Against the “Usefulness” of Religion

CS bw crucifix2

CS bw crucifix2

I once saw a martial arts competitor on TV, complete with mustache and mullet. The interviewer asked him what had brought him success, and he listed off the various elements: diet, discipline, hard work. Then he said, “And, I am a Christian, so I use the Lord to give me strength.” The memory is old, but clear as a bell because it struck such an odd tone: he uses God?

There is a tendency among some to treat God as though he were a Golden Ticket: if only you can get a hold of him, all your dreams will come true! We see it in the “Health and Wealth Gospel” preachers, who assure their arena audiences that if only they accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, “all these things will be given you besides,” including a yacht, the latest model Mercedes, and your long-lost hair.

Perhaps the most odious example is the political pundit who extols religious freedom for the nation because “religion makes good citizens.” Montesquieu had no great love for the Church, but in The Spirit of the Laws he wrote approvingly of religion as a force in society–not for improving the lives of people, but for checking the power of the state. Never mind whether your religious beliefs are true; they’re useful. With such an attitude we are not far from promoting the Noble Lie of Plato’s Republic, the false narrative told to the populace to unify them.

In On Christian Doctrine, St. Augustine distinguishes between those things that are to be used for other things (uti) and those that are to be enjoyed in themselves (frui). God, says Augustine, is always frui, never uti–God is always to be sought as an end in Himself, never as a means to something else.

We were made by God for God, to be in union with Him forever. The world, when approached and used rightly, is given to us as a means to reach God. If we instead use God to try to gain things in the world, we’re headed in the wrong direction.

“What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul,” that is, lose his connection to God? Our relationship with God is worth more than all the martial arts victories, all the yachts and Mercedes and hair, all the political powers there could be. Let’s not reduce God to a tool.

Photography: Kelli Ann Cresswell

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6 thoughts on “Against the “Usefulness” of Religion”

  1. I believed this mindset to be a uniquely Protestant one. The Puritans and early settlers of America ascribed to this concept. Today it seems quite evident in the “mega-churches” and particularly in African-American churches. This may explain why so many protestant football players are always “crediting” their wins to Jesus, as if the outcome of a football game is determined by who Jesus loves more. Unfortunately, it is also a huge element in “liberation theology” the line of thinking to which the current pope is a fervent adherent. The key spiritual truth to remember is that this life is short. Material wealth is an illusion of happiness. The rich and poor suffer alike. All suffering must be united to that of Christ. Only then our unavoidable suffering has meaning and ultimately unites us to Him and leads us to heaven. Wealth and material success is often a detriment to seeing this truth, hence the “eye of the needle comment” by Christ. Ironically, I have known many good Christians who have traveled to third world countries for humanitarian purpose and without exception they all were shocked by how happy the people were in comparison with those in “advanced” countries. Perhaps the meek rabbits really shall inherit the earth.

    1. SnowCherryBlossoms

      Your comment is really, really good but I can’t agree about Pope Francis. I’m confused you would say that about him. He is very vocal concerning the poor and has said many of the same things you just said!

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  3. Nicholas-You are “spot on” re: our “tool” culture and God, thank you. You could write volumes on the political use of God and of Religion. You are also coming real close to the “prosequendum” of Aquinas’s first principle of the Natural Law: “Bonum est faciendum et prosequendum et malum vitandum”-Good is to be done and sought and evil avoided.” This is of course the Natural Law-the law writ in everyone’s heart and attainable with human reason; and this first principle says “Good” not “God” – but all that is, all that participates in being is good and “Being” [upper case B] is God. Perhaps this is your next article, your sequel to this present excellent one. Thanks again. Guy McClung, San Antonio

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