March 11th, 2014


I was curious to see what’s happened to churchgoing in this country since my youth, when I remember most people going to church—well, going religiously.

My leading theory was that churchgoing has decreased mightily since then. But I was surprised to see this chart:


Surprisingly (at least to me), it’s only Catholic churchgoing that’s declined since I was a girl. Protestant churches—and I know that covers a lot of ground—have held steady. However, the “steady” they’ve held at is a much lower level of churchgoing than Catholicism began with in mid-twentieth-century. What’s actually occurred is that Catholic churchgoing has declined from its earlier heights to almost exactly match the levels at which the Protestant churches started.

Is it that Catholicism has become more like Protestant churches—less distinctive? It certainly isn’t the child abuse scandals, because the trend started long before those were publicized and has been slow, steady, and relatively even.

68 Responses to “Churchgoing”

  1. Tonawanda Says:

    Wild guess: the graph represents the decline of belief in sin or the consequences of sin. Until Vatican 2, a Catholic was going to Hell by eating meat on Friday, and there was not much doubt on the point.

    Not go to Church on Sunday? You better have been in a coma or get to confession immediately before you get hit by a car or it is Hell for you.

    The influence of the Church on Catholics in this regard was comprehensive and intense.

    The Protestant churches and what constitutes a “protestant” became and remained wildly diverse almost immediately after Luther, specifically including on the question of sin and its consequences.

    The church-going Protestants might represent the Christian branch of the Protestant religions, who have been that way for centuries. The rest are Protestants for cultural purposes.

    Same for the Catholics, except their internal reformation started in the 60′s and the consequences are still working themselves out.

    This seems like too simplistic an answer but I spent too much time writing it so I will just throw this out there.

  2. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I’d like to be able to track down the story of some years ago in which a consulting firm was looking at the Methodist church. They concluded there was nothing you had to believe to be a Methodist, and nothing you believed could keep you from being a Methodist. I suspect it was only the clergy they surveyed, since the pewdwellers don’t usually put their statement of faith on paper. But maybe….
    Anyway, the point was there wasn’t much difference between being a Methodist and not being a Methodist. So if you can be (like) a Methodist without being a Methodist, or if you can be (like) something else while being a Methodist, what’s the point in being a Methodist.
    Should the story have less heft than that, the point remains: Liberal protestants have a pretty loose canon (sorry) and I suspect there’s not much gripping in that.
    I’ve attended conservative churches–with, admittedly, crack administrative folks–who let you know you have to be, you know, on the upward path to join. Sure, attend, take advantage of mission groups, but until you have really taken the pledge, so to speak, hold off on asking for full membership. Places were jammed.
    One church in our area took down the cross so as not to offend anyone. Nobody goes there any more. I guess the other side of impressing somebody is inevitably offending somebody else. In currentspeak, that is. So if you don’t offend, in currentspeak, you don’t impress.
    One acquaintance told me he goes to X church, which, he said immediately, is an “inclusive” church. Not a big one, or a small one, or at a distance, or a new one or an old one, or any mention of denomination or lack. Nope. It was important to him that I know he goes to an inclusive church. Not to denigrate his faith, but what part of social signifying is going on here?

  3. CV Says:

    What the Catholic Church teaches has remained the same for the past 2000 years (even after the election of Pope Francis, even though many in the media apparently think otherwise.) So it hasn’t become “less distinctive,” IMO. And it’s still standing after 2,000 years, so it’s obvious that (as Jesus himself told St. Peter) “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    But Catholic individuals, those in the pews (metaphorically speaking) and inside the Church hierarchy, have always been subject to the same tides of the culture as everyone else, and these days those tides are pretty strong. Anyone who experienced Catholic catechesis in the late 1960s and 1970s, for example, knows it was pretty weak.

    Many people are “cultural Catholics,” that is, they identify as Catholic but pick and choose which teachings they follow. You won’t find too many Catholics who understand and accept what the Church actually teaches (including on the hot button issues such as same sex “marriage,” sex outside of marriage, abortion, artificial contraception) skipping Mass on Sunday.

    But there are many, many more self-identified Catholics who “go with the flow” of the culture and simply don’t make the effort, on many different levels. That’s not to say they don’t expect to have a child baptized, have a Church wedding and a Catholic funeral, however! Hatched, matched and dispatched, as the saying goes.

  4. bob sykes Says:

    Judging from my own family, all of whom are nominal Catholics, the modern Catholic church has devolved into a social club. One does the old Spanish thing: a man goes to church three times– to be christened, married and buried. One does this to affirm family ties, not because of any belief in God. And there is no dogma that need be agreed to. All my relatives are cafeteria Catholics. Most of them have never been catechized. And much of what they believe is heresy. Many of them go to communion several times a year, and I don’t think any of them has been to confession in years. And now they have the Pope they deserve.

    And that mainly describes my generation (I’m 70). The youngest generation do not even bother to attend church. Two of my nieces are getting married this year, and neither will be a church wedding. Only one of their generation (there are 18 of them) has had a church wedding, and that was in the Greek Orthodox church (she had to convert and be re-baptized.)

    The US Catholic church is essentially dead. Only the South American immigrants will prevent it from disintegrating into a European like ruin.

  5. DNW Says:

    bob sykes Says:
    March 11th, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Judging from my own family, all of whom are nominal Catholics, the modern Catholic church has devolved into a social club.

  6. Conrad Says:

    I would speculate that the reason for the huge drop-off in Catholic church attendance from the 1950s to the 1970s is demography. Catholics used to reside overwhelmingly in cities, typically in neighborhoods that were defined by ethnicity. The post-war years, however, saw an explosive expansion of suburbia. As a result, young families were uprooted from the urban parishes they were baptized in. Many of these transplants simply never established the same connection with the new suburban Catholic church they had to drive to on Sundays that they had with the neighborhood church they would walk to as children. Coupled with the fact that many of these suburban women started working outside the home, Sunday church attendance became less of a priority.

  7. Don Carlos Says:

    I guess it is time for some anti-Prot remarks, after the anti-Cath remarks preceding.
    I am nominally Protestant but do not go and have not gone to church for a right good while. The non-Evangelical denominations are all pablum or worse, run by Leftists; much like academia. Presbyterian Church USA (so itself named) and other sects boycott all things Israeli. Moral relativism abounds. The Unitarian-Universalist Church is a Leftist social club where God is never invoked. Luther would not be comfortable in most Lutheran churches. The Church of England (Episcopal) teaches sharia law has a place, never mind queer priests. The United Church of Christ is a Leftist fever swamp. And on and on. So I’m not going to a church where my politics don’t match, and where my money supports causes I abhor.

    What the Gallup graph does not show is Evangelicals v. non-Evangelicals. The above-named “mainline” Prot denominations are all failing from self-immolation.

  8. OldTexan Says:

    I am one of those Methodists mentioned above and it is true, we don’t have much in the way of requirements or obligations. We don’t use alcohol at church and we try to share good food and usually mind our manners around others.

    My wife and I are 68 years old and we are some of the younger people in our Sunday School class and there are other classes in our church made up of older members than ours. It appears that we are aging out and our church membership average age is creeping upward every year.

    Anyway that is what I see happening with Methodists and we go out of our way to really like everyone most of the time. I am also glad that I am in Texas where we have some congregations that still tend to trend conservative on a lot of issues.

  9. Nick Says:

    Let’s say American Catholic culture has become less distinctive.

    Also, the data in the study has enough detail to prove this, but I think that since the 1960′s a lot of young Catholics who would have grown up to be devout Catholics have grown up to become devout Evangelicals.

    Also, I’d bet that a lot of people who one generation earlier would say that they left the Church would now say that they’re still members but don’t attend. That goes to their level of catechesis: even them no-good heretics understood that you couldn’t be a Catholic without practicing the faith.

  10. Doom Says:

    I know the last two popes haven’t helped me figure out how to get there. In their denigration of what has been taught, in my estimation, they seem to be saying there is no real reason to go, if they do say that is the ONE thing to take seriously. Go to church, they suggest, while saying nothing really matters, morally, socially, ethically. That does have a huge impact. To put it in secular terms, imagine if your preferred sports team didn’t really try to compete, and the team cheerleaders, beside being lackluster, actually sometimes cheered for the other team, and more vigorously then they cheer for your team. It’s hard to maintain enthusiasm.

    It’s why I have become a pre-Vatican II Catholic. The trend starts from about that time and the lead up to it. Perhaps there were problems before the Vatican II, but the fix, as some have called it, failed to heal and merely continued the split, favoring the secular, which isn’t good for any church. IMHO

  11. Conrad Says:

    @Doom: “Go to church, [the last two popes] suggest, while saying nothing really matters, morally, socially, ethically. ”

    Really? Perhaps what Benedict and Francis have preached is open to some interpretation, but if the above quote is in fact your takeaway, I’d suggest you’re missing the mark somewhat.

  12. Holmes Says:

    I agree with Richard above- that is true of most of the mainline churches, whether Catholic or Protestant. They basically don’t believe anything. It’s a gigantic social group filled with nice people, but that’s easily replaced by other activities that are less stodgy. Though, some of the new “conservative” evangelical churches have a focus on cultural relevancy and not truth that leads them to pop up with a lot of excitement, then disappear for lack of substance as well. I think Europe is our bellweather- the culture there has been trending secular for some time. It is a change that has both reflected church membership and has infected the church as well.

  13. SharonW Says:

    I was raised in the Catholic faith, as was my husband. After our first child, I started attending again, but bolted for the Foursquare church in our area because I was drawn to the power that I felt was evident there. After about 10 years of attendance (3 times per week!) my husband and I went back to the Catholic church (1996). We are devout parishioners and are grateful for our years spent in the Protestant realm when it comes to our knowledge of the bible. Our faith is strong and nothing we have experienced or see happening around us deters us from our belief in the Judeo-Christian God. All of our friends from both realms are strong believers. Among our Protestant friends almost all have Catholic backgrounds in their childhood or families.

  14. Holmes Says:

    Btw, former catholic turned protestant here. The hard fisted catholic approach kept a lot of people in line for awhile, but that no longer works. So for them, it’s about rebuilding through grace.

  15. T Says:

    “It’s why I have become a pre-Vatican II Catholic. The trend starts from about that time and the lead up to it.” [Doom @12:25 pm]

    Several observations. Commenters above have noted the increased secularization of the Catholic Church liturgically along with the fact that it’s doctrine has essentially not changed.

    I’d like to suggest that this has particularly influenced how one approaches that faith. Years ago (the 1980s, I think), Joseph Campbell addressed just this question in his multi-part interview with Bill Moyers. One of the illustrations he referenced was the result of dropping the Latin language from the Catholic liturgy. Campbell’s point was that with the use of everday language one brings into a liturgy everday associations. To carry that further, one might say that through Vatican II the Catholic Church was dedicated to constructing a “relevent ceremony,” an oxymoron if there ever was one.

    Church attendence is, in part, predicated on the attendence at an out-of-the-ordinary event. In the Middle Ages, the entire raison d’etre behind the appearance of Gothic cathedrals was to create an otherworldly physical experience. To reduce the experience to the commonplace is to invoke the old aphorism that “familiarity breeds contempt.” If it’s not special, why bother? And so, in the attendance figures it would seem we see people bothering less and less.

    Add to this the fact that dioceses across the globe still function as authoritarian Renaissance principates. The existential dissonance between making the practice of the doctrine more “relevant” while the administration of the organization remains inviolably rigid is yet another less-than-acceptable dissonance in an increasingly informed world.

    One final word on existential dissonance. Above, Tonawanda points out that if you didn’t attend Mass each Sunday, if you ate meat on Friday you were (without confession) destined to Hell (a mortal sin). Yet today, Catholics are no longer bound by those rules. So what of those Catholics who died with the stain of those sins still on their soul? They went to Hell while their grandchildren will not go to Hell for eating meat on Fridays, or is it that they went to Hell but are now released from since the church changed the rules? It was a sin then, but it’s not a sin now? The fundamental dissonance is that the Catholic faithful should follow “relevant” rules unilaterally imposed by autocrats who know better. Where have we heard that before?

    “If you like your Catholicism you can keep your Catholicism.”

  16. Lee Says:

    I suspect that what is going on with the Protestant numbers is that EVANGELICAL attendance has increased, while MAINLINE has gone done. The increase in evangelical church-goers have offset the decrease in mainline church-goers.

    I don’t have much to speculate about the drop off in Catholic attendence except that pretty much EVERY Catholic in my family kind of quit going to mass, not because THEY got less religious, but they felt the church did.

  17. DNW Says:

    Apparently, there a number of Catholics and ex-Catholics as well as Protestants who are interested in this topic.

    Numbers of them also have an obvious emotional investment in the matter, as well as their own intellectual and emotional allegiances.

    I would suggest, whatever your politics or leanings, that if you have an interest in the mechanics of the RC church’s self-destruction, you review some of the “Church Militant” videos.

    For example, this one …

    The series on the demographic collapse of the RC church can be viewed by changing the hypertext dates to October 1 or 2 or 3 … etc.

    Now, I don’t mean to be flippant here, and suggest that I find Voris to be merely entertaining as he skewers a set of people with whom I have very little sympathy myself: i.e., emotionalists and self-serving, social justice pimping bureaucrats.

    No, the man has the data. And if his stridency means that you cannot suffer the delivery for the sake of the information, then there are other sources wherein the same sociological information can be had, albeit with less completeness or ease of access.

    Just to demonstrate my bona fides here, and that I am not gleeful or mocking, my own mother is Catholic, and has been a rather sincere and faithful one. What this now elderly woman makes of the institution nowadays I don’t have the courage to ask.

    Out of a sense of filial duty I took her to church about a year ago, and was nearly stupefied by the nonsense I witnessed. A “mild” mannered priest with a lilting voice and a perpetual simper, the stern faced stocky bodied females with grey pixie haircuts, standing at – whatever it is called, a stage? – arms outstretched, doing something or other: “Thanks for participating in our liturgy”

    My non-practicing Protestant father just shakes his head at what has become of his wife’s once militant church.

    Why would anyone waste their time in that den of mincing apostates anyway?

  18. T Says:

    “den of mincing apostates”


    That is a keeper! It’s an equal opportunity comment because it also serves much better that RINO.

  19. MissJean Says:

    “Catholic was going to Hell by eating meat on Friday, and there was not much doubt on the point.”

    That’s cultural Catholicism. No, you wouldn’t have gone to Hell, but you were just wishy-washy. Even now, Catholics are encouraged to give up meat on Friday OR do some service or devotion on that day.

    But if you don’t make your Easter obligations, you automatically excommunicate yourself – something which most cultural Catholics don’t seem to know. Also the whole accepting Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior is non-negotiable, even if Catholics adhere to “faith without works is dead.”

    It’s like my friend Lisa’s husband who found out during their wedding preparations that he wasn’t really Catholic – he’d never been baptized because his crazy family couldn’t agree on a date for the christening party! He shouldn’t have been receiving Communion – nor his twin brother, nor a couple of his cousins. But if you talk to his family, they will say they’re “Catholic” the way a fourth-generation American will say they’re Irish or Italian.

    I would say, having been raised Catholic, left the church and returned, that the biggest “problem” is that young people reject the idea of sin (except maybe “sins” like not recycling and not putting a rainbow/pink/blue ribbon on their Facebook page when everyone else is doing it).

    When they find out that the Church is still anti-premarital sex, anti-divorce, and anti-contraception – well, that’s just too much for them. I know one young couple returned to their parents’ parish solely so they could have a fancy wedding in our beautiful old chapel. After the wedding, they didn’t come back and haven’t bothered to baptize their children.

    Also gone are a couple women who left their husbands, weren’t granted an annulment, and were “hurt” that they couldn’t marry their partners in adultery boyfriends in their parish. So they left for other churches, if they bothered at all.

    I see the same thing with some non-denominational churches. An acquaintance of mine has been church-hopping for the last 15 years: one place had childcare, another a youth group, and they just left a place that wanted them to tithe (in order to support childcare and youth programs, ironically). Add to that the irony of our Baptist church putting on their sign “Believe in God, not religion” for the last five months. (In fact, a friend of mine said her church group suggested that the best way to evangelize is: Don’t mention Jesus. Just say ‘God’ in a general way.)

  20. T Says:

    ““Catholic was going to Hell by eating meat on Friday, and there was not much doubt on the point.”

    That’s cultural Catholicism. No, you wouldn’t have gone to Hell . . . .”


    Au contraire. as one who had twelve years of Catholic education, we were, indeed, taught that eating meat on Friday was declared by the Catholic church to be a mortal sin (exceptions permitted). We were also taught that if one died with the stain of mortal sin on one’s soul, one went straight to Hell. To differ from this point of view allows only two alternatives: 1) it really was not Canon law and the nuns and priests lied to use to get us to do want they wanted; 2) it was, in fact Canon law and any attempt to present it otherwise is revisionist history to make the administration not look so bad.

    Basically, as to my point about the Renaissance principate above, it was a matter of the dicta being issued by the Catholic bureaucracy and if you didn’t comport yourself to those rules, you were committing a sin. Mortal sin or venial sin, they pronounced, you were expected to follow.

  21. SharonW Says:

    “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” and 4 things are listed in the book of Acts. Later on, St. Paul nullifies one of the items (eating things offered to idols) and refers to those that have a problem with it as being “the weaker brother”. Papal changes?? What I do know is from the time of “the Fall”, God devised a plan. Jesus said “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church” and He instituted “the Last Supper” that has been going on for about 2000 years around the world, non-stop since then. The church birthed the university, the hospital, and western culture as we know it. I’m sticking.

  22. roc scssrs Says:

    As some of us Catholics like to say, “After Vatican II the Church engaged the modern world– and the world won!” That said, it’s a really big, ancient, international institution, with lots of nooks and crannies, philosophies to ponder, places to find inspiration, and even, sometimes, reasons to hope. Always remember, despair is a sin.

  23. MissJean Says:

    “…we were, indeed, taught that eating meat on Friday was declared by the Catholic church to be a mortal sin (exceptions permitted).”

    And that’s what I’m talking about: exceptions permitted.

    I have heard people tell me that they forgot it was Friday and ate a hotdog – so they committed a mortal sin. Or that some priest told them that their poor, sick great-granddad went to hell because he drank chicken broth on the Friday he died. So when I tell them the happy news that the young, the elderly and the infirm can eat meat and don’t need to fast (not to mention it’s broth), they prefer thinking of great-granddad burning in Hell.

  24. T Says:


    But your dismissal (“That’s cultural Catholicism. No, you wouldn’t have gone to Hell . . . .”) was a blanket dismissal which is patently incorrect. It was a mortal sin (as you admit) and one was still expected to confess it and allow the confessor priest to make the decision (to be sure, don’tcha know). Although such a dismijust ssal (“Oh! I forgot”) may have been done by many Catholics, the Catholic church never officially approved of summary dismissal of such an infraction by the individual.

  25. George Pal Says:

    The Catholic Church In America had long ago begun to minimize moral teachings in exchange for a suffusion of political engagement. I had been born, raised, and remain Catholic to this day but recall distinctly the second phase, the raising. The prayers and catechism had not yet taken a back seat but shared it with a Protestant ethic of good citizenship with, I couldn’t have known then, the aspiration to sharing Protestant political power. At the bell, afternoon sessions began with the entire student body aligning themselves by class; the invocation followed, repeated by the students, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, repeated by the students. The doses of American history and civics were not on par with the catechism but were much more than minimal.

    Eight years of this had me graduated in June and the following November John F Kennedy was elected – with no small dose of kow-towing to Protestants in W Virginia reassuring them of where his priorities and allegiances resided. It has been downhill since.

    By the time Roe v Wade had been decided the good little Catholics had become good little citizens. There were protests and dire warnings in some quarters but no action. It’s been further downhill since. I’ll forego the downhill tour and remark on the last stop along the way. Cardinal Dolan, who gives every indication of regret at being a Catholic prelate in New York instead of an Irish politician in Boston, attended the Al Smith Dinner just a week or so before the national election. Also in attendance was President Barack Obama. The two sat together hee-hawing and having a fine and convivial time. Lost on the Al Smith Society (very nearly pro-choice if not by directive than by the fast held opinions of several of its board members), and, more consequentially, the Cardinal, was that they had been cavorting not with a political opponent as of old happier times, but of a moral enemy. Perhaps the Cardinal was campaigning for an engraved invitation and warm welcome to the next Democratic Party national convention.

    If the Church continues to serve as adjunct to the Democratic Liberal Party then why not just follow the party and sleep in on Sunday mornings.

  26. neo-neocon Says:


    You might be interested in reading this post of mine on a somewhat related subject.

  27. T Says:


    Furthermore, your comment “. . . the young, the elderly and the infirm can eat meat and don’t need to fast . . . .” brings two things to mind. First, how absolutely arbitrary the rule was and how even more arbitrary it was to connect it to mortal sin. The young could eat meat on Friday, the old and infirm could, but if your were a healthy individual in the prime of your life you offended God by eating meat on Friday because the church said so.

    The second item — because the church said so — nanny-statism anyone? This is no different from making a rule that autos must achieve a certain mpg rating, that your washing machine must have a certain energy rating, that only so much water can be in your toilet tank, what kind of light bulb you may purchase or how large your Diet Coke may be.

    What these two items have in common is the evolution to nanny-statism that befalls every large bureaucracy. When critics call environmentalists virtually religious in their enviro-zeal, they’re hardly being metaphorical. And when any bureaucracy devolves to the point that it feels the need to pass laws micromanaging life, it loses the credibility to enforce even the laws that are important to the continuation of civil society (or to the slavation of a soul). (I’ve already noted in a former thread that IMO congress has devolved to passing regulations as though they were laws).

    It’s no wonder that the appearance and size of black markets are directly proportional to the control exerted by the nanny-state or nanny-church. In the latter case, the “black market” went public in 1517 with the posting of the 95 Theses at Wittenberg and the rest, as they say is history.

  28. T Says:

    George Pal,

    We are in the same group. I would only add to your comment that it is improtant to separate the school system from the religious system. You and I were both part of an educational system (the end of the Victorian scholastic system, rote memorization) that was really intended to produce good, obedient workers to have a decent life and participate as the productive members of the steel mill, the chemical factory, the slaughter house, the tannery, etc.

    This bore a striking resemblence to creating obedient Catholics as well. Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

  29. SharonW Says:

    I don’t relate to anything you’ve written. I was raised in Chicago by Irish/Italian 2nd generation Americans. Catholicism was the uniting influence for my parents’ union. Both sides were staunchly Republican and never bought into any of the Democratic union shtick. In our home, the family was regarded as the pre-eminent force for support, etc. Everything I presently hold to with regard to repugnance of the nanny-state and “social justice” Catholicism is a result of the influence of my grandfather, father & mother. Fortunately for me, my father also is the one who taught me to pray and did so with me and my sister every night before turning out the lights when we were little. History, ancient and otherwise, is my foundation and therefore I hold to, “do this in remembrance of Me” and will, “until He comes again.”

  30. T Says:


    Thanks for the link. You may know it’s a dangerous thing to get me started on this.

    A couple of comments on Psalm 23 (BTW it was a pleasure to read Fredhjr again):

    “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death . . . .” (it is inexorable that I will have to do this during my time on this earth)

    “Even though I walk through . . . .” (perhaps when I do so, but this leaving open the possibility that I may never have to)

    “I may walk through . . . .” (almost makes it seem as if it’s my choice; maybe I will, maybe I won’t, kind of like choosing to go to a movie)

    I find the Hallmark card apellation most appropriate and it fits with what I noted above as well as with DNW’s “den of mincing apostates.”

    Also, when I mentioned above that Gothic catedrals were meant to create an extraordinary physical event. Let me elaborate (length alert!!). Stained glass windows became popular because they produced an allegory to the divine presence. According to medieval theology, light was as close to the pure presence of the divine as humans could experience (Einstein and E=MC^2 anyone?). Stained glass was decorated with biblical scenes (Old and New Testament) because the structure, itself, was a physical metaphor for the divine; light traveling through OT and NT images was akin to the Divine Word being expressed in Old and New testaments. Gothic cathedrals, in their evolution, became more and more diaphanous (larger and more elaborate windows, shaft upon shaft of bundled piers) in order to make the physical building appear as weightless and non-material as possible. It was to be an extraordinary space removed from the workaday reality of ordinary life; it was literally meant to be extra-ordinary.

    Now it is almost impossible for us to image the impact that these structures had on people. Imagine living in a world where most people: Lived, died and never left a ten mile radius of where they were born; where infant mortality was high; where it was common for a woman to die to from childbirth; where men and women worked hard labor from sun-up to sun-down; where they lived with their animals (not only dogs and cats, but cows, chickens and pigs); where they washed perhaps twice a year, and where they were prey to whatever villian happened by that day (see Lonesome Dove where the farmers are shot and immolated just for being farmers).

    Now, take someone with that background and, perhaps once in their life, give them the opportunity to enter Chartres or Rheims, or Canterbury or York) and perhaps we can begin to just barely understand the difference between “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . ” and “I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

  31. T Says:


    While, on the one hand, I find it difficult to understand how one can not identify nanny-statism in any bureaucracy when it exists, (that’s my problem to deal with) I also understand how one can have differing perceptions. I share a great part of what you have identified as you were growing up. I also have input from other sources that you may not have (as you have input from other sources that I, in turn, do not have). This doesn’t make either of our perceptions superior or deficient. It does, however, give each of us a distinct perception which defines our unique lives and from which we move forward.

    I have numerous friends who, like you, would disagree with what I have written here. Some would say that I am being relativitistic and The Truth can not be relative. I, on the other hand, see it more as two blind people trying to describe an elephant of Truth. You, perhaps have hold of the trunk, I, perhaps, have hold of a leg and we draw our inferences from that. It is how we each cut our unique path as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death.

  32. SharonW Says:


    Your exposition on cathedrals I can relate to. When we took our kids to France in 1996, our then 7 year old could not ask questions fast enough as we visited the cathedrals and abbeys. Every surface illustrated stories, parables, biblical narratives. These were built during a time of illiteracy of the masses. This was the means of evangelizing. The history of Chartres is amazing…built on an ancient Druid site that sacrificed to a black virgin, etc etc

  33. CV Says:

    This seems like an excellent opportunity to recommend a little Lenten reading:

    Father Robert Barron’s book Catholicism, the companion to the extraordinary DVD series, just came out in paperback:

  34. T Says:


    “When we took our kids to France in 1996, our then 7 year old could not ask questions fast enough as we visited the cathedrals and abbeys.”

    That is sooo cool! What a wonderful memory.

  35. Nick Says:

    T – Something is a mortal or venial sin depending on the matter of the act, the extent of the actor’s knowledge, and the extent of the actor’s consent. The person who accidentally eats a hot dog on a Friday doesn’t have knowledge that it’s a sin, therefore it’s not a mortal sin. The act of eating a hot dog is not itself grave matter, and never was, but the act of opposing one’s will to the discipline of the Church is grave matter.

  36. Nick Says:

    Sharon – I think when T describes the Church as nanny-state, he isn’t saying that it’s politically liberal. He’s saying that it has a lot of rules and makes a lot of demands. (I see it differently in a few respects. First of all, there’s a difference between the voluntary compliance with a religion and the coerced compliance demanded by a government. Secondly, I think it can be argued from the Bible and Church history that religion is supposed to be demanding. Lastly, if the Church is a nanny-state as T describes it, it would have to be noted that it was moreso in the days when it was more strict, and is less so the more liberal things get, which implies that the analogy is weak.)

  37. T Says:


    “the act of opposing one’s will to the discipline of the Church is grave matter.”


    “there’s a difference between the voluntary compliance with a religion and the coerced compliance demanded by a government.”

    I submit that religious compliance is even more coerced and compulsory than state coercion. What can the state do? Take your property? Sic the IRS on you? Throw you in jail? If you are a true believer (that’s the key) a church can convince you that you immortal soul is damned for eternity. Absolutely no moral equivalence there. You can only walk away if your belief is equivocal to begin with.

  38. MissJean Says:

    T -
    “Although such a dismijust ssal (“Oh! I forgot”) may have been done by many Catholics, the Catholic church never officially approved of summary dismissal of such an infraction.”

    I was getting at the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin. (As an aside: I had to look up “arbitrary” because I though I misunderstood. The young, old, and sick rule was merciful, so I’m not sure if you mean arbitrary well or ill.)

    There’s a whole generation of people who don’t know the difference between a mortal and a venial sin, when the whole point is to make sure that one is in a state to receive the Eucharist.

    And there’s the whole crux of the matter for Catholics who don’t go to Mass: Ask them if they believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of their Lord Jesus Christ.

    *blank stare* Or like my sorta-Lutheran aunt, a comment about the Lutherans believing the same thing (which she does, seeing no difference between “is” and “pretends to be.”)

    If the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, than like the persecuted Christians you’d be willing to go into the tombs of the dead to receive Him. Then the state of one’s soul matters very much. Then the other Sacraments matter, too. Then the church isn’t a nanny but a shepherd.

    I was reluctant to bring up the Eucharist at all because even when I left the church i was annoyed by the “death cookie” comments of the Jack Chick-touting crowd on my campus as well as the atheists who joke about “stealing God” at Mass. Or my nasty freshman roommates who joked about how spiritual it would be rape the Messiah. (Yes, I learned to hate liberals in college.) I’d hate to have this thread turn into mockery, but that’s what I believe. Go ahead and make fun of me. I’m quite used to it.

  39. T Says:


    Let me clarify: “You can only walk away if your belief in the organizational structure of a church is equivocal to begin with.” One might still retain an absolute and profound religious belief but break with the structure of an organized church.

  40. T Says:


    No “making fun” here. I don’t think that anything I’ve written here should even imply that. I fully respect and understand the concept of transubstantiation as well as the mystical nature of the concept.

    As to my nanny-state charge of the Catholic church, my thrust was not doctrinal or theological, but focused on the rule-ridden aspect of the church bureaucracy run by fallible men. That one can arbitrarily declare an act a mortal sin (a break with God) in one era and dismiss it as not consequential in another in my mind makes a mockery of the trust that fervent believers place in the institution (this is not an attack on the theology or the doctrine, this is an attack on an arbitrary regulation).

    Take, e.g., the eating meat on Friday prohibition. For the Church to have said that we want you to commemorate Christ’s death on Friday by abstaining from meat is one thing. To say your immortal soul is damned forever to Hell if you don’t commemorate this precisely as we instruct is another altogether. Don’t forget, Martin Luther’s intent was to reform a corrupt church from the failings that it embraced over the centuries (e.g., the selling of indulgences); he was excommunicated for his efforts because he wouldn’t get with the program.

  41. expat Says:

    I think suburbanization was part of what weakened Catholic loyalty, probably because it meant fewer kids went to Catholic schools and even those who did associated more with kids from public schools. This obviously meant fewer people who had really studied theology in school.
    But I think the litugical changes after Vatican II had a huge effect. Catholicism used to demand something of you, whether it was learning some Latin to understand the mass or learning to take confession seriously as you got older. The transcendentalism was also diminished by the folk music and pop poster art that was substituted for the truly uplifting music and art I learned in school. I had a high school music and English teacher who left the convent because she couldn’t take what had happened. I remember attending my local church here in Germany (a modern soulless builing Tom Wolfe would have loved to write about) before I could understand much German. The universal church had disappeared. And then there was the layman who assisted in cleaning the vessels after communion–my thought was, isn’t it nice that they have men doing dishes now? It was so far from the church that had always taken me beyond daily life. Going to mass now is just putting in time.

  42. Beverly Says:

    My mother’s best friend left her church in the 1970s when the lamebrained priest had the organist playing “Come On, Baby, Light My Fire” (by the Doors) when they had Communion. Felt banners and all!

    I go to an Episcopal church that still uses our old, magnificent Elizabethan liturgy. The great thing about the old Book of Common Prayer is that whatever fallible mortal is conducting the service, he can’t do improv — he has to follow the script. ;-)

    Try this on for size: the General Confession.

    “DEARLY beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us, in sundry places, to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy. And although we ought, at all times, humbly to acknowledge our sins before God; yet ought we chiefly so to do, when we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul. Wherefore I pray and beseech you, as many as are here present, to accompany me with a pure heart, and humble voice, unto the throne of the heavenly grace, saying—

    Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
    Maker of all things, Judge of all men:
    We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,
    Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed,
    By thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty,
    Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.

    We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
    The remembrance of them is grievous unto us;
    The burden of them is intolerable.

    Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
    For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
    Forgive us all that is past;
    And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life,
    To the honour and glory of thy holy name;
    Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  43. Beverly Says:

    Now I have a question: a friend of mine who is a former Catholic, currently a born-again fundamentalist Protestant, told me that the commandment “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” isn’t in the Roman Catholic version of the Ten Commandments.

    Is this true?

    The common theme here, both Protestant and Catholic, seems to be that of the lukewarm Christian. Some uncomfortable verses here:

    I always related to the disciples who would whimper to Jesus, “That is a hard saying, Lord!” (Also to the Hebrews, who so often complained “but what have you done for us Lately?”)

  44. Beverly Says:

    Okay, I have to put in this beautiful passage, from the burial service of the Book of Common Prayer. It speaks to all of us in our fight to save what we hold dear. (From the Psalms.) I love our old Prayer Book: such glorious language.

    LORD, let me know my* end, and the number of my days; that I may be certified how long I have to live.
    Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long, and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity.
    For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain; he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

    And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly my hope is even in thee.
    Deliver me from all mine offences; and make me not a rebuke unto the foolish.
    When thou with rebukes dost chasten man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment: every man therefore is but vanity.

    Hear my prayer, O Lord, and with thine ears consider my calling; hold not thy peace at my tears: For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
    O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength, before I go hence, and be no more seen.

    Lord, thou hast been our refuge, from one generation to another.
    Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made, thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.

    Thou turnest man to destruction; again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men.
    For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday; seeing that is past as a watch in the night.
    As soon as thou scatterest them they are even as a sleep and fade away suddenly like the grass.
    In the morning it is green, and groweth up; but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered.

    For we consume away in thy displeasure; and are afraid at thy wrathful indignation.
    Thou hast set our misdeeds before thee; and our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
    For when thou art angry, all our days are gone: we bring our years to an end, as it were a tale that is told.

    The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow; so soon passeth it away, and we are gone.
    So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

    Glory be to the Father; and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
    As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

  45. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Weds. morning links…

    Minneapolis City Hall declares “Hijab Day”, dhimmitude ensues Whatever happened to the word “sin”? Related, How to enjoy an orgy Sausages and the Protestant Reformation Churchgoing in the US 61% Of Young Republicans Favor Marriage Equality…

  46. Janet Says:

    I am in charge of religious education in my parish in a large northeastern city. As so many have noted above, the Church has not lost it’s identity, changed its beliefs or otherwise veered away from what is true. Catholics themselves have. Just like the Republican Party, the Church is learning that even though it may have a better way to offer people, the masses develop their tastes and preferences by what they hear and see 24/7 – popular culture. And if the popular culture isn’t aligned with what you believe, well, you better find a different way to present your better way

    I am hopeful, though. I lead a class for adults who wish to join the Church and currently have 7 vibrant young people – none over 32 – who came seeking the Catholic faith. During their initial interviews, they all expressed an interest in finding “something more” than what they are seeing around them. All are college educated and one has a degree from Oxford so they have seen and heard all that the high priests of secularism have to offer. And yet they came.

  47. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I’ve heard it said many times–not sure where I could find a cite–that the high-demand churches are growing.
    High-demand is a loose term, but it would include Wednesday evening services where attendance is expected as it is on Sunday, or two on Sunday. Involvement in church activities is expected. So forth.
    This being a free country and all, it’s the choice of the people to go to these churches and remain.
    Which tells you something.

  48. expat Says:

    Many people don’t see Catholic beliefs as something that you have to think about and work to understand more fully as you experience more of life. To me, they represent applying the brakes to slow down current trends that are often implemented without looking at their downsides.

    One thing I think about is the concept of original sin. The superficial way of interpretting this is that we are all sinners because of Eve and that we can only save ourselves from hell by being baptized. I am moving toward thinking that at some point in our evolution, humans acquired the ability to question and say no. That original sin meant that we are now responsible for our actions and that when we want to say no to past laws and norms, we had better do some serious homework.

    The teachings of the Church provide us with a framework that allows us to question and grow as we grow older. If the unexamined life is not worth living, what we are taught by the Church allows us to make our life worth living. The rituals are there to provide reminders and to offer solice when our questioning gets tough.

  49. CV Says:


    The rituals do provide comfort and reminders, no doubt, but I finally realized, as an adult, just what it means to have the Real Presence of Christ inside your neighborhood Catholic church. When you skip Mass, or become Protestant, THAT’S what (or more accurately Who) you’re missing or walking away from. When the Catholic Church says that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the faith, they’re really stating the heart of what it means to be Catholic.

    I think people either get that or they don’t (and a lot of Catholics don’t get it, frankly).

    I have attended Mass in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and Rome, and since I don’t speak Spanish or Italian I didn’t understand a word of what was said, but I knew Christ was there, as he is at Mass all over the world. And to be able to receive Him in the Eucharist…well, what a gift. I may not be able to wrap my human brain around that, but I can see the results in my life. Receiving Communion is like putting gas in my car.

    As Pope Benedict explained it to a group of seven-year-olds on the occasion of receiving their First Holy Communion, it’s like may not be able to physically see it but you see the lights come on etc.

  50. SharonW Says:

    I appreciate so many of the posts here. My parents stopped taking us to Church when I was around 8, for a lot of the reasons cited in some of these posts. Principally, my Mom went to the Priest and told him she fully intended to use birth control and when he suggested she confess it as sin so she could receive each week and not be a “stumbling block” to us kids–that was it. She couldn’t in good conscience confess something she didn’t believe was sin, thus the break. Of course, this is something I was told in my adulthood. I was one of those sexually active adolescents and my husband and I had our first child while unmarried and still college students. It wasn’t yet the norm in 1981 so we were helping to pave a pathway there. My dad had died in an accident 3 weeks after his 43rd birthday, so receiving survivor benefits for my education was the incentive. Always the State, paving the way for the breakdown of the family. We married when our daughter was 18 months old and as I posted above, started on our way back to God. I share all this to elucidate that so many constructs of faith and culture have been violated even in my own life, but God’s truth has never wavered and remains steadfast. “Love never fails”, “if you love Me, you will obey Me”, “His mercy endures forever”, “even when we are faithless, He remains faithful”; the faith is rife with paradox. Pope John Paul II noted that the difference between Christianity and Islam is that for the Muslim, God is only “the Judge”, whereas in Christianity He is also, “Emmanual, God With Us”. Frankly, when I reflect on who I would be without the foundation of salvation in Christ, the truth and wisdom of the bible, and my resolve to live a life worthy of the God I love, I shudder. I wouldn’t even want to be around myself.

  51. Ymarsakar Says:

    If Churches are less a social authority source, then all other activities connected to it will cease. Political fund raisers will thus replace the authority of the church in the eyes of moral and mortal mankind.

  52. neo-neocon Says:


    I have never really understood the interpretation of the Adam and Eve story as having to do with sex primarily, or even really at all. Ever since reaching adulthood, I have seen at as a story of the differentiation of human consciousness and free will versus animal consciousness. Animals can’t sin, humans can. It’s about choice; eating the apple symbolized the dawning of human consciousness. That’s why you can’t go back to the Garden; the Garden is our pre-human state.

  53. Nick Says:

    Beverly – The whole list of commandments is the same for Jews, Catholics, and Protestants, namely Exodus 20:2-17 or Deuteronomy 5:4-21. The Jews traditionally split them…aw, heck, there’s no way I can do this easily. Just go to wikipedia to see the different splits. As Catholics, we take the rule against graven images seriously. We do have religious images and statues as part of our worship, but, as Aquinas says, “religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.” As a practicing Anglican, you’re familiar I’m sure with traditional imagery used in worship without itself being worshipped.

    If you’re ever interested in becoming Catholic, by the way, Pope Benedict opened up the use of the Book of Common Prayer for converts from Anglicanism as part of what’s called “Anglican use” or “personal ordinariates”.

  54. Nick Says:

    Sharon – Your mom had a better understanding of Church teaching than her priest did. The 1960′s were a messed up time, and it’ll take more than a couple of generations to recover from them.

  55. expat Says:


    Here is an example of a church built at the end of the 9th century that still retains the original paintings. These told stories of Christ at a time when few could read. In somes ways, this use of images is not so different from the written word. No one accuses people of worshipping their bibles.…boa&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=172&tx_ttnews[backPid]=247&cHash=557abd11a979b0c9799b011d8414c2c8

    Sorrythat this is in German and that the pictures are so small.

  56. expat Says:

    The link doesn’t go the whole way. Click on Kultur at the top and then on Romanische Kirschen. St Georg’s the the church with the paintings.
    I justed noticed the British flag in the upper right, which means the site has an English translation.

  57. CV Says:


    I’ll just second what Nick said about the 10 Commandments, and add images and statues of saints etc. in a Catholic Church or home serve the same purpose as having family pictures in your house. They don’t replace the person, right?


    Conversion is a lifelong process for all of us, isn’t it!? I take a lot of comfort in that old expression that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a penthouse for saints :) Hey, the
    first pope (St Peter) was a guy who denied Jesus three times.

    Happy Lent!

  58. Nick Says:

    I’ve always preferred the Catholic division of the 10 Commandments, and I don’t think it’s just home-team loyalty on my part. To me, the emotional context of carving graven images is the same as that of having other gods. But the emotional context of coveting a neighbor’s wife can be very different from that of coveting his goods. Even though this goes back to pre-feminist days when women were more like possessions, there’s a bit of recognition of something different between envy of goods and jealousy over a woman.

  59. JuliB Says:

    As someone who was an atheist for 25 years who reverted/converted back to the Catholic Church, I have an intense love of His Holy Church and the Bible. So I’d like to add a few comments:

    expat – “the concept of original sin. The superficial way of interpretting this is that we are all sinners because of Eve and that we can only save ourselves from hell by being baptized.”

    The standard (and Biblical) theology is that we’re born with original sin because of Adam, not Eve. In NT books, Christ is compared to the new Adam who saves us through his act (dying for our sake). Until I came across the notion that you cannot get good things from bad sources (healthy water from a polluted source, for example) it was hard for me to understand.

    Truly, the only way we can be saved is through baptism (although not always solely water baptism).


    Original sin is ‘non serviam’ – I will not serve and Obey God, but rather determine the difference between Good and Evil myself. By making myself the ultimate arbitrator of good and evil, we usurp God’s role and thus end up worshiping another god (ourselves) before / in the place of Him.

    Looking around, it seems pretty obvious that this is the case. Even worse is when the attititude is ‘by golly there is a God and He thinks just like me’!

    T –
    “in the prime of your life you offended God by eating meat on Friday because the church said so.”

    “For the Church to have said that we want you to commemorate Christ’s death on Friday by abstaining from meat is one thing. To say your immortal soul is damned forever to Hell if you don’t commemorate this precisely as we instruct is another altogether”

    “Nanny Statism”

    To address the last quote first, the demands Jesus places on us (according to a studied reading of the NT) makes the Church look like a bunch of pikers.

    WRT/not eating meat – it’s not just a rule with no reason. First, what Peter binds and loosens on earth refers to the authority to make decisions binding on the people of God.

    We are called to make sacrifices and to be in solidarity to the poor. On our own, we will not do so, and thus the Church in her wisdom decides to give us opportunities to strengthen our relationship with Christ. If he could fast for 40 days, certainly we can give up meat on Friday. And this will help us be both obedient and give us opportunity to reflect on those who want something but cannot afford it.

    The Church considers her primary mission to get people to Heaven. If you interpret her actions in this light, many obscure things may become less (seemingly) meaningless.

    I believe that the culture started to cause people to identify less with a holy life and more with a fun and meaningful life. And let’s not forget that in 1968, HUMANAE VITAE was published, reaffirming the Church’s long standing position against artificial birth control (ABC). In 1960, the first oral contraceptives came out (per Wikipedia).

    For years, dissident priests had been telling people that the Commission(s) would say it was ok, and Pope Paul VI would agree. Well, 50% right -the majority of the Commissions came out in favor of the Pope approving of some ABC. The Pope instead reiterated long standing tradition.

    How many people left because of the conflict between their actions and beliefs between 1960 and 1968? How many left because they believed that the Church was behind the times? Who knows.

    I have a book from the 1930s in which a priest (the author) addressed this and said that ABC has always been condemned, and that any Catholic entertaining such thoughts were fooling themselves. Looks like he was right.

    In his book, The Difference God Makes, Cardinal George indicates that there was such joy and change in the air that when they had Vatican II, they believed that the best approach was the one focusing on love and salvation. Restrictions, talking about sins, etc was not the way to win converts. He thinks they may have been naive. I’ll say.

    Why should most people go to Mass on Sunday to sit through a happy clappy ‘all you need is love’ sermon? No challenge to become holy, to become more like Christ, to renounce sin and turn back to God, and so forth. Why bother getting out of bed for that (which is why I’ll never understand being a U-U).

  60. T Says:


    It’s difficult for me to respond to your rebuttals to my bullet points above without sounding like it’s an “I’m right and you’re wrong” response. Let me say at the outset I, in no way want to criticize your belief system. You believe what you believe.

    Having said that, your response to my bullet points really is no response to them at all. My point about the nanny state-ism of the church is that absolute power corrupts absolutely and no power is more absolute than an asserted control over one’s immortal soul. You quote my statement about eating meat on Friday as if I criticize it. You say it’s not a rule with no reason; I never said it was, in fact I noted quite the opposite in the quote which you reproduced. I criticize not the rule but the fallible men of the church who would presume to declare your immortal soul damned if you didn’t obey what they arbitrarily imposed.

    You write: “The Church considers her primary mission to get people to Heaven. If you interpret her actions in this light, many obscure things may become less (seemingly) meaningless.” While I don’t disagree with that, one should also recognize that such was precisely the argument used during the Spanish Inquisition to justify all sorts of inhumanity. It’s the latter case, not the former case that I’m taking issue with in my comments above.

    Belief in a religion, a doctrine, a theology is one thing, but blind belief in the fallible human beings who run any organization is something else altogether. Some people accept that and may even think it a requirement; like Martin Luther I don’t (although I don’t dare presume to compare myself to him).

  61. Beverly Says:

    Nick, CV, et al.: I am a Protestant. Our view is that the various forms of Christian theology and worship started with Jesus’ and the apostles’ teachings, then added and elaborated upon them over the centuries: you can see this yourself when you read the theologians’ works. Being human, not everything they did was right or what Christ wanted them to do: the massacres (see St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, e.g.), burning Protestants and Jews at the stake, forced conversions; the notorious papal indulgences (rich people “buying” salvation), and on and on.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but I AM a Christian, descended from one of those Protestant martyrs (who was beheaded by Bloody Mary).

    Therefore: Not everything that a pope or prelate commands is ipso facto correct or even Godlike.

    Protestant Christians wanted, above all, to get back to basics — to the pure faith of the Gospels. To knock off as many of the human accretions as possible. To live like the Apostles. Yes, we fall miserably short: but “do your own thing” is NOT what Protestantism was ever about.

    I make no excuses for the cowardly evasions and watering-down of various clerics or denominations. But they’re not being true to the Protestant Reformation, or the martyrs who died in the cause.

    And as far as JFK is concerned: Popes throughout history have stuck their oars into worldly affairs of state; some were notorious for it (and not just the Borgias). America was settled by Protestants, many of whom were coming to the New World to escape Catholic persecution — the Huguenots, for example. The Inquisition was still in its “burn the ‘heretics’” phase, and this was much on the minds of the early settlers.

    And the concern about having a Catholic president wasn’t some mindless prejudice by the mean old Protestants. It was the very real fear that, if we elected a believing Catholic, how could he not abide by the pope’s dictates? On pain of excommunication? I don’t think so. This has cropped up in recent years, with the abortion debates and the Catholic Democrat politicians. Now, you may agree with the Vatican on these matters, but you can’t deny that there’s a very real chance of bitter conflicts.

    Just my two cents. Dadgummit, you can’t overlook the Inquisition. You just can’t.

  62. Beverly Says:

    Bottom line: Protestants regard Catholics as Christians, though we don’t agree with you on everything.

    The reverse? Not so.

  63. CV Says:


    Briefly, I don’t think any of the Catholics commenting here even remotely suggested that Protestants aren’t Christian. And the Catholic Church has never taught that elements of Truth and beauty can’t be found in faith traditions outside of Catholicism, whether in a Protestant denomination or Judaism or even Islam.

    Catholics believe that the fullness of Christianity can be found in the Catholic Church. As former Protestant and now Catholic theologian Scott Hahn put it (paraphrasing here), “Protestants study the menu, but Catholics have the entire meal.”

    God bless.

  64. DNW Says:

    “CV Says:
    March 13th, 2014 at 8:25 am


    Briefly, I don’t think any of the Catholics commenting here even remotely suggested that Protestants aren’t Christian. …”

    I may be the last person, almost, who should comment on this, as I am not despite what some of the leftists I’ve engaged in debate with think, an actively practicing anything.

    I say almost, because I have some perspective having grown up between, to some extent, both worlds.

    Obviously, the doctrines of the Real presence, the status and nature of the priesthood, the nature and number of the other sacraments, and the sources of doctrinal authority itself are real breaks.

    But for what it is worth, apart from some ardent and perhaps fanatical R.C.s on the margins, I have never seen official Catholics asset that trinitarian Protestants, and that would include Anglicans, and Baptists and Lutherans as well as numerous Evangelicals, were not Christians.

    And, in the case of “inner light” Christians, or Universalists, or Unitarians, or the Watchtower Tract society, or Arians of whatever flavor, then I guess the answer would be, from a Catholic perspective, “No, they are not Christians”. Certainly not in the tradition and understanding of the historic church.

    But I would think that most fair minded people who could agree that the Church Fathers least were Christian, would agree that that is a different matter.

  65. CV Says:

    A few more resources for anyone who might be interested in these topics:

    Fr. Dwight Longanecker was raised in an Evangelical home in the US, went to fundamentalist Bob Jones University, later studied at Oxford and was ordained an Anglican priest. After serving in roles ranging from college chaplain to country parson in England, he eventually realized that he and the Anglican church were on different paths and he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. He is now a Catholic priest (with a wife and four children!) Links to his books, writings and experiences can be found on his website:

    Also recommend anything by Dr. Scott Hahn, particularly Rome Sweet Home:

    And anything by Mike Aquilina, such as Good Pope, Bad Pope, Their Lives, Our Lessons:

    The Aquilina book underscores the point that while both good popes and bad popes (all of them human sinners like the rest of us) have come and gone, ALL popes have preserved Church teaching and doctrine.

    Contrary to what many think, the Church doesn’t maintain that everything a pope says and does is infallible. That only applies when a pope is making an official proclamation on matters of faith or morals..that is, speaking “ex cathedra,” or “from the seat of Peter.” That doesn’t happen too often, actually. the last time was in 1950, when the pope defined the Assumption of Mary.

  66. T Says:


    It seems that the two ex cathedra pronouncements agreed upon by theologians are regarding the Assumption of Mary (as you mentioned) by Pope Pius XII in 1950 and prior to that the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Pope Pius IX, 1854). I find it interesting that both are Marian.

  67. expat Says:

    One thing this thread points out is that there are people who think deeply about the meaning of religion. On the other hand, there are those who follow rather superficially things they have told. I guess for any religion to have influence both groups must be served.

  68. JuliB Says:

    expat –

    I would say that even CINOs (Christians, not Conservatives) are fine since they are exposing themselves to the Holy Spirit and therefore at least have a better chance of deepening their faith.

    T – Sorry – I was responding to more than just you. I should have added an ‘et al’ to my reply. As it is, CV spoke well on what I would be replying to.

    Beverly – of course the Inquisition was bad in certain quarters. People can act poorly and marry their religion and political causes.

    I’ve never met a Catholic who claimed that non-Catholics aren’t Christian. In fact, I think there may be many more Prots that are better Christians than Catholics.

    And really, what dictates would a President be required to follow? The Church officially gives beliefs (abortion is always a great evil, etc) but not actions. And really, the more we know about JFK, isn’t it obvious from his personal life that he gave a rat’s ass about virtue, let alone listening to what some Pope said. Heck, if I were President, and Benedict were Pope still, I would love to get advice from him, but I can’t see what policy he would ever give.

    T – Marian proclamations – well, dogma is usually only announced in times of questioning. I’m not sure what other questions are out there now.

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