Monday, January 11, 2021

Convenient or Not

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. [2 Timothy 4:1–5 (NABRE)]


As we try to come to terms with the attack on the Capitol building, American Christianity is in a difficult place. The fact is, some of our long taught moral beliefs are associated with the politics of President Trump. As he is now disgraced, some people try to take advantage of his disgrace to discredit our beliefs. It is made worse by the fact that some groups of Christians elevated Trump to a near idolatrous status and made excuses for his behavior. Yes, I pointed out that tying our beliefs to the extremists is the fallacy of composition, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people are unable to separate what we believe from how some Christians created a bad witness. It is stereotyping, but we have to deal with it by considering our individual behavior and seeing if we have contributed to the contempt our Faith is currently held in.


This is not an article about the mob attack, or Trump per se. This is an article about how these events bring home the need to be consistent in teaching the Faith regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in, neither compromising with the hostility of the world, nor justifying evil because of the temporary benefits we might gain*


Unfortunately, both sides in our dualistic political system are very skilled at spotting hypocrisy on the other side and terrible at spotting their own. The result is people tend to think that the problems only exist because of the “other side” and, if that side was permanently defeated, the problems would be gone too.


I think we need to behave in a manner that witnesses to what we believe and, to do so, we must put what we believe first over any other motivations, sacrificing the latter when it conflicts. The world attributes partisan motivations to our beliefs. As a result, they reject our beliefs as partisan. Tragically, some Christians do act in a partisan manner and it provides critics with excuses to reject what is vitally important. Now some is not all, but if we want to put an end to this, we need to speak out for what is authentically Christian and reject whatever tries to hijack it for political gain. While we cannot control how others see us, we can control whether that perception is just or unjust. 


We must also be open to correction. It is a disgrace that Catholics on both side of the American political divide see the rebuke from the Pope or our bishops—when it goes against our politics—as partisan behavior instead of something to heed. But, when the bishops say something that we agree with, we treat it as proof that the other side is the side of Darkness. Whether on abortion or immigration, Church teaching has long preceded the founding of America… or the arrival of the first Europeans in the Americas for that matter. When a country—especially when Catholics within that country adopt that behavior—behaves in a way contrary to the Gospel, the bishops must speak out against that behavior.


Another tragedy of this is the error of Whataboutism. This is the logical fallacy called tu quoque. It is an attempt to deny a valid rebuke one sees as directed against them. Regardless of whether the bishop of a diocese should have spoken out against a different example of wrongdoing earlier, this does not change the fact that we need to listen to what they speak against now. So, we see, in the case of the Pope speaking against the storming and sacking of the Capitol building, some Catholics saying that he should have mentioned other incidents by name. Personally, I think this is a fallacy of false analogy (the differences outweigh the similarities). But these critics forget the key point: What the Pope said about violence is true and we should make it our own:


Dear brothers and sisters, I offer an affectionate greeting to the people of the United States of America, shaken by the recent siege at the Congress. I pray for those who lost their life—five— they lost it in those dramatic moments. I reiterate that violence is always self-destructive. Nothing is earned with violence and so much is lost. I exhort the government authorities and the entire population to maintain a deep sense of responsibility, in order to calm souls, to promote national reconciliation and to protect the democratic values rooted in American society. May the Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of the United States of America, help keep alive the culture of encounter, the culture of care, as the royal road to build together the common good; and I do so with all those who live in that land.


The person who thinks that prayer is partisan, or error needs a remedial course in Catholicism 101.


Here I want to bring up another point. If you, the reader, are thinking angrily or triumphantly about the evils of the other side, you are part of the problem. Conservative vs. Liberal; Democrat vs. Republican… these movements and parties all run afoul of the teachings of the Church in one way or another. If we are to be Catholic first, then we must be the vanguard of opposing the evils of the party we belong to, not explaining it away because “the stakes are too high.” If you are a Catholic who votes Democrat, YOU have a responsibility to lead the way in opposing the party support of abortion and other evils that the Church condemns. If you are a Catholic who votes Republican, YOU have the responsibility to lead the way in opposing unjust immigration policies and other evils that the Church condemns§. And all of us need to remember: If out party gets elected; we must bear witness to what we believe by speaking against those wrongs.


Yes, some things are eviler than others. But the deadliest sin for us is not the one that we are never tempted to commit. The deadliest sins are the grave sins we blind ourselves to. As Gaudium et Spes #16 warns us:


Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.


If we will keep these things in mind, and act on them, we might be able to change how we are perceived. But even if the world will not change their views, we will be able to make sure that our witness shows their accusations are false.


But if we refuse to hear our Church—which teaches with God’s authority and protection—then we should consider the words of Lumen Gentium #14 (referencing Luke 12:48):


All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.


We profess belief that the Catholic Church was established by Christ to teach with His authority and protection. So, we are without excuse if we place our Catholic faith below our partisan concerns and cause scandal in others by leading them to believe our moral beliefs are no more than partisan concerns.




(*) I think we should keep in mind Roman Emperor Commodus: A morally bad man whose policies brought a temporary (if coincidental) respite from the official persecution of Christianity. That temporary benefit was good, but it does not mean Christians approved of the evils in his reign.


(†) We need to realize that the storming and sacking of the Capitol shocked the world. Regardless of how people viewed our varied political administrations, America was, up to this point, seen as a stable democratic Republic. For this to happen shows that we are just as susceptible to extremist movements as they were. Given the serious consequences of such movements in history, such alarm is understandable.


(‡) As always, I alphabetize these dichotomies to avoid any accusations of putting more emphasis on one side than the other.


(§) Yes, this applies to Catholics in minor parties too.



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