I drive down the street and see a sign with golden arches and a jolly, redheaded clown. Immediately, my mind recalls the last time I chucked a chicken nugget into my mouth. I remember how my baby girl leapt in the womb when I shoved a fistful of French fries down my esophagus. And, almost instantly, my taste buds begin to crave an outlandishly large cup of sweet tea that would sustain a desert wanderer for at least a few days.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis held a conference Tuesday to equip parishes, schools and other Catholic communicators to spread their faith as part of the New Evangelization.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis held a conference Tuesday to equip parishes, schools and other Catholic communicators to spread their faith as part of the New Evangelization.

Soon, a word emerges in my brain from a Catholic communications conference I recently attended: branding.  Of course, I am aware of the advertising world, especially when I suddenly start planning my next trip to DQ after seeing Blizzards on their commercials.  We are constantly bombarded with brands and the messages those companies want to convey.  Branding becomes an identifier, a way for a company to show pride in its product and differentiate itself from others.

  • Read: Full coverage of the Communications and New Evangelization Conference

I hear one presenter’s voice linger in my memory:

“What images and messages flood your mind when you hear the brand name ‘Catholic’?” Like the Angus lined up for the McDonald’s menu, I too have been branded. Gratefully, the branding process for me did not include an iron glowing with heat, but I hope my mark is equally as evident.

However, there seems to be a lot of false advertising when it comes to my “brand,” and all too often the word “Catholic” can conjure up intense negative feelings within Christian believers and non-believers alike.

It’s true: Many of our beliefs are counter-cultural. But then again, most people rejected Jesus, too. In fact, the animosity toward him is ultimately what had him murdered. The apostles were also frequently shunned and persecuted for the message they preached on Christ’s behalf. It was their zealous pursuit of Christ that led to several imprisonments and eventual death.

A Catholic collage.

A Catholic collage.

And, with a brand whose lineage dates back to the time of Jesus, the Catholic Church continues to teach those same messages and hold them as Truth.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, believed that marketing is about values. “This is a very complicated world, It’s a very noisy world,” he once stated. “So we have to be very clear about what we want people to know about us.”

Frequently, I think people receive a skewed or misguided message about Catholicism, the faith of millions across the globe. Some view us as bigots, child molesters or blasphemers. Some see the Church as a form of oppression and hate.

But those labels are not in line with the Church’s values, so I would dare to say those folks have been deceived by false advertising. After all, our mission in life is to be as much like Christ as we possibly can be.

Yet, like everyone else in the world, we mess up and fall short. Mistakes are merely a chink in our chain of human DNA, and Catholics are simply that: human. Yet, I would guess that even people who don’t know Jesus well could probably admit his character was neither oppressive nor hateful. The truth is, he was exactly the opposite: He liberated the marginalized, he protected the vulnerable, he loved those who had been outcast by society. The Church’s foundation of social justice is grounded on his words:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. …Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

Over the course of millennia, the Catholic Church has sought to establish itself as an institution that joyfully feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, cares for the sick, visits the prisoner (Matthew 25:35-36) and looks after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). It does these things not out of self-glorification, but out of obedience to our God.  We eagerly serve “the least of these” to also serve the divinity we call Lord.

For that reason and that reason only, the Catholic Church and its members have contributed greatly to the world:

  • The Catholic Church created the first hospitals in order to care for the sick.  Nowadays, this nonprofit health-care system includes 637 hospitals, which is equivalent to 17 percent of all U.S. hospital admissions. And, when the AIDS epidemic swept the nation beneath its cloud of mystery, the only organization to take in HIV positive patients was the Catholic Church.
  • The Church established orphanages to care for the poor and take care of orphans.
  • The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on the face of the planet. The combination of funds raised by Catholic Charities, Food for the Poor, Catholic Relief Services, St. Jude’s and America’s Second Harvest along top $5,570,000,000 – a sum greater than the #1 on the list for America. That doesn’t even begin to consider financial contributions of other Catholic charities or the annual $7.5 billion its 20,000 churches fundraise. Again, these are all charities focused on the mission to serve the underserved.
  • Education provided by the Catholic Church is greater than any other scholarly or religious institution, teaching nearly 3 million students each day in its 6,900 elementary schools and 1,200 high schools.
  • The Catholic Church also founded the college system. There are now 230 Catholic colleges and universities with a total of 670,000 students.
  • Lastly, and perhaps surprising to many, the Catholic Church has contributed greatly to the field of science. In fact, the members of the Church discovered the scientific method, and a Catholic priest intellectualized the Big Bang Theory.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once declared, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I have been branded Catholic. And, because of that, I stand for sacred scripture and social justice. I proudly act as an identifier for my faith, longing to live its logo every day.

What “brand” do you represent? How do you live its logo and what makes you proud to wear it?

29 Comments

  1. Kelsey, good stuff here! Thank you! As my two-part series on UCC history suggested, we also have a “branding” or identity problem – who the heck are we? My hunch is that many traditional churches/denominations have been caught in assuming “everyone knows who we are and what we stand for,” and forgot about regular, updated evangelism/marketing/publicity/branding/whatever you want to call it.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I know that I struggle often with reconciling my feelings about my Catholic friends (all of whom are lovely, amazing people) with my reservations about the Church.

    To some extent, I would argue that the negative branding is deserved in places. While the Church has done numerous amazing things — including preserving elements of the Pagan cultures my religious traditions are reviving! — I think sometimes the execution can be very off.

    The problem tends to arise most often, I think, when the Church’s good works come with strings attached, or when charity comes at the cost of conversion and/or conformity. I’m thinking particularly of issues about contraception, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, but also the way the Vatican has responded to the LCWR.

    I think there’s a way out of the branding problem that’s compatible with Catholic social teachings, but it’s going to require the Church to impose beliefs on the non-Catholics it serves in the community less and role-model its teachings about human dignity and compassion more. Until this happens, I’ll remain afraid of finding myself in a Catholic hospital, and reluctant to donate to charities associated with the Church.

  3. Kelsey Gillespy

    Yet another amazing point, Steve. Although I know each denomination stands for Christ, I (along with many others, I’m sure) don’t know the true difference between the Christian denominations. I would be very excited to learn about them, though! It would be very cool to learn more about the ‘brands’ that they stand for and live for. Maybe this can be a first-time ColumbiaFAVs ‘series’, if you will, where all of our writers expound on the brand of their faith and why they are proud to be [fill in the blank]. I would love to read everyone’s essays!!

    Ci, I’m really happy to hear that you have friends who represent and live out the Catholic faith in a positive manner. It’s always good to hear that! However, it’s unfortunate to hear about your reservations regarding the Church. Since we follow a Lord who liberated instead of oppressed, our doctrine intends to do the same. Your comment brought up several very important things that many people have questions about, though. I think I may see some future article topics in my future. =) Thanks for sharing! PS if you’d be interested in joining in on this whole branding series thing, I would love to read more from you about what it means to be Pagan!

  4. Kris Katarian

    Great comments, Ci. I agree that charity and good works sponsored by the Catholic church (and other denominations) do come with strings attached, as in “you must give up the belief system of your culture and become Catholic/Baptist/etc. since we’re helping you.” I’ve visited soup kitchens where starving people had to sit through some long, tedious prayer or sermon before they could be served.

    Kelsey, I sometimes see Church doctrine as the opposite of liberating, but maybe that’s just a definition thing. Y’know, like one woman’s liberation is another woman’s oppression…

  5. Kris, the “strings attached” is only partly true, and only in some places. Roman Catholics (as well as my own denomination) have opened hospitals that serve all people and do not require a religious litmus test before saving your life.

    The local winter homeless shelter, Room at the Inn, was first developed by churches and now includes volunteers and leadership from many faith groups – and there’s absolutely no religious requirement for service.

    And the local soup kitchen Loaves & Fishes is located in a church building but does not require attendance at worship or participation in prayer for someone to be fed. You simply can’t generalize about “all” religious charities on the basis of an extremely limited personal experience.

  6. Kellie Kotraba

    Kelsey: LOVE your idea! “Maybe this can be a first-time ColumbiaFAVs ‘series’, if you will, where all of our writers expound on the brand of their faith and why they are proud to be [fill in the blank].”

    Ditto what Steve said on Room at the Inn, etc. I spent a few evenings volunteering at Room at the Inn last winter, and there was never any pressure on people as far as faith was concerned. (And actually, the same could be said for St. Francis House – it’s officially run by the Catholic Worker community, but volunteers from many different faiths contribute food and time donations. The faith of people in the house is diverse, too!)

    On liberation vs. oppression: Throughout life, and in the course of my reporting, I’ve heard people say that faith groups they are unfamiliar with seem “oppressive.” But to the practitioners of those faiths – the people who live out those faiths every day – those faiths are not oppressive at all. And that’s not just people raised in those faiths – that’s converts, who have made intentional decisions to adopt those practices. Sure, on the surface, some things might seem crazy: “How could they do x, y, or z?!” But those practices aren’t just arbitrary – there’s a lot of doctrine surrounding them. Viewed in the context of a whole faith, instead of as an isolated practice, the seemingly strange starts to make sense. Of course, not everyone shares those beliefs, which is obvious in the fact that we have so many faith groups. But all of that is to say that learning about the “why” behind the “what” can at least create a sense of understanding.

  7. If we can’t generalize that faith based services are all “bad” then we can’t generalize that they are all “good” either.

    Just late last year a pregnant woman who was Indian and Hindu, found herself in an Irish Catholic hospital. She was refused a life saving abortion procedure, her midwife told her that the reason for this was that Ireland is “a Catholic country.” After the pregnant woman died, the midwife apologized, and even said she didn’t mean it in a “hurtful manner.”

    http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-04-12/uk/38491017_1_ann-maria-burke-hospital-staff-savita-halappanavar

    2010: An Arizona Bishop excommunicated a nun, and an entire hospital, for saving a woman’s life:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/21/nation/la-na-catholic-hospital-20101222

    Brazil, 2009, the leadership of the Catholic Church tried to stop a life saving abortion for a 9 year old Brazilain girl who had been raped. After they failed to stop the procedure they excommunicated everyone involved:

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1883598,00.html

    Enter “Irish orphanages” into Google some time, we needn’t get into it here.

    Are there noble and effective service activities with ties to faith? Yes (for instance, my wife received a top notch Catholic education). But, the more an organization is about faith, the less good I expect them to do for others, and the more faith I expect them to do to others.

  8. Kellie, regarding liberation vs. oppression: is there anything a faith group could do that should be considered oppressive? Do they have carte blanche?

  9. After reading all of the comments and the great article, it reminds me of trying to define an entire forest because of a single stand of trees in the forest. The truth is, the Administrative Power Base of the Catholic Church have done and still do same horrible things in the name of Power and blame it on their faith. On the other hand, the people of the faith, by and large tend to be good people who are kind and caring. Can we “brand” an entire faith on the actions of a small portion of them. Unfortunately for those of us who are affected by the decisions of that smaller portion our answer is yes. Maybe it shouldn’t be, maybe we should actively go out of our way to find more of the “good” people and not brush stroke everyone under that “brand.” But the truth is, the Catholic Church (as an administrative power base) actively sends power, money, influence, teachings and other forms of power usage to declare that everything I am is an immoral sin. After all, I am a Wiccan (read Witch hear), I am in a same sex partnership with a two spirited person, I support a woman’s right to birth control, health care and life saving procedures and I support same sex marriages. It is very hard to look past the “branding and advertising” that the church does on these topics. Just as it is hard for a Catholic or other Christian person to look past the “branding” the Churches use against people like me. I do try however, I do make friends with people of the Christian faith, in all walks of life and on their various denominations.

  10. Kelsey: It’s true. My Catholic friends are amazing. :)

    Others have included links to examples of situations where Catholic institutions behaved in ways that demonstrate why some of us might feel concerned about putting our lives and safety in their hands. Institutionalized Catholicism on the whole fails at working well in communities when it goes beyond teaching a religious law (and expecting adherents to abide by it to the best of their ability) and begins to eliminate individual choice and impose religious law. It’s especially problematic when it imposes that law on non-believers, or practitioners of other faiths.

    When I see things like this happen, I think about the characteristics I have that the Church objects to. While my Catholic friends are unfazed by my sexual orientation and gender identity — I’m a queer-identified transgender man — I know that institutionalized Church actively disapproves of who I am and how I live.

    If I am injured or sick, how do I know that a Catholic hospital will treat me with dignity and respect? Will my family be allowed to see me, even if that family includes a same-sex partner? If I require treatment that runs counter to moral teachings, will they help me, or will they stand by and let me die as they did with Savita Halappanavar?

    Having read the gospels, I fell confident that the example Christ set is not one of intolerance or oppression. I think most Christians would (or at least should!) agree that Christ would heal and accept me, no matter how differently I might live or believe, or how willing I am to follow that path. What I don’t feel confident in is how well the Church follows that example, and I think the links above are worrying examples of how it doesn’t. Does that make sense?

    And yes, I’m definitely thinking about how to write about branding and Pagan beliefs! We’ll see where inspiration takes me over the next couple of weeks.

  11. Kelsey Gillespy

    I apologize for my long hiatus, everyone! I’ve been out of town, but I do have some thoughts regarding your comments:

    Greg, you mentioned that if we can’t generalize all faith-based groups as being “bad”, then we can’t generalize that all faith-based groups are “good”. I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t think we can generalize anything when it comes to humanity and sociology. People simply don’t work that way – which is why stereotypes are dangerous. For that reason, I’m sure I could match each of your links with an article about authentic, unconditional service provided by a fatih-based organization. It probably all comes down to what we set our eyes to see. There’s going to be “good” and “bad” in everything. I think what is important is to be informed and aware of both sides and remain open and impartial in the whole group in the process. After all, if we set our eyes to see everything that is horrible about one group, we lose out on all of its goodness; on the other hand, if we set our eyes to see everything that is good, we become incredibly naive. Just like we cannot generalize that all atheist/Muslim/Jewish/what-have-you groups are always “good” or “bad” or all “so-and-so’s” are “this or that”. I remember a rule of thumb from true/false tests in school: whenever you see an “always” or a “never”, the answer is probably “false”. I think people are subject to the same rule of thumb: we cannot deliver on an always or never basis. We are all wired to fail. However, the God whom Christians believe and trust in is unfailing. So, just because you see some examples of people messing up doesn’t mean that our God and our God-based doctrine is flawed. It means we didn’t live up to the standard set by our God and our God-based doctrine. That’s what makes it easy to point out discrepancies – God is perfect and we are not. That sort of thing leads to instances like the ones in your articles.

    Ci, I see your point. I’m sure it is incredibly difficult (and scary, too) to imagine being in someone’s hands when you don’t know how they perceive you – and thus, how they will treat and take care of you. I am truly heartbroken that I cannot guarantee you’ll receive the utmost respect and love at a Catholic institution (per reasons mentioned in my comment to Greg). However, you are totally right about the gospels and the way Christ would love and accept you. As a follower of Christ, it is my mission to be as much like Christ as I possibly can be. And, like Jesus, I like you a ton! I always look forward to reading your posts/comments and hearing what you have to say!

    Lastly, I apologize, but my pregnant, cold-clouded brain cannot remember who posted about the power struggles within the Church. Whoever that was, I recently saw an article all about that. In fact, it seems as though you have the same perspective as our new Pope:

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-power-struggles-within-the-church-are-outside-jesus-vision/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    Have a great day, everyone!

  12. William R. Dickson

    Kelsey: You’re absolutely right that you can take just about any group, be it religious or otherwise, and find both good and bad in it, or at least the people who make it up. But doesn’t that make you wonder: if people in any given religious group, or non-religious group, are on average no better or worse than those in any other, then what does that imply about the efficacy of religion?

  13. Kelsey Gillespy

    What does it imply about the efficacy of religion to do what exactly? It seems as though your expectation of ‘religion’ is to transform people into perfection. I don’t know much about other world religions, but I would assume that no religion claims to do that. At least Christianity doesn’t. We don’t claim that we are perfect. In fact, we claim that we are broken. We also don’t claim that ‘religion’ will make us perfect; but we do believe that’s Christ’s perfection has died for and redeemed our imperfections (sins). That doesn’t mean we will never sin. It simply means that we desperately need him. So, something Christianity offers is not the guarantee that we ARE perfect, but that we have a perfect example whom we can try to emulate. So, when we inevitably fall short of that example, we know that we a) can keep our eyes fixed on the perfect example Christ left for us and b) trust that we are still loved despite our transgressions because that’s Jesus’s message.

  14. William R. Dickson

    Nobody’s talking about perfection, only a difference from the mean. We don’t judge, say, a new medication on whether or not it instantly cures an ailment; we judge it based on questions like: did people on the medicine tend to recover in a shorter time, and/or benefit from reduced symptoms while recovering?

    If people of wildly differing and contradictory religions, and of no religion at all, are more or less the same in terms of happiness, generosity, and other useful measures, then doesn’t that imply that these are simply qualities of people, and that religion doesn’t really factor into them?

  15. That’s just the thing, William. Studies have repeatedly shown that religious people are happier and more generous, so at least some people are learning these values through their religion. You and others keep treating faith as if it were some sort of created mythology imposed from without. Perhaps, instead, it’s a reaction to a deep-seated longing and need within humanity.

    You and others who have no need for religion may, in fact, be benefiting from humanity’s ages-long engagement with religion – in the same way that our society, for instance, has adopted a number of ideas and programs first championed by religious people – hospitals, universal public education, anti-slavery.

  16. Kellie Kotraba

    The efficacy of religion question is an interesting one, but it could be a much bigger conversation in and of itself! A lot of defining would have to happen, too – what religion are we talking about, or are we discussing religion in general? And what is the aim of religion? What is the “why” behind a religious belief system? And how can one even begin to measure the efficacy of any belief system – whether religious or not? Interesting question, and food for thought – and a possible article topic, if anyone wants to attempt to dive in!

  17. Branded…hmmm. I would imagine the brand of the Catholic faith and Christianity in general to be the wounds of the crucifixion. I decided to look up the etymology of Brand and this is what I found,

    brand (v.)
    c.1400, “to brand, cauterize; stigmatize,” originally of criminal marks or cauterized wounds, from brand (n.). As a means of marking property, 1580s; figuratively from c.1600, often in a bad sense, with the criminal marking in mind. Related: Branded; branding.
    brand (n.) Look up brand at Dictionary.com
    Old English brand, brond “fire, flame; firebrand, piece of burning wood, torch,” and (poetic) “sword,” from Proto-Germanic *brandaz (cf. Old Norse brandr, Old High German brant, Old Frisian brond “firebrand, blade of a sword,” German brand “fire”), from root *bran-/*bren- (see burn (v.)). Meaning “identifying mark made by a hot iron” (1550s) broadened by 1827 to “a particular make of goods.” Brand name is from 1922.

    In the words of St. Paul “”Henceforth, let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” and much like dear St. Francis I hope to also be branded with Christ, anything less would be to accept the generic.

  18. William R. Dickson

    Steve, I would hypothesize that what you’re seeing there is not the benefits of religious belief, but the benefits of organization. I suspect we won’t know the truth of that for many decades yet, as religious belief continues to decline and other ways of organizing to accomplish things continue to develop.

    Incidentally, I don’t view religious belief as mythology invented and imposed from without — I view it as mythology that emerged organically over time as primitive people attempted to explain the world around them before the development and refinement of the scientific method enabled them actually to test these explanations. I view religion from an organizational standpoint as a relic, an ossification of these beliefs, partly guided by opportunistic leaders who saw them as a way to exert control (and I don’t mean that in an entirely negative manner — this certainly played an important role in the early development of civilization).

  19. William, it’s not so much the accomplishing of things as it is the particular things being accomplished. Religious belief – and Christian religious belief in particular – was behind the abolition of slavery and the building of charitable hospitals, and at least in the US, universal public education. Those things developed from a particular point of view on human worth that didn’t just come about when a “critical mass” of people got together.

    Nice that you see at least some historic value in religion, although you might listen to yourself a bit more objectively if you think “opportunistic leaders…exert control” needn’t come across as negative.

    Yes, some religious beliefs may have been as much mythic (though in a grand Campbellian sense rather than simply “mythology”) as historic. But I get the sense you’re still not differentiating one religion from another, or theology from morality. You seem to just lump all religions and religious people into a common pile, hoping to sweep us toward the “dustbin of history.”

    And as I’ve said before, if you don’t need a religion, more power to you! Some of us, however, find religious belief and practice enlightening, self-improving, and meaningful – and I don’t mean “pie in the sky when we die, by and by.” If absolutely nothing else, in Jesus of Nazareth I find an ultimate model for authentic, compassionate human living.

  20. William R. Dickson

    You’re correct; I lump them all together. The myths themselves are all the products of the same process: pre-scientific people attempting to explain the world around them before developing the process by which to test and refine those explanations.

    I’m not generally a fan of Penn Jillette, but he wrote something that resonated pretty well:

    “If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”

    Sure, myths would be aggregated and appropriated and new paragons of virtue would be invented and put forth to try to guide human behavior. But they wouldn’t be the same myths, the same paragons, and the desires of those trying to guide human behavior would shape the qualities of these paragons. As Edward Gibbon wrote:

    “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.”

  21. Kelsey Gillespy

    Many people these days view religion and science as a complete dichotomy. It sounds like you hold those beliefs as well, William. But what if religion and science were not two opposite ends of a spectrum? What if instead of contradicting each other, they complemented one another?

  22. Greg Lammers

    Steve, I think it’s an overreach to give credit for something like the abolition of slavery to Christian ideals. Sure there were Christians and Christian leaders who were abolitionists. But slavery was supported, or tolerated, for centuries by many if not most Christian leaders and denominations. For example, the Southern Baptist Church, still one of the largest Protestant US denominations, was started specifically as the pro-slavery wing of American Baptists. They apologized for their past in the mid 1990s, after 150 odd years.

    I don’t know how much Christian ideals had to do with the formation of a public education system, but I do see many on the right, effectively using their Christianity in attempts to demonize and destroy public education.

    Faith traditions can be used to buttress any position one wants. Anyone who wants a quick leg up for just about any agenda can quote a sacred text or holy figure.

  23. Greg Lammers

    Kelsey, the scientific method is our most effective, successful way of learning about and manipulating our world. Religions regularly make claims that are testable by science, and the religious claims must stand or fall by continued observation and testing, not by faith, tradition, or authority.

    The only way to make religion complement science is to junk faith and gut religion.

  24. William R. Dickson

    Kelsey, I think Sean Carroll gets it right in this recent article:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/05/i_won_t_take_money_from_templeton_science_and_religion_can_t_be_reconciled.html

  25. William, you’re continuing to confuse “beliefs” – that is, theological concepts about a divinity, doctrines about its nature, etc. – with the daily practices of compassion, service, and peace-making that religion ideally promotes.

    And yes, believe me I know how imperfect the actualization of that has been throughout history. I would suggest that the same is true of whatever practices non-belief/skepticism desires to generate.

    My point is, it’s terribly difficult to have any sort of constructive conversation – even to the end of agreeing to disagree, agreeably – if you’re ignoring what I (a religious adherent) say religion is, in favor of your own rather truncated version.

    Greg, more than one author has recognized that liberal religion has been the instigator of much of the positive change our society now takes for granted. I’ve mentioned this in my articles on this site.

    If the abolition of slavery didn’t come from Christian ideals, where did it arise? The first anti-slavery pamphlet printed in the US came in 1700, from a minister of my tradition. Wilberforce in England came to the cause of abolition through his faith.

    Universal public education was also rooted in Christian teaching. The Sunday-school movement of the late 1700′s/early 1800′s was initially not about religious training but about literacy for poor apprentices and the like who were not able to afford schools-for-pay.

    And yes, as I mention to William above, I am more than familiar with the ways so-called Christians and Christian organizations have betrayed their most cherished ideals. Have atheists and skeptics been better, even perfect in service to theirs?

    Not only that, but like other humans, we people of faith have grown, developed, changed our minds as new information comes to light. We – at least some of us – have seen the evil of slavery, of homophobia, of war. That all of us haven’t come as far as some of us is not an indictment of Christianity per se, but of the human frailty and fallibility of some of its adherents.

    It continues to be frustrating when people use the worst examples of religion to describe and define it, while using the best examples of non-religion to describe and define that. It’s intellectually dishonest and disrespectful of those one is in dialogue with.

    And William, I’ve got a file full of clippings and articles that promote ways science and religion can be and are compatible.

  26. Kelsey Gillespy

    I don’t think anyone actually answered my question of “What if religion and science were complementary instead of contradictory?” Rather, it appears as though everyone simply reiterated their own opinion that they are dichotomous. I really do appreciate hearing others’ views and opinions. In fact, I think the multiple perspectives are exactly what make this site interesting. However, I think it’s crucial (especially in interfaith conversation) that everyone be open to at least thinking about the other person’s side, as difficult as it may be to do so. No matter what the discussion – be it politics, religion, or what-have-you – the one thing that puts everyone in a stalemate is when one or both parties are not truly open to considering life from the other side’s perspective. As we witnessed in the previous presidential election, things can go awry when that happens. Suddenly a civil discussion or disagreement can turn into “That person is dumb/wrong/naive/yada yada yada” because they don’t think the way I do. And then they shut their ears off and nothing productive comes from that conversation. I am by no means saying that anything awry has happened here! So please don’t take it that way! I think you all have been very respectful in sharing your own opinions! I simply want to point out that no progress can be made if both sides talk and neither listens.

    With that said, William, I read the article by Sean Carroll. Pardon my ignorance, but I had never heard of Sean Carroll or the Templeton Foundation. After doing a little research on both, however, I understand the position of both sides much better. Yet, I think his article exemplifies the exact point that I made in my previous paragraph. To me, it seems as though this Templeton Foundation truly is pro-science (even Carroll attests to that). They “encourage dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians” to make discoveries together. That sounds like a conversation where both sides are willing to listen to each other and work together, so I don’t understand why Carroll is so adamantly against it that he would try to persuade others not to contribute to the foundation. I can see how any atheist (or a seeming nonbeliever with a Harvard Ph.D in Astrology and Astrophysics) would be concerned if this group consisted solely of theologians who attempted to make scientific discoveries about the world. But if respectable, knowledgeable scientists are involved in the discussion, what makes the work and scientific findings of the group inadequate? It seems like they are truly trying to build a bridge between the two – and when is building bridges ever a bad thing? In my opinion, the bridge already exists between the two fields – science and theology do not need to be ‘reconciled’ because they have always supported each other. I think what muddies the water is humanity’s inaccurate interpretations or false beliefs about theology, science, or both. When someone misunderstands theology or science (or both), the two fields most definitely will appear dichotomous. But it sounds like this group is working together (which is a feat in and of itself) to figure things out. Maybe they have come up with an open, productive answer to the question: “What if religion and science are complementary instead of contradictory?”

    In regards to the scientific method – a Catholic priest invented that method. Thus, it’s evident that Christian and scientific thought can co-exist within one brain. Why, then, can it not co-exist in the world?

    In interesting timing, our very own Ariel Morrison recently interviewed the author of a book called “The Square Root of God”, which attempts to tackle this very issue. You can read her article at http://columbiafavs.com/culture/arts-and-media/where-faith-and-math-meet-qa-with-the-square-root-of-god-author-tim-carson

  27. Kris Katarian

    Kelsey, this is probably a minor point, but since you used it in your article and again in your comment: The scientific method was not “invented” by any one person. It evolved over centuries with the help of many scholars. It developed from thought to concept to practice with the help of many contributors such as Greek scholars Aristotle and Archimedes, Muslim mathematicians/astronomers al-Haytham and al-Biruni, and a host of others. Certainly Catholics contributed a great deal, with Franciscan priest Roger Bacon given much credit. We know of Copernicus and Galileo Galilei (who might be surprised that the same church who imprisoned him now respects him). Even Roger Bacon was thought to have been imprisoned at one time for heresy – the Catholic Church had a love-hate relationship with him. He was not allowed to publish any writings without the expressed consent of his superiors. Other contributors to the development of the scientific method include Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, John Locke, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and others.

    Since most of early Europe was Catholic, (because no other faith was tolerated), it stands to reason that people who contributed to science at that time happened to be Catholic. I think it is an important distinction to make, that science wasn’t advanced because of Catholicism.

    I’m not trying to bash the Catholic Church, even though it might sound like it. It is important, however, that the historical record be accurate as to how the scientific method, now used since the 19th century, came to be in its current form.

    In regard to the Big Bang Theory, Roman Catholic priest/physicist Georges Lemaitre is credited with the original proposal of an expanding universe. His contemporary Albert Einstein, who was basically an agnostic, said “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.”

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