Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Heart of the Matter

I think I've got it. Something has been nagging at me, like an appointment I haven't quite forgotten about, for about two weeks. Tonight, I figured it out.

During the discussion of the Catechism, the topic came up about whether or not other religions are going to go to Heaven. Of course, I reiterated the Church's teaching concerning there being no salvation outside the Church, adding the notes about invincible and inculpable ignorance. This really bothered several people in the class. One woman in particular was just horrified that the Church could teach this. That all of these well-meaning people could be excluded from Heaven just because they don't hold the full picture of faith. And the rest of the class trotted out the same tired arguments, like a God of Love wouldn't send someone to Hell, e.g. That was when what was bothering me finally had a face.

For most folks, faith equals someone's opinion. If the revelation of God amongst Christians of every stripe can be confused into a galamafrey of different creeds, then that's okay as long as you are sincere. But that's the problem. Just because you sincerely believe something doesn't make it true. If I sincerely believe that arsenic is not poisonous, that doesn't mean I will be spared a trip to the emergency room, depending on how much I ingest.

While faith and reason are not the same thing, they are closely akin. Faith has foundations in reasonable data (reasonable = according to reason, non contradictory). Reason is always darkest without Faith to raise it to its heights. So many people want to be able to hold two totally contradictory beliefs at the same time. They want that Christ comes to reveal the fullness of God, but it doesn't matter if you believe in what He reveals.

I suspect the reason people like to conceive of faith as merely someone's opinion is it frees one from having to evangelize others and to stand distinct from the rest of the world. Go back to the arsenic analogy. If you spotted your child about to down the whole bottle of arsenic, although why you would have a bottle of arsenic lying about is beyond me, what would your reaction be? I suspect, hopefully correctly, that you would leap across the room and knock the bottle out of his hand, even before the word "STOP!" would be on your lips. And if this is a teenager we are talking about, you know that the little charmer would have an argument about how old-fashioned it is to think that arsenic is poisonous and anyway, everyone is doing it.

If Faith is about salvation, that the Church is the sacrament of salvation, then when you profess that you assent to the Faith, it obliges one to a way of life, a life that is always ready to provide a reason (a good explanation) for one's hope. If you aren't, it isn't much of hope you have in Christ, is it? I mean, I can explain all the internal logic of most of the Star Trek:The Next Generation episodes, and I know lots of folks like this. But ask them to explain why Christ is their savior, or how they came to know Christ, and you get a puzzled look. They never thought about the "why" of the "yes" they had made.

FWIW, this obligation, to provide witness, also bothers people. I challenged this woman to consider that she might be risking hell because she didn't profess the Faith in all the occasions where she could have. She had been in my bible study, and this same problem came up. She couldn't accept that God held us responsible for our choices is what it came down to. She wanted it both ways: you could be free to love but not free to receive punishment for not loving.

So here is the heart of the matter. Either salvation is dependant on possessing Faith with fullness or it isn't. Either one believes in God and the fullness of Revelation or they accept something else, essentially rejecting the other position. But let's stop kidding ourselves into believing that I can hold both propositions at the same time and not sound like a raving lunatic.

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