Selling the Good News

Monday, October 13, 2003



I take for granted that the Gospel is supposed to be good news, and that following God's ways should bring joy to the heart.

However, as I debate with more conservative Catholics, I am often presented with an argument that this is simply "fuzzy wuzzy feel good" theology. The argument is made that we are to pick up our cross, sacrifice our will, give up all personal desires and self-interest, and obey the authority Christ established in the hierarchy. To do otherwise is to depart from Catholicism. The conservatives will then tirelessly appeal to Scriptures and Church documents supporting these central tenants.

I understand that there are crosses in life, and Jesus even invited us not to run from the cross, but to pick it up. Yet, the cross came to Jesus as an injustice. He prayed that the cup would pass if possible. He was murdered. Even as he was dying, he is said to have quoted Psalm 22, expressing a feeling of abandonment. Yet, the Psalm ends in hope - showing that Jesus kept trusting in the goodness of the Father till his final breath.

To me, the cross is about God being with us in our suffering when injustice comes our way. The example of Jesus is to trust the Father in the midst of suffering, but I don't see anywhere Jesus taught his disciples that they were to seek suffering for its own sake.

The resurrection is this wonderful sign that God vindicated Jesus' trust - that the injustices of the crosses in our lives will be vanquished. The goal of a Christian is not the cross, but the resurrection. The cross is certain in our lives, but it is not God's will for us. God's will for us is resurrection!

As part of my secular job, I occasionally need to sell the products and services my company produces to clients. There are really two components to the sales process. First, the product itself needs to meet a need, and be something worthy of buying. Second, I need to be able to present the product to others in a manner that they understand how our products and services will benefit them.

There is a cliche that a good salesperson can sell ice to an eskimo. Those who are not involved in sales or politics often call this "spin". I am not very comfortable with spin. I sometimes find myself in conflict with others on my job because I insist on improvements in our products and services so that I am selling a truly superior product, rather than spinning an inferior product.

Some conservative Catholics come across to me as putting spin on an inferior Gospel. Rather than improving the product (renewing the Church), they insist on putting spin on the same old product in a one size fits all model. Other conservatives refuse to put the proper spin on what is otherwise a good product.

In the first category, there are those conservatives who try to make the crusades and inquistions, or the codemnation of Galileo or the exclusion of women from ordained ministry all sound perfectly rationale, inevitable, and worthy of belief. These conservatives are spinning an inferior product.

In the second category are those conservatives who are actually supporting an important piece of the Gosepl, such as the resurrection, real presence, or the value of human life. Yet, they do so with threats of hell and scare tactics and appeals to blind obedience, rather than an appeal to the good.

In various face-to-face debates, threaded discussion forums, and emails with conservative Catholics, we'll go around and around, each quoting Church authorities back and forth. Yet, what I really am trying to persuade folks is that the simple fact that the Gospel is good news, and if a particular teaching or discipline does not strike the one effected as good news, something is out of whack.

In some cases, maybe it is true that what is out of whack is the individual questioning a doctrine. Maybe such an individual could be attached to sin. This is usually the conservative point. I agree with them in some cases.

For example, I would have a very hard time believing that we could or should theologically rationalize murder or pedophilia. In these cases, the effect on the victim seems to trump the desire of the perpetrator, no matter how much the victimizer builds a case that what they are doing is good news for them.

In my debates, I've given many conservatives several examples of how I discuss Catholic faith as good news to others. With the Assumption, I emphasize what this says about our hope for our own resurrection. With the sixth commandment, I emphasize how the unitive dimension of sexuality makes for really great sex. With the doctrine of the incarnation, I emphasize how this speaks to the dignity of the human person. With prayer, I might talk about how being grateful helps us keep a positive mental outlook, and how being penitent helps us avoid future regrets. The list could go on and on.

Somehow, I believe our happiness pleases God, and I believe I am offering the highest continual praise when I am living life with gusto and joy. To me, Christian living is more meaningful and more fun than a life of sin. Even debating the meaning of the faith is fun to me.

However, there are cases where the Church is teaching or doing things that seem to hurt people who are not hurting anyone else. Conservatives seem to be at peace with that, but I'm uncomfortable with it.

Women who say they feel a calling to priesthood ,...., Homosexuals who claim they have fallen in love with a permanent partner ,..., Married couples not ready yet for children ,..., Priests or seminarians who feel called to marriage ,..., etc ,...

Maybe my concern comes from the years I spent preparing for priesthood, and trying to think of how to present Church teaching after I would be ordained. I was asking myself constantly in my classes, "How am I going to talk to someone about this in confession or counseling? How am I going to teach young people in a classroom so they will understand? How am I going to deliver a homily that will reach someone at the level of their heart?"

Maybe I'm wrong on every issue I've raised in my prior debates and here in my blogging - but my point is less over who is right and who is wrong, and more about how to persuade. I invite my conservative Catholic siblings to consider learning to talk to how every teaching they wish to defend is good news, and how to articulate their defense as good news. Learn to sell the Gospel, rather than constant appeals to authority, threats, or arguments that "this is the way it has always been done".

This does not mean that authority and tradition have no place in discourse. I sometimes come out swinging with authoritative documents for two reasons. First, I want my readers to see that I don't stand alone in my opinion. Second, I quote authority to convince conservatives that I am not in heresy, and so forth. I am trying to establish common ground - and finding common ground is part of good salesmanship.

I have grown gravely concerned through some of my debates that the more conservative and traditionalists Catholics don't even seem to buy my basic premise - that the Gospel is supposed to be good news.

A moderator who banned me from The Catholic Community Forum basically seems very nervous that selling the Gospel as good news in your own words has too much potential to lead to error. There is a constant fear of heresy that runs through any interaction he had with me prior to my banishment.

One conservative named Juan calls me a navel gazing heretic following the dog. The entire approach of seeing the Gospel as good news seems offensive at a glance to him. He seems to argue for what I keep calling blind obedience.

An SSPX member doesn't say enough to judge a method. He appears to think anything that happened after 1962 leads straight to hell. Yet, maybe in his view, the Latin Mass is just so wonderful that he can't see why the rest of us don't get it. He too has indicated that he values obedience over personal fulfillment.

A more middle of the road conservative named Michael is worried that my approach opens a Pandora's box. He seems to have some sense of the good news approach, but sees the status quo as so linked together that if one piece falls, it all collapses. He gets into the weeds of various levels of authority to defend the whole thing, and accuses me of being deceptive in my sparring with him.

Underlying so much of the conservative agenda is fear of error. We are fearful when the good is threatened. Conservatives need to learn to articulate what good they feel is being threatened. Yet, beyond this, conservatives need to learn to be less fearful. The author of 1 John tells us that perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn 4:18). Christ promised to be with the Church till the end of time. The Holy Spirit will not allow the entire Church to be lead into error, no matter how many questions we raise.

Is the gospel good news?

Conservatives often appeal to the Gospel as good news for the next life, with a world of pain in this life. This just does not seem to be good news to me.

It's not that I am so naive as to think people do not suffer. I know that people are poor. People have AIDs. Parents experience the death of a child, etc...etc...and these are what I would truly call the cross - suffering that comes to us as an injustice, and all we can do is lean more heavily on the cross of Jesus knowing that in that sign, God is with us in our suffering - and Satan is behind the cause of our suffering in some mysterious way.

Sometimes, the cross comes in a more voluntary way, such as when we take a risk to live out the Gospel - such as a Sudanese convert in Islamic territory. Indeed, in my own experience, I have done much volunteer work in the worst neighborhoods of our inner city. I often took on the risk of being mugged or beaten. I actually was mugged twice.

Yet, even in these examples, Satan is ultimately behind the cross, and our faith in God gives us courage to take the risk.

I can even accept the idea of a cross I created for myself - such as the repercussions I might experience if I ever cheated on my spouse, and the pain I'd need to go through to repair the damage. Nevertheless, this is a cross with its origin still ultimately in Satan.

I can accept in mystery that God allows the cross, and that he allows it ultimately out of respect for our freedom. I can accept that God transforms our pain - turning the cross to resurrection, in finite historic moments, and in the eternal mystery of our death.

However, conservatives imply that God - through the Church - can put the faithful follower in life-long discomfort and pain by his will, so that God is behind the cross - causing the suffering - and this is somehow good for that person's soul.

That is what I have an extremely hard time believing.

Frankly, the conservative god is repulsive to me if that's the god they believe in - note the intentional use of lower case for this image (idol) of a god.

How is that good news?

I am not denying the afterlife - but it strikes me that Jesus is always proclaiming that the reign of God is already at hand in him - and he is still with us - especially in the Eucharist.

I love being Christian - I mean, the way of life - the moral way of life - makes me happy here and now, full of joy, makes life fun.

It just does not make sense to me that God intends people to suffer for trying to be moral, at least in the long run.

By long run, I am not referring to the after-life.

I guess there are short run pains in conversion to morality - such as an alcoholic going through DT. Yet, people in AA will tell you how much happier and better off they are since they quit drinking. And I believe that few people, if anyone, could make it through DT without hope for this life.

A God who intends a person to suffer their entire life in order to be moral on the day-to-day.....Is this the God we believe in as catholics?

That's not the God I see revealed in Christ. It's not how I see the story unfold in the Bible. It's not how I see the Tradition developing. It's not my own personal experience (not anymore - I was miserable when I was trying to live celibately, and I still get overwhelming desires to serve at the altar at times).

Conservatives sometimes argue that if I cannot get this point of suffering an entire life in order to gain eternal life, there is nothing more to discuss. To some extent, they're right. There's probably not much they could say that would convince me of the reality of a god that would do that to a person. I find it extremely hypoctritical, however, that so many conservatives demand this suffering of other people, but won't bear the same cross themselves. For example, married conservatives look down on a priests who desires marriage, or a homosexual who says he can't live celibately....or a conservative who believes his boss owes him a promotion simultaneously says a nun who wants to be priests has no right to ordination.

The arguments just keep getting recycled over and over throughout conservative Catholicism: pick up your cross, deny yourself, die to self, etc....but never in a context that challenges a white middle to upper middle class Republican married man to make any significant change in his behavior or outlook. It is as though the Gospel message is intended to keep all non-white people and females in their place.

It would take a very crystal clear ex cathedra pronouncement to convince me that what they describe is even the teaching of the Church. If the Church made such a pronouncement, I would have a crisis in faith. I just thank God she hasn't made such infallible pronouncements. I pray she never will. The infallible pronouncements the Church has made are beautiful and fantastic news for the entire human race.

Jesus compared the reign of God to a wedding banquet with plenty of room and food and wine and song and dance for everyone. Even the God revealed the Old Testament promised a land overflowing with milk and honey where people would dance in the name of God. It is almost a bacchanal image.

One conservative claimed my theology is afraid to step on people's toes. As far as not stepping on anybody's toes, it seems to me that the two great commandments and the golden rule put it pretty nicely that this is exactly the basis of all moral law. We are to do no harm to others. If we are going to step on toes, it would be only to prevent a greater injustice.

This same conservative quoted the Gospel of John at me where Jesus tells the adulterous woman to go forth and sin no more. His point was that Jesus was not afraid to step on the woman's toes and challenge her, even as he forgave her.

My response is this: Wasn't this adulterous woman stepping on the toes of the man's wife? Wasn't she even sort of stepping on her lover's toes by putting him in a situation where his life becomes fragmented by two loyalties, and his commitments become meaningless?

Of course, for some reason, I am assuming the woman was single woman, and the man was married, but it could be the other way around,..,If she was the married one, or if both were married, wasn't she stepping on her husband's toes by making a cuckhold out of him, breaking her promises, etc,...?

And what about the elders who sought to stone her,...,she was caught in the very act of adultery - but where's the guy,...,looks like some serious sexism going on here,...,men stepping on the toes of women in general, and Jesus sees right through the hypocrisy.

Sin always involves stepping on someone's toes - that's why Jesus could sum up the law in the two great commandments and the golden rule - and Christ specifically said this is the foundation of the entire law! Don't we believe Christ?

Even the Sabbath laws - Christ says the Sabbath was made for humanity - not humanity for the Sabbath. The moral law was for our own good. Christ opposed using Sabbath regulations to judge who is holier than others.

One conservative lay person asked me why we should not have orgies if the Gospel is just good news for everybody. This type of response seems to me to lack careful reflection.

Orgies are wrong because they are not really fun (I presume - I've never actually been to one). I imagine that this sort of dissociation of sexuality from meaning is dehumanizing, and ultimately degrading in this life - not something I want to participate in, not because authority says it's wrong, but because I would find it personally unsatisfying.

On the other hand, Christ promises heaven is going to be fun - a blast - a big wedding feast with more pleasure than I can imagine! And just as I find I enjoy parties here on earth when I exercise a little self-restraint, I anticipate that in heaven I will freely choose to exercise some self-restraint in order to maximize my enjoyment of the eternal banquet. However, self restraint is not masochism. It's simply the art of enjoying life!

The Gospel is good news - if whatever you are selling cannot be understood as good news, it ain't the Gospel.

Should the disciple of Christ come to see the gospel as self fulfilling?

I take for granted the answer is yes.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 8:47 AM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by