Bill O’Reilly of Fox News recently startled his viewers by claiming that Christianity is not a religion, but a philosophy. (Click here to watch a video clip.) “Christianity is a philosophy. You don’t have to believe Jesus is god in order to admire his view on life.” No doubt there are many people who consider themselves Christians but don’t believe Jesus was god. If you are one of those people, you’re not a Christian. By definition, you must believe Jesus is god to be a Christian. The Christian bible says that salvation lies in believing Jesus is lord. Romans 10:9, Mark 16:6, Acts 16:31. If you don’t believe that Jesus is god, you’re not a Christian, plain and simple.
Similarly, there are many people who consider themselves Catholic but are not. The Roman Catholic Church claims almost 1.2 billion adherents, including Mr. O’Reilly. But can they — can Mr. O’Reilly — truly believe everything that a Catholic is required to believe? Do they even know what they are required to believe?
The Canon Law of the Catholic Church governs the church and the mandatory beliefs of Catholics worldwide. John Adams wrote that Canon Law was “the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy that ever was conceived by the mind of man [and] was framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandizement of their own order.” Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765).
Adams accused the Church of spreading numerous malicious beliefs “among the people by reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity and by infusing into them a religious horror of letters and knowledge. Thus was human nature chained fast for ages in a cruel, shameful, and deplorable servitude to him and his subordinate tyrants . . .”
A warning therefore Dear Reader: We are about to descend into the abyss of the Catholic Church’s Canon Law — its own law, in its own words. What follows is disturbing in the extreme. If you consider yourself a Catholic, you owe it to yourself take a hard look at the beliefs required by your religion. Mr. O’Reilly, if you are reading this, at the conclusion even you must ask youself, “Am I really a Catholic?”
Catholics cannot pick and choose from the tenets of their religion. Arguably the most repellant precept in Canon law is also the most important for people claiming to be Catholic: “. . . [A] religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals . . . therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.” Canon 752. This anti-human, totalitarian sentiment lies at the heart of all religions, but one rarely sees it stated so baldly: “a religious submission of the intellect and will.”
Not only must Catholics believe all church doctrines, if you consider yourself a Catholic you are bound to avoid any contrary doctrines: “A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed . . . all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.” Canon 750, §1.
Even worse, the Catholic code specifically states that if you are not firmly for every tenet of the faith, you are against the faith: “Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals . . . is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.” Canon 750, §2. If you don’t believe what we tell you to believe, you’re not one of us.
Now that we’ve established that true Catholics must submit their intellect and will to every church command, what does the church command? Ridiculous beliefs abound in Canon law, but let’s limit our inquiry to two: transubstantiation and birth control.
The Catholic ritual of eating a wafer and sipping wine from a communal cup, known as the eucharist or, more commonly, communion, has divided Christianity throughout history. The divisions occur because Catholics are required to believe that “The eucharistic celebration is the action of Christ himself and the Church. In it, Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the species of bread and wine, to God the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful united with his offering.” Canon Law 899 §1.
There it is, in the black letter law of the Catholic Church. There can be no arguments about metaphors. Jesus is “substantially present” in the bread and wine. Denis Diderot, author of the first Encyclopedie, mockingly cross-referenced his entry on cannibals with the Catholic rite: “see Eucharist, Communion.” The US Conference of Catholic Bishops website has entertaining questions and answers like “When the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, why do they still look and taste like bread and wine?” This question, which every curious four-year old asks, is followed and contradicted by the next, “Does the bread cease to be bread and the wine cease to be wine? Yes.”
If you’re a Catholic you must believe that the priest has the power to change bread to flesh and the wine to blood. (For millennia, priests spoke the ritual words in Latin, Hoc est enim corpus meum.” Some etymologists think these magic words morphed into other magic words: hocus pocus.) But there’s no escaping it, the substances literally change form, they transubstantiate.
Do you believe that, Mr. or Ms. Nominal Catholic? Do you believe that, Mr. O’Reilly? If you do not believe that magic words can alter the substance of matter then you are not a Catholic.
You cannot claim that this is an unimportant part of their religion. Canon law explicitly contradicts any such claim: “The Christian faithful are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration.” Canon 898. In fact, “the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly.” Canon 528 §2; See also Canon 608.
Churches should annually display the “Most Blessed Sacrament . . . so that the local community more profoundly meditates on and adores the eucharistic mystery.” Canon 942. (John Adams ridiculed this “mysterious, awful, incomprehensible power of creating out of bread and wine the flesh and blood of God himself.” Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765).)
The addled Catholic hierarchy considers the dry, tasteless crackers so valuable that Canon law requires they be kept under lock and key: “The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible. For a grave cause, it is permitted to reserve the Most Holy Eucharist in some other fitting and more secure place, especially at night.” Canon 938 §3-§4. It may be time for the Church to re-order its priorities. On Christianbook.com you can order 1000 wafers for $15.99.
This magical metamorphosis cannot be laughed off by true Catholics. As Hemant Mehta put it, “If you don’t believe you’re eating Jesus when you play Swallow the Leader, stop deluding yourself and shed the Catholic label.”
Back in February, the CNN Belief Blog ran an article entitled “Why I’m a Catholic for Contraception.” The author was expressing the sentiments of the 98% of sexually active Catholic women who have used some form of contraception. But what does the church these women cleave to actually say about contraception? According to the Pope, being a “Catholic for contraception” is a contradiction in terms, an impossibility. If you are for contraception, you are not a Catholic. If that simple statement bothers you, take it up with the Pope, not me. But here’s why it’s true.
On July 25, 1968, Christ’s vicar on earth and supreme pontiff of the Catholic church, Pope Paul VI, took up the subject of birth control in an encyclical letter, referred to as Humanae Vitae (“human life”). The letter is addressed to the bishops of the church and is binding on all Catholics. (Remember , “. . . a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals . . .”)
In this encyclical, Paul notes that he and some bishops — all men — have “sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us [sic] and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We [sic], by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us [sic] by Christ, intend to give Our [sic] reply to this series of grave questions” surrounding what he terms “the transmission of human life.” Apparently, “[t]he fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes [i.e., contraception] have provoked new questions.”
Paul and his conclave of purported virgins then pontificate on the true purpose of sex and the evil of birth control: “. . . an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life.” Just to be clear, the Pope thinks that a thin piece of latex or a minimal dose hormone can thwart an all-powerful being.
Then things start to get creepy, “[j]ust as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties. . .” This haunting phrase may explain the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to turn child-rapists over to secular authorities that enforce laws requiring citizens to maintain control over our “sexual faculties.”
Paul then lists “Unlawful Birth Control Methods” including “abortion, even for therapeutic reasons. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.” So sterilization is condemned equally with abortion before Paul gets to the point. “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation — whether as an end or as a means.” This could not be any clearer, any action intended to prevent pregnancy is condemned by the Catholic Church.
If you use birth control, you’re not a Catholic. If you don’t believe in magic, you’re not a Catholic. If you find cannibalism abhorrent, or even slightly distasteful, you’re not a Catholic. And that’s OK! But now it’s time to find the courage to stand up and tell the world, “I’m not a Catholic.” Mr. O'Reilly, would you like to start?
Andrew is FFRF's newest staff attorney. You can catch him live this Sunday, Dec. 9 at 10:30 a.m. at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. For more details click here.