Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

It’s Iimi! We Must Be True To What We Believe!

This is a short comic aimed at addressing how certain Israeli rabbis misunderstood Pope Francis’ general audience on St. Paul writing to the Galatians. The Pope was not changing anything. But he was pointing out that the Ten Commandments (and the Law) were not to be followed in isolation, but the commandments are a way of loving Christ.

A Jewish upperclassman in Iimi’s school questions Iimi about this misunderstanding.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Isn’t it Time to Go Beyond the Usual Arguments?

5. Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience.
(Apostolicam actuositatem)

With yet another mass shooting and the inevitable arguments over whether laws should be passed, I think there’s one thing that never gets discussed: whether the 2nd Amendment itself needs to be amended. By this I mean it seems like proponents of gun control want to pass laws as if it did not exist and opponents of gun control want to use it to block any meaningful restrictions.

I think proponents of gun control need to offer ideas on how it should be reasonably be amended. I think opponents of gun control need to propose solutions on how to prevent mass shootings. But instead, people on both sides offer their same arguments that bring up the same counter-arguments and nothing gets done.

From a Catholic perspective, I think we need to move beyond partisan divisions and start *talking* to each other if we are to find a just solution that serves the public good. I would urge all sides to look at the situation without partisan lenses so we can find that just solution. But if we just point fingers and refuse to question ourselves, will that ever happen? Or will we just continue the circle of Shootings—Outrage—Forgetting?

As a Catholic, I think we need to break that circle and try to find just solutions, even at the cost of our political views.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thoughts on Catholic Moral Teaching and Law

When people attack the Catholic Church and her teaching on morality, they point to laws in past eras that were brutal by our standards. They argue that these past laws show that the teaching that "X is a sin” caused brutal punishments. That presumes law and morality are the same, which is false. Not all sins are against the law, and sometimes law interferes with moral behavior. St. Thomas Aquinas makes this distinction:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and suchlike.


 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, STh., I-II q.96 a.2 resp. trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne,).

In other words, Not every sin was against the law in Christian societies. Morality distinguishes between right and wrong behavior. Morality tells what we must do or must not do regardless of what the law says. If theft is wrong, then we must not steal even if the law allows it. But while morality deals with what we must or must not do, law deals with what penalty we give when people violate morality in such a way that harms human society. Morality does not change over time, but laws can change over time.

Morality does not change from saying “X is good” to “X is wrong.” Theft was wrong a thousand years ago, is wrong today, and will be wrong a thousand years from now. Even so, law from a thousand years ago based on the morality that theft is wrong was different than the law today and the law based on that morality a thousand years from now will be different from the law today. We can and must adjust law when situations merit a gentler response, provided that gentler response is just.

For example, the use of the Death Penalty is not unjust by nature. But when society and technology advances to the point that the criminal can be safely contained without using it, then we can adjust the law so the death penalty is not easily applied. The change of the law does not mean Church teaching on the death penalty is wrong. It means we can adjust the law when the death penalty is not needed to protect the innocent from the criminal.

That’s assuming that the law is based on morality. Sometimes it comes from the vicious customs of a society. For example, slavery, lynching and segregation in the United States, Even though America began as a Christian nation, they adopted vicious customs which had been already condemned by the Church. For example, the Church condemned the reemergence of slavery in 1435—long before the Europeans encountered the New World. Despite this fact, unjust laws continued to treat blacks as property and even some Catholics in the United States owned slaves (just as how some Catholics support abortion today).

Often times, laws stayed in place from before a nation became Christian. Burning at the stake was a pagan Germanic practice. So were trials by ordeal. Catholics did not invent them. Should Christians have changed them? Yes. Do they show that some high ranking Catholics did wrong things? Yes. Do these things show that Catholics were worse than others? They absolutely do not! What they tell us is Christians can be as blind to cultural vices as everyone else.

When it comes to crafting or reforming law, we need to remember three things:

  1. We must be aware of objective right and wrong. 
  2. We must know which wrongs harm society.
  3. We must assess the proportionate penalty for doing wrongs that harm society.

The Church does these things. She teaches us what right and wrong are. She warns us of wrongs harming society. She also speaks out against laws that are unjustly harsh or lenient. Unfortunately today, just as in the past, some Catholics have not kept these things in mind and instead passed laws which fail one or more of these criteria. But what people overlook is that the Church also expands our moral knowledge. In applying it to new situations, the Church brings us to deeper understandings we did not have in past centuries.

We cannot create just laws by eliminating our Christian moral roots. We can only create them by being vigilant, studying why things are right or wrong and finding just ways of protecting society from harm.

Monday, April 4, 2016

When Partisanship Replaces Justice

In the 1888 encyclical Officio Sanctissimo, Pope Leo XIII encouraged Catholic participation in the legal system to change unjust laws. Part of this document asserts:

[12] Effectively the laws give Catholics an easy way of seeking to amend the condition and order of the State and to desire and will a constitution which, if not favourable and well-intentioned towards the Church, shall at least, as justice requires, be not harshly hostile. It would be unjust to accuse or blame any one amongst us who has recourse to such means, for those means, used by the enemies of Catholicity to obtain and to extort, as it were, from rulers laws inimical to civil and religious freedom, may surely be used by Catholics in an honourable manner for the interests of religion and in defence of the property, privileges, and right divinely granted to the Catholic Church, and that ought to be respected with all honour by rulers and subjects alike.


 Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals: 1878–1903 (Ypsilanti, MI: Pierian Press, 1990), 154.

I’m struck by differing assumptions compared to the American experience of the last few years. Courts strike down laws passed to defending moral rights, The government vetoes or ignores laws they swore to uphold (without suffering repercussions for dereliction of duty). In fact, executive orders and judicial diktats deny believers the right to promote laws benefiting the common good, and target them for refusing to accept the moral changes the political and cultural elites impose on society.

Leo XIII wrote this to the Catholics in Bavaria during the Kulturkampf encouraging them to use the same system to lift oppression that their opponents used to impose it. That says something ironic about America today. That irony is America today is less just in some legal structures than Imperial Germany was 120 years ago! When legal structures are unjust we can no longer rely on our checks and balances to defend the rights of citizens who hold views unpopular with political and cultural elites.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Americans have an ugly habit of setting aside their system of justice when they deem a targeted group unworthy under the law. The obvious example is that of slavery and segregation. But we could also include the violations of treaties with Native Americans, the Internment of Japanese Americans, the denial of the rights of the unborn, and the targeting of refugees. When Americans want to stop treating a disliked group as an equal, we enforced our laws arbitrarily and passed new laws pushing the disliked group further away. 

To defend injustice, America invokes hypothetical extreme cases and treats that extreme case as the norm. For example, abortion for the rape victim, or security from possible fifth columnists, terrorists or felons in the case of Japanese internees, Islamic refugees and illegal aliens. America justified segregation on the grounds that African Americans could not adapt to “White Society” and slavery on the grounds that slaves could not adapt to freedom. Nobody asks whether extreme cases are real and whether they justify these actions.

Today, America uses the irrelevant analogy fallacy, drawing attention to a few similarities between scenarios and ignoring the greater differences. Promoting “same sex marriage,” elites claim denying people with same sex attraction the right to marry is the same as denying interracial marriage. Elites invoke the similarity of “denying two people the right to marry” and name themselves foes of bigotry. The forgotten difference is interracial marriage still involves one male and one female. Opposing interracial marriage denied something essential (complementarity of male and female) in favor of something accidental (the ethnicity of the male and female).

The same happens in other cases. Elites justify abortion by arguing the fetus is a "clump of cells,” so we can excise like any other group of cells. The essential difference is the fetus is a separate person, not a mere clump of cells, and we cannot treat a person like any other “clump.” Elites justify the “contraception mandate” by saying women have a “right” to contraceptives. Even barring the fact that Catholics reject that premise, a “right” to something does not mean people must subsidize it.

These examples show how elites set aside justice and law when it benefits their ideology, invoking them only when favorable. This results in a system where the preference of the elite is law, despite what actual law and moral belief of citizens hold. They succeed because they use simple slogans in supporting their own positions and attacking their opponents. Refuting inaccurate slogans takes longer than reciting them. People remember the inaccurate slogan longer. “War on women.” “Freedom to love.” “Reproductive Freedom.” Few know refutations exist for each of them.

This reality frustrates many Christians. People ignore truth and favor slogans.  So we offer simplistic solutions in exchange. “We need better Popes and bishops.” “We need stronger teaching.” “We need simpler explanations.” These aren’t solutions. They’re just opposing slogans.

What we need—if you’ll pardon me for using a slogan myself—are “boots on the ground.” We need Christians in every walk of life explaining what we believe and why it is good. This isn’t going to change people like flicking a switch. Many will ignore us. Many will treat us hostilely. Yet, some will hear. What we say might turn out to be a planted seed. We don’t know if the seed will bear fruit, only God knows the answer to that question. Either each one of us sows the seeds in the face of opposition, or we abandon the Great Commission and surrender the nation to those who oppose truth and righteousness.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

TFTD: Self-Contradiction by Opponents to Christianity

So, the backlash against Indiana’s Religious Freedom law continues to grow, and one wonders whether things will spill over into violence soon against Christians. The media, with backing from some politicians and some businesses are treating the entire affair as being intended to allow free discrimination against people with same sex attraction—never mind that they are merely making a circular argument that assumes discrimination instead of proving it intends discrimination.

But as I read the news articles and the comments, I am seeing what is amounting to several huge self-contradictions that, when explored, makes these protestors out to be huge hypocrites. Here’s the problem.

  1. If nobody should be allowed to force their views on others, then nobody should be allowed to force their views of same sex “marriage” on Christian business owners.
  2. If it is acceptable for the law to make demands based on moral beliefs (by banning “anti-gay” discrimination), then it is acceptable for Christians to make law based on the demands of their moral belief.

See the problem here? If relativists try to define the issue the first way (“forcing views on others”) then they are obligated to avoid forcing their views on others, and they cannot try to compel Christian business owners to cooperate with their view that “same sex marriage” is morally acceptable. But if they try the other tactic and claim that they have the right to pass laws that say Christians must cooperate with their beliefs of right and wrong, then logically Christians have the right to pass laws based on their own beliefs of right and wrong.

No matter which universal they stake claim to, Christians can point out they are being hypocritical in their enforcement of it because it is being applied in such a way as to exclude those the protestors disagree with (the Christians), whereas, if opponents of Christianity applied those principles across the board, they could not condemn Christians for behaving as they do without condemning themselves as well.

However, Christians can’t be accused of approaching these two concepts with the same self-contradiction simply because we don’t hold them in the first place. The Christian view is not based on the idea of freedom to behave as one wants, but the freedom to behave as one ought. Anything that blocks a person from doing what is right or forces them to do what is wrong is a violation of that freedom. Because the concept of family as husband, wife and children passing on the values needed for the society to continue from one generation to the next is a building block of the society, the law can be justified in defending it. Things that harm that building block of society by tearing down the things that make it possible to continue society to the next generation need to be prevented and the law is reasonable in using just means to prevent them from destroying it.

So (simplifying greatly), I would say that the Christian moral teaching would hold this principle with no self contradiction:

  1. No law should prevent a person from doing what they believe they are morally obliged to do unless that belief causes actual harm to others or the breakdown of the common good (taking another life arbitrarily comes to mind here, as does attacks on the traditional family, committing violence against others without just cause).
  2. No law should force a person to do what they believe is morally wrong to do.
  3. Laws should promote the common good and protect the family and individuals from those who would actively seek to harm others.

Such a concept on law would not only protect the Christian, but the non-Christian from being forced to do wrong, it would protect society from individuals or groups who claim they have the moral obligation to murder or steal etc. It recognizes that real right and wrong do exist and seeks to make laws that makes it easier to do what is right, and put restrictions on wrongdoing that disrupts society.

No contradiction, no injustice. That’s the difference between the consistent Christian view and the self-contradiction of the inconsistent view of modern Christianophobia that pretends to be in favor of “rights” of all—except Christians.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts on (Lack of) Separation of Church and State in Modern America



One of the more bizarre behaviors of people who say they support a total separation of Church and State is that they seem either ignorant or indifferent to the fact that it is a perversion of both the Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers at the time.

Then, the concern was to prevent the state from encroaching on the churches the way it had been done in Europe and the early days of the 13 Colonies, where the government could pass laws to hinder religions (often Catholics) and compel people to support religions they did not believe were right. For example, Catholics could be fined for refusing to attend the Anglican Church, and in England it was a death sentence to be a Catholic Priest. In some of the colonies, priests were banned. At that time, religions favored by the colonies, like England, were supported by taxes, where refusal to pay would result in legal sanctions.

So, when looking at that context, it becomes clear as to why the Constitution defines religious freedom as one of the freedoms of expression in the First Amendment—one which lists areas the government is forbidden to interfere with. The churches were to be free to do what they believed they were morally obligated to do, with no coercion by tax or by government law.

But, by the fact that it is listed with the rest of the Freedoms (Speech, Press, assembly, petition over grievances), it shows that this amendment was never intended to be interpreted as restricting religion from having a role in the public life of the citizens. People who speak, write, assemble and petition the government have values based on their religious beliefs, and there is no reason for thinking they cannot do these things with a religious motive.

The Modern Government View is a Perversion

But the way government operates today, what we have is a perversion of the original intent. The government is imposing laws and taxes that demand that schools and hospitals affiliated with a religious denomination fund things that they find offensive. The contraception mandate was a major red flag. Now the current attack is in defining same-sex relationships as “marriage” and, with increasing aggression, is insisting that these institutions affiliated with churches accept them as marriages as well—even though they run afoul of what the churches think they must do.

At the same time, the state increasingly legislates in matters long held to be issues of morality, and when the churches assert their rights to teach on these issues, they are accused of violating the “wall of Church and State.” Ultimately what this means is the churches will have a diminishing range of things it can talk about, while the state will have an increasing range of things it can legislate in regards to religion.

Just imagine if the government approached the rest of the First Amendment freedoms in this way. What if they said that while individuals had freedom of speech, groups did not? Think that’s ridiculous? Think again. In term of religion, the government is trying to argue that the business run by a person does not have “religious freedom” so, even though the owner thinks X is a sin, the state can decree that the business must support X.

Basically, the courts and the current administration is assuming that no laws based on religious values can be binding in law. The practical result of this is that the only values which laws can be based on are secular values. But that’s preferential treatment for a certain philosophy which is often hostile to religion. In insisting on laws being based de facto on making a law respecting an establishment of religion (or, the philosophy which denies a place to religion), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (by preventing individuals with religious beliefs from living all aspects of their life free of government diktat.

Now compare this to what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786 in the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

The man who coined the term “wall of separation” expected that the freedom of religion would prevent any person from having their civil capabilities impaired—which includes running a business.

The Catholic Concept of Religious Freedom

Now, compare the current mess America is in with what the Catholic Church said in the Vatican II Document Dignitatis humanae:

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.


The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.


It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

This is a very reasonable stance to take. It prevents coercion from individuals and groups, public or private with the intent of forcing a person to act in a manner contrary to their belief. That means the government can’t force individuals or groups to do what is contrary to their beliefs—and neither can mobs of public opinion (as they did with Brendan Eich—his religious freedom was violated and the government failed in protecting it).

The main difference between the Church view of religious freedom and the American distortion is that the Church recognizes that the freedom of religion comes with the responsibility to seek out and follow the truth (DH #3):

3. Further light is shed on the subject if one considers that the highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.


Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.


Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.

This is also crucial. We have to be free to speak the truth if people are going to be able to live in accordance with it. It recognizes that people have to accept the truth personally, and not have someone else discover it and then force you to do what you think is wrong.

But, when the government rules that God’s law may not be taught in places where anyone objects to hearing something they might disagree with, and that laws proposed by shared religious belief are labeled unconstitutional, we have a government which is claiming it knows the truth and is compelling people with religious beliefs to deny what they believe is true and give assent to the government decision.

Opposing a Lobotomized or Double Standard View on the “Separation of Church and State"

That’s why the modern version of the “wall of separation” is asinine. In claiming laws, which are formed from people with a shared religious understanding of right and wrong, are unconstitutional, they deny people the right to exercise their civil capacities to promote what is right, while at the same time, people with a non-religious or anti-religious view have no similar handicap. That’s a de facto intrusion by the government in saying they have the authority to determine what is right or wrong—and they have decided that religion is wrong.


So here’s something to consider. If a person believes in a strict separation of Church and State, why do they permit the State to violate that wall? Why is it OK for the state to say, “you must do this in spite of your religious teaching,” when no Founding Father ever intended the 1st Amendment to be understood this way? Surely a person who holds this with the intent of keeping the Church from having any influence on the State must recognize that it cuts both ways, and see that the State can have no influence on the Church either . . . which creates a lobotomized country.

But both the concept of the lobotomized country and the concept of the wall of separation going one way create a country unable to seek out the truth. All a government has to do to silence something it dislikes is to label it “religious.” Just keep in mind that many of those opposing slavery and segregation did so out of “religious motives.” If the government thought then like it does today, they could have negated laws outlawing both on the grounds they were “religious” and therefore a violation of the “establishment clause."

The only sane way for religious freedom to work is to recognize that all people (including politicians) have the obligation to seek out and follow the truth, and the churches do have the authority and obligation to speak out on what is right. A majority of voters can use their religious beliefs as a motivation in voting for laws—while being careful to respect the rights of religious minorities who disagree. At the same time, the state has the responsibility to promote the public good. As DH #7 puts it:

7. The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.


Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.


These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.

An Example on How Freedom of Religion Can Work

Some try to offer up the challenge of, “But if what if people want to impose sharia law?” Given such an imposition would have no respect for the people who do not believe Islam is true or for Muslims who choose to leave their faith, such an imposition would be contrary to religious freedom and thus be part of the state’s responsibility to defend against abuses. 

But, even though we recognize that sharia is contrary to religious freedom, that doesn’t permit the government to crack down on Islamic practices that don’t violate the freedom of religion. For those Muslims who choose to follow their beliefs without coercion, they should be free to follow the beliefs that they believe to be right. Likewise Catholic or Jewish beliefs. If believers can convince enough people that their view on what should be a law is a good one, people can vote for it, ensuring that it doesn’t force others to do that which they think is evil.


When one looks at the Catholic beliefs—actual beliefs, not what people wrongly think they are—one can see that they are not forcing their views on others who are unwilling to follow them. When she teaches on the fact that the unborn fetus is a living person, and convinces people that this is truth, the laws that result are not forcing people to do what they think is evil. When the Church teaches that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman and convinces people that this is the truth, they are not violating people’s rights when laws are passed on the basis of this truth. (See Here and Here for an analysis on why the “civil rights” arguments are false).

But, when the state tries to force a business run by a Catholic or an institution affiliated with the Catholic Church to do something that goes against Catholic teaching, that is violating their religious rights not to something they think is evil.

The truth of the matter is this: What we have in America today is a perversion of the concept of freedom. So long as the government continues to think this way, it will continue to be violating our constitutional rights.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thoughts on Catholicism and Human Law

I would like to expand on something I wrote a few days ago concerning the concept of legitimate and illegitimate law. I hope in this day and age (unfortunately, you never know) most people would recognize that governments can and do create unjust laws (whether actual laws, judicial rulings and executive orders) which are made binding through force—not just in totalitarian nations, but right here in the US as well.

Realizing that even in the Western Nations (which are always held up as the paragon of freedom compared to the rest of the world, fair or not) the governments can and do create unjust laws is important. It shows that no state government is impeccable in creating laws (human laws, to distinguish from Divine Law and Natural Law)—even if our own party of preference is in command.

I think that with this understanding in mind, the Catholic perspective should be explored. A lot of accusations have been made about us, and we need to have a basic understanding on how the Church views the authority of the state and the human law it creates.

We're not anarchists. We don't hold that the adage, the government that governs best governs least. Nor do we hold that government is a necessary evil. When it works as it ought, government justly holds authority and must be heeded. On the other hand, Catholicism is not a proponent of Big Government. The authority of the state certainly has limits as to what it can do.

In the Catholic perspective, the purpose of government is ensuring the common good. However, the government is not itself the common good. It can only be a means to this end. The government does not have the authority to redefine what the common good is, and the burdens of the law must not be unequally proportioned—such as favoring your friends and harming your enemies. (See Summa Theologica I II Q 96 a4). Finally, the laws passed cannot exceed the authority of the lawgiver.

This last point is important. While certain views of government exalt the power of the state, when the government decrees something it has no right to decree, the law it passes has no authority—much like if I were to pass a law that all the houses on my block have the obligation to pay me a 20% tax on their gross income. I would have no right to make such a law because I do not have the authority to even make a law. Maybe if I had my own private militia I could get away with it, but the law would have no authority on its own.

A government may decree a thing, but if the thing decreed goes beyond the authority of the government to decree, then the only way that the law can be binding is if the government uses force to carry out the law. There would be no moral  obligation to follow such a law.

When you see these principles, it becomes clear that sometimes the Church must necessarily be in opposition to certain acts of government but is not acting in a partisan manner in doing so.

The Church rejects the claim by a state that it can decide to change the definitions of what is good or evil. Thus when the state creates such legislation, she denies that the law has binding authority. If the law interferes with the ability to do good and avoid evil, then it is not a law at all. It is merely an act of coercion.

Thus the Church will challenge the state that decrees that it can make marriage anything other than between one man and one woman. The Church will challenge the state if it decrees that abortion is a "right." The Church will challenge the state if the state demands that employers violate their religious faith by paying for contraceptives.

When the state decrees such things, these laws lack the morally binding force that valid human law possesses. The government can use force to demand compliance—do it or be sued, locked up or dead.

Now while that threat of coercion may work on individuals within the Church, it doesn't work on the Church as a whole. The Church that recognizes the witness of martyrdom (which is not to be confused with the perversion of the term by those who blow themselves and others up to make a point).

Martyrdom in the Catholic sense says that it is better to suffer evil than to do evil—even to the point of dying rather than doing what God forbids. The Catholic faith, which says, " I would rather suffer as an innocent than to be guilty of doing what God forbids," does not accept the claims of the state to have the right to make good evil or evil good.

The reasons above also explain why the Church—contrary to the hopes of the media—will never permit abortion, woman priests, "gay marriage," contraception, or remarriage when the spouse of a pervious valid marriage is still alive. The Church is not an institution which arbitrarily makes up rules for Catholics to follow and can undo them whenever she likes. When God teaches us what is good or evil, the Catholic Church knows she does not have the authority to change that teaching.

When one understands these things, it becomes clear how the Church can be in opposition to the human laws of a government without being partisan. The Church can accept a government which seeks the true common good and does not seek to elevate itself to the greatest importance and does not seek to make laws it has no right or authority to make.

But it must seek to convert the government that seeks partisan gain for its supporters, that seeks to pass laws it has no right to pass.

This then is why the Catholic Church must sometimes be in opposition to our government.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thoughts on Law and Obligation: They're Not Always the Same

Let's start this article with a question:

Is a law to be followed just because it is a law (or court ruling)?

It would be tragic if this were presumed to be true because we have seen many harmful laws which have been implemented merely on the say so of the government—laws which were accepted unquestioningly by a majority of the people.

The Third Reich is the obvious example of such laws. The Nazi Party came to power legally and then legally (or through fait accompli) changed laws to what they wanted them to be.  if accepting a law on the basis of being a law (the technical term is legal positivism) is true, then it was not wrong for Germans to follow the laws of the Third Reich—something I suspect nobody would agree with. (if you're reading this, and you do agree, then do yourself a favor and keep quiet).

But we don't even have to "violate" Godwin's Law to demonstrate this. We can point to Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, the acceptance of slavery and segregation, forced relocations (Native American, Japanese). These were legal at one point in America.

So, let's go back to our question. Does the fact that a thing is a law mean that it must be followed?

  1. If you answer "Yes," then you must accept the injustices a government that a government commits, and accept the claim that those opposing such a law (say, for example, Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr.) are wrong and ought to be punished for law-breaking.
  2. If you answer "No," then it means you recognize that the government can do wrong, and when it does, it must be opposed, and this opposition is legitimate.

I think of this Legal Positivism attitude when I hear certain politicians invoke the "right to abortion" granted by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and other cases. The Supreme Court also affirmed the "right" to own slaves and the "right" to segregate. The Supreme Court may be the last stop when the political will is lacking to amend the Constitution, but we can see that history tells us that the Supreme Court has erred in the past—it is not infallible.

I think this demonstrates that government action cannot be the sole grounds of judging whether a thing is good or bad. If the Supreme Court, or Congress or the President does wrong, and the result of that wrong is a Ruling, or a Law, or an Executive Order, that result must be opposed with the intention of overturning the injustice.

Now of course, opposition cannot be rooted in "I don't like that policy! I want my policy!" (Which is what passes for political dispute today). Opposition must be rooted in the knowledge that some things are wrong—either always wrong, or wrong in circumstance (as an example: murder is always wrong. But in some contexts, like self defense, killing might be justified). This is not a matter of disputing what the percentage should be for the tax rate, where legitimate disputes can occur over what is best. This is a matter of "Does the government have the authority to decree that an evil is now good in a binding manner.

Some skeptics may face this point by denying we can know any thing is objectively wrong. But normally such skepticism is used with the intent of trying to justify doing a bad thing.  The fact is, we do know some things are wrong: The Holocaust, Ethnic Cleansing, Slavery, etc. We know that treating a human being as less than a human being is to be condemned regardless of where it is done or what century it is done.

Feigned or real ignorance is not a valid argument defense against the the fact that a thing is wrong. Yes, a person who truly does not know that a thing is wrong (for example a person who is insane) might have a defense against prosecution, but that does not mean that the act itself is not wrong. An insane man may not have deliberately chosen to commit murder, but that doesn't change the fact that murder is wrong.

But the person who feigns ignorance about the evil of a thing or a person who claims that good and evil is merely an arbitrary decision of the person who decrees it (many people who demand that the Catholic Church change her teaching fall into this category) does not have this defense, because we DO know things are wrong… even when we pretend not to know.

Think of it this way. The person who denies we can know what is truly good or evil will probably NOT think that way if I should steal his money (Hey, it's annoying writing articles on an Android tablet, I could use a laptop, and robbing you would help me get it quicker). Such a person, despite his claims that we can't know if a thing is good or evil, knows that it is wrong to deprive a person of his life or property at the whim of another.

We can see this in the skepticism used to defend the "right" of abortion. Roe v. Wade is essentially an Argument from Ignorance fallacy that claims that we cannot know where life begins, therefore we can't restrict the right to abortion. The problem is, a person taking action while not knowing whether it might harm another is at the least guilty of negligence and possibly manslaughter or even murder. When an action might cause harm to another, we are obligated to make sure it is safe to proceed before acting.

What is worse is the fact that some recent thinking in the defense of abortion holds that it probably is a person, but that is less important than the right not to be pregnant. In other words it effectively says it is ok to treat a person as less than human if it benefits me.

We've been down that road before. Here in America, we've treated Blacks, American Indians, Japanese and other minorities as being less than human for our own convenience. In other countries, Germans have treated Jews and Slavs as less than fully human. Serbs have treated Bosnians and Croats as less than fully human. Turks have treated Armenians as less than fully human.

The list goes on and on, each with government approval.

The only way to avoid such monstrosity is to recognize that law must be subject to truth, and when a government goes against what is true in its laws, it must be opposed.

There are graveyards filled with people because too many just decided that because a thing is a law, it must be acceptable.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Unjust Officials

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

(Declaration of Independence)


One of the things which trouble me about the recent laws, court rulings and actions of state and federal government officials is the disregard for the legal process -- particularly when it comes to laws concerning the protection of the traditional understanding of marriage.

The approach of these officials is essentially to ignore the laws passed when they disagree with the laws -- even if these laws were passed by the vote of citizens.

Are Laws Defending Traditional Marriage Based on Intolerance?

Now the argument used is to point to the racist laws of the past, claim that laws defending traditional marriage are also racist and therefore must be opposed.

But that's the point to be proven. We don't have laws that establishes separate drinking fountains for "heterosexual" and "homosexual." We don't have laws blocking where people with same sex attractions can live or if they can vote.

The link they try to make is that in the South they once banned interracial marriages due to intolerance. The traditional understanding of marriage assumes it can only be between a man a woman. Therefore this limitation is based on intolerance.

But the assumption that limitation must equal intolerance is the point to be proven. If one opposes so-called "same sex marriage" for reasons other than intolerance, then it is wrong to assume laws they pass in defense of traditional marriage is rooted in intolerance.

Actually the defense of traditional marriage is not based on intolerance but on the understanding of what marriage is for.

Reasons for Traditional Marriage

The traditional understanding of marriage is based on the recognition that marriage is an institution of family that generates and raises children passing down the values that sustain society from generation to generation.

So-called "gay marriage" simply cannot produce children and therefore cannot pass on to them the values that sustain society from generation to generation -- it is entirely outside of what is necessary for a society to survive. Producing children will continue to require heterosexual activity and the heterosexual family is needed to pass on the values -- including sexual morality -- to be a stable building block of society.

In contrast, so-called "gay marriage" cannot produce children.  Even when such pairings seek children it requires an outside sperm donor or surrogate mother or adoption.

Moreover, unless the homosexual pairings teach that these pairings are wrong, they must claim that reproduction and families are not an important value -- which hinders the sustainability of society that requires new generations.

In fact so-called "gay marriage" can only claim that marriage is nothing more than a sexual relationship, a view which means that the pleasure is given priority and reproduction of children is an inconvenience to be avoided.

Refusing to Consider All the Facts

So, one can see that valid reasons exist for protecting traditional marriage and the dilemma of "either gay marriage or intolerance" is a false dilemma because other reasons exist for defending traditional marriage which do not involve intolerance.

Thus, for people to continue to say it is intolerance must either be ignorant of these other reasons or they do know of the reasons and still disregard them.

So when Justice Kennedy says, "The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States"


"DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state- sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency."

We are justified in saying he speaks falsely about the reasons these laws were made.

But where does that leave us? If he did not know of these other reasons for defending traditional marriage then he failed to do what justice required -- considering all the facts before making a decision.

If he did know of the other reasons but chose to reject them, then we really have no choice but to say he behaved unjustly, regardless of the motivation that led to his action. Remember, courts are supposed to provide justice within the scope of the law and they cannot do do if they are ignorant of the facts or choose to disregard them.


Now I would also be guilty of the false dilemma if I assumed Kennedy was either an idiot or corrupt. But since I have demonstrated that the reasons for defending traditional marriage was not based on intolerance of people with same sex attraction, it cannot be avoided that his reasoning and ruling was unjust. The question is whether his injustice was passive or active.

This question also applies to government officials who refuse to defend the laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It applies to district judges who arbitrarily declare laws defending traditional marriage as unconstitutional. It applies to the bureaucrats who suddenly decide to issue marriage licensees to people want their same sex relationship redefined as a marriage.

They all assume the defense of traditional marriage is based on intolerance and act on that assumption, either unaware or uncaring of the fact that the reasons for the defense are not based on intolerance.

Thus we have government officials acting unjustly, regardless of the reason for their injustice. They invent rights that circumvents the proper procedure for passing laws, imposing instead what they prefer.

Indeed, if Christians behaved in the way of these officials, I have no doubt they would howl in protest.

Thus we need to ensure that all officials are required to act impartially and with justice -- making sure they have all the facts and judging accordingly.

And if they will not do so, they need to face the consequences for their actions.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reflections on Truth and the Current American Crisis

To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.

—Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b 25

One of the sad problems of America today is our tendency to reject that which is old on the grounds that it is old.  We are automatically interested in what is new.  Have a two week old computer?  Junk!  Have a 2012 car?  Trade it in!  Talk about Greeks living close to 2500 years ago – are you crazy?  The problem is, just because mechanical items become quickly replaceable and new science replaces older views of science as our abilities to observe become more precise, does not mean that what is true becomes obsolete.


In fact, if something is true, it is always true even if at some time it was not known by a culture.  Slavery, for example, was not "right" in the times of the Greeks and Romans and wrong after 1865.  It was always wrong even if some cultures did not recognize this.  It will be wrong in the future, even if a future civilization decides that all people with an IQ of less than 125 can be treated as an object.

Likewise, the Earth did not begin revolving around the Sun beginning with the Copernican system, but prior to that was stationary with the Sun revolving around it.  The Earth always revolved around the Sun, whether people were aware of it or not.

The point of stating the obvious is, despite what a person may say, it is either true or false depending on whether it accurately speaks of what is.

Truth and American Discourse

I think this is important when it comes to considering the political discourse in America, both public and private.  When a person says a thing is, he or she speaks truly if that is correct, but speaks falsely if it is not correct.

In terms of the current crisis, we have people who are saying that access to contraceptives and abortion in Health Care is a Choice, Choice is a right, and therefore everyone must pay for these services, even if they believe contraception and abortion are morally wrong.

The problem is, "Freedom of Choice" is a meaningless phrase if it is not defined.  So is the term "Rights."  During the Civil War (and even with some people I have met in real life) declared that the issue of the war was the issue of State's Rights and to say the war was about slavery was to oversimplify.  The question though is, The Right to do what?  Um, well… the right of the State to determine whether or not slavery should be permitted.  The problem however was that if Slavery was objectively wrong, no state had the right to permit it to begin with.

The Choice to Do What?

Likewise today, people like Pelosi champion the freedom of "Choice."  The problem is, we can ask the same question, The Choice to do what?  Whether or not we have that freedom, depends on what is.

In terms of abortion, the action being defended is the right of a woman to destroy the fetus in her body.  Whether or not one is free to do this depends on whether the fetus is a person or not.  We already recognize that one person may not have arbitrary control over another person's life.  If the state must end a person's life, it may only be because the crime is heinous and this is the only possible way to protect innocents from harm.  I don't have the right to shoot a neighbor because he plays the stereo too damn loud late at night.

So, if a woman has the freedom of "choice" regarding abortion, it assumes as proven that the fetus is not a person.  The fetus either is or is not a person.  If the fetus is a person, then whoever says the fetus is not a person does not speak truth.

History Shows the Horrors of Treating Persons as Non-Persons

This is not some academic philosophical issue.  The 20th century's worst regime declared that Jews and Slavs and Gypsies were not persons, and went out of their way to enslave and eventually destroy them.  We recognize that the Nazis did not speak the truth in declaring that the Jews were not persons and thus to treat the Jews as non humans was horrendously wrong.

I don't bring this up to say America is on the fast track to becoming the next Nazi Germany.  Instead I say this to bring home an important point – The government does NOT have the authority to determine who is and who is not a person.  Personhood is independent of what the government decrees.  If the government declares that a person is a non-person, then that government does horrific evil.

Partisanship Replaces Truth Today… But Catholic Moral Teaching Predates the Ideologies We are Accused of Embracing

The problem is, in popular thought, nobody even thinks of truth any more.  Nowadays, it is all partisanship… the ideology one likes is right and those who challenge that ideology are maliciously wrong, seeking to impose their views out of a lust for power and a hatred to whatever the ideologue invokes.

As a result, we see that the Catholic teachings of morality, which has existed far longer than the existence of the United States of America, is labeled as "Right Wing, Republican Propaganda."  The belief that the fetus is a person and the belief that sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife were taught in the first century AD.

Our beliefs were taught long before there was a Republican Party in existence or a Right Wing vs. Left Wing conflict or even a United States.  We do not teach them because of a lust for power (we taught them when Christianity was hated by the Roman Empire) or a hatred of women (the Pagan Romans derided Christianity as a "religion for women").  We teach them because we believe this is how the God of All intended it to be when he created humanity – and that which goes against what God intended is harmful to persons whether they recognize the teaching of God or not.

Regardless of whether or not people today accept the Catholic moral teaching as true or not, this is what Catholics do believe.  Because all of us are called to follow what is true, and Catholics do believe their moral teaching is true, Catholics must do what they believe is true, regardless of whether the state agrees or not.

An Unjust Law is No Law at All

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, some 500 years before the United States came into being:

I answer that, As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) "that which is not just seems to be no law at all": wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (91, 2, ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.

But it must be noted that something may be derived from the natural law in two ways: first, as a conclusion from premises, secondly, by way of determination of certain generalities. The first way is like to that by which, in sciences, demonstrated conclusions are drawn from the principles: while the second mode is likened to that whereby, in the arts, general forms are particularized as to details: thus the craftsman needs to determine the general form of a house to some particular shape. Some things are therefore derived from the general principles of the natural law, by way of conclusions; e.g. that "one must not kill" may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that "one should do harm to no man": while some are derived therefrom by way of determination; e.g. the law of nature has it that the evil-doer should be punished; but that he be punished in this or that way, is a determination of the law of nature.

Summa Theologica (I-II. Q.95. A.2)

Because we believe that the current HHS mandate violates the law of nature, we believe the mandate is a perversion of law.  People may argue that what was written by a medieval theologian can be ignored, but that goes back to the original problem Americans have of rejecting something which is true because it is old.

Because we recognize the principle, "one should do harm to no man," and we recognize that the current law does harm to man, Catholics are not unreasonable in opposing this law, because it is no law at all and has no force outside of the state using coercion to force compliance.  Since the First Amendment forbids the government from laws concerning the establishment of religion and the free exercise of religion, we can say that even under the Constitution we are governed by, this mandate is no law at all, but an act of coercion and tyranny.

Thus, even if one disagrees with what the Catholic Church teaches, one must reasonably oppose this mandate as being nothing more than tyranny imposed.

Conclusion: Truth and Law

These considerations are important and not merely theoretical.  If the government is to create a good law, a just law, then it must be a law grounded in what is true.  The government cannot make truth however.  The government can only follow truth.  If a government follows truth and grounds the law in truth, it is a good government. 

Some may argue that the Catholic position is not true and not grounded in truth.  So you disagree with me.  But disagreement with me is not proving your position to be true.  The Catholic Church certainly has written vast amounts on why she holds what she believes.  Those who disagree with her in this current crisis don't even bother to prove what they believe.  "Choice" is repeated as a mantra, and people are not allowed to choose as to whether America should embrace "Choice."

Ultimately, many believers are being forced to accept something they believe is a bad and unjust law, not grounded in truth, but in the embrace of vice.  Such a mandate is no just law and those who recognize this as wrong are not bound to obey it.  The government may coerce and exact penalties, but this is nothing more than the use of force to make people comply.

We used to recognize that was tyranny.  Now, nobody seems to recognize what we have lost because we have forgotten long held truths.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

—From the Declaration of Independence

Saturday, November 19, 2011

TFTD: This Catholic's View on the Abortion stance of Ron Paul

A good, even handed approach to describing Ron Paul's position can be found HERE.  For a summary of his positions, see HERE.  Of course all Catholics should read Evangelium Vitae which will be referred to often in this article, for it shows the great evil of abortion and how it must be opposed at all levels.


Ron Paul is mentioned by some Catholic bloggers (and commentators on Catholic blogs) as being the ideal candidate for President. Much is made of his being personally pro-life, and his voting against Federal legislation is explained as believing the Federal Government has no such authority to regulate the issue of abortion, and it is really an issue for the individual states to deal with.

While I am underwhelmed by his views, I am more troubled by Catholics who seem to think his views are satisfactory.  They are not.  While Ron Paul lacks the hypocrisy of Mario Cuomo's infamous "personally opposed but…," he seems to fail his moral obligation based on a false understanding of law and authority.

Now I do not doubt the sincerity of Ron Paul in his emphasizing in campaigning for President that he believes abortion is wrong.  It is reported he left the Episcopalian Church over the issue of abortion.  The problem is, if one recognizes a law is evil, one is obligated to overturn or (if this is impossible) at least seek to limit the harm of the evil law.

Unfortunately this is what Ron Paul has failed to do.

The Role of Law and Government

What is most troubling when it comes to certain Catholics supporting Ron Paul's views is that his views of Libertarianism seems to overlook what the law is for and what the government is obligated to do.  Now since Ron Paul is a Baptist, it is understandable that his understanding of law and government is not going to follow the Catholic stance.  However, the Catholic does need to be aware of the Catholic understanding of law and what we must do in regards to law.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of law as follows:

[A] law is nothing else than a dictate of reason in the ruler by whom his subjects are governed. Now the virtue of any subordinate thing consists in its being well subordinated to that by which it is regulated: thus we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible faculties consists in their being obedient to reason; and accordingly "the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler," as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is "that which makes its subject good," it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect. For if the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on true good, which is the common good regulated according to Divine justice, it follows that the effect of the law is to make men good simply. If, however, the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on that which is not simply good, but useful or pleasurable to himself, or in opposition to Divine justice; then the law does not make men good simply, but in respect to that particular government. In this way good is found even in things that are bad of themselves: thus a man is called a good robber, because he works in a way that is adapted to his end.

Summa Theologica (I-IIa. Q 92 a. 1)

Since every law has the aim of being obeyed and the proper effect of the law is to make those to whom it is given, good, it seems to follow that those who are lawgivers must make laws which are just and strive to overturn laws which are unjust at whatever level they are legislating: the local level, the state level and the federal level.

To fail to do this is to fail to be a good lawmaker.

Blessed John Paul II pointed out in Evangelium Vitae #20:

To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34).

So we can see here that the law which permits these evils is a threat to human freedom and must be opposed.

Ideology and Doing Right

While Mark Shea calls Ron Paul, "one of the only people in Congress whom I would call an honest man" I would have to question this assessment  (To clarify, Shea does disapprove of some of Ron Paul's stances so it should not be said he is pro-Ron Paul).  By saying this, I don't mean to call Ron Paul a liar of course.  Rather I mean that because of his ideology, he avoids doing what is right and seems to avoid the hard questions he needs to ask… perhaps because taking the right stand would call his ideology into question, perhaps because he is blinded by a false ideology into thinking it trumps the issue of abortion.  At any rate, his views of abortion are modified by his views of the authority of the government to make laws.

He believes that the Federal Government has no authority to make laws on abortion, so he has voted against restricting of minors being transported across state lines to have an abortion, making it a crime to harm a fetus during the commission of a crime etc.  Both of these votes do show a disregard for the importance of the family and the legal acknowledgement of the fetus as a person.

The problem is, the Federal Government is making laws about abortion, and therefore he is obligated to act on his principles that abortion is wrong at the Federal level.

Blessed John Paul II has said:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action".

As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being "there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the 'poorest of the poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal".

Evangelium Vitae #57

If the Federal Law permits the evil of abortion, lawmakers of good faith are obligated to eliminate or at least slow down the evil to the best of their ability.  Blessed John Paul II has also written,

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. 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.

ibid #73

In failing to seek limits to abortion at the Federal level, he is failing in his duty as a lawmaker and taking part in making it possible for abortion on demand to remain legal.

Why Catholics Cannot Accept His View that Abortion is a State Issue

The problem with Ron Paul's views is that if the Federal Government has no authority to pass laws on abortion, the individual states have no authority to pass these rights either and the attempt to push the decision about abortion to the state level is an evasion of the issue.

Again, Blessed John Paul II has said:

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which-were it prohibited- would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals-even if they are the majority of the members of society-an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom.

ibid #71

So his position is really an evasion of his duty as a member of Congress and is seeking to shift the issue to the states where a certain number of states decide it is legal while others decide it is not.  Admittedly, we would then have the possibility of 50 winnable battles in comparison to the tyranny of the Supreme Court which absolutely refuses to question Roe v. Wade and it's legalization of abortion of demand (an issue I had with Doug Kmiec in the 2008 election cycle), but the problem is that Ron Paul seems to think the problem will be solved simply by a strict constitutionalist point of view that puts the onus on the state.

In contrast, the Catholic point of view holds that the right to life needs to be respected at all levels of government and it is an obligation for the Federal Government to protect the right to life and for lawmakers at the Federal level to act to protect this right.

It is similar to the pre-Civil War stance that states could decide for themselves whether to have slaves or not to have slaves.  Such a view overlooked the fact that if slavery was wrong, no state could legitimately keep slaves.  Likewise, if abortion be wrong, no state can legitimately legalize abortion.


Time will tell whether Ron Paul gets the nomination for president (I doubt it myself – but then again, in 2008, I expected Hillary Clinton to get the nomination over Obama).  If he does, we'll have to decide about his positions in relation to Obama's positions.  However, in terms of the primaries I am inclined to think he is an unsatisfactory choice for the nomination for president.

If Obama were to receive a failing grade on the issue of abortion, I think it safe to say that Ron Paul can at best be given a D- as his grade.  Given how strongly the Church speaks about the obligation to defend the right to life, we can't really think of him as anything more than a "better than nothing (but not by much)" response to the current culture of death.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cuomo Supports Bull Connor Over MLK? Thoughts on Law and God

But Peter and the apostles said in reply, "We must obey God rather than men."

—Acts 5:29

The Duke of Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I'm not a scholar, I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can't you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!

Sir Thomas More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

A Man For All Seasons


There is some buzz in the media about Laura Fotusky, the woman who resigned rather than take part in issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples in New York. Some support her. Others speak contemptuously about her.  Those who dismiss her generally take the point that the law is the law and people who will not follow said law have no business being in government.

The problem is, such a position seems to presuppose a view that whatever the government says, goes.  But is this really a valid position?

The Statement of Cuomo

"The law is the law. When you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get pick and choose which laws. You don’t get to say, ‘I like this law, I’ll enforce this law. I don’t like this law, I won’t enforce this law.’ You can’t do that. So if you can’t enforce the law, then you shouldn’t be in that position."

—Governor Andrew Cuomo

Reductio ad Absurdum

reductio ad absurdum

n. Philosophy a method of proving the falsity of a premise by showing that its logical consequence is absurd or contradictory.

– origin Latin, lit. ‘reduction to the absurd’.

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The problem is, we can make a reductio ad absurdum to show the flaw in his position.  "Bull" Connor, Commissioner of Public Safety in Alabama was enforcing the law when he targeted blacks demonstrating for human rights and was infamous for the use of fire hoses and dogs against demonstrators.  If Cuomo is right, then Connor is unjustly condemned by history.  After all, Segregation was the law, and as Cuomo said, "So if you can’t enforce the law, then you shouldn’t be in that position."

We can put this into a Syllogism by taking the statement, "if you can’t [enforce the law], then you shouldn’t [be in that position]."  We can then restate this as a positive:

  1. If you do [Enforce the Law], you should [be in that position] (If [A] then [B])
  2. Bull Connor did [Enforce the Law] ([A])
  3. Therefore Bull Connor should [be in that position] (Therefore [B])




If you find that syllogism repellant (and you should), you can then see that Andrew Cuomo's statement must therefore also be repellant because it actually can be used to justify anything the state wants to do. 

That's how the reductio works.  If [A] then [B].  [B] is offensive or absurd.  Therefore we should reject [A].

The reason Cuomo's statement is dangerous and offensive is the authority of the state is not the judge of what is right and wrong.  Right and wrong is outside the ability of the state to decree.  History is full of regimes who have made it legal to do horrific things, and we do not consider those who carry out such laws to be justified. 

The Nuremberg Defense

Indeed, we know that the "Superior Orders" defense (also known as the Nuremberg Defense) of "I was just following orders," is rejected.  Indeed, Nuremberg Principle #4 states:

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

So in this case just because a law is made, it does not excuse the person from making a moral choice in opposition to a law, if it is unjust.

Therefore, before we can accept Cuomo's argument, it requires the establishment of the fact that "Gay Marriage" is in fact a just law which should be obeyed.  Thus the supporters for "Gay Marriage" can't simply say they don't want to force religious views on others.  They are in fact forcing secular sectarian views on others by forcing them to accept "Gay Marriage."

Legal Positivism and Just Laws

An unjust law is no law at all.

—St. Augustine.  On Free Choice Of The Will, Book 1, § 5

The concept of what makes a law binding on us comes down to two possibilities:

  1. Whatever the State decrees is to be obeyed because the state decreed it.
  2. The obedience to a law supposes that the law is just and an unjust law lacks authority.

This is the difference between Legal Positivism and the Christian view of law.  Legal Positivism holds that "The existence of law is one thing; its merit and demerit another. Whether it be or be not is one enquiry; whether it be or be not conformable to an assumed standard, is a different enquiry." (John Austin).  In other words, whether or not the law be good or bad is irrelevant to the issue of whether it ought to be obeyed. 

One begins to see the dangerous view of Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Law is to be obeyed because government has authority to govern, regardless of whether a law is good or bad.  American History is full of examples of unjust laws which people of conscience felt they had to oppose: the Fugitive Slave Act, Jim Crow laws and the like were to be obeyed and the person who defied such laws on grounds of conscience was a plain and simple lawbreaker – his beliefs that the law was unjust is irrelevant.

Under Legal Positivism, Martin Luther King Jr. (hereafter identified as MLK) was a felon and his civil disobedience could not be justified.

On the other hand, the Christian view of law recognizes human authority as being rooted in the authority of God.  The state exists for the protection of the people, which presupposes justice.  Our rights come from outside the state.  If they come from within the state, then the state can take the rights away.

Under the Christian view of law, MLK was justified in opposing an unjust set of laws, when he pointed out:

Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

This gives the lawmaker like Cuomo a dilemma.  If one must obey any law because it is a law, then MLK is in the wrong.  However, if MLK was right, then Cuomo is wrong.

Thomas Aquinas and Law

In the Summa Theologica (cited by MLK), St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

On the other hand laws may be unjust in two ways: first, by being contrary to human good, through being opposed to the things mentioned above - either in respect of the end, as when an authority imposes on his subjects burdensome laws, conducive, not to the common good, but rather to his own cupidity or vainglory - or in respect of the author, as when a man makes a law that goes beyond the power committed to him - or in respect of the form, as when burdens are imposed unequally on the community, although with a view to the common good. The like are acts of violence rather than laws; because, as Augustine says (De Libero Arbitrio i,5), "a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all." Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience, except perhaps in order to avoid scandal or disturbance, for which cause a man should even yield his right, according to Matthew 5:40,41: "If a man. . . take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him; and whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two."

Secondly, laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, "we ought to obey God rather than man."

Summa Theologica I-IIa Q. 96 Article 4.

So Is the New York Law Just?

For the Christian, the "Gay Marriage" law is unjust on the following grounds:

  1. It goes beyond the authority of any government to declare that marriage can be between two persons of the same gender.
  2. This law is in opposition to the Divine good.

Because we ought to obey God rather than men, we must call this unjust and cannot support the government in this action.

This is not "Imposing Beliefs"

As citizens of this nation, Christians have the same rights as others to make our voices heard and shape the laws according to what is right (Hat tip to blogger Anthony Layne for making this point so well).  Because we do believe we must obey God rather then men, we cannot "go along" when the state mandates something which God condemns.  Because we believe there is real and knowable truth and good, we must call our nation to be aware of this.

Conclusion: God Gives Us Freedom.  Cuomo's View Makes the State All Powerful

We must oppose all politicians who seek to impose their will on the state, even if they wrongly think it just, if what they seek to impose goes against the natural and divine law.  We may suffer persecution for this.  However, let us be clear that the state does not have the authority to enact such a law and they are unjust if they do persecute us.

Yes, we must obey God rather then men.  However, the state does evil when they force us to make that choice to begin with.  This is why we must rise up and condemn Cuomo's statement as being a dangerous infringement on our right to do as we ought to do.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thoughts on Freedom, Rights and Responsibilities


The modern view of freedom tends to look at it as if any attempts to restrict what we want to do as a sin against our "rights."  Thus pornography and violent video games become "artistic" and any attempt to restrict access to these things become a "violation" of our rights.

The view that we have a "right" to do whatever we want is insanely self-destructive.  If freedom is to be understood as the "right" to do whatever we want without restrictions, it means we have no right to object to whatever we might view as harmful or repugnant because it "forces our views on another person."

Yet most people would recognize things like child pornography to be offensive and most people would see this as something which nobody has a "right" to.  (Those who say otherwise are not considered to have a reasonable opinion), which indicates that not all rights are "acceptable," and some restrictions are reasonable.

"Consenting Adults" is a phrase which Shows Restrictions

The term "consenting adults" for example is a term which shows there are restrictions on "freedoms."

  1. The people involved must have reached the age of majority where they are considered competent to make responsible decisions and consider the consequences.
  2. The people involved must freely consent.

Neither a willing minor nor an unwilling adult can take part in such an act.  The minor is not considered competent to be able to give informed consent and a person cannot be coerced to do something which they find offensive.

This means we have an absolute restriction: A person's freedom to do a thing is limited if the subject of the act is unable or unwilling to give consent.  Pedophilia then would be condemned because even if the child should consent, we do not consider the child to be able to give consent as required.

However, once we recognize this, we can challenge the principle of abortion.  If the unborn is a human person, he is unable to give consent to being aborted.  Thus, "Consenting Adults" is a clause which indicts abortion.

Defining Persons Selectively

Some say in response to this, "Well the fetus is not a person."  This leads us then to ask, "Who defines what is and is not a person?"

We have, in history, some examples of the government defining some as being less than human.  Pre-Civil War America considered African Americans as less than fully human and less capable than whites to reason and think clearly and thus could be enslaved.  Nazi Germany treated certain groups (Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and others) as subhuman who could be enslaved or exterminated and practiced the extermination of those who were considered mentally or physically unfit.

We can now look back on these times with disgust and with horror, recognizing that a government does not have a right to decree certain Homo sapiens as being less than human, and such a law cannot change what a person is.  A law which denies the personhood of the Homo sapiens goes against reality, against nature.

Human Rights and Gender

Of course there are some differences which are unavoidable.  All human persons are male or female regardless of race, age, belief or sexual preference.  Both are fully human and both have the rights of a human being, but the two are not the same.  Because both are fully human, one may not be treated as superior or inferior to the other on account of gender.

Gender is not inconsequential however.  Human biology impacts how each interacts.  The woman can give birth.  The man cannot.  This leaves us with two principles:

  1. Differences in gender does not mean that this is all they can do.  (A woman is not limited to ONLY being a mother for example)
  2. BUT since these functions are a part of nature, they cannot be ignored or suppressed.

Race and sexual preferences are not the same as gender.  Race does not change the fact that one is a Homo Sapiens.  Sexual preference does not change the fact of the actual gender.

Marriage, Gender, Race and Sexual Preference

Biologically, the sexual act involves the reproductive organs of two persons, one of each gender.  Acts which do not involve both the male and female reproductive organs is nothing more than sodomy.

Marriage, until the latest usurpations by government, has always been recognized as a family unit joined together by a man and a woman in a permanent sexual relationship which has at least the potential for future offspring and is formed together for that intent (If the man or woman is infertile is irrelevant.  Offspring is accepted as a natural part of the married life.  Infertility caused by age or infirmity cannot be helped but does not make the man any less a man or the woman any less a woman).

Restrictions on marriage due to race (or ethnicity) is an unnatural restriction.  A Homo sapiens male of one ethnicity and a Homo sapiens female of another ethnicity are able to form this permanent sexual union with the potential of having children.

However, sexual preference is NOT an unnatural restriction.  Between people of the same gender, there cannot be a sexual act, only sodomy.  There cannot be the potential for future offspring and such a union cannot be formed with acceptance of this motive.

Thus we can see it is a false analogy to compare the restriction of "gay marriage" with the unnatural laws forbidding people of different ethnicities to marry. The fact is, governments have no right to declare an ethnicity "less than human" and have no right to deny the difference between gender.  Marriage predates government as a basis for society and a government which attempts to change what marriage is through law goes outside of their authority.

Truth and Law

Aristotle defined Truth and Falsehood saying:

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.

This is a principle which demonstrates that since a thing is what it is and cannot be what it is not, truth cannot be relative.  If a living being is a male, it is true to say this being is a male and false to say it is not a male.  If it is wrong to murder, we speak falsely if we say it is not wrong to murder.  We cannot abolish the laws of nature, such as the law of gravity.  Nor can we abolish biology.

That which IS cannot be declared IS NOT by a government.  That which IS NOT cannot be declared IS.  This is not a case of "forcing beliefs on another."  It is recognizing reality.  A government which attempts to pass laws contrary to what is true is in fact the one which is trying to impose their beliefs on another.

Legal Positivism

Legal Positivism is the concept that the only legitimate sources of law are those written rules, regulations, and principles that have been expressly enacted, adopted, or recognized by a governmental entity or political institution, including administrative, executive, legislative, and judicial bodies.  In other words, what man defines as law is the only source of law and truth, morality, natural law and other sources are irrelevant.  The problem is of course that whatever laws man invents on his own authority man can undo.  So if man creates the freedom of speech, he can undo that freedom.

This is why the Declaration of Independence states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The rights which all men possess do not come from the government but from the Creator – which means they are rights which come from outside of us and cannot be taken away from us.  Quite frankly, legal positivism is inimical to the concept of rights and freedoms which our nation was founded on.

Ipse Dixit and Law

Yet legal positivism seems to be the philosophy of the American Government today. There is no longer a sense of understanding what IS true with government seeking to reflect that truth. Rather we have a government fiat declaring what we must do… with the only source of authority being the government saying so. Truth is no longer relevant. Rather we have coercion. Effectively the government says "We have decreed it so it is right. If you refuse to comply, we will take actions against you."

Ipse dixit is a claim which only has the fact that a person said it as its authority.  In America, we often rely on ipse dixit as the source of authority for a "right."  The Supreme Court said abortion is a "right."  Therefore it is.  However, when one realizes that the Supreme Court once ruled "Separate but Equal" was legally acceptable and accepted Internment camps for the Japanese, we can see that the Supreme Court is not a credible source of authority to justify a legally binding position as just or true.

The problem is, of course, that since governments can and do make unjust laws we can and must judge such laws based on a proper understanding of justice.  In speaking out against unjust laws which some favor, we are not attempting to "force views on others."  We are saying the government does wrong and goes beyond its authority when its laws go against the rights (with corresponding responsibilities) given us by our Creator.  If members of the public, if lawmakers believe that the Christian view of good and evil is wrong, that does not make it wrong simply by their declaration that they disagree with Christian belief.  Rather it falls to them to prove their point and not merely say "I disagree.  Therefore what I say goes."


Since we have recognized that certain restrictions do exist in terms of rights and on the other hand that the state does not have the authority to declare certain things as right we can see that the issue of right and wrong is not an issue of the government saying so, but rather we judge the acts of an individual or a government as right or wrong depending on how it matches up to the truth which we can know but cannot change.

As Christians, we believe that God is good and what is right is a reflection of His goodness and also is what is good for us by our very nature.  The government may decree something which goes against what God calls us to do, but we must repudiate what the government says which forces us to disobey God.  We believe that the government has no right to impose laws on us which force us to choose between God and our lives or livelihood.  The government which does so may appeal to force to accept compliance but we are obligated to obey God rather than men and continue to preach God's commands and message of salvation to the whole world.

We must preach in season and out of season, even if men hate us for speaking the truth of good and evil.  They may malign us, using slanders against us.  But we must recognize that God wants the salvation, not the destruction of sinners.  So we must continue to preach the truth to the world.