Sunday, June 30, 2019

Religious Browbeating: A Sunday Rumination

     There’s a lot of it going on – and for a change I don’t mean the practices of the militant atheists and their mock-sophisticated slurs against theists. Indeed, religious browbeating has a long and unpleasant history, at least in Europe and America.

     Fasten your seat belt, Gentle Reader, because some of you will find this a very rough ride. “Which of us?” I hear you cry. Those who repose absolute confidence in any Christian religious authority. Just about all Christian religious authorities have gone way, way beyond their proper sphere. NB: In the following, please read the Church as referring to the entirety of Christianity worldwide, without regard for denomination. That’s how I’ll mean it. When I want to speak of the Catholic Church specifically, I’ll do so explicitly.

     If more Christians knew more of the history of Christianity, every Christian denomination would be far better off. All of them, including the Catholic Church of which I’m a member, are badly stained. Some of the stains are old, but some are accumulating as we speak.

     At the base of all acceptable Christian teaching must be the Gospels of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God and the Redeemer of Mankind. If a Christian pastor or prelate emits a pronouncement for which there is no substantiation in the statements of the Redeemer, it is his opinion, not a valid element of Christianity. Such an opinion might be valuable; it’s up to the listener to decide. But it does not qualify as an authoritative teaching of the Church.

     Every era since the Redeemer walked the Earth has seen men – mortal, fallible men – attempt to insert their own preferences into Church doctrine. It began with Paul of Tarsus. Read through his writings, compiled in the New Testament, and see for yourself.

     The practice was not confined to the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Protestant Schism, which originated with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, is partly rooted in Luther’s own preferences, most prominently his rejection of Christ’s explicit statements about the importance to one’s soul of good works. Every denomination to arise thereafter has been polluted by the problem to some extent.

     There is ample historical evidence for all of this. As I’m a blogger and not a lecturer in religious history, I leave it to my Gentle Readers to educate themselves about the specifics. My thrust today is that Christianity has been done great harm by those who’ve attempted to borrow the authority of the Son of God to proclaim their own opinions as doctrine. As none of them ever rose from the dead, I'd expect that their presumption has not been good for their prospects in the afterlife.

     There are many things in the temporal world that are pleasurable in the short term but not good for you in the long term. Various bodily indulgences, for example – some involving food, alcohol, or drugs; others involving sexual practices – come to mind at once. Similarly, there are dangers and opportunities in lawbreaking of certain kinds, with a similar caveat attached. These are things about which an individual should be circumspect for his own good – but Christ never mentioned any of them. Yet Christian preachers have attempted to classify these things as sins rather than as self-harming mistakes of various degrees of seriousness.

     Consider alcoholic beverages as a case study. There was a time when the consumption of alcohol was preached against most stridently by every denomination but one. (We Catholics have always been lushes.) Yet with the exception of persons allergic to them, the moderate consumption of wine or spirits is a good thing for the body. Numerous studies have demonstrated that moderate drinkers possess greater resistance to various ailments than teetotalers.

     Is this an endorsement of bibulosity, or alcoholism? Of course not. It’s merely a separation of that which is entirely temporal from that which is spiritually relevant. While God would surely frown upon imbibing oneself to death – suicide is a form of murder, after all – He has no problem with moderate indulgence. Why else would His Son have consecrated a cup of wine into His very own blood?

     Temporal hazards don’t always have a spiritual component. Governments routinely issue “laws” that trespass upon individual rights, or violate the rule of equal treatment under the law. We have innumerable examples in this nation alone. To break such a law can invoke the wrath of the State, but it would have no effect upon one’s immortal soul. Yet the Catholic Church once declared that income tax evasion is a sin! If Christ said one word about a requirement that we all bend to “progressive” income taxes, I’m unable to find it anywhere in the Gospels. (There’s also the whole business about “illegal gambling,” but...never mind. I have a Bingo game to supervise later.)

     Such extensions of “authority” into ultra vires domains has done Christianity a great deal of harm, largely by persuading persons otherwise willing to believe that the Church is merely an instrument for bludgeoning us into submission to arbitrary temporal “authorities.”

     At this time the most prominent religious figure in the world is Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina, better known to non-Catholics as Pope Francis. This prelate has done and is doing catastrophic harm to the Catholic Church in his fiddling with Catholic doctrine, his uncritical embrace of Islam and its atrocities, and his involvement in matters beyond the province of a cleric. Many a Catholic is uneasy about him. Some regard him as an antipope. Still others believe the College of Cardinals, which elected him, to have been suborned by enemies of the Church. (Remember Robert Conquest’s Second Law, and shudder.) Whatever the case, it’s beyond question that he’s using the Throne of Saint Peter to promulgate ideas that are opposed to freedom and justice.

     It’s my opinion that the Francis papacy will someday be regarded as a time of darkness for the Church. The harm one man can do is determined by his altitude among men generally, and whether deliberately or by mistake, Pope Francis has been raised high. Yet the harm can be repaired, given time, good will, and the fidelity of Christians to the explicit teachings of Christ and the voices of their consciences.

     Conscience is the key, as it always has been. It’s God’s way of speaking to us individually, just as Christ’s ministry among men was Gods way of speaking to us jointly. Your conscience, constrained by the commandments as Christ urged them upon the “rich young man:”

     And behold one came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? Who said to him: Why asketh thou me concerning good? One is good, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to him: Which? And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [Matthew 19:16-19]

     ...will protect you from all spiritual harm and a goodly amount of temporal harm besides. Next to those things, the statements of a cleric determined to use his pastoral position to impose his political ideology upon us are of no force.

     One final thought concerning private versus public conviction and I’ll close for today. History is rich with tales of men who believe they have received revelations: direct instruction and orders from God. A long time ago, I wrote about this subject:

     Revelation is always private. Private events, as opposed to public events that may be witnessed by many persons simultaneously, have no evidentiary value for those who have not experienced them. Private events give rise only to private knowledge and private convictions....

     Revelation is wonderful, if you've had one. It's stunning, thrilling, enlarging beyond any other experience of the mind. But it has no weight as evidence in any argument with others. Your revelation was meant for you alone, or all the rest of us would have had it too.

     If revelation is a private matter – and anything that happens entirely within the mind is by definition a private matter – then the content of a revelation is meant specifically for the person who’s received it, not for anyone else. Saint Simeon Stylites may have been commanded by God to live atop a tall pillar; God hasn’t said one word to me about it. Saint Francis Xavier may have been commanded by God to travel the world preaching the Gospels; as for myself, God knows I can no longer fly and wouldn’t ask it of me. The same may be said for extreme practices among contemporary Christians such as the allegiants of Opus Dei.

     Of course, if God should speak to you, you should listen and do as you’re told. But He intends that, except for those He has specially commissioned, we should live according to our natures as He gave them to us. At least, there’s no evidence to the contrary. For the overwhelming majority of Christians, no more is required of us than attendance to the Commandments, to Christ’s teachings, and to our consciences. Hilaire Belloc captured it exactly:

“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!”

     Heed not the busybodies, the scolds, and the voices preaching “mortification.” Be a joyous Christian. Live the life God has designed for you. Praise Him at all times and in all things. Pass the bottle and be not afraid – and may God bless and keep you all!

1 comment:

SSG Mac said...

Thank you! I needed this today. God bless you.