On Being a Critical, Suspicious Son of the Church
Much to Tom Van Dyke’s seemingly apparent confusion, I take a harshly critical stance toward the mitre-wearing powers that be who run the Roman Catholic Church, the institutional faith to which I belong. As the magisterial authorities are a shiny key component of my religion, I can see how my seeming antagonism elicits some head-scratching. Why do I, wayward pilgrim suspicious of religious authority, stay Catholic?
The short answer is that the sacramental way of being (towards truth, others, the world) described by Catholicism (through its imaginative rituals and doctrines) speaks to me in a manner qualitatively different than other faith traditions and the atheistic philosophies. In my faith, I encounter what I can only describe as a sacred world, a meaningfulness that transcends the empirical while being revealed through what I can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Moreover, as I’ve written before, my faith needs religious authority; the Gospel and the kerygma, the proclamation of religious truths, necessitates witnesses, transmitters, translators, interpreters, and other roles of authority to carry on the words of Christ. Consequently, I do not oppose religious authority per se. However, to some extent, all authority is corruptible, and the Church is, to a degree, a corrupt institution. It always has been, and it always will be. Any institution with the clerical power of the magisterium would have to be. If we take sin and human fallibility seriously, we can see it no other way.
I happen to believe that the long tradition of Catholic theological and doctrinal thought offers a rich treasure to humanity–the encyclical letter Pacem in Terris is a godsend–but nevertheless, because of human fallibility and corruptibility, each and every claim of religious authority, each and every claim to speak in the name of God, warrants suspicion and criticism. Each and every one, from the minor and tangential to the fundamental and essential. The Gospel and the kerygma deserve nothing less.
It would be fair to call me a faithful, but critical and suspicious son of the Church. I’m no theologian; the nuances of theology elude me. My background is in literature and philosophy, and I come at my faith from these angles. When I encounter weak arguments written by the authorities, I’m liable to counter. When I come across interpretations asserted as definitive, I’m prone to a little epistemological skepticism. I choose to stay a “Doubting Thomas,” a man of faith insisting on seeing the evidence. I give assent with uncertainty.
To be clear: I love my church, and I want to see it succeed as a voice for truth and justice, goodness and mercy, beauty and love. I want to see it effectively engage the world, friend and foe alike. I also desire to see it learn from the world and incorporate the wisdom of the poets and the philosophers, the scientists and the laborers, and everyone else who has something to say–theists, atheists, and whoever else. No one has a monopoly on truth or the best way to pursue it. No truth-claims should go unchallenged, especially those by the self-described “experts in humanity.”