Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Unquestioned Assumptions

Preliminary Note

It is not my intent to cause an argument over who wronged who and who was more unjust during the 16th and 17th century.  Nor do I believe that the abuses by one group justifies wrong behavior by another group.  Nor does this article intend to speak against the author of the blog I saw the comment in.  Rather, I saw the comment and was reminded that people still believe this to be fact so I thought it should be addressed.

I do deal with some of the negative actions of Protestantism during the 16th and 17th century.  This isn't a case of seeking to cast Protestants in a negative light, but rather to point out that many unquestioned assumptions constantly repeated are in fact false.

Proper dialogue requires the consideration of what happened on both sides.  If a Catholic only looks at the reported evils of the Protestants without verifying them, if a Protestant only looks at the evils of Catholics without verifying them, and neither considers what actually happened, the result is going to be self-righteousness, as well as spreading misinformation.


On another blog, I saw a statement made in passing which was clearly not made in malice, but remained offensive nonetheless.  In essence, it referred to the history of Protestantism and its members who died: so people could be free to worship in their own churches and have their own Bible.  This kind of thing does irritate me.  Why?

Essentially, because it is not true yet is repeated as true.

Freedom to worship in their own churches?

From the perspective of history and of theology this is patently false.  Men like Luther had ideas of what "pure" Christianity was supposed to be, and when the Church said he erred, he claimed the whole of the Church was in error.  He was never in danger of persecution, given that he lived in a region which supported him (He appealed to German nationalism which made him popular with German princes who wished to rebel against the Emperor).

Meanwhile Zwingli arose in Switzerland, had ideas of what "pure" Christianity was supposed to be, and when the Church said he erred, he claimed the whole of the Church was in error.  This view did not coincide with Luther's view (Baptism and Eucharist were two areas where they widely diverged).  He attempted to force Catholic cantons in Switzerland to convert by blockade, which resulted in war, and led to his death.  He was no martyr.

The Anabaptists had ideas of what "pure" Christianity was supposed to be, and when the Church said he erred, they claimed the whole of the Church was in error.  This view did not coincide with Luther's or Zwingli's view.  (Notice a trend here?)  They persecuted Catholics and non Anabaptist Protestants in their lands while they were dominant and were persecuted by Zwingli and later by Calvin and the Church of England.

Henry VIII rejected the authority of the Pope when he was denied an annulment.  He declared himself the head of the Church in England and persecuted Catholics who remained loyal to the Pope.  The Church of England would also persecute the Puritans and Anabaptists.

However, none of these groups or men could be said to have fought for the freedom of religion.  Rather they fought for the dominance of their own religion.  In all of these states, Catholics did not have the right to worship in their own churches.  Indeed, in England, they made the attendance at Anglican churches mandatory.  Catholic churches were looted and burnt.  Monasteries were sacked.  Convents were forced open, and the religious thrown out in the streets.  Nuns were even sometimes forced to be married in some cases.

This doesn't mean that Catholics always behaved in an exemplary fashion in response.  It was a period of intense division and hostility.  I've not discussed those issues to avoid distractions and tu quoque recriminations.  Since the claim was made that Protestantism means people were free to worship in their own churches, we need to look at the history which shows this view to be a myth. 

Our own Bible?

The myth is that Luther discovered a Bible hidden away in a storeroom of a Monastery and read it on the sly, discovering Catholicism was wrong.  The truth was less glamorous.  While a Catholic Priest, he was assigned the duties of teaching Scripture at his university (which shows the Bible was not hidden away), and gradually moved away from the Catholic teaching, which seem to have been based on abuses which certain individuals did in regards to indulgences.

He was not the first person to translate the Bible into the vernacular.  There were several versions of the German Bible which existed before Luther was born.

Likewise, the Catholic Church had never forbade the laity to read the Bible, though it did condemn certain translations as being filled with mistranslations and error.  Also, in certain regions, where a heretical interpretation of the Bible was being put forth as authentic (The Cathars in France for example), the laity was forbidden to read their version of the Bible.

We need to remember something here.  It is false to say that prior to the Reformation people were not allowed to read the Bible.  More accurately, prior to the Printing Press, few Bibles were available (they had to be copied by hand, which is how all our sources of the Scripture were passed down to us), and there was little literacy.

The rise of the printing press did lead to wider distribution of books, and to literacy becoming more useful to the common man, and so the Bible was more widely distributed (the first book Gutenberg printed was the Bible).

The second problem I have with the claim that Protestantism was carried out so we might have our own Bible.  The irony is many people who use this claim don't know the origin of the King James Version, also known as the "Authorized Version."  Authorized by whom?  Essentially, this was the Bible which was to be read in the churches, not the Geneva Bible

The Bible which was popular among the early Protestants was not the KJV.  It was not Luther's Bible.  It was the Geneva Bible.  However, those Protestants in England who favored the state control of the Church did not like the Puritan tone the Geneva Bible took.  The KJV was issued largely to counteract the opposition to authority which the Geneva Bible had.

Another interesting fact was that in England, in 1579, a law was made requiring every home to own a Bible.  The KJV succeeded the Bishop's Bible which succeeded the Great Bible, which succeeded Tynsdale's translation which was banned in England in 1530.

Notice a trend here of law mandating what Bible should be read?

Unquestioned Assumptions and Bearing False Witness

There is a certain amount of anti-Catholic propaganda which still circulates, even among those Protestants who are not anti-Catholic themselves.  Whether it is alleged that the Spanish Inquisition had killed 65 million people (Spain at the time had perhaps nine million people), or whether it is alleged that the Bible was locked to keep people from reading them (there were Bible chains yes, but that was to keep people from stealing pages in a time when books were rare) there are many accusations which are false but unquestioned.

Such claims do go against the commandment against bearing false witness.  False Witness is not only deliberate lies.  It also includes the repeating of comments which we assume are true without actually verifying they were true.  If one repeats something which is false, without checking the truth of what one says, one does slander even if one does not intend to.

Unfortunately, both sides have done this.  I've seen anti-Catholic literature on one hand.  On the other hand, I've seen anti-Protestant literature.  Both seem fraught with partial quotes which make context impossible, with works impossible to verify as sources (whether improper citations or out of date material which no longer is extant.  It's one of the reasons I insist on finding an original source if possible to see such statements in context… if they even exist… before reporting it as fact).

What is to Be Done?

Ultimately, charity to our neighbor requires that we investigate a negative claim before we repeat it.  If we wish to bear witness to Christ, it obligates us to be sure our words are true before we repeat them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Analysis of Cardinal Rigali and the Health Care Bill

Source: - Top Catholic Cardinal Says 'No Way' Catholic Members of Congress Can Support Senate Health Care Bill That Funds Abortion

I know some people are going to miss the point and accuse Cardinal Rigali of waffling on the issue, so I thought I'd link this article here because of the great clarifications it makes.

Cardinal Rigali was asked if it was mortal or venial sin to vote for a pro-abortion bill.

Rigali replied:

“People have to follow their conscience, but their conscience has to be well-formed,” said Rigali. “And you have to make sure that when it is a question of doing something that has a provision, if it has a provision in it for abortion, then this is absolutely wrong by every standard and not by the standards of the Catholic Church as you see here today.  It’s the standards of Christian, standards of the natural law.

“Everyone is called. Yes, no, any bill, any bill that has abortion in it is in our opinion to be rejected,” Rigali continued. “But keep in mind that health reform as such is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But a bill that includes it, there’s no way in the world that it can be supported and if it comes down to that.  Once again we have the coming down as we examined in other questions. If it comes down to that, then we would urge, urge, a rejection because health reform is necessary, it has to be reformed, and it can’t be killing.”

Some people will claim he is not giving a straight answer on the question, but the truth is, he is giving us the information we need.

  1. Conscience must be well formed
  2. Abortion is absolutely wrong, and can never be supported
  3. Health Care Reform is good
  4. However, Health Care Reform which supports abortion can never be supported, and must be rejected.

From this, we can reason:

  • A person with a well formed conscience knows abortion can never be supported
  • The Senate Bill has abortion support
  • Therefore a person with a well formed conscience can never support the Senate abortion bill.

Fr. Sirico, in this article offers an excellent commentary on this, which is well in keeping with the teaching of the Magisterium:

“When you ask if something is a mortal sin or a venial sin, you’re asking a question with regard to the individual act,”

“When we’re talking about the broad morality of the thing, we’re talking about as it exists in natural law,” he said.  Abortion and funding abortion violate the natural law and are gravely immoral. But for a person to commit a mortal sin, Sirico said, three conditions must be met: the act must be gravely wrong, the person must know it is gravely wrong, and the person must deliberately choose to do it.

“So, the reason the cardinal seemed like he wasn’t answering the question directly is because you can’t judge this along every congressperson, because it depends on their individual knowledge and their individual act of free will,” Sirico said.

“And so, it is grave, and if a person knows that it’s grave, and acts upon it freely, they may have committed a mortal sin,” he said.

Of course with the Church giving strong notice of the grave evil of abortion, the claims of not knowing it is gravely wrong is shrinking drastically.  Vatican II has taught, in Gaudium et spes #16:

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

If one claims to be a Catholic, then it stands to reason that one must follow what the Church teaches with authority.  On the issue of abortion, the Catholic Church is quite clear:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. (Gaudium et spes #27)


For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. (Gaudium et spes #51)

A Catholic who would claim invincible ignorance to the teaching of the Church must confess gross ignorance not only to the teaching of the Church, but also gross ignorance to the knowledge of the authority of the magisterium, if they would ignore the teaching of the bishops speaking out on abortion in America.

A Catholic Politician knowing that the Church teaches abortion is gravely evil, and knowing this freely chooses to vote in favor of laws protecting or expanding abortion rights does indeed seem to be guilty of mortal sin.

So Rigali is pointing out that a Catholic who believes abortion is acceptable to vote for does not have a well formed conscience, and if he knows that abortion is condemned as evil and supports it all the same with this full knowledge, they are knowingly cooperating with a grave evil.

That's mortal sin.

So what are we obligated to know, and what is invincible ignorance?

Thomas Aquinas makes this distinction:

Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or do what he ought to have or do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called invincible, because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know. (ST I-II, Q76, A2)

So, to be invincible ignorance, it would have to be something which a man is unable to know, even through the study which was available to him.  If he could have found out, if he had bothered to look, it is not invincible, but vincible ignorance.

Could a Catholic Pro-abortion politician find out about the grave evil of abortion?  Certainly.  He only needs consult the magisterium.  Is he bound to know it?  He is, if he would be an informed Catholic in relation to his task of making laws.

So by failing to learn what he is bound to learn, the Catholic pro-abortion politician is committing a sin of omission, and by acting in a way contrary to how he is required to act, he is performing a sin of commission.

Now, not knowing (As Fr. Sirico pointed out) just how responsible each politician is for his or her own ignorance, we cannot say definitively who is guilty of mortal sin.  All we can do is to instruct and to remove ignorance, so that those who do not know the truth might choose truth over error.

If the person is instructed, and chooses to remain in their error to do evil, then they will answer to God for it.

Nonsense Challenges

There are certain challenges thrown against the nature of God which, while of no real intellectual value themselves, seem aimed at throwing certain Christians into a quandary which they don't know how to answer, with the evident hope that such a question will cause a person to lose faith. I handled one of these questions over a year ago, and I thought it was time to handle another.

The question bandied about is:

"Can God make a Square Circle?"

Let's start with a few definitions here:

Square: a plane figure with four equal straight sides and four right angles.

Circle: a round plane figure whose boundary consists of points equidistant from the centre.

Round: having a curved surface with no sharp projections.

Angle: the space (usually measured in degrees) between two intersecting lines or surfaces at or close to the point where they meet.

† a corner, especially an external projection or internal recess

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

Now, when comparing things to a square, things like a rectangle or a rhombus have  some of the characteristics of a square, but not all of them.  The rectangle has four right angles, but not four equal straight sides.  A rhombus has four straight sides , but not four right angles.  Other shapes like a parallelogram are four sided plane figures, like a square but lack the four equal straight sides and four right angles.

Likewise, a variant of a circle is the oval, which is rounded, but the boundary points are not equidistant from the center.

So, what's the Point here?

What this indicates here is that if we have a rhombus, a rectangle or a parallelogram, we do not have a square.

Likewise, if the object we have is an oval, we do not have a circle.

The nature of a circle or a square is based on it having certain characteristics.  If we alter these characteristics, we no longer have a circle or a square.

If we add a side, we no longer even have something in this class.  We have a pentagon, not a square.  If we remove a side, we have a triangle, not a square.  If we alter one of the sides of a square so it is no longer straight, it is no longer a square.

So too, if we add a straight side to a circle, it is no longer round.  If we add an angle to a circle, it is no longer round.  If it is no longer round, it is no longer a circle.

The Law of Non Contradiction

The Law of non contradiction, commonly stated is: It is not possible that something be both true and not true at the same time and in the same context.  So, for example, a table cannot be made entirely of wood and entirely not of wood at the same time.

So if something is round, it cannot at the same time be square (because if round is true, then straight is false).  If something is square, it cannot be round at the same time (because if straight is true, then round is false).

The Application

If God creates something in the shape of a square, we call it square because it meets the characteristics of what we call a square.  If what He creates is not in the shape of a square we do not call it a square.

Ultimately the question is phrased to lead people to either claim God "cannot" do something. or else to try to trick them into the position of having to explain how God can do the impossible.  However, it is nothing more than a wordplay, which ignores the fact that a circle and a square have certain things in their own essence which are contradictory to the other (a round object cannot have a straight side.  A straight side cannot be rounded), in order to create an illusion of limitation.

It is because of this that the question is sheer nonsense.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reflections on Fruits

Two men, a priest and a skeptic were walking down the street.  The skeptic was complaining about the problems of religion, arguing it helped nobody.  "It doesn't change a person's behavior, so what good is it?"  The priest said nothing until he walked past a dirty unkempt individual.  "Look, soap didn't change that person's appearance, so what good is it?"  The skeptic objected.  "That's not fair.  Soap could help him, but he just didn't use it."  The priest nodded.  "And that's my answer to you as well."

—Origin Unknown

The Question

I recently received a question, expressing concern for the state of the Church, about the concept of "By their fruits, you will know them."  Given the troubles in the Catholic Church, I was asked, is it possible that these are the fruits which indicate this is not God's Church? 

The Consideration

The verses which seems important to consider are largely from Matthew.  The first is from Matthew 7:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

In context, we see Jesus is speaking of individuals, and is speaking of hypocrisy and of false prophets.  People who may invoke the name of God, but their actions do not follow what they claim to hold.  The sound tree vs. the bad tree.

The second verse comes from Matthew 12, when Jesus was accused of doing his miracles through demons:

33 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

In both cases, Jesus is speaking of the behavior of individuals.  Those who show good fruits cannot be called evil, while those who show evil fruits cannot be called good.

The Analysis

With each individual within the Church, the question is whether or not the person hears God's message and keeps it in his or her heart.  If he does, he will bring forth good fruit.  If not, he will bring forth bad fruit.  Since the verse was applied to an individual and not to the Church, it seems to be taking it out of context to apply the verse to the Church, unless it can be established that the person bearing bad fruit is doing so because he is following the true teaching of the Church.  Otherwise, to claim "Person X is a Catholic, and he is doing bad things, therefore the Catholic Church is bad" is in fact a post hoc fallacy.

So if "Sister Mary Loony," or "Father Harry Tik" is saying or doing things which shows bad fruit, we need to analyze whether or not the Catholicism they teach is in fact in line with the teaching of the Pope and those in communion with him.  If it is, the accusation is valid.  If it is not, then obviously it is unjust to blame the Church for those who teach their own views instead of the Church.

Remember in Matt 12:15, Jesus spoke of false prophets: People who teach a false teaching and present it as God's.  Reading the Prophets in the Old Testament, we see many incidents of false prophets who sought to teach a message not from God.  They claimed that God would not forsake Jerusalem to the nations because His temple was in Jerusalem, and to let Jerusalem fall would show God to be weak.

The true prophets however spoke the truth, that God would not tolerate the wickedness of His people, and they would be held to account for their sins (Ezekiel is very powerful in this respect)

The Application

Certain things, such as art, architecture and music do reflect the influence of faith in a society.  A society which practices its faith will be more inclined to produce works of deep spiritual meaning, while a society which does not, will be less likely to produce people who are inspired to create.

It would be false however to think that the Western decline in ideas of art is due to the Church being in decline, unless one can make a case that the Church itself is responsible for the decline in its official teaching (as opposed to people who imposed their own interpretation on to what the Church has taught).

Indeed, when we look at the path of Western society, we see a tendency against God and faith and towards secularism.  In other words, a society which is rejecting Christ and is marginalizing faith.

Does the Church embrace this?  No, in fact it is setting itself in opposition to this secularism, and calling for a return to Christ, making Him the center of our lives individually and in society.

So it cannot be said that The Church is the cause of this aesthetic collapse.

Nor can it be said to be the cause of any moral or spiritual collapse.  These collapses are caused by man moving away from the teachings of Christ and His Church.

The Church cannot compel the individual to obey however.  It can only teach what is, and to speak out against what is false.  But as Humorist Dorothy Parker once remarked (and was wrongly attributed to Mae West): "You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think." If people will not listen to the Church, and will reject its authority, there is not much one can do to make them listen.

The Obligation for US as Individuals to Bear Witness

This is of course where those of us who claim to be faithful sons and daughters of the Church come in.  We are indeed called to transform our culture by our living witness to Christ.  Perhaps this means preaching.  But not all of us are called to preach, but all of us are called to bear witness.

The primary way we can do this is by our actions.  As St. James has said in chapter 2 of his epistle:

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

If we, if you as an individual or I as an individual, are not showing our faith by our works, are failing to bear witness to the world.  Yes, many non-Christians and many people who reject all concepts of religion are scandalized by our behavior, who profess the belief in Christ but by our works seem to show nothing but bad fruit.  Who is to blame in such a case?

We are.  We are whenever we fail to bear witness to the faith we have within us by living our lives according to that faith.  I know the faults I have to work on, and I don't always succeed in the struggle against them.

Sinners in the Church… are Us

we need to remember Matthew 7 when we see sinners within the Church:

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. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

When we pass judgment on what others are failing to do for the Church

All of us are obligated to remove the log in our own eye, and whether or not "the other guy" removes the speck from their eye does not change the obligation we have before God.

If we want the Church to show good fruits, we need to start with ourselves.  If we are offended by the behavior of others, are we ourselves exemplary in our own behavior?

If our objection is others promoting error, are we speaking out for the truth?

If we do not, we fall into the category of the hypocrites Jesus spoke out against.  "the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get" is a sentence I would not want applied against me, but Christ has told us, this is how we will be judged.

Not Judging Does Not Mean Staying Silent

This does not mean we need to be silent against evil of course.  As the book of Ezekiel, chapter 33, has related:

The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman; 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people; 4 then if any one who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet, and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes, and takes any one of them; that man is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

So, the question to be directed against those who wonder if the Church has bad fruits, on account of her members, is: Does the Church warn against the sword on the land?  Does it speak out against the evils the land is committing?

Note, I did not say "Does the individual priest or layman."  It is quite possible for individuals to fall short of their obligation before God.  But does The Church as a whole fail to teach?

Actually no.  it stands up against the evil of the world, it condemns the evil, and tries to lead us to the good.


Now, if I lie to you the reader about what the Church teaches, or if I fail to understand what the Church teaches, is this the fault of the Church?  Or is it my own fault?

This is ultimately what we need to consider about whether "The Church" produces good fruits or bad.

  1. Who has the authority to teach for the Church? (As Catholics, we hold it is the Magisterium)
  2. Who is responsible for following the teaching of the Church? (Every one of us who claim to be in communion with the Church)
  3. Who is responsible for not following the teaching of the Church? (Every one of us who claim to be in communion with the Church without obeying the teaching of the Church)
  4. When is "the Church" (In contrast to the individual) responsible?  (Only if the individual does evil because he follows what the Church teaches, and not his misunderstanding of what the Church teaches)
  5. Is the Church responsible for a misunderstanding? (Only if it fails to teach properly)

Ultimately, to demonstrate "the Church" has bad fruits, it has to show that the actual teaching of the magisterium, properly understood, is the cause of these bad fruits, avoiding post hoc and straw man fallacies.  It requires a knowledge of what the Church has taught, in context, and a demonstration that this evil was intended by the teaching of "the Church," as opposed to overzealous or overlax individuals who distorted or misinterpreted it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Affirming a Disjunct, Denying the Conjunct and the Abortion Debate

While I thought this was kicked under the carpet when the 2008 elections ended, I have seen some bloggers and commentators make use of the following reasoning:
  1. We can either oppose abortion or we can reduce the need for abortion by helping women
  2. Pro-lifers are opposing abortion
  3. Therefore they are not helping women in need
Affirming a Disjunct
This is a variant of the false dilemma fallacy known as Affirming a disjunct:
  • Either p or q
  • p
  • Therefore not q
Why is this a logical fallacy?  Because premise #1 is false in declaring we can either do p or q, but not both, or in assuming that because one has done one choice, he or she has set him or herself against the alternative.
Anyone who has seen the crisis pregnancy centers staffed by pro-lifers knows this is a false accusation which seeks to label the opponents as being insensitive.
Denying the Conjunct
Radical anti-abortion supporters (which is different from being pro-life) sometimes use the counterpart to Affirming a Disjunct, known as Denying the Conjunct:
  1. You cannot both demonstrate in front of abortion clinics (p) and support abortion (q)
  2. You are not demonstrating in front of abortion clinics (not p)
  3. Therefore you support abortion (q).
This logical fallacy is also how Randall Terry calumniated Bishop Darcy over the Notre Dame incident.  It is a similar error, assuming that there is only one solution to be labeled Pro-Life.
What is getting lost with both forms of the false dilemma  is that the first group assumes that any focus on one approach must ignore the other, while the second group assumes only their way is right.
The Catholic Church of course rejects both errors. 
When it comes to the first case, Yes indeed we need to aid mothers to be in distress, but that does not mean we must neglect the ending of legalized abortion.  The call of the Christian is to do both.
The second error false because one can be opposed to abortion without taking part in all forms of opposition.  I disagree with Terry's version of how to act, but that does not mean I want abortion to remain legal.  Rather I believe his view is imprudent at best, and most probably counterproductive (his own version tends to alienate, not encourage women to seek other options)
What Is To Be Done
Quite simply, we must do both.  We need to work to end legalized abortion, and we need to assist women in need so they can choose other options.  If a person argued that all we need to do is to end Roe v. Wade (which is in fact not argued) then yes, this would be a limitation, and a weakening of what we are obligated to do to what is "easy."
However, this also applies to the person who says we need to only focus on the aiding the woman and need and leave abortion in place as legal.  It fails to act against a very real evil, and simply works on symptoms and not the disease itself.

Is Christianity Arrogant?

It's a phrase flung about by non-Christians, skeptics and atheists, that the claims of Christianity are "arrogant."

Arrogant is defined as "having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities," It can also be seen as claiming for oneself more than one has a right to.  If one states what is, it is not arrogance.

Now to conclude that Christianity is arrogant, one has to consider some things.  Christianity claims that God can be known, in part, through reason.  That which is not known through reason can be known by revelation.  It claims that what it teaches is through revelation as His will.

Is this arrogance?  Only if it is not true.  If what they claim is in fact true, it is no arrogance to claim it, but rather humility. 

The irony is, to claim that Christianity is arrogant, it presupposes that the one making the accusation of arrogance knows whether or not God exists, and that He did not say what Christians claim He taught.

So, the question is: On what basis can this accusation be made.

If they can't back up what they claim, isn't that… arrogance?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Does it Matter? Considerations on Internet Disputes

The Internet makes for interesting communications.  To reach a wide area, one doesn't need to sell a book to a publisher or an article to a magazine.  One doesn't need to buy airtime.  All one needs is a free blogging service, the time to write, and one can potentially (depending on fame/notoriety) reach a far reaching audience without cost.

Of course, the frontiers of the internet also have a sense of wide reaching consequences.  It is largely unrestricted.  With the exception of images of something illegal (for example, child pornography), one can easily post whatever they feel like.

When it comes to opinion blogs or sites dedicated to a topic, one could easily type what they wish and post it, claiming it is true.  Another site links to the first, and before long it is possible that a false claim can take on a life of its own.  Sites like Snopes have been established to debunk some of the famous internet rumors, but of course the rumors can go far afield, and far beyond the ability of such groups to handle all the misinformation out there.

This can lead to the frustrated attitude of "Does it really matter?" when one comes across false statements bandied about as if it were true.  (Consider, for example, the infamous "Madeline Murray O'Hair wants to ban religious programming" rumor which still goes around even though she is dead.)

The answer is: It depends.

What Doesn't Matter

I think things that don't matter so much are things from obscure sites which have little to no following.  For example, I once encountered a site which claimed that Pope Pius XII favored the dropping of the bomb on Japan so as to eliminate paganism and making it easier to convert the nation.  Something like this is ridiculous, and flies against the known facts (such as, Nagasaki having a large concentration of Christians in it).  But it isn't worth responding to because, as far as I know, nobody believes it… or at least nobody who has any sense of credibility.  It isn't widely repeated, and is best left to languish in anonymity.

There will always be "crackpot theories" out there, which anyone can make up but have no real affect outside of the author of their theories.

What Does Matter

What does matter is when one of these false statements takes on a life of its own, and becomes widely quoted across the internet.  People assume it is true without questioning it.  There is a good deal of this going around.  For example, there are numerous allegations made by anti-Catholic sites giving quotes allegedly made by different individuals with influence in the Church which are used to "prove" a claim made by an individual about the evil of the Church. 

For example, numerous claims of the Catholic Church insidiously seeking to promote pagan practices under the guise of Christianity are made for the purpose of attacking the Catholic Church and seeking to "scare" people out if it.  The claim that the Spanish Inquisition killed 65 million people is another similar widespread claim which has no basis (World War II "only" killed 20 million people).

For a second example: I have seen, on atheist sites, pictures which purport to show that the Church was hand-in-glove with the Nazis during WWII.  The pictures are authentic.  The explanations are not.  (The author of the captions for example did not know that the "Reich Church" did not include Catholics, but was Hitler's crude attempt to control all Protestants under one Church.  It was opposed by the Catholic Church and the Protestants in what was known as the "Confessing church.")

As a third example, I have seen on a sede vacantist (those who hold the Catholic Church has not had a valid pope since Pius XII) site pictures of Pope John Paul II surrounded by people in native garb (Polynesian or American Indian for example), with claims that he was taking part in pagan worship or allowing pagan practices in a Catholic Mass.  Again, the pictures are real but the captions are false.  These individuals were Catholics who were performing welcoming ceremonies for the Pope and were not pagan actions at all.

The reason this sort of thing does matter is that the claims have enough widespread repetition that people believe it to be true, and one has to spend the time and effort to point out that what is being reported is either a distortion of the truth or an outright contradiction to what the Church believes or in contradiction to actual events.

Why It Matters to Respond

When one comes across a distortion or a false claim which has wide distribution, we need to remember that the reason it gets repeated is because:

  1. People believe it to be true
  2. What was actually held or done by the Church is not known by these individuals

If people believe something false, they unwittingly take part in a slander when they repeat it.  Now of course it is not possible to eliminate such falsehoods (though I think it would be wonderful to have a Christian version of Snopes), we can at least snip one branch of the spread by challenging it where we encounter it.  We may not convince the person spreading such a falsehood.  But not all the readers are determined haters of a group, and those who see a claim and do not know it is false are at a crossroads.

  1. If nobody debunks the claim, these individuals may go on assuming the claim is true.
  2. If somebody debunks the claim, these individuals become "inoculated" to the claim and may take other claims of a false nature with a grain of salt.

The Truth is What Matters, but what is the truth?

Now it is true that in an institution as old as the Catholic Church, there will be knaves within the Church who have done evil things in the name of the Church, and of course there will be times when someone posts something which is true, though out of context.

We don't want to assume everything done or said is automatically false if it is negative to the Church.  Yes Torquemada did do some pretty bad things in the Spanish Inquisition.  In the United States, Catholics in the South did attempt to explain away the Pope's teaching on slavery in a way which justified them.  It would be foolish to try to cast those bad things as if they were justified.

However, the context is often distorted.  For example, while Torquemada was reprimanded by Rome and  the Spanish Inquisition was run by the state, not the Church; and Southern Catholics did attempt to recast the papal documents condemning slavery as if they were condemning only the slave trade, these things are often not widely known.

Certainly there are old documents, which are written in terms of specific situations, which sound bad when looked at from the perspective of the 21st century Western civilization.  However they sound bad because these documents are portrayed as universal and for all time, when in fact they are being cited out of context.

For example, in the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam, the Pope did in fact say "it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."  However, those Feeneyites who claim this means all people not explicitly in the Church are going to hell quote this out of context.  (Those who do not know this through no fault of their own will not be punished for what would be impossible for them to know).

Pope Boniface VIII actually wrote this in response to Philip the Fair of France who demanded that the clergy of France put loyalty to the King over loyalty to the Pope.  In other words, King Philip was usurping spiritual authority he had no right to demand, and the Pope was setting straight this erroneous view.

The Need to Understand History and Doctrine

One needs to understand history and doctrine to assess the context of a statement which sounds bad and is authentic.  One also needs to understand these things to recognize a false statement attributed to the Church.

Unfortunately, many people do not know of these things.  A non-Catholic would probably not know much about what the Church in fact teaches, just as I would have to do some substantial research before I could accurately discuss the disputes between pre- mid- and post-tribulationism.  So when they encounter such a statement made on the internet, they might have no reason to doubt it, and because of this, not bother checking it.

The Duties of Those Who Know

Those who have knowledge on a subject certainly need to stand up against falsehood on the subject.  Just as the scientist needs to stand up to someone going about posting a misrepresentation of what science has discovered, the Christian who knows the truth needs to stand up against someone posting false or out of context statements on the Church.

The Duties of Those Who Do Not Know

Decency and charity require us to investigate whether or not a bizarre claim is true before repeating it. 

For example (and this really happened), I have no high esteem for Martin Luther.  I think he erred in his actions.  However, once I came across a claim on an internet forum that the story of Martin Luther flinging an inkpot at the devil was in fact a bowdlerized version of a story and he in fact flung his own excrement.  Such a story, if true, would make one doubt Luther's sanity.

The key clause of course is: "IF TRUE."

Looking up this claim however, I could find no credible source that this in fact occurred.  It was only repeated on small sites, none of which had any credible citations.  I suppose it isn't impossible, but there is no credible basis for claiming it is true.  Such a claim seems probable to only come from someone who had a desire to discredit Luther.  Because of this, it seems to me to be indecent and uncharitable to repeat it as if it were true. 

Another example is the quote alleged to de Tocqueville which stated "America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."  It is widely repeated, and does indeed sound inspiring.  However, the problem is, it does not exist in his work Democracy in America to which it is attributed.  It is an old adage to be sure, and I think there is truth in it.  However, de Tocqueville did not write it, and it ought not to be attributed to him.

Before Passing on A Quote We See on the Internet

The questions which need to be asked are:

    1. Did it in fact even happen?  Was it in fact said?
    2. Can we establish this was said/done from a reliable source?
    3. Can we establish a quote as existing from a specific document which is a primary source? (That is, not somebody quoting a thing, but the actual document where the individual wrote it, or a transcript of an address where the individual said it)
    4. Are we sure that what was said/done was not taken out of context in this quote or picture?
    5. Are we sure that when we are looking at a statement or action, we are understanding the context of the times people were living in?

Before judging someone on a quote or picture on the internet, we need to ask these questions.  As soon as we answer one of these questions with a "NO," it is no longer truthful and ethical to print such a claim.  If our answer is "I don't know," we are obligated to do more research until we can answer yes or no.

To use a secular example (for those readers who might be turned off by religious discussion), there is the "birther" controversy over Obama.  The claim is he was born outside of this country and as such does not qualify to be president.

The question is whether or not this is true.  From what I understand from my own research, what Hawaii released was the document it releases for all birth verifications (not just Obama's), and that several quotes allegedly made to show he was not born here cannot be verified in transcripts from reliable sources.

Because of this, I don't consider it ethical for me to repeat "birther" claims as if they were true.  I strongly disapprove of certain actions of his on moral and ethical grounds to be sure, but I don't think this disapproval justifies my repeating as true things which cannot be proven as true.


All of us have ideas of what is right and what is wrong.  Quotes abound out there which seem to be ideal to prove our point.  However, the question which always needs to be asked is whether it is true.  Unless we can be certain it is true (citing a reliable source, with reference that others can verify) it becomes mere gossip at best, or possibly even libel unless stated as being your opinion it is true… which brings us back to the question: On what basis do you believe it to be true?

Edit to the Post:

Well I feel foolish, but when I was doing the final editing of this post, I did not notice that some of the list on "Before Passing on A Quote We See on the Internet" section was phrased wrong, and in those cases, a "yes" answer would mean we should rethink, as opposed to a "no" answer.

I have edited the post to make it consistent with my original intent, and my apologies for the error.

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.

When Intolerance is Driven to Lie

On another blog site, one individual, rather outspoken in his intolerance of religion, posted this quote in a comment (that is, he was not the author of the article, but merely responding to it) which he alleged Pope Leo XIII said [quoted verbatim from the individual's reply]:

"The death sentence is a necessary and efficacious means for the Church to attain its end when rebels act against it and disturbers of the ecclesiastical unity, especially obstinate heretics and heresiarchs, cannot be restrained by any other penalty from continuing to derange the ecclesiastical order and impelling others to all sorts of crime ... When the perversity of one or several is calculated to bring about the ruin of many of its children it is bound effectively to remove it, in such wise that if there be no other remedy for saving its people it can and must put these wicked men to death."

- Pope Leo XIII (whose papacy ended in 1903)

The intent of such a quote is to portray Catholicism (or in the case of the Atheist, religion in general) as a dangerous, violent, totalitarian entity which seeks to quash freedom.

Of course, to assess what Pope Leo XIII meant, we would have to look at the quote in context, which would mean reading the document from which it came.

See the problem here?  There is no document name, no date.  No way to establish that he ever said it or not.  All Vatican documents are identified by Latin title in a formal document, or by date and location for a less formal document.

So Who said it?

Doing a Google search, we can find six sources (all of them secondary), which cite this:

  1. A book which seems to be written with nobody of expertise [Harry Kawalarang] (uncited)
  2. (which attributes it to Lloyd M Graham's Deceptions and Myths of the Bible)
  3. A comment on PZ Myers blog (which cites the same)
  4. An article by Michael Carmichael who cites it in a bashing of Pope Benedict XVI (no source given)
  5. A textfile of The Popes and their Church written by Joseph McCabe [an anti-Catholic ex-priest who left the priesthood in 1896, and claimed to be a part of a Vatican conspiracy] who claims to translate it from a work  called "Public Church law" (or Institutiones Juris Ecclesiastici Publici) which he claims predated the 1917 Code of Canon Law (which he misidentifies as the 1918 code).
  6. A fundamentalist article about a "World Church" persecuting "real" Christians.  (it claims "canon law" as its source)

The ultimate source of the quote is Joseph McCabe, notorious for flagrant errors.  Notice though how it is cited on the internet: Some say canon law, some say Leo XIII and some can't even identify it at all.  Yet they all cite it as fact.

The truth is, it is a fraudulent quote, without basis.  There was canon law which predated the 1917 code, yes (McCabe gets the name wrong however.  It was Institutiones iuris publici ecclesiastici.  This may seem like nitpicking but it shows McCabe's ignorance of the actual work which existed during the time he was a priest)  The reform began in 1904 because there were so many conflicting things within it from additions over centuries.

Notice how the citation for this quote has been distorted, and lacks consistency.  From McCabe's claim it came from the pre-1917 code of canon Law, to the claim that it was made by Leo XIII "whose papacy ended in 1903" (they stress this in order to make it seem this is a modern view of the Church) we have an unsubstantiated claim which nobody can produce a Church document which even says what is claimed.

On the willingness to quote false sources

I doubt this individual maliciously posted something he knew was a lie.  Rather, I suspect he accepted the quote at face value on account of his hostility towards religion.  But what does this sort of tactic indicate?  People who believe any bit of scandal against a group they dislike without verifying it are really nothing more than gossips who do act out of malice.  If an accusation is made about a person and this accusation is making a quote, it requires a source which another person can independently verify the evidence.  Otherwise it is nothing but hearsay.

Still in the case of this quote, and others like it, someone was driven to lie when the statement was originally made, and this says volumes about intolerance.  I have over the years encountered several people who were willing to lie about what the Church has taught, and many others who were willing to cite these lies without checking facts.

The claim is made "The Church said THIS" but when confronted with a demand for proof, suddenly the source is "no longer available" or "was privately translated" or claims are made that "later editions removed the quote."

In other words, the only credibility for such a claim is based on the person who claims it was said.

Except if they can't give a primary source to show where it came from, there is no credibility to be given this person.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reflections on the Nature of Government

10 Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:10-11).

It has been a turbulent few weeks politically and morally in terms of what our government is trying to do, and facing religious opposition to it.  The contentious aftermath about the House Health Care bill including the Stupak Amendment has pro-abortion supporters in the government wondering what to do to counteract this.

This isn't an article about health care or abortion or the Obama administration per se.  Rather, it is about the nature of government itself.  What is its purpose?  When is it a good government or a bad government.

Part I: Reflections on Aristotle's Politics.

Aristotle, in his Politics, described the difference between a good and a bad government as:

The conclusion is evident: that governments which have a regard to the common interest are constituted in accordance with strict principles of justice, and are therefore true forms; but those which regard only the interest of the rulers are all defective and perverted forms, for they are despotic, whereas a state is a community of freemen. (Book 3 Part 6)

We have here two key elements: first, that a government needs to have a regard to the common interest, and second that it has to act in accord to strict principles of justice.  A government which acts according to the interest of the rulers is a despotic government.

This need not be a willful attempt to unjustly keep certain people suppressed.  Aristotle also noticed that the human nature of self deception also has its role to play:

…all men cling to justice of some kind, but their conceptions are imperfect and they do not express the whole idea. For example, justice is thought by them to be, and is, equality, not. however, for however, for but only for equals. And inequality is thought to be, and is, justice; neither is this for all, but only for unequals. When the persons are omitted, then men judge erroneously. The reason is that they are passing judgment on themselves, and most people are bad judges in their own case. And whereas justice implies a relation to persons as well as to things, and a just distribution, as I have already said in the Ethics, implies the same ratio between the persons and between the things, they agree about the equality of the things, but dispute about the equality of the persons, chiefly for the reason which I have just given- because they are bad judges in their own affairs; and secondly, because both the parties to the argument are speaking of a limited and partial justice, but imagine themselves to be speaking of absolute justice. (Book 3 Part 9)

The disgust many Americans felt over the actions of the Supreme Court in the 1960s and 1970s seems to spring from this kind of thinking.  For example, the focus on the rights of the criminal alone without reflection on how these rights impacted the rights of the society as a whole.

Likewise, restrictions on individuals because of laws like segregation or apartheid can be opposed because they give justice to some, but not others.

I think this comes into play in America today in regards to how certain partisan ideals are portrayed as "rights" and those who oppose the partisan ideals represented as "rights" are demonized.

For example, we have in America a debate on Health Care and whether it should be universal.  The idea behind it is the belief it is not right that the poor should suffer due to the lack of ability to pay for coverage, since the costs of being able to save a life often could mean the financial ruin of someone who could not afford health insurance.  As far as this goes, it is legitimate to discuss what role the government should play in making sure that all are able to receive necessary care.

What becomes unjust however is when one seeks to force through a benefit for a special group, which benefits that group only.  Hence the debate over including abortion in Health Care. 

Abortion is generally acknowledged to end the existence of an unborn person, and the dispute is over whether the mother should have the right to decide on a whim whether or not to end the existence of this unborn person.  A certain segment of the population insists on the availability of this convenience for the mother.  Another segment argues that this is immoral and objects to people who object being forced to support it against their will.

With this being considered, the demand to include access to abortion as a part of "health care reform" is in fact promoting inequality, where all are obligated to support something which benefits only a certain segment of society (those who insist on engaging in sexual activity without considering the consequences and insisting on the right not to be responsible for the consequences).

A similar case could be made for the push for "gay marriage."  Marriage has long been recognized as an institution which is the building block of society.  It recognizes that sexual activity between males and females result in offspring, and recognizes that a bond exists between husband and wife, between parent and child.  Laws which protect marriage recognize that these bonds are inviolate, and actions which harm the marriage bond will ultimately bring harm to society ("the common interest" referred to above).

The push for "gay marriage" seeks to set this aside, allowing the rights of marriage to those who cannot produce offspring by the nature of their being.  This is not the same thing as a heterosexual couple who is infertile marrying.  While the infertile heterosexual couple could have children except for the accident of their own health issues, homosexuality simply cannot produce offspring by its very nature: Two lesbians cannot have a child.  The child is the offspring of one of the partners and another man.  Two homosexual males cannot have a child.  The child is the offspring of one of the partners and another woman.  (This is one reason why one can validly say that "gay marriage" attacks society.  Homosexual couples seeking to reproduce must necessarily violate the marriage bond to do so)

Seeking the legal benefits which comes with marriage without the framework the legal benefits are intended to support is to merely privilege a certain segment of society. This is based on the idea that since all persons are equal, all persons should have access to the same rights regardless of whether it is fitting they should have them.

Aristotle observed:

…political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of mere companionship. Hence they who contribute most to such a society have a greater share in it than those who have the same or a greater freedom or nobility of birth but are inferior to them in political virtue; or than those who exceed them in wealth but are surpassed by them in virtue. (Book 3 Part 9)

From this, it seems to follow that the rights of marriage under the law of a society must be based on the contribution of the family to society, and not on the basis of sexual intercourse between two individuals.

Unfortunately, in America we have a sense that every person must have a right to do anything they want.  Therefore we see nonsense like insisting males have the right to join the "Girl Scouts" to avoid injustice, ignoring the fact that things like gender are real things.  (It is wrong to treat a person as less of a person on account of their gender, but it does not follow from this that we must treat a person as if gender does not exist).

From this, we can consider more clearly what Aristotle had to say about the nature of good and evil in relation to government.

Aristotle pointed out:

The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one or of the few, or of the many, are perversions. (Book 3 part 7)

Those who would promote a view of government which insists on protecting private interests as a civil right are indeed perversions.

Part II: Reflections on Christian Obligation In Regards to the State

It is true that one cannot apply to the state the idea that one who is a Christian has freedoms that another individual does not.  This would make Christianity merely a "private interest," in the sense similar to legal persecutions by radical Hindus in India or the state mandated support of Islam in the Middle East.  Christians need to remember that when Christian teaching and Christian ethics form the basis of society, it must be that the ethics and teaching apply equally to all.  (It is because of this view that the Church takes a stand against secularism in government and society.  When the government is ruled in a way that benefits the irreligious over the religious, it is acting in the favor of a private interest).

However, the Christian view is that God is the center of reality, of truth and of life regardless of whether one believes in Him or not.  Their view of good derives from this.  Likewise, the one who professes a secular view, that God has no role to play in society, has to establish what is good from a secular view. 

I believe Thomas Aquinas had some good insights into what is necessary in law to be considered good:

…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 Q92 A1)

For the Christian, the Divine Justice is the yardstick for the good the lawgiver must follow.  If it does not, then while it may be beneficial to some, it is not good.

St Augustine speaks of the idea of the kingdom without justice in his City of God:

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor." (Book IV: Chapter 4)

If the state has impunity to place injustice as law, then the state is arbitrary like a band of robbers, and cannot be said to be just.  Since the Christian is obliged to oppose injustice, they must speak up when the state is unjust.  If the state insists that the Christian cannot speak up on the grounds of "separation of Church and State," this is unjust because it deprives the Christian the right to speak when those who speak from other convictions are not similarly deprived.

It is because of this that reports of complaints against Bishops taking a stand in accord with their beliefs becomes ominous.

Part III: Christianity and Other Views within a State

Whether or not the atheist or the non-Christian religious believer likes it, America is largely made up of people who believe in the Christian notion of God, and any discussion of a good government must take this into account, because these standards are assumed.  If one wishes to reject these standards, something must be shown to be acceptable to replace them.

The Christian, with a properly formed faith, who acts in accord with their beliefs is in fact doing what the citizen of a state is supposed to be doing: acting for the common good based on what they believe is right.  Agree or disagree, the Christian with the properly formed faith does indeed have a world view on what justice is and what it requires.

The view of one who holds Christianity is wrong, and insists on forming society in a way which runs counter to the Christian view however. is not doing this unless they demonstrate why their actions do appeal to absolute justice and the common good and not to a private benefit.  Those who would object to "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance or "In God We Trust" on our money is not objecting in terms of supreme justice, but under the private benefit of not wanting to see religious activity in public.

So if one proposes the state is to be governed by something other than the Christian view of Good, we need to be able to look at what this "other" holds, and why it should supplant the view the Christians hold on the nature of good and evil.  If such a case cannot be made, but proponents make this change anyway, then this is an arbitrary action by a group acting with impunity, not with justice.

Part IV: The Problem of Partisanship

The problem we have with the state in America today is that rather than a government acting for the public good with a clear understanding of what is good, we have a government of factions, each seeking to promote its agenda, and calling it good for the whole.  Both Liberals and Conservatives focus on material wealth, and differ on whether it is good to let the "free market" decide or the "state" decide.

Under this view, a majority in both houses and a president who shares these partisan leanings are enough to do what one wants with impunity — until the power structure shifts and those who were out of power enter power and those who once ruled are cast out.  Then that which was a majority view becomes a minority view and the formerly minority view becomes a majority view.

In this case the government veers "right" to "left" and then "left" to "right."  Those who support the government call it "good" while those who do not call it "bad" (or "a step backwards").  None of this considers what is the true good however, and I believe if Aristotle were alive today, he would have to call our governing of state a perversion.  Private interests run key.  The citizens become marginalized and our government becomes a government of few governed by self interest, with growing dissatisfaction from the faction falling out of power with each pendulum swing.

Part V: What Then Should We Do?

Ultimately if America is to be a land of justice, we need to step back and understand what it means to be an American citizen.  We need to recognize what is the source of ultimate good and justice and we need to make sure our laws follow this vision as accurately as possible.  Democrats and Republicans will no doubt differ on ways and means on how to carry it out, and not all of these views will be compatible with the ultimate good, due to the person's ability for self-deception.

However, if we are to be a land of justice, we need to understand what the yardstick is to be, and ensure that those who we bring to office are people who live up to this justice and not to partisan concerns which are made first.

Those things which run afoul of the ultimate good must be opposed.  The idea of vox populi vox dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God) is of course nonsense.  Indeed, the person who is crediting as having coined the statement (Alcuin) actually said the opposite:

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit. (And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.)

The appetites of the individual lead people to do many things which are problematic, contradictory and focused on self-gratification.  The state exists to serve the good of the people, but the good is not the self gratification.

Therefore, we need to oppose those actions which deal with self-gratification or the reducing the consequences of self-gratification, and ask ourselves what is the greatest good?

Conclusion: The Christian Way

As Christians, we have an answer to this which guides our behavior, and is shown in two passages from Matthew:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Mattt 22:36-40).


16 And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Matt 19:16-22)

We have conditions in two areas as to what is good.  To follow God, and to treat our fellow man as ourselves.  A state which goes astray on either area fails to do what is good and just.

The Bishops and the laity who speak out against the evil of the government are not being partisan.  They are not imposing their own views.  They are in fact teaching us what we are required to do in the Light of the ultimate good.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Illogic from an Internet Quote

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

—Quote commonly repeated on the Internet

This is what passes for a reasoned argument on the internet.  The problem of course, not only is it not a reasonable argument, it fails to grasp the basic point of contention.

Problem #1: "I just believe in one fewer god than you do"

First of all, the argument of "believing in one fewer god" sounds cute but there is a problem with it.  The difference between believing in two gods and believing in one god is not just the difference of one god.  It is the difference between polytheism and monotheism, which is a pretty substantial difference, as it is the difference between a belief in a group of imperfect higher beings, each with sovereignty over a specific area, and a perfect higher being.

The difference between believing in one god and believing in zero gods is an infinite difference, as is atheism and theism.  Believing there is a God holds a dramatically different view from a view that there is no God, as it reflects on one's outlook on the meaning of existence and our obligations towards our fellow men.

So the statement shows either a great ignorance or a great contempt for the issue in question, and demonstrates a failure to understand the dispute between theism and atheism.

Problem #2: "When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours"

Such a statement, again, sounds cute but it also betrays an ignorance of why we monotheists actually disagree with polytheism.  A look at fourth and fifth century authors like Arnobius of Sicca (I am referring to the actual author, not this blogsite) and his Ad nationes; or St. Augustine and the first ten books of City of God shows a challenge to a polytheistic view, stating that such beings were by nature finite beings and had no such a power to compel worship, and demonstrated logically that such a view of deities was irrational and so on.

Even outside of Judaeo-Christian views, Greek philosophers recognized the flaws of the system of polytheism.

The author of the quoted statement, and those who cite it or copy it into their sig files, demonstrate that they have no idea why polytheism is rejected by a monotheist, assuming that the monotheist simply uses their arguments against other religions.

The problem is, these arguments against polytheism cannot be applied to monotheism because polytheism and monotheism hold incompatible views.  Disproving polytheism does not disprove monotheism.

This brings us to a second issue with this second statement.  No matter how many false religions one debunks, one has not proven all religions are false.  It is like saying "All swans are black."  No matter how many black swans one sees, it does not prove the case.  Yet the sighting of one white swan disproves it.  So the disproving of the Greek pantheon, the Hindu pantheon or whatever does not say "there is no God."  It can merely say "this system is not reasonable and can be dismissed."

Unfortunately, in this age of "bumper sticker philosophy," people do throw that quote around thinking it proves something, when examined, it is quite empty of meaning. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why Indeed?

One of the trends I have noticed among the more traditionalist minded Catholics is a sense of malaise about the Church they are in.  They look at the problems of the Church today, they look to the decline of vocations, they look to the scandals… and they complain about how "The Church" does nothing whatsoever about it.

They ask why nobody is doing anything about it.

I was struck with how odd this looks when we look at the saints of the Church in times when we had these exact problems of another century.

In my Lives of the Saints book, I was reading of St. Godfrey, Bishop of Amiens, who lived in the eleventh century AD.  When he entered the religious life, there was a strong decline of vocations, there was moral laxity among the faithful and among the religious.  Some religious and clergy were failing to live up to their vows.

So what did he do?  He went to work restoring the Church in the area he lived in, restoring discipline, making his own life an example of the holiness he preached.

Today, many look at the problems of the Church and they ask "Why does not God send saints to bring about reform?"

To which I think the counter question could be asked:

Why are we not seeking to be saints, serving Christ's Church from our love of God?

Why indeed?

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reflections on Limited Salvation

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3)

I've encountered among certain groups of Christians a sense of fatalism.  The idea is that God has already decided who will be saved and who will be damned before they even came into being.  This is not a view of God's omniscience, where He knows who will and who will not accept His mercy.  Rather, this view holds some people were created with the intention that they be saved and some people were created for the intention of being damned.

Under such a view, there is nothing we can do.  If we are predestined to be saved, it does not matter what we do.  If we are predestined to be damned, all our longing for God is of no avail.

It really makes me shake my head in sadness.  When did these Christians make a loving and merciful God, calling for His people to return to Him into an arbitrary tyrant?

I believe this view is not due to defending the justice of God, but defending a flawed view of God which must call injustice "just."

Free Will and God

One of the things which seem to be the cause of such a view is a fear that if man has free will to decline God's grace it means God is not all powerful.  Since we as Christians do believe that God is all powerful and His will cannot be thwarted, these people have to create a view which denies free will can refuse God's call.

The problem I have with such a view is that God made man with free will to accept Him or to reject Him, and even though God desires our good, some will not accept it.  He permits us to go our own way, as the Father permitted the Prodigal Son, yet welcomes back the repentant (Luke 15:11-32).

The Fear of Language Implying a Weakness of God

Unfortunately, some Christians fear any sort of language that seems to imply God is bound so He cannot do something.  For example, the idea that God cannot do evil seems to imply that God is not free.  After all, if we can do evil but God cannot, does this not mean we are more free than God?  So to get around it, they say "Well, God can lie, but He won't lie."  Unfortunately, this is nonsense, even if it is widely held.

Why do I call this nonsense?

Because it shows a failure to understand what evil is.  Too many people tend to have a Manichean view of Good and Evil.  Good is a real thing.  But to too many, so is evil.  So from this kind of view, people hold that God is all powerful, therefore He would have the power to do evil, otherwise a being which could do evil would be more powerful than God.

The problem is, evil is not a presence of a thing, but an absence of good.  A deficiency.  So the evil of Hitler would be understood as a lack of those things we are called to do in the service of God: A lack of mercy, justice and compassion.

When we remember this, to say "God could do evil but chooses not to" is to actually say that God is not perfect, but flawed, and merely covers these flaws with self control.

Such a view of God is of course blasphemous.  Yet those who fear that language which they think makes God seem limited, do indeed make these views associated with God.

Must We Have No Freedom if God Is To Be Entirely Free?

One problem people have is if a person is free to accept or reject God's grace, it seems to make God's ability to save less.  Double predestination and "Faith Alone"

The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia describes the problem with the view this way towards both the so-called elect and the so-called reprobate:

…the absolute will of God as the sole cause of the salvation or damnation of the individual, without regard to his merits or demerits; as to the elect, it denies the freedom of the will under the influence of efficacious grace while it puts the reprobate under the necessity of committing sin in consequence of the absence of grace. The system in its general outlines may thus be described: the question why some are saved while others are damned can only be answered by assuming an eternal, absolute, and unchangeable decree of God. The salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate are simply the effect of an unconditional Divine decree.

But if those who are predestined for eternal life are to attain this end with metaphysical necessity, and it is only such a necessity that can guarantee the actual accomplishment of the Divine will, God must give them during their lifetime efficacious graces of such a nature that the possibility of free resistance is systematically excluded, while, on the other hand, the will, under the influence of grace, is borne along without reluctance to do what is right and is forced to persevere in a course of righteousness to the hour of death. But from all eternity God has also made a decree not less absolute whereby he has positively predestined  the non-elect to eternal torments.

God can accomplish this design only by denying to the reprobate irresistibly efficacious graces and impelling their will to sin continually, thereby leading them slowly but surely to eternal damnation. As it is owing to the will of God alone  that heaven is to be filled with saints, without any regard to their merits, so also it is owing to that same will of God that hell is to be filled with the reprobate, without any regard to their foreseen sins and demerits and with such only as God has eternally, positively, and absolutely destined for this sad lot.

In other words, this interpretation of God makes Him arbitrary.  He gives His life for some, but for others, He is the spiritual equivalent of the person who will not even bother to lift His hand to save a drowning man.

The question is, how is this just?

The Double Predestination Argument

The argument for Double Predestination has been explained by RC Sproul as:

Another significant difference between the activity of God with respect to the elect and the reprobate concerns God's justice. The decree and fulfillment of election provide mercy for the elect while the efficacy of reprobation provides justice for the reprobate. God shows mercy sovereignly and unconditionally to some, and gives justice to those passed over in election. That is to say, God grants the mercy of election to some and justice to others. No one is the victim of injustice. To fail to receive mercy is not to be treated unjustly. God is under no obligation to grant mercy to all — in fact He is under no obligation to grant mercy to any. He says, "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy" (Rom. 9). The divine prerogative to grant mercy voluntarily cannot be faulted. If God is required by some cosmic law apart from Himself to be merciful to all men, then we would have to conclude that justice demands mercy. If that is so, then mercy is no longer voluntary, but required. If mercy is required, it is no longer mercy, but justice. What God does not do is sin by visiting injustice upon the reprobate. Only by considering election and reprobation as being asymmetrical in terms of a positive-negative schema can God be exonerated from injustice.

There is a problem with this.  We need to consider God punishes the guilty for their own sins, but forgives the one who turns back to God.  Consider Ezekiel 18:

20 The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?

Now, if a man cannot turn from sin without grace from God AND God only gives that grace to a limited number, then how can the wicked man turn from sin and save his life?  If God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (verse 23), how can He stand aloof when men in need of salvation are dying in damnation.

Also consider this line from Sproul: "God grants the mercy of election to some and justice to others. No one is the victim of injustice."

However, if all of us are guilty and worthy of damnation, but God only chooses to punish some of us, this is an arbitrary and unjust act.  It smacks of favoritism, and The Bible tells us in Acts 10:

34 And Peter opened his mouth and said:Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

Sproul's comment in fact contradicts what the Bible tells us about God.

Is It Just That a Man Be Punished For Something He Cannot Control?

Consider this.  Suppose a law be passed that all men shall live in houses, and anyone living as a vagrant will be severely punished.  The problem is the vagrant cannot choose to live in a house without the means to acquire a house.  Punishing a man for not living in a house when he does not have the means to gain some sort of shelter in a house is in fact an unjust law.  The vagrant is doing no more than it is possible for him to do, and he is being punished for not doing the impossible

Likewise, if the only way a man can avoid committing sin is the Grace of God (which is true), and a man does not receive that grace (what the proponents of Double Predestination call the Reprobate), what justice is it for that man to be damned for sinning?  This man is doing no more than is possible for him (under the view of Double Predestination), and is being punished for what is impossible for him to do.

Romans 9 and Double Predestination

Romans 9 is often cited as a justification for the view that God picks some people to be saved and others to be damned.  For example:

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?

Such things are used to say that God made some people to be saved and others to be damned.  Yet, in context, we can see the issue Paul is addressing: Why is it some Jews are not accepting the Gospel while Gentiles are?  The Jews were the chosen ones of God after all.

Paul seems to address this at the end of Chapter 9:

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble,

a rock that will make them fall;

and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The faithful who is saved is indeed still making an act of faith, and the promised who fail are not acting, but are presuming that because of their observances of the Law their salvation is assured.

We are seeing in this, something that negates the theory of Double Predestination.  We are seeing a difference made between certain Gentiles who come to Christ because they believe, while certain Jews are not attaining righteousness because they approach it from an attitude that because they keep the law, they are owed salvation.

Of course Paul is right in saying that one who pursues salvation based on what he does is not owed salvation.

Are We Owed Salvation?

However, there is a difference between saying it is unjust to punish a man for something he cannot avoid and saying God owes us salvation, and this is an error many have made in misrepresenting the teaching of the Catholic Church, which has wrongly been accused of Pelagianism. 

What we are speaking of is the idea of what is just.  If one is finite in nature, it makes sense to say it is not unjust to save only some in keeping with limited resources.  However, if God is infinitely powerful, the question is justly asked "Why does God not only refuse to save some, but it is His positive will that those men be damned… even before they are born?"

Atheists have asked, with validity, where the justice is in bringing people into existence if they are only going to be damned.  A just answer can only be given if we understand that God provides the necessary grace for salvation, but some men refuse the gift.  When we look at Romans 9 from this perspective, the section of the potter and the vessels makes more sense and shows the justice of God.  He does indeed know who will accept His grace and who will refuse it, but those who will ultimately refuse it cannot claim it was unjust that they were created, because God sent His Son for all of us.

The Bible Tells Us We Are To Act

Consider John the Baptist, who is seeking to preach a message of repentance and a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  People are coming to him with a question:

10 And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3)

Indeed, in the same chapter, we see him rebuking the crowds for wanting salvation without a change of behavior:

7 He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

If we repent, we will show it in our actions.  Or to take the opposite tact, if our actions do not show contrite behavior, we are not sincere in our atonement.  Now if God actually wills for some of us to be damned, what good is a prophet who is sent to tell us to repent and to turn to God?  If they are predestined to be saved, such a message is unnecessary.  If they are predestined to be damned, such a message is futile.

Consider too Matthew's parables on those who enter the Heavenly Kingdom and those who are cast outside of it.  Consider Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This is not a message of predestination.  This is a message of telling people not to presume their salvation, reminding them that they need to act on what they profess and not to assume that their profession of faith is enough.  How we behave to our fellow man on earth reflects whether we are doing God's will.

Also consider Mathew 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. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Such a message is futile if one is already predestined to be saved and another damned.  If one is already saved, how can he be judged by the measure he gives to others?

The Fruits of Double Predestination

The fruits of this idea are negative for Christians.  It creates an attitude of judgment which is to be directed towards whoever disagrees with the Christian judging.  I know I have personally encountered some believers of this error who sought to write off my objections by saying my view "proved" I was one of the reprobate.

It also negates the need for the missions.  Christ told us to preach the Gospel to all nations, but really why bother when God has already decided who is saved and who is damned?

It negates the need for proper living.  Luther's infamous letter to Melanchthon gives us the hyperbole of even if one commits fornication a hundred times a day and murders a thousand times a day it cannot separate us from the grace of God has indeed led to the error of Once Saved, Always Saved which has been abused by those who think it does not matter when we do fall into sin.

(In contrast, the Catholic view would hold that God is indeed always ready to forgive no matter what sins we commit… but we are required to repent and turn back to Him if we would receive His forgiveness).

The view of Double Predestination is very similar to the view of "Fate" among the ancient pagans.  If a man was fated to do a thing, no matter how he struggled, his path was set, and even seeking to avoid this fate would lead to the final conclusion (Consider the story of Oedipus for example). 

Likewise, if one is predestined to be damned, life is nothing but despair.  If one is predestined to be saved, there is nothing we need concern ourselves with

I believe such a view is unworthy of Christians to consider, giving a blasphemous view of the justice, mercy and love of God.