Thomas Jefferson aside (you know, he actually ‘rewrote’ his own personal copy of the Bible to get rid of anything which hinted at miracles and things he didn’t care for, just to put him into context), I agree that there are scrupulous people out there in religion (or anywhere) who tend to focus on ‘rules alone’. But they are by far the minority, here and anywhere else.
That being said, I would like to point out (hopefully gently) that it is entirely possible that rather than fire up at your (and others) perceptions and judgments about being ‘too focused on rules’ that you stand back and consider:
Is it possible that there may have been in the not-at-all-distant-past a rather widespread disregard of ‘da rules’ in favor of an emphasis on various other elements of Catholicism, such that, right now, in many places, there are many, many people who really do not know much of their faith at all. For these people, after some 30 or 40 years of hearing only, “God is love” and “trust your feelings”, to ‘suddenly’ hear, for example, “Mass attendence on Sundays and holydays of obligation is a grave matter, and one is not to miss Mass save for serious illness or obligation”, is going to come as a shock. Therefore, they will start to inundate these boards, or their friends, or their parish DRE or priest, with, “I missed Mass because I was just too tired . . . but nobody ever bothered me about this BEFORE”.
Somebody will be sure to reinforce the rule. Another will be sure to rebut with, “How do YOU know his state of mind, only GOD will be the judge.” Another will come back, “we should be going to church because we WANT to, NOT because we HAVE to.” Another will come back with ‘the rule’. And finally, somebody will come on to complain that, with all the evil in the world, today, why are we ‘fighting’ over some LITTLE THING like ‘missing a Mass’ when we SHOULD be focused on ending the war in Iraq or ‘feeding the poor’, etc.
So really, it is not that we are ‘drowning in rules’. Rather, it is that so many have ignored them for so long, at first it will seem overwhelming to actually have them ‘out there’ instead of the laissez-faire Catholicism that many have endured in our 40 years in the wilderness (oops, wrong thread here, LOL).
A wise theologian once said that in any given era, the devil tries to play up that era’s most prevalent ‘virtue’ and make it most like its opposing vice. For example, in an era where bravery was found in the majority of people, the devil works to make bravery seem foolhardy and foolish, and tries to instill in people instead a desire to keep from BEING ‘foolhardy’, such that people actually become cowardly instead. It is a devilish strategy.
In an era where I believe that people are most inclined to be generous, the devil is working hard to foster both greed and miserliness. Thus, the generous nature of most people in the 1960s, which led to civil rights, a call to end war, and great relief efforts which are still going on today, is being countered by the devil with efforts to make us try to be greedy for ourselves (being ‘over generous’) as well as miserly (look at everything we have done for people and how ungrateful they are, charity begins at home, etc.).
Where that ties in (finally!) to the idea of rules is that I also believe that the ‘lessening’ focus on rules was AT FIRST part of this tie-in to the very generous natures of people in the current era. It was felt by the bishops of the U.S. that most people would freely choose to keep on doing things without needing to ‘refer’ to rules, as the rules would be ‘written on our hearts’ instead. Sadly, the devil used this to make people so ‘over generous’ that they decided to ignore rules which ‘hurt people’s feelings’, or to be so angry over the lax behavior that they become focused on ‘rules’ above all.
But we NEED the rules, because few if any of us have the balance to be obedient ‘on our own’ --particularly in a climate where excess (of goods, or of ‘goodness’) is touted as normal, and everybody makes up his or her own rules to suit.