The Problem of Oversimplification in Catholic Theology

The answers to many scientific questions are complex, and cannot be explained, with any breadth or depth, in very simple terms. Any attempt to explain a scientific insight, in the simplest possible terms, necessarily removes much of the substance of the answer discovered by science. You see this sometimes in the popular press, on scientific stories. They dumb it down so much that the story is highly inaccurate and most of the insight is gone.

And the same applies to theology. The correct answers to various questions on faith, morals, and salvation — answers found in Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium — are often complex. When various authors, bloggers, and anonymous online commentators oversimplify those answers, they harm the truths taught by Christ and His Church.

But in discussions and arguments online oversimplification prevails over good theology. One reason is that many of the faithful do not want to spend much time learning their Faith. They prefer the easiest to understand explanation. Another reason is that the simplified version of moral theology often omits or glosses over various requirements of ethics that make living the Faith more difficult. What appeals to fallen sinners is not merely an oversimplification, but an answer that justifies grave sins and makes adhering to the moral teachings of the Church seem easier.

It is also easier to win an online argument (seemingly win) about religion when your position is oversimplified. There are fewer points to explain and defend, and your audience is more likely to accept the oversimplified answer as it is easy to understand (even when it is wrong). Many times I’ve seen blog articles and forum posts which propose a grave error on faith or morals, and following it are comments thanking the author for making the answer to that question easy to understand. If your position on a complex theological question fits on a bumper sticker, then it has the advantage in online arguments. But it might not be the right answer.

But, for better or worse, the internet is where theology is being done today. No one reads printed theological journals. Few persons read books of theology. When Catholics have questions on faith, morals, and salvation, they turn to a search engine on the internet. And they don’t want to read a whole book or even a long post on any question. They want simplified answers on every point. As a result, many souls are being led astray.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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