Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Appeal to People of Good Will


The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said about the hatred against the Catholic Church that, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Radio Replies vol. 1)

Ven. Archbishop Sheen makes a good point. The Catholic Church is not really hated for what she teaches, but for what people think she teaches. People recognize that what they are shocked by is bad and so they think the Catholic Church must be condemned by all people with any sense of decency.

I think this often applies where a teaching of the Catholic Church is maligned because the person used as a source is a person who has run afoul of Church teaching. Because the Church cannot (often wrongly seen as 'will not') change her teaching for this individual, the Church is hated by many on account of the witness of the person in conflict with Church teaching. 

The Catholic Church does not do things for the hateful motives which her detractors accuse her of and it is wrong to condemn the Church for motives she does not have. So, before one can condemn the Church, one must look at the actual teaching of the Church.

So, when we hear a negative account about the teaching of the Church (as opposed to abuses committed by individuals within the Church), we do have to ask certain things to see if the hostility is justified or not:

  • Does the individual who asserts the Church is hateful properly understand the Church teaching?
  • Is this Church teaching justified? 

The first question is important because before a person can be a credible witness against the Church, we have to determine whether the person properly understands the teaching of the Church and her motivation for teaching thus—otherwise the individual is attacking something that is not even real.

The second point is also important because, even if a person should hate the Church because of her teaching properly understood, it does not mean that the hatred is justified. For people who run afoul of just laws may hate them. In such a case, this hatred is not the fault of the law, and again, the person may turn out not to be a credible witness.

If the Church has reasoned cause for her belief, and that cause is not objectively causing harm to others (which must be distinguished from disliking the Church because she says a popular vice may never be done), then she is justified in spreading her teaching and encouraging people to live by it.

I believe that the hatred of the Church on account of her teachings meets neither of the above conditions. The reasons for her teachings are not understood and she does not hold her teachings for the causes she is accused of (Such as: “Homophobia,” “hatred of women,” “anti-sex,” etc.).

Modern America being what it is, however, I realize that some people will never get beyond the idea that The Church is “hateful,” and no matter what reasons we hold our teaching for, the very fact that we do hold this teaching is going to be considered “proof” that we hold it for bad reasons.

Not all people do think like this however. There are people who do seek to learn what is true and then act on true knowledge, not merely going along with what “everybody says.” I call this a person of good will, and it is to this person that my book is aimed.

The Person of Good Will

So, who I this “Person of Good will” for whom I hope to reach in my blog? I see him or her as the person who wills (chooses) to do what is right (good) to the best of their knowledge and ability.

Now, the desire to do what is right does not always translate into actually doing what is right. Every culture has its own vices and errors of what is wrong. Even the person with good will might do wrong while believing it is right. So the person of good will doesn’t stand pat, saying “I’ve learned enough.” The person of good will is always searching, always seeking to improve in doing what is right.

Unfortunately, there are many groups which claim to have the truth and these groups do contradict each other. This can lead people to think that because there is contradiction in claims, it means there can be no truth. In searching for the truth, the person of good will does have to learn to investigate claims, reject the ones which are false and follow the ones which are true, not the ones that sound appealing to personal preference.

Now because I am a Catholic—by conviction and not by habit—I suspect some readers will roll their eyes and say “Oh, brother! This guy is going to tell us we can’t be people of good will unless we’re Catholic.”

That’s not the case. The person of good will is on a search for the truth. Yes, I believe the fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church. But the person of good will is the seeker of truth. To say that only the person who found the truth can seek it is nonsensical. Both the person earnestly searching for the road of truth and the person who has found that road and is now earnestly trying to follow it are people of good will. Neither can stop where they are.

Of course, trying to find the road is not easy. If you’re not sure what exactly you are looking for, how will you know when you find it?

While each person is different, I think there are three principles which will help the person of good will.

Three Principles For The Person of Good Will

The First principle is from Socrates: The Unexplored Life is not worth living.

This principle here is, not asking questions about what we ought to do make for a pretty useless life. Think about the people you might know who never ask themselves “Should I do this?” They live a shallow life, often doing little more than seeking fulfillment for their urges. That’s basically an animalistic life. Can you imagine what our life would be like today if nobody had sought answers to why a thing is? We’d probably still be sitting in a cave, eating raw meat and whatever weeds we picked up, hoping they wouldn’t poison us. So, we might say the first step is to say, “The truth exists somewhere, let’s look for it and find it.

The Second of these is from Aristotle: To say of what is that it is, and to say of what is not that it is not, is to speak the truth.

That’s a vital second step. Once we’re committed to looking for the truth, we need to evaluate claims made, to see if they are true. Truth isn’t some sort of mystical property of a statement we can’t discover. Speaking Truth is speaking accurately about a thing. If X is good, then we speak truly if we say “X is good” and falsely if we say “X is not good.” We have too many problems in America today because we are relativist and vague in our thinking. We think saying X is Good is merely a statement of personal preference . . . sort of like “I like Ice Cream, you like Murder.”

But that’s ridiculous. If Murder is wrong, then we speak the truth if we say “Murder is wrong,” and falsely if we say “Murder is not wrong.”

So we might describe this second step as, “We have to learn the nature of things, and speak accurately about what things are. It requires investigation.

The Third of these ancient Greek sayings was found on the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. It read Know Thyself (in Greek, obviously).

That’s also important. In the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force, Harry Callahan told a corrupt cop, “A Man has got to know his limitations.” We need to know our position in the universe. If I believe I am a god instead of a man, I do not have a correct understanding of my place in the universe, and the positions I take based on the false understanding that I am a god will lead me to false conclusions about what is and what is not.

I recall once having a discussion with a person who was male but self identified as female. He told me, “I identify myself as a woman and I insist you treat me that way.”

My reply was, “I identify myself as the King of America and I insist you treat me that way.”

He got angry of course, and I probably could have made my point in a more tactful way than I did, but the principle was true nevertheless. A person with an XY set of chromosomes is not a female whatever he may think. I am not the king of America whatever I may think. To think otherwise would be to say of what is, that it is not . . . which is speaking falsely.

(If you disagree with this, then your liege, the King of America, requires you to send us 20% of your income.)

We can sum up our third step as: we have to apply seeking the truth to ourselves—in other words, to look internally as well as externally. We can’t just think of ourselves in whatever way we want to. If humanity is able to reason and tell right from wrong, we have to recognize that some of our actions are wrong and must be rejected even if we want to do them.

So, we can sum up this way:

  1. Seek
  2. Learn
  3. Apply

The person of good will is a person who will take these principles and apply them to what he or she encounters . . . What is the claim? Is it true? How do I apply it to my life?

The answers are not always easy, and that’s probably why many don’t even begin the search—finding out what is true means we have to follow what is true, even if we don’t want to do so.

Following truth may seem like it limits freedom. Well, in some sense it might limit freedom in the American sense of “freedom to do what I like.” But since doing what I like has attached consequences (If I choose the freedom to sit around and watch TV all day, my choice has the attached consequence of poor health). Seeking truth does give us the freedom to do as we ought, and thus our discipline in seeking the truth protects us from making choices that have bad consequences attached.

So in writing about the Catholic Church to the individual who is a person of good will, I am writing to the person who is willing to seek the truth, evaluate claims made and applying the true claims to the way they live.

Some of what I say may be hard if the reader has been taught to think in a certain way. All I can do is try to explain what we believe and why, so that you may make a correct decision on what we hold to be true—not a decision which made on false information.

Don’t Forget: Sin Exists—But So Does Grace

One thing to remember here as we consider the Church teaching on issues is that all people are sinners. Even when they desire to good, we do have inclinations which tempt us to sacrifice the real good for a selfish pleasure. Even the person who knows the truth can be tempted away from following it.

You'll also encounter Catholics who recognize the authority of the Church, but apply the teaching of the Church in a harsh way that alienates people. That's not surprising. Consider all the people who you share some of your views who you think are jerks and make your views look bad. You wish they would shut up and keep quiet. This isn't a trait of Catholics. You'll find people like this with all sorts of religious and political views. Hell, I know at times in my own life I have managed to offend people because I said things in a harsh way—often because I thought I understood the Church teaching better than I actually did. I regret those times. All I can do though is continue to grow closer to following Jesus by means of the Church He established.

So I will say straight up, you will find Catholics who ignore or misuse the Church teaching to justify their own benefits. You will find people who treat the teaching of the Church as if it were a bunch of rules to follow and the more rigorous they are, the better they are. That does not mean that the teaching is no good. That means that the person who is ignoring or misusing or missing the point about the teaching of the Church is acting against what the Church believes.

That’s not said to excuse the Church. It’s said to prepare you. Some wag once said that the thing wrong with Christianity was Christians. It’s cited by atheists, non-Christians etc. It’s even cited by some Christians with a message of “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” But I think it’s missing the point. The thing wrong with Christianity is not that it’s filled with Christians. The problem with Christianity is that it is filled with human beings. Even if we weren’t Christians, we’d still have the same vices we have now.

So what good is Christianity as a philosophy? Well, asking the question is a demonstration of missing the point. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the teaching of God on how to live, yes. But God doesn't provide a Users Manual and say "See you in 70 years for your evaluation." God provides us with the strength to try to keep His will—to seek Him out and do what is right. Without it, it's not difficult to do His will—it's impossible.

Grace gives us strength to cooperate with God. But we are always free to refuse that gift—even when we profess to be Christians. Those who refuse His grace will answer for their refusal to seek out and do what is right. In other words, we do good when we cooperate with the Grace that is given to us and we do evil when we refuse to cooperate to the Grace which is given us.

So why do I bring this up? It is because I want people to recognize that to correctly judge Christianity as a belief, we have to judge the people who follow the teaching, not the people who ignore it. Unfortunately, many people do the exact opposite.

Here's an example to consider. The Catholic Church has always, ever since the beginning, condemned abortion. But some Catholics believe that abortion is a right, openly defying the Church. Is it reasonable to assume that because some Catholics believe abortion is good, that Catholicism teaches abortion is good? Of course not. But condemning the whole Church for the actions of some is doing exactly that.

Are you offended that a Catholic that you met is behaving in a way you find offensive? Before you judge the Church, you need to consider whether the person is being a jerk because of the Church teaching or in spite of the Church.

That is a part of seeking out the truth, and seeking out the truth is what the person of good will is called to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment