Monday, July 28, 2014

The Catholic Church, Politics and Logical Fallacies In America

One thing that troubles me when I look at comments in forums and the news articles--particularly news articles about the stand the Church takes--is how many people (perhaps without realizing it) respond in a most irrational manner to the teaching of the Church

  • A Bishop or the USCCB or the Pope makes a statement about a situation that is in the news, pointing out how Catholics need to keep in mind Church teaching.
  • This position goes against the preference of one of the political parties.
  • Those who agree with the party running afoul of the Church position accuse the Church of being openly in favor of ALL of their opponents positions. (Those supporting the other party tend to point to this as if the Church gave a carte blanche support to the party position as a whole)

This kind of attitude reflects the view that the bishops are not men of God, but are rather partisan politicians—because they do not endorse wholeheartedly the views of the individual's preferred party. So, in other words, they are considered partisan because they do not behave in a way that a partisan approves of.

This isn't a matter of one side being guilty. Democrats have labeled the US bishops as "The Republican Party at Prayer" and Church teachings as "A War on Women" because of the Church teaching on moral issues. Republicans have labeled the Pope as a Marxist, and the bishops as being "in bed with the Obama administration" because of the Church speaking out on social and economic issues.

The fact is, the Church does not speak on these issues because she has a political platform. She speaks on these issues because she has a moral obligation to teach about attitudes that endanger the soul.

So, when somebody tries to equate the Church teaching on abortion as being  "pro-Republican" or the Church teaching on care for the poor with being "pro-Democrat," they are making the assertion that the Church had no opinion at all on the topic before it became a political issue in America. The Church spoke on economic obligations before Karl Marx existed, let alone Marxism. Likewise, the Church has spoken about abortion long before there was ever a United States of America  . . . let alone before there was a Republican party. The Didache (an 1st century AD manual written with the intent of teaching potential converts what the Church believes), which dates back to around AD 50 (some 1800 years before there was a Republican Party) says:

You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. (Didache #2)

The point is, the similarity between the Church teaching and a political position does not mean that the Church position comes from the political position. That's a logical error called Post Hoc (After this), where it is assumed that similarity proves one position comes from another. Similarity proves no such thing. One has to find evidence to prove the link is caused by similarity, not presume it.

There are some other major logical errors in play when the Church is accused of Partisanship in her formal teachings.

1. Either-Or

The Either-Or fallacy assumes that there are two, and only two, positions to choose from. If one does not accept the preferred position, one must be in favor of the other party's position. Such an assumption ignores the possibility of a middle ground, a rejection of both views, or support for a third position that was not considered.

One of the problems when people get caught up in the partisan spirit is they tend to break things down into the either-or mindset. Either Democrat or Republican. Either Conservative or Liberal. The fact is, there can be a lot of ground where neither viewpoint fits the Catholic view.

For example, with the recent immigration crisis, we are given a scenario of Either expelling all illegal immigrants or amnesty. If the Bishops don't approve of one, it is assumed that they support the other. In fact, the Catholic position takes a balanced view that is concerned with both treating these people as human beings and the rights of security of the destination country.

2. Appeal to Emotion

In America, modern politics never seems to care about showing the merits of their position and letting people decide which is superior. No, here we have positions portrayed in a way that tries to get the viewer to have favorable views of the preferred position and negative views of the opponent's view.

For example, the labeling the support of legalized abortion as being "pro-choice" and those who think it is morally wrong as "anti-choice" to give the appearance of their faction being in favor of 'freedom,' and their opponents as being against 'freedom.'

But to the Church, saying "if you're against abortion, don't have one" is as nonsensical as saying "if you're against slavery, don't own a slave." Appealing to the fear of a loss of freedom is irrelevant to the question of whether doing a thing is wrong.

Another example is to bring up the horror stories about what certain people have done to those they dislike, and redirect that emotion (fear, revulsion) to people who oppose the behavior the victim was attacked for. This gets done a lot when it comes to opposing "gay marriage. There are indeed people who have done horrible things to their targeted victims. But the problem is, there is a large difference between saying "This behavior is wrong," and assaulting a person who is guilty of that behavior. Using the fear/revulsion felt over the actions of these brutal people and trying to redirect it to make people feel fear/revulsion over people who say "This action is wrong," is to use emotion instead of considering the reasons for the opposition.

3. Poisoning the Well

Taking #2 a step further, rhetoric doesn't stop at making one emotional about the positions. Modern American politics has to demonize the opponent. Whoever does not agree with the preferred position is portrayed as hateful.

Thus, we see rhetoric that asserts that whoever opposes "gay marriage" is "homophobic." Whoever opposes abortion or the contraceptive mandate is part of the "war on women." Because it is deemed a hateful thing to be homophobic or part of a war on women, anyone who opposes these agendas must be hateful people!

Thus, by using these labels, they ensure that the Church is portrayed as hateful before she can explain her teaching--who wants to listen to a "bigot"? The Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA essentially used this fallacy as the reason for their ruling, and so a slander is shamefully enshrined in the annals of the Supreme Court..

4. Guilt by Association

Guilt by association works like this:

  • Unlikable Person or group supports position X.
  • Therefore position X is bad.

This is why people dredge up the Westboro Baptist Church and their extreme responses and rhetoric. If such hate filled people oppose "gay marriage," it must mean others who oppose "gay marriage" all think the same way . . .

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No. We don't all think the same . . .

Thus we see Pope equated with Marxism, and the bishops equated with the Westboro Baptists by people who disagree with the Catholic positions . . . it's assumed they think alike in all ways. If they don't want to be associated with the hateful people,  they shouldn't hold that view.

The problem is this: Just because an unlikeable person or group holds a position for bad motives does not mean that good reasons don't exist for supporting the position independently of the unlikable person or group. This fallacy assumes that anything such a person or group holds must be hateful.

5.  Ad Hominem (Against the Person)

The ad hominem is an attack that doesn't even seek to refute the argument, but seeks to attack the person making it. This fits in well with #3 (Poisoning the Well). It works like this:

  • Person A makes Statement X
  • Opponent makes attack on Person A
  • Therefore Statement X is false

This kind of attack tries to indicate that the personal characteristics or beliefs of an individual makes him or her unable or unqualified to speak the truth. For example, the argument of "How can some celibate old men make a decision about contraception or abortion or remarriage?"

The problem is, the Catholic teaching is not about confirming what is commonly done in society, it is about bringing the message of salvation to the world and telling people to renounce their sins. If the authority of the Church is from God (which Catholics do believe), then the celibacy of the clergy is not a disqualification from making known the sexual sins which separate one from God.

6. Tu Quoque (You too)

While there are more errors out there, I'll wrap things up with the tu quoque fallacy. This is where a person tries to allege that a person's behavior disqualifies their right to make a moral judgment or else that that behavior justifies whatever vice they want to do.

An example of the first case could be, "The Church says 'Gay marriage' is wrong. Who's going to listen to what they say when they have those molesting priests?" The fact that some priests have committed these sins has no bearing on whether or not the Church teaching is true.

An example of the second case would be, "You say that Obamacare is a violation of religious freedom? You have no cause to complain after the Inquisition!" The fact that the legal system worked this way in Europe from the 15th to the 18th century does not mean that it is OK for a 21st century justice system to act in such a way. Think about it. If a person is offended by the behavior of the Inquisition as they (mis)understand it, then they become hypocritical if they try to use such behavior on others.

Conclusion

The important thing to keep in mind about those logical errors is that political parties are using irrational means in order to impose their will on people they dislike. Even if the reader disagrees with the teachings of the Catholic Church, they should consider this: If political parties are willing to use means that basically amount to irrational excuses for doing what they want to, then there is no limit to who they can target if the targets fall out of favor. That means the reader could find himself or herself targeted by a political party if his or her beliefs get targeted by whoever dislikes what they stand for.

The person of good will has this to keep in mind. When searching for the truth, and living accordingly, they need to look beyond these cheap tricks of distortion and see what the actual truth is. That means rejecting arguments which are logically flawed and searching for whether or not the opponent has a reasonable argument.

Otherwise, while the Church may be the first target, she won't be the last.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Appeal to People of Good Will

Introduction

The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said about the hatred against the Catholic Church that, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Radio Replies vol. 1)

Ven. Archbishop Sheen makes a good point. The Catholic Church is not really hated for what she teaches, but for what people think she teaches. People recognize that what they are shocked by is bad and so they think the Catholic Church must be condemned by all people with any sense of decency.

I think this often applies where a teaching of the Catholic Church is maligned because the person used as a source is a person who has run afoul of Church teaching. Because the Church cannot (often wrongly seen as 'will not') change her teaching for this individual, the Church is hated by many on account of the witness of the person in conflict with Church teaching. 

The Catholic Church does not do things for the hateful motives which her detractors accuse her of and it is wrong to condemn the Church for motives she does not have. So, before one can condemn the Church, one must look at the actual teaching of the Church.

So, when we hear a negative account about the teaching of the Church (as opposed to abuses committed by individuals within the Church), we do have to ask certain things to see if the hostility is justified or not:

  • Does the individual who asserts the Church is hateful properly understand the Church teaching?
  • Is this Church teaching justified? 

The first question is important because before a person can be a credible witness against the Church, we have to determine whether the person properly understands the teaching of the Church and her motivation for teaching thus—otherwise the individual is attacking something that is not even real.

The second point is also important because, even if a person should hate the Church because of her teaching properly understood, it does not mean that the hatred is justified. For people who run afoul of just laws may hate them. In such a case, this hatred is not the fault of the law, and again, the person may turn out not to be a credible witness.

If the Church has reasoned cause for her belief, and that cause is not objectively causing harm to others (which must be distinguished from disliking the Church because she says a popular vice may never be done), then she is justified in spreading her teaching and encouraging people to live by it.

I believe that the hatred of the Church on account of her teachings meets neither of the above conditions. The reasons for her teachings are not understood and she does not hold her teachings for the causes she is accused of (Such as: “Homophobia,” “hatred of women,” “anti-sex,” etc.).

Modern America being what it is, however, I realize that some people will never get beyond the idea that The Church is “hateful,” and no matter what reasons we hold our teaching for, the very fact that we do hold this teaching is going to be considered “proof” that we hold it for bad reasons.

Not all people do think like this however. There are people who do seek to learn what is true and then act on true knowledge, not merely going along with what “everybody says.” I call this a person of good will, and it is to this person that my book is aimed.

The Person of Good Will

So, who I this “Person of Good will” for whom I hope to reach in my blog? I see him or her as the person who wills (chooses) to do what is right (good) to the best of their knowledge and ability.

Now, the desire to do what is right does not always translate into actually doing what is right. Every culture has its own vices and errors of what is wrong. Even the person with good will might do wrong while believing it is right. So the person of good will doesn’t stand pat, saying “I’ve learned enough.” The person of good will is always searching, always seeking to improve in doing what is right.

Unfortunately, there are many groups which claim to have the truth and these groups do contradict each other. This can lead people to think that because there is contradiction in claims, it means there can be no truth. In searching for the truth, the person of good will does have to learn to investigate claims, reject the ones which are false and follow the ones which are true, not the ones that sound appealing to personal preference.

Now because I am a Catholic—by conviction and not by habit—I suspect some readers will roll their eyes and say “Oh, brother! This guy is going to tell us we can’t be people of good will unless we’re Catholic.”

That’s not the case. The person of good will is on a search for the truth. Yes, I believe the fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church. But the person of good will is the seeker of truth. To say that only the person who found the truth can seek it is nonsensical. Both the person earnestly searching for the road of truth and the person who has found that road and is now earnestly trying to follow it are people of good will. Neither can stop where they are.

Of course, trying to find the road is not easy. If you’re not sure what exactly you are looking for, how will you know when you find it?

While each person is different, I think there are three principles which will help the person of good will.

Three Principles For The Person of Good Will

The First principle is from Socrates: The Unexplored Life is not worth living.

This principle here is, not asking questions about what we ought to do make for a pretty useless life. Think about the people you might know who never ask themselves “Should I do this?” They live a shallow life, often doing little more than seeking fulfillment for their urges. That’s basically an animalistic life. Can you imagine what our life would be like today if nobody had sought answers to why a thing is? We’d probably still be sitting in a cave, eating raw meat and whatever weeds we picked up, hoping they wouldn’t poison us. So, we might say the first step is to say, “The truth exists somewhere, let’s look for it and find it.

The Second of these is from Aristotle: To say of what is that it is, and to say of what is not that it is not, is to speak the truth.

That’s a vital second step. Once we’re committed to looking for the truth, we need to evaluate claims made, to see if they are true. Truth isn’t some sort of mystical property of a statement we can’t discover. Speaking Truth is speaking accurately about a thing. If X is good, then we speak truly if we say “X is good” and falsely if we say “X is not good.” We have too many problems in America today because we are relativist and vague in our thinking. We think saying X is Good is merely a statement of personal preference . . . sort of like “I like Ice Cream, you like Murder.”

But that’s ridiculous. If Murder is wrong, then we speak the truth if we say “Murder is wrong,” and falsely if we say “Murder is not wrong.”

So we might describe this second step as, “We have to learn the nature of things, and speak accurately about what things are. It requires investigation.

The Third of these ancient Greek sayings was found on the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. It read Know Thyself (in Greek, obviously).

That’s also important. In the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force, Harry Callahan told a corrupt cop, “A Man has got to know his limitations.” We need to know our position in the universe. If I believe I am a god instead of a man, I do not have a correct understanding of my place in the universe, and the positions I take based on the false understanding that I am a god will lead me to false conclusions about what is and what is not.

I recall once having a discussion with a person who was male but self identified as female. He told me, “I identify myself as a woman and I insist you treat me that way.”

My reply was, “I identify myself as the King of America and I insist you treat me that way.”

He got angry of course, and I probably could have made my point in a more tactful way than I did, but the principle was true nevertheless. A person with an XY set of chromosomes is not a female whatever he may think. I am not the king of America whatever I may think. To think otherwise would be to say of what is, that it is not . . . which is speaking falsely.

(If you disagree with this, then your liege, the King of America, requires you to send us 20% of your income.)

We can sum up our third step as: we have to apply seeking the truth to ourselves—in other words, to look internally as well as externally. We can’t just think of ourselves in whatever way we want to. If humanity is able to reason and tell right from wrong, we have to recognize that some of our actions are wrong and must be rejected even if we want to do them.

So, we can sum up this way:

  1. Seek
  2. Learn
  3. Apply

The person of good will is a person who will take these principles and apply them to what he or she encounters . . . What is the claim? Is it true? How do I apply it to my life?

The answers are not always easy, and that’s probably why many don’t even begin the search—finding out what is true means we have to follow what is true, even if we don’t want to do so.

Following truth may seem like it limits freedom. Well, in some sense it might limit freedom in the American sense of “freedom to do what I like.” But since doing what I like has attached consequences (If I choose the freedom to sit around and watch TV all day, my choice has the attached consequence of poor health). Seeking truth does give us the freedom to do as we ought, and thus our discipline in seeking the truth protects us from making choices that have bad consequences attached.

So in writing about the Catholic Church to the individual who is a person of good will, I am writing to the person who is willing to seek the truth, evaluate claims made and applying the true claims to the way they live.

Some of what I say may be hard if the reader has been taught to think in a certain way. All I can do is try to explain what we believe and why, so that you may make a correct decision on what we hold to be true—not a decision which made on false information.

Don’t Forget: Sin Exists—But So Does Grace

One thing to remember here as we consider the Church teaching on issues is that all people are sinners. Even when they desire to good, we do have inclinations which tempt us to sacrifice the real good for a selfish pleasure. Even the person who knows the truth can be tempted away from following it.

You'll also encounter Catholics who recognize the authority of the Church, but apply the teaching of the Church in a harsh way that alienates people. That's not surprising. Consider all the people who you share some of your views who you think are jerks and make your views look bad. You wish they would shut up and keep quiet. This isn't a trait of Catholics. You'll find people like this with all sorts of religious and political views. Hell, I know at times in my own life I have managed to offend people because I said things in a harsh way—often because I thought I understood the Church teaching better than I actually did. I regret those times. All I can do though is continue to grow closer to following Jesus by means of the Church He established.

So I will say straight up, you will find Catholics who ignore or misuse the Church teaching to justify their own benefits. You will find people who treat the teaching of the Church as if it were a bunch of rules to follow and the more rigorous they are, the better they are. That does not mean that the teaching is no good. That means that the person who is ignoring or misusing or missing the point about the teaching of the Church is acting against what the Church believes.

That’s not said to excuse the Church. It’s said to prepare you. Some wag once said that the thing wrong with Christianity was Christians. It’s cited by atheists, non-Christians etc. It’s even cited by some Christians with a message of “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” But I think it’s missing the point. The thing wrong with Christianity is not that it’s filled with Christians. The problem with Christianity is that it is filled with human beings. Even if we weren’t Christians, we’d still have the same vices we have now.

So what good is Christianity as a philosophy? Well, asking the question is a demonstration of missing the point. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the teaching of God on how to live, yes. But God doesn't provide a Users Manual and say "See you in 70 years for your evaluation." God provides us with the strength to try to keep His will—to seek Him out and do what is right. Without it, it's not difficult to do His will—it's impossible.

Grace gives us strength to cooperate with God. But we are always free to refuse that gift—even when we profess to be Christians. Those who refuse His grace will answer for their refusal to seek out and do what is right. In other words, we do good when we cooperate with the Grace that is given to us and we do evil when we refuse to cooperate to the Grace which is given us.

So why do I bring this up? It is because I want people to recognize that to correctly judge Christianity as a belief, we have to judge the people who follow the teaching, not the people who ignore it. Unfortunately, many people do the exact opposite.

Here's an example to consider. The Catholic Church has always, ever since the beginning, condemned abortion. But some Catholics believe that abortion is a right, openly defying the Church. Is it reasonable to assume that because some Catholics believe abortion is good, that Catholicism teaches abortion is good? Of course not. But condemning the whole Church for the actions of some is doing exactly that.

Are you offended that a Catholic that you met is behaving in a way you find offensive? Before you judge the Church, you need to consider whether the person is being a jerk because of the Church teaching or in spite of the Church.

That is a part of seeking out the truth, and seeking out the truth is what the person of good will is called to do.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Relativism: The Enemy of Freedom

Those who oppose the teachings of the Church tend to do so because the teaching of the Church interfere with the notion that, "I can do whatever the hell I want . . . so long as I don't hurt anybody . . . anybody important I mean . . . and by important, I mean by my own standards, not yours . . . just @#$& off and quit imposing your views on me!"

Of course, the problem is "important by my own standards" is a vague, subjective term that, if accepted, means that someone else can decide that you are not important by their standards, and suddenly you're crammed in a boxcar or a gulag if they gain power over you.

But that's the problem with relativism. if values are relative to the person who applies the standard, and nobody has the right to judge another person's values, then to condemn another person for doing something we dislike is "judgmental," because he or she isn't hurting anybody important . . . by their own standards.

When it comes down to it, relativism isn't very freeing at all. it's used to justify MY freedom from YOU, but not YOUR freedom from ME. . .

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That's basically a case of "might makes right." If you have the power (physical, financial, political) to impose your will, you can do what you want. If you don't, you're out of luck until the wheel spins and you're on top.

History is full of examples of people in power rejecting objective values which conflict with their own standards. The results tend to show up in history books described in terms of disgust and horror.

So, what's the alternative? The alternative is the acknowledgement that objective good and evil acts exist, where one is to do the former and avoid the latter. If we think Nazism or Racism or other things are wrong, we need to look at what makes them wrong in comparison to similar actions, and then make sure that we avoid the thing that makes them wrong. Otherwise, you get ridiculous situations like, "I'm not acting like a Nazi? Do you see me mistreating JEWS? I'm only mistreating DISSIDENTS!"

In other words, objective morality tells us that it is not the fact that the Nazis mistreated Jews that made it wrong (but that it would be OK to treat others that way) but the fact that the action mistreated the Jews that made it wrong. If the Nazis' treatment of the Jews was wrong, it stands to reason that treating others in the same way must also be condemned.

That's an objective value--don't mistreat people. Of course then we have to make distinctions. Is incarcerating a felon "mistreating" him? If not, how do we distinguish the proper treatment from the mistreatment? When is the use of force just and when is it unjust? But the fact that there are many considerations does not change the fact that there are right ways and wrong ways to handle a case.

If we depend on relativism, only the person who decides can choose what is just and unjust. In such a case, we can only coax and persuade the person to change to how we would like them to behave--or use force. But if we recognize the existence of objective truth, we can appeal to justice and right and show the individual that what they are doing is wrong, even if it seems right to them.

That's basically why objective truth and objective morality defend freedom, while relativism actually endangers it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Scares Me About America Today

We have in America a set of factions with the mindset that says one must tolerate views in opposition to our own—except when the view is that of the Christian view of morality. Then we are told that people have no right to impose their views on others.

This view can be summed up as, "What's mine is mine, what's yours is up for grabs." Basically, the mindset is not an appeal to mutual tolerance, but a demand for Christians to surrender their beliefs whenever a person takes offense.

Indeed, when the courts actually defend the rights of the Christian faith, the result is outrage . . . how dare that court not side with the popular movements.

Think about this for a second. What we have here is a mindset that behaves in a partisan manner, unwilling to tolerate, unwilling to let equal justice under the law be done. If a politician or a judge rules or votes against them, it is proof of their intolerance and justifies anything being done with them. If a private citizen takes a stand, that justifies anything being done against them.

This isn't cheap rhetoric here. High ranking members of the Senate are trying to overturn the RFRA and obligate religious business owners to pay for things they find immoral. Brendan Eich was "encouraged" to leave Mozilla because he made a campaign donation for the defense of marriage. We are seeing groups castigate the "Five male Catholic" members of the Supreme Court "forcing their views on others," saying they have too much power and that needs to change . . . Never mind the fact that the Constitution says in Article VI that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

So the results are a foregone conclusion. More people get intimidated by these tactics and decide it is easier to stay quiet. Fewer individuals stand up for what they believe is just under the law and just go along with the flow. Then there is less resistance to the next round of demands. We've already reached a point I never expected to see in America in my lifetime. How much worse will it get?

Obviously the Catholic Church will not accept changes to what she believes Jesus Christ commands, even if some members of the Church should fall away. So then the partisans will have to make a decision. What will they do with those of us who refuse to put the state above God?

This is a dilemma that all Americans, religious or not, will have to face:

  1. If people choose to respect the rights and freedoms this nation at its founding recognized as belonging to all peoples, they have to respect that the Freedom of Religion in the First Amendment expressly forbids the infringement of the Free Exercise of religion. Thus they must accept that they cannot compel us to do that which we believe is evil.
  2. If people choose to go along with the factions insisting that their ideology trumps the rights and freedoms of those who disagree with them, then it means they tolerate a decision where these factions only respect the law when it serves them and set it aside when it doesn't.

Now remember that choosing the first option will earn you the enmity of these factions, which will YOU choose?

Most people tend to go along with option #2 . . .

. . . and that's what scares me about America today.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Considering the Authority of the Church Before One Finds Oneself in Conflict

Introduction

It always saddens me when I encounter a fallen away Catholic online—the kind who obviously feels betrayed by the Church. Obviously they are in a lot of pain, and their pain is real. It's not going to go away just because you explain to them why the Church cannot change her teaching for them. For such people, all you can do is pray, comfort and explain at the level they're willing to hear.

So why am I writing?

The problem is, online, many people read the bitter hurt and anger and are led to believe that the Church is a cruel, bureaucratic institution that couldn't care less about the "little people" who are crushed by these rules. These people believe that the Catholic Church is in opposition to the love of Jesus Christ. Few explore the actual teaching of the Church and why she feels obligated to teach as she does.

Yes, it is true that the Bible says "God is love" (1 John 4:8). But the Bible says so much more than that . . . it also speaks of moral obligations and commandments. Reading the Bible isn't a matter of keeping score—there's no contrasting Paul or the Old Testament with Christ here. Because God inspired the authors of Scripture to write what He intended and no more, we can't say that one part of the Bible contradicts another. Rather, we see a growing awareness of understanding God brought to the final fulfillment that Jesus Christ gave us.

This brings us to the heart of the matter: When there is a dispute, what living authority which can determine what is and what is not in keeping with the will of Christ? It does no good to argue that the Bible is that authority . . . it is the meaning of the Bible which is being disputed.

So this is why I write—so that people who have not yet found themselves running afoul of the Catholic Church might recognize her authority and obligation in teaching, and perhaps avoid finding themselves in opposition to the Church to begin with.

The Catholic Church and Authority

Ultimately, the dispute between the Catholic Church and those in opposition to her is the issue of what authority she has to make decisions binding on the faithful. If what the Church claims about her nature is true, then when she teaches, it is binding on the faithful and rebellion against the Church teaching is rebellion against God. But, if what she claims is not true, then she has no "teachings" at all. The Church would then be nothing more than yet another NGO with an agenda . . . one to support if you agree with it and oppose if you don't.

What the Catholic Church believes about herself is that she is the Church that Jesus said He would establish (Matt 16:18-19). The Pope and the bishops the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles. If what she believes about herself is true, then she does have the authority of Christ. What Christ has said about giving His authority to carry out His work is important here:

18 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. 19 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.” (Matt 16:18-19)

17 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. 18  Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matt 18:17-18)

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

16 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)

21 [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  (John 20:21-23)

New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011)

These words are important. Jesus makes some important promises about His Church.

Laying all this out, we can see that whatever this Church may be, it was not a mere incidental point in Jesus' mission. He intends His mission to continue, even after His Death and Resurrection. So, considering all these points that the Bible makes, if the Catholic Church is not the Church established by Christ, where is it?

  • It can't be Invisible . . . otherwise, how could we go to it?
  • It can't have ever died out . . . or have come into existence centuries or millennia later.
  • It has to have the authority of Christ.
  • It has to have the authority to bind and loose . . . which means it has to be protected from teaching error. Otherwise Jesus would have to bind sin and loose His commandments in Heaven.
  • It has the authority to forgive sins.
  • It is centered under the headship of Peter.
  • It has to be carrying out the mission of Christ to the whole world . . . not merely serving one community or one ethnicity or one nation.

As Catholics, we believe that this Church is the Catholic Church, given the authority and the responsibility along with the protections needed to avoid teaching error.

What This Means

That leads us to the moment of truth. There are two (and only two) options:

  1. If the Catholic Church is this Church established by Christ, then her teachings are not arbitrary, but have the authority of Christ behind them.
  2. If the Catholic Church is not this Church established by Christ, then her teachings have no authority behind them except perhaps the power of persuasion.

Once one realizes this, the Catholic has a decision to make before there is ever a risk of winding up in conflict with the Church. If one recognizes this authority as being from Christ, then one should be aware that the Church teachings need to be followed and that decisions that might put one in conflict to the Church must be avoided.

Once this is grasped, one can look at the different issues on Church teaching. For example, Abortion, Contraception, Divorce and Remarriage, "Gay" Marriage, Women's Ordination and others. There's no sense in getting angry at the Church. She does this because she thinks she must teach this way to be faithful to Christ. If one agrees that Christ gave her that authority, then the Church teaching has Christ's authority and fighting the Church teaching is fighting God.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Thoughts on the Portrayal of Catholicism in Fiction

Introduction

I have to admit something. I don't care for the BBC series Brother Cadfael and don't think highly of the books either. It's a dislike rooted in how the series portrays the Middle Ages and its approach to religion. One gets the impression that if Cadfael wasn't under the authority of ignorant men, he'd be able to accomplish so much more. At other times you see religion portrayed in a way that the Church specifically spoke against doing—trials by ordeal, allowing a man to abandon his wife to enter a monastery, etc. Behavior where the viewer asks "How could The Church ever allow that?" Actually, they didn't. No doubt there were some places where abuses took place, but the abuse is not the same thing as being sanctioned by the official teaching of the Church.

In both cases, the Church in medieval times is portrayed in a way which startles viewers and makes them think that Catholicism behaves badly by its very nature—that people are right to oppose it.

Trying to Draw ALL out of SOME

Mind you, it's not a flaw exclusive to this series. Just consider, when is the last time you saw/read about...

  • a (non-rebel) priest assisting the heroes instead of the villains?
  • a (non-rebel) Crusader who wasn't portrayed as ignorant and brutal in comparison to the Muslims?
  • a (non-rebel) priest, monk or nun who wasn't portrayed as viewing technology and science as evil... or at least suspicious?
  • a (non-rebel) priest who wasn't either cold and intolerant or naive and inexperienced when it comes to dealing with those in need?

Odds are you haven't seen it very often—if at all. In general, the portrayal of the Church—especially with fiction set in the past (or a Church-like institution if the genre is fantasy)—is one of oppression and opposition to reason, mercy or justice. Those that don't have these vices are rebels who scoff at the rules of the Church, getting it right when their legalistic fellow clergy are shown up to be buffoons, knaves or hypocrites.

It's not always a malicious thing—I suspect most authors or producers don't wake up one morning and think, "Hey! Let's make the Church look bad!" The ludicrous anti-Catholic theories portrayed by Jack Chick or Dan Brown are extremes. But extremes are often distractions from the less flagrant misrepresentations. Some might want the Church to look bad. But probably more often we have a case where people merely portray the Church according to the stories they have been led to believe are true.

But the fact is the Catholic Church does not teach the faithful to act like this. So the general image shows create: that Catholics (especially priests and nuns) do behave this way—because of their Catholicism—is a problem.

I find that often, when it comes to portrayal of the Catholic Church in books, movies or TV, the portrayal of the behavior in a religious community is shown as aberrant—but gives the viewer or reader no sense of context so they can understand that the behavior actually is appalling to the practicing Catholic as well.

Of course, when a Catholic objects, the response is "It's just a work of fiction!  Don't take it so seriously!" But that response is to miss the point. The portrayal of the Church in fiction is implied to be based on the real Church of history. People see the "historical portrayal" and assume that the author must have done some research or he/she wouldn't make the assertion. (This actually happened in response to the "historical" assertions made in The Da Vinci Code).

The problem is, regardless of the motivation, the media tends to portray the Church (or, in fantasy, a fictional church with the trappings of the Catholic Church) as being one or more of the following: corrupt, jealous of power, judgmental, avaricious, suspicious of science, arrogant, hypocritical, arbitrary... I could go on. The idea being presented is that being a part by choice of this Church makes one hostile to compassion and progress. Those within the Church who don't have these vices are generally giving the impression of being naive or being seen as a misfit by others in the Church.

Now, yes, it is true that there are people within the Church who possess these traits. Some of these may also have authority within the Church. But, you can not start with a SOME and conclude that the SOME is a proof of the whole. The fact that Some X is Y does not allow us to make a judgment about the whole of X.

So, no doubt some churchmen are avaricious or hypocritical. But that does not mean all are. Think about the racial stereotypes--it's the same error. I can find some members of an ethnic group that match a stereotype—but trying to claim these members of the group accurately represent the whole group is unjustified.

There's another error here, the post hoc fallacy. It assumes that because a person belongs to group A and has objectionable view B, it means membership in A causes behavior B.

We can show this is bad reasoning:

  • Pelosi is Catholic
  • Pelosi is Pro-abortion
  • Therefore Catholics are Pro-abortion.

This shows that the behavior of an individual Catholic or small group is not necessarily caused by the Church. The Church teaching, after all, is that abortion is never permissible.

It's also the Church position that being corrupt, jealous of power, judgmental, avaricious, arrogant, hypocritical or arbitrary (etc.) are not permissible behaviors.  So, just as Pelosi holds her position in opposition to Church teaching, the Catholic who holds these vices do so in opposition to the Church.

So that's why I get annoyed when the Church gets portrayed in this way in fiction. The bad behavior of some is used as the basis for portraying Catholics as a whole in a bad light, when it is not reasonable to do so.

See, we wouldn't mind a portrayal of Catholics behaving badly if it was made clear that their behavior went against what the Church requires. But mostly it isn't made clear.  The viewer or reader is given the impression that the portrayal is typical of the Church at this period. A non-Catholic viewer/reader is left with the impression that the Church is that way by nature.

The Problem of False and Distorted History

Aside from the issues of bad reasoning and presuming that the whole is guilty of the part, there is another problem. That problem is the falsification and exaggeration of history. There are things that the Church was accused of doing, but did not. There are things that the Church was accused of not doing, but did. There are also places where action or inaction by the Church was grossly exaggerated.

Basically, the form of the accusation is:

  • The Church did or said X
  • X is evil
  • Therefore the Church is evil.

The problem is, the major premise is either false or distorted about the X that the Church was alleged to have done or said, (I've already addressed above the problem of claiming the whole Church took part in an error on the grounds that some did, because you can't allege the whole is guilty of the sins of the part).

In the minor premise, the problem is the X done by the Catholic Church is not always the intrinsic evil act (evil by its very nature) it's accused of being. Think the old "Catholics worship statues" accusation: Since Catholics don't worship statues, the fact that "Worshipping statues is evil" doesn't apply. If it is not intrinsically evil, then conditions may exist when the act is not evil. Also, while the Church may have done an act, it doesn't mean that the act done by the Church is the action condemned as evil.

When the premises are false, then the argument is not proven. You can't use the argument to prove your point. So if the Church didn't say or do X or the X that the Church did wasn't the same act people associate with evil, then the conclusion "Therefore the Church is evil" is unproven.

Again, the ludicrous examples of this argument come from the allegations of people like Dan Brown and Jack Chick. But the problem is, when people set the bar at the level of Jack Chick and Dan Brown, less extreme examples come across as seeming true.

Internet-Quotes

The Internet can tell you many things . . . and some of them might even be true.

But, when people actually goes to research some claims (and by research, I mean seek reliable sources, not whatever the hell people put on the internet) made against the Church, one finds the alleged actions fall into one of three categories:

  1. The alleged event did not actually happen as described
  2. The action was not something done by the entire Church, but actually came from local customs and were only carried out in that area.
  3. People of a nation take up something actually condemned by the Church.

The first case is an exoneration. The second case shows the accusation is confusing SOME and ALL. The third case shows the accusation is blaming the wrong party.

Examples of the First Case could be things like "Jesuits were  trained assassins" (nope), or "There was a female Pope" (we can account for every Pope in the timeline when she was alleged to have reigned) or Leo XIII said in 1900 that it was good to burn heretics (a fabrication made up by an ex-priest) etc. These things are alleged to have been done or said by the Church, but in fact these are false. They never happened.

An example of the Second Case includes the medieval Trials By Ordeal, Witch Trials (both holdovers from the Germanic Barbarian invasions—customs that preceded the Church missionary activity in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages), or in more modern times, the sensational news stories made about Ireland about the care for children—that turn out to be less than totally accurate in terms of scope and severity.

Examples of the Third Case are the abuses the Spanish carried out in the New World. The Church condemned the revived Slave Trade. For example, Sicut Dudum was issued by Pope Eugene IV (lived 1383-1447) as soon as news of the enslavement of the natives of the Canary Islands.  If you read it, you'll see pretty much everything the Spanish did was condemned in 1435—57 years before the Europeans first encountered the New World. So why did it remain a problem? Well, it's kind of like the abortion problem today. The Church keeps condemning it, and Catholic politicians keep ignoring the condemnations. If the politicians aren't afraid of Hell, the Church doesn't have very many options.

The point of these three cases is, the Church is often condemned as a whole for something totally fabricated, something practiced as a custom by only a portion of people who professes the Catholic faith, or something actually condemned by the Church.

The Past Was Brutal—But the Brutality Was Not Exclusive to Christendom

There's another problem to remember too. When we look at the past, we will find things which seem startling to our 21st century sensibilities. We look at how government functioned and justice was carried out and feel appalled. Of course, I imagine we'd also be appalled by medicine and hygiene back then too. The difference is, we're not morally appalled by the problems with hygiene and medicine.

The problem is, we recognize that the advances in hygiene and medicine came about as people learned more, but we don't realize that the same advances in government and law came about the same way . . . nope, people assume that we had sadists in charge and they were sadists because the Church said it was OK. That's the approach I'm often seeing fiction take with Catholicism.

Conclusion: What Is To Be Done?

The effect of these beliefs in the medium of fiction, whether in books or in TV or in Movies is that many people substitute relying on an author or director  in place of actually seeing if these allegations of action or attitude are true and taught by the Church.

Now these authors, whether through malice or ignorance or something in between, are portraying a false image of the Church by allowing it to appear that the Church was responsible for these behaviors and attitudes that seem repellant to us. If the author or director is attempting to give the impression that his portrayal is historically accurate and was the common Catholic practice, he has responsibility to do basic research and report what a thing actually was. The failure to do so makes him responsible for slander or libel depending on whether the falsehood is spoken or printed—either by deliberate action or by negligence.

But the fact that we have writers, directors and the like, who do make these kind of assertions requires the viewer or reader to practice responsibility. One ought not to just assume that what is alleged is true. Any fool can allege any kind of secret conspiracy by the Church in a work of fiction. Any writer of fantasy can portray his monks as drunken, debauched hypocrites. Any TV show or movie can portray the Church as cruel, greedy and intolerant.

But the question remains… Is it true?

The viewer or reader has the responsibility to assess the claims made by searching for credible sources which accurately report history and the teachings of the Church. There are many anti-Catholic sites which make all sorts of bizarre claims—usually all relying on a very limited number of biased sources. So search wisely, and don't assume that the portrayal in a work of fiction is accurate.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Thoughts on True and False Freedom on Independence Day, 2014

The Catholic view of Freedom holds that freedom allows us to do what we ought to do. The modern American concept of freedom is the idea that we can do whatever we want. These views of freedom are obviously contradictory because doing what we want and doing what we ought often run into conflict.

There's also the problem that the freedom to do what one wants tends to contradict itself. If I am free to do what I want, am I free to own slaves? Most people would be horrified at the thought. (if you're thinking That's a good idea! then do yourself a favor and keep quiet). The freedom to own a slave removes freedom from the person who is a slave.

The person who claims the freedom to do what one wants takes offense with the challenge that there are limits to what one can do. But the person who says there are limits points out that there are things it is never right to do. I'm not free to rape or murder or enslave, and most people would agree that no person should ever have such "freedom."

Yet, it's funny that the proponent of the "freedom to do as I want" school of thought tend to view any restrictions to do what they want as having someone "imposing their views." But the fact remains that the person who demands the freedom to do something immoral denies the freedom of the person who thinks it is immoral to act.

There's a really stupid slogan that has made the rounds on Facebook, the internet in general, and the bumper stickers. It reads, "If you're against abortion, don't have one." It's really stupid because the concept allows you to justify anything:

  • If you're against murder, don't murder anyone.
  • If you're against rape, don't rape anyone.
  • If you're against stealing, don't steal.
  • If you're against discrimination, don't discriminate.
  • If you're against slavery, don't own a slave.
  • If you're against torture, don't torture anyone.

These all sound ridiculous, and with good reason. In all these cases, it is recognized that the thing opposed is seen as something that no person should do. The person who actually believed one of these would be viewed with horror. But the person who would use such an argument is making the assertion that there is nothing wrong with the existence of a behavior. Opposition to the behavior is portrayed as a preference. If you don't like the behavior, and demand nobody be allowed to do it, the accusation is, "You're forcing your views on us!"

No. Opposing murder, rape, theft, discrimination and slavery all stem from the belief that all these actions are wrong, and nobody should do them. If we accept the idea of "If you're against abortion, don't have one," the others follow logically . . . the individual's preferences are supreme and the other person's rights can be sacrificed.

But once we recognize that a person is not free to murder, rape, steal from, discriminate against, or enslave another person, we recognize that there are limits to individual freedoms when it comes to actions that are always wrong. So we know that the freedom to do what you want is false. The problem is we tend to make exceptions for ourselves. If I want to do something, I should be able to do it without any repercussions . . . I should have the freedom from consequences of my actions.

But nature itself shows that is false. Yes I can probably be drunk 24 hours a day, but that freedom comes with a cost to my physical and mental health. Yes, I can probably have sex indiscriminately, but that freedom comes with the cost of the chance of pregnancy or the chance of venereal diseases. People want to avoid those consequences and demand that means be provided to avoid such consequences—at no cost to themselves. Of course that means at the expense of others. As the old saying goes, There's no such thing as a free lunch. If the person demands the means to avoid consequences without having to pay for it, that person is demanding that other people pay for it (such as, the taxpayers).

 

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Keep out of my bedroom . . . but leave your wallet!

Of course, that is where people who claim the freedom to do as they ought rightly object. Because Catholics believe that some things are always wrong (the term is Intrinsic evil) and may never be done, they cannot cooperate with such acts, even when lawmakers unjustly approve of them. For example, if a government should be taking part in a genocide and passed a law that all citizens must turn in members of the targeted ethnic group, we would recognize our obligation to not take part. People in the government could try to force us, but they would have no right to do so.

OK, the genocide example is an extreme one—it's meant to be. It's meant to demonstrate the principle in a way that most people would recognize. But we have obligations to live as God commands, and we believe these obligations are reasonable and are actually beneficial. Going against these obligations is harmful spiritually to be sure, but going against them are also harmful physically and mentally as well . . . we're going against the way we're hardwired to be.

If you believe that your freedom to do as you want trumps the freedoms of others who believe it is wrong to act this way, that is the same mindset of the person who believed he had the right to own slaves. While you're decrying people "pushing their views on you," it's actually you who are pushing your views on those who think it is wrong.

That's the problem with America today. People want the freedom from consequences when they claim the freedom to do what they want. They insist others provide what they need to avoid consequences, even if those others believe it is wrong to enable their behavior.

The Supreme Court recently defended the right to do as we ought—with the result that people who want freedom from consequences are outraged that we don't have to do what we believe is evil. That outrage is alarming. It indicates they are actually contemptuous of true freedom and actually want their privileges to trump the true rights of others.