Showing posts with label Catholic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catholic. Show all posts

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Catholics and Political Debate

Introduction

The probable candidates for the 2016 presidential elections are dismal enough that many Catholics are deeply divided over what choice best fits the Church teaching on voting. Some are certain that Donald Trump is the only reasonable choice. Others are certain they must oppose him. I’m not going to rehash those arguments here. (See my January 18 article on what we have to consider with each choice). Nor am I going to give support to one side or the other in these arguments.

But I do think some proponents of each group are using bad arguments—usually in good faith—that show a misunderstanding of the Catholic obligation. I’d like to examine these arguments in the hope of exposing what we should be looking for in the search for the best course of action in a series of bad choices. Please keep in mind that this article is not about debunking one side of the debate. Rather it is about things I think get overlooked as Catholics grow more intense about the election.

The Importance of Respecting a Properly Formed Conscience

First, we must remember the primary role of conscience in a situation where there is more than one licit response to a bad situation. To put it into a syllogism:

  • We cannot do evil so good may come of it
  • Violating our properly formed conscience is doing evil
  • Therefore we cannot violate our properly formed conscience so good may come of it

From this, we can see that any debate between Catholics on how to vote must be aware of the conscience of the person one tries to persuade. If the person has misunderstood the teaching of the Church and has a conscience not properly formed, we can enlighten him on that error. But we cannot bully or accuse the other of being a bad Catholic simply because his conscience does not let him make the same decision you do. So, arguments made in this debate must recognize and respect conscience.

Defending Life is Key

Properly formed is a key term. We need to keep in mind is that the Church affirms that the right to life is the primary right, and we cannot sacrifice this to advance other topics. We can only justify a vote for an openly pro-abortion candidate if there is a more serious danger present. We can’t tally up a number of lesser points and say that the total outweighs abortion. We also can’t say that an openly pro-abortion candidate is “more pro-life” because of stands on other concerns (as some Catholics claimed in 2008). St. John Paul II made that clear:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

So, we can’t use arguments sacrificing the fight against abortion. That means conservatives hoping for a better candidate in 2020 and liberals thinking other social justice concerns outweigh abortion are both arguing wrongly. That doesn’t mean other issues are unimportant. We must challenge the candidates to address these other problems. But we cannot sacrifice the opposition to abortion in doing so.

As a first step: since the dispute is over the sincerity of one candidate’s claimed conversion on abortion, I believe we need to investigate here. But that means being open to evidence, even if it means we have to reevaluate what we hold. We need to seek and shape our opinions on what is true and apply Christian moral teaching to that truth. That’s simply part of living the Christian life.

Confusing Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils with Choosing to do Evil

This one is popular on Social Media. While phrased in varying ways, it goes like this: I’m not going to choose the lesser of two evils because it’s still choosing evil. That claim shows ignorance about what the lesser of two evils means and some go so far as accusing a person, who says they’re voting for the lesser evil, of violating Church teaching. That has to stop.

Catholic teaching recognizes choosing the lesser evil as discerning which choice will cause less harm when there are no good choices and one of those choices will happen even if one does not choose. At the same time, the Church forbids us from choosing an evil act even if it means less personal harm. That’s why we have to choose martyrdom over apostasy done in order to save our life. But at the same time, we’re not obliged to actively seek martyrdom. If evil will come regardless, we can strive to lessen the impact. St. John Paul II made this clear:

[73] In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

 

 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995).

This is an example of seeking to limit evil when we cannot stop it outright. Many people view the 2016 election as another case of limiting evil when we cannot stop it. So long as the person has properly formed their conscience by the teaching of the Catholic Church and has not chosen to do something they believe to be evil, we cannot condemn them for ‘choosing evil.'

Personal Interpretation is not the same as Truth

I think the problem in these cases involves people confusing their personal interpretations about events with the facts of these events. Facts tell us happened. Interpretation tells us the meaning of these facts. But if we make a mistake in interpreting facts, we can reach false conclusions—even in good faith. To avoid this, we must constantly examine what we assume to see if it is true and compatible with our Catholic faith. If it turns out to be false, we must abandon it. Christianity neither condones useful lies nor vincible ignorance.

In this election many assume they have reached the only valid choice and, if they find another person who reaches a different decision, they assume either blindness to reality or bad will. But sometimes two Catholics can obey the Church and yet find two different ways on how to best apply that teaching. 

Conclusion: Charity in Debate

When these two Catholics meet, they can have strong feelings that their own view is the best way to do things. That  is not wrong behavior, so long as they are open to constantly seeking whether their political views are compatible with Church teaching. They can debate which of their views better fits Church teaching, but that debate must be charitable. Assuming that the other must be wrong in this case because he disagrees—especially if that assumption involves accusations of being a bad Catholic—is acting without charity.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Quick Quips: On Speaking and Acting Rightly

I think it is time for another edition of Quick Quips because there are a number of problematic behaviors appearing that are incompatible with our Catholic faith that Catholics seem to be in danger of adopting.

Justice Requires Us To Act Justly Even if Others Act Unjustly

In Plato’s Republic, there is a discussion about justice. One of the guests (Simonides) discusses the nature of justice when it comes to giving a person his due and describes it as "it is that which renders benefits and harms to friends and enemies.” (Republic, 332D). During the course of the discussion, Socrates demolishes this assumption, pointing out that justice is about doing right to a person, regardless of whether the person is a friend or an enemy. That shouldn’t be a surprise to the Christian. We believe our Lord told us:

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. 35 But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:31–36.)

The point is, even if someone we oppose is evil, that person’s wrongdoing does not justify their foes in doing evil in return. Many Christians, especially in election years, may shrug off that retaliation as “Karma’s a b*tch” or even cheer on wrongdoing when it happens to a foe. In the most extreme, we see this mindset when a deranged person kills an abortionist and the response is, “He deserved it.” In lesser extremes, we see politicians condemned for using a tactic when it inconveniences us but cheer it when it benefits us.

But that’s exactly what we must not do. If we believe something is wrong, and condemn it when a foe does it, we must not support it or laugh when an ally does it. If something is wrong, we must not do it. Finding excuses on why the situation is not exactly the same and therefore justifies the slightly different situation is just splitting hairs. Of course we need to make certain that the substantial differences do not outweigh the similarities (the fallacy of the irrelevant analogy), but compiling differences that are merely appearance is not substance. Nor can we object on the grounds that we just don’t want to face the same inconveniences our opponents suffered (that’s the fallacy of special pleading).

When it comes to politics, people may think that benefitting friends and harming enemies is the way of the world, but as Christians, we’re called to a higher standard of behavior, and we’re not to sink to the level of the world.

For Better or Worse (They’re not About the Same Thing)

In discussions, we tend to talk in terms of comparisons. We say that A is better than B or that X is worse than Y. As long as we are using the same scale of comparison, there is no problem with making factual comparisons or even offering opinions on the subject. But what we must not do is confuse them. If we are saying A is better than B, it does not mean B is worse than A. Likewise, if we say that X is worse than Y, this does not mean that Y is better than X. In other words, if a person makes a statement of comparison, it is unjust to change his words. So the person who says A is better than B cannot be accused of saying B is worse than A.

That’s because the two words are two different comparisons. Better means “a more favorable degree." Worse means “a more unfavorable degree.” Therefore, when a person chooses the term “better,” he is speaking about the nature of which is more positive. To accuse him of saying the less favorable one is worse is to put words in the mouth of the speaker that were not intended.

For example, The Church teaches that rape is worse than consensual fornication, but that both are mortally sinful and condemned. The person who would try to argue that "the Church says consensual fornication is better than rape” would be speaking nonsense. The Church says both are evil and neither can ever be done. The fact that one does greater evil does not justify calling the one that is not as extreme “better.” The point is that the Church cannot be accused of saying “fornication is better than rape.” She didn’t say that!  She didn’t offer approval of fornication in making that comparison.

I bring this up to make a comparison. I think people are forgetting this however in day to day life. When it comes to the political debates, I have seen people offering the view that Candidate A is worse than Candidate B. Then someone comes along and says “So you think Candidate B is better? What about this, that and the other? How can you be OK with that?” Again, the person making the comparison between politicians isn’t saying that one candidate’s evil positions are worthy of support. He’s saying that he views one candidate’s views as being more serious in terms of doing harm to others and does not downplay the other candidate’s evil.

Tying these Together 

I mention these issues to make a point about how we behave towards others. In times of controversies (and the elections certainly are that) it is easy to justify wrongdoing and to speak falsely about a foe. It’s also easy to misinterpret and draw conclusions about a politician or a fellow voter that they never intended to say. The political system has low expectations and promotes savaging weakness—at least when it happens to the foes—and grossly distorting an opponent’s position. But we who profess to be Christian cannot do this. We must treat those who hate us with the same love and justice that we treat those who love us. We must do to others the way we would be treated—even if they do not return the favor.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Faithful Catholics Divided on the Election. Reflections on a Passage by Archbishop Charles Chaput

There is no doubt that this election is going to be a difficult one for people who are appalled by the statements made by our major candidates. They are asking questions along the lines of “who can I vote for in a good conscience?” Unfortunately, these people are often being accused of bad faith to the point of not caring about the issues the accuser finds important. Confusing the issue is the fact that some people are supporting candidates for reasons contrary to Catholic teaching or are supporting a candidate for reasons which seem superficial and flippant. It is easy to confuse people in the first category with people in the second. Another problem is that some confuse questioning one candidate with supporting another. This results in many people feeling on the defensive over having their orthodoxy challenged while also believing that people with different views are not orthodox Catholics. It’s a vicious circle.

I think that a passage from a book written by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in 2008 is especially relevant here. 

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I think his insight here is wise and worth heeding even though he makes clear he is not exercising his episcopal authority in this book. He makes clear that to support, without a reason that outweighs the evil, a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil is to sin. But, if the Catholic finds both candidates support the intrinsic evil, he must still make a choice. That decision might be different for each person, but if it is reached by being faithful to the Church teaching, another Catholic cannot condemn him just because they reached a different conclusion than the first.

What has to be avoided is legalism, paying lip service to Church teaching as an excuse to justify a vote one was going to make regardless of what the Church said. One has to seriously consider the evils of both sides and what consequences follow from one’s vote. Are we sure that the reason we vote for one candidate over the other really outweigh the evil that candidate will do?

It’s understandable to be skeptical. In previous elections, we have had people argue that voting for a pro-abortion candidate was actually the more “pro-life” activity because of their stands on other social justice issues. But, in refutation, St. John Paul II made clear that support for those “other issues” was meaningless if the candidate was pro-abortion:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici #38 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

So, we see that a Catholic can’t say “well, he’s sorta pro-life even though he supports the right to kill unborn children."

The problem we have in 2016 is that on one side we have candidates who actively call good what the Church calls intrinsically evil while, on the other side; we have candidates who support other issues the Church calls evil due to the motives and circumstances. There are also reasons to question the sincerity of some candidates. If a candidate has a reputation of oscillating back and forth on the issues, how do we know that the commitment will remain? It’s like the play A Man For All Seasons where Sir Thomas More says:

Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate— Lutheran. We must just pray, that when your head’s finished turning your face is to the front again.

Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 580-582). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

It’s not wrong to ask which way a candidate is going to wind up if they should get elected. But we do need to remember that there are faithful Catholics who have different views on which way things will wind up and, provided they follow the Church teaching sincerely in doing so, they are not choosing to endorse evil if their discernment turns out to be wrong.

But that is the key people are forgetting. Yes, there are Catholics who support a candidate for unworthy reasons. Yes, there are times when we do have a clear choice as to who is better. But if it turns out that neither situation applies, then we have to recognize that one faithful Catholic may feel that only choice A is acceptable while another may feel that only choice B is acceptable. In this case, I believe our task as Catholics is to reach out to those voting because they support an evil position or have a insufficient reason for voting for the one who supports evil. We do have the Church teaching to point to.

But, when the decision is not clear, Catholics can try to explain why they think their own position is better, but they cannot elevate that opinion to Church position to give that opinion authority it does not have (the reason why I do not offer my political opinions on my blog is to make sure nobody thinks I am usurping the authority of the Church to justify my own position).

So there’s our task. We seek to correct people (charitably) who hold views contrary to the Catholic teaching. We can seek to persuade people to do what we think is a better position when there is room for different opinions and we must pray that we are open to the truth and do not deceive ourselves or misjudge others.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Insightful Quotes

My laptop seems to have partially survived (thank You God) an involuntary attempt to install java (handle on a coffee cup broke, spilling the contents on the keyboard and requiring it to be left off for 72 hours). So I was able to expand my readings this weekend. Doing my readings, I found little nuggets of insight that I just want to share. It's a reminder of the treasure trove of graces that God provides us through His servants.

Cardinal John Henry Newman

You sometimes hear, for example, of Catholics falling away, who will tell you it arose from reading the Scriptures, which opened their eyes to the “unscripturalness,” so they speak, of the Church of the Living God. No; Scripture did not make them disbelieve: (impossible!) they disbelieved when they opened the Bible; they opened it in an unbelieving spirit, and for an unbelieving purpose; they would not have opened it, had they not anticipated, I might say hoped, that they should find things there inconsistent with Catholic teaching. They begin in pride and disobedience, and they end in apostasy.

(Discourses addressed to Mixed Congregations p162-163)

Pope John Paul I

A certain British preacher MacNabb, speaking in Hyde Park, had spoken of the Church. When he finished, someone asked to speak and said: “Yours are fine words. But I know some Catholic priests who did not stay with the poor and became rich. I know also Catholic husbands who have betrayed their wives. I do not like this Church made of sinners." The Father said: “There’s something in what you say. But may I make an objection?”—“Let’s hear it.”—He says: “Excuse me, but am I mistaken or is the collar of your shirt a little greasy?”—He says: “Yes, it is, I admit.”—“But is it greasy because you haven’t used soap, or because you used soap but it was no use?” “No”, he says, I haven’t used soap.”

You see. The Catholic Church too has extraordinary soap: the gospel, the sacraments, prayer. The gospel read and lived; the sacraments celebrated in the right way; prayer well used, would be a marvellous soap, capable of making us all saints. We are not all saints, because we have not used this soap enough.

(Audience,  September 13, 1978)

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with other people and their ideas. Most of the time, it’s a very good thing. But it is not an end in itself, and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil. The roots of this word are revealing. Tolerance comes from the Latin tolerare, “to bear or sustain,” and tollere, which means “to lift up.” It implies bearing other persons and their beliefs the way we carry a burden or endure a headache. It’s actually a negative idea. And it is not a Christian virtue. Catholics have the duty not to “tolerate” other people but to love them, which is a much more demanding task.

(Render Unto Caesar p. 145)

Pope Benedict XVI

...I would insist that statistics do not suffice as a criterion for morality. It is bad enough when public opinion polls become the basis of political decisions and when politicians are more preoccupied with "How do I get more votes?" than with "What is right?" By the same token, the results of surveys about what people do or how they live is not in and of itself the measure of what is true and right.

(Light of the World,  p.146)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Thoughts on What I Hate About Catholics Blogging

During the last year, I have noticed some Catholics who are bloggers have gotten downright nasty in their behavior. Whether it's a case of making oneself the judge of bishops (or the Pope) or a case of making oneself a judge of other Catholics who act differently than the blogger in places where individual discretion is allowed, these bloggers have a tendency to talk condescendingly about those they disagree with. For example...

  • Those silly bishops who think that the current minimum wage is unjustly low! Don't they get economics? (Maybe not, but why should we think YOU know as much or more than them?)
  • Those stupid right wing dupes who thought the Iraq War was just! How can they call themselves Catholic? (Umm, because then Cardinal Ratzinger said that St. John Paul II's words on that war was not intended to be understood as a binding teaching?)
  • Those heretical neo Catholics who like the "Novus ordo" Mass! Don't they know what Pope X said about the Mass? (Listen pal... I rather doubt you know anything more about what Pope X said or even who he even was outside of the information you got on a radical traditionalist website.)

These are exaggerations of positions taken by some Catholic blogs—but unfortunately not as exaggerated as you might think.

I think people should remember that the authority to bind and loose is given to the Pope (Matt 16:19) and the bishops in communion with him (Matt 18:18). The blogger does not have the authority to loose what the Church has bound, nor bind what the Church has loosed. So when the blogger writes on such matters he or she should seek to distinguish between what is Church teaching and what is the blogger's personal opinion.

The reason I say that is there are Catholics out there who are seeking to be faithful and are looking for Catholics they trust to help them understand their faith. The Catholic who blogs needs to make clear that while he (for example) dislikes the Ordinary Form of the Mass, his views on it being harmful are his opinion and not the Catholic teaching.

I think there needs to be a distinction drawn between "Catholic Blog" and "Blogging by a person who is Catholic." The former seeks to discuss the Catholic faith in whatever area their blog focuses on, doing his or her best to express the faith accurately and helpfully. The latter can blog whatever the hell he wants, but his opinions should not be considered as necessarily reflecting the Catholic position.

If the blogger will not do this, and abuses the association of being Catholic to promote his or her own view as if they had more authority than they actually do. Otherwise, perhaps the Bishops might have to invoke Canon 216 when it comes to people calling their blogs "Catholic." (I hope it does not come to that):

Can. 216 Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.

The readers will have to decide for themselves whether I practice what I preach. All I can say is this is what I try to do when I write.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thoughts on Reason, Catholicism and its Opponents

[3] To proceed against individual errors, however, is a difficult business, and this for two reasons. In the first place, it is difficult because the sacrilegious remarks of individual men who have erred are not so well known to us so that we may use what they say as the basis of proceeding to a refutation of their errors. This is, indeed, the method that the ancient Doctors of the Church used in the refutation of the errors of the Gentiles. For they could know the positions taken by the Gentiles since they themselves had been Gentiles, or at least had lived among the Gentiles and had been instructed in their teaching.

In the second place, it is difficult because some of them, such as the Mohammedans and the pagans, do not agree with us in accepting the authority of any Scripture, by which they may be convinced of their error. Thus, against the Jews we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while against heretics we are able to argue by means of the New Testament. But the Muslims and the pagans accept neither the one nor the other. We must, therefore, have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent. However, it is true, in divine matters the natural reason has its failings. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles Bk 1. Emphasis added)

I find it interesting that the Church is attacked as being irrational even though she recognizes the importance of using reason to dialogue with those who do not share any other sources of information in common. While the Church recognizes that the finite ability to reason by a finite human being can have its weaknesses, she still recognizes the importance of sharing the truth through means that both groups will accept.

Introduction

Nowadays, reason is a badly misused term. It used to be understood as holding one's views as "the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments logically." Now, it's used as a mark of ideological purity--where the views which go against that of the individual setting himself or herself up as a judge are deemed "irrational."

It's also abused in the sense of being redefined to only hold to certain kinds of knowledge. This abuse denies that religious knowledge is reasoning. It instead limits reason to judging only that which can be known by the human intellect. Any knowledge which goes beyond the level of what the human mind knows is deemed irrational.

Of course, there's a slight problem with that. The problem is that limiting of reason to what can be known by the human intellect alone cannot be proven by the human intellect alone. It is basically an assertion that there is no knowledge beyond human knowledge... but how can human knowledge know this?

It is the problem of making a universal negative: No knowledge above human knowledge exists. The problem is, one has to have all knowledge to know there is nothing more than human knowledge that exists. One has to have all knowledge to know there is no knowledge beyond human knowledge. In other words, such an allegation is a self contradiction because it asserts knowledge beyond what human knowledge can know on its own.

That's why the rejection of religious knowledge as irrational cannot be anything other than an ideology held by a person who believes--in the negative sense of "an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof."

Going Beyond the Name Calling to Seeking the Truth

Once one realizes this major flaw in the belief that no knowledge beyond human knowledge exists, one can understand that the majority of the attacks on the Christian faith and the moral obligations which come from this faith do not come from reason. They are essentially acts of name calling which avoids asking whether the Christian claims are true. If one merely slaps a label like irrational or bigoted on the Christian claims, then it is easy to refuse to look at what justification is offered for the claims. After all, who wants to look at an irrational or bigoted idea?

That is unfortunate. Especially when an individual seeking the truth  encounters a Christian with an irrational or bigoted outlook on life. But, just as it is wrong to presume all African Americans are felons because a person encountered one who was a felon, it is also wrong to assume that Christianity is irrational or bigoted merely because they encountered one with that attitude.

The truth is, Christianity--at least in the Catholic view (I will not presume to speak for the non-Catholic Christians, leaving them to explain their own understanding)--does see reason as an important part of the faith. If we did not, we could not try to come to a deeper understanding of what His commands require of us. If God forbids a thing and we know God is all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent and infinitely good, we can reason that the prohibition can be understood as more than something God arbitrarily decreed because He was in a bad mood.

Catholic theology is based on the understanding that God's will is reasonable. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once put it, while God's actions can be beyond reason, it is never contrary to reason. Thus when He issues His Ten Commandments, we can understand and reason from them that right behavior in our life has a basis on the proper use of things He created.

For example, when we see the prohibition of adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, etc., we can understand that it's not that we have an "anti sex" God, but that God intends the family to be an important part of His intent for how we live. Sins against His intent for the family break down how we are to live. We can reason both how they affect us at the human level (reducing family to a mere sexual union between two or more people based on the gratification of the individual leads to the breakdown of society) and in relation to Him.

The deeper one goes into the Catholic teaching on morality, the deeper and more well thought out the reasoning becomes. One learns that our belief that homosexual acts is wrong is not based on the fear or homosexuals or the "ick factor" so commonly invoked as the reason for our belief. Our opposition to contraception and our belief that Our Lord only called men to be priests is not based on a belief that women are inferior or good only for producing children.

The fact is, we absolutely deny the charges that bigotry is the motivation for our teachings.

Irrationality in the Condemnation of Catholic Teaching

There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth. As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do. (Archbishop Fulton J Sheen, Radio Replies)

Unfortunately, what we believe and the reasoning we use in holding our beliefs are not understood. We are denounced, not through reason, but through mere assertions that:

  • Whoever does not hold X is bigoted [all A is B]
  • The Catholic Church does not hold X [C is part of A]
  • Therefore the Catholic Church is bigoted [Therefore C is part of B]

The problem is, the major premise (Whoever does not hold X is bigoted) needs to be proven. It assumes the cause and effect without considering whether it is possible to "Not hold X" without being bigoted.

If it is possible, then the major premise is false and the conclusion (Therefore the Catholic Church is bigoted) is not proven to be true!

So in reality, the charges of bigotry made against the Catholic Church have no basis in reason or logic. They simply come from the unproven assertion that disagreement with positions held by the elites of the society must be based on ill will towards certain groups of people.

The Remedy—Seeking, Finding, Following Truth

“To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b25)

The remedy, recognized by the saints of all ages and the philosophers of ancient and medieval times, but forgotten by modern philosophers, is the recognition that truth exists. It must be sought after.  It must be found.  It must be followed.

The first step (seeking the truth) may seem obvious, but too many people simply don't take that step. The reason is because too many people don't realize that they don't know. They rely on what they have had repeated to them without asking if it is true. "Everyone knows that the Church is anti-women, anti-gay, etc. etc. etc."

But once you start asking questions about what everybody knows, you start to find that maybe everybody doesn't know and you have to go back to the beginning and see what is true, rather than what is thought to be true.

When it comes to finding the truth, we have to do investigations into claims. What is the basis for holding such a claim? Are the claims reasonable? But we also have to ask "Are my presuppositions true? Do I hold them reasonably?" If we hold presuppositions without examining them, they can lead us astray if they turn out to be false.

Following truth means that once we discover what is true, we are bound to live in accordance with it. Many people cite the old adage, Knowledge is Power, but that is only true if you act on it. To use an obvious example, If you know what tomorrow's lotto numbers are going to be, but don't bother to buy a ticket or at least share the numbers with someone, your knowledge is effectively worthless.

That's how it works with examining the claims of the Church. If you recognize the truth of the Church, but choose not to act on it, that knowledge grants you no power.

Conclusion

Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)

Thus, people need to recognize what the claims of the Church are and whether she reasonably holds them. If God exists, if Jesus is God and if Jesus chose to establish one visible, hierarchical and apostolic Church to carry out His mission while He protects her from teaching error, then it is reasonable to recognize that what the Church teaches is true and following it is not merely "good for you" like yogurt or green vegetables, but is vital to be heeded.

If the Church teaches something about what must or must not be done, and the Church was given her authority by Christ, it stands to reason that rejecting the Church is rejecting Christ. Once one understands that, the hostility to Church teaching is shown to be irrational and actually harmful.

Some may not recognize that the Catholic Church is that Church. Even so, that does not excuse anyone for seeking out the truth, always asking what is true about what is claimed and what is true about the preconceptions the seeker is carrying.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Facing the Persecution

It's no secret that it's open season on Christians that dare to publicly affirm their beliefs in Christian moral values... particularly when it comes to moral values concerning sexuality. Dare to affirm your beliefs in public and you run the risk of being fired (or "encouraged" to resign), sued or prosecuted depending on the circumstances of your behavior. Never mind the fact that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect Americans from that threat. Our beliefs are classified as intolerance and therefore those who disagree don't have to tolerate us.  Which brings us to the question of what we are to do about it.

No, this isn't going to be a post about preparing bunkers and stocking up on firearms. I figure that if society collapses, I'm likely one of the weak who get eliminated quickly by the mobs. How could I advise you on this?

Nor is this going to be a post about the need to overthrow the government. Yes, our government is terribly unjust and corrupt at this time, favoring those they like and harassing those who disagree with them. But so long as we have some freedoms left, let us use them to reach out to those people of good will. Remember, St. Justin Martyr didn't call for the overthrow of the Roman Empire.  He wrote to the Emperor (Antonius Pius) appealing to his reputation for justice.  It took almost 300 years before Christians could practice their faith without legal harassment or persecution... and Christians still spread the faith without seeking to overthrow the government.

What this is about is encouraging every Christian to begin preparing for the fact that we may be challenged to deny aspects of our faith and do evil to protect our lives or our freedom. We may not have time to hide or to evade a question forcing us to choose between our freedom and our faith.

Because we believe God is almighty and creator of everything visible and invisible, we cannot accept the State as having the right to change the natural law on what is moral. We believe God is all powerful and all good. What He decrees is not arbitrary.  It then follows He decrees what is good because it reflects His own goodness.

Now, for the Catholic, we believe that because Jesus is God and that He gave the Church His authority to bind and to loose and to teach in His name (see Matt 16:18-19, Matt 18:18 and Matt 28:20). Because we believe this, we cannot accept any encroachment from the State onto the authority of what the Church can or cannot say.

Thus, we need to prepare ourselves by remembering what we believe. Those who hate us and try to both force our beliefs out of public life and force us to contradict our beliefs when we are in public may have power, but we must remain faithful to our Savior and witness to the truth about Him as God's way of reaching out to those who hate us.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Judge Not?

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.  (Matt 7:1-5)

There are two things, moreover, in which we ought to beware of rash judgment; when it is uncertain with what intention any thing is done; or when it is uncertain what sort of a person he is going to be, who at preset is manifestly either good or bad. If, therefore, any one, for example, complaining of his stomach, would not fast, and you, not believing this, were to attribute it to the vice of gluttony, you would judge rashly. Likewise, if you were to come to know the gluttony and drunkenness as being manifest, and were so to administer reproof as if the man could never be amended and changed, you would nevertheless judge rashly.

--St. Augustine, Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount #61.

One line of attack against the moral teaching of the Church is the use of Christ's statememt on not judging others.  The general argument is along the lines of:

1) Jesus said not to judge.
2) But by saying homosexuality (or another sin) is wrong, you're judging.
3) So you're going against what Jesus said by saying homosexuality is wrong.

The problem is, using that line of reasoning, you couldn't condemn Nazis or rapists or murderers either. That's absurd of course, so it demonstrates that the argument is flawed.

Moreover, Jesus also said, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:23). Obviously one cannot forgive and retain sins without judging. Therefore Jesus cannot be interpreted in the sense of being unable to say an act is morally wrong.

What we have here is the fallacy of equivocation -- the using a word with a different meaning than intended.  An example of this would be:

1) Nothing is better than a diamond.
2) A cheap rhinestone is better than nothing.
3) Therefore a cheap rhinestone is better than a diamond.

The Equivocation is in the word "nothing."  In the major premise, it is used to mean the diamond has no rival to exceed it in value.  In the minor premise it is used to mean it is better to possess something than not to possess anything at all.  The result is a false conclusion.

The concept of judgment also has multiple meanings:

▪the ability to make considered decisions or form sensible opinions.
▪an opinion or conclusion.
▪a decision of a law court or judge.

Now it is reasonable to assume Jesus is not condemning making considered decisions or sensible decisions.  Nor, when considering John 20:23, can we think Jesus was denying the authority to decide questions of law.

However we can jump to unreasonable conclusions about the motives or ultimate destiny of a person who sins.  We can't know that a murderer is irredeemable and doomed to Hell.  We don't know that the suicide deliberately acted with full knowledge and free consent and is thus damned.  We don't know if a person died unrepentant. We don't know if a person who is holy now will perservere or not.

Ultimately what we don't know is the role of grace granted by God to others and what the ultimate choices of free will result in at the end.

So I can't say Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi are doomed to damnation because of the evil they did... not because we can't know that things are evil, but because we can't know whether or not they will repent. Our obligation is to pray for them, not write them off.

If we couldn't judge whether acts were wrong we would never be able to obey Christ when He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

This is why the Church can speak of sin and the danger to the soul and not disobey Christ.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tablet Thoughts: The Whole Picture

Introduction

Suppose you saw the series of numbers:

1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5

and were asked what you thought the next three numbers might be.  You might reply "6, 6, 7"

But Do You Have All the Information?

That answer rests on assuming that you have correctly saw the full pattern. But, what if instead the pattern continued as:

10, 10, 20, 20, 30, 30, 40, 40, 50, 50.

You can see that the pattern does logically follow,  though not in a way that was expected from seeing only the first part of the pattern.

It Might be More Complicated Than You Think

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that just because we think we see a pattern it doesn't mean we can just assume we have the whole picture.  After all, it might turn out that the next set in the sequence is not

100, 100, 200, 200 etc...

It might turn out to be

010, 010, 020, 020 etc...

That is, not based on math at all, but on building symmetrical symbols one character at a time. (I could go on and on finding unexpected but consistent patterns,  but I'll quit here).

Do Critics of Catholicism See All The Details?

By now, you're probably wondering what this has to do with Catholicism or Christianity in general. The answer is, many times the faith is attacked as being "nothing but," based on what the critic sees as a pattern. But, if one's view of the pattern is too limited, the odds are that the critic will miss the big picture.

As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, small error in the beginning,  large [error] in the end (Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine). If you make an error at the beginning, the calculations based on that error will also be false.

Think about this. If you assume a Catholic teaching on abortion is based on "controlling women" as an initial premise, you'll miss the entire teaching on the value of human life which also leads to the Church teaching on immigration, poverty, euthanasia, trafficking and many other issues. You'll miss the entire concept of respecting human life from conception to natural death. It's a pattern far richer than assumed by the proponents of the "controlling women" theory.

A Historical Case of Missed Facts

Here's another example. In 1937, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical, 
Mit Brenender Sorge (With burning sorrow or with deep anxiety) in response to the Nazi regime. I have met people deluded by the "Catholic Church was pro-Hitler" slander to argue that the encyclical did not mention Germany by name. Therefore, they claim, it was not anti-Nazi.

Such people overlook some crucial facts when it comes to solving the pattern. For example:

1) instead of the usual Italian, this encyclical was written in German.
2) the Vatican smuggled the encyclical into Germany to get it past Nazi censors.
3) Pope Pius XI ordered to be read from the pulpit in every Church in Germany on 3/14/1937 (Passion [Palm] Sunday -- a very heavily attended Mass). This order was not made for any other country.
4) After it was read, the Nazis confiscated all the copies they could find and priests were harassed and even arrested.

These facts show that the Catholic Church did want Germans (especially German Catholics who were obligated to follow this teaching, and that the Nazis knew who was being condemned.

Conclusion

Without knowledge of the pattern, we can't avoid reaching the wrong conclusion. Likewise, without knowing the pertinent facts, the judgments we make will end in error. When people make accusations against the Church, we can only consider them credible if they have the pertinent facts and see the correct patterns.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years 2013: Let's Be Prepared

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

It is safe to say that Christianity is being treated as a hated minority by the political and media elites, regardless of what the majority of the population might think.  Whether the majority agrees or disagrees, it is this elite that calls the shots and says what is. 

If the population chooses to believe the slander of the elites, the elites will be able to make use of this support to justify whatever actions they want to carry out against Christians.  If the population does not, the elites will be able to employ the law to harm us, but will have to work harder to give a semblance of legality for their actions.

Let's be prepared.  America is at the point where real persecution against Christians can be expected.  In the name of the popular ideology, we have been declared hate filled people who make our teachings on the basis of hatred of our neighbors – a charge the Romans made against the Christians in the first centuries of its existence.

Christians can only counter the slander/libel of the charges against them by reasoned argument as to why the attacks against them are false and unjust.  We can expect to be shouted down of course.  We can expect to have our teachings distorted.  We can expect to have our explanations ignored.  All we can hope to do is reach out to the person of good will who might be observing what we have to say.

We can expect this because it is already happening.  Our elites attempt to force Christians to change their beliefs, and accuse us of being ignorant and intolerant because we believe the Christian teaching is reasonable and worthy of our trust.  As they grow in power, they can be more direct in their actions.

So we have to be prepared.

But our preparation is not to find bunkers, load up with guns and launch a revolution, or to hide away if America collapses.  As Christians, we know the truth of reality.  God exists.  Jesus Christ died to save us, He rose again and we are required to respond in faith to bring the Good News to the world until He returns.

That requires us to be in the streets, not in the bunkers.  That requires us to try to bring the truth to those who hate us.  It also requires us to refuse to bend when they demand we bow the knee to the altars of the secular.  A time may come when armed revolution may have to to be waged.  A time may come where we need to practice self-defense.  But that time may also not come.

The history of our Church is filled with martyrs who met the hatred towards Christ with love, recognizing that these persecutors are our brothers and sought to bring the Good News of Christ to them, letting them know that God loves every one of us, but also calls every one of us to repent.  This is not a duty for men and women dead for hundreds of years.  It is a duty of every person who professes to be a Christian.

We must be prepared.  Not for armed conflict with hostile human beings over the political direction of our nation, but for conflict over the souls of our people who are deceived to believe that God only suggests we all be "nice" to each other.  Every one of us, by our lives, are to be a witness for Christ.  Some of us may be called to be a witness for Christ by our deaths.  We have to be prepared for that too.

Finally, we must be prepared for battle for our own souls.  Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been people who weakened and compromised their faith and their witness.  Yet Christ has warned us in Matthew 16:25-26 that:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?

We can expect to be hated, because He was hated and no servant is greater than His master (see John 15:18-20).

In fear of the hatred any one of us can falter.  When you have angry people screaming vile hatred at you – ironically condemning you as someone hates and judges others – it is easier to stay silent, easier to compromise, to stall.  it is easier, but it is also forbidden to us.  If we love Christ, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15) and one of His commandment is:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

We must remember that to be strong Christians we must realize we are weak.  We must remember that we work with Christ and not on our own.  We must pray daily that whatever trials and challenges may be sent our way, that we may be given the grace to persevere and to live as Christ calls us to live, and maybe even to die as He calls us to die.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Biden the Despicable

During the VP debate, the question of abortion came up.  Biden had this to say:

BIDEN: My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who -- who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to -- with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a -- what we call a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the -- the congressman. I -- I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that -- women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.

Now, to translate the term (the Washington Post didn't understand what was said in transcript), De fide means:

(A matter) of the faith.  Essential to the faith and based in revelation. A doctrine proposed de fide in an ex cathedra fashion is said to possess the highest degree of certainty of truth and must be believed by the faithful.


Bretzke, J. T. (1998). Consecrated phrases: A Latin theological dictionary: Latin expressions commonly found in theological writings (electronic ed.). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

So Biden, by saying he recognizes the Church teaching on abortion is de fide, he is stating he knows the Church teaching as true and must be believed by the faithful.  So what does the Church say on abortion?  Well the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

So here's the problem for Catholics supporting Obama and Biden.  Biden has declared he believes the unborn child is alive and accepts the Catholic teaching that life must be protected from the moment from conception – yet he refuses to protect that unborn child from abortion.

What should we think of a man who entirely refuses to save lives from a government who declares it is allowable to kill them?  The word despicable comes to mind.  So does cowardly.  Also, hypocrisy fits. 

As we come to the elections, the Catholic voter must consider what it means when the Vice President says he believes the unborn is a person and still refuses to lift a finger to save their lives.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Propaganda and Lies: You Homophobe!

Introduction

The term homophobia is a popular one to use when confronting people who believe that homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong (wrong by their very nature).  Whether the confrontation is with the continuous teaching of the Catholic Church, or with an individual, the response is the same: “You’re a Homophobe!”

Since the term is used so broadly, I thought it would be helpful to study what the term means.  Since the term is based on “phobia” (an extreme or irrational fear of something that causes someone to want to avoid it at all costs) it is clear that it must have a medical definition, like claustrophobia or agoraphobia, which we can look up, to see whether it is applied accurately.

No Medical Definition

The problem is, it doesn’t have a medical definition.  “Homophobia” is not any sort of a medical term to be found in a medical dictionary.  It is nothing more than a pejorative label which covers any person or group which rejects homosexual acts as wrong.

In other words, the Westboro Baptist Church, with their reprehensible “God Hates F*gs” signs (I think this kid had the right response) is classified in the same way as Catholic teaching, which holds:

This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358)

So the term “homophobia” is so broad that it lumps together people who have actual irrational hatred with those who condemn such hatred.

That sounds fishy, doesn’t it?

The Assumed Principles of the “Homophobia” Label

It should sound fishy.  It indicates that the label of “homophobia” is based on certain assumptions that cannot be questioned.

First of all, it assumes that there are no moral problems with homosexual acts.  Either they are morally neutral or just as morally acceptable as heterosexual acts.

Second, it assumes that any person or group who does have a moral problem with certain sexual acts is doing so out of bigotry – even if the person or group deny such a motive or condemn such motives.

In other words, the term argues: If you don’t agree with us, you’re a bigot!

That’s nothing more than propaganda and an ad hominem attack.  It demonstrates a mindset which is fixated on a certain point of view with the inability to consider any other points of view or motives for that point of view.

The Sinister Tactic

What we have is a label which is used to vilify all persons who disagrees with any other view.  Such behavior has happened many times in American history by one faction to attempt to shame or otherwise silence people who think differently.  The right winger who called a liberal a “Communist;” the Southern racist who labels a supporter of civil rights as “a N*gger Lover” and so on, are examples of this tactic.  Today, these terms seem archaic and offensive.  But back in those days, they were seen as acceptable – or at least by those who used the terms.

It argues, “Either you agree with us or you are a vile person!”  It tries to make people accept their view as right, and the opposing view as being held out of malice.  Actually, it is the person who is using this tactic is doing nothing more than name calling.

The Term is a Lie and a Stereotype

The term homophobia is not a phobia as recognized by any credible medical source.  It merely assumes all opposition is irrational, refusing to hear any arguments.  It points to a group of extremists and tries to paint all who believe homosexuality is wrong as if they shared the extremist view.

That’s remarkably similar to assuming all Muslims are terrorists, just because some are.  Or similar to those who assume all Blacks or Hispanics must be criminals just because some are.

We call that a stereotype, assuming the whole must be this way based on the behavior of a few.

It is certainly a lie to label all people as having a hatred of homosexual persons simply on the grounds that they believe that certain sexual acts are always wrong and that people who have an inclination towards such acts need to practice chastity.

The Dilemma: Who’s Really Intolerant?

Let’s look at the two views – the Catholic view that says homosexual acts are wrong and the pro-homosexual view which says people morally opposed to homophobia are “homophobes.” 

The Catholic view says that even though the homosexual act and inclination is disordered, persons with this affliction must be treated with love and respect on account of the fact that they are still persons.  Any Catholic who does not treat the homosexual person with love and compassion, while opposing such acts against what the Church requires of the faithful.

Now let’s assume that homophobia is a real phobia.  That would make those who display hostility to those with homophobia as reprehensible as those who display hostility to other phobias.

The late comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once said:

Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only one you can get yelled at for having. Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic. Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupis... one of those two doesn't sound right.”

It’s a good point.  If alcoholism is a disease, then to abuse people for having the disease is wrong.  Likewise, if “homophobia” is truly a “an intense aversion to homosexuality and homosexuals” (according to the OED), then to abuse people for having the “condition” would also be wrong.

I think we can rephrase it this way to demonstrate the point.

If Homophobia is a mental illness, it’s the only one they can hate you for having.  “You claustrophobics disgust me.”  “You homophobes disgust me!”  Something doesn’t sound right.

The problem is, if homophobia was truly a mental illness (as opposed to a derogatory term) like other phobias then the person who was abusive to the “homophobic” would be just as reprehensible as the person who was abusive to the claustrophobic – it would be discrimination.

That leads us to the dilemma.  If “homophobia” is a real illness, then the person who is hostile to the “homophobic” is a bigot.  If “homophobia” is nothing more than a label used to attack people who think differently, then the person who labels his opponents “homophobic” is a bigot.

The only way to avoid the bigot label is not to behave in a bigoted manner.  That means ending the abuse and hatred towards those who believe homosexuality is wrong.  Yes, there are people who do wrong in their opposition (violence, verbal abuse) and they can be opposed civilly and in a law abiding manner because of the wrong behavior, and they should be opposed – especially by Christians who recognize homosexuality is wrong.

However, to abuse and harass people simply because they recognize homosexual acts are always wrong is not a defense of tolerance.  It is the practice of intolerance.

Conclusion

Really, it is time for people to recognize that this term is nothing more than a slur, and shows intolerance for those with a different point of view.  People of good will, even if they should disagree with the Catholic teachings on the subject should not use such terms, but rather engage in civil dialogue with those they disagree.

We should recognize that the term “homophobic” is as repugnant as the term “f*g” or “n*gger” or any other intolerant slur.  It should no longer be used, and we should recognize that the person who uses it is intolerant, behaving hypocritically – using intolerance while claiming to champion tolerance.

(edited 7/6/12 to make a point more clear)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Propaganda and Lies: Accusation that the Catholic Church wants to force its teachings on all women

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it

—Adolph Hitler

The propaganda used by the Obama regime and their supporters since the beginning is the accusation that nobody is trying to impose their views on the Catholic Church, but rather the Catholic Church is trying to force their views on women. 

As HL Mencken put it, "Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel."  Mencken is right in this context if we let [A] be the government, [B] the Catholics and [X] being "Reproductive Freedom."  It is false if one argues [A] is the Catholic Bishops, [B] is women and [X] is religious freedom.

That the Catholic Church is NOT injuring the freedom of non-Catholics

This can be simply demonstrated. If the Obama regime withdrew its HHS mandate tomorrow, and things went back to the status quo of January 19th, women would have nothing different than they have today. Catholics, however, would be much better off when it comes to their schools and hospitals; when it comes to the individual Catholic business person.

In other words, the Catholic is constrained by this new mandate, and this imposition is justified by claimed benefits to others.  Women would not be constrained if the mandate was repealed.

It is thus demonstrated that the accusation that the Catholic teaching is trying to impose their views on women is false.

That the Obama regime IS injuring the religious freedom of Catholics

On the other side, it can be definitely shown that the HHS mandate is an imposition on Catholics who believe contraception is a moral evil.  The mandate declares that any institution or business which is not explicitly religious in nature (hiring and serving Catholics exclusively) cannot be considered protected when it comes to the free practice of religion.

Such a decision is certainly an imposition on Catholics telling them that, if they hire or serve non-Catholics, their business cannot be considered to be protected under the First Amendment.  The problem with such a claim is that Catholic individuals have rights to establish businesses which they run in conformity with their Catholic faith.  The Catholic Church certainly has the right to run hospitals and schools – hiring those best suited for the job and serving all without concern of their beliefs – which they run according to what they believe to be in keeping with their service to God (see Matt 25:31-46).

A person who chooses to work at a Catholic university or hospital is not forced to do so.  We don't have a draft which compels people to work for us.  If a person freely chooses to work for a Catholic employer, it stands to reason that the institution or place of business will be run by Catholic beliefs and that the person hired should be willing to tolerate those beliefs if they want to work at this institution or place of business.  The person who chooses to work at a Catholic institution or place of business, but demands that the Catholics set their beliefs aside for him or her, is in fact the one who is guilty of trying to impose their beliefs on others.

That the government sides with those individuals who try to impose their views on Catholic businesses and institutions in the name of a "greater good" shows that the government is injuring our Constitutional right to practicing religious freedom in public and private.

The Question of Whether Americans should follow the Catholic Teaching is a separate issue

Now Catholics do believe that contraception is intrinsically (in all times, places and circumstances) wrong and that all people should recognize this.  However the Church also recognizes that a majority of Americans – including many American denominations – do not accept what we teach.  Under such circumstances, the most the Church can do is to insist that those who call themselves Catholic live in accord with what they claim to be, while trying to teach others why the Catholic view is true and not merely a preference.  Perhaps, eventually if enough Americans accept the truth about the nature of human sexuality, laws could be passed recognizing the truth.  However, the bishops are not trying to secretly implement a "Sharia" type law on all Americans.

The fight that the Catholic bishops have to fight is over the government telling Catholics that they must pay for services they find morally unacceptable (the insurers naturally passing on the costs of contraceptives to the rates the Catholic employers must pay).  Accusations that the Catholics are imposing their views on women is in fact a Big Lie, repeated to the point that people accept it to be true without question.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reflections on Conscience and Utilitarianism

The Argument to Consider

Major Premise: We Must always Do Good and always Avoid Evil

Minor Premise: [X] is Good or [Y] is Evil.

Conclusion: We must do [X] or We must not do [Y]

The major premise cannot be denied.  While people may argue over whether [X] is truly good or whether [Y] is truly evil, normal people do not say it is permissible to do evil.  If a person's conscience tells him that something is evil, he must not do it.  This is where the questions of morality come into play, invoking situations where it is not always right to do [X] or wrong to do [Y].  For example, it is wrong to withhold a person's property from him.  However, if the neighbor is drunk and wants me to give him his car keys, it would be wrong to give him his car keys until that situation has changed.  Once that situation is changed however, I do not have the right to continue to withhold his keys from him.  These are questions that are in line with the major premise of, "We Must always Do Good and always Avoid Evil."

This Major Premise is the concept of conscience.  It says, I must do [X].  I must not do [Y].  Yet too many people think of conscience as an impulse that puts a stamp of approval on what we want to do and a stamp of disapproval for what we oppose.  Such people are indeed following an impulse, but that impulse is not conscience.

Impulse and Conscience

Impulse tells me:

  • "I am hungry, I want food."
  • "I have sexual desires, I want conjugal relations."
  • "I am in fear for my life, I want to flee."

Conscience, on the other hand, counters my impulse and tells me:

  • "Even though I am hungry, I must not eat the whole pizza."
  • "Even though I have sexual desires, I must not have sexual relations with my neighbor's wife who is making her body available for me."
  • "Even though I am afraid for my life, I must not flee because innocents will be harmed if I do."

Impulses can be right at some times and wrong at other times.  I seem to recall CS Lewis making reference to impulses as the keys on a piano… each one can be right or wrong depending on whether they are used in the proper time or not.  Conscience then, must be thought of as the conductor, telling us when it is the right time to act on the impulse and when it is not. 

Unfortunately, in America, we have tended to deaden our conscience and give in to our impulses.  "Why shouldn't I have sexual relations with my neighbor's wife?  She is willing and I want gratification."  When faced with conscience which tells us we did wrong, the response is to react with anger, often blaming people who say what the conscience says for "attempting to impose guilt."

Remember, people don't get outraged when a religion teaches something not involving conscience.  Non Jews (normally) don't get offended because Jews keep Kosher laws in their personal life or in their businesses.  They don't demand a Jewish deli serve them a ham sandwich.  They do get angry when a religion speaks on a topic which the conscience also condemns. 

  1. Conscience tells us we must not do [X]
  2. The Catholic Church tells us we must not do [X]
  3. Therefore the Church is accused of causing guilt over [X]

The problem comes when we go from "How Can I Be Just?" to "How Can I Justify This?"

To escape guilt, many move from "How must I act to be just?" to asking "How can I justify my Act?"  It is sometimes argued by moral relativists that there are no absolutes, and right and wrong are entirely dependent on the circumstances, the culture and many other considerations.

This argument is absurd.  If slavery is wrong, it was always wrong and will always be wrong.  A society that practiced it in the past was wrong, even if the society considered it morally acceptable.  It was not wrong in the Northern United States and right in the Southern United States.  Nor was it right prior to 1865 and wrong after 1865.

Likewise, if genocide is wrong, a society which practices it is wrong.  No sane person would argue that because Nazi Germany had the "Final Solution," it was right in Germany but wrong elsewhere.

These two examples show we can indeed know that some things are absolutely (in all cases, circumstances and times) wrong, even if a society practiced them.  We look back to those times with sorrow and revulsion – we DON'T think they were right then but not now.

Indeed, these principles show us something key.  That is the fact that it is irrelevant to appeal to the fact that a thing is popular.  If 99% of the population decides that it is expedient to persecute an innocent 1% of the population, that 99% is wrong, because it is true that it is not right to deliberately harm innocent people. 

If you question this, consider whether it would be right for someone to push your child into the path of a speeding car as a way to warn a larger group of people to get out of the path of the car.

Utilitarianism vs. Catholicism

"Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel."

- H.L. Mencken

The above question isn't just an imaginary example in poor taste.  This is an application of utilitarianism.

utilitarianism
  ■ noun the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.
   ▶      the doctrine that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.

The principles of utilitarianism can be held to different degrees of course, but generally utilitarianism will recognize that no act can harm no person, so if a small number of people are harmed or inconvenienced when the greater good is invoked, that harm can be justified.  This is how the justification of abortion tends to work (even if those taking part in abortion aren't formally utilitarians).  "Even if the unborn is a person, the right to abortion will benefit women, therefore it can be justified."

It also is used to justify the current HHS attack on religion.  "Some religions may be inconvenienced by being forced to pay for contraception and abortion coverage, but more people may benefit from such a requirement.  Therefore religions can be compelled to pay for such coverage."

Ultimately, Utilitarianism justifies tyranny in the name of "good."  If a government program can benefit many at the cost of harming a few (say the rich, landowners, the Jews…) then it is acceptable to harm the few to benefit the many.  That kind of utilitarianism can be brutal (Nazism, Stalinism) or mild (America today), but it still operates under the principle of, "The Ends Justify the Means."

The danger of course is the fact that the person making the decision of what is more important will never put themselves in the position of being "less important" – though they might consider placing YOU in that category.

In contrast, the Catholic position says, evil may never be done so good may come from it.  This isn't merely two conflicting ideologies.  This is a statement on the importance of the human person.  Under Utilitarianism, a conservative could argue, "Since most AIDS cases come from homosexuals, we should place all homosexuals in relocation camps.  Many would benefit and only a few would be harmed."

The Catholic view would condemn that view because such a view treats human persons as mere pawns to be used instead of looking at them as persons who must be treated as persons even if they do wrong (whether by choice or by disordered passion).  That doesn't mean we treat felons as if they were innocent, or treat homosexuality as the same as heterosexuality.  That which is wrong must be opposed, even if the person doing wrong thinks it is right.

It does mean we may not treat a person as if he were less than human because he is a felon, because he is not white, because he is religious and so on.

Conclusion

The difference between the view of utilitarianism (so prominent in America today) and the Catholic view can be summed up this way:

The Golden Rule states that we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Would we have others treat us as a means to an end where we can be harmed for a greater good?  No?  Then we must not treat others in such a way.

Ultimately, we must then do what is good and avoid what is evil in all our actions.

QED.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The American Bishops, Pius XII and their Detractors

I really don't write much any more to be sure.  My life has been more complicated these past few months.  That doesn't mean I'm not keeping up with what is going on in the world.  Mostly I lurk and pass links on to relatives and friends on Facebook to articles I think helps explain or exhort.  In doing this, I tend to catch the trends of the Catholic blogosphere.

Unfortunately, there is a trend arising among certain conservative Catholics taking issue with the response of the American Bishops towards the Obama administration's attack on religious freedom, and this trend is the claim that if the Bishops were serious they would have done more and continue to do more then they are.

The general thrust of this claim runs as follows:

  1. If the bishops were serious they would do [X].
  2. The bishops are not doing [X].
  3. Therefore the bishops are not serious.

[X] can be the excommunication of certain quisling Catholics in government or speaking out more from the ambo about what the Church really teaches.  The fact that the bishops do not appear to be doing these things is taken as grounds for criticism.

I've written on this before, and I believe the points I made are relevant here as well.

I believe both criticisms are wrong now, just as they were wrong in attacking the Bishops of New York back in July.

I think one of the problems here is the fact that these conservative Catholics are making the same attack on American Bishops that liberals made against Pope Pius XII during WWII.  That argument was that if Pius XII really [Opposed the Nazis, Wanted to save the Jews] he would [Excommunicate Hitler, Spoke publically denouncing the Nazis].  He didn't [Excommunicate Hitler, Speak publically denouncing the Nazis]. Therefore he didn't oppose the Nazis or want to save the Jews.

That's the kind of argument against Pope Pius XII that shows up in Hochhuth's play The Deputy and John Cornwell's book Hitler's Pope and gets repeated constantly despite evidence that the Pope was more interested in saving Jews than in rhetoric which would not only fail to accomplish something positive, but also probably accelerate greater levels of evil.

In other words, while excommunicating Hitler or denouncing the Nazis by name were one possible approach for Pope Pius XII to take, he chose a different approach – one that often required private communication and secrecy – to oppose Hitler and save Jews.  It would be wrong to claim that Pius XII was indifferent or pro-Nazi or ineffectual just because his plan of action did not match our approval.

I believe that this same error is being committed by those conservative Catholics who are belittling the efforts of our Bishops (every Catholic diocese in the US has condemned the Obama administration's action).

The problem is, these complaints are unjust.  Logically, they are the fallacy of Ignoratio Elenchi (irrelevant conclusion).  While one may prefer the bishops taking a hard, "**** You!" approach to the Obama administration and those quisling Catholics who support him, those arguments favoring such an approach do not in fact reach the conclusion that the bishops are doing nothing or not enough.

We really need to recognize that when it comes to barring from communion, it doesn't always work.  Kathleen Sebelius is already barred (since 2008) from receiving communion, and that seems to have no effect whatsoever on her acting in defiance of the Catholic faith she claims allegiance to.  Are we supposed to believe that excommunication is automatically going to change the minds of Pelosi or Biden or the Catholic senators who voted against religious freedom?  Might they not use it as propaganda to argue "Look!  The Bishops are trying to control the government!"?

Now I believe that canonical sanctions would be good as a warning to those Catholics in the government that they are endangering their immortal souls, but I do not believe that we can justly argue that because the bishops have not opted to take this route that they are failing in their task as bishops.

As for the speaking out accusation, can any informed Catholic claim that they do not know what the Catholic Church teaches on the issue of contraception?  Every bishop who leads a diocese has come out against the Obama administration.  They are speaking out publicly and to the government saying, "This is wrong."

Those Catholics who still employ contraception or vote in favor of contraception and abortion do not do so out of invincible ignorance, but out of defiance or out of laziness to discover the truth.  Did we not have Humanae VitaeVeritatis SplendorEvangelium Vitae?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church?

We have the continual witness of the Church, and the bishops are public with affirming the teaching of the Church.  Any Catholic can learn what the Church teaches with ease.  It is simply a matter of being willing to look.

So as Catholics, let us cease our useless murmuring about how everything would be fine if the bishops would only do [X].  Yes it is legitimate to favor certain approaches (so long as they are compatible with the Church).  But we must remember: Before claiming the bishops aren't doing "enough" we must ask ourselves whether we have the full knowledge to declare what we think should be done is automatically the only approach that can be taken.

Otherwise our treatment of the bishops become as ignorant as the attacks on Pope Pius XII.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

TFTD: Cafeteria Catholicism Isn't Only Liberal

Preliminary Note:

It is not my interest to defend Bishop Hubbard and claim everything in Albany is hunky-dory.  It is my interest in speaking out against what seems to be a growing distraction among Catholics seeking to be faithful to the Church – a distraction which seems to set aside Magisterial authority whenever one does not like the political implications of what is said.

Whenever Catholics judge a teaching from their political slant instead of judging a political view from Church teaching, there Catholics have lost their way.

Those of us who seek to be faithful to the teachings of the Church need to realize that dissent isn't something which only happens to others.  The Pharisees were pious men, seeking to be faithful to the teachings of the law, but their views were not in keeping with the holiness God calls us to.

I don't say any specific Catholic is guilty of this, but I do say all of us are obligated to examine our consciences daily and examine our political views to see if they are contrary to the teachings of the Church.

So any reader who thinks I am indicting any specific Catholic interprets me wrongly.

With Growing Concern

One thing the whole budget squabble brings home is that Cafeteria Catholicism isn't only a liberal thing.  Conservatives may not dissent over moral issues, but I think the issue of the social teachings of the Church are overlooked.  Moreover, I think that like liberals, conservatives also make use of the genetic fallacy, with both writing off the statement of a bishop because he is identified with a disliked political stance.

For example, Bishop Hubbard's July 26 statement to the House of Representatives is derided by some bloggers on the grounds that he is a liberal who did not act against Governor Cuomo in some of his public sins.  Maybe that accusation of liberalism is true, maybe it is not (one thing I've learned from the blogging experience is we don't always know what goes behind the scenes).  Either way, that does not mean his statement is false just because he is accused of being liberal. 

In fact, I find his three points to be in keeping with the Church teaching as a whole:

  1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
  2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
  3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

In other words, budget cuts can't disproportionately affect those in need of our help.  If a cut will prevent those from receiving what is needed to survive, it is not a budget which protects human life and dignity.  I don't see anything in these points (or in the whole statement) which was not stated in Caritas in Veritate.

What we need to remember is this: There can be debate over what the best means are to be faithful to the social teaching of the Church.  There can't be debate over the Social Teaching of the Church.

We need to avoid the error of reductionism.  Just because socialistic programs in government may share certain points with the Catholic Social Teaching, it does not follow that the position spoken of by a Catholic Bishop is "nothing but" support for a socialistic program.

Now, I am not saying it is evil to be conservative (I'm sure most liberals would label me as one for example, and I think Obama's regime has been disastrous for the moral and religious state of this nation).

However, I am saying it is evil to ignore Church teaching on a subject.

Each person will have to look to the teaching of the Church and their own political views and see if there is a need for conversion .