The Vatican Takes on Road Rage

One of the great challenges facing organized religion is how to remain viable in an increasingly secular and scientifically-oriented society. Toss this in with rampant materialism, church scandals (specifically those of the Catholic Church), and the fringe religious sects that–though the minority–get the majority of media coverage thus effectively tarnishing thoughtful and intellectually rigorous belief systems, and you’ve got a rough row to hoe if you’re set with the task of capturing people’s attention. In other words, there is a sense of organized religion’s failure to meet the contemporary needs in many societies. While Father This-and-That extols the virtues of piety, the eyes of the congregation will gloss over and minds will wander to the evening’s plans unless he can make it meaningful to a contemporary and impatient audience.

This is not like any other profession meant to instill learning on a sometimes resistant or potentially distracted group of people. If Buddha didn’t have awesome stories to get his points across, would he have been as widely admired? If Jesus couldn’t talk to followers in a way they could understand, in a way through which they could see the importance of his message in their own life, Christianity would have had a heck of a time getting off the ground.

So, any religious organization is also its own PR firm of sorts. They are charged not only with maintaining the tenants and doctrine of their specific set of beliefs but also with the daunting task of keeping the message pertinent to their adherents.

Enter Cardinal Retano Martino, head of the Vatican’s office for migrants and itinerents, who released this document which blends core Catholic beliefs with modern realities of driving:

The Vatican’s Ten Commandments for Drivers*

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

  I think this is a great document. It’s good advice, it’s in a form people can relate to quickly and easily, and–most important–it speaks to contemporary issues while adhering to the tradition from which the list came. If Catholicism or any religion is to remain a force in our society (and I think all religions should have a voice in society), then it’s wise to package the message so it has value and meaning in our contemporary, material-driven culture.

Any faith’s main goal ought to be the spiritual, mental, and physical well being of its followers. All three should be addressed in fair measure, and it seems that Cardinal Martino understands this. 

Certainly, there are things we could nitpick here, such as, “What exactly does he mean by ‘occasion for sin'”? But that’s not the point just now. The point is that he made an effort to guide Catholics with a set of suggestions which will help them integrate their faith in their day-to-day lives. If a religion can be called as much, it ought to provide guidance in all facets of life, and not just those hot topic issues that cause so much conflict and argument.

*Original articles are from Yahoo!News and can be found here and here.    


4 Responses to The Vatican Takes on Road Rage

  1. jakjonsun says:

    I have to respectfully disagree. The so-called “Ten Commandments for Drivers” is just another example of the denigration of the church’s sanctity, which began with Vatican II.

    Hey, Jakjonsun. Thanks for giving your perspective on the “Ten Commandments for Drivers.” You should know that I have a lot of respect for your opinion, and your blog is topnotch in my book, in part because your analysis has convinced me to watch the whole series first to last. Not to mention the title! So, anything I say is from a pure place of inquiry and genuine hope for dialogue.

    I wondered too if the title wasn’t too flippant, too irreverent, and therefore more of a ridiculous document than a useful tool for allowing Catholics to practice their faith in their day to day lives, in applicable and contemporary settings. So, is it the name that makes you see it as a denigration or is it the concept itself? It is unfortunately named, perhaps, and I would hate to see the Ten Commandments somehow lowered to the level of a driving do’s and don’ts list.

    But one of the things that I thought was useful with this document is that it reminds people that their faith ought to extend beyond the pew. This, too often, is forgotten by Sunday Believers who live wretchedly for six, pious for one, and call it a good week. It also, by extension, forces us to contemplate the moral decisions inherent in every action or inaction we take. The “good life” is not lived in flashing moments of moral or ethical greatness. Rather, it is a culmulative event lived out over years of practice and contemplation. If, say, a religious leader was very vocal about a hot topic issue and yet was a terribly inconsiderate and selfish neighbor in some way, I would think less of his vocal posturing on said hot topic.

    That said, are you bothered most by the Vatican’s concern for something as temporal as driving habits? As in, they are pandering to the audience, so to speak, in ways that undermine the Church’s true mission? Either way, I appreciate your comment, Jakjonson, and I hope we can continue this if you like.

    Completely unrelated: Are you familiar with Arrested Development, a series that aired for 2 and a half or so seasons on Fox? It was a terribly funny and irreverent documentary-style sitcom that, perhaps, is worth a close appreciation–I’d trust you to do it more than myself.

  2. jakjonsun says:

    I think in a lot of ways the church has compromised many of it’s religious tenants. I’m afraid the church is entering the territory of the modern luke-warm cult of “Self-Help” and other so-called practical interpretations of religion. I don’t think it’s at all new, but a gradual movement which attempts to compromise the religious approach to life with the scientific.
    I’m not necessarily making an argument of religion versus science. I’m just saying that the Catholic faith has real roots and there’s a real sanctity there. And it seems that rather than uphold and promote this, they’re just compromising it with a society which would rather have religion adjust to their tastes rather than seek it’s holy and mystical depth.
    In the end, this compromise leaves both sides looking for more. And the ridiculous, unfounded insecurity of church leaders towards their faith continues to churn out this sort of modern dogma. And people are left looking for something real they can grasp to give meaning to their lives. And some people are finding it lying in the East.

    I too worry that religion has become a watered down, self-help group. I think that’s one of the things that religion ought not be: a place to placate your emotions, stifle your spiritual drive, and lull you into a sense of complacency. Too many people have seen religion as precisely that: a band-aid, an excuse, a crutch. And I agree that there is a sanctity to Catholicism. It’s root run deep, and it ought not compromise those roots in an attempt to quell concerns of its relevancy in the modern world.

    That said, All decisions are moral ones. The tone I use in disciplining my dog, though seemingly minor, is a choice I make that has ramifications. Similarly, how I drive my truck is a choice. Do I choose to bully drivers in smaller vehicles? Or to I practice patience and courtesy on the road. So, I see the driving document as more of an extension of tradition, an extension of the ground level tenents of the Church. In that way, it has not compromised its values or sanctity; rather, I think it has made contemporary and pertinant values that can be transferred to all sorts of other situations.

    ** “In the end, this compromise leaves both sides looking for more.”

    This quote is scary accurate, Jakjonsun, and I see this happening on so many levels. There has to be a point where a Catholic says, “No. This is not ok.” Similarly, the Buddhist, somewhere in the discussion, has got to say, “No. I cannot go along with this.” In that way, you’re absolutely right, religions run the risk of becoming that “cultish self-help” movement that actually helps no one and serves more like a narcotic than a call to action. We see this here in the States predominantly with the new-age Buddhist movements that are nothing more than a mish-mash of misinterpreted passages, ill-informed pop psychologists, and mollycoddling.

    Anyway, thanks for the imput, and I’ll look forward to more of the same in the future, eh?

  3. jakjonsun says:

    “I think that’s one of the things that religion ought not be: a place to placate your emotions, stifle your spiritual drive, and lull you into a sense of complacency . . .”
    Excellent quote, which really cuts to the core of what people think religion is in the modern age. Well, we probably could go back in forth on this, but I’ll save it for later. I’m sure this issue will come up again.

    I bet it will come up again too, Jakjonsun. I think Dostoevsky would approve our concerns. That, or we’d become characters in a serialized novel. I hope he makes me nice. Either way, thanks for putting your thoughts in. And we’ll catch up more later, I’m sure.

  4. writerchick says:

    Hey Puddlehead,
    I think you make an excellent point in this post and illustrate it beautifully with the 10 commandments of driving. It is about find the current ‘reality’ of others and communicating across those lines effectively. Although, I think that Buddha and Jesus Christ had a bit of an advantage because they were dealing with less savvy and worldly individuals. It is tough to bring any sincerity or purpose to people who believe they are too hip for something as pastoral as religion. People believe it is not a necessary part of their lives and they can live without it. But I think what is missed here is the old lesson – in the Catholic Church they would call it ‘false idol’ or idolatry – in today’s parlance I believe the current catch phrase is malignant narcissim. While it’s true that one can live without religion or in the alternative spirituality – the quality of life suffers. Anyone who believes that the totality of life is about what they need or want is surely missing out on many of the joys and beauty of life. IMHO.

    Hey, WC! I think you’re right about Buddha and Christ’s advantage. Not to mention there are a hell of a lot more distractions for people now. We can surf the web, watch 180 channels of tv, or get involved in so many other things that questions of spirituality, religion, or faith become quaint and lofty ideas which have little to no meaning in our day-to-days.

    I couldn’t agree more with this: “Anyone who believes that the totality of life is about what they need or want is surely missing out on many of the joys and beauty of life.” And the further down that path a person goes, the easier it is to continue to rely on that thinking to get them through the day, the week, the month. I don’t advocate any particular religion, but I certainly do not like the current climate where such issues are completely out of bounds for discussion. A Buddhist and a Christian, or anyone else for that matter, have a lot to say to one another, and a lot they’d find in shared interest. Sure, ultimately they’d have to disagree about many things, but that shouldn’t nix the conversation before it’s even started.


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