Thursday, April 21, 2016

The word “Catholic” has lost its bite

I read this headline: “Pastor sues Whole Foods over alleged gay slur on cake.”*

And thought: Someone mistook a pastor for a gay man? 

No, the pastor is a gay man—that’s why he’s offended. I figured the baker made an assumption based on something he did or said, slurred all over the cake, and the pastor was offended because he’s not gay. Because, you know, the whole Bible thing, the whole natural law thing.

My old-fashioned notion of a pastor would not be celebrating same-sex pseudo marriage. But words have lost their traditional meaning. For instance, the plaintiff, Jordan Brown, is the founder of the Church of Open Doors. That could mean it’s like my parish, which has fully functional doors. Or it could mean his church is not going to address certain sins—and maybe that’s why he’s ordering a cake with “Love wins” written across it in blue icing. “Open doors” can mean whatever he wants it to mean, because it’s his church.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Discrimination and freedom of conscience are confused, and rights and duties are obscured. Civil rights means gender fluidity. Women’s rights means abortion on demand. The news, now infested with double-speak, reveals a profound crisis of meaning in our society. We share the same words but not the truths they once conveyed.

As G. K. Chesterton observed:
What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn’t there be a quarrel about a word? If you’re not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only thing worth fighting about. —G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross
G.K. Chesterton

As a Catholic convert, I assumed that crossing the “great divide”—from the freedom of Protestantism to the idolatry of Mary-worshiping papists—would result in being disowned and told that Catholics are going to hell. I still expect to have the car keyed by someone who sees the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror.

But everyone was fine with it—which makes me realize that the word “Catholic” doesn’t mean much of anything to people anymore, just like the words “sex,” “marriage,” and “pastor.”


When a politician advocating late-term abortions says, “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this,” one learns that merely identifying as Catholic is not the same as assenting to Church teaching. 

It is now possible to be a “cool” Catholic. You can no longer presume that a Catholic mom is a stay-at-home mom. Or that they aren’t voting for Bernie Sanders. Or that they dont contracept. It comes as no surprise that many Catholics—both laity and consecrated religious—cherry-pick doctrines based on their personal opinions.
The word “Catholic” has lost its bite; it has become something we do on Sunday—not something we believe, a living faith that informs our decisions in the voting booth, home, and office. The Church might have “opinions,” but they are just that, since evidently not all Catholics feel the same way about homosexuality/gay marriage/abortion/contraception. 

I expected my new-found faith would alarm others. My conversion should have publicly identified me with a whole host of beliefs—all conveyed in that one word: Catholic. But it didn’t. Even the Church has not been immune to the dictatorship of relativism. Being “Catholic” has become just another identifier among many, as fluid as the rest of them.

*The pastor later admitted that he faked the slur for publicity.