New York Times Columnist: If You Don’t Fully Support the Catholic Church, Just Leave it

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has a new book out — Why Catholicism Matters — and Bill Keller of the New York Times agrees with him (!!!) when it comes to how to handle the Catholics who don’t buy into everything the Church hierarchy dictates: Let them go:

Bill Keller (Tony Cenicola - The New York Times)

Donohue notes that roughly a quarter of Americans identify themselves as Catholic. He reckons maybe half of those, the more conservative half, attend church regularly and contribute. “They’re the ones who pay the bills,” he said. “Can we afford to ignore the other half? I think we can.” And as for the unsettled religious orders, the nuns and priests who vowed allegiance and now preach dissent, why should the church put up with insubordination?

Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause. Donohue is right. Summon your fortitude, and just go. If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience — then go. The restive nuns who are planning a field trip to Rome for a bit of dialogue? Be assured, unless you plan to grovel, no one will be listening. Sisters, just go. Bill Donohue will hold the door for you.

I agree completely. The Catholic Church isn’t flexible when it comes to social issues and people who go against their doctrine. If you support gay marriage, if you believe women ought to be in control of their own bodies, if you don’t think the wafer and wine literally turn into the body and blood of Christ, they don’t consider you a true Catholic, anyway. Why do you keep supporting them when you disagree with so much of what they say and do? If you left, you’d be doing yourself (and the rest of us) a huge favor.

Keller’s column echoes the FFRF’s proclamation for “nominal” Catholics to leave the Church, though Keller doesn’t urge anyone to give up god altogether.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Glasofruix

    Why the religious nutjobs always talk about “hearts” and “summoning”?

    :p

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    “Be assured, unless you plan to grovel, no one will be listening” all dialogue with the Vatican summed up there

  • AxeGrrl

    *waiting for Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas to make a public comment about this*

    (and then refuse to answer questions about his public comment)

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    Then are they going to stop counting us in their numbers?  I haven’t been a participant in the catholic church since I was 13 which was in 1993.   When they boast those big numbers of their membership, I am sure they are counting those of us baptized as infants and leaving later in life.  

    • http://twitter.com/RantBot5000 RantBot Grikmeer

      You have to contact them and get them to remove you from the Baptismal Roll, (Might not be called that, I was never Christened, so I don’t know).

      They’ll put up a fight, but if you get them to do it then they can’t can’t you towards Catholicism any more.

      • Arclight

         It’s called “defection.” And the current pope eliminated the process. There’s no way out. It’s like the Mafia.

        • Yukimi

          It makes me so happy my parents decided not to baptise us ^^

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      It’s almost impossible to get formally removed from the Church rolls. You could fight for years. Don’t waste the energy. If they want to count you as Catholic, let them count. They aren’t getting any money from you, and you can legitimately call yourself a “Catholic atheist”, which sounds fun.

      • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

        Oh I would never bother, but I think if they are telling us to leave… then they need to make sure that they reflect that in their numbers.  I’m sure they could cross reference the baptismal records and records of current parish members.  

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Supporting the Catholic Church is like supporting some James Bond-ish super villain’s criminal enterprise.

    • MG

      I wish I could bend time–Otto Preminger would have made such a good Ratzinger. Or Erich von Stroheim–that would have been marvelous casting!

  • Alan Christensen

    It’s a cultural thing. Who/what is an ex-Catholic without all the Catholic-ness immeshed in every moment of his/her life? (Well, yeah, we atheists think their lives would be much better, but…) Rejecting some papal horse shit is one thing, but abandoning the Blessed Virgin or the protective saints, or holidays, or the comforting promises… Leaving the Catholic church would be leaving the tribe, your people, your family (figuratively and literally). Catholics tolerate the lapsed Catholic, the “bad” Catholic—so long as they still identify as Catholic. But the apostates? Oh sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Might as well get a bonfire ready. It’s the same with many other religions. I used to be a Mormon. Now, according to my kin, I’m an agent of the devil.

    • Nankayk

      Alan, Absolutely!  I was raised Catholic and have many many relatives still actively participating in that church.  To tell someone to “just leave”, you are asking them to write their own ticket straight to Hell. (in their minds). No Holy Communion? Confession? Last Rites? No Mass?  Are you kidding? Those are “God ordered”.   They may not agree with the human/political side of things, but to them, The Church is The Church. Leaving it to go elsewhere, is simply too frightening to consider. 

      • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

        Agreed.  My cousin got married in the church.  She was wiccan for many years of high school/college (Tho went to a Catholic high school/college).  So I was absolutely floored.   I think sometimes cultural Catholics are still drawn to the church for who knows what.

        I will admit I do feel a very odd calm in a traditional catholic church.  Something about the art and the decadent marble/old wood.   It makes no sense and sort of freaks me out that I feel that way.  But so be it.

  • MG

    Why don’t you go away if you don’t like it here?  It’s that who bit of Jesuit philosophy at work–”Give me the child until he is seven and anyone may have him after”. Francis Xavier understood 500 years ago that if you get them young, you can infect their brains with a disease that they can never completely shake.  Backfiring on them now, though.  Church can’t get rid of them, even though they may have decided they actually want to.

  • Kodie

    I think a lot of people who consider themselves Catholic are not necessarily as aware of the sickeningness of the Catholic Church. They go with the flow, they like the sense of ritual and splendor and tradition, like cultural Jews go through the motions; I think there is such a thing as a cultural Catholic. They may believe in god but like a Jew doesn’t keep kosher or uses the TV on Saturday, they use birth control and get divorced like anyone else. Like the Jew, if you make any point against Israel, though, the Catholic will get their back up about the Pope or god. They are still superstitious up to a point if you criticize what they believe in.

    I think they stick with it far more than any other religious belief. They are not shopping around for another church or another way to believe. They just stay with the one, marry in the church, get their spouse counseling if necessary, and make a big deal to get their child baptized in the church to please their parents. It’s their tradition. It’s like saying you’re “Irish” because you are 4th generation part-Irish-American, have never been to Ireland, don’t know any Irish language or customs, don’t have Irish dual-citizenship, but you’re still Irish because you drink beer and maybe are a fireman.

    • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

      I’m the double doozie atheist Polish Catholic.  3rd generation Polish who only knows words like “dupa.”  And even though I went through 8 years of CCD never really believed.  And was SHOCKED to learn that the church thinks that the bread & wine are LITERALLY body and blood…. which I didn’t realize until I became an atheist activist a couple years ago.  

      I think part of it is that we don’t even understand the church doctrine as Catholic kids.  That was not taught in CCD.   Perhaps if I would have been confirmed then I would have gone on to learn that sort of thing?  I left right before confirmation.  

  • TheAnalogKid

    But even if all of those “nominal” Catholics left, the Church would still be having an impact on the lives of non-Catholics.

  • http://twitter.com/RantBot5000 RantBot Grikmeer

    *can’t count

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    While I can’t argue with anybody leaving the Catholic Church, the recommendation sounds to me like what we regularly get from the idiot wingnuts (as in the FFRF hate mail) about just leaving the country (typically for Iran or Russia) if we don’t like government Christmas displays, prayer at public meetings, etc.

    Certainly, leaving is an option. But so is staying and fighting for change, and I think that’s a lot more respectable action. If people are Catholics for a reason- there are significant parts of their religion that are important to them- then working from within to make changes is a positive approach.

    It does not matter how conservative or fossilized an institution might be, ultimately it takes its direction from its membership. No organization, no government, has ever withstood change from within. The Catholic Church looks the way it does today as compared with how it looked in the Middle Ages (yes… there is a bit of difference) because the views of its members changed, not because the views of its leaders did.

    • Kodie

       Maybe you know different people than I do, but I don’t think of Catholics as caring about change. I mean, they might not like all the rules or agree with them, or even follow them, but I just don’t see them being activists against their own church to get these things changed. I see them just going to church or not going to church, taking only the parts they want from it seriously, and having no interest in leaving.

      What it seems to me that the guy up there is saying, is like this: The Catholic Church is a company with a rigid policy. You’re all fired. You steal so much as one pen, you’re fired. You leave 5 minutes early on a Friday when there is nothing left to do, you’re fired. Who wants to work for that company? But he can’t fire anyone because he’s not the boss. People just do whatever they want and at the same time call themselves a Catholic… I’m not a Catholic, never was, but I have no interest in the Church changing, from the inside or any other side so there will always be Catholics. I hope it runs out of followers and disappears.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        It would be great if the Catholic Church disappeared. But realistically, that’s not going to happen. What we need to get rid of is theism, not any particular church. If people leave the Catholic Church but stay believers, what’s really accomplished? In the U.S., Protestants are a much greater political threat than Catholics- we might be worse off if people leave Catholicism to become Protestant!

        The Catholic Church is rich and influential, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon, even if half their American members leave. What will happen, is that an exodus of the moderates will leave the Church even more extreme, but still powerful. Better would be if the moderates remain and incrementally push the Church to be more moderate itself.

        • ortcutt

          People don’t need to leave the Catholic Church for another church.  They can simply stop having a religion.  My parents left the Church when I was a child but never joined another church.  And while my parents would have self-identified as Catholic until recently, they raised three children who became atheists.  The exodus of the moderates won’t make the Church more powerful.  It will hasten its demise as it becomes more and more extreme.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            They can stop having a religion, which is an improvement over having one… but probably not by much. They need to leave theism to have a markedly positive effect on society, and I don’t see the act of leaving the Church corresponding with any significant increase in atheism.

            It is the exodus of moderates that is making the religious right more, not less powerful. In many cases, it takes only a few extremist voices to produce change. Those voices can be lost amongst the moderates… but only if the moderates remain.

            • ortcutt

              That’s exactly reversed.  Leaving the Catholic Church has much more positive effect on society than leaving theism.  Private theism and a universalist belief in heaven is quite minimally damaging to society.   The exodus of moderates is making the Catholic Church a narrow extremist interest group, rather than a group that once enjoyed widespread public support.  

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                We’ll have to disagree about that. I don’t think religion is as damaging to society as theism. The latter is fundamentally irrational, and I consider the sort of irrational mindset it encourages to be central to most of our problems… today, and throughout history.

                Get rid of religion, and that doesn’t change. Get rid of theism, and religion falls away anyway.

                • ortcutt

                  Absent religion, theism dies out in a generation.  It’s that simple.  Without the organizations of indoctrination, people don’t grow up to be theists.  I didn’t.  Private, non-dogmatic theism, on the other hand, is almost harmless.

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  That’s an interesting chicken-or-egg question. Personally, I see theism as closely related to spirituality, which like racism, sexism, and xenophobia are byproducts of the way our brains work. Reflective, rational people can use intellect to override these inclinations.

                  I think religion is nothing more than a man-made control mechanism to exploit the natural inclination towards spirituality/theism. I don’t think eliminating religion would have much impact on theism- only encouraging rationality can do that. But without theism, there’s nothing for religion to feed on or exploit.

                  I do see theism as harmful.

                • ortcutt

                  Your personal beliefs aren’t supported by data.  I suggest that you read up in the sociology of religion literature.  I’ll recommend Steve Bruce’s recent book “Secularization”.  Rationalism isn’t a major factor in the decline of religion, but on the contrary without religious socialization, people don’t spontaneously become theists. Do you really think that all of the atheists in Japan, Europe, etc… became that way because they are rationalists.  No, they’re just people who weren’t raised in the church and who live in a society without social pressure to be theists.

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  Certainly there is a social aspect. But yes, I do believe that rationalism is MUCH more common in Europe and Japan… something that is a byproduct of the way they educate their children, and which is evident in their test scores as compared with Americans.

    • ortcutt

      If you want to set out to change an organization, you need to identify what mechanism you could use to bring about that change.  What such mechanism is there in the Catholic Church?  There are no popular elections to the College of Cardinals.  Bishops aren’t elected by the laity of the diocese, they are appointed by the Pope.  The Pope clearly doesn’t give a damn about what the laity thinks on anything, so popular discontent isn’t going to make a difference.  There is simply no mechanism to bring about positive change in the Catholic Church, and it’s delusional to think otherwise.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Popes do care what the laity think. They have to. The leadership can be very conservative, but they’re still driven by the members. It just takes time. The mechanism for change is simple: do what you feel is right (most Catholics already do this), and be vocal. Sure, the leadership will rail against you. But they won’t throw you out. They are unlikely to deny you communion. And you’ll sway others. That’s what has changed the Church in the past, and it’s what will change it in the future.

        • ortcutt

          Maybe some Popes in the past cared about lay opinion, but the current one and the ones in the conceivable future don’t seem to.  Ratzinger has said that he wants a smaller church living in “intense struggle” with contemporary society.  Does that sound like someone open to a moderate laity?  No.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Even Ratzinger cares what the laity thinks. He may not say it out loud, and he may not like it, but he has to concern himself with it, and it has to inform his decisions, even when those decisions are opposite popular opinion.

            The Church ultimately will end up representing the views of the majority of its members. It has always worked that way, and it always will. To suggest otherwise flies in the face of the nature of human institutions.

            • ortcutt

              I don’t see why it would need to reflect the majority if those moderates say as you propose “We’re not leaving because we want to improve the church.”  They can continue to delusionally believe that they will change the church and the church can continue to reject their viewpoints. 

            • Hemant

               The majority of the church uses birth control and doesn’t think it’s immoral. The majority of the church say they disagree with the Vatican on major viewpoints. The majority of the church are horrified at the endless covering up of child rape.

              To say the church will or has ever represented the views of its members is a delusion. They represent the view that Jesus is the son of god – there is not much else moderates agree with. Those that say they have seen change in the church in their own lifetimes fail to realize the institution is at least 60 years behind the times in 2012 and is doubling down on its commitment to resist social change.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

                Just FYI, I didn’t make the previous comment.

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                Change in the Catholic Church has often been decades behind the views of its members. But the change has always come. And today’s social structures make resisting change much more difficult.

                Personally, I think that within no more than a few decades the Catholic Church will accept homosexuality to the extent of recognizing and performing same-sex marriages, will allow the use of birth control, and will have woman priests.

        • JFT2

          I don’t know what church you are talking about but it is not the RCC.  In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such disregard and disrespect for the laity — from the Bishops and the Pope.  They refer to us — or at least wish us to be–the simple faithful — not simply faithful but simple faithful.  Pray, pay and obey — even now after all of the scandals and none more so than the cover up and complicity in the rape of children and the vulnerable.  (there is a huge problem in Africa with the rape of nuns by you know who.)  The problem is the secretive clerical culture that loves power more than God’s people.  

          No institution with the size and power of the Roman Catholic Church has ever reformed from within or repented for its faults.  Understand, I am a cradle catholic, and I love the Eucharist.  And for that reason, I’m leaving.  It’s a hard choice — I cry about it every day.  But my conscience just won’t let me stay any longer.  Jesus has been forgotten in the quest to dominate and wield power.  Remind you of anyone?

  • John Small Berries

    Again with the “if you aren’t 100% orthodox, you’re not a real Catholic” argument?

    I used to think it was just Fundamentalists who insisted upon such a black-and-white, all-or-nothing mindset. But I guess not.

  • Joseph Auclair

    “Love it or leave it” has always had a certain appeal for right wingers who fear their power is challenged.

    • Pseudonym

      You have to admit, it’s a pretty easy way to rid yourself of inconvenient dissenters.

  • Mairianna

    Excuse me, but didn’t anyone notice that Brother Bill here doesn’t really care about your religious beliefs?  He only cares about the almighty dollar you bring to the church.  He’d be happy if all non-tithing Catholics WOULD take a hike.   Would make the church a more profitable institution.  (Oh my!  Did I say THAT????)   The Catholic Church is a screwed up cult.  There will be no change, no matter how much protesting, etc. is done, especially any initiated for women or nuns…not to that good old boys club. 

  • ortcutt

    I’ve always thought that the realization that someone can have no religion is more emancipatory than realizing there is no god.  My parents were raised Catholic but fell out with the Church over the conservative social policies and largely came to disbelieve Catholic theology as well.  But if you had asked them up until a few years ago, they would still have self-identified as Catholic.  Why?  I think a large part of it is that they considered the answer “We have no religion” to be hard to understand and socially dangerous.  What kind of people have no religion?  I think it’s important to send the message that you can be good without God, but it’s more important to send the message that you can be good without religion.  No one needs to have a religion and “none” is a perfectly good answer to “What is your religion?”  It would be great to convince these 50% of self-identified Catholics that it’s OK to have no religion and that they don’t have to feel bound to a Church they dislike.

  • Elinor Dashwood

    There’s only one good reason for being a Catholic: because you believe that what the Faith teaches is true.  If you don’t believe, and are not willing to be taught to believe, you ought to go.  To use a frivolous but just analogy, why would you join a chess club and keep trying to talk everybody into playing by backgammon rules?  The backgammon club meets down the hall.  Bye.

  • Marco Conti

    I am pretty sure they think that this is a minority that once gone will not reflect negatively on church membership. They may be right but that’s because they know that many of those they are inviting to leave will not and remain in the church while only very few will actually depart and that will give them the evidence they need to say “See, we were right all along”.

    I know a lot of Catholics. I was born and raised in Rome and baptized in St. peter basilica. Everyone I grew up with was at least nominally Catholic. 
    Of all these people I can only exclude my two grandmothers and a number (but not all) of Nuns and priests I knew growing up. Everyone else was not a true catholic and if everyone took their church membership seriously they should leave and join some other church or organization, but they are not “True Catholics”.

    So, they can make this gamble because it is no gamble at all, but if people really took them seriously, the church would lose much of their power, at least in the developed world.

  • Gunstargreen

    I think the first thing the Catholic church needs to do in its new PR efforts to keep more people in the church is get rid of Bill Donohue and his toxic hate speech.

    However don’t tell them I said so because it amuses me to no end how Donohue makes the church look even worse with his diarrhea of the mouth.

    My father has been a liberal and a Catholic his entire life even though I’ve told him a million times about the things he’s supporting that he doesn’t agree with, the tradition and the belief in god is more important to him. In any case he goes to church every week and there are many others like him that do the same. Donohue is saying those people should get out, and while I agree with him I find it hilarious that he’s offending a good half of the church’s population and doing our “quit the church” campaign work for us!

  • Cece24

    Who cares ? All you Catholics are going to Hell anyways.

  • Sid_44039

    wow i did not know you spoke for Christ and his church. You kinda sound like Hitler to me

  • Sid_44039

    while we are on the subject of listening to our priests bishops and all of the church what about the children that they have sexually abused?

  • Sarafiennes

    I agree, anyone who was a catholic and chooses to follow another religion ot no religion should be free to do so and they can walk away. The problem is when that person wishes to formally defect from the church. Guess what happens? They can’t. Because once you’re baptised as a catholic you are always a catholic and you cannot escape. You are chained to the church, they own you. Well that is their view. How is this fair? Don’t they believe that humans have a freedom of religion? Or is it that catholics don’t have free will anymore once they are baptised as babies and have no choice in the matter. They may call this salvation. I call this slavery.