Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Any sort of dogmatism can lead one to strange places

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
What does it mean to say I believe in God?

There are a myriad religions. Billions of people profess allegiance to some form of religion. There are over one billion Catholics on the planet. Religion is a big business but of course it's a lot more than that.

My experience of religion is within the Catholic Church and within the Catholic Church it has been as a member of the Dominican Order.

And I have been observing things now for quite some time.

The catalyst for this week's column is a conversation I had with a number of people in the last few days.

It was an eclectic group. With the exception of two people in the group, all had been baptised within the Catholic Church. Today some of them are strident atheists, some 'sort-of' believers and maybe one or two might admit to practising their religion.

And what does it mean when someone says they practise their religion?

Is there a cut-off point for being a member of the Catholic Church? I know a number of priests in active ministry, who would be slow to say that Jesus Christ was/is God. I can hear you say they surely must be frauds or hypocrites. But I could retort and ask at what stage did Jesus know he was God? Did the infant know, did Jesus as a five-year-old boy know he was God?

One would imagine that belief in divinity, death and resurrection are essential tenets for a believer. What about the doctrines of the Trinity, virgin birth, immaculate conception, original sin?

It would appear that there is a spectacular disconnect between religious purists and the general body of people who subscribe to the Catholic Church or simply call themselves Catholics.

At what stage does someone have to say that in all honesty they can no longer call themselves Catholic?

In all my years observing things I can't help but be inclined to feel sympathetic for people who feel unsure about so many aspects of their faith.

If I were to go into an office, a factory or a classroom and ask the people in those places what it means to say there are three persons in the one God or what it means to say that Christ is present in the Eucharist I can imagine the confusion and difference of opinion that would be aired.

We seldom if ever hear debate or discussion about what it means to say Christ is present in the Eucharist. Some months ago I heard a priest preach a fine sermon at Mass where he spoke about Christ being sacramentally present in the Eucharist. Surely Christ is not present in the Eucharist the way I am sitting in this seat.

Again, the disconnect between what the purists say and what people think and believe is enormous.

Once we mention God's name we are in unusual territory. Everything to do with religion is nuanced, delicate.

Yet, when it comes to issues concerning sexuality there seems to be all sorts of red lines drawn.

I'm inclined to think that there is some great game being played out.

Last week I was in a darkened room with a dying man. I read a Psalm and blessed the man. The words of the Psalm had great meaning. They gave solace, ease. I felt privileged to be there and to read that Psalm.

A la carte Christianity? Maybe the bottom line is that dogmatism leads to strange places.

God? Always a matter of being kind and sympathetic. After all, don't we say we believe in a loving God.

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