Let’s take a look at some more Bad Theology.
Bad Theology happens when we say dumb things about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For example, many folks maintain that our understanding of how the Most Holy Trinity wants us to behave—what we call our morals—can, and even should, change over time.
This kind of thinking shows up in all sorts of places, but the most recent example of it comes from none other than the leader of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis. Because up until a few weeks ago, Roman Catholics officially believed that the death penalty was something that governments could administer in certain limited circumstances. In other words, they believed that the Most Holy Trinity permitted capital punishment.
However, earlier this month, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis was going to revise The Catechism—that’s the book-long summary of what Roman Catholics believe—so that the death penalty will now be “inadmissible”. To explain this change, the Vatican statement pointed out that “today, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state”.
But what the Vatican and Pope Francis failed to address are the dynamics which accompany this revision. Because if our morals can change, then what does that say about our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? For example, were Roman Catholics simply mistaken for all those centuries when they believed that the Most Holy Trinity allowed civil authorities to execute certain criminals? Or was it the case that, in the past, the Most Holy Trinity actually gave the civil authorities that kind of power, but now that power has been withdrawn?
The Pope apparently didn’t deal with any of those questions. Notice, however, the justification that was given for the change: “today, there is an increasing awareness…” “a new understanding has emerged…”. That’s just a sophisticated way of saying that we’re smarter and more sensitive than everyone who lived before us, and that’s pretty much the core conviction of all the folks out there who insist that our morals must inevitably shift over time: Humanity is getting more intelligent and becoming more advanced, and so our understanding of how the Most Holy Trinity wants us to behave has to keep up with that progress.
Most of us are so accustomed to that perspective we don’t even notice how arrogant it is. Certainly, all of us who live in the 21st century are blessed with lots and lots of really impressive technology, and there’s not a single one of us who would want to go back to a time when there wasn’t any air conditioning or indoor plumbing. But does that really make us more thoughtful than our ancestors? Does that mean that we are morally superior to them? Do we honestly believe that we are somehow more spiritual than all the folks who lived in all the centuries that preceded us?
Pope Francis clearly believes that’s the case, and it looks like the folks who work with him do, too. But, ultimately, all that means is that two hundred years from now Roman Catholic teaching will change once again, because, according to this way of thinking, no matter how intelligent and advanced we think we are right now, it’s a guarantee that the folks in 2218 are going to be even smarter and even more evolved.
But, of course, as I noted earlier, this kind of Bad Theology isn’t just a Roman Catholic issue. Protestants have also adopted the same approach, and they are rapidly changing what they believe about how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit want us to behave.
Nevertheless, in Holy Orthodoxy we teach what Christians have always believe: that our morals should not change because the Most Holy Trinity is unchanging. If you’d like to know more about that traditional approach, just send me a note or give me a call.