Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Choosing a Faith

While not exhaustive, this is sort of the framework I have built in my own mind over the many years I spent looking at different religions, and a brief surface-level overview of why I believe what I believe:

As Americans we are individualistic freedom loving people. We want to make our own choices and decide what to believe for ourselves. But there comes a time when we must align ourselves with someone who we trust, someone with greater wisdom and faith than we have ourselves, who can give us some guidance. God understood that men needed guidance in the Old Testament times, when he sent the prophets. Jesus understood this when he gave his authority to the Apostles. God does empower men to speak for him, and when they are authentic, we had better listen.

Of course you must still make up your own mind, and decide things for yourself. This is true on a few levels. First, you obviously decide for yourself which person you listen to. You decide which faith is the most authentic, and most valuable to follow. Second, only you can decide how to apply general rules and principles in your own life. And third, you must decide for yourself on matters in which the church takes no clear position. Finally, there is an extent to which you will always be able to reevaluate your choice in who to follow.

One irony in the particularly severe modern aversion to letting someone else tell us what to believe is that instead of letting a proper authority inform our decisions, we let every wind inform us. Often this comes in the form of a child rejecting their wise parent in favor of another foolish child. Or it comes in a rejection of "organized religion" in favor of far more dubious beliefs. Most often it gives inordinate power to the information we all consume through daily life, the popular beliefs of our culture, the news, and entertainment. It is better that we choose carefully who gets to tell us what to believe than let our beliefs be blindly formed by the madness around us.

That said, making such a choice can itself seem to rely on little more than chance. There are a thousand religions we might encounter, and whichever ones we meet first (or at key stages in our life) are more likely to draw us in. We thus might do well to categorize religions, seeing their value on a whole, and then looking more closely at those with the greatest value. To me, even if they were true, the Eastern religions have little to offer. Hinduism and Buddhism both offer reincarnation, so we'd have another chance if we miss this one. Besides this, they tend to deny the reality of the world, while I have trouble believing in such a solid and consistent illusion.

Atheism is utterly unbelievable, requiring far more faith than I have. Agnosticism is a far more reasonable position than outright Atheism (most honest atheists will admit to really being agnostics), and I personally spent some time near its fence. But Agnosticism really offers its believer nothing. Further, I feel there is too much reason to believe in the supernatural to actually get up on that fence (If you are struggling with belief in general, I have some books which really helped me out with my doubts. I love Lewis's Mere Christianity, and found Kreeft's Handbook of Christian Apologetics very helpful).

The old natural religions like Shinto, the native American religions, druidism, and to an extent the religions of ancient Greece and Rome, must have a certain merit, appearing so similar in such diverse lands. But in my studies, it seems to me that what these religions are is a human attempt to reach the unreachable, to know the unknowable. They stem from the knowledge of God and sense of the supernatural which is in every human heart, but they have no revelation to make sense of it, so they use their imaginations to fill in the gaps. These religions really are just waiting for revelation to answer their questions (making neo-paganism ridiculous). The amazing thing to me is that monotheism actually can be discovered by human reason. Reading Plato, we see that before the Apostles brought monotheism to Greece, the philosophers had discovered that the many Gods of pagan Greece were not real. The reality they discovered through reason, was that there is one God, infinite in virtue, and the source of all good.

Thus, we are left with the monotheistic religions (of course there is much more to be said, and I have certainly oversimplified things, but these are my basic thoughts on the matter).

Judaism, while based in truth, is still waiting for their messiah. I find it very interesting to note that their sacrifices stopped shortly after the coming of Christ, as if in an unconscious recognition of Christ's final sacrifice. We see in Judaism an unfulfilled religion, a religion whose revelation and sacrifice ended with the revelation and sacrifice of Christ, but which is unable to recognize it. They are a faith that points to the true faith of Christianity.

Islam, I think, has fairly obvious origins. It was a fairly early deviation from Christianity, seeking to return it in some ways to a more Jewish style of monotheism. It is simpler than Christianity, without confusing ideas like "trinity" and "incarnation." It was founded by a man who was in some ways admirable, but was ultimately little more than a warlord. He was not a model of morality as was Jesus, suffering for his faith. His faith served him, gaining him wealth and power. He changed doctrines to apply specifically to himself (allowing himself to have more wives than he allowed the average Muslim). It still managed at one time to be a fairly good religion, though its current direction is dangerous. I mostly disregard it because of its founder.

Then there is the broad field of Christianity. We have here the one thing that really seems worth following to me. A loving God. A God who became man and died for us. Jesus Christ, who is the very model of righteousness, whose words were verified by countless miracles. Whenever I doubt, the greatest draw back to faith is this, I think of Jesus. I think of everything he said and did, and I know that it cannot be matched. Unlike Mohammed, he was a man who gained nothing and lost everything. He is the one worth believing.

Within the group of those who call themselves Christian, we have about 3 major historical groups (and many more theological groups within these). We have the ancient churches, the Protestant churches, and the modern prophetic sects.

There are only two major branches which can truly be called ancient: The Eastern Orthodox Church (which is actually a kind of collection of churches with strong similarities and historical ties), and the Catholic Church (the term "Catholic Church," meaning the "universal church," dates back at least to 100 AD). These two churches can claim historical pedigrees dating back to the Apostles themselves. Sadly these two branches were split in 1054 AD, but still they remain remarkably similar. To an extent these two churches, by their similarity, testify to each other's veracity, and clearly show how little their beliefs have really changed in the last thousand years. We can clearly see their centers, even to this day as being in the Mediterranean region (Greece, Turkey, Italy) which was evangelized by the Apostles themselves.

The Protestant churches broke from the Catholic Church in the 1600s. This was a scandalous time in the Catholic Church, where Popes, Bishops, and Priests were being lazy and sinful, odd theologies were being spread without much resistance, and people were getting fed up. This rightly led men to seek reformation in the Church. Some of these men (who we hear little about) remained faithful to Catholic teaching while opposing the abuses. Others took the abuses as a sign that the Church was fundamentally flawed, and needed a complete structural and theological overhaul. These ideas, combined with the always rebellious nature of man, and the nationalistic impulse of those who do not want morals dictated by "an Italian Prince," led to great wars and the rending of the Church which we call the Protestant Reformation. Showing extreme variety in belief and practice, Protestants were united by just a few major things: opposition to the Papacy, Sola Scriptura (belief that the Bible stands on its own, without need for interpretation by the Church), and usually Sola Fide ("Salvation by grace, through faith alone," a formulation that stood in contrast to the traditional Catholic formula of "Salvation by grace, through faith and works"). We see these churches as first originating in Northern Europe, away from the historic centers of Christendom.

The major prophetic sects appeared in the 1800s, originating out of the individualist Protestantism of America. Many people were disappointed by the current churches, and they were taught polemic accounts of the Catholic Church, and were led to believe that before the Reformation the church had completely apostatized. From this starting point many wondered if God might send a new prophet to restore the original Church. Out of this climate many arose, claiming to be the chosen prophet who would restore the Church. Here we see the roots of the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventism, and some smaller sects. Of these, only the Adventists retain enough of the Christian tradition to rightly be called Christians.

You see that I have not divided these groups so much by Theology as by historical origins, and basic historical views. Also, they are divided by their views on what constitutes revelation. What information has God given us. Let me sum up their positions:

Prophetic Sects
History: Jesus established a Church which died out. God sent a prophet in the 1800s to restore that Church.
Revelation: The Protestant Bible and the special revelations of their Prophet (Ellen G. White, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy).

History: Jesus established a Church (but a loose, possibly non-hierarchical Church). This Church persisted, but eventually became encrusted with man made traditions and illegitimate hierarchies which needed to be wiped away.
Revelation: The Bible Alone (albeit without the 7 deuterocanonical books found in the Bibles used by the ancient churches), as interpreted by the individual reader (theoretically guided by the Holy Spirit). Private prophesies cannot add to the existing deposit of the faith.

Ancient Churches
History: Jesus established a Church which was meant to have a clear hierarchy, and which persists until this day.
Revelation: The Bible with interpretation guided by legitimate authority (theoretically guided by the Holy Spirit), and to some extent "Oral Apostolic Traditions." Private prophesies cannot add to the existing deposit of the faith.
An interesting thing to note is the way these churches seem to seek holiness and authentic belief. The ancient churches do it by a slow, difficult, and continuous process of internal renewal, much like a man does within himself. The Protestant churches do it by splintering and rejoining. Thus Protestant churches are constantly torn apart and reformed by warring factions. This creates energetic and united groups of believers, but it also creates endless division.

Oddly enough, in many of the prophetic churches, they see the endless divisions of Protestantism as a fatal flaw, thus they try to reestablish a stronger hierarchical structure, pointing to some innate recognition of the necessary structure of the ancient churches. Of course, being based on false prophecies, and born of purely human imagination, they cannot establish a hierarchy with legitimate authority.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Against the Adventists

The following is a (slightly edited) copy of a letter I sent to a friend who just started attending a Seventh Day Adventist church:


I hear you're looking for a new church, and that you're currently attending a Seventh Day Adventist church.

I want to at least put out the invitation to join me in the Catholic Church, the Church I believe history shows to be the original Christian Church, the one most likely founded by Jesus Christ himself. Trust me, I know such claims sound arrogant and frankly obnoxious. They sounded that way to me when I heard people say them in the past. But I gradually came to believe the claims were true, and I can provide historical and Biblical citations to back them up.

Invitation concluded, I don't expect you to actually take me up on the offer... for a few reasons:

1. I was married to a Catholic girl for about 5 years before I even considered that her centuries old church might have something valid to say in its defense.

2. Catholic parishes don't tend to have the sense of community common to Protestant churches. This is for a variety of reasons, primarily though it is because they are large and because they don't have adult Sunday School.

3. Americans are thoroughly educated in a mixed secular/Protestant culture, and taught secular/Protestant versions of history, in which the Catholic Church has an exaggerated role as "bad guy."

4. Following from #3, the media, while generally having a liberal slant, also has a strong history of having an anti-Catholic anti-hierarchical slant (consider the absurd number of stories on 20-year-passed accounts of priests involved in sexual abuse compared to the number of stories about school teachers involved in similar situations, despite the fact that public schools are far more dangerous for children than Catholic churches).

These things make it hard for most people to really even give a thought to the Catholic Church. But just pause for a moment and wonder if there might be something to the Church which produced the monks who hand-copied the Bible for over a thousand years before the printing press. If there might be something to the Church that evangelized Europe, much of Asia, and the Americas. There is hardly a Christian country in the world which was not first evangelized by the Catholic Church. Just something to think about.

That said, I still expect you to end up in a Protestant church, if only for the ever-important support of the community.

So, I just ask that you look for a more orthodox branch of Protestantism. I am sure your Adventist church is full of loving and wonderful people. But you should try to find a group of wonderful people who are backed by a better history, better worldview, and better theology. Seventh Day Adventism (SDA) is characterized by a sort of paranoid conspiracy theory, and it was founded during the Prophesy craze of the 1800s that also brought us the Mormons and Christian Science.

They believe that the Catholic Church is the "Whore of Babylon," and that the Pope is the Antichrist. These ideas are not uncommon in Protestantism, but SDA takes it a step further. Some believe that every secret society from the Masons to the KKK is really controlled by the Catholic Church (which is funny since both those organizations are virulently anti-Catholic). Their official teaching even goes further in believing that all the other Protestant denominations are really just pawns of the Catholic Church, bearing the "Mark of the Beast." What is this great evil that Catholics and Protestants are all conspiring together on? Eating babies? No, gathering for worship on Sunday! The horror. We dare to fulfill God's commandment to "honor the Sabbath" on the day of the resurrection instead of on the Jewish sabbath (Please note that these are not just accusations, most of my info on SDA is based on direct quotes from the religion's founder Ellen G. White and from SDA books I own).

I would like to add that Christ gave his apostles the power to "bind and loose," and using this authority the Church began Sunday worship before the New Testament was finished (see Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2, Colossians 2:16-17, and Revelation 1:10). You can read more about the Sabbath vs. Sunday controversy here:

Read a Catholic overview of Seventh Day Adventism here:

In the end, you have to consider the two very different views of salvation history which the Catholic Church and the Adventists present.

Catholic View: Jesus established His Church as a "pillar of Truth"(1 Tim. 3:15), and though it has faced many difficulties from within (bad laity, bad Bishops, bad Popes) and persecutions from without (Nero, Stalin, etc.), it has persisted in preserving the truth and sharing the Gospel throughout the ages.

Adventist View: Christ's original Church was overcome by Satan and more-or-less disappeared, leaving behind a false Church (which for some reason persisted in spreading the Gospel, and reproducing the Bible). After 1,800 years of darkness, God sent Prophet E. G. White to lead his people back into the light.

Honestly, I cannot see the Adventist view as corresponding at all with a God who wants his people to know him, nor can I see Jesus as being so abysmal at establishing a Church.

I hope to hear from you. Please ask me any questions about Catholicism that you might have. I will be more than happy to answer you. I can give you citations for any claims I have made. And I would delight in telling you about the Early Church Fathers, successors of the Apostles, who as early as 100 AD were teaching clearly Catholic doctrines.

I have always viewed you as a part of my extended family, and it would be great if you would join my Church family, but I'd be happy to hear from you either way.

God Bless,
Nathan Cushman

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Death Penalty

I'm going discuss my personal views on the death penalty, but first lets see what the Catechism says. I believe my views are in line with the Catechism, but I'm open to correction.
The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

In a country like America there is hardly a need for the death penalty. Crime rates in America have not actually gone up with the decreased use of the death penalty (from any statistics I've heard). But I have very particular views on when it should be used:

1st: The death penalty may be necessary for more murder cases in third world countries, where prisons may be less of a viable option.

2nd: In a country like America, with secure prisons, the death penalty still must be kept as an option for severe (and murderous) crimes against our justice system itself, or for people who are dangerous even while in prison. By this I mean the murder of witnesses, jurors, judges, or police officers involved in your case should result in the death penalty. Also, leaders of criminal or terrorist organizations may be too dangerous to hold, because their followers may commit crimes in order to seek their leader's release.

3rd: Reserving the death penalty for the murders most harmful to our justice system may help serve as a deterrent for those who are facing a life sentence and might otherwise feel they have nothing left to lose.

4th: the death penalty should be reserved for cases where a person is convicted not just because there is no reasonable doubt, but only when guilt is abundantly clear. I have heard too many disturbing cases of (mostly Southern) prosecutors who cared more about convictions than about guilt, and callously sent men they believed to be innocent to prison.

For these reasons(and possibly others), I believe the death penalty needs to be kept on the table, but that it needs to be used rarely.

It's also important to note that this is considered a "life issue," so I want to quickly add that the Church sees legitimate uses of the death penalty as possible, but does not approve of any case of abortion. The killing of a criminal and an innocent child are very different matters. This has been the teaching of the Church since the beginning.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Harry Potter and Vampires

Update 10/15/2013: I should note that at this time I had just read the Twilight books, and I like a lot of things when I first read them more than I do later. I still like Harry Potter, but looking back I realize the Twilight books were actually fairly boring quite a bit of the time... and I don't particularly like the boost they gave to the fascination with the undead. But, I suppose most of what I said is still valid.

As someone who enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and more-or-less enjoyed the Twilight series, but can see reason for concern about them, I wrote the following addressing a comment which stated that both series could be dangerous because both vampires and witchcraft are evil.

I just want to point out that since vampires don't exist, they are not inherently good or evil, but only as good or evil as their particular fiction presents them as being.

Thus, in Twilight, I don't think vampires are evil, so much as they are addicts. Becoming vampires in the series gives them an addiction to human blood (without ever having had to have tasted it). Where they go with their addiction is up to them. However, in the original "Dracula," (my favorite vampire book) and in most older myths, vampires were evil.

I have some problems with the 4th twilight book, especially that it seems to depict vampires as being in every way superior to humans, and especially that it depicts infertile sex between vampires as being better than the fertile sex of humans. I would say that the book does contain certain dangerous ideas that might cause an unhealthy fascination with the idea of being a vampire. Though I will also note several positive messages: valuing chastity, a strong pro-life/anti-abortion message, and a favoring of peaceful resolution to conflicts over violence.

Witchcraft is a bit different, since a form of it exists in reality. I would argue that the "witchcraft" in Harry Potter is different than real magic. The fact that it does not call on spirits for power is a key difference. Magic is treated more as a gift that needs to be directed, more like a superhero's super power than like real world magic. I view it the same way as I view magic from fairy godmothers, as just a part of fantasy. Thus it is not inherently evil.

That said, I see Fr. Euteneuer's concern. Basically it seems that these things can be gateway drugs of a sort. Catholics certainly view it as acceptable to drink alcohol in moderation, but do we find recreational use of heroin to be acceptable? And if we do, do we find heroin addiction acceptable? Is a person who refuses to even drink alcohol likely to try something like heroin? It seems that alcohol use probably in most cases predates use of other drugs.

Of course the acceptability of alcohol doesn't mean that we should leave children alone with an open bar to drink as much as they please, or even that children should be allowed to drink at all. Likewise, there are dangers in leaving children to explore fantasy worlds like that of Harry Potter on their own. We must determine what age our kids must be before we allow them to read such books, and we must not let them read the books in a vacuum without personally discussing the differences between them and real-world magic.

I think that we also have to recognize that children will encounter the Harry Potter style magic in school, and if we want to help shape their thinking on the issue without causing them to start calling all their classmates satanic, we might want to familiarize them with the differences between fantasy magic and real-world witchcraft.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Double Standards

Here's another example of the lengths the media (in this case the New York Times) will go to attack Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church, even when they don't really have a case. In the case discussed in this Inside Catholic article we see the New York Times trying to place special blame for lax enforcement of church rules regarding the abuse of children on Cardinal Ratzinger, when their own facts show that he was at the forefront of a push to clean up the church.

And then, in a piece looking at another NY Times article, we see the double standard made quite clear. While the Times, like the rest of the media, goes out of its way to attack the Catholic Church, it also, ignores most other cases of child abuse, or worse condones them. In this op-ed we see the Times convey the idea that it is "heartwarming" for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan to learn such tolerance that they will ignore the actions of Afghan allies on "love Thursdays" when older men have sex with (sometimes violently raping) younger boys.

"Blessed are those who persecute the Church, for they will be awarded editorial positions" -The Media Bible SRV (Secular Relativist Version)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Media Garbage

This is just... I don't know... bizarre, I guess. This Reuters story has to be one of the worst written news stories I've ever read.

It starts with the title: "Most Catholics loyal despite abuse scandal"

It continues with such senseless statements as "according to a new poll[...] Only 12 percent, or one out of eight Roman Catholics, is reevaluating ties to the church following reports of child sex abuse [...] The number was similar among members of all faiths in the United States."

I don't even know what that means 12% of non-Catholics are thinking of leaving the Catholic Church too? 12% of non-Catholics are leaving their own Churches because of the scandal Catholics are facing? I don't get it.

The story continues to talk about the scandal a bit, and then out of nowhere hits us with, "The poll of 855 adults, including 178 Roman Catholics, also showed that more Americans than before, 45 percent compared to 41 percent in 2009, believed that killings carried out by the CIA are 'sometimes justified.'"


And the story ends with, "More women, 11 percent, than men, 10 percent, wanted to step into the shoes of the 'Godfather' Don Corleone."

So it turns out the story isn't really about the scandal, it's really about a stupid poll. The title should read, "Stupid poll gives worthless results," or "Approximately 10% of Catholics want to stop being Catholic and become the 'Godfather.'"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bad Entertainment

In an interview of Barbara Nicolosi, a Catholic screenwriter and professor, she says:
But in the end, which is more harmful: true words cast in an ugly frame, or untrue words cast in a beautiful frame? I think Hollywood will get people into heaven faster. Even if they have the message wrong, people in the end will turn off some of that. What will really impact them will be the harmony, the wholeness, the completeness of a work.

So for example, a show like Friends, which might make light of pornography, is ultimately not as dangerous because it's very well-produced, well-acted, well-written. It's funny. It works as a whole. Whereas you can have a minister in front of a Bible on CBN with a bad toupee, lit garishly, and saying lovely things, but the message is that Christianity is uncreative, banal, boring, undynamic, and irrelevant.

I’m just going to say it. Barbara Nicolosi drives me nuts. She always goes overboard in her defense of art, and often completely ignores the dangers of a work if it has some small redeeming value AND artistic merit.

I understand and agree with her major point: In order to evangelize, we need better art (movies, music, TV, etc.). As someone trained in graphic design, I complain about bad art too. But she always weights style over substance. There is a point to be made that there is a degree of substance to style itself, as beauty is a reflection of God. But there is something horribly wrong with thinking that appearances equal underlying truth.

Our greatest example might be the Crucifix. What is uglier than the murder of an innocent man, or worse, the brutal torture of God himself? The secular world often mocks this ugliness: the blood, the nails, our strange love for an instrument of death. I’ve heard atheists mockingly state, “I pray in front of an electric chair.” But to a Christian, the cross is beautiful. It is hope, it is love, it is our faith.

She sounds to me sort of like she’s saying, “Better a pretty whore, than a homely nun. Our nuns need to be way more attractive or else they’re doing more harm than good.” Yeah, I think that idea came out of the Sermon on the Mount, right?

Let’s also look at some Catholic magazines, like Family Foundations, First Things, or early issues of This Rock. Now that’s some unattractive graphic design, and in the case of Family Foundations, some repetitive and poorly written articles. We should boycott these travesties of art, and buy Playboy, which is renowned for its good writing and photography. We will certainly find more beauty there, and thus more of God, right?

Well, I’m done mocking. I understand that this isn’t the exact point of her statements. I know that Christian TV and movies are pretty bad, and don’t watch much of them (though I like some Christian music). I suppose her words are directed more at we believers, saying that we can do more by improving our art than we can do by attacking Hollywood’s art. But this is not how she comes across. She comes across as someone who would say, “Joseph Ratzinger’s writings do more damage than those of Ayn Rand, because Rand’s writings are widely recognized as being well produced, well written, and captivating.”

Oh, I should also note that if you read the whole article, most of it is far more reasonable than this quote.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another One

Adding to my list of people who believe the media is treating the Catholic Church unfairly in the abuse issue, is Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City. A Jew who believes the Catholic Church is wrong on just about everything liberals tend to think it is wrong about (abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc.), Koch still states, "I believe the continuing attacks by the media on the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI have become manifestations of anti-Catholicism. The procession of articles on the same events are, in my opinion, no longer intended to inform, but simply to castigate." See the full blog here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Posts on the Scandal

Although it is not my preferred area of discussion, the sexual abuse scandal keeps coming up, so I'll address it here by referring you to better writers! It's better you read some of these posts than anything I have to say, so I'll keep it short:

I'll start you where I started today, with Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary blog. As always, she's a wonderful writer, who provides lots of links to back up her points. For a bit of background, Jennifer was raised an atheist. She first began looking into Protestant Christianity, and eventually decided that the truth was found in its fullest in the Catholic Church. I highly recommend her blog.

In a trail from there I came across an article providing statistics comparing abuse by priests to family members, ministers, psychologists, and teachers. The statistics show that even at their worst, the priests were the safest group (completely demolishing the "caused by celibacy" argument).

Then there's a bit of comedy relief, as the Associated Press, desperate for news, reports on the man who shot John Paul II saying he wants Pope Benedict to "resign over the Catholic Church's handling of clerical sex abuse cases." Now there's someone the Catholic Church can look to for guidance. To his credit he does say he doesn't want the Pope arrested.

And finally, an interesting piece by an atheist humanist, who certainly doesn't favor Catholic teachings, but sounds just as opposed to the media bias and public hysteria against the Catholic Church as I am. This is useful, both as another perspective, and as a confirmation that we aren't imagining the media bias. His primary concerns in the article are the dangers of the anti-free speech stance of "new atheists," and the "culture of victimhood." [note that I have not read, and cannot recommend any other articles on this humanist website]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Anti-Catholic Madness: Now It's Digital!

Not that this is news to any of you, but absurd anti-Catholic attacks are as common online as... comment threads... since they all eventually lead to Catholic-bashing right?

I usually try to avoid comments, just out of the knowledge that these absurdities will suck up the rest of my day, but today I fell off the wagon (which isn't as bad as some of the other wagons I fall off of) and read the comments to this news story: "Pope's brother: I ignored physical abuse reports" In case you don't want to read it, it basically says that while the Pope's brother was a priest in Germany he heard complaints about physical abuse from a neighboring school, but he didn't do anything. He explains that corporal punishment was normal at the time, and he didn't realize how much more intense the situation was at this school. Understandable, given the time period, I think.

Anyway, the comments immediately began with bashing the Church. I won't reproduce them, nor will I recommend reading such misinformed bigotry, but I'll post my responses here, just cause I like to do that for some reason. You'll see that I had to deal with what seems like every typical attack on the Church, so maybe something will be of use:

I became a Catholic right in the midst of this scandal breaking. And guess what, I love my Church. It is the most Christian Church I have found (Seriously, the best Christians, and the most Biblical teachings can be found in the Catholic Church, just most people, even Catholics, don't know it). That is not to say that it is filled with perfect Christian people. It is not. I don't claim to live up to those ideals myself. When we set our standards high enough we will all fail to live up to them, but we continue to try.

To City, great post. It is certainly unfair to judge people who were doing "what was right" by the standards of their time by standards we have today.

Sueky, I don't want pedophiles to burn in Hell. I want their sins to be forgiven, just as I want my sins to be forgiven. That said, I don't want them out in the world hurting children.

Christy, there weren't even a million people in the south of France to begin with in the Middle Ages, so I doubt the Catholic Church was able to kill that many. Besides, people were generally killed by the civil leaders for activities which were thought to endanger social stability (not that I believe this cause was always justified), not just for "believing different things." Read a history book not written as anti-Catholic propaganda, and you might find out that the Catholic Church isn't just a blood thirsty, power hungry brute (though some of its members certainly are).

Michelle, Catholics go to God for forgiveness to. The scriptures tell us that Christ commissioned his apostles to forgive sins. One of the major differences between Catholicism and (most) Protestantism is that Catholics believe we connect to God directly AND through the material world, while Protestants tend to more-or-less believe that we connect to him only directly. Thus, Catholics believe that God desires we ask his forgiveness directly AND through confession to the priest. We don't go to the priest instead of God.

LTL. This is a misconception, that celibacy has anything to do with pedophilia. Yes, it is true that some priests don't keep their vows, but the majority DO keep their vows. And pedophilia is just as (or more) common in the general population as it is in the priesthood. The media doesn't report much on it, but there is a higher rate of sexual abuse by teachers in public schools, and administrators commonly cover it up (wait I though secrecy was just an evil Catholic thing!?!), and nobody requires school teachers to be celibate.

And here's my second comment:

Did I just stumble into a KKK meeting? What's with all the anti-Catholic anti-clerical propaganda? I thought thought that went out of fashion when JFK became President without enslaving America to the Pope.

You guys seriously don't get that this is typical media frenzy? The situation in Catholic churches is NO different from the situation in other religious organizations, or in secular institutions like public schools, daycare centers, etc.

The problem is that the media frenzy has a narrow focus, which conveniently fits with common stereotypes. This frenzy is just like how until recently there were far more cases of unintended acceleration in American cars, but just because of the current media frenzy, suddenly everyone thinks Toyotas are deathtraps.

When people point out that this is not just a Catholic problem we are NOT, I repeat, NOT saying that this in anyway gives a free pass to the priests or bishops involved in the matter. No. You cruelly misrepresent us every step of the way. We are appalled that our priests would do this. But our priests have been falsely accused of such things so often for so long that we had a hard time believing them when it turned out some of the accusations were true. There are no excuses for sin, except that we are all human, and we all know our own temptations, and should have some understanding of the darkness which can befall man.

What we ARE trying to say is that we are being unfairly singled out, and that it is unreasonable to say that the fault lies in our religion if the problem is just as common outside of the religion, and also just as common in other leadership structures. Media stories on this issue have been something like 10:1 Catholic vs. other organizations, when the problem is no more widespread in the Catholic Church. That is bias, plain and simple. California lifted the statute of limitations on lawsuits involving the Catholic Church, but not for other groups. Bias. Other states have heavily investigated every Catholic group, but not other groups. Bias. Media Frenzy induced bias.

Judson, pedophiles are no more common among priests than among men "allowed" to marry, so this would not fix the problem, it's just an old piece of Protestant fundamentalist bigotry which has been absorbed by even the most secular of people. This is what I mean. You can't blame the Catholic Church, saying the problem is due to celibacy, when the problem is just as common among those who are not celibate. That make no sense. Obviously, the only claim you can make is that vows of celibacy do not PREVENT pedophilia.

You cannot blame the church for intense "secrecy" if the same level of secrecy is present in similar situations in every type of organization imaginable: US government, school administration, synagogue, or hippie commune.

As for the joke about drowning/burning witches, that was quite uncommon in Catholic countries, oddly enough because the Inquisition did not allow such silliness (of course they did not avoid that level of cruelty, but applied it in less absurd ways, much like our modern use of waterboarding. Of course I do not approve of any such torture, but you see that times have not entirely changed).

To Jeff, who says, "Authority and responsibility cannot be separated, and the authority these men exercised derived from the Catholic Church." Do you suggest that every time an authority disappoints us we should overthrow the whole structure? Sounds like a lot of unreasonable bloodshed to me.

To Dave, who said, "Yes. They should try all priests to find out which ones are pedophiles." How Totalitarian of you. You'd be happy to know that in many atheist countries thousands of priests were murdered just for being priests (USSR, China, early 1900s Mexico, etc.). There is a reason we have rights in this country like being innocent until proven guilty, and limits on police searches. I guess you want the secret police bursting into your house to check the numbers tattooed on your arm?

Hopefully I'll eventually make the effort to go into more detail on some of the issues brought up here. I'm sure a few of these could go toward an installment of Craziest Complaints.

Oh, and for anyone out there who has ever said anything like, "I love individual Catholics, but I hate the Pope, and hope he goes to Hell." I think of the Pope sort of like you might think of a beloved grandfather, so try switching it around before you speak. "Your favorite grandfather is just a dirty old dress-wearing man who uses his power and money to brainwash people and abuse children." Oh yeah, well yo' mama so fat...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sacrifice of the Mass (further discussion)

In an earlier post (which you should read before reading this) I mentioned a comment on John Piper's website about the Mass being repugnant. I cited the Didache and Ignatius as supporting the Catholic side. In response I received the following comment, which I feel is worth a longer response than I like to give in the comments section.

Stuart wrote:
Greetings to you all. I just stumbled across this post as I was searching for something else. I am pretty familiar with Piper's theology and perspectives (his and mine are very similar) and so I thought I might chime in here in hopes of bringing some clarity to the discussion.

First, while the quote from the Didache refers to a 'sacrifice' I see no reason to understand that as referring to the reenactment of the sacrifice of the body of Christ in the Eucharist. The sacrifice given on the Lord's day is a sacrifice of praise, not a bodily sacrifice.

Second, it is certain that one can vehemently insist on the Real Presence while avoiding the error of transubstantiation and a reenacted sacrifice. It is certain because countless protestants have done so, including Luther, Calvin, and yours truly. I don't know what Piper has to say about the Real Presence, nor am I familiar with Irenaeus's position (Luther would certainly agree with what you have excerpted here).

Ultimately, though, what the Didache and Irenaeus say must be measured against the Scriptures, which clearly teach (Hebrews 9-10) that Jesus' sacrifice was once for all. I venture to say that this is what Piper finds so repugnant about the Roman Catholic Mass. I fail to see how such a theology could possibly square with the theology of the writer of Hebrews. To teach that Jesus must be sacrificed afresh each Lord's Day is an affront to the sufficiency of His crosswork.

Soli Deo Gloria

First, you should take notice of the fact that Piper finds kneeling and kissing the table repugnant as well. This shows that he believes the idea of the real presence itself is part of the problem.

If Christ is really present in the Eucharist, then it is absurd to be offended by kneeling to Him. This suggests that he finds the Theology of the early reformers you mention to be repugnant as well. Really the theologies of Luther and Calvin are at least as compatible with Catholic theology as they are with most modern Protestant theology.

Now, Regarding the Didache, consider the following: "But every Lord's day... break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure."First, I'll note that "Eucharist" translates into "thanksgiving," and in many ancient documents, this is what is meant when "thanksgiving" is used in certain contexts. It could easily mean this in this context, since the writer is talking about gathering together on Sunday, breaking bread, and offering a sacrifice. But since I assume you would interpret thanksgiving at face value, and no other Christian documents that use thanksgiving in this sense predate the Didache, I will not expect this to be considered solid proof.

Let's look at some related scriptures for a moment: In Matthew 5 our Lord says, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."

And in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul tells us, "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep."

Notice that these two Bible passages have many parallels with the passage in the Didache. I'll create a kind of list:

1. Make confession of sins.
2. Make pure sacrifice.
3. Eat bread.

Matthew 5:
1. Seek Reconciliation before offering.
2. Bring sacrificial gift to altar.

1 Corintians 11:
1. Examine yourself.
2. Only partake of the cup if you can do so in a worthy manner.
3. Eat bread and drink wine.

The Didache is the only one that clearly contains all three of the elements I am tying together, but you can see a clearer picture by comparing these other passages. The Didache would have us make confession/reconciliation before making our sacrifice. And this sacrifice seems to be related to bread or "thanksgiving." If we interpret "thanksgiving" in the modern sense, I suppose we would be making a sacrifice of praise or prayer, not of physical gifts. If we interpret it to mean the Eucharist as Catholics understand it, then it ties more directly in with the breaking of bread.

In Matthew 5 we once again see reconciliation, but in this case it is related to the old covenant sacrifices at the temple. But most, if not all, of Christ's words recorded in scripture had some eternal purpose, not a purpose that was restricted to only one place and time. Thus, I would reason that Christ intended reconciliation to also precede some sort of new covenant sacrifice. What new covenant sacrifice is there other than Christ? The only other sacrifice we can offer is the sacrifice of ourselves, but we can sacrifice ourselves all we want without earning anything from God. The only sacrifice that earns salvation is Christ's sacrifice, so the only worthwhile thing we can offer to God is in fact God himself. This of course sounds silly to the non-Christian, but it isn't, for everything we have is from God. I am reminded of when my 2-year-old daughter shares her food with me. I am pleased with her for sharing, even though I provided her with that food in the first place.

Then, in 1 Corinthians 11, we see the repeated theme (admittedly from a different angle) of needing to be worthy (likely in part through confession/reconciliation) before participation in a religious ceremony. This time the word, "sacrifice" is not used, though this time we are told to "recognize the body of the Lord" in the bread and wine. Just before this (also in 1 Cor. 11) Paul writes, "'This [bread] is my body[...] This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." Now, I remember hearing of a (notably atypical) Protestant fellow who was upset by this verse because it make is sound like Christ is still dead, and is not risen. It seems quite obvious he is missing the point of this verse. We do not proclaim that Christ is still dead during communion, rather we proclaim that he did at one point die. We proclaim this because his death was the sacrifice which gives us life. Without the crucifixion there is no resurrection.

So, putting this all together: communion is the body and blood of Christ which was given up for us, we proclaim his death when we partake of communion, his death was a sacrifice (his body and blood was given up) to God, we must partake of communion in a worthy manner, we must seek reconciliation before making a sacrifice or breaking bread together on the Lord's day.

With all this in view, if one believes in the real presence, I don't see how they can avoid seeing the Eucharist as a sacrifice. What is the bread and wine? The body and blood of Jesus which was given up for us. So the real presence is the presence of Christ's sacrifice (not to say that it is his sacrifice somehow disembodied from his actual being).

I can see how it would upset Protestants to think that we re-sacrifice Jesus every day, because that idea also upsets Catholics, and we don't believe it. We do not re-sacrifice him. Rather, we recall and make present his sacrifice today. It is not a new sacrifice. It is the one sacrifice of the cross. We must remember that in heaven Christ is not bound as he bound himself on Earth, he is not limited by space or time or the laws of physics. This is how we can make reconciliation before making our sacrifice to God as Christ instructed. On the cross Christ made his sacrifice available to all men throughout the ages, and that sacrifice makes itself present in the Eucharist. We offer this as a sacrifice to God because we know that only the sacrifice which he himself made can save us.