Losing MY Religion Part Three

The Beginning of the End

Ultimately, with this not-so-little series my goal has been to show that both Fundamentalism and over-emphasis on “relationship” or “spirituality” without structure are both about how I am so much better than everyone else. They are both flawed overemphases of self.

At the root of Fundamentalism, and of Postmodern approaches to faith is the same mitake, one sin: pride. St. Thomas Aquinas affirms that “heresy is a species of pride rather than of unbelief” [Summa Theol. II, part 2, q. 11 art. 1.]. I think at the heart of many if not all Christian heresies, errors in the faith, is the sin of thinking we know better; we think we could do better or somehow make something better than what has clearly been established and affirmed.

I hope that with this series I have invited you into thoughtfulness, and if you have hate mail, I would love your comments too.

My attempt is to invite you into a broader view of what Catholicism is, and perhaps to see that there is more to Christianity than the fundamentalism of some, and more to Christianity than the liberalism of others. I have hoped we could all learn that the faith is deeper than we give it credit for on both sides of the great divorce from Reason in our understanding of Faith. Pope John Paul II said that “Faith and Reason are like two wings by which the human soul rises to the contemplation of truth.” I hope I’ve shown the importance of truth, and virtue in this whole process.

The Catholic Church is wider than some critics admit, and too wide for others. She is wider than disagreements with “religion” and more “progressive” than some care to admit. She upholds social values in an age where “conservatives” more and more care about fiscal policies and immigration than societal values and for the dignity of all humans, not just embryonic humans, though even these smallest of beings she preserves with all her might.

The Church is and always has been a broad place, a welcoming and large home for many children of the faith. Vatican II may not be your favorite Church document, but it’s a document of the Church and speaks to us with authority. Dislike does not give us Catholics the authority to rebel.

Losing MY Religion

I grew up in a religion that taught me about a man in heaven who wanted me to love him, and worship him. I grew up being taught that this was the most important thing in the world. I was never taught how to “play well with others” in regards to my faith. The funny thing is, we teach our children to share, to honor adults and to listen to wise counsel, but reject these notions as we grow up and think we know better.

When the Church found me, she invited me away from myself, away from my own little creation, away from a religion I had invented, and into the broad place, with wide-open doors where I could play with other Christians. Where I could celebrate God in a huge assembly, not just with some otherworldly people who had no idea I exist and who I could not relate to. She invited me to the communion table to share in Christ at the side of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John of The Cross, St. Peter, St. John the Apostle, Pope John Paul II and others.

She invited me into a faith shaped by holiness and sacrifice rather than opinion and conjecture. She invited me into a faith that developed biblically and historically. She invited me into a playground where I could rest with God’s other children, and have a generous faith, a faith that had fences, but no to keep others out. She invited me to understand that these fences were to keep us safe and free from the dangers outside those curtains. She invited me to a tent of meeting, rather than a field where all manner of beast might pass by and snatch the unprotected.

She invited me away from my own idiocy and obstinate lack of virtue, to recognize others might know God better than I do, and to rise up to the level of my spiritual energies. She asked me to take a yoke upon myself, a true and great system of teachings, a new culture, a new life. She took me out of the spotlight, and invited me away from MY religion. She gave me faith in Jesus, a Mother, many brothers and sisters, and an enduring hope for the final day.

Growing Up

I am still developing, sometimes I am weak, sometimes I am angry, sometimes I am broken, but where I am weak and embrace the humility this brings, perhaps it is for our benefit. I know Jesus prayed that we might be one, and sometimes I come off a bit harsh, but this is my desire.

I desire that we might all learn to live together in peace. Peace cannot be had without the difficult and necessarily life-altering encounters made possible through honesty. If we cannot trust one another, we cannot live in peace. I seek that we may all learn to live together. I offer these correctives to Catholics to encourage them to seek out relationships with our separated brothers and sisters. I offer these correctives to protestants who would seek to say that we worship falsely, or are only religious without any spirituality.

I am learning to grow up, one day at a time, and I am deeply sorry where sometimes have failed in charity, or understanding. I can only offer the promise to work harder for my faith, and to embody not only an intellectual position, but a moral and spiritual one as well. My faith is slowly calling me from gripping tightly to a precious but imperfect thing, like the creature Gollum and his ring. The Church has called me into a full faith where we all share the same story, and each retelling might have a slightly different emphasis and perspective, but the story remains the same.

It’s nice to have a faith that calls me away from myself and into a broader assembly. It’s nice to have a faith that circumvents my obstinate obsession with my own opinions, on the one side or on the other. It’s nice to have a faith that strips me of a false precious, and teaches me that the reallly and truly precious thing is others. It’s nice to lose MY religion, to in the end have the religion that really matters.


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9 responses to “Losing MY Religion Part Three”

  1. Mike says :

    Hey Eli,

    I agree whole-heartedly on the stunning breadth of our Church. On almost every issue, I believe we can comfortably fit a wide range opinions and perspectives.

    This brings me to something i’ve recently been thinking of, maybe you or someone else could give some input. I think i’ve come to the opinion that the word “orthodox”, as it’s most commonly used, is meaningless.

    The way I see it, the word is mostly used to mean one of two things. Firstly, it can be used to mean someone who’s faith is important to them. This sense of the word doesn’t seem all that useful to me. We have more useful words for that – like practicing, or committed.

    The second sense is more disturbing. It seems like when someone describes another as an orthodox catholic, what they really mean is a catholic a lot like themselves. If pressed for a more descriptive definition of an orthodox catholic, you’ll find they mean a catholic who shares their social, political or economic viewpoint. After all, why wouldn’t one consider their own viewpoint orthodox?

    I find this sense uncomfortable. It appears to be making a value judgement on the faith of another person. It is all the more worrying because it appears to elevate one’s own perspective on faith to a kind of magisterium, a yardstick from which to judge the catholicity of another.

    I understand that there is probably a more technical definition that is more useful, but I get the impression that this is not the definition in mind when it’s most commonly used.

    Like I said, this is something that i’ve just started thinking about. So, knowing the power of discussion to reach the truth, any thoughts?

  2. Eli says :

    Hey Mike, thanks for the comment, as always you’re asking great questions and it’s great to have your continued conversational input.

    I think it’s actually incumbent upon us to restore meaning to words that seem to have no meaning.Having prefaced with that, let me explain.

    “The way I see it, the word is mostly used to mean one of two things. Firstly, it can be used to mean someone who’s faith is important to them. This sense of the word doesn’t seem all that useful to me.” I think it is improperly used in this sense too often too. I see the word thrown around on the blogosphere and on twitter sometimes to mean, someone who cares for their faith. i agree that it is improperly used in this sense.

    “The second sense is more disturbing. It seems like when someone describes another as an orthodox catholic, what they really mean is a catholic a lot like themselves.” Great point. I think that this sense is truly disturbing and far too common. I mean, to me a Funda-Catholic is someone who is radically opposed to the Vatican II council to the point of arrogance, and a liberal Catholic is the same thing, disrespect for the Magisterium taking the form of “I know best.”

    I think the term orthodox should mean, adhering to the Church’s teaching and practice and faithfully defending the traditional values of the ENTIRE Church, not just the american catholic churches or otherwise.

    I think there is room for value judgments on the faith of others, but these judgments are not subjective, they have a rubric, which is why Catholics have a Rule of Faith. Adherence to the Creeds, the Tradition and the teachings of the Magisterium are what shape what is truly orthodox.

    Technically I’d say that the best definitition of orthodox is adherence to the Universal Rule of Faith, namely the creeds, and the Church’s social practices.

    Feel free to disagree, raise contentions and otherwise. I really enjoy your questions, so let’s talk about this.

  3. Tara Meghan says :

    I think the term “orthodox”, used in its proper sense and pertaining to Christianity, necessarily *discludes* narrow personal assessment. To be orthodox must by definition mean to accept the entirety.
    Orthodoxy requires us to find that uncomfortable and ego-less place where we are able to reconcile the “legal” requirements of the faith with the unchangeable teachings of Christ.
    “We are perfected in Christ” because to achieve both real piety and real compassionate love is a constant process of renewal which is often quite painful and leaves NO room for the ego or pride of one who prefers his or her own way.
    To me, this is the difference between “tradtionalism” and “orthodoxy”. Traditionalism leaves room for condemnation of others, orthodoxy does not.

    • Eli says :

      Agreed. In all senses. Your wisdom is not confined to 140 characters!

      I think you’re right. I mean there’s a proper place in orthodoxy to condemn heresy, but never to condemn a brother or sister who has the freedom to differ from us. My problem is not with Traditionalists in general, but with arrogant traditionalists. My propblem is not with people who are a bit progressive in general it’s with arrogant proggressives who either abuse their ability to differ from the Magisterium, controvert her teachings, with arrogance, or those who see all others who do not share their specific values as heretics or ossified traditionalist idiots.

      Great thoughts, as always.

  4. Mike says :

    Tara, I like your statement that “to achieve both real piety and real compassionate love is a constant process of renewal which is often quite painful”.

    It makes me think of orthodoxy more as a process or a journey than a state. It also makes me think that maybe the end of that process isn’t fully reached by people in this life. At least not by people who aren’t saints.

    However, if this is the sense we mean, I still think describing someone as an orthodox catholic is not useful. Saying “orthodox catholic” implies that the person is orthodox (a state), not that they are becoming orthodox (a process). Maybe a better word would be “orthodising catholic” or something, I don’t know.

    I’ll switch gears a little bit to Eli’s statements above.

    “I think the term orthodox should mean, adhering to the Church’s teaching and practice and faithfully defending the traditional values of the ENTIRE Church, not just the american catholic churches or otherwise.”

    This is a good definition as well, though I still have some questions if you don’t mind. Considering that we both agree on how broad catholic thought is, is it possible to know for sure what the traditional values of the entire Church are?

    You specify adherence to the creeds, social practices, and magisterium. I agree with you that these things are at the core of Catholicism.

    However, I think we can both start from the position of “creeds, scripture and tradition” and come to very different opinions depending on how we interpret those things. Would one of our opinions be more orthodox than another? I don’t think so, as long as we both started from the same place and humbly tried to seek truth. Would both of our position be orthodox? Maybe. In that case, orthodoxy doesn’t really describe what you believe, but how you came to believe it.

    I’m not quite sure what the implications of that are, but what do you think?

  5. Eli says :

    Mike, I see where you’re coming from, but I do think we have to say that Orthodoxy is a state that one may enter or exit, albeit imperfectly, in the course of a life. Were this not the case, things like anathemas and excommunications make no sense. That being said, though, I think that there is something valid to the freedom that the Church allows. Obviously, there are trends and patterns in theology and there are certain tenets that are essential to the faith.

    Dogmas certainly have to be held, doctrines respected and upheld without treating them like dogmas, and everything else? It’s room to explore.

    I love that yesterday Tara said that Orthodoxy is a method of inquiry, it is a method of questioning, it is trying to build on what has come before without violation and yet seeking the logical developments of other doctrines and dogmas in a system.

    At the end of the day, I think Orthodoxy comes down to having concrete Church Authority and respecting opinions where they are such and only treating as dogma those things which the church regards as dogma. I think there are systematic ways of determining what statements are “more orthodox” than others, but that comes not out of a sense of personal arrogance, but out of the Catholic worldview which says there is a hierarchy of goods.

    I guess in short, Orthodoxy is a journey that is also a state because Piety is a specific type of love of god and neighbor, piety cannot exist without compassion. It’s a walk with while participating in. When we walk with the Fathers, and think with the saints, and affirm the voice of the Church and repeat the process of her service to the poor, when we uphold and embody the virtues that the Church places under the umbrella called Charity, then we are Orthodox.

  6. Mike says :


    I agree with what you said above.

    Just to be clear, my original point wasn’t that orthodoxy is always a meaningless word, just in the way that I have most often seen it used. Simply that we need to be careful in how we use it, and especially that we need to be sure we understand what we mean when we use it.

    Re-reading my second post, it may not be saying exactly what I meant it to. I don’t mean to say that all viewpoints can be equally valid. Instead I mean that even if two people’s viewpoints seem to differ, what really may be happening is both are expressing the same truth from different perspectives. Especially when we are dealing with topics this large.

    This discussions been useful! Not only on exploring the semantics of orthodoxy, but also in procrastinating my assignments! I was afraid that maybe I would actually have them done early, haha.

  7. practicinghuman says :

    Okay, I’m the token Orthodox Christian in this conversation. [The identifier has been given to me by my church.]

    Generally, I am disturbed with what passes for small o-orthodoxy, particularly in America. The Manhattan Declaration startles me as an assertion that somehow being orthodox is about one’s position regarding abortion, homosexuality, and religious freedom. Throw women’s ordination into the mix, and I think you’ve just about got the small o-orthodox list from the higher church traditions.

    I’ve seen it where people [particularly Episcopalians] come running to the Orthodox Church because they see us as being “conservative.” I don’t want to be known as being in a church rooted in “conservative values.” I want to be known as being in a church that consistently proclaims a full Gospel: the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

    To be, being Orthodox requires a realization that the Gospel is alive in my life and in the lives of others around me. It will change us and call us towards Christ.

  8. Eli says :

    Thanks for the great input Anna.

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