What Americans Can Learn from How Catholics Think

In November of 2011, Catholic church-goers had to pay a little more attention at Mass. The Liturgy of the Catholic Missal had been modified for the first time in forty years. A new Latin-based translation refined selected phrases, notably the switch from, “And also with You,” to, “And with Your Spirit.” Parishioners stumbled. Placards were referenced. Changes were accepted.

The events of November 2011 are a metaphor for what is both positive and negative about the Catholic Church. The Church is continuously reviewing and evaluating itself, yet the infallibility of the Pope can discourage laypeople’s challenges to the status quo.No one ever said Catholicism was a democracy. Granted, there are democratic-styled elections of leaders, but the average Catholic, the unordained, does not participate in these proceedings. To be a Catholic, or to be a member of most organized religions, is to submit to the authority of holy leadership. Some religions are open and progressive, actively seeking to modify practices in response to social changes. Catholicism is not one of them.

The Catholic Church is decidedly conservative. In America, religion is highly politicized. Marry these two forces, and out pops a doctrine that is increasingly difficult for the main-line Catholic to defend. No sex before marriage. No birth control. No same sex marriage. No women as priests. Of the Christian religions, Catholicism takes the most extreme stance on almost all socio-religious issues.Many of the doctrines of the Catholic Church set a bar of behavioral perfectionism that is practically impossible for any individual to maintain in his or her lifetime.

This adoration of the ideal is not unlike what Americans experience every day. The media bombardment of physical perfection and financial prosperity pervade almost all aspects of our society.The unyielding position of the Church pits Catholics, like Americans, in a construct where he or she must determine how to relate to the presented ideals. It necessitates serious contemplation before embarking on major life decisions. Ultimately, each person must determine his or her own metrics of self-affirmation. Catholics are continuously at a crossroads, where they must rationalize their actions with their faith.

And judging from their actions, Catholics act a lot like Americans.

  • 98% of Catholic women who have had sex have used some sort of birth control besides natural family planning. 99% of all American women also fall in this category.
  • Approximately 28% of abortion patients are Catholic, which is slightly higher than the rate of female Catholics in the American population.
  • The probability that a marriage will last for 20 years is virtually the same for Catholics as compared to all Americans, at approximately 55%.
  • 51% of Catholics support legal same-sex marriage. 50% of Americans have the same view.

These statistics demonstrate that despite the dogmatic rhetoric of the Catholic Church, quite a few Catholics may hold a philosophical perspective about the role of religion. The truly radical notion is to view religion as a system of beliefs and guiding principles, rather than a literal doctrine for day-to-day living. The former assumes an active, engaged, questioning laity; the latter, a liege of subjugated dependents.

And no one ever said that America was a liege of subjugated dependents.

One final parallel between Catholicism and America is the pathetic paucity of female leadership characteristic of both establishments. Over the past generation, women have been given the right to administer the Holy Host at Mass. But until women can be priests, and/or until selected laws are modified, it will be forbidden for women to participate in the evolution of the Church. And for all the strides American has made in improving the education of its female constituency, the country ranks 39th globally with regard to Political Empowerment. In other words, women in Bangladesh, Cuba, Angola and Guyana are more politically empowered than the American female.

At that rate, the Catholic Church might anoint a female Pope before the United States elects a female President.

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