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

Roman Catholic by digitalexander via Flickr

Roman Catholic by digitalexander via Flickr

Philosophical Reasons

Philosophy is an ancient pursuit that has branched out in 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 two types of philosophers:

  • those who rely solely on conceptual thinking, or believe they do
  • those who believe that reason should follow divine revelation or that reason, itself, may be inspired by God

For convenience I’ll call the first type A philosophers. These thinkers often seem entangled in a web of concepts, perhaps never learning anything beyond the range of their own abstract thought processes. They take great pains to define certain concepts – e.g. love, meaning, being, knowing, caring, commitment – and then say why their definitions and elaborations are best.

Type A philosophers may address the importance of experience, but their experience is mostly gained from the five senses. Type A individuals may or may not believe in God. Any kind of unconventional experience informing their ideas tends to fall within a limited form of the numinous (say, through drug use).

The latter group, type B, believe that thought may be informed not just by the senses but also by religious or numinous experience. Type B believe in some notion of God, a higher power or a divinity within. Their beliefs may be pantheistic or theistic. Even so, their ideas and convictions are often colored by their interpretation of a particular numinous experience (or series of experiences).¹

Concerning the dislike of Catholicism, if neither A nor B had experienced the numinous within a Catholic setting, they’d have no direct way of understanding Catholic spirituality. On the other hand, many Catholics do consciously sense the Holy Spirit upon entering a Church and through the sacraments (such as the Eucharist), so they have reason to believe in Catholic spirituality.

Catholics may not agree with all aspects of Catholic teachings at this point in history, but they do believe in the core elements. After all, the true elements of Catholicism, if they really are true, must be holy and everlasting. And any spiritually sensitive person should pick up on that, provided they meet with the opportunity.

English: Catholic church in Tehran

Catholic church in Tehran (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Historical Reasons

Finally, there are historical factors contributing to the dislike of Catholicism.

Sometimes when I mention words like Mass, Church or Eucharist, those disliking Catholicism instantly point out the dark aspects of Catholic history. To outline a few:

  • the Crusades and the murders, robberies and rapes committed during them, crimes that had nothing to do with any supposed holy war
  • the Inquisitions and the cruel torture and murder of so-called witches, which some say had more to do with the Church seizing property for economic gain
  • greedy, reprobate Popes
  • the silly trial, condemnation and house arrest of Galileo when he saw four moons around Jupiter with his telescope and advocated a heliocentric cosmology

Clearly the Catholic Church has made more than a few dark blunders throughout history. While it’s important to acknowledge past atrocities of any social or religious institution, it’s also important to recognize how things have changed for the better.

Psychohistory

History deals mostly with recorded events. Another side of the coin is psychohistory. Psychohistory is an odd sounding discipline. Rest assured it has nothing to do with Norman Bates or disturbed individuals and their violent rampages. Instead, psychohistory combines psychology and history in suggesting that past generations influence contemporary individuals through a mix of genetic and socio-historical factors. In other words, psychohistory does not assume we are born into this world with a blank slate.

From the perspective of psychohistory, it’s noteworthy that many individuals come from non-Catholic families. And these families might go back for centuries. When family roots are deeply entrenched in a given tradition, it’s more difficult to adopt a new set of beliefs. Not impossible, of course. But difficult. So for psychohistorians, some individuals dislike Catholicism because they’re biased by their non-Catholic genealogy. They may see themselves as open-minded, but longstanding biases, stemming back generations, close them off from exploring Catholicism in the 21st century.

Church of Sándorháza (Sandra)

Church of Sándorháza (Sandra) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Final Word

Some self-perceived freethinkers maybe aren’t quite as hip, liberated and progressive as they seem to be. Many shut down when it comes to talking about Catholicism in a mature, adult way. They’ve got it all figured out. At least, they think so.

But to be truly open-minded, we have to consider things we don’t like. For me, converting to Catholicism was about coming full-circle and getting past my preconceived beliefs about intellectual and spiritual freedom.

I realize these articles only scratch the surface. People dislike Catholicism for many reasons. And this series only covers a handful of those reasons. I had little interest in covering many of the known objections to Catholicism. A quick web search will reveal several non-Catholic sites opposing Catholicism. Instead of regurgitating all the known objections, I wanted a fresh approach. One that came from my own personal involvement within this, at times, irritating but also magnificent spiritual tradition.

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

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Copyright © Michael Clark, 2014


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

Big Bad Wolf

Big Bad Wolf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Projection onto the Big Bad Wolf

Now we turn to those who dislike Catholicism mostly because of their baggage—that is, their unresolved psychological issues.

Some 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 and true while Catholics are deemed invalid.

The self-righteous Christian may try to engage others in heated messaging wars over specific points of doctrine. With these individuals, the ideal of loving within the mystical body of Christ gets twisted into something more like negative attention seeking, stemming from an unresolved personal issue.

Non-Catholic Christians certainly are not the only folks who project their personal issues onto Big Religion. All sorts of people are prone to projection. Projection is a convenient way to ignore the inside by blaming something outside.¹

For instance, individuals and groups from non-US countries 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.

English: Photo of graffiti: "MI5 train ps...

Photo of graffiti: “MI5 train psychic mind readers – fact!!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Religion and Spirituality – mutually exclusive?

Some New Age believers and talk show psychics believe they have paranormal abilities or enhanced knowledge about unusual phenomena like aliens and UFOs.

These folks typically see religion and spirituality as categorically different. Religion is all bad. Spirituality, great. And there’s no overlap for these black and white thinkers.

If the perceptions of alleged psychics critical of Catholicism originate from God, it seems that their impressions, insights and intuitions would be accurate and applied to the common good. But often with alleged psychics we find arrogance, self-absorption, hypocrisy and really moronic science. Little or no attempt is made to verify their claims, even though boldly proclaimed through the media. And the possibility of analytic overlay remains unchecked. Analytic overlay is a concept used by Remote Viewers but it could apply to the general idea of psi.

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.²

Some psychics seem so entrenched in their paranormal, imaginative, deluded or perhaps pretend world that they show no appreciation for Catholic mysticism. The self-important psychic knows best. And that’s all. Most mature Catholics, however, don’t flaunt or advertise their spiritual gifts for profit or self-aggrandizement. St. Paul says that any such gifts are 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).³

Debate between Catholics and Oriental Christia...

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

Fallen Away Catholics

Another consideration is the so-called fallen away Catholic who dislikes Catholicism. “Fallen away” is a recent Catholic phrase. It’s the Church’s way of correcting itself over the old phrase, “lapsed Catholic,” which sounds a bit nastier.

Assuming fallen away Catholics did not suffer some kind 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. From their early conditioning, personality and other factors, these individuals 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 cult.

These individuals might remain happy with their newly chosen path for their entire lives. And memories of Catholicism might only serve to conjure up negative feelings of familial coercion, boredom, and so on. No wonder they’d dislike Catholicism as adults. Quite possibly they never felt the Holy within the Church. And if they once did, bad memories and new interests, together, could trump their recollection of positive Catholic spirituality.

The parable in Mark 4: 2-9 of seeds planted on a path, rocks, thorns and good soil seems to apply here:

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 nor generalize unfairly. No doubt many who leave Catholicism continue to experience God in their lives. And many could be on an extremely healthy path, according to God’s plan. Some Catholics might stop attending Mass simply because it no longer speaks to them. Or maybe it’s something as simple as vocational demands conflicting with a desire to attend. In their heart, mind and soul, however, these individuals still see themselves as true Catholics or, at least, as God-fearing persons.

¹ Projection can be adaptive to a point. But when a person matures, it becomes necessarily to strip as many projections as possible.

² Steve Hammons, ‘Remote Viewing’ has Basis in Science, Military Intelligence.

³ A similar idea crops up in Hinduism, where the holy person follows the dictum of “action without fruit.” This means that worldly reward (preya) is not sought nor expected for one’s good deeds. However, seeking spiritual reward (sreya) is okay in Hinduism. The key is to align the personal will with God’s will.

Copyright © Michael Clark, 2014.

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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

Telling Lies

Earlier in this series about the dislike of some Catholic elements being a separate issue from the presence of the Holy within Catholicism, we saw that Niccolò Machievelli’s The Prince advocates deception.

According to Machievelli, lying to the masses is necessary for public leadership. Some believe this isn’t a cynical but, rather, a realistic approach. For example, in postwar times government officials tend to paint a different picture about a given conflict than that of actual wartime reports. During wartime it seems that disinformation is standard procedure.

Consider this excerpt from Errol Morris‘ documentary, 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.

From Morris’ perspective, it seems that former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara believed he was acting in good faith, given the political realities of 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 scant information. So McNamara, now in a safe place 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 via Flickr

What does wartime leadership and disinformation have to do with the dislike of Catholicism? To answer this question, consider the Catholic hierarchy’s response to the sad fact that not a few priests sexually abused young people.

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. And some victims were allegedly paid off to keep quiet. Most likely disturbed religious officials believed they were doing the right thing. Why else would they have done it? For them, the Church’s public image was more important than the reality of its scandalous practices. Either that, or their own jobs were on the line. It’s hard to know the potential complexity of the situation.

As reprehensible as all this is, it does not in any way diminish the holy within Catholicism. Instead, it’s an example of human sin and corruption. And practically every human organization contains some degree of sin and corruption. If we upheld sin and corruption as a key indicator for worthlessness, then virtually no human enterprise would be of any value.

The parable of the good and bad seed (Matthew 13:24-29) suggests that God knows about and permits evil for some mysterious reason.

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 some people dislike Catholicism has to do with the belief that Catholics perpetuate outdated teachings that are legitimized under the guise of sacred Tradition.

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

At odds with the Catholic Tradition is sola scriptura. Sola scriptura means 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 probably all encountered this approach. 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 overlook other passages from the 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).

So Christians earning interest from a bank or any other kind of investment would be sinning if this Bible passage were taken as an eternal truth. But it’s convenient for some hypocrites to rant and rave about prohibited behaviors that they don’t practice, and to completely ignore prohibitions that they do break 24/7.

Feminism

Patricia Fresen by Northfield.org

Patricia Fresen by Northfield.org via Flikr

Another dislike of Catholicism involves the exclusion of women from the upper end of the Catholic hierarchy. For critics, the absence of female priests leaves the entire faith assembly with a lopsided, dry feeling. That yin-yang sense of balance and complementarity just isn’t there.

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

But some feminists don’t buy it. They point out that the Virgin Mary doesn’t help real flesh and blood women who yearn to enter the priesthood. Nor does it help women and men who are bored of the mostly male presence at the Catholic altar.

Celibacy and the Perception of Women

English: Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Critics of Catholicism also believe that celibate priests conforming to pre-established, chauvinistic religious routines essentially avoid dealing with women as equals.

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 cited as alleged proof that arrested emotional development is a by-product of celibacy, the exclusion of women, repressed or clandestine homosexuality, or some combination of these factors.

Questioning 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 Canadian writer and historian Elizabeth Abbott argues that celibacy can be a healthy choice. She points out that cultural attitudes about celibacy are quickly changing, especially with the drastic and sometimes deadly increase of sexually transmitted diseases.

Meanwhile, the Church maintains its stance on gender equality. Men and women are equal but different. Obviously this idea does not sit well with those deploring the absence of women in the upper register of the Catholic hierarchy. Critics tend to see this as culturally backward sexism based on sexist scripture and Tradition. The Bible, they point out, was written during sexist times. So it’s no surprise that many of its supposed eternal truths are, in fact, cultural.

For these critics, the Church’s stance on gender difference perpetuates sexist ideologies that serves to exclude women from positions of power. It also contributes to the dire shortage of newly ordained priests.

Copyright © Michael W. Clark, 2014.

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

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

Jesus le nazaréen by *Katch* via Flickr

Introduction

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.

yesterdays_6

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.

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New Pope will have to face same old Church

Image via Tumblr

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. (washingtonpost.com)

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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

Introduction

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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