by Edd Doerr
Labels, religious or otherwise, can lead to misperceptions, confusion, stereotyping, overgeneralizing, unfairness, muddled thinking, and blockages to cooperation and social justice advances. Let's look at just one example, the question of Catholics and moral issues. Many people are under the impression that Catholics blindly follow official church teaching. But it just is not so.
Every six years beginning in 1987 the liberal National Catholic Reporter has sponsored a study of Catholic beliefs and practices, "Trends in Sources of Moral Authority". The poll question was this: "Who should have the final say about what is right or wrong? Church leaders? Individuals? Or both?" on the following five subjects: divorce and remarriage, abortion, sex outside marriage, homosexuality, and contraception. (Data from the 12/20/13 issue of NCR)
In 1987 on all five questions an average of 26% said the church. By 2011 the average had dropped to 16.2%. As for individuals having the final say, here are the figures from 1987 and 2011 on these specific issues: divorce and remarriage, 31% to 47%; abortion, 45% to 52%; sex outside marriage, 42% to 53%; homosexuality, 39% to 57%; contraception, 62% to 66%. The average shift from 1987 to 2011 was from 43.8% to 55%. In other words, over half of Catholics polled had essentially the same positions as humanists and other non-Catholics, disagreeing with Vatican dogma. About 1/4 said that both should have the "final say", but that makes no sense to me.
Other polls have shown that in actual practice, over 90% of sexually active Catholics have used contraception and the Catholic abortion and divorce rates are similar to those of non-Catholics. NCR also noted that only 1/4 of Catholics attend church services weekly, 78% favor comprehensive sexuality education in public schools, and 54% believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Shifting focus on the subject of stereotypes, I might note that there are atheists who oppose the right to choose on abortion, who do not support church-state separation, and who do not oppose government forcing all taxpayers to support religious private schools.