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INSIGHT

When religion is abused

By Fr. ROY CIMAGALA, roycimagala@gmail.com
April 13, 2015

WE are already familiar with the problem of secularization. That’s when God is set aside not only in society – as in business and politics – but also in one’s personal life. This is the anomaly besetting many developed Western countries that are entering what is known as post-Christian or post-religion era.

That means religion is already considered as passé and obsolete. Any mention of God is likely met with a laugh, a derision if not an open hostility. In these places, men are convinced there’s no other source of light, wisdom and guidance than their own selves, their own ideas and devices.

Under this category, we can cite isms like atheism, agnosticism, relativism, skepticism, deism, etc.

But another anomaly can also be found in the other end, precisely happening in places known for religious zeal. Our country falls largely under this classification. Here, religion tends to be abused and exploited. In the end, religion is used to deform, emasculate and even kill religion itself.

This happens when religion is detached from a living relationship with God, with his Church, his doctrine and sacraments, and personal struggle. It is driven more by one’s ideas and efforts. Faith becomes mere philosophizing and theologizing, full of form without substance.

Spiritual life freezes into mere external appearances, reduced to a lifeless set of pietistic practices. Sanctity deteriorates into sanctimony and into what is considered as politically correct. Hypocrisy, calculation, pretension, treachery abound. There’s bigotry instead of broad-mindedness, rigidity and intolerance instead of respect for freedom and variety.

This irregularity has many faces. To mention a few, we can cite religious fanaticism and bitter zeal, fundamentalism, clericalism, superstitious beliefs and practices, simony or commercialization of sacred things, pietism and quietism, fideism and a string of other heresies. There’s also petty jealousy among religious groups.

I suppose we can cite our Lord’s own experience at the hands of those who crucified him as the extreme form of religious abuse. Imagine, they were convinced they were doing it out of a keen sense of religious duty itself.

Our Lord himself said: “The hour comes when whoever kills you will think that he does a service to God.” (Jn 16,2) This is the ultimate in religious abuse.

One can readily suspect religion is abused when all those calls for goodness and holiness are full of sound and fury and bombast, but lacking in charity, patience, mercy, humility, meekness, etc. It drips with self-righteousness, ever eager to flaunt itself and have its authority felt.

There is clear bias and prejudice in the understanding and application of the doctrine. Unfair and discriminatory selectiveness marks the study and practice of the faith.

A holistic approach to religion and freedom of consciences are often compromised in the pursuit of holiness. There’s an absence of balance and openness. Even the elementary norms of naturalness are violated.

Of course, religion will always involve a specific way of life, marked even by a special charism. But it’s a uniqueness that does not annul religion’s universal and common end, but rather enriches it in an original way.

In abuse of religion, coercion is subtly made and can lead to brainwashing and to manipulative isolation of people from others. People are made to do religious practices just for the heck of it.

They do these practices more out of fear than of love, more for some ulterior motives than out of a sincere desire to know, love and serve God and others.

The virtues are pursued mechanically, not organically in the sense that they are vitally motivated by charity as they ought to be. Sincerity, for example, can be understood as simply telling the truth, the whole truth, but without any mention about charity, prudence and discretion. Truth is divorced from charity.

When religion is abused, prayer turns into a soliloquy rather than a loving dialogue with God. Love for sacrifice does not spring from the spirit, but is merely a put-on.

When religion is abused, priesthood is less an office for a total holocaust of self-giving, and more an occasion for privileges. The scandals that black-eyed the Church these past years involving some clerics arise from this disorder.

We need to be wary of these tendencies and possibilities that are open to all of us. We can even fall into them without noticing it, since the decline to religious abuse can mimic the process of osmosis.

We have to ask our Lady to teach us how to truly deal with God without being deluded by the wily ways of religious abuse. Like her, we need to be always simple and humble to be able to stick to what is authentic religion.

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