In response to the recent plan to desecrate the Christian Liturgy at Harvard, all too many Christians have been quick to claim a victory. God has shown his glory and the serpent has gone scuttling back to Hell, I hear. It’s reported that the Harvard story is more or less a puff piece about just how secure and hopeful we should feel as Christians in today’s society. This is an opportunity to offer the grace of God to the Satanists, says one. The Harvard president may be on the road to conversion, says another.
Don’t be grumpy, God is in charge and we are his cheering squad. Let’s extend a friendly hand and show just how attractive Christianity can be to the world. Everybody’s already Christian deep down inside, I can tell because they’re really trying to do the right thing. This is a great opportunity for PR. Let’s tell them the Good News! Let’s celebrate God’s victory! High five, God!
A damned lie by any other name would smell as sweet. Lies don’t always smell like lies, and the worst of them are sincerely believed by the liars who tell them. It’s inherent in the Christian concept of wickedness that sin always contains an element of falsehood, and that the sinner can become so taken in that he’s a slave—blinded, and no longer independent of the evil that blackens his intelligence and conscience. He walks in darkness. There is no justice in the sinner’s world, no reparation for the sins that he embraces. This is why the Church would declare “errors” and those who preached them “anathema.”
Have you heard the story of the little German boy who visited his Catholic pastor during World War II? When the boy said that he wished someone would finally assassinate the Fuhrer, the priest responded with a gentle reprimand. “If someone kills him today,” the priest protested, “what chance will Hitler have of repenting and entering the Kingdom of God? No, it would be horrible for him to die now.” Meanwhile, the sainted Reverend Bonhoeffer took part in an assassination plot against the mass murderer, a brave attempt for which he was eventually arrested and killed. I hope the story about the boy and the priest isn’t true. If it is true, it’s a story about a lie. The injustice of it, coated in a candied imitation-mercy, makes me shudder.
For all we know, Hitler was entirely sincere about his plans to make the world a better place. He certainly seemed to mean what he said, putting his reputation and that of his country and religion in the balance, and eventually taking his own life in shame after failing to bring about his Arian Utopia. But we needn’t doubt the sincerity of a Nazi to condemn Nazism, and we needn’t doubt the good intentions of any villain to condemn his villainy, even if he is a “Christian.” Hugo Chavez’s legacy was one of cruelty, corruption, and abuse. He also publically “converted” and kissed the Lord in the presence of constituents. So did Judas.
If we don’t guard against the sinfulness and falsehoods of the World, then our “sincerity,” and even our “Christianity,” is reduced to nothing more than perfume added to our bull. It becomes a cover rather than a light. In fact, Christianity has been one of the most popular fragrances on the market of evil for centuries, and has been used to intoxicate rather than sanctify all too many times.
As J. Budziszewski writes in What We Can’t Not Know, “Every evil thing is a good thing ruined. There are no other ways to get an evil thing.” What’s more, the better a thing is, the more hideous is the act of ruining it. As St. Thomas puts it, “the best things corrupted, are the worst.” The Black Mass that almost took place at Harvard would be an obvious example of these two principles—the most Holy Sacrament of our religion degraded in a twisted mockery of the Divine Liturgy, and the most reputable sanctuary of reason, intelligence and higher learning in our country brought down to the level of a sordid ghetto dedicated to Satan the father of chaos and confusion.
But Christians can, in their own way, commit a similar offence, the same in kind if not in degree, by casting “pearls” before unrepentant “swine.” Don’t condemn me, this is Scripture. In fact, Christ put it even more pointedly: When a gentile woman sought His help, He insisted that it’s “not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” He only granted her request after she proved her repentance, conceding His point and comparing herself to a cowering, starving, and, more importantly, bad dog, in need of mercy.
The prayers at Harvard were beautiful, and I’m glad the World was able to see our faith displayed in solemn procession. The Mystery of our faith was held high, and no doubt some were duly impressed with its awesomeness. But in the aftermath, we need to guard against the temptation to use this dark episode as a PR campaign, to sell the Awesome Mysteries of Christ for thirty minutes of airtime. If people aren’t interested in our Liturgy, a ritual largely made up of self-abasement, cries for mercy, and the praise of a just and fiercely loving God, then let them remain outside until they truly hunger and thirst for justice.
Yes, the Satanists retreated from the Harvard campus. That doesn’t mean Christians should hand out the Gospels like cheap party favors and invite the mostly apathetic masses join us in the Holy of Holies for a meet and greet with the Crucified Lord. The intention may be to spread the Gospel. The plan of action is unconscionable.
Stephen Herreid is currently a Fellow at the John Jay Institute (Philadelphia) and the arts editor for Humane Pursuits. He has been a Contributing Editor to The Intercollegiate Review Online and has contributed several chapters to the latest edition of ISI’s Choosing the Right College.