Here’s a quote from a Sun-Times interview given by Cardinal Cupich:
“I always tell myself . . . that the faith I have is a gift, so I shouldn’t take that for granted. And so when people are struggling and feel they have no faith at all, I shouldn’t say, ‘Well, it’s their fault.’
“What I just say to people is there’s still a hunger in your life for more, there always is, be in touch with that, and be the best person that you can be.
“Some of the greatest Christians I know are people who don’t actually have a kind of faith system that they believe in. But, in their activity, the way they conduct themselves, there’s a goodness there.
“It might not be articulated in a faith context like my own, but there’s a goodness there that is a witness that encourages me. So I try to find that and encourage that in people. If that’s happening in their life, that’s worth encouraging.
What’s going on here?
The first option is that he’s unthinkingly using Christian as a synonym for “good person” in the way that my grandmother would have, when she would say, “that’s not a very Christian thing to do.” Christians are good and non-Christians aren’t. That’s not meant uncharitably by people speaking that way, but simply means that they aren’t really thinking that their usage implies that non-Christians are bad people. Translate what Cupich says as “Some of the kindest and most loving people I know are . . . ”
But that seems unlikely. Cupich isn’t my grandmother, after all. And he’s educated enough to be precise with language.
The second alternative is that Cupich’s definition of “Christian” is indeed so expansive as to me that it is synonymous with “good person” in the opposite direction. It’s not, “those who are Christians are good people,” but “if you are a good person, you are also by definition a Christian.”
Now, I think many of these “good people-deemed-Christians” would be surprised to hear of it, though others do believe themselves that “intent to do good” is all it takes to be a “Christian,” along with, perhaps, a vaguely positive impression that Jesus, the historical figure, insofar as he preached “love your neighbor” and not anything creepier, was probably a good guy.
But for Cupich himself to adopt this approach? That’s unsettling.
After all, if you don’t believe that being Christian has anything to do with, oh, say, maybe, believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or “was crucified, died and was buried” and “on the third day he rose again” — well, it seems to me that if Cupich is comfortable with these beliefs being “optional” rather than defining for Christians, if he has transformed the concept that “God is generous with salvation and, via ‘baptism of desire,’ gives it to people who had the right intentions even if they didn’t know Christ,” into “right intentions make one a Christian,” then I’m not entirely sure what he himself believes.
After all, Cupich, not long ago, of his anti-gun-violence initiative, said, “If we don’t do this as a church, we might as well pack up,” which sure as heck seems to suggest that he is indifferent to the Church as a place to teach Christian doctrine, and to pray and worship, but instead sees the Church solely or primarily as a means of providing social services. And in a very early Tribune interview, he spoke of “immigration reform as chief among the issues to tackle here.” And, of the issue of divorced and remarrieds, and the LGBT community, “doctrines are at the service of the pastoral mission” and compassion matters above all.
Yes, I’m a skeptic of Cardinal Cupich. I see our parish school shrinking every year, and the pews getting emptier. Sure, Cupich has put in place something called “Renew my Church,” which may make a difference or may create a death spiral; I don’t know.
But every time he says these things, it grates on me. What’s the point of trying to renew a church, if all that matters is being nice and doing good? You can do exactly these sorts of things in any sort of social service organization, of which there are multitudes, or you can take the Social Welfare State approach that it’s wrong for social service organizations to do any of these things at all, because the State should be providing for our needs, and individuals should receive those provisions as an act of entitlement rather than charity.
And it’s now time to start my day job!