Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Religion As a Force for Good

How do I respond to someone who says that religion is the most divisive, destructive, and deadly force in the world?

The first thing I would do is establish the positive impact that religion has had on the growth of civilizations and the general wellbeing of mankind.

The sciences have been especially nurtured by religious people, especially Catholics. The scientific fields with important foundational contributions from Catholic scientists include: physics (Galileo), acoustics (Mersenne), mineralogy (Agricola), modern chemistry (Lavoisier), modern anatomy (Vesalius), stratigraphy (Steno), bacteriology (Kircher and Pasteur), genetics (Mendel), analytical geometry (Descartes), heliocentric cosmology (Copernicus), atomic theory (Boscovich) and the origins of the universe (LemaƮtre). 35 craters on the moon are named after various Jesuit scientists and mathematicians!

Catholics have also made significant, if not outright foundational contributions to economics, the university system, systematic health care, natural philosophy, architecture, and the arts (painting, sculpture, music).

I also mentioned the general wellbeing of mankind. Study after study has shown that religion plays a significant role in social stability. The Heritage Foundation has analyzed these studies and come to the following conclusions:
  • Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage.
  • The regular practice of religion has been shown to help poor persons move out of poverty; inoculate individuals against suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime and divorce; increase longevity, improve one’s chances of recovery from illness, and lessen the incidence of many killer diseases.
  • Religious people have less depression, more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.
  • Religious belief and practice is a major source of recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown.
In light of all this, how can religion be the most divisive, destructive, and deadly force in the world when it does people and civilizations so much good?

Once you establish the goods of religion, it is also necessary to make a distinction between the religion and its adherents. When people commit atrocities in the name of religion, sometimes it’s because the religion itself calls for it, other times it’s because people are sinning against their religion. Let’s not condemn all religions when not all religions are the same in this regard. If the root of the atrocity is sin, the fault is in the sinner, not his religion.

For more information, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Do We Have Sacraments?

We have sacraments because God desires to transform us and bring about an encounter with His grace and life in a way that is considerate of how we learn, and communicate, and grow as human persons. I realize that’s somewhat of a mouthful, so let me unpack it a little.

If God so desired, He could forgive our sins or fortify us against temptation and the devil without giving us any indication of what He’s done. Likewise, Jesus could have forgiven the blind man — or even all blind people — by simply thinking it. But Jesus did not work that way. God does not work that way.


I posit that the reason God does not work that way is because we are sensual beings who live in a material world. We are not pure spirits who operate solely at the level of the intellect. We are spirit and body brought inextricably together. This means that we learn and perceive and communicate through our senses. We must see things, taste things, hear things, feel things, smell things in order to know them.

God, out of His great love for us, is willing to go to great lengths, even seemingly absurd lengths, to reach out to us, to convert us, to give us an experience of Himself. And so, He accommodates our sensuality. He made us to have this material aspect of ourselves and to live in this material world. He has shown by His example that He is not above moving within the things He has made in order to change us, to bring about that sacred encounter.

He did this most absurdly by becoming one of us. Who would have thought that one day our great and mighty God, so entirely perfect, and powerful, and “other-than”, would become one of us? Even today, the Moslems cannot even accept that He would be a Father to us, let alone that He would become one of us! But, God is willing to be absurd, to do the unimaginable thing, in order to save us. He did it through the Incarnation, and He does it today through the sacraments.

If God can bring about this sacred encounter by becoming one of us, then surely He can meet us in the waters of baptism, the words of absolution, the touch of the bishop, the bread and wine, the holy oil, incense, etc. And, through Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation, we see that this is what God desires.

As I said, Jesus did not heal the blind man by simply thinking it. What did He do instead? He spit in the dirt, mixed it into mud, rubbed this mud on the man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. He used the stuff of this world to change that man’s life forever. Through the sacraments, Jesus does the same for us.

Pax Christi,
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