Insofar as the Catholic Church is harmless, it’s because nobody takes it seriously

Last week, Freethought Blogs picked up a new member, Libby Anne. She grew up in the Quiverfull movement, and her first couple of posts gave me a new perspective on the Catholics and contraception shitstorm. First, from her introductory post:

To those of you who are meeting me for the first time, greetings! And to readers who are following me here from my blogger site, well met, old friend! In this, my first post on FreeThought Blogs, I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself and my blog.

I grew up in an evangelical family, was involved in the religious right, and was homeschooled. I learned from creationist textbooks and was taught to embrace courtship in place of dating. My family was influenced by the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy movements, which urge raising large numbers of children as an “army” for Christ and hold that women must always be under male authority and headship. College set off a chain of events that shook my life and beliefs to their core. By the time I graduated, I was an atheist, a feminist, and a political progressive.

Then from her post explicitly dealing with the controversy:

I know what my life would be like without contraception. If my fertility matched that of my mother, I would spend twenty-five years of my life constantly pregnant or nursing. Some people chose that life, but I don’t think it should be forced on anyone, and I know for sure it’s not what I want.

I grew up expecting to live that life, though. I grew up in an atmosphere where my worth as a woman ended up tied to how many children I would have. It wasn’t entirely intentional, it’s just that when you grow up hearing women continually praised for the number of children they have and child count becomes a status symbol, you really can’t help it. I expected to spend my life pregnant or nursing, changing diapers and wiping noses.

And then everything changed for me. As I rethought what I believed and what I wanted from life, I discovered that I could choose how many children I wanted to have and when to have them. I mean, I’d always known I could do that, but I finally came to see that as an actual option and to appreciate what it meant. Allowed to consider anything and everything, I realized that I didn’t want the huge family, didn’t want the constant pregnancies, didn’t want to stay at home. And thankfully, I didn’t have to.

The reason this made me stop and think is that in all the posts I’ve written until now, it didn’t even occur to me to point out that a good chunk of the Catholic laity would be opposing the bishops on the contraception issue. Pretty much everyone knows that in practice, the Catholic church does not function as a billion-member Quiverfull movement, no matter what the official positions of its leaders. In the united states, Catholic women use contraception at the same rate as non-Catholic women.

But it’s worth taking a moment to to think what it would mean if lay Catholics actually took their leaders seriously on contraception. According to Wikipedia, a quarter of Americans identify as Catholic. If all Catholics followed their church’s teachings on contraception, that would mean about a quarter of American women growing up the way Libby Anne did. Think about that for a moment, especially if you’re the kind of person who sees the Catholic church as a relatively moderate form of Christianity compared to those nasty fundamentalists.

Though I’d also emphasize that word “insofar” in the post title. In light of the child-rape-coverup scandal, the Catholic church is obviously far from harmless, even in America.

Another thing: When I first wrote a post on the Catholics-and-contraception issue, I didn’t intend it to be a recurring series. I think the reason it’s turned in to one is because this is a great example of how the insane old men are losing the argument, which is something I think atheists should reflect on more.

  • MichaelD

    There was also the bishop stating this obama contraception issue should be “violently opposed”. Very thankful he was catholic and not Muslim there >.>

  • raven

    The Catholic church cooks their numbers.

    They claim 72 million members but only count baptisms.

    In recent years 1/3 of their membership has left the church. This is 22 million people, an astounding number. (source, Vancouver Sun article using Catholic reporting).

    So the nominal Catholics are around 50 million and probably dropping by the day.

    Half of my extended family is Catholic. AFAIK, none of them go to mass anymore. One of them is a mid level lay official, in a Protestant church. By Catholic counting, he is still…a Catholic.

    The warped dumb old men who run that church have an interesting reaction to the exodus of members. They just completely ignore it. People claim they have given up on the industrialized world and are working on the poor countries.

    • abb3w

      Sorry, I feel obliged to disagree with your analysis.

      The 72M sounds about right, actually, going by the fraction of the GSS-2010 identifying as Catholic. (25% of the US, current US population about 300M.) Your analysis neglects that there are sources of inflow to the Church as well as outflow from the church. While the US Catholic church has been losing members at about the same per-capita time rate as the Baptists, the Catholic religion is the largest fraction of the world’s population; thus, US immigration contributes significantly to making up for those losses. The RC church also makes some converts from the unaffiliated and from protestants — though in both cases, less than they lose. However, the combination of converts and immigration-less-emmigration means the US Catholic fraction has been able to hold comparatively steady overall, even though contemporary Nothingarians are about as likely to have been raised Catholic as raised irreligious.

      The tendency to reduced attendance probably reflects weaker religious identification than in the past, even among those who remain as identifying “strongly”, but isn’t the same as complete disidentification.

  • raven

    Vancouver Sun Douglas Todd

    The Catholic church is losing huge numbers of members. If ex-Catholics were their own denomination, they would make up the third largest denomination in the United States, according to The National Catholic Reporter. Canadians have much to learn from a powerful new study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which shows that one out every 10 Americans is now an ex-Catholic. {Scroll through my take on more Catholic church issues.}

    “Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why. But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus. Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening,” writes Jesuit Father Thomas Reese continues

    Source for above.

    You will never get the truth from the Catholic church on how many people have left. A lot of sects cook their numbers to appear more powerful than they are.

    By some reckonings, the number of ex-Mormons is 3X the number of active Mormons. The SBC cooks their numbers as well.

    • http://oldtimeatheism.blogspot.com/ Andyman409

      Yeah… according to the Catholic church, I’m still Catholic!

      On another note, are there actually any impressive Catholic Philosophers at all; I mean, ones that actually publish a lot of material, like Plantinga or Swinburne?

      • Anonymous Atheist

        I think they like to rely on the Catholics who wrote stuff hundreds of years ago. ;)

        I don’t know if any current Catholic writers would meet your standards of ‘impressiveness’, but http://www.ignatius.com/ is probably a good place to look.

  • Azuma Hazuki

    Catholicism is not benign. I was raised one (though most of my intellectual sympathies were with the Protestants, with the exception of the Catholic insistence on evidential apologetics).

    The Church can profitably be thought of as the world’s oldest and likely largest multinational corporation. Once this connection is made, a lot of things suddenly fall into place. Doesn’t the denial of the child abuse scandal and subsequent coverup look a lot like corporate dodging-and-weaving?

    And never, ever, ever forget the screams of the Inquisition’s torture victims. They will echo through the ages, the smell of burning flesh and blood and purulent infection as an eternal indictment in the Church’s nostrils which no amount of incense will ever fumigate away.

    • rjohnston

      The Church can profitably be thought of as the world’s oldest and likely largest multinational corporation.

      As I was reading this sentence, I got to “multi” and for some reason my brain initially filled in the rest of the sentence as “level marketing scam” rather than “national corporation.” After doing a double take and catching what was actually written, I decided that my brain has a point. The catholic church is an MLM scam, one that’s slowly collapsing as the laity at the base of the pyramid decides to reduce the amount of cash they’re funneling up a level.

  • chrisgauthier

    Oh, yeah it’s totally harmless. Except to African catholics, who actually do take shit like “condoms increase aids” seriously, but they’re just Africans right? Or to generations of children in every country that have been instilled with a guilt complex that can require decades of effort to expunge and neuroses that linger even for the successful. Totally harmless. Those altar boys and orphan children probably had it coming, too.

  • Stevarious

    Lets not forget the hundreds of thousands of children stolen from women deemed ‘unfit mothers’ by the Church and sold to ‘good Catholic families’ in Spain and Australia from the 40′s to the 80′s.

    • Sarah

      Yeah! Lets blame the Catholics for things the Australian governmnent did! Hooray! And did you know Jews are responsible (en-masse) for the crimes of Israel. And Atheists for the crimes of Communists. It’s an unfair blame party!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/yrast codyreisdorf

    While all those are good points, keep in mind the title doesn’t say the Catholic church isn’t harmless, it just says that in the ways that it is harmless it is only because no one is listening to it, for instance, it’s a lot less harmful than it could be regarding birth control because most people (in America) ignore their stance entirely.

    But to add to the list of ills, I think the promotion of mystical thinking, and appealing to a fictional character (deluded self-deception) instead of fellow human beings, are some of the most damaging accomplishments.