Last week we looked at six Catholic beliefs that blogger Lea Rose Emery called “weird” in a shallow misrepresentation of Catholicism that nonetheless has been read by over 70,000 people. Let’s once more follow her advice and “take a harder look” at the remaining six Catholic beliefs on her list to see if she succeeds in giving good reasons to reject them.
7. “A virgin got pregnant.”
You know an anti-Catholic is off to a bad start when she offers: “The idea, of course, is that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus through immaculate conception—with her virginity still intact.”
Repeat after me: the Immaculate Conception is not the virgin birth. If you can’t get that right, you shouldn’t be writing about Catholicism.
But that aside, she rejects the virgin birth because it’s “basic anatomy gone wrong.”
I say, no, it’s beyond basic anatomy. “Basic anatomy gone wrong” is a woman who is involuntarily sterile and thus can’t conceive a child. That a woman can conceive a child without the cooperation of a man and give birth without losing her physical virginal integrity are examples of human anatomy aided by a cause beyond nature, namely, God.
8. “A foreskin could be worship-worthy and can get to heaven all on its own.”
Huh? I had to look this one up.
It looks like Emery is balking at an over-exuberance of popular medieval enthusiasm for relics rather than Catholic teaching. The Church has never claimed that it ever possessed the true foreskin from Jesus’s circumcision. Still less has it ever endorsed any of the pious legends told about it, of which Emery picked the strangest ones she could find using Google.
That said, it’s understandable that a supposed surviving piece of the Lord’s body would inspire great devotion. Don’t we reverence the bodies of our loved ones, be it the whole body in a cemetery or a few locks from a child’s first haircut in a mother’s scrapbook? But because she apparently possesses an eighth-grader’s sense of humor, Emery thinks it’s hilarious that Christians in the Middle Ages thought that particular piece was worthy of respect.
9. "In an emergency, anyone can give the gift of salvation."
Emery thinks that it’s inconsistent for the Church to affirm its hierarchical nature and yet teach that anyone can baptize. She assumes that this means the Church’s hierarchy “goes out the window” in an emergency.
Equal-opportunity secularist that she is, you’d think she would applaud the Church for this teaching, wouldn’t you? If the Church actually taught the opposite, number nine would probably read, “Only a few select and sacrosanct clerics are able to give the gift of salvation, even in an emergency.” So you get the sense that she’s padding her list here.
More importantly, the hierarchy is not “thrown out the window” in such situations. It’s simply that baptism is not a sacrament that requires an ordained priest like the sacraments of the Eucharist, confession, holy orders, anointing of the sick, and confirmation.
10. "God really wants you to take it easy one day a week."
Emery’s problem here is that God doesn’t need us to show him that we’re good little believers by not working on Sundays. Since he’s omniscient, she says (and kudos to her for getting that theological concept right), “Shouldn’t he just… know?”
But again she commits an unforced error: getting a basic Catholic belief wrong when five minutes of research could have spared her (and her readers). The Catholic Church doesn't teach that we must “refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God” for the sake of letting God know that we are believers. God “wants us to take it easy” one day a week for our sake. Which is totally not weird. For a great explanation, see the Catechism 2168-2195.
11. "They’re really concerned with where you put your junk (unless you’re the pope)."
With that charming slang term that shows how much more secular people understand the importance of our reproductive organs than sex-hating Christians, Emery refers to the Catholic on chastity and its history of popes and other Church members “flouting the belief.”
I have no quarrel with identifying such sins among the Church’s leaders and members throughout our history. However, all this proves is that even Christians fail to live up to the standard of Christian morality. Nothing new under the sun! But Jesus never promised that his followers, or even the top leaders of his Church, would be sinless. If Emery wants all Catholics to perfectly follow the Church’s teaching on chastity, then she ought to join and show us how it’s done. But somehow I bet her real problem is the teaching itself, not the weakness of those who fail to obey it.
12. "You can do anything horrible as long as you’re really, really sorry."
Emery objects to the Church’s teaching on confession because she thinks that someone can merely “feel bad” for his sins and be forgiven, “no matter how many times.” To her this seems a license to do bad things.
In response, I would say, “Yeah, that does sound like a ‘license to sin.’” But that is not what the Church teaches. Contrition is not merely a feeling of sorrow. True contrition includes an act of the will to amend one’s behavior and no longer commit the sin.
Now, it’s true that there is no maximum number of times that you can turn away from sin and seek forgiveness. As long as a person is contrite and intends to amend his wrongdoing, he can receive the forgiveness of sins. Given how weak we are in trying to live a life of virtue, this seems like a great mercy, not a great absurdity. What is so absurd about acknowledging that people are weak and teaching that God is infinitely merciful?
Shouldn’t Emery rejoice in such generosity? So much for a Church that’s bent on sending everyone to hell!
So, we’ve followed Emery’s advice and taken a hard look at the most absurd things about Catholicism she thought she was able to dig up. And what we found is that most of them are not actually what Catholics believe. For some of the ones she got more or less right, she failed to show why they’re truly absurd (instead of just reasonable, if extraordinary, manifestations of God’s power). And for some others, her charge of absurdity seems little more than her own weird beef with the idea of a merciful God who wishes to extend his gift of salvation as generously as possible.
We’ve had a little fun pointing out the flaws in Emery’s critique. But I would like to end by extending my own invitation to her to take a harder look at the anti-Catholic tropes that modern secularists grow up with and never question. This can be difficult to do, but she might find that critical self-examination yields a precious reward: truth.