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The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition

Jesus le nazaréen by *Katch* via Flickr


If you ask someone on the street about the difference between a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian, chances are they’ll smile and admit ignorance.

Back in the 1990s, a fellow student of Religious Studies raised an interesting point in one of those mandatory seminars that everyone attends but secretly wishes they didn’t have to. He said humanities researchers should state their personal biases at the outset of a study instead of presuming they’re objective observers.

These days, the whole idea of objectivity is under fire, and rightly so. Any academic or scientist worth their salt will admit we can’t escape bias. The sciences have emerging concepts like “confirmation bias” and “experimenter bias.” And spiritual persons believing they’ve had a divine revelation should step back and ask if their apparent truth belongs within a given context. Is their revelation merely one that is appropriate for a given moment? It may be powerful. But it is universal? The highest?

This much said, and in keeping with my classmate’s prescription, I’ll tell a bit about myself to illustrate where I’m coming from.

English: Catholic church in Tehran

Catholic church in Tehran (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before converting to Catholicism in 2001, I had little interest in organized religion. Childhood summers were spent enjoying the natural environment of Georgian Bay’s eastern shores. In winters I downhill skied at a resort overlooking the south side of Georgian Bay. So, in a sense, the great outdoors was my religion.

As for religion, itself, I was baptized in the Anglican church but never attended regular services. Weddings and funerals, that was it.

Like many kids, I asked the big questions. Why are we here? What is infinity? I never really got any answers but I kept on asking.

Eventually, I went to university and had summer jobs to help defray the cost. By that time I’d gravitated toward Freud, Jung and sociologists like G. H. Mead and Emile Durkheim. Later, I studied East-West philosophy, New Age and non-Christian religions. In 2001 I became a bona fide Catholic. But a free thinking one.

Since then I’ve met many critics of Catholicism. Instead of ignoring their views, I’ve talked with those honest enough to say what they really think. And from this I have a pretty good picture as to why some folks dislike Catholicism.


High Rock Island, Georgian Bay

Before writing this article, I told a Catholic friend about my plan to do so. She suggested I call it “Why people like Catholicism.” But I feel that dislike is the better term, because I’m mostly responding to the critics. And I’m not trying to put a positive spin on the all-too-human side of the Church. God knows, there are many issues in the Catholic Church.

Despite its real and pressing problems, I continue to experience the holy within the Church. And it’s not just because I was brainwashed as a kid. As mentioned, I wasn’t even a Catholic, and as a Protestant, I never went to church. I skied. I swam. But church? Nahhh.

Copyright © Michael Clark, 2014.

Part – 2

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New Pope will have to face same old Church

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A lot of people entirely dismiss the Catholic Church. But that’s not really fair. True, there are problems. And many of them will take a long time to repair. But there are about 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. And it seems unlikely that all of these people would attend Mass merely for aesthetic or sociological reasons.

If Catholicism were just a crazed cult like some folks say, it would have died out after its founder (Jesus Christ) died. Sociologists note that cults always dwindle away and die after their charismatic leader passes.

So what’s going on? Could it be that, as the Church claims, the Holy Spirit lives and breathes within the ancient liturgy? I, myself, believe that it does. But that doesn’t mean that there’s still not a whole host of very human problems in need of repair. – MC

Whoever he may be, the 266th pope will inherit a gerontocracy obsessed with turf and Italian politics, uninterested in basic management practices and hostile to reforms. (

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Krishna, Buddha and Christ: The same or different?

Saint Eustache / church in Paris HDR /FUJIFILM...

Saint Eustache / church in Paris HDR /FUJIFILM FINEPIX S100FS (Photo credit: mamasuco…est de retour via Flickr)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


Let me begin by stressing that this 5-part article is not about the Hindu, Buddhist or Christian person who integrates his or her religious beliefs within a peaceful and considerate lifestyle. Rather, it’s about some of the scriptures, doctrines and beliefs that have emerged from the figures of Krishna, Buddha and Christ.

Moreover, this article is in no way a direct or indirect affront to entire religious groups or individual believers. If any particular individuals or subcultures are singled out, it’s those who interpret aspects of these three religious traditions in a misguided attempt to legitimize unjust acts of violence.

Ideas and Perspectives

In my graduate studies days monthly colloquia afforded professors and students an opportunity to discuss ideas, mostly about methodology in Religious Studies. One issue that stood out was that of clearly identifying one’s biases at the outset of a study. Old notions of ‘objectivity’ have pretty well gone the way of the dinosaur in the Humanities. Today researchers speak of subjectivity and inter-subjectivity—that is, personal perspectives which may, in part, be shared.

In keeping with this idea, I’d like to say that I’m writing as a believing Catholic who tries to see God in everyone, regardless of their beliefs. I believe that everyone can express different degrees and types of truth at any given moment.

Universal Salvation

Well-meaning individuals often say that all religions are the same. It doesn’t matter what path we choose because we all arrive at the same heavenly place in the end. Some even say that murderers and cruel tyrants will be seated in heaven aside the saints. I hope they’re right. It’s nice to think of God as so loving and merciful that even the nastiest among us will eventually enjoy everlasting, heavenly bliss.

Theologically speaking, this is called universal salvation. Although an intellectually attractive idea, I remain unconvinced, mostly from reading the diaries of Catholic saints who tell of interior visions of souls lost in unspeakably terrible hells. Some critics of the belief in hell maintain that Catholic copyists or editors probably added and deleted certain passages in a given saint’s diary to fit with the official Church teaching that hell is real and eternal. Myself, I find this assertion doubtful, especially with regard to the more recent saints.†

But I digress.

Simple and Complex

In briefly comparing Krishna, Buddha and Christ, we should remember that religion is a complex topic dealing with the entire individual, from birth to afterlife. Religion involves beliefs about cosmology (a working map of the universe), morality and soteriology (salvation).

Religion is made simple if we look to its endearing aspects, like cultivating goodwill, friendship and trying to do the right thing. It’s nice to discover similarities that hopefully will bring everyone together. In fact, most religions emphasize the The Golden Rule of ethical reciprocity to encourage interfaith dialogue and peaceful accord.

But clearly not all religions are identical in every respect. And to gloss over religious differences for the sake of political agendas might get you on TV but, put simply, it’s lousy theology.

† Others contend that the Catholic saints receive visions that fit with their innate predispositions and developmental conditioning. That is, God reveals images in accord with a saint’s belief structures, making it possible for the saint to understand what God is trying to tell them. Another interpretation says the saint internally creates a unique interior perception and corresponding spiritual reality. According to this view, truth is whatever one believes in. And yet another view combines the previous two: God reveals according to a saint’s belief structures, the saint then engages in a secondary, creative process of interpretation. Some thinkers maintain that, in all three of these instances, it could be too disruptive for the saint to discover that other people’s truths are just as real as his or her own. A further belief is that God reveals an absolute, immutable truth to a saint (e.g. the Holy Trinity). Catholicism stresses the need to carefully discern between interior perceptions from God and Satan. For Catholics, individuals are continually under attack by evil and in a constant state of spiritual warfare. But the Church also recognizes the possibility of mere imagination, hallucination and delusion. Meanwhile, the Freudian would say that spiritual visions are fantasies stemming from the libido as the sex instinct attaches itself to an imagined object. Similarly, the materialist would say that alleged spiritual visions are hallucinations stemming from inner psychological states. There is no heaven, hell or afterlife for the materialist. Religion merely comforts weak-willed individuals thwarted by a mysterious and oftentimes harsh world. For a more detailed discussion see Mysticism and the Idea of Sainthood.

© Michael Clark

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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The ABC’S of The Basic Theological Teachings: The Meaning of God and His Creatures

By Fr. Thomas R. Harding, Th.D.

This homily has been posted with the direct and generous permission of the late Fr. Thomas Harding, Th.D. (1918-2005).

As we celebrate the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Feasts of the Liturgical Year have taken on a deeper meaning now we are approaching some important ones, the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven, the Coming of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Trinity. It is time to consider again the Meaning of God and His Creatures.

Before time began, there was a point when there was only one Being in existence, God the Father; God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, omnipotent, omniscient, uncaused, eternal, infinite. God was perfectly happy and did not need anything else, but good tends to diffuse itself and so God created Angels, meaning messengers, the universe, human beings and all the other animate and inanimate beings. Let us consider these beings briefly.

In the whole realm of being, there is, first and foremost, the Supreme Being, God. How is it that there is such a Being? St. Augustine says that theology is faith seeking understanding. In doing the theology of the Unity and Trinity of God, the theologians begin with the basic revealed truth that there is One God in Three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and they go on to consider the Divine Processions, Missions and Relations.

To put it simply, it goes something like this. From all eternity God the Father knows himself and thus God the Son proceeds from the Father by an intellectual act of generation for the Son is the Image of the Father or the Knowledge of God Personified or the Word of God. Again from all eternity, the Father and the Son are united in a bond of love and thus the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son by a Divine Act of spiration as the Love of God Personified. The Three Persons are all truly God and perfectly equal in all things. There are only three members by nature in the Family of God.

There are four Divine Relations in the Blessed Trinity, Paternity or Fatherhood, Sonship or Filiation, Active Spiration or the Love of the Father and the Son and Passive Spiration or the Holy Spirit who is the Love of God.

Let us consider briefly the attributes of God. There are two kinds of Divine attributes, entitative, pertaining to His Being and operative, pertaining to His operations.

The entitative attributes are necessity, transcendence, immanence, infinity, perfection, unity, goodness, truth, beauty, simplicity, omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity, immutability, pure act, and God alone is a pure and simple spirit. We know some of these by analogy, that is by way of excellence, by affirming created qualities in creatures to infinity, and we know others by way of negation, that is, by denying to God some created qualifies by using negative terms such as infinite which means not finite.

The Operative attributes of God are His Divine intelligence, that is, He knows everything in one idea and His divine volition, that is, His will is perfectly free.

We can know about the Existence of God, that He exists, by reason, by the things that He has made, as St. Paul says in Romans I :20. But we can know much more about God by Faith in Divine Revelation in Scripture and Tradition.

First, Almighty God alone is a pure and simple spirit, that is, He is uncaused and not complex in any way.

Second, the angels are pure spirits but not simple spirits because they are created and complex. However they are created in the state of maturity, with all their infused ideas. They do not have to grow up and go to school. Each angel is a different species which determines their degree of knowledge and love. In the hierarchy of spirits, God has only one idea with which He knows everything actual and possible. Then the highest angel needs many ideas with which to understand his more limited capacity. In a descending order, each angel needs more ideas than the one just above him. Even the lowest angel is far smarter than the most intelligent humans.

Angels have such a superior knowledge and will that they were only given one chance when they were tested. Apparently, they would not have repented and changed their minds. Thus Lucifer said “I will not serve” (Isaiah 14:12) and he and the other fallen angels were cast into hell by St. Michael the Archangel (Apoc. 12:7). They are allowed to roam through the world seeking the ruin of souls. But the name of Jesus is stronger than hell.

The good angels continue to serve before the throne of God and they also act as guardian angels. They also have other functions as messengers, defenders and directors of the two hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Sacred Scripture tells us there are nine choirs of angels: (Col. 1:16) Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels. Beings spirits, they can travel through the world and the universe instantaneously by a simple act of the will. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor has a great tract on angels in his Summa Theologica.

Third, human beings, in comparison with God and Angels, are relatively imperfect spirits. Because of the relative dimness of their intellects they have to inform a body and they have infra-intellectual faculties, as well as spiritual faculties, an intellect and will; that is, they also have faculties of the vegetative and animal stages of life. Thus, man is a spirit informing a body. He needs a body in order to function or to get started in the process of knowing and willing. Therefore there would be no use giving humans infused ideas at the moment of creation. We would not understand them anyway: e.g. E=mc².

What’s that?

Who cares?

We have to learn laboriously by abstracting ideas from our sense knowledge, verifying ideas by judgments and using these ideas and judgments in syllogisms to reason and to move from the known to the unknown. There are five operations we go through in knowing and willing: experiencing, understanding, judging, reasoning and deciding. What a tough life! We have to grow up, go to school for years and spend the rest of our lives in continuing to learn. I was a slow learner. I went to school for twenty one years and I still know only the ABC’s.

Because we need bodies, God created a material universe. How extravagant He was to make a universe with 200 billion galaxies and it is expanding! We share the world with other animate and inanimate beings. Is there human life on other planets? We have not the time or the knowledge to answer that. We have not yet communicated with people on other planets. Some have seen UFO’s, they say.

I have always wanted to know what God looks like but was running into a brick wall trying to understand Him and describe Him until I discovered that a finite person cannot comprehend an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Infinite Being. To visualize Him, to reduce him to our comprehension, to describe Him in our language is impossible in the present order.

But cheer up. St. John says in his first Epistle, Chapter 3, Verse 2: “Beloved now we are the children of God and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when He appears we shall be like to Him for we shall see Him just as He is.” So we look forward to the Beatific Vision.

Oh pardon me, I forgot a few important things.

First, God has only three members in His family by nature, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but he has billions of children by adoption because He created angels and humans and raised them to the supernatural level so that they share His life by sanctifying grace, i.e., God living in us as a friend.

Second, God is immanent in that He is with us and within us. He is Transcendent in that He is infinitely beyond us as the God of all glory. Never separate His Immanence and Transcendence. Never forget that the Immanent God is also the Transcendent God.

Third, we are so earth bound that we cannot imagine anyone without a body but the pure spirits don’t need bodies. For our benefit they may sometimes appear as though they had bodies, e.g. angels with wings.

Fourth, Scripture says “God made men just a little less than the angels.” There are two exceptions: Jesus Christ is a Divine Person and infinitely superior to them. Our Lady is Queen of the Angels because she is the daughter of God the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God the Son and She is superior to the Angels.

No Wonder the Fallen Angels were Mad.

Fifth, The hypostatic union means that Jesus is One Person (the Divine Person) and He has two natures, Human and Divine.

This homily is not to be copied, duplicated, modified nor distributed in any way.


The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition, 6 – Philosophical and historical reasons / conclusion

Roman Catholic by digitalexander via Flickr

Roman Catholic by digitalexander 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

Philosophical Reasons

Philosophy is an ancient discipline that has branched out in many different, sometimes conflicting directions. So it’s difficult to write just a few lines about why people dislike Catholicism from a philosophical perspective.

Having said that, a broad distinction can be made between philosophers who rely solely on thinking, or believe they do, and those who are open to the idea that reason can follow divine revelation or be inspired by God.

The former type, the thinkers, seem to get tangled up in a web of conceptual thinking, perhaps never learning anything beyond the range of their own abstract ideas. They usually take great pains to define certain concepts (e.g. love, meaning, being, knowing, caring, commitment) and then talk about why their particular brand of thinking is best. They may talk about the importance of experience, but that experience is typically gained from the conventional senses. For convenience I’ll call these type A philosophers.

The latter type, whom I call type B, consider the possibility that thought may be informed not just by everyday experience but also by religious or numinous experience.

Type A individuals may or may not believe in a Godhead. But their ideas tend to be limited to their extremely limited (say, through drug use) or highly constricted experience of the numinous.

Type B’s typically would believe in some notion of God, a higher power or a divinity within. And their beliefs may be pantheistic or theistic. But even so, their ideas and convictions could still be limited by their interpretation of a particular numinous experience or set of experiences.¹

As for the dislike of Catholicism, if neither A nor B had experienced the numinous within a Catholic setting, they’d have no reason to believe in the spiritual efficacy of Catholicism. However, Catholics who consciously sense the Holy Spirit upon entering a Church and through the sacraments (such as the Eucharist) do have reason to believe in their religion. They may not agree with all aspects of Catholicism as it currently stands at this point in history but they do revere its core elements. After all, the true elements of Catholicism, if they really are true, must be holy and everlasting.

Historical Reasons

Finally, there are definite historical reasons why people dislike Catholicism.

Sometimes when I mention words like ‘Mass’ or ‘Church’ others instantly point out the dark aspects of Catholic history, such as the Inquisitions, the torture of so-called witches, blatantly greedy, reprobate Popes and the ridiculous trial, condemnation and house arrest of Galileo when he observed with his telescope four moons around Jupiter. While it’s important to recognize the past atrocities and idiocies of any social or religious institution, it’s also important to consider the positive aspects they may have to offer today.

Another reason why people dislike Catholicism has to do with psycho-history. Psycho-history is an odd sounding discipline. Rest assured it has nothing to do with Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates or disturbed people going on killing sprees. Instead, it’s about past generations influencing present generations through a possibly genetic and definitely cultural heritage.

The importance of psycho-history cannot be overemphasized. Practically speaking, many individuals have been raised in non-Catholic families that go back for centuries.  When our family roots are deeply defined by a given tradition, it’s arguably difficult to adopt a new set of beliefs. Not impossible, of course. But difficult.

These people dislike Catholicism because they’re psychologically biased by their non-Catholic genealogy. They may see themselves as open-minded people but longstanding biases, extending back for generations, discourage them from exploring the Catholic vision on its own terms, as it stands today.


It seems that many self-proclaimed freethinkers arguably aren’t as hip, liberated and progressive as they say. Some seem to shut right down when it comes to talking about Catholicism in a mature, adult way. They’ve got it all figured out. At least, that’s what they believe.

But to be truly open-minded is to investigate even seemingly rigid, arid and authoritarian practices to discover if there is anything of value within. It’s about coming full-circle and getting past one’s preconceived beliefs about intellectual and spiritual freedom. It’s also about humbly recognizing the limits of the intellect and understanding how past and present influences may inform our preferences, thoughts and opinions.

This kind of journey examines religious experience with the same kind of critical and scientific edge that we’d hopefully apply to our external experiences. And its beauty is that one doesn’t have to travel around the world to get there. Nor does one have to agree with every aspect of contemporary Catholic teaching to enjoy the riches of this tradition. In fact, one can still disagree and even dislike aspects of Catholicism while remaining open-minded and balanced enough to appreciate its spiritual bounty.

¹ For instance, some Christians in the first century vigorously believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and that the end of the world was near.

Copyright © Michael Clark, 2012.

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The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition, 5 – Psychological reasons

Debate between Catholics and Oriental Christia...

Debate between Catholics and Oriental Christians in the 13th century, Acre 1290. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Projection onto the Big Bad Institution

Now we turn to those who dislike Catholicism mostly because of their psychological baggage.

Some non-Catholic Christians routinely advocate angry, hateful behavior. And if they see any vice among individual Catholics they arguably project their own anger – and other shortcomings – onto Catholicism as a whole. This type of Christian is self-perceived as genuine while Catholics are seen as invalid.

The self-righteous Christian is often eager to get embroiled in long, heated messaging wars over specific points of doctrine. All too often the ideal of loving in Christ seems more like negative attention seeking—or shall we say, spoiling for a fight.

Non-Catholic Christians are not the only people who project their personal shortcomings onto “Big Religion.” All sorts of people are prone to projection. Projection is a convenient way to ignore personal issues by blaming something outside the self.

Individuals and groups from non-US nations, for instance, often single out the US as the Big Bad Wolf, as if other nations aren’t acting in their own self interest, and perhaps less humanely than the US.

Religion and Spirituality mutually exclusive?

Some New Agers and alleged psychics believe they have paranormal powers or, perhaps, special knowledge of unusual phenomena like ETs and UFOs. These folks typically see religion and spirituality as categorically different. For them, there’s no overlap.

If the psi perceptions of alleged psychics critical of Catholicism were from God, these impressions, insights and intuitions would be accurate and used for the common good. But sometimes we find in people with alleged psi abilities a haughty kind of arrogance. Little or no attempt is made to verify their truth claims, which are sometimes boldly proclaimed through the media. And the possibility of “analytic overlay” remains unchecked. Analytic overlay is a concept used in Remote Viewing but it could apply to psi in general.

Remote viewing also involves the awareness that we can incorrectly interpret incoming data. A misperception can occur when our conscious minds get in the way and our imagination or existing mindset fills in the blanks or jumps to a conclusion about a remote viewing impression. Remote viewers call this “analytic overlay” and good remote viewers take steps to minimize it.¹

In fact, some psychics seem so entrenched in their paranormal, imaginative, deluded or perhaps pretend world that they have no appreciation for Catholic mysticism. The self-important psychic knows best. And that is all. Most mature Catholics, however, don’t flaunt or advertise their spiritual gifts for profit or self-aggrandizement. Along these lines, St. Paul says that any such gifts are utterly meaningless without true, unselfish love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  (1 Corinthians 13:1-4).

Fallen Away Catholics

Another consideration is the so-called ‘fallen away’ Catholic who dislikes Catholicism. Assuming fallen away Catholics did not suffer sexual or other kinds of abuse in their past experience with the Church, it seems probable that some – certainly not all – began as cradle Catholics who routinely went to church, possibly coerced by their families.

Due to their personality and early conditioning these people might never have become firmly established in the Holy Spirit. Catholicism just didn’t work for them. And later in life they embrace something else that provides tangible numinous experience and communal support—for example, a non-Catholic religion or a cult.

These individuals might be quite happy with their new path for their entire lives. Memories of Catholicism could conjure up combined feelings of familial coercion, boredom, etc. No wonder they would dislike Catholicism as adults. Quite possibly they’ve never been consciously aware of the Holy within the Church. And if they once did experience the Holy within Catholicism, bad memories and new interests could combine to replace their memory of their positive Catholic experiences.

The parable in Mark 4:2-9 of seeds variously planted on a path, rocks, thorns and good soil comes to mind:

In his teaching he said, “Listen! A farmer went out to plant his seed. He scattered the seed on the ground. Some fell on a path. Birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky places, where there wasn’t much soil. The plants came up quickly, because the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it burned the plants. They dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorns. The thorns grew up and crowded out the plants. So the plants did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It grew up and produced a crop 30, 60, or even 100 times more than the farmer planted.” Then Jesus said, “Those who have ears should listen.”

But let’s not jump to conclusions or unfairly generalize. No doubt many who leave Catholicism continue to experience God in their lives. And many may be on an extremely healthy path, according to God’s plan. Some Catholics might stop going to church simply because the Mass no longer speaks to them or because the demands of work conflict with their desire to attend. In their heart, mind and soul, however, these individuals might still see themselves as true Catholics or, at least, as God-fearing persons.²

¹ Steve Hammons, ‘Remote Viewing’ has Basis in Science, Military Intelligence.

² This article isn’t too concerned with non-Catholic spirituality. Obviously, many non-Catholics, religious or not, enjoy extremely healthy relationships with God. And from a Catholic perspective even those who don’t necessarily believe in God or belong to a particular religion, to include agnostics and atheists, are integral to God’s plan.

Copyright © Michael W. Clark, 2012.

6 – Philosophical and Historical reasons (coming soon)

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

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

Patricia Fresen by 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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