Went to dinner last night with some friends (my wife’s, but I had viewed them as “ours” for a few years now) and ended up talking a little about the two big no-nos, politics and religion.  They are very religious individuals, and I honestly respect that.  I’m not sure that respect registered well with them–and I doubt we’ll be going out with them in future.  Not because I don’t want to, but I think I pissed them off.  I’d like to share a few of their key points with you (somewhat paraphrased), and see what you think.

“You have to have faith.”  I understand.  Faith is the key to being able to let go, and I do not possess the type of faith they are talking about.  I wish that I did–I envy their faith.  There has to be great peace in knowing that God has a plan and is in control, that you can take the precepts of the Catholic faith as gospel and wash your hands of any thinking.  “Let go and let God.”  It must be comforting to look at the hot-button issues in today’s world and be absolutely certain that your personal stance on them–as dictated to you by your church and clergy–are correct.  To feel vindicated of any responsibility when you take that Catholic voter’s guide into the polling station with you, sure that you are doing the right/holy/moral thing by selecting the candidates they’ve chosen for you.  It must be great to know that the head of the church is in fact infallible (at least on issues of morality, as it was explained to me).

“You have to accept Christ as your personal savior to be saved.”  I’m sorry, but I cannot accept that all the Jews, Buddhists, Islamites, homosexuals, divorcees (caveat on this one, if you pay for an annulment all is well with the divorced), those who had abortions, etc. are going to hell.  If that is true, it sounds like heaven is a pretty exclusive club to me.  I know too many people in those groups that are good, loving, honest people for me to grant blanket acceptance to a religion that writes them off.  I can’t do it–or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I won’t do it.  I if have to choose a heaven full of only those who fully accept the Christian dogma, I’ll take hell–and I expect the company would be better.

“It sounds like you want to be in control, when you need to let God be in control.”  It’s not that I have a problem with God being in control.  I have a problem with a religion being in control.  Each “religion” is basically a version of what most of us believe to be God’s will as filtered through human beings.  The basic tenants of almost all earthly religions are nearly identical.  Human beings are fallible, and therefore I question.  God made us curious, and I don’t believe that that curiosity was instilled in us just to tempt us, I believe it is a part of us because God wants us to think, to apply our intellect, to make informed choices.  To avoid being led by the nose.

“You’re not a Catholic.”  Please understand, I consider myself a Catholic, and by and large I believe in the Catholic Church.  I was raised Catholic, did Catechism on Wednesday nights.  Did the whole alter boy thing.  Married in the church, and my school-aged children attend parochial school.  Does it make sense to demand blind faith of your parishioners?  What about the fact that all religions change their stance/interpretations on a semi-regular basis?

This conversation could well have been with people who choose to believe in any number of religions.  I actually find the Catholic Church to be more tolerant of other (Christian) religions than most.  The Baptists I came into contact with while I lived in Alabama felt the need to convert the Catholics, lest they go to hell.  The Christian Reformed Church (prevalent here in west MI) seems to feel pretty much the same.  At least the Catholics have room in their heaven for anyone who “…has ever heard the name of Christ and accepted him as their savior.”  That stance is their out for those to young to understand and those savages that the world is so full of who have never actually heard the word.

I will not embrace intolerance in any church.  For many years I have said that I feel absolutely sure of only two things:  Humans are not the most intelligent beings (whether that means there is a God, aliens, both, whatever) and that none of the earthly religions have it completely right.  Everything else, in my mind, I am unsure of–and I’m even willing to debate those two.

I think we should be shopping at the Cafeteria no matter what the issue–politics, religion, whatever.  The underlying assumption with a statement like “Cafeteria Catholic” is that you go up to the counter and only select items that appeal to you.  That behavior is not what I’m purporting.  In these instances we need to go to the counter and look closely at all the items for sale, inspect them, check the list of ingredients, see who prepared them, check the expiration date.  Compare what you find with the food you’ve chosen at other lunch counters in your life, and then make your selections based the empirical evidence you’ve gathered.  

I’m sure I’ll never feel as confident and comfortable with my decisions as those who have “true faith”, who put their decisions in the hands of others.  But is that a bad thing?  Bottom line, as always, is this: Am I shortchanging my children by not teaching them to blindly follow any authority figure/organization?  What do you think?

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