If you know me, then you know that I am not a big fan of buzzwords and clichéd phrases. With the advent of “social media” (I die a little bit every time I have to say that), it seems like their proliferation is at an all-time high. One phrase that has been particularly galling to me lately has been “faith in humanity”, which is frequently being lost and restored at an alarming rate. When it’s lost, the reason is usually disappointment on the part of the speaker that something in the world is not as they would wish. This can range from the laughably mundane (people don’t like the same music as me) to startlingly divisive (people have a different opinion than me and that is not ok). The flipside, having your faith in humanity restored, is generally prompted by some pleasant human interest story, often involving animals.
The trouble with these public declarations is the dissonance between the seriousness of the claim and the (relative) levity of what brings them on. It is really sensible to write off all of humanity because middle schoolers love One Direction, but don’t know who the Beatles are? Are you truly going to withdraw from the world because someone disagrees with you? And are you seriously going to suddenly become a champion of all mankind because you saw a video of a guy stopping traffic to save some baby ducks, or because of a news story about someone leaving an exorbitant tip?
I get it. These things are said (as are most things on the internet) with a tinge of irony. They’re supposed to be hyperbolic and, at times, silly. But underlying that sardonic tone is a bit of truth. I would venture to say that with the recent presidential campaign and its surprising conclusion, people may be a little more truthful with their thoughts about humanity. We might really be a little dismayed at the values of people who are different than ourselves. We might find it genuinely puzzling that people could hold a view that we find logically or morally incorrect. And it may bring some warmth to our hearts when we realize that our society isn’t as divided and polarized as it’s sometimes made out to be.
Nonetheless, we are destined to always live with a little bit of the good and the bad. One’s “faith in humanity” can never be constant or ultimately fulfilling. The reason for this is simple: humanity isn’t something we should put our faith in. Our world is rather complicated. It is a fallen world inhabited by fallen people, but (here’s the kicker) it’s a world that’s been redeemed. You don’t have to be a Christian to see that people are capable both of great love and great evil, sometimes even in the same person. When we decide to live apart from God and put our faith in ourselves or humanity at large, we will inevitably be disappointed. Things may go our way at times, but even the greatest accomplishments of men can quickly crumble when we forget that without God we are nothing.
This is a lesson I’ve needed to learn myself lately. People will be unthinking and uncaring. They will allow themselves to see only enemies around them instead of brothers and sisters. This goes for all stripes of life: the young and the old, the left and the right, Christians and non-Christians. Our country has problems and is facing a lot of change and it’s not clear whether that will be good or bad. Even if it’s good, what’s good for one person is terrible for another.
It would be foolish to think that such problems only exist in secular institutions. Within the Church there is division and dissonance over a number of issues. These things trouble me and can cause despair. But I need to remember that this is the way it’s always been. Humans are not perfect and that’s who the Church is made up of on earth. But, again, we need to remember to put our faith in the right place, to focus our hearts and minds on Christ. And we can always rely on the protection of Holy Mother Church. Not its individual members, who are merely human and subject to the same faults we all have, but on the Bride of Christ, whom the Lord will not abandon.
I find an odd comfort in the fact that many of the great heretics were priests and even bishops. Appolinaris, Donatus, and Cornelius Jansen were all bishops and actually have heresies named after them. Rather than driving me to utter in defeat, “the Church isn’t perfect,” it makes me want to shout triumphantly, “the Church isn’t perfect!” Catholics fighting amongst themselves and erring in thought and deed is nothing new. In fact, it’s not even that unusual. Judas is often called the first heretic, which means that the Church has been imperfect from the start. Seriously, 8.3% of the apostles wanted to sell out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. But that didn’t stop Christ from establishing the Church, and it didn’t dissuade the Holy Spirit from continuing to guide her.
Christ is the head of the Church and the King of the Universe. Nothing that happens here on earth can change that and nothing will cause Him to abandon us. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems or that it’ll be easy to see error and division spreading through the Church and the world. But as Catholics we are called to persevere and be a light to the world. At times we might feel like we’re the only ones carrying the light. We must fix our eyes on the cross and be sustained by the help of the saints who have endured much more than we have in service to the Lord.
So maybe we all should lose our faith in humanity and focus on fostering our faith in the Lord. Without Him we are doomed to fail, but with Him we will become who we were truly meant to be.