I have read a lot of posts about religion on this site.One in particular struck me because I felt so much in common with the author.Kate likens herself to others in her generation by virtue of the following: she feels “personally responsible for making a difference in the world.”In the same paragraph, she attributes this feeling of social responsibility to her Catholic upbringing and describes this feeling, this “calling,” as inseparable from her faith.
As Kate points out, this feeling is something that is common to many members of our generation (at least common to those with whom I regularly interact, which I must admit is a very specific liberal-minded, highly educated, and predominantly coastal/urban subset).It is even something that feel defines “us” as GenY.If so many of us feel this sense of responsibility regardless of our religious upbringing or personal faith, how can that feeling be tied so tightly to Catholicism?
I am Jewish, and I spent a long time attributing my sense of social responsibility to my identity asa Jew.More than to the tenets of Judaism or to my personal faith, I attributed it to the culture of Judaism, a culture that every year on Passover implores every Jew to say out loud that he/she was personally spared from a lifetime of slavery under an Egyptian Pharaoh some 3000 years ago.I also attributed it to some sort of survivor syndrome based on the fact that I grew up with a very acute awareness of the Holocaust as something that could just as easily have happened to me.This led me to identify very personally with victims of injustice.It inspired me, drove me, and on occasion consumed me, with public service projects and to the pursuit of a Medical Degree. I even made the choice to be a orthopedic surgeon in part because that is how I feel that I personally am most capable of contributing.
If Kate attributes her sense of social responsibility to Catholicism and I attribute mine to Judaism, then maybe something else entirely is happening.Maybe rather than looking to our respective religions for moral and ethical guidance, we are bringing our own moral and ethical perspectives to our religions.For as long as religion has been practiced, it has been used by its followers as those followers see fit.So why is Kate’s sense of social responsibility so inseparable from Catholicism?Maybe it's only because she happened to be born Catholic. Maybe, she would feel that way no matter which religion or culture she was born into.
I believe, and I hope, that we are entering an era of post-religious moral and ethical codes in this country.Ibelieve this is possible because we are each exposed to so many different religions and cultures.As a result, we are developing a collective consciousness that supersedes our religious upbringings.The influences on our personal ethics and morality have perhaps increased in number as compared with previous generations due to diversification of individual regions and due to the exposure to different lifestyles and value systems provided to us by the media. For example, my parents grew up in Jewish neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn and interacted primarily with Jewish classmates at local colleges whereas I and the majority of everyone I know grew up in diverse towns and did not associate primarily with peers of their own religious upbringing in college.
After roughly 18-25 years of all this external input, I chose what I consider to be the “best” of Judaism (at least for me) and made it my own.Kate seems to me to have done the same with Catholicism.We also both dismissed, or at least tried to dismiss, those aspects of our respective religions which did not suit our belief systems.The specifics of how this came to be is better suited for a political scientist than a surgeon-in-training, but the result to me seems to be this: we are bringing moral and ethical codes to our understanding of what it means to have religion rather than the other way around.