Last night I had a great conversation with perhaps my favorite sheeb in the world about how religions operate, in a business sense.
Evidently the Pope recently announced that the Catholic church would no longer recognize female bishops, and that they are re-enforcing their boundaries to more specifically and emphatically exclude gay folks. My friend was incredulous that the church would alienate “the modern world” by looking so staunchly backwards, driving hordes of moderate papists to hypocrisy. No one actually accepts such extreme measures, she reasoned. Right?!
I haven’t read the article she read, so I’ve not checked precisely *how* the Pope intends to “exclude” gays, but the mechanics really aren’t the point. The point is that a huge part of religion is in reinforcing tradition and pushing disciples to decide what’s important.
What made the conversation interesting was that, as a Jew, she was aghast that the church would take action that might alienate followers. “They’re bleeding adherents already!” she reminded me — “aren’t they concerned about numbers?!”
Are Catholics concerned about numbers? Or are they concerned with principle? Catholics have been on the prosperous end of the PR train for awhile now, having converted-or-slain en masse often enough in history that now cementing those last few heathens in Africa represents a mere feather in that tall papal cap.
Indeed, Jews self-classify as “orthodox” or “reform” according to how seriously they take that gospel, and whether it comes from Maimonides or Woody Allen. Catholicism represents the “orthodox” end of that stick, leaving dissenters to choose whichever appropriate reformed sect resonates for them.
In fact, now is the time for religions to regroup and re-establish their boundaries. Is it better to be popular, or to be right? For better or for worse, the Catholic church seems determined to eschew popularity for what it deems right.
And, frankly, I’m into that. Regardless of how similar my feelings are to that particular party line, I appreciate the church’s taking responsibility for providing moral guidance at their own expense. And now, at the precipice of the paradigm shift to come, isn’t this as good a time as any to regroup and reassess? To draw a line in the sand and encourage idle disciples to choose a side?
What distinguishes religion from politics, or philosophy, or idle musing is that a religion does not operate like a buffet. While it’s tempting to accept some tenets and reject others, that disregards the point of choosing this (to continue this bad analogy) prix fixe core-belief-plus-necessarily-affiliated-conclusions plate in the first place.
The point is to decide what’s important and then conform, to let your belief in X or Y lead you to the proper conclusions and appropriate behavior. Cherry-picking permits a sort of moral relativism that undermines all meaning in life. How can we know what’s real if we don’t acknowledge any boundaries or rules?
Perhaps this absolutist standpoint reveals why, at 26, I’m still struggling with what I believe. I’m still looking for something that speaks directly enough to my core that I’m willing to sublimate the rest of my premises and hand my rational, conclusion-drawing mind over to _that_.
I appreciate that the church has taken this opportunity to formally reject the incentive to blur lines; to inject relativity into what should follow a sort of moral imperative. Whatever Christianity is or is not, it’s critical to any moral — rather than business, or mere philosophy — making authority to police a baseline. “Feel free to reform,” the church is saying, “but fyi here’s what’s important to us.”
It’s refreshing, frankly, to hear the Pope lay it out like that, frank and straight-forward-like, so we can digest church tenets in a sophisticated way, and then freely accept or reject.