I'm Catholic. This wasn't always the case. I grew up Catholic. Then I became a Unitarian-Universalist back in the 90s. Now I'm Catholic again. In the course of my spiritual journey, I have come to believe that belonging to a religion is nothing like belonging to a political party.
What does it mean "to belong" to something? Does it mean that you agree with everything that is associated with that "something" whatever it is? Let's say you call yourself a Democrat. You always vote Democratic, you go out and campaign for Democrats, and you give your hard-earned vote to Democrats. You go so far as only have sex with other Democrats. When someone asks you what party you belong to, you stand tall and say, "I belong to the Democratic Party!"
So what does that belonging mean? Does it mean that if Tim Kaine, chair of the Democratic National Party, tells you to jump, you'll ask how high? Does it mean that if he tells you to throw yourself off a cliff, you get down on your knees and thank him for this honor, and then with a running start you hurl yourself into the abyss?
If the Democrats nominate Joe Lieberman in 2012, will you still belong to the party?
Ronald Reagan once belong to the Democratic Party. Then he became a Republican. In explaining this, he said, "I didn't leave the party, the Democratic Party left me." In this sense, Reagan didn't belong to the concrete, material Democratic Party, but rather an idealized, one could almost say Platonic ideal of the Democratic Party. Somehow, the actual and the idealized parties separated. Ronnie probably felt that he still belonged to his imaginary Democratic Party, even when he was the Republican Party's standard bearer. But one wonders what kind of idealized Democratic Party felt that it was ok to still adhere to it yet call yourself a Republican. Such an idealized party has no loyalty requirements.
Now, let's say you're a Catholic. You believe in God the father, Jesus Christ his son, born of the Blessed Virgin, yadda, yadda, yadda. You think abortion is a sin, or at very least, very, very bad. But somewhere in your life, you decide that women should have the right to have abortions, sin or no, what with it being their body and all. You still consider yourself Catholic.
Then one day you read about some asshole priest or bishop saying that any politician who votes pro-choice should be denied communion. The asshole priest or bishop isn't in your parish or diocese, so you ignore it.
But then one day, that asshole priest is moved to your parish. Every fourth homily/sermon is about how much abortion sucks. You say, fuck this, I'm not going to church anymore. When someone asks you whether you belong to the Catholic Church, you shrug your shoulders and say, "I dunno."
Then you go to a Unitarian-Universalist church, and you don't hear anything that pisses you off. Some of it is quite inspirational, some of it is hippie-dippie bullshit. You ask to become a member. You sign a book. You belong to the church.
But then one day the minister you like so much up and leaves, and they replace her with some guy who's kind of ok, but also kind of a prick. He pisses off the people who run the church, and they ride him out on a rail. You didn't join this church to get involved in internecine squabbles, so you say, screw it and don't go to that church anymore. When someone asks you whether you belong to the Unitarian-Universalist church, you shrug your shoulders and say, "I dunno."
You have an emptiness that needs filling. Even though you know it's weird, you have an overwhelming need to go to church. You shop around, but discover that you're most comfortable with the Catholic church, the church you grew up in, the one that feels "right."
You discover that the Catholic church you go to hardly ever mentions abortion. Indeed the word "abortion" is never used, but only hinted at in semi-vague exhortations to "respect life from the moment of conception."
You find peace and serenity during mass. You find comfort in prayer. The emptiness is gone.
Then you read about how some asshole pope is rescinding the excommunications of an asshole bishop who thinks the holocaust is a myth. When someone asks you, "This bastard is exonerating a holocaust denier, and you're still a Catholic?" you say, "Can we change the subject?" Then that same person starts going on a rant about pedophile priests. You could talk about the tranquility you find going to mass, but that's weirdo talk, and this is hardly the time or place for it.
So you start talking about the weather.
I need God in my life. For whatever reason, I find that going to mass helps me be closer to God. It works for me. I hate a lot of what the Catholic Church stands for and what it is against. But so much of what I hate has nothing to do with mass.
The Catholic mass has two parts: Liturgy of the Word, where the bible is read, and Liturgy of the Body, which is about Holy Communion. There is no Liturgy of Why Abortion is Evil or Liturgy of Why Gay Sex Is Wrong. And no matter what the conservatives do, there never ever will be. Catholicism's snail-like pace for reform can sometimes work for liberals. Vatican II is a done deal. Conservatives can only nibble around the edges.
I am Catholic. I will always disagree with many, many things that the church does. My idealized, imaginary Catholic Church will always diverge from the real Catholic church on several fundamental issues. So be it. At the end of the day, my relationship with God is stronger when I'm a Catholic than when I'm not. That's why I'm Catholic.