Thursday, April 30, 2015

Abusus non tollit Usum: Thoughts on An Argument Trying to Refute the Defense of Marriage

As we wait for the Supreme Court to decide the fate of “same sex marriage,” I have seen an argument pop up in different places which tries to refute the defense of traditional marriage. This argument isn’t new, but I haven’t seen it for a few years. This arguments points to the cheapening of marriage as we know it in society with easy divorce, marriage for superficial reasons and the like. Some have argued that people with same sex attraction who want to marry have a higher esteem for marriage than heterosexuals because of the abuses that goes on in marriage today. I have seen both promoters of “same sex marriage” and Christians use it (the former for trying to justify their agenda, the latter trying to say “we’re all to blame here!”)

That argument is fundamentally flawed, but unless a person understands the issue, he or she can be easily led astray by it.

The problem can be summed up under the legal maxim abusus non tollit usum: “abuse does not take away use,” meaning that the fact that a thing may be abused or improperly used from a moral point of view does not justify its destruction, non-use, or non-application. I would argue that trying to redefine the meaning of marriage qualifies as the destruction of the original purpose.

In other words, the fact that many people have cheapened the true meaning of marriage (both now and in the past) through abuse does not justify the changing of the meaning of marriage. It means that we tighten up the meaning of marriage so as to eliminate the abuses and reinforcing the true means of marriage—which is what the Catholic Church has been doing every time there has been an attempt to distort the meaning of marriage. She has always stood for lifelong marriage between one man and one woman open to the transmission of life to a new generation. 

The proposal that “same sex marriage” proponents have "deeper respect" for marriage is a bit of a non sequitur (literally “it does not follow,” basically it means introducing something irrelevant to the discussion). Any attempt to redefine the intention of marriage is wrong—whether that wrong is the multiple divorces and remarriages of a Hollywood Actor/Actress or whether that wrong is trying to define marriage as existing between two people of the same gender. The invocation of “deeper respect” is misleading because it tries to sneak the idea of “same sex marriage” as if it were part of the proper understanding of marriage, when it is not.

Ultimately, the cheapening of marriage. is in reducing it to merely an emotional bond that lasts only as long as both partners feel such a bond—denying that marriage is a lifelong commitment which is open to procreation and raising the children born from this marriage. Any concept of marriage which does not recognize these characteristics is cheapening marriage—and the nature of “same sex marriage” is nothing more than an emotional bond. It’s unfortunate that marriage today is reduced to sentiment, but the solution is to defend what marriage is intended to be in all cases, not to redefine it in order to appease sentimentality.

Does respect for marriage need to be deepened in the West? It sure does. Are things like divorce/remarriage, adultery and fornication cheapening how the public views marriage? They sure do. Do these things justify reconsidering “same sex marriage?” They absolutely do NOT. The Christian who recognizes marriage as created by God has a duty to stand with the Church in defending marriage against false ideas and attempts to redefine it.

And that’s why we have to stand and speak out the truth (with compassion of course), even if the whole world hates us for it.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Propaganda and Lies: Portraying Christianity as Malicious

Propaganda:  information of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular or point of view or to misrepresent an opposing point of view.

With the Supreme Court ready to hear arguments on Tuesday concerning the “right” to “gay marriage,” there is a real push to portray Christianity—or at least those denominations who have not caved in on the issue of saying marriage can only exist between one man and one woman—as enemies of the state who have to be opposed for the “public good.” To hear the rhetoric used, one would get the impression that it is the Christians who are trying to impose their beliefs on others.

But if one actually went beyond the rhetoric and loaded terms, one would see that the ones actually seeking to impose their beliefs on others are the ones who are taking Christians to court with the intention of forcing them to do what they believe is morally wrong. What we are actually getting here is the attempt to force Christians to either accept “same sex marriage” as morally the same as marriage between one man and one woman, or be targeted by lawsuits, loss of business and loss of jobs. It seems it is only a matter of time before those people who refuse to go along wind up being prosecuted.

When one actually looks at the accusations which are being made against Christians, it is clear that these charges have no basis in fact, and are instead logical fallacies which are aimed at swaying people emotionally and intimidating the people they disagree with.

The fact is, we deny the charges that we have hatred for people with same-sex attraction. While I am sure you could dig up some individual who does hate them using all the offensive words that makes a perfect soundbite, we would deny that his hatred is caused by Christian belief. There are always extremists out there. There are always lawbreakers out there. But in every other case, people recognize that the extremist recognizes the whole. A person who claimed that all African Americans were felons, all Hispanics were illegal aliens, or all Muslims were terrorists would be denounced as intolerant. However, when a person argues that “all Christians are homophobic,” they are making the same gross stereotypes that they would condemn in every other case.

Christian teaching on sexual morality is not arbitrary. It is not made with the malicious desire to “persecute” people with same sex attraction or women or the divorced. It is made with the intention of showing people how they must live if they would seek out what is good and avoid what is harmful. We do believe in God, and we do believe His commandments are designed to move us towards what is good for us and away from what is harmful. In terms of sexual morality, the concept of the sexual act is not recreational, but aimed at the creation of the family—both in procreation and in furthering the bond between husband and wife. The family (mother, father, children) is the basic unit of a society. New individuals are born, raised with the values needed to hold society together, and then pass them on to another generation. Actions that distort the purpose of the sexual act are called sinful—not because some prelate dislikes them, but because they destroy the entire purpose of the sexual act.

Thus the Church condemns many acts that go against the true purpose, from the acts that few people recognize as harmful any longer (such as masturbation or fornication) to the extremes like rape and necrophilia that no sane person denies is evil. The morality of sexual acts is not changed by time or popular opinion. If God has said some act is wrong, then it is wrong, even if modern TV portrays it as if nothing was harmful about it. The Church condemnation of acts has nothing to do with hatred of people. On the contrary, it is based on the concern for the well-being of the individual who does them.

Some people try to challenge this assertion by labelling it as “imposing values or beliefs on others.” That’s pretty hypocritical however. If imposing views on others is wrong, then people should stop trying to impose their views on Christians. But if people think that some actions have to be opposed then, recognize that we have the same right. (See HERE for an expanded view on the subject). After all, isn’t the idea that “same sex marriage” should be allowed a value or belief?

The truth of the matter is that the the people seeking to portray Christianity as “pushing their beliefs on others” or of “hatred” are actually guilty of that accusation. Right now, it is the proponents of “same sex marriage” who are trying to impose their beliefs on others, and show a virulent hatred of Christians who stand up for their beliefs (look at the forum comments for example). 

Trying to coerce our businesses, schools and hospitals into accepting same sex attraction as normal is not a defense of civil rights. The freedom of religion is a civil right. (read the 1st Amendment). This coercion, using propaganda and false statements to make our beliefs appear to be malicious is an attack on civil rights. No Christian—except perhaps for an extremist—intends to deny people with same sex attraction the right to goods and services that are available to any person. But Christians who believe that certain actions are morally wrong will not take part in anything that gives the impression that they support it. So we won’t recognize “same sex marriage” or abortion or divorce and remarriage. This refusal is not based on malice. It’s based on a belief that we must do good and reject evil—and help the people trapped in the evil to understand why it is wrong.

To twist the truth so as to make people believe something that is not true is to speak falsely. When a person knows they are speaking falsely, that is a lie. We Christians deny we bear any malice for the people who commit the actions we must call sins.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Path of Denial: On Denying the Teaching Authority of the Church

As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one. (Ignatius of Antioch [AD 50-107] Chapter VII. Epistle to the Magnesians)


“The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 62.

The Path of Denial

Very few people become heretics or schismatics by thinking, “I know I am in error, but I don’t care.” They are convinced that their views are correct, but they have encountered opposition from the teaching authority of the Church which tells them that their belief or behavior is not in keeping with the Catholic faith. When a person runs into this situation, they have two choices:

  1. Accept the authority of the Church and reject the behavior/belief which goes against it.
  2. Reject the authority of the Church and accept the behavior/belief which goes against it.

If the person chooses the first possibility, they remain with their relationship with God and the Church intact. But if the person chooses the second possibility, their relationship with God and the Church is damaged.

Many times a person who goes ahead with this damaged relationship does not want to admit that their choice is the cause of it. So they claim that the fault of the break is somewhere else, and their position is on the right side of the break. Someone else must be found then to be in the wrong. Of course, most people don’t want to say that God is to blame for this break (those that do seem to be suffering from some great hurt and despair). So they try to redefine things so God is portrayed as being on their side. Therefore if the Church goes against what they want, then they conclude that the Church teaching must be against God—otherwise the Church would be siding with them. In many cases, this is where the person leaves the Church. Either they pick a denomination which permits them to behave as they choose, or they leave their faith altogether. It is a tragic thing, based on the idea that they cannot possibly be in the wrong.

However, some people do not want to deny the Church outright. For whatever reason, they want remain associated to the Church. So, they see the people who are Catholics who think like them as the “true Church,” while the teaching authority of the Church which rejects their belief or behavior as against the faith of the Church  must have fallen into error. Therefore the Church must change to match their beliefs. Otherwise, the actual teaching authority of the Church is believed not to bind.

The Path of Denial is Not Limited to A Certain Ideology

You will notice I did not equate any specific belief with this path of Denial. I avoided this because it is easy to fall into the error of thinking that only one kind of mindset can do this. Depending on the reader’s views, it is easy to project the person one disagrees with as being guilty of this error. But the fact is, the conservative and the liberal both can fall into this way of thinking. For example, both the traditionalist and the modernist can point to Vatican II and allege betrayal. The traditionalist alleges betrayal in claiming that Vatican II contradicted the past teaching of the Church. The modernist alleges betrayal in claiming that Blessed Paul VI and his successors have rejected Vatican II and turned back to the time before the Council.

Logic tells us that the Popes cannot simultaneously be traditionalist and modernist—the two positions are contraries. They can’t both be true. However, since they are contraries and not contradictories, they can both be false. The Pope can be neither traditionalist nor modernist, and to accuse him of being in those camps when he is not would be speaking falsely.

Likewise, even though the traditionalist and the modernist are in opposition to each other, that does not mean that one of them might be right. If one of them errs on the side of rigorism and the other errs on the side of laxity, then both do err.

Two Logical Problems

The first logical problem in this attempt to put the Church on the wrong side of the individual’s break with the Church teaching is the fallacy of begging the question. It is a fallacy which attempts to prove something, but when the person supplies arguments to justify their conclusion, those arguments presume that the conclusion is true—which is what they have to prove in the first place. Thus, the Church is alleged to be in error because she teaches X is wrong. Why is that error? Because X is asserted to be right but the Church disagrees.

See the problem? The whole argument asserts that if the Church was not in error, she would teach X was right, but never shows why the Church is in error for teaching X is wrong. A person who rejects the claim that “the Church is in error because she teaches X is wrong,” can rightly say that the argument proves nothing.

The second logical problem is similar. The fallacy is called Ipse Dixit (literally “He said” or “He himself said it”). This fallacy makes an assertion, but does not prove it. The speaker expects the listener to accept as “the way things are.” But the problem is, just because a person can say a thing does not mean the statement is true. People have the right to ask “Where the hell did you get that idea from?"

So when we see advocates of Same Sex “marriage” allege that “God doesn’t care about what two people in love with each other do!” or the SSPXer allege that “the Novus Ordo [sic] Mass is intrinsically invalid,” these are ipse dixit statements. Just because you say them doesn’t mean we have to believe your assertion. What gives you the right to say it is true?

The Authority of the Church vs. the Authority of the Challenger

Now, when a person is an expert in a field and speaks on his or her area of expertise, that may be considered authoritative. But if a person is not an expert or if the person is an expert in an unrelated field, then that person’s assertions have no authoritative value. Now authority can be defined as, “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.” Since we are speaking about the Catholic Church, when we talk about authority, we are talking about who has the authority to make binding decisions on those who profess membership of the Catholic Church."

Now, while non-Catholics may disagree with the assertions of the Catholic Church, those people cannot be considered authorities when it comes to the question of who speaks for the Church. Nor can I the writer or you the reader consider ourselves authorities who speak for the Church. We can only point to the official teachings of the Church. If I were to personally declare that wearing purple was sinful, the wise person would ask where I got that idea from. Once it turned out that I made up that declaration on my own, it would be exposed as having no authority to bind.

So when it comes to the cacophony of people claiming to know how best to carry out the teaching of the Catholic Church, we have to stop and ask who was given that right to teach, to forgive sins and to otherwise bind and loose? The fact is, as Catholics we believe that this authority is given to the successor of St. Peter, the Pope and the successors of the Apostles, those bishops in communion with him. This has been taught from the beginning of the Church in the first century AD to the present. There is no time when the Pope and the bishops in communion with Him did not have the authority and responsibility to determine how the deposit of faith was to be understood.

That’s an important thing to remember because many people think they can just pull out a Bible passage or a Church document, claim that the teaching authority of the Church today contradicts it and conclude that this means the teaching authority of the Church is in error. But that is begging the question and ipse dixit again—on what grounds do they prove their interpretation of these passages is the correct one while the magisterial teaching is not? They assume that their interpretation is correct. That leads to this sort of dialogue:

Me: Why is that interpretation correct?
Challenger: Because that’s what the text says.
Me: How do we know your interpretation of the text is correct?
Challenger: Because that’s what the text says.

But the claim that the person is interpreting correctly against the Church is not something we can accept on their say so. We believe contra Protestantism that the Catholic Church has a visible authority which makes the ultimate decision on what is authentic interpretation of Church teaching. So, the one rejecting the Church teaching authority, insisting on their own interpretation instead is insisting on something they cannot actually prove—only assert ipse dixit.

Since we know that Our Lord gave His Apostles and their successors the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18) and made clear that whoever rejected them rejected Him (Luke 10:16), it follows that no interpretation of Scripture or Church document can be considered authentic if it contradicts the teaching of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. A person has free will to reject such a belief of course. But if one wants to reject this teaching, then how can they call their own interpretation “Catholic”?

The name “Catholic” comes from the Greek κατα ὀλος (kata holos—universal, with respect to the whole). So, if the person wants to hold their view in spite of the Church teaching, that’s individual, not Catholic. But if the person wants to claim that their interpretation applies to the whole Church, we can ask them what right they have to claim authority for binding and loosing in opposition to the Pope and bishops in communion with him—who were specifically entrusted with this responsibility and authority by Our Lord.

That’s ultimately the problem in the arguments of the person who claims to be right while the Magisterium is wrong—they have absolutely no authority to judge that the magisterium is wrong when it teaches authoritatively nor to interpret Church documents contrary to the magisterial interpretation. Their statements are ipse dixit. As the Catechism says:

889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.” (92)

890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms: (851; 1785)

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

When the Church teaches (as opposed to an offered opinion), obedience is required. The Pope has not taught anybody that they must sin or must refuse to do good. Nor has he denied any teaching of the faith. So accusations that He has done so are nothing more than slander/libel.

But… But What About the Bad Priests, Bishops and Popes?

God’s promise of protecting the Church is not intended to make our clergy impeccable. We have had shepherds who behaved unworthily of their office to be sure. This seems to be where the rejection of the Church authority comes from. Yes, we have had bishops, priests and nuns who have sinned by commission or omission to cast doubt on the faith of the Church. But the problem is, the sins of the clergy and laity do not mean the magisterium itself is in error. It means some of those entrusted to be shepherds have failed in their task. But just because some have failed does not mean all have failed.

People who think that now is the worst it has ever been need to become more acquainted with Church history. During the 4th century AD, there was a time when a majority of Christendom fell into the Arian history. But the minority that retained the faith was centered around the Bishop of Rome and those in the Church who followed Him. That was a pattern which repeated throughout history. Even when whole regions fell into error, the truth was defended by the Pope and those who followed him. Where Peter was, there was the Church teaching the truth. This was not on account of their holiness, but the fact that the Church established by Christ was built with Peter as the rock and Jesus promised that He would be with this Church always and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

That doesn’t mean that Popes made impeccable decisions in matters that don’t involve faith and morals. Nor does it mean that the Popes always chose the best options in handling things. But when they formally taught, they never taught error. They never taught that sin was good. They never denied the faith or taught something contrary to it.

Those people who allege that the Popes did, are again making an ipse dixit claim based on their personal interpretations of Scripture and Church documents with no authority to back up their claims. 

The False Teachers Are Those Catholics Who Deny The Authority of the Pope and Bishops

So, since the person who claims to be a faithful Catholic must adhere to the teachings of the Church, and the Church teaches that the Pope and bishops are to obeyed when they teach authoritatively (which is NOT limited to ex cathedra statements), then, logically, a person who claims to be a faithful Catholic must obey the Pope and bishops when they intend to teach the Church. If a person denies they have this authority, they cannot be considered a faithful Catholic.

So when the SSPXer proclaims that the Pope is in error, or when the “100 influential Catholics” in San Francisco sign an open letter trying to get an Archbishop removed from his position, these people are denying the successors to the Apostles who Jesus has given the authority to shepherd the Church. They cannot be considered an “alternate opinion.” They must not be followed as if they possessed the truth on how to be authentically Catholic.

Yes there are roles for those of us who are not Popes and bishops in knowing, loving and serving Christ. We can indeed work to promote and defend the faith—but if we act apart from and against the Pope and the bishops, we are not loving Christ, but rejecting Him. And Our Lord gave us stern warnings about what would happen to those who did not do God's will:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Is Religious Freedom a "Rearguard" Argument? Some Brief Thoughts

I came across a few articles saying that speaking about the defense of the Church teachings as a Religious Freedom issue is a “rearguard” movement. Since rearguard is a term used to describe defense during a retreat, it is clear this is a negative description. The arguments I have seen claim that if we try to defend “religious freedoms” against “human rights,” people are going to decide that it is “intolerance vs. tolerance.” These people who describe it as a rearguard action say that we need to start promoting the right and wrong aspects. 

I tend to disagree with this, because I think this argument makes a logical error. The argument that instead of arguing religious freedom, we need to argue right/wrong is technically an either-or fallacy. We need to do both, but which argument we give depends entirely on who is the target audience.

The Church teaching on right and wrong is always present. We speak against certain things because they are wrong. If the Church were somehow to be entirely indifferent on something, we wouldn’t bother to defend it. Such arguments work well with people of good will who are seeking the truth and want to live it. But there’s one problem with the right and wrong argument—it really doesn’t reach the people who believe in moral relativism. For the person who denies right and wrong—particularly if the moral claims come too close to home with the person’s lifestyle—such arguments are going to be ignored.

That’s where the Constitutional arguments are needed. Such people need to be shown that once a regime decides it can set aside rights to benefit a cause it supports, another regime which replaces it can make use of the same tactic to benefit the cause it supports. To such people, one needs to show that the only way to be protected from that arbitrary behavior is to make sure that nobody gets away with setting aside the real Constitutional rights in favor of fictional rights.

The point is, before we can get people to listen to the right and wrong arguments, we have to get them to listen in the first place. So, for those who do listen, we do need to explain why X is wrong. But for those who don’t listen, we need to get them to think about how this whole heavy-handed approach by the government sets a precedent that can be used against them by a future government which is just as unscrupulous as the one we currently have which supports what they don’t like using the same tactics.

In other words, we need to reach out to all people to encourage them to break away from the unthinking mob mindset, but the starting place is going to be different depending on who is being spoken to. If they’re unwilling to listen to the moral arguments of right and wrong, we need to start at another level where they are willing to listen.

Otherwise, they won’t listen at all.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Conscience, Obligation and Decisions


I came across an article, A Note from Creator Cakes | Andrew Walker | First Things from Facebook, which seems to have received popular support from Catholics whose views I ordinarily think are good. However, I personally find the article troubling because of what it seems to imply. Now maybe the article expressed a point badly and did not mean to advocate going against conscience. But I see some comments which seem to indicate that people are interpreting it this way, and so I feel like I need to speak out on what troubles me.

The Premise of the Article

The basic premise of the article is a fictional letter from what I assume is a fictional bakery. The fictional letter expresses the concern of the owners who are trying to run their business in accord with their religious beliefs. In response to the fact that business owners lose whenever they refuse to cooperate with a “same sex wedding,” they intend to set forth the following policy:

We've decided that if asked, we will provide a cake at a same-sex wedding ceremony. But we will take every dollar from that sale and donate it to an organization fighting to protect and advance religious liberty—organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom, Manhattan Declaration, or the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

No organization, company or person should be compelled to participate in events or speech that conflict with their convictions. This is a basic freedom we thought was afforded under our constitution. But our culture is beginning to turn its back on its rich legacy of protecting dissenting viewpoints. If Caesar insists that bakers must be made to bake cakes or else close up shop, we’re going to see to it that Caesar’s edicts get undermined by channeling resources designed to fight Caesar.

So, we will serve same-sex wedding services. We will do so unhappily and with a bothered conscience. But if we must do so with a bothered conscience, we reserve the right as a condition of the marketplace to bother others' consciences as well. If we are coerced into baking for events we disagree with, we will return the favor and use the funds of those we disagree with to fund the organizations they disagree with.

I have seen certain Catholics cheer this article, saying the article should be a template for Christian businesses. But when I read this, I find myself thinking, “Wait! Do you realize what are you saying?"

Conscience and Not Doing Evil

Let’s lay down some basics first, and look at the Church teaching on conscience

What troubles me about this article is this: The Catholic Church teaches that we may never do evil so good comes of it. The Catechism says:

1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. [Emphasis added

The writer of the article creates the situation of a baker forced to act against a troubled conscience but intends to mitigate it by donating the proceeds from such sales to groups which defend marriage. That is pretty much the essence of "doing evil so that good may come of it.” The question that first needs to be asked is: Does the baker believe that participating in a “same sex wedding” is wrong? If so, then to do what one believes to be wrong cannot be justified, regardless of the circumstances and intention. Again, the Catechism:

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving). (2479; 596)

1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil. (1735)

I find that the Youcat[*] has some good insights into conscience as well:

295 What is conscience?

Conscience is the inner voice in a man that moves him to do good under any circumstances and to avoid evil by all means. At the same time it is the ability to distinguish the one from the other. In the conscience God speaks to man. [1776–1779]

Conscience is compared with an inner voice in which God manifests himself in a man. God is the one who becomes apparent in the conscience. When we say, “I cannot reconcile that with my conscience”, this means for a Christian, “I cannot do that in the sight of my Creator!” Many people have gone to jail or been executed because they were true to their conscience.  120, 290–292, 312, 333

"Anything that is done against conscience is a sin."



"To do violence to people’s conscience means to harm them seriously, to deal an extremely painful blow to their dignity. In a certain sense it is worse than killing them."


(1881–1963, the Pope who convoked the Second Vatican Council)

I believe the witness of the Church tells us that the conscience is to be obeyed when it tells us “I must do this!” or “I must not do this.” The conscience must be formed within the Church so it may be accurate (avoiding both scrupulosity and laxity), but deliberately choosing to go against the conscience can never be justified.

The Example of the Martyrs

As Catholics we have a history of facing rulers who have said we must obey them or face the consequences. We have a collection of saints who gave witness by dying or by suffering in other ways rather than obey government edicts which go against what they believed to be morally wrong. Whether it was the Romans who demanded that the saints burn incense to the emperors or whether it was the Persians who demanded the saints worship the sun, these saints looked to their love of God and their conscience and decided they had to obey God over man when what man demanded exceeded his rightful authority (see Acts 5:29). This was even at the consequence of suffering torture and often execution. 

Now, in America, I don’t expect torture and execution to happen unless America falls much further into moral collapse. Because we pride ourselves as a nation of law, I expect the persecution to come through the law and through unjust judicial rulings that provide a fig leaf for unjust applications of the law. So instead of executions in the arena, we can look to lawsuits, fines, injunctions and prosecutions.

With this in mind, I ask people to think about what the First Things (fictional) proposal is saying. In saying, "So, we will serve same-sex wedding services. We will do so unhappily and with a bothered conscience. But if we must do so with a bothered conscience, we reserve the right as a condition of the marketplace to bother others' consciences as well,” what we are seeing is not a praiseworthy thing, but a capitulation with the intent to use the results of the capitulation to defend Christians from needing to capitulate in the future.

It’s as if the martyrs took up the promised reward for denying their faith and applied that reward to protecting Christians in the future from denying their faith. Our Lord’s question echoes through the ages:

23 Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?" (Luke 9:23-25)

The Ultimate Goal

We need to remember the ultimate goal of our life is to know, love and serve God. We do this by keeping His commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). We must also keep in mind that the ultimate goal is not reached in this life, but the next life. Thus we endure suffering in this life for His sake, rather than lose the next life by putting ourselves over His commands. Some may pay a harder price than others. In such cases, those who have suffered less should help those who suffered more.

However, when we have to choose between The Lord and ourselves, we cannot choose ourselves—even if we seek to do good with the gain we receive from choosing ourselves over God. Every one of us will have to make this decision in some way. Let us pray that we be given the strength to do what is right and not what is easier.


[*] I understand some Catholics look at the Youcat derisively. However, given the CDF has given it’s approval and Benedict XVI has also shown his approval (saying in the introduction, “So I invite you: Study this Catechism! That is my heartfelt desire.”), I find that the trust I have for those who approve far outweighs the trust I have of those who disapprove. Please keep this in mind. God Bless.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


In the modern culture wars, I see two positions that I think show a failure to understand the issue. The first are the opponents of Catholic teaching who claim that the Church is on “the wrong side of history” and will either need to change or go extinct. The second is the Catholics who seem to fear that the first group is correct and, not wanting this to happen, shout for the Pope and the Bishops to do something “before we lose the culture war.” The problem with both positions is that they lose track of the timeframes. They see what is happening right now and assume that it will continue. But when we look at history, we find that threats against the Church are not handled in months and years, but often over centuries.

The first group has it wrong because the popularity of an issue has no bearing on the rightness of a position or the longevity of the position. The wrong side of history claim is basically an appeal to popularity fallacy. It ignores the fact that things like Fascism were once considered the wave of the future and those who refused to embrace it would ultimately be swept aside into irrelevance. I don’t invoke fascism for mere rhetorical effect. During the Great Depression, many saw it as the way to solve the economic crisis and predicted that democracy was an outmoded form of government doomed to die out. The mindset focuses on the immediate popularity and influence of a movement and assumes that these will continue indefinitely. It overlooks the fact that as people learn the downside of things, they can begin to dislike the cause. Once that happens, it can only be maintained by the use of force (People grew disillusioned by fascism, but by then it was in place and could maintain itself through violence). 

The second group has it wrong because they assume that the immediate success of those attacking the Church is a sign of how the whole of society thinks. Their response is one of panic. They want the Pope and bishops to start excommunicating people, assuming that the existence of this attack means the magisterium is too soft. Sometimes it is assumed that in the "golden age" of the Church, the Pope gave a decree and the faithful jumped in line, putting an end to error or dissent. But in reality, this never happened.

Historically, we know that the Catholic Church has had to fight battles over the course of centuries. The Arians should have been defeated after the First Nicene Council in AD 325, but as St. Jerome pointed out (Dialogue with the Luciferians #19), that shortly afterwards “the Nicene Faith stood condemned by acclamation. The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian." St. Augustine expressed his frustration at the fact that the heresy of Pelagianism was continuing to be obstinate in spite of the fact that the Pope had ruled against them more than once:

For already have two councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed. (Sermon LXXXI)


[Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustine: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 504.]

(This is where the paraphrase “Rome has spoken, the cause is finished” came from).

The point is, the Pope does not simply make heresy vanish by a decree. It takes years, decades, even centuries of faithful Catholics defending the true Church teaching before the error is given up. For the Catholic to assume failure because the dissent does not immediately stop shows that they don’t understand what really happened in times past.

Contrary to what seems to believed today, the Culture War is not being lost—it is being fought. The devil deceives and those deceived proclaim their victory over the Church, while at the same time, the devil seeks to discourage those who remain faithful by undermining their trust in those God has given the authority to lead and teach. We need to avoid being deceived. We need to avoid despair. We need to remember that the battle against the demons and the people misled by them is not one to be fought in a day or a week. It is to be fought as long as we live until Christ comes again.