How to talk to a Catholic.

So, I’m Catholic. As expressed in what I recently wrote for RELEVANTmagazine.com, how and where I worship Jesus has long frightened the bejeebers out of people whose religious leanings don’t align with mine. It has long inspired questions that range from adorable to asinine.

“Is that the real man?” -four year old girl, while pointing at the Jesus statue nailed to the giant cross at the front of my church’s sanctuary.

ADORABLE.

“Can priests be black?” -actual grown adult.

ASININE.

Nonetheless, whether legit or ridiculous, I never really have minded the questions much. That is not to say that talking about my church with people who disagree with my church is always easy. And you — Catholic or not — may have experienced that, too. These conversations are not necessarily limited to questions. In my own experience, few inter-ideological discussions had as much to do with a curious sibling in Christ’s questions about my church as with his or her efforts to edify me about “what the Catholic Church teaches” (which is code for “his or her perception of what the Catholic Church teaches.”).

I have a word for conversations like that:

FRUITLESS.

(Unless your goal is high blood pressure. Then, by all means.)

But not all conversations about doctrinal differences have to end with clenched fists, lost sleep and stress-induced acne. There is a set of ground rules, that when agreed upon, can make the experience both educational and enjoyable. I call it “How to talk to a Catholic.” But what it is actually called is the Dialogue Decalogue.

The Dialogue Decalogue is a Ten Commandments-style set of rules to which it is worth it to stick when you’re talking with someone of a different denomination within Christianity, or of a belief system not within Christianity at all.

Below, you’ll find my two personal favorites (a.k.a. the ones my often well-meaning Protestant siblings in Christ usually break when they want to talk Catholicism with me). Below that, you’ll find a link to the whole list.

Ground Rule Four – One must compare only her/his ideals with their partner’s ideals, and her/his practice with their partner’s practice. Not their ideals with their partner’s practice.” PREACH.

This is like when a Protestant says, “My church teaches X, but you do Y — justify THAT.”

The answer is “I don’t do what your church says to do because I don’t go to your church.” Every time. Fruitless. The alternative? “My church teaches X. What does your church teach about X?” Like a Fig Netwon — fruit-filled.

Ground Rule Five – Each participant needs to describe her/himself. For example, only a Muslim can describe what it really means to be an authentic member of the Muslim community. At the same time, when one’s partner in dialogue attempts to describe back to them what they have understood of their partner’s self-description, then such a description must be recognizable to the described party. YES. Because nothing says “I don’t actually care about you.” quite like “Hi, Catholic. I’m Protestant. Let me tell you what you believe.” (And vice versa, Catholics who like to tell Protestants what they believe!) It is my job to tell you what I believe, and your job to tell me what you believe. Period.

Click here to read the whole Dialogue Decalogue.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • SVB

    Love it! I also love Fig Newtons. But that is irrelevant. LOL.

  • @ SVB: Lol, Fig Newtons are delightful. So are straight up figs.

  • I happened upon your article over at Relevant, and was beyond thrilled it was there!

    While not Catholic, I spent a good few years deliberating where it is God was directing me to be in life, and for a long time I researched and immersed myself in the Church before being led to the non-denominational church I’m at now.

    I’ve got to say, it absolutely kills me when I’m in the company of people who say incorrect things about Catholicism! It’s just saddening when some folks cannot fathom or tolerate someone else’s way of worshipping Christ. Or the “polite” laughter and nods that follow from other members of said company.

    I love getting the chance to have dialogue about these things, though, and occasionally getting to clarify when hearing false info.

    Catholicism is full of beautiful traditions that lead back to reverence for Christ. One doesn’t need to be Catholic themselves to see that.

    Thanks for writing about this. 🙂

  • @ Christina: Thanks so much for your kind kind words! I’m honored, and so glad you got something good out of reading what I wrote. You have no idea how much I appreciate that you clarify when you run into folks who’ve been led to accept false beliefs about the Catholic church as truth.

    There’s a great quote that sums it up so nicely: “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.” -Archbishop Fulton Sheen

  • Well written Arleen 🙂

  • No sooner did I suggest it and you had already written it some eight months previous! You specifically address many of the troubles I have had talking to Christians, which has often resulted in a lot of circular, go-nowhere arguments. One of my favorites, even among your articles!

    • Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it. No point (in my opinion) in arguing at all, so you can imagine how I feel about arguing circularly.