Like many of you I often use Google Alerts to stay in touch with what’s going out out there. One of my search parameters is “Catholic” as you might expect. But what I get back from Google would really be described more as “anti-Catholic.” Well over 80% of the articles and posts that are highlighted are not only hostile to Catholic teaching, but downright hateful.
This suggests two possibilities. First that the Google search algorithm is “off” and that it fails to really search for what I want, and that somehow Google likes or prioritizes the anti-Catholic stuff. Perhaps. It IS odd to me that most of the blogs I regularly read NEVER make the Google cut.
The second possibility is that there simply is a lot more anti-Catholic stuff out there than I’d like to think, and though we Catholics like to think we’ve really got it going on in the blogosphere etc., perhaps those who hate or oppose us just have a bigger footprint.
I don’t know, you decide. CARA recently did a study (HERE) that concludes that we faithful Catholics have a LONG way to go in really making an impact on the Internet, and that most of the faithful do not really frequent Catholic sites for Catholic info.
All that said, (as a challenge to us all to grow the footprint of faithful Catholicism), I want to comment on a typical article that Google alerts generates and make some comments on how the author of the article fundamentally misunderstands the Church and yet exemplifies even what many in our pews think the Church should do and be.
The author identifies himself as “the Friendly Atheist.” Frankly he doesn’t seem all that friendly, given what he writes, but lets take a look, and also at a comment. As usual the original article is in bold, black, italic text, and my remarks are in plain red text. The full article is HERE, these are excerpts.
Friendly Atheist writes:
The Catholic Church is Now Pissing Off the People Who Actually Like Them
Sorry, those are his vulgar words, not mine. Refined language does not seem to be the forte of our Friendly Atheist.
But note the premise of his statement seems to be that anger is an argument. In other words if I make you angry, somehow I must be in the wrong. The argument seems to be that anger has the upper hand. Yes, if I am angry, somehow I must be “right,” and if you caused me to be angry somehow you must be wrong.
It is, perhaps, a specific version of the more general trend of our culture to exult feelings over reason. Thus if a person is crying, or if there is anger, somehow they gain authenticity over someone who is more sanguine. If the mother of, say, a crime victim is crying, the cameras roll and she makes the opening of the TV news. If one is more measured and “logical” they get moved to page B2 of the paper, and don’t even make the evening news.
But again, note, anger is not, per se, an argument. Just because you are angry at me does not mean that I necessarily did anything wrong. In fact, it may be that I did something right, that I struck a necessary nerve. Jesus made a lot of people angry, so angry they killed him; the prophets and martyrs too. Anger is not a argument, it’s just a feeling.
We know Catholic leaders are mostly a bunch of men who don’t want to hear any legitimate arguments as to why they’re wrong on issues like contraception usage and gay marriage.
Note that he says we “know” this. I do not cede this point as a premise. Frankly, most Catholics I know, think the Bishops far less decisive than our “friendly atheist” presumes. They experience them, as a group, to be far more open the the “spirit of the age,” to collegiality and to “dialogue” than they would wish. I personally disagree with either extreme (i.e. too open vs. too closed), but the point here is that what our friendly atheist stipulates as a fact we “know,” is far more disputable than he presumes.
Further he speaks of them not being open to “legitimate” arguments as to why they are wrong on contraception and Gay “marriage.”
Again note the logical fallacy: we are first supposed to stipulate that they are “wrong” on the said issues. No, Mr. “Friendly Atheist,” you are supposed to demonstrate that.
He further implies that the arguments against the Bishops are “legitimate,” which presupposes that arguments for these positions are “illegitimate.” Here too, a logical fallacy since he has failed to demonstrate the presupposition of “legitimacy.”
Now the word “legitimacy” comes from the Latin legis, meaning “law.” In the Catholic realm we find the sources of our law in Scripture and Tradition. Now, if there are “legitimate” arguments that the “friendly atheist” wants to advance, let him attempt to do so. But, frankly, the attempts to advance any argument from Scripture or Tradition that Gay “marriage” or contraception are good, and of God, will be hard to come by, since, at every stage of Scripture and Tradition these practices are consistently condemned.
Some argue that Scripture is largely silent on contraception (but remember, NO ONE wanted small families in those days, contraception was unthinkable except perhaps in relation to prostitution), but Tradition is not silent. And as for Gay “marriage” any attempt to validate homosexual activity of any sort is fanciful. Scripture unambiguously and at every stage, condemns homosexual activity, as well as illicit heterosexual activity. Hence it is unclear what “legitimate” (i.e. based in Law) arguments the bishops should be listening to on either topic
Perhaps our friendly atheist thinks that arguments from the world are the legitimate arguments. But “the world” is not a “legitimate” (i.e. “legal”) source of the moral Law for the Church. We draw from sources of Scripture, Tradition and appeal to the Natural Law both to confirm the rectitude of our beliefs and to demonstrate to unbelievers the rectitude of our positions.
We also know that most Catholics who are not part of the hierarchy don’t buy into what their “superiors” tell them. Catholic women use birth control. Many Catholics support gay marriage. The list goes on.
Here too there are a list of misunderstandings as to the nature of the Church. We are not a body politic that determines what is right based on polls or how conforming people are. It is a tragic truth that the faithful, down through the centuries, have not always lived or upheld what is taught. That goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
And even to this day, it is not merely the “conservative” sexual morals of the Church that the faithful often ignore or dispute, it is also more “liberal” notions. For example, we are to love our enemies and not seek to retaliate against those who assail us. But most Catholics, most Christians, liberal or conservative, do not live this very well and even openly live contrary to it. Should the Church simply jettison this call to love our enemies and now sanction, approve and encourage hating enemies? Should we recognize “covenants of hatred” and seek to supply encouragement and provision and rituals for retaliation? Should we affirm those who have a “right” to hate since, after all, God gave them the capacity to hate? Is the mere fact that people don’t live the moral law reason to jettison it?
Well, let these absurdities illustrate the truth that the Church cannot allow sinful human behavior, no matter how widespread and “celebrated” be the norm for our teaching. Taking votes and simply observing human attitudes is not a good source for moral norms. We must look to reveled truth for a more sure source, a source that does not merely pander to what we want.
And note that what the “friendly atheist” calls “Most Catholics” may be statistically true, but it fails to distinguish between church-going Catholics and merely nominal Catholics. It remains a sad fact that most people who call themselves Catholics are not really practicing Catholics in any sense of the word. Perhaps they will return, but non-practicing Catholics cannot set the norm for what it means to be a believing and practicing Catholic.
So when the Arlington Catholic Diocese sent Sunday School teachers a “Profession of Faith” they needed to sign, some of them balked at the idea that they have to “firmly accept” anything the Church teaches about faith and morals.
Ditto with being forced to adhere to the “will and intellect to the teachings” of Catholic leaders.
It is not clear to me how many of the teachers actually balked at the idea. But, not having been born yesterday, and knowing the secular media’s usual approach, lets say 97% say fine, and 3% say “Hmm…” Just guess where the cameras and mics will be found. The dissenters get the attention, the faithful are either ignored or get a little line at the end of the piece.
Here too, our Friendly Atheist misunderstands the nature of the Church which is not a human club wherein the members get to vote on by-laws and determine what seems right according to their thinking. We are a community of believers who gather around a revealed doctrine that we do not get to determine, but are required to give assent to.
It is not so extreme to ask those who do not merely sit in the pews but actually take positions as catechists and who claim to teach in the name of the Church to publicly attest that they actually believe what they are teaching and to promise not to teach anything contrary to it.
No one is required to be a catechist, and thus, if one is struggling to assent to some teaching, they are not required to make a promise of any sort. Perhaps they can discuss their struggle with a member of the clergy or another believer and clarify or come to some understanding. Perhaps not. But that is a personal matter.
When, however, one steps forth to teach the faith in a formal way and to take the office of catechist, it makes sense that they be asked to certify that they assent to Church teaching and are striving to live it.
Every employee of the Federal and most State governments are asked to assert under oath that they will respect and uphold civil law in these or similar words:
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
If even secular governments and businesses expect their employees to affirm loyalty and allegiance to a basic set of norms, how much more the Church which proposes not only passing human norms, but what we believe to be eternal and divine norms?
The “Friendly Atheist” then goes on to quote outraged catechist (four of them) an then concludes:
I’m loving this implosion from the sidelines. The Church isn’t going to back down from their awful ideas and the decent people who actually like the Church are finding more and more reasons to get the hell out of there.
I am sure he is loving it but he doesn’t seem very “friendly” when he says this .
He’s right that we are not going to back down, not with the Holy Spirit in charge any way. For God is not “no” yesterday and “yes” today and the moral law does not morph with our wishes. The truth does not change just because the world rejects it or even if most people choose to violate it.
So again, the “Friendly Atheist” fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the Church which is not a clubhouse, but is a lighthouse. And to be lighthouse we have to be a light, even when the world prefers darkness.
And as for those who are “getting the Hell out of there,” it is fairly problematic to argue that the Catholic Church would have greater numbers if we were towing the line of what the modern world expects and demands. For, the Mainline Protestant denominations have largely taken this path and their numbers are far worse, indeed one can only marvel at the mass exodus from the denominations who have embraced the spirit of the age. And, the Evangelical denominations who have resisted such modern notions are growing.
In the end, Catholicism is holding her own, and even growing on a worldwide basis. We do not grow by defining ourselves. Our only hope and prayer is to remain faith to the gospel in season and out of season.
One of his commenters named “Moctavius” says, Nothing says, “I’m on the wrong side of history,” quite like a loyalty oath.
Well Mactavius may have pronounced an end to the Church, or to her influence, but he will do well to consider that the Church has outlived all her opponents and confounded the predictions of all who have announced her demise. Where is Caesar, where is Napoleon, where is the Soviet Socialist Republic? Movements too have come and gone, some remain and recast themselves as “something new” but are really just the same old tired heresies. You think you have a new idea, go back and see how the Greeks put it.
But through it all the Church has remained. She has outlived every enemy and every movement. And though her numbers may rise and fall, she is, by God’s promise, indefectible.
So pronounce away Mactavius, but the Church is not on the wrong side of history, she IS history.
And to the “Friendly Atheist,” and to all who think the Church should learn to “tow the line” and come into conformity with “modern” (actually old, rehashed) thinking, I am mindful of a saying of Jesus:
Jesus Said, “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But time will prove where wisdom is” (Matt 11:17-19)
Yes, wisdom is proved true by her works and by her lasting vindication in the parade of erroneous or foolish ideas.