Are Moderns Embarrassed by their Religious Beliefs?
A little Jewish boy comes home from his very first day at Hebrew school to meet his excited, loving mother. She asks him what he learned his first day. So he animatedly told her his impressions. He told her about this bad guy in Egypt who treated the Jews very, very badly. So when the Jews ran away from his cruel treatment he chased them with a huge army which had tanks and drones and big guns. But the Jews turned around with their machine guns, fighter planes, and nuclear armaments, and mowed down the Egyptians until there wasn't a single one left. Then the commanding General, named Moses, moved the Jews on to the Promised Land across the Red Sea.
His mother said, a bit reprovingly, to the little six year old: "Come on now, Irving, they didn't tell you that in school, did they?" "Well no", Irving said, " but you would never believe what they did tell us…."
Even to the mind of a six year old who knows nothing of historico- critical analytic methods of understanding scripture, the Red Sea story might stretch credulity. Kids have remarkable abilities to fantasize and to "story tell" but for smart kids, this might push the envelope. The idea of a whole army being drowned, perhaps thousands in number, as the waters of a deep sea parted, engulfing them, while the Jews got safely to the other side---this can be a lot to swallow. Yet, this is what we believe and teach officially. If we are believing Jews, as adults, are we embarrassed when we articulate this and other startling events in Jewish history? Did Jacob really wrestle with an angel? Was there a "burning bush" which didn't burn? Or do we go into endless convoluted circumlocutions to try to explain to an unbelieving world that our teachings are true and reasonable? Are we more comfortable discussing Obama care or social injustice?
In effect, the real question is: "Do we really believe it?" And how do we believe it? The Jewish Religion does teach the above, at least in substance. Reverentially, meaningfully and beautifully. But is it, as in the contemporary Christian community (I speak mainly of my own, the Catholic Christian one), sometimes a matter of mere "social" religion? Belonging to some form of religious group for social acceptability or political advantage or family cohesion or simple emotional laziness? Is it that truth doesn't matter? Is it only form or appearance that matters? Or being "with it"? Or is it embarrassing to say that I am religious or is it that I secretly believe certain things which others call 'Hokey" and childish? Do I fear their negative or mocking appraisal? Or perhaps I use the cop-out ruse that I don't wear my religion on my sleeve and am a private person and so on and on.
Recently, I was watching a Television presentation on a religious Channel which showed a very old production of Christ's Resurrection and His ascension into Heaven. With me were several self professed Christians, several of whom snickered as the Divine Christ slowly ascends from the earth to join His Father in Heaven. Angels solemnly inform the Apostles that the Lord is going to His glory. Heavenly music plays in the background as the actor portraying the Lord lifts his eyes upwards and then slowly fades away. Apparently, snickering shows how mature and balanced one really is—so unlike the simple peasants who say Rosaries and make Novenas!
Granting the inferior technology of 40 years ago and the fantastic advances made in television production and the overacting of ham actors, the message of Christ is still the same. This is what we officially believe. i.e. that Jesus did ascend into Heaven physically. That angels did speak to the Apostles. For the scoffers and the "with it" people who "Supermarket shop" religiously about what they choose to believe or disbelieve, the Creed recited at every Sunday Mass shouts out that Jesus did ascend into heaven-------. We believe what is revealed to us by the Lord or we do not. If we do not, it is absurd to say: "I am a Catholic." To say that I am a Catholic and at the same time to say, in one way or another, that I disbelieve the Ascension, the Eucharist and the Divinity of Christ is the height of dishonesty and maybe even hypocrisy!
Fuzziness of thought doesn't cut it! Either I am or I am not Catholic! What also shouts out is the voice of the Lord Himself Who, in Matthew 10, sternly teaches that those who will not acknowledge Him before others will not be acknowledged before the Father in Heaven. Lack of courage always has a downside!
Christians still believe that Jesus physically ascended to His Father in the sight of the Apostles on the very site in Jerusalem which is visited by countless believers, including me. Christians still believe that God became incarnate in Jesus. Christians still believe that Jesus becomes present at every Mass under the appearance of bread and wine.
Yet, there are Catholics in the political and other realms, in the sophisticated cocktail parties of Beverly Hills or Manhattan's upper West side, who, while hesitantly admitting their Catholic affiliation, with great airs of sophistication, adroitly elude any articulation, explanation or defense of the Catholic positions—especially if it involves sexuality or devotions associated with little old Irish, Polish or Italian women whispering or mumbling Rosaries. Or even worse—the stuff little kids do, such as go to confession or pray to Guardian angels. From their behavior, one might understandably assume their unbelief. Or, at least, that their Faith means very little to them. Paradoxically, one often hears surprising wisdom from the washerwoman type and sheer drivel from the snob-smelling Catholic who has "made it" in his/her chosen way of life. Wasn't It the great thinker from Hippo, Augustine, who suggested that Faith gives understanding to the previously inaccessible "mine" of Knowledge? And not the other way around?
Stephen Carter, a deep thinking law professor at Yale, once wrote about his concept of "Integrity" and Its constituent parts. There are three such parts, he noted. One, first, a person must clearly decide what he really does believe in his heart. Those values which are most meaningful to him. Secondly, he acts and lives in accordance with those beliefs. And thirdly, he is willing to articulate and defend those beliefs in a relatively public manner, regardless of consequence. One wonders, in the light of such a schema, how many politicians and public figures who claim to be Catholic, have Integrity? What, then, do people fear?
I side track for a broad background of my point. Namely, guaranteed freedom to religious expression. While presently the First Amendment with its "free exercise of religion" is under attack, we are, right now, guaranteed by law and tradition, the freedom to speak and profess whatever we want religiously. There is no legal position, at present, of punishment should one voice an unpopular point. Sadly, this may change but the American tradition has gloried in the freedom given to its citizens to espouse unpopular causes. It is tragic that public officials are reluctant to speak up however infrequently the need may arise.
We note, also, from the American Declaration of Independence, with satisfaction and pride, that human rights are not given by government, but by God, the Creator. Agreement or approval from others is irrelevant. These rights are called "inalienable" (or unalienable) since they cannot be withdrawn by human beings, i.e. government. Government's role is to protect these rights not to "regulate" them. This is a question of Religious Liberty no matter how Extremists in Government try to mask the reality.
This is not a Catholic question only even though contemporary politicians struggle to paint the matter as such. Nor is integrity only a Catholic problem. To hide one's real beliefs because of some kind of fear or timidity is blatant non-integrity! All human beings are called to aspire to the higher levels of human development. Not to hypocrisy! Or to the sale of one's soul for political position or applause. Of course all groups have their share of bigots and small minds who mock "simplicity" with a strange kind of bitterness. (Is this a deep and unconscious nostalgia for a lost innocent past?)
But the inner cleanliness and self respect that comes with transparency is priceless both for the individual and society. Whether I am Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Druidic or atheist, let me be honest and jettison pretense. In a paraphrase of a famous American slogan: "Damn the political correctness. Full speed ahead!"
1We believe that the Incarnation of God in Jesus was the greatest moment in History!
2The Present administration is reportedly trying to change the phrase "freedom of religion" to "freedom of worship". This would have gigantic effect on religious behavior, effectively marginalizing religion strictly to within the physical walls of the synagogue, church or mosque. Any practice of open religion in the Public Square could be actionable or illegal.