Wednesday, October 30, 2013

TFTD: Missing the Main Point

There was much said on the airwaves, in print and online about the glitches on the Obamacare website and the number of people either dropped from coverage or having their rates jacked up.

While these show the lack of prudence and perhaps honesty about the ACA, these are somewhat of a distraction.

Even if the website worked flawlessly and nobody had their rates jacked up, we still have heathcare where Christian employers still have to pay (through a shell game) for abortion and contraceptive coverage against the teachings of their faith.

Let's not forget this in the media circus currently in play.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reflections on the Either-Or Fallacy


One of the fallacies that plague America is the either-or fallacy (also called "black and white" or bifurcation." If one does not support A, he must support B. You can plug in any number of opposed concepts. Conservative:Liberal, Capitalism:Socialism and others are viewed as opposites and the only two choices to make.

I've noticed that this fallacy shows up a lot in a tendency to assume that A and B are truly contradictory and one must be endorsed. It is presumed that if a person speaks against a thing, he must endorse the other.

However, it is quite possible that both can be false. For example, if someone said "either Nazism or Stalinism" one could legitimately speak against one as immediately relevant to the situation without automatically endorsing the other.

It is also possible to support something that is similar to a plank in a party platform without endorsing the party or its platform.

Ultimately the problem is to pigeonhole a statement into one of a limited number of factions and assume the speaker endorses the faction with all the assorted baggage.

Absolutes vs. Multiple Options

Before moving on, we need to distinguish something. Not all either-or situations are fallacies. Some things truly either are or are not true. If A is true, it cannot be not true in the same way and same time

Thus, if Catholicism is the Church established by Christ, it can't be said it is not the Church established by Christ. Or, if rape is always evil, it can never be said to be not evil.

That's simple reason. It can't be raining and not raining in the same place and time. I can't, at the same time, have and not have a hundred dollar bill in my hand.

Contradictory vs. Contrary

So, if two statements contradict, they can't both be true, but one must be true. (A vs. Not-A). However, we need to realize that we can have opposed statements where both are false. For example, saying "either rain or snow tomorrow," prevents it from being both, but the statement overlooks the option of clear weather.

So when getting to the truth, we must be clear on whether opposing statements contradict or are merely contrary.

Statements by the Church and Interpretation

The Church gets constantly attacked by people who use this fallacy. If the bishops speak in favor of immigration reform, the Church is portrayed as being opposed to any restrictions at all. If the Church speaks on the evil of abortion, she is accused of being anti-woman.

When Pope Francis says of the Church, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," that does not mean the Church can never speak on these issues... as many inside the Church and out took it to mean. (In fact, the Holy Father went on to say, "But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.")

The problem was faulty reasoning, not the Pope's words. His statement was reduced to an either-or statement: either the Church speaks on this subject or does not... as an absolute statement. Instead, he intended to express a view on this topic that he won't solely speak on these issues, but when he does, it must have a frame of reference in mind.


Ultimately, our obligation is to determine whether our interpretation is correct before we try to draw conclusions from what was said. If we use faulty assumptions, our conclusions will not be reasoned ones.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Pharisees and Reaching Out to Sinners

“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.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. *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." (Matthew 21:28-31).

I think what troubles me the most about the new conservative dissent against the Pope is how much it is based on the fact that he is reaching out to the public sinners with compassion, rather than judgment.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the Church should be liberal (and, for that matter, neither is the Pope). But as I see how many Catholics columnists -- even those I ordinarily approve of -- taking an attitude of disappointment, annoyance, even anger -- against the Pope, I find myself struck with a sense of deja vu. It's a sense that here in the 21st century we're seeing the same attitude that the New Testament described in the First century -- that there are a group of religious people, seeing the (real) sin of people being reached out to, but can see no further than their sin.

Now Jesus knew the prostitutes and tax collectors were sinners. He also knew the Scribes and Pharisees did not commit the sins they did. But that wasn't the important part. The important part was Jesus loved both the Pharisee and the tax collector and wanted to save them both. 

To do so, He took different approaches based on what each needed to hear. To the prostitutes and tax collectors, his approach began with the love of God... letting them know God loved them and wanted them to turn back and seek the Lord.

To the scribes and Pharisees however, he needed to shake them out of their idea that because they didn't sin as the prostitutes and tax collectors did, they didn't need to repent.

In Mark 2:16-17, we have this interesting exchange:

Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

They were scandalized because Jesus did not deal with them as they thought he should.  Instead, He engaged them where they were. He chose to dine at the house of Zacchaeus. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11).

Now we know these lessons. But do we take them to heart? I wonder.

I mainly wonder how we might react if Jesus said to us, "The liberals and the homosexuals are entering the kingdom of God before you."

That would probably be as shocking to us as “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you" was to the Pharisees.

I think of these things as Catholics are scandalized by Pope Francis. In the time since he became Pope, he has spoken gently to those estranged from the Church and admonished us who might be too complacent about our relationship with God.

But speaking to those estranged gently is not to sanction their sins. Jesus ate with sinners. But He didn't say it was OK to remain in their sins. Prostitutes and tax collectors may have been entering the kingdom before the pharisees, but that doesn't mean they remained prostitutes and dishonest tax men.

Likewise, Pope Francis calls sinners with compassion. But he doesn't say they can remain sinners.

Pope Francis seeks to emulate Jesus Christ. When we respond, let us be careful not to emulate the Pharisees.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Something to Keep in Mind About the Media

With the hubbub slowly dying down over the Papal interviews, it seemed like a good idea to discuss the past problems of the media misinterpretation of the Church.

The American media seems to be incapable of viewing the Church apart from seeing her as political factions and appears to seriously believe that someday there will be a Pope who agrees with them... or that someday a Pope will "realize" the Church is wrong and change things.

Way back when Veritatis Splendor was written (1993), the media scoured it in hopes of finding that Bl. John Paul II had lifted the condemnation on contraception. The same thing happened with Evangelium Vitae. The media was asking, "Did the Church change its teaching?"

In both cases, the encyclcals were strongly affirming of Catholic teaching.

During the papacy of Benedict XVI, the media took a different approach. Perhaps because by this time, the Internet was in full swing and information was instantaneous -- though comprehension was not -- the media was interpreting what the Pope said on their own.

Unfortunately, they were interpreting the statements according to their own perspective, often giving a political twist when none was intended.

Thus, encyclcals of Benedict XVI which spoke on the role of government in a moral society were interpreted as advocating centralization -- despite the attempts to explain otherwise.

When, in an interview, Benedict used a hypothetical example of a male prostitute with AIDS to illustrate a point of people beginning to think of moral consequences of actions, the media thought he finally "understood" and was changing Church teaching.  Despite the attempts to explain what was really meant, some people still think he "changed the teaching."

Likewise, when Obama was elected, the Vatican indicated it was a good sign for America. This was interpreted as an endorsement of his policies. It was nothing of the sort. Rather, the Church had been deeply concerned for decades with the racism in America and the fact that a black man could be elected was a sign of change in American attitudes.

So, with this background, it comes as no surprise that the media has given a wrong interpretation to the words of Pope Francis. They keep expecting the Church will someday "realize it is wrong," and make "reforms."  With that mindset, errors should be expected when the media reports on the Church.

Thus, when the media reports a "change" in Church teaching, our first assumption should be they probably got it wrong and not assume the Pope changed Church teaching.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Clarification on Where I Stand


I was asked recently about my stance on Pope Francis and the controversial second interview and whether I held the position that everything the Pope says or does is unquestionable.

This was cleared up in the conversation, but it struck me that perhaps others who read this blog might have similar questions about the position I hold. So, let's see if I can clarify where I stand.

Popes and Obligation

Not everything a Pope says is intended to be binding on the faithful. When he intends to teach, we are of course called to obedience. But when he speaks as a private theologian (for example, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his Jesus of Nazareth books), this is not a matter of binding teaching.

Now Pope Francis did not give his second interview with the intention of teaching the Church, so we are not obligated to see what he said as a new teaching that binds us. (This is the typical media error).

However, that doesn't mean we can write off these private theologian moments as holding the same level of truth as any idiot with a blog. The Pope is an educated theologian who has the good of the Church in mind.

So, in cases like this, we are obligated to assume good will on the part of the Pope, and not act like he is rejecting Church teaching. When statements are made which seem confusing or troubling to us, we need to try to consider who he is speaking to and what he is trying to say to the intended audience.

Above all, we need to show respect. Sometimes, when speaking as a private theologian or when intending to teach the Church, he speaks in a way which can be misunderstood. It is grossly disrespectful to presume he intends to teach contrary to what the Church holds, or to presume he is ignorant of Church teaching.

Popes and Options

Now, when the Pope intends to teach X, we cannot hold Not-X as a belief. However, when the Pope teaches X, there are different ways to carry out X. These ways must be in keeping with the moral teaching of the Church of course, but it does not mean all Catholics in a region are obligated to subscribe to a particular form of political platform (though, again, they cannot support a political platform that goes against Church teaching).

For example, Catholics are required to protect the sanctity of life. But that doesn't mean everyone is obligated to show up in front of abortion clinics.

So, when the Pope teaches us about caring to the poor, we are not free to be indifferent to them.  However, we are free to use different means to care for them which are compatible with the Church teaching.


Ultimately, when the Pope intends to teach the faithful, obedience is required, whether by ex cathedra or by the ordinary magisterium (see Humani generis #20). But when he speaks as a private theologian, respect is required, even if one should disagree with that which was said.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Aut Deus aut homo malus re-revisited

CS Lewis' aut deus aut homo malus (either God or a bad man) argument demonstrates that Jesus can't be is merely a good man . Since nobody thinks Jesus is a bad man, and he can't be a (merely) a good man, there's only one choice left.

But some atheists try to deny the argument, claiming it is an either-or fallacy. The reason that argument fails to refute Lewis is it ignores the fact that there are three choices and one must be rejected.

So here's another syllogism to prove one choice must be eliminated:

1) No [good man] [claims to be God] (no A is B)
2) [Jesus] [claims to be God] (C is part of B)
3) Therefore [Jesus] is not a [good man] (therefore C is not part of A)

This supports CS Lewis' argument because it shows one can't say Jesus is a good man -- good men do not claim to be more than they are. But for a mere human to claim to be God is to claim to be more than they are.

Moreover, Peter Kreeft points out that if Jesus intended to speak figuratively, it makes him a bad teacher (everyone misinterpreted him then) and eliminates the "good man" claim.

Thus we have two choices left:

1) if he spoke truthfully, he must be God.
2) if he did not speak truthfully, he must be a bad man.

So, if he can't be a good man, and nobody thinks he is a bad man, what's left?


Monday, October 7, 2013

Judging the Pope

I have quoted this section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church many times over the years:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

It's clear that the Catechism, being defined as a sure norm for the faith, makes it beyond a doubt that judging others of possessing moral fault without sufficient foundation is condemned.

So, when the Pope gives an interview, which some people find unclear, the troubled reader is required to find out what the Pope intended to say -- not assume the Pope spoke error, wittingly or no.

The burden of proof is on showing that the Pope's intended message is in error. NOT for the Pope to be required to prove his innocence.

Unfortunately, there are a certain set of bloggers who do judge the Pope who presume that any misunderstandings must be the fault of the Pope. Some say he spoke wrongly. Others say he spoke unclearly. But without a sufficient foundation to base this judgment on, it is rash judgment.

So how do we avoid rash judgment? We can do this by looking at other statements the Pope made on the topic. Do you really think he's indifferent on abortion and homosexual acts? We know he spoke out against both in Argentina and as Pope.

So, if the Pope has taken a strong stand in the past on moral issues and spoke less clearly in an interview, which view is more probable?

1) That the Pope was misunderstood and actually still is a "son of the Church" (his own words) on Catholic moral teaching?

2) That the Pope changed his mind on these issues?

The reasonable answer is #1. #2 is Rash Judgment.

The Pope Six Months Later

Shortly after his election as Pope, I wrote an article on how the Pope would be judged on people's personal preferences of what the Pope should be.

About six months later, I believe my point has been proven. We have a Pope who is unconventional according to the behavior of Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. However, when Pope Francis speaks, I see a Pope who is challenging us Catholics not to be complacent instead of condemning our opponents.

Unfortunately, certain conservative Catholics -- and not just "rad trads" -- are taking offense with his unconventional style.

To this, I find myself thinking this:

It's one thing to desire the Pope to speak on certain subjects. That's natural. But to consider him a disappointment (or worse) because he doesn't match our preferences? That's being judgmental and making ourselves the arbiter of what is authenticly Catholic.

Think about it. If we act churlishly when the Church challenges us, how can we serve as a witness to the Church when she challenges the world?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blogs to Consider

I wanted to write about how certain kinds of Catholic blogs have a troubling approach to Pope Francis' comments, but every attempt I have made seems to lack charity. So they'll never see the light of day.

So here are two blogs that succeeded where I have failed.


Tracy Trasancos

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thoughts on the Pope's Second Interview

Thus far, the mainstream media seems to pay little attention (as of yet) to the Pope's second interview -- probably because there wasn't much to misrepresent. A few commentators on the Internet seem to have missed the point however, either implying or accusing that the Pope is guilty of outright relativism.

That's understandable though. A few statements in there initially gave me a WTF? kind of reaction, almost looking as if the Pope took a relativist view of truth, when he said:

" Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."

Rereading the interview, I don't think that is a correct interpretation.

What the Pope is talking about is that all individuals are obligated to seek out the truth. See, a lot of people take an argument from silence approach to conscience -- "I don't feel anything wrong so it must be OK."

But that isn't conscience. Conscience says "I must do X" or "I must not do Y." Conscience can be wrongly informed,  yes. But the erroneous conscience still commands the person who does not know better.

But too many people are willing to rationalize away their conscience out of fear, expedience, ambition or other reasons. But what if  Germans in Nazi Germany had heeded this when they were told to do evil?  What if the woman considering abortion listened to her conscience instead of her fear?

The Pope is speaking to an atheist, not to a practicing Catholic. The atheist does not have an understanding of the complete truth as Catholics do. He can't say, "listen to the Church," because they don't recognize the authority of the Church. But he can appeal to the conscience because that is at least a common point of reference.

But the thing is, conscience requires one to seek and follow the truth. The man or woman who does not seek out whether they err are doing wrong. The person who, through no fault of their own, does not realize the importance of Christianity won't be condemned for that. But he or she will be judged if they refuse to seek out what is true.

As Catholics we should understand this, and not bash the Pope for trying to help an atheist begin to see his obligations.