Why are there still Catholics?

I’ve been thinking about the Catholic Church quite a lot recently. There was FFRF’s full-page NYT ad last month, vjack’s post two weeks ago about people’s reasons for leaving Catholicism, and Adam Lee’s post last week about the papacy’s apparent embrace of its slow slide into irrelevance.

On top of all that reading, though, there’s a nagging feeling I have about the Catholic Church that I just haven’t been able to shake. Wait. That’s not right. There’s a blood-curdling rage that I have about the Catholic Church that I think more people should have to think about too — so that they actually have to decide whether it makes them furious as well or whether they’re going to continue looking the other way and whistling innocently.

The argument I’m about to make applies to many religious organizations, in my opinion. But I think in the specific case of the Catholic Church at this point in time, its truth is undeniable (whereas in other cases we might quibble over the details). So let’s walk through it together, shall we?

Let’s say that you had an organization that claimed to be based on the instructions of an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, perfectly moral, loving being. Let’s say that the leadership of that organization claimed to communicate directly with that being in order to get further guidance for their decisions and actions. What could we expect if such claims were true?

I think it would be totally reasonable to expect that the members of this organization should be happier and better off than the average non-member. Also, we should expect that the advocacy and rules of this organization should be good for the world, clearly improving the planet and the human condition wherever they are. Acting on principles of love and benevolence, and under the guidance of a being with perfect morals (and the omniscience and omnipotence to be able to communicate those morals flawlessly), I’d expect this organization and its members to be kind and gentle to each other as well as to the rest of humanity. This is without getting into the nitty-gritty of specific scriptural verses — expecting prayers to be immediately granted, believers’ immunity from poison, or other sorts of miracle-working. All I’m asking you to buy here is, the real followers of this sort of deity, supposing that the deity does exist, should be unambiguously good. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask at all.

We can, as I said before, go back and forth over how well this description should be expected to apply to any specific denomination or sect of any particular religion. You could sputter about free will or mystery if you wanted, in most of these cases. But I really hope we can all agree that even granting a very generous leeway on these expectations, there is not room for the organization in question to be correct about its claims of divine guidance and moral superiority and for it to be an international criminal syndicate whose crime of choice is sexually assaulting children.

And seriously, guys, that’s what the Catholic Church is and has been for decades at least. There’s really no room to deny it at this point. Child molestation by priests has been an epidemic problem in Catholic congregations. The Catholic leadership has been aware of it, and rather than turn these criminals in to the police, or even just to fire them, they’ve enabled, even facilitated the continuation of this morally repugnant activity. They’ve built up a bureaucracy devoted to keeping the victims quiet and covering up any scandal (obviously, though, this dam has relatively recently started to break). They actually joke about the abuses they’ve committed. It is absolutely disgusting and appalling that anyone would take advantage of other people in this way, let alone young people already drawing the short straw in a power asymmetry, let alone on such a massive scale around the world … and add to this the fact that they are doing it while pretending to have not just the moral high ground, but absolute moral perfection on their side!

Could there be anything more viscerally compelling than this, to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is not a true church of a real, loving god? How are there any Catholics left at this point? I just don’t understand. Honestly, it makes me want to vomit.

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  1. Aristarchus

     /  April 17, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Yeah…. I don’t think you can really expect that all Catholics would be unambiguously good, but I do think you can expect the institution of the Catholic church to be unambiguously good – maybe not perfect, but way better than typical well-intentioned human institutions of the time.

    Any why limit yourself to child abuse? I think it’s obviously implausible (and not what the church teaches) that there was some sort of holy connection to God that disappeared between the years of 250 and 2000 or something like that. The Catholic church has been responsible for massacres, crusades, inquisitions, torture, normal wars, anti-semitism, superstition, fraud….

    It seems completely implausible to me that any organization with the record of the Catholic church has anything resembling divine leadership. Even if God’s only influence was picking which human would lead it, he could have made it do much, much better.

  2. This hit home with me, again, with the reaction to Tim Minchin singing the Pope Song at the Rally. The outrage over Tim singing an expletive filled song about misplaced outrage. The irony was perfect, and I was just shaking my head how the Catholics were completely not seeing it. The song was about people being more outraged over a comedian singing a song than by real harm done to millions of children, and there they were doing exactly that. How does anybody stay in this institution? I know there are a lot of ex-catholics, but why isn’t it all of them?

  3. Because they are TERRIFIED for their individual SOULs!!! Its about belief in the afterlife and getting to heaven, which is a terrible place from what I can tell. Their soul getting to heaven is more important then ‘some unknown little twerp that probably lead the priest on’. I’ve actually heard some catlickers condemn the now grown up for being a troublemaker and to get a life and stop picking on the poor innocent priest wit their made up stories.

  4. The Catholickass church is an Oozing Boil, on the ass of humanity, that refuses to heal!

  5. To answer the original question, why are there still Catholics? the answer, or bottom line is: There is a large segment of the population, who can’t or who won’t accept the resposibility to think for themselves. That segment believes they need a ‘Sheppard’ or a ‘father figure’ to do their thinking for them. These people are called Catholics…. And, other christian sects aren’t much better…. these people are all called the ”SHEEPLE” of the world, confidently being led to the slaughter….. because they’ve been taught to never question authority.

  6. That is the problem with an outsider view. If you don’t see the benefits they get out of their membership, you won’t understand why they are willing to look past their weaknesses. This goes for political circles and sports circles also.

  7. Still There

     /  June 25, 2012 at 8:09 am

    I have one quibble with this post, which is the assertion that papal infallibility involves “direct communication” with the almighty. The pope is believed to be preserved from error in certain specific cases but he does not claim to be able to ask God any question and get a direct answer. The rare pronouncements that do (allegedly) enjoy the protection of infallibility are all basically reconfirmations of widely held traditional beliefs. The pope doesn’t have access to any new information.

    As for why anyone would remain Catholic, I was raised as a Protestant and joined the Catholic Church in college, invested a lot of my time and energy in Catholic stuff, and married a man who worked for a Catholic institution. A little over a decade after joining the Church, I have come to same conclusions as you, but at the moment our livelihood and our social life depend on belonging to the Church. You have to take into account inertia and the psychology of previous investment when you wonder why people don’t leave. For some people it would involve huge changes in their life that they just can’t see themselves making. Even if they don’t believe it anymore, maybe they like the ceremonies and the friends they made there, and maybe some of the activities they were involved in were really fun (choir, KofC, whatever). Or maybe they can’t bear to face the fact that they wasted a big chunk of their life.

    My particular circumstances have led me to decide that I will only completely disengage from the Church if we move to a different city. For the time being, I maintain a light connection with it, and give most of the money I used to donate on Sundays to reputable charities.

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