by MARK SHEA
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:54 PM Comment
You know the drill: The Church is a prison that shackles the
hearts and minds of people who yearn for the freedom to think and act as they
It is a stifling cell in which the best and the brightest
are not allowed to be free due to the brutal restraints of dogma.
The reality is that most anti-Catholics are terrified of the
intellectual freedom of the faith and much prefer some small ideology, cramped
superstition or cozy little circle of slogans and simplicities that can be
easily memorized and repeated.
I was reminded of this recently when the headlines noted
that ex-Catholic Tom Cruise was building a bunker to prepare himself against
intergalactic alien attack.
Now, I don't know if Cruise is really building said bunker,
but I do know that to leave the Catholic faith for Scientology is to exchange a
vast estate full of woods and rivers ripe for exploration and quiet meditation
for a cement cell decorated with cartoons.
I well recall a conversation with a friend who described an
acquaintance of his, deep in the meshes of Scientology. The man had explained
how the Scientology clinicians had hooked him up to a polygraph and asked him a
bunch of incredibly personal questions, the answers to which were carefully
recorded and filed away for later use. He saw nothing amiss with this.
When my friend asked him what benefits he had received from
Scientology, he responded "Ah! I can't tell you. You have to reach the $5,000
This strange urge to be harder on ourselves than the faith permits
us to be is a curious feature of our fallenness.
I remember a friend who stayed with an aging group of Welsh
Non-Conformists back in the '80s. They were the last survivors of a religious
enthusiasm that swept through Wales in the early 20th century. Each year, their
dwindling numbers got smaller, but they held the True Faith, and continued to
meet and encourage each other in rigorism and joylessness.
At one particularly unforgettable gathering, one of the old
duffers in the group stood up to give his testimony (one they had all heard
many times). He said, "When I was a young man, I used to celebrate Christmas
and enjoy a pint down at the pub. But when I found the Lord, I stopped doing
And all the saints said, "Amen."
It isn't just spiritual smallness people can choose, by the
Matthew Parris is a British columnist who recently
distinguished himself with his preference for intellectual smallness by
responding to the amazing healing of a French nun by dogmatically declaring
that nobody could "honestly entertain the possibility that from beyond the
grave the late Pope John Paul II interceded with God to cause a woman to be
cured of Parkinson's disease."
You may ask how ? given the fact that the nun was, in fact,
healed ? Parris knows this. Here is his free-thinking and open-minded response:
??But how can you be sure?? Oh boy, am I sure. Oh, great
quivering mountains of pious mumbo-jumbo, am I sure. Oh fathomless oceans of
sanctified babble, am I sure. Words cannot express my confidence in the answer
to the question whether God cured a nun because she wrote a pope?s name down.
Meanwhile, the close-minded and fearful Church is continuing
its investigation, just in case Mr. Parris might have missed something in his
To be Catholic is to be free ? frighteningly free, in fact.
Parris is manifestly terrified of a universe big enough to
include a God who works miracles. Many people have what Evelyn Waugh called
?little systems of order? that depend, like a house of cards, on the wind of
the Holy Spirit not blowing them apart.
It is a scary thing to realize that there is no Catholic
position on many of the shibboleths and tribal loyalties that define our lives
on a day-to-day basis.
The faith has no particular ideology concerning economics,
ghosts, diet regimens, psychic healing, politics, TV shows, music or smoking.
But to the tribes that care about such things, your opinion or lack thereof
marks you as Us or Them.
The faith is the only place in the world that insists you
can remain part of Us while holding almost whatever view you like about
democracy or evolution.
Most people don?t want to be that free and prefer the cozy
confines of an ideological cell.
Mark Shea is the content editor for CatholicExchange.com.