Friday, March 22, 2013

Religious hobbyism

There's this thing out there that drives me crazy.  I call it religious hobbyism.  It's where religion is your hobby, but you don't actually practice it like a religion.

In this category would be attending every "cool" liturgy you can find, Eastern Rite, Extraordinary Form, what-have-you, but if you can't find a "cool" Mass to go to, just skipping.

It's walking out of every Mass with a list of pros and cons: "I did like the homily, but did you notice they didn't say the correct prayers for the day?"  "Yes, that's true, but did you get a look at that thurible?!"

It's being always at the ready to participate in a theological debate, but being an arrogant jerk the whole time.  It's skipping your prayer time so that you can put the smackdown on someone who's wrong about a fine point of doctrine.

Also known as "totally missing the point."

But as I was reflecting on this tendency, I began to feel this niggling little discomfort inside.  Because I'm not free of this.  Like, not at all.  I was lecturing someone on Facebook today as to how wonderful it is that Pope Francis is choosing to wash the feet of prison inmates on Holy Thursday, thus showing us the importance of performing the corporal works of mercy, when Marko came and hung on me, demanding something to eat.  And I thought, "Feeding the hungry is also a corporal work of mercy, and here I am, too obsessed with being right to feed my own children."  So I got up and gave him a cookie.  I did finish my comment after, but I toned it down a lot because I was starting to really think.  Why do I do this?  Is it because I truly want these people to know Christ instead of picking at the Pope for wearing black shoes?  Or is it because I personally like the Pope so much and feel so defensive of him that it's become more important to be right then to respect their own journey?

Because we all are bad Catholics.  I know I am.  I've said it often:  I stink at being Catholic.  I haven't prayed the Rosary of my own free will in years.  Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and I can't even forgive my own husband unless he's the first one to apologize.  I have been known to say to a sick child in the middle of the night, "Stop crying or we won't have any fun tomorrow!"  Which corporal work of mercy is that?

I'm not sure I know the cure.  In some ways discussing theology at all appears to be an occasion of sin for me.  I get freaked out: "What!  Non-Catholics all go to hell?!  I didn't know that!  I can't imagine a good God would do that!"  I spend days in a state of angst and doubt.  And then I look it up in the catechism and find out that oops, I was right the first time, it is quite possible for non-Catholics to go to heaven.  The Good Thief was never baptized with water either.  (Look it up, #846 and following.  So awesome!  And also happened to be what I already believed, which is nice.)

But on the other hand, these discussions do draw me deeper into understanding.  And understanding doctrine is, in its essence, understanding God.  Is God the sort of person who would damn someone to hell for all eternity for not knowing better?  No, he is not.  And when I find this out, I am drawn to love him more, to keep asking him that all important question, "Who are you, anyway?"

But it's always going to be a constant fight.  Humility vs. pride, obsession with being right vs. focus on doing right, speaking or listening.  It's hard.  In a way we're all religious hobbyists, we're all material heretics, we all miss the point.  The crucial thing is not to give up on the battle, but to keep fighting, to keep asking myself, "Is this what God would do?  Is this what God wants?  Am I missing the point again?"

Two good articles that have called me on this tendency lately: Unclean and There Ain't No Pure Church.  I tell you, without Simcha Fisher and Mark Shea to tell it like it is, I don't know where I'd be.

I think this is the last "Catholic post" for a bit.  My apologies to those of you who are waiting for pictures of cute babies.


Enbrethiliel said...


It's a bit ironic to me that this post about religion as a hobby was inspired by people for whom religion is a career! =P Which is not to say it is only a career to them any more than it is only a hobby to others. I think their faith is as genuine as it is for show.

And there's a sense in which I'm perfectly happy to know that faith or practice was hitched to a good motor. I had friends in uni who said they wouldn't have made it to Sunday Mass so regularly if I hadn't made it part of our weekend routine. I was glad to be their motor, even as I knew that they might slack off after graduation . . . which some of them did. =P

The type you've described, who knows enough about the liturgy to seek out interesting ones but who will defy the Sunday obligation if only "boring" ones are available: he doesn't sound like he has a good motor at all. (And perhaps the temporary social networks of uni aren't good motors, either.)

To be honest, after I killed my Catholic blog a few years ago, my observance and devotion actually took a huge hit. I was grieved to see how much "holy stuff" I had been motivated to do by the thought that they would make good blog fuel. I also liked them for what they were, of course, but without the driving force of a blog, I apparently didn't like them enough to spring into action. =S

But I'd say that the value of having religion as your hobby or career is seen not in what you produce with that fuel, but in the making of that fuel. So even if you swelled the ranks at a feast day procession just so you could have pretty photos for your blog, that is still something nobody can take away from the procession.

Sheila said...

But is having a lot of people at the procession the goal, even if they're not really participating?

I would certainly agree, though, that whatever gets you into a spot for receiving grace is a good thing. I mean, if you go to get good pictures and actually receive grace instead, it's all to the good.

I try not to worry about my motives too much. One time I didn't want to go to a daily Mass because I was afraid people would think I was a hypocrite. And then I thought, well, if everyone THINKS I'm a hypocrite, I can't really be one, can I? And even if I am, I can't let that come between me and the good thing I want to do.

But, once I'm already doing the good thing "just to do it," after that, it's time to work on my motives. And maybe cut out some of the "Catholic hobbyism" (internet debates and so forth) that's actually hurting my faith, to make room for the real thing. I feel I should talk TO God more than I talk ABOUT him, and honestly I'm not there yet. No reason to stop talking about God ... just to start talking TO him.

Enbrethiliel said...


The hypothetical blogger I had in mind (who may or may not be based on myself =P) is likely faithful and devout enough to participate properly in a process, photos or no photos. But he probably might not have made the effort to be there if it weren't for his blog. I mean, a procession isn't a requirement or an obligation. It might not even be as fun as a good book and a big pot of tea. All things being equal, the religious hobby was what it took to tip the balance in favour of being there.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the sublime reasons are of course the best, but we don't always have them. So as long as the other reasons aren't sinful and the effects are more or less the same, I think they'll do in place of the better ones.

Zagorka said...

As a lurker from across the pond ;-) : you gave me quite a lot food for thought with your "catholic" posts, and I am coming back to read them more than once. So, I at least find them quite helpful :-)

Sheila said...

:D Thanks, Zagorka! Glad to have you reading!

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