(Church Pews by Silent Shot/Flickr)

Garry Wills says he has nothing against priests. He respects priests, and he once tried to be one. But in his new book, he questions whether there is any precedent for the priesthood based in the early church and the New Testament. Wills argues that a church system that exalts priests runs counter to Jesus’ teachings on community, and that the it can lead to corruption and sin. Author and historian Garry Wills joins us to talk about his book, “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition.”

Guests:
Garry Wills, emeritus professor of history at Northwestern University; his most recent book is "Why Priests? A Failed Tradition;" previous books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lincoln at Gettysburg" and "Martial's Epigrams"

  • loujudson

    Whoo. Nothing about the Catholic Church furthers Jesus’ teaching! It is all a power game to control the “sheeple” and nothing to do with true religion. The reality of spirituality is an inner, individual experience, and no church makes it more real. All organized religions included.

    That’s my humble opinion… don’t get me started on Bulldog Ratzinger.

    Lou

  • Wilbur

    Religion afflicts humanity. It is inherently corrupt and forever in pursuit of power, be that pursuit for grand political power or power over children’s bodies. Religion is supportive of petty squabbles and discrimination, and is founded on a system of self-contradicting lies.

    Speaking of lies, people say, if you’re going to lie, get your stories straight. Religion has never done this. It’s an obvious sham.

    Priests are shifty salemen peddling a defective product.

    • Bob Fry

      Way to stereotype an entire group of people. It does seem that most religions that believe in a god or gods do more harm than good, but to say priests as a class are “shifty salesmen” is unfair. No doubt many started, and even remain, with high ideals and a desire to help the less fortunate.

      • Wilbur

        OK, I’d say they are incompetent salesmen at best, because they are completely unqualified to state with any certainty whether there is or is not any god, which is a scientific question whose truth-value is independent of wishes or desires.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    As a former Catholic I know Christ was an observant Jew and Jewish Rabbi’s marry and have families. Personally I believe not allowing married priests is unbiblical as well as foolish.
    The Vatican already allows Episcopal priests who are married, to convert to Catholicism, and then become priests.
    How about we stop the double standard and simply allow Catholic priest to marry? Problem solved.
    Also know that married priests would have more understanding of what it means to have a family and all the challenges a parent/spouse faces. Something Protestant churches already know, as well as married Rabbis.

    • Bob Fry

      Sure, Catholic and Protestant religions all have teachings far removed from the early church and the New Testament. Hey, multiple wives were not prohibited in the NT, only for those men who wanted to be “deacons”, leaders in their local church. Anyway, allowing priests to marry is proper but will just change one problem for another…look at the scandals in the Protestant churches. In the end we’re human with all those contradictions.

      • Demographer1

        Multiple wives did not need to be prohibited in the NT because first century Roman law already prohibited polygyny,and the earliest church did not want to promote what the Roman state considered illegal unless, like not sacrificing to the emperor, it was an essential part of worship and practice. From quite early on, church leaders did interpret 1 Cor 7:2 and Matt 19:4-5 as prohibiting polygyny. Thus in the early 3rd century, Bardesanes points out that even in states that permitted poylgyny,like the Persian empire, Christians take only one legal wife at a time, per church dogma and practice.

    • Joey B.

      The Vatican powers wouldn’t allow priests to be married because they fear that church properties would be passed down to priest”s heirs.

      • Demographer1

        That was sometimes an issue in pre-modern Europe (especially 1100-1700) when secular authorities were sometimes completely prohibited from adjudicating church property transmission, but US property law solves that problem since it allows civil law to be involved in property issues. Protestant & Orthodox churches don’t pass their substantial property to pastors’ heirs today, and neither would R, Catholic.priests.

    • thucy

      Good comment, but in the Christian Orthodox church, we allow priests to marry, and it’s not quite the problem-solver you might hope for.
      I do think of Jesus as Jewish, and as a precursor to all the radicallly progressive, feminist Jews I grew up around. I sure do wish the Churches – particularly evangelicals – understood Jesus’ radical, feminist, anti-authoritarian core.

  • Geoff

    What about the patriarchalism that refers to God only as masculine and father? Would Christianity be better off if we acknowledged that God is also feminine?

    • Bob Fry

      I think we’d be better off if Christianity and other religions acknowledged there is no god or gods that made us and watch over us. It’s all mythology, probably appropriate for times past but mostly harmful now. But atheists should acknowledge there’s a lot of good teaching and principles in the ancient ideas (even American Christians should re-read all the teachings of Christ).

      • Geoff

        How would you describe the God you don’t believe in?

    • thucy

      jesus was radically feminist. really an in-your-face kind of guy – I don’t know how many of us who are supposedly Christian would invite him to dinner, sad to say.

      • Geoff

        I think that the patriarchalism of the church and our culture is a scourge that leads to war and violence. If we aren’t willing to address it we will continue to see an increase in these injustices. The hierarchy of the Catholic church is one example of this patriarchy and it’s violence toward women and the world.

        • thucy

          as a woman, I don’t see the patriarchy as THE problem. If women held power, they too would act savagely. Look at all the pro-war, pro-MIC votes of Senator Feinstein.

          • Geoff

            I would suggest that you don’t have to be male to support the patriarchalism of the church and culture. There are many women who support it as evidenced by the Feinsteins and Thatchers of the world.

          • thucy

            yeah, maybe we need a gender-neutral term to replace “patriarchy”… how bout “status quo clusterbleep”? SQC can include those wonderful chicks and LGBT’ers who like to grovel at the feet of the MIC power structure – that’s progress for ya!

  • Joey B.

    I once enrolled in a formation center for priests years back but when the admitting priest found out that I was born out of wedlock as my father was already married when he met my mother, I was denied admission. But I have no regret because I am presently happy being married to my beautiful wife caring for three wonderful sons.

    • thucy

      living well is the best revenge

  • AD

    I thought this might be interesting for you to know: “And indeed, We sent Noah and Abraham and granted their descendants Prophethood and the Scripture. And among them there is he who goes aright, but a great many of them have drifted away (26).Then, in succession, We followed them up with (other of) Our Messengers. We caused them to be followed by Jesus son of Mary and gave him the Gospel. And We placed kindness and compassion in the hearts of those who followed him. As for monastic asceticism – We had never ordained it to them. They invented it themselves to seek God’s Approval. But then, they did not uphold the Gospel with right observance. And so those who truly believed among them, We gave them their reward. But, a great many of them have been drifting away(27).” (Quran: Surah 57, verses 26-27)

  • Joey B.

    I am in search of a community that shares faith and liturgical experiences which are nurturing and not controlling; one that empowers and not scold; one that befits Christ’s life and message of inclusiveness and non-discrimination; with members who believe and affirm that liturgy belongs to the people and not to the priest; a priest who would be servant as Jesus Christ was servant.

    • Demographer1

      If you still identify as Christian, try a mainline Protestant church (United Church of Chris,, United Methodist, Presbyterian etc.) They’re very liberal . Or if you don’t want celibate priests & papal monarchy but want Catholic traditions, try Orthodox or Episcopal churches. If you no longer identify as Christian, try a Unitarian-Universalist church: theyr’re progressive in the extreme. (too extreme, some would say). The point is, they’re plenty of other churches YOU can try without insisting Roman Catholicism be exactly like them.

  • Positivist_Nullifidian

    The shepherd-flock analogy was a mainstay of Judaism that was simply
    continued by Christians. A “shepherd” is necessary for the “protection” of the “sheep” from all that threatens to imperil their eternal souls. And nothing can be more perilous than doubt or loss of faith, which begins as seemingly benign nonconformity in a given teaching or practice—there is nothing so dangerous to a creed than the diversity of opinion. Thus Paul and subsequent outspoken early Christian writers and self-appointed leaders, campaigned to root out all heterodoxical notions and concepts, such as those held by the Gnostics. The result is orthodoxy, and the priesthood is necessary for the perpetuation of the doctrines of the church. To question any of this, whether the form or the substance, is to blaspheme—it is to commit treason, and cannot be tolerated by those who hold power. We should all consider ourselves fortunate to live in a time and place where we can openly discuss these concepts and offer criticism without fear of being tortured and burned at the stake!

  • Barbara Whittingham

    Garry Wills is a brilliant thinker and his work is a good antidote to so much of what has gone wrong for the church universal. The best of the protestant reformation brought to us the idea of the “priesthood of all believers.” This bibically-based idea sought to make real the idea of the third of the trinity – the holy spirit, being accessible through faith to all church members – when they act as members of the body-of-Christ.
    It also brought to us the Bible – accessible to all as well, all of which goes to remove the priesthood from it’s position as being the
    necessary link to God. Of course the protestants didn’t understand this well either, and we humans, churched and unchurches, spiritual or not, continue to wander in the wilderness and forget that love requires that everyone work for justice. Garry Wills is a treasure. I wish his work was better known among Protestants. I count myself as a Buddhist-Christian.
    Thank you Michael for bringing Garry Wills to your audience today.

  • trite

    Mr. Wills begged the question of why continue to call himself a Catholic rather than “Just” a Christian when he denies the central tenets of the church about the priesthood and transubstantiation.

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