Saturday, April 30, 2016

Quick Quips: Bulletproof Personal Infallibility

It’s time for some more short observations on topics. I write this set about the rebellion against the magisterium and how we excuse it when we find ourselves in the wrong. We do this so well that whenever the Church teaches something we dislike, we automatically treat it as proof of their error. 

Double Standards Make Us Hypocrites

Dual hypocrisy2

When it comes to people citing Scripture or Church teaching in a partisan attack, it always gets quoted in a way which condemns an opponent but ignores one's own transgressions. The liberal Catholic points to Scripture or Church teaching about charity and care for the poor, condemning his conservative opponent for hypocrisy. But he ignores them on morality. Likewise, the conservative Catholic points out what they have to say about living rightly, but ignores them on the topic of mercy. 

Both of them take pleasure in accusing the other of being bad Christians but both behave hypocritically. They edit Scripture Church teaching to what pleases them and ignore the parts they violate. Our Lord gets transformed into an endorsement of a theological or political position. The problem is, our faith calls us to be both moral and charitable; both just and merciful. If we only obey the faith we profess when it suits us, we disobey and cause scandal to non-believers who can plainly see our hypocrisy.

This does not mean we treat our faith as a checklist of laws to follow. What it means is we must constantly check our behavior and consider whether we are blind to our own wrongdoing. When we discover wrongdoing, we must seek to amend our lives and make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation when needed. It means we must stop making ourselves into Popes and start listening to what the Church’s teaching authority tells us of right and wrong.

If we fail to do that, our actions declare God’s Word and His Church superfluous. When they agree with us, we don’t need them; when they disagree with us, they’re wrong. Who needs a Church that is unnecessary or wrong? If we want to truly bear witness to our faith, let us seek to live all parts of it out of love for Our Lord.

Casting Pearls Before Swine

When it comes to attacking the Church (whether from an anti-Catholic, a radical traditionalist or a liberal dissenter), there is a widely used tactic. This tactic is to take a personal interpretation of the words of the Bible, the Pope or another magisterial document and treat that personal interpretation as if it was the truth and no other interpretation was possible. When the Catholic defending the faith objects to the interpretation, the attacker claims the defender is willfully ignorant and trying to explain away “the truth.” If the defender speaks imprecisely, they pounce and twist words to portray him as holding a position he never held.  If the defender points out that the attacker is factually wrong, the attacker ignores the refutation and continues repeating the same point until the defender gives up in disgust. When the defender does finally walk away, the attacker claims victory, and says nobody could refute their argument.

In terms of reason and logic, this is a sham. There is no dialogue to find truth. The attacker has made up their mind and is only interested in bashing people over the head. It’s simply a case of harassment. When targeted with this tactic, our response should show people of good will what we believe. We should not get into endless debates with people who confuse interpretation of texts with the texts themselves. They’ll just treat the attacks on their interpretations as attacks on the teaching itself.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A couple of weeks back, I was visiting my father and we watched some Blue Bloods on Netflix. One of those episodes caught my attention. It involved a police officer accused of brutality. Because his bodycam stopped working during the crucial part of the altercation, activists accused him of turning it off. During the episode, the police chief and some of his staff debated bodycams. The police chief said what he disliked about them was they testified to the fact that people presumed the police officer was lying unless there was proof to the contrary.

In the real world, we can (and do) argue about real police brutality and whether they prove a national problem, a regional problem or individual problems, but the program made a good point. It’s unjust to automatically assume one group is guilty until proven innocent. But I’m not going to argue about the police. I write about the Church and morality, after all. What I want to explore is tying together how the above musings illustrate how we assume the Pope and bishops in communion with him are in error unless proven otherwise. 

When the Pope or a bishop speaks about a moral obligation where we’re in the wrong, we respond by questioning their orthodoxy. When the Pope or a bishop speaks in a way when there is more than one interpretation, we choose the one that agrees with what we think. When we want our bad behavior justified, we pick an interpretation favoring it. When we want to disobey the Pope’s teaching on a subject, we choose the interpretation making him look bad. We never ask whether we’re in the wrong. 

As Catholics, we believe Our Lord founded the Church and gave her His authority. We believe He promised to be with the Church always and protect her from error—so long as we happen to agree with the Church. But once we disagree, we presume the Church is guilty of error unless she uses a precise phrasing saying no more and no less than what we demand as refutation. Of course, we make ourselves the judge of that evaluation, so we are never in the wrong.

When we do this, we become just as hypocritical as the people we denounce for disobeying the parts of Church teaching we follow. We don’t bear witness to Our Lord and we don’t evangelize. Instead we tell people they can do whatever they will, excusing their own behavior and condemning the behavior they dislike. Perhaps the first thing to do to evangelize our nation again is to start with our own repentance.

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