Law in Contemporary Society

What is Catholic?

-- By AlexandraRex - 16 Feb 2012

When I was seven I was dismissed from my weekly Catechism class for questioning the teacher's description of purgatory. Her canned response came directly from the reading we were studying and when I wanted to know more, when I wanted to know how and not just what, she kicked me out of class for "talking back." Confused, yet aware that I had crossed some invisible, but obviously well-entrenched line, I ran to find my parents.

Crossing that line definitively marked my split with Catholicism; regardless of any future relationship I would have with the Church, it would never again lie on a foundation of mutual understanding and acceptance. My disenchantment with the Catholic Church that Sunday lasted far longer than the humiliating hour I spent outside of class, perhaps far longer even than a half-truthful, bumbling explanation from the teacher would have left me confused. I continued to draw on that disenchantment throughout my childhood, to vehemently disagree with the Pope's renunciation of contraception, to argue against the Church's misogyny and homophobia, and finally, to seal my split with the Catholic Church by foregoing Confirmation.

But despite these minor acts of defiance, I continue to attend Church each Sunday I am home and I sit, kneel, and stand for an hour, motions so engrained in my subconscious that I perform them without understanding or often even listening. And I enjoy it. In a world where life never stands still, where there is always one more page of reading I can do, I welcome the hour of repetitive motion and relaxation, the subduing of hectic consciousness. So does this make me Catholic?

The Written Creed

Thurman Arnold, in The Folklore of Capitalism, described organizations as inherently contradictory social constructions resting on commonly accepted practices, rituals, and constitutions - elements that together, form an organization's foundation or creed. Organizations are inherently contradictory in their need to appeal to diverse viewpoints, to function in varying spheres of social and political life, and to embrace as many adherents as possible. Thus, an organization's creed serves to "furnish the limits beyond which controversy must not extend." Although resting on a broad, and often inconsistent foundation, an organization can allow only so much discord, beyond which conflict no longer fosters healthy debate but further splinters the organization's factions.

This then explains the reason I was kicked out of Catechism. While debate on the requisite length of time spent in purgatory might have been tolerated, questioning the very existence of such an illusory place attacked the creed of Catholicism, an attack that would undermine the organization's carefully-laid foundation. For an organization whose foundation is based on abstractions like "the body of Christ" and "life after death," questions from a scientifically inquisitive seven-year-old could prove detrimental to the Church's carefully woven underpinnings.

But this foundation also necessarily embodies the Church's immense social utility - the communitarian aspects of fundraising and food drives and the solidarity evident in weekly social gatherings. Not to mention the value placed on the Church's unique ability to provide a concrete answer to our unconscious desire for spirituality and the divine.

The Social Tradition

According to Richard McBrien, “Catholicism is distinguished from other forms of Christianity in its particular understanding and commitment to tradition, the sacraments, [and] the mediation between God…”

From a political perspective, Catholicism’s commitment to tradition dictates that a true Catholic cannot in good faith vote for a Democratic candidate. Every four years I have sat in the back of an extravagant, yet familiar, cathedral while volunteers passed out presidential voting pamphlets. The values espoused in these manuals, upholding traditional family ideologies, left little doubt in any congregant’s mind who the “right” presidential candidate was. So while the Church may momentarily coexist with Democracy and the ideals our nation was built on (e.g. separation of Church and State), “Catholicism” is certainly not synonymous with political freedom.

From a social perspective, Catholicism’s commitment to the sacraments prohibits contraception, same-sex marriage, and abortion. Personally amenable to contradictory viewpoints, I am continually surprised when people are persecuted for their personal decisions. Thus, despite my personal predilections, I believe a woman choosing not to have an abortion is just as valid as one choosing the converse. Too often though, I hear, “It’s because I’m Catholic” not just as a justification for a personal choice, but as a justification for forcing that viewpoint on others. Naturally, by following Catholicism’s commitment to tradition and the sacraments, Church leaders’ espouse a socially constrictive perspective of bodily freedom. Not only does a true Catholic vote Republican, they also cannot participate in or allow others to participate in abortion.

Awareness vs. Disagreement

Professor Moglen says, “The truth will set you free.” When it comes to religion, what does this mean? Functionally speaking, it is true that Catholicism has social utility; the communitarian ideals espoused by the Church lend well to charitable projects and provide important social outlets in the midst of today’s hectic and discordant society. And it is true that I have personally continued to practice a la carte spirituality, choosing just those aspects of the culture that satisfy my religious desires and foregoing the more stringent doctrine, irreconcilable with my personal belief system. Recently advised to try meditating, I realize that attending church and performing the familiar, repetitive motions is the closest I have ever come to emptying my mind.

Finally, for me, the cost of attempting to conform to a creed determined to remain within a restrictive, exclusive, traditional doctrine is too high to ignore. Seventeen years ago I consciously and externally split with the Catholic Church. This external split mirrored a second, more obscure internal split - the inquisitive seven-year-old battling the increasingly reflective adult, no doubt seeking solace in a well-established cultural system. Remaining within the Church in search of comfort and answers would undoubtedly exacerbate this cognitive dissonance, which stems not from mere awareness of the inherent discord built into Catholicism’s foundation, but of my fundamental disagreement with it.


Webs Webs

r14 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:10 - IanSullivan
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