Monday, October 20, 2014

TFTD: The President's Problem

Obama

In the New York Times article, President Obama Evolves on Gay Marriage, Again, Obama is quoted as saying, “Ultimately, I think the Equal Protection Clause does guarantee same-sex marriage in all fifty states."

The Equal Protection Clause is found in the 14th Amendment, and reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

There are two problems with his thinking.

The first is, the traditional view of marriage is not something implemented like the “Jim Crow” laws of the South with the intention of preventing people with same sex attraction from exercising their rights under the law. It was recognized, even in societies that did not disapprove of homosexual acts, the understanding of marriage was that of one man and one woman in a relationship intended for the raising of a family. Laws passed to defend that understanding of marriage were not depriving people of a right to marry. It merely insisted on defining the common understanding of marriage in the face of judicial activism.

So these laws defending the traditional marriage are not restricting. They’re merely defining the law in the face of the argument from silence fallacy used by judges (the law doesn’t specifically say between a man and a woman so it must be OK!) in abuse of logic and law—clarifying what was originally meant from a lawyer or judge who abuses the system.

The second problem is, we can apply a reductio ad absurdum to his argument. If forbidding a certain type of sexuality from being practiced with public sanction is a violation of equal protection, then any other law which forbids other sexualities from being practiced also violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution. That means that the State can have no say in passing laws forbidding incest between consenting partners, polygamy, bestiality (we don’t require people to get permission to get milk, meat or wool from farm animals, so why require them to get permission for sexual activity?), necrophilia (if an unborn child doesn’t have rights, neither do dead people) or pedophilia (hey, it was practiced in ancient Greece).

All of those sexual behaviors are considered offensive, so I’ll cut off the list here. Curiously, if one mentions these, activists for same sex couples get outraged that people are “equating” these behaviors with same sex relationships. But that’s the point. These advocates recognize there is a line they will not go beyond. So the question remains, why draw the line here and not there

The thing is, once you remove family from the equation of what marriage means, you no longer have any lines to draw. Someone who tolerates more than you will want the law to permit something you do not think it should.

So the President has a flawed view of things. He thinks a law is discriminatory if it defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and he thinks that it is not discriminatory if it forbids other things. Basically he’s saying that, in his opinion, there’s nothing with calling same sex relationships, “marriage."

But he has no logical or rational justification for doing so. He can only use the law like a club to force acceptance . . . which is another fallacy.

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?

The mood one sets in a conversation or a piece of writing can affect the mindset of others, even if they don’t agree with the argument made. I can understand that. After a string of articles being published on the general theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy for that kind of negativism to affect others. I’ve seen it happen that some people I encountered look at the synod as, “We have to pray so that the errors proposed don’t become a change of teaching."

On the other hand, it can also impact people who think Pope Francis is doing a good job. After reading a large number of articles on the theme of “Pope Francis screwed up,” it becomes easy to begin looking at the complaints as if the Church is full of malcontents who are leading many astray. For example, with the realization that much of what I predicted a month ago did actually happen, my response was to write a very bitter and negative article about those who blogged in such a way. (Don’t worry. I killed it and it won’t see the light of day).

What this personal experience, of becoming what I hated, did was it brought to my mind the dangers of negative approaches to things. Obviously, we should never downplay problems in the Church. But we shouldn’t be so overwhelmed with the negative side so that we see nothing but doom and despair. I have seen that a lot in my years on Catholic forums and blogging. There are a lot of people out there who take in all these negative reports and actually believe that the Church has never been in a worse spot than now when it comes to fighting error. (Try taking that up with 2000 years of Christians who encountered far worse)

The thing is, Pope Francis is not a bad Pope. The synod didn’t recommend error. We are not in the worst situation in Catholic history. But if a person believes it, it is likely that this person is going to look at the words of the Pope or the bishops in a negative light and assume they are the ones who are responsible for the dissent among some Catholics. We can get ourselves worked into such a frenzy that anyone who says otherwise is considered naive.

I would ask the bloggers out there (as if any of them actually heard of this blog) to consider their attitudes and words when it comes to writing and speaking out. We’re supposed to be bringing the good news to everyone . . . and we’re supposed to help those in error to the truth. If the media is leading people to think, “The Church is changing her teaching,” then our job is to disabuse them of that notion. Let’s not be dismayed when people missed the point and keep repeating these things. How many times have we had to deal with gross misrepresentations of the Church? How many times have we run into the same error made by different people? Yeah, it’s frustrating, and we sometimes wish that we didn’t have to deal with explaining the Crusades or the Inquisitions again and again and AGAIN. But instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy. We need to explain the truth in response to a falsehood, even when we get weary of it.

Certainly we need to stop thinking that if only the Pope and bishops taught better, we wouldn’t be having these problems. If that were true, then that means the saints who combatted Arianism must have been even more incompetent than the current batch of clergy. That heresy lasted hundreds of years and was believed by a majority of Christians. The saints didn’t bitch about things and how bad the Church was. They rolled up their sleeves and combatted the heresy in communion with the Pope—not in judgment of him.

Yes, there are Catholics who promote bad ideas out there, and yes they need to be opposed. But let’s not exaggerate the situation and act as if our defeat is assured because we can’t see any other possibilities.

Denethor

Remember the character of Denethor in the Lord of the Rings books (or, if you must, the movies). Based on what he saw (through a corrupted palantir) and what he thought he knew, he assumed all was lost. He thought Gandalf was a fool for counseling otherwise. But he was wrong about what he saw, and could not be persuaded against suicide (the movie completely botched the incident).

Remembering this, we should consider the limits of our own knowledge, the source of the knowledge, and whether or not what we see is actually accurate or whether we have been overwhelmed by a negative interpretation that actually distorts reality. We should also consider whether our own negative attitudes might affect others who look up to us as knowledgable.

Remember too the fact that the Church is not a society like a secular government. We believe we have God protecting the Church from error. Individuals might fall into error over what the Church teaches, but the Church herself will never teach error.

So let’s not be the nattering nabobs of negativism preaching woe when there is no woe. Let’s have faith in God to protect His Church and let us continue to refute the distortions . . . they will never go away (like the distortions of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the sex abuse scandals etc. never went away despite years and even centuries of refuting these distortions).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reflection on Interpretation and Misinterpretation

One common gripe against the Pope and against Church documents is that they are not as clear as they should be. They use language which can have more than one interpretation. Some Catholics are worried over the people who will choose (deliberately or not) the wrong interpretation. Others outright accuse the Pope of holding the negative interpretation.

The problem is, these actions put the entire burden on the speaker to speak so clearly that there can be no possible misinterpretation. They ignore the responsibility of the reader to seek out the proper understanding before responding to it. If the person who reads gets it wrong, the critique will also be wrong. Such a critique can be of no value if they misunderstand the intention of the speaker/writer...

That’s a silly example of course (and humor works because the meaning can be hidden by wordplay), but real examples happen all the time.

Just think of the Biblical Literalism which comes from the fundamentalist groups. We’ve seen some pretty ludicrous ideas that comes from interpreting the Bible according to a meaning the reader gives to it as opposed to what the author of the book intended by it. We also see it with anti-Catholicism, where the critic interprets the teaching of the Church according to what he or she thinks the Church document is saying as opposed to what the Church is saying actually saying.

Those real life examples show that there can be a difference between what the speaker intends and what the listener thinks is meant.

I find it ironic that there are some Catholics who would automatically reject these misinterpretations from fundamentalists or anti-Catholics who make the same error when it comes to their own interpretation of the Pope or Church documents. Whether by accident or by choice, they assume they have interpreted correctly and thus feel justified in rejecting the Pope’s words or the Church documents because they assume they cannot have chosen the right interpretation.

Currently, we see this happening with Pope Francis, and the assumption is that either he speaks unclearly or else is teaching error. But, what is forgotten is the fact that these same accusers made the same accessions about St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Yes, that’s right. Both of Pope Francis’ predecessors were accused of promoting error on issues like social justice. People were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Caritas in Veritate just as much as they were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Evangelii Gaudium. But those who were scandalized assumed a meaning in these works which were never intended.

That brings us back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its teaching on Rash Judgment:

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

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

So, when it comes to the words of the Pope, the steps are:

  1. Give a favorable interpretation to his words.
  2. If the person can’t, seek out how the Pope intends it (in other words, do the research).
  3. Only then does correction come into play.

Unfortunately, most people tend to start with #3, assuming the Pope is wrong and needs to be opposed. But every time I’ve looked in on an alleged scandal, the trail never went further than #2, because either there was a favorable interpretation to be given or else new data came forward which changed the perspective.

I find that most misinterpretations come about because of what words mean to the listener, not to the speaker. For example, some traditionalists were outraged with St. John Paul II spoke about women and “feminism.” The problem was, they interpreted it as the Western radical feminism and assumed he was speaking in favor of some pretty reprehensible ideas. Also, many people interpret Pope Francis’ ideas about the problems with capitalism as if it were a condemnation of capitalism as an intrinsic evil. This was an assumption that ignored the fact that he was speaking of specific evils that every nation must work to either reform or prevent as the case might be.

One common retort seems to be, “Well if he didn’t mean it that way, why didn’t he say it differently?” But that’s unjust. There are over a billion Catholics in the world, representing each nation and language, with communication levels from "word of mouth in the bush” to instantaneous internet. They have knowledge of the faith from “religiously illiterate” to highly educated. Now add in the non-Catholics with the same limitations.

Is it reasonable to think a Pope can express himself in such a way that everybody, regardless of the limits of their nation, language, communications and knowledge about the faith an understand? That’s impossible. I might miss the nuances of language that someone more educated than I recognize, while I might recognize nuances that someone less educated than I might miss.

So, obviously the only way to effectively communicate is to understand the meaning of the speaker, and not make an unrealistic demand that the speaker anticipate every possible meaning that a listener might draw from it. Remember, it might be a problem with the listener . . . so one always has to make an effort to learn what was meant before critiquing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reflection on Factions "More Catholic Than the Pope."

24 Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts15:24–26).

(Preliminary Note. It’s easy to assume “Either A or B.” So I expect some readers might be tempted to think that I write this because I emphasize with “the other side.” That would be a mistake. I seek to be a faithful son of the Church and I believe that God will protect her from teaching error. I write about this sort of faction because it seems to be a greater threat to Catholics who seek to do what is right than the factions who falsely claim Church teaching can be disobeyed without sin. Please keep this in mind when reading.)

The Catholic blogosphere has been going berserk during the extraordinary synod, as I mentioned in past articles, but I think this is only a symptom of a larger problem afflicting the Catholics trying to be faithful. The problem is that a certain faction of these Catholics have confused the essence of the Church with the accidents (in the sense of a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature) of the Church. The assumption is this: This faction assumes that its preferences are part of the doctrine of the Church. When the preferences of this faction are changed by the Church, it is assumed that the Church is changing doctrine. 

This is a dangerous attitude to take however. It assumes that the Church can err, while this faction cannot err, when it comes to determining truth. It’s as if everything Our Lord had to say about the authority of the Church and the role of Peter was meaningless, or became void at a certain point in history (usually presumed to be Vatican II). They tend to be vague on exactly when, and or to what extent error exists—perhaps because if they were specific, they would reveal their own denial of Catholic doctrine.

If this faction kept to itself like a sect, they would only be a menace to itself. But the truth is, they give the appearance of being knowledgable, orthodox Catholics and there are many Catholics out there who want to live faithfully, but do not feel confident in their knowledge on how to live as a faithful Catholic. These Catholics look to this faction as a guide on how to practice the Catholic faith. The result is these seeking Catholics are deceived into thinking that the guidance from this faction is authentic Catholicism, when in fact it is Catholic belief mixed in with the preferences of their mentors.

They succeed because there are people out there who do distort doctrine and try to change teaching. There are people who are public sinners and seem to suffer no ill effects from the Church. It’s pretty easy to insinuate that the reason they don’t seem to suffer consequences because there must be “sympathy” for their position. Essentially the real dissent is used as a “guilt by association."

When you have such a distorted teaching, things tend to snowball. Every time the Church changes one of the practices, she is accused of being unfaithful to the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Before too long, you have a case where the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops is seen as suspect and every time they make a decision, it is scrutinized for potential errors.

This is essentially the problem I am seeing with the conservative Catholics in the English speaking regions of the world. The magisterium is being judged by a faction that is politically conservative and tends to equate political conservatism with Catholic teaching. When the Church teaching seems to “deviate” from the politically conservative, she is accused of betraying Sacred Tradition.

The problem is, the Church has not changed her teaching, and has never betrayed the Scriptures nor Sacred Tradition. The Pope and bishops in communion with her have the authority to assess the Church teaching, making sure the teaching of Christ can be understood by each generation. So the authority and the responsibility falls on the magisterium. But, if the magisterium has the authority and responsibility, we have to trust that God has a role in preventing the Church from teaching error in matters pertaining to salvation. Otherwise, we could never know when the Church was teaching accurately and when she was not. For example, if Vatican II is considered suspect on whether it teaches error, we have no way of knowing that Vatican I or Trent was free of error.

Once you understand this, the reaction to Pope Francis becomes obvious. We had gotten used to two European Popes who were academics. They were very similar in style, and were very effective on teaching the what we were called to do and why. They were succeeded by a Pope from a different continent and experience. Pope Francis did not teach differently than St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He merely shifted the emphasis to acting . . . taking the teachings of his predecessors as a given.

3 popes one teachng

There’s nothing in Pope Francis’ documents on social justice that wasn’t found in the writings of his predecessors. It’s just that he has a different style of presentation.

Unfortunately, some people believe there is a break. In comparison to the public perception of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is considered to be undignified. Because of course St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI never did anything undignified . . . 

PopeJohnPaulEyes

Pope sombrero marc 2177327k

The difference between Pope Francis and his predecessors is really . . . nothing more than the fact that his style is slightly more blunt.

So, this is the issue with these factions. They are angry with the Church because they believe that the Church should behave differently than it does. They confuse their preferences with doctrine and end up suspecting the Pope of being a secret Marxist or a secret Modernist. They go out with no mandate from the Church and teach their preferences and suspicions as truth, and their error spreads to those who think they are correctly teaching the faith.

The thing to remember is, Christ has had strong warnings for those who do these things. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’  Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others.  Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!  

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. (Matt 23:13–28)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on a Statement by Cardinal Marx

In the article Amid criticism, Cardinal Marx supports synod's midterm report :: Catholic News Agency (CNA), we get this comment from Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich, on same sex relationships:

“homosexuals who have been faithful, one to the other, for 30-35 years, and they take care the one of the other until the very last moment of life. But they live in irregular situation for the Church… as a Church, can I say that all of this has no value because we are speaking about a homosexual relation?”

“I cannot say: it’s all black, it’s all white,” Cardinal Marx stated. “And we cannot stand behind the logic of ‘everything or nothing.’”

I must say, with all due respect to his office, I am perplexed by Cardinal Marx and his statement. If we recognize that participating in homosexual acts are condemned by God, then we have to say that a same-sex relationship can never go beyond the level of platonic friendship. If a relationship goes beyond this, then the Church cannot accept it, and must seek to guide such a relationship towards a place that is right in the eyes of God.

More clarification would be helpful, but as it stands, this appears to be a fallacy of the middle ground. There is no middle ground between contradictory positions. When one party says “homosexual acts are sinful” and the other says “homosexual acts are not sinful,” there is no middle ground. This is a situation where one position must be true and one must be false.

I think we also have the appeal to pity fallacy. If the hypothetical couple mentioned has been together for 30-35 years and have affection for each other, this is still not a justification for finding some sort of compromise on calling it a sin. There simply are relationships which can never be recognized as valid. For example, consider polygamy and the convert who comes to the Catholic Church from such a culture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

2387 The predicament of a man who, desiring to convert to the Gospel, is obliged to repudiate one or more wives with whom he has shared years of conjugal life, is understandable. However polygamy is not in accord with the moral law. “[Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive.” The Christian who has previously lived in polygamy has a grave duty in justice to honor the obligations contracted in regard to his former wives and his children.

Despite years of living together polygamy is behavior which cannot be considered compatible with the teaching of the Church. I believe the same obligation follows for same sex couples, cohabiting couples and couples who were divorced and invalidly remarried. As the Catechism points out (#1789):

One may never do evil so that good may result from it.

Now the Church can, and should, develop ways of helping the people who have made decisions which place them in opposition to what God has made known to us. But these ways can never compromise Our Lord’s teaching. They have to be aimed at bringing these people back to follow Christ, and recognizing that He must be first in our lives. This isn’t some bureaucratic rule from the Church. This is what Jesus Christ Himself said in Luke 14:26-27.

26 “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

Jesus also said in Matthew 5:29-30,

29 *If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

Even though it can cause us some pain in this life, we do have to recognize that following Christ obliges us to reject certain behaviors and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

If Cardinal Marx can find a better way to help people in these situations change their ways, that is good. But at the moment, I just can’t see how his words can be reconciled with Christ’s.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

TFTD: Is It REALLY Dignified to Treat the Synod Like a Political Convention?

Must you act this way?

OK, so Cardinal Kasper denies he gave an interview to Edward Pentin who writes for National Catholic Register and Zenit. The issue is over comments made about synod fathers from Africa, which managed to offend Africans. Cardinal Kasper claims he would never say such things.

National Catholic Register and Catholic World Report have articles which insist he did give this interview and did make the comments. They are speaking about audio recordings that prove it . . . with an apology made by Pentin to the Cardinal for not making it clear to the cardinal that he was going to publish this on Zenit.

Now I feel no obligation to defend what the cardinal said. I think his suggested ideas cannot be reconciled with Christ’s teaching and Church doctrine.

But that being said, this behavior troubles me. It’s treating the synod fathers like politicians and using gotcha tactics apropos to political rough and tumble. So when the outside world looks at all of this, they’re going to look at the synod perspectives as if they were merely factional disputes.

I’m not going to try to sort out the blame. I’m just saying, can we behave with a little more dignity?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TFTD: Was Emily Litella in Charge of the Media Coverage?

Emily Litella

So now it seems there are updates from the Vatican and the Bishops participating in the extraordinary synod. There was a mistranslation of a word in the unofficial translation of a draft document. Solidly orthodox bishops are giving their take, showing that the synod fathers do not intend the confusion in the rough draft spill over into the final draft.  

So it begins to look like media reports causing such horror among conservative bloggers may have been a little bit of an overreaction. Hopefully everyone’s learned their lessons, from the bishops being more aware of media incompetence (or possibly bad will) to the rush to judgment from the blogs.

It does make me ponder though . . . why did the whole uproar end up sounding like the ranting of a certain Gilda Radner character?