Kevin makes an astute remark when he claims the brain’s propensity to look for patterns. I am reminded of Joseph Campbell’s book The Power of Myth where, amongst many themes, he notes that there is a universal propensity amongst cultures to try and make sense of this capricious world, to explain nature, to explain suffering, often in the form of stories, or myths. Campbell does not try to undermine religion or faith, but instead ties them to this universal need. Most interestingly, he notes the common and recurrent myths that prevail in most cultures (and very often pre-date Christianity) -creation, serpents, virgin births, resurrections, ascensions, the hero’s adventure, predetermination, gods/saints working behind the scenes, etc.
So when I read about a family’s belief that their prayers to Bishop Fulton Sheen saved their baby, I am reminded of man’s need to explain the inexplicable. To inject the supernatural into something that can be explained by science, if we had all of the facts. This reinforces for me the importance of teaching our children critical thinking skills in order to discern claims, to evaluate the science and to question the myths.
Interestingly, just last week the Texas Republican Party platform came out against teaching critical thinking skills in Texan schools:
“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
This type of coercion seeks to keep people in the dark, to maintain the status quo,to preserve power structures, to deny people the ability to challenge myths.
Although Bishop Fulton Sheen was notably quite progressive in his time, when I watch his old televangelism series (you can find them on youtube), I see a similar pattern that uses theolatry in the same way. I am reminded of all the things I never liked about catholicism that strangely resemble the things I do not like about republicanism- its patriarchal nature, its dogmatic approach to issues, its condescending hubris, its failure to field questions or promote critical thinking, its insistence on their morality authority, its resistance to recognizing science because it would undermine their power.
When Bishop Sheen spoke, most mightily,the flock merely listened. He appears to me when I watch him now to have been the Rush Limbaugh of the Catholic Church. But since people need their myths and their hero’s, the church, like the republican party, are more than willing to give the people what they want.