There is a big difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. And that difference is that Catholics believe that the Church defines the religion while Protestants believe that the Church comes directly from the Bible. It should come as no surprise that I side with the Catholics. The problem with depending upon what the Bible says is that everyone’s opinion about it is going to be different. And indeed, this is why we see Protestantism subdivided into a thousand parts.
Personally, when it comes to spiritual beliefs, I think that everyone who thinks about it seriously will end up with their own ideas. This isn’t good if you want to form a church, but if you want to find spiritual enlightenment, you need to go it alone. That is why I, a spiritual searcher, don’t associate with any organized religion and self-identify as an atheist. And I suppose that if you are a Protestant, you might be able to go your own way. But being a Catholic, you have to accept that the Church, with all its deep thinkers, knows what it is doing. That doesn’t mean you have follow them slavishly, but you can’t just accept whatever you find convenient.
That brings us to Paul Ryan. Now we know that Ryan is an a la carte kind of guy. This is, after all, the guy who simultaneously claimed to be a Catholic and a follower of atheist Ayn Rand. But when push came to shove during the 2012 presidential election, he threw Rand under the bus so he could keep his Christian bona fides, because that is still the basis of the Republican Party’s populist appeal. But this morning, he really lost all credibility on that count—at least as far as I’m concerned.
He was on George Stephanopolous saying that all the anti-capitalism talk from the Pope just comes from his naivete about what true capitalism is. Coming from Argentina, the Pope just doesn’t understand how much American style capitalism is the right way to help the poor. At least, that’s the case according to Paul Ryan. He said, “They have crony capitalism in Argentina, where you have exploitation. That is not the free market, that’s crony capitalism. We’re starting to see some crony capitalism here in America.”
(Let’s just take a moment to relish the idea that we are “starting to see some crony capitalism here in America.” As I’ve noted before, Ryan actually has some good rhetoric about exactly that. But now he’s claiming that we are starting to see some? Give me a break! He knows perfectly well that America is little but crony capitalism. So he’s just talking out his ass.)
Now I understand that no one really thinks that the Pope is infallible. But a Catholic treating the Pope as though he were some ignorant provincial? That strikes me as a bridge too far. Basically, he’s saying, “If only I could talk to the Pope, I’d straighten him out.” This is, tellingly, exactly what Chris Christie says about Bruce Springsteen. I understand the instinct. But it shows just how lowly Paul Ryan values his religious faith. It clearly doesn’t matter nearly as much as his faith in “free” markets.
George Stephanopolous pushed Ryan on whether he thought the Pope would endorse with his budget. Ryan was only willing to say that the Pope would not endorse it because popes don’t do that. Of course, that wasn’t what Stephanopolous was asking. It wasn’t a question of whether the Pope would officially endorse his budget. The question was whether the Pope would approve of it. And Ryan knows the Pope wouldn’t approve of it. But rather than go back to the “Pope is an idiot” argument, he went with a diversion. It’s all the same. He believes much more in his “free” market ideology than he does in his Catholicism.
But that’s generally what I find with American Christians, especially in the last few decades as they’ve become more political. They use their religion as a justification for whatever conservative policies they want to believe in. This is why their Christian beliefs lead them to think that a zygote is a citizen, gay people are not, and that the existing economic power elite are God given. As a person who cares about spiritual matters, I find it disgusting. And so should serious Christians.
 That is not sarcasm. I have great respect for Catholic thinking and scholarship. I think this is why we don’t get the more bizarre beliefs out of them that we see throughout the Protestant faiths.