"My potpourri of 'truths' makes me a better Catholic than you!"

I’ve been struggling with this one for a while, although it really started to gnaw at me over the last few days. My wife’s cousin is as devout a Catholic as you’re likely to find–just ask him. However, he seldom goes to Mass, more often going to his wife’s Church of the week. He also speaks very highly of the things [insert church of your choice here] gets right and does better than the Catholic Church. He’s taken several comparative religion classes at his local community college and can tell you all about the wonderful practices of the Mormons, Branch Davidians, Scientologists, Rastafarians, Ojibwe Post-Humanists and all sorts of other religions and cults you’ve never heard of, and how they far exceed anything Rome has to offer. He hasn’t gotten his kids baptized, doesn’t raise them Catholic (outside of several family traditions they practice around Christmas and Easter), and has turned all of his family’s faith matters over to his wife. His wife is some sort of Baptist at this point, I think, although that’s changed numerous times since they’ve been married. She’s on a constant search for herself and has tried all sorts of Christian flavors since we’ve known her, although she refuses to give Catholicism a chance. She’s not as blatantly anti-Catholic as she was 10-15 years ago, but she still knows that, while none of the other churches she’s strolled through have been the one, the Catholic Church definitely isn’t the place for her.

They’re one of the few members of either family we’re still close to and I’m not looking to antagonize them or distance ourselves from them, but talking to and dealing with him has driven me nuts lately. He’s fond of telling me how so much of what I’m doing is wrong and makes me a bad Catholic, then sets himself up as a shining example of the faith. He’s read a bookshelf full of books from all the biggest Catholic authors and Church Fathers, but he seems to have decided that he and his professors know better. They’re not only wrong or partially wrong about the big, hot-button issues (mostly birth control, gay marriage and having to go to Mass each week), but they’re also wrong about all sorts of little things as well (too numerous to list). He can quickly tell you about how other churches/cults get it right, then just as quickly point out how his studies make him more knowledgeable and faithful than you and I combined (if if “you and I” are JPII, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis). Despite her opposition to the Church, even his wife can’t stand hearing him cheerleading for these other religions and shooting down so much of Christianity in the process.

I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to approach him on this. It would be nice if he’d get a better understanding of what he professes to be his faith, but I’m more concerned about some of his more “out there” claims. Our kids aren’t to the point that they pay much attention to when we’re talking about religion, but once my daughters are old enough I certainly don’t want them to hear him preaching the virtues of Nuwaubianism over the Catholic Church.

Gordon Sims said:

“Despite her opposition to the Church, even his wife can’t stand hearing him cheerleading for these other religions and shooting down so much of Christianity in the process.”

Wow–despite the obvious similarities between the husband and wife in this couple, he must be quite a cross to bear for her.

I think I’d say something like, “It’s easy to see all of the nice things about places where you don’t live when you’re just a tourist. You see the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, tulips in the Netherlands, Big Ben, etc. But you don’t really know places until you live there a long time and experience the inconveniences and the peculiarities of each place. Paris is more than just the Eiffel Tower, and the US is more than the Grand Canyon.”

You could work up similar short talks on families. Almost every family probably does something better than your family, but in the end, we can only live in one family. Our mom is our mom–we can’t just substitute a pleasing selection of characteristics of other mothers and call that mom. That imaginary entity is not going to call us on our birthday.

Ditto houses–everybody’s house has some nice feature that ours doesn’t have, and we know the flaws of our own homes to a t, but we can’t live in some imaginary blend of other people’s homes. We have to choose a house and live in it, renovating it a little as we are able to afford. Even if we built a house from the ground up, exactly to our taste, we would soon discover we had forgotten something, or that 10 years later, it was starting to look a bit dated.

Are you acquainted with this passage from Evangelii gaudium, the recent apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis?

*93. Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44). It is a subtle way of seeking one’s “own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21). It takes on many forms, depending on the kinds of persons and groups into which it seeps. Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”.[71]

  1. This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity. *

I think he is saying that the way to deal with self-important bores like your wife’s cousin is not to dig into the trenches of correct ideology alone, but to truly evangelize. Certainly it is the best way to contrast the real Gospel to your cousin’s “gospel” with your children. It is not a preached gospel alone that converts, but converted lives that convert.

At any rate, in his opening paragraph he says this: In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. If you want to know how our Pope would have you deal with this fellow, I think that letter has the seeds of your answer. If you’ve read it, you know it is kind of like drinking out of a fire hose, so I’d say it contains the seeds or the sign-posts noting where the ditches are, rather than a black-and-white treatise on what to do. The main thing is to remember that when the Holy Father points and says, “This is a ditch. Stay out of it,” he is never saying that there is not an equally deep and nasty ditch on the other side of the road. He is only saying, “Don’t be fooled. This is presented by some as a way, but it is, in fact, one of the ditches.”

What would you do if he went on incessantly about a political party, favorite sports team, gun control, healthcare, the income tax, global warming, eating broccoli or any of the other such topics that individuals often see themselves as the world’s foremost authority on (either pro or con) with the duty of sharing their expertise with anyone in earshot?

I have an elderly uncle and a nephew in his 20s (two different families, thank heavens) with a couple of favorite subjects that make family gatherings a bit tedious. We’ve all learned that there is no value in debating them. We all take a turn, not necessarily willingly, sitting there glassy-eyed, nodding our head, pretending to have a hearing problem, and then get up and go the bathroom, kitchen, out to the car, whereever, leaving some other poor soul as their next target.

I know these are light-hearted remarks to your serious question but really, I doubt (make that I know) you’re not going to having any luck changing HIM. You’ll have to devise some ways to deal with YOU. One thing I do is actually tell myself ahead of time “I’m not going to let him get to me” and try to keep saying that over and over while they’re going on and on. Some it helps me keep quiet and unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t.

Supposing you told him that you would just rather not talk about religions with him anymore, explaining to him that you just don’t think it is productive for either of you. What would he say to that?

If he would go for it, then maybe that’s what you should do.

Sometimes when I have been in similar situations, I refuse to go that route, because I pretend to myself that I can sway this person my way on an issue. But that is just me being prideful and stubborn. A far better route, for me at least, is to ask to stop the discussions for now and just witness in a different way.

I’ve made some similar points with him but his rebuttal is that some pope (he can never say which one) encouraged Catholics to explore other religions and take the good from each. I’ve been trying to get him to pin down exactly who for a few years now but he’s never able to get back to me on that. I think he also uses his wife’s church-hopping to justify his own take on things, at least to some degree. What’s good for the goose, etc. I’ve even thrown that back at him, pointing out that, for all the churches she’s belonged to over the years and the personal theology she’s acquired while doing so, she still has a spiritual void. That just takes him back to touting his version of Catholicism, which doesn’t really get us anywhere.

That’s awesome, and seems directed at exactly what I’m dealing with. I’ve been trying to get him to read more of what Pope Francis actually writes and says (something I need to do myself), but he’d prefer to hit like on the Facebook garbage making false claims about what he says, rather than read his actual words. He won’t post the stuff on his own, but anytime a mutual friend posts that garbage, he likes it and says something like, “That’s why I love this pope!” When I respond, either pointing out that the claims are wholly untrue or pointing out what he actually said, he doesn’t reply.

I do need to try a bit harder when it comes to evangelization; it’s never been one of my strong points. The biggest problem I have with him is that, while I’m able to pin him down fairly well on some of his erroneous points, when he’s backed into a corner instead of actually facing up to how ridiculous some of his points are, he’ll just say something like, “Well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions,” then leave the room. I think his main goal is to take the easiest road possible, regardless of how deep the ditches are he may be trudging through.

He tends to, although we’re pretty much on the same page when it comes to those things so he’s either preaching to the choir or the people he’s arguing with are get so nasty that we tend to leave when those arguments come up. When he and I talk about religion it usually stays pretty civil, unless his wife hears him praising some fringe group, then it can get a little dicey. There aren’t too many things that cause friction between us, but this causes some waves. If it was just me being affected I wouldn’t worry as much about it, but I don’t want him preaching to my kids, or having his kids trying to pass on his message once they get a bit older.

If it is somebody’s “version”, it isn’t Catholicism. He’s in that growing number who form a denomination of one. Having said that, I think this was the response closest to the mark:

Gordon, your kinsman is a bore and your kinsman is a heretic. Even if you could change the latter, I’m really doubting you can change the former.

Just wave your hand and say, “Oh, no, no, Bob, I don’t want another trip down your white rabbit hole, where the good Catholics don’t go to Mass, don’t have to have their children baptized, and then turn around and then talk about how great some other religion is over their herbal tea and gluten-free all-natural high-fiber cookies. Let’s talk about some low-key subject, like politics or what are acceptable colors to paint a house, or the designated hitter or whether steroid users ought to be elected to Cooperstown…you do still like baseball, right? Please tell me you haven’t become a *total *heretic…”

Having put him off with whatever humor you think might do the job to deflate his self-importance, you then seriously, and I do mean quite seriously, stay off the topic of religion with this man. It is according to the plain meaning of Scriptures that a brother who will not accept correction ought to be treated like Gentile, which is to say with kindness and gentleness, but not treated to any disputes about the truth. Either they get it, or they don’t, and if they don’t want the truth, you just shake their dust off of your feet and walk elsewhere.

Since “we’re all Catholic” he doesn’t see why I or anyone else in the family would object to talking about it. A lot of times it’s not even a full-blown discussion about religion, but a point comes up about something else and he’ll say, “If you think that’s good, you should see how the Unification Church does it!” Even when you try to cut him off, he still spits it out. Or he’ll pull you aside and say, “Denice would kill me for saying this since she thinks the Heaven’s Gate folks were a bunch of loonies, but they really had a good perspective on dealing with insomnia.” His wife has even declared the dinner table a “no religion, no politics” zone when we’ve gone over for meals, but he still works it in.

I think my kids won’t have much of a problem with some of the stuff he says, especially when it comes to some of the truly bizarre groups, but most of what he brings up has to do with more mainstream groups. We’ve already had issues with a teacher (at their Catholic school) teaching the kids that all religions are essentially the same and a path to God, so throwing his insights into the mix when we’re trying to bring them up with a solid, authentic Catholic education can make things a bit difficult. Again, it’s easy to say cut him out, but aside from their actual first cousins, his kids are about the only family their age that our kids ever get to see.

If the whole group really wants him to shut up, then they might get together to accomplish it. For instance, when he crosses the line, one of the group would intone: “Thus Sayeth His Grace, Bishop Bob” to which the others will respond “And we shall all therefore say, ‘AMEN’!” His own wife and children will probably enjoy this more than the rest of the family! :smiley:

The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked." --St. Thomas More
And so it is with all of the proud…


Totally by coincidence, I just found this in e-mai from a friend. Not exactly to the case in point, but I think the last line is worth thinking about here.

Sorry I didn’t know how to reduce the size of the image.

I think the action-over-words balance can be overstated, but I would be very surprised if words crack this particular nut. The best bet is for you to read the letter and try to do it. Quoting it to him will turn it into a competitive parlor game with no rules and no referee. You won’t achieve much that way, meaning even an occasional “win” is unlikely to have a good effect on his soul. It is the virtues you have that will win the day, not the ones you are most qualified to explain. (I think Old Scratch is doing everything possible to poison theology as an avenue for his conversion. Your unwillingness to let this fellow’s annoying habits break your resolve to be charitable is the ticket.)

Have him watch THE PERFECT STRANGER, about dinner with Jesus(youtube.com/watch?v=XPPwQApwBsA). Not greatest quality, so the DVD would be better - amazon.com/The-Perfect-Stranger-Pamela-Brumley/dp/B000EHPXP6

I saw it on TBN (an Evangelical channel), but it is “universal” Christian and it gives really good arguments why Christianity is the right religion. Then at the very end when Jesus talks about us living in him and he living in us, you might bring up the Catholic concept of Church (us) as the Body of Christ (us “living in Christ”) and the Eucharist (Christ living in us).

Maybe the couple will become enthralled by our new Pope Francis, as are many non-Catholics around the world. I converted to Catholicism as an adult because I saw in my childhood girlfriend’s Catholic family something very valuable and good (I would attend Mass with them during sleepovers – in Latin, since it was the early 60s).

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