Following my post last week, “Is it a spiritual problem?” one reader commented with a description of some grass-roots Catholics whose generosity and dedication is life-long and outstanding. “It’s why,” she said, “I’m still a Catholic.”
I too know Catholics whose generosity and selfless concern for others is humbling. Given my background, I may, in fact, know more such Catholic men and women around the world than most. Why, then, am I not still a Catholic? I’m not even still a Christian in terms of doctrinal belief.
There are two significant reasons. The first is that, not only do I know many dedicated and loving Catholics. I also know many dedicated and loving Muslims. And many dedicated and loving Jews. And I have no doubt that there are many dedicated and loving Buddhists and Communists and Aboriginine Australians. Why then, aren’t I a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Jew?
Because although there are loving Catholics, it isn’t being a Catholic that makes people loving. In fact, one will find this selflessness among any group of people who have survived more than a generation or two. Because our very survival in human society requires some degree of altruism, of unearned generosity, or unconditional love.
I think it is a very dangerous conclusion to believe that it is being a Catholic (or a Muslim or Buddhist or…etc) that makes me or anyone else morally good. Because it is a small step that millions of believers have taken over the centuries to conclude that my group is superior to all those who do not belong.
Our world is rife today with people of every persuasion who think that their beliefs make them better than everybody who does not share them. Christians and Islamists in particular today, are killing each other with the conviction that they are doing the will of God, that they are doing something heroic, that they are even laying down their lives for a cause worth dying for. Depending on who is doing the labeling, we might call them terrorists or martyrs, holy or evil, heroic or damned.
That brings me to the second reason why I’m not still a Christian in terms of religious belief (although I strive to be “Christian” in the sense that it means I care about and respect all fellow human beings). There are many Christian dogmas that I believe are positively destructive. I don’t mean they are unscientific or superstitious. I mean I believe some teachings are positively destructive. And I would say the same thing about many Muslim beliefs, and many other religious beliefs as well.
But that is a topic for another post.