Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Dangers of Hobby Catholicism

More years ago than it would be legal for me to confess, I fell in love with beer brewing as a result of reading the charmingly entitled An Essay on Brewing, Vintage and Distillation, Together With Selected Remedies for Hangover Melancholia: Or, How to Make Boozeby John Festus Adams. Adams opens with an extended discussion of what sort of hobby book this will not be, recounting his experience with a book on growing mushrooms. Written by the Brit who Took Food Seriously, it eventually became clear to Adams while reading this book that the author did not actually expect him to be able to master this most occult of gardening hobbies. It took skill. It took patience. It took a ton of fresh horse manure which simply be be obtained fresh (preferably from a ladies' riding academy) and in the quantity of about half a ton. And it must be composted for six months -- no more and no less. It must be turned every four weeks -- not three weeks and certainly not five. And if you weren't prepared to do all these things Right, there was really no point in doing it at all, because your mushrooms, if they even grew, would be No Good At All.

This, Adams promised, was not the sort of book he was setting out to write. His book was a book about brewing for those who actually wanted to brew. And it was based on the theory that they would brew, and the resulting beer would be pretty good when they did.

All of which is a somewhat self-indulgent introduction (though I do recommend Adams' book for the sheer joy of reading it, even if you have no intention of brewing) to a rather basic point: It is the inevitable danger of being deeply absorbed in some topic that one begins to draw lines in the sand and say, "If you don't do X, Y and Z in my favorite way, you are clearly not serious about this and should get out." And yet for those of us who make reading, talking and writing about the Catholic Church a hobby of sorts, this presents a serious danger. Those of us who are "Catholic geeks" need always to recall that however much the more abstruse corners of Catholic history or theology may fascinate us, that Catholicism is not a hobby or field of study -- the exclusive territory of those with sufficient levels of detailed knowledge and experience. Rather, the Church is the Body of Christ on earth, and the source of the sacraments which are channels of grace to those of us in the Church Militant.

The Church is no stranger to intellectualism and knowledge, and there is much benefit to knowing the Church's teachings and history in detail. And yet, knowledge itself is not our end as Catholics. In the simple yet powerful words I was made to learn as a child, "God made us to know, love and serve Him, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven." The rest is all details. Important details, to be sure, to the extent that they help us to love and follow our faith. I'm sure that all of us know many people (often members of our own family) who were easily lead away from the Church because they never really knew and understood it.

And yet a little work around the parish is easily enough to lead one to the humbling conclusion that the people who show up to daily mass at 7:30 every morning and fill the adoration hours in the middle of the night are people with much stronger faith, even if many of them have never cracked open an encyclical. This is certainly not to say (as one determinedly unorthodox old fellow on RCIA team used to assert to my constant annoyance) that, "All knowledge is for not." But I, at least, often find myself in need of a reminder that knowledge is not all there is. At the deepest level, Catholicism is something we believe and live, not just something we read about.


Literacy-chic said...

And yet, there are numerous saints who were led into the Church through intellectualism. True, it shouldn't stop there, but there are many of us who think our way in and sustain ourselves with thinking about Catholic-y things. I think it just speaks to the very different personalities we possess as individuals, and our different ways of living and expressing our beliefs.

Literacy-chic said...

Expressing our F/faith, I should say. And at the end of the day, it helps to remember that it is Faith in God. So yes, I'm agreeing with you and not, which I do habitually. :)

Erin @ Coming Out Catholic said...

I had to smile when I read your post, because this is something I'm prone to, and I haven't even finished the conversion process yet! :) I think I agree with both you and Literacy-Chick, though. For me, study is the way I live out my faith, and I get so excited when I find someone else I can talk to about my studies that I know it does sometimes (usually?) come off as a sort of exclusion of those who have other ways of expressing their faith than "Catholic geeky-ness".

Catholic Mutt said...

It's so true! I don't mean to be exclusive or to think that I'm the one that's doing things right, but I love to read, and then I want to talk about that stuff with others.

Darwin said...

Yeah, don't get me wrong, it's intellectualism that helped me grow up as a Catholic and in many ways that's what keeps me in the Church. It can sustain one through periods when God doesn't "feel" present, and when the local parish isn't representin'.

I was more thinking of the temptation, which I know I feel at times, when I hear that someone I deal with at the parish didn't know that the Liturgy of the Hours existed, or have never read any of the Catechism, or what have you, to think: Good grief! I thought you were a serious Catholic!

God works with different people in different ways. With me, He works intellectually -- in part because my skull is too think for anything else. But for other people, other methods. And I think it's particularly tempting for those of us who know a lot about the theology, history or liturgy of the Church to get into thinking that those who don't have that knowledge aren't "really Catholic".

Grandma Darwin said...

Yes, those were the days (and still are although everyone for the most part are grown and moved on) when we lived our Catholic faith as a lifestyle. The kids would beg to go to daily noon Mass because that's where they socialized with their homeschooling friends afterwords and somehow the faith got absorbed into their being (along with the catechism of course). Hopefully Mrs. Darwin remembers those days fondly.

Anonymous said...

As a protestant who used to move in the Pentecostal/charismatic side of the church, I've known a few people who I swear were completely incapable of rational thought, but who nonetheless were faithful Christians and sometimes put me to shame. (Though these people often expressed their faith in ways that made me cringe.)

On the other hand, the almost purely rational faith of C. S. Lewis and John Polkinghorne sustained me at times when I was seriously questioning what I believed.

Different strokes. Or, subtle are the ways of the Lord.