The Corner

Dear Christians: Do Stop Believin’

I may be a Reformed Protestant, but I still care a great deal about the new pope. He is, after all, only the world’s most prominent advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Christians everywhere should be grateful that the new pope is by all credible accounts a humble, devout man with a heart for the “least of these.” In fact, for millions of our more secular citizens, the Catholic Church is essentially a stand-in for all (orthodox) Christendom, and critiques of Catholics are often critiques of all Christianity.

I was reminded of this fact when I read Frances Kissling’s recent piece in The Nation – highlighted again today in response to the selection of the new pope. Kissling, some may recall, is the past president of a group called “Catholics for Choice.” Kissling contends that the new pope (no matter who he is) will change nothing, and nothing will ever change until, well, Catholics stop being Christian. Feast your eyes on this critique:

As long as Catholics are expected to accept rigid, sexist and blatantly illogical doctrine, there can be no real change in the church. From the Vatican down to the local parish priest, the early narratives—stories, really—that sought to explain who we are, why we are here, and the meaning of life are still taught, despite the fact that they are even less credible explanations of who we are than they ever were. 

And which narratives does Kissling dislike?

The insistence that Jesus Christ was born of virgin is among the most destructive. It suggests that women—married or single—are forever tainted by sexual activity. It reflects the early Christian distaste for all sexuality. It clings to the notion that there would have been something unseemly about God coming into the world through a birth canal through which semen had passed. Holding to the virgin birth is not a benign teaching. It undermines the idea that pleasure is sacred, that sexual intercourse is normal and healthy. It certainly does nothing to undermine the idiots who think that the woman’s body will reject the sperm of a rapist.

Silly me. I thought one of the main points of the virgin birth was that Jesus was God’s son, not Joseph’s. But Kissling is just getting warmed up:

The virgin birth is only the start of it. Heaven and hell, the turning of bread and wine into the body of Christ (a core teaching that polls tell us most Catholics reject), the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven (how could her body have gone to heaven when we are now clear it is not a real physical place?), the infallibility of the pope telling these untruths and insisting that Catholics must believe them to be Catholic—this all leads directly to corrupt popes and priests who lack compassion. Lying or just fudging it demoralizes those who teach in the name of the church. 

Now that is a comprehensive critique. To be clear, as a Presbyterian, I don’t believe that communion bread and wine turn into the literal body and blood of Christ, but I didn’t arrive at that belief through poll-testing (what a curious method for discerning theological truth). I am, however, very eager to hear how “we are now clear” that heaven is not a real physical place.  

While not all progressive Christians scorn actual faith so openly, the column is a prime example as to why it’s so very difficult to take progressive spiritualists seriously. It’s as if the label “Catholic” or “Christian” or “Evangelical” is adopted by the progressive not as a statement of actual belief but instead as an identity marker granting standing to mock and destroy.

I know a few self-described progressive Christians who believe every word of the Bible was inspired by God, but far more common are the progressives who believe that the church would be a great force for good — if only it shed its actual religious faith. Funny how they rarely make similar arguments to Muslims.


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