The Church hates science. The Church hates women. The Church hates gay people.
Many Catholics are sick of hearing this refrain but unsure of how to answer it, especially in language that’s appealing to non-Christians. And a quick search for resources is more likely to yield Internet polemics, dated encyclopedia entries, and an intimidating stack of books than anything of use in a face-to-face argument.
Into this breach has stepped Christopher Kaczor, whose recent book The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction about Catholicism offers an accessible and impressively thorough (for its length) examination of the Church’s alleged hatred, bigotry, and backwardness.
In just over 150 pages, Kaczor takes on misconceptions related to the Church’s stand on science, happiness, women, contraception, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and priestly celibacy (this last item especially in connection with the sex abuse crisis).
The myth that the Church opposes scientific progress is risible to anyone familiar with the history of science; Kaczor cites the numerous Catholics who contributed to the development of science and the Vatican’s centuries-old and ongoing sponsorship of scientific research. The same chapter also covers the compatibility of faith and reason, the apparent (but false) conflict between evolution and the Bible, the possibility of miracles, the condemnation of Galileo, and opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.
Similarly strong and wide-ranging is his chapter on the Church’s treatment of women. In this area and others, Kaczor does not deny Catholics’ many failures and mistakes. But as he notes, the history of women’s conversions to the faith (typically before the men in their societies), the very active participation of women in parish life today, and “the time, resources, and money expended by the Catholic Church as an institution to improve the well-being of women” rather undermine the claim that the Church is inherently misogynistic.
Turning to the question of same-sex marriage, Kaczor draws heavily on the work of Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson, whose new book What Is Marriage? we’ve noted in this space. He refutes several oft-heard claims of same-sex marriage supporters (opposing same-sex marriage is like opposing interracial marriage, prohibiting same-sex marriage makes gay and lesbian people second-class citizens, all people have the right to marry whomever they choose, etc.) and notes that many arguments in favor of same-sex marriage would also apply to polygamy or self-marriage. This is familiar ground for readers of this blog, of course, but Kaczor’s concise presentation caused Peter Kreeft to call the same-sex marriage chapter “the clearest and completest logic [he had] ever read on the subject.”
The scope of The Seven Big Myths is limited by its brevity, of course. The chapter on contraception, in particular, begged for a deeper analysis of sex, marriage, and the inextricable connection between the unitive and procreative aspects of marital love, perhaps drawing on John Paul II’s theology of the body. But readers wanting to learn more can consult Kaczor’s footnotes (several of which point to articles in First Things).
Those unsympathetic to Catholicism may not change their minds after reading this book, but they will at least come away with a better understanding of why the Church teaches what it does—of the “yes” behind the controversial “no’s.”