There is value in religion. There is value in belonging to an organized church. For these two
reasons it is so unfortunate that more and more people have a reason to leave a church.
Religious beliefs and practices have defined the human species from it’s very beginning.
Tens of thousands of years ago, when Neanderthals and then Homo Sapiens lived in caves, each tribe had some sort of spiritual leader in addition to the chief or head of the group.
Even then the human brain was active enough to imagine and to wonder and to look beyond the obvious
empirical world of its surroundings. It was not the best hunter or fighter who contributed to a sense of family or sense of belonging, sharing and caring and having a purpose in life.
That was provided by the spiritual leader - the thinker and the philosopher of the tribe.
I present this introduction because I have always believed that the human species needs some form of religion to learn the lessons that make for a better and happier life. A life with meaning, and to allow it to cope with the obstacles and hardships of everyday life. It’s not an instinctive trait but very close to that and basic to human existence.
For that reason (to come back to the opening sentences) it is not only sad that so many churches and organized religions are failing in their mission - it is very disappointing.
Of course, there are some religions, including some Christian denominations who use control and blind faith as a vehicle to sustain themselves. That seems to work for some, but it is not the solution for the majority of people.
So I am confining myself to the “main stream” churches and in particular the Roman Catholic Church. Amherst can be so proud of its Holy Family Parish. At a time when church buildings are closing, two parishes combined to build a new modern church. With a membership of close to 500, it is a busy place.
There aren’t just masses, funerals and weddings. Many groups within the church, such as the Catholic Women’s League and Youth Group pursue fulfilling programs. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society acts as a community welfare outreach to help those who have “fallen through the cracks” of other support systems.
They do it non-denominationally and in co-operation with other churches and the Salvation Army. Every Tuesday at noon, members of Holy Family cook and serve a free lunch for up to 140 local residents who have that need. Over 40 volunteers are engaged in that one program alone.
The church offers its facilities to other groups and organizations. It sponsors many special events. At least a thousand people of all ages cross the church’s threshold in the run of every week. In the last two years, Holy Parish worked together with Rotary and other churches to bring in two Syrian families to our area. They also support a type of mentoring/ assistance program on an individual basis for persons in need. “Holy Family” is certainly aptly named. It is a family in more than its biblical sense.
Everyone needs a family beyond one’s own. Whether that is a service club, or a sport or an organization doesn’t matter. In my opinion, a church can fill that need better than anything or anyone else.
Now back to my main point. It is very sad that the Catholic Church as a whole is making it so difficult for its members to stay and feel comfortable. It pains me to know that people have stopped going to church, have stopped supporting the church because of a variety of avoidable causes.
Some years ago a young couple I know had serious difficulty with the Catholic Church’s position on birth control. They had good reason to only have two children instead of 11 and six in their respective parents' homes. For a while they didn’t attend church. They felt like bad Catholics not worthy of the communion sacrament. That wasn’t right. It was an avoidable cause. Another case is of a woman who married a non-Catholic. That was bad enough.
Then, after several years the unhappy marriage was ended by divorce. Frowned upon by the Church to the point that she was not able to marry the wonderful man who came into her life, she stopped going to church. Her absence was an avoidable cause.
Gays and lesbians are not welcome. So any family with a gay or lesbian child will not feel comfortable. Another avoidable cause. And then there is also sexual and physical abuse by priests, lay brothers and even bishops. It makes some people too embarrassed to be identified as Catholic. It upsets them that the parishioners have to shoulder most of the consequences of the resulting law suits. It makes them angry that there are successive denials and cover-ups all the way to the top. Is that an avoidable cause? In my opinion it is. It all boils down to the way the Catholic Church evolved and the way it is still structured. That structure and hierarchy has to change. The pressure for that has to come from the ground up. That will be the subject of Part 2.
Morris Haugg is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.