July 21, 2017

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

There are very good reasons for staying in an organized religion

Cynthia DewesReligion is not popular in our society these days. Organized religion, that is, such as Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics. Anything else which is labeled “spiritual” is OK, from intellectual voodoo to meditative postures to contemplation of grass or whatever is at hand.

But this is being snooty. Many perfectly sincere people are truly gaining spiritual insights from sources other than organized religion. Not to mention that everyone in organized religion isn’t necessarily gaining much spiritual insight, either. But don’t get me started.

The problem is, once the religious underpinnings of a society are gone, so are many of its values and ways of experiencing life. One example of this is the attitude toward marriage. What used to be thought of as a sacramental union between a man and a woman, with God as a third partner, has become less meaningful.

The relationship, which used to involve lifelong commitment, the raising of a family, and reciprocal involvement with the wider community, has almost disappeared. Now it’s a piece of paper, a legal contract or something done to please our parents. And any resulting children are secondary to the desires of many of these parents.

Along with this attitude often comes the belief that sex without love involved is not only OK, but also what’s expected before confining oneself to one partner. And also along with this is the idea of minimal respect for the human body.

Because religion says that humans are made in the image of God, respect for the human body is paramount. As a result, the dead were treated carefully and their bodies given respectful burial. Soldiers even collected their dead companions with whatever care they could, and tried to give them last rites.

Cheating on tests and assignments has become prevalent in many schools. What used to be considered wrong is now expedient. If the student can a) get a higher grade or b) get into a certain college or c) receive some other reward, why not cheat? What harm would it do? Simply put, the end now justifies the means in many cases.

The idea of honor created by religious faith has eroded. The “sense of sacred honor” so revered by patriots and poets was based on wanting to earn God’s favor by being “honorable,” i.e. following God’s will. Now it seems more often to involve prevailing over others with the power of force.

The selfishness of such behaviors is evident. But then, selfishness used to be deemed wrong, too. Self-gratification, and the more instant the better, is now the motivating factor for many people.

It is admirable that so many folks today are searching for spiritual insight. They long to “find themselves” and feel verified, to feel they have a purpose and are useful in this world. That’s what we all want.

And I believe that’s available in the Catholic Church and organized religion. If others could get past our genuflecting, making the sign of the cross and repeating litanies, maybe they would understand that these things are manifestations of the very qualities they seek: Spiritual connection with a higher power, reverence, pleas for support.

We shouldn’t be critical of another’s “spirituality.” Sit on the floor and chant “Ohm,” or pray the rosary or listen for God in the wind, whatever works for you. Meanwhile, I’m sticking with the Catholic Church.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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