Friday, September 30, 2011

1000 years

As a protestant you do a lot of thinking about the millennium. The period of 1000 years that is mentioned in Rev 20. There are many theories. What occurs to me in looking at church history is there is a 1000 year period where Satan did seem somewhat bound. That is roughly from the year 300 to the year 1300. Around 300 we have Christianity becoming legal and a long period of persecution ending. We see Christianity spread. We see many great thinkers deepen our understanding of the faith. Sure there are heresies that need to be dealt with but that is simply a symptom of serious theological reflection. Sure development is slow and many things go wrong but the church is basically on the rise. From Pope Leo the Great to Pope Gregory the Great to Charlemagne to Thomas Aquinas we can see good things happening. The kingdom of God is slowly unfolding.

Then we hit the 14th century. Why think Satan has suddenly become unleashed? For one thing you have the black death. Just the name sounds a little like Satan doesn't it? So many people dying. This included the best of the priests and bishops. The ones that were in close contract with the poor and sick were the ones to die. That left the church in the hands of those clergy who didn't really respond to the suffering of the people. In other words those who were not very Christ-like.

Then you have the attacks on the papacy. We have a series of weak popes who get involved in political games and lose. They lose in very publicly humiliating ways. You have the whole Avignon fiasco where the bishop of Rome moves out of Rome to try and please a secular king. You have the suppressing of the Templar order. The pope refusing to defend the falsely accused and instead punishing the innocent again because the french king wants it. It is especially difficult for English and German Catholics because the french king is their enemy. So how are they supposed to react to the spectacle of a pope humiliating himself to curry favor with their enemy? Still about 2 centuries before the reformation but seeds are being sown.

It gets worse. We see the college of cardinals meet behind the pope's back and elect an anti-pope. We had anti-popes before but never one that had the support of so many high ranking churchman. Then you have corruption. Sexual scandal and financial scandal. Intellectually you have William of Ockham, John Huss and John Wycliffe were sowing seed for the reformation in other ways. You get the feeling that the church is being attacked like never before.

The point is that after 1000 years we have a huge attack on the church on many fronts. It was like God was sheltering her until she grew strong enough to survive this kind of intense evil. Since then one could view most of history as sin becoming full grown. Attacking the church grows into leaving the church. Leaving the church allows a slow decay of the faith. Eventually you look around and discover you don't believe at all anymore.

But where sin abounds so grace abounds all the more. We see revivals. But the last 700 years does seem like a constant uphill battle. Certainly in my lifetime the church has been seen as losing ground. Somehow it never really gets lost though. Still from the Borgia popes to the reformation to the enlightenment to the sexual revolution the church always feels like she is under attack. For 1000 years you didn't need much faith to believe the gates of hell would not prevail. The church just looked so strong. For the last 700 it has more challenging. Rather than saying the church must be of God because it is so strong we end up arguing that the church must be of God because she seems so weak and yet never dies.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gay Bullying Suicides?

Now I have to be careful here. I want to be clear that nobody should be bullied or mocked. When Christians interact with gay people or same sex attracted people they need to be very careful to be charitable. It does not always happen. People treat gays bad. Sometimes they even do it in the name of God. We need to condemn that in the strongest possible terms.

But having said that I wonder how much of the problem is bullying and how much of the problem is guilt. Gays have a higher suicide rate even when they don't come out of the closet. They feel guilty and sometimes that guilt can lead to suicide. That does not mean the guilt is wrong. Think of Judas committing suicide. He was feeling guilty and the disciples might have even said some uncharitable things to him after he betrayed Jesus. But the root cause of his suicide was the wrongness of the act itself.

So now we are seeing all this media about gay teens committing suicide. It all jumps to conclusion that the suicide was the result of bullying and not the result of guilt flowing from the wrongness of the acts in question. How can we know that? Did these kids have to deal with some jerks. Sure. Maybe even more than the average kid. I was a geek in school so I know kids can be mean to straight kids. But these kids did not seem to be without support. They seemed to have support both in their school and in the online communities.

People claim that if only society embraced homosexuality then gay people would not feel guilt for what they do. The reality is society already does embrace it. Hollywood has to put a gay character on every show. Everything in the media is pro-gay. Schools are tripping over themselves to celebrate the greatness of homosexuality. Politicians line up to attend gay pride events. People say society is hostile to gays. I wonder where they live.

The other dynamic that can happen is that charitable people who are maintaining the immorality of homosexual acts can be wrongly labeled as bullying. That is often what happens when we sin. Those who make us feel the guilt of our sin more intensely make us get angry. Sometimes they say nothing directly about our sin but just the fact that we are reminded of the presence of holy people makes us feel condemned. But it is we who are judging ourselves. That is more likely to happen when we are trying to convince ourselves our sin is not actually sin. We feel guilty anyway and we look around for someone who must have made us feel guilty. It has to be someone else's fault because we assume there can be nothing intrinsically wrong with our actions.

So the Christians get the blame for gay people committing suicide. Why not? Jesus gets the blame for our sin. Why should the body of Christ not take the blame for the sins of the world? It is by the cross He redeems the world. Will innocent Christians be martyred over the gay bullying charge? Don't be surprised. But also don't be surprised if such a turn of events results in many same-sex attracted people coming to Christ.

But who wants to teach such unfashionable truth? Catholics have the advantage because they have access to the fullness of truth. We can teach the precise truth with confidence. Not getting wishy-washy about maybe it is wrong and maybe it isn't. Also not going to the other extreme and saying all same-sex attraction is evil. If Catholics boldly proclaim their faith and accept that society is going to get enraged with them then we will experience a cross and a resurrection. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (Jn 12:32).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Because That IsThe Way God Made You

I said in an earlier post:
What makes humans special is not their bodies. Human anatomy is not very different from other mammals.
Brent Stubbs disagreed with that statement. It surprised me. I thought it was obvious that humans are special because they are bodes and spirit together. But I guess the hman body is special in some ways. The first way I thought is the brain. We have better brains than most animals. There is something to be learned from that. We are to be thinkers. God did not give us such good minds so He can do our thinking for us.

There is more. We have actually been given a greater sex drive than most animals. By some measures we are the most sexual animal on the planet. I think about dogs. Female dogs come into season every 6 or 8 months. The rest of the time they are not interested in sex. Males dogs are also not interested when the female is not in heat. Humans are interested all the time. Men don't even care if a young woman is ovulating.

So why is that. It is easy to see why God gives us big brains. But why does God give us big sex drives? One reason might be that the wonders of science and philosophy and human imagination can be so compelling that we might lose interest in procreating if our sex drive was not strong. In fact that is what is happening. The break between sex and procreation has caused us to become unbalanced. We focus to much on our reason and not enough on the self sacrificial love that family life demands. We are becoming less human.

One of the other biological realities is that our children are helpless. That makes us humble knowing that we were once babies. It also makes procreation take decades. I know it is not a purely biological thing but we are wired to want to stay together as couples and we are wired to want to nurture and teach our children. Some animals have that but it is more extreme in humans.

Again it is easy to see where God is going. He loves family. He introduces Himself as Father. He allows most of to start life off in a community of unconditional love.

So I guess there is a lot about our bodies that tells us who God wants us to be. I did not really mean to deny that. But it is interesting to think about. Our bodies are designed to remind us that there is more to life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Abortion and Atheism

I talked about how atheists can be prolife and one can and often should frame prolife arguments in a way atheists and secular people can accept. But what about the other direction. Can being prochoice lead you to atheism? I can see that happening. Either a human person is created by God for a purpose or not. If you are making a choice or supporting a choice to end that life based on the common things abortion decisions are based on then you really have accepted that this child was not created by God and is not loved by God. It would make no sense. If you are worried about money or worried about how you friends and family will react or how it will effect you relationship with the child's father or any of the common reasons why women can't see themselves carrying a pregnancy to term then what are you saying? You are implicitly dismissing the suggestion that some bigger question is at play here. That God has created a human person with amazing potential and immense dignity. That God can make this person beautiful even from a less than ideal situation. So the fact that the money is tight right now and nobody is popping any champagne corks when they heard about the pregnancy is nothing compared to the fact that God has a long term plan for this child.

So if you want to have the abortion you are almost forced into a materialist world and life view. That is that what has happened is purely a series of biological processes and nothing more. There is no greater reality to consider. But if one human person is merely a bio-chemical phenomenon then we all are. If a mother's love for a child does not point to something deeper than brain chemistry then what does? The only logical place to go is to believe all of that is in our mind. That is atheism. That meaning and goodness and virtue are all just things we make up as humans and not things we sense of a deeper reality that is God.

I think the Catholic understanding of mortal sin makes a lot of sense here. Most of the time it is not that atheism is so appealing as a philosophical position. What is appealing is sin. Whether is it abortion or sexual sin or whatever sin you must embrace. Sin when it is fully grown leads to death. When you try and address the big questions of life and you have one serious sin you are not willing to let go of then that will make Christianity impossible. So holy living flows from faith but sin does not really flow from lack of faith. It mostly goes the other way. Sin comes first and destroys our faith.

This is why rational discussion about faith can become difficult. If someone is in the power of a mortal sin they will not be able to see the logic of the faith. So a simple prolife argument becomes impossible for them to accept. Logic is not enough. They need God's grace to break the power that the sin has over them.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Courage and Islam

Reading a bit about the life of Muhammad. It strikes me how few people know even the most surprising facts about him. That he married a 6 year old. That he was a leader of a gang of robbers. Attacking dessert caravans and stealing, murdering and raping. Then there was what happened to the Jews of Qurayza:
Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina. . . . Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. . . . There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. Every male who had reached puberty was killed. Muhammad divided the women, children, and property among his men (taking a fifth of the spoils for himself).
You wonder why Christians and secular society does not make these facts known. We believe in truth don't we? We don't want people making big life decisions like becoming a Muslim without knowing the relevant facts. So why don't we do our best to make sure these things are known? The short answer is we are cowards. We have gotten very good in the west at steering clear of those pesky doctrinal issues that can lead to arguments. So we have developed an etiquette around religion that you don't want to be negative about what someone else believes. There was a real problem. Many people were getting into very heated arguments and even wars over fairly minor doctrinal questions. There was a time in the west when all the major religions were Christian and all Christian groups were much more orthodox in terms of doctrine and morals. So it hardly seemed worth the trouble to risk hurt feelings over such matters.

There are many things wrong with such thinking but one problem is knowing where to draw the line. When does a problem with a world and life view become serious enough to point out? Once you accept little lies they tend to grow into big lies. You just start processing things different. Speaking the truth in love is no longer the focus. Avoiding conflict becomes the game. But you don't end up avoiding all fights. You just end up fighting over lesser things.

What strikes me about Muhammad is that he had this virtue of courage that our society is lacking. He believed some wrong things but he never backed down from them. It was not easy. People responded to someone who believed what he believed so strongly he was able to accept personal risk and sacrifice. That kind of moral courage impresses people, especially young men. Even today we wonder why young men are attracted to Islam. Sure they lack self control but at least they have some passion that needs controlling. Dead people have excellent self control but nobody wants to be dead. People who avoid talking about religion except in church are spiritually dead. Why would anyone be attracted by that?

So Islam is a threat as well as a hint. Give people something to believe in and they will respond. We could even have the courage to put Muhammad and Jesus side by side. Which is greater, the courage to kill or the courage to die? Muhammad fought for what he believed was good but he used the weapons of Satan. Jesus fought with total self-sacrificing love. Something Muhammad was unable to accept. Jesus always respected each person's right to choose for Him or against Him. Muhammad? No so much. Why don't you hear sermons like that? Because we might offend someone? That fear is far more offensive than a charitably presented truth could ever be.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Disregard for Truth

Interesting talk from the archbishop in Ghana.
Archbishop Nketsiah noted that people tended to care more for, and be concerned with their ethnic affiliation, political party affiliation and their social status more than they cared for the truth. He said people would go at length to tell lies to defend their political parties and ethnic groups.

He said the increasing disregard for the truth posed great danger to churches, communities and the nation as a whole.

The Archbishop said if the truth was sacrificed, then nothing would stand
I think this is very useful to point out. In politics, in business, and even in religious discussion we see more games played with the truth all the time. People have come to expect it. They hardly bother pointing out when a politician is lying or when an advertisement is misleading. News organizations used to be terrified of printing a false story. Now they accept it as the cost of keeping up with instant news media. Even the outrage people feel when the other side lies about them is assumed to be feigned outrage. Really nobody is surprised.

Christians are supposed to stand out as signs of contradiction in this kind of mess. Do they? I can say that about some of them but not that many. Often they are politically at least as partisan as the average American. You don't hear them calling out their own party when lies are told. Often they want the most aggressive, negative, twist the truth campaigns. They work. People respond. So if we want to win that is what we have to do.

But what do you win? If you join in the rat-race even when you win you look in the mirror and notice you are a rat. You no longer have the power to change the world for Christ because you have left Christ. What is worse is society judges Jesus by you just because you are in the public eye.

Look at what George Bush did. He was an evangelical yet he ran against John McCain by spreading a rumor that McCain had father black children out of wedlock. How many Christians called him out for that and many other less than charitable and less than truthful tactics? I know the Republican elites would have been furious with Christians if they had gone public with concerns like that. It is hard to respect the truth. The reality is that it is not clear many Christians even had private concerns. They wanted to win as bad as anyone.

So when George Bush won was it a victory for Christ? Did abortion and gay marriage go into decline? Quite the opposite. Bush proceeded to associate Christianity with war, with lack of reason, and with hypocrisy. These associations existed before but having a poster child for all 3 sit in the white house for 8 years made things a lot worse.

I have to say I think Catholic bishops have done far better than most Christians in sticking to all of the truth regardless of whether their favorite political party is on the right side of that issue or not. They can defend the unborn one day and the immigrant worker the next. They can love what is natural when discussing environmental policy and also love what is natural when discussing marriage. They can win or lose a political race but they will not lose their integrity. I can't say that is true about all Catholic bishops and not true about protestant leaders but I have noticed a real difference.

So now we get to have another election. Will Christians win or lose? As corny as it sounds it is really true. It is not whether we win or lose. It is how we play the game. If we are willing to sacrifice short term political advantage for the sake of being true to our faith then we can change society. If we don't then society has changed us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Peace and Truth

Michael Hannon writes about Peace and Truth at First Things.
“Peace if possible, truth at all costs!” Thus heralded Martin Luther half a millennium ago, and let no man accuse him of failing to practice what he preached. Of course, whether or not a Christian agrees with Luther’s particular interpretation of truth will determine whether he is a Catholic or a Protestant. But less obviously and perhaps more interestingly, whether or not a modern American agrees with Luther’s principle—that despite the very real goodness of peace, truth trumps it each and every time—will in large part determine whether he is a conservative or a liberal.
The difference he sees is who values peace more and who values truth more. It is interesting but not quite accurate. Both liberals and conservatives value truth. That is just the way humans are wired. They cannot embrace something they believe is false or wrong. They can hold their nose and ignore things but they can't really fight for it. So everybody would agree with Luther's idea of truth at all costs. But the author himself qualifies it. Luther didn't fight for truth but for his "particular interpretation of truth." Hannon is looking for common ground between conservative Catholics and conservative protestants. He is suggesting the common ground is their love of truth. That is not it. The common ground is their certainty about truth. Conservative Catholics and conservative protestants are sure abortions, gay marriage, pornography, etc. are wrong.

Liberals are not so sure. In fact, liberals understand Martin Luther better. They get that he fought for "[my interpretation of] truth at all costs." They understand that everyone has an impulse to fight for what they think is right. They just are not sure who is right. They tend to believe the culture before they believe Christian tradition but they emphasize that  nobody really knows. Conservatives think they know but they believe that is just because they don't get out much.

The truth is conservatives Catholics know that they know. Conservative protestants don't understand that Luther was a liberal. That they are defending a liberalism from another time that has passed into conservatism now. To understand that would raise the question of why liberalism was good then and it is not good now. The answer is it was never good. But to say that is to reject Luther and every protestant after him. It is easier to just not look at your own history so closely. It is easier but not very credible. Liberals point out how arbitrary conservatives are in saying this or that truth is solid and unchanging when they accept a lot of innovations from contraception in the 20th century back to divorce in the 16th century.

So the deeper link between conservative protestants and conservative Catholics is the belief that God gave us some bedrock truths that we must not question but simply obey. Liberals would be more inclined to say nothing is certain and everything is ultimately opinion. The question they ask is why this or that truth is bedrock. Protestants have trouble. They explicitly deny infallibility. That is what they are being asked. Is the immorality of abortion dogma? Should the consciences of all Christians be bound by that truth? Should those who deny it be considered to have left the faith? If you can't say that about abortion or any other controversial Christian doctrine then what do you say to a modern day Luther who's interpretation of the truth is different? All you can say is I think I am right and he is wrong and this is why. But you can debate until you are blue in the face and you will only end up proving the liberal's point that we don't really know for sure who is right.

Catholics confess that their faith includes infallible revelation from God. That those who disagree with the central tenants are forced to admit they can't affirm the dogmas of the faith. That means they reject the revelation Jesus Christ gave to the world. That is a revelation that has not changed. So we can argue that God's truth is objectively knowable. People can accept or reject Catholicism but they cannot say it is arbitrary or inconsistent. It flows from the acceptance of Jesus as the Word of God made flesh.

So the difference between protestants and Catholics does not come from "whether or not a Christian agrees with Luther’s particular interpretation" but rather it comes from whether one agrees that Luther had a right to a particular interpretation. What binds conservatives together is their belief in dogma. A consistent position for Catholics. An inconsistent belief for protestants. What binds liberals together is the denial of dogma. This time the protestants are being consistent and the Catholics are being inconsistent.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Adam and Eve

John Ferrell writes about the problems that the belief in one couple, an Adam and Eve, as the ancestor of all humans creates in terms of genetic science. He particularly says Catholics are in a lot of trouble.
The Catholic Church indeed of all the Christian churches faces a particular quandary. The Council of Trent is quite explicit on the topic. Catholics are required to believe not only that Adam is the single father of the human race, but that Original Sin is passed on by physical generation from him to the entire human race. It’s not something symbolic or allegorical (although it is regarded as ultimately mysterious). The First Vatican Council reiterated the doctrine, as did Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis.
The claim is that this cannot be reconciled with what we know from genetics. He links an article
Unfortunately, the scientific evidence shows that Adam and Eve could not have existed, at least in the way they’re portrayed in the Bible.  Genetic data show no evidence of any human bottleneck as small as two people: there are simply too many different kinds of genes around for that to be true.  There may have been a couple of “bottlenecks” (reduced population sizes) in the history of our species, but the smallest one not involving recent colonization is a bottleneck of roughly 10,000-15,000 individuals that occurred between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago.  That’s as small a population as our ancestors had, and—note—it’s not two individuals.
I am not a scientist but this does not make sense to me. When we are talking about the origin of the human species how can we talk about the origin as 10,000 individuals? The theory is that we went from zero humans to 10,000 all at once? That seems a little problematic. Maybe science has not arrived at a final answer.

Now the idea that there are too many kinds of genes around makes sense. If that is the scientific problem then we as Catholics need to believe God did some sort of miracle to increase the genetic diversity of humanity. I have no problem believing that. I have often thought that God must have done something to avoid the problems that go with inbreeding because lots of inbreeding goes on in Genesis.

So it requires us to believe that the origin of man is a supernatural event. That God must have acted in ways outside if what we see in genetics today. But Catholics already believe in many miracles. Is this harder to accept then the virgin birth or the resurrection? I don't see it. Doing a natural analysis of a supernatural event has limited value. You can never prove a miracle impossible. Miracles are impossible or close to it. That is why we call them miracles.

What makes humans special is not their bodies. Human anatomy is not very different from other mammals. So God could have used an existing primate and breathed a soul into him. That could have been His clay that is referenced in Gen 2. Could He have breathed a soul into the offspring of Adam and Eve even when they conceived with a non-human primate? I don't see that speculation as being outside Catholic orthodoxy. God does a miracle every time a new human life is conceived. An eternal soul is created. A human person that has been stained by the original sin of Adam.

The big advantage the Catholic church has here is that it does not need to guard the integrity of scripture. The notion that not taking one part of the bible literally will open the doors to interpreting every miracle as figurative. The church can define what interpretations are legitimate. So when Tim Keller says something like :
[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority.
Catholicism does not have that problem. We don't think the bible is an authority.  It is a revelation. We have a living authority. So it creates a problem for the protestant understanding of the biblical authority.