‘Why Religion?’ by Elaine Pagels book review – The Washington Post (and a review of the review)


“Why Religion?” is a personal history but also a wide-ranging work of cultural reflection.

Now, at 75, with disdain for “the facile comfort that churches often dole out like Kleenex,” Pagels leads us through the remarkable events of her life by considering the consolations and the tortures of faith.

Source: ‘Why Religion?’ by Elaine Pagels book review – The Washington Post

Opinion – This is a pretty common view held by those outside a particular religion. Elton John, if I remember right, once decried all of religion. And he’s certainly not alone. Many people just can’t see why believers would willingly go to a service, dole out their cash, and listen to some prefabricated talk given by someone with often shaky credentials at best.

That’s the cynical view.

I used to be like that. I remember once telling a practicing Catholic that I didn’t believe in “organized religion.” I had grown up a non-churchgoing protestant and the whole idea of church was alien to me. My only religious memory came from early childhood when my father taught Sunday school (which didn’t last too long). Weddings and funerals. That was my exclusive exposure to any kind of church.

And then something happened.

After becoming unhappy with my New Age and Hindu pursuits (I did my Masters in India), I literally felt the Holy Spirit descend in Darjeeling. It was pure, loving and heavenly, and it came while I gazed at a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, just after getting off the toy train that takes you there.

With an incredible boost of enthusiasm and joy, I bounced up the path to discover the local church, heedless of the weight of my backpack.

This was a significant step in my conversion process. I am now technically a Catholic. But as everyone who knows me knows, I am not a perfunctory Catholic. Many more experiences followed. These are personal and not so important to relate. What is important is the fact that without the Catholic Church, I frankly would be a very unhappy person these days.

So when I see lines (like the one quoted above) about churches doling out comfort like Kleenex tissues, I have to say something.

Again, I was like Pagels. I used to see things that way. I even mentioned one of her books in an undergraduate essay. So I get it. I think I generally understand where she – and others like her – are at. Seeking out whatever inspires you is fine. Spirituality should always be a choice. But from my perspective, it seems she’s in a place that I was elevated from in my mid-20s.

St. Monica via Flickr
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