If You Don’t Think the Wafer Turns Into Jesus, You’re Not Really a Catholic June 10, 2012

If You Don’t Think the Wafer Turns Into Jesus, You’re Not Really a Catholic

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 Timescolumnist 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.

What the hell…? Waters doesn’t like the results of a poll so he blames math for being hard? (Someone please teach him how statistics and surveys work.) Meanwhile, transubstantiation requires little thought, so he’ll take it. Sounds like the typical religious mindset. (In fact, the small margin of error for the poll means it is pretty reliable.)

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.

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  • Recovering Agnostic

    Hilarious wriggling, justification and special pleading to diminish the significance of this result, but I wonder if this might be a mixed blessing for atheism.

    Just like any number of previous surveys, this appears to indicate that people continue to identify with the church even when they disagree with it or it’s just plain wrong or evil. The church says stupid things about contraception, there are these funny ideas about Jesus being in the wafer, and Father has a strange interest in choirboys, but it’s still their church in some way.

    Maybe the battle ahead for atheism isn’t to point out wrong or inconsistent religious beliefs, but to break that attachment and offer alternative forms of identity and community.

  • Stev84

    No surprise there. Catholicism has long has a large cultural component to it. It’s like that pretty much everywhere.

    But this is hardly confined just to the Catholic Church. The Protestants in Northern Europe are exactly the same. Most merely belong to the church because it’s tradition, not because they really buy into it.

  • mike

    Beliefs like this were the catalyst for me leaving the Catholic Church, which was my first step toward my eventual atheism.

  • Cyanmoon

    I am an American ex-pat in my 30s living in Ireland for 14 years. I don’t know a single person who actually believes in transubstantiation in the literal sense! I know many people who believe in the God of the Catholic Church, but almost none who buy into the finer bits of dogma. It has been my experience that Ireland, a Catholic country, is a good deal less religious (or at least less dogmatic) than the US, a supposedly secular nation.

  • MG

    Get in line in that processional,
    Step into that small confessional.
    There the guy who’s got religion’ll
    Tell you if your sin’s original.
    If it is, try playin’ it safer,
    Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
    Two, four, six, eight,
    Time to transubstantiate!

  • snoofle

    My mother was an Irish Catholic, and unfortunately bought into transubstantiation because she was told she HAD to believe it or she was faithless.  Unfortunate, because she had coeliac disease, and although you CAN get special gluten-free wafers, because she was told she had to believe the host was literally turned into the body of christ, she then believed regular wafers no longer had gluten as they were no longer bread, but flesh. So even though it affected her physically, she kept taking Communion (with gluten-containing hosts) every day.  She died of bowel cancer, which is much more common in coeliacs who are NOT following a gluten-free diet.

  • mikespeir

    People have been spit-roasted for denying transubstantiation.   Of course it’s an fundamental doctrine of the RCC.

  • The basic (and only) rule for being a  True Catholic™ is just calling yourself a  True Catholic™.

    Nonsense can only be justified with nonsense of course.

  • kev_s

    With a birth rate under 2 in Italy you would have to include at least one of the following if true:
    1. Italians are very infertile
    2. Italians don’t know how to do it.
    3. Italians don’t like doing it.,
    4. Italians don’t listen to the Pope and use contraceptives.
    Now I wonder which one is most likely?

  • TheAnalogKid

    Catholics aren’t true Christians anyway; ask Jack Chick.

  • If you don’t believe Jesus came back to life three days after
    Crucifixion, you have no business calling yourself a Christian, either.

    If they follow Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, I would still consider them a Christian.

  • A sobering tale, thanks for sharing it.  Are you a Catholic?

  • I’m over 50. I have never met a Christian who actually was. I’m not sure any of them ever read the bible. The most Christian-like people I know are atheists.

    Christianity is no more, no less than a way to separate people from their money through fear.

    Factually, most Christians, encouraged by their own churches, regularly ignore the most basic teaching of Jesus Christ, which is the repudiation of the old testament. That he, supposedly, brought forth a “new covenant”, yet whenever it is a matter of convenience, faux-Christians will turn to the old testament for a quote or passage that justifies their behaviour.

    Actually, Jesus was probably an athiest who was killed because he was outing the church and its leaders as fraudsters. When they realized it may have gone too far, they co-opted him and turned him into a religious figure, which, indeed, worked out well for them since using the teachings of “God” along with the teachings of “Jesus” allowed them to reel in far more people since they now had two diametrically opposed books of “teachings” that allowed them to justify anything to anyone as an “acceptable” religious practise, and on the other hand, to condemn anything if it was convenient.

    Church is a win-win for the foolhardy. If you believe people should be killed for acting differently, here’s your book. If you believe no action cannot be forgiven, here’s your book. How convenient. Here’s the collection plate.

  • KarlVonMox

    I really tire of the excuse making and the backtracking and cognitive dissonance surrounding religious beliefs. Apparently it makes sense to call yourself a Catholic and yet ignore what the Catholic Church says is true and has maintained for centuries, and whole parts of the Bible that is supposed to be a divine revelation from God.

    This is true even among people who consider themselves scientists – some people in my department where I go to grad school are just like the poll responders. This has nothing to do with logic, or reason, or science – just a desperate urge to salvage primitive beliefs in any way they can.

  • 8GR8CATS

    This is the beginning of every intelligent conversation with a friend or loved one about religion.  What exactly do you believe?  If you don’t believe it… you can’t call yourself a Catholic.  I’m an atheist in a fox hole.  I have an incurable blood cancer and a family full of people praying for me.  I can’t say what I want to say which is forget the prayers and donate $$$ to medical research.  I also don’t want to alienate these folks so I smile and nod and say thank you.  Frustrating beyond belief.   

  • Becky Shattuck

    But one of the major differences between Catholics and Protestants is that Catholics believe in the literal body and blood of Christ in the sacrament.  

    So, the point is, non-Catholic Christians can believe it’s just a metaphor and not literal, but Catholics can’t.  If they don’t believe it’s not the literal body and blood of Christ, then they’re NOT Catholic.  They can still be Christian, but not Catholic.  It’s one of the defining points of Catholicism!

  •  A touching memory, thank you for sharing it.

    I wanted to press the “like” button, but I was afraid it would be taken the wrong way.

  • A Catholic is someone who has gone through the relevant initiation ceremonies and participates in the sacraments.  Transubstantiation is somewhat relevant because of its relationship to the rituals that define membership, but I fail to see the point of playing inquisitor and searching out deviations from the hierarchy to say, “see, they aren’t really Catholics.”  The people in the pews who receive communion are clearly Catholics, though they may have a mistaken understanding of the church’s doctrines.

  • snoofle

     Well, not now, (and probably not ever), although I was raised as a Catholic.  Even as a child, it struck me as ridiculous – having to go to confession aged 7 and I felt I had to make up sins!

  • snoofle

     Well, I liked yours, thanks for the reply!

  • Eric D Red

    This is one of the examples of hypocrisy that pushed me from tolerant non-belief to downright hatred of the Catholic faith I was nominally born into.  There are the Vatican teachings, and they don’t match at all with the old testament except for a few nasty elements.  The Vatican practices don’t match the teachings of Jesus (mythical or not, he does express some good principles), and the laity doesn’t follow any of these.

    -Birth control: Jesus said nothing about it, the old testament said nothing concrete about it (that spilling seed thing doesn’t stand up), the Vatican says it’s a sin, but every Catholic does it.
    -Transubstantiation, as already mentioned
    -Leviticus: homosexuality is evil, but we can ignore the part about shellfish, mixed fibres, stoning unruly kids
    -“suffer the little children to come onto me”, and pedophile clergy.  So many aspects of that whole situation scream of hypocrisy.
    -A monk who was reportedly actively gay, and is now deemed a saint
    -Priests who are supposedly celibate, but a large portion who are actively gay, and by some accounts 50% of whom aren’t celibate, not to mention those pedophiles again
    -A belief that “God heals”, but fortunately almost none rely on.

    I can accept a difference in beliefs from those I hold, whether I think them wrong or simply different.  However, I have no respect whatsoever for hypocrisy.  If you don’t act on the beliefs you claim to hold, either directly or by association, how can you claim either are right?

  • Fsq

    wait, what!?

    YOU are the one who is dying and trying to get through your remaining time, and you feel you have to NOT alienate people who are going against your wishes and beliefs?

    I wish you well, but now is the time to stand up and tell them exactly what you feel and think. You have one shot at life, live fully – even with your disease – and get YOUR VIEWS OUT THERE.

    Stay strong, enjoy the time you have!

  • Fsq

    I forget who the comedian was, but he did a great routine on the wafers….he called them “Jes-its”…and then he talked about grabbing the whole bowl of wafers, pouring milk on it, and then eating it like a “great big old bowl of Christ-Chex”….

    Very funny.

  • davidamusick

    All of this shows that religion is more about group membership and less about belief.

  • Cyanmoon

     Oh, I totally get that. I wish I was less afraid of alienating myself- I would LOVE to debate that point with people who say they are Catholic but don’t actually believe the fine print! It always amazes me how people can believe some bits of arbitrary nonsense while decrying other bits as totally wacky 😛

  • Bender

    Ah, don’t you know? Those are rational catholics TM. They don’t believe absurd things, like transubstantiation. They just believe the other, sensible stuff. You know, resurrections, miracles, etc.

  • Bob Becker

    Who is a “true” Catholic? Thst’s pretty much a matter for each Catholic and for the Church to decide. It absolutely is not a question for Mr. Dawkins — or you — to decide. More than a little arrogant for him —or you — to be telling people who believe they are Catholics that they’re not really and ought to get out now. Dawkins at his unappealing preachiest.

    The poll is interesting but not I think all that surprising. As Mr. Dennett noted in his recent taped conversation with Mr. Dawkins, most believers of most modern faiths are not theologians, and don’t examine their beliefs in any rigorous way, for at all for that matter. That’s my experience as well. (Raised Catholic but grew up long ago.) My parents could not have explained transsubstantian or the immavulate conception nor did they ever think about them at all. And they and most of the Catholic adults (converts excepted) around us simply discounted what priests said when it conflicted with their understanding of what made sense to them ( e.g. prohibition on birth control).

    The Church is, happy to say, in deep trouble of its own making and is losing adherants. Under the circumstances, I think Dennett’s right: shrill ridicule-couchrd commands from outsiders to get out now, immediately, do more harm than good. People reach the quitting point over time, mostly, on their own for their own reasons until they come to realize one day that they just don’t believe any more. It is for most I think a slow process not a sudden and dramatic de-conversion experience.

  • george.w

    Dying can be lonely work. Very good chance if he told them exactly what he thinks, he’d spend his last months or years even more alone. That sounds like a choice for him to make. How important is being right? 

  • DG

    Protestants are fond of saying that most Catholics are Anglican (or Lutheran) at heart.  But this brings up an interesting point.  It is questionable if the Catholics who reject this central teaching can be Catholic. I believe the Church allows some flexibility on defining Catholic, allowing for human imperfections and the chance to learn and grow, and that would be fair.  After all, they may not believe because nobody told them, or told them in a bad way, or they were taught not to believe by someone who didn’t believe.  You can’t just say ‘aha’ over one stat and make a call.
    But assuming that they do know, have been taught, and choose to reject the teaching, are they Catholic?  And if not, if they do something terrible or evil, can you blame their Catholicism, and hence the Catholic faith for it?   Interesting questions.

  • Paigeg183

    I believe that was Dane Cook

  • Gunstargreen

    As an ex-Catholic I never really met anyone who is truly a Catholic. Sure they “believe” it’s the actual body and blood of Christ but none of them really do. The majority of Catholics just go to church and celebrate religious holidays because it’s their tradition to do so. For years I was a Catholic not because I even really believed in god, but because I convinced myself it was a tradition worth carrying on. 

    People generally don’t have any motivation to change and exposing the horrible crap that the church does with their money just generates a shrug from them because it doesn’t effect them directly. Unfortunately it also tends to dictate how some of them vote (but not all of them, you would be surprised how many Catholics will vote for pro-choice candidates. I even attended a church once where the priest implored people not to vote on a single issue though this didn’t make him popular among several older parishioners).

  • ortcutt

    I wouldn’t say that someone who doesn’t believe in transubstantiation isn’t a Catholic, but someone who doesn’t think that she is supposed to believe in it isn’t really Catholic.  In the same way, someone who doesn’t go to mass might still be Catholic, but someone who doesn’t think she is even supposed to go to mass isn’t really a Catholic anymore.

  • LJ

    I think a big part of many Irish people still clinging to a vague sense of Catholicism is in part to do with the fact that it differentiates the majority of the population from a tenant of English identity (Protestantism). Same with the fact Irish people are more likely to own a house than rent – the land was taken from us so there’s a weird cultural fear lingering in our behaviours, even down through the generations. It wasn’t too long ago that Ireland was under the crown, so despite the relationship with England being great now there’s still a lot of traditions rather than beliefs held on to in order to be “Irish” and not some sort of “west Brit”.

  • Lee Miller

    Whenever I start thinking Mormons, for example, have strangely bizarre beliefs that no rational person could possibly accept, someone always says something that reminds me traditional Christian belief (of whatever form) is equally strangely bizarre.  As an ex-Christian I continue to be ashamed that I believed any of that shit for so many years . . .

  • DG

    I’m not sure I follow your points. 

  •  I would agree. If a ‘Catholic’ is okay with abortion and willing to support gay rights, I don’t care much what they think about transubstantiation or how often they go to church. One caveat though is that the membership of the church needs to put a hard stop to the church’s culture of abuse and cover up–believe whatever nonsense you want, but enabling child molestation is absolutely not going to fly.

  • it’s not really up for debate, Hemant is 100% correct. what interests me is that this is something that has gotten me in more trouble than any other observation i may make as an atheist questioning the different ways in which people of faith describe it. you want to piss off a moderate or liberal “christian?” make this point to them. so many of them don’t take their “faith” very seriously, in the sense that they ignore and deny the truth of their own creeds. and think they have some right to never be called on the inconsistency. 

  •  Yes, how arrogant to point out that denying one of the basic tents of the faith out to disqualify you from claiming to be an adherent.

    I’m a vegetarian, by the way, except for bacon, because I don’t believe that counts as meat.

  • Vad

    I thought we DIDN’T like the No True Scotsman argument? 

    Of course religious faith is flexible. As evidence, I present… every religious faith ever. I’m not going to list some set beliefs that every Catholic must have to be called a Catholic, because a) I don’t believe such a set exists and b) Catholics would give you a lot of different responses. I don’t think that we should define Catholics as only those subscribing to all the official doctrines. While that might have some religious significance (official doctrine dictates what is Catholic because official doctrine dictates that it does), it doesn’t accurately describe the *reality* that there are people who are Catholic and who don’t subscribe to all those beliefs. Why should you privilege a religious dictate over an actual observation of reality? 
    I personally define someone as a member of a religious community if they identify with it and have some sort of relationship with it, and I think they are in sync with it *enough*. Of course, the “enough” is subjective, and would vary from person to person. But I don’t see why we can automatically privilege one person’s definition of what is “close enough” to be a True Believer just because it is closer to “official doctrine.” Then the question becomes, why do we privilege the definition that includes adherence to all official doctrine? And then you get into the circular reasoning of official doctrine says that official doctrine is right, etc. 

  • Bob Becker

    Many decades ago, while living on Long Island [NY], growing up Catholic, there was an election in which an issue for Catholics was having the state subsidize school bus service to Catholic schools.  Tight legislative race in our district between a candidate who supported the bus subsidies and one who didn’t.  Neck and neck.  Until the Sunday before the election, a pastoral letter from the Bishop was read out in the pulpit admonishing Catholics to vote for the pro-subsidy guy.  My father left church huffing that “no damn priest is going to tell ME how to vote.”  The anti subsidy guy won going away, with a large number of Catholic votes.  

  •  That’s very generous of you.

    I, personally, don’t believe Jesus is my lord or savior, but I think I he had cool sandals and I dig the beard. I think that makes me a Christian, right?

  • Coyotenose

     I agree in theory, but we don’t know his/her situation or loved ones. Sometimes you have to choose between “Suck times Infinity” and “Suck times Infinity plus One”.

  • you seem to be struggling with the definitions of words like “belief” “faith” and “creed.” they mean something, something rather specific, in fact. i can call myself an Asian-American; it doesn’t mean that is fact. if you participate in an organization and ritual without even understanding what you are saying and doing, that’s just sort of pathetic. it also doesn’t qualify as true “belief.” that requires understanding. 

  • If you think that’s bad, in the US, 63% of Catholics believe in transubstantiation despite the fact that only 50% know that this is what the church teaches.

    Those columnists give some incredibly shameless rationalizations.  Did John Waters even try applying the math equation he stated?  The margin of error is around 3%, which doesn’t change anything.

  • Annie

    I think the next time someone tells me they are Catholic, I am going to respond by saying I am a citizen of France.

    Were you born in France? No.
    Do you live there? No…

    But I’ve visited there many times and I watch the Tour de France every year on TV.

  • John Small Berries

    Can you point to a single Christian who follows every teaching in the Bible attributed to Jesus?
    (I’ve got to say, I’ve never met a single one who’s plucked
    out his eyes
    because he looked upon a woman with lust in his
    heart, nor chopped off his hands because he sinned with them.) Are there, then, no Christians at all in the world?

    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.

    But even Catholicism’s tenets have changed. Slowly and infrequently, but I know people who were taught as a matter of official Cathoic doctrine, pre-Vatican II, that it was a mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays, and that all Jews (even ones living today) were culpable for Jesus’ crucifixion.*

    It’s absurd and unreasonable to insist that a person cannot have an opinion which differs from the official dogma of a sect and still be a “real” member of it (though, of course, Christians deploy that accusation against each other all the time). Given the chaotic mass of conflicting statements in the Bible, not to mention non-scriptural doctrines which conflict with scriptures, it’s impossible, under the conditions you impose for “real” believers, to find a single Christian who isn’t ignoring or disagreeing with something that their religion teaches.

    * Which, since that whole resurrection thing kind of hinges upon death first, didn’t make a whole lot of sense – they should have been thanking the Jews for making the eternal salvation thing possible in the first place. But religion and rationality don’t seem to mix well.

  • i know some real Christians. not many, but they do exist. my BIL is one. he prays in secret. he gives charity unstintingly. he doesn’t lie, cheat or steal. he’s even humble. he admits that he’s not enough of a Christian to give away all his wealth, but I think after his kids are grown, he might. 

  • Coyotenose

     Sometimes it isn’t phrased right in this post and the comments, but I think the overall intent is not “You’re not a true Scotsman unless you believe this”, but rather “Why do you call yourself a Scotsman if the description of a Scotsman doesn’t apply to you?” The line is so thin you can get a paper cut by reading it.

    Keeping that in mind, consider that the reason we have extreme Biblical literalist Creationists running around is due to a backlash against the obvious consequences of applying reason and logic to the Bible. They’ve caught on that if any of it can be taken as metaphor, then all of it can be treated the same way. That allows the reader to toss out what he doesn’t like, or toss out the entire thing, and still call himself a Christian.

    In effect, a Christian who considers a story from the Bible to be metaphor, *especially* a major story like the Resurrection, can be legitimately asked “Why do you bother calling yourself a Christian?” by either Biblical literalists or non-Christians. If he’s willing to ignore that part, he can be assumed to be willing to ignore all the rest if need be. He’s just using what mix of Christian, pagan and secular ideas and philosophies makes him comfortable… which, ironically, is pretty much the history of Christianity.

  • Stev84

    Not all believe that it’s just a metaphor for the last supper or something. Even some non-Catholic sects (most notably Anglicans and Lutherans) believe that it’s substantially similar to the real body. Look up “real presence”.

    It’s just that the sects that don’t believe in the real presence – like Baptists and Calvanists – are far more common in the US and almost non-existent in Europe.

  • It’s the Catholic Church that teaches transubstantiation, not Dawkins!

    I’m not sure what the dogma says about who counts as a true Catholic, but transubstantiation is a fairly important belief.  Perhaps Catholics may dissent from it, but at the very least this makes them bad Catholics, and they’re so blithe about it too.

  • george.w

    “I thought we DIDN’T like the No True Scotsman argument?”
    You are right as regards anything that doesn’t have a central defining authority. There’s no Scottish pope who decides what a true Scotsman wears under his Kilt – it’s just a generalization about Scotsmen and the fellow sharing a pint with you has just as much right to say as you do.
    It’s a bit different with Catholicism; there’s one guy who supposedly defines the church and its practice. Start from there and you can make “No True Catholic” arguments all day as Dawkins has done. Start from What Catholics Actually Do and Dawkins is all wet. Unless you circle back around and say all those people, on account of not following that one guy, are not True Catholics. In which case, why do they keep sending their money to the Vatican?
    Wait – I may have just stumbled on what the Vatican regards as the real core of Catholicism…

  • pRinzler

    “Who is a “true” Catholic? Thst’s pretty much a matter for each Catholic and for the Church to decide. ”

    If this doesn’t mean that the Church decides what you have to do and believe in order to be a Catholic, and then you get to decide what you actually do believe and want to do, then we’re left with the possibility that what the church decides and what a person decides is a true Catholic might be in conflict, and there would be no way to resolve that conflict.

    So, assuming that the Church decides, and then you decide what to do or believe, there’s nothing preventing any rational person like Richard Dawkins, Hemant, or anyone else, from evaluating whether certain actions or beliefs match what the Church says must make a Catholic.  

    “It absolutely is not a question for Mr. Dawkins — or you — to decide.”

    Anyone can’t set the criteria for being Catholic, but anyone can, in principle, rationally evaluate whether someone’s actions and beliefs match certain criteria laid down by the Church.

  • Everything Dawkins is saying makes so much sense to me. I really don’t know where the disconnect is, except for a feeling of belonging to a group; collective identity. That would explain the ad hoc rationalizations. It never was a matter of belief or understanding, but just that of belonging to a group.
    BTW, Pope Pius XII infallibly declared in 1950 that all Catholics must believe that Mary ascended bodily up into heaven. I’ve never met a Catholic that accepts that doctrine. 

  • In Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God”, she says that that’s exactly what started her down the road to atheism: a couple of Mormon missionaries told her about Mormonism, and she thought their beliefs were wacky. But then she thought that hey, someone looking at her Catholicism from the outside would think that the whole business with a virgin getting pregnant, and bread and wine turning into flesh and blood was equally wacky.

  • Pseudonym

    If I could give you many likes, I would. The question of who’s “in” and who’s “out” should be left to the fundamentalists who can argue about it all they want.

    The irony is that Richard Dawkins is, by his own admission, the least qualified person in the world to decide what constitutes a “true Catholic”. I was led to understand that he was downright proud of his ignorance of matters theological.

  • “echoes of human sacrifice and cannibalism”Wow.  Can’t believe the journalist went there, even if he himself is not Catholic.  Wonder if he caught any flak for it.
    Apparently there have been people who believed enough to run a tube into a communicant’s stomach to try to detect the instant when the wafer turned into flesh and blood- read that several years ago.

  • Bob Becker

    The arrogance comes not from Mr. Dawkins pointing out inconsistencies, and even absurdities, in Catholic theology [or any other].  It comes from his insistence that adherents of whatever faith he is mocking should get out and get out now and from his insistence that if they do not fit his definition of what a Catholic [or Mormon or Baptist etc.] is, then they are not Catholics.  

  • Marie V

    I don’t quite understand the debate here. I believe religion should be flexible. Also, faith and doctrine are two completely different things. My grand-mother believe that god/religion is a way to become a good person, not by following the rules of the doctrines, but by following the teachings of compassion, love, empathy, etc. Of course she goes every sunday to church and pray, but she still have faith even if she miss a sunday once in a while. When I was young, I asked her what she think about Jesus, walking on water. She laugh gently and said its not possible to walk on water, because its writing in the testament it doesnt mean that its true. But she explained to me she had faith that this man was a good person who had good things to teach to us.

    I live in Québec, Canada (sorry for my english by the way) and we question a lot the doctrines that come with religion. I don’t think there is such thing as a true Christian, faith is a personal and intimate journey.

  • Bob Becker

    From the Pope’s point of view, not taking transubstantiation literally makes them, certainly, uninformed Catholics, and perhaps bad ones. It does not make them “not Catholic.”   Again, as Dennett noted, most people are not theologians and do not constantly [or ever] examine their faith rigorously.  Mr. Dawkins is a scientist and an academic and lives and works in a world where he expects, should new evidence demand it, that he revise or even jettison long-held beliefs.  However much we might wish everyone to live  such a rigorously evidence-based life, the simple fact is, most people, particularly where matters of their religion is concerned, do not.   Dawkins’ approach — “If only you were as rigorous a thinker as I am, you would realize you are not a Catholic and get out!”  — is pretty arrogant, seems to me, and not likely to resonate effectively among the great numbers of believers who have never, and don’t now, rigorously examine their own faiths. 

  • Erp

     Wrong analogy.    Once Catholic always Catholic in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.  Catholics who cease to consider themselves Catholic are more like French citizens who now speak English and live in America but are still considered French by the French government (France may permit renunciation of citizenship, but not all countries do so for the purpose of this analogy assume it doesn’t).  Catholics who don’t follow the rules  are more like criminals but still remain French. Even excommunicated Catholics are still Catholics (they just aren’t permitted passports) in the eyes of the Church.

  • Bob Becker

    However pathetic you may find it, millions of Americans, as Mr. Dennett noted, live quite comfortably in their various faiths without ever rigorously examining same.   And they consider themselves believers, whether it seems to you “true” belief or not. Again, that’s not something you get to decide for them. 

  • jdm8

    The real irony is that such a large proportion of “the flock” pay zero need to many core religious teachings of the patriarchy but still consider themselves part of the religion.  At what point is it no longer out of bounds to ask why they think they belong?

  • The Captain

    Only this is not a case of “No True Scotsman”.

    In the original fallacy Antony Flew used the case of a scottish man saying that declaring a man from aberdeen (in scotland!) not a Scotsman. However had he said that about a man from Coventry (england) he would be right. In the case of Catholics (or any religious person) who do not believe in the basic tenants of their religion, they are the man from Coventry. 

  • MegaZeusThor

    Being Scottish means that you’re a Scottish citizen. It describes where you were born or emigrated to. It does not describe belief.

    Being Catholic is like belonging to a club (or a gang). The whole point of the group is about specific beliefs. Hemant and Richard raise good points.

    You can more easily be a generic Christian by picking and choosing. Catholicism is more strict. (Maybe it’s like the difference between DnD classes, like perhaps a generic fighter and a Paladin with a code from their deity?)

  • Eric D Red

    I suppose I could elaborate a whole lot on each of these, but that could be a whole essay, or several. 

    The first point is that the Catholic dogma doesn’t match the bible, despite it being the purported basis of the faith.  The latest stance on the US nuns reflects that.  In saying that the nuns spend too much time helping the poor (which Jesus is certainly said to have commanded) and too little time fighting contraception and homosexuality (which Jesus said nothing of), they’ve shown that what they don’t follow the basis of the whole faith.

    Second, the actual beliefs of the believers doesn’t match either of these.  Contraception and transubstantiation are just two examples. 

    I think I may see why you’re questioning my assertions.  Why does it matter that these don’t match up?  In judging the church, it matters because the moral claims that it makes don’t at all match up with it’s actions, or the claimed source of those assertions.  How can anyone make moral assertions that it chooses not to live by itself?  I’m not talking about slips and mistakes by either individuals or the organization.  Everybody can fail to live up to what they wish to be, and I certainly make no claims of being above that.  However, when its deliberate and considered actions continuously run counter to its teachings, it shows itself to be deeply hypocritical, and thus unworthy of moral claims.

    That individuals don’t actually believe what they are supposed to believe is would be less of an issue if they weren’t lending support to an organization that does a great deal of harm. 

  • GodlessPoutine

    I was raised believing that anyone who didn’t take their mass in Latin was going to Hell.  So you better believe we were supposed to believe we were eating little bits of Jesus when we took our communion.  I can remember my parents being horrified that some ordo novus priest started using Oreo cookies at his mass — Jesus could never have been black. As a child I always thought he was a rather dry and tasteless fellow – and modern American Protestants are right, he was indeed white.

  • ortcutt

    How is this a “No True Scotsman” argument?   It isn’t.  Look it up if you’re unclear  what that term refers to.

    Beyond that, I don’t understand why you think it’s OK for you to “personally define someone as a member of a religious community if they
    identify with it and have some sort of relationship with it” and then deny Hemant the same privilege.  It’s rather obviously self-contradictory.

  • Nonsense. You’re a Catholic if you consider yourself one, and if the Catholic church considers you one. You don’t have to buy into all the doctrine. Depending on the degree to which your views deviate from the official line, you might be considered in need of guidance. It has to get pretty severe before you’d be denied communion, and the extreme of excommunication is very rare.

    And the reality is, religious beliefs are flexible. They are flexible because people are people, and will naturally form their own interpretations of things. And they are flexible because even the official doctrine changes over time… even with a ponderous ship like the RCC. Catholics operated under different rules in the past, and the current church doesn’t see its past members has less Catholic because of that. And things continue to change.

    A church, and especially the RCC, functions just like any society. It tends to be conservative at its governance and administrative levels, and much more liberal at its base. As that base membership changes (against the resistance of the leadership), the entire doctrine slowly changes to reflect that. Just as many other churches have come to accept homosexual members, female clergy, and other things that would have been unheard of not long ago, the RCC will evolve to track its members’ beliefs. I would be very surprised if in a few decades at most they don’t accept birth control, have female priests, and consider homosexual behavior normal. No church that isn’t a fringe sect can buck the trends of society forever.

  • jjramsey

     And how is transubstantiation a basic tenet? Compared to, for example, the resurrection or the virgin birth, it’s downright peripheral.

  • MV

     There’s a difference, at least in theory.  There are many types of Protestant.  There is only one type of Catholic.  If the Pope says believe X, you believe X, at least in the categories that are “important”.  Otherwise, you are pretty much a Protestant….

    In other words, you can be a cultural Catholic.  But that means you aren’t a Catholic.

  • DG

    Here’s a little trivia test for the atheists here.  Let’s see who has done their homework.  What is the significance of the timing of this story’s release?  Hint: It’s an annual thing.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Such Christians have been as much a part of the Church as is any bishop.

    Ha ha ha ha ha. Just try excommunicating that bishop over your differences in acceptance of doctrine. Top-down authoritarianism is also part of the doctrine of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and is tied to their theology. Jesus H. Christ made Peter, the first bishop of Rome, head of his church, and gave him some incredible(literally) powers along with it:

    Matt 16:18-19
    [18] And I say also unto thee, That thou art
    Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell
    shall not prevail against it.
    [19] And I will give unto thee
    the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on
    earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth
    shall be loosed in heaven.

    The Holy Roman Catholic Church maintains that this incredible power over Earth and Heaven passes from Peter down through successive bishops of Rome.

  • MV

     So you are saying that you can be a Catholic atheist? Interesting. 

    After all, many atheists went through the Catholic sacraments (baptism, confirmation) to become Catholic on paper and some likely attend church and go through the motions (take communion).  Under your definition, they are Catholics. 

  • MV

     I have no doubt that if you call yourself Catholic people will accept that.  I also have no doubt that since I was baptized and confirmed a Catholic, I will be considered one forever.  But during confirmation I was taught that the doctrine was important.  It’s not flexible.  That’s the whole fucking point of being a Catholic and having the Pope in charge.  If you want flexible, become a Protestant.

    It’s also the reason I left the church.  I never believed all the crap.  Or really any of the crap.  And if you don’t believe it, why are you there?  Why are you supporting the organization?  Anything positive about a church service (of which there is very little) can be replicated elsewhere. 

    The RCC has no need to change like other churches.  It is run top down from Rome.  The only possible way it might change is if the Catholics in name only abandon the church.  Because for the RCC, money and power talks.

  • It doesn’t matter what you were taught. It doesn’t matter because there is doctrine, and there is reality. Doctrine may be important. Most Catholics probably believe that… all the while they are adjusting it for the reality of their lives.

    The RCC has changed radically over the course of its existence, and will certainly continue to do so. To suggest it has no need to change is to ignore the actual behavior of human institutions. It must adjust its doctrine to be consistent with the actual beliefs of its members, or it will fade to insignificance.

  • A ritually active person who does not believe in God is clearly a Catholic.  Expressing atheist views is likely to result in excommunication, but until then there is no question here.

  • Lee Miller

    Umm . . . “this man was a good person who had good things to teach to us” . . . OK, sure, maybe, but how do you sort the good person/good things part out from all the crazy stories and lies?

    Religion is an elaborate system of denial, prevarication, and evasive reasoning.  I think your grandmother wanted to think Jesus was a good man with good things to teach, but like all religious people just bought into an elaborate mythology.

  • Recovering Agnostic

    I agree with that, and I hope it didn’t come across as if I was relaxed about child abuse. But it seems there are a huge number of Catholics who feel that while it’s horrible and wrong (giving them the benefit of the doubt because most do seem to be disgusted by it), they can’t bring themselves to leave the church over it.

    There’s clearly a strong bond that ties people to a church, which is about more than just intellectual assent to a series of doctrinal positions, or even a belief that the people in charge are basically decent. That’s the challenge for atheism – when people are prepared to tolerate doctrinal nonsense on stilts and the vilest behaviour imaginable yet still remain in the church, what can you do to break that bond?

  • Do you actually think people are going to give up the rest of their faith practices, traditions, and their community because of this?  US Catholics tend not to agree with the Vatican over birth control as well as many other issues, as well. This is nothing new.

    “I wouldn’t hold back on the ridicule”.

    Thus supporting the stereotype of atheists as intellectual elitists who enjoy sneering at others.  Is this really the message you want to send?

    It’s nice to see Dawkins is consistent in his message, though.

    As usual, I find myself imagining how far my rights as an LGBT person would have progressed by now if folks had adopted the strategy of mocking and ridiculing straight people during the past few decades.

  • icecreamassassin

    So are you saying, in a sense, that as long as you consider yourself a part of a group and that group and it’s leadership consider you a part of that group, you are officially a part of that group irrespective of whatever it is you believe?

    Can I call myself Catholic, be accepted as a Catholic, and not believe in the existence of god or the divinity of Jesus and still actually be Catholic?

    That is my attempt at reductio ad absurdum, but frankly it feels like my argument is pretty invalid.  Except…I can’t really pinpoint *why* it’s invalid.  To your point, it seems pretty unrealistic for any individual to be required to accept wholesale the entirety of tenants and doctrines of any ideology in order to be considered a part of a group with that shared ideology – political affiliations being one of the more blatant non-religious examples.

    But at the same time, is there not eventually some threshold that gets breached that basically, at it’s core, excludes you from some group?  Do I really get to label myself a member of the Green party if I believe that large corporate business needs to be enabled to thrive regardless of environmental impact?  Can I lump myself as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church if I don’t believe that god wants homosexuals to burn in hell and my primary motivation is simply to gay bash?  Do I really get to label myself a Catholic if I accept Papal authority only sometimes?  Do I get flexibility to determine “well, this is clearly core doctrine (belief in salvation through Jesus Christ), and this is not important doctrine (keeping holy the Sabbath)?”

    I guess the core question is – is my belonging in a group merely a semantic label, or does it have something to do with any kind of shared ideology?  If the latter, who determines what parts of that shared ideology are flexible or not flexible?  Or is the answer to that question built into that ideology (i.e. the pope is the representative head of an entity called ‘god’ that is the end-all-be-all authority?).

    Huh.  I kind of thought I was going to have an easier time working through answers for some of these, but it’s difficult.  I wouldn’t want anyone but myself to decide what group(s) I belong in.  But at some point, if I’m going to belong to a team of basketball players, I better be expected to play ball, and if I don’t want to play ball, am I really a part of that team?

  • Steve Bowen

    As far as I am aware the whole “new covenent” is a sham. Jesus explicitly says in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
    This is inconvenient for some christians who invent ways around it as an excuse to repudiate the nastier bits of the OT and preserve the whole “gentle Jesus, meek and mild ” schtik they prefer

  • According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Pertinacity, that is, obstinate adhesion to a particular tenet is required to make heresy formal. For as long as one remains willing to submit to the Church’s decision he remains a Catholic Christian at heart and his wrong beliefs are only transient errors and fleeting opinions

    Thus, answering a poll as believing in Consubstantiation rather than Transsubstantiation isn’t a bar to being Catholic… according to Catholic doctrine. It just leaves you guilty of the sin of heresy; you’re still Catholic if you’re willing to repent of the mistake.

    Or so it seems; I am not a canon lawyer.

  • ..which technically, makes one a Catholic in very bad standing with the Church, but still a Catholic.

  • mike

    Because, as I was taught in Catholic school, according to the catchism of the Catholic church, which is official dogma, If you do not believe in the transubstantiation, you are no longer a member of the Catholic Church. Same thing with the virgin birth. These are two non-negotiable beliefs.

  • It can’t be long before the Catholic heirarchy have a big important meeting about transubstantiation, and announce a new version of “the truth”.

    Then they can spin it like they’re a modern church all up to speed with modernist thinking.

    Until then, they’re going to continue to have to bear the burden of the ludicrous notion of transubstantiation, like a big sign around their neck saying “Kick me, I’m stupid.”.

  • mike

    According to official dogma, it does make them not catholic, and bars them from partaking in any of the sacraments.

  • icecreamassassin

    But the catholic church doesn’t always separate doctrine and reality.  The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ, for example, would be something is that a doctrine that is claim about objective reality.  Rejection of the doctrine of Jesus being the son of god and of god would be, in the eyes of the church, a rejection of reality.

    Transubstantiation seems to be something less so, insofar as 13 years of catholic school didn’t really hammer that point home to me (I think it was mentioned like *once* and then pretty much swept aside as anything of any import).

    I see where you’re going with the whole “actual beliefs of its members” thing, at some point there is enough of a discrepancy in acceptance of doctrine of it’s members that eventually someone nails a piece of paper on the door of a church.

  • Reductio ad absurdum can be a useful logical tool, but it doesn’t always help that much.

    A cultural Catholic is still a Catholic. If you’re an atheist who believes nothing that the Church teaches, but you nevertheless maintain you are a Catholic, and the Church maintains the same (even excommunication doesn’t make you a non-Catholic in the eyes of the Church), I’d say you’re a Catholic. To the Church you might be lapsed, or heretical, or whatever. But they would believe you could be won back into their belief system. I’d argue that an atheist who chose to call themselves a Roman Catholic would have a pretty odd view of things, but I’m not going to tell somebody that they aren’t really a member of their self-identified religion.

    Belonging to a group is more complex than just a label, or just a shared set of beliefs. And in this case, the poll is addressing just one belief, not the entire body of doctrine. Just as Catholics in many countries are moving away from core doctrine in other areas, they may be moving away in this one (although the very debate about what transubstantiation really is is probably over the heads of the vast majority of Catholics).

  •  No, I think you’re right on. Many of the cultural aspects of Catholicism, at least as I’ve seen them growing up Irish Catholic in the US, are innocuous or even pleasant. I feel no need to throw stones at those in my family who hold liberal values and yet still go to mass on Sunday. The only sticking point for me is the question of whether this kind of participation constitutes lending material support to an organization that does some very bad things at a high level. I’d rather that folks just walk away from it, but I’ll settle for putting an end to the most flagrant abuses.

  • Nordog6561

    Are you saying that the Catholic Church will soon deny the doctrine of transubstantiation?

    It will never happen.

  •  Again, I see no arrogance in point out that many self-described Catholics by their own admission do not accept a tenet of the faith which the Church hierarchy claims as central to their faith. Dawkins is not saying they aren’t Catholic because they don’t meet his standards of what a Catholic should be; he’s saying they don’t even meet the Church’s own standards.

    Admittedly, it’s been some years since I was in Catholic school, so maybe the doctrinal position on transubstantiation is not what I remember. If the Church does not hold that to be a key element of their faith, then it certainly is not Dawkins’ place to state that it ought to be.

    As to the arrogance of telling people they should leave the Church, sure, it is a little arrogant. The same way that it’s arrogant when I tell my relatives that they really ought to not smoke, and get exercise, and eat healthy. It’s presuming to know what’s best for other people, which, even if you’re right, is a bit arrogant. Not worse than believers telling atheists they’ll burn in hell for their lack of faith, but nonetheless.

  • Nordog6561

    Seriously?  Peripheral?  You do know what the Catholic Mass is all about don’t you?

    Basically, the RC church holds the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection as the sine qua non of Christianity.  The transubstantiation in the Mass is held to be a mystical participation in the crucified Christ.  Not a recreation of it, but participation in the one and only crucifixion of Christ, a participation across time and space.  And that the bread and wine are actually the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.

    No of course this is all just whacky woo to an atheist.

    But to say that it is peripheral to Catholicism is to miss the point of the matter by many miles.

    It is the primary sacrament of a sacramental church.

  •  You’ve made this argument several times, and I will reply likewise: would you take me at my word that I’m a vegetarian, even if you see me eating bacon, simply because I do not believe that bacon is meat? Does my self-identification with a certain group outweigh the fact that I don’t understand or adhere to that group’s defining practices? Would it be okay for me to call myself an astronaut if I’ve never gone higher than my house’s attic, and would you be arrogant for pointing out that I’m mistaken?

  • It’ll be fading to insignificance then, unless it can adapt fast enough, which I don’t think it can.  The internet will always be ahead of it, exponentially disseminating the truth.  The church and the speed its hierarchy responds at won’t be able to keep up.

    You seem keen to point out that all human societies adapt, but you forget the fact that the alternative to adapting is dying.  A phenomena that many human societies have experienced for one reason or another.  I bet the Aztecs never imagined they’d become an utter irrelevance, nor the builders of the pyramids in Egypt, or the Glory that was Rome.

    I’ve seen plenty of Churches close, been de-consecrated and sold off as flats and furniture showrooms.

    Religion is melting like the Wicked Witch of the East.

  • DG

    No takers?  Nobody knows? 

  • Ken

    Sorry to say, as a former Catholic, I follow all your points only too well.  Catholicism is a cult of self-delusion, which requires members to simply ignore their transgressions so long as they keep sending the money in.  This wafer into flesh nonsense is just casually ignored by most, yet they are perfectly willing to stand by and let someone else take a beating for saying so.

    I see it in members of my own family: they are affiliated with the church for the sense of false community it provides.  Foolish doctrine and money grubbing are the dues to be paid to hang with their “friends” in Christ.  I witnessed this “friendship” in action in a supermarket one day as a close relative in the midst of a divorce encountered her pastor, who ducked into another aisle to avoid talking to her.  Yes, he was an ass, but he did it in the name of God.  A true friend would have at least said hello, and inquired about the circumstances — in fact he knew the husband was a lying, cheating, abusive bastard, but he kept professing to be a believer, so the divorce was unwarranted in the eyes of the church.  Reality is not a prerequisite for true Catholics.

  • Ken

    So geography is the deciding factor?  Well, there’s a novel escape hatch.

  • Darth Cynic

    You talking about the Eucharistic Congress blighting our land this week?

  • DG

    Oh, OK.  I actually had a longer question, but for some odd reason, it kept freezing on me at the time.
    A couple of things.  I don’t blame the often used ‘Christianity doesn’t match the whole Bible’ on non-believers.  Most progressive believers made a tremendous amount of hay out of that one, even though they knew the answer.  The answer is what is known as ‘Development of Doctrine.’  It’s a teaching that is as fundamental to the historic faith as the belief in God, and goes all the way back to before the beginning of Christianity.

    In fact, several NT letters and the book of Acts deals with this very thing: how much of the traditional religious law applies to the new revelation in light of the ministry of Jesus?  In Acts, the meeting of the leaders of the Church to decide this question is recorded.  Other letters are addressed to the early discussion over those who feel more of the Jewish religious laws should apply,while others felt that in light of this new ‘testament’, most would no longer apply.  It was something that already saw disagreement in the religious environment of pre-1st century Judaism.  It’s not really the slam dunk answer that so many think, but again, it was used by progressive Christians to validate their rejecting of traditional teachings, and has become part of the debate.

    I’m not sure the address to the US nuns says all that. The media’s headline interpretations haven’t matched the actual events, and of course the Vatican has made it clear it is not aimed at all nuns, only those who have openly opposed the Church’s teachings.  In reading the actual Vatican statements, it seems to say ‘we appreciate what you do, but would appreciate it more if you stayed within the parameters of Church teaching.’  After all, it’s hard to hold the Church accountable for those who reject its teaching if we then turn around and condemn the Church for trying to get those in leadership positions to stay loyal to Church teaching.  As I said elsewhere, some people may not follow the Church because those doing the teaching have taught them not to.  At that point, does it really reflect on the Church? Especially if we feel the CHurch has no recourse to correct it?
    As for the majority rejecting the Church’s teaching, that is true.  It’s true because unlike Protestantism, where one can simply shop around until one finds the right teaching, Catholics only have one Church, and so feel they can pick and choose as they please, while still being Catholic.  That the Catholic Church doesn’t throw them out seems to solidify this idea.  Fact is, the Church has allowed for quite a bit of debate and disagreement over the ages.  Hollywood tales of the Church dragging endless hordes of people to be burned over any little disagreement is overstating the history.  Typically, only if people challenged the authority of the Church, or attempted to cause a split, were there actual repercussions.  That’s why we know of the various disagreements and debates – often from those who remained within the Church while harboring strong disagreements. 

    Of course you must make the call, and you’ve done that.  I can respect that.  But I thought I would speak to a couple ideas and clarify from a different angle, or at least what I understand from my studies in history over the years.

  • Ken

    Sorry, but Dawkins does have a point.  He didn’t set the rules for Catholicism.  He simply observes that if you don’t abide by the rules, you can’t be a member of the club.  This is clear to everyone except those who are bending the rules.  If we were discussing a contract (and we really are), the deal is long since busted.  Now, if you want to continue giving money to an organization that is clearly stating it is damning you to hell for breaking their rules, well, thank you.

  • Ken

    There is nothing peripheral about eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ during mass.  It is the central purpose of the occasion.  Where did you ever get the idea it was not all that important.  Somebody was raised to be a very poor Catholic.

  • jjramsey

     Ok, then, quote me the part of the catechism that actually says that if you do not believe in the transubstantiation, you are no longer a member of the Catholic Church. If what you say is true, that shouldn’t be hard.

  • snoofle

     Well, June 6th is the Feast Day of Claude the Thaumaturge, who was into all that miraculous acts of the Saints shite..

  • PP

    The transubstiation doctrine is rather like the Xenu story in Scientology. 
    They know it there but they dont want to dwell on it and outside it’s so absurd a notion that it’s virtually denied.  Firstly you have to get fairly deeply into it before you  encounter it. As someone who attended Catholic schools in the UK, it was only ever explicitly mentioned once in passing. I was told a “miracle” happens at every mass when certain words are said etc. No I didn’t believe it either. 

  • Ken

    Well, I consider myself to be the King of England, with all my heart.  Just because I have no proof does not invalidate my belief.  So please call me “Your Highness,” or you’re being bigoted and denying me my rights.

    Stupid? Yes.  It’s the same argument as claiming to be a Catholic without the proof of following the dogmatic rules.

  • Ken

    Well, that puts all the Protestants on the chute to Hades.  Think we ought to tell them it’s in the Bible, so they are bound to believe it?  But then, if they believe in the infallibility of the Bible, then they accept this and are really Catholics? I’m confused.

  • Mai

     Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry for your loss.

    This would be a question to the church authorities: if the wafer actually changes to flesh, why does it still cause problems for coeliacs?

  • jjramsey

    You’ve unwittingly demonstrated my point. You describe the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection as central, not the transubstantiation in and of itself. The transubstantiation is a particular theology of how the Mass is a “mystical participation in the crucified Christ,” but that theology could be switched out for consubstantiation while retaining the “mystical participation,” which is really the important part of the Mass.

  • DG

    Tsk, tsk, tsk.  It was so easy, too.  I would like to think folks know a little bit about what they’re rejecting.  It was almost a give away.

  • DG

    I’m sorry, your answer is incorrect.  You need to study this faith you reject more.

  • DG

    The answer is, this weekend was the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Hence the irony of the findings, which is why it was significant that the story was released at this particular moment.  Whether or not those who published this story knew this, of course, is up in the air.  I wouldn’t be shocked if it was just a coincidence.  Nevertheless, that was the answer. 

  • snoofle

     Oh, indeed, that’s a VERY good question!  And since there are gluten-free wafers available, manufactured, IIRC, by some nuns in a convent, they seem to be admitting there’s an issue.  I suppose they could bypass it by saying that the flesh may have crumbs on it.. XD

  • snoofle

     Which is a moveable feast – I vaguely remember it falling later in June, but not having been involved for years, it didn’t really stick in my mind.  Plus, only the really religious Catholics I know would bother with it, even in Ireland. 

  • DG

    Ah, but it was an easily found answer, so I was curious to see if anyone actually knew.   It is a moveable feast, in that it comes after Trinity Sunday, which itself is based on Pentecost.  But again, just curious if folks knew.  It’s often said that the majority of religious believers don’t know their faith as well as non-believers do.  Yet time and time again, I find that when it comes to religious faith in the modern world, neither side seems stocked and stored with an overflowing abundance of knowledge, even when Google is at hand. 

  • Nordog6561

    I’m not sure how the doctrine can be “switched out”, nor how this claimed ability makes transubstantiation to be not central to Catholicism.

    Now, if the Church were to switch it out for something eles, then you would be on to something; it would no longer be central.

    But hey, if you want to go ahead a claim that it’s not a central part of the RC faith, go ahead.

    I would agree with you, but then we would both be wrong.

  • Sandra Duffy

    John Waters is one of two or three Irish columnists who kiss the bishops ring and would lick the popes backside if they got half a chance. They are the ‘Dial a theist’ journos whenever defence of Catholicism is required. He is considered a figure of fun in Ireland. Eyes roll whenever his name is mentioned. Oh and he’s also a total misogynist which means he’s really really at home in his beloved church.

  • To all of the wooly “ah well you can disagree with the belief and stll be a Catholic” comments I have to say this.


    Im afraid you are not just slightly misinformed. You are completely wrong.  You haven’t got a clue how the Roman Catholic Church works in respect of doctrine.  I went to a Cath school till 18 and this was drlled into us again and again.

    The RCC canon law of Magisterium is very clear. The Pope, on matters of faith and morality, is infallible. His word is official church doctrine, beyond any question, and is not a matter of debate.

    Church central doctrine on the matter of transubstatiation is very clear. It is an essential article of faith. ESSENTIAL. No question, no wobble room. You either believe in it, or you are a schismatic heretic outwith the Church teachings. You either believe in it and state that as fact, or you can not call yourself a Catholic, nor are you allowed to take the sacrement.

    To deny transubstantiation (and especially to deny it and take communion) is as bad a heresy as denying the trinity or the divinity of Jesus.

    Transubstantiation is the central doctrinal difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. The RCC position is unchanged. Essential article of faith.

    So Dr D is right. Again…..

  • Darth Cynic

    Well the eucharist is the whole bread and wine ritual and the congress is happening right now as it does annually, 
    so whilst it may not have been the specific answer you sought I don’t think it’s entirely incorrect.

    Not that I would need to know that nor when Corpus Christi occurs to reject Roman Catholicism.

  • Darth Cynic

    Aaahh but merely Googling the answer would not have been in the spirit of the game.

  • Larry Gagnon

    Raised for 6 and schooled for 12 as a catholic at Catholic schools the doctrine of transubstantiation was one of the biggest chinks in the armour for me. I never really believed it as it was so weird and unbelievable. I suspect the vast majority of Catholics don’t really think about it (the ones I knew and know do not) and they ignore it. Cafeteria catholics are definitely the majority in that religion. 

    Thankfully I got out at 18 years of age when I realized what a load of bollocks it all was…

  • Eric D Red

    Ok, one last reply before I get back to what I should really be doing.  And thanks for your civil and thought out feedback.  Too often it can descend into insults and rote bible quotes.

    Teachings have progressed, it’s true, although not fast.  And if if the Vatican were clearly to say the OT teachings were simply superceded, then it would be clear.  However, when one sentence of Leviticus for example can be used to call one a sinner, and another line completely ignored, then we have hypocrisy.  Unless of course there is something in the NT to clarify, but I’ve never seen a clear answer to why homosexuality, but not lobsters.  To be fair, it may be some of the more literalist Protestant sects who are the worst offenders.

    On the nun issue, I may have been to hasty based on some one-sided reports.  In what I’ve read of the Vatican texts, it’s not as blatant, although the views I mentioned are certainly easy to see in them.  The statements are simply too politically vague, so their full intent isn’t obvious.  To infer is fair, to accuse may not be.

    The hypocrisy runs so much deeper than that.  The pedophile priest situation is painfully blatant.  The incidents of ongoing non-celibacy and homosexual acts among clergy and nuns, while decrying basic sexual education and promoting abstinence in deed and thought is too deep.  Frankly, if a couple of Sisters want some discrete fun, have at it, and I’ll do no more than snicker.  They would still be hypocritical, but harmless.  But don’t tell me that even my thoughts are sinfull.  You may well say that their sin doesn’t negate the truth of their statements, and that would be fair.  But when the morality of the statements hangs on the church’s moral position, they need to actually follow their own teachings.  They simply haven’t.

    The laity’s hypocrisy is mostly harmless.  In fact, it may be better than actually acting on doctrine.  If most actually believed that prayer cured disease, they would be dangerous to their kids.  If they believed dissobedient kids and gays were to be stoned to death, they’d be murderers.  If they actually believed that birth control was wrong, we’d be over populating much faster.  If they actually believed blended fibres were an abomination… well, that one wouldn’t hurt too badly.

    But enough for now.  You’ve softened my opinion on a couple of the points, but certainly not overall.

  • Vad

    That’s true. Hemant can define who is and isn’t Catholic however he wants. But that doesn’t mean I can’t contest his definition if I disagree with it. I think my way of describing someone as Catholic who identifies as Catholic is a better, since it doesn’t exclude a lot of practicing Catholics and is better at describing the reality of someone’s religious expression. Or, even better, define someone who identifies as Catholic and is baptized in the Church. I’m pretty sure Church membership has traditionally been a necessary requirement for salvation in Catholicism, more so than literal belief in every doctrine, AND they don’t automatically revoke your membership if you are more liberal in your beliefs.

  • DG

    Good response, but since you must get on with the finer things of life, I’ll leave you to it.  I will say that some of the development issues were actually handled in the NT.  But I see you must be going.  Perhaps at a later time we’ll run across some more points to discuss.  Till then, ciao.

  • DG

    Touche’ ! 

  • This isn’t rocket science. The failure is in the pollster’s lack of correct categorization. If there was a ‘lapsed Catholic’ entry, the results would make a little more sense. For other denominations, there really isn’t the same sort of sense: there isn’t such a thing as a “Lapsed Methodist” or whatever.

    The origin of the confusion is that a bunch of people started calling themselves “Christian” while ignoring what the Body of Christ on Earth in Communion with the Pope (aka the Church Militant) teaches. So, Catholics (Roman, Eastern Rite, etc, whoever is in communion with the Pope) are the only group properly called Christians, and, for instance ‘sola fidei’ protestants are properly called heretics. But, because a lot of you are or would be confused, we accept the term “Catholic” as being the same as what we mean by “Christian”, since catholic means universal, and our Lord offered himself for all men, and gave His Body – on the Cross, in the Eucharist, and in the Church – for their salvation. But, like He said: “But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” So, denying the authority of the Church is denying the Lordship of Jesus.

    You don’t have to like it.

    You are a Catholic if you have been baptized into the faith or later joined through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). At the end of time, we know that certain people who have been baptized or joined will not enter Heaven (see above – unlike Calvinists think, you can lose your salvation by your own acts subsequent to the primary act).

    You are a Catholic in a state of grace – a “good Catholic” – if your conscience is not dead but nevertheless does not presently convict you of a mortal sin. You can tell for the most part if your conscience isn’t dead if it relatively often convicts you of venial (that is, wounding but not deadly) sin. Other items: You follow the precepts of the Church (go to Church every Sunday, go to confession at least once a year, recieve communion at least once a year, keep the Friday penance – all assuming you are capable of doing these things: e.g. if you’re sick and can’t go, you’re cool, etc).  A Catholic in a state of grace can merit additional grace in various ways and may transmit that grace to others by suffrage (which is the way all intercessory prayer works). Increased knowledge of the truths of the Church and an increase in the virtue of Faith are forms of supernatural grace that a Catholic in a state of grace can merit, which cooperates with the natural graces. A Catholic in a habitual state of Grace is effectively sanctifying themselves and will likely be given the perseverance needed to end up a Saint in Heaven at the end of Time.

    You are a lapsed (fallen) Catholic  if you are in a state of serious sin – you have committed at least one mortal sin (that is, a sin deadly to the presence of charity in the soul) with knowledge and consent, and have not repented of it and confessed it. Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or willful refusal to assent to it: basically, if you don’t know the truth and can’t be bothered to learn what the Church teaches, you are fallen. Most of the things we usually think of as sins fall into this category (adultery in various forms, murder, child abuse, lust, anger, gossip, other acts born of other the vices). Regardless, in a state of mortal sin, you are not permitted to go to receive the Eucharist, and one ought to work to correct the fault, and go to confession as soon as possible. To die in a state of mortal sin lands you in hell.

    The penalty of sin is a darkening of the intellect and a weakening of will – which, you’ll note, begets more sin – a further and deeper ‘fall’, usually into the next category. That said, the grace of repentence is always offered while there is life in the human person. Thus, a person who is habitually or usually fallen is not habitually working with God’s grace, and is heading in the ‘wrong direction’.

    Finally, one could be an excommunicated Catholic (which you could also say is a special category of lapsed – it’s even further away) – which is the level of ‘not really a Catholic’. You are not in communion with the Church. This happens in only a few instances: if you participate in an abortion, if you commit apostasy (repudiation of the Faith), heresy (obstinate post-baptismal denial of a truth of the faith – and rejection of the Real Presence falls in this category), or schism (refusal of submission to the Pope or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him), or divorce and remarriage outside the Church. Excommunicated Catholics can be denied Christian burial by the Church, and ought never claim to be Catholic, although the duties of a Catholic that are permitted them (like attending mass and doing the friday fast, acts of charity, etc) are still duties.

    There used to be a ‘formal defection’ from the faith, which was a document you signed, but the truth is it was probably never really necessary or that it did anything real. There’s really not a time after one has been brought into the Church that one can actually leave, substantially: the defection is one of will – sin – rather than ontology, since Baptism is a character change that persists. One can be Baptized and in hell. One might even still be a priest in Hell. However, while one is still alive, the grace of repentance is extended to you because you are a Catholic.

  •  umm.. no? :S I can’t tell if you’re being a troll or not.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    The explanation I heard is that the ‘substance’ changes, not the ‘accidents’. To the RCC these words do not have an every day meaning. They are not disconcerted that the chemical and other physical properties didn’t change when the priestly magician spoke the words of power over the bread and wine.

    Some say that two miracles occur. One for turning stuff into Jesus, and another for disguising him as identical to what was there before.

  • Vad

    Ah. I’ve never read the official definition of the “No True Scotsman” argument. I always see it brought up when Christians say something like “murders aren’t really Christian” or “gay people aren’t really Christians,” so I thought it meant saying that another Christian (or whoever) isn’t “really” Christian if they do/believe something you disagree with. 

    Which is what I was trying to get at with my comment. Hemant is accepting a very conservative definition of who is and isn’t Catholic. Maybe some really conservative Catholics would say that anyone who doesn’t belief every doctrine in a literal sense isn’t “really” Catholic, just like fundamentalist Protestants might say that anyone who doesn’t believe the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God isn’t “really” Christian. Which ignores the fact that there are tons of Catholics who don’t think you need to believe every doctrine to be Catholic and tons of Protestants who don’t think you need to think the Bible is literal and inerrant to be Christian. Why privilege the more conservative definition, especially if you want to describe people’s lived reality? And for anyone who says that the Pope has absolute authority and what he says goes… well, conservative Christians also say that the Bible has absolute authority and must also be taken in the literal sense. But unless you already accept the premise that the Pope is infallible (because the Pope says he’s infallible) or that the Bible is literal and has absolute authority (because the Bible is literal and has absolute authority), what binds you to believe those premises?

    That’s what I was trying to get at, but if it doesn’t fit the “No True Scotsman” argument then I apologize for bringing that up.

  • Ikkyu

     As a former catholic I fully agree with this. There are many people that do not agree with the Catholic bishops or the pope and consider themselves catholic. The reasoning (In my case) went like this:   I made a distinction between the “holy church” which is whatever god actually wanted from us, from the “human” church, the imperfect flawed real thing.  So I disagreed with the “human” church on many areas and tried to follow what I believed was the moral core of the church. Also I used to believe that the sacraments “worked” independently of the human defects of the particular  priest.  I stopped being catholic in my view,  when I stopped believing in god, but some people that are in the church mainly to help other people, stay even beyond that point because they consider what they are doing important or valuable enough.
    I agree that there is an element of cognitive dissonance in the way people justify why they are still catholic but don’t agree with everything the Pope says.  But that does not mean they don’t sincerely believe this. And that they don’t believe they are doing it for the right reasons.

    The Catholic Church is too big to only have one point of view and set of beliefs. This is why it has survived this long.  Of course the more conservative fundamentalist part of the church would agree with Dawkins on this point. But when they try to enforce that view now that they don’t have the state on their side, they run the risk of alienating the very people that have kept the church around all this time. This is probably not a bad thing I guess.

    I am not excusing the catholic church from any of it’s crimes.  The recent scandals and the way the current bishops are campaigning for the republicans, would prevent me from going back even if I started believing again, which is highly unlikely.  But assuming that you “know” what a real catholic is, better than the people who self identify as catholic is
     very arrogant.  And any definition based on so little knowledge is not very useful.

  • It’s not *my* definition of a Catholic. It’s the Catholic Church’s. If you have an issue with it, take it up with your local priest.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    The Council of Trent declared back in the 16th century that disbelief in transubstantiation was subject to the ecclesiastical penalty of anathema, that is, major excommunication. You weren’t just denied communion, you were severed from the Church.
    They certainly didn’t consider it to be peripheral.

  • Hemant’s claim is either an example of the “No true Scotsman” fallacy, or the Catholics who aren’t “True Catholics” actually fail to meet the criteria of “True Catholics”. So, in order to proceed, we should identify the criteria for being a “True Catholic”. If being a True Catholic means adhering to every teaching of the Catholic church, then no, those Catholics who don’t believe in transubstantiation are not Catholics.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Only as arrogant as the church wanting to make abortion illegal because they believe it’s bad, or Righties in general wanting to deny marriage equality because it’s “wrong.” 

    One person giving their opinion more weight than it should have. 

  • 133 comments later…

  • JohnnieCanuck

    No idea if it has been repudiated in some way but as I said before, the Council of Trent, while dealing with the Protestant Heresy, declared disbelief in transubstantiation to be deserving of  ‘anathema’, sometimes referred to as major excommunication.

    Minor excommunication which is what you are describing means that you are still part of the Church, just not allowed communion, etc.

    I doubt the hierarchy goes out of its way to pronounce people to be anathema for this, but for all I know, this could also be ‘latae sententiae’ (automatic, no specific declaration required) as is the penalty for getting an abortion.

  • Seladora

    So in other words, 26% of Irish catholics are closet cannibals?

  • Mike

    Sir or madam, I left that disgusting belief system 10 years ago. I have no intrest in wading back through the catchism. If you wish me to retract my statement, Done.

  • Pseudonym

    What I don’t understand is why you are siding with the men in robes. Why are they more correct than “the flock”?

    You could just as easily have spun it the other way, arguing that Catholicism moved on from transubstantiation and banning contraception some time ago, it’s just that the elderly male virgins who run the place don’t realise it yet. Given how much Catholicism has changed in the last 1700 years, you’d even have history on your side.

  • Pseudonym

    In which case, why do they keep sending their money to the Vatican?

    Many don’t. If you put money in the collection receptacle at your local Roman Catholic church, exactly none of it ends up in the Vatican.

    The Vatican is funded almost completely by issue of stamps and coins, tourist souvenirs, admission fees, publication sales and miscellaneous services (e.g. printing). There is the practice of “Peter’s Pence”, but I’m lend to understand that many Catholics in the developed world simply don’t do it these days. There are a few rich Catholics in the US who give a lot around 29 June, which tends to skew the statistics.

  • jdm8

    My position is more complicated than that.

    Unfortunately, the men in robes run and control the organization itself, in something like a cabal, and they don’t seem to be at all interested changing any time soon.  The RCC may have changed much in the last millennia, but only very slowly or only under considerable pressure.  I get the impression that there has to be a mass exodus for them to feel any pressure to reconsider their positions.  I think there has been considerable amounts of both recently, but it doesn’t seem enough yet.

  • Pseudonym

    Well said, sir. Were Richard Dawkins big enough to do the same, the world would be a better place.

  • Pseudonym

    Of course that was in response to the Reformation.

    “Anathema” was effectively abolished in 1917, and practically abolished by Vatican II.

  • Pseudonym

    An excommunicated Catholic is not “not Catholic”. They are still, for example, encouraged to attend mass, even if they don’t partake in the sacraments.

  • Pseudonym

    My position is more complicated than that.

    I figured it probably was.

    It’s true that the Catholic Church moves far slower than mainstream society these days, and apparently far slower than the rank-and-file parishioners.

    What I don’t understand is why it’s the parishioners who deserve mocking for being more forward-thinking than the men in robes. That does seem to be what Dawkins is saying, and it seems completely backwards to me.

  • banana_slug

    “I’ve got to say, I’ve never met a single one who’s…chopped off his hands because he sinned with them.”

    Well, they certainly won’t be replying here.

  • The Catholic Church does not define its members by what they believe. In their eyes, you are a Catholic if you were baptized one. You don’t stop being a Catholic because you don’t follow the rules. Catholic murderers remain Catholic. Catholics who get abortions remain Catholic. Catholics who use birth control remain Catholic. Even apostates, who are excommunicated, remain Catholic.

    Tell your priest you don’t believe in transubstantiation (in other words, you believe what Catholics believed for the first 1000 or so years of their existence) and he’ll probably shrug, tell you that your view is contrary to technical teachings of the Church, and give you communion without requiring any penance.

    The reality is, except for religious philosophers, nobody really cares. “Scholars” have been arguing over the nature of the Eucharist for more than 1500 years, and 99.9999% of Christians are either unaware of the arguments, or unable to follow them at all.

  • Jo

    “Believes in the basic tenants of the religion” doesn’t sound very conservative to me…

  • David McNerney

    The last Eucharistic Congress was in 1932 – and it is the reason that the likes of John Waters, Colum Kenny, Berda O’Brien, David Quinn and all the other Iona Institute loonies are banging on about their magic incantations and transubstantiation spells.

    They are desperate to promote the idea that Ireland is still the same Catholic country that it was 80 years ago.

    A blind man on a galloping horse could see that it isn’t – as could an Irish Times/IPSOS Poll.

    And in common with all polls, there will always be some like John Waters who dispute the results, and when then can’t dispute the simple facts of the numbers, they will try to pretend that the question was wrong.

    Unfortunately, the question is simple: is the bread and wine turned into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.  If you don’t believe that, you are not a Catholic.

  • Mike

    Point to you. As I said above I might be a little rusty on the Theology.

  • Sindigo

    Much as I usually love the guy, Dawkins is dead wrong on this one. I don’t think we get to tell anyone what religion they follow. One of the things I get most riled by is when someone says something like: “You don’t believe there *isn’t* a god so you can’t be an Atheist.” and I don’t think we can make similar arguments to believers.

    If they say they’re a Catholic, then as far as I’m concerned, they’re a Catholic and churches aren’t usually in the business of throwing away perfectly good followers for a less-than-strict adherence to doctrine. Excommunications aside, of course.

    I think our argument is better framed by saying, simply: “You’re wrong. You’re god isn’t real and you’re better off without him.” to all religious people rather than diluting the argument to address specific aspects of dogma.

  • David McNerney

    …and don’t forget he “used” to be an atheist.

  • eonL5

    Tom Lehrer FTW

  • eonL5

    Tom Lehrer FTW

  • sunburned

    I’m pretty sure they kick you out for some acts.

  • Gus Snarp

    First, I don’t think the argument that you can call yourself whatever you want and that’s what you are applies well to Catholicism. If you call yourself Christian, then you’re a Christian, as far as I’m concerned, but if you call yourself Catholic, well there’s a clear central authority and set of tenants that you are signing on to by calling yourself that. There is one Roman Catholic Church, with one set of doctrines that you are required to believe and by saying you’re Catholic, you are saying that you believe them.

    But to address your final point, how do you SHOW a Catholic that they’re wrong, their God doesn’t exist, and they’d be better off without him? You could start by saying: Look, your religion says right here that you must believe the following things, do you believe them? No? Then are you really Catholic? Why should you believe the Catholic God exists if you don’t believe one of the core tenants of the Catholic faith (and it really is core, this is actually far more fundamental to Catholicism than say, birth control, which the overwhelming majority of Catholic women disagree with the Church on.)

    This is more a rhetorical tactic, it’s not as if Hemant or Dawkins think they do or should have the authority to decide who’s Catholic and who’s not, it’s a strong way of making a point: Do Catholics really believe Catholic doctrine? The answer is a resounding “No”.

  • Gus Snarp

    No True Scotsman fails here, because there IS a clear central authority and set of doctrines that define the Roman Catholic Church, and this one is actually pretty central to the faith. The Trinity, Original Sin, Immaculate Conception, and Transubstantiation, that’s pretty much what defines Catholicism and separates it from other sects. Obviously the Vatican is the only entity that actually gets to decide whether a particularly person is allowed to call themselves Catholic, but when one calls themselves Catholic, they are saying that they believe in these things. I think it’s quite reasonable to point out that the majority of Catholics don’t believe in Catholicism, and they don’t. The definition of believing in Catholicism encompasses all official Catholic doctrine.

  • Sindigo

    While I see your point on there being only one Catholic church and therefore one doctrine etc I think you’ll find that its priets and adherents hold a vastly more diverse set of beliefs than we have come to expect. I’m reminded of the priest interviewed in Religulous who has some opinions which are far from orthodox. You can see a bit of the interview here: 

    There is also a long tradition of Papal decrees which countermand each other. This is bound to create division both in the church and in peoples’ minds. Imagine growing up to the age of, I dunno, 30 believing in the concept of Limbo or transubstantiation or Invincible Ignorance (which would be a great name for an Atheist blog, BTW) or evolution, for that matter only to then be told that the new Pope has changed his mind.

    Catholics, like any other sect are people first and Catholics second whatever they tell you and like everyone else, they pick and choose the parts of their religion which make sense to them. It’s a cliche but it holds true, there are almost as many kinds of Christianity as there are Christians. Catholics particularly have to jump though so many logical hoops to remain believers that it’s going to be a lot easier for them to simply dismiss transubstantiation as a metaphor to make the pieces fit than it is to give up their entire religion.

    When “we” start to pick at a person’s beliefs and criticise them for not adhering to dogma in every way that we expect them to we run a very real risk as coming across as unbelievably arrogant and that doesn’t help our case. I get particularly pissed off when people criticise Dawkins for being arrogant because I’ve read a couple of his books and I don’t think he is but I could understand someone’s point were they to offer this video as evidence. I just think a better debating tactic is to simply come up with reasons why their God doesn’t exist rather than play gotcha. 

    Lastly, and I really don’t mean to be snarky in any way so apologies in advance but I would rather know if it were me: It’s “tenet”, not “tenant”.

    Edit: and apologies for the wall of text 😉

  • Gus Snarp

    Clearly I was referring to ideas that metaphorically rent space from the Catholic Church and are therefore “tenants”. I feel stupid. Thanks for the correction.  🙂

    I think we need to recognize that transubstantiation is supposed to be a very core belief. It has not been changed in centuries, as far as I know. But what the hell, I can’t spell tenet, I could surely be wrong, 😉 And the Pope doesn’t just change his mind on core doctrine.

    But we can discuss debating tactics all day long, and you may be right, but I think there’s a role to play in pointing out to Catholics just what it is that they’ve signed up for and how silly it all is. A big part of my becoming an Atheist certainly involved reaching a deeper understanding of some of the core teachings of Christianity and realizing that I could ignore parts of the Bible or treat them as metaphor, but so could anyone else. Christianity either meant a lot of things I simply could not believe, or it meant whatever I or anyone else wanted it to, which was kind of silly and required a lot of ignoring. 

    And frankly, I’m so frustrated with Catholic hypocrisy right now that I really want things like this pointed out. In my country we’re being told that health insurance shouldn’t have to cover birth control because of some people’s deeply held religious beliefs, while the vast majority of those supposed believers use birth control, just for starters.

  • What acts? I don’t think it is possible to be kicked out of the RCC. The most severe censure it can mete out is excommunication, which does not make the recipient non-Catholic, but merely limits his communion with the Church.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Mr. Green, a devout Catholic, is reading the morning paper. There is an article about a Catholic priest caught molesting children. Mr. Green says, “No Catholic  would behave like this.”

    The next morning, he is reading the paper again, and there is another article about a second priest caught molesting children. Mr. Green says, “No true Catholic would behave this way.”

    In a nutshell, that’s the No True Scotsman!.

  • Sindigo

    I used a word incorrectly recently arguing with a homophobic bigot (seriously, the guy was horrifically obnoxious) on a different forum. Unfortunately, not only did he point out my mistake but my incorrect usage of the word kind of made it sound like I agreed with him. It also helped him make the point that I shouldn’t use so many “big words”. Nonetheless, I thanked him for the correction. What else can you do? It did sting though….

    It sounds like you had a similar de-conversion to me in some ways. I was raised Anglican, proper be nice to each other and tea with the Vicar* CofE so it wasn’t such a stretch dogma-wise. It just didn’t seem right to have a belief system which you were supposed to hold as the very core of the human experience that allowed you to pick and choose which bits you agreed with so readily.

    My Grandmother was a staunch Catholic though and very active in the church. Toward the end of her life, in a prayer meeting or similar, she raised the subject of her Atheist grandson and when the priest intimated that I was hell-bound or similar she apparently told him she didn’t believe that, stood up, left the room and found a different church to attend. My father told me that story as if it was a *bad* thing.

    Maybe these criticisms can be seen as a chink in their armour and maybe they can be leveraged. I hope so. I just worry about how we’ll be perceived.

    I’m not surprised you’re frustrated with Catholic hypocrisy. I think we can all empathise there. I’m fond of making the point that we hear nothing from groups calling themselves things like: “Concerned Catholics Against Paedos”. But if I lived in the States I would be especially torqued right now. Over here, everyone who wants it gets free birth control from the government, paid for by our taxes and no-one says a damn thing.

    *That Vicar, a Rev. Zeal if you can believe that, was the man that convinced me that it was okay to not believe in God, BTW.

  • Reginald Selkirk

     Yes, you are confused. The bits about Jesus H.Christ making Peter the head of His church, and giving him power to make law over Heaven are in the bible. The bit about this power transferring to Peter’s successors as Bishop of Rome, aka the popes, is Catholic doctrine. Does that clear it up?

  • sunburned

    Your I forgot that the only thing that makes you a Member is being Baptised without consent:)

  • Exmai

    Transubstantiation, unlike birth control, is a purely theological (as opposed to social/cultural) issue, and a big reason why certain denominations split from the roman catholic church.  If you are catholic don’t agree, you don’t support one of the primary teachings of your denomination.  I wouldn’t say you’re not  a “true” catholic, though. That’s like saying because you disagree with a part of the constitution, you’re not a “true” american citizen.

    Give these folks a break. Maybe they never learned or forgot it if they did? Don’t mock them or say they’re not a “true” catholic, but point out yet another bizarre thing that their religion insists they support.

    Maybe they’ll choose to believe or choose to try to change this belief from the inside.
    Maybe they’ll switch to a denomination that reflects their beliefs on this issue — lutheranism, perhaps.
    But maybe this will be yet another reason for them to consider that they might be atheist?

  • Gus Snarp

    You are a scholar and a gentleperson.

  • Sindigo

    Thank you and rightbackatcha. 🙂 

    See, all you Religionists? We’re nice people really.

  • Brian Pansky

     seriously.  a lot of the time it will be said “but that’s the WRONG christians who think that!” but in this case, it’s in their own fucking church.

    And all of this “well, religion SHOULD be flexible” (obviously so that it can never be falsified) bullshit?  Come on, for transubstantiation, either stamp out the delusion among the 26% that think magic is actually happening, or else show that it is actual magic and revolutionize science.  they have to pick one, I don’t see how this can be flexible.

  • Brian Pansky

     and they believe “meh it’s ok that there is an epidemic of blatant irrational belief in this being magic”

  • +”I thought we DIDN’T like the No True Scotsman argument? ”

    The no true Scotsman fallacy only applies in cases where the arguer arbitrarily invents the rules determining what a true scotsman is to suit his argument.

    It’s like begging the question.

    Stating that the self proclaimed christians in prison are not true christians is an example of that logical fallacy, because the arguer is arbitrarily defining what a true christian is to suit his argument. 

    Stating that someone is not a true lawyer because he doesn’t have a law degree or bar licence, is NOT an example of the fallacy because those things are basic pre-requisites for the definition of the label.

    Likewise, belief in transubstantiation is a basic tenant of the roman catholic religion.  Given the relatively recent ramblings of the current pope, I’d be willing to bet quite a lot that he would agree with Dawkins on this issue.

  • “Nonsense. You’re a Catholic if you consider yourself one”

    Awesome.  I’m an Astronaut then.

  • Sure, blame the scammers not the scammed. 

    Church leaders are wrong to teach fictions as facts. Their followers merely misinformed about divine miracles.But this is no ordinary credulity…>>Just over a quarter believe it is transformed (26 per cent)… priests performing weekly miracles? Seems like an invitation to ridicule the believer, ie. ridiculous.

  • DavidM

    Dear Mr. Mehta,
    So transubstantiation is a silly theory? If you’re just preaching to the choir, fine, don’t bother with arguments, but I would appreciate an (intelligent) explanation of/argument for your claim. I’ve run into this attitude before and (shock!) it turned out my interlocutor (a grad student in philosophy) was totally ignorant of the meaning of transubstantiation… so not really qualified to criticize it.

  • Yes. Because a wafer is not Jesus. Also, wine is not blood. QED.

    That was fun. Let’s play again sometime.

  • DavidM

    I don’t know where you live, but chances are you’re not far from a Catholic Church where you can go and attend Eucharistic Adoration. It might be interesting for you to attend some time and ask some of the attendees afterwards what it is they believe. ‘Real’ Catholics certainly do believe in the Real Presence – they always have and still do (although, certainly, the doctrine – like any other – has developed, theologically).

    Obviously it’s true that some Catholics – or most – are far from orthodox – but that is just to say that they are material heretics – in other words, there is a point of deficiency in their faith. The point I think you should not ignore, however, is that most Catholics really don’t know much about a doctrine like transubstantiation. I’m pretty sure that most of those who ‘don’t believe’ – whether calling themselves Catholic or not – are more ignorant than incredulous, and properly speaking, in order to disbelieve some theory, one must understand what that theory proposes.

  • DavidM

    Okay, so your argument is to purely beg the question? That’s not an intelligent argument in my book.

  • Jamie Bernstein

    Hemant, I know you picked on the guy in the article who questioned the poll results, but 1000 individuals is awfully low, And when considering just the Catholics it was only 890. I’m not sure how much I trust these poll results.

  • Are we debating only the poll results?  Or the principle about Transubstantiation?  Even if these numbers aren’t accurate, I suspect there are many Catholics who don’t buy into the wine-into-blood story…

  • DavidM

    The crucial question remains, what does it mean when you say “62% of Catholics believe such and such…”? On its own that statement is pretty superficial (like Dawkins). It’s like pointing out that 97% of atheists believe such and such about God, or about morality, or about the RCC. So what? You need to supplement that with some data about the level of understanding grounding those beliefs if you really want to convey some interesting information. If 84% of creationists think that evolution is junk science, the question to ask is why do they think that? Is the problem one of disagreement with the science, or rather ignorance of it? And how has this ignorance come about? Is it motivated, innocent, inevitable (given such and such conditions), etc.? Likewise, if 97% of atheists (or whatever percentage of ‘Catholics’) think that transubstantiation is a ‘silly theory,’ or that the RCC is morally backwards, why do they think that? Do they understand and disagree with what is actually being proposed, or are they, rather, ignorant? For the most part, it is the latter. If you really want to understand why people identify with particular labels and what that means, you need to go beyond such superficial polling data and try to think about what it is that binds them or divides them and why. If 62% don’t believe in transubstantiation, it doesn’t follow that they are not really ‘Catholic’ and that they should be honest about it – it could well be the case that many are committed Catholics in spirit – ‘deep down,’ as they say – but that their intellectual formation as Catholics is deficient. (Of course this possibility never occurs to Dawkins.) And the same goes for any other group (e.g., atheists), on any other question (e.g., morality).

  • Sindigo

    There are plenty of Catholic churches near me but I won’t be attending any time soon as I’ve done my time in church over the years, sometimes for Catholic services. I never knew it was called anything as painful as “Eucharistic Adoration” though. Creepy.

    I’d be surprised if most Catholics didn’t know about transubstantiation or the real presence though. What makes you think they’re ignorant of it?

  • DavidM

    With due respect, I find it rather amusing to see all these people who went to Catholic school until the ripe old age of 18 and thus consider themselves authorities on Catholic doctrines. What, specifically, are you talking about when you refer to “RCC canon law of Magisterium”? Do you know? Your statement of the doctrine of infallibility is misleading. Are you aware of that? (Sorry to be cynical, but was that perhaps your intention?) In any case, where is transubstantiation spelled out by the Church as being an ESSENTIAL article of faith?? I’d love to get a straightforward honest answer to this question…

  • DavidM

    It’s a good point you raise. But also be aware that Dawkins (and Mr. Mehta) also contributes to the stereotype of atheists as closed-minded intellectual cretins with nonsense like this. Seriously, how’s this for an ‘intellectual’ argument: “Transubstantiation includes the idea that a wafer becomes Jesus; therefore transubstantiation is a silly theory because a wafer isn’t Jesus – QED.” Like wow, you really pondered that one deeply, didn’t you fellas?

  • DavidM

    Well if the Church is wrong about itself, then it may well evolve into a democratic institution. If the Church is right, then the last 2000 years will not just melt away into a determination of the ‘truth’ by popular vote (what a joke). Let’s just wait and see what happens…

  • DavidM

    Uh… right. Actually the Church NEVER separates doctrine from reality. To do so would be to proclaim false doctrine, wouldn’t it?

    The Church has successfully faced down haters and dissenters for 200o years. I don’t know why you and Peterson would think that something is about to change with that, but perhaps a consideration of the real history of the Church (not polemical fairy tale histories where it’s all just awful) would give you pause in your willingness to take seriously these kinds of predictions about the imminent demise of the magisterium of the Church. Or go ahead and believe your little ‘fairy tales for adults.’ 😉

  • DavidM

    Well no need to verify for yourself if you’re not interested, but my point was just that you are mistaken in thinking that all Catholics are pick-and-choose types. That’s simply not true. Anyway, why do you find the term ‘Eucharistic Adoration’ creepy and painful? (Again, if you were willing to try it out with an open mind, you might just change your mind – your choice.)

    Most Catholics are ignorant about many things Catholic for the simple reason that many things Catholic are not very easy to understand and most people – whether Catholic, atheist, or whatever – are not very bright and haven’t been very well taught. The reality for us humans is that we all know something about some things, but we’re mostly ignorant about most things. …Or would you disagree?

  • Sindigo

    Like I said, I’ve been to church plenty. Most of my family are various flavours of church going Christian, I was myself until I was 11 and I’ve seen plenty of services of plenty of denominations. My maternal Grandmother, a close cousin and her family, my father until he converted to Anglicanism, all Catholic. Short of God himself giving the sermon, no church services will make me change my mind at this point. However “open” it is. To paraphrase Tim Minchin: “If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out.”

    What’s more, I’ve discussed the finer points of religious belief with a lot of my family and a fair few clergy to be honest and none of them seem to agree. But that’s not really the point. What happens when the church changes its mind on a dogmatic principle? The existence of Limbo, for example. What happens then? Does every Catholic around the world suddenly and miraculously change their mind as well? Do you all believe in Papal infallibility too? What if he decides that from now on, up is down and the sky is green, do you all just nod in agreement and go about your day?

    What data do you have to make the proclamations that “most Catholics aren’t pick and choose types” and “Most Catholics are ignorant about many things Catholic”? And if the second premise is true, are they still Catholics and do they get to go to Heaven?

    I’m not even going to respond to: “most people – whether Catholic, atheist, or whatever – are not very bright and haven’t been very well taught.” as it’s so ludicrously condescending. I do agree with you that most things Catholic are difficult to understand. I find them absolutely baffling most of the time.

    And finally, it’s painful and creepy because if you believe that the wafer and wine actually turn into flesh and blood it’s weird to call it “adoration”. I mean, I adore tacos but I can’t imagine doing so were they made from some 2,000 year old dude.

  • DavidM

    To par. 1: Well if you’re wrong, maybe you’ll get your sermon on your judgment day. I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

    2: The Church doesn’t change its mind on dogmatic principle and your what-if examples are really too absurd. That’s not going to happen, so why worry about it?

    3: You misquote me here: I never said most Catholics are pick-and-choose types. I know that most Catholics don’t understand many things Catholic because I know a lot of Catholics, and that is a fact. Do you actually think this is not the case?

    4. What you find ludicrously condescending, I find to be simply true beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. Oh well…

    5. Hmmm… I think you’re missing the point here, but also not particularly concerned about it. Would that be right?

  • Sindigo

    This comment box is getting small now so I’ll keep it as brief as possible.

    1) Pascal’s wager, really?
    2) Yes it does and there are lots of examples, Limbo being one. My examples were meant to be absurd but they demonstrate the absurdity of believing in the infallibility of whichever stupid-hatted-one currently sits on the massive golden throne in Vatican city.
    3) I misquoted you slightly, for which I apologise but my point remains. What data do you have to support your claim? Oh, you “know a lot of catholics”. That’s a tiny sample set. How many Catholics can you possibly know? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? It’s not good data. It’s hearsay. 
    4) I can’t argue with that wild assertion. Either you’ve met a sufficiently large portion of the world’s population or you’re being condescending in concluding they’re mostly “not very bright”. I wonder what they’d all think of you.
    5) Please tell me the point I’m missing when i conclude that adoring drinking a dead guy’s blood is creepy. Actually, don’t bother. You’re right in concluding that I’m not that concerned by the logical conclusion you have reached about the evolution of a thousands-of-years-old blood sacrifice ritual.

  • DavidM

    Hi Sindigo, 
    The box is getting small, so I’ll start at the top.
    1) No, not Pascal’s wager, just reality. How can you deny it?
    2) Nothing has changed on Limbo. It has never been a definitive doctrine and still isn’t (either way). Popes actually tend to be very bright, and your absurd examples clearly do not demonstrate the absurdity of believing in infallibility. I could just as well demonstrate that it’s dumb to read science journals and find them credible, b/c, hey, what if one day they all started publishing the claim that up is down and the sky is green. Mention of absurd counter-factuals does not a demonstration make. With due respect, I think that should be obvious.
    3 and 4) If you want to doubt things which I know to be true from experience, go ahead. I think your doubts are groundless. If you want me to provide a substantive reason for believing, give me a substantive reason for doubting. You seem to think I need to have done some serious formal statistical studies in order to know what people in general are like – that, I’m afraid, is absurd.
    5) As you’re not interested in understanding, I leave you to your lack.

  • Marjoeransel

    tenet, not tenant.  you should know what a tenant is.

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