One only has to scan the news papers or listen to comments about religion to see anti religion is now in style: not just of Catholics, of course, but hatred of all men of good will who follow traditional values. How dare they think that some things are actually right and some things are wrong and harmful to one’s soul and society!

Yet one doesn’t expect it to be on BNN.

Quick: How many Straw-man arguments, non sequiturs, half truths and quotes taken out of context can you find in this bigoted rant?

Let’s start with the “non sequiturs”: the personal attacks.

While it might not be an issue worthy of fasting over as it doesn’t look like most of the top contenders to the papal throne have themselves missed too many meals and won’t exactly be living in a state of self denial given their opulent surroundings should they get the job

Whoops. The present Pope lived in an apartment and used public transportation in Argentina. True, he looks a bit corpulent, but that might be from his genes: like the ancestors of Pope John XXIII, he is descended from the lower class Taurini tribes of northern Italy, who tended to have husky bodies, no neck, and round faces.

Presumably the writer would prefer someone with a “lean and hungry look”, like  President Ahmadinejad.

Then comes the famous “thirty year wars” meme. This one is all over the internet, actually, and the favorite of the modern atheist ranters, who seem love to cite it while ignoring the 100 million killed by atheistic regimes in the twentieth century.

Whoops: the meme might not be true.

From the Encyclopedia Brittania:

Thirty Years’ War, (1618–48), in European history, a series of wars fought by various nations for various reasons, including religious, dynastic, territorial, and commercial rivalries

History tends to be written by the winners, English textbooks remember Catholic atrocities like the Inquisition and Bloody Mary writ large, but few English histories bother to discuss the many Irish Genocides, the Highland clearances, the corruption of the British East India company, the colonial excesses, Victorian prison conditions, or even the deliberate famine in Bengal during World War II. Presumably, atrocities done by gentle British Protestants who carried the “white man’s burden” in their quest to impose a “higher civilization” on the non protestant savages don’t get remembered in these discussions any more than the modern fundamentalist atheists bother to remember the Gulags were an atheistic institution.

Our children in the US, luckily, have now heard about the bad side of America’s history (even if some of us think the pendulum has gone too far in the other direction).

So those who use history to point fingers might well remember that “he who is without sin” should cast the first stone.

Yet, from an intellectual standpoint, what bothers me is ignorance more than bigotry. I mean, when good atheist Penn Jilette has to correct the ignorance of Piers Morgan, you know CNN has a problem.

Personally, I am aghast at the spin and inaccuracies of some of the editorials and even the news stories about Catholicism in the main stream media.

One noted example: Benedict was making a speech to a philosophical society, using a nuanced argument, trying to discuss this subtle philosophical point: (I summarize the argument of his speech)

Is “Good something that does not depend on a god, (who can change his mind tomorrow and make it bad) or is the concept of “good” something we can find for ourselves with our rational thought?

Is something good because God says it’s good, or  is God Good because he is goodness himself and unable to be different?

Can a man judge good vs evil by quoting a magic book (like the Koran or Bible) or can we know good and evil because God (via evolution) has placed the concept of good and the ability to judge good and evil in the heart  of all human beings?

Benedict’s subtle point was about some fundamentalists in the Islamic community taking Koranic passages out of context to boss people around, even though their rules may have little or nothing to do with Islamic traditions.

But it isn’t just Islam: Fundamentalist Christians who say X is wrong because it’s in the bible are doing the same thing, as are atheists who cite evolution to justify their actions (be it social darwinism or the more modern version: being altruistic whether or not you want to cooperate with your deadbeat neighbors or not).

But the press, either out of ignorance or malice, quickly took part of a quote by someone else out of context and said the Pope claimed Islam is evil.


We also see lots of “half truths: and quotes taken out of context to distort Catholic teachings. Again from the BNN rant:

For example,  Pope Benedict repeatedly emphasized throughout his pontificate that Protestant churches especially were not real churches and at best could only be thought of as errant theological associations.

Yup. that half truth got a lot of space in the left wing anti Catholic British press.

Yet again, we are talking about a subtle philosophical and sociological point: the understanding of what does the word church mean?

Modern Western society is based the voluntary associations of men: this template can be applied to a local government, the Lion’s club, the local school board— or your local Baptist churches.

But Catholics predate the enlightenment, and see society as composed of families, with cultural and biological ties being important, and with reciprocal ties of responsibility and dependency.

You don’t “chose” to belong to a family: You are part of it. That’s why half of American Catholics don’t go to church very much but still say they are “catholic”: Because they might be ignoring all the church’s rules, but unless they openly withdraw themselves, they are like Uncle Ed, the black sheep/prodigal son of the family, who is always welcome home despite his faults (and most of them are aware of this).

Catholics aren’t alone in this idea: A similar idea is found in the Anglican and Orthodox churches.

Another difference is that Protestants read their own bible and decide for themselves what is true. This is fine, if religion is only spirituality where what “works for you” is “true for you”.

But the Catholic church is closer to science, saying that some things are true, period. The number of actual dogmas in the Catholic church are few:  a lot of things the average Catholic “believes” is not dogma but opinion or customs, and a lot of the strict dogmas are nuanced, but the core of Catholicism is similar to science: Reality exists, whether or not we believe in it.

So God is both One and Three? Yes, and an electron is both a wave and a particle. Not contradictions, but nuances partly due to our limited ability to understand these things.

This is why the church is not a democracy that follows every fad: If there is a theological question, then one sees what was believed in the past: not just by the Bible, but by the church fathers and saints, i.e the “experts”.

Ah, but look at all those bad Catholics. Are there sins, greed, pride, and violent people in the church? What about the Pedophiles? My answer is: “Ah but what about the priests I worked with who were martyred for defending the rights of the common people? Which one represents the church best: the one who breaks the rules or the one who imitates Jesus?”

Are there sinners in the church, even among the church’s leaders, are there scandals and corruption in the hierarchy?

Yes, but since even Jesus’ small group included the Sons of Thunder squabbling over who was in charge, eleven cowards who fled, one who openly denied he even knew Jesus, and one who skimmed the poor fund and took a bribe that led to his death. Hmmm… sounds like not much has changed in 2000 years.
So maybe we should believe only in the Bible?

Well, I hate to tell you we predate the bible, and we Catholics decided which books belong there. Get rid of us, and you have no way to defend the bible against modern “biblical scholars” who wish to have a new bible with newfangle books. In this fight, we Catholics shrug and say: Uh, no they are not, because after 300 years of arguing, the bishops got together and found all the various books which were the most widely used by all the churches and made them what we now call the bible.

Finally, there is all that “wealth” in the church.

Hmmm..wonder how much I could get for the Sistine Chapel on EBay?

Actually, I dislike it too (but I am in the left wing/social action branch of the church).

But  you know, I am surrounded by a family of artists, who can make beauty that echos the loveliness of God. Are they to be left out, because they aren’t missionaries to the poorest people in Africa, but only make the world more beautiful by their loving family lives and and the beauty of the works of their hands?

Or as one feisty poet reminded us:

I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

Take away the art, and you have the mindless architecture and grey civilization of the communist world, or of the social planners who break up slums to build newfangled apartment buildings with all the amenities, but without the family and social ties of the slums and the other little “human” things that they replaced.

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name…
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

The music of a Mozart or a Gorecki tell us more about God than much of modern “Christian music”, and an icon or a painting with Michaelangelo can inspire us to see God more than “Hello Kitty”.

Catholics are big enough for both Martha and Mary, for mass at St Peter’s basilica to mass under a tree in war torn area of rural Africa.

There is a place for everything: ceremonies and pomp that inspire us to remember the greatness of the deity, there is a place for down to earth missionaries who literally clean the sores of lepers, there is a place for musicians who play the music of Lutherans, there is a place for honest atheists who cannot “believe” with their emotions but cling to the deity in the desert of their intellect, there is a place for the good old boys, for moms who care for children, for grandparents whose daily suffering is borne with dignity, for those who are gay but seek goodness and love in their lives, and those who have more mistresses than can be counted but yearn for a self restraint they do not yet have…. And there is plenty of room for the rest of us sinners: ordinary folk who know we are part of God’s family, and happy about it.

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

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