Rigidity or Faithfulness?

HT to Cooees for this one. The ABC is planning a program called “Holy Switch” and are seeking youg adults to participate. But I find their selection criteria a bit confusing, not to even insulting to young peple of faith:

We are looking for questioning young adults, who are part of a family who puts faith at the heart of life, but are not rigid in adhering to their beliefs.

You may live in a family firmly anchored in one of the major religious traditions of Islam, Judaism, Christianity or Hinduism, or be part of a family who practices and lives according to a lesser-known belief system. You will be open to new experiences and interested in how the beliefs of others shape their lives. While observing your swap family’s religious traditions or strongly held belief systems, you will be prepared to challenge yourself and others as you seek to experience what it’s like to live by a whole new set of rules, cultural practises and perspectives.

I am, of course, not eligible on account of my age, but if I were, would I want to apply? The exercise sounds interesting, but is undermined by the requirement that applicants be “not rigid in adhering to their beliefs”. It is one thing to “be open to new experiences and interested in how the beliefs of others shape their lives” but another thing to be what amounts to being unfaithfil to one’s beliefs. What it seems that the ABC is looking for are people who are brought up in a particular faith, but not really serious about living that faith out. I suppose it all depends on that rather pejorative adjective “rigid”. One man’s faithfuness is, it seems, another man’s “rigidity”.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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31 Responses to Rigidity or Faithfulness?

  1. Felix the Cassowary says:

    Then there’s also the word “questioning” to apply to that, and to faith. The criteria look like they were written by a person who assumes all faiths, at least to the extent that they’re exclusive, are wrong: and that this is a truth.

    So, if I were young enough to apply, I would try to read through the spin in that, because it just reflects the unquestioning mind of the writer.

  2. Alex Caughey says:

    My characterisation of this ABC project is rather the reverse of David’s in that I believe that any attempt to mingle with people from other cultures, and religions fertilises our respective understandings leading to greater cooperation, even toppling barriers erected by xenophobia, suspicion and distrust for the stranger who lives on the other side of the hill.

    An authentic faith in God should be open to challenging our comfort zone wherein we reside with the perceived assurance that dogmatic statements of religious belief are an essential ingredient in our personal relationship with Our Saviour.

    It is said that over every mountain top there lies a path which cannot be seen from the valley floor.

    Climbing mountains, and scaling peaks is metaphor for mastering our self, and discovering all that we are made of when facing up to our need to transcend that monumental challenge which appeared on our doorstep this morning.

    In ancient times people imagined that their gods lived on mountains, such as Mount Olympus where the mere mortal could reach a higher state of awareness, even discover more of their self when striving to reach the dwelling place of the gods.

    Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, and participate in life’s adventure that we may better know our self, and in the process learn that we have much to learn from those who share our life’s journey.

    For many of us life is an adventure encouraging us to test our resolve beyond the endurance that human life believes is possible when we canoe fast flowing rivers, dive into the depths of oceans, even fly into outer space in search of other civilisations, to go where no man has gone before.

    It is said that each quest completed teaches us something new, something wise and something of value sufficient to propel us to discover more of who we are when reaching for the stars.

    Shangri La, our final destination where we imagine that we can find fulfilment, and joy is only realisable when making the journey that rewards us with all the happiness which we need to sustain us on our path towards the end of the rainbow.

    The wise trekker learns that our falls, and injuries are learning lessons and that it is our progress, our way ahead rather than our speed which manifests our determination to discover all within our grasp when we reach journey’s end.

    Shed no tears when the journey is completed, rather smile for having made the effort to make our life worth living for by participating in the life of our fellow traveller, that we may better understand our absolute need to understand that we are as flawed as our neighbour and also in need of self improvement

    “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts: but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” ~Francis Bacon

    • Schütz says:

      Are you familiar with the fact that interfaith dialogue is my day job, Fr Alex? I do not believe that “questioning”, in the sense of doubting or being unconvinced of one’s own faith is a prerequisite for fruitful dialogue. On the contrary, I belong to the school of interfaith dialogers who believe that a firm foundation in one’s own tradition and a strong degree of comfort in owning one’s own religious identity is the most important prerequisite for fruitful engagement.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        David,

        A firm foundation in a religious culture is no excuse for not questioning ones faith in God.

        Doubt enables our journey of faith in God.

        Without doubt our faith in God remains an intellectual exercise fraught with lip service to cultural norms.

        “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by
        doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.” (Pierre Abelard)

        • Schütz says:

          I “question” my faith endlessly and ruthlessly all the time – in the sense of “examination”. But I have never doubted it and pray God that I never will. “Doubt” is not a theological virtue.

          • Alex Caughey says:

            David,

            Why would you question your faith, so ruthlessly were doubt not the motive leading you?

            Faith is another word for trust, certainly never certainty.

            In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus, when faced with the awareness of his forthcoming trial, mocking, torture and execution sweated blood, even hesitating, asking The Father to take this cup from me.

            Jesus, doubted, then recovered his strength of purpose.

            I am rather inspired by Tennyson’s words, from In Memoriam:”There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”

            • Fr. John Cox says:

              Not being RC but Orthodox I admit to feeling something like an intruder here. But I would like to offer a counterpoint from the undivided Church to your reading of Jesus’ words in Gethsemane. Maximus the Confessor says that Jesus’ words and actions in Gethsemane were pedagogical. That is, they were intended to teach us by demonstration that we must conform our own will to the will of the Father. Maximus says Jesus’ words, “Father if it be possible…But never-the-less…” demonstrate the concurrence of His human and divine wills. To suggest doubt would be to introduce a division between His human and divine wills, Maximus argues, and implicit in this division is resistance or opposition. If Jesus’ human will resists or opposes His divine will which He shares with the Father then He has sinned, a position which we as Christians obviously cannot accept. A simple way of saying this might be that similar to Jesus’ prayer at the tomb of Lazarus which was for the benefit of the hearers, Jesus’ words in the garden are for our benefit and instruction.

            • Schütz says:

              How little you seem to understand my mind, Father! Or my soul! Why does a scientist study and question the world aroud him? Because he doubts it? Hardly. My questioning is in order to understand more!

              And like Fr Cox, I am not so ready to interpret Gethsemane as a moment in which our Lord “doubted” his vocation.

            • Alex Caughey says:

              Fr. John,

              The result of Jesus’ momentary hesitation, doubt as I express it is never a sinful action rather an awareness that human nature will always wrestle (viz. Jacob) with the call of The Spirit when faced with the ultimate sacrifice.

              To believe otherwise would be tantamount to rejecting the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth, thereby denying very clearly that he had suffered, and agonisingly so even in the Garden of Gethsemane where we are informed that he sweated blood, evidencing the response of a man gripped by trauma when being obliged to face up to his approaching torture, and death by crucifixion.

              Our Father encourages our human responses to His invitation to follow Him, in all matters that we may learn that faith in Him must be a living experience, rather than an academic exercise founded in faithfulness to dogmatic statements of faith.

              Jesus wept. (John 11:35),

            • Schütz says:

              Rubbish, Father. You do not have to posit that Jesus experienced doubt in the Garden in order to prove that he was human any more than (as you claim) the Virgin Birth was necessary to prove his divinity. By your reckoning, I must myself be less (or perhaps more?) than human, since I have never doubted the Christian faith. You are reading more into the text than you are warrented to do.

            • Alex Caughey says:

              David,

              Jesus never doubted his purpose when fulfilling his purpose nevertheless, being also fully human he naturally hesitated when faced with his approaching trial, and torture ordeal followed by crucifixion.

              What human being, wouldn’t?

            • Schütz says:

              I believe he said that his “soul” was “troubled”. Let’s just leave it at that.

  3. Fr. John Cox says:

    I will take this opportunity to go back in time and tell my young-enough-to-participate self what my too-old-to-participate self has learned. Certainly, it seems as if this program is likely to paint fidelity in a bad or at least unflattering light. That is bad enough but my greater concern is that when you allow religious life to be placed in this context you commodify it, or, to put it another way, you classify it in people’s minds with commodities. This simply furthers the consumerist ethic of the contemporary religious landscape which makes it all the more difficult to lead people to the truth that the meaning, the vital importance, of faith in God isn’t what you make of it, it’s what it makes of you.

    • Susan Peterson says:

      Where is the “like” button? I want to hit it for this comment.
      Susan Peterson

      • Schütz says:

        I’m not sure about the “like button”, Susan! Is that a facebook thing? I’m not a facebooker -as anyone who has tried to communicate with me on my facebook page would have discovered!

  4. Mary H says:

    ABC seems to assume that anyone who is “rigid in adhering to their beliefs” cannot at the same time “be open to new experiences and interested in how the beliefs of others shape their lives” or “be prepared to challenge yourself and others as you seek to experience what it’s like to live by a whole new set of rules, cultural practises and perspectives”.

    The way they have worded it, I would have ruled myself out during the times when I was Catholic (I left the Church for a while), because I would have assumed it meant I couldn’t go to Mass (if possible) for my Sunday and holidays obligation, at the very least. Of course, if they mean the guest should not be rigid in fulfilling their religious *obligations*, then the swap family would not be learning much about their guest’s religious beliefs.

    I actually had the experience they are talking about when I was an exchange student in Germany. I lived with a non-practicing Catholic family for several weeks, and got up early to go to Sunday mass so I could be back with the family before they started Sunday breakfast, which was an important tradition with them. Then I was moved to an “evangelisch” home that supported my church-going to the point of actually coming to one Mass when I was the lector. Would I have been considered “rigid” in “adhering to my beliefs” for trying to meet my mass obligation?

    I think a charitable interpretation might be that ABC doesn’t understand what “rigidly adhering to” sounds like to someone who practices a faith that has non-negotiable obligations. Do they really mean to rule out Catholics that go to Mass, Jews who don’t eat pork, Hindus that don’t eat meat, and Moslem women who cover their heads in public?

    If that isn’t ABC’s actual intention, I’d suggest they drop “but are not rigid in adhering to their beliefs” altogether, or change it to “and are willing to live by a whole new set of rules, cultural practises and perspectives to the extent that they don’t conflict with their core religious beliefs and duties.”

    As a Catholic, that would mean that I might attend religious services of another faith, but would also fulfill my own obligation to go to Mass. In a Hindu household, I might observe or remain quiet during a prayer to the ancestors or to a Hindu god, but I wouldn’t participate in such prayers directly. And so on.

    • Schütz says:

      “and are willing to live by a whole new set of rules, cultural practises and perspectives to the extent that they don’t conflict with their core religious beliefs and duties.”

      Yes, Mary, that would have been far more appropriate, and would result in a much more fruitful engagement of both the host and the guest.

  5. matthias says:

    I barrack for collingwood – i am called a fan
    I went to Mass on the first Wednesday of the year .Besides Fr Mc there was only me-I am called a fanatic.
    I signed a petition begun by a priest protesting against “gay provocation laws” as a result of a man being murdered in his church yard- i am called faithful.
    I signed a petition against same sex marriage- i am called rigid.

  6. Peregrinus says:

    I think the choice of words here is important. They are not seeking to screen out people who are committed, or faithful, or whatever, about their present beliefs, but those who are “rigid”.

    I think I see where they are coming from. If your religious convictions and attitudes are such that you would have difficulty taking off your shoes to enter a mosque, for instance, or you would have qualms of conscience about participating in a Passover seder, or you think the Romish mass is a blasphemy that you cannot attend, or you cannot join in prayers which invoke the saints, then participation in this programme is not for you.

    And perhaps it goes a little further than that. If you can’t sit at a table where meat and dairy may be combined, or if you couldn’t imagine not going to mass on a Sunday then, again, your convictions may prevent you from participating in this programme.

    (In response to Mary H: A commitment to keep up your Sunday mass attendance wouldn’t necessarily preclude participation, unless (a) that prevented you from participating in something significant with your host family on Sunday mornings, or (b) the concept for the programme involves “immersion” in the faith life of the host family – i.e that for the duration of the experiment you would seek to meet your spiritual needs exclusively by participating in their faith life, or at any rate without participation in any other communal faith practice.)

    I honestly don’t think they are looking for people who are “not really serious” about living out their faith. Apart from anything else, you’re going to end up with a much more interesting, and much more informative, programme if the subjects are people who do take faith seriously, and who understand why how we live, and how our lives reflect our faith, is important. But I think the simple truth is that the programme cannot be made if it involves subjects who are so “rigid” about how they live out their own faith that they cannot live, even for a time, as part of a family or household that is living out a different faith.

    • Stephen K says:

      Yes, I think this is the way to understand this, Peregrinus. The matter here is not about relinquishing or suspending beliefs – unless it is the belief that one should never join in others’ religious and religiously cultural activities – but about whether someone is flexible enough to pay the courtesy of joining in collective religious activity of another religious creed or culture for a period.

      I find it interesting that everyone (i.e. as a general rule) would appear to be eager to claim “faithfulness” but distance themselves from “rigidity”. It is as if there is an instinctive sense that the latter is something negative. No-one wants to be thought of as rigid. Even the wonderful Pentecost sequence makes the distinction: “flecte quod est rigidum……..”

      The point is that being rigid – that is, unbending – is not a virtue even for steel girders, which break under extreme pressure if there is no leeway for give. The challenge is when and how to give, to bend. (The warning should be, if you are not prepared to bend, you will break).

      Everyone will ultimately have a different view about where rigidity begins and faithfulness ends. But I’d like to suggest that without some significant degree of immersion in the “other” culture/religion, the whole exercise would be pointless or wasted and merely tokenism, like the parka-ed, sleeping bagged, hydrated CEOs who spend a brief televised night on some city street, claiming the next morning they understand homelessness (!)

  7. Tony says:

    … but another thing to be what amounts to being unfaithfil to one’s beliefs.

    Crikey! It’s the ABC so that’s really … I mean really … what they must mean. The fact that they didn’t actually write that is a mere detail. Everyone knows what they meant.

    I know this metaphor is a complete disaster, but it’s Friday: talk about wearing your baggage on your sleeve!

  8. Peregrinus says:

    Look, I think it’s pretty straightforward. The premise of the programme is that people will “swap places” for two weeks, move into a “completely different religious background” and “live a totally different life”.

    I’m sorry, but if you live with, e.g., an observant Jewish family for two weeks while still going to Sunday mass, you are not “living a totally different life” in spiritual terms. You are a guest – an attentive, respectful guest, no doubt – observing the spiritual practices of your hosts, but you are still living your own religious practices, not theirs.

    That’s absolutely fine; you may well have excellent reasons for wanting to do that. But, if that’s your position, you’re not the person the programme makers are looking for.

    I don’t think we can demand that they make a different programme, or feel victimized or marginalized that the programme they want to make is not about us or people like us. I think we could suggest that their use of the term “rigid” is perhaps a little insensitive. But, remember, we are not the people the notice is trying to reach. The notice is trying to reach people who would be open to embracing the spiritual practices of others, and immersing themselves in them. And those people might well recognize the term “rigid” as descriptive of those not willing to do this.

    Remember, this is a swap. If you participate in the programme, not only will you go and join someone else’s family/community for a while, but someone from that family/community will come and take your place. Which means that not only you, but your family and community, must be comfortable with the premise of this programme.

    Which in turn means that the ABC is not inviting young people to reject and cast off the strictures of their religion, and abandon the faith they have. It’s inviting them to do something that their faith and their faith community can accommodate.

    • Fr. John Cox says:

      The question that comes to my mind as I read your hypothesis about what the show will be like is, “why would anyone watch it?” Since this is “reality television” there won’t be any explosions or aliens so you can cross out adventure, sci-fi, horror, and suspense from your list of reasons to watch. I suspect religion lacks the visceral power required for “feel good” shows like “The Biggest Loser” (a show about people who struggle to lose tremendous amounts of weight). That leaves two possible points of attraction for viewers, comedy and drama. I can easily imagine the humor in this show but I think that like other reality shows drama will be the driving force. A useful thought exercise might be to ask yourself where the drama will come from. Importing my admittedly limited experience with reality television I can only imagine the drama being created as someone struggles with their conscience in the face of a choice they are not comfortable with or that is contrary to their faith, or as we watch their faith implode in the face of this new experience. Without some sort of existential disaster the show will be boring. If my own hypothesis is reasonable it leads me to another question, why would any Christian person choose to watch something like that happen to another for the sake of being entertained?

      • Schütz says:

        Father, we are talking the Australian Broadcasting Corporation here – a government owned entity similar to the BBC – affectionately known as “Aunty”. It is nor governed by the usual commercial rules. That said, some of us never find the need to watch anything else.

      • Peregrinus says:

        In general I share your concerns about reality television, Father. I do question the ethics of this programme, and I think your earlier point about the commodification of spirituality is well taken. I also doubt whether a two-week exposure to another spiritual tradition is likely to be enough to enable somebody to appreciate what it has to offer or to exercise any discernment, positive or negative, about it, beyond the most superficial.

        Having said all that, the notice identifies the production company as the same one which has made a number of other documentary programmes on religious themes, one of which I have seen, and I have to say it wasn’t bad. It was a “fly on the wall” documentary observing the lives of a community of nuns, interspersed with pieces to camera by the nuns themselves. It seemed to me to treat the nuns and their beliefs and values with seriousness and respect, and to give them plenty of space to explain themselves and their lives, and it didn’t set out to sensationalise. I think the programme would have been described as interesting, rather than entertaining. So I have some hopes that this programme will not be as bad as it might be.

  9. Stephen K says:

    Fr John Cox, you seem to be implying that the only kind of interest a watcher could have in this programme is some kind of perverse schadenfreude. What about a natural vicarious interest in an experience relatively few people engage in, a curiosity about the everyday perspective of another religious/cultural experience? We do this kind of ‘virtual travel’ all the time when we watch documentaries or read books, or films. There are many kinds of presentations, and the modern vogue for “reality” self-commentary is but one way. It won’t appeal to some people, naturally, and this would not be because somehow their christianity is not sadistic or superficial or insensitive, but a question of individual taste. Speaking personally, I sometimes cringe at the prospect of programmes of this nature because I don’t know and feel anxious about the personalities of the “experiencers” and whether what they say or do will strike me as fatuous (only in my opinion of course) etc. So I will often not watch such programmes, unless the subject matter intrigues me. But I have been pleasantly surprised by some subjects and warmed to the people involved. A recent reality programme I felt very enlightened by and positive towards, was the recent programme on “The High Street” which looked at how modern traders and craftspersons coped with retailing/trading conditions in previous generations. Did it “entertain” me? Why, yes. I was absorbed, my interest continually stimulated, my sympathies with the difficulties experienced aroused, my ethical judgments were prompted at some of the participants’ coping strategies, etc. The same will apply for many who will want to watch this programme, I expect. There will be many who will prefer other options: read a book, have a party, watch something else on TV or be occupied at work or some other activity: the options for engaging our mental activity are diverse. I don’t think it’s accurate to attempt to reduce the programme unilaterally or its viewers as necessarily either low-brow or unchristian.

  10. Fr. John Cox says:

    Stephen K, you could be right. I would be more inclined to your perspective if it were a smaller network like AMC but still, it could be as you describe. If they get enough people to sign up I suppose we shall see. Well, actually I don’t have television anymore so if you would be kind enough to let me know how it comes out I’d appreciate it.

    • Stephen K says:

      Well, Father, I’d be happy to give you my personal impressions if I get to see it. I only knew about it courtesy of David’s post, so I guess I’ll look out for it and give it a hearing so to speak. It goes without saying that whatever I think will be personal reactions only. It may succeed in presenting authentically not only the face and perspective of different groups but also the sorts of questions or issues any of us might have, and one would hope it is and doesn’t end up completely coffee-table.

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