Despite still being a committed Catholic, I feel that the official church doctrine get a lot of things wrong. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think about a lot of the church’s official teachings:
· Assuming that Church tradition is correct and that St. Peter went to Rome and established the “headquarters” of the Church there, it was a big mistake. It resulted in the Church learning the principles of government from the Roman emperors. The result was the Church becoming a dictatorship modeled on the emperors complete with an edifice complex. Had St. Peter remained in Jerusalem, the governing style would have been more collegial. (Whether St. Peter went to Rome is solely a matter of Church tradition. There is no evidence supporting it – including in St. Peter’s own writing.
· The Catholic Church distains the literal interpretation of the Bible. It’s probably based on a desire to stay clear of anything it sees as Protestant in origin. It teaches that the Bible has many subtleties and the laity must be guided in what it means. Naturally, that guide is the Catholic Church, in general, and the Vatican, in particular. However, despite that, a substantial amount of its beliefs are based on a literal reading of the Bible. For example, the Bible’s mention of the virgin giving birth has led to a whole panoply of beliefs that take their origin from that Bible provision.
· The Catholic Church also has a set of doctrines not based on anything in the Bible but on the conclusions and interpretations of “Church Fathers” long after Christ. Those beliefs are based on deductions made from other doctrines. But, upon being proclaimed become doctrines that give rise to yet more remote deductions. The infallibility of the pope is one of that type of doctrine. There may be some utility in deductive reasoning in religion but the Catholic Church fails to acknowledge that there can be errors and advances in reasoning.
· I think that the concept of “original sin” is wrong. The idea that a sin of Adam and Eve is imputed to everyone is, to me, ludicrous. To me, it just means that we, like Adam and Eve are fallible beings. That does not require a redeemer to get anyone out of the results of that sin. It does require that humans struggle to do what is right and try to help others in our human community to do what is right.
· I think the belief of “three persons in one god” is off base (not wrong – just off base). All it means is that God is complicated and our human minds won’t understand it. So, don’t try and just accept that God is complicated beyond our ability to understand.
· The “soul” is not a real entity but, rather, a metaphor for the concept that our personhood survives bodily death.
· The concept of the virgin birth is not literally true. Rather, it is a metaphor for the concept that the pre-existing God took human form through her and that would not have happened through ordinary conception and birth.
· The doctrine of the virgin birth has led to a practical doctrine that sex is bad. So, the Church pushed it further to say that Mary remained a virgin for life – as if she would somehow be defiled if she ever had sex. Priests and nuns remaining celibate cultivates that sex is wrong. (Yeah, I know what the intellectual reply of the Church is on the issue. But, the maintenance of celibacy speaks louder than all of the Church’s intellectual disclaimers.)
· Why life is so awful for so many of us is a mystery. However, Christ’s suffering and death is intended to show that however bad our own lives are, Christ had it worse. While we are not told the purpose of our creation, Christ also participated in the awfulness of human existence more or less to show that he accepted a human life on the same terms that we are required to accept human life.
· The resurrection of Christ was probably real and intended to show that we, too, will have life beyond the grave.
· The meaning of humans being “created in the image of God” is that, like God, we are endlessly creative.
· We are not here for a brief time only to have the universe end very soon in the future and everyone in it be sent to heaven or hell. Rather, the universe with Earth and us in it will exist for a geological span of time.
· The purpose of human existence is to allow an imperfect creature to get close to perfection through exercising out God-given creativity and our own efforts over a long period of time. (See: Tielard de Chardin’s “Omega Thesis.”)
· Angels exist. Intelligent life elsewhere in the universe exists. Our creation did not exhaust God’s creativity.
· Possibly, the angels aren’t quite as perfect as we think. That explains the “fallen” angels. It’s possible that God intends them to somehow get close to perfection again through their own creativity and efforts. Hell and permanent damnation seem pretty pointless to me. (It seems likely that the concept is a human one used to scare people into moral action rather than having them find the need for moral action on their own.)
· I seriously doubt all the stories of apparitions of Mary to humans. That’s based on the consistent message from them that humans are awful creatures and had better reform – fast. To me, that sounds like a repetition of the punishing religion that those purporting to have had apparitions experienced.
· The enforced celibacy of Catholic priests has led to the Church being really fouled-up on the whole subject of sexuality. It not only leads to the deviancy of priests but to the practical communication that all sex is bad.
· Attempts by the Church to promote rigid uniformity in belief and worship works contrary to the nature of humans as each being unique.
· It’s probably better for all Catholics to pay attention to the parish each belongs to and not to worry about what the Vatican wants.
So, why am I still Catholic? There are many reasons. The primary is that it is the worshiping community that I grew up in and the only one I am familiar with. It’s my home – despite the fact that I’d run it differently if I were in charge. Also, there is no “Church of Steve Cross” and I probably wouldn’t like it if there were one.