As I've gotten older my religious views have changed a good bit. As a young man I enjoyed religious "debate". It wasn't really debate or particularly religious, it was more arguing in an attempt to make some else look bad. What I engaged in wasn't even "Christian" in any sense of the word. It was doctrinal one-up-man-ship with a bible.
In my defense, I thought that people went to the church they did, because they had studied the doctrines and articles of that faith and fully embraced them on an intellectual basis. It was only latter in my life that I came to the realization that most people go whatever church they do, because of totally different reasons. They give almost no thought at all as to what the core "belief system" is.
This "evolution" (if I can use that word) in my thinking has allowed me to separate my perception of people form the perception of their church. In some cases this has been for the better (Catholics and Calvinists) in some cases for the worse (Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses).
The Roman Catholic Church was for me, an easy target. Face it, the reformation movement has been compiling source material against Catholics for about 500 years. Catholics were easy pickings when it came to taking pot shots. Unfortunately, it was hard to make headway with them. I think this was because of: 1. They had no idea what the church believed and 2. it didn't matter anyway. There is a third reason. In high school most of my drinking buddies were Catholic. I was wise enough not to risk loosing my source of underage booze by pressing too hard in a debate. You might say I was as vulnerable morally as they were doctrinally.
It was back in 1980 something when I was having one of these little talks with a Catholic acquaintance of mine that a rather good counter point was made, one that has stuck with me ever since. I don't remember the exact words but the point was that the Catholic church taught and fought for the right to life, from natural birth to natural death. My church didn't teach much on those topics and I was at a lose for a come back.
As much as one can mock (and I'm guilty of it) the pope on condoms etc. I have to admit that I've come to accept the basic premise of the Catholic position on human life, personhood and public policy on these matters. In fact I respect and even embrace the traditional Catholic position on this subject more than I do that of my own church.
That's why I was taken back this last week when I was reading Pat Buchanan's article titled "Papal Neutrality in the Culture War". If Mr. Buchanan is right and the Pope is really leading the Catholic church in the direction that it appears, then things are in a real mess. It was the Catholics that spurred the protestants forward on the topics of traditional marriage, abortion and euthanasia, not the other way around. If the RCC is retreating form the culture war, they soon will have nothing left to offer, except a place to go on Christmas and Easter where people can feel nostalgic about the past.
That would be a real shame.