Monday, February 18, 2008

Egocentrism again

Newsweek has published yet another ode to religious egocentrism in its latest issue. I commented here on an essay written by a woman who "doesn't need a piece of paper" to prove that she is committed to her lover. Now we have an essay by a woman - a practicing Catholic - who just isn't comfortable talking to her kids about God.

The old cliche applies in this case: One doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. It is easy to make sport of the unintentional hilarity of the essay, for instance where the auther writes that "I couldn't name the seven deadly sins if my life depended on it." Of course her life already does depend on it. That's why they are called the deadly sins. Or when she sympathizes with other parents who "play down the religious aspect of church." I wonder if they also play down the musical aspect of orchestra and the aquatic aspect of the swim team.

But in the end, the laughter is hollow because the essay is just so depressing. Egocentrism is the conviction that the only thing that finally matters is my opinion about things. The logical terminus of this conviction is an indifference to the truth; my opinion is still my opinion even if it is false, so why go to all the trouble to ground my opinions in truth when the only thing that matters is that they are my opinions? This conviction now seems to be the dominant conviction in our society.

Thus we have the spectacle of a seemingly intelligent, well-educated woman writing an essay for a major news magazine, an essay that will be read by millions, who can't be bothered to acquaint herself with the elementary facts about the subject of her essay. At one time an author writing on a religious subject would be embarrassed if it were exposed that she didn't know the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. Our author doesn't need to be exposed; for she cheerfully volunteers the fact and far from being embarrassed about it, she wears her ignorance as a badge of honor. Far more important than any genuine knowledge of the Faith, it seems, is the fact that she has opinions about the Church and will damn well stick to them. So what if half the time she is fighting a phantom, for instance when she defiantly proclaims that "I don't accept all the tenets of my religion. I am never going to teach my daughter that evolution is a fraud..." The Church doesn't teach evolution is a fraud, you say? You are missing the point. In her opinion, the Church does teach it, and she's not going to let the Church deny her opinion about what the Church teaches even if she only has that opinion so she can deny it herself.

People really do think this way. They think the Church is terribly overbearing even to suggest that perhaps, maybe, it's just possible, that opinions grounded in knowledge are better than opinions grounded in ignorance. A priest from the USCCB wrote in to gently correct the author on her point about evolution, but the letter just increases one's depression. No, Father Bransfield, Kathleen Deveny doesn't want to pass on the Faith. At least give her the respect of her convictions. She's a self-proclaimed "cafeteria Catholic" who admittedly doesn't know jack squat about the Faith and has no interest in learning. What she wants from the Church is nothing but warm feelings, the kind you get when people ask you your opinions about things as though they are significant: "What are some things that you think make a mother special?"

At some point a firmer hand is needed, and people need to be told straight out that opinions based on ignorance are worthless. It's not "mean" to do so; you are finally doing people a favor by at least giving them an opportunity to face the truth that there is such a thing as truth. You might also save them from making fools of themselves in the national media.

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