The Human Need for Sacred Community

David Carlin believes most faiths are on the wane, Christianity included. We’ll be roaming in a moral wilderness for years to come.

In addition to our many physical needs, we humans have psychological needs (or perhaps better put, spiritual needs). Among the most important of these are:

One: The need to feel that our lives are important and meaningful; that as individuals we are much more than brief blooms of insignificant life on a small planet orbiting a minor star in an unimportant galaxy.

Two: The need for moral guidance, that is, to know what’s right and wrong, what’s good and bad.

For most human beings throughout history these two great needs have been taken care of by membership in what may be called a sacred community: a clan, a tribe, an ancient Greek city-state, a nation, a church, a totalitarian political party.

From the point of view of the individual, his sacred community is self-evidently important and significant. If my tribe is important and significant, then I, part of that tribe, share in its importance and significance.

            As a mere individual I may be of little or no significance; but as a member of the tribe, I am very significant. My tribe is important in the eyes of God (or History), and so I too am important to God.

It may happen, however, that I experience a “crisis of faith,” that I come to doubt the absolute importance my tribe. Why would I do that? Perhaps because I have become aware of social groups that are far more powerful and more clever than my little tribe. In that case, I will also doubt the importance and significance of my own life.

A sacred community lays down the moral rules I should live by. It gives me rules of prohibition (“thou must not”), rules of proscription (“thou must”), and rules of permission (“thou may”). But if I have a crisis of faith, if I come to doubt the absolute worth of my sacred community, I will doubt its rules of morality as well. I will no longer be sure of what’s right or wrong, of what’s good or bad.

Click here to read the rest of Professor Carlin’s column . . .

Image: Extreme Unction by Nicholas Poussin, c. 1640 [Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England]

“The Catholic Thing is a kind of little miracle that ripples out to touch lives in powerful ways.”

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