Showing posts with label reflection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reflection. Show all posts

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reflections on the Riot Aftermath

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27).

One thing that shouldn’t have to be said (but apparently does) is that even if there had been no attempts to remove statues, provocations, rioting, or deaths, the white supremacists in Charlottesville would have to be condemned. If we want to call God, “Our Father,” we have to accept all the other people whom  God has called to be in that relationship with Him. That would be everyone, because God desires everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). He does not show partiality to some over others (Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35). We cannot treat others as less than human because of their ethnicity. Nor can we pretend that our Catholic faith is compatible with such racist views. 

In light of the recent riot, we need to be clear on this. But one thing that troubles me about social media in the aftermath of the Charlottesville riot is the fact that some are turning it into a proxy war for the arguments they were having before the riot. Some believe that those who hold different political views are guilty of supporting or enabling the racists. Others believe that the defense of their beliefs requires downplaying the actions of the racists. Both are wrong, and we should not let either group define the discussion for us.

Racism is morally indefensible. So is rioting, and people across the political spectrum need to condemn it without pointing to the actions of extremists on the “other side” as if they cancelled each other out. We can condemn evil on both sides without turning it into a false equivalency or a tu quoque argument along the lines of, “Yes, this was bad, but so was that…they’re all scum, what can we do about it?” We can focus on one evil without downplaying another. We can ask questions about the second evil without downplaying the first.

But people also need to realize that it is unjust to accuse people of differing political views of supporting racism. If one actually supports racism, that must be opposed. But opposition to racism is not the exclusive property of one political ideology, and we should reject the “guilt by association” fallacy. Offensive radical beliefs do attach themselves, like parasites, to the fringes of political factions. That does not mean that the majority of that political faction approves of the extremists.

We need to break out of the common either-or fallacy. It is false to think that either a person agrees with us or approves of everything we hold evil. It is also false to think that a moral objection to the words of the President is support for the Antifa, or that voicing concern about rhetoric is support for racism. Before we denounce someone of supporting evil, we must make sure they actually support that evil. Different people have different levels of skill in expressing themselves. People who are not skilled in expressing themselves might be unclear, but that lack of clarity does not mean an attempt to conceal support of evil.

As Catholics, we have an obligation to seek out what is true. We cannot simply assume that our personal interpretation is what is meant. Before tearing into another, we need to be sure that our interpretation of the words of that person is accurate. That has been lacking on social media. I have seen moral objections raised to badly expressed assertions—and then others savage these objections savaged as a support of evil. That is unjust.

This leads me to another point: As Catholics, our mission in part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is to bring people to Christ. This includes the people we disagree with. But how will we bring people to Christ if we have hatred for them? We must show mercy to those in error. Imagine how things might have been if the missionary saints had treated the pagans in the same way that we treat those who disagree with us? Since we are called to bring the evil to repentance, we will answer for the stumbling blocks we put in the way of helping people find their way to God. That doesn’t mean acting so pusillanimous or wishy washy that that we are afraid to speak against evil. But it does mean that our opposing evil must be aimed at saving the evildoer from damnation, not at vanquishing them and sending them to hell.

Yes, there is a lot to be angry about over the White Supremacists and their views. There is a lot to be angry about the deaths and injuries. But as St. Paul said, if we are  to be angry, let it be without sin.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Reflections on a New President

Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2) 

Since Election Day, I knew I would need to comment on what had happened. The problem I faced was deciding what to say that emphasized a Catholic perspective and neither seemed to whitewash nor exaggerate the problems we’ll face over the next four to eight years. Perhaps I have an advantage here. I tried to keep my blog non-partisan during this tiring election season, and I can honestly say I didn’t vote for either major party. I voted for a minor party which formed its platform on Catholic social teaching. [†] So hopefully what I say can be seen as non-partisan.

I don’t believe Trump will be a “political messiah” that many of his supporters think he’ll be. He strikes me as a pragmatist who will be flexible on his positions. He holds many positions I believe are incompatible with our Catholic faith. The question in my mind is, how flexible will he be? Will he keep his promises to oppose abortion and to appoint Supreme Court Justices who will defend Christians from unjust laws? Or will he compromise on these issues, betraying the Christians he promised to protect? By the same token, will he keep his promises on enacting what I see as unjust immigration policies? Or will he compromise and do less harm than I fear?

At this point, I don’t think any of us can say what he will do for certain. We’ll have to watch and see. We may gain some clues during the transition period, with who he appoints to positions. Others we’ll probably have to wait and see how he acts once he is sworn in to office. Some are filled with hope and assume he will do good. Others are filled with dread and assume he will do evil.

As Catholics, I think our position should neither be one of elation, nor of dread. It should be one where we take each of his actions and support moral laws and oppose immoral laws. During the last eight years, it was easy for informed Catholics to recognize attacks and government harassment over our beliefs. Because there was a concerted effort to push religion out of the public square and to falsely label our moral obligations as “bigotry” and a “war on women,” Catholics could stand together against an overt attack.

Now that this attack is ending, it will be easy for us to think we can rest from our labors. But we can’t do that. We must witness to our faith and moral values even if people tell us, “Shut up! Don’t rock the boat!” Where his values are compatible with our Catholic faith we should encourage him, and where they are incompatible, we should urge a change and even oppose him when necessary.

What we cannot do is let our partisan values supersede our Catholic faith. We have to bear witness in Democratic administrations and in Republican administrations, regardless of whether it seems to be convenient or not (see 2 Timothy 4:2).

So my recommendation over the next four to eight years of this administration is to remember our Catholic faith and let it shape our response, neither giving our next President a free pass nor unremitting hostility based on our personal politics. Let us pray for our country, and that those who govern us may govern justly.



[†] No, I didn’t think they would win. In fact, they received less than 1,500 votes nationwide. The purpose of this vote was to say, “Because I can’t vote for either candidate without violating my conscience, I will vote for a party which professes Catholic teaching to symbolize my standing with the Church.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si! Dissension No! Reflections on Sections 1-61


So, the encyclical has been released. I had it copied to Scrivener by about 5:30am and converted it into a Verbum book to make it searchable and a Kindle book for ease of reading on a tablet. (Before you ask, no I won’t be giving out copies of this project. I respect the rights of the Holy See to decide how they will license this work, and when official e-book versions become available I will purchase them).

So far I am impressed by what I have seen. The Pope’s encyclical is well written, expressing itself clearly. What I have read thus far (¶ 1-61) is a discussion of the problems and the need to change attitudes. In doing so, he brings up two major themes—the obligation to take responsibility for how our interaction with the environment affects others and how our interaction with the environment uses or abuses God’s creation.

The Authority of the Encyclical

First of all, contrary to the denials of the authority of the encyclical, Pope Francis makes clear that this is part of Church teaching, not an opinion. In ¶15, he says:

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. (emphasis added)

“[A]dded to the body of the Church’s social teaching” is significant, affirming that it is part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church which requires us to give assent. People who try to deny its authority are being Cafeteria Catholics. Like it or not, Catholics have to think about taking responsibility for the actions that affect us. Sure, there may be different ways to carry out the Church teaching and some disagreements on what is the best way to do what we are required to do, but we do not have the right to say “X is OK” when the Church says “X is wrong."

The Encyclical and the Preemptive Ideological Rejections

Let’s start by responding to the major ideological challenge to Laudato Si that I’ve seen on Facebook and forums for the past few weeks. Does Pope Francis accept climate change as a given? Short answer, yes. Longer answer, yes in the sense that he acknowledges that human action is being added on top of the natural climate changes. I suspect ideological readers will stop at the short answer and rush off to praise or lambaste the Pope. That’s a pity though. His discussion here is on the fact that the environment involves many complex interactions where changes can have unexpected effects. He indicates that while we cannot control the natural changes in climate, we are responsible for what we do. So, if our pollution has an effect on the weather, we have to take responsibility for that effect.

The next question is, do Catholics have to believe in global warming? Short answer, no. Long answer, hell no. This is about the responsibility to care for the environment in the sense of “God’s gift of stewardship requires responsible, not inconsiderate use."

Pope Francis had said in the lead up to the release that this encyclical will challenge everyone. He has things to say that will force changes in thinking by both conservatives and liberals. Remember all the Facebook quotes that said “Why doesn’t the Pope write on moral issues instead of the environment?” Well as it turns out, he does both. As we will see, he has some strong things to say on moral issues that reject the modern view of gender identity and rights.

But in short, the anti-Francis comments that have been building up are calumny, and are not justified. There is no heresy, no junk science, no ideology here. What we see here has been discussed by past Popes about our moral obligations in what we do and how they affect others.

Themes In the Encyclical 1-61

One of the major things that struck me about this section of the encyclical was the making clear of different areas of responsibility. He does acknowledge [¶23-24] that there are natural events that can impact the environment, for example, volcanoes. But he makes clear that our responsibility is for the part of climate change that we cause, not the parts caused by nature. I find that significant because it counters the polemics that claim that we cannot control changes in climate—no, we can’t control what is natural, but not everything involved is natural. 

Indeed, later on [¶59], he will speak about people who argue that the issues of the environment are “unclear,” using that claim as an excuse to avoid changing behavior—and the morality of our behavior is a a major part of the encyclical.

The problems with the human impact on the environment is that it affects a wide range of nature and this wide range is interrelated. This means that the human actions have a cumulative effect [¶24]. But in doing so, he does not start with a “hippy dippy” approach about it. He starts with the poor and how they are the most affected by the abuse of the environment as short-sighted policies can disrupt the ecosystem. They depend on the land and the waters far more directly than those in wealthier nations. Pollution in the waters affect the agriculture, fishing and drinking water, for example. Weather disasters impact them more and what might seem minor in a developed country can prove ruinous in poorer ones. He points out that the short-sighted use of the environment impacts the poor and we must keep them in mind in how we use the resources of an area.

Section 25-43 deals largely with discussing our obligations to consider the consequences of our actions—not just by waste, but in how we try to fix things. Often times, the poor get hurt by both the ecological damage and attempts to repair the damage that do not take human beings into account. That’s right, the Pope is aware that one can go too far in both directions.

In Section 60, he points out that two extremes must be rejected—the view that technology will eventually solve the problem and the view that human beings are parasites:

60. Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.

For example, contra the accusations that he will support population control, he explicitly rejects this as a valid option (¶50). In fact, he calls the attempts at population control to be nothing more than an attempt to avoid changing behaviors by wealthier nations:

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.

The Pope finishes Chapter 1 by saying that the Church does not intend to offer opinions on matters that must be explored by experts (contra the allegation that the Church will get involved in ruling on science), but considers it obvious that damage is being done, even if there is dispute on the how and why. Ultimately, this encyclical is about our relationship to God, neighbor and Creation—which in chapter II he will distinguish against “nature."

I am really impressed thus far, and I will keep delving into it and give my thoughts as I go. I recommend that the reader doesn’t get bogged down by the media claims and ideological Catholic blogs with an axe to grind against the Pope. The Pope isn’t advocating the ridiculous new age environmentalism people accuse him of. This is solidly Catholic.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Recollections on the Second Anniversary of Pope Francis' Election

I wonder if I could be considered a hipster Catholic. I could say I liked Pope Francis before it was cool to do so. I say this, because it seems that a lot of the past two years have been spent defending the Pope from fellow Catholics who challenged his authority and questioned his orthodoxy.

2013 was shocking. I recall in February, reading the news feed early one morning and—WHAT THE HELL?—saw the secular news article that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning. My first thought was disbelief. I looked for religious news to confirm it, and there it was. I knew that Popes could renounce their office of course, so it wasn’t the bombshell to me that it was for others. But since the last one was centuries ago, it was shocking. I loved Pope Benedict XVI, and had been reading his books since the late 1980s, beginning with The Ratzinger Report. So I certainly was sad to see him go (see HERE for my article on his renouncing the office of the Papacy on the day he announced it and HERE for the day it took effect).

Strangely, I wasn’t afraid. God was with His Church and we were to pray for His will to be done. So, even though I never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio, the news did not seem bad. Scandalized Catholics seemed to arise from both sides at once.  People seemed to judge his actions as if he were some idiot and not the Vicar of Christ, and in response to the scandal over his first washing of feet as Pope on Holy Thursday, I wrote the first of many articles about the Pope and Rash Judgment. I don’t regret defending him—what strikes me these past two years is that what Pope Francis had to say was no different than what St. John Paul II or Benedict XVI had to say on the various teachings of the Church. Pope Francis was just more blunt about it. 

So ultimately, I thank God that we have Pope Francis, just as I thank God for the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI .Yes, some have tried to hijack his message to justify their own. But he has been good for the Church, reminding all of us that we need to be witnesses to the faith.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

TFTD: Reflection on Advent Through a Sermon by St. Augustine

In his Tractate XII, #14, St. Augustine wrote something rather profound on the need for conversion for everyone, not just the ones guilty of notorious sins. He wrote:

14. Run, my brethren, lest the darkness lay hold of you. Awake to your salvation, awake while there is time; let none be kept back from the temple of God, none kept back from the work of the Lord, none called away from continual prayer, none be defrauded of wonted devotion. Awake, then, while it is day: the day shines, Christ is the day. He is ready to forgive sins, but to them that acknowledge them; ready to punish the self-defenders, who boast that they are righteous, and think themselves to be something when they are nothing. But he that walks in His love and mercy, even being free from those great and deadly sins, such crimes as murder, theft, adultery; still, because of those which seem to be minute sins, of tongue, or of thought, or of intemperance in things permitted, he doeth the truth in confession, and cometh to the light in good works: since many minute sins, if they be neglected, kill. Minute are the drops that swell the rivers; minute are the grains of sand; but if much sand is put together, the heap presses and crushes. Bilge-water neglected in the hold does the same thing as a rushing wave. Gradually it leaks in through the hold; and by long leaking in and no pumping out, it sinks the ship. Now what is this pumping out, but by good works, by sighing, fasting, giving, forgiving, so to effect that sins may not overwhelm us? The path of this life, however, is troublesome, full of temptations: in prosperity, let it not lift us up; in adversity, let it not crush us. He who gave the happiness of this world gave it for thy comfort, not for thy ruin. Again, He who scourgeth thee in this life, doeth it for thy improvement, not for thy condemnation. Bear the Father that corrects thee for thy training, lest thou feel the judge in punishing thee. These things we tell you every day, and they must be often said, because they are good and wholesome.

It’s a good point. It’s easy to focus on the big sins of others. But are we in danger of neglecting the cumulative effect of our own small sins that deaden our consciences and eventually lead to our ruin just as surely as big sins might ruin others?

Advent is a preparation for the coming of Christ in the manger. Advent is also the preparation for Second Coming of Christ. As we prepare for celebrating Christmas, let us also prepare our lives for the return of our Lord.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reflection on Interpretation and Misinterpretation

One common gripe against the Pope and against Church documents is that they are not as clear as they should be. They use language which can have more than one interpretation. Some Catholics are worried over the people who will choose (deliberately or not) the wrong interpretation. Others outright accuse the Pope of holding the negative interpretation.

The problem is, these actions put the entire burden on the speaker to speak so clearly that there can be no possible misinterpretation. They ignore the responsibility of the reader to seek out the proper understanding before responding to it. If the person who reads gets it wrong, the critique will also be wrong. Such a critique can be of no value if they misunderstand the intention of the speaker/writer...

That’s a silly example of course (and humor works because the meaning can be hidden by wordplay), but real examples happen all the time.

Just think of the Biblical Literalism which comes from the fundamentalist groups. We’ve seen some pretty ludicrous ideas that comes from interpreting the Bible according to a meaning the reader gives to it as opposed to what the author of the book intended by it. We also see it with anti-Catholicism, where the critic interprets the teaching of the Church according to what he or she thinks the Church document is saying as opposed to what the Church is saying actually saying.

Those real life examples show that there can be a difference between what the speaker intends and what the listener thinks is meant.

I find it ironic that there are some Catholics who would automatically reject these misinterpretations from fundamentalists or anti-Catholics who make the same error when it comes to their own interpretation of the Pope or Church documents. Whether by accident or by choice, they assume they have interpreted correctly and thus feel justified in rejecting the Pope’s words or the Church documents because they assume they cannot have chosen the right interpretation.

Currently, we see this happening with Pope Francis, and the assumption is that either he speaks unclearly or else is teaching error. But, what is forgotten is the fact that these same accusers made the same accessions about St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Yes, that’s right. Both of Pope Francis’ predecessors were accused of promoting error on issues like social justice. People were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Caritas in Veritate just as much as they were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Evangelii Gaudium. But those who were scandalized assumed a meaning in these works which were never intended.

That brings us back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its teaching on Rash Judgment:

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

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

So, when it comes to the words of the Pope, the steps are:

  1. Give a favorable interpretation to his words.
  2. If the person can’t, seek out how the Pope intends it (in other words, do the research).
  3. Only then does correction come into play.

Unfortunately, most people tend to start with #3, assuming the Pope is wrong and needs to be opposed. But every time I’ve looked in on an alleged scandal, the trail never went further than #2, because either there was a favorable interpretation to be given or else new data came forward which changed the perspective.

I find that most misinterpretations come about because of what words mean to the listener, not to the speaker. For example, some traditionalists were outraged with St. John Paul II spoke about women and “feminism.” The problem was, they interpreted it as the Western radical feminism and assumed he was speaking in favor of some pretty reprehensible ideas. Also, many people interpret Pope Francis’ ideas about the problems with capitalism as if it were a condemnation of capitalism as an intrinsic evil. This was an assumption that ignored the fact that he was speaking of specific evils that every nation must work to either reform or prevent as the case might be.

One common retort seems to be, “Well if he didn’t mean it that way, why didn’t he say it differently?” But that’s unjust. There are over a billion Catholics in the world, representing each nation and language, with communication levels from "word of mouth in the bush” to instantaneous internet. They have knowledge of the faith from “religiously illiterate” to highly educated. Now add in the non-Catholics with the same limitations.

Is it reasonable to think a Pope can express himself in such a way that everybody, regardless of the limits of their nation, language, communications and knowledge about the faith an understand? That’s impossible. I might miss the nuances of language that someone more educated than I recognize, while I might recognize nuances that someone less educated than I might miss.

So, obviously the only way to effectively communicate is to understand the meaning of the speaker, and not make an unrealistic demand that the speaker anticipate every possible meaning that a listener might draw from it. Remember, it might be a problem with the listener . . . so one always has to make an effort to learn what was meant before critiquing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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

Saint Robert Bellarmine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Reflections on a Scene from "Son of God"

So, I saw Son of God the other day. It was fairly well done (though like all movies about our Lord, there were scenes I would rather were treated differently). There was one scene that sticks in my mind that was about the two thieves who were crucified with Him.

In this scene, we see Jesus battered and bloody, dying on the cross. The good thief, after rebuking the other, asks Jesus to remember him when He enters His kingdom.

From the perspective of the world, Jesus is a dying criminal. He appears to be a failure. Yet, the good thief has the faith to ask Jesus to remember him when He enters His kingdom all the same. He believes that despite the appearances, Jesus will do what He promised.

Perhaps we should keep this in mind when we face the trials and tribulations of life as Christians. When we face suffering, hostility, mediocre/bad clergy or religious, possibly even persecution, we should look to Jesus with the faith of the good thief, trusting Jesus' promise no matter how hard things may be.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Musings on the Church and Social Justice

When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a Communist.

--Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop

The concern for the poor is a dual edged sword for the Church. When she cares for the poor, she is praised. When she challenges people to consider their behavior and obligations to the poor, she is considered to be naive, out of touch and unrealistic at best or leaning towards socialism at worst.

And admittedly, some in the Church do lose sight of the Christian obligation and try to reduce the Church teaching to a political or economic way of thinking.  Things like liberation theology are a distortion of the Christian belief.

Unfortunately, some falsely reason:

1) Either Socialism or Capitalism
2) The Pope is not speaking of Capitalism positively
3) Therefore, the Pope is pro-Socialism.

The problems with this assumption is that not speaking of capitalism positively does not mean speaking in favor of socialism. It can merely mean that the Pope is speaking against abuses in capitalism and calling for a change of heart.

The Church social teaching is not about embracing ideologies. It is about reminding people that Christians are obliged to live their faith in all aspects of their life.

People today get offended by Pope Francis speaking about the waste and lack of concern for others. But they forget that in 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote (in an encyclical condemning Communism):

But when on the one hand We see thousands of the needy, victims of real misery for various reasons beyond their control, and on the other so many round about them who spend huge sums of money on useless things and frivolous amusement, We cannot fail to remark with sorrow not only that justice is poorly observed, but that the precept of charity also is not sufficiently appreciated, is not a vital thing in daily life. We desire therefore, Venerable Brethren, that this divine precept, this precious mark of identification left by Christ to His true disciples, be ever more fully explained by pen and word of mouth; this precept which teaches us to see in those who suffer Christ Himself, and would have us love our brothers as Our Divine Savior has loved us, that is, even at the sacrifice of ourselves, and, if need be, of our very life. Let all then frequently meditate on those words of the final sentence, so consoling yet so terrifying, which the Supreme Judge will pronounce on the day of the Last Judgment: "Come, ye blessed of my Father . . . for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink . . . Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren you did it to me."[33] And the reverse: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire . . . for I was hungry and you gave me not to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink . . . Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least. neither did you do it to me."[34]

(Divini Redemptoris #47).

It's the same message, 76 years before Pope Francis wrote Evangelii Gaudium (in fact, only a year after he was born).  There have been huge upheavals in the political and economic landscape since 1937, but Pope Pius XI wrote what was true then and is true now. People can sin in ways involving the economy. Some in ways always wrong (like the injustices of Communism). Others in ways that misuse the system for personal gain.

Unfortunately people either want to coopt the Church teaching into looking like an endorsement of their partisan views or treat it as if the Church was deceived into endorsing "the other side."

That's happening again. Communism is largely irrelevant today and Capitalism exists even in Communist nations to some extent. So the Pope doesn't need to speak against Communism's wrongs.  Capitalism is alive and well, so when it goes wrong, the Pope would be remiss to be silent on these wrongs.

The Church teaching is not politically motivated. It is concerned with our relationship with God and neighbor -- relationships which should be our highest priority in life.  If we think of these teachings as political, perhaps we should think about where we stand in our relationships with God and neighbor.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sede Vacante

Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia (Where Peter is, there is the Church)


Pope Benedict XVI departs from the Vatican

Now that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has renounced his office as of 8pm his time (11am my time) today, all of us should give thanks to God for the gift of his service and pray for God's continued protection during this time while the See of Peter is vacant.

Now is also the time to pray for the cardinals as they prepare for the coming conclave.  To them is given the task of selecting our new Pope.  We should pray that they are open to the Holy Spirit in their considerations for the good of the Church.

Finally,  we, the people of the Church, need be at peace and to recognize that the selection of the Pope is not a political affair. It is not an issue of party platforms. It is a matter of selecting the 266th successor of St. Peter. We pray for a Pope who will be a good man to lead us in the years to come.

Let us not be frightened by so-called prophecies on the internet and media attacks.  We believe that Christ has promised to be with the Church until the end of the age (Matt 28:20) and that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18).  The promises made by Christ to Peter will remain for all Popes.

For centuries, people have predicted the collapse of the Catholic Church from sinners within and attacks from outside.  Through the grace of Christ, we are still here and we have faith that He will continue to protect the Church He established.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reflections on the Announced Retirement of Pope Benedict XVI

I was certainly caught by surprise at the announcement of the Pope that he will step down, effective February 28th.  I was introduced to his writings in the 1990s during a time when I was beginning to study what the faith I was brought up with meant.  I found his works wise and insightful.

As many crises arose in the Church, I was impressed at how he and Blessed John Paul II stood up for the truth in a sea of relativism.  Portrayed as a hateful old man by many, I saw in him a deep love and understanding of the obligations of seeking and doing what was right that binds us all.

At the death of Blessed Pope John Paul II, I thought he would be a good Pope, but I thought his age would keep him from being elected (Because of that assumption, I thought Cardinal Arinze would be a good man to be elected if we couldn't have Cardinal Ratzinger).  So when the news came of his election, I was elated.  His work after his election showed this elation was justified.

During his pontificate, he continued the work of making clear the teachings of the Church, showing a profound love of Christ in doing so.  His encyclicals showed the recognition of the fact that a desire for reform of the world could not simply be done by government decree, but had to have at its base a love for each person from the moment of conception to natural death.

Despite the attacks he suffered with the misrepresentation of his deeds and words, he showed he was a Pope deeply in love with Christ and seeking to lead people to seeking Christ.

Now, he has stated he must retire due to health reasons.  I find myself saddened at the news, but trust he is doing so because he believes it is best that he steps down before his health declines to the point he can no longer lead the Church.

I thank God for giving us Pope Benedict XVI at the time he was needed, and offer my prayers for the Pope and for his successor.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Reflections on Fr. Corapi's Statement


Father John Corapi announced today that, "I am not going to be involved in public ministry as a priest any longer."

He says he has been falsely accused, and perhaps he has been.  I neither know him nor his accuser well enough to make an informed judgment.  So let me make clear that I do not operate on the assumption he is guilty.  That would be a rash judgment on my part to do so.  For that matter, I do not operate on the assumption his accuser is lying – for the same reason.

Having been falsely accused myself (of something entirely different), I know the pain that an unjust accusation can cause a person, and how hard it can be to actually let go, no matter how badly you want to forgive.  So it is quite possible he is innocent and the embittered tone comes through pain.

Yet, even acknowledging this, his statement deeply troubles me.

If I understand him correctly, it seems he is unwilling to give up speaking and writing even though he is suspended from doing so as a priest.  He says, "Through writing and broadcasting we hope to continue to dispense truth and hope to a world so much in need of it."

Fr. Corapi seems determined to continue in speaking on topics as a private individual. As an American with freedom of speech, he has that right. The Church will not abduct him in the middle of the night.

However, his past authority is through his being an ordained priest speaking as a priest. Now, he signs off his statement with "John Corapi (once called “father,” now “The Black Sheep Dog”)." It seems he will essentially be one more voice in the blogosphere, with no more authority to his words than any other pundit.  His personal knowledge and holiness may serve him well in this task, but the fact remains he will be nothing more than one more man with an opinion.

Fr. Corapi writes:

I shall continue, black sheep that I am, to speak; and sheep dog that I am, to guard the sheep—this time around not just in the Church, but also in the entire world. I am, indeed, not ready to be extinguished. Under the name “The Black Sheep Dog,” I shall be with you through radio broadcasts and writing. My autobiography, “The Black Sheep Dog,” is almost ready for publication. My topics will be broader than in the past, and my audience likewise is apt to be broader. I’ll do what I can under the circumstances.

Father Corapi seems to have no faith in being vindicated in time, writing, "I cannot give a lengthy explanation of what has transpired, but I can tell you that the most likely outcome is that they leave me suspended indefinitely and just let me fade away."

Names like Padre Pio, Cardinal Henri de Lubac and Cardinal Yves Congar flit before my mind as I read his statement. These were priests who fell under suspicion and underwent years of hardship, being silenced before being ultimately cleared of the charges brought against them. Sometimes religious superiors seeking to "err on the side of caution" do in fact act imprudently at times – a sad consequence of original sin.

Yet Padre Pio, Cardinal de Lubac and Cardinal Congar submitted to the demands of their superiors and did not go and publicly announce a parting of ways and a continuing of a personal ministry.

Fr. Corapi is continuing on, as he says, and bearing no ill will towards the Church.  I certainly pray this is true.

However, his statement seems to be embittered… the writings of a man who feels betrayed and is trying to keep his anger under control as it eats away from within.

As I said above, I can relate to this, having been falsely accused before.

However, I know from this  experience that when the anger eats away at you from within, it will consume you if it is not mastered.  I also know I am too weak to master the anger.  It is only through prayer that peace can come.

Thus each day, I find it necessary to pray the Litany of Humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

I do not know the state of Fr. Corapi's conscience.  Nor do I pretend to know his ultimate motives.  But I do pray that he act with patience and wisdom, and not from wrath.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reflections on Anti-Catholic Claims

Preliminary Note on Terms

[The reader should note when I speak of "certain Protestants" I make this qualification because there are differences in beliefs.  Not all hold the same beliefs on things like "Once Saved Always Saved" for example.  The Protestant reader who does not hold to the issues discussed should be aware that I am not making a blanket statement of all Protestants.  I do know of several Protestants who, while I disagree with them, I do not consider anti-Catholic, and I am certain there are many I do not know who share the charitable attitudes of those I do know.]

The Issue to Consider

It is always interesting to see the claims of the anti-Catholics out there.  They seem determined to save us and to show us our "errors."

The problem is, the "errors" they want to save us from are errors the Catholic Church does not even hold.  It is always a distortion of what we believe or else something which is entirely false.

What Is "Anti-Catholic"?

That Protestants disagree with Catholics is not, of itself, an act of anti-Catholicism.  What makes a person anti-Catholic is not that he believes differently than the Catholic Church, but that he believes he must attack the Catholic Church, and often justifies uncharitable behavior on the grounds that he is "saving" us from damnation.

The Wisdom Of Fulton J. Sheen

I think Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said it best when he said in 1938:

“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is of course a different thing.  These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics "adore statues"; because they "put the Blessed Mother on the same level as God"; because they say "Indulgence is a permission to commit capital sin"; because the Pope "is a fascist"; because the "Church is the defender of Capitalism."  If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them.  It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth.  As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.”

This is an important distinction.  The Church is not hated for what she believes, but is hated for what she is falsely accused of believing.

Distinguishing between Dispute and False Charges

That Catholics and Protestants disagree on certain issues is an unfortunate reality.  There have been close to 500 years of separation which causes misunderstanding, and sadly even hostility among certain members.  With those 500 years, rifts have been built up, which will take reliance on God and prayer to take down.  This is a dispute.  Some of these Protestants may misunderstand Catholic beliefs, but they do not behave in a hostile manner to us.

In such cases, explanation helps the two of us to understand each other, even when we disagree with each other.

However, certain Protestants [Yes, anti-Catholics come from sources other than Protestant, but in America the largest amount of attacks come from certain groups of fundamentalist Protestants] attack the Catholic Church with accusations of idolatry and "spiritual bondage" which is not a case of a mere misunderstanding.  These are false charges, whether the individual repeating them believes them or not.

If Catholics are to be denounced for what they believe, one should make every effort to understand what Catholics believe, and not make false accusations against the Church, because it is unjust to accuse us of what we do not believe.  The accuser should be certain that the error is not on their part.

"Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness"

The 10 Commandments condemn the bearing of false witness.  False witness can take two forms:

  1. Either I can Lie about an issue
  2. or I can repeat a false claim without verifying it is true.

In the first case the false witness is guilty of what he or she has directly done.  In the second case, he or she has not done: checking to see if a thing is true before repeating it.

In the first case, it is on the conscience of the liar.  We who are Catholic can refute them of course, but the individual is deliberately seeking to make a claim to mislead.

In the second case, there is still fault in failing to do what we ought.  Many people may believe that a false accusation is true, but we are not free to believe that just because it is repeated.  If someone relates to me that in the famous tale of Luther flinging an inkpot at the Devil was actually about Luther flinging excrement [which someone once claimed], I would be obligated to research such a claim before repeating it as true.  Otherwise I assist in passing on a falsehood, whether I believed it or not.  (To the best of my research, this "excrement" claim has no basis, and I do not believe it to be true, but is rather a malicious rumor).

Getting the Truth From the Source

If the Church is accused of holding a position, then justice requires finding out what the Church actually teaches and not what one who is hostile to the Church claims it teaches.  Jack Chick, for example, claims that the Catholic Church is secretly a paganization of Christianity, seeking to introduce teachings from Babylon.

The thing is, in all of Chick's tracts, all the sources he claims come from his own publishing, and no serious historian believes that "The Vatican" sought to create Islam as a plot to control the Holy Land.  No serious historian believes that the Catholic Church was established by Constantine.  Anyone who studies the history of Christianity will see that there was no "original Church" supplanted by the Catholic Church.  Claims which are asserted need to be researched.

Likewise, when someone accuses the Catholic Church of "inventing a doctrine" it is obligatory to show the source of the claim that it may be verified.  If someone claims Pope Leo XIII said the Death Penalty was good for keeping the heretics in line, the source for such a quote needs to be given.  It is not enough to say "This guy's book had the quote in it."  The question is, which document of the Church was it said in?  Where?  When? 

(It is interesting to note that most so-called Papal quotes which are cited by Anti-Catholics either come from documents which do not exist… meaning the person citing is merely parroting from another source, or else when the document is found, the quote is taken out of context).

If the Church "imposed" a belief (as it is often accused of doing), where did the belief begin?  Where is the evidence of so-called "real Christians" objecting?  (It is interesting to note that here the common claim is "The Church burned the evidence," which is an admission of no evidence).  We can identify real heresies, and who started them.  We know who led the fight against them.  Why does no similar evidence exist when the Church is accused of inventing beliefs?

What Does the Church actually say?

Anyone who wants to attack what the Church teaches is obligated to research what the Church teaches instead of taking the word of one hostile to the Church, to make sure that what is said is in fact true.  

For example, if I wanted to take issue with Luther's famous comment that he could commit fornication a hundred times a day and not have it affect his salvation, I would be obliged to look up what he in fact said (from what I have read, it seems more that he was using an extreme exaggeration to bring home a point, and it did not mean it was ok to sin freely.  The statement he made is full of all kinds of problems to be sure, but it is often taken out of context).

Likewise, when the Catholic Church stands accused of worshipping Mary, one is obligated to see what the Church itself says, and not what Jack Chick says (that it is secretly a Babylonian deity).

I've never once seen an attack on the Catholic Church where the accuser had an accurate understanding of the Catholic teaching.  This is a problem because what is attributed to us is false, and to falsely accuse someone is bearing false witness.

The Issue of Authority to Interpret

Some attacks against the Church are not rooted in malice of course, but in the issue of authoritative interpretation.  Some anti-Catholics argue along the lines of:

  • The Bible teaches X is condemned
  • The Catholic Church teaches X
  • Therefore the Catholic Church teaches what the Bible condemns.

There are two potential problems which need to be examined before such a claim can be considered true.  Each deals with one of the premises.  If the premise is false, the argument cannot be shown to be true.  Both premises have to be true for the condemnation of the Church to be proven true:

  1. Does the Catholic Church teach X?
  2. Is the Bible properly understood by the accuser?

Point #1 has been briefly discussed above.  If the Catholic Church does not teach X, then the syllogism is untrue.

The second point is what I wish to discuss now: Is the Bible properly understood?

Historical Conflicts and "The Bible Alone"

One of the problems with the idea of sola scriptura is the view that everyone can freely read and comment on Scripture influenced by the Holy Spirit.  The problem is, when people come up with contradictory opinions, they can't both be true.  If the Bible teaches Baptism is necessary, it can't be merely a symbol and vice versa.  If the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, it can't also be "merely a symbol" and vice versa.  If God is a trinity, He cannot also be only a monad.

Now we know these disputes exist.  Luther and Zwingli disagreed on the nature of the Eucharist.  Anabaptists and Calvinists disputed the nature of Baptism.  Trinitarian Christians and "Oneness Pentecostals"  dispute the nature of God.

The problem is all of them claimed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and claim the other is in error.  So who do we believe?  Who do we appeal to to make the decision?

This isn't even merely a "Protestant" issue.  We have the Sabellians of the early Church who denied that there was a Trinity, claiming "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" were merely masks worn by the One God.  We have the Arians who denied that Jesus was God, but claimed instead that Jesus was created by God as an archon (essentially God's greatest creation… but still a creature).  These individuals pointed to Scripture and claimed they understood it while the Church did not.

The Authority to Interpret

So how were the Arians and the Sabellians rejected, while the disputes over the Eucharist, Baptism and the nature of God are still disputed among certain Protestants?  In the early Church, the idea of Sola Scriptura did not exist.  It was the successors of the Apostles (the Bishops) in communion with the successor of Peter (the Pope) who were considered as having the authority.  Bishops who belonged to heretical groups were not considered having the authority to teach on Scripture… not just any man who came along.

The understanding of Scripture had to be consistent even when understanding deepened.  So with the Church long understanding the teaching of the apostles to believe Jesus was God, a person who came along claiming "Jesus was man" held a view which was not in keeping with the Apostles.  If a view came along which was contrary to what was always taught, it was rejected.

[EXCURSUS: This is why the accusation of "The Church invented X" has no real basis.  When heresies came along, the Church fought them hard as being counterfeit, and one of the things they would reject a heretical idea under is whether it was new.  It stands to reason that if the Catholic Church made heretical changes, the real Christians would denounce it.  Yet the real Christians (the Patristic authors) not only did not denounce the Catholic beliefs… they held the Catholic beliefs.  Which means that essentially if the Catholic Church was wrong, it was wrong all the way back to the time of the Apostles.  The person who argues the Catholic Church supplanted the "true" Church needs to explain where the "true" Christians went when these "errors" were introduced.]

The Problem With Sola Scriptura

Once you deny the authority of the Church however, the issue of interpretation becomes more muddy.  The issue isn't with Scripture.  We all accept the authority of Scripture (yes, even we Catholics), but if one denies an authority who can interpret, the interpretation becomes nothing more than "I said so.  If you don't like it, then leave."

All of such individuals claim the Holy Spirit guides them, but God cannot contradict God.  So if two of such people claim the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and they contradict, who is right?

This is why, when confronted with anti-Catholicism [as opposed to simple error in understanding what the Church teaches], I try to get the person to come out and explain why they feel they have the authority to interpret Scripture in a way which they deny to the Church.  Usually it comes down to "It's the plain sense!" [Meaning "It's how I read it."]

The Catholic View

We Catholics accept the authority of the magisterium, not because they say so, but because we believe CHRIST says so,  The Catholic Church trusts in the promises of Christ to be with the Church until the end of the world, and the gates of Hell will not triumph over it, and it shall have the authority to bind and loose (Matt 16:18-19; Matt 18:18).  Christ equates hearing the Church with hearing Him (Luke 10:16), and if one will not heed the Church, they are to be treated as an outcast (Matt 18:17).  We believe that Christ has given the Church the authority to teach in His name (Matt 28:18-20).

If we did not believe that Church was not given authority by Christ to carry out His work, we would not be Catholics.  We believe the εκκλεσια mentioned by Christ was the Catholic Church, from whom others broke away.

To be sure other churches may claim that the Catholics broke away, but the question is: on what basis can they establish this to be?  Where is this so-called Church that existed before AD 313, given that Christ promised the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church?

The Conclusion

Anti-Catholics often assume we are ignorant of Scripture and of Church history and they hold the truth which we need to accept to avoid Hell.  For those of us who hear and reject their arguments, we are often labeled as "reprobate."

Yet the reason we refuse to accept their claims is because we do know what the Church teaches and we know our accusers speak falsely.

If we are in agreement that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the light, speaking falsely cannot be considered a work in keeping with Christ.

If one hears horrible things about what Catholics are to believe, let them ask an educated Catholic who believes the teachings of the Church if the charges are true, and not ask one whose hatred for the Church is well known.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflections on Faith in General and in Relation to Christian Obligation


One of the problems with the word faith is it has different meanings, and intending on the meaning one uses, the term can be used in a positive sense or in a pejorative sense:

1 complete trust or confidence.

2 strong belief in a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.

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

Which Definition Do We Mean?

The common tactic used to attack religious belief is to use the second definition, making it out to seem as if the religious believer follows out of an irrational superstition.  But is it right to consider it to be this way?  Or can we consider faith, in the sense the Church uses it, to mean something different.

I think the first definition, while inadequate, comes closer to the mark.  We put our confidence in one one who is considered trustworthy.  If a person tells us a thing, and there is not a way to verify it from a different source, we have to either accept it or reject it based on the trustworthiness of the individual who makes the claim.  If we accept it, we are putting our faith in the fact that the person who has made the statement is trustworthy.

Is Faith Only Religious?

In this sense of understanding, faith is more widespread than one might believe.  People who are not skilled in medicine put their faith in their doctors to help them get well.  People who are not scientists put their faith in the claims of scientists to make judgments on various things.

If we cannot prove E=mc^2 for ourselves, we either have to accept or reject the credibility of the claim based on the trustworthiness of the one who makes the statement.

Of course in the real world there are consequences for not accepting certain things on faith.  If I deny the formula E=mc^2, people are going to want to know on what basis I make such a claim.  In other words, they want to know what makes me trustworthy to be a source of authority to reject the formula.

Even atheism is a "faith" in one of the two senses.  Either they found influential people whose arguments seemed reasoned or reasoned based on what they observed.  They may hold to it based on what they consider trustworthy sources, or they may hold on to it on personal conviction without reason.  [I've encountered both kinds].

Likewise, some Christians believe in God from sources which are trustworthy and some who believe from reasons which seem weak and likely to collapse under pressure.

Considering Faith in God… Or Lack Thereof

Ultimately I think faith in God or lack of faith comes down to this.  Philosophical arguments about the nature of God are quite valuable in understanding what it means to say God is omnipotent for example.  However, philosophical arguments alone can only tell us certain things about God.  However, if God reveals Himself to us, we have to make a decision: Is the source of the revelation trustworthy?  If we do believe He is trustworthy, people will no doubt ask us reasons for our faith.  If one does not, it is not unreasonable to ask an account of why they hold their view.

Personally, I believe the reasons for faith are quite valid.  I may not always be able to articulate my reasons for faith particularly well, but this does not mean they do not exist.

The other side of the coin however is when people not only deny the reasons, but instead claim the opposite.  If a person claims no God, the question is on what reasoning they can provide: Do they have credible reasons for denying the existence of God?  Or is it merely a "because I say so" response?

The "Because I say so" argument, whether used by a theist or an atheist, is an argument based on the second definition of faith.  There is no reason for it.  It is merely an expression of this is how we think the universe should work.

Do Our Perceptions of Another's Faith Match What He Believes?

Of course, we need to be certain that we are properly assessing the reasons for a person's faith.  It's no secret to the regular visitor here that I reject the idea of atheism.  In various works of apologetics here and elsewhere, I have encountered many who seem to hold "knee jerk" atheism, where quotes from Bertrand Russell or Sam Harris are thrown about, but when questioned, the person quoting them does not understand the significance of what is meant.

Now, does this mean all atheists hold "faith" in the second definition of the word?

No, it doesn't.  This would be trying to draw a universal conclusion from a limited sample.  Some atheists are reasoned people.  I believe they err in their basic assumptions, and I think the philosophers they consider reliable are in error as well but aside from that, they seem to believe what they hold sincerely.  Not all atheists are nasty, not all of them are bigots.

However this works the other way as well.  A person who has met a good number of believers who believe the old circular argument "The Bible is good because it comes from God, and God is good because the Bible says so" would be wrong to assume all believers think this way.  Saints like Augustine, Anselm and Thomas Aquinas believed very strongly in reason and asked hard questions, finding answers they find satisfactory.

There seems to be a common problem shared by both certain Christians and certain atheists, where the person is judged because he holds a creed.  One judges another's arguments to be untrustworthy and unreasoned simply because they hold a view the person judging disagrees with.

This is not to be understood as Indifferentism

I don't say the above with the view of saying "as long as you're sincere, that's enough."  It is important to recognize there can be very real errors about the nature of what is.  The person who thinks 2+2=5 holds a fundamental error which will throw off all his abilities to do math.  A society which believes humanity is nothing more than a talking animal will probably treat humanity like nothing more than an animal.

Certain ideas are wrong and must be challenged.  But how we take on this challenge will shape how fruitful our efforts are.

PART II: The Christian Obligation in Sharing the Faith

If we who are Christians believe that our faith comes from One who is trustworthy, it is important to recognize that we have an obligation to give an account for our faith.  We also have a duty to carry out this account in a way which is not arrogant.  How we act will be a representing of how the Faith is being seen by others.  (It is unfortunate that in nations once colonized by the West, the Faith is seen as a byproduct of the colonization and not for what it is.  This is an example of badly representing the faith by actions).

Now, we're all human.  We've all had to deal with someone who, through ignorance or through malice has attacked us or things we hold important.  We've all lost our temper, or been sarcastic or rude.  Hopefully all of us will remember those failings in ourselves when facing another who behaves in such a way to us.  As Christ has told us in Matthew 7: 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

I think this is important.  If we get offended with those who consider us irrational zealots, let us not behave as if those we deal with are irrational zealots.

"Turn the Other Cheek" Does Not Mean "Be A Doormat."

Of course this can only be taken so far.  We should deal with others who do not share our faith in a way which is charitable, and if we fall, seek to change our behavior.  However, when we do come to people who come with the intent to mock or distort or deceive, we have to be firm, and not allow them to have their way.  "It is not charitable to be silent when truth requires us to speak" as one of the saints put it.

We should be prudent though.  If we see an attack on our Faith, and we sense we are shaking with rage, it is prudent to wait until we are calm before responding.  Just as an enraged warrior makes errors a cool swordsman can exploit to dispatch his opponent, an angry response can be exploited by a calm opponent to make you and what you believe look foolish.  [Yes, unfortunately I do speak from experience over the past several years, where I allowed myself to be baited]

Be Knowledgeable

Now those of us who profess the Christian faith are not at the same place, or have the same call.  Some may be people with a university degree.  Some may be housewives or laborers.   Some may be single with much time to devote.  Some might have many responsibilities which draw on their time.  But we should be knowledgeable in what we believe, and in dealing with those who do not believe, we should seek to recognize how they consider their faith to be based on what they deem trustworthy.

Be Centered In Christ

No person was ever argued into the Christian faith.  Our reason and intellect is a gift from God which we use to carry out His will.  We can use these gifts to expose errors and to explain where the proper knowledge is understanding. However, we cannot use these gifts to "make someone believe."  Only God can provide faith.  We can merely use our gifts to remove stumbling blocks to the faith.

If I write the most brilliant treatise on why we should believe in God, but my trust is in myself, I am doomed to fail.  We need to remember Christ is the Lord of our life, and we seek to serve Him, not win glory for ourselves.  Where God makes use of us, we need to serve, but we must not treat it as our work where God assists us.

Because of this, prayer is the most important thing we can do.  We need to remember that without Him we can do nothing

Sunday, November 15, 2009

To Be A Fool For Christ

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; 27 but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; 31 therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”

I think all of us have a fear of drawing attention to ourselves, especially if it leads others to look down on us.  This can be a real challenge for the Christian in a world which tends to disdain the faith.

From the standards of the world, the faith is indeed something that seems foolish.  God becoming man?  Being born of a Virgin?  Being crucified?  Why everyone knows He would have been more successful if He had descended from on High and said "YOU DO WHAT I SAY!" before all the media of the world, right?

Or, more commonly, for the Christian to say that contraception, abortion, divorce and homosexual marriage are wrong things is also something that seems foolish to the world.

Generally, the world thinks we are a pack of fools for believing this sort of thing.

Perhaps this is why many of us stumble when challenged, and say as little as possible.  Certainly I know I have missed some opportunities:

(Scene: I am sitting in a buffet restaurant reading Catholicism and Fundamentalism)

Waitress: What are you reading?

Me: …a book

Waitress: What's it about?

Me: … Well it's about how fundamentalists sometimes misunderstand Catholic teaching

The waitress eventually gets information from me, but it is like pulling teeth, and she probably goes away regretting she started the conversation.  Such is the problem when one worries about what others will say. She was clearly curious, and it might have led to some sort conversation taking place freely sharing the faith.

If we are to be fools for Christ, we need to recognize that what seems to be foolishness to the world is in fact reasonable when understood.  That God did what He did, not on a whim, but to help us to realize we need Him.

We need to stop worrying whether the world thinks we are fools, and to recognize that the wisdom of the world cannot measure up to the wisdom of God.

Not worrying does not mean we Christians can act like jerks, employing the argumentum ad baculum (Appeal to force: Literally appeal to the stick) by saying "convert or burn in Hell!"  As we believe God requires us to love our fellow man, our response is to be one of charity.

Being a fool for Christ does not mean throwing out logic.  I believe the Christian faith is indeed rational.  It does mean realizing that God makes use of our puny works and makes great things out of them.  This means if one has the ability to use logic and reason with those who require it, he or she should put their talents to use for God.  If one can empathize with one who requires it, he or she can make use of those talents too.

None of us Christians are "too dumb" to do the Lord's work.  If God calls us, He knows we can do His work.  Remember the story of Moses in Exodus 4:10-17 where Moses tried to cop a "Send someone else please" attitude.

Being a fool for Christ means we are to trust God in our service to Him, knowing He is who He said He is.

We don't necessarily have to do great things.  But as Mother Teresa once said, "We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."

Is there anything more repellant and foolish sounding than picking up lepers from the streets and caring for them?  From the perspective of the world, she was a fool… who knows what sort of diseases one could pick up with things like AIDS about?

Yet her foolishness in Christ was wisdom indeed, for she heard God's call and did small things with great love, and these small acts became a great act through Christ.

So when we live in the world as Christians, let us walk in confidence.  Even though the world thinks us fools, let us go forth trusting in the wisdom of God.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reflections on a Flawed Assumption in Atheism

Recently I've had an atheist take me to task over a post I wrote regarding Creationism and Evolution being the wrong issue to debate.  It's interesting to see the common errors held which are blind spots, and may sound reasonable on the outside but are not.

The issue I wish to reflect on is an argument made from probability.  In this case, it is argued as:

Science doesn't prove things in the sense that it provides absolute knowledge. Science is a process of observation and experimentation that provides a best guess about how things work. By the same token, we except the scientific method because through the process of observing and experimenting with different methods, it seems to be the one which works best. Science is only a best guess, but it is the best guess.

From this it is commonly argued by atheists that the knowledge of science disproves religion by providing a more "likely" explanation than the existence of God.

The problem is this argument presupposes that Theist = creationist.  This of course would be a surprise to many religious scientists who accept the idea of evolution yet retain their religious beliefs.  We see here a condescending and patronizing view from one atheist: Christians are ignorant of science or they would be atheists.

Problems with this Reasoning

I would of course object to his reasoning.  A scientific guess is no better than a guess that it was "done by elves" if the guess is wrong.  A scientific "guess" would be good or bad to the extent it was "true."  So a belief in ether, a belief in phlogiston, a belief in a geocentric universe, a belief in the transmutation of lead to gold were all errors which were scientifically the "best guess" of the times… yet they were errors which were a false turn which required undoing, and did not lead to the advancement of science, but the hindrance of the proper understanding.

The point is, science can sometimes err, and scientists can sometimes err.

The Ramifications of Erring Scientific Theories

If they can err, this does not of course mean "all science is bunk."  However, it does mean we do need to be wary about the social and moral conclusions drawn from science.  Evidence and experiments do need to be reviewed to see whether they prove what is alleged.

The argument which claims that there is no proof from science for religion, therefore it is probable there is no God is in fact against the requirements of science.  Since Science is done with things observable and experimental, the question is, what sort of experiments can be done to test the supernatural, from a strictly natural standpoint when by definition the supernatural is above the natural order?

This is the error the atheist makes about science, thinking that science can say anything (positive or negative) about the existence of God.  It is like using a telescope to try to see microbes… using a tool that is not designed to carry out the task.

Proof and Lack Thereof… and what it means

Atheism, or the quasi-atheistic agnosticism of today assumes that an absence of physical proof of something is de facto positive proof there is no God.  The charge is that science alone can explain what happens in nature, therefore a god is unnecessary.  The problem is that whether or not the best guess of science can find out the physical causes of certain events, it cannot find out the supernatural causes of events.

To argue that the non existence of God can be deduced through probability through what we now know of science is illogical.

To "prove" their point, the atheist has often sought to provide a false analogy making use of some mythical creature, saying "we can't disprove the existence of a flying spaghetti monster either, but we can be fairly sure it does not."

The reason this does not work is that the invention of a story about one fictional construct does not mean all things which cannot be observed physically do not exist.  To say it is probable the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not God exists.

The atheist who argues that because science does not directly show a god in the physical observations of the material realm it does not exist fails because of this: That we do not have knowledge of something does not the lack of existence of something

Atheism, to avoid abusing science, has to demonstrate that what we do know and what we will know in the future will in fact be everything which exists.  A thing exists or does not exist regardless of whether it is known.  If nobody had discovered Mt. Everest, it would have remained the tallest mountain in the world in actuality, even if we misidentified another mountain as "the tallest."

What Do We Know, What Can We Know and What Bearing Does it Have On Actual Existence

So for atheists to claim that God cannot exist, even when hedging bets by using the word "probability," requires a knowledge that everything that exists (B) falls into the category of things that are or will be known in the future (A). In other words, A=B.

Since we do not even know everything which will be known, we cannot reasonably say we know what will fall into group A. Since we do not know this, we cannot know whether A=B.  We could discover in the future that all our research into AIDS or Cancer was a waste.  Alternately we may discover things we thought impossible were true.  The point is we neither know all there is to know or that whether all that exists ever will be known

Therefore we cannot say God does not exist based on what we know by science.  We can only say Science cannot speak to whether or not God exists.

God in the Gaps?  Or Science in the Gaps?

It is about here the atheist trots out the "God of the gaps" argument.  This claim is a straw man argument which holds that Christians explain away what they can't explain by saying "God did it."  This is false however.  It is not incompatible with Christianity to believe that the actions of science are set into motion by God.

We believe God can act directly or He can set natural things into motion.  If God can set natural things in motion, one can believe in God without believing in "gaps."

Unfortunately, atheists who use science do fall into the idea of "Science in the gaps" where anything pertaining to a miracle or the like will eventually be explained away by science.  What is the basis of this?  Nothing more than a belief that there is no God and no miracles so there must be a physical and natural cause.

This is of course begging the question.  The unspoken assumption needs to be proven, but the problem is we do not know what science will discover in the future.  I have no doubt science will discover many things of course.  But some of our areas of investigation may come up blank.  The claim that someday science will find answers to these things is based on the assumption there is a natural cause and that it will be knowable.

The Error of The Enlightenment

For an atheist who mocks the faith of Christians, this is irony indeed.  They profess faith in Science, and do not base their claims scientifically.  Indeed, if one were to apply the same standards the atheists apply to Christianity to the beliefs of atheists, we would soon see that their claims have no scientific basis, and would have to be considered in terms of philosophy, truth, data, methods of knowledge and so on.

The problem with the atheistic use (or more accurately abuse) of science is that it is artificially limited to the actions of the Enlightenment, which in effect decreed (irrationally) that only that which could be observed physically could be known.  In other words, All Knowledge is Scientifically verifiable.

To test this, try to prove the beauty of Mozart's works through Science.

We can indeed have experience and knowledge which cannot be verified by science, but exists.  For example: Take your height.  Are you aware of the fact of your height?  OK, now, are you aware of the awareness of your height?

Good, now prove that awareness exists, scientifically.

Not the Argument from Silence

The atheist may object here that this is an argument from silence.  That we are saying "You can't disprove the existence of God, therefore He exists."  We are not.  We are at this stage merely pointing out that to claim that only scientific knowledge is knowledge is false.  For the Christian to point out the limitations of science is not the proof of God.  We are not even at that stage yet.  We are on chapter 1 and that is around chapter 20.

In pointing out the limitations of science, the Christian apologist does not seek to deny science or the value of science.  Rather he or she wishes to point out that it is irrational to insist on scientific proof for something science cannot measure.

Once we grasp that, we can move on to what we can know.

What This Indicates

What this indicates is that the atheist who seeks to browbeat the believer "In The Name of Science" has no basis for his claims.  Quite frankly the Emperor has no clothes here.  The atheist's point is not proven to be true in terms of logic, and if it is not proven, it is not irrational to hold a belief in God.

Of course, as I said above, this does not mean the work of the Christian is done.  We have yet to show the truth of the faith.  We have only pointed out why atheism is not a reasonable belief, and we do have to show why the faith is rational.

However, before this can be demonstrated to the atheist, the atheist needs to recognize the errors of his personal interpretation of science to make it say what it cannot say.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Reflections on Logic: "It's Just an Opinion"?

As for the fallacy, this is simply an opinion, not a debate; Forensic Rules are not in place and throwing out logical fallacies becomes tiring very quickly. I am just as entitled to an opinion as the protesters.

—Comment from an objection to a statement I made on a logical fallacy


Comments like this show the problems with reasoning in modern society.  Because something is said to be an opinion we can ignore the rules of logic.  The problem is, we cannot.  If I should say, for example, I was of the opinion that Obama was promoting certain programs because he would want to promote socialism in America, and because he is a Socialist he promotes these programs this would indeed an opinion.

It would also be the fallacy of Begging the Question.  My reasoning would be muddled using two opinions as proof of each other when both need to be proven.  Any person reading what I advocated would be able to say "This guy is pretty irrational, and his opinions lack any reasonable basis."

Unfortunately, people no longer consider whether what is said has basis of truth for it.  We see slogans like "Bush Lied, Kids Died" or "Guns don't kill people, people with guns kill people" or "It's the economy, stupid" and accept it as true without considering "IS it true?"

Opinions are always opinions about something.  This means that their accuracy is based on how well they conform to the facts.  If I am of the opinion that the Sky is green, it is an opinion of the color of the sky.  However, if the sky is not green, my opinion is based on an error of fact.

Likewise, if I were to argue that "Hitler restored National pride to Germany, made the economy stronger and restored security after the chaos of the 1920s, therefore he was a good leader." I would be making an opinion about the nature of Hitler's regime.  However, that opinion would have to be measured up against the facts of the regime.  A person objecting to my opinion could (justly) point to the Holocaust and the Aggressions of Germany leading to war to argue (very justly) Hitler was NOT a good leader for the country.

To argue something is "good" or "bad" is not merely an opinion (though today we tend to use it when we mean we approve or disapprove of something).  It is, from a theological perspective, a statement of fact.

Today we view "good" to mean "to be desired or approved of; pleasing."  However, properly used, good should be understood to mean "that which is morally right; righteousness."

St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote on good leadership, saying:

I answer that, as stated above (Q[90], A[1], ad 2; [1992]AA[3],4), a law is nothing else than a dictate of reason in the ruler by whom his subjects are governed. Now the virtue of any subordinate thing consists in its being well subordinated to that by which it is regulated: thus we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible faculties consists in their being obedient to reason; and accordingly "the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler," as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is "that which makes its subject good," it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect. For if the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on true good, which is the common good regulated according to Divine justice, it follows that the effect of the law is to make men good simply. If, however, the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on that which is not simply good, but useful or pleasurable to himself, or in opposition to Divine justice; then the law does not make men good simply, but in respect to that particular government. In this way good is found even in things that are bad of themselves: thus a man is called a good robber, because he works in a way that is adapted to his end.

(Summa Theologica I-II Q 92. A1)

If we keep something like this in mind, we can realize that when offering opinions on whether something is Good or not Good, it has to have some basis in fact if it is to be a reasonable opinion.

Therefore we can see the problem with the claim of "Well, that's just your opinion."  The question remains however: On what basis does one hold an opinion?

  1. If I hold an opinion which is logically sound and supported by the facts, it is an opinion which is justified.
  2. if I hold an opinion which has no basis other than my own preference, it is an uninformed opinion.
  3. If I hold an opinion which is illogical and runs against the facts, the opinion is wrongly formed.

However, we tend to throw around the phrase "Well that's just your opinion" as a negation, a denial of absolute truth.  If I make an argument as to why something is wrong, and the rebuttal is "That's just your opinion," the rebuttal fails to rebut.  It just says "I disagree but have no basis for it other than what I like."

The problem is, if everything is just "an opinion," then my opposition to slavery, to racism and to genocide is "just my opinion," and who am I to push it on others who think it is a good thing?

We can see the problem of ignoring logic and seeking to use "opinion" as a word to either protect one's own view from scrutiny or to deny another's statement without proving it to be false.