24 Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:24–26)
How many Catholics on Social Media
Come Across Today, Sadly…
There are very vocal groups of Catholics out there who are fighting tooth and nail about the belief that their preferences are the only true view, and pretending they are the defenders of religion. These groups have a hatred for whoever disagrees with them on the grounds they knowingly support the evils this faction oppose. While the political platforms they support are different, their tactics are the same. When the party they oppose is in power, they condemn what they do loudly. When their own party is in power, they ignore it when that party does wrong. Of course, these groups will point out the hypocrisy of the other faction, but ignore it when it found on their own side. They are acting against our Catholic faith, but both assume only the other group is.
These groups are adept at citing Scripture and Church documents to play “gotcha” with their foes—You claim to be Catholic, but you’re ignoring X! The problem is, nobody seems to pay too close attention to the full teaching. They downplay the Church teachings they value less, while angrily demanding everyone value the Church teachings they hold important. What they forget is they’re all important—the deadliest sin is the one that sends you personally to hell. If we forget that, and spend all our times looking at the evils of others, we’re acting like Pharisees—and that’s not a title that only applies to one faction.
These factions don’t have clean hands. When Obama was president, his Catholic supporters downplayed the Church teaching on abortion and sexual morality. Now that Trump is in power, his Catholic supporters downplayed the Church teaching on social justice. These factions bash the bishops as political when they speak out on the issues that their factions are wrong on, while using them as a symbol of purity when they speak out on what they already believe.
One Big Error Paired with Many Ideologies
The problem is thinking of this as a clash between two factions. Any faction can be a part of this. It’s based on the assumption that whoever disagrees with me must support the opposition. Thus whoever speaks against a political evil stands accused of all the evils the other side supports. Whoever questions whether an accusation is just is accused of defending the crime. Logically this is the either-or fallacy and it ignores the possibility of there being a third choice or a rejection of both positions.
The clash between two positions can only be valid if there are only two positions, and everybody takes one of these two sides. But if there are more than two sides, then a person can say, “I think you’re both wrong.” It would be wrong to accuse this person of standing for evil or ignoring other issues simply because they disagree. Yes, some take a partisan view about their faith, but not everyone. So when we see someone accusing another of being a “anti-abortion but not pro-life,” or a “Hillary supporter” because the target disagrees with their conclusions, this is a sign of someone blinded by their ideology.
Avoiding the Error
What we need to remember is this: We need to accurately learn what a person holds, and critique that. We can’t assume that because a person disagrees with us, that he endorses the opposite view. The critic may simply think we have gone wrong in our argument. In that case, we need to understand why this person rejects our reasoning. This is not an argument calling for relativism. Rather, it is the Church, led by the Pope and bishops, who interpret how to apply Church teaching in each generation, and they are the measure of orthodoxy. We trust God protects them from teaching error in binding matter (which can be a case of guiding the shepherd not to teach at all).
So if a person deliberately rejects or misrepresents Church teaching, this must be opposed. But we also have to consider the possibility of others faithfully following Church teaching, but preferring a different way of doing so, or even of being sincerely in error. It would be monstrously unjust to accuse them of being false Catholics willfully defending evil.
If we would avoid being blind guides leading others into a ditch (Matthew 15:14), we have to consider whether we have misunderstood those we disagree with, or even our own faith. St. Paul once believed he was doing good in persecuting Christians, because he thought he was opposing a blasphemous heresy. He learned he was wrong about how God viewed Christians, hating what God Himself willed.
Yes, there are Catholics out there who support evil positions, and think the bishops are “political” when they speak against these evils. Yes, they need to be corrected, but corrected with charity so as to return them to the sheepfold. Even if we’re defending the right view, if we drive people away from considering the right way to live, what have we gained? And if we’re defending a position contrary to God’s will, while believing we are faithful, we do great harm.
So we need to be certain we properly understand what the Church teaches, we need to be certain we properly understand what our opponents are saying, and we need to respond in charity. If we fail on one or more of these, we run the risk of being blind guides leading people astray into thinking our personal preferences are truth and driving them into error.