Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: A Year of Ignorance and Rash Judgment

(The image in this piece is of a statue of Lincoln being removed. The intent of the image is Lincoln raising a slave up from slavery. But it has been misinterpreted as a slave kneeling down in front of Lincoln. And that’s a good symbol for one of the major problems of 2020.)

Setting aside the obvious tragedy of COVID-19 as a separate category (so nobody will think I am equating any of the other things I write about in this piece with this), I think one of the biggest tragedies of 2020 is the level of ignorance and accompanying rash judgment. By this, I mean that people showed themselves to be ignorant about facts, intention, and context when they encountered things they disliked. They did not know the facts or context of the matter and, as a result, assumed the worst possible intention for their actions.

As always, I want to make clear that I do not point my fingers at one faction in this accusation. Nor am I saying it came out of nowhere. This was decades in the making. Some of it involved real injustices that were ignored. Other parts involved assuming that whatever one disliked was done with the worst possible motives and those who were accused of that assumed motive needed to be exiled. No attempt was made to understand how people might think differently in good faith, or how people in past eras might have failed to understand what we now know to be morally wrong.

I think the misrepresentation of the pontificate of Pope Francis was a harbinger of 2020. He recognized that even when people do wrong, that does not always mean they maliciously intend to do what they know is evil. As a result, he called for a proper assessment of the person’s knowledge and intention before condemning them. Tragically, people missed the point. They assumed (whether with approval or disapproval) that what he did was “changing” Church teaching, rashly judging his motives when all he was doing was making clear this teaching of the Church. Did he make errors in judgment based on this? On occasion (the Barros case comes to mind). Did he make deliberate and malicious errors? I reject that claim.

But the treatment of Pope Francis from 2013 to the present served as a warning of what was wrong with our way of thinking. We assumed that we could not be in error, but those who took a different view could, and must be intending evil in holding that different view.

This is not to argue a moral relativism. There are objective moral demands, and some acts are intrinsically evil… things that cannot ever be supported or made good by intention or circumstances. And, yes, when it comes to intrinsic evil, we cannot “explain away” by saying that a past evil had a good intention. Once we come to understand that a thing is evil, we do have an obligation to correct our understanding. But one who is ignorant that a thing is evil might not have any malicious intention at all. Wrong is still done through that ignorance, but the guilt of the evil may be reduced.

Moreover, sometimes an accusation of malice is simply false when the person making it assumes that a moral evil is acceptable and whoever opposes it must be “intolerant.” For example, Christians are constantly accused of bigotry in the West because they insist on saying some actions are morally wrong. So, critics of Christianity in 2020 tend to do what they wrongly accuse Christians of doing—attempt to legally coerce Christians to abandon their moral beliefs—because they think the Christian view is morally wrong. 

Some things must be opposed. Abortion, racism, and other injustices can never be given a pass because “other issues are more important.” But we can never just assume the worst possible intention on the part of those who commit them.

This is what 2020, with its cancel culture and other attempts to silence the opposition, has done. Regardless of what you, the reader, thinks of Biden or Trump (or any other factional divide), we have an obligation to assess what is true about a belief or the person who holds it, and making sure our judgment does not act out of ignorance or rashly assume the worst possible motive when we disagree with someone. 

I pray 2021 will be better.


(†) I do categorically reject the accusations that he made errors in teaching.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

It’s Iimi! Inside the Domestic Church

This one is a little different. Instead of being a purely apologetics comic, we see inside the Iscra family home. Like every other family, they have their quirks and flaws. But they strive to live a Catholic lifestyle.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Our Skewed Perspective is not Our Target’s Fault

One of the more annoying things out there is a variant of when people contrast their perspective on what should be with what actually is “working as intended.” Because the former ≠ the latter, they assume that what they dislike as an unwanted side effect of the latter is in fact a willful disregard for what is right. One can look at things like “cancel culture” that assume malicious (sexist, racist) intent if anybody questions what the cultural elites call good or bad. Or we can look at conspiracy theories about the recent elections where somebody “got to” the judges who threw out cases for lack of evidence.


In these cases, we often see the begging the question fallacy where an accusation which needs to be proven is treated as true. Combined with this, we have the shifting of the burden of proof fallacy (demanding that their claims be disproven instead proving their own point) and the moving the goalposts fallacy (changing the demand for proof once it has been met). The result is the critic never considers himself debunked, no matter how clear the refutation is. Their interpretation, when investigated, will invariably show bias and agenda… even if done sincerely.


Of course, this is nothing new. People have always had agendas to subvert and skewed perspectives to justify rejecting what they dislike. But the fact that it is nothing new does not mean it is “all right.” No matter how certain one is of their agenda that does not make it right. No matter how sincere a person is in thinking their skewed perspective is true, if it’s false then everything they campaign for is worthless at best, harmful at worst.


And when it happens in the Church—where the agendas and skewed perspectives are used to undermine the legitimate exercise of authority by the magisterium—the harm is great indeed. People with agendas “helpfully” offer solutions that come with the cost of rejecting what the Church teaches. People with skewed perspectives think that whatever goes wrong in the Church must be directly caused by what they dislike and—in the name of “defending” the Church—cause damage and disruption to their faith and that of others.


Look at those who so “helpfully” call for reforms—ostensibly to end a scandal—but have a track record of wanting to overturn what the Church cannot change. For example, the supporters of “women’s ordination” or the abolition of celibacy* that sell their agendas as a way to “help” the Church with things like the abuse scandal. The problem is, if you look at their history, you will see that they simply seized onto the scandals in an attempt to add weight to the positions that they held before the scandals came out. Agendas like this are a Trojan Horse, and we would be wise to look inside before accepting it at face value.


We can also look at the skewed perspectives of Catholics when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines. Rumors abound about their content, and the Bishops have navigated the issues of remote cooperation and the public good in using them from the Catholic beliefs on doing good and avoiding evil. But, Catholics with a skewed perspective: those who think bishops are heretics, those ignorant about the long-standing teachings on culpability, those who are anti-vaxxers in general, these groups see the Pope and bishops of the Church teaching a “change” that must be resisted.


Catholics who fall into the agenda and skewed perspective camps look for champions to use as a counter-magisterium against the whole of the Church. A priest who makes agreeable statements, a bishop who contradicts the rest… Catholics look to them as infallible while rejecting those who say differently… even if the one they reject happens to be the Pope.


I want to make clear that people in these groups are not necessarily malicious in what they do. They might simply be blind to the possibility that things are different than they think, or that their agenda has a fatal flaw in it. Anybody can be sincerely mistaken about Church teaching. And, it is quite possible that people who were hurt or betrayed by someone in the Church will find it very hard to trust those who lead it. It is not for me to judge how difficult their struggle is. I cannot say I would have handed it better if I was in their place. Perhaps my faith might have entirely shattered where theirs simply weakened or damaged. But if we want to be faithful to God, we are required to constantly reassess what we think… especially when we think that God’s Church is wrong when it contradicts us. So, when we discover that that we are wrong, we need to change, abandoning our agendas and our skewed perspectives.


This is because, our skewed perspectives about what goes on in the Church are not the fault of those in the Church we denounce. We cannot hide behind the excuse of Well, they should have been more clear when we discover we are wrong. If we make no effort to see if and how we went wrong in our dissent, we are guilty of vincible ignorance and are without excuse. That means we cannot excuse ourselves because a religiously illiterate media or a Catholic with an anti-magisterial bent spoke falsely and we believed it. We who profess to be faithful Catholics need to recognize that the teaching authority is binding, even when those who exercise it might make bad decisions or be guilty of bad behavior outside of that authority.


As Catholics, we are without the excuses of those outside of the Church if we fail to live up to her teachings and accept God’s grace (see Lumen Gentium #14). And we need to remember that falling is possible. Earnest Catholics like Tertullian and Luther wound up breaking with the Church because they were absolutely convinced that the Church was wrong.


If we do not let the Church be the measure of our preferences and perspectives, we risk winding up like them… outside of the Church and obstinately refusing to consider the possibility of error.





(*) Keep in mind that, in the schools, Boy Scouts, and non-Catholic denominations, sexual abuse by non-celibates… and in the case of schools, female predators are not rare.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Deliver Us, O Lord, From the TL:DR Catholics…

The USCCB issued a statement on the moral concerns surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. Moments after it was posted on social media, certain Catholics set up their own counter-magisterium and denounced the bishops… accusing the bishops of either being ignorant of Catholic moral teaching or of outright supporting evil.


However, looking at those comments after reading the statement, I noticed something alarming. Every single objection that was raised against this statement was already addressed in that statement. In other words, the critics did not read the statement that they condemned. They simply assumed their opinions of the bishops would be present in the statement. Because these critics assume that the bishops are “liberal” in their politics, any statement about the issue of aborted fetuses must also be “liberal.” 


Unfortunately, all too often, certain Catholics tend to hold to a “plain sense” approach of Church documents very similar to the fundamentalist “plain sense” approach of the Bible. Both groups assume that their understanding of a work is the only possible sense of the original document while ignoring the lens of culture, equivocal words, and nuance, as well as the individual’s comprehension ability. Under the “plain sense” claim, there is no room to admit the possibility of getting it wrong. As a result, the Pope or the bishops are accused of heresy, while the critics deny any fault… even when proven wrong. Rather than admit they missed the point; they say that the Pope and bishops are to blame for being “unclear.”


This is not a recent development. I have found that when I read the works of Calvin, Luther, the Eastern Orthodox etc. when they attack the “errors” of the Church, these attacks too are built on their personal interpretations combined with the assumptions that the teachings of the Church must “err.” But the errors of the recent critics are the same as that of these older attacks: A false interpretation of what was said given as a straw man that they “rebut” in their defense of what they think the truth is. 


Bizarrely, these modern critics use the term “Protestant” as an epithet directed against the Pope and bishops when they are doing what the founders of Protestantism did: rejecting the teaching authority of the Church because the Pope and bishops teach differently than the critic thinks right. They deny that they are rejecting the authority of “the Church,” of course. They simply deny that the Pope or bishops are teaching with that authority. The problem is this is a variant of the No True Scotsman fallacy. They deny that anyone who teaches differently from their own views teaches authoritatively. Challenge them on their interpretation and you will be accused of supporting whatever evil they associate with the opposite of their views.


Yet, these self-proclaimed champions of the Church often fail to read the actual Church teachings for themselves. Instead, they rely on their favorite websites that cite past Church documents, using them in the place of trying to read and understand what was said and meant. In doing so, they forget to ask whether the favorite Catholic media personality has properly understood the documents in question and whether the quotes they cite are taken in context.


Of course, as I pointed out in an earlier article, before we assume the worst possible intentions of our critics, we have to be aware of whether the full knowledge and free consent are present before assuming a mortal sin. So, I do not automatically assume that these critics are acting maliciously. But undermining the teaching authority of the Church and encouraging others to reject it is serious matter indeed. So, the person who follows such critics do need to ask whether they are being too credulous in dealing with the claims of the critic justifies what is dissent at best, schism at worst.


We must not be “TL:DR Catholics” who do not read the documents they denounce but instead rely on our stereotypes of the magisterium and what notorious critics claim they “really” stand for.  We have an obligation to understand what the document intends to say. If we cannot reconcile our understanding of the Church teaching with a magisterial document, the first step should not be to accuse the Pope and bishops of heresy. We should ask ourselves how we might have gone wrong in understanding it.


But if we do not bother to read it at all, or do not consider our own weaknesses, we are not being faithful. We are just more dissenters who trust in themselves instead of trusting God to protect His Church when it teaches with His authority.




(†) It should be noted that this is not the sole property of one political faction. Catholics who identify with a politically “liberal” view accuse the magisterium of being “right wing” when the Church teaches against them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

It’s Iimi! On Grave Matter and Other Things

Daryl asks if people who leave the Church are damned to hell. Iimi-tan points out that it is grave matter, but we also need to remember the issues of full knowledge and free consent. Doing a grave sin is never “okay,” and we need to work to help  those at odds with the Church to return to right relationship, even if the conditions of mortal sin are not present. It is important to remember that just because the Church might say that a specific person lacks the conditions of mortal sin does not ever mean that the Church gives permission to sin.