Out of Sync

Fr. John Bullock teaches the pitfalls of Syncretism.
by Fr. John Bullock, LC | Source: Catholic.net

A recent survey showed that many Americans have begun to incorporate elements of different religions to form their own belief-system, a practice referred to as syncretism.   For example, a significant number of Catholics hold that their belief in reincarnation is compatible with Catholicism.[1]  Not only is this is contrary to our faith, more fundamentally it is contrary to reason.  Why?

 Faith is a claim to truth.  It holds something as true even though we ourselves don’t directly experience it.  For example, I believe that the medicine the doctor gives me will actually do what he says it will.  Unless I’m a pharmacist however, I have no practical way of testing this until I actually take it.  I simply hold it to be true because I trust that the doctor knows what he’s doing.  Faith isn’t a preference.  Even if mistaken, faith claims to state a truth:  the medicine really is good.

Likewise when we say we are Christians or Catholics, we are saying that Christ really is who He claims to be, the Son of God, and that which He reveals to us is true, it is a reality. 

This same principle applies to what happens to us when we die: Christianity believes in personal judgment followed by endless life either with or without God.  Reincarnation however says that after dying we return to this world in another form.  You can’t logically believe both simultaneously:  you either return to this earth when you die or you don’t.  These are mutually exclusive propositions, that is, it’s either one or the other. This is only one example of countless mutually exclusive claims between religions:  there is either one God or several gods; God is either benevolent or cruel, God is either personal or merely a kind of energy; you either keep your identity after death or you don’t; etc.
To accept two mutually exclusive religious propositions is contrary to reason.  It reduces religion to the realm of the subjective and the illogical. Ultimately this kind of subjectivism reduces religion to little more than an emotional sedative which attempts to find meaning and fulfillment in what feels good.

Cardinal Ratzinger stated, “Meaning is not something we can simply manufacture.  What we manufacture in that way may be able to grant us a momentary satisfaction, but it will not serve to justify the whole of our existence or to give meaning to it.”[2] Religious truth then, like meaning, must be discovered and not created.[3]  This is obvious.  We don’t create the reality we live in:  where and when we were born, who our parents are, the gifts and talents we have, etc.  The same holds true with God.  If God is real then His reality isn’t subject to our preferences.  We are free to decide how we will interact with the reality around us, including God, but we don’t ‘create’ that reality.  It’s already there.  And as Frank Sheed wrote, “Seeing what is there is sanity.”[4]

Syncretism may give the appearance of freedom, but it is ultimately something that doesn’t satisfy.

[1] Cathy Lynn Grossman, “More U.S. Christians mix in ‘Eastern’, New Age beliefs,” USA Today, December 10, 2009
[2] p. 184, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald. Cardinal Ratzinger. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 460 pp.
[3] cf. Introduction, Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger
[4] p. 22, Frank Sheed, Theology & Sanity: San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 471 pp.

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