In times when I get into conversations with Catholic friends about the controversies hounding the Church — as a recap, the list goes from Inquisitions to child rape to cultural genocide — they’re quick to denounce the controversies. Over the years, I’ve been told many variations of “As a Catholic, I abhor it.”
It’s a good sign, of course, that followers of the Church are aware of its dubious behavior. It’s also a relief that they’re unafraid to condemn it, because that’s just basic human decency.
But by the end of these friendly chats, I’m always left wondering – if they find Catholicism’s crimes and hypocrisies so disgusting, why do they keep on supporting the Church? How is it that they keep returning to Mass weekly, as if the words of robed hypocrites are worth listening to?
It translates to society at large, as well. There are currently 1.3 billion baptised Catholics in the world, and a big chunk of them still identify with the religion. Surely they’re not all unaware of the despicable crimes the Church has committed and gotten away with?
Also, considering its history of intense misogyny and homophobia, isn’t it problematic how the Church has millions of women and LGBTQ+ devotees in its flock who continue to defend it?
There’s a worrying trend of wilful ignorance there, and Catholics are keen on just not talking about it.
Why play blind?
What’s funny is that Filipinos aren’t usually that dismissive of the injustices around them.
The Marcos regime was a heinous dictatorship and Pinoys still go out of their way to condemn it, decades later. The Duterte administration feigns its brutality as ‘progressiveness’; not all Pinoys are fooled. In universities throughout the country, rallying against dictatorships has become many young adults’ gateway to “wokeness”. By all accounts, Filipinos don’t take kindly to despotism and consciously work to stamp it out.
But neither Marcos nor Duterte are as brutally despotic as the God of the Old Testament. If you’re someone who’s only read or heard cherry-picked passages of the Holy Bible from Christians, you may have gotten the impression that Yahweh is a loving, caring paternal figure throughout its 73 books.
Not in the Old Testament: beyond sending plagues unto and then murdering the firstborn sons of Ancient Egypt; ordering the Israelites to totally slaughter the Amalekites, Amorites, Hittites, and other tribes; and offering them guidelines on how to take slaves, Yahweh also famously drowned every man, woman, and child (except for one family) in a Great Flood.
If true, it would have been the greatest act of genocide in all of history, making all of humanity’s massacres (Holocaust who?) look tame by comparison. To make matters worse, God left just one family to incestuously repopulate the Earth — not exactly the best long-term plan for genetic diversity.
So where, then, are the demonstrations against Yahweh? Where are his Pinoy Twitter cancel parades? Where are the editorial think-pieces and university theses that expose the biggest dictator in all of history?
The lack of God’s indictment in the Filipino mainstream is why I believe most Filipinos are afraid to truly judge their religion.
It’s 2019 and we hate dictators. What gives?
“But God is still above the Church, and God is good!”
This is the primary defence I’ve heard a lot of Catholics use (not necessarily firsthand), and it’s quite frankly, terrible. It doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. If God and Church are so entwined, and God is so good, he wouldn’t allow the Church to get away with so many horrific acts.
The Catholic Church has existed for 2,000 years. In that span of time, it slaughtered more than a million Jews, Muslims, and “heretical” Christians in the Crusades, tortured apostates in the Inquisition, burned “witches” at the stake, enabled the abuse of women in the Magdalene Laundries, and repeatedly coddled priests in its own clergy who raped children.
God, in his omniscience and omnipotence, sat “up there” as all of this murder, rape, and injustice unfolded… and did nothing.
This ultimately brings us to wonder what his disposition is. Supposedly, he is both able and willing to prevent evil; why, then, is there so much of it?
On the other hand, if God is only able to prevent evil but not willing, then that would make him an asshole. If he is willing but not able, then he’s not actually omnipotent. And of course, if he is neither able nor willing… then as Epicurus puts it, he is no God.
Rationalists, of course, don’t even bother wracking their heads over any of this. As Occam’s Razor asserts, the simplest explanation to any problem is often the best one… and to be blunt, the simplest explanation for God’s lack of interference in the Church’s many offences is that he never existed, to begin with.
It’s undoubtedly the harder pill to swallow, but it best explains why Church history overflows with horror — because none of it was supervised by a Heavenly Father and man was fully accountable the entire time. In other words, all of the atrocities committed by the Church were a direct effect of its own excessive ambition and brutality and it only has itself to blame.
To be fair to the Church, it isn’t as cruelly militant today as it used to be. Its morals, in fact, have become quite flexible: by the time the Western world had turned away from slavery in the late 1800s, the Church accordingly reworked its Code of Canon Law to limit (and then end) its centuries-long endorsement of the practice. When attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community moved towards acceptance in the 21st century, Pope Francis began issuing (half-hearted) words of support every now and then. Her many flaws aside, Mother Church is undeniably adaptive.
But here’s the thing: if God’s “one true Church” has had to shift according to the times, it can’t really call itself a divinely-ordained institution — if anything, it is exposed as a political one.
When a bankrupt Holy See agreed to take Benito Mussolini’s millions in exchange for their support of his Italian Fascist Party and his restoration of Vatican City’s independence in 1925, that was not very holy.
When the Vatican struck a similar deal with Adolf Hitler a few years later by taking a cut of the income tax in Nazi-era Germany and passively stood by for the majority of the Holocaust, that was not what Jesus would have done.
Mother Church likes to trump up her divinity, but her power plays betray her true nature. You can only stay in bed with the world’s worst fascists for so long before it becomes obvious that you’re in this for political gain rather than godly servitude.
Reality Checks Can Hurt
In all fairness, I don’t actually tell this to any of my friends right away. I don’t think it’s safe: for a lot of Catholics, faith functions as an emotional crutch and using logic on “matters of faith” can often feel like you’re pulling their support out from under them.
Instead, I try to lead them (when I can) to the works of scientists like Carl Sagan, pundits like Christopher Hitchens, comedians like George Carlin, and communicators like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This way, they can find the beauty of critical thinking and come to reassess religion, all on their own accord.
To be clear, I know my friends already have critical thinking skills. But thanks to childhood indoctrination, they have learned to make religion the exception to that.
I do silently wish to “de-convert” them, and I don’t think it’s a dirty thought. “De-conversion”, after all, isn’t so much about leaving the faith as it is simply about learning to apply critical thinking on your religion. It really couldn’t hurt.
I recognize, of course, that that is a slippery ethical slope: you can’t just force your unbelief onto other people, otherwise you’d be committing the same mistake religious zealots do! But I do think the option to de-convert should be put out there, because so many people have only ever known religion to even consider that they could live without it.
Humanism as the antidote
For many, the Church’s philanthropy has been enough to justify all of its imperfections. And make no mistake, the best aspect of Catholicism is its philanthropy: the Church is neck-and-neck with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the world’s largest charitable organizations, spending billions of dollars in aid per year.
But the source of the goodness there is not actually Catholicism — it’s humanism.
Humanism is a basic instinct to care for your fellowmen, a desire to help out others in need. While it’s true that Christianity and many other religions have “absorbed” it into their doctrines, it doesn’t make it the same as them.
Humanism, as an emphasis on the best aspects of human nature, exists outside of religion and all of its contradictions. If anything, it’s actually what gives religions credibility; without it, they look little more than con jobs.
So why stick with religion at all? I know many people are afraid to leave Catholicism out of fear that there’s no mental safety net in secularity. But that’s not really true; there is an abundance of inspiration to be found in secularism. Science can give you a better understanding of the universe (and of human nature) than Catholicism ever could, and it never has to create fantasies to captivate you. Uncovering the universe’s secrets is often a thrilling enough experience.
“But without religion, what do I have to live for?” Frankly, you belong to the greatest civilisation in the known universe, and are a part of the species that built it. Architecture, art, music, film… none of these really have to exist. But as humans, we gave them merit and made them matter. As a member of human society, it is that legacy that you can help sustain. Is this not a worthy thing to live for, a lovely reason to keep going?
Choosing to think for yourself, to commit to an individual purpose rather than what your religion designated, is a truly scary step to take in life. But not only is it the “adult” thing to do, it also exhibits the kind of character and bravery a God could never bestow you. It is absolutely worth it.