Saturday, September 27, 2014

Two Senses of "Religion" and the Danger of Denying Them


There are two senses to the word "religion." The first sense comes from the belief that it is true. The second comes from the belief it is not true. The importance of being aware of both senses is important to avoid the loss of religious freedom.

The first sense of the word is the sense of the believer. A religion makes claims about the nature of reality that impacts everybody whether they believe it or not. For example, if God exists, then the atheist worldview (which denies the existence of any type of divinity) must be false. If Jesus Christ is God in the sense that Christianity believes Him to be, then logically the religions that claim He is not must be false. That's the law of non-contradiction at work. It lets us know that truth exists about the accuracy of religious claims—which means we can find out truth about religion if we choose to seek it. And once we find it, we live in accordance with it. That's a binding requirement of everyone, whether they believe in a religion or not.

The second sense is the sense of how one who does not accept a religion as true can approach it.  One can know about a  religion even if he or she does not accept it as true. In this sense we can know about religion as an organized understanding of how people believe the universe works and how they believe people should live in it. Whether or not you believe a particular religion to be true, one can understand what the beliefs are and not be jerks about not believing the claims. For example, if I invite Rabbi Cohen to dinner, I don't prepare a meal of ham. If I know it's Ramadan, I don't invite a Muslim coworker to meet over breakfast. I don't believe the Jewish dietary law and the Muslim fasting are binding on me, but it is respectful not to put the believer of a religion in a situation where he has to choose between his beliefs and his friends or business etc.

So in the first sense, Religion teaches us to conform to the reality it reveals. In the second sense, we are respectful of a religion we don't agree with because we recognize it has behaviors which members voluntarily take upon themselves because they feel obligated. Even when we believe their behavior is wrong (as opposed to a difference of opinion), we behave like civilized people in doing so.

The Failure to Respect Either Sense Leads to Persecution

Unfortunately, in modern society there is a growing tendency to reject both aspects of religion. Basically, there is no interest in seeking out the truth and no interest in respecting the conscience of believers. This has the result of doubly violating the freedom of religion.

In denying freedom of religion in the first sense, it is believed that there is no binding truth, therefore no person can claim that there is an obligation to behave rightly when doing so goes against the edicts of the state. There is a right way to act, because truth exists (for example, if the fetus is a person then it can never be right to kill the fetus by abortion). But if one denies the obligation to live according to truth, then moral obligation is seen as nothing more than personal preference. Opposing the legality of abortion is seen as no more reasonable than not eating pork. So the person who believes abortion is wrong is accused of "forcing your views on people." Even if a majority of Americans should happen to believe Christian morality is true, trying to pass laws that reflect that belief

In denying religious freedom in the second sense, our nation has de-evolved to the bigotry we claim to have moved beyond. Who gives a damn if the Catholic believes he can't support paying for contraception? Who gives a damn about a Muslim or Jew believing he cannot eat pork? If your religious beliefs interfere with my whims, then your religious beliefs must be opposed!

Logical Errors that Lead to Ignoring the Consideration of Truth

Whenever the appeal to religious freedom is made, one common response is to deny that the obligation to live according to what is true has any binding force, and deny that practitioners of religious practices can believe themselves bound to such a practice. These denials root themselves in a belief that "Well I don't believe in what you think, so why should laws exist that tell me I can't do what I want?"

Another response is an appeal to fear. The Sharia is mentioned (for example the behavior of ISIS/ISIL). Or perhaps the Satanists want a monument to counteract the Ten Commandments in front of a courthouse. The argument is, "You wouldn't want to give these things  authority over you. So don't try to put your own beliefs into law."

The problem is, both of these objections overlook the obligation of seeking the truth and living in accordance with it. Two hundred years ago in America, many people simply refused to consider the question of whether enslaving people was moral, even though 400 years before that, religious teaching had condemned it. In America, we know now that slavery is wrong—very few people think otherwise. But the fact is, if we go by the (lack of) logic that rejects a moral claim because of its religious origin (that's the Genetic Fallacy by the way), then we have to reject the opposition to slavery on the grounds that it is imposing a "religious view" on others.

Just because a person personally disagrees with a law because of they see a religious motivation, does not make that law merely a "religious law" that is unjustly imposed on others. The murderer, the rapist and the thief may think laws against murder, rape or stealing should not be imposed on them. Regardless of whether one believes that murder is wrong because of the Ten Commandments or for some other reason, it is reasonable for a law to exist that forbids and punishes murder . . . it doesn't matter whether you're a Christian, a Buddhist or an atheist. So when Christians believe abortion should not be legalized, the response is to ask whether their claim about the human person is true.

As for an appeal to fear like the imposition of the Sharia or the erection of a Satanic statue on the Steps of an Oklahoma Courthouse, what we have is the fallacy known as the Category Mistake. One thinks these are the same thing as the religious freedom and moral obligation Christianity calls for. But they are not the same thing.

The general objection to the Sharia is not the fact that it teaches that a thing is wrong, but the fact that it mandates punishments we consider unjust. There's a difference between saying "we must stone an adulteress to death" and saying "abortion kills a human person." Likewise, the reason we can reject the erecting of a Satanic statue is because the purpose of it is not the same as the erection of the Ten Commandments. The erection of the Ten Commandments in front of a courthouse basically makes the statement that there is objective good and evil. It does not show preferential treatment for Christianity. But the Satanic statue, on the other hand, is erected to be confrontational—basically it's the same bad behavior as the cretins from the Westboro Baptist Church who show up at the funerals of people who died from AIDS or while serving in the Persian Gulf. In both cases, the presence is intended to distress people whose behavior or beliefs they disagree with.

Understanding the Implications

When we recognize religion in the first sense, it makes sense that people who share a sense of right and wrong will want to see the government reflect that sense. Provided they do so in a civil way, in compliance with the law and do not use coercion on others, they have this right under the First Amendment (Freedom of Religion and the rights "of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.")

Recognizing religion in the second sense means that when members of a religious minority believes they are obligated to avoid doing certain things that they believe to be evil, the elites in power do not force them to do these things.

Recognizing and respecting these senses of religion are the difference between a truly free country and one that is not free. Unfortunately, today, America is falling into that second category. I don't say that as an exaggeration. We behave differently than the cases of totalitarian nations, yes. But it is a difference of degree, not of Free vs. Not Free when it comes to religion.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Seventh Anniversary: Thoughts on Church and State after Blogging for Seven Years

Thoughts on the State

As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it, "All men are created equal, except Negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, "All men are created equal except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some other country where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy. (Abraham Lincoln)

I posted this in my first blog entry seven years ago as a warning sign of what America would have to face in the future. I must admit that at the time I expected we would not see such things until America became a totalitarian state. As it turns out, I did not anticipate that we would so swiftly lose our freedoms without seeing the Constitution overthrown.

But, looking at the state of affairs seven years later, it was no mere hyperbole to say we were in danger of losing our freedoms . . . it was just a matter of looking in the wrong direction as to how freedoms would be attacked.

I learned that a nation does not have to be totalitarian to persecute religion. All it takes is:

  1. a group successfully portraying religion as the enemy of what appears good.
  2. the willingness of people to accept unjust means of suppressing unpopular views.

If the people of a nation will accept these things, we will continue to see a government pretend that our Constitution means something and still violate it.

Thoughts on the Church

While I have seen my country get worse over the past seven years, I have seen my Church get better. In 2007, I believed the rhetoric popular among some conservative Catholics that the US Bishops were a group of incompetents allowing heresy to run rampant. Now, I no longer believe this to be true. At first I thought the change came in 2008 when then Pope Benedict XVI visited America. After that visit, the bishops seemed to be stronger, more confident.

But just as I believe that we couldn't have had the problems after Vatican II without existing (and hidden) problems before Vatican II, I don't think Benedict XVI could have strengthened the bishops without there being bishops of good will to begin with.

Yes, there are bishops who did better or worse at their job. But I think part of the problem was that Catholics seeking to be faithful needed someone to blame for the fact that America was increasingly losing its moral values and that Catholics were among those perpetrating these changes.

I think we lost track of the fact that there have always been faithless Catholics and that even the greatest saints were not able to reach everyone of them. We assumed that the errors of the time would not have happened if the bishops had "done more." That's basically setting a goal that even the Apostles could not have met.

That's why I look back at the first year and a half of this blog with sorrow. The open disrespect for the successors of the Apostles is something I wish had never been there.

I think this is what I have ultimately learned during my years blogging . . . the Church is stronger than her detractors give her credit for because she is sustained by God. Whenever I have been confronted by news that looks bad for the Church, whenever I have been asked "How can you say the Church is not failing?" I find that when I take the time to look, things are never as bad as the detractors think.

The first year of Pope Francis is an example of that. Things were reported that sounded startling. But in every case, I found that those who were scandalized had never read things in context and were relying on selective quotes. After a few scares I learned that reading what he had to say, his teachings were solidly Catholic, dealing with holes in my learning that I never knew were there.

Nowadays, I think I would say that the Church doesn't have so much a leadership problem as it does a "followership" problem. In 1968, we had a general rejection of authority in the West--civil and religious. Between 1968 and 2008, we had 40 years of Popes and bishops struggling to defend the teaching of the Church from this widespread rebellion. It's only after 2008 that we began to see the fruits of this 40 year struggle emerging.

Some Catholics condemn St. John XXIII and Paul VI for the mess that appeared to in the 1960s. I think they're wrong. I believe it would have happened whether we had a Vatican II or not. Like I said, to have a blow up like we did indicates problems that had to be in place before Vatican II ever began.

Some Catholics blamed St. John Paul II for not behaving like how they imagine St. Pius X would have behaved. And, prior to the 2007motuproprioof Benedict XVI, I saw some Catholics even accusing him of being a modernist. They're bashing Pope Francis now, and I have no doubt they'll bash his successor.

It's a self destructive mindset . . . it deceives people into thinking that the problem with the Church is other people, never considering whether their own behavior is spiritually harmful or whether they're rashly judging another.

Perhaps that's why I tend to take a stronger stance against it. It's not that I think other errors are harmless. It's that I think this error is more likely to snare the Catholic trying to be faithful.


What it boils down to is that in the seven years since I began this blog, I have learned to trust that God loves His Church and protects her from leading the faithful astray.So even when I see those /facepalm moments where someone within the Church says or does something that shocks, I have learned to trust God to lead the Church under the headship of the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him.

That doesn't mean we'll have smooth sailing. God permits afflictions to come and strengthen us. We'll have the misbehaving laity, religious, priests and bishops on occasion. But the behavior of some does not mean the corruption of the whole.

We'll still have problems interacting with the secular world. We had problems before Obama was elected and we'll have problems after he leaves. But even so:

God is in control and watching over His Church.

Now it's time to face year number eight and beyond, remembering the lessons I have learned.


This blog probably would never have existed except for the suggestion of my friend Brian. He's the one who put me onto blogging in the first place. I was on disability for a work injury and getting a raw deal from the company involved. He was concerned I was sinking into depression and suggested this as something to keep me busy.

He's also asked me challenging questions over the years—questions which forced me to look deeper into the Catholic faith to answer things I had never given much thought to before.

Thanks, Brian.I can't believe we've known each other for ten years. It hardly seems that long. :)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remembering the Fear of the Lord

For they will not mend their ways; 
they have no fear of God. (Psalm 55:20)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
prudent are all who practice it.
His praise endures forever. (Psalm 111:10)

When I witness the anger against the Church and her insisting on teachings, over and over I hear the same thing: "God doesn't care about my doing X! The Church is being unfair!" It isn't surprising. In the West, there is a tendency to turn Jesus into a "nice guy" who doesn't care about what we do as long as we don't hurt anybody else while we do it. After all, they ask, didn't Jesus say to love one another and not to judge?

Basically, Western views of Christianity can be summed up as H. Richard Niebuhr put it:

"A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross."

In other words, the popular view of Jesus is Christianity stripped of everything which makes it meaningful. He's no different than any other pop guru out there.

But that is not what Jesus had to say to us. He warns us to be holy and to be ready:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matt 7:21-23)

“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17)

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

That's the very opposite of the "Santa Claus" type Jesus people tend to believe in. He is the Way to salvation, but His salvation is not given indifferently. It requires following Him wholeheartedly. It requires fear of The Lord. That scandalizes people . . . especially if they contrast the Old Testament God with the person of Jesus.

Now Fear of the Lord, in the context of the Psalms cited, is not a sort of servile response to a divine argumentum ad baculum from a God who can't wait for you to screw up so He can bash you. 

Fear comes from the word יִרְאַ֬ת  (yir'ah) meaning (in this context): Reverence, Piety, Knowledge (Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 432).

In other words, if we would be wise and follow God, it requires Reverence to Him (as opposed to presuming that He didn't really mean what He said), Piety (as opposed to thinking a lackluster approach is good enough) and knowledge of His teachings (as opposed to thinking that however I personally interpret what I think the words mean).

Basically, Fear of the Lord can be summed up in the old Catholic saying: Know, Love and Serve God. Know and accept as true what He teaches, follow His teachings out of Love for Him (as opposed to "It's a rule the Church made and I have to do it until they change their mind") and live your life in a way that emphasizes this.

We need to recognize that all too often our passions interfere with knowing, loving and serving God. Either we desire something that we are told is sinful (harmful) for us or we fear losing something if we follow Him. So we "shoot the messenger" and blame the Church . . . as if the Church would invent such strict rules to be odious.

Really, the whole concept of blaming the Church is irrational. If we accept that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be (the Church established by Christ that teaches with His authority), then what she teaches ought to be heeded because she has the authority to bind and loose. But if the Catholic Church is not what she claims to be, then any truth in her teaching is mere coincidence, and it makes no sense to want to remain in her to begin with. (I firmly believe anti-Catholics are wrong and grossly misled, but at least they are more logically consistent in their error than the Catholic dissenter who wants to "change" Church teaching).

Our Western Society has become very foolish. Our society rejects God's commands when people do not want to follow them. Our society will continue being foolish until we realize that we need to turn back to knowing, loving and serving God and not putting our own passions first.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

How I Expect the Reactions to the Synod to Pan Out

I don't fear that the upcoming synod on the family will teach error. In matters of faith and morals, God will not permit the Church to teach errors when it comes to salvation.

What I do suspect is that people who have been led to expect the impossible (the Church permitting remarriage after divorce) will feel "betrayed" when the Church does not change her teaching, 

Meanwhile, conservative Catholics will blame the Pope and the synod for causing the rejection of Church teaching.

At the same time, I suspect we'll see people on both sides twisting the words of the synod and whatever Post-Synod exhortation the Pope should happen to write to justify their own disobedience.

Why do i think this? Because it has happened before in 1968, when some Catholics were misled into thinking that the Church was going to reverse her position on contraception . . . when the Church had no intention of changing that teaching. There was a good deal of rebellion in response, and opponents of the Pope and Council blamed them for the rebellion.

Let's be clear. The synod is not about changing Church teaching. It's about reaching out to minister to Catholics who have managed to end up in opposition to Church teaching. Even though these Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist while persisting in grave sin, they are still part of the Church and need to be ministered to.

The smart, prudent thing to do is to remember that the Church is not going to change Church teaching to contradict herself. Misunderstandings are not going to be the fault of the Pope and Bishops.  But they're going to be blamed by both sides.

Now is the time to remember to pray for the synod and for those people whose choices have put them at odds with the Church.

Now is NOT the time to panic or bash the magisterium.

But that is what I suspect will happen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Either We Follow Jesus In Everything or We Do Not Follow Him

There is a question every person who professes to be a Christian must answer: Am I a follower of Jesus Christ or not?

Now the question may seem to have an obvious answer. But I wonder how many people who claim to follow Jesus actually consider what following Jesus means. Too many people want to reduce the teaching of Jesus to "be nice to each other." But they also seem to want to separate His "nice" words from His commands. They cite the former (God is Love [1 John 4:8], Judge Not [Matt 7:1]) out of context and ignore His warnings and commands.

But there's a problem here. If Jesus is to be obeyed when He says to love each other, He is also to be obeyed when he says:

  • If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matt 7:21-23)
  • Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
  • “If your brother* sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17)
  • And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

And that's the whole problem with the Catholic who thinks He can separate Jesus' words of love from His warnings of judgment. We can't say we follow Jesus if we refuse to live as He has commanded. That command also includes giving His authority to His Church and heeding her.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

More Thoughts on Catholics on the Internet


In the past couple of weeks, I've seen some of the bishops (sometimes even the Pope) attacked on the internet—some by blogs, some by commentators in Facebook or on the blogs themselves. It's not a matter of "I disagree with the bishop's tactics." It's more of a case of "Anyone who does not enforce Catholic teaching the way I think it ought to be enforced is a secret heretic modernist." That's a view that frustrates me because the bishops being attacked are not lax bishops turning a blind eye to real problems. The bishops being attacked are the ones leading the fight to defend the faith.

As I see it, there are certain problems with the assumptions of these people who are attacking the bishops. They seem to assume:

  1. That they have correctly understood what the bishop in question intended by his statement.
  2. That their view on what should be done is actually compatible with the Catholic teaching.
  3. That their preferred response is the only response a bishop can choose to use.

The problem is, if the person is wrong on #1, he or she is wrongly judging the words or actions of the bishop in question. If the person is wrong on #2, he or she cannot be considered a legitimate judge on what is authentically Catholic. If the person is wrong on #3, he or she is basically quibbling over ways and means when there is more than one possible solution to a problem. Let's look at each of these.

Does the Person Objecting Correctly Understand What Was Said/Done?

Personally I think this is the case where many Catholics run into trouble. With a Church where the members speak many different languages and come from many different situations, it is easy to apply a meaning which was never intended by the speaker based on one's personal experiences. Words can be ambiguous and there is no way that even the most precise individual can express himself without someone misunderstanding. And that's not considering the possibility that a mainstream media source hasn't misinterpreted the speaker or deliberately twisted words to support one's own position or demonize an opponent. Add in the possibility that a person is a less than precise in his speech and there is a large chance that, when the words spoken by a bishop or the Pope sounds funny, the cause is really a misunderstanding on the part of the reader or the listener.

Some might say, "Well he has the obligation to be clear." True. But we also have the obligation to understand what the speaker intended before judging him. Sometimes the bishop in question might think he's being clearer than he is. I've certainly been in situations where I've been misinterpreted because I thought I was clearly expressing myself, but was using a bit of jargon or ambiguity that could be interpreted with a meaning I did not intend.

Does the Person Objecting Accurately Understand What the Faith Requires?

Sometimes individual Catholics do misunderstand what the Church teaches. Some err by thinking the Church mandates or forbids something she does not. Others think that a teaching is merely optional and can be ignored. When this turns out to be the case, it is the individual Catholic that is in the wrong—not the bishop he or she feels offended by.

This isn't a fault exclusive to one side of the political spectrum. I've seen the fuzzy thinking Catholic who is upset when the bishop insists that people in his diocese follow Church teaching. I've also seen the vindictive Catholic who expects a harsh response—like excommunicating people where excommunication is not considered an appropriate penalty.

I think that political ideology can sometimes interfere. Some people judge the Church by their political preferences . . . if the Church goes against the political preference, it is considered in error. But the fact is, politics must be governed by the teaching of the Church. When the political party supports something incompatible with Catholic teaching, it is the political party which is in error.

Are There More Options than the Person Objecting Realizes?

Sometimes neither the offended Catholic nor the bishop is acting against Church teaching. Instead, they have different views on how to handle an issue—both of which might be options depending on the circumstances. In such a case, objecting to the bishop's tactics are more a case of quibbling over what way is better. To accuse the bishop of being "weak" in such a case lacks charity, and fails to recognize that the responsibility falls with the bishop to act as the successor of the Apostles. We might not sin in thinking another way might be more effective, but if our response to the bishop is disrespectful, that's basically a tantrum: "No! I don't wanna be merciful to those dissenters! I want them booted out you big dummy!"

(Speaking personally, when the early days of this blog were anti-USCCB, this was the error I fell into).

What Has to Be Asked

Basically, to avoid these three areas of needless conflict with the bishop, each Catholic has to ask him or herself the following:

  1. Do I properly understand what the speaker intends to say? Or is there a possibility that I have misinterpreted what was said?
  2. Do I fully understand the Catholic teaching on the subject? Or am I getting my information from a source which is in dispute with the Magisterium?
  3. Do I fully understand the range of acceptable responses that the bishop has? Is it possible that he is not abusing his authority by being more lenient than I would like?

Unless we can answer these questions, we cannot accurately judge the situation as being against the teaching of the Church.

OK, But What If I have Done All That and Still Think the Bishop is in the Wrong?

Well, if it is established beyond any doubt that an individual bishop is teaching error, then fraternal correction may be required. But the point to remember here is, we are not acting in the position of a superior correcting an inferior guilty of wrongdoing. We simply don't have that authority. This is where we need to remember St. Thomas Aquinas, when he wrote on this topic in the Summa Theologica:

Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father." Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church. (II-IIa Q. 33 A.4)

That gentleness and respect called for is something I don't see on the internet. I see people calling a bishop an idiot, incompetent and/or a heretic whenever he acts in a way the individual doesn't like his stand . . . which is wrong even if the bishop is in error.


But the problem is, more often than not, the fault is in the perception of the person who objects. That's what frustrates me the most. When I read a blog article from a Catholic bashing Cardinal Dolan because his feeling bound by the Congregation of Saints, the wishes of Fulton J. Sheen and his surviving family is seen as bad will; when I read an article where Catholic commentators bash a bishop who says Ted Cruz ought not to have brought up a partisan support for Israel to a group which has members that haven't fared well with that nation . . . I see people who are failing in regards to one or more of these three principles.

Maybe that's why I feel compelled to repeat the Catechism of the Catholic Church so frequently on the subject of Rash Judgment:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

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

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

I think this is what my frustration boils down to: Where is the attempt at the favorable interpretation? Where is the asking how the bishop understands his words? Where is the correction with love? Yes, some things are wrong and when someone teaches it is OK to violate Church teaching, that is one of them. But is there any attempt made any more on deciding if the bishop is guilty before condemning him?

Lately, the answer increasingly seems to be, "Not very often."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflections on Faith and Suffering in the Book of Job

Of all the books in the Old Testament, I believe the Book of Job is my favorite. It details the struggles of a person to make sense out of suffering—in fact the destruction of everything Job found dear--and his faith in God.

The basic synopsis of the Book can be summed up as follows:

The devil claims that Job is only a faithful follower because he is materially blessed. God permits the devil to afflict Job, first by destroying his property, then his family, then his health. His friends (and with friends like these, who needs enemies?) assume that Job is suffering because he sinned and he needs to repent. Job knows he did not sin, but feels betrayed by how he is treated when he tried to live a holy life. Finally God shows up in the middle of the debate and demonstrates that both Job and his friends are operating from false premises which lead them to false conclusions. God then restores to Job the blessings he lost.

The premises used in the Book of Job run as follows.

Job's detractors, wanting to defend the goodness of God, reasoned:

  • God punishes the guilty
  • You're being punished
  • Therefore, you're guilty

Job's counter argument, wanting to emphasize his innocence, was:

  • God is afflicting me
  • I don't deserve it
  • Therefore God is not treating me as I deserve, and I want to know why

Both of these seem to be irreconcilable. If Job speaks the truth, then his detractor's premises must be false. If his detractors speak the truth then Job's premises must be false. Up to this point, we're left with a dilemma. Either Job is a bad man or God is not just. That's where the opponents of Christianity smirk. "Well, which is it?" they ask.

God's response shows both Job and his detractors have missed the point:

  • You cannot judge what is beyond your ability to understand
  • What I do is beyond your ability to understand
  • Therefore, you cannot judge what I do.

Job's detractors argued under the assumption that they had all the facts in concluding Job was guilty. Job's also argued under the assumption that he had all the facts, that because he did not behave in a way that deserved these acts as a punishment, he should not be experiencing these acts. God's response was to show how both ways of thinking were wrong.

But, this way of thinking is not a product of ancient times. Many people undergo loss and suffering. When they do face this suffering, some ask "Where is God in all of this? Why did He let this happen?" Because they cannot find an answer, some begin to doubt some aspect of God . . . or even whether He exists.

The common lament is, "If God exists/is all powerful/is good, how can He allow X to happen?"

That's probably why a common modern approach to God argues that, to avoid contradiction, we have to admit that God has one of the following weaknesses:

  1. God is not all powerful
  2. God is not all knowing
  3. God is not all good

Some argue this way to try to justify dissent. Others to justify their unbelief. But when one reads Job, it becomes clear that God is All powerful, all knowing and all good. However, WE are not. Therefore, to accuse God of one of those charges reflects the false belief that finite human reason is sufficient and anything outside of what we can understand is unjust.

But when we think this way, we are actually thinking "If I were God, I would stop this!" The problem is, we are not God. We do not have all the knowledge required to truthfully say this way is better than how God handled it! That brings us back to God's response to Job. We can't judge what we don't understand. That's where Faith comes in. If we believe God is all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good, then when some misfortune strikes, we have to trust that God is not acting out of negligence . . . even if we don't understand why He permits some things to happen.

God, being all knowing, all powerful and all good knows all the ramifications of His choosing to act or not to act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:

272 Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.”

I think this is important to remember. On Good Friday, the friends and family of Jesus were no doubt thinking, "How could God allow this to happen?" But the fact of the matter is, this happened for us and our salvation even though people present at that moment in time could not realize this.

It is important for all of us to remember this when we suffer a hardship, or lose a loved one. Jesus suffered on the cross and died for us. Suffering is not necessarily a sign of punishment. It is certainly not a sign of God's absence or weakness. When we face suffering and loss, we must remember God is still in control and He does love us. We must not assume we know all there is to know and turn away from God in our pain and grief.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Unpopular Speech is not Hate Speech

One popular tactic in the American Kulturkampf (yes, it's here—no longer a case of if) is the argument that the freedom of speech and religion only mean you can't be arrested for saying it. People who use this argument claim that a person can't be arrested for saying something is wrong, but they still can be fired, sued, fined or re educated for doing so.

It scares me that people are falling for this spurious reasoning. Effectively, it is saying that if an employer dislikes your morals, he can fire you over them . . . BUT only for certain moral stands: The Christian employee can be forced out because he thinks homosexual acts are wrong, but the secular employee can't be fired by the Christian employer for thinking them right.

What it boils down to is that America is willing to tolerate restrictions on unpopular speech. If the powers that be (political, media, cultural) don't like a position, the person holding it can be ostracized for holding it. But if a business or religious based school or hospital tries to operate according to their beliefs, they can be forced to tolerate behavior they believe is wrong.

Guess which one is accused of forcing their views on others?

Basically, the whole tactic allows the media, government and political elites to decide what speech and belief is legitimate and what is not. That's not free speech. That's censorship worthy of the former Eastern Bloc. Whether or not you remain free after you speak depends on whether the elites approve of what you said.

But legitimate limits on free speech come into play when the speech causes harm. I'm not allowed to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I'm not free to plan a felony. I'm not free to incite a riot. Nobody disputes that these are legitimate limits on the freedom of speech.

But the fact is, the Christian moral teaching is not hate filled and is not discriminatory—it is unpopular because it tells people that some behaviors are wrong and people don't want to hear that they are doing wrong and have to change.

To Discriminate, properly speaking, is to:

make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, sex, or age.

But if God exists and He has condemned behavior that is contrary to how people should live, then informing people that this behavior is wrong is not discrimination any more than the Cal Trans worker with a sign saying "Bridge Out" is discriminating against which road you can choose to use. It's informing people of reality before they suffer harm.

The Christian who understands the obligations of the faith knows he or she cannot hate a person who sins. Correction must be given when a person does wrong and endangers his or her soul:

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:7–9).

(In this verse, God is speaking to the Prophet Ezekiel on the obligation to warn people endangering their souls).

The problem is, many people assume that opposition to a behavior must be based on the hatred of the person who does the wrong act.

Certainly a Christian can sinfully hate someone who does wrong. A Christian can misuse speech to cause harm if he actively promotes violence. Nobody denies this . . . but the fact is, those Christians who do these things (and that number is much smaller than the rhetoric would have you believe) are opposed by most other Christians who fully understand their faith and are aware of this twisting of the Christian faith. So to use the examples of extremists to attack the Christian belief in general is basically no different than to use the fact that some members of an ethnic group are felons to denounce all members of that ethnic group.

The important thing to remember is that America has lost sight of the fact that there is a major difference between Unpopular Speech and Hate Speech. Unfortunately, people nowadays believe that the use of coercion is a legitimate tactic to silence a person who says something they dislike.

So long as people are willing to accept this tactic, we cannot hope to become a free nation again.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Berserker Internet Catholics (A Rant)


Unfortunately, Some Catholics take this approach to other orthodox Catholics who have a different opinion on ways and means.

One of the most exasperating things I see on the internet are those Catholics who are convinced of their own righteousness, denouncing anyone who behaves other than they would prefer as acting in bad will. It never occurs to them that even within the realm of orthodox Catholicism, there are some areas where believers can have legitimate differences when it comes to ways and means of being faithful.

I'm really weary seeing the internet postings of the Catholic who clearly is uninformed on an issue, but feels determined to repeat the sentence on a website quoting Denzinger with no knowledge of the context. I'm tired of the internet postings of the Catholic who is assuming bad will on the part of the Catholic they disagree with.

I'm tired of Catholics who claim to be champions of orthodoxy who never seem to read the Catechism:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

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

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

Yeah, I know about the fact that there are Catholics who are in disobedience to the Catholic teaching. I also know these Catholics have existed since the 1st century AD. That doesn't mean that the bishop who uses something other than a mail fisted approach is a secret modernist. I also know that conservative Catholics can also fall into heresy and schism, and be just as outraged as the liberal Catholics when reprimanded.

The thing is, we have to remember that the ones with the authority to bind and loose in the Church are the successors to the Apostles: The Pope and the Bishops in communion with him. When we think that a bishop is handling things in a way that concerns us, we do have the obligation to make sure we understand his intention before attempting the charitable and humble appeal for a change.

Otherwise, what makes us any different than the liberal Catholics we look at in disdain.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:46–48).

Remember: to presume bad without understanding what was intended will entirely falls short of this requirement. From what I am seeing with Berserker Internet Catholics, there's no attempt to give what is said a favorable impression. There's no attempt to ask how the Catholic in question intended what he said. There's no attempt to correct with love.

Basically, when we do this, we're making a judgment without all the facts—something which only a fool does.

So come on, people. We're called to witness to the teaching of the Church—which includes our willingness to be charitable, loving and submitting to the teachings of the Church.

If we won't, how the hell can we expect others to?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Because of Belief? Or In SPITE of Belief?

One popular attack on Christian moral belief is to point out that a person who belongs to a religion has done terrible things. Therefore, the religion is the cause of these acts. The problem is, the attack makes the presumption, but does not look for other causes which may be the most probable cause. In other words, would the person still do terrible things if he belonged to a different religion or no religion at all?

For example, I once knew an atheist who saw the phenomenon of lynching African Americans in the American South as evidence of the evil caused by religion—the South was the "Bible Belt" after all and the Southerners supported lynching. Therefore Christianity is to blame, right?

My response was to point out that Christians of other regions of the world did not behave in a similar way and in fact even some Christians in the region opposed such behavior. I also pointed out that in the South, African Americans were viewed as being less human than whites whereas elsewhere in the world, even if they were not treated as equals they were not treated so unjustly. So it struck me that the cause of such behavior was not Christianity but the views in the South that felt non-whites could never be allowed to rise to the level of whites.

In other words, there was flawed reasoning involved in saying "Christianity" was to blame. The more probable cause was the vicious racism that was born out of legalized slavery and resentment that it was overturned. It's a view that one didn't have to be Christian to hold.

The technical term for this is vicious custom, where people living in a region of the world adopt behavior that goes against the religious beliefs but is held to be "normal." This is how we see things exist like the French custom of openly accepting the taking and keeping of mistresses even though the Church explicitly condemns sexual relations outside of marriage.

Other behavior includes the Spanish mistreatment of natives in the New World, Catholics from the South trying to "explain away" the Papal condemnation of slavery etc. These are all cases where the actual teaching was set aside to justify a behavior that was condemned. In none of these cases could we say that the Church taught doing these things was morally good.

Yes, you will find Catholics advocating behavior that the Church calls evil. But it is wrong to hold that the Church is to blame for their doing so. We can make a modern case today of Catholics who ignore the Church teaching on abortion. Because the Church has made clear that abortion is always evil and never to be permitted, those Catholics who say or do otherwise are acting in spite of and not because of their beliefs.

Basically the only connection between the Catholic Church and the behavior of a Catholic doing it was the individual. As a syllogism:

  1. Mr. Jones is a Catholic ([A] is a part of [B])
  2. Mr. Jones is a Racist ([A] is a part of [C])
  3. Therefore Catholics are racists (Therefore [B] is a part of [C])

The problem is, the fact that Mr. Jones is related to both groups says nothing about the Catholic Church in relation to racism. We can use our original example of Southerners and lynching to show why such reasoning is false:

Undistributed Middle


The same format works for the common "Christians are homophobic because that man is a Christian and a homophobe."

That's why it's wrong to judge a religion by the behavior of an individual before it is determined that the individual is acting because of his religious beliefs and is not perverting them.