Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What the heck is so bad about "rules" anyway?

I've never understood why people routinely bash the Catholic Church for having "rules," but it's a classic complaint. 

Recently, I read yet another anti-Catholic comment on a blog, and I thought I would address the main points here. I have edited the original text for clarity and grammar, but it's mostly intact. The commenter's words are in red italics:

I don't want to overstep my bounds here...

(She is about to overstep her bounds here.)

...but I just went through and read all the comments on this post and I have to say, I don’t agree with many of them. 

(Some Catholic commenters had defended the Church's teaching on the immorality of in vitro fertilization.)

I’m not a religious person in the sense that I do not subscribe to any organized religion. 

This line is one of the most common around: "I don't believe in organized religion." I heard a commentator on TV recently make a good observation: Is disorganized prayer somehow more desirable than organized prayer? As for me, I prefer order whenever I can find it, in my home, in my town, in my government and yes, in my religion.

One of the reasons for that is I don’t believe in all the “rules” they make for their followers. 

Who are "they" and what are the "rules"? I wouldn't believe in some random people making random rules, either. However, in the Catholic faith, we believe that truth has its origin in God. If the Catholic Church were just making up arbitrary "rules" willy-nilly, with no basis in reason or objective truth, then there would be no Catholics. I know I'd be gone in a heartbeat.

Many "rules" seem so close-minded and unfair. 

They may "seem" that way to you, but I would bet my last dollar that you haven't studied the reason and meaning behind the "rules". As a random example: If one had no understanding of the beauty of marriage or of the catastrophic damage that results from adultery, one might think it was "close-minded and unfair" that a person can't have occasional sex with the cute man down the street.

I was raised a Catholic... 

Forgive me, but that is usually the signal that someone has no clue what the Church teaches or why, and that some very strong but misguided opinions will soon follow. 

...and even got confirmed (though I didn’t want to). 

Your parish did you a disservice. No one should be confirmed if he or she objects to the sacrament.

I know that the Catholic Church is against IVF, and I have talked with my grandmother (who is VERY Catholic) about it at length. The bottom line is that I just don’t understand how an institution that is supposed to be created in love can deny people a chance at something they so desperately want. 

If you talked about it at length, and yet you still frame the debate as people being "denied a chance at something they so desperately want," then either your grandma didn't have good resources to give you, or you have missed the point. Because "denying desperate people what they want" is not what the Church is about. You wouldn't claim that the Church's teachings against stealing or lying or adultery are simply there to "deny people what they desperately want," would you? Perhaps there are deeper truths that you are missing.

It just seems to arbitrary to me. You can use drugs but not this procedure? What is that? 

"That" is a consistent moral ethic. One may use medication or surgery to restore fertility (i.e., restore bodily health) so that a child may be conceived naturally. But one may not create a child outside of the marital embrace. That's a very clear line. Not arbitrary in the least. 

I feel like the Catholic church is full of discrepancies like that and it makes it difficult for me to take any of their “rules” seriously.

You may "feel" like that, but you need to study more if you are truly interested. The "discrepancies" that you "feel" exist are simply your own misunderstandings based on extremely limited knowledge. I used to misunderstand the Church's teachings, too, and then I set out to learn why the Church teaches what she does. It is the lack of discrepancies in Church teaching, i.e., the breathtaking consistency of it, which convinced me to remain Catholic when I was ready to jump ship.

I’m not trying to be judgmental here, though I’m sure it sounds that way. 

Actually, to me it sounds more like ignorance than judgmentalism.

I don’t presume to say religious people shouldn’t be religious or shouldn’t follow the “rules” of their religion. 

Thank you. (By the way, I'm not sure why you keep putting "rules" in quotes? Do you have something against rules in general? Can you imagine a family, a community, or a nation without rules? I don't think anyone would want to live there.)

But I do think religion should be about spirituality, not a huge bureaucracy that creates endless rules to follow, especially when those rules speak down to some of its followers and keep others from feeling accepted or achieving happiness.

The Catholic religion is based in reason and truth. It has ritual and structure and focus. It is not some fluffy, feel-good, nebulous "spirituality" designed to make us feel giddy. Now, don't get me wrong: Catholicism certainly does have spirituality. In fact, it's the most mind-blowing, transcendent spirituality of any religion I can think of, and you can read the works of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, or any of the great Catholic mystics to see what that looks like. I think you'd like it. 

I guess what I want to say is that I hope a person's reasons for not wanting to do IVF are her own, and not something that's forced on her by someone else. 

The Church proposes, never imposes. Every soul is gifted by God with free will. It is sacrosanct, and neither God nor His Church will touch it. God forces no one to love Him or do His will, and the Church forces no one to follow her teachings.

If you believe in someone else’s reasons for not doing IVF then that is one thing, but if you feel beholden to an institution and that is why you’re not doing it, even though you want to, well that is a different situation entirely. I hope you can find your own way to your children and feel good about the path you chose.

Can you think of a situation in which what we "want" to do is not what we should do? And, is it possible that an individual could be wrong about something? And could a 2,000-year-old "institution" possibly (maybe even probably) have some wisdom to impart?

I, for one, don't feel "beholden" to the Church. I feel grateful for her clarity, her guidance and the consistency of her teachings, whether in season or out. And yes, I feel grateful for her correction. I love that Church teaching is based in truth and the dignity of the human person. I love that she speaks the truth in love, even when that truth is wildly unpopular and even hated, and when she is the lone voice in a culture which says that anything goes as long as you "want" it desperately enough.

Rules? If they are based in truth and love, then rules are freedom.

Again with my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton:

"The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."

"[When the convert] has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger inside than it is outside."


  1. Beautifully written, Leila! And so true. Even I find myself chafing at times at the "rules" (there I go with the quotation marks...), but always find that it's not the rules that are bothersome, but my own sinful nature that desires something that separates me from God.

  2. If I had the authority to do so... I'd present you with a bubble award and a bar of soap for this post! I LOVE IT!

  3. Great post. Were there moments during the most painful IF times that I thought about how things might be "easier" or "guaranteed" if things like IUI and IVF were acceptable? Sure. But I also recognized in those moments, that it was my own weakness and sinfulness talking. That the Church was right, and I understood why the teaching was the way it was. Even though my feelings didn't match what I understood intellectually, my feelings didn't get to win. I also knew that my feelings wouldn't always "feel" the same way. In those moments, my obedience became my prayer.

    p.s. please don't make me a post topic and dissect my use of quotations in this comment ;-)

  4. Great post. I just had a conversation with DH yesterday about rules and his objection to them. I asked him if playing a card game would be much fun if everyone got to make up their own rules. Of course not, it would be awful. Living within a framework of rules is LIBERATING, and makes life more fun to fully embrace.

  5. I'm so glad you addressed that comment. I love your play by play. :) I was saddened to read that comment- but felt the Catholic girls did a beuatiful job of challenging the Truth of the matter in Love.

    Lately I've started recommending something. For all those who struggle with the Church's teaching on IVF or homosexuality, I say "Start with the teaching on contraception." Of course they're all woven together b/c of the Church's consistent approach to everything, but understanding the contraception teaching is HUGE and englightening.

    I know it's challenging to understand how RULES (or should I say, "rules"?) actually set us free, but it's true! Sin enslaves us; it chains us down and takes over our soul. Christ's rules- similar to our parents' or teachers's rules- are for our good. If we follow them in practice AND SPIRIT, we will discover that we are truly free.

    Great post, Leila. (AS always!)

  6. Leila, I want you to run for President. Or be my adopted big sister. One or the other. You pick. :)

    I often think of it like this:
    Say a mother has a rule for her child--do not touch the hot stove. Why did the mother create this rule? Because she is a tyrannical, power-hungry dictator? No! Because she, unlike the child, knows that touching the hot stove will lead to injury and pain. She doesn't want injury and pain for her child, she wants joy. Burning your hand on a hot stove is not joyful, therefore, she creates this rule to protect her child from pain.

    God is like that for us. There are things we don't know, or don't realize, will cause pain. But God, being God, knows. He doesn't say "do not commit adultery" because He doesn't want us to have any fun, or because He's trying to selfishly deprive us. He says this because He knows the great joy we can experience in a happy, holy, monogamous, committed marriage, and He wants us to experience that joy! And because He knows that adultery (and almost always does) cause severe emotional and sometimes physical pain, and He doesn't want that for us. (I use that commandment as an example but you could use any rule there).

    The problem comes in when we think we know better than God--we can't see any immediate consequences so we assume there are none, and that leads us to conclude that the rules are unfair and unjust, when in fact (as you stated) it's only our own ignorance that's leading us to this viewpoint.

    Well, I don't know about you, but the older I get, the more I realized how often I'm wrong and how little I know, so while others may choose to buck the "rules", I'll instead choose to act on the advice of someone much wiser than I--GOD! :)

  7. This was said almost word for word to me recently regarding living together before marraige:

    "I guess what I want to say is that I hope a person's reasons for not wanting to do IVF are her own, and not something that's forced on her by someone else."

    To me this worship of the self or mind... as in, I create my own reality. I should have to answer to no one. I tried to explain to the person that for Catholics doing what God wants is always consistent with what is best for us. It's like when a parent asks you to do something that is best for you. Do you always want to do it? No. But that doesn't change the fact that what is being asked is what is best for you. To love God (and each other) in truth is to love yourself (it's just loving yourself minus the narcissism).

  8. Thank you. I read this comment you are referring to and had so many thoughts about it! You very eloquently and factual state everything I was thinking. In the midst of my infertility so many times I thought, well, if IUI or IVF end with us having a baby then maybe it would be worth it to turn a blind eye to the Church's teaching. Thank God for my husband in that he helped me (even when he didn't think he was) see the light! He kept wanting to put off our RE appointments and I always agreed and the conversation always turned back to the Church's teaching. How amazing to see God at work. My husband isn't the most faithful and has many questions about our religion. It's amazing that through my lack of faith he was able to be strong for both of us rather than falling off the path. He always said "we are going to either be ALL Catholic or not at all"...thank God I didn't send him away from the Church with my selfish desire to turn a blind eye. I love the analogies above using rules in our daily life. It's so true...the rules keep us safe, happy, and healthy. Thank you Jesus for your rules!

    And thank you Leila for your wisdom!

  9. Great post. The sad part I find about people and IVF is that they really "dont' understand WHY it is wrong". My MIL who is not Catholic asked me a few months ago about IVF and when I explained to her about the unborn babies created and destroyed, she was aghast with horror. So sad. I wish we could educate them more....

  10. This is a great post. I love the quotes from Chesterton. Here is one more that somewhat relates to rules.

    "We do not really need a religion that is right where we are right. What we need is a religion that is right where we are wrong."

    This is from his book: The Catholic Church and Conversion.

  11. Awesome, Awesome, Awesome. :) No other words come to mind! What blog was this on? I'm off to go blog roll hunting!

  12. Wonderful response. I hope the person who commented on that other blog gets to read this post.

    Unfortunately my mother is one of the spiritual rather than religious people who does not believe in organized religion. She was also raised Catholic, but apparently was not very well Catechized (probably because it was the 1960s & 70s). I am currently trying to understand what exactly made her leave the church or any other religion - she has still not gotten back to me on this though. If you have any recommendations on how to approach this topic with her I would love to hear it! :)

  13. LOVE this post! I can't say that strongly enough!

    I have always loved that the Church spells it out for us. The Church is supremely logical and rational in EVERY matter. If we honestly search things out with a logical and rational mindset-we will always come to the same conclusion as the Church.

    Just as you said-if you agree with the reasons behind the "rules" (because you've studied Church teaching) then they're not rules. It's total, complete, beautiful freedom!

  14. You are my hero.

    I too, like many other commenters, read this original comment and had SO MUCH I wanted to say. But I really didn't want to engage in a debate via blog with someone who is so misguided already. I love how you point out that when you hear that phrase "I was raised Catholic..." it usually means some very ignorant, misguided comments about the Church and her teachings is about to follow. So true.

    I mean, really, would ANYONE... ANYONE ever say something like this to a faithful member of any other religion??? The horror!! Imagine saying to an Orthodox Jew, "I hope your reasons for not wanting to serve pork at your wedding are your own, and not because of some institution and its "rules" that you feel you are a slave to." C'mon, people!!

    And I am SO OVER people bashing Catholics for simply stating our beliefs. Not imposing them, stating them. But of course, somehow WE end up walking away the "judgemental" ones??

    Can you tell that whole conversation made me a bit heated? Lol!

  15. I already gave my husband an earful after reading this comment the other day!

    In my opinion, people don't like rules because our society has told us we have a right to comfort and happiness. And those who are "spiritual" often translate that to mean if they are comfortable and happy then God must condone their behavior. Because, after all, wouldn't God want us to be happy???

    Rules (in this case Church teaching) often bring them out of that comfort zone, delay an instant gratification, or cause them to experience some suffering (oh the horror!). A pregnancy may take longer or may never happen. They might have to put aside pride and work really hard on their marriage. Or they might have to abstain rather than use birth control. Or have more than two kids.

    And what many people don't realize is that in the long run, they'd actually be MUCH more joyful taking this route (to put it mildly, especially when considering eternity!). Our Church is so wise and I'm forever thankful my eyes have been opened to this.

    By the way, you should post about the myth that if something like IVF works, then that's God's way of condoning it. This belief is SO prevalent, and not just to do with IVF. I think people know things are wrong and are looking for any way to convince themselves otherwise.

  16. I have conversations on this topic SOOOO OFTEN!!!
    I use the parents with kids "rules scenario" similar to what was stated above, and I also talk about guardrails on hilly, scary roads. They're there to protect us from our own mistakes or "mis-turns," just like God is.
    And, ditto to the third sentence "Patiently Waiting" wrote above...I was going to say the same thing --- you put my thoughts into more beautiful words than I could ever have done. I'm so glad friends led me to this blog...I think I'll print this page out and use it next time this topic (or something similar) comes up in conversation!!!

  17. Unlike most of you, I never thought the blogger was a devout/practicing Catholic. You saw what you wanted to see. She doesn't have any Catholic links, and she hadn't mentioned religion at all from what I'd read.

    I was thrilled to see the poster of the comment that you picked apart (and some other posters) support the blogger in her consideration of IVF. The blogger's in a miserable situation, especially so if you've read her last post. You might not agree with whatever her final decision is, but if it is indeed ART-related, I hope you have the decency to withhold your opinions. I'm sure, after that post, she knows exactly where you all stand.

  18. Calpurnia, the blogger who wrote the original post comments on this blog regularly, and we know that she is a part of this Catholic blogging community even though her blog doesn't mention it.
    The commenters who shared their thoughts against IVF are or have been struggling with infertility themselves, and they have each chosen to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding their fertility. They are loving this blogger by telling her the truth, and even though our society seems to think that we should support someone in whatever makes them feel good, it isn't always the right answer.

  19. Thank you, Megan!

    Calpurnia, all the Catholic bloggers love the blogger in question. She has often commented here in the Bubble, and she knows a heck of a lot about the Catholic Faith of her childhood, even winning an "award" (more than one, I believe) in my Doctrinal Quiz Show.

    She and I are in contact outside of this blog. The Catholic bloggers love her, and she knows that. She is in no way anti-Catholic and has a great deal of respect for the Church.

    Thank you for caring about her; I know your intentions are good. But I would love to hear your comments on the actual substance of what I wrote.

  20. Calpurna-We IF's have all been in miserable situations, doesn't mean we take control into our own hands and create life in a pietri dish because godforbid one of us should go without....Please, cop out. And this is not directed at the poster it's directed at the commenter.

    When we search out the resurrection before the cross we loose compassion....Look around at our culture of death. That is what happens when one gets their will.

    Children are a gift of marriage. They are not a right or a posession to be had....

    So there is really no pity when it comes to taking matters into your own hands because you are in a miserable situation. That does not justify the act.

    And the poster actually knows where we stand before she even posted. We have been blog friends for over a year now....So come on give me a break!

    Is this considered a slap on the hand from you Capurna? I think before you go spouting off at the mouth you might want to know the relationships that have been formed before you, my dear, assume.

  21. Stop to think for a moment about what the baby would 'want'...and also think about what's best for him/her. As a parent, one must think about the needs of the child. Would you have liked to have been created in a petri dish? Or been created by the love of your two parents coming together with God?
    (It's not always the scenario that occurs, of course-- but it IS a scenario that could happen in the situation we're referring to, and I could really go on for hours here, so please just let me "generalize" to make my point...and if you need to, refer back to Bubble's post on generalizing)...
    Truly ponder for a moment about whether or not you would have liked to be created in a petri dish.

  22. calpurnia - I actually wasn't sure if the commenter was Catholic or not. But the comments made are often made by those who are not Catholic. Either way, I think Leila did a good job articulating the Catholic perspective on rules regardless of who makes the comments.

    Mary - I think what also is difficult for me in regards to methods like IVF is um, how to put this delicately... the collection of the father's genetic material. Everything from anonymous sperm donors where the mother flips through a book of profiles and pays according to how attractive a profile may look to having your husband take a magazine into a room. These methods are clearly inviting a third party the process, and studies are now showing (not surprising to me) that children find the 3rd party situation distressing.

  23. Sarah, great point about the collection, et al. I have seen pictures of the "room" that the man is sent to to give his "material" and it is vile to say the least. It actually made my stomach turn. Not compatible with Christian virtue.

    Also, just to be clear, calpurnia was speaking of the blogger in question, not the commenter.

  24. Ahh I see... the original blogger where the comments showed up. I was wondering... the commenter does mention being raised Catholic too so I was just scratching my head there lol. I haven't seen the blog where the comments originated.

  25. I just found my way to your blog, but I wanted to add in that I completely agree with you—I've tried explaining why plain, relativistic "spirituality" isn't very sustainable, but I find it hard to come up with very compelling reasons just why it's not "what the world needs right now"...sadly, one reason I don't think organized religion isn't compelling to a lot of people is because it's not entertaining enough, or requires too much study to understand clearly. As you said, what may look like "arbitrary rules" really point to a consistent moral ethic when examined closer.

    And ugh to what I'm getting from the ending! "I'm not trying to be judgmental, but your 'rules' are totally bogus!"
    I wonder what this person to whom you're responding would like Catholicism to look like.

    Anyway, great post.

  26. Crystal, great comment, interesting blog!! My husband is a Jewish convert. :)

  27. Ah, that's interesting!
    And thank you. :)

    (I wonder why my real name isn't showing up...it did on preview...)

  28. I converted and it wasn't the rules that I loved but the fact that the reasons for having that order in your life were explained. You don't look at it like rules when you understand the reasons. Seven years later, I LIKE the rules. They work. I've never felt freer.

  29. Anonymous, if I could beseech you to give yourself a name, please. It is hard to have a discussion with a nameless, faceless one.

    I am not sure what your point is? You don't like the name of my silly little blog? I am sorry about that. I think it's a cute name, and I like bubbles. They are fun and clear and bright and lovely. But never mind the name. Have you read this blog for long? I am thinking not. One thing it is not is exclusive. We talk to everyone here. And that is true of Catholics in the "real world", too.

    I wouldn't say that Jesus looked at all like a lefty! He looked perfectly virtuous. That is not a "lefty" or a "righty" attribute. He founded His Church, and His Church teaches, not "left" or the "right" but the True, Good and Beautiful. Have you ever read Church teachings (the Bible being the first of those, but also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings of the early Fathers, the lives and writings of the saints)? I'm not sure where you are coming from (help me out by telling me?), but I don't think you have addressed anything concrete here, or actually spoken to anything I've actually written here.

    So, help me out. And as I've said, please give yourself a name.


  30. Whoops, that last comment was supposed to go on another post! I have just placed it there, on the "Did Jesus Die and Rise" post. Sorry!

  31. I have always been thankful for rules. I feel safer with rules. I know where my boundaries are and I know boundaries will keep others from hurting me. I mean this all in the spiritual, physical and mental sense. (Personally, I hate to refer to this as "rules" as we all inwardly chafe at the thought of rules--thinking of them as restrictions--I prefer to say "teachings" as that is all it is. But for the sake of continuity, I'll continue to use the word "rules.)

    I talk about rules often because of course, my children hate them, just like I did as a child. I found rules to be restricting and suffocating; I *thought* they didn't allow me freedom. Now I realize that all those in jail who practiced "freedom" in actions and choice have ironically lost it and sit behind the physical barrio of bars.

    When I did practice "freedom" with no rules, I was miserable. My life became disordered; I became depressed and suicidal. I am not saying that those who don't practice a spiritual life are automatically this way; but I knew before a life of complete happiness where the rules of the Church helped me to live in a way that my happiness was as close as it could be to heaven. I'm not saying I never knew suffering because I did, but the sufferings was from those who afflicted me with their dislike/hate/indifference of the Church and hated me too. My suffering was never caused by rules.

    There is always a deeper reason for rules, and most of them are for our own good. We may get grumpy when we see "No swimming" signs but we know they are put there to save us for drowning. We may get mad at cops for pulling us over, but it's for our own safety and the safety of others. The Church goes even deeper because it's for our souls. My kids get grumpy at all the rules the school imposes on them, but when I explain to them the deeper reason for the rules (their safety and the safety of others), they are actually touched to know that the school truly cares for them.

    If anyone really sees the Catholic Church full of "rules and restrictions", then they should either not be Catholic or better yet, get a book of Catechism, or make an apt with a priest, or even a good practicing Catholic and ask for the reason for all these rules. Rather than make presumption on what you don't understand, you should play by the "rules" and first learn about what you don't know. After all, that is only fair. :-)


PLEASE, when commenting, do not hit "reply" (which is the thread option). Instead, please put your comment at the bottom of the others.

To ensure that you don't miss any comments, click the "subscribe by email" link, above. If you do not subscribe and a post exceeds 200 comments, you must hit "load more" to get to the rest.