Catholicism for the armchair athiest

I’m currently writing a one-act play for which I need a fairly good backgrounding in Catholic belief and history — especially the naughty bits though some straight St. Thomas Aquinas would also be in order. Can any of you Teeming Millions suggest some good reads on the subject? Help is appreciated.


You want it all handed to you nice and simple? There is no more royal road to Theology than there is to Mathematics.

as a start you might ry Leo Rosten’s “Religion in America” and the “Penguin Handbook on Religions”. To get your information on Catholicism straight you should check individual points in The Catholic Encyclopedia. For a condensed version of the Faith you might try the “Cathechism of the Catholic Church” published (in English) in 1995. But at 800+ pages it might not seem very condensed. For a quick route try the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Of course, religion as expounded upon by theologians is a very different beast from Religion as She is Practised.All the books on Catholic Experience I know are intended to be humorous. I don’t have them here, but I can give you the titles. “Growing Up Catholic” and More Growing up Catholic" (and, I think, a third volume) by a set of four authors captures the essential sense of , well, growing up Catholic in the 1960s. You might try John Powers’t Catholic in America" and “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect up?” and whatever the title f the third book is. There’s also a book called “Born Catholic (Can you tell?)”. On the audiotape version, the author sings the title song.

If you can find a copy, the Baltimore Catechism gives you an excellent view of being brought up in the Faith. Bear in mind tha we had to MEMORIZE these catechism questions and answers. The BC was an attempt to spoon-feed pre-Confirmation kids the Mysteries of the Church in bite-size chunks, so it gives you an accessible version of the theological theories of Aquinas and Augustine and the rest of that crowd of Doctors of the Church. Bear in mind that, since Vatican II, things have changed.

If you can, rad Augustin’s “Confession” and “City of God” and other such works. If you do, then you will have done more than most “practicing” Catholics.

If you do find a Baltimore Cathechism (an original one) hold on to it, they’re pretty rare and I haven’t seen one in any library I’ve ever worked in.

A lot of the Baltimore Cathechism has been discarded as doctrine by the Catholic Church. You can read Luther’s 95 Theses and find out that the Catholic Church is in accordance with most of them now.

This could have saved Europe a lot of trouble 500 years ago.

A great book that presents an honest historic protrayal of the Catholic Church is CHRISTIANITY: Essence, History and Future, written by Hans Kung.

Although the book covers the whole realm of Chistianity, about 50% of the book concerns itself with the Catholic Church. You will find everything from the rise in the supremecy of Rome, Concepts of the Trinity and issues dealing with the Pope’s infallability.

I don’t agree with many of the conclusions that Kung arrives at in this work, but find this volume to be a great source for historic reference. The only negative is that the book stops right at the Vatican II reformations. Alot has happened in the church since that time.

Calmecham, I found the Baltimore catechism online at holds vatican II to be heresy and does not recognize the Rome based Catholic church. It even refers to every pope since John XXIII as an “anti-pope”

Oh my god (so to speak) – the Baltimore Catechism on line!

I have to point out that what Padeye has found is not the book that I learned my first theology from – that was a much heftier tome. And you really can’t get the sense of it without the awful black, red, and white illustrations. But the questions seem about right. think of this as “BC Lite” until you can find the Real Thing in print.

Hey Cal, who are you, and why does God love you?

God made me to love Him and to Serve him and t clean up daughter pee and cat pee in this world. (see my thread in MPSIMS)

I’m not a Catholic, but I’ve made a few observations from the Catholics I’ve known.

  1. In a Catholic family, there’s always somebody who thinks they should roll back Vatican ][.
  2. Some protestants are not aware that Catholics are Christians.
  3. Catholics are sometimes referred to as `Papists’ – mostly by people who don’t like them.
  4. A suprising number of Catholics are mistaken about what “immaculate conception” refers to. Most Protestants don’t get it either.
  5. The chanting of `Hail Mary’ by a large group is very creepy, and sounds vaguely evil.
  6. Catholic pews have retractable knee rests, because you’re supposed to kneel at certain parts of the mass.

i don’t know if that’s how you speel his name, but he has written two EXCELLENT books on this subject. i believe the titles are “A concise history of the catholic church” and “Dynamic Catholicism”. I am positive about the latter title. His name (again, not positive) is Thomas Bokenkotter. fantastic books, sir.

Ever play NTN Trivia, that satellite trivia game you have in bars? I once saw a bar fight erupt over the Immaculate Conception, caused by NTN.

It was the Tuesday night championship - they used to have a 90-minute game on Tuesdays that won you big prizes. At AJ’s Hangar it became a serious event, and 10-12 teams regularly showed up. If you got a good enough score you could win prizes from NTN, and some guys in there had actually won television and paid vacations and such.

The final question that night, on which you could “bet” up to 50% of your points, was “Whose birth is referred to by the term `immaculate conception’”?

Every other team chose the answer “Jesus Christ.” My team, which just coincidentally was made up entirely of Catholics, guessed the Virgin Mary. We were right, of course.

The other teams were so adamant that the question was in error and that they had been jobbed that pretty soon people were yelling, and then they were pushing, and then they were punching.

I don’t know if this has much relevance to the thread ebyond illustrating that some Catholics DO know what the Immaculate Conception was, but it’s a great story.

On the thread, Ontario has a huge and entirely self-run catholic school system, in which I was educated, and I have to admit that I don’t think they indoctrinate you like in the old days. Our education (I’m 28, so this was from about 1976 to 1990, including high school) was pretty light on the fire-and-brimstone stuff and concentrated more on warm and fuzzy concepts. I don’t ever recall being taught masturbation was a sin, a common subject of Catholic-upbringing-memoirs, or any of that rot. We used to study other religions. Some of my classmates weren’t even Catholics - hell, one friend of mine wasn’t even a Christian.

CalMecham: I didn’t start catechism until a couple of years after Vatican II so I didn’t have a frame of reference. FWIW I’m no longer Catholic but Lutheran, which as some Catholic friends say is like being a watered down catholic. I have my reasons but I’m not militant about it any more. We need to concentrate on the things that bring us together as Christians and not the differences. Acting like graduates of the Jack Chick school of religous tolerance isn’t going to help anyone.

Johnny Angel: I don’t get the “evil” tone from the hail mary aside from the scene in Godfather Pt. II where Rocko whacks Fredo on the lake.

Rickjay: That is sad. It’s not as bad as the crusades I suppose but wanting to kick someone’s ass in in the name of the lord is not a good thing.

The other Thomas Bokenkotter book is “Essential Catholicism”.

Retractable knee rests are sort of a North American thing. In Europe, the usual practice is to stand up instead of kneeling.

I suppose those of us in the New World are just a bunch of wimps.

For what it’s worth, most Catholics don’t seem to realize that Protestants are Christians.

In my experience (on the Catholic side of the fence), Protestants seem to hate, mistrust, or at least eye with some discomfort Catholicism; while Catholics seem barely aware that Protestantism is even there – or, when we do think about it at all, we view it as a kid brother going through a phase. All of which infuriates the Ps more (which may or may not be the point…)

Of course, I’m currently a Sub-Genius dating a Muslim, so go figure…


Couldn’t agree with you more. I was brung up Catholic, and was of the last generation of altar boys that had to memorize the Mass in Latin.I count myself agnostic these days. I’ve lived in a heavily Jewish environment and a heavily Mormon environment, and I’ve been in quite a few Wiccan places. Comparative religion fascinates me, and I’m all for tolerance and the philosophy you advocate. I’ve tried to make that clear in my book, because there are places where people might take things the wrong way.

Not always true. The Lutheran church I go to hosts a Catholic service after our own. What’s the point in holding a grudge over that whole reformation thing? Not all protestants preach the gospel according to Jack Chick, through I did get a lot of that when I was in a certain southern denomination when I was in High School.

Also the Catholic lady I was seeing at the time did not have a problem with this heretic, Lutheran, really, really lapsed Catholic boy taking communion at Easter mass. My flesh didn’t burn when the priest doused us in holy water which I took at a good sign. I’m not talking a little spritz either, he had a frond that held about a pint of water. Mascara was running and several hairdos were ruined.

Braintree, this is just a suggestion so that it for what it’s worth, but maybe you should choose a subject for your play that you know something about. Plays like “Nunsense” have been great hits poking fun at Catholicism, but for the most part they’ve been writing by Catholics (or ex-Catholics) who had the doctrine drummed into them everyday at grade school. If you want your play to be good, I would suggest you make it about something you’re well versed in already.