The following is written at the suggestion of Elizabeth Scalia, here, that people write why they remain Catholic in response to a Pew survey showing a decline of religious affiliation over the past seven years. If anyone else wishes to write one, use the twitter hashtag, #WhyRemainCatholic If someone wishes to write one and doesn’t have a blog, I will publish it here as a guest post.
A recent Pew study has made waves by noting the decline of religiosity in American society over the past seven years. This has led to a certain silly season on the internet, as a brief (and mind-numbing) glance at the comment boxes at Huffington Post reveal. Certainly, many reasons can be given for this. Poor instruction in the faith, rejection of the rule associated with religion, and the influence of an increasingly secular society come to mind. The Catholic Church, we are told, is “out of touch” with the modern word, too backward, clinging to its old superstitions. Given this, why still remain Catholic in an unCatholic world? If the world is moving on, why not move on with it?
Others reasons will vary, but first, I remain Catholic because Catholicism is not in touch with the modern world. If the Catholic Church only happened to tell me everything that the modern world already told me, then I should suspect it was all made up. If it made no truth claims that contradicted the World’s, I would think it only offered the world. But as James Bond put it, the world is not enough. A man doesn’t join the Church because he wants this world, but because he wants the next one.
In the Middle Ages, the common assumption was that a true Church should not be worldly, but should be unworldly. Pope Gregory VII waged a fierce battle, dying in exile as German troops descended on Rome, to free the Catholic Church from the control of secular princes. He reasoned that a Church too tied up with the world was less spiritual. A Church that was more unworldly, was more other-worldly. A Church that was less material and political was more spiritual. This is the same sense in which Fulton Sheen wrote that were he not Catholic and looking for the true Church, he would not look for the Church that got on with the world, but the one that did not. Not the Church that was progressive, but the one accused of being behind the times:
would look for the Church which the world hated… look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned… Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God… Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.… and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly… [then] the Church is Divine.” (2)
This is my first reason for remaining Catholic while Catholicism is out of touch with a world that is out of touch with God. A worldly Church would be mere vanity or conceit, an unwordly one might just be true. When the rest of world starts to run off a cliff, I want a Church that can stop and say, Humane Vitae.
The second reason is a matter of reason and may be dealt with more briefly here. I remain Catholic on the evidence. The Catholic Church may be ridiculed for its “ancient superstitions” and “bronze age gods,” but it is hard to see anything more superstitious than atheism. An atheist must believe that for no reason at all and with no explanation, the universe just happened to pop into existence out of nothing, that it just happened to be finely tuned for intelligent life, and that it just happened to lead to the development of conscious creatures capable of intelligence, reason, and discerning right from wrong. By contrast, in Catholicism, there is nothing strange about God creating a life permitting universe with creatures sharing in his own rationality. And once a man rejects atheism, there is no figure in any religion like the God-Man in the Gospels. There is no figure who claims that degree of divine authority, yet whose stories simply do not read like myths or legends, and whose followers went on to be tortured and killed in the belief that he was God crucified and risen from the dead.
Those two reasons probably account for why I remain Catholic, but there is one more consideration worth mentioning. Occasionally some atheist will make the very silly remark that atheism is not so different from Christianity; atheists simply disbelieve in one more God than Christians do. But, of course, this is absurd. Atheism is not simply disbelieving one more god than the Christians do, but a difference of world-view. It is the difference of being able to believe in a world of objective meaning, value, and purpose. It is a richer and larger world, where matter, with its meaning written into it by its maker, can represent a higher, more real, spiritual world. It means hope for the hopeless, a crown after the cross, and an Easter morning after a Good Friday.
And so even if there were no reason to be Catholic (and there are many), even if the God-Man in the Gospels were a deluded fool (and He is not), I think I should still have to say to the materialist, with C.S. Lewis:
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up all those things … Then all I can say is … the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. […] That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” (3)
And that is why I am Catholic, whatever the Pew studies may say and whatever others may say about the direction history is moving. A man can move with history or he can move history. The Church can, because it is not in touch with this world; it is in touch with a more real one.
(3) The Silver Chair, chapter 12.