Friday, January 25, 2008

Questioning Catholicism

By Tim Hepner
Guest Columnist

A defense of today's organized religion

This will be a small attempt at helping Saint Mary’s students struggle with something that I’ve heard many people question. If this elicits anything within you — agreement, anger, a desire to dance like Christopher Walken — anything — never hesitate to talk to me, send me an email, or take me out for a beer so that we can struggle together.

It seems hard to disagree when someone says, “I don’t need to belong to an organized religion. I can have a relationship with God outside church.” Of course I can have a relationship with God outside church: isn’t He everywhere? And aren’t a lot of Christians pretty hypocritical anyway — going to church for an hour on Sunday and then doing whatever the heck they want the rest of the week? There are a lot of good answers to this, but I want to touch on one main one.

The greatest obstacle to a relationship with God is the illusion of self-sufficiency. We’re prone to think that we can rely on ourselves — “I can make it on my own,” as the one-legged puppy in the Homestar Runner cartoons says.

To prove this requires self-examination. Just think of how resistant we are to rely on other people, to ask for help, and possibly make ourselves vulnerable to them. In relationships, we only want to go outside ourselves if we’re sure the other person will do the same; otherwise, we risk looking like we’re desperate or trying too hard.

Translate this to religion: If there’s a God, I’m dependent on Him. Not just for my creation, but at every single instant of my life. He’s holding me in existence just by thinking about me. I’m entirely dependent and vulnerable in the face of God, and a great sign and constant reminder of this is my dependence on others.

So when I shun coming together into communion with other people who believe in God, is there an underlying psychological motivation for this? Could it be possible that I’m afraid to make myself vulnerable and to depend on God and other people? Coming into community means that I am not self-sufficient, and that I admit that my relationship with God—intimate as it is — is bound up with my identity as a dependent creature.

I hope this helps a little with the issue of organized religion. If it doesn’t, there’s always that beer you could buy me…

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