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Theologian explores religion

Christian Myers | Wednesday, April 11, 2012


News Writer

The interplay between faith and reason is frequently the subject of discussion in theology classes at Notre Dame.

However, Tuesday night in the Geddes Hall Coffee House the matter was discussed over pizza by practical theologian Claire Noonan in the talk “Can You Be Faithful Without Being Religious?”

Noonan said there are three reasons she doesn’t believe she can have faith without religion: Scripture, sacraments, and saints. She said each is a reason why religion is needed to maintain faith.

“I need Scripture to know the living God, sacraments to communicate with God and saints to struggle alongside,” Noonan said.

Noonan said to Scripture is not just traditional canon, but any text inspired by a transformational encounter with God.

“I want to include the cumulative written experience of Christians as Scripture,” Noonan said.

Noonan said the importance of Scripture is it helps people to properly direct their faith toward God. Faith in God relies on Scripture.

“Everyone has faith. Everyone has to believe in some things they can’t empirically prove for themselves. All faith means is what ultimately you are concerned about,” Noonan said. “What I’m trying to be faithful to is God, and without Scripture, I would not know who God is.”

An important aspect of Scripture properly directing faith is it counteracts other worldly influences, Noonan said.

“The loudest voices in our culture try to point us in a direction very different from Jesus,” she said. “Christianity at its deepest, most fundamental level is different from convention. I wouldn’t have found it on my own.”

As with Scripture, Noonan said she maintains an expanded interpretation of sacraments.

“By sacraments I don’t just mean the seven sacraments of Catholicism, but all prayer and ritual,” she said.

Religion facilitates a relationship with the living God primarily through sacrament and ritual, Noonan said.

The marriage of a friend provides an example of what is lacking without sacrament. Noonan said the friend was faithful, but not religious and elected to hold her marriage ceremony in a restaurant.

“This great occasion in her life was reduced to a functional level,” she said. “It was kind of sad.”

Noonan said when she talks about saints, she refers to not just canonized saints, but people of faith in her everyday community.

Community, which is provided by organized religion, is important for faith, Noonan said.

“Faithfulness requires community because humans are social creatures,” she said. “There is no such thing as the self-made man. Interdependence is the reality of human life.”

Noonan said community is so vital to faith, those who forgo organized religion have to find some other type of community in order to maintain their conviction.

“If you’re not religious, you’d have to create a religion of your own to have community,” she said.

Three student panelists, juniors John Schommer and Katie Pryor and senior Roman Sanchez responded to Noonan with their own opinions and experiences.

Sanchez said by his senior year in high school he had lost both his faith and his religion. He said he was disillusioned by the disconnect between the message he heard in the Church and the reality he saw in the world around him.

“I’m dissatisfied with the God that was presented to me,” Sanchez said. “I guess activism is worship to me. My faith now is in people, relationships and community.”

Pryor said her service work experiences have become a part of her faith and worship.

“Jesus repeatedly calls us to serve in the Gospels,” Pryor said. “I believe that in serving the less fortunate, worship and justice work together.”

Schommer said his experience with secular volunteerism in high school was not as fulfilling as working with Catholic volunteer groups. The difference between the two lies in the perspective towards service and the interaction with those served.

“In seeing the face of Christ in someone, you’re seeing their full potential,” Schommer said.

Contact Christian Myers at [email protected]