Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Watering Down Christianity

Father John J. Lombardi 

Ask and answer these questions to see if you're into "Christianity Lite":

  • Do you believe Christ died for you, a sinner, and that He has a demand on your life?
  • Do you believe in Hell as everlasting separation from God?
  • Are there moral rules that apply to everyone, everywhere?

If you answered "no" to any of them, then you may be in danger of Fluffy Christianity. Now ask yourself this question: Is it possible that Americanized religion is mainly about money-making and keeping people happy in the pews?...

O.k.-my clumsy point: in today's world, dogma is out and feeling good is in; the laughing Jesus replaces the Crucified Messiah; and religion today is more a pill to make us feel good versus a dynamic set of beliefs.

Christianity as interpreted through popular books, spiritual savants and speakers, in some churches and movements, has lost its force and many modern Christians have been led astray. Christianity Lite is a growing religion and appeals to modernized peoples-especially Americans-who want religion "on their own terms". You know: no imposed morality; an easy-going spirituality without demands, and a fluffy God Who is only comfort minus all the "riff-wrath". Contemporary faith is sometimes seen as celebration which excludes fasting; wherein the local believers are exclusively a welcoming community instead of part of a worldwide, worshipping Church-and so on. Include the following:


The most important dogma of our Religion-- the Trinity (One God in three Divine, uncreated Persons)--is neglected, if ever explained. This points to a loss, ultimately, in the celebration of mystery in our worship--the "smells and bells" of sensuous and sacred liturgy which impress our senses to seek "spiritual articulation of longing" for God Who is both majestic and ungraspable. Today some people say we have ineloquent liturgies and liturgical prayer which is banal. The forgetfulness of God-as-Trinity and mystery also comes from the denigration of our philosophical and mystical roots (the Fathers of the Church are not popular; medieval theology is suspect, and mystical-ascetical theology is almost unknown); the Trinity is, therefore, almost "shelved," and God's essence and identity is trivialized. An excellent book describing this subject is aptly entitled, "Downsizing God: The Dangerous Illusion of Managing Deity."

Christ's unique and sacrificial atoning death is neglected. Judging by modern Catholic architecture (some say modernized churches look like "pizza huts" or airplane hangers), obviously the liturgical elite don't want a realistic crucifix in the sanctuary, and neither do some believe, or want it impressed upon their consciences, that God suffered so much for them-after all, we are moderns. No, this doctrine of God's paschal passion is too weighty and scary for many with all the sacred suffering, the blood, and subsequent "owing God back". Why? Because this is almost naturally seen as opposite "man's glory" and prowess, seemingly negating his accomplishments.

The Holy Bible is seen as symbolic and subjective story-device rather than commands of divine revelation. Perhaps you've heard before: Christ didn't really walk on the water-it's just pictured that way to help us believe His goodness. You don't have to believe in the literal Resurrection- Easter is really a story of "subjective, inner belief" rather than outer, physical fact. The history of the Bible cannot be scientific and literal, as we know better since science told us we can't be Christians and creationists at the same time. The Creation account(s) are contradictory, pure poetry and, by the way, we now know more about the Bible than the writers themselves…


Relativism is rampant today, within and outside the Church (the doctrine which says there are no absolutes, and truth and morality depend on your unique time, culture and hair color). This has led to an attack upon, and demise of, the Ten Commandments, moral norms and a biblically based ethics. Modern man believes that God doesn't make demands; man does. The ABC's prove it: abortion, belligerency and contraception are omnipresent and promoted. There is less agreement about "what is right" than there is about "tolerance toward terrorists." We have a so-called group today called "Catholics for a Free Choice" which advocates abortion (the killing of children), and meanwhile the Washington Post does a front-page story praising a "homosexual Christian Church" in Dallas, called The Cathedral of Hope, which depicts "Christian conservatives" (i.e., "dinosaurish Baptists") as stuck up, and the "cathedralists" as enlightened progressivists bridge building to the disenfranchised….

Cohabitation before or outside marriage will continue mostly unabated, as "popularly-correct fornication" is promoted and real, spousal communication demoted. Chastity is checked by condom-giving, sex-ed programs are sold by Catholics and Christians as wholesome and the only way to existential, save-the-teen's-enlightenment. And, as the Pope reminds us frequently, materialism and Mammon continue to devastate the family, the ecosystem and souls.


Today people want to forget the Desert Fathers who advocated penitential disciplines and who called themselves sinners. A symptom of this is the changing of the lyrics of the beautiful song, Amazing Grace, describing God's transforming grace as "that saved a wretch like me," to "that saved a one like me". No lie!-- even though the composer really experienced God's grace going literally from a slave-owner to abolitionist. Thus: past sensibilities are seen as antagonistic to current airbrushed spirituality and comfort zones. Today is the reign of the "self-help-therapeutic," wherein psychobabble, individualism and subjective love trump the heroic and virtuous life. We're no longer a "church militant"--we're a "church celebrant" only. Hubris trumps religious heroism.

Spirituality largely used to be a system of subtraction ("minusing" or subtracting your very self, sin, attachments), and adding God and heroic virtue. Now the emphasis is on adding: self, ego-praise and self-esteem. I recently saw a "modern interpretation" of Mt. 16: 24, which states the Lord's blunt command, "Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself…" changed to a "modern translation"-- "Whoever wishes to come after me must stop being selfish". Christ said we must go to the heart of the matter-denying the very self as key to conquering sin and selfishness. Today's lite spirituality wants to bypass this to avoid self-death, and teach an antithetically-biblical approach to Life and discipleship. Ultimately we must die, exchange our dearest possessions-our very selves-and live for God. Blessed Robert Southwell said it elegantly, "God gave Himself to you; give yourself to God."

Wait a Minute … Think … In hiding essential truths of the Faith, Christianity Lite-tries to fashion a new religion. In presenting half-truths of our timeless Faith, perhaps it doesn't commit outright error but hides the biting truth which it finds oppressive, or in need of updating with today's sensibilities.

Even the world's major religions, in their older sense, as Vatican II realized, include truths which liberate and elements of similarity with Catholicism (see document: Nostra Aetete/On New Things-Non-Christian Religions"). And some of these teachings (even though limited) have never been altered because their peoples know and have experienced their medicinal, liberating value. Some of these include: fasting, mortifications, penances, contemplative prayer and meditational techniques; personal abandonment thru self-annihilation; the need of pilgrimages and loving, heart-felt devotions; the enhancement of "smells and bells" in liturgical celebrations as basic human needs; the unity of body and soul and wisdom to purify and re-unify such; the practice of oral or silent mantras and aspirations to preserve mindfulness and purity; the fallenness of the individual through individual and collective sin; and loving detachment from any created thing for the Creator…

All these things great Catholic saints would agree to-and lived by! Saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila-daring Carmelite disciples and reformers called back their friends to ascetically-beautiful traditions of poverty and silence. Augustine-pagan converted from pantheist and neo-platonist, was transformed into powerful and persuasive preacher of God's Word and Catholic Church. Thomas More, married man and martyr for the truth, the family and public integrity, died for God and orthodox Catholic principles. Edith Stein, Jew-turned-Catholic-turned convent-contemplative-turned-concentration-camp martyr saw a sacred continuation of Truth manifested in the organic Catholic-Christian Tradition. What did this colorful cast of Christic characters all see and embrace? The richness of Christianity in its loving, gritty form, without negating the non-negotiables, while embracing the wisdom of Jesus continually breathing into His Bride, the Church, by holy doctrines and traditions which became, for them, like "spiritual bridges" to sainthood.

The opposite is Christianity Lite, which is a phenomenon being mass-marketed to the huge audience of America (that's us!), which is conditioned on many seeking the "always-new," " updated" and "improved," because, in the end, we want to dodge the bullet of tough discipleship. The Catholic Faith, though around by the Lord Jesus' founding for two-thousand years, is in danger-precisely because we Catholics, individually and collectively, are more successful and accepted in our country's land. As Jesus Himself said, "Beware when men praise you."…


How can I know, love and defend my Faith more against modernized man and the constant need of some to change things?…+Do I really want to know and live the essence of my Faith, and God's offer of Salvation, and His continuing graces in the Church? +How can I want to become a saint for God and the Church by embracing the tough, gritty and beautiful traditions of my Faith?

Briefly Noted

"The brilliance of contemplated beauty opens the spirit to the mystery of God…Beauty has its own pedagogical force to introduce knowledge of the truth effectively…In fact it leads to Christ, Who is the truth." Pope John Paul II

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi