It is Jesus, not Ideology, Who Saves

It is Jesus, not Ideology, Who Saves September 26, 2015

Mark, why do you hate conservatives?

A: I don’t. What I hate is idolatry. Because I’m a Catholic.

An idol is always a good thing. Otherwise, nobody would worship it. And conservatism is a good thing, because conserving is good. But the Thing that Used to be Conservatism is no longer good. It has become an idol.

Here’s the sign: The FOX Magisterium declared Francis a “False Prophet” today. The Right this week has made clear it hates his living guts–and the full-orbed Magisterial teaching of the Church. He has presented the teaching of the Church and for his troubles has been called Che Guevara’s Pope, a Stalinist, a Communist, the Worst Pope Since Alexander VI, an antipope, the Antichrist. etc. by the sober and not-at-all-unhinged Right Wing Noise Machine.

The reason that matters more than the naked hostility of the Left (which does, it is quite true, exist) is simple. Self-described “faithful Catholics” will never accept what Nancy Pelosi or Catholics for a Free Choice offers as “the Catholic Faith”. But many if not most “faithful Catholics” in the US have a *very* difficult time telling the difference between Movement Conservatism and the gospel and, when forced to choose (as they are being forced by this Pope) it is not yet clear which they will choose.

American Movement Conservatives have taught conservative Catholics to spend a lot of time fretting about their skins. They live in fear of persecution by Lefties or death at the hands of terrorists, or Mexicans, or criminals, or the government coming to take their guns. But as conservative media has made clear by its reaction to the Magisterium this week, they live in very little fear of their own sins, because the *real* sinners are Those Liberals Over There.

Jesus, in contrast, warns not about external threats but about threats to the soul: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28). Many Catholic Conservatives are now at the point where they can casually declare that Peter is a Che Guevara Pope, the worst pope since Alexander VI, a Stalinist, and a False Prophet, all while cheering for unjust war, torture, contempt for refugees, and a racist misogynist in a combover–and never pause for a moment to think it possible they may be wrong.

Why? Because they wear a Precious Feet pin that takes away the sins of the world. They have nothing to learn from this Pope. It is he who is the fool who need to learn from them. The Magisterium needs the firm guiding hand of a Conservative ideology that has for the past decade been so wrong about so much so many times for so long that only a fool would trust it.

If that is not false religion and idolatry, I don’t know what is.

This pope preaches Jesus Christ and him crucified. He proclaims good news to the poor. He does the work of Peter. And his number one enemies are now self-described “faithful Catholics” who have replaced the gospel with Movement Conservative talking points, litmus tests, and shibboleths. Not all of them, of course, and (please God) not most of them. But there are multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of Decision now that the Pope’s extremely attractive witness to Jesus–and the hysterical ugliness of Movement Conservatives and Reactionaries–has forced a choice on us. My prayer and confidence in the Holy Spirit is that truly faithful Catholics will decisively reject the false religion of Movement Conservatism as they have already rejected the false religion of American Liberalism and embrace the apostolic gospel proclaimed by the Church and her Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Therefore come out from them,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
then I will welcome you,
¶ And I will be a father to you,
and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Co 6:17–18).

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  • If you think people are wrong, it’s fine to argue against what they say. But making fun of them is helping neither them nor anyone else.

    • orual’s kindred

      Making fun of people as people is not helpful. But if people will view themselves and their words and actions as interchangeable, that is a problem on their part.

  • CrustyNatsFan

    Thank you for this post. I think it one of your best. It was funny this past week to see the media puzzle over this strange thing called Catholic Social Teaching, which does not conform to the labels underpinning modern American political culture. However, it got pretty annoying once the talking heads on (pick your preferred ideological cable channel) started insinuating how much better off our Church would be if it only allowed itself to be shaped by some of the worst aspects of the American political program. It reinforced the reality of how a lot of Americans (and I include myself) allow our political culture to be the primary influence on our conscience. Only then do we approach the Church to see what she has to say. And at that point, at least in my case, it is only to look for areas where she can reaffirm my preexisting moral allegiance to a political point of view. So the key lesson from this past week for me is that we might be a bit better off we were a little less American and more Roman in our Catholicism.

    • Cas

      Yes, Mark, indeed one of your best. It seems like so many of the things you’ve been “shouting from the rooftop” of your blog over and over again for the past several years are culminating with what we’re seeing from Fox and co. I don’t know where I’d be in my thinking had it not been for your writing. I believe that writing like this is probably part of why you were born at this time of history, my friend.

    • etme

      And that, indeed is the crux of the matter.

  • P Johnston

    As someone who appreciated the gospel-centred ecumenism of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” and who found some inspiration in the witness of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and teachers like Richard John Neuhaus, I have read some of your postings over the past weeks with increasing alarm.

    The ministry of Pope Francis seemed to be driving wedges to divide people the previous popes had united. As conservatives reacted with anger to Francis, folk like you, whom I had looked to as reasonable voices for the Christian witness (I believed) we share, were reacting with equal anger and divisiveness. And the unity in His grace, for which Jesus prayed and which had seemed to be growing so strongly over the last 30 years, looked to be slipping away.

    But I wonder if it’s just the particular conservatives you’re reading… People like Roger Ailes (who gave Fox News its vision) and Rush Limbaugh have always been firmly rooted in the libertarian wing of conservativism — less interested in preserving the ethos and mores of our Judeo-Christian heritage than in getting busybody civil authorities out of the way of their pursuit of their desires. For example, years before the recent USSC decision, Fox Sports was dismissing broadcasters who were opposed to same-sex marriage. Their anger at Francis is not surprising.

    But “the Right” is far broader than libertarians. Just because some talking head at Fox declared Francis a “false prophet” does not mean all of us conservatives have decided we have nothing to learn from this Pope. Reading your posts, I began to wonder if interfaith divisions were growing. Reading some real numbers this afternoon, I see the are not. Yesterday, Christianity Today reported on a survey by Southern-Baptist-related Life Way Research that found
    “many Protestant pastors have taken a liking to Pope Francis. Nearly 4 in 10 say the pope, known for his humility and concern for the poor, has had a positive impact on their opinions of the Catholic Church. Almost two-thirds view Pope Francis as a genuine Christian and ‘brother in Christ.'” The article’s posted at — sorry, I don’t know how to format hyperlinks in Disqus…

    To make a long comment short: many of us in “movement conservativism” are still positively engaged with the teachings of Pope Francis. Many of us are still looking for ways we can work together to share the faith Jesus gave His church.

    I remember Pope John Paul II’s visit back in 1979, remember the homily he offered in his Mass at Grant Park in Chicago — in fact, every now and then I pull out the text and read it again. I remember being encouraged by his challenge to look beyond our differences and find ways to work together for the great task of evangelisation Jesus entrusted to His church. And I continue to look for partnerships where that vital task of witness and advocacy can continue.

    But that rather assumes an interest among Roman Catholics like yourself to find some cause in common with Evangelicals like me. I pray that window is still open.

    • Dave G.

      Interesting, and interesting hearing from an Evangelical not in the Church. I was an evangelical pastor for most of my life, and came into the Church in 2006. It’s nice to hear from someone outside looking in who may see things differently than those of us in the Church, yet looking to find common ground. Thanks for the comment. Though I do wonder what you wonder: where Mark gets his news. I don’t know if it’s only Limbaugh or Fox, as much as it’s other places critical of those already suspect sources, but who are no less suspect in their own way.

    • MT

      I don’t think Mark is saying that there aren’t any good conservatives, but rather that the Fox-GOP machine is corrupt and doesn’t really care about truth.

      • P Johnston

        @MT: I replied in the terms I used because I believe words mean things. If Mark intended to say there are good conservatives but a subgroup of conservatism (say, “the Fox machine”) is corrupt, then I expect he would have written something like “*Some on* the Right this week have made it clear they hate his living guts.”
        But he did not qualify his remark. He made a global comment about “the Right” as a whole — and it was a comment I felt was rather unfair. There are, I was attempting to show, many people like me on “the Right” who do “really care about truth” and are trying to respectfully engage with the faith as proclaimed by Pope Francis.

        • orual’s kindred

          A few more distinctions might have been helpful. But since he does also say Not all of them, of course, and (please God) not most of them regarding self-described faithful Catholics (who tend to lean towards Right) I think it is reasonable to at least suppose he is referring to prominent mind-molders occupying a privileged, influential position in the movement. Besides, he also refers to the Left and Lefties. That doesn’t seem like a blanket statement against well-meaning people who lean more towards the Left.

  • Cas

    Yes, Mark, continue proclaiming the truth, again and again! Deceptive enemies and falsehoods are much more dangerous than honest, bold-faced ones!

  • Sue Korlan

    The thing that constantly surprises me is how people contrast “conservative” Benedict XVI and “liberal” Francis. My favorite encyclical is still Caritas in Veritatem. It combines right and left ideologies just like Francis does. When I’m asked what my political party is I say Roman Catholic. I vote for people, not parties, because what matters is the way the person will vote after the election and not what party they belong to.

  • Helena

    Brilliant post, Mark. So much hate and venom against *our* Holy Father. The Fox Machine is perverting our view of the world.

  • donttouchme

    What if it were a prophetic saint who called Pope Francis an enemy of the Church, though? Of course this is from a hundred years ago. It’s not as if the enemy he was addressing back then could have weaseled its way into bishops’ chairs by now, or even into the papacy, from which the pope could invite a bunch of them to, say, a Synod on the Family or something, and work to undermine the Church in a plausibly deniable way so as to keep it subtle and not provoke a strong response:

    “The office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock has especially this duty assigned to it by Christ, namely, to guard with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body; for, owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there have never been lacking “men speaking perverse things” (Acts xx. 30), “vain talkers and seducers” (Tit. i. 10), “erring and driving into error” (2 Tim. iii. 13). Still it must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself. Wherefore We may no longer be silent, lest We should seem to fail in Our most sacred duty, and lest the kindness that, in the hope of wiser counsels, We have hitherto shown them, should be attributed to forgetfulness of Our office.

    Gravity of the Situation

    2. That We make no delay in this matter is rendered necessary especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; they lie hid, a thing to be deeply deplored and feared, in her very bosom and heart, and are the more mischievous, the less conspicuously they appear. We allude, Venerable Brethren, to many who belong to the Catholic laity, nay, and this is far more lamentable, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious daring, they reduce to a simple, mere man.

    3. Though they express astonishment themselves, no one can justly be surprised that We number such men among the enemies of the Church, if, leaving out of consideration the internal disposition of soul, of which God alone is the judge, he is acquainted with their tenets, their manner of speech, their conduct. Nor indeed will he err in accounting them the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church. For as We have said, they put their designs for her ruin into operation not from without but from within; hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain, the more intimate is their knowledge of her. Moreover they lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt. Further, none is more skilful, none more astute than they, in the employment of a thousand noxious arts; for they double the parts of rationalist and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error; and since audacity is their chief characteristic, there is no conclusion of any kind from which they shrink or which they do not thrust forward with pertinacity and assurance. To this must be added the fact, which indeed is well calculated to deceive souls, that they lead a life of the greatest activity, of assiduous and ardent application to every branch of learning, and that they possess, as a rule, a reputation for the strictest morality. Finally, and this almost destroys all hope of cure, their very doctrines have given such a bent to their minds, that they disdain all authority and brook no restraint; and relying upon a false conscience, they attempt to ascribe to a love of truth that which is in reality the result of pride and obstinacy.

    Once indeed We had hopes of recalling them to a better sense, and to this end we first of all showed them kindness as Our children, then we treated them with severity, and at last We have had recourse, though with great reluctance, to public reproof. But you know, Venerable Brethren, how fruitless has been Our action. They bowed their head for a moment, but it was soon uplifted more arrogantly than ever. If it were a matter which concerned them alone, We might perhaps have overlooked it: but the security of the Catholic name is at stake. Wherefore, as to maintain it longer would be a crime, We must now break silence, in order to expose before the whole Church in their true colours those men who have assumed this bad disguise.”

    • Bob Diorio

      In answer to your question at the top of your post: it would mean that the promise of Christ had failed. Have we attacked Vatican II so long that for sport we now move on to dismantle Vatican I as well?

      • donttouchme

        How has the promise of Christ failed in that case, given that it was Peter who called out the conniving wolves in sheep’s clothing and wrote Pascendi Domini Gregis as a last ditch effort to defend us sheep against them?

  • Mike Blackadder

    Pope Francis’ visit to the US and his expression of his deep admiration for the American spirit, his prayers at the 911 memorial, his surprise visit to the Little Sisters are acts that have I think helped repair bridges with Americans, particularly conservatives. In fact of all of the articles that I’ve seen on conservative sites and blogs, it is certainly the case that the tone has changed to one of greater admiration and defense of Pope Francis.

    A column that I just read on Fox News describes well the problem that Americans have in politicizing the Pope, “Americans should be criticized for thinking about the world solely in political terms. When people agree with what the Pope is saying they describe him as a “spiritual leader,” but when they disagree with his views they say he is “getting too political.””

    Yes there are conservatives who are disappointed that Francis didn’t mention the sale of baby parts like he did the sale of weapons. But there is also the liberal media who downplay the Pope’s show of support for the Little Sisters in their plight against the Federal government, who pretend he’s all about their Liberal agenda. Conservatives are waking up to what Francis is all about. Read some conservative blogs and you’ll get the picture.

    • Dave G.

      Actually, most self identified conservatives I’m reading or listening to seem to admire him, like him, enjoy him, and more or less agree with him. I know some don’t at all. Others mostly like him but disagree, or wish he would emphasize things they don’t believe he is emphasizing. But I watched FOX tonight as Pope Francis was leaving. I was expecting a long tirade against all Pope Francis did wrong. You see, despite accusations, I don’t watch FOX that much and can’t tell you much about it. But I decided to watch – and it was a love fest. Literally. I don’t know the one young woman who was there, but I thought she was going to burst into tears. Some of the people they were talking to were raving about how awesome he is. I know some have criticized him, or at least questioned him or his decisions at times. So has Mark (when it has come to a couple appointments and the abuse scandal). That’s OK. Likewise, while some liberals are coming out and screaming at the few things that Pope Francis said they didn’t like, most are either focusing on the many points of agreement, or at least saying they are willing to agree to disagree. I wonder if the very focal point of policing all the divisiveness and partisanship around Pope Francis is, in fact, one of the main driving forces of such partisanship far out of proportion of what is really happening in the real world.

  • SteveH

    …”the pope’s extremely attractive witness to Jesus”…

    Not so much, actually. The “extremely attractive witness” is failing to attract.

    From the Huffington Post last year:

    “Despite widely reported anecdotes of lapsed Catholics returning to the pews, growth in Mass attendance and renewed interest in the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Francis’ first year, a new report has found the “Pope Francis effect” may not exist after all.

    “In a survey released Thursday about Americans’ views of the pope nearly a year into the papacy, the Pew Research Center found no change in the share of American adults who call themselves Catholic, or in self-reported rates of Mass attendance, when compared to pre-Francis numbers. Pew also reported no increase in the percentage of Catholics volunteering at their churches or going to confession.”

  • samton909

    Wow, Disagreeing with Mark Shea is now “Idolotry”

    • Mike Blackadder

      Yeah I’m not sure that Mark’s argument about idolatry was all that coherent this time. If an idol is good (like some conservative positions) then when does calling the thing GOOD become idolatry? When a religious leader (or Mark) in error says that this good thing is actually bad? Is that religion pitted against idolatry or is it a legitimate argument about whether or not something is good? Mark’s argument is that if you haven’t recognized the abysmal failure of right wing politics (over the past ten years) then obviously you are an idolater. That’s kind of like saying that leftism is not only right, but it is righteousness itself. And what do you call that kind of argument? Hmm

  • Shocking & highly misleading. Speaking for ‘most Catholics?’ The idolatry is Shea’s. Papolatry of the worst kind, substituting for his former ‘bible only’ idolatry. Diligently examining the history of the faith, the teachings of the Fathers and the Saints, and understanding that we must cling to the incredible gift as given is NOT a betrayal of the faith! Where is Shea’s love and mercy to other Catholics? Where is his love for even the recently canonized Popes? Doesn’t fidelity to the Pope include those who have gone before? Why is he so vituperative against people who think the Church must continue to teach the gospel?

  • Michael Dowd

    If you seek the truth check out: