Yesterday in an opinion article in the New York Times, Stephen T. Asma argued in “What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t)” that we need religion. He wrote from a purely human perspective with no reference to God. According to Asma, religion “isn’t terribly reasonable” and in fact “its irrationality may even be the source of its power” in affecting one’s emotional well-being. He claims that “religion can provide direct access to ‘the’ emotional life in ways that science does not.” He sees religion as “a road-tested form of emotional management.” “Religion,” he says, “trades in magical thinking and no proof.” But for Asma this magical thinking gives us something of value in our emotional life.
This is the very error that Pope Francis speaks about in “Rejoice and Be Glad! The Call to Holiness.” It is a great error to look upon religion (and in my case Christianity) as some sort of aid organization, ignoring a personal relationship with God. Religious faith is first of all a relationship of trust in God. It is not some magical formula that guarantees a fixed outcome. Neither is it unreasonable to have confidence in God. The Catholic tradition has long held the close relationship between faith and reason since both seek truth which is one. From the earliest days of Christianity magical spirituality as practiced by the gnostics (who claimed a hidden knowledge) has been condemned. Christianity is a way of life rooted in human nature created by God (grace builds on nature) and not some unreasonable exercise in magic. Of course, religion is good for the human person and the human family. God is for us. Out of love God has created us and redeemed us to know God and to love God in this life and in the life to come. Religious faith gives us a meaning and purpose for our lives. Asma is right in approaching the positive value of religion but is far from the point in not seeing religion as a bond with a transcendent God.