Religion is a powerful phenomenon – it carries the potential to construct peace, unify communities, fuel allegiance and hatred of the other, and, most mysteriously, allows for a glimpse of the beauty in our universe. I grew up in the Catholic Church and learned valuable lessons from the religious community in how to love, how to give, and how to sacrifice your own desires for something greater than yourself. While I am grateful for that experience in my upbringing, I continue to question the authenticity and portrayal of Catholicism as “the true history” and as a constructed narrative. Personally, I believe that religious youth outreach is so often depicted in shorthand, or what we would call the “thin version” of the story. While it is never my place to question or judge the beliefs or moral values of others, I will challenge each bit of information (and its interpretations) as I explore my own spirituality.
The conflict I see in religious teachings is not the falsehood of written accounts, but the lack of knowledge or willingness to accept the existence of multiple truths. From my experience, religious education rarely went over the basics: “We believe in ___ because of x, y, and z.” Rather, our youth group leaders told us what to believe and what not to believe. Further, the church made itself involved in political and social issues that should remain disconnected from the power of religion due to our absence of a state religion and our valued freedom of religion in the United States. As Catholics mark their stand on abortion and same-sex marriage, I ponder when Catholicism became so ideological and transformed biblical texts into social and political absolutes. Looking back, I am nearly certain that evolution and big bang theory were not introduced as legitimate alternatives until I reached a liberal arts college. There was even a time when a transgender substitute was deemed unfit for my high school on moral (religious) grounds.
The Bible, as a discourse, entrenches itself into the everyday livelihoods of its captivated followers. Did God intend for this text to become life encompassing? Even if that answer is yes, how are we as citizens of the 21st century authorized to speak on behalf of the Lord? The conflict lies in our position as historical beings. The essence of our existence is historical. As religious followers, we depend on a singular discourse to construct and justify other phenomena without considering the impact of other social orders or theoretical realms (for example, science). As a result, religious education remains narrow and discourages individual exploration. The current narrative teaches that which we as historical beings know as simple truths (because of religious texts), while disregarding current contexts that may challenge these ideas. Through the lens of critical discourse analysis, it is almost as though the Catholic Church has legitimated and maintained power and control over societies via an unaccompanied historical narrative, the Bible.
That being said, however, there is undoubtedly power in individual agency. I believe in spirituality as a journey, whereby each individual is an active participant in his or her choices and discoveries of something greater. I have explored Catholicism and organized religion as a construct that has been maintained by social realities and collective identities. Here is where history as the known and narratives as fiction collide. Ultimately religion and its history are not science. It does not associate with laws or absolute facts, which also attributes to its beauty and mystery of the unknown. We as humans in this beautiful existence have recounted and retold stories, beliefs, and memories, which has expanded and politicized the historical narrative as printed in the Bible.
If world religions could promote exploration and acknowledge the existence of other narratives, I truly believe that we would live in a more constructive, vivacious, and peaceful world order. Challenging a religious historical narrative does not constitute a rejection or negative perception of the construct, rather it encourages a deeper understanding and connection to underlying values, influences, and beliefs.