A while back, I had an exchange with a disheartened young man. He said that he keeps encountering 5 types: “(o)ld, rambling and cynical men; bored, cliquey housewives; clueless and hard-headed men; disinterested and troubled women; and unhelpful, indifferent men who use prayer as an excuse to avoid addressing the real question.” And that is inside the Church. I recall the words of Sheldon Vanauken (I believe in A Severe Mercy), that “the strongest argument against Christianity is.. Christians.” More fully, he writes:
“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”
The strongest argument against Christianity is Christians. I must admit that I’ve encountered those five types as well, and it is demoralizing. I try, though, to remember that this is not a new occurrence. Among the very first priests, one betrayed Jesus to His face, another denied Him to save his own skin, and another doubted Him. Of the throngs of people that followed Him when there were miracles and meals and teaching, only three stayed at the foot of the cross. We have a track record of falling, failing, and lying when things get tough. At one point or another, we are nearly all an argument against Christianity.
What do we do with that? We are not mandated, as far as I’m aware, to have any particular fellowship other than attending Mass. We could simply avoid everyone – avoid all the living arguments against our faith (except for ourselves!). Yet, as God said, it is not good for us to be alone (c.f. Gen 2:18). We can turn inward too far — I’m saying this as a professed introvert — and become vulnerable to error, to anger, and to pride. We can be our own strongest argument against Christianity. We can pull ourselves down. It isn’t good to be alone.
Every truth has a sin on either side of it. Toxic people will “burn” us or, worse, make us toxic ourselves, if we’re constantly in their company. If we stay alone, we become cold and cynical, or lonely and lost. So I urged the young man to find and keep to a middle path – to seek out good fellowships, even if they are few and infrequent. Some of us tend naturally toward one extreme, others to the other extreme; both are dangerous. It is often the third way, the middle way, that saves us from the extremes that threaten our spiritual well-being. I urge you, too, to check your steps along that path, that you’re not caught up, in person or online, with too much negativity; but also that you’re not isolated from every other imperfect Christian. We need to walk that middle way.
Copyright 2018, Joe Wetterling