Showing posts with label morality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label morality. Show all posts

Monday, September 26, 2022

It’s Iimi! Truth, Justice, and the Moral Way…

Iimi and Krysta are taken aback when Rick asks to interview Iimi for an elective journalism class. Reluctantly agreeing, she soon realizes that this isn’t simply about explaining her views. It’s a battle to defend… Truth, Justice, and the Moral Way!
































Tuesday, June 16, 2020

It’s Iimi! On “Pride” and Prejudice: a (Semi) Socratic Dialogue Through Manga

[Edit on 10/15/2021] Over a year after I made this comic, I learned that Iimi's views on how lesbian attraction works—she assumed that since they had an interest in girls, they would have the same sexual aggressiveness as males do—was inaccurate. I decided not to rewrite the comic, but the reader should know that Iimi now realizes that a lesbian attraction to other females is more like her own attraction to males. That revised view can be found HERE.

[Original Post]
Those of you who don’t follow my blog’s Facebook page, might be unaware that on occasion I’ll use manga publishing software# to do apologetics comics. The following started out as a blog piece, before I decided to transform it into a manga dialogue. Of course, the Catholic cannot call evil acts “good,” and unfortunately, people aren’t as likely to respond to Iimi* in the way Paula does. But if we remain respectful of others, we might get into dialogue with others.




















(In retrospect, I should have been more clear that Iimi was talking about teachers prone to abuse with such an attraction opening the doors to same-sex abuse, not students. Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic points out that—among teenage lesbians anyway—the locker room was a place they felt awkward, and not a very erotic place for them. I suppose I could give Iimi a “I used to think that way, but I learned it’s not necessarily that way” if I could find a way to make it fit).



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(#) ComiPo.
(*) Iimi (Irene Inez Mary Iscra—the mascot of the blog. Her initials were chosen as the initials of “If I Might Interject.”)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Because Hell is Real: Reflections on Our Lord Establishing a Church

Last time I talked about God ultimately being in charge, so we could trust Him to protect the Church when things grew beyond our control. This time, I want to talk about the other side of that coin—the fact that God established a Church as the ordinary means of bringing His salvation to the world. Unlike Protestants and Orthodox, Catholics hold that Our Lord established His Church on the rock of St. Peter and his successors. We hold that God gave this Church under Peter, the Apostles, and their successors the authority to bind and loose. When the magisterium teaches, we are obligated to give assent—our full acceptance of that teaching.

Remember John 14:15. Loving Him is keeping His commandments. Remember Luke 10:16. Our Lord makes clear that rejecting His Church is rejecting Him. Remember Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18. What His Church binds/looses on Earth is bound/loosed in Heaven. Remember Matthew 18:17. Refusing to hear the Church is a very serious matter. Remember Matthew 7:21-23. If we do not keep His commandments, we will be barred from the Kingdom of Heaven.

I stress this because there is a temptation to separate Our Lord from Church teaching—a claim that Our Lord is merciful but the Church is focussed on “rules.” This temptation claims, “God doesn’t care about X.” It accuses the Church of Pharisaism. But what it tends to mean is, “The Church should not judge my sin.” Let’s be clear here. I’m not equating the Church with individuals who insist you do things according to their preferences, like vote for a certain candidate or you’re damned. I’m talking about the authority of the Pope, as well as the bishop and the priest who properly use their authority in communion with the Pope, to make known how we should live if we would be faithful to Christ, our Lord.

One cannot separate God from the Church, because the Church teaches with God’s authority. It is that simple. So if we dislike what the Church teaches on a subject, our issue is with God. Remember, if we accept the fact that God is in ultimate control, and that He has given the Church the authority to teach in His name, then we must accept what the Church teaches, trusting Him to protect His Church from error.

That doesn’t mean God retroactively turns falsehood into truth. It means God prevents the Church from teaching error. When the Church binds, saying a certain action is gravely sinful, then the person who knows this and freely chooses to do it, commits mortal sin. We do not appeal to God as if He were a higher court. Nor can we use the bad behavior of corrupt Churchmen or harsher methods of law enforcement in harsher times to justify disobedience. If we do, God will no doubt remind us of Matthew 23:2-3. Or as St. John Chrysostom commented on it, 

I mean, that lest any one should say, that because my teacher is bad, therefore am I become more remiss, He takes away even this pretext. So much at any rate did He establish their authority, although they were wicked men, as even after so heavy an accusation to say, “All whatsoever they command you to do, do.” For they speak not their own words, but God’s, what He appointed for laws by Moses.

 

John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost and M. B. Riddle, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 436.

When the Pope and bishops in communion with Him teach, they do not do so from their own authority, but God’s. If some members of the hierarchy behave unjustly, that does not absolve us from being faithful to the Church under the bishop of Rome. So, if we don’t like the fact that the Church teaches that abortion, contraception, divorce/remarriage, or homosexual acts are sinful, we have to remember that when we know the Church calls these things to be gravely sinful, yet we freely choose them, we sin against God, and don’t just “break a rule.”

But what about Pope Francis? But what about mercy? I answer, his stance is not contrary to the teaching about sin and Hell. His Year of Mercy presumes that we are sinners, and we are in need of forgiveness. But his Year of Mercy was not about dispensations permitting sin. They were about reminding us that now is the acceptable time of salvation, and making the Church available to bring God’s mercy to us. This meant if we would receive God’s mercy, we must repent. This isn’t a radical traditionalist screed. This is Our Lord, Himself telling us, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).

Bishop Robert Barron points out the mistakes some make about the Holy Father:

A good deal of the confusion stems from a misinterpretation of Francis’s stress on mercy. In order to clear things up, a little theologizing is in order. It is not correct to say that God’s essential attribute is mercy. Rather, God’s essential attribute is love, since love is what obtains among the three divine persons from all eternity. Mercy is what love looks like when it turns toward the sinner. To say that mercy belongs to the very nature of God, therefore, would be to imply that sin exists within God himself, which is absurd.

Now this is important, for many receive the message of divine mercy as tantamount to a denial of the reality of sin, as though sin no longer mattered. But just the contrary is the case. To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness. Or, to shift to one of the pope’s favorite metaphors, it is to be acutely conscious that one is wounded so severely that one requires not minor treatment but the emergency and radical attention provided in a hospital on the edge of a battlefield. Recall that when Francis was asked in a famous interview to describe himself, he responded, “a sinner.” Then he added, “who has been looked upon by the face of mercy.” That’s getting the relationship right. Remember as well that the teenage Jorge Mario Bergoglio came to a deep and life-changing relationship to Christ precisely through a particularly intense experience in the confessional. As many have indicated, Papa Francesco speaks of the devil more frequently than any of his predecessors of recent memory, and he doesn’t reduce the dark power to a vague abstraction or a harmless symbol. He understands Satan to be a real and very dangerous person.

Barron, Robert (2016-03-31). Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism (Kindle Locations 613-625). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

Mercy is not about turning a blind eye to sin. Mercy is about sparing the person from the penalty justice demands. See, we deserve damnation for our sins. But God desires our salvation. So He sent His Son to save us. Yet, we can refuse to accept His mercy, and we do when we choose to do what God forbids. During our life on Earth, God gives us every chance to repent and accept His mercy. But if we refuse to do so, we will face His justice. When the Church teaches something is a grave sin, it’s not because she is obsessed with rules and power. it is because she is concerned for our souls, and wants to save us from the fires of Hell.

Remember that while Our Lord spoke of love and mercy, He also spoke of Hell:

13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13–14)

He’s the one who talked about casting sinners out into the darkness (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). These are not contradictions or additions to Jesus’ message of love and mercy. They’re warnings about what happens if we reject His commandments. Neither God nor His Church are cruel or judgmental for warning about sin and Hell. They don’t make dire threats to cow us into submission. We’re warned about Hell because it is real and we can go there if we refuse to keep Our Lord’s commandments. 

What we need to remember about the difference between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) was not that the Tax Collector was a better person. It was the Tax Collector repented, while the Pharisee did not. But not all tax collectors repented—The publicani (tax collectors under contract) were recognized across the Roman Empire as a scourge because of their rapacious ways that bankrupted entire provinces to boost their profits. Likewise, not all Pharisees were unrepentant. Some became Christians, after all. 

The point is, God loves each one of us, and desires our salvation—but that call requires a response. If we demand the benefits, while refusing the call of Our Lord—Repent, and believe in the gospel—we show we do not love Him, regardless of how we profess it otherwise. Instead, we simply want cheap grace. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer described it:

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 44.

We should think of this when we’re inclined to accuse the Church of being in opposition to Christ. Our Lord established the Catholic Church to be His means of bringing His salvation to the whole world through the sacraments and teaching His way (cf. Matthew 28:19). It is true that as missionaries to the world, we must not be harsh. But as sinners in need of salvation, we must not demand that the Church change to suit us. If we do, we are spurning The Lord who desires to save us. If we spurn Him, and do not repent, we risk facing the reality of Hell.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Further Thoughts on Understanding the Ratzinger Memorandum

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

Since 2004, some Catholics have cited the above section from the Ratzinger Memorandum to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate. One of the problems I see is this appeal doesn't understand the significance of the phrases remote material cooperation and proportionate reasons. The result is the term gets twisted out of context and cited to justify what then Cardinal Ratzinger had no intention of justifying. 

I want to make clear I am not writing about people who willfully distort Church teaching here. I am writing about an error made by sincere Catholics who are deeply troubled by the poor choices for president, but do not understand the moral theology behind his words. When people cite to claim that their vote for a pro-abortion candidate is in line with the Church because of this document, they usually misunderstand what the Church means by “it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” It is my hope that this article, accompanied by my previous work, might help people understanding the theology then-Cardinal Ratzinger uses as the framework.

Remote material cooperation is cooperation that helps make the evil possible, but is not evil in itself and was not done with the purpose of helping the wrongdoing. We distinguish that from direct cooperation which intends to make an act possible. Voting for a politician because he will promote abortion is direct cooperation. But if the Catholic doesn’t vote for a pro-abortion candidate because he is pro-abortion, the vote still allows the politician to do evil. The question becomes, can we do this?

The memorandum says it “can be permitted,” but we must understand the concept of Proportionate Reason as part of the concept of double effect. Here we seek a good effect but an unavoidable evil effect also happens. If we want to avoid sin, we cannot intend the evil effect. But that’s not all. We also cannot choose an act where the evil effect outweighs the good we want to achieve. So, under double effect, we have to consider the reasonable consequences of our action. If we choose an evil act or an act where we know the evil outweighs the good, we sin if we choose the act.

This is not a matter where we can decide for ourselves what qualifies. This is about objective moral principles. For example, in the case of self-defense, we can use force to drive off an attacker. It is possible that the we might have no choice but killing the attacker. But we can only use the minimum force necessary to defend ourselves. In a life or death struggle, killing the attacker may be a proportionate reason to save your life. But shooting an attacker who swings his fist at you is not a proportionate reason for killing your attacker (See CCC #2269).

So, when we look at this paragraph, understanding these terms shows that this is not a permission to do what you will as long as you don’t cross the line of supporting abortion. He wrote with the purpose of explaining what separates sin from justified behavior. If one doesn’t vote for a pro-abortion candidate because the candidate supports abortion, that is remote material cooperation. It doesn’t directly cause the death of the unborn. But the candidate will support the evil of abortion. Therefore, the proportionate reason (the desired good) must be to stop an evil which outweighs the evil the candidate will do in promoting abortion if elected.

And that’s where some Catholics went wrong. This isn’t about how we rank abortion personally. This isn’t about what we hope candidate A will do or what we fear candidate B will do. This is about the Catholic Church consistently condemning abortion in the strongest possible terms. Homicide. Unspeakable crime. These are not the words of politicians. They are terms used in the official decrees of the Church. Our obligation to oppose abortion is crystal clear:

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society. 

 

 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 548.

If the Catholic Church condemns abortion in such strong terms, it means that the proportionate reason would have to be even worse if we would treat the unwanted evil of abortion as less. The problem is, no such evils exist today. I could see Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot as greater evils than a pro-abortion candidate. But outside of the uninformed rhetoric of those who post “[Name] = Hitler” on Facebook, nobody sees that as a serious threat today.

Once we understand the concept, it is clear that the memorandum doesn’t give permission to decide whether or not to vote for a preferred candidate who is pro-abortion. It tells us the conditions that determine if an act is sinful or not. Since the conditions justifying such a vote do not exist at this time, we cannot use the Ratzinger Memorandum to justify voting for a pro-abortion politician

That usually leads to a change of tactics. Some Catholics will then argue that no candidate is pro-life, so we are free to vote for whoever we think is less evil. That’s a topic for another time and beyond the scope of this article. But a short answer for this time would be that such a claim has to be proven, not just assumed to be true.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

On Placing Church Teaching Above Partisan Interest

While some Catholics forget that Matthew 7:1-5 does not forbid speaking against evil, others forget that it does forbid—it forbids rash judgment in judging motives and writing people off as a lost cause. Some even go so far as forgetting both, judging people as judgmental because they speak about evil. Our Lord forbids us to make ourselves the standard for judging others. He warns us that God who judges will judge us with the same standard we use to judge others. Pharisees and hypocrites do not fare well in this system because they judge people harshly for things they do themselves. But He will deal with wrongdoing in His time, and we will answer for those people who we did not warn:

When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:8–9).

That brings us to our problem. In this election year, Catholics are becoming pretty partisan in how they carry out this task. We’re focussing much more on the wrongdoing of those we disagree with, and not those we agree with. In some cases this involves Catholics who are equally faithful in keeping Church teaching but find different ways of being faithful—yet one group condemns the second group of being faithless. In other cases, Catholics only rebuke one side when there is wrongdoing by both—for example I have seen some Catholics rebuke one political faction of ignoring Church teaching, while ignoring the other side’s guilt in the same evil. They may believe both sides are wrong, but they only focus on the wrongdoing of one side and make excuses for the other.

After stating the problem, I see two common negative reactions. The first assumes I’m talking about “the other side.” The other assumes I’m talking about them and ignoring "the other side.” The results are self-righteousness and resentment respectively. But we have to look at this dispute openly. We have to ask whether we are discerning our behavior rightly and we have to ask if we are judging the behavior of others wrongly. That means we need to see if we are guilty of partisanship in how we see things.

Being partisan means prejudice in favor or opposition to a particular cause. So a partisan Catholic might point out the wrongdoing in something he opposes while ignoring it in something he approves of or in an ally of convenience. For example, condemning Candidate A for holding positions against Church teaching while not mentioning that Candidate B also holds positions against Church teaching could be partisan if the person was aware of this fact and deliberately hid it.

I want to make clear I’m not using the “he did it too” argument (tu quoque). A candidate or party that acts against God’s law does wrong. We have to make certain we’re not whitewashing one faction while smearing another. If X is wrong, we can’t condemn it when it benefits us and stay silent when it does’t. We’re supposed to promote good and oppose evil at all times, not just when it is convenient to a cause. I’ll admit it’s hard. When we recognize a candidate or party promoting evil, we want them stopped permanently if possible. If we see a tool to bring that about or if we fear a moral objection will harm their opponent, we may tolerate an unjust means to achieve it.

But that’s what we have to watch out for and avoid. Justice obliges us to give a person their due—which includes speaking truthfully. Sins against truth include rash judgment (assuming the worst in a person) and calumny (speaking falsely). So, if someone accuses a candidate about lying about his position on an issue, justice demands we prove our claim. If we assume the candidate must be lying that’s rash judgment. If we know the candidate’s not lying but we say he is, that’s calumny. So when we hear a charge like this, we have an obligation to verify it before repeating it.

I believe we have to be Catholics first and vote from our Catholic formation. We need to know what the Church teaches and why. If we don’t know, we need to find out. We can’t just decide for ourselves that “well it doesn’t bother me, so it must be OK.” But Scripture warns us “Sometimes a way seems right, but the end of it leads to death!” (Proverbs 14:12). We believe the Church is mother and teacher, and Our Lord commands us to obey her (Matthew 18:17-18, Luke 10:16). So we learn His will from her (Matthew 28:20). That means we not only keep the rules, but we follow out of the love for God and don't look for loopholes. As Vatican II taught:

[14] He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

 

Catholic Church, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

So we accept the special grace of God to live as He calls us, accepting His Church as a gift to guide us and form our conscience. This grace calls us away from legalism and indifferentism. It should guide us to live as He wants, not as we want. If we feel “called” to live as we want, that’s not grace.

Applying Church teaching to voting—where we make Church teaching the reality we live by—means we have to look at how our vote reflects what we believe. Our vote needs to promote good and oppose evil as best as we can manage. Since this election involves the worst choices, and one of those bad choices will be president in January 2017, we need to discern what each choice says about the importance we give Church teaching. If we vote in a way that treats a serious issue as a minor one, our witness will mislead people to think we don’t care. Unfortunately, many partisan Catholics do give that impression. We need to change our attitude in how we approach voting.

For example, let’s look at abortion. The Church teaches abortion is an unspeakable crime (Gaudium et Spes #51), and the right to life from conception is a fundamental right (see Christifideles Laici #38 and Evangelium Vitae #58). Since we’re called to make known how to follow Our Lord, our actions must show our opposition to abortion both in our private lives and in our response to laws and politicians who promote them. So, we can’t treat abortion as one issue among many. Nor can we argue this point away by saying X+Y+Z outweighs abortion.

I’m not saying that we can ignore other issues so long as we check the box on opposing abortion. That’s the first step among many moral decisions. But it is the first step, and without it, a person is not voting as a Catholic. There are other moral teachings we have to follow.

So if we have a candidate opposed to abortion but the candidate is wrong on other issues, then we have to make clear from the beginning we will oppose him on those issues, should he be elected, even if we do vote for him to limit evil.

But if we cast a vote for a pro-abortion candidate, we have a problem. We’re saying that we think some other issue is more important than abortion. So the person who witnesses our act can ask just how seriously we take Church teaching when the Church says the right to life from conception onwards is the fundamental human right. A Catholic might say “We intend to oppose him on this issue too, even if we vote for him to limit evil.” But people will ask:  Why does the Church believe differently than you on what is the fundamental human right? After all, If we believed as the Church did, we wouldn’t be voting for that person. We’d find another option like a third party vote or write in (if none of the major candidates were truly opposing abortion) to show our opposition. We would have to explain what possibly could be so evil that we would sacrifice opposing abortion to stop it? That has to be answered by the Church, not by our personal preferences—and it has to be an answer that will satisfy God.

That’s why we need to be clear on what the Church teaches and the reason for her teaching. We need to vote in a way that witnesses to our faithfulness, even if that means we vote differently than our personal and political preferences. In my opinion, the choices are so poor this time that we shouldn’t lightly jump to a choice. One candidate supports torture and unjust immigration policies and says he opposes abortion. One openly champions abortion and other intrinsic evils as a right. And if we vote for a third party (the two largest support abortion), we abdicate choosing one of the first two candidates to limit evil.

These are all negative effects associated with each choice. There is no choice free from these dilemmas. So keep that in mind, and vote as a Catholic, and not as a partisan supporting a party. If we lose sight of this principle, we’re voting to satisfy ourselves, not to serve God.

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, April 24, 2016

Thoughts on Catholic Moral Teaching and Law

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Chickenhawk: Thoughts on Catholics and Ad Hominem Attacks Aimed at Silencing Opponents

Introduction

Before I begin, let me just say that in writing this article, I don’t intend to defend or promote any specific candidate or their position. Indeed, I hope to write something that would remain true if it was read fifty years from now. My concern is that many people who are using this argument seem to be unaware of the fact that it can be used to attack other positions as well. Thus the Catholic who uses it to attack a political view they dislike may find himself “hoisted by their own petard” when someone uses the same argument against a moral teaching of the Church. Then this person would end up looking like they support a double standard.

To avoid such problems, we need to be consistent and ethical in how we speak out or blog against something we oppose on moral grounds. If we behave inconsistently, somebody will notice and even if they don’t call us out, they will notice and assume we behave hypocritically.

The Current Misbehavior

One of the common attacks that happen when Catholics debate the current slate of people campaigning for nomination is an ad hominem attack. An ad hominem [literally meaning “to the person”] happens where, instead of refuting an argument, the person attacks the individual who makes the argument. There are many different ways one can attack the person who argues, but they all are guilty of the same thing—attacking the individual does not actually refute what was said, even if it succeeds in makes the person look foolish.

Ad hominem 2

During election years we see statements appear which are designed to attack people who hold a position contrary to what the attacking individual supports. This year is no different. In this current election cycle, this argument I’ve noticed is an attack on the person who favors strong military action against ISIS. The argument is that because Candidate A did not serve in the military, he is not qualified to advocate a position of strong military action. Rhetoric portrays them as casually sending men off to their deaths, not caring about what happens to them. The problem is, calling a candidate a Chickenhawk (defined as a person who speaks out in support of war, yet has avoided active military service) does not demonstrate that the candidate’s position is wrong. It only demonstrates that the person attacking disapproves of the position. But who is to say that the disapproval is true? Slapping a label on a candidate is not a refutation of his position. 

This argument is an enthymeme (an argument with a hidden but assumed premise). It assumes a premise that only people who served in the military are qualified to decide in favor taking military action. It then takes the fact that Candidate A did not serve in the military to disqualify him from holding his position on military strategy. That’s a bad argument to make for several reasons.

Flaws With the Argument Are Apparent

One problem is, this argument does not address the question of whether a lack of military experience disqualifies or whether having experience qualifies someone to decide in favor of military action. One of the obvious responses is to contrast Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. FDR was not in the military.[1] Hitler was. So to use the “chickenhawk” argument, FDR was not qualified to make a decision committing troops to combat, while Hitler was qualified. But history shows that this is absurd. So we can see that military service or its lack is not, by itself an indicator of whether a decision to use troops is justified.

A second problem is that this argument can be used to target anyone who holds a position that is disliked. For example, consider all the people who target pro-lifers by saying that men can’t become pregnant, therefore they shouldn’t condemn abortion. Or the people who say that Priests are celibate, therefore they shouldn’t condemn contraception. Just like the “chickenhawk” ad hominem, the intent of this kind of attack is to embarrass and exclude a person who holds Position X by saying he has no right to take a position contrary to the preferred one on account of one aspect of his life he cannot change whether through circumstances of birth or through events in life.  

A third problem is that it overlooks the possibility of change of views over time. A person who chose not to join the military for whatever reason is not locked into the views they held when they were 20 for the rest of their lives. For example, I was an idiot at 20 and my views have been substantially modified since then. Others may have behaved in a way they now regret. I would not make a blanket claim that all people regret their past. But neither can we assume that these people are deliberately being hypocritical. 

A fourth problem is we can reverse it. If a person who did not go into the military has no right to advocate an aggressive military response, then it logically follows he also has no right to oppose military action. In other words, we might as well make America like Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers [2] where only veterans can be citizens. We might as well forbid men to have pro-abortion views and celibate clergy to have pro-contraception views. In other words, the argument is only applied in a partisan manner to silence people we disagree with, never to determine what is true.

Conclusion

Again, I don’t write this to defend any candidate or their position. I write this to encourage people to recognize that this argument is not one used to determine the truth. It’s used to try to turn people against a view the arguer dislikes by attacking the person who supports the disliked view. It’s basically a cheap shot. We need to stop using. If we want to lead people to embrace a certain view, we should use reasoned discussion as to why our view is correct and the opposing view is wrong. We should not use cheap shots aimed at embarrassing the opponent.

So I would encourage my fellow Catholics to stop using this form of attack. It’s fallacious, it’s unjust and it is one which can be used to attack our own beliefs. Instead, let us show why their position is wrong—not with rhetorical tricks, but with truth, leading by example to show that we seek to live what is true and good.

 

_____________________

Digressions 

[1] We have had (to the best of my knowledge) twelve Presidents who never served in the Military: Adams, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Cleveland, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Clinton, and Obama. If one excludes presidents who were in the military but never served in combat, the number increases.

[2] The movie was pretty brainless, but the book did at least raise some interesting questions about why we don’t take our citizenship more seriously. No idea if that was Heinlein’s intent, but that was the result for me.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"What's the Worst That Can Happen?" Reflections on Catholics and Voting in 2016

Introduction

With the first primaries yet to be held, I’m seeing Catholics debating the worst case scenarios and what should be the best response if certain candidates get nominated. I try not to use this blog for discussion on the merits of candidates, so I don’t plan to discuss why I favor candidate X or deplore candidate Y. That kind of approach tends to turn a discussion into a partisan debate that obscures the Catholic teaching itself. Also, since some people come to this blog to seek an explanation of what the Church holds, I don’t want to give someone the impression that my personal views on what candidate is best/worst is Church teaching.

The reason I write this is that I am seeing three views thrown around where those who promote them give the impression that their view is the only one compatible with Catholic teaching. Now it is not wrong that people who sincerely seek to follow Church teaching reach different views on what is the best (or least odious) way to vote given the candidate choices. The problem that I see is that some of these arguments seem to overlook the consequences of their decision. What I hope this article will do is to encourage people to consider the consequences of their choice in seeking to make the best decision out of those available, by pointing out some of the pitfalls of each decision that one needs to consider.

The Proposed Options and Preliminary Considerations

As I see it, when we decide that none of the options are appealing, the options boil down to three:

  1. Vote for the candidate of one of the two major parties as the lesser evil
  2. Vote for a Third Party or independent candidate on grounds that neither candidate is a lesser evil
  3. Refusal to vote on the grounds that neither candidate is a lesser evil

It’s not a hopeful view of the slate of candidates in this Presidential election, and many Catholics are struggling to find the choice which they find least offensive to their sensibilities. That is legitimate in itself. After all if a person believes that they cannot in good conscience vote a certain way, they ought not to do what their conscience condemns. However, we are all obligated to form our consciences according to the teaching of the Church and we ought to determine whether what seems least offensive to our sensibilities is actually the proper way to think of it.

Voting for the Candidate of One of the Major Parties

Barring some incredibly bizarre occurrence, the next President of the United States will be either a Democrat or a Republican. Regardless of your opinion of our dualistic political system, enough people vote for one of the two parties to ensure that 2016 will be no different than any other election since 1860. It’s reality and we need to be aware of this fact when voting.

It’s more than that however. Some people are conditioned to think that their party is the only party to vote for and consider voting any other way to be a betrayal of what they stand for. That’s a bad way to think from a Catholic perspective. Partisan rhetoric aside, parties change over time. Certainly conditions in America have changed since the Democrat and Republican parties were originally formed. A party which supports something morally good in one era can abandon that good or embrace a separate evil in another. So to invoke a certain President from the past as the eternal symbol of the party is only accurate to the point that that President reflects the current values of the party.

In addition, we have a case where neither party fully embraces Catholic views. The current Democrats reject the Catholic position on many moral issues and the current Republicans reject the Catholic position on social justice. And when the parties do nominally agree with the Church position (Democrats on social justice, Republicans on morality), they often are either ineffectual in their support or propose solutions which are morally dubious at best.

The point of all this is neither of the major parties is “God’s party” where it reflects what we as Catholics hold to be good. Because of this, the Catholic has to consider what is the good that a party purports to stand for and what evils it supports. Do the evils one party favors outweigh the goods the party claims to stand for? Is the other party’s opposition going to be an obstacle to the evils the first party supports? Is one party’s lukewarm defense of good no different than the other party’s fervent promotion of evil?

To discern this, we need to look at the issues and contrast them with what the Church teaches on right and wrong. The Church teaches that some things are intrinsically evil—that is to say, there can be no circumstances or intention that can make that action good. In other cases, a thing can be morally good or neutral in nature, but is made evil by intention or circumstances. So, when a party supports something intrinsically evil, we need to be very careful before casting a vote in this direction. If we vote for the party in question because it supports that intrinsic evil, that is sinful. 

But what about if we deplore that evil? Can we vote for that party for other reasons? The answer is, it depends. As the future Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in 2004 in a memorandum:

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

That’s not an invitation to vote as you please. The concept of material cooperation indicates that even when the person does not directly participate in an evil act, the more enabling a person’s action is, the greater the proportionate reason is required to justify such an act.

So, when a person insists that the party which supports intrinsic evils, the question to be answered is, "What reason do you see the party that supports an intrinsic evil as 'not being as bad; as the other party?” I’m not talking about personal preference here. The Catholic Church teaches us about morality, and the American bishops speak about specific conditions that we need to be aware of as voting Americans. If we take the perspective of that’s not ex cathedra, so I can ignore it, then we have missed the point. While we can be in disagreement on the best way to follow Church teaching, Church teaching in itself is not optional. For example, the Church makes very clear as to the importance in rejecting abortion:

Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law.

 

 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae §72 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995).

So, when the Church condemns things as intrinsic evils that go against the fundamental rights as defined by the Church, and one party supports those intrinsic evils as “rights,” we have to ask ourselves, “Is the stand of the other party so evil that we must support this party’s stands as the lesser evil? Or are we just voting out of political preference and ignoring real moral issues?” Unfortunately, it’s a question few seem to ask. Instead, we cherry pick Church teaching to find the quote (often out of context) to justify what we were going to do anyway.

Ultimately, we have to be honest with ourselves, recognizing our sinful nature and considering the possibility that our support for one party might be based on our own selfishness and that we are ignoring the Church teaching on the issue. Unfortunately, self-deception is easy if we appoint ourselves the interpreter of what is and is not in keeping with Church teaching. When one starts (for example) using arguments that a candidate who is pro-abortion is really the most “pro-life candidate,” it is pretty clear that self-deception has come into play

Voting for the Third Party or Independent Candidate

Now nobody wants to be forced into an either-or situation where both choices are bad. So some people try to find a third option which says “None of the above.” When it comes to the elections, some try to find a third option. They usually do this because of a few different views. They believe in the candidate, or believe that they need to start supporting third parties to break the monopoly of the dualistic system we have, or they are so disgusted with the two main parties that they say “a plague on both your houses” and vote this way as a protest.

The thing to remember is that historically third parties don’t succeed in America with national office unless they address an important issue the main parties are ignoring. The Republican Party succeeded in becoming a major party because they were formed to address the issue of slavery in a way which neither of the major parties of the time (Democrat and Whig) were addressing. [1] Sure we have local and state races turn out this way, but this is rare.[2] 

What a third candidate tends to do historically is to divide the vote of one major party so that the other major party gets elected even though a majority of voters voted against him or her. The most drastic case of this happened in 2000 in Florida. George W. Bush carried the state with 537 votes. What people forget however is that if Ralph Nader had not run for President, the odds are good that those 97,000 votes would have gone to Al Gore, and we would not have had lawsuits over “Butterfly Ballots” and “Hanging Chads.” Other cases where a third party has played spoiler and divided the vote was H. Ross Perot in 1992 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. In both cases the third party divided the vote of one major party and resulted in the election of the other major party with less than 50% of the vote. [3]

So, the moral consideration necessary for the Catholic who feels offended by the two major parties is whether they truly feel that there is no real difference between the two. Their vote for a third candidate will take votes away from one of the two major parties…is the voter willing to accept that consequence?

I don’t ask this question with the intent of playing “Gotcha!” assuming there is only one right answer. Theoretically speaking, it is possible to have an election where both candidates are equally offensive to Catholic teaching and that great harm will be done regardless of who is elected. In such a case, a “protest vote” may be the only recourse a person has to avoid going against conscience and to demonstrate that not everybody approves of a policy.

But given the potential results (that we could be potentially assisting in giving the election to a morally offensive party), we have to be very certain that the evils supported by both parties are truly equivalent and not just a result of recognizing that only one party is morally offensive and the other party against one’s own preferences. Remember, we are talking about the impact of the elections on souls here. A government which actively enables evil is more harmful than one which is lukewarm about protecting good.

Refusal to Vote

Some go so far as to refuse to vote for any candidate at all, whether for a specific office or for that entire election. This tends to be a sort of political despair where one declares themselves to find no merit in any potential candidate or else feels their vote is meaningless (for example, a Democrat in a solidly “Red” state or a Republican in a solidly “Blue” State) or even apathy over the whole concept.

This is never an option to be taken lightly. In fact, the Church teaches that voting is a responsibility for which we have a moral obligation:

2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country: (2265)

Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners.… They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws.… So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.

The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” (1900)

 

 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 540–541.

To refuse to vote is to be passive in the face of seeking a greater good or rejecting a greater evil. If enough people who dislike the current system refuse to participate, the result is to ensure that the negative system will continue without hope of change. Effectively, the only time a refusal to vote is a reasonable response is when there is no real choice and participation seems to give legitimacy to something wrong:


(from Moon over Parador)

Making Proper Decisions and Avoiding False Rhetoric Used To Avoid The Discernment Process

We need to avoid using false rhetoric to justify a choice as praiseworthy when that choice is being done out of pragmatism, partisanship or apathy. Likewise, we must not misuse what the Church teaches about the moral issues of voting to camouflage the fact that we would vote that way anyway. The Christian faith binds us to follow Our Lord, even when it is difficult. Sometimes the choice is not clear-cut. There can be choices where there is no “good” candidate and we have to vote so as to block what we see as the most harmful option.

When these decisions have to be made, we have to consider what the Church teaches about evil, and what evils must be placed first in our discernment. If some grave evil is promoted by one party, it is only tolerable to vote for that party if the other party holds to something even worse. The obvious example might be brought up concerning Weimar Germany facing the choices of one party supporting things contrary to the Church vs. the Nazi Party. The question is, do we really claim (outside of silly slogans by college students) that the choices in America have reached that level?

“What’s The Worst That Can Happen?"

I personally believe that we need to ask ourselves seriously what are the negative consequences of our vote that we can reasonably anticipate. Obviously we can’t anticipate something when the candidate lies about it and entirely conceals their intention. But when a candidate makes clear what they do stand for, we have to compare and contrast that with the teaching of the Church and the moral obligation to do good and avoid evil. We need to ask whether our vote will try to block the candidate or party which seeks to do what the Church calls evil or whether it will make it possible for the party which supports that which the Church condemns to come to power.

I want to make clear here that I’m not trying to force the reader to vote for a certain party or candidate. I simply want to point out that voting is a civic duty in the eyes of the Church and we need to cast our vote in such a way that good is promoted and evil hindered to the best of our ability. In some elections, voting for one of the two parties may be justified. At other times, both parties might be going against what God has commanded, requiring a third party or a refusal to vote.

But ultimately, we must make certain that our beliefs as Catholics are forming how we vote, not our political preferences. No party is 100% following the teaching of the Church. So there will be parts of the party platform which do not fit in with the moral teaching of the Church. So in such cases we must evaluate which sins are the worst in the eyes of God and His Church, and not feign ignorance over just how much the preferred candidate supports them.

In doing this evaluation, we seek the truth and strive to do what God calls us to do.

_____________________

Digressions

[1] I imagine that if both parties were to become officially pro-abortion, it is possible that we might see this situation occur again. Of course given our inertia to uncertain change or to go against a party one has sympathy for, it might not.

[2] Murkowski in 2010 and Lieberman in 2006 are examples, but these were both incumbents in cases of the voters disagreeing with the party nomination and reelecting them despite not receiving the nomination.

[3] Adding the Electoral College to our equation makes it more complicated of course. Bush, Clinton and Wilson all received the Electoral vote majority. The third party vote caused certain states to go the other way with the “winner take all” approach than they might have gone without a third candidate.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Do You Think the Church Exists For?

So, the Pope’s popularity among Americans has fallen from 76% positive in 2014 to 59% now. His unfavorable rating has climbed from 9% to 16% (See: Pope Francis' approval among Americans plummets ahead of U.S. visit, poll finds | Fox News). The article discusses the fact that among conservatives, his approval fell after Laudato Si, while among liberals it fell when they figured out that when the Pope said “Who am I to judge,” he didn’t mean it in the way they hoped he meant it. So what we have here is a case of both the liberals and the conservatives insisting that the Pope be what they want him to be.

It’s not surprising, given how polarized our society has become, but it is sad to watch because it is clear that the people of America and elsewhere have lost sight of what the Church is for. Without understanding what the Church exists for, it is easy to reduce her teachings to the level of political platforms which can be changed if enough people campaign for it. The Pope is then reduced to the level of politician who is good if he supports your positions and bad if he holds positions you disagreement. 

What we have to remember is that the Church is not a manmade institution that arbitrarily decides what is good and what is not. The Church is sent to carry out Our Lord’s mission:

18  Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

As Catholics, we believe that the Church was established by Our Lord with the Pope and bishops as successors to the Apostles. So, we can see that the mission of the Church is to make disciples, to baptize and teaching them to follow what He has taught us.

The problem is, many people seem to forget about this. Being a Christian means we are supposed to let God transform us and renew our minds—turning ourselves to Him and not being conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2). But we have a bad habit of letting our preferences conform God’s teaching to the desires of the world—conveniently allowing us to stay as we are. Such a mindset cannot go out and transform the world as Our Lord commanded. In fact, it goes entirely contrary to what St. Peter taught us:

13 *Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance 15 but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, 16 for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

If we are called to be holy as God is holy, if we are called to be transformed and not conformed, if we are to make disciples of all nations, we need to live our life as Our Lord called us—which includes keeping His commandments (John 14:15). That means we need to turn back (metanoia) to God and away from everything that is in opposition to God called us to live.

But not only are people conforming themselves to the world, they are becoming hostile to people who remind them that Our Lord has called us to change (there’s that metanoia again). Thus we see some people, professing to be Christians, holding views on Christian moral teaching which is contrary to what the faith demands, while thinking they are Christian in doing so. It stands the Great Commission on its head. The Christian who says we must do good and avoid evil, pointing out the evil that exists in our society, the response is hostility. Some try to portray such a Christian as thinking like those members of aberrant Christian sects who think that hating sinners is the same thing as opposing sin (this happens when the Church stands up for morality—particularly the sexual morality. Others try to deny that the Christian challenge to them is Christian. For example, those people who presume to label the Pope’s teaching on social justice as “marxist."

Whether they cite Mathew 7:1 and 1 John 4:8 out of context, or whether they cite Church documents out of context, the point is the cite things in such a way as to redefine Christianity as being what they want it to be. But the Church, as we pointed out above, is not about making the Word of God conform to our likes. The Church is about transforming people into being disciples of Christ.That transformation is not about not saying anything that might offend. It’s about telling people that hell is real and that Jesus Christ died so that salvation was possible, and that salvation is offered to each one of us if we will respond to His grace and His invitation.

That means we have to stop thinking of things as if our own desires are the center of the universe. God is the center of everything. If we want what is good, we have to seek The Good—God. In this understanding, the things of the world can be good (God created the world, after all). But they can only be good if we look at them through Him. Our Lord told us, “But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:33).

Again, we believe that the purpose of the Church is to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission and bring people to Christ, encouraging them to turn away from their sins, as Peter said in Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” If we will not turn away from our sins, we will not be forgiven. As St. Paul wrote,

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

14 
But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? 15 And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!”

We believe that this is the mission of the Church. And since we believe this, it stands to reason that the Church needs to be listened to when she teaches on observing all Our Lord has commanded us. If we do not listen, then we demonstrate that we have completely failed to understand why Our Lord established the Church, and in following the world, we are comforting ourselves on the way to hell (See Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Celestial Railroad, a parody of The Pilgrim’s Progress, as an example).

Let us keep this in mind the next time the teaching of the Church makes us uncomfortable about going along with what the world demands. It might turn out that the discomfort is a sign that we need to change, turning away from sin and towards God.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Thoughts on Church Teaching Encountering Politics and Business

One common objection to the Catholic moral teaching is the accusation that the Church is involving herself in politics and attempting to control the state. What is assumed in this accusation is that the Church, in her teaching, is seeking to dictate laws to the governing body of a nation and impose her teachings on those who do not believe she teaches the truth. The other side of the coin is this: When the Church teaches on moral obligation which is in opposition to the individual's preferred political view, she is accused of siding with the opposing political view.

In both cases, the Church is speaking on a topic on which the listener does not want to be told he or she is wrong. Therefore the Church is accused of interfering in business that does not concern her. While it is an understandable error, it is an error nonetheless. What gets overlooked is the fact that governments and businesses are not merely impersonal autonomous beings. They are made up of men and women who have to make moral choices when setting policies which will affect other men and women. Such choices can be morally wrong.

Untitled(King Herod’s Massacre in Bethlehem)

The purpose of the Catholic Church is to carry out the mission that Our Lord tasked His apostles with, to go out and bring the message of salvation to the whole world. In doing so, she calls each person individually and each nation as a whole to turn away from the behaviors which separate them from God. The Greatest Commandments, which Our Lord gave us...

37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

…apply to our civil laws and business policies as well. A human law or business policy cannot go against what God has commanded us to do or avoid, and it cannot be harmful to the well being of the individual. Thus, when the Church speaks out against abortion or same sex “marriage” or the contraception mandate, she is speaking out against laws which violate what God has commanded and violate the dignity of the human person. This is why she also speaks out on ecological responsibility, treating illegal aliens justly and other policies.

These are not “merely political” issues where the Church is interfering. These are moral decisions with moral responsibility. When the nation or a business chooses a policy which violates what God commands, the Church has an obligation to speak to the individuals who are part of the government or business who make these decisions. She must tell them, “If you do this thing, you will place yourself in opposition to God."

However, in doing this, the Church does not say “You must vote for this party, candidate, program.” She speaks out against wrongdoing, but does not endorse a party or an economic system. If a specific political position or a business has staked out an odious position, it logically follows that we must oppose the position, and as long as the business or party holds that position, the relationship with the Church will be strained.

Ultimately, this is a case where people only want the Church to speak in a way which they agree with. If they disagree with the Church teaching, they want the Church to be silent. When they agree with what the Church teaches, she is praised. When they disagree, she is being “political.” But that’s being partisan, using ad hominem labels to negate arguments they dislike.

It’s important to remember that the moral obligations that come along with being a Christian are not relegated to the private sphere. People act publicly and so they can sin publicly in enacting unjust laws or corrupt business practices. When they do so, the Church must oppose their actions, denouncing the laws which go against what God commands.

Some people might object, saying this is an imposition of values on people who don’t share them. But that is a double standard—for they are doing the same thing by trying to push through laws which are in opposition to Christian moral teaching. If it is wrong for us to do this, it is wrong for them to do it. But if they insist that they are seeking to promote what is right, we claim the same motive.

Ultimately, the attack against the Church—that she is “interfering” in politics or trying to “control” the state—are merely an attempt to negate a moral challenge to their actions. Rejecting the challenge on the ground that it is “religious,” is an example of the genetic fallacy…by attacking the source of the challenge, it attempts to ignore the truth of the challenge.

But the fact remains—the Church is speaking against a legal or business action because it goes against what God calls us to be, and in choosing such a law or policy, one is rejecting God. Since the Church is concerned for both the individuals and for each group, she must speak out against wrongdoing…even when done by government or business.

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.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Propaganda and Lies: Portraying Christianity as Malicious

Propaganda:  information of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular or point of view or to misrepresent an opposing point of view.

With the Supreme Court ready to hear arguments on Tuesday concerning the “right” to “gay marriage,” there is a real push to portray Christianity—or at least those denominations who have not caved in on the issue of saying marriage can only exist between one man and one woman—as enemies of the state who have to be opposed for the “public good.” To hear the rhetoric used, one would get the impression that it is the Christians who are trying to impose their beliefs on others.

But if one actually went beyond the rhetoric and loaded terms, one would see that the ones actually seeking to impose their beliefs on others are the ones who are taking Christians to court with the intention of forcing them to do what they believe is morally wrong. What we are actually getting here is the attempt to force Christians to either accept “same sex marriage” as morally the same as marriage between one man and one woman, or be targeted by lawsuits, loss of business and loss of jobs. It seems it is only a matter of time before those people who refuse to go along wind up being prosecuted.

When one actually looks at the accusations which are being made against Christians, it is clear that these charges have no basis in fact, and are instead logical fallacies which are aimed at swaying people emotionally and intimidating the people they disagree with.

The fact is, we deny the charges that we have hatred for people with same-sex attraction. While I am sure you could dig up some individual who does hate them using all the offensive words that makes a perfect soundbite, we would deny that his hatred is caused by Christian belief. There are always extremists out there. There are always lawbreakers out there. But in every other case, people recognize that the extremist recognizes the whole. A person who claimed that all African Americans were felons, all Hispanics were illegal aliens, or all Muslims were terrorists would be denounced as intolerant. However, when a person argues that “all Christians are homophobic,” they are making the same gross stereotypes that they would condemn in every other case.

Christian teaching on sexual morality is not arbitrary. It is not made with the malicious desire to “persecute” people with same sex attraction or women or the divorced. It is made with the intention of showing people how they must live if they would seek out what is good and avoid what is harmful. We do believe in God, and we do believe His commandments are designed to move us towards what is good for us and away from what is harmful. In terms of sexual morality, the concept of the sexual act is not recreational, but aimed at the creation of the family—both in procreation and in furthering the bond between husband and wife. The family (mother, father, children) is the basic unit of a society. New individuals are born, raised with the values needed to hold society together, and then pass them on to another generation. Actions that distort the purpose of the sexual act are called sinful—not because some prelate dislikes them, but because they destroy the entire purpose of the sexual act.

Thus the Church condemns many acts that go against the true purpose, from the acts that few people recognize as harmful any longer (such as masturbation or fornication) to the extremes like rape and necrophilia that no sane person denies is evil. The morality of sexual acts is not changed by time or popular opinion. If God has said some act is wrong, then it is wrong, even if modern TV portrays it as if nothing was harmful about it. The Church condemnation of acts has nothing to do with hatred of people. On the contrary, it is based on the concern for the well-being of the individual who does them.

Some people try to challenge this assertion by labelling it as “imposing values or beliefs on others.” That’s pretty hypocritical however. If imposing views on others is wrong, then people should stop trying to impose their views on Christians. But if people think that some actions have to be opposed then, recognize that we have the same right. (See HERE for an expanded view on the subject). After all, isn’t the idea that “same sex marriage” should be allowed a value or belief?

The truth of the matter is that the the people seeking to portray Christianity as “pushing their beliefs on others” or of “hatred” are actually guilty of that accusation. Right now, it is the proponents of “same sex marriage” who are trying to impose their beliefs on others, and show a virulent hatred of Christians who stand up for their beliefs (look at the forum comments for example). 

Trying to coerce our businesses, schools and hospitals into accepting same sex attraction as normal is not a defense of civil rights. The freedom of religion is a civil right. (read the 1st Amendment). This coercion, using propaganda and false statements to make our beliefs appear to be malicious is an attack on civil rights. No Christian—except perhaps for an extremist—intends to deny people with same sex attraction the right to goods and services that are available to any person. But Christians who believe that certain actions are morally wrong will not take part in anything that gives the impression that they support it. So we won’t recognize “same sex marriage” or abortion or divorce and remarriage. This refusal is not based on malice. It’s based on a belief that we must do good and reject evil—and help the people trapped in the evil to understand why it is wrong.

To twist the truth so as to make people believe something that is not true is to speak falsely. When a person knows they are speaking falsely, that is a lie. We Christians deny we bear any malice for the people who commit the actions we must call sins.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thoughts on Same Sex Attraction, Diabetes and Rejecting the Physician

Preliminary Note

All Analogies limp if you take them further than they are intended to go. It’s easy to look at them overly critically instead of evaluate the point they are trying to make. I ask you to keep that in mind, and avoid trying to read more into my own analogy than I intend to be there.

Introduction

One of the first things we need to understand is that, in the eyes of the Church, having an inclination is not the same thing as an act. The fact that a person has an inclination that attracts them to behavior that is called sinful is not their fault, and the Church does not condemn a person for having an inclination. However, what a person chooses to do with that inclination can be assessed as doing good or evil. In other words, it is not the attraction that is sinful, but how one chooses to act in response to that attraction.

Comparisons and Those Offended By Them

Trying to create an example to illustrate how this works can be different. Whenever someone tries to use an example of an attraction that everyone recognizes as wrong, someone will invariably make the wrong connection and think this example is being used to say that “same sex attraction is just as bad as X.” But that’s to miss the point of such analogies. The point isn’t to fix same sex attraction on a chart to say it is the moral equivalent of something. The point is to demonstrate that just because someone has an inclination to certain behavior, doesn’t mean it is allowable to act on that inclination.

It’s a crucial point, but it is usually misunderstood. The real point to be understood is this: When a person has an inclination towards a behavior that has been condemned by God as being against His will, the obligation of the person with this inclination is to resist the inclination and avoid behaviors which put us in opposition to God. That’s not always an easy thing to do of course, and it is possible for a person with a compulsive behavior to lack the full free will to resist a sinful act, and thus not be totally responsible for the act they commit. That is something for the confessor to determine. However, even if a compulsion means that the individual who commits a sinful act is not fully in control of themselves (and therefore not guilty of a mortal sin), that does not mean that no wrong was done. The act is still wrong and still needs to be resisted.

That’s why we can say that the Catholic Church does not hate people with a same sex attraction. She is compassionate for them and wishes to help them live in a way compatible with what God calls us to be.

The Analogy of Diabetes

Think of it like a condition like diabetes. There are different types. Some are genetic (Type I), and some are brought on by living in ways that are not the best (Type II). Either way, you go to the doctor and ask him if it’s fatal. “No,” he replies. “But" (and you knew that was coming), “you will need to make some changes to your lifestyle and not give into the cravings you have for certain things.” (I’m sure some will get offended here, saying “OMG! He’s comparing same sex attraction to a disease!” But that is to miss the point of this comparison).

In such a case, it makes no sense to get angry with the doctor. Sure, you could storm out of his/her office and refuse to listen to his opinions—but the fact is, if you live in a way which meets your desires, the result is going to be harmful to you, and perhaps eventually fatal. So to live and stay healthy, we have to make some changes and avoid things that are harmful to us.

A disordered attraction is like that. People can’t gratify certain desires that come from this attraction because those desires are harmful for our spiritual health and can turn out to be fatal to our soul. Some people have said, “I didn’t ask to be gay.” I’m sure that’s true. And I didn’t ask to be diabetic. But since we have these things, we have to make changes to our lives that prevent us from doing some things that others can do—in my case, no super triple hot fudge sundaes (because of my body desires something harmful for me), in the case of a person with a same sex attraction, no sexual activity (because it involves acts with a person of the same gender—which is harmful for the moral life). Sure, we can choose to engage in behaviors which are harmful to us, but in my case, the result is going to be an elevated blood sugar level, and in the case of the person with same sex attraction, the result is going to be sin that alienates us from God.

Don’t Blame the Physician for the Diagnosis

In such cases, it is foolish to deny the problem and insist that things be changed for us. The government can coerce the FDA to declare that triple chocolate ice cream is OK for diabetics and the government can coerce businesses, and perhaps eventually churches, to say same sex “marriage” is a right. But in both cases, such government decrees would have no authority to change reality, and a person who believed them over the ones qualified to make the decision would wind up in bad shape very quickly.

Is it hard? Of course. And it’s much harder for the person with a same sex attraction (who knows they can never have a married life the way their inclination leads them to desire) than it is for me (who has to cut back on the carbs and the sugar). But this isn’t a violation of our “civil rights.” It’s a case of our having to live differently so we don’t do physical or moral harm to ourselves.

The doctor tells me “No.” The Church tells the person with the same sex attraction “No.” If we ignore these instructions, we will do ourselves harm—perhaps fatally.

So, it makes no sense to blame the Church for teaching that same sex genital activity is gravely disordered. All the Church does in any of her moral teachings is to be the physician, and try to let us know what is harmful. Just like the doctor who desires our physical health, the Church desires our spiritual and moral health, and the warnings are not out of hatred or personal opinion. They’re out of love for us and the desire for us to be spiritually well, spending our eternity with God..