Friday, May 13, 2005

religion, spirituality, and snarkiness

My cousin Antoinette in NYC wrote me after our Uncle Dominic sent her copies of my homestyle Catholic stories. She got me to thinking about terminology when she wrote:
While I can't agree with your love of all things Catholic - I'm ambivalent in matters concerning religion - I agree with you that this world needs to focus on spiritual well-being and faith in God's plans. I don't like to get involved in commentary about religion, too contentious for me, but I admire you for putting your ideas out for public consumption. As for me, I spend considerable effort each day trying to stay in contact with God, but it seems like lots of times I fall short of my goals.
Two phrases jumped out at me: "too contentious for me" and the use of "religion" and "spiritual". I started to respond to her one way and then I realize that something had changed in me since the last time I wrote about the concepts of "religion" and "spirituality". If Antoinette hadn't written, I don't know if I would have realized that change. When I did respond, it was like this:
My mother used to have a saying, "Religion is life". Like you, she also found religion too contentious to embrace, although she held faith in high respect. I do embrace religion, in fact even when I was a kid I was like that, and already I knew it was a little out of the norm. I once began a combination illustrated manuscript/comic book about the seven sacraments and Jesus, and I was so embarrassed I kept it hidden in the attic because I would have been mortified if anyone had found it. One day I snuck into the attic to retrieve it and work on it and it was gone! I asked my mom if she had seen anything of mine like that and she said, "Oh yeah, I cleaned out the attic today and threw away a whole bunch of junk that was just lying around." You can imagine how I felt! :=-)

When I was younger, I used to disassociate myself with religion and only use the word "spiritual" but now I admit that religion itself is close to my heart, and not just the Catholic religion but all religions. I remember in eight grade doing a project on Islam and I just fell in love with the feasts and the seven times of prayer a day and the mullahs (sic) blowing the shofars (sic again! it's been awhile since I studied it). I always wanted to be close to God, as close as possible, and the religions of the world held to me the best promise of figuring out how to do that. I know that for very many people, the wars of religion, the hypocrisies and failings of religious leaders, the intolerance between adherents of different religions, very much affect the decision to approach God within a faith community. That has never much affected me. I have no idea why not.

In the end, I do stick with my mother's aphorism "religion is life", although she meant that it doesn't matter what religion you say you are, what matters is how you live. I guess I mean it turned around, ie. that yes what matters is how you live, and if there is religious truth that can help you live a more vibrant, hope-filled, other-embracing life then I want the religion that offers the fullest measure of that truth even if it's populated by hypocritical, failed, weak people. Because I don't know any human community that isn't so populated, know what I mean? :-)
What does this have to do with snarkiness? First, snarkiness may be the kind of contentious discourse that's fun to read but makes us shy away from engaging in discussion about ultimate realities. And secondly, the snarkiness I see not just on Catholic blogs but on all blogs has a lot to do with lack of respect for other "religions", whether those religions are actual dogmatic faiths or just (just!) political ideologies. JPII, of blessed memory, may have had a snarky bone somewhere in his body, but if he did it never, ever showed itself in public.

Snark? We don't need no stinkin' snark!

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