Where Logic Meets Love

I Am a Catholic. I Am Not Every Catholic.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pin It Now!

I was walking to my car from the train station yesterday evening listening to NPR's 5-minute news podcast when I was suddenly struck by two thoughts in rapid succession:
  1. News anchors and reporters and headline writers so often make generalizations about groups; e.g., such-and-such candidate "has found favor with black Americans" or "gay rights activists are upset" about something or other.
  2. If someone were to say something about Catholics... what is the likelihood it would apply to me?
This brought to mind two blog posts that had resonated with me recently.

First, the always-fabulous Rachel Held Evans (seriously, go read her blog), in response to the Internet erupting over the Kony 2012 campaign, posted this video of Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk on "the danger of the single story." It's worth the watch next time you have 20 minutes to spare.

Secondly, Jackie at Blueberries For Me wrote an excellent post called "Why I am (still) a Catholic" that from now on will be my go-to piece when people ask me this same question.

These two pieces together brought me to this thought: It is dangerous to oversimplify and overgeneralize, whether you are on the outside or the inside.

It saddens me to think that a non-Catholic, upon finding out I was Catholic, might jump to any number of conclusions about me and what I believe. Particularly because the theological aspects of the Catholic faith are not generally what make it into the public sphere. So it's less likely that the person would draw conclusions about my beliefs on, say, the Eucharist or the veneration of Mary than that they would make assumptions about my beliefs on contraception and gay marriage.

And they would probably be wrong.

This means that not only are people making assumptions about me based on my religion, but the things they're assuming about me are the very things that I disagree with the Church about!

This makes me think of a book I read in college called Naked in Baghdad, by one of the few reporters who was in Iraq at the beginning of the war but wasn't embedded with U.S. troops. She talked to many different Iraqis about, among other things, their view of Saddam Hussein, and she found that not only was there not a consensus among the people about whether they wanted him gone, but some individuals couldn't even make up their minds! So how could we possibly have done "what the people of Iraq wanted" when they couldn't agree themselves on what that was? That is the danger of the single story.

Assumptions don't just come from outside, though. My mom is in a Bible study at her church and has told me about women who will constantly share their political views in a way that assumes everyone there agrees with them simply because they're all Catholic. And there are certainly people who believe that I'm not a "real" Catholic (like they are) because of some of the things I believe.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: If being a true Catholic meant you had to know and understand and agree with and act upon every little piece of Catholic teaching, there would be no true Catholics.

Take two people who both believe themselves to be hardcore loyal Catholics, and even if they each believe every single thing they've ever heard a Church leader say, you could more than likely uncover things that one had been taught but not the other, or that they'd both been taught and interpreted differently how that should play out in their lives.

Think about this: People across the world and throughout time have been taught and believed many, many different things. What are the chances that everything you were taught and everything you believe is exactly right and perfect and 100% true and everyone else in the entire world is wrong in some way or other?

Even the Church has changed over time. And as Jackie said, "We can see and justify changes in the Church in the past, but it is naïve to assume those are limited to the past and we have already reached a state of perfection."

So what's the solution?

If oversimplification and overgeneralization are problems from both the outside and the inside, how do we overcome that blindness?

We listen.

We tell our stories, and we invite other people to tell theirs.

We ask questions out of a genuine curiosity and desire to learn, not in a sarcastic way to put other people's beliefs down.

We pursue truth, rather than assuming we already have it in its entirety.

I am a Catholic. But I am not every Catholic. And you cannot know everything I believe simply from that one identification I give myself.

So I ask that you listen to me tell my story. And in return, I will listen to you tell yours. And then we will each be one step closer to truth.

Where do you see the danger of the single story play out in your life?

P.S. A huge thanks to everyone who left suggestions on my post about describing this blog to other people. I appreciated hearing what resonates with you most about this blog, and I feel much better prepared to tell others about my blog now!


  1. This happens a lot in the Lutheran church as well- heck, the WHOLE church. I can't tell you how many times people have talked to me and have been "most Christians wouldn't say/do that" and I have to say yet again that "I'm not most Christians." Whatever that means. In the Lutheran church it's similar to the Catholics, everyone assumes that we all think and believe the exact same things simply because we are Lutherans. However - NO ONE does and it drives me nuts! We need to learn how to really listen to people and not pass judgement when they disagree.

    1. Sigh. What frustrates me about the "most Christians wouldn't do that" comment is that it's an admonition disguised as an observation. Like, I doubt that anyone says to you, "Wow, you just showed amazing selfless love there. Most Christians wouldn't do that." It's probably more like, "Most Christians don't swear" (which I don't even think is true), using the in-group pressure to imply that you are wrong for swearing, or whatever. If you think I'm a bad Christian for swearing, then tell me that and tell me why you think that and let's have a conversation about whether it's really bad or really has anything to do with my faith. But somehow people have this notion that what constitutes a good Christian is dictated by what most Christians do (or their perception of what most Christians do). And that's silly, because there isn't just one perfect model of what a Christian should look like.

    2. Correction: There is one perfect model to follow, and that's Jesus. And Jesus didn't take his cues about the right way to live from what the majority of people were doing, I can tell you that.

  2. I continue to thoroughly enjoy your blog, regardless of the fact that I practice a Neo-Pagan religion. My mother is Catholic and I share my life with a Catholic, yet neither fall into the "stereotypes" and often express similar views as you. Raising my son in a family with a variety of beliefs, the lesson I always have for him is close to your statement " If being a true Catholic meant you had to know and understand and agree with and act upon every little piece of Catholic teaching, there would be no true Catholics." Each of us has our very own unique relationship with the divine and no one else can say whether it is right or wrong. I say I am Pagan because "most" of my beliefs are similar to the tenets of Paganism. My S.O. says he is Catholic because "most" of his beliefs are similar to the tenets of the Catholic religion, but neither of us are in away "All" of that particular religion.

    1. Mike and I have talked about how we will share our faith with our kids, and while I'm sure we will adapt as we go, we both agree that we want to take a "here's what we believe" approach and to give our kids room to find what they believe. I agree that every person has a unique relationship with God, and I'd never want to try to force someone else down *my* pathway if they're going to get closer to God down another pathway.

  3. Love this post! When I tell people I'm a Christian and that I am part of a church I sometimes gets that kind of reaction, especially with regards to science. Thankfully the majority of people don't make those assumptions, but a few seem to jump to conclusions very quickly. It's so frustrating! On the other hand I sometimes worry that I will start to assume that all atheists will jump down my throat the minute I admit to my faith. A few who think one way and shout loudly about it, make us assume that all who hold a similar belief are exactly the same. It's something we need to watch for in ourselves as well. You're absolutely right about needing to listen to each other. One of my best friends is a Pagan, and it's because we both listen to each other, are open about our beliefs, and respect each other, that we've stayed friends for so many years. To borrow you're great statement - I am a Christian, but I am not every Christian!

    1. Good reminder that as much as we may bristle at being pre-judged, it doesn't mean we're not doing the exact same thing to others. Even if we know multiple people who fit a particular stereotype, that doesn't mean we shouldn't take the time to listen to someone else in that same group. I realized after reading the interview with a Christian conservative on Rachel Held Evans' blog that was doing a similar thing with Christian conservatives that you worry about doing with atheists--assuming that they're going to rapidly piss me off. But after hearing the perspective of this person, who was very calm and respectful, I realized that I needed to be more open-minded and curious about other people's beliefs rather than assuming I knew why they labeled themselves a certain way.

  4. My dad (well, my family in general, but my dad wrestles with this most) constantly has to navigate the murky waters of being "Evangelical Christian" during election seasons. Being pretty much the only Democrat, let alone politically liberal (conservative values? Perhaps. Thinks it's okay to write those values into law? Heck to the no!) person in his Bible study/the choir/his mens' group is so, so stressful for him. Not to mention constantly hearing "Evangelical Christians" pigeonholed in the media as wanting a select list of things or supporting a certain candidate.

    1. Wow, yeah, I would imagine that the group assumptions are even more rigid for evangelical Christians than for Catholics, both from the outside and the inside. I know I've only ever heard evangelical Christian equated to politically conservative, but of course that doesn't make them one and the same. Although, some people believe that religion and politics are one and the same--Emmy texted me one day after she saw a bumper sticker that said, "You can't be Catholic and pro-choice." That precludes a position of curiosity--you can never know why someone considers themselves both Catholic and pro-choice, or both an evangelical and a Democrat, if you refuse to accept that they can be both in the first place! Sigh.

  5. It's even harder to explain/talk to people when they find out you work for the Catholic Church.

    1. I believe it! I have struggled about whether I would ever want to work for a Catholic organization. I attended a Catholic university and when I was nearing graduation and looking for jobs, I looked at several Catholic organizations. But in the past few years I feel like Catholic leadership has gotten much more vocal on issues in ways I disagree with, and it makes me less comfortable with "officially" aligning myself with the Church through my work. That saddens me because I would truly love to work for a Catholic organization if I didn't feel like politics were going to come into it, but that seems less and less like an option. But I'm still open to it if the right organization and position came along :)

    2. True....What Catholic organizations that are more politically liberal like the Catholic Worker Movement and Pax Christi?

    3. That's a possibility. What I've found is that those kinds of organizations, that are super social justice oriented, mainly consist of volunteers and a very small number of staff. So finding an open job in one of those organizations that's a match for my skills and interests and in the location I want to live is not terribly common. If I were really passionate about working for a Catholic organization, then I might make more of an effort to find a way to work there, but that's not the case. I'd rather continue to look for the kind of job I want (which right now is an evaluator/research analyst position at a non-profit focused on health or education in Seattle), and if it happens to be at a Catholic organization, then I would probably do some extra investigation into whether I truly felt like I'd be able to be myself there before I took a job.


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