Showing posts with label moral relativism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label moral relativism. Show all posts

Monday, November 20, 2023

It's Iimi! The Challenge!

Two classmates thought they had devised a way to trap Iimi in a dilemma. They would ask a question that would force Iimi to either admit religion was not logical or to come up with an evasion they could call out as dishonest. How will Iimi handle things when faced with… The Challenge!

I recommend Peter Kreeft's A Refutation of Moral Relativism, which covers the topic in Socratic Dialogue form far better than a comic can handle.

No, Nila is not an idiot. Nor is she being portrayed as a stereotype. Instead, Bahrudin, Zara, and Raziq consider her an "uneducated foreign servant." (See Issues 116 and 117 for how Zara treats maids). Nila exploits it to pick up information for Sumeja. 


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Persecution: American Style

Western nations attacking Christians don’t normally use the violent, brutal attacks we associate with the term “persecution.” Because of that, it is easy to pretend that Western Christians are not targeted for their beliefs. But that’s the fallacy of relative privation. The fact that attacks on Christians in Country A are far worse than harassment of Christians in Country B does not mean the situation in Country B is not unjust.

In the West, attacks on Christians begin over teachings against popular vices. Foes portray Christian opposition to moral wrongs as hating the people who commit them. Then they accuse Christians of violating an esteemed cultural value out of bad will. These accusations justify laws (or, more commonly, executive action and court rulings) against the alleged wrongdoing of Christians. When Christians insist on obeying their faith despite unjust laws, foes harass them by Criminal and Civil complaints aimed at forcing compliance. 

Political and cultural elites argue that the injustice is just a consequence of Christians doing wrong. If they would abandon their “bigotry,” they would not face legal harassment. The problem is, they accuse us of wrongdoing, but we are not guilty of wrongdoing. We deny that we base our moral beliefs on the hatred of people who do what we profess is wrong. They must prove their accusation. People cannot simply assume it is true.

In response, foes bring up the bigoted behavior of a few who profess to be Christians. The Westboro Baptist Church was a popularly cited bugbear before the group fell into obscurity. They argue that groups like this prove bigotry on the part of Christians. This means that those who deplore stereotypes stereotype us. They claim (and we agree) that people can’t assume all Muslims are terrorists or that all Hispanics are illegal aliens just because some are. But they do use fringe group Christians to argue all Christians are bigots.

To avoid guilt in this persecution, Americans must learn that our believing certain acts are morally wrong does not mean we hate those who do those acts. Yes, some Christians confuse opposing evil with hating evil-doers. You condemn them. But so do we. Just behavior demands you investigate accusations against Christians, not assuming our moral beliefs are proof of our guilt and claiming the only defense is to renounce our beliefs.

Please, do not try to equate our moral objections with America’s shameful legacy of slavery and segregation. We don’t deny the human rights of any sinner—for then we would have to deny them to ourselves—but we do deny that law can declare a sinful act the same as a morally good act. Do not assume we want to reinstate laws and punishments from past centuries to punish sinners. We’re also shocked by what nations saw as necessary to deter crime that harmed society [1]. But saying theft is wrong does not mean we think chopping off the hands of a thief is right. Even when an act is evil, there can be unjust and disproportionate punishments in response.

Also, please do not assume that your lack of knowledge of what we believe and why we believe it means we have no justification but bigotry when we say things are wrong, Just because a foe cannot imagine why we believe X is wrong does not mean we have no valid reason. I can speak only as a Catholic [I leave it to the Orthodox and Protestants to explain their own reasons when it differs with the Catholic reasoning] but we do have 2000 years of moral theology looking into acts, why they are wrong and what to remember for the moral considerations about personal responsibility. Our goal is not coercion or punishment. Our goal is reconciling the sinner with God. That means turning away from wrongdoing and doing what is right.

Foes may say they think our ideas of morality are wrong. But if they believe we are wrong, then they have an obligation to show why they are right and we are wrong—with the same obligation to answer criticisms of their claims that they demand of us. They cannot accuse us of “forcing views on others” and then demand we accept their views without question. That’s not the values America was founded over. That’s partisan hypocrisy worthy of the old Soviet Union, and should have no part in American discourse.




[1] Of course, remember that France as a secular nation did not abolish the guillotine until 1980, so perhaps we shouldn’t think we’re so far ahead of those times as we would like to think?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

On People and Actions: You Are Not Your (Expletive) Khakis.

You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your @#$%ing khakis.

—Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

One of the major problems that comes up when people hear the old adage of loving the sinner and hating the sin is that nowadays, people assume that what they do is what they are. Therefore, when the Church condemns an action, people assume this means the Church hates them personally. This is why people assume Christianity is “homophobic” or “anti-woman” when they condemn behavior like homosexual acts, contraception, abortion and divorce/remarriage. Then we get to hear a lot of people quoting Matthew 7:1 out of context.

As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, "Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine.” (“Small error in the beginning; large [error] will be in the end”). From the beginning error of believing a person is what they do, the concluding error is condemnation of a sin = condemning a person. A person may have a job as an accountant, but that does not make the person an accountant and a person may have a same sex attraction, but that does not make the person a homosexual. The Church believes that a person is more than their actions or ethnicity—and to reduce them to their behavior is to treat them as less than human. 

In terms of Catholic teaching, the person is primarily a child of God. The individual may be ignorant of that fact. The person may reject that fact. The person may accept that fact. But regardless of what the individual does with that information, the fact remains that he or she is a child of God and however they are treated must reflect this fact. Because of this, the Catholic Church never allows us to turn our backs on the sinners, the poor or anyone else—we’re not allowed to write off anyone as irredeemable.

But the fact that we, as Christians, cannot write off anyone as irredeemable has one very important fact that follows from it—every person is in need of redemption. That indicates that we are at odds with God in how we live to some extent. When we act in a way which is contrary to how God calls us to live, that needs to change. Living contrary to God’s call blocks us from Our Lord's redemption, and such behavior must be abandoned if we would be saved. People who know what the truth is can offer correction, just as the person who teaches can offer a student correction when the student gets a wrong answer. That’s not being judgmental. Consider this excerpt from a Socratic dialogue by Peter Kreeft (one that does not deserve to be in obscurity):

Libby: You sound so damned sure of yourself, so dogmatic, so judgmental! Your namesake[*] said, “Judge not.” But you don’t dig that soft stuff, do you?

‘Isa: What do you think Jesus meant when he said “judge not”? Do you think he meant “don’t judge deeds, don’t believe the Commandments, don’t morally discriminate a just war from an unjust war or a hero from a bully”? He couldn’t have meant that. He meant “don’t claim to judge motives and hearts, which only God can see.” I can judge your deeds, because I can see them. I can’t judge what your motives are, because I can’t see that.

Libby: Then stop being so judgmental about that, at least.

‘Isa: But I can judge what your motives ought to be—just as you’re doing, when you judge “judgmentalism”.

—Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 108.

So the Christian teaching is not “homophobic” or “anti-woman” (two popular epithets today). Rather the teaching is concerned with letting people know how their lives estrange them from God and what they must do to be saved. It’s not a hatred. It’s a case of viewing a person as being worth the effort to save—worthy of receiving our love because God loves them.

Sure, you’ll find Christians who are judgmental and hateful. You’ll also find atheists and Buddhists who are judgmental and hateful. But the Christian who actually hates another person because of their sins is not acting as God commands them to act. They are not acting as the Church commands them to act. I think people forget that. Yes, in the Middle Ages, punishments that we now see as barbaric were seen as normal. But even then, the person was not reduced to the evil they did. Even when the evil done resulted in Capital Punishment, the Church was still concerned for the salvation of the person—to bring them back to right relationship to God before they died.

But what happens when a person refuses to be brought back into right relationship with God? We certainly cannot say “Oh well, might as well go ahead and do it then.” We cannot allow people to redefine their action as “good.” But we can try to show love in pointing out that this action is harmful to a person based on what God wants them to be—because trying to encourage a person to abandon a harmful action is an act of love, not an act of hatred.


[*] The Arabic form of “Jesus” is ‘Isa. Hence the reference to “Your namesake” in the quote from Peter Kreeft.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Thoughts on Religious Freedom in America For the New Year

Religious freedom americaNot the country I grew up in...


I think we’re now at the point where there are enough people out there who believe that whatever harms their enemy is good that we can expect to see popular support for whatever violation of religious freedom is directed at the Catholic Church—especially if this violation can be cast as defending the “rights” of a group portrayed as a victim. Let’s face it. When a Church affiliated institution (like a school or hospital) can establish a policy making clear that all potential employees are called to live publicly and privately in accordance with Church teaching, and the employee willingly signs said agreement and then is fired for violating it, and successfully sues the institution involved, we are seeing the establishment of rule of law being replaced by arbitrary judgment. When a business is established by a Christian who wants to run his or her business in accordance with Christian moral principles can be sued or prosecuted when the business refuses to do something against those principles, we’re seeing the rule of law being replaced by arbitrary judgment.

It’s kind of alarming seeing the comments of people online who have no problem with self-contradiction. Champions of freedom say that they just want the freedom to do what they want without interference, but when we try to claim the same rights for doing what we ought, suddenly freedom is nowhere to be found. No, we can’t say same sex “marriage” is wrong without risk of legal action. No, we can’t refuse to distribute contraceptives against our conscience without risk of legal action. No, we can’t hold people accountable for breaking a signed agreement without risk of legal action—even if they’re directly working for the Church.

It Will Be a Different From The Totalitarian Version

Now America prides itself as being a land of freedom, so I doubt we’ll directly see it move to overt persecution of Christianity of the type seen in Communist nations unless we fall much further into the rule by decree mindset. What I expect that we’ll see is government misusing the rule of law to portray Christian moral teaching as a violation of the rule of law. Then, by changing the meaning of things, the Church is suddenly portrayed as violating the law by standing by her fidelity to Christ. Marriage is redefined, and suddenly we’re accused of violating the civil rights of people with same sex attraction. Abortion and contraception are redefined from a crime to a right and suddenly we’re accused of violating the rights of women.

The Accusations Used To Justify It Are Not Rational

The usual tactic is to make use of the question begging analogy fallacy and point to the real racism of American history, alleging that the opposition to certain things as being sinful is based on intolerance, just as whites were intolerant of blacks in the past (and tragically, some still hold today). This attack tries to link two things with an alleged (but not proven) motive, failing twice as the comparison is not true and the alleged motive used to link the two is not proven. So opponents point to the real evil of racism, allege our motives for Christian moral teaching as being equally intolerant and declare that the government must oppose this “intolerance” just as they opposed the ethnic racism of American history.

But the problem is, there is no material advantage to being a Catholic, as opposed to being an atheist or a Protestant. Nor is one’s membership in a religion the same unchangeable thing as being a member of an ethnic group. People are not (and never were, contrary to popular belief) forcibly converted to Catholicism. One is free to join the Church if they accept what we believe is true. If they reject that what we believe is true, then it makes very little sense to want to join, remain in or work for the Church that says, if you would follow Christ, you are called to avoid sin to live rightly.

Because of this reality, it is unjust to attempt to legally harass us for being true to what we believe is part of following Christ. We do not seek to violate the laws of this nation (but we may be forced to choose between our faith and the state when the state tries to put itself above God), though we use our constitutional rights to try to change laws we believe are unjust. We don’t use the tactics of those who hate us because they strike us as unjust (Matt 7:12). Yes, some individuals among us may do evil, but they do evil against the teachings of the Church, not because of the teachings of the Church.

There are basically two issues in the debate on religious freedom. The first is making laws which reflect what is right and just. The second is insisting on the freedoms which others try to deny us while demanding it for themselves. Because there are two issues, we need to keep track of which one applies where. When we call for laws to be passed which have the proper understanding on the nature of humanity and what is good for it, we are making reference to the first issue. When we oppose attempts to restrict our freedoms to practice what we believe is right, we are making reference to the second issue.

Freedoms Now Applied Only to Favored Views Despite Claims of “Tolerance"


AnimalFarm1  Version 2

The response to these two issues makes me wonder what happened to the country I grew up in. The prevalent attitude by those cultural and media elites is that these freedoms are only applicable to certain types of freedoms—the freedoms they approve of. The beliefs of people they disagree with are not considered protected and what they would consider unjust if it were applied to them is considered perfectly acceptable when applied to those they dislike. That’s why it is considered perfectly acceptable to have a person forced out of his job for supporting a position such as traditional marriage (such as Brendan Eich), but intolerance if a person was forced from his job for supporting same sex “marriage."

See, the first issue is an issue of what is true and how we should behave on account of what is true. Yes, there will be conflicts in these beliefs of what is true. But if one person says “X is morally wrong,” and the other person says “X is not morally wrong,” the proper response is the seeking of truth. On what basis do you make your claim? The response of accusing people of homophobia or a “war on women," is not an exchange of ideas. That’s an attempt to bully, vilifying the person who dares disagree. If a Christian believes that the good of society means one has to protect the building block of society (the traditional family), he can do so peacefully, operating within the law, with the right to peacefully try to convince people willing to listen that this is worthy of a law.

The second issue is the issue of allowing a person to live as they believe their conscience commands them to do—which is quite different from the person who says they “don’t see anything wrong with it.” The person who believes contraception is morally acceptable is not having their rights imposed on if she works for an employer who refuses to pay for it out of moral obligation, but the person who believes contraception is morally wrong is having their rights imposed on if the courts decree he or she must pay for these contraceptives. In other words, the person whose conscience is lax enough to see contraception as morally OK is not being forced to do something evil when the employer says, “Fine, but I’m not paying for it.” But forcing people to pay for what they think is evil is a violation of conscience.

Counter-Accusations Do Not Actually Fit Our Behavior, Except in Extremists That We Disavow

So, this is why religious believers must be more and more active in defending what they believe, while seeking to reach out to others in showing them why Christian beliefs are true. We are being told both that we have no right to seek laws which make the society live in a way that is just and true and that our beliefs are not covered under the freedoms all citizens claim. Objectively, we must say that some things are always wrong, while still treating our opponents with human dignity. On the other hand, we must say that even if our opponents disagree with our claims to truth, that doesn’t mean that they have the right to strip us of our human dignity.

This is the issue that is being ignored. The elites are actually behaving in a corrupt way, where consideration of rights and right don’t figure into things. Self-Contradiction is apparently acceptable so long as it helps them and harms us. But if we insist that they apply the same standards to themselves as they apply to ourself, it’s suddenly unfair.

Now, it some people do accuse us of holding a double standard. Either they point to the infamous Christian groups which are a good bogeyman to unjustly tar all Christians with to make the Christian teaching look bad (most Christians who oppose same sex acts don’t support the unjust treatment for those with that inclination), or they accuse us of being motivated by hatred when we say, “Hey, practice what you preach.” Yes, unfortunately, you will find Christians who don’t practice what they preach. But they are not the majority of Christians, and most of us recognize that those who act in this way are doing wrong even if they agree with us that X is wrong. So, it’s unjust to blame us for the actions of people we repudiate and it is wrong to accuse us of bad will because we disagree the popular views.


But people tend to accept the accusations of “guilt by association” and bald assertions of intolerance that we deny. That’s basically why religious freedom and the ability to do right is looking bleaker for 2015. Is there a remedy? Sure. It requires men and women of good will to stand up against the governments, the courts and even in places of business and point out that what is being alleged of us is unjust. It requires people to distinguish between what is alleged about Christian belief and the motive for it and the truth of Christian belief and why we hold it. In other words, religious freedom is in danger so long as people are willing to tolerate (or approve of) attacks on other people.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Relativism: The Enemy of Freedom

Those who oppose the teachings of the Church tend to do so because the teaching of the Church interfere with the notion that, "I can do whatever the hell I want . . . so long as I don't hurt anybody . . . anybody important I mean . . . and by important, I mean by my own standards, not yours . . . just @#$& off and quit imposing your views on me!"

Of course, the problem is "important by my own standards" is a vague, subjective term that, if accepted, means that someone else can decide that you are not important by their standards, and suddenly you're crammed in a boxcar or a gulag if they gain power over you.

But that's the problem with relativism. if values are relative to the person who applies the standard, and nobody has the right to judge another person's values, then to condemn another person for doing something we dislike is "judgmental," because he or she isn't hurting anybody important . . . by their own standards.

When it comes down to it, relativism isn't very freeing at all. it's used to justify MY freedom from YOU, but not YOUR freedom from ME. . .


That's basically a case of "might makes right." If you have the power (physical, financial, political) to impose your will, you can do what you want. If you don't, you're out of luck until the wheel spins and you're on top.

History is full of examples of people in power rejecting objective values which conflict with their own standards. The results tend to show up in history books described in terms of disgust and horror.

So, what's the alternative? The alternative is the acknowledgement that objective good and evil acts exist, where one is to do the former and avoid the latter. If we think Nazism or Racism or other things are wrong, we need to look at what makes them wrong in comparison to similar actions, and then make sure that we avoid the thing that makes them wrong. Otherwise, you get ridiculous situations like, "I'm not acting like a Nazi? Do you see me mistreating JEWS? I'm only mistreating DISSIDENTS!"

In other words, objective morality tells us that it is not the fact that the Nazis mistreated Jews that made it wrong (but that it would be OK to treat others that way) but the fact that the action mistreated the Jews that made it wrong. If the Nazis' treatment of the Jews was wrong, it stands to reason that treating others in the same way must also be condemned.

That's an objective value--don't mistreat people. Of course then we have to make distinctions. Is incarcerating a felon "mistreating" him? If not, how do we distinguish the proper treatment from the mistreatment? When is the use of force just and when is it unjust? But the fact that there are many considerations does not change the fact that there are right ways and wrong ways to handle a case.

If we depend on relativism, only the person who decides can choose what is just and unjust. In such a case, we can only coax and persuade the person to change to how we would like them to behave--or use force. But if we recognize the existence of objective truth, we can appeal to justice and right and show the individual that what they are doing is wrong, even if it seems right to them.

That's basically why objective truth and objective morality defend freedom, while relativism actually endangers it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Asking the Wrong Question: A Reflection

The Wrong Question

I came across a headline which asked if Christians were out of step with the mainstream. I found that question to be very saddening. It indicates that for a certain portion of the population and the elites think that going along with the preferred position is more important than determining the truth of a position... because the two are not the same thing.

As I have cited many times in the past in my blog, Aristotle once defined truth as saying of what is, that it is and saying of what is not, that it is not. In other words, we need to explore the nature of a thing before accepting the mainstream view of it.

Why? Because the mainstream of a country can go very far astray in what it favors. The extreme example, of course, is the example of Nazi Germany. The Nazi Party came to power legally and achieved things that were popular -- righting perceived wrongs that came from the Treaty of Versailles. While the party did some things that made people uncomfortable, these tended to be dismissed as being less important than the perceived good. The opponents of the regime tended to be dismissed or attacked.

The point here is not to equate America with Nazi Germany (so spare me the flames). The point is to show that what the mainstream accepts is not necessarily good. Whether it is the acceptance of National Socialism or whether it is the acceptance of modern sexual morality in the West, the acceptance of things by the mainstream of a society is NOT an indication that the thing is good.

The Right Questions

So what are we to do about this? We have to start by asking the right questions. We don't start by asking whether Christians are outside of the mainstream. We start by asking whether the assumptions held by the mainstream are true. Truth must be the criterion for accepting or rejecting values.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what people fail to consider. When the cultural elites assert that those who champion the traditional understanding of marriage are "homophobic," they are making an assertion that needs to be proven and not assumed to be true. Very few Christians who understand the obligations of their faith properly actually hate the people who live in opposition to what God commands.  But instead of investigating what they believe, it's easier to attribute a motivation that makes the opponent look bad.

What Reason Tells Us

The result is a slew of logical fallacies which don't prove the point. It provides spurious reasoning to claim that boils down to, "anyone who doesn't agree with me is a bigot."

I find it ironic that the definition of bigot, "a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others," fits the champions of tolerance much better than it fits the people who believe some behaviors are wrong.

As GK Chesterton pointed out, "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." In other words, the bigotry doesn't exist in believing right and wrong. The bigotry comes from refusing to question whether you properly understand what you oppose.

The Dilemma

Now, if one believes in the existence of objective good and evil, it is not bigotry to refuse to accept a view deemed evil as valid -- provided that you understand the nature of the issue you reject. Nor are you hypocritical to say that a sin is wrong while still loving the person who sins.

The same cannot be said for the one who takes the position that there is no objective good and evil.  If you insist others must tolerate views they disagree with, then you must also tolerate views you disagree with. If you refuse to accept the views of those you disagree with, you are guilty of what you accuse your opponents of being: bigoted (refusing to accept different views) and hypocritical (denying there are moral absolutes while holding moral absolutes). But if you actually follow what you claim to champion, you have to tolerate people who support views you believe to be wrong. If the persecutors of Brendan Eich were truly tolerant, they would have left him to his own views and not sought to oust him.

But, on the other hand, if one sees the acceptance of abortion or homosexual acts as objectively good and believes others are morally obligated to accept this, then he or she is under the same onus of proof that he or she demands from opponents. After all, if opposing abortion is "imposing values," then so is promoting it!


Asking if someone as being "outside the mainstream" ultimately ignores the more pertinent question: Is it good to be part of the mainstream? History tells us that oftentimes it is not.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TFTD: Relativism In Space (or In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Reason)

In watching or reading modern science fiction, there seems to be a trend where more "enlightened" aliens rebuke people of Earth for their narrow views on morality. They point out that their own values are different, and ought to be respected, because all morality is subjective.

The irony is, these "enlightened" aliens seem to have no respect for the values of the people of Earth.

Essentially, these aliens are saying, "Your views are subjective.  Ours are objective."

But since the aliens are arguing that values are subjective, they contradict themselves...

...or rather, the scriptwriters do. Since when this kind of dialog is used, it's basically pushing a moral relativity and portraying it as an objective good that only backwards people oppose.

What's overlooked is the fact that if all values are relative, there's nothing wrong with with these "Earth values," and nothing right about "alien values" of relativity.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hypocrisy or the Lowest Common Denominator? Dangers in Selectively Denying Moral Norms

The area of moral teaching in which Christians seem to be most hated is the area of sexuality.  Persons who act on certain inclinations become angry when told that those sexual acts are evil.  Christians are called hateful and judgmental people because they say that certain acts are always wrong.  Now, while there can be people who say they are wrong in a grossly inappropriate way (The Westboro Baptists come to mind), the badly expressed message does not take away from the fact that certain acts are wrong.

The anger and hostility directed against Christians is accompanied by some rather bad reasoning.  The argument that if people choose to live in a certain way, nobody should tell them otherwise.  In other words, we are not allowed to have moral judgments on these activities.

Then these individuals get furious when you employ a reductio ad absurdum and apply that argument to other moral issues which they do find offensive.

That anger is revealing though.  It shows that the individual does recognize that certain things are wrong.  That individual just refuses to accept that their own behaviors can be part of the group [Things that are morally wrong].  Basically, it means "Other people do evil things, not me."

The problem is, those "other people" can often use the same arguments to justify their own deplorable acts.  For example, the same arguments used to justify homosexual "marriage" can also be used to justify incestuous marriage and polygamy: free and mutual consent between people who profess some level of affection for each other.  That isn't hypothetical, by the way.  I've personally encountered proponents of "polyamory" relationships who get offended when people say it is immoral, using the same arguments the proponents of homosexual relationships – and the same demand not to be judged.  These proponents got extremely angry when I pointed out that the concept of "polyamorous marriage" is an oxymoron.

Yet the fact that advocates of homosexual "marriage" do get offended when a Catholic Bishop makes that comparison shows that these advocates do think these things are wrong.  So, essentially, that means they believe a moral line exists.  Otherwise, when the comparison with polyamory and consensual incestuous relationships came up, they'd probably just shrug and say, "So what?"  Their anger then just want to draw the line differently, including their own preference in the list of "acceptable behavior."  People don't normally get offended when their beliefs are compared to something which doesn't offend them after all.

But that leads to the question of who draws the line?  Either there is a line to be drawn, or else we have no choice but to accept the lowest common denominator.  Take Pedophilia for example.  NAMBLA argues that the modern age of consent laws are artificial and that consensual relationships can exist between adults and children.  Most people find the existence of this group as well as their proposals horrific, but they use the same arguments that are used to justify other sexual activities condemned by Christian moral teaching.  They merely add the condition that the age of consent should be lower than 18 and invoke the ancient Greeks and Romans to justify their views.

It also demands a justification for drawing a different line.  If people want to say absolutes exist, but want to include homosexual acts as morally acceptable, they need to show how their absolute is justified while other consensual relationships are not.  Otherwise they become guilty of what they accuse Christians of: forcing their own view of morality on others.  In other words, why draw the line HERE and not THERE?

Actually, when it comes to showing justification for an absolute, Christianity has the advantage – and not from saying "God says so," either.  The belief in marriage as a lifelong exclusive relationship between a man and a woman which is open to the possibility of having and raising children has the biological data (pregnancy comes from sex) and sociological data showing the family as the foundation of a society and that societies with strong family ties also tended to have strong societies.

Eliminating the elements of lifelong, exclusive and being open to the possibility of having and raising children makes stopping at "gay marriage" an arbitrary decision by who is in charge.  That's the irony of it all.  Those people who get offended at this reductio ad absurdum have contradicted themselves.  By drawing the line at "gay marriage" but going no further is to make an arbitrary imposition – which is what they have accused Christians of in the traditional view of marriage.

This is the problem with "selective morality."  If a person demands that the traditional understanding of marriage be set aside in the case of one preference, then it leads one to ask, "Who has the authority to determine where the law may be redrawn and where the new absolute lies?"  Why should it be drawn to only include "homosexual marriage" and not incestuous marriages or polyamorous relationships?  Why should the age of consent be 18 instead of 15 or even 11?  After all, we can point to a time in the past when such things were seen as acceptable?  Of course we can also point to times when slavery and torture and other things we condemn today were considered acceptable, so maybe it's not always such a good idea to point to the morals of the past indiscriminately… it opens up the doors to the reductio ad absurdum.

You can see the problem which those who would change morality tend to avoid.  People don't want to permit things they believe are wrong, but they want to justify their own wrong by making themselves the "victim," claiming that the people who say their own vice is wrong are "judgmental" and "hate-filled" people.  But then they can't explain why others can't take their same principles and demand to have them applied in a way that goes even further than they want to go.

It's quite clear.  Without a rational basis for why a limit should be drawn (a basis Christian moral teaching does possess), one is forced to choose between hypocrisy and the lowest common denominator.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How Modern Morality Leads to Tyranny (Part 1 of 2)

Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church.

—GK Chesterton

As we see our civil rights in America eroded, some people have speculated on the cause.  Things like "Obama is a secret Muslim" or "Obama is a secret Communist" for example.  We hear similar things about media conspiracies.  The basic premise is that the reason our freedoms are declining because of some special efforts by some groups to bring down the country.

I think these things are distractions.  We don't need to bring conspiracies into the equation at all.  What we actually seem to have is that a certain influential group of the American population tend to think in a similar way and, when they receive political power, approach lawmaking in the same way they approach moral obligations.

In other words, we don't have a secret cabal of People against Goodness and Normality.  We have people who have bought into certain errors as a way of thinking and are making that thinking into the law of the land.  It has six steps.  Three which are concerned with individual morality and three in which the individual steps are made law.

Looking at the First Three Steps

These first three steps are the framework, reflecting on how certain individuals view morality and how such individuals view challenges to their moral views.  Such persons reject the idea that there are moral absolutes that may not ever be transgressed when it comes to such rules requiring them to restrict their behavior.

The First Step: Reducing Morality to Not Harming Others

The basic form of this modern morality is the concept that anything that does not harm others is permissible.  Thus drug use that is not harming others is permissible.  Fornication is permissible.  Also, the emphasis on harming others is important.  Under this view, we can be self-destructive so long as this destruction does not harm others.

We can see the roots for this kind of thinking in Utilitarianism.  John Stuart Mill describes the basic view as:

the ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who, in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison.

If it causes happiness, it is good.  If it causes unhappiness it is not good.  However, we do see a early warning sign here.  The standards of distinguishing good and harm is arbitrary, and as society has moved forward in time have become more individualistic.  The individual is expected to decide for himself or herself what amount of pain is acceptable in the pursuit of pleasure.  The "habits of self-consciousness and self-observation" are replaced by the slogan, "If it feels good, do it."

The problem with this view of morality is it is too short sighted.  It focuses on the pleasure of the moment and ignores how long term effects of these behaviors can be harmful. 

For example, the loose sexual morality requires contraception to avoid pregnancies.  However, the laws of averages means eventually there will be unexpected pregnancies, and the demand for abortions.  Therefore abortion becomes classified under the category of "anything that does not harm others is permissible."  It's considered a minor inconvenience which should be legalized to remove consequences from sexual behavior as a pleasure.

But abortion does harm.  The obvious harm to another comes from the fact that the unborn child is a person.  Prior to Roe v. Wade, this was pretty much accepted as fact.  Only after the Supreme Court ruling do we see medical textbooks stop talking about this.  Moreover, in modern times, it is recognized that abortions cause mental and emotional harm to the mother who has an abortion.  But since this harm challenges the basic premise of modern morality, it has to be somehow removed from consideration.  This brings us to our second step

The Second Step: Denying the Harm Exists and Explaining It Away

The response of the modern morality is to either deny the harm exists or explain it away as less than the action defended.  Often it tries to argue both, leading one to ask, "Well, which is it?"  Either the harm exists or it does not.  If it does, it has to be acknowledged and dealt with.  If it doesn't, then why try to explain it away?

So we see people facing an unexpected pregnancy, denying the unborn child is a person; denying that such mental harm to the mother exists or explaining the harm away in the name of "a woman's right to choose."  But if the unborn child is a person, then the "woman's right to choose" is causing harm to others and cannot be permitted under modern morality.  So they have to deny that the unborn child is a person while also saying that whether or not the unborn child is a person, it doesn't outrank the "freedom of choice."

The danger is, this modern view of morality focuses on what the individual thinks, as opposed to what is true. So if the person decides they should not worry about the harm caused to another, they are deciding for themselves whether the harm done to another has any meaning.  As we will see later, when people with this mindset receive political power, their self-focused determination on whether those harmed have value or not will impact the laws they pass.

The Third Step: Shooting the Messenger

In a reasoned discussion, people would attempt to objectively consider the issues and attempt to discover the reality.  Behavior would then be changed in order to live in accordance to what is true.  Unfortunately, in modern times we do not see this.  It is one of the greatest ironies that people who claim that beliefs in objective morality and absolute truth are labeled "irrational" and "illogical" when the response to people who challenge modern morality is to verbally attack them and make no attempt at refutation.

The denial and explaining away can be (and often is) challenged by rational argument, but people don't like to be shown to be in the wrong, and this leads to the third step: Hostility to those who point out the modern morality is causing harm to people. 

When it is pointed out that certain behaviors are NOT morally permissible and DO cause harm, there are no attempts at a reasoned refutation.  What we have instead is a lashing out at those who point out the behavior is harmful.

It works this way: People standing up for absolute morality creates a challenge that puts the follower of modern morality into a dilemma.  If what challengers say is true then it indicts the act as wrong and the person who performs the act must choose between renouncing the act or continue the act, knowing it is wrong. 

Very few people deliberately want to be evil-doers in the sense of the character Aaron in the Shakespeare play Titus Andronicus who dies regretting he had not done more evil.  Rather, many people are inordinately attached to certain behaviors and are unwilling to give them up.  They also don't want to be in the wrong in not giving them up.

So the defense mechanism begins.  But since the justification for modern morality is the individual decides that the act doesn't harm anyone in a way the individual considers important, they cannot defend their position as being right.  So what often happens is to avoid being wrong, they seek to denigrate their challengers, trying to portray them as being in the wrong.

This is why we see so many ad hominem attacks: "War on women."  "Homophobic."  "Judgmental."  These attacks make no legitimate claim against the truth of the defender of absolute morality.  It merely attacks the person who challenges this form of thinking.  It is as if they think if they can discredit the messenger, they can justify ignoring the message.

It's a sort of begging the question.

  1. If they were good people they would agree with [X]
  2. They don't agree with [X]
  3. Therefore they're not good people
  4. Why does not agreeing with [X] make them bad people?
  5. Because [X] is good.

[X] is the issue being disputed whether it is good or not, so to argue that people are not good if they do not agree with [X] merely assumes what has to be proven.

Once we get to the point where a person being good or not depends on whether he accepts the position of modern morality, it becomes easier to label the person who challenges modern morality as people who don't matter.  Once that label is bestowed, it will have relevance in a society which adapts the modern morality to law.


Now the first three steps are individually focused, but when numbers of individuals who share the same view group together, we can see political influence grow from them.  Voters who hold these views are going to tend towards supporting candidates that share their views ,or at least favor leniency towards the behaviors.  Members of the media who share these views are going to report things in terms of promoting the modern morality and denigrating the concept of moral absolutes.  Politicians who hold these views are going to pass laws which reflect these views of morality.

The next article will take a look at how we go from this individualistic view of morality to what happens when we elect people who hold to this view of morality.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

TFTD: Bigotry By The 'Tolerant'

Anyone ever notice that the most intolerant people out there are the people who champion tolerance? 

When it comes to dealing with views they dislike, they are perfectly willing to spew invective demonizing their opponents and seeking to prevent themselves from operating any sort of "public" ministry (such as hospitals and orphanages) because of their "intolerance," even though tolerate itself means:

1 allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.

2 endure (someone or something unpleasant) with forbearance.

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

We have a denial that there are any sort of absolute moral right and wrong.  Therefore opposition to certain acts are claimed to be arbitrary and imposing beliefs on others – which is seen as morally wrong….

Wait… what?

If there is no sort of moral absolute in terms of right or wrong, then there is nothing right about being tolerant and nothing wrong about being intolerant.  Indeed, under the rhetoric of "tolerance," and protecting people from those who are "pushing their views on others," they are in fact intolerant and pushing their views on others.

America should wake up and realize that a major religion which has often praised America for the religious freedom which allowed her to practice her faith unhindered now feels she must prepare for a growing wave of religious intolerance in America.  This growing wave is not from fundamentalist anti-Catholics, but from the policies of the United States government.

Archbishop Dolan writes:

The federal Department of Justice has ratcheted up its attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an act of bigotry.  As you know, in March, the Department stopped defending DOMA against constitutional challenges, and the Conference spoke out against that decision.  But in July, the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice.  If the label of ―bigot sticks to us—especially in court—because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.

So let's cut to the chase here.  If tolerance is the rule of the game, you'll tolerate us as we try to bring to the attention of the world the teachings of Christ making sober, reasoned appeals as to why our view is correct.  If you believe we are morally wrong in our stance, then you are just as obligated to show the objective basis for your position as we are for ours.

The person who refuses to do either is certainly behaving hypocritically.  The government which refuses to do either is behaving in a tyrannical manner.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Intolerant Tolerance


Recently, in the news, there have been reports of certain politicians seeking to ban “discrimination” against homosexuals by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation. One effect of such a law would be to force Christian institutions out of running adoption agencies, unless they go against what they believe to be right and commanded by God.

The interesting thing about it is this sort of action is done in the name of Tolerance. To oppose allowing people to do certain things on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation is called Intolerance and those groups practicing what is labeled “intolerance” is to be opposed and the groups who practice it are not to be… tolerated.

What it Means to Tolerate – or to be Intolerant

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

—Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Let's start with the actual definition of the term. Tolerate is defined as:


■ v.

1 allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.

2 endure (someone or something unpleasant) with forbearance.

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

It's a significant point. One tolerates something which they do not like and allows it to exist without interference. The contrary would then be Intolerance:


adj. (often intolerant of) not tolerant of views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one’s own.

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

So from a strict definition, anyone who refuses to allow the views, beliefs or behavior different from one’s own to exist without interference is intolerant.


They [La Prensa] accused us of suppressing freedom of expression. This was a lie and we could not let them publish it.

PJ O'Rourke, Holidays in Hell (quoting a Sandinista Official [Nelba Blandón]).

The irony shows up when one considers the opposition to groups labeled as Intolerant. Such groups are to be opposed in their beliefs and laws are proposed or passed which seek to force such “intolerant” groups to either change their views or cease to function in a certain sphere of influence.

Such opposition cannot be considered to be allowing the existence without interference, and in fact seeks to reduce their ability to operate in public while practicing their views.

This is of course the definition of Intolerance however. If Tolerance is to be an absolute value, then those who champion tolerance are in fact intolerant and must be opposed.

Looking at the Real Issue

This is what happens when slogans and propaganda replace rational discourse however. Tolerance and Intolerance are in fact labels to promote one point of view and vilify another. What we need to do is to look behind the labels and see what is actually being championed.

Let's consider the following groups, for example (especially chosen for their repugnance):

  1. Pedophiles
  2. Terrorists
  3. Serial Killers
  4. Nazis
  5. Rapists

If it is true that All Intolerance is Wrong, then it follows that any attempt to interfere with the groups listed above is wrong.

However, I think any sane person however would reject the idea of the rights of the groups listed above to practice without restriction.  Indeed, we would consider anyone who thinks their behavior right to be morally or mentally disordered.

That's where the problem lies. If there is something which is recognized as always wrong, not merely wrong in certain circumstances, then it follows that one ought never to tolerate that which is always wrong.

So the real issue which masquerades behind the label of tolerance is an assumption that a certain moral view is correct, and those who disagree with it are morally wrong in doing so. The person who labels another’s beliefs as intolerant is actually saying they think the person’s beliefs are morally wrong.

On Moral Rightness and Wrongness

To say an action is morally right, morally neutral or morally wrong is actually to appeal to some sort of absolute which transcends culture. Genocide was not morally right in Nazi Germany from 1933-1945 just because the society leaders accepted it. Ethnic Cleansing was not right when it was practiced in Bosnia after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

We condemn these actions, not because the Nazis or the Serbs were intolerant, but because they were doing something – targeting racial and religious minorities for persecution – which we condemn as always wrong.

So if accepting the activities of a group as being morally acceptable or morally neutral is required in some cases (such as ethnic or religious minorities), and not right in other circumstances (tolerating pedophiles) it means one group is doing something unobjectionable and another is doing something wrong.

This requires us to ask, what makes an act right? On what authority is one group to claim that [X] is an absolute good or evil?

Authority and Reason

To the Christian, the belief that there are acts which can never be justified and some acts which are good is obligatory. We believe that God has structured the universe where Good reflects His nature and evil contradicts it. Also, Good is beneficial to us while Evil harms us. We believe that good and evil can be known by all individuals and this knowledge is distinct from our passions and wants. Our knowledge of good and evil can be deadened by indulging our passions and ignoring our conscience.

The Christian stance on good and evil is not a mere “the Bible says so” stance. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out (Summa Contra Gentiles I: Chapter 2, #3) that it does no good to point to the Bible as an authority if someone does not accept the Bible as authoritative, and we must make use of natural reason to justify what we believe.

That of course cuts both ways. If someone says “I reject Christian teaching and believe we must do [X] instead,” then it is not enough for them to insist on it from their own say so (called ipse dixit – claiming the truth of something based solely on their own say-so). They must also make use of natural reason to justify their authority.

Practicing What is Preached

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.

—GK Chesterton

Failure to understand why Christians believe as they do does not make Christians bigoted, but it does make those who use the labels bigoted by failing to consider why they feel they must act as they do.

I think this is important to stress here. If Christians are accused of imposing their views on others (as is done on issues such as abortion or Gay “marriage”) then it follows that those who would try to force their views on Christian institutions are guilty of the same – they are hypocritical if imposing values they disagree with is something to be considered wrong.

Thus the person who invokes the propaganda term of tolerance as a reason for opposing Christian values is not practicing what he preaches. To paraphrase Peter Kreeft, if they practice what they preach, they’ll stop preaching. However, if they think issues like abortion and homosexual acts are morally acceptable and those who disagree are morally in the wrong, they must recognize that moral absolutes do exist and they must offer their own defense as to why their values are correct.

They must let those arguments face the challenges of those who disagree instead of stooping to ad hominem attacks, calling those who disagree with them “racist,” “homophobe,” “intolerant,” and the like. 

Otherwise such opposition to Christian beliefs can be justly called both hypocritical and intolerant – in the true sense of the word.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do Not Spit in Our Face and Tell Us It Is Raining: More Thoughts On Dissent

"Don't spit in my face and tell me it's raining"

—Old Yiddish Saying.


Preliminary Disclaimer

This article is not a Triumphalist "Love it or leave it" article.  I do not want people to leave the Church.  Rather I wish for them to consider the serious nature of rejecting Church authority.

A good article to consider can be found HERE.

An excellent book to read on the topic of conscience can be found HERE.

Also please keep in mind I am not talking about disagreeing with some wingnut priest or nun who teaches contrary to the Church or lives contrary to her teachings.  Nor am I talking about whether some priest or nun agrees or disagrees with Glen Beck or some other political commentator one likes or dislikes.  I am speaking here of dissent from the formal teachings of the Church on issues of faith and morals.

Introduction: Catholicism and Disagreement.  How it Differs From Non-Catholic Disagreement

One way that Catholicism differs from other Christian denominations is over the issue of dissent.  For example, the Protestant who dislikes how his denomination interprets Scripture can just go and begin attending services at another denomination which interprets Scripture as he thinks is right.  He'll still be considered a Protestant in good standing.  The Baptist and the Methodist may disagree on issues, but one does not think the other is any less a Protestant for being in a different denomination.

However, the Catholic who either begins to attend services at another denomination either breaks from the Church (formal schism) or merely lives in a way contrary to the Church teaching cannot claim that his or her actions are in keeping with the teachings of the Church.

The reason for this difference is that Catholics believe that there is a living Magisterium which continues to pass on the teachings of the Apostles, passing on the truth and rejecting error.  For Catholics, the faith is not a matter of personal interpretation, but involves objective truth, which cannot be in contradiction to other truths.  Since we believe that Christ is God, it follows that we must obey Him to be faithful to His call (John 15:10).

The Wedge of Dissent

Because dissenters cannot claim their actions are in keeping with the teaching of the Church, dissenting Catholics seek to place a wedge between Christ and the Catholic Church, saying that the Church is not doing what God wills, while the dissenter is doing what God wills.

Such a claim needs to provide proofs to justify how one can say the Church got it wrong for so long, but the dissenter figured it out on his own.

Now, it is one thing for a non-Catholic to believe the Church does not do what God wills.  I believe such a non-Catholic errs of course but, since he or she does not believe that the Catholic Church is established by Christ, the non-Catholic who thinks this way is at least practicing what they preach.

It is far less justifiable for the Catholic to believe in this way.  If we believe that God is the supreme authority in the universe whom we are obligated to obey, and that Jesus Christ, His Son, is one person of the Trinity, it follows that what Jesus teaches, we are obligated to obey.  Since we, as Catholics, believe that Jesus Christ established a Church and established that not listening to the Church is the same as not listening to Him (cf. Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16), the person who thinks they may ignore the teachings of the Church they dislike must asses their behavior as they seem to fall in one of these categories:

  1. They do not understand what the Church actually teaches and rebel against a Straw Man
  2. They do not consider the ramifications of their behavior
  3. They do not believe what the Church teaches about her relation to Christ.

The rest of this article is intended to look at these motivations, and what logically follows from them in terms of doing what is right.

The Dissenter Who Acts out of Ignorance

There are certainly those who rebel against what they wrongly believe the Church teaches.  There are those who left the Church because they believe we "worship" Mary.  There are those who denounce the Church as cruel because they do not see why the Church teaches the way they do.

The problem is, such behavior is built on logical fallacy.  Those who impute to the Catholic Church something she does not believe are rejecting authority over the Straw Man fallacy: If the Church does not hold what the dissenter claims, the dissenter has no logical grounds in his attack.

As for those who do not understand what the Church teaching, they are under the Argument from Silence fallacy.  Just because this sort of dissenter does not understand why the Church teaches as it does, it does not mean the Church does not have a valid reason.  Certainly the person who would dissent from the Church is obligated to look into what the Church does teach, and not merely what the dissenter thinks the Church teaches.

All too often the Church has been accused of teaching it does not teach, simply because secular society uses a similar term and uses it in a different context.  Thus, when the Church speaks of Social Justice, she is often accused of being liberal.  When the Church speaks of moral issues, she is often accused of simply being "Right Wing."

"Liberal" and "Conservative" are what we call Contrary terms.  The Church cannot be both, but it can be "none of the above"  Indeed, if both political factions accuse it of being in the other faction, the odds are good it belongs to neither.

As a result some dissenters reject the Church teaching, not for what she teaches, but for what the dissenter wrongly believes the Church teaches.

In such a case, the dissenter will face God and be judged on what he or she could have known if the dissenter had bothered to check.  The person who would find it impossible to learn (called invincible ignorance) won't be judged for what they could not know.

The dissenter who could have learned but refused to do so will not get off so lightly. If the Catholic Church is the Church which Jesus Christ established (and we Catholics do believe this), then it follows the Catholic has no excuse for his or her lack of knowledge of what is right to do.

Keeping this in mind, we have our first principle:

Before setting oneself in opposition to Church teaching, one should check and see what the Church actually teaches on the subject.  "I do not know," is NOT a valid principle for dissent.

Those who do not consider the ramifications of their Dissent

—Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death! (Proverbs 16:25)

Many people who dissent do not do so because they think the Catholic teaching untrue.  Rather they never go beyond thinking the Catholic teaching is difficult.  The assumption is that since "God is love" (1 John 4:8), He doesn't want us to suffer difficulties, and therefore anything which inconveniences us must be against what God wills."

Think about the martyrs who died for the faith rather than to deny God.  Then think of this dissenting view again.  Since death is indeed suffering and is difficult, and we are indeed called to suffer death rather than to deny Him, we can see a huge problem with the assumption.  Either the martyrs were grossly insensitive to those they left behind or else the "God doesn't want me to suffer difficulties" concept is a misstating of what God wants for us.

—There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. (Didache Chapter 1)

We need to realize that God wants us to be holy as He is holy (cf. Leviticus 19:2), and in His love for us, He wants for us to be with Him eternally.  However, some things which may seem good to us set us apart from God and will separate us from Him eternally if we choose to do them.  To love God means to keep his commandments (John 14:15), and as Catholics we believe that God established a Church in order to preach His word to the nations.

As human beings affected by sin, we need to recognize that we are prone to self deception, thinking of what we may want as the ultimate good.  To avoid this, we need to seek humility, to recognize that what may seem good to us personally may not be what God wants for us.

As Catholics we are called to accept her teachings as being bound in Heaven (Matthew 16:19), and that when we run afoul of the teachings of the Church, it is not the Church being mean, but us being self-deceived.

From this we have a second principle:

Before accusing the Church of being in the wrong, we must find out whether we are confusing our personal desires with God's will.

On Those Who Do Not Believe What the Church Teaches About Herself

Personally I find this position extremely illogical, even hypocritical.  The Catholic Church believes she is the Church established by Christ, and that she does have the authority to bind and loose.  If one does not believe this, then the ramifications are severe.  It would mean that the Church teaches falsely.  We can indeed use CS. Lewis' famous aut deus aut homo malus argument in this case [Please do not think I am comparing the Church with God here.  I am merely pointing out that accepting or rejecting her claims have logical consequences]:

Either the Church is what she teaches about herself, or she is a horrible fraud to be repudiated.

While I disagree with anti-Catholics, I recognize they are at least logically consistent.  Because they reject what she claims about herself, they believe they must oppose her.  The dissenting Catholic who remains within while believing she teaches falsely seeks the benefits of the Church while denying what the Church holds.

Such behavior would be hypocrisy.  To put it in a syllogism, we have:

  1. [Faithful Catholics] Accept [All Church Teaching]  (All [A] is [B])
  2. No [Dissenters] accept [All Church Teaching] (No [C] is [B])
  3. Therefore No [Dissenters] are [Faithful Catholics] (Therefore No [C] is [A])

To get out of this dilemma, the dissenter has to deny the major premise and claim it is they who are faithful to Christ while the Church is "out of touch" or "bureaucratic."

Let it be noted, by the way, that these are merely examples of name calling, not refutations.

There are two problems: One is of logic, the other is of practicing what they preach.

The logical issue is that if one wishes to claim themselves correct and the magisterium in error (remember we are not speaking of what Fr. Harry Tik says in a sermon or what Sr. Mary Flowerchild says in some classroom, but of what the Church officially professes to believe), we need to ask, "On what basis?"

Unfortunately the dissenter tends to argue in a circle begging the question.

  • Q: Why do you oppose the Church teaching on contraception? [Or abortion, or divorce, or social justice… ad infinitum].
  • A: Because the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch!
  • Q: Why do you believe the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch?
  • A: Because if they were following Jesus they would have a different teaching on contraception!

See the problem here?  The dissenter believes the Church stand on an issue shows the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch.  It believes the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch because of her stand on that issue.  The problem is such a claim does not show the Church is wrong for making the stand that it does.  Rather it merely demonstrates the dissenter dislikes the teaching, and this is not a valid reason for denying the Church teaching.

There is also a problem with consistency.  If you believe the Church teaches falsely, then why the hell are you still in this Church?

I don't ask this facetiously.  If the Church teaches wrongly, and if we are to follow the truth and live according to it, why remain in a body which one thinks teaches wrongly?  For example, I am not a member of the Catholic Church because I like the architecture or the liturgy.  I'm not a person looking for a father figure and domination in my life.  No, there is one reason I remain within the Catholic Church despite the problems she has:

I believe what she teaches is true, and is taught with the authority of Christ who protects her from error.

If I believed she did not teach truly, I would be searching for someplace where I thought they did teach truly.  If I believed she did not have the authority to teach, I would be looking for the Church that did. I do not believe that Christ left us in spiritual anarchy where there are conflicting interpretations of Scripture.

This brings us to our third principle:

If one rejects the Catholic teaching that her formal teachings on faith and morals are without error, to remain within her is inconsistent, and possibly hypocritical.

Practice What You Preach

Since Jesus Christ has declared He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), and since we believe we are called to know, love and serve God (See CCC#1721), it follows that we must not live in error.  Rather, once we know something is true, we must live in accord with the Truth, and if we know something is false, we must cease to live by it.

Questions for the Would Be Dissenter

Because of this obligation to know, love and serve God, it means we must always seek to do His will.  Thus when it comes to dissent, the one who is at odds with the Church must ask some questions:

1) Do I understand the teaching I reject? 

Because we must recognize the possibility of our own errors, we need to ask ourselves if we truly understand the Church teaching which offends.  If one does not, one's dissent is based on ignorance and is not justified.

2) Do I understand the ramifications of rejecting a Church teaching?

To reject a Church teaching means one is either knowingly doing wrong, or else is believing the Church is wrong.  The first case is clearly sin.  The second requires the dissenter to answer the question of what use of reason or authority he or she uses to justify rejection of the Church teaching, and how the dissenter knows he or she does not err.

3) Do I consider the Church teaching to be wrong?  Or merely Difficult?

Jesus taught that His yoke is easy and His burden Light (Matthew 11:30), but it does remain a yoke.  We are not free to do whatever we wish:  We cannot use our freedom for the opportunity of the flesh (Galatians 5:13).  Sometimes we must choose a hard path, such as Martyrdom, rather than deny our faith (cf. 2 Tim 2:12).  Christ has told us "whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:38).

Just because a teaching may be inconvenient does not give us the right to disobey it.  If it is from God, we must obey it.  This brings us to our fourth question.

4) Do I believe the Church has Christ as her authority to teach?

As Catholics, it is an article of faith that Jesus intended to establish a visible Church which has the authority to teach in His name and to bind and to loose.  If one accepts this, one who runs afoul of her teachings must remember it is far more likely that the individual errs than the Church.

However, if one rejects this (and if the Church is wrong in her belief that Christ protects her from error, this is a pretty big delusion on the part of the Church), to remain within the Church is to demonstrate an indifference to doing what is right. 

Conclusion: Don't Spit In Our Face and Tell Us It's Raining

Essentially the Dissenter is a person who refuses to obey and considers themselves in the right for doing so.  However, reason tells us that if such a person professes to believe what the Church teaches then he or she errs when breaking with what the Church teaches in faith and morals, and is obligated to study the teaching he or she dislikes to understand why it is taught.

However, if the dissenter rejects the belief that God protects His Church from error, and her teaching is merely an opinion then the dissenter is demonstrating an inconsistency in remaining in the Church that makes such a claim.

In both cases, the dissenter displays error:

  1. In the first case, for claiming to believe the Church is protected from error while rejecting her teachings.
  2. In the second case for remaining within a Church they believe claim teaches falsely when she claims to be teaching truthfully.

This is why I have titled the article as I have.  The dissenter who justifies dissent from the Church while remaining within her is not living according to their beliefs.  They spit in the face of the Church through disobedience then claim that it is raining in that they claim they are doing God's will in doing so.

The dissenter should consider the ground they are on:

24 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.

27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

On what basis are you certain your house is built on rock and not sand.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Morality Immaterial to Law? Thoughts on Legal Positivism


Generally there are two approaches to law and the authority it holds:

1.   Law supposes the existence of that which is just and morally right, and depends on this to bind.

2.   Law is based on the power of the state to decree, and those who are subject are bound to obey.

With recent debates on abortion, on the nomination of Kagan to the Supreme Court and other issues of Law, I've noticed that there has been a number of comments (whether knowingly or not) which reflect the position known as Legal Positivism.  Certain laws are considered as being obligatory to obey whether or not one would argue that they are just or not.

What is Legal Positivism?

This position, attributed to John Austin (1790-1859), was described as:

“The existence of law is one thing; its merit and demerit another. Whether it be or be not is one enquiry; whether it be or be not conformable to an assumed standard, is a different enquiry.”

In other words, whether a law is or is not a law is entirely a separate question from whether a law is good or bad.  The only source of law is "positive law" which is simply "man made laws" and denies the concept of Natural Law.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes the premises of this system as:

According to Bentham and Austin, law is a phenomenon of large societies with a sovereign: a determinate person or group who have supreme and absolute de facto power -- they are obeyed by all or most others but do not themselves similarly obey anyone else. The laws in that society are a subset of the sovereign's commands: general orders that apply to classes of actions and people and that are backed up by threat of force or “sanction.”

It is a dangerous belief.  If you separate law from the legitimacy of said law, you can, in effect, justify anything: Sharia, Nuremburg Racial Laws, Slavery and so on.  Obedience to the law becomes required, because government is the authority which determines what we can and cannot do, and opposing a law on the grounds it is unjust becomes irrelevant.  "Abortion is to be permitted because it is legal" is one of these types of allegations.  Because the Supreme Court decreed that abortion is a right, it is considered immaterial whether or not it should be a law.

Of course we don’t have to invoke the Nazis.  We can look at what we do in America.  For how many years did the government refuse to change laws on lynching or slavery or segregation?

Stare decisis: What’s mine is mine.  What’s yours is up for grabs

We already have the legal concept of Stare decisis (Lat. "to stand by that which is decided." The principle that precedent decisions are to be followed by the courts).  The problem is the assumption is based on the assumption that the prior interpretation of the law by the court is valid.  See Planned Parenthood v. Casey as an example of this.  It assumes Roe v. Wade was a valid decision, and therefore must be followed. 

Such reasoning begs the question that Roe v. Wade was right (which is very much disputed in America).  Before arguing that because it was decreed a right we cannot challenge it (which is often the appeal of the supporters of abortion rights), we should remember the Dred Scott ruling and Plessy vs. Ferguson were also assumed right and later overturned.  Essentially it showed that merely because something was accepted as a law, does not make it binding on these grounds, and that the courts can make mistakes.

However, under Legal Positivism, If it wasn't a valid or wise decision, then it is too bad.  It's a law and must be obeyed.

What Legal Positivism Ignores (and Martin Luther King Jr. was aware of)

The problem is, when one traces the origin of the law, the question arises: Why was it enacted to begin with?  If an unjust law was enacted in the beginning, why are we bound to follow it?

Legal Positivism is then a sense of begging the question.  The concept is: we must obey a law because it is a law.  The so-called Nuremberg Defense ("I was just following orders") assumes legal positivism.  [This is sometimes called the defense of Superior Orders].

Any change of laws becomes binding under this theory so long as the law is followed in the enactment of these laws.  Thus we see a problem.  If the justness or unjustness of a law is irrelevant to the following of the law, then we cannot sanction people like Martin Luther King Jr. when he organized against laws he felt unjust.  Nor can we approve of his defense, given in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, where he stated:

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

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.

Instead, "Bull" O'Connor using his police dogs and fire hoses to break up demonstrations was merely undertaking an exercise in upholding the law.

(Hopefully, you’re instead asking yourself what gave the state the right to pass this law to begin with).

The Double Standard

Most people don't consistently advocate Legal Positivism of course.  Only when they run afoul of the law does it matter.  When one believes a law is unjust they generally want to overturn it, claiming it is an immoral and unjust law.  However, under Legal Positivism, one has no legal basis for doing so.  The best one can do is to say "if you don't like it, vote to change the law."  If the law comes from a source from where there is no appeal (the US Supreme Court decisions or from a totalitarian decree), or if the state has disenfranchised you from the right to vote, there is nothing you can do to change said law.

The practical effect of Legal positivism in America is a double standard.  When a party is in power, they point to a law and say "It must be followed because it is a law."  When out of power, they say "This law is unjust and must be changed."  What is ignored is what gives a law its power.  If it is the state, then it follows that rights and restrictions come from the state because of the assumption that law must be obeyed because it is law.  However, if the rights of the human person do not come from the state, then they cannot be removed by a decree of the state.

Thus we have the abortion debate in a nutshell.  Those who believe in abortion rights tend to argue from the position of legal positivism, while those who oppose abortion rights tend to argue that the rights of the human person come from outside the state, and the state has no authority to remove human rights from any human persons.

Conclusion: When Law and Justice Stand In Opposition

Any opposition to a law which says “This is wrong” is a judgment on moral grounds.  Such opposition assumes there is a higher standard to which law must conform if it is to be considered binding.  Generally, we believe that a law must be just (morally right and fair to all) to be obeyed. 

This means we have to practice what we preach.  If one claims that they have to accept abortion as a right because the state has decreed it to be a right, it is a package deal meaning there is no way to refuse anything else the state wishes to decree.  On the other hand, if we want to invoke a higher standard for judging the law, we must remain consistent and recognize such a standard always holds us accountable for our behavior.

In both cases, it falls to the proponent to show that their view of the law is justified.  Unfortunately, all too often we see people deny (without logical proof) that there are moral absolutes outside of us and then conclude the contrary view is true: that there is no moral standards by which the law is judged.

Not believing [A] does not disprove [A].  Nor does it make [B] automatically true.