Thursday, August 28, 2014

An Analogy on the Importance of Baptism

Preliminary Note: The use of the analogy of citizenship in this article has nothing at all to do with the current issue of illegal immigration and children from Central America. Comments attempting to argue immigration issues in this article will simply not be approved.


I have encountered some people—some believers, some not—who object to the Catholic view of Baptism and the Fall of Man in Genesis 3. They ask how is it fair that humanity has to be punished for the sin of Adam and Eve? Others object to our view of Baptism because they think that only a person who can rationally accept the faith can be baptized, and thinking that baptism of children is required implies all children must go to hell.

It sounds arbitrary because I think some people have not understood the story of the Fall and what the sin entailed. Nor do they understand how it impacts each one of us. So I propose this analogy for people to consider.

The Analogy

(Remember . . .every analogy is weak at some point. So it's best to look at the general story as opposed to trying to tie each point to a specific point of theology)

Consider a married couple being gifted with citizenship in a nation. Because of this citizenship, they have access to all the rights, privileges--and the responsibilities that go with them in terms of obeying the laws. They would pass on this citizenship

But instead of carrying out their responsibilities, the couple commits treason against the nation. The result is they are stripped of their citizenship and exiled. What happens to their children?

Well, if children had been born before the couple committed treason, obviously they would have remained citizens because the sins of the parents would not fall on them. If only one of the parents had committed treason, the children born later would still be citizens.

But because both individuals committed treason and lost their citizenship before having any children, any children born to them after this fact have no claim to citizenship. This is not the fault of the ruler. This is the fault of the parents. You cannot give what you do not possess. Since neither parent possesses citizenship, none of their children can possibly be born citizens.

The result is, because this couple committed treason and lost their citizenship, there is literally nothing they can do to make their children citizens. It seems hopeless for any of them.

But, the ruler is aware of their plight and does not want to leave them in some refugee camp. But He simply can't just say, "Well, your treason doesn't matter. I'll just pretend that it didn't happen." So he needs to set up a plan that allows all of them a way to regain citizenship that they lost (the married couple) or never had to begin with (their children). It is a plan that this ruler would carry out at the cost of his son . . . and both were willing to do this for us.

When this plan was carried out, it became possible to become citizens again . . . but not automatically and not with a general grant. Each individual who has reached the age of reason has to make the decision to become a citizen on their own, promising to be faithful to their country. Parents may apply for their children not yet at the age of reason to become citizens, promising to raise them to live in accordance with the rights and responsibilities of the nation.

Unfortunately, some have forgotten the fact that the induction ceremony for citizenship was not an option and not a symbol. It is the means the ruler set in place as the ordinary way to become a citizen. Some believe that as long as you have good intentions, the act of becoming a citizen is not necessary. Others think that parents should not apply for their children's citizenship. Why not just let them decide whether or not to decide when they become adults? So as not to prejudice them, they tell their children nothing about this choice. After all, if this ruler is just and merciful, it won't matter with such a small thing, will it?

Yes this ruler is just and merciful . . . he makes citizenship free to all who seek it.He also sends members of his kingdom to go out and make known the importance of becoming citizens and living according to the laws of the kingdom. See, this ruler knows that a calamity is coming that will sweep the neighboring lands and his kingdom will be the only place which is safe. That is when the ruler will determine who may enter.

Those who accepted citizenship and followed the laws (or would have if they had only known what they needed to do) will be admitted. Those who reject his authority or his laws cannot enter—in fact they would probably refuse to enter the country. Certainly the ruler cannot be faulted for excluding people from his kingdom who refuse to accept his citizenship and his laws. He offers it to everyone, but some will refuse to cooperate, just as the first couple did.

The Evaluation

God is that ruler. Heaven is His kingdom. The plan allowing people to enter His kingdom that cost the death of His Son was the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the way to citizenship His teachings are His laws and His emissaries are His Church. The calamity is the end of the world.

Now when you consider that, the knowing refusal to accept God or His Plan or His Baptism or His Laws or His Church is not a thing of no importance . . . it is the rejection of God, the refusal to accept His reaching out to us to save us.

God will judge us with Love and Mercy and Justice. But the person who refuses to accept God's Love and Mercy will face what's left . . . His justice. God doesn't withdraw it. The sinner refuses it in this case. Since Heaven is the place of God's love and mercy, where can the person who refuses it go? God will not force it on the person.

The only place left is the place outside Heaven . . . the ruins. Hell. Hell isn't a final failing grade for people who aren't "nice enough." It's the choice of the person who knowingly refuses God.

That's why the Church can say God is Love and Mercy—and say Hell exists, and not contradict herself.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fallacious Thinking on Religious Indifferentism

I came across a claim on a gaming forum this morning. Basically the context is the poster was making a statement that there are no absolute values, and that all religious values are equally valid or invalid. This claim said there were no more or less value to the "myths" of traditional religion than there were to his/her own. Ordinarily, I would write it off as a fallacy not worth bothering with, but the truth is, many people do think this way.

The basic view of indifferentism that is expressed today is given in two views:

  1. So long as you're trying to do good, what you believe doesn't matter.
  2. There's no more proof for the belief in God than for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Both of these views start with the same fallacy: Begging the Question, which assumes to be proved true that which actually needs to be proven. So if a person wants to claim that Christianity is no more or no less valid than Pastafarianism or other belief, that's not something that is already proved. That's something that needs to be proven before they can move on to making their conclusion.

See, a person who thinks that all religions are manmade constructs or a person who thinks that all religions that make you feel good are good enough doesn't answer the question of how they know their belief. How does the person who thinks all religions are a construct of human beings know that none of them have any supernatural basis? They don't. They are making an assumption that no religion can have a supernatural basis.

Likewise, the person who thinks it doesn't matter what religion a person holds as long as the religion makes a person happy. If God exists, then if He establishes a way to follow Him, then it matters very much whether or not one follows that way.

Unfortunately many people make a decision on the universal validity or invalidity of religion based on their perception of what suits their worldview. The atheist presupposes that no religion can be true. The religiously indifferent presupposes that religion is nothing more than "being nice to each other." What is not asked is: What if my presupposition isn't true?

A few months ago I wrote on Pascal's Wager. I think it makes sense that people of good will consider the consequences of backing the wrong horse when it comes to seeking to follow the truth. If atheism is irrelevant if true and dangerous if false, then it makes a lot more sense to investigate the claims of religion to see if they are true then it does to investigate the claims of atheism.

The person of good will can't just stop in thinking "this is close enough." The search for truth is ongoing . . . eliminating false ideas, going deeper into true ones and trying to live by the truth. The person who holds to a worldview should consider why he or she holds that worldview . . . even the Christian. If God exists, and is not some indifferent architect, then what one does in relation to Him does matter.

That's why we can't presume that God does not exist or is indifferent and we can stop searching for the truth.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thoughts on Religious Freedom, Conscience and Truth

Religion and Religious Freedom

The first thing for people to realize—whether you believe in a higher power or not—is that religion is humanity living in right relationship with the Divine.

Once you realize that, we can recognize that Religious Freedom is the freedom to live in accordance with this right relationship with the Divine without the state interfering.

Understanding this, the violation of Religious Freedom is the coercion to compel a person to act against what he believes is the right relationship with God or forbids him to do what he believes he must do. So when the government, society, or the employer threatens the life, liberty or property (behave this way or be dead/imprisoned/fined/fired) of the person or group for living in right relationship with the Divine, this is the violation of religious freedom.

The right relationship with the Divine affects all aspects of the individual's life . . . which includes the right to vote and legally influence the government to do what is right and just. The person who recognizes God exists has the obligation to live life in accord with His will

Now we will have to dig deeper, because what I have written above can be twisted to justify anything. Yes, some belief systems contradict other belief systems, and the balancing act of society is how to prevent one group into coercing another group into behaving in a way that is evil without opening the floodgates to "anything goes."

Religious Freedom and Conscience

Bl. John Henry Newman described the problem this way:

Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a license to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will. (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, 5)

We have rights because we have obligations to obey our conscience—a word which is grossly abused today (and in the 19th century). People confuse conscience with the autonomy to do anything that doesn't personally bother you. The problem with that standard is, a sociopath may not feel anything telling him his behavior is wrong. But that doesn't mean what he does is not wrong. It only means he is not aware of anything telling him it is wrong . . . which is a terrible way to run a society.

So let's look at  the truth of "Conscience has rights because it has duties." Conscience must be formed. A person knows nothing about a topic, he or she may not realize that there is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in relation to that topic. So it's not enough to say "I don't see anything wrong with X so it must be OK." One has to look into the truth of the issue in order to form the conscience correctly.

Conscience and Truth

So that gives us another key to the puzzle. Conscience must be formed in relation to truth, not to opinion or what is culturally acceptable. If the culture goes wrong, it is not a good guide to follow what it approves.


This is why we can't rely on what society accepts to determine right and wrong

 Truth is to say of what is, that it is and of what is not, that it is not (to borrow from Aristotle). We have to know what is true and what is not true when it comes to determining how we must behave. That does begin with investigating the teachings of God. If God exists, and we are obligated to do as He teaches, then determining right and wrong must be in agreement with that teaching.

Combining the Chain: Truth, Conscience, Freedom of Religion—and God

Truth is the basis of conscience and conscience is the basis of freedom of religion . . . and every other right in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment could be called "The Truth Amendment." The freedoms of religion, speech, the press, assembling peacefully and petitioning the government for redress of grievances all deal with:

  • Seeking the Truth
  • Living in Accord with the Truth
  • Sharing the Truth with others (peacefully)

All people have this obligation. It's an obligation no government can interfere with.

In the Declaration of Independence, we are told:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Note that it is the Creator, not the state, that has granted these rights. Because they are given by a source above and beyond the authority of the state, the state cannot interfere with these rights.

Unfortunately, in America we are seeing the usurpation of these rights. Factions who have the ear of the government try to tell us we cannot refuse providing services that we find interfering with the right relationship with God, that we cannot  speak out or pass laws against behavior that is harmful to people.

Ultimately, the actions in America interfere with seeking, following and sharing the Truth. This interference with the truth interferes with the ability to carry out our responsibilities. Because of this, our freedoms are impaired.

Phony Rights

Yet at the same time we are prevented from carrying out our responsibilities in right relationship with God, the state is inventing rights, which have nothing to do with responsibility.


When Autonomy Replaces Obligation as the basis for a Right

Abortion and "Gay Marriage" are not issues where we have the truth leading us to moral obligation. They are issues where proponents want to be free of moral obligation. In other words, modern society has stood the idea of freedom on it's head. There is no truth to the claim that a person has the power to kill another person arbitrarily . . . but that is what abortion does. There is no truth to the claim that two people of the same gender can marry when the essence of marriage is one man and one woman can form a permanent union with the intention to being open to the transmission of life. In fact, it is impossible for a same sex relationship to do this.

With no truth, there is no moral obligation to carry out these acts. With no moral obligation to carry out, there is no right to do these things. Even if a permissive group should say "We see nothing wrong with this," it doesn't mean the person has the right to do it. Indeed, to say "I don't see anything wrong with it, so it is OK to do it is the argument from ignorance fallacy: I don't think it is wrong, so it must be ok.

Argument from ignorance

 Just Because You Don't See Anything Wrong Doesn't Mean It is OK


Ultimately, it is the failure to recognize that the chain of truth—»obligation—»right that plagues our country. We believe "rights" mean freedom of activity to do as we wish. Thus we get bizarre rulings from the courts, like the"right" to abortion, contraception, and "gay marriage." At the same time we see that genuine rights rooted in the obligations brought on by truth are spurned and attacked as being bigotry.

That's where the person of good will who seeks the truth has to pause. If the concept of the obligation to seek out, follow and share the truth is denied, our nation becomes unfree, no matter how many "rights" the courts and the politicians may invent.