I have recently been watching Netflix show “The Good Place”, partially as mild entertainment and partially as a study in how human beings attempt to create an afterlife detached from any religious principles. It has been incredibly informative and a window into the minds of the religiously unaffiliated in this country. The only true sins that they condemn people to “the Bad Place” for are misogyny, racism, and arrogance. Otherwise, they tend to use arbitrary criteria such as liking unpopular music or having annoying habits to determine a person’s destination. On the other hand, the “angels” of “the Good Place” are characterized by their “niceness”. They stand around complimenting each other and can’t actually help anyone because any decision they make might offend someone. They also let the demons push them and the humans around because it would be mean to challenge them.
While this may be a silly example of today’s moral confusion, this same mentality creeps into Christianity and what outsiders expect of Christians. There are few key passages that anyone - whether they have ever seen a bible or not - will universally use to support modern-day “ethics”.
“As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” Lk 6:31
“Judge not, and you will not be judged” Lk 7:37
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone” Jn 8:7
These passages are indeed the words of God and are True. However, they are often misinterpreted (or intentionally used) as giving people license to do whatever pleases them without being held accountable. The only thing people must do is be "nice", said otherwise - tolerant. Otherwise, to criticize someone’s actions and denounce those actions as immoral is not "nice" and therefore must not be Christian.
But perhaps shockingly, Jesus was neither nice nor tolerant. Jesus was (and is) all Goodness and Truth, he was (and is) kind and loving, but he was not “nice”. He did not tolerate evil and certainly did not hold his tongue in order not to offend. Here are just a few of his statements that people might consider “not nice”:
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” Lk 12: 51-53
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” Mt 7: 21
“He who is not with me is against me” Mt 12:30
“Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” Lk 13: 5
The problem with being nice is that it prioritizes sentiment over truth. It is not charitable. Charity, as defined by the Catechism, is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God (1822). If we truly love someone, we don’t want them to be harmed, by others or by themselves. And to commit a grave sin is to put ourselves in danger of eternal suffering. Think of someone you love walking toward the edge of a cliff. Would we not aim to stop them in their tracks and redirect their path so they don’t suffer and die?? So it is when we see our friends on a path to eternal death.
But you don’t have to take my word on it.
Jesus himself said in Matthew:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Mt 18:15-17
He did not say, “let your brother live his truth”. Rather he instructed us to keep trying to bring our neighbor to the light.
And our Catechism reflects this. While our current society champions a subjective morality based on “your truth”, our Church teaches us that actions can be judged objectively.
Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil (1749)
And while circumstances or intentions may certainly impact our ability to freely choose, they cannot be used to determine the moral quality of the action.
It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc) which supply their context (1756)
It is for this reason that the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen said:
“Christian love bears evil but it does not tolerate it..it forgives the sinner and it hates the sin...Charity, then, is not a mild philosophy of ‘live and let live’...Charity is the infusion of the Spirit is God, which makes us love the Beautiful and hate the morally ugly”.
Of course, we don’t beat people over the head with a bible or treat fellow sinners with malice. But we should ask God for the grace and wisdom to lovingly say something to our neighbors when and where appropriate. As Pope Emeritus Benedict said,“True friends challenge us and help us to be faithful on our journey”.
But this goes beyond the sphere of our personal lives. When laws, societies, and cultures directly or indirectly deem right or acceptable what is wrong in the eyes of God, they lead others to temptation and sin. This is the sin of scandal.
Scandal can be provided by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice (2285)
We have an obligation, then, not only to help our immediate neighbors in their personal journey to holiness, but also to influence society where we can so that our neighbors far and wide might be saved as well. To say or do nothing when we have an opportunity to improve our society is to implicitly condone current evils that could be put to an end. Let us remember that “tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error” (Sheen) and pray that we have the courage to truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ.