Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why Every Woman Should be a Mother and Every Man a Father

Motherhood is one of those indispensable positions.  We really can't do without it.  The same is true of fatherhood.  Catholics hold that every child has a right to a mother and a father.  Although some instances make this impossible, outside of anyone's control, to purposefully deprive a child of either parent is to violate their rights and to act contrary to their dignity.  We each begin life as a child, with a calling to be sons and daughters.  As we grow older we gain a new vocation, to be mothers and fathers.  This is universal to every person who has ever or will ever live.
      A vocation is a calling, it is what you are called to be.  We each have many vocations.  Some people are called to be priests, they have a priestly vocation.  Some people are called to be doctors, having a medical vocation.  Every little boy is called to be a son and every little girls is called to be a daughter.  As we travel through life we discover ever more vocations.  Our very first vocation is to be children and we never grow out of our vocations, for heaven belongs to such as these.
      Vocations are never callings to receive, they are always callings to give, to the gift of self.  As children we gave ourselves in trust and obedience.  We trusted our parents and teachers to guide us and so we obeyed them.  In so doing we gave up our own desires and gave ourselves over to them.  As adults we gained a new calling, to be more than children, to be parents.  Every man is called to be a father and every woman is called to be a mother.  Not necessarily a biological father or mother.  If this were it would make life awkward for Catholic nuns and monks and priests.  It would also be very unfair to those men and women who can't have children.
      Nevertheless, all men and women are called to a type of motherhood or fatherhood.  We are called to give ourselves to those who may find themselves under our authority, to be worthy of the trust they are called to place in us, to guide for their sake and not for our own.  This is the servant leadership Christ taught us. We so often think that having the position of power entitles us to privilege and honor, it makes us better than those we have authority over, but Christ came as one who serves.  You see, the essence of God is love and the essence of love is humility, to place another before ourselves.  This is the essence of being a parent, to wield whatever power you may have for the good of another.
      The president may think he is the ruler of the free world, but the truth is your parish priest has more real power in his pointer fingers and thumbs than the United States President has in the whole of his office.  However, the priest does not seek to force his will on others or enrich himself at their expense.  Rather, he pledges himself to poverty, chastity and obedience.  In his voice is found the greatest power ever bestowed on mortal man, and yet he does not benefit from it in the slightest.  He wields it only for the good of others.  This is why we call him father.
      Within the womb of a woman is found another great power.  The power to bring forth life.  A man is necessary for the first fifteen minutes or so, but after that his involvement is more or less voluntary.  It is within the woman's womb that this new life finds incarnation, where it is nurtured for nine months, where the mother literally gives herself to her child, providing it with her own nutrients and sheltering it within her own body.  The relationship between a mother and child for that first year of life is the purest embodiment of what it means to be a mother.
      Within the Church we find nuns and religious sisters, women who have pledged themselves to be be the mothers of the world.  They give themselves to God in the three vows or solemn promises of poverty, chastity and obedience.  In this way they give themselves not only to God, but to us as well.  Although they will never be biological mothers to anyone they become spiritual mothers to all.
      To give ourselves in love, for the good of others, is to find the meaning of our existence.  For adults, this means to be a parent.  Sometimes to our own biological children, sometimes by adoption and sometimes to some person we have never met before and may never see again.  This willingness to be a parent is more than just something we do on occasion, it is a state of being.  You don't get to be a mom or a dad on a part time basis.  Every moment of every day must contain the willingness to be a parent to whomever may have need of us. 
      This is part of the reason the Church opposes contraception.  When we create physical barriers to pregnancy in the midst of sexual union we close ourselves off from our purpose of self giving love, from being moms and dads.  Even Natural Family Planning can be contrary to God's will for us if it is done from a desire to avoid having kids.  That is, NFP can be done for the sake of being a better parent to those who are already here.  Neither it nor any other form of birth control should be used for the purpose of avoiding our parent vocations. 
      Every woman is called to be a mother and every man is called to be a father.  Sometimes we get to be mothers and fathers to our own kids.  Sometimes God has other plans for us.  Sometimes we only get to embrace this love for an hour.  Sometimes for a lifetime.  Sometimes our openness to parenthood leads to us being parents.  Sometimes it doesn't.  What really matters is the openness.  God is always open to being our Father, but we have to let Him.  We too ought to be ever open; open to being mothers and fathers, open to being sisters and brothers, open to being sons and daughters.  As long as we are open to love, we are growing closer to God.  The second we close ourselves off, we have lost sight of our very purpose in being and have condemned ourselves to a misery of our own making.

If you enjoy my blog, consider clicking that share button down below.  Maybe some of your friends will enjoy it too. 
Also, feel free to like my page on Facebook;

Peace and Love!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa or Jesus? Must we Choose?

Christmas is soon upon us.  Yesterday we had the first snow to stay on the ground.  Today i bought a few more Christmas gifts.  Tomorrow i post a blog on Santa Clause.  The day after tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of advent.  It is a good time to contemplate what Christmas really is and what it should mean to us.  Every year we hear our pastors or priests talk about how the Christmas season, the love and the self sacrifice, should not be restricted to only one month, they should extend throughout the year.  And yet, every year when the Christmas decorations come down, so too does that Christmas spirit.
      I have a problem with people who say Santa isn’t real.  I stopped believing in him when I was around 10 or 11 years old and didn’t regain that faith until college.  Today I absolutely believe in Santa, 100%, and if you know me you know I can defend my beliefs.  I have heard many people discuss the differences between Santa Clause and Jesus and how Jesus wins on every comparison. These
people are missing the point of the great Saint who spreads so much joy each season.  When people place him above Jesus that is a problem, but nor should they be in competition.  Santa's gifts aren’t the physical ones left under the tree, and he doesn’t travel the world on a sleigh pulled by nine reindeer.  All of these ideas are symbols for deeper truths which Saint Nicolas is trying to teach us.  Christ is constantly working through Saint Nick and Saint Nick is constantly pointing us towards Christ.
      Saint Nicholas is a real historical figure born around 270AD in a little town called Patara, in modern day Turkey.  His parents were wealthy Christians who passed on their love of Christ to their son.  They died when he was still fairly young, probably early teens.  However, they had done such a good job passing on their faith that young Nicholas devoted himself and his inherited wealth to serving the poor and the needy in his community.  When he was old enough he became a priest and soon after the bishop of Myra, a larger town to the east of Patara.  He is remembered for his love of those in need, especially children and the many miracles and stories attributed to him.  One story says he punched Arius at the council of Nicea.  He is one of my favorite Saints and i could write this entire post on the historical figure, if you would like to know more in that regard look here.  Today, i am more interested in the myth.
      When people place Saint Nick and Jesus in conflict with each other the gifts are often the central focus.  "Santa gives material gifts and thus supports materialism, Jesus gives spiritual gifts and so He denounces materialism."  For many this is enough to condemn Santa as a usurper.  I would suggest that this is not necessary, that the true gifts are the same.  The material gifts attributed to Santa are symbols of these true gifts, the gifts of faith, hope, and love and the message of salvation.
      Nicholas was a bishop and even to this day Santa Clause dresses in red, the color of Bishops.  The role of the Bishop is to guide and serve.  He is a husband to his church and a father to his congregation.  If we are disobedient to God we cannot receive the gifts of the Spirit.  So too, if we are naughty we cannot receive the gifts Santa brings.  This is not materialism, this is symbolism.  Being obedient to our parents teaches us how to be obedient to God.  This obedience is necessary for salvation, the greatest gift of all.
      As a bishop, Saint Nicholas was single.  Mrs. Clause can be seen as a construct for the Church as the people of God. She teaches us of the role of a bishop as husband.  But more than that, she teaches us of our responsibilities.  Just as a wife needs to support and encourage her husband, so too must we support and encourage our bishops.
      The sleigh represents the Church as a structure, as the institution through which we receive the sacraments.  Just as Santa has his reindeer, the bishop has his priests.  As the reindeer bring the sleigh and its gifts to the children of the world, the priests bring the the Church and its gifts to the children of God.  We see this in Rudolph's red nose which glows so bright that it serves as a light to guide the sleigh.  In every Catholic Church there is a red light, a candle burning near the tabernacle.  It symbolizes the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Just as Rudolph's red nose guides Santa's sleigh, the Eucharist must guide the Church.
      And who are we in all this?  We are the elves who make the toys.  We display our faith and hope and love in the world.  When we do this we produce the proofs that draw people deeper into God.  But unlike the elves who stay safely hidden away in the workshop, we must be in the world drawing people into the Church where they can receive these gifts.
      Christ has granted Santa an infinite supply of presents.  Every time a gift is given in Santa's name this great saint gives a gift of his own to both the giver and receiver, a gift containing not toys or earthly wealth, but the three greatest gifts of all, the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of faith and hope and love.  Perhaps the reason these three greatest gifts of Christ tend to leave the world when the Christmas decorations come down is not because people forget Christ, but because they forget we are His workers, not just in December, but throughout the entire year.  Christ has empowered Santa to further the message of salvation, but we must participate in this.  Just as Santa has no gifts to give without the elves, our bishops will have no one to bestow their gifts upon unless we are out there winning souls.
      We do not need to choose between Santa and Jesus.  We have been called to a New Evangelization.  Perhaps if we ask him, Santa will help us in this.  He has a great deal to tell the world if we are willing to give him a voice.

Merry Christmas
And don't forget to like my page on Facebook!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Five Catholic Solas

Some time back a fellow blogger circulated a list of five Solas.  Now, he wasn't a Catholic.  In fact, his list was meant to conflict with Catholic theology, to show the differences.  Its been awhile since he put it up, but i felt a desire to write a response piece. 
      Mr. Calvin, who put forth the original articular, gives the following list;
  • Sola fide ("by faith alone")
  • Sola gratia ("by grace alone")
  • Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")
  • Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone")
  • Soli Deo gloria ("to God alone be the glory")
      Given my extreme laziness and very rusty Latin i'm going to leave my responses in English.  If one of my readers feels called to translate my list into Latin i would find that amusing.  It should be mentioned, my list should not be seen so much as a point by point critic, but rather as a Catholic alternative.  There are some points upon which Calvin and i would agree, although i shall do my utmost best to ignore them for the remainder of this post.
      The Five Catholic Solas, which i put forth, are these;
  • By Grace Alone
  • By Love Alone
  • By the Word of God Alone
  • God Alone
  • From God Alone is the Glory
      The first point on my list is grace alone.  More observant readers will notice that Mr. Calvin has already used this term.  In some ways it is a point were we would agree, but i think Calvin takes faith too far.  For Catholics it is all grace, we contribute nothing of ourselves.  Everything we have to offer, even our faith, we have only by the grace of God.  If my faith is of myself i would have cause to boast.  We are not saved by some combination of faith and grace.  We are saved by grace alone and everything else, including faith and works, flow from that.
      My second point is love alone.  We are saved for love, through love and on account of love.  God saved us because He loves us so that we might love Him.  Because God loves us, He is not satisfied to simply ignore our deficiencies.  He is compelled by love to heal us, to reconcile us to Himself.  God is love and we cannot begin to understand God apart from love.  It is for and by love that we were made in the first place.
      This third one is pretty straight forward.  The Bible alone is insufficient.  Scripture alone cannot explain where it came from, how we know what is and isn't scripture.  Scripture alone cannot address series differences of opinion within the Church.  Perhaps most grievous is that one must look beyond scripture to to find the very idea of scripture alone, it's not found in the Bible.  In professing the Word of God Alone we affirm the need for and value of both scripture and tradition and the need of the
Church to interpret it.  We profess the Word of God alone, but we do not limit this to only that which is written.
      God Alone is perhaps the foundational tenet of Catholic faith.  All the others are contained in this one.  God is the source and means of everything.  Salvation comes from Him, forgiveness comes from Him, the Word of God is His word which He enables us to interpret through His grace.  I have expanded this from Christ alone to God alone in order to emphasis the roles of the Father and Holy Spirit.  Christ is not alone, we cannot come to Him unless we are first called by the Holy Spirit, and this journey does not conclude until we arrive at the house of the Father.  Additionally, i want to emphasis that even when God works in and through others, it remains God Himself who does the work.
      In this final point, it is perhaps a very small change grammatically, but it is a very large change theologically.  In the original, to God alone, any praise not directed towards God directly is wrong.  To attribute glory to anything outside of God would detract from God.  In recognizing instead, that all glory flows from God, we are free to praise popes and saints and small children because the glory we see in them is of God.  They do not detract from God, they reflect God.  In proclaiming From God Alone is the Glory, we recognize that to praise truth, goodness and beauty, wherever they are found, is to give praise and worship to Him who made them.  We give glory to God when we recognize the grandeur of His creation.

      By Grace Alone - This first point reminds us that we can go all things through God who strengthens us, but we can do nothing apart from Him.  Everything we have we have through His grace.  Everything we do, we do through His grace.
      By Love Alone - This second point reminds us that we were made by love and for love.  Apart from love our lives have no purpose, no meaning.  We owe everything to God's love and are now called to share that love with the world.
      By the Word of God Alone - This third point reminds us that our own intellects are insufficient.  We must be guided by the Holy Spirit if were are to know anything of God.  Our understand comes from Sacred Scripture and Tradition, interpreted by the magisterium under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
      God Alone - This fourth point reminds us that we exist only by God's continuing choice.  Our very existence is grounded in Him.  He needs no one else but we desperately need Him.
      From God Alone is the Glory - This fifth point reminds us that no matter where we may encounter truth, goodness or beauty; it is God's glory being manifest.  We in no way detract from Him in praising His creation.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Contradictions in Scripture, One - The Two Creation Stories

Every one knows the Bible is full of contradictions and mistakes.  Most people can't actually name any, but you know they're there.  It's just common knowledge.  Occasionally you will find someone who can give you examples.  For instance, they used to claim the Hittites didn't exist, they were a mythical people for the Israelites to overcome in their cultural stories.  I say "used to" because in 1876 George Smith discovered the Hittite capital of Carchemish and the Bible was vindicated.  Maybe that is a bad example.
      Here is one that is still used.  Matthew 5 has Jesus preaching His sermon on the mount.  Luke 6 has Him giving the same sermon but on a plain.  Maybe this is an error, but couldn't Jesus have given the same sermon twice?  Do you think i write each of my blog posts fresh for you?  The answer is no, i quite often write something somewhere else and then turn it into a blog post.  In fact, i did that just last week and i'm doing it again this week.  I have a number of friends who are pastors.  They all reuse their sermons.  If we all do this, why not Jesus?  Maybe this was His staple sermon and He gave it dozens of times.  Maybe this is a bad example too.
      Let's try a harder one.  A lot of people have pointed out "two creation stories" in the opening chapters of Genesis.  This raises the question; if Genesis had only one author, why did he tell the same story twice?  But even worse than simply repeating himself, he contradicts himself.  In the first story God creates animals first and people second, both male and female.  In the second telling God creates man first, then animals and then woman.  How do we explain this?
      Before i respond to that, let me discus Bible errors in general.  St. Augustine teaches that sometimes the Bible presents us with difficulties.  This is true, some are a lot harder to explain than the ones i'm examining here, there are some i honestly can't explain.  However, in faith, we believe all these difficulties, the apparent contradictions or mistakes, they all fall into one of three categorizes. 
  • Textual errors - The oldest books of the Bible are thousands of years old and before the moveable type printing press was invented they had to be copied by hand.  We do not believe that God kept the scribes from making mistakes in transcription.  The presence of copyist error in no way conflicts with the infallibility of scripture.  Most of the numerical discrepancies can be explained this way.  
  •  Translational errors - Unless you can reading ancient Greek and Hebrew, you are probably reading a translation.  You know, i'm sure those translators did the best job they could, but they were not divinely inspired.  (Not even the Douay-Rheims or King Jame Versions, sorry)  Sometimes, to resolve an apparent mistake, all you have to do is go back to the original text.
  • Reader error - Sometime its not the Bible at all, but rather the one reading it who is in error.  The two examples i already gave fall into this category; they were wrong to believe the Hittites were mythical and they may be wrong to assume Jesus never repeated Himself.  People who try to critic the scriptures on scientific grounds generally make this error.  As the Bible is not a scientific text book it would be wrong to interpret it as such.  Only truth claims can be wrong and not everything in the Bible is a truth claim; there are myths and metaphors and parables.  The trick is telling the difference.
      There are three stories told in the opening of genesis; the creation of the heavens and earth, the creation of man, and then the entry of sin.  The creation of the world goes from Genesis 1:1 until 2:3.  It shows the chronology of creation culminating in the creation of man and the institution of the sabbath.  In the second story we are told more of the creation of man and the sixth day; in Genesis 1 we got a summary, now we are getting details.  The third story then tell us what happened on that first sabbath, we hear the story of the seventh day.  Genesis 1 tells us the story of heaven and earth in chronological order, dividing it between seven days, presenting it from God's perspective, the perspective of the creator.  Genesis 2 and 3 go back and tells us the story of those last two days, the story of man, from man's perspective, the perspective of the creation.
      So, why the repetition?  Artistic flourish.  The author uses chapter 1 to establish an overarching theme, a venue for chapters 2 and 3.  Then in chapters 2 and 3 he relates it to us.  What of the chronological discrepancies?  They aren't really there in Hebrew.
      In English we are used to writing in chronological order.  If i were to say; i bought a vineyard, i purchased seed, and i planted it in my vineyard.  In English we assume this happened in the order specified; first i bough the vineyard, then the seed, then i planted.  In Hebrew this assumption is to a much lesser degree.  The same is true of ancient Greek and we can see a few examples of this in the opening chapter of Luke.  Luke tells a series of self contained stories which overlap each other. 
  • 1:26 - Elizabeth is six months pregnant.
  • 1:39 - In those day, when Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Mary goes to visit her.
  • 1:56 - Mary stays three months and then leaves.  (End of Story)
  • 1:57 - (Start of new story) Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist.
      Why would Mary leave Elizabeth at the peak or her pregnancy?  Did she stayed for three months and book it as soon as Elizabeth went into labor?  No, of course Mary stayed until after the birth.  Luke doesn't bother to expressly state this because the order isn't that important and he assumes you can figure it out for yourself.
      In fact, let's take a moment and reconstruct Luke 1:56 through 1:80 in correct chronological order.
  • 56a - Mary stays for three month
  • 57 - Then the birth of John.
  • 56b - Ok, now Mary can leave.
  • 58 through 64 - John's circumcision and naming.  In 64 John's dad speaks, blessing God.
  • 67 through 79 - So we have to jump ahead, to what Zechariah, John's dad, says.
  • 65 and 66 - Now we go back to the result of all this, fear and discussion.
  • 80a and Chapter 2 - Chapter 2 happens as 80a is occurring.
  • 80b and 3:1 through 3:14 - The opening of Chapter 3 tells how 80b comes about.
      Confused yet?  Maybe after working through my reconstruction? But if you simply go read Luke, you understand the intended order and it is not that confusing.  The author of Genesis 2 assumes you will read it in light of Genesis 1 and so he doesn't bother giving an exact order of events.  He simply expects you to assemble them correctly, after all, he already gave you the exact order in Genesis 1.

      Looking for a fun project?  Go do with Genesis 2 what i did with Luke 1:56-80.  It will be fun.

 (My 'i's are left lower case by intention, to annoy the Grammar Nazis.  If you spot an error elsewhere, feel free to point it out.)

  Before you leave!  If you enjoy my blog consider clicking that share button down below.  Maybe some of your friends will enjoy it too. 
Also, feel free to like my page on Facebook;
Or follow me on Twitter;

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why Jews Think Catholic Statues are Idolatry and a Catholic Response

 I recently had an awesome conversation with some Jewish friends on Reddit.  It started on the topic of morality and the law, corresponding to last week's blog post.  However, we ended up having a discussion on idolatry.  They seemed to think that Catholic use of statues constitutes idolatry.  I, of course, took the opposite position.
      We Catholics have our great thinkers, people who's contributions to the theological world seem to dwarf the works of most others, people like Saint Augustine.  Judaism has it's great thinkers as well and perhaps chief among them is Mosheh ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides.  Think Aquinas and Augustine rolled into one.  In fact, even we Catholics owe a lot to Maimonides for his influence on the scholastics, people like Saint Thomas Aquinas.
      Maimonides, this great philosopher and theologian, gives a definition of idolatry containing three parts;
  • to do an act of worship toward any created thing
  • to believe that a particular created thing is an independent power
  • to make something a mediator between ourselves and God
      I would not object to any of these three points in of themselves.  At their core, they give the same definition of idolatry Catholics receive from Thomas Aquinas, to give honor due solely to God to another.  Here then, there are two issues which must be raised in concern to the Catholic view of statues.  The first concerns statues of saints and the second concerns statues of God.
      I think it is fairly easy to show that none of these aspects of idolatry correspond to statues of saints.
  • There is no worship towards any created thing for we do not worship saints or their statues.  We honor the saints as we honor Moses or Elijah, or to a much lesser extent great sports players and war heroes.  Worship is for God alone.  
  • The saints are completely dependent on God, just as we are.  The saints are to God as the moon is to the sun.  They reflect God's glory, God's magnificence, they contain none of their own.    They are most definitely not independent powers.
  • The saints serve as examples and intercessors. They give us images to model our own lives after, in order that we might better enter into the service of God.  An intercessor petitions on behalf of another.  We on earth can serve as imperfect intercessors for each other by praying for one another.  The saints in heaven are perfect intercessors, for they are unimpeded by their own sin and now dwell within the true Holy of Holies, in the celestial temple.  However, they are not mediators, we have no mediator apart from God Himself. 
      Perhaps we are guilty of idolatry elsewhere, but hot here.  We do not worship saints, we do not see them as independent powers and we do not see them as mediators.  If this is the case for the saints themselves, how much more for their statues?

      In concern to statues of God, it gets a little more complicated.  On the first two points we come out smelling like roses.  A statue of God is not a mediator between us a God, it is meant to lift our eyes to heaven, similar to the serpent Moses crafted in the desert. (Although distinct in that the serpent lifted eyes to heaven in a more literal fashion while the statues in Catholicism do so in a more figurative fashion.)  A statue of God is not a mediator, it is not even an intercessor, it is more like a sign post, and a sign pointing the way to Chicago is not a mediator between me and the windy city.  Similarly, a statue is not an independent power.  By virtue of the fact that the statue is made in the image of another, it cannot be independent of the other's power.  A picture of me is valuable to my mother because it bares my image.  If it did not bare my image it would be of no value at all.
      At first glance it seems that the issue of worship should be simple as well.  It is the one God Himself who is being worshiped and not any created thing.  Idolatry is literally "image worship" and the image is not here being worshiped, directly or indirectly.  Catholics recognize that no statue can represent what God actually is, for God cannot be limited to any physical form.  Statues and other images can only display an aspect of who God is and even then only imperfectly.  They are sacramental signposts, not objects of worship.
      However, it is not that simple.  For Maimonides, the use of any image in worship is idolatry and we do use images in worship.  By the definition of Maimonides, Catholics are idolators.  To get around this is one would have to refute the very definition given by this great Jewish thinker.  I am a 25 year old Catholic graduate student with a blog.  I do not presume to critic such a mind as Maimonides.  I leave that for those with greater credential than I. 
      If a person were to try and refute this position, perhaps they could start by pointing out all the times God is described by analogy throughout the scriptures; God as a shepherd, God as a potter.  Both of these images are employed in prayers, times of worship.  If it is permissible to use literary images in the directing of our worship, why not a picture or a statue?  I do not see any real difference.  Much more would need to be said before one could call this a true refute, but perhaps there is a hole here.

      More importantly, when one who is versed in Thomistic philosophy reads Maimonides, it is not difficult to see parallels.  One of the things Maimonides taught was that Abraham came to know God as the final cause.  He saw his neighbors worshiping these created things and realized there must have been something greater than them to create them, there must have been a first cause, an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover.  Perhaps Aquinas was more of a thief than we realize.
      There are only two things of which i am certain; i am certain of my own existence for to me this is self-evident, and i am certain this God of Abraham exists for if i exist there must have been something prior to me to cause my existence.  Catholics and Jews disagree on a lot, but on this we agree; we agree that our God exists, and we agree on who He is.  He is that which is and from Whom all else came.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Morals and Ethics and Politics

Last week i wrote on sin, you can find that post here.  This week i would like to consider morals and ethics.  How are they different?  How are they the same?  Do i have the right to force my morals or ethics on others?  If Mitt the Mormon missionary mused on his Mormon morals, would they be mere Mormon musing of a Massachusite monarch?  (Also, is that joke now dated?)
      Morals and ethics differ in their source material.  Morals are based on a set of beliefs, like a religion.  Ethics are based on a philosophy which is in turn based on a set of beliefs.  In the end all ethics are a form or morality, but not all morality qualifies as ethics.  This is analogous to how all politicians are tiny bloodsucking animals, but not all tiny bloodsucking animals are politicians.  (Also; All french are cowards but not all cowards are french, all Catholics breed like rabbits but not all rabbits are Catholic (some are Jewish), you get the idea.)  Morals and ethics both find their foundations in a belief set.  For morals this belief set could be divine revelation, or alien transmissions, or the deluded ravings of a mad man living in a cave.  These are not all equal in validity, but they are all sufficient for the foundation of a moral code.  Ethics must find their footing in a person's foundational assumptions, those basic beliefs that inform our worldview, that is, the way we view the world.
      Something is subjective if it only applies to a singular individual or group.  Something is objective if it applies to everyone.  An example most of us can relate to is temperature.  A guy would generally find 72  degrees (22.2C) to be a little on the warm side.  If a member of the opposite gender, your mom, sister, or girlfriend, walks into the room she will ask why it is so cold in here.  Our perception of 72 degrees is subjective because it depends on the person; be it warm, cold or just right.  However, it is an objective fact that the room is indeed 72 degrees.
      Because morality is based on an individual's beliefs, there is such thing as subjective morality.  However, most morality is objective.  It would be objectively wrong for me to hunt down that person who cut me off in traffic the other day and burn her house down.  There is no real doubt here.  (sadly)  I would say there is nothing objectively wrong with consuming alcohol, so long as it is done in moderation.  A cold Yuengling after a hard day's work (or while watching anime on Hulu) is a very nice thing.  However i have friends who think all alcohol is of the devil and it is a sin to consume any.  (They would like me to give it up, but since i'm already going to hell for being Catholic, i don't see why i should surrender my Rum and Cokes.)  For the sake of argument, we are gong to say i'm right and alcohol is a good thing; it's not wrong for me and thus not objectively wrong.  However, it would be wrong for them to consume alcohol as it would be a violation of conscience.  Thus we have subjective morality.  It is morally acceptable for me to drink a Long Island Ice Tea but would be morally wrong for my puritanical Baptist friends.
      Ethics are never subjective.  They are objective by their very nature.  I can be right in my ethical claims and i can be wrong in my ethical claims, but there are no ethical claims which apply only to me.  In fact, the absolute nature of ethics allows us to distinguish subjective morality from objective morality.  Burning down that lady's home would be ethically wrong.  This is how i know it is objective morality.  If we can back up our morality with ethics then it is objective morality, universal truth.  Subjective morality can have no ethical footing.
      This brings us to our core concept, politics.  The role of government in Catholic thought is two fold, according Pope Pius XII, "to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority."  The government has the authority and obligation to defend basic human rights.  In addition, as every right correspondes to a duty, the government can and should enforce the performance of those duties.
      The role of morals in politics seems simple.  Subjective morality has no place in the public sphere.  Just as you are under no duty to obey my morality and i have no right to force my morality upon you.  Most everyone believes their morality is of the objective type.  Even people who say all morality is subjective will admit that murder is universally wrong, i.e. objective.  I often hear people say it is wrong to force your morality on others, thus making a claim on universal, objective morality.  In practice we all believe our own morals are objective, otherwise we wouldn't hold to them.  However, who is to say who is right?  Morals should not be legislated as it is simply presumption to assert my morality as superior to yours.  I can and should strive to convert you to my way of thinking, and you should do the same for me, but i cannot and should not use the government as a way to force my beliefs on you.
      Ethics are the complete opposite.  Ethics inform us of our human rights and of our duties.  Ethics tell us what we cannot do and what we must do.  They are those universal truths for which government exists.  It is not only acceptable that the government enforce ethics, the government fails in its very purpose when it fails to do so.  I can make a moral argument against homosexual activity, but i cannot make an ethical argument against homosexual activity.  Who's rights are being violated?  What duty is being ignored?  I must therefor conclude that it would be inappropriate for the government to legislate against homosexual acts.  The truth is, i cannot make a half decent moral argument against abortion.  However, ethics tells us that the right to life is the most foundational of all rights and we have a duty to defend human life no matter the age or location of the person.  The ethical arguments against abortion are thoroughly sufficient to merit a universal ban.
      My arguments against contraception are moral arguments, based in my religious beliefs.  It would be inappropriate for me to try and ban contraception with the arguments i currently posses.  However, the opposite is also true.  Just as it would be wrong for Catholics to force our views of contraception on others, it would be equally wrong for them to force their views on us.  For example, by forcing us to purchase contraception for them, directly or indirectly.  It is ethically wrong to force people to act contrary to their own moral beliefs.  Each one of us has a right to conscience and to violate this right is a serious abuse of government authority.
      Human beings are political creatures by nature.  Whenever we form groups we form ways of governing those groups.  Even among a group of friends they will have a mode of decision making.  As political creatures it is important for us to understand the role of government.  We must understand why it is in place, what it can and cannot legislate.  When the founding fathers put forth the declaration of independence they also put forth three ethical claims; 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.  At times we are called upon to lay down our lives to secure the liberty of another.  At times we are called to lay down our liberty for the happiness of another.  We can never enslave another for the sake of our own happiness.  We can never kill another for the sake of our own liberty. 

 That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Understanding Sin as Tangent

Generally, I avoid the term sin.  This is not because i find the topic distasteful, but because most people don't know what sin is.  They see it as arbitrary divine judgement.  For them, sin is the violation of some supernatural legal code.  Just as crime results in prison, sin results in damnation.  It's cold and impersonal and alienating.  When they hear us say they are sinning they simply hear us passing judgment on them.  Although i will not shy away from talking about sins, generally, i will avoid the term.  It just confuses the issue and pushes people farther away.
      However, this is based on a misconception of God, of His relation to us.  God is not a power hungry tyrant, He is not an impersonal and wrathful judge.  He is a loving Father, and He created us with a purpose.  To understand sin, we must first understand this purpose and our relation to God.
      There is a meaning to life.  We were created for the greatest good of all, complete union with God, in which we find true happiness and ultimate joy.  We enter into this union through love, through the true self-gift.  This is not something we do, but rather something we allow God to do.  All you really contribute is your yes, when you say yes to God and offer Him the entirety of yourself.  So long as i pursue my own good, i will never find the ultimate good.  So long as i am looking out for myself and pursuing my own happiness, true joy and fulfillment will forever evade me.  So i let go, and offer myself to God.  I allow him to love me and to love the world through me.  In giving myself to Him, i receive Him in turn, and find the purpose for which i was made.
      There is this path, its narrow and steep, but when we travel it we travel with God, towards our true purpose.  This is the path of salvation.  God neither forces us to walk it nor to remain on it.  There are many other paths to choose from, often times they seem more appealing, but they do not takes us anywhere we really want to go.  They are tangents, leading us away from our true ends.  We walk the path of salvation so long as we pursue God, the ultimate good.  We leave this path and pursue the tangents when we choose lesser goods over God, temporal good over eternal good, personal good over the good of others.
      God does not send anyone to Hell.  If He did, he would be a monster, creating man simply to subject him to eternal torment.  God sends no one to Hell.  Each and every soul who arrives in this destination of the damned is there of their own free will, their own volition.  They refused God when He offered them salvation, when He offered them Himself.  The souls in Hell said no when God offered them Heaven.
      When we place our hope in anything apart from God it will eventually fail us.  We pursue lesser goods but they don't satisfy us.  They may grant us a momentary escape from the miseries of life, but soon they fade.  We seek them out again, but this time we need more to get the same feelings, and again they fade.  Soon it does not matter how much we get, our desire cannot be satisfied.  We desire a fulfillment which can only be achieved in finding our meaning, our purpose in being.  We all hope in someday finding that purpose, but the longer we seek it in vain the more our hope fades, until it finally dies, and all we are left with is despair.  Hell is not a place like Pittsburgh or Milwaukee, it is a state of being, it is the complete absence of a meaning only God can provide.  Hell is the complete and utter despair resulting from a life of self-gratification.
      Sin aught not to be seen as a legal term, divine or otherwise.  Our true fulfillment is found in union with God, and God desires that for us.  However, He gave us free will so that we could choose for ourselves.  We have the power to choose against God, to reject Him.  We can take actions that impede our union with God, that separate us from the ultimate good, that lead us on the path towards the misery of despair.  This is the essence of sin.  This is what we aught to mean when we refer to it.  Sin is that which separates us from God, from the ultimate good, from the purpose of our being.  It consists of those things which are spiritually harmful to the individual who does them. 
      God desires that which is best for us, which is union with Him.  Sin harms us by separating us from Him and binding us to the world.  Nothing in creation is evil in of itself.  Food is good, sex is good, music is good, everything is created good.  The problem comes when we prefer these things to God.  Again, God sends no one to Hell, it is not something God subjects us to, it is something we subject ourselves to.  But why?  Why would anyone choose Hell over Heaven?  It is because of the high cost of Heaven.  In order to gain paradise, we must be willing to give up everything.  All the goods of creation are distractions we must be willing to sacrifice.  No human being can do this alone.  It is only with God's aid that this is possible.  Even then we all will fall short on occasion.  Sins are those things which tie us to these lesser goods and distract us from God.
      When we do something that leads us away from God, we are choosing against Heaven.  When we stop pursuing God and go off on these tangents, that is sin.  When God tells us to give to those in need and avoid murdering our neighbors, it is because He desires what is best for us.  I could rightly say that contraception is a sin, but most people would hear something like; contraception makes God angry and now your going to hell.  This understanding would not only be unhelpful, but it could even lead people away from Christ and His Church.  So rather than give scandal, i say contraception harms you as a person, it impedes your true happiness and hinders your relationship with God.  Far less offensive, much more informative, and yet I have said the exact same thing in both cases.  For that is what sin does and why it is so bad; it harms us as people, impedes our true happiness and hinders our relationship with God.
      Sin is a tangent, because it distracts us from the real purpose of it all.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Catholic View of Evolution and Darwinism; Part II - How it All Relates

Assuming you read Part I, welcome back!  If you have not yet done so, i highly recommend you do. 

      Evolution and darwinism are not the same thing, nor are creationism and intelligent design.  Evolution is a completely legitimate scientific theory.  Darwinism is an absurdest philosophy masquerading as natural science.  Evolutionists and creationists are opposed to one another but they are both attempting to answer the same question; how did we get here?  They want to provide the efficient cause of humanity, earth and the universe.  Darwinism and intelligent design are similarly diametrically opposed, but they too are trying to answer a singular question; why are we here.  They want to explain the final cause.
      I consider myself a theistic evolutionist.  That is, i believe in an intelligent design to the universe but i accept evolution as God's modus operandi in creation.  It does not matter to me if you believe in evolution or creationism.  The theological truths about God and the universe are largely unaffected by what position you take there.  I would much rather spend my time blasting darwinism and upholding intelligent design.  However, i feel i should give a brief explanation for my position and i'll do that near the end.
      Evolution seems to fit well with naturalism as it doesn't expressly call for a supernatural outside force.  As i said last week, there is nothing inherently wrong with naturalism so long as it is merely methodological.  The problem arises when one corrupts it into metaphysical naturalism.
      Metaphysics is the study of being, it is the purest form of philosophy, seeking to understand the formal and final causes; what we are and why we are here.  Naturalism is the assumption of purely natural causality.  When it is applied to metaphysics we are left with a philosophy of being which rejects anything beyond the seen, beyond the natural.  This is, of course, incomparable with creationism and so it strives to find footing in evolution.  The resulting monstrosity is known as darwinism.
      Although this may at first seem a match made in heaven (forgive the pun), we quickly come upon two major problems.  The first problem is the law of entropy.  This argument has been used ad nauseum against evolution, and that is not my intention here, especially considering that it doesn't work.  However, the argument does have some weight against darwinism.  Entropy is sameness or disorder.  The law of entropy states that in a closed system the amount of entropy can only increase.  That is, assuming no outside force, things only ever get more similar and less complex.  Consider a camp fire reducing the wooden logs to their base components.  The diversity and complexity of the wood are gone.  Only ash remains.
      Evolution calls for a growing of complexity and diversity over time, seemingly in direct contradiction to the law of entropy.  The only explanation is that this isn't a closed system.  The darwinist would argue the decrees in entropy in evolution is attributable to increased entropy elsewhere, namely the sun and to a much lesser extent the earth.  However, just think about that.  What is really more impressive?  A universe simply snapped into existence with all the complexities already in place or a universe which gradually unfolds in time with the capacity to grow in complexity despite a tendency towards ciaos?  The second one calls out for God with far greater subtlety, but it calls out for a God far more worthy of being called out to.
      The second problem is easier to express and harder to refute.  Evolution is a process.  By definition it has to start somewhere.  You can't have infinite regression.  This is an old argument, but it still works just as well.  There must be a first mover, an uncaused cause, to set the entire process in motion.  Darwinism can't account for this.  In Catholic theology this is the very definition of God, the first mover, the uncaused cause.  Evolution can't tell me if God really is personal or loving or even sentient, but it tells me God exists.
      Creationism and evolution both call out for God, they just do it in different ways.  Creationism is more blatant, evolution is more subtle.  Creationism is in a hurry, evolution is more patient.  While creationism screams for God's existence, evolution suffices with a whisper.
      Intelligent design can be taken on multiple levels, but at it's core it simply says there is a reason for existence beyond random chance, that there is a God who is sentient and who designed the laws by which our universe functions.  It allows for meaning and purpose in existence.  It says there is more than just what we see.  Although it is usually paired with creationism, there is no reason to reject evolution as the means for this intelligent design. 

      I won't say creationism is a legitimate scientific theory, but there are many very intelligent people who embrace it.  I think creationists are wrong, but they do have some good arguments, and they keep evolutionists honest.  They even expose serious flaws in the theory of evolution which might otherwise go undressed.  However, when all is said and done, i thing the hard scientific evidence supports evolution.  In addition, when you contemplate how God has worked through history, evolution seems to fit better.  God didn't just just snap Israel into existence; he started with one guy and grew it into a family and then a tribe and then a nation and a kingdom.  Out of Israel He brought the Church, starting with the twelve disciples and growing it like a mustard seed into the billion strong liturgical empire we have today.  God created a temporal universe in order to lay foundations and build on them over time.  If He follows this pattern in recorded history, why not in prerecorded history?
      When all is said and done, i think creationists make the same mistake as darwinists.  They confuse natural science with theology.  Creationists and darwinists fail to realize that these things have different ends.  Natural science wants to understand how we got here and evolution provides an answer.  Theology tries to explain why we are here and evolution cannot answer this question, only God can.  The fatal flaw of darwinism is looking to natural science when the answers can't be found in nature.  The fatal flaw of creationism is the exact opposite.  The Bible has history in it, but it is not by its natural a historical textbook.  The purpose of the Bible is to answer theological questions, the questions of why.
      Evolution can tell us how we got here, but it cannot tell us why we are here.  The Bible doesn't say how God made us, only that God made us.  The Bible tells us we are made in the image of God, to manifest His authority on earth.  The Bible tells us we are here to glorify Him by loving one another.  It tells us how to find the meaning of existence, the purpose of our being, true happiness and fulfillment.

      I guess, for creationists, that's just not enough. 

<< - To Part I

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Catholic View of Evolution and Darwinism; Part I - The Philosophical Background

I'm a theologian, not an historian.  In my last two entries i've tried to delve a bit into history in order to lay a foundation for this discussion; the apparent dichotomy between science and religion.  I've attempted to show how this idea grew out of the enlightenment and i've striven to demonstrate how the supposed examples of this conflict are mythical.  Today i would like to begin an examination of it in light of the modern debate on evolution.
      I'm not really interested in discussing evolution as a scientific theory.  That would be outside my pay grade.   Rather, i think this is an excellent time to discuss science in general: What is science?  How ought we to pursue science?  Why should we pursue science at all?  In part II i'll consider the four terms; evolution, Darwinism, creationism and intelligent design.  Specifically, their relation to Catholicism and the philosophical concepts which i'll discuss here.
      To begin we need to cover some philosophy.  Although not directly related to evolution, understanding these classifications will allow us to understand the difference between pre-enlightenment and post-enlightenment thought.  Ancient Greek thinkers discussed four causes, or preconditions for existence.  These correspond to the three major questions we have discussed in previous posts; what, how and why.
      The first cause is the efficient cause.  This is how the thing came to be, how it was created.  For example, i am the efficient cause of my computer.  I purchased the components, i drove all over St. Louis trying to find thermal paste at 11pm, i assembled the components, i tried to turn it on, i spent two hours trying to figure out what i had done wrong, i fixed it, turned it on and installed the software.  (Max helped)  What is the efficient cause of my computer?  How did it come into being?  I did it.
      The second cause is the material cause.  This is what the thing is made out of, what it is materially speaking.  Again, turning to my computer, at the most foundational level it is made of metal and plastic.  We could come up a few levels and say it is made of a case, and a motherboard, and a hard drive, and a processor, and a video card, and a power source and so on.  Or we could go to a middle level and talk about circuits and cables and screws.  Like the efficient cause, the material cause can be discussed in gradients of precision without any loss of truth.
      The third cause is the formal cause.  This is what the thing is by way of definition, what it is in its essence.  What makes my computer a computer?  What distinguishes it from a bench or a house?  Some people say this is purely subjective, that a thing is defined but what we choose to call it.  However, this is to confuse essence with name.  It doesn't matter if you call it a computer or una computadora or diàn nǎo, it remains the same thing.  It remains distinct from a bed or una cama or chuáng pù.  The human capacity to distinguish between different concepts and assign them names proves the existence of essence.
      The fourth and final cause is the final cause.  This is why the thing came to be, why it exists at all.  My computer exists to to do my bidding.  To access those web pages i would have it access, for me to write thrilling and insightful blog posts and schools papers in a legible format, to compute and store what i would have it compute and store.  The formal and final causes cannot be discussed in gradients of precision.  They can be elaborated on or more carefully explained, but they are what they are.  If you leave something off, at best, you have only a partial truth and if you add something unnecessary you have a falsehood.
      When we pursue the first two causes we engage in the natural or physical sciences.  We learn about them through experimentation and the scientific method.  They can be explored in greater or lesser detail depending on the needs of the situation.  The second two causes are the realm of theology and philosophy.  They are not subject to experimentation so they must be grasped through reason or revelation.  However, they are all science.  Although we often use the term "science" in reference to solely natural or physical science, the word simply means knowledge and applies to any method by which we pursue knowledge.  Thus, we have a distinction between the hard sciences and the soft sciences.  In the hard sciences, natural or physical science, we seek knowledge of a thing's matter and how to control it.  In the soft sciences, philosophy and theology, we seek knowledge of a thing's essence and purpose, that is, how it ought to be used. 
     Prior to the enlightenment the soft sciences ruled supreme.  The hard sciences were not ignored or forgotten, but they were generally only pursued to the extent they could illuminate the more important questions of purpose.  Some of the perpetrators of the enlightenment saw the soft sciences as unreliable and rejected them as not being true science.  They denounced essence and purpose as being imaginary and non-existent.  This lead to a new focus on the efficient and material causes as the only ones which can be known.  This mindset is known as metaphysical naturalism.  Although the denial of purpose inherent to metaphysical naturalism led to a degradation of the human person, most of the major modern genocides and the general suicide of western spiritual well being, i do have to acknowledge that naturalism in of itself does have a positive effect.  The knew recognition of the value of asking how also led to the discovery of anti-biotics, the computer, blogs, cars, airplanes, spaceships and universal indoor pluming.  I like these things very, very much.
      So here we can make a distinction between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism.  Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical worldview that denies essence and meaning and has been used to justify every atrocity you can name.  Although it claims to be "scientific" it actually impedes scientific progress because it rejects any thought which does not fall in line with its foundational assumptions.  It is bad, a scourge upon mankind, an evil to be feared and resisted to your dieing breadth.  Methodological naturalism is simply an assumption of consistency in experimentation.  It leads to all the scientific breakthroughs we know and love and i thoroughly endorse its usage.
      So, what does all this have to do with evolution?!?!
Well, come back next week and i'll tell you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Galileo Myth

Galileo, Galileo.  Everybody knows this story, right?  Scientist puts forth a revolutionary new concept that challenges the presuppositions of the religious elites and so they and silence him.  People love telling this story because it perfectly illustrates the close-minded, anti-scientific nature of the Catholic Church, or maybe even Christianity in general.  The fact that it isn't true is... inconsequential.
      I should clarify; Galileo did believe the earth revolves around the sun (heliocentrism) and he was tried by the inquisition for heresy, twice, and the second time found to be gravely suspect of it.  However, his heliocentric views were not really the reason for his trial.  There are plenty of people who have already explained what happened.  If you want in in-depth look at the history or theories in dispute, try Google or click here
As I really don't like rehashing the same ground as everyone else, i'm going to try and take a slightly different approach.  I'm more interested in the theology and philosophy that got us into this mess in the first place, so i will try and discuss these.
      The Catholic Church has a strong dislike for schism and scandal.  At the time of Galileo this had grown into a blatant paranoia, largely due to the resent emergence of Protestantism.  This is understandable considering the 30 years of war and millions of casualties, on both side, which followed.  (However, in truth, this was more political than religious (i'll address it in a future post))  Although, as Christians we should be a little paranoid about these two things.  Schism is a break in the unity of the Church.  Christ's final request to the Father before His passion was that we would be one, that we would posses a true unity.  As the Church of Christ, we strive vigilantly to manifest that unity He prayed for.  To cause schism is to go in the completely wrong direction.
      To cause scandal is to cause another to stumble in their faith, to lead another away from Christ.  That is, away from the eternal joy of union with the Trinity and towards an eternal oblivion of despair.  Jesus says it is better that a man have a millstone tied around his neck and he be cast into the sea, than that he would cause scandal.  This is very serious.  Additionally, as a schism is a breaking with the Church, the ordinary means of coming to Christ, schism is a form of scandal.  When we discuss these, we are not discussing merely earthly affairs.  Schism and scandal can have eternal ramifications.  Under the Church's understanding of these things, they place people's immortal souls in jeopardy.
      This is my first premise; schism and scandal are very serious issues, the Church is completely justified in treating them as such.  At the time of Galileo the debate between geocentrists and heliocentrists was very heated.  There were scientists and theologians on both sides of the issue.  In fact, heliocentrism was the minority opinion among scientists.  Geocentric scientists and theologians felt very strongly about their position.  Heliocentric scientists and theologians felt very strongly about their position.  Within this debate Galileo emerged as a dominant and divisive figure.  (He was not nice to his opposition.)
      Galileo had a talent for angering his opponents and disenfranchising his friends.  The issue was not what he was saying so much as how he was saying it.  He was a brilliant scientist but politically, he was a moron.  He wanted to push his theory in political and theological circles as well as scientific ones.  Where ever the question could be raised, he was there raising it.  Eventually the Church told him to shut up.  They felt his tactics could cause scandal.  They were worried the debate had potential to give rise to schism.  In order to prevent this, they chose to embrace the majority scientific and theological position and suppress the dominate voice of the minority.  Again, this was done, not to refute a scientific position or define a theological concept, but solely to prevent those two great evils of scandal and schism.
      Imagine if you were in the military.  Your commanding officer gives you an order.  You would have to follow it, right?  Now, imagine if you disagreed with that order and you disobeyed.  What would happen?  It would not matter if you were right or wrong, you would be in trouble.  The Catholic Church is like the military.  As a Catholic i am under the authority of my superiors; primarily my priest and bishop.  If they tell me to do something i need to do it.  It was the same with Galileo.  The Church told him he was allowed to conjecture on heliocentrism but that he couldn't actively defend it.  (This is kinda like telling a five year old that he can play with a ball so long as he doesn't throw it.  There is nothing wrong with the ball, but if he throws it he might break something.)  So what happened?  Galileo decided to ignore them and threw the ball.. ah.. actively defend heliocentrism.  Consequence?  He got slapped down.  (There is nothing wrong with throwing balls, but i told you not to.  So now you are in time-out.) 
      It was felt that Galileo was causing schism and scandal.  His higher ups limited the means by which he could defend his position in order to stop this.  He didn't obey them and so he got in trouble.  If you study the history of the Church and contemplate the life of Galileo you will probably come to a few conclusions:  If he had avoided the political lime light rather than pursuing it, he probably would have been fine.  If he had limited himself to science, rather than defending his position in theological forums as well, he probably would have been fine.  If he had been willing to consider heliocentrism a theory, rather than definitively true, he probably would have been fine.  If he hadn't insulted and alienated all his politically powerful friends (like the Pope), that would have helped.  It seems as if Galileo was trying his absolute best to get himself excommunicated.  We should not be shocked that he almost succeeded.

(side note: Galileo believed the sun was at the center of the universe, so technically, he was wrong.)

      A few points in Summary:
-The Church never condemned heliocentrism as wrong, only as problematic.

-Galileo was not a pure scientist, he debated theology as well.
-Galileo did not get in trouble for being wrong, but rather for being disobedient.

(Edit: The sentence against Galileo was not an excommunication.  He was found gravely suspect of heresy, and sentenced to house arrest.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Enlightenment is a Lie

Basically, the enlightenment is a lie.  This is not to say it didn't happen, it did, but it was not very enlightening.  It's the idea of the enlightenment, casting off the shackles of faith and embracing reason; that's what never happened.  The enlightenment, like all heresy, is based off a false dichotomy.  In this case, faith verses reason.  It claims you can only have one, and then rejects faith as mere superstition.  It claims to champion truth but in actuality it brings only doubt.
      A dichotomy is a choice involving only two options.  It is an either/or statement with no alternatives.  There are real dichotomies; life and death, truth and falsehood, women...  But most of the time they are false. 
      A false dichotomy tries to present an either/or when in actuality there may be a third option or some middle ground.  I would say Protestantism presents a false dichotomy in contrasting faith and works, Catholicism responds with the correction; faith and works are really the same thing and they are both gifts of grace.  Marketing campaigns love to present a false dichotomy of spend less here or more somewhere else; how about I keep the car I have and not spend anything?  The enlightenment presents the false dichotomy of faith and reason.  It fails to recognize that these are not in opposition to each other.  How can truth conflict with truth?

       The entire idea of the enlightenment presupposes a conflict between faith and reason.  It claims that now man can be free of religion by embracing science, that before the enlightenment man hid from reason, behind a curtain of faith, but in the enlightenment that curtain is torn away and the light of truth is shown upon the earth. 
      In reality the enlightenment obscures.  It shifts the focus from the why onto the how.  As i discussed last week, there is nothing wrong with asking how, but it shouldn't distract from asking why.  The question of how can't give meaning or purpose.  In denying faith the enlightenment mindset goes to an unbelievable extreme, it denies the ultimate question of why altogether.  It says this is all there is and there ain't no more. 
      In the name of this falsehood man's eyes are blinded from all but the material, only the purely natural can be acknowledged.  Faith is not hostile to reason but the proponents of reason seem to be very hostile to faith.  Perhaps it is because faith claims to answer questions pure reason cannot and the principles of the enlightenment cannot acknowledge that possibility.
      If you challenge a proponent of the enlightenment and ask for examples of faith conflicting with reason, they have nothing.  They may bring up the myth of Galileo, that he was excommunicated for believing the earth revolves around the sun. (Although he was excommunicated, and he did support heliocentrism, it was not the direct cause of his excommunication.)
      Perhaps they will bring up evolution, a theory the Church has never condemned, which I happen to support, but which has many holes in it nevertheless.
      Perhaps we could respond with Nicolaus Copernicus, a devoted Catholic and Canon Lawyer who developed the heliocentric theory.  (He was not the first to propose it, but he expand it into a true scientific theory.)
      We could point to the modern university system, developed within the Catholic Church.
      To Brother Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar, who first developed the entire field of genetics!  His work was ignored for 72 years by the enlightened Darwinists because it ran contrary to their materialistic philosophy.
      To Father Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest, who developed the hypothesis of the primeval atom, which would later became known as the Big Bang theory.  Somewhat humorously, his theory was largely dismissed by the scientific elite as well, partially because of his religious background and partially because the enlightened materialist worldview runs at odds with the universe having a beginning.  (Perhaps because it implies a beginner.)

      Sometimes defenders of the enlightenment will try and paint Christianity or religion in general as violent and barbaric.  Some modern historians claim that Christianity has been responsible for 3 million deaths in the last two millennia.  I personally would contest this number as far too high, and every few years a new study comes out to prove me right and it drops.  However, lets go with this number, take them at their word.
      Now consider the French Revolution, which flowed directly from enlightenment principles and constitutes the first modern genocide.  Over a quarter-million faithful Catholics were massacred for being just that, faithful Catholics.  They refused to disavow their religion; namely, their allegiance to the Pope.
      These deaths, however, constitute less than one fifth of one percent of the total victims of the enlightenment.  When we reject a reason for our being, deny any value to life, and focus solely on how to reach our goals, morality drops away.  Any faith would find these number abhorrent, but in the name of reason...
   -  From Nazi's enlightened eugenics program - 26 million
   -  Under Mao's new enlightened China - 38 million
   -  Under Russia's enlightened communism - 62 million
   -  From other communist nations (Cambodia, North Korea, Vietnam, etc.) - 11 million
Not counting war, preventable famine or abortion, that's 137 million people.
(The worst killer of all, abortion - 1.5 billion deaths since World War II (But we can leave the Enlightenment out of that and just attribute it to man's inhumanity.))
      Even when we compare the high estimate for Christianity to the middle estimates for enlightenment philosophy, we get a number 45 times higher, in only one tenth the time. 

      It is truly ironic that this idea should be named Enlightenment.  Rather than ushering in an age of light it brought darkness, such that the true dark ages are not the time that came before, but rather every day since. 
      Perhaps one day the world will realize that reason alone is insufficient.  Reason, unfettered by faith, won't take us anywhere we want to go.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Meaning and Purpose of Life

Why yes, in fact, i do know the meaning and purpose of life.  If you would like to know the meaning and purpose of life, all you need to do is send $100 to 1304...

Ok, never mind.

      You don't need to send me money.  I'll just tell you.  I usually fall far short of it, i'm trying, but it's hard.  You see, meaning is tied to purpose.  Everything has a purpose and the meaning of existence is to fulfill that purpose.  This may seem subtle, but i'll ellaborate.

      As humans, there are three big questions we tend to ask.  Most everything else is just a version of these.  Every answer we seek is the counterpart to one of them; What, How and Why.
      What is the most basic question of all?  What is the most basic question of all.  That's the answer, what.  The most basic question of all is, what.  What is this thing?  What is it called?  What is it made of?  What defines it?  You are a person, a human being.  You're made of carbon and water and a few grams of various other minerals, and something else.  It is this union of the something else to the material that defines you.  There are billions of people, but only one of you.  Each person is a union of body and soul, and this distinguishes us from everything else.  Angels have souls but no bodies.  Animals have bodies but no souls.  (They have temporal spirits, but that is very different.)
      Only human beings are made in the image and likeness of God.  This image is stamped on our souls, our souls are joined to our bodies and we are made the manifestation of God's power on earth.  (See post from last week.)  As human beings we are defined by the image we bare and this joining of conflicting elements.  As individuals, we are distinguished by our souls and the individual vocations to which each of us is called.  Your body could be duplicated and your memories downloaded into its brain; but you would still be distinct, you would still be different.  Your soul and your vocation, your calling, are unique to you.
      How!  This is the second question.  Science loves asking this question.  Although, it really only got popular with the enlightenment, when people lost sight of their priorities.  Understanding how something came to be and how it works can tell us how to control it.  Answering the question of how grants power, and science loves power.  This isn't true understanding, it falls short of answering the final question.  In Genesis we find an answer to the question of how.  It's an extremely simplified answer, but it is all we really need.  God did it.  We can push further and ask how God did it, and there is nothing wrong with this, but it is not particularly important.  In order to move on to the final question, all we need to know is that God did it.  Pushing further into the how must not distract us from the why.
      Why did God do it?  Why am i here?  The why informs purpose.  Darwinism, materialism, modern enlightenment thinking says there is no real reason.  It was just random chance, happenstance.  Just the natural result of causality, like the rain or the sunshine.  The only purpose is to exist, and then you die.  Yea...
      Jesus gives a better answer.  In fact, He shows us.  As He suffers and as He dies, He proclaims the very purpose of our lives.  Two-thousand years ago, upon a cross, God gave Himself for us and He now gives Himself to us every day in the Eucharist.  Through Scripture and Tradition , He tells us to do likewise. new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.
(John 13:34) 

      We were not placed here to pursue just any-old-good for ourselves, we were placed here to pursue the good of others.  When we imitate Christ, and give ourselves for the good of the world we discover our true purpose, the very meaning of our lives.  This is the greatest good we could ever hope to procure.
      We were placed here to love as Christ loved.  To love the old man across the street.  To love the single mother we pass in the store.  To love the unborn child, waiting to be born.
      We love others when we place their needs before our own.  When we desire what is best for them and pursue it without concern for ourselves.  When we accept, from God, a "new heart" which "will make it possible to appreciate and acheive the deepest and most authentic meaning of life: namely, that of being a gift which is fully realized in the giving of self." (Blessed Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 49 [emphasis in original])

      I fail in this on a daily basis.  But occasionally i succeed, and every time i do i rediscover its truth.  I cannot prove my claim philosophically, but it is easy to demonstrate.  Find an opportunity to love someone who has no chance to reciprocate.  Take a leap of faith, you won't regret it.
      True happiness is this, to love abundantly, with no concern for your own happiness.

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”