A Message to Lukewarm Catholics

Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog recently posted the video below to his YouTube channel, The Atheist Voice. In this video, he addresses the people I’ve often heard called lukewarm Catholics: people who identify as Catholic but don’t really practice the faith, and often reject one or more of the church’s major beliefs.

In short, he’s saying if you support LGBT rights and/or a woman’s right to choose, if you believe that women should be able to become priests, or if you don’t believe that the silly little cardboard-tasting wafer becomes Jesus at consecration–why do you stay in the church? Check it out here:

As an ex-Catholic, I couldn’t agree more with the message of this video.

One of my favorite parts of the video is when he addresses people who may want to change the church from within. As an ex-Catholic who was pretty devout and knows a thing or two about church hierarchy, I’d like to expand on this point.

As a lay person (a non-clergy church member) you may think you can change the church from the inside, and that’s extremely admirable, but at the moment, there is simply no way for you to do that at the scale you would need to in order to really make an impact. Even if you were a priest, you couldn’t do much. The only people inside the church hierarchy with any power to change the way the church approaches a political or spiritual issue are the cardinals and the pope. Worse, even if you were in one of those positions, the church is generally not supposed to change its position on things. Don’t believe me? Just look how long it took for the church to apologize for its treatment of Galileo, and acknowledge that the earth revolved around the sun. Your eyes aren’t fooling you. The above New York Times article saying the pope was making it official was published in 1992. The pope who did it was John Paul II, who was pope during my lifetime. (In case you’re wondering, Galileo lived from 1564-1642). That’s how long it took for one individual to change the Catholic teaching on something as basic and scientifically obvious as heliocentrism. Pope Francis, the current pope, has been facing harsh criticism since he called together a giant meeting of Bishops and encouraged them to have an intelligent discussion on issues like treatment of divorced Catholics and (gasp) gay people. The church is so resistant to change that its high-up members literally can’t handle even a discussion of the idea that some of its habits concerning certain groups of people need to be evaluated objectively.

On a different note, as an ex-Catholic I have some points of my own, specifically directed at lukewarm Catholics pushing their children though Catholic religious education and sacraments. I’ve heard some family members explain why they push their children through the Catholic initiation rites of baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation even though they aren’t Catholic themselves, and the reason is absolutely ridiculous:  “It’ll make it easier for you if you marry someone who’s Catholic if you’ve been through all these things.”

This is a crazy argument. I don’t hear anyone saying the same thing about literally any other religion, including protestant Christianity. No one has ever told me, “You should participate in Jewish/Hindu/Muslim initiation rites in case you marry a Jew/Hindu/Muslim.” The advice also doesn’t make any sense within the context of Catholicism, because newsflash, the Catholic church does not specifically forbid Catholics from marrying non-Catholics.

I’ve heard several adults tell friends of mine (and my little brother) that even if you don’t consider yourself Catholic, receiving confirmation specifically (which in case you don’t know is like a Catholic bar mitzvah, a coming of age ritual)  will make it easier for you down the road if you marry a Catholic, since there are so many Catholics around. Since I like to fact check these things, I looked it up: the only sacrament that makes it easier to marry a Catholic isn’t confirmation; it’s baptism. The church believes that it’s important that both parties be Christian, and will accept a Christian baptism as a real baptism.

Does this mean a Catholic and a Buddhist can’t get married? No. If you check the link in the paragraph above, you’ll see that although it’s frowned upon, a mixed-faith couple can get permission from a bishop to marry. This does mean it’ll take more time, but so does taking the classes necessary to prepare for confirmation. My mother, who is a church musician, has attended multiple weddings between a Catholic and a person of a different faith–even an Eastern one like Hinduism. Furthermore, with the current rate at which young people are leaving the Catholic church, often replacing it with no religion at all, and considering how easy it is to just have a non-Catholic wedding with a non denominational officiant or even a humanist one, it is extremely unlikely that putting yourself through extra Catholic religious education and rituals will reap any benefits for you aside from making your conservative parents happy.

(Besides, Catholic weddings require MORE ritual. There’s a mandatory 6 month waiting period, and you have to go through special meetings with the priest called “Pre-Cana.” For crying out loud, marry in a non-denominational church, or outside, or in a fancy hotel. Catholic weddings are way overrated.)

The bad news is, since most of the big Catholic sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confession, confirmation) typically happen to minors, you may not have much say in the matter if this is currently the position you’re in. The good news is, if you do have some say in it, you now have some useful arguing points.

This post was all over the place, but ultimately my message to lukewarm Catholics is, you already suspect that this religion isn’t for you; if you didn’t, you’d be more dedicated to it. Maybe you’re really some sort of Christian. Maybe you’re atheist, or maybe you just don’t know. That’s all OK. But stop pushing your kids through rituals you don’t even believe in. Stop calling yourself Catholic in polls, giving the church more power by making it seem way bigger than it really is. There may be a religion out there that you’ll believe in wholeheartedly, or maybe there won’t be. Maybe you don’t care enough to search for the answer to the question of God, and that’s OK too. Just admit to yourself that that’s where you are. Trust me, letting go of Catholicism isn’t the pile of guilt Catholics like to say it will be. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

As usual, feel free to leave a comment! All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

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6 thoughts on “A Message to Lukewarm Catholics

  1. Great post, and I totally agree with your and Hemant’s points. What really sucks is that the Catholic Church continues to count people as part of the church even if they no longer attend, and many refuse to take people’s names off their registries.

    We definitely need the not-really-Catholics to stop giving money to such a gross organization, but I wish there was a better way to affect their numbers. In Norway, I think, the Catholic Church got in trouble for exaggerating their numbers because they get grants or something based on the number of congregants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that’s interesting. I’m glad they got in trouble if they were doing that. As far as I’m aware one of the reasons families that aren’t very devout keep paying into it is that for some reason they want to raise kids with a religion, so they may tithe if the church says it’s required to stay a member, and they may push themselves to go “for the kids.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Intelligent people can change their minds when they get new information but for the church it would create a crisis. It’s no surprise that rituals of the church involve children who are vulnerable and then taken advantage of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a very good point. Many of the initiation rites of the church do typically involve young children. I don’t see them making an effort to keep an eye on priests while they hear confessions from seven year olds for the first time. At my family’s church it was done in these confessional rooms that were basically the size of a small walk in closet, closed off from the chapel. Holy crap that’s a huge risk if you know the church’s history of child abuse. But people still happily send their children to take part in this ritual without a second thought.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. @Nancyabrams, I can clearly remember being a terrified seven year old Catholic girl, fumbling my way into the pitch black Confessional. I had no idea what sins to confess as I couldn’t remember doing anything wrong, but my mother explained that thinking I was sinless meant I ‘had committed the sin of pride’!! And the Priest told me to say one Hail Mary and go fetch him a packet of fags for my penance. I kid you not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! I was taught that pride was a terrible sin, but I’d never heard of it being applied to just not thinking you’d done anything wrong. That’s absolutely traumatizing since now it’s like–well clearly I must have done something wrong!

      The penance you got is interesting. I’ve never had to go get anything for a priest for it. The one that was the most unusual was something like “reflect on your family.” plus saying Hail Mary’s. I can’t remember a single confession after which I didn’t get told to pray Hail Mary’s. I should go in now and confess to something they consider really bad like missing mass and see what they tell me.

      Like

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