Saturday, October 9, 2010

Unmasking our often invisible and ineffectual religiosity

During August's International Assembly of Responsibles of Communion and Liberation, Prof. Marta Cartabia, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Milan, gave a witness about a year she spent teaching at New York University. Towards the beginning of her remarks she staked out what she would speak about: "'Without Christ,' then, does not mean that religion is missing in people's lives. But from what I saw [during a year living in New York], it is an invisible and ineffectual religiosity..."

Quoting from E.L. Fortin's essay, The Regime of Separation: Theoretical Considerations on the Separation of Church and State, she states her thesis:

"Nietzsche has warned us a long time ago that God's death is perfectly compatible with 'bourgeois religiosity'... . He did not think for a moment that religion was finished. What he questioned was whether religion can move a person and open up one's mind... . Religion has become a consumer's good, a form of entertainment among others, a source of comfort for the weak... or an emotional service station, meant to satisfy certain irrational needs that it can address better than anything else. One-sided as it may sound, Nietzsche's opinion is right on" (from Living is Memory of Me Assembly of Responsibles of Communion and Liberation).

At least with regard not only to religion, but particularly to Christianity in the United States, Fortin hits the nail on the head. Philosophically, I would say that this results from our pragmatism. After all, William James didn't devise Varieties of Religious Experience out of thin air. This same kind of pragmatism, which accommodates itself very well to secularism either by gladly stepping to the sidelines, or by going to the extreme and self-consciously operating on the fringes of public discourse, seems all too evident. In either case faith is reduced, which results in the invisible and ineffectual religiosity Prof. Cartabia experienced during her year at New York University. Whether faith gladly takes a powder or moves to the extreme, like staking out positions rooted in a peculiar form of biblicism, there is a discernible split between believing and knowing

Charles Taylor's revisiting of James' Varieties several years ago demonstrates the tendency for religious belief to become an exercise in navel-gazing because it is reduced to belief and doubt in the lives of individual persons. This approach renders faith, or what passes for faith (i.e., a believing that remains at odds with experience, with knowing and deeply suspicious about what is believed), as a form of relativism, not an encounter with the Truth, who became incarnate for our sakes.

It is precisely this relativism that reduces the Church as nothing more than a human polity in the minds of many. Viewing the ekklesia in this way quickly leads to ideological battles in the Church and the overall reduction of faith to ideology, be it of the left or the right, when it comes to how the Church gives witness to the world. This is why the brilliance of PP. Benedictus XVI shines forth so brightly, as we all witnessed during his recent apostolic journey to Great Britain. Faith is reduced in many ways, to moralism, to sentimentality, but also to suspicion, to intellectual and practical unease, which results in an inability to fully live, to fully embrace, the One we constantly implore, like the disciples in last Sunday's Gospel, "increase our faith," in the confidence he will answer our humble request, borne of our affective weakness and near constant distraction. As Bl. John Henry Newman observed- "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." Hence, we need an effective method to verify His faithfulness, which cannot be other than an unusual approach to Christian existence.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

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