The comment thread on my last post has gone on and on .... I feel like I made a mistake in phrasing things the way I did. I guess it sounds like I might be saying "here are my objections, come knock them down because I want to stay Catholic!" When really I should have said, "here's what I think, I'm scared it makes me a heretic, reassure me I am still Catholic!"
If you whittle down all the individual arguments (which, if you're interested, are all being hashed out in the comboxes) I guess my real problem is that there are two kinds of Catholic. And these two kinds of Catholic are as different, to my mind, as two different religions: different in worldview, different in priorities, different in the way they act. It bothers me that there are two. I worry that perhaps one is right and one is wrong, and that I am on the wrong side.
The first kind of Catholic tends to prefer things from before Vatican II. Not the liturgy particularly (though they might) but the general tone of things.
They believe that unbaptized infants who die go to limbo, and that non-Catholics of any kind, even if they never even heard of the Catholic Church, mostly go to hell. One of these people told me, "If a man kisses a million lepers and
washes the feet of the poor, but isn't baptized, he will go to hell, but
if he is baptized and does the bare minimum of receiving the sacraments
and avoiding mortal sin, he will go to heaven."
They believe that sin and grace are a sort of bank account; if you've done a certain amount of sin, you owe a certain amount of suffering. Christ's sufferings on the cross were to pay off our deficit at the grace bank.
They like Benedict and don't like Francis or John Paul II. Phrases like "who am I to judge" make them very upset. They like Cardinal Burke. It is very important to them that pro-abortion politicians are publicly denied the sacraments, and that sodomy is against the law. They feel that people do bad things when allowed too much freedom, and the job of the state is to keep people from doing all those bad things.
When told that God killed lots of people in the Flood or at Sodom, or that he ordered the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, they aren't bothered. But some of Jesus' parables about mercy make them feel a bit uncomfortable.
If you ask them how many people go to hell, they will tell you most people do. They might point out that many private revelations have said this.
They worry a great deal about doing things right: about not using birth control or overusing NFP, about saying the rosary, about getting the liturgy perfect, about going to confession often.
If they get cancer or their friend dies in a car wreck, they say this was God's will and God must have some purpose in it. Maybe he is trying to teach them something.
They say, "God is good, but it might be a sort of good that doesn't feel or seem good at all to humans."
All of this hinges on a view of God that says he cares very much about rules and about what you believe. He isn't unmerciful, but they focus more on his justice. I would like to emphasize that I am not attempting to parody this side; I know good people (some readers, probably) who fit more on this side and are probably better people than I am.
The other kind sees God differently, as loving and merciful without much focus on justice. They think God cares a lot more about whether you love your neighbor than whether you believe the right things.
They love the Gospels (except for the whip of cords bit; that doesn't seem right) and flip nervously through the Old Testament till they reach the prophets at least.
They see sin as a break in one's relationship with God; grace fixes it. Christ's redemption had something to do with fixing a relationship, not paying into a bank. (But I learned the hard way, it's hard to get one of these people to explain exactly how this works.)
They believe God prefers five minutes of heartfelt spontaneous prayer to half-a-dozen rosaries, and don't tend to care all that much about how perfectly the liturgy is done.
They believe that a charitable person who loves God, but isn't Catholic, will probably go to heaven. Even a well-meaning atheist probably goes to heaven. They believe that you can think all the wrong things, but as long as you would choose the right things if only you knew, you're still in the clear. They hope hell is empty, or nearly so.
Politically, they see the Church's role in the public sphere as promoting basic human dignity, but not fighting culture wars. They probably believe the state has the duty to care for the poor, but not to police sexual behavior.
If they get cancer or someone dies, they believe it's just one of those awful things that happens, not that God willed it specifically.
They say, "God is good, but it is a kind of goodness I can recognize as good. I am sure God wouldn't do anything I think is evil."
In short, they are the "social justice Catholics," the "touchy-feely Catholics," the "Vatican II Catholics," the "as long as you're a good person Catholics."
The trouble is, I am made very uncomfortable by the worldview of the first camp. I can't see God that way. However, probably 75% of camp number two are living in a state of what camp number one would call mortal sin. There aren't a lot of people who think that God is a merciful being who cares more about the heart than about rules -- and still follow the rules.
I do follow the rules. I follow the rules because I think following the rules is a way to show love. It might not be the only way. I don't really care if it is the only way. It is the way that God has revealed himself to me, along the story of my life, and the only love letter I know how to send is following the rules. But for me that's always with the understanding that he'll cover what I'm lacking. That if I'm totally and completely wrong, he'll say "but you were trying to serve me" and welcome me anyway. And that for the many people I know who believe something utterly different from what I do, he's got that same mercy ready.
There are moments when it all falls into place for me. When I see that there's a very delicate balance between too much fear of God's justice and too much presumption on God's mercy; when I realize that God is greater than my conception of him and that perhaps the rule-bound way that's so scary to me is his way of leading people to himself too; when it is clear to me that the reason there are few (or, comparatively few) attempting to walk this fine line with me is that walking the fine line is hard -- not that I'm doing it wrong.
At other moments, I look at it and say to myself, "This brokenness cannot possibly be of God. The reason we're walking so far afield is because before 1960 it was all camp one, all the time, and since then it's been all camp two. And the reason for the shift is that deep in our gut, we are following the world. We followed the world in the early Church and in the Middle Ages, adopting harshness and legalism because those were the coin of the day, and we're following the world now when we suddenly say that being a good person is enough.
"Either that, or camp one is right, has always been right, and God is the stern judge I can't bear to imagine spending eternity with. If that is what the Church is, I want no part of it."
That's the part that scares me. Everyone says, "So long as you decide you will believe whatever you discover the Church teaches, you're in the clear." Only I won't. I believe in God's goodness, God's mercy, his infinite store of love, more than I believe in the Church. I don't think that's doubt, exactly. Maybe it's a deeper kind of faith.
The dark voice whispers, "This is pride, that you think you could know what God is based on your own reason, instead of trusting the Church to tell you."
Perhaps it is. But when it comes down to it, I need a God who is love and mercy, who treats his children with the sort of gentleness that I try to have with mine. I need to strive to be like that God, and not the other one. I need to trust in that God, and not the other one. And I just can't believe that God would give me this need for him, and then fail me on that.