Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

'Organized Religion'

It is not unusual to come across someone who says they believe in God, or even in Christ, but they don't like "organized religion" and so they choose no religious affiliation nor to be part of the Church. The very idea is rather strange to me... if I were to deconstruct that kind of statement, I could surmise that such a person wants "dis-organized religion", which translates as the utter chaos and disorder of relativism. Perhaps this is also linked to a vague but individualistic idea that 'spirituality' is a personal search for the divine, for that which is Other than oneself. But this search is ultimately sad and in vain, for how can a person by oneself attain to the Godhead, which is wholly Other? Hence, the vain and frankly, ridiculous, recourses to crystals, sacred dance, dream catchers and the like. All these attempt to catch hold of that which cannot be constrained nor attained by mere human effort. Others still reject 'organized religion' as second-hand truths, preferring instead to find God by one's own first-hand, mystical or spiritual efforts. But this too is unnecessary and ultimately flawed. As Pope Benedict XVI noted in 'Truth and Tolerance, "In the final stage of such an experience, the 'mystic' will no longer be able to say to his God 'I am Thine'; the expression he uses us 'I am Thee'" (p33). Given the rampant individualism of our age, it is easy to see why such notions are attractive, but they are also self-delusory.

On the contrary, the wonder, the good news, of Christian faith is that we believe in a God who has loved us so much as to Himself be born as one of us and in Christ Jesus, reveal the depth of His love and purposes for us. God Himself comes in search of us, He finds us, reaches out to save us and He shares our human condition. We need not seek Him by fallible and fictional methods. Rather, by the incarnation of Jesus Christ, "God is no longer the Wholly Other, the incomprehensible One, but he is now also the One who is near us, who has become identified with us who touches us and is touched by us, the one whom we can receive and who will receive us" (Ratzinger, God and Man, 222). What other religion knows of such love? Indeed, no religion could conceive of such kenosis, were it not revealed in time and history, in the birth of Christ, two millenia ago in Bethlehem. The fact is that Christianity is based on "a historical event, something that really happened as a concrete event. In the history of religions, this direct connection with real history is among the distinctive features of the Christian faith" (ibid., 216).

As such, this faith had to be seen, experienced and witnessed, and then passed on in some way, across the span of history. The means by which this faith, this contact with the risen Lord Jesus and His apostles is maintained is through the body of the Church. The Church exists to witness to this and any who wish to encounter Christ would be foolish to reject her. Indeed, we need the Church to teach us what she knows, as the witness to this Faith in Jesus Christ for two thousand years. For, as the Holy Father said, "I believe that by belonging to the Church, and living with her faith, one is given a share in the inspiration allotted to this family. The Church can open your horizons for you and deepen your insight into things you could not understand on your own... she is my home, my extended family, and this I am bound to her in love, just as one is bound to one's family" (ibid., 342).

Nonetheless, some people distinguish between 'religion' and 'faith' and they see religion as human socio-cultural constructs that hinder the message of God, or 'spirituality' or indeed, faith. I think we can be honest and say that sometimes, sinful behaviour in the Church can serve to be an obstacle rather than a help in her role as "universal sacrament of salvation". Fr Edward Schillebeeckx, OP clearly thinks this, but he also confesses that "despite everything, the Church is the community of God... and a 'pure Church', well, that is from the human and Christian point of view, a heresy" (God is New Each Moment, 61). As the Pope has said above, the Church is a family to which love binds us and despite all her failings, we do not abandon her, just as one cannot and does not divorce one's family. Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI writes (in refutation of Barth), "To me, the concept of Christianity without religion is contradictory and illusory. Faith has to express itself as a religion and through religion, though of course it cannot be reduced to religion... For Thomas Aquinas, for instance, 'religion' is a subdivision of the virtue of righteousness and is, as such, necessary, but it is of course quite different from the 'infused virtue' of faith" (Truth and Tolerance, 50).

The self-righteous illusion of rejecting 'organized religion' for a purer form of 'spirituality' or 'faith' is heresy, as Schillebeeckx says, and also deeply deceptive. I believe that at its core is individualistic relativism which rejects any notion of a revealed religion which one has to conform one's life to. It also rejects a communal or family-based tradition and unity of belief which is handed down through the ages and thus impacts on one's life from without oneself. The individualist wants to be self-determining, independent of exterior influence or teaching. The relativist believes that all ways to a 'spirituality' are valid, so long as one finds it for oneself. The saddest thing about such ideas is that they have already fallen prey to influences without oneself - the popular media and culture and the tragic mindset of this age that beset them constantly; they are brainwashed. Were they to truly look within themselves, they might perceive the voice of conscience and the Holy Spirit, liberating their minds from the shackles of conformity, leading them on to seek Truth which is found ultimately in Christ, through His holy Church. Thus, the words of St Paul, from Sunday's Second Reading should resonate in our hearts: "Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" (Rom 12:2).

Finally, as the Holy Father said only last week to the one million young people gathered at Marienfeld:
"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. Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction. This is why love for Sacred Scripture is so important, and in consequence, it is important to know the faith of the Church which opens up for us the meaning of Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church as her faith grows, causing her to enter ever more deeply into the truth (cf. Jn 16:13)."
That is the role of 'organized religion' - to lead us to the fullness of the Truth, to Jesus Christ. Without it, without the Church, one is left to one's own vain devices, foundering on the shoals of individualism, tossed on the tempests of relativism and wrecked on the rocks of contemporary faddism.

The photo above on the right is taken from the Benedictine Sisters at Sandsprings - a most... eclectic site indeed. Thanks to Angry Twins for pointing them out to me.


Blogger Steve said...

I have seen the same comment, about people not needing "organized religion". I have also had people tell me "I believe in God, but, I don't go to ANY Church". They don't realize that just belief alone is not enough. There are the Sacraments, the actions OF Faith, the professions OF faith. I always want to tell them, Satan believes in God, too, and he doesn't go to any church either.

8:43 pm  
Blogger jordan said...

The notion that the "corrupt" organized religions turn people away from faith reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. I don't know where I picked it up...its saved on my hard drive without any reference point.

The preacher added: "To Luther, who reproached him for remaining in the Catholic Church despite her 'corruption,' Erasmus of Rotterdam replied one day: 'I endure this Church in the hope that she will improve, given that she also has to endure me in the hope that I will improve.'

7:24 pm  

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