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The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition, 4 – Social and Political reasons

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Lies by Leo Reynolds

Lies by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

1 – Introduction
2 – Theory and method
3 – Theological reasons
4 – Social and political reasons
5 – Psychological reasons
6 – Philosophical and historical reasons and conclusion

Telling Lies

Previously in Part 2 I noted that Machievelli advocates a deceptive approach to truth – lying to the masses – that apparently is necessary for public leadership. Perhaps this isn’t merely cynical but grimly realistic. To take an extreme example, it seems that in postwar times governments tend to paint a very different picture than the official wartime reports and media leaks.

Consider this excerpt from the documentary film, The Fog of War:

If you went to the C.I.A. and said “How is the situation today in South Vietnam?” I think they would say it’s worse. You see it in the desertion rate, you see it in the morale. You see it in the difficulty to recruit people. You see it in the gradual loss of population control. Many of us in private would say that things are not good, they’ve gotten worse. Now while we say this in private and not public, there are facts available that find their way in the press. If we’re going to stay in there, if we’re going to go up the escalating chain, we’re going to have to educate the people, Mr. President. We haven’t done so yet. I’m not sure now is exactly the right time.

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara apparently believed he was acting in good faith, given the political realities he was faced with during the Vietnam war. Hindsight is 20/20. But those in power don’t have the benefit of hindsight and must make tough decisions, usually with limited information. So McNamara, now in a safe position to do so, admits to having made egregious mistakes.

Cover-ups and Sin

Sex abuse victims dad angry with Pope by Sam Herd via Flickr

Sex abuse victims' dad angry with Pope by Sam Herd

But what do the pressures of political leadership and the management of public information have to do with the dislike of Catholicism? To answer this question, let’s look at the Catholic hierarchy’s response to the sad fact that not a few priests sexually abused young geople.

Some argue that Catholic officials tried to cover up priests’ transgressions with dubious politics reminiscent of a medieval kingdom. Pedophile priests were shuffled around to different parishes with hardly a slap on the wrist.

As scandalous as this most certainly is, it does not diminish the holy within Catholicism. It’s just a story of human sin. And it seems that practically every human organization contains at least some degree of sin and corruption. If we upheld sin and corruption as a basis for worthlessness, then pretty well no human enterprise would be of any value. But the parable of the good and bad seed found in Matthew 13:24-29 suggests otherwise:

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'”

Outdated Teachings

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline via Flickr

Another reason people dislike Catholicism has to do with the belief that Catholic leaders perpetuate outdated teachings that reach back to ancient times, apparently legitimized under the guise of sacred ‘Tradition.’

For those unfamiliar with Catholicism, the idea of Tradition refers to the Catholic Church’s teachings that are said to complement biblical scripture with equal weight and authority “like two branches of the same tree,” to quote a metaphor popular among Catholic apologists.

At loggerheads with the idea of Catholic Tradition is the sola scriptura approach. Sola scriptura simply means that the Bible is the only source of God’s revelation to mankind. One form of sola scriptura, sometimes called solo scriptura, selects individual passages from the Bible to apparently prove a particular perspective.

We’ve all encountered this before. Believers in solo scriptura uphold the Old Testament book of Leviticus, for instance, to allegedly prove the evils of homosexuality and gay marriage.

If a man lies with a male as a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them (Lev. 20:13).

But these same people often conveniently overlook other passages from the very same Old Testament concerning the evils of usury.

You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit (Leviticus 25:35-37).

It seems that Christians profiting from a bank account or any other kind of financial investment would be sinning if this Bible passage were upheld as unchanging truth.

Women’s Issues

Patricia Fresen by Northfield.org

Patricia Fresen by Northfield.org via Flikr

An additional dislike of Catholicism based on human rights issues concerns the exclusion of women from the upper end of the Catholic hierarchy. To critics, the absence of female priests leaves the entire faith assembly with a dry, one-sided feeling. That ‘yin-yang’ sense of balance and complementarity just isn’t there.

However, the psychologist Carl Jung, coming from a Protestant background, argued that the presence of the Virgin Mary in Catholic dogma was a step in the right direction. Jung felt that Mary played an important compensatory role for Catholics’ psychological needs.

But some feminists counter that this doesn’t help real flesh and blood Catholic women who yearn to enter the priesthood. Nor does it help Catholic women and men who get bored of the mostly male presence at the altar.

Celibacy and the Perception of Women

Critics of Catholicism also say that celibate priests conforming to pre-established, chauvinistic religious structures find it all too easy to avoid dealing with women as equals.

Papa Freud, conflicted, with cigar by Carla216

Papa Freud, conflicted, with cigar by Carla216 via Flickr

As far back as 1972 The US Catholic bishops conducted a Freudian study indicating that many priests are psychologically arrested at a ‘ young adult’ stage of emotional development. This and other studies have been hastily upheld as alleged proof that arrested emotional development is a by-product of celibacy, the exclusion of women or some combination of these and other factors, such as repressed or clandestine homosexuality.

As to the validity of this study, Patrick Guinan, M.D. says

Freudian theory is incapable of acknowledging religious experience or integrating the concept of chastity or asceticism into its idea of healthy human development.

Likewise the author Elizabeth Abbott argues that celibacy can be a healthy choice. She points out that cultural attitudes are quickly changing in this area, especially with the drastic and sometimes deadly increase of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Meanwhile, the Church’s stance on gender-equality is simple. Men and women are equal but essentially different. Obviously this truth claim does not sit well with those deploring the absence of women in the upper register of the Catholic hierarchy. For critics it’s just so much culturally backward hogwash that excludes women from positions of power and contributes to the current and grave shortage of newly ordained priests.

Copyright © Michael W. Clark, 2012.

5 - Psychological Reasons

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