RITUALS, RELIGIOUS IDIOCY, RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES AND THE BEATIFICATION OF SR. IRENE STEPHAN
Human beings are funny creatures, funny in the sense that they are or they have made themselves the centre of the universe. We live in an anthropomorphic Universe; in this Universe, human beings think they are supreme over all other things and the universe does not exist for any other reason but to sustain human beings. So among creatures, human beings place themselves on the pedestal. At a personal level, every petty human being thinks he or she is better than others; self aggrandizement.
Among the human beings, there are those that believe in God (Theists) and those that do not believe in such (Atheists). Those who believe in God think they right and atheists are lost ignorant souls. On the other hand, atheists ask for proof that there is a God or evidence of revelation. Truth is, Theists cannot provide tangible proof that there is God. The truth is that no one has ever seen, touched or interacted with God in a manner as to demonstrate how God looks like. The only true position is, no one knows beyond what we can empirically determine. Beyond the physical world, we can only hope and speculate. By faith, we choose to go with the most likely scenario or the most appealing scenario.
Among the theists, there are the monotheists, the polytheists and the a-religious. The monotheists posit that there is only one God who is almighty. The polytheists posit that there are many Gods or God and gods. The a-religious in an agnostic way believe it is hard to tell but somehow they trust there is some supernatural power. The monotheists condemn the polytheists while the a-religious wonder whether there is any evidence for either of them to choose to discredit the other. Yes, when we look at the world and all that exists, it gives us the inclination that there is a supernatural power but why should the supernatural be one and almighty?
The monotheists and the polytheists are Gnostics who believe in revelation. They believe that God or the god’s reveals or revealed himself or herself to given prophets or men of God. How exactly the revelation took place and any conclusive evidence that it actually took place is not given. You can only accept revelation by faith or trust. Could it not be that what is considered revealed were mere thoughts and imaginations of the so called God inspired people? The agnostic and the atheists keep asking.
Funny enough, all those who believe consider the purported revelations as absolute and final. In their conversations, you will hear them shout “It is Written” as a final and uncontestable justification for their position. Therefore, among the monotheists, the Christians consider Muslims lost and Muslims consider Christians to be more or less pagans who commit idolatry by considering Jesus to be the Son of God. How can God beget a human son? How can a human be God? But even as Muslims question Christians, one wonders, who declared Mohammed as the only Prophet of God….himself?
Even among Christians themselves, the debate raged. Who is Jesus and in what way was He one with God? They forget that Jesus says, even us his followers are supposed to be one with God. And so they will quote John 1 and declare, in the beginning was the word. Who is speaking, is it not John a mortal? Where does he find his assertions? Is it his personal reflections? How about the letters of St. Paul… are they God’s word or instructions of Paul based on his own personal reflections?
Christendom has evolved and many stories have been developed based on what people heard about Jesus of Nazareth. Even the gospels, the reason there are four of them is largely tied to accounts having been written based on what followers of the disciples had heard. In the beginning Christendom was a mere group of what Jews considered lost souls that formed a personality cult. They did everything to exterminate the cult. Later the Roman Empire would join the Jews in attempting to exterminate the cult that had begun to thrive among the gentiles. Initially, followers of Jesus made to break bread in memory of him. Persecution of this personality cult continued until when Emperor Nero converted after episodes involving the Cross during military campaigns. Christianity became the religion of the empire; the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church. As part of the conversion process, everything roman was Christianized leading to festivities like Christmas that we all happily celebrate. Instead of roman Idols, symbols of the church were put in place e.g. the Cross, Statues of the Crucified Jesus etc. Rome became the headquarters of the church; the seat of Peter.
Following how Christianity has evolved is interesting, one learns how for instance the first bible was compiled; the choices made to include some books and not others. The bible is just a collection of books and writings in the bible are subject to interpretation. There are Christian fundamentalists who stick to text and follow text on face value. They will believe that what Timothy wrote and is included in the bible is not just an elder’s thoughts but the word of God.
Considering the aforementioned, it seems clear that religious beliefs and practices are a product of human thinking and imagination. Such imagination is anchored on believe that there is God the almighty or Gods. What follows then is imagination of how God relates with humans. The desire to create spiritual experiences led to establishment of religious rituals.
A religious ritual is any practice where by physical objects are used to help induce or create an environment that allows one to connect with the spiritual realm. Such rituals include worship activities and other rites such as baptism. When should such rites be performed? When it comes to worship services, some Christians will insist they are properly done if done on a Saturday. How should they be performed? There is a lot of debate relating to substance and form of the rituals. For instance, when it comes to baptism, some Christians will insist that unless one is immersed in a river like Jesus was immersed in the Jordan, it is not baptism.
To understand how complicated religious experience and rituals are, let us consider the recent beatification of Blessed Irene Stephano. Right now, the so called evangelical Christians are busy wagging tongues accusing Roman Catholics of all manner of things. They argue Catholics are in a cult, they follow archaic practices, they are not bible based, and they are idolaters. By all definitions, the Roman Catholic Church is not a cult. They are not a secretive organization, they do not worship any object and they are not world rejecting. They are one of the leading religious organizations on earth. Therefore, the rituals they perform may not be understood but cannot be classified as a cult practices.
Religious knowledge and activities are based on Faith rather than empirical knowledge. This means that to understand a religious activity, one has to focus on the faith rather than the activity unless the activity threatens the life of others like in the case of human sacrifices. What is the catholic world view? I am not an authority in Catholicism but I know the catholic world view is very similar to the African world view. In such a world view, there is life after death. After death, the dead member, who is in spiritual form, remains alive and active. There are angels and there is God. We do not cease interacting with God upon death, if there truly is an afterlife.
According to Catholic traditions, there are exemplary Christians who many admire and believe they had a special gift which they used in service of men and God. Such a gift can be humility, generosity, prayerfulness etc. Such people, they without doubt believe, are in heaven and wherever they are, they communicate with God.
As was taught by St. Augustine, Catholics, while giving to God alone adoration strictly so-called, honor the saints because of the Divine supernatural gifts which have earned them eternal life, and through which they reign with God in the heavenly fatherland as His chosen friends and faithful servants. In other words, Catholics honor God in His saints as the loving distributor of supernatural gifts. The worship of latria (latreia), or strict adoration, is given to God alone; the worship of dulia (douleia), or honor and humble reverence, is paid the saints; the worship of hyperdulia (hyperdouleia), a higher form of dulia, belongs, on account of her greater excellence, to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church erects her altars to God alone, though in honor and memory of the saints and martyrs. There is Scriptural warrant for such worship in the passages where we are bidden to venerate angels (Exodus 23:20 sqq.; Joshua 5:13 sqq.; Daniel 8:15 sqq.; 10:4 sqq.; Luke 2:9 sqq.; Acts 12:7 sqq.; Revelation 5:11 sqq.; 7:1 sqq.; Matthew 18:10; etc.), whom holy men are not unlike, as sharers of the friendship of God. And if St. Paul beseeches the brethren (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 6:18-19) to help him by their prayers for him to God, we must with even greater reason maintain that we can be helped by the prayers of the saints, and ask their intercession with humility. If we may beseech those who still live on earth, why not those who live in heaven? (Beccari C 1907)
What does all this mean; it means that before criticizing religious rituals, we have to understand the faith and the worldview that underpins that ritual. Our religious books may not offer us enough grounds to judge other religion or denomination’s rituals. After all, are those books not based on revelation, which as we saw earlier may be people’s conjecture? Granted that they are right in their conjecture, which human being has a right to dictate to another how he or she should connect with God. Who can judge the relationship between a mortal and his or her God? All we can hope is that there is God. Granted, there is God, all we hope is the rituals help people at a personal level to connect with God in a profound way. Starting with the point of whether there is God or not, the only thing we have is a hope. We hope God is and hope that he or she is as we imagine. Atheists cannot point fingers at theists; because we are all not sure. Theists cannot go ballistic accusing other theists, because nothing is for sure; save for our hope or faith. Accusing fingers are mere misguided, self righteous and vanity based on self aggrandizement.
As for me and my house, I choose to respect all and their perspectives. I respect Atheists, Theists, Christians, Muslims, Budhists, Hindus, Catholics, Protestants and the A-religious. None of the books, the so called holly books is the word of God; like I write in my book the spirit of understanding, those books are merely words on God.
It is for that reason that at a personal level, I choose to ask Blessed St. Irine Stephano, Blessed Romero, my ancestors, all the saints and angels to pray for us. For I believe we belong to them and they belong to us. In the final day, when I die, if there is an afterlife, I will join them and in the presence of the Lord almighty, I will continue interceding for those I love back on earth. That is my hope and my faith. Anyone, who judges that, is a fool because their faith is equally just a hope and a supposition!!!