Monday, May 31, 2010

Candy Bar Theology

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He had Paul summoned and listened to him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.

25 But as he spoke about righteousness and self-restraint and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “You may go for now; when I find an opportunity I shall summon you again.” (Acts:24:24-25)

One thing I have noticed in modern Christianity is the tendency of the believer to choose or not choose a belief based not on whether it is true, but on whether it is appealing.  Thus we hear the message of love, but believe the messages of obedience and judgment are left behind.

The Origin of the Term

In his insightful book, Socrates Meets Jesus, the character of Socrates speaks of the modern beliefs in Christianity as such:

Socrates: And I still don't know why you believe what you believe.

Bertha: I just do, that's ail. Maybe it's irrational, Maybe we choose to believe things and choose to do things for other reasons than rational reasons. Didn't you ever think of that?

Socrates: Like eating that candy bar, for instance?

Bertha: Yes. I think you're wrong when you teach that evil comes only from ignorance. That's rationalism. That assumes that rea­son always rules. It doesn't. It gets pushed around by the desires and the will sometimes.

Socrates; I think you are convincing me of just that. In fact, I think I have seen two instances of it just this morning— instances of something I disbelieved in until now.

Bertha: Two instances?

Socrates: Yes. Your candy bar and your beliefs. You choose both not because they are good for you, or because they are true, but because they are sweet. Your belief that God forgives but does not judge is rather like a candy bar, is it not? It Is a sweet thought, the thought that we have only half of justice to deal with when we deal with God, that God rewards goodness but does not punish evil—is not that thought sweet and desirable? And are you not attracted to it just as you are attracted to the candy bar? (Page 55)

How It Afflicts Christianity

The reason this afflicts [no, I did not mean to type "affects"] Christianity is that it focuses on one aspect of God, making it the whole.  When the Church insists on looking at God as both Love and Just, it is the Church which is accused of legalism or being hard hearted in relation to God instead of considering the possibility of a lax conscience of the individual.

Such a view of Christianity seems to make use of the following kind of reasoning:

  1. [God] is [Good] (All [A] is [B])
  2. No [Punishment] is [Good] (No [C] is [B])
  3. Therefore [God] Does not [Punish] (Therefore No [C] is [A])

The problem is the assumption of the minor premise, that no punishment is not good.  This is begging the question because the minor premise needs to be proven, not assumed.  Now of course some punishment may be wrong because it is excessive or inflicted on the wrong individual.  However it does not follow no punishment is good.  Sometimes parents must correct their children.  Sometimes the state must incarcerate law breakers for their correction or the protection others.  We can argue more reasonably as follows:

  1. [God] is [Just] (All [A] is [B])
  2. Some [Punishment] is from [God] (Some [C] is [A])
  3. Therefore Some [Punishment] is [Just] (Therefore some [C] is [B])

We can demonstrate the second premise from Scripture and Church teaching.  In both the Old and the New Testament, we see God speaking of punishment and warning of punishment as a way of calling the sinful man back to Himself.  So from this, the believer has to look at the major premise.  Do they believe that God is just or do they not?  If they believe God is both good and just, then it follows that if He punishes, He does so for reasons which are good and just.

If they don't believe God is good or just, then why follow Him?

"Does God really care about X?"

However, most people who do believe in God believe He is just and good.  It's just that they don't think their own behavior should be considered bad.  Because God is good and they don't think their behavior is bad, they reason that therefore God doesn't think the behavior they do is bad, but rather the "mean old Church" imposes this on people for whatever reason.

So we thus see all sorts of questions:

  • "Do you really think God cares if I have sex with my girlfriend/boyfriend?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if a married couple trying to be good uses contraception?"
  • "Do you really think God wants me to be unhappy because my spouse was unfaithful to me and ran off with another?"
  • "Do you really think God cares about homosexual acts?"

The unvoiced part of the objection is "This is really unimportant and only the Church thinks it is important.  Yet it is that unvoiced objection which must be proven.

The problem is, of course, you can justify any kind of behavior from this point of view:

  • "Do you really think God cares if I offer sacrifice to an idol?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I participate in the Death Camps?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I apostatize from the Faith?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I steal from a rich man?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I eat of the tree of knowledge?"

The thing is, if an act is contrary to His will and we know it is contrary to what He decrees, we are obligated to do as He commands and are guilty if we defy Him.  If a thing is contrary to His will and we do not know it is contrary to His will, our guilt or innocence will depend on what we could know if we bothered to find out.

The Ultimate Satanic Deception

Ultimately the Satanic deception behind such a mentality is Do what you will.  If you think it is good, it must be good.  Good is made subjective to feelings.  Because a God who forgives but does not punish is a pleasing thought, we hide from the consideration of if a thing is good, and what the consequences are for disobedience for what God commands.  Thus we have the sweetness of a forgiving God and the sweetness of self-indulgence without the responsibility and the obligations to obey and the consequences of disobedience.


It is an act of tremendous arrogance to assume for ourselves what is good or bad depending on what we want to do instead of what we ought to do.  To decide that punishment and sin is only for things which do not involve us and fail to consider what we are required to do or what happens when we disobey is foolish indeed.  It is not based on what is true, but what is pleasing to us.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reflections on Divorce, Remarriage and the Church (Part II): The Patristic Problem

In my first article, I dealt with the appeal to the so-called Matthew Exception regarding Divorce and Remarriage, showing that to claim that it allowed the victim of adultery to remarry is to read the Scriptures selectively. Now I turn to the appeal to the Patristic authors. Some who hold to “The Bible Alone” may find this article irrelevant but for those who recognize the authority of Sacred Tradition, the issue of how the Scriptures were interpreted by the early Christians can demonstrate whether an interpretation is authentic or not.

Why This is Important

The reason this is important to consider the writings of the early Christians is that it bears witness to their practices and beliefs. If we find no mention of a practice, or indeed see the opposite asserted, by the Church Fathers then it demonstrates that the alleged practice was a later change. So in terms of the “adultery exception” permitting remarriage, to claim that the Catholic teaching goes against the ancient practice, we would need to look and see how they handled the concept of divorce and remarriage.

Distinguishing Between Doctrine and Discipline

We also need to be aware of the difference between the moral teachings Christ demanded we follow and the disciplines the Church has decreed for the good of the faithful. For example, the Church will never abandon the belief that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. It may at times decree reception on the tongue or in the hand, and may decree reception of both kinds is permissible or denied depending on the needs of the people and whether any errors of understanding need to be combated.

Sometimes Disciplines are mistakenly viewed as Doctrines by some individuals, and when the Church changes a discipline, she stands accused of changing a doctrinal matter. Because of this, the Church recognizes it is the magisterium which has the power to bind and to loose and can interpret how the beliefs of the Church are to be understood.

The Perspective of the Patristics on Divorce and Remarriage

One interesting thing about the view of the Patristics was over the concern that the one who divorced his or her unfaithful spouse over adultery was guilty of causing her or him to commit adultery regardless of whether the innocent spouse remarried. We forget this today, because the Church has decreed what is and is not allowed. Unfortunately this view tends to be forgotten in the reading of the texts, and a reading of the texts tends to be given modern applications inserted instead of the original intent.

Also we need to recognize that the patristic writings are acting on the assumption a marriage is valid.  An invalid marriage does not exist in fact though it may be assumed in law.

Did Divorce force the guilty spouse to be an adulterer/adulteress?

For the Patristics, there was a question as to whether the separation of spouses itself was a sin which made the other spouse an adulterer/adulteress. Generally the recognition was that at some times a unfaithful spouse may behave in such a way that made it necessary for the innocent spouse to separate for his or her spiritual good. However, in no case did they recognize that this allowed remarriage on the part of the innocent spouse. They strongly take the position of St. Paul as laid out in the first article: If they separate, they must either remain single or reconcile. Here are a few samples of what some of the Patristics have written. This is hardly an exhaustive list and many more examples exist that are not cited.

St. John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) for example wrote in his Homilies on 1 Corinthians:

Now what is that which “to the married the Lord commanded? That the wife depart not from her husband: (v. 11.) but if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled unto her husband.” Here, seeing that both on the score of continence and other pretexts, and because of infirmities of temper, (μικροψυκιας.) it fell out that separations took place: it were better, he says, that such things should not be at all; but however if they take place, let the wife remain with her husband, if not to cohabit with him, yet so as not to introduce any other to be her husband.

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. XII. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians. (106).

I figured I would start with him, because he is sometimes wrongly cited as a justification for remarriage after adultery. We see here that he is not permitting remarriage, but pointing out that Christ has forbidden it.

Another interesting work is St. Augustine’s (AD 354-430) On the Good of Marriage, where he writes as follows:

3. This we now say, that, according to this condition of being born and dying, which we know, and in which we have been created, the marriage of male and female is some good; the compact; whereof divide Scripture so commends, as that neither is it allowed one put away by her husband to marry, so long as her husband lives: nor is it allowed one put away by his wife to marry another, unless she who have separated from him be dead.

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. III. St. Augustine on the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises. (400).

Note here that the sole case where remarriage is recognized by Augustine is the death of one spouse.

Lest someone accuse us of only focusing on the fourth and fifth centuries (claiming earlier writers would allow for it), we can also look back to the work known as The Shepherd of Hermas (sometimes just known as The Shepherd) was written sometime between AD 88 and AD 157, and has this to say about divorce and adultery:

And I said to him, “What then, sir, is the husband to do, if his wife continue in her vicious practices? [Arnobius’ note. “Vicious” in this case refers to the practice of vice, not cruelty] ”And he said, “The husband should put her away, and remain by himself. But if he put his wife away and marry another, he also commits adultery.” And I said to him, “What if the woman put away should repent, and wish to return to her husband: shall she not be taken back by her husband?” And he said to me, “Assuredly. If the husband do not take her back, he sins, and brings a great sin upon himself; for he ought to take back the sinner who has repented.

Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. II : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Fathers of the second century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) (21).

Marrying another would of course preclude taking back the repenting spouse.  So remarriage after divorce for infidelity seems to be excluded as a valid interpretation of Matthew 5 or Matthew 19.

So here is the problem with the claim that the Catholic view is a later view: While the Patristics authors do acknowledge that one might have a need to separate from their spouse, but not a single one of them sanctions remarriage while the sinning spouse still lives. Those who discuss the issue say it is forbidden.

So the question is when [Not A] becomes [A] and who had the authority to make such a decree?  If the Patristics rejected it, one either has to argue the Patristics were wrong, bringing up the question "On whose authority can we judge this?" or else admit such a view is an innovation.

What about St. Basil the Great?

I’ve noticed certain groups [I don’t intend to say all groups] of Eastern Orthodox try to invoke St. Basil the Great to justify their position (they permit a second and third marriage, but no more, with a brief period of excommunication in between). These groups cite St. Basil the Great claiming he “referred not to a rule but to usage” and through him claim that a person wronged by infidelity may remarry. The claim invokes The Second Canonical Letter to Amphilocius though it seems they mean the First letter, where it says:

IV. In the case of trigamy and polygamy they laid down the same rule, in proportion, as in the case of digamy; namely one year for digamy (some authorities say two years); for trigamy men are separated for three and often for four years; but this is no longer described as marriage at all, but as polygamy; nay rather as limited fornication. It is for this reason that the Lord said to the woman of Samaria, who had five husbands, "he whom thou now hast is not thy husband." He does not reckon those who had exceeded the limits of a second marriage as worthy of the title of husband or wife. In cases of trigamy we have accepted a seclusion of five years, not by the canons, but following the precept of our predecessors. Such offenders ought not to be altogether prohibited from the privileges of the Church; they should be considered deserving of hearing after two or three years, and afterwards of being permitted to stand in their place; but they must be kept from the communion of the good gift, and only restored to the place of communion after showing some fruit of repentance.

But it doesn’t work. Restoration requires repentance,and repentance is to "feel or express sincere regret or remorse."  To feel regret or remorse indicates a wrongful action which one wishes to make amends for.

Indeed the Orthodox toleration of a third marriage, even if their interpretation of St. Basil were correct (which I do not concede), runs afoul of St. Basil who calls a third marriage "limited fornication."  If it is fornication, and "no longer described as marriage at all" it cannot be sanctioned.

As a matter of fact, reading the first letter brings us to section IX, where it says:

Here then the wife, if she leaves her husband and goes to another, is an adulteress. But the man who has been abandoned is pardonable, and the woman who lives with such a man is not condemned. But if the man who has deserted his wife goes to another, he is himself an adulterer because he makes her commit adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has caused another woman's husband to come over to her.

Note it says absolutely nothing about the wronged spouse remarrying. It only says he is not to blame for his wife’s infidelity. In other words this is an explanation of Matthew, stating that the man who puts his wife away for sexual immorality does not make her an adulteress. It does not justify remarriage.

When it comes to sanctioning remarriage after divorce in the case of adultery, we can see St. Basil did not intend what is attributed to him. Note what he says in his second letter:

XLVIII. The woman who has been abandoned by her husband, ought, in my judgment, to remain as she is. The Lord said, "If any one leave his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, he causeth her to commit adultery;" thus, by calling her adulteress, He excludes her from intercourse with another man. For how can the man being guilty, as having caused adultery, and the woman, go without blame, when she is called adulteress by the Lord for having intercourse with another man?

Such a statement makes it seem very unlikely that St. Basil sanctioned remarriage for the innocent spouse. He says exactly the opposite… that she would be an adulteress if she did remarry.

Understanding "Digamy"

In response to the claim that St. Basil proposed certain tolerations of Digamy as meaning he permitted remarriage after divorce for infidelity, we need to first look at what Digamy was for the early Christian.  We need to realize that among some early Christians, there was a belief held by a few that the widow or widower ought not to remarry at all. Those who did were accused of digamy (remarrying after the death of a spouse) by those who held this belief. (The Catholic Church holds this to be a misinterpretation of Paul).

However, there is an interpretation which is consistent with the Catholic teaching, which holds that while a married man might enter the priesthood [The Latin Rite practice of ordaining only celibate men to the priesthood is a discipline and not a doctrine], a man ordained to the priesthood may not marry.  Hence Patristic writings against clergy who committed digamy.

The reason the distinction of widows was made is due to Paul's teaching in 1 Timothy 5:

9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years old, married only once,

10 with a reputation for good works, namely, that she has raised children, practiced hospitality, washed the feet of the holy ones, helped those in distress, involved herself in every good work.

11 But exclude younger widows, for when their sensuality estranges them from Christ, they want to marry

12 and will incur condemnation for breaking their first pledge.

Digamy is not divorce and remarriage (that is a modern interpretation. The Church called divorce and remarriage serial polygamy). Digamy is remarriage after the death of a spouse. In ancient times, if the woman was enrolled in an order of widows or if the man had entered the monastic life after the death of a spouse, a remarriage was digamy. This is what St. Basil was referring to this in his Second Letter when he wrote:

XXIV. A widow whose name is in the list of widows, that is, who is supported by the Church, is ordered by the Apostle to be supported no longer when she marries.

There is no special rule for a widower. The punishment appointed for digamy may suffice. If a widow who is sixty years of age chooses again to live with a husband, she shall be held unworthy of the communion of the good gift until she be moved no longer by her impure desire. If we reckon her before sixty years, the blame rests with us, and not with the woman.

Note here, we see that a widow (one whose husband is dead) is considered guilty of digamy if she remarries.  See the section on Digamy below.  St. Basil is speaking, in the case of women under 60, that a woman under 60 ought not to be enrolled in an order of widows according to the teaching of St. Paul.

Because the context of what digamy is is different than how later interpretations applied it, it cannot be said such texts can justify remarriage after divorce.

Conclusion: Where is the Evidence to Justify Remarriage after Divorce?

To justify remarriage after divorce on Christian grounds requires an authoritative source and an authoritative interpretation. The Catholic Church rejects the idea that a valid, sacramental marriage can be broken at all so long as both spouses live.  Only if the marriage is invalid may the partners marry someone else.

Those who seek to justify divorce after remarriage through the Patristics must necessarily choose the a limited and isolated selection of passages, which seems to require ignoring contrary claims.  Does it really seem credible to claim that outright condemnation of divorce and remarriage is merely a non-binding opinion, but the interpretation of St. Basil, which he did not himself say, is doctrinal?

In the first article I have demonstrated that the citation of Matthew as an exception for adultery has no basis either in the Scriptures themselves. In this second I have shown the weakness of the appeals to the Patristic writings commonly cited on the subject.

A claim that divorce and remarriage after infidelity was accepted as valid by the Christian Church requires proof.  Therefore any challenge to the Catholic teaching by appealing to the Eastern Orthodox claim requires us to ask for the evidence.

Since neither the Scripture nor tradition can be used to prove this, any challenge must say that the whole of Christian belief was wrong and only now can we understand what our Lord really meant.

This is a view which cannot be justified.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reflections on Divorce, Remarriage and the Church (Part I): Did Matthew Make an Exception?

Preliminary Disclaimer

This article is on the subject of seeking to end a valid marriage on the grounds of adultery by way of rejecting the authority of the Church.  It is not a commentary on annulments.  Nor is it a judgment on those who seek them. 

I do not claim the authority to make judgments on whether the Church should or should not grant  an annulment in any individual case.  A person wondering if they have grounds for annulment should contact their parish or diocese for information.

My only intent for this article is to explain why certain attacks against the Church on this subject are in error.

Introduction: Appeal to Emotion to challenge the Church

While the recent abuse stories are the most headline grabbing attacks on the Church, there are always the tried-and-true attacks on the Church from within and without, which essentially seeks to portray the Church as “heartless” because she believes she cannot compromise on certain issues. Whether it is an issue like contraception, or divorce, or abortion or so-called “gay marriage” (it is interesting to note that all these objections tend to focus on the area of sexual ethics) the position is presented that the Church is a heartless bureaucratic institution which clings to “rules” which Christ would not approve of.

Usually such a position is demonstrated with either the appeal to fear fallacy or the appeal to pity fallacy. An example is given (such as a family with “too many children” or the “abandoned spouse” or the woman with a “health condition” or two people “who truly love each other”) to whom we are supposed to have sympathy for. Because they are in a situation where the Church must say “No,” the argument is the Church is “cruel” in doing so.

Fallacies don’t prove anything

The problem is, this doesn’t prove the Church is wrong. Indeed, the attack against the Church is based on the unwarranted assumption that God is primarily interested in our material well-being, and that the concern for our spiritual well-being is unimportant.

The objection tends to run along the lines of:

1. The situation I am in is harmful because it makes me unhappy

2. God does not want to harm us

3. Therefore this situation which makes me unhappy is against God's will.

In certain areas of Church moral teaching, we see this sort of appeal.  "God knows we can't afford to have more children right now.  The Church condemns contraception.  Therefore the Church teaching is against God's will."  Or "God doesn't want me to be alone and my spouse abandoned me.  The Church forbids remarriage after divorce.  Therefore the Church is wrong."

Denying Happiness? Why this argument is missing the point

The problem with these arguments is that it frames the issue in the wrong way.

Because the dissent against the Church on the issue of Remarriage is so common, one needs to look at the issues and why the attacks against the Church fundamentally miss the point and negate that which is binding about marriage.

The problem of the objection against Church teaching is that it confuses the cause of the situation with the Church teaching on the situation.  For example, if a person in a valid marriage is divorced, the Church teaching is that so long as both partners live, they must reconcile or remain single.

Now in this society which dismisses marriage as unimportant and divorce as even less important, the complaint may be raised that the spouse who was treated unjustly is doomed to suffer because of the Church teaching, which means they can never remarry.  "How can the Church deny a person their happiness?"

The Church didn't deny the person their happiness.  The unfaithful spouse did that.  The Church can only say, "Christ has forbidden remarriage if the marriage is valid.  If your marriage was valid, we cannot remarry you while your spouse lives."

Remember that the Sacramental Marriage is a vow made before God to remain faithful to each other for life.  One may be unfaithful in this lifelong vow, but that person's sin does not change the fact that Christ decreed the valid marriage to be unbreakable.

In marriage, there are no longer two people, but “one flesh” (Gen 2:24). A bond is formed which endures as long as both the husband and wife live.

If He did not give us permission to break a marriage, how can we, on our own, to declare such a marriage ended and expect God, who says “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16), to accept it?

This is why the "how can the Church deny a person their happiness?" argument is not only wrong, but is actually an appeal to fear (that it might happen to you) and pity, which ignores the actual question: IS the marriage valid?

Appeals to Reject the Church Authority

Because the actual question is a stumbling block, many try to get around it by appealing to another authority against the Church.  They invoke Scripture or Tradition, and ignores the question: Who has the authority to interpret Scripture and Tradition?

In this article I would like to look at the invocation of the Gospel of Matthew and the so-called exceptions to the norm.

A Look at the So-called “Matthew Exception”

Some people who object to the Catholic position try to cite Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 to argue that a spouse who is victimized by an adulterous spouse may remarry. The Eastern Orthodox churches tend to hold this position, and some stricter Protestant denominations do as well. Matthew 5 reads:

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’

32 But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19 reads:

3 Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”

4 He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’

5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?

6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

7 They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?”

8 He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

9 I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

10 (His) disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 He answered, “Not all can accept (this) word, but only those to whom that is granted.

12 Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

The argument put forward by those who favor the so-called Matthew Exception is that Christ permitted divorce and remarriage on grounds of adultery.

A Look at the problems of the Adultery Assumption: Porneia and Moichaō

The passages of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 are sometimes translated as "except for fornication" (KJV, ASV), sometimes technically correct but misleading “except for unchastity” (as in the RSV) and is sometimes mistranslated as "except for unfaithfulness" or the like in some of the modern semi-paraphrased versions. 

Why do I say it is a mistranslation?  Because the Greek word used in both Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 is πορνείᾳ (porneia) which is used in the sense of fornication, homosexual acts and immorality.  It is almost always used in the sense of sexual sins among the unmarried (see 1 Cor 7:2).  In contrast, the word for adultery is derived from μοιχάω (moichaō) which means to have sexual relations with another person's spouse.  Indeed, it is the word used in the above verses where Christ says the person who marries another, except in the case of πορνείᾳ, commits adultery (μοιχᾶται).

Porneia is not moichaō.  The words are specifically different in the Greek of the New Testament, and the person who wants to argue that Christ intended the “adultery exception” needs to explain why Christ did not say that: whoever divorces his wife, except for moichaō, commits moichatai.

This is especially relevant when we look at Matthew 15:19 where it says:

19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.

In Greek, we see what is written as “adultery, unchastity” is μοιχεῖαι, πορνεῖαι in the Greek (moicheiai, porneiai). Christ, in the Gospel of Matthew, makes a clear distinction between the two.

Another Problem with the Appeal to Matthew: Scriptural Disagreement?

There is another problem with the appeal to Matthew and the so-called exception.  That problem is that the other gospels which do not include this exception. Mark 10:11-12 reads:

11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;

12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Luke 16 reads:

8 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

So here is the problem. If one wants to argue that Matthew permits exceptions to the command of no divorce; such a view needs to be reconciled with Mark and Luke, which makes no such exception, or else admit the Scriptures contradict.  Now, is Matthew more lenient than Mark and Luke?  Or are Mark and Luke harsher than Matthew?

Either way, one would have to decide whether Matthew erred or whether Mark and Luke (and Paul), and on what basis is this to be accepted?

There is only one view which protects inerrancy of Scripture and shows there to be no conflict.  That is the recognition that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience who were aware of the Law and the forbidding of marriage between men and women in certain degrees of relationship. 

Indeed, we see such a case in Matthew 14:3-4:

3 Now Herod had arrested John, bound (him), and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip,

4 for John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”

The relationship of Herod and his brother's wife was prohibited in Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21.  In other words, it was a sinful act which God opposed. Regardless of Herod’s feelings for Herodias, their relationship was forbidden by the Law and could not be considered a valid marriage.  

The Catholic Church understands that the so-called “exception” of Matthew was not sanction of divorce and remarriage for cases of adultery, but for ending an invalid marriage and entering a real one.

This is why annulment is not a “Catholic Divorce” but rather an investigation into whether a marriage was valid to begin with. If it was not valid, then there was no marriage to begin with. If it is valid, then it quite simply exists regardless of what one or both spouses do.

The Problem of Paul for the “Matthew Exception”

1 Corinthians 7 also shows that those groups who argue for the “adultery clause” are in error. He writes:

10 To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): a wife should not separate from her husband

11 —and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband—and a husband should not divorce his wife.

Paul does not include the notion that one may remarry if the other spouse is unfaithful. Now some may try to argue that “should” means that it is not approved but permissible. However, “should” appears only in some translations (NAB, NASB, NRSV, RSV) and not at all in the Greek.

Debunking the Fallacy of amphiboly in reading Paul

There is a fallacy of amphiboly to interpret “should” as permitting. Those who argue such tend to take the definition of “should” in the sense of one of the following:

  • used in a clause with ‘that’ after a main clause describing feelings.
  • used in a clause with ‘that’ expressing purpose.
  • (in the first person) expressing a polite request or acceptance.
  • (in the first person) expressing a conjecture or hope

(Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.)

However, these are not the main definitions for “should.” The word “Should” is derived from shall (remember the Ten Commandments with “Thou shall not…”) and the primary definition is actually “Used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness.” (Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.”)

For Paul, Porneia and Moichaō are not the same thing

Another problem Paul poses for the “Matthew Exception” argument and the claim that porneia refers to adultery is the fact that Paul uses Porneia in 1 Cor. 7:1 when he says:

1 Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: “It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman,”

2 but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband.

Immorality is πορνείας (porneias) in the Greek. If Adultery is “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their husband or wife” then it follows that marriage cannot prevent adultery, simply because adultery presupposes the existence of marriage. Indeed, Paul would be speaking nonsense.


I believe we have demonstrated here that the invocation of Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 to justify remarriage after divorce in the case of adultery is one which must ignore the whole of Scripture and cite it selectively.

In my next article I will look at the appeal to the Early Christian Fathers (known as the Patristics) which some attempt.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Pain: When it seems to come from God or His Church

One of the problems when discussing doctrine of belief and morality is that people do have emotions and feelings and desires.  These things can be disordered of course.  These things can be brought about bad choices or being in situations through the fault of another person.  However, they are real feelings.  Sometimes, in dealing with a situation where the Church has no choice but to say "No," a person is caught on the wrong side of that decision.

Now from an objective perspective of course, if we believe the Church's authority is bestowed by Christ, then the person caught on the wrong side is on the wrong side.  However, it doesn't do them much good to say "$#!+ happens.  Deal with it."  Indeed, it might lead such a person to decide that the Church is acting with cold indifference.

On the other hand, each person in such a situation must "deal with it."  They must come to terms with the situation they are in or walk away while those who are not in this situation, while not being permitted to compromise on the truth, do need to be compassionate in how they deal with the situation.

Dealing With It: The Person In Pain

The person in a difficult situation needs to consider some things here.  Our emotions do tell us how we feel, but they should not be the master of what we do.  There is an old maxim of moral theology which states that no person should be their own judge of what is right and wrong.  Why is this?

This is because the possibility for self deception is high.  We all have a strong desire to avoid any suffering, or at least a perceived suffering.  Consider the person who endures a toothache because they consider the possibility of the dentist to be worse.  Sometimes we do have to experience discomfort in order to be healed of the situation we are now in.

The Issue of Faith

When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother-at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie; if you gave them an inch they took an ell.

Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of (like masturbation or physical cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment. (CS Lewis.  Mere Christianity p201-202)

The question then is "Do we trust the dentist" to do the right thing even when a situation seems to be quite painful (drilling the tooth)?

Likewise, do we trust God to seek our ultimate good when what we see is painful?  Do we trust the Church when she acts in the motivation of doing what she believes Christ wants us to do?  If we do not trust, we will not see the possibility of pain being used to purify us from what is not good for us from the perspective of having an immortal soul.

I have alluded to this in the past in speaking of what the Catholic Church believes about herself.  The important questions the Catholic in pain must ask themselves are: Do I believe Jesus established the Church which established the norms I am at odds with?  Do I trust that Jesus has promised to protect the Church from teaching error?'

Do we recognize the possibility that we are clinging to a toothache in thinking that if it is not our way, it can't be God's way?  Are we thinking that if the Church does not grant our request, it must be doing wrong?

Belief vs. Faith

28 Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

30 But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  (Mt 14:28-31).

There is a story about the 19th century Tightrope walker called Blondin (Jean Fracois Gravelet) who would walk across Niagara Falls.  He would do some amazing stunts like riding a bicycle, walking it blindfolded.  The story goes that one time he asked the crowd who believed he could cross it blindfolded while pushing a wheelbarrow.  Of course the crowd cheered him on.  Blondin then replied with "Who will get into the wheelbarrow while I push it across?"

The crowd was silent.  Not one person was willing to get into the wheelbarrow while he took it blindfolded across Niagara Falls.  They believed he could do it, but not one of them was willing to put their faith in him.

Those who are suffering some affliction, and believe Christ or His Church is the cause of it are in the situation of the Crowd at Niagara Falls.  Christ, like Blondin, is asking "Who will get into the wheelbarrow?"

Peter may have sank when his faith wavered, but he at least had faith enough in Christ to get out of the boat, and he had faith in Christ to save him when he sank.

Will we trust Christ enough to get out of the boat of the situation we are in and follow Him?

"God is Good" does not mean Our Life will be Pain Free

In the book Rome Sweet Home, Kimberly Hahn discusses a story of how she was wrestling with the pain and bitterness over her husband's conversion to the Catholic Church.  She recognized that she either would have to join him or remain in a divided family.  She was struggling with why God would  allow her to go through such pain.  She then relates how her daughter had to be taken to the hospital because of dehydration.  She had an extremely high temperature (peaking at 105.2 degrees) and she had to assist the nurses in putting ice cold cloths on her child's body to help bring the temperature down, even though it was very painful to the child.  She says of the experience:

As soon as her hot little body heated up the towel, we took it off and put on another cold one.  it was imperative that we get her fever down.  Hannah was lying there with one arm bound by an IV tube and the other stretched toward me as far as she could reach, her body shaking so hard.  She was screaming "Mommy!  Mommy!"

Hannah could not understand what I was doing.  I was supposed to protect her from harm, yet here I was helping to put the cloths on that were causing her much pain and discomfort.  I could not explain it to her, but I knew I was doing the most loving thing for her.

In the midst of this I felt the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and say, "Kimberly, do you see what a good mother you are?  You love your daughter, so you are causing her pain to heal her.  Do you see how much I have loved you, my daughter?  I have caused you pain, to heal you, to draw you to myself." (Rome Sweet Home pages 150-151)

I think this is important to remember, when we are asking ourselves "Why is God making me suffer like this?"  Like the dentist of CS Lewis' account.  Like the actions Kimberly Hahn had to do in helping the nurses keep the temperature down on her seriously ill daughter, sometimes God must act in a way which causes us pain in order to make us well.  Sometimes the Church must act in a certain way and refuse to make an exception, even though it causes us pain, because she must be faithful to Christ.

In such a case God is doing us no wrong.  Nor is the Church doing us wrong.

Parenthesis: On Unjust Stewards

Let me be clear I am not speaking of an individual in the Church who is unyielding in a way which does not do God's justice.  There are sinners in the Church of course.  If there is an unjust member of the clergy or the laity in a Church position who behaves unjustly, we need to have faith in God and trust He will do His will, while praying for deliverance.

However, our view must be that of Christ in Matthew 26:39, which says:

He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

The solution God might have to deliver us from injustice in such cases might not be what we want.  It might even be that the Lord permits the action of the unjust steward to bring about good we do not see.  However, if we are certain that an affliction is due to an individual in the Church behaving unjustly, we need to respond in faith, and not in anger.  God is not thwarted by those who act against Him.  If He wills a thing, nothing can stand against him.

So is it Cruel to say "Deal With it?"  Reflections for the Person Interacting with the one suffering

So is it cruel for the person who is interacting with the suffering person to just say "$#!+ happens, deal with it?"  I think it would be cruel to say it in this way of course.  However, if the Church does a thing because to do otherwise would be to contradict what she believes, then we do the person no favors in agreeing with the lashing out against the Church which they do in their pain.

On the other hand, we do not do God's work if our response is cold.  Sometimes we must say "No" and take part in "tough love."  But that doesn't mean we can just brush off their pain.  We need to offer them our ear to hear and our support to help them with their heavy burden without indulging in any self pity which may be present.

We cannot abandon the truth ever.  But how we present the truth can make a difference as to whether we help a person with their burden or whether we make it seem more oppressive.

For the times I have chosen the latter approach, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Deus Vult! (Therefore the Church MUST be wrong): Reflections on Cafeteria Catholicism


[Preliminary Note: In this article I am dealing with the attacks on the official teachings of the Church and not the actions of an individual who is in a Church office who does wrong in the application of what the Church teaches.]

In a past article I dealt with the issue of authority in the Catholic Church, and how the belief that the Church was established with the authority to bind and loose.  I asked then, why a person would want to belong to a Church which claimed this if they did not believe it, because if it was not true, it is a pretty monstrous claim.

Yet we do have a phenomenon within the Church which we know as "Cafeteria Catholicism."  The principle is a person accepts only those parts of the faith they believe in, and reject those issues (normally of morality, but sometimes on doctrine too) they disagree with.

In all of these cases, we see that the Church is claimed to be in the wrong when it disagrees with person X on their behavior.

Thus we see things like the Pope is called "cruel" for not allowing condoms to prevent AIDS.  We see the Church called cruel for requiring Catholics to behave morally, for opposing “gay marriage” and so on.  We see the Church position on contraception and abortion called "cruel" because it "forces" a woman to die in childbirth or have too many children.  We see the Church position on divorce and remarriage "cruel" because they insist that Christ forbids divorce if the marriage is valid.

In all of these cases, we see people claim “God must want me to do X "because I would be unhappy if I did not get my way.”   The enthymeme (unspoken assumption) of this argument being, "God wants me to be materially happy."  Thus we see people say in effect Deus vult! (“God Wills It!”) If the Church disagrees, then the Church must be wrong.

There is a problem in all of these cases, but the problem is not with the Church.

Anger  is Directed at the Church for doing what she believes she must do

Many of the stances the Church holds, she holds simply because she believes she must do so if she is to be faithful to Christ. She rejects certain positions set forth by the world, such as not accepting the use of condoms to “stop” the spread of AIDS; such as refusing to sanction the marriage between two individuals of the same sex; such as refusing to sanction remarriage if the first marriage was valid and both spouses are alive.

Now I have no doubt that many people think an “exception” should be made or the Church “policy” [a loaded term to make it seem like a merely human rule], and in many cases the emotion they feel is quite real.

All the sad stories about AIDS sufferers, Lesbians in Love [ever notice how it’s always two women who are used as an example… never two men?], divorced persons wanting to remarry have the same refrain: “The Church won’t let us do X!

The problem with this tired old refrain is the Church believes she cannot change what she says because to do so would be unfaithful to God. Therefore, the demand for the Church to change is in fact a demand that the Church be unfaithful to what she believes God requires.

This is, in a word, selfishness.

A person may disagree with what the Church believes of course, but they can’t claim their view is “more Catholic” in doing so. Let’s go back to the premise of how Catholicism differs from other religions. We believe that the Catholic Church is the Church directly established by Christ with a visible head with the authority to bind and loose. This does not mean that the Church can go and abolish one of the Ten Commandments tomorrow. The Church believes her authority to bind and loose can only be used in service to God, and not independently of God.

The Misinterpretation of “God is Love" (and therefore He wouldn’t stop me from doing what I want)

One of the most annoying counterarguments against the Church is the taking out of context of “God is Love.” (from 1 John 4:16). Taken from the concept of we must love our brother, “God is Love” is turned into saying “God is Nice.” God, in this view, is non-threatening, He makes no demands. He only wants us to be happy here on Earth and is willing to bend His rules even though His silly Church won’t.

Excuse me, but this is not the God of the Bible at all. This is the God of Hallmark sentiments. It is actually a blasphemous view of God which negates what Christ did on the Cross for us.  It ignores the possibility of our being sinners.

God does indeed love us. When Adam and Eve broke away from God, God was under no obligation to bring salvation to us. Yet He did send His Son to save us. However, the message of Christ was not “An’ ye harm none, do what you will” (a popular Wiccan saying). It was “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). God loves us unconditionally to be sure. When one of us falls away, He desires to bring us back (see Luke 15:4). However the imagery God uses is that He goes out and brings back. We who sin are in the wrong place, and He goes to bring us back to the right place.

Love is not sentimentalism. Love seeks the greatest good for the beloved. Sometimes, it must be “tough love.” Love cannot sacrifice truth because no falsehood can be good, and no good thing can be false. So when the beloved wants something harmful, the lover must at times say “Because I love you, I cannot do X.”

The Church Has Other Motivations Than “Being Mean.”

Now, agree with the Church or disagree, at least accept that when the Church draws a line in the sand, it is not for the sake of being “cruel.” Rather it is because she believes that this is the right place as decreed by God.

Disagreement with the Church is therefore a rejection (whether intended or not) of the Church values and a demand she behave differently because what the Church believes is “not important” in relation to what the individual wants.  Thus the argument that the Church should permit condoms is a claim that continence is unimportant because we can’t help acting like crazed weasels in heat. The claim that the Church should permit remarriage if a spouse has been unfaithful is a rejection of the Church belief that if a marriage is valid, the Church cannot remarry a person already married. If the Church refuses to sanction homosexual “marriage” it is because she believes God has forbade homosexual acts.  If she condemns abortion as evil, it is not because she wants to control women.  It is because she believes the unborn child is a living human person.

All the appeals to emotion one wants to dredge up are irrelevant.  If God has commanded certain things are intrinsically evil (always wrong) then the Church may not make changes with them.

In all of these cases, we see the insistence that the Church act in defiance to what she believes God commands. This is not calling on the Church to become “more like Christ.” It is (willed or not) the non servium of the Devil saying “I reject the value you insist on!”

“But… God wants me to be happy!”

This is another argument which is thrown around, which makes God into a fuzzy Santa Claus. God desires us to be happy yes. However He knows that not all things we desire will make us happy in the light of the fact we possess an immortal soul. We were made for eternity with God. We were also made with free will. Because of this, we have the ability, but not the right, to behave in a way contrary to what He decrees.

Temporary happiness which will lead to separation from God for eternity is not something God wants for us.  God is good, and there is no evil or imperfection in Him. We, on the other hand, are imperfect and sometimes desire worthless or harmful things with the thinking it is a good thing. The wicked things will not bring us closer to God, regardless of whether it “feels” right or not. How many times have we seen children want what is harmful for them? They think the parent is “mean” because he or she will not indulge the child. However, sometimes the parent must refuse the child something which will not be good for the child.

Sometimes God must command we do not do a certain thing, much as we might want to. The Church, believing what Christ says about “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” must be faithful to what she believes God commands.

Misunderstanding what the Church Teaches

Not all dissent is born of defiance. Some is born out of ignorance. There are many times when a person does not understand why the Church holds a thing and thus claims what the Church does must be wrong. While the motive might be less willful, it does not excuse the person for rejecting what the Church holds.

GK Chesterton once wrote, in the article "The Drift from Domesticity" found in the book Brave New Family (Ignatius Press. 1990. Page 53):

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This is an excellent point. “Reform for the sake of reform” is foolish. Before one can make a change, one must remember that one needs to understand the intent of the original position. Otherwise the result is “unintended consequences” and the like.

This is the difference between Vatican II and the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II.” In Vatican II, the Church understood that there were some important beliefs of the Church being smothered in an attitude of clericalism (“let the priests do it”) and laity wrongly elevating certain customs to the level of dogma. In the “Spirit of Vatican II” we had some clergy and laity say, “I don’t see the sense of this… let’s get rid of it.”

However, before putting oneself in opposition to a Church teaching, one is obligated to find out what the Church teaches and why.

If one has a problem, one has to see why such a rule was made, rather than employing the "argument from silence" fallacy and assuming that because one does not know the reason for a rule it must be arbitrary.

By all means ask for help in seeking understanding.  But recognize the possibility of error in your own a priori assumptions as well.  If the Church is given the authority to bind and to loose and the Church is protected from teaching error (Look up Humani Generis #21: This is not limited to ex cathedra pronouncements), then the person who disagrees with the Church needs to ask whether the disagreement stems from the Church being fundamentally wrong or whether it stems from the individual being fundamentally wrong.

A Personal Example of Not Knowing Why

Here's a personal example.  Back in the late 1990s I was doing a paper on Charles Curran.  One of his arguments against the Church position on contraception was that because the Church position on money lending had changed, the position on contraception could be changed as well.  I couldn't find an answer to this question, though it sounded wrong.  For about seven years I could not find an answer to this quandary.

In the end I did find the answer.  Curran was making a fallacy of false analogy and misrepresenting what the Church had done.  The Church always condemned usury.  However, in the Middle Ages where wages were set by law, it was essentially impossible for a person to get out of debt.  Later when the structure of economics shifted from feudalism, it became possible for a person to improve their social standing and become wealthier.

Usury was condemned in both cases.  However, in Feudalism, any money lending was usury because it was impossible to pay back any interest.  Later, it was possible to pay back reasonable amounts of interest.  So there was not a change in doctrine.  Just a change in what was possible to pay back.

If I had relied on my own beliefs as being infallible, I might have felt I had to leave the Church.  Instead, I trusted the Church and, in time, learned why she did as she did.

The Fork In the Road: WHAT Do You Believe about the Church?

If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.  (Joshua 24:15).

I don’t want people to misinterpret these next sections. I am not saying “Love it or leave it!” (Indeed I am praying the reader in this situation will not leave her). Rather I am appealing to all Catholics to recall what they are called to believe about the authority Christ gave His Church.

However, for all people who dissent from what the Church believes on certain moral issues, they must go back to the underlying fundamental principle:

We believe that the authority which the Church possesses comes from Christ Himself and cannot be used in defiance of what He wills. We believe that the obedience of the Church is required by God (see Matthew 18:17)

Aut verus Ecclesia aut diabolical (Either the true Church or Diabolical)

[Yes I did this through machine translation. Latin purists may have a better way to translate this. Feel free to suggest a correction].

So here is the fork in the road. So here is what the dissenter must ask: Do you believe the Catholic Church, under the headship of the Pope, has the authority to teach in God’s name and is protected from error in doing so?

Do you believe this or do you not?

If the answer is yes, then logically one must consider the possibility of being in error himself. If the answer is no, then the question is Why remain in a body you think is false?  To borrow from Joshua 24:15 above, if you will not accept the notion that the Catholic Church teaches through the authority of Christ, it is time to ask who does.

Anti-Catholics are, in this respect closer to the truth than the Cafeteria Catholic. Does this statement shock you?  They at least recognize that if the Catholic Church is not what she claims to be then she is making a diabolical claim, even though they err in their conclusion.

However, if you believe the Catholic Church is wrong (or, in the case of Cafeteria Catholics, wrong in "some parts") then YOU must be prepared to justify the authority YOU invoke. I’m not a fan of ipse dixit.

The Problem of appealing to personal Mysticism over the Church: It starts in “Mist,” centers on “I” and ends in “schism.”

Ultimately most acts of dissent against the Church, most acts of refusing to accept the authority on an area is based on a form of focusing on the self. If I want it, it means God wants it. So if I want to marry another man, if I want to contracept or abort, if I want to divorce and remarry… then obviously God must want it too!

Such a view ignores the fact that we are tainted with original sin. As St. Paul put it in Romans 7:15, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” We can, at times, do what is wrong and we can, at times, delude ourselves into thinking that we want is right. Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, has wrote:

It is strange that some theologians have difficulty accepting the precise and limited doctrine of papal infallibility, but see no problem in granting de facto infallibility to everyone who has a conscience. (On Conscience, 3)

If we have a weak and relativistic view of morality (the "mist") which centers on the self (the "I") the end result is usually a de facto schism even if one insists they are a perfectly good Catholic "where it matters."

Thus even if it "feels right" it does not mean it is right.

Conscience Must Be Formed

Conscience is not an infallible guide.  It must be trained.  A person living in a place which has never known Christ, might have a deformed conscience.  Vatican II has spoken on this, saying, in Gaudium et spes:

16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. (9) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. (10) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. (11) In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. (Emphasis added)

If we do not even look for what is right, we cannot plead ignorance on the day of judgment.  Thomas Aquinas makes the distinction between invincible and vincible ignorance:

Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or do what he ought to have or do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called invincible, because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know. (ST I-II, Q76, A2)


So we are back at the crossroads.  Either the Church is what she claims to be or she is not.  If what she claims is true, then obviously, to do the work of God, one must do so in obedience to what the Church binds and looses.  If she is not, then it is senseless to demand the Church "change" when her teachings are based on an authority which one rejects as false.

However, one should remember the words of Christ as well in Matthew 18:

6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

7 Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!

8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.

9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.

These are not the words of a fuzzy, lax God.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What Is The Point? Reflections on Truth and Internet Disputes



Many of the Internet debates concerning religion on forums, on blogs and on other places tend to break down into certain categories: Theist vs. Atheist, Christian vs. Non Christian, Catholic vs. Protestant and so on.

It seems however that, while the focus is correctly on who is right, the problem is each group is pointing to its own belief according to its own standards as proving their superiority.  The focus is on the personal preference of what is and should be, not the objective sense of what is in fact true.  The result is that we often see people complaining about the lack of citrus in the apples instead of which fruit is more beneficial to the health of the human person.

An Individual's Bad Arguments This is Representative of the Belief Itself

It would be easier of course if logical errors were merely committed by the "other side" and "our side" were quite clear of muddle headed thinking.  Alas, this is not the case.  I've seen defenses of Christianity which possessed more zeal than logic, leaving atheists or non-Christians mocking the beliefs assuming that a bad argument an individual makes reflects a flaw with the belief itself.

This would be a false assumption of course.  A bad defense of what is claimed does not mean the position is not true.  It means the argument does not prove the claim.  Of course we have to recognize this holds true for both sides.  If the person promoting atheism is essentially a teenager who is arguing from emotion from resenting overly strict parents, the argument will be wretched… but it does not mean the wretched argument is the best any atheist can do.

Unfortunately both sides tend to do this, and the result is a lack of true dialogue compounded with contempt for the other side.

Of course the bad argument needs to be refuted, but let neither side kid themselves into thinking they have one-shotted the belief which the bad argument is defending.  In order to have a true dialogue and search for truth, we must have an intent to discuss what the other side truly holds and not to focus on "what makes the other side look stupid."

The Other Side of the Coin: Dispute What The Other Side Believes, Not What You THINK It Believes

This is tragically common.  All too often, one sees someone personally interpret what they read about the belief that person does not share… and then spend time attacking the belief on grounds the believer does not even hold for the purpose of mocking the view.

Not all atheists are Communists, or even liberals.  Some are, in fact, conservatives.  Not all Christians are Young Earth Creationists.  Some believe evolution may have been employed by God.  Some Protestants accuse Catholics of believing we are saved by "Works Alone."  This would be a misrepresentation.  I've seen debates where one assumes all Protestants hold to the idea of "Once Saved Always Saved" or "Double Predestination."  Not all do hold these beliefs.

The problem of course is the assumption that "All A hold B."  First of all is it correct to say All of A holds B?  Second, is it correct to say All of A holds B?

One can easily make a belief look stupid by attacking an aspect one finds ridiculous.  However if the opponent does not actually hold to what you assert, your rhetoric is essentially worthless.  Or if you misunderstand what your opponent holds, even the most brilliant rhetorical attack is a waste of time.

The point is, one needs to understand the position they disagree with if they are to succeed in challenging it.  In other words to find out the truth.

Like It Or Not, TRUTH Exists and Everyone is Obligated to Seek it

If one wishes to debate right and wrong, we must start from the perspective that truth does exist because if truth does not exist, we can't argue… only fight over preferences.  Now we can run across the person who denies that any truth exists, but this is a contradiction, because either the claim that there is no truth is true, or it is not.  However, if such a person is adamant that truth does not exist, there is precious little one can do.  They won't accept any statement as objective.

This is a double edged sword of course.  If there is no truth, then there is no error either, and there is no moral difference between Doctors without Borders and Ethnic Cleansing in Yugoslavia.

However, if one wishes to make the statement that atheists can behave morally and therefore Christianity is not needed, then it follows there must be an objective standard concerning what is moral.

Discussion of What Is Better Assumes a Standard to Progress Towards

Obviously to make discussion meaningful, a standard of truth needs to be recognized.  Otherwise arguments over disputes on ethics becomes as meaningless as disputes over preferences of colors.  If there is not an objective standard, then the Nazis were not necessarily wrong, and those who opposed them were not necessarily right… it would merely be a matter of personal preference.  This is something very few people would accept of course.

Most people do accept, at least in theory, the idea that there are some sort of truths we can know.  So we see some people argue that atheism is superior to Christianity because Christianity suppresses rights.  This presupposes that rights are an objective good.  Of course if rights are an objective good, it means there must be something about it which is always good and that it is good for all people 

Christians would generally agree that rights are an objective good, of course. The dispute is over what rights are.  One common dispute is whether rights are the ability to do what one wants or the ability to do what one ought.

Why NOT Kill Ethnic Minorities?

Thus one is required to explore the nature of what rights are before claiming another infringes on rights.  If the right to life is an objective good, then all persons must have a right to it, and it cannot be arbitrarily denied to a person or group without setting the precedent that any person or group can be denied this right on the basis of personal interest.

Under a view which denies the universality of rights or that truth is objective, the state can decide that the fetus does not have rights, or the elderly… or the Jews.

Think this is an appeal to fear, or an application of Godwin's Law?  Then answer the question "Why Not?" 

We have had at different times in history events where people were denied rights based on their ethnicity, religious belief or social class.  Few people would deny these things were wrong, but wrong indicates that there is a right behavior which these things are measured against.

Conclusion: So What is the Point of Internet Debate?

Quite frankly, if there is no truth, then there is no point to any political, religious or atheistic blog, and no matter how well the rhetoric is done, such a blog is no better than the blog of someone who says "I love muffins and kittens!"  If there is no truth, then a response in rebuttal to an internet blog is no more sensible than to respond to a blog to say "OMGWTFBBQ!!!  Kittens and muffins are evil!"

Unless we serve what Peter Kreeft has called The Common Master (the truth and the commitment to search for it) then all the bytes spilled in argument are meaningless.

Ultimately all arguments and all judgments that certain behaviors are right or wrong boil down to this:

  1. Objective Truth exists concerning what is right and wrong in human behavior
  2. Such truth is knowable
  3. Such truth has a source which is binding on all people whether they accept it or not

If a  person does not recognize these principles, or denies them, such a person argues in vain when he or she challenges the stand of another.

However, if one recognizes that objective truth does exist, then it requires we defend our positions based on the truth… both the objective truth about what is moral behavior and the objective truth of understanding "what my opponent actually holds which I disagree with."

Without this recognition of objective truth, we might as well go post blogs on kittens and muffins…

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When A Culture Rejects Morality Where Can They Draw A Line? A Bizarre Case in France

Source: Polygamy Controversy Presents Dilemma for Post-Christian France

France has been more or less estranged from the Church for quite some time.  In moving towards secularism, they have become more and more distant from traditional religious morals.  Of course once one has erased a moral line on the basis that it has a "religious origin" it becomes very hard to justify forbidding a thing.

The case which struck me is the case of Lies Hebbadj, a French butcher whose wife was fined for driving with a veil (they are Muslim).  When investigating the case, the police learned that she was one of the wives of Mr. Hebbadj.  It seems he has four wives, and the French government is seeking to see whether they can revoke his citizenship and deport him because of polygamy grounds.

Mr. Hebbadj's defense?  Life Site News reports:

Objections to his alleged polygamy were answered by the woman’s husband, Lies Hebbadj, an Algerian-born Muslim, who pointed out that, in accordance with modern French customs, he does not have four wives but one wife and four mistresses, plus 12 children between them.

“If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” Mr. Hebbadj, a halal butcher, said after consulting his legal counsel. “As far as I know, mistresses are not forbidden, neither in France, nor in Islam.”

Thus we see the dilemma when a nation rejects certain moral requirements such as marriage.  If it is socially acceptable for the French to keep mistresses and have children by them, then how can they reject polygamy from a foreign culture if three of the wives can be classified as mistresses and only one as a wife?  It seems that under such a system as France possesses, the fact that Hebbadj can undergo ceremonial Islamic marriages with only one of them legally recognized as a wife.

Don't think I am rooting for Hebbadj of course.  Polygamy was rejected by Christianity for the most part (except for aberrations like Luther sanctioning a polygamous marriage for Phillip of Hesse) because it goes against God's intent for one man and one woman, and polygamy (properly speaking, polygyny) reduces the woman to an object, inferior to men.

The problem is, France is trying to have it both ways.  It has more or less spurned the Christian sexual morality, openly tolerating things which are generally seen as wrong in most cultures.  Yet, when a Muslim exploits the fact that France has spurned Christian morality to seek to justify his polygyny, the French government really has no basis to invoke the common good.  After all, if polygamy is wrong, it indicates it is because a person can have only one spouse, and other relations are outside of that one marriage.

The problem is, they can't divide the line so that polygamy is forbidden but mistressing is not.  To be consistent, either both must be forbidden or both must be tolerated.

They can't even use the issue of asking whether the other women consented to this arrangement unless they also apply it to the practice of keeping mistresses as well.  Really if society sanctions the keeping of mistresses, there is very little which justifies keeping multiple wives either.

Ultimately, France has to decide what the basis is for morality.  If it is created by the society, and French society boasts of plurality in society, then logically they cannot do anything against the encroachment of Islamic customs into France.

However, if morality is outside of us, then France has to recognize that certain customs and practices it performs are out of line with this morality and must be rejected if they want to reject the obviously wrong practice of polygamy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Putting First Things First: Why Be A Catholic?

On another blog, I was reading of certain conflicts some people had in being interested in being a part of the Church, yet disagreeing with what it taught.  In my comment on this blog I said I found myself perplexed as to why people would want to join the Church if they think she errs so fundamentally on a matter.

I did some looking around and found this was a position which did exist more widely than I had thought.  There are people out there who are attracted to the Church, but disagree with what she teaches, and think she should change her ways before they would enter.

On reflection I should not have been surprised. After all, within the Church there are many who think the Church should be what they want it to be and get angry when it goes a direction they do not want.

This is not a rebuttal to the blog in question (so if the author is reading this, I hope you don't think this is an attack on what you wrote.  Rather your blog made me reflect on this issue).  Rather it is a reflection on the underlying concern of the question and why I was perplexed: Why should one be a Catholic?

Preliminary Clarification

Let me be clear here that I am not speaking of people who do not like to see dissent within the Church, so long as they recognize the authority of the Church to act as they think best for the salvation of souls.  Rather I am speaking of when the magisterium of the Church is attacked by those who want what the Church itself teaches. People who say “The Church needs to change its policy on X before I join” or “I joined the Church because I thought it did Y” are missing a fundamental point in joining the Church.

Many Wrong Reasons: The Example of Marriage

There are many wrong reasons to do a thing.  In getting married, for example, it would be a wrong reason to marry because the future spouse was rich, or had a wonderful body, or seeking the endless romance, or the marriage would improve the social class of the one seeking to marry.  No doubt people do marry for these reasons, but in doing so; they choose the wrong reasons for taking part in an institution which has specific purposes which cannot be changed.  Most of us would recognize the above reasons as the wrong reasons to marry of course. 

Certainly the bride-to-be would have a right to be hurt. She could justly say “You don’t love me! You only love the image of me you want, and that will only last as long as I meet your ideals!”

There is only one right reason to consider marriage, and that is knowing what marriage is for, one is willing to make a lifelong commitment to join to a person for life to share lives, raise children (if the couple is able to) with mutual love [which is not the same thing as Romance]. When this primary reason is kept first in mind, these other things become superficial. If one truly loves a spouse, the fact she is not wealthy, does not have the appearance of a supermodel and so on.

Wrong Reasons: Joining the Church

Of course the idea of an analogy can only go so far. It would be wrong to apply the examples above in an over literal way. However the basic point needs to be considered.

When it comes to entering the Catholic Church, there are many wrong reasons to seek to join: Being attracted to the liturgy or art, being attracted to certain positions which agree with yours, being attracted to the unity it possesses or being impressed with the sanctity of certain members of the Church.

While these are all elements within the Church which do bear witness to the primary reason the Church should be sought out for… but they are all secondary, and if one makes the secondary reason the primary reason, the person will ultimately grow disillusioned.

One Right Reason: Because it is True

The right reason to join the Church is because one believes that the Church exists because she was established by Jesus Christ intended a visible and hierarchical Church, under the headship of Peter, for the purpose of bringing people to Him, recognizing that she has, through Christ, the authority to bind and to loose and is protected from error when she formally teaches on what we are to do. In other words the one who would join the Catholic Church would need to accept that what the Church teaches is true.

If one rejects what the Church believes about herself, then to put it bluntly, why would one want to join the Catholic Church to begin with?

Putting Second Things First Will Not Support Us

The reasons I mentioned above in the section Many Wrong Reasons are wrong, not because it is wrong to think such things within the Church are good, but because they are not the key reason to be a Catholic and that the real reason for joining or remaining in the Church exists whether the other things are present or not.

If I believe the form of the Liturgy is the reason to join the Church, what happens if the Church changes the form of the Mass to something less desirable?  Many Radical Traditionalists are in this boat.  They loved the Extraordinary (Tridentine) form of the Mass with the Latin and the chants and the incense… but then the Church changed it.  If the form of the Liturgy is the reason one becomes Catholic, it creates a very unstable formation to base one's Catholicism.  One's personal sense of aesthetics become the judge.

Joining the Church because of its art is even worse.  Yes in certain times in history we have seen man and women create beautiful works of art brought about by their religious faith.  At other times, we see particularly bad looking architecture and tacky religious artwork.  Now it is true that art and architecture done for the purpose of glorifying God helps elevate our hearts and mind to Him.  However, a church which looks like the Bauhaus and plays Handel's Messiah on kazoos yet still does what Christ intends His Church to do [Not that I'd want to see this of course] is far superior to a beautiful gothic Cathedral with a beautiful choir which taught error. 

Likewise, joining the Church because you approve of its stand on an issue is not wise… particularly if it is because you perceive the Church to be "Liberal" or "Conservative" overall.  The purpose of the Church is not to create a physical government structure.  It is to direct people to Jesus Christ for the purpose of their eternal salvation.  Political movements, when they depart from what the Church teaches separate man from God, and are to be opposed.  If one joins the Church on grounds that the Church teaching on a subject is conservative/liberal, what will such a one do when the Church must take a stand against something else which is conservative/liberal?  Too many have decried the Church for turning "right" or "left" which basically means "The Church doesn't do what I want it to do!"  This makes the individual the infallible judge of what is right and wrong, when in fact it is the Church who guides us to live our lives in accordance to what Christ wills.

In concerns of the sanctity of a specific person, this is also a bad reason to join the Church by itself.  All of us, being sinners, can fall short of the Christian witness we are called to give.  Then what?  Because such a person stumbles, does this mean that what he professes about Christ is not true?  Tragically some people do make this error.

Love what the Church Is, Not What You Want it to Be

In all of the above reasons, it is the personal desire of what the Church should be which is seen as good, not the Church itself. It is like falling in love with the ideal image of a woman. No real woman can match up to an ideal, because she is a real person and not a fantasy. Likewise the Church is made up of real persons who are sinners, not merely a hypothetical ideal museum of saints. We believe that Christ protects His Church from error. It does not mean that people within the Church will always behave as we think they ought, or even that they behave as God requires them to act.

The Proper Perspective on the Church

As I said above, the only right perspective to join the Church is the perspective that "what the Church teaches is true, and that the Church exists because she was established by Jesus Christ intended a visible and hierarchical Church, under the headship of Peter, for the purpose of bringing people to Him, recognizing that it has, through Christ, the authority to bind and to loose and is protected from error when it formally teaches on what we are to do."

If one does believe this, then the other issues are put in their proper place.  Yes, good liturgies, good art and architecture, stands we like on issues and sanctity of the members of the Church are all things which are desirable.  However, none of these things reflect what the Church is supposed to be and if we insist on these things over what the Church is supposed to be first (the ordinary means Christ uses to bring His salvation to the world), then the point has been totally missed.

Things to Be Understood

A person who walks away from this article thinking I am saying we should just shut up and ignore people in the Church who do wrong is completely missing the point. Likewise it would be wrong to think I am saying we should tolerate error in the Church. The Church is indeed called by God to be Holy, and when individuals are saying we can disobey the Church, those individuals err.

We must understand that while individuals are in the Church, it is only by heeding the authority of the Pope and the Bishops as successors to Peter and the Apostles when they teach in a way requiring assent that we can say we are of the Church.

When we pass judgment on the Magisterium, saying “it cannot be the true Church unless it agrees with me” we are missing the point entirely.

If we believe that the Catholic Church was established by Christ to teach in His name and that Christ protects the Church from teaching in error, then it requires us to ask a fundamental question: If this is true, and I disagree with the Church, then who is really in error?

Either God’s Church or No Church at All

This is where the Cafeteria Catholic and the person outside the Church who thinks “If only the Church would change X, I would join,” are in error. I believe the anti-Catholic is in error, but he or she at least recognizes the point better than the cafeteria Catholic.

The point the anti-Catholic recognizes but the Cafeteria Catholic does not is that: either the Catholic Church has the authority to teach in Christ’s name or it does not. This leaves us with two possible conclusions:

  1. One believes the Church is indeed the Church willed by Christ and is protected from error, and therefore must be heeded when she teaches formally.
  2. One believes the Church is not the Church willed by Christ and is not protected from error, so she may or may not be right on an issue.

Under condition 1, one must accept the Church when she teaches formally and not reject the Church because of certain cosmetic changes.

Under condition 2, it is entirely irrelevant whether the Church is beautiful, or holds the “right” positions or has people who behave as we like. What she claims fundamentally about herself would be wrong.

A Clarification

Don’t misunderstand me and think I am saying “Love it or Leave it!” Don't think I am saying the truth is subjective.  I am saying if you think the Church is right in what she claims, then recognize it is far more likely that you err than the Magisterium of the Church when it comes to an issue of truth, while a question of aesthetics is irrelevant to what the Church is intended to be (though it can be a symptom of problems the Church needs to address).

God calls all of us to seek the truth, and follow the truth, because He IS the Truth (see John 14:6). Truth is objective. So either the Church teaching is true or it is not.  This is the first issue which will affect how we view the rest.


I expect the non-Catholic, the non-Christian or the non-Believer will take the second option and reject what the Church teaches about herself. However, since God is truth, He will require of such people to make an honest search for what is true. If such a person rejects the Church, it would have to be due to their honest error in seeking the truth, and their honestly believing that they are doing right – and have no way of knowing they had made an error. This of course means investigating why the Church teaches as she does and not merely invent a reason.

However for those in the Church struggling with resentment that the Church “changed” or the person outside the Church thinking they would join the Church “if only…” the question is: Do you believe the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ and is kept free from error when she teaches formally through the Magisterium?

If so, when it comes to the final judgment, the person remaining outside or the person living disobediently inside will have to answer God’s question: Why did you disobey My Will, when I said of my Church, “Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16)?