Bearing Fair Witness to Lavender Houses

Kevin J. Rice,,

Religion Paper 6, Operative question: Is Catholicism Confining or Liberating?

In order to answer this question, I shall attempt to show that the terms "confine" and "liberate" are not necessarily antitheses of each other. But in order to do so, it is right and proper to define my terms clearly. "Catholicism" shall refer to my admittedly poor understanding of the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church (of Vatican City, Planet Earth) (just in case there is another Vatican City somewhere in the universe). The term "Confine" can mean any of the following: "To restrict", "To enclose", or "To keep within bounds". The term "Liberate", however, means "To set free from bondage", "To gain full or equal support", or "to free from combination with other things, as in a chemical mixture."

So, we've defined our terms. There is one salient term remaining: "Religion". "Oh no," I hear you cry, "Not THAT complexity again!" Yes, but it yields an interesting result. In the French derivation, "Religare" means "to restrict or confine" which may point at why most of France is Catholic... Or does it matter where the definition came from? I must argue that it doesn't, that the question posed above is really a koan. Confining and liberation are two sides of the same coin.

To be set free, bonds must be defined. What are the bonds from which one is liberated? Possible answers could include moral, ethical, social, culinary, behavioral, and/or emotive edicts. But equally one could consider the chore of deciding about those edicts to be the bonds from which one is freed.

If the definition of Liberate is to be set apart from a mixture, then surely it can be accepted that Catholicism is liberating in its superscessionistic claims of exclusivity of TRUTH. By that same token, superscessionistic claims restrict Catholics from holding non-Catholic views.

Let us consider the definition of religion to be the means to ultimate transformation. If we consider the definition of "Liberate" to be gaining full or equal support, then perhaps the question is equal to what? Full support may mean the full support of God, but it probably isn't very true to say that Catholics would accept that they were being set equal by God to everyone else, especially those who aren't Catholic.

If being liberated means to be completely free to believe anything at all, then Catholicism is restrictive in that it has defined certain core beliefs already. "To define" is the same as "to limit", as the Taoistic uncarved block concept expresses so well.

The popular differentiation between Catholicism and Protestantism is that there seems to be much more ceremony in the Catholic church than most other mainline churches. Maybe there is a point to be gained here that if one worships the same way over and over, that they are in effect "Practicing" religion. The term practice here may imply that one is attempting to ingrain certain behaviors and thoughts in order to help to make them more automatic. If someone learns to the point of automatic recall and moves on to the more subtle aspects of the subject, perhaps that is a liberating action, taken by means of a confining action. Another question is whether a Catholic give up some measure of control over their spiritual life to the Pope. By doing so, however, they are liberated them from having to worry about certain things, especially esoterics.

So, it seems that this whole conundrum of an effect being confining or liberating is entirely one of outlook. Perhaps we should add the confining and liberating labels to the light and dark parts of the Yin-Yang. But which is which? I think I'll liberate this paper from my answer by confining it to my thoughts.

Two Sides of the Same Koan

by Kevin J. Rice

Tuesday, November 20th, 1990

Introduction to World Religions

Professor Derfler

Tues & Thurs 9:30 am

Fall Semester, 1990

Back to the home page of Kevin J. Rice ( at