Monday, December 14, 2020

Deliver Us, O Lord, From the TL:DR Catholics…

The USCCB issued a statement on the moral concerns surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. Moments after it was posted on social media, certain Catholics set up their own counter-magisterium and denounced the bishops… accusing the bishops of either being ignorant of Catholic moral teaching or of outright supporting evil.


However, looking at those comments after reading the statement, I noticed something alarming. Every single objection that was raised against this statement was already addressed in that statement. In other words, the critics did not read the statement that they condemned. They simply assumed their opinions of the bishops would be present in the statement. Because these critics assume that the bishops are “liberal” in their politics, any statement about the issue of aborted fetuses must also be “liberal.” 


Unfortunately, all too often, certain Catholics tend to hold to a “plain sense” approach of Church documents very similar to the fundamentalist “plain sense” approach of the Bible. Both groups assume that their understanding of a work is the only possible sense of the original document while ignoring the lens of culture, equivocal words, and nuance, as well as the individual’s comprehension ability. Under the “plain sense” claim, there is no room to admit the possibility of getting it wrong. As a result, the Pope or the bishops are accused of heresy, while the critics deny any fault… even when proven wrong. Rather than admit they missed the point; they say that the Pope and bishops are to blame for being “unclear.”


This is not a recent development. I have found that when I read the works of Calvin, Luther, the Eastern Orthodox etc. when they attack the “errors” of the Church, these attacks too are built on their personal interpretations combined with the assumptions that the teachings of the Church must “err.” But the errors of the recent critics are the same as that of these older attacks: A false interpretation of what was said given as a straw man that they “rebut” in their defense of what they think the truth is. 


Bizarrely, these modern critics use the term “Protestant” as an epithet directed against the Pope and bishops when they are doing what the founders of Protestantism did: rejecting the teaching authority of the Church because the Pope and bishops teach differently than the critic thinks right. They deny that they are rejecting the authority of “the Church,” of course. They simply deny that the Pope or bishops are teaching with that authority. The problem is this is a variant of the No True Scotsman fallacy. They deny that anyone who teaches differently from their own views teaches authoritatively. Challenge them on their interpretation and you will be accused of supporting whatever evil they associate with the opposite of their views.


Yet, these self-proclaimed champions of the Church often fail to read the actual Church teachings for themselves. Instead, they rely on their favorite websites that cite past Church documents, using them in the place of trying to read and understand what was said and meant. In doing so, they forget to ask whether the favorite Catholic media personality has properly understood the documents in question and whether the quotes they cite are taken in context.


Of course, as I pointed out in an earlier article, before we assume the worst possible intentions of our critics, we have to be aware of whether the full knowledge and free consent are present before assuming a mortal sin. So, I do not automatically assume that these critics are acting maliciously. But undermining the teaching authority of the Church and encouraging others to reject it is serious matter indeed. So, the person who follows such critics do need to ask whether they are being too credulous in dealing with the claims of the critic justifies what is dissent at best, schism at worst.


We must not be “TL:DR Catholics” who do not read the documents they denounce but instead rely on our stereotypes of the magisterium and what notorious critics claim they “really” stand for.  We have an obligation to understand what the document intends to say. If we cannot reconcile our understanding of the Church teaching with a magisterial document, the first step should not be to accuse the Pope and bishops of heresy. We should ask ourselves how we might have gone wrong in understanding it.


But if we do not bother to read it at all, or do not consider our own weaknesses, we are not being faithful. We are just more dissenters who trust in themselves instead of trusting God to protect His Church when it teaches with His authority.




(†) It should be noted that this is not the sole property of one political faction. Catholics who identify with a politically “liberal” view accuse the magisterium of being “right wing” when the Church teaches against them.

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