Devotion is great. I wish you’d focus more on it.

Personal Failure linked to and responded to a post about religious devotion.  Her response understandably focused on the slight the post made against atheists.  I wanted to explore this post a bit more myself though as someone who is also a strong believer in religious devotion*

After giving his speech about the importance of piety — a word I might have personally avoided, given the immense negative connotations that have gotten attached to it and even made their way into the dictionary definitions — and offered his patronizing disapproval of those who do not follow (his) God, Fr. Zuhlsdorf offers a quote from Pope Benedict:

If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves
totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away
from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant,
something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not
then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?

I’ll note that, in my opinion, this underlines the problem with many Christians’ understanding of piety and morality in general:  It’s about giving things up and refraining from things.**  When morality, piety, and devotion become nothing more than avoiding those things which are deemed bad, it’s bound to feel restrictive.  It’s also bound to leave people wondering what they should do.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf goes on to talk about sins of omission, recognizing that morality, piety, and devotion do require positive action, but he still speaks in negative terms, in terms of failing to act:

That is where we ferret out our negligence in regard to the virtue of religion, negligence in respect to God and to neighbor.

The problem with this approach is that if you’re thinking in terms of what you should have done and failed to do, you started a good thing way too late.  It would have been far better to go throughout your day asking what you should be doing, what good you can do.  This enables and encourages positive action rather than guilt over negative action or a failure to act.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf finally gets that idea, but only at the end.  And he glosses over it but briefly.

Second, during the day, silently to yourself, perhaps say a brief
prayer.  Pick one.  How about, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart: Make my
heart like unto Thine.”

His blog post would have been much better if he had started his missive on personal devotion with this prayer, especially if he had expanded on it.  It could have been a post on what it means to have a heart like Jesus, and what kinds of acts such a heart leads to.  Effectively, it could have led into something very similar to my own Prayer for Living Worship.  Such a prayer, written with passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and Galations 5 in mind, would have been a perfect lead in to a sort of devotion that any person — even one of those “awful atheists” would have trouble finding fault with.

*  My own.  Whether or not anyone else is religiously devoted is none of my business, let alone subject to any actual judgment on my part.

** I’ll note that this is a problem I have when many Pagans seem to reduce our ethics to nothing more than “don’t hurt anyone” as well.

4 thoughts on “Devotion is great. I wish you’d focus more on it.”

  1. You have a point. Jesus spent very little, if any, time talking about what people should not be doing. Most of his teachings had to do with what people should be doing: helping the poor, the sick, the lonely.

    Interesting how, inevitably, the religions founded on those teachings turn into long, long, long lists of things you shouldn’t be doing.

  2. Absolutely. Positive, not negative; active, not restrictive; doing good as action, rather than omission.

    This is very much the Christianity I grew up with, and very much not the Christianity I hear most vocally presented to the world. And while I can’t be a Christian, I still think that difference represents a very great loss – if that makes any sense.

    Thanks for writing this.

  3. i’m not Wiccan [although we do sing in the same key] but “Harm None” is still the main “Commandment” given. [there are others that have changed over the 5 generations i can conclusively backdate this religion. in theory, it’s the same religion practice in Ireland before Caesar started trying to erradicate it. but i can only prove it’s existince back 5 generations, to when my great-great-great grandmother from Ireland married a Cherokee lad and became Cherokee herself – but still practicing this religion. so she either made up the religion, or learned it from someone. either is equally likely]

    so, i’ve spent the past 27 years refining that into a PROACTIVE thing. harm none – this isn’t just “don’t stab someone” – this is also “don’t neglect a stranger who is hurt; your neglect harms hir”

    a proactive take on not harming includes HELPING. the ONLY WAY i see to avoid doing any harm is to go out of my way to help – because lack of help *IS* harm.

    i’m not alone in the belief, but i know it’s not [yet] wide-spread. if you like it, maybe you could start spreading it, too?

    so far as i can see, your blog has no notification system. so, if you want, we can talk about this at PF’s blog, or you can email me and we can talk [IF YOU WANT! i’m not saying you have to or should or anything]. my email was given to write this comment, but just in case, it’s denelian at yahoo

  4. Yeah, I remember Jesus telling people STOP! Don’t do this! I think they were about to kill someone. And then there was that time in the temple with the money changers (Oy, and you want me to ramble on, get me talking about the “real” meaning of sacrifice–it’s one of the Christian lessons I actually took to heart.)

    But most of the time, Jesus was doing (healing the sick), talking (about what being good is like!) and helping other people to do (remember the loaves and fishes?)

    No, wait, I just read that post. Bleeding, flaming, thorn-bound heart? Why do Catholics do this? And why does this fellow think that’s an inspiration to piety? It’s an inspiration for me to find something less frightening.

    “Man was made to be pious”? After surviving, multiplying, bonding in societies with his/her other humans, maybe… and we don’t even get an argument for that, just an assumption.

    Finally, “that just drips with in-your-face piety”? What is this I don’t even?

Leave a Reply