The danger of conformity


The modern Liberal Christian, largely an invention of the last two centuries, tends to identify as broad thinking risk taker. One daring enough to embrace change/compromise and face up to the future without fear of repressive past. Yet I suspect the polar opposite is true- and that far from being risk takers most liberals actually seek comfort. Which is to say this group, so often rooted in the middle classes,  yearn for conformity at all costs. The place at the supper party, the space within the respectable quarter. They want to go with the flow of the society around them.

Now I have met lovely liberal Christians and rather hostile and difficult ones. But  what actually unites them all is not an ability to pioneer to new places. Rather it is the gift to fudge issues and bring everything into the arena of popular thinking. A hunger to be led by the world -to ever fit the zeitgeist. What a contrast this is to the Early Church where the first Christians dared, at great personal cost, to be different. Where followers of Jesus moved beyond the comfortable places to suffer in speaking truth to power.

But then Christianity gained power for itself and enjoyed the place at high table. Zeal was dampened and compromising Christian born.  Leading to the wishy washy Christianity rife today. Where what is presented is not the full truth of the Gospel but a watered down version to offend and inspire nobody in equal measure. Where nothing too contentious must be said for fear of offending others. As if being nice and polite is the chief Christian virtue…as if the saints martyrs were somehow out of sync with what passes for faith today.

If you doubt that liberals love conformity then explain this. Why were there no voices clamouring for women priests before feminism became de rigour? Why no cry for “same sex marriage” (?!) prior to the rise of homosexual activism? Liberal Christianity loves to portray itself as cutting edge but time and again it is found -NOT going it alone in the driving seat- but following behind the world like a lap dog. What the secular thinker says today – the liberal Christian repeats tomorrow…

It is a major problem for the Church in the 21st Century where Liberal Christianity has come to have such a powerful voice. Where committed expressions of faith are dismissed as extreme and those teaching heretical notions are left undisturbed.

Yesterday, at a meeting I attended, Cardinal Burke spoke powerfully of the need for priests to live out their faith in prayer. To dare to be different and avoid the trap of becoming secularised. The same is surely true for laity. We live in extraordinary times and our faith is undeniably under attack. This is not easy. But understand that the answer will not be found in seeking popularity, conformity or comfort in this world.

It will be found in witnessing to Christ in a radical way. In daring to be Saintly in this world that has lost its faith. Whatever the answer -and we don’t have it yet- it cannot be found where conformity to Christ gives way to the popular culture.

And there in a nutshell is my beef with modern liberal Christianity. It’s intentions are often laudable but the methodology and conclusions flawed, skewed as they are to give precedent to the world and not to Christ. Let us never forget the role of the crowd within the passion narratives.

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21 thoughts on “The danger of conformity

  1. Well said, Father. Your comments put me in mind of Alexander Pope’s words: ‘what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed’! I would add a further observation: there is a tremendous fear of media attack/ridicule on the part of the hierarchy. ‘Play it safe, say nothing controversial and they might leave us alone.’

  2. It seems logical that you suggest illiberal regimes, such as many in Africa, promote gospel values, whereas liberal Christians are slaves to western democracies. I would aver that the liberal abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women and the decriminalising of homosexuality in the UK have led to a greater common good. The Church hasn’t quite caught up yet. Many Christians in, say, Uganda support the subjugation of women and the imprisonment of gay people. Are they slaves to ‘the world’ or following their religion? No one – not even the Church, as you claim – can remain unaffected by social trends. It is ironic that you promote your dislike of liberalism, when it is precisely that value which allows you freedom of speech. Your continuous vilification of gay people can hardly help the self-esteem of thousands of your clerical colleagues who can only be helped by what you decry as ‘activism’. I must write sometime to my former fellow-student Keith Newton to ask if your views represent the Ordinariate or are simply right-wing, worldly opinion

    1. Fr Heron, as ever you seem to miss my point entirely.

      Firstly I am in now way opposed to liberalism. In fact I tend to come out as a libertarian in most political surveys. It is a great virtue which the world can thank the Christian church for. What i attack is the voice of modern “Theological Liberalism” a movement which isn’t actually very liberal at all but which would surrender Christ to the world in a bid to stay relevant.

      I appreciate that the gay issue is deeply personal for you and that you are hypersensitive where any questioning is found. However I do not vilify gay people- why would I? What i attack is the homosexual campaign which threatens historic understanding regarding marriage and the family. Sorry if that bruises the self esteem of those within such activism- but then they themselves don’t seem too bothered by my self esteem as a Christian married man who simply wants to uphold the definition of marriage the world has ever known.

      Finally I remind you again of the vuluntary nature as regards following my blog. If you don’t like the voice of normative Catholic teaching then why do you come for more each day?

      And why write to Monsignor Keith? This is a personal blog reflecting my views and clearly has nothing to do with the official ordinariate. Be a man and write to me instead!

      1. Fr Ed
        I only make mention of homosexuals on the frequent occasions you do, so I assume their existence must be deeply personal to you. Although I appreciate this is a Catholic blog, I have sometimes commented to defend against your frequent attacks on our beloved Church of England.
        In thanking you for your courtesy in publishing my comments, I resolve not to comment again in the interests of harmony and ecumenism.

        1. No need to be silent David, this is an inclusive website that values your contribution. Besides which ecumenism is not surely about living in silence for fear of offence but robustly entering into discourse to work out God’s truth. And please understand I do not attack the C of E but the theology that has risen within it which, itself, is a blatant attack on what I hold dear. The historic (as opposed to the refashioned) faith of the Church.

          1. I have been in a sacramental marriage for 47 years and the power of this sacrament is immense both for healing and renewal. However I have to say that our sacrament can not be harmed by the monogamous commitment of two same sex people in a union they wish to celebrate as a marriage. It is the behaviour of heterosexuals that has weakened marriage and the family. Indeed every marriage is strengthened by the commitment of other marriages. We all have a stake in each other’s marriages. Surely monogamous commitment and love mirror God’s love whoever is making that commitment?

          2. Traditional marriage is harmed by so called gay marriage. Here are just some reasons:
            1) It is not open to life in the way marriage is intended to be. It therefore obscures the intended procreative purpose in marriage as a whole
            2) where children are involved gay marriage must necessarily deprive a child of either their mother or father. Your conventional marriage does not.
            3) It validates the homosexual lifestyle which leads to societal acceptance of sex as not relating to its true purpose which is to bring forth life.
            4) It goes against scripture and all historic Christian teaching as well as natural law. Your marriage does not.

          3. I am a Catholic and I do agree with your logic regarding the peculiar position of ‘ catholics ‘ within the C of E which does appear untenable these days. However whilst I agree that theologically the Ordinariate would appear to be the answer I have a feeling it is the legalism and hardline social teaching of the Church which put some Anglo-catholics off ; indeed it is unacceptable to most cradle catholics if I am honest. It is a well known fact that Humanae Vitae emptied the pews of the majority of young Catholic families and that those that remained largely ignored it. PaulVI never wrote another Encyclical and the way it was received caused him immense psychological trauma. Even Aquinas taught that it was the intention that counted but with contraception it was always the means. The sensus fedelis has quite rightly rejected this teaching which has done untold damage to the People of God.

  3. 1) not all so called traditional marriages result in children. Some are not open to life for reasons of age or medical reasons. They nevertheless give life to the spouses.
    2)not all mothers and fathers are necessarily good parents.love is more important than gender role models which canbe just as negative as they are positive.
    3)the purpose of sex is not restricted to bringing forth new life but also to enable the intimate giving of one to the other. Also, how can one be both ‘disordered’ and culpable at the same time. If I am born with one leg shorter than the other the Church doesn’t say to me ‘don’t limp’.
    4) Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, Paul only condemned it where heterosexuals were being perverse and Leviticus is full of prescriptions which are rediculous. Homosexuality is natural for homosexuals made in God’s image.

    1. 1) Not all marriages are blessed with children. But all conventional marriages witness to the union of man and woman which, in virtually all others cases, will result in life and provide the forum of care which children need.
      2) For sure. But the reality of crap parents is no argument for gay marriage. Is it?
      3) Not according to any Christian church prior to the sexual revolution. The marriage service spells out the need for couples to be open to life. It is an integral part of what is happening.
      4) Jesus spoke plainly that a man should leave his parents and marry a wife. He made no mention about a new understanding at odds with what Judaism so clearly endorsed. This point is very weak. You could also say that he said nothing about a whole range of issues such as pedophilia or zoophilia etc… silence does not equate to consent. Besides which the theme of monogamous marriage betwixt man and woman runs like a river through scripture and is redeemed in Christ.

  4. If Jesus “spoke plainly that a man should leave his parents and marry a wife” does that include non-ordinariate RC priests?!

    1. Given his own example of celibate lifestyle, coupled with his strong endorsement of marriage between a man and woman, I would say he clearly endorsed two states for Christian life.

    2. The Latin Rite Church (which is what I think you have in mind) is just one of a group of churches, in communion with each other and with Rome, which go to make up the Catholic Church. Many of them have married priests as a norm. In the early Latin Church married priests and bishops were common. The requirement for priests to be unmarried in the Western Church is merely an administrative rule and open to change or removal. There have always been married priests in the Latin Rite – usually, but not always, converts from other denominations. There are more now that the Ordinariate is a fully functioning part of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict indicated (before becoming pope) that the not married requirement should be reviewed and Pope Francis is reputed to take the same line and to have it ‘in his diary’. Some sources have indicated that he has said it is time to ditch the rule.

  5. From what I have read gay “marriages” are rarely, if ever, monogamous. They usually take the form of “Open Marriages”.

    1. Don’t believe everything you read in Slate. I’ve gay friends and acquaintances both Catholic and Anglican who are faithful over many years. The concept and practice of ‘open marriage ‘ was well established long before there were gay marriages.
      ‘Traditional’ marriage is damaged and threatened far more by the behaviour of heterosexuals than by gay people. You can’t define someone merely by their sexuality or indeed generalise about the behaviour of any group.

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