Saturday, May 16, 2015

Conventional wisdom. . .

As one who grew up in the era of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and his weekly program on TV, it is hard for me not to have some affection and not a little appreciation for both the era and for the man and his message.  He is rich in pithy sayings and there is no shortage of quotes to choose from.

Sheen once said behave as you believe or you will soon believe as you behave.  It is hardly original in theme (do as I say and not as I do could be one form of this and Neuhaus' law slightly different but within the same vein).  Yet this conventional wisdom has become radical in an age when wisdom is anything but conventional.

Behave as you believe or soon you will believe as you behave is certainly the test of morality in a world wherein people claim to have values but pollsters and surveys tell us that those values seem to impact the actual behavior or lives of those people only slightly.  Christians and even those in church bodies that have clear stands on such issues as abortion, promiscuity, extra-marital sex, cohabitation, gay marriage, etc..., seem willing to abandon their beliefs.  We all have cohabiting, cheating, gay, and slutty relatives and friends and so we are reluctant to hold to our moral values if it means condemning Auntie Maude and her new live in or cousin Fritz and his new beau or granddaughter Freda and her affairs while married to Claude.  I could go on...

Behave as you believe or soon you will believe as you behave is certainly the test of doctrine as well.  We find Christians caught between what the Scriptures say, what the catholic faith has confessed, what their own reason finds understandable, and the truths they deem palatable.  So even when we shake our fists and hold up the catechism we pick and choose what we will believe, confess, and teach.  Even when we insist we are a confessional church, we do not take all aspects of our confession as seriously as others.  Even when we confess the creed we are not necessarily confessing every word of it to be true or true for all time.  Lutherans sound more and more like Evangelicals and mainline Protestants to the point where confessional Lutherans speak with an alien voice to the ears of those Lutherans.  It is not an isolated problem for Lutherans either.  Witness the polls that tell us many Roman Catholics do not believe that they receive the actual body (and perhaps blood) of Christ in the Mass.

Behave as you believe or soon you will believe as you behave is certainly the test of worship practices, too.  We worship as we choose, regardless whether or not it pleases God, and we believe the true test of worship is its spontaneity, its sincerity, and its satisfaction of our desires and preferences.  The means of grace have been shoved to the sideline and our piety is thoroughly rooted in what happens in the moment and the whims of a people who like new better than old, novelty better than tradition, and appealing lies better than hard truth.

Behave as you believe or soon you will believe as you behave certainly classifies as one of the more poignant and apropos statements of Sheen -- and quite prescient since it was spoken in the 1950s but came to full fruit and flower 50 years later.  There are many things on which I disagree with Sheen but you have to admire his ability to soundbite a prophetic glimpse into our future (perhaps because it was a truth so clear from the past).


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Growing up Catholic, while in Parochial school it was obligatory to watch Bishop Sheen's TV message. I think most good Catholics did so. The Sisters of Saint Joseph, our teachers at St Philip Neri Elementary school, would ask us if we and our parents watched it, if we said the Rosary, and if we ate meat on Friday. The Roman Catholic Church was not liberal then, and seemed very concerned about what Catholics believed, knew, and how we behaved. My father, a lifelong Catholic, rarely went to church....but he made me and my sisters go regularly. My mother, raised Lutheran, and a German, supported our Catholic training.....but I think she remained skeptical of some Catholic teachings. It is interesting how you mention Bishop Sheen, as Catholic and non Catholic alike respected him for his scholarship and perceived piety. But memories of my youth aside, I am glad to be a Lutheran, and I understand how Martin Luther found it impossible to remain Catholic and accept the many misguided teachings they have promoted. As a young boy around 8th grade, I asked Father Burke, a parish priest, " Should we be reading the Bible?" His response to me..."No, we will tell you what you need to know".. ....and in my view now....this is what helped me move away from Catholicism years later.

John said...

I remember when Bishop Sheen was on the Dumont TV Network, back in the day. He was on prime time. No pastor, preacher, evangelist is on any commercial network, prime time, today. Not even a guy in Southern Texas.
Sheen's time will never happen, again in this country.