The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Freedom from Catholicism Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Saturday, 11 August 2012

Several weeks back I wrote about a very sweet British woman who informed me that she “just couldn’t” raise her daughter Catholic because she couldn’t raise her daughter in a Church that prohibited contraception  At the time, I thought this was a rather odd reason to choose a religion, and I still do, but I’ve now heard a story that beats hers. 

I know a young man who is heartbroken and devastated because his fiancée’s Catholic mother informed her daughter she would absolutely refuse to attend their wedding unless the couple agreed to use contraception. “I raised an intelligent, independent daughter,” this woman insisted, “smart enough to get into [a prominent Ivy League School]. That daughter should be smart enough not to become enslaved to the rules of a bunch of old celibate white guys wearing dresses in Rome.”

Well, isn’t that nice? And so tolerant, too. 

I suppose we should pass over the obvious fact that a cassock is not really a “dress,” any more than an African man’s traditional gown is a “dress.” Would she have dared call an African “Grand Boubou” a “dress”? Not likely if she sent her daughter to an ivy-league school. And as far as that goes, I suppose we’ll have to pass over the even-more obvious fact, to anyone who’s been there, that not everyone who works in the Vatican is a “white guy.” Would she have dared say: “How can you listen to a bunch of old African and Asian and Latin American guys in Rome?” Not likely. 

As for “celibate,” well, I’ll give her that. But criticizing people who take advice from celibate priests in Rome about sex is like criticizing people who take advice from Tibetan monks about consumerism. Do people say: “Hey, how can you take advice from that Buddhist monk in Tibet about shopping; he doesn’t ever even go to the shopping mall”? No, they don’t. Why not? 

Well, because anti-Catholicism is one of the last acceptable prejudices in the country. Things people would never dream of saying about other groups, they’ll say without reserve about Catholics. And a degree of ignorance that would be downright embarrassing in other contexts – on the level of: “But don’t all black people eat watermelon?” — will cause no public embarrassment whatsoever when the ignorant comment is about Catholics and Catholicism.

But here’s my question: Where’s the much-vaunted “tolerance”? Who’s forcing what on whom? Is it really the Catholic priests in Rome who are “policing” this young woman’s bedroom, or is it her mother? Who is the party willing to engage in a dialogue: the Magisterium whose members have written literally hundreds of well-reasoned pages on the topic; or the mother who in no uncertain terms condemns her daughter for being “stupid” for even thinking about not contracepting? 


         St. Perpetua: Her heart knew a truer freedom

Catholics who agree with their Church’s teaching on this matter have to put up with this sort of ignorance and intolerance all the time. Ask any Catholic woman who’s been to an OB-GYN lately how often they take grief for refusing the prescription for contraceptives and how patronizing doctors will be when they encounter this “childish” refusal. Ask any Catholic woman who’s been pregnant recently how her doctors have treated her when the issue of checking for birth defects comes up. 

Several women have asked me in the last few years whether it is really “required by law” that they undergo an amniocentesis to check for birth defects. No, I tell them, not yet. But doctors in many areas will insist on it, no doubt to shield themselves from lawsuits should the baby turn out to have “unwanted” birth defects, rendering it an “unwanted” birth.

Who exactly in these circumstances is really on the side of women’s freedom? Who is forcing women to do what they want them to do, and who is trying to convince women to make educated and responsible choices about their own fertility?  Is the mother who refuses to go to her daughter’s wedding unless she promises to contracept allowing her daughter to make her own educated and responsible choice about her own fertility? Or is she choosing for her daughter from a position of alleged superiority? 

Why is it that “freedom” for such people is always freedom from Catholicism? The freedom to be fully and authentically Catholic rarely shows up on the radar screen of such “tolerant” souls.

I can remember when I announced to my own parents that I was going to become Catholic how scandalized and upset they were, and this from two people who had always insisted that, “Any way is right if it’s right for you.” Any way was “right,” as it turned out, as long as it wasn’t the Catholic way. “Freedom” was always freedom from the sort of “constraints” they didn’t favor, never freedom to be something distinct and really counter-culturally “different.” 

Quite frankly, given the way they had raised me – to value “freedom” and “autonomy” above all else – I was tempted to hang up on them with self-righteous indignation and say: “Who are they to question my decision?” But there was that pesky commandment about honoring one’s father and mother. Ironic, isn’t it, that it was their values regarding freedom and autonomy that made me want to hang up on them, and it was the Catholic faith they despised that kept me on the phone.

It was clear to me then, and it remains clear to me to this day where true freedom resides. There are people who want to deny us that freedom, and here’s the real kicker: they want to do so in the name of freedom. Such people have been around for a long time. They’re the kind of people who advised St. Perpetua as she awaited execution: “Just refuse Christ in words; no one cares what you do in private.”  

Hers was a heart that knew a truer freedom.

 
Randall Smith is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, Houston.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (34)Add Comment
0
...
written by Jack,CT, August 10, 2012
Mr Smith your cander is so refreshing,THANKS! I see this mother as attempting to "some how relive her life" through
the forced "goals" of her child. I see that as a sad reality
hense a "Family and Autonymous" Life for her "Little Girl", would only POSSIBLY bring new LIFE.Does not seemso bad for an aging mother.
0
...
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 11, 2012
One recalls dear old J J Rousseau: "whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free - ce qui ne signifie autre chose sinon qu'on le forcera d'être libre."
0
...
written by Austin Ruse, August 11, 2012
Very fine and true, column, Randall. I shared on Facebook. I have gotten it from friends and family that even talking about the faith is a kind of coercion, a kind of forcing of the faith upon others.
0
...
written by teresa, August 11, 2012
Too many haters around, and it is disheartening to see that many who call themselves "Catholic" hate the Church. I say it as a convert. It is really frustrating.
0
...
written by Dave, August 11, 2012
At the heart of the Christian faith is the scandal of the Cross: life is not about glory for me, but glory for God. This glory is rendered only through obedience, "even unto death, death on a cross," the most ignominious death ever devised. We are glorified in Christ to the extent we partake of his Sacrifice, sacramentally and morally. But the message of our age is No Cross! No Sacrifice!-- except the one that renders the biggest return on your investment -- and no obedience, either, except as you feel like it. So the poor mother wants a return on her "investment" in her daughter, a validation of all the sacrifices she and her husband made in order to render her daughter competitive for admittance to an Ivy League school -- and now she wants her return, the glory of a high-paying career that validates the economic sacrifices she made. Or so it seems to me. Why is Buddhism tolerated? I don't think that Buddhism calls for sacrifice -- do so if you like, don't if don't, you have as many lifetimes as you want or need to work it out -- and, more importantly, Buddhism is about self-actualization, not the salvation of the world (and my role in the saving of the world through my correspondence to grace even if such correspondence requires my surrender of my own life). Buddhism is, after all, what has been called an "atheistic religion," because in the end it is not about God at all. It's about me, and that's ok.

Or perhaps another way of focusing the matter is to name the god of our age as Convenience, with his cohort, Expensive. It is inconvenient to have children at this time, so we must sacrifice the possibility. It is inconvenient to comfort the aged dying, and expensive, too, so we must find a way to encourage them not to be a burden to us by not being a burden to themselves and by accepting the inevitable, even hastening to the that end. It is inconvenient to have to explain to my friends that despite my huge investment in my daughter's future success, she is ready to have children -- and to give me grandchildren, who are also expensive -- at any given time -- embarrassing, too, because just what did she learn at Ivy League University and doesn't she know That's Not The Way It's Done? It is inconvenient to stand down activists of whatever kind who seek to compel us to accept the unacceptable. It is inconvenient to accept that the political party that best represented our grandparents' and parents' interests, perhaps, is now at war with their faith and with the values that faith engender. It is inconvenient to accept that our entitlements system is unsustainable, that we incarcerate far too large a proportion of our population compared to the rest of the world and so something must be wrong, and that we cannot exploit illegal migrant workers in order to eat cheap produce. It is especially inconvenient to recognize that Someone Else Must Pay may not be right in the end, after all. And so we must sacrifice everything Convenience calls us to sacrifice, because if we don't, Convenience will be angry and Expensive will be angry, too, angry that we are diverting the money Expensive wants for what amount to trifles from real and legitimate needs, including the demands of charity.

The siren call "you shall be as gods" continues to be whispered, falsely soothing those who will not accept that there is but one God, that this God is Love, and that sacrifice -- real, disinterested sacrifice -- is at the heart of the universe. Go ahead, "actualize" yourself and forget the others. But recall Jesus' words at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew: "wide is the gate and easy is the path that leads to destruction, and many there are that are on it." He tells us this after pleading with us to enter by the narrow gate -- the gate that is always just a little smaller than my ego -- for that is the gate that leads to eternal life.

0
...
written by Jon S., August 11, 2012
Hasn't the great majority of the hierarchy bought into this false understanding of tolerance, specifically by bending over backwards to avoid the appearance of prosyletism and triumphalism? Even the Holy Father talks about evangelization in such a nuanced way that it's hard to detect any encouragement from him to convert non-Catholics to the fullness of the means of salvation. The new evangelization is usually pitched not as bringing into the fold the new Jacques Maritains and Edith Steins but just as trying to get Uncle Joe to go to Mass again (to hear vapid homilies). There aren't enough Cardinal Burkes and Cardinal Arinzes in the hierarchy to reply to the calls for "tolerance."
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
0
...
written by Ella, August 11, 2012
I have to vet my ob-gyns thoroughly because most of them are intolerant and disrespectful of my beliefs. I would prefer not to use male ob-gyns but it seems that they are the only ones who respect my faith and don't pressure me into capitulating to theirs.
0
...
written by WSquared, August 11, 2012
Excellent piece, Professor Smith.

Point of curiosity: how much is anyone here willing to bet that the mothers in this article are themselves most likely "white"? It's something that I do ponder, ever since I read a remark by Dr. William Oddie at the National Catholic Herald (UK), wherein he remarked that the great number of Catholics who were greeting the Pope were from a myriad of ethnicities, while the anti-Catholic, anti-Pope crowd seemed "very, very white" (or words to that effect). This is also mostly true of the progressives bent on running the liturgy of the Church into the ground, eager as they are to harp on about "cultural relevance" (it makes watching Cardinal Arinze having a go at their views that much more fun to watch). Also, I refer back to your own column on the "anti-Catholic Catholic," whereby some kinds of diversity are just not cool and hip enough for some people.

While I don't want to blow anything out of proportion or make too many generalizations, I am noticing these types of comments pop up among American "progressive" Catholics, or American anti-Catholic Catholics. They're not just racist comments but ones mixed with American exceptionalism (again, try being an ethnic minority *and* a practicing Roman Catholic, and you'll come across some really interesting stuff-- they pontificate to you about how, as a minority, you shouldn't listen to "old white men," but somehow, when other white people like themselves nonetheless get older, as we all will, we ought to follow them down the street without thinking). In one forum, a young woman who was going through pre-Cana was rather indignant that her parish priest, who was from Africa, told them what the Church *really* teaches about cohabitation and contraception, wherein she referred to him as that "stupid African priest." Trawling the combox at the NYTimes before last Advent in anticipation of the new translation of the Roman Missal, I read several sanctimonious sighs to the tune of "don't those guys in Rome know that American Catholics are more progressive?" (even if that were indeed true, why would that even matter?!)

This is an ample opportunity for me to point out that one of the "many reasons pointing to the single reason that Catholicism is true" is certainly that Catholicism means "freedom from" the kinds of wrong-headed and hypocritical views and attitudes (and that's putting it politely) that you've exposed in this column.

Mr. Ruse: yes, I've experienced the galling "don't force your views/religion on others" canard, too. Again, by people who call themselves Catholic. You can have reasons such as knowing objectively that something is a mortal sin, but for them, the most mortal of mortal sins is to seem "disrespectful" or to "hurt somebody else's feelings." But somehow, neither your reason, nor your faith, nor your conscience, nor your feelings matter a jot. And choosing respectfully to opt out of something that offends and violates all of the above is necessarily "imposing your morality on others."
0
...
written by Achilles, August 11, 2012
Thank you Randall!

My family is a family of "freedom" from too and when I converted to the only non option, they thought I went insane. Now, however, though they cling to their assertion of my insanity, God's fruits are irresistible to them and all find the results very appealing. These days man can rationalize anything, one of gifts of the enlightenment. The world is enormously attracted to the fruits of Catholicism and unbeknownst even to themselves it is what they yearn for yet they really in hatred against the perceived constraint of their "freedom." Pax Christi vobiscum
0
...
written by G.K. Thursday, August 11, 2012
Like St. Perpetua we must be ready for martyrdom at the hands of any given government, including that of a future U.S. government. But the freedom experienced by Roman Catholic christians in their innermost core provides the spiritual source to face such martyrdom. Unlike Rousseau's notion of freedom, which was limited to the merely political, Christian freedom is freedom from sin in a union with the blessed. Far wiser and more ancient than the feeble writings of a 17th century degenerate is this saying of Abbot Anthony the Great:

"Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember him who gives death and life. Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all peace that comes from the flesh. Renounce this life, so that you may be alive to God. Remember what you have promised God, for it will be required of you on the day of judgment. Suffer hunger, thirst, nakedness, be watchful and sorrowful; weep, and groan in your heart; test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God; despise the flesh, so that you may preserve your souls."
0
...
written by Hieronymus, August 11, 2012
Yes, for many people only a bad Catholic is a good Catholic. They don't understand that anybody can FREELY choose Catholicism, true freedom not being FROM something but TO something.
0
...
written by Howard Kainz, August 11, 2012
Unfortunately, any kind of discussion of Catholic teachings on sexual morality is interpreted by "free" individuals as "shoving religion down their throat." I'm sure many of you have heard that phrase.
0
...
written by Mack Hall, August 11, 2012
Your two paragraphs on conversion precisely reflect my parents' reactions when God in His mercy allowed me to make a profession of faith. But as the years passed they progressed to acceptance and then to support. In her 80s my mother joyfully made her profession of faith too.
0
...
written by Seanachie, August 11, 2012
Mom "raised an intelligent, independent daughter,” “smart enough to get into a prominent Ivy League School"? Seems to me that if daughter allows Mom to lead daughter's life re contraception, daughter is neither "independent" nor "smart" regardless of where she attends school. Future son-in-law is in trouble with this potential marriage even before it commences...what will Mom attempt to influence/control next?
0
...
written by Billiamo, August 11, 2012
Teresa, it's difficult for reverts, too. Most of my family have left the church I returned to (with relief and gratitude) four years ago. Those who remain, like my 80 year-old mother, are given to ranting about 'silly old men' at the Vatican.
0
...
written by Charles Lutz, August 11, 2012
In vino veritas. That woman should give her head a shake and take a drink.
0
...
written by Suzanne, August 12, 2012
Such a refreshing article Professor! Deep and intelligent yet very funny at the same time! I was able to email it to a lot of family members and friends. Thank you.
0
...
written by Joel, August 12, 2012
My wife and I were without insurance - due to the economy - and when she was pregnant - we flat out told our doctor that, unless mandated by law, any extra testing for defects was out of the question; not only for monetary reasons, but because no matter what we were going to love the child. God has blessed us with a healthy daugher - 5 weeks old, but I understand the struggles that some people face now-a-days on this issue. I've always said that a child is not some piece of property, nor a right, he or she is a blessing from God, made in the Image of God, and to be treated as such.
0
...
written by WSquared, August 12, 2012
Seanachie, spot on. I would like to add that since Mom doesn't see the blatant hypocrisy, self-contradiction, and double standard in what she means by "thinking for yourself" (namely, "'thinking for yourself' means that you'd better agree with ME if you know what's good for you") she sure as heck isn't "smart enough," either.

In so far as a married couple leaves their parents' home and clings to each other, if I were that young woman, I'd note that the smartest wedding gift I could ever ask for from a mother such as this one would be to invite her to just stay home. Because I'm supposedly "smart enough" to have control over both my fertility and my body by handing both over to Mommy Dearest without question. Riiiiiiiight...

0
...
written by WSquared, August 12, 2012
Ella, every time I come across disrespecful medical personnel re saying "no" to contraception, I am tempted to snap, "my body, my choice!" The curious thing about those who womble on about the primacy of choice is that the know darn well that some choices are wrong -- namely yours and everyone else who doesn't agree with them. What they choose is necessarily good for their having chosen it. But your choosing something different means that you "hate" them.
0
...
written by Mark, August 13, 2012
A well written piece, sir. I am reminded of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown chastising others for only being willing to forgive sins they don't view as sinful. That's the kind of tolerance pushed nowadays, to only tolerate those things already prejudged to be tolerable.
0
...
written by Ben Horvath, August 13, 2012
One thing about the push for contraceptives, etc. that I have noticed is that the most vocal proponents seem to be older, now infertile women who are really really interested that fertile younger women obtain 'equality.' I suspect the equality the old gals are really after is equality with them. Take it for what it's worth.
0
...
written by Paul Cornish, August 13, 2012
Professor Smith touches on one of the most frustrating issues of my life. My wife and I met relatively late in life. I had been widowed, and she had pursued a teaching career. Our first daughter was born 8 years ago, and our youngest daughter was born in May, 2008. At that time my wife was 42. Still exhausted and recovering from the delivery she was visited by the ob/gyn doctor who had been on call from our practice (he got to the hospital about 20 minutes after the birth), the first words out of his mouth were a recommendation that she be sterilized... this at St. Mary's hospital. He seemed to have no sense of how hurtful and offensive his laguage was, and he made no effort to ascertain what my wife's concerns were before he started lecturing her on percentages.
0
...
written by Chris in Maryland, August 13, 2012
Millions and millions of American "Catholics" operate their lives in deliberate and systematic alienation from The Pope, the Magisterium, and tradition. These millions may style themselves "liberal" or "conservative," but they live in such a state of "busy-ness" and contempt for things "non-American" that they won't lift a finger to read, for instance, the letters Jos. Ratzinger has written to them out of loving concern. But they make sure they read "The NY Times" and/or "The Da Vinci Code," and think they have done well by doing so.

Fr. Bevil Bramwell recently pointed out the very interesting fact that out American Bishops and Priests largely function to completely filter out the communication by the Pope. I can tell you that at age 56, I have heard never heard a word of Pope Benedict's letters or encyclicals cited and urged upon the faithful...but I have heard direct open criticism of him at Mass...which forced us to move to another parish...a "nice, middle-of-the-road" parish...where we still NEVER hear a priest give us access to anything Pope Benedict is trying to teach us.

How ironic that the Pontiff, our bridge to The Lord, is the one way never taken. NEVER taken...in a Church that declares itself Catholic. What fools we mortals be...
0
...
written by Truth Serum 1, August 13, 2012
There is very little tolerance left in the world outside of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ! Not that there has been a lot in prior history! After all, Cain, whom Eve thought she had received from God, turned out to be the world's first murderer. As a husband and father of three cherished and loved childen, I find this woman's hatred of our FAITH an insult. It ranks along with the lovely Henry the VIII's concept of Christianity (his wives: divorced, beheded and otherwise abused)!!!!They all start their own "churches"!Proof of the Church's (Jerusalem - Antioch & Greek and Roman) is that they have survived and grown to the ends of the Earth today. To me "contraception" is the quickest way to kill oneself! As one of my Jewish friends calls it: "It's like taking a shower with your raincoat on!" It is probably the most frustrating act on the face of the earth! Witness the tragedy of our culture today with abortion and addictions of all kinds etc etc resulting in every wicked thing under the sun! And our world is crumbling due to the lack of millions of children that never had a chance to live. I thank God every day that MY MOTHER chose not to believe the BIG LIE of contraception!!!!
0
...
written by gtb, August 14, 2012
I've waited 40 yrs to hear someone say this

0
...
written by Theresa, August 14, 2012
I LOVE this paragraph - its truth and simplicity make my heart sing!

"I was tempted to hang up on them with self-righteous indignation and say: “Who are they to question my decision?” But there was that pesky commandment about honoring one’s father and mother. Ironic, isn’t it, that it was their values regarding freedom and autonomy that made me want to hang up on them, and it was the Catholic faith they despised that kept me on the phone."
0
...
written by Charles Florendo, August 15, 2012
Author Smith, I admire you and it is wonderful that you chose the Catholic Faith! Many Catholics were born Catholic but have not found the strength to stand up for it the way you do. Let us continue to pray together and transform the world in His love.
0
...
written by KM, August 17, 2012
Here's my question: The MOTHER is Catholic and is ordering her daughter to contracept? What went wrong in Mom's catechesis?
0
...
written by Craig, August 17, 2012
Great article! My wife and I (health care workers) went through this twice: first when I had to discuss in detail why she was not to have the trisomy testing and second, when she had to tell the Ob she was not using contraception. (FYI: the Ob has 8 children. You would think he would be enthusiastic.)

Pax tecum.
0
...
written by gsk, August 18, 2012
So many good comments to a great article. KM was closest to noting that the entire exchange was undermined by the fact that a successfully contracepting woman wouldn't even be having that conversation. I received the same diatribe upon conversion, and there was the subsequent veiled horror of the grandchildren who followed--although once born, they were certainly loved. That's one of the ironies--in the abstract, they say no, but then the little person arrives...

@Mack: I can only pray for your outcome to come to pass. No sight of such a miracle yet.
0
...
written by Victress Jenkins, August 19, 2012
That poor girl!! I wonder what her thoughts are! Does she agree with her boyfriend or her mother? His girl friend needs to realize what is at stake!
0
...
written by Bekah, October 02, 2012
We have simply lost the ability to differentiate between freedom and license. License to do what one wills is not the same as freedom. Freedom is bound up with responsibility. All people want today is license, while calling it freedom.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 
CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner