Sunday, December 15, 2002

Conformity or Orthodoxy: Thoughts on Apologetics from Gabriel Marcel


I have been reading with interest some of the adventures of St. Blog's apologists and evangelists. Sal Ravilla over at Catholic Light has told the story of his ill-fated attempts to get the "Fugitive" back to Mass. Pete Vere over at Envoy has told of his initially failed attempts to evangelize a Mormon woman. Go read the stories. The upshot is that often our desire to crush error (a temptation to which I succumb as well) gets in the way of showing Christ.


I read a bit of Gabriel Marcel's comments on evangelization--by the way, Minute Particulars has a wonderful post that gives a summary introduction to the thought of Marcel, a philosopher that the world needs to rediscover. The good news is that his books are coming back into print. Marcel makes a distinction between conformism and orthodoxy.


"Conformism, whether intellectual, aesthetic, or political, implies submission to a certain order emanating not from a person, but from a group that which claims that it incarnates what must be thought, what must be valued. . . ." (Creative Fidelity, 186)


Conformism means that our thoughts must work in a particular order, that we must think certain things in a certain way. This looks suspiciously like orthodoxy. In fact, our efforts at evangelism can take the form of making sure that the person conform to a system of belief. "You need to believe that contraception is wrong., darn it!"


But conformity is not the same thing as orthodoxy. Conformism means that my thoughts run in the correct channel, and is a relationship between a person and a thing, a list of propositions. Orthodoxy is much more than that, since it is a relation to a Person, to Christ. When we engage in contoversies with those who do not believe as we do, it is very tempting to beat them with truth as a bludgeon; "it is with respect to interconfessional relations that we should be most on our guard against the kind of latent pharisaism into which we are constantly in danger of falling whenever we construe orthodoxy as a superior sort of conformism instead of as fidelity." We do not wish to get people to believe the truth, we want them to enter into a personal relationship with The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Yes, certainly everyone should believe as we should believe, because our beliefs are correct. But more than that, they should believe as we believe because our faith grows out of a living relationship to the Divine Trinity. To return to our previous example, contraception is not wrong primarily because it violates some arcane ethical principles (it violates lots of them) but because it is inconsistent with true love for God and each other as children of God. It violates the love for which we were created.


God is love, and since we are trying to bring people to God, we must bring them to Love. This is quite a different task than conquering someone in an argument. In fact, mere triumph can be counterproductive: "Can it not be said, therefore, that any lack of Charity, not so much on the part of the Church as on the part of those whose tremendous mission it is to act in its name, constitutes an attack on Orthodoxy itself; that a failure of this kind obviously tends to make orthodoxy appear to be a claim in the other person's eyes, when the fact is that it is a perpetual witness?" (CF 192-193)

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