Archive for the ‘St. Dominic’ Tag

Good Religion and Bad Religion   Leave a comment

Above:  Neighbors Sign, Athens, Georgia, October 12, 2017

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue; anyone who does this has the wrong idea of religion.  Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this:  coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

–James 1:26-27, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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Theoretical arguments are marginally interesting to me, for I value the verdict of tangible results.  I, as a student of history-or religious and civil rights history in particular–know that innocuous-sounding slogans and talking points can conceal institutional immorality.

Local solutions to local problems,

for example, was, during many political campaigns of 1970 in the U.S. South an affirmation of de jure segregation of public schools (about to end), not of federalism per se.

During the last few days I have been immersing myself in the lives of saints, drafting 28 hagiographies (for July 21-August 13) in preparation for a few days of intensive blogging at SUNDRY THOUGHTS, the parent of this weblog.  Certain saints have lingered in my thoughts.  When Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) grew up in Talbotton, Georgia, he wondered how many church-going people could support Jim Crow laws.  Jordan (pronounced JER-dun) grew up to become a radical figure–a pacifist and a supporter of racial integration–in reactionary southwestern rural Georgia.  St. Dominic (c. 1170-1221), founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans and the Black Friars, eagerly preached orthodoxy in the face of heresy while he deplored the Church’s use of violence against heretics.  Correct methods were essential to success, he said.

The relationship between one’s attitudes and one’s religion can be complicated.  Yes, one who is unapologetically bigoted might gravitate toward a racist, xenophobic, dare I say it–deplorable–theology.  And yes, one who is progressive might choose a liberal theology.  Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the power of religion to transform a person for good or for ill.  You, O reader, probably know or have known someone with whom you could get along easily before he or she had a conversion experience.  Likewise, religion can also make one one charitable in spirit and in deeds.

Staying true to my standard of tangible results, I assert that good religion makes one a better person–a loving, generally tolerant human being.  Good religion does not lead one to deny any person his or her basic human rights.  Good religion flows from the selfless, unconditional love of God.  Good religion makes one an agent of that love.  Good religion encourages decency.

I admit freely to the role of my background in formulating these thoughts.  I recall living in Alapaha, Georgia, from June 1989 to June 1991, when my father was the pastor of the Alapaha United Methodist Church in town and the Glory United Methodist Church a few miles outside of town.  One of our neighbors, as well as a parishioner, I remember, was Henry, an older man.  I cannot forget the day I overheard Henry announce that he was about to perform some “Afro-American engineering,” an undisguised racist term he used in lieu of the even more offensive “nigger rigging.”  I remember feeling uncomfortable as I heard those words and knowing that Henry should have known better.  I know, based on clear memories, that Henry was no outlier.

I, as a historian, understand that context matters greatly.  I, as a historian who, in academic writing, has quoted offensive statements, many of them containing slurs, grasp that the only morally acceptable way  to repeat some language is to quote it while making clear that I disapprove of the content of that quote.  I also know that Henry was not quoting.

Good religion does not make excuses for any prejudice directed at a human being or any population.  No, good religion recognizes the image of God in others.  Good religion follows a consistent ethic of divine love, regardless of where on the political spectrum that love places one.  Besides, terms such as liberal, conservative, reactionary, and revolutionary are inherently relative, having no fixed, timeless meaning with regard to policy proposals.

I, as a Christian, point to Jesus as the embodiment of good religion.  If I were to do otherwise, I would have only a pretense of a legitimate claim to call myself a Christian.  I recognize Jesus in his historical, socio-political-economic, and religious contexts as a figure still radical by contemporary standards, even in much of organized Christianity.

Good religion is a high calling–seemingly an impossible standard.  It is an impossible standard, relying on human strengths.  It is possible only via grace.  Each of us falls short of good religion in its fullness, and always will on this side of Heaven.  By grace we can do better, though.  May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 9, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBA OF IONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIOVANNI MARIA BOCCARDO, FOUNDER OF THE POOR SISTERS OF SAINT CAJETAN/GAETANO; AND HIS BROTHER, SAINT LUIGI BOCCARDO, “APOSTLE OF MERCIFUL LOVE”

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSÉ DE ANCHIETA, APOSTLE OF BRAZIL AND FATHER OF BRAZILIAN NATIONAL LITERATURE

THE FEAST OF THOMAS JOSEPH POTTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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