15 More Errors That Catholics Should Avoid Like the Plague

The papal cathedra in the Basilica of St. John Lateran
The papal cathedra in the Basilica of St. John Lateran (photo: Image Credit: “Tango7174”, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Following on last week's column, here are 15 more misconceptions that Catholics (and others) should avoid:

1. The Devil is the equivalent of, or otherwise comparable to, God. This is a horrible and ignorant leftover of Manicheanism/Albigensianism/New Ageism that is best laid to rest, quickly. God is the Creator. Everything and everyone else, including Satan, is a mere creature.

If there were a sense of equivalency between the Devil and anyone else, that would be the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both are creatures but when presented with God's plan for humanity, one humbly assented to His plan. The other selfishly rejected the very same Creator Who gave him existence. One enjoys inexpressible joy in God's presence while the other is in utter torment having been cast out for all eternity.

2. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is negotiable. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is absolutely neither negotiable nor negligible. Further, the sacrament isn't a quaint relic of the past―it's an important part of salvific economy and the means by which we can profitably approach Christ's altar in the reception of the Eucharist.

If we could simply live any way we wanted regardless of how our behavior affects others, it would mean Christ's sacrifice upon the cross was worthless. If anyone could receive the Eucharist at any time regardless of their behavior, then Christ's Passion was the most colossal waste of time in the history of the Universe. He dies because He loved us despite our sins―He didn’t love our sins. In gratitude, it's incumbent upon us to confess our lives, do penance and amend our lives. You take your afterlife in your own hands if you receive the Eucharist in an unworthy state. How do we know this? The Bible tells us so. (Matthew 7:6, 1 Cor. 11)

3. There’s no danger in being open-minded. Famous last words. If open-minded means exploring new "spiritual" options, accoutrements and add-ons to our Faith, it means we are setting ourselves above God and His Church by judging them. If anything outside the Church had any validity at all, Christ would have made sure we already incorporated them. Otherwise it would show Him to be quite cruel and manipulative or possibly forgetful and bumbling.

I recall a charlatan of my acquaintance who insisted that he had come to the perfect religion/life philosophy which he dubbed "double belonging"―a mishmash of the "quaint" parts of Christianity and the exotic, nonsensical parts of Buddhism. When I questioned him as to the origin of his new revelation, he became evasive. When asked about the particulars of Buddhism, he showed his abject ignorance. There are certainly anthropological analogues between the two religions. If not, we couldn't call them both "religions." However, the differences between the two are in surmountable and thus they are incongruous and incompatible. The Buddha, for example, never claimed divinity―instead, it was ascribed to him many centuries after his death, as was his virgin birth. Further, his life philosophy is basically solipsistic and exemplified by a moral ambivalence to others claiming that suffering is an illusion and caused by the individual's selfishness. Christ never said this. So, who is correct?

Christ is perfect as is. Just like His Church. There are certainly more than enough problems in our community to go around but that's because of our humanity and not because of His Divinity. If Buddhism was perfect, then why alloy it to Christianity? If Buddhism is imperfect, nothing can help it.

4. I go straight to Jesus. I don’t bother with the saints. This is a hard row to hoe. It's not necessarily sinful to avoid asking the saints for their prayerful assistance. But, by avoiding their assistance, one is actively ignoring the Biblical injunction that the prayers of holy men and women are particularly efficacious. (James 5:16) If we weren’t meant to ask the saints for their prayers, why would it be recommended to us in the Bible? Getting through life without their prayers is the equivalent of walking a tightrope, blindfolded with both arms tied behind your back over a raging fire. It's possible to do so but why would you want to?

5. Jesus was simply a nice guy with some great ideas. C.S. Lewis' Trilemma comes into play here. Either Jesus was 1) Mad, 2) Bad or God.

Jesus declares Himself to be God at least fifty times in the Bible. If someone were truly off his rocker, I wouldn’t believe him even if he told me the sun was shining at noon. If Jesus weren’t God then He might have been mad. Thus, regardless of how "cool" His ideas were, they would be the ravings of a madman.

If Jesus were lying rather than nuts, then it also makes everything He said just so much rubbish. There's never been a situation where a sane, intelligent person has said, "Yes…I know this man is a horrible liar but I believe he has a good understanding of morality so I trust him!"

If, on the other hand, we see the truth in Jesus' words, we must then accept His claims of divinity.

6. The Church supports capitalism to the exclusion of Communism. Incorrect. Monsignor Ronald Knox, a convert to the Church who ultimately became a priest, once wrote, "Christian thought, if you will look deep enough, is always turning out to be the via media between two opposing forms of error."

The Church eschews both unbridled capitalism and blind socialism―both are equally flawed and exploitive. As Catholic theologian Thomas Storck explains, "both socialism and capitalism are products of the European Enlightenment and are thus modernizing and anti-traditional forces. Rather, the Church supports distributivism (AKA distributism or distributionism) ― an economic ideology based upon Catholic social teaching as described by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum and Pope Pius XI in his Quadragesimo anno. G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were two of the Church's most important distributist theorists. (They were nicknamed "Chesterbelloc" since they agreed so completely with each other.) Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin also wrote extensively upon the subject.

Whereas socialism teaches that the means of production should be reserved in the hands of the state and capitalists believe it must stay in the hands of a limited number of individuals, Distributivism teaches that the ownership of the means of production should be spread out as widely as possibly among the general populace. Essentially, Distributivism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property (i.e., land, tools, resources, capital, services, etc.). That is, it seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property. As Chesterton explains in his Uses of Diversity, "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists." [1] In real terms, this means that a society must avoid creating global multinationals and monopolies if one hopes to have a fair and just society.

7. It's OK to rejoice in the defeat of our enemies. Incorrect. In fact, we are to love our enemies even though every fiber of our sinful being suggests differently. Schadenfreude, (German: "shameful joy") is the delight one experiences at another person's misfortune―it's actually a sin.

When we think about the emotional and spiritual damage we do to ourselves when we rejoice in another's hardship, it's clear that this is completely unloving and unacceptable. One of the worst aspects of Schadenfreude is that the emotions it generates in the soul can turn to even worse sins such as envy and anger. After all, bad feelings become bad thoughts and bad thoughts become bad actions.

8. You don’t have to believe in God to be a good person. This is wrong on many different levels.

If any human being is good, he is good only because of God's grace. If not, we would have entire communities of secularists who are saints and bring joy wherever they go. And yet, here we are, without proof of such phenomena. Second, if there was a "secular" equivalent to God as many atheists insist, it's odd to think that a few atheists/secularists have yet to get together to build a single school for poor children or a hospital for sick children. Whereas the Catholic Church has built, maintains and operates 125,000 hospitals and clinics and 135,000 schools. Government run schools and hospitals don’t count as "secularist charity" as they are required for the basic functioning of a government and the care of its citizens. Further, they are financed by taxes which are paid by both theists and atheists alike. The Catholic Church operates hospitals and schools for the sake of God's love for the relief of suffering and the betterment of humanity in addition to the taxes that Catholics pay. These aren’t equivalent. In addition, when we consider that 222 million people died during the 20th century at the hands of atheists or their lackeys, it's odd to think that anyone would consider Catholics and atheists to be simply "two different options." [2]

9. When disagreeing with others, it's better to simply say nothing. Wrong! In fact, three of the Seven Spiritual Acts of Mercy are meant to relieve spiritual suffering: (1) To instruct the ignorant; (2) to counsel the doubtful; (3) to admonish sinners.

Though not everyone is capable of giving a good apologetic argument for the doctrines of the Church and thus aren't obligated to do so, we are morally required not to turn a blind eye to sin. Pope St. Felix III reminds us, "Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it, and, indeed, to neglect to confound evil men—when we can do it—is no less a sin than to encourage them." St Augustine of Hippo mirrors the sentiment when he tells us, "Love men, slay error; without pride be bold in the truth, without cruelty fight for the truth."

Of course, any forays into an apologetic defense of the Church will require a bit of study and an extraordinary amount of tact. And please leave the triumphalism at home…even though the Catholic Church is always right, has always been be right and will always be right…

10. Jesus wants me to be rich! “Prosperity gospel," also known as "Commodity fetishism," is an odd, easily disproved heresy. It boggles the mind to think some people who are even vaguely familiar with the Bible will swallow this nonsense hook, line and sinker, all to their own spiritual peril.

Christ Himself insisted that it is indeed very difficult for a rich man to enter the Gates of Heaven. (Matthew 19:23-26) This passage might be open to some interpretation but it can't be so twisted as to mean the exact opposite of what Christ said. In addition, Christ repeats Himself in His parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (also known as Dives, which simply means "rich man" in Latin.) (Luke 16:19-31) this is pretty damning proof…if you'll excuse the pun.

There is an unfortunate aspect of some strains of Protestantism that predate American Puritanism which used Scriptures to justify wealth as a reward from God and a clear sign of holiness and godliness. Job was often brought up as an example of an individual who was given wealth as a reward for his closeness to God. With the advent of evangelical Christianity in the early 20th century, some ministers have gone even further and explicitly made the connection between personal piety and financial success. Aimee Semple McPherson was one such example. Throughout the 70s and 80s, televangelists such as like Jim/Tammy Fay Bakker, Terry Smith, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Bob Larson, Robert Tilton, Billy James Hargis, W.V. Grant, Mike Warnke, Paul Crouch, Bob Larson, John Avanzini and Casey Treat have all been caught fleecing their gullible flocks with their unorthodox and even sacrilegious thinking before they were ingloriously brought down by scandal. Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes and the aptly named Creflo Dollar are the most recent shameless purveyors of the "prosperity gospel."

To be clear, wealth can be a blessing from God if it is earned honestly. Ill-gotten gain has nothing to do with God. In fact, one would need to eschew God from their lives to start raking it in. It's important to not confuse worldliness with holiness.

11. Jesus just wants me to be happy!

What's so bad about believing God wants us to be happy? This is yet another insidious heresy that appeals to the emotions but doesn't hold up to moral scrutiny, Scriptural reality, intellectual inquiry and basic common sense.

Joel Osteen, a Protestant televangelist and pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, appears every Sunday on TV and teaches that everyone has the right to be happy, and that God desires that we all be happy.

First, Mr. Osteen has conflated the words "happiness" and "joy." Constant happiness is impossible and quite possibly a sign of mental collapse. Joy, on the other hand, is a state of being in which the Holy Spirit inspires the soul to be thankful for its own existence and for what it has been given. The Holy Spirit inspires such joy-filled souls to spread His love to all especially those who suffer from want and circumstances.

Second, the things that make me happy aren't necessarily the things that will make others happy. And the happiness of others is by far more important than my own. God wishes us to be happy in Him not in addition to Him. By placing the individual as the center of his own narcissistic world and final arbiter of his own relative happiness, we take love, worship and authority away from God.

12. Fortune-telling, Ouija boards, séances, palmistry, aura reading, horoscopes, et. al., are all just in fun and don’t really mean anything. Run, do not walk, away from any and all aspects of the occult.

First, they are an affront to God in that the future is His exclusive domain. If He wanted us to know the future, He would have told it to us. By seeking out such information, we refuse to have faith in God. We can't "let go, let God" if we "know" what's going to happen. Fortunetelling destroys all possibility of faith and putting our trust into God.

Second, fortune telling is wildly inaccurate and relies upon vagaries, generalities and equivocations. fortunetellers give the illusion of being accurate but that's merely a combination of statistical likeliness and the Barnum/Forer Effect―the self-delusion that vague psychic predictions and "mystic" observations are accurate while abjectly ignoring the larger percentage of patently wrong predictions. In reality, fortunetelling pronouncements can fit the greatest percentage of humanity and thus offer no real knowledge.

Third, the practitioners of these are all charlatans and thus, thieves and liars. They want your money and dignity and will stop at nothing until they control you utterly. They always charge to ply their trade and do so exorbitantly. If they really had God-given gifts, why would they charge people for them. This is an affront to God.

Fourth, such forays, though completely inaccurate, stand in opposition to God's grace. They are, in fact, avenues for evil to enter into our lives. They should be avoided at all costs.

13. When it comes to God, it's OK to split our attentions. It's important to eschew the "minor gods" in your life including wealth, pleasures, success, popularity and personal power. As Scriptures reminds us:

There you will serve gods made by human hands, gods of wood and stone, gods that cannot see or hear, eat or smell. There you will look for the Lord your God and if you search for Him with all your heart, you will find him. (Deuteronomy 4:28-29)

Though most of humanity currently and throughout time claim to believe in God, it's by far more important to trust in Him. By trusting in God, the Christian would automatically eschew such silly and ineffectual contrivances as palm-reading, tarot, fortune-telling, astrology and witchcraft. If magic existed, one wonders why its practitioners aren't out to help people rather than simply lining their pockets. It's more important to love others and seek to better the lives of the poor than to bother fooling around with that nonsense. Superstitions are based on fear. Belief in God is based on love. An intelligent and wise person keeps this in mind when he decides which one he wants in his life.

But the worship of other gods is not limited to misological and pseudomystical nonsense. Science is a wonderful tool but it's only a tool. For all of its advancements and the whining and ramblings of fundamentalist atheists, scientists have never, nor will they ever, discover a moral code. In fact, scientism teaches that there is no such a thing as good and evil. That's a bad place to start if you wish to create a morality. Some people worship and deify science hoping that it will usher in a utopia but history has proven time and time again that people who refuse to accept a moral code based on love and human dignity always fail miserably in bringing about a utopia.

14. The Law of Attraction really works! This nonsense was a great deal more popular a few years ago but I still encounter Christians who have convinced themselves of its effectiveness and compatibility with Christ. Sime might remember the literary phenomena known as "The Secret." It's basically rehashed Gnosticism/Albigensianism. It teaches that if you really, really, really want something, the "universe" (read: not God) will give it to you.

It's odd in the extreme that people who scoff at the idea that God could be listening to our prayers believe that stars, plants, entire galaxies and the accompanying intergalactic dust are actually eavesdropping on our thoughts. There are so many logical problems with this nonsense that it's difficult to know where to start. But even if we were to freely hand out Mulligans to each and every single mistake these people make, those who peddle this twaddle fail miserably at explaining how it is that so many people died in all too frequent genocides throughout history. Surely, the greater bulk of these people probably didn't want to die. Why didn’t the "universe" grant them their wishes? Didn't these people really, really, really want to live? Q.E.D.

15. I'm allowed to interpret Scriptures as I wish. It's an unfortunate aspect of Protestantism to concentrate upon Paul's words in the Epistles to the exclusion of Christ's. To be clear, Paul's words are meaningless unless they are interpreted to be completely in sync with Christ's words and not the other way around. If it was, Christ would have lauded St Paul for having died for the sins of humanity. But even if we were to put aside the implicit heresy and pride in this type of individualism run amok, we should at least take an example from our Protestant brothers and sisters. When everyone is allowed to have their own opinions backed up by nothing more than, "Well…this is what I believe!" then that just destroys all chance at community. In fact, there are numerous Protestant sects in the world. This doesn't include all of the defunct Protestant groups that have disappeared over the course of the past 500 years including the Shakers, the Anabaptists, Branch Davidianism‎, Ranters, Berengarians, Arrhabonarii, Tondrakians and the so-called "Positive Christians." All of these groups were started by people who believed they had the inerrant, infallible right to interpret Scriptures as they preferred. They were all highly successful at convincing others to join them and, within a few years, they were destroyed from pride, ennui and infighting.

Deuteronomy specifically spells out the sign of true prophethood:

"You may wonder how you can tell when a prophet's message does not come from the LORD. If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD and what he says does not come true, then it is not the LORD's message. That prophet has spoken on his own authority, and you are not to fear him. (Deu 18:21-22)

In other words, one strike and you’re out. One single mistake—including, for example, incorrectly prophesizing the end of the world, (so far, the false prophets are batting a thousand)—means the utterer of such a "prophecy" wasn't God's mouthpiece. Basta cosi! End of discussion.

We as Catholics are surrounded by many demonically-inspired, sin-filled dangers but, as St Paul reminds us, where sin has increased, God's grace has increased by far more. (Rom 5:20) We can navigate the treacherous waters if Christ remains our Spes Unica―our Only Hope. The Catholic Church has produced many saints (17,000 by the last count) and martyrs (approximately 75 million thanks especially to the combined efforts of jihadists, pagans and communists throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.) We've got the best record thus far and we're the only ones who can trace our origins back to Christ Himself. Its seems like a slam dunk. All we need do is love and trust our tradition.

[1] G. K. Chesterton. Uses of Diversity. 1921.

[2] Courtois, Stéphane. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press. 1999.

Representing the Holy Spirit that descended “like a dove” and hovered over Jesus when he was baptized.

Bishop Burbidge: The Pandemic is Our ‘Pentecost Moment’

This “21st century Pentecost moment” brought on by the pandemic, Bishop Michael Burbidge said, has underscored the need for good communication in the Church across all forms of media, in order to invite people into the fullness of the Gospel.