Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mark Shea has fun at Gordon Bennett's expense

Well, several do actually. It wasn't hard, and I admit I jumped in on the pile. But on second reflection, I noticed something. What Gordon was saying was, well, almost biblical. Almost. His problem was he filtered a valid point through the latest, hippest bigotry of our time. One of the favorite statements folks who want their worldviews fast and easy so they can develop a universal philosophy during Dances With the Stars commercial breaks, is that organized religion is bad. That idea is, of course, almost laughable. Organized religion is not bad any more than organized business, organized entertainment, organized anything. You want bad, try absolute anarchy. Try a society founded upon narcissism and the worship of the self above all things. Although you don't have to try. You can look at the West for the last fifty years or so.

Fact is, there is nothing at all wrong with 'organized religion', mainly because the term itself seldom means anything. Usually it's a semi-clever and lazy way of saying 'approaches to the divine, spiritual realities of the universe that I don't like but don't have enough time to really think about why I don't like them.' That is the problem with Gordon's article.

Sure, as the quote from Amos suggests, allowing the ritual and liturgy of a religious tradition to replace charity, love, and good works is a sure way to incur the wrath of the Almighty. One need merely read the prophets of the Old Testament, or the teachings of Jesus, to see that. Letting religion by the numbers do your pilgrimage for you is a quick way to the judgement seat.

On the other hand, there is not thing one wrong with religion and its rituals, if they are designed to point the individual to God's grace, and lift up praise and worship to God alone. Ritual is in our bones, organization is our way to avoid the chaos and confusion that we see in places like our public schools when we try to live by the creed of 'No Rules, just Right'. It's when ritual or ceremony replaces our devotion to God, or we use them to ignore God's commands to give that cup of cold water, lift up the widow or the orphan, or seek righteousness and be compassionate to our neighbor, or not out-debauch a porn star, that the problems arise. When we just punch our religion card, no matter how 'organized' or 'disorganized', it is the same foul smelling reek to God.

That should be a warning for those who fail to realize that despite lifting up the lofty 'I don't do organised religion' mantra, they, too, may be in the cross hairs. They may well be manipulating some abstract personalized form-fitting self celebration that keeps God out of the way of the cocktail hour while patting themselves on the back for being smarter and more spiritual than those dolts who need their petty rituals. And such clever spirituality, while possibly able to make you feel good about yourself, does no more than the stale, empty rituals condemned by the likes of Amos.

Gordon's problem was fuddling all that. He simply grabbed a tired, worn out and intellectually vacant argument, then followed through by adding the most ludicrous notion a person in the post-20th century world can believe - that the absence of 'religion' will save the world (the 20th century being the most secular driven century in history). A waste of a good point. Had he avoided the typical post-modern cliches, there was a valid point to be made. The warning of God is not 'beware of religion.' The warning of God is beware of anything: shallow adherence to ritual, selfish and conniving manipulation of the divine for personal convenience, or outright rejection of the ultimate Source of all Good. For whenever any of these happen, in whatever form, the result has always been the tears of the world.


  1. You say you want more comments. Here's one. This is the best post I've seen on this blog so far. More like this, and you'll have plenty of followers.

  2. I agree. I think this is one of the better posts I've read. You do better when you dispense with the usual blogosphere hyperbole and quips and simply reflect on various topics in your own words. I look forward to more posts like this.

  3. Good article. Some religion is very shallow and frankly more self-centered- than God centered. This can make it's way into any church. On the same token everyone can watch out for this in themselves and can make sure they are not taking ritual too far. The ritual is the heart of religious expression, but can be made into a simple act instead of an expression of faith and devotion.
    As you sit in your church - do you take part in the service just to do it and say you have done what you are supposed to do or do you take part feeling the need to express your love, faith, and devotion to God through this experience.
    This makes me think.

  4. Agreed. The best part of the post. How many people think that being religious or not being religious makes the difference? It's how an individual owns his or her respective pilgrimage that matters.


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