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Rebelling Against Unjust Authority
"My truth" is the authority of a false god
I once met Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple. This was before I reconverted to Catholicism, when I belonged to a humanist social group. Greaves doesn’t really believe in the Devil—he’s an atheist who sees Satan as a symbol of rebellion against unjust authority.
Moral objections to Christianity play at least as large a role in disbelief as arguments against God’s existence do. “Good without God'' is an atheist mantra, but maybe a little nuance will help: everyone can be immoral, and all goodness comes from God. However, research by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (published in the book UnChristian) finds that Christians are not better behaved than atheists.
There is a crucial difference, though. As Bishop Robert Barron often points out, “my truth” and “you can’t tell me what to do” is today’s cultural ethos: I am my own authority. But to be your own authority is to be your own god.
Christianity is blamed for misogyny, homophobia, war, and superstition. The Church, atheists claim, is a group of men who make up arbitrary rules and manipulate people with guilt and shame in order to control them and extract money from them. But, they continue, we don’t need anyone to tell us what is right or wrong—we can figure that out for ourselves.
St. Paul, however, reflected that for now, we see through a glass darkly. In other words, there’s reality, and there are our thoughts about reality. But “my truth” confuses the two. After all, modern Western society is Epicurean with a side of postmodernism. Epicureans believe that everything is reducible to atoms, the gods are irrelevant, and pleasure (in moderation) is the greatest good.
Morality too is about what’s right for you. Christians, however, do not believe that we get to decide right and wrong for ourselves. Instead, we must try to be in relationship with God and to seek His will, not ours. Christianity tries to reign in rather than affirm the ego. Submitting to authority isn’t popular, though, so rationalizing that God’s authority is unjust is not surprising.
What brought me back to the Catholic Church after a quarter century hiatus wasn’t irrefutable proof that God exists. If there were scientific proof of God, faith would be unnecessary. And as I’ve written elsewhere, the scientistic approach isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
No, it was the realization that I am a sinner, that I can’t become a better person through my efforts alone. It is only by seeking to be in relationship with the Source of goodness that my life will change.
Wherever you find human beings, however, you will find corruption, bigotry, and abuse. The Church is no exception. But it’s a mistake to think that a world without religion would be a world finally free from bad things.
The gospel reading on a recent October Sunday was from Luke 18. We could rephrase Christ’s parable in modern terms: a priest and a human trafficker walk into a cathedral. The priest prays, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like this pimp.” But the human trafficker prays, “Forgive me, Lord, because I am scum.” Only one man was justified, and it wasn’t the priest.
This is shocking to the secular world, not because the priest is condemned—the world condemns him too—but because the human trafficker is forgiven.
The point of Jesus’ parable is that no one lives up to God’s standard of goodness. Quite the opposite, we all fall far short. Telling the truth about ourselves is where it’s at. And this includes the truth that we’re not better than other people, despite what we’d like to think. We are not capable of being our own authority.
So how can we meet Christianity’s impossible standard? We don’t build a tower to heaven, which will crumble anyway. We should strive to make society more just, but we must realize that utopia is beyond our grasp. Instead, God builds a bridge to us—that’s why He became man and suffered from the worst humanity had to offer.
To the world, however, God’s forgiveness of the worst of humankind is cringeworthy. The sentiment is, “I’m not one of the bad guys. I don’t need to confess my sins to some priest who’s just as messed up as anyone else.” Yet, my conviction as a Catholic must be that I do, in fact, need to fess up; and only by submitting to God’s authority can I do that.