I recently encountered a blogsite in which a priest answered questions posed by fellow-Orthodox inquirers about the teachings of their Church. Many of his interlocutors had been attracted by Protestant (particularly Evangelical or Pentecostal) and Catholic churches, and wished to know the differences between the teachings of those churches and Orthodoxy. Sometimes the priest’s answers were sufficiently accurate, but more often they were caricatures or outright falsehoods, painting Catholic and Protestant belief not only with the blackest brush possible, but the hard dogmatic ignorance in which it is difficult not to see malice.
Most of us have seen this before in our own places, I suppose. I did as a youth among Protestant authorities, some of whom horrified us with false or distorted tales about what Catholics believed (they knew nothing of Orthodoxy, except perhaps that it was a kind of Catholicism). I was saved from taking their tales at full value by a skeptical father and by living among Catholic neighbors whose faith seemed to be, with certain oddities, the same as mine. Nor did the number of enthusiasts and cranks who gave a bad name to their religion seem, percentage-wise, any larger than our own. For every Catholic who couldn’t see Christ for Mary, there appeared a Baptist whose consuming interest in the Rapture created a similar eclipse.
Teachers of religion who would keep their inquirers in their communions are in a dangerous game, however they decide to play it. Keeping-Them-Here-Insurance based upon insouciant disregard for truth usually works in the short term, but it is risky, since one is in danger of being found out, especially by the best and brightest. If a finding-out happens, so does a crisis of faith, for if a man commits gross errors on Catholics and Protestants, why might he not be doing the same on the Creed? And what is there to keep me in such a church, particularly if I am interested in truth (or hanker after praise bands)?
On the other hand, if the truth is told, the teacher unavoidably lets in the light and beauty–and the plausible Christianity–of other communions, and is in real danger of losing members who are seeking what they have and what he hasn’t unless he can (using no more than truth) successfully defend the exclusivity or superiority of his own church in the faces of those who are becoming willing to doubt it. This means defending “old stuff” before the perennially restless young at the time of their lives when their future as Christians is made or lost. This is the narrow way, the harder way, the way along which the modification or change of one’s own views and consequent loss of authority and livelihood become fearful possibilities. It is, however, the only one a good man can take.