Thursday, March 22, 2012

The God Religious vs. the Social Religious

The coming conflict is not one between religion and secular civilization but rather ‘between the God-religious and the social-religious,’—in other words between the worship of God and the cult of the State

-Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Modern State 1938

Gospel Reading for March 22nd, 2012 John 5:31-47

"If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent. You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you.

I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"


The God-religious vs. the Social-religious:

Yes, even church-goers can miss the point entirely. Matters of secondary importance can take precedence over that which is primary. Even half-truths can be preferred to the truth itself. For some in the Catholic Church, the social aspects of the Church can take priority over God; the Body of Christ as a social community can take priority over the Eucharist; and yes, the local newspaper and the opinions of the world can be more highly esteemed than the writings of the Saints, the Church Fathers and even Scripture itself.

It is an unfortunate result that some Catholic parishes and institutions have little in common with the Saint they are named after. There can be a chasm between the namesake of their ministry and the beliefs they pass on to others. Indeed, many in the Church profess the Faith and enjoy some aspect of it, but when pressed on many points of doctrine, they side with the world. The Old and New Testament is full of examples to this effect.

As we approach Holy Week, the Universal Church will have us remember certain accounts from the Gospel of John. In these Gospel readings the tension between the God-religious and social-religious will build up until the social-religious can tolerate no more. Rather than be saved from the half-truths of their social religiosity, they will instead have our Lord put to death.

The social-religious, that is, those who prefer their man-made religion over God's can be found in the book of Exodus when the golden calf was worshiped by those who should have known better. One has to wonder why the Hebrews- who were just delivered from slavery in Egypt in a miraculous fashion -would want to worship a man-made golden calf. Why would they substitute the living God for a phony? The reason is simple: The Hebrews could not do without religion because they were endowed with an immortal soul. Yet, in their sinful humanity, some of them grew to dislike the God who told them what to do. Evidently, they didn’t want to wait around for the Ten Commandments. So they built themselves a golden calf…and worshiped it.

Similarly, the elders of the Jewish religion in the first century didn’t particularly like what their Messiah had to say. As our Jesus indicated, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes were leaders of the House of God for all the wrong reasons. He even accuses them with a question: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Indeed, they covet, not the glory that comes from God, but the “glory” that they give to one another. It is all too common that in the professional world peer-approval is sought after more so than the welfare of the people they are supposed to serve. Members of the clergy both in the Old and New Testament were certainly not exempt from this misplaced priority; nor are the members of our Church exempt from it either.

Although the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes claim to be followers of Moses, Jesus points out to them that they, in fact, do not believe what the prophet wrote nor did they behave as he did. Our Lord said, “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” He even goes on to emphatically state in no uncertain terms that Moses, who they claim to honor, would oppose them. “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope.” They may have worn the garment of religion, but their hearts, according to Christ, was far from being religious. Our Lord very well could have summoned Moses to his side to prove this very point, but for the sake of humility, he chose not to.

Today the “God-religious,” that is, faithful Catholics who observe all that Christ commanded, have to sit side by side with the “social-religious” on the church pews. Due to a lack of pastoral discipline and proper spiritual formation these two subcultures exist side by side in the Catholic Church at large. But there is a problem: They have little in common with one another. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves these two types of Catholicism represent a larger culture war that rages in society. To be sure, if we but peel back the social, economic and political layers, there exists, at the heart of this war, the City of God in conflict with the City of Man. If the former is to prevail over that latter, it must first prevail in the Church. Then, and only then, will the City of God take root in the world.

At his First Coming, Jesus demonstrated, in the presence of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, that the God-religious would enter the kingdom of God before the social-religious. On the precipice of his Second Coming, in the presence of his Church and all the world, he will undoubtedly confirm it for one last time!