Saturday, July 30, 2016

Other Religions

While at work the other day, I overheard a coworker giving a non-practicing Catholic advise on how to incorporate New Age practices into their daily life so that they can improve themselves. We always tease each other, so I made a silly comment that no matter what he does, life stinks and he'd better get used to it. Hushing her voice, she commented that "the man who just spoke" is a really devout Catholic and people who are Catholic look at New Age stuff as voodoo (no, we don't - it's from the devil, like voodoo, but it's different from voodoo). She then said how Christians tend to think that God is in control of our lives (yep) and that if we do good things, he'll give us rewards (nope - at least Catholics don't think this; it sounds like Joel Olsteen stuff, or actually karma, which isn't Christian). She then went on, like so many others who don't know what they are talking about, preaching about how religion always gets in the way of us loving each other because we're trying to control each other and blah, blah, blah. She then started saying how she believes in all religions - the young man she was speaking to, having an analytical mind, said to her, "How can that be? A lot of religions contradict each other," to which she replied, "That's true - but if they all have things in common, like loving your neighbor and not killing and things like that, then that stuff is all true and there's nothing wrong with believing the truth, no matter what religion is preaching it."

She'd be shocked to learn that the Catholic Church preaches that same message.

We don't shy away from the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour and that he is in charge of everything, but because we know he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as Author of All Truth, then what is true in other religions must be from this same Author. We believe that in the times of ancient Israel, God was preparing the Gentile world (especially through Greece and her influence on the Mediterranean peoples) for the arrival of the Messiah; this is why there can be found in Hellenism so much truth, which St. Thomas Aquinas used in his theology, even though it was pagan in origin.

In the Second Vatican Council's declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, the Council gave credit and words of praise to Judaism and Islam, citing the many things we have in common, encouraging the end of bigotry and violence towards Jews, and encouraging members of all religions to work towards peace and the common good by uniting with each other in those areas where we have similarities of belief. "In [the Church's] task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship" (NA, 1).

The Church goes on the highlight several of the major religions and their own struggle to contemplate God and his creation. [In] Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.

There you go. We reject nothing that is true and holy in these religions. There are many Catholics who reject this document, though, citing that it encourages syncretism, a conglomeration of religions, or the idea that all religions are the same; there are many fundamentalist Protestants who use the Church's respect for other religions as "proof" that the Pope is trying to establish the antichrist's "one world religion". For the human, it's very hard to "hate the sin, but love the sinner," so quite often you'll see people loving the sinner by respecting - even encouraging - their sinful behaviour (like with homosexuality). Or, if you respect another person's religion, that somehow you are not believing in your own, or you're quietly saying that the other person's religion is equal to yours; the Church rejects that simplistic idea.

Jesus Christ is Lord and his Church, which subsists in the Catholic Church, was established by Christ for the salvation of all men; there is no debate. However, the Church believes that we have a God of mercy. "Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience" (LG, 16).

Through our love for all people, our love should evangelize the world to the truths of Love Itself, and all peoples will flock to the Church - however, until that happens, if God wills it to happen, we should still strive to work together towards the common good. The Catholic Church has established the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, which works to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of others religious traditions; to encourage the study of religions; and to promote the formation of persons dedicated to dialogue. The Church also established the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, as well as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in the hopes that through religious dialogue, Catholics and other people of good will can work together to promote peace, justice, the common good, charity, and solidarity with all those around us. It is only through knocking down the walls of prejudice and misconception that we can see that we're all not that scary, but that we have so much in common - again, not to say that there is no need to come to Christ, but that long before that day hopefully comes, we can still embrace each other as brethren and work together to create a world of peace, justice, and charity.

So, the Church actually teaches what my New Age coworker thinks is the idea of enlightened irreligious people. "[The Church] regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself. The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men" (NA,2).

On my bookshelves, packed with Bibles, Catechisms, school books, and oodles of Catholic books, you'll find the Bhagavad Gita, books on Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam (even the Quran), and other introductory books on Eastern religions, as well as books on the Protestant founders - not to say that all religions are the same, but in order to learn more about the people around me so that we can bond with our commonalities, end the prejudice between us, and work towards ridding the world of injustice, hunger, poverty, war, and other evils that Satan sows between men. The Church encourages this. We don't look at others like they practice voodoo. We don't reject everything other religions say because we refuse to listen to others or because we are trying to control the thoughts of others. Since becoming a Catholic, I've been blown away by how much the Church encourages dialogue with others - even to a fault - and we know dialogue is a two-way street where listening is just as important as speaking.

That's what the Church teaches. I only wish all these non-Catholic "experts" of the Catholic faith would just learn what we teach before complaining about what they think we teach - the world would be a better place.