Friday, October 27, 2006


In yesterday's local paper here there was this article about a woman who follows Wiccan practices. Not too surprising, right? It's Halloween coming up, after all. But then there was a side article, interviewing a local Catholic priest. Mind you, this is man I have personally met with and have a great deal of respect for. Which was why it really bothered me when, during the course of the interview, following the Wiccan faith was referred to as being in a state of "mortal sin" as some great, dangerous temptation away from Christianity.

I just have to ask, have we Christians really learned so little from our own history? Have we remained so ignorant, so small, so petty? Must we continue to defend the uniqueness and specialness of our own faith tradition by denigrating those of others? Must we pretend we have all the answers about God, that no other approach to the divine has validity?

I am, to choose a word carefully, frustrated.

Here's how I see it. God, we are told, is the source of all that is good in the world. We are also told that "by their fruits you shall know them": that is, you can know whether an idea or tradition is good by the effect that it has on its adherents. As such, it follows that all traditions which create compassion, goodness, or holiness come from the Divine Mystery which we refer to as God. Doctrine, I would argue, is often pointless, even counterproductive. Look instead to see if the tradition promotes compassion, mercy, justice, love.

From the kind of articles I've been reading, I am forced to wonder about Catholicism sometimes. Which both angers and saddens me, as I still think of it as my faith tradition.


Magdalene6127 said...

Steve, I couldn't agree more. "By their fruits..." is a wonderful yardstick by which to measure. I say it again, to that Catholic priest and to others: have more confidence in God, will you?

Off for parents' weekend at Big City U...


steve westby said...

Mags, you honor me with taking the time to read my blog.

more cows than people said...

I concur with your sentiments certainly, Steve, and find your frustration wholly understandable.

But I'm rather a fan of doctrine, that is teachings of the faith. I believe that doctrine shapes practice and practice shapes doctrine. Bad doctrine has led to a lot of crap being done in Christ's name (the condemnation of whole groups of people for example). Good doctrine has led to good fruits. This is overly simplified, but the budding theologian in me wanted to weigh in.

I'm in a rush... more coherent thoughts later, perhaps.

steve westby said...

more cows than people, thank you also for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.

Part of what I loved about your response is that it makes me think more precisely about what I mean when I wrote about my distrust of doctrine.

A good deal of my thinking on this topic actually stems from Thich Nhat Hanh's writings on the Buddhist doctrine of "non attachment." As I understand it, one notion behind this teaching is that one should never cling to any teaching (even religious ones) so strongly that it keeps us from having compassion for others.

If I try to pull that teaching across to Christianity, I think it is best summed up as the primacy of the love commandment: i.e., that the only absolute commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is also my belief that the whole point of religious practice should be to generate holiness -- e.g., love, compassion, generosity, justice. So I get frustrated when other religious traditions are denigrated for having the "wrong" set of doctrines, when Christian groups have warred with each other over alternative interpretations of correct doctrine, etc. Essentially, I just think it misses the point.

more cows than people said...

You're response is very thought provoking. "It is also my belief that the whole point of religious practice should be to generate holiness-- e.g. love, compassion, generosity, justice"

And above you quoted Jesus answer to a similarly posed question. O.k. so he wasn't asked "What's the point of it all?" But he came to the point.

For some reason I felt an initial resistance to saying "The WHOLE point", a resistance to boiling down the point to a simple sentence. But then I thought about it, and your one point is so all encompassing, as was Jesus'.

Doctrine can serve the cause of generating holiness. I think of Karl Barth in the face of the theology of the third reich. It was a moment of doctrine, and challenging existing doctrine, that led (some) Christians to finally say 'NO!' to Hitler and 'Yes!' to Christ.

We've gotten way far away from your initial post. Thank you for making me think.

Peace to you, Steve.
More Cows