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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 30, 2006

Religions can rebuild themselves

By the Rev. Halbert Weidner

One of the things I like about religion is that it subverts itself. That is to say that when it goes off the rails, there are the seeds of redirection and reformation within the very religion itself.

Religions don't become perverted because of their principles but despite them. There are no bigger critics of religion than religious people themselves. Of course every organization has its company loyalists who do great damage not so much by being corrupt themselves but by trying to make the best of the corruption.

Religions have lurking inside them something better than blind loyalists; they have prophets and saints.

Of course, there are still problems sometimes so serious that the prophet or the saint tears away and tries to create another, better religion. This has its limits and usually carries not the seed of renewal but destruction within itself.

Division only works for so long until the religion becomes so pure that it is simply granular and blows away.

The prophets and saints who stay in usually get shelved in a very nice way: They become plaster saints, without spot or wrinkle. They are removed from the blood, sweat and tears that define the rest of us. This does not make us unhappy because it gets us off the hook.

But then comes along someone on the scene, someone we know sometimes even a member of another religion! That person is very much of this world, this time, and is hard to ignore.

This does not come from us, but from God, and can be resisted, at least for a while.

I am reminded of all this by listening to Johnny Cash's album, "My Mother's Hymnbook," actual selections from the hymnbook of any Baptist mother of my generation or up. (Forty years a Catholic, I still go back to my Baptist roots when I want to sing.) Cash has a song that can promote an isolated religion, easily corrupted: "In the Garden," where Jesus talks and walks with me, and none other will ever know such joys ... just me and Jesus.

Well, there is also "We Shall Not Be Moved." It became the farm workers' marching song when it was translated into Spanish: "No, No Nos Moveron."

So we can have our sentimental and easy religion, but on the next page of the hymnal, the spirit pushes us on.

The Rev. Halbert Weidner, a Catholic priest, is pastor of Holy Trinity and Santa Sophia and a member of the Oratorian religious order.