Learning that anyone has lost their faith always engages a biological response in me, generating a sense of sadness. Even if the faith that is being abandoned is not my own. I get the same physiological response when I hear about a marriage that has failed…even if it is not a sacramental marriage, though observing the demise of a marriage that I had witnessed inside a church where two people knelt before God and administered a sacrament to one another is particularly painful.

I had never heard of either Josh Harris or Marty Sampson until I learned more than I wanted to know when they both made very public renunciation of their Christians faiths. I learned Harris was a very popular preacher and writer of a best-seller about proper means of dating. I learned Sampson was a singer of Christian-based music. I had heard of his band, Hillsongs. I know more than a few non-Catholic believers in Jesus who are big fans of this group. I learned faith is a mystery and a gift and something we must constantly feed and water to keep it.

Marty Sampson is a musician. Now, being Catholic and already musically disadvantaged, I have never gotten much into Christian music other than Gregorian chant and the Ave Maria. So, as far as “mainstream” feel-good Christian music goes, that train left the station without me a long time ago. For my fellow neophytes, Sampson was the key player in the very popular Christian music phenomena Hillsongs. Still, I couldn’t pick Marty Sampson out of a line up if my life depended on it.

Yet the loss of faith by these two public people, but total strangers, left me saddened. When I began to learn some of their reasoning as to why they no longer followed Christ, it got worse — especially as they both seemed to be working so hard on putting a “happy face” on their newfound non-faith.

The former preacher and author Harris published a litany of faults he found within the Christian community (faults, by the way, that are within the Catholic Church as well as any mainstream or fringe Protestant sect). Harris implies how damaged he became due to unfaithful men of God and fellow adherents (at least while he was still numbered among them) for their hypocrisy. My first thought upon reading his rationale was that if he had been the “bible-believing” Christian who, like all separated brethren since Martin Luther, he claimed to be, and stipulated the Bible as the sole source of any and all instruction and truth…just what Bible had he been reading all this time?

It’s a book filled with hypocrites and bad religious leaders.

Every Good Friday we Catholics gather in churches across the globe and take the “role” of the first pope, the man who became one of the greatest spiritual leaders of all ages. But during the Passion, that same man gets quoted once again denying the very God he has become revered for worshiping. Harris’ “revelation” is a coming out party of sorts. He is coming out of a faith and into the welcoming arms of the world that has rejected those hypocritical Christians since the day in ancient Judea when that burly, oafish fisherman who followed a Nazarene carpenter around like a puppy dog for three years finally showed his “true” colors when things got real on Golgotha.

For St. Peter, he knew almost immediately what he had done…and he wept.

Ex-believer Harris seems to be the person Fulton Sheen had in mind when he said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Just replace Catholic (never a good idea, by the way) with “Christian” in this quote and you have it. Harris is rejecting the secular world-view of Christianity, the stand-up comic version, not the real thing.

The musician, Sampson, piled on when he surmised in a since deleted Instagram post that his loss of faith “doesn’t bother me.” He is living in the moment, and that by itself is not always a bad thing as the devil dwells so easily in the past and the future. 

Staying in the present is our best orientation, but only if we invite Christ to be there standing by our sides. I pray both men continue to live in the present — that’s their best chance of rediscovering the person who waits for them to come home. 

Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. His column Ad Rem won second place in the “Best regular column: Arts, leisure, culture, and food” category at the Catholic Press Awards in 2019. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.

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