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“Ask a Priest: What If Christianity Seems Hypocritical?”
Q: I often feel that Christianity and Catholicism are hypocritical. Both state that God is loving and accepting, but God seems to ignore everyone but a few favorites and ignores people who pray every day. Christians/Catholics teach that the rule of loving thy neighbor is the most important rule, but there are so many Christians and Catholics who cruelly tell others they are going to hell because they do not believe in God, that they are murderers because they get an abortion, and/or that their sexual orientation automatically sends them to hell. I really struggle with seeing how to think of Christianity/Catholicism as anything but a self-serving tool that allows people to do horrible things in “the name of God.” The “holy” Crusades and America’s “Manifest Destiny” were atrocious acts that were done with the excuse of them being “God’s will.” There have been a few good people who have really made the world a better place (St. Francis being a favorite of mine), but the majority seem to have caused more harm than good in history. I am tired of trying to resolve the conflicting viewpoints and figured a priest would be the best able to explain how you find resolution in what seems to be a hypocritical system where God is both cruel and kind and the religion is used to justify cruel acts. Thank you and please do not take offense. I respect your belief in God and find it really amazing that you have such a strong belief you became a priest. Maybe you can provide a thought that helps me consider it from your viewpoint. – C.E.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: You seem to have been thinking a lot about religion and the world, and that’s a good sign. That shows that you are searching and are asking deep questions about life.
Some of your observations are worth examining one by one, since the premises behind them are a bit shaky and might cause you to dismiss Christianity altogether.
First, it is good to note to point out that Christianity and Catholicism are not separate entities. What Catholics profess is the fullness of what Jesus and the apostles revealed. This includes the seven sacraments, the papacy, the very establishment of a Church (note the singular), purgatory, the role of Mary in salvation, and the intercession of the saints.
For about the first 1,000 years after Jesus, Catholicism and Christianity were basically synonymous.
With the rise of Orthodoxy in the 11th century and the coming of the Protestant revolt in the 16th century, the term “Christianity” was applied to anyone professing belief in Jesus and the Gospel in some way. It is a blanket term used to cover Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants.
The three branches agree on much, especially Catholics and Orthodox, while Protestantism takes in a wider range of beliefs – not a few of which differ significantly with those of Catholics and Orthodox.
As for the charge of hypocrisy: Here it’s good to distinguish between what Christianity teaches and how individual Christians behave. Christians are human and thus fallible. That doesn’t mean Christianity itself is bad.
Jesus, in fact, gave us the sacrament of confession precisely because he knew that we would fall and need his forgiveness and grace.
But to your specific point: God is indeed loving – he created each of us out of love – and accepting insofar as possible. This doesn’t mean he accepts everything we do. He doesn’t accept murder or theft, for instance.
And while God does seem to have favorites – he gave more grace to Mary than, say, to you and me – that doesn’t mean he ignores us. In fact, it’s not clear where you get the idea that God ignores everyone except “a few favorites.”
The fact that we exist and continue to exist, that we have food and clothing and health and intellects – all these are graces, gifts, of God. They reflect his providential care for us.
Being all-knowing, he knows the prayers of every person. This doesn’t mean that God responds to prayers in the way a person wants. God is not a vending machine. We don’t plug in our coins (prayers) and out pops the candy bar. God responds in the way he knows his best for us.
As for the “rule of loving thy neighbor is the most important rule”: While that is important, the most important rule is loving God. From that love flows the next most important rule: love of neighbor.
What is the connection here? Love of and faith in God means that we see the image of God in each person and recognize that we are all brothers and sisters with the same Father in heaven. And as a Father he wants all his children to be with him in paradise someday. Part of our mission is help one another get to heaven.
That Christians can be cruel or insensitive is undeniable. But that doesn’t take anything from God himself or what he has revealed of himself (which is what Christianity is about).
By the way, the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus is the only redeemer of mankind; all salvation comes through him. Paradoxically, the Church also holds that people outside the visible bounds of the Church or of Christianity can attain salvation if they strive to live an upright life (for more reading see the document Lumen Gentium, No. 16.)
There can be serious consequences for those who embrace atheism, since that involves an act of the will. That is, a person might choose atheism on the basis of preference, not evidence (it’s not the kind of thing that can be proved).
Also serious is abortion, which involves the taking of an innocent life, and certain behaviors that undercut God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.
Ultimately, God alone knows the heart and mind of each person, so God alone can judge fairly. It’s not for mere humans to judge others. We can judge acts but not persons. Christians who go around condemning people are out of line.
As for the Crusades and America’s Manifest Destiny: these are very different phenomena.
There were various Crusades, some organized with the legitimate aim to assist the beleaguered Christians in the Holy Land. How they worked out in practice is another matter.
The Crusades is a big and complex issue, well beyond what can be dealt with here. It might be helpful to listen to this Catholic Answers interview to get a quick overview of the matter. Also worth your attention is this Intercollegiate Studies Institute article.
Manifest Destiny was the widely held 19th-century idea that the U.S. was destined by God to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the North American continent. It was a cultural-political idea. Religion might have been cited to give it credence, but it wasn’t a Christian doctrine, per se.
As for your claim the majority of Christians seem to have caused more harm than good: you don’t mention evidence to support this claim. Have you done a detailed study of all the Christians in history? Be careful about believing overly simplistic accusations.
For all the personal faults of Christians, it’s noteworthy that some of the greatest institutions started with the help of the Catholic Church, thanks to its intellectual rigor and its promotion of the dignity of the human person. These institutions include hospitals, orphanages and universities, as well as modern science itself. For more reading you might look at How the Church Built Western Civilization.
But let’s focus on God again. God is all pure, all holy, all merciful. He is the creator of the universe.
He created you and me out of nothing, and loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die on a cross for our redemption.
These truths are at the heart of the Catholic faith. The Church as the mystical body of Christ is pure and holy and perfect and teaches the truth.
There is also a human dimension to the Church. It is made up of very imperfect people. This has been the same since the start — recall that it was Judas, an apostle, who betrayed Jesus.
In other words, the center of Christianity is Jesus, not the flawed people who don’t always live up to his teachings.
And anyone who thinks he can use Christianity as a “self-serving tool” to justify bad behavior could be in for a shock on Judgment Day.
Perhaps you are looking for a religion where everyone is perfect. Good luck.
And if you think you might find a paradise outside of religion altogether, you will need even more luck. If you think Christians can be cruel, you might recall that atheist communism in the course of less than a century led to the deaths of 100 million people.
At a pastoral level, a bit of advice might help you.
There are two ways you can burn your energy.
You can burn it by lamenting all the bad you see around you (and there’s a lot out there). Or you can burn it on good things: prayers, the sacraments, works of charity, programs of evangelization.
The devil would love for you to spend your time just complaining about the flawed people you see around you.
Jesus, on the other hand, hopes that you spend your time bringing his love to others and to make him known to others.
This might be worth taking to prayer. Life is short, so you want to choose well how you spend your energy.
The time God gives you in this world is the time you have to become a saint. Remember what inspired and nourished St. Francis: the love of Jesus through the prism of Catholicism.
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