My initial reaction to former atheist Leah Libresco (Unequally Yoked) converting to Roman Catholicism was one of anger and hurt. I was confused and dismayed that an atheist could in good conscience choose to join an institution with such deeply disrespectful views on women’s rights and LGBT equality, especially while offering little explanation of why they would select that religion in particular.
While that was all I wished to express at the time, I recognize that this does not necessarily constitute an argument against Catholicism’s basic tenets. If the existence of a god, the divinity and resurrection of the historical Jesus, and the Catholic Church’s unique status as the one legitimate earthly representative of Christ were actually true, then any institutional misconduct or moral error on the part of the Church would not negate these facts. The question of whether it’s ethical to affiliate oneself with the Church in its present form, which I chose to focus on, is largely separate from the question of whether these fundamental beliefs are accurate. It does not necessarily follow that believing these things are true means that one must therefore participate in the Catholic Church. It should be entirely possible to hold these tenets to be true, while finding the Church in practice to be undeserving of one’s membership.
Conversely, being an adherent of Catholicism does not require that one must agree with every detail of the various Catholic doctrines, and many Catholics don’t. A significant portion of the Church’s lay members support marriage equality, abortion rights, the use of birth control, and hold other views that are contrary to the Church’s official stances. In practice, it is wholly possible to be a part of the Catholic Church while dissenting from its more retrograde positions (though some atheists and devout Catholics often contend that one’s Catholic faith must be all-or-nothing). Libresco herself seems to acknowledge this to some extent, saying:
I think the Catholic Church has, at it’s heart, the right axioms, but that its small-c conservative structure means it takes a really long time to update the applications of those principles as new data emerges.
Of course, the tendency toward selectivity once again raises the question of why someone would join the Church, and how much they would have to agree or disagree with it before joining or leaving. The answer most likely depends on the individual (former) Catholic, and their reasons may not even be rooted in any (dis)agreement with its doctrines. As Chris Hallquist points out, conversion tends to be highly influenced by personal relationships, and not necessarily an explicit reasoning process. Consequently, any justifications offered by converts may simply be after-the-fact rationalizations, which would help explain why their stated reasons for converting often seem so flimsy.
But regardless of whether this is the case, such Bulverizing doesn’t address a position itself, only the possible reasons why someone may hold that position. Many people’s beliefs, both religious and secular, may be motivated by non-rational considerations, but we subject them to critical scrutiny anyway. As Libresco has often said, more or less, challenging someone’s views is actually quite respectful toward them and shows that you believe they care about the truth. Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has already posed most of the questions I would have asked, chiefly pertaining to how the vague articulation of morality as a personified being leads to accepting the specific tenets of Catholicism, so I won’t repeat those here. I really only have one question.
Leah, in your recent interview with The Blaze, you addressed any potential conflict between your bisexuality and the Church’s teachings by stating that despite your uncertainty about its stance on homosexuality, you were “willing to not date women in the meantime”. To what extent are you willing to abide by the doctrines of the church even when you disagree or don’t fully understand their rationale?
You described bisexuality, for you personally, as “gender feels about as salient to me as hair color when it comes to looking for dates”, concluding that “I don’t find it much more of a privation to not date women than to not date redheads”. While I’m not privy to your inner thoughts and inclinations, and other bisexuals may define their sexuality differently, I believe your depiction of bisexuality minimizes and disguises the actual significance of the restriction you’ve accepted for yourself here.
While you acknowledge that other gay and bisexual people may “care more about gender” than you do and you don’t intend to advise them on how they live their lives, the constraint that you’ve placed upon yourself could be much more substantial than you make it out to be, even under your personal model of what bisexuality means for you. If you regard gender as almost completely irrelevant when considering potential partners, then it’s entirely possible that you’ll find someone who you have an intense personal connection with, someone who seems to be a nearly perfect fit for you and is also interested in being your partner. But if that person is of the same sex, then the moral code you’ve provisionally accepted will prohibit you from pursuing a relationship with them, for no reason other than because they are of the same sex as you. This makes their sex relevant, just as hair color would become relevant if you were interested in a redhead but your religion forbade you from dating them. The only way that this would not constitute a privation is if you actually consider individuals to be completely fungible, and the exclusion of one person who might otherwise make an excellent partner means nothing to you. I suspect most people do not approach personal relationships in such a way.
You explained that “I’m keeping my behavior inside Church teaching, but my voice and arguments are unrestrained.” In this area, you’ve shown that you’re prepared to live in accordance with dictates that you don’t actually agree with – even when they may impose a significant hardship upon you – simply because the Church says so. Again, how far are you prepared to go? If you are willing to place your own moral judgment above that of the Church in some cases, such as your support for civil marriage equality, then why would you agree to refrain from same-sex relationships unless you personally believe that there may be a valid moral argument against them? And if you are not willing to place your own moral judgment above that of the Church, as demonstrated by your choice to forgo same-sex relationships, then why wouldn’t you join in on a campaign against civil gay marriage in spite of your personal disagreement if your local diocese deems it necessary?
It seems that no matter how vocal your arguments may be, you’ve ultimately chosen to subjugate your actions to Church teaching. Where does your obedience to the Church end, if anywhere?