Friday, April 29, 2011

Evolution and the Truth Project

Evangelicals know that Christianity is suffering from a crisis of truth. There are fewer and fewer doctrines that don't have major dissenters. There are more and more churches and opinion leaders that are questioning long standing Christian teachings. It makes many people conclude that Christians don't really have a solid grasp on truth. Practically it means they cannot put Christianity at the center of their life. They become functional atheists because religious truth is just not solid enough to order you life around.

What is needed is authority. People sense that. But theologically there is no person or group that has the authority to speak for God. Everyone has authority so nobody does. The way evangelicals fill this vacuum is by doing a lot of table pounding. They use strong presentations and hope people forget they don't have a theological foundation for making the declarations they are making.

This is where we are at with Focus on the Family and the Truth Project. They are using there strong reputation to present certain basic doctrines. Essentially they are trying to solve the crisis of truth by defining dogma as best they can. They would not accept that characterization but you can't solve a crisis of truth with a wishy-washy presentation. You need to convince people that this much is solid. This is not just one more human opinion but it is something from God.

There is a lot to like in the presentation. Evangelicals are very good at presenting the gospel in a convincing way. When they get it right you just want to stand up and cheer. But they don't always get it right. This is why infallibility and authority go together. When Christians speak with authority they need to get God right or they do serious damage to the cause of Christ. It is not a small matter to put your words in God's mouth. It is hard to avoid. That is why God gives priests, bishops, and popes a special grace because it is not that easy to avoid mixing your opinion in with God's word and ending up being a false prophet.

The truth project makes it's most major error when it talks about evolution. By doing that they jump into the area of science. You really don't want to go there. Scientific theories should be accepted or rejected based on how well they predict experimental results. That is all. Saying a scientific theory should be rejected because it does not fit a particular world and life view means every religious view might require it's own science. That is silly. The physical world is what it is. Theories about it can be tested. If they can't then they are not scientific theories. Intelligent design is like that. Saying the world is designed by God tells us nothing about what we will find when we examine our next fossil.

What needs to be pointed out is the possibility that the human body might have come from animals does not contradict the notion that the human person is made in the image of God. That both identities can be true. One is a scientific question that religion really has nothing to say about how it should be answered. The other is a religious question that science cannot hope to address because it does not involve a physical reality. That avoids pitting science against religion. It avoids suggesting some grand conspiracy among scientists to falsify results because they don't like Christianity.

When you go that direction you end up being the one who can be both faithful and reasonable. You don't desperately try and deny the science. You simply point out where scientists have over-interpreted their data. Evolution does not prove there is no God or that we are here by accident. It explains some things well but leaves much unanswered. Certainly the question of the ultimate cause of  and the ultimate reason for our existence is not answered.

If you condemn a widely accepted scientific theory as heresy then you had better be right. I don't think they are right. So what happens to the credibility of the truth project? This is the problem when you divorce infallibility from authority. You end up with a distorted view of Christianity. A view that should be rejected because it is falsifiable. It justifies people picking and choosing which elements of Christianity they are going to accept. So have you dealt with the crisis of truth? Not really.

The only way to make Christian truth claims credible is to have one faith and to define that faith in a way that is not falsifiable. So we can have a rock solid foundation to base our lives on. Did God give us that? He did. It is based on papacy. The rock of Peter that Jesus promised to build His church on. We don't think we need that grace. We certainly don't want to face the errors we have come to embrace by following our favorite teacher. Evolution is one area where the popes have been more liberal and accepted new ideas. In most areas they have been more conservative. Something to offend everyone. But it is the only way out of the crisis of truth.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fr Barron and Hell

I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to hear Fr Barron make these comments on hell. I love Fr Barron and I hate to disagree with him. I am just astonished to see him embrace von Balthasar's error on hell. Anyway, here he is.

Von Balthasar writes that we may reasonable hope hell is empty and still accept all the teaching of scripture, tradition, and the magisterium. It is not a logical argument. It is what is known as a rationalization for sin. The particular sin involved here is the vice of presumption. Presuming that you are going to heaven. The difference here is von Balthasar somehow manages to spin his rhetoric in a way that confuses many philosophers and theologians. People that are normally pretty good at seeing through this kind of thing. They seem to have a blind spot around future conditionals. I have seen this before in one logic class I took. Philosophers got fooled when arguments tried to hide a logical inconsistency behind a future uncertainty. The mathematicians in the same class did not have that problem. None of them found the argument convincing at all. I am trained in math and not in philosophy so I can't really understand what they see in an argument like this. I just know logic. This isn't it. It is a contradiction that he is trying to hide with some hand waving.

It is important to make some distinctions. We should hope that everyone goes to heaven. It is a terrible lack of charity to hope someone goes to hell. But that is different than hoping hell is empty. It is like a major league baseball player. He hopes his team wins 162 games. That is that every time he goes out on the field he hopes to win. You would wonder about him if he didn't. But that isn't the same thing as hoping to finish the season 162-0. He knows he will win some and lose some but his approach to every game is to win. Same with souls. We approach every soul as savable. So we sow seed. But we know not all seed will grow and bear fruit.

The problem here is the changing of the story of salvation. Salvation happens against a backdrop of people headed for destruction. Think of the story of Noah and the ark. How does the story change if nobody is drowned in the flood? It is completely different. Humanity is no longer saved by Noah's obedience. It becomes a story of God injecting goodness into every person so just follow your heart.

St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine see our salvation the same way. We live among the mass of the damned. We have the hope of salvation only through being set apart from the normal flow of society. Fr Barron dismisses this as dark. But calling something dark is not a logical objection. It is a feeling. Dark ideas are not always false ideas. Death is very dark and very real. St Thomas and St Augustine would gladly agree that such a truth was dark. Darkness is a red herring. Is it true? What does God's revelation say? Not what do my emotions tell me?

So why do people embrace this idea? It is not that they doubt men can sin bad enough. Even though it boils down to saying mortal sin exists but nobody has ever or will ever commit one. People know from history men are capable of great evil. If they are honest people know from their own hearts that evil is not far away. Nobody really has a hard time believing that even though it is a very dark truth.

So what drives it? The idea that God should conform to the simplest notion of niceness. But the problem of hell is only one example of that. You still have many things that undeniably exist that offend God and offend us. The earthquake in Japan is just one recent example. Why does God allow that? It is precisely the same question. So you have not really removed an obstacle to the faith. God still allows things we can't fully explain.

In fact, the teaching that people might go to hell will be hard even if you allow the hope that hell might be empty. You get the worst of both worlds. You have to explain the serious possibility of hell and you also have to explain the possibility that God might teach us about hell and not actually send anyone there. That Jesus would describe the final judgement as separating the sheep from the goats and even describe what he would say to the goat-like ones and what they would reply while knowing that group will be empty. God's revelation turns out to be full of lies if hell is empty. That seems like a much bigger obstacle to the faith.

Give the fact that there are billions of people on the earth, just raising the specter that none of them will be in hell implies that the chance that I will go to hell is so small as to not be worth thinking about. That is a dangerous teaching. It leads to doctrinal indifference, moral laxity, evangelical inaction, etc.

The truth is the more seriously people take the doctrine of hell the less people go there. Jesus tells us in Mat 10:28, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell". Jesus pits temporal fears against eternal fears. If we fear losing our soul then we will not fear losing our life or fear missing out on worldly pleasures or fear failure or whatever. History bears this out. When the doctrine of hell was widely preached widely believed then people tended to avoid mortal sin. When the doctrine of hell was ignored and/or questioned like it today then mortal sin becomes much more common.

So trying to fix the gospel of Christ by changing the doctrine of hell has not worked. It makes God a father who threatens children with punishment that he is not prepared to carry out. As a dad I know that is easy to do but it is not being a good father. Children see through empty threats and lose respect for you. You need to say exactly what you will do and if their behavior does not change then you do it. That is the kind of father I try to be and it is the kind of father God is. We need to take His word very seriously. If we are considering doing something the church calls gravely evil we need to believe it could cost us our eternal soul.

The best answer to the problem of pain is the Catholic doctrine that suffering can be salvific. But how can anything we do be salvific if God is not really sending anybody to hell anyway? Why should Paul try and be all things to all people so some may be saved? Does not this make all of human life meaningless? Temporal consequences of our actions fade in to insignificance in the context of eternity. If nothing we do has eternal consequences either for ourselves or anyone else then what are we doing here?

Von Balthasar's ideas have an emotional appeal and they have not yet been formally condemned as heresy by the church. But there are just so many problems trying to make if fit with the rest of Catholic teaching. Truth cannot contradict reason. So we can't look to him for easy answers to the hard questions of hell.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Back Again

I have returned from my lenten break. I am going to try and blog a little differently than I have been. I think I have been producing too many posts. Not only does that take too much time but it dilutes the valuable content that is contained in them. I need to edit more. Not sure how that is going to work but not just posting whatever ideas jump into my head is a start. I need to reflect more and write less and hopefully end up writing better. We will see how that works. I thought about limiting myself to one post a week. Not sure if that is a good rule but I need something. Blogging can grow and take too much of my time. So I need some guide. Is is a sideline and not my primary calling.