(1st Things) John Waters–Defending the Religious Sense

I do not think that, as a community, Christians have been reflecting adequately upon what is lost in the promotion of the secular-liberal anti-ethos. In light of Smith’s and Giussani’s observations, it is notable that, whereas the neo-pagan dispensation extends maximum indulgence to certain kinds of human characteristics (sexual preference, gender “choices,” race, etc.), it increasingly withholds approval for this other “layer” of human identity. This denial is justified implicitly on the basis that religion is a “software” issue, a matter of choice, whereas the others—sex, race, etc.— are “hardware issues,” outside the control of the implicated person.

To see religion as “software” is to see things from the perspective of the skeptic, the unbeliever, from a position of hostility. We know why neo-pagans might choose to see things in that way, but more mysterious is why religious people increasingly limit their pleading to petitions for tolerance, space, freedom-to-practice, etc.

By Giussani’s analysis the religious sense is concerned not just with membership in a church, or with prescribed lists of dogmas, rules, beliefs, or theologies, but with the notion that there is an element of the human person to which only transcendent concepts are capable of providing a correspondence. Recently, Pope Francis compared the hope offered by faith to “the air we breathe,” an apt metaphor. When religious rights are suppressed, so too is the capacity of the human being—including the secular human being—to breathe fully in reality.

Religion deals with those aspects of the human that concern imagining ourselves before, during, and after our earthly existence—in and on either side of the “tunnel” of the earthly trajectory. Neo-pagan culture cherishes the human in the tunnel of this existence only. When we are dying and frightened, society offers to sedate us but refuses to do any more than “tolerate” notions of a further journey beyond this dimension. In the pope’s metaphor: Our breathing becomes subject to cultural constriction.

If the idea of “live and let live” is applied only to the right of Christians to privately believe in daft ideas, there will come a time when each of us is excluded from the protection of the human community in the context of its institutions, laws, and enabling ideas.

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Posted in Anthropology, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

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