Searching for one-size-fits-all religionGEORGE JONAS
The main qualification an opinion journalist needs is to be opinionated.
The same is true for a columnist who isn't ready with advice to the cardinals now assembling in Rome to elect a pope, on the flimsy excuse that he knows little about church affairs. Yet for some reason, I usually preface my counsel to the conclave by pointing out that that I'm not a Catholic, I'm not even religious, so I don't feel entitled …
Entitled, sir? You're an opinion journalist. Stop apologizing and get on with it.
All right. Dear cardinals, the next Pope must be willing and able to restrain predatory priests. He must be willing and able to clean house. But there's a difference between fumigating the church and blowing it up. Fashionable as blowing things up has become, you're not in the fashion business. You're in the faith business. Restoring the church and hijacking it aren't the same thing. Appearances and vocal demands to the contrary, you don't have to be up-to-date.
I say this knowing that hardly a week goes by without a person accusing the church of being insufficiently up-to-date, or of unfairly restricting some human desire or ambition. Complaints may range from sexual matters to points of ritual. Some people may demand that the church approve of divorce, or maybe of contraception or abortion, or the ordination of women and homosexuals, or whatever else would bring the church's doctrines more in tune with the complainers' own philosophies.
All such complaints boil down to one thing. It is that the moral teachings, or sometimes the mysteries, of a given religion restrict some of the complainers' worldly ambitions. The usual code-word expressing this complaint is "relevance." The complainers worry that the church is becoming "irrelevant" to their lives. Only if the church agreed with their views on contraception or whatever would it become "relevant" again.
It would be easy to imagine that such complaints are peculiar to our times. Not so. The specifics may be quite contemporary, but the basic phenomenon is anything but new. The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy gave a memorable description of such a complainer 150 years ago.
Helene is beautiful. Her arms and shoulders are the marvel of Moscow. She doesn't lack rich and socially prominent suitors, but she belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church. Divorce being unthinkable in that church at that time — during the Napoleonic wars — she converts to Roman Catholicism. Rome doesn't permit divorce as such either, but the Pope can sometimes annul a marriage.
"According to her understanding," writes Tolstoy, describing Helene, "the whole point of any religion was merely to provide recognized forms of propriety as a background for the satisfaction of human desires."
Then Tolstoy continues: "I imagine, (says Helene to her new Jesuit confessor) that having espoused the true faith I cannot be bound by any obligations laid upon me by a false religion."
Helene would be reassured to know that her heritage lives on. Her standard is held up by men and women who, having acquired the liberty to do as they please, now demand religion to also applaud their moral choices. They want their churches, their priests, even the very Vicar of God, to approve and endorse what they do, or else they threaten him with irrelevance. God Himself becomes irrelevant unless he can be used to rubber stamp human desires — because, as Tolstoy points out, that's what God is for, at least as far as Helene Bezuhov is concerned. That's how it was in 1812 and that's how it is in 2013.
I've little doubt that the Countess Bezuhov's spirit will attend the conclave in Rome, right along with the Holy Spirit. Both will be available to the cardinals, and we can only hope they'll listen to the right one.
As I mentioned before, I'm not religious. If I were, however, I think I'd have something more important to worry about than God's relevance to me. I'd worry about my relevance to God. And in the unlikely event that the cardinals asked me, I'd say that worrying about what's relevant instead of what's right is the quickest way to irrelevance.
George Jonas. "Searching for one-size-fits-all religion." National Post, (Canada) March 6, 2013.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
Copyright © 2013 National Post
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