Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Real" Catholics

I certainly agree with Stephen Prothero that it is important to "distinguish between the Catholic hierarchy and rank-and-file Catholics". However, I'm not sure I fully accept some of the other implications of his CNN Belief Blog piece, "My Take: 'Real Catholics' not opposed to birth control." It is true that there are a number of differences between the leaders of the Church and the followers of the Church. I have noted in previous posts that Religions, Catholicism among them, are not democratic. The average Catholic has no direct say in how doctrines are created and enforced or who leads the Church.

These circumstances do not absolve "rank-and-file Catholics" of the consequences of the hierarchy's policies and behaviors. Leaders can not lead if there are not those willing to follow. I do agree that when evaluating and criticizing a specific religion the focus should be on the doctrines and the leadership. But the average follower should not be excluded from scrutiny. Just last week I pointed out that we are all responsible for the institutions we belong to. If Catholics find fault with the Church's doctrines and/or leadership they have an obligation to make those objections known. There is always the option of leaving the church. The simple act of joining a specific religion does carry with it a certain level of responsibility and accountability.

Personally, I consider any Catholic who self-identifies as such to be a "real" Catholic so long as they accept the consequences of that identity. Simply shrugging off what you don't like about the group you have chosen to be a part of does imply a lack of commitment. It is the individuals who take that approach that I would consider superficial rather than real Catholics. If you have a strong connection to your chosen Faith why would you not want to see it thrive. Nothing thrives without change and progress. Criticism and protest can be healthy and reinvigorating.

This approach does lead to somewhat of a dilemma since religions by their nature resist change, especially from below. I do not know if this innate conflict can ever be resolved. I just know that the average Catholic needs to accept their share of the responsibility. Otherwise, I strongly encourage them to just shut up and go away. When non-Catholics point out legitimate concerns about the religion you have no grounds to attack them since you yourselves have done nothing about the problems.

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