I have to admit that I almost got lost in the weeds of Oates attempt to discuss various ways of thinking about how superstition and magical thinking play a part in unhealthy religion.
What I could relate to out of my own faith journey was the need to ritualistically confess or rededicate my life to Christ. My early experiences with preaching were of the “hellfire and damnation” type. Fear and guilt were the immature emotions used to manipulate me and my peers for some observable outcomes. In this case, it was the number of decisions the preacher got the congregants to make. Especially during adolescence when hormones were raging, my preacher knew the right stories to tell. The ritualistic confessions help allay some of the fear and guilt until after Sunday lunch. This approach to religion drove me away for some years. Through later years in college and challenging seminary experiences, I gradually realized the bases of this struggle and the purpose it served. Gradually, I was able to be renewed in my thinking and feeling and as a result, was able to connect and stay connected to a loving God.
I run into this kind of magical thinking in the hospital all of the time. In brief encounters, it is difficult to make much impact. I liked Oates closing thoughts, “Show us you care us and maybe we can decide for ourselves that God cares.” This is perhaps the greatest spiritual intervention.
I look forward to other reflections on this long chapter.