Modernizing the Church?

Following Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and in the days leading up to Pope Francis’s election, I saw a number of media outlets pushing the idea that it was a “perfect time for the church to modernize.” By “modernize” they apparently mean it’s time to accept abortion and homosexuality. These media moguls employ the idea that if they approach these topics from a position which assumes that most people accept these practices as normal and commonplace, they can bypass any sort of argument about the legitimacy of these views. This strategy has, sadly enough, been rather successful. By skipping ahead and acting as though the argument has already been settled, they create an atmosphere in which opposition feels small, marginalized, and defeated. So while the battles over these issues are far from over, many are lead to the mistaken belief that they are settled debates and throw up their hands, accepting it is the way things are.

It is no surprise, then, that these same media people are frustrated and enraged by the Catholic Church’s refusal to accept their premise, as so many others have. The Republican Party was beaten into submission by this same strategy, they reason, so why shouldn’t they be able to use the same tactics against the church? If they create a false premise, in this case the false premise that the Church is in need of “modernization,” shouldn’t they be able to convince Catholics that it’s time to give up on those “outdated” views? In a political sense, this rationale makes perfect sense. But these media personalities fail to understand the true nature of the Church and it is from this that their outrage stems.

The first point that they fail to grasp is that, even from a political and popular point of view, the Church is in no need of “modernization.” This is because a need for “modernization” arises from one: an ineffectiveness of the current model, and two: something to be gained by a change. The Church has no lack of effectiveness in the world in any way whatsoever, and it therefore has no need to change its approach. The Church also has nothing extra to gain by changing its principles. It is not a political institution subject to adapting to changing times, changing cultures, and changing opinions. Without even taking into account the Church’s unique spiritual nature, it is apparent that it is based on constant and unchanging beliefs, and a reversal of its stance on these beliefs would be self destructive. The other point they do not grasp, and never will grasp, is that unique spiritual nature of the Church; while this argument may be dismissed in a secular argument, this does not make it untrue or any less relevant than any of the other points.

So let’s start with the first point: why the Church does not need modernization. The first proof of this involves effectiveness. Before deciding whether something is in need of modernization, its effectiveness must be judged. Something which is still effective is in no need of modernization. So is the Catholic Church effective? Let’s take a look. On social matters, the Catholic Church is the greatest single source of charity on the planet and, assuming the lack of undiscovered alien races, in the universe. Politically the Catholic Church is a force to be reckoned with, making up the backbone of almost every single religiously motivated political movement in the United States. If the Church is ineffective, why is it the rallying point for religious movements, drawing non-Catholics and even non-Christians into a united political front? There are few if any belief systems in the world which have this ability to unite. This is because the belief system is structured in such a way that allows the incorporation of different points of view, different cultures, and different ways of life without compromising on core principles. The Church is, without a doubt, effective in every way it needs to be.

So then what about things to be gained? Is there any advantage to be gained by the Church reversing its stances on issues? Some might claim that the Church would attract more members. Others might claim that a watering down of its views might make them more acceptable in politics. This is a gigantic load of nonsense. Any belief system that doubles back on its own beliefs makes itself look unreliable and fickle to outsiders, while simultaneously causing its present members and followers to lose faith in it. When a religious institution moderates its beliefs to make itself more appealing, the result has always been a dramatic decline in membership, a loss of respect and influence on world affairs, and eventual dissolution.

This happens without any exceptions because a religion is not a company selling a product. Being a capitalist myself, I am a big fan of competition between companies which try to offer me better products and incentives to convince me to buy their product; economically, I benefit from this. But the Church has a different goal: the saving of souls. Whether or not you personally believe in what the Church teaches, would it make sense for the Church to sacrifice souls in order to have more people on the pews? It wouldn’t, because that is not its goal. It is better to have a thousand people at Mass and a thousand people saved than to have three thousand at Mass and none of them saved. This is admittedly a little oversimplified, but I believe it conveys the idea well enough.

But more important than any of these is the Church’s spiritual strength. As promised by Jesus Christ Himself, the Church will be constant, it will be forever, and it will outlast every enemy. Whether or not you believe in this supernatural nature of the Church, history can teach you some great lessons. The Church was founded under opposition. The Church flourishes under opposition. No government or institution can even rival the Catholic Church’s longevity or consistency. The United States has existed for a mere two centuries, and media celebrities try to understand the election of a pope and the positions and policies of the Church, an institution which is almost ten times more ancient, based on American socio-political trends. It is little wonder that they have to resort to lies, propaganda, and rhetorical tricks to further their goals, and more often than not they still fail! One only has to consider the power of the pope, a man who must be careful how he expresses even the smallest of his opinions. Once you have heard from the pope, there really isn’t anybody else left to hear from.

When it comes down to it, those who call for “modernization” of the Church are rarely friends of the Church, and I am sure there is some wise man somewhere who once said you should be careful about taking advice from your enemies. These are angry little men and women with television shows, newspaper columns, and internet blogs who are doing their level best to beat on what they see as a bunch of superstitious, frightened people. They have been around since the dawn of the Church and they will be around until the end of the world. If anything, the fact that it is such a high priority target is a testament to the Church’s status as the flagship and central figure of all religions throughout the world.

So while the media is still recovering from the shock having not been prepared to see yet another Catholic elected to the papacy, we “papists” are glad to see another good man ascend to that position, and maybe we are guilty of a little bit of pride in the fact that he is the first pope from our Western Hemisphere as well. It seems that there may be some hard times ahead but the Church, that is you and me and everyone else, will survive it, and our thoughts and prayers and hopes are with Pope Francis as he takes the lead for the next chapter of our history.

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