why stay?

Over at Patheos, Tony Jones asked a really thought-provoking question:

I met someone recently who said she wept when Ratzinger was elected pope — wept tears of sorrow. She now hopes the next pope will be more progressive. And all I wanted to say was, “You know, you can switch denominations.”

I get that there’s more to being Catholic than the doctrine and the hierarchy — for a lot of people there’s family and even ethnic ties involved. So I’m wondering if some of you readers can enlighten me: If you disagree with just about everything the Vatican does and says, why stay Catholic?

I’ve struggled with something similar as a religious person in the more generous sense, as a Christian. I mean, I’ve seen just how damaging religion can be better than a lot of people, but I still read my Bible. I still tithe. I probably talk in religious metaphor enough that it’s offputting at times. It seems like a rational person would just give up the belief set at some point if it wasn’t helping.

My answer to Tony, on behalf of my Catholic friends and relatives, applies at some level to my own Christian identity:

I consider myself a “Catholic-in-law.” I’m a lifelong Methodist but my mum’s extended family is Catholic and so I have some firsthand experience with the culture. And I think we Protestants tend to undervalue a key aspect of it: for a Catholic, the Church isn’t just a creed you sign on to, or a set of activities that you do together, but rather it’s a community in the truest sense of the world.

My cousin, who also was quite upset when Ratzinger became pope, explained it to me by analogizing with a dysfunctional, even abusive, family. If your father beats you or your sister emotionally blackmails you your whole life, at some point you have to change the way you relate to them to protect yourself. But no matter how badly it gets they are still your family and you have to struggle with that relationship – if you ask someone who’s suffered familial abuse, you’ve probably heard that simply severing that relationship so it no longer affects you is the impossible dream. Now, my cousin wasn’t saying the church was as harmful to her as an abusive parent is to a child. But for many Catholics it’s part of who you are and must be dealt with rather than abandoned. That’s been my experience of the RCC, in any event.

I’m curious what people make of this. If you’ve ever been in a situation like this, why did you stay in the group?

This whole topic reminds me of a song off Avenue Q (thanks to Aliana for introducing me to it – my life is definitely better for it). At some level it’s all about bearing up under bad circumstances, though of course these situations aren’t on the same level as the suffering the sex scandals and other such things have caused the faithful, to say nothing of the victims. Really, it’s just good fun. (Do be warned, it has PG13ish language throughout.)


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