Skeptics and the Claims of the Catholic Church

Seventeen reasons scoffers ought to rethink Catholicism, if they really thought about it

In today’s world, isn’t it crazy to appeal to scoffers to consider Catholicism? Why would a rational modern man or woman in the 21st century be attracted to what the world and its enlightened guides consider an outdated, misogynistic, anti-LGBT, anti-science cult?

Is historical momentum on the side of these scoffers? Doesn’t history itself demonstrate the allegedly backwards and inhuman nature of the Catholic Church? The modern soothsayers say yes, but here are 17 reasons—hardly an exhaustive list—why the soothsayers are wrong:

1. The Church “conceived” the university, the hospital, and countless institutions to assist the world’s suffering.

2. Catholic martyrs—unlike Muslim “martyrs”—never kill, but offer their own lives as a sign of their love of God and their fellow man.

3. The Church, in obedience to its founder, conceived the concepts of universal justice, mercy, and generosity that became the moral foundation of the world’s representative democracies. Prior to this, and in much of the world today, only certain groups or classes are entitled to human and legal rights.

4. The Church survived a multi-century eradication program by the world’s Roman overlords; survived wave after wave of barbarian invaders; survived power-seeking and predatory leaders; survived nation-states that desired—and still desire—to control and manipulate it; survived atheistic Jacobins, communists, fascists, and other tyrants.

5. Unique among religious institutions, the Church treasures Revelation (Scripture), tested Tradition, and reason—all three, with renowned scholars and mystics opening all of these “windows” to the Divine.

6. The Church holds up thousands of physical phenomena and miraculous healings that no one has ever been able to explain or disprove using science alone.

7. The Church fearlessly speaks truth to power: Peter and Paul to Nero, Leo the Great to Attila, Thomas Becket to Henry II, Catherine of Sienna to Pope Gregory XI, Joan of Arc to her inquisitors, Thomas More to Henry VIII, Cardinal Kung to Mao and his successors, Lech Walesa to Jaruzelski and Poland’s Soviet overlords.

8. The Church proclaims angels that aren’t New Age fairies and devils that don’t have pointy tails and pitchforks—powerful spirits who have made definitive choices and who are engaged in the eternal destinies of human beings for good or evil.

9. Pope Francis calls the Church a field hospital for sinners. Catholics are certain that, if contrite, sins—no matter how heinous—are forgiven by a priest in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) in sacramental confession.

10. Catholics enjoy spiritual friendships with thousands of unique and powerful saints who care about their eternal fate and who can assist them in the here and now.

11. The Church traces its authority all the way back to the Apostles, and Jesus, in an unbroken line that includes more than a few scoundrels, which makes its survival even more amazing.

12. The Church and its members have produced and sponsored spectacular art, music, poetry, architecture, and literature in pursuit of beauty and truth. Art museums all over the world contain breathtaking works by Catholic artists, and every literary and musical canon includes renowned Catholic authors and composers.

13. Catholics believe in eternity and eternal souls, knowing that human life is a mere instant in relation to eternity (as Dante says, “those on earth who live that life which is a sprinting to the grave”—Anthony Esolen translation); certain that the only important thing is to get to heaven and to avoid hell, and recognizing that everything we say and do brings us closer to one or the other.

14. Far from the popular notion that the Church is anti-science, there are hundreds of renowned Catholic scientists, priests among them, including Albertus Magnus, Ampere (after whom the amp is named), Avogardro, Bacquerel, Lamaitre (father of the Big Bang Theory), Fermi, Laplace, Mendel (father of genetics), Copernicus, Pasteur (father of bacteriology), and Volta (after whom the volt is named).

15. The Church isn’t anti-sex, as so many falsely claim, having a deep respect for the sexual act as originating with God, as cooperating with God in creating a unique human person, and—at its best—representing the self-giving love within the Trinity itself, as John Paul II taught.

16. Catholics have faith in a person unlike any other person who has ever lived. No other belief system: Judaism (Abraham, Moses, Elijah), Buddhism (Buddha), Islam (Mohammed), Taoism (Laozi), Zoroastrianism (Zoroaster), makes the audacious claim that their founder is God, nor do their prophets speak with authority as Jesus speaks. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

17. Lastly, how can a belief system recruit new members and appeal to the modern world while claiming that its God can be contained—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in a wafer of bread and a drop of wine? Wouldn’t Madison Avenue and political consiglieres nix such a bizarre idea in an instant? How can a belief system based on such an absurd notion survive for over 2,000 years?

The late novelist Walker Percy, a convert from scoffing and skepticism, once did a self-interview in which he asked himself, “How is such a belief “—that is, in Catholicism—“possible in this day and age?” And he responded: “What else is there?” He then further explained his answer, pointedly rejecting “scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative”.

Percy also noted that he was a “bad” Catholic. He knew well the failings of Catholics. Yes, there have been, and still are, scoundrels in the Church. Yes, the human members of the Church have made mistakes and have done terrible things. Yes, the Church has lurched from crisis to scandal to folly, all of these. But the “balance sheet”, for anyone who takes the time to investigate with an open mind, demonstrates that these failings are miniscule in comparison with the millions upon millions of acts of mercy and love and justice that the Church has fostered.

It’s been said that the “doors” to faith are the intellect (the quest for truth) and beauty, especially the interior beauty we observe in other human beings, and in nature. Of these two doors, beauty attracts far more people than the intellect. If more Christians displayed this beauty: the trust and joy that comes from confidence that God can put everything back together again, no matter how impossible it seems, if not in this world then in the next, then reasons like those listed above would be mere icing on an already sufficient cake.

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About Thomas M. Doran 84 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.