Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Losing Their Religion

by Dick Mac

The people who think the most about religion are the people who know the most about religion; and those who know the most about religion tend to be those who reject religion.

The world's favorite oxymoron is "Catholic Intellectual," not "Jumbo Shrimp"; and as a Catholic intellectual, I totally get the joke and I laugh along with it.

It's true: most modern-day Catholics (save the Jesuits) do not use their brains when they make decisions about their religion. Most religious Catholics (well, all Christians, really, along with Jews and Muslims) accept the 'teachings' of their religious leaders as matters of fact, instead of matters of history and philosophy provided as spiritual challenges to help us make the world a better place.

As a Catholic intellectual, I take the teachings of Christ and the historical writings of the Jews who founded Western religion as writings intended to challenge me. They are pretty effective teachings, actually, when taken in an intellectual context.

My decision to intellectualize my religious beliefs led me to be an agnostic for many years, and I believed that the presence of a God (or gods) was meaningless as long as I was doing the right things morally.

I have come to believe that, although I can intellectualize and analyze religious teachings and understand them in a modern context, I am a Christian and I do, in particular, follow, respect, and enjoy the teachings of Christ.

I came to this realization after years of practicing religion, learning about all religions, and attempting to fold those teachings into my day-to-day life. Obviously, this has put me at odds with fellow Catholics. Not with the priests and administrators (most of whom also tend to be intellectuals), but with my fellow faithful who tend to be more parochial and literal in their understanding of their religion.

These people seldom know much about the world and their role in it. These people tend to have rather pedestrian beliefs about their God and their Church and their role in the world. They are American Christians.

Recently, The Pew Research Center polled a bunch of Americans about religious facts. The findings showed that atheists and agnostics know the most about religion. There were 32 questions, and I sure wish I had a copy of them. The results showed:

Atheists and agnostics, on average, answered 21 correctly (the highest score of any group).

Jews and Mormons answered 20 correctly.

Protestants answered 16 correctly.

Catholics answered 15 correctly (less than half).

This leads me to believe that atheists and agnostics have made a learned decision about their religious beliefs, they know what they are talking about; and Catholics have little or no idea what their religion means.

The more you know . . . well, the more you know!

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