Monday, April 13, 2015

the luxury of religion

I was skeptical, if not downright offended, when I first heard the notion that religious institutions were partly if not wholly dependent on and complicit with the state within which they plied their trade.

Not that I was abjectly in love with or devoted to those institutions, but I did take comfort in the succor such institutions could provide to the least among us... or anyway said they could ... or promised they would. The sufferings of the world deserved a helping hand, a reprieve and a champion from where I sat.

But over time, and with a bit of investigation, I came around: The ability of religion to ply its trade rests largely on a stable environment that only the state can provide. It is thus in the best interests of religion to promote the circumstances that assure stability -- i.e. the state.

The fly in the ointment is that where the state can provide stability, it can also do it in a way that sacrifices principle and therewith, the least among us. If you make a pact with your friends, you need to be aware of the depredations those friends are willing to commit. And more than be aware, take responsibility for.

A Catholic priest neighbor of mine once went up the chain of church command in an attempt to save the beloved Brazilian Indian tribe he ministered to from the timbering interests that were invading and decimating the forests the tribe depended on for food. Tony begged his hierarchy to bring its clout to bear on a government that needed the backing of the timbering interests. Naturally, he came away from the encounter deeply disappointed: No way was the church about to put its status and clout on the line. The Indians lost and I think Tony had his faith reshaped. The state might provide stability for the faith, but it also was willing to sell out its sometimes-principles.

Isn't it the same for individuals who lay claim to a profound or even just a shallow faith?

These days, beyond the unpleasant realities that inform the 'guiding' principles of a spiritual persuasion, I think of spiritual life as a luxury item. A luxury is something that does not speak to basic needs but is like icing on life's cake. It's a choice and has a certain deliciousness, but if it were withdrawn, still the basic needs and desires would exist. No one needs a yacht.

And beyond the contradictions and the luxury capacities of spiritual life, I think that deciding to espouse a religion really isn't worth much without assuming responsibility for the depredations of which that religion is capable.

It's bad enough that the institution may be a hypocrite. Is there some reason you have to be one too?

1 comment:

  1. There's a long history of church and state working together or competing, all over the world. The separation of church and state in america just opens the door to competing bids from different churches to gt what they want from the state. And to work with the state requires supporting it. I can't say as i think much of either.