Eric W. Dolan spots a remarkable recent homily from Pope Francis, a riff on these lines from the Gospel of Luke: “Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge!” He interprets the phrase as a critique of Christians who turn belief in God into an ideology. From the Vatican Radio transcript:
“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”
… “The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances the Church from the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies. His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness. This can be the question, no? But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.”
“The key that opens the door to the faith,” the Pope added, “is prayer.” The Holy Father warned: “When a Christian does not pray, this happens. And his witness is an arrogant witness.” He who does not pray is “arrogant, is proud, is sure of himself. He is not humble. He seeks his own advancement.” Instead, he said, “when a Christian prays, he is not far from the faith; he speaks with Jesus.”
As you know, I have been skeptical of Pope Francis, but this sermon of his really spoke to me. I had made an ideology of my Catholicism. I hadn’t meant for it to be that way, but that’s what happened. It came about mostly because I was rightly (I still believe) concerned with the loss of the sense of the holy, and of morals and doctrines, in contemporary Catholicism. But I made the cardinal error of ceasing to pray, or to pray as often or as well as I should have. I mistook talking and thinking about the faith for being serious about the faith. Ideologization helped make my faith brittle. I’ve found that the Orthodox approach to faith makes it much harder for people like me to make the ideologue’s error, though the temptation is always there.
It is hard to be mindful of right doctrine, and right morals, while at the same time remembering that the purpose of the Christian faith is not to learn how to behave morally. But it’s necessary. I am certain that Francis is onto something when he talks about how serious prayer — by which he means an encounter of the soul with the living God — is the antidote to ideological religion.