Posted by: allenrachel | May 7, 2009

Catholics only?

Last night, I spoke about the New Atheists at a night of reflection and prayer at my home parish. I discussed the ways in which the New Atheists are guilty of putting God into a box and stated my agreement with them that the sexist, cruel, tyrannical God so many people believe in does not exist. After the evening ended, a woman named Mary came up to me and asked me a few questions about the New Atheists. She was concerned that this movement is gaining momentum in the world and was glad to hear that there have been several intelligent theological responses to Dawkins and his colleagues.

There were a few things she said that have really bothered me, as I mull them over this morning. She asked about the specific Catholicity, if you will, of what we were doing in class and seemed concerned that our responses to the New Atheists were from a more broadly Christian point of view. A part of me cringed. I am Catholic, and proud of it, and believe in the Church as a source of truth and divine revelation, albeit sometimes flawed in its execution because it is, after all, a human institution. But the kind of Roman-Catholic chest-bumping Mary was hoping I experienced at SLU disheartened me. If we subscribe to such an exclusivist state of mind, how are we ever going to show the love of Christ to those whose opinions differ from our own?

I don’t know how many of those in the Church would support me in this, but I would hate to see the Church continue on in this state of mind. I’m simply not interested in being part of a faith community that opposes discussion and intelligent conversation when it comes to ideas of faith and God. I hope that the theologians of the future will seek truth through genuine exchanges, moving forward without alienating those who see things differently. This, I think, is the path to real conversion, dialogue that will lead to genuine agreement about the living God. Truth cannot contradict truth, after all.



  1. I’m not going to claim to know Mary’s position. For all I know, see does want to see Catholicism placed above other forms of Christianity. But what if they were more about concern than pride? It is my opinion that Catholics just want to be reassured that the Church is actually making a contribution. If we take a broad approach it is not bad. It’s actually a fantastic way to unite Christians and open up some ecumenical dialogue. However, if all of the ideas or responses against New Atheism look like their coming from Protestant groups (ideas that are not Catholic-specific), then what role does Catholicism play? Is our Church irrelevant in the discussion?

    I think we would both agree that Catholicism can contribute. Therefore, after we examine the situation on the “Christian level” we then need to look at it exclusively on the “Catholic level.” By doing so, we can use our unique prayers, the communion of saints, tradition, and the Sacraments (among other things) to counter New Atheism. The purpose of this is NOT to ignore other Christian faiths, or to set the Catholic Church above them; rather, these specifics will allow Catholics to apply their Sacramental and prayer lives to the conflict at hand. This cannot be done with the broader perspective. I assume that those listening to your talk were just hoping that since they were in a Catholic church, they could get a more Catholic perspective that would be directly applicable to their understanding.

  2. The first day of Spirituality of Asia class with Fr. Coutinho he asked us how many gods the Christian religion worshiped. This question was directed to us after first asking how many Gods the Hindu faith had-the answer was 330 million although they are just manifestations of the one God. He called on a kid in the back who answered two (some Jesuit education he’d received), the predictable response of three was given, one, etc. He kept asking for “the answer” and we ended up just starting at him for awhile.

    Drum roll please…the answer was 38,000 because that is the number of Christian denominations. I’d go even further and say every single persons worships their own god, the god they need.

    But instead of ask why we are all so divided, I think the focus should be on what we hold in common and not just as Christians but as a monotheistic faith born out of the Jewish tradition and closely tied to Islam. I think Mary’s question about a specifically Catholic response demonstrates a divisive kind of mindset that categorizes people into easily definable groups. We all do it, our brains want us to, but maybe we need a new set of glasses through which to view the world, how else are we to change it?

  3. Like Amy, I was also in the Asian Spirituality class with Fr. Coutinho and remember distinctly the first day when he asked us about the gods of Christianity. His answer, of course, was not the one I expected. However, I learned the same lesson that I think Amy is getting at from his point. I agree with her that we all certainly have our own personal god that we worship- a god that we need as far as our experiences, hopes, and past are concerned.
    While I do not believe that we should develop attitudes that create divisions among our faiths, I don’t think we should necessarily completely ignore our differences. During the Asian Spirituality class, I found that there were many aspects of those different belief systems that were very different from my own Catholic background. Still, the class enriched my own spirituality greatly simply because it opened my eyes to many new ways of viewing God and strengthening your own belief system. So, while we should work to be more unified, we cannot ignore our differences. Rather maybe we could learn from the truths of other religions in order to grow in our own spiritual journeys.

  4. Hey Rachel,

    Thanks for sharing this story. I actually think this kind of behavior is more common from Catholics, especially around the academic communities, then anyone could know.

    As a convert to Catholicism, I have a heightened sensitivity to the bashing of protestant traditions. In fact, I feel like I have had a completely different understanding of what it means to be ‘Catholic’. For one, although I would never deny a certain allegiance to Rome, we are not our Church. We are communities, individuals, bible studies, charities, political activists, etc. It is here, not necessarily in doctrine, that we find our identity. I feel that if people could remember that, then the Church would be forced to take its stance on Ecumenism more seriously–and comments like “well, what’s specifically Catholic about that?” would be less common.

    Thanks again for the post.

  5. Rachel, this was a great insight and I find your position comforting. I have been raised in a non-denominational churches for most of my life, that were a bit overwhelmingly Pentacostal/Evangelistic. When I made my decision to attend SLU, my mom questioned my choice of a Catholic University, yet remained supportive, while my step-father remained quietly opposed, with the exception a few anti-catholic outbursts. My actual father tried to raise me with the notion that Catholics were not ‘real’ Christians, while my mother insisted that they were. Thankfully I came to SLU with the impression that Protestants and non-denominationals shared only slight differences in practices, though all of the fundamental beliefs were the same. I experienced a few situations my freshman year, that caused me to become somewhat of a ‘closet Protestant’ and not speaking of my faith background unless asked. At this point, I have become much more open and vocal about my background and enjoy engaging in conversations with my Catholic friends to discuss the few, but interesting differences in our practices. I am glad that SLU does not retain an entirely Catholic centered environment, though I heard rumors that Biondi is looking to increase the Catholic population in the coming years. I agree with Rachel that Catholics and Protestants should not continue to engage in debates about their differences, as this is a reason that many people do not like religion, but unite for what both faiths believe to be truth that cannot be ignored.

  6. I actually came to SLU much the same way that Allyson did so I also find your position comforting. I have grown so much from my time at SLU and especially in actually studying theology. I am now very much of a non denominational Christian and much more to close to being a Catholic than I ever expected to. I attend 10 PM mass weekly and almost all of my friends are Catholic with many of them joking that I am converting. I believe that while Catholics and Protestants have differences in their beliefs they are all still Christians. I think that a great focus needs to be placed upon coming together as a whole Christian community.

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