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Monday, February 26, 2007


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If faith is not what we know but what we don’t know (e.g., the miracle of Jesus would be his dying without ever being sure of his divinity and acting on it anyway), then I’m comfortable with the idea of using ritual and tradition as a base from which I constantly search and question. While I’m sure Ben and a few others should challenge that definition of faith, it seems to me one way of maintaining a spiritual search when one holds to a philosophical worldview of contingency.

Actually, I agree with this more than you might think. This is more than a comments conversation, but it has to do with the tension between a tradition that stresses human fallibility and a hard-nosed commitment to that tradition - itself a human institution.

I've had wonderful experiences with Catholics, mainly a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where I met my wife. I've gone to Catholic churches since, but I have not sought confirmation because I can't quite buy the "whole package" of Catholicism. Protestantism is much more a la carte, for better or worse.

Anyway, I'm swamped, but would enjoy returning to this later.


I think this articulates the contradiction raised by ritual/tradition:

"... I’ve come to understand that ritual/tradition is the starting point with which one is able to question and challenge."

"And this, I think, is a key question to any practice or ritual: does it encourage me to reflect on my behavior, my treatment of others in ways that I would not if I didn’t have this practice."

Isn't there a contradiction we all face in questioning ourselves and others (our relationships to subordinates, peers, authorities, friends, loved ones, ...)?

I think having a construct to provide ballast in that uncertainty is a human need, be it religious, cultural, philosophical, etc.

Is it useful to have more than one? Or to create your own by mixing and matching?

Or are constructs like mental and emotional tools that help you navigate - applying the right tool for the immediate job at hand with an eye toward a future goal?

Hmmmm ....

Janet Edens

I was raised as Catholic in 60s and 70s Columbia, S.C., and I'll bet many of our experiences were similar. I can certainly relate to the mixed feelings. I don't call myself Catholic and I don't go to church, but that's a relatively recent turn of events, prompted by a divorce, which clouds the issue even further.

So much of who I am goes back to that Catholic upbringing, be it the doctrine or the rebelling against it. Sometimes I think being Catholic isn't something one chooses. I continue to define myself in relationship to that faith. (A "lapsed" Catholic.)

There's still so much I like about it. In the wake of Vatican II, it was kinda fun, actually; My church was very open and conciliatory. Lots of folk music and "Jesus loves you."

The ritual is very satisfying. You can go to any church anywhere, in any language and still know when to kneel, sit and stand. I've encountered few spiritual events as gloriously soul-stirring as a Latin High Mass.

And I always liked that Mary is given at least some credit and honor for her role in the whole story.

The practice of the religion, despite the universal tenets, can be far different from parish to parish. In many places, priests and nuns are agitators for social justice against authority. Some churches are accepting and tolerant of gays, the divorced, the less than officially welcome.

But, in the end, it's too hard for me to escape the male-centric authoritarianism that just seems miles away from what Jesus taught. Not to mention the whole institutionalized pedophilia thing. And the Inquisition. And, like, the whole fire-and-stake thing.

But, you're past that, right, Sloop? You're not hoarding firewood or anything, are you?


I've talked to Catholics about my concerns about becoming Catholic. It's an interesting conversation.

Basically, I feel like I can't do it for reasons of spiritual and intellectual integrity. Because of the church hierarchy's power to define what "Catholics believe," I feel like it's dishonest to become Catholic knowing that you really don't believe in the whole thing. I feel like you have something of a right to be a "cafeteria Catholic" if you're born into it, but not if you *choose* to convert.

But the Catholics I've talked to - and they're all liberal Catholics - are almost offended by my position. I've been told that that Catholicism is NOT just the hierarchy, but also the laity and the scholars/academics/theologians. I think someone called it a tripod.

Are they right? I don't know. But I truly cannot believe that any human (minus Jesus) or any human institution is infallible at any time. That's why I cannot agree with papal infallibility (even if it does apply to very few teachings). For me, that's bigger than issues like birth control, where the church also seems plain wrong to me.

On the other hand, mainline Protestantism just seems to drift slowly behind culture, which also bothers me. And we won't go into evangelicalism.


These responses were very enjoyable. I thought Tim did a nice job of highlighting the contradiction or difficulty faced by most anyone in such a situation. As for Janet's concerns: not only do I share almost all of the same concerns with you, but those concerns are indeed what make it publicly embarassing to say, "I'm Catholic." Everyone understands "lapsed Catholic," these days especially. :)

Ben raised an interesting issue. While I very much appreciate/admire/etc. his sense that one should only take on "cafeteria Catholicism" if one were born into Catholicism (that makes so much sense to me), I want to pick at the term "cafeteria Catholicism" a bit. I've never liked when someone uses that term to mean, "I just do whatever I like, believe whatever I like, whether the Church thinks it's right or not" in a flippant way. While in practicality, I don't think my actions might mean that much to the church hierarchy, I would stress something a bit more disciplined that simply "take what one likes." That is, I think that if you are going to use the term Catholic, it makes sense to focus on your chosen "institutional religion's" belief (no one is making you be Catholic). While you might arrive at radically different positions, it makes sense that you look into the Church's teaching--and the reasons behind those teachings (sometimes thin, sometimes not)--before you engage in your own spiritual thinking. That is, I think there should be some work involved in deciding what you've taken from the cafeteria carousel and what you've left behind.


Yeah, I didn't mean "cafeteria Catholic" in a flippant way, though it is pretty much always used that way. I think anyone who stays in the church "cafeteria" at all is probably being thoughtful about what they choose.

Among my theology school friends, we had some discussions about to what degree "Christian" was an identity, and not a set of beliefs. I think we basically agreed that the identity aspect is huge.

For my part, there was a short period of my life where I was ready to throw in the towel on the whole illogical mess. But, for better or wose, it was too much a part of me to reject. Or, to interpret it spiritually, I felt I was grasped, or claimed, by God in a way I couldn't quite reject. That sounds like predestination, though, which is certainly not my point. In any case, I didn't give up belief. I changed the WAY I believe.

There are so many Christian models (not to mention secular ones) about how faith work. I heard a sermon recently that echoed the work of a scholar named Walter Brueggeman, who focuses (at least sometimes) on the role of story in Christian faith.

Basically, our stories (Moses, crucifixion, etc) tell us who we are. When someone asks, well, what does your faith say about "X" - well, in many cases we should just tell the story again. The story itself, more than its specific implications or laws, becomes something foundational and formative.

I don't know if my belief system functions quite that way, but there's some truth in this position.


This has been interesting, you guys have brought back a lot of memories. But I guess I never had any great philosophical struggle as some seem to have had.

I remember quite clearly being in a 4th grade classroom, undoubtedly catechism class, and the nun kept talking about how you couldn't see, hear, or touch God.

Wow, I thought, what a load of horsecrap. I saw God all over the place, what was wrong with her?

Swallowing that 'body of Christ' thing was a lot to ask, but this, this was just outta the question.

I went home that day and told my parents I did not want to be confirmed and that was the last time I ever considered myself Catholic.

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