Reporter Asks: Catholic or Roman Catholic?

Susan Hogan/Albach of the Chicago Sun-Times talks about what label she should use when identifying Catholics:

As a religion writer, I firmly believe that religious organizations are entitled to be identified by their official names. That’s why at every newspaper I’ve worked at, I’ve lobbied against the Associated Press stylebook when it comes to Catholics.

Instead of saying “Roman Catholic Church,” as the stylebook suggests, I’ve said “Catholic Church.” The exception has been when the “Roman” is necessary for clarification purposes – usually when ecumenical documents are involved.

One Catholic priest has a serious issue with the “Roman” addition:

Chicago Catholic priest and sociologist, the Rev. Andrew Greeley, recently wrote in the Sun-Times that he was offended by the use of the expression “Roman Catholics.”

“My crowd has been calling themselves ‘Catholic’ for 17 centuries,” he wrote. “The adjective ‘Roman’ added in the American context is a slur, sometimes unintentionally conveyed in the tone of the one using it. It hints that we are somehow foreign and perhaps subversive. It came into use when the ‘publics’ started to recite the Nicene Creed and their leaders had to explain that the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’ of the creed wasn’t us.”

I imagine the whole question of which label to use gets frustrating for reporters, especially when a group has a seemingly unlimited number of ways to refer to its “members.”

I remember being at a meeting once with other young, non-religious people. Someone asked us which label we preferred.

About half of us, myself included, said the term “atheist” fit us best. In second place was Humanist (or Secular Humanist).

No one was about to argue over which term was “better” or “more accurate,” but I know just about all of us would’ve at least flinched if someone used the other term to describe us…


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Maria

    Having grown up Byzantine Catholic and told by very arrogant Roman Catholics that we weren’t “true Catholics”, I can so totally relate to this……..

  • monkeymind

    Maria, excuse my ignorance, but is Byzantine Catholic also sometimes called Eastern Orthodox?

    The only othe kind of Catholic I know is “Anglo-Catholic” which I think means an Anglican who is very high church, very smells and bells, but hasn’t “gone over to Rome.”

    Then there’s catholic with a small c which just means “all-embracing”,

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Atheist is not equal to humanist. The two shouldn’t be confused or even put together without caution.

  • http://www.firesigntheatre.com Brian Westley

    On a related note, I also find “self-described atheist” to be off-putting.

  • http://brownjs.wordpress.com/ J.S.Brown

    I agree that “atheist” and “humanist” are not at all equal.

    “Self-described atheist” seems like a good thing to me. At least it makes it clear that the person being labeled agrees with it. I describe myself an an atheist, though plenty of christian are convinced that I (and all atheists) don’t exist. And of course, some go further, calling me much worse. But those are their labels for me, and not how I describe myself.

    I like the use of labels because of their usefulness. Much can be learned about someone from a label, but the accuracy of the information depends on the individual’s understanding of it. I run into this when I discuss my atheism with others. Some think know more than they do, and unfortunately get lots of things wrong. I’ve find that it’s better to describe my position, even if it takes more time. It isn’t always practical.

  • Maria

    Maria, excuse my ignorance, but is Byzantine Catholic also sometimes called Eastern Orthodox?

    The only othe kind of Catholic I know is “Anglo-Catholic” which I think means an Anglican who is very high church, very smells and bells, but hasn’t “gone over to Rome.”

    Then there’s catholic with a small c which just means “all-embracing”,

    No actually, it’s sort of a hybrid. Orthodox and Catholic are similar but different enough to cause trouble, it was when Christianity first split in 1054. The actual Greek or Byzantine rite has been around for a while, it originally came from Greece, and is similar to Orthodoxy accept that it was in communion with Rome. Rome used the Latin rite.

    My family is from Ukraine, and back in the middle ages, when Poland took over Ukraine, the Roman Catholicism clashed with the Orthodox religion of Ukraine (who originally got Christianity from Greece). So some leaders tried a compromise: they said they would let the Orthodox keep their traditions such as married priests and some others, and let them use the Greek Catholic rite, if they joined with Rome, basically forming another “rite” in the country. Some Orthodox went for it, but others did not-so they ended up with 3 churches: Polish Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Orthodox (similar to Russian and Greek Orthodox) and Byzantine or Greek Catholic Ukrainian.

    The church I grew up in has many of the traditions of the Orthdox church such as married priests, and the mass is similar culturally to an Orthodox one. But it is in communion with Rome. It’s sort of pratically Catholic but culturally Orthodox. Hope that makes sense.

    There are other Catholic rites than the Roman one that use different traditions and rites-they make up about 5% of the Church and most Roman Catholics are ignorant and don’t even know they exist, at least in my experience. Another example are the Melkites (actual Arab Catholics). There are are other cultures that use the Byzantine rite as well, such as the Greek Catholic church. The smaller rites go more by culture, wheras the Roman rite goes across several cultures. Hope that makes sense. This website can tell you better: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Catholic_Churches

  • Richard Wade

    About half of us, myself included, said the term “atheist” fit us best. In second place was Humanist (or Secular Humanist).

    I kind of like Roman atheist. Has a nice ring to it, sounds imposing.

  • valhar2000

    I preffer “Latter-on-that-Day Atheist”. Sounds like it would confuse silly people.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I think that they should use the label that the people use for themselves. Otherwise I’m just going to call everyone an atheist. Everyone doesn’t belief in at least one God and atheism is “a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods”. Alternatively I might be rude and call all denominations of Christianity “Jesus freaks”. I could never bring myself to be that rude though. ;)

    You can probably tell that I’m growing to dislike the label of “atheist”. Defining a group for what they don’t believe in encompasses too many things. Secular humanist at least says that I uphold reason, ethics and justice as important ideals.

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    I kind of like Roman atheist. Has a nice ring to it, sounds imposing.

    You have converted me, Richard. I am totaly a Roman atheist now. I will make sure to act offended at any puzzled looks I get from people I tell.

  • Ben

    Easily solved. I’ll just continue referring to Catholics as avowed or militant Catholics.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Romans are famous for their anti-clerical feelings, it tends to be like that in a company town. They say that if you ask a Roman if they believe in God they’ll say, “No, but Mary is his mother.”

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    As a devout OWBeTGUTWERNQuaPEEist (One Who Believes That a Grand Unifying Theory Will Eventually Reconcile Newtonian and Quantum Physics and Explain Everything) I find labels to be insulting and inadequate.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    I agree Atheism and Humanism really shouldn’t be mixed, I know it’s kind of philosophery (I’m sure that’s a word) but atheism is a negative belief, and it equates to “I don’t believe what you do”. Humanism is a positive statement of belief and equates to “I believe these things”.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    On a separate note,

    Would a Greek Orthodox Pastafarian who uses olive oil and garlic as part of their sacrament to the Holy Noodle be offended if a Roman Pastafarian simply used marinara sauce? Did I just offend someone by stereotyping pasta sauces based on their perceived ethnicity? Would a Universalist Pastafarian treat all sauces equally or mix both kinds together?

  • PrimateIR

    I kind of like Roman atheist. Has a nice ring to it, sounds imposing.

    Awesome. I’m stealing it.

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    Would adherents of the Church of the Meatball of the Latter Day Pastafarians support the use of multiple sauces? Or has that been forbidden?

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    Church of the Meatball of the Latter Day Pastafarians are heretics they support only abominations. Meatballs, as if!

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    His noodlyness is half comprised of meatballs… It is no Carnel sin believe in meatballs.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    I’m an alabelist, I don’t believe in labels.

    Oh wait…

  • monkeymind

    Maria, thanks for the explanation!

    You other guys: Alfredo sauce is the only heresy!

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    As a Pastafarian, if I tell someone “to go fork themselves”, is that blasphemy?

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    I think what’s important to understand w/ labels is that they’re a tool to streamline discussion and quickly and easily explain one’s beliefs. If we try to make them any more than that, that’s when we get in trouble.

    I think people often respond to labels rather than to the person or the ideology. Additionally, although this is probably more a problem for religious people since many grow up religious by default, I think it’s important to be able to explain what one believes without falling back onto a label. (Not so big an issue for really broad terms like “Christian” or “atheist” but very important for more specific terms like “Presbyterian” or “existentialist.”)

    As far as the use of the word “Catholic” is concerned, the only potential problem I could see (as far as communication goes) is that originally the word “Catholic” simply meant “Universal.” For example, sometimes we recite the Apostle’s Creed at the church I attend, it’s projected onto a screen and we read it together but when we come to the word catholic we put universal in parentheses right after it. Consequently, when we say we believe in one catholic church, we mean one universal church, not the Roman Catholic Church.

    Also, I’m curious, what are the main arguments in the atheist vs. humanist debate? Is it simply that one is negative and one is positive or is there more to it than that?

  • http://plonkee.com plonkee @ the religious atheist

    You should definitely call people the name that they prefer to call themselves. As far as Catholics go, in my experience, it’s only non-Catholics who normally say “Roman Catholic” – I find it slightly insulting somehow.

    As far as labelling myself, I would normally say atheist, I am also humanist but it doesn’t feel like a label in the same way.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    @Jake

    If you want a very in-depth analysis of what Atheism is (and more importantly what it is not) I would suggest George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God.

    If you want a brief synapsis it’s that Atheism simply says that “I do not believe in any god(s)”. It doesn’t say anything about what someone actually believes. For example, I could say the following and be absolutely correct, ” I do not believe that there are any gods and that all redheaded people should be imprisoned”. That would be a perfectly consistent statement for any atheist to state, because the first statement is a statement of atheism and the second is a positive statement of belief (that is not inconsistent with the first).

    On the other hand, Secular Humanism has a set of beliefs (if you want to know what they are and this is certainly not comprehensive or authoritative, check out http://humaniststudies.org to start). To take one example, some humanists believe that we should do everything possible to end suffering, so to make the same statement above would be incompatible with humanism.

    The problem isn’t that both make potentially conflicting positive statements of belief, one simply doesn’t necessarily inform the other. Someone like George Smith does a much better job than I can do.

  • Ben

    On the other hand, Secular Humanism has a set of beliefs

    The Humanist Minimum Statement is all you really need, and I think few atheists would disagree with much of it: Or the American Humanist definition.

    AHA – “Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

    IHEU minimum statement – “Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Humanist_Association

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    You can probably tell that I’m growing to dislike the label of “atheist”. Defining a group for what they don’t believe in encompasses too many things. Secular humanist at least says that I uphold reason, ethics and justice as important ideals.

    On the flip side, defining a group for what they do believe in encompasses too few things. I think that when in a large group like the one Hemant mentions, the larger, more general term should win out. Of course, by that logic, they should probably go with “freethinker” or just “non-religious”

    I can’t say I ever remember finding “Roman Catholic” insulting. We used the label ourselves.

  • Richard Wade

    I consider the most accurate label for myself to be “skeptic.” That’s a deep part of my personality and it dominates my points of view of just about everything. That is what results in my atheism, which is secondary and only a small part of my life. There aren’t very many misconceptions about the word skepticism, the most prevalent being that people think it means refusal to believe. I don’t mind patiently explaining that the root word means to look, so it actually means to insist on seeing before giving belief.

    However on this site I identify myself as an atheist precisely because of all the misconceptions and negative stereotypes. I want to de-curse the word by not living up to the awful things that misinformed people assume about atheists. I also confess a little glee when the worst bigots feel confounded.

    I understand the discomfort some have with the term atheism because it’s a word that has to define itself by referring to its opposite and it says nothing about what else there may be to the person, but I’ve resolved to accept that at this point in history atheism is like an island in a sea of theism. Islands are defined as such by the water that surrounds them more than by a quality about them themselves. If some day a thousand years from now belief in gods is the small island in a sea of freedom from belief in gods, probably by then we will have come up with a new term for our viewpoint.

  • Richard Wade

    By the way I have no trouble identifying with either of the Humanist Minimum Statements that Ben has quoted, so that label is okay with me too.

  • Maria

    I agree Richard. I guess the most accurate term for me would be agnostic, but overall I prefer skeptic most of all. Humanist is okay too.

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    I consider the most accurate label for myself to be “skeptic.”

    Ahem, I think you mean “Roman skeptic” . . .

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    There aren’t very many misconceptions about the word skepticism, the most prevalent being that people think it means refusal to believe.

    On that topic, there’s a discussion on Aardvarchaeology in which people are disputing the use of “skeptic” to describe the skeptical movement. It all strikes me as excessively curmudgeonly and wrongly prescriptivist.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    I’ve been lurking on that post as well. I personally come down on the side of being a “Rational Scientific Skeptic” = One who practices rational, scientific skepticism. Which means that any skepticism that I have uses science and reason as a means for understanding.

    Or Roman Rational Scientific Skeptic when HappyNat is around ;)

    Honestly labels are simply shortcuts for understanding and should never be used a definitions of people.

    Skeptigator
    “A Democrat from Indiana smells an awful lot like a Massachusetts Republican”

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    Or Roman Rational Scientific Skeptic

    Right on, Skep. RRSS is the only way to be! Those damn RSSers are just splitters.

    That reminds me, Are you the Judean People’s Front?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X