St. Stephen's Musings

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:: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 ::

Do You Have Your Asbestos Suit On?

My wife teaches math at a private Catholic middle school (grades 6-8) here in Portland. She also teaches religion to the 8th graders and she has the distinction of being the first non-Catholic religion teacher in several years at this school. It has been an interesting experience to say the least!

One thing that stands out to her is the lack of basic religious knowledge and spiritual acuity among the students. Very few of them could tell you more than 3-4 books of the Bible and certainly couldn't tell you what Testament they were from. Most go to church because their parents make them and many have no serious prayer life. And they have no deep understanding or knowledge of basic creedal truths or church history.

Now, of course, one might ask how many of us were that interested in Christianity in middle school? True...but there is another element to this that is disturbing.

The other day my wife was explaining the traditional way of doing the rosary. Several students, with no sense of sarcasm, asked the following questions:

"Will I go to hell if I forget one of the sorrowful mysteries?"

"How angry will God be if I don't say the rosary every day?"

"How many masses do I have to attend and still not have to go to hell?"

These types of questions follow a similar pattern--all year, most of the questions from the students about spiritual matters and the practice of the Christian faith revolve around one thing and one thing only:

Avoiding hell and the wrath of God at all costs.

It has been a real eye opener for my wife as she sees first hand the devastation done to the spiritual life of her Catholic students by the western, forensic, rationalist theology that has shaped their Christian upbringing. She commented to me the other day how similar her Protestant friends' soteriology is to her students in that both groups are obessed with their own salvation.
Both are saturated in the "asbestos suit" theology which, simplistically stated, is that Jesus comes to earth to shield us from the hatred of the Father and protect us on our way to heaven. He becomes our ticket to heaven and our "get out of hell free card."

My wife has a new saying now:

Protestantism is about trying to get into heaven.

Catholicism is about trying to avoid hell.

Orthodoxy is about being obsessed with neither.

A little exaggerated of course...but it rings mostly true.

:: Karl :: 8:52:00 AM [Link] ::

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