The risks of studying religion too much by yourself?

I hope this makes sense because I have been thinking about this for awhile and just found the words to describe it.

I have always been suspicious of those who use only the bible for their religion, without any further training. I mean some of the small town self-made type preachers. You know the ones that do NOT attend any type of divinity college to discuss and explore the mysteries of the Christian faith with others. There seems to not only be a possible misinterpretation, but a danger in trying to go it alone, with only the bible and prayer. Even monks have formal training first before any period of sequestration, right?

These thoughts led me to two fairly recent, very public examples of this possible phenomena.

The first is the movie “The Passion of the Christ” in which Mel Gibson directed.

imdb.com/title/tt0335345/

It wasn’t the movie itself, it was the aftermath of the movie that concerned me. It seems Mr. Gibson founded his own church that is not recognized by his diocese. I wonder if jumping into the heart of Christianity without training made him go astray? The church calls itself traditional, but I wonder how close it is to other traditional Catholic churches? My point being that I wonder how a quick study by an actor/director made him somehow more enlightened than recognized experts on faith and those who devoted their lives to studying Catholicism?

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Family_%28Agoura_Hills,_California%29

Similarly, the book “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly talks only about Jesus the man and ignores (denies?) Jesus as the Son of God. Mr. O’Reilly says he was inspired to write the book, but by whom? Did he, too, get too close to the edge without adequate guidance or background and stray from the truth? A book that seems to ignore/deny Jesus as the Son of God would play right into the hands of the enemies of Christianity, would it not?

So, should we all be careful not to study too much alone? Isn’t that the point of the organized religion and a possible reason why we were directed to study together? For the average person, some misconstrued ideas will correct themselves over time, with diligence, and no harm done, right? But for those who are the only voice, such as a small town preacher with little formal training, they could endanger more than just themselves.

And if we are talking about someone with influence, the danger seems to multiply exponentially. I am not picking on either Mr. Gibson or Mr. O’Reilly. I believe in both cases, their intentions were generally good (well, perhaps also motivated by money). I just think that because of their positions of influence, they risk far more damage to themselves and others. With the short time frame entertainment type people have to devote to different projects, even with one or two ‘experts’ helping them, I fear they miss the mark far too often. Imagine trying to cram so much into a period of months to meet a deadline? I think it’s unwise to try. I also think it’s dangerous to believe one is the expert on the topic after such a short study.

What do you guys think? Are university trained priests and pastors much safer from bad influences because they have the time to sort through and study Christianity over time? Does the fact that they continue to update their credentials, so to speak, throughout their careers, just like physicians and other professionals, keep them closer to the message? Is there a danger in too much too soon? I really think there must be or divinity studies wouldn’t be designed like they are.

For those of us in RCIA, I welcome a long course of study. I feel like just to understand the fraction of religion expected of a mere layperson should be done slowly and carefully. Is that wise?

It’s great that we have Pope Francis garnering so much attention. Perhaps a well-studied voice of reason will help us all when other powerful influences attempt to sway large numbers of people in the name of Christianity.

Another thread currently active asks a somewhat similar question. It asks if we will accountable before God for accepting a false teaching. In a reply I made to that thread I hit on the very thing that you mention above.

Jesus commanded us to take difficult disputes to the Church. The word in Greek is Ekklesia - (community called out) Mt 18:15-18 is clear on this. “Tell it to the Church” is the command - followed by the admonishment that if one does not “listen even to the Church” they are to be shunned…put out. This very principle is clearly demonstrated in Acts 15 where the Church acts collectively to "test’ something and make a decision on what is correct.

Likewise the Bereans - held up as such fine examples - are not praised by Paul for acting alone, independent of each other or of Paul their teacher or of the universal Church. They are praised for acting in concert with each other…searching the Scriptures together and under the tutelage of St Paul - representative of the Universal Church.

So - in testing - we are not to act independently of the community which is the Universal Church. To do so is to act contrary to the explicit commands of our Lord and King Jesus Christ - and recorded by the Authority of the Holy Spirit in Scripture.

Nowhere does the Scripture encourage independent study.

Peace
James

I think that the risk comes not so much from studying on one’s own as it does from having a prideful attitude. St Thomas Aquinas discusses this in his discussion of heretics and the faith.

On the contrary, Just as mortal sin is contrary to charity, so is disbelief in one article of faith contrary to faith. Now charity does not remain in a man after one mortal sin. Therefore neither does faith, after a man disbelieves one article.

I answer that, Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith…

Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.

Summa Theologica II-II 5 Q 3
Link

I like the distinction he makes between the heretic and the erring, and that he shows that the heretic has *no faith at all, *he just has his own opinions and only happens to agree with the Church in some areas.

A good Catholic is teachable and wants to learn what the Church teaches. in the end, we all learn alone… but guides are very helpful :slight_smile:

Without getting into the questions of particular persons…or book…

And I will start off saying too that much good and truth can come from the studies of say Protestant Scholars etc who are not in full communion with the Church.

That being said…

There is yes the great importance of studying and living within the Church. Hence Jesus did not simply hand out a book -even an inspired book but formed a Church -giving authority to particular men to teach and govern etc – and those offices are with us to today.

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060315_en.html

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060322_en.html

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060329_en.html

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060405_en.html

I’ve found I can understand things better if I discuss them with someone else. Another person can bring new ideas, or flesh out old ones. Over the years, this has become my more or less constant refrain: This is what I think - but I could be wrong! :slight_smile:

I want to start off with a quote from St. Francis above in their reply to you, “A good Catholic is teachable and wants to learn what the Church teaches. in the end, we all learn alone… but guides are very helpful.”

I was initially formed as Catholic, being set adrift at age nine, having wandered everywhere being told that sola scriptura is the way to understanding. Finally back home in The Church I can read 2 Timothy 2 with clear understanding biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20timothy%202&version=DRA
this in NOT a sola scriptura ‘proof’ text. St. Francis is correct that guides are helpful, and God gave them to us, the apostles, the early Church Fathers, etc.

These verses from the chapter above ring out to me now loud and clear, 23 And avoid foolish and unlearned questions, knowing that they beget strifes. 24 But the servant of the Lord must not wrangle: but be mild towards all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 With modesty admonishing them that resist the truth: if peradventure God may give them repentance to know the truth, 26 And they may recover themselves from the snares of the devil, by whom they are held captive at his will.

How many times have I left Bible studies because of strife? Unlearned teachers trying to force feed me their doctrines that disquieted my soul. It was finally a total rejection and removal of Mother Mary from Christmas that opened my eyes to protestantism true mission of alienating souls from God. I sat bewildered and wondered where to now, God? And He gently said, back home to the Catholic church, and there was Mother Mary, where she had been all along.

Without getting into the questions of particular persons…or book…

And I will start off saying too that much good and truth can come from the studies of say Protestant Scholars etc who are not in full communion with the Church.

That being said…

There is yes the great importance of studying and living within the Church. Hence Jesus did not simply hand out a book -even an inspired book but formed a Church -giving authority to particular men to teach and govern etc – and those offices are with us to today.

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060315_en.html

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060322_en.html

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060329_en.html

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060405_en.html

Thanks, guys. My dad in a big fan of both the book mentioned and the movie. He is also a lapsed Catholic. Perhaps my pondering stems from struggling with how to approach him when he keeps pushing me to read the book. :frowning:

This is exactly why in the RCIA program you are assigned a mentor/sponsor for the journey. To answer your questions in a more intimate format, to pray for you, and when necessary to seek out the proper answer for you.
Approach your RCIA Director if you have harder questions than your sponsor is comfortable with answering. Often times, these very questions are on the minds of others in the classes, and can be a great source of clarification and discussion with a person who is trained to field these questions.
Here’s another idea: Invite you dad to a couple of classes. At our parish, practicing Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and others who just want to learn more about the faith.
No pressure.
Praying for you on the journey!
pianist

You might ask him why he wants you to read the book? He may have a sort of subconscious unease which you might be able to dispell?

I spoke with my dad and it went better than expected. He understands my reservations about the O’Reilly book. On top of that, at the Christmas service this year, someone was handing out a book called “Rediscovering Catholicism”. I took one before I realized it was for folks like my dad. Well, I asked my dad if he wanted me to send it to him and he agreed! Mailed it this afternoon. :smiley:

:thumbsup:

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