Monday, September 1, 2014

Because of Belief? Or In SPITE of Belief?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Undistributed Middle

 

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

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

An Analogy on the Importance of Baptism

Preliminary Note: The use of the analogy of citizenship in this article has nothing at all to do with the current issue of illegal immigration and children from Central America. Comments attempting to argue immigration issues in this article will simply not be approved.

Introduction

I have encountered some people—some believers, some not—who object to the Catholic view of Baptism and the Fall of Man in Genesis 3. They ask how is it fair that humanity has to be punished for the sin of Adam and Eve? Others object to our view of Baptism because they think that only a person who can rationally accept the faith can be baptized, and thinking that baptism of children is required implies all children must go to hell.

It sounds arbitrary because I think some people have not understood the story of the Fall and what the sin entailed. Nor do they understand how it impacts each one of us. So I propose this analogy for people to consider.

The Analogy

(Remember . . .every analogy is weak at some point. So it's best to look at the general story as opposed to trying to tie each point to a specific point of theology)

Consider a married couple being gifted with citizenship in a nation. Because of this citizenship, they have access to all the rights, privileges--and the responsibilities that go with them in terms of obeying the laws. They would pass on this citizenship

But instead of carrying out their responsibilities, the couple commits treason against the nation. The result is they are stripped of their citizenship and exiled. What happens to their children?

Well, if children had been born before the couple committed treason, obviously they would have remained citizens because the sins of the parents would not fall on them. If only one of the parents had committed treason, the children born later would still be citizens.

But because both individuals committed treason and lost their citizenship before having any children, any children born to them after this fact have no claim to citizenship. This is not the fault of the ruler. This is the fault of the parents. You cannot give what you do not possess. Since neither parent possesses citizenship, none of their children can possibly be born citizens.

The result is, because this couple committed treason and lost their citizenship, there is literally nothing they can do to make their children citizens. It seems hopeless for any of them.

But, the ruler is aware of their plight and does not want to leave them in some refugee camp. But He simply can't just say, "Well, your treason doesn't matter. I'll just pretend that it didn't happen." So he needs to set up a plan that allows all of them a way to regain citizenship that they lost (the married couple) or never had to begin with (their children). It is a plan that this ruler would carry out at the cost of his son . . . and both were willing to do this for us.

When this plan was carried out, it became possible to become citizens again . . . but not automatically and not with a general grant. Each individual who has reached the age of reason has to make the decision to become a citizen on their own, promising to be faithful to their country. Parents may apply for their children not yet at the age of reason to become citizens, promising to raise them to live in accordance with the rights and responsibilities of the nation.

Unfortunately, some have forgotten the fact that the induction ceremony for citizenship was not an option and not a symbol. It is the means the ruler set in place as the ordinary way to become a citizen. Some believe that as long as you have good intentions, the act of becoming a citizen is not necessary. Others think that parents should not apply for their children's citizenship. Why not just let them decide whether or not to decide when they become adults? So as not to prejudice them, they tell their children nothing about this choice. After all, if this ruler is just and merciful, it won't matter with such a small thing, will it?

Yes this ruler is just and merciful . . . he makes citizenship free to all who seek it.He also sends members of his kingdom to go out and make known the importance of becoming citizens and living according to the laws of the kingdom. See, this ruler knows that a calamity is coming that will sweep the neighboring lands and his kingdom will be the only place which is safe. That is when the ruler will determine who may enter.

Those who accepted citizenship and followed the laws (or would have if they had only known what they needed to do) will be admitted. Those who reject his authority or his laws cannot enter—in fact they would probably refuse to enter the country. Certainly the ruler cannot be faulted for excluding people from his kingdom who refuse to accept his citizenship and his laws. He offers it to everyone, but some will refuse to cooperate, just as the first couple did.

The Evaluation

God is that ruler. Heaven is His kingdom. The plan allowing people to enter His kingdom that cost the death of His Son was the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the way to citizenship His teachings are His laws and His emissaries are His Church. The calamity is the end of the world.

Now when you consider that, the knowing refusal to accept God or His Plan or His Baptism or His Laws or His Church is not a thing of no importance . . . it is the rejection of God, the refusal to accept His reaching out to us to save us.

God will judge us with Love and Mercy and Justice. But the person who refuses to accept God's Love and Mercy will face what's left . . . His justice. God doesn't withdraw it. The sinner refuses it in this case. Since Heaven is the place of God's love and mercy, where can the person who refuses it go? God will not force it on the person.

The only place left is the place outside Heaven . . . the ruins. Hell. Hell isn't a final failing grade for people who aren't "nice enough." It's the choice of the person who knowingly refuses God.

That's why the Church can say God is Love and Mercy—and say Hell exists, and not contradict herself.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fallacious Thinking on Religious Indifferentism

I came across a claim on a gaming forum this morning. Basically the context is the poster was making a statement that there are no absolute values, and that all religious values are equally valid or invalid. This claim said there were no more or less value to the "myths" of traditional religion than there were to his/her own. Ordinarily, I would write it off as a fallacy not worth bothering with, but the truth is, many people do think this way.

The basic view of indifferentism that is expressed today is given in two views:

  1. So long as you're trying to do good, what you believe doesn't matter.
  2. There's no more proof for the belief in God than for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Both of these views start with the same fallacy: Begging the Question, which assumes to be proved true that which actually needs to be proven. So if a person wants to claim that Christianity is no more or no less valid than Pastafarianism or other belief, that's not something that is already proved. That's something that needs to be proven before they can move on to making their conclusion.

See, a person who thinks that all religions are manmade constructs or a person who thinks that all religions that make you feel good are good enough doesn't answer the question of how they know their belief. How does the person who thinks all religions are a construct of human beings know that none of them have any supernatural basis? They don't. They are making an assumption that no religion can have a supernatural basis.

Likewise, the person who thinks it doesn't matter what religion a person holds as long as the religion makes a person happy. If God exists, then if He establishes a way to follow Him, then it matters very much whether or not one follows that way.

Unfortunately many people make a decision on the universal validity or invalidity of religion based on their perception of what suits their worldview. The atheist presupposes that no religion can be true. The religiously indifferent presupposes that religion is nothing more than "being nice to each other." What is not asked is: What if my presupposition isn't true?

A few months ago I wrote on Pascal's Wager. I think it makes sense that people of good will consider the consequences of backing the wrong horse when it comes to seeking to follow the truth. If atheism is irrelevant if true and dangerous if false, then it makes a lot more sense to investigate the claims of religion to see if they are true then it does to investigate the claims of atheism.

The person of good will can't just stop in thinking "this is close enough." The search for truth is ongoing . . . eliminating false ideas, going deeper into true ones and trying to live by the truth. The person who holds to a worldview should consider why he or she holds that worldview . . . even the Christian. If God exists, and is not some indifferent architect, then what one does in relation to Him does matter.

That's why we can't presume that God does not exist or is indifferent and we can stop searching for the truth.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thoughts on Religious Freedom, Conscience and Truth

Religion and Religious Freedom

The first thing for people to realize—whether you believe in a higher power or not—is that religion is humanity living in right relationship with the Divine.

Once you realize that, we can recognize that Religious Freedom is the freedom to live in accordance with this right relationship with the Divine without the state interfering.

Understanding this, the violation of Religious Freedom is the coercion to compel a person to act against what he believes is the right relationship with God or forbids him to do what he believes he must do. So when the government, society, or the employer threatens the life, liberty or property (behave this way or be dead/imprisoned/fined/fired) of the person or group for living in right relationship with the Divine, this is the violation of religious freedom.

The right relationship with the Divine affects all aspects of the individual's life . . . which includes the right to vote and legally influence the government to do what is right and just. The person who recognizes God exists has the obligation to live life in accord with His will

Now we will have to dig deeper, because what I have written above can be twisted to justify anything. Yes, some belief systems contradict other belief systems, and the balancing act of society is how to prevent one group into coercing another group into behaving in a way that is evil without opening the floodgates to "anything goes."

Religious Freedom and Conscience

Bl. John Henry Newman described the problem this way:

Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a license to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will. (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, 5)

We have rights because we have obligations to obey our conscience—a word which is grossly abused today (and in the 19th century). People confuse conscience with the autonomy to do anything that doesn't personally bother you. The problem with that standard is, a sociopath may not feel anything telling him his behavior is wrong. But that doesn't mean what he does is not wrong. It only means he is not aware of anything telling him it is wrong . . . which is a terrible way to run a society.

So let's look at  the truth of "Conscience has rights because it has duties." Conscience must be formed. A person knows nothing about a topic, he or she may not realize that there is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in relation to that topic. So it's not enough to say "I don't see anything wrong with X so it must be OK." One has to look into the truth of the issue in order to form the conscience correctly.

Conscience and Truth

So that gives us another key to the puzzle. Conscience must be formed in relation to truth, not to opinion or what is culturally acceptable. If the culture goes wrong, it is not a good guide to follow what it approves.

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This is why we can't rely on what society accepts to determine right and wrong

 Truth is to say of what is, that it is and of what is not, that it is not (to borrow from Aristotle). We have to know what is true and what is not true when it comes to determining how we must behave. That does begin with investigating the teachings of God. If God exists, and we are obligated to do as He teaches, then determining right and wrong must be in agreement with that teaching.

Combining the Chain: Truth, Conscience, Freedom of Religion—and God

Truth is the basis of conscience and conscience is the basis of freedom of religion . . . and every other right in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment could be called "The Truth Amendment." The freedoms of religion, speech, the press, assembling peacefully and petitioning the government for redress of grievances all deal with:

  • Seeking the Truth
  • Living in Accord with the Truth
  • Sharing the Truth with others (peacefully)

All people have this obligation. It's an obligation no government can interfere with.

In the Declaration of Independence, we are told:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Note that it is the Creator, not the state, that has granted these rights. Because they are given by a source above and beyond the authority of the state, the state cannot interfere with these rights.

Unfortunately, in America we are seeing the usurpation of these rights. Factions who have the ear of the government try to tell us we cannot refuse providing services that we find interfering with the right relationship with God, that we cannot  speak out or pass laws against behavior that is harmful to people.

Ultimately, the actions in America interfere with seeking, following and sharing the Truth. This interference with the truth interferes with the ability to carry out our responsibilities. Because of this, our freedoms are impaired.

Phony Rights

Yet at the same time we are prevented from carrying out our responsibilities in right relationship with God, the state is inventing rights, which have nothing to do with responsibility.

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When Autonomy Replaces Obligation as the basis for a Right

Abortion and "Gay Marriage" are not issues where we have the truth leading us to moral obligation. They are issues where proponents want to be free of moral obligation. In other words, modern society has stood the idea of freedom on it's head. There is no truth to the claim that a person has the power to kill another person arbitrarily . . . but that is what abortion does. There is no truth to the claim that two people of the same gender can marry when the essence of marriage is one man and one woman can form a permanent union with the intention to being open to the transmission of life. In fact, it is impossible for a same sex relationship to do this.

With no truth, there is no moral obligation to carry out these acts. With no moral obligation to carry out, there is no right to do these things. Even if a permissive group should say "We see nothing wrong with this," it doesn't mean the person has the right to do it. Indeed, to say "I don't see anything wrong with it, so it is OK to do it is the argument from ignorance fallacy: I don't think it is wrong, so it must be ok.

Argument from ignorance

 Just Because You Don't See Anything Wrong Doesn't Mean It is OK

Conclusion

Ultimately, it is the failure to recognize that the chain of truth—»obligation—»right that plagues our country. We believe "rights" mean freedom of activity to do as we wish. Thus we get bizarre rulings from the courts, like the"right" to abortion, contraception, and "gay marriage." At the same time we see that genuine rights rooted in the obligations brought on by truth are spurned and attacked as being bigotry.

That's where the person of good will who seeks the truth has to pause. If the concept of the obligation to seek out, follow and share the truth is denied, our nation becomes unfree, no matter how many "rights" the courts and the politicians may invent.

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.