What are you tethered to?

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The freedom of religious doctrine

G. K. Chesterton would have loved Mumford & Sons. If I could only provide one reason for believing that, I’d go with these lyrics from the song “I Will Wait”: “so tame my flesh and fix my eyes/a tethered mind, freed from the lies.” If you’re not familiar with Chesterton or Mumford & Sons, I highly recommend that you look into them.
Chesterton loved the idea of being tethered to truth; I think this love was one of the reasons that he happily embraced the Christian faith, which he called “a truth-telling thing” in his book, Orthodoxy.
He would go on to enter the Catholic Church, which he called “the trysting-place of all the truths in the world” in his essay, “Why I Am a Catholic.” I, like Chesterton, love the idea of being bound to truth by a tether.
It’s not very popular, in my experience, to advocate for tethering oneself in certain areas of belief, especially not on many a modern college campus. To do so is to refuse the alternatives, to declare something absolutely true is to declare the alternatives absolutely false.
I’ve listened to secular friends tell me about “what’s true for them,” and while I think there’s value in hearing out other perspectives, I can’t help but think that this idea of “personal truth” or “individual truth” is silly, as it’s usually inconsistent.
Sure, some questioning of our perception of reality is a long tradition in Western philosophy, but I don’t think that epistemology is what’s really on the table here. It’s usually more a matter of what beliefs are convenient to tether oneself to.
Few people would have a problem with me expressing a firm belief in the existence of trees on the Main Hall green; but if I were to express the same certainty about the moral implications of certain actions, I can imagine getting a very different reaction.
It’s my observation, in a general sense, that many a modern, mostly-secular college student isn’t a big fan of what would be called “doctrine.” The word usually carries traces of religion, often Christianity.
Institutional Christianity, on the whole, still advocates against certain actions that many college students, myself included, are inclined toward, and the Catholic Church is especially tenacious with its teachings on certain issues.
It’s frustrating to be advised against doing something that one finds desirable, and a popular sentiment holds that we should dismiss “doctrine” as old-fashioned and give thanks for our collective “freedom” from that sort of thing.
The trouble with this is that nobody really escapes having doctrine, which we’ll define now as “principles according to which one believes and lives.” Do your beliefs and life line up with certain principles?
If so (and I suspect that they do), you have doctrine. A man or woman might try to say, “I reject doctrine and make my own choices,” but when you look at “his own choices,” you’ll notice that they probably look an awful lot like doctrine.
For example, someone might say, “I don’t care about the old standards; I’m going to have sex with whomever I want to.” If living chastely is following a rule, though, isn’t living promiscuously just following a different rule?
It’s true that a person could be inconstant about his or her principles: He or she might live chastely one month and unchastely the next. However, changing between principles over time doesn’t change the fact that, at any given time, he or she has a certain principle for sexual living.
My point, getting back to Mumford & Sons, is that every person is tethered to doctrine of some sort or another. Honestly, there’s no way to do anything without being incidentally tethered to some kind of doctrine. Even the famously random game Calvinball, from the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes”, follows the doctrine of never playing the same way twice.
A person can say that he or she wants “freedom from doctrine,” but what he or she really (unintentionally) means is that he or she wants a greater variety of doctrines to which he or she might tether himself or herself.
As of recently, I’m Catholic, so the principles which I believe and by which live are pretty clearly laid out. I became Catholic because I came to believe that the teachings of the Catholic Church are true, and I decided to tether myself to them.
To conclude, I’d like to pose a question to you, dear readers: To what doctrines do you tether yourselves, and why?
Writer’s note: Each week, this feature will focus on a topic from the perspective of someone in a particular spiritual belief tradition, whether definitely theistic (belief in God/gods/et cetera), maybe theistic (possible but unnecessary belief in God or gods), or decidedly secular. If you’re interested in contributing, contact Christian Stillings or The Lawrentian

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Thank God for Pope Francis

If my assessment of Pope Francis is correct, then I believe that the Conclave of Cardinals could not have been other than divinely inspired.
As I reflect upon the election of the new Pope, I cannot help but believe that it was in every respect, divinely inspired. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the perfect man for the contemporary Papacy. His concern for the poor and marginalized, his manifest love of people, and his authentic life of poverty and simplicity have already begun to restore credibility to a Church injured by scandal. Through his loving and faith-filled presence, people can see the Holy Spirit alive in the Church and they express their excitement about him openly. Virtually every homily and statement he makes includes a reference to the unconditional mercy and love of God—so central to his own spiritual life. I think the Church’s image and reality will begin to shine through this open, friendly, transparent, humble, loving presence who does not shy away from the press or the outside world.
Pope Francis brings a host of other gifts and talents along with his authentic spiritual presence. He is a true intellectual who has completed graduate work in chemistry, and has a high regard and capability for scientific inquiry. He has also done graduate studies in philosophy and doctoral studies in theology (in Germany) and is fluent in six languages (Spanish, Latin, Italian, German, French, and English). He is capable of engaging in and dialoguing with the scientific and academic worlds, and will be an outstanding leader in the intellectual evangelization efforts initiated by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. This will be very important to the Church in Europe and North America which have become increasingly beleaguered by unbelief—particularly among their younger members.
Pope Francis has published ten books on spiritual conversion, political and economic philosophy in the age of globalization, and philosophy of education. This gives him a remarkably deep preparation to lead the Church in both the northern and southern hemispheres. He will be an outstanding guide in helping to resolve problems of global economic inequalities, social injustice, and violations of fundamental human rights.
He also has a firm foundation in the fundamental principles governing the culture of life and the sanctity of marriage. He has articulated well his position against abortion, contraception, and same sex parenting, all of which he believes disorient and undermine the human heart as well as world culture. For Pope Francis, culture is a dynamic spirit within society that ought to be calling us to our highest selves (self-sacrificial love reflecting the transcendent dignity and mystery in which we are created) and away from our lower selves that mire us in narcissism. I think our new Pope will present a significant challenge to the current direction of world culture, and will be a light of Christ’s truth to the world.
Pope Francis has more than an abundance of administrative experience. He became Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina only five years after his ordination, and was Superior of the major seminary for many years after that. He has been Archbishop of Argentina for fifteen years, and has held many different leadership positions within the College of Cardinals and the international community of Bishops. He not only has vast administrative experience; but is also capable of using it wisely and strongly. He is not afraid to challenge or confront Church or secular leaders when he believes that improvements need to be made. It has been widely commented that the Roman Curia is in serious need of reorganization, and that some of the fiefdoms and bureaucratic centers need both realignment and “fresh minds.” Pope Francis seems to have the unique combination of deep respect and love for his colleagues as well as the “no nonsense approach to leadership” that will be indispensable for one of the most important tasks of his Papacy.
All this—and an Argentinian Jesuit besides!! I do not think we can underestimate the importance of having a Pope from Latin America (where 50 percent of the world’s Catholics reside) and who is also from the Southern Hemisphere which represents a part of the world in which the Catholic Church is growing at a very rapid rate. Furthermore, I see Pope Francis’ Jesuit background as a great strength. He brings to the papacy a deeply appropriated Ignatian contemplative spirit, a deep love of the Church (inspired by St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises), a life authentically committed to the preferential option for the poor, and a love of intellectual repartee (which he has no doubt contended with at the Jesuit dinner table for decades). I think this makes him deeply spiritual, flexible, pastorally engaging, intellectual, and in some senses, fearless.
If my assessment of Pope Francis is correct, then I believe that the Conclave of Cardinals could not have been other than divinely inspired. The gifts that this extraordinary man brings to the Church will be indispensable to its future—both within and outside of it. Both Catholics and non-Catholics would be well-advised to pray for his long life and his continued inspiration by the Holy Spirit.