Popular Religion

I am an amateur philosopher, and with the way things are going in my diocese it sounds like I’m going to be a semi-professional one some day.  I love philosophy.  I love studying the time-honored, vexing problems.  I enjoy clever arguments and the pursuit of Truth.  I love the insights that philosophy gives me into myself and how philosophy informs faith.

Needless to say most people do not agree.  As a matter of fact, most people see philosophy as a very cold, heartless discipline.  It’s not nice to take someone’s cherished beliefs or practices and put them under the microscope of rational analysis.  Most people do not want to combine cold, precise rational thinking with religion, which people often use as a means of emotional support. 

I formed this general theory in part after I saw the vastly negative reaction to the Church’s recent proclamation that the Catholic Church is the one, true Church.  Most people have two basic problems with this proclamation, neither of which are heavy weights intellectually.  First, they think that the dubium states that non-Catholics cannot obtain heaven, and secondly they think the Church is being “snobbish” for claiming that she has the claim on the Truth.  I’m not going to go into detail on why either of these claims are silly because the vast majority of my readership probably knows already.  

I remember when I first started debating with other people.  Often times, I would not read certain sources because I did not want to be shaken from my position.  Hearing the other person’s opinion might require me to change the way I view the world, and it is always easier to maintain the status quo than to reevaluate one’s position.  It took a lot of effort to get over that habit, and I now regularly read material from authors who disagree with me.  But most people aren’t willing to make this step into the unknown.  Most people find their religion emotionally satisfying, and examining those beliefs rationally pushes one away from that emotional stability.  Hence, most people avoid allowing religion to be subjected to reason, often resorting to arguments from outrage e.g. the arguments I listed above against the Catholic Church being the one, true Church.

However, I tend to agree with Plato (and Aristotle) on this one.  Ironically, if we seek satisfaction in our immediate comfort i.e. the emotions, then we are never going to be truly happy:  our emotions are so fickle that they simply cannot provide a stable foundation for happiness.  Paradoxically, it’s only in that cold, heartless reason in which we seek unchanging Truth that we can obtain happiness.  If we derive satisfaction from something that cannot change, then once we obtain said Truth it cannot be taken away from us so easily, and consequentially happiness cannot be taken away from us so easily.  And interestingly enough, one of my former professors once said that in all its dryness, all philosophy wrestles with the problem of evil in some way.  It’s reasoned faith that’s going to provide us support in times of trial, not an unquestioned set of undisputable beliefs.

But then again, this post will probably never do anyone any good.  It takes too much intellectual honesty to realize that one is holding onto a belief for purely emotional reasons:  indeed, I wonder how frequently a person is able to do away with such “reasons” altogether.  But the very people I am criticizing will never come to such a realization because they are too accustomed to seeking only emotional satisfaction from religion.  If people opt out of the reason game, then there’s no arguing with them.  Unfortunately for them, as soon as they opt out of the reason game their faith will not give them the support they need in times of trial, for no warm feeling can overcome the grief one feels with the death of a loved one. 

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Explore posts in the same categories: Philosophy, Religion, Theology, Uncategorized

One Comment on “Popular Religion”

  1. Joel Says:

    Paul,
    I could not agree with you more. A faith based on affect is doomed to leave one unsatisfied.


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