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  • Who Is the ‘Real’ Christian?

    by Mark P. Shea

    American politicians, unlike European ones, not only can but must play the Jesus card when they are faltering. Accordingly, Obama has done so, and just as accordingly, earnest Christians are now mulling over the “Is he really a Christian?” question that always arises whenever any polarizing public figure says he or she believes in Jesus.

    For myself, I’m happy to accept his or anyone else’s profession of faith. My attitude toward anybody who wishes to call himself “Christian” was determined decades ago by the formative experience of a) becoming a crappy half-assed Christian myself and b) reading The Screwtape Letters, which impressed upon my soul the dangers of reading others out of the Body of Christ as though somebody died and made me bishop. Screwtape warns Wormwood to keep just one question from his “patient’s” mind: “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”

    It’s a question I never forget when somebody who doesn’t look all that Christian to me tells me, “I’m a Christian.” So my discipline, absent the charism of reading souls, is to grant the status of brother or sister in Christ to any person who professes faith in Christ. I extend this very far and will grant that even the most confused person (say, a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness) who says he or she is trying to obey Jesus is trying to obey Him and is not necessarily culpable for his or her wrong ideas about Him.

    Similarly, when confronted with a person who professes belief in Jesus, yet who is acting in a way that seems to me to obviously constitute either venial or grave matter for sin, my starting assumption (which can change, if experience and common sense beat it out of me) is that that the person’s culpability may be diminished by ignorance or lack of freedom. This largely frees me from playing the game of saying, “I will judge whether you are really a Christian by your actions, but demand that you judge me by my intentions.”

    Yes, some people make it obvious that Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you” (Mt 7:6). But still and all, the best place to start is with Mark Twain’s counsel: “Never attribute to malice what can be sufficiently explained by stupidity.” Compared to a moral fault, an intellectual fault is a mere peccadillo. Having my own share of moral and intellectual faults, I prefer to cut them the same slack, as Jesus has cut me, and grant them the basic status of brother or sister in Christ if they ask it of me.

     

    However, that said, when somebody contradicts the teaching of Holy Church in thought or deed, I also have no compunction at all about arguing with error and, where necessary, rebuking sins. So I can, to give a very public and obvious example, credit apostate Catholic and Mormon Glenn Beck’s claim to be (in some sense or other) seeking to follow Jesus. Who died and made me his judge? Given what appears to be a rather tortured family history and psychological profile, he may, with only the most minimal culpability, be utterly ignorant of the Catholic Faith of his childhood and might, for all I know, be doing his utmost to follow Jesus through the tangled thicket of his disordered mind and emotions. More power to him if so. I will certainly not presume to stand in judgment of how such a poor soul stands in the judgment of the Lord of Hosts, and I hope that God will reckon him to have been as faithful as he could be to the Light he has received. How could it be otherwise, given my own tangled thicket? As St. Ephraim supposedly said, “Be kind to every person you meet. For every person is fighting a great battle.”

    But being kind does not, in the slightest, mean that I have to accept Beck’s claims about the truth of the Mormon faith, nor about any of the many other crazy or silly things he alleges. He wishes to be accepted as somebody who places faith in Jesus? Fine and dandy! I do so. He wishes me to believe that Woodrow Wilson is the source of all evil in the American Experiment? Show me the evidence. He wishes me to believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls are secret Christian documents hidden to protect the faith from Constantine?  Sorry, Glenn, but you have no idea what you are talking about, and I will tell you that to your face. Doesn’t mean I don’t credit that you are trying to follow Jesus despite your faults and failings. It just means that, on this subject, you have just displayed a massive failing, and I am under no obligation to order my life according to your historical quackery.

    In exactly the same way, I will accept Obama’s claim to be a Christian but feel no obligation whatever to think him a particularly good one. Intellectually, he clearly has only the barest familiarity with actual orthodox belief about the person and work of Jesus. Morally, his thinking suffers (like so many Americans) from an uncritical embrace of consequentialism, which leads to killing babies at home and fruitless wars abroad (not to mention voting himself the power to murder anybody he pleases for the sake of “national security”).

    Is he a “real Christian”? Depends on what you mean by that. Does he see himself as attempting to follow Jesus? He says he does. So I’ll take him at his word, just as I will take anybody else at his word when he says that. Is he doing a bang-up job of that project? To look at results, I’d say, “No.” But “results” only cover externals. Some of his views and actions constitute grave matter for sin — as, for instance, his support for abortion, including such extreme forms as partial birth abortion. That’s all I need to know to disagree with and oppose him on such matters.

    But as to his interior freedom and knowledge in supporting that intrinsic and grave evil? I ain’t God. Not my job to judge his soul, just his actions and words. My purpose in judging his actions and words is not to prognosticate about his eternal destiny any more than it was to prognosticate about the souls of Catholic torture supporters (who, if they knew their faith, had much less excuse than a man who was raised with no exposure to Catholic teaching). It is to do the much more mundane work of acting as a citizen of the United States (and as a member of the body of Christ) so that I can inform my own conscience and act rightly in the public square as a Christian citizen.

     

    In short, then, I think the question, “Is so and so a real Christian?” is largely a waste of time. In common parlance, it means, “Can we determine from somebody’s words and actions whether they are worthy in our eyes of being regarded as a disciple of Jesus Christ and an inheritor of salvation?” That godlike presumption requires us to make judgments that no mortal flesh can make about the interior life of another human being. If somebody asks me to regard him or her as a Christian, I think the Christian thing to do is to honor the request in charity. Does that mean I am now certain they are going to heaven? Of course not! I’m not even certain of that for myself. As Dante reminds us, merely being a Christian is no “Get out of Hell” card. His Inferno is full of them, including a number of popes. I just mean, “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”

    At the same time, if a person asks me to regard him as a good Christian (which is what remarks like Obama’s are calculated to do, because they mean, “Trust me as a leader and a determiner of public policy, because I am an exemplary member of your religious tribe”), I have as much right to ask of him what Jesus asks of me whenever I sin or fall short intellectually and morally: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” A brother or sister Christian who, by word or deed, offers me venial or grave matter for sin by, say, proposing the truth of Mormonism or the goodness of abortion or the embrace of consequentialism is proposing ideas and actions that I can reject without the slightest hesitation. If he lives out those sins, I can rebuke them without the slightest hesitation as well.

    That doesn’t mean I am standing in judgment over his or her eternal destiny, though. What do I know of their culpability? And still less do I know the action of grace in their lives. I have sinned badly at times, and yet God has never given up on me. So if a serious sinner asks me to believe him when he says he is still trying to follow Jesus, I will grant that he is. But I will not pretend he is not still a serious sinner, and I will by no means uncritically accept what he says merely because of some tribal affiliation. I will compare what he says and does with the teaching of the Church.

    So it comes down to the old maxim, “Hate the sin and love the sinner.” To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus. It is, in the most elementary analysis, to have been baptized. Just a step up from that, it is to seek, in the barest possible way, the Lord who is easy to please and hard to satisfy. The Good Thief was a man whose entire life was a huge waste. Everything he had done with his life had led to the most ignominious execution that any loser in antiquity could face. By his own confession, he had it coming. All he had to bring to the table at the end was that miserable confession of abject failure. And yet, by the miracle of grace, he was accepted by our Lord as a “real Christian.”

    If a slob like that can, in the final minutes of his life, bring that little to the table and still find acceptance by Jesus, then I think I had better not put too many membership requirements between me and Jesus by reading others out of the Body of Christ, for the measure I use will be measured to me. I don’t have to buy a fellow Christian’s ideas, and I don’t have to approve of his actions (nor will I when he contradicts the teaching of the Church). But I do have to accept him for the sake of the Lord he professes to seek. If I’m wrong, I figure Jesus will sort it all out on That Day.

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • Marthe L

      This is an excellent article, and it says what I actually try to do myself. I fully agree. But hating the sin and loving the sinner is always difficult, particularly when the sin committed is such that it brings out strong emotions. However, we all have to remind ourselves that Jesus came to save everyone, without exception, and that we do not know how anyone responds in his or her heart, as well as how Jesus is constantly reaching out to other people.

    • Bob

      Apparently Prez Obanma carries arround a holy card in his wallet of Mary, Help of Chrisitians. Obviously, with his pro-abortion stance, there is still some travel to go to grab Mary’s hand as she takes him to her Son (like all of us.)But one hopes and prays that maybe Obama’s pointed in the right direction, and (like all of us)through greater prayer and contemplation, and with “Mary’s Help”, he’ll come closer to the Truth of Christ. Maybe Obama’s heart is taking him that way. We’re all on a journey….

      Great article, Mark!

    • TheOldCrusader

      “Morally, his thinking suffers (like so many Americans) from an uncritical embrace of consequentialism, which leads to killing babies at home and fruitless wars abroad (not to mention voting himself the power to murder anybody he pleases for the sake of “national security”).”

      An excellent summation. Wilson is not the source of this evil, but is a conspicious example of it. Much of the source goes back to Lincoln. Scan a copy of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History” for the proofs.

    • Bill Cherry Jr

      I try. This is worth contemplating and sharing. I wish I could say i was as consistent. I agree with your article. Again, thank you. I needed to read this.

    • David Ambuul

      When Al Capone exited Mass in Chicago he used to throw $100 bills to the poor on the church steps; they loved him for it. When George Bush described Al Queda operatives as cowards who hid in caves I found that a fitting description for men who would destroy the world. When I heard president Obama had recently picked up the Bible, I tried to smile about it.
      My grandpa was a pipefitter in Chicago during the days of Capone. I once heard him remark that that if there is a bunch of vodka in the closet and the amount of that hidden vodka keeps seeming to disappear, his trust in the claim of his son that he was dry couldn’t be trusted. I also heard, on one of those old VCR tapes many of us love so much, Bishop Sheen state that he walked in on two priests and a nun during a black mass while he was officiating a retreat. I was still young when I first watched that tape and it was baffling.
      About twenty years ago I had an experience with a friend I’d known since fifth grade. We had gone through catholic school together and eight years later I was on Christmass vacation back in Chicago from college. Well, I found out that night, to my horror, that she was not only not catholic but was part of an occultist family. Thank God I survived, truly I thank Him.
      Twenty year later I see Obama in Christian churches trying to stir a base for his cause. I like some, but not many, of his ideas. In conscience I cannot say yet that I think he is christian; this would seem, from my experience, a betrayal to my fellow christians whom I am deeply in love with.
      Men are known by their fruits, not words. And the fruit under Capone’s dollar bills was murder and theft. For most politicians in America today the fruit behind their words comes from the fear of a very large, wide and dark dragnet of western central banksters. They fear them as I once feared my occult friend.
      That being said, if Obama ever decides to print non-Fed notes backed by silver or something, I’ll back him. I may even think he is as courageous as Kennedy was. I’ll definately admire him to the degree I despise the World Bank. And if he ever asks, after that, to be allowed into the Catholic Church, after he repudiates abortion, I’ll be his sponsor if he likes.
      Until then I’m with the gritty Christians who didn’t trust St. Paul. I hope I can someday say with them this morning’s prayer of the early church: “the one who was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

    • alipius

      Except for: “As Dante reminds us, merely being a Christian is no “Get out of Hell” card. His Inferno is full of them, including a number of popes.”

      Isn’t Dante just another mortal flesh telling us who is in heaven and who isn’t? Doesn’t invalidate the “being a Christian is no “Get out of Hell” card”-part but whatever Dante’s inferno is, should remain Dante’s inferno, shouldn’t it?

    • Eric Giunta

      Mark reminds me a lot of Glenn Beck. Both have moments of extraordinary lucidity, and have a gift for humor, but both are prone to displays of arrogance and revisionism.

      For instance, Shea says:

      “My purpose in judging his actions and words is not to prognosticate about his eternal destiny any more than it was to prognosticate about the souls of Catholic torture supporters (who, if they knew their faith, had much less excuse than a man who was raised with no exposure to Catholic teaching).”

      Apparently, as far as Mark Shea is concerned, the Catholic faith begins and ends with the John Paul 2 pontificate, and it’s our job as Catholics to ignore two millenia of a very complex Catholic Christian approach to the subject of torture, and we must instead be bound by Mark Shea’s private interpretation of an out-of-context citation from Gaudium et Spes, and must accept as unquestioned dogma all the policy prescriptions made by bureaucrats at the USCCB and the Roman curia.

      This selective ultramontanism is very unbecoming, and the newly beatified Newman is a constant reminder to us to ignore it.

    • Tito Edwards

      credit apostate Catholic and Mormon Glenn Beck’s claim

      To the point and correct.

      Mark may be the Cardinal Arinze of Catholic bloggers!

    • Brian English

      “and it’s our job as Catholics to ignore two millenia of a very complex Catholic Christian approach to the subject of torture,”

      I especially like the idea that Catholics who do not agree with Mark on this are more blameworthy than Obama, since one has to be exposed to Catholic teachings in order to understand that delivering a baby except for its head and then ramming scissors into the base of his or her skull is an evil thing. How many years of Catholic education does it take to understand that throwing a baby who survives an abortion on a shelf to let him or her die is an evil thing?

      “Mark may be the Cardinal Arinze of Catholic bloggers!”

      He is certainly not the Cardinal Dulles.

    • Petrus Canisius

      Though there is a lot of wasted wind in condemning people and guessing their intentions and internal dispositions, nevertheless the question of Who is a Christian is not a dumb one. Not to the Fathers and Doctors of the church. Consider the major catechism of Saint Peter Canisius — Saint, Doctor of the Church, papal theologian at Trent, and a model for catechists, etc.. “Who should be called a Christian” is the very first question he considers, with quotes from scripture and the fathers to supply the answer. For those who know Latin, you can read the text from the URL link to this post.

    • Carl
    • Patrick

      Well, to the large part of Protestants, Christian equates with “saved”. In this manner the Screwtape reference makes sense.

      Christian, to my understanding, is a term applying to those who profess in the Trinity as per the Nicene Creed. Of course, this too can get messy with Orthodox relations and the Filioque.

      A Mormon, who may well die in a state of grace that I may not have at the time of my death (Heaven help the former, and forbid the latter), is definitively not a Christian, but a heathen. Again, this is not a judgment of hearts, but a determination of Creed.

      As President Obama has been baptized according to the doctrine of the faith community known as Church of Christ, I aught to assume that he is Christian. If the particular parish that President Obama was baptized rejects the Trinity, well, then that’s another matter entirely.

    • Eric Giunta

      Because, Carl, Mr Shea has to go out of his way to bash conservatives (even when they are morally upright and clearly act in good faith), demonize their beliefs, and mock their defenders, in order to establish his bona fides as someone who is “non-partisan” and “objective,” “above the fray.”

      Believe me, I understand the feeling. I’m voting for Alex Sink (D) in the FL gubernatorial race–because I believe Rick Scott (R) to be a blatantly corrupt man–and I have to admit there is a weird thrill one gets voting outside of one’s party line. It also helps when engaging in debate with culture-of-death leftist partisans; one can always say,”I VOTED for the Democrat, etc” or “I criticize EVERYONE, etc”

      I just wish Shea was more consistent. He will perform all manner of intellectual kama sutra to justify any and everything done by Pope JP2, and liturgical iconoclasts generally, and incompetent bishops (usually), but Don’t. You. Dare. suggest that not *all* torture is intrinsically evil, and Don’t. You. Dare. cite any magisterial teaching and practice before the 1960s, or cite any saints or doctors who are not quoted in the policy papers of the USCCB–or else you are a schismatically-minded rad-trad with a selective approach to the magisterium. For Mark Shea, doctrinal development is a one-way street, and if a moral or theological fad is new, and liked by The Powers That Be, it *must* be the only way to understand the Catholic tradition, and this change is itself unchangeable.

    • Joe Robinson

      Although I appreciate the point Mark is making here, I think he missed an important distinction. There aren’t only two categories of those who profess faith in Christ – those who take it seriously and those who are hypocrites – or good Christians and bad ones. There are also liars; those who maintain they are religious men for the political expediency of the status. C.S. Lewis was referring to those we see as hypocrites in the pew in that passage from The Screwtape Letters. Liars are a different sort, and we are under no obligation to “take them at their word” as our fellow pilgrims who are “fighting a great battle.” They aren’t. The real doubt about Obama isn’t that he’s a bad Christian, but that he’s lying when he identifies himself as a Christian; that he just isn’t one.

    • A quitter

      Cdl. Dulles is uncertain why slavery is included in Veritatis Splendor among the acts which are intrinsically evil:

      {~quote~}
      Where Vatican II had called these practices “shameful” (probra), John Paul II calls them “intrinsically evil.” In the same encyclical the pope teaches that intrinsically evil acts are prohibited always and everywhere, without any exception.

      Did John Paul II, by including slavery in his list of social evils, effect the revolution in Catholic moral theology that Noonan attributes to him? It seems to me that if he had wanted to assert his position as definitive he would have had to say more clearly how he was defining slavery. He would have had to make it clear that he was rejecting the nuanced views of the biblical writers and Catholic theologians for so many past centuries. If any form of slavery could be justified under any conditions, slavery as such would not be, in the technical sense, intrinsically evil.
      [

    • Mark P. Shea

      When I acquire the power of reading souls, I will be able to know if Obama is lying. Till then, I take him at his word.

    • Brian English

      “Brian English repeatedly uses Cdl. Dulles to further his own pro-torture agenda and he is not justified in doing so.”

      I am absolutely justified in doing so. The same way Judge Noonan cherry-picked slavery from the Veritatis Splendor list, Mark cherry-picks torture. You have difficulty following that?

      Beyond that issue, the idea that there is a moral equivalence between waterboarding three al Qaeda leaders and the 1.2 million abortions that take place in this country each year is an obscenity.

    • Bill

      I don’t listen to talk radio, so I’ve never heard Glenn Beck, but the special vitriol for Glenn Beck on this site doesn’t reflect especially well on the author. For all I know Mr. Beck deserves it. Nevertheless, it’s beginning to appear that Mr. Shea creates opportunities for himself to vent his spleen about him. The barely-concealed seething seems disproportionate to Glenn Beck’s crackpot ideas.

    • Carl

      It has been rightly pointed out that there are many problems with Mormonism. A Catholic that follows such is an apostate Catholic.

      But how exactly does Obama

    • Athanasius

      I’m not in the business of judging Obama’s soul, but it is my civic responsibility to judge both his past public actions (as president, as senator, etc.) and estimate his future reliability in office. From the latter perspective, he is functionally an agnostic.

      May God grant both him and me the grace of conversion.

    • TeaPot562

      Dante’s Divine Comedy was written by Dante, a citizen of Florence, then exiled from Florence, ca 1300 A.D. He was not closely acquainted with any popes, but would have known them by reputation. In his Inferno, he doubtless gave each pope full credit for crimes assigned to him. In our age, we could give full credit to Lenin (1 million + murders), Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and Idi Amin for deaths executed by their governments. In each case, God in His mercy might arrange a saving repentance at the time of death; but it would be presumptuous for one of us to count on it.
      As late as the sixteenth century, a pope (Julius II?) is supposed to have bragged that he had broken all ten of the Commandments given to Moses since he had become Pope.
      If Paul can be converted and become a strong advocate for Christ, who are we to set limits to God’s grace and mercy?
      TeaPot562

    • Sam Schmitt

      “Beyond that issue, the idea that there is a moral equivalence between waterboarding three al Qaeda leaders and the 1.2 million abortions that take place in this country each year is an obscenity.”

      (I’m not sure exactly who made this claim, but . . . ) They are equivalent in the sense that both are intrinsically evil, not that a few cases of torture has the same “amount” of evil as 1.2 million abortions.

      Not sure why you and Eric Giunta are resuscitating the tired old misrepresentations of what Mark and others argue – I thought they were answered over and over at other blogs.

    • Tony Esolen

      I used to admire Woodrow Wilson for his democratic smashing of the fraternities at Princeton — which gained him a lot of attention and propelled him into the state house in New Jersey. I’ve since revised my point of view, and see Wilson as one more in a long line of illuminati, stretching back to that deeply anti-Catholic period called the Enlightenment. Wilson combined a hatred of certain established institutions of the rich (or the merely traditional) with contempt for the common people. He was a centralizer, so much so that he argued that we would be better off with a European-style parliament, free of the cumbersome checks on legislators that the separate popular election of the executive supplies. He meant well — I don’t doubt that; I don’t think he was a moral monster. But there is that certain strange puritanical streak in him of contempt for tradition, and confidence that the intelligentsia know better and can prescribe for the rest of us.

      Glenn Beck is a somewhat confused fellow who is sincerely trying to learn more about America’s founders and about what used to be the American tradition of local government and self-government. Somebody ought to introduce him to Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and Leo XIII, but then, somebody ought to do the same for all the rest of the self-styled conservatives out there. Beck’s just trying to do the best he can, with the education he’s got. It’s not as if the likes of Nancy Lallapelosi distinguish themselves, either, by reading up on the founders.

      Dante and Pope Boniface VIII were political enemies. But Dante placed political allies of his in hell, too. The point is not that Dante thought he knew where these specific people were going, as if he were God; he wanted to make claims about the controversies of his day, and in some cases to reveal mortal crimes that certain people, including Boniface, had committed. That’s a fine distinction, I know. For the record, I do not accept Dante’s evaluation of Boniface; I think that he let his political views get the better of him.

    • Jacob Morgan

      There are two issues at hand.

      One is if a person has the right to claim the title of Christian. Since one can not see into the soul and psyche of another person, who is to say if that person is or is not a true follower of Christ? A valid point, but in American politics that is not the issue.

      The real issue is if the politician in question effectively tries to follow the morality taught by some meaningful version of Christianity. I.e., will that politician pass laws, appoint judges, execute the law, etc., as a person who thinks they will some day have to explain to God why they did such things in light of the ten comandments, hope love faith, mankind made in the image of God, etc. That does not strictly depend on the politican being, or not being, a real Christian; it depends on if they act as though they are one, and that can be reasonably determined through observation.Two politicans trying to act like Christians can do different things, they can honestly believe the path A or path B will lead to peace, justice, prosperity, etc. One can be honestly wrong with the best motives. But when path A and path B both lead to death and death is the objective, then that is a different thing entirely.

      The question is not if Obama is a real Christian, the question is if he is behaving as a Christian ought, and that answer could not be much clearer. Particularly on life issues, how could Obama be worse? He clearly supports not only abortion on demand but abortion as the cure for what is wrong with society, all while aiming to sooth with talk about wanting it to be “rare”. That is not sincere confusion, that is a deliberate snake-like deception.

      Meanwhile he mentioned the Mary card becuase he does not have the Evangelical vote (and he knows it) and the mainstream just winks back–it is the Catholic vote that he needs. As the tide turns, expect Obama to casually mention that he likes to read C.S. Chesterton and G.K. Lewis (maybe even Scott Shea and Mark Hahn)–anything to pick up a few more Catholic voters in the Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    • Don

      Open your eyes and your heart.

      Your clear bias towards President Obama has clouded your judgment. We are not to judge anyone for their Faith or lack there of.

      President Obama should be honest and open about how he truly found Christ and the church in which he sat to do so. However, it is not for us or anyone to judge him for this. We must however as faithful Catholics be mindful of the damage Pro-Abortion politicians have and will continue to do to this country. Not to mention the views on homosexuality of those he surrounds himself with, particularly his education czar, Kevin Jennings. How about digging up a little research on this individual and his words?

      How Glenn Beck has come to Christ is not our business. If he embraces Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then that is beautiful. If he espouses and lives the teaches of Christ, specifically the defense of issues on Life which he does, then he is a strong advocate in one of the greatest battles in the Catholic faith today.

      Perhaps you should take a closer look at how us Catholics have failed in upholding the teachings of Christ in cities like Boston, NYC, Philly, LA, San Fran, Detroit, and Chicago. These cities where Catholics are the predominant religion have become hotbeds for drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, adultery, and sexual misbehavior. It is in places like these where Catholics continually turn a blind eye to politicians who put their thumb in the eye of the Catholic Church. We allow these politicians to be re-elected when they fraudulently espouse our Catholic faith yet do nothing to stand up for the Faith particularly on issues of Life.

      Before you condemn Glenn Beck perhaps you should do some research and see if any Catholic disagrees with the 9 principles and 12 values of the 9/12 project or any of the words spoken at 8.28 or maybe you should Catholic scholars like Dr. Patrick Lee and Dr. Robert George their opinions on Glenn Beck.

      I pray for you Mark and for all Catholics who are not seeing the Truth.

      As for Woodrow Wilson, how about reading the following and coming back to us:

      http://www.amazon.com/Woodrow-Liberalism-American-Intellectual-Culture/dp/0742515168/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286339673&sr=8-1

      http://www.amazon.com/1920-Year-Presidents-David-Pietrusza/dp/0786721022/ref=pd_sim_b_3

      http://www.amazon.com/Liberal-Fascism-American-Mussolini-Politics/dp/0385511841/ref=pd_sim_b_5

      http://www.amazon.com/Philip-Dru-Administrator-Tomorrow-1920-1935/dp/1434416305/ref=pd_sim_b_4

    • Cody

      It seems to me that C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters is out-of-place in this discussion. J.R.R. Tolkien, his devoutly Catholic friend, was extremely offended by the book’s exploration of evil. Besides, C.S. Lewis is a major Protestant theologian and, despite his close contact with Catholicism over his life, did not convert. His works would seem to reflect little of reality.

      As mentioned above, Dante falls into the same category. He was excommunicated and his book was banned by the Dominican Order. His validity as a source is limited, unless referring to the ambient Catholic thought in his works from his life in Catholic Italy.

    • Mark P. Shea

      1. I hold no brief for Woodrow Wilson. I merely question the strange assertion that all our troubles are traceable to him, particularly centralization. As I point out recently, if Beck is fretting about the Federal government, he should really have turned around and had a few words with the edifice of Lincoln and his fasces-decorated throne, cuz Federal domination of local government really goes back to him (though Wilson certainly had his own secular messianic view of the State).

      2. I don’t regard Dante as the go to guy on who’s hot and who not in the afterlife. I merely used him to illustrate the age-old Catholic belief that baptism is not a get out of hell free no matter what card.

      3. Scott Shea and Mark Hahn?

      4. My clear bias toward Obama??I’m pretty clear that Obama’s zeal for pro-abortion evil is “grave matter for sin”. That’s not good enough?

      5. Condemn Glenn Beck??? How much clearer do I have to be that I have neither the authority nor power to condemn a human being. All I can do is agree or disagree with their ideas and actions and approve or condemn them. The problem appears to be that I don’t condemn Obama to hell and I don’t exalt Beck’s ideas to the heavens.

      6. I’d like some documentation that Tolkien had a problem with Screwtape (not that it matters, he hated Narnia too, but I enjoy ‘em.) As to Lewis’ works “reflecting little of reality”, I’m afraid this is the sort of thing only the most insular and jingo Catholic could write.

    • Bob

      I think Mark’s last two paragraphs on “love the sinner, hate the sin” and the Good Thief, wrapthe article up nicely.

      Mark’s right, essentially he’s saying don’t judge what’s in a man’s heart, but as a Christian, we are required (and expected) to shed the light and the Truth of Jesus Christ found in the Catholic Church on the actions of grave sin. It’s Chrisitian charity to let Obama know that his strong pro-abortion stance is against the teaching of Christ.

    • Brian English

      “(I’m not sure exactly who made this claim, but . . . )”

      The guy who finds “pro-torture” Catholics more blameworthy than President Obama because exposure to Catholic teaching is necessary to understand that killing unborn and partially born babies is pure evil.

      “They are equivalent in the sense that both are intrinsically evil, not that a few cases of torture has the same “amount” of evil as 1.2 million abortions.”

      So then why act like they are equally important issues for Catholics to face?

      In addition, do you really believe that in the eyes of the Church an intelligence officer who waterboards a terrorist leader one time, to try to save lives, bears the same burden of guilt as a doctor who performs one abortion?

    • Sandy O’Seay

      Mark, I love your writing for the most part but hate it when you mix it up, as when you assign equal moral equivalence to abortion, war and national security. Not good.

    • Patrigin

      I wasn’t aware that the torture issue was such a heated debate in Catholic circles in the USA. It appears as though some Catholics are actually attempting to diminish the severity of torturing another human being… I am shocked if this is actually the case, but this article moved me to think about how our own Catholic culture may have predisposed us to these erroneous attitudes and to refrain from judgement…

      The inquisition… an obvious blemish in our Catholic history. Not one of our better ideas, but since its inception it has been justified, denied, the blame shifted…it is still not difficult to find studied, practicing Catholics who will rush to its defence and justify the torture or at least minimalize its gravity.

      The castration of young boys for choir purposes… another footnote in our sketchy history in which mutiliation and torture were justified for an apparent ‘greater good’.

      And what about self torture? Read any biography of a saint written before 1960 and you will read of horrendous self-inflicted tortures pawned off as piety and devotion… Torture appeared to be the only radical way to express one’s love for God. I have read tales in which saints have beat themselves to a bloody pulp with the most wicked tortur tools imaginable, leaving themselves for dead. (It is not hard to find folks still adhering to these ‘devotions’ in certain religious orders and lay communities)

      The gravit of our clergy’s sexual torture, inflicted on minors has now come to light… our brothers and sisters in Christ attempt to write it off as a media conspiracy or shift the blame elsewhere…

      For one hour every week I was tortured as a child at my local church with felt banners, nuns dancing liturgically and affirmation homilies. I have yet to receive any apology.

      Sometimes things that should be blatently apparent are not so… even basic moral norms available to the light of reason, dictaded by natural law like – torture of a human being is wrong – can be missed by professed followers of Christ in the Catholic Church.

    • Joe Robinson

      Reserving judgement on whether or not someone is lying for those who can read souls is analogous to ‘scientists’ (in the ideological, not practicing, sense; those who adhere to ‘scientism’) demanding that there be empirical evidence for the soul. We use our natural reason to make a prudential judgement whether or not a man is lying, and so whether or not to trust him. We don’t need any supernatural capacities to make the distinction. The world would be an absurd and unlivable place (a la Kant’s imperative) if everyone reserved judgement on who is a liar for those who have the divine gift of reading souls. How could we ever live out the constant advice of the Wisdom books, which tell us to choose our friends wisely, if we never made conscious distinctions between liars and those who tell the truth?

      I’m not trying to discredit the distinction or the point you’ve made. They’re worthwhile, and worth being reminded of (as C.S. Lewis himself posited when he said that all great moral teachers since Christ have just been reminding people of the great truths). But I don’t think it’s useless or illicit or even foolhardy to say “I really think this man is lying.” It would be foolhardy to never say so – we would be merely credulous and no longer “wise as serpents.”

      In the case of Obama specifically, Christ told us very simply what evidence to look for to search out false prophets or false disciples. “Beware of false prophets…. You will know them by their fruits. … A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:15-1smilies/cool.gif. His fruits tell us what he is.

    • Brian English

      “Sometimes things that should be blatently apparent are not so… even basic moral norms available to the light of reason, dictaded by natural law like – torture of a human being is wrong – can be missed by professed followers of Christ in the Catholic Church.”

      Always? In every circumstance? You cannot think of any situation that would call for something like waterboarding?

    • Tom

      His name is Barak Hussein Obama. So he claims to be a Christian. His pass is the Screwtape Letters. I too love fairy tales. Did you read the Fisherman and his wife (Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales) where the wife wanted to be empress, pope, and finally equal with the creator. Until Obama declares Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I will continue to believe he is the man behind a mask, trying to be all things to all people. How many times will you be fooled by his clever deception. Stay alert and save your soul.

    • Carl

      “Scott Shea and Mark Hahn?”

      Obama wouldn’t know the difference.
      Just like I’m sure he never read the gifts from Benedict XVI:
      *Cartas in Veritate, Social Doctrine, Subsidiarity, not socialism!
      *Dignitas Personae, Dignity of the Person

      And remember Bush, the guy that gets bashed by everyone, got honorable visits to the Vatican. Bush got Papal garden walks and was not lectured with encyclicals.

    • Carl

      “Beware of false prophets…. You will know them by their fruits. … A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit”

      Bush’s faith was never questioned, in fact he was ridiculed for his faith.

      “Blessed are they…”

    • Mark P. Shea

      Obama wouldn’t know the difference.

      Of course he wouldn’t. Outside the hothouse of conservative Catholics, neither would anybody else. Scott and I are vanishingly obscure outside a very small bubble.

    • Patrigin

      @ Brian English (Always? In every circumstance? You cannot think of any situation that would call for something like waterboarding?)

      Unless you mean the type of waterboarding that is done as recreation at the beach… then no, I cannot think of any situation that would justify the torture of waterboarding… never. It’s the first discussion you have in any first year ethics class. “Does the end justify the means?” “Can one legitimately commit a moral evil to acheive some perceived greater good” In the Catholic tradition the answer is emphatically “no”.

    • Mark

      Short of waterboarding, how would the uber-righteous (read delusional) prevent something like this? Please watch the Daniel Pearl beheading video and then come back and lecture us about the “intrinsic evil” of tricking someone into believing he’s drowning. It’s called simulated for a reason.

      Oct. 6, 2010

      Faisal Shahzad, 31, had pleaded guilty in June to a failed May 1 bombing in Manhattan. He admitted he received bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban and that this group, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, had funded the bomb plot.

      “We Muslims don’t abide by human-made laws because they are always corrupt,” he said, denouncing the presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and mentioning al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

      “Furthermore, brace yourselves because the war with Muslims has just begun,” he said. “Consider me the first droplet of the flood that will follow.”

      “The defeat of (the) U.S. is imminent and will happen in near future,” he said. “We are only Muslims … but if you call us terrorists, we are proud terrorists and we will keep on terrorizing you.”

    • Dan Buckley

      What real Christian would confuse his deep seated religious belief with some other religion? B.H. Obama referred during the campaign on a nationally televised interview with George Stephanopolous to “my Muslim faith.” This was, of course, glossed over as a slip of the tongue, but would such a slip be even remotely possible for a believing Christian? I can’t envision that.

    • Mark P. Shea

      Short of waterboarding, how would the uber-righteous (read delusional) prevent something like this?

      “Delusional”? Um, nobody *was* waterboarded to prevent this. The guy was caught via normal police work. Waterboarding would not have prevented anything had the bomb gone off and it did not solve anything when it did not. Clues for the clueless: we are not living in an episode of “24″. It’s astounding how many self-described “realists” appeal to TV dramas as their touchstone for reality.

    • Mark P. Shea

      Welcome to the hornet’s nest. When it comes to torture, you will find a surprisingly dedicated contingent of alleged “faithful conservative Catholics” who are ready to throw Church teaching about consequentialism under the bus faster than you can say “Roe v. Wade”.

    • Dust

      After reading the articles and subsequent commentary in the related threads, I see the Mercy in the wisdom of God for the existence of Purgatory.

    • mrteachersir

      I am not a so-called “conservative Catholic torture-supporter”. That being said, I disagree with Mr Shea’s continuous contention that torture is intrinsically evil. To claim as Mr. Shea does, would be to equate torture (however one defines it) in the same category as contraception, abortion, and adultery.

      If something is “intrinsicly evil”, than it has always and everywhere been evil, not just since Gaudium et spes was written (which, by the way, was not intended to be dogmatic, nor doctrinal…therefore, it is not infallible). Contraception, abortion, and adultery have constantlybeen condemned by the Magesterium since the Apostolic Age. If one is going to put torture (or the death penalty) on the same plane, one must provide evidence that torture has been continuously condemned from the Apostolic Age to now.

      Unfortunately, that claim cannot be made for torture. As Fr. Harrison points out in his Dec 2006 This Rock article, the Church’s record on torture has not been consistent in this regard.

      While I think that torture is wrong, I also think to uncategorically claim it as intrisically evil is likewise wrong.

    • mrteachersir

      Mr. Shea, what Mark is referring to is not the individual, but rather the threat that more like him are out there.

    • Brian English

      “”Can one legitimately commit a moral evil to acheive some perceived greater good” In the Catholic tradition the answer is emphatically “no”.

      But you are starting off with the assumption that waterboarding KSM is the moral equivalent of ramming scissors into the base of the skull of a partially born child.

      The latter would have been condemned by the Church throughout its history. The former, I doubt would even be condemned now. Intrinsically evil means evil, at all times, under all circumstances. The Church tolerated torture throughout its history. We may not agree that its use was necessary under some of the circumstances in which it was used, but how can you claim it is an intrinsic evil, other than by cobbling together out of context quotes from non-magisterial documents?

    • Brian English

      “When it comes to torture, you will find a surprisingly dedicated contingent of alleged “faithful conservative Catholics” who are ready to throw Church teaching about consequentialism under the bus faster than you can say “Roe v. Wade”.”

      Your libel of the “faithful conservative Catholics” you sneeringly refer to might have some merit if the Church regarded the waterboarding of a terrorist leader to try to save lives as the moral equivalent of murdering an unborn or partially born child. But since no reasonable person believes that the Church teaches that, the speciousness of your argument is readily apparent.

    • Mark

      Mr. Shea, it seems you are becoming the political equivalent of folks like Madonna who proudly boast that they are “spiritual but not religious” In an attempt to separate yourself from all that is messy, you have attached yourself to nothing substantial or relevant. — Or, maybe I’m wrong. Apart from the Ds and the Rs for which you have no use, what is your solution for the problems facing us in the immediate future?

      Bankrupting your grandchildren’s generation does not become noble simply because you obsessed on the fact that Glenn Beck isn’t Catholic.

    • Mark P. Shea

      I disagree with Mr Shea’s continuous contention that torture is intrinsically evil.

      It’s not my “contention”. It is the teaching of Holy Church in Veritatis Splendor and other documents of the Magisterium. That you dislike this and dissent from that teaching is not my problem, but yours.

      However, this is getting pretty far afield from the point of the article, except that, as is my point there, I accept the claim of “Faithful Conservative Catholics” to be Christian and even Catholic. However, when they persistently urge me to ignore the teaching of Holy Church in their zeal to maintain the goodness of torture, I politely refuse to buy their claim to be “faithful” though I do accept their claim to be Conservative. How God will judge them is up to Him, not me, thank God. How I am to judge their pleas for the acceptance of torture is simple: I reject them and hew to the teaching of Holy Church.

    • Young Mom

      I agree with Mark, its so nice to hear from one christian who isn’t obsessing about levels of sin, culpabiblity, levels of blame, blah blah blah… And all about people they do not know or care about. It drives me nuts! I actually just wrote about this on my own blog and then found a link to this article. Great work! http://ayoungmomsmusings.blogs…stian.html

    • Brian English

      ” I politely refuse to buy their claim to be “faithful” though I do accept their claim to be Conservative.”

      What do you call an alleged Pro-Life Catholic who launches a deceitful attack on a Pro-Life Senate Candidate, who has been endorsed by all the major Pro Life organizations, three weeks before a critical election?

    • Claire

      …about liars is a good one, in my view. (I am not sure that it applies in Obama’s case, however. He may indeed be sincere and so he is not among those who are clear and obvious liars.)
      It certainly does apply to “false teachers” as Robinson mentioned. People who are clearly using manipulation and theology as weapons for evil (though it might not be clear until much later). Sometimes their rhetoric is not clear, but their deeds are. As a young adult, I was misled by such a person because I listened to his words more than trusting my instincts and my eyes. When I began to have doubts (and fears about my safety), I sought out wiser people in the faith and received the kind of response that Shea promotes. Basically: only the Holy Spirit really knows what is going on in his heart. Finally someone urged me not to be afraid to take a look at the “fruit” of this man’s deeds, and that spoke very loudly and clearly.

      While loving the sinner and believing the best about them (and their motivations) might be a gentle and loving course of action at most times, with some very dangerous people it can literally be a matter of life and death. Get far, far away from them if you think they might harm you, your children–or anyone.
      I learned from my experience that sound theology and virtuous living are of the utmost importance when it comes to choosing a religious leader. I also learned to trust myself more than I did previously. People do indeed lie, and it is sometimes harder to tell whether they are lying only to themselves, or to those around them, as well.

    • Marthe L

      “So tired of these debates
      I agree with Mark, its so nice to hear from one christian who isn’t obsessing about levels of sin, culpabiblity, levels of blame, blah blah blah… And all about people they do not know or care about. It drives me nuts! I actually just wrote about this on my own blog and then found a link to this article. Great work! http://ayoungmomsmusings.blogs…stian.html ”
      Young Mom , October 07, 2010 | url +1

      I have followed this link and Young Mom’s article is very good, I would recommend it to everybody. It provides an excellent follow-up to Mark’s one, by adding practical examples from daily life.

    • Marthe L

      Brian English said: “Your libel of the “faithful conservative Catholics” you sneeringly refer to might have some merit if the Church regarded the waterboarding of a terrorist leader to try to save lives as the moral equivalent of murdering an unborn or partially born child.”
      Then I found the following among the comments given about “ayoungmomsmusings” blog on the same subject as Mr. Shea’s:
      katiemama said… “our sins are just as hurtful to God as someone else’s no matter what they are. There’s no such thing as levels of sin..it’s just all sin”
      What I find particularly interesting about Mr. English’s input is that it sounds as, as long as abortion will not have been totally eliminated, almost anything else is acceptable because it is not on the “same level” as abortion… Good excuse!