We live in a culture of comfort. The way some go on about it, “comfortable” is a state of being that should be strived for, like a plushy nirvana. Anything that helps us achieve this end, whether it is the clothes we wear or the collective experiences and viewpoints to which we confine ourselves, is worthy of praise and distinguished status. We’ve even developed an entire category of exclusive and elevated foods, of which the only requisite for admittance is the possession of a high degree of “comfortability.”

In my appraisal, “comfort” comes in two forms that occasionally overlap but are distinct in their essence. The first is the sense of security derived from the familiar or the routine. The second can be described as the “feel-good” factor, or the quality of engendering positive emotions within an individual. Linus clutching his threadbare blanket is a case of the first, while the warm, tingly feeling that shoots through my body at the sight of Elizabeth Bennett (played by Keira Knightly, of course) perched on cliff’s edge, as Dario Marianelli’s crescendos cascade in the background, is a prime example of the second.

Religious belief is capable of providing its adherents with both forms of comfort, both the “feel-good” factor and a sense of security. And, in fact, the dominant contemporary way of thinking seems to imply that religion’s ability to impart comfort is its most, if not its only, redeeming quality. Such a conception of religious belief makes it perfectly justifiable to shop for a religion as one does for a new comforter and sheet set. The question of “Which colors and pattern do I like?” becomes “Which services and sanctuaries are the most pleasing to me?”Asking “Which feels the softest?” is along the lines of asking “Which has a conception of right and wrong that’s agreeable with my current lifestyle?” And deliberating on “Which price seems to be the best value?”  is not much different than exploring the question of “Which has the rosiest depiction of the afterlife and the easiest path to it?”

It naturally follows that if you boil religion down to nothing more than a source of comfort, the religion one ends up ascribing to is the one that makes one the most comfortable. In this way of thinking, the thought process involved in choosing between Islam and Catholicism is no different than the one used in deciding if one is in the mood for chicken noodle soup or chocolate. It is a matter of preference and which selection offers the most in the way of comfort.

Of course, if one presupposes that there is a God and that He wants us to live a certain way (big presuppositions, I know, but you are reading THE ROVER), the conception of religion described above is hogwash of the highest degree. The notion that a religion’s primary purpose is to provide comfort for its adherents vindicates Marx and the opiate qualities he attributes to organized religions, since he castigates them as nothing more than devices used to numb the pain of daily woes and provide an escape from the uncertainty of our existence. Such a characterization robs religion of its real significance, what it really seeks to do: namely, to provide an explanation of truth and a means to attain it. Yet this is the price that is paid when comfort is the priority.

An example that comes to mind involves a frank and earnest discussion I had with a friend a few years ago. My friend was raised Catholic, but he left the Church early in his adolescence. When pressed for the reason behind his departure, he stated that he could never believe in a religion that didn’t make him “feel good.”

What he might as well have said is that he would feel mighty uncomfortable belonging to a religion that espoused a concept of morality that did not mesh or affirm his particular lifestyle decisions. Notice, his justification for rejecting the Church does not even begin to consider the merits of Catholicism. It’s not that my friend denies the Church’s teaching on objective morality or that he does not believe that our actions have consequences long after our lives ends. Such notions of truth never even enter the equation.  Instead, his desire to feel comfortable takes precedence, relegating the most significant questions he could ask himself as secondary.

Of course, simply being Catholic does not exonerate you from the pitfalls of comfort. Affiliation with the truth is not to be confused with active acquiescence to it. In fact, comfort is at its most lethal and paralyzing form when it affects those who are faced with the truth but do not recognize it as such. There is something disturbingly comforting about going through the same motions each Sunday, about eating that funny piece of bread and drinking the watered-down wine because that’s what you’ve done since second grade.

Comfort leads to complacency. It bleeds the traditions and sacraments of the Catholic faith of their profound and mysterious meaning, trivializing them as nothing more than reassuring superstitions and familiar routines, things we take part in to provide ourselves with a lulling sense of security. This must be battled like the devil himself, for it blots out the presence of truth where it is most readily evident.

I want to make it clear that I am not attacking the idea of comfort in and of itself. I enjoy flannel pajamas and backrubs from my mother just as much as the next guy. And indeed, such a pursuit would be as futile and petty as demonizing money as the root of all evil. However, when it comes to something as monumentally significant as our religious beliefs and how we practice them, allowing our desire for comfort to play a prominent role is a recipe for disaster.

Catholicism, at its fundamental level, does not seek to make people feel good or reassure them that everything will be okay. It is not a chick flick and a bowl of rocky road ice cream on yet another lonely Valentine’s Day. Rather, the Church is a truth-teller, and it strives to tell us why we are here, what we should be doing, and what happens next. If comfort can be derived from the realization that one has heard the truth, then so be it. But comfort should never come at truth’s expense.

In parting, I leave you with a quote from C.S. Lewis, who expresses my point far more eloquently, pointedly, and profoundly than I could ever hope to: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

Jonathan Liedl, who can be reached at jliedl@nd.edu, is a senior Arabic and political science major RAing it up in Dillon Hall. He considered capitalizing “truth” and doing other pretentious things throughout the entirety of this editorial, but then he realized he wasn’t in PLS.