Christian doctrine, but just behavior styles that fit a particular group of people. But where do we go to determine what is core and what is true? Do we use Scripture as the authority, or is the reference again ourselves and our personal preferences?

Roger

I kind of wonder what faith becomes if it's solely based on what happens to suit us. Eventually, doesn't that trend just descend into a "religion of me" - whatever is easiest, most fun, most interesting, most enjoyable for me becomes the definition of right?

Not at all. This is hardly a new trend, and is a large factor in why there are so many Christian sects and sub-sects today. One group doesn't agree with the way their church does certain things, so they split off and form their own church. Individuals do the same. Many of the founders of the US, including the first three presidents, were Deists, eschewing organized religion entirely. Yet we haven't descended into religious disorder yet. In fact it's clear that the churches are more powerful than ever in this country. People overall want to belong. Most would rather join an organized group than be independent. Yet there will always be those few who choose to do things their own way.

Your comments about the "core" beliefs and human conventions are apt. But how do you determine which is which? The church tells us to believe in its teachings, to accept on faith that what it tells us is right. Simply by questioning whether some of those tenets are "human" rather than "essential", you're already rebelling. How do you resolve that question? By examining the texts yourself? By that point you're already forming your "cult of one" - you're choosing what to believe and what not to believe on your own basis, rather than accepting the church wholesale.

It's useful to remember that the church is an entirely human institution, and as such is subject to imperfection. If it were possible to divine "God's true will," we wouldn't see such variety of sects - or possibly even different religions.

As well, not long ago the church was a political and authoritarian institution as much as religious. Many of the tenets of the church come from those backgrounds, when the church ruled for the good of the uneducated masses - and for its own good. For instance, the Jewish kosher laws were very useful at a time when people were not so knowledgeable about disease, and were not so careful with cleanliness in the kitchen. The Catholic rules against birth control and for frequent procreation were useful when infant mortality was high - and to ensure an ever-increasing supply of adherents, and thus increasing the power and reach of the church.

The churches for the most part simply have not kept up with the times. They adhere to "traditions" that were useful when they were instated, but are no longer so. To take look at American politics recently, you would think that Christianity was all about telling people how to behave, rather than about God. And that's where the church is failing. Too little emphasis is placed on teaching people how to be good, responsible believers, and too much on dictating how people, especially those of other faiths (or no faith), should live their lives. The church is used to making our decisions for us, and people today are finding they don't like that very much.

I think I have posted this once before, but I'm reminded of it again. I saw a bumper sticker a few months ago that I really liked:

Spiritual people inspire me; religious people frighten me.

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