Monday, June 6, 2005

MH - What Do You Believe?

Now here's an interesting article today at NRO by Dave Shiflett, author of Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. He addresses the question of whether America's in danger of becoming a theocracy. We all know how those red-state fundamentalists are getting ready to take over, right? Not likely, judging by the stats Shifflet cites. I'd try to summarize them, but it's much more fun to read what Shifflet actually has to say about them:
Born-again Christians simply aren’t as generally advertised. Consider their view of Jesus, once regarded as the Sinless One. Twenty-eight percent agree that “while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people.” That is far from a crusading belief. Even further afield, 35 percent of these supposedly hard-core believers do not believe Jesus experienced a physical resurrection, a belief shared by 39 percent of the general population (85 percent of Americans say they believe that Jesus is “spiritually alive,” whatever that may mean. One recalls that many Americans believe their deceased pets are now ghosts, which may also qualify as being spiritually alive. )

In this same spirit, 52 percent of born agains believe the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol of God’s presence or power but is not a living entity, not much different than the general adult population (61 percent). Nor does the devil find much support. Nearly 60 percent of American adults say Satan does not exist as a being at all, but is merely a symbol of evil; 45 percent of born again Christians agree. These supposed storm troopers of the religious right have surprisingly little interest in bringing non-believers into the fold. Over one quarter — 26 percent — think it doesn’t matter what faith a person has because religions teach pretty much the same thing, while 50 percent believe a life of “good works” will get you into heaven. They are also more politically heterodox than rumored. According to 2001 figures, 38 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Republicans, and 35 percent of Independents consider themselves born again Christians. Political analyst and writer Steve Waldman reminds us that “at least 10 million white evangelical Christians voted for Gore.”

Ah, but those stats refer to born-again Evangelicals. Us Catholics know better, right? Uh, maybe not. In the same article Fr. John McCloskey estimates that only about 10% of Catholics could be said to be “with the program,” (regular Mass and Confession, living a life in conformity with church teachings). The 10% figure is credited in other denominations by other authorities as well.

Well, so much for the coming theocracy. This is just ridiculous, if not discouraging. Yet at the same time, you can hardly blame some of these people, considering the quality of religious education they must have gotten - that is, if they got any at all. These people are searching - they know there's something missing in their lives, they want to believe in something - but they turn to this simplistic "feel good" pop spirituality that makes them feel better, when the glory of the Faith is out there waiting for them, ready to shower them with riches beyond their imagination. If only they knew where to turn.

If only their teachers were willing to give them the truth.

This is all the more reason why it’s so important for the Church to teach the clear truth, and for Catholics to recognize and submit to that teaching authority.

Reading that article got me to thinking, and I thought I recalled something Fr. James Schall had written in one of his Crisis columns. I did a little digging in their archives, and turns out I was right. It can't be said any better than this:

Unlike other monotheistic religions, Catholicism understands that God has an inner life, an otherness in the divinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. Three Persons, one God. Is this not artificial complexity? Granted that we have had a couple thousand years to make sense of this teaching—and we are supposed to make sense of it, since Catholicism is also a religion of the intellect—the understanding of this inner life of God needs to be accurate. Small errors have big consequences. The world laughs at wars of religion. This would be funnier if there were no wars of irreligion. But the suggestion that what we believe about God makes no difference is an attack on God Himself. We are not free not to have the right idea about God, even if we should have the right idea freely.
"We are not free not to have the right idea about God, even if we should have the right idea freely." Wonderfully stated. Maybe it's not easy, maybe there's more to Christianity than first appears, but the best things in life seldom are easy. Fr. Schall concludes thustly:
In an “introductory” book, St. Thomas Aquinas took about 4,000 pages to sort out the implications of all this. So is this a bad thing, this “complexity”? I think it’s rather a glory. It’s not that any of us, even Aquinas, will get everything right all the time. But it is a comfort to know that, in revealing something of Himself to us, the Divinity wanted us to get it right about what it was all about. And He may have wanted to provoke the philosophers, who thought they had it right on their own hook. As I say, it’s complex.

Amen. He does want us to get it right. It's so complex we'll never completely figure it out in our lifetimes.

Ah, but the journey...

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