Please don't take this as a "why I left the Church" post. I am still attending Mass. I think it's equally inaccurate to say "I am a Catholic" and "I am not a Catholic" so I try to avoid saying either. For all the reasons below, I think the idea that the Church is a trustworthy guide to truth is a dubious claim; but on the other hand, I'm way too attached to it to just walk out the door, so here we are.
Trigger warning: if my blog always throws you into a faith crisis, and you don't want to have a faith crisis, don't read this. On the other hand, if you are already in one, you're probably not going to be able to help yourself. Just don't blame me if it makes it worse.
1. The Old Testament. Just the whole doggone thing. I was doing really well just reading it symbolically, until I found out that the Church is really pretty clear about what it means by inspiration. Whatever is intended by the author, that's what the passage primarily means. You can't say that a bronze age nomad wrote a text from his own point of view, and God made sure to make his own message come across in a symbolic way despite the nomad's ignorance. No, we are supposed to believe that that nomad said (for instance) "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" but what he really meant was that God permitted Pharaoh's heart to be hardened. And that really does not appear to be the case. There are hundreds of problematic passages, each one easily resolved if you assume it's just a person's culture speaking, but impossible or improbable to interpret as what someone would actually say if God had revealed to them exactly what to write.
Are we honestly going to say that God was in total control of every word of the Bible, and it does say you should beat your slaves, but he never bothered to say that slavery was wrong? I can't do it. I could write a whole post on problematic Bible verses ... but I think you all know at least some of the ones I mean. Just open the Bible at random and see if you can get through a single page without running into something that just doesn't seem like what an omniscient, all-loving God would say. Or go here.
Of course you could believe that God did all the awful things attributed to him and just isn't what we would consider "good." But then you're going to have to ask if it's good for you to worship somebody like that.
2. The death penalty. Oh, don't get me wrong, I agree totally with John Paul II's argument against it. The problem is that it seems to go completely counter to the Church's prior teaching about it. I'll throw out this link as an example, but there's lots more out there. At one time, the death penalty was considered obligatory -- we have to put to death certain offenders. Now we are told it's better not to. It seems that if justice demands death for certain criminals, it would be unjust not to do so. If it's better not to do it, then it never can have been a matter of abstract justice to do it.
3. Women. We now believe that women are complementary to men; no one exactly knows what that means, but it has something to do with women being equal but different. However, that is not at all what the Church believed for the first 19 centuries. And again, you have to ask -- if God was steering the boat, why couldn't he have revealed that little detail a bit sooner? Instead, women are painted as unclean, sinful, and inferior in almost everything the theologians came up with. It seems like God must not care very much about half of humanity if he didn't bother revealing that we are equal for all that time.
And I have tried and tried and tried, and I never did find an argument for the male-only priesthood that didn't, in the end, boil down to sexism. Generally these arguments are predicated on a strict kind of gender essentialism that modern science just doesn't support.
4. The Church's teaching about salvation without baptism has mutated past all recognition. It used to be thoroughly understood that non-Catholics all went to hell. Now we don't think that anymore. I agree with the new way, but I can't come up with any valid explanation for the old way -- how it can have been anything other than infallible teaching that we have since abandoned.
Every time the Church pulls one of these, there's some schismatic/heretical group which refuses to accept the new teaching. I don't understand this -- it seems to me that if you are part of a church that banks on never changing its teachings, and you believe it just did, that would disprove the whole thing and you might as well give up the idea that tradition is in any way meaningful. But instead they believe that Jesus protected the Church from error up to (insert date) and then stopped. That's absurd. If God was speaking through the Church then, he must be now; since the two are contradictory, it follows that neither one can be from God.
5. Infallibility. The Church makes a big, disprovable claim -- that anything defined infallibly will never change -- and it claims that sure enough, it never has. But if you go through history, you can find lots of things that the Church was very sure about at the time (like "no salvation outside the Church" above) and later decided that it wasn't defined infallibly the first time, or that they didn't really mean it the way it sounds. For the Church's claim of infallibility to be meaningful, we should know what is and isn't infallible. Instead, there's a wide variety of opinion about what is or isn't. If people assumed "pagans go to hell" was a sure thing for thousands of years, and now we think it's not, what else do we believe now that our descendants will abandon? I have gotten into quite involved discussions with people about "is X teaching infallible" and the short answer is, nobody knows.
6. Hell, purgatory, and indulgences. I have written before that I think it's incompatible with God's goodness for hell to be a place of God's direct punishment. The more progressive view is that it's just a place of privation, where people who don't want to be with God go to be without him. In that case, purgatory is where you go to prepare yourself to be with God. The souls in purgatory aren't ready for God, and it just takes time for them to work through the things keeping them from him. But if that is true, what in the world does an indulgence do? Indulgences are about paying off a certain penalty. Makes perfect sense if sin is like an overdraft at the bank, which someone else could pay off for you, but why does God have to treat sin like that? Is God not free to waive purgatory with or without the indulgence? And if he can waive it without the indulgence, why bother with purgatory in the first place?
7. The Church's distinction between natural family planning and artificial birth control seems a little sophistical. Why focus on individual acts instead of assuming union and procreation are the ends of sex throughout the whole of the marriage? Most of the arguments I heard growing up against birth control also work against NFP -- stuff like "God will provide for another child" and "who knows, the child you conceive could be the one God plans to use in some special way." So I always planned not to use NFP either, I was just going to have kids as they came, and that's what we did with the first three kids. These days, I do understand the difference, and it's working okay for us so far. But I've been hearing more and more stories from other Catholic couples about how they have been put in very difficult situations by this teaching: marriage taking a beating from excessive amounts of abstinence, very grave reason to avoid pregnancy, but if you sin you go to hell. What exactly is the right choice then?
I guess I always assumed God just took care of this stuff. I assumed you'd get good results if you followed God's will. But from what I've seen in the lives of people I know, God doesn't take care of this stuff. Sometimes -- even often -- Catholics pay a price for following the Church's teaching and don't get any benefit from it. How can this teaching be true if it's harmful?
8. The problem of evil and related paradoxes. If God can do anything and cares about us, why did he construct a universe with so much suffering in it? Also, if God wants us to know him, why not reveal himself more obviously? And if God wanted us to be reconciled to him after original sin, why didn't he just do that instead of waiting centuries and then sending his son to be killed? These questions have answers, but I've never considered the answers to be very good. Any limitations put on God as part of the answer seem to cause a paradox: if God can't make us virtuous without suffering, or if he can't forgive sin without sacrifice, or whatever, who made the rule that he couldn't? These things don't appear logically impossible.
9. I always thought it was sufficient proof of the Church's divine origin that it triumphed over all the other brands of nuttiness circulating in the first few centuries -- Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Arianism, etc. But it makes better sense to say that all of those sects had a shot at "winning," but the Catholic Church is the one that actually won, and history is written by the winners. Writers who disagreed with the winning viewpoint were labeled heretics; many of their writings were destroyed under Constantine.
For instance, we were always taught that the form of the Mass was established by Jesus and used more or less the same (at least in the Eucharistic Prayer) from the Last Supper on. And yet here are the words the Didache -- written close to the time the Gospels were written down -- includes:
"Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:
We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..And concerning the broken bread:
We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever."
That doesn't seem even recognizable! No reference at all to any belief in it being Jesus' body. Did the Christian community not believe it was at that time?
10. This one's not so much a problem as a lack of a solution: my one really rock-hard reason for belief was that Jesus rose from the dead, and we know he must have because his apostles died rather than deny him. Right?
Actually there is no good historical evidence that any of them died as martyrs. The "acts" of their martyrdoms were written centuries later; there is no reason to believe that they weren't just made up to give glory to people's favorite saints. And if you take away that really solid piece of evidence, the possibility that one or more people were lying about the resurrection seems a lot more credible. Given that, I can construct a plausible scenario for how Christianity could have gotten going without the resurrection.
There may be more, but those are the biggest ones. You see it's not one issue but a multitude of issues. Any one of these can be explained away a bit by saying "but that's the only weak point in an otherwise very strong framework!" But with that many holes, and no really firm evidence to override them, it just doesn't look like a strong framework anymore.
I post this to invite argument. If you think any of these points are incorrect, please feel free to try to convince me. You know the drill: I would like to believe, so I am very willing to entertain your arguments, but I also am unconvinced that I should believe without evidence.