Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More on Economics

There is an article on Why Catholics Don't Understand Economics. What he really means is why Catholics don't agree with him on economics.His assumption is because they are all fools. That is one way to argue. That anyone who disagrees with you must just not be very bright. He even admits that many of these people have demonstrated great intelligence in other fields. But what I find interesting is he connects Catholicism with dissent from what he sees as the magisterium of economics. As someone who wants to think with the church that raises all sorts of red flags. Why should Catholic, both traditional and liberal, all have a blind spot for the truth in this area. That is not my observation. It is his. I would have said more traditional Catholics, at least in the US, tend to think like protestants when it comes to politics. In fact, many of the influential voices are protestant converts. But he does not see that. He sees Catholics as a group being hostile to his theory. That gets me thinking that either Catholicism is wrong or Jeffery Tucker is wrong. I'm thinking I want to be one of those stupid Catholics who can't understand what Jeffrey Tucker is saying.

Now why would Catholics come to different conclusions about economics? It is not because we can't comprehend scarce resources. Any 5 year old can get that. I can think of a few things. First, many Catholic thinkers on the subject have worked with the poor. This leads them to a people-centered analysis rather than a money-centered analysis. Then there is the matter of grace. Grace does not add up. Think of Mal. 3:8-12:
  "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
      "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
      "In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty.  "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
Now this makes no sense to an economist. You give with no logical reason to expect something back. Yet you do expect something back. A resource may be scarce but God can open the floodgates of heaven. There is a sense that we are to worry about the little things God gives us to manage and let God worry about the big stuff.

Anyway, there are many reasons why Jeffery Tucker can't comprehend Catholic thinking on the economy. Lack of intelligence is not one. But the wisdom of God is foolishness to men.

Faith and Money

Agellius' comments on charitable giving got me thinking. One of the most common things people say when talking about charitable giving is, "When I have more money I will give more." The truth is that almost never happens. People who are poor givers don't become good givers when they suddenly start making more money. Somehow the spending grows and there is still very little left for charity. The reality is poor giving is not a financial problem. It is a spiritual problem. People who are poor givers can become good givers but it happens when their spiritual situation changes not when their financial situation changes.

We tend to look at giving backwards. We look at the church or some other charity and see that it needs to raise money. Then we try and motivate people to give so we can solve this problem. So we look at our big potential donors and we try and figure out what kind of pitch they will listen to. We can even twist the whole church out of shape to get people to give.

If we start with the giver rather than with the fund raiser we end up with a much better picture. There is the vice of greed and the virtue of generosity. That is the center. How much money ends up in the church's building fund is less important. We need to be free from the power money has over use. Jesus puts it a bit differently:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Mat 6:19-21
Jesus is saying money has power over you. Accept it. Money can make you love things. But then choose to use it to make yourself love the things of heaven. What is the most heavenly thing you can put you money into? The church. It is in some ways the most complete gift because you have no control over where the money will be spent. It might go to buildings, to parish or diocese staff, to the poor, to religious orders, to retirement homes for priests, etc. You are giving up any say over what happens to it.

You can give to a more focused charity. Many of them so good Christian work. Then you know exactly what kind of work your money will support. If you give to EWTN you are choosing a very different effect than if you give to Mary's Meals. Both are good but you are in control as to which good thing should be supported more. In some ways letting the church decide seems better but then there are good charities that don't get any church money. Religious orders, lay ministries, etc. The church has indicated we should support things like that so we need to make some choices.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Good News and Bad News

Christianity tells us two things about who we are. It tells us we are very good ontologically speaking. We are created by God. That means our life has a purpose and a dignity beyond what we can realize. Not just our life but every human life. Made in God's image. Children of God. Jesus being willing to give up His life for us. These are very deep truths that would revolutionize our lives if we understood them.

But then there is the bad news. That we are very bad morally speaking. That sin has effected us so much that even what we feel is good is filthy rags in the eyes of God. Again we have trouble digesting it. We know we are not perfect but we don't really get how bad our sins are and how many of them we commit. We make so many excuses. We compare ourselves to others rather than comparing ourselves to God.

Modern man has things exactly backwards. They look at evolution and arrive at a very low view of man. Because we can explain to some degree where man's physical nature comes from we assume that must be the whole story. It isn't. It is just the part of the story science can investigate. But the thinking leads to a view of man as an animal that has learned a few tricks. That the desire for love, goodness, beauty, truth and meaning are just artifacts of evolution and not pointers to our greater purpose. So modern man believes we are ontologically bad. That our inherent worth is merely in our own minds.

When it comes to morals the story changes. Then modern man declares himself to be good. Why not? We have gotten very good at affirming and encouraging. We want people to believe in themselves. Believe what? Not that you are just an animal that has acquired delusions of dignity through an evolutionary accident. You need to believe you are good. Suppress that conscience of yours that convicts you of so many moral crimes.

But people are not fools. If everyone is affirmed in their goodness then the questions get asked. Good in relation to what? Who says what is good and what is bad? If survival of the fittest is the central principle of existence then how do I know I am one of the fittest? What if I am defective in some way? Why should I believe in myself then?

The religion of assumed moral goodness crashes because humans cannot believe things just because they are beneficial. They need to honestly think it is really true. To just tell people they are good, beautiful, valuable, etc. without any justification behind it simply does not fly. People know they are broken. They see their sin. Not fully and honestly but they see it. They also see their human weaknesses. They see they don't measure up when compared to other people. Affirmation that simple ignores this data won't last. People will feel good until their next failure.

This is where the gospel is so beautiful. It takes sin, suffering, and failure very seriously. By affirming only what can be affirmed truthfully that puts their self esteem on solid ground. It also calls them to meet the challenge of improving themselves and improving the world. You are good but you can be better and this is how. That is a much more positive message than you are good even if you spend all you time on porn and video games. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Mad Hatter

Lately I have been really feeling called to pray for Cardinal Ouellet. Recently he has been appointed by Pope Benedict to head the Congregation of Bishops. That means he takes the lead in deciding which priests get elevated to the office of bishop and which bishops get the most important diocese. Bishops get to wear high hats at liturgy (I hate to explain jokes but I thought some people might be confused about the title).

Cardinal Ouellet is Canadian, in fact before this appointment he was the primate of Canada. So I have been following him for a while. He is one of the real solid bishops. A few years ago he seemed like one of the few we had in Canada but the last few years have seen many good appointments. Now he gets to bless the whole church.

From an interview before he left:
We are in a world where the Christian heritage being strongly contested, so we have to recognize that and propose it better, though not through an attempt to restore the past, he said.
“We have to tell people about the Crucified and Risen Lord, who is shaping the Church today, with people faithful to His Word, to His Divine Presence and to the community he wants to see living of His Spirit.”
A bishop must always take a personal approach, he said. Bishops not only must state dogmatic positions, they must believe in them deeply, “then you have the power of conviction.”
“If you state it only formally and in the end you do not really want to see it applied because you don’t believe that it is possible that people accept it, you are in trouble for the transmission of the message,” he said.
So the message to any bishop with ambition is clear. If you want to impress Rome you need to not only state dogma but you need to teach it in a creative and compelling way. You need to be confident that the truth will attract even if human wisdom tells you nobody will listen. In other words you need to teach like Pope Benedict teaches.
The Cardinal also called for a new intellectual dynamism, especially a reform of education to “recapture the spirit of Christianity and “create a new Christian culture.”
“We need intellectuals for that, theologians, philosophers, Christians who really believe in the Gospel and share the doctrine of the Church on moral questions,” he said.
“We have suffered from this mentality of dissent” that is “still dominating the intelligentsia.”
“There is no real discipleship there, real discipleship,” he said. “The discipleship that is emerging is from those who believe and who really love the Church.”

This guy just gets it. What is more he is willing to say it out loud. Catholic theology and philosophy is so amazing. Yet most people whop have degrees in Catholic theology and philosophy are pathetic. The "mentality of dissent" is a good way to describe it. It embraces the liberal elements of protestantism but lacks the honesty of protestants to say they don't respect the church or the pope.

The good news is such thinking is unable to grow because it lacks real discipleship. The bad news is once it dies it will be a huge challenge to replace such widespread error with a new intellectual dynamism. But saintly bishops help a lot. Not just in exercising spiritual discipline but in being holy. Catholicism is more about following a set of leaders than it is a set of teachings. Sure the leaders teach. But the blessing of apostolic succession is going to be easier to see if we have strong men doing the job well. 

Moral Erosion

We all want to be moral. But things go wrong. You cut little corners. You make some compromises. Before too long you are shocked at how far you have fallen. You see it in language. A few bad words here and there. Just when you are really upset. Before you know it you shock yourself with what comes out of your mouth.

The same happens with sexual morality. People want to have a high view of sex but they don;t want to be a prude either. So then try and pick a middle ground and they end up cheapening sex way more than they ever intended. We are so good at rationalizing. When we give ground bit by bit we don't see the long term effects.

Alcohol consumption is another good example. Nobody decides to become a drunk. They just want to enjoy a drink or two. Then it becomes more than that. Then it becomes a matter of whether I overdo it occasionally or regularly. Life provides many excuses to push it just a bit further than before.

The solution that Alcoholics Anonymous provides is instructive. There is a lot to it but one of the key pieces is declaring that you will not consume any alcohol ever. No exception. This is the solution to moral erosion. It is called dogma. AA would never use that term because modern man reacts badly to it but that is what it is. It is a teaching you don't control. You must accept it and follow it. It might not make sense to you but you need to trust the source. In this case AA. They know what they are doing so you do what they say. Religiously.

Dogma is generally the only solution to moral erosion. There needs to be a line you won't cross. It needs to be clear and absolute. It can't come from yourself. Anything you define you can change. It needs to depend on something you trust more than your own mind. There can be some principles you develop yourself as a way of living out the central principles. Like not going to certain parties because you might be tempted to drink. But they need to rest on central principles that you can't rationalize away.

But where do we get dogma? Catholics have a good answer to that. Protestants are typically confused. They will deny infallibility but treat some of their doctrines as infallible anyway. But they will pick and choose different positions on different doctrinal questions to treat as infallible without actually saying they are infallible.

Beyond that, each group is going through it's own institutional moral and doctrinal erosion.Some churches do a better job at holding on to standards than others. Often they split into a faithful remnant and a more liberal  majority. In landscaping we know that nothing will stop erosion if it keeps splitting.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Liberals and Conservatives

Fr Z points out this post about liberals and conservatives that I found interesting.
Most people surely have heard the aphorism, "If you aren't a liberal by the time you are 20, you don't have a heart....but if you aren't a conservative by the time you are 40, you don't have a brain."

My father stated that aphorism to me when I spearheaded the local McGovern campaign effort in 1972, much to my father's chagrin.

The Motley Monk is beginning to wonder if this aphorism will continue to describe the state of nature.  With the federal government increasingly extending its reach into the lives of most Americans since the 1960s, dependency upon government "largesse"---Medicare, Medicaid, and other social spending programs---will likely create a larger class of citizens 30+ years of age who won't possess the capital that normally would stimulate thought about capital and its preservation.
 I have of course heard the quote about liberals not having a brain. It proves conservatives think they are smart and liberals are stupid. Public debate today is more about declaring yourself to be smart than about actually making good arguments. That is why we get so little charity and so little truth.

What I find interesting about this post is that it admits something that I have long suspected is true. That the change from liberal to conservative has more to do with getting richer and less to do with getting smarter. That having capital stimulates thought about capital and its preservation. That means people care about the poor, the sick, the elderly, etc. until they figure out that such care is costing them a lot. Then they become more focused on themselves. That is when they become conservatives.

Conservatives always claim their politics does not flow from a lack of concern for their fellow man. It is just a coincidence that the policies they favor lower taxes for themselves and less help for the needy in society. Those policies are based on logic and not on greed. The fact that they match up exactly with what a greedy person would do is no reason to question someone's motivation. It is like those people who bought Playboy just for the articles. They would get upset when you suggested their motives might not be pure.

But now we have a conservative predicting that these purely logical arguments will not work on people unless they have enough money. Money stimulates thought. Really? Money certainly stimulates greed and patterns of thinking that go with it. Greed is sin and sin makes you stupid. But does money stimulate noble and rational thinking? I don't see it.

I do think the premise is wrong. There are much deeper reasons why younger people are not working as hard on developing their careers and acquiring wealth. Social spending is a minor factor. I would say the lack of faith and the accompanying lack of motivation to serve God is a bigger factor. Related to that, promiscuity and pornography has made marriage less desirable for men. Women are not looking for men who can be long term providers. So fewer step up to that challenge. That is another topic but it does show how quickly one can connect dots based on conservative assumptions and ignore a bunch of other possibilities.

Wide Gates and Narrow Gates

22Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
   He said to them, 24"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.'
      "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'
 26"Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'
 27"But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'
 28"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."

The gospel this Sunday, from Luke 14, was about striving to enter through the narrow gate. The wide gate leads to destruction. The narrow one leads to eternal life. Why is that? Why is it that the majority of people seem to be on the road to hell? It seems like being counter-cultural is essential to the faith. That the holiness that flows from the culture does not really impress God. It is too easy. If you love those who love you then what benefit is that. Even the pagans do that. What we need to do is something beyond what the culture does. You cannot get to heaven by going with the flow. You need to paddle against the current.

But does it follow then that the majority in any given culture are not going to be saved? I am not positive about that. There might be an illusion that you are in a minority. That seems hard but it might be possible. Saints can look very different. But evil needs to feel strong. There is a temptation to play it halfway. Do a little to make God happy and then please yourself on the matters closest to your heart. Be just good enough to tell yourself God should be pleased. Jesus is telling us that is exactly what does not please God. He wants us to surrender everything.

But what about grace? Jesus says, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to."  God is going to tell many people, "I don't know you or where you come from". It seems a little unclear. I understand that we need to start with faith. That trying to enter without faith is futile. Works without faith is dead. We first need a relationship with God so He knows who we are and where we come from. After that we need to strive. God will insure we succeed because we are saved by grace from first to last.

But Jesus does not seem as to care that this is unclear. The contrast he makes is between those who try and those who "make every effort". Not trying to live a moral life but trying to enter heaven. The solution is not to let go and let God but rather to make sure your effort is serious. He soon gives us the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. So He does give us images of salvation protestants like better. But Catholics can embrace all these sayings.

Friday, August 20, 2010

JesusBlogspot on Mary

A guy at JesusBlogspot.com has a post on Mary. Since he was kind enough to visit my blog I thought I would respond. Hopefully more charitably than his first commenter did.
Mary seems to be very much loved in the Catholic religion which is great. There is an issue however, that always struck me as odd..Mary played a very big role in the bible, she carried the trinity in her own womb and raised the Son of God after all! But is it right to pray to and worship Mary?
First of all, Mary did not carry the trinity in her womb. She carried Jesus who is the second person of the trinity. I assume this is just an oversight.

Secondly, there is a distinction that needs to be drawn between praying to Mary and worshiping Mary. Catholics venerate Mary and the saints. They don't worship them. Worship is reserved for God alone. The lating words are Latria and Dulia. The distinction is explained more fully here. In order to comment on a Catholic you need to understand it. It seems that you don't or you would at least argue that this distinction Catholics make is not valid.

So we agree that worship is only due God and not Mary. We don't agree on what that looks like. Is praying to Mary the kind of worship these verses talk about. Remember we don't REALLY pray TO Mary although we talk that way. We really pray THROUGH Mary. That is important to understand as a protestant. That no Catholic sees Mary as an alternative to God. She is an instrument of God. Her greatness glorifies God because He has made her great. She is not seen as the source of grace but the mediator of grace. God is the source.

Then you quote Ex 20:4-5. The NIV says:
 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
The New American Standard says:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  "You shall not worship them or serve them;
Somewhere you found a version that says:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them

Now I am not qualified to argue the Hebrew with you but I do believe the word "idol" is a better translation than "carved image". Then the reply becomes easy. A statue of St Mary is not an idol. It is an icon. An idol is something we worship instead of God. An icon is something we venerate as pointing to God.

You should also know there are a bunch or examples of people bowing down to other people in the Old Testament. David bows down to Saul. Obadiah bows down to Elijah. So this cannot be a ban on the act of bowing down. So it again points to the word "idol" being key.

Lastly you go to 1 Time 2:5:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
Of course this is true in the context Paul is speaking. Paul is talking about praying for the salvation of all men. He is making clear that we should pray they come to know Jesus. Jesus alone bridges the gap between God and man. But what about the gap between man and Jesus? Who can fill that? We can. That is what we do when we evangelize or when we pray for another person or when we show love for a person. That does not replace the bridge Jesus has built to God but it shows people the way to it.

Mary can do that as well. She physically brought Jesus to the world once. Spiritually she keeps doing that. Jesus chooses to honor her in that role. Jesus obeys Ex 20:12 and honors His mother. He does it extravagantly. We benefit from that. So, yes, we should pray to her. If Jesus wants to bless us through her we should eagerly desire that blessing.

Historical Jesus

Eric Sammons has a few posts on the gap between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith.  It is a very important point. Most Christian theological scholarship today is caught up in this heresy. That means it commonly preached from pulpits, taught in classrooms, and reflected on in books. It is the idea that the story of Christianity is not really true but developed over time. That the religion of Christianity didn't grow out of the person of Christ but the other way around. Christ, although real, was largely an invention of Christianity. That is the resurrection and most of His miracles were inserted into the story later.

These ideas don't stand up to rational scrutiny. They can't tell a plausible story that does not have many people doing things that just make no sense at all. In fact, these scholars are big on the idea that faith and reason are incompatible. But they don't really have faith. They have a desperate attempt to put secular thinking and Christian thinking together. Mostly it is based on doubt. So they should say doubt and reason are incompatible. Or more broadly that sin and reason are incompatible. Faith and reason are compatible. They both pursue truth.

This flows from the reformation in many ways. First of all, there is a sense that if you can question the faith then why can't you question the scriptures? They were passed down to us just like the teaching about popes and bishops and sacraments. If Christianity can be wrong about one thing then why can't it be wrong about another?

Then there is the disconnection with the early church. Protestants ignore the early church because it does not fit into their belief system. Sure there are a few quotes they pick out but they don't really understand the mind of the early church. That mind very much understood Jesus and the apostles as real people. The connections were strong because of apostolic succession and the fact that they were just so much closer in time to the apostles. When you lose that then suggestions that these stories might be myths are easier to accept.

One thing a protestant would be quick to point out is that many of the scholars in question are Catholic and continue to teach at Catholic Universities and many are priests in good standing in a Catholic diocese or a Catholic religious order. There are a lot of protestant ones as well but they are not tolerated in the conservative evangelical denominations. So they would see the presence of liberal scholarship as a major reason to reject the more liberal mainline churches including the Catholic church.

The first thing to note is that just because ideas have found there way into catholic institutions does not mean they do not have their roots in protestant thinking. Should they have excommunicated more people? Probably. But the wholesale excommunications they did with the reformers did not have great results either. There are no good choices when faced with a widespread heresy.

So what do we do? Teach the truth. Only the Catholic church has a good answer to why the scriptures are trustworthy. How the gospel of Christ has been preserved by Christ and does not need some scholar to recover it for us. How beautiful and life-transforming it is that Jesus is really true God and true man. That he really died and rose again. That miracles do happen. That it all makes sense historically, scientifically, philosophically, in every possible way.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Analogies of Grace

Called to Communion has a post on the bank account analogy of grace. That we owe more than we can pay and Jesus pays the debt for us. I never liked that analogy as a reformed person. It makes the discrepancy between what we owe and what we pay merely a matter of quantity. It isn't. We need something that is different in nature to close the gap.

The analogy I like is that of going to the moon. If we need to get to the moon we might try and get there by climbing trees. Maybe we could go to the top of a mountain. If I climbed a higher tree than you would I be closer to the moon. Yes and no. I would be physically, trivially closer. But I am not really closer because I am simply better at a technique that is has no chance at working. Trying to get to heaven by doing good works is like trying to get to the moon by climbing taller and taller trees. It seems like you are getting closer but there is a huge gap you have no way to bridge.It is not just a matter of distance but the type of trip required is not possible using that method.

So Jesus comes along and gives us a rocket ship. Now as a Catholic I would point out that even with a rocket ship there is a need to cooperate with the training and stay on the ship and follow the rules and such. When I was reformed I would just say you had to do nothing. Both are really true. The rocket ship provider does do all the work but you must trust him with your life and allow him to invade your personal space in a big way.

Now the analogy kind of fails because we don't belong on the moon. We belong on earth more than the moon. But we really belong in heaven. So the training we undergo is not against our nature. Like zero gravity training. We are learning to love but we are born to be lovers. But it does capture the notion that what Jesus offers us is much more than a blank cheque. It is something of a nature we could not have imagined.

Loving Yourself, Forgiving Yourself

There is a tendency today to talk about loving yourself and forgiving yourself. Even some Christians like to say that these are the most important parts of turning your life around. Some go so far as to say that the Christian teaching that God loves us and God forgives us are valuable precisely because it leads us to love ourselves and forgive ourselves. This is a new idea. If you look through scripture and tradition you don't see any emphasis on loving yourself or forgiving yourself. There is one verse that talks about loving your neighbor as yourself that is sometimes twisted into a command to love yourself but it basically isn't there.

It does not make a lot of sense either. Can you forgive yourself when you sin? If I punch you in the nose and then tell you that I have forgiven myself, does that make sense? Don't I need forgiveness from the one I have offended? Now as a Christian I can say the one who I have truly offended is God. You are a child of God. David says in Psalm 51:4, "Against you, you only, have I sinned". He is talking about the incident where he slept with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed. But all the sins he committed against people were really sins against God first and foremost. They need to be loved and respected because they belong to God. So God has the right to forgive me if I punch you in the nose. My relationship with you still needs to be managed. You may or may not forgive me. God's forgiveness matters more. Still I cannot forgive myself.

What about loving myself? I can do that. But I can do that for the wrong reasons. I can love myself because I am rich or because I am smart or because I am funny. It's better than hating myself but it is still problematic. If I get my self worth tied up with my money or my intellect or my sense of humor then that becomes my god. I won't respect those who don't measure up according to what I believe is the source of human dignity.

Loving yourself implies that you have the authority to declare yourself good. But you don't. So people look for reasons why they are good. The most common is to do it by comparing yourself to other people. I am good because I am better than most guys by this measure. But you have to knock others down to lift yourself up. But if God declares you to be good then you don't need to know anybody down. If fact you can't because God declares them to be good as well.

One more thing, the source of your self worth will always be the one thing you will never part with. You will do anything to avoid losing it. If that thing is God that  is very good. If that thing is money or reputation or good looks it can be very bad. So having this right is no small matter. Love yourself but base that love on God's love for you. Any other foundation can crumble.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Priests and Pastors

GetReligion has a piece on burnout or protestant pastors. I remember reading a study that showed Catholic priests report high satisfaction and low levels of stress-related problems. Sadly, I don't remember where I read this. But it occurs to me that there is an important truth here. Catholics are often criticized for being too hard on their priests. Only considering them for the priesthood if they first choose the celibate life. Having them make a vow of obedience to their bishop. Paying them next to nothing for the many hours that they work.But when you look at the results it is the protestant pastors that show greater signs of stress. Why is that?

One reason is that Catholic priests have a much stronger sense of being sent (Rom 10:15). My dad has said that when he was ordained as a reformed pastor in 1963 he had a stronger sense of being sent than my siblings who were ordained more recently. Pastors have more freedom, less structure, and therefore more pressure. Pastors are now expected to figure out what church is supposed to be like in modern times. My father was simply expected to run his church the same way reformed churches had always been run. That is no longer considered good enough.

Priest have some of that but not nearly as much. Bishops provide a lot of guidance. Theology is defined by Rome. Liturgy is much more structured. But it is more than that. You are not your own. You are representing the Church. You don't compete in the spiritual marketplace. You don't try and win people from the church down the street by being more compelling. You bring Jesus to people through His word and His sacraments.

Then there is the matter of protestant pastors having to be pope. When somebody asks a question about evolution or homosexuality they have much more freedom about how they talk about such issues. But with freedom comes pressure. You better get it right. Remember what Jesus says about people who lead children astray (Mk 9:42). Priests can let the pope be pope. He can define doctrine and they just have to teach it.

There is also the grace of a valid sacrament. Priests are really ordained. They are ontologically changed. Protestants use the word but are confused about what it means. They don't call it a sacrament. There is still a real question about what is the basis for their position of leadership. They have families. Sometimes their families have problems. They are not set apart from the congregation the way a priest is.

A pastor's job is so huge. Just him and his bible. He has to do it all. Liturgy, doctrine, administration. It all has to be pleasing to God. He also has to raise enough money and fill the seats on Sunday morning. Yes, they are supposed to let God be in control and just co-operate with His grace. But a Catholic priest has much more of a sense that that is what is expected on him. As protestant traditions break down their churches become even more pastor-centered. The power in a Catholic church is shared between the priest, the bishop, and the pope. The average non-denominational pastor has more power than all three. Not only is he not bound by obedience to a higher churchman but he is not even bound to a tradition in the same way.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Mosques

Obama seems to be adopting the same line as Bush in saying we don't have a problem with Islam. What they mean is we don't have a problem with all Muslims. There are many that can and will make fine citizens of western democracies. The trouble is there are Muslim groups that will not. They simply don't believe in respecting the right of every human to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But what must be recognized is that is an idea that flows from a fundamental flaw in Islam. Mohammad claimed that God told him to do things that were objectively immoral. Those things then became moral because God said so. So God's will can be completely arbitrary. God could tell you to commit a terrorist act and you would be obliged to do it.

Now most Muslims are better than that. They would refuse to believe God is telling them to engage in terrorism. They are right to refuse. God would never ask that of them. But their religion says He could. They just ignore that and assume God will only ask them to do good things. But they are not the consistent Muslims. The consistent ones do take seriously every teacher that suggests God wants them to kill Jews or spread terror in the west. There is nothing in their theology that allows them to rule out the possibility that God is asking them to do that. So it must be seriously considered.

It is very difficult to tell the difference between these groups by looking at their creeds. They all confess the same doctrine. Some take the offensive bits more seriously but they all claim to take it all very seriously. Nobody admits being a hypocrite. Actaully they are not hypocrites but eupocrites because they are actually behaving better than their creeds.The point is you can't just say Muslim groups that believe X are a problem because they all say they believe X.

It is a bit like liberal protestants. The root cause of liberalism is Sola Scriptura but not all protestants who claim Sola Scriptura actually allow liberal interpretations of scripture. Many are eupocrites. They say certain doctrines require the ascent of all faithful Christians. They think like Catholics and just don't know it.These more moderate Muslims are like that. They think like Catholics and buy into the dignity of all human persons and the goodness of God. They don't realize that is Catholic and not Muslim.

The point is modern society, both the right and the left, seems incapable of making the distinctions needed to figure out who and what they are fighting. That is a very bad thing when you are at war and can't seem to figure out who the enemy is. A society that thinks religion does not matter in conflict with a religious movement within but not identical to a major religion. So even a question as simple as the building of a mosque near ground zero can't be debated. Nobody can talk about whether this mosque will celebrate 911 or mourn it.

Science and Religion

There are two ways of knowing. There is observation and revelation. Science works by observation. We do experiments and we test theories. Once a theory can be verified by observation we are forced to accept it as true. We don't mind being forced. We want to understand our world. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Ignorance gives us the freedom to believe whatever we want but we don't actually want to believe things that are false. We are lovers of truth.

Faith works by revelation. Sure there is some observation especially when it comes to examining miracles but religious theories cannot be tested by observation the same way. So we are not forced to believe. But we are still lovers of truth. So when Jesus comes along and claims to have answers we want to believe. Ignorance is freedom but we want to know the answers to life's big questions. Or do we?

Science is merely a matter of truth or ignorance. Religion has more. There is good and evil. We are lovers of good as much as we are lovers or truth. In matters of morals we sometimes prefer ignorance over truth. We know that if good and evil are made clear to us we won't be able to do evil without severe guilt. So we want to remain ignorant. God tells us that what is good will also make us happy. But we don't trust Him.

People say they embrace scientific truth because it is based on observation and reject religious truth because it is based on revelation. But is that the real reason. Often people will reject religious truth because it identifies them as a sinner. How can we know that? Look for cases where scientific truth identifies people as sinners. The science of abortion is one case. How comfortable are people with pictures of a healthy fetus and pictures of an aborted fetus? Scientific truth that identifies people as sinners is not well accepted.

What about when science requires revelation? It is not practical to do every experiment. We all need to trust what people tell us. We don't have a problem with that. Even when the experts get things wrong people don't distrust the next expert they see. In fact, many embrace herbal remedies with no research behind them because of some Chinese or Indian medical folklore. How is that different from accepting a religious tradition? Herbal medicine does not suggest anyone is a sinner.

So it is not the source of religious truth that is offensive but the destination. It aims at our hearts. It shows us how selfish we are. There is good news. We can be transformed by God's grace. But first there is bad news.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Assumption and the Jews

One of the arguments for some special status for Mary is the parallel with Israel. Jesus was born a Jew. But that wasn't just a small part of the salvation plan. God walked with the Jews for many generations as His chosen people. He prepared that nation to be the God bearers. One can see a huge difference between the Israel in Judges and the Israel in Maccabees. They had learned to stand up for their faith and even die for it if need be. God had poured out His grace on them for many centuries and they had reached a point where they stood out among the nations as faithful servants of the Lord.

But just as God needed a sacred vessel to serve as Jesus' ethnic and cultural home it also makes sense that God would want Jesus' immediate family to be sacred in some way. That the God bearer nation would fit with a God bearer person. We see God did exactly that. He was born to a virgin. To a woman full of grace. That is to be understood as more than just sexual purity but being free from all sin both original and actual.

In that context the assumption makes sense to. If Mary is without sin she can enter heaven directly. Why have her endure the indignity of having her body and soul separated? Jesus proved that humans can enter heaven but Jesus is God. What about the rest of us? Mary's presence there tells us Jesus can not only go but He can bring His family with Him. Then the only question is whether or not we belong to that family.

But what about the Jews? If God remembered Mary's special role and treated her right at the end of her earthly life then how will He remember the Jews and the special role they played? Sure there is a sense in which the church is the new Israel. But the Jewish people are still there. It is interesting how the recent enemies of the Jews have been the Nazi's and the Muslims. In both cases that developed into an enmity towards Christianity and the western world.

I guess there are a ton of theories. I find trying to use the bible to predict the future to be a pretty fruitless endeavor. But seeing events in terms of spiritual realities is quite interesting. When God calls the Jews His chosen people He does not forget that.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Funeral Questions

I have heard it said that at every funeral there are two questions we ask ourselves. One question is why? Why did this death happen? Why didn't God prevent it. Why all this pain and suffering.

The second question is, "Is it true?". When we look death in the face we ask ourselves is this great story of salvation really true? Is it just something we tell ourselves to fell better?

It occurs to me these questions answer each other. We ask why because we know that death is not meant to be. There is something deep in our souls that tells us the world is broken. Certain things are just wrong. Death is at the top of the list. The interesting thing is that if evolution was the only answer to where we come from this question makes no sense. Not that evolution is not an answer but as Christians we say there is a deeper answer to where come from. When you deny the deeper answer then there is just no reason to find death unacceptable. Evolution embraces death as a way to remove inferior traits from a species or even inferior species from an ecosystem. What is offensive about that? The fact that we feel death is not meant to be is itself a rejection of atheism and the culture of death that goes with it. We are lovers of life precisely because our creator is a lover of life.

So what about the why question? Well, if death and pain was not normal then there would be nothing remarkable about the fact that we cannot accept them as natural. That somehow we feel the world is broken. That somehow someday it will be fixed. That feeling of brokenness cannot be pleasant. It needs to be a deep, powerful pain that goes beyond the loss of social stimulation directly connected with loosing a person we know. If we didn't get soul-sick we might never know we have souls. So there is a partial answer to the why question in the sense than asking why causes us to embrace God. The full answer cannot come until the brokenness of this world is redeemed. But the question tells us more than an answer ever could.