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No True Catholic Scotsman

Andrew Sullivan posts a letter from someone who claims to be a Cultural Catholic.

Andrew doesn’t like the idea at all and proposes an acid test for being a Christian [a believer in the resurrection and the message of the gospels etc]. In a later post – in which a reader claims that a Catholic must believe everything or nothing. Andrew refines that to a belief in the creed. I presume (not being a Catholic myself) that Andrew is referring to the Nicene Creed.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father. By Whom all things were made.

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And He became flesh by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary: and was made man. He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried. And on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And of His kingdom there will be no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who together with the Father and Son is adored and glorified; and Who spoke through the Prophets. And one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. And I await the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the world to come.


It’s interesting that both Andrew and his correspondent reject the idea of a cultural catholic, but each sets the bar for Absolute Catholic at a different height. By his correspondent’s rules, Andrew would be excluded.

When I lived in New York, Joe Faglione once asked me how, since I am not a Christian, I could justify celebrating Christmas. My answer, after a period of reflection, was that Christianity is woven through every element of the culture in which I live. You cannot understand western civilization unless you understand Christianity. I recited The Lord’s Prayer everyday at school and spoke the Nicene Creed in church. I don’t remember that I ever believed them. Non credo!
In this regard, I agree with Andrew – if you don’t believe in the resurrection, you are not a Christian. But the trappings of Christianity – decorating the tree, singing Once in Royal David’s City, ashes to ashes, til death do us part, reciting the creed – are a part of who I am.

Culturally, I am a Christian even if, by Andrew’s test and intellectually, I am not Christian.


3 responses to No True Catholic Scotsman

Julio August 12, 2006

Interesting. A Cultural Catholic is certainly how I identify myself, especially in a country where catholicism is less popular than other alternatives.

When I was a little kid, I remember asking my mom for steak on that holy friday where you’re not supposed to eat meat (can’t remember when, I’m not that cultural :).

The simple fact that I had to rebel against stupid things like that, meant that it was part of me, part of my culture. I never rebelled against not eating pork for example.

Rob Heiser August 12, 2006

I don’t know if the changed capitalization of the word “catholic” was intentional, but I assume it was. In that sense, I think the idea of a “cultural catholic” is different from Andrew’s disregard for the idea of a “cultural Catholic”. Living with the trappings of “catholicism” is definitely an interwoven part of our culture. Furthermore, these trappings have been informed over time by popular culture or political whim outside of any official beliefs of the Christian religion, let alone the Catholic Church. On the other hand, “Catholic” is defined by the Nacine Creed and doesn’t allow room for a “Catholic-by-trappings”. I never thought I’d see the day where you used the gilt and political machinery around the church to identify yourself *as* a Christian. I fully expect at lunch on Monday to hear Dan declare himself a “cultural carnivore” because he lives within the trappings of the carnivore lifestyle.

Kevin August 12, 2006

Just to make it clear …

I very definitely did not grow up with the trappings of catholicism. Catholics were those odd people who lived at number 93. Catholics were the kids at St Peter’s Channel who we beat 9-0 when I got subbed at half-time because I scored two goals one of them from right by the corner flag (which Jonathon Swinney claimed was really a cross). Catholics were the ones who wouldn’t eat meat on Fridays (I know because they used to make jokes about it on telly).

I did not grow up as cultural catholic. Catholics are weirdos.

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