Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

They don’t call it sheep’s clothing for nothing

November 12th, 2011, Promulgated by b a

Random thoughts from a wandering mind…

Very often when pointing out someone’s intellectual errors to someone else you’ll get a response like, “but he’s so nice”. There are 2 things implied in that statement that we may often take for granted, but the person you’re talking to might not.

1) saying someone is wrong is not the same as condemning them. I didn’t say they were unquestionably destined for eternal damnation. I didn’t say they don’t do lots of good things for people. I didn’t say anything about their personality. I simply said they are wrong on this particular subject.

2) being nice doesn’t make one any less wrong. In fact, I would expect those who are the most wrong to be the most nice. I would also expect the biggest errors to be quite believable and to be close to the truth (ie – in the guise of authentic Catholicism). And if Satan were really smart (he is, you know) he’d even make these errors come from within the Church. Go figure!

3) being nice doesn’t make the error any less dangerous.

There’s so much triteness in our culture. Did you ever get a little comment in which you’d like to respond with a 20 min dissertation on the matter? Me too. My new strategy has been to skip the 20 min dissertation and ponder what might be the best trite response which might pack in tidbits of the 20 min dissertation. This pondering means I’ll have to skip the immediate response because my wit isn’t all that quick. Do you have a good and quick response to the “he’s so nice” comment? Please leave it in the comments. Some people write off triteness and refuse to participate in it, but I don’t think that’s the right approach. Sure it’d be better to drill deeper, but you gotta start somewhere, right? The best thing you can do to drill deeper is to make that person feel comfortable with you and might give you that opportunity.

Our Lord didn’t warn us of wolves in wolve’s clothing, did He? He also didn’t tell us to respond be being sheep in wolve’s clothing. I like to come up with mental images. It helps me remember stuff and it reminds me to laugh. So if our enemies are wolves in sheep’s clothing, what should we be? If you have a good one – please leave it in the comments. The best I can come up with is branded sheep.

Speaking of trite comments… I’ve been trying to come up with a good responses to, here’s one I’d like to share.

Response to being outnumbered attempt #1
other: “that’s why we stopped at 2 kids – so we wouldn’t be outnumbered”
me: “but we’re bigger than them”
other: “that won’t last long”
me: (thinking) he’s right – if our kids continue on the trajectory they are on, they will most likely be bigger than (sooner rather than later). I need to come up with something better

Response to being outnumbered attempt #2
other: “that’s why we stopped at 2 kids – so we wouldn’t be outnumbered”
me: “but we have more money than them which means we have better weaponry”
other: (thinking) “this guy is nuts”
me: (thinking) “sweet – he probably thinks I’m nuts”

on a final note, I have a shameless plug to share. A nice new blog is up, but the author won’t let me use this platform to link to it (it wouldn’t be fair), so instead I’ll link you to a comment.

photo credits

flickr: phil wood photo
flickr: leo reynolds
flickr: visual treats


13 Responses to “They don’t call it sheep’s clothing for nothing”

  1. brother of penance says:

    “Do you have a good and quick response to the “he’s so nice” comment? Please leave it in the comments.”

    My first quick response to “he’s so nice” was SO WHAT. But then I read on and realized what we need to do……create an opening.

    Ben, you continued with, “Some people write off triteness and refuse to participate in it, but I don’t think that’s the right approach……The best thing you can do to drill deeper is to make that person feel comfortable with you and might give you that opportunity.”

    So my next quick response to help that person feel comfortable and open up an opportunity is to quick respond to “he’s nice” with, “That’s nice.”

    Why am I starting to feel real dumb?

    Take a look at the etymology of nice……

    It probably wouldn’t help to quick respond to “he’s nice” with “Yep, he is foolish, stupid and senseless”.

  2. Karyn says:

    One thing I’ve been trying to do is ask more questions. Here are a few for “But, he’s so nice.”
    (Asked quizically) And nice and right are the same thing to you?
    I’m not following you. How are nice and right the same thing?

    The trick, of course, is to not sound snarky.

    This doesn’t always work for me either because, not only am I not quick witted, I also avoid confrontation and often make assumptions like:
    This person is a heretic.
    This person’s brain is full. Time to stop.
    This person has succumbed to our banal society which has forgotten how to actually debate something.
    This person has obviously not read the right books. (i.e. The Bible, The CCC, anything that you can’t buy at a grocery store.) And if they have, they did not understand them. Duh.

  3. Scott W. says:

    Run, don’t walk to John C. Wright’s blog and read Political Correctness is the Substance of Darkness, and Part II

  4. JLo says:

    Another take on nice: A young woman I once worked with was (and still is) an amazingly wonderful, sweet, giving, truly good human being. I watched her up close from the time she did an internship with our firm and then in the years following, because they hired this beautiful young woman, the absolute epitome of “nice”. Neither of us works anymore, she because she is raising a family and I because I retired. We don’t even live in the same state anymore, but we have kept in touch.

    During those years we worked together, I was curious about her goodness, where it came from, the how of it, because she was raised with absolutely no religion whatsoever, not even baptized. I asked an elderly personal friend, a holy monsignor, the why of it. He told me that she obviously is endowed with much natural grace. As I nodded enthusiastically, he reminded me, “It takes supernatural grace to get to heaven.”

    Nice is just never good enough. I think that’s why Jesus told us we must become saints; we must become holy.


  5. Thinkling says:

    I do not have a direct answer to “he’s so nice”, but I do have one to the related “but he’s such a good man”, often used after pointing out sparse competence in ecclesiastical leadership duties.

    I simply describe this scene from The Wizard of Oz.

    Dorothy: “You’re a very bad man.”

    Wizard: “Oh no my dear, I am a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.”

    Sentimentality will of course get one nowhere, rather we are judged by our fulfilling our vocation, which usually entails being intellectually (and morally) consistent.

    Perhaps you can adapt?


    OK Ben, you asked for it:

    Other: “that’s why we stopped at 2 kids – so we wouldn’t be outnumbered”

    BA: “that’s OK we just switched from a man-to-man to a zone”

    (shamelessly lifted from our friends with 3 kids)

  6. Hopefull says:

    NICE IS NOT A VIRTUE!!! Yes, sometimes I shout it.

    Jesus did speak of wolves in sheep’s clothing; so did Paul. Their advice is “Beware; look at the fruits; be wise and innocent; be unencumbered (so they can’t say: “But YOU…;” be alert; admonish, use tears, trust in GOd’s grace:

    Mat 7:15-16a “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits”.

    Mat 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

    Luk 10:3-4 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road.”

    Act 20:29-32 Paul: I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
    IHS is a great brand for sheep, but it doesn’t mean I Have Suffered as many who went to Catholic school were taught. Rather it is the capital letters: Iota, Eta, Sigma which are the first three letters of “JESUS” in Greek. Similarly, what looks like PX is Chi Rho, the beginning of “CHRIST” in Greek.

    Lots of children mean lots of guardian angels in the house!

  7. Choir says:

    If somebody asked me why I have so many kids (I don’t have any), I would reply “I’ll forgive you for asking if you forgive me for not answering”. They usually hesitate because they aren’t’ really sure what I just said and then they aren’t sure what to say next. I like to watch them squirm.

    I love families with lots of kids. I guess that’s why I like the Duggar Family so much. Maybe we should ask the Duggar’s how they handle that question.

  8. Persis says:

    Great post, Ben!
    And I love all the coments so far!! 🙂

    @Choir- I love your response!! 🙂
    I usually use it when asked why I don’t have any children,
    and for the same reasons!! 😉

  9. Ink says:

    In response to “but he’s so nice!”: “That’s nice, but so was Hitler.” *Godwin’s Law* (Hitler was also a baby-kissing politician.)

    As one of four, I can point out that you’re only outnumbered until they get big enough to help. One of my munchkin sisters always set the breakfast table–she was two at the time, and shorter than the table. (Sadly she’s eleven now and is Too Cool for that.) I was babysitting my little sisters at the age of ten or eleven.

    Choir–my problem is that I’m chronically snarky, so I’d probably answer, “I don’t need your forgiveness, that’s what Confession is for–could you answer the question?” but I’m also not that nosy (usually).

  10. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Charles Curran, priest/theologian of the DOR, once said that a kind heart does not excuse a foolish ass!!

  11. brother of penance says:

    Brother Rice, I met Father Charles Curran at SBI a number of years ago.

    My impression? He was nice. He had a nice smile. He was wearing a nice tie.

    I have a confession to make. Rather than question or challenge him, I was merely nice.

    There I go again feeling really dumb.

  12. annonymouse says:

    Just say “Jesus didn’t command us to be nice. Jesus commanded us to LOVE one another. One can be nice without genuine love, and one can genuinely love and not appear very nice!”

  13. Raymond F. Rice says:


    Padre Pio was often not very “nice” in the confessional but got the job done!!!

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