A problem I have with religion

So the family and I just returned from a four-day trip to Buffalo. Despite the fact that I have an opposite impression in a poorly worded column, I actually dig Buffalo. Great friends live there, tone of excellent restaurants, a stone’s throw from majestic Niagara Falls.

What’s not to love?

Anyhow, yesterday morning, after a brief Easter egg hunt, we visited a majestic church, Our Lady of Victory Basilica. Although this might surprise some, I love churches. Love them. The history. The archetecture. The depicions of Jesus. I’m not being sarcastic—I find them amazing and breathtaking and wonderful (in many respects). In my travels to Rome and Barcelona, I tried to take in as many churches as possible. Just to sit in the pews and gaze upward … fantastic. If nothing else, it makes me understand one of the reasons why people follow. Churches call you.

Alas, I digress. While strolling around the church I picked up a small rectangular card featuring the image of someone named Nelson Baker, aka “Venerable Nelson Baker.” On the back side, it says this:

O God, Our Father, we praise and thank you for the gift of Father Nelson Baker, priest and disciple, who lived your will in faith and trust, and lived your love in service to the poor, the sick, the homeless and the young.

I pray in confidence that through his intercession, you will grant me the favor which I request. You who live and reign forever and ever.

Amen.

Kindly communicate any favor obtained to:

OUR LADY OF VICTORY

HOMES OF CHARITY

780 RIDGE ROAD

LACKAWANNA, NY 14218

(716) 828-9640

OK, here’s the thing. I looked up Our Lady of Victory, and it’s clearly a worthwhile charitable foundation. But, unless I’m mistaken, these rectangular cards are asking people to pray for, eh, money, and then pass the money toward Our Lady of Victory. They’re not asking you to pray for health or happiness or peace or love. Literally, pray for money—then pass it to a church agency.

Does this not strike anyone else as a tad odd?

Personally speaking, I’m not a prayer guy. Have I ever prayed? Yes—but not out of faith. I prayed once or twice because I thought, “Well, what do I have to lose?” Which seems completely against the dogma that inspires/enforces prayer to begin with. One is supposed to pray out of faith, not pray in search if lightning in a bottle.

Furthermore, I find prayer to be, well, silly. I can ask God for $100 to help a charity, and he’ll deliver. Meanwhile, 6 million Jews died at the hands of Nazi Germany. I can pray to have a great job interview. Meanwhile, nobody in Japan is quite sure about the air they’re breathing. It’s weird. Odd. Something that’s been accepted because we encourage it over and over and over again—yet something that makes no sense. Which, I suppose, is where faith comes in. But I don’t have much faith, So, hey.

19 thoughts on “A problem I have with religion”

  1. Lay off Buffalo. We have enough bad media, and we have a really good hockey team. Your episode could have happened in any city in the US of A. that needed your money to keep its celestial enslavement program afloat. Why not go after Cincinnati?

  2. Jeff,

    I’m from Buffalo, and I’m semi-familiar with the Father Baker church. I’m not a Catholic, and I might mess this up, but I think that in order for a priest to get a chance at sainthood, there needs to be some miracle linked to him – and they hope that somebody will pray to Father Baker, receive that miracle, which would then allow them to apply for his sainthood.

  3. I think I am missing something here. Does “favor” mean money. I thought it just meant if your prayer is answered, let us know. Because that is always encouraging to hear. But maybe I am just naive.
    The real problem here is asking a dead person to intercede for you. He’s dead. He is not Jesus. Not answering prayers. I believe we can pray directly to the source.

  4. In this case, I do not think “favor” means what you think it means, Jeff.

    Ryan’s got it right: Catholics pray to particular saints (or, as in Father Baker’s case, men and women who their Church has placed on the path to sainthood) for intercession — in plain English, asking them to put in a good word with the Big Guy.

    Fr. Baker has been ‘venerated,’ the first step on that path. Beatification is next, then canonization (full sainthood).

    From the OLV website:
    “Beatification requires recognition by the Church of a miracle (‘extraordinary event’) that occurs through the intercession of the Servant of God by the faithful.

    “Recognition by the Church involves: a thorough deposition of all witnesses, examination by medical specialists, assessments by theologians and the approval of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

    “A miracle is defined as an unexplainable, extraordinary event which is attributed to divine intervention.

    “Typically, miracles are cures of physical ailments/conditions that cannot be explained by the laws of science.”

    Google Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a fantastic basilica just outside Quebec City. Centuries ago, when a shrine to St. Anne was first built there, the place gained a reputation for miraculous healing of the sick and disabled. Just inside the front doors, there’s a massive collection of crutches and braces left there by pilgrims who claimed to have been healed at the site. (I’m a nonbeliever, but I gotta tell you, it’s a chilling sight.)

    The way I read it, those are the “favors” the card mentions, and they need documentation of same to send along to Rome.

    (But to return to your original point, if the grateful supplicant wants to include a token of their thanks, well, the Church probably won’t turn it down.)

  5. I think reading “communicate any favor obtained” as “send any money obtained” is a pretty tortured interpretation.

    As for asking saints and others to intercede for us, I know that a lot of non-Catholic Christians say, “Why not just pray to Jesus directly?”

    Here’s how I usually explain it.

    It’s not unusual to ask your friends and family members to pray for you or for a particular request, right?

    And just because you ask for their help doesn’t mean that you don’t plan to pray to God directly, right?

    Well — we Catholics just consider the saints to be part of our extended circle of family and friends.

    Asking a particular saint to pray for us is the same as asking a friend here on earth to pray for us, only with some extra benefits:

    1) The saints, being up in heaven and all, have tons of time to pray for our requests, whereas our friends here on earth may not.

    2) Since they’re tight with Jesus, yo, their prayers of intercession are especially efficacious.

  6. It’s not insanity simply because you don’t believe in it, Jeff. There are people who find comfort in taking their problems to a higher power and that’s not insane–it’s just a different way of dealing with their problems.

    For example, you take your problems to a public Blog where you write out what’s bugging you, hit post and the world reads about it. To another person, that could be the most insane thing ever. Why should you share your problems with strangers? Aren’t you embarrassed? And furthermore, who cares? How does writing help solve your problems — you still have to go about fixing what’s wrong, correct?

    But it helps you resolve your issues and makes you feel better. Writing may bring a moment of clarity where you can see where you went wrong or it could be that quiet 30 minutes where you can push everything out of your mind and dwell on what’s wrong.

    For some people it’s the same thing when petitioning a Saint or repeating a prayer to St. Jude or St. Anthony (St. Anthony, St. Anthony please come down. Help what’s lost, for it must be found — three times). This act gives comfort and opportunity for clarity to other people, just like your writing gives comfort and clarity to you.

    As a noted theologian once said, “The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you, may not be right for some.”

    I think that was one of the Psalms, but I’m not sure.

  7. The Catholic church is a very human religion.
    Much is based on worshiping various people, instead of God. Then in their minds these people become gods. The people then answer your prayers.
    For the Catholics it helps to create an image to worship. So they also need that picture of Mr. Baker to focus their prayer.
    There are so many false religions out there, Jeff.
    To find God you have to focus on God.

    1. Doug, if those were even in the same ballpark you’d have a point. A guy painting his nails—unconventional. A religion asking people to pray for a dead man so a miracle can happen, thereby deeming him a saint? uh …

  8. A guy painting his nails posting on a blog for all to see, and a religion asking people to pray for miracles?

    No offense, but the person praying seems much more of a sane act. To each their own though.

    1. Kevin, do you actually mean that? Painting one’s nails is purely cultural, and the act involves no super powers, no magical being hearing your tiny voice, nothing. just some polish and nails. Asking God for something involves:

      A. Believing, sans any proof, that a mighty being is available.
      B. That he hears you.
      C. That he can do something.

      That’s a Pearlman-KOs-Tyson longshot … times 8 billion.

  9. I’m just sayin’ what seems crazy varies from person to person. I have a feeling the believers outnumber the nailpainters but I have no direct knowledge of this. I’m sure some are on board with both.

  10. I absoultely mean that.

    Paining your nails isn’t ‘cultural’ when you are a grown man with a cell phone over your head taking your picture in the mirror. If you need further proof, you only need the woman next to you looking in horror (though I’m sure you will attempt to counter with some witty remark about how she thought you were just another guy and the great conversation you had. Glub).

    Again, do what you want. I just think it’s funny how you go from so ‘accepting’ of painting Easter eggs with your Christian friends to mocking their religion hours later.

    I’m not a religious man by the way, but with all due respect I think someone that prays for miracles isn’t nearly as fucked up as one who paints their toe nails and looks for any sense of approval or justification on their blog.

    Paint away though.

    1. Kevin:

      First, the woman next to me is my wife. And the look of horror wasn’t the photo, it was the TV show we were watching to the left (Deadliest Catch)

      Second, you misunderstand my “cultural” comment. I’m saying the idea that a man painting his toenails is unusual is cultural. Because, in America, 99.999% of people who paint their nails are females. There’s no logical reason for this, if you think about it. Color is color, and men wear blue, green, orange, red, yellow shirts, pants, sneakers. But painting toenails isn’t overly accepted. Hence, it’s deemed unconventional, and even weird.

      Third, my friends are skeptical of religion—all religion—as am I.

      Fourth, if I were looking for approval or justification, I wouldn’t run it on a sports-themed blog read by people who don’t paint their toenails. I ran it here—and run most everything here—because it’s my life and strikes me as entertaining. Unless there’s something deeper I’m missing (certainly a possibility), that’s it.

      Fifth, Kevin, you can’t be serious in your point that praying is more logical (if that’s the right word) than painting toenails. Again, the nails exist. Color exists. There’s proof both are here, and proof that if you take color and apply it to your nails, you wind up with colorful nails. You might deem it odd or even crazy, but it’s certainly sane.

      Prayer, on the other hand, is done against logic. Does that mean it’s wrong? Certainly not. But you’re literally asking an invisible God who, somehow, hears all and knows what’s in your hearts (but allows great tragedy to happen every minute of every day) to help you. Nazi Germany, Japan, Stalin, 9/11, Nam, Challenger, on and on and on and one. Terrible, terrible, terrible things … but he’ll listen to your prayer about a job interview?

      Kevin, I’m not saying you’re wrong in your beliefs. I’m really not. But to suggest it’s practical and logical is crazy. (Maybe not as crazy as painting nails. But crazy nonetheless).

      jp

      ps: i’ll give you the last word, if you’d like … and i appreciate your passion on this …

  11. “Prayer, on the other hand, is done against logic.”

    Jeff, you seem like a good guy but I don’t think that you really understand religion very well.

    You look at God as if He was a genie; if I pray really hard, I’ll get what I ask for. And I’m sorry to say, that’s how a child views religion/God/prayer.

    It’s not really about that. People pray for strength to handle adversity. People pray for the ability to do well overcoming an obstacle. People pray for patience, discipline and help.

    Those who pray for tangible things (money, a Wii, a car) never get them because prayer doesn’t work that way. After awhile they understand that.

    I’m not a particularly religious guy, but the words you use to describe folks who are religious: illogical, crazy, etc aren’t particularly bright.

    1. Byron, I’m not describing religious people with such adjectives. I’m describing the base idea of prayer: If you ask for something (even strength, discipline, etc), He will deliver it. It makes no sense. Literally, it’s talking to yourself. It’s silly, and while “silly” might be a sub-bright adjective in your eyes, it is silly. There is no reason—historically or otherwise—to genuinely think prayers will be answered. Do you think nobody prayed for the Holocaust to end before it did? Do you think nobody prayed to have their loved ones saved on 9.11? Yet I’m to believe if I pray for strength, it’ll work?

      Furthermore, your point makes prayer all the more inane and, from a control standpoint, predictable: It’s the old church line: God won’t give you money or possessions, but he’ll give you strength and compassion when you need it. Why is this so? My guess: Because God can’t give you money or possessions—because he probably doesn’t exist. However, strength … compassion—they come from within. I know many non-believers who find strength and compassion at horrible times. Why? Because we already have it.

      But remember! Give 10% of earnings to the church.

  12. “I’m not describing religious people with such adjectives. I’m describing the base idea of prayer: If you ask for something (even strength, discipline, etc), He will deliver it. It makes no sense.”

    But in a sense you are because one of the main things that define a religious person is faith in a higher power. How does one express that faith? One way is by talking (or praying) to God.

    Put it this way, if I said that the acts of hitting, catching and throwing a baseball were the actions of imbeciles, but in the next sentence said, “But baseball players aren’t stupid.” That would sound a bit disingenuous, right?

    People don’t put their faith in a higher power because they’re weak willed or lazy. People do this because they have no where else to turn and need help to bring the best out of themselves.

    You’re 100% right, strength, compassion, patience, etc. are all qualities that we all have. However, if it takes talking to an invisible man in the sky with a beard to help bring out those qualities, isn’t that a good thing? Instead of going from A to B, religious people have a middle man and go A to A1 to get to B.

    Put it this way, say you are dying for a pickle and there’s one left and it’s at the bottom of narrow pickle jar. Perhaps you have narrow hands and wrists and can slip your hand in there and pull out that pickle. Perhaps I have fat hands and fatter fingers and need to use a fork to facilitate pickle expulsion.

    At the end of the day you and I both got what we wanted however I just needed a little help from something else. Does that make me inane or silly?

Leave a Reply to Jeff Pearlman Cancel reply