Showing posts with label ignorance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ignorance. Show all posts

Thursday, March 4, 2021

It’s Iimi! Problematic Assumptions (Part II)

Paula wants to continue the discussion from the Symposium. Her concerns cover a number of different approaches. But Iimi-tan points out that the assumptions of malice used against the Church are false. Dialogue to understand what the other side really believes is important to make the truth known.

Part III of this series can be found HERE

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: A Year of Ignorance and Rash Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray 2021 will be better.


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

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

It’s Iimi! On Grave Matter and Other Things

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

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ignorance and Arrogance: A Reflection


The saints and the philosophers made a distinction between being ignorant and being arrogantly ignorant. The former involved not knowing. The latter involved not knowing but still assuming one’s rash assumptions were true. The former might or might not involve sin, depending on whether one made the effort to learn to the best of one’s ability (God being the ultimate judge). The latter certainly involves rash judgments. Both of them are to be avoided, though the consequences might differ.


Ignorance can be defined as being “uninformed about or unaware of a specific subject or fact,” or “lacking knowledge or awareness in general.” We tend to see the term “ignorant” as an insult or a condemnation. But that isn’t always the case. Humans, being finite, will always have things they don’t know. Sometimes, what we don’t know is inconsequential (What was Gary Kasparov’s seventh move in the final game of his first victorious tournament?)* Sometimes, what we don’t know can have life-threatening consequences (Is it safe to pass that truck while going over the hill?).

Obviously, ignorance about things impacting our or other lives can be harmful. We can be held responsible if we could have learned the answer but never bothered or refused to learn to avoid acting on it. But if it was impossible for us to learn something (invincible ignorance), we can’t be held responsible. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (#16) tells us

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

Even if we strive to be faithful Catholics, there is always more to learn. There will be things we didn’t know previously that the Church taught on, or discover nuance in a teaching we had previously thought was more blunt. When we do discover this deficiency, we need to correct our thinking, trying to live according to those teachings. 

To do so, we need to be attentive to the Church, under the visible head, the Pope and bishops in communion with him. When the Church admonishes us that a behavior is incompatible with being a disciple of Christ, we act wisely if we listen to the Church, and foolishly if we refuse to listen and insist on our own views.


Arrogance can be defined as “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” It combines with ignorance when we have an exaggerated sense of our own knowledge, when we are actually ignorant—we think we know what is important to know, passing judgment without considering the possibility of our own being in error. For example, I have seen numerous instances of people responding to the Pope condemning injustice related to our politics by saying “why doesn’t he speak out on the mistreatment of Christians in the Middle East?”

This is where I wish I could reach through the computer screen to smack the person. The Pope has frequently spoken out on this subject, and a Google search would quickly correct the accusers error. The arrogance is assuming that one’s lack of knowledge is a knowledge of lack. Through arrogance, the accuser turns what they know nothing about into a belief that the Pope is negligent.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns against thinking that way, teaching:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

Assuming the moral fault of another requires knowledge that a thing is so, and not merely assuming that what we think we know is sufficient to level accusations. To accuse the Pope of letting priests marry, of letting the divorced/remarried receive the Eucharist, of supporting Marxism, one has to determine that it is what the Pope intends to do and not what one thinks follows from their interpretation of what he says or writes (I discuss this more, HERE).

The Catholic Church is a catholic (universal) Church. It teaches to people of all languages, cultures, and times. But if we assume that our language, culture, and time is the only way to interpret the Church teaching, we are ignorant and arrogant when we condemn the Church—under the visible head the Pope—for pointing out that we have gone wrong in an assumption.


(*) No idea. After writing the sentence, I tried Googling it out of curiosity. No luck.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

False Meaning From a Failure to Understand

One of the annoyances in daily Catholic life is encountering people who have no comprehension of what Catholics believe and instead insert their own meaning into what they see Catholics do. The result is a wild claim that the Catholic Church teaches something that actually no informed Catholic believes.

Let’s start with something obvious. The manga panel to the left is a ridiculous version of that behavior [#]. Catholics don’t believe that rosaries are a “protective charm” which holds a reservoir of prayers. A Rosary is a sacramental. A sacramental is something which prepares us to “receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” (CCC #1670). 

A Catholic who has forgotten his Rosary can certainly use his fingers instead. A simple set of Rosary beads made out  of knotted cord is no less efficacious than a set of Rosary beads made out of gold beads and silver chain [§]. The person who would be foolish enough to think that Catholics view Rosaries as having some sort of “magical” power based on the meaning a person gives it is grossly mistaken and guilty of superstition. If anyone were to to spread that view, they would be guilty of spreading a falsehood.

As I said above, the manga panel is just being cited as a ridiculous example. I strongly doubt Yosuke Kaneda intended anything other than using a convenient mysterious Western spiritual image [@]. But let’s look at something real—the anti-Catholic attacks which are just as ridiculous as Kaneda’s version of the Rosary but done with the intent of discrediting the Catholic Church in order to make their own theology look better. 

When I read writings of Calvin, Luther, or certain Eastern Orthodox theologians [*], the significant thing I notice is not the explanation of what they profess. It’s how they portray the beliefs of the Catholic Church to justify their divergence. The portrayals of the Catholic Church take local abuses (for example, the misuse of indulgences) and accuse us of inventing a “doctrine” that the Church not only never taught, but actually condemned. Those anti-Catholics who proselytize, often target uneducated Catholics by contrasting these false claims about the Church with their own beliefs to make them seem reasonable in comparison [£]

Catholics don’t believe that we’re saved by our own merits or that we earn our salvation through works. We don’t worship Mary or the saints. We don’t believe that the Pope is impeccable. Indeed, our view of Papal infallibility is much more limited than the authority given by some non-Catholics to “personal interpretation” of the Bible. We don’t rely on forged writings to justify the authority of the Church. But those hostile to the Catholic Church turn their lack of understanding about what we believe and the personal error by some in the Church into a “theology” that the Church never taught in the first place.

If you’re familiar with my blog, you are probably expecting a “bait and switch” at this point. And you’re right. I’m not interested in writing polemics against non-Catholics. But I am interested in writing about attitudes that Catholics deplore when used against them but risk falling into when they dislike something that the Pope or bishops say.

The fact is, some Catholics who are offended by the misrepresentation that some non-Catholics make against us, do use those tactics in dissenting from what the Pope and bishops teach. Whether they don’t understand what the Church teaches or whether they do understand, but want to justify their rejection of the Catholic Church, they misrepresent what the Church teaches, or what the Pope said, and claim that the (misrepresented) view of the Pope contradicts Catholic teaching. Because of this redefinition by the dissenters, they claim that they are justified in refusing religious submission of intellect and will. And, just like those anti-Catholic proselytizers, these dissenting proselytizers also use misrepresentation to target uneducated Catholics by making false claims about the Pope or the Church to make their own claims seem reasonable in comparison.

If we deplore the misrepresentations made against the Catholic Church from those outside of it, we should make sure we do not focus on the misrepresentations that come from the mote of ignorance in the anti-Catholic’s eye while ignoring the beam of culpable ignorance or knowing misrepresentation in our own. Because if we profess that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ—something other groups do not believe—we have more culpability if we misinterpret or misrepresent the teachings and act in defiance on that basis.


[#] Boarding School Juliet is a pretty awful story, even setting aside the issues of cheap fanservice. I gave up after two chapters and don’t recommend it. Other notorious examples include One Pound Gospel where nuns hear confessions, or the “anime Catholicism” of Negima.

[@] Japan has many misconceptions and negative understanding of Catholicism dating back to the Tokugawa era. As a result their portrayal of Catholics (TV Tropes calls it “Anime Catholicism”) is heavy on the trappings but devoid of actual understanding, portraying it as mysterious and slightly sinister. It’s similar to how early to mid 20th century pulp fiction portrayed Eastern culture and religion.

[§] If you’re curious about my own Rosary, for years I used one with knotted cords and plastic beads. My current one is made out of knotted cords and wooden beads that came from Jerusalem. I don’t think that one is holier by nature than my plastic one or that it “works better.”

[*] I would like to make clear that the described behaviors do not mean that I accuse Protestants or Eastern Orthodox in general of being guilty of what is described here and this article should not be interpreted in this way. Also, what I describe is based on the actual works of Calvin, Luther, and Eastern Orthodox theologians (post AD 1054), not what some Catholics claim that they say.

[£] For example, in Luther’s Large Catechism, he writes:

There is, moreover, another false worship. This is the greatest idolatry that we have practiced up until now, and it is still rampant in the world. All the religious orders are founded upon it. This kind of worship involves only the kind of conscience that seeks help, comfort, and salvation in its own works and presumes to wrest heaven from God. (The Annotated Luther, vol. 2, page 303)

This statement is manifestly false. If Luther was unaware of that fact, it means he grossly missed the point of his religious life as a monk and could be no reliable authority against the Catholic Church. If he was aware of that fact, it makes him a liar. Either way, he would not be an “expert witness” to cite against what Catholics believe.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

An Ignorant Wrath

Whoever answers before listening, theirs is folly and shame (Proverbs 18:13)

You might have heard the story about Pope Francis “changing” the Our Father. Actually, while you might have heard that from various news sources, it’s just another case of the media getting the story wrong. The real story is that the Pope approved a revision of the Missal by the Italian Bishops conference to make the Italian translation more accurately follow the Latin text—which is the standard to judge by—in the Our Father and the Gloria. As Catholic News Agency pointed out:

News reports in English may have given the impression that Pope Francis had changed the Our Father for the whole of the Church, rather than his see having confirmed a change made by the bishops of Italy.”

So, there was no story here. Everybody laughed it off, right? Wrong. The internet erupted with attacks from anti-Francis Catholics and anti-Catholics… two groups that are depressingly sounding more and more alike each day. His accusers immediately said he was “changing the Bible.” Except he wasn’t. The Latin Missal was revised in 2002 (under the pontificate of St. John Paul II) and the Italian Missal was revised to more accurately reflect the Latin. The Vulgate wasn’t changed. The Greek original wasn’t changed. 

Critics said he was ignorant of languages because the Lord’s Prayer matched the Bible “perfectly.” And to “prove” it, they quoted Scripture to “refute” him…using the Douay-Rheims Bible, despite the fact that English wasn’t even involved. Unsurprisingly, the line “lead us not into temptation” the prayer did match the verse in Matthew 6:13, which is not a surprise because that (with the exception of Matthew 6:11) is where the English translation of the prayer came from. (Citing the Douay to justify the current phrasing of The Lord’s Prayer in English is essentially a huge circular argument).

The Douay is a translation of a translation. The original Scriptures exist in Hebrew and Greek. The Vulgate translated it into Latin. The Douay translated the Latin Vulgate into English. The problem is when you translate from a translation, the result is less optimal than translating it from the original language because while Greek and Latin translate into each other well, neither corresponds with English as easily. 

That doesn’t mean that the Vulgate or the Douay is defective. It means that translating the same thing twice into two different languages is less clear than translating once. It does mean that the Douay That’s why Ven. Pius XII called for more accurate translations of the Scriptures in the encyclical Divini Affluante Spiritu (1943). The Douay predates the standards he called for, so it should not be used to counter more recent translations approved for use in the Church.

These accusations against the Pope show that wrath directed at him was born in ignorance. They did not know that the Pope changed nothing but only approved a legitimate change. He did not make a global change for the Church. He did not change the words of Scripture. He did not mistranslate the prayers of the Church. All of these accusations were based on critics not knowing the facts of the story, and a lack of knowledge about the teaching and history of the Church on these matters.

Yet, these critics are driving the attacks on the Pope, arguing that he is unfit to lead the Church. What they say is false, but some Catholics follow them anyway. Those Catholics should remember the warning of The Lord in Matthew 15:14–Let them alone; they are blind guides (of the blind). If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.

A Catholic who denounces the Pope based on ignorance, is a blind guide. A Catholic who follows such a guide will be led astray and might wind up in the pit of schism or other errors.

Friday, January 25, 2019

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

After New York passed its barbaric abortion law, Catholic Social Media attacked Cardinal Dolan for not excommunicating Cuomo. There were two problems with this. First, it’s not Cardinal Dolan, but the bishop of Albany (Bishop Scharfenberger) who has jurisdiction over Cuomo. Second, Excommunication for abortion is for those involved in the act of procuring [brings about, achieves] abortion. Canon 1398 states 

person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication.

When it comes to the Catholic politicians that legalize abortion, the proper canon is 915:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

In most cases, the individual is told by the bishop not to present themselves for Communion and the appropriate pastors are notified. Usually this is done privately. In rare cases (e.g. Sibelius, during the Obama administration), this is made public.

So, the attacks on the Cardinal Dolan were doubly wrong. First, because they demanded action from someone who could not perform it. Second, the action demanded was not the action that the Church applies. All excommunications involve grave sin, but not all grave sins have the penalty of excommunication. The bishops cannot arbitrarily go beyond the penalty set. This is a safeguard against abuse of power. Otherwise a bishop could excommunicate someone for any minor irritation.

This incident is an example of one problem in the Church. Many people do not know how the Church governs herself. The Church is not a tyranny (rule by the whim of one with dictatorial powers). She is governed by canon law which lists rights, responsibilities, and procedures. The Pope can amend canon law when needed (it is a human law, after all) to serve justice, but he doesn’t do so arbitrarily.

So, it is unreasonable for a Catholic to get angry with a bishop when the bishop doesn’t have the authority to do something through jurisdiction or the obligations of law.

So, the Catholic must ask whether he or she understands how the Church handles things in general and whether he or she has all the information needed to correctly judge what is going on. If the Catholic does not, he or she has no right to condemn the bishop.

If, however, a Catholic should do the required study, and remain concerned that wrong is being done, he or she has an obligation to convey that concern properly. As Canon 212 §3 puts it:

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Even if you’re concerned that a bishop made a “bad call,” you have the obligation to be reverent and respectful. That means no snide comments about “backbone” or insults. The bishops are successors to the Apostles and must be treated as such.

This is an example of why the adage, “a little knowledge is dangerous,” is true. A person ignorant of what the Church requires, accusing the Pope or bishop of doing wrong, is risking committing schismatic or heretical behavior because they don’t understand the responsibility and obligations of their office. They are effectively picking a needless “hill to die on.”

Understanding what the Church does and why is essential for assessing the actions of the Pope and bishops. Without that knowledge, those clamoring for “justice” are merely committing rash judgment.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Not Knowing We Don’t Know

Socrates, in his Apologia, discussed ignorance and wisdom. He was not a skeptic who believed we knew nothing (as some portray). Instead, he recognized that it was better to be aware that one was ignorant than to be ignorant and think one knew the truth about something. The former could be educated by seeking out the truth to learn what was ignorant about. The latter, thinking he knew something when he did not, would never search for the truth, instead remaining locked into his uninformed views.

This is not something limited to one faction or one area of knowledge. One can be conservative, liberal, or moderate. One can be ignorant on religion, philosophy, law, science, or any number of technical subjects. Both a theist and an atheist can be ignorant on a subject. But the wiser man knows his lack. The fool gets into arguments over things he knows nothing about.

Wisdom should not be confused with intelligence or education. A brilliant scientist who gets into arguments about a field he knows little about is still a fool next to a man with little education but enough wisdom to know what is beyond his knowledge.

I think of this as I watch the various religious and political disputes Americans go through today. We are tempted to think that what we don’t know is not worth knowing, and that we can interpret for ourselves what we read—even if we don’t know anything on the topic or the context of what is said. We fill in the blanks with unfounded suspicions and imagine vast conspiracies where people who don’t agree with us are conspiring to damage our Church or our nation. 

I should note that I don’t write this to demand a meritocracy where only those deemed the wisest be allowed to speak. Instead, I think we would be better off if we asked ourselves whether things really were as we thought them to be. Instead of arguing that a member of the Church should have known something, therefore he must be guilty of coverup (or plausible deniability). Instead of arguing about a coming “invasion” of refugees traveling through Mexico, we could ask ourselves how much we actually know about their motivations and intentions.

Being wise about not knowing something should require us to ask questions on a subject? How many people bashing Islam actually know the difference between teaching and culture, or how interpretation of the Quran varies from sect to sect and country to country? How many people realize that the “evils of Catholicism” they rail against were never taught by the Catholic Church? A wise man asks, “Is what I heard true? Or is it just a rumor?” If it is a rumor, then one has the obligation to determine if it is true. If it is not true, then we have an obligation to stop treating it as if it was true. That’s the minimum. It would be wiser to learn what is true about the topic and to share that truth.

I believe that’s part of Our Lord’s commandment in Matthew 7:1 on not judging. We cannot judge one’s moral guilt without knowing the circumstances behind an act. For example, Pope Francis, in Amoris Lætitia, pointed out that before we treat a divorced and remarried person as being in a state of mortal sin, we must ask ourselves whether that person met all the conditions of mortal sin. Nobody’s debating the grave matter. The question is whether the individual had the sufficient knowledge and consent required to make a sin mortal. Unfortunately, people who do not understand this misinterpret it as a “come if you feel called” opening of the Eucharist.

I also think this is relevant to our sexual abuse scandals. Many people are arguing whether the existence of a highly placed Churchman who did evil indicts everybody whom he happened to know. People assume that any complaint made is automatically forwarded to the Pope who knows everything about the incident. Nobody asks whether complaints get redirected, misplaced, or even quashed before it reaches the Pope. Nobody asks whether the information that arrives in Rome is enough to act on.

It’s one thing to say “If X happened, then Y should happen unless other information would make Y unjust.” It’s quite another thing to say “X happened, so unless Y happens, the Pope is evil!” Do we know X happened? Do we know the conditions of X? Do we know Y is a just response for the circumstances surrounding X? That’s where the wise man realizes he is ignorant and tries to learn about X and Y. Sometimes, finding out about X and Y will go beyond our abilities—especially if the information is not available. But in that case, the wise man does not make unfounded statements about X and Y. Instead he learns what he can and does not go further than his knowledge allows.

But if we don’t do that, we’re simply fools, rashly judging things we do not know, but think we do.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fault Lines in Finding Fault

In geology, fault lines are where tectonic plates grind past each other. Sometimes they stick for awhile. When they finally slip, the result is an earthquake [§]. I find fault lines a good metaphor for the current strife in the Church. People pushing it in the direction they think best cause friction and conflict and, when a major scandal comes, this friction turns into a major jolt. While we can’t predict where slips—or scandals—will occur, the visible fault lines give us a sense on the general region the earthquake will be centered in. 

To (probably dubiously) apply this as a metaphor to the current strife, I think where we’re likely to cause friction can be found in where we have our previous leanings. The Church, despite the warnings of St. Paul or St. Clement I, is split into factions. Each one has its own ideas of the heroes or villains in the Church. Each one has ideas on what is right and wrong with the Church. So when a scandal arises, the general tendency is to say that the blame rests on the villains and things we see wrong with the Church. As a solution, we suggest that we turn it over to our heroes and do the things we think are right.

The problem is, we’re just as bad of sinners as those who have the responsibility to shepherd the Church and we lack the authority to do so. The result is, we often generate the friction by pushing in our preferred direction and when that friction becomes a theological earthquake, we blame the Church for the disaster, thinking that if only they had listened to us, the Church wouldn’t be in this mess. The problem is, we don’t have the whole picture. We can offer conjecture based on the facts we do have, but if we don’t have all the facts, our judgments will probably go wrong somewhere... we’ll be causing friction that leads to ruptures, possibly even schism.

I don’t say that we should just be passive and let the clergy do everything to avoid trouble. That’s clericalism and the Pope has warned against that. We of the laity have a role to play and, provided we do so reverently, we can make our needs and concerns known to those who shepherd (canon 212). But we have to know our limitations and not insist that what we know is all there is to know. It’s one thing to have a necessary conflict between good and evil. It’s another to coopt these conflicts as a proxy for our personal preferences. 

For many, this set of accusations against the Pope [†] is a proxy war for what people already thought about him. Those who dislike him tend to give credence to the claims of Archbishop Vigano. Those who like him tend to doubt the accusations. Hopefully, we don’t let our preconceived notions get in the way of seeking the truth. Unfortunately, many do. They either accuse the Pope or Vigano of “lying” because that sounds more serious than “mistaken recollection” or “saw the situation differently.” They say the Pope was guilty of a “coverup” because that supports their narrative of a bad Pope better than “the Pope was deceived by a charismatic individual who lied” or “Vigano was mistaken about the nature of what Benedict XVI intended to do with McCarrick.”

If we want to actually help the Church, we need to consider the possible reasons and eliminate the ones the evidence doesn’t support. For example, as more comes out on the backgrounds of the people involved in this scandal, I find it hard to believe that the Pope knowingly and willingly took part in a coverup. I don’t find it improbable that the Pope was mistaken about the true nature of some people and assumed he had the necessary facts to make changes [∞]. He strikes me as someone who strives to do what was right. So I believe that if he did reverse Benedict XVI’s decision (the point to be proven), he most likely believed he was doing what was right before God. A critic of the Pope would no doubt disagree with my assessment. But both of us would have to be open to seeking the truth and avoiding rash judgment—on the Pope, Vigano, Wuerl, Burke etc. etc. etc. If we don’t, we’re guilty of rash judgment against the one we hold in contempt.

We should remember Socrates and the lesson of knowing we do not know something. If we know we’re ignorant, we can learn. If we don’t know we are ignorant, we won’t even try to learn.

To do this, we need to catch ourselves when we think “There’s no good reason the Pope (or Vigano) would do this! He must be lying!” There can be a good reason that exonerates. Or there can be an earnest mistake that reduces or eliminates culpability. We need to be aware of the possibility and consider how the one we think wrong might have reached the conclusion sincerely.

If we can do that, we can help reduce the friction in the fault lines our factionalism causes and help reduce confusion and conflict in The Lord’s Church.


[§] Yes, I’m grossly oversimplifying. This is a theology blog, not a geology blog.
[†] If you’re joining me for the first time, let me just be up front about it: I think he’s innocent.
[∞] These, being juridical acts, not acts of teaching would still be authoritative, but not protected by infallibility. He could reverse his predecessor’s decision and his successor could reverse his decision with no contradiction of doctrine.

Friday, December 26, 2014

TFTD: They Revile What They Do Not Understand

But these people revile what they do not understand and are destroyed by what they know by nature like irrational animals. (Jude 1:10)

A couple of days before Christmas, I was involved in a combox discussion on the issues over the satanic counter to the Nativity Scene in Florida. My own thesis was that the putting up a “religious” display with the intent of protesting religious displays was a self-contradiction. What struck me was a comment from one of the atheists. It was a tu quoque claim that the Bible was full of contradictions. Today, there seems to be a lot of atheists on Facebook and in the comboxes bashing Christianity over Neil deGrasse Tyson and his tweet in celebration of the December 25th birthday of Sir Isaac Newton (the actual tweet struck me as being more pathetic than offensive, apparently trying to imply Newton was more important than Christ).

Basically, the theme is that Christians are stupid for believing in God while blaming Christianity and religion in general for every crime in the history of humanity (denying the role of the atheistic ideology in the worst atrocities of the 20th century). These things are pretty tiresome, and fairly frustrating. The bashing is basically illogical and factually wrong. They would actually be easy to refute—if people took the time to listen and investigate whether what they say is true.

Ven. Fulton J. Sheen expressed things very well when he wrote:

“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Radio Replies vol. 1)

Ven. Archbishop Sheen makes a good point. The Catholic Church is not really hated for what she teaches, but for what people think she teaches, and when people run afoul of the Church teachings, we are told that these teachings were made out of hatred of women, of people with same sex attraction, of divorced people, the poor, the rich, sexuality etc., simply because we have a teaching on the morality of certain actions.

People don’t even ask what we teach, let alone why we teach it. People assume that the worst possible portrayals of the Church in history are true, never realizing that even in past centuries there were people with ideologies and axes to grind who had no problems denigrating the Church to build up their own agendas. Because they know nothing of Catholic teaching and history, but assume the Church is capable of the worst, they assume that the horror stories they hear must be true and done out of sheer malice—never mind facts and the context of the times.

Sometimes I wish people couldn’t post on a subject online unless they could demonstrate they understood what they were bashing.

But we shouldn’t expect that. Our Lord did warn us that we could expect hatred from the world if we sought to be faithful to Him:

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)

So we endure hatred and try to reach out to the person of good will who wants to learn the truth, praying for all of them.

Monday, September 3, 2012

TFTD: Damnant quod non intellegunt (They condemn what they do not understand)


Dammant quod non intelligunt – They condemn what they do not understand.  These words of wisdom by Cicero are important to consider when witnessing the modern American political discourse.  All too often we see rhetoric which condemns a position while that condemnation demonstrates no comprehension of what they oppose.

A couple of days ago, someone posted the following comment on Facebook.

"[A]ll of us need to put a stop to the 'Republican WAR ON WOMEN'. I can NOT, I am mean [sic] I can not understand why ANY woman would be a republican."

Which made me think of a comment made by GK Chesterton:

"It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

—G.K. Chesterton in The Catholic Church and Conversion

I think this points out the dangers of the ideology being forced on us today.  The people who cannot comprehend why we believe what we do respond by ad hominem attacks condemning those they disagree with. 

GK Chesterton wrote once, in the article, The Drift from Domesticity:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

I think it is a valid point.  I can understand why a Blue Collar Catholic or a Feminist might support the platform of the Democratic Party.  I believe their reasoning is faulty and leads them to a wrong conclusion, but I do understand the point their reasoning comes from.  I can also understand why certain Conservatives might be tempted by the Ayn Rand concept of Objectivism (a wrong turn in the concept of objective truth), even though I believe it is also wrong.  It is by understanding what they do think, I can also understand where they go wrong.

But when someone who opposes the Republican platform says, "I can not understand why ANY woman would be a republican," shouldn't such a person step back and ponder the issue before condemning it?  How do they know their knowledge contains all truth and no part of untruth?

Essentially this mindset argues that (to put it in a valid form):

  1. Everything I understand is true (All A is B)
  2. I do not understand [X] (No C is B)
  3. Therefore [X] is not true. (Therefore No C is A)

Even if the major premise is true (doubtful), that does not mean Everything that is true I understand (all [B] is [A]).  There can be gaps in the knowledge, and if there are gaps, there can be things which are true and you do not understand.  So it is foolish to think that because you do not see a reason a thing can be so, it follows that it cannot be so.

One can say, "I understand what they claim, but reject it as false."  One can say, "I do not understand, and so I need to explore more."  One can say, "I understand what is claimed and I accept it as true."  These three responses can be wise.  But to say, "I do not understand, so I think it is wrong" is not the act of wisdom, but the act of a fool.

This is one of the problems of modern thinking.  Nobody seems to recognize Socrates' maxim, The unexamined life is not worth living (Plato, Apology 38a), which is a pity  Responding to the question at his trial as to why he cannot just be quiet and stop teaching to save his life, he says:

Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; [38a] and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less.

Plato. (1966). Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd.

In other words, Socrates believed he was obligated to continue to examine himself and others as the greatest good to man, and the life which failed to do so was not worth living – not an endorsement of suicide but a commentary on the quality of life of the person who does not do so.  All of us are called to search for the truth and to absorb it into our lives. 

To refuse to accept truth and to refuse to reject error on the grounds of not understanding, is foolishness.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Brief Reflection on "Science Saved My Soul"

Someone on Facebook shared the video, Science Saved My Soul, the upshot being the video makes the claim that science saved his soul from religion.  Watching the video and reading the transcript, I was struck by how bad it was.   So what is wrong with it?

The man has minimal knowledge of religion and assumes it to be an enemy of science.  He asks:

If God exists, God made this. Look at it. Face it. Accept it. Adjust to it, because this is the truth and it’s probably not going to change very much. This is how God works. God would probably want you to look at it. To learn about it. To try to understand it. But if you can’t look—if you won’t even try to understand—what does that say about your religion?

The funny thing is, many scientists were Catholics who believed that because God created the universe, the universe must be reasonable.  The myth of Galileo aside, it was the Catholic Church who did the most to advance Astronomy (35 craters on the Moon are named for Jesuit astronomers).   Cathedrals were built to function as observatories. 

Consider that.  Now consider the narrator's words:

Religions tell children they might go to hell and they must believe, while science tells children they came from the stars and presents reasoning they can believe. I’ve told plenty of young kids about stars and atoms and galaxies and the Big Bang and I have never seen fear in their eyes—only amazement and curiosity. They want more. Why do kids swim in it and adults drown in it?

Now consider that the founder of the theory which would become to be known as The Big Bang Theory was Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître – a Catholic priest from Belgium who was an astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain.  He founded it in 1927.  He was the one who demonstrated the expansion of space was shown by the red shift of galaxies.

(Religious person – must be ignorant of Science according to the video)

The person who says Science and Religion are in conflict may know a great deal of Science – but he or she is demonstrating a profound lack of knowledge of religion.