instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Insincere flattery

For a while the other day, "#IfIStartedMyOwnReligion" was a trending topic on Twitter. I scrolled through a few dozen of these tweets, and noticed something curious.

Sure, there were the militant atheists, offering critiques of religion just as devastating and unanswerable as you'd expect. There were jokes, some original and some repurposed (like the evangelical agnostics who'd knock on doors and say, "So what do you think?").

It seemed that by far the most popular angle for jokes was a variation on what would be served for communion. Milk and cookies was a common one, Oreos in particular. Bacon showed up several times as well, and beer too of course.

What I thought was interesting is how many of these tweets said that their preferred food would be their "sacrament." I assume they didn't mean anything in particular by that word, beyond it sounding religious and being associated with Holy Communion. No one built a backstory of sacramental theology just to join in the hashtag fun; no one prepared an answer to the question, "Oreos would be a visible sign of exactly which invisible grace?" before typing their tweet.

Which, I submit, is precisely the problem with people these days. We all invent our own religion -- admittedly, some personal religions approach ninety-nine and forty-four one hundredths percent pure Catholicism -- but so few of us are capable of inventing a religion that does what a religion is for.

What is a religion for? A religion is for cultivating the virtue of religion.

What is the virtue of religion? The virtue of religion is the habit that disposes us "to render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice."

Is suggesting you'd have Oreos as a sacrament in your religion just a joke? It is a joke, but it is also a synecdoche for the problem at the root of all customizing of religious practice and belief, which is that it makes it about how we relate to ourselves, not how we relate to God.

Admittedly, not an original observation.