Religion is like Sausage (The Only Thing I Ever Wrote on Facebook Worth Saving)

Today is Quit Facebook Day, and I have deleted my account. Bottom line: Facebook’s culture, beliefs and attitude all seem to indicate that they want everything to be shared with everyone. Nothing they have done indicates any change in their core values and beliefs. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with a service that shares everything with everyone by default. That’s what this blog does, and Twitter. However Facebook promised something different, and then they took it back, exposing users’ private information in the process. Furthermore they have given every indication that they intend to keep doing so just as soon as they can get away with it.

Even if I trusted Facebook to keep their promises for more than a week, the bottom line is I just don’t need the service they want to provide. Facebook’s value proposition was always a way to share content with friends and family that you didn’t want to share with the whole world. For sharing with the whole world we already have Buzz, Blogs, Twitter, and many more options. For sharing one-to-one we have e-mail. Facebook, for a time, sat in-between; and it was useful. It no longer is. If there’s an existing service that offers what Facebook used to offer, I haven’t found it. Linked In comes closest, but its focus is different.

In any case, I mostly used Facebook to keep up with a few old, geographically diverse friends. I never used it much for writing. In fact, in the years I’ve had a Facebook account (going back to when you had to have a .edu address to join, and your network was your university) I think I’ve only written one significant item I’d sort of like to keep. So here it is for posterity, after a little editing. In the meantime, if you need to find me I’m easy enough to google and I put my real, unobscured e-mail address on most of my web pages.

This originally appeared as a comment in a thread on married Catholic priests, in response to the (true) claim that priestly celibacy had no support in the Bible.

Christianity and the Bible

The more I learn about both the Bible and the Church (and not just the RC church) the less they seem to have to do with each other. Aside from a few ethical principles honored more in the breach than the observance and mostly shared among the major religions, the Christian religion practiced today–rituals, sacraments, theology, etc.–has very little to do with the Bible. If we were really following the religion of the Bible we’d all be Jewish, much like Yeshua himself.

I thank Jesuit High School, both Jesuits and the lay teachers, for setting me on the path to a more rational, adult understanding of the church and of religion. I do wonder these days how many of them knew where it led. I can’t imagine they didn’t. There’s just too much scholarship about these matters, and my teachers were all far too educated not to be familiar with it. I suspect they knew just how far they could go. Debunking the loaves and the fishes, Book of Job, Lazarus, walking on water: safe. Resurrection, Virgin Birth, and Immaculate Conception: keep your mouth shut and hope the kids learn about it in college.

I also recall one class in the history of the early church taught by our parish priest. It amounted to a litany of heresies and schisms, most of which formally died out centuries ago (and all of which are still believed by many professing Christians today who don’t realize they’re heretics.) One of my older classmates expressed wonder that out of all these heresies and false beliefs, God had engineered it so that only the one true faith survived. Even then I could see this was as silly as thanking God for making our hands so neatly fit into our gloves. The sensible answer is that we believe what we believe because it’s what won historically, even if by complete accident. Aside from occasional converts (and not most of them) we’re almost all Catholics or Mormons or Lutherans or Jews or Buddhists or Muslims or what have you because it’s what we were raised as, not because we made any sort of reasonable decision based on evidence or divine revelation. And if God decided what we would be by placing us appropriately as children, he must have a really wicked sense of humor. I know no other way to account for him dividing humanity into so many different groups that all believe they are the one true path and who will periodically slaughter each other to prove it.

It’s really hard to seriously study religion (any religion, not just Catholicism or other variants of Christianity) while still retaining the basic faith of your childhood. Maybe the more philosophical variants of Taoism and Buddhism have divorced themselves enough from their history that learning the truth about the old stories no longer causes a crisis of faith. I don’t think anyone else has though. In many religions people taking religious vows end up living a lie: required by occupation to teach an official line they no longer themselves believe precisely because they’ve spent more time studying their own religion than the folks in the pews have.

Many scholars seem to end up where folks like Karen Armstrong, Paul Tillich, and Stephen Prothero did: theists, perhaps still believing in a personal and loving God, and maybe still going to church on Sunday (or Temple on Saturday, or Mosque on Friday) because they enjoy it; but no longer able to take the whole package too seriously. Religion is like sausage. If you want to enjoy it, you can’t learn too much about how it is made.

6 Responses to “Religion is like Sausage (The Only Thing I Ever Wrote on Facebook Worth Saving)”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Priestly celibacy has always been a matter of Church discipline, not doctrine; we don’t hear of it until the fourth century, and the prohibition on marriage (as opposed to sex) doesn’t appear until the eleventh. To this day, it does not affect Eastern Catholic priests, who are encouraged to marry before ordination unless they intend to become monks or bishops. (There are 22 non-Latin churches that report to the Pope, all but two of them forks of various other Christian denominations, and jointly representing only about 1% of all Catholics, but officially equal to the Latin Patriarchate.) Similarly, if an Orthodox or Anglican priest converts to Catholicism, he is (Orthodox) or can be re-ordained (Anglican) a priest even though married.

  2. Leif Halvard Silli Says:

    I studied theology in a protestant theological faculty. During that time, I became a Greek Orthodox (or Orthodox, as John Cowan, said) Christian, and I felt that the scientific tearing apart of the Bible that the (mostly) protestant German (based) theology and exegesis put me through, lead me to believe in the Catholic/Orthodox understanding of the Church and Bible – what I learned fitted much better together with Orthodoxy and Catholisism than anything else. (Also, Biblical sciense is, like any other science, self-critical – that was also a great help. ) Thus I also do not find it true that if you study Christianity deeply enough, then you come to understand so much that you have to hold back your knowledge to not break against the Church’s teaching. I also find the common attitude towards walking on water as «safe» and Virgin Birth as «unsafe», as artificial. Dig deeper, and come up with a more honest dilemma. ;-) The latter is all related to the concept of the Incarnation – which isn’t any scientific Concept. Otherwise, with Saint Paul: «When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.»

  3. Michael Kay Says:

    The things that constitute mature religious belief are not scientific truths, but neither are they lies. I like to think of them as a model: a model that is a gross abstraction and simplification of a reality that is too complex for us ever to fully understand. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio…”. The stories, the models, and the metaphors have accumulated over the centuries and they are useful because they cast light into a dark tunnel that we can never penetrate. Religious belief does not mean believing that the stories are all true in a scientific or historical sense; it means accepting them as ideas that shed light on the world we live in, on the way it came into being, and on the choices we should make about the way we live in it.

  4. C. Doley Says:

    If we were really following the religion of the Bible we’d all be Jewish, much like Yeshua himself.

    Modern Judaism is not very close to the religion of the bible (you don’t see too many Jews performing animal sacrifice, do you?) Like all religions, Judaism has evolved over the centuries to fit into the modern world. Both modern Judaism and Christianity grew out of the destruction of the temple, transforming into a set of principles and rituals that were not directly tied to city-states.

    The more I learn about how Judaism came to be, the more I respect and enjoy it. Although they evolved, central Jewish traditions have stood the test of time for thousands of years. What other institution has been able to leave its mark over a period even approaching that? Contrary to what you imply, I think the history is one of the most important and beautiful things about religion.

    I can’t speak with authority about religions other than Judaism, but even very religious Jews are aware of how their religion has evolved. It is (and has been for at least 1500 years) about interpretation and application to modern life, not blind obedience. I’ve met very few Jews who were troubled by detailed historical study of their religion.

    Of course, I enjoy making sausage too. So take that for what it’s worth…

  5. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Jews, like practitioners of all old religions, don’t believe necessarily everything written down in the old books. The really critical pieces are what people are taught as children and accept before they develop critical faculties. The pieces that have been thrown away by earlier generations don’t have the same impact they used too, simply because they weren’t taught any more. You can’t lose faith in something you never believed in in the first place. But when you realize that something you never even thought to question, that you’ve always just sort of assumed was true, isn’t so? That’s shocking.

    In the specific case of contemporary Judaism, the biggest shocker is the increasing realization of the last twenty or so years that the exodus from Egypt was pretty much a complete fiction. The Jews were never slaves in Egypt. That’s quite troubling, and more than a few folks are still in denial about that. See this article from 2006 for one example.

  6. Rich P Says:

    I’ve never understood why software developers/programmers who are required to use logic and reason to produce sound programs all of a sudden jettison that very logic and reason when religion is discussed. It’s a non sequitur to suggest that just because some religious don’t believe the “official line” that somehow the teaching is itself incorrect or wrong. It only proves what you said: those religious are living a lie.

    But to the topic of celibacy — why look in the Bible for teaching on priestly celibacy anyway? You clearly don’t take what’s in the Bible as authoritative, right? But by saying that the teaching is not found in the Bible, the implication is that the Bible is some sort of authority on the matter. But that’s an obvious contradiction. So the problem here isn’t that the teaching can’t be found in the Bible it’s that many people reject the teaching itself, regardless of where it’s found.

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