A recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found that there are a bunch of Catholics in Ireland. Ok, not a surprise. But here’s the interesting part: many of them didn’t even believe in the tenets of their own faith:
A total of 89 per cent of respondents were Catholic. The remainder were either not religious (6 per cent), Protestant (3 per cent) or from other faiths.
When it comes to the church’s teachings, many Catholics do not subscribe to key tenets such as transubstantiation. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents the body and blood of Christ.
Just over a quarter believe it is transformed (26 per cent).
In other words, only 26% of Catholics believe what the Catholic Church teaches — that, after being blessed, the wafer and wine become the body and blood of Christ.
Richard Dawkins remarked on that discrepancy with what should have been a completely non-controversial statement:
“If they don’t believe in transubstantiation then they are not Roman Catholics,” Dawkins told the audience in the National Concert Hall. “If they are honest they should say they are no longer Roman Catholics.” Asked about the results of the poll, he said: “I wouldn’t hold back on the ridicule”.
Makes sense to me. Maybe you call yourself a cultural Catholic, or a non-practicing Catholic, or a bad Catholic, or just a run-of-the-mill Christian, but you’re not a True Catholic if you deny one of the basic Sacraments. It’s the same reason I don’t call myself a Jain — I don’t believe in supernatural deities or the afterlife or karma or reincarnation. If I don’t believe what the faith tells me I’m supposed to believe, I don’t belong in that faith. If you don’t believe Jesus came back to life three days after Crucifixion, you have no business calling yourself a Christian, either.
So Dawkins didn’t say anything wrong… yet, some Catholics are taking him to task for it… and making no sense at all.
Colum Kenny of the Independent is backtracking and saying of course Catholics don’t believe in transubstantiation:
Generations of Irish people have found consolation and meaning in the act of Communion, while not understanding or not fully accepting convoluted medieval theories about it. Such Christians have been as much a part of the Church as is any bishop.
… Such an idea of “transubstantiation” seems barbaric to some people, with its echoes of human sacrifice and cannibalism, and simply unnecessary to others.
Transubstantiation never made much sense to many believers. It makes even less sense today unless it can be reinterpreted and integrated into our scientific knowledge of physics and psychology.
Well, no shit it doesn’t make sense. It’s a silly theory that never had any substance to it. But it’s part of Catholicism. Any basic understanding of the faith, by my understanding, includes accepting that particular belief.
I don’t see how you can deny it and still claim you belong to the Catholic Church.
The Irish Times‘ columnist John Waters took a different angle on this story, pinning the blame on this discrepancy to — get this — the polling:
… when Ipsos MRBI conducts a survey on behalf of The Irish Times, how many believe that the views of its sample of 1,000 people are representative of those of the entire population?
Does “rationality” involve a requirement to understand the processes you claim to believe in or trust? If so, how many people could tell you, off the top of their heads, that the margin of error in any particular aspect of an opinion poll is calculated by multiplying by two the square root of the result obtained when the quantum at issue is multiplied by 100 minus itself and the answer divided by the sample?
Give me transubstantiation any day — much easier on brain, mind and reason.
Transubstantiation, unlike math, isn’t based in evidence. The makeup of the wafer/wine doesn’t change before and after a blessing. It’s all about belief. And if you don’t believe it’s actually the body/blood of Christ, you’re denying your own faith. If you don’t agree with everything the Catholic Church dictates, you might still be Christian, but you don’t really belong in the Catholic Church
Might as well just take the next step and abandon the Church altogether.
Oh, by the way, Waters goes on the to blame the poll for being too “smug.” Seriously.
One thing that fascinates me about polls about religious beliefs — such as this week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI — is the ideological smugness that accompanies them. The questions have the appearance of being sincerely posed, but the subtext is invariably rooted in a cynicism that depends for its assurance on a limited perspective and a narrowness of terms. The unstated purpose is always to dramatise the creeping of “enlightenment”. Personally, I would find difficulty discussing transubstantiation with my best friend — not because I have problems with the doctrine but because such matters are impossible to discuss in the language we use for politics, shopping and sex. Is it possible to squeeze such understandings into the 157 words our media use on a daily basis to explain reality and the human condition? What I would say in response to a question about transubstantiation to an Ipsos MRBI pollster, I just don’t know.
The question wasn’t, by the way, “Explain transubstantiation.” It was about whether or not people believe the wafer/wine transform. It’s a simple yes or no answer.
Forget transubstantiation for a moment. What about those articles that came out a while ago about how sooooo many Catholic women were taking birth control? Are they really Catholic? Well, you could argue that even if Church leaders were against it, they were misinterpreting what the Bible says… or that not using birth control isn’t one of the “official rules” of being Catholic… I’m not saying I buy those arguments, but those are some ways around it.
Perhaps, you might argue, being a Catholic is like being a Republican. We know Republicans who don’t necessarily like the current ideology of the GOP (e.g. Andrew Sullivan). Even though people might accuse him of being a RINO, I think it’s fair to point out that Republicans today are very different from Republicans a few decades ago. Those platforms change and they can change back.
But religious beliefs aren’t supposed to be flexible. Different faiths have different rules you must follow. If you break the rules for your faith, you can still call yourself an adherent all you want, but you’re lying to yourself if you do.
Dawkins is right. It’s time for people who don’t believe the tenets of their supposed faith to be honest and admit it. Stop saying you belong to faith X when you don’t believe what faith X teaches. There may be ambiguity in some cases (e.g. the evangelical Christian debate over whether or not women should be able to take on leadership roles), but every faith has rules that are all or nothing. You either accept them or you don’t.
There’s no ambiguity when it comes to transubstantiation. If you don’t believe you’re eating Jesus when you play Swallow the Leader, stop deluding yourself and shed the Catholic label.
If you disagree with me, then I want to know what you think the ground rules are for being a True Catholic. What are the basic beliefs you must accept? If we can’t come to an agreement on that, this discussion’s going nowhere.