I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts today. During the show one host started recounting his experience with a devoutly Catholic friend – a jurist from Notre Dame. The description of his experience with this friend was less then edifying. The host's friend, presumably an acclaimed jurist, tends to send the host chastening missives concerning faith, morals, and the like. The lawyer lectures him.
I'm sure that the host's friend is well intentioned. However, his approach isn't having the desired effect. Instead, the host seems to feel that those who approach life from a deeply held position of faith are intellectualy unassailable. This is percieved by the host of this podcast as a lack of intellectual humility. Conviction or certitude has been perceived as being pridefull.
This is troubling on a number of levels. I'll begin with my concern about the host's ideas. One problem is the faulty belief that there can be an ideology that lacks a dogmatic core. This is the same as making a judgment without it being based in a principle. This is a logical impossibility. The Anglicans have done a great job of showing us that acceptance of all ideas and opinions quickly becomes its own strongly held and rigorously defended dogma. They have also shown us that this is an impossible position to maintain. It's self-contradictory. This sort of intellectual indifferentism (relativism) is doomed. Once it encounters a position that doesn't accept relativism it has no choice but to anathematize it. It is forced to become unaccepting of the unaccepting.
While I'm concerned with the problem of relativism I'm more concerned with the "pastoral" approach of the host's friend. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Lord knows I've been guilty of the smug self-righteous approach to "helping" unbelievers "understand." Now, I'm working hard to present the faith differently. I've learned that it is unhelpful to just simply assert what you think or know to be true. You may be 100% right. Guess what? No one cares? If I disagree with someone and I don't take the time to discover why they believe as they do, then I don't really love them. On the contrary, I would be more interested in being right.
But, being right isn't everything.
Yes. It is true that my faith is unassailable. But my faith isn't simply an emotional response to some feeling or experience. It isn't something that was simply handed on to me by my family or culture. Yes, there are bits and pieces of these influences in my faith. But, my faith was hard won. My faith isn't even a rational response to sound propositions. Eventhough it is the reasonability of the Catholic faith that keeps me in it when I inevtabilly doubt. Rather, my faith is a gift. It is a gift that the Lord gave me. I have chosen to take that gift and make that gift the center of my life. I want to share this gift with everyone. I want my gift to give others the same joy that it gives me. I want to hand it on to others just as it was handed on to me.
I bet the Catholic Jurist feels the same way. But, for better or for worse, the experience of the faith that he is portraying lacks the depth of joy and peace that characteries the faith. He's letting himself get in the way of the faith.
The most important thing in my life is God. I radically self-identify with this part of me. It permeates all of who I am. After all, I've proessed vows in a religious order. To get to know me is to come in contact with my faith. If I'm a jerk then people's experience of the faith is tarnished. The faith becomes something not worth having. It appears to others as not delivering on its promises. As an old boss of mine would constantly say, "They don't cares about what you know until they know how much you care." Yeah, it's a little hippy, a little too 7 Habits. But, you know what, it's true.