Friday, July 31, 2020

Examining "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin"

Throughout Church history the maxim "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" has served as a general principle from which to understand the Christian's obligation to love people while detesting the sins those people may commit. Many erroneously think the quote is from the Bible; in fact, it comes from a letter of St. Augustine of Hippo in which he says "Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum", which literally means "With love for mankind and hatred of sins" (Letter 211).

Even if it is not strictly biblical, the proverb is a more or less accurate summary of biblical teaching. There are many examples we could cite where we are commanded to love sinners. By way of example, let us look at 1 John 1:9-11, which clearly teaches we are to love others:

"He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes"

And later in 1 John 4:21, it says, "And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also." So, we are to love one another if we claim to love God. We could cite many other passages that command us to love our neighbor, but I do not think this is necessary. This principle is without dispute.

However, we are also to hate sin. This, too, is indisputable. Ephesians 5:11 tells us, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." Sin is to be exposed; it is a corruption and contamination (Tit. 1:15; 2 Cor. 7:1). It separates us from God and grieves the Holy Spirit (Isa. 59:2, Eph. 4:30). This is why we are told to hate it; Psalm 97:10 enjoins us, "Let those who love the Lord hate evil." The Psalms also tell us that God hates the company of sinners (Ps. 26:5). A hatred of sin is a necessary precondition to a healthy reverence for God: 'The fear of the Lord is to hate evil" (Prov. 8:13).

I think, however, the biblical verse which best joins these principles together is Leviticus 19:17, which says:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him."
Here we see the obligation to love our brother and refrain from hating him, with the corresponding obligation to "reason" with him if we see him sinning, not only because of the obvious reason that sin is destructive, but because there is a real danger that we will bear guilt for that person's sin if we make no effort to turn them from their vice (cf. Ezekiel 33).

Thus, a Christian cannot be supportive or even indifferent to the sins of another. That doesn't mean we must be judgmental or prying
but it does mean our fundamental orientation must always be towards identifying sin, working to overcome it, and helping others do the same. We do not settle with sin. We do not make truces with it. We do not manage it. We work to eliminate it through the grace of God. This is why the traditional Catholic Act of Condition says "I detest all my sins." Sin is to be the object of detestation. It separates us from God and makes true happiness impossible.

Ergo, we hate sin, but we love the sinner.

It seems simple. Perhaps not always easy to practice, but it's not a difficult concept to grasp.

Nevertheless, the principle has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. If you Google "love the sinner hate the sin", some of the top articles that come up are pieces arguing that the concept is unworkable and that Christians should retire the saying. And in my recent article on the reasons people leave the Church, the persons in question who had left the Church cited "love the sinner, hate the sin" as an unworkable proposition.

For example, this article "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin? Why Christians Should Retire Their Favorite Phrase." In this piece, the author (apparently some sort of progressive Protestant) argues that the principle "love the sinner, hate the sin" is manipulative and meant to make the "lover" feel morally superior to the sinner by allowing them to express negative judgment whilst maintaining the facade that they are "loving."

The central critique in this article is that the principle is transactional
—forgiveness is "exchanged" for amendment of life, which causes love to be viewed as something reserved for those who are "good enough." Love, the article says, must accept uncritically. "To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” 

He also argues that "love the sinner, hate the sin" can be used to justify judgmentalism "associated with bigotry and intolerance." It enables the "lover" to condemn the "sinner" while still feeling like they are a loving person because their judgmentalism is actually "love."

As we can see, at its core, there is a redefinition of values: "Love" is redefined as uncritical acceptance. And w
e can see that this concept of love is detached from any notion of the good. It does not consist in willing someone to attain their highest good, but in merely extending uncritical acceptance. It is not fundamentally transformative.

But there is also an essential confusion of terms. He says "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is unworkable and then critiques persons who refuse to extend forgiveness unless someone makes an amendment of life first. These are two radically different ideas. Christians are always enjoined to forgive, and to do so regardless of whether the sinner has repented. This is the example Christ gave us on the cross: "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do"  (Luke 23:34). A Christian who refuses to forgive someone on the premise that their penitence isn't sufficient isn't practicing "Love the sinner, hate the sin"; they are simply not exercising Christian forgiveness. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is not about forgiveness for past sins; it is about how we exercise ongoing love towards people in our lives who are sinning in the present.

Furthermore, even if the definition of love as uncritical acceptance of a person "exactly the way he or she is, right here and now" is deficient, "uncritical acceptance" is not contrary to "Love the sinner, hate the sin." We can absolutely accept people as they are, right here and now, with full empathy while still hating their sin. Have any of you dealt with an addict close to you? Maybe a brother or sister? You always, always accept and love that person. The more you love them, the more you accept them in their brokenness. But do you love your sister's alcoholism? Do you love your brother's heroin addiction? Do you love your son's gaming addiction that keeps him locked in a basement in front of a screen 17 hours a day?

Of course not. You hate these things. What's more, you hate them to the degree that you love your sibling. Those who have had relatives or close friends suffer through addiction understand this. So ultimately, the article above is creating a straw man by saying, "You must forgive without condition and accept people where they are at" as if that proves anything. All Catholics should agree that we forgive without condition and accept people where they are at. But "Love the sinner, hate the sin" does not preclude us from doing either of those things. It does mean that we have to love the person whilst understanding that that person may struggle with certain vices or behaviors that are inimical to their authentic good. These we must not accept. In fact, to accept them would be to enable that person in their problems, to make them worse...and ultimately not love them.

We will have more to say on this, but I want to look at a second article, this one from Psychology Today entitled "Why Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin Doesn't Work by Dr. Gordon Hodson. Dr. Hodson says that the principle is
ultimately about allowing us psychological justification that "enables some people to maintain their negative attitudes without feeling like a prejudiced person." To that end, "Love the sinner, hate the sin" actually is a vehicle of promoting hate, especially towards groups Dr. Hodson defines as "sexual minorities."

This article is full of problems. It reduces the idea of "sin" to focus specifically on so-called "culture war" issues and offers no comment on how the principle applies to, say, gossip, drunkenness, pride, or other such vices. He seems to infer that Christians do not take these sins seriously anyway.

Second, in assuring us that the principle "doesn't work", we might except some definition of what constitutes "working"? How are we judging whether such a principle succeeds or fails? The article assures us that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" fails precisely because it "promotes hate" and engenders a sense of moral superiority. However, when we look at what Dr. Hodson means by "promoting hate", we see that he defines hate as having "negative attitudes" about sexual minorities. Now we can see the real nature of the argument: "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is not problematic because it doesn't help us love the sinner, but because it enjoins we should hate the sin. The only viable solution is "Love the sinner, affirm the sin." The reason it "doesn't work" isn't because it fails as a mechanism to help love people despite their flaws, but because it isn't Woke to view certain behaviors negatively.

So, to wrap this up, I want to turn this on its head. Instead of looking at critiques of "Love the sinner, hate the sin," I want to critique the critiques and demonstrate why they don't hold water:

1. The Sinner is Identified with His Sins

This is honestly the biggest problem with these critiques and is ultimately behind every criticism of "Love the sinner, hate the sin." One of the most revolutionary ideas in Christianity is the notion that a man is not the sum of his sins—a man's worth or value is not determined by the sins he commits, but by the price that was paid for his redemption by the blood of Christ. Every human being has tremendous value as someone redeemed by Christ. God wants to take our sins and throw them behind His back (Isa. 38:17). We are not our sins, we are not defined by our sins, and our sins are not our personhood.

Secular people, however, ultimately define themselves based on their sins. Identity politics has morphed into a broad identitarianism where people are totally identified by their sins—especially the things they do with their genitals. For seculars, what you do with your genitals is who you are. There is no intellectual space for anything like, "I love you even though I disagree with your behavior," because in their mind, if you loved, you would affirm the behavior as well, because the behavior is the person.

Without going down a rabbit-hole on the subject, it is sufficient to say a Christian ought to reject any sort of anthropology that tends to identify people solely by their sins. Obviously we are all sinners; obviously we struggle with specific sins. But to bind up my essential personhood with those sins is an idea is profoundly anti-Christian. Yet all of these critiques presume that the person is essentially the sum of their behaviors, whether they acknowledge them as sinful or not.

2. No Concept of the Good

These objections to "Love the sinner, hate the sin" often do by jettisoning the concept of individual good from their considerations. We never see any discussion over whether it is good that so-and-so is living a sinful lifestyle, or what constitutes the highest good for a person struggling with habitual sin. There is seldom any consideration given to "How do I actually help so-and-so overcome this sin?" These sorts of considerations are abandoned in favor of helping the sinner to feel good about about where he is currently at. Good becomes a feeling instead to be experienced here and now rather than an objective state to be strove for. Hence they can never actually deal with objective questions of morality.

3. Affirmation = Love

Speaking of love, those who object to "Love the sinner, hate the sin" generally have a hard time disentangling love from affirmation. Love, in its most general definition, is sincerely willing the good for any person. That may or may not always be affirming, however. Love often requires the telling of "hard truths" or expressing disagreement about a person's decisions. This should never be an excuse for coldness, uncharity, or a lack of empathy—and honestly, I think traditional Catholics can do better in this regard, as there is a tendency to think that so long as we are speaking the truth it doesn't matter how much of an assface we are whilst speaking it.

Even so, there is this idea that love should never be confrontational, that it should never make a person "feel bad." Bad feelings mean one is not being affirmed, and if one is not feeling affirmed then one is not feeling loved, because love is a feeling of affirmation. This idea is so inimical to the Christian faith, I am surprised so many Christians fall for it. The very beginning of conversion is a feeling of discomfort or disquietude with our current condition that reaches a critical point and causes us to cry out to God for change. Why is it always assumed that a person ought never to feel bad about themselves or their situation? Feeling bad about where one is at is the genesis of change.

We also must keep in mind, when we truly love someone, it is possible for them to still feel affirmed in as a person while confronting them about their behavior. Any teacher knows how to do this. Any good parent or boss knows how to do this. It's the technique that is at the heart of "Love the sinner, hate the sin." It's mystifying that some people can't grasp this.

4. Doesn't Deal With Actual Bible Verses

We will also notice that these people and articles who disapprove of "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" very rarely deal with the actual Bible verses in question. Sure, they might talk about Jesus's dialogue with the woman at the well—and of course "judge not" and "love your neighbor" get trotted out—but they never deal with the plethora of Scripture passages that teach hatred of sin. This is a common problem you run across with people who want to make Christianity a series of platitudes: sketching out very vague, general principles ostensibly based on the Bible while passing entirely over scores of Bible verses that contradict said platitude. It's fine and good to talk about Christians being a force for positive change in the world, but what does the Bible actually say about a Christian's relationship with the world? Or the touchy subject of shunning. "Shunning people is mean and unchristian, mkay?" Alright...but what do the Scriptures actually say about shunning?

These moralizers don't care what the Bible actually says so long as they can take the moral high ground with their obnoxious platitudes. Similarly, people who say "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" isn't a Christian response to sin have not sufficiently studied what the Scriptures say on the subject. They simply toss a Gospel story out there and interpret it via some milquetoast hermeneutic without the context of the rest of the Scriptures. As an exercise in biblical exegesis, critiques of "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" fail miserably.

As always, there's more we could say. Of course, the most important sin we have to hate is our own. We are called to love ourselves and hate our own sin first of all. Needless to say, our attempts to implement the principle when it comes to our brethren work best when we have mastered it in our own lives.

Drop a comment below if you have anything to add, either in support or critique. Even if I hate your comment, I will still love you anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2020

On the Ridiculous Extension of the Term "Pro-Life"

Today I am going to follow up on one of the points I made in my previous post ("On Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church", July 2, 2020). In that article, I noted that the current progressive "Woke" mindset essentially creates and controls the very terms of the discourse it purports to have. Woke ideologues dictate one and only one way to address some social ill and then attack their opponents as uncaring if they do not affirm that specific, particular means of addressing said social ill. It is a ridiculous confusion of the means with the end. We all agree on certain ends, but disagree on the means to attain them. Woke politics insists we identify the end with the means with the result that the window of acceptable discourse is narrowed until there is only one socially tolerated position to hold on any given subject: the Woke position.

This slipshod thinking has made substantial inroads into Christianity in this country as well. The infection has spread so far for various reasons, including
(A) Contemporary Christians don't have a firm moral foundation to their beliefs; they often do not understand why they believe the things they believe and hence are easily swayed from them when some progressive ideology offers an ostensibly "better" explanation for its ideas.
(B) Christianity in the United States is too politicized (left and right) with the effect that Christians are especially susceptible to partisan influences, even without knowing it.
(C) Western affluent Christianity has lost sight of what it means to be "at enmity with the world" (Jas. 4:4). Instead, Christians seek the approbation of the world. They covet a sense of "with-it-ness" when it comes to contemporary issues. They want to look good in the court of public opinion, which necessarily means they seek for that praise on the world's terms. It also makes them sensitive to attempts of worldly people to "shame" them for not living up to the arbitrary definitions of "goodness" established by the virtue-signalling  social media influencers (Related: "Shepherds for the Whole World", USC, May 29, 2015)
(D) The post-conciliar Church has lost its spine when confronting the culture, instead opting to go with the flow and band-wagon behind whatever the zeitgeist says is the dominant issue in any current year. The Church has also lost its credibility on moral issues in light of the sex abuse scandal and is hesitant to try to reclaim it, meaning substantial support from the institutional Church in this struggle is practically non-existent.
The cumulative effect of these conditions is that huge swaths of the Christianity—Protestant and Catholic—are not only taking their moral cues from pop culture, but allowing that culture to define the very parameters of public discourse. The result is a reorientation or "re-branding" of Christian ethics to align them more with secular values while simultaneously applying historical revisionism to the Church's past to try to diminish her triumphs in the realms of socio-economics and culture.

One of the plainest examples of the re-orientation of Christian ethics in light of modern values is the way Christians of late have stretched the term "Pro-Life" to mean almost anything and everything. Have you noticed this trend lately, especially among your Catholic friends of a more progressive stripe? It manifests itself in a very predictable pattern: 

1. The progressive media really wants people to get behind some cause.
2. There is push back from Christians who don't agree with progressive program.
3. Your progressive acquaintances mobilize to apply virtue-signalling and social-shaming to get reluctant Christians on board by trying to argue that the thing under consideration is actually a sensible Christian option;and not only sensible, but really the only "truly" Christian option.

4. The conclusion is then drawn that if you are really a Christian who "claims" to be Pro-Life, you will support the progressive agenda.

This tactic has the effect of removing from the disputant the burden of defending his position and instead shifts that burden to the Christian Pro-Lifer by making his very faith and convictions the locus of debate. Thus, instead of "Ought one support the BLM protests?", the argument instead becomes "Is Jim really a good Christian like he claims?" The original point in dispute is simply taken for granted and now Jim, rather than the question of BLM, is what is being scrutinized. Jim is now personally on the defensive.

I used the example of BLM, but there are all sorts of progressive causes people use this argument to bludgeon us with. For example, did you know you are not really Pro-Life if you don't support the following:

  • Increased funding for public education
  • Expansion of Medicaid benefits
  • Illegal alien amnesty 
  • Opposing the Trump travel bans
  • Vote by mail
  • Student loan forgiveness
  • Covid-19 lockdowns, compulsory social distancing, and masks
  • The George Floyd/BLM protests
  • Increased funding for mental health programs
  • Investment in inner city infrastructure and community programs
  • "Defunding" police departments
  • Laws making it more challenging to acquire firearms
  • Progressive environmental legislation
  • #NeverTrump
  • Eating meat
  • Abolition of the death penalty

I have seen each of these issues as a variable in the sentence "You're not really Pro-Life if you don't support ______________________." You probably have too. It's a hammer people use to beat Pro-Lifers over the head to try to guilt them into supporting their obnoxious policy positions.

I, however, am not so interested in why people do this—clearly its to drive a political agenda—rather, I am more interested in why so many otherwise intelligent Christians buy into it and allow their own sincerity to become the point under debate. Why can't they see what's going on?

The reason actually goes back to the origin of the Pro-Life movement in this country. The Pro-Life movement was founded to oppose the legal sanctioning of abortion, which is the murder of a child in the womb (or sometimes out of the womb) of its mother. Abortion is an evil and barbaric practice, intentionally killing and innocent person in the place that should be the safest for them.

Nevertheless, at the time Roe v. Wade was decided, the opponents of abortion recognized that the winds of change were moving in a generally pro-abortion direction. Not wanting to seem reactionary or like crusty barnacles merely opposing everything new, instead of calling themselves Anti-Abortion, they opted for the term Pro-Life. This was a marketing ploy; it's better and more palatable to public opinion to be "for" something than merely against it. It makes you look more "positive."

In its original context, Pro-Life meant to oppose the intentional killing of human beings, which is murder. Understood this way, it covers both abortion (murder at the beginning of life) and euthanasia (murder at the end of life). This is what it means to be Pro-Life: to oppose legalized murder.

The problems, however, is that the term "Pro-Life" gradually expanded, and this was in some sense inevitable given the decision of the movement to market itself that way. What began as just a choice of words for marketing and public relations eventually became internalized many Pro-Lifers. They did not think of themselves as merely anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia, but as supporters of "life." And what does that mean exactly?

Well, to support life means to oppose death, obviously. So anything that caused "death" could reasonably construed as a so-called "life issue." This is how we developed the awful theology of the "Seamless Garment," also known as the idea of the "consistent life ethic", which was the extension of opposition to "killing" to other areas besides abortion and euthanasia. This began not in the culture, but in the Catholic Church itself, where its most perfect exemplification was the sudden opposition of the hierarchy to the death penalty—despite the inconsistency with Scripture, Catholic tradition, and moral theology. The modern opposition to the death penalty was driven entirely by an equivocation about the terms "death" and "killing", specifically, an inexcusable inability to distinguish between killing generally and murder in particular, between justified and unjustified killing. But it didn't matter; how could people who "claimed to be Pro-Life" support something that intentionally inflicted death? Bad optics, bruh.

Thus, the first "you're not really Pro-Life if you don't also support" was foisted on us by our own hierarchy, and the change has been pronounced: a look at this comparison of the Catechisms of 1992, 1997, and 2018 makes plain how profound the shift really was. For more on the Seamless Garment, I recommend "The Corrupt Theology of the "Seamless Garment" from the Coalition for Thomism blog.

There's also this immature inability to distinguish between the intentional taking of life as the primary end of a moral act (e.g., murder) and states of affairs which may incidentally bring about a loss of life as unintended consequences (e.g.,  permissive gun legislation which allows millions of people to access and use firearms responsibly but also results in the unintended or accidental deaths of others). People who get tripped up on this sort of stuff need to go back and study basic ethics and in the meantime stop posting their stupid memes.

But to return to Pro-Lifers for a moment, regarding the terms "killing" and "life", we saw above an equivocation on the term "killing." It was inevitable that we would see something similar surrounding the term "life." A Pro-Lifer in general and a Christian in particular support "life." In arguments about contraception, we say we are "open to life." We encourage women considering abortion to "choose life." What this originally meant was to oppose intentional methods of snuffing out life or preventing its emergence. In other words, "life issues" are those which address the question "Whether life should exist?" Abortion, contraception, euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, as well as matters surrounding denial of care. These are "life issues."

But what we began to see happen, I'd say around ten years ago, was a blurring of the concept of life so that the existence of life got conflated with quality of life. "Well so what, Boniface? Life is life." Psshh. Don't be so daft. Actually, these are two radically distinct concepts: the former concerns the right of a living thing to continue in existence, the latter has to do with what sort of existence that thing will have. Quality of life is about whether your life will be easy or difficult, what sorts of opportunities you will have, what your environment will be, your education, what one can expect in terms of socio-economic mobility, and so on. All of these things are very important, and should be of concern to all people of goodwill—but, (a) they are not "life issues", and (b) there is such a diversity of opinion about the best way to succeed in these areas that it is impossible to paint any one solution as the only one permissible, much less (c) be able to anchor one's entire Christian or Pro-Life "cred" to any of them.

Still, none of that mattered. "You're not really Pro-Life unless you also support ________" was such an easy position to stake out, Pro-Lifers were so woefully unprepared to defend their positions against it, and its strength so formidable that in a very short time it has become the tool of choice for progressives—Christian or otherwise—to demoralize Pro-Lifers into supporting or at least not opposing a whole host of progressive policy objectives. At the same time, it has diluted the term "Pro-Life" to where anything whatsoever that could have any bearing on quality of life, income, or education in even an incremental way is now a "life issue." The implications become ridiculous. "What? You don't think an unlimited number of migrants from anywhere and everywhere should be allowed to settle here to improve their lives? HoW cAn YoU clAIm tO bE so pRo-LiFe!?????"

And what is the end game? The goal of all this manipulation is to create a social atmosphere in which progressive policies are a fait accompli; they are to be held up as the only reasonable and permissible social positions for a Christian Pro-Lifer to hold—so self-evident that you have to be a stupid bigoted racist misogynist homophobic moron to not think the same. It's all part of a massive funnel-operation to whittle down the realm of acceptable public discourse to a single set of (liberal) policies, outside of which there can be no discussion, no debate, and no other alternatives, least of all by Christian Pro-Lifers, who will immediately abdicate their moral credibility by not "really" being Pro-Life or Christlike if they walk outside the ever narrowing boundaries—functioning like the explosive collars from the 1987 Schwarzenegger flick The Running Man, which are attached to prisoners' necks and rigged to blow up the moment the prisoner steps over the boundary of the prison camp.

This, then, is the tired, pathetic end of the "consistent life ethic", a philosophy that went astray the moment its proponents became too incompetent to distinguish between killing in general and murder in particular. Once this distinction was obliterated and Catholics started arguing against "killing" and for "life" without any qualification whatsoever, it became inevitable that sooner or later the same band of useful idiots would start confusing the right to life with quality of life and suggesting that every single issue that could possibly have any bearing on quality of life was ergo a "life issue"—and that good Catholics needed to virtue signal their Pro-Life cred by supporting whatever pet issue the secularists were yammering about in current year at the expense of not being considered "really" Pro-Life. And (because of reasons A-D listed at the top of this article) most Pro-Lifers were ill equipped to respond and did not fully process the bait and switch that was being imposed on them. And at the end of the day, they wanted to be pat on the head by the world and told "You, too, are good people."

I'm sorry if I seem bitter, but myself and others have been calling out this nonsense for years, in some cases decades. But the reality is that the more this is pointed out, the worse it seems to get. Continued discussions don't make people think harder or reflect deeper; rather, they just get dumber. And as the moral foundations of Catholic ethics get murkier and murkier, more Catholics fall for this ridiculous "You're not really Pro-Life if" argument. And thus the specter of progressivism grows, lurching ever forward, covering everything in its path.

So, maybe I am angry that so many otherwise educated Catholics seem to not only fall for this nonsense, but are practically tripping over themselves to do so. I don't understand—how can you really claim to be intelligent and fall for this ruse?

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Thursday, July 02, 2020

On Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church

The other day I was stunned when an acquaintance of mine announced on social media that she and her husband were leaving the Catholic Church. People leaving the Church is not exactly big news, but I was surprised because this was a family that looked like they were "doing it right" according to the commonly accepted external indicators of what constitutes a "good Catholic family": lots of kids, devout, deeply involved in homeschooling, attended the Traditional Latin Mass,  family were regular participants in parish life and personal devotions, etc. Doing the Catholic family thing for 30 years.

Then, all of the sudden, an announcement via Facebook that the husband and wife were jointly leaving the Church⁠—and not for Protestantism or some other brand of Christianity; they stated that their objections to the Church were pretty much endemic throughout Christianity as a whole. As far as I can tell, they are essentially agnostics now.

At any rate, this post is ultimately not about these folks. People do what they are going to do, and I obviously pray for them and wish the best for them. I am very interested in the comments they made in their public posts about the reasons leading up to their decision, however. These I would like to examine, not in terms of judging or criticizing these peoples' decision, but rather in the abstract. Their reasons are reasons we have heard many times before from many other people who have lost faith; they could have been spoken by any one of the millions of ex-Catholics. Therefore consider them in that light. They are subjects I have grappled with as well. After we look at these issues, I will offer some reflections on "external indicators" of faith as predictive of certain outcomes.

The (public) posts contained a lengthy explanation of their rationale, which could be boiled down to three issues:

(1) The scandal of clerical sex abuse
(2) The scandal of unanswered prayer
(3) The scandal of Catholics not acting with charity

Sex abuse was listed as the top reason why they were choosing to leave the Church. But it was not simply the presence of clerical sex abuse, but rather the radical insufficiency and breakdown of the prevailing conservative narrative about sex abuse that pushed them over the edge. The husband described how for years he had toed the party line on clerical sex abuse, with talking points like "It's just a few bad apples", "There's pedophiles in every profession", "Even Christ had His Judas", "The percent of abusers in the Church isn't any higher than in the general populace", "It's the devil trying to attack the Church and make it look bad," etc.

These sorts of talking-points are what I would loosely refer to as the Neo-Cath answer to clerical sex abuse. I understand this paradigm very well. It is one I used to profess for years. It is comforting because it reassures us that nothing is wrong in our house that is not common to all houses; it casts the Church as the good guys fighting off a demonic attack manifest as biased reporting from a hostile secular press. The demonic attack is fundamentally from outside.

Unfortunately, this narrative is completely false. The husband explained (rightly) that the incidence of abusive priests is much higher within the Church than society at large. That its not confined to dioceses run by a few "bad apple" bishops but that it is ubiquitous throughout the Catholic world. The culture of secrecy around sex abuse is a plague in which the highest members of the hierarchy right up to the pope have been complicit in. The devil was trying to destroy the Church with attacks, but not by means of unfair media bias, but rather from the pedophilic rot within the clergy, which was way more common than previously assumed. The demonic attack was internal. The shock of realizing this was faith-shattering.

I remember back in 2002 when the Cardinal Law sex abuse scandals broke, I was repeating the same talking point. "Other denominations have just as many pedophiles...every profession has its bad apples, etc." Then I read Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men and the scales dropped from my eyes. I realized that the abuse culture was being actively cultivated and perpetuated by a homosexual clique within the hierarchy (in the Vatican, but also local dioceses) and that the bishops were complicit in not only covering it up but actually promoting it. Since then, nothing has surprised me. Now when I hear about things like Msgr. Luigi Capozzi's drug-fuled gay orgy at the Vatican, I shrug and think, "Yup. That's how it is." I don't like it by any means, but I guess I am saying is that uncovering a lot of this filth over the years has left me in a place where I am not surprised by anything any more.

This is why I think it's not helpful to get too invested in the "just a few bad apples" narrative. It's way worse than that. The darkness runs so much deeper. And if you've sheltered yourself from that reality, you're going to be pretty jarred when the truth emerges, as it inevitably will. I'm not saying a more realistic assessment of that would have helped these people, but it has definitely helped me. And that's ultimately what this post is about: not about these folks who lost faith, but about how I have found help in dealing with these same issues.

They also mentioned the scandal of unanswered prayer. And they gave a few examples, things like despite praying for their children and offering Masses for them (Latin masses!), a few of them grew up to become atheists. It seems that prayer didn't affect anything—that despite years of pious prayer, sacrifices, Masses, and devotion, all the words and lamentations poured out to our Lord were so many words just dumped into the void. I think every Christian has had this experience at some time or another; I've had my share of prayers gone unanswered, but I've also had my share of answered prayer as well. I've even experienced (what I consider) miraculous interventions in my life. One of the reasons why I embraced Christianity to begin with when I was 19 was that I witnessed a handful of what I can only describe as miracles. But I've also realized that sort of thing is not normative; miracles, or even prayers answered in exactly the way we hope they will be answered are little treats that happen occasionally, like spiritual candy, but can't be assumed. I have always personally taken the approach that God doesn't owe me anything, not even my own continued existence. He doesn't owe me the lives of children, he doesn't owe me happiness in this world or anything whatsoever. If I live another year without getting bone marrow cancer or go another day without getting hit in the crotch with a golf club, it's sheer grace. God can do whatever He wants to me or anyone else for whatever reasons He chooses and I have peace with that.

I guess I am saying that I have divested myself of the idea that my faith in God will guarantee any specific temporal outcome whatsoever.

The third reason was Catholics not behaving with charity. They elaborated several facets to this scandal. One was just a "Too many hypocritical Catholics makes for a toxic environment" sort of objection—but another was more along the lines of "If grace was efficacious and all of these people spend their lives praying and going to Mass, one would assume they would get better with time?" Yes, obviously as educated Catholics they knew that one has to be disposed to receive grace, but still...what they perceived to be the total lack of transformative power of grace in the lives of people they knew over a long period seemed to be a strong argument that what the faith says about grace is bunk.

I can't speak for anybody else's index of grace; I personally have never been bothered by the idea that we must be disposed to receive grace. It makes sense to me, and if it so happens that 90% of Catholics I know aren't disposed to receive grace, that's just the way that it is. But I don't think that's the reality. I definitely see grace working in the lives of people I know who take their faith seriously. And as I get older I am learning to see it more operative than ever, especially in the small things and little victories. Last winter I had a profound insight into God's grace in me after making a general confession. The victories of grace are often imperceptible, unless you have "eyes to see." It is seldom in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in the "still small voice" (1 Ki. 19:12). This is where I have learned to expect it.

The interesting thing, however, was when these folks went into the details of why they though so many of their fellow Catholics were uncharitable. We've all experienced unkind Catholics, especially if you blog or publish anything online (believe me, I know); occasionally, I have probably been one of them myself. That's sort of par for the course. But these people mentioned something interesting
—basically, that Catholics had by and large failed to adopt the appropriate responses to racism and LGBT issues, which demonstrated that they ultimately lacked love. For (they said) if Catholics were more "loving", they would have been more eager to embrace these causes. It follows that the reticence of Catholics to do so—indeed, their outright hostility to such causes—is a damning condemnation of Catholics' lack of love. Indeed, it is a mark against the Church's very concept of love, where "loving the sinner" is bound up with the idea of "correcting the sinner." As many others who have left the Church have said, this couple ultimately stated that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" was an unworkable proposition. Love needed to be reevaluated in a manner that was not so corrective—meaning, more woke. Basically, they were arguing that Christians aren't woke enough.

Here we come to what I see is grave danger to faith, and one that will only be more dangerous as time goes by: the redefinition of moral values to align them with secular mores. This merits some fleshing out.

It has been long known that liberalism takes sins and redefines them as rights or even as virtues; e.g., the sin of abortion is a "right", contraception is "responsibility", separation of Church and state is a strength, and so on. We are used to liberalism taking BAD things and calling them GOOD. And imperceptibly people adjust their values accordingly over time, if they are not vigilant. This is why so many Catholics think separation of Church and state is great, or that contraception is no big deal, or that homosexual so-called marriage is just fine, etc.

But, liberalism also takes GOOD things and redefines them as BAD, or at least as deficient. St. Teresa of Calcutta's work among the poor wasn't that great because she focused on individuals, not on addressing the systemic causes of poverty. The traditional family structure is not ideal because it reinforces patriarchy. Missionary work is actually deplorable because it can result in the eroding of native cultures. The Christian view of "love the sinner hate the sin" is dangerous because it facilitates judgmentalism. These concepts flow logically from the basic principles of liberalism and serve to undermine the Church's moral position by pulling the rug out from under it—suggesting that the historical Church's humanitarian, educational, or social victories were really not victories at all.

Now, if the good is redefined as bad, then a new good must lifted up to take the place of that which was displaced. In today's incarnation of liberalism, this is where the politics of Woke fit in. One is perceived as "good" to the degree that one can get behind the Woke social agenda; to the degree one won't, one is racist, homophobic, sexist, or whatever the capital sins of liberalism are. This is a creeping problem among the curious demographic of "progressive" Catholics—you know who I mean; the ones whose social media walls consist of 80%+ SJW posts and whose religious posts even have a social justice bent to them. The ones who post preachy, moralizing Twitter screenshots with no commentary other than "THIS" and who clog your feed with graphics whining that "We need to stop doing THIS and start doing THIS instead", and "If you're not doing THIS, you're part of the problem."

But perhaps the biggest fallacy liberalism and Woke politics foist on us is to habitually conflate the end with the means. For example, everyone agrees that we want to address the problem of poverty (end). Liberals will insist on their own specific methodology for addressing poverty in the form of various government programs (means). Then they will insist that if you do not support their specific means, you are not "really" in favor of the end. If you don't support the BLM agenda in particular, you are not against racism in general. If you aren't in favor of vote by mail, you favor discrimination. If you do not agree with every specific premise of the #MeToo crusade, then you are not against sex abuse. If you don't want universal government sponsored health insurance, you don't "really" care for the sick. If you aren't for generous, easy immigration laws in particular then you are a racist in general. If you are skeptical of particular policy proscriptions based on a specific climate-science study, you are "anti-science." If you "really" cared about the poor, you would favor increased funding for various programs. If you were really as loving as your religion claims, you would support various LGBT causes. If you were really Pro-Life, you would support increased funding for public schools, teachers' unions, cancellation of student debt and all variety of things loosely relating to education because somehow education—like a ton of other stuff—is now "also a life issue" (this is going to be a future post—extending "Pro-Life" to mean just about anything).

See how all of this confuses the end with the means? Societal problems are identified, and then one and only one means to address them put forward as the anointed solution. The "national conversation" progressives are always yammering about never happens. Instead we simply get a national lecture, we are told authoritatively that there is only one path forward, and any dissent whatsoever means you don't "really" care about said issue. Weak minded people (desperate to prove they have not committed a racism and fearful of public-shaming) trip over themselves lining up behind whatever the social media Ministry of Truth has decided is the hot button topic in [CURRENT YEAR]. It's a means of relentlessly shoving through social change while bullying dissenting people into silence.

I predict that such "Woke" Christians will eventually lose their faith altogether. We could certainly already say that a liberal Catholic has already suffered an overthrow of faith to the degree that they are affirming principles contrary to Catholic truth. But what I mean is that, ultimately, we will see a lot more of what I described at the top of this post: Christians formally repudiating their Faith because Christianity is not Woke enough, because they have allowed their judgment of what is "good" and what is "moral" to be defined by the culture at large. And when Christianity is judged against these standards and inevitably found wanting (because Christianity historically does not share these novel value judgments), these people will choose Wokeness over Christ in order to feel accepted, to feel that they are "making a difference" or are on the "right side of history."

There's more I could say, of course, but all of this merely reemphasizes the need to take your moral bearings from Catholic Tradition, not one's Twitter feed. And to remember that there is always more than one way to address a problem. If you find yourself believing there is one and only one way to approach a societal problem, such that you have lost the ability to presume the goodwill of those who disagree with your particular pet program, you'd best stop and prayerfully reevaluate how and why you form the opinions that you hold.

Finally—and this is an important message for traditional Catholics—although God gives us a rough set of blueprints for what an ideal Catholic life looks like from the outside, we ought not to assume that any of these external indicators guarantee us any specific outcome. Your marriage won't necessarily be happier if your wife stays home instead of working. Your kids won't necessarily keep the faith because you went to the Latin Mass. You won't necessarily have less struggles with various sins because prayed the "right" prayers. There is no set of boxes you can check that guarantees any particular outcome. To be sure, certain external things can make certain outcomes more likely, but how we manage our lives and our faith is ultimately always a matter of internal transformation, not box checking. It's not about just following the script. You have to take responsibility. You have to cultivate the virtue of prudence. You are not going to be divested of the terrible responsibility for your own soul and your own failings by going through a list of external indicators of "what good Catholics do." Doing such things will always be good, but their goodness does not guarantee you any temporal outcome. They do guarantee you a more beautiful soul, if you do them rightly disposed. But it is best to give up the idea that your life is going to unfold according to a certain design just because you "followed the rules."