“We have to respect other people’s opinions.” “I am entitled to my opinion.” “My opinion is just as valid as yours.”
You have heard these before, have you not? You have heard these in personal discussions and have likely seen these on Facebook and on other internet message boards. You may have even said these things yourself.
This essay will likely offend some people, which is not the actual intent. Nevertheless, I am going to be very critical here, especially toward fellow Catholics rather than Christians as a whole. I am writing this in a large part as a reaction to seeing how various Catholics have been reacting to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and also in reading what many Catholics write and say in various Catholic groups. Although this is very critical, it is meant to be edifying to the believer of Christ.
First, let me address a few basic terms to define:
FACT(S) – Things that are true and that for the most part can be tested to be true. Merriam-Webster defines Fact as being, “something that truly exists or happens: something that has actual existence” and “a true piece of information”
OPINION(S) – Things people believe to be true, but that may or may not be true when put to the test. Merriam-Webster defines Opinion as being, “a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something: what someone thinks about a particular thing.”
Facts are true. They can be proven to be true through either basic or extensive observation via testing. Some facts can be tested by means of natural scientific testing, but some cannot be and have to be tested by means of philosophical reasoning.
Opinions can be true, but they could be false. Opinions have to be put to the test and the conclusions of their validity have to be drawn from the data. They may be based in part upon the observation of facts or a false perception of the facts. Opinions can develop into a theory that with further testing can lead to the discovery of additional facts.
However, many opinions are not always based upon facts, but rather feelings. “I believe these things because this is how I feel and this is what I want to believe.” These things can be very dangerous, especially when dealing with fellow Catholics and other Christians. When you are dealing with the personal opinions of other Christians, you are likely dealing an emotional response that is rooted in disobedience or ignorance. In the realm of Christian doctrine and theology, this can lead to heterodoxy, heresy, and a prideful and self-righteous spirit. These in turn lead to conflicts within the Faith that lead to schism and revolt. In Catholics around the world today, you can observe some of us having personal opinions that not only come into conflict with Church teaching, but also some of us forgetting that we are not the Pope and that we are our own “magisterium” that can interpret the Bible and Church teaching any way that we want to. In essence, many Catholics have become the “New Protestants”.
The truth is that your personal opinions do not matter, especially when they come into conflict with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Teaching Authority (Magisterium) of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
The Church is the Kingdom of God here on Earth and is not a democracy. Christ is our King, Holy Mary is our Queen (by means of the Queen Mother of the Davidic Kingdom), St. Michael is the Supreme General, and the Pope is the Royal Steward of the Kingdom who serves as the Vicar of Christ. The bishops of the Church are the princes who govern under the King. All of us are royal subjects and are supposed to serve as soldiers and loyal knights of the King by our sealing by the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation.
…in this sacrament man receives the Holy Ghost for strength in the spiritual combat, that he may bravely confess the Faith of Christ even in face of the enemies of that Faith. Wherefore he is fittingly signed with the sign of the cross on the forehead… because he is signed with the sign of the cross, as a soldier with the sign of his leader… (ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, Third Part, Question 72, Article 9, “I answer that”).
Our personal opinions do not matter, especially when they come into conflict with the laws and decrees made by the King. It does not matter how you think you should interpret those laws and decrees because it is not your place to do so. Rather, that is the role of the Pope and the other bishops. Our job is to be obedient and follow our orders as we engage in the spiritual war at hand. Many popes in the past have been disobedient and many bishops now are acting in disobedience, but that does not give an excuse for us to be. We are supposed to follow our orders.
Some people have the opinion that Pope Francis is being disobedient to Christ and is compromising Church teaching. They think he is a progressive liberal pushing for Socialism and a left wing agenda. Some think that he is not tough enough on various issues like abortion and “gay marriage” or the sexual abuse perpetrated by disobedient clergy. Most of them read the opinions and the deliberate twisting of the facts by the left wing and right wing media outlets without reading and/or listening to exactly what he said. Or, they read only certain parts of a single speech or read only one speech out of a long series of speeches without looking at the broader picture. An example that I have observed is American Catholics criticizing the Pope’s speech to Congress without looking at all of the other speeches that he has given during this trip to the United States, such as his speech to the United Nations.
Liberal and conservative media outlets have been very vocal about their criticism of Pope Francis, which has led to many American Catholics thinking that they are entitled to have their own opinions about the Pope and should voice them as well. Anti-Catholic Christians and various atheists have been adding fuel to this fire of anti-Catholicism, which makes you wonder how “enlightened” the American people have really become. And many American Catholics are feeding into this. “The Pope should say and do this.” “The Pope should not be talking about the environment and has no place to do so.” “The Pope is a Marxist who hates the system of Capitalism.” “The Pope is a not addressing the important things that matter.”
Who are we to dictate what the Pope should say or do? Why should he not talk about our care of the environment since God created Adam to be the steward of it? Why do you think that the Pope is Marxist just because he talks about caring for the needs of the poor and has addressed the abuses and exploitation of workers within the Capitalist system? And how can you think that the Pope is not addressing important things when throughout ALL of his speeches that he has made here in the United States has pretty much addressed everything that people are saying he is not addressing?
Pope Francis is preaching and teaching the world right now, not just to Catholics. He is not watering down or compromising Church teaching in anyway, but he is attempting the engage the world on their level is that they can be receptive of the Gospel of Christ.
In general, American Catholics, whether liberal or conservative, tend to have a very narrow view of the world and they tend to believe that the Church should advocate every belief that they have. Among conservative American Catholics, this tends to lead to the heresy of Americanism and an American-ising of Catholic teaching. For liberal American Catholics, this tends to lead to complete disobedience of Church teachings on topics such as abortion and “gay marriage”. Both are wrong because they put their personal feelings and opinions above what the Church teaches and above what the Pope is preaching, whether it is a conscious effort on their part or not.
And this is not exclusive of the Pope’s visit to the United States. I have seen this done with many other subjects, such as how we as Catholics should engage with Muslims. The Church teaches that we need to love, engage, and evangelize to Muslims. However, I have seen many American Catholics make the assumption that all Muslims are terrorists, that they all want to conquer the world by force, and that all of them hate Christians and Jews. And yet I supply citation after citation from the Catechism, Verbum Domini, St. Thomas Aquinas, and more and they ignore this data because they rather hold on to their own feelings and opinions. That is not to say that we should not be critical of Islam and what many Islamic nations and groups are doing, but we should not demonize every individual Muslim based upon every one of these examples, especially when our job is to evangelize to them and bring them into the Body of Christ. To say that every Muslim is a terrorist is like saying that every Catholic priest molests and rapes children. To say that ISIS and other groups represent Islam as a whole are ignorant of the divisions within Islam and might as well say that Nancy Pelosi represents all Catholics and that the Westboro Baptist Church represents all Christians, since to many outside of the Faith tend to believe this.
In the end, your opinion does not matter if it is not attuned to what God’s Will is and what the Church is teaching. The Catholic Church is not the Church of America, but is the Universal Church of every culture and nation.
“WE HAVE TO RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS.” No, we do not. People’s opinions can be false and extremely dangerous. Opinions such as these can lead to heterodoxy, heresy, damnation to Hell, and lead others away from the Truth. Moreover, working as a mental health professional and treating people with severe schizophrenia at the kind of facility that I do, I can attest that those whose opinions that are based upon grandiose and persecuting delusions can make them a danger to themselves and to others, which is why these particular mentally ill people are locked up for treatment. With subjects such as abortion and “gay marriage” this is all the more apparent. We are commanded to love others, not to respect their opinions. And if you really do love them as Christ loves them, then sometimes you have to be really critical of their opinions. If you think that Jesus was a hippy who loved everyone’s opinions, go reread the Gospels.
“I AM ENTITLED TO MY OPINION.” By that logic, so was Lucifer and his angels when they rebelled against God. False opinions and false perceptions of the Truth can lead to you doing dangerous things in this life and damning your soul to Hell for eternity. Moreover, just because you have the ability to have an opinion does not imply that you are entitled to it, for the same reason why having the ability to sin does not give you a license to sin.
“MY OPINION IS JUST AS VALID AS YOURS.” No, it is not. Your opinion can be very wrong and dangerous. To be fair, MY opinion can be wrong and dangerous. For this reason I strive to attune my personal opinion to that of the Church and my will to God’s Will. It is not easy to do so and I fail here and there, which is why I strive for this. It is also for this reason that when I preach and teach, I strive to make sure that what I am preaching and teaching is what the Church preaches and teaches and I cite valid source after valid source to affirm that what I am saying is not my mere opinion, but that of the Church. I am not free to interpret the Bible and Christian doctrine on my own, which is why we have Sacred Tradition, history, and the central authority of the Magisterium to guide us from falling into the error that so many Protestants and heretics of the past have done. And even IF I express a theological opinion of my own, I still back it up with the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas if various Church doctrines may not be clear on certain subjects. A wrong opinion, especially when it comes to Church teaching, is not valid for any reason.
These ideas about personal opinions have root in Moral Relativism, which means that there is not form of Absolute Truth; since there are no absolute truths then everyone’s perception of truth are essentially valid due to their experiences in the world. The result is that what is considered ethical for some, is not ethical to others so in the end you can justify anything that you do so as long as you can trust your own feelings about that matter. You can then become prideful in yourself because you become your own authority on how you live your life. Taken to the extremes, you either lose your faith and cease to believe in God, or you put God into a box and recreate Him into your own image, rather than you being created in His. Pope St. Pius X referred to this over a hundred years ago when he attacked the heresy of Modernism, the father of Moral Relativism:
But it is pride which exercises an incomparably greater sway over the soul to blind it and plunge it into error, and pride sits in Modernism as in its own house, finding sustenance everywhere in its doctrines and an occasion to flaunt itself in all its aspects. It is pride which fills Modernists with that confidence in themselves and leads them to hold themselves up as the rule for all, pride which puffs them up with that vainglory which allows them to regard themselves as the sole possessors of knowledge, and makes them say, inflated with presumption, We [Catholics] are not as the rest of men, and which, to make them really not as other men, leads them to embrace all kinds of the most absurd novelties; it is pride which rouses in them the spirit of disobedience and causes them to demand a compromise between authority and liberty; it is pride that makes of them the reformers of others, while they forget to reform themselves, and which begets their absolute want of respect for authority, not excepting the supreme authority. No, truly, there is no road which leads so directly and so quickly to Modernism as pride. When a Catholic laymen or a priest forgets that precept of the Christian life which obliges us to renounce ourselves if we would follow Jesus Christ and neglects to tear pride from his heart, ah! but he is a fully ripe subject for the errors of Modernism (PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS, 40).
Let we, as Catholics, not fall into this trap that St. Pius had spoken out against over a century ago. For if we fall into this trap of pride in which we think that all opinions matter, then the Truth does become relative and we are just as guilty as those who believe that abortion and “gay marriage” are not morally evil.
Your opinions could be valid but a lot of times our personal opinions are either completely flawed from a false premise or false perception of the facts or partially flawed due to our ignorance of the subject as a whole. A flawed opinion is a wrong opinion that has to be changed. Until it is changed, that opinion does not matter.
In order to validate your personal opinions so that they do matter and have credibility, you need to demonstrate that you know what you are talking about, cite credible sources to demonstrate it, and put your beliefs to the test. You have to do this by educating yourself on the facts as well as on the conflicting opinions of the topics that you are addressing. If you do not know and understand what you are talking about, admit your ignorance of the subject and do not talk about it. Also pray and seek for wisdom. With wisdom comes discernment and with discernment comes the realization that sometimes you just need to shut up.
This is especially true when it comes to Church teaching. You are not the Pope; neither am I. You are not the Magisterium of the Catholic Church; neither am I. Just because you have a personal opinion about what Pope Francis says and does, or does not say or do, does not mean that you are entitled to express your opinion and be critical of him. When Moses’ own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, spoke out against him with severe criticism, God brought great judgment upon them (Numbers 12). Do not make their same mistake against Pope Francis, for a like punishment could befall anyone who openly rebukes and criticize the Lord’s anointed. It is not your place or mine to openly the Pope about what he is saying and doing when none of us are looking at the broader picture like he is.
The Church is a Kingdom, not a democracy. Unless the Pope or any of his successors do and say something that is truly against the teaching of the Catholic Church, keep your opinions to yourself. And even if he or his successors ever do such a thing, fact check and research the subject thoroughly before opening your mouth.
Follow the example of Christ: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of him who sent Me” (JOHN 6:38). “For I have not spoken on My own authority; the Father who sent Me has himself given Me commandment what to say and what to speak” (JOHN 12:19). "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise” (JOHN 5:19). “Not My will but Your Will be done” (LUKE 22:42; MATTHEW 26:39, 42).
If you speak, speak what the Church says. In whatever you do, do as Christ has commanded. We must “destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE TO OBEY CHRIST, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 CORINTHIANS 5:5-6).
I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil; then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (ROMANS 16:17-20)
I have likely upset many people with what I have said here, although I never intended to offend any particular individual. I already know that I will likely find comments on various sites that I will post this on that will say, “Hypocrite” or, “Who are you to be judgmental toward others?” I am judging a circumstance and a very bad pattern of behavior that needs to change. I have written this with a deep love for the Faith that will hopefully inspire others to heed what I have written here.
The Church is a Kingdom and not a democracy. We are called to be obedient soldiers in this Kingdom, fighting on behalf of Christ the King and not for our own selfish interests. There should be no division among us. Yes, we need to speak out and fight against evil, but you need to know exactly what you are talking about and what you are actually fighting against before you open your mouth and take action. Let us follow the example of the Hebrews who fought under Joshua at Jericho and shut up and march and do not open out mouths until we are commanded to do so (JOSHUA 6).