When there is no point to more knowledge

A Catholic journalist who has written three books on the church’s sex and money scandals of the last quarter-century writes:

Since the 1990s I have been digging in the muck, uncovering more and more of what Pope Benedict XVI aptly termed the “filth” in the Church—the filth that obscures the image of Christ. It hasn’t been pleasant work. It isn’t the work I would have chosen. It isn’t edifying. The daily dealing with appalling ugliness—week after week, month after month—has taken a heavy toll: on my health, on my family, on my spiritual life. In warfare, good commanders know that even the toughest troops need a break after weeks in battle. And believe me, this is—always has been—a spiritual battle.

… I need to step back, to take a new approach, to fight this war on a different front. I can’t continue plowing through the documents, chasing down the leads, dredging up the facts… I’ll provide my perspective. But in order to have a healthy perspective, I have to escape the miasma, to raise my sights.

I’ve had a couple of brushes with evil clergymen over the years and followed scandal stories on and off but a little after the McCarrick scandal unfolded I declared myself done. I have no more interest in acquiring more knowledge about how corrupt the church is. It is an institution shot through with bribes and gay blackmail, whose clergy are usually good, sometimes evil, often open heretics or closet atheists, and generally inept. It is an interesting case study of institutional myopia and corruption. What more is there to know?

At some point, pursuing more knowledge is a waste of effort, both intellectual and emotional. Someone could argue that knowledge is good for its own sake, I used to think that, but now I think we acquire knowledge to gain wisdom. There is no practical, actionable, information left to be gained. I’ve already limited my charitable giving to small institutions I can trust and which I know need support, and that is about all I can do.

More knowledge will not change the contents of my faith which is more or less the same as it always was. More knowledge will however make me angry, and as I’ve pointed out, that emotion can be addictive. Faith is not gained or lost on the basis of information, because faith is a choice of what to do with that information. But being a choice it can be undermined by other choices or by emotions, such as constantly indulging in feelings of anger and hate.

So I choose peace of heart: across history the church has been more corrupt, and it has also been holy, often both at the same time. It isn’t just the clergy, the ordinary faithful are pretty rotten right now, myself included. I have my own soul to worry about.

Jesus spoke of millstones and necks for just such situations as today’s. At Nicea, Athanasius quipped that the floors of hell are paved with the skulls of Bishops, a comforting image. According to Thomas Aquinas, the souls of the blessed in heaven rejoice in the sufferings of the damned. I never really understood that until a year or so ago but now I get it: God will not be mocked forever, he will exact justice, and that should make us happy.

3 comments

  1. It’s almost as if you’re saying all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

    1. I’d add that there are gradations to both heaven and hell. Not everyone receives the same punishment or enjoys the same reward, and some are only saved through fire.

      1. Ooooo! That’s the kind of stuff I love discussing! Maybe your gentler, less angry lifestyle will result in an article about that? That’s fascinating stuff.

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