Religion - Roman Catholic

C.S. Lewis on the Pope: infallible, fool, or fraud

According to a 2009 Pew Research poll, more than 1 in 5 mainline American Protestants believes in reincarnation. As Christians we know that Christ paid for our sins and that, because we have been made righteous, after death we will go to Heaven. But those who believe in reincarnation think that after death we return to Earth, again and again. The two understandings stand in stark contrast to one another. And yet twenty-four percent of mainline American Protestants hold to both.

And they’re not the only confused ones. On the topic of infant vs. adult baptism, I’ve been confronted by Christians who figure there is some sort of middle ground. They argue that a Baptist who thinks that infant baptism is wrong, and a Presbyterian who thinks it is proper, can both be right.

This modern ability – to sincerely hold to two contradictory beliefs – makes it difficult to discuss anything. Before we can argue that one belief is better than another, it’s necessary to explain that a choice has to be made, that the two ideas we are contrasting can’t both be right.

Lord, liar or lunatic

We work closely with Roman Catholics in the pro-life movement. We all want the very best for the unborn, so there is an ever-present temptation to minimize our differences. We’re sincere, they’re sincere, so isn’t that enough?

While we can and should certainly work with Roman Catholics to save the unborn, we must be clear, for their sakes, about the gulf that divides us. We do our Catholic friends no favors in minimizing our differences. So how can we best show them how significant those differences are?

C.S. Lewis has the answer.

In Lewis’s time, and today as well, there are many who will accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but who at the same time insist he was only a man. In Mere Christianity Lewis quite rightly points out that these are two contradictory thoughts:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Infallible or a stumbling block

Many Catholics take a “cafeteria approach” to what the Pope says, picking out the pieces they agree with and passing by the parts they don’t like. For example, prominent pro-abortion politicians such as the former American Secretary of State John Kerry, and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, think they can be both Catholic and pro-abortion. In 2003 another Roman Catholic Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, responded to a papal plea against gay marriage, by declaring he would ignore it. Chrétien’s spokeswoman went so far as to say: “As prime minister of Canada, he has the moral responsibility to protect the equality of Canadians.”

Many Protestants too, feel they can take a middle of the road approach in regards to the Pope. While they deny that his official teachings are infallible, and ignore papal directives to pray to Mary and the saints, and don’t believe in the Purgatory he preaches, they still revere him as a great Christian leader.

But if we take our lead from Lewis we see that the Pope doesn’t leave us with that option. He is either what he claims to be – the Church’s infallible guide – or he is a fool or, something worse. There isn’t any room for a middle ground.

If he is Christ’s representative here on earth and his official teachings on moral issues are infallible, then a statement such as Prime Minister Chrétien’s spokeswoman made, that it was his “moral responsibility” to ignore the Pope’s directive, doesn’t make any sense. If the Pope is what he claims, then God appointed him to explain to everyone else just what morality is – papal proclamations would define morality. And if the Pope is what he claims all Christians must follow all of his official teachings.

Alternately if the Pope’s claims are false, then he has misled hundreds of millions. His followers flock to shrines and bow to images not because the Bible tells them to do it but because he tells them to. They ask dead saints for their help because he has taught them to do so. They reverence Mary because he has elevated her. If the Pope is not infallible, then he is a fool or a fraud. If the Pope is not what he claims to be, then Christians within the Roman Catholic Church are believers despite following the Pope, not because they followed him.

This is the only option the Pope has left open to us – to either accept him completely, or reject him utterly as a fool or something worse. Anything else is “patronizing nonsense.”

Photo credit: neneo /

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  1. Vaclav

    March 21, 2019 at 11:27 am

    I applaud and agree in principle your excellent article. It is true that we have to ask ourselves these serious questions and be precise about the claims that people make. In the same spirit of your article about calling a spade a spade, I respectfully submit a few caveats.

    In your paragraph entitled “Infallible or Stumbling Blocks,” you label former American Secretary of State John Kerry, and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “pro-abortion.” In fact, the correct terminology is “pro-choice.” The term pro-abortion implies that any time someone faced with a decision about a pregnancy, they will always choose abortion, i.e. to terminate the pregnancy. I’m not sure about John Kerry, but as a Canadian, I know for sure that Mr. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire have 3 children— 2 boys, Hadrien and Xavier James and 1 girl, Ella-Grace Margaret. If he was truly “pro-abortion,” he would be childless. So we in the Pro-Life camp also need to be careful about the terminology we use.

    Second point, and this may be something we have spoken about before, we really need to be clear that it is not only Liberal Party politicians in Canada, as your article seems to insinuate, that are avoiding the abortion issue, but all politicians who hold elected office.

    A perfect example about holding contradictory beliefs is former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper who had a majority government from 2011 to 2015. While he professed to be a believer in the Pro-Life movement, on June 2, 2004, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper tried to steer clear of the abortion controversy while campaigning for the June 28 federal election. He said hat he had no plans to change the country’s abortion regulations if he forms the next government. In fact, on April 26, 2012, while there was a Conservative majority, Prime Minister Stephen Harper voted against a motion tabled by a Conservative MP to have Parliament determine when human life begins. Additionally, he also said that he believed that the abortion debate in Canada is closed and has frequently said he does not want to reopen the debate on abortion. A perfect example of your premise of the bizarre phenomenon of holding contradicting beliefs.

    I submit this response is not to argue against the major points of your article which I fully agree . I do this in an attempt to be accurate in the use of terminology and to not induce people to believe that only Liberal politicians are the opponents of the pro-life stance. At least Liberals are up-front about their stance. Conservatives seem to be more duplicitous and hypocritical. They “Talk the Talk” in our Pro-Life Rallies and when they speak in public forums during campaigns, but don’t “Walk the Talk” when they are in power.

    Please don’t take offense, I’m right behind in supporting your great work!

    • Reformed Perspective

      March 26, 2019 at 6:42 am

      If “pro-abortion” is problematic, then “pro-choice” would be all the more so, for the same sort of reasons you present. You and I, and Trudeau too, are pro-choice when it comes to many a thing – we all agree that folks should be able to choose their spouse, choose their career, and choose their religion. And we are all also “anti-choice” about many a thing: we don’t believe that people should be allowed to choose to drive drunk, or choose to extend their arm violently when someone else’s face is in the way. So none of us are universally “pro-choice” as that term could be misconstrued to imply – it depends on what the choice is. “Pro-abortion” details the choice being made.

      But doesn’t “pro-abortion” imply then, that Trudeau is for abortion all the time? Well, when our society had a debate about whether homosexuals could marry, the one side was called pro-gay-marriage. It was understood by all that this term did not mean this side thought everyone should “marry” someone of the same sex. “Pro-abortion” doesn’t seem any more confusing.

      Why is it important to use “abortion advocate” or “pro-abortion” rather than “pro-choice”? Because, as the generally freedom-loving sorts that we are, we have a positive association with the word “choice.” In general, we would hold that more choice is better than less choice. But as discussed, there are limits, depending on the choice involved – we do not hold to pro-pedophilia-choice for example. So, pro-lifers don’t want to let abortion advocates hide the choice they are advocating for behind this vague but generally positive term. We want to identify them with the evil they are promoting. They want the right to abort babies and they need to carry that label.

      As to your point about confused Conservatives, yes, there are in the Conservative fold some who hold a personal belief that abortion is wrong, but who won’t do anything about it politically. Or, to restate it, they personally believe babies are being murdered, but they won’t do anything about it politically. A more confused and contradictory position hardly seems possible.

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