Losing our religion IV: Mercy without sin

Apropos my recent musing about the ultimate futility of trying to proclaim mercy for those who don’t believe in sin, here’s this intereting smidgeon from Rod Dreher on his refusal to reenter a Church hobbled by its obsession with the therapeutic (h/t Fr. Z.):

Just over two decades ago, when I began the process to enter the Roman Catholic Church as an adult convert, I chose to receive instruction at a university parish, figuring that the quality of teaching would be more rigorous. After three months of guided meditations and endless God is love lectures, I dropped out.

I agreed that God is love, but that didn’t tell me what He would expect of me if I became a Catholic. Besides, I had spent four years dancing around the possibility of returning to the Christianity of my youth. When I made my first steps back to churchgoing as an adult, I found plenty of good people who told me God is love, but who never challenged me to change my life.

What needed changing? Lots. My own brokenness was plain to me, and I was ready to turn from my destructive sins and become a new person. The one thing I didn’t want to do was surrender my sexual liberty, which was my birthright as a young American male. I knew, though, that without fully giving over my will to God, any conversion would be precarious. By then, I was all too wary of my evasions. To convert provisionally — that is, provided that the Church didn’t hassle me about my sex life — would really be about seeking the psychological comforts of religion without making sacrifices.

What I was told, in effect, in that university Catholic parish was that God loved me just as I was — true — but that I didn’t need to do anything else. It dawned on me one day that at the end of this process, all of us in the class would end up as Catholics, but have no idea what the Catholic Church taught. I bolted, and a year later, I was received into the Church in another parish.

If you only know about the Catholic Church from reading the papers, you are in for a shock once you come inside. The image of American Catholicism shown by the media is of a church preoccupied with sex and abortion. It’s not remotely true. I was a faithful mass-going Catholic for 13 years, attending a number of parishes in five cities in different parts of the country. I could count on one hand the number of homilies I heard that addressed abortion or sexuality in any way. Rather, the homilies were wholly therapeutic, almost always some saccharine variation of God is love.

All the disproportionate emphasis on God’s love and mercy might have been useful in the 14th century, when penitential movements traveled the country flogging their backs bloody and occasionally trying to “purify” the Church by butchering its shepherds, or in a hypothetical modern world where people are overly preoccupied with God’s justice, worshipping the Cross instead of the Christ nailed to it, or despairing of their salvation and turning from the Church in ruinous numbers to seek a spiritual palliative amidst the muck and mire of the world. Whatever kind of world we’ve got today, it’s clear that it ain’t that kinda world.

2 thoughts on “Losing our religion IV: Mercy without sin

  1. The demand for Cheap Grace today is significant. What a coincidence that the supply is even greater! There’s a bubble in Cheap Grace.


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