My brother met a man decked out head-to-toe in Raider’s football merchandise. A true-blue fan, he even sported a Raider’s tattoo on his neck. When my brother commented that the man certainly loved his team he responded, “You have to believe in something.”
We All Believe in Something
He was right. We all believe in something. Some people believe in self- determination, and some believe in a God who intercedes in people’s lives. Some believe that the material world is only part of the story of reality, and some believe that the material world is all there is. Some people believe in a God of wrath, others in a God of love, or no God at all. But underneath all of these beliefs is one constant: Whatever we believe, at the deepest center of our being, has a great deal to do with who we are.
For centuries, beliefs about God were prescribed by a person’s religious association. If you happened to be Christian in the Americas or Europe, those beliefs were reinforced by the culture in which you lived your day-to-day life. Many thrived and many suffered in this milieu. The average church-going person wasn’t required to think too much about what he or she believed. The true believer “took on faith” what the church preached and taught.
I remember as a Catholic child being told that the Bible was difficult to comprehend and best left to the priests to interpret and explain. We had a Bible in our home, but it was like a statue or a crucifix - something reverential to have around as a reminder of faith. Ours was stored in a closet where it would be safe from the wear and tear of family life.
Things have Changed
Today, the pendulum of religious believing has swung in the opposite direction. A strength and a curse of American life today is the notion that each person should be independent and self-sufficient. What I believe is what I believe, and I don’t need permission from an institution, particularly one that may seem so out of step with the times, to validate what I believe.
The Good News
The good news is that organized religion has become something people do because they choose it. No longer a get-out-of-hell-free card, religion is more like a companion that walks alongside its adherents as they navigate the great mystery that is God. I’ll grant you that this companion doesn’t always listen well, or always give the best advice, but it’s a rock-steady friend who will be with you through thick and thin.
For those who choose religious affiliation, it provides a common story that binds them together. At its best, religion is a bundle of things: a theory of the world, a community, a social identity, a means of finding peace and purpose, as well as a weekly routine. It stretches a person, always reminding us that it’s not all about me.
The Bad News
The bad news is that we are forgetting how to be community. Our social alliances that once seemed stable and permanent are now with friends and family who have a more transient commitment to their jobs, locales, friendships, and spirituality. Mix this new mobility with the pandemic, stir in our reliance on digital relationships, then add a twist of the American dream of personal freedom and self-sufficiency, and you end up with a heady cocktail of isolation and loneliness. How many of us identify as independent contractors? How many of us work alone from home? How many of us don’t know our neighbors? How many of us are raising our children a plane flight away from their grandparents? How many of us are spending hours addictively trolling social media?
Religion and Society are Blood Brothers
Religion and culture have been intertwined since people started gathering around a fire. Unfortunately, we moderns have become accustomed to seeing religion and culture as adversaries rather than as blood brothers.
We continually lament how fractured and antagonistic our society is. Red states. Blue states. Pro Life. Pro Choice. Pro Vax. Anti Vax. If only we could infuse into our society the wholistic identity and sense of purpose that can be found in the best aspects of religion.
We continually lament how backward and inflexible religion is. If only religion could incorporate more freedom of thought and diversity like we find in the best aspects of the culture.
Welcome to the Conversation
The goal of this blog is to be a place of hospitality, where faith and culture both feel welcome – a place that helps us understand what makes us who we are.
As the Raider fan said, we all believe in something. That “something” though can sometimes be hard to pin down. That’s because many of us are neither fully religious nor fully secular - living on a spectrum somewhere in between the two.
Here is a space to explore the nooks and crannies of both the Catholic experience and the secular experience. A place for us to listen and to be heard.
If you have an experience you would like to share, please click on the submission button for further information.
Welcome to the Conversation!
(The photo is of a work titled Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear) Opus #131, 2007 by John Baldessari, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)