Anna Abbott is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has written for Catholic World Report and Canticle. She had a weekly column on religion for four years at the Napa Valley Register, the Weekly Calistogan, the St. Helena Star and the American Canyon Eagle. She is aunt and godmother to two boys, as well as a newborn girl. She currently resides in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
This past July, Instagram hid the “Like” feature in seven countries including Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In October, Instagram Director of Fashion Partnerships Eva Chen said that hiding “Likes” was about users’ mental health and free expression. Instagram is currently experimenting with the removal of “Likes” here in the United States on a limited basis.
The culture of Instagram “influencers” has fostered what was once called “the sin of human respect.” St. Alphonsus Liguori, in his homily “On Human Respect,” called it the sin of scandal. He said, “If we wish to save our souls, we must overcome human respect, and bear the little confusion which may arise from the scoffs of the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.”
The core of the sin of “human respect” is fearing the poor opinions of others rather than putting God’s opinion first. St. Alphonsus Liguori said, “It is thus that many Christians of the present-day act. They kill their own souls by losing the grace of God through human respect and to please worldly friends.”
The Chick Fil-A corporation has endured such derision. Fast food franchises Popeye’s and Burger King are mocking Chick Fil-A for being closed on Sundays; Popeye’s, on its Twitter page, announced it would be bringing back its popular chicken sandwich on Nov. 3. While one would not typically seek virtue in fast food restaurants, Chick Fil-A is admirable in standing for its Christian principles. From the beginning, Chick Fil-A has been closed on Sundays to honor God, following the commandment (Exodus 20:8): “Remember the sabbath day, and to keep it holy.”
As St. Alphonsus put it, “Not only to offend God, but also to endeavor to make others offend Him, is truly an excess of wickedness.” One can see this in lenient attitudes toward pornography, cohabitation, abortion, as well as divorce and remarriage. Not only have they been “de-stigmatized,” but they are praised.
St. Alphonsus eloquently said, “If we are Christians, let us show we are Christians in name and in truth; for, if we are ashamed of Jesus Christ, He will be ashamed of us, and cannot give a place on His right hand on the last day.” The saint’s statement is based on Jesus’ warning (Mark 8:38), “Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
In a recent incident, Lloyd Taco in Buffalo, New York, was attacked on Twitter for selling tacos to ICE employees; the owners apologized, but then apologized for the initial apology because of negative Facebook comments. The Lloyd Taco incident shows the peril of bowing to social media pressure and bullying. The fear of being unpopular ironically led to unpopularity. Trying to please everyone ends up pleasing nobody — least of all, God.
Another way of looking at “human respect” is through its other names — partiality and favoritism. When Cornelius the centurion asked St. Peter to baptize him, St. Peter said (Acts 10:34-35), “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” God does not judge by appearances or nationality, but according to deeds.
A notable example of favoritism is St. Thomas More. Henry VIII treated him as his best friend and adviser, until St. Thomas disapproved of the king’s divorce and remarriage. St. Thomas More referred to himself as the King’s good servant, but God’s first.
But there was another favored Thomas — Cromwell, who fell into disfavor. Cromwell backed the English “Reformation,” the adulterous marriage to Anne Boleyn, but he would also end up executed for treason and heresy for trying to matchmake between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. Favoritism had deadly consequences. St. Thomas More died a martyr defending the Church’s timeless teaching on marriage, while Thomas Cromwell was deemed a “heretic” for failing to appease royal whims. St. Thomas More chose virtue, willing to say what was unpopular. St. Thomas More said what Henry VIII needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear, that divorce and remarriage are adulterous (Mark 10:11-12). Cromwell’s sycophancy and flattery proved fatal.
In a more recent example, Fr. Robert E. Morey of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, denied Communion to Democrat presidential candidate Joseph Biden because of his public stance on abortion. Fr. Morey did not mind coming across as “judgmental”; he stood by Catholic principles. After all, St. Paul warns against receiving the Eucharist unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27). Fr. Morey refused to commit the sin of scandal (CCC 2284-2287). As a pastor and educator, he showed leadership, even when it wasn’t “nice.” For his trouble, he received the “scoffing” of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, who ridiculed the priest’s stand, saying, “If only saints could receive Holy Communion, we wouldn’t have anybody at Mass, including myself, all right?” He also claimed, “I personally can never judge the state of a person’s soul.” Unfortunately, the cardinal ignored the public scandal that politicians create and the chaos and confusion regarding discipline and doctrine that it foments.
The sin of “human respect” is prevalent in a culture that is easily offended. There are laundry lists of “politically incorrect” Halloween costumes. Columbus Day is deemed “colonialist” and replaced with Indigenous People’s Day. Murals of George Washington are whitewashed in San Francisco lest they cause hurt feelings.
And of course, Pontius Pilate gave up Our Lord to crucifixion rather than face the mob’s wrath (Matthew 27:15-26). He caved to the crowd, “washing his hands” in an attempt to flee responsibility. As the Psalms say (Psalm 146:3,5-6), “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help… Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.”
Since the point of being “Liked” is one’s own happiness, the Beatitudes are a great source of wisdom on this topic. Jesus warns here (Luke 6:26), “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Jesus is saying that human praise is superficial, fickle and untrue. It’s not the source of true joy. He warns various persecutions will come, but to not be discouraged.
Instead of being enslaved by the desire to be “Liked,” Jesus reminds us (Luke 6:22), “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” He isn’t encouraging people into a narcissistic sense of perpetual victimhood, or that people should have martyr complexes, but that they should be willing to face disagreement if they stand for Him.
Jesus warned His Truth could divide families (Matthew 10:34-36). The upcoming Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, reminds us that He is to reign first in our hearts and our lives. It does not matter how many Instagram “Likes” we get, but whether we are written in the Book of Life.