Monday, February 28, 2011

More on dating

 John C Wright writes a post about this dating/marriage crisis.
Traditionally, the price women and their fathers demanded was high indeed: “I will couple with you only if you love me, and agree and vow to cleave to me, forsaking all others. And if the coupling produces a child (which is the natural outcome of sex), you will devote your entire life to producing and protecting a home wherein to raise that child, and it must be a loving home.” Such a thing ordinary prudence would demand, even leaving the morality of it to one side. But the price she asks is high. In return for one moment of ejaculation, our Lothario must vow lifelong love and fidelity?

But suppose nine out of ten of the other women in society, equally as nubile, fertile, young and filled with gaiety and loveliness lower their asking price. Suppose the sweet young nymphs say to him, “I will couple with you merely on the off-chance that one day you might come to love me. And if the coupling produces a child, like Medea I will butcher him, and you do not even need to drive me to the abortion clinic. You may have all the pleasure of the sexual congress, I will bear all the costs and pain of any unpleasant outcomes entirely alone. Modern women are enlightened! We want to be alone and unloved and treated like meat sacks to service the degrading pleasure of the lowest form of masculine life. I will buy the condoms.”
 He makes the obvious point the secular world misses. That promiscuity has confused dating. Marriage is no longer the goal. At least it isn't all the time. People want to arrive at a solid marriage but they have changed the method of getting there from one that is likely to work to one that has almost no chance of working. The truly amazing part is they can sit back and analyze dating and marriage and completely miss this. Casual sex is so ingrained in people's thinking that they can't imagine anything else. Part of it is that even considering the question means re-examining choices that are indefensible. When people have no moral framework they make really bad decisions around sex and even thinking about them can be quite painful.

But I do think the point Wright makes is a little too strong. He describes two groups of women. He could describe two groups of men as well but he is a man so we view it from his perspective. There is a moral group and an amoral group. I don't want to call them immoral because they are not violating their morals.  The simply lack certain moral principles around premarital sex. But he implies the moral group has disappeared today and the amoral group did not exist in some unspecified time where dating was working. I don't think that is the case. There are communities of moral women today. There were always communities of amoral women in the past. In the past amoral women were referred to as sluts or whores and most men would not want to be seen with them. Sure there was a lack of charity towards such people but there was also an understanding that those women were out of bounds. As attractive as the idea of easy sex is, men would avoid these women and pursue relationships with more respectable ladies.

Even today that choice is available to men. The numbers have changed. The amoral culture is the majority now and the moral culture is the minority. Still it is possible to find like minded singles and pursue pure relationships. But it does not happen as often as it should. If it did the pure subculture would grow and become dominate just by producing strong marriages. It is not happening. Why not?

The short answer is contraception. Men and women who want to wait with sex often don't choose to wait until marriage. They might start with that thought but then they question it. Why marriage? If you are headed for marriage is that not enough? When marriage meant children the answer was obvious. Just because you are going to be ready to have children does not mean you should start now. If you are actually ready now then get married now.

But with the assumption of contraception the question becomes harder. Sex is about pleasure and need not involve even the possibility of children. There is the fact that marriage is a sacrament. Priests cannot say mass when they are headed for ordination. They need to be actually ordained. So too you need to be actually married to engage in the marital act. But sacramental spirituality is not that strong in many protestant churches. So there really isn't a very strong protestant answer to why you should wait for marriage. You add to that the teaching that there is no mortal sin. If salvation is purely a matter of faith and moral failings cannot cost you your soul then why be so rigorous about premarital sex?

The trouble is that fuzzy principles lack power. Marriage is objective. Once it is watered down to engaged it can be watered down further to "talking about marriage" and then still further to "really in love". There is no principled distinction in action and there is no real difference in results. People who start out with the plan to wait for marriage often don't succeed and end up with just as high a divorce rate. Not because waiting for marriage is impossible. But it needs to be accompanied by a coherent morality. Otherwise it becomes too easy to fudge. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Something is Rotten

There is a ton of reaction to this article on how many young men are failing to mature. Mark Shea and Jennifer Fulwiler both made posts on it although I think Jennifer took hers down for some reason. The comments make it quite obvious that something has gone very wrong with the relationship between man and women in modern society. Secular people don't seem to know where it comes from, how serious the problem is or what to do to fix it.

The short answer is that the new permissive sexual morality isn't working. Men and women engage in intimate relations and then break up. There is a denial of the pain and betrayal that results from that. People view it as a normal part of life. It isn't. They have abused and been abused in a most evil manner. At some level they know it. This is why promiscuity leads to a very low opinion of the opposite sex. That was very much on display in the comment section of this article. People have been hurt. Not by one relationship but by a string of relationships where they feel used and betrayed by the opposite sex. So they start to think the problem is all men or all women. They are all just self-centered, uncaring, despicable creatures. Sure they are. But we tend to ignore our own responsibility. People degraded their own bodies and those of their partners just as much as but blaming other people is easier.

Men want to win the hand of a fair maiden. It is a huge motivator. They will work for years to impress a beautiful virgin in hopes she will give him her favors and forsake all others. But these days they are not asked to do much of anything. Sex is considered no big deal. So the whole dynamic does not materialize. Women are not impressed because they don't demand men impress them. Men are not impressed because women give themselves away so cheap.

So men have to find motivation from somewhere else. It is not happening. Part of it is because they have lost sight of their own dignity. Sexual sin degrades the human body and that damages your view of the entire human person. Secular culture is great at affirming mediocrity. It is not so good at calling people to greatness. So people settle for being mediocre. This is likely to be highly destructive to human society. A large number of its members lack motivation and are failing to achieve what they are capable of. People talk about this phenomenon like it is interesting. They don't seem to understand that western civilization could fall and that this could be a major reason why.

The other way this can destroy civilization is because of the other thing nobody seems motivated to do. That is to raise a family. Men and women have always struggled to arrive at strong marriages but the ones that got there would make up for it by having a large number of children and raising them well. That is not happening either. We have fewer children and the majority don't make it to their 18th birthday still living with their biological mother and father. Again society is weakened greatly by both the lack of quantity and lack of quality in child rearing. People don't get that. Nothing catastrophic has happened since WWII so we don't really understand peace and prosperity and not guaranteed. That solid choices and hard work are required.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Saving Yourself or Saving Others

With all the talk about whether it is moral to lie to save others. I wonder how many people would refuse to lie to save themselves. If somebody pointed a gun at you and told you to tell a lie would you do it? Catholic theology says we should be willing to die rather than commit one sin. But how many of us would make that choice? How many people would criticize somebody for not choosing martyrdom over a lie. Certainly in the case of rape it would be unthinkable to argue that the morally correct choice was for the woman to choose death rather than cooperate with the rape. That kind of heroic virtue does happen and we rarely find out about it but we don't expect it. We don't put somebody up for public ridicule when they don't make that choice.

So what is the difference? We understand moral compromise to save ourselves. We don't understand it near as well when the goal is to save others. You balance your respect for the truth against your love of your own life and normally your love of your life wins. But when somebody balances respect for the truth against their love of another person's life then we can't understand how they can make such a choice. We go on and on and on about how immoral they are. Maybe it is not because we are so much better lovers of truth. Maybe it is because they are better lovers of the unborn or Jews or whoever else is in the scenario.

I remember reading the Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom did lie to help the dutch underground against the Germans. But she refused to do anything that involved killing. That seemed strange to me. Why was lying justified by the circumstances and killing was not? Principles are hard to find.

We do have something in Catholic morality called the just war doctrine. War is certainly immoral but sometimes it can be justified. Can resisting evil be more generally justified? When the gravity of the evil being fought outweighs the gravity of the evil being committed and the possibility of success is high? If Live Action had told a more serious lie then it would not be OK. If they told a pregnant woman that an abortion would cost her $1000 when, in fact, it would be free. That would be immoral even if the expected result was to save the child. Why? Because giving false information is worse than creating a staged situation.

I am open to the idea that Live Action might have crossed a line. I am not open to the idea that there is no line. If I was in Elizabethan England and a priest was hiding in my home. He tells me not to lie to save him. I would still lie. It would be a cowardly not to. Could I watch him be tortured to death and feel like I did the right thing? Not a chance. I would feel like I did the selfish thing. It is good for him to tell me not to lie. He should not expect it of me. But I should do it, Especially if I had good reason to expect them to believe me and move on. If I knew they would search anyway that would be different.

I understand people feel that allowing any prudence into the picture opens the door to abuse. The just war doctrine allows people to justify pretty much any war. They just stretch the criteria and they can convince themselves they did the right thing. This is open to abuse too. But absolute rules have their problem too. If it is possible to punish a child to much then people run to the position that no child should ever be punished. Proportionate response requires an honest assessment of the situation. We tend to become Calvinists and assume everyone is totally depraved and incapable of right reason. But we need right reason to be moral. Absolute rules will not do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Heretic or Separated Brother

One of the real developments in Christian thinking that has happened is with regards to other faiths. In the past Christian statements about other faith focused on what they had wrong. We pointed out the errors so the faithful would not embrace false teaching unknowingly. Vatican II put forward a new way of doing it. It said to start by affirming what they have right. Almost everyone has discerned some truth about God. So it is charitable to let them know that. I watched some videos by Fr Barron here.  I was struck by how he focused on the positives of pantheism, deism, and even atheism. But that is what we are called to do as Catholics. Point out the truth in the other person's teaching.

The reason this was not typically done before Vatican II was because people were afraid to leave the impression that heresy was OK. That everyone has some truth so it does not matter which belief system you follow. It turns out their fears were justified. Since Vatican II people have come to think this more and more. We created a culture where we anathematized all these errors and when we stopped doing it people got the impression that the errors had suddenly grow less serious or less offensive. That is not the case. So what is going wrong?

First of all, we affirm what can be affirmed as a first step.Ecumenical dialogue is not supposed to stop there. Too often it does. We just keep affirming each other and never get to a serious discussion of our differences. At the very least the affirming is done publicly and the discussion of differences is done behind closed doors. So even when the process continues to the next step the great majority of people still only see the affirming.

The second thing that goes wrong us that this process is extended to people within the church. That is when Catholics dissent from important doctrines many feel the need to avoid talking about those. Even when the individual has a position of teaching or authority in the church it is seen as bad form to simply call them heretics. But in that case the term is more appropriate. If they are professing to be in communion with the Catholic church and are contradicting that by rejecting some articles of the faith then strong words and strong action needs to be taken.

What we are seeing is a digestion of Vatican II. We have seen an embrace of the more positive attitude. But really an over zealous embrace of it. We got into a mode where we were so affirming of every belief out there we didn't know what the truth was anymore. But that is coming back. The hope is to end up in a better place than we started. To recover our confidence in the Catholic faith but to retain the ability to interact more positively with other faiths.

We are past the time when people are only exposed to Catholic sources of teaching. With mass media and global communications we can expect to meet people from all major faiths. Just knowing the dangers of false teachings is not enough. We need to be able learn from their experience of God while we show the beauty of the catholic faith. That is way harder than just affirming everyone in sight. It requires we know our faith well enough to see it even when described in strange terms. Then to describe the fullness of the truth in their language in an inviting way.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Deeper Truths from the Dawn of Time

Reading some more CS Lewis. Don't disagree with much of what he says. There was one point he made I disagreed with though. He was talking about the growth in general human knowledge. He was arguing against the idea that religion as a finite and static body of knowledge was bound to fade into irrelevance. His point was that generally does not follow. His example was the alphabet. No matter how much knowledge increases that still never loses it's relevance. But it did not really work for me. The alphabet remains there but it becomes one level in a many level education. I think if religion becomes something that matters to a certain point but when we reach advanced thought the advance might involve religion but never be religious in character. That means that theology has gone from the queen of the sciences to the hand maid. 

So many Christians buy into this. They learn some basic theology. They reach a certain place in their moral life. Then they are done. Christianity has no more excitement. All the action is in their secular life. Sure they often keep steady with their faith but it is an immature faith. Not one that corresponds to their intellectual development in other areas. How much time do you want to spend on an old time religion when you are trying to keep up in a high tech world?

The right answer is that the Christian faith is not finite. It continues to grow and develop. We not only can understand it better but growing in that area is the key to true progress. What is required to assert this is something other than Sola Scriptura. If Christianity is limited to the bible and really just those propositions that are clearly taught in the bible then we can't look to it as a source of progress. The best you can do is assert that moving away from Christianity cannot be progress. That we can remain static in faith and morals while we advance in every other area of human endeavor. It is no wonder many people don't think truly advanced thinkers would choose a career in religion.

The Catholic faith can grow and even grow in response to the challenges of the day. When new technologies come with moral challenges God can give us the grace to meet those challenges. That can come through a new and fuller understanding of the faith that Jesus revealed to us. This is given by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the church. That is the key piece. Often protestants have all the right answers. The problem is they also have a lot of wrong answers as well. It is not easy for somebody up to his eyeballs in the moral challenges of the modern world to know which one is true.

So we don't need to despair when we see Christianity losing the battle to pornography, relativism, abortion, atheism, etc. Where sin abounds then grace abounds more. But we need to understand that the grace God gave us in the 4th century is not all he has for us. With the knowledge of the world growing at a fast pace our knowledge of God can grow faster. If it doesn't then religion will become irrelevant. But Catholics are the ones who have not closed that door.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Affection For Sin

I was listening to a talk about St Francis de Sales. He talks about the importance of losing the affection for mortal sin. That is not just avoiding the act but changing your heart so you are no longer drawn to the act. How do we do this? St Francis says the best way is to contemplate God's truth. To spend much time and energy internalizing God's way of thinking. God hates all mortal sin so if we start to think like God we will start to hate it as well.

Thinking about this it makes sense why so many Christian men have trouble with the affection for sexual sin. What is God's truth about sex? Sex is unitive and procreative.That is sex unites man and woman in total self-giving love and sex opens us up to becoming fruitful and generating new life. So how often do we prayerfully contemplate such things? I was blessed when I started watching some Theology of the Body DVD's and at the same time started to pray the rosary semi-regularly. I say blessed because I didn't plan it and I don't think it was luck. The two things St Francis talks about came into my life at the same time and the effect on my thought life was dramatic. But it is not a common thing. The Catholic teaching on procreation is rejected by most protestants and Catholics. Contemplative prayer is not that common either.

When you look at our culture. Think about all the information you get on love, sex, and marriage. Exclude the pornographic stuff you would not watch anyway. Just think about the relatively wholesome TV, music, movies, etc. How many of them connect sex with procreation? How many connect it with a deep spiritual union? By my count almost none. We are just happy they keep their clothes on. If it is within marriage we are overjoyed. But even then the focus is on the physical pleasure. Very little on the gift of self we make to our spouse. Even less on the openness to life. So even the very best of the best completely miss God's truth about sex. That is even excluding the celibate life which is also important and occasions for contemplating it are hard to even imagine in out culture.

So what happens? Avoiding mortal sin just becomes a list of  "thou shalt not" commands. Our pattern of thought remains quite worldly and the commands seem hard. Even if we obey them the resentment we feel about having to obey can dry up our spiritual life. But there are few places where you can fully immerse yourself in the Catholic truth about sex. You couple that with the omnipresent of sexual material in general. Even without doing anything bad you can end up quite disconnected from God's positive will for your sex life.

As Catholics we have a ton of advantages. We have the correct teaching on procreation. We have the witness of consecrated celibate people. We have a strong tradition affirming the value of virginity. We have a consistent and principled teaching on the sanctity of life right from conception. We have spiritual mothers in the Blessed Virgin and in the church. We have spiritual fathers in the pope and our priests. We have the writings of the mystics. St Francis de Sales is one. St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross come to mind as well but there are too many to count. Then, of course, we have John Paul's Theology of the Body.

There are so many windows into the mystery of what God intended sex for. Despite the title of a modern Christian book it was not intended for pleasure. Sure there is pleasure to be had and I am glad there is but when we, even as Christians, make pleasure the end we end up in a very bad place.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More Mathison

Someone at CTC linked another article Mathison wrote that got me thinking. Here is a quote:
Not too long ago, in an effort to get a better grasp of the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, I was reading the chapters on the sacraments in Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics, and I ran across this statement: “The difference between the Lutheran Church and the Reformed in the doctrine of Baptism is fully and adequately defined by saying that the former believes God’s Word regarding Baptism, the latter not” (vol. 3, p. 269).
Let that one sink in for just a moment. Here we have one of the most respected Lutheran systematic theologians of the last century saying that the difference between his church and the Reformed over baptism can be summed up as follows: “Lutherans believe the Bible, and the Reformed don’t.” It’s just that simple, right?
When I first read this, I was a bit taken aback. How could a theologian as brilliant as Pieper so casually ignore the role of interpretation on this point? Why could he not see that this is not a matter of disbelieving the Bible, but of disagreeing with the Lutheran interpretation of the Bible?
I have to give Mathison credit. He asks questions most protestants dare not ask. He does not have answers but he does not use the standard protestant tactic of simply ignoring the problem with a bit of rhetorical hand-waving. That is refreshing.

What Mathison notices here is just normal protestant speak. That is when they say "the bible says X" they mean "my opinion is X". You hear it all the time. There is the Lutheran view, the Anglican view, the Catholic view and then there is what the bible says. In my tradition "what the bible says" would be followed by the reformed view because I was reformed. Now he is shocked to see "what the bible says" definitively declared to be something other than the reformed view. Not by some insignificant preacher but by a big name theologian. Is it uncharitable? Sure. But it is more than that. It is dishonest.

The truth is protestantism depends on this dishonesty. If protestants didn't lie about the level of certainty they have then nobody would be protestant. No preacher will get up on Sunday morning and make clear that he is giving his own opinion and that lots of fine pastors would disagree with him. If he is honest he will do that every week. But people go to church to hear the word of God. They don't want wishy-washy preaching. When they ask, 'What must I do to be saved?' they don't want to hear about 17 different things that various churches tie to salvation. They want one answer and they want to be sure it is the right answer. No protestants pastor can deliver that kind of certainty so they lie.

They don't call it lying. They think of it as speaking out of the certainty of faith or some such euphemism. But their faith does not allow them to be certain. Their faith tells them they are sinful, fallible humans. They cannot know they have God's word right especially when there are bible Christians who would disagree. But there exists such groups on almost every question. So they just ignore them. They just say "the bible says X" with no if's and's or but's. It is precisely what Mathison found offensive.

The tactic is effective. People crave certainty and they latch onto a pastor who speaks with power. You don't need to be logical. You don't need sound exegesis. You need to make people trust you. That is just as easy to do when teaching falsehood as it is when teaching truth. Especially when you don't know you are teaching falsehood. Pastors rarely lie about doctrine. They just lie about the level of certainty they have about it. It seems like a white lie. People respond well. What is the harm?

We can see the harm when someone else does it. When a pastor says the bible is OK with abortion and those who say it is immoral just don't believe the bible. Is he morally obligated to state that many Christian teachers disagree with him? Is he allowed to speak out of the certainty of his faith? No if's, and's or but's? He doesn't know, for sure, that is what the bible says. But it is understood that it is OK to lie about that how sure you are? We quickly associate the biblical condemnations of false teachers with such men. But it it objectively different from what every protestant pastor does almost every Sunday?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mathison's Response

Kieth Mathison has responded to the Sola/Solo paper from way back when. There are many replies at CTC. Unfortunately the reply brings in many irrelevant points. That takes the discussion away from the narrow question of whether the distinction Mathison tries to draw between Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura is real. I thought I would make one comment on one paragraph from page 34 of the PDF version that I think actually is on that point.
The final phrase is based on a quote by the Reformed theologian Francis Turretin
that I cited in my book. Turretin wrote:
Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the word of God (which alone has the power to bind the conscience).
Cross and Judisch obviously disagree with Turretin’s point because of their view of the Church. However, the fact that an individual must determine whether or not to submit to an authority does not eliminate the real authority of the church or of the creeds. Paul calls on the Galatians to judge his preaching. This does not eliminate his apostolic authority. The underlying principle that Turretin wishes to bring out in this discussion is the qualitative difference between the Creator and the creature. The authority of God is absolute and unconditional. The authority of human creatures, including human creatures given ecclesiastical authority, is not. Paul had apostolic authority, but such authority did not give him carte blanche freedom to say anything he wanted. He did not have the authority to preach a different Gospel (Gal. 1:8). We will have occasion to discuss this issue further as we proceed because Cross and Judisch repeatedly refer back to this Turretin quote and to my use of it.
This seems to get to the heart of the matter. The fact that "Cross and Judisch obviously disagree with Turretin" is irrelevant. Just because they are Catholic does not mean they cannot comment on the logic on non-Catholic thinkers. If Mathison commented on the logic of Dan Brown I would not ignore it just because he doesn't share his world and life view.

Then he says that "an individual must determine whether or not to submit to an authority does not eliminate the real authority." I think it does. He cites Paul asking the Galatians to judge his authority. I think that is different. Judging the source of authority is different from judging the individual instances in which the authority is exercised. Paul is not saying to the Galatians to go verse by verse though this letter and see where you agree. He is saying to judge whether he is legitimately speaking for God and if he is he is telling them to accept ALL of what he says as the words of God's ordained leader.

The verse by verse analysis is precisely what Sola Scriptura says we need to do with church creeds and authorities. It asserts that they are not divine in their totality. It says they can be determined to be God's word on an article by article basis. How do we make that determination? By checking those articles to see if they conform to what scripture says. But we can't do that. We can only check to see if they conform to our opinion about what scripture says. The document might make an eloquent argument from scripture. It might have a list of supporters that we are impressed with. But in the final analysis we decide whether the evidence is convincing or not.

There is some pressure. When a Christian Reformed person deals with the Heidelberg Catechism he does feel pressure to harmonize his opinions with that document. It is a respect for the history it represents. Like one might feel pressure to agree with what their father and grandfather has believed. But when obedience gets hard. When a person is really feeling tempted to abandon a doctrine. In those times you are very aware the document is fallible. It would not be such a big deal to reject one article. So it is a paper tiger. It seems impressive until it faces a serious challenge.

The big thing is that none of these governing bodies or documents need to be considered at all. Someone can be a Christian and just ignore the Heidelberg Catechism. All that is required is for a Christian Reformed person to start attending a different church. As long as that remains a legitimate action for a Christian then the authority really amounts to little more than peer pressure. You choose your peer group and they influence you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mohler's Osteen Moment

Albert Mohler writes about an interview where Joel Osteen was pinned on the question of whether homosexuality was sinful. To his credit Oosteen said Yes. It is sinful. The reaction was judgmental. This is ironic because judging was exactly what Piers Morgan accused Osteen of. But it was Morgan doing the judging. Oosteen was merely stating a moral principle. Stating a principle is not the same as judging a person.

But the point is the times are changing. There was a time when guys like Osteen could make nice with the establishment and still maintain relatively orthodox Christianity. But society has moved further and further from the faith. More and more we see embracing the faith means rejecting society. This very question is going to be asked of many Christians. Are homosexual acts sinful? Mohler thinks that will be the moment of truth for many people. If they are pinned down on this question in public. To say Yes is to be labeled a bigot. To say No is to deny Christianity is true.
In any event, Joel Osteen had his moment last night. Most Christians will not face that question on national television, but on a college campus, in a family discussion, in the workplace, or in the heat of debate. But, whatever the circumstances, that moment will soon come.
I think this is a good thing. It will cost many Christians. No doubt about that. But as painful as it will be the conflict is unavoidable. The church needs to be purified. The real believers need to step up and answer the call to holiness. Those that are faking it need to leave the church. As hard as that is, there is just no other way to preserve the gospel. The gospel of Christ is our only hope. Right now there is huge confusion about what that is. Persecution has a way of clarifying things. I am not sure how serious the persecution will get. My guess is as serious as it has to get to bring us to our knees and to bring us together. How much will it take? How many will be left when we get there? Hard to say.

I do think unity will be essential before we can re-evangelize effectively. As Christianity becomes more diverse it becomes less popular. Those are the two trends that have accelerated in the west over the past 100 years. Less agreement among Christians on doctrine, liturgy, and morality. Less religious observance in those same areas. There is one way to fix it. It is to send a storm so the houses built on sand will crash and only the house built on the rock will remain. How big a storm will it take? Mat 7:24-27 is talking about a pretty big storm. Judging by the deeply entrenched divisions between Christians it will likely be a big storm. Pray that not many souls will be lost.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Role Playing and Lying

There is a lot of talk on Catholic blogs that Live Action behaved badly when it engaged in a sting operation to show how Planned Parenthood interacts with pimps. The logic makes sense. Lying is always wrong. We cannot do bad things even if we expect the end result to be good. But the conclusion seems way off. What they did does not seem wrong to most Catholics. Why is that?

My thinking is that we live in a culture that accepts undercover operations. We know when we encounter a person they might be an undercover police officer. We have made a choice to live in a society that accepts that possibility in life. Even reporters are allowed to do undercover, hidden camera stories. That is something we have all seen and have accepted. It is like a fire drill. When we sound the fire alarm it is really a lie. But we accept the lie because we know this is the best way to test whether we are prepared. We even know the fire alarm might be a drill. That kind of makes it less of a lie. We know before we start it might be for real or it might be play acting. So when it is play acting we don't feel lied to.

I wonder if we have gone there more generally. Certainly if you are buying drugs you are there. You know the dealer might be what he appears to be or might be an undercover policeman. Other areas of life might be similar. You deal with an irate customer. It might be you boss checking to see how you will react. We have that possibility in the back of our mind more often.

It is like the fire drill in that it is a test. A moral test rather than a safety test but it is a test we should pass. If we complain about the test we don't really expect ourselves to be in a state of moral readiness. But we should be ready to face the temptations this world is likely to throw at us. If we are not then we need to admit we are immoral. We should not blame the test. 

I think this might explain the complete lack of negative moral feelings about the Live Action sting. We kind of think of it as fair game. Somebody walks into your office and self-identifies as a pimp and even admits some of his sex workers are under-aged. If that does not send off any moral alarm bells then maybe we are dealing with an immoral person. Can we blame the test? We can always go there. Did they have a right to test you? You can argue both ways. But the fact is the test was failed.

I find the question interesting in that maybe we should declare that we don't want our police or our reporters or our employers to do undercover sting type operations. That might make society better. I wonder how they would ever catch some criminals. They might need to rewrite the laws to make convictions easier to get. I am not a criminal so it does not effect me much. For those who are criminals the moral universe they live in is unlikely ever to be great. But maybe if the government didn't add a bunch of dishonesty to it that would help. Maybe not. I just think when we take moral shortcuts we end up with lots of negative effects we don't ever associate with what we did.


Last Friday was the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Yet another feast day associated with miracles. Many people have been to the waters of Lourdes and received an amazing healing. I think the church has documented 67 that meet their standard of proof. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, most people who go to Lourdes don't get a physical healing. Many claim to have received a spiritual peace from their trip there. We are more comfortable with that.

Miracles and modern minds are a strange mix. Even many strong Catholics don't want to trumpet miracles. They are quick to point out that the church does not require all the faithful to believe in particular miracles. That is like saying a Green Bay Packers fan is not required to believe Aaron Rogers is a great QB. It is technically true but you have to wonder about it. True fans love to talk up evidence that their favorite players are great. When the evidence is strong, like it is for Rogers, then why would any fan hesitate? Yet you have big fans of the Catholic church that see very strong evidence of miracles and they just don't want to go there.

I see two reasons for it. One is a more strategic one. That is that they don't want to lose their credentials as solid thinkers with all those modern skeptics out there. There are a lot of people who will dismiss you as simple minded if you talk about miracles too much. There is an idea that truly advanced thinkers know better. It is arrogance disguised as intelligence. The reality is many Catholics want to avoid being sneered at that way. Partly because they think they can be more convincing with other arguments if they don't destroy their reputation by telling miracle stories. Partly, it is because they have bought into the skeptics way of thinking. They care about their reputation not just because it allows them to be heard but also because it feeds their ego. They want to be thought of as an advanced thinker because their self esteem is wrapped up in the praises of men. I know when I have shied away from miracle stories it has been a conflation of these two things. The fear of Christianity being dismissed with the miracle and the fear of me personally being dismissed with the miracle.

The other reason I see given is that nobody will change their creed based on a miracle. CS Lewis says this. People who don't want to believe in something will assume it was an illusion or someone is lying or whatever. That they won't allow the evidence to change their creed. There are examples he quotes and I am sure they are real. But there are also many examples of people who have come to faith based on miracle stories. It is like arguing for the Catholic faith. About 99 times out of 100 a protestant will dismiss you. But there are some that do convert. Miracles are the same way. If we talk about them they do have the potential to put some people on a journey towards the faith.

Look through church history. Look at scripture. Time and time again a miracle is given to call people back to faith. The book of Acts is full of miracles. God wanted His young church to grow quickly and miracles were a big part of it. Would God do that in our modern times? Why not? France in 1858 was pretty strongly immersed in the enlightenment. If anything, they were more skeptical than us. Why did God choose to work miracles through an uneducated girl? Maybe to tell us human reason is good but not the ultimate good.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Scientology and Christianity

Mark Warren from Esquire writes reaction to a New Yorker piece on Scientology

I mean, I grew up believing that every breath I drew sent a god-made-man named Jesus Christ writhing on the cross to which he had been nailed — an execution for which he had been sent to earth by his heavenly father thousands of years ago, so that he might die for my sins so that I might live. And yet I was born not innocent but complicit in this lynching, incomprehensibly having to apologize and atone for this barbarism for all my days and feel terrible about myself and all mankind. And not only that, but every day when I went to Mass, we would solemnly re-create this human sacrifice by drinking Christ's blood and eating his body in delicious wafer form. This was not an exercise in metaphor. As long as I shall live, I will never forget the look of spiritual transport on the face of my mother every time she received Communion. This was not a symbol of Christ's body; this was his body, through the miracle of transubstantiation. "You better believe it, boy," she'd say to me. And so I did. Oh, and then we'd wrap up each Mass by celebrating the fact — fact — that three days after Jesus had died, as any mere mortal would have after having been set up by your father and nailed to a cross by a mob, his spirit had risen on a cloud into heaven to rejoin the same god in the sky who had sent him on this errand in the first place.
I find this interesting. It seems he must have grown up Catholic but much of his understanding of the crucifixion seems more protestant. The focus on the penalty that Jesus had to pay for us. The idea that the Father demanded the Son bear His wrath. Just God's demands. But the notion of a disunity between the Father and the Son during the crucifixion is something many protestants teach and Catholics deny.  Catholics talk more about Christ's love that atones for sin. He does not endure the Father's wrath. He offers Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all of us. The Father loves Him through it all.

Even his description of our contribution to Jesus' suffering is flawed. We do bear responsibility. Yet we don't have to feel terrible about ourselves. We need to feel terrible about our sin. Again we see the influence of protestant ideas like total depravity. Our sin goes deep but it is not our very essence. At our deepest level we are children of God. By God's grace we can be holy.That is the point of the cross. Not to tell us we are bad and therefore responsible for Jesus' death but to allow us to become good. He seems to miss that entirely.

It does show how these theological questions around the atonement are important. Catholics do look at the cross more. That is because we see it as something that can transform us into saints. Mark just saw it as a source of guilt. With Calvinist theology and Catholic practice it made for quite a dysfunctional spirituality. .

Now, I ask you: Why is that story no less ridiculous than Hubbard's mumbo jumbo? Is it because we have invested it with the power and majesty of myth for a far longer period, giving it now the air of the ordinary, and because of the veneration of that myth by generation after generation of people whom we love, and who have power over our young minds as we were coming up? Because certainly, in the twenty-first century, the story I grew up believing is every bit as risible as all the Scientology nonsense that Wright dutifully details, as did Janet Reitman in Rolling Stone before him, as have dozens of very good journalists before her. I say this not to denigrate this area of inquiry in any way, for these are examples of good and even brave journalists doing their jobs, and covering a subject that has shown a ruthless willingness to sue reporters into submission. (And incidentally, I also say it not to denigrate the scores of ordinary people, such as my dear mother, who have reaped astonishing and tangible benefits from the simple act of belief.) 
I didn't copy all of Hubbard's  mumbo-jumbo but the answer to this is No. The Christian story is historical. Hubbard's story involves interactions with aliens that allegedly happened 75 million years ago. It cannot be scrutinized by analyzing the historical record the same way the story of Jesus can. The other major difference is Jesus did not create a new story. He was the fulfillment of an existing covenant. Hubbard's story is completely new. You need to believe that before Hubbard all religion was false and he manged to create a true one. Then you have the matter of Hubbard's religion being basically self-serving while Jesus' mission involved him being crucified. So there are many reasons who the Christian story is "less ridiculous than Hubbard's mumbo jumbo."
Rather, I mean here to instead ask a question: Why all the fuss over Scientology, when your resources and time might better be directed at the finances, earthly corruption, and raw power of, say, the Catholic Church, an institution that wields influence incalculably greater than Hubbard's itty-bitty religion? 
Is he saying the press never says anything negative about the Catholic church? Sure Scientology gets more press than it deserves because of the celebrities that have been involved with it. But it is a much more secret religion than Catholicism. So the press has a much bigger role to play in revealing the truth about it. The press has a role to play with the Catholic church as well but they generally fail completely
Can not some of this journalistic industry be trained on the church of my birth, whose chief vicar, an infallible man, lives in a palace in the middle of his own city-state while still claiming a vow of poverty and a simple Christ-like existence? The same vicar who presided over revelations — long-known but secretly guarded, that many of his employees were criminals and child molesters — not with the mien of the keeper of his flock but rather with the ruthless demeanor of the CEO of a massive corporation lawyering up against the barrage of lawsuits to come? The same vicar who successfully claimed that his canonical law (whatever that is) superseded civil law when it came to prosecuting the despicable crimes perpetrated by his subordinates, which is the only thing that explains why so few priests are in prison — unless you count those being harbored at the Vatican. The same vicar who presides over a church which holds homosexuality as an abomination.
Where to start? He speaks of the "journalistic industry" like it is a weapon. That the proper use of this weapon is against the pope. Then he lists a bunch of half-baked accusations that have been launched by the press against the pope over and over again. The trouble is none of them hold up to scrutiny. Shall we count the errors?
  1. The pope is not an infallible man. The office has a limited gift of infallibility. 
  2. He does not live in a palace. He lives in a 10 room apartment. He does not own it. We honor his office by giving him things.
  3. Pope Benedict has not taken a vow of poverty. Some orders of priests do that but most priests only take vows of celibacy and obedience. Not that the priesthood is likely to make you wealthy. 
  4. The "secretly guarded" thing is just an unsupported accusation. Which case has he behaved badly in? I am not aware of one. There is just an assumption that so much mud has been thrown some of it must be true.
  5. The church has no authority to say canon law supersedes civil or criminal law. The state is responsible for civil and criminal law. They are the reason priests are not in jail. They have deemed the evidence to be insufficient to get a conviction. If the state charged a priest there is nothing the church could do about it. 
  6. Priests being "harbored at the Vatican." What does that mean?
  7. The church does not say homosexuality is an abomination.The bible says sodomy is an abomination. The church accepts that. But homosexuals don't have to engage in sodomy. They are called to lead chaste lives just like the rest of us.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

All You Need Is Love

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  John 13:34-35
 How do we know when someone is a disciple of Jesus? Here Jesus says we should be able to tell by their love. What does He mean? First, He calls the command to love one another new. Is Jesus unaware of the Old Testament? It says love your neighbor. Jesus explained what that meant when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. So what makes this command new? The difference is He offers Himself as the model for love. He says this right before he is to be crucified. Love each other like I love you and you will soon see what that kind of love can cost.

So Jesus is not talking about some sentimental feeling. There is nothing remarkable about a community having some positive feeling for each other that we refer to as love. That will never prove we belong to Christ. People have gone there. Frustrated by doctrinal disagreements they have tried to reduce Christianity to simple love. Using texts like this one they say all the Christian teaching on doctrine and morals are really irrelevant. What we need to focus on is loving each other.

This is a classic case of a heresy using one truth to destroy other truths. It is also very appealing because, as Pope Benedict pointed out, love can become an empty shell to be filled in an arbitrary way. What used to be sin now becomes another kind of difference to celebrate. Uncertainty about doctrine becomes an excuse to ignore hard teachings.

So if that is not what this passage means then what does it mean? What could this love look like. There are about 2,300,000,000 Christians in the world. How can we love them in a way that will convince people that it must come from Jesus? The average person can't sustain warm feeling of affection for more than 40 people. Jesus must be talking about something that would scale up bigger than that. Remember the context of the crucifixion. So the willingness to suffer and die for each other is in view. Jn 13:1 talks about Jesus loving His own until the end. How do we love our own until the end?

The concept only makes sense in the context of a visible church. We can't love individuals but we can love a visible community. We can do it in a way that impresses people. The early church did it. People were willing to die for the church. Even though they have little in common with many of the people there. They were willing to give accept the most horrible deaths not because Jesus demanded it as a condition of salvation but because their suffering and death would gain a spiritual benefit for others. This inspired people to become Christian themselves. So much so that Tertullian wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

So what happens to all this when you dismiss the idea of a visible church? The church becomes a human organization that serves its members. You choose it based on whether it suits you. Are you inspired? Do you like the people? Does it have good programs for you children? Is it located close to where you live? The question of whether you are willing to suffer and die for this community never comes up. Who is going to see that and be amazed at the love they have for each other? Sure there is love there but people who drink together are just as likely to grow close as people who worship together. That is not going to amaze anyone.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Faith Resting on God's Power

The readings move on to 1 Cor 2 this week:
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
The last line really struck me. That our faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God's power. If somebody convinces you to believe in God  with "eloquence or human wisdom" have they done you a favor? Have you really come to a point of surrender to God? If somebody can be just as eloquent or of somebody can discredit the human wisdom then what happens to your faith? I think of Catholic liturgy. Protestants laugh at it because it is so simple and lacks any of the hot presentation techniques that mega churches have. But a holy priest given a quiet reflection on the scriptures and offering a reverent celebration of the Eucharist will unleash a power that cannot be a human power. There is no human explanation for why that should touch hearts and change lives. It just does.

When faith relies on power rather than wisdom then the concept of questioning the articles of faith makes no sense. If you reject one article of the faith then you reject the power that the faith rests on. That means you essentially reject the faith in it's entirety. You might still respect the faith. You might still give a lot of weight to the fact that something comes to us as part of that faith. But the fact that you reject part of it either means you don't view it as from God or you have a very weak view of God. If you have anything approaching a Christian view of God's holiness and man's sin then questioning revelation based on God's power is unthinkable. If you question any of it then your faith is resting on human wisdom. God's power demands that we yield completely and unconditionally.

But what is left for reason then? Reason is still there to fill in the gaps. God does not give us all the answers because He wants us to think. He gives us more and more answers as time goes on because He does not want us to think about the same questions forever. We can think about the trinity for a few centuries but theology would get boring if we were still struggling with that question. So God gives us an answer and allows us to go deeper. Those are the two things reason can do. It can develop truth or it can corrupt truth. Faith based on human wisdom is inherently corruptible. So our reason will go there. Someone will challenge long held beliefs. Then they start to become question marks instead of exclamation marks. At the end of the day we need more than human exegesis. We need to be able to say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.(Mt 16:17)"

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Heaven and Hell Question

Back in my protestant days, I remember a pastor talk about a question whose answer would be a good predictor of whether that person is going to heaven or hell. Not a question about faith or any subjective, internal matter - a question about externals. He didn't believe in works-righteousness but saw works as purely evidence of saving grace. Still one should be able to examine evidence.

So what question would best show the existence of saving grace? His suggestion was a question about financial giving. It was partly based on his pastoral experience. When you look at the giving you see who are the true believers and who are just playing games. It was partly based on theory. Giving is something done in private and it is something easy to cut corners with.Only someone with true faith would give generously in a materialistic culture.

As a Catholic I still liked that question but more recently I was thinking there may be a better one. That question? How often do you go to confession? Again it is a private matter. Nobody goes to show off. But it more directly shows if you are serious about fighting sin in your life. Do you examine your conscience? Do you find yourself guilty of sin. Are you concerned enough about that to actually go to the sacrament? If that is happening then you are on the road to heaven. If it is not then you should be very concerned.

So what about protestants? This new question seems to leave them out. Not really. They do examine their conscience. They do find themselves guilty of sin. What they do at that moment is often a lot like confession. They talk to their pastor or a friend about the sin. They might answer an altar call at their next service. They might book a retreat. They might spend time prayerfully reading a book on the subject. They know they need to do something. They just don't know what. They are often looking for closure. There is nobody with the authority to give them absolution yet they intuitively know this process of dealing with this sin must end at an appropriate time. So often you will hear them talk about a feeling they have during worship that God is telling them to move on.

The Catholic sacrament is a beautiful way of doing that whole process. You must say the actual sin. As a protestant it is tempting to just say. "Pray for me because I am struggling with something." Catholics have no chance of avoiding actually telling another person what the sin is. That is a good thing. Like Jesus with the blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10. He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He makes Bartimaeus specifically ask for sight. Why? Isn't it obvious he wants to see? Because something happens when we take an unspoken desire and we say it out loud to another person. The matter becomes more clear. We swallow our pride. We declare our faith in Jesus' ability to help us. He is God and we are begging for His forgiveness.

Then there is the matter of penance. I wish priests would take this more seriously. It has a lot of potential do a lot of spiritual good but it isn't realized because priests give such wimpy penances. When I go to confession I try and mention that I say the rosary often or that I do adoration regularly. Not to brag about how holy I am but to try and tip them off that they can give me a harder penance and it would be OK -even beneficial. It does not work. They give me a penance like 3 Hail Mary's or one Our Father. I believe in the idea of penance but I think it has to require a little more effort than that to be effective.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Single Mother Saints

Carl Olson points out a story about single mothers:

Within my lifetime, single parenthood has been transformed from shame to saintliness. In our society, perversely, we celebrate the unwed mother as a heroic figure, like a fireman or a police officer. During the last presidential election, much was made of Obama’s mother, who was a single parent. Movie stars and pop singers flaunt their daddy-less babies like fishing trophies.

None of this is lost on my students. In today’s urban high school, there is no shame or social ostracism when girls become pregnant. Other girls in school want to pat their stomachs. Their friends throw baby showers at which meager little gifts are given. After delivery, the girls return to school with baby pictures on their cell phones or slipped into their binders, which they eagerly share with me. Often they sit together in my classes, sharing insights into parenting, discussing the taste of Pedialite or the exhaustion that goes with the job. On my way home at night, I often see my students in the projects that surround our school, pushing their strollers or hanging out on their stoops instead of doing their homework.
It is an interesting observation. The theory is that the state is being too generous with single mothers and encouraging them too much and that is causing more people to become single mothers. Not sure how true that is. My hope is more girls are having their baby and not aborting because there are programs that allow them to do that. But do they decide to get pregnant because  certain programs are there to help unwed mothers. I doubt it. Teens are not typically know for doing a lot of cost/benefit analysis. I will sleep with you if the congress passes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. I have trouble seeing that.

Is there a general lessening of the taboo around premarital sex? Sure. But I do think it is possible to send both messages. Don't get into trouble and if you do we will help. The problem is the state sends the second message and really struggles with the first one. It is not rocket science. You treat teen sex just like drugs or smoking. That is you work hard to discourage the behavior. You make arguments. You publicize examples of people who engaged in teen sex and had bad consequences. The trouble is governments never do that. All they do is hand out contraceptives. Contraceptives always have the opposite effect. They always increase the pregnancy rate.

So it is great that these woman and their children are getting some help.Taking it away would be unchristian. But we need to look at why they are making the choices they are. Why do they see being a single mother as the best they can do? Most teenage girls see hope for marriage and/or career. Obviously these girls do not. The articles goes into some of the whys. Their homes were not good. It is a complicated problem. But just cutting off the support is not going to solve it.

They need love and truth and money. They are getting the money and that is great. What they need is love and truth and they will turn around. Just pointing at them and saying that proves the government should not help single mother is not the answer.

Science and Math

Interesting article in the Jerusalem Post reflecting on Obama's State of the Union:
Science and math. Science and math. President Barack Obama’s new mantra is science and math. If only America’s students focused on science and math, he told us in his State of the Union address, then we’ll be as innovative as China and will no longer have to farm out the building of wondrous handheld gadgets. The gods of science and math will make our economy blossom.

But missing from the president’s new, post-midterm vision for America is any mention of the rot in values that is causing our decline. The reason we don’t excel in education is not because our schools focus on philosophy and the humanities to the exclusion of science and math, but rather because we are becoming a pack of ignoramuses watching inane TV shows, following the lives of mostly decadent celebrities, and engaging in an endless orgy of consumption. Our problem is not that we read too much Nietzsche and too little astrophysics, but rather that our character is becoming corrupt.
He argues quite well that America's rise was not based on science and math but rather on "thrift, hard work, close-knit families, a pioneering spirit, a love of adventure, a rejection of indolence, faith-based ethics, a God-centric society, a belief in spreading freedom and democracy." These are things that have been in decline while America is in decline. To propose a solution that has no chance of restoring any of those elements is to miss the point. Trying to out-China China is bound to fail. Chesterton said America is the only country founded on a creed. Getting back to that creed would do amazing things. That is because that creed is loosely based on Christian thinking. The more Christian a nation is the more successful it will be in a wide variety of ways.

The big problem with focusing on science and math is you need to answer the why question. Why should I stay home from my college parties and study science and math? Because society needs more people to do that. OK, why should I care about society? What about the short term fun I am missing? If you work hard you can get a good job and maybe earn lots of money. That might make you happy. But I can get happy right now with sex and drugs and video games. How is the science and math happiness going to be better than that? 

Don't get me wrong. I love science and math. I studied pure math in college and graduate school. I ended up in the computer science field and I am so glad I did. But you need to describe to young people why developing your mind's potential to tackle hard problems will be more satisfying than the superficial pleasures young people have available to them. It is one of those things we know from our Christian heritage but we forgot why it is true so we have trouble passing it onto the next generation. 

So why is it true? We were created for a purpose. We will never find true happiness until we live out that purpose. If you are meant to be a teacher then nothing can compare to the joy teaching will bring you. Not a superficial happiness but a deep satisfaction that you are doing something pleasing to God. How do you get there? One important thing to do is connect with the creator. He knows better than anyone why He made you. But another thing that is very helpful is developing your talents. Your talents are big clues as to where God wants you to spend your life and the better developed they are the clearer it will be what you ought to do.

Can an atheist or a secular person arrive at a similar motivation? Many of them don't. The ones that do typically smuggle in some Christianity into their reasoning. There are some other motivations like being recognized by society as intelligent. That might be seen as a deeper joy. But you are talking about many years of work with no guarantee that society will adore you. In fact most look down on science geeks. Is it really enough? When you understand the idea of coming before your God at the end of your days and hearing Him say, "Well done good and faithful servant." That is something you would pay and price for. There is nothing in secular thinking that comes close.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Pope Benedict has a few times now compared environmental pollution to spiritual corruption in society. This is one example but there have been others. Commenting over at Mark Shea's blog it seems like this analogy can be carried quite far. What is interesting is that those on the left and the right argue opposite sides of these parallel issues. The left thinks moral corruption is something the right uses as a fear mongering issue. Christians have predicted dire consequences if this or that moral line is crossed. We have crossed them again and again and no disaster has befallen us. The right thinks environmental pollution is something the left uses as a fear mongering issue. Scientists have predicted dire consequences if this or that level of pollution is crossed. We have crossed them again and again and no disaster has befallen us.

Then both sides make an illogical leap. The left concludes that the moral climate of society can continue to degrade without limit and without consequence. The right concludes that pollution can continue to increase without limit and without consequence. Even if you accept the consequences thus far have been relatively minor it does not follow that a big consequence could not be right around the corner. If you smoke for 20 years and don't get cancer does that prove smoking will never give you cancer? Not at all. Even if somebody wrongly predicted you would get cancer does that means they are just a fool that can safely be ignored? No, they still might know something that you should listen to.

Beyond that, neither the left nor the right will concede that nothing serious has already gone wrong. What has happened is we have gotten used to pollution in our air and water and we have gotten used to spiritual pollution in our society. Now that does not make those things healthy. The truth is we don't know how much our spiritual and physical health is effected by the pollution we hardly even notice anymore. If we did know we might see that we have made some huge mistakes in the past. Politicians don't want to focus on old issues so they rarely bring up these mistakes. It does not mean the evidence is not all around us.

So why does the right use such lousy arguments when it comes to pollution and why does the left use such lousy arguments when it comes to morality? It comes down to sin. The sin of the right is greed. Environmentalists call for government regulation of business. That costs money. If there is one thing the right cares about more than God it is money.

The sin of the left is harder. It might be lust. Many of the issues involved are directly related to sex. But there is something deeper as well. There is an intellectual pride that refuses to accept a link between people's private lives and the health of society. Divorce, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, etc. Those things can be common and yet we can still have progress. In fact, we can call the fact that these things are common progress.

Now there is one way these issues are not parallel. That is in how serious they are. Spiritual pollution is worse than physical pollution. Not that there is any reason we should have to choose one or the other. Still if we did Jesus said, "“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Lk12:4-5).