+JMJ+ Welcome to the second episode (I like the way that sounds!) of our first Catholic Book of the Month series, featuring It Is Right and Just, by Scott Hahn and Brandon McGinley. It was written for just such a time as this. I sensed that it was going to be an important book when I was poring over the sample I downloaded, but as I began reading the book this weekend, I realized it’s even more timely and important than I thought, making it the perfect choice for our first Book of the Month. If you haven’t read last week’s post about it yet, you may want to check that out, especially for the two videos included in it, interviews with Scott Hahn about the book. There will be notes and links at the end of this post.
Here’s a video podcast interview with Scott Hahn: Catholics can’t win by compromising with liberalism.
Video, Scott Hahn: Soldiers for Christ or Hostages to Culture?
Scott Hahn always finds a way to put into words things that I have been struggling to understand and to express. He points out things I didn’t see or did see but couldn’t put into words. He’s got the words, that’s for sure! The premise of the book is that, far from being the thing that oppresses people, religion is the one thing that offers them true freedom from oppression. True religion, that is, not the false things that have passed for religion for far too long for far too many people.
Nonsense, some will say, there is no such thing as true religion. Or, every religion is true to somebody. This is exactly the kind of thinking that got us into the situation we are in. Accepting the idea that all religions are the same, or that all things that claim to be religions are religions—that’s where the nonsense comes in.
Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as truth, there is such a thing as true religion, and there cannot be many religions that are true, and that is not some elitist talk, that is just plain old logical and reasonable talk.
Now, I’ve read some Marx, but I have not made an in-depth study of his works, partly because the man bores me to tears and partly because when he’s not boring me he is nauseating me. I have heard the “religion is the opium of the people” statement, but I confess I had never heard or read it in context.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”Karl Marx, Introduction to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, NY, Cambridge University Press, 1970, page 171. Quoted in Hahn, Scott; McGinley, Brandon, It Is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion. Emmaus Road Publishing. Kindle Edition, Location 91.
So it turns out that Marx is responding to something he sees in the world that is a cry for help, and he sees religion as the way some people try to answer that cry for help. But, as he sees it, this is the very reason religion must be abolished: because it so soothes people that it keeps them from rising up and taking part in the revolution, and, as he sees it, the change that must come about can only be brought about when everything holding man back is done away with.
Marx is describing the religious impulse not as a refuge for idiots but as an oasis of humaneness in inhumane circumstances. Perhaps, in spite of himself, he observes that a firm and trusting belief in the divine brings something genuinely good to individuals and to society.
But Marx is, at his core, a materialist. And so, while he sees spirituality as a balm for wounds inflicted on the working class by capitalism, he doesn’t see this as a mark in its favor. Rather, the fact that religious teachings like divine love, mercy, and charity make suffering more bearable is, according to Marx, exactly why those teachings must be eradicated: They blind the workers to the exploitation they are enduring.Ibid., 91-98.
Communism is like a dark parody of Christianity. Our ancient enemy knows he can tempt a good many people away from the Lord by offering them a shortcut (revolution) to accomplish what they desire, in this case, to help people, to swoop into their lives and heroically fight to save them from oppression, never mind the fact that they themselves are oppressed by mind-warping, soul-deadening communism, with more oppression coming in the wake of the revolution brought about by these would-be saviors than ever their victims would have endured had they been left alone to continue living their lives as they had been.
For Marx, the religious impulse is a roadblock to revolution—and once that revolution is complete, there will be no more need for religion because there will be no more structural oppression to ameliorate.Ibid., 98.
To jump ahead a bit, they also say this about Marx and religion a little further along:
That Marx’s reaction was to demand that such faith be extinguished should remind us how inhumane materialism really is—even as it sometimes goes by the misleading name of “humanism.”Ibid., 168.
True religion is, always has been, and always will be a public thing.
Hahn and McGinley talk about how our understanding of religion, liberty and truth have undergone profound changes since the “Enlightenment.” And not realizing this and not reflecting on it has led us to adopt some strange notions that our forebears would not recognize as sane. There is pre-modern thought about religion and post-modern thought about religion. In pre-modern thought there was something that was true and that was given to God (even the pagans had this notion) that was due Him in justice. And in post-modern thought there are many religions of many different flavors and one picks and chooses what one likes, what makes one feel good and gives one comfort, or one simply ignores it all and goes about one’s business and it’s nobody else’s business, and it’s private and should be kept out of sight, and all religions are just as good and true as all others, if any are good or true at all.
There are plenty of Christians who will say things like, “It doesn’t matter what kind of Christian you are, as long as we all worship the same God.” It reminds me of the line in one of my all-time favorite sci fi shows, Firefly, well, from the sequel film, Serenity: “I don’t care what you believe. Just believe it.” (I hope that’s the quote, it’s close enough, anyway.) This was said by a character who is some kind of priest or pastor, named Derrial “Shepherd” Book. It’s unclear exactly what kind of pastor or priest he is, unclear as is almost every reference to religion in the Firefly universe. I thought when I heard that line that it was one of the stupidest lines ever uttered, even if it was uttered by one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite films.
Back to the book. Hahn and McGinley make the point that modern liberals have made an error in “detaching liberty from truth.”
We would not say that abortion and charity are equal manifestations of the phenomenon of human liberty. Nor should we say that true and false beliefs are equal manifestations of the phenomenon of religion. Rather, we should say, along with the Church and thinkers through the ages, that religion is a virtue—one, like any other, that we can cultivate in truth or extinguish through error.Ibid., 134-141.
I didn’t always understand this. Back when I was still a New Ager or a Buddhist, if I ever heard anyone say anything like this I at once bristled at the very idea. I was offended. I thought, as so many do, that “there were so many paths up the mountain.” By the way, I still like that song, I just don’t believe what it says anymore. (Yeah, I know I’m showing my age by mentioning said song.) But I’ve spent time on a lot of mountains now. Big ones, little ones. Spent time on the top, spent time going round and round. Up one side and down the other. And one thing that is surely true is that not all paths lead up the mountain. Some lead to dead-ends, and some lead the unwary over the edges of cliffs to death and destruction at the bottom of rock-strewn gorges below.
It comes down to this: it’s not a matter of choosing a religion that you’re comfortable with or that has a set of beliefs that meshes with what you already believe. It’s not about finding a restaurant with a menu that you like and deciding that that’s the one where you’ll dine every night, nor is it about having several restaurants and dining in the one that appeals to you at one time and another at another time. It’s not about finding a religion that you mostly like and rejecting the parts you don’t like while accepting the parts you do. All of those notions get religion very wrong indeed.
The real question is “whether we choose the true and living God or an idol.” (Ibid., Location 155.) And when we “ignore Him or turn away from Him, that is a failure not just of gratitude but of justice, a failure to render what is owed…This virtue of justice rendered to Him who is Justice itself is what the Church through the ages has meant by ‘religion.’” (Ibid., 161, emphasis added.)
Thank you for visiting and reading. I hope you’ll join me again. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy, and most of all, become who you were meant to be: a SAINT! May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Notes and Links
- It Is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion, by Scott Hahn and Brandon McGinley. Paperback, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure for more.)
- Podcast interview with Scott Hahn: Catholics can’t win by compromising with liberalism. Includes video.
- Soldiers for Christ or Hostages to Culture? Scott Hahn, video.
Image: The Blessing of the Wheat in the Artois, attributed to Jules Breton, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain. This is the image that appears on the cover of It Is Right and Just.
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