Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 13, 2000
Religion made in man's own image
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
A recent Gallup survey found that Americans (and we can safely assume Canadians likewise) are largely rejecting traditional religion in favour of cherry picking what they find congenial from various religious systems and forms.
This is not exactly front-page news, but it does beg the question of what people imagine they can achieve with a scrapbook approach to faith.
When someone speaks of a "personal belief system," it implies belief in something, but what is the object of that belief? A smorgasbord-style "religion a la carte" does not logically suggest belief in anything more profound than one's own subjective biases and notions.
Advocates of pick-and-choose "spirituality" usually profess disdain for the "rigidity" of "organized religion" and institutional authority, staking a claim to personal moral autonomy and theological interpretation. Is this real religion? I think not. It signalizes rather an amalgam of arrogance, presumption and ignorance.
British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper concisely summed-up modern liberal humanism as "the unwarranted assumption that man only needs freedom from ancient restraints in order to realize his inherent perfection."
Religion is from the Latin root ligare - to connect. What is it smorgasbord religionists think they are connecting to? If it is alleged to be a Supreme Being, then it would seem logical that one would want to find out what that Supreme Being wants of us, rather than attempting to mould God into our subjective notions of what he should be like.
Christianity has always claimed to be based in God's revelation of himself in divinely inspired Holy Scripture, and in the person of Jesus Christ. The true Christian perceives God as the source of all being and order, who creates human beings in his spiritual image and likeness.
Therefore, the actions of human beings are objectively right to the degree that they are consistent with God's divine will, and wrong to the extent that they deviate from it. The struggle is to conform to that will as defined and articulated in divine revelation.
"Catholic," a designation claimed not only by the Roman Church, but also by Anglicans, Orthodox and indeed all Christians who recite and affirm the ancient Apostles' and Nicene creeds, means "universal" - the faith believed by all Christians everywhere, at least in theory.
"Religion a la carte" is the antithesis of universal ("catholic") belief, which is why I steadfastly maintain that it is inherently impossible to be a liberal and a Catholic Christian simultaneously in the full understanding of what both terms mean.
Liberal humanism has long since transcended mere doubt and skepticism about the claims and teachings of Christianity, and now considers traditional Christian doctrine positively erroneous and even destructive.
For example, journalist Katha Pollitt, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's "Free-Thought Heroine of 1995," declares religion to be "a farrago of authoritarian nonsense, misogyny, and humble pie, the eternal enemy of human happiness and freedom."
This at least is an honest rejection of Christian faith, rather than the more common motif of attempting to arbitrarily redefine Christianity into conformity with liberal ideology.
Any Jesus worth worshipping must be more than just a subjective construct that we can mould and manipulate to suit our prejudices and preferences.
American historian and former radical Marxist Eugene Genovese, who returned at middle-age to the Catholic faith into which he was baptized, argues that "a God who is progressing, learning from his creatures, is not somebody who interests me. If I have something to teach God, I don't need him anymore. A God of love who is not simultaneously a God of wrath doesn't interest me either."
The "human" Jesus of the liberals, on the other hand, is very much a modern humanitarian, a peacenik and socialist who opposes war and violence, and is preoccupied with equitable distribution of the world's material goods. In short, the liberals' Jesus remarkably resembles their idealized projection of themselves, "the people of God."
Such a Jesus appeals to liberal narcissism, but fortunately he is not recognizable in the Jesus of the Gospels, who is anything but an amiable pacifist and philanthropist, and indeed is someone whom no politically correct liberal would want to be caught dead in a field with.
Liberals want a God whose fondest wish is for them to feel good at all costs, and a morality that reduces human purpose to achieving personal happiness and fulfillment.
As the late Christopher Lasch put it: "Unable to conceive of a God who does not regard human happiness as the be-all and end-all of creation, they cannot accept the central paradox of religious faith: that the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy."
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