The Unpaid Bills of the Church and the New Evangelization

September 8, 2014

The old phrase "the unpaid bills of the Church" refers to the inevitable fact that in different times and places throughout the life of the Church, there will be truths of the faith that will not be emphasized and sometimes even seemingly rejected because they are bound up with errors.  The "unpaid bills" in particular serves to indicate that this neglect leaves this area open for others to come in and exploit, using these truths as the point of departure in order to lead the innocent into error.

An example of a movement that is making use of today's unpaid bills is the new age movement.  Examples of truths with which they are absconding and then perverting are such things as the radical solidarity man has with the rest of the universe and the fact that nature is a reflection of God's perfection.  Humans are attracted to truth because that is what we are made for.  However, we are not always adept in weeding out the tares from the wheat and Satan uses this to his advantage.  

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend after Mass who uses drum circles for a variety of teaching purposes, many therapeutic.  However, he often gets chastised by someone who equates drum circles with promoting paganism or satanism.  And indeed, we do see a number of seriously erroneous groups using drum circles in leading Christians, even Catholics, astray (an example is the new age influenced errors of Fr. Richard Rohr and his Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico).  There are other areas in which we see similar rejections of good things because they are bound up in error.  For example, there are many who eschew yoga even when it is reduced to simply a physical exercise, because it is bound up in problematic spiritual beliefs and practices.  

While the concern is for the evil aspects of these practices as the saying goes, "abuse does not demand disuse."  G. K. Chesterton's distinction between good paganism and bad paganism can serve us well here.  What Chesterton means by this is that God is the only one Who can create and everything He creates is good.  He creates Christians and pagans and gives us all what we need and calls us all to communion with Him.  We all exist because we are created good.  Pagans are created in the image of God as are Christians, and pagans respond in the same way as Christians to the goods of God's creation (of course a precision about the affects of sanctifying grace is necessary).  Therefore, it is not surprising that pagans who are created for God, will allow themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to authentic ways to truly seek Him as it is expected that they will also fall into erroneous practices.  

Let us return to our example of drum circles. The  attractiveness of drums, a pan cultural phenomenon, is such because it resonates (pun intended) with something in the human person.  Everything that resonates with human nature is a good because we are created to pursue the good.  We do not seek after yesterday's trash.  So from whence comes evil?

Evil is not some "thing;" it is a "parasitic" state in which something necessary to the good of the thing has been removed naturally (natural evil) or willfully (moral evil).  Therefore, the evil is not in the created thing itself, the evil is in the state of things.  It is always a good thing that allows us to be led into sin (let us use the term "apparent good" for the fact that all created things are good).  The sin comes about when we try to convince ourselves that the circumstances which make this good thing (an apparent good) an evil for me to pursue do not apply to us.  

For example, some try to convince themselves that the good of the mutual attraction between me and this other person who is not my spouse (when I already have a spouse) is justified because I am no longer appreciated by my spouse.  The mutual attraction is a good (apparent) because men and women are made for each other.  It is evil to consent to this attraction and even more evil to pursue the other because of the irrevocable, exclusive commitment I have already made to my spouse.  Therefore, the apparent good is not an authentic good in this situation.  Let us look again at the drum circles.  The drums, their sound, and a group of people are all created goods, they are good.  The evil arises in the situation in which the drum circles are used to excite the emotions in order to lead the person into sinful thoughts and activities.  However, this is not the only use for drum circles.  The same sort of arousal of emotions can be used to reaffirm goods, such as the mutual affirmation of the shared human nature among all in the circle.

The inability to make this distinction between the good of God's creation and the evil due to the way this good is pursued, is as old as the fall.  Contemporary Christian tendencies to throw the baby out with the bath water have their roots in, among other things,  the Protestant Reformation.  The Protestant Reformers originated the idea of a radical depravity of fallen human nature along with the mistaken thought that to protect God's majesty meant maligning His works in creation (e.g. the human person, the body, sex, good works, etc.).  This unbiblical doctrine was used to great effect against the Church in Reformation polemics, where the Reformers justified their rejecting of Catholic practices as pagan.  This false doctrine is widespread in U.S. Christianity today.  

This is a serious error which prevents us from evangelizing effectively.  The problem is that when we succumb to such errors we are no longer proclaiming the truth of Christ because He is the archetype for all of the created order.  In a sense, we become co-workers in Satan's work because we reject some truths and leave others as untouched territory for Satan to come in and to pervert with his errors.   Our evangelization efforts will usually fail if we are telling those whom we intend to evangelize that they must not only abandon errors, but they must also turn away from truths if they are to become disciples of Christ.  In fact, we are, however unintentionally, denying the Son when we demean as evil the authentic goods He has created.  Again it must be restated, when we abandon these truths, Satan and his minions can proceed unimpeded to corrupt the unformed using these truths.  We cannot give any ground, uncontested to Satan.

The New Evangelization demands that Catholics go everyplace in the world with the fullness of the truth, including to the peripheries where the Gospel is seldom if ever present.  We must be able to discern between good paganism and bad paganism in order to meet pagans in areas of commonly held truths so we might lead them to Jesus Christ.  We must not rush in so quickly, trying to purify them of the errors into which they have fallen, that we end up falling into the opposite error ourselves.

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