In another facebook post that I just couldn’t avoid putting my 2 cents in, a friend of mine who is a born again Christian posted a link to a new story about how the Pope said something to the effect that Islam is a religion of peace. My friend and others went on to comment that the Pope did not follow the Bible and made various other arguments to that effect. Now I am not a Catholic but I have close family who are and have attended Mass on many occasions. I can understand disagreement with certain Catholic traditions but it bothers me with when these disagreements are based on a complete misunderstanding of what those traditions really are about. Some of the complaints were about praying to saints, praying to Mary and requiring good works to get to Heaven. Below is my response. Any mistakes are mine. This is based on my understanding and interpretation but I believe it to be accurate. This is an attempt to clear up what I feel are common misconceptions.
I’m always a little amused when people criticize the Catholic church because they believe that they somehow don’t follow the Bible. The irony of course is that the Catholic Church created the Bible. They were the ones that decided which set of writings would be included. Not that all of the Christian churches even agree on that. Well, the New Testament is largely agreed upon but that wasn’t finalized until 400 years or so after Christ.
No, Catholics don’t worship Mary or the Saints. They do ask for intercession but this is not the same thing and is not a requirement. You can, of course, pray directly to God as well. Catholics do not believe Mary or anyone other than God is a God, should be worshiped or has the power of God.
Yes, Muslims do in fact worship the same God as Christians. Both Christianity and Islam descend from Judaism. You can certainly argue they don’t worship as the should or don’t obey God as they should or whatever but the origins are the origins. Muslims obviously believe Mohamed was a prophet and closely follow his teachings whereas Christians and Jews do not and Christians obviously believe Jesus is the Messiah whereas Muslims and Jews do not (I believe Muslims do recognize Jesus as a prophet though). Unless you are just making some kind of semantic argument, it is the same God.
Also, going to a priest is not the only way to confess your sins. You can of course confess directly to God and ask forgiveness. The Catholic church does require Confession to a priest but not as the only way to confess your sins to God.
And Catholics, just like every other Christian believe you are saved by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. Catholics certainly believe you should do good works and that if you are faithful you will do good works but there isn’t a “good works” bucket to fill up to get to heaven. “Good works” in this context isn’t so much doing a good deed per say as it is obeying God and avoiding sin. Faith and repentance are arguably the ultimate good works.
Is Islam a religion of peace? Well, there are billions of Muslims and only a small percent are violent radicals. There is certainly violence in the Koran but there is also violence in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Islam isn’t interpreted in a universal way by its followers any more than Christianity is. The peacefulness of a religion certainly shouldn’t be judged based on a minority of its followers.
For the most part, before the Protestant reformation of the 16th century there was really only one Christian church (what we call the Catholic church today). After the protestant reformation there was a heapload of Christian on Christian violence (e.g. the 30 years war) and you could have certainly argued at that time that Christianity was no religion of peace.