Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Christian, Catholic -- What's the Difference?

(Note: Please allow this little rant from me, as I have not had one in such a long time that I felt compelled to post this. Thank you.)

I read an article in the Sunday paper that mildly annoyed me, but at the same time raised some interesting questions. The author of the article, apparently a Protestant of a more 'historical' stripe (a Methodist, I think), wrote about the Evangelical phenomenon that has swept the Philippines since the 1980s. In the article, the author wrote about how many prominent fixtures in Philippine society, including (and especially) actors and some businessmen, had been transformed over night, from drug-snorting, womanizing hedonists, into spotless paragons of virtue. In it, he cites the example of a particular actress, who was once heavily into drug abuse and premarital sex, but who has now turned over a new leaf and has rediscovered her poetic side. I think I was most annoyed, however, when the author calls these conversions 'becoming Christian,' as if these Evangelical sects have the exclusive right to call themselves such.

It must be understood that in the Philippines, where Catholicism reigned supreme (and still does) for more than four hundred years, the arrival of Protestantism naturally posed a question and a challenge hitherto left in the open-- namely, what does being a 'true Christian' entail? For centuries, being Christian exclusively meant being Catholic; but with all these johnny-come-latelys hopping into the scene, with their new-fangled angelistic concepts of sanctity, it is not as clear cut as it used to be. Many Evangelical groups try to capitalize on this question. They cite the millions of average joe Catholics who know squat about their faith and who would rather sleep and fornicate than attend Mass on Sundays. In contrast, they present their 'prized converts' and explain how they have since put on Christ since switching over to the other side. It can be argued, though, that with 8 out of 10 Filipinos belonging to the Catholic Church, the lion's share of troubled members would naturally come from Her.

Perhaps I sound bitter, but I think a point has to be made. Let us be honest; majority of the Evangelical groups that have sprung up in the Philippines come with the paradigmatic baggage of Protestant America. There is a heavy emphasis on personal decency that seems to be more important than actual sanctity itself, as well as an (I think) unhealthy preoccupation with 'goodness', or at least, keeping the appearance of it. To be honest, many who do join these groups do so with the right intentions, and some of them do change for the better. What I do not understand, however, is, Why could you have not done the same as a Catholic? One could perhaps fault the clergy and the dumbing down of doctrine and discipline as complicit in the gradual descent into the laxness of faith of these people, but ultimately, the struggle against sin is a personal one, and not something that outsiders will win for you.

I'll admit, a lot of Catholic priests today are too lax, too forgiving, too nice. Maybe that's one reason many ex-Catholics leave the Church for the sects; but I think another angle could be that it is simply easier to be seen as good than to actually be good. Again, I'm not saying that all Evangelicals are image-obsessed, but there's something about the non-restrictiveness of the sects, whether liturgical or otherwise, that seems to appeal to many people. If I may be so bold, I would say it is the lack of the human element that does it. Anyone can admit to being a sinner; the difficulty lies in acknowledging its ugliness. For Catholics, of course, this means going to confession, and subjecting yourself to the 'judgment' of your fellow sinner. There's nothing more humbling than that.

Permit me to be somewhat crude at this point, but just because you finally have your head out of your ass, and you finally begin to see what a mess you've made of your life, doesn't guarantee that you are better off than the rest of us. To be sure, I will be happy for you. But please don't assume that we are 'inferior' for having our human moments. Even St. Augustine prayed, 'Lord, make me chaste-- just not yet.' Something smells fishy here; and it sure as hell isn't the odor of sanctity.


Enbrethiliel said...


I love this post (especially the judicious use of the word "ass")! Please, rant all you like. =)

Steve said...

The same sort of thing is happening here in Catholic Malta which has seen a decline in weekly Church attendance (which is down from around 80 per cent 30 years ago to less than 50 per cent today).

The reasons for this are too numerous to go into here but the emergent / emerging Church is not one of them. On the contrary this has had a positive effect if as yet not fully understood effect on Mass attendance.

Catholics should first consider their relationship with the Eastern Orthodox, who have much to teach about the Immanence of God.

To be sure, Sola Scriptura is too weak a hermeneutic to "give us over" (paradōken) to The Father.

As Father Stephen Freeman writes, "if the people of Corinth do not see and come to know Christ in and through the Church, His Body, which has been established in that place, then Corinth will not know God."