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In search of the spiritual

posted by awelborn

The Newsweek cover package this week on spirituality

Whatever is going on here, it’s not an explosion of people going to church. The great public manifestations of religiosity in America today—the megachurches seating 8,000 worshipers at one service, the emergence of evangelical preachers as political power brokers—haven’t been reflected in increased attendance at services. Of 1,004 respondents to the NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll, 45 percent said they attend worship services weekly, virtually identical to the figure (44 percent) in a Gallup poll cited by Time in 1966. Then as now, however, there is probably a fair amount of wishful thinking in those figures; researchers who have done actual head counts in churches think the figure is probably more like 20 percent. There has been a particular falloff in attendance by African-Americans, for whom the church is no longer the only respectable avenue of social advancement, according to Darren Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University. The fastest-growing category on surveys that ask people to give their religious affiliation, says Patricia O’Connell Killen of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., is "none." But "spirituality," the impulse to seek communion with the Divine, is thriving. The NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll found that more Americans, especially those younger than 60, described themselves as "spiritual" (79 percent) than "religious" (64 percent). Almost two thirds of Americans say they pray every day, and nearly a third meditate.

These figures tell you more about what Americans care about than a 10,000-foot-high monument to the Ten Commandments. "You can know all about God," says Tony Campolo, a prominent evangelist, "but the question is, do you know God? You can have solid theology and be orthodox to the core, but have you experienced God in your own life?" In the broadest sense, Campolo says, the Christian believer and the New Age acolyte are on the same mission: "We are looking for transcendence in the midst of the mundane." And what could be more mundane than politics? Seventy-five percent say that a "very important" reason for their faith is to "forge a personal relationship with God"—not fighting political battles.

Today, then, the real spiritual quest is not to put another conservative on the Supreme Court, or to get creation science into the schools. If you experience God directly, your faith is not going to hinge on whether natural selection could have produced the flagellum of a bacterium. If you feel God within you, then the important question is settled; the rest is details.

The poll results

This is very interesting (and not surprising) –  publishers of religious-related books have known that The Seeker is where it’s at for ages. I’ll have more to say this afternoon. Get started, if you like.

I suppose what irks me the most is the fuzzy understanding of the terms. How did religions screw up so badly that so many of is see them as the enemy of authentic spirituality? How is it that someone can embrace spirituality – let’s say Christian spirituality of whatever kind – and not understand that this Christian spirituality did not just filter down through the air, but has come to you, mediated, at some point, by a religious tradition and community?

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posted August 23, 2005 at 9:40 am

Maybe it’s because many religious traditions and communities nowadays seem designed to prevent us from encountering God.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 9:54 am

The most important dimension of the issue, in practical terms, was buried in the last two paragraphs of the main story:
“So, a generation after the question was posed, we can certainly answer that God seems very much alive in the hearts of those who seek him. We have come a long way, it would appear, from that dark year when the young Catholic philosopher Michael Novak was quoted in Time, saying, “If, occasionally, I raise my heart in prayer, it is to no God I can see, or hear, or feel.” To make the point, we gave Novak, who is now 72 and among the most distinguished theologians in America, the chance to correct the record on his youthful despair. And he replied that God is as far away as he’s ever been. Religious revivals are always exuberant and filled with spirit, he says, but the true measure of faith is in adversity and despair, when God doesn’t show up in every blade of grass or storefront church. “That’s when the true nature of belief comes out,” he says. “Joy is appropriate to the beginnings of your faith. But sooner or later somebody will get cancer, or your best friends will betray you. That’s when you will be tested.”
So let us say together: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Sh’ma Yisrael. Allahu Akbar. Om. And store up the light against the darkness.”

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TCYM Lounge

posted August 23, 2005 at 10:00 am

Did you catch The Today Show yesterday morning? They did a segment on it and the Catholic kid that they interviewed was from Franciscan-and it was pretty good!
I’m with you though and found the terms used, ah, interesting. Why is “religious” and “spiritual” void of each other?

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posted August 23, 2005 at 10:13 am

Um. Well.
On the one hand, yeah, you have to be ready for the Dark Night of the Soul, spiritual dryness, and just plain being one of those people who only approaches God intellectually. (Like Dorothy L. Sayers, by her own account.) So I can kinda see Novak’s point.
OTOH, it’s kinda rude to say to God to say that you can only know Him through sheer faith and determination, and in the dark times. He did create the Sun and the stars as well as the darkness.
I agree that many religious institutions seem to flee immanence/transcendence at all costs and avoid talking about it as embarrassing, a shameful remnant of the past. Which is stupid. Others dumb down the whole holy thing into a single emotion or experience, which is just as stupid.
Even if nothing else mattered (like, say, the fact God exists and cares about what you’re up to and think about Him), this sort of thing just plain isn’t survival-oriented. Belief systems need belief to continue to be systems, don’t they?
So people get so hungry to believe in something that they get into all sorts of trouble, if they’re not lucky, and waste their time staring into tiny corners of religion or believing in practically nothing, if they’re a bit more fortunate. But even those of us who are luckier have often had a hard time finding good learning materials. (Although the Internet helps a lot. Yay for the public domain!)
I do think, though, that we really need to emphasize not only more devotion, but more different ways of devotion. What suits one person’s personality and capabilities is often nearly useless for another, which is why the Catholic tradition includes so very many ways to pray.
Maybe religious ed teachers should let kids in on more of these ways to pray. Do active kids know that you can pray while working and playing? Do kids with good visual imaginations know that they’re allowed to picture the Mysteries of the Rosary? Etc., etc….
See, I’ve seen way too many people going to weird religions and odd books, just to reinvent standard Catholic practices that they should have been aware of from childhood. (Myself, I read about Fatima and the Little Flower and the saints, which teaches you tons about prayer practices if you’re paying attention.) It breaks my heart to see people acting this way when they don’t have to. (Or thinking they’ve got need to rebel when they don’t….)
Similarly, I think the how-to books on the Eucharist from Amy’s husband are the kind of things all kids (and adults) should learn; there are a lot of bored kids (and adults) doing nothing but sitting through Mass, when they could be finding their own ways to better participate in prayer.

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chris K

posted August 23, 2005 at 10:17 am

So, after decades of happy grazing through the smorgasboard of “religious beliefs”, one is surprised that we’ve wound up, human naturely speaking, at the dessert section? 5 slices of chocolate cake seems wonderful for the moment…but the suffering comes later. I don’t think that the real traditonal way of presenting the Truth has failed…it’s just that it’s harder to digest the meat…unless one is taught that that has to come before dessert.
But “spirituality,” the impulse to seek communion with the Divine, is thriving.
And thus, everso…but, how convenient for this particular article to act as though this generation is somehow more gifted or enlightened to still be “seeking”. Perhaps, one day, they too will do some navel gazing and discover that everyone from the beginning of time until the end has that God given hole in their being that must be filled. And the “seeking” will continue while the seekers attempt to fit dessert into that space made for the soul’s nutrition.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 10:27 am

What I found most interesting was the answers of the 18-39s. Compared to people over 40,
–13% fewer identified themselves as Christian
–8% fewer identified as evangelical Protestant
–2-5% identified as non-evangelical Protestant
–the same amount identified as Roman Catholic
–4-6% more identified as atheist or agnostic
–5-6% more said “religion undesignated”
I don’t know to what extent these are lasting moves away from Christianity and to what extent young people will become more religious as they age. One thing I found interesting is that among the denominations–the evangelical Churches that are supposedly the ones growing the most, do worse at retaining young members than mainline Protestants (where the larger difference is 60+ and 40-60) and Catholics.
There seem to be a number of questions referred to in the article and not listed in the poll results.

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Mark Shea

posted August 23, 2005 at 10:57 am

Since paganism–that is, the impulse to seek God through the imagination–is one of the most ancient and persistent human impulses in the world, I don’t know that it’s fair to lay everything at the feet of organized religion. People have *always* sought God and a certain percentage of them have always regarded creation as a barrier rather than a door.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 11:33 am

Many 14th century people’s in Central and South America were very “spiritual”, but they also practiced human sacrifice on a gargantuan scale. It took the truth of Jesus Christ to abolish the evil spiritualism in practice, and civilize a continent.
Much of Europe was quite “spiritual”, but millions perished in the Holocaust.
America is considered a “religious” country, yet 4000 kids are murdered every day by way of ‘legal’ abortion.
People don’t want to humble themselves before God. People want to feel warm and fuzzy but not be “constrained” by “dogma”. It’s an illusion. The very teachings of the Catholic faith are the path to happiness in this life and the next, they’re not arbitrary rules God places upon one like a yoke on oxen.
We Americans are not a humble people nor do we trust God. It’s that simple. Humility asks of you to accept the word of God without question. Yeah, it’s really hard and we all fail miserably. But, the sin of pride provokes people to search for “spirituality” but cast off any responsibility to God’s Commandments and the teachings of Christ and His Church. It’s why we use birth control, why we divorce, why we abort.
Spirituality is great, feeling good is great, but God isn’t Dr. Phil, God constructed the universe and all of us to love Him for all eternity. Sometimes love requires sacrifice, that’s what true faith becomes manifest. When we can lay down our own desires and wishes simply because we love God.

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John P Sheridan

posted August 23, 2005 at 11:51 am

Just an observation, but this poll really does not tell us whether evangelical churches are retaining young members or not. All it does is give us a snapshot of how people of different ages identified themselves at a certain point in time.
For example, immigrants tend to be younger, and a lot of recent immigrants are from non-Christian backgrounds. So that could be a possible alternative explanation.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 11:52 am

“How did religions screw up so badly that so many of is see them as the enemy of authentic spirituality?”
1) “Busy-ness is the enemy of a spiritual life”.
2) Mark Shea’s odd definition of paganism notwithstanding, a spiritual life requires the ability (and humility) to imagine a God greater — infinitely greater — than ourselves. Organized religion can be the enemy of imagination if it insists on closing the box around God.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 11:57 am

As would be expected, B16 is all over this, but the MSM media misses it —
“In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him. But at the same time there is a feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction with everyone and everything. People tend to exclaim: ‘This cannot be what life is about!’ Indeed not. And so, together with forgetfulness of God there is a kind of new explosion of religion. I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon. There may be sincere joy in the discovery. Yet if it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion constructed on a ‘do-it-yourself’ basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves.” — WYD Sunday Homily

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posted August 23, 2005 at 12:22 pm

I think probably most people I know would identify themselves as spiritual rather than religious. Most people I know would identify themselves as independant rather than dem or repub. Maybe the way things are culturally leads us to shun organization when it isn’t organized by ourselves? Individualism vs. altruism (or something like that, I am no intellectual)? I also think a lot of the spirituality found is rooted in intellectual laziness or maybe because we are too busy with a million silly things to have the time to sit and think alone or to read something beyond romance novels or Dan Brown or John Grisham.

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RP Burke

posted August 23, 2005 at 12:22 pm

I saw a presentation by a professor of religion at a Lutheran college in the western U.S., where he said that the dominant religious profession out there is “None.”

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Fr. Jorge Salinas

posted August 23, 2005 at 12:27 pm

As a Catholic priest I find myself urged to the task of the ‘new evangelization’ in communion with John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 12:42 pm

How did religions screw up so badly that so many of is see them as the enemy of authentic spirituality?
Jesus had the same problem as you, Amy.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 12:50 pm

“See, I’ve seen way too many people going to weird religions and odd books, just to reinvent standard Catholic practices that they should have been aware of from childhood. (Myself, I read about Fatima and the Little Flower and the saints, which teaches you tons about prayer practices if you’re paying attention.) It breaks my heart to see people acting this way when they don’t have to. (Or thinking they’ve got need to rebel when they don’t….)”
Amen, amen, amen
This is what we get for downplaying the rosary, First Fridays, meditation, and all those other out-dated things the “new” Catholics wanted to throw out.
Just recently, maybe in the Newsweek or Time online, I was reading about a young priest who cobbled some things together to help his young people to do some meditating. Hey, we already have lectio divina, Stations of the Cross, the rosary, and just plain old church visits before they locked up the churches. A lot of young folks don’t realize that lots of us old folks were in the habit of just dropping by and sitting quietly in front of the Blessed Sacrament before we had to institute formal Adoration. Heck, we’ve already got the Divine Office, the Hours, and out medieval churches had stained glass windows to contemplate.
Did you folks read the one blogger talking about the Cologne cathedral and how each huge window told a story in pictures all about a saint’s life or an episode in the Bible. He was surprised b/c nowadays windows just have simple themes.
Maybe we should play up the exotic nature of real Catholicism to the kids. Be adventurous, be a real Catholic. Get a tonsure !!!
You want something far out, try reading Teresa of Avila and show them the scandalous sculpture of her in Rome. Talk about ecstacy.
I think B16 is going to be very good for the Church; he complements what JPII did.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 12:53 pm

“This is what we get for downplaying the rosary, First Fridays, meditation, and all those other out-dated things the “new” Catholics wanted to throw out.”
Ah, Julia, but then us converts sneak in the back door and latch onto them again!!

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posted August 23, 2005 at 12:57 pm

Oh, and one more thing about the windows in the Cologne Cathedral — they were a very concrete means of catechesis before the printing press arrived. Even the most illiterate peasant could learn Bible stories from those windows.
Not to mention that the windows were also very beautiful.

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Tim Ferguson

posted August 23, 2005 at 1:25 pm

Here’s an analogy: being “spiritual” = eating healthy. being “religious” = following a particular diet plan.
Somehow, we Catholics need to convince (or re-convince) people that being Catholic and following Christ is not merely one “diet plan” among many, but is the surest, most tested way of “eating healthy”.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 2:25 pm

I blame the culture in general; and Hollywood, the recording industry, and the MSM in particular. As the father of two teenagers that I am desparately trying to resuce from paganism, I am constantly fighting the cultural assumption that any institution of faith must be made up of hypocrites, social climbers, and pedophiles. My 18 year old daughter is as sweet and naturally moral as any parent could ask for, but she thinks of church as a waste of time. (And her Catholic Grade School teachers didn’t help – one of the things they told her was that parents can’t force kids to go to Church).
And then she turns on the radio or the TV and the attack on her resumes. In the short run, my wife and I just keep trying. In the long run, I pray that this 40-year-old madness that we have descended into (in almost every area of human thought) will eventually be reversed.
When I was growing up (late 50’s and early 60’s) the bastions of faith and culture were still in place, though under assault. My wife and I made the mistake of thinking that if we lived the kind of lives we were taught (and believed) were moral, and taught our children the same things, we would get similar results, but the parameters have been changed, and all you parents of kids under 10, prepare now: if I could change one thing about my life, I would homeschool my kids. The “benefits” of school, even a Catholic school, and not worth it.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 2:49 pm

Discussion of “what religions are doing wrong” misses the point.
Our civilization underwent one of the most radical cultural revolutions in human history during the mid-20th century (especially between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s), the effects of which are still playing out and likely will continue to play out for generations to come.
People who reject a priori traditional religious teachings related to sex, sexuality, the family, and authority simply can’t be accommodated (without conversion) by faithful, coherent Christianity. Liberal Protestantism has tried desperately to square this circle, with predictable moral and intellectual incoherence followed by demographic collapse.
Today millions of people in North America, Europe and Australia believe (often without really thinking about it) that men and women are essentially interchangeable, that sexual relations are only immoral if one of the parties fails to “consent”, that family structures are mere social constructs, and that each individual has to self-determine the meaning of life, which “values” are important, and how to find “fulfillment”. These people have spiritual longings just like everyone else. But those longings can not be met by Christianity (or Judaism or Islam, for that matter) until the underlying cultural assumptions are changed.
Any Christianity that tries to “meet where they are” people in this position, without challenging forthrightly their beliefs, would be a false gospel. So let’s not pretend this is all a matter of repackaging the Christian message in a way that’s more attractive to spiritual “seekers.” There are far larger issues at work here.

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Chris Sullivan

posted August 23, 2005 at 3:16 pm

I think the Holy Father at WYD hit on two aspects of organised religion which drives people away in drives :-
1. The perception that organised religion is all about rules and not about love.
2. All that darnel in the Church.
God Bless

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posted August 23, 2005 at 4:36 pm

Spirituality is all the warm fuzzies without any of those pesky Thou Shalt Nots.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 4:57 pm

I love Julia’s comments… “This is what we get for downplaying the rosary, First Fridays, meditation, and all those other out-dated things the “new” Catholics wanted to throw out.’
We all know that mass is the most wonderful a nd powerful prayer, but it would not hurst to have more communal prayer, devotion, and meditation. But it also begins with us. Sometime at mass look around. There are many people that are just sitting there distracted by other things, talking to neighbors, or balancing the checkbook. How many churches do we go where the people are singing with passion and open hearts? I wonder how much this has to do with the intensity of our prayer life beyond mass. Are we really filled with the Spirit?

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posted August 23, 2005 at 7:52 pm

Greg: At age 18, I felt very much like your daughter did. Despite 12 years in parochial schools (plus a degree from a Catholic university), I basically stopped attending Mass after college and didn’t come back to the Church until recently. I just turned 46.
I was never one of those raging, embittered lapsed Catholics. The truth be told, I hadn’t been presented with anything to feel strongly about, one way or the other. One doesn’t feel bitter about cotton candy. (At least not until I came back and realized that I had missed out on steak.) I fell away because I found it all a crashing bore. All the things which had awakened my interest and imagination as a child – the candles, the “Lives of the Saints,” the holy cards, the confessional, the differences between moral and venal sins – had been set aside in favor a sort of gooey feel-goodism and “social justice.”
Now, I believe that the Church certainly should be feeding the hungry and offering succor to the poor, the sick, etc., just as Christ taught. The problem is that if good works come to hold center stage and doctrine and dogma become mere afterthoughts, what keeps the clergy from becoming, basically, slightly differently dressed social workers? Especially when members of the clergy tell you themselves that God doesn’t mind if you go to Church or not, all that matters is being “a good person.” Gee, thanks, Father! In that case, I’ll sleep in next Sunday!
Middle age brings a different perspective. I’ve seen so many friends, every one of them “a good person,” make hashes of their lives at this point (not to mention the hash I made of my own life) by trying to do it all their own way. The drug addictions, the broken marriages, the abortions, the severe depressions, the desperate clinging to adolesence and absolute terror of age, and all the other manifestations of “self-will run riot,” as a friend in AA puts it, take their toll by the time 45 rolls around. The combination of seeing what anguish the credo of personal satisfaction at all costs was creating on a personal level, as well as on a societal one, gradually sent me back to Mother Church. (Or, I should say, Mother Church pulled me back. Believe me, I didn’t come charging back into the pews shouting “I’m BAAAACK!” I trudged in looking like a whipped dog.)
Now that I’m back, I want the steak, not the cotton candy, although steak is harder to chew. I’m too old to feel that “I’ll sit in the park and feel at one with the sky and the ducks and that’s as good as the Eucharist” is anything but a lazy dodge.

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Sr. Lorraine

posted August 23, 2005 at 8:06 pm

Among other factors, I think that one reason people say they’re “spiritual” but not “religious” is because one can be “spiritual” without living by the requirements that religious faith demands, if one takes it seriously. To be a faithful Catholic is tough: sex is only for the married, and even then no birth control; no abortion; no divorce; no stealing; no cheating; instead one must practice charity, etc. etc. That’s not to say that some “spiritual” don’t live moral lives, but they do it on their own terms. Committing to following the demands of a religion involves self-sacrifice. Our age has glorified the god of autonomy. Religion breaks that idol in a way that just being “spiritual” does not.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 8:15 pm

There are many people that are just sitting there distracted by other things, talking to neighbors, or balancing the checkbook.
Thank God, I’ve never seen anyone balancing a checkbook at Mass. As for the distracted ones – well, for all I know, they’re distracted because their husband has just left them or or their mother died. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and try not to assume they’re thinking about shopping or football games. I was distracted in church during the homily last Sunday when a man let his young son wander up to the candles in front of the Virgin’s statue by the side aisle and start lighting votives. The boy, no older than 5, began lighting candles, and I immediately became afraid the kid was going to hurt himself and angry at the father for sitting there smiling at him, as if the child was playing with tinker toys. I think people were waiting for the priest to say something, but I don’t know if the priest saw it. Finally, the father took the boy in hand.
My pet peeve is cell phones going off during Mass. At the same Mass, a woman in front of me took a call just as the priest was saying “On the night He was betrayed,…,”

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posted August 23, 2005 at 8:33 pm

Sorry, but I don’t think you can blame religion for that one.
Many of the people who claim to be “spiritual” abandoned religion because it required something of them: for them to try and aspire to better behavior. For them, religion means “intolerance”, but that’s a misuse of the language. Religion, to them, means Right and Wrong, Judgment, and standards.
The “spiritual” movement concentrates strongly on self-expression and self-fulfillment. It’s about as anti-Christian spirituality as you can get, because it centers on doing everything you can to make yourself feel better without sacrifice.
Religion requires us to become better than we are, to live up to difficult ideals and practices. Religion asks us to forget about ourselves and concentrate on God.
Of course those who are deeply religious may often be deeply spiritual, but many of the people searching for spiritualism are seeking a way to feel better.
Look at the rave culture. It’s a fantastic microcosm of those looking for spiritualism without religion–they seek “peace, love, understanding, and respect.” They take Ecstasy and dance all night to achieve higher consciousness. They are desperate for deep friendship. They are seeking. They are afraid, though, of what religion demands of them.

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posted August 23, 2005 at 9:03 pm

May I remind y’all that Scripture predicted this would happen? People would have itching ears, and would blow with every wind of doctrine, etc.
I’m not saying this is “the end”; but rather, that it has always been thus.
I don’t understand why God has it be thus; but there it is.

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posted August 24, 2005 at 12:00 am

Religion has also been responsible for great evils, including your religion–yes, it has–and continues to be responsible for great evils today (less Catholicism than other faiths, obviously). It has provided people with justification for torture and murder and wrongful discrimination. I don’t think this proves religion is a bad thing; I think it merely shows that anything powerful is also dangerous. But it is understandable to be wary of such a thing. And many of you don’t seem to take it even a little bit seriously.
People reject religion and turn to a more nebulous “spirituality” out of a combination of self-justication, laziness, simple inability to believe its teachings, and honest belief that some of those teachings are morally wrong and/or that religion is a destructive force.
Rationalization and self-justification take many forms. “But what if we are wrong” is not much more likely to be asked seriously here than anywhere else these days, as far as I can tell.
And among the people I have met in my own life, not only do I not see an exact relationship between people’s religion and the sort of the person they are, I cannot find any correlation. There is a person whose Catholic faith held my family together and a person whose church attendance did nothing at all to prevent them from abusing their girlfriend. A great many of the very best people I know are either atheist or agnostic. (Many of them are also Jewish, and consider themselves bound by the ethical and some of the ritual obligations olf Judaism even though they doubt the existence of God. But plenty of them are totally unaffiliated.)
I suppose I should come clean here: I was baptized Catholic, though not really raised as such (first communion but no penance, no confirmation), and I am converting to Judaism. There are family reasons for this, and moral reasons outside of my own theological beliefs (I will not be an agent of the destruction of the Jewish people that so many tyrants have tried to destroy, and if I didn’t raise my kids Jewish I would be doing my small part) but they would not be sufficient if I did not reject Christianity as a faith and embrace Judaism as a faith. And while Judaism–even Reform Judaism–is far from an airy-fairy spirituality that makes you feel good without demanding anything of you, the reasons I reject Christianity probably overlap a great deal with the reasoning of some of those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” And the dismissal of those concerns without serious consideration, annoys me just as much as the easy contempt for and rejection of religion in favor of a contentless “spirituality” that makes no real claims or demands.
There are serious disadvantages to following your own conscience and disobeying the commandments of a higher authority when they conflict. You can easily confuse your own selfish desires with your conscience; you can confuse what is right with what is easy; you can convince yourself that freedom is the only value and you are not your brother’s keeper; you can rationalize horrible things. But there are serious advantages too: you can also reject rationalizations of horrible things, and when someone instructs you to do something awful to another person in the name of God (or country or ideology–this is not unique to religion) you can say no.

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Tim Ferguson

posted August 24, 2005 at 8:28 am

What I have to say is probably not adequate, but I feel that I should say something. I’m sorry to see you go – I’m sorry that your catechesis and upbringing did not lead you to a personal knowledge of and relationship with the real Jesus Christ. I’m sorry that your experience of Catholics, of Christians, has been such that you don’t “know them by their love.” Your insight is great – that all too often, the behaviors of Christians are no different than any one else. Also you make a good point that the faith has been used by many as a justification or rationalization of their evil acts. It’s something we all need to reflect on. The tension between conscience and obedience has been a struggle for the greatest, as exemplified by the life of St. Thomas More, among many. I don’t think that turning from a Church that asks for obedience toward a nebulous religiosity is a good solution though (and I know that’s not what you, yourself, are doing), any more than limiting one’s conscience through blind obedience (which is not what the Catholic Church asks, although many, even some in the Church, have posited that it does). As a Catholic, when someone in authority over me (my bishop, my pastor, my pope) commands me to do something I recognize as evil, I have the full permission, and even the mandate, of my Church to say “no”. The real problem is in those muddled areas – things I think might be wrong, or, more often, things I just don’t want to do. There, relying on my conscience alone, or on obedience alone will not bring me justification. I don’t believe that the Divine Judge will completely excuse my bad behavior “because I was following orders,” or “because I was following my conscience.” He’s given me the awful power of an intellect to discern and weigh things, and the will to choose.
With that power to choose comes the reality that every choice is also a rejection of the other options. Your choice to become Jewish is also a rejection of your Catholic faith. I pray that, in Judaism, you’re brought to a more personal encounter with God than you were afforded in your Catholic upbringing. In the light of the Father’s love (where it can be so easy to get distracted by the shadows), may you find the good, the beautiful and the true.

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posted August 24, 2005 at 2:01 pm

I don’t think homeschooling is the answer… It can be a piece of the answer but not the total answer. I believe I am my child’s first teacher but not his only one. Faith begins in the home whether you send them out for “further” schooling or not.
BTW, would you or your (I am assuming) lovely, hardworking wife be the one staying home to do the schooling?

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posted August 24, 2005 at 3:05 pm

Ah, the mystery of life. Edith Stein, a nominal Jew becomes Catholic and Katherine, a nominal Catholic will become Jewish.
That religion can become toxic is without a doubt. But as a European I can state unequivocally that the tyrannic, aetheistic regimes of Hitler and Stalin killed, injured and displaced more people than any religion ever has. Same for Mao Tse Tung in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia.
As a Jew you will have the same options as a person of any other faith tradition will have – you can be fervently involved, as are the Orthodox or Conservative Jewish communities, you can choose to practice in a Reform tradition which will not make as many ritual demands on you, or you can join the legions of Jewish people that still claim Jewish ethnicity but have no religious affiliation whatsoever, as you pointed out above.
Ethnicity aside, since Judaism incorporates both an ethnic group as well as a religious tradition, Catholics, Protestants and other religious folks come in the same kinds of stripes.

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posted August 24, 2005 at 3:30 pm

“The combination of seeing what anguish the credo of personal satisfaction at all costs was creating on a personal level, as well as on a societal one, gradually sent me back to Mother Church.”
Donna, I relate to what you are saying very much. I went through my own personal little period of hedonism as a young adult where no one, but no one, was going to tell me what to do and define for me what the “good life” was.
My journey back was first through the tradition I was raised in but a keen curiosity kept me search farther back until I, too, felt the pull back to the Catholic Church.
Sometimes the perspective of age is truly a gift for the stubborn ones like me.

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