Monday, March 30, 2015

Logical Fallacies in the Anti-Religious Freedom Movement

Introduction

There are a number of businesses, organizations and celebrities that are either threatening, carrying out or calling for boycotts of Indiana on account of the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They call it names like the “Freedom To Discriminate” act (George Takei) and call such laws “dangerous” (Tim Cook). But, as I read the anger spilling out over the internet, I see that the opposition is not based on any fact but rather on logical fallacies

The end result of these fallacies is the fact that there is an allegation of intolerance made against the Christian moral teachings, but no proof to justify the claim. Without proof, one cannot say that the accusation is proven true.

Let’s look at them.

The Begging the Question Fallacy

The begging the question fallacy is committed by acting as if something that has to be proven to be true is true. So, if the point of my argument is that “X is bad,” the premises of my argument have to be aimed at proving X is bad. If the premises of my argument are based on the assumption that “X is bad” then I am begging the question. This is commonly done in the assumption that opposition to “same sex marriage” is based on intolerance? Why are they intolerant? Because they oppose “same sex marriage”! That doesn’t answer the question “How do we know it is intolerant?” It merely repeats the (unproven) allegation.

These arguments don’t actually demonstrate that intolerance is the only possible motive for this opposition. It is simply assumed that the no good person would oppose it. So, as a result we say these arguments are unproven—you can’t prove the conclusion by this argument. If we think of an argument as a trial, then we could think of this argument as a prosecutor who alleged the accused was guilty but provided no proof of guilt for it. Any jury deciding the accused was guilty would be causing a miscarriage of justice.

The Slippery Slope Fallacy

The slippery slope fallacy seems similar to showing cause and effect (showing a link between A and B), but in actuality it argues against something simply under the fear of what it might do. In other words, “If we let A happen, B is going to happen,” again assuming but not proving. In this case, the popular example is to portray this law as the modern equivalent of the old “Whites Only” signs in the Segregated South. People ask “What about a restaurant owner refusing to serve a same sex couple?” and go on from there giving all sorts of horror stories of what could happen. Could being the operative word—what might happen does not equal “will happen,” and “what will happen” is what has to be determined before we can condemn something.

To continue the analogy of argument of a trial, this argument is like a prosecutor who tries to argue that "if we don’t convict the defendant, he will go on to commit all sorts of monstrous crimes.” But we don’t convict a person on what they might do, but on what they did do. You don’t know that a person will do this, and it is possible to take just precautions to ensure a crime does not happen without violating civil rights.

The Appeal to Emotion Fallacy

The appeal to emotion fallacy works on the premise that a good emotion associated with a claim leads one to think of it as true, while a negative emotion associated with a claim leads one the claim as false. So to appeal to “the need to let two people in love marry regardless of their gender” awakens a positive idea that same sex “marriage” is good because “love” is good, while awakening hostility towards those who oppose it as being “cold hearted.” But emotion can be exploited. Leaders exploit emotions in propaganda to move people to support their country and oppose another country. The emotions don’t mean that the claims are true.

Using the analogy of a trial once more, the appeal to emotion is like a lawyer not talking about whether the charges are true or not, but instead tries to play on your feelings to give a verdict that he wants.

The Ad Hominem Fallacy

The ad hominem does not seek to prove or disprove anything. Instead, it tries to attack the person making an argument and convince a person that because he or she has negative traits (true or not), we can ignore anything said by that person. An example of this fallacy would be if I said, "Tim Cook could not be trusted to give an accurate account of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because he was a liberal and a homosexual." Those claims have no bearing on whether or not what he says is true. (A person being a liberal or having a same sex attraction have nothing to do with whether or not a person is speaking the truth).

Likewise, the accusations that the Church is intolerant, homophobic, bureaucratic and heartless (and we deny all of them) have nothing to do with whether the Church teaching on homosexuality is true or not. These are just terms of abuse used to give a negative impression on the listener and turn them away from listening to the argument and considering if it was true.

The Poisoning the Well Fallacy

The poisoning the well fallacy seeks to make a smear attack on the target so that no matter what the targeted person says, the smear remains in the mind of the listener. This is another way where opponents of the Religious Freedom laws attack to prevent people from considering the argument. The attacker alleges that the supporter of this law is bigoted and has a hatred for people with same sex attraction. The result of poisoning the well is that the listener assumes that a defense of the law is simply defending bigotry and hatred.

The Overall Effect

The overall effect of these tactics is to give the listener the impression that the Christian that refuses to participate in a “same sex wedding” does so out of bigotry. Since bigotry is bad, a good person is led to believe that the right thing to do is to oppose Christian belief. 

The Catholic Teaching is NOT What It is Misrepresented to Be

But the problem is not a single one of these accusations are true. The Christian teaching is not motivated by hatred—indeed the Catholic Church condemns hatred. 

When one looks at the definition of hate in a dictionary it tells us the meaning is intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury, ill-will, an extreme dislike or antipathy. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether the Church teaching is motivated by hatred.So we ask: Does the Church have intense hostility and antipathy for the woman who had an abortion or the person with same sex attraction, wishing them harm? That is what has to be proven. It has to actually be established that they despise such a person and wants them to come to harm—like perhaps hoping they go to hell?

So, we would need to look at what the Church taught about the sinner and see if there is such a desire in their treatment of sinners.

But the opposite is true: the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between our treatment of persons and treatment of behaviors, saying:

1933 This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy. (2303)

 

2303 Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (2094; 1933)

Some people (often derisively) refer to this as “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But while that is true, it is inadequate.

The person who hates a sinner wishes a defiant sinner harm or other misfortune. Such a person is doing what the Church says is wrong. But the person who says “this act is sinful and must be stopped” is not acting out of hatred any more than a doctor who says “Smoking is harmful and must be stopped.” He or she is expressing this information in the hopes that the individual committing it will stop doing it—for their own good.

So, like it or not, the Church is explicitly saying that hatred of a sinner is forbidden and even a grave sin. For the non-Catholic, a grave sin involves serious matter where a person who commits it with full knowledge of its gravity and with full consent to do it anyway would be committing a mortal sin—which is a sin that would damn one to hell if unrepented.

So, in other words, if we hate the woman who has an abortion or the man with same sex attraction, we can go to hell for wishing such a person grave harm. Does that really make any sense to accuse the Church for holding their teaching out of hatred when they say it is evil to hold hatred for a person? Talk about self defeating! The Church does not hate people. However she does have hostility to the actions that are chosen that turn humanity away from God. 

Individuals Who Disobey the Church Exist, But the Church Can’t Be Blamed For Their Actions

Now of course, you can find extremists who actually do hate people instead of the sin committed—people who actually wish evil to afflict sinners. Up until their leader died, the media loved to provide us with stories of the Westboro Baptist Church as an example of Christianity hating people with same sex attraction. It was effective as one could find people pointing to their antics and accusing the Catholic Church of committing them. But in actuality, the Catholic Church teaching is in complete opposition to their antics. As the Catechism says:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Treatment with respect, compassion and sensitivity is incompatible with hatred, so again we have shown that, contrary to accusations, Catholic teaching is not rooted in hatred.

Modern Society Falsely Thinks that Saying Actions Are Wrong Means Hatred of the Person Doing Them

The problem is the modern society takes a love me, love my dog attitude to the extreme. It’s not just a case of demanding that we accept a person with flaws and all—rather it is a demand that we accept those flaws as a good and deny there is anything wrong with them. A refusal to accept those flaws as good is turned into an accusation of hating the person. But, as we have shown above, hatred of a self-destructive behavior (which all sin is) does not mean hating the person suffering from it. It can mean hating a problem which keeps the person from being what they should be.

But once a person demands we accept their sin as if it were good, they see the attempt to help a person as if it were an attempt to harm them. It’s as if a person carrying a heavy load fell into quicksand and the load was dragging them down. We throw them a rope, but the weight of the load prevents them from climbing out to safety and actually threatens to break the rope. We tell them they need to let go of their load and grab the rope, but they refuse, saying that we need to get them out with their load as well. When we tell them it is impossible, they get angry at us and accuse us of wanting them to die. It is untrue. The fact is, in a life or death situation, no possession is worth your life. 

Likewise, in the reality of our having an eternal soul which can be dragged down to hell if we refuse to cooperate with salvation, no vice, no compulsion is worth losing our soul over and no human declaration can make good what God has called evil. Therefore when it comes to the choice of man declaring a thing “good” and God calling that thing “evil,” what we have is a choice between accepting and rejecting God.

Conclusion

The fact is, we deny that Christian moral teaching is based on hatred of people with same sex attraction. It is more like a wife who loves her husband with alcoholism. That alcoholism is destroying his life and his relationship with her. The wife hates this alcoholism because she can see what it is doing to her husband and wants it to be cured so he will stop harming himself and have a better life. The hatred of the harmful act is not done out of hatred for the person.

In such a case, we would recognize the husband’s accusation that his wife hated him because she hated his alcoholism to be wrong. Being an alcoholic is not a part of the man’s nature. It is a flaw which must be overcome, whether by being cured or by avoiding behavior that feeds it.

Now the person may think that their inclination is good. They may cling to it like a heavy load. But the harmful inclination can never be enabled. That is why the Church will never change her teaching on same sex “marriage” or abortion or contraception. We know they are wrong, and we cannot take part in what we know is wrong, even if someone thinks it is morally acceptable.

I think I will close this article with a quote from the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz that I have cited before. 

In it we have a situation where there has been a nuclear war, and people are suffering from radiation sickness.  The government wants to establish facilities to decide who has received enough radiation to be fatal to recommend euthanizing.  The abbot of the monastery where they want to establish the facility tells them he will refuse cooperation unless the doctor promises not to advise people to euthanize themselves.  The doctor says it is not right to do this with non-Catholic patients and accuses the abbot of imposing his views on others and the abbot has no right to make this condition, and demands the abbot explain why he insists on this stance for non-Catholics as well as Catholics.  The abbot responds:

Because if a man is ignorant of the fact something is wrong and acts in ignorance, he incurs no guilt, provided natural reason was not enough to show him that it was wrong.  But while ignorance may excuse the man, it does not excuse the act, which is wrong in itself.  If I permitted the act simply because the man is ignorant that it is wrong, then I would incur guilt, because I do know it to be wrong.  It is really that painfully simple. (A Canticle for Leibowitz. page 296 in my EOS edition)

The doctor responds by accuse the abbot of being merciless and out of touch, which is no refutation of the facts stated by the abbot. Likewise, the accusation that we are bigoted and out of touch is no refutation of our argument.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

TFTD: Self-Contradiction by Opponents to Christianity

So, the backlash against Indiana’s Religious Freedom law continues to grow, and one wonders whether things will spill over into violence soon against Christians. The media, with backing from some politicians and some businesses are treating the entire affair as being intended to allow free discrimination against people with same sex attraction—never mind that they are merely making a circular argument that assumes discrimination instead of proving it intends discrimination.

But as I read the news articles and the comments, I am seeing what is amounting to several huge self-contradictions that, when explored, makes these protestors out to be huge hypocrites. Here’s the problem.

  1. If nobody should be allowed to force their views on others, then nobody should be allowed to force their views of same sex “marriage” on Christian business owners.
  2. If it is acceptable for the law to make demands based on moral beliefs (by banning “anti-gay” discrimination), then it is acceptable for Christians to make law based on the demands of their moral belief.

See the problem here? If relativists try to define the issue the first way (“forcing views on others”) then they are obligated to avoid forcing their views on others, and they cannot try to compel Christian business owners to cooperate with their view that “same sex marriage” is morally acceptable. But if they try the other tactic and claim that they have the right to pass laws that say Christians must cooperate with their beliefs of right and wrong, then logically Christians have the right to pass laws based on their own beliefs of right and wrong.

No matter which universal they stake claim to, Christians can point out they are being hypocritical in their enforcement of it because it is being applied in such a way as to exclude those the protestors disagree with (the Christians), whereas, if opponents of Christianity applied those principles across the board, they could not condemn Christians for behaving as they do without condemning themselves as well.

However, Christians can’t be accused of approaching these two concepts with the same self-contradiction simply because we don’t hold them in the first place. The Christian view is not based on the idea of freedom to behave as one wants, but the freedom to behave as one ought. Anything that blocks a person from doing what is right or forces them to do what is wrong is a violation of that freedom. Because the concept of family as husband, wife and children passing on the values needed for the society to continue from one generation to the next is a building block of the society, the law can be justified in defending it. Things that harm that building block of society by tearing down the things that make it possible to continue society to the next generation need to be prevented and the law is reasonable in using just means to prevent them from destroying it.

So (simplifying greatly), I would say that the Christian moral teaching would hold this principle with no self contradiction:

  1. No law should prevent a person from doing what they believe they are morally obliged to do unless that belief causes actual harm to others or the breakdown of the common good (taking another life arbitrarily comes to mind here, as does attacks on the traditional family, committing violence against others without just cause).
  2. No law should force a person to do what they believe is morally wrong to do.
  3. Laws should promote the common good and protect the family and individuals from those who would actively seek to harm others.

Such a concept on law would not only protect the Christian, but the non-Christian from being forced to do wrong, it would protect society from individuals or groups who claim they have the moral obligation to murder or steal etc. It recognizes that real right and wrong do exist and seeks to make laws that makes it easier to do what is right, and put restrictions on wrongdoing that disrupts society.

No contradiction, no injustice. That’s the difference between the consistent Christian view and the self-contradiction of the inconsistent view of modern Christianophobia that pretends to be in favor of “rights” of all—except Christians.

The Snares of the Devil

Knowledge about God without an awareness of our misery produces vanity. Knowledge of our misery without an awareness of God produces despair. Knowledge of Jesus Christ provides the middle ground, because in him we find both God and our misery.

BLAISE PASCAL

(1588–1651)


I’m of the view that the devil can use the same snare on any number of people—it is only a case of using different bait depending on the individual. At the same time, people tend to be pretty good at sneering at other people caught in the snares while ignoring that we seem to be somehow stuck after going for that bait tasty looking morsel just sitting there.

The trap is pride/vanity and the bait is the way we justify ourselves into thinking we have done nothing wrong—that the fault is exclusively on the other side of whatever either-or equation we have set up for ourselves. Either we haven’t sinned, or else it’s someone else’s fault that we have sinned. If anyone should indicate that we are doing wrong in a specific way (as opposed to a generic “yeah I’m a sinner, but oh well… so is everyone else), we get angry. Someone saying I am doing wrong and am at risk of losing my soul over it is seen as an unjust insult, while when I speak out on the flaw of another, I am merely admonishing the sinner—one of the spiritual works of mercy.

This seems to be reaching a peak of hostility, where the Church receives hatred from both sides and both sides can see the hypocrisy of the other side, but not their own. One Catholic sees the sins of his ideological foe, and correctly sees they are wrong, but is blind to his own flaws. His foe looks at him and sees the same. But neither says “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner."

I think this is the real point of Matthew 7:1-5...

 “Stop judging,* that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

This quote is taken grossly out of context to mean “Don’t you dare say what I do is wrong,” when it should be telling us to look at our own faults and failings and realize we are not sinless judges, but also sinners in need of repentance.

Thus, we can deny that what we do is a sin, we can claim that the teaching which labels what we do is sinful lacks authority, or we can focus on the wrongs of others being more serious and therefore people should not be focussing on us. By doing this, we refuse to repent and instead focus on “the other guy."

For example, people who rebel against the Catholic teaching on morality tend to say “God doesn’t care about X!” This X can be contraception, abortion, divorce/remarriage, premarital or adulterous sexual relationships (or many others, but these are the current “hot button” issues). This is denial.

Others ignore the Church teaching by trying to negate the authority of the teachings to bind.  “That’s not ex cathedra!” The Pope’s a Marxist!” “The Bishop’s a Right Winger!” “The Church fell into heresy after Vatican II!” “The Church is homophobic and anti-woman!" I could go on and on (and the excuses do go on and on), with people from both sides of our political spectrum rejecting that a Church teaching binds in a case where the individual dislikes what is said.

Still others point to the Church taking action against their disobedience, saying, “What they do is worse than what I do! Why do you only focus on me?” Such a view ignores the very real fact that the person using this tactic has done wrong and has no excuse for it. 

All of these cases prey on our vanity, We know God exists and commands us to do good and avoid evil. But (as Pascal pointed out in the opening quote) if we don’t know  (or of we ignore) our own misery (in the sense of wretchedness—needing deliverance from our sins) we produce vanity. It does no good to point out our own disadvantages or another’s advantages. Each one of us will be held accountable for how we tried to live in accord with God’s teaching. As Fulton J. Sheen wrote:

We are all on the roadway of life in this world but we travel in different vehicles. Some are in trucks, jeeps, and ambulances. Others are in twelve cylinder cars and others in broken down old wrecks, but each of us is doing the driving.The judgment is something like being stopped by a policeman. When we are stopped by God, He does not say to us, as the policeman does not say, “What kind of a car are you driving?” God is no respecter of persons. He asks,“ How well did you drive? Did you obey the laws?”

At death we leave our vehicles behind, our emotions, prejudices, feelings, our state in life, our opportunities, the accidents of talent, duty, intelligence, and position. It will make no difference to God if we were crippled, ignorant, or hated by the world; our judgment will be based not on our social position, but on the way we lived, on the choices we made, on the things we loved. Do not think when you go before the judgment seat of God that you will argue a case. You will plead no extenuating circumstances, you will not ask for a new trial or a new jury; you will be your own judge! You will be your own jury. As scripture says, We will be condemned out of our own mouths. God will merely seal our judgment. [Sheen, Fulton J. Your Life is Worth Living (Kindle Locations 4166-4174). St. Andrew's Press. Kindle Edition.]

Yes, we do have to speak out for the truth, and instruct the ignorant and even admonish the sinner. But if we refuse to keep in mind our own sinfulness in doing so, we’ve fallen into the devil’s trap, so concerned with what others do that we forget to look to the state of our own souls. If so, we may find Our Lord saying to us:

21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Lord Warned Us and It's Here. Let Us Pray and Prepare

If you look in the comments on news sites and on Facebook concerning the Religious Freedom law in Indiana, it is clear that the reactions seem to stem from a hatred of Christian moral teaching and a willingness to bully anyone who stands up for their faith and refuse to take part in something which their beliefs tell them is wrong. If we would just abandon our beliefs that certain actions are wrong, the world would not hate us.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Our Lord warned us that the world hated Him and it would hate us too for being faithful to Him:

18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you,* ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken* to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ (John 15:18-25)

None of us expected it to be here so soon. Hatred and persecution is something people tend to think of as happening in distant lands, the distant past or the distant future. Sometimes the persecution is milder—legal harassment. Sometimes it is harsh, imprisonment and death for the faith. The people doing the persecution always think they are doing a good thing.

In this case, in America, we have a vocal portion of this nation led by the political and media elites who are determined to portray our insistence not to do evil as a hatred of the people who do these acts. We have a choice. We can either remain faithful to God, praying for Him to strengthen us in the face of this hatred or we can abandon those beliefs which the world finds offensive and become harmless Christians who have no impact on the world.

We know that the second option is not an option if we are going to be faithful to God. So we need to pray for the strength to face whatever form persecution takes for us individually. Some of us may only have to endure hostile words. Others of us may have to endure legal harassment or prosecution. Our task is to bring our Catholic faith to the world, even when we are hated for doing so, even when we are hated for saying, “You must not do this thing!” Even when the branches of our government refuse to face their obligation to protect us from our enemies.

So each of us needs to pray, for ourselves and each other. So when the persecution comes to each one of us, we may do God’s will.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thoughts on the Good and Bad of Catholic Blogging

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way… (A Tale of Two Cities)

Introduction

Nowadays, the Church is of interest to the media. Unfortunately, they are generally uninformed about our Catholic Faith, and as a result when the Church fathers meet to discuss how the Church should approach an issue, the standard approach is to break it down into “good guys” who support what they approve and “bad guys” who oppose it. (The Rhine Flows into the Tiber shows how that sort of thing happened). Because they generally are religiously illiterate, and approach a council or synod as if it was a political debate, their attempts at research tends towards looking up what individual Catholics are writing or saying and use them as representatives of the whole Catholic thinking.

The problem with communications as they advance is it becomes easier and easier for anybody to spread their opinions wide and influence people. In 2007, I began a blog which has reached more people during the past seven years than I could have hoped to reach by writing, say, twenty years before. I hope that was a good thing, not a bad thing. But the point is, the individual Catholic can write about the faith as they see it and influence others for better or worse.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I would say this is for good when Catholics use this medium to help people understand the faith and live better in accord with it, to be aware of what is going on in the world and how the Church understands it. During my years I have seen many praiseworthy blogs, dedicated to apologetics or family life—helping people seek to live their lives closer to what God has called them (for example, blogs about Catholic parenting) or is calling them to be (such as blogs promoting the religious life or the married vocation). Such blogs can let us know of things to pray about or work for/against in order to spread the faith. They can help us respond to challenges to our faith, and even convince us to abandon views incompatible with our faith.

But (and you knew there was going to be a “but” here), Catholic blogging can be a very bad thing when it turns the Catholic faith or a teaching of the Catholic faith into a platform for a rant, or into a partisan dispute where people who disagree with one’s preferences become villains, and there is no sign of Christian charity for the person who disagrees. Even the priest, bishop or Pope is not safe from their judgment, if they do not handle things in the way that the partisan blogger would like. Under such a viewpoint, the Church is broken into heroes and knaves based entirely on how they see the Church in relation to what they think should be done. There’s no room for considering whether there is another way of handling things that is still in keeping with the Catholic faith.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

What makes this kind of behavior worse is that so much of it is uninformed. The reaction is not merely uncharitable, but sometimes it relies on a personal interpretation of Church documents from a past age, with no consideration as to how the Church teaching has developed between the time of the document referred to and the Papal statement they object to. So, for example, they contrast St. Cyprian’s “no salvation outside of the Church” with the Vatican II statements on non-Catholics or non-Christians, alleging that this is proof of heresy—but ignore Pope Pius IX or Pope Pius XII explicitly rejecting the concept that a person not a formal member of the Catholic Church is going to hell.

Another aspect of this is the assumption that because the reaction by the Magisterium is not public, the magisterium is doing nothing. In logic, that’s the argument from silence fallacy. If a Pope or Bishop or Pastor chooses to deal privately with a Catholic behaving badly, rather than publicly denounce them, that is a pastoral issue. Sure, it is a legitimate problem when an issue is ignored. But often the Church spends time dialoguing with people in error, with the aim of bringing them back into the Church, rather than have them harden their hearts in dissent.

For example, when it comes to concern that “the bishops aren’t doing anything,” how many people know that Canon Law actually stipulates when public action can take place:

can. 1341† An ordinary is to take care to initiate a judicial or administrative process to impose or declare penalties only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.

Now I have no doubt that a bishop can be too lenient, just as he can be too harsh. But when you see this, it becomes clear that we cannot assume from a lack of visible action that a bishop has no intention to act at all.

Love and Respect is Required

Even if someone in authority is wrong, that does not give a blogger to just tear into him. Charity is required and charity is all too often lacking. St. Thomas Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologica (II-II Q33. A4) about how one may correct a superior. He utterly rejects the idea of public challenges and rudeness in doing so. I offer this for consideration:

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

 

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

 

Reply Obj. 1. It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God’s condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark.

 

Reply Obj. 2. To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defence of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry. It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Gal. 2:11, Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.

 

Reply Obj. 3. To presume oneself to be simply better than one’s prelate, would seem to savour of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger, as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.

Indeed, in Article 7 of the same question, he also writes “Therefore it is evident that the precept requires a secret admonition to precede public denunciation.” How often does this happen? Not often—and I fear that the Catholic blogosphere can be one of the biggest transgressors here. Moreover, when we assume our superiority to the bishop being “corrected,” and act like we have the right to criticize him, we are usurpers. We don’t have that right to behave with public rudeness—even if he should turn out to do wrong.

Presumption of Superiority and Lack of Love

St. Paul wrote about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, and it is a good thing to consider:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I believe that when we start from a position of believing we are superior to the priest, bishop or Pope in our knowledge and holiness, we are starting from a position of arrogance and have no love for the person we believe should be corrected. We simply look at such a case as if we were vanquishing an infidel or as if we thought we were the only ones defended by the Holy Spirit from error.

The other side of the coin to the presumption of our own superiority is the presumption of the other person’s inferiority. When we assume we know more than the bishop or the Pope, we are assuming that they are inferior to us in holiness about the knowledge of the faith. Such behavior can reach the level of rash judgment where a person refuses to consider good intentions on the part of the person judged.

We can only avoid this sin by remembering that we are to love those tasked with shepherding us, even if they sometimes act in a way that doesn’t make them particularly likable.

I think this can only be done if we remember to pray for the person we are concerned with—not pray for in the sense of “Oh Lord, please make this bishop stop being an idiot,” but in the sense of “Lord, bless him and guide him that he may shepherd his diocese well and lead us as he is called to do.” Asking for his good, not for his deposition, will transform us as well as him.

Conclusion: Without Love Our Blogs Are A Clashing Cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1)

I think this is why I am so ultimately troubled by the Catholic blogosphere—the lack of love for those we disagree with or those we believe to be behaving wrongly. People are going to look at our blogs, and they are probably going to judge the Church by their antics. If they don’t see the love in our actions, if they instead see us tearing each other to pieces, they’ll look at us as yet one more conservative or liberal group (depending on their outlook) to be written off. I think the problem we have to face is that we have sometimes gotten so focussed on looking on those who act differently as an enemy instead of someone to be reached out to in love that we think of our mission as “vanquishing the foe,” instead of “winning over our brother” (Matthew 18:15).

Every person who reads this must consider for themselves whether they need to change and, if so, to what extent. That includes me of course. There needs to be a constant evaluation of conscience by each blogger, eliminating what we perceive to be against what God calls us to be.

Ultimately, I think this is a matter of learning to let go, love those we fear are doing wrong, and trust that God is looking after His Church and will not allow it to fall it in ruin. As Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said in The Ratzinger Report, we need to remember that it is God’s Church, not ours. If we can have faith in God, we can learn to trust that what happens to the Church will not lead to her ruin and it may make us more open to hear what God calls us to do.

I would like to conclude by asking us to reflect on St. Francis of Assisi. He was called by God in a time when the Church was in need of reform. St. Francis answered that call—but he did so with love for the Church, and obedience to the Pope and the Bishop. Let us seek to emulate him—especially if one believes the Church is falling into ruin.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Pharisees Ride Again

Curses Against the Pharisees"Alas You Pharisees!"

Introduction

We all know the story of Jesus denouncing the Pharisees for thinking their holiness came through their observance of the Law, while missing God’s commandments of love of God and neighbor that permeated all the rest of the Law. So, it seems rather ironic that so many like to point their fingers at members of the Church for not observing what they think is most important, not showing love for God and neighbor in doing so.

Such behavior is not limited to one particular political perspective or one specific way of living out the Catholic faith. One is not automatically guilty of, nor automatically free of, such behavior on account of being conservative or liberal, traditionalist or modern (not to be confused with modernist of course). The behavior can be found in any person who confuses their behavior with “The only way one can be Catholic."

We Cannot Express the Faith In Such A Way As To Drive People To Despair

Of course, we need to make sure we understand the difference between the Pharisaical person and the Catholic faith. Our Lord did not condemn the keeping of the commandments—rather He considered that to be part of the requirement of taking up one’s cross and following Him. So, it is not being Pharisaical to say that doing what is good and avoiding what is evil is important.

But, in doing so, we cannot close the doors to the person who is outside of the Church, barring them from the possibility of returning or driving them into despair or resentment so that the thought of repentance becomes impossible.

This seems to be a major problem in the Church today, particularly in America. Whenever the Pope or a Bishop responds in a way to something we dislike that is not a strongly worded condemnation, he is immediately accused of being heretical, or liberal/conservative and being unfit for his office. When the Pope or a bishop meets with a politician who holds positions in opposition to Church teaching and the meeting is proper or even cordial, the assumption is he is in agreement with the views of the politician.

Reaching out to the Sick is Not Dependent on Whether The Sick Will Accept Help

Meanwhile, I find myself thinking the whole thing sounds similar to what the Pharisees had to say...

10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’* I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Luke 9:10-13)

Some people try to counter this fact by saying that Matthew repented, while these current politicians do not. But that strikes me as being a false interpretation. The Scriptures say many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and His disciples. It does not say that many repentant tax collectors and sinners came. So it is quite possible that some of those who came and dined with Him did not repent. (Don’t make the argument from silence fallacy that assumes that because the Bible did not say one thing, it means the opposite must be true). Certainly, we know that Jesus called some who did not follow, or else put conditions on following Him that effectively meant not following (see Luke 18:18-24 and Luke 9:59-62).

Jesus called even those He knew would not follow Him. We, not being God, can’t even know who would not follow in the long run. Remember the Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21:28-32…

28 “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. 30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. 31 *Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

The person who announces his intention to obey can end up disobedient. The person who announces his defiance can end up repenting. The Pope knows this, and seeks a way to reach out so that the sinner will not continue to sin, but to turn back to God. So do the cardinals and bishops who are denounced because they do not always publicly condemn the politicians, the divorced/remarried, and those performing other sexual sins.

Our Lord Spoke Strongly to the Pharisees, and Sometimes Bishops Speak Strongly to Our Zealots

There is a time for mercy, and there is a time for strong words. Jesus employed both. However, the strongest words He employed involved those who had missed the point of what God’s teaching was about, thinking that condemnation was to be employed (Luke 9:51-56), not the attempt to bring back the lost. Christ spoke of the sinner in the parable of the lost sheep. (Luke 15:1-7). He spoke of the Pharisees in the condemnations of Matthew 23:1-36. The difference between the two is that the Pharisees believed they were fine as they were, and it was the others who needed to repent—while making them feel that they were permanently cut off.

That seems to be the other side of the coin, where people get angry at the bishops who seem to take a strong stand against a person who expresses an opposition to sin in a harsh way. When this happens, sometimes Catholics get angry. The question is, “Why does he speak harshly to a person who thinks like us, but not to this person here who has done this wrong?” 

Pharisee and the Publican“I Thank You I Am Not Like That Tax Collector…"

I would answer this by saying that sometimes there are different circumstances for different people. For a person who has a mistrust of the Church, who assumes that the Church hates them, a gentle approach can be best. On the other hand, for a person who is convinced of their own rightness, sometimes being jolted out of their overconfidence is needed.

Of course, mistakes can be made. Perhaps a person is treated too gently or too harshly for the circumstances. We should be praying for our priests, bishops and the Pope that they may shepherd us well, and we should be praying for God to open our hearts to be willing to be shepherded.

Conclusion

The Church, being made up of sinners, is going to have cases where members—even those who are shepherds—make mistakes or even choose to be disobedient. We cannot say they are right to do so, or that it doesn’t matter. However, I think we do need to be careful about how we express our concerns and be careful to determine whether our perceptions actually match the reality of the situation. Not everything is done in the open where we can see it, and we cannot assume that just because we do not see something, that nothing is done. Nor can we assume that just because it is not handled in the way we would like it to be done, that it is done in opposition to Church teaching.

We need to remember that the Pharisees were not impious men—in fact they were quite religious. They probably would have accepted Our Lord if He had met their idea of what they thought a Messiah to be. The problem is they wanted religion on their own terms, making the mistake that their terms were God’s terms and thus missed the wonderful thing that God had done for them (Matthew 23:37-38).

As Catholics, we believe that God has established the Catholic Church to teach in His name (John 20:21-23, Matthew 28:18-20) and that He protects the Church from error. So when one begins rejecting the Pope and Bishops (successors of the Apostles) teaching in communion with him on the grounds that it does not match their own views is rejecting Christ (Luke 10:16) just as the Pharisees did. We need to beware the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:5-12) and not trust in ourselves and think the Church has failed (Matthew 28:20)...

…Otherwise, Alas for us.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thoughts on Same Sex Attraction, Diabetes and Rejecting the Physician

Preliminary Note

All Analogies limp if you take them further than they are intended to go. It’s easy to look at them overly critically instead of evaluate the point they are trying to make. I ask you to keep that in mind, and avoid trying to read more into my own analogy than I intend to be there.

Introduction

One of the first things we need to understand is that, in the eyes of the Church, having an inclination is not the same thing as an act. The fact that a person has an inclination that attracts them to behavior that is called sinful is not their fault, and the Church does not condemn a person for having an inclination. However, what a person chooses to do with that inclination can be assessed as doing good or evil. In other words, it is not the attraction that is sinful, but how one chooses to act in response to that attraction.

Comparisons and Those Offended By Them

Trying to create an example to illustrate how this works can be different. Whenever someone tries to use an example of an attraction that everyone recognizes as wrong, someone will invariably make the wrong connection and think this example is being used to say that “same sex attraction is just as bad as X.” But that’s to miss the point of such analogies. The point isn’t to fix same sex attraction on a chart to say it is the moral equivalent of something. The point is to demonstrate that just because someone has an inclination to certain behavior, doesn’t mean it is allowable to act on that inclination.

It’s a crucial point, but it is usually misunderstood. The real point to be understood is this: When a person has an inclination towards a behavior that has been condemned by God as being against His will, the obligation of the person with this inclination is to resist the inclination and avoid behaviors which put us in opposition to God. That’s not always an easy thing to do of course, and it is possible for a person with a compulsive behavior to lack the full free will to resist a sinful act, and thus not be totally responsible for the act they commit. That is something for the confessor to determine. However, even if a compulsion means that the individual who commits a sinful act is not fully in control of themselves (and therefore not guilty of a mortal sin), that does not mean that no wrong was done. The act is still wrong and still needs to be resisted.

That’s why we can say that the Catholic Church does not hate people with a same sex attraction. She is compassionate for them and wishes to help them live in a way compatible with what God calls us to be.

The Analogy of Diabetes

Think of it like a condition like diabetes. There are different types. Some are genetic (Type I), and some are brought on by living in ways that are not the best (Type II). Either way, you go to the doctor and ask him if it’s fatal. “No,” he replies. “But" (and you knew that was coming), “you will need to make some changes to your lifestyle and not give into the cravings you have for certain things.” (I’m sure some will get offended here, saying “OMG! He’s comparing same sex attraction to a disease!” But that is to miss the point of this comparison).

In such a case, it makes no sense to get angry with the doctor. Sure, you could storm out of his/her office and refuse to listen to his opinions—but the fact is, if you live in a way which meets your desires, the result is going to be harmful to you, and perhaps eventually fatal. So to live and stay healthy, we have to make some changes and avoid things that are harmful to us.

A disordered attraction is like that. People can’t gratify certain desires that come from this attraction because those desires are harmful for our spiritual health and can turn out to be fatal to our soul. Some people have said, “I didn’t ask to be gay.” I’m sure that’s true. And I didn’t ask to be diabetic. But since we have these things, we have to make changes to our lives that prevent us from doing some things that others can do—in my case, no super triple hot fudge sundaes (because of my body desires something harmful for me), in the case of a person with a same sex attraction, no sexual activity (because it involves acts with a person of the same gender—which is harmful for the moral life). Sure, we can choose to engage in behaviors which are harmful to us, but in my case, the result is going to be an elevated blood sugar level, and in the case of the person with same sex attraction, the result is going to be sin that alienates us from God.

Don’t Blame the Physician for the Diagnosis

In such cases, it is foolish to deny the problem and insist that things be changed for us. The government can coerce the FDA to declare that triple chocolate ice cream is OK for diabetics and the government can coerce businesses, and perhaps eventually churches, to say same sex “marriage” is a right. But in both cases, such government decrees would have no authority to change reality, and a person who believed them over the ones qualified to make the decision would wind up in bad shape very quickly.

Is it hard? Of course. And it’s much harder for the person with a same sex attraction (who knows they can never have a married life the way their inclination leads them to desire) than it is for me (who has to cut back on the carbs and the sugar). But this isn’t a violation of our “civil rights.” It’s a case of our having to live differently so we don’t do physical or moral harm to ourselves.

The doctor tells me “No.” The Church tells the person with the same sex attraction “No.” If we ignore these instructions, we will do ourselves harm—perhaps fatally.

So, it makes no sense to blame the Church for teaching that same sex genital activity is gravely disordered. All the Church does in any of her moral teachings is to be the physician, and try to let us know what is harmful. Just like the doctor who desires our physical health, the Church desires our spiritual and moral health, and the warnings are not out of hatred or personal opinion. They’re out of love for us and the desire for us to be spiritually well, spending our eternity with God..