Many of us are disturbed by the Roman Catholic church's strangle-hold on much of Christianity, and its effect on the lives of all who live in countries with even a few Catholics, like here in England. You might ask what effect such a minority can have, but you should rest assured that it infuses government. The present Prime Minister is not a Roman Catholic, but Tony Blair was - and worse still he was a Catholic convert. Those who are converted to a different viewpoint are often the greatest zealots - much as I have taken the opposite view and spend a lot of writing against religions of all flavours.
However much they may deny that their faith has affected their political views, this claim simply must be in doubt. Science is now strongly indicating that everyone always starts from what they believe and then finds ways to rationalise those views to minimise their own cognitive dissonance.
A few times recently, I have taken up the challenge suggested by Richard Dawkins. At a barbecue that I attended, I found myself speaking with a lady who came from the town where my father was born. In the first ten minutes of conversation, she had told me twice that she had converted to Catholicism when she got married, and had brought up her children accordingly.
Each time I hesitantly hinted that I had parted from Christianity, and that it had been largely thanks to the overtly Catholic activities of our previous Anglican vicar in my village. Usually I use the phrase "These days I'm a member of the church of Richard Dawkins" and watch for the reaction - which is commonly the smile that I aim to get by making that comment. She seemed not to be offended - a good start - and a after I had answered a few questions about the subject I asked whether I might venture 'the Richard Dawkins question'.
"Do you actually believe in transubstantiation?"
Now this is a question that I have asked of colleagues who come from various 'Catholic countries' from Poland to Portugal. I'm glad to say that all of them still speak to me, because if I found that they were avoiding me because of my questions then I would have to stop asking them.
My mother has asked it of Roman Catholic friends too and she reports that their answers show that they seem to regard their faith as a religion of convenience.
The answer I got at the barbecue fell very much into the normal catalogue of possible responses to any of 'the difficult questions' which include:
- Well - everyone's journey of faith takes them in different directions.
- That is not actually one of the teachings of the church [Oh yes it is!]
- In our country we look to the church for guidance, not for absolute rules
- The bible tells us that . . . [and usually it doesn't]
- That is left very much to our own conscience.
I've been wondering what other questions might be lined up for Catholics. Some of them are obvious, but not necessarily the type of question you would ask people unless you know them well. To each of these I have heard variants on the above replies. What are your views about birth control? Do you think the church should tell lies in African countries, saying that condoms cause AIDS? Is the pope infallible? Why are you more likely to pray to Mary and the Saints before you pray to Jesus? And do you agree that the pope is criminally liable for covering up crimes against innocent children and failing to cooperate with police?
Here is one that I have never yet asked. "The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was only 'repealed' within the last half-century. If you had had chance to read any of the literary works that were forbidden by the Index, would you have taken an interest?"
The Index Librorum Prohibitorum is/was a list of works that, in the view of a bunch of hysterical, elderly, male virgins, might adversely affect the morals of the ordinary people. The Roman Catholic church must have wanted to keep the world's immorality within the church itself, and it has to be said that although it has failed, it has at least fostered extreme immorality in its own ranks without revealing enough about it to the rest of us.
The Index was only abolished by the Vatican in 1966. Some say that a form of censorship is still in place, in that the Vatican libraries store many ancient manuscripts that can't easily be found elsewhere. Putting these documents in the Index would have got them on the radar. Leaving them off, they might disappear into obscurity and anonymity and never be allowed to cause embarrassment.
Fortunately there is already enough evidence to embarrass the church, and the bible itself is a good foundation for that evidence.
"The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief - call it what you will - than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course." -- A. A. Milne (author of Winnie the Pooh).
Any more questions for Catholics?