Why I Am Not a Catholic: By David G. Moore

Why I Am Not a Catholic: By David G. Moore October 30, 2015

By David G. Moore, who blogs here.

There are several questions about Roman Catholicism, which I have never, and I mean never, received satisfying answers.  As a kid growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I experienced either the frustration of priests to my questions or a quick dismissal with “it’s mysterious, Dave.”  Granted, there are many things beyond our ability to know, but invoking mystery many times seemed to be a nice way of covering up possible inconsistencies in doctrine or practice.

The New York Times journalist, Ross Douthat, is a conservative Roman Catholic.  He has grave concerns over a progressive coterie of Catholics who desire to have their church dogma be more in step with modernity.  Douthat had the temerity to make his concerns public .

A group of these outraged progressive Roman Catholics wrote a formal letter to the New York Times.  One thing, which is explicitly stated, reminds me why I am no longer a Roman Catholic.  A second reason is demonstrated by the nature of the controversy itself.  Again, there are many reasons why I am not a Roman Catholic, but this latest controversy highlights at least these two for me.

Here’s the brief beef of the progressives:

On Sunday, October 18, the Times published Ross Douthat’s piece “The Plot to  Change Catholicism.” Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional  qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and  other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is. Moreover, accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. This is not what we expect of the New York Times.

Note well the scolding Douthat gets for having “no professional qualifications for writing on the subject…”  They are referring to the fact that Douthat has no formal theological training.  Along with their thinly veiled condescension and clericalism, these scholars miss an important point.  Douthat is a magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard.  You don’t get those kinds of honors by doing slipshod work.  If these critics of Douthat are so enamored with proper credentials, I would like to know how many of them have Ivy-league honors.

I received some of the best Bible teaching from a group of men who had no formal theological training.  Like Douthat, these men are smart.  They know how to study and study well.  They are autodidacts in the best sense of the word.

Sadly, condescension and clericalism are also alive and well in Protestantism.  However, I have found more Protestants willing to consider someone’s theological competence based on what they actually know not how much formal education they have received.  Yet, I must confess rubbing shoulders with many seminary graduates of both Protestant and Catholic schools who are woefully ignorant of their Christian faith all while prominently displaying a framed sheepskin on the wall.

A common critique made by Catholics about us Protestants is that we have the “wild West” when it comes to Bible interpretation.  We have no centralized authority.  Conversely, Roman Catholics supposedly get to bask in a stable authority that everyone agrees with.  It is what I like to call the “Monolith Myth” of Roman Catholicism.  Protestants craving spiritual stability are lured by this myth.  Roman Catholics continue to promote the myth though it hardly fits the rambling landscape of the church.

It is true that Roman Catholics don’t have denominations like us Protestants.   It is also true that Roman Catholics are hardly a monolith.  Just look at this present controversy with Douthat and his critics.  These progressives and conservatives are both Roman Catholics.  No one is getting excommunicated, are they?  Look at the theological differences between the previous Pope, Benedict XVI, and Francis.   Is there a huge outcry that one of these Popes is not a legitimate Roman Catholic?

I attended parochial and Jesuit schools. I taught in Poland.  I read Roman Catholic theology and history.  I regularly listen to lectures by Roman Catholic thinkers like Robert Wilken, Scott Hahn, the late Richard John Neuhaus, and George Weigel.  If you are paying attention, you know the Roman Catholic Church is hardly monolithic when it comes to what people within that tradition actually believe.

In a strange sort of way, the Douthat dustup gives me comfort.  It reminds me that there is no perfect church, and by way of extension, no perfect church tradition.  Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox traditions all offer me critical insights about the Christian faith, but I am under no delusion that any of them is perfect.  Progressive Catholics who are put out over one of their conservative brethren speaking his conscience gave me an unexpected gift.  The bride of Christ is still being prepared for her Groom.

[I am grateful to John Fea for bringing the Douthat controversy to my attention.  After I finished my piece, I saw a post by Jim Keane, a progressive Roman Catholic writer (http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/thoughts-heresy).  Among other things, Keane underscored the problem of clericalism in his church.  Again, I am grateful to John Fea’s terrific blog, “The Way of Improvement Leads Home,” for also bringing my attention to Keane’s piece.]

David George Moore blogs at www.twocities.org.

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