The blog excatholic4christ is written by a guy named Tom who, by his own account, was raised Catholic but never really had faith in Jesus until after he grew up, got married and had kids, and left the Catholic Church, at which point he “accepted Jesus Christ as [his] savior.” He writes, “Like most Catholics my ‘faith’ was just a part of my family and cultural baggage.”
Tom evidently considers it a duty on his blog to criticize and condemn the Church at every opportunity. I suppose the purpose, as he sees it, is to keep people from being deceived into believing her teachings.
Since Tom never really knew Jesus while practicing Catholicism, and therefore lacked the one absolutely essential component of the true practice of the faith, it’s not surprising that he largely misunderstands it. As St. Augustine said, you must “believe so that you may understand”; and St. Anselm, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.” A nonbeliever necessarily lacks understanding.
I assume Tom would agree that a disbeliever in the Bible could never understand the Bible as well as a believer. Between an atheist biblical scholar and a Christian, all other things being equal, the Christian will have insights into the text which the atheist lacks. The same obviously applies to the Catholic faith: One who believes and practices the faith on a daily basis will thereby grow in understanding and insight, while the disbeliever will not. One who lacks belief in Christ necessarily has a large hole in his understanding and practice of Catholicism.
Tom’s implied claim that his twenty-some years of practicing the faith gave him insights into the faith and knowledge and understanding of its teachings, which believers in the faith lack, is therefore unconvincing.
For example he asserts that the Catholic Church teaches that one must “obey the Ten Commandments perfectly in order to be allowed into Heaven“. All of my Catholic readers will immediately recognize the error of that statement. I corrected him in a comment, and he replied by quoting an online Catholic dictionary, to the effect that being free of mortal sin is necessary to get into heaven. I said yes, we must be free of mortal sin, but venial sins don’t forfeit salvation. He then dismissed the Church’s distinction between mortal and venial sins, on the ground there is no official list of mortal and venial sins by which to distinguish them.
Obviously I had an answer to that assertion, but another feature of Tom’s blog is his tendency to give himself the last word. He moderates all comments before they appear on his blog, and my comment in reply simply disappeared (for neither the first nor the last time). Therefore Tom’s readers should know that when Tom has the last word in a comment thread, often it’s not because his guest commenter had nothing more to say. He was simply not allowed to say it. It’s easier to win a debate when you control who gets to speak.
Since I wasn’t allowed to respond to Tom’s last comment on his blog, I’ll do it here.
In answer to the argument that there is no list of mortal and venial sins, and no bold line by which to tell them apart, and therefore no meaningful distinction between them: The fact that he lacks understanding of the difference between them, doesn’t prove that the Church understands no difference. He may have lacked understanding of the difference between them while he was a practicing Catholic, but then again he also lacked faith in Jesus at the time, so perhaps it’s no surprise that this insight escaped him.
The difference between a mortal and venial sin has to do with whether the sin involves grave matter; whether the person knew it was a sin; and whether he did it with full deliberation and in his right mind. A sin that lacks any of these components is a venial sin. Now unless Tom insists that every sin ever committed is done with full knowledge, deliberation and consent, he must admit that venial sins exist according to the Catholic understanding. He may deny that there is any objective difference that affects one’s salvation, but he can’t deny that some sins meet the Catholic definition of venial.
It’s true that there is no list of sins labeled “mortal” and “venial”. The reason is that stealing, for example, may be venial or mortal depending on the amount stolen, and who it is stolen from. Stealing $20 from a rich man is venial, while stealing the same amount from a homeless man might be mortal, since it could cause him to go hungry. Sins that cause mild annoyance are venial, those that cause grave harm are mortal. Sometimes the gravity of a sin must be determined on a subjective basis.
But for the most part, Catholics who are well instructed in the faith have a working understanding of which sins are serious and which aren’t, and that suffices to get people through daily life. When in doubt whether a sin you’ve committed is mortal, you abstain from communion until you’ve confessed it to a priest.
There is no need to engage in drawn out, handwringing self-examination as to whether a sin is venial or mortal. It’s not as though venial sins are allowed and mortal sins aren’t; all sin is forbidden by definition. So a dilemma can never arise where you must decide whether to commit a sin based on whether it’s mortal or venial. If it’s a sin at all you mustn’t do it, and that should end the handwringing.
But the salient point in response to Tom’s post, is that perfect sinlessness is NOT necessary for salvation according to the Catholic religion.
It’s not my intention to criticize Tom for rejecting the Catholic faith. If he were to state a doctrine he disagreed with and give reasons for his disagreement, I could respect that. But Tom’s practice is to insist on his own understanding of Catholic doctrine, condemn that understanding as violating the teachings of Christ, and in doing so claim that he has debunked Catholicism itself, when actually he has only knocked down his own straw man.
Tom is welcome to post any comments he may choose in defense of his position here. I won’t delete them or “moderate” them out of existence.