Friday, December 26, 2014

TFTD: They Revile What They Do Not Understand

But these people revile what they do not understand and are destroyed by what they know by nature like irrational animals. (Jude 1:10)

A couple of days before Christmas, I was involved in a combox discussion on the issues over the satanic counter to the Nativity Scene in Florida. My own thesis was that the putting up a “religious” display with the intent of protesting religious displays was a self-contradiction. What struck me was a comment from one of the atheists. It was a tu quoque claim that the Bible was full of contradictions. Today, there seems to be a lot of atheists on Facebook and in the comboxes bashing Christianity over Neil deGrasse Tyson and his tweet in celebration of the December 25th birthday of Sir Isaac Newton (the actual tweet struck me as being more pathetic than offensive, apparently trying to imply Newton was more important than Christ).

Basically, the theme is that Christians are stupid for believing in God while blaming Christianity and religion in general for every crime in the history of humanity (denying the role of the atheistic ideology in the worst atrocities of the 20th century). These things are pretty tiresome, and fairly frustrating. The bashing is basically illogical and factually wrong. They would actually be easy to refute—if people took the time to listen and investigate whether what they say is true.

Ven. Fulton J. Sheen expressed things very well when he wrote:

“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Radio Replies vol. 1)

Ven. Archbishop Sheen makes a good point. The Catholic Church is not really hated for what she teaches, but for what people think she teaches, and when people run afoul of the Church teachings, we are told that these teachings were made out of hatred of women, of people with same sex attraction, of divorced people, the poor, the rich, sexuality etc., simply because we have a teaching on the morality of certain actions.

People don’t even ask what we teach, let alone why we teach it. People assume that the worst possible portrayals of the Church in history are true, never realizing that even in past centuries there were people with ideologies and axes to grind who had no problems denigrating the Church to build up their own agendas. Because they know nothing of Catholic teaching and history, but assume the Church is capable of the worst, they assume that the horror stories they hear must be true and done out of sheer malice—never mind facts and the context of the times.

Sometimes I wish people couldn’t post on a subject online unless they could demonstrate they understood what they were bashing.

But we shouldn’t expect that. Our Lord did warn us that we could expect hatred from the world if we sought to be faithful to Him:

18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ (John 15:18-25)

So we endure hatred and try to reach out to the person of good will who wants to learn the truth, praying for all of them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

TFTD: Thoughts on Dealing With Obstinate Hatred Online

I think most people who try to defend the faith online in the combox or on Facebook have encountered the insulting response, the mocking response or the highly emotional response which make wild accusations and personal attacks. It’s terribly unjust, and you might be tempted to fire back, "putting the jerk in his or place." Or you might think that with just the right response, you’ll unlock the door and bring the person over to the truth. Personally I find that neither one of these actually works. The internet is filled with a wide range of people with different temperaments, education, knowledge and biases. Some of them may not be remotely interested in seeking the truth. They might be unwilling to consider anything that runs counter to what they hold. A religious or political perspective which is different might be seen as politically or ideologically motivated.

I find that many of the abusive types will not be willing to listen to what you have to say. But remember, these people are not the only people following the conversation, and whatever you consider saying should take this into account. You may not reach your foe, but you may reach others, both those responding at the time and those who discover it much later.

I find that when a person behaves in an abusive manner, there will always be some “me too” types around who click “Like” on their comments and parrot the same kind of responses. But there may be some people out there who don’t agree with them, or may be appalled by their views or their behavior. So that’s why the first thing to remember is, you don’t try to “put the jerk in his place.” You come across looking like a jerk as well, and maybe people will be less inclined to listen to your point. It’s always important to be gracious, and not come at it with a hard, “@#$% You!” attitude. If you need to respond, the reply should show patience, witnessing the love for others that Christians are supposed to have.

The second thing I have learned is that you don’t always need to respond to everything the person opposes you says. Sometimes, the best witness is to leave your gentle words as a contrast to the abusive vitriol that follows. This leaves the reader who happens by a witness to your belief that shows no hatred while your abusive opponent is shown by his or her own words to be the one who is intolerant. Just politely say that you think the conversation is no longer productive and are leaving the discussion. But the hard point is to leave the discussion and not come back for “one last response." You may be insulted. You may be accused of running away, or accused of being intolerant. Offer it up and let your quiet Christian witness speak louder than their insults.

The third thing to remember is not to let pride get in the way. No matter how much we want to defend the faith, we need to make sure that we don’t confuse that with “not wanting to look bad on the forums.” We can pray for those who attack us, and we can pray for humility:

The Litany of Humility by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I,
 provided that I may become as holy as I should…

(And yes, I too need to pray this more.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Irony Is...

Irony Is...

Truth and its Counterfeits.

Introduction: On Truth

There are two motives to hold to a belief. Either it is because the belief is true or because the belief is comfortable (either comfortable in the sense of “It makes me feel good,” or in the sense of “other choices seem worse to me”). Of these two motives, there is only one legitimate reason to hold to a belief, and that it is because it is true. Otherwise, you’re clinging to a delusion.

Long time readers of this blog will recall my favorite axiom of Aristotle: To say of what is that it is, or to say of what is not that it is not is to speak the truth. I find it to be an axiom that everyone should remember. When a person says, “X is good,” we have to actually assess whether or not X is good. X being good doesn’t mean X is giving warm fuzzy feelings or giving you an emotional high. We have to look at the nature of X, and see if it is to the ultimate objective benefit of the recipient or not. If X harms the recipient or others, then saying, “X is good” is not speaking the truth.

The problem is that such a view focuses on the physical. The world equates the idea of what is to be done is that which satisfies base emotions (food, safety, sex, etc.) and harms the least number of people—by their own personal standards. (If the victim doesn’t meet the standards of the individual, the individual’s need is considered “not important.”) Because the standard is the physical, it is necessarily short term (the time pleasure lasts and the time we have to enjoy it), and we often tend to think of things as “Get while the getting is good."

This is why the Catholic Church seems to receive a lot of hostility. She doesn’t define good as what is pleasurable for the body at the time. She considers the whole person, not just as a body, but with an immortal soul as well. Jesus Christ said, "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mk 8:36). If the greatest acquisition of wealth, power, fame and pleasure costs your immortal soul, it is not worth the price. That is why the Church takes a stand and says that certain things, made popular by the world are actually harmful—even if the individual cannot see it from the short view of things. (A good book on this topic is Peter Kreeft’s The Best Things in Life, which gives us a modern Socratic dialogue on seeking the ultimate good).

Now, I freely acknowledge that not everybody recognizes the authority of the Church and not everybody automatically accepts her teachings. But when it comes to claims and counterclaims, the question is to determine:

  1. What the claim actually is (as opposed to what we think it means).
  2. What are the justifications for the claim?
  3. What are the justifications against the claim?

Falsely Misrepresenting the Claim (Straw Man)

Unfortunately, when it comes to the teachings of the Catholic Church, most people never get beyond step one. People stop with what they think words mean, and then assume they know what the argument is. But too many times people deride the Church teaching as being hateful, or ignorant, or against something people consider themselves in favor of. They confuse the accidents (in the philosophical sense of a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature) of history, such as the history and culture of another time, with the essential parts of the teaching.

So, when the Church teaches on abortion and “same sex marriage” (popular bugbears with the political liberal) or on torture and social justice (popular bugbears with the political conservative), the result is to shut down the mind and respond based on the assumption that the Church is anti-woman and homophobic or pro-terrorist and Marxist—even though the Church teaching is none of these things. From what I have seen, the justifications against the claims of the Catholic Church have nothing whatsoever to do with what the Catholic Church actually teaches. They are based on false assumptions—creating defenses against claims that are counterfeit, having nothing to do with our beliefs.

(When’s the last time you ever saw someone accurately portray our beliefs when trying to dispute them?)

False Compromise

Another counterfeit is the idea of the false compromise. Yes, everyone wants to just get along, but sometimes there are situations where the claims cannot be reconciled with a division down the middle. For example, if I claim you owe me $50,000 and you claim you owe me nothing, the compromise of you owing me $25,000 is not a legitimate compromise if you truly owe me nothing. Truth determines whether a compromise is in order. Likewise, if the truth is a debt does exist, then a compromise does not satisfy justice.

But all too often, the Church is told that she needs to compromise on an issue where there can be no compromise. When the choices are between "X is a sin” and “X is not a sin,” there is no middle ground to compromise on. If X is a sin, then it cannot be permitted. If X is not a sin, there’s no reason to forbid it. Usually, compromise is a code word for capitulation. The Church is expected to change her position. When she does not, because she knows the truth, she’s condemned for refusing to compromise.

(But how many times have you ever seen those accusing the Catholic Church of not compromising actually offering a sacrifice of their own to make a compromise?)

False Dilemma

The other side of the coin to the false compromise is the false dilemma. It tries to create a situation where either you accept one position or you endorse some hideous evil. The problem is, not all problems are either-or. They are when we say “Either X is Red or not Red.” There’s no other choice in such a case. But if you say “Either X is Red or Blue,” there are many colors of the spectrum that are not Red or Blue. So, when someone tries to hem you in, it is important to look at the argument of “either X or Y,” and ask: Is it possible that I can support both X or Y? That I must reject both X and Y? That there is an option Z I can choose instead? If one or more of these is the case, the either-or argument is false.

The Church tends to get hit with this attack when someone tries to create an either-or situation by creating a scenario of either abandoning a teaching of the Church or experiencing suffering. For example, during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, there were many attacks on the Church accusing them of being responsible for the AIDS epidemic in Africa because she teaches contraception is a sin. The popular example was the wife infected with AIDS from her husband. But are there other options? Like what about teaching self-control from an infected person to avoid passing on an STD to a healthy person? 

(When’s the last time you heard someone ask why a person infected with AIDS who ignored Church teaching on adultery or fornication would listen to the Church on wearing a condom?)


There are other fallacies which try to portray something as reasonable when it is not. But these are three common ones used to portray the Church teaching in a bad light. They falsely portray the teaching of the truth in a caricature to make it look hateful. They suggest a compromise which is not a compromise, trying to appear reasonable when in fact they are making no concessions. They create an either-or situation which tells us that either we have to bend or it’s all our fault when bad things happen.

When you get all these counterfeits masquerading as truth, many people get deceived. But the defense is to look to the truth. What is the actual teaching of the Church? Why does she teach what she does?

Once you learn that, you will see many attacks on the Catholic Church collapse from the lack of truth.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

TFTD: Rash Judgment in A Rush To Judgment

21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,n ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’* 22 *But I say to you, whoever is angry* with his brother will be liable to judgment,o and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. (Matt 5:21-22)

The article, "Cuban-Americans Denounce Pope Francis: ‘I am a Catholic Without a Pope’ |,” demonstrates a troubling attitude of some Cuban Catholics over the role the Pope played over the reopening of relations between the US and Cuba. These Catholics have had a strong hostility to the Castro regime, and some of them have been harassed or jailed by the Cuban government.

Now, the diplomatic activities of the Church do not fall under the Magisterial authority. The Pope isn’t infallible over the decision to work diplomatically for better relations, and one isn’t bound to give assent to this decision as good. Cardinal József Mindszenty indicated in his memoirs that he felt betrayed when the Vatican decided to send a replacement to Hungary instead of demanding the Communist government accept him. So there can be different views on what is best, and some people can feel hurt by these decisions.

However, even those who oppose improved relations with Cuba (and I’ll come out and say I am cautiously in favor of the Pope and Obama’s actions here), they need to do so with charity and following the teachings of the Church that do apply— like avoiding rash judgment. When terms like “naïveté,” “the Church is contaminated,” and “I am Catholic without the Pope,” these are warning signs that people are letting their ideology get ahead of their Christian obligation.

See, the Christian obligations to love our neighbor, love our enemies, etc. still exist in these cases. So is recognizing the possibility that the Pope was not naive or bullied or motivated by liberal ideals. He could have an idea about the opening of relations with Cuba as being the best way to improve conditions in Cuba and open the way to freedom. He could be right. He could be wrong. But he’s not doing evil in his actions, and it strikes me as unjust to accuse him of bad will.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pride: The Danger of Judging of Popes

There is a troubling group of Catholics out there who, while a minority, are quite vocal out there. They are the Catholics who believe that Pope Francis is making a definite break in Catholic teaching, teaching error and needing to be resisted. If they were only a fringe group, we could just dismiss them with a shrug and a shake of the head. But it isn’t merely the lunatic fringe. It is people who equate the Pope with a political view that they don’t like, and don’t think the Church should be teaching on those subjects and that the Pope should focus on subjects they agree with.

The irony of it all is the fact that prior to the pontificate of Pope Francis, there were other Catholics who rejected the teachings of his predecessors, equating them with a political view they disliked and thought that the Church would be better off teaching on subjects they agreed with. Basically, the two groups are guilty of the same behavior but with a different bias. What’s most tragic about this is the fact that both groups seem to condemn the other for doing this, but both are blind to the fact that they are guilty of the very same thing: Having a selective view that is twisted to match political views that justifies themselves and vilifies the others at the expense of obedience to Church teaching.

What’s overlooked is that the predecessors of Pope Francis said pretty much the same thing on issues of social justice that he did, and that Pope Francis has said the same thing as his predecessors on the moral teachings of the Church. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II were not “right wingers” and Pope Francis is not “Left Wing."

So a large part of the judging of popes seems to be ignorance of or ignoring what the Popes have actually taught in favor of a caricature. The problem is, we can’t accurately assess something without knowledge of the facts—facts which the media stories do not supply. Now it may be forgivable for people ignorant of the Catholic faith to not realize that there is more to the story than the media reports. But we Catholics do not have that excuse. If we have faith in God to protect His Church from error when it comes to matters of salvation, there can neither be a case of the Church was right before but wrong now, nor a case of the Church was wrong before but right now. The Holy Spirit didn’t take a nap during Vatican II or the election of Pope Francis. Nor did the Holy Spirit take a nap until Vatican II. There is a continuity in the teaching. It’s just that the ways of expressing the teaching can be done in different ways by different Popes in different ages.

The point is, as the Church faces new circumstances, new attacks, new understandings, teaching develops—but never contradicts former teaching. We’ll never go from saying divorce and remarriage is wrong to saying it is OK. But over time, we have had to answer questions from different sources, and perhaps face situations that the Church in earlier times did not have to address (for example, the widespread rejection of the belief that a valid marriage is permanent that exists today). Pope Francis has to address the problem of a society that has no idea what marriage is really for. When people no longer understand what is the sin, the older methods of explaining the moral truths may be inadequate.

Ultimately, this judging of Popes is based on the idea that the Church should be what the individual wants it to be. When the individual puts himself or herself in opposition to the Church teaching, or when the Church teaches on something the would-be judge thinks is similar to a political view he or she dislikes, the objection is that “God doesn’t care about that,” or that “the Church should be focussing on serious issues.” That’s pride—the belief that *I* can’t be a sinner. If the Church says I am sinning or that  my political views are against what following Christ requires, then the Church must be in error.

Mind you, when it comes to being faithful to Church teaching, there are different ways to do it, and two faithful Catholics can have two different views on what the best way to carry it out. So, it’s not being faithless if one would prefer a different approach (in keeping with the teachings, mind you) on doing these things, so long as we recognize exactly who has the authority to decide on what the Church will officially do—whether that concerns the way to carry out a doctrine or what the discipline of the Church is going to be. If one refuses to accept the Church teaching, that makes them disobedient.

For example, take the disputes that have happened concerning the Mass as it exists today (the Ordinary Form), vs. the Mass in the form of the 1962 Missal (the Extraordinary Form). The preference for the Extraordinary Form is not sinful in itself. Some people prefer the Extraordinary Form. I prefer the Ordinary Form. One preference is not right while the other wrong. But it is the Pope who decides what is best for the Church, and if he decides on something that is different than we prefer, he has the authority from Christ to make that decision. Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II were not wrong in mandating the ordinary form. Nor was Pope emeritus Benedict XVI correcting error by expanding permission for the use of the extraordinary form. Those who defied Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II during their pontificates did wrong, and that fact was not changed by the decision of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. It merely meant that those who began to use the extraordinary form of the Mass according to the motu proprio, after permission was given, were not sinning in doing so. Yet a good deal of ink and bandwidth has been expended seeking to portray Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II as teaching error.

That’s what this judging of Popes does. It is an arrogant decision that the individual has the charism of infallibility while the Pope does not. If the Pope teaches differently than I would prefer, it means the Pope is in error. Such a view refuses to accept the possibility of being deceived by the devil through pride. And if we refuse to accept the possibility that we can be wrong, it blocks us from accepting Our Lord’s grace and salvation.

These aren’t minor matters. Those who presume to judge the teachings of the Pope are possibly (I will not judge their culpability) putting their souls in danger. So, when we encounter such people on the internet or in person, at least say a prayer for them that they might come to trust that God is watching over the Church.