Proselytism is the humble way

In the spirit of my resolve to make sure popes get a proper amount of criticism from the Right, I’d like to address a claim being made by both the current pope and his predecessor.  You’re all aware of Francis’ appalling “Proselytism is solemn nonsense” line by now.  It is, I suppose, possible to beat this into an orthodox statement, by saying that evangelization is not “proselytism” if it is done respectfully, or something of the sort.  Even so, the pope himself made no such distinction, and the context of the interview didn’t suggest it.  In fact, I am disturbed by the pope’s seeming acceptance of secular categories.  It allows him to give atheists the impression that he agrees with them completely, while leaving unstated the terminological distinctions that save him from indisputable heresy.  His earlier responses on the question of sodomy–the “Does God love homosexuals?  Of course he does!  Who am I to judge?” line–are another unfortunate example.  They can be reconciled by invoking the orthodox distinction between loving the person and accepting the behavior, but this is a distinction that the world and its Jesuit servants rejects, and the pope does not defend or even mention it.

Let us as docile sons of the Church accept that the orthodox interpretation is in fact the intended one.  If “proselytism”–whatever that means–is a bad way to win souls for Christ, what is the good way?  Here is the official alternative:

“The strength of the Gospel, he continued, is there, “because the Gospel reaches its highest point in the humiliation of Jesus: humility that becomes humiliation. And the force of the Gospel, he said, is properly in humility, in the humility of the child that is guided by the love and the tenderness of the father.”: “The Church, Benedict XVI told us, does not grow through proselytism, it grows through attraction, through witness. And when the people see this witness of humility, of meekness, of mildness, they feel the need that the Prophet Zachariah spoke of: ‘We want to come with you.’ The people feel that need in the face of the witness of charity, of this humble charity, without bullying, not sufficient, humble. Worship and serve!”

The first thing to note is that Benedict’s statement is actually much worse than Francis’ paraphrase:  see here.  Francis adds the key word “witness”, which suggests that at least some verbal mention of the faith may be involved.  He also adds the phrase “without bullying”, perhaps meaning that it is “bullying” of some sort that distinguishes proselytism from evangelization (although he might also mean that all explicit evangelization is “bullying”, but remember that we want to interpret as generously as possible).

So the new model for evangelization seems to be that we should not at first explicitly explain or argue for our faith, but that we should impress people with our humility, our meekness, and let’s say our other virtues as well.  People will be attracted to us, and they will want to join us.  Once they’re filled with that desire, I suppose we can share with them the bases of the faith.

Whether or not this will work, I would like to point out that the one thing it is not is humble.  We are presuming that we ourselves are to be Catholicism’s selling points.  No old-style “proselytist” would presume this.  He would believe that the message itself is the selling point, and he himself is nothing but an unworthy carrier.  He would plead for listeners to forget his own unworthiness and look at the beauty of the faith or the strength of the arguments in its favor.

3 Responses

  1. I very much like the way you’ve exposed the vanity that underlies the “attract-outsiders-to-the-Church-by-your-life” line. I’d add that humility alone is not attractive. Quite the opposite. The ability to suffer humiliation with courage and quiet dignity may be attractive, but in such cases it is the courage and self-possession that we admire, not the humiliation.

    With respect to evangelization/proselytizing, I do not recall Jesus modestly allowing that the scribes and pharisees might be right after all.

    It is possible to attract humans to causes in which they will suffer humiliation, and even martyrdom, but the humiliation and martyrdom must be the means to ultimate glory. Humiliation by itself is always hateful.

  2. Thank you. It is striking how often plans to win the world just assume that we can call forth unlimited reserves of virtue, creativity, intelligence, charisma, and attractiveness, and the only reason we haven’t is that the Religious Right is obsessed with politics. Even Pope Benedict’s aspiration of Catholics as a new “creative minority” probably asks more of us than we can really give.

  3. What can you give? What will you, indeed.

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