There are many aspects of religion that I find difficult to understand. But one that often seems the most perplexing to me is the basic idea of what it actually means to be a member of a specific religion. In observing other people, it seems that religiosity falls along a continuum with extreme fundamentalists at one end, atheists at the other and varying levels of belief in between.
Perhaps the line between fundamentalists and atheists would be filled with many vague levels of religious behavior and belief. Using Catholicism as an example, some points along the spectrum might be something like:
- Those who attend mass at least once a week, observe all the Holy Days and believe in everything the Pope/Church decrees.
- Those who attend mass weekly and on major holidays, but might disagree with the Church on some issues, such as birth control or gay rights.
- Those who attend mass sporadically or only on major holidays, but think that many of the Church's policies are outdated and easily discarded while still being Catholic.
- Those who no longer attend mass, and question or disagree with many of the Church's policies and positions, yet still consider themselves to be Catholic because they've been through the Sacraments of Initiation.
- Those who know they technically don't believe in most of the Catholic tenets, but still attend mass and "play along" to keep up social or familial expectations, or because they think "good people go to church."
An exploration of major world religions shows that each has its own basic tenets which all members are expected to believe. Continuing with the example of Catholicism, the Nicene Creed is a summary of the religion's basic tenets. It states beliefs in the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit); Jesus' virginal birth, death, resurrection and ascension; the second coming of Jesus (Judgement Day, End Times, etc.); the power of the Holy Catholic Church; and the communion with saints.
Can someone truly call themselves Catholic if they don't believe in every point of the Nicene Creed? Are they still Catholic if they disagree with the policies and decrees of the Pope/Catholic Church?
In 2010, the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, conducted by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, showed that most Americans believe in god, despite having little understanding of religious tenets -- including those of their own faith. This is the kind of belief that confuses me. How do believers claim to be members of a religion if they don't know (or disagree with) the tenets of that religion?
Atheists are often accused of attempting to destroy the faith of believers. I for one have no interest in convincing anyone to give up their religion. However, I would like to see more people take the time to question and understand the religion with which they are affiliated, especially when they look to their religious leaders for moral, social or political guidance.