Showing posts with label right and wrong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label right and wrong. Show all posts

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Thoughts on Two Errors in Catholic Voting

Introduction

One of the most troubling things about Catholics debating right and wrong is that sometimes that debate gets misdirected. Instead of looking at our calling as Christians, we look at what the Church says through the lens of political preferences. People tend to accept or reject the Church over whether the teaching seems to be in line with their political positions. People tend to confuse their political preferences with what the Church teaches, or misinterpret Church teaching to justify what they want but actually justify what the Church has no intention of supporting. The first is harmful to Christian charity. The second deceives people into supporting evil in the name of a "greater good."

I. Fighting over Legitimate Differences of Opinion

The first ugly problem I see is when Catholics confuse thinking about what the Church teaches with the way we prefer people should apply Church teaching. They are two different things. For example, look at what St. John XXIII wrote in 1963:

11. But first We must speak of man’s rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of illhealth; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.

 

 John XXIII, Pacem in Terris (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1963).

I suspect, while reading this, many started thinking about certain political parties and their platforms, praising one and condemning the other based on their preferences. What makes this dangerous is people are condemning others without cause, not because they reject the Church, but because they reject one proposed political solution. Yes, sometimes, political platforms embrace things the Church warns us are evil (we’ll get into that below). Then we have to oppose the platform, whether we work to reform it from inside the party or rejecting the party and walking away. In such a case we cannot excuse the immoral position, or evade our obligation to oppose it. When the Church says “X is intrinsically evil,” a party which calls the act good, or a right is at odds with living as a Christian, and we must oppose them.

But the Church does not endorse a specific political platform on how to carry out her teaching, and sometimes Catholics falsely accuse each other of rejecting Church teaching when it is more a case of one Catholic thinking the second Catholic’s preferred plan won’t work. We have to be honest with ourselves. We can’t cherry pick the Church teaching to find convenient phrases to justify what we want to do anyway. We have to be sincerely trying to seek out and follow Church teaching when we support legislation or candidates.

One Catholic may think that a particular political proposal will better promote social justice in America. A second may believe the harm it causes outweighs the good claimed. If both are sincere and have their conscience properly formed by the Church, neither sins for not favoring the approach of the other and it is unjust of accusing them of disobeying the Church.

II. Falsely Claiming a Right to Support A Candidate who Favors Evil in the Name of a Good

On the other side, we have to understand that conscience is not the same thing as feelings or opinions. Conscience tells us about what is right and wrong about an act. Our opinions and feelings can mislead us by sentiment, or an imperfect knowledge of the facts. A person may not feel that he does anything wrong. But conscience formed by the Church tells us something is a grave evil and we cannot treat it as a lesser concern just because we like the candidate’s other positions. A person who does not know that Church teaching must form conscience but sincerely seeks to do right might make a mistake in pursuing the good. The Catholic does not have that excuse. 

Since the Church made known to us we cannot use an evil means to cause good (see CCC #1789), we have an obligation to consider the action we want to use and the goal we want it to achieve. If will the evil in means or goal, we cannot use the action without sinning. If we don’t intend the evil, we have to assess if it outweighs the good intended. If the unintended evil outweighs the intended good, we cannot do the act without sinning. We cannot support an action that violates the rights of the human person—and the Church defines life as the fundamental human right—we can only tolerate it prevent a greater evil against that right to life. Our task is to limit the evil done if we can’t stop the evil outright:

4. The complex array of today’s problems branches out from here, including some never faced by past generations. Scientific progress has resulted in advances that are unsettling for the consciences of men and women and call for solutions that respect ethical principles in a coherent and fundamental way. At the same time, legislative proposals are put forward which, heedless of the consequences for the existence and future of human beings with regard to the formation of culture and social behaviour, attack the very inviolability of human life. Catholics, in this difficult situation, have the right and the duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this regard. John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a «grave and clear obligation to oppose» any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them. As John Paul II has taught in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae regarding the situation in which it is not possible to overturn or completely repeal a law allowing abortion which is already in force or coming up for a vote, «an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality»

 

 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2002).

This is a good rebuke of a popular misconception. Some Catholics believe they can vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil as a “right” on the grounds that his other policies will make fewer people want to avail themselves of that “right.” That reasoning is usually a post hoc fallacy that assumes the candidate’s other policies will cause the decline in abortion, and does not consider other possible reasons for the decline, such as the declining birth rate (many countries are now below replacement levels) and the success of pro-life laws. 

The problem is, even if these policies did make intrinsic evils less necessary do not change the fact that politicians think these intrinsic evils are good and want to defend them, which goes against what Christians need to do—make known to the world the need for salvation and how we need to live to follow Our Lord. Maybe the world will resist what we have to say, but that doesn’t change our obligation. If we vote for politicians who promote intrinsic evils, how convincing will we be when we claim to be against those evils?

That’s the problem of scandal—an attitude or behavior that leads another to do evil. If we don’t practice what we preach, people will decide our practices are easier to follow, even though our words claim we value Church teaching. Our Lord’s words on scandal are not pleasant ones to hear (Matthew 18:6-7). So, if we want to bear witness, we’ll make sure we consider the message our actions send, making sure they match up with our words. That means squaring our political preferences with our Catholic faith, not the reverse.

Conclusion

In this election cycle, neither major candidate could be called good, and even the largest minor parties support intrinsic evil. Most have endorsed things the Church condemns as unjust. As a result, Catholics are scrambling to salvage the best way to limit evil. Unfortunately, we’re greatly divided and observers, understandably, not only have a hard time seeing what American Catholics actually believe, but would have a hard time recognizing Tertullian’s description of how the earliest Christians were seen:

But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death.

 

 Tertullian, “The Apology,” Chapter XXXIX, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. Thelwall, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 46.

I believe Catholics need to be more aware of the meaning of what the Church teaching, not presuming that we know enough to reason out on our own something unfamiliar to us when we have the Church as mother and teacher. Between now and November, we need to study and pray—to know God’s will and to deal with each other in charity. We should make clear witness of the Catholic teachings that guide our decisions, while striving to avoid bad judgments through misunderstanding.

Our choices may be bad, but we have the opportunity to witness to what is right in charitably discussing the what we believe.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Determining Moral Acts in Politics

These are ugly times. Most Catholics know that the stakes are high in this election, but disagree on what to do about it. The problem is not that they disagree on what to do about it, but that many are savaging others for not reaching the same decision. For example, in my personal Facebook feed, I see some Catholics vehemently stating that voting for one candidate is the only way we can escape from more of the evil and harassment we received over the last eight years. Others are just as vocal in insisting this person is the worst choice. While some of my fellow Catholics are charitable in their disagreement over how to vote. Others hurl anathemas against each other, accusing each other of supporting the evils associated with the choice.

Part of the problem is the fact that all the candidates (Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Republican) who might get elected support an intrinsic evil that would disqualify them from consideration. As the USCCB teaches in their voting guide:

42. As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet if a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.

 

 USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2015

People can point to this list to say the other candidates don’t qualify and we can’t vote for them. The problem is, one of them is going to get elected, and we will be facing intrinsic evil. So we need to seek out what we must do when there are no good choices.

The first thing we need to do is distinguish between choosing to do evil and seeking to limit evil—a distinction some Catholics are losing sight of. Choosing to do evil means we choose to do something condemned as wrong by our Church. Limiting evil means trying to lessen the impact of an unavoidable evil. St. John Paul II gave us an example of the latter in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae:

[#73] A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations—particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation—there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

In his example, the Pope describes a lawmaker who cannot stop the evil of a law that supports abortion and points out that such a person can vote to limit the harm done by the law. This is not cooperating with evil. Unfortunately, some Catholics have lost sight of that in 2016. Determining the goodness of an act depends on three things:

  1. The action chosen
  2. The intended reason the person has for doing the action
  3. The circumstances that affect the action

Unless all three are good, we cannot call the action good. For example, if we choose a bad action, our intention cannot make the act good because the ends do not justify the means. Or if we do a good action like giving a snack to a child with a good intention, but the child has a peanut allergy and dies as a result, the end result is bad. Nine times out of ten, there might be nothing wrong with that act. But in this one case, it does matter and a serious evil resulted. The person may or may not be to blame for the circumstances depending on what they did know and what they reasonably could find out (“is it OK if I give your child peanuts?”).

In terms of voting, we have to assess the action we choose, the reason we choose to do it and whether the circumstances increases or decreases the harm done. The standard is not our relative preferences but the Church teaching on good and evil. Does our freely chosen act allow good or evil? Do we choose to do it for a good or evil end? Do the circumstances around our choice make things better or worse compared to our other choices?

This means we have to be clear on what the Church teaches about moral acts and apply them to candidates and party platforms. We have to be clear that we’re voting to defend the Catholic faith, trying to oppose evil or at least limit it if blocking it is impossible. We need to consider the consequences of our vote and stand ready to oppose the evils our candidate does support if he or she should get elected.

But we have to beware of the advice we receive. I have seen Catholics deny that we must oppose intrinsic evils passed into law or enshrined in a Supreme Court ruling. They take the words of Catholic saints out of context and argue that we can’t outlaw all sins (misusing St. Thomas Aquinas), so we don’t have to worry about politicians supporting things like the legality of abortion. But St. John Paul II called that out as garbage:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

We need to remember it is the Church who interprets right and wrong. Not someone on Facebook or Twitter. The Pope and the bishops have this authority to tell us how to apply Church teaching. When someone argues a sin is not a sin, we know we cannot trust them. But when we follow the Church and do not evade what she says, we can reach different decisions in good faith. When this happens, judging these things as heresy or supporting evil is false.

If we’re not sure if a person has properly understood Church teaching, we can ask how they understand it. But if they do understand it properly, then we should remember what Archbishop Chaput offered as his opinion (which I happen to share):

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

The point we must never forget is this: We need to keep fighting for the sanctity of the human person, starting with the unborn child and extending throughout life. We abandon our vocation as Catholics if we give up; if we either drop out of political issues altogether or knuckle under to America’s growing callousness toward human dignity.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Our choice for president must reflect Church teaching, and not seek to explain it away. If others draw a different conclusion, but their choice also reflects Church teaching, we cannot condemn it. It is true some might distort what the Church says to justify voting wrongly. But in that case, we should remember that God will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. St. Paul’s warned the Galatians:

Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

When a Little Knowledge is Dangerous

When it comes to Church teachings that are unpopular, the common tactic is on one side of the coin to dismiss them as old teachings and point out how some teachings have changed from the past. People argue that If the Church changed teaching X, she can also change her teachings on contraception or divorce/remarriage. On the other side of the coin, when it comes to actions of the Church that people wanted to remain as they were, the common tactic is to appeal to the old writings and argue that they are irreformable and attempts to make changes are heretical.

These two attitudes demonstrate the truth of the adage, “A little knowledge is dangerous.” In both cases, the proponents cite a portion of a Church document with the intent to demonstrate that the Church has changed with the purpose of undermining the authority of the Church. The only difference between the two is that one cites it with the intention to alter other teachings (claiming that the Church’s refusal to change is unjustified) while the other cites it with the intention to reject changes they dislike.

I believe both groups display a lack of understanding about the Church and how she teaches. The fact is, when the Church teaches something is to be done or not done, we need to discern the moral absolutes that the Church holds always and the elements of what the Church mandates as how to follow the Church teaching when facing certain evils of a particular time.

The Case of Usury

For example, it is popular to cite the “fact” that the Church “changed her teaching” on lending money at interest. Since the Church seems to have changed from saying lending money at interest is a sin to saying it is not, the argument is that any Church teaching can be changed. The problem is this argument is based on a false understanding of what the Church taught. For example, Pope Benedict XIV wrote in the bull Vix pervenit (published in 1745) that, on one hand it is usury to loan money to a person in need with the intent of charging interest, but on the other hand he warned against extremes:

III. By these remarks, however, We do not deny that at times together with the loan contract certain other titles—which are not at all intrinsic to the contract—may run parallel with it. From these other titles, entirely just and legitimate reasons arise to demand something over and above the amount due on the contract. Nor is it denied that it is very often possible for someone, by means of contracts differing entirely from loans, to spend and invest money legitimately either to provide oneself with an annual income or to engage in legitimate trade and business. From these types of contracts honest gain may be made. (Vix pervenit #3)

 

 Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals: 1740–1878 (Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press, 1990), 16.

In other words, the Church did not change her teaching on usury. She merely recognized that there were some circumstances—not existing in the past—that permitted a legitimate return on investment. So, as I understand it, if somebody comes to me and says, “Dave, I need $20 for gas so I can drive to the hospital and see my sick child,” I would be committing usury if I said in reply, “Sure, just pay me back $30 next week.” But I wouldn’t be committing usury if I invested money in stocks or bonds, expecting interest in return. I’ll leave it to theologians to decide whether modern credit cards and payday loan companies commit usury (I’m inclined to think the latter certainly do), but the point is, the Church considered the changes to the ways economics worked and determined that investment was not the same thing as usury—though she would condemn usury disguised as investment.

It doesn’t always work that way. For example, in 1960, The Pill was invented. It worked differently than the traditional barrier methods of contraception, and people were asking whether that meant it was not contraception. So the Church investigated the question, “Is the pill contraception?” It soon turned out that the answer was yes. It still intended to take the sexual act and frustrate the potential of pregnancy. So Blessed Paul VI issued the encyclical affirming that all contraception was wrong. [†]

These examples are why I am not alarmed when Pope Francis calls for an investigation into an issue (for example, the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried). The fact that a question is asked does not mean that a change will be made. In fact, when it came to the question being raised at a press conference [*], the Pope replied,

Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration. 

For all of the fears and false hopes about the synod of the family changing Church teaching, it turned out that the Pope had no intention to change Church teaching from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin.” He merely did what Benedict XIV and Blessed Paul VI did—he consulted with theologians to determine if the changing times involved new situations that were not covered by previous documents.

The Cases of Denouncing Recent Teaching from the Church

There are also cases where individual Catholics object to the teaching of the Church in the period from 1958 [When St. John XXIII was elected Pope] to the present, on the grounds that these things contradicted Church teachings from the past. It is argued that these earlier teachings were irreformable and therefore the changes must be heretical. This ranges across many issues. The Vatican II document on religious freedom [§], Blessed Paul VI making changes to the Mass and so on.

In these cases, people overlook the fact that even when the Church teaches on irreformable doctrine, there are elements where the Church is making disciplines which apply to certain times but the successors to the Chair of Peter can change if they determine a single dispensation or an overall change of practice is needed. For example, Benedict XIV ruled, “The Roman Pontiff is above canon law, but any bishop is inferior to that law and consequently cannot modify it.” (Magna nobis #3). Some two hundred years later, Pius XII would point out that when it comes to changing practices, “If it was at one time necessary even for validity by the will and command of the Church, every one knows that the Church has the power to change and abrogate what she herself has established." (Sacramentum Ordinis #3). [∞]

Here’s an example. In 1769, Pope Clement XIV issued a document on avoiding the appearance of simony, and seeking to reduce corruption in the Church. Now the evils of simony and corruption are not something which will change with time. If a member of the clergy demands money for performing a work of the Church, that is always wrong. [∑] However, the things Clement XIV discusses in Decet quam maxime involves all sorts of discussion of what sorts of fees could be collected and by whom. He talks about aureus and obols and junios. Coins were once used in the Papal States, but no longer exist (just try to work out the rate of exchange for an 18th century obol to a modern Euro for example). When a future Pope decides to make changes to the rules set in Decet quam maxime, he will not be changing the teaching of the Church on simony. He’ll simply be applying the teaching of the Church to the conditions that exist in modern times.

This is how changes can happen in the Mass. The Mass is of vital importance to the Catholic. No Pope could abolish the Mass or change the meaning of the Eucharist. But some people confuse the discipline of the Mass with the essence of the Mass. St. Pius V reformed the Mass in 1570, abolishing rites less than 200 years old (Quo Primum). Some Catholics interpret the words of this bull... 

Therefore, no one whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition. Would anyone, however, presume to commit such an act, he should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

…as if it meant that nobody in the Church could make any changes to the Mass. But his successors did make changes to the Mass. Changes were made in 1604 (Clement VIII), 1634 (Urban VIII), 1884 (Leo XIII made official the changes since 1634), 1920 (Benedict XV, completing the work of St. Pius X), 1955 (Pius XII, radically changing the Mass for certain holy days) and 1962 (St. John XXIII, implementing the changes of Pius XII). That’s not even counting the changes between the first century AD to St. Gregory the Great. Basically, it’s a cycle of changes are made, and then the missal is eventually revised to implement all the changes between editions.

The point is, nobody the time understood Quo Primum to mean the Mass was irreformable. The successors of St. Pius V did not consider themselves heretics in making changes. [ø]. The objections that “denied" Blessed Paul VI the right to make changes to the Mass tend to be ignorant of those facts.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

That ignorance is ultimately the problem. Both tactics try to create the appearance of a break where there is no break. The appearance of a break only seems to be there if one is not aware of all the facts of the case. The danger comes because the person who does not know all the facts is unaware of the fact that he or she does not know. When a person is aware that they do not know something, they can learn. But when a person is ignorant of the fact that they do not know, it never occurs to them to see what the facts are. Thus they can build elaborate theologies of dissent without ever considering the possibility that they are the ones in error.

The remedy is to stop assuming that one’s personal knowledge and interpretation of Church documents is sufficient to pass judgment on the teaching authority of the Church. When one sees a conflict, the first task is to see if one’s own understanding is correct. The next step is to determine what the truth actually is, and how the Church herself understands the document. Catholic theology is not done in the same way as “the plain sense” that some Protestants ascribe to Scripture. We believe that to understand a Church document, we need to read it in the sense that the Church understands it and not assume that the Pope and the magisterium has somehow forgotten or chose to ignore the older documents.

In the over a quarter century since I first began my studies of Catholic theology, one thing I have learned has stuck with me: Just because one cannot personally find an answer to a seeming conflict does not mean the Church has no answer. Sometimes it has taken me years to find the needed information, but I have always found out that the apparent conflict did not exist when studied. It was that searching that led me to realize that when I haven’t found the right answer yet, the solution was to trust that the Church had an answer which I had not discovered yet.

The reason for this is, instead of trusting in my own knowledge or in the personal holiness and wisdom of the individuals in charge of the Church, I trust that God keeps His promises to protect His Church. I have never been let down in this trust.

_______________________

Digressions

[†] Unfortunately part of the commission issued to study the issue exceeded their mandate and argued “Yes, it’s contraception, but the Church should change her teaching.” They had no right to do this and the Pope was under no obligation to make their abuse into Church teaching.

[*] Literacy and research skills seem to be lacking nowadays when people misinterpret these things. People tend to give full weight to the media rushing to scoop their competitors by sending out quotes without context, and then use those reports to interpret the actual transcripts that are released later when they should be evaluating the reports by the transcripts.

[§] Judging by reactions, people never bothered to read it. Otherwise they would have read the part in Dignitatis Humanae about:

First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you” (Matt. 28:19–20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it. (DH #1)

 

 Catholic Church, “Declaration on Religious Freedom: Dignitatis Humanae,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

[∞] I have encountered some people who, legalistically, try to limit these documents to only applying to one specific case: the minimum canonical age for marriage (in Magna Nobis) or whether the imposition of hands was enough for ordination (Sacramentum Ordinis). However, in both cases, the Popes assumed that they had the authority to change how Church disciplines were to be applied in a given time.

[∑] I’m of the opinion that Pope Francis’ speaking about eliminating fees for annulments altogether is not just based on avoiding a barrier to getting an annulment but is also based on the concern that some people think of it as “buying” an annulment.

[ø] The principal weakness to the appeal to Quo Primum is that we have had these missals existing uncontested. If the Mass of 1570 was irreformable, then any changes by Popes would have been heretical. Some try to counter this by saying it was the same Mass since the time of St. Gregory the Great (Pope from 590 to 604) but this gnores the existence of valid Masses before his pontificate that had differences in form.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

We Cannot Set God the Father and God the Son Against Each Other

Introduction

If I were to describe the behaviors of some Christians who support the changing long held Christian moral beliefs, the term modernist comes to mind—though not in the sense that radical traditionalists abuse as an epithet—thus stripping it of any meaning.

Modernism is defined as “a tendency in theology to accommodate traditional religious teaching to contemporary thought and especially to devalue supernatural elements.” In other words, modernism is an attempt to deny or downplay the inconvenient truths that God has commanded, but modern society finds objectionable. Thus, the Christian who tries to reduce miracles to fortuitous coincidences or tries to turn “thou shalt not” into “It is OK” is guilty of modernism.

Tragically, there has been a surge in the number of Christians who openly seek to twist the meaning of Christian moral obligations since Obergefell, and there seem to be a growing number of Christians who are willing to accept their arguments because they do not like the idea of of themselves or loved ones acting in a way that Christian belief calls sinful. It’s not for me to judge the culpability of the Christians who buy into the argument, but it is not being judgmental to say that these compromises are certainly against what God has commanded and that those Christians who confuse their compromising the truth with being compassionate. We need to remember that even when loving the sinner, we cannot compromise on the truth.

Jesus Is God and We Cannot Separate Him From God in the Old Testament

One common justification for rejecting unpopular moral teachings is done in trying to separate the God of the Old Testament from Jesus Christ in the Gospel. God in the Old Testament is seen as harsh and judgmental, while Jesus in the Gospel is seen as loving and non-judgmental. But that vision of the two are wrong for several reasons—the first of which is the very fact that it divides One God into two beings where one is considered bad, and the other good. That’s basically gnosticism.

In fact, if we profess to be believing Christians, there are some principles we must accept…in fact, to deny them makes us heretical:

  • We believe in One Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who has existed eternally.
  • Therefore Jesus has always been God the Son.
  • From this it follows that one cannot divide God into separate beings or claim that what God taught, Jesus repudiated.
  • Once we recognize this, the Christian cannot use the “Jesus never said anything about X” argument without (knowingly or not) denying the Triune and eternal nature of God.

It is important to recognize these facts, because, after Obergefell, people are trying to bully Christians into abandoning their moral objections to “same sex marriage” by saying “Jesus never condemned homosexuality.” To make that claim, one has to either deny the Trinity or deny the authority of Scripture when it disagrees with one’s personal behavior. So, let’s look at that next.

The Authority of Scripture is God and We Do Not Have the Right to Overthrow It

Protestants and Catholics both recognize the authority of Scripture, though they have different ideas on what that authority means. Generally speaking, we hold that the Bible was divinely inspired, while making use of the talents of the human authors, so that it is free of error. The Catholic Church, in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, describes it this way:

11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–20, 3:15–16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him2 they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.4

 

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16–17, Greek text).

So, we have to realize that since God inspired the authors to put into the Scriptures what He wanted put there, we are not free to simply pick and choose what we think is out of date. We have to understand the context of the words and the culture which the author shared with the original audience. We also have to understand that, despite the fact that the human authors wrote over a period of thousands of years, God inspired all of it, and we cannot simply pick out a section to support what we would like to be taught.

The Jewish Law and Divine Accomodation

What causes so many misunderstandings is the fact that we forget that everything in the Bible ultimately points to Christ. In the Old Testament, this means laying the framework, building the nation where Jesus can be born. This brings us to the concept of Divine Accommodation—that in teaching us, God moves from the simplest concepts to the more complexas we grow more able to understand (See Galatians 3:23-24). He had to prepare us for receiving Christ by creating a framework. In Christ, the Law is fulfilled. That doesn’t mean the “thou shalt nots” can become “it’s OK if you want to do it.” But it does mean that the elements of the Law which were pointing to the fulfillment of Christ can be set aside—the ceremonial law, dietary law and legal strictures on what to do to transgressors—but the moral obligations of God’s teaching remain. This is what Acts 15:1-29 was affirming in saying that the Gentile Christians were not bound to keep the Law and why St. Paul took so stern a stance against those who tried to implement the circumcision and kosher laws.

What we need to keep in mind is, the legal codes of the Jewish Law were not the sudden imposition of barbarism on a genteel people. They were restrictions on how the Jews could behave in comparison to how their neighbors behaved. Yes, reading the laws of Exodus and Leviticus may sound offensive to our ears. But when one compares them with the neighboring nations, those nations did worse things on a regular basis. In other words, God wasn’t giving the Jews free rein to run wild. He was forbidding them from running wild.

Moreover, once you look at Jesus teaching the crowds “You have heard it said…but I say unto you…” He actually takes the law to a higher level. It’s not enough to avoid doing evil. We have to avoid harboring it in our hearts. So, when critics try to cite the other laws in Leviticus to deny the condemnation of homosexuality, they haven’t refuted the Christian moral teaching…they’ve merely shown they do not understand how God gradually brought His teaching to us, turning us away from evil and towards good as our minds could comprehend it. Christ is the final fulfillment of the Law. There won’t be any further revelation beyond Christ (contra the Muslims and Mormons)—we’ll just apply His teachings to new situations. In doing so, we will never see God’s teaching go from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin.” If it ever appears to be otherwise, it merely shows we have misunderstood the essence of what was condemned.

To discuss each of the issues would take too long and cover too much ground. For example, I do not have the time to discuss St. Paul discussing Sin, Law, Gentiles and Jews in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Suffice to say, if you want to know how Christians view the relationship of the Old Testament legal code in comparison to the teachings of Christ, you need to study what Christianity teaches on the subject and not merely assume that the Church must have gotten it wrong just because you don’t understand it. That’s an argument from ignorance fallacy.

Conclusion

It is vital to remember, that we cannot try to set God the Father against God the Son, the Trinity against each other to justify our own behavior. Nor can we try to set one part of the Bible in opposition to another. There is no conflict between Father and Son because God is Triune. There is no conflict between Old and New Testament because God inspired both. When a conflict appears, it is actually a conflict of our own understanding.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

We Must Stand Up For Right When Society Goes Wrong—Because We Are Christians

‘Isa: So you have no universal law, no higher law, no higher standard than culture, right?

Libby: Right. We don’t claim to have a private telephone line to heaven, like you.

‘Isa: So you can’t criticize your culture, then. Your culture sets the standard. Your culture creates the commandments. Your culture is God. “My country right or wrong.” That doesn’t sound like progressivism to me. That sounds like status quo conservatism.

Libby: You’re confusing me. You make everything stand on its head.

‘Isa: No, you do. Or your media do, and you’ve been suckered by them. It’s a big lie; it’s pure propaganda. If you just stop and think for yourself for a minute, you’ll see that it’s really just the opposite of the media stereotypes. Only a believer in an absolute higher law can criticize a whole culture. He’s the rebel, the radical, the prophet who can say to a whole culture, “You’re worshipping a false God and a false good. Change!” That’s the absolutist; and that’s the force for change. The Jews changed history more than anyone because they were absolutists—the conscience for the world, the Jewish mother who makes you feel guilty about not calling her, not calling on God, not praying. Or guilty about vegging out in front of the TV instead of going out and getting an education and getting a job and changing the world.

Libby: Not fair! The relativist is for change too.

‘Isa: But he has no moral basis for it. All a relativist can say to a Hitler is, “Different strokes for different folks, and I like my strokes and I hate yours.” The absolutist can say, “You and your whole society are wrong and wicked, and divine justice will destroy you, inescapably, unless you repent.” Which of those two messages is more progressive? Which one is the force for change?

[Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 75.]

Introduction

Being a Christian today—at least one who takes a position contrary to what is currently favored culturally—is becoming an unpopular and potentially dangerous stand to take. While society is stressing the importance of being nice, and not saying anything negative about someone we disagree with (except when directed against said Christians), we are unpopular because we say “This is wrong, and cannot be done.” To which, the world says “Stop judging, you bigot!” (completely unaware of the self-contradiction). The impression one gets is that society would be perfectly willing to welcome us back into the fold if we would stop being so obstinate and go along with what they hold.

The Problem

If the society was the source of determining what was right and wrong, then it would be foolish of us to be countercultural. Under such a view, whoever rejected the mores of society would be a hateful person. But this is where the problem lies. Christianity cannot accept society as the source of determining right and wrong. Indeed, we know that societies have a bad habit of going very wrong. In America, our mistreatment of American Indians and African-Americans give us examples of behavior that cannot be considered good even though society once favored it. The totalitarian dictatorships of history give us examples of behavior we cannot condone. So there has to be a source for determining right and wrong which is outside of society. Otherwise, when a new group is in power, people will find themselves without grounds to protest actions they find offensive. And society, in the name of freedom, is rapidly undercutting the pillars that support freedom. They do this by saying, “Stop trying to push your values on us!” while pushing their values on others.

It is only when the people of a society is willing to investigate why a thing is right or wrong and then seek out the right while rejecting the wrong, that it can bring about justice while rejecting injustice. But that is precisely what the people of society are not doing. Instead we have an emotionalism that holds that people should be allowed to do what makes them happy, but that concept of “happy” is based on what makes them feel good. The problem is, some forms of pleasure affect others in a negative fashion. Other forms of pleasure are harmful to the person who pursues them in the long run. But when someone stands up and says, “This is actually harmful,” he or she is shouted down as “intolerant.” The label is not a refutation of the objection, but everybody assumes that it is.

The Christian Mindset

The informed Christian, on the other hand, starts from the perspective that the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good God designed the universe and everything in it (which does not require a belief in “creationism”). God may be above reason, but is never contrary to reason. From this perspective, God designed His universe in a way that reflects His goodness. As a result, when we try to do things in a way which goes against this design, it is harmful. Maybe that harm is immediately apparent—such as attempting to defy gravity. Other times it takes time to discover—like people who abuse drugs and alcohol not discovering the harm before it is too late.

The point is, the Christian moral code is not an arbitrary ipse dixit invented by a cranky God or made up by a celibate priesthood. The Christian certainly follows God’s commandments because of love for Him (John 14:15), but the reasonableness of God’s teaching is apparent in the cause and effect of what His laws order us for and how rejection of those laws cause harm even for the person who does not believe God exists (physical, psychological and social effects).

That’s not to downplay the very real harm a person does to his or her relationship with God, which is even more serious than the physical, psychological and social effects. But it does show that the Christian’s objection is not based on “Because God said if you don’t do this, you’ll burn in hell!” Rather it is based on, “If you do this, you will destroy yourself spiritually, physically, psychologically and socially and we do not want you to cause your self-destruction."

What Follows From This

Once a person realizes this, the falseness of accusation of “pushing your values on us” is exposed as untrue. The Christian is not trying to force people into adopting a creed. He or she approaches the world from the perspective of trying to do what is right, and challenging the world to stay away from things that are harmful. When we push for society to be good, it is because we recognize that a bad society is harmful to the well-being of each individual and to the cohesion of society as a whole.

And, of course, the Christian protest is true. Society is falling apart. Family ties are collapsing. The individual is considered primary, and anything that dares to suggest that the individual’s desires cannot be elevated at the extent of harming others or disrupting society as God designed it is met with hostility.

Because of What We Are, Christians Must Act

So, even though our stands are increasingly unpopular and misrepresented (it’s easier to hate someone who is misrepresented as acting out of intolerance or other bad will), the committed Christian will not “go along to get along.” Our Lord has tasked us with a mission:

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

The consequences of rejecting what God has commanded will be alienation from God in the most important aspect, but will affect the other parts of our life as well. For us, standing by while a person destroys their life is akin to standing by while a person drowns. If we could have done something (even if our aid is rejected), but did not, we share in the blame:

The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, speak to your people and tell them: When I bring the sword against a land, if the people of that land select one of their number as a sentinel* for them, and the sentinel sees the sword coming against the land, he should blow the trumpet to warn the people. If they hear the trumpet but do not take the warning and a sword attacks and kills them, their blood will be on their own heads. They heard the trumpet blast but ignored the warning; their blood is on them. If they had heeded the warning, they could have escaped with their lives. If, however, the sentinel sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the sword attacks and takes someone’s life, his life will be taken for his own sin, but I will hold the sentinel responsible for his blood. 

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:1-9)

Our speaking out to the world can only go so far, and if a warning is unheeded, we cannot help that. But if we do not warn when we should warn, we do evil. 

The Obligation to Search For Truth Remains

Now, the person who rejects this Christian view is not free to go on doing as they like. Each person has the obligation to seek out and live according to what is true, not what is pleasurable. You might say you reject Christian teaching. But on what basis do you reject it? Do you even understand the teaching you are rejecting? Or do you merely associate it with “being mean?” The problem with that is sometimes there is no time for niceties when it comes to shouting a warning—HEY! WATCH OUT! Sometimes the individual lacks the social graces in expressing the truth. But these are not legitimate reasons to refuse to see if the claim is true.

It is not enough to say, “Well I don’t see anything wrong with this!” That’s the argument from ignorance fallacy—just because you don’t see anything wrong with it, doesn’t mean nothing is wrong with it. Each person has the obligation to examine their life and see whether what they do is good or evil. In doing so, they must reject the evil.

Unfortunately, that is seldom done. Many people just go along with an injustice being done, saying “I didn’t know!” or “What could I have done?” But I think we should consider the final lines from the 2004 movie, Downfall:

Traudl Junge: All these horrors I've heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn't made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn't know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realised that a young age isn't an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things.

Conclusion

The obligation of each person is to seek out and follow the truth. The reason we are Christians is because we believe we have found the truth—a truth beyond us and above us which guides us to be what we are called to be. Because we possess this truth, we will continue to let people know what it is that we offer. And it is not just a negative, mocking “you’ll be sorry if you don’t listen to us…” warning either. We want people to know and share in the good we have found. Benedict XVI said, in 2005:

Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on.

In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him.

But at the same time there is a feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction with everyone and everything.

People tend to exclaim: “This cannot be what life is about!”. Indeed not. And so, together with forgetfulness of God there is a kind of new explosion of religion. I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon. There may be sincere joy in the discovery. But to tell the truth, religion often becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it.

But religion sought on a “do-it-yourself” basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves.

Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction.

[Benedict XVI, August 21, 2005, Homilies of His Holiness Benedict XVI (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013).]

Out of love of God and love of neighbor, we let people know about the truth. Not for our benefit of course. We’re not on a commission basis. We share because we want you to share in the treasure we have found (Matthew 13:44-47). We want you to avoid the pitfalls which can keep you from receiving it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Is Religious Freedom a "Rearguard" Argument? Some Brief Thoughts

I came across a few articles saying that speaking about the defense of the Church teachings as a Religious Freedom issue is a “rearguard” movement. Since rearguard is a term used to describe defense during a retreat, it is clear this is a negative description. The arguments I have seen claim that if we try to defend “religious freedoms” against “human rights,” people are going to decide that it is “intolerance vs. tolerance.” These people who describe it as a rearguard action say that we need to start promoting the right and wrong aspects. 

I tend to disagree with this, because I think this argument makes a logical error. The argument that instead of arguing religious freedom, we need to argue right/wrong is technically an either-or fallacy. We need to do both, but which argument we give depends entirely on who is the target audience.

The Church teaching on right and wrong is always present. We speak against certain things because they are wrong. If the Church were somehow to be entirely indifferent on something, we wouldn’t bother to defend it. Such arguments work well with people of good will who are seeking the truth and want to live it. But there’s one problem with the right and wrong argument—it really doesn’t reach the people who believe in moral relativism. For the person who denies right and wrong—particularly if the moral claims come too close to home with the person’s lifestyle—such arguments are going to be ignored.

That’s where the Constitutional arguments are needed. Such people need to be shown that once a regime decides it can set aside rights to benefit a cause it supports, another regime which replaces it can make use of the same tactic to benefit the cause it supports. To such people, one needs to show that the only way to be protected from that arbitrary behavior is to make sure that nobody gets away with setting aside the real Constitutional rights in favor of fictional rights.

The point is, before we can get people to listen to the right and wrong arguments, we have to get them to listen in the first place. So, for those who do listen, we do need to explain why X is wrong. But for those who don’t listen, we need to get them to think about how this whole heavy-handed approach by the government sets a precedent that can be used against them by a future government which is just as unscrupulous as the one we currently have which supports what they don’t like using the same tactics.

In other words, we need to reach out to all people to encourage them to break away from the unthinking mob mindset, but the starting place is going to be different depending on who is being spoken to. If they’re unwilling to listen to the moral arguments of right and wrong, we need to start at another level where they are willing to listen.

Otherwise, they won’t listen at all.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Rights vs. Freedom? That's a Distorted Argument!

I encountered a blog which raised an interesting point on the way the media is framing the concerns over religion and the demands to recognize same sex “marriage.” It’s an article worth reading, because it points out the propaganda used in this debate. While I doubt I will do as well as they have, I’ll do my best to offer my own thoughts on this, hoping that it serves a purpose as well.

The basic media argument is that the dispute is between “gay rights” and religious freedom.” It is asserted that rights must take precedence over freedoms. Therefore the religious freedoms have to accept the rights of others. You can replace “gay rights” with “reproductive rights” and it’s the same argument. Those people who believe their religion requires them to stand up and oppose something as morally wrong are portrayed as wanting special privileges and are opposed to equal rights for all. When argued in this way, it becomes easy to make a person think they must support the “rights” over the “beliefs,” even if they don’t like that particular “right."

The problem is, this is a “have you stopped beating your wife?” proposition (a complex question fallacy). The classification of rights and freedoms are done by those who are predisposed to a certain outcome, and people are falling for it. We have courts who are labeling a preferred position as a “right” and the opposing position as a “freedom” or an “opinion.” So if the media puts the issue in the concept of rights vs. freedoms or opinions, the Christian is going to come across looking cold hearted or bigoted.

What people who frame the issue this way forget is that religious freedom is an actual (as opposed to made up right—the right to conduct our lives as we believe we are morally obligated to live. That’s not the same thing as living our lives as we like to live. I may like the idea of not having laws about theft affect me when I’m short of cash, but that’s not a right. However, not being forced to do something I think is morally evil, that is a right—a right that people have gone to prison over rather than do what they think is morally wrong. 

The problem is, people tend to misunderstand the concept of what freedom of religion is—it’s one of a list of things the government cannot interfere with, according to the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First section of the 14th Amendment makes clear that the states cannot interfere with rights either (so you can’t argue that this only applies to Congress). So, in effect, the governments (national, state or local) cannot force a person to do what their religion teaches is evil, cannot silence them from speaking out on what they believe is wrong, publish openly on what they think is wrong, cannot prevent them from peaceably assembling to oppose things they believe to be morally wrong and to petition the government for redress. This isn’t a potpourri of various rights that lumps unrelated things together. It’s recognizing that people cannot be compelled by the state to participate in what they believe is evil, nor silence them from opposing injustice.

By seeking to portray religion as a “mere” freedom, the tactic allows people to deny a real Constitutional Right in favor of an invented one (“right to same sex marriage,” or the “right to reproductive freedom”). By that token, the freedom of speech is merely a freedom, as is the freedom of the press. If the government can set aside religious belief on the grounds that it is merely a “freedom,” then the government can set aside the freedom of speech as well.

So, recognizing this tactic, we need to stop letting people get away with using it. When the person tries to contrast their “rights” against our “freedoms” or “opinions,” we need to remind them that this is a false contrast and our concerns are protected by rights. While that may not convince the courts or legislative bodies or the Presidency, it will at least force people to recognize that the government is violating rights. Regardless of their opinions that get turned into law, we must stand up for what we believe God wants us to do, seeking to help others understand why this applies to all.

(Edited 1/31/15 to clarify a line which sounded like I thought these modern inventions were rights. Sorry for the vagueness)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TFTD: Well Said Holy Father

Full transcript of Pope's interview in-flight to Manila :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

The Holy Father has spoken about the Charlie Hebdo murders in a way that makes a lot of sense, but will probably not win him support from those who believe there can be no restrictions on speech and press. He makes a two prong statement that addresses both issues:

  1. Using violence in the name of God can never be done.
  2. The freedom of speech is not an absolute that can justify saying anything offensive.

Basically, the Pope said that people have the right and obligation to speak the truth, but freedom is not absolute. One cannot be grossly offensive, especially when it comes to people’s religious beliefs. Even when people are grossly offensive, others don’t have the right to turn to violence in response. However, anger at having something important being attacked is not wrong in itself. (Which is a very useful point—too many try to twist Christians being offended by attacks as if it was “unchristian.”)

Unfortunately, some are beginning to accuse the Pope of supporting the terrorists—never mind the fact that he has continually condemned terrorism and clarified any possible ambiguities in what he said. They look at it as Either-Or, ignoring the fact that condemning both is a legitimate option.

But what he said makes perfect sense. Even if a non-Christian does not share our values, his words can be understood in terms of respect for others. When we make use of the freedom of speech or the press, we have to be respectful of others. When we speak about things we believe to be wrong, we do so with charity. If someone with a large audience does something grossly offensive and millions are offended, there will probably be a small group among them who would be willing to make an extreme response. It would be wrong of them to do so, but they may be motivated to act in spite of the their moral obligations not to murder.

Ultimately, that’s what happened with Charlie Hebdo. Millions of Muslims were angry, and they had a right to be angry by the offensive antics of this magazine. Tragically, some of these Muslims believed it was acceptable to murder. They were wrong to murder, regardless of what offensive garbage the magazine chose to publish. We believe that Charlie Hebdo did not have the right to be grossly offensive, regardless of their convictions.

So, as I see the Pope’s statement, he sees two wrongs: The wrong of people murdering those they disagree with and the wrong of being deliberately offensive. Both of these are condemnable. The Pope is not siding with the terrorists, but he is not Charlie either.

Friday, October 31, 2014

TFTD: Wasn't this supposed to be a PARODY originally?

Two years ago, The Onion published the article "Supreme Court Overturns 'Right v. Wrong’.” It was supposed to be a parody of bad judicial decisions. But with recent rulings and what it lets stand in the lower courts, it seems that the Supreme Court has rejected the concept of the obligation to do what is right with the concept that restrictions on behavior are bad.

What we have seems to be that the person who feels obligated to do what is right can be fired, sued or prosecuted by people who equate doing what is right with violating the rights of people who think that is a hindrance to their behavior.

Also, as a side note, it’s curious how the justices listed in the article as defending “right” turned out the ones who seem to be defending “wrong” currently.

TFTD: Wasn't this supposed to be a PARODY originally?

Two years ago, The Onion published the article "Supreme Court Overturns 'Right v. Wrong’.” It was supposed to be a parody of bad judicial decisions. But with recent rulings and what it lets stand in the lower courts, it seems that the Supreme Court has rejected the concept of the obligation to do what is right with the concept that restrictions on behavior are bad.

What we have seems to be that the person who feels obligated to do what is right can be fired, sued or prosecuted by people who equate doing what is right with violating the rights of people who think that is a hindrance to their behavior.

Also, as a side note, it’s curious how the justices listed in the article as defending “right” turned out the ones who seem to be defending “wrong” currently.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Asking the Wrong Question: A Reflection

The Wrong Question

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

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

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

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

The Right Questions

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

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

What Reason Tells Us

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

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

As GK Chesterton pointed out, "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong." In other words, the bigotry doesn't exist in believing right and wrong. The bigotry comes from refusing to question whether you properly understand what you oppose.

The Dilemma

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Asking the Wrong Question: A Reflection

The Wrong Question

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

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

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

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

The Right Questions

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

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

What Reason Tells Us

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

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

As GK Chesterton pointed out, "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong." In other words, the bigotry doesn't exist in believing right and wrong. The bigotry comes from refusing to question whether you properly understand what you oppose.

The Dilemma

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

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

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

Conclusion

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