Sunday, September 15, 2013

Faith and not Religion? A Response

This was a response that someone, a non-Catholic Christian, wrote to me regarding my piece One Voice: Concrete Catholicism. I thought it would be worth sharing. I hope it is. The person who wrote to me is indicated by italics. My responses follow below.

A Response

That being said, I've noticed a trend that began years ago—I'm not sure exactly when it was; I personally became aware of it roughly 6-7 years ago. It's the whole "I have a relationship, not a religion" idea. Now, it's not so much the idea itself that I'm calling into question (that's another topic), but more so the motivation behind its appearance.

In effect, it's a trend that has its origins nearly 400-700 years ago. It can be linked to a trust in personal faith, a sort of "faith alone" and "Scripture alone" mentality. Religiously speaking these are primary suspects. Why? Whose faith is "faith alone" regarded as? The faith of the individual. If I only need faith, why do I need religion? Why do I need brothers and sisters in faith? Why do I really need a community, rules, disciplines, etc. if God forgives me anyway? Scripture alone likewise ties into personal interpretation. [Another person who commented on this piece], whom you've seen responding to you here, wrote a comment (that I need to get to) wherein one cannot err "if he has the Holy Spirit with him."

This is a fine sentiment, except it seems 20 people have the Holy Spirit with them with 25 different views. When one approaches Scripture as a rogue, a ronin, or an anti-religious he will almost always fail in interpreting Scripture. He may, and probably will, receive some personal, spiritual edification but Scripture is not a personal book, it's a book of the people of God--written for each while simultaneously written for all.

When we make faith a matter of "me" and the Bible "my Bible" we don't need religion, just ourselves.

Religion has come to have a negative connotation, especially in recent decades. At my university, on much of the television, in numerous academic writings, and in many other places, we learn about how dangerous religion can be. We're told how it started the bloodiest of wars and the darkest of ages.

Despite a rather elementary understanding of human history, where bloodier and more costly wars were waged in the name of the god called "the State" and "the King," the middle ages (so called) and the crusades were labeled as epochs and acts of cruelty in the name of God. In all ages there are cruelties justified by a number of things. Did religion motivate people to violence? Of course. But was all that violence by necessity unjust? Did religion only motivate violence while the indomitable human spirit and human goodwill motivate all works of charity and justice? I think we find these simple categories to be false.

Religion can be dangerous, perhaps, but individuals who are moral agents and who are ruled by either sin or vice are more dangerous. Religion is not harmful unless its precepts are harmful--the problem is that so many people today would rather just redefine what's harmful so that religion and harm to self/others/mankind are the same.

Religion, properly called, preaches discipline, measured thinking within boundaries, morality, and a balance between tolerance and conservation. If others laugh at that statement, I'm willing to bet they're less tolerant than any religion they make fun of.

This sentiment also comes from a hatred for humanity, which can also be seen in the sciences, though we hardly take notice of it. Science soon developed in such a way that our personal experience and perspectives ruined any chance at "objectivity." Science is conducted and perceived in such a manner that human beings more often "get in the way" of 'progress' than anything else. Those who abandon religion for a number of reasons see it as "man getting in the way of God" even though the origins of belief, faith, and the like are rooted in community, the same way that knowledge is linked, in part, to our communal experience of the world. Faith and science alike have communal aspects and individual ones.

A short time after all of this starts up, I see Christians distancing themselves from this by saying that what they have isn't a religion but a relationship with Jesus.

Some of them are afraid of being identified with what is labeled as "bigotry" or "antihumanism" preferring rather the safety of saying "I believe by myself, not any of that stuff." It's party timidness and partly cowardice, but it's likely inherited and cultured cowardice. Christians who distance themselves from a community of believers are not so much Christians as they are individuals who believe some things Christ taught. Christ formed a community, not a confederation of believers.

Perhaps "cowardice" is a bit uncharitable of me. It could also be faultless ignorance or simply a rejection of a communal faith. Any relationship with Jesus is always with His Church too, since the Church is His body. No relationship to the Church, no meaningful relationship with Jesus.