Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Do you believe everything the Church teaches?

Q:   Do you believe everything the Church teaches?
A: Yes.

Or I should say "yyy-e-sss", to emphasize my reluctance.

I get asked this question all of the time, and people even have a hard time believing me when I say Yes.  After all, do I not think for myself?  Isn't some of what the Church teaches ridiculous and obsolete and, well, wrong?

When people choose to believe everything the Church teaches, that's called giving their "Ascent of Faith."  When I was in High School, I came to believe in the truth of Jesus and of Scripture, because I was involved in a number of protestant youth ministry programs. But I had serious doubts about the specifically Catholic Stuff. I thought the Church was sexist for not ordaining women and I was uncomfortable with honouring Mary since it was not clearly scriptural. But as I examined each issue one at a time, I found that other issues like the Eucharist or Confession were clearly defined in scripture.  And particularly, I found that the arguments for the authority of the Church, such as the one in Matthew 16, were compelling.

I actually find it very difficult to understand how you can trust the authority of scripture without first trusting the Church who compiled it.

I eventually came to the conclusion that  the Church really was inspired by God and protected from error, as they claim.  Once that happened, things I struggled to understand, like doctrines on Mary or sexual ethics, fell into line.  It was like I realized that if I disagreed with the Church, it was probably me who was wrong, and not the Church.

This is a very counter cultural idea, when you think about it, but I also think it is self evident.  As everyone knows, we are all products of our culture and are unable to think outside of culture-  so true, objective reasoning is in a sense impossible. When you look at the rapidly changing cultural values, and the things that we seem to think are correct today that never before in history were held to be correct, this is very telling. Our values and ideas are so informed by this, that while in Germany during WWII it was reasonable for people to think that Jews were less than human, we now almost universally agree that this notion is wrong.

So, suppose I could decide what teachings I would accept and which I would reject.  Besides the fact that this would make me the final authority on truth, which strikes me as extremely unlikely....  Which teachings would I reject?  There's a few, but I'll just point out 3.

1.  Guardian Angels.  That teaching seems silly and irrational to me.

2. Hell.  I get it, I can defend it, but I hate it. Jehovah's Witnesses, Luther, Rob Bell-  they've all found ways within the Christian context to eliminate Hell, or at least diminish it's impact.  I would probably do the same if I could.

3. Homosexuality.  Many people don't get this teaching at all-  but I easily understand how it is necessarily rooted in the logic of sexual ethics, and the dignity of human life. But I still don't 'like' it.  My preference is to jump on the band wagon and just celebrate everybody's love for each other, regardless of form!

So yeah, if I could control truth, or pick and choose my beliefs, I'd change all three of those teachings!  The thing is, just because I hold certain preferences, it doesn't make the thing correct.  Any spiritual authority that would just change and shift it's teachings according to the cultural norms is clearly not an authority at all.  I have no reason to think that the cultural values that are prevalent right now just happen to be correct.

In fact, thee are many other established facts that I would reject on the same basis-  except that they are not up to me.

1. Quantum Mechanics-  at the Quantum level there are things that you cannot observe without impacting them, or that can be in 2 places at once, etc.  That just seems silly and irrational to me.

2.  Children being born with heroine addictions.  I hate that.  It's so unjust.  But again, just because I hate an idea, it doesn't mean it is not true.

3.   I can't think of a good example about homosexuality, about something that I really wish were true but it's not, because homosexuality is such a sensitive issue that every example I think of might get misconstrued, and I might get accused of likening homosexuality to something which goes beyond my analogy.  But surely, you can agree that simply because I want to believe something, this does not make it so.

In the Life of Pi, the reader (viewer) is challenged with the question of which version of the story they prefer, and of course most people agree it is the fantastic one.  I do think we can choose what we believe to some degree-  but I'm not prepared to just hang up my brain and only believe the things that appeal to me, or that I can understand.  If I could understand everything the Church taught, this would be indicative to me that the Church had invented it all!  (It is so strange the argument that if Christianity is correct it should be understandable.  I hardly understand anything in science, but my failure to understand it has no bearing on it's validity!)

In conclusion, I believe everything the Church teaches, precisely because I trust the Church in its 2000 years of non contradicted history protected by the Holy Spirit more than I trust my 35 year old opinion.

1 comment:

  1. I love this topic because it is so interesting! For myself, I find with the church and other areas of my life it is important to draw on the experiences of people before you. In an experience with something new or something I don't understand I will draw on the wisdom or experience of people who have gone before me. As I develop my own experience and find something doesn't make sense to me then I can take it upon myself to investigate why and what reasons guided the original decision. This is the approach I take with the teachings of the church. These decisions were made by people who have dedicated their lives to this service have wrestled with the consequences heavily before coming to a decision. I find this important because a common tendency of many people today is to question everything which is close to undoing the progress of thinkers before us. If we can't take their advice and learn from their experience we are forced to relearn and come to the same conclusions on our own. I can appreciate that not everything the church teaches makes sense or is easy to grasp but I feel it is important you give the church the benefit of the doubt before you disagree with its teachings. Just my two cents.