Some Notes On
Liberal Catholicism
Aaron Thomas

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Friday, April 13, 2001 9:32 AM

Yes, I commend John Paul II for those small steps he has taken to modernize the Church, but Roman Catholicism gets its share of criticism and, in my opinion, deserves a much sterner denunciation in some respects than she usually gets. Overpopulation is reaching such critical levels that if the Roman Catholic Church does not act fast and change her tune on birth control, she could eventually become singly responsible for the demise of the human species (though there would be nobody left to point the finger).

But you're right: since Roman Catholicism is not nearly as intrusive as she once was, and since she is not as intrusive in the West as she is in some other parts of the world, and since she is now, overall, considerably less intrusive than many of the whip-start Protestant sects, this leaves room for the other, more intrusive religions to attract the attention of social activists such as myself, and to become the focus of our vocal indignation.

Because criticizing religion is taboo and verboten and strongly discouraged and sternly reprimanded in America and much of the West, only a handful of us have the nerve to speak up. Also, there are only so many hours in a day, so we must use our energies wisely and go after the most dangerous elements of the most intrusive religious movements. It would be foolish for us to, for example, take on the Unitarian Church or the Friends, as they tend to leave people alone about religion and about other aspects of life. So we take on the Pat Robertsons and the Father Trosches and the Westboro Baptists and the anti-choicers and the school voucher advocates and the "hang ten" activists and those who would funnel tax dollars into the treasuries of organized religion or give organized religion an advantage over nonreligion.

Roman Catholics are not trying to post the Ten Commandments, and many are even opposing this move (as the Catholic Commandments differ significantly from the Protestant ones, which themselves differ from the Hebrew ones). The Pope has had the foresight to, over 100 years after Darwin, endorse the theory of evolution; thus, rank-and-file Roman Catholics are, for the most part, not trying to get the six-day creation myth taught as science in our public schools.

Nevertheless, John Paul still demanded that the State of Oregon suppress evidence in a murder case because the defendant was a Roman Catholic who was speaking to a Priest when witnesses overheard him admit that he committed the crime. The conversation took place in a situation where both parties knew they were subject to being monitored and even to being recorded, and did not take place during the times and in the location allotted by the jail to conduct the Roman Catholic rite of confession. This meant nothing to the Pope, who made this an international incident and bullied our District Attorney's office by whipping up public sentiments and making it easy for misinformation to flow.

The Church also outspent our Death With Dignity effort by ten times. This is patently intrusive because the Roman Catholic Church wants to make it illegal for anyone to disobey the Roman Catholic Church -- rather than allow her members the dignity of obeying, under their own power, this commandment that is almost unique to Catholicism The Church also wants to make it illegal even for nonmembers to disobey a uniquely Roman Catholic commandment and to make their own controversial decisions about having the option of controlling when one's life will end. The Church was so blatant about it in this case that many social commentators suggested that her zeal to overturn this law actually sent votes to the other side.

Ditto for abortion: many who now support the pro-choice struggle have joined us in response to the religious hysteria. They are more firmly opposed to organized religion telling the rest of us what to do than they are opposed to abortion, so they'll fight organized religion even though they'd just as soon see fewer abortions.

The Church now has such a monopoly in the health care industry that I am openly predicting antitrust action within my lifetime. I also suspect that the abuses currently indulged in by the Roman Catholic Church in this respect will eventually result in very tight restrictions regarding organized religions getting involved in business investments and receiving capital gains. When this blows out of the water, all churches may even lose their exemptions in a tax revolt. All this and more could happen to a church who currently acts as if she is above reproach. Particularly, though, I see Roman Catholic zeal to control health care eventually driving America toward socialized medicine.
 

Yes, nowadays they take the Bible more figuratively, but back when they could get away with it, they took parables such as John 15:6 ("If a man abide not in me, ... men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned") very literally -- as a command to burn my forebears at the stake. And they took parables such as Luke 14:23 ("compel them to enter in") very literally -- and made people join and obey the Church under penalty of law. Only because the Church no longer controls the State did she back off on her butchery. Being in my 40s, I doubt I will live to see the 200th anniversary of the end of the Inquisition; this is how recently that travesty was still taking place. But you're right: the enemy is not religion or any particular religion or sect, the enemy is intrusive fundamentalism and state-church collusion.

John Paul II has made some moves that could only be posturing, or could be a sign that the Roman Catholic Church (perhaps) will come clean with the Inquisition and restore some of the money she confiscated from my forebears and (perhaps) will open up the vaults so that the whole world can study the documents pertaining to the Inquisition -- all of the documents, made available to all of the world. In doing this, the Roman Catholic Church would show signs of genuine repentance in two ways: First, she would demonstrate that money obtained through dishonest means does not belong to a person or institution. Secondly, the documents would bring the full brunt of the Inquisition to the minds of all the people, and the Roman Catholic Church would more likely be forced permanently into a position that will prevent her from taking up the faggot again, were she ever given the opportunity to persecute without opposition.

I am very skeptical as to whether these moves are genuine, though, because Mother Teresa never returned the money Keating donated to her, money that Keating had stolen from people like you and me. This money is still sitting in accounts bearing the Church's name. It is not even being put to the uses for which it was donated, but is merely gathering interest for the Church -- as is almost all the money that was ever donated to Mother Teresa's missions and as is much of the money that was ever donated to or confiscated by the Church.

The Roman Catholic Church needs to do much more than make Augustin Misago take the fall for the Rwandan genocide.

There is a lot to be done, and I hope I see some significant moves during my lifetime. But for now, much of what I see appears to be little more than a smoke screen to distract attention from the business-as-usual exploitations that have ever marked the Roman Catholic Church's relationship with the rest of the world.
 

Ah, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recently announced that non-Catholic Christians are "in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the [Roman Catholic] Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation." He said this in a statement issued jointly with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope John Paul II. So, the Church herself may not hold the identical "accept Jesus" doctrine that Protestants hold, but she thinks she is the One True Faith nonetheless, and that other Christians are "in a gravely deficient situation."

Meanwhile, most rank-and-file Roman Catholics in the West accept as brethren the Protestants, and most rank-and-file Protestants accept as brethren the Roman Catholics. There are zealots on both sides of the fence who disagree, to be sure, but for the most part, both groups are pretty much up with the times when it comes to tolerance.

But the Church herself has fallen short of endorsing the salvation of her Protestant brethren.
 

And I can clearly see why someone would want to be a theist. I am currently reading about the biological causes of mystical experiences, such as those described by Franciscan nuns, and now realize that I have had mystical experiences that were equally profound -- as an atheist. I also realize that for medical reasons, I induce a quasi-mystical experience to make it easier to endure certain painful experiences, and I use techniques similar to those used by the mystics. I merely attach a different significance to my experiences than do most mystics.

I also wish you well in your work toward modernizing your church. This will do you a world of good and will also benefit us all.
 

I can make a good case that nobody believes everything that their church teaches -- even if they think they do. The difference is whether one is willing to openly criticize their church on certain positions, or even whether one is willing to quietly work for change from within the church.

You are one of the reasons why we try to restrict ourselves to criticizing only the intrusive expressions of religion: We see no reason or need to criticize private expressions of religion, and we wish to join up as allies with those religious folks who are struggling to make this a better world for us all. Positive Atheism is a mutual supporter (but not a member) of the Center for Progressive Christianity. I hear many of the clergy involved in this movement are panenthiests: the distinction between that system and atheism is mostly academic and based almost entirely in semantics. There is plenty of work to be done, and the question of whether or not gods exist is one of the stupidest reasons over which to get into a fight.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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