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Sidney CallahanMarch 11, 2012

On Friday. March 9 The New York Times ran a full page ad by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In an open letter addressed to “liberal and nominal” Catholics they were told that now is the time “to quit the Roman Catholic Church.”  The implication is that Catholics only stay because they haven’t had the smarts to see how their loyalty is “enabling” the church’s benighted and pernicious errors.

Helpfully, the free from religion folks provide a long list of oppressive “dark age” errors that “must be stopped.” One can become a member of their cruade by sending checks ranging from $40 (Individual) to $100 (Sustaining) to $500 (Life) to a puzzling category of (After Life) for $5000. This pitch for money prompted one wag to reply, “Hey people, you can quit for free you know.” 

The ad, with crude cartoon caricatures, presents its own panoply of errors.  First off, there is the simple minded identification of the church with the hierarchy. Absent from consideration are worship, scripture, spirituality, prayer, theology, saints, works of mercy and the social gospel.  God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, the reality of the church’s life, are ignored or dismissed as remnants of “ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men.” 

The ad admonishes Catholics to “free yourselves” from illusion and realize that “you’re better than your church.” In a “moment of truth” Catholics should “exit en mass” and adopt Thomas Paine’s words, “My own mind is my own church.”

Mmm.  And what exactly makes your own mind the sole infallible guide to goodness and truth?  Surely such solipsistic and self-satisfied admonitions and slogans may keep Catholics in the fold –or at least provide an ironic laugh.

Yes, in a learning, ever reforming church on pilgrimage, there are going to be disagreements, differences  and disappointments.  It is ever thus.  Better in the end to follow Erasmus in his reply to Martin Luther when reproached for remaining Catholic in a troubled time. "I put up with this church, in the hope that one day it will become better, just as it is constrained to put up with me in the hope that I will become better.”   

Sidney Callahan


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10 years 2 months ago
David, you must be from a small family.
Anne Chapman
10 years 2 months ago
Amy, I have no idea what ''Brights'' are, so will take your word for it for the moment that they have a ''coherent'' thesis. As do the Episcopalians - theirs is called ''the creed.''
Amy Ho-Ohn
10 years 2 months ago
A Bright is a person with a naturalistic worldview.


Most Brights are atheists and most atheists are Bright, but the terms are not synonymous. An atheist is somebody who does not believe in gods. For example, an atheist who belives in astrology, would not be a Bright.

The FFRF people are probably mostly Brights. The reason this ad is hard to dismiss is that everybody who knows any knows that Brights tend to be brainy, fun, calm, knowledgable tolerant, rational, imaginative people. They persuade by what Aristotle called ethos.
Craig McKee
10 years 2 months ago
And besides, if WE quit, THEY win!
Jim McCrea
10 years 2 months ago
"If this goes on for much longer, something will break."

David:  can you honestly say that many things in and about this church are not already broken?
Anne Chapman
10 years 2 months ago
Ms. Callahan wrote:

'' First off, there is the simple minded identification of the church with the hierarchy.

Certainly she is aware of the reality that the bishops, while they often do not actually represent ''the church'',  especially in the realm of birth control, mske this claim.  It is not really surprising that this group and others identify ''the church with the hierarchy'' because the hierarchy, currently headed in the US by Dolan of New York, asserts that it alone speaks for ''the church''. 

Dolan: ''At a news conference ... Cardinal Dolan said, “We kind of got our Irish up when leaders in government seemed to be assigning an authoritative voice to Catholic groups that are not the bishops.”

He added: “If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops. They’re the ones that speak for the truths of the faith.”
The hierarchy of the church asserts that using modern birth control methods is ''intrinsically evil'' - but does not represent ''the church'' in its views - it primarily represents the views of a selected group of hierarchy.  Only once in the church's history did it consult with those who live the sacrament of marriage on this issue - during Vatican II. In spite of the commission's overwhelming vote that the birth control decision should be made by the couple, Paul VI ignored the sensus fidelium  - ignored THE church as do the bishops now.  The vast majority (90+%)of the Catholic faithful who are also ''the church'' have ignored the bishops/hierarchy on this in their own marriages, yet Dolan insists that only the bishops speak for ''the church.''

She then says ''Absent from consideration are worship, scripture, spirituality, prayer, theology, saints, works of mercy and the social gospel.''

Perhaps this group does not focus on this because these attributes are not unique to the Roman Catholic church - some or all of these activities are found in many different denominations and religions - the focus is on the bishops because they claim to speak for ''the church'', are intensely lobbying the US government on health care issues, and are not so subtly trying to influence Catholics in the pews to vote for their own preferred candidates. In other words, they are acting like a political lobby rather than as ''the church.''

And she is especially defensive in this statement:

''The implication is that Catholics only stay because they haven’t had the smarts to see how their loyalty is “enabling” the church’s benighted and pernicious errors.''

Not wanting to enable the hierarchy in their ''benighted and pernicious errors'' - which include taking vows of silence to protect the institution which resulted in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children, a vow that is still in use, most recently taken by 22 new cardinals - is what finally led me to the painful decision to leave active participation in the Roman Catholic church (but in the catholic church).

 I have found that mentioning ''enabling'' the dysfunction makes many active Roman Catholics very, very uncomfortable - it is not something many want to reflect on very deeply, nor to examine their consciences on, and some react with the  same kind of defensiveness and anger at the possibility that they are enablers as Ms. Callahan.
Joseph Kalwinski
10 years 2 months ago
Excellent! Especially the last two paragraphs
Bill Collier
10 years 2 months ago
More sage advice from Sidney Callahan.

Another Erasmus bit of advice I always try to remember:

"By a Carpenter mankind was made, and only by that Carpenter can mankind be remade.”
Marie Rehbein
10 years 2 months ago
People are fighting about politics, not the faith.  How would leaving one's religion fix politics?  It's the nature of politics to be contentious.  Would that politics would not show up for Sunday Mass every four years.  Hey, Politcs, leave the Church and send me $$$.
Jack Rakosky
10 years 2 months ago
This is just a fund raising ploy. It not that different from many liberal Catholic organizations that invite you to “send the bishop’s a message” on whatever subject, and of course “send us money” so that we can continue our work on your behalf.
Putnam in Bowling Alone has a savage critique of these “mailing list organizations” that have taken the place of personal networks in bringing about change in our country. They thrive on news, claiming responsibility for everything good, and warning about everything bad that is about to happen. Whatever the case, just send them you money, so they can continue to exist.
The best answer, of course, is to find or build a real social network to accomplish your goals. 
However for those who do not have the time, become what sociologist’s call a free rider. Take advantage of church services but do not give them money. Now the standard objection is that this harms innocent people, but that is not necessarily true.
First, the unstated strategy of the parishes and dioceses has been to give more and more services to fewer and people at greater and greater costs per person. In other words, when people leave they just tap the remaining people, especially the richer donors, for more money. So your money will likely be made up. Richer people are going to have a hard time getting into the Kingdom of heaven so you are helping them out. If you are rich yourself, give your money to the poor.
Second, there are usually many ways to give to the Church in ways that restrict the use of your money. Essentially you are forcing them to go to other people for general operating expenses.
Finally, of course you may have a favorite lay employee whom you are worried about. Just send them a gift card at Christmas, Easter, their birthday or whenever you want to show your appreciation. The clergy have long benefitted from gifts.
Amy Ho-Ohn
10 years 2 months ago
I like Brights; most of my friends are Brights. And, unlike Episcopalians, at least they have a coherent thesis. "There is a God and one must do what he commands" is coherent. "There are no gods and people must figure out what to do alone" is coherent. "There is a God but he doesn't particularly care what you do" is not coherent.

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