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  • Writer's pictureCofComCat

The religion of nice

Last week, we chatted about the impacts smartphones and social media are having on our brains, and more specifically on the wellbeing of our children and young people. Our guest, Dan Churchwell of the Acton Institute, walked us through the recent and compelling research of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who proposes that smartphones and social media should be forbidden for anyone under the age of 16. I agree with Haidt, and Dan was kind enough to help us grapple with this fraught topic. Find the episode here!


This week we're joined by Fr. Anthony Sortino, a Regnum Christi priest of the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and Director of Catholic Formation and head chaplain at Clear Water Academy, a private school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with the mission to educate and form Christian leaders who will transform society. The topic of our discussion? Political correctness and what has effectively become a religion of niceness is our culture. This is a particularly relevant topic in this month of June, which has become synonymous with one of the seven deadly sins and is, for us committed Christians, a time when even speaking truth about our moral convictions, sharing the perennial teachings of our faith, and asserting obvious biological realities can get us labelled all sorts of distasteful names.


Truth isn't particularly popular these days. Especially if it is deemed politically incorrect. I've talked about this before. As a Canadian, I am supposed to be hyper politically correct, and in this country which oozes with surface-level politeness it has somehow been deemed a moral good to be nice even if it means you are a liar.


Why do so many of us Christians pander to this? And why do some of us even conflate the Christian faith with being nice and polite? To avoid making waves? To buy into the farce that being nice and polite is the same as being loving and caring? It is as if we want to be Christians but only the inoffensive type, as though our Lord Himself, or the Apostles, or the Martyrs never caused offense and merely told people what they wanted to hear.


A well-functioning society requires an ability to engage in difficult conversations about difficult and oftentimes divisive topics. Such topics can be many and varied, and yes they include gender and sexuality. Imagine a society that is unable to engage in difficult conversations (or which only permits one group to determine which topics can be discussed) and very soon you find yourself exploring fascism.


Where is the prohibition in Sacred Scripture on causing offense? Fact: it is impossible to know how someone will react to what you say, which means it is equally impossible to ensure you never cause offense with your words. And when precisely did our Lord Jesus prioritize being nice over speaking truth and bringing broken people (and we are all broken in some way) to repentance?


And if you want to play the game of cherry picking (and taking out of context) specific Bible verses to argue that Jesus was simply nice and polite, I can also play that game:


From the Gospel of Matthew (10:34-38):

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me."

Jesus did not say "do your best to follow me!" No, he said, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me." Think about that.


And from the Gospel of Luke (16:18):

"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."

I was previously married. That woman came home from work one day and handed me a letter explaining why she wanted to leave me. And then she did so for another man. Divorce followed. Not knowing the Catholic Church's teachings on marriage and divorce, and living as an agnostic and a practical atheist anyway, I later met and then married my wife. So I was an adulterer. I have written previously about our irregular marriage situation and what we had to do to resolve it as Christians. Should I have expected my Lord Jesus to soften his words to make me feel better about my adultery? Is there anything more naive and narcissistic than a Christian expecting God incarnate to change His teachings to better suit our preferences? I think not.


Nice and polite are not what we Christians are called to be. Can we be nice and polite? Certainly. But niceness and politeness are not moral virtues, and a very nice person could quite politely say "not today" to the Jew at the door who is seeking shelter from the Nazis.


We have been fed the lie by our secular culture (and, sadly, also by many people who themselves claim to be followers of our Lord Jesus) that being "culturally sensitive" means being apathetic about the murder of the unborn child in the womb, the lie that being tolerant means believing God has no view on sexuality, and the lie that it is evil to assert our physical bodies impose limits on who and what we are.


After Jesus gave His hard teaching on the Eucharist, many of His followers claimed His words were "intolerable" and asked how anyone could accept them.


Did Jesus soften His teaching? Did He nuance it or massage it? Did He apologize for the offence caused by His words?


No. He doubled down. And what happened? The Gospel of John (6:66) tells us:

"As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him."

Jesus spoke the truth. He did not give his followers some half-truth or some watered down version of the truth. I see no reason why He could not have simply then decided to say something nice or offer some polite platitude to keep them around and then later ease them into the rest of His teachings. Instead, He speaks the truth and then lets His disciples walk away when they can't handle it.


This is what we discuss with Fr. Anthony Sortino on this week's episode. Speaking truth, with charity and sensitivity, in a culture obsessed with political correctness and worshipping in the religion of nice. We hope you will tune in!


God bless,


Travis


P.S. When people ask when my wife and I got married, we never know what to say. It was during the pandemic, we were cohabitating and living hedonistic lives, and then we started finding our way back to Christianity. We knew living together was wrong, we did not yet understand the Catholic Church's teachings on divorce and marriage, and I was going through a serious health crisis (I have congestive heart failure) and we were afraid I might not live. We wanted to "make our relationship right" and thus rushed into an invalid marriage. So we sort of have three marriage dates: the secret tiny wedding ceremony we had in October 2021, the "show" ceremony we held in Colombia in January 2023, and then the day we were confirmed together in the Catholic Church and our marriage was made valid in April 2024. I disregarded Christ's very clear teachings on divorce and thus got us into this mess. I am so grateful for my wife's patience and witness to adhering to Christ's teachings, even when it is hard.


October 23, 2021: a secret Baptist marriage ceremony in St. George's in the Pines Anglican Church in Banff, Alberta, Canada:


January 6, 2023: a non-denominational Christian marriage "show" (for the benefit of our loved ones in Colombia) with vaguely Anglican and Catholic elements in the ESTELAR Villavicencio Hotel & Centro de Convenciones in Villavicencio, Meta, Colombia:


April 17, 2024: my wife receives Baptism, I receive Reconciliation (Confession), we both receive Confirmation, we both receive the Eucharist (Communion), and our marriage is instantly validated which means we both participate in Matrimony. 5 of the Church's 7 Sacraments in a matter of minutes!


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