Religious Attuning: Hearing Religion with a Fine-Tuned Ear
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Religious attuning is the degree to which a person can recognize the facts behind the facts. Or to put it another way, it is the degree to which a person can discern the fact with as few clues as possible.
Still a little confusing I know, so let’s back up a bit.
If two friends listen to a piece of music played on the piano, there is a good chance that they will come away with a different understanding and different information; their reaction is related to prior experience of music. To be more precise, the more musical training they have, the more understanding of the piano they have, the more times they have been around this particular piece or composer—all of these components will deepen their understanding of what is heard. Conversely, the less they have been around music, the less they have experienced the instrument and the composers and so on, the less they will be able to perceive what is heard.
And what if these two friends are on opposite ends of experience, one being around the piano and its music since they were young, and the other entirely new to everything musical?
Well, the first would notice if the piano is in tune, he might recognize the composer, he might detect a variation or style of play, he might hear numerous subtle facts behind the music entering the ear. And his friend? His friend may very well like the music or not like the music and that’s all.
So you see, the more attuned you are to your subject, the less the incoming information is about preference, and the more it is about the fact or facts that the clues point toward.
How does this apply to the religious sphere?
The same thing happens in the religious sphere. The more in tune one is with a religion, then the more one will be able to perceive the facts behind simple statements, references tucked away in certain expressions, and certain modes of thought looming like mountains though the words were few and the gestures common.
Let’s look at an example in Christianity.
In the Book of Revelation chapter 12, we encounter the figure of a woman crying out in birth pangs. She has twelve stars on her head, the moon under her feet, and she is about to give birth to a child—one who will rule with a rod of iron.
If we were to ask our very non-religious friends, “Who is the woman referring to in the passage?” You might be surprised to find out that they do not have the slightest clue. And if they guess that it is Mary, then it is entirely possible that they are just doing what many kids do in Sunday school, that is, they are giving you the answer that they think you want to hear.
But think about it.
How did you know the image in Revelation 12 is Mary?
Perhaps, you have just always assumed it was. Perhaps someone in your walk of faith told you it was. Perhaps you have seen much artwork, statues as well as paintings, where Mary is depicted in similar fashion.
You see, your immersion in Christianity—your experience with its doctrines and events, its art and expressions—have all helped you to see a fact behind the simple image of a woman on a page.
And if you’re new to Christianity?
Of course, study can make you more attuned as well. Through study, you might recognize the phrase "rule with the rod of iron" as an allusion to Psalm 2, a passage describing the coming Messiah.
You also might recognize the twelve stars as an allusion to the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel.
Through study alone, you might come to the deeper understanding that Mary is the corporate Israel personified, the one "full of grace" and "highly favoured," living out in advance what we all will in the eschaton.
THE BIG MISTAKE WHEN EVANGELIZING
Far too many Catholics begin evangelization focusing on what they know, and they assume that the image (e.g. Christmas tree) or the words (e.g. Christmas = Christ’s Mass) are strong enough clues to point to the facts behind the fact, but that is a grave mis-step.
Evangelization must always begin with what the other person knows or has experienced. We have to use their words and their imagery to help them to take the first steps in the Faith. And though at the beginning these words and images will be grossly inadequate, it is a starting point.
Remember, most people around you are simply not religiously attuned, so let’s stop acting like they are.
Find the common ground in language, in imagery, in concepts and then build, sifting the errors and straightening the crooked lines as time moves on.