“Freedom” is such an interesting word. For many Libertarians “freedom” means that the rich should be free from governmental constraints, but it does not mean that the poor should be protected from the rich with labor unions and living wages. For many religious people, “freedom” means that their own religion should be free from governmental constraints, but it does not mean that people outside their religion should be free from them. Many religions are all too willing to take away the rights of others based on what they believe. Still they talk about “freedom”.
When hierarchal religions speak about freedom, they are bound to be a self parody. Heirarchies deny freedom by definition. For example, most Catholics believe in contraception, but the Bishops do not see the concept of “freedom” as applying to them. It gets even messier when sectarian religions want to be part of the public arena, and yet, do not believe in universal human rights, or only in human rights as they define them.
So the Catholic Bishops who would not allow women to rule in their own hierarchy, nor for gays to be married even out of it now claim that there is a war on their religious freedom. Rev. Barry W. Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State summed it up pretty well when he said that church-affiliated agencies operating on taxpayer dollars should follow public policy guidelines.
“When taxpayers are forced to support sectarian agencies that refuse to meet the needs of women, gay people and other communities that’s a real violation of religious liberty,” Lynn said. “If the bishops want to run sectarian social services, they ought to collect the money from their parishioners, not the taxpayers.”
To read the article, click here.
I’m strictly a lay-person, and not a member of any particular church. You could consider me an impartial observer in any religious dispute. Although I certainly have formed my own opinions about the different Christian churches I have had the opportunity to observe, I am not beholden to any particular faith organization. Apart from alienating certain Catholic family members, I risk very little in offering my personal observations. Before I do, I feel a little of my background is important to the extent it will reveal to the reader whatever prejudices they may suspect after reading my observations.
My mother was an excommunicant when I was born, (she had married a Protestant outside the Catholic Church). She was welcomed back into the fold in 1966 when Pope Paul II relaxed the rules. I will cite a reference here, because I have been told by several Catholics that this was never the Church’s policy: ( http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,842556,00.html ) I was not aware of her excommunication when I was a kid, and because my father was not a church-goer, I was allowed to attend church services in both the Congregational Church of my nearby cousins and Catholic masses with neighborhood friends and whenever I stayed with my mother’s family. My mother was a paraplegic, which I assumed at the time was the reason she did not attend mass. Most of her family (who lived a distance away) were and are devout Catholics to this day, and there have been several Catholic clergy in the family over the generations. I have attended mass many times over the years (not receiving communion, of course, as that is prohibited). I never saw my father attend a church of any kind, except for weddings and funerals. My nearby cousins took me to a Protestant (Congregational, now UCC) church where I attended Sunday school intermittently as a small child. I ultimately chose the Protestant church, was confirmed there, but left the church altogether shortly thereafter. I returned to the Congregational Church (now UCC) when my son was very young, and he was raised in that church as well. Since that time I have been vaguely spiritual and usually conscientious in my actions, as if there is ultimately such a thing as Truth, and it – and how we treat one another – both really matter.
Three non-doctrinal differences I have observed between the Catholic and Protestant churches – besides the obvious – kneeling, vestments, clergy celibacy, acceptance of non-heterosexuals, worldwide hierarchy and the formal rite of reconciliation (confession) are:
(1) The sermon is clearly the centerpiece of the Protestant church – and less so in the Catholic mass. Nevertheless, I have NEVER heard a political directive uttered in any Protestant service I have attended (I can only speak for the UCC, UU and Presbyterian church services I have attended). On the other hand, I recall one mass in particular celebrated in Sebastopol, CA in 2001 by a priest from Ireland. The subject of his sermon that day was the emerging Irish clergy abuse scandal, which has since been shown to be quite significant in its severity and scope. His sermon that day was essentially an apology (not in the “we’re sorry” sense, rather in the “it’s all overblown, and furthermore instigated by those who would tear the church down” sense. I have certainly never heard a sermon like that in a Protestant church service, and I have attended MANY.
(2) The Protestant churches I have attended have all always exhorted participants to engage their own conscience more so than obey a hierarchy. In some (the UCC and UU churches) there is no hierarchy to obey, just the individual and God. This tends to sharpen the focus and put you “on the spot” with respect to self-examination. Likewise, these Protestant churches don’t threaten with sanctions in any way. They have no actual temporal power, and in my opinion that is possibly their greatest single strength, as it enables them to remain focused on the spiritual, and not attempt coercion.
(3) There is far more ritualistic behavior in general in the Catholic Church than in the Protestant churches I have attended. In addition to the presence of a hierarchy, the companion elements are also present – strict, detailed rules of behavior, a legalistic, contractual relationship between the Church and its members, many specific obligatory symbolic behaviors repeated over the course of the liturgical year, in remembrance of specific events in the life of Christ.
On the other hand, in the Protestant churches I have attended there is less possibility of being distracted (“entranced” as one clergyman has put it) by ritual and the specific events of long ago. Rather, the challenge is ever-present to experience the world through Jesus’ eyes and try to live up to his example.
It seems the Catholic Church in the current instance (the HHS ruling re: contraceptives) is operating from fear – *their* First Amendment Rights are being TAKEN AWAY! (As is often the case, who cares about *anyone else’s* rights, including the right to be left in peace, but that is a subject for another day.) Their Religious Freedom is being impinged! They seem to feel that the world will head over a cliff if they are required to accept the conditions attached to the money they receive from a non-Catholic government. None of this should come as any surprise, because the Catholic Church avers that it is the ONLY true path to salvation:
“However, for those who knowingly and deliberately (that is, not out of innocent ignorance) commit the sins of heresy (rejecting divinely revealed doctrine) or schism (separating from the Catholic Church and/or joining a schismatic church), no salvation would be possible until they repented and returned to live in Catholic unity.” ( http://www.catholic.com/tracts/salvation-outside-the-church )
I understand *why* the Catholic Church behaves as it does. It has made the assertion of infallibility, and it has a lot of baggage, not the least of which is its status as one of the world’s largest institutions – and with institutional status comes the elevation of institutional rectitude and survival above the mere concerns, rights and lives of individuals. But what I am left to wonder about is why an individual Catholic would fear that the world is heading over a cliff because some people (including some Catholics) would rather obey their consciences, consciences that are enlightened by the example of Christ, rather than obey an edict handed down through a hierarchy of clergy who, in addition to interpreting Christ’s teachings, must also defend an institution with a very checkered past in terms of conscience and Truth?
As for the recent political statement of the Catholic Church, I am guessing that Cardinal Dolan didn’t give much weight to Augustine’s “The City of God” and Matthew 22:21’s “Render unto Caesar…” prior to blasting pure political directives to be read from every Catholic pulpit across the nation. I hope for his sake that he would not replace the Congress (as ineffectual as they may be) with the College of Cardinals. If he really cannot accept the conditions attached to Federal funding, he might find it more productive to replace the current Federal funding of Catholic institutions with donations from the faithful.