*We have promised posts that explain the factors that moved us toward Catholicism,
but this is an issue I feel that I need to address upfront. In fact, I’ll also probably be posting somewhat regularly on issues like these that keep people from seriously considering Catholic practices.
“All those people are going to church just to check the box.” This is the explanation I’ve heard many times regarding the phenomenon of oh, a billion or so Catholics in the world. Ah, checking the box. The act of performing a task for the sake of the return. Like being nice to the crazy great-uncle in hopes of being included in his will. This is a favorite tactic among some who try to de-fang Catholicism. Poof. They’re all just in it for the swag.
It sure is an easy way to not take a whole bunch of people seriously.
It’s even an argument I bought into at times, although I didn’t think it was possible that ALL of those people were “checking the box.” The funny thing about it though, is that I never sat in my own church and thought the same thing about the people sitting around me. I never sat there and looked out among the crowd thinking, “Hypocrites. They’re just here to check the box.” I suppose that’s because, as a good Baptist, I knew that it was all about the grace, so we weren’t at church because it was something we needed to “do.” I can say that I would look around and think, “Boy, that guy is a real slouch. I bet he’s here because his wife is making him go to church. He doesn’t even look excited to be here. Why does he even bother?” Never mind that I probably didn’t look all that happy either and that none of us were radiating the joy we were supposed to be overflowing with out of thankfulness for our salvation. That’s why pastors can admonish their congregations about how saggy and draggy they look and it always gets some laughs: the desired reaction being that a bunch of sheepish congregants are reminded that they forgot to bring their smile to church. ‘Cause if you’ve got that joy pasted on your face we know you’re saved.
Well, gee, isn’t that checking the box, too?
This is another issue I began to question the further I got into my spiritual journey. Like I mentioned in my first post, legalism was seen as the arch-enemy to our “freedom” from works. Anything that smacked of obligation was abhorrent…HOWEVER, when you are in praise and worship you had darn well better get that far-off look in your eyes and enjoy singing the same phrase over and over. That guy who is soulfully playing his guitar at the Christian rock concert? He is super-spiritual because his eyes are all squinched up and he’s biting his lower lip really hard, right? If you are at a VBS rally and someone shouts, “Who loves Jesus????!!!!” you had better scream the loudest, and if you are at one of those conferences geared toward women (ech, shivers are going down my spine as I write this and I haven’t even mentioned any by name) you had better join hands and sway with the rest of them. Do I sound like a horribly cynical person? Sorry. I’m really not. I am not saying that worship cannot happen at any of these events, but I do have a problem with the expectation that emotion can be produced on demand, and I must admit that I often found it emotionally draining to try to put on that kind of show just because that’s what “being saved” was supposed to look like to some.
I used to think there was something wrong with me because I never was the kind of person who found it easy to engage in mass hysteria. Then I grew up and realized that hey, I’m just not the kind of person who easily engages in mass hysteria. That kind of behavior doesn’t have anything to do with my relationship with Jesus. I began to realize that my salvation did not depend on how I “felt” or how I appeared to others, and that maybe how I lived my life when nobody was looking was more indicative of my spiritual state. This brand of “spiritual yippiness” (I just made up that term. Trademark pending.) that plagued me is a trap that Protestants can very easily fall into and remain in their whole lives, and if you think about it, the result is the same as the bad, box-checking Catholics they’re pointing their fingers at. Rather than performing actions, they’re producing emotions for the expected return. They’re in it for the swag.
Let’s be honest: there are people on both sides of the aisle “checking the box.” We all know it’s a problem. I am certain that every religious system has its own form of box-checkery (I know, I just made that one up, too), though it may be more readily apparent in some religions than in others. I will also be so bold as to hazard a guess that there are bad, or even *GASP* non-Christians sitting in the pews of every church (I point that out to say that maybe God gives people like that more of a break than we do sometimes. At least they’re trying…) But who am I to judge a person, whether they are on their knees praying or jumping up and down, especially if I’ve never stepped a foot into their church? It’s the whole wheat and tares thing. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
 If you want to get all Myers-Briggs then I’m about as “I” as a person can possibly
be. I think those of us who are introverted are often left feeling like we’re less than those who feel comfortable wearing their spirituality on their sleeve. And no, I’m not talking about being embarrased about my faith or “hiding my light under a bushel.”