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the eccentricities of Catholicism and Protestantism

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  • thekoba@aztecfreenet.org
    ... Dear Eric, I ll tell Anna Marie you liked it. I am reminded of a time at American Atheist General Headquarters in Austin when several of us were working
    Message 1 of 1 , May 15, 2003
      >
      >Dear Kevin!
      >
      >The Mormon joke was hilarious!

      Dear Eric,

      I'll tell Anna Marie you liked it. I am reminded of a
      time at American Atheist General Headquarters in Austin
      when several of us were working together in the print
      shop, and Jon Murray was discussing his views on the merits
      of certain types of beer. Alfred Matthews, the printer,
      made some statement about a beer he liked. Jon then
      said, "I thought you people didn't drink." Alfred was a
      Baptist.

      Alfred said, "We just sorta sip."

      >I don't know why but it does seem to be a fact that
      >the Roman Catholic Church is less nutty that many of
      >the Protestant denominations. Partly I suppose it is
      >due to the Baptists' insisting on literal
      >interpretations of everything, while the Catholics do
      >not. Also the Catholics for some reason never paid so
      >much attention to the Old Testament as the Protestants
      >do, especially the Baptists again -- of whom there are
      >so many in the south.

      The overt reasoning behind the Protestant Reformation
      (if not the real reason) was that the Catholic Church
      did not, in fact, have the apostolic mandate and
      therefore did not have teaching authority on doctrine.
      Something had to fill that vacuum, and the logical
      answer was the Bible, both Old Testament and New,
      as a guide to Christian doctrine. That's why the more
      successful Protestant denominations tend towards
      Biblical literalism. If you have a long tradition that
      an established church hierarchy is inspired by the
      Holy Spirit on matters of doctrine, as the Catholic
      and Eastern Orthodox Churches have, Biblical literalism
      is less important.

      >From my reading in history, in the 19th Century the
      >Catholic Church seemed to be hopelessly reactionary,
      >so their present disposition seems odd. I wonder if
      >they've become more liberal in the 20th century
      >because they are the one Christian sect that has a
      >large following in the Third World.
      >
      >Also if one only concentrated on the Catholic Church's
      >attitude towards Marxism, one might not find that the
      >institution has improved much in the last 150 years.
      >it's really in other things that they are rather more
      >liberal.

      A lot of this hearkens back to the real reason for
      the Protestant Reformation--a rebellion by the new
      bourgeoisie against the feudal ideology supported by
      the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church condemned
      price gouging, usury, and not paying workers a
      living wage, and these doctrines restricted the profits
      and expansion of the bourgeoisie. At the time when
      the bourgeoisie was objectively a progressive class,
      the Catholic Church was playing an objectively reactionary
      role, and this was certainly the case in its support of
      waning feudal power in Italy and Spain in the 19th
      Century.

      Now that the progressive potential of the bourgeoisie
      is all but exhausted, some of the Catholic social
      doctrines that, in fact, date from regulation of
      medieval guilds, sound more like socialism to many
      people in modern times.

      One can understand why Catholicism would thrive in
      Third World countries that were colonized by the
      major Catholic imperialist powers (Spain, Portugal,
      and France), but it is strange that Protestantism
      did not do as well in the countries colonized by the
      British. There are hardly any Protestants in India,
      Pakistan and Bangladesh, and not all that many in
      the parts of Africa colonized by the British.

      I know that the Jesuits, in particular, tried whereever
      possible to acommodate local customs when trying to
      convert people. For example, there was little pressure
      exerted on Japanese converts to give up worship of the
      emporer or on Chinese converts to give up ancestor
      worship, even though these practices are technically
      incompatable with Catholicism. Protestant missionaries,
      having to rely more on Biblical literalism than church
      authority, would probably have been less tolerant of
      local customs that were contrary to the Bible. It's
      also possible that the greater tolerance of graven
      images by the Catholics may have made it an easier
      religion to understand by peoples who had been used to
      worshiping idols.

      >The Nuns' definition of Hell as separation from God
      >reminds me of the discussion of the subject by the
      >medieval Arab-Islamic philosopher Ibn Sina (known in
      >the west as Avicenna). He wrote that the
      >philosophically minded person who is concerned with
      >things of a higher nature than his own creature
      >comforts is able to take leave of the body without
      >great difficulty. On the other hand for a more low
      >brow, carnal type of person, taking leave of the body
      >-- the only source for such base pleasures -- is,
      >well, hell.
      >
      >Of course more orthodox Muslim sources were content to
      >present Heaven and Hell more graphically, and as such
      >they were more impressive than the rather unappealing
      >life of an angel sitting on a cloud playing a harp for
      >all eternity. In Islam one gets pretty, buxom wives
      >(sex in Islam was never considered dirty or impious,
      >therefore there was no reason to exclude it from
      >paradise) and reclines on couches in the shade of
      >trees in a garden underneath which rivers flow . . .
      >etc. Hell was graphic too, a place of fire and
      >faeces. Of course there always were the more
      >philosophical types who either regarded such things as
      >symbolic. Ibn Sina took that "symbolism" arguement to
      >something of an extreme, but then the Arab Islamic
      >philosophers really represent a kind of
      >proto-bourgeois thought that emerged for several
      >centuries only to disappear around the 12th century of
      >the Common era.
      >
      >After them, the great Mystics were overtly more
      >orthodox than the philosophers were, but interpreted
      >religion in sometimes really off the wall fashions.
      >Ibn Arabi (died 1240) was the greatest mystic and also
      >highly progressive, at least philosophically if not
      >socially, and his mystic ideas constituted a real
      >reinterpretation of Islam that would make it much
      >better suited for a post-feudal world had his ideas
      >become more widely accepted.
      >
      >Alas, although Ibn Arabi became highly renowned, his
      >writings are difficult to grasp (because he was always
      >subject to persecution) so he is honoured as a great
      >holy man, but not really understood much.

      Was it that he had to write deliberately obscurely
      to avoid breaking some law or being accused of
      sedition?

      >Literalism today serves as a kind of bulwark keeping
      >imperialism out, but it also keeps the Islamic
      >societies from moving out. This is an unfortunate
      >situation that awaits the end of imperialism for its
      >solution, I'm afraid.
      >
      >On Tennessee religion, I also remember how I would
      >visit my friends' homes to have dinner with them and
      >almost always would start eating as soon as everyone
      >was served -- forgetting that somebody first had to
      >"say grace." I suppose they all knew I was some sort
      >of yankee heathen.

      If I ate with Protestants, my religion was always
      given away by having made the sign of the cross before
      the grace.

      Comradely,

      Kevin
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