Bad Reasons for Quitting Church

By Andrew Greeley
Chicago Sun Times [Chicago IL]
April 25, 2003

A lot of people are predicting a massive exodus from the Catholic Church. I don't see this happening. Yet to be helpful, I submit these excellent reasons for leaving the Catholic Church:

*You don't believe in God. Despite the fine tuning of our universe, despite the fact that it fits the models of advanced mathematics, despite the truth that there is no reason why it should exist at all, you think it is all chance and chaos. This could be a good motive for redeploying from all religion, especially from Catholicism.

*You are ready to acknowledge a great architect of the universe, an energy and a force that permeates everything. However, you cannot buy the God of implacably forgiving love, which Catholicism in its better moments preaches. You don't want a God like that.

*You absolutely cannot accept the notion that life is stronger than death. We humans, if we were honest with ourselves, would admit that we are but bits of cosmic fluff hesitating between two oblivions.

*You buy into Bill Cosby's famous line from his now ancient Noah routine: ''Just you and me, God. Just you and me.'' While you may need support from others in every other human activity, religion is something you can do yourself. You don't need help from the past or from the present. Community is wonderful, just so long as it stays out of religion. If you feel that way, you might think about decamping.

*You can't stand the rain forest of metaphors in which Catholicism is bogged down--angels, saints, souls in purgatory, Mary the mother of Jesus, stained-glass windows, statues, rosaries, candles, holy water, funny vestments, the changing liturgical season, etc., etc. The stories and metaphors in the Catholic rain forest suggest God is to be found in the objects and events and persons of daily life, in the sacraments and the sacramentals. This world of wonder and enchantment drives you up the wall. It is idolatrous and superstitious. Only uneducated people can take these stories seriously. It is nonsense to suggest that Mary may be a metaphor for the mother love of God.

Those are good reasons for getting out of Catholicism. I don't accept any of them myself personally. Yet if someone tells me that's why she or he finds it impossible to remain Catholic, I congratulate them on their independent thought and bid them to go forth in peace, though I warn that Catholicism has the bad habit of not letting people go even when they want to. It is difficult to exorcise its stories and images from an imagination in which they've found a place.

However, most of the reasons I hear advanced these days are not of this sort. They are rather tales of what some priest did or said, of what some nun taught you, of some lunacy propagated by a bishop, of what some RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] director tried to impose upon you, of what some chancery office bureaucrat told you, of some rule that a liturgist said you had to obey, of the moronic failure of the church to deal with the pedophile crisis, of the denial by so many priests that there is a sexual abuse crisis, of the failure of the pope to support our eminently moral president, of the failure of bishops to speak out against the war (which they have, of course, though no one hears them anymore), of the pastor who is spending huge sums of money on a church the parish doesn't need. Etc. Etc. Etc.

These are, in all candor, lousy reasons for decamping--reasons I find it hard to accept, although they often rise from great suffering. They equate the Catholic heritage with the stupidities of its leaders, which have been worse in the past than in the present.

Frank Sheed, the English Catholic writer, put it nicely long ago: ''We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I myself admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the church as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the church, although I might well wish that they would leave.''

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