Thursday, May 27, 2021

When Factionalism Masquerades as Piety

11 For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. 12 I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. 31 If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; 32 but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)

The USCCB is planning to discuss the Eucharist and the deficiencies in proper understanding among American Catholics. This is reasonable. When a majority of the faithful do not realize that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or if they think everybody should be allowed to receive regardless of the state of their souls, that is a clear sign that we need remedial education. The bishops are—regrettably—divided over what the best response should be. As a result, Cardinal Ladaria has issued a statement urging the bishops to reach a unified approach.

This is understandable. The USCCB is not a mini-Vatican where a majority vote can impose policy on all dioceses. The individual bishop is responsible for teaching and enforcement in his own diocese. So, a USCCB resolution is only “binding” on the whole Church in America only if all the bishops implement it. But, at the same time, different levels of enforcement are causing a scandal among the faithful. When some, like Cardinals Gregory and Cupich, openly disagree with others, like Archbishops Gomez and Cordileone over how to handle Catholic politicians who openly work to expand abortion in this country, confusion will erupt, and factional Catholics will seize on this to push for their own agendas.

And the title of this article is aimed at these Catholics, not the bishops. I might prefer one approach over the other among the bishops, but I do not believe either approach intends to undercut the Church teaching. The same cannot be said about Catholics on the internet calling one group of bishops “heretical” or the other “legalistic.” They have picked a side, focusing on the sins of the other while ignoring those of their own side. These factions “cherry pick” what the Pope and his predecessors have taught in a way that justifies what they say while ignoring the full message.

As a result, we see some Catholics point to the words of St. John Paul II and contrast them with the words of Pope Francis. One will be portrayed as championing the true meaning of Catholicism. The other will be portrayed as causing harm to the real meaning. For example, in Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II pointed out that divorce and remarriage while the other spouse still lives is grave matter. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis points out that we cannot assume that all the conditions of mortal sin are present in that remarriage without the confessor investigating the case. When understood in context, neither Pope contradicts the other. But when partisan Catholics pick sides, we are presented with “heroes” and “villains” among the bishops that line up with our partisan views of what should be done. Bishops speaking out against sins we think are worse are praised. Those who speak out against sins we think merit less concern wind up attacked as heretics or legalists. Ironically, the same bishop can be attacked by both sides when he points out the Church teaching on two different issues where one is seen as “conservative” and one as “liberal.”

When we do this, we are guilty of the factionalism, even if we think this is piety. The Catholic who says, “I am for Francis” or “I am for John Paul II” and contrasts them as opposed is guilty of what St. Paul condemns. If we want to be for Christ, we need to be for Pope Francis… and Benedict XVI, and St. John Paul II, and St. Paul VI, and St. John XXIII… all the way back to the beginning of the Church. Yes, some of the successors of St. Peter were unworthy of the office. But the teachings of the Popes remain true, although future Popes can make adjustments and clarifications to fit the needs of the current time.

If you are opposed to rigorism, remember laxity is also an evil. If you are opposed to laxity, remember rigorism is also an evil. The Church navigates between the two seeking to reflect both Our Lord’s mercy and justice. If we sacrifice one in favor of the other, we are not doing God’s will.

Bringing this back to the discussion of the Bishops, the Eucharist, and our response, we need to be aware that this is not a case of “good bishops vs. bad bishops.” Their discussion is about what is the proper response to the fact that so many Catholics have gone wrong about what the Eucharist means and what proper disposition to receive means. But, if we turn this into a fight where we say the bishops should focus on X instead of Y, we are not helping. We are part of the problem. We see this happen all the time when someone says the Church should stay out of politics and focus on saving souls… forgetting that our sins can involve political behavior and not just personal.

Let us not forget that during the 2020 elections, Catholics on both sides of the political divide placed the bishops on the other side of that divide, using the same arguments. Bishops of the various committees spoke about issues that fell under the purview of that committee. But critics criticized them for ignoring other issues… issues that were addressed by the bishops of the relevant committee.

If we want to escape this factionalism, we need to stop looking at it from a partisan perspective. We need to look at it from the perspective that the Church teaches. We have an obligation to live according to His commandments (see Matthew 7:21-23, John 14:15), and we can break His commandments in public ways as well as personal. No faction is free from guilt on this matter. So, yes. We must call out the intrinsic evil of abortion. We must call out the evil intent some promote in issues like immigration. We cannot ignore either one. But, if we are angry that a specific Church statement condemns one specific idea without mentioning the other, we have missed the point, because the Church does issue separate statements dealing with that issue as well.

We should be honest and acknowledge we prefer that the Church spend 100% of their time speaking on the sins of others and resent it when she speaks on sins our preferred faction is guilty of. But the Church does not only need to speak to them. She also needs to speak to us. If we will not do that, our piety is simply a masquerade for factionalism and we are harming the Church by dividing her.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Equivocation: Taking Sides in the Wrong Culture War

(Yeah, I like cheesy CCM at times)

The term “Culture War” appears to have two meanings. One meaning is “Right vs. Wrong.” The other is “Right vs. Left.” The result of this is people confuse the two meanings and often assume that the person speaking about the Culture War in the wrong sense. This is the fallacy of Equivocation (A fallacy arising from the use of the same term in different senses) and it leads to taking sides in the wrong war. 

We need to understand that, as Catholics, the right concept of a Culture War is one we must fight in. But the culture war we must fight is the one Dr. Peter Kreeft has described as:

[T]he spiritual war between the Gospel of Life and the Culture of Death, is the greatest war in our history. It is a world war far deeper and more extensive than World War II. It is deeper because it attacks life itself, body and soul, at its root and origin. It is more extensive because it spreads over the whole world like a cancer. [Peter Kreeft, Three Approaches to Abortion: A Thoughtful and Compassionate Guide to Today’s Most Controversial Issue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 60].

The terms Gospel of Life and Culture of Death did not come from a political spin machine. They were emphasized by St. John Paul II and echoed by his successors. The saint pointed out the dangers of the “Culture of Death” frequently. For example, on December 15th, 1999, he said:

In recent decades, the loss of the sense of God has coincided with the advance of a nihilistic culture that impoverishes the meaning of human life and, in the ethical field, relativizes even the fundamental values of the family and of respect for life. This does not often occur visibly, but through a subtle methodology of indifference that makes all kinds of behaviour seem normal, so that moral problems are no longer acknowledged. It is paradoxically demanded that the State recognize as “rights” many forms of conduct which threaten human life, especially the weakest and the most defenceless, not to mention the enormous difficulties in accepting others because they are different, inconvenient, foreign, sick or disabled. It is precisely this ever more prevalent rejection of others because of their otherness that challenges our conscience as believers. As I said in the Encyclical Evangelium vitae: “We are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin … characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and, in many cases, takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death.’”

We cannot be neutral in that war.

Unfortunately, many Catholics miss that distinction and assume that “Culture War” is a fight over which ideology should be supported by the Church. That fight assumes the values of the Church can be bound to a political outlook and whatever the Church does contra that political outlook is a betrayal of the Church. 

Both factions—called Right and Left—in that misguided fight assume that the other side is neglecting their Catholic beliefs and replacing it with politics, while ignoring the fact that the same could be applied to them. Thus, we see some involved say that Catholic social justice teaching is “Marxism” and others say that Catholics opposing abortion are “pro-birth but not pro-life.” Both see the other side as betraying the Faith while ignoring the fact that if we downplay a teaching that hits against the faction we favor, we are also guilty of betrayal. 

Others assume their politics are the only way to approach the moral issues and condemn those who disagree with their politics as being guilty of rejecting the Church. But sometimes those politics have nothing to do with the Church teaching. For example, some might think that taxes and social programs are the only way to follow Church teachings on social justice. Others disagree and think personal effort is the key focus. Provided we do not abuse the letter of the law to avoid doing what we are called to do, this is a matter of prudential judgment. But some Catholics practically excommunicate each other as being “faux Catholics” if the other disagrees over politics.


This leads to a third problem: Assuming Catholics who are fighting the culture war in the first sense are fighting it in the second sense. For example, the Catholic Church has taught since the beginning that abortion is a moral evil. There is literally no place for a “pro-choice” mindset in the Catholic Church. But some factions assume that opposition to abortion is a “right wing” political belief and rain down contempt on those working to end this evil. On the other side, some Catholics look at the divided response among the bishops towards Catholic politicians who defend and promote abortion and accuse those who do not respond in the way that they favor as “trying to undermine” the Church teaching.

None of the bishops supports abortion as a right. But they do disagree over which policy is the best one for pro-abortion politicians and the Eucharist. One can legitimately disagree over which is better of course. But if we start applying our factional preferences to those bishops—making them into heroes and villains when the Church—then we are guilty of fighting the wrong Culture War, and guilty of rash judgment by claiming that our “villains” are guilty of promoting evil.

This second meaning of the Culture War is the one Catholics must avoid. But it seems to be the one most of the Catholics feuding on the internet are fighting. Instead of focusing on how to work at the Great Commission, we focus on vanquishing our foes. And if that means we tear the Church apart while trying to make our foes concede that our side is “right,” we dismiss the damage we cause while pointing out the harm caused by the other side.

This is something we should ponder if we’re ever tempted to confuse the two. 



[‡] It seems to be a matter of schools of thought in dispute over prudence on how to handle a manifest public sinner, comparing the harm to the benefit.

[†] As a disclosure, my own belief is “If canon 915 doesn’t apply in this case, when is it ever applied?” But I recognize (following Lesson One) the possibility that there may be more in play than I realize. So, I temper my response recognizing that possible hole in my knowledge.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

It’s Iimi! But Where Does That Leave You?

Would you believe using a Mongolian Heavy Metal band could be used as an apologetics tool? Iimi tries it when Kismetta brings up arguments used by some Muslims to argue that the Old and New Testament were corrupted. Iimi points out that not only are these arguments flawed, but if they were valid, they would discredit the Quran, not the Bible.

As a side note, I was so surprised by just how weak some of the arguments against the Bible were, that I had to double check to make sure they weren’t strawman misrepresentations put in the mouths of Muslims. Apparently they actually are used and are that weak.

Reviewing the episode Lesson One: Knowing That We Don’t Know will be helpful, as this episode builds on it.

As a note on spelling, when I was in my teens and early twenties, spelling of Islamic names were Koran and Mohammed. Now the preferred spelling is Quran (people debate whether or not to spell it Qu’ran) and Muhammad. As there is no standardized transliteration between Arabic and English, this change is understandable. I have no problems with using the currently accepted spelling. But, as I am used to the older spelling, I might subconsciously slip up and use it or a mashup of the two without catching it [#].

Also, keep in mind, Muslims use certain honorifics in speaking of Allah, Isa (Jesus), and Muhammad. These would take up extra space in the panels, making them more cramped. So, while I omit them for reasons of space, Kismetta should be assumed to be using them.


[#] As an example of my mashups, Kismetta’s last name was originally “Dzumhur” (a Bosnian Muslim surname I found on the internet). But since my brain transposed the H and the Z, I had to retcon it to “Dhumzir” because my uncaught mistakes outnumbered the correct spelling.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Otoko Nan Ze!

What if society said it was important to protect women… but then turned around and promoted a morality that let men easily use and discard women in the name of equality? And what if, adding insult to injury, those women who wanted to protect themselves from this were accused of harming the cause of feminism… causing them to doubt themselves?

The term Otoko nan ze! can be translated as “Men!” or “What a man!” It’s not a complement. It’s used by women in an angry, frustrated, or contemptuous sense towards men who behave badly.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Lesson One: Knowing That We Don’t Know

Iimi and Kismetta’s hanging out together is interrupted by Kismetta’s twin brothers and Chela squabbling over playing fair. Kismetta is surprised that Iimi didn’t assume that the twins’ grade school antics were caused by their religion. Iimi points out that she doesn’t know enough about the religion and culture that the Dhumzir family was raised under to make that call.

She goes on to explain that recognizing the possibility of being ignorant and the obligation to learn what the other really believes before judging the beliefs—rather than assume guilt—are vital in behaving justly to others.

“Lesson One” as I present it is an development of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s teaching on explaining Socrates’ “knowing that you don’t know.” My development focuses on the Catholic obligation to avoid false witnesses and, as such, is an offshoot of Dr. Kreeft’s superior Socratic Dialogue series, which I highly recommend.

For those who like the “behind the scenes” details of the comics, this involved making more complicated gestures for sitting characters. The base program has limited seated action, mostly aimed at students sitting at desks. This involved two figures  for each sitting character: a sitting lower half and a standing upper half, allowing more gestures. It isn’t ideal of course. The visible hand can’t fall below the waist or it will “disappear.” But it’s a price I pay to make comics without drawing ability.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Mirror Error on the Wall…

Iimi spends time with her youth group. The topic of discussion is Problems in the Church and How the Church Should Face Them. Unfortunately, Sean and Daryl want to argue in favor of their own factions. Iimi thinks that is the problem.

Monday, May 3, 2021

It’s Iimi! Asking the Right Questions

Rick asks Iimi why she believes in God instead of Thor, hoping to make her look foolish. Iimi points out that there is a lot that Rick needs to learn—such as why monotheism over polytheism—in order to make a coherent argument along those lines. If one assumes that “all religions are fake” and never tries to learn, their questions merely sound ignorant.