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← Dawkins calls for 'Catholic' honesty

Cartomancer's Avatar Jump to comment 74 by Cartomancer

But, really, it's a bit silly to upbraid Richard on his assertion that if you don't believe in transubstantiation (technically the actual presence of christ on the altar during the Eucharist, but that's a minor quibble I've made before) then you can't call yourself a real catholic.

What Richard is doing here is not denying the complicated realities of religious affiliation and belief, he's bringing them into sharp focus to expose the cracks. It's a pedagogical tool. It's almost socratic. Richard is merely pointing out that the hierarchy of the catholic church does indeed have this authoritarian ruling that its adherents should believe a specific set of very silly things. He's not making that up, it really does, and has had for centuries. According to the leaders of the catholic church, that's what you need to believe in order to be a catholic.

But clearly not all of them do believe it. Obviously there is a huge gap between what the hierarchs say you should believe and what most catholic people actually do believe. Richard knows this full well. But most catholic people don't really think about this gap, this disjunct. They still habitually afford the pope and the cardinals and the theologians a level of respect and deference that does not accord with their own beliefs and actions. They afford them unwarranted authority, and with that authority the hierarchs do horrible things and promote great social evils. And sometimes the adherents do follow the party line, on matters such as abortion and homophobia, exacerbating and spreading the evils.

What Richard is trying to do here is make the adherents think for themselves. He's trying to break the spell and challenge the notion that religion is something you just do because you just do it. If people sit up and explicitly articulate the situation regarding their belief in silly things like transubstantiation then they've made that crucial first step towards questioning the whole damned edifice. "Well yes, I suppose it does sound ridiculous, obviously I don't believe THAT" can quickly snowball into "Why do I listen to these hateful old men in dresses at all?" When unchallenged, people stagnate and let it pass, when actually challenged to define precisely what their religion means to them, most religious people quickly realise that it is a hopeless muddle that doesn't actually mean much more than a fondness for tradition and ritual.

The catholic hierarchy is behaving as if its rulings and pronouncements reflect the reality of its followers. It is allowed to get away with behaving like that because too many people believe that fondness for tradition and ritual somehow entails notional obedience to a central dogmatic authority. These two must be separated, and one of the most powerful ways they can be separated is to focus on the language used and bring the imprecision and its implications to light.

Sat, 09 Jun 2012 00:32:14 UTC | #946477