Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thought for the Day: Trolls

I really wonder what trolls hope to accomplish when they post links to anti-Catholic articles in the comments for the blog.  If it's to sway me, I'd say it fails completely. The link leads to a blog which sounded like completely irrational hatred filled with four letter words, spewing venom at the leaders of the Church.  If it was intended to intimidate me or cause me to lose hope it also failed.  If this is the best the individual can argue, its hardly worth bothering with.

The only sense I can make of it is that the author holds an irrational hatred for certain things and feels the need to attack people who defends what the author hates and slanders.

Just remember if the author sounds like Todd Unctuous… or worse, makes him sound reasonable compared to the author, the author isn't doing their faction much good.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On Obedience and Dissent Within the Catholic Church (Part I)

STLUCIFER2  (In too many places, this is the unspoken assumption today)


One thing I find especially interesting within the Catholic Church is the tendency to emphasize the teachings, and speak against those teachings we point out… until we run afoul of those teachings we dislike or disagree with.  Then of course, the Church is wrong and we consider ourselves to be justified in our dissent against the Church.

Of course, in all cases, the dissenter never says, "To hell with this, I just don't feel like obeying."  Instead, they always justify their disobedience in some way.  Let's look at some of these ways.

Justification #1: "The Church is Out of Touch With the Real World"

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone argue that the Church was "out of touch" with the real world or with the laity and therefore we didn't need to heed an unpopular teaching, I'd probably be doing something other than blogging right now.  This is an argument which runs as follows:

  1. If the Church understood the real world, they wouldn't make [teaching X]
  2. The fact that they demand we follow [teaching X] shows they are out of touch with the real world
  3. After all… [Go to #1]

This is arguing in a circle of course.  The Church is claimed to be out of touch because they teach such, and if they weren't out of touch, they wouldn't teach this.  The argument assumes the teaching is "out of touch" and repeats the premise as a conclusion.

However, "If the Church understood the real world, they wouldn't make this teaching" is something which needs to be proven.  Remember that the "real world" is afflicted with sin.  We might remember a little something that St. Paul mentioned:

19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: “He catches the wise in their own ruses,”

20 and again: “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” (1 Corinthians 3:17)

So the question becomes, "By whose standard is the Church out of touch?  God's standard or Man's standard?  According to the wisdom of the world, the cross of Christ is foolishness, while St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect."

So the question is, On whose authority do we claim the Church teaching is "out of touch"?  If we claim it is out of touch with God's standard, we are justified in asking what authority one invokes to make that claim.  If we claim it is out of touch with man's standard, then the question is, how is the preference of the sinful man a criterion for deciding right and wrong?

Justification #2: "The Church is being dominated by Liberals/Conservatives who are trying to force their agenda" (OR "The Church is "Pro-X or Anti-Y")

This one is similar to the "Out of touch" justification.  Such a person who makes this argument seeks to cling to the appearance of obedience to the true teaching of the Church, but this Pope or the bishop teaching in communion with him is obviously a sympathizer or trying to hijack the Church to their own agenda, right?

Such an argument is in effect the denial of the infallibility of the Magisterium and instead claims that the individual knows better what is the true good of the Church.  It too is arguing in a circle:

  1. The Church must be dominated by Liberals/Conservatives because they teach [X]
  2. They wouldn't teach [X] if they weren't dominated by Liberals/Conservatives

Now of course we have to distinguish between Church teaching, and the dissenting priest or other who does allow his teaching with a political viewpoint, but this is hardly a new thing.  400 years ago, there were accusations of the Church favoring France or Spain against the Holy Roman Empire, and indeed there were people within the Church who did indeed put ideological concerns over the teachings of the Church (Look up Cardinal Richelieu for example).  However, such people were acting against the teachings of the Church, and this is quite different than someone alleging that the Catholic teaching on contraception or the reform of the Liturgy means the teaching authority of the Church is controlled by a faction which is contrary to the will of God.

Justification #3: "The Church teaching is based on an out of date world view."

While I dealt with this one in my article Chronological Snobbery, I think we need to take a look at this in context of dissent and not just in the rejection of religion in general.

This argument again, argues in a circle:

  1. The Church teaching is based on an out of date world view.
  2. If the Church wasn't out of date, they wouldn't be teaching this

This is sometimes invoked in the disagreement with a moral issue.  St. Thomas Aquinas' comments on morality are considered based on the lack of knowledge at the time, and if he had up to date knowledge he would have made a different decision.  The irony of course is when people who make this argument also cite him as permitting abortion within the first 40 days of conception (false: He still considered it a grave sin, but thought it a different sin than after the 40th day).  What this argument (which is actually the appeal to newness fallacy) fails to recognize is that the Church has made use of scientific discoveries to deepen the teachings of moral issues.

In other situations, this is invoked against doctrines.  The argument is that the Catholic belief in Transubstantiation was based on an outdated Aristotelian system of essence and accident, and that studies in the fields of atoms makes it obsolete.

Actually it does not.  Transubstantiation is the belief that while the appearance (accident) of bread and wine remain, its essence (substance) is changed to being literally the body and blood of Christ.  Appeals to sub-atomic particles are irrelevant, because the essence is not something which cannot be determined by science.

We can look at it this way.  Science can define the human being biologically as Homo sapiens.  It cannot define the essence of the human person which has human rights.  In different times, nations have ruled certain human beings to be "non-persons" because of melanin in the skin, or gender, or being mentally deficient or possessing certain ethnic traits.

The Church would hold, however, that those elements of ethnic differences or differences in ability are merely the appearance (accidents), while the essence (substance) of the human person exists regardless of the difference in the appearances.  Any being which holds the essence of being a human person, is a human person regardless of the accidents of the individual.

Justification #4: "The Church changed Teachings before.  It will do so with this eventually."

This is the first justification which is not arguing in a circle (though it sometimes bases its assumption on one of the above).  However, it does show a gross misunderstanding between things which cannot change and things that can.  To understand this, we need to recognize the difference between doctrine and discipline.

Doctrine are these teachings the Church has no right to reverse, because to do so would be to contradict the God we believe in.  We cannot change beliefs about the nature of Christ and the Trinity.  We cannot change teachings on morality (the Church will never say it is OK to have premarital sex, for example).  We cannot change the substance of the sacraments.  The Church cannot ever sanction "Gay marriage" or say we can celebrate the Eucharist using Pizza and Coke, or ordain women to the priesthood.

The reason we cannot do any of those things listed above is this would be to contradict the teachings and nature of the God we believe in.  What God has established to be followed, we do not have the authority to contradict.  We may in time deepen our understanding of a doctrine, but we will never go from believing [A] to believing [Not-A].

Discipline on the other hand are teachings which the Church can change if they see a good reason for it.  The use of Latin vs. the Vernacular in Mass is an accident.  Changing the language does not change what the Mass is.  The Church could change the discipline on unmarried priests for a serious enough reason.  We do recognize it as possible (Eastern Rite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox permits the ordination of married men).  The receiving the Eucharist under both species can be permitted or denied depending on the needs of the faithful (for example, when an erroneous belief came up that one had to receive both or it did not count as a valid reception, the Church has restricted the chalice from the laity).

Changing disciplines are changing of the appearances/accidents and do not change the essence/substance of the Church teaching, and this is what makes the justification of "The Church changed before, and it will eventually change here."  It confuses the changing of a discipline with the belief that a doctrine can be changed, and thus looks with hope to the election of a new Pope with the assumption of Justifications #1-3 above.  The Hope is that this new Pope will "be in touch," will not be "dominated by liberalism/conservatism" or will have an "up to date world view."

This is what happened with the hostility to the 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae.  The intent of the investigation was over whether the Birth Control Pill was to be considered contraception, because it operated differently than previous forms of contraception (which were largely the "barrier method.")

In other words, the question was whether the essence of the Pill was different than the essence of contraception, or whether the difference between the Pill and things like the diaphragm and the condom were merely differences of accident.

Once it became clear that the "Pill" was indeed contraception (that is, they shared the same essence), the Church reiterated its teaching on contraception.  Many people, believing the Church was going to change its teaching on contraception itself became angry, and accused the Church of "being out of touch," of "being dominated by conservatives" and "having an out of date world view."

So the danger of this justification #4 is that it assumes that the Church has the ability to change anything and that it can see the change as a good thing.  In reality, if the Church recognizes that to make a change is something she has no right to change or if the Church sees that there is no good which will come from such a change, the person who justifies their own disobedience by saying a change will come eventually is extremely presumptuous.

Justification #5: "The Church Leaders are Hypocrites."

This one is essentially a tu quoque fallacy.  It assumes that because some individuals within the hierarchy fail to live up to their obligations, it means that we are not bound to listen to them.  However (and this is the flaw of all tu quoque arguments), just because a person fails to live up to their obligations does not prove that the Church teaching itself is false.

Now, if it was believed the authority of the Church was merely that of a human institution, invoking the piety and right behavior of the leaders as the right to decree behavior one might be able to argue that the evidence of hypocrites within the Church Hierarchy meant there was not obligated to heed their teachings.

However, if we acknowledge that the head of the Church is Christ, and the Pope is merely his Vicar (the term means "a representative or deputy," and we believe that Peter and his successors are established as a representative for Christ, to whom He too must obey), then the authority the Church possesses is given the Church by Christ (See Matt 28:18-20, John 20: 21-23) and the rejection of the authority of the Church is the rejection of the authority of Christ (See Luke 10:16).

I recognize the non-Catholic will most probably reject this.  After all, they do not believe that the Catholic Church was established by Christ, but rather came later.  (I reject this view of course, but this is not the topic of discussion).

However, for the Catholic to reject this view is to deny something which we are called to believe  as being taught by Christ, and the obvious question is why they remain within if they think the Church is wrong on the teaching of herself.

If we believe that the Church had the power to bind and to loose (See Matt 16:19 and 18:18), and that she would be protected from error (see Matt 28:20), then it follows that when the magisterium teaches formally, we do not have the right to loosen what she binds, nor to bind what she loosens.

Justification #6: "The Church doesn't understand the real meaning of the Scriptures, and therefore is 'cruel'."

While this is one of the "arguing in a circle" arguments, it usually follows from #5, so I place it here.  This attempt to justify dissent essentially claims:

  1. the Church doesn't understand the real meaning of Scripture or it wouldn't be so harsh
  2. The Church teaching is harsh because it doesn't understand the meaning of Scripture

Left unanswered is on what justification the Church teaching is to be considered "harsh" in the official teaching authority compared to the wrong behavior of some of her members.  The question is who has the authority to determine what teachings are just and which are unjust.

Usually, the person invoking this argument looks at half the meaning of Scripture.  We have a God who loves and rewards good.  However, we also have the unmentioned half of Scripture: The God who commands that we be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 19:2), and warns of Hell for those who fail to heed His words (see Matt 25).

Indeed, the person who says the Church is cruel probably has an interesting view of Scriptures:

In a recent rather hawkish and Inquisitorial outburst, our august liberator Moses was seen smashing a couple of stone tablets and gesticulating furiously as the people gave vent to a little midsummer revelry. Fresh from an extended vacation on Mt. Sinai, the Egyptian blueblood turned theocrat ordered that the whole festival be repressed. Within minutes, the fleshpots had been confiscated, and the couples ordered to re-clothe. This evidently not being enough, Moses then decreed that the Golden Calf (an important part of the new multifaith service) be melted down and put on the Index of Forbidden Items. Witnesses at the scene felt thoroughly oppressed by the apparition, and there was even talk of someone's inner child having bled. One freethinker noted that if a little merry-making after the rigours of the desert were to be forbidden, then "we might as well all just go and beat ourselves to death in our graves."

"As a Chosen Person I feel ashamed" his liberated beau added, "The destruction of the Golden Calf goes against the values of diversity, tolerance, and inclusivity, which progressive Israelites pride themselves upon." A chorus of similar opinions were aired as camp psychologists distributed emergency crying towels.  Only a few loyalists supported Moses' actions. "When we hear that the Lord is a jealous God" his publicist stated, "it doesn't mean that He is petty and vindictive, just that He is zealous for His own people's good." But 90% of Israelites surveyed agreed that such hairsplitting is hypocritical, and that the Golden Calf should have been placed beside the Ark of the Covenant in celebration of peace, love, and  tolerance for all.  However, one staunch pre-Calf of the old establishment wagged his beard in disagreement. "Going to the dogs" he said, pointing to the youth. "It's worse than Egypt. At least there we had rods for them." Such crusty opinions are representative of the Mosaic Right, and form a largely reactionary response to Goldencalfism.

The general consensus in the camp seemed to be that while Moses and conservatives like him are well within their rights to worship the Lord God, it is nothing short of reptilian prudery to demonize people's sexual preferences, and nothing less than crass dogmatism to ban a revered symbol of the Egyptian Faith. As a sweet-voiced orator with a trim goatee and the odd addition of something like red horns (he is not therefore to be discriminated against) so brilliantly put it: "What is "idolatry of a graven image" to one man" he said, "might in the final analysis just be the necessary precursor to a pluralistic society founded upon the universal values of tolerance, acceptance, and freedom of conscience for all. Let the spooky old prejudices of a bygone era keel over like a palsied brontosaurus.  We have today the opportunity to build a brave New Israel which respects the native spiritualities of the Egyptians, the Canaanites, and the Babylonians, weaving together a rich multicultural tapestry - a land flowing with milk and honey indeed."

(See here and here for more examples)

Essentially the problem with this justification to dissent is that it assumes that the teachings of the Church are merely manmade and can err, while the person who dissents assumes he or she cannot err.  So the question to be asked is On what basis do you claim your personal feelings are not in error?  Let's face it.  People exploit our emotions all the time.  Pity, fear, desire, anger.  Politicians do it, we deceive ourselves.  Many tragic events of history came to be through a demagogue appealing to our emotions instead of to our reason.

Essentially, this justification is nothing more than the denial of the authority of the Church to teach in a binding way, which brings up the question, why be Catholic to begin with if you reject they possess the authority they claim?

To Be Continued

While in this article, I dealt with some of the justifications used (there are more), next time I would like to look at some of the motives that lead people into dissent.  Not all of those who fall into dissent do so out of malice, after all

Monday, June 28, 2010

Christ is the Physician, We Are The Sick

30 The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.

32 I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

I think one of the things Christians need to keep in mind is that, when Christ says He has not come to call the righteous but the sinners, we must recognize we are the sinners who need Him, and not the perfect who are already worthy as they are.  We may be tempted to think we are righteous, but we are not.

All of us are tainted by the effects of original sin, and by the sinful acts we do of our own choosing.  In some cases, it may be easy to see.  The tax collectors realizes he is a sinner and prays for forgiveness (see Luke 18:13).  In other cases it is not easy to see.  The self-righteous instead boasts before God (Luke 18:11-12).

The False Dichotomy

We unfortunately have the tendency to create a false either-or situation in our minds:

  1. If I am [a good person] I will not be [like this tax collector]. (If [A] then [B])
  2. I am not [like this tax collector] (not [B])
  3. Therefore I am [a good person] (Therefore [A])

The problem of course is that just because we may not be "like this tax collector" does not make us a good person.  In other words, if we use Hitler as the standard of evil, we all look good in comparison but if Hitler is not the standard of evil, but rather one example of evil, we may find that none of us can take a righteous attitude in what we do.

"Bad News Boys…"

There is an old joke which runs as follows:

A priest was hearing confessions for a mining camp.  The first miner walks in and the priest asks him to confess his sins.

The miner scratches his head and says "Well I don't know… I never killed anyone."

The exasperated priest tells him, "Get out of here and make an examination of conscience!"

The miner exits and sees the line of miners waiting for their turn.  "Go home boys!  He's only taking murderers today!"

Now of course, the priest was not only hearing the confession of murderers.  Rather he was telling the miner to consider what he had done or failed to do which needed reconciliation with God, and not judge himself in comparison to murderers.

Yet too often, we look at our relation with God with the consideration of what we haven't done compared to others… not in the sense that they have done more out of love for God in comparison to ourselves but rather that we haven't acted as bad as them, so we must be good.

We should remember Psalm 50:

7 “Listen, my people, I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you; God, your God, am I.

8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, nor for your holocausts, set before me daily.

9 I need no bullock from your house, no goats from your fold.

10 For every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains.

11 I know every bird of the heavens; the creatures of the field belong to me.

12 Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for mine is the world and all that fills it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer praise as your sacrifice to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High.

15 Then call on me in time of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall honor me.”

16 But to the wicked God says: “Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your lips?

17 You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you!

18 When you see thieves, you befriend them; with adulterers you throw in your lot.

19 You give your mouth free rein for evil; you harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You sit maligning your own kin, slandering the child of your own mother.

21 When you do these things should I be silent? Or do you think that I am like you? I accuse you, I lay the charge before you.

The Other Side of the Coin

On the other side of this coin is the claim that because we aren't doing any worse than anyone else, we are fine as we are.  God has commanded in Exodus 23:2  Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong (in other translations it can be rendered You shall not follow a multitude to do evil).  In the New Testament, Jesus says in Luke 17:

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.

Going along to get along is not what we are to do.  Christ makes use of some graphic imagery to show the lengths we are to take to avoid sin.  If we would not cut off our foot or gouge out our eye, should we not take steps to avoid sin?  If "the crowd" embraces sin as good, ought we not to avoid "the crowd" when it seeks to lead us to do evil?

Neither can we appeal to the bad example of those who do not practice what they preach.  Jesus, in Matthew 23 says in verses 2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

Are there individual priests and even bishops who fail to behave as they ought?  Indeed there are, and they will answer for the things they will not repent of.  For Christ says in Luke 17: 1-2, "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin."

However, the personal sins of an individual priest or bishop do not justify our own sins.  Nor does it justify the disobedience of the Church in one area because a priest or bishop is disobedient in another.

Completing the Circle

Thus we can see that both the disdaining of others while ignoring our own sins, and the thinking we are no worse than others so our sins don't matter are attitudes which contradict the teachings of Christ.  He has come to call the sinners, not the righteous.  If we think we are good because we are "not like them" or if we think we are good because we "only do what everyone else is doing," we are behaving self-righteously, and refusing to let Jesus, the Divine Physician, heal our infirmities.

So let us cease to think of ourselves as some sort of "elect" who have it made, and instead recognize we are sinners who daily must rely on Christ to strengthen and sustain us.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chronological Snobbery


Definition of Snob:

a person who has an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth and who looks down on those regarded as socially inferior.

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

There is a tendency in modern times to look at the past with disdain, and to assume that something of the past is of no value simply because of the age of the observation.  CS Lewis describes this in his book, Surprised by Joy, when he says:

Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them. (p207-208)

The Effective Assumptions of Chronological Snobbery

The argument of Chronological Snobbery tends to run as follows:

  1. It is argued that A implies B.
  2. A implies B is an old argument, dating back to the times when people also believed C.
  3. C is clearly false.
  4. Therefore, A does not imply B.

Because we have an exaggerated respect for the scientific data we know today, we look down on people from earlier periods of time as being mentally inferior.  I suppose many might believe this today, but I'd suspect Socrates and St. Thomas Aquinas probably had superior intellects to most people who disdain them today.  They might not have known the scientific data of today, but there is no doubt that had they lived today, this modern data would have deepened their arguments, not led them to hold the opposite of what they held when alive.

Of course this brings us to the major problem of Chronological Snobbery: The disdaining of the belief in God and in miracles based on our incrementally increased knowledge over the past

Scientific Data and Truth

Chronological Snobbery assumes, that because we have more scientific data available today (due to the advances in the past), it means the society which did not have access to the scientific data we have now were basically "dumb as rocks" and whatever they claimed to have observed could not be true, especially if they spoke of a Theophany, or of an action by God, it must have been an event which had a natural cause, and the ancients did not know it.

However, we need to recognize that something that is true today could be known in the past, even if it was known with less detail.  The fact that ancients believed some things we obviously know to be false now does not indicate everything they believed was false.  The ancient world may have believed in Geocentrism for example, but that belief did not make untrue the other things which they held, such as Geometry.

In other words, just because ancients did not know some things were true, does not mean they had no knowledge of truth.  The claim that it did is essentially Scientism, holding that only that which can be established scientifically, ignoring all other forms of knowledge.  (The paradox of scientism is that one cannot establish it scientifically).

An Reductio ad absurdum for Chronological Snobbery

Let's envision a time in the 23rd century, where society has changed, and the world is a meritocracy.  Those with genetic advantages in the mental field are given positions of authority and power.  Those who lack are relegated to doing menial jobs, essentially the property of those who have.  Now, lets assume that a person comes forward, and brings up writings against slavery from the 19th century as showing arguments as to why the current system ought not to be tolerated.

Would it be valid to negate his arguments on the grounds that "people back in the 20th century believed [X], therefore they had no idea what they were talking about on slavery"?

Chronological Snobbery Today

Yet, that is what passes for argument today.

  1. Medieval People believed in God and Miracles (Medieval people believed [A])
  2. They also believed in Bleeding as a medical practice (They also believed [B])
  3. They were wrong on Bleeding (They were wrong on [B])
  4. Therefore they were wrong on God and Miracles (Therefore they were wrong on [A])

The problem, of course, is that Medieval people being wrong on [B] has no bearing on whether they were wrong on [A].

A Variant of this Error: The Ancients "Didn't Know" About Natural Phenomenon

Because of this assumption, we often assume (as I said in the beginning) that ancient peoples were "dumb as rocks" about natural phenomena, and assumed natural phenomena were the acts of gods.  In modern times, we assume that because there is a natural cause for these things, the belief in gods must be attributing a supernatural cause to the natural.  However, the ancient Christian author Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215), in his Stromata, wrote on superstitions over "ill omens" this way:

It was a clever remark of Antiphon, who (when one regarded it as an ill omen that the sow had eaten her pigs), on seeing her emaciated through the niggardliness of the person that kept her, said, Congratulate yourself on the omen that, being so hungry, she did not eat your own children.

“And what wonder is it,” says Bion, “if the mouse, finding nothing to eat, gnaws the bag? ”For it were wonderful if (as Arcesilaus argued in fun) “the bag had eaten the mouse.”

Diogenes accordingly remarked well to one who wondered at finding a serpent coiled round a pestle: “Don’t wonder; for it would have been more surprising if you had seen the pestle coiled round the serpent, and the serpent straight.”

For the irrational creatures must run, and scamper, and fight, and breed, and die; and these things being natural to them, can never be unnatural to us.

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) (529). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

In other words, the educated ancients were quite aware of natural causes for things, and did not possess the superstition the modern with chronological snobbery claims all ancients held.  CS Lewis, in speaking of miracles, had written about the Virgin Birth of Christ as such:

The idea that the progress of science has somehow altered this question is closely bound up with the idea that people in ‘olden times’ believe in them 'because they didn't know the Laws of Nature. Thus you will hear people say "The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin. but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment's thought shows this to be nonsense and the story of the Virgin Birth Is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modem gynaecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. No doubt the modern gynaecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which St Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And St Joseph obviously knew that. In any sense in which it is true to say now, 'The thing is scientifically impossible,’ he would have said the same: the thing always was, and was always known to be, impossible unless the regular processes of nature were, in this particular case, being overruled or supplemented by something from beyond nature When St Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancées pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature.

The error of Chronological snobbery asserts that because they did not know in the past what we know now, they therefore knew nothing and thus attributed to supernatural causes things of nature.  But we can see this was not believed in the time of the Old Testament, as we can see in Genesis 38:24 where it says "About three months later, Judah was told that his daughter-in-law Tamar had played the harlot and was then with child from her harlotry."  Sounds very much like knowledge of where babies came from.


Essentially, the argument from chronological snobbery is to assume that, because the ancients did not have knowledge of cells or atoms, they had no knowledge at all and therefore an appeal to an old source has no validity because of its age.  However this is not logical.  A lack of knowledge on topic [A] does not mean a lack of knowledge on topic [B].  Nor does increased knowledge in the present on topic [A]mean no knowledge in the past on topic [A].  We might have radar and other things to help us with advanced knowledge of storms, but this does not mean the ancient sailor or farmer had no knowledge of weather.

To assume that the ancients believed in God because they had no knowledge of science is false.  It is also false to assume that because an idea is old, it is untrue.  These are a priori assumptions of one who rejects belief in God or miracles (I say "or" because not all who deny miracles also deny God… we do have Modernists who reject miracles yet seem to have some sort of belief in God)

It is not the newness or age of the knowledge which is important, but whether it is true that matters.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thought for the Day: Contradictions?

When it comes to all the people out there who love to point to so-called examples of contradiction in the Scriptures, or claims that the Church contradicts the Bible, has it never occurred to them there might in fact already be an explanation out there, which they might try to look up before posting?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

If You're Against Oil Excavation, Don't Excavate Oil: Pelosi's Ironic Position

Remember Nancy Pelosi, with all her arguments as to why she couldn't work to oppose abortion… how it was an issue of pushing one's beliefs on someone else?  How she said:

"I have some concerns about the church's position respecting a woman's right to choose," Pelosi responds. "I am a practicing Catholic, although they're probably not too happy about that. But it is my faith."

"I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that is that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions," she continues. "And that women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will."

The irony is, when it comes to the Cap and Trade and energy conservation, Pelosi has said:

As you may know about me, I am fairly agnostic about the means to the end in terms of what mechanism is used. What we want, though, is to have a result. The job that the bill must do is have a result that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil as a national security issue; that we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, wherever they originate, as a health and environmental issue; that we proceed with innovation so that we can be number one, continue to be number one in the world in innovation, competitiveness, by creating new green jobs for the future.

It is a defense, a security issue, a health issue, an environmental issue, it is an economic issue, and it is a moral issue for us to honor the obligation we have to pass this planet on to future generations intact. And if you believe, as I do, that it is also that this is God's beautiful creation, we have a moral responsibility to preserve it.

So, what if I'm pro-choice on strip mining?  On Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain?  What if I think we should turn the Alaska Wildlife Preserve into a parking lot for the oil exploitation?  What if I think we should expand oil excavation, not diminish it?

Why do we have a "moral responsibility" to preserve creation, but not the "moral responsibility" to protect life?  Why is it ok to invoke God for the latter, but not the former?  Why should people have the freedom to abort, but not to do what they want with environmental issues on their own property?

This is Pelosi's inconsistency, her hypocrisy.  She cannot refuse her religious obligation when it comes to a topic she disagrees with, while invoking it on a topic she likes and avoid the label of hypocrite.

So, how would Pelosi respond to these (slightly reworded) slogans after the BP debacle?

  1. Pro-Choice (on Oil Excavation)!
  2. Don't force your environmentalism on me!
  3. Oil Excavation should be a decision between a CEO and His stockholders!
  4. We don't know when pollution begins!
  5. If you're Opposed to Oil Excavation, Don't Excavate!
  6. My Land, My Choice!
  7. I'm Personally Opposed to Oil Excavation, but I don't want to Force My Beliefs on Others!
  8. Trust Oil Execs!
  9. Keep Your Rosaries off my Oil Wells!
  10. Against Oil Excavation?  Walk!
  11. Oil Execs should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.

All of these are pro-abortion slogans, slightly reworded except the last which is Pelosi's own statement with "Women" replaced by "Oil execs."  Like the pro-abortion slogans, all of these are guilty of the same error: Saying something which affects others is only a matter of personal choice, and that those who are opposed have no say in the matter.

Either Pelosi is a anti-choice (on oil) zealot, or she needs to seriously rethink her reasoning.  if Pelosi wants to invoke God and mention her Catholicism, she must be consistent in her behavior.  She may be quite sincere in her wanting to clean up the environment, but she is blind to the irony of her behavior.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Traditions of Men

One of the more annoying misinterpretation of Scripture is that of Matthew 15:1-8, which reads:

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,

2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash (their) hands when they eat a meal.”

3 He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’

5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,”

6 need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

7 Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said:

8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”

The argument put forth is:

  1. [Jesus] condemned [traditions]
  2. The [Catholic Church] promotes [Tradition]
  3. Therefore [Jesus] condemns the [Catholic Church].

This is to entirely miss the point of the Scripture reading.

History and Context

The Pharisees, in Jesus time, had their own code of laws which were put on the same level as the Torah, indeed claimed that one could only follow the Torah through their interpretation, and the one who violated the rules of the Pharisees were considered as one who broke the Torah.

Jesus, in opposing the Pharisees, pointed out that these laws were focused on the legalism, and ignored the intent of the Law.  They would pay tithes on the very small plants mint, cumin and dill (See Matt 23:23) in observance of Lev 27:30 and Deut 14:22–23, but they were missing the point, by neglecting "judgment and mercy and fidelity."  They would strain the gnat (the gnat was the smallest of the unclean animals) pouring what they were to drink through a cloth to avoid accidentally swallowing one, but Jesus describes them as swallowing the camel, again missing the big picture (see Matt 23:24).

In other words, what Jesus was condemning was a rigid observation of religious requirements in the Law, while ignoring the greater parts.  Jesus didn't say Pharisees were not to keep the law (See Matt 23:23, "these you should have done, without neglecting the others.")

The idea of Qorban/Corban which Jesus condemned involved the donation of the individual's wealth to the Temple (sort of like a living trust today) after his death, and claiming that because the man did this, he was not obligated to use his wealth to support his parents in their need.  Thus for the claim that Qorban negated the obligation of the son to the parents was to make a human tradition go against the command of God.

When one considers this, one sees that the objection to Catholic disciplines and practices as being condemned by Christ by the very fact they are small-t traditions is to miss the point.  He did not condemn the authority of the religious authorities to make regulations on the governing of worship (See Matt 23:2-3), but on the wrong they did in thinking their laws were equal to the law of God, and could even circumvent the laws of God.

A Look at Tradition (παραδόσεις): Meaning and the Fallacy of Equivocation

There is a logical issue here over equivocation: Assuming a different meaning than the speaker intends.  Tradition has a range of meanings going from mere customs to Sacred Doctrine.  One needs to look at what Jesus meant by παραδόσεις and compare what He denounced to the Catholic use of the word.

Keep in mind that not all uses of a word in Scripture hold the same context.  Jesus is described as the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5).  Satan is described as a 'roaring lion" looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  In one sense, the use of lion is used in a dangerous sense.  In another in a majestic sense (and yes, it is the same word in Greek: λεων [leōn]).  Likewise, Scripture speaks of tradition in numerous ways.

Let us not forget that St. Paul has also invoked Tradition.  In 2 Thessalonians 2, he says:

15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

Oops.  Either Paul is contradicting Jesus, or else what Paul is praising is not what Jesus is condemning.  Paul is speaking as an Apostle sent to take the teachings of Christ to the world.  We believe he had authority.

So let's look at the word for tradition.

The word Paul uses is παραδόσεις (paradoseis) which means:

"that which is handed down or bequeathed, tradition, doctrine, teaching"

Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (1309). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

Meanwhile, the word Jesus uses is… the same word.  The phrase he uses is τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν (Tēn paradosin umōn), literally "the tradition of you (Second Person plural)."

Paul also speaks favorably of traditions in 1 Cor 11:2, saying "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions [παραδόσεις], just as I handed them on to you."

He speaks of these traditions in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 when he says "We instruct you, brothers, in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ,to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition [παράδοσιν] they received from us. "

Thus the difference between Paul's παραδόσεις and the Pharisees' παραδόσεις is the authority they have to make it binding and whether or not it contradicts God's law.  The Pharisees traditions are self created laws which go against God's laws and indeed allow one to get around God's commands.

Now, while there are disputes about which Church is the Church Christ established, we do know that the Church created by Christ did have the power to bind and loose (see Matt 16:19 and Matthew 18:18), that it spoke with His authority and to reject the Church was to reject Him (See Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

Tradition and the Catholic Church

This seems to be the underlying dispute over the Catholic traditions that certain Protestants label as condemned, the denial that the Catholic Church is the Church which Jesus established.  One can see a certain logic in their objection.  If the Catholic Church does not have the authority which it claims, then yes, any traditions they make binding would be condemnable as the traditions of the Pharisees which Christ denounced

However, if the Catholic Church does have this authority, if it is the Church established by Christ, then she does have the authority to bind and to loose with the authority Paul invokes when writing to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians.

Now this article is not the place to delve into the arguments on what the true Church is.  Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows I remain in the Catholic Church because I believe she is the Church established by Christ.  Anyone who is interested can look at our Catechism to see what we believe and why, and investigate many defenses of the Church.

However, it is not enough to say "I don't believe the Catholic Church is the Church created by Christ."  What do you believe Christ's Church is?  Do you consider its teachings and interpretations of Scripture binding?  If so, you are invoking Tradition, even if you claim you interpret the Bible through the Bible.


Before one can condemn the Church teaching on account of a word in Scripture, one has to assess the meaning of the word within context, and be certain that the meaning and intent is the same.  Otherwise, one could create all sorts of alleged "contradictions" in Scripture and turn the Inspired Word of God into a partisan tool to advocate a position or bash another based on one's own personal reading.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Most Famous Pope Who Never Lived: Debunked Myth of Pope Joan to be a Movie

Source: Pope Joan film sparks Roman Catholic Church row - Telegraph

So, the long debunked myth of "Pope Joan" is to be made into a movie, it seems.  The claim is that sometime during the 9th or 10th century, a woman disguised herself as a man and rose up in the ranks of the Church hierarchy, becoming Pope and eventually discovered when she gave birth while travelling through the streets of Rome.

The List of Popes as Counter-Evidence

The problem is, despite claims to the contrary, the popes of this time period were known:

There were a few brief interregnums (897-898, 928-929, 935-936, 964-965, 972-973, 984-985).  Could we say she was Pope during one of these times?  No.  Reading JND Kelly (an Anglican) in his work, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, we see the dates were of a short duration.

  • The interregnum of 897-898 was from the death of Theodore II in November to the election of John IX in January
  • The Interregnum of 928-929 seems to be a matter of a few days (Kelly indicates that actually there was no interregnum between Leo VI and Stephen VII)
  • The interregnum of 935-936 was from the death of John XI in December 935 to the election of Leo VII in January 936
  • The interregnum of 964-965 involved an emperor exiling Benedict V in 964.  When Benedict V died in 965, John XIII was elected.  There was no room for a Pope Joan in this time.  Benedict V was the lawful pope at this time.
  • The interregnum of 972-973 was from September 962 (Pope John XII) until January 973 (Benedict VI)
  • The interregnum of 984-985 was the first one in this period which can be called "extended" lasting from August 984 (John XIV) to August 985 (John XV).  During this time, there was an antipope who had imprisoned and starved Pope John XIV to death.  The election of a new Pope could not take place until the antipope (so-called Boniface VII) died.

So as we can see, there were no periods of known gaps between popes which we cannot account for.

The Claims of when "Pope Joan" existed can not be verified

The documents from which dates are given when "Pope Joan" was supposed to have reigned, have one problem: We know the history and the Popes when she was supposed to reign.  The work The Chronicles of Popes and Emperors by Martin of Troppau (died 1297) claims that Pope Joan, as "John Anglicus" succeeded Leo IV (died 855) and reigned 2 years, 7 months, 4 days.  This would mean her reign would be approximately 855-858.

There is a problem however.  The successor to Leo IV was Benedict II, who was known to be elected on September 29th 855.  During part of his reign, he was imprisoned by the antipope Anastasius for about six months in 855.  We have historical mentioning of him in the supposed period where "Joan" was supposed to reign.  So the problem is: No space for a "Pope Joan" reigning 2 and a half years.

Another source, The Universal Chronicle of Metz, by Jean de Mailly written between 1240 and 1250, asserts "Joan reigned after Bl. Victor III (died Sept 16,1087).  There was a seven month interregnum between his death and the election of Bl. Urban II (March 12, 1088).  During that interregnum, we had the interference of antipope Clement III.  So again, we can account for the history of this time.

Other claims were for AD 915 (covered by the reign of Pope John XIV (AD 914-928)), and AD 1100 (the reign of Paschal II from 1099-1118)

So again… no room for a "Pope Joan."

The Appeals to Vague History, Irrelevant Authority and Arguments from Silence

Because the actual documents cite dates which can be disproved, one of the popular claims is that it happened sometime when there are scanty records.  The Telegraph claims she was "elected pontiff in 853, after the death of Pope Leo IV."  However, this date was when St. Leo IV was Pope, and we know St. Leo IV died on July 17, 855, while his successor Benedict III became Pope on Sept 29, 855.

The Telegraph goes on to say: "But proponents of the story point out that papal records are almost non-existent in the 10th and 11th centuries and that even male popes are barely documented."  "Barely" is a weasel word.  It means we may not know much about the Popes in these years, but we do know they existed and when.

It is also interesting to note that the Telegraph speaks of the 10th and 11th centuries, when the allegation of Pope Joan was cited as being in the 9th century by the same article.

The Telegraph claims: The Catholic Church has long argued that Pope Joan is not mentioned in any contemporary records and that the whole tale is a fantasy, cooked up by scheming Protestants.

No, that is not true.  Nor is it the Catholic teaching.  As I pointed out above, we know of records from the 13th century… which predated Protestantism by a bit over 200 years.  No, what the Church says about Protestantism and the legend of Pope Joan was that it was commonly invoked as a "proof" against the Papacy (See Patrick Madrid's article on why the claim would not disprove the papacy). 

Indeed, it was Protestant David Blondel (1590-1655) who debunked the story.

It is unfortunate that there was a lot of false accusations slung from both sides during the Reformation, but let's not add to them.  Now if only the Telegraph would remember this…

The Telegraph article goes on to say:

"Joan's absence from contemporary church records is only to be expected. The Roman clergymen of the day, appalled by the great deception visited upon them, would have gone to great lengths to bury all written reports of the embarrassing episode," argues the American writer Donna Woolfolk Cross, on whose novel, 'Pope Joan', the film is based

This would be an Argument from Silence fallacy.  Yes it could happen that records could be destroyed.  It could also be the case that said records never existed.  If one wants to claim records were destroyed, let us see the evidence for the claim.

(For the record, Donna Woolfolk Cross holds a BA in English and an MA in Literature and writing.  She is an author, not a historian.  She cannot be appealed to as an expert… that would be the fallacy of irrelevant authority.)

The Telegraph article holds an embarrassing contradiction as well.  Another 'expert' says:

"The Dark Ages really were the dark ages," said Peter Stanford, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and the author of 'The She-Pope: a quest for the truth behind the mystery of Pope Joan'.

"There is absolutely no certainty about who the popes of the ninth century were. We have to rely instead on medieval chronicles, written hundreds of years later."

So, which was it?  Were records burnt or merely written 300 years later?  Why can I look up every Pope on the list in the 9th century and find information on them?

(For the record, Stanford was required to resign from the Catholic Herald in 1992 on account of his collaboration with Kate Saunders on the wretched book Catholics and Sex which rejected the Church teaching on contraception.  He is a journalist, not a Historian, and has no qualifications to speak on the subject as an expert).

The Problem With the Whole Claim

We have history of the times which do account for the Popes.  We have no reports from these times that a Pope Joan actually existed.  These records of Pope Joan did not appear until the 13th century.  To give you an example of how big a difference in time this was, it would be like saying accounts first appearing in 2010 would be considered proof of events taking place in the 1600s. 

The thing about historical documents and events is we can assess them from other documents who make reference to them.  If contemporary documents mention these things we can be relatively certain that the document or event in question was known in this time.  If there is no mention, the possibilities are:

  1. People were not aware of the event or document during that time
  2. The event did not happen or the book did not exist at that time
  3. Something happened to the documents which mentioned these things

#1 could be true of people who were completely unknown or documents which were written and fell into obscurity without attracting attention.  #2 is a reasonable conclusion, though to avoid the argument from silence we generally say "there is no evidence in favor of this claim" instead of "this never happened."  #3 would require some sort of reference to some sort of event which could explain the loss.

For example, we do know of Patristic works making reference to the writings of certain saints which no longer exist.  We do know that during the reign of Diocletian (244-311), many Christian writings were destroyed, and some other destruction of writings took place in earlier persecutions.  In these cases, we know what the titles were, and occasionally we have some fragments cited quoted by other patristic writers.  However, we can't speculate with any accuracy as to what documents which we don't even know existed might have said.

This is the problem with the "Dark Age" records being "destroyed" as a defense of the Pope Joan myth.  What destruction?  What document?  What author?

In fact, to claim "the documents must have been destroyed" is nothing more than admission that there is no documentary evidence available to evaluate.  It is speculation that such documents existed, let alone what they might have said.

If we claim that a story is true, and base the claim on a purported lack of evidence against the story, the purported lack of evidence says nothing in favor of the story.  The question is, what evidence does one have to support the claim?


The Pope Joan myth argues that at some undocumented time between the 9th and 11th centuries, there was a woman Pope named Joan.  It can't produce a history, a reign or any evidence which is not refuted by known history.

In other words, there is no history in the Pope Joan story, and real history which needs to be explained away before it could be taken seriously.  So why all the interest in the story now?  Cui bono?  Like the upcoming Hypatia movie, the whole thing smells of an agenda.  The Church hates women, hates sex, hates science, hates… well fill in your own word.  It's been done to death.  At any rate, the movies are not being made to present a historical story, but to bash the Church as an enemy of a favored ideology.

The current movie project is based on a work of fiction by an author who has no background in history, using sources which are secondary to create an allegation that there was a Pope who was a woman for the purpose of arguing that the Church is wrong in its teachings (See the Madrid article referenced above as to why this doesn't work).

There's only one thing the movie lacks however: Facts.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Self Deception

Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death! (Proverbs 16:25)

One thing all Christians can be tempted by is self deception.  We think that an exception from what God commands can be made for us.  We think of excuses as to why what God teaches should not apply to us, or why the Church teaching can't be what God means.  After all, if we're undergoing some sort of physical or emotional distress, or if we want something the Church teaches is wrong, it clearly means that the Church must be wrong, doesn't it?

The reason this self-deception so often succeeds is that we do not understand why the Church holds what it does, or we do not understand the words of Christ in the right context.  For example we see some people take the words of Christ against judging and contrast them with the words of St. Paul saying some things bring destruction and conclude that St. Paul missed the point of what Christ was teaching.  What this ignores is Matt 7:5, where the context indicates Christ is not speaking of letting everyone do as the please, but of judging others for their minor faults (the splinter) while ignoring one's own major faults (the beam).  Paul was quite aware of his own faults.

The problem is, in contrasting the "merciful Jesus" and the "harsh Paul," we forget the most vivid descriptions of Hell and warnings of judgment come from Jesus and not St. Paul.  Thus we instead invent for ourselves a God who will not punish, but will forgive us when we live in opposition to His teachings… even though we have no intent to change our ways out of love for Him.

There are many ways we deceive ourselves into thinking that the words of Jesus are not binding to us, excuses to explain why the absolute statements of Christ merely apply to "other people."

Ad Misericordiam

The appeal to pity is one of these ways we excuse ourselves.  The ad misericordiam (also known as the appeal to pity) mistakes a misfortune for what might happen as a reason for which the teaching should be set aside.  For example, the couple who wants to use artificial contraception, might bring up the large number of children they already have (usually 2.1), or their financial situation as "not being able to afford another child" and say that the Church teaching is "cruel."

However this appeal to financial straits does not answer the question: Why not practice self control?  In other words, the appeal to pity does not give a reason for changing a belief, but merely an attempt at sympathy to make one bend the rules.

Proclaiming Infallibility of the Self, Denial of Infallibility of the Magisterium

How often do we hear the claim, "It just seems right to me" or "Your church teaching is so cruel!"?  Ultimately this boils down to the claim that what one personally feels is right.  You can see this in a number of ways: Atheism seems to me to be more logical than a belief in God when you consider science.  Really?  So, we have a statement which makes the individual's assessment of atheistic claims, theological claims and interpretation of science infallible.  However, when it comes down to it, such a statement is really a statement of preference on how they would want the world to be.

If one wants to invoke their belief that the Church teaching is wrong on divorce, the question is: On what basis do we claim the Catholic interpretation wrong?  We can demonstrate the problem this way:

  1. The Catholic teaching is denied to be authoritative
  2. The individual's personal interpretation is claimed to be authoritative
  3. Yet, if the Catholic interpretation is not binding on all, it is a personal interpretation
  4. Thus, under this reasoning, personal interpretation can err.
  5. So how does the individual who denies the Catholic teaching know his or her own views are right?

It has been remarked that while there is a shortage of priestly vocations, there is no shortage of vocations to the Papacy.  This seems to be true.  We deceive ourselves to think our preferences are what is right, and forget that we are affected by original sin, which inclines us to choose our personal desires over what God wills for us.

Confusing Preference and Dogma

Another common problem with self deception is the confusing of personal preference with dogma… and vice versa.  Personal preference is when we judge something "correct" or "heretical" based on what we would like a thing to be.  When we see certain traditionalists arguing that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is dangerous or heretical, they have no basis for their view.  They are using these terms as a rhetorical embellishment to show their dislike for the vernacular, the removal of unnecessary elements (such as the twice recited Confiteor), guitar masses and the like.

Such actions or tolerance on the part of the Magisterium are certainly not heretical, but because the individual dislikes them, they are so labeled.  The result is, the individual makes himself the infallible one and denies the Church has the right to make changes he or she disagrees with.

On the other side of the coin, the one who reduces a dogma to a preference tends to respond to a papal pronouncement they dislike with that's just his opinion.  Thus teachings on contraception, divorce and abortion are written off as an opinion, or even a partisan opinion.  Thus we see certain theologians challenging certain papal statements, claiming the Pope is in error in his "view."

Now, if the Pope writes a personal work, such as Pope John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope or Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth, these are not intended to be binding documents.  However, if the Pope says (as he did in Evangelium Vitae #62):

"I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium"

then any claim that this is a mere opinion of the Pope is false.  The Pope has invoked his authority and must be obeyed on this matter, if one is to continue to claim to be Catholic and not a dissenter.

Yet Modernists and Traditionalists alike make use of the false statement that if the Church has not made a declaration ex cathedra, it is not binding, but merely an opinion.  It is especially ironic that certain traditionalists make use of this argument, as it would make the condemnation of the Modernists by St. Pius X a mere "opinion."

Argument By Proxy

Some attacks on Church authority are done by proxy.  The argument put forward is not a defense of the dissenter's opinion, but rather an attack on another position held by the Church.  This position is alleged to be in error, and therefore the dissenter doesn't have to listen to the Church teaching he or she really is opposed to.

The problem is twofold.  First, is the rather obvious question: where is the proof the Church is wrong on this proxy argument  Second is when one sets the proxy argument up, it doesn't mean other Church teachings are wrong.  It works like this:

  1. The Church teaches [X] on Position [A]
  2. The Church is wrong on Position [A]
  3. Therefore the Church is wrong on Position [B]

The problem is, even if the claim was true of the Church being wrong on Position [A] which needs to be proven by the way, it would not have any connection to whether the Church was wrong on Position [B].  It's a non sequitur.

The Lacking Component… and its Counterfeit

In all of these cases, what is lacking is an attempt to establish what is true.  Instead, we have a position which seeks to set aside the issue of truth in exchange for emotion.  Labels are used to question the authority of the Church position, but do not in themselves demonstrate a lack of authority on the part of the Church.

Essentially all of these place emotion over the truth.  Emotion is a counterfeit for truth.  We can have passionate feelings for things that are true.  However, we can also have passionate feelings for things which are false.  How many times have people gotten into bad relationships because the emotion clouds their ability to see the harm the relationship is doing?

Now emotion in itself is not a bad thing.  Nothing from God is evil, provided it is used as God intends.  However, if we let it master us, tainted by concupiscence then we can place ourselves in opposition to God because we do not consider the possibility that our original sin can lead us to self deception and that we can be choosing evil, and think it must be good because we forget we are letting our passions rule us.

Truth speaks to What IS

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

"…it was not a great philosopher but a fool who asked that question."  (Peter Kreeft, The Best Things in Life, page 95)

Pilate sees the concept of 'truth' as a harmless abstraction with no ties with reality.  The truth is different.  What is true can have consequences based on whether I heed the truth or not.

While many argue about whether truth may be known, when one comes down to it, we certainly can know truths.  If I throw a rock straight up in an open field, I know it is true that I had damn well better get out of the way before it comes down.  If a label reads poison, I know it is true that I will be harmed to ingest it.  Whether or not I scoff at whether we can know truth, if I fail to act on information that says "what is," I can be harmed by that failure.

Aristotle was famous for describing truth and falsehood  as, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”  If I say something is about God's teaching when it is not, I speak falsely.  To those who claim to be followers of Christ, we must recognize that God has revealed Himself to us and has revealed to us truth which we must follow.

Now, to speak that something which is not, is; or that something which is, is not; is to speak falsely.  It may not be a deliberate lie, such as in the case of a person who is mistaken on the subject he speaks on, but it is to speak falsely all the same. 

Another characteristic is that truth cannot contradict truth.  If God  is truth and He calls homosexual acts a sin, then a person does not speak truth if he calls them good.  Such a person may say this falsehood out of defiance, or out of sincere but mistaken belief, but his sincerity in his belief that the Church is wrong in saying what God requires does not make his belief right.


In all cases, what we must beware of is the confusing our desires with God's will.  The human person can deceive himself.  God doesn't want me to be unhappy, is a common mantra, but a false one.  It is better said, God desires what is truly good for us.  Sometimes, when we want something harmful, something which goes against God's will, God must thwart our personal plans and our disordered human desires must be denied to our sorrow at not being given what we want.  Sometimes we want a thing for which the Church must say No, this is against what our Lord commanded.

In such cases, one must ask, "Is this truly God's will to oppose the Church as being in error, or am I the one who has been deceived?"  "On what basis can I claim this?"

We ignore these questions to our peril.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Loss

You only have power over [a man] so long as you don't take everything away from [him]. But when you've taken everything, he's no longer in your power — he's free again.

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!”

—Job 1:21

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.

35 For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

36 and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’

37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;

38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.

39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

—Matthew 10

A question to ponder.  If one suffers a loss, what does it mean when one reflects on it in the light of Christ?  Are we victims?  Or are we set free?

All I can say is that when God calls, all I can do is to follow.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On Pharisee Mentality

One temptation which always follows behind the Christian trying to be faithful is the mentality of the Pharisee.  Since I'm not afflicted by it, I'll write this to help those of you who are…

Ha, ha.  Actually, this is one of the first symptoms of it: To look at others faults and failings while being blind to your own.  Jesus warned us all about this type of thinking, in Matthew 7:

3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?

4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?

5 You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

It is a strong indictment which any one of us can be guilty of.  Jesus speaks quite strongly about this: It is hypocrisy to look down on others who sin while forgetting our own guilt before Him.  Now of course He doesn't mean we can't call any action evil or wrong.  That's an old deception which is aimed at us to overlook the fact that we are sinners ourselves when we look down on others for being in a state of sin.  If we realize our own need for Christ, we ought to recognize others are seeking Christ as well.  They might be further away from Christ to be sure.  However, they also might be closer because they recognize their own sin and need for salvation.  Christ has said in Matthew 21:

28 “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’

29 He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.

30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.

31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.

32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

It is a paradox which can drive a person crazy.  "Hey!  I'm following all the rules here, but you're saying these people who do all these evil things are closer to God than ME?"  Yet, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).  The one who knows that God is holiness, is goodness and looks at their life compared to the holiness of God will see their own life lacks in comparison to what God asks of us.

It doesn't even mean we need to act like one of those cretins who show up at the funerals of AIDS victims with signs saying the deceased is going to Hell to be acting in a way which Christ calls wrong.  All we need to do is to act as if we are superior to others in how we live, as Christ teaches in Luke 18:

10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.

12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee is proud of his actions, and forgets he is also a sinner who needs the mercy of Christ.

So I hope I set you all straight with that splinter.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go lie down and take some aspirin or something to deal with the pain.  The optometrist has said it might be caused by this beam I have in my eye... but what would he know? 


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

All, None and Some: On How the Failure to Distinguish Can Distort Truth

One of the things which irritates me is how the English language gets abused in the pursuit of rhetoric, especially when one seeks to claim a person holds a position he does not.  This all too common.  An individual makes a claim about what Catholics believe.  Someone who is actually a Catholic offers an objection, saying that what is claimed is actually false.  The accuser then makes a rhetorical appeal to indicate the one who is objecting is actually ignorant on what they believe.

Let's look at the root of confusion in some of these errors.

Confusing All, None, Some

One of the common rhetorical statements is that ALL [people of a group] hold [X].  For example, all [pre-reformation clergy] are [corrupt].  The objection is that this claim is not true.  The attacker then accuses the person who objects of holding the opposite: that NO [pre-reformation clergy] are [corrupt].  The attacker then goes on to point out examples which support his case and then claim his opponent is refuted.

There is a problem with that technique.  ALL and NO are contrary to each other, but what contradicts the claim of the accuser is not No [pre-reformation clergy] are [corrupt] but rather SOME [pre-reformation clergy] are NOT [corrupt]

Unfortunately, this tactic is often used.  A universal statement is made.  When the objection is raised to the universality of the claim, the one who objects is accused of being in denial over the fact that in some cases, the case is true.  However, the accuser didn't say SOME.  He said ALL.

How This is Used in Attacks on the Church

Generally speaking this error will take a real problem which was or is present in some parts of the Church.  The Church can be accused of corruption, liberalism, rigidness and so on.  The example of some individuals who behave in this way is then represented to be the view of the entirety whether by action or failure to act.

It overlooks however that in order to be a problem of the Church it needs to be shown that it is one which is held by those who are speaking in the role of authority of the Church, and not an individual within the Church who speaks on his own.

There are unfortunately many who dissent from the teachings of the Church.  However, if they dissent, it indicates there is a teaching which they disagree with.  If they are dissenting from the teaching of the Church, then it is unreasonable to claim ALL of [the Church] holds [the dissenting view].

What the Individual Usually Means

What it usually comes down to is the individual who accuses does not approve of the behavior of SOME within the Church, and uses the rhetoric ALL as an embellishment.  He would be wiser to say "I don't approve of the behavior of what seems to be held by a certain portion of those within the Church."  In such a case then it would need to be determined whether the behavior of that portion was compatible with what the Church teaches or not.

The Part Stands In For the Whole

Another common error which relates to ALL, SOME and NONE is the claim that the part represents the whole.  So, if an atheist argues that because some Christians behave in an ignorant way, it is representative of the whole, this confuses the difference between some and all.  What is the evidence that this is representative?

Usually, the claim is based on the belief that the believers must be ignorant because they believe, which argues in a circle.  Why do Christians believe?  Because they are ignorant.  Why are Christians ignorant?  Because they believe.  One could easily reword this to the following: Why don't atheists believe?  Because they are ignorant.  Why are atheists ignorant?  Because they don't believe.  Same error, different target.

The Hidden Assumption: This belief is correct.  If you disagree you are ignorant.

The problem of course is the establishment of proof that to believe in God is ignorant.  Because science deals only with the natural order, it is completely unable to assess whether or not the supernatural exists.  Yet many seek to invoke Science with a capital 'S' as having disproved religion… invoking the claim that knowledge of science has shown that miracles can't happen and claiming that those who believed in miracles could not know how the natural world really worked.  This continues to make the error of confusing SOME, ALL, and NONE.

CS Lewis once pointed out that Matthew 1:19 shows the flaw in that assumption (He discusses this in God in the Dock which makes good reading).  If St. Joseph had been ignorant about how children come to be, he would not have been considering the quiet divorce of Mary.  Indeed, to believe in miracles, one has to accept that the universe does function in a set way, and the miraculous departs from the normal.

The False Analogy of the Ancient Pagans: We're back to All, None and Some

A false analogy is one where one points to two situations with some similarities while ignoring the differences which make the two situations different.  For example, because ancient Greeks employed the myth that the sun was Helios who travelled across the sky in a fiery chariot to explain sunrise and sunset, Christian belief in God, the Eucharist and the Virgin Birth are also the same type of myth.

The problem of course is that there is no linkage.  The fact that some religious beliefs of pagans were myths, does not mean ALL religious beliefs are.  The claim that science "disproves" religion is not justified, and the attributing the cause of belief in a religion as superstition is a Bulverism.

"No Swans are Black?" Falsifiability and Assertions

The belief that all swans are white (once a belief in the European world which had never seen a black swan… indeed, Europeans only became aware of them in 1697) was extrapolated from the following observations:

  1. All swans I have seen are white
  2. It is most probable then that all swans are white

Now it may be impractical to observe every swan, but if we should ever observe a black swan, we do show the "probable" claim to be a false claim.  The observance of any number of white swans does not prove the universality of the claim, but the observance of one black swan disproves it.  Thus it is not reasonable to conclude a universal solely on the grounds of an observed group.

Yet, the confusing of SOME with ALL or NONE continues in almost every aspect of life.  Stereotypes are based on it ("all of ethnic group X are dishonest".)  Polemics against a different creed makes use of it ("no religious believer is reasonable").  Advocacy of a preferred policy makes use of it ("whoever opposes my plan doesn't care about X").

And of course the Catholic Church is a constant victim of it.  All one needs do is to point to the presence of a thing one dislikes or the absence of a thing one likes within a certain sample of Catholics, then make a claim that ALL Catholics do [the thing disliked] or NO Catholics do [the thing liked] as a reason for rejecting the Church as a whole (in the case of those outside the Church opposed to religion in general or Catholicism in particular,  or in part (in the case of those within the Church, commonly in an area one disagrees with).

When Does Some Speak for All?  Does the Part Represent the Whole?

However, before one can make such a claim, one needs to see whether such a group one uses as a representative sample is in fact representative of the whole.  For example, in America, there are people who are deeply patriotic and people who are deeply opposed to the actions of their nation.  There are people authorized to act in the name of the nation and those who are not.  Now, let us suppose some subgroup in America does something which causes harm to another nation.  Is it just to say "America did this?"

It could be.  In the case of the nation going to war, the lawfully elected leader would have the authority to carry out a policy, and one could correctly say "America went to war with X" even if some individuals in America oppose the policy.  The groups in opposition would be Americans but would not represent the actual policy of America.

Likewise, if a naturalized US citizen and former CIA operative fired a bazooka at a Polish freighter in Miami harbor in 1968 (to use a bizarre real life example), that is not an action of "America" even if American courts give the individual in question a sentence lighter than they ought.


Now, how do we apply this principle to the Catholic Church?

Before saying "All clergy are corrupt" or "The Catholic Church permits abuse" or "The Church is anti-woman" or any number of similar accusations from Left or Right, one needs to ask some questions, such as:

  1. Does the part act as the official representation of the whole?
  2. Do their actions reflect the official position?
  3. Am I rightly assessing what the official position IS?
  4. Am I drawing the right conclusion?
  5. Does my statement reflect what is? 

There are of course more to ask, but if one can't answer "Yes" to these questions and demonstrate the basis for the claim, such an individual is confusing ALL/NONE with SOME.