It may be that the “I Hate Religion, I love Jesus” video has officially passed out as a cultural phenomenon like many other pop culture trends that this very video is indebted to, while Religion still stands. It may be that another critical response is so late in the game, that it is somehow irrelevant.
I, however, still did wish to share some affirmative critical responses in favor of Religion. My Catholic Church still stands despite my ability or incapacity to defend it. My defense of it does not validate it any the more. After some time on reflecting, as well as much time postponing for various reasons, I offer my thoughts. I only hope to add a few of these affirmative responses, if only that they are not merely responses but affirmations that are relevant beyond the moment.
Many of the responses to the video that I have read act merely as ad hoc phrase by phrase responses. Having had a few days to gather some of my thoughts and emotions together I decided to piece together five significant reasons why I am proud to be a Religious follower of Jesus Christ.
Reason 1 Children
I had the awesome experience of helping a 2nd grade class prepare for their 1st Holy Communion.
1st Holy Communion Masses are inundated with plenty of Catholics who have not attended Mass in years, and are notorious for becoming spectacles. They are running around Church taking photos of their precious pristine children taking a rite of passage. And the irony is, that despite it being special to them, they themselves may not even be receiving communion. Despite what may be some overt hypocrisy… Well it does not even take away from the amazing nature of the sacrament if believers fail to grasp the magnitude of the event. Even if they inherently know this day to be set apart from others, they carry a sense of pride for their children. Even if the children themselves fail to see the riches of the Sacrament. Hey, that is the wonder of being a child, joyful discovery.
Unlike the jaded fallen away Catholic, or anyone who insists on Jesus and no religion, who dismisses this joyful discovery. The Jesus without religion insists that this faith experience of the child has literally no value, while the religious person carries the joy that they have an entire life to joyfully discover and grow into the understanding of this very event.
I cannot merely dismiss the faith of a child, given they do not understand the magnitude of the event, it is just uncharitable. In fact, I think their own humble willing acceptance is seriously valid. It is something we share, and I am proud to share the faith, and inspired by the faith of children. In fact, in some way, my own religion insists that the faith experience of these children is somehow more valid then my own. This is so radical and counter intuitive in the same way that Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God was so radical and counter intuitive, and not as radical and counter intuitive to insist that understanding people only apply to the alter call. To insist that the only valid encounter of faith is an adult who “accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior,” fails to grasp the magnitude of childlike faith, and submits itself to the sinful yoke of cynicism.
I cannot help but think that I am a better man when we have a religion where children are full and valid participants.
Reason 2 Art, Music, and Architecture
A few years ago I studied medieval and renaissance art in a university setting. I was inspired by the course, and impressed by how far the professor managed to cover the spiritual and religious genius of artists that we covered.
Although on one hand I am sure many people would flock into magnificent churches over the centuries with the same human inclination for the spectacular that they flock to in laser show mega churches and special effect extravaganza blockbuster movies… There is still something more at work. The impulse in the human spirit to craft magnificent beauty in the cause of a greater purpose is one of the most amazing things about humanity. To dismiss this aspect of the human spirit as idolatry or as uncharitable is more ironic idolatry than anything. In fact, the impulse itself only verifies the existence of our Creator and the creative achievement. To have one’s heart dramatically arrested in silent reverence, seems to ennoble the soul to greater virtue, more then the cold and nearly inhuman insistence on dismissing the entire western repertoire of artistic achievement.
Because some people fail to appreciate the divine beauty manifest in art does not itself invalidate the art, or more significantly, the glorious realities that the art manifests. However, to fail to acknowledge the total human person, sensuous and emotional, traps the human person in their own ideological madness. When you kill the poetic imagination in the human spirit you are left with nothing then legalism or fanciful speculative superstition. Perhaps that is whey our society is so fragmented on ideologies, is because our culture has been so iconoclastic when it comes to religious art. Perhaps this is why “Jesus and No Religion” is so legalistic with all its “No religion, no art, no this, no that.” Perhaps that is why there is this rampant obsession with speculative superstitious interpretations of the Apocalypse with non-contextualized passages of Scripture.
In order for their to be a great artistic tradition, it requires a shared pedagogy of symbols. Religion does that. Where there is no shared pedagogy, you see as modern art is reduced to intangible reckless subjective nonsense.
I cannot deny that somehow I have become a better man by a religion that drives women and men to manifesting beautiful art music and architecture.
Reason 3 Culture and Communal Christian Identity
I grew up in Southern California, going to a parish established by Spanish Franciscan Missionary Junipero Serra in 1771 before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Catholic story of the American Southwest is a different one than the Catholic story out in the East Coast. The Catholic story of the Irish, Italian, and German immigrants differs from the Hispanic Catholics who became part of this country without ever immigrating. You see the results, and the Mission Church to which I grew up in is markedly different then the Churches I see out here, is different from the Churches in Europe.
A philosophy professor when I started College made the comment that Protestant Churches throughout the world make very little admission for cultural differences then Catholic churches, and that says something significant. Perhaps old Protestant Churches only permitted Gothic styles, and modern Evangelical churches only permit theatrical auditorium settings, while Catholic Church admit to a diverse inclusiveness when it comes to cultural settings. This is not to say that certain aspects of Catholic worship are incredibly essential, and this theory overlooks the sad state of Catholic architecture in the past thirty years (which itself is not the point, it is more a failure to relate and live up to something essentially Catholic).
The same could be said about the devotional life of Catholics of differing settings. Unfortunately, when you have a dogmatically narrow self-righteous insistence of Jesus and no religion, you hypocritically fail to allow a communal relationship with Jesus to grow in a particular character, and you fail to allow the Spirit itself to work. At some point years ago, I was instinctively opposed to some sort of “Religion of the Masses.” That instinct was itself a self-righteous disdain to set myself over and above others who failed to live up to my own narrow idea of purity.
What you end up getting is a bunch of Evangelical, Pentacostal, Non-Denominational churches sprouting up targeting Hispanic Catholics condescendingly as biblically ignorant while training them to disdain their own Religious Cultural Patrimony. Believe me, I have seen it happen my entire life growing up in Southern California. I am sure the same could be said as Evangelicals likely do the same elsewhere.
Reason 4 I am liberated from the tyranny of self
Although on the one hand I become most fully myself in my relationship with the Divine Trinity, there is still something about myself that has to die. Perhaps it is a result of a sinful impulse within me, that we often refer to as Original Sin, that causes me to desire to protect myself from God’s work in my life.
It is like I want, at all cost, to accumulate more things. There is this survival instinct that fears that I will not have enough, and that I will wear out and die. There is this tendency to put my short term desires and needs ahead of my own long term destiny, and the destiny of humanity in general.
Jesus comes around preaching the Beatitudes, and giving himself up to die on the cross, and it turns this whole human dynamic on its head. It turns Communism, Capitalism, Consumerism, and every other self-protecting ideology on its head. In fact, it turns this same sinful self enclosing instinct to have Jesus and no religion on its very head as well.
Even to hold the bible in my own, like an app on my personal smart phone device only closes up God in a box even more, if I cannot allow the bible to be interpreted by a community more competent then myself. Perhaps this is why I see the value itself in Patristics, as well as a legitimate authority that is not me, because of my own instinct to protect myself.
The tradition of the Church has always been helpful for liberating myself, and others from their own selfish instincts, while Jesus and No Religion only helps one to give power to their own selfish instincts. What an incredible hypocrisy then, to talk all this stuff about what Jesus insists that you do, while pretending that there is no religion at all behind it. To be accountable to a 2000 year tradition and a standing authority that is not me, only refuses to allow myself to become the tyrant of my own interpretation of what Jesus meant.
When the Church comes up with a legal code, Canon Law, has been a way of verifying the rights and responsibilities of the members and the institution beyond stringent lists of forbidden things. That is not to say that there are some limits that are forbidden, if only that the Church will insist that I will be losing my total human spiritual identity by crossing those limits.
There really is no way around it, but I cannot be a better more liberated person if I am not accountable to those things.
Reason 5 Sanctified Rhythm of Life
The logical conclusion of Protestant failure to carry a sense of Sacred with things has resulted in a failure to worship with a beautiful liturgy. There is no Sacred Sunday of the Resurrection, there is just a day to hear Pastor Preach. There is no entering into the Divine Drama in Human History in the Rhythms of Feasts and Seasons each year, as there is only another day to listen to Pastor Preach. There is no participation that takes us beyond the daily mundane of our lives, as there is only the incessant demand that Pastor Preach, or to incessantly demand that God deal with all the daily mundane of our lives. This is the whole market with Evangelical Self Help books, bible daily devotionals, and the like.
Not only does an authoritative tradition act as a balance to my own instinctual fight for survival, a living tradition imparts life insofar as I participate in it.
Think about it. We have Advent, leading to Christmas, and Lent leading to Easter. We behave in a different way in Advent then in Lent, and a markedly distinct manner in Lent compared to Easter. We hope in one and relish in the other. We cry in one and solemnly rejoice in the other. We are losers in one, and we participate in God’s victory in the other.
The very act of praying in such a seasonal manner sanctifies our sorrows and consecrates our ecstasy. It places each tear and each smile of our lives in a greater story. It relates our pain and pleasure to something beyond our everyday mundane, and even goes so far as to identify it with all of humanity and with God’s story.
People tell me that I am always so joyful and always so happy. I tend to laugh with irony during the month of November when I listen to melancholy music thinking of the Holy Dead, and meditating on my own mortality. When Christmas arrives, with its cakes, candies, and drinks, I go to Mass over and over again, and then go party over and over again. I laugh and dance with pride and gusto. This is what religion does to me. It does not dismiss my sorrow as morbid, nor does it dismiss my celebration as excessive.
Of course, the “Jesus and No Religion” do not even know how to celebrate and drink like Jesus, with their puritanical insistence on no alcohol. They are more like the Pharisees who will criticize the disciples of John the Baptist who mourn and fast (as they will dismiss anybody who does not always and everywhere remain happy for Jesus Resurrection) while simultaneously, like the Pharisees criticize Jesus disciples who drink and feast (as they dismiss “worldly” people with their excesses).