I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. While I like what this ultimately leads me to I’ll admit that it’s not always the most fun position to hold. Going against the flow in almost any area carries a burden with it. But it also allows for greater diversity and depth of perspective.
Recently I’ve been reading this book and it mentioned a part of the Catholic Church that I had never heard the full story of before.
For centuries, the Catholic Church made use of a “devil’s advocate” in canonization decisions (i.e., in deciding who would be named a saint). The devil’s advocate was known inside the church as the promotor fidei—the “promoter of the faith”—and his role was to build a case against sainthood. John Paul II eliminated the office in 1983, ending 400 years of tradition. Since then, tellingly, saints have been canonized at a rate about 20 times faster than in the early part of the twentieth century.
An effective promotor fidei is not a token argumentative smarty-pants; it’s someone who deeply respects the Catholic Church and is trying to defend the faith by surfacing contrary arguments in situations where skepticism is unlikely to surface naturally. (Who wants to argue against someone who’s lived a life so admirable that they merit consideration as a saint?)
As mentioned, this concept is where we get our common phrase of “devil’s advocate.” For obvious reasons that has a negative overtone to it. That’s why I far prefer the concept of a Promoter of the Faith. We often tend to think that a person who challenges the status quo or the agreed upon consensus must be a problem or that they aren’t bought in like the rest. They are different than the disengaged person who becomes divisive. As in the example of the Catholic Church, this is a person who has a deep respect for the organization and the overall outcome. They are promoting the end result even if they are criticizing the specific topic at hand.
While some people are definitely more wired for this, it is absurd to think there aren’t times we should all be willing to play this role when necessary. It’s far too easy to make decisions based on our confirmation biases (we look for data that agrees with us and tune the rest out).
By seeking out a Promoter of the Faith, or accepting our temporary need to play that role, we can make better decisions and see life more objectively. I doubt there has been twenty times the amount of eligible saints for the Catholic Church in the last thirty years. Yet that is the risk of forcing agreement. A cursory consensus always comes at a price. While this role comes with a risk of radical unpopularity (i.e. arguing against a person for sainthood), we must be willing to choose the risk and the benefits it brings.
Question: Where do you need to seek out or become a Promoter of the Faith in your life? What hangs in the balance whether or not you do it?