I’ll beat again on a drum, though perhaps a different region of that large and complex drum.
Let’s imagine a Catholic confessional booth with a sign over the entrance:
If you feel good about it, it’s not a sin. Don’t bother to enter.
This is one of the possible sins against the Holy Spirit: To be willfully blind to your own sins and other wrongful acts and improperly developed traits. It would seem that some leaders of Christian churches see this as a proper attitude, or perhaps they’re simply willing to define away any sins which cause anguish to human beings.
I’m not much of a rigorist and I think that there are great stretches in most lives when people should go pretty easy on their erring or sinful selves, sometimes stretches when a friend or uncle with a gentle manner can be a good guide or conversation partner. I think Christian thinkers and spiritual leaders have often been almost pathological in their obsession with sexual issues, condemning sexual passion in the undisciplined youth or others in a morally disordered age while wanting marriages to be fertile in all proper forms of love and also fertile in children; this isn’t a realistic way to approach matters though I can’t give any simple recipe for a better way. Few can successfully pursue the way of perfection in the way of a cloistered nun headed for sainthood, not when the world is so messy and the true goods of the world can be so easily misused.
Yet, and yet again, we should hunger for perfection even when our accumulated habits and our moral responsibilities get in the way. Yes, I am saying that moral responsibilities, such as those of a parent, can often prevent the pursuit of greater moral growth. Yet, and yet again, we should hunger for perfection. And we should remember that God wants us to so hunger and to follow the way of perfection to the extent possible in our given lives.
Why is it that such a prominent leader of the church as Cardinal Walter Kasper, apparently with some serious support from other prominent leaders such as Pope Francis, can seriously suggest that human beings living in a state of sin (sometimes as a matter of certainty and sometimes as a matter of fallible human judgment) and not receiving a clean absolution should feel free to receive communion on the strength of their own feelings: I feel right about freely engaging in (fill in the blank) behavior though it has been consistently declared a matter of serious sin by the Christian Church and—usually—by the authors of the Hebrew Bible as well.
Let me be clear: despite some wrongfully formed attitudes and beliefs, Catholic leaders and other Christian leaders aren’t infallible except on some very specific matters and, it would seem to me, that most of that infallibility is used up in comments upon the Creeds and a few moral issues and isn’t exercised properly in updating understandings of those core truths of Christianity—see An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman. And, in fact, as a Sacramental Christian currently in communion with the Western Catholic Church, I largely agree with the moderate Orthodox claims that the Pope’s infallibility is that of an arbiter who settles disagreements within the full community of Sacramentally consecrated descendants of the Apostles. As a specific and concrete example, the Western Sacramental Christian Church, which calls itself `Catholic’, teaches it’s a witness to a marriage which involves only three parties: the man and the woman and God. The Church, through some fourth party approved by a bishop, can’t be sure at the time of the wedding or at the time of a request for an annulment that any valid marriage took place or didn’t take place. Some men and women who didn’t receive an annulment and think they should have might be right. Some who received an annulment maybe shouldn’t have received it. This is all greatly complicated by the different understanding of the formation of a marriage held by the Eastern Sacramental Christian Church, which calls itself `Orthodox’. To some extent it doesn’t matter so long as all involved members of the Christian community act in good faith, but it’s the community which is always involved even when it isn’t a party to a specific act, sacramental or otherwise. Some accept this and don’t receive communion if they enter a marriage they think valid but isn’t approved by their branch of Sacramental Christianity.
On the whole, we have a muddle in which many suffer, unavoidably or otherwise. Cardinal Kasper, explicitly, and Pope Francis, implicitly by way of supporting church leaders sometimes even more radical than Kasper, propose that we declare God to be so `merciful’ as to discard all claims of justice, all demands of the rules which are part of Biblical or natural revelation. This is said to be a way of easing pain, as if neither man had ever known of the claims of Christians and others that the pains of a well-formed, or even partially formed, conscience in a sinful man or woman can be greater than even the pains of desires denied; and those pains of conscience might well be the salvation of many a sinner. Jesus didn’t say to the woman accused of harlotry: “Go and feel okay about your behavior.” He said: “Go and sin no more.” Jesus offered mercy to sinners who repent, not affirmation of their sinful behavior.
If God had wanted us to be perfect in this world, He would have created a different world in which creatures other than human beings would have lived. Instead, He created a world of evolutionary and developmental processes in which human beings have evolved and developed, and still do so. We typically struggle with the various sorts of imperfections inherent in such processes.
For the most part, we should aim at a moral state which properly integrates us into the human communities which we wish to ultimately be part of. The description of such a state would be described by mathematicians as “global” while individual traits contributing to that global state would be “local”. This entire way of understanding complex entities in local and global terms needs to be properly re-formed to the purposes of more qualitative analyses (which re-formation has been partially done by mathematicians and others). For now, take “global” and “local” in an intuitive way and consider that they might seemingly conflict. Think of a literal globe. Each point on the surface of that globe lies on a tangent plane which is describable in Euclidean terms while the surface of the globe as a whole follows Elliptic geometry. We are left with interesting mathematical problems, quantitative/formal and qualitative, which might hint of more general problems: one such problem being the joining of each of point, or probably small region, to neighboring regions. Unity of the sort found in Jesus Christ is our goal and not just piece-wise perfection.
This way of reasoning has frightened some mathematicians because of the implication of qualitative reasoning (in my terms: abstract being) which lies behind the quantitative or formally rigorous reasoning of traditional mathematics. We should not be afraid of what might be the most important revolution in human thought since the development of empirical reasoning, reasoning conditioned—though not imprisoned—by empirical reality.
The above are the issues raised by that ultimate constraint on what human beings, including popes and bishops and other religious leaders, might wish to believe: The Word of God is truth. God has spoken in the Ten Commandments and He has spoken in His actions as Creator. (To God, thoughts and feelings and acts are but one and indivisible.) It is reality which properly constrains us; we shouldn’t let ourselves be imprisoned by limited or defective human understandings of that reality, but we should honor tradition as being some sort of plausible understanding of that reality and possibly a fully valid understanding of some parts or aspects of that reality. If we modify tradition or reject parts of it, we should do so very carefully and for better reasons than to accord to the standards of a no-longer Christian civilization in decay or to avoid speaking difficult, pain-causing truths.