I know and owe Damon Linker: He’s a friend helped me make the connection that got me writing for The Week. But that’s not why I admire him and his writing. He’s stubbornly independent of mind, and that sometimes means he goes places that I don’t go, but there’s an integrity in his refusal to ever let the group do his thinking for him that I admire and hope to emulate.
Today, he writes about why he left the Catholic Church — and offers a stark challenge to those who remain. It’s worth reading for folks, no matter their spiritual beliefs.
What’s absurd? The claim that, of all the Christian churches, the Roman church is the very best, the truest of all, the one most fully and rightly ordered through time. That would be not only the church of the great diabolical popes of the past (like John XII and Alexander VI and Boniface VIII and Leo X), but also the church that in recent decades has seen literally thousands of priests in countries across the globe accused of sexually abusing children — 271 of them in the archdiocese of Boston alone — with untold numbers of bishops covering it up year after year after year. The number is untold, by the way, because we are still nowhere near knowing just how many members of the Catholic hierarchy around the world — all the way up to popes themselves — knew exactly what was happening and responded like self-protective bureaucrats and PR flacks out to protect a corporate brand from bad press.
Let’s be adults, shall we? If you believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected, that he is the Son of God and the second person of the trinitarian Godhead, that his teaching tells us how the creator of the universe wants us to live, then by all means be a Christian. But to believe that this particular church, of all the Christian churches in the world, is the one most fully and rightly ordered through time, over and above all of the others? You can’t possibly be serious.
Religions make claims that often, mostly, can’t be verified in this realm and in this lifetime. But Linker says that an institution that makes claims of moral superiority must demonstrate that superiority — and if it fails as completely as the Catholic Church has, then it’s reasonable to find its claims suspect, as well.
The Mennonites have a problem with this as well, of course, and all churches are afflicted by the fact that they’re made up of broken, fallen humans. But the rule that Linker seems to suggest here is one of basic evangelism: If your beliefs don’t help you be better, what good are they?