A hostess for a Catholic radio station once told me of a Protestant gentleman who was making a pitch to get on her show. The point he wanted to make for the benefit of her radio listeners is that it is not important for Christians to hold the same views, but far more important that they avoid becoming “cookie cutter Christians.” The hostess offered him a polite but emphatic, “Thank you, but no thank you.”
The hostess was right to refuse him airtime. She recognized the flaw in his premise that mutual agreement implies passivity. She also recognized the flaw in the corollary notion that disagreement implies open-mindedness. What counts is not sameness or difference, but truth.
No one, least of all a Christian, wants to be referred to as a “cookie cutter” type. Such a person, as the expression implies, in lacking initiative, discernment, and self-possession, would be a caricature of a human being. The irony is that it is our world of advertising, not the Catholic Church, that wants to make cookie cutter types out of its consumers. If a Christian is prone to become the passive instrument of an alien will, it is far more likely that he will be victimized by the media than by the Catholic Church. The Church wants to rescue people from media passivity. As G. K. Chesterton once put it, “The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
The reason that the Church is the world’s most aggressive adversary against mindless passivity and blind conformity is precisely because she stands by the truth. It is the truth that makes us free, as we have been told, not sheer willfulness. But the truth does not impose itself on us the way a cookie cutter impresses itself on cookie dough. The truth is something we seek, often through great difficulties. It is also something that belongs to us, not imposed upon us.
The difficulties that we must overcome in order to attain truth may be cultural, political, or psychological. But the quest for truth is a whirling adventure, a true challenge for the stout hearted. As human beings, we become more fully real as our grasp of the truth becomes clearer. Christian teachers are not in the business of making cookie cutter followers. As St. Augustine has written, “We who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher.” Christians are formed in Christ. They do not impose upon each other.
There are many religions, as there are many fads, fashions, and fancies. Some may operate quite independently of any guiding truth. They are ships without destinations, explorers without compasses. Coming up with a new religion is not difficult and is virtually an everyday occurrence. The truth, however, is the factor that gives our life’s journey its plan and purpose. It is truth that directs us toward our destiny.
Cardinal Newman explains that the reason the Catholic Church established the university was to assist in the integration of reason with faith, truth with religion. “It is,” he writes, “to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God and have been put asunder by man.”
A Christian is not liberal (in the classical sense) because he accepts his own brand of spirituality and rejects truth. What truly makes him liberal is truth, because it is precisely truth that dispels illusions and keeps him in touch with reality. The liberal man is liberated through truth not from truth.
How important it is for a Christian, or anyone, for that matter, to know the truth of what is transpiring may be judged by the first words that Christ uttered from the Cross: “Father forgive them; They do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24). The Christian who affirms his faith yet rejects the importance of knowledge of the truth may very well, even if inadvertently, be contributing to the culture of death. Without realizing it, he may be radically modifying Patrick Henry’s deathless phrase, “Give me liberty and give me death.”
It is tempting for some Christians to believe that they can have a meaningful religion without truth or dogma. This is the temptation to remain comfortably unreformed; and one will remain unreformed if he remains uninformed. We are reluctant to reform because the road to reformation may be humbling and arduous. So too, we may be reluctant to take our car in for a check-up or visit the doctor for a physical examination. In these cases, the truth may be expensive and painful. The truth, however, wakes us out of our complacent illusions and sets us face to face with our essential responsibilities. A Christian does not personify the cookie cutter type by being a Christian. But he does so when he subjects himself to the trends of the times.