It is no secret that for years now, certain denominations of the protestant faith have propagated a schism between faith and religion. The notion that faith can be acquired separate from the practice of arcane religious rituals (referring quite saliently to the sacraments of the Catholic and Orthodox Church), has been propagated to great success especially amongst the youths.
This is true not only amongst Protestant denominations but also amongst the Catholic community. More and more youths are leaving the church upon confirmation and some of them have chosen to continue to worship God in other non-religious ways.
I am a trained catechist at the Catholic church. Before I joined the Catholic Church 4 years ago, I was a Protestant from a non-denominational charismatic church. Perhaps this puts me in a unique position to answer the question of – why is religion important?
1) Moral Scaffold
Most of the decisions that we have to make in life are rather straightforward. We make multiple decisions each day (e.g. What to wear for work? What to have for lunch?). Making such mundane decisions is fairly easy.
However, from time to time, we are required to make very important decisions – Decisions that may put our morality into question. One possible important decisions include – My elderly grandmother is suffering from dementia and on life support. Should I pull the plug?
To make informed moral decisions, the common person is required to peruse an extensive amount of literature and discourse in areas such as medicine, philosophy and religious studies. It is quite a daunting task especially when one is already facing a possible crisis in life.
Fortunately, within the Catholic tradition are teachings that span two millennia – teachings that investigate the answers to all these important moral questions. These teachings, accompanied with a firm grasp of virtues and vices, based on a good understanding of God’s universal and unconditional love, can help anyone make the correct moral decisions in life.
It is safe to say that once a robust moral scaffold is in place, a man can make good decisions in life that would lead him in the path to happiness and godliness.
It would be irresponsible of me to not provide you the answers to the above hypothetical scenario. So here goes:
Should you pull the plug of your elderly grandmother? The answer is no. Every human life is sacred. No one has the right to end a human life before it’s time. You may think that your relative is oblivious and in pain and wish to end her suffering. You may think that the months or years disability ahead of her will do her no good and only cause her unnecessary suffering. This may not be true. Perhaps her suffering is a form of redemptive suffering.
Here’s what the catechism of the Catholic Church says regarding this matter:
CCC 2277 Whatever it’s motives and means, direct euthanasia consists of putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.
Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his creator.
2) The Sacraments are Important
Let’s talk about my favourite sacrament – the sacrament of reconciliation. When a person commits a mortal sin (e.g. Murder, Thief, Adultery), he separates himself from the community. The sin forms a wedge between him and the rest of the community.
Therefore, in order to be received back into the community, he is required to visit the confessional and confess his sin in confidence to a priest. The priest listens to the sin, offers some advice and in the name Jesus pardons the sin. The person is there after ‘welcomed back’ into the community and allowed once again to receive the Eucharist.
This practice of acknowledging one’s sins and confessing it to a priest keeps one humble and aware of one’s proclivities. Through the repeated process of confession and inevitable falling back into sin, we get a better grasp of our own failings and also receive the graces needed to overcome these failings for good.
When one is truly aware of his sins and weaknesses, it would be very difficult for one to be self-righteous and point a finger at a sinning brother; instead, one develops empathy and compassion for fellow sinners. This is one of the reasons why this sacrament is so powerful.
Next, let us talk about he sacrament of the Eucharist (holy communion). Unlike the Protestants, Catholics believe that the bread and wine given during mass is truly the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
Hence, there is something sacred and miraculous about consuming it. Through this sacrament, we receive the graces to overcome sin and do God’s will. Just like the body needs good food to stay healthy, the soul receives its nourishment from the Eucharist.
The other sacraments are – baptism, confirmation, holy orders/marriage, anointing of the sick. Seven in total.
3) It is Important to know what is right and wrong so that we can colour within the Lines
When I was in the Protestant church, I heard my pastor encourage the males in the congregation to take a photograph of their wives on their work trips and masturbate to it to prevent themselves from being tempted to commit adultery. At that point of time, I found this suggestion humorous and even enlightened.
This pastor also happens to be a proponent of right believing leads to right living and that no one needs to be taught right and wrong, we all know it intrinsically.
This is simply not true. When it comes to issues like masturbation, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, if the church does not provide clear guidelines, the congregation may have enough information to make the right decisions.
For your information, the Catholic Church does not encourage masturbation at any scenario, even if it is to prevent adultery. When tempted, one is encouraged to pray and ask God for self-control to resist the temptation. Gratifying oneself is just replacing one sin with another. There will be no growth in virtue for the person in the question at all.
So much of modern culture revolves around liberation. That is good. It is sad that many have misunderstood the meaning of liberation. Many adults today believe that being free is being able to do whatever one wants to do.
This misconception has led to a huge following of people who indulge in all kinds of pleasures without temperance to gratify one’s desires. As a result, many have enslaved themselves in the sins of lust, avarice and gluttony, leading them down the path of sadness and disease.
How can one be truly free when one is addicted to the things of the world? I am sure you know of a few people out there who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarette smoking, shopping, eating beyond their needs, masturbation, pornography. Will you consider them free people? They are enslaved by their sin.
God has come to free people of their sin. He has offered the church teachings and sacraments to help people lead good and joyful lives. In doing so, people can truly be free. This is why religion is so important, it offers a clear guideline, a boundary stone in our world, so that we can colour comfortably within the lines and be truly free and happy.