Let me direct your attention to a nice bit of Roman Catholic propaganda here. An acquaintance on Twitter links it approvingly, and based on the comments below the article it had its intended effect among… Roman Catholics. And maybe it was just meant to be a mushy Hallmark card moment for RC’s, but for whatever it’s worth, this is the kind of thing that makes me want to put my “Martin Luther is My Homeboy” t-shirt on and march around my front yard singing Genevan Psalms. Not – to be absolutely clear – because I’m upset at anybody. Not because I don’t like Roman Catholic people, and not because I don’t think Roman Catholics can know Jesus and be truly saved.
In fact, the thing that really pleases me about this article is its refreshing honesty, a far greater honesty than many of my Protestant-converts-to-Catholicism friends tend to be. It’s like the usual pandering-to-evangelicals apologists got sacked and we get an honest glimpse into the real deal for a change (though I’d be overjoyed to find out that this was a terrible mischaracterization). The brilliance of the article (in addition to being very well written) is that it enthusiastically waves the flag of the bland, stumbling, confused, illiterate, fruitless Roman Catholicism that plagues the West. Readers of the article are invited to feel warm tinglies for all the reasons I’m happily, staunchly, gratefully a Protestant. More than that, this article makes me giddy with gratitude that I was raised in a devout evangelical Presbyterian home.
The vision of Christianity presented by the author of the article is almost entirely foreign to my vision and experience of Christianity. It’s like the author keeps describing this fruit called an apple and he says it has orange spongey skin and when you peel it, it almost naturally divides into pre-sliced wedges. No apple I’ve ever bitten into does that. In other words, I hear this guy talking about an entirely different religion – despite the fact that I know the faith we profess is much closer on paper. And just to play fair, it would be like some Protestant writing a sappy article about being Protestant and emoting all over the place about orgasmic worship bands and evangelical romance fiction and Thomas Kinkade paintings and while bemoaning the deep mystery of his kids’ rebellion, he sits down in his apostate son’s old bedroom one day and finds a Tim Lahaye book on the bedside table and hope suddenly wells up within him, while a solitary tear runs down his cheek. Look, if that moves you, let me assure you that it isn’t the Holy Spirit. Christian schlock is Christian schlock whether Protestant or Papist. I’m an equal opportunity offender, so let’s be truth-tellers at the very least, shall we?
But let’s walk through this article a bit and let me explain what I mean and not merely assert:
First, the attraction: the author says it was the “the candles, the kid in the white gown holding the taper, the marble, the death, everywhere death and gloom and a lack of irony” — now I can maybe, kind of, sort of imagine the attraction of authenticity (lacking irony) in our deeply superficial (ha) world. But a kid in a white gown holding a candle might as well be a scene from some cheesy Mormon commercial, and I find the attraction to “death, everywhere death and gloom” to be pretty bizarre given the fact that the central proclamation of the Church is the resurrection of Jesus. Sorry, the Athanasian faith I’ve been brought up to love and confess is one in which life is everywhere, death being defeated everywhere. Sounds like this guy stumbled into a seance.
But second, and speaking of Jesus, it’s rather frightfully telling that Jesus makes no appearance in the article. Ok, there’s a passing reference in his description of Michaelangelo’s Pieta but the emphasis is the very distorted picture that Protestants have been decrying for centuries: Wow, look at that fourteen year old girl holding that dead guy. I wish I could get to know her better. So call me old fashioned, but the apostolic faith I proclaim week after week is about knowing Christ and Him crucified. In fact, as one of the apostles himself insisted, he would know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Yeah, look, we chant the Magnificat every Sunday during Advent and Christmas at my church. I know all generations will call her blessed. Got that. But as I read this guy’s, admittedly fictional narration, I hear a confused man who wondered into an Elk’s Club that has some similarities to an AA group crossed with the Free Masons and some Bible words sprinkled over the top and a fourteen year old girl with a dead guy in her lap gives him mysterious sensations in his nether regions. In other words, nearly nothing in this sketch gives me any confidence that this guy actually knows God the Father through Jesus His only Son by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and most everything serves to confirm my suspicion that many Roman Catholics are part of a delusional cult, basically a bunch of Joel Osteens in robes with incense and fat baby cherubs. Sorry, that’s not the true catholic faith; it’s a lot of sentimental puke.
Finally, and I think this will cover the rest, the vision here of growing in grace, and growing up in Christ and in maturity is incredibly puzzling. I think I can get the romantic notion that the Church can draw people in who are pro-choice and that somehow they can slowly start to warm up to pro-life sentiments without really understanding how to reconcile all the voices in their head. I know people are complex, and the gospel should reach into every sector of society. I also understand that we have to be patient with people. Some people are slow. But I find this fellow’s experience completely antithetical to the absolute claims of Christ in the gospels. I hear none of the sin-defying, kingdom-coming, Jesus-ruling confidence that fills the letters of St. Paul. And this, granted that Paul was frequently correcting all of the run-of-the-mill sins that normal, ordinary descendants of Adam struggle with. Add to this the humdrum resignation about kids leaving the faith, the acceptance of flagrant hypocrisies, and the overall picture of Christianity as a muddled, whiny, slog — but, in the words of one of my favorite baptists, Jesus does a better job than that. In other words, while I’m happy to leave generous leeway for any number of hard cases, this presentation of Christianity apparently without any irony as a heartwarming picture of Roman Catholicism is a presentation of a dead-end faith. If that’s Christianity, I have absolutely no use for it. You can keep your Hallmark cards with hovering, fat-cheeked angels.
Ok one last point: None of this is to say that I can’t imagine this vision being attractive to some Protestants or unbelievers. On the contrary, I can totally imagine it, but I imagine it being attractive to a particular cross section of people characterized by cowardice and laziness. Here they can find a way to gratify their longing for religious feelings without having to be challenged, or at least being treated paternalistically enough to allow them to nurse along pet sins without being confronted very forcefully. Hell, with only two or three real sermons a year, you can pretty much plan your vacations around those and avoid it altogether. Thank my inner yoga goddess for rituals that keep the preachers gagged! And if one of them starts telling me anything, like where to sit during Mass for instance, I’ll pull him aside and explain to the naive little punk that my Christianity has nothing to do with repentance, change, or submission. It’s actually a highly cultivate middle finger aimed right at Jesus Himself. Here’s a vision of Christianity where the bar is so low and the expectations are so anemic you can basically carry on like you always have as the god of your own worthless existence only now you have some semi-religious pretensions for doing so. Yeah, I can definitely imagine lots of people being attracted to this, sort of like moths to flames.
The Christian faith, if it is true at all, actually sets people free. It sets people free because Jesus died and rose again and defeated sin, death, and Satan. Jesus triumphed over the principalities and powers, He completely freed us from the fear of death, and His blood washes away all our sins. This is proclaimed in no uncertain terms in the waters of baptism; this is declared without apology in the Eucharist. But this is most certainly proven in the reality of dead men raised. If God doesn’t change people, radically, powerfully change people by filling them with His life, new life, Christ-in-them-life, then Jesus is just another blathering idiot who got lynched by a Jewish mob and a politically manipulated Roman governor.
But if Jesus was God-with-us, if He is Emmanuel, and if He was crucified for sin and rose on the third day, then Christianity is all about life, everywhere new life and joy. And that’s the Christianity I know and love.