Speaking of religion, as we did yesterday, I’ve been mulling over a column by E.J. Dionne that I read a couple of weeks ago, because I think it has application to what I will (somewhat grandiosely) call the human condition.
Dionne is a Catholic, and he was examining the differences between the approach to that religion of two other Catholics–the Pope, and Steve Bannon.
Bannon believes that “the Judeo-Christian West is in a crisis.” He calls for a return of “the church militant” who will “fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity,” which threatens to “completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”
The vast majority of conservative American bishops and Catholic thinkers have, of course, pledged their allegiance to the pope. But Faggioli argues that many of them are often critical of Francis’s attitude toward doctrine (the pope, he says, is “pastoral, not ideological”) and toward Vatican II’s reforms, which shifted church teaching toward a greater respect for religious pluralism.
The phrase “pastoral, not ideological” is a wonderful–if abbreviated–description of the vast abyss between different approaches to both religion and politics by people who purport to be on the same “team.” It explains a lot.
A clergyman friend of mine once described two types of religious folks in his congregation: those who came looking for understanding, moral guidance and community, and those looking for–and needing–rigid rules and black/white definitions of right and wrong. People in the first category are able to live with ambiguity and see the inevitable nuances in issues; they approach challenges by trying to determine where morality and religious loving-kindness might lie. The people needing “bright lines” focus upon rules and rituals to the exclusion of such questions.
These differences go a long way toward explaining the phenomenon of the people we’ve all encountered who change from one extreme of religion or ideology to another–the former communists who become rightwing fanatics or vice-versa, formerly rigid atheists who “find” God in demanding religions, etc. They tend to be people who desperately need an all-encompassing, highly prescriptive belief system. The content of that system is less important than its absoluteness, its ability to deliver certainty and relieve the stresses of life’s complexity and ambiguity.
If these “true believers” simply found comfort in their certainties, it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, many of them feel impelled to impose their particular certainties on everyone else. Compromise becomes impossible–you don’t compromise with evil, and those who hold beliefs or opinions inconsistent with theirs are by definition evil.