Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Religious Delusion

Recently one of my long-time acquaintances noted that folks who are religious are deluded. I've known this guy a long time, and although I don't know him well, he's always been amiable and we've always gotten along, so I don't think (I hope) that this comment wasn't said necessarily in malice. Nevertheless, religion has been on my mind a lot fairly recently, especially between my acquaintance's comment about alleged delusion and a few conversations I've had with Ed and my parish priest about those who claim to follow a particular religion but don't go to Mass and only show up to receive the sacraments.

My own experience is based on knowing others who do have a set of religious beliefs tending to be more open-minded, not believing that others with different beliefs as "wrong," "deluded," etc. Yes, I am aware that there are those who take their religious beliefs to extremes, believing, for example, that those who don't follow the Bible to the letter are going directly to Hell (I can't know the state of someone's soul, and neither can anyone else), believing that if someone believes differently they should be harmed for having a different set of beliefs/non-beliefs, etc. 

I do get impatient with self-professed Catholics who only show up during Christmas or Easter, or only to get the required sacrament for themselves or their children; call it what it is. If you're a Catholic, it means you go to Mass every week, whether or not you want to, and really try to live according to your own conscience. But I also recognize that we live in a pluralistic society, that there may in fact be more than one path to God or heaven, that many religions may have been given to people in response to what a people needed at that particular moment in history in that part of the world. If you're going to call yourself a follower of any given religion, I really do believe you owe it to yourself to then follow at least the basic tenet of that religion. To my mind, it's like calling yourself a physicist because you have a degree in physics, but haven't done anything with it in a few decades. Well, at one point you may have been a Catholic or physicist, but if you're no longer practicing it, then you may not be that anymore. Which isn't to say you can't get back to that place, of course.

I've not had much of an in-depth conversation with my agnostic or atheist friends, mostly because they've been uninterested, but it strikes me that there is this belief that because one is religious, one hasn't questioned one's faith, gone through periods of disbelief (or unbelief), or asked hard questions. I suspect there's also this belief that if you call yourself a member of a particular religious community, then of course one must agree with every aspect of the dogma.

The flip side to this is that while I think it's normal for everyone to question their faith, this is not something that's discussed; it's almost like there's a feeling that if you do question your faith, you must not be religious enough. This is, I repeat, simply not something that's talked about. I once heard an analogy of faith being compared to a glass of water: When you're younger, the glass being half full is enough, but as you get older, you yourself have to replenish what's in the glass.

I heard of a study once that opined that students who drop out of school may do so for many reasons, but the binding factor is that many drop out of school because they are not engaged. Religion can be the same way: I too have belonged to parishes where I wondered why I bothered going to Mass; there was no way for me to become involved, and because I had no ties, it became increasingly difficult to maintain interest. In other words, you have to work at your faith, educate yourself, talk to others, and pray. If you don't even do the minimum, of course your faith will fall by the wayside. Having faith is work, and if you don't work at it and put forth effort, it's going to shrivel. It's okay to ask questions; it's even okay to disagree with some of the church's teachings. (I disagree with a lot.) But it's not okay to call folks deluded because they can accept something different than what you can accept.

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