Monday, August 31, 2020

Evading the Abortion Issue

The Church is very straightforward in her teachings. Yes, determining the level of culpability in an individual’s sins might be complex in discerning knowledge and freedom in the decision, But that never makes a morally bad act good, and we must oppose evil, even when we might otherwise benefit from a group that promotes it or fear consequences if that group does not gain power. The fact is, we must not choose to do evil so good may come of it, and we must make certain that any remote cooperation [i.e., not intended] with the evil is done for a reason proportionate to the evil.

Tragically, some Catholics have announced their intention to vote for pro-abortion candidates, arguing that the evil of the other side meets the “proportionate reason” requirement. That they reason this way is deeply troubling. In Gaudium et Spes #27, for example, the Church lists abortion next to murder, genocide, euthanasia, torture, and slavery in terms of abominable actions¥. Those Catholics who intend to vote for pro-abortion candidates announce themselves against these other evils as non-negotiable… and rightly so. But, while they would never dream of compromising and voting for a candidate who supported those evils, they are willing to vote for a candidate who supports abortion, claiming that such a candidate is “more pro-life” while condemning Catholics who won’t vote like them.

The problem is this. While the Church does indeed teach that the Right to Life is more than just opposing abortion, one cannot be pro-life without that crucial piece. So, when the Catholic who announces his or her intention to vote for a pro-abortion candidate while denouncing his fellow Catholic for neglecting other issues of Catholic Moral Teaching in the name of abortion§,  he or she needs to keep in mind Matthew 7:2. “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” 

This verse is important because calling out another on a moral wrong means you know that action is wrong. So, calling down judgment on Catholics for downplaying Teaching X in the name of opposing abortion, while downplaying of abortion in the name of Teaching X is also worthy of judgment.

Don’t get into an argument over theological calculus here where you try to calculate what level of other evils is supposed to outweigh abortion (both sides do this, and calculate it in their favor). When the Church says “X is wrong,” don’t try to justify your support of the candidate who champions X by pointing to the other side’s failings. Each one of us will answer for the evils we ignore or try to explain away when the Church has called them “evil” by name.

__________

(‡) This has gotten so out of hand, that I have seen some Catholics attack Cardinal Paglia claiming he is out of touch with the Church for saying that Catholic politicians absolutely cannot support or defend abortion.

(¥) Yes, the Church lists more issues in that paragraph, and yes, I have cited them in previous articles. But it goes to show that those who invoke those issues cannot claim ignorance on how seriously the Church views abortion.

(§) A popular attack they use is “anti-abortion but not pro-life.”

(†) Again, before you plan to send an angry “what about…?” response, keep in mind, I have also written blogs warning against those opposing abortion being complacent or justifying their downplaying other issues.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Logical Fallacies Catholics Need to Watch Out for in Political Discussions

I’ve been discussing the Catholic attitudes in politics lately. It’s not something I particularly want to do, but it seems to be a necessity in election years. The danger I am writing about involves Catholics on both sides of our dualistic political divide pointing out the sins of others, while either ignoring or being blind to the sins they risk falling into. Because these partisan Catholics inevitably attack the Church when it speaks out against policies supporting “their” faction, I see writing about them as part of my mission to defend the teaching and authority of the Church.

One of the major problems I see in these partisan disputes is that both sides fall into the same fallacies and use the same arguments, condemning the other side for reaching a different conclusion through them. That dispute does not help the Catholic Church spread the faith throughout the world. In fact, not only does it not respect the universal§ nature of the term Catholic, it actually leads those looking at us from outside as viewing the Catholic faith as one more partisan sect (cf. Romans 2:24).

So, as we get closer to Election day (64 days as I write this), I thought I should write on some logical fallacies that Catholics use in debating over Biden vs. Trump, as the factions claim one is a saint and the other a demon.

The first one I would like to discuss is the Fallacy of Relative Privation. This one assumes that X is worse than Y. Therefore, those concerned about Y are focused on something unimportant. So, when we face the abortion issue, half of the American Catholics argue that because of the evil of abortion, the rest of the issues are not important in comparison because “the stakes are too high.” The other half argue that because of the evil caused in the other issues, they have to vote for the pro-abortion candidate and try to end abortion through “other means” because “the stakes are too high.” 

Both these attitudes are mirror images of each other. The practical effect of this fallacy is that whatever issue the preferred party is wrong on is essentially treated as unimportant, even if the Catholic voter would deny they didn’t care if you asked them point-blank. 

The second fallacy I would like to address is the Either-Or fallacy. This fallacy assumes there are only two choices. Either Conservative or Liberal; either Democrat or Republican. If a Catholic voter should dare say that his conscience doesn’t permit him to support either, then may God have mercy on his soul because these partisan Catholics will not. Both sides will argue that the other side is aligned with the powers of darkness, and a refusal to vote for their side is an endorsement of the powers of darkness… even though the Catholic bishops have explicitly rejected that accusation.

What every American Catholic voter needs to keep in mind is that both parties are at odds with Catholic teaching in a serious way. When trying to do good and oppose evil, we cannot use our persona preferences as our guide. We must look to the Church for guidance, and then vote according to what our conscience demands.

Unfortunately, that leads us to a third fallacy we need to beware—the fallacy of equivocation. Some words have more than one meaning (equivocal words). If we use a word differently than intended, we will fall into error over the intended meaning. When the Church refers to conscience, she does not mean an infallible voice that makes what we want to do right. Conscience says “I must do X; I must not do Y.” It doesn’t say “Meh, I don’t feel anything about this.” Also, conscience must be formed through the teaching of the Church and those entrusted to lead it. If we—upon hearing the teaching of the Pope or bishop—immediately accuse him of being left- or right-wing, we are not letting our consciences be formed by the Church, and we have no excuse for it.

The thing is, if the Church speaks out on an act as evil, we cannot support it, and we cannot enthusiastically support the party that accepts it or calls it good. We have a serious obligation to ask, “what am I going to do about that evil, now and in the future?” We should be lamenting the difficult choices we have in voting as a Christian. If we don’t, if we just assume our party is automatically right, we’re just as guilty as the other guy we’re pointing our finger at.

None of this should be interpreted as moral relativism. Are some evils worse than others? Yes. But arguing that X is worse than Y doesn’t solve the evils of Y, does it? The truth is, we can’t use some bizarre moral calculus that sets out to justify how we were going to vote anyway. The moment we write off a moral teaching as something we need to “sacrifice” because “the stakes are too high,” we are making ourselves complicit in the sins of omission.

This leads to a fourth logical fallacy, the tu quoque. This fallacy responds to an accusation by pointing out a flaw in the opponent, real or not. So, if Catholic A points out a moral failing in a political party, pointing out the flaws in the party he favors is not a refutation. So, the Catholic intending to vote for a party favoring abortion often points to the sins of a party that opposes abortion, and vice versa. But the sins of another doesn’t change the fact that our own party also supports evil… whether intrinsic, in intention, or in consequence. 

Catholics need to stop using fallacies in their thinking and arguments, because they lead us into becoming obstinate in what we were going to do anyway. It’s not enough to see the evils of the other side. We need to be aware of and oppose the evils on our own side too. Otherwise, the outsider will look at us and see just another group of partisan hypocrites, and not the Church established by Christ, while we will look at others as either enemies deserving our contempt because of their evils or allies whom we turn a blind eye to their wrongs.

 

 

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(§) From the Greek καθολικός (Katholikos—universal).

(†) As always, when it comes to comparing and contrasting opposed factions, I try to alphabetize them to avoid appearances of bias.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Thoughts on the Misuse of the Ratzinger Referendum in 2020

Everybody has talking points they use to promote their position and refute their opponent’s. Sometimes these talking points have merit to them. At other times, they are merely rattled off like an incantation intended to ward off an opponent’s challenge, but with no real understanding of what it actually means. 

Unfortunately, in 2020, we are seeing a very nuanced document—commonly known as the Ratzinger Memorandum—turned into an incantation by both sides, each conveniently reading it in a way to attack the other side, with no attempt to apply it to their own. This memorandum (which can be read HERE) was written in response to a question by the disgraced and defrocked McCarrick on whether one would be unworthy to receive Communion if they held a position in opposition to Church teaching. Only two points ever get cited by partisan Catholics. Section #3 and the bracketed Nota Bene. For convenience, they are reproduced here:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

* * *

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

Those who intend to vote for a pro-abortion candidate cite the nota bene and argue (dubiously at best) that the candidate’s other positions or the positions of the other candidate, become a “proportionate reason.” Those who support another candidate who is not pro-abortion candidate but is also morally bad in other areas emphasize Section #3 and say there is nothing wrong with voting for a candidate who supports those things. Both are misinterpreting the matter.

When it comes to the issue of abortion, we need to remember that the Catholic Church equates it with other barbarities. In Gaudium et Spes #14, we read:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful 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.

So, the candidate who supports abortion cannot be simply excused for it in the name of the other positions he might support any more than a candidate who supports genocide can be excused. This isn’t a rhetorical appeal. The Catholic Church calls these things infamies. So, when you have a Democrat who supports some of the infamies listed and a Republican who supports others on the list of infamies, you cannot say that voting for them is morally good. Nor can you claim that the issues your candidate is wrong on (if it’s on the list) is unimportant.

With this in mind, the Catholic who says they are enthusiastic supporters of the candidate who announces his intent to promote and/or defend these infamies have—at best—grossly misunderstood Church teaching. Since both major party candidates in 2020 are at odds with some items on this list, the only appropriate attitude for a Catholic who believes he or she must vote for one of them must be an attitude of sorrow and reluctance… a sense that both are terrible, but one will do less damage to the moral good than the other. Such an attitude cannot say that “Well, issue X is more important, so we’ll fight Issue Y ‘later.’”

No. It seems to me that Catholics belonging to a major party must vote in the primaries against a candidate who supports one or more of the infamies. If said candidate makes it to the national election, we had better (to build on something said by Archbishop Chaput§) make sure our reasons are going to be justifiable before God and the victims of our vote at the final judgment. If we act as if the issue our party is wrong on is “less important,” then let’s stop the pretense that we will fight for the other issue “later.” We should be fighting now to reform whatever party we identify with so they might be less inclined to nominate a similar candidate next time. That fight doesn’t end on Wednesday, November 4th 2020.

If we truly think that the candidate we vote for is the lesser of two evils and he gets elected, the Catholics who voted for him had better take a “You broke it, you bought it” attitude when it comes to the evils they identified as “lesser.” The Catholics who voted for his opponent had better work to eliminate those evils within their own party. Unfortunately, this never seems to happen.

I would like to address another error Catholics commit in citing the Ratzinger Memorandum against the US Bishops on the Death Penalty. It is true that Benedict XVI (then-Cardinal Ratzinger) did point out that support of the death penalty was morally tolerable. But we need to remember that this was written in 2004. It is superseded by what Pope Francis wrote in 2018, amending the Catechism on the Death Penalty. Benedict XVI was not in error in 2004, because the teaching was not yet refined. But those Catholics who think they can treat the 2018 teaching as if the 2004 memorandum outranked it have fallen into a dangerous error. There is no more permissible “legitimate diversity” of opinion here.

But, before those Catholics who already opposed the death penalty get too smug, let them remember this: If they recognize that Catholics who treat the death penalty as a “lesser issue” are wrong, then they are utterly without excuse if they treat abortion the same way. It is true we can easily defend Pope Francis’ change on the grounds that self defense requires the minimum force required and in modern times, the death penalty is no longer the minimum force required. However, the supporter of a pro-abortion candidate can’t escape the fact that abortion can never be justified. As long as Christianity existed, abortion was condemned as murder… which is an infamy. So if Catholics who support a candidate who is in favor of the death penalty are wrong, where does it leave the Catholics who support a pro-abortion candidate?

___________________

(§) What he said was: ‘And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions—as we someday will.’ (Chaput, Charles J. Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (p. 230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I believe we can logically extrapolate from this and apply it to all issues that the Catholic Church describes as Infamies.

(†) One of the propaganda pieces used by some Catholics is “voting for the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.” The irony is, it tends to be used by Catholics who enthusiastically intend to vote for a different candidate (hopefully in spite of) who still supports an infamy against a Catholic who reluctantly plans to vote for the other. It overlooks the possibility of a Catholic voter seeking to reduce damage as much as possible (much like accepting the consequences of a side swipe to avoid a head-on collision). 

(‡) Please don’t argue that you are “eliminating the need for abortion.” That doesn’t work for the other infamies listed in Gaudium et Spes, and it doesn’t work here either.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

What Happens When Catholic Voters Are Dishonest?

CAN. 751† Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

CAN. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

CAN. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

CAN. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.

Over the past two weeks, the USCCB have issued statements on different moral teachings… abortion, the death penalty, the treatment of migrants, religious freedom and the like. Right on the heels of the Democratic and Republic Conventions, these statements seem aimed at reminding American Catholics about what the Church requires of them.

And, right on schedule, American Catholics come out of the woodwork to denounce those statements, claiming they are ignoring (often they accuse of the Bishops of deliberately ignoring) other issues that these critics think is more important. When the bishops condemn abortion, those Catholics planning to vote for a pro-abortion candidate accuse them of ignoring the other teachings. When they condemn the death penalty, those Catholics who plan to vote for a candidate who supports it accuse the bishops of ignoring abortion… which they just spoke about the day previously.

When this happens, it is hard to avoid wondering if a portion of these Catholic voters are either culpably ignorant or outright dishonest§. By saying this, I don’t mean dishonest in the sense of “not believing in God.” Rather I mean dishonest in the sense of not honestly seeking to examine one’s conscience and see if their behavior is against what Catholics are called to be.

I have seen some Catholics proclaim to be faithful while refusing to give assent to the Pope (that’s dissent at best, if not de facto schism). I’ve seen others proclaim to be “Pope Francis Catholics” while being openly contemptuous of the bishops who repeat his teachings. More often than not, you can tell which of them plan to vote Democrat and which plan to vote Republican while claiming to be the only Catholics to follow the Church correctly. Catholics of these factional views try to claim their political views are doctrine, while doctrine their party is afoul of is “opinion” or “prudential judgement.

We need to remember that Jesus Christ has established the Catholic Church under the visible head of St. Peter and his successors—up to and including the current Pope—and the bishops in communion with him. If an individual bishop or a group of bishops act against that communion, they do not act with any authority. But when a bishop teaches, we are bound to give “to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops” (Canon 753).

This is where we run into the dishonesty test. If a Catholic who, upon being instructed by the Pope or his bishop on a certain matter, immediately searches for reasons not to obey… such a Catholic is not being honest. He is guilty of what Our Lord condemned in the attitude of the Pharisees, looking for legalistic excuses not to follow God’s teachings and there are consequences for that attitude (cf. Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

Whether the Pope or bishop speaks out on an intrinsic evil like abortion, or a morally neutral act carried out with evil intention or consequence, we don’t get to decide whether to obey or not. Either we obey or we are not faithful Catholics… no matter how hard we politically fight those we see as enemies of the Church.

It should be noted that such prohibitions are not limited to matters of dogma. The Church can also bind in matters of discipline and governance. For example, there was never anything evil about eating meat. But the Church decreed for centuries that we must not eat meat on Fridays as an act of penance. Those Catholics who did eat meat on Fridays were not guilty of sin simply because they ate meat, but because they refused to accept the penitential discipline laid down. These acts of governance can be changed as needed. But we don’t get to pass judgment on those acts of governance and decide whether or not we will follow them.

This is where every Catholic needs to look at their behavior. If the response to the authoritative act of Pope or bishops is to look for ways to evade that obligation, we are being dishonest. If we point out the sins of others who we politically oppose while doing the same thing, we are being dishonest.

And if we are dishonest, we are not giving the obligatory assent. Once we start down that road, we will end up facing judgment for it. If we are unrepentant in our disobedience, we do risk hell. That is the end result of being dishonest with ourselves. And if (God forbid!) we face that judgment for not keeping God’s commands, the things we did do will be of no avail. As Our Lord, Jesus Christ said:

“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.’” (Matthew 7:21–23).

…and we will have no honest excuse if we do not give the obedience God commands us to give to His Church.

___________

(§) This is of course something for God to judge and the individual Catholic’s confessor to assess. I will not “name names” or accuse individuals of being guilty. All I hope to do is get people to think about it.

(†) I hate this term. Not because of any hostility to the Pope, but because virtually all of the Catholics I have encountered who use it hijack it to cover their political views which are actually in opposition to what the Pope has said.

(‡) I’ve discussed that HERE.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Lazarus is at Your (Political) Door


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

* * *

You pose me a question where you describe a difficult choice, because, according to you, you have difficulty in one and you have difficulty in the other. (Pope Francis on the 2016 election)

 

Over the last two days, I was involved in a Facebook discussion with two Catholics over the upcoming elections. One was absolutely convinced that Biden§ was the only moral choice for the Catholics voters. Another was equally adamant that Trump was the only moral choice. Both of them thought that their interpretation was correct and both of them thought that the issues their candidate supported was more important than the issues they were at odds with the Church over. Both of them miscited Church teaching and made false claims—I suspect unintentionally—about the orthodoxy of certain things (one insisting that the Seamless Garment was doctrine, the other that it had been condemned). 

Both of them were absolutely convinced—no doubt in my mind that they sincerely believed this—that they were properly applying the teachings of the Church and the other was wrong. But both of them pointed fingers at the other about tolerating an evil that the Church had condemned while ignoring the fact they were doing the same thing.

That’s a serious problem in Catholic social media debates, and it’s exacerbated in election years when we confuse our political wants and fears with what the Church actually teaches. We become so polarized that we think any deviation from what we want is aiding “the enemy.”

Part of the problem is, our political system is so damaged that the only political parties with any chance of getting elected areseriously at odds with one part of Catholic moral teaching or another. Tragically, many Catholics are willing to call those teachings their party is in the wrong over as “less important.” That term strikes me as a weasel word, that seeks to avoid outright calling those teachings unimportant (which would be denying the authority of the Church) but also imply that Catholics who are morally disturbed by them are focusing on the wrong issues.

Let’s be clear here. When the Church teaches that something is morally wrong—whether intrinsically, in intention, or in consequence—we don’t get to say that it doesn’t matter compared to someone else. We might have to struggle with an election of bad choices, where all candidates support moral wrongs and our only hope is to lessen the impact of the coming harm. But when we act, we must act in a way that lessens the impact as much as possible, not one that kicks the can down the road for four to eight years.

We also see Catholics misuse Church documents to justify what they were planning to do in the first place. For example, the oft-cited and oft-miscited‡ Ratzinger Memorandum. In speaking on the issues raised in the 2004 election, he wrote in part:

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

The memorandum, which was intended to help people understand whether they were acting for the right reasons, led to people misusing it, trying to prove their vote was proportionate (if they supported the pro-abortion candidate) or arguing it was a mortal sin to vote for the pro-abortion candidate (if they supported the other side). 

Moreover, certain Catholics like to use the term “single-issue voter” in a false sense. It is meant to say, we cannot argue that as long as a candidate is in favor of X, it’s okay to vote for him regardless of every other position. That’s true of course. If X was “law and order” (for example) but the rest of the party platform was totalitarian injustice, voting for the candidate over X would be grossly out of line with Catholic teaching. But if a Catholic were to treat it as saying “I can ignore X and vote for my candidate because of these other issues,” that is a mistaken—possibly dishonest—reading of this warning.

Let’s face it. St. John Paul II spoke clearly on the issue of life being first. In Christifideles Laici, he pointed out that some other social justice issues—while important—can never replace the right to life:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

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

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: “All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator” (137).

Note that the Church equates abortion with murder, genocide, and euthanasia. So, one cannot argue that they can end abortion by “other means” any more than he or she can argue that they can end genocide by other means. But the Church also makes clear that subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment and unjust deportation are to be condemned. So, we cannot write them off as “less important” either.

This is why the Catholic who argues that Party X is the only moral way to vote is grossly misguided. Both parties are against life. Catholic Democrats say that Republicans are pro-birth, not pro-life. Catholic Republicans say that Democrats only care about children that survive to birth. Both are mere slogans that hide their own complicity through tu quoque fallacies.

This is why I have been saying that the Catholic who sides with one party or the other must be clear about how they will fight the evil within their own party. Are you a Catholic Democrat? What will you do to stop the promotion of abortion, same sex marriage, and the attacks on religious freedom? Are you a Catholic Republican? What will you do about the unjust treatment of migrants and economic injustice? You do not get a free pass for turning your back on those evils just because you vote against the party you dislike more. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the Rich Man went to hell for neglecting the plight of Lazarus at his door. For Democrats, Lazarus might be represented by the unborn. For Republicans, Lazarus might be represented by the plight of the migrants. 

Regardless of what party you think will do less harm, Lazarus is at your door. If you ignore him because you think the other issues are “more important,” you will need to answer for it before God. 

Remember that, and do not be so quick to assume you are righteous because you ticked the box you think is right on your ballot.

 

__________

(§) As always, candidate and party names, as well as ideologies are put in alphabetical order to avoid accusations of bias.

(†) Breaking the dualistic political model might benefit America. But I don’t really see any third party as having a chance unless it should address an issue neither major party addresses.

(‡) I wrote about it HERE in 2016.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

It’s Iimi! A Semi-Socratic Dialogue on Authority and Missionary Dating

As a preliminary note, I want to make clear that not all Protestants are anti-Catholic, and not all anti-Catholics are a Protestant. But the attitudes described in this comic are real. They’ve just been adapted to fit the personalities of the characters I’ve designed.































Monday, August 24, 2020

Both Factions Are Wrong: Let’s Talk About Abortion as an Issue

Every fourth year, abortion becomes a very contentious issue in America. The remaining three years usually involves Catholics pointing fingers at each other for how they voted, saying things would be better/worse if the other guy got elected. Catholics from both of our major political parties tell us that their party is the only real pro-life choice and are swift to point out the evils of the other side.

And let’s face it. Both sides have caused major harm to the defense of life. The Democrats and Republicans alike are correct on pointing out the problems in the other side. But they are wrong to be silent about their own.

The first thing to remember is the Church absolutely calls for the end of abortion. We cannot draw a line where we will say “We’ll tolerate it this far, but no further.” We might have to settle for a lesser gain for now while fighting for a greater gain later. But a Catholic cannot say they will sacrifice the fight to end abortion while focusing on other means to end it. St. John Paul II was quite clear on this:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

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

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

Note that some of the issues some Catholics cite as being “more important” to defend life are listed and called “false and illusory” when the right to defend life is not defended. That is not because St. John Paul II doesn’t care about those issues. On the contrary, he wrote some very firm encyclicals on those topics. But he is removing the fig leaf from the argument some Catholics make. We can’t escape the obligation to fight to end legalized abortion (that is, you can’t claim that reducing the conditions where people consider it is enough). So, the criticism against those Catholics is quite valid because their argument is pharisaical at best.

That being said, the criticism against other Catholics is also a valid concern. Working to help pregnant women so they won’t think abortion is the only option is important as well. Yes, we can legitimately have different ideas on how best to do this so long as we don’t use these different ideas as an excuse to do nothing. The problem is, sometimes these different ideas amount to “let somebody else do it.” That doesn’t work as a Catholic solution. The Church does indeed favor subsidiarity for solutions over huge government bureaucracies because the bigger the body working on it, the more likely somebody will slip through the cracks. But, sometimes people’s “let somebody else do it” approach to subsidiarity results in overwhelmed charity groups working to help too many people with not enough resources.

So, we have on one side Catholics on one side is silent over their party championing an intrinsic evil to achieve an end. Catholics on the other side are silent when their party tolerates evil consequences to achieve theirs. So, this is why I say both sides mentioned are wrong, and reject “but what about...” arguments. On one side, turning one’s back on the issue of abolishing abortion is to effectively say that it doesn’t matter if some get aborted as long as it flies under the radar. No, abortion is not just going to vanish when conditions improve enough. Call it negligence, call it cowardice, call it indifference. Just don’t call it principled. It’s still complicity with evil. On the other side, by refusing to consider policies that go against one’s political philosophy on government size, they are leaving women without resources that might give them the courage to choose life. Oh, I’m sure that Catholics in this camp would want these women to get help. But we should keep in mind what the Epistle of James said: If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? (James 2:15–16). God will judge them just as surely as he will those who make excuses for pro-abortion politicians.

The danger is, Catholics have grown to think that Evil X is so bad that they can ignore Evil Y because of it. That’s not how Catholic moral obligation works. In our dualistic political system, we are all too often forced to choose between a party that calls abortion “good,” while trying to expand it, and a party that seems to say “tsk, too bad” when it comes to conditions that make the evil of abortion seem like it is an option.

So, while both factions of Catholics are correct in pointing out the hypocrisies of the other side, they are in dangerous—quite possibly damnable—error over their blindness about their own hypocrisies. So, here’s the thing. If you identify with the party that promotes abortion, you have an obligation to fight abortion tooth and nail in a pro-abortion party you plan to vote for. If you identify with the party that opposes abortion, you have an obligation to fight callous indifference over what those women considering abortion need.

If you don’t do that within your own party, you’re no better than those on the other side that you denounce. It really is that simple.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Things Won’t Always Go Our Way


Sometimes, on social media, I’ll see Catholics complaining about how some things are going. They assume that everything shouldbe smooth sailing in the Church and—if it isn’t—somebody else is to blame for it. This is a strange attitude to take, given the whole of Church history where the sins of the world, the sins within the Church, or both combined would lead people to sei Deo Gratias when we didn’t have problems.

Whether we have external persecutions or internal dissentions; whether we have despicable sins within or hatred without, we will be involved in an endless battle working to carry out the Great Commission. We can’t ever think that all will be well if everybody else does their job. That’s actually a Pelagian attitude that forgets that all of us need Grace to stand. It is true that Sin happens when we don’t cooperate with that Grace. But all of us are sinners in need of salvation, and all of us are responsible in some ways for the evils within. Not all the same evils, and not all to the same degree. But what evils we are inclined to ignore or make excuses for; what actions we commit and then explain away—these do cause problems in the Church. 

Recognizing this and the obligation to forgive if we would seek forgiveness; recognizing the obligation to love those who hate us, we need to realize that what we want from an idealized Church is not the same thing as what we will get from a Church populated with sinners sent to evangelize a world populated with sinners.

That is not a call to be passive in the face of evil. We are called to correct the sinners after all. But if we’re assuming all would be well if others (namely: the bishops) did their part, stopped focusing on X, or focused more on Y, we’re missing the point. Our Lord pointed this out in the Gospel of Luke:

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”(Luke 13:1–5)

We are not living in the worst of times. Moreover, those who do suffer in the various persecutions are not bigger sinners or living in worse times than the rest of us. St. Peter wasn’t failing to do his job when Nero began scapegoating the Church for his own crimes. Popes were not asleep at the switch at the rise of heresies. But these afflictions did not vanish just because Popes and bishops said, “Stop!” They won’t vanish even if Church leaders today do exactly as we demand.

Each one of us has to remember that we have an obligation to follow out of love for God and neighbor, regardless of what others do or fail to do. If we were to ask more in prayer about what we could do to serve God, rather than focus on our own partisan preferences and blame our woes on our perceptions of what others do, we might see that we are cooperating more with God’s grace… and perhaps we might see more things going the right way. Perhaps we should keep in mind the words of St. John Chrysostom here:

I am saying this because I see you spending all your time in temporal affairs, while you do not even partake of spiritual things in sleep. For this reason our life is ineffectual, and even while striving in behalf of truth, our efforts are not of much avail; we are a laughing-stock to the heathen, and to the Jews, and to the heretics.

If, while you were negligent with regard to other affairs, you showed the same slackness also in spiritual things, not even in that case would your conduct be deserving of excuse. But, as it is, each one is keener than a sword in temporal affairs—both those who pursue the arts and those who engage in political affairs. In essential and spiritual things, on the contrary, we are most sluggish of all, treating less important works as if essential, while considering as not even slightly important those works which we ought to rate as most important of all.

—John Chrysostom, Homily 30. Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist: Homilies 1–47, trans. Thomas Aquinas Goggin, vol. 33, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1957), 294–295.

Keep his words in mind.

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Image from Toradora #9. The comic panel order reads right to left

(†) And they do indeed say “stop.” But more often than not, they get ignored and told to “stay out of politics” by those Catholics offended by the teaching.




Friday, August 21, 2020

The Stupid Season: Reflections on Catholics and the 2020 Elections

[As a preliminary note, while I don’t doubt that people looking at my personal and blog Facebook pages could guess which party I think is the least destructive to America—I’m probably not as subtle as I think I am—this article is intended to be non-partisan in discussing real dangers Catholics need to avoid regardless of party affiliation].

An informed Catholic should recognize that the teachings of the Church are binding on the faithful, and that the bishops—as successors to the apostles—should be listened to barring extraordinary circumstances like acting in opposition to the Pope. Even if we think there might be extraordinary circumstances, we owe it to ourselves to learn before acting lest we turn out to be the rebels.

Keeping that in mind, an informed Catholic should look at their political loyalties as secondary. Whatever we prefer politically must be measured against what the Church teaches. We cannot call a political platform good where it diverges from Church teaching. Nor can we argue that our interpretation of Church teaching takes precedence over those tasked with shepherding the Church.

This leads to what I have been calling the “Silly Season” for years. That’s because Catholics begin acting more irrationally about arguing that their politics are compatible with their faith, despite the witness of the Pope and the bishops against that view. Whenever they say something is morally wrong in nature or circumstance, Catholics from the party in question try to argue that the actual issue is different from the thing condemned. It’s a nonsensical attitude to take because the ones they are debating do have the authority to teach on the subject and we would be wise to adjust our political views to our faith, not vice versa.

But, as we get deeper into the 2020 elections, it seems to me that “silly” isn’t a strong enough word. We’ve reached what I have to call the “stupid season.” That’s where Catholics on both sides of our dualistic divide are not only trying to deflect, they’re arguing that the Church is outright wrong on issues where the Pope and bishops rebuke their political positions for supporting things incompatible with the Christian life, or praise a policy where the preferred party is in opposition. We’re seeing Catholics now proclaim that they will vote for candidate X despite his support for evil because the stakes are “too high.”

This is stupid because such people are effectively saying they are okay with gaining the world but losing their souls (cf. Mark 8:36). They are saying that the issues their party is wrong on are “not important” compared to the issues they support. Then they say they won’t be “single issue voters” as if issues A+B+C (which they either don’t care about or actively support) are not as wrong as issues D+E+F (which they already oppose). When the bishops speak out on A+B+C, they’re outraged at the “partisanship” and say that the bishops should “stay out of politics.” When the bishops speak out on D+E+F, they take it as “proof” that their opponents are on the side of demons and against the Church.

But what they’re ignoring or overlooking is that their opponents are looking at them in exactly the same way: The Church speaking out against A+B+C “proves” the party that favors them is demonic while D+E+F aren’t important. 

These positions are contrary, which means both can’t be right, but both can be wrong. And wrong they are. When the Church speaks out against issues A through F, we don’t get to be the ones who choose which to obey or disobey. That’s cafeteria Catholicism. The Catholic who turns his back on the issue of abortion and the Catholic who turns his back on the treatment of migrants will both have to answer to God for refusing to hear the Church.

That being said, the sincere Catholic might wonder what to do when both parties are wrong on major issues but one will be elected. The minor parties and the voting down ballot are more of an escape pod of conscience than a practical solution.

Obviously, we all have our own views on which party is worse. That is not a sin in itself. But what we do with that vote and our attitudes towards the issues a preferred party is wrong on might be. Let’s put it this way: I see some Catholics argue that Biden is the only Catholic choice. I see some Catholics argue that Trump is the only Catholic choice. But neither group of Catholics eversays what they’ll do about the very real evils—condemned by the Church—that these candidates promise to implement if they get elected. Siding with a party as a Catholic includes the responsibility to reform and rebuke their evils.

If any Catholic thinks that we have to support Party A because the evils of Party B are worse, then their task is not over if Party A gets elected. We have to fight to cleanse our preferred party of that evil. That means working to remove evil party planks and working to raise candidates who do not champion evil causes. They have to stand up and condemn when their candidate supports evil.

Do not automatically look at the failures of Catholics in the other party in that regard. God will look into their hearts and judge their culpability. But He will also judge yours. We can’t control what others do or fail to do. But we do control our own acts and omissions. And that’s exactly what we have to consider. 

Archbishop Chaput, speaking on the question on voting for a pro-abortion candidate, gives good counsel on voting for any candidate who holds a position at odds with the Catholic faith:

And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions—as we someday will.

—Chaput, Charles J. Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (p. 230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you already oppose abortion, insert another issue where the Church spoke against a position your party holds, like the treatment of migrants. The point is, if you vote for a party that is wrong on an issue, you can’t treat that issue as unimportant and forgettable after the election.

Unfortunately, an alarming number of American Catholics are forgetting this important position and wind up putting loyalties to party over submission to the Church that Christ established. Since that can quite possibly involve grave sin, such party loyalties are stupidly given.

Hence, that’s why I call it “stupid season.”

 

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(†) Non-American readers should remember that the United States has a dualistic political system. Minor parties very seldom get elected to lower offices and never (yet) to the Presidency.

(‡) As a disclosure, I voted for a minor party for President in 2016—for the first time in my life—because I thought both candidates were unfit to serve. I also downvoted on the 2020 primary ballot for the same reason. Unlike most minor party voters, I tend to believe we will continue to have a two-party system until we reach a state where neither major party addresses a burning issue that people want addressed. It is true the Republicans were a minor party that did supplant the Whigs because of the growing opposition to slavery in the 19th century, but I don’t see an equivalent issue firing up the electorate today.

Friday, August 14, 2020

On the Counterfeits of Faith, Hope, and Love

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14–15)

* * *

Faith means: You, O God, are right in every case, even when I cannot see it or perhaps would prefer the opposite. Hope means: In you alone, O God, do I have my continued existence, and for that reason I leave behind all assurances resting on myself. Love means: All my strength and heart and mind are straining themselves to affirm you, O God (and myself only in you), and those whom you have placed beside me as my “neighbors”. 

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology. vol. IV, Spirit and Institution. trans. Edward T. Oakes. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 348–349.

* * *

As I see the reactions from certain elements of the Church—largely found in the United States and Western Europe—it seems that people have forgotten something crucial. While nobody sets out to put themselves in opposition to God, some have replaced the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love with counterfeits that put the focus on reliance in themselves. I think the above quote by Hans Urs von Balthasar helps us see why the modern attitude is a counterfeit.

In the case of faith, we are supposed to recognize that God is in control and what He promises will be fulfilled despite all the opposition against Him. Yes, His permissive will may allow evil to exist for a time. We certainly cannot complain if we are mistreated on account of living the Christian life. Jesus did warn us about persecutions after all. But that does not contradict His promise. So (to use our current crisis), when He promises to protect His Church, we must have faith that His Church will not fail. But some, instead of trusting that God is right in every case, claim that to do God’s will, the Church must act as they personally think best. If not, then the Church is deemed “in error” when the actual issue is that they prefer a different outcome, a different teaching, a different tone.

Hope means that while we cooperate with God by doing His will (Matthew 7:21-23), we recognize that the ultimate outcome is God’s. We can do wrong, or fail to good, but we hope in God to do what is impossible for us. The counterfeit of this is assuming that whatever bad thing might come our way, it is somebody else’s fault. If they acted as we saw fit, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.

The virtue of Love requires that our actions are done out of seeking the greatest good for the beloved.  Obviously, as finite beings, we cannot add anything to the works of the infinite God. But—after John 14:15—we can choose to do what God wants. Not because of compulsion or fear, but because of love for Him. That love for Him requires us to love our fellow human beings and seek their greatest good as well. The counterfeit of this is to make that love of others conditional on whether their behavior matches up to our standards. If the person is not up to that standard, we can feel free to treat him or her with contempt. There’s no room in this counterfeit for the sinner who doesn’t live up to our standards. Forgetting that we are also beggars coming before the King seeking fulfillment of our needs, we demand a level of perfection from others that we do not demand of ourselves.


Where’s the Love in that mindset?

None of this should be interpreted as “let others do whatever they like.” Some do choose to do wrong and we must admonish and correct. But this must not be done with the counterfeits of the theological virtues. If we do not do unto others, how can we dare to come before God to ask what we refuse to them? (cf. Matthew 6:14-15). But this is where these counterfeit virtues lead us.

All of us are sinners. Contra the claims of the founders of Protestantism, we are not Pelagians who think we can be good by our own efforts. We do have to return to God like the Prodigal Son did and strive to live rightly with the grace He gives us. This will be an ongoing cycle in our lives. Some of us may have done worse things than others. Those who have done those worse things need to turn back. Those who have not done them must not view them like the Older Brother viewed the prodigal. Jesus shockedthe Pharisees by saying “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). To the 1st Century Jews, these people were seen as doing the worst possible things. In saying this, Jesus was not saying it was morally acceptable to be either. But he was saying that those who did the worst things, but repented, will enter Heaven before the self-righteous who do not repent.

If we’re tempted to reject the teaching of the Church, if we think things are hopeless, if we refuse to show love to others—especially if it’s because those we dislike are found wanting by our standards of our own ideologies, politics, or morals—let us remember that we have replaced the true theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love with a counterfeit.

 

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(†) Today, Jesus might shock us by saying, “Abortionists and homosexual activists are entering the Kingdom of God before you.” He wouldn’t do this to affirm their behavior, but rather to point out that repentance is expected of all of us.

Friday, August 7, 2020

What Are You Here For?

When GK Chesterton once remarked, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong,” he was certainly correct about what we need and should want from the Catholic Church. But what we are seeing more and more is Catholics demanding a Church that confirms that they are right and their enemies are wrong. When the Church points out that they themselves have missed the point of being a Catholic, they become outraged. They see it as “proof” that the Church is erring. 

That is a dangerous attitude to take because it means that we no longer want a Church to teach us. We want a Church to praise usand punish them. We think that our pointing out the sins of the world and wanting chastisement is good. But actually, when James and John wanted to do this (Luke 9:54), Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55). He came to save the sinners… and those sinners include us.

It’s not wrong, of course, to want the Church to remove corruption and scandal from her midst. But we also have to remember that Our Lord used a parable about the weeds and the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). In it, the Master forbids pulling up the weeds for fear of pulling up the wheat too. As I understand it, while they are ripening, the two were virtually identical. I imagine that imagery is apt. How many of us, if we had been targeted for wrath earlier on in our lives, would have been seen as weeds? If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us will have to admit to resembling one.

With this in mind, we may need to ask whether that hypocritical person near us in the pews might be in the same situation now that we were then. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses… as we forgive those who trespass against us! Our Lord does warn:  If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14–15)

Logically, if we come to God for forgiveness, we must forgive others and desire their salvation, not their punishment. No doubt, some will refuse to repent when the opportunity for Grace comes. But it’s not for us to judge when it comes and whether our foes received it. As members of the Church, we do need to make known what people are required to do in to be faithful to God, and that does not permit acting passively in the face of sins and scandal to be sure. Yes, we do need to sometimes admonish the sinners. But “admonish the sinners” is not synonymous with “act like an arrogant jerk towards sinners.” 

So, when we’re annoyed by the Church failing to act in a way we think best, we need to ask what we are expecting of the Church. If we’re expecting the Church to act like a stereotyped version of the Spanish Inquisition, we’re seeking the wrong thing. But if we’re seeking salvation for our own sins, then let us keep in mind that forgiveness is given to the merciful, not the self-righteous (cf. Luke 5:32). We should keep in mind that, while we might never be tempted to commit the abominable sins that others do, we do need the Grace of God to deliver us from other sins… because the deadliest sin for each of us is the one we make excuses for instead of repent over.

So, when we’re annoyed with the Church for failing to deal with others as we see fit, while focusing on things that tend to denounce our political favorites, let’s ask ourselves why we’re here being Catholics instead of “nones.” It seems to me that if we’re here to celebrate our own values and wanting others to be rebuked, we’re acting like Pharisees (cf. Luke 18:9-14) and are here for the wrong reasons. But if we’re here because we first know we are sinners in need of salvation, and approach the correction of sinners from the perspective of gratitude to God and wanting to share and help those in a similar situation, then we’re here for the right reasons. It’s something to think about.