Lean back, close your eyes, and travel down the paths of your mind to your college days, back to Psych 101. For some of us, that will be a long mental hike, so allow me to refresh your memory. Psych 101 consisted of an introduction to the broad topic of Psychology, with all its various sub-fields such as Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, Clinical Psychology, and everyone’s favorite: Abnormal Psychology – the part of the course where you were granted insight into the behavior of certain family members for the first time. You learned to define such terms as operant conditioning, negative reinforcement, accommodation, catharsis, learned helplessness, actor-observer bias, and the hierarchy of needs. A lot of terminology that began as specialized psych vocab is now a part of our everyday way of expressing ourselves, terminology like “denial,” “fixation,” or “identity crisis.” A phenomenon that you encounter every day but don’t necessarily remember the psychological term for is “cognitive dissonance,” the “feeling of psychological discomfort produced by the combined presence of two thoughts that do not follow from one another.” You know, like when you’re a pulmonologist and a two-pack-a-day smoker – you’ve got some serious psychological discomfort going on there. In order to reduce that discomfort, you’ve got some choices to make. You can either quit smoking – easier said than done – or you can find some way to make yourself believe that smoking isn’t harming your lungs and shortening your life. Surprisingly, a lot of people go with the second option; the compulsion to continue smoking is that strong. So is the compulsion to continue doing a lot of other stuff. Self-justification is a very common way of dealing with a reality that just refuses to cooperate.
The reduction of cognitive dissonance is thought to be critical in achieving a sense of peace with oneself and with the world. So when things just don’t fit together, we come up with ways to make them fit….
I think one of the most oddly charming remarks I came across in my research on the discernment of the canon of Scripture was the quirky little comeback attributed to King James, he of the KJV. When asked why he supported separating the deuterocanonical books out from the rest of the books of the Bible, and segregating them in their own little section between the Old and New Testament, the king answered forthrightly:
As to the Apocriphe bookes, I omit them because I am no Papist.
There you go! Had King James kept the deuterocanonical books in their traditional places in the Old Testament, the places they had occupied from the 4th century on down to his time, it would have opened up a whole new can of icky worms concerning who exactly has the God-given authority to discern infallibly which books belong in the Bible and which don’t, and that would have been massively inconvenient. The Catholic Church said (and still says) that the deuterocanonicals are Holy Scripture, and that she has the right to insist upon that fact. If the Catholic Church had that right, then King James was a heretic. But King James knew that he was a faithful Christian and an all-around great guy! Therefore, the deuterocanonicals ARE NOT Holy Scripture!
Good thing, too, because it would have been awkward for James to command that his Bible version be recalled!
This brand of illogic, popular since the dawn of time, is the justification behind the horrors of the pro-abortion movement: OF COURSE it’s not a baby! If it were a baby, I would be committing murder by aborting it! I’m no murderer – I’m a nice person! Therefore, it IS NOT a baby!
Thank goodness, because a baby would have majorly upset my plans for the future!
Some atheists also jump on this bandwagon, not all. Certainly many of those who refuse to believe that there is a God do so simply because they don’t feel they have ever been presented with any evidence of His existence (Romans 1:18-21 notwithstanding). I’m talking about the other kind of “atheist,” the kind concerning whom Psalm 14:1 was written, the atheist of convenience, someone who has every reason in the world to believe there is a God, but… if there’s a God, particularly if the Christian God actually exists, then I will be held responsible for my behavior. Someone is watching me, Someone Who made the rules and Who will not hesitate to hold me accountable for the way I’m ruining my life, accountable for the lies, the fornication, the recreational drug use and the reckless driving in which I engage. So… OF COURSE there’s no God! If there were a God, I would be sinning against Him! But… I’m not a sinner lost in his sins – I’m a good guy! Therefore, there IS NO God!!
Whew! Dodged that bullet – I can’t even imagine being forced to change my lifestyle!
This is a misbegotten logic, born of desperation. You can hear the echoes of the ostrich with its head in the sand muttering feverishly, “This HAS to work!!!” It HAS to work, because the alternative is just too gruesome to contemplate….
This logic accounts for the discrepancies between what the Bible actually says and what my nondenom/Baptist/charismatic churches said it says – the preaching that used to make me so antsy. There were certain verses that really seemed to point pretty clearly towards Rome. We made a big to-do over the fact that we were “Bible Christians,” insisting that Catholic doctrine had been made up by folks who had obviously never even sat down and read the Bible, but there were still those passages that said things that just sounded so darn Catholic…. You would think that we would have stopped to ponder that for a while, but we didn’t. We didn’t need to – we had an answer ready. The answer sounded weirdly similar to Good King James’ retort. Why?
We aren’t papists – that’s why!!
For example, we were familiar with Matthew’s description of the off-the-wall statement Jesus made to Simon Peter about being a rock:
‘Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
Now, it was obvious that if you took Jesus at His word there, you would be duped into believing that it was Simon Peter upon whom Jesus built His Church! So, it was equally obvious that what Jesus actually meant to say was that Peter’s FAITH was the rock upon which Christ’s church is built.
Because it COULDN’T be Peter!
Because that what’s CATHOLICS believe.
This was weirdly similar to the passage that the apostle John messed up when he wrote:
If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.
Now, it’s as clear as day that if you understood this verse literally, it would appear that Jesus came to the apostles
to confer on them the priestly authority to absolve (or refuse to absolve) penitents of their sins! Therefore, it is clear that what Jesus was clearly actually saying was that the apostles could look believers in the eye and tell them honestly that all their sins – past, present and future – were forgiven because they had faith in Jesus Christ, and could look unbelievers in the eye and tell them honestly that their sins were not forgiven because they refused to believe in Jesus.
Because Jesus COULDN’T be conferring the authority to absolve people of their sins upon His apostles!
Because that’s what CATHOLICS believe.
And darned if even the apostle Paul didn’t flub sometimes, like when he was recounting the story of how he got saved. He said that the man sent to him by God asked him:
Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.
It is unmistakable that Paul got mixed up here when he talked about the “washing away of sins.” That would be confirmation of the Catholic teaching that “baptism now saves you (1 Pet 3:21)” – an unbiblical doctrine if we ever heard one! That’s why all true Christians just know in their hearts that what Paul meant by this was that we have to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Period. Baptism comes after that, as a sign that we have done what Paul told us to do, which was “believe.” And nothing gets washed away.
Because Paul COULDN’T be teaching that baptism actually does something like wash away sins!
Because that’s what CATHOLICS believe.
And this is similar to the misunderstanding engendered when Paul carelessly penned those words to the Corinthians:
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
While it may sound like Paul is condemning the concept of “denominations,“ we all know that within 50 years of the founding of Lutheranism there were nearly 10 other denominations competing for a share of the Christian pie, and there are Lord-knows-how-many now. Denominations are synonymous with Protestantism. Why, even “nondenominational” churches are a denomination of Protestantism! Therefore, it is totally obvious that what Paul was trying to articulate was that Christians shouldn’t argue and fight over little things like baptism and Holy Communion, you know, little things like soteriology!
Because Paul COULDN’T have been insisting on the necessity of visible doctrinal unity!
Because that’s what CATHOLICS believe.
And that botched verse in the book of Acts, where handkerchiefs were touched to Paul’s body and taken to sick people – and the sick people were healed.
…so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
Now there is very obviously an obvious way to explain why that sounds so much like the Catholic doctrine of relics, but obviously isn’t.
Because it CAN’T be.
Because that’s what CATHOLICS believe.
Yes, we were always ready with an answer as to why certain verses just sounded so darn Catholic – but WEREN’T. In that sense we Evangelicals had a lot more in common with King James than we guessed; our spiritual kinship with the old boy went far deeper than just an admiration for the Bible he commissioned. We shared with him the same cognitive dissonance and the same approach to the reduction of that dissonance. If it smelled Catholic, well – I am no Papist! DISSONANCE RESOLVED! Just keep your mind from wandering outside the backyard of your pre-existing belief system! Confirmation bias – there’s another psych term. Put in the vernacular by author Michael Shermer, it means, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”
Chain-smoking pulmonologists that we were, I and my fellow believers at the Evangelical churches I attended in the 70s, the 80s and the 90s rationalized away all the Biblical evidence for the papacy, auricular confession, relics, the Real Presence, the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism, and more – we rationalized it right out of the Scriptures that we so loved. Because the most important thing is that nothing be allowed to conflict with the twin pillars of Reformation theology: faith ALONE and the Bible ALONE. The preservation of Christian doctrine from anything that resembles Catholic teaching is paramount, because the Reformers could not have committed the sin of establishing their own churches, leading people out of the Church that Jesus established. The Bible MUST be made to agree with what our predetermined doctrine teaches us to believe.
Of course right!
As we used to say in the 90s:
On the memorial of St. Peter Julian Eymard
Deo omnis gloria!