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Drawing Bright Lines

Note: David Carlin underscores a hard truth today for many in the Church. Going along with our decadent culture is not going to win friends and influence people. Let alone convert them. The culture is already quite content with its anti-Christian stance, never more so than when it presents itself as more Christian than Christians. In these circumstances, only sharp distinctions and the willingness to live with the consequences can make any real difference. We’ve been at that task here at The Catholic Thing for over a decade and have held the line and even – it’s fair to say – done our part to move the ball. So can you do your part? This Fall campaign needs to succeed if TCT is going to continue and do even more – much more we hope – as the challenges around us grow. Click the button. You’ll be happy you did. – Robert Royal

I’m an old man, and though I hope, and on certain days even go so far as to expect, that the Catholic Church in America will eventually recover from the very bad slump it has been in for the past few decades, I fear that I won’t live long enough to see this recovery.

When I’m on my deathbed (a piece of furniture I hope to avoid for at least a few more years), in order that I may die with a smile on my face, I will ask my grandchildren to bring me news of any signs of Catholic recovery.  “Report to me,” I’ll ask them, “any bishop who has been brave enough to excommunicate a Catholic pro-abortion politician.  And tell me about any diocese in which it has been discovered that there is not a single example of a homosexual priest.”

Just to make sure they understand the nature of this latter request, I will make it clear that I’m not interested in learning about a diocese in which all priests have abstained from the crime of sexually molesting underage boys.  I’m always happy, of course, to learn that priests are not committing sexual crimes, just as I’m happy to learn that they are not committing crimes of embezzlement and bank robbery.  But abstention from sexual crimes, while in itself a good thing, is hardly proof that we have a generally chaste priesthood.  Perhaps the opposite.

When Church authorities focus on the prevention of sexual abuse, I suspect they are doing this, at least in part, to draw attention away from the homosexual rot that is ruining the Church.  It’s as if they are saying, “We are absolutely determined that our priests will never again be guilty of sexual abuse – but we’re not really troubled if they happen to have consensual relationships with adult men.”

I’ll be reminded, perhaps even by Pope Francis himself, that sexual sins are not the only sins.  They are not even the worst of sins.  Since charity is the supreme Christian virtue, it follows that sins against charity are the worst of sins.  Certainly, a Catholic must not be unchaste.  But neither may a Catholic be unkind; he or she must not, for example, spread malicious gossip about a neighbor.  He or she must help persons in need, whether this be a bodily need or a spiritual need.  Gone are the days, I’ll be told, the bad old pre-Vatican II days, when we Catholics were so ignorant of our religion that we imagined the word “immoral” had to do with sexual immorality only.  We now realize that an immoral woman may be quite chaste but a spreader of malicious gossip.

Pardon me, but I think the message represented in the preceding paragraph is nothing less than stupid; very stupid.  With all due respect to people who say things like that, even priests and bishops who say things like that, those people don’t seem to realize that Christianity is under attack by enemies who would be happy to see our religion disappear from the world; and that this attack largely takes the form of campaigns in favor of abortion and homosexuality.

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It doesn’t take the form of campaigns in favor of gossip and other acts of unkindness.  The anti-Christianity crowd doesn’t say, “Three cheers for gossip; that’ll put an end to Christianity.”  But they do say, “Three cheers for abortion and homosexual sodomy; that’ll put an end to Christianity.”

Of course, some people calling themselves Christians, even some people calling themselves Catholics, don’t think we should make a big deal about abortion and homosexuality; we shouldn’t “obsess” about those things.  Christianity, they say, is about love.  It is about welcoming illegal immigrants; it is about Medicare for all; it is about gender equality (all of the world’s many genders deserve equal treatment).  Many of these liberal Christians don’t just want to minimize Christian opposition to abortion and homosexuality; they wish to maximize Christian support for it.  They applaud abortion and homosexuality.

Well, if we say that Christianity is the religion taught by the Apostles and confirmed by the early ecumenical councils (I’m taking it for granted that that is what Christianity is), then these liberal Christians are, quite simply, not Christians at all.  They are Christians in a Pickwickian sense of that word.

When the Protestant Reformation broke out (the conventional date for this event is 1517) it was more than a generation before the Catholic Church began to mount an effective response.  The Jesuits didn’t get the papal stamp of approval till 1540; the Council of Trent didn’t begin till 1545 and didn’t end till 1563.

When the Counter-Reformation finally took place, it was not in a mood for compromise and half-measures.  It didn’t say, “Let’s minimize those elements of Catholicism that give offense to Protestants, and instead let’s put our emphasis on those beliefs and values we share.”  No, it drew bright lines, very bright lines indeed, between the Catholic and the Protestant versions of Christianity.

My favorite illustration of this has to do with the ornamentation of churches.  The Protestant ideal was no ornamentation at all – the kind of thing you can still see in New England in many colonial-era Congregational churches.  The Catholic ideal was the diametric opposite – heavily ornamented baroque churches.  This no-compromise policy allowed the Catholic Church to survive in Europe for the next four centuries.

Catholics and Christianity-hating atheists agree on many things.  For instance, we both think malicious gossip is a bad thing.  And so is war.  And so is poverty.  But if Catholicism is to survive in Europe and North America, we need to adopt a no-compromise-with-atheism mentality.

We’d better get in the habit of drawing bright lines, very bright lines, between ourselves and those who would destroy our religion.  And there is no better way to do this than to underline again and again and again our utter detestation of abortion and homosexual practice.

 

*Image: Table of the Seven Deadly Sins by Hieronymus Bosch, 1505-10 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]

 

David Carlin

David Carlin

David Carlin is a professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.