Our friend Stanford Nutting, liberal ex-theologian who Stands-for-Nothing, feels that the heart of the Christian faith can be summed up in the words, “Jesus was nice; you be nice, too.” He has taught that in RCIA and CCD classes for decades as an ad-hoc DRE at suburban parishes, ever since he dropped out of seminary in the 70s because seminary in the 70s was “too judgmental” for Stanford’s taste.
The problem with “Jesus is nice; you be nice, too” is twofold. First, Jesus was not nice. You don’t get crucified for being nice. He loves us, and love is a much more troubling thing than “being nice”.
That brings me to the second problem of this philosophy: “being nice” is a hollow parody of Christian love. “Being nice” is a dumbed-down version of Courtesy, itself a kind of holy condescension, a virtue aflame, abiding in the heart of a Christian knight, who, as a warrior in the great battle, honors and protects those who are weak and in danger. The medieval notion of Courtesy included love for the poor and defenseless and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for their sake, informed by a love of Christ and a desire to imitate Him. Its parody, the modern notion of “niceness”, includes no self-sacrifice beyond the banal suppression of testosterone and is informed not by a love of and imitation of Christ but by the relativist dogma that since all opinions are equally wrong, all people must be equally tolerated with a kind of patronizing tepidity. Our “being nice” is just a form of sanctimonious pride.
It’s hard for me to write about this stuff without becoming like Stanford Nutting’s identical twin half-brother Williamus Filius Johani (aka Bill Johnson), a furious mad trad who has been driven clinically insane by the hollowing out of the Church (Bill and Stanford can both be seen here). Bill, for all his flaws and his erroneous descent into Puritanical reactionary vitriol, sees what Stanford and his liberalist ilk have done to the Christian Church. What they’ve done is summed up here by Kenda Creasy Dean as she gives bullet points of the so-called Christian faith of the average teenager in America (that small group of believing teens who aren’t fad-atheists like most of their peers). Dean tells us that Christian teens today believe
* A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
* God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
* The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
*God does not need to be involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
*Good people go to Heaven when they die.
Remember, these are the beliefs of teens who actually believe in God. And yet these teens believe not in the Christian Faith but in the Co-Exist bumper sticker. They are not Christians; they are Co-Existians. (I still want to design a bumper sticker with the cartoon character Calvin peeing on the Co-Exist logo the way you’ll sometimes see him peeing on the Ford or Chevy logo on the backs of certain cars and trucks – but I digress.)
What’s wrong with what these kids believe in? It’s good and not bad. It’s nice and not naughty. It’s better than sex, drugs and rock and roll, ain’t it?
Well, no it’s not. At least the new pagans of our day, the hedonists who destroy their lives on sex, drugs and rock and roll, are either cold or hot. They are not lukewarm and fit to be spewed from the mouth of Christ.
What’s troubling about Co-Existians is that they have a false idol, and its name is Oprah. It’s not the worst idol a young man could build, for at least the shape of the Oprah-idol is human and humans are the image of God – but it’s an idol that represents an insidious lie, all the more dangerous for the elements of truth that it hollows out and parodies.
If all the Christian faith is is “be nice and tolerant and feel good about yourself and others” then let me be the first to say – and I meant this quite literally – to hell with it. If that’s what our faith really is, then I’ll hop on the bandwagon of all those shallow-thinking fad-atheists out there (with their ipod headphones in their ears to shield them from real experience and genuine human interaction) and we’ll have a big party and burn all the churches, our isolation intensified by the different song each individual will be listening to as we torch them, downloaded legitimately or stolen off of bootleg song sharing sites. We know that the Marty Haugen / David Haas music is gay; well, this pretend-Christianity is gay, too. If we follow it, we’ll become far less than Christian, we’ll become far less than men. We’ll become eunuchs in the temple of Oprah, and I’ll burn the shopping mall church up the road before I become one of those. I’ll return to my days of actual-atheism and make fun of the fad-atheists out there who don’t have enough heart to believe in the head, to acknowledge the metaphysical reality of Reason and Truth. I’ll try to enjoy the pagan pleasures of sex and cruelty, but my heart won’t be in it. Once the false temple of Oprah is smashed and the Co-Existians are allowed to flounder aimlessly (a fitting punishment), I really won’t have anything else I’ll want to do.
OK, I need to calm down.
There. I took a breather. Sorry about the rant.
The problem here is this all comes from a very disturbing post on Mark Shea’s blog in which Sherry Weddell of the St. Catherine of Siena Institute discusses the disturbing statistics about the Catholic Church. In short, it turns out that only one is six baptized Catholics will attend Mass regularly as adults. And of those 15%, one has to wonder how many understand the message of Christ as being anything other than “Co-Exist”, “Sit down and share with Oprah”, “Jesus was nice; you be nice, too”. If only one in six cares enough about the Faith to make an attempt at the most basic means of following it (regular Mass attendance, which is only a start), and if half or more than half of those share the bullet-point tenets above, then WHAT THE HELL HAS HAPPENED TO US?
Of course, it is not our job to judge, and we know the tares are sown in with the wheat. Our job is to know Christ and follow Him, to shout from the housetops, to sow his seed in the fields and byways, and to let who follows follow. And as Dean points out in her interview, the problem is not with today’s teen Christians, but with their parents. If Mom and Dad died to themselves to live to Christ, the faux-faith of their children might not be so disturbingly bland; for to witness is to live the Faith, and how many of us really do that? This is, of course, the cause of the problem.
So my point here is not to point fingers and not to claim I’m a better Christian than my neighbor. Indeed, some of the best Christians I’ve ever met don’t think they’re in the Church; and you’ll often find more Christian charity among non-believers than in the parish down the street. God reads our hearts; we cannot read one another’s hearts. But at the same time we are to know the true from the false among us by their fruit, and when a Church retains only one out of six, and when probably more than half of those one out of six have any serious understanding of who Christ is and what He taught, and when the best among us, our young people who have a desire to love and serve Christ, are not loving or serving Him in any way that can be distinguished from the well-intentioned secularists who surround them, then something is very very wrong.
But in moments like these when it all seems to be a mess that’s beyond human help (which it very literally is), when it’s so tempting to say, “If following Christ is this meaningless, what am I in it for?” when even those with the best intentions go so terribly off the mark, in the midst of these temptations, there’s only one thing that works for me: look at the saints. Look at what the Protestants call a “relationship with Christ” does to people who follow Our Lord and not some man-made idol they substitute for Him.
Look at the zeal and love-unto-death of St. Paul. Look at the patience of St. Thomas Aquinas and his lifelong task, savoring and explaining the epiphany of Christ. Look at the self-giving love of the poor of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta. Look at the home-schooling mom sacrificing herself out of love and trying to do her best by Him.
Christ transforms. He makes all things new. He is Real and the source of all Truth and Reality. He will transform us, make us anew, and make us more Real and True in Him, by Him and through Him.
But first we must smash the false idols and serve the One True God.
First we must destroy the false-love and replace it with the true, painful and disturbing as that may be to people in and out of the Church.
For it is only by practicing true love that one takes the awful risk of being crucified.