Dillon said polls show many Catholics disagree with church teachings on birth control, divorce, abortion, the ordination of women to the priesthood and priestly celibacy. But those who remain Catholic consider those stands "ultimately irrelevant" to their identity as Catholics, she said.In short, all the Usually Suspect Teachings. To these we may add, perhaps, the issue that my colleague was primarily worked up about: the recent Vatican instruction on admission of homosexuals to Holy Orders. But check this out:
Citing her own survey in the mid-1990s of members of the Women's Ordination Conference, which works to change church teaching on the ordination of women as priests, Dillon said most argue in favor of women's ordination "as Catholics, not as Americans."Since it is, in fact, a point of Catholic doctrine that women may not be admitted to Holy Orders, one wonders how any argument in favor of the ordination of women could proceed "from Catholic doctrine". One begins to suspect--and rightly so--that these folks have crossed a line of some kind. A line that demarcates the boundary between Catholic and non-Catholic.
She found that 88 percent approached the matter using arguments from Catholic doctrine, while only 4 percent called for women's ordination from an "individual rights" perspective.
Personally I find demarcation problems philosophically very interesting. The boundary between science and non-science is one of the topics that I always address in my elementary philosophy of science courses, and I have even had disagreements with my colleagues about the boundary between philosophy and non-philosophy. (For example, I had a rather extended--and fruitless--discussion recently regarding whether Daniel Dennett is a philosopher rather than, well, something else.) The present question has to do with the boundary between Catholicism and non-Catholicism, whether the "non" part here refers to Protestantism, atheism, or some non-Christian religion being unimportant. Surely there is a point beyond which one cannot go in rejecting doctrine if one is truly to count as still Catholic.
Clearly this can be a touchy subject. I have had similar discussions with Jewish friends--people whom I like a great deal but who, in my own opinon, aren't really Jewish at all. Three of my colleagues are Jewish in the sense of coming from Jewish families, but as far as I'm concerned that's the only sense in which they're Jewish, and it is not a very interesting or important sense. To be Jewish in any real sense carries the necessary condition of believing in the God of Israel, but all three of my "Jewish" colleagues are atheists, two of them militantly so. To suggest such a thing to one of these folks, however, can be rather dangerous--it often results in dirty looks, at the very least, and sometimes verbal tongue lashings. They will ironically claim that you have to be Jewish in order to know what being a Jew is--certainly no Christian has any standing to be telling a Jew what is required for being Jewish. But of course that begs the question, since what is at issue is precisely the question of whether they are really Jewish or not.
I find that just about the same thing happens with cafeteria Catholics. The difference is that it's harder to tell someone like me that my opinon doesn't count because I'm an outsider. However, they sometimes still find a way to say just that: they say things like "Oh, you're a convert! Well of course you would think that, then!" They then go on to explain how, since they are cradle Catholics, they know a lot better than I what it means to be a Catholic. What it usually means to them, it turns out, is that their parents forced them to go to Mass, usually against their will. Why this would count as a sufficient condition for belonging to any centuries-old institution is beyond me, but there you have it. I guess we're all ancient Greeks because we vote in democratic elections. I guess we're all Romans because there are still elements of the Roman law in our own civil code. I guess we're all Republicans because our president is, and we haven't yet left the country in protest.
There is a kind of argument that one often hears about in philosophy classes called a sorites (soar-EYE-tease) argument. The name "sorites" is just the Greek word for a heap, as in a heap of sand grains or pebbles piled on top of each other. Sorites arguments have to do with the difficulty of establishing boundaries. Consider the following example.
Suppose there is just one grain of sand on a tabletop. Surely a single grain of sand cannot be called a "heap". So whatever we may want to call that grain of sand, we ought not to call it "a heap of sand". Now, surely, if you were to add just one more single grain of sand to that first grain, it still would not be a "heap" of sand. Indeed, add just one more single grain of sand to those two grains of sand, and you still won't have a "heap" of sand. So now we have a kind of algorithm here: adding one more element to something that is not a heap will not give you a heap. But clearly this can't go on indefinitely, because if you keep adding one grain of sand over and over again, eventually you will have a heap of sand, even though the general principle--adding one thing to something that is not a heap does not give you a heap--seems intuitively right.
And we can work this from the other direction, too. Take a man with a full head of hair. Surely he is not bald if he has a full head of hair. And surely pulling one hair out of his head will not make him bald. And if we pull one more hair out, he still will not be bald. So our algorithm here is, subtracting one hair from someone who is not bald will not make him bald. But again this can't go on indefinitely, because eventually you're going to be looking at a cue ball.
So where do we draw the line? At what point do the sand grains on the tabletop cross the boundary from non-heap to heap? At what point does the man cross the boundary from "thinning" to "bald"? And with Catholic doctrine? How many teachings of the Church may I reject and remain Catholic? At what point do I cross the line and become just another Protestant?
Sorites arguments apply primarily to cases where the demarcation problem is largely unsettled, or the boundary itself is vague (for example, where is the boundary between clear, empty sky and a cloud?). I don't think that the boundary between Catholic and non-Catholic is either unsettled or vague, however, and this is where I would differ not only with my colleague from the history department but from many self-styled "cradle Catholics" such as the ones described in the CNS story.
This is partly a media problem. We often hear in news reports that "American Catholics" don't accept this or that teaching of the Church, whether it be the teaching on contraception, or abortion, or the ordination of women, or what have you, and this tends to suggest to the non-specialist that there's nothing unusual about people calling themselves "Catholics" of one kind or another and yet not believing what Catholics are supposed to believe. But the idea is ludicrous on its face. What would we be expected to make of a story that said something along the lines of "Democrats in this precinct always vote Republican, always talk like Republicans, always have all the same opinions as Republicans"? These people are Republicans, even if they like to call themselves "Democrats". When I was living in North Carolina I once toyed with the idea of registering as a Democrat so that I could vote in the Democratic primaries. Not because I liked the Democratic candidates--far from it. I was planning to vote only for candidates that I thought had no chance of winning in a general election. I was no Democrat, but a mole.
So who are these Protestant moles who are doing such a lousy job of disguising their identities in the Catholic Church? Why not just leave? Well, of course it's not that simple. As in the case of my Jewish friends who are not really Jewish, there is an emotional bond of some sort, whether folks like me are able to understand it or not, and that bond is difficult, if not impossible, to break. There are plenty of "ecclesial communities" out there that subscribe to exactly the beliefs that my colleague subscribes to, but it would break her heart to leave the one she's already in, even though staying in the Church is also just as clearly breaking her heart. I have no idea what the solution to such a difficult problem might be.
The problem is a psychological one, not a doctrinal one. It has to do with the psychology of belief, and the capacity of a person to give intellectual assent to something that s/he either does not believe or that s/he has great difficulty in imagining the plausibility of. The teaching on contraception is fully consistent with Church doctrine, and perfectly in keeping with the natural law perspective adopted by Humanae Vitae, but I can see why it would be difficult for people to believe that it is really a grave matter. Even more so with the teaching on masturbation. These are issues that our culture has deemed to be purely subjective, with no real moral content at all. One reason, of course, is that our culture is predominantly hedonistic in its orientation, but that is a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that plenty of "American Catholics" are "Americans" first and "Catholics" second, at least in the sense that they have absorbed the values of the culture at large, one of which has to do with the goodness of pleasure. And of course, pleasure is good--but it is not the good, that is, it is not an end in itself. But because it is so enjoyable it is difficult to imagine anything wrong with the unbridled pursuit of it.
In the case of the ordination of homosexuals the problem is different but not unrelated. If a man is chaste, but attracted to men rather than women, it can be difficult to see why he ought not to be ordained when another man, who is chaste but attracted to women, at least in principle (but expected not to think too much about that, if at all), may be ordained. Because few intellectuals accept either natural law or Aristotelian essentialism any more, it is virtually impossible for an instruction like this to get any purchase in the mind of the dissenting scholar. It just seems like one more case of "old men in dresses telling us how to have sex", as I once heard it put. And since, again, "American Catholics" are also byproducts of a culture that is, at least in principle, egalitarian in orientation, as well as a culture that tends to understand human relations in terms of rights and duties, it is easy to make the mistake of understanding this instruction as a violation of some secular principle of justice.
There is, then, a war between disparate values going on here. On the one hand are the spiritual values, inculcated by family, friends, and perhaps practice; and on the other hand are the secular values, inculcated for the most part by academia and the media. Both tug at the heart--the spiritual perhaps more strongly, but the secular no less effectively because just as attractive in their own way to the educated.
And I think that by and large the folks we are talking about here are educated folks, people who have been taught that every "educated opinion" ought to be given equal status in the marketplace of ideas, and that any institution that claims to have a monopoly on "the truth" is just a cult to be scorned. There is a car that parks in my lot with a bumper sticker that says "Don't pray in my school and I won't think in your church", and of course this idea that Catholics "park their brains at the door" is part of the endemic anti-Catholic bigotry of our culture. The notion of intellectual obedience is completely foreign to our culture. In politics that is probably a very salutary fact; but in the domain of religion it has been disastrous for the "American Church".
How will the spiritual values win out, in the end? Perhaps by being patient--a virtue that is also alien to our culture. As difficult as it may be for the rest of us to put up with them, it may be just what they need for the dissenters to stay in the fold. Perhaps a life lived in dissent is still a life lived in obedience, if one stays put. If you leave the Church, then you have certainly put yourself first. But if you stay, then even if you complain about staying you are at least still acknowledging that there is something worth staying for, something that comes before self and complacency.