Catholics: What Do They Believe?


The issue of Catholicism has again surfaced in American politics, thanks to former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, whose religious convictions have caused him to staunchly oppose abortion, birth control, and other social practices, to the point where he is now isolated, with just a handful of old bishops, who have alienated themselves from millions of practicing Catholics, and many more, who left the Church during the revolution of the 1960s.

Those who were never part of the Church, are sometimes confused as to what Catholics believe, because they listen to modern practitioners, but then see old stereotypes of the Church, in movies, and in broadcast news reports, which show the insides of medieval cathedrals, clips of outdated rituals, and interviews with cardinals, who are almost exclusively right-wingers.

To understand the Church, the best source is a former Catholic. Although I joined at a very young age (that would be the day I was born), I converted to Agnosticism, as soon as I was able to liberate myself on my 18th birthday, more than four decades ago.

To those who are “not now, nor have they ever been a Catholic,” let me explain the Church. Catholics are split into two major branches, the spiritual, and the practical. The spiritual spend their time praying for a better life, they hope to enjoy after death. The practical are not willing to wait to realize a good life. They want justice now, as their view of the purpose of the Church is to nurse the sick, school the illiterate, and aid the poor.

The politics of President John Kennedy and Sen. Rick Santorum personify the two schools. The Kennedy School downplays thoughts of the supernatural, and champions political programs for health, education, and welfare. The goal of the Santorum School is to convert religious beliefs into legislation, by opposing abortion, birth control, and other social practices, and by repealing all health, education, and welfare programs.

If you are now even more confused as to what Catholics believe, then we are making progress. The major split in the Catholic Church occurred during the American Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. As liberals prevailed in Rome at the 2nd Vatican Council, between 1962 and 1965, they implemented changes, which the conservative branch of the Church still bitterly refuses to accept.

The Mass was now conducted in English, instead of Latin. Nuns no longer dressed as they did in Mideast deserts, 2,000 years ago. Priests, who had turned their backs on parishioners during Mass, now faced the people. Catholics could now eat meat on Fridays. The Bible was no longer read literally, but only figuratively, as a tool for explaining morals. Catholics no longer confessed sins to priests in private confessionals, but were absolved as a whole, in the open. Jews were no longer to be blamed for crucifying Christ, as anti-Semitism officially ended. Interfaith marriages were permitted. The list went on.

In those days, nuns wore long black robes called habits, which covered most of their faces. I remember when ours walked into class dressed in a new outfit that allowed us to see her forehead and some hair on her head. Wow, I thought, there was actually a human being in there! The day before, as an Alter Boy, a priest chewed me out for not perfectly memorizing my Latin. Just like that, it was out the window. Cool! Why weren’t we using English all along? Although I liked fish, the “right to choose” a burger on a Friday night was a good change. (Did McDonalds lobby the Pope?)

Seriously, it was a revolution that opened the minds of millions to change. What was absolute infallible truth, just yesterday, was totally abandoned today. It led us to think: Was there anything beyond question? Was premarital sex wrong? Would drugs alter minds? Were Johnson and Nixon lying about Vietnam? Was there really a god? The Church let a Jeannie out of the bottle, and they totally lost control, as millions went out to seek their own truths.

While liberals now acknowledge the earth has existed for millions of years, not just 6,000, and accept the science of evolution, conservatives, like Santorum, still resist. As liberals question the story that the Virgin Mary had an Immaculate Conception, and believe Jesus merely slipped into a coma from a blood loss, before regaining consciousness, the right-wing clings to mythology. While liberals believe priests and nuns should marry, women should become priests, and old bishops should not dictate as to pre-marital sex, birth control, abortion, and divorce, Republicans, like Rick, want to impose their old dogmas through legislation.

While Santorum pushes for war in the Persian Gulf, Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of god.” While the Senator opposes aid for the less fortunate, Jesus said at the Sermon on the Mount: “Do unto others, as you would have them to unto you.” Rick should just heed the word of the Apostle Paul: “It is better to give than to receive.”

Fortunately the U.S. Constitution states: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the U.S.” Hopefully the voters, including millions of liberal Catholics, will turn Santorum away, if he is on the ballot this year.

Advertisements

One Comment to “Catholics: What Do They Believe?”

  1. Jeff,
    Thank you for this accurate and insightful article. As one who shared your Catholic upbringing and personally gloried in the reforms of Vatican 2, I can fully appreciate the tranformational and progressive impulse behind that amazing accomplishment by such a powerful and wealthy institution usually concerned with maintaining its own . Those were remarkable times indeed! We were given permission to question and grow. (In fact, that impulse was a springboard for my lifelong spiritual exploration and development of a social consciousness.) I also left the Roman Catholic church in my late teens. Yet due to the spiritual and progressive mood at the time, I I was able to view that exodus as a transition into and onto finding my own truth as you so aptly put it.
    It’s unfortunate that Santorum and those of like mind either missed this growth opportunity or were unable to embrace it. It would make such a difference on so many levels if they had….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s