What Is Religon About?

By Scott Steinkerchner
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

August 28, 2008

My heart is heavy this morning because of a collision of many factors. I wonder what exactly is the heart of religion? What is the point? What does God want from us?

I received an email from a faithful Catholic that began, “In my life one of the greatest sources of grief and sadness has been to watch friends and family members fall away from the practice of the Catholic faith.” I wish I had his life. I sometimes wish I did not know the things I know about the world.

I have traveled around the world, helping missionaries in developing nations help the people they serve stave off starvation and try to get out of the abject poverty that grinds them into the dust. (The photo to the right is one I took recently in a clinic in Haiti.) I read in the paper this morning two news articles. The New York Times reported: “Idaho: Death Penalty in Kidnapping and Murder Case.” The story ended, “Jurors viewed a videotape Mr. Duncan had made of his sexually abusing, torturing and hanging Dylan.” This grieves me to my core. What is the world like that created such a person? And what must it have been like to see this videotape? And in what way does killing one more person do anything but make the world more murderous?

Closer to home, the Belleville News-Democrat informs me of the case against the Catholic Diocese of Belleville that has just resulted in a 5 million dollar settlement against the Diocese from a man who had been sexually abused by a priest after the diocese had known of multiple similar allegations against him and yet transferred him without warning his new parishes. In the Church’s defense, “Former Belleville Bishop Gregory says key documents about sex abuse were kept from him.” Testimony revealed that an official of the diocese “knew about detailed reports that Kownacki [the priest in question], had raped a 16-year-old girl and aborted her fetus with his hands,” but did not tell the new bishop.

Now I am really sad. First, sad for these victims. Then sad for those involved who now must see how their actions contributed to the problem.

With a world like this, it is difficult for me to place people leaving the practice of the Catholic faith” at the top of my grief list. Perhaps the email I received wanting to start a “Society of Saint Monica” to pray for these wayward souls was simply exaggerating for the sake of making a point, but it leads me to ask the question, What does God care most about?

I don’t think it is which Church you go to on Sunday, though I think, in general, that whole-hearted participation in a faith community is a main source of grace for most people. I would even agree with my fellow Catholics that our Church has the “fullness of grace” that is lacking elsewhere; but I believe that the point of participating in a faith community is to prepare us for the real work God cares about–transforming the world.

What does God want from us? To help in the transformation of the world in accord with God’s plan. The most important things about this transformed world is that no one will be starving to death, no one will be kidnapped or tortured or murdered, because with God’s help good people will make sure these things do not happen. This is what religion is about.

I think there is something here for everyone to take issue with, and I welcome the comments. But if you do comment, please don’t just tear my ideas apart. Please tell me what you think religion is really about. I want to know.


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