It is increasingly difficult to keep up with the current news about the Church without coming away feeling disturbed and saddened. It seems as though many who profess Christianity have forsaken the truth while still claiming to be Christian. However, this is nothing new, as Blessed John Henry Newman teaches us. People often make religion fit their (desires) and opinions. Newman begins the sermon “Religion of the Day” with the following words: “In every age of Christianity, since it was first preached, there has been what may be called a religion of the world, which so far imitates the one true religion, as to deceive the unstable and unwary.”
The devil has his false prophets, and sets up a counter religion: “And in one sense they speak the truth; but it is not the whole truth; and we know, even from the common experience of life, that half the truth is often the most gross and mischievous of falsehoods.”
In an earlier age Satan presented one aspect of the Gospel: God’s mysteriousness, justice and sovereignty. “God is a consuming fire;” so declares the text, and we know it. But we know more, viz. that God is love also; but Satan did not add this to his religion, which became one of fear.”
In Newman’s time as well as in our own, Satan presents the world with a different idol:
“What is the world’s religion now? It has taken the brighter side of the Gospel,—its tidings of comfort, its precepts of love; all darker, deeper views of man’s condition and prospects being comparatively forgotten. This is the religion natural to a civilized age, and well has Satan dressed and completed it into an idol of the Truth.”
Newman describes the religion of our supposedly civilized age as a religion which does not wish to hurt or offend anyone, a religion which relies not on objective truth, but on subjective feeling.
“Thus elegance is gradually made the test and standard of virtue, which is no longer thought to possess an intrinsic claim on our hearts, or to exist, further than it leads to the quiet and comfort of others. Conscience is no longer recognized as an independent arbiter of actions, its authority is explained away; partly it is superseded in the minds of men by the so-called moral sense, which is regarded merely as the love of the beautiful.”
Instead, we know that a correctly formed conscience is God’s voice, commanding to do what is right and to shun what is evil.This conscience is aware of the consequences of sin and the resulting punishment.
As for the religion of the day, “…every thing is bright and cheerful. Religion is pleasant and easy; benevolence is the chief virtue; intolerance, bigotry, excess of zeal, are the first of sins. Austerity is an absurdity;—even firmness is looked on with an unfriendly, suspicious eye.”
Vice is redefined to reflect the zeitgeist, based on the latest acceptable outrage, whether it is a true or fabricated concern. (considered basically something distasteful,)People seek novelties in doctrine, new preachers, and new objects of religion. Newman calls this a counterfeit of the Truth or substituting the cultivation of secular education for religion. Throughout his life in both his writing and his teaching, Newman insisted on this error and this deceit.
We will continue with Newman’s sermon next week. For now, we will benefit from becoming aware of the temptation around us accept the religion of the world.