Of all the witless essays that Frank Bruni has written in recent years on the subject of religion, "Between Godliness and Godlessness," the essay he wrote in a recent Sunday issue of the New York Times, may be his most idiotic.
Like most of the New York Times's stable of commentators, Bruni often finds the inspiration for his columns in public opinion polls and best-selling books. Currently, Bruni is enamored with Sam Harris, who obtained his 15 minutes of fame in 2004 by writing a book on atheism. Apparently, Harris wants another 15 minutes of notoriety, because he has another book coming out soon--also on the topic of atheism.
According to Bruni, Harris's new book will argue that much of what people seek from religious faith can be obtained outside organized religion. In other words, the meaning of life which many people find in their religious faith can be found in the natural world through such activities as meditation, listening to music, communing with nature, and (presumably) from reading Sam Harris's books.
Of course, Bruni and Harris aren't the first people to try to discern the meaning of life on their own terms. In fact, both men are late to the party. King Henry VIII, Martin Luther, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and thousands of inspirational speakers have cobbled together self-constructed spiritual castles based on their own psychic, political, or spiritual desires--or sometimes just to make a buck.
In fact, Bruni's recent essay reminded me of a New York Times essay that T.L. Luhrmann wrote awhile back describing a man who created is own god to help him lose weight. Hey--whatever floats your boat!
In my opinion, Frank Bruni is trying, whether consciously or unconsciously, to undermine Americans' religious faith and the faith of American Catholics in particular. He has certainly attacked the Catholic Church on numerous occasions. It's OK, he insinuated in his recent Times column, to have spiritual longings. Just try to fulfill them outside the faith and traditions of historical Christianity.
I thought about Bruni's essay while attending Mass recently at Holy Trinity Church in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, in the upper Rio Grande Valley. Catholicism entered this part of the world when Spanish Explorer Juan de Oñate led a party of soldiers and settlers up the Rio Grande Valley from El Paso in 1598. The Spanish founded Santa Fe in 1610, 10 years before the Pilgrims planted their self-righteous feet on Plymouth Rock; and Taos was founded around 1615. Arroyo Seco, located just a few miles from Taos, must have been founded in the very early 17th century.
Thus, Catholics have been celebrating Mass in or around Arroyo Seco for more than 400 years. Indeed this ground has been watered by the blood of Catholic martyrs--most of them forgotten--who were killed by the Comanches over a period of more than a century. Over the years, the Catholics of the Upper Rio Grande Valley have clung to the Ancient Faith; and they have placed their confidence in several particular saints: San Isidore, San Pasquale, Santiago, San Miguel, Santo Nino de Atocha, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As I joined my Hispanic brothers and sisters in celebrating the Mass in Arroyo Seco, I wondered what they would say about the Tinker-Toy spirituality that Bruni proposed in his New York Times essay. Why, they would probably ask, would anyone who has been enfolded in the grandeur, the beauty, and the eternal truths of the Catholic faith throw that faith away for the do-it-yourself brand of quasi-religion that Bruni is hawking? Why would anyone abandon the real and mystical presence of Christ in the Eucharist to follow the advice of Sam Harris?
Bruni and his fellow travelers apparently think Catholicism is fading away and will soon be replaced by the postmodern sensibilities that the New York Times espouses. But that will never happen in Arroyo Seco. The small congregation at Holy Trinity Church celebrated Mass with all the splendor that it could muster. The entrance procession included one priest, two deacons, and five altar children (boys and girls). Incense appeared on two occasions, and altar boys flanked a deacon with lighted candles as he read the Gospel. The liturgy, partly in English and partly in Spanish, was performed with all the piety and dignity of a High Mass at the Vatican.
Cordero de Dios, que quitas el pecado del mundo, danos la paz, we all said before coming forward to receive the body and blood of Christ. Or in English: Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
And to Frank Bruni, let me add this purely secular footnote: Leave us the hell alone.
Frank Bruni. Between Godliness and Godlessness. New York Times, August 30,2014. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-between-godliness-and-godlessness.html?_r=0