I converted to Catholicism in 2001. I did so for spiritual not political or social reasons. I felt tremendous power and graces within the church, like I’d never felt before. Maybe once or twice I experienced something similar in Protestant churches but never had I encountered anything as powerful and complete as within the Catholic setting. There’s more to the story than that but it’s not really worth going into.
What I would like to talk about it is Pope Francis’ most recent statement that married people who do not have children are selfish. I think that is a ludicrous statement. I also think it will turn off my married friends – without children – who might have otherwise considered going to Mass to see what it’s like. When non-Catholics read statements like that, it’s not going to attract them to the Catholic faith.
Not that my raison d’être is to bring people to the Catholic faith. It’s not. Anyone who knows me knows that I accept and respect people where they’re at. I don’t think Catholicism is appropriate for everyone. And I only encourage people to come with me or check out Mass for themselves if I think they might gain some benefit from it.
Now, to return to the Popes’s latest statement… Several objections came to mind, actually so many that I felt almost overwhelmed. I realized I could spend hours critiquing the Pope’s statement. Luckily, however, I found this blog.
I think the above post (and its comments) provide an excellent discussion on the issue. But there is one facet of the conversation that is not really included. And that is the element of money. Of making a living. Something, by the way, that functional priests and popes don’t really have to worry about.
As discussed at the above link, I agree that a couple could join in a holy relationship primarily for spiritual support, for companionship, to do good works, and to spread spirituality throughout the globe or in their neighborhoods. It is also far easier for two people to make a living and pay the bills than it is for a single person. The Catholic Church, the priests, the clergy—they only have a vicarious grasp of this. Sure, they must perform within a busy schedule (some might say a partially self-legitimizing one). But they also get what could be called “free money.” If the roof starts to leak, the furnace blows, the pipes burst or the walls start to crumble, they don’t really have to fret. The “free money” always seems to magically appear from somewhere. And the very best tradespersons always arrive, pronto.
Most of us don’t have that kind of luxurious financial backup. And anyone who gets “free money” like that and harshly judges others who don’t, well I really think they should ask themselves if they’re in touch with the reality of living, and of making a living, in the 21st century.
Special to Earthpages.org
Vatican assembly on women’s equality in Rome from February 4-7 despite big fanfare seemed like a joke as there was no discussion proposed on women priesthood, Rajan Zed said in Nevada (USA) today.
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out that the outline document of this “equality” assembly clearly stated that “There is no discussion here of women priests, which according to statistics is not something that women want,” without mentioning the source of such “statistics”. But this document irrelevantly and strongly denounced plastic surgery, quoting it as “burqa made of flesh”.
Zed further said that Holy See being the largest religious organization in the world with about 1.2 billion adherents should show exemplary leadership in women equality to the rest of the planet by ordaining women priests.
When Church of England could consecrate a female bishop (January 26) overturning centuries of tradition, why can’t Roman Catholic Church ordain women? Zed asked.
Zed stressed that women could disseminate God’s message as skillfully as men and deserved equal and full participation and access in religion. What was the relevance of such assemblies on “equality” when the Church’s Cannon Law 1024 clearly said—Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination.
Zed urged His Holiness Pope Francis to introduce some “real equality” by reconsidering favorably the ordination of women priests. As women were equal partners in the society, they should be equal partners in Church also, Zed added. He urged Vatican to be more kind to Roman Catholic women as exclusion of women from some religious services, just because they were female, was very unfair and ungodly.
Quoting Hindu scriptures, Rajan Zed says: Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased. Men and women are equal in the eyes of God and religions should respect that, Zed notes and adds that time has now come for the women priests and bishops.
Zed suggested that theologians and canonists of the Church needed to address women ordination issue urgently; re-evaluate Church doctrine, theology, male hierarchy and history; and give women a chance. Women should be ordained to priesthood and should perform the same functions as male priests. Treating women as not equal to men was clearly a case of discrimination promoting gender inequality.
Even the image illustrating this Vatican “equality” assembly was disturbing, which showed a naked woman without head-arms-legs in bondage bound with rope, which seemed some kind of erotic fantasy. Vatican should display more maturity, seriousness and responsibility towards women, Rajan Zed indicated.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Copyright © Michael Clark, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 , Tan Books, pp. 8-10 » See online discussion at socrates58.blogspot.com
Copyright © Michael W. Clark, 2014
What is truth?
Religion deals with beliefs and practices concerned with truth.
Most religious leaders appear open to interfaith dialogue but many, it seems, aren’t too keen to alter their core beliefs. They’ve invested their entire lives in a given belief system. It not only provides a comfortable living. It also gives them an identity. An importance. And some might say, a bit more sympathetically, a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.
Unless religious leaders are utter charlatans, like some TV evangelists, their sense of truth keeps them on track. To deviate from their cherished beliefs would be, in most instances, too psychologically and economically disruptive.
So after all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with interfaith conferences has subsided, many religious leaders probably walk away virtually unchanged, each still believing, my way is best.
This might seem cynical. But clearly there’s a politically correct aspect to religion.
In his classic The Prince Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) wrote that good ruling means
It is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.¹
But what would a Machiavellian ruler have to do with religious leadership? The one works in the world of realpolitik while the other addresses the realm of the spirit. At least, this is the image that many religious leaders tend to portray. In reality, however, we can’t separate religion from the world. Consider the Vatican Bank, a global institution worth about $8 billion.
Not only that. There have been allegations about money laundering in the Vatican.² And other stories about Church payoffs to keep victims of sexual abuse quiet.³ Corruption and sexual abuse happen everywhere, in all corners of human experience. They are not only Catholic concerns. Still, Catholic leaders must publicly manage the weak side of human nature as it manifests within the Church.
During the Pope Benedict years, especially, Catholics heard a lot about homosexuality, abortion and other easy targets. But they almost never heard about the alleged corruption, closet homosexuality, and proven perversions within the Church. This arguably was a kind of lie by omission. But it wasn’t just a lie. It was pointing the finger to individuals less powerful, more vulnerable, and who, for the most part, couldn’t fight back.
The French postmodern historian and thinker Michel Foucault wrote volumes about truth and morality. Foucault wasn’t interested in declaring truth or the good moral life. Instead, he was quick to point out how some discourses about truth and morality are highlighted while others are buried. Foucault believed that power, itself, was the key agent.4 Power either makes or breaks a given discourse about truth and morality.
This may be the case with most organizations, religious or not. But we should be careful when talking about power. What exactly is power? Isn’t there a negative, controlling type along with a positive, liberating form of power? Could a given institution, like the Catholic Church, express some combination of these two fundamental types of power?
4 See Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. C. Gordon et al. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.
Copyright © Michael Clark, 2014.
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.
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.
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.