The Gotcha Gospel
“For God did not send His son into the world that He might judge the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.” – John, 3: 17-18
Some accept that human affairs may be divided into the secular and the sacred. The secular is now generally understood as not only separate from but even opposed to the sacred. In its strict meaning, secular signifies that which passes in time as opposed to that which persists in eternity, with the former being the domain of the state and the latter, of the Church. But if timeless truth is that by which an action is judged good or bad, then there is no secular world. There is only one world and it is God’s world, sacred in its entirety. Nothing is outside His domain.
But we live in a culture in which hedonism is the accepted criterion of good and evil. The secular has usurped the place of the sacred as the arbiter of public morality. To assert the primacy of the sacred is to offend the secular hegemony, and all such offense will be punished by the courts or the media. Ridicule or anathema will follow. The sacred must remain subordinate and private.
God, in the popular mind, has become an amorphous figure whose shape depends upon individual imagination rather than objective evidence, for God is not considered objectively real but a notion that some find helpful. God may be invoked as rhetorical flourish in public discourse, but Divine ordinance is not permitted to direct public policy.
But the fact of God remains. The secular world must adopt a pseudo-religious set of concepts and vocabulary, for God is the only truth and all rival claimants are compelled to assume the mantle of deity. The environment becomes the Creator. Science becomes the Word. Desire becomes the Spirit. Tolerance becomes charity. Sex becomes salvation. Self-denial becomes sin. Politics becomes prayer. The politicians become saints. One could go on.
There is simply no language aside from that which God gave us. He is the Word and all words. Every expression involves the assertion of Divine being and purpose, of creation and intention. If I say, “The window should be open,” I am saying that the window exists and was made by someone to function in a certain way. I am saying that it should be lifted to allow air into the room. I am saying that air is good, for I need air to breathe, and that with the window closed, I am less able to breathe freely. I am saying that life is good and that I want to live, so I want to breathe. I am saying that I have lungs which I did not create and that can only function in a given manner. I am saying a host of other things, too. In fact, I can say nothing that does not open out into everything else. We have many words, but all words rest on the Word, the Creative power of God the Son through Whom all things are made.
Now, we can use human language as though it were a substitute for the Creative principle and has in itself the power to bring things into being. This is the modern use of language, especially as it is employed by the media. To say something is to make it so. We come to believe that life is not given to us with a purpose ordained by the Giver, but is rather possessed by us and informed with whatever purpose we choose. This attitude is essentially blasphemous, albeit unconsciously so in most cases, in that we arrogate to ourselves the fiat power of the Word.
When we come to realize that all language is dependent on God and points to Him or away from Him, we can begin to recognize the perversion of the sacred by the secular. There is no concept expressed in the secular world that has not its correspondence in the religious world. The determinism of the strict Calvinist is transmuted into the determinism of the strict behaviorist. The innate virtue of the Pelagian is transmuted into the rugged individualism of the self-made man. The fraternal charity of the Christian is transmuted into the tolerance of the licentious. Heaven is transmuted into the globalist utopia; hell into the natural divisions of race, creed and country. And so on.
At the moment, we are seeing the language of secularism become increasingly ugly and vicious. All in the name of a defense of supposed virtue, of course. The so-called news has degenerated into an exercise in defamation. Name-calling is presented as analysis of current events. The overarching term for all this is “gotcha journalism.” The talking head seeks a pretext – anything will do – for condemning his target in the most intemperate language. Unrestrained malice is spewed forth as though it were an exercise in virtue undertaken to defend some offended principle of righteousness.
Is there a correspondence in the language of the sacred for this degeneration in the language of the secular world? Does “gotcha journalism” have its parallel in a “gotcha gospel”? There is no “gotcha gospel”, for Jesus came to save us, not to judge us, and His will is that we should not come to judgment but have eternal life through Him. Only those who refuse to trust in Him will be judged, and their judgment will rest in the fact that Light came into the world but they loved the darkness so that their evil actions might remain hidden (John 3: 16-21). We all want to hide the wrong that we do because we know it is wrong and we are ashamed of it. The love of darkness is rooted in shame. We know that we are born to be good, to live in goodness itself, which is God. And when we turn from goodness, we feel disgraced, which is literally what has taken place.
Now, one way to alleviate the sting of conscience is to shift the burden of guilt to another. We can remain more comfortably in our own shame if we can situate someone in an even darker depth of Tartarus. The practice of “gotcha journalism” is an exercise in this shifting of guilt. It is a wry spectacle to witness movies stars and media savants responsible for the growing obscenity and pornography in films and television sniffing reprovingly at the vulgarity of Donald Trump. But having someone else to blame for the degeneration of culture for which they are largely responsible offers the media what they see as a moral high ground. And everyone wants to feel righteous, even if they don’t care to be righteous.
The Gospel provides no justification for this shifting of blame. One’s evil deeds may be lesser than another’s, but they are not justified on that account. The Gospel does, however, offer the self-righteous opportunist possibilities for misinterpretation and misdirection. There are many verses which speak of the wrath of God. St. John, in the third chapter of his Gospel, says that the wrath of God will remain on those who do not believe in the Son of God. Some of us are tempted to assign God’s wrath to those of whom we disapprove and to exonerate ourselves. In effect, we become the dispensers of Divine wrath, often without being fully aware of what we are doing.
We can become the purveyors of the “gotcha gospel”, which is of our own invention. We see many passages in Scripture that speak of God’s anger and we want to direct that anger away from ourselves. But God’s anger must be understood properly, in the context of all Jesus said and did, if we are to understand it rightly.
God is our father. We must know this and interpret all that comes to us through Scripture in the light of His parental love. And we understand parental love, even if we can never fully understand God. We are sometimes angry with our children, but not with them so much as with some wrong thing we see them doing. Our love for our children compels us to try to make them good children, for we know that only in goodness do we find the fulfillment of our true purpose and happiness. We want our children to be happy, so we want them to be good. When we punish them, it is so they might realize the effects of evil actions and prevent them from becoming habitual. We punish them because we love them. Our anger is rooted in the same love as our tenderest expressions of affection, perhaps more so, for there is an element of self-sacrifice in loving anger: it is for the good of another and often unpleasant to us, but we endure its unpleasantness because we love another more than we love ourselves.
God’s anger is rooted in His love. He will not allow us to turn to evil without showing us the effects of evil: shame, pain and self-loathing. We cannot rest comfortably in evil. We must either turn back to God, which is the meaning of repentance, or we must find a way to palliate the pain of living with evil. A stock character in Hollywood films is the religious hypocrite: one who denounces vice in others but secretly indulges in it. The message is sadly not that the hypocrite should abandon vice, but that he should abandon renouncing it and accept that it is human to err. The non-judgmental acceptance of vice becomes an egalitarian ideal, especially if sexual sin is concerned, as it most usually is. But conscience, the voice of God in our minds, will not rest quietly with vice.
Conscience must be silenced, or its voice drowned out by a greater noise. That greater noise is the “gotcha gospel” which manifests in the secular domain as “gotcha journalism.” Find someone or something at which to point an accusing finger and all eyes, including our own, will be directed away from us. “Gotcha journalism” is on display around the clock. But we saw a recent exercise in the “gotcha gospel” by Pope Francis.
As his pontificate becomes increasingly defined by the culture of corruption he allows to continue among the hierarchy and his own alleged complicity in it, Francis has decided to point the papal finger at the victims who speak up and at those who champion their cause. He has chosen the Book of Job as his justifying text and identified those who fault him or his bishops as allies of satan, whom he calls “the Great Accuser.” So, Archbishop Vigano, who accuses the Pope of complicity in the sexual crimes of former Cardinal McCarrick, is characterized by Francis as an agent of hell. Never have we seen such a blatant and deplorable use of the argument ad hominem by an occupant of the Holy See.
This pontificate appears to have aligned itself ever more closely with the Leftist media and we are witnessing the coalescence of “gotcha journalism” and the “gotcha gospel.” The guilty seek the moral high ground by accusing their accusers. They will not succeed, of course, for truth is the only reality and it will keep its rightful shape no matter how many temporary disguises are imposed upon it. This is true of whatever mendacity and hypocrisy issues from Rome, and from the studios and newsrooms of the media, and, lest we become complacent, from the shadowlands of our own hearts. God’s love, His light, will shine on all in time and in eternity.