Choose Your Own Religious Adventure, Ctd

A reader pushes back against Dreher’s and Wieseltier’s fretting about millennials and religion:

You quoted Dreher:

It would drive me nuts because I would build an argument based on official Catholic teaching…and get nowhere. Though identifying as Catholics, these folks felt not the least obligation to yield to the teaching authority of the Catholic institution. They believed that because they were Catholics by birth and baptism, whatever they wanted to believe didn’t make them any less Catholic. It was impossible to have a meaningful discussion with Catholics who didn’t feel bound by the basic teachings of the Catholic Church. No connection to the traditions or the thinking of the Church. Wieseltier’s right: truth and falsity on these questions really don’t matter to Americans anymore.

I don’t think that completely captures what’s going on. I don’t think that people have stopped caring what’s true or false; they just think that their institutions have. And who can blame them? The Catholic Church plainly thought it was more important to maintain power than to care about whether or not children were actually being raped. And it’s not just the Catholic Church; similar revelations have been made about other institutions. Other churches have clung furiously to new-earth Creationism, and done an excellent job convincing people that Jesus was all about preventing abortion and ensuring that men maintain dominion over women.

I’d go further and argue that it is precisely because of a concern with the truth that so many have stainedglassnicholaskammafpgetty.jpgabandoned institutional religion. When a church teaches scripture in a way that simply ignores the huge amount of historical evidence about the sources of those scriptures, it is not interested in truth, but in its authority. When a church advances a version of “natural law” that is based in the science of the 13th Century, rather than of the 21st, it is showing contempt for the kind of truth-seeking Aquinas was engaged in, not respect. When it maintains utterly specious distinctions between men and women in which women are always somehow second-class, truth-seekers will go elsewhere. When its understanding of sexuality is concocted by failed celibates with profound sexual dysfunction and with histories of sexual crime and abuse, who can blame truth-seekers for looking elsewhere? It seems to me that it is because the churches have shown such profound contempt for truth that they appear crippled by modernity, and therefore have less appeal and traction. And their suppression of debate about these areas is ipso facto a flight from truth.

This does not mean that divine truth is the same as that derived from science or observation or experience. It is merely to argue that divine truth has to be consistent with these, and cannot actually assert untrue things – like the ridiculous new earth creationism or the unnaturalness of homosexuality – as part of the whole. Only in one area does it seem to me that the Catholic church has actually integrated science into teaching – on abortion, to some effect. Which may be why the orthodox position on abortion has not collapsed as swiftly as the stigmatization of homosexuals.

A millennial reader offers Dreher and Wieseltier some franker advice: “perhaps you shouldn’t have made shitty institutions”:

Dreher and Co. imagine religious institutions as a place open for debate, a place outside the dog-eat-dog political world where there can be civil disagreements. Tell that to Jews who aren’t Zionists! J Street, hardly and extremist organization, couldn’t even get into the Jewish Federation.

Millennials grew up watching one of histories grandest institutions, the Catholic Church, be taken to task for literally decades of covered-up child rape. We saw the financial sector, worshiped with a religious fervor, kick us in the balls and ovaries without a second thought.

Here’s a question none of these hand-wringers can answer: what’s in it for us?  Why should we try to join institutions that have repeatedly, for as long as we have been alive, rejected us? The joy of civil disagreement? Please. I’d much rather take to Twitter or Tumblr for that. I’ve learned just as much from those mediums than I have from any religious experience in my life, and I went to Orthodox yeshivas for over a decade.

(Photo: Supporters of gay marriage demonstrate in front of the Mormon Church in New York City on November 12, 2008. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images.)