In the London Review of Books, reader Anthony Buckley (“God and Human Behaviour”, Letters, LRB, 30 June 2011) wonders what “would constitute evidence” for or against the statement that “religious people…are more likely to behave in virtuous ways than non-religious people“.
That is an interesting question. And it can be easily answered in Christianity. The Gospel of Luke (chapter 5, verses 30-32) says:
“But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples,saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
It seems logical to conclude that, according to the Messiah Himself, ”people who have [Christian] religious convictions” will be “on the whole morally worse than people who lack them“.
A truly extraordinary interview to Jesuit Father James Schall on the Vatican’s Zenit, about his book “The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays“, that “explores the habits of being that allow one to use the tools of faith and reason to explore all things seen and unseen“.
Somehow, there’s lots of me in that interview. A few extracts follow:
ZENIT: What does it mean to have a mind that is Catholic? What are its key elements?
Father Schall: The mind that is Catholic is open to all sources of information, including what comes from Revelation [...] It is characteristic of the Catholic mind to insist that all that is knowable is available and considered by us in our reflections on reality.
[...] We think, in the end, that what is peculiar in Catholicism is not opposed to reason but rather constitutes a completion of it. It was Aristotle who warned us that the reason we do not accept the truth even when it is presented to us is because we do not really want to know it. Knowing it would force us to change our ways. If we do not want to change our ways, we will invent a “theory” whereby we can live without the truth. The “primary” source of the Catholic mind is reality itself, including the reality of revelation.
[...] Why do these and many other thinkers “embody a mind that is Catholic?” I think it is because they take everything into account. What is peculiar to Catholicism, I have always thought, is its refusal to leave anything out. In my short book, “The Regensburg Lecture,” I was constantly astonished at the enormous range of the mind of the present Holy Father. There is simply no mind in any university or public office that can match his. He is a humble man, in fact. It is embarrassing to the world, and often to Catholic “intellectuals,” to find that its most intelligent mind is on the Chair of Peter. I have always considered this papal intellectual profundity to be God’s little joke to the modern mind.
[...] Catholicism knows that all sorts and sources of knowledge flow into its mind, one of which — the primary one that makes it unique — is revelation. But it is a revelation, in its own terms, addressed to active reason. That too is the mind that is Catholic.
I have enough experience in debating with non-Catholics to be surprised not at all when people start dictating what makes and doesn’t make a Roman Catholic. Most of the time, especially avowed atheists state their illusion that a Roman Catholic is a person that follows the precepts of the Catholic Church, and agrees with anything and everything the Pope says.
Simply, the above is not true.
There is nobody, not even an Archbishop or a Pope, that can declare who is, and who is not a Roman Catholic. The RC Church is not a cultural association, or a political party. There is no membership card, no entry exam, and no expulsion procedure. At most, one can find oneself at one or the other degree of “excommunication”, that by itself is a confirmation that one is of course a Roman Catholic.
Simply, a Roman Catholic is whoever (sincerely…) believes to be a Roman Catholic. And the RC Church is the community of people who (sincerely…) believe to be Roman Catholics.
Of course it could be argued who is and who isn’t a good Roman Catholic. The Pope and most Cardinals will agree on that definition, but at the same time one or more among the Faithful may have a different view on the same topic. But at the end of the day, the struggle towards being a good person is just that: a struggle. We’re no angels.