Sam Gregg: False mercy and emotivism

At Catholic World Report, we find an article by Sam Gregg of Acton Institute.

Here is a sample from his article…

Three Counterfeits of Mercy


Mercy as Sentimentalism

Like everyone else, Christians are influenced by the social climate in which they live. It’s no exaggeration to say that those of us who live in the West are immersed in cultures in which sentimentalism, as opposed to reasoned discourse, is a distinguishing characteristic. Whether it’s people who begin arguments with the expression “I just feel that,” or those who endlessly invoke hard-cases (euthanasia advocates are masters of this black art) to justify what’s clearly wrong, the trend is clear: reason is out and emotivism is in.

That phenomenon includes large segments of Catholic life and opinion. Consider, for instance, those clergy whose pastoral manner is more akin to that of a secular therapist than a priest and whose preaching is difficult to distinguish from the ruminations of Oprah.

In such an atmosphere, it’s not surprising that mercy is increasingly understood by some Christians as a basis for painting those who highlight reason’s requirements as rigorists or judgmental. That attitude periodically surfaced at the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family. Those who politely reminded Synod participants, for instance, that Christianity has always taught that there are moral absolutes which identify certain free choices as always evil were often portrayed as hard-hearted or lacking mercy—invariably by bishops presiding over taxpayer-funded, hyper-bureaucratized, and empty churches which now primarily function as tame auxiliaries of Western European welfare states.

Whoever would have thought that those who referenced the moral law and its inner logic inscribed, as St Paul tells us, on man’s very nature and confirmed by the Decalogue forcibly re-emphasized by Christ would accused of “throwing stones” and labelled as “Pharisees”? There’s nothing merciful, however, about trying to marginalize the truths knowable through revelation and reason in the name of mercy. Nor is there anything compassionate about pretending that mercy allows Christ’s moral teaching to be put aside in difficult cases. Christ Himself never did so.

Likewise, mercy isn’t realized by ignoring the truth that any free choice for moral evil involves doing serious harm to what John Paul’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor calls the “fundamental goods” (VS 48, 50) that lie at the core of the Christian moral life. Indeed, in the absence of the absolutes prohibiting such choices, coherent moral reasoning becomes impossible. Everyone is subsequently left adrift in a sea of emotivism.


Okay… how do you all feel about this?

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  1. cpttom says:

    How do I feel? I feel Sam is spot on. We are living in a reason-free, logic-free time. Having been called a right-wing nut just because I want the law and constitution followed, oh I agree. Being called a “pharasee” just because I want rubrics followed, for sure. Being called “unfeeling” for pointing out that forgiveness requires actually being sorry and penitent. I think Sam is on to something. Just look at the Presidential election–emoting going on all over the place…reason and logic is “negative” or “hard right.” People seem to want to hear what they want to hear and are therefore so easily manipulated. The Devil is laughing in his dark place. St Michael pray for us! St Thomas Aquinas, Pray for us!

  2. Mike says:

    My daughter was confirmed last week in the new rite. Lots of clapping; the lady leading the singing sounded a lot like the vocalist of the Cranberries; the bishop seemed prayerful and mentioned Confession and Our Lady; at Communion we sang “Rain Down”; and for a half hour before Mass the chitChat was so loud it was a dull roar in the Church, with nearly everyone ignoring the Tabernacle.

    I went alone to the EF celebration of St Joseph the next day. What a difference!

    Our current worship largely fosters the emotivism that is one of the sources of the mess we are in.

    And yes, I have read this blog for a while now!

  3. Mike says:

    Perhaps needless to say, but the EF Mass was at another parish.

  4. Quanah says:

    I feel frustrated and miffed. I feel this way for a variety of reasons, one being how often people say, “I just feel that…” No, you don’t feel that; you think that. Not only does the sentimental crowd not know reason, but they don’t know feelings either.

  5. Deo Credo says:

    Oh Father, you must really hate Vatican II. Are you trying to imply that MY FEELINGS aren’t the most important things ever with all of your talk about moral absolutes and right and wrong. Psshaw. I’m going to go walk the labyrinth in my local NO parish while I work on my centering prayer until I have forgotten all about you.

  6. Benedict Joseph says:

    My two cents was deposited over there yesterday, but I will add that Dr. Gregg’s courageous and accurate analysis need be brought to bear against every fraudulent exhortation to mercy when, in reality, the charitable reminder to shoulder responsibility need be the remedy of choice. There is no mercy where snake oil is the medicinal of choice. Casting theological realities in the mumbo-jumbo of coddling is at least disorientating – if not downright sacrilegious.

  7. PTK_70 says:

    To borrow in part from the Little Flower….may Christ mobilize an army of little souls daring to do what they are able to foster right worship and extend the mercy which heals.

  8. Orphrey says:

    This quote from Amoris Laetitia seemed odd to me by emphasizing that a pastor should act according to how he feels rather than what he knows to be right or wrong: “305. For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” Am I wrong that AL 305 seems to pit feelings against reason, revelation and natural law?

    By the way, can anyone give me a clear, simple answer: Does the teaching in Amoris Laetitia mean that St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher died in vain?

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    Just FYI Father, and this is not off-topic, Cardinal Müller yesterday made his first significant contribution to the “footnote” business : (Spanish)

    En este sentido, el cardenal alemán ha recordado que cuando una persona está «en pecado mortal» tiene que recibir el sacramento de la penitencia y que esto «no lo puede cambiar el Papa ni un concilio ecuménico»

  10. sea the stars says:


    greetings from the land of GermChurch, where as Sam says, the churches are empty but the coffers not (yet). And the wicked prelates grow fat on the tax euros of the faithful.

    I was thinking about Amorous Lustitiae last night and thought to myself. So here I am, divorced against my will and choosing to live in chastity. Dwonstars in the same building is my wife with her new “man”. According to Amorous Lustitiae, if wife is “faithful” to her new “man” it will be all well and the children, who also live in the apartment downstairs, do not suffer. On the other hand, if she comes upstairs tomorrow to be faithful to her marriage vows, she will be “unfaithful” and the children suffer.
    So now not only is reason replaced by emotivism, but it has come to the point where “faithful” has been redefined to mean “unfaithful”, and “unfaithful” to mean “faithful”. And by none other than the Pope himself.
    What a shameful shameful document. No wonder we are in the mess we are in.

  11. Andreas says:

    Hoover; It looks like the text accompanying the link you provided may not have been loaded to your comments. In these days of countless internet-based ‘hazards’, a link without some narrative can be regarded as highly suspect.

  12. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Anyone who follows this blog who has not read Fulton Sheen’s “Old Errors and New Labels” should buy and read a copy now. An argument truly is the hardest thing to find nowadays.

    The Sheen essay publicly posted at is very similar to the opening chapter of Sheen’s book and provides a flavor of the book’s content.

  13. wmeyer says:

    How do I feel about this? I’m so verklempt!

    On the other hand, on Sunday, my pastor said that he has been inspired by the recent lack of clarity to bring greater clarity to his own teaching. This is not a time for indecision and lukewarm response. Praising the mentally disturbed and the morally bankrupt for their perversions is no way to live. We must live our faith — well mapped in the CCC — and work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. Should martyrdom be in our path, so be it. Not my will, but God’s.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    I’ve been seeing this for over twenty years. Can I get a job with the Acton Institute? The principle reason for this is the rise of psychology as a pseudo-science – that and the fall-out of Modernism, which is a useful adjunct (I could go way more deeply into this, but not without grinding my teeth).

    I was thinking about this issue, today, and it can be defeated, but only with a well-trained laity, which we ain’t. That is why we desperately need a mathematics and science formulation of theology. The envy of modern theology is with science, but theology eschews the developmental methodology of science. I really, really want to discuss this, but my big mouth has gotten me in trouble for the last few days, elsewhere, so I will exercise restraint.

    The Chicken

  15. Augustine says:

    @Orphrey, and St John the Baptist would have kept his head if only he could sympathise with Herod’s feelings, but, no, he had to be a sour stickler.

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