Showing posts with label challenge to faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label challenge to faith. Show all posts

Monday, February 20, 2017

It Didn't Start With Francis

While I don’t particularly like the song, it’s practically mandatory 
to show this video in a post like this


One common trend in social media is a number of Catholics claiming that things were wonderful under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the opposition against Popes only arose in reaction to the things Pope Francis did. From their comments on social media, I can identify three groups:

  1. There are a lot of Catholics who were not aware of the controversy in those pre-Internet/Smartphone times
  2. There are a lot of recent converts out there who missed the attacks against previous Popes, and are encountering something they never were aware of.
  3. Some Catholics have conveniently “forgotten" their hostility to previous Popes

I will leave it to God to judge whether anyone is in category three, but I think the first two probably explains a lot of it.

Before the internet, the only way to get information was either to rely on the media, or order encyclicals from either Daughters of St. Paul or the publishing company of the American bishops (I can’t even recall what it was called back then). On one hand, Catholics had to wait until the document was published in the country. On the other hand, so did reporters, and they would usually call a local pastor to get commentary for their news articles. So things were slower back then. There were still attacks, of course.

We Forget How and Why the Rebellion Happened…

No, it didn’t start with Francis, and it didn’t start with Vatican II.

We forget that the priests and religious who caused problems after Vatican II were ordained before Vatican II. We forget some of them were highly respected. Fr. Schillebeeckx, for example, was a highly respected moral theologian, whose early manuals are still cited by orthodox Catholics because of their quality. We forget some of them were highly respected by the bishops who would later find them problematic. We forget that some who were later honored by St. John Paul II were viewed with suspicion by the Holy Office, (St. Padre Pio, Benedict XVI), and some of them were silenced.

We forget that a generation rose up and rejected authority, political and religious. Nations that were not Catholic, or even Christian, had unrest. We forget the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, the mistrust of government, and the hostility to unjust laws (like segregation) influenced a generation. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop at opposing injustice. A large portion of a generation began to think the state and the Church were to blame for these things by their very existence. When the state enforced the law, when the Church insisted some behaviors were morally evil, this was “fascism.” Never mind they were using this epithet against a generation that opposed fascism.

We also forget the dramatic change that came in 1968 (not 1965). Everybody was expecting the Catholic Church to “change her teaching” on contraception. Because they misunderstood how the Church worked, they assumed that because the majority report (going beyond their authority of investigating whether the Pill was contraception) urged a change in teaching, that it was a guaranteed thing. So when Blessed Paul VI reinforced the traditional Catholic teaching, many were angry. They irrationally felt betrayed over the Church “betraying” them in something she never promised and would never do.

Because we forget this, I think we are unable to understand the scope of what the Church faced, and what a monumental task it was to repair. Theologians were called to get back in line with the Church, and when they didn’t, several were suspended from teaching theology.

We Forget the Rebellion from the Right Happened at the Same Time

We also forget that certain Catholics, trying to remain faithful, became embittered with the inadequate response from the bishops. Committing a post hoc fallacy, they assumed that because the unrest followed Vatican II, the unrest was caused by Vatican II. So they began to agitate for reversing the Council. The SSPX rose at this time. When the bishops, and later the Pope, began to crack down on their abuses, they refused the obedience which was a keystone to the pre-conciliar teaching that they professed to support. Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended by Blessed Paul VI for illicitly ordaining priests against a direct order not to, and was excommunicated by St. John Paul II for consecrating bishops against a direct order not to.

What people forget is the SSPX and those who sympathized with them hated Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II for their actions taken. These people constantly gave their actions a negative twist, accusing them of heresy and modernism[†]. Even some who were not part of the SSPX blamed the Holy Father for not cracking down on the dissenters they disagreed with, while saying that the defeat of that faction should take priority[¶], but he was ignoring them to punish the SSPX and others.

Between Scylla and Charybdis with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI

This resulted in the Pope being hated by both sides, each accusing the Popes of favoring the other side. Cries of “Why don’t you punish them for X?” appeared in religious newspapers, magazines and others. It was assumed that the continued existence of a faction without a public censure was “proof” that the Pope identified with this side. When St. John Paul II wrote about social justice, he was accused of identifying with socialism. When he wrote on abortion, he was accused of being right wing.

Generally speaking, vocal factions in the Church argued that whatever he did against them was proof of being political or heresy[§], while what he did that they agreed with was “too little too late.” They certainly confused Catholics trying to be faithful. With so much smoke, people wondered if there was fire. Catholics trending towards liberalism began to believe the accusations that the Pope was cold hearted and insensitive. Those trending towards conservatism began to believe the accusations that he was weak on dissent and was sympathetic, uncaring, or ignorant of what was going on in the Church.

The Rise of the Internet and the Smartphone

We also forget that knowledge (or misinformation) of and criticism about Papal actions grew with technology. The Printing Press was invented in 1440. The Telegraph was invented in the 1830s. The Fax Machine was invented in 1846. The telephone was invented in 1876. The radio was invented in 1894 (Vatican Radio began in 1931). With each step, it was easier and faster to distribute news, and the Church was able to distribute her documents more widely and quickly. But everything still depended on hard copy (except for the relatively few items on microfilm and microfiche). If a copy was not available in bookstore or library, you had to either drive long distances or do without[Ω].

The media depended on experts to interpret what the Church said, and that depended on some ludicrous situations. When it was announced that the Pope was releasing a new encyclical, the media wondered if this meant the Church was finally changing her teaching on contraception, abortion, and women’s ordination[√]. Then they would call local pastors and bishops and be disabused of their notions.

The next phase of communications emerged when Internet was commercialized in 1995. Over the next 20 years, more information would get onto the internet, but so would misinformation. In addition, more people would be given an audience[ø]. This also meant the critics of the Pope would be able to increase their reach. Then in the late 2000s, the Smartphone combined the internet with instant access without having to be at a computer, allowing the individual to be instantly informed about things happening around the world.

Unfortunately, a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and, when it comes to news on the Church, that weakest link was the media that believed that someday the Church would have to change her teaching. These reporters, with their religious illiteracy, did not understand the nuances of moral theology or how the Church taught. For example, when Benedict XVI gave a book length interview with Peter Seewald in 2010, he gave a hypothetical example of a gay prostitute with AIDS to illustrate how a person might begin to think about an issue in terms of morals. But the media thought the Church had finally changed!

It wasn’t the first time. In 2006, his lecture in Regensburg was wrongly portrayed as a denunciation of Islam, and his Caritas in Veritate (2009) was portrayed as a movement towards liberalism in terms of economic policy. Reporters and their editors thought that the world would eventually change the Church, and viewed each unfamiliar concept as a change towards their politics.

This led to a new situation. The Church would speak, the media would misrepresent, and Catholic critics would blame the Pope for the confusion. Never mind that the media never once stopped to confirm their information. Never mind that they’ve been consistently wrong, and the actual documents or transcripts show Popes did not say what they were alleged to say when taken in context.

Getting From There To Here

So, what we have here is a set of attitudes from different factions that contribute to confusion:

  1. A rebellion against the authority of the Church when it goes against a faction
  2. A belief that the Church has to change or revert to avoid error
  3. A belief or fear that this change is imminent
  4. A tendency to make hostile interpretations of actions as having sympathy or support for the other side (believed to be in error)
  5. A religiously illiterate media that does not understand the depth and nuance of Church teaching
  6. Blaming the Pope for those misinterpretations.
  7. Increasingly rapid communications from people responsible for the above problems
Put these factors together and we have instantaneous response to the actions of the Pope which are affected with the biases of the person responding. It’s the same actions, but it happens faster now than it did in previous pontificates and reaches a far larger audience.

And Now, Here We Are

This is why I must shake my head in sadness and disbelief when I encounter Catholics who say, “Things were never this way before Pope Francis.” They certainly did happen back then. But before the Smartphone (which only took off in the later years of the pontificate of Benedict XVI), before the Internet (which arrived only during the pontificate of St. John Paul II), things were much slower and some errors could be refuted before they spread too far. 

But now, with the internet and the smartphone, a wild rumor can spread around the world before the Vatican Press Office can respond[π]. If a reporter wrongly thinks the quote,“Who am I to judge?” means the Pope is going to change Church teaching on homosexuality, there’s not much the Church can do to stop the misinformation from happening. She can only offer a correction and encourage people to listen to what was made in context.

This is the situation Pope Francis inherited.

  1. A rebellion from day one when radical traditionalists called his election “a disaster.” 
  2. Some hoping and some fearing change to Church teaching.
  3. A belief that this change would happen.
  4. A hostile interpretation as heretical overshadowing everything he said or did
  5. A religiously illiterate media quoting out of context, and predicting he would change Church teaching on homosexuality, abortion, contraception, etc. and hostile factions believing it.
  6. Blaming the Pope for those out of context quotes. 
  7. An instantaneous communication misrepresenting what Pope Francis said and did. 
It is these factors that lead to confusion in the Church. It has been true since the rebellion of the 1960s, and continues today, aided by improved communications of error. We didn’t hear as much about this confusion from his predecessors because the internet and the smartphone came relatively late to the game. 
There will always be some incidents where a Pope doesn’t act as we think a Pope should act. Since, a Pope is a sinner in need of salvation like the rest of us, it is possible a Pope will do something regrettable. But this catastrophic view of the Church we have today shows a lack of knowledge of problems we’ve always had. Blessed John Henry Newman, for example, had to defend Pope Pius IX from those who received faulty understanding about what he said as reported by an ignorant media.

We need to avoid the argument from ignorance fallacy. Just because someone is not aware of the controversies involving the predecessors of Pope Francis does not mean these controversies did not exist. They most certainly did—but they had a much more limited reach than today. We should keep this in mind, and not assume that because this is the first time we’re noticing it, that this is the first time it happened. Once we clear out this misinterpretation, we can see the real issues clearly and perhaps come to a better attitude in dealing with them.


[†] Prior to Benedict XVI’s motu proprio on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, they made the same attacks against him.
[¶] When these critics were questioned about the censures given, it was never enough. They believed the Holy Father should have excommunicated them, even though that was not the established penalty.
[§] For example, the picture of St. John Paul II kissing the Qur’an, and the Meeting in Assisi were portrayed as “proof” that he was a heretic.
[Ω] As a personal anecdote, in 1992, doing my senior thesis for my B.A degree, defending the Church against the charge of “sympathy to the Nazis,” I had no access to Pius XI’s Mit Brennender Sorge or Pius XII’s Summi Pontificatus which denounced the Nazis, and was unable to use them (I still got an A, even though my thesis advisor was overtly hostile to the position I took). Nowadays, anyone can do a Google search and get the full text
[√] These were the big three the media obsessed over during this era. They really seemed to believe that a change was possible, which should have served as a warning to how incompetently they would deal with Pope Francis. 
[ø] For example, without the internet, I am sure that I would not be able to reach the audience I have with my blog The expense of publishing would have made it literally impossible.  
[π] If the Vatican News Service would lock the reporters on the plane until the full transcript of a press conference was released to the public, I’d be all for it. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thoughts on Difficulties and Doubt

Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of religion; I am as sensitive as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines, or to their compatibility with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and borne in upon our minds with most power.


John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), 264–265.


Let’s begin with a personal anecdote: Sometimes I come across difficulties with parts of Scripture and theology. I ask myself How does THAT work? Whether it’s some harsh passages of the Old Testament, or when a Pope or a Saint says something that seems different from my understanding of how things fit together, it can be jarring. Then there’s always the example of Catholics behaving badly throughout history, I have an ideal on what the Church should be, and I compare that to the real life example if actual Catholics, and find that even heroic Catholics have done troubling things.

But while I have difficulties at times, I have never had any doubt about the authority of Church teaching or Our Lord’s protecting the Church from error. So I submit to the teaching of the Church, trusting  that however God might judge an issue, it will be done in a way that reflects His justice and mercy both. I would certainly resent any accusations that I denied or doubted the teaching of the Church because of my difficulties on comprehending how a teaching works. Why? Because I do not reject the teaching as I try to understand it better.

I believe that if I were to doubt the mercy of God or the teaching of the Church on a matter, I would soon find myself at odds with both God and His Church. I would be making myself the arbiter of what should be where I presume to pass judgment on things I have no right to do so. I think those paying attention to what goes on in our faith are aware of the factionalism arising in the Church. We’ve been seeing the anti-Francis attacks since the day he became Pope which assumes what he does differently is “heretical.” Sadly, we’re seeing an emerging position that declares all persons who oppose the Pope must be “schismatic.” I think both of these movements confuse difficulty and doubt, either in their own minds or in the behavior of others, and we need to discern the real difference to avoid the twin dangers of losing faith by harboring doubts, and the rash judgment of assuming another’s difficulty is a doubt.

Doubt from Ourself

I think we harbor doubt when what we see something we do not understand and assume something must be wrong with it because we’re not comfortable with how it sounds. If we’ve invested in a certain opinion or school of thought, then a shift of emphasis sounds like “error” instead of a legitimate change of how we approach something. If we take this difficulty and assume the Church must have gone wrong, we are harboring a doubt in the belief that God protects His Church from teaching error. In a similar way, when we try to find reasons to deny that a teaching we dislike is actually a teaching, we are harboring doubts about the authority of the Church to bind and loose.

These and similar attitudes to these lead to doubting that what the Church teaches is done with God’s authority and with His assurance that He will not permit the Church to teach us error. Once we embrace this doubt, we will replace trust in God with trust in ourselves, thinking that if the Church does not act as we see fit, she must be in error.

Assuming Doubt in Others

On the other hand, some assume that a difficulty with a teaching automatically equals a rejection of that teaching. A person who voices their concern with how people might misinterpret a Church teaching (while accept the validity of that teaching) is not doubting. Yes, we want to avoid legalism in following Church teaching, but one can wrestle with understanding what the teaching means and one’s limited capacity to understand (and by being human, we do have a limited capacity).

One example I see with this, is in the recent attacks on Cardinal Burke in Social media comments. I have seen some Catholics treat him with the same abusiveness that anti-Francis Catholics direct at the Pope. But, regardless of what thinks about how he’s handled things or how his supporters have used/misused his words, much of what he says and does seems based on difficulties in reconciling the teaching authority of the Pope with his understanding on the Church teaching on marriage—but he does not doubt either one. While I don’t approve of how he handled the issue of the dubia, he denies the Pope is in heresy, and should not be treated as a schismatic that rejects the authority of the Pope along the lines of Canon 751.


I think we need to remember our limitations. The fact that we have difficulties reconciling two teachings of the Church does not mean one must be false. But, if we try to downplay one in the name of defending our conception of the Church, that is a warning that we are harboring a doubt. At the same time, when we see people expressing a misgiving, we should be certain they are actually harboring a doubt before accusing them of doing so. They just might be trying to accept the truth but are having trouble in understanding how to do so. We must be careful in not being the stumbling block that turns their difficulty to doubt.

So let us avoid turning difficulty to doubt by remembering that while our own knowledge and power are finite, God’s knowledge and power are not—and He can and will protect His Church. And let us avoid accusing a fellow Christian of doubting if all he is doing is working his way through a difficulty. If such a one submits to the authority of the Church while struggling to understand, we should help them, not attack them.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Out of Control and Missing the Point

The Pope’s visit to America confirms what I long knew—the media and the politicians don’t understand the meaning of religion, treating it as one more political viewpoint. It also confirmed what I long suspected but hoped was actually false—that a large portion of American Catholics view religion in the same sense as the media and politicians. The result of this mindset is that the average person praises or laments what the Pope says or does in light of his or her political convictions and not on the basis of the Christian faith.

St. Paul wrote about this way of thinking in his letter to the Philippians:

17 Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. 18 For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

Our calling as Christians supersedes our preferences in politics. Politics necessarily involves earthly things. Our faith involves approaching this world according to the bigger picture of what God calls us to do with the fact of our life after death always kept firmly in mind. So, to judge the Pope’s words and actions by political preference is to pervert the Christian message, committing sacrilege according to the sense of treating holy things as profane.

Unfortunately, America is very dualistic. We think things are either liberal or conservative and create a logical error called denying the antecedent. That error works as follows:

  • The Pope is conservative or liberal.
  • Not conservative.
  • Therefore liberal.
The argument overlooks the possibility of “none of the above” being an answer.
Hes with Me
Unfortunately, the American view of politics has determined that concern for the environment or the treatment of immigrants to be “liberal” and the defense of life and marriage to be “conservative.” That’s how it plays with our political parties. But actually, the Catholic Church has a body of teaching that can point to both liberals and conservatives and say “you’re wrong about that.” In addition, she can say to both, “You’re right on this, but for the wrong reason."

When the Pope meets with the President, meets with Congress, meets with the Little Sisters of the Poor, meets with a former student (who happens to be actively homosexual), meets with Kim Davis—these things are all given a political meaning, even though the Pope intended no such thing by them. Then they take offense by the fact that the Pope did not use his addresses to condemn the President or Congress.

But, since the Pope did not intend a political message, the people who wanted one with him endorsing their position got angry when he took a stand against their position. People who hate Kim Davis were angry that he did not denounce her. People who support her were angry that he didn’t tell supporters of “same sex marriage” to literally go to hell.

Essentially they wanted him to be something he had no intention of being, and got disappointed because he didn’t satisfy their desire to see their foes "put in their place.” The thing is, Jesus didn’t set out to put people in their place. He came to call them to repentance. It was only with the self-righteous, the ones who behaved in a hypocritical manner, that he ended up "putting them in their place."

The Pope isn’t Jesus, of course. (With the anti-Catholics out there who think we do believe that, it unfortunately has to be said). But he is following the example Our Lord gave for us to follow. He’s essentially offering Our Lord’s mercy to the sinners. When we want the Pope to praise us and denounce the sinners we despise, we behave as hypocrites—and it was the hypocrites that Our Lord openly denounced.

I think that in trying to play “Capture the Flag” with the Pope, people assumed that if he would only “say more” about topic X, other people would go along. Really? Why should it be any different under Pope Francis than it was under his predecessors. Blessed Paul VI on contraception, St. John Paul II on a whole raft of issues. likewise Benedict XVI. They’ve been speaking out since 1963 on sexual issues, economic issues, life issues and so on. There’s been no variation in message. Sollicitudo rei Socialis and Caritas in Veritate say the same thing as Evangelic Gaudium—they all draw on Paul VI and Populorum Progressio (and Sollicitudo rei Socialis #34 mirrors Laudato Si).Despite this fact, people haven’t changed. The pro-abortion politicians have been this way throughout the past four pontificates. The people who think social justice is a code word for “socialism” still think so. If the Pope has so much influence over sinners that he can change them with a word, then why haven’t they been changed already?

No, America is out of control and missing the point. They think the Papal message is political policy and if the Pope says something similar, it is assumed that the Pope validated their entire platform. If the Pope said something in opposition, he’s a foreigner who should stick to religion and “stay out of politics.” (It’s hypocritical—basically a case of “It’s OK if he agrees with me, bad if he doesn’t.”) Catholics missing the point and out of control are making things worse. We’re called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If we’re acting as worldly and partisan as everyone else, we are failing to share the Gospel with the world. 

American Catholics who think of themselves as orthodox need to get back in control and get the point. Otherwise, they are causing great harm in their dissent and disobedience while patting themselves on the back for being “faithful."

Monday, August 3, 2015


15 Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. 16 They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. 17 Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” 18 Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. 20 He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” 21 They replied, “Caesar’s.”* At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

A popular attack today in response to Christian moral teaching making inroads against the worldly view is to take an aspect of the Christian message, give it a personal interpretation, and then label Christians who do not believe that personal interpretation to be valid as hypocrites. This is how we see the citation of Pope Francis’ saying “Who am I to judge?” being (wrongly) interpreted and thrown in the face of Catholics (like the US Bishops) who oppose “same sex marriage.” We see Matthew 7:1 being thrown at Christians who say an action is morally wrong, accusing them of being judgmental.

The tactic is popular because they give a soundbite that sounds convincing to the uninformed or misinformed person and seems to "put Christians in their place,” (a popular comment on Facebook). But the problem is, nobody bothers to question whether the personal interpretation is true. After all, it is only if the interpretation is true that one can justly accuse Christians of hypocrisy on the issue.

Once we recognize this, it becomes obvious that the personal interpretation cannot be an objective standard for assessing the truth. There are simply too many contradictory “personal interpretations” out there and in a contradiction, both positions cannot be true. The correct interpretation corresponds with the intended teaching. If the intended teaching is, “X is a sin,” the personal interpretation that “X is not a sin” must logically be false. So, when a person seeks to cite Scripture, Church teaching or a statement by the Pope to entrap a Christian in a complex question, the first question must be, “Is this personal interpretation accurate?” If it is not, it is just a cheap soundbite which leaves us with the tedious task of explaining why the argument is false and trying to explain the truth while being accused of “explaining away challenges."

So, when someone throws Matthew 7:1 at us, throws “Who am I to judge?” at us or if Joan Chittister or her cronies throw Catholic Social teaching at us, the person of good will has to ask, “Is this being cited in context? Is it being used accurately?"

Actually, in Matthew 7:1, we know it is not because in the very same chapter, Jesus did judge behavior—the parable of pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6), the Narrow Gate (Matthew 7:13-14), the False Prophets (Matthew 7:15-20) and so on. Jesus condemns judgment that says “This person is beyond redemption.” But He did command that we choose good, reject evil and teach the nations to live according to His will (Matthew 28:19-20).

Likewise, when Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” is used, a reading of the transcript will show he was speaking about an individual who was reported to have a notorious past but had since repented. Likewise the dredged up Joan Chittister quote, because the Church recognizes there can be many ways of carrying out the Church’s pro-life mission, and we are not all bound to one tactic. But, no matter how many taxes one supports, nothing can be considered “truly pro-life” that supports abortion as a right.

Once we recognize the fact that the interpretation can only be accurate when it corresponds with reality, we have to ask, “Who has the authority to determine what interpretation of Scripture, Church teaching or Papal quote is authentic and which is not?” For the Catholic, we believe that the Pope and the bishops in communion with him have been given that responsibility and authority from Our Lord.

Certainly a person can reject the authority of the Church—not in the sense of “rightly reject,” but in the sense that Cardinal Ximenez and company won’t show up at their door...

…but the fact that such dissenters reject the authority of the Church does not make their view true. Such a person has to prove that their alternate view corresponds with reality. Unfortunately, they never do. So the person of good will has to investigate such cheap shot soundbites and see if the “gotcha” is actually valid. Such a person needs to realize that speculation is not the same thing as an authoritative source of what the Church believes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Corruptio Optimi Pessima (Corruption of the Best is the Worst)

Temptation(The Temptation of Jesus—James Tissot)

Very few people set out with the intention of “Hey! I’m going to be an evil bastard!” But many people who start out with the intention of being good do wind up with the end result of having done evil.

Consider that statement. I bet a lot of us immediately thought of other people as falling under this category. I also bet that very few thought of ourselves. That means we’re either a bunch of saints (in which case, consider 1 Corinthians 10:12), or we’re blind to our failings. Personally I think the second option best describes our lives.

The fact is, the devil is out to ruin every one of us individually, and every one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. The intention of the devil is to play on our weaknesses—our passions, our opinions, and so on. Unfortunately, we tend to be blind to this. We expect the devil to come with a direct attack against what we find important. A lot of our apocalyptic religious fiction tends to work that way. If you look at the Left Behind series or the Michael O’Brien novel Father Elijah, we see an antichrist who is a political liberal. He gives people what they want in terms of libertine debauchery and undermines the Church by turning people away from it. And this is happening today. We see this, and we make our decision to be faithful—praying to God that we be given the grace to stand in the face of persecution or seduction.

But what we don’t consider is that the devil wants our damnation as well. It doesn’t please him to destroy our body if our soul is brought to God. Some have apostatized in the past in the face of persecution, but others have stood firm with the grace of God supporting them. Some have been seduced into accepting libertine behavior, but others have not—through the grace of God. Are we to think that the devil will only succeed in trapping the political left and the weak minded, and as long as we’re politically “conservative” we’ll be safe?

I think we would be foolish to think so. The devil has other tactics besides the use of brute force. One of them is to deceive people into thinking that they are in the right while others who disagree are wrong—even if that disagreement comes from the magisterium of the Church. When one refuses to consider the possibility of being wrong, how can they repent and turn back to God? If one refuses to consider that the Church teaching is right when it goes against the individual’s own preferences,are no longer giving the religious assent that even the ordinary magisterium requires (See CCC #892).

But the whole point of metanoia is turning away from sin and towards God again. It requires being sorry for the wrong we have done. In metanoia we have the change of perspective in our lives. We realize that what we have been doing is not compatible with what God calls us to be and we want to change to be what God calls us to be. We can’t do it without His grace, but if we refuse to consider the possibility of our doing wrong, we won’t be open to seeking that grace. 

This is how people are corrupted. They deceive themselves into thinking they are good Catholics even when they are refusing to obey the successors to the Apostles—whom they deceive themselves into thinking are bad Catholics. This is not something limited to one theological outlook. The rebellion of the liberals in the 1960s forward is being taken up by conservative dissent today…the arguments used to defy the Church over Humanae Vitae in 1968 is being used to defy Pope Francis here and now. 

This is the corruption of the best intentions—to be faithful to God and the Church, and in corrupting such people, they become the worst. We need to pray that God open our eyes so we might see where we fall, so we might turn back to Him. Let us not be so sure that we are right that we ignore the flaws that might lead to our fall...


Friday, February 20, 2015

Bellwether of Persecution

I thought this was america

bellwether |ˈbelˌweT͟Hərnounthe leading sheep of a flock, with a bell on its neck.• an indicator or predictor of something: college campuses are often the bellwether of change

I remember my youth in school and what was taught to us about America. How we were a free country and that the government couldn’t do, or force us to do, bad things. We were told how people came to America to escape places that treated them unjustly. As I grew older, I realized that this was a “rose colored glasses” view of things. That our country could and did wrong over the past 200 years. But throughout my transition from growth to adulthood, it was still recognized that the Declaration of Independence was still meaningful when it said:

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.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We were told that the Bill of Rights were essential rights to all people and that our Founding Fathers were determined to protect the people from the abuses from a government, acknowledging that there were certain things that the government had no right to do.

Right now, America has a system where laws which were based on this understanding are subject to being reviewed by courts that are free to throw out those laws which the judges happen to disagree with. The term used is “finding the law unconstitutional,” but too often, this is a code word for an arbitrary decision that reflects the political views of the judges without concern with actual concern for justice or law. This is the case when a few judges have ruled that the understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman is “unconstitutional.” Based on these rulings, people with religious beliefs that forbid them from participating in what they think is morally wrong can be forced to choose between their business and their beliefs—something the government had previously been seen as having no right to do.

Take a recent case of a Washington florist. The judge ruled that the florist’s religious beliefs, which forbade her from providing flowers to a same sex “wedding,” was illegal from the time that Washington legalized it. Think I’m using unreasonable rhetoric? Think again. Look at what the judge (Alexander C. Ekstrom) said:

"Stutzman is not a minister, nor is Arlene’s Flowers a religious organization when they sell flowers to the general public,” Ekstrom wrote. “Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly licensed business.”

The judge has baldly stated what we have been warning of for years—that a person with religious convictions can be forced to choose between business and faith (Stultzman has decided to stop doing any weddings).  Basically, what we have is this: if a law is passed defending our religious freedoms, it is ruled as unconstitutional. When a law is passed which infringes on our religious liberties, it is seen as acceptable and those who invoke their first amendment freedoms are told that it doesn’t apply—the courts continually reducing who has religious freedom to the point that a church itself can (thus far) be protected from government interference, but the institutions that church runs or the individual practitioner is not.

Decisions like this make much more chilling a recent event where lawmakers urged Archbishop Cordileone to change his policy insisting that teachers in Catholic institutions actually act—Catholic. With legal precedence like this, we can expect the judges to be more likely to side with the laws infringing on our religious freedoms. 

While such things are more benign than in other countries and other times in how they try to coerce compliance with religious beliefs they oppose, these rulings are in the same spirit as the persecutions of the past. Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints describes for us the case of St. Sadoth:

The second year of the persecution, king Sapor coming to Seleucia, Sadoth was apprehended, with several of his clergy, some ecclesiastics of the neighborhood, and certain monks and nuns belonging to his church, to the amount of one hundred and twenty-eight persons. They were thrown into dungeons, where, during five months’ confinement, they suffered incredible misery and torments. They were thrice called out, and put to the rack or question; their legs were straight bound with cords, which were drawn with so much violence, that their bones breaking, were heard to crack like sticks in a fagot. Amidst these tortures the officers cried out to them: “Adore the sun, and obey the king, if you would save your lives.” Sadoth answered in the name of all, that the sun was but a creature, the work of God, made for the use of mankind; that they would pay supreme adoration to none but the Creator of heaven and earth, and never be unfaithful to him; that it was indeed in their power to take away their lives, but that this would be the greatest favor they could do them; wherefore he conjured them not to spare them, or delay their execution. The officers said: “Obey! or know that your death is certain, and immediate.” The martyrs all cried out with one voice: “We shall not die, but live and reign eternally with God and his Son Jesus Christ. Wherefore inflict death as soon as you please; for we repeat it to you that we will not adore the sun, nor obey the unjust edicts.”

Whether the governments would have us worship the sun, burn incense to the emperor or give our acceptance of “same sex marriage,” we must not obey what is unjust or forces us to go against what God commands. It may only cause us overt persecution or it may cause us hardship, perhaps legal action, but we need to be prepared for being called on to make the choice—for God, or against God. It might not happen to you or personally, but Our Lord did warn us that we must accept this:

The World’s Hatred. 18 If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,* because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ (John 15:18-25)

And so, we must prepare for darker times, which continue to come faster than I expect. We must prepare to continue to carry out our mission. As Cardinal George said, "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” None of us want to die in prison, let alone the public square for the faith. But if it does happen by death or by lawsuit or by imprisonment, we must respond in love, blessing and praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) and seeking to convert them. This is true, whether persecution comes from unjust judges interpreting unjust laws or whether it comes at the hands of fanatics like ISIS.

Friday, December 5, 2014

TFTD: So Now They Change their Demands and Target the Church Directly


So, first they told us that while the Church had to tolerate what she thought was wrong in institutions affiliated with her and in businesses run by individual Catholics, but she at least had the right to determine who had the right to work or the Church directly.  But the article, "Investigation expected after gay choir director fired from Catholic church files complaint | WGN-TV,” shows us that now the Church can be targeted for legal retribution when she takes action against a member of a Church liturgical ministry acts in public rejection of Church moral teaching.

In this case, the music minister announced publicly that he was going to be taking part in a so-called “same sex marriage.” This is to make a public rejection of the Church teaching on marriage, and if the Church gives the impression she is indifferent to such behavior, it causes scandal because people might wrongly think the Church believes it is morally acceptable.

So, in response to this decision, the parish terminated his employment. Now he has filed a “discrimination” complaint against the Church.

The Church makes a distinction between reaching out to the sinner (which she must do) and accepting sin as good (which she must not do). When a person sins in his or her private life, the response is usually to reach out quietly to the sinner with the aim of bringing them to salvation. I’m sure there are people who work directly for the Church who are guilty of even mortal sin. It is spiritually harmful for them to be in that state, and people who seek to work for the Church need to recognize that they are called to live a life of Christian witness and the living in sin mars that witness. But the Church tends to work with such people with the sacraments and spiritual direction, reminding them of the need to live the way God calls them to live.

But once the person openly and publicly flaunts their rejection of the Church teaching, that becomes a serious matter. The Church is forced into a situation that either requires them to take action or cause scandal by giving the appearance that it accepts evil acts as good. Because Mr. Collette publicly announced he would be taking part in a so-called “same sex marriage,” the Holy Family Parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago chose to act, rather than give the impression that the action was morally acceptable.

What this case boils down to is a case of the State determining what religious and moral beliefs can be valued. Whatever religious beliefs the state does not approve of it can use coercion to change. In this case, the coercion is the use of the EEOC laws and regulations, treating the Church as a secular business—believing that holding members of the Church who work directly for the Church cannot be terminated for openly violating the teachings of the Church.

But the whole concept of religious freedom is that the state can neither coerce support of a state religion, nor force a religious institution to do what it believes to be morally wrong. So, if the EEOC is allowed to take action forbidding the Church from insisting her employees comply with Church teaching, or at least not publicly flaunt defiance of it, the result will be that the state is allowed to decide which religious beliefs can be enforced.

We’re in for darker times here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?

The mood one sets in a conversation or a piece of writing can affect the mindset of others, even if they don’t agree with the argument made. I can understand that. After a string of articles being published on the general theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy for that kind of negativism to affect others. I’ve seen it happen that some people I encountered look at the synod as, “We have to pray so that the errors proposed don’t become a change of teaching."

On the other hand, it can also impact people who think Pope Francis is doing a good job. After reading a large number of articles on the theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy to begin looking at the complaints as if the Church is full of malcontents who are leading many astray. For example, with the realization that much of what I predicted a month ago did actually happen, my response was to write a very bitter and negative article about those who blogged in such a way. (Don’t worry. I killed it and it won’t see the light of day).

What this personal experience, of becoming what I hated, did was it brought to my mind the dangers of negative approaches to things. Obviously, we should never downplay problems in the Church. But we shouldn’t be so overwhelmed with the negative side so that we see nothing but doom and despair. I have seen that a lot in my years on Catholic forums and blogging. There are a lot of people out there who take in all these negative reports and actually believe that the Church has never been in a worse spot than now when it comes to fighting error. (Try taking that up with 2000 years of Christians who encountered far worse)

The thing is, Pope Francis is not a bad Pope. The synod didn’t recommend error. We are not in the worst situation in Catholic history. But if a person believes it, it is likely that this person is going to look at the words of the Pope or the bishops in a negative light and assume they are the ones who are responsible for the dissent among some Catholics. We can get ourselves worked into such a frenzy that anyone who says otherwise is considered naive.

I would ask the bloggers out there (as if any of them actually heard of this blog) to consider their attitudes and words when it comes to writing and speaking out. We’re supposed to be bringing the good news to everyone . . . and we’re supposed to help those in error to the truth. If the media is leading people to think, “The Church is changing her teaching,” then our job is to disabuse them of that notion. Let’s not be dismayed when people missed the point and keep repeating these things. How many times have we had to deal with gross misrepresentations of the Church? How many times have we run into the same error made by different people? Yeah, it’s frustrating, and we sometimes wish that we didn’t have to deal with explaining the Crusades or the Inquisitions again and again and AGAIN. But instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy. We need to explain the truth in response to a falsehood, even when we get weary of it.

Certainly we need to stop thinking that if only the Pope and bishops taught better, we wouldn’t be having these problems. If that were true, then that means the saints who combatted Arianism must have been even more incompetent than the current batch of clergy. That heresy lasted hundreds of years and was believed by a majority of Christians. The saints didn’t bitch about things and how bad the Church was. They rolled up their sleeves and combatted the heresy in communion with the Pope—not in judgment of him.

Yes, there are Catholics who promote bad ideas out there, and yes they need to be opposed. But let’s not exaggerate the situation and act as if our defeat is assured because we can’t see any other possibilities.


Remember the character of Denethor in the Lord of the Rings books (or, if you must, the movies). Based on what he saw (through a corrupted palantir) and what he thought he knew, he assumed all was lost. He thought Gandalf was a fool for counseling otherwise. But he was wrong about what he saw, and could not be persuaded against suicide (the movie completely botched the incident).

Remembering this, we should consider the limits of our own knowledge, the source of the knowledge, and whether or not what we see is actually accurate or whether we have been overwhelmed by a negative interpretation that actually distorts reality. We should also consider whether our own negative attitudes might affect others who look up to us as knowledgable.

Remember too the fact that the Church is not a society like a secular government. We believe we have God protecting the Church from error. Individuals might fall into error over what the Church teaches, but the Church herself will never teach error.

So let’s not be the nattering nabobs of negativism preaching woe when there is no woe. Let’s have faith in God to protect His Church and let us continue to refute the distortions . . . they will never go away (like the distortions of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the sex abuse scandals etc. never went away despite years and even centuries of refuting these distortions).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reflection on Factions "More Catholic Than the Pope."

24 Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts15:24–26).

(Preliminary Note. It’s easy to assume “Either A or B.” So I expect some readers might be tempted to think that I write this because I emphasize with “the other side.” That would be a mistake. I seek to be a faithful son of the Church and I believe that God will protect her from teaching error. I write about this sort of faction because it seems to be a greater threat to Catholics who seek to do what is right than the factions who falsely claim Church teaching can be disobeyed without sin. Please keep this in mind when reading.)

The Catholic blogosphere has been going berserk during the extraordinary synod, as I mentioned in past articles, but I think this is only a symptom of a larger problem afflicting the Catholics trying to be faithful. The problem is that a certain faction of these Catholics have confused the essence of the Church with the accidents (in the sense of a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature) of the Church. The assumption is this: This faction assumes that its preferences are part of the doctrine of the Church. When the preferences of this faction are changed by the Church, it is assumed that the Church is changing doctrine. 

This is a dangerous attitude to take however. It assumes that the Church can err, while this faction cannot err, when it comes to determining truth. It’s as if everything Our Lord had to say about the authority of the Church and the role of Peter was meaningless, or became void at a certain point in history (usually presumed to be Vatican II). They tend to be vague on exactly when, and or to what extent error exists—perhaps because if they were specific, they would reveal their own denial of Catholic doctrine.

If this faction kept to itself like a sect, they would only be a menace to itself. But the truth is, they give the appearance of being knowledgable, orthodox Catholics and there are many Catholics out there who want to live faithfully, but do not feel confident in their knowledge on how to live as a faithful Catholic. These Catholics look to this faction as a guide on how to practice the Catholic faith. The result is these seeking Catholics are deceived into thinking that the guidance from this faction is authentic Catholicism, when in fact it is Catholic belief mixed in with the preferences of their mentors.

They succeed because there are people out there who do distort doctrine and try to change teaching. There are people who are public sinners and seem to suffer no ill effects from the Church. It’s pretty easy to insinuate that the reason they don’t seem to suffer consequences because there must be “sympathy” for their position. Essentially the real dissent is used as a “guilt by association."

When you have such a distorted teaching, things tend to snowball. Every time the Church changes one of the practices, she is accused of being unfaithful to the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Before too long, you have a case where the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops is seen as suspect and every time they make a decision, it is scrutinized for potential errors.

This is essentially the problem I am seeing with the conservative Catholics in the English speaking regions of the world. The magisterium is being judged by a faction that is politically conservative and tends to equate political conservatism with Catholic teaching. When the Church teaching seems to “deviate” from the politically conservative, she is accused of betraying Sacred Tradition.

The problem is, the Church has not changed her teaching, and has never betrayed the Scriptures nor Sacred Tradition. The Pope and bishops in communion with her have the authority to assess the Church teaching, making sure the teaching of Christ can be understood by each generation. So the authority and the responsibility falls on the magisterium. But, if the magisterium has the authority and responsibility, we have to trust that God has a role in preventing the Church from teaching error in matters pertaining to salvation. Otherwise, we could never know when the Church was teaching accurately and when she was not. For example, if Vatican II is considered suspect on whether it teaches error, we have no way of knowing that Vatican I or Trent was free of error.

Once you understand this, the reaction to Pope Francis becomes obvious. We had gotten used to two European Popes who were academics. They were very similar in style, and were very effective on teaching the what we were called to do and why. They were succeeded by a Pope from a different continent and experience. Pope Francis did not teach differently than St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He merely shifted the emphasis to acting . . . taking the teachings of his predecessors as a given.

3 popes one teachng

There’s nothing in Pope Francis’ documents on social justice that wasn’t found in the writings of his predecessors. It’s just that he has a different style of presentation.

Unfortunately, some people believe there is a break. In comparison to the public perception of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is considered to be undignified. Because of course St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI never did anything undignified . . . 


Pope sombrero marc 2177327k

The difference between Pope Francis and his predecessors is really . . . nothing more than the fact that his style is slightly more blunt.

So, this is the issue with these factions. They are angry with the Church because they believe that the Church should behave differently than it does. They confuse their preferences with doctrine and end up suspecting the Pope of being a secret Marxist or a secret Modernist. They go out with no mandate from the Church and teach their preferences and suspicions as truth, and their error spreads to those who think they are correctly teaching the faith.

The thing to remember is, Christ has had strong warnings for those who do these things. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’  Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others.  Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!  

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. (Matt 23:13–28)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reflection on St. Robert Bellarmine: Something to Consider If Alarmed by the Synod

Saint Robert Bellarmine

As I read some of the Catholic blogs out there written by people deeply troubled by the summary report of the first half of the synod, I keep thinking of the letter St. Robert Bellarmine wrote to Foscarini in 1615. In discussing the new theory of the heliocentric view of the Solar System and what it meant for Scripture, the saint (who personally did not believe heliocentrism was true) said this in response:

I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the center of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than what is demonstrated is false.

It is a good principle to remember: the truth of a source is not disproved by a misunderstanding of it, and if what we think is the proper understanding turns out to be false, we need to look to sources we know to be true and see if we have personally invested into it something never intended to be taught. For example, St. Robert Bellarmine was invested in the idea that the Scriptures were literally describing the movement of the planets and stars as geocentric. But he recognized that if it could be proved that heliocentrism was true, we’d have to recognize that Scripture was misunderstood, not that either science or Scripture was false.

The truth, as we now know, is that the Scriptures used phenomenological language—that is, language that describes how it looks from our perspective. For example, we still refer to “sunrise” and “sunset” (even in meteorological reports) because that is a description of how the sun appears, and did not intend to make scientific declarations on how the universe functioned.

But even now, there are a few vocal fringe groups of Catholics who try to argue that geocentrism is true because they have a false understanding of how Church teaching works, fearing that admitting that if members of the Church once thought wrongly about how the Solar System was constructed, it means denying the authority of the Church to teach.

I believe this is similar to the case with some individuals looking at the relatio that came out yesterday. They have a set idea on what the Church can even discuss in terms of binding teaching. They see the synod relatio mentioning reaching out to people in invalid marriages, people cohabiting and people in same sex relationships and are scandalized by things being mentioned that might be interpreted as downplaying the moral teaching of the Church. They fear that the Church might end up teaching error.

I think St. Robert Bellarmine has the attitude that should be followed. Like his faith in the inerrancy of Scripture, we need to keep faith in God protecting His Church from error. If an individual thinks that the Church cannot do a thing, and the Church does do that thing as a formal teaching, then it is more reasonable to recognize that he or she has erred than to think that the Church has erred.

We know that the Church cannot err in teaching matters essential for salvation. We know that wrongly telling people in sin that they are not sinning is an error in matters essential for salvation. Therefore we know that the Church cannot teach people in sin that they are not sinning.

We should remember this and not panic when we hear reports of the relatio and how some think it means the Church is going to change her teaching.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Reflections on Radical Traditionalism: Why it is a Danger

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.” (Matt 23:15)

Preliminary Disclaimer

As always, one needs to recognize there is a difference between the person who prefers the liturgy and the discipline of the time before Vatican II but respects the authority of the Pope to make changes for the good of the Church and the radical who claims that the Pope who makes such changes is in error. This article deals with the second group, not the first group.


I’ve seen the comments on blogs, heard it from friends. The claim that the Vatican, in “going after” radical Traditionalists and disciplining them are wasting time on groups “too small to matter” and should be going after Modernists instead.

I have two quarrels with this claim. The first is a logical objection. The second is an objection to the claim that the Radical Traditionalists are harmless or less harmful.


The Logical Problem of the Claim: Affirming the Disjunct

Ironically, the claim that the Vatican should be going after Liberals or Modernists is essentially the same fallacy used by Doug Kmiec to propose Obama as a “pro-life” candidate.

    1. We can either do [A] or [B]
    2. People are doing [B]
    3. Therefore they are not doing [A]

The problem is, of course, “Either [A] or [B]” are not the only options, and the fact that the Church does [B] is no proof they are neglecting [A]. This is the fallacy of Affirming the Disjunct. The problem is just because condition [B] exists, does not mean that condition [A] cannot exist as well. Kmiec made this error in arguing we can either seek to end Roe v. Wade or we can help women seeking abortions, and arguing those opposing Obama sought to end abortions therefore those opposing abortion are not in favor of helping women.

This is of course nonsense.

However the defenders of the radical traditionalists make the same error. They assume the sanctions invoked against the radical traditionalists means nothing is being done against the modernists. The enthymeme of this argument is that “it can’t be both [A] and [B]” which needs to be proven, but is usually bypassed by the argument from silence (“I never hear of the Church disciplining liberals, therefore they don’t.”) and when evidence is provided, the fallacy of “moving the goalposts” is used (“The Church never disciplines liberals!” “What about Milingo or others?” “That’s not enough!”)

The only way to avoid the fallacy is by first providing proof that the condition is exclusively [A] or [B]. However, this is never done. Rather it is merely assumed. Examples in favor of the argument are promoted. Examples which show the condition is not exclusively [A] or [B] are ignored.


Are Radical Traditionalists In Fact Harmless?

Let’s make no mistake here. The Liberal dissenters are indeed doing wrong and need to be opposed. However, the liberal dissenters are not a group who are likely to deceive the Catholic who is seeking to do what is right and to follow the Church teaching. The teachings of Hans Küng, Charles Curran, Joan Chittister do not appeal to the person seeking what they must do to be faithful. They appeal to the person who is seeking an excuse to disobey.

However, the Radical Traditionalists are also dangerous because they can mislead the person who is looking for the way to follow the true Church. Consider, for example, the case of Gerry Matatics, who entered the Church in 1986, became a Radical Traditionalist in 1992 and is now proclaiming the Post Vatican II Church is heretical and that Pope Benedict XVI is most likely not the true Pope (the logic of his syllogisms are terrible by the way, assuming what needs to be proven). Matatics is an extreme example of what one seeking to be faithful can become. However, less extreme cases are common indeed.

Becoming what one condemns

The problem I see with the Radical Traditionalist is that while the subject matter of their dissent is different from those of the Liberal Modernist dissenter, the form of their nature is chillingly similar.

  • A position is staked out in opposition to what the Magisterium holds
  • Documents are selectively cited seeking to show a contradiction of the present Magisterium with past popes or councils
  • The conclusion is made that the present Magisterium is in error.

There is a serious problem with this view however, whether the one who makes use of it is modernist or radical traditionalist, and that is the fact that it all centers on the personal interpretation of the selected documents. Whether it is the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II” or whether it is a radical traditionalist focusing on a 19th century condemnation of religious indifferentism to claim that the relations between Catholics and others must be eternally acrimonious, both refuse to recognize the authority of the Magisterium when it comes down on a side contrary to what one holds.

Thus, instead of recognizing the possibility of erring personally, the error is thus automatically assumed to be on the part of the Church. Ironically, both sides will recognize the disobedience of the other side, but not their own disobedience. It’s as if Christ never said in Matthew 7:

1 “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.

2 For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?

4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?

5 You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Quite frankly, when both sides make use of judging the other of refusing to obey the magisterium on a specific topic, but refuse to obey on their own areas of contention, they do behave hypocritically.

Appeal to an Ideal(ism)

Fundamentalism is often used as a slur, and is used so broadly that it is almost worthless as a descriptor. Generally speaking it associates “fundamentalist” with “right wing politics.” However, in the most general sense, Fundamentalism can be understood as holding there was once a time when religion was practiced perfectly (or at least better), and to be perfect, one must go back to the practices of this time. Now of course the appeal to the practices to be followed can be real (such as the traditionalistic “Pre-conciliar” view) or to a fictional (such as the claims of some liberals that the early Church was “pre-hierarchical”).

The Problem is the issue of conditions which were different. If the Church in the 13th century was the pinnacle of Christendom, we certainly need to recognize that the circumstances at this time were certainly different than they are in the 21st century and practices of the Church in the sense of discipline could not even remotely be handled the same way. Similarly, the appeal of some radical traditionalists who misuse the axiom lex orendi lex credenda (The Law of prayer is the law of belief) of St. Prosper of Aquitane to say that the changing of the liturgy led to a collapse of beliefs and heretical priests. This can be demonstrated as a post hoc fallacy by pointing out a few facts. Dissenting priests were present before Vatican II and the 1970 missal. Humanae Vitae which was widely dissented from was written before the 1970 missal (in 1968 to be precise).

If the change of the liturgy caused the change of belief, then it is not demonstrated by the evidence. Indeed, the appeal to “go back” to before Vatican II or before the current form of the Mass is based on an idealism which forgets the growing disillusionment with authority in the 1950s. It overlooks the assimilation of Catholics into mainstream society in the 1950s and 1960s, and it overlooks the general rejection of authority in Catholic, Protestant and entirely non-Christian nations in the mid to late 1960s. Instead they submit an idealistic sequence:

  1. Before Vatican II, the Church was strong
  2. After Vatican II, the Church was weak
  3. Therefore Vatican II caused the Church to weaken

Of course if there is any other reason besides Vatican II which caused this, the alleged cause-effect is wrong.

The Authority to Bind and Loose

It has been a doctrine of the Catholic Church that the authority to bind and to loose. It is de fide (a matter of faith which is not to be contradicted by one who claims to be a faithful Catholic) that Peter had primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church and that this primacy extends to his successors. This primacy is not just over matters of faith and morals but also over the matters of discipline and government of the Church (See Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma pages 279, 282, 285). Pope Pius XII made clear in the encyclical Humani Generis that the idea that the Pope must only be obeyed on matters of ex cathedra is an error. He says:

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me"; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

In other words, when the Pope teaches in a binding manner using the ordinary magisterium, he must be heeded.

The Pope has authority to interpret Scripture and Tradition, and we do believe that when he teaches authoritatively as Pope and not as a private theologian, we are to obey.

Here then is the irony of the Radical Traditionalist who claims to be the followers of true Catholic teaching. To defend their rebellion against Vatican II, they must violate the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church on exactly who has the final right of interpretation. The radical traditionalist who accuses the Church of today of being riddled with “the errors of Protestantism” is actually performing the same act they find so offensive when done by Luther and others in rejecting the Catholic teaching due to their own interpretation and their own decision of what is to be given credibility.

Thus the dissenter (Traditionalist or Modernist) does not evaluate his or her belief based on the Magisterium teaching, but evaluates the Magisterium teaching based on his or her belief. This makes the Teaching authority of the Church superfluous. When it agrees with the dissenter it is unnecessary. When it disagrees with the dissenter, the teaching authority is wrong.

Why the Radical Traditionalist IS a Danger to the Church

The Catholic who is seeking to follow the Catholic faith and knows the authority of the Popes and the long line of consistent teaching is rather unlikely to consider a dissenter like Küng to be a voice of authority. One looking for an excuse to dissent might use his sophistry to justify disobedience, but one seeking to obey the Church would not.

What makes the radical traditionalist dangerous is the fact that he claims to be following the true teaching of the Church. Like an anti-Catholic seeking to “rescue” a person from the Catholic Church and takes Scripture out of context to do so, the radical traditionalist has often cited old Church documents and compared them with new Church documents. He plays upon the faithful individual’s recognizing that there is indeed rebellion and disobedience in the Church, and leads them to think that it is the fault of “modernists” and “freemasons” within the Church [Prior to the end of the Cold War, Communism was also invoked] who have infiltrated the Church to teach error. Much literature of slanderous character has been published accusing Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI of being freemasons. Such literature is seldom repudiated by the officials of the SSPX.

When you consider that the SSPX has seminaries which teaches formally that one can disobey the Magisterium when it goes against their judgment on the grounds that if they disagree they are tainted with heresy, you can see the danger of such a system for the would-be faithful Catholic and see why the Magisterium must oppose them and not leave them be.

Radical Traditionalists are Not Misunderstood when they are Opposed

I have no doubt that a good percentage of the Catholics who prefer the Mass of the 1962 missal (See The Reform of the Reform? for a balanced view of the issue) are indeed faithful Catholics. They may not like the current form of the Mass and attend the legitimate Extraordinary Form when they can, but they accept the authority of the Magisterium and oppose rebellion.

Radical Traditionalists on the other hand are in disobedience to the Magisterium. There obedience only follows as long as the Magisterium does as they think right. When they say “Do not listen to Rome, listen to me” they are indeed a danger to the Church. It is wrong to think of the issue as “All they want is the Latin Mass. Why not go after the Liberals who support abortion?” As I pointed out in the beginning of this article, this is the fallacy of Affirming the Disjunct. The Church is indeed going after them with some strong actions indeed even if it is not always handled as we would personally like. However, the existence of the liberal dissent does not justify traditionalist dissent.


The dissenter, whether modernist or traditionalist, might be quite sincere in their disobedience. They might actually believe the Church is wrong. So here is the rub: If the Catholic Church believes it must teach as it does, and the dissenter disagrees with the Church then there are two options:

  1. They are wrong and the Church is right. In this case, they must reevaluate their position and cease to be in error.
  2. They are right and the Church is wrong. In this case, the dissenter must reevaluate their relationship with the Church they believe to be teaching error

If the obedience to the Pope as the successor of Peter is a de fide position and the Church teaches something the dissenter believes is wrong, then either the dissenter is in error or the Church is not protected from error… which would mean the Catholic Church is not the Church Christ promised to protect.

If the Radical Traditionalist decides to remain within the Church while refusing to accept the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, it is really a case of Cafeteria Catholicism.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Candy Bar Theology

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He had Paul summoned and listened to him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.

25 But as he spoke about righteousness and self-restraint and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “You may go for now; when I find an opportunity I shall summon you again.” (Acts:24:24-25)

One thing I have noticed in modern Christianity is the tendency of the believer to choose or not choose a belief based not on whether it is true, but on whether it is appealing.  Thus we hear the message of love, but believe the messages of obedience and judgment are left behind.

The Origin of the Term

In his insightful book, Socrates Meets Jesus, the character of Socrates speaks of the modern beliefs in Christianity as such:

Socrates: And I still don't know why you believe what you believe.

Bertha: I just do, that's ail. Maybe it's irrational, Maybe we choose to believe things and choose to do things for other reasons than rational reasons. Didn't you ever think of that?

Socrates: Like eating that candy bar, for instance?

Bertha: Yes. I think you're wrong when you teach that evil comes only from ignorance. That's rationalism. That assumes that rea­son always rules. It doesn't. It gets pushed around by the desires and the will sometimes.

Socrates; I think you are convincing me of just that. In fact, I think I have seen two instances of it just this morning— instances of something I disbelieved in until now.

Bertha: Two instances?

Socrates: Yes. Your candy bar and your beliefs. You choose both not because they are good for you, or because they are true, but because they are sweet. Your belief that God forgives but does not judge is rather like a candy bar, is it not? It Is a sweet thought, the thought that we have only half of justice to deal with when we deal with God, that God rewards goodness but does not punish evil—is not that thought sweet and desirable? And are you not attracted to it just as you are attracted to the candy bar? (Page 55)

How It Afflicts Christianity

The reason this afflicts [no, I did not mean to type "affects"] Christianity is that it focuses on one aspect of God, making it the whole.  When the Church insists on looking at God as both Love and Just, it is the Church which is accused of legalism or being hard hearted in relation to God instead of considering the possibility of a lax conscience of the individual.

Such a view of Christianity seems to make use of the following kind of reasoning:

  1. [God] is [Good] (All [A] is [B])
  2. No [Punishment] is [Good] (No [C] is [B])
  3. Therefore [God] Does not [Punish] (Therefore No [C] is [A])

The problem is the assumption of the minor premise, that no punishment is not good.  This is begging the question because the minor premise needs to be proven, not assumed.  Now of course some punishment may be wrong because it is excessive or inflicted on the wrong individual.  However it does not follow no punishment is good.  Sometimes parents must correct their children.  Sometimes the state must incarcerate law breakers for their correction or the protection others.  We can argue more reasonably as follows:

  1. [God] is [Just] (All [A] is [B])
  2. Some [Punishment] is from [God] (Some [C] is [A])
  3. Therefore Some [Punishment] is [Just] (Therefore some [C] is [B])

We can demonstrate the second premise from Scripture and Church teaching.  In both the Old and the New Testament, we see God speaking of punishment and warning of punishment as a way of calling the sinful man back to Himself.  So from this, the believer has to look at the major premise.  Do they believe that God is just or do they not?  If they believe God is both good and just, then it follows that if He punishes, He does so for reasons which are good and just.

If they don't believe God is good or just, then why follow Him?

"Does God really care about X?"

However, most people who do believe in God believe He is just and good.  It's just that they don't think their own behavior should be considered bad.  Because God is good and they don't think their behavior is bad, they reason that therefore God doesn't think the behavior they do is bad, but rather the "mean old Church" imposes this on people for whatever reason.

So we thus see all sorts of questions:

  • "Do you really think God cares if I have sex with my girlfriend/boyfriend?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if a married couple trying to be good uses contraception?"
  • "Do you really think God wants me to be unhappy because my spouse was unfaithful to me and ran off with another?"
  • "Do you really think God cares about homosexual acts?"

The unvoiced part of the objection is "This is really unimportant and only the Church thinks it is important.  Yet it is that unvoiced objection which must be proven.

The problem is, of course, you can justify any kind of behavior from this point of view:

  • "Do you really think God cares if I offer sacrifice to an idol?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I participate in the Death Camps?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I apostatize from the Faith?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I steal from a rich man?"
  • "Do you really think God cares if I eat of the tree of knowledge?"

The thing is, if an act is contrary to His will and we know it is contrary to what He decrees, we are obligated to do as He commands and are guilty if we defy Him.  If a thing is contrary to His will and we do not know it is contrary to His will, our guilt or innocence will depend on what we could know if we bothered to find out.

The Ultimate Satanic Deception

Ultimately the Satanic deception behind such a mentality is Do what you will.  If you think it is good, it must be good.  Good is made subjective to feelings.  Because a God who forgives but does not punish is a pleasing thought, we hide from the consideration of if a thing is good, and what the consequences are for disobedience for what God commands.  Thus we have the sweetness of a forgiving God and the sweetness of self-indulgence without the responsibility and the obligations to obey and the consequences of disobedience.


It is an act of tremendous arrogance to assume for ourselves what is good or bad depending on what we want to do instead of what we ought to do.  To decide that punishment and sin is only for things which do not involve us and fail to consider what we are required to do or what happens when we disobey is foolish indeed.  It is not based on what is true, but what is pleasing to us.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Immoral God and Immoral Bible? (Article V): God and His Law

Preliminary Notes

[Profanity, Blasphemy and personal attacks will get the poster banned without warning.  If you wish to disagree with the article, please be civil and respectful in doing so.]

[This article, at 7630 words is far longer than I prefer, but I decided to wrap it up here lest someone think I was seeking to avoid the accusations of genocide and slavery by continually pushing them back. I don’t guarantee this article will answer all objections, but I do hope it will demonstrate that some accusations against Christians will be shown to be missing the point.]


There is an article which circulates around the email pages which mocks Dr. Laura (though it had gone through a redraft as a letter to President Bush to attack Christians) and her call for Biblical values. Snopes, in a rather partisan and personal attack, describes it as: “Letter to Dr. Laura highlights fallacy in a particular anti-homosexual argument.” There are many fallacies… but from Snopes. There are Ad hominems about past indiscretions (what she did in the past has no bearing on whether what she says is true), the fallacy of equivocation over what is meant by the term “Biblical values”, and the straw man fallacy about what Dr. Laura was intending to say, false dilemma and so on. The author really ought to have been embarrassed to put her name on this.

So, what is the point of this mentioning of an e-mail spam and commentary? Ultimately, the error Snopes makes is similar to one which many fundamentalists and many atheists make about the Law in the Bible: That the Bible is to be interpreted in a literalistic sense in English and through modern standards by the reader without consideration of the original language or culture or theology. It concludes that just as people do not follow certain dietary laws today, they ought not to follow the moral law either.

The problem is: it makes no sense whatsoever to interpret personally by today’s standards a work which was written some three thousand years ago… this is interpreting out of context and this is what most of these attacks do. One needs to understand the purpose of the teaching and not merely pick out verses to make an appeal to emotion.

We Need to Understand the Christian View of the Torah.

Now I cannot speak for how the modern Jew interprets the Torah. In rejecting Jesus as Messiah, they obviously have a different view of the purpose of the Law than a Christian does. Therefore the reader who wants to know how the Jews today understand the commands in the Law would have to consult with the Jews to understand their perspective.

However, to accuse Christians of “pick-and-choose” hypocrisy without understanding what they understand about what the Law’s purpose was in relation to Christ is rather foolish indeed. We believe that Christ came as a fulfillment of the Law, and prior to his coming, God gradually prepared the nations for the acceptance of the message they could not have understood at the time of the revelations to Abraham.

Therefore, when Christians give a defense of their view of the Scripture, they are not “explaining away” the difficult verses. Rather, we are expressing our faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. We trust that, in the revelations of Christ, we know that God is not a merciless judge. Rather, He is a loving Father who seeks what is best for us, and deals with us according to our ability to know the truth.

Recapitulation Revisited

I mentioned in Article III, the idea of recapitulation indicates the Jewish Law was a preparation for the fullness of Christ. The person who condemns the Law generally does so by assuming that the Christian believer, if in power, would enact the Torah much as certain radical Muslims would prefer to enact the Sharia law. This betrays an ignorance of the Scriptures and the Christian understanding of them, and we should start with a look in Matthew 5:

17 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.

This verse has often been cited out of context to say Jesus has said Christians need to obey the Jewish Law to the letter. We then stand accused of hypocrisy and picking and choosing. However, such a claim demonstrates a misunderstanding of how Christians understand this teaching. A footnote for 5:17 in the New American Bible tells us:

To fulfill the law appears at first to mean a literal enforcement of the law in the least detail: until heaven and earth pass away nothing of the law will pass (Matthew 5:18). Yet the “passing away” of heaven and earth is not necessarily the end of the world understood, as in much apocalyptic literature, as the dissolution of the existing universe. The “turning of the ages” comes with the apocalyptic event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and those to whom this gospel is addressed are living in the new and final age, prophesied by Isaiah as the time of “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). Meanwhile, during Jesus’ ministry when the kingdom is already breaking in, his mission remains within the framework of the law, though with significant anticipation of the age to come, as the following antitheses (Matthew 5:21–48) show.

See how this Christian understanding is quite different from the view of the personal interpretation of a literalistic reading of the Scriptures without context? When Christ fulfills the Law, the reason for the Law will have been met, and the Law will pass away… not to licentiousness and self gratification, but to an even stronger demand for holiness which governs even the internal person and not just the outward observance of commands.

Elements of the Law which have been misunderstood become clear: not only is committing murder wrong, but also hating one’s brother is evil. A legalistic reading of the Law, which permits all sorts of injustice, will pass away in the face of Christ’s teaching and fulfillment of the Law.

Given that Christians understand all people are brethren in Christ, we are not to behave wickedly to anyone.

This is not a modern day attempt to explain away “inconvenient” Bible verses. St. John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) has said about fulfilling the Law in His Sermo XVI on Matthew:

And how, one may ask, did He not destroy it [The Law]? In what way did He rather fulfill either the law or the prophets? The prophets He fulfilled, inasmuch as He confirmed by His actions all that had been said concerning Him; wherefore also the evangelist used to say in each case, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet.” Both when He was born, and when the children sung that wondrous hymn to Him, and when He sat on the ass, and in very many more instances He worked this same fulfillment: all which things must have been unfulfilled, if He had not come.

But the law He fulfilled, not in one way only, but in a second and third also. In one way, by transgressing none of the precepts of the law. For that He did fulfill it all, hear what He saith to John, “For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” And to the Jews also He said, “Which of you convinceth me of sin.” And to His disciples again, “The prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in me.” And the prophet too from the first had said that “He did no sin.”

This then was one sense in which He fulfilled it. Another, that He did the same through us also; for this is the marvel, that He not only Himself fulfilled it, but He granted this to us likewise. Which thing Paul also declaring said, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” And he said also, that “He judged sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh.” And again, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! yea, we establish the law.” For since the law was laboring at this, to make man righteous, but had not power, He came and brought in the way of righteousness by faith, and so established that which the law desired: and what the law could not by letters, this He accomplished by faith. On this account He saith, “I am not come to destroy the law.”

But if any one will inquire accurately, he will find also another, a third sense, in which this hath been done. Of what sort is it then? In the sense of that future code of laws, which He was about to deliver to them.

For His sayings were no repeal of the former, but a drawing out, and filling up of them. Thus, “not to kill,” is not annulled by the saying, Be not angry, but rather is filled up and put in greater security: and so of all the others.

This point must be understood. Christians (unless they are unfaithful to Christ) do not pick and choose the parts of the Bible we want to follow. We follow the teachings of God as He intends them to be followed. Christ’s teaching is the lens through which Christians look at the Old Testament because He fulfills this Testament.

Revisiting the Understanding of the Brutal Times

I do not bring this up to claim “moral relativism.” However I believe that when God speaks to us, we need to remember this does not happen in a vacuum. He must speak to us through the cultural clutter which is in our society. This doesn’t mean that God’s message is relevant only for the time He speaks in of course, but if He speaks to a time 3000-4000 years in the past, we must be aware of the fact that people once accepted things we know to be wrong, and God had to gradually move us from this sinful understanding.

God speaks to us in history, not in the legendary past. He speaks to us in our fallen state, not in the state we were in before original sin. He speaks to people of all walks of life, not just philosophers and theologians. When God spoke to Abraham, we have a society which had been sinning against God for a long time indeed, and many of these sins had become institutions around the world. Brutal conquests with bitter aftermaths, practices of cruel depravity and so on, were widely practiced from Europe to Asia, and in the Americas. We fall into error if we forget this.

If a person thinks that the Ancient World, before the Jews and Christians appeared, was a time of peace and tolerance and justice, that person knows nothing about the history of the ancient world.

Some of these acts were so wicked (Sins which cry out to God for judgment) they could never be condoned at any time. The Catechism tells us of some of these:

1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143

Other sins were still wrong in the eyes of God, but because they were so ingrained into society and not as readily apparent as others, it would take many generations of placing restrictions before society could come to the understanding it was wrong. Some other acts could be right in certain contexts, but wrong in another.

Societies once commonly practiced all sorts of actions in war which would be considered war crimes today… yet none were seen as wrong practices then. Societies saw nothing wrong with pillage and rape against one’s enemies though this would be condemned if practiced against one’s own people.

We need to remember this is the world which God set out to save: The Bible did not order the taking of slaves or extermination on a whim. The Law, in fact, placed the first restrictions on this kind of behavior, with condemnations for behaving as the neighboring nations did.

With these points in mind, we can move on perhaps to look at some of the more troublesome laws in the Old Testament.

Issue I: A Look at Slavery

A Caveat

I am NOT writing to defend slavery here. Don’t get the impression that I am calling slavery good or justified. I am a part of a religious tradition which teaches all people are children of God and are to be treated as such. I do indeed find it tragic that past generations saw nothing wrong with the practice. However, I also believe that the proper understanding of the nature of slavery is needed to avoid making errors out of ignorance. To assume, for example, that all slavery was of the type the Pre-Civil War America used would be quite wrong and lead one to condemn all slaveholders for conditions which did not apply in all times in history and make a general assumption of all Christians on account of a few. A slave owning society should be judged for what they did and not for what another slave owning society did.

A General Look at Slavery

You may be a fundamentalist atheist if… You believe that when our forefathers are framing the Constitution, they're staunch deists, but when they're beating their slaves, they're Bible-believing Christians.

– From “You may Be a fundamentalist atheist if…”

Slavery is often viewed as a Jewish/Christian institution, where the worst and most dehumanizing aspects of the practice were assumed to have been instituted by Jews or Christians. This would be an error. Slavery existed before the Torah was pronounced by God, and even before God spoke to Abraham.

Slavery was actually an institution held in most of the ancient world. Before Abraham left Ur, slaves were a part of life. Laws about them appear in the Code of Hammurabi for example. The ancient Greeks and Romans and Babylonians and Egyptians all had rules concerning slaves. Some were slaves who were captives in wars. Some were slaves as a penalty for breaking the law. We don’t really see at this time however that any person who was from society X was viewed as a slave automatically. Certain societies may have been oppressed more because they were weaker, but we don’t really see the racial slavery prevalent in the American South.

Slavery differed in practice in different regions of the ancient world, and differed in how it was practiced in different times. For example, we should realize that by ancient standards, the modern practice of prison labor would be considered slavery, though we don’t often call it that today.

A failure to realize this point is to make a mistake about the slavery which was mentioned in the Bible.

Was Slavery a Judaeo-Christian Invention?

In America, slavery is a rather sensitive issue. We have a shameful legacy of racial slavery in this nation which considered the African-American to be less than fully human and good only to be enslaved. Often, we assume all slavery was of this type and forget that it was a type of slavery which only appeared in the west during the mid 15th century, which the Church denounced as soon as it began to be practiced again (beginning with Pope Eugenius IV in 1435).

One of the post hoc fallacies which condemn Christianity runs along the lines of “America was founded by Christians. Americans kept slaves. Therefore Christianity is to blame for slavery. This overlooks the fact that Christians can fail to carry out the Christian message. It also forgets that Christians were also the ones who opposed slavery. Some Christians invoked the Bible to justify their own actions yes. That doesn’t mean Christians accepted slavery. We need to remember that all too often, Christian teaching was subverted by culture in certain regions (which is to be condemned), and even today self proclaimed Catholics (such as Pelosi) promote policies condemned by the Church.

What Does the Bible Say About Slaves?

We see that the Torah had rules about keeping slaves. I have certainly seen some objections that: if God thought slavery was wrong, then why did He not forbid slavery?

I think we need to make a distinction here between the acts of most of the world, which had some pretty harsh rules about slaves, and the Torah of the Israelites which put some pretty strict restrictions on the keeping and treatment of slaves. As I mentioned earlier with recapitulation, it may be necessary to gradually change a society by putting on restrictions a little at a time. If slaves were enslaved because they were felons for example, what is the result of just letting them go? If slaves were totally dependent on their masters, what was the result of suddenly casting them loose? Given the Middle East at this time assumed slavery as a general part of life, the sudden abolition of slavery could have been extremely disruptive and work against the ultimate preparation of the salvation for Gentiles and Jews both.

With this in mind, we can look at what the Bible says about slaves. There were rules considering the Hebrew who, due to financial hardship, would enter into a temporary state of servitude. There were also rules considering the non-Hebrew slaves.

In Exodus 21, we see that among the Hebrews, slavery was a limited thing, and normally employed when a person sold himself for a time (though a sentence for a crime was also an option). They could be a slave for six years, but on the seventh (with the exception of one who voluntarily chose to remain in perpetual bondage), they must be set free. A slave could not be sold to a foreign people. Now if a slave married a wife prior to slavery, the wife and children went free with him. However, if the master gave the slave a wife, the wife remained a slave.

This seems harsh if we think other cultures were as "enlightened" as 21st Century America.  However, in comparison to societies around the Israelites, this was a radical restriction.

Slaves were not to be forced to work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), and could not be mistreated. Exodus 21:26-27 tells us that a slave who was struck and suffered a permanent injury was to be freed. This indicates a radical restriction compared to other cultures, in that the slave was not the mere property of the owner, but had some human rights.

One interesting contrast to other societies is that the treatment of runaway slaves.  For example, the Code of Hammurabi mandated the death penalty for the harboring of a fugitive slave, saying in #19:

If he hold the slaves in his house, and they are caught there, he shall be put to death.

In contrast, Deuteronomy 23 tells us:

15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you; 16 he shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place which he shall choose within one of your towns, where it pleases him best; you shall not oppress him.

So we do see a difference in how the slave was viewed.  This law shows us the recognition that sometimes the slave had a need to run away because of cruelty or saving one's life, and the Israelites were not to send a one back to his owner but was to permit him to live among them.

Compared to societies where the slave was under the complete domination of the master, the Israelite was forbidden to treat their slaves in an abusive way (a slave owner could be punished if he mistreated a slave so he died). 

Leviticus 25:44ff is probably the most uncomfortable section on slavery, because depending on how one interprets it, one might consider it a divine sanction for slavery. Now it is true that the chapter seems to make a distinction between Jews in slavery and slaves from other peoples, but the question is whether this is a command or a concession.

A command is where one is ordered to do something or not do something.  A concession is permission to do or not do a thing.  What we see is essentially the Torah did not forbid the keeping of slaves.  Rather it made commands regarded how a slave was treated in the already existing institution of slavery.

One thing we need to remember was that Israel was to be a holy nation, and those of the nations around Israel were pagans and practicing pagan customs which were condemned as evil. This helps distinguish the difference in treatment of the Israelite and the foreigner. From this sense, we can see the idea that slavery of foreign peoples was not done from xenophobia or racial hatred, especially as condemnations of mistreating slaves applied to all slaves.

If Israel was at war, and the people made peace, then enslavement was not allowed (though the nations would be subjugated and take part in certain works of labor). The taking of slaves in war seemed to be limited to conditions when battles were actually fought and peace did not come to be. So what we seem to have here is not a mandate to take slaves, but rather, we have a part of the rules for conflicts (Deuteronomy 20:10-20) and how captives were to be treated was a part of this rule.

Does the Lack of a Commandment against Slavery Mean Slavery was Good?

It does not logically follow that laws which put restrictions on slaves but did not abolish slavery means God approved of slavery. Ultimately, the complaint of atheists seems to be that God should have forbade slavery if He was really good.

The logical form seems to be:

1. If God is [Good], He would have [forbade slavery] (If [A] then [B])

2. He did not [forbid slavery] (Not [B])

3. Therefore God is not [good]. (Therefore Not [A])

It is logically valid in this form (though often the argument is often expressed in the logically invalid ways of Affirming the Consequent or Denying the Antecedent). There is a problem however with the assumption the argument makes. If God tolerates and limits an evil without forbidding it directly (with the intention of leading humanity to where they understand it is wrong), then we have a condition where one can be good and still not meet the conditions of the one presuming to judge God and His intentions.

This is the ultimate problem with the main premise. The lack of the motive prevents us from saying “God is not good because He did not do this.” For example, if I see one man shoot another man, am I right in condemning the shooter? I would be wrong if it turned out the shooter acted in self defense.

Now, this does not mean that slavery was ever good. There are certainly many things which were tolerated because of the hardness of hearts (see Matthew 19:7 and divorce for example). Certainly it would be better if people some 3000+ years ago were less violent in society, but they did not understand… indeed the whole purpose of Scripture is about God bringing man to salvation from his sins. This is not done by mere external observance, but in the heart. God had to gradually bring them to where they could understand. Christians, understanding recapitulation, are not guilty of “picking and choosing” or “defending slavery.” Rather they seek to understand the Scriptures in proper context.

So the accusation of God being evil, because He did not make the banning of slavery one of the Ten Commandments, is a charge which lacks the evidence and motive.  God is not acting in history to create a perfect human society. Rather He is acting to bring all people to salvation, converting their hearts to change the way they treat their fellow man.

Issue II: The Law and Genocide


■ n. the deliberate killing of a very large number of people from a particular ethnic group or nation.

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

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Does the God who commands "Thou shalt not kill" contradict Himself and order the mass slaughter of anyone else who disagrees?  Some of the challenges of certain atheists show that certain practices of 3000+ years ago shock us.  Now while some atheists may ask out of malice, others may indeed be sincere, being deeply troubled by what they cannot reconcile and seem to be in conflict.

I cannot promise I will succeed in answering (or even addressing) all the issues on this topic, I do believe the question to be valid and I hope to at least give a Christian answer to the question "How can you think this is a good God?"

Considering the Concerns of the Troubled Reader of Scripture

This is, perhaps, the most difficult and scandal causing accusation of course.  These are the sections of the Bible where God commands total war (called ērem or the ban) against some of the nations of the chosen land delivered to the Israelites.  This does shock the modern reader who can think of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist today and wonder if the God we believe in could command us at any time to exterminate our neighbors.

What Are The Assumptions?  Why They Should Be Recognized.

One of the problems in the assumptions which are held by certain people who condemn the Bible is that we tend to think of the societies of the pagan Middle East then as being cosmopolitan and liberal as America is today.  We then envision some group of religious zealots coming from out of nowhere killing Americans arbitrarily for nothing more than perhaps being a little "sexually liberated" and practicing different religions.  A lot of the "Religion is intolerant" charges come from this sort of thinking.

This view however seems to overlook the fact that these societies were not like cosmopolitan liberal America.  They practiced some rather barbaric things.  One of the most horrific is the example of human sacrifice, usually of children.  The Canaanites, the Carthaginians, the Phoenicians… they all tended to sacrifice infants. City states often raided for profit, slaves and the like.  The losers could expect that those not taken as slaves could be killed. It’s not a time I would want to have lived in.

With this in mind, we need to remember that what we have here is a culture which existed in these conditions and took part in these activities.  The judgment of God against these city-states is not something we Christians are lying in wait to carry out against our fellow Americans.  They were carried out against specifically named nations that practiced things which, if they were done today, would be on the front pages under banner headlines like MAN MURDERS CHILD IN BIZARRE RITUAL!

Looking at Commands of God

Unlike the topics in Article II, where we can say that men behaved evilly, Christians cannot use this defense here.  Since we hold God is perfect and good, and we believe the Bible does not err, we must explain how a good God could give orders which seem so horrific today.

I believe, when we look at the commands of God on this topic, we need to recognize two aspects:

  1. That God commanded the Israelites to act as His agents of judgment in limited circumstances (He didn't command this with every people, but only with certain cities which were condemned for wicked practices).
  2. In other circumstances, God commands, by giving limitations to the cultural conduct of the region, with the view of guiding the people away from the evils done.

Why are these aspects important?  Because it distinguishes the actions of Israel being the instrument of Divine Punishment from the actions which Israel undertook on their own that were restricted.

Understanding What Was Commanded

We need to recognize that this was not a call to exterminate all unbelievers, Allahu akhbar, in the Middle East. It was not a call to forcibly convert all people (Judaism does relatively little converting from the outside). Certainly forms of this wickedness could be found elsewhere (German tribes, Aztecs and the druids would later practice some human sacrifice for example, though we don’t seem to see the depravity that existed in these civilizations mentioned in the Bible). This was a command to cleanse the land God chose to make Holy from all the reprehensible practices within it.

The commands begin in Deuteronomy 7, where we see what God commands:

1 “When the LORD, your God, brings you into the land which you are to enter and occupy, and dislodges great nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites: seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—

2 and when the LORD, your God, delivers them up to you and you defeat them, you shall doom them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.

3 You shall not intermarry with them, neither giving your daughters to their sons nor taking their daughters for your sons.

4 For they would turn your sons from following me to serving other gods, and then the wrath of the LORD would flare up against you and quickly destroy you.

5 “But this is how you must deal with them: Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, chop down their sacred poles, and destroy their idols by fire.

6 For you are a people sacred to the LORD, your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own.

What is interesting in what is commanded is the word which is translated as “doom” or “destroy.”

The Concept of Ḥērem

The word used for doom or destroy (depending on the translation used) is in fact [הַחֲרֵ֣ם] (ērem, sometimes spelled charam), which has several meanings: ban, devote, exterminate, excommunicate. This may seem to be vastly contradictory, but that is because of the mindset of not understanding the concept behind the word.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary (hereafter referred to as the ABD) speaks of ērem as follows:

A special form of dedication is Heb ḥērem, “severe dedication; ban.” This is found mainly in contexts of war (Josh 6:17–21; 8:26; 10:1, 28, 35, 37, 39, 40; 11:11, 12, 20, 21; etc.) but may apply to one’s own property (cf. Lev 27:28, “field of one’s inheritance”; cf. v 21). Things placed under ḥērem include persons, their buildings, animals, precious objects and metals, and land. Objects, animals, and land so dedicated would be destroyed or become sanctuary property to be used by the priests (Num 18:14; Josh 6:19, 24; Ezek 44:29). Humans would be put to death (Lev 27:29). As with regular dedication, ḥērem can take the form of an unconditional declaration or a vow (Num 21:2–3).

—Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). ABD (3:244). New York: Doubleday.

Now I’m not bringing this up to play word games and claim that everyone was in error in thinking meaning ‘A’ when really meaning ‘B’ was meant. However, understanding what ērem means is important to understand what God commands. Consider Leviticus 27:

28 “Note, also, that any one of his possessions which a man vows as doomed to the LORD, whether it is a human being or an animal or a hereditary field, shall be neither sold nor ransomed; everything that is thus doomed becomes most sacred to the LORD.

“Doomed” is ērem and the sense is that what is ḥērem is not to be used for profane purposes

God has made the land of Israel and the people he brought out of Israel ērem which means it is sacred and consecrated to Him. Abominable practices are not to be found in the land He made holy and are not to be performed by the people He has made holy. Because of this, the practices which are abhorrent must be driven out of the land. This is not arbitrary. God acts against wickedness, starting in the Land which will be holy.

The ABD tells us:

Child sacrifice, which often is an accompaniment of idolatry, is a cause of pollution (Ezek 20:26, 31; 23:37–39; Ps 106:37–38). Deuteronomy places idolatrous implements under ḥērem (“extreme dedication”) status which means that as the Israelites conquer Canaan they are to destroy the implements (7:5, 25). One who misappropriates idolatrous materials falls under ḥērem status (Deut 7:25–26; cf. Josh 6:18; 7:12; 1 Kgs 20:42). One under this status is liable to death (Lev 27:29; Deut 13:13–19—Eng 13:12–18; Joshua 7). One who sacrifices to other gods also falls under ḥērem status (Exod 22:19).

—Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). ABD (6:734). New York: Doubleday.

It is not denied that these cities within the land God has made Holy to Him are to be destroyed for their abominable practices. The emphasis, of course is on “driving out.” We don’t see a command to destroy those who have fled for example (see Deuteronomy 9 below), but rather the purification of a region from the wicked practices which were limited to the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

ērem is concerned with things which are condemned to be destroyed because of their idolatrous opposition to God. If the land of Israel is to be made holy and if the abominations of the inhabitants are to be considered so foul that they must be purged… not looted, then it stands to reason that God could make use of the Israelites to punish these nations just as He made use of the Babylonians to later punish the Israelites.

Ḥērem is Limited

Notice, however that this sentence of ḥērem is not to be applied to all the inhabitants of all nations the Hebrews encounter. Rather they are to be done in a certain context. Under Recapitulation, we understand that God’s act of salvation for the world begins with the people and the land He has chosen. The nations driven out of Israel are driven out because of their wickedness, showing how sin is so contradictory to God and the way we are called to live

This is shown in Deuteronomy 9, we see God speaking of these nations that Israel is to “doom.”

3 Understand, then, today that it is the LORD, your God, who will cross over before you as a consuming fire; he it is who will reduce them to nothing and subdue them before you, so that you can drive them out and destroy them quickly, as the LORD promised you.

4 After the LORD, your God, has thrust them out of your way, do not say to yourselves, ‘It is because of my merits that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; for it is really because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.

5 No, it is not because of your merits or the integrity of your heart that you are going in to take possession of their land; but the LORD, your God, is driving these nations out before you on account of their wickedness and in order to keep the promise which he made on oath to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

6 Understand this, therefore: it is not because of your merits that the LORD, your God, is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

Notice the emphasis on “driving them out” from the lands they held. This is not a case of God saying “always and forever, kill people who are not Jews.” Instead, God is speaking of specific nations in the land He has made holy which were being punished by God. God did not arbitrarily decide to uproot people who were innocent and did no wrong for the benefit of the Hebrews. Rather, these people were to be driven out on account of their wickedness. If they had not practiced this wickedness, they would not have been driven out.

What wickedness? We see this in Deuteronomy 18:

9 “When you come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the peoples there.

10 Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner,

11 or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead.

12 Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, and because of such abominations the LORD, your God, is driving these nations out of your way.

Human sacrifice and some rather sickening practices of magicians of these places was why these peoples were not to be allowed to continue practicing their ways after being conquered. Moreover, we need to remember that the people who consulted these magicians took part in the abominations by making them necessary.

Indeed, when we get to Deuteronomy 20, where we see God giving the command with the nations who were to be exterminated, we can see a very interesting thing about Deuteronomy 20:16-18.

 16 But in the cities of those nations which the LORD, your God, is giving you as your heritage, you shall not leave a single soul alive.

17 You must doom them all-the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites-as the LORD, your God, has commanded you,

18 lest they teach you to make any such abominable offerings as they make to their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD, your God.

This is often interpreted to mean that the Israelites were ordered to slaughter such people wherever they were. This is not so. In those cities in the geographical boundaries of Israel, the culture which did these abominations mentioned in verse 18 (human sacrifice among others) were not to be left standing lest it corrupt the Israelites. However, some of these nations existed outside the boundaries of Israel and the people there were not hunted by the Israelites. For example, the Canaanites existed in Syria and Lebanon, the Hittites lived in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). The Amorites lived in Syria and Arabia. The Jebusites and were ethnically and culturally Hittite. These nations, we can see, existed partially in Israel and partially outside.

I believe I have shown that the actions against these nations were because:

  1. God had decreed this land sacred
  2. These nations practiced abominable things against the Natural Law to an extent that God decreed they were to be punished for their crimes.

Because the task was to clear out a purified land and not to destroy the inhabitants of these other cities of this group of people, the charge of genocide does not follow. The purpose of this was not to inflict harm on a group because of a racial or religious hatred, but to perform the judgment God commands.

Here is a dilemma. If God does not exist in the first place, then the charge cannot be that God is evil. If God exists however, and is Judge, one needs to demonstrate how God behaved unjustly in His actions before the charge of genocide can be directed against God.

Certain Objections at this Point

Usually around here, one comes across the objection “What about the innocent people? They didn’t do anything!” When it comes to the adults, the question can be raised with “What innocent people?”

If we go to Genesis 18:20-33 and look at God’s promise, we can see that God exacts punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah because their wickedness is so great that not even ten just men can be found.

If we consider Ezekiel 18, we see that God does not desire the destruction of the sinner but their salvation. In Genesis 15:16, we see an interesting passage which fits in to the concept of God knowing what the future inhabitants of Israel will do without sanctioning it:

16 In the fourth time-span the others shall come back here; the wickedness of the Amorites will not have reached its full measure until then.”

This doesn’t mean God leaves them to their wickedness and then arbitrarily destroys them. We understand this to mean that they have a period of time to repent, but instead they will not avail themselves of this.

From this, we can see the Amorites will grow in wickedness, but that God tolerates it but does not approve it. Haydock’s commentary says:

…during which period of time, God was pleased to bear with those wicked nations; whose iniquity chiefly consisted in idolatry, oppression of the poor and strangers, forbidden marriages of kindred, and abominable lusts. (Leviticus xviii; Deuteronomy vi. and xii.)

So in such a case we need to consider some things when interpreting Scripture. Christians believe God does not take pleasure in destroying the wicked, but wants the salvation of all. Yet if He does punish the wicked, it stands to reason that those He passes judgment on have received their judgment rightly. A claim which disagrees with this requires evidence to the contrary.

Finally there is the issue of the children. It does indeed seem harsh to us that even children were slain, unless we remember that we believe in eternal life and that God only punishes people with damnation for those sins they are responsible for, not for sins which could not be known by them. Bringing the innocent out of the world, away from a culture which will destroy their souls if God had not punished the city can be understood in this context.

Conclusion: The Unspoken and Unproven Assumptions behind Accusations of an “Evil God”

The person who makes the accusation of the immoral God here, accusing Him of maliciously ordering the infants to be destroyed makes some assumptions here. First, he or she assumes that the inhabitants under ērem were innocent (or at least the sins were “minor”) and that the God condemning them was a vicious and intolerant being. Second, the person assumes God was ordering the children punished. Third, the person assumes that the Christian holds to the assumptions the atheist assumes.

Ultimately the accusation of the “evil God” comes from the assumption that sins are unimportant things, and not to be worthy of punishment. Since God punishes sinners in the accounts of Scripture, the act is taken without consideration of motive.

I think I should close this article with a quote from Fr. Thomas Crean O.P.

God is infinite, uncreated goodness. Therefore He has the right to be loved and obeyed unconditionally. This is simply how things are. God can no more abolish His rational creatures’ duty of obedience and love towards Him than He can abolish the laws of mathematics. Sin is a refusal of God’s right to be loved and obeyed. It is a metaphysical monstrosity: a created will trying to raise itself above the Will that created it. God owes it to His own goodness and holiness not to ignore sin, for that would be to allow evil to subject Him to itself. He can forgive sin on condition of repentance, or He can punish it, but He cannot pretend that it is significant, any more than He can cease to be God.

God is No Delusion, page 124

Christians believe God only punished the guilty when necessary, but seeks the salvation of all when they will turn to Him. The Torah was the beginning of the preparation of a nation to be holy and dedicated to Him, but ultimately the fulfillment of what God intends is in the salvation brought to the whole world in Jesus Christ. Failing to understand this, and accusing Christians of “picking and choosing” is to fail to understand anything at all about Christianity.