Okay, so I’m a little too young to remember when the Righteous Brothers came out with their hit “That Lovin’ Feelin'”. I wasn’t born until 1981. But I am a big Elvis fan, and I have heard his cover of the song. Actually, I have heard the original, too. Do you remember it? Remember the feeling you got when you first heard that song?
Love songs like “That Lovin’ Feelin'” are meant to conjure up those warm, fuzzy feelings of emotion and affection we normally keep sheepishly bottled up inside us. Feelings/emotions can also rightly be called “experience”. We experience our feelings when something good or bad happens to us. So, feelings could rightly be termed “experience”.
You know what? It is experience that the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, said was the ultimate factor for finding what is true. He said that each individual’s experiences-while not empirically verifiable-are true for that person. Hence, according to Kant, truth is relative.
Makes sense doesn’t it? I mean, if experience is the determining factor for truth, then truth would have to be relative. No people experience the exact same thing exactly alike. There are many variables in experience. For example, a song might inspire sentimental feelings in one person, and feelings of disgust in another.
This idea of experience determining truth would seem to make sense. In fact, it seemed to make so much sense that the Protestants have adopted this view! Sure, they practice it in a far more limited way than Kant, but they do practice it. Protestantism turns religion into an emotional experience.
Today at work I spoke to a young man at length whom I have only previously had brief conversations with. In the course of our conversation the young man found out I am Catholic. He responded with, “I’m Christian.”
After explaining why Catholics are also (and more so) Christian, I began to expound for the young man why I am Catholic. His response wasn’t something I am not used to hearing from Protestants.
He said, “I listen to any preacher that I feel is moved by the Holy Spirit. You can tell when someone is moved by the Spirit. If I know a preacher is moved by the Spirit, then I listen to him.”
There it is. The typical Protestant/Kantian reference to experience. Did you catch it? The young man said he listens to any preacher he “feels” is moved by the Spirit. He then went on to say, not that he feels a preacher might be moved by the Spirit, but that he knows when a preacher is moved by the Spirit. (What criteria the young man uses to make this determination I was unable to discover. Perhaps one criterion is that the preacher must be able to properly interpret Scripture. The problem is, how does the young man know which interpretation of Scripture is correct? There are thousands of differing interpretations!)
Essentially, the young man was saying to me that he just knows when a preacher is moved by the Spirit. No one can tell him differently. Why? Because “something” just tells him it is so. He just “feels” the Spirit moving him and the preacher simultaneously. It’s all about feeling.
In reality, Christianity is not all about feeling. It’s about truth. It’s about what is. And experience really plays almost no part in determining what is true. Experience can’t always be verified. Truth can be. Maybe not always in the way we want, or expect, but truth is always verifiable.
This is another matter where Martin Luther badly stumbled. He was overly scrupulous about sin, and would spin hours upon hours in the confessional. He couldn’t accept Jesus’ forgiveness because he didn’t feel forgiven. So what did Luther do? He simply said, “Well, all we really need is faith.”
What does it matter if you don’t feel forgiven? If you are sorry for your sins (sorry is something you are, not something you feel), and you confess your mortal sins and at least ask God’s forgiveness for your venial sins, then you are forgiven! Feelings have nothing to do with it.
Even if you don’t feel Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, that doesn’t change the fact that He is still there! Even if you don’t feel like God cares about you, that doesn’t change the fact that He does care!
Feelings, emotions, and experience really have very little to do with Christianity. Protestants always want to refer to their experience of Christ in their life as justification for their beliefs and practices. While experiencing God’s grace is important, that does not prove the truthfulness of a specific individual or denomination’s beliefs and practices.
God places us all in the specific circumstances we find ourselves in. If you’re born a Protestant that isn’t your doing. No, it’s God’s doing. If you then grow up believing in and living your Protestant faith (as opposed to the Catholic Faith), would anyone really suggest that God would punish you by not giving you grace? I certainly would not make such a claim, and neither does the Church.
God gives His grace to anyone trying to live the truth as he/she is given to understand it. Not all Catholics comprehend all the Catholic Teachings in the same way, or to the same degree. I have known many uneducated Catholics who lived holy lives. I have also known many intelligent Catholics who lived decidedly unholy lives.
So God gives His experience of grace to anyone who believes and lives the truth as he understands it. I am not saying experience plays no part in the Christian life. What I am saying is that experience is not necessarily a good indicator of what is true. Something either is true, or it is false. It does not matter how one feels about it. Christianity is not a Kantian religion based on each person’s experience. It is a way of life established by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and placed under the protection of His Church. That would be the Church headed by Peter, the Apostles, and their successors. The Holy Catholic Church is the one!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity