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The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition – 3 – Theological reasons

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Soufrière Catholic Church

Soufrière Catholic Church (Photo credit: waywuwei)

Theological reasons

Sociologists and philosophers, alike, say that Catholicism creates and legitimizes “truth claims.” The idea of a truth claim provides a good way to talk about beliefs without necessarily advocating or dismissing them.

Most non-Catholics will say that Catholic truth claims are not eternal but, rather, culturally and politically motivated—that is, relative truths. And some non-Catholics believe that all Catholic teachings are Satanic. These people often describe the Church as “The Whore of Babylon” or use some other shocking and alarmist, not to mention sexist, epithet.

Infallibility

The idea of Papal infallibility is probably one of the biggest reasons why people dislike Catholicism. But informed Catholics realize that only two Catholic truth claims are deemed infallible. Most others are less authoritative, and merely disseminated as general guidelines for good moral behavior. Many critics of Catholicism are unaware that not all Catholic teachings are said to be eternal, unchangeable truths.

Catholic theologians say the Church’s teachings have various levels of certainty. And Papal infallibility only applies to these two dogmas:

1 – The Blessed Virgin Mary’s sinless birth (Dogma of the Immaculate Conception)

2 – Her bodily assumption into heaven (Dogma of The Assumption)

All other Catholic teachings are not infallible.¹ So it’s incorrect believe that all Catholic teachings are infallible when they’re not. True, some Catholics say that infallibility includes all of the Church’s teachings. But I believe these people are misguided. And thankfully, they represent a vocal minority that the majority of sober theologians, Catholic or not, would readily dismiss.

Emblem of the Papacy

Emblem of the Papacy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Papal Authority

For some non-Catholics, even two (allegedly) infallible declarations are good enough reason to dislike Catholicism. From their perspective, Popes are mere pretenders to the throne of truth. So these critics don’t believe in any kind of Papal infallibility, whatsoever. And the fact that only two dogmas are deemed infallible makes no difference. These people simply want none of it.

Christianity as a Stereotype

Another theological reason people dislike Catholicism is based on a misunderstanding and, arguably, unclear thinking.

Many use “Christianity” as a blanket term for all types of Churches, organizations and individuals calling themselves Christian. If I say “I’m a Catholic,” sometimes it’s like waving a red flag in front of people who dislike Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Televangelists, and who don’t know the difference among different types of Christians. It’s just one big amorphous dislike for all things Christian.

However, differences among Christian denominations (and even among individual believers within each denomination) are significant. In Ireland, for instance, Protestant and Catholic youth gangs engage in violent clashes. And as CNN’s Anderson Cooper has pointed out, some Christians align themselves with the Green movement while others are out to make greenbacks.

Falling Short of the Ideal

People also dislike Catholicism because clergy and churchgoers inevitably fall short of the Christian ideal. Some Catholics criticize and even denounce one another. Mean-minded gossip and talking behind another’s back is not unheard of in Catholicism, even though Jesus teaches us to love one another. As in most spheres of humanity, pettiness and hypocrisy are alive and unwell in Catholicism. Not surprisingly, this can be a huge turn off for non-Catholics.

Counter protesters to the Westboro Baptist Chu...

Counter protesters to the Westboro Baptist Church demonstration at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, on the day of Pope Benedict’s address to the UN General Assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Private and Public

With a little probing sometimes it becomes clear that a given Catholic’s private beliefs differ from his or her apparent beliefs as publicly expressed at the Mass. After all, human beings are social animals who normally don’t want to rock the boat. But arguably just as important, most Catholics believe in the necessity of liturgical structure. Structure affords unity and continuity amidst inevitable points of disagreement. So Catholics concealing their own private beliefs are not necessarily being hypocritical at the Mass. They might be respecting the need for structure while perhaps secretly believing in (and doing) their own thing—e.g. engaging in homosexual, premarital or extramarital sex, or practicing birth control.

On the need for structure, learned Catholics point out that the very first Christian disciples disagreed on certain issues (Acts 15: 1-21; Galatians 2: 11-14; 1 Corinthians 3: 1-23). So there’s a need, they believe, to clearly outline a set of teachings to carry the Catholic ship of salvation through all storms of disagreement which likely will arise in centuries to come.

English: Pope Leo XIII guides the ship of God'...

Pope Leo XIII guides the ship of God’s Church. Painting in shrine Kevelaer from Friedrich Stummel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Judging a Book by its Cover

Another reason people dislike Catholicism has to do with their perception of being spiritually “alive.” Some non-Catholics say the Catholic Mass looks and feels dead or depressing. To them, Catholic parishioners behave like robots or maybe zombies; they’re victims of a Roman cult, just going through the motions, not really thinking nor believing in what they profess during the Mass.

With few outward signs of ecstatic joy or other grandiose emotional displays, critics wrongly assume that Catholics are spiritually dry and unhappy. These critics have no appreciation for the Catholic possibility of experiencing a high and delicate form of interior sweetness, healing and joy.

By way of contrast, Catholics, especially the more contemplative, may see non-Catholic displays of easily recognizable joy as commendable and perhaps even of Christ. But if possible, these manifestations of the spirit should be subjected to a process of discernment. Generally speaking, discernment aims to determine if spiritual experiences are from God or some other source. More specifically, discernment also tries to distinguish among different spiritual qualities, textures or environments, if you will, to find out if they differ from the sacramental graces conveyed through the Catholic sacraments.

Catholics are instructed to respect most other religions. The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said she “loved” all religions but was “in love” with her own religion. Along these lines, the existence of worldwide Catholic missions speaks volumes. Why would Catholic missions exist if Catholics did not have some reason to believe that their religion was best? And even though they may look dead on the outside, many Catholics base that belief on how their religion makes them feel–on the inside.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus as another teacher

Another theological reason some non-Catholics dislike Catholicism is that Christ is viewed as just another teacher. For these people, Christ is no different from the Buddha or the Hindu god Krishna. They overlook (or don’t know about) the Buddhist denial of a willful God, along with Krishna’s advocacy of physical killing in the Bhagavad Gita.

The view that Jesus is just another teacher often comes from contemporary gnostics, or those interested in gnosticism. These folks cherry pick from various traditions, believing they perceive some higher code or deeper order among them. For them it’s a mistake to insist on Jesus’ uniqueness. And the structured Catholic liturgy just gets in the way of supposedly genuine, gnostic spiritual experience.

In response, the Vatican claims to recognize any truths or partial truths in non-Christian teachings but firmly disagrees with the belief that Buddha or Krishna, for example, are equal to Christ. It’s as simple as that. And it’s doubtful that any politically correct, sugar-coated interfaith dialogue will lessen this firm point of disagreement. From a Catholic standpoint, it’s possible that some non-Catholic critics have yet to reach a point in their spiritual formation to fully appreciate the heavenly body of Christ as conveyed through the sacraments.

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by ...

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary (1714), the Karlskirche, Vienna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary and the Saints

Another theological reason people dislike Catholicism relates to Saint Mary and the remaining Catholic saints. Misinformed Christians often dispute the supposed Catholic ‘paganism’ of praying for the saints’ intercession.

As outlined at Earthpages.ca:

Some Protestants and Fundamentalists believe that Catholics have got it wrong because, so they assert, Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and Man. But, quite ironically, many of these very same people freely ask their friends and associates to “pray for them,” which clearly is a request for intercession.

Catholics often reply to this Protestant and Fundamentalist charge by asking, “If we can ask souls on Earth to pray for us, why not souls in heaven?”²

Catholicism clearly outlines its stand on intercession. Asking the saints to pray for us does not elevate them to the status of gods and goddesses, as so many non-Catholic detractors would have it. This is just theologically wrong and an entirely groundless reason for disliking Catholicism.

¹ Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, Illinois: 1974 [1960], Tan Books, pp. 8-10 » See online discussion at socrates58.blogspot.com

² http://earthpages.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/virgin-mary-the-blessed

Copyright © Michael W. Clark, 2014

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5 thoughts on “The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition – 3 – Theological reasons

  1. I have a question to why when saying the rosary you have 9 hail Mary’s to one Lords prayer? Why is Mary the only saint used in the rosary? I don’t think praying to saints is biblical. If I am wrong please give me the verse to refer to. I feel it takes away from the worship of our Lord Jesus.

  2. Hello…I stumbled on this. While I agree with your points, I just wanted to mention that the Church IS infallible in regards to the Church Councils.

    So, your comment that “All other Catholic teachings are not infallible” is incorrect as in actuality, all Church teachings from Church Councils (e.g. Trent, Vatican, Nicea, etc.) are on the contrary all infallible.

    • Hi, actually, the RCC is only infallible as outlined here:

      “The doctrine of the infallibility of ecumenical councils states that solemn definitions of ecumenical councils, approved by the pope, which concern faith or morals, and to which the whole Church must adhere are infallible. Such decrees are often labeled as ‘Canons’ and they often have an attached anathema, a penalty of excommunication, against those who refuse to believe the teaching. The doctrine does not claim that every aspect of every ecumenical council is infallible.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infallibility_of_the_Church

      • there is nothing infallible about anyone or anything on this earth..and certainly NOT within catholicism..
        i do wish you catholics would get yourselves a proper Bible,, and be a bit more realistic.
        though..gods word is infallible,, and that is the one thing catholics need to realize,, instead of following demonic catechisms, traditions, idolatry, rosaries. scapulars.. its really so offensive, to sound biblical teaching..

  3. Marys birth was not sinless,,
    and mary was not assumed bodily into heaven.. that is one BIG assumption mister.

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