On Friday. March 9 The New York Times ran a full page ad by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In an open letter addressed to “liberal and nominal” Catholics they were told that now is the time “to quit the Roman Catholic Church.” The implication is that Catholics only stay because they haven’t had the smarts to see how their loyalty is “enabling” the church’s benighted and pernicious errors.
Helpfully, the free from religion folks provide a long list of oppressive “dark age” errors that “must be stopped.” One can become a member of their cruade by sending checks ranging from $40 (Individual) to $100 (Sustaining) to $500 (Life) to a puzzling category of (After Life) for $5000. This pitch for money prompted one wag to reply, “Hey people, you can quit for free you know.”
The ad, with crude cartoon caricatures, presents its own panoply of errors. First off, there is the simple minded identification of the church with the hierarchy. Absent from consideration are worship, scripture, spirituality, prayer, theology, saints, works of mercy and the social gospel. God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, the reality of the church’s life, are ignored or dismissed as remnants of “ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men.”
The ad admonishes Catholics to “free yourselves” from illusion and realize that “you’re better than your church.” In a “moment of truth” Catholics should “exit en mass” and adopt Thomas Paine’s words, “My own mind is my own church.”
Mmm. And what exactly makes your own mind the sole infallible guide to goodness and truth? Surely such solipsistic and self-satisfied admonitions and slogans may keep Catholics in the fold –or at least provide an ironic laugh.
Yes, in a learning, ever reforming church on pilgrimage, there are going to be disagreements, differences and disappointments. It is ever thus. Better in the end to follow Erasmus in his reply to Martin Luther when reproached for remaining Catholic in a troubled time. "I put up with this church, in the hope that one day it will become better, just as it is constrained to put up with me in the hope that I will become better.”