What is Religion and Why Does it Matter? (Guest: R. Jared Staudt)

Crisis Point


Interview Transcript

Today we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of religion in our lives. Most secular people want to push religion out of the public square, and often even religious people think it is just a private affair. But a proper understanding of religion transforms how we worship, how we serve others, and how we do theology.

Links:
• The Primacy of God: The Virtue of Religion in Catholic Theology
• Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture
• The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today

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Transcript:

Eric Sammons:

We all know that God has been pushed out of today’s world, but have we considered that God has actually in many ways, been pushed out of today’s church? We prioritize man when it comes to our liturgy, our theology and our religion. And so what is the proper understanding of religion in life, the role of God in our Catholic faith? And all these type of questions. That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host and the editor in chief of Crisis Magazine.

Before we get started, I just want to remind people to smash the like button as they say, to subscribe but don’t notify as I like to say. So today our guest is R. Jared Staudt. He is the associate superintendent for Mission and Formation at Archdiocese of Denver and he’s also a visiting professor at the Augustine Institute, which is a great institution. I really admire what they’re doing. He is the author of The Primacy of God: The Virtue of Religion in Catholic Theology from Emmaus Academic. I have it right here. I’ll make sure, just so everybody knows, I’ll put a link in the show notes. You can get it at the St. Paul Center website. I always tell people don’t buy it at Amazon. I’d prefer people buy from the publisher. So I’ll put a link in the show notes. So welcome to the program, Jared.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Pleasure to be with you.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. So first, I actually wanted to ask you a quick question is, what does the associate superintendent for Mission and Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver actually do?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

That’s a good question. I’m still trying to figure that out myself. So what I do is I put on trainings and workshops for our principals and teachers and try to help all of us to grow and embracing our Catholic mission in our schools.

Eric Sammons:

So you want to make Catholic schools Catholic again, right?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

That is the goal. Yes.

Eric Sammons:

Very good. What do you actually teach at the Augustine Institute?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

I have taught 30 classes at the Augustine Institute over the last 13 years.

Eric Sammons:

Wow.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

So I teach a little bit of everything. This fall I am teaching discipleship and the Christian life.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Very good. 30 classes in 13 years. Wow, that’s amazing. Okay. So now the topic today to some people, even to me, might sound very basic even, or questions that we should know. But I think what your book is showing is that we have some fundamentally wrong views about what religion is, about the role of theology, about the role of God in our lives. We seem to have got a lot of things inverted or misunderstand it. So we’re going to kind of go back to basics I feel like today and try to address these questions. So I just want to start with the most basic question. We’re all Catholic who listen to this mostly. We all have this Catholic religion, but what exactly is religion itself?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

You would think that would be a simple question, yet there are books that debate different approaches to religion. I think in our culture when we use the word religion, we tend to think of a whole organized body that has certain beliefs and practices that are both moral and in regards to worship. In theology though, we have treated religion as a virtue. And that can really be mind blowing for a lot of people. So it’s not just an organizational structure. It’s okay to use the word in that way, but that is actually a perfection of who we are to be able to relate to God rightly. That is really the goal of religion.

Eric Sammons:

Right. And you mentioned this as mind blowing. I was telling you before we started recording here that I grew up Protestant. My idea of religion was I was somewhat antagonistical to the idea. Our view was we have a relationship, not a religion. That’s kind of a thing a lot of Protestants say. And then after I became Catholic and then I was taking a class at Franciscan University of Steubenville theology graduate class and it was talking about religion and that it’s a virtue and a virtue under the kind of the Cardinal virtue of justice. That did blow my mind because I thought of it as a set of rules, as a Protestant particularly, as a set of rules or at least it’s almost like a social group maybe or something like that. So how is religion then a virtue that’s actually related to the virtue of justice?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, justice in the classical definition is giving to someone what is owed to him. And so in this case, we owe things to God. Sometimes people kind of balk even at that notion, right? “I owe God things? I thought he only owed me things.” And it’s like, “Well, wait a second, you are the creature, right?” God made you. And so Aquinas speaks of God as being the origin of human life and also the end of human life. He’s actually the goal. Everything that we do is meant to be directed towards him as reaching its fulfillment. And so what do we owe to God? Well, because he is our maker and our Redeemer and our end, we owe him, well, everything, right? But in particular, we give him signs of gratitude and honor through our worship, worship and service. That definition actually comes from Cicero, the worship and service that we owe to God. But I think that whole notion of service shows us that our lives as a whole should be honoring to God.

And Aquinas actually views the virtue of religion as a general virtue. It has specific acts, the worship that we give God, but it also directs the acts of all the other virtues including the theological virtues to become a means of honoring God.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. So you already mentioned that there’s a lot of different views of religion out there. What are some of the improper, or maybe just wrong on some accounts, maybe right on others, what are some of the different ways that people view religion today like what it is?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, in some ways we view it in really opposite perspectives. Because on the one side, people say, “Well, religion? That’s just a human thing.” And so all religion, it’s like everybody has their own opinion, their own approaches to God. And so it becomes very relativistic. On the other hand, we could view religion as if it were solely supernatural. And people who are listening might say, “Well, yeah, of course it is solely supernatural.” But I would say we really need to bring these two together. There is a way in which religion does arise from human nature as a matter of justice as we were just discussing.

But on the other hand, we do need God’s supernatural guidance because we have to actually know who this God is that we are worshiping, right? We’re not worshiping Baal, at least we hope, right? Although there are people in our country worshiping Moloch it seems like at this point, right?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

So we need to make sure that we know who the true God is and that we are worshiping him in an appropriate way. And so God’s revelation guides the fulfillment of this natural virtue in us. And so I think there really is a sacramental way of thinking about religion that brings together these two perspectives. Religion is something that is human, solely human, because it really is met by God’s own initiative and leading us in our worship to relate to him in the right way.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I think this brings up then when we talk about religion as some of a natural virtue on some level, but of course there’s true religion and there’s false religions. And then I think that’s really also what you’re saying about Revelation. So for example, let’s say you’re practicing Muslim. He grows up Muslim. He’s practicing the religion of Islam. And as Catholics, we know that in just general terms that’s a false religion. It has some true elements in it. So is he, according to Aquinas or something like that, is he being virtuous by practicing that religion? Or is there no virtue there because some of the things he’s doing are actually directed towards a false understanding of God? How do, as Catholics, do we look at this practice for religion outside of Catholicism?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, I would say that we could look at this from a number of different angles, but most fundamentally we would say, “Is the acts of religion, are these acts directed to the right object?” And I think when it comes to Islam, we would say that there is an attempt at least to worship the God who is the maker of the universe. To go back to the examples of like Baal all or Moloch, those are false objects of worship.

Now, Aquinas also has a principle that because God is simple, if we ascribe anything false to God, then we actually are worshiping something else, right? Because if you say, for instance, God has a body, well then you’ve corrupted your understanding of God and you’ve kind of created an idol. So there is at least in Islam an attempt to worship the one true God, but there is an add mixture of false information about God as well. And there’s an explicit denial of the Trinity because sometimes people have said to me, “Well, what’s the difference between Judaism and Islam? They both deny the Trinity.” Well, actually in Judaism, you have a revelation of the one true God that is leading us towards the Trinity even if obviously Jews wouldn’t accept it. But that is still the purpose of that revelation. With Islam, which is coming after the revelation of Christ, there is a denial, an explicit denial of Christian revelation. And so that would be morally and spiritually problematic to deny this genuine revelation.

So that’s the number one thing is, okay, who is being worshiped? And then the second thing is, how? And on our own, well, we do attempt to show God reverence through sacrifice. Aquinas says that sacrifice is actually part of the natural law. And so religion tends to offer things to God and to make sacrifices to God. And you see some of that coming out in Islam, even fasting, prayer, pilgrimage. You see that there are these attempts to express offerings and sacrifice. But Aquinas would also say that through the old law and then the new law, which perfects the old law, God is actually guiding us to know how to relate to him in the proper way. So he is not only revealing himself as the proper object of worship, he’s also then giving us the means of proper worship.

In an Islam, I would say that there actually is a taking up of God’s Revelation in the Old and New Testament in both of these with the object and means, and then I guess I’ll just use the word corruption, of that revelation. And so you’re right to say that in some ways it’s close, right? But in other ways, it would be problematic and, well, veer off in the wrong direction.

Eric Sammons:

One word that you mentioned over and over again was the word worship. I think that’s a key point here because as we already said, in religion it’s part of the virtue of justice, giving somebody their due and religion is giving God his due. And God, of course is due everything. There’s literally nothing I have or nothing you have or anybody has that doesn’t come from God, and so we owe him everything. It seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong about this, but the primary way in which we give him his due is through worship. Why don’t we define though, because I think that’s a word that is very misunderstood as well just like religion is, what do we mean when we say the word worship?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, I think we would say that there are different kinds of worship. Aquinas would look at this as different expressions even of the virtue of religion. He says that some of them are interior and some are exterior. For instance, an interior act of worship would be devotion, which Aquinas views as a readiness to give ourselves to God, a readiness to worship. Adoration is something that flows from this interior disposition of devotion, but then seeks an exterior expression of it. What would some of these exterior expressions be? Well, I already mentioned the chief one which is sacrifice, but praise would be another. So you have devotion, adoration, sacrifice, praise, and even just prayer which is of course as a lifting of the mind up to God. All of these would be particular acts of worship.

But if we were to look at what is the essence of worship itself, there is a traditional word that’s used in Catholic theology. It’s even in the catechism of the Catholic church called latria. In Latin L-A-T-R-I-A, latria. And it is an acknowledgement of God in his uniqueness in worship, so that we are actually, through our prayer and our sacrifice, we are pointing to God as that origin and end. And so I think that thrust of acknowledging God, thanking him, honoring and praising him, underlies all these different acts.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. So I can worship God in my bedroom hanging out by myself. Obviously I could do it on the beach. And in fact, you get this idea today a lot of times, the idea I’m spiritual but not religious, meaning I can worship God while I’m hanging out in the beach or when I’m sleeping in on Sunday morning or whatever the case may be. But of course as Catholics, we would say that the primary way in which we worship God would be the mass. Without getting completely going down the liturgy war path, how should we though look at the idea of worship and religion and the Primacy of God when it comes to our liturgy, particularly the liturgy of the mass?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

So the chief act of worship, of latria is sacrifice. And if we want to look at all these different religious expressions out there, whether it’s Islam or even Judaism, which is Judaism is a genuine religion which is imperfect, it hasn’t reached its completion, what are all these other religious expressions lacking? Well, I would say the sacrifice of Christ. If you look at this virtue within us seeking this right relation with God, it’s natural, right? I mean, all throughout human history, people have been seeking right relationship with God through religion. But they haven’t been able to accomplish it. And as I mentioned, even Judaism knew the true God and did offer him worship, but still didn’t have this completely right relationship with him. How did that come about? It’s the sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice on the cross is a bridge into God.

And so when we look at Christian worship itself, my own worship, why is in my room or on the beach, why is that not good enough? Because I am a member of the body of Christ. And so my worship is not my worship. It’s Christ’s worship. And Christ’s worship perfects me and actually brings me into the realization of that virtue of justice. Although in this case, it’s Christ’s love and obedience on the cross which perfects religion. And so, yeah, the mass is the way in which I, as a Christian, can enter into the perfect expression of religion.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. So let me see if I sum this up correctly then. So we have religion, which is part of the virtue of justice in which we give God what is due, which is everything. And we do that through worship. The way we give God everything is through sacrifice, but our sacrifice isn’t really enough, so to speak. Because I’m a finite human being, sinful, I got all these problems, my sacrifice is imperfect, incomplete, really kind of pitiful, I mean if we’re being honest. But by uniting myself to Christ’s sacrifice, then my worship, my religion, my justice, what I owe to God is made perfect and complete. Would that be how you would kind of sum it up then?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Yes. And I look throughout the book at Christ’s worship as the key that unlocks religion. Because one of the people I take up who’s a great critic of religion is Karl Barth. And it was actually at the end of his life he issued a retraction. He said, “I’m going to be like Augustine, I’m going to issue a retraction.” And what did he say? He said, “In my theology, I overlooked the humanity of Christ.” And so why is Christ worship the key that unlocks religion as a whole? Well, if we were looking at religion, like I said, from the human and then supernatural perspectives, how do they come together? Well, they come together through Christ in the incarnation where our humanity is united to God perfectly in him. And therefore that kind of longing for the divine in us, which is the basis of religion, becomes perfected when it actually meets God in Jesus’ own prayer and worship.

Eric Sammons:

Right. And that is the fundamental difference, I think, between what Catholics consider worship and, let’s say for example, Protestants consider worship. Because obviously we’re agreed on a number of things with the Protestant and Christians. I mean, they believe in the Trinity, the incarnation, things like that. But I think, I know when I was a Protestant, and I know a lot of Protestants, when they think of worship, fundamentally it doesn’t have that sacrificial element. And I think that’s the key difference between Catholics and Protestants when it comes to worship, is that we recognize the sacrificial quality of it and also that it’s really Christ’s sacrifice. I think that’s a great point though about the incarnation being it’s not just… I mean, it’s a sacrifice of God because it’s a sacrifice of Christ, but it’s also a sacrifice of one of us, a man. Just like us except for in sin.

Okay. So I think that’s something that we can all take with us to mass when we’re there. That should be something that I would say is a good thing to remember when we’re there. That is a sacrifice that we’re participating in at the holy sacrifice of mass. That’s what we call it. Well, we don’t call it that much anymore, but we used to call it the holy sacrifice of the mass.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Yeah. What is active participation at mass? It is uniting yourself to the sacrifice of Christ so that his sacrifice becomes your sacrifice. And that you offer your own life. If we said that religion owes God everything, that’s how you give God everything, by uniting yourself to Christ in the mass.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Yeah. I mean, in a way, it’s almost like if we’re really actively participating in the mass, in a way it’s like a little martyrdom because martyrdom is the greatest sacrifice a person can give. But we’re doing that because we’re at least spiritually giving our life to Christ sacrificing it, united with his because by itself it’s kind of worthless. But no, well, mostly worthless, but no so with him.

Okay. With that… Yeah, I mean, I feel like I want to take like a 10 minute break to just contemplate that, but we’ll move on. We’ll let people pause the video who are watching it and contemplate what that means. I want to transition a little bit now into another aspect of religion is service to others. I know we’ve talked only about religion as… At least I should say the common understanding of religion is that, and in fact this is the primary understanding of religion for a lot of people today I think, is that you’re serving others. Like, good religion means if you’re a good religious person, that means you help the poor and things like that. How does that tie in? Because all we’ve talked about is giving God what’s due. Well, how does that tie into the fact that as Catholics we’re also called to help the poor and the needy and the widow and orphan, things like that?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, I would point even to the title of the book, the Primacy of God. I have a whole chapter that actually deals with how our worship of God relates to the care of neighbor because James in his letter actually said, “Hey, if you want to know what true religion is, it’s actually caring for widows and orphans,” right? And so we do have to come to terms with that and say, “Well, how do these things fit together?” The title of the book itself is a sign that we cannot simply substitute our worship of God with our love of neighbor. Because in that chapter where I take this on, I get into Karl Rahner’s assertion that, “Well, God is not an object in the world. And so how do we relate to God? Well, we relate to God primarily by loving our neighbor.” And I would say, “Time out. That is false,” right? Because that would basically be pushing worship to the side and say, “Well hey, I mean, God is really beyond us so we can’t really relate to him directly. So what can we do directly? Well, we can love our neighbor,” right?

That’s a very serious error. And I think we see that creeping into the church in many ways, right? Where people say, “Well, what does it mean to be a Christian? Well, it means to serve the poor.” Yes, but underneath this primary relationship to God. What is the great commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. They have to go together. Now, what do we know? If you say that you are worshiping God and that you are fulfilling the virtue of religion and justice, and then you are not caring for your neighbor, well then it undermines your worship because there is an undermining of both justice and charity. Because as members of the body of Christ, we think of Christ even in that sacrifice. It’s really a gift of himself for others.

And if we are going to unite our sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ, then it has to be this expression of obedience and charity, which Christ showed on the cross, by giving of his life for us. Well then we need to really extend our worship into the world. I think that’s a good way of thinking about it, right? That without the mass, we would lose that primary orientation to God. But in and through that, we then bring the sacrifice of Christ to others by sacrificing of ourselves and our material goods to serve the poor, to serve those in need. And that does become a way of honoring God. Well, religion is a general virtue, right? And being a general virtue, it makes everything we do into an act of worship. But I think we can say that serving the poor in particular is a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Eric Sammons:

Right. And I think it’s interesting, because when Jesus was asked what’s the greatest commandment, I mean the lawyer didn’t ask what are the two greatest commandments. He said, “What’s the greatest commandment?” And he answered, “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” He said, “And the second is…” And it’s funny because Jesus… I just think it was always funny on how he liked doing that. He didn’t care what the question was. He’s like, “I’m going to give you the answer I think is what you need to hear. Not necessarily what you even asked for. You don’t even know what you really need to know,” so to speak. But I think he had to throw in the second one, so to speak, because they are intimately connected. Was it Barth you said who kind of said it was like… He kind of reversed it, didn’t he? I mean like, the second commandment was the greatest. Was it Barth you said who said that, who was like, serving others is the main commandment?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Karl Rahner.

Eric Sammons:

Rahner. Rahner. Not Barth. Yeah, right. Rahner. Thank you.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Yeah, in Catholic theology.

Eric Sammons:

I get my Karls… Too many Karl there in the 20th century. So Rahner. Okay. I think it’s very important as Catholics that we keep that priority. Like, the Primacy of God, the book, it’s called the Primacy of God, we put God first and worship, but, as James says, it doesn’t overflow into service of others. Well, why do you think it is that today though, there’s a definite and pretty prominent strain within the Catholic church that does seem to think that serving the poor and social justice? I mean social justice like, “That is what religion is”? Why do you think that’s become a way that a lot of Catholics look at religion?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

I think in some ways it’s because we’ve fallen into relativism. Well, you know doctrine. “Well, I mean, doctrine is symbolic, right? In liberal theology. It’s simply a symbol. And so it doesn’t really give a certainty about God.” And religion, “Well, those are our efforts to try to honor God, but they’re all very limited.” And so I think we’re really losing sight of how God reveals himself with certainty to us in faith. And we’re losing sight of the primacy of worship in the Christian life. And so what we’re left with then is this kind of building the kingdom on earth, which is actually even what socialists say that they’re doing, right? It is a kind of secularism even in the church to say that, “Well, it’s really up to us now to enact the Christian faith in the world through our own efforts.”

And it can actually even be Pelagian. “Doctrine, worship. Well, those things don’t speak to modern man. Those things aren’t relevant any longer. We can’t even have certainty on those things. What do we know? Well, let’s get to work here and now. Let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s bring about justice,” right? It’s two different views of justice. Aquinas says that religion is the highest of the moral virtues. It is subordinate to the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, but it’s the highest moral virtue. The justice of giving God what is due enables us to act justly in other ways. But I think that many times in the church right now it’s backwards, right? To say that justice towards our neighbor is primary and that that leads us to God rather than vice versa.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Yeah. I serve others because I want to serve God. It’s not a matter of, because I’m serving others, that somehow then directs me towards God. And I think it seems like there might be a denial of revelation as well in this, because like you said, there’s this idea that we can’t really know God. And of course there’s some truth in that because we can’t fully comprehend the Trinity and things like that. I get that. But it’s almost like, “Well, since we can’t really know God or his revelation, what we can know is that the poor person we pass on the street. We can see that with our eyes. And that’s more real than maybe the doctrine and the Trinity or something like that.” Does that seem to be like what you’re saying there, like somewhat a denial of revelation even?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

I do think that’s true. And I would come back to this whole sacramental understanding, that we bring the human and the divine together, the natural and the supernatural together in Christian worship. I think it’s the same thing as we are combining our faith with charity, in that the church teaches that the charity that we show to God is the same charity by which we love our neighbor. They’re not even two separate things. And they go together. But once again, if you don’t love God, you’re not going to be able to love your neighbor in the right way because it really is his love in you that enables you to love your neighbor. So I do think that relativism within the church, what Pope Benedict called a crisis of faith in the church is at the root cause of, I think, a really deterioration of our worship and that primacy of worship to then turning then to our neighbor as this primary way of coming to God.

Eric Sammons:

I think that ordering that you’re arguing for the priority, the primacy of God first and then our neighbor, I think it really is vitally important because what I think we see is when you prioritize your neighbor, what happens is you end up forgetting about God. So for example, a woman in a terrible crisis pregnancy situation. You’re more willing to say, “Well, it might help this person if she would get an abortion.” And if you’re kind of putting God aside, I can see where your mind might go that direction, because you’re just seeing the human element. But when you prioritize God, then all of a sudden it’s very clear. “Well, hold on a second. We’re now talking about ending a human life in order to supposedly help somebody.” And we know of course it would never help a woman to get an abortion. But we know that because hopefully because we’ve prioritized God. So is that kind of another aspect of the dangers of prioritizing man over God when it comes to our religion?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Yeah, but there’s something ironic that comes out of that perspective. If you cut our humanity off from God, or just prioritize humanity, what tends to happen is that our humanity actually erodes. And it comes out even of that example. But the ancients, even the philosophers, viewed religion as something that pertains to our nature itself. Our nature is not secular, if you will, right? Our nature itself has an order to God, which like I said is kind of frustrated in realizing its goal without Christ. But our nature is religious. And I would say obviously when it comes to abortion, I mean our nature itself and the natural law points us to the good of family life and actually the good of sacrificing yourself for the preservation of the species, to use the terminology of the natural law. And the natural law also tells us that life is a good.

But I think that with this eclipse of God in the modern world, we also have an eclipse of our humanity. We don’t view our humanity as an intrinsic good. It’s in itself is relativistic. “Well, our humanity might be good if these other conditions are met.” And we want to say, “No. Because we are rational beings.” And we can say through Revelation, “Made in the image and likeness of God,” but we could simply say by the natural law, we are rational beings, we’re different from any other creature in the material universe, and that we have an intrinsic dignity that must be respected, and which has an orientation towards even a natural happiness of contemplating the truth and acquiring virtue. But we tend to think of all those things as, “Well, that’s just a matter of faith.” And so we really have to recover our humanity. And I think understanding religion as a virtue gives us insight on just the fulfillment of our nature through these goods of virtue and contemplation, which shouldn’t just be pushed to the side as matters of faith.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. It’s a common kind of attack on religious people that it’s only because you’re religious that you oppose abortion or homosexual marriage or something like that. But I like to say that it’s my religion that makes it more clear to me that these things are wrong. It’s not that they’re wrong because my religion says so. They’re just naturally disordered. But unfortunately, because of sin and the fault and our current modern world, we can’t see that very clearly. But my religion helps me to see that. And I think that seems to be kind of what you’re saying with, when you put God first, then things start… “Seek ye first to kingdom of God and all these things will be handed…” But it’s also like, it will also open your eyes to see what we actually should be able to see. On some level we would’ve seen if there was no fault, very clearly. But the religion’s just kind of opening our eyes to the reality of what life is, what marriage is, and things like that.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Yeah, that’s absolutely right. In the Catholic tradition, we would never accept a dualism that separates faith and reason, or that separates grace in nature. That faith perfects reason. That grace perfects our nature. And so, yes, grace perfects religion in us, but it also helps us to understand human goods. You would think that simply understanding human life as good and worthy of protection would be obvious. I think it was largely obvious throughout human history, but we can’t take anything for granted any longer. And so we do need faith to shed light onto our humanity right now. It even helped us to recover something like religion, because you pointed out before that a lot of people say today, “Well, I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Well, you could say, “Well, you’re not an angel. You’re a human being.” And we like to think of ourselves as isolated individuals.

“And so I am choosing to pray. I am choosing to exercise these spiritual practices.” But the thing is, is that our nature reaches its goods in communion with other people. We see this even going back to the point of the religion of Christ. Does Jesus just teach us how to unlock our religious nature? “Hey, just do these things like I did on your own, in your room or whatever. And then you can figure it out just like I did.” No. Our nature is perfected by sharing in the acts of Christ. We are members of his body. We, ourselves, our sacramental beings, that our soul is expressed and manifested through our bodies. And so religion needs to be bodily because we are bodily. Religion needs to be communal because we are communal. And there is a way in which that whole spiritual but not religious could even be demonic in a very general sense because it makes things to be about me. “I choose this transcendental meditation because it’s therapeutic. It’s about me. It’s not about God,” right?

So you see all the yoga, and like I said, those meditation practices, these spiritual, but not religious things. They’re completely misguided. They’re not actually religious in the right way because they’re not something that draws us into this encounter with God. And so if it’s all about me, me, me, me, me, that’s what I’m saying it’s demonic because that is the religion of the devil.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

The idol of the self rather than worshiping God. And so that’s where this whole idea of primacy comes in. Our whole lives need to be ordered towards the end, towards the goal. Religion becomes a key factor in this properly integrated and ordered life so that everything is pointing in the right direction. Not, “Oh, well, I go to mass on Sunday, but everything else that I do is going this way and that way.” No, everything is meant to be pointing in the same direction towards God.

Eric Sammons:

Right. It’s like you said, we’re fundamentally religious beings, and so it’s literally impossible to be spiritual but not religious because we’re going to be religious. The question is, what’s the object of our religion and how do we practice it and things like that.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

I want to take one more kind of topic that you address in the book somewhat. So we’ve talked about worship and liturgy. We’ve talked about serving others and place of religion. I talked about this a couple weeks ago with Dr. Michael Sirilla about theology, how it’s taught. And I feel like it seems to me that the way theology is done today is radically different than it perhaps was done in the early church, even in the middle ages and that you could be an atheist and be a theologian. So there’s a university, that’s theology. Then there’s religion at the church. And never shall the twin meet. How is that wrong, I guess, is what I’m asking. Why is that our current set up the way it is? And I know it’s not done like that everywhere because in places like Franciscan University, Augustine Institute, those places where it’s not done like that. But typically that is how it’s done even in Catholic theology. So why is that fundamentally wrong?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, the last chapter of the book gets into how is religion taught in theology. Actually it’s disappeared for the most part. I think the reason why it goes back to that whole notion of relativism, you asked me earlier about Islam. Okay, how would we evaluate Islamic worship? I think that most theologians would go hide under their bed if you asked them that question. “Oh, I don’t want to talk about Islam. I’m afraid to talk about Islam.” And so there is that kind of religious relativism that can come into theology.

But in my research, what I found is that the early church fathers talked about religion, especially the apologist, right? Because they were writing to the Roman emperor and they were writing to other Romans and they wanted to talk about how Christianity is both similar to and different from Pagan worship. And they were saying, “Well, what you guys are trying to do, we actually are doing,” right? And Paul, in a way, says that in Athens, right? “Hey, there’s this altar to the unknown God. You guys are after something that you actually can’t find. You can’t realize it.”

Why is it important to teach religion in theology? Well, I would say that just like the way that religion orders our whole lives to God, our theology needs to be ordered towards him as well. So just like our lives come from God and are going to God, the same principle is true in theology, right? Theology needs to flow from God’s revelation. It is not about our own musings on God. That’s like natural philosophy or natural theology, I should say, within philosophy. Yeah, we can have our own kind of investigation of religious truth, but that’s actually a part of philosophy.

Theology has to flow from God’s revelation. It’s a gift that he gives us. And then we apply our human intelligence to it. And you would think that you could take that for granted, but as you were indicating, you cannot take anything for granted any longer-

Eric Sammons:

In the church.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

… outside of the church and even in the church. But then it also has to be ordered towards God. What does that mean? Well, our theology is actually ordered towards praising God as well. Our own reflections on God’s revelation are meant to yes, build up the body of Christ. Absolutely. Right? To farther our own understanding. But why? It’s meant to honor God. And so I think that reintroducing the topic of religion, which I actually traced even in the 20th century, like, “Oh, that’s where it dropped off. Just fell off a cliff.” Nobody wants to talk about religion anymore because they think it’ll just take them down a rabbit hole and they’ll be stuck talking about Buddhism and they don’t won’t know what to say, right? And they’ll just panic. But if we talk about religion, what is the nature of religion? Why do we need religion? How is the Catholic faith an expression of religion that fulfills it and perfects it, right? If we bring that back into theology, I think it’ll be an important touchpoint for the renewal of theology itself, which should be religious, flowing from God and honoring God.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. So we’re going to do a hypothetical here. Let’s say a new Catholic university starts up or an old one that wants to redo everything, they say, “Okay, you’re now in charge of our theology department. You get to decide everything. You have free range to however you want to do it exactly.” Let’s just keep it simple first. And they say, “Okay, we want to make sure all our students, no matter what their actual major is, they’re going to take four classes of religion.” What would you say are the foundational things, based upon what you were just saying, the foundational things that every person, who every college student who graduates from that institution would know when it comes to theology?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, I think it’s important that it not be a smattering, because what you usually see even at a Catholic university is, well, take two philosophy, two theology or whatever, your choice, just take whatever you want. But first of all, I would say take philosophy first. So in order to really understand theology, as we all know, you need that grounding in philosophy. So I would say understand human nature, the great questions of life. Understand what virtue is. Okay? Do that first. And I think that in itself would be very helpful, right? So let’s say two philosophy classes before you get into theology. Then in theology… And I think this is what I’m arguing at the conclusion of the book, is religion should be taught at the beginning. And it becomes then a bridge from philosophy into talking about theology. And that’s how it was taught, flowing from Aquinas’s thought up until the beginning of the 20th century, where in a way it was part of apologetics itself, just like in the church fathers. It’s apologetics.

Why do we need Revelation? Why do we need to worship God at all? And so it’s a starting point. So I would say in that Theology 101, we should really talk about the nature of religion and how the Catholic faith fulfills the nature of religion and perfects it through Christ. And I think that that will provide the right kind of ordering for then understanding everything else that flows from it. So from there, I mean, I think we would simply say that students need to be rooted in dogma. They need to be rooted obviously in the sacraments and divine worship.

And then I would say that the topic that has pervaded my own study and teaching career is culture. Culture, I think, can be defined simply as a shared way of life. I got into the topic of religion actually through culture. When I was an undergraduate, I got a research grant at my Alma mater, University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, to study the archives of Christopher Dawson, that great Catholic historian. And the whole thesis of his scholarly career was that religion is the heart of culture. So if we begin with religion, I think we should end with culture for our undergraduate students to say, “What do we do with now?” Okay. If you’re here studying philosophy or you’re studying theology, when you graduate, what are you going to do? Well, the goal is actually to transform our culture through faith so that everything that we do is ordered in the proper way to God, that your family life, your work, and this is important, your recreation or leisure, that that needs to be formed by faith and directed to God.

I hear it so many times. “Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a movie. It’s just music. It doesn’t matter what it is.” Oh, it matters, right?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

You’re feeding your soul with that. And so I think that that’s really where I would end, that whole mission of the laity to go into the world and transform our culture for Christ.

Eric Sammons:

So we start with the basics of philosophy. So we understand even the terms we’re talking about, understand what virtuous, things like that. We move then transition to religion, a real study of what that is. And that then takes us to Catholic theology more as we kind of call it today, talking about divine revelation, the Trinity and sacraments, things like that. And then you’re saying at the end then, you make it practical in a sense of culture and, “Okay, how do now I apply everything I’ve learned to actually living it out in the faith and transforming the culture?” Is that basically the gist of it?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

I hope there were a lot of Catholic professors and college presidents who were listening to that. Yes, that’s it right there.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, good. Good. Okay. That’s what I’m saying. If you’re a college professor, a Catholic college professor, listen to that part, because I think it is true because it does seem that… I mean, I understand there’s all these different forces that want college students to take different things at Catholic schools, but it does seem to be that it’s like just take two theology classes, maybe a philosophy class. Because my philosophy background is very poor and I admit it freely. I have a master’s degree in theology and I have very little philosophy behind it though. And I think that’s a weakness in my own understanding and training. But I do think it’s not just because, “Okay, take the metaphysic class and that fulfills your requirement.” “Well, okay. I think we need a…” And that’s literally what I did by the way. That’s why I used it as my example.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

That’s not usually where you would start, right?

Eric Sammons:

Right. Exactly. It was like, I think that fit in my schedule or something like that. And so I think yours is much more directed towards a plan, an overall plan. Well, I think what we’re going to do, I think we’re going to wrap it up here. But just real quick, let’s finish up through talking directly about the book. So The Primacy of God: The Virtue of Religion in Catholic Theology. It’s from Emmaus Academic. They do some great works. Like I said, I’ll put a show note in the links. Is there anything else about the book… Actually, let me ask you directly. Who do you think is the best audience for this book? I mean, it’s obviously an academic book on one level, but I don’t think it’s just for academics myself.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

But what would you say?

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Well, I was just visiting a friend. I’m actually here in Atchison, Kansas right now, just passing through. I visited a friend yesterday who’s reading the book right now. He said, “You know what? Even though this is an academic book,” he said, “I feel like it is accessible and it’s clear. I can understand it.” And I was like, “Oh good.” You know?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

So I would say that if you’re really interested in this topic of religion, then I hope the book really would be helpful. I mean, the first section is really just getting at what religion is and answering kind of objections, right? Is it solely philosophical? Is it biblical? And I show how those understandings come together. And then I look at the rootings of religion within justice. And then I look at law as this necessary guide for religion throughout history. Natural law, old law, new law.

In the second section I get into Christian worship. So how the virtue of religion for us flows from the liturgy, from the worship of Christ in the liturgy. I look at the worship of the Holy Trinity, who is the proper object of our worship. It’s the triad God. And then I get into that whole relationship of the worship of God and love of neighbor. And the final section is actually where I’m getting into the historical questions. How do we think about religion throughout history? It makes sense of the difference between one religion and another religion and the Christian religion and all these other expressions. And then how do we address that reality within Catholic theology? So if any of those topics resonate with you, I would say pick up the book.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

But I mentioned culture as well. I have another book called Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture. If you’re interested in education, I have another book that I edited and co-wrote, Renewing Catholic Schools. And then this is the fun one because this is a way of evangelizing through culture, The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday and Today. But I think all of these topics are related because I think all of them are saying, “How do we make God really primary in our lives? Is he primary in the Catholic school? Is he primary in our culture? And how do we make that happen?” Right? I have a chapter on family life in that book Restoring Humanity, right? How do we make him the center of everything? And then even The Beer Option, right? So in your eating, in your drinking, how you live, how you relate to other people, is God first? And so if we can get it right with beer or we can get it right with everything.

Eric Sammons:

Exactly. Well, I’m going to link to all those books then in the show notes so people can easily find them. Boy, we’re going everything from the Primacy of God, this book, all the way to The Beer Option. You got everything covered. So that’s great. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate you being on the program. I just encourage people to check out your books and really think about these things, because they’re important because what we talked about today, I feel like, is the foundation for a proper understanding and ordering of how we ourselves live our Catholic faith and how we bring it out into the world. So I really appreciate you being on the program, Jared.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt:

Thanks for having me on.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Until next time everybody. God love you.

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