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Should You Accept These Six Weird Catholic Beliefs?

An American comedienne named Lea Rose Emery recently shared with the world an online article entitled, “The 12 Most Absurd Things Catholics Actually Believe In.” In it she advises Catholics to wake up from their trance of going along with “weird Catholic beliefs they grew up with.”

I decided to follow Emery’s advice and “take a harder look” to see if I should reject these twelve beliefs that she thinks are absurd. Let’s start here with the first six.

1. “Transubstantiation means that every time you receive communion, you’re eating Christ.”

The only reason she gives for rejecting this belief is its “weirdness.” But if weirdness is defined as something that runs contrary to our normal human experience, then isn’t that what we would expect with divinely revealed truths? It would be “weird” if everything God taught us seemed… ordinary.

Anyway, we should reject ideas because they’re contrary to reason, not because they’re strange. But the Church’s teaching that we receive Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine is not contrary to reason. If Jesus is God, and he says that bread and wine changes into himself despite its appearances, and that he wants us to eat it, that’s reason enough to believe him and follow his command. And that we are to receive his body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine—not by ripping flesh off a body—there is nothing that violates our innate revulsion to cannibalism.

2. “Someone ate an apple and now you’re born guilty.”

Emery shows herself pretty ignorant of Catholic teaching on original sin when she writes, “Before we do or think anything, before we have full control over our necks or our bowels, we are guilty.”

Her main problem is wrongly associating the guilt of original sin with the guilt of personal sin. As the Catechism teaches, “original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’—a state and not an act” (404). Yes, it is a result of our first parents’ sin, but it’s not something that we are personally responsible for.

As for this “state,” I wonder if Emery would be so antiscientific to deny that offspring take on the characteristics of their parents. I also wonder if she could look around at the world and say that a principal effect of original sin—that humans are born with concupiscence or a tendency to do evil—isn’t in it. That would be weird.

(P.S.: It probably wasn’t an apple.)

3. “A sprinkling of water can save your soul.”

Even though she has a graduate degree in law, it sure looks like Emery thinks that Catholicism teaches that water by itself has the power to save: “The idea that water, no matter how holy, can forgive you for the greatest, most fundamental sin seems a little crazy.”

But of course the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that the water, even ultra-holy holy water blessed by the pope himself, saves. It’s merely the instrument through which Christ’s grace is administered. The power of God is what forgives and saves, which seems less crazy.

Given that water symbolizes new life and cleansing, which is what occurs spiritually in baptism, for Jesus to choose that medium as his instrument of grace sounds less crazy still, doesn’t it?

4. “A biological impulse can send you to hell for eternity.”

The “impulse” that Emery refers to is masturbation. Given the Church’s teaching that masturbation is a mortal sin, she argues that it’s “cruel” for God to send someone to hell for something that is natural.

Let’s give her credit for not rejecting this belief just because it’s so weird. This time she actually engages in philosophical inquiry, and asserts correctly that it would be unreasonable for God to send someone to hell for something that belongs to human nature. Where Emery goes wrong is in saying that we have a biological impulse for masturbation.

The biological impulse Emery has in mind is actually for sex. Nature gives human beings the impulse for sex because nature wants humans to generate children. But nature also determines that such activity be done within the context of a loving and permanent union for the proper rearing of the children generated. We know this because we can observe that love and proper child-rearing lead to human flourishing—to the perfection of our nature.

Masturbation thwarts this order, and so goes against nature. Because it perverts the nature that God has given us, it’s a direct act against God. And why is it unreasonable for a person who acts against God in this life to be without God in the next?

5. “Fasting brings you closer to God.”

I couldn’t tell ya where Emery gets her information on Catholic fasting. She thinks that the modest fasting rules that most adult Catholics observe on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday should be practiced in a way that leads to someone becoming “lightheaded and food-frenzied.” Doesn’t sound very holy to her? Me neither.

Emery even alludes to the Catholic idea (though not exclusively a Catholic idea) that fasting develops discipline and focus—but only to mock it. I wonder if she also mocks athletes who follow strict diets and put their bodies under distress for the sake of strength and performance? If they can practice bodily discipline “without stress-eating a crate of Snickers bars,” I don’t see why Catholics can’t.

6. “A woman can be a saint, but not a priest.”

Looks like this one struck a nerve. You can almost taste her indignation when she writes, “Why is nobody questioning this? And why are they okay with it?” She perceives the Church’s teaching on a male-only priesthood as oppressive of women. And given her perception, we can understand her indignation, since we too should be angry at all forms of oppression of women.

But God’s decision to reserve the priesthood for males is no more oppressive of women than God’s decision to reserve motherhood for females is oppressive of men. Just as men and woman have different roles in the order of nature, they can have different roles in the order of grace.

The priest is meant to stand in the person of Jesus, the bridegroom, in relation to the Church, the bride. And since the relationship between the priest and the Church in the order of grace is taken from the relationship of husband and wife in the order of nature, it’s necessary that the priest be a male.

Emery is not off to a good start (though she nails all her flawed assumptions and fallacious inferences). Let’s see next week if she fares better with her take on the remaining six absurd things we believe in.

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