Believing that Christianity is about being good or bad is dangerous because it leads people to suffer condemnation and even violence for being bad, which in fact they may be or may not be. Many saints and even Jesus died because they were considered bad. Obviously, they were not. However, their challenge to society led the community to condemn their views as bad. The truth is sin is not the problem; it is not knowing Christ. In fact, the reason for the bad behavior of some may be because they do not know Christ. The person condemned to Hell is not actually the bad person, it is the obstinate one who rejects God’s will consistently to the end. He refuses to repent of any sin because he does not recognize sin. Such a person may in fact be bad or he may be good in the eyes of society.
Remember, in the United States and its wildly individualistic culture, the rugged individualist is the one who is a hero, even though he may reject Christ and His will to the end. He may be a hard-drinking, pot smokin’ individualist who becomes a cult hero for his rejecting the social norms. Therefore, he may not be bad in society’s eyes but he rejects Christ and all his ways and will.
He may be seen as good in many ways but his obstinacy separates him from God’s grace.
There may be others who seek to do the right things but may not know Christ or even they reject him because of His people. Gandhi rejected Christianity because of poor treatment by Christians. Was Gandhi bad? Did Gandhi go to Hell? Some people believe he did. I do not happen to be one of them.
Let us take for example an activist who seeks to do the right thing in his own mind by passing out condoms or needles so that no one is going to get AIDS. He believes he is doing the right thing and he is trying to do the right thing. He does not know Christ, does not pray and does not embrace his ways for his life.
He suffers condemnation by those who believe in this ersatz Catholicism because of his “sins” but they never introduce him to Christ. They only condemn him which drives him further from Christ. In other cases, they may convert him but to their ersatz heretical Catholicism focused not on knowing Christ but on good behavior and they turn him into the same judgmental, condemning arrogant snobs that they themselves are. They do not draw him closer to Christ if anything they bring him far away.
Someone who never truly knew Christ and is engaged in sinful behavior suddenly converts and turns his life around to the heretical form of Catholicism boasts of the way he was and condemns everyone who is now what he was but he speaks virtually nothing of Christ. There are not a few people that fit this bill. They will tell you of the need to change your ways, of the great experience of freedom from whatever vice(s) they lived but they will only condemn you and others if you do not listen to them. They will not lead you to Christ. These are dangerous people.
Again, the reason why they are the way they are is that they embrace not true Catholicism but this ersatz form that teaches people to be good otherwise they will go to Hell. This teaching is not Catholicism.
Catholicism is always about the encounter with Christ. When one encounters Christ he or she changes his or her way of living to know Christ more to draw closer to Him and to do his will. If we are not first having this encounter with Christ, if we are not having a daily encounter with Christ through our prayer, we will never truly understand Catholicism because that is the sine qua non of our faith—an encounter with Christ.
If you study the Bible, obviously focusing on the New Testament, you will find the teachings that even the heretical Santa Claus Catholics can quote you. The difference is that everything in the New Testament is written to those who already had an encounter with Christ, who already believe. What Saints Paul, Peter, Jude, John and the writer of Hebrews are in fact teaching is not to avoid sin so that you can go to Heaven but to avoid sin to draw more closely to the Christ you encountered first. Every word written in the New Testament is written to people who already believe in the Christ they encountered. The New Testament teaches us how to build upon our first encounter with Christ. The admonitions against sin are written to those who first encountered Christ. They tell us that this Christ you met is calling you to a total change of heart so that you can see him and know him more deeply than you ever did before. This process continues more deeply every day.
Many of the Christians who are condemning sinners outside of our faith and others who are teaching the ersatz Santa Claus Catholicism do the reverse. They teach the morality of our faith without introducing anyone to Jesus. They promise that they will meet Jesus at the end of their lives but never give them an understanding of knowing Jesus now. They do not introduce them to Christ and in doing so they never teach them of Christ. They teach a Christless morality. They undermine our faith and discourage people from ever believing. They teach a moral system but not an encounter with Christ. I truly believe that they are doing the devil’s work for him.
The result of this is that people believe our faith is nothing more than a moral code that even an atheist can live. However, if an atheist can live our moral code and we applaud him, then he cannot possibly be living the Catholic faith or he would not be an atheist.
It is like teaching people who do not live in the United States, are not citizens of our country, and never will be, to stop paying taxes to their own country but pay them to the United States so that someday they can retire here. Why would someone do that? Why would someone change their whole way of living just for a promise you gave them and for no other reason? This is not what we believe. Teaching what we do not believe is killing our message of evangelism that Christ mandates.
Sometimes I wonder if those people who teach this ersatz faith are not BRIGHTO sales representatives. If you are not familiar with the term, it comes from the Three Stooges. They were always seeking a job and ended up being door-to-door salesmen of a product called BRIGHTO. They went out and sold it by demonstrating its power. As the Three Stooges always did, they caused great damage. They use it to clean a car, only to see it dissolve the paint on the driver’s side door and other things too powerful for their uses.
They go back to the boss and realize they actually never asked him what BRIGHTO actually is supposed to do. They learn it is a hair tonic but using it the way they do they remove a patient’s hair in a hospital. They are trying to sell a product without understanding what the product does. Many people are evangelizing without understanding what it is we actually believe and in doing so they are doing the Devil’s work.
We have no business teaching what our faith is about if we are not teaching about Christ and leading people to encounter Him first. Otherwise, we are doing counter-productive work by teaching a false Catholicism or one rooted in the mindset that Christ fought in the religious leaders of his day. That is something we never want to do. We want only one thing in this life and that is the Lord to say to us: “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
I get incensed when I see this. Some time ago, an archbishop, not my own, in the United States wrote a column and about the need to seek virtue in the Christian life. Two other bishops added their affirmation of his column. What angered me is that there was not one word about prayer or knowing Christ in that column. If the prime focus of Catholicism is nothing more than living a virtuous life then remember an atheist can do the same. The teaching was correct but not fully correct because the bishops wrote nothing of the need to know Christ first.
Photo: Columbia Pictures/Pillsbury, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons