instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Salvation is not a matter of statistics

Even if you're with me on my claim that the proposition, "If you don't die as a Catholic, then you aren't necessarily damned," isn't what the Church has been commissioned to go out into the world and preach to every living creature, we're still left with the fact that the proposition is true. Which means we have non-Catholics, looking for the angle, asking, "So why should I become Catholic?" And we have Catholics asking, "Yeah, why should they?"

Before addressing these questions, let me propose another principle of Catholic teaching: Salvation isn't a matter of statistics.

That's true in pretty much any sense you want to take it. In particular:

A) The empirical statistics of salvation -- how many of which sub-populations will, on the Last Day, turn out to be saved -- is not a matter of Divine revelation. If something a Catholic says makes someone think the Catholic is making an assertion about the empirical statistics, there's been a miscommunication somewhere along the line.

B) Salvation is, in the end, a matter of the personal relationship between a human being and God. Whether the human being has chosen to belong to God is not determined by a random draw against some threshold, which is biased one way or another based on some set of objective factors. It is determined by the choices he freely makes, and at any time the choice can be freely made to cross from death to life or from life to death. A free choice is not a probabilistic choice (well, unless someone freely chooses to make choices based on coin flips or dice rolls...).

I've interrupted this blog post about evangelization to discuss statistics because the question about evangelization -- "If I don't die as a Catholic, then I am not necessarily damned, so why should I become Catholic?" -- presupposes a statistical approach to salvation. It is equivalent to asking, "How does the probability of my salvation improve if I join the Church?"

There's a common approach to answering the question that joins right in in accepting the errant presupposition. That approach is along these lines: "Catholics have access to the Sacraments, which are, by  Divine institution, the ordinary channels of the grace necessary to live and die in friendship with God. To deprive yourself of the Sacraments is to deprive yourself of the sacramental graces by which Christ intends us to be saved."

Now, everything between the quotation marks in the paragraph above is true, but notice the implication: Your odds of dying in friendship with God improve if you receive the Sacraments. It's an implication that has to be there if what's between quotation marks is intended as an answer to the question.

But if I'm right that salvation isn't a matter of statistics, then questions about how the statistics change with circumstances are ill-posed and shouldn't be answered as though they weren't.