I have a coworker whose brand of humor consists in vulgar and somewhat obscene or bigoted remarks towards various racial, sexual, or religious groups. I have no idea if this individual seriously believes these comments or if they just find these cynical stereotypes funny. Either way, it keeps reminding me of Lewis’s comment about flippancy in The Screwtape Letters: that it is one of the best defenses against God a human can build up around themselves.
My coworker reserves the worst of their caustic humor for the Catholic Church, not because they have any personal negative experiences with it, but simply because of the stain of the sex abuse scandal (and a lack of any positive experiences with committed Catholic Christians to counteract it, I think). It makes me both sad and angry… Angry with perverted priests for letting their sinful actions give the Church a bad name, angry with the church hierarchy for tolerating sin (in the name of grace?) instead of rooting it out, angry with the media for making it seem like a Catholic problem when it’s really a human problem (the same thing happens in Evangelical churches, in public schools, in the foster care system, in other religious institutions – where there is power, there is abuse of power, and where there are fallen human beings, there is sin). And I’m sad that my coworker has chosen to let flippancy and willful ignorance blind her to the life-giving truth in the Church’s message, in the gospel itself.
But that is what scandal does. The sinful and ignorant actions of those professing the faith, from sexual abuse to superstitious practices, push others away from the faith and make it more difficult to know Christ or be part of authentic Christian community. We aren’t perfect, but it is our responsibility to follow Christ as best as we can, growing in holiness and spiritual knowledge, to show Jesus to the watching world. If we are carelessly letting our sinful passions direct our lives, or adhering to teachings and religious practices that are out of line with Scripture, we blur, stain, and distort that image. It is hard, sometimes, to stay innocent and hopeful and loving when faced with someone who derides things that are dear to your heart and seems to want to believe the worst about you or a group you belong to; you want to match their sharp and hurtful words, or you become discouraged and unsure about yourself and the things that matter to you. But that would be to sink to their level, the level of flippancy, cynicism, hatred, and ignorance. The temporary satisfaction isn’t worth the self-degradation.