What All Relationships (religion included) Require

Well, I agreed with the majority of J.T. Eberhard’s recent post “Joy for Joy’s Sake.”  I, too, like visiting RenFaires, and I enjoyed scrolling through the pictures of him and his fiancée frolicking amid the anachronisms.  But then I got up to this conclusion:

Meaning is realizing we’re very lucky to have the time we have and not wasting a minute of it by letting others dictate how we spend these precious minutes.  If you’d rather be at home cuddling someone who means the world to you than sitting in a pew, then your religion has stolen a bit of your life.

I certainly spend some Sunday mornings grumping about in bed, not wanting to get up and schlep for a forty minute walk to Church.  Or having to get up at 6am to get to the very early Mass, so I can make it to work when I’m needed.  And I’ll admit that, in the moment, it feels a bit like a privation.

But I’m not having my time or energy stolen from my real relationships.  I’m choosing to spend it on one.

I used to be terrified that I could never have kids, because the first time they started throwing up, I would just leave the house and run away.  (I can be a bit squeamish and was one of the kids excused from the dissections at summer camp).   But luckily, while I was dating my first boyfriend, he got a horrible flu and started throwing up so much that they needed to give him an IV line by the time we took him to the hospital.  And it turned out I loved him more than I hated being around vomit.

No one has a relationship of solid, nice cuddling time.  But nursing a loved one through an illness, or reading the book they’ve been nagging you about (a copy of Screwtape Letters will be coming to  you soon, current boyfriend!), or even having a fight, the awkward period after, and eventual reconciliation is part of the same thing that fuels the cuddling.

And, as far as I’m concerned, at least Mass is easy.  It’s the thing I know how to do (like sending flowers), not the less structured, more uncertain part of praying on my own.  One reason I like going to Daily Mass when I can is that it’s a way of spending time with God without being scrupulous or self-conscious about how.

And I’m sure, given that J.T. is going to be married, he doesn’t ever feel like his fiancée is stealing time from him, if she needs something or wants to share experience he wouldn’t pick otherwise.  My Mass-going just rankles, presumably, because he doesn’t think there’s a relationship there to honor.

I think he errs by not evaluating the practice in light of the premise.  If a friend were catfished into corresponding with a scam artist on a dating site, I would feel bad that s/he was snookered, but I’d be glad that s/he treated the faux partner with affection and respect, until the error was exposed.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Randy Gritter

    A few minutes for mass is such a trivial sacrifice. The concept of Christianity is that Jesus is lord of your life. That means you sacrifice everything. All your time, all your possessions, all your relationships, all your opinions, etc. So mass does not steal a few minutes and then you get back to what you really want to do. Eating and sleeping and and working and cuddling and frolicking. Those things are stealing a few minutes from your life with God. If religion was about a once a week thing then he would be right to reject it.

    • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

      “Eating and sleeping and and working and cuddling and frolicking. Those
      things are stealing a few minutes from your life with God.” No they aren’t because you can offer up your entire day to God, thus making the eating, sleeping, working, cuddling all a part of that relationship. You can eat with God, sleep with God, work with God, frolic with God and yes, even invite God to be a part of your cuddle time too. God isn’t an uncomfortabe third wheel but is in fact the reason we have all of those pleasures to begin with.

      • Randy Gritter

        You are right. That is the goal. My point is that mass is the purest form of worship. If all your time belongs to God them mass is the least stolen bit of your life.

    • avalpert

      “If religion was about a once a week thing then he would be right to reject it.”

      But if it is an all encompassing cult would it be more acceptable? All we are talking about is finding the line that we personally think is a bridge too far – some will place it at Heaven’s Gate, some at Hubbard’s door and some at the Church’s nave.

      • Randy Gritter

        I guess that is the point. If anything is a bridge too far then you are not dealing with God. Unconditional love demands an unconditional Yes. Ultimately when we get to heaven we must be without sin. So everything impure must go. That makes sense.

        Like CS Lewis once said. Religion can be hugely important or totally unimportant. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

        • avalpert

          I know we have been down this road before so there is no reason to rehash it – but you aren’t even trying to look at it from outside your own assumptions.

          Why not approach the same way you would when someone close explains they are abandoning their friends and family because some guru insists they are holding her back from her true calling as the chief pilot of the ship that will ride the comet to gods house.

          • Randy Gritter

            People need to do appropriate reflection before making a commitment. At the same time there is a point where they need to make it so. Olympic athletes make commitments. People go all out for careers. Artists, musicians and authors will risk everything to try and pursue what they believe they are meant to achieve.

            Stephen Colbert said in a commencement speech at Northwestern, “Always follow your dream … unless your dream is stupid!” I would say the same thing. Follow your beliefs completely with no compromise, unless they are stupid. If they can’t be followed fully and consistently then they probably need to be re-examined. But the business about hedging your bets. Trying to please God and seem reasonable to a secular world at the same time. That makes no sense.

          • avalpert

            I’ll take your Colbert and raise you a Forrest: “Stupid is as stupid does”

            Even if they can be followed fully and consistently they may benefit from re-examination – I can think of quite a few who fully and consistently followed their beliefs off the proverbial cliff. Maybe hedging their bets would have been a better option.

  • stanz2reason

    I think JT’s stretching a bit here. Religion isn’t one of many priorities in his life, but it is for many others. All things being equal, I would prefer being at home with my wife and my daughter, yet I don’t feel that a lunch out with my parents one day is having some of my life stolen away. Similarly, I’m sure he’d prefer to be at home with his fiance vegging out in bed rather than blogging, yet I doubt he would consider his time spent writing a wasted effort. Conflicting priorities arise due to us being bound by the simple proposition that we can’t be at two places at the same time, yet that doesn’t mean the lesser priority (in an everything else being equal scenario) is a valueless thing.

    Not to throw gas on the fire, but in the whole kid process, baby vomit is fairly mild on the squeemish scale. I’m sure I’m not alone as a parent saying I can share stories that would make your skin crawl.

  • Iota

    There is something I REALLY don’t like about the time-stealing rhetoric as such. Because (a) we do not actually own time, the way you might own money or property; (b) our ideas of what time is valuable aren’t exactly good measures of time’s actual value, so I consider ideas of “stolen” time as usually suspect.

    When I wait at a pedestrian crossing, are seconds “stolen” from me? In a sense yes, because I’d rather be doing something else. But in a sense no, because learning to just wait around a bit is an integral part of life as it is lived. More, sometimes that bit is useful, like when a good idea pops up or I suddenly remember something I’m supposed to do. Which would not have happened, if I had my brain churn away at work.

    Is time “stolen” from God, when you, e.g. tend to the sick, because it is not purest worship? Or even when you eat your three meals a day? Well, try to live by worship alone, while on this earth, without some very special grace of God, and we’ll see how that goes.

    Is time “stolen” from great and wonderful enterprises if I stop to talk to the gent who runs the cloakroom at work? Yes, if you think talking to people who can do you no favour is a waste of time. Not necessarily, if you think this that gent is entitled to a little free kindness.

    In ordinary circumstances, how we measure time as “stolen” probably says more about is than it does about whether that time was put to good use.

    [Also, I find the notion that anything that doesn't square with my current wants is "stealing" my life or "removing purpose" quite absurd. Even on purely non-religious grounds. You don't always grow best by doing what you want. Sometimes you grow by doing what you have to or not doing what you shouldn't. We actually learn this first as children, when we're not allowed endless sweets, need to do our homework and go to bed by a certain hour. Most people understand, on some level, that not all appetite is good. And, while I don't know J.T. I have a sneaking suspicion that he might agree to this, if the proposition were re-framed in secular terms. I.e. I suspect he's objecting specifically because as an atheist he assumes God does not exist and, therefore, rejects any such demands, even if he would consider demands made by, say, getting an education...]

    • stanz2reason

      “we do not actually own time, the way you might own money or property”

      It’s funny, I feel the opposite is true. Of all the currency we might have to spend, time seems the one I would most consider my own possession. As a limited resource, to me this suggests that the manner in which we spend it is a better indication of the value we ascribe to things than a dollar amount.

      I agree in part with the notion that just because you might spend your time on a task which doesn’t satisfy a current want doesn’t mean it’s ‘stealing your time’, or more accurately that you’re ‘wasting your time’. Some tasks have value beyond their immediate payouts. However, for such a thing to be worthwhile there should be some sort of endgame, some sort of long term benefit that justifies the short term cost. Sometimes staring at the wall is just staring at the wall, and is just a waste of time. What I think JT is suggesting is that for him the prospect of spending time going to a service of sorts is the equivalent of staring at the wall. No short term or long term benefit.

      • Iota

        My idea of time as not my own is based on the fact that it cannot be “saved” or transferred in any sense (I have no real future-oriented control). The future can be planned for (of course), and there are some tweaks you can use to hopefully extend your lifespan or decrease hours of sleep without adverse effects, but the level of control is actually VERY low, IMO.

        Money, on the other hand, can be controlled at least to some extent because it can be saved. There are, of course, macroeconomic issues (inflation, change of currency, large natural disasters. war etc.) and the occasional theft or, say, burning down of your house. But the extent of control seems at least a little larger.

        “it is a better indication of the value we ascribe to things than a dollar amount.”

        I’d generally agree with this part (with a whole bunch of reservations).

        > What I think JT is suggesting is that for him the prospect of spending
        time going to a service of sorts is the equivalent of staring at the
        wall. No short term or long term benefit.

        Which is fine, except it doesn’t really work as a theist versus atheist argument (if there was any intention of making one). Because the difference in the endgame is exactly what the theist and theist disagree about. I go to Church on Sunday not because I somehow do not realise that sitting around doing nothing could be a waste of time (even if my understanding of what IS wasted time is probably much more narrow than most people).

        I do so specifically because I believe it isn’t. I believe the endgame is worth it.

        [BTW: My sense that much of the time time cannot be properly understood as "wasted" stems partly form my distrust in my own ability to asses the endgame - I got my first well paying job because I spent an inordinate amount of time playing video games as a hobby, for example and this wasn't a premeditated career move. I don;t recommend that as a strategy for growth, but there was some cosmic irony in getting my first respectable pay checks out of something I was always told is just a time sink]

        Of course you could make an argument that there are people on the fence (on this issue). But in that case this is an appeal to emotion or to J.T.s authority on the matter more than anything else: “Look,. sitting in the pews on Sunday is so pointless and a waste of your life, because I say so”.

        Obviously, it might not be meant as an argument.

        • stanz2reason

          Your own time can not be saved or transferred in a sense (we’ll ignore the notion of prolonging life or offering it up so that someone else might have theres as it’s the finiteness of your own time that’s what I’m getting at). It is the notion of a finite resource that you spend in a far more personal way that you would with cash. Your purchases with money might or might not say something about your person, but your purchases with time essentially define your person.

          The point of JT’s posting (and he’s free to correct me if I’m wrong) is to suggest that someone can ascribe value to their life without invoking a deity or taking part in religious custom, and that while some people might find value in such customs, for a skeptic, such a pursuit would be a waste of his time. I noted below that the way he said it (from the portion Leah quoted) makes it seem as if he’s not acknowledging the reality of competing priorities. I felt he was referring to a skeptic POV, rather than a believer who doesn’t feel like getting out of bed.

          • Iota

            I’m not sure if we’re disagreeing in any substantial way. :-)

            We see time differently: it IS a finite (and precious) resource, no doubt about it. All the same, the fact I don’t control it makes it automatically not my own (for me). This will sound all mystical-wishy-washy but I think of time as a gift.

            Gifts must not be squandered unwisely (we agree on that, I assume). My take on gifts, however, is that they are also not to be very tightly controlled: what I was given generously, I should also use generously.

  • grok87

    JT:”If you’d rather be at home cuddling someone who means the world to you than sitting in a pew, then your religion has stolen a bit of your life.”

    LL:”But I’m not having my time or energy stolen from my real relationships. I’m choosing to spend it on one.”

    Today’s first reading tells the story of a guy who decided to do what he wanted to do rather than what God asked him to do. It worked out ok in the end I guess, but large sea mammals got involved in the middle!
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100713.cfm

    This is my favorite part of the story:
    When God saw what [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life,for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Immediate initial reaction:

    And what the (expletive deleted) about those of us who don’t have “someone who means the world to you” to cuddle? Thanks, J.T., once again the uncoupled may as well just jump over a cliff with the lemmings because we’re no good in society, are we?

    Calmed down reaction:

    That would be an ecumenical matter

    • JTEberhard

      That was one thing out of millions that could evince meaning in one’s life, not a requisite. I honestly don’t see how anybody could possibly have read that part of the post in the way that you did.

      • Bill @woch3

        Martha gets a pass on this one, JT. What is absolutely VITAL in our life might be someone to ¡cuddle! (which is today’s orthodoxy) or it might be ¡DRINK! (as it has become for Father Jack). What we truly love ultimately becomes our only resource, and so the first leads to divorce and bitterness as the second to alcoholic dependence and misery. That has been a lesson which is accessible to many—and certainly to Stoics among whom our host counted herself. 

        I have heard that Victory smells like napalm in the morning. It tastes like a Scotch egg? —Bill @wloch3. 

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

        While I agree that Martha maybe read into your post things that weren’t there (which I suspect she might have been trying to indicate with the revised-reaction set-up), I would caution that almost everyone chooses romantic relationships as the “one thing out of millions that could evince meaning in one’s life” when they’re looking for an example. The repetition of that example exacerbates a general social trend that shames singles, or at least shames people who are not in a romantic relationship more often than they are, so it’s not at all unreasonable for a person to get angry when someone has once again chosen romantic relationships as the go-to example for making meaning in your life.

        • Randy Gritter

          In fairness JT included more than cuddling in his meaning-giving activity examples. Leah just only quoted the cuddle bit. Read the post at the link and there is more.

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            OK, that’s fair. I don’t mean to say that JT is trying to establish a cuddle-kyriarchy or anything. My point is simply that Martha’s emotional response to the pull-quote isn’t as irrational or unbased as JT seems to suppose it is.

          • Irenist

            “cuddle-kyriarchy”: Anyone here know if that’s a fair description of Princess Celestia’s regime in the “Friendship is Optimal” Singularitarian “My Little Pony” fanfic, which I know only by hearsay? There are CFAR people about, someone here must’ve read some of the stories in the Optimalverse.

          • ACN

            “Anyone here know if that’s a fair description of Princess Celestia’s regime in the “Friendship is Optimal” Singularitarian “My Little Pony” fanfic”

            I’m sure that I have no idea what you’re talking about, or have similarly “hearsay only” understandings

            *shifts eyes suspiciously*

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

            OK, I must admit that I’m not really into MLP fanfic, and I don’t know anything about “Friendship is Optimal,” though the name alone gives me willies. Perhaps I should clarify that by “cuddle-kyriarchy” I meant something really pretty terrible: a system of government in which people who have cuddle-partners, and engage in cuddling, are considered a higher class of citizens than those who do not.

          • Martha O’Keeffe

            Definitely not a reasoned response there from me, JT. But it’s an example of how even a well-meaning person can tread on sensitive areas without meaning to – you picked one example of opposition (spend time with people you care about versus boring old church services).

            Cuddling with someone, however, does have overtones of a romantic rather than a familial or friendship relationship, and yes – at this stage, I’m rather fed-up with the default assumption being that well of course everyone has a sweetie-pie to snuggle up with. Not everyone does, and not everyone chooses to engage in romantic or sexual relationships.

            It was just your bad luck to hit my “Grrr – more bloody romance, I swear, I am going to commit mayhem over this” button :-)

  • K.Chen

    Obligations, by their nature, involve things that, in the moment, we would rather not be doing. Most obligations that we choose to honor however, we find value in honoring that obligation. So we have not had any time stolen from us, even though we have chosen to spend it, pace Iota.

    If J.T. is arguing that you should not spend time fulfilling your obligations to church if they do not bring you happiness, and in fact take away from the happiness involved in spending time with your loved ones, I would probably agree. There is a caveat though, which is that we need many different sorts of happiness to complete a life. The happiness I gain when I spend time with my wife on the couch watching Netflix is not greater than the happiness I get from beating a video game, but no way would I choose the latter to the exclusion of the former. I am greedy enough to want complete happiness, not just moments of joy.

  • Irenist

    Seems like a reasonable, if obvious, point. If the Christian God exists, then honoring the Sabbath day by worshiping Him is vital. If He doesn’t, it’s not.

    JT thinks God doesn’t exist, from which JT’s belief that liturgy is a waste of time follows naturally.

  • Randy Gritter

    It isn’t actually false. If Christianity is true is is of utmost importance. If it is false it is of no importance at all. It has to be true or false. Yet so many people play it half way. A strategy guaranteed to be wrong.

    • avalpert

      Christianity can be false and still important as a source of personal value, community or social stability (among other possibilities).

      • ACN

        Indeed. I can think of many people who feel as avalpert indicated. Specifically, someone like Robert Price comes to mind. He’s not a christian in any orthodox sense of the word, but still delights in many/most aspects of christianity.

        Y’all have been riding this dubious CS Lewis-ism for quite a while now.

  • Cam

    “But I’m not having my time or energy stolen from my real relationships. I’m choosing to spend it on one.”

    Out of interest, is your belief that you have some sort of relationship with the creator of the entire universe also being skyhooked in via Catholicism-is-true, or do you have independent reasons to think the relationship exists?

    If you didn’t think Catholicism was true, would there still be some relationship that clearly existed between you and a deity that would demand explanation? Or does the ‘relationship’ consist entirely of otherwise mundane events and experiences, like warm fuzzies, that would make boring secular sense under atheistic world-views if you chose not to fit the god-narrative over them?


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