The Eminent Reasonability of “Because the Church Says So”

Yesterday was a bad day. Mostly because my tired, stressed-out self accidentally deleted an important document and then spent hours I didn’t have rewriting it. Accordingly, I stayed clear of the com boxes to my little post on Catholic women and contraception. This morning, however, I took a peek and found one comment that seemed particularly deserving of some attention.

Not, mind you, because it was a tight, brilliant piece of reasoning. Rather because the assumptions underlying it—that anyone who agreed with the Church because she’s the Church is a half-formed nit-wit who hasn’t given two seconds of thought to the issue of contraception—were so head-poundingly wrong.

So, I started responding. Then I kept responding. And responding. And responding. Finally, I decided the post-length response should actually be a post. Which it now is.

Here, in brief, is the comment that irked me so:

“It is not so refreshing to know that there are people unwilling to examine why they think something to be true other than that ‘the church says so.’ … Please people use the brain God gave you to understand and not just parrot. You faith is meaningless if you do not understand either what or why YOU believe – not why the church believes. The mystical body of Christ exists not just to carry yesterdays message, but the Good News of Christ’s ongoing life and action in this world.”

Okay, first things first.

To start with, it behooves every person who scores high on IQ tests to remember that intelligence and the ability to use big theological words are not everything. Yes, we’re all called to have a ready reason for what we believe, but simple faith has its virtues too. Not everyone has the intellect of an Aquinas, but that doesn’t mean they can’t love God deeply, trust him wholly, and follow him completely, all the while understanding much more about his ways than those with titles before their name and letters after.

From the Chair: It's enough for me.

Second, “Because the Church says so” is indeed reason enough to believe something when you have thought long and hard about what the Church is, by what authority she teaches, and what duty you owe her.

Since Day One, the Church has professed to being Christ’s Bride, Christ’s Body, and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. She has likewise professed that she is the guardian of both Sacred Revelation and Sacred Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit in her interpretation of both and protected by him from teaching error on matters of faith and morals (See: Acts 15 and 1 Clement).

If you believe the Church is all that, if you believe she is what she claims to be, trusting her teachings—even when you struggle with them—is the only sensible response. If you don’t believe the Church is what she claims to be, not trusting her teachings is equally sensible. But calling yourself a Catholic is not.

I know that sounds harsh, and I wish there were a way to soften it. But softening that hard truth is one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in. So many people who go to Church on Sundays but disagree with the Church are not at fault for their lack of understanding. They want to be good Catholics. They think they are good Catholics. And they’re trying to be good Catholics in the best way they know how, in the way taught to them by priests, parents, and teachers.

But those priests, parents, and teachers failed them. Whether maliciously or mistakenly, they handed on a watered-down version of the Faith, not the fullness of it. And the results are millions of people who think they’re living the Catholic life when they’re actually living anything but. Seeing that, let alone working your way out of it, is a monumental task, so I have great trust that God will show mercy to people in that situation.

Which brings me to my final point.

The easy thing to do for anyone in any age is to drift with the culture. The hard thing to do is to swim against the tide. As this is not 1950, the easy thing for most of us to do would be to pop a pill, sleep around, and marry and divorce as often as we like. Those of us who aren’t doing that are making hard choices, choices that fly in the face of what the media, our neighbors, and, oftentimes, our families tell us to do. And you don’t make those kinds of choices without first having a long, hard think about them.

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of us who live the Church’s teachings on sex, love, and marriage have given great consideration to all sides and found the arguments of those opposed to Church teaching wanting. We have concluded, after much reflection and study, that their ideas have done nothing but contribute to the false understanding of marriage, love, family, and the human person wreaking havoc in the world today.

We have likewise concluded that what the Church has to say on the issues of sex and marriage does speak to the situation our culture finds itself in at the present moment, and it does offer a way forward that leads to peace, healing, wholeness, and life.

In part, that’s because human nature has not changed with the centuries. What was true of man in the days of Aquinas is true of man in the days of smart phones.

Even more fundamentally, the Church’s teachings speak to this present generation because she’s not just repeating the same old teachings in the same old way. Rather, she has found a new and powerful language with which to articulate her ancient understanding of spousal love. That language is called the theology of the body, and it is the reason why younger Catholics are more fully on-board with the Church’s teachings about contraception than their older counterparts. It’s a language we can understand and that resonates with our experience of love.

That experience tells us that the human body, when it gives itself in love to another person, speaks a language of self-gift. It says, “I give myself to you, forever and completely.” Contraception turns that statement into a lie. It warps the gift, denying the primary purpose of spousal love (the creation of new life) and preventing the two from fully giving themselves to each other. Each is holding something back—namely, their ability to create new life.

Contraception also opens the floodgates for innumerable problems, making it easier for men and women to be promiscuous, adulterous, and use the person they are supposed to be loving. It profoundly changes people’s understanding of the sexual act, allowing them to bifurcate sex from procreation and love from responsibility. It also blurs the image of Trinitarian life—a communion of total self-gift between life-giving Lovers—that spousal love is designed to be.

So very much about God, man, and creation is revealed by the union of male and female as man and wife. Contraception has truncated that revelation and is indeed one of the reasons our culture is in the state it’s in. Its acceptance, not to mention its advocacy by some Catholics, has created untold theological and societal problems, and Catholics who are living the Church’s teachings see that.

Those who think otherwise are free to do so. I just wish they would stop dismissing the opinions of everyone who disagrees with them as ignorant, unconsidered, and (my personal favorite) “hateful.” Such a dismissal may reassure them about their own decision to depart from Catholic orthodoxy, but it is as ineffective of an argument as it is untrue.

Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years,” where she dishes on the Church’s teachings about women, marriage, sex, work, beauty, suffering, and more.



  • Lauren B

    boom! bold and well-written, making me love Catholicism even more (if possible!)

  • Liz

    Brilliant response, Emily!!
    When people question the church i think of today’s mass reading:
    1 Corinthians 3:18-23

    Brothers and sisters:
    Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: God catches the wise in their own ruses, and again: The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

    • Rich

      Liz – nice quote, however there are two problems with your assumption. 1) This is not just meant for those who question the Church – as many a good saint has done throughout the ages – but also those that embrace all that they hear from the pulpit. 2) This quote is not anti-intelligent. We should all seek knowledge be it scientific or theological, and not try to make belief that knowledge and/or questioning is wrong. I am sure that is not really Emily message, I though I don’t really know.

  • Francis

    One aspect of this that I have not seen brought up here is that the institutional church has had some pretty obvious low points which cannot help but compromise its authority among the educated public. I am not only thinking of the sex abuse scandal, but these are the people who taught, for hundreds of years, that eating meat on a Friday could send a person to hell.

    • Emily Stimpson
      • joanne

        Thank you for that link. I knew why I personally wanted to observe Fridays in a particular way and I remembered what we did as children in obedience to the Church. But i never knew there had been a change until my aversion to meat on Fridays was noticed here and there and I was told “That’s old. Everyone eats meat on Fridays now”. It’s good to know the history of the Friday penance, the reason for the change re: meat, and the intention for the faithful to still do penance in some way on Fridays…It makes sense, of course.

    • Mara

      Great points Francis, but you’ll never get much agreement from any poster on this site. They have a very blind eye and a very short memory when it comes to such things.

  • Mara

    Emily, it seems to me that the real problem is that those who have researched for themselves the teachings of the Catholic Church and found those teachings inaccurate in one or more areas, are not stepping up and stating their findings. In doing so, they become a part of the problem rather than part of the solution. As an example, a majority of Catholics use contraceptives. You may claim that they have simply chosen an easier path and given in to the current culture. I say that they have determined that the use of contraceptives is a well thought out and ethical choice and an integral part of family planning and thus a very responsible act. Why are these people not speaking up and holding the Catholic Church accountable? They have researched for themselves and made a choice that their conscience tells them is correct and yet do not share that with others. This, in my opinion, is not the ethical thing to do. Should these people leave the Catholic Church? I believe the answer is no. I believe they should do everything they can to improve the Catholic Church. A true act of irresponsibility, in my opinion, is to do something “Because the Church Says So.” That act implies no thought process and a denial of one’s intellect and ability to reason. In my opinion, following through blind faith is at best, a lazy intellectual choice.

  • Rich

    You are not talking about faith, nor about a healthy relationship with God or with the Church. Trying to make believe that just because something may be difficult makes it more true is absurd. You are never asked to trust the church because they know better than you, but to examine the teachings in light of your education. It is not 1950, and you will not return to 1950. Nor was 1950 the height of the Church nor of society. Referring to others within the mystical body as part of a culture of death or trying to ridicule someone because they have paid attention in classes about theology, church history, sexuality, and logic does not advance wither your position, nor your basic argument. If you want to pretend that you are right, and above anyone’s critical analysis, they you actually are insulting to any and all of your readers. You have chosen to blog, not forced, and obviously called by men and not by God, to blog on this Website dedicated to things political, not really moral, and having nothing to do with true Church Teaching. But if you are more comforted by those who only complement you for saying something that they already have stored in their minds, go ahead, and treat them as if they are the unthinking hordes. They will rally to your side, and without any progress in human communication, you will live in a fantasy that says you are right, because those who support this website (Catholic in Name only, and without any approval of any of the Bishops – and without any support of any Catholic Theologians) they also support you. You are trying to say to the foot – I do not need you. That is not the way of the Church, nor they way of Christ. Just because you may not understand something is no reason to try and defame it. You have moved one step closer to being more like the men who blog on this site, mean spirited and more political operative than a Christian blogger. Although there is no journalistic standard for truth in a blog, there is a higher standard for truth in thing Catholic. Please check deeper before you try to “teach” people how and what they should believe within the Church. It is the Lord that you will have to answer to, not a blog audience. You need to be persuasive still must be rooted in charity, and not a false absolutism. It is obvious that you reacted instead of reflected, and ranted instead of responded. I don’t know if you were more angry or embarrassed, but to reply more like Rush than like Christ is not helpful to you, your spiritual life, or your readers. You owe them more, and you owe yourself more as a true woman of faith. You are called to continual renewal which means to continually repent from the arrogance of knowing to the humility of discussing. Pray on this before you write again. You will find God’s truth in your heart if you leave it open. Otherwise you can continue to misuse your talents for personal and political gain alone. God’s spirit living within us does not divide. As for theological terms – I trust that you are intelligent, and trust that you are faithful. I trust that you understand even if you want to insult rather than reflect.

    • Emily Stimpson

      Oh, Rich, I don’t think there was anything in the least mean-spirited about my post. But you do tempt me. You do tempt me.

      • Shawn

        Emily, there is nothing that you posted that was mean-spirited. The fact is the truth hurts people that are unwilling to hear it. This is clearly shown in the Gospels as the pharisees and scribes were unwilling to listen to what Jesus had to teach.

        • Rich

          Shawn – you may have missed the whole point that Jesus was trying to make with the Parables and his discussion with the Pharisees. I will trust that you will go back and reread, as the message is very important.

      • Mary

        He just doesn’t want to hear Truth. Plain and simple. Love this post, thank you so much!

    • Francis

      Honestly, I never considered contraception to be part of a “culture of death” mentality. War, capital punishment, abortion, injustice – yes, those are the culture of death. Regulating the size of a family through contraceptives, not so much. There are reasons to refrain from using contraception, but they are rooted in our relationship to the Creator. All of the supposed “health” issues are secondary.

  • Hector

    “The truth is, the overwhelming majority of us who live the Church’s teachings on sex, love, and marriage have given great consideration to all sides and found the arguments of those opposed to Church teaching wanting. We have concluded, after much reflection and study, that their ideas have done nothing but contribute to the false understanding of marriage, love, family, and the human person wreaking havoc in the world today.”

    Amen to that Emily coming from a Catholic revert. I wish those who disagreed w/ the Church’s teaching on this issue actually reflect on it. Most people that do just glance at the Church’s “rule” (if even that) and dismiss it as ridiculous. Once you analyze it you realize (from a male’s standpoint) that you’re objectifying women, encouraging their enslavement to a toxic pill, exposing them to unnecessary health risks, turning the actual “means” (the sexual act) into the “end” instead of the real “end” (the chance for new life); then you realize that contemporary views on contraceptive is not just morally wrong but unhealthy physically, emotionally, and psychologically for women and yes men!

    It would be nice to here more news outlets dare report on the dangers of contraceptive from all angles, but I know that’s like asking for peace in the Middle East. Just keep reporting on this topic and hopefully more souls can read this and someone who may disagree may someday conform to the Church’s teaching on sexuality by the grace of God!



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