Thursday, December 25, 2008

They Actually Believe That!?!

Being a few hundred miles away from my family, my wife, daughter and I went to a friend's parents' house for Christmas dinner. The people were really friendly and the food was great. After dinner, while I was playing Wii Sports Bowling, my friend's father was talking to one of his relatives about Mary. It wasn't my turn to bowl, so I listened in. I heard him say something about Mary being without sin, and "ascending into heaven." This being a conservative Protestant family, I figured he was talking about Catholics, but I was unsure. My suspicions were more-or-less confirmed when he said, "they actually believe that."

Now, I know that we Catholics don't actually believe that Mary "ascended," so I passed on my Wii remote, and tried to work my way over to the conversation. But by the time I made it over there they were talking about a sick family member. Not something I wanted to interrupt for a possible argument. So, I haven't yet been able to correct the misunderstandings (though I plan to find a way).

The thing that really got me, though, was the, "They actually believe that." I do understand this unhealthy attitude of superiority. I've made the same mistake myself, to a small extent with Protestants, and to a more major extent with Mormons.

But, as far as the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, and a few other Marian doctrines are concerned, I'm not quite sure why they are so incredulous that we might believe such things. They are not without precedence: Elijah being assumed, Adam and Eve not having original sin, etc. The Bible never says, "Mary sinned," or, "Mary died, was buried, and rotted in the ground." And early Church history doesn't show evidence that these things weren't true. Even Luther, Calvin, and (sometimes) Zwingli believed most of the Marian doctrines. Apparently the Bible doesn't clearly deny them.

Because these Protestants believe the Bible is the only real source for history of the early Church, I can see how these beliefs might appear to be manmade, since they are certainly not explicit in the scriptures. But there is nothing so strange or unbiblical about any of them (properly understood) that warrants a, "They actually believe that."

But then, thinking that Mary ascended under her own power (as Christ did), rather than being assumed by God (as Elijah was assumed in 2 Kings 2:11), would make it fairly absurd. This would go along with the belief some Protestants have, that Catholics worship Mary as a Goddess. Considering this horrible misunderstanding, I suppose I'd have to have the same reaction.

"Do they actually believe that?!?"

Thankfully, the answer is, "No, we don't."

I'll probably give a quick defense of the Catholic Marian doctrines at some point in the future, but for now, here's some good links on the subject:

Mother of God

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"He was born of the Virgin Mary..."

By the power of the Holy Spirit, (BOW)
He was born of the Virgin Mary
And became man

Every missal I've seen includes an italicized "BOW" at this part of the Creed, yet few people do it. I see nearly everyone genuflect before entering a pew (which isn't in the missal), but hardly anyone make a bow during the Creed. I can only assume that few people have used a missal. I'll further assume that even fewer know why to bow.

For years, I've bowed at that point because the missal told me to do so, but I didn't know why. I realized during mass today why we bow, so I thought I'd share.

The readings about ''Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant'' were a good primer for this train of thought, as well as the priest reading an excerpt from Cardinal Ratzinger's "Blessings of Christmas". Here's the quote that finished my train of thought:

What can we offer you, O Christ, for having been born for us on earth as a Man? Each creature, the work of your hands, offers you a sign of gratitude: the angels, their hymn; the heavens, the star; the Magi, their gifts; the shepherds, their admiration; the earth, the cave; the desert, the manger; and all mankind, we offer you a virgin mother. --Blessings of Christmas
King David's "Who am I that the Ark of the Lord should come to me?", the angel's "Hail Mary" greeting, along with the signs of gratitude from the quote (hymn, star, gifts, etc) all painted a picture in my head of the joy on Earth as everything bowed at Jesus's birth.

And at that point I remembered the words from the Creed: "By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man..." This may sound obvious, but I hadn't connected the two until today: that line of the Creed is describing Christmas. And that is why we bow. We weren't around at the first Christmas, so we missed our chance to join the angels and the heavens and the shepherds as they bowed before the newborn King. But we do have a chance to join everyone from our generation in bowing every Sunday as we recite the Creed.

There. Now don't you feel better about bowing now that you know why we bow? And FYI, at Christmas, instead of bowing, we genuflect.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becoming Catholic Part 3

[continued from Part 2]

6. In the end, the major objection to Catholicism, during the Reformation and now, seems to be, "If the Catholic Church were the 'one true Church,' why have Catholics, even Catholic Bishops and Popes, done so many terrible things?" Of course this objection is an understandable emotional reaction. How could such terrible things as the Spanish Inquisition, the sacking of Constantinople, the burning of heretics, the vengeance of Queen Mary, and today's child abuse scandal happen in Christ's Church?

If I might answer this with a question, "If Christianity were the 'one true religion' why have Christians done so many terrible things?" What about things Protestants have done: slavery, witch trials, John Calvin's police state, King Henry XIII (let's not even start on him), crooked televangelists?

We could even ask, "Why do we remain Americans, after the terrible things America has done?"

When it's your group being addressed, the answer should become obvious: Our group should be understood more by its teachings and its ideals than by the failure of its members, or even its leaders, to live up to those teachings and ideals. Sometimes people sin blatantly. Sometimes people weigh their options, trying to do what's best, and they make the wrong choice. Sometimes it's a lack of information rather than a lack of good will.

What do we do when our religious leaders fail? Do we decide for ourselves to replace them with a completely different authority structure? Throughout the Old Testament the Jews were always falling into disobedience, but God did not choose a new people. The Jews carried forth the lineage to Christ. The Jews carried forth their priesthood. The Jews carried forth the scriptures. They always remained God's people despite their many failures. Even in the lives of specific Jewish leaders: Abraham, David, Solomon, and others all sinned, but most of them retained their authority, and even for those who lost their authority, their office remained, and was passed on to another.

And what is Christ's answer? The Bible tells us, "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach (Matt 23:1-3).'"

He then goes on to harshly criticize the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, but despite the sinfulness of the leaders, he still affirms their authority (while also saying it is subject to God's supreme authority).

Later, the Apostles themselves were clearly given authority by Christ, some authority before his death, and more after his resurrection. They had many failings, but their authority remained. The betrayal by Judas did not strip the others of their authority. Peter's denial of Christ was forgiven, and he went on to receive special revelations from the Holy Spirit.

It seems clear from the Biblical evidence, that sinfulness and hypocrisy do not automatically strip a leader of their authority, or prove that the leader was not chosen by God. The Bible shows clearly that even God's chosen people can fail.

I suppose that should give you some idea of the major underlying reasons why I would begin to believe the claims of the Catholic Church. Sadly, it doesn't even begin to touch on the beauty, wisdom, and unity of Catholic teachings, the beauty of the Sacraments, and the wonder and awe of being connected more deeply with so many people who have gone before us and so many people around the world today. I feel that my writing is not really capable of doing justice to these things.

I really do love this Church, but I think there is a lot of work to be done in it (there always will be). Not work to change the teachings, but work to spread the Church's teachings (especially to the many Catholics who have been poorly taught), and to help the faithful to live according to those teachings. My only regret in joining the Church is that I have left some of my family behind. This seems to happen in most conversion stories. My greatest desire is to have my family (and everyone else, for that matter) join me in this Church. I believe anyone who makes themselves open to the possibility will love the Catholic Church once they begin to truly understand her teachings.

Nathan Cushman

Becoming Catholic Part 2

[continued from Part 1]

2. Protestants believe that the Bible clearly teaches Protestant doctrines, and that it clearly disproves Catholic doctrines. They believe that only by filtering the scriptures through the distorting lens of Tradition, does one come up with Catholic doctrine. I believe that this is not the case. I do not think the Bible ever teaches a clear contradiction of Catholic belief. Further, I believe the Bible is often far more in line with Catholic teaching than with Protestant belief. This, I believe, shows the truth of Catholic claims that the Church and Sacred Tradition are actually safe-guards to Biblical truth.

3. The writings of the early Church Fathers (many within the first 100-200 years of the Church), such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Clement, and others, seem to portray a Church that, while not fully developed, agrees much more with Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy) than with Protestantism.

4. As far as specific doctrines, the Bible does not teach the most basic premise of Protestantism, without which there could be no Reformation: Sola Scriptura (Bible alone). The Bible clearly teaches that the scriptures are useful for instruction in the faith. The Catholic Church agrees. But the Bible never teaches that the entire faith is in writing, nor does it say that oral tradition has no value, nor does it even teach which books are in the Bible. The Bible does in fact teach us to "stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15)." If God wished Christians to believe a doctrine, relying only on the Bible for information, and it was as fundamental as Sola Scriptura, he would have made sure that doctrine was clearly taught within the Bible. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, doesn't even have to rely on scripture alone to make its case, because it isn't teaching Sola Scriptura, yet the Bible still lends more support to the Catholic view (which is that the faith is passed on through Scripture and Sacred Tradition, both being expounded and guarded by the Church).

There is much more to say about this issue: Why did Martin Luther add notes (and change phrases) in the copy of the Bible he published if it speaks clearly for itself? Why did all the reformers disagree on so much, if the Bible is so clear (Luther hated Zwinglians more than he hated Catholics)? Why is it that Bible-minded Protestant denominations today have more major differences in doctrine with other Protestants than they do with the Catholic Church (e.g. if you really want to find a church that teaches "salvation by works," don't look at the Catholic Church, look among the Protestant churches)?

And there are many more doctrinal issues, and I will be happy to discuss them if you e-mail me, but I think that recognizing the possibility of such a key flaw in Protestant thought is what helped me to open my mind to the idea that the Catholic Church could be teaching the truth.

5. Instead of the un-Biblical doctrine of sola scriptura, making Protestant churches organizationally Bible-centered, the Catholic Church is an organizationally Church-centered-Church (though both would ultimately be Christ-centered, since Christ is the center of the scriptures, and Christ established and sustains the Church). The Catholic Church does not view itself as a product of the Bible (though it does view itself as subject to the Bible), because it views itself as producer of the Bible (of course not just on its own, but inspired by God). If the original Church of the Apostles was the infant Catholic Church, and the Apostles wrote the Bible, and then the Church later collected and arranged the Bible, then the Bible was written, compiled, and published by the Church (as guided by God). This is how someone who has the Catholic understanding of history can claim, "the Bible is a Catholic book."

This idea, that Christ left us a Church, and not just a new set of scriptures, is not only more logical, but also more Biblical. The New Testament clearly shows the Apostles building a church, which is meant to pass on their teachings (2 Tim. 2:2), to solve disputes (Matt. 18:17), and be the "church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15)." As a side note, this church must be a visible church if one is to know clearly where to find it, and was clearly a visible church, with visible authorities, in New Testament times.

The logic of this can be seen in the fact that early Christians had not yet assembled the New Testament, so they would have had to rely on the Church (first the Apostles, then their successors) to teach them. Later, the Church would be needed to assemble the scriptures correctly. After that, when Bibles were rare, and most people were illiterate, they would still have to be taught by the Church, and could not just read the Bible for themselves.

This is why the idea of Sola Scriptura was only truly advanced after the invention of the printing press. It is, in fact (though it's hard for us to recognize today) a kind of modern elitist idea that requires things we take for granted now, but would have been unthinkable in past centuries. And even today it isn't so simple. We must trust Bible translators to properly convey the meanings of the Greek and Hebrew texts (and/or we must learn Greek and Hebrew), we must understand the culture of the time when it was written, we must try to disregard our cultural prejudices, etc. in order to read the Bible properly. Even then, if everyone ended up with the same conclusions when they took all these steps, this still wouldn't be reasonable for the average Christian.

[continued in Part 3]

Becoming Catholic Part 1

I recently sent out an e-mail to most of my relatives which explains some of the key ideas that led me to believe the claims of the Catholic Church. It's too long, even by this blog's standards, to publish as one entry, so I'll break it into parts.

Part 1:

Dear Family,

As you may have heard, after seven years of attending Catholic Mass, I have entered the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is probably one of the most hated, misunderstood, and lied about organizations in the world, and Catholics have a long history of failings which justify some of the anger. Despite the failings of its members, I have truly come to love the Catholic Church and her teachings, so I would like to give a brief explanation for my conversion (though conversion is not the right word, since I was Christian, and am still Christian).

Obviously, my initial interaction with the Catholic Church was linked to the fact that I married a Catholic woman. But, while that may have opened the door, I am not one of those cases of, "I was going to the Catholic Church every week anyway, so I thought, what the heck, I might as well join," nor did I see all the robes and incense, and say, "Ooh, fancy, I'm gonna join this church." Frankly, I was usually more bored at Catholic Mass than I had been at Protestant services (I get bored too easy, just like most folks these days. I suspect it's too much TV), and I didn't really begin to appreciate the robes and incense until I began to appreciate the Church and its connection to Christians of antiquity.

My journey felt long, and sometimes painful. But it was always filled with prayer, and sometimes I ran into strange coincidences, which probably don't mean much to anyone else, but seemed to show me God's hand pulling strings.

Really, there were hundreds of questions that needed answering before I could believe in the claims of the Catholic Church, but I will try to give a brief explanation of the most important factors.

First, as obvious as this sounds, I don't think many people take it seriously: I believe that if there is One True Visible Church, founded by Jesus Christ, One Church given the authority to teach, then I should belong to that Church. It does not matter if I like their music. It doesn't matter if the local pastor is a good speaker. It doesn't matter if the pews are filled with unfriendly people who spend more time drinking than reading the Bible. And, though it pains me, it doesn't matter if it causes a separation in belief with your family (of course for me the move was between separation from my wife to separation from my parents). What matters is the truth. I should follow the truth. And if I don't like the music, the preaching, or the congregation, I must step forward to help make things better within this true Church.

Of course that says nothing to show that the Catholic Church may be this "One True Visible Church," but unless someone is willing to accept that they must follow God to the Truth, even if it isn't fun, then no amount of explaining will matter. I once read a story of an atheist who said, "I will not believe in God unless I see a miracle with my own eyes." He later saw a miracle, but then he said, "I will not believe in God, even if I see a miracle with my own eyes."

I will not discuss, at this time, my reasons for believing in Christianity and in the scriptures in the first place, so the discussion will only be about the decision between Catholicism and Protestantism. (I will note, though, that I tend to have a skeptical nature, so I went through a period of strong uncertainty during college. Luckily, I am not so one-sided in my skepticism as most, so I was even more skeptical of the claims of the irreligious).

In brief, my core thinking on the matter can be summed up in these points:

1. Without even looking at specific theological issues, the Catholic Church has certain advantages on its side: it out-dates all Protestant denominations, it is still the world's largest denomination, it is in agreement with the (also ancient, and for some reason, less hated) Eastern Orthodox Churches on most doctrines (including the belief that the Bishop of Rome has a degree of primacy), and the Catholic Church is responsible for passing down the Bible upon which Protestants rest everything.

Thus, I believe Catholicism is worthy of serious investigation, and I also tend to think it should be given a degree of "benefit-of-the-doubt." It seems that the one who shows up first should get to speak first, so we should try to consider the validity of Catholic interpretations of scripture without letting our Protestant traditions cause us to deny them outright. Yet, as Protestants, most of us never really learn what we are protesting against. Of course it can be painful to confront the possibility that you were wrong in a fully open and honest way. It is not something that will likely be done overnight, because our prejudices interfere even when we do not recognize them (I think I'm still prejudiced against certain Catholic practices and ways-of-talking). We must try to remember that we were raised in a society that has a strong history of Protestantism and a current culture of secularism, both of which are often hostile toward Catholicism, so if Catholicism was in fact true, then to a degree, everything we know is wrong.

[continuted in Part 2]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Condemned for Translating The Bible?

John Wycliff and William Tyndale are commonly looked upon as Protestant heroes, bravely translating the Bible into English, despite sinister Catholic anti-Bible laws.

The thing is, translating the Bible wasn't against the law. The law just said that Bible translations had to be approved, and there already were approved English translations. Sadly, there wasn't enough demand at the time to make booksellers produce more of the approved versions.

Tyndale translated the Bible without permission in 1525. His translation was condemned, but this was because the Bible had been translated with an agenda. The Tyndale Bible, like the Wycliff Bible before it, had been translated, not to be faithful to the original texts, but to be an argument against Catholicism. The Tyndale Bible, like Luther's (also condemned) German Bible, contained notes denouncing the Catholic Church and her teachings, as well as modifications to the text itself. This is hardly what you would expect if the Bible clearly speaks a Protestant message, refuting Catholicism on its own. Apparently the Bible must be changed if we want it to disagree with the Church.

Not only Catholic loyalists saw fault in the translation. The founder of Anglicanism, King Henry VIII, opposed the Tyndale translation, even after his break with the Catholic Church.

Under civil law of the time, heretics were seen as being leaders of civil unrest, somewhat akin to terrorist leaders today, and they did cause great amounts of destruction and warfare throughout European history (not that the Church didn't share some of the blame). Thus Tyndale was put to death under Habsburg Emperor Charles V in 1536.

The Catholic Church released its official English translation, the Douay-Rheims version, not too much later, in 1582 (New Testament) and 1609 (Old Testament).


More on Tyndale.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Do Muslims Worship Our God?

I was recently reading an online argument that went something like this:

Catholic A: Muslims worship the same God as Christians.
Catholic B: No, they don't, they worship a false God.
A: Yes, they do. The Catechism says, "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.[841]"
B: Yeah, I know, but that's not an infallible pronouncement, it's just "official teaching."
A: Thanks, but I'll trust the Catechism before I trust "Catholic B" from some online forum.

And so on, and so on...

I think there's a little room for a middle ground on this one. Let me explain:

Let's say you and your friend both were hired by this guy named Bob. Then you were sent to different parts of the country to do work for Bob's company. You both were to send letters each day, to the same address, to let him know how you were doing and if there was anything you needed. Bob himself would read the letters, and then you would receive letters in response from Dave, and your friend would receive letters from Fred, both supposedly being dictated to by Bob.

After some time, you compared the letters you were receiving with those your friend received, and it turned out that you were receiving some of the same information, but sometimes the information would be contradictory, as if you were being instructed by two different Bobs. Apparently, either Fred or Dave was not sending true correspondence from Bob.

The point I'm trying to make is that there is only one God, and we both know him to a degree, because we both have history with him at some point. But the teachings of Mohammad contradict the Catholic faith in many areas, so they must not be true in their entirety. What Islam has preserved intact from Christianity and Judaism is, however, true.

As I see it, this means that we do both pray to the same God, because if we address our prayers to "the one God," then he receives them. Also, to the extent that they recognize true attributes of God, they adore the same God. And finally, to the extent that they recognize the teachings and commands of God, they serve the same God.

So, to sum it up: Do they pray to the same God? Yes. Do they adore the same God? Partly. Do they serve the same God? To an extent. Do Muslims believe all we believe about God? No.

I think the Catechism attests to the idea that Muslims may love [adore] the same God as we do, but often serve a false god, when it says:
"In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them: Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator.[844]"
Another point, somewhere in there, is that God, being an actual being, and not just a philosophical concept, can be addressed or even loved without being understood. Thus, Muslims can love God and pray to God while not actually knowing him as well as Christians.

This is similar to how a child can pray to God without understanding him like an adult, or how an adult can love him without understanding him as well as the apostles understood him.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Children Are Born Believers

Recent research shows, "Children have an innate belief in God, and do not acquire their faith through religious indoctrination, according to a leading academic."

Dr. Justin Barrett said, “The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children's minds than we once thought, including a disposition to see the world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose.”

See the full story here.

The story doesn't give a lot of details, so I don't know how well-conducted the studies were. But it is still quite interesting, and it goes along with some other stories I've heard.

I wonder if people begin to doubt God because of their doubts in other people? I've heard people say that they stopped believing in God when they stopped believing in Santa Claus. But this seems to be more of a problem with trust between a child and his parent than a problem of natural disbelief.

Children seem generally more in tune with the supernatural, likely because they haven't grown so defensive and shut themselves off to input that seems unfamiliar. Doesn't sin make us blind to the truth?

TV Makes People Go Crazy

A new survey of 173 research efforts, spanning 30 years, shows more evidence than ever that TV (as well as music, movies, and other media) contributes to obesity, drug use, tobacco use, sexual behavior, alcohol use, low academic performance, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

That's a long list, and this article doesn't mention the studies that link TV to depression and anxiety.

I've read that there is a connection between TV watching and depression in adults too, but I can't find that info right now. If anyone has a good link, leave a comment.

I imagine that all these things that are harmful to children are also harmful to adults, but since adults are not learning so many things for the first time, and are more set in their ways, the effects would not be as sudden or pronounced.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Craziest Complaints About Catholicism Vol.1

Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's exhausting, but either way it happens too much: Someone makes a complaint about Catholicism that is so easily refuted that you wonder how they could have come up with such a complaint in the first place (and you wonder even more why so many people seem to have the same complaint).

Still, since people have the questions, let's give some answers:

Q: Why do Catholics leave Jesus on the cross? Don't you know that Christ is risen?

A: Yes, I think I heard something about that resurrection thing... Maybe several times each Sunday in church (and that's without including the parts of Mass that change every week).

This is mostly a stylistic difference, and if anything, the Catholic crucifix is more expressive. It tells more of a story, and it is more specific as to which cross we're talking about (since Jesus was not the only person ever crucified, and the Christian cross isn't the only cross used as a symbol).

Further, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." [1 Cor 1:22-23]

Why didn't he say, "We preach Christ resurrected;" doesn't he know Christ is Risen? Obviously, just like St. Paul, the Church preaches Christ crucified, and Christ resurrected.

We could also ask, "Why is your cross empty? Don't you believe Jesus died for your sins?"

Q: Why do Catholics call their priests "Father?" Jesus said, "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven." [Matt 23:9]

A: He also said, "Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ" [Matt 23:10], yet Protestants still have Sunday school teachers (and we are told throughout the New Testament that "teacher" is a calling for some Christians).

Also, if this weren't hyperbole used to express how God is the ultimate father, teacher, etc., then we would be unable to use those words in reference to earthly things, and they would end up losing all meaning. We understand what it means for God to be "father," because we use the word to refer to our male parent.

Then there's the argument that this means God is our only "spiritual father," but this is pretty silly since St. Paul makes it clear that he was a spiritual father to the Corinthians: "Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." [1 Cor 4:15] This is along with the countless times the apostles refer to their flock as "child" or "son," and the times they refer to Abraham and Isaac as "fathers."

Catholics Come Home

This is a really cool website that was mentioned in Columbia (the Knights of Columbus magazine):

Its main purpose is obviously to bring home Catholics who have drifted away from the Church, but it seems to evangelize in other directions as well. In the Columbia article it said that the site brought 3,000 people back to the church in its first 2 weeks.

The commercials are especially good, so make sure to watch those.