The most damning feature of Americanist Christianity is that it emphasizes avoidance of the trial above—and even to the exclusion of—preparation for it. In other words, it views the state as not only de facto worth saving, but also de facto able to save.

angelus-statueThis is exactly the sort of thing Pope Benedict XVI has been warning about in his final days as pontiff. Sunday's Angelus was no exception. Reflecting on the trial of Christ in the desert, the pope reminds us that all three biblical temptations shared the central feature of instrumentalizing God for the sake of one's own interests. Benedict tells us that "the Tempter is subtle: he doesn't point us directly to evil, but toward a false good." And what could be a better—more convincing—substitute for God than individual autonomy and liberty. The quest for personal well-being and power, then, reduce God to a means, or a method for success.

If there's one thing we've learned over the past year, it's that utilitarian orthodoxy is an ubiquitous feature of the American mindset. But we've also had the opportunity to realize that this is not the orthodoxy of the Church, nor of true churchmen or Christians. It's a disease that, very lamentably, draws down honest and well-meaning believers to the depths of rationalization and fanaticism. And it is no doubt more a cause of the political and physical strife we all wish to avoid than any sort of worthy response to it.

All the more reason, in this period of spiritual introspection, to reflect not only on the historical trials of Christ, but also on those present trials of a frail earthly pastor and an embattled Church, in order to recognize where the true goods—and the true evils—will be found.

Andrew M. Haines is editor and founder of Ethika Politika, and co-founder and chief operating officer at Fiat Insight.