How Modern Heresies Have Isolated and Left Us Unfulfilled

I have mentioned here before a remarkable book by Ross Douthat that I would recommend as required reading for anyone who wants to grasp what has happened faith in the later half of the 20th Century and until now. It is Bad Religion – How we became a nation of heretics. In the book Douthat documents how the churches, (both the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations), rose dramatically in the years following the War, and then, quite suddenly saw their numbers collapse as they were overwhelmed with successive waves of heresies he describes with great precision.

He uses the word heresy quite correctly to describe a version of the Christian faith that holds an incomplete version of the full truth. One that chooses certain tenets and discards many others which both balance and complete the picture. Of course there are often tensions in holding all the truths.

For example, how do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and power with our freedom and capacity to to say no? Or how do we resolve God’s mercy and love with the existence of hell? The orthodox approach is to hold both, and leave the tensions largely unresolved, or at least seek a balance that respects both. The heretical approach is to chose one, and discard or minimize the other in order to be free of the tension.

Heresy has become quite the “art” of modern Americans who are often “genius” in crafting endless varieties of do-it-yourself faith, one from column A, two from column B. For most Americans, the Church is largely irrelevant, and tends to be considered an annoyance, with all her rules and traditions. Hence while most Americans identify themselves as believing in God, the actual content of that belief varies significantly and often diverges widely from orthodox Christianity not to mention orthodox Catholicism.

God as He reveals himself in Scripture is quite easily tossed aside by moderns, and a tamed, more “fitting” god is crafted, one who affirms more than demands, who consoles and almost never warns.

We used to call this idolatry (crafting your own god and worshiping it). But most moderns prefer softer terms such as “finding the god within” and discovering the “god of my understanding.” Truth is cast overboard, or doubted altogether, and a self-referential (solipsistic) thinking emerges that is self-authorized.  Along with this private magisterium comes a self-congratulating “tolerance” that is extolled as the highest virtue. If there is any reference at all to the revelation that is Scripture, or to the dogmas of the faith, most moderns interpret them in a highly selective (i.e. heretical) manner, and subject what does remain to interpretations that are often so twisted as to be almost impossible to follow.

What makes heresy so dangerous is that it most often contains some elements that are true. As such, many believers can be easily duped by the partial gospel. Plausible teachers, using smooth words, seem to be confirming some truth of Christian faith. But, they stop short of the full Gospel. For example the purveyors of the “Prosperity Gospel” extol the power of prayer and the truth that God does want to bless us. But they largely discard the cross and the call of Christ to endure hardships and even poverty, for the Kingdom. Gone is any notion that we have been called out of this world and are thus hated by the world, or that we cannot serve God and money. They also smoothly set aside the very consistent warnings about wealth issued by the Lord Jesus.

But it all sounds so good and so right: Pray, trust God, blessings in abundance! Doesn’t God want me to be happy?! Yes, and thus heresy has its appeal in pointing to some truths, but it ignores others meant to balance, distinguish and contextualize.

Consider another huge trend in the modern age that has sorely affected faith, the rise of the therapeutic culture. Douthat spends a good amount of time describing and critiquing it, about midway through the book. Quoting Philip Rieff he begins,

Religious man was born to be saved [but] “psychological man is born to be pleased.” [Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006, 19].

Douthat continues,

God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problem that arises, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves.” …[He] is not demanding, He actually can’t be, because his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good.


Therapeutic religion is immensely tolerant: since the only true God is the one you find within, there’s no reason to impose your faith on someone else. But a tolerant society is not necessarily a just one. Men may smile at their neighbors without loving them and decline to judge their fellow citizens’ beliefs out of a broader indifference to their fate. [Tolerance can] easily turn out to be an ego that never learns sympathy, compassion, or real wisdom.

Therapeutic to its very core, it emphasizes feelings over duties, it’s impatient with institutional structures of any sort. [Kindle Edition Loc:4676-95]

Has it worked? Apart from the troubling heretical notions at work, (again, heresy understood in terms of its classical definition, as an incomplete and unbalanced grasp of the true faith),  has the therapeutic religion worked even in its basic goal to “make us feel better about ourselves?” Douthat observes,

We’re freer than we used to be [since everyone can think and be what they want and construct their own little world largely freed from critique by a “tolerant” culture], but [we’re] also more isolated, lonelier, and more depressed….Therapeutic theology raises expectations, and it raises self-regard. It isn’t surprising that people taught to be constantly enamored of their own godlike qualities [since they are trained to discover the “god-within] would have difficulty forging relationships with ordinary human beings. Two Supreme Selves do not necessarily a happy marriage make.

Americans are less happy in their marriages than they were thirty years ago; women’s self-reported happiness has dipped downward overall. Our social circles have constricted: declining rates of churchgoing have been accompanied by declining rates of just about every sort of social “joining,” and Americans seem to have fewer and fewer friends whom they genuinely trust. Our familial networks have shrunk as well. More children are raised by a single parent; fewer people marry or have children to begin with; and more and more old people live and die alone.

Our society boasts 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, 30,000 life coaches—and hundreds of thousands of nonclinical social workers and substance abuse counselors as well. Most of these professionals spend their days helping people cope with everyday life problems… not true mental illness. This means that under our very noses a revolution has occurred in the personal dimension of life, such that millions of Americans must now pay professionals to listen to their everyday life problems….[G]urus and therapists have filled the roles once occupied by spouses and friends. [Kindle version Loc:4819-38, inter al].

So, no, it hasn’t worked. But its purveyors just keep coming out with the latest tome by the latest guru. To be fair, as Douthat notes, there are many causes of the social ills described above. But the therapeutic culture and its “spiritual (not religious!)” religious expressions do raise expectations for a great cure. Orthodox Catholicism on the other hand traditionally spoke of this world as a vale of tears and and an exile to be endured before true and lasting happiness dawned. Contentment here could be found, and true faith is essential to that. But lasting happiness was found only in the Lord, and fully, only in heaven. For now we should gather as a Church and console one another with the consolations we have received, and continue to retell the story of total victory promised us in the Lord, after the Good Friday of this life gives way to the Eternal Easter of heaven.

But another reason the inward and highly personalized faith of the therapeutic culture does not work is that it rejects the communion for which we were ultimately made.

St. Augustine summarized our most fundamental problem as being “curvatus in se.” That is, on account of Original Sin, the human person will tend to be turned in on himself. This of course is exactly what a lot of modern versions of heretical religion peddle: a highly personalized, inwardly focused search for “God.” A search that is apart from the community of the Church, and the extended community of Sacred tradition. Chesterton called tradition the “democracy of the dead” since it gave them a seat at the table and voice. Through Tradition and doctrine, we have communion, not only with each other, but also with the ancient Christians.

But modern heresy turns inward to a very lonely and rather dark place. It rejects the need for a Church or for doctrines at all. Alone, and turned inward, we cannot be fulfilled. It is no accident that the therapeutic “faith” emanating from a therapeutic culture is not fulfilling.

The real truth is that we were made for others and for God. Communion with God, and each other in God, is THE goal of life. Christ founded a Church, and summoned us to a relationship with the Blessed Trinity. But it is the Trinity as revealed, not as reworked by us.

The “god-within” of modern heresy, is more often a mere emanation of our very self, a solipsism (from the Latin solus– alone, and ipse – self). And “tolerance” as often spoken of today (it is not true tolerance, more on that  HERE), does not join us together in harmony as advertised, it separates us into our own little worlds where “what’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you.” We live increasingly in the little world of our own mind and are pulling up roots from any shared reality. God, if he is understood at all by these modern heresies, is a very local deity, who exists only in the mind of one person and is subject to later redefinition. He (or she? or it?) is small and very contingent deity and has little role other than what Douthot keenly observes, to be our butler.

One of the great challenges for us today then, is to re-propose the need for the Church which Christ founded. He did not write a book and send us off to study it. He founded a community, a Church, and told us we would find him there, where two or three are gathered in his name. Where his actual and true words are read and heard, where his true body and blood are offered and received. Many are scandalized that he should be found among sinners, gossips, hypocrites and the like (and saints too!). But that is where he is found. Indeed, one image for the Church is Christ, crucified between two thieves (one repented!). Yes, that is where he is found, in the Church. And only within the Church and her careful, thoughtful doctrines and the accumulated wisdom of centuries is the journey to find God within us safe enough to consider. For yes, he does dwell within us too. But don’t make the journey there alone.  No, never alone.

48 Replies to “How Modern Heresies Have Isolated and Left Us Unfulfilled”

  1. Monsignior Charles, your attention to “ ‘genius’ in crafting endless varieties of do-it-yourself faith, one from column A, two from column B” got me wondering if this is only a characteristic of “heresy”, and, if not, how is it best to address the ‘non-heretical’ version of this “genius”.

    The example that happened to come to mind was the ‘Latinism’ of Giovanni Battista Eliano, S.J., who, in the late sixteenth century, travelled around the Lebanon and to Aleppo, visiting Maronite Churches, buying old (liturgical) manuscripts from them – and burning them. Thereafter a synod was held in his presence at Qannubin, where, for example, it was – contrary to local tradition – decided that children of around eight should be confirmed by the patriarch or a bishop, rather than as infants immediately after their baptism by the priest.

    Is any of this ‘heresy’? It is not simply (as an expression of an not uncommon ‘Latinism’) radically individualistic, but it seems to display a doctrinaire (self-)confidence that is not obviously laudable. Indeed, might not some of the faithful members of the Church then and there be justly offended by his behavior and ‘agenda’?

    To put it another way, how does the phenomenon of people shooting themselves in the foot – very insistently ‘in the name of the Church’ (often with at least apparent formal authority) – come into the picture?

  2. I really wanted to sign up for this relativistic, heretical faith described in that book….but the line was too long, and the tuition at Georgetown was too steep for me. I guess I’ll have to stick with Scripture and Tradition.

    1. To clarify, my tongue is firmly implanted in my cheek.

    1. Not if the “God of your understanding” is the biblical and Catholic God as he has revealed himself. The use of the phrase in AA settings makes some sense in the fact that sectarian distinctions often cause difficulties in a pluralistic setting. Other notions of God in AA make it clear that he is a higher power, over and greater than me and that I am powerless without him. This helps avoid the really cheesy self divinization that is common. Further, most twleve step programs end in the reciting of the Our Father and this too helps keep the notion from going off the deep end. Still other notions also help in AA s uch as the insistence on community, the following of the steps, the finding of a sponsor and the fourth step inventory and making amends to people we have hurt. So over all AA avoids the worst of the modern tendencies of the mere designer god/religion. However, that does not mean everyone in AA has correct notions about God. Frankly mere attnedance at a Catholic Church does not mean that one has orthodox faith. One actually has to know and apply the faith, and many individual catholics in the pews and even some in pulpits do not extol the full and orthodox faith. Heresy is a problem everywhere that the synthesis of the full faith is cast aside in favor of personalistic and or trendy notions that lack the tension and balance of the full and orthodox faith.

      1. Thank you Father for the clarification.

        I was a confused and rebellious alcoholic. in sobriety I have found myself “trudging” back to the practice of my faith…and am profoundly grateful.

        I worry that sober catholic alcoholics in AA might be confused….but then that’s why we can ask priests I guess.

        I read your blog and other catholic blogs & thank you for all the good work you do.

  3. I have often thought if more folks were serious about their faith that a fair number of psychologists,, would be permanently out of work. Our society simply wouldn’t need them in these numbers.
    When you attend Sunday Mass regularly then once a week a person receives so many spiritual and practical tools to help one cope with the challenges of every day life. We receive true gifts of healing not only individually but the collective regenerative effects benefit everyone. I find it immensely sad that so many of our brothers and sisters are not even aware of these aspects of a sincerely lived faith.

    1. This statement reminds me of a psychology course I took as an undergraduate. The professor clearly stated that over time, the role of priest, especially waste confessional and individual consultation, was replaced in the secular culture by phsychologists/ therapy. He elaborated on this by giving examples, all of which seems consistent with what I just read above. I don’t recall him adding bias or commentary (or the usual dig against the Church), merely stating the fact.

  4. “But modern heresy turns inward to a very lonely and rather dark place. It rejects the need for a Church or for doctrines at all. Alone, and turned inward, we cannot be fulfilled. It is no accident that the therapeutic “faith” emanating from a therapeutic culture is not fulfilling…” – featured article

    Throughout AA literature alcoholics; (especially in the 12&12) are encouraged to keep an open mind towards religion & improve spiritual progress by considering a return to churches they might have rejected. The 12 steps are a means to sobriety for those who want it but need not conflict with religion and it’s stated clearly that the program of recovery is not a replacement for religion.
    Written by alcoholics for alcoholics as a means to achieve sobriety.

    It seems some priests have found a way…just sayin’

    1. Yes, i concur with your observations here too….

      And for all those who are “just sayin…” remeber that scripture says, “let us love in deed and truth and not merely talk about it.” just quotin….. 🙂

  5. “That is why A.A., by its nature, cannot be allied with any denomination or sect or any other kind of organization. A.A. neither endorses nor opposes any creed or cause. It simply is a fellowship of men and women who are alcoholics, and who share with each other their experience, strength and hope, toward solving their common problem and towards helping still others arrest their alcoholism. The A.A. neither evangelizes nor proselytizes. Its entire therapy is contained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, compiled by the founding group eighteen years ago. A.A. is not endowed by anyone, yet has no dues, charges or fees, and welcomes to membership the poorest of the poor. Free-will collections are taken up at meetings to defray hall rentals and other incidental expenses, but no one knows how much any other member contributes.”

    Father Pfau deplored the fact that A.A., as he put it, had been “misleadingly” discussed from time to time in both secular and Catholic periodicals. ( article dated 1955)

    “Within the past few years, a writer in Reader’s Digest, displaying a shocking ignorance of even the barest elements of the A.A. therapy, described it as nothing more than ‘a rehash of Salvation Army techniques.’ Owners of sanatoriam or treatment centers, in seeking publicity or else in ignorance have written articles that have prevented many alcoholics from coming into A.A. An article in The Sign may have kept many Catholics from seeking help through A.A. for fear of being required to do something contrary to the Church’s teachings.”

    I have heard and read of various misgivings about the A.A. for many years. The arguments of some Catholics – not themselves A.A. members – had been that A.A. members could develop a religious indifferentism. For was not A.A. a sort of pseudo-Catholicism, instilling Catholic principles yet devoid of liturgy and sacraments? Might not some members conclude that liturgy and sacraments were non-essentials, “trappings” or encrustations? Seeing that they “went to God directly” and were helped by Him regardless of their denominational affiliation or even if they had none, might not some reason that membership in any church body was unnecessary? I asked Father Pfau, therefore, if there was any danger of a Catholic losing his faith as a result of joining A.A.

    “I never knew one who lost his faith,” he said. “On the contrary, the A.A. program has inspired many fallen-away Catholics to return to the Church. It has spiritually re-awakened them. Moreover, some A.A. non-Catholic members have become Catholics, a few through having gone on retreats.”

    His next statement startled me – until he went on to explain it.

    “But no one should try to convert a fellow member. Catholic members should not try to convert non-Catholic members. They are not ready to try to convert anyone, and should not introduce religious controversy and consequent friction at A.A. meetings. For one thing it reveals pride and presumption. I’ve known Catholics on the A.A. program who, having stayed sober a few months, start going apostolic. Such a Catholic, on meeting with little or no success, and generally arousing antagonisms, inevitably winds up going on a big binge! Why? Because, in his disappointment, he succumbs to a typical alcoholic self-pity. His pride has been hurt. What he fails to realize is that he is no stellar example of the Faith, and that he attempted to do what a saint, rich in graces and years of holiness, and with deep insight into human nature, would not have attempted. The Catholic member who suddenly goes apostolic simply wants to be a Big Shot convert-maker. The same goes for members of other churches who try to make converts.

    “As the founder of A.A. once wisely wrote: ‘It is one of the glories of A.A. that the individual may make his free choice in all A.A. matters without expecting the least interference or criticism from any group or any of his fellow members.'”

    1. All fair enough. In the therapeutic process there is a value in holding “other things equal” and finding a “room” where things are less judgmental. This gives a person some leeway in finding a way and helps build trust. That said, it is not always possible or even helpful for this to be the case in terms of the the revealed faith, or even in wider society where expectations and judgements need to be clearer. Here again what we need is balance, safe-zones on the one hand and clear defined boundaries on the other. I think AA has the balance right overall.

    2. Not to prolong the digression into matters AA, but what I find most disturbing about far too many AA meetings I have attended is the virulent anti-Catholicism that many members (though certainly not AA itslef) express freely and with a warm reception. I found this so repugnant that I now consider myself an exiled AA member.

      Regarding heresy: Catholics need to take a good hard look at the ease with which the Charismatic movement is overtaking much of the Church: certainly in the Global South and in many parishes in the US. Charismatic Catholicism is nothing other than repackaged Protestant Pentecostalism that is, at its heart, at odds with the theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and spirituality of the authentic Catholic faith.

      1. I wanted to encourage people to look at the 12 step review link posted above. Father Emmerich Vogt has a wonderful ministry and his talks in the collection “Detaching with Love” and “Spirituality of the 12 Steps” have been an immense help for my family. I found the talks thoroughly Catholic. Though I didn’t have an alcohol addiction, I had many other “issues”. I still “go through the program” from time to time to work on healing.

  6. “I never knew one who lost his faith,” he said. “On the contrary, the A.A. program has inspired many fallen-away Catholics to return to the Church. It has spiritually re-awakened them. Moreover, some A.A. non-Catholic members have become Catholics, a few through having gone on retreats.”

    I went to my first confession in years after I had DT’s and dried out and was able to articulate after 90 days…before I worked with a sponsor on my inventory. Confession gave me the courage I needed to honestly appraise the wreckage of my past in the 4th step inventory & the 5th step work with an AA sponsor.
    Steps 4,5,6 & 7 in particular are very “catholic” steps that every catholic alcoholic recognizes in early sobriety & I know other Catholic AA’s who have come back home through sobriety.

    1. Thanks for this testimony. I too have known many who found their way back in just the way you have described. I went to Alanon meetings for over 6 years and found great healing there and discovered a capacity to forgive and let go of the need to change the past. For those who love people who are alcoholics, Alanon is a great help.

  7. Msgr,

    I’ve also been enjoying Douthat’s book. As I go through it, I can’t help but recognize many of the heresies he discusses alive and well in my own faith life. It would be nice to think of myself as “separate” from the rest of those idolaters out there. But, the truth is that so much of stuff permeates the culture, that it’s foolish to think that we’re entirely immune from it. The Catholic Church wisely keeps the Cross front and center, to remind us what true discipleship requires. So true, but so hard! Back to Confession!


  8. “Religious man was born to be saved [but] “psychological man is born to be pleased.”

    I wonder if there is any legitimate place for psychology within the spirituality of Catholics trying to be faithful to Christ and the Church?

    “Contentment here could be found, and true faith is essential to that. But lasting happiness was found only in the Lord, and fully, only in heaven.” How much of a role should contentment (or whatever level of happiness may be found here) play in one’s choice of a vocation or state in life? Does God want us to be content/happy in our vocations? Or, should we seek the maximum level of self-denial always and everywhere, opting instead for the vocation that would appear to be hardest, most difficult, most contrary to our own desires?

    My sense is that many Catholics sincerely trying to follow Christ come across these questions and need help understanding how to integrate taking up one’s cross, self denial, etc. with their desire for happiness.

  9. Thank you for this informative analysis; I’m going to buy the book, too.

  10. From Fr. Michael Mueller’s “Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine”, a book which would do much good to be promulgated once again in this country.

    Question: Are there any other reasons to show that heretics, or Protestants who die out of the Roman Catholic Church, are not saved?

    Answer: There are several. They cannot be saved because
    1. They have no divine faith.
    2. They make a liar of Jesus Christ, of the holy Ghost, and of the Apostles.
    3. They have no faith in Christ.
    4. They fell away from the true Church of Christ.
    5. They are too proud to submit to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.
    6. They cannot perform any good works whereby they can attain heaven.
    7. They do not receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
    8. They die in their sins.
    9. They ridicule and blaspheme the Mother of God and His Saints.
    10. They slander the spouse of Jesus Christ—the Catholic Church.

    Nihil Obstat: Joseph Helmpraecht, C.SS.R., Baltimore, MD., 24 Sept., 1874
    Imprimatur: J. Roosevelt Bayley, Archiep. Baltimorensis, Baltimore, 24 Sept., 1874

    1. Are you saying that no one outside the Catholic faith can be saved? I did not think that was the official position of the Church. Can you point to me in the Catechism where it states that.

      1. The Catholic Church does not have “official positions,” only the infallible deposit of Faith which can never change. The following are relevant sections of the Catechism which is only trustworthy inasmuch as it is faithfully repeating the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Any section which implies exception to the rule or contradicts the following teachings, have no basis in the infallible Magisterium. In fact for some, the Catechism gives no support whatsoever.

        CCC 846: “…the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.”

        CCC 1257 “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.”

        To suggest that a single person was saved without the sacrament of baptism is to imply that Baptism is not necessary and that one knows more than the Catholic Church–perhaps an alternate source of revelation.

    2. Wow! So unecumenical. Also, so very right. Oh for the days when Catholic teaching was presented in very clear terms.

      1. Mr. Chabot has correctly quoted the first (independent) clause of the fourth sentence of CCC1257. He might also have quoted the fifith sentence – “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” – and noted 1258-61, and (in quoting from 846) 847-48.

        Is he suggesting that he can demonstrate that the final sentence of 1257 and all (or even significant parts) of 1258-61, and 847-48 are “have no basis in the infallible Magisterium”?

        If so, and Monsignor Charles Pope permitting, it would be courtreous as well as charitable for him to provide the demonstration; if not, it would be equally so for him to clarify any points requiring that (such as his last sentence).

        1. P.S.: I apologize for the typo (“fifith”for “fifth”) and verb-change in mid-sentence (“are ‘have'” for “have”) !

        2. Yes, thanks David, I have been meaning to circle back and clarify that Peter’s articulation of salvation outside the Church is not the Catholic one. He is far too strict in his understanding and is selectively quoting the tradition and Scripture.

          1. That’s certainly great news for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses !!

          2. Msgr.,

            Doesn’t the Baltimore Catechism reflect what was taught in the Church prior to Vatican 2? I don’t think Peter Chabot was making the dogma of no Salvation outside of the Catholic Church up himself. There was a strict understanding that one had to be in the Church Christ founded to be saved. And if there was a possibility for salvation outside of the Church, it would be extremely narrow. Now, the perception is, all religions are equal and man can be saved in any or no religion. It is all very confusing. Either the Catholic Church is the true religion and the one in which man is to be saved or it is not. Yes? No? Your guidance would greatly be appreciated.

          3. Well, ask Fr. Feeney about that. His punishment came well before the council. Your description of our current catechism’s teaching on nulla salus…. Is not a proper description. It is far more careful than you summarize

          4. Msgr.,

            Wasn’t Fr. Feeney reinstated to the Church without having to retract his position? Perhaps the matter is best summed up by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical, Quanto conficiamur moerore:

            “We all know that those who are afflicted with invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law that have been written by God in the hearts of all men, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful life, can attain eternal life by the power of divine light and grace. For God. . . will not permit, in accordance with his infinite goodness and mercy, anyone who is not guilty of a voluntary fault to suffer eternal punishment. However, also well-known is the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church, and that those who obstinately oppose the authority and definitions of that Church, and who stubbornly remain separated from the unity of the Church and from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, (to whom the Savior has entrusted the care of his vineyard), cannot obtain salvation.”

          5. Jesus prayed for unity, the night before His passion…”That they may be one as You and I are one.”

            If Protestant Christians have no access to salvation, doesn’t that mean that Jesus’ prayer wasn’t answered? And if Jesus’ own prayer isn’t answered, what real hope do we have that our prayers are answered.

            Jesus is God. Jesus is perfect. His whole earthly life was all about fulfilling God’s will. Does anyone think that He was not praying in accordance with His Father’s will?

  11. Another great article / post Monsignor. I can only speak as an American Catholic, but the media inundates the airwaves with a ton of heresies. First of all, the term heresy is probably considered “hate speech” by the crowds that decide what is and what is not tolerant. Some do not like diversity of thought and opinion. The god within, communicating with people on the ‘other side’, the enlightenment of man, all seems to be clever deception. And then there are so many denominational factions that constantly divide the Christian church. If you want to be a true Catholic, read the catechism and that is what we are bound to. The other churches create there own teachings as they continue to disagree amongst each other. Another heresy in my opinion.

    Peace of Christ, Truth of Christ


  12. “The Inward god” makes a good argument for early confession. Confession, or Reconciliation, teaches us at an early age to seek God outside of ourselves. Thus we try to conform ourselves to Him rather than conform Him to ourselves. This may be one of the reasons some people do not go to confession. There is no need when my god conforms himself to me.

  13. My question about judgement and hell was answered by one word: pride.

  14. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    I find the exerpts from this book to be profound. I cannot wait to read the book in its enitrety. thank you.

    Recently, I have met a family that has rejected their faith after the loss of a loved one, and a yong man who believes that he is God and we are all God. Both read several popular books, that speak to Douthat’s book. They seek modern psychology to work through their pain. I too have engaged counselors when I have felt alone and hurt. I talk wtih these folks for a bit, while we try to make our case. Other individuals, as well, will cite exerpts from these books, and also Gloria Steinham. I continue to learn about the history of Catholicism and the Bible, so that I can hold my own in a conversation. I am not shy about speaking about my faith, yet take care at times to avoid charged conflict.

    I feel compelled to do something more than attend Mass, read the Bible and Cathecism, and also refer to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for guidance. I have endured many trials, including the death of my parents at a young age and a very long illness. Daily I offer my sufferings to those who lost their faith, and ask God for His mercy upon all of us. I say the rosary, perhaps not often enough, and the Jesus Prayer throughout the day. I offer this for those who have passed, for the unborn child, for those who do not believe.

    The irony is that most of these activities seem to be internal, in my world, albeit not a dark place. Yet in today’s society, perhaps there is something more that should be done. Perhaps this is a time when devout Catholics might take a more assertive role, in reducing the chatter – if you will – of the secular life. How can Catholics evangelize their faith or take an more active role? Shall we look to the church leadership?

    I believe that our society has been duped by the devil’s agenda…..for a lack of putting it another way…..we find it in the media, socialist agendas, modern psychology, and even in our schools. Consider, the women’s movement of the 60’s,for example; women were duped into essentially reinquishing their birthrights. This movement was truly a war on women and a war on the family. The fact is, we are bombarded by stimuli that is contrary to our faith and God’s law.

    I pray to the Holy Spirit for His intervention. I feel compelled to take a more active role for my church, my faith, and others, yet i need guidance in this area.

    God Bless,

  15. There was a mention of how many psychologists and psychotherapists are employed in the USA;
    how many of them would still be needed if more Catholics would take moral problems or addictions to the Sacrament of Reconciliation? (Penance, we used to call it.)

  16. Two things C.S. Lewis wrote, also came to mind. One is where he talks (in Mere Christianity IV, 6) about those “errors” which come in “pairs of opposites” and the dangers of spending “a lot of time thinking which is the worst” – and gradually being drawn into the opposite one: “We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

    The other is in his letter in Latin of 25 November 1947 to the Blessed Don Giovanni Calabria, where (to quote the editor’s translation) he writes, “what would I think of your Thomas More or of our Tyndale? […] Both of them seem to me most saintly men and to have loved God with their whole heart: I am not worthy to undo the shoes of either of them. Nevertheless they disagree and (what racks and astounds me) their disagreement seems to me to spring not from their vices nor from their ignorance but rather from their virtues and the depths of their faith, so that the more they were at their best the more they were at variance. I believe the judgement of God on their dissention is more profoundly hidden than it appears to you to be”.

  17. Thank you Msgr. Pope for this piece. It should help me be more aware of the possible heresies that might pull me away from the Truth, that is Jesus Christ.

    Which reminds me of a sesion I assisted where the patient was told by her oncologist to overcome her depression first before she starts with treatment. When she met the social worker, one of the first things the patient mentioned is that she is by herself most of the time. To overcome this, the social worker asked her if she goes to a church! And if she did, she may want to join a church-based group in the parish to provide her good company. Even some mainstream service providers acknowledge the importance of religion and the church to a person’s well being!

  18. I’m still waiting at my public library to read Douthat’s book so I wonder – does he also mention the unquestionably minor but very pesky and annoying heresies based on the literal and one-sided readings of Matthew 7:1 and 1 John 4:8? The pews and the comboxes are full of such heretics…8)

  19. This seems to have half the answer, but not the total answer.

    If there’s now 400,000 secular ‘counselors’ of one kind or another, that’s also 400,000 priests, ministers, and rabbis out of work. The article says these secular counselors are doing what we used to do among family, but it was the role of the priest as well.

    The Catholic Church in particular used to have vast charitable operations, almost all of them now wiped away. —And not just because that was then, and this is now; but because of a concerted effort to replace religious charity with secular state social work.

    It used to be that charity was a necessary part of church life, giving it and receiving it. And that’s gone. The clergy only have anything to do on Sunday morning.

    And people wonder why the denominations are all dying off? The life of the church has been packaged by state hospitals and sold off one pill at a time in insurance programs.

    And it’s not like the Catholic church, or any of the others, fought this creeping secularization, this movement to supply our deepest personal needs out of the MSW curruculum books. The churches were complicit in this.


    But why does it have to be this way? Why can’t the priests get MSW’s as well, and bill for their counselling just as much as the secular ones do? Why don’t the churches do this and **take back** counselling from these state employees? —-Where are the priests? Where is the clergy?

  20. During the sequence on Sunday, I was struck by the verse “Sana quod est saucium”. Perhaps it was partly with this in mind that Monsignor Charles has considered Ross Douthat’s critique of “therapeutic culture” and “therapeutic religion” during the Octave of Pentecost.

    And perhaps it would do no harm if I hammer even more on the point that this is a matter of a false restricting and recasting of “the therapeutic”, which originally comes from the ‘servant’-word used of Moses in Hebrews 3:5 (quoting Numbers 12:7 in the Septuagint), translated “famulus”, by way of the verb used, for example, in Matthew 4:23-24, in the first of which our Lord’s activity is translated “sanans” and in the second, “curavit” – where it includes ‘curing’ “qui daemonia habebant”, ‘those who had a demon (possessing them)’.

    I did not know what, exactly, “saucium”, from the verse of “Veni, Sancte Spiritus”, meant. It had a rich variety of senses or aspects in the dictionary I checked: ‘hit’, ‘wounded’, (in farming) ‘plowed up’ or ‘furrowed’, also ‘(a bit) drunk’, ‘love-sick’, ‘offended’, and (of the accused, in a court-case) ‘already half-convicted’ – and what the sun does to ice: ‘melted’. My imagination may be running a bit wild, but that seems to give a vivid picture of all that we pray the Holy Spirit to cleanse and make sound and whole and well and right (again) – probably most often in a properly “inward and highly personalized” way.

    1. Douthat’s God would seem to be all challenge, no comfort or consolation. Does God in fact heal? He does. Is healing central to God’s mission? It is, I think, it is is secondary. Many are not healed – then, by Jesus, and now – but that does not say anything about God’s effectiveness. He never came to heal completely, at least here and now.

      I asked above if there is a legitimate place for psychology in the life of a Catholic – does it influence spirituality at all, or is it simply “psycho-babble,” a heretical distraction from the call of the Gospels. I do indeed think there is a place for “the therapeutic,” and perhaps that is your point too. I just think, “first things first” – always. What Jesus came to bring was God, as Pope Benedict said in “Jesus of Nazareth.”

      Anything and everything should be evaluated by what God Himself did and promised to do. The root heresy may be our not letting God be God, which has manifested itself in so many ways, in every evil that plagues our time.

  21. It seems like the harshly challenging things which I’ve encountered in the 1980’s as being part of therapeutic psychology are fading out. The way modern society is going I have no problem believing that things like catharsis, the re-opening and resolution of suppressed trauma or complexes and more are being replaced by soft and fluffy substitutes that support and merge with comfortable things like the “spiritual not religious” concepts that I was never comfortable with in the Twelve Step groups; and that have since become scary for me when seen elsewhere.
    One thing which I did like; and continue to admire; the stated need to be truthful about the past and to face it’s unpleasant aspects with help and not alone. Trying to deal with these alone is what led me to destroy my life with the suppressing substances.
    On this warm and fuzzy spiritual/psychological thing that reminds me of Jeremiah 6:14 and Jeremiah 8:11 and how it seemed so important that it was mentioned twice. It appears that we are returning to burying unhealthy emotional spiritual wounds by healing over them instead of cleansing so that healing can come from within.
    The modern couch potato program of spiritual and emotional fitness with the absurdity of the “god within” is probably a lot more comfortable than the alternative but, how fit will it’s participants be to make the transition from our worldly existance to the spiritual when showing up all flabby and full of unresolved baggage that those participants wouldn’t make the effort to shed?

  22. Wonderful article, sounds like a very insightful book, thank you!

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