Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Pharisee and the... Other Pharisee?

The Catholic social media erupted last night after Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg took aim at Vice President Pence, calling him unChristian on account of his political stances. The division was down party lines, but both sides were free with citing Our Lord’s words of not judging, while pointing out how the other faction supported things incompatible with Christian teaching. The problem was: both sides accused the other side of judging while ignoring the fact that they were judging as well.

Of course it’s not the point of my blog to make political endorsements or to side with one party as “God’s Party.” Rather, I write this to point out that both factions involved in this social media fight are playing the role of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. By this, I mean that neither group is approaching God by saying, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” Rather both sides are saying “I thank you God that I am not like that Democrat/Republican.”

Speaking objectively, there is no political party that is not at odds with Catholic teaching in some way, whether life issues, sexual morality, social justice, or other issues.  We, being called to be the light of the world and salt of the earth, have an obligation to reform the political party we affiliate with where it goes wrong. Unfortunately, what people do is play the tu quoque card—being quick to condemn the wrongdoing of the other side while downplaying the moral wrongs of their own party as unimportant so long as the “greater evil” of the other side exists. 

As a result, when the Church speaks out against one evil, she is condemned by the party who defends it and accused of being puppets of the other side. When she affirms that abortion and homosexual acts are gravely sinful, she is accused of being a “tool” of the Republican Party. When she speaks against unjust immigration and economic practices, she is accused of being a “tool” of the Democratic Party. Individual Catholics are adept at pointing out this hypocrisy on the other side while being blind to it on their own.

I want to make clear that Our Lord’s words on not judging means we can’t wash our hands and say, “Welp, that person’s going to Hell. No point in wasting time on him.” It doesn’t mean we cannot call an action evil.  In fact, God has warned us that we will answer for being silent. As God told Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:8):

When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. (NABRE)

Unfortunately, in our political climate, we do the opposite. We don’t speak out to save, we speak out to show our contempt. We say they are going to Hell for ignoring Church teaching X, while we’re focusing on opposing the greater evil first. The problem is, we define this by making the greater evil fit entirely in the political platform of our enemies while the lesser evil coincidences with our preferred party. 

This has to stop. Both parties are Pharisaical. The deadliest sin to us is the one that sends us to Hell, not the one we have no inclination to commit. Until we can see that and say to God “be merciful to me, a sinner” instead of “look at how bad they are!” we will be that Pharisee in the parable.

Monday, April 1, 2019

To Speak the Truth

The Problem

The recent secular and religious news demonstrates one of the flaws in our society: people prefer our version of reality to what the truth turns out to be. So, when the truth comes out, people invent reasons to argue that the truth isn’t true but their opinions still are true. What this means is sobering. It means that we are no longer a people who seek out and follow what is true. Instead, we are ignoring what is true when it threatens us.

The Symptoms

This behavior is easy to spot in others. We shake our heads when the people we disagree with start making excuses. But we behave the same way. The person who supports something automatically discounts anything that could undercut the assumption it is good. Those who oppose it automatically discount anything that could undercut the assumption it is evil. If we were honest, we would recognize that our opinion is either true or false. Recognizing this, we would do our best to investigate the facts and determine whether they fit or contradict our opinions. Then we would abandon those opinions that went against the facts and determine what conclusions did fit the facts.

The Examples 

But instead of doing that, people invented falsehoods and obscure facts to deny what challenges them. For example, to deny the fact that abortion is an act aimed at ending a human life, abortion supporters try to reframe the issue as women making “a choice,” but not saying what choice a woman is making. They say that the unborn child is “just a blob of tissue,” ignoring the fact that we could define an adult human being as “a blob of tissue” as well. There is no attempt to ask whether whether the opposition is right in saying that the unborn child is alive. They simply say “we can’t know,” without asking... because if they did ask, they would be forced to realize that the “choice” is to decide to kill another human being.

Another example would be anti-Catholic attacks. The basic issue is whether the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ or not. If the Catholic Church is that Church, then all refusal to obey her and remain in communion with her is to act in opposition to Christ (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). That is what all who are outside of the Church must investigate. Anti-Catholics refuse to investigate this issue and justify their refusal by making claims against the Church: The claim that we worship statues or think Mary is a goddess, the claim that we think we can earn our way to heaven, the claim that we tried to hide the Bible, etc. 

The people who claim these things have an obligation to investigate if these things are true before using them as a reason to reject the Church. The fact is, Catholics do not believe any of these things. Therefore, using Aristotle’s definition of truth, these anti-Catholics are saying of what is not that it is and do not speak the truth. In fact, they are bearing false witness against the Church and these claims are not valid reasons to reject the Church.

I could also mention the attacks against Pope Francis, where he has been constantly accused of promoting heresy during his pontificate. Every so-called scandal has turned out to either be a sentence wrenched out of context or an absolute falsehood.

The Obligation 

Bearing false witness is a sin. Since what we hear and say is either true or false, and since we either know it or we don’t, we have the obligation to investigate whether these things are true. If they are true, we must follow them. If they are not, we must reject them. But what if we aren’t sure?

In that case, we have the obligation to see if there is any merit to them before repeating them. If we discover they are false, or we cannot find evidence that they are true, we must not repeat them as if they were true. Some things we will never know for certain. We must not spread something that is unproven, even if it benefits our ideologies or people we support. Nor can we use ignorance as an excuse to do whatever we prefer. We have the obligation to seek and carry out the truth.

One thing to be aware of here there is the “gotcha” question where someone tries to set a trap based on a claim we don’t know the truth about. The “gotcha” tries to force you into thinking that if A is true, Church teaching B must be rejected. That’s an attempt to abuse the obligation to follow the truth by presenting something unproven as true.

In such a situation, you need to discover what Church teaching B is before determining if it is related to A. That doesn’t mean, “I can’t find any refutation, so it must be true.” It means, “Given the Church teaches with the authority given her by Christ, I must understand what teaching B is before accepting the word of someone who tells me it is wrong.” In this case, we need to remember that just because we don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t have one. In the meantime we are not obligated to abandon Church teaching on the say so of someone who attacks it.

One example of this kind of challenge: it was popular to argue that the Church teaching on contraception could be changed because the Church had changed her teaching on usury. I was extremely doubtful of the challenge, but for years, I could not find an answer. The matter was solved when I discovered the Papal document Vix Pervenit by Pope Benedict XIV. In it, he continued to condemn usury in lending money at interest to people in need, but called for a study distinguishing how investing differed from usury. The challenge used to argue that Church teaching had been changed before was false.

The Conclusion

Ultimately, our obligation is to search for and live according to the truth. We cannot knowingly speak what is false, and we cannot simply spread assertions if we don’t know if they’re true... something popular on the internet today. As Christians, we recognize that Christianity is true. As Catholics, we recognize that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ. So we have an aid in discerning truth from falsehood. Because of this, we have even less excuse than the average unbeliever. 

Let’s remember that the next time we’re tempted to use what benefits us—but is false—over what is true.