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Twice now, I’ve been hearing that religion is something I must have recently got, or should be in the process of getting. It’s a puzzling…
Twice now, I’ve been hearing that religion is something I must have recently got, or should be in the process of getting. It’s a puzzling thing to hear, and I’m a bit disconcerted about it.
Here’s what I think is going on. I think that I have all the inward commitments without spending much time in my outward expressions. I’m also playing a long, big game, and take it for granted that most serious people are. But in the way I suppose that warfighters must do their pushups every day, since I don’t exercise some clearly visible form of religious discipline it might be construed that not only am I not in the long game, but that I might be indifferent to it.
Well. I’m not going to pretend it’s not complicated, because it is very complicated — my spirituality is complicated to the point of being exhausting. Talking about it is like dragging a large stuffed dog out of the closet and describing how it was when it is alive. But the long and short of it is this:
I do not understand why there are Catholics and Protestants who are not mutually exclusive. In other words, without a clear definition of procedural heresy, I am willing to bet my eternal soul that my interpretation of the meaning of the life of Christ is just as valid as that of any ordained minister. And I base that on the fact that the words have changed. What words? Why the words by which churches organize their rites to communication the Gospel to the laity. That means either the church is less than certain about what and how it should communicate, or it percieves that it must adapt its messages to the people and the times. We’ve been through this in reference to Spinoza.
Somewhere there must be some fraction of The Theology that explains how in some way the change from Latin Mass to English has improved the understanding of the laity in the matters of their own salvation. The implication being that saying some different set of marginally less well understood words in rites may have jeopardized the souls of the millions before Vatican II. Unless it didn’t and the spirit of God is not captured in recitation at all. Between these extremes is a truth that I never expect any priest to sit down and explain to me. On the other hand, I cannot say that I’ve given too many that opportunity. Rather I am convinced that I’m already a good enough Christian in my public deeds — which is public writing and yet not so presumptuous as to second guess the Grace of God. In other words, if I’m wrong, then maybe all of Lutheranism or Presbyterianism or Methodism is wrong. If you can’t explain the theological differences between those sects, you’re really not in a position of religious authority as far as I’m concerned. But if you can tell me why an Adventist might be a better sort of Christian than a Baptist, then you might inform my own syncretism.
Outside of that, I know I’m a good enough Christian, so much so that I don’t bother saying so. Actions speak louder than words.
But since I do deal in words, it is important to me that mine be clear and cause the effects for which they are spoken and written. And in fact I do have within this corpus an entire section of Matters of the Spirit. When I last left things off, I was wrestling with the foolishness of the New Atheists. And yet that is another something which is bothersome.
I will simply say that I do in fact need my own personal priest, and I think of myself often in the same way as the Clint Eastwood character in Million Dollar Baby. I am not bloody likely to get the sort of priest I think I deserve, which is actually all I’m really looking for — when I bother to look. It is something I expect I can find in the best of friends, which is why I am seeking a particular sort. You see I’m looking out for my soul and defending it against corruption but I need someone who can understand what kind of shit I’m apt to deal with in the process. I know myself and I am not looking for absolution, just someone who can recognize the level of deception I am capable of and occasionally remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing because I should, not merely because I can. I don’t need abstract scolding, I need somebody to hear out my dastardly daydreams understand their deliciousness and tell me of consequences I hadn’t considered. Walking the straight and narrow is boring. Pushing a mafioso off a roof is much more satisfying. Surely in the eyes of God, the risk of the latter is more valuable than the discipline of the former. So I could use the kind of spiritual partner who understands why I watch gangster films and climb fire escapes.
Sometimes I get the feeling that I am dealing with people who are unable to deal with Colonel Jessup and I wonder if that’s the sort of religious expression they are expecting out of me.
I am not on a mission to comfort some restlessness or brokenness in my heart. I continue to seek wisdom in all of its manifestations. Sooner or later I expect to come to a reconciliation of religion and philosophy and all sorts of other things too tiresome to discuss at the moment. To me, religion is the application of rigorous self-discipline to moral improvement and spiritual refinement. Religious organizations, like the Christian Church give us a template, a form and a set of frameworks and communities within which we may pursue and apply that discipline. I think I’ve got mine all set, but I am not utterly convinced I could not be improved by the right friendships and relationships with proper members of proper sects. But I do think I’m special.
I think I’m special enough to merit the consideration of all I’ve written on the subject. Absent that, I will consider advice as advice.
There’s another thing here as well, and that is the extent to which I perceive that weakness of the Church to exercise its discipline in an effective way towards the betterment of society that doesn’t sound like and yet underweigh by half any marketing campaign. We live in a very corrupted society and world, and it seems to be all the Church can do is to barely hold on. That’s a problem.