Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Catholic Church: An Archaic Institution?

I have so many posts in my head at the moment: Are we born gay or straight?, a series on Destruction of the Family, a book review, why people convert, eugenics in the modern age, made in the USA, and my last Jesus post already written. But I wrote this one too and think I did a good job. Let me know if you think so too. Like I said my prose gets wonky at times. I've been trying to think of things less religious but that's at the forefront of my mind lately and honestly it's what makes me me so I'm sure many of my friends and family just don't read those.

Is the Catholic Church an archaic institution?

When dealing when the least popular decisions of the church, many people will say the Church is out of step or archaic in its traditions. But the United States is an old institution too.

The United States was formed in the late 18th century. It’s first try at starting a republic was a total disaster. The Articles of Confederation left the fledgling country weak for the first few years. Learning their lesson, the founding fathers reconfigured the country and created The Constitution and left room for changes to it. This Constitution is not perfect and like the Bible is subject to different interpretation of the ages. Yet it is the authority of the Supreme Court that keeps this country in alignment (or unaligned with) the Constitution. The United States is an ever changing entity based squarely in the Constitution and traditions of our forefathers.

The Catholic Church was formed in the 1st century AD. Success at establishing the early church was fraught with problems as it butted heads with the Greek pagans, Jewish priests, and statesmen. After the Church was first recognized, heresies began to spread and misinterpretations about the Bible and other church traditions sprang forth. Like the Supreme Court, the early church fathers set out to interpret and still interpret aspects of the Bible to fit with each age. Yet it is the Authority of the Church that keeps it’s followers in line with the teachings of Christ. The Church is an ever changing entity based squarely in the Bible and the traditional teachings of Christ. Yet it is viewed as being archaic because many of its view points are unpopular.

Why do I think the Church isn’t an archaic out of date institution? For one thing we hold Mass in any language a person desires and in a multitude of rites from Byzantine to the Latin Mass of 1962. You can argue til your blue that the Church doesn’t change, doesn’t allow freedom of conscience or the spread of ideas, but that is entirely wrong. On the contrary compared to many Protestant denominations, the Church allows a lot of dissension. To quote a friend of mine, Catholics disagree but remain Catholic; Protestants disagree and they move to another church that agrees with them. In other words, if you’re a teetotaler Catholic, great. If you’re a Baptist who drinks, not so great.

But there is a different side to this picture, we have standards. Like the United States has laws, so does the Catholic Church. You won’t be given many freedoms in the United States if you decide being a serial killer is a good thing. Similarly, you won’t be given many privileges in the Catholic Church if you think abortion is just dandy. But does one label the United States as being wrong if the terrorist who decides to strap on a bomb and blow up people, gets into trouble? Certainly not. Yet because the Church has issues with gay marriage, it is automatically labeled an antiquated institution or at worse a bigoted one.

This knee jerk reaction overlooks the fact that the Church does not come to it’s rules lightly or instantly. The Church bases it’s decision over the course of history and from discourse far older then the latest copy of the Washington Post. If one started looking at the Catholic church with the same respect as the United States Government, neither agreeing with all or disagree with all, more dialogue and understanding will come out. Instead it’s Catholic bashing and irrational rumors that permeate and percolate amongst those against the Church. It’s even come so far as to create groups of people who seem bent on destroying the Church without foundational reason.

Let’s take the unpopular birth control issue. Birth control was legalized 50 years ago. First it was legalized amongst married couples and then for anyone to have. Yet before it’s legalization and boom during the 1960s, all Christians rallied against birth control. Just like abortion today, all Christians viewed the pill as a means to destroy the family. Yet the only denomination that stands up against birth control today is the Catholic Church. We do so for the same reasons Christians stood up against birth control before. That philosophy hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is how other Christians feel about the pill.

Let me give you a personal story to illustrate my example. In college, I had two friends (well I had more but we’ll just talk about these two). One was named Tiffany (not her real name) and the other Kate (again not her real name either). Kate was getting married and converting to the Catholic faith. Her fiance was a Latin Mass guy and strict follower of the faith. Tiffany was an Evangelical. Sometimes she attended the Baptist church but she also felt comfortable going the Church of the Nazarene. One night we were all going to taco bell and Kate was talking about her apprehension over charting. Tiffany looked a little puzzled and so Kate explained that she was charting her cycle, why she was doing so, and why she and her fiance were about to throw it all out the window and leave everything up to God. Her fiance was fine with that, and they both felt that NFP was making life hard on them and just another form of birth control even though it’s natural. Tiffany laughed at her and said that Kate was going to have a million babies and that she needed to get on the pill. She basically told her that her beliefs were crazy and that she was well…you get the point. I ended up taking Tiffany aside and basically telling her to leave Kate alone and to respect her beliefs because Kate respected Tiffany’s. Kate never spoke ill of Tiffany or her faith. Yet, it was the other way around.

To look at it from a different angle, take Dr. Thomas White, a Southern Baptist minister, who in 2008 said in a sermon that taking the pill “was murder and sinful.” This ignited a firestorm in which one other Southern Baptist minister said the denominations official stance is that birth control is not evil or murder and that it can be used by married couples to regulate the number and spacing of births. Which is why the Catholic church endorses NFP. Although the Church’s main reason for condemning birth control is because it takes away procreation from the sexual act, which can lend the sex act to be lustful and taking away the will of God. But that’s a theological argument. Suffices to say, it’s not just a belief held by Catholics. You can see the Duggards on cable tv, who are Evangelicals, who agree that birth control is evil.

Yet it’s easier to target the Catholic Church then it is to target the Duggard family (who do receive hate mail for their beliefs as well) on a much larger scale. And because the Catholic church is large and hold a number of unpopular beliefs, it’s an easy target. Catholics are targeted by the gay community, the pro-abortion community, some in the Evangelical community, Fundamentalists, the KKK (although I’ve heard we’re allowed in now), etc. Basically we’re a target for conservatives AND liberals. So does that make us antiquated, out-of-date, over-the-hill, decaying, a relic? If we are all those things, then why do people bother to care what we think in the first place? Why don’t they just wait til we die out? Maybe it’s because we’re not a dying old institution, but a thriving and alive institution much like our government.

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I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!