This week Andrew Sullivan posted two things from Catholics who oppose the hierarchy but aren’t leaving the church, explaining why not. One was a video from Sister Jeannine Gramick, the nun who founded an organization that advocates for gay Catholics. The other is a column in TIME by one Tim Padgett, who admits the Catholic hierarchy has a “penchant for misogynistic, homophobic and otherwise archaic doctrine.”
Gramick says she stays with the Catholic Church because it “nourishes” her, while Padgett says:
Neither the hierarchy’s criminality nor its absurdity makes me want to leave Roman Catholicism. It just makes me all the more determined to remind the world that this dysfunctional institution that claims to speak for Catholicism in fact does not speak for Catholicism. That so many of that institution’s codes don’t represent the Christ-inspired exercise of human compassion, hope and reason that the Catholic faith most Catholics practice is based upon. As a citizen, I’m a committed American: I didn’t leave the U.S. when Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush were presidents. Likewise, as a person of faith, I didn’t join the Catholic church 30 years ago because of the hierarchy, and I’m not going to leave it now because of the hierarchy.
Regular readers of this blog shouldn’t be surprised to hear that I don’t think these are terribly compelling reasons for staying any type of Christian. But it’s an especially shitty justification for staying a member of an organization that has done the downright evil things the Catholic Church has done, because they reasons would be just as good as reasons for being Protestant.
In Padgett’s case, I don’t think Jesus was a great dude, but if you did, couldn’t you engage in a “Christ-inspired exercise of human compassion, hope and reason” in a Protestant church? And in Gramick’s case, why does she find Catholicism any more nourishing than anything she could find in any of the many flavors of Protestantism out there? I know these aren’t the only cases where Catholics answer the question “why are you Catholic?” with reasons for being Christian. It’s pretty clear that for these people, the choice of particular church is a matter of habit.
This is important to emphasize, because when atheists ask Catholics “why are you still Catholic?” they’re likely to be heard as telling Catholics to become atheists. Which is understandable. I’d be perfectly happy if all the Catholics in the world became atheists tomorrow. But I also think the most obvious, should-be-a-no-brainer reasons for ditching the Catholic Church aren’t, by themselves, reasons for ditching God or even Christianity altogether. They’re reasons for ditching a specific, deeply corrupt organization.