Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Today we look as the Magi? They were quite interesting characters. Astrologers and astronomers, keepers of ancient wisdom and dabblers in black arts. They Jews saw them as evil because they did many things condemned by the Old Testament, fortune telling, communicating with the dead, magic potions, etc. Yet they might have been influenced by Jews that were exiled to Babylon. Not all of them came back. The Magi were capable of passing on ideas through  the centuries and were known to borrow knowledge from a wide variety of sources. So the idea of a Messiah might have been on their radar.

God gives them the most dramatic, supernatural sign yet. He sends a star. He is speaking their language. They knew stars well. It would not have had to be that bright to get their attention. Yet God sent them something. There is lots of speculation about what that might have been. Fun stuff.

The important thing is they responded. They packed up their stuff and crossed a dessert into Roman territory. Lots of risks. They discern a call of God and obey it. Echoes of Abram's journey in Gen 12. They go.

The gifts have received a lot of attention as well.  Gold, frankincense, and myrrh correspond roughly to the 3 vows of religious life of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Gold obviously goes with poverty. The idea of offering God our money and our possession. Frankincense corresponds with obedience. Incense is something we worship with. Obedience is how we live out that worship. Myrrh is a bit more of a stretch but it is a burial perfume. It is associated with death. It is offering our life to God. Celibacy is connected with that. It is offering a key part of your life to God. There is the notion of missing out on some of physical pleasure associated with being young and alive fro the sake of a higher good. So it is a martyrdom of a sort.

The Magi have been analyzed a lot considering how little mention they get in the bible. King Herod is the opposite. We like to forget him. Many Christmas pageants omit him. The almost never mention the massacre of the Holy Innocents. But Herod and the Magi shed light on each other. The Magi show faith and a willingness to embrace the kingship of Christ. Herod shows belief and a determination to resist it.

Herod does not ignore Jesus. He does not assume the Magi are just stupid. He is aware of the Messianic prophecies. He basically assumes they are legit. Think about that. He believes God predicted centuries earlier that a child would be born in Bethlehem. He believes that same God put a star in the sky and led these Magi to Judea. Yet he responds not by bowing down to this God but by fighting him. If God is really that big then what makes him think he can win such a fight? Pride. Really an irrational reaction.

Yet how often don't we play that game? How often do we look at God and His call on our lives and play it halfway? We don't dismiss God as a myth but we don't fully worship Him either. We try and manipulate Him. If we think about who God is and who we are that is pretty stupid. Yet we do it. At least I do.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Holy Family

We are now past Christmas and on to the feast of the Holy Family. We see Joseph again. He is acting as the head of his family. Moving them to Egypt and then back to Nazareth. It is good that he is a builder rather than a farmer or a fisherman. He has skills that will travel. Still traveling is not easy in the first century. Just having a dream and suddenly you are on the road again.

Even though Mary is sinless it is Joseph that is given the dreams. Take the child and His mother. He acts as the head of the family. Mary plays the submissive wife. We get that in the first reading. Col 3:18-21:
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas Story

Someone was discussing the greatest Christmas movie ever. Movies like Gremlins and Die Hard were being mentioned. Of course there are a zillion adaptions of Santa and Scrooge. I wondered why none of them told about or even referenced the birth of Jesus. Sure there is The Nativity Story but that is the exception that proves the rule. It is the only movie Hollywood has ever made of the nativity story. That is a story almost everyone knows yet the movie industry basically ignored it until 2006. Why is that?

One problem is the Christmas story is supernatural at every turn. Modern man does not like the supernatural yet every scene in the Christmas story has it. Angels are all over the place. An impossible birth of John the Baptist to an elderly woman and then an even more impossible birth of Jesus to a virgin. Then there is a star in the East and people being warned in dreams. Simeon makes impossible predictions. It just goes on and on.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Proof

People want proof that God exists. It is not clear what would work. It would have to be something unexplainable in any other way. Not just that people would not know the explanation but they could not even imagine an explanation being discovered someday. Then you can question the data. Maybe it was a hoax. Maybe the witnesses were crazy or lying or something. Any proof would have to completely eliminate all these possibilities. Is there such a proof?

There really is only one proof for God and that is Jesus. Can He be explained another way? Not really. Could someone have made Him up? You can always say that. Knee-jerk skepticism is always an option. Still can this man be made up? Not if you really examine Him. Born into a Jewish tradition expecting a Messiah. Fits the prophecies but not the expectations of most Jews. A theme with Jesus that God does what He says but not what we expect despite the fact that we know what He said.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Godless Church

There is a new idea in church. Get rid of God.
It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.
Dozens of gatherings dubbed "atheist mega-churches" by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.
It is interesting to me because churches have been moving in this direction for a long time. They have been trying to reach people by meeting their wants and needs. They need community. They want an entertaining Sunday morning experience. They want practical advice about relationships. They need to be accepted and encouraged to better themselves. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want good moral lessons for their children

Monday, December 16, 2013


This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Am I Missing Something?

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus loves to give cryptic replies. He is asked a direct question and He gives and answer that seems non-responsive at first. The question is an important one. Are you the one? Are you the messiah? Are the one God has promised. John the Baptist should know, should he not? I mean he was the one who called Jesus, "The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." If that is what you say about Jesus then why would you look for anyone else? Yet he somehow gets confused. Jesus does not seem anything like what John or most Jews imagined the Messiah would be. He is walking around Galilee and collecting a few disciples and doing a few miracles and it is nice but it is disappointingly small. The Romans remain firmly in power. John knows this well because he is in King Herod's prison and will soon be executed. So he starts to wonder. Is is really Him? Am I missing something?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Obama and Pope Francis

Lots being written about Pope Francis by people on the political right. Adam Shaw from FOX News has a typical piece.
Pope Francis is undergoing a popularity surge comparable to the way Barack Obama was greeted by the world in 2008. And just as President Obama has been a disappointment for America, Pope Francis will prove a disaster for the Catholic Church.
This used to be typical of the left to compare popes to politicians. It is about the man. It is about the surge. It is not about the Holy Spirit leading the church. The comparison is always made to a person the audience is not going to like.

Does it ring true? The big difference is that Pope Francis is not young and inexperienced. He has been the head of  a large diocese for a long time. The other difference is Obama created his hope/change image while he was campaigning to become president. Pope Francis was already pope when he burst onto the scene. So he has no need to impress the public. He has no need to impress anyone but God.

Update: Turns out Mark Shea has written something on this same article.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Turn Or Burn

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John the Baptist preaches a typical protestant call to conversion. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. It  worked too. People were coming from miles around and and getting baptized. People say this is not a very Catholic thing to do. Nonsense. The church has a long tradition of powerful preachers. Many of them are saints.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Islam and History

Watched this video the other day. It was quite surprising. He makes a case that some major changes occurred to the Muslim religion around the year 691. I had always thought the evidence that Mohammad wrote the Koran was quite good and that the truth of the Muslim faith rested on whether his story about how he got those doctrines was accurate. He points out that Abd al-Malik played a central role as well. That in some ways he might be considered the founder of Islam.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Begin With The End In Mind

The first Sunday of the year the church gives us the gospel that focuses on the seconding coming of Jesus. Obviously advent is about looking forward to the first coming of Jesus at Christmas. Really looking to welcome Jesus into our lives in a new way. Still whenever and however Jesus comes into human experience there are going to be some things that we should expect.

Blog Thoughts

I have been wondering what to do with this blog. I started it just to get down some of the many things going on in my head related to my conversion. That lasted quite a while but tailed off after a few years. Later I started writing mostly arguments. I like arguing online. You can have much more intelligent arguments if you try. It is a medium that requires at least some reflection before responding and that helps a lot. The problem was that often nobody would come to argue with me. A few time it happened. Mostly atheists would come. Protestants are not typically looking to fight their corner against the best of Catholicism. Atheists are. Many atheists still believe they can defeat the arguments of the best Catholics. So you get them challenging Cardinals to debate. Some have come by here.

What ends up happening though is the debate moves to other blogs. That is fine. I am happy to find a debate that I can add to by presenting the Catholic arguments. There is a glut of ex-protestants, many of them ex-pastors, so those arguments are often already being handled very well. So I end up interacting with atheists and that is fine. I don't understand atheism as well as protestantism but it works good.

Still that leaves the question of what to do with this blog. I wonder about just stopping. I hate to do that. It has become a vehicle for self-expression that I don't really want to give up. I do want to get past arguments. They are a good way to clarify your thinking but they make it hard to be charitable. Catholicism is not defined against anything. It is simply being part of the family of God. When we try and live as a family we don't do it over against another family. We see other families and sometimes decide whether or not to use some of their ideas but we don't depend on anyone outside ourselves for our identity.

So I would like to try and blog in a way that does not have other groups in mind. They still might come up on occasion. I still want to speak the truth in love. But the center should just be the Catholic faith. My initial thought was to try and blog the Sunday gospel. This Sunday is the beginning of a new liturgical year. So it might be a good time to start something new. It can give me something to write about. See how long it lasts.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Where Atheism Is Going

One of the questions Christians sometimes ask atheists is, "How can you believe that after you die you just cease to exist?" Atheists are ready for that one. It is a hard question especially for those who have had someone close to them die. Still atheists argue that it is better the face hard truth than to order your life around some future eternity that seems mostly based on wishful thinking. As atheism develops the question is changing. The question is no longer about whether we believe we will exist after we die. It is becoming a question of whether we believe we exist right now. That seems strange and most atheists have not arrived there yet but that is where the logic of atheism ends up.

What does it mean to be a person? Traditionally the answer has been that you have intellect, emotion, and will. A computer can do lots of things a person does but at its core it is just a machine following instructions. It cannot have an idea. It cannot feel love. It cannot decide to do this rather than that. It has to execute the instructions according to its program. That is all it can do. A computer can seem to have intellect, emotion and will but it is an illusion. The inputs completely determine the outputs. It does not add or subtract anything.

Scientific materialism is suggesting this is also true of human beings. That is we are nothing but complex machines. Everything we do and say and even think is completely determined by out inputs. Once we understand our genetics and our environment and how all those factors impact brain chemistry then we can completely determine all our thoughts, words and actions. So if you buy your wife some flowers it would not make any sense for her to thank you. You had to buy them given your physical makeup and the situation you are in. Your choice may have been based on something you call love but that is just a cute name for a set of chemical reactions that is not that different from any other set of chemicals. She might want to thank the cheeseburger you had for lunch. That could have impacted your brain and made a difference as to what choices you landed on. The cheeseburger can do that because it has a material impact. You can't do it because you don't actually exist. You never act. You only react. But you don't even control how you react. You are like driftwood and not like a fish.

There are two ways people can go with this. They can continue to assume atheism is true and they just have to accept the truth no matter how bad it is. It will get very bad indeed. There will be a lot of denial. Atheists will see no reason why all the good things like human rights and personal responsibility that flow from the Christian understanding of the human person won't just continue to be respected when that is replaced by a radically different understanding of what a human being is. It seems reasonable to them so why would it not seem reasonable to everyone forevermore? Because there is such a thing as evil.

The other way people can go is to question the plausibility of atheism based on this new information. That is hard to do. When people immerse themselves in a certain way of thinking they stop even realizing there are other ways to think. That is why it is important to continue to hold out Christianity as a light in an ever darkening secular reality.

Still are not the reasons for becoming atheist just as valid as before? Are we not just suggesting turning away from an unpleasant truth just because it is unpleasant? Don't we have to face reality as it is? Yes and no. There is something inherently implausible in the atheist account of things. Human beings just are a lot more interesting and beautiful then they should be if atheism was true. We have a sense of who we are. It is not irrational to trust that sense. 

You already hear that in stories. Like Jen Fulwiler saying her love for her newborn baby must be more than just one bag of chemicals being influenced by another. Like Leah Libresco saying moral goodness can't be just a purely human phenomenon that can be changed arbitrarily by humans. Like Bryan Cross saying that his son's death must have meaning even though he can't see any. These are rational minds simply refusing to go where atheism is leading them. Not because they want to wish away the facts but because they just don't believe the truncated version of the human person that atheism entails is the truth.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Question About The Priesthood

Maybe it is just a fluke but lately whenever the subject of the priesthood comes up the same question is raised. Why does a person have to have a penis to be a priest? It is always phrased in that way. That strikes me as odd because it is a pretty crude way to say it and often the people involved don't typically use crude language. It is like there is someone publishing feminist talking points somewhere and everyone is just asking the same question in the same way.

The phrasing does point to an assumption. There is a focus on the physical difference between men and women. Like that is all there is. If you want to understand what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman all you have to do is study male and female genitals. What more could there be?

On the other hand the formation of the question is valid. A man that has been castrated can't be ordained a priest. So in some sense a penis is required. That rule goes all the way back to the levitical priesthood established by Moses.

To answer the question you need to understand that priests need to impregnate us. That God 's presence in the Eucharist and God's presence in His word is supposed to do to us what a man's seed does to a fertile woman. That is that God's gift of Himself combines with her gift of herself and becomes a new creation. That is what we do. We don't just let God do His thing with us. We give ourselves so God's thing is also our thing. Yet it is not completely ours. It has a life of its own.

Then we take that gift into out most intimate space and nurture it without anybody noticing. We allow it to grow deep in our hearts through prayer and contemplation. Eventually it grows. We start to recognize it. It is a piece or art. It is a book. It is a ministry you want to get involved in. It is a relationship you need to take in a new direction. It is whatever God intends to give birth to through you.

If you understand this idea that we are to be sacramentally impregnated by our priests then it makes more sense why a priest needs a penis. Yes, God could set things up so that a female could become a priest and spiritually impregnate us. There would not be any physical problem with that. Yet God chooses to line up the physical world with the spiritual world. It gives us a better chance of getting the spiritual stuff right.

Does this imply that women are somehow less than men? Not at all. Thinks about what this means. Most of us celebrate the Eucharist not as the priest but as the communicant. That means we take the female role in this impregnating spiritual dynamic. So it seems women have an advantage here. They can embrace this more naturally because it follows the female side of sex, pregnancy, and mother hood. It is the men that are going to have to make an adjustment.

Peter Kreeft puts it this was:
In the very act of self-surrender to God there is joy. Not just later, as a consequence, but right then. It is exactly like a woman's voluntary sexual surrender to a man. The mystics often say all souls are female to God; that's one reason why God is always symbolized as male. Of course it's only a symbol, but it's a true symbol, a symbol of something true.

Friday, November 8, 2013


When we talk about the New Evangelization one problem we have is confusion about what the word evangelism means. We have an idea that comes from interacting with protestants. That is the notion that evangelism means pushing people to accept you faith. Many protestants think of it as getting people saved. They believe that Christianity revolves around a single moment of conversion when you saw the light and accepted Jesus into your heart and were saved. So evangelism to them is the act of getting people to that moment. Use whatever tricks you can to make them walk the aisle and say the prayer.

Catholicism has a very different idea of salvation. People can be moved closer to God no matter where they are. You never really know where people are. You can evangelize a priest by telling him a story of God's grace in your life. You might have just prevented that priest from falling into mortal sin. You don't know. That is why the parable of the sower in Mat 13 is so good. Just sow seed. Drop little bundles of grace on anyone and everyone you meet. You need to become unafraid of connecting things with your faith. Find a way of giving God credit for the good things you do. Find a language that works. It has to fit who you are and it has to fit what we believe as Catholics as well.

Spreading seed is one model for evangelism. Another model for evangelism is in the story of Zacchaeus in this weeks gospel from Luke 19. Jesus sees Zacchaeus and invites Himself to his house. That is quite a bold move to make with a total stranger. Can we get that bold? We should not do that with everyone. That would be strange. Yet are we open to God calling us to make a bold evangelical move? Catholic spirituality does not all revolve around one moment of conversion but conversions still matter. We can actually have many in our journey with God. Often God uses someone to make it happen just like Jesus made Zacchaeus' conversion happen. Can He use us? Is there any situation where you would actually challenge someone to make a life changing decision for Christ?

The big thing is honesty. Sharing faith is just part of love. Love involves revealing yourself. Your faith is part of yourself. Faith should be totally integrated  into all areas of your life. If faith is just one thing I do unrelated to the rest of my life then the occasion of faith sharing is never going to come up naturally. If everything I do is informed by faith then sharing that is just giving God credit where he deserves it. It is not injecting religion artificially into something because I have a duty to evangelize.

Really honesty is the key. We tend to want to fix our faith life before we share it. Don't do that. Life is messy. Share all the doubts, all the confusion, all the pain, etc. Don't make it seem like happy, happy, joy, joy. It is OK to struggle and it is OK to talk about your struggles.

Often you end up sharing some of the most embarrassing incidents in your life. Those tend to be the times when you experience God's presence most clearly. Learning to tell those stories can be quite powerful. It does not have to be something to rival St Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. It just has to be something that built your faith. People who care about you will care about your story if you tell it honestly.

The other thing that helps is learning to answer some very basic questions.  You don't need to be an expert in theology but you do need to not get completely flustered when common questions are asked. Learn a little and it seem to many like you know a lot. Unfortunately there is a lot of truth to the Catholic stereotype that when you bring up religion they panic and change the subject. If you just stop doing that it will be a big step forward.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints Day

One thing we hear a lot these days is we are all called to be saints. Pope Francis said it again today. I heard it at mass today. But we still don't seem to get it. People go through life with a sense that there are really holy people, really bad people, and then there is the majority of us in the middle. Yet that is precisely the view of the world being rejected. There are not three groups of people There are two. There are two destinations, heaven and hell. Purgatory exists but it is not a destination. Nobody spends eternity there. So the news of All Saints Day should rock your world. There is not majority in the mushy middle. There are just saints, who enter heaven, and the rest, who can never enter heaven.

This is good news and it is bad news. The good news is we can be holy. We don't have to look at the great saints of the church and tell ourselves I will never be like that. You can be. That is precisely what being Catholic is all about. It is not about punching a ticket and hopefully you get in. It is about being changed in the most amazing and profound way. That means you get to have a heart filled with love for everyone. It means you get to connect with God in a way that gives you profound peace. It means joy that goes deeper than any sorrow. It means you can be righteous, not a pious facade but authentic righteousness.

The bad news is not everyone is taking this trip. Why not? Partly because we have not told them how important it is and how awesome it is. So we need to do that. Not by being preachy but by being real. Still we need to be clear. The mushy middle is an illusion. It does not exist. You are either a saint or you are not.

The thing is God can't stop loving you. No matter how indifferent or even rebellious you are He keeps on loving you the way only God can. The love He showed on the cross is always there. Now if you refuse to cooperate. If you want to do your own thing. If you just have no interest in being in a love relationship with God. That will keep you out of heaven because heaven is a place where nothing impure can enter and you will not be pure. But it is worse than that. You see, God keeps loving you. Yet He stops bugging you. He stops constantly calling you to a love relationship. He stops pouring grace into you life in hopes that you will turn around and embrace Him. But He oes not stop loving you. He can't. God is love.

What is more is you continue to be made for love. So you have this love that is there and this sense deep down inside that you were made for that love. Yet you can't get there. You can't get over yourself and embrace God. You are too wrapped up in your own little addictions and ideologies and whatever else. It can't happen.

That is why the same love that bring joy to the saint and salvation to the sinner brings torment to those in hell. God does not go out of His way to punish those in hell. He just continues to be what He is. He continues to love.

So embrace that love while you can. It is offered for a finite time. We choose what we choose. We can impact the choice other make as well. It is ultimately the only thing that matters in life. We can play a part in the salvation of souls, including our own. The flip side is if we fail to play that part that can have eternal consequences as well.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Communicating Sin

One of the hardest parts of Christianity for modern people to grasp is the notion of sin. We think we are pretty good. We have been trained not to feel guilty for anything. Self esteem is important and if you just believe in yourself you can accomplish a lot. It is true to a point. The trouble is that then people just don't understand why we need a savior. Why Jesus would die on the cross. Why God would have the concept of hell. Why grace is really amazing.

I wonder if the parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15 makes sense here. It is often seen as the picture of grace but it gives us a picture of sin as well. I am thinking of the two kinds of sin exhibited by the two sons. The sin of rebellion which we can see plainly. Of course, the rebellious son could not see it until he came to his senses but it is kind of obvious.

Then there is the other son. He is the good kid. Yet he says he served his father like a slave. He resents his father for not rewarding his good behavior and being too forgiving to his brother. He is the one who does not see himself as a sinner. He has done good but not on the same level as the father.

It is that kind of guy that can have a problem grasping sin. He has never been bad enough to feel that sin is a big problem. So accepting that radical solution that Christianity offers to sin seems a little much. The smallness of the problem is part of the problem. That is a small vision of life. Play by the rules. Don't question the rules but don't really embrace the rule-maker either. You make peace with God but you don't love God with everything you have.

That peace is based on some sort of micro-rebellion. God keeps drawing us closer and closer. The only way to not end up deeply in love with Him is to push Him away at some point. For the older son that point was being asked to forgive his brother. That was too much. But pushing God away at any point is a problem. In fact, it is the only real problem we have. If we stay with God what seems like a problem ends up being an adventure. We get hurt. We look stupid. No problem. We learn. We heal. We fall deeper in love with God. But if we push God away. If we say this is too much. If we would rather lose God than follow Him down this path. Then we have a problem.

That is the essence of sin. It is not so much the size of the rebellion. Adam and Eve rebelled over a piece of fruit. It is the lack of trust. Saying to God, "My life would be better if I did something other than Your will."

So we can see how every sin will separate us from God. A lack of trust can never really be a small matter. It will make the kind of love relationship God wants to have with us impossible.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Less Sex And Worse Sex

Greg Popcak did a post a while ago now analyzing a study of the hookup culture. His point was that the media missed the point. They summarized the study as finding that hookups are all hype and nothing has changed. That is because they focused on how often college kids were having sex and with how many partners. It turns out that has actually gone down a bit. But Popcak is still concerned:
So, as I said, young people are having, more or less, about as much premarital sex as ever.  But that’s not really what the hookup culture is about.  The hookup culture isn’t just about the amount of sex people have and the number of people having it.  It is about the kind of sex people have and the attitudes toward sex people hold.   And  this where I think the Univ. of Portland study really does support concerns about the hook-up culture.  The second part of the study shows that young adults are more likely than their older counterparts to have casual sex with strangers or friends and see casual hookups or “friends with benefits” as a substitute for marriage instead of a potential path to marriage as previous generations at least tacitly did.
Then I saw something else on sex in Japan. That is another sexually permissive culture. What has happened there? Sexual activity has gone way down. Why? There are a bunch of theories. The bottom line is marriage and children have become unattractive options, especially for women. It takes time for that to sink in but once it does then a lot of young people just stop dating.
I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. "A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up."
There is this notion that if religion would just get out of the way then everyone would have tons of sex and life would be great.  Yet we see two counterexamples here. Permissiveness leads not to more sex but rather to worse sex in one case and to what is called the "celibacy syndrome" in the other case.

What Japan tells us is that Dr Popcak's concern is well founded. When marriage is removed as the goal of sexual relationships then they ultimately become boring and people lose interest. People eventually see the emptiness. They learn what Catholicism says is actually true. There are two vocations, marriage and celibacy. There is no other kind of sex life humans can find peace in. If you throw away all the rules that help young people find marriage that won't lead them to happiness. It will simply mean a longer, more painful road to marriage or celibacy.

It is something that is hard to fix once it has broken down. In Japan they are very concerned that adult diapers are out-selling baby diapers. Yet the number of children born in 2012 was the lowest ever. So government wants to fix it but it just keeps getting worse. Decisions about marriage and children are made at a deep level and governments just don't impact people at that level very often. They need hope. Not sure where you get that other than religion.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is CS Lewis Infallible?

 Gerald McDermott over at First Things talks about Sola Scriptura and Nuda Scriptura. A bit of a similar distinction to Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura that Mathison asserted in a book a while back. That position was attacked extensively at Called To Communion a few years ago. Essentially saying there was no principled difference between the two. Can McDermott avoid the same problems?
A new battle is brewing over the future of Evangelical theology. Roger Olson, Evangelical theologian at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary, protests in a recent article that some Evangelicals (especially me in a recent article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) misunderstand “liberal theology.” We think, he says, that liberal theology “is a good label for any deviation from orthodoxy.” So we wrongly label, he says, “any deviation from or attempt to re-form orthodox Christian tradition as ‘liberal.’” Instead, he argues, liberal theology is that which makes modernity rather than Scripture its norm.
This is one of the problems. There is no firm ground in the evangelical theological world. Everything is relative with no fixed point of reference.  So it becomes a fight over terms. What is liberal? Who gets to say?
Yet there are troubling signs that Olson and his self-styled “post-conservative” Evangelicals approach Scripture and tradition in ways that are more modernist than orthodox. They refuse to let the Great Tradition (the Catholic-Protestant-Orthodox consensus which C.S. Lewis dubbed “mere Christianity”) ever trump an individual’s interpretation of Scripture. This is what can be called nuda scriptura—the idea that the Bible is self-interpreting, needing only the Christian individual to make sense of it. In contrast, Martin Luther’s sola scriptura used the great creeds to fight for the primacy of Scripture over late medieval tradition.
This is interesting. He is making CS Lewis into a point of orthodoxy. Why? From a rhetorical point of view it is because his audience will mostly accept it. But what is the theological  reason? Is there anything infallible about CS Lewis? No. He just takes us back to a time where there was agreement about many issues that no longer have agreement. CS Lewis expressed that agreement well. Yet does that mean what he expressed gets set in stone? In Catholic circles that could happen if he was the pope. When does it happen in protestant circles? I thought the answer was never but McDermott seems to want to make an exception.
Olson asserts that the Great Tradition has been wrong in the past, which just goes to show that all tradition is “always . . . in need of correction and reform.” Evangelicals should reject any appeal to “what has always been believed by Christians generally” because tradition by nature protects vested interests. The creeds are simply “man-made statements.” They all need to be re-examined for possible “revisioning of doctrine” based on a fresh reading of scripture. Nothing is sacrosanct, everything is on the table. Only the Bible is finally authoritative. But even that is too often mistaken for revelation itself, which in reality consists more of the “acts of God” in history than the words of the Bible. Post-conservatives tend to reject the idea that the actual words of the Bible are inspired, and often prefer to speak of “dynamic inspiration,” in which the biblical authors but not their words are inspired.

This is the point. Every liberal has the reformation as a precedent. If we can change the traditional teachings of Christianity once then we can do it again. The conservative evangelical has no reply. He cannot say the reformation was an error. He cannot offer a principled reason why this liberal idea is different. Yer he knows in his bones that it is so. Why? Because deep down inside he is Catholic. He knows certain truths are infallible. We must not question them. Yet he cannot express it in protestant terms.

J. Gresham Machen, author of the classic Christianity and Liberalism (1923), was a Great Tradition Evangelical who prized the early church creeds for their authoritative guidance of biblical interpretation. “According to the Christian conception,” he wrote, “a creed is not a mere expression of Christian experience, but on the contrary it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based.”
You can say nice things about creeds all say long. At the end of the day the liberal will only have one question. Are they fallible or infallible? A non-Catholic has to say fallible. Who is this Machen guy anyway? Just one more human opinion. One more guy I disagree with. Why should I lose sleep over that?
The post-conservative view of tradition and scripture, in which Scripture is self-interpreting (Olson’s view), raises new questions. If we can overrule tradition because of Scripture, but the words of Scripture are neither the Word of God nor inspired, then how do we decide which concepts behind the words are the Word? And who decides? If the biblical authors were culturally-conditioned, and the Great Tradition is culturally conditioned all the more, what prevents the post-conservative theologian from being just another culture-bound interpreter? Are we really free to say that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds never get a veto? Or the Chalcedonian consensus? Or that the development of the Trinitarian doctrines was only man-made and not guided by the Holy Spirit?
He is totally right in his instinct. But what made Chalcedon right? It was not a consensus. I mean there were a lot of Arians and Coptics at the time. It was a council based on the authority of the bishops and the pope. It was not based on consensus.

He then goes through a list of doctrines where modern evangelicals are disagreeing with what Lewis and Machen said or what he assumes Lewis and Machen would say. The problem is they don't have any authority. In his mind they have a lot of authority but they don't have objective authority that no evangelical can dismiss.
The lesson Evangelicals should learn from this new dust-up over evangelical theology and modernity is that sola scriptura is necessary but not sufficient for maintaining theological orthodoxy. Only a “single-source” view of scripture and tradition in which hermeneutical authority is given to the mutual interplay of Scripture and orthodox community—the method that the church practiced for most of Christian history—can protect evangelical theology from going the way of all flesh, to liberal Protestantism.
This is sounding more Catholic yet. Who are the orthodox community? Who were the orthodox community at the time of the reformation? What if God never let that orthodox community be led astray? What if, when they said something about the Eucharist or about the nature of the church they spoke truth? That would mean applying the position he has just stated consistently. If you did that you would end up Catholic.
Post-conservatives claim conservative Evangelicals elevate tradition—both evangelical tradition and early church tradition—above Scripture. But Great Tradition Evangelicals say they want to submit their individual interpretations of Scripture to those of the wider and longer orthodox church, and interpret Scripture by thinking with the Great Tradition.
They do and they don't. They want to think with a human tradition they call "the Great Tradition." They don't want to think with sacred tradition. That is the greatest tradition because it is not just a human tradition. It is from God. We are great at calling others to obey tradition when it lines up with our opinion. What about when it is us that has to submit our individual interpretation to that of the wider and longer orthodox church? If we take it all the way and submit ourselves totally to the widest and longest and most orthodox church then we will end up Catholic.

If you asked McDermott why he is not Catholic my guess is it because of one of those individual interpretations of Scripture that he is condemning here. He has the right principle but he does not dare push it past his comfort zone.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where Did The Eucharist Come From?

Where Did The Eucharist Come From? For Catholics this is an easy question. Jesus instituted it. He gave a discourse on it in John 6 at the passover prior to the one on which He died. Then on the night he was betrayed He took bread  and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” ...

But suppose you are not accepting the New Testament as true. Suppose you are inclined to think of the Jesus story as a legend. That Jesus taught a few things and all the miracles and resurrection stuff was added later. Where would the teaching of the Eucharist fit into that? Did Jesus really say that bread and wine would be transformed into His body and blood and we should eat it? Isn't that a bit crazy? If He was doing miracles people would be slower to just say he has lost his marbles but this legendary Jesus does not do anything supernatural. He tells a few stories and talks about love a lot. Many of the things Jesus says might cause people to question His sanity. This would push almost anyone over the edge.

So maybe Jesus did not teach that. Maybe it came later and it was added in to this master forgery we know as the New Testament. But how does that happen? How does someone in the early church stand up and say, "Maybe the bread and wine actually become Jesus." Again the insanity of the teaching just makes such a notion implausible. Especially since the church did not have a central command for very long. Nobody had the clout to assert such a teaching and have it be accepted by the entire worldwide Christian community.

Then there is the problem of motivation. Why would anyone think it is in their best interests to push such a doctrine? You have to explain that the elements look and taste like bread and wine but they really are the body and blood of Jesus. Hellenistic society loved to question everything. This teaching raises many more questions than it gives answers. Among the Jews it is even worse. They had teachings that explicitly condemned drinking blood. Gnosticism was popular. That taught that the spiritual was important and the physical did not matter at all. Even if the doctrine did not fail the sanity test there would be no reason to be attracted to it.

So the Jesus as legend crowd has a bit of an issue. Nobody but Jesus is crazy enough or credible enough to be the source of this doctrine. Yet a legendary Jesus who taught such craziness and did not do miracles would not be someone people want to build a religion around.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes

The fable of the emperor's new clothes has never made any sense to me. Supposedly this guy has these new clothes that nobody cans see. Somehow because he is an emperor nobody dares tell him the clothes don't exist. I can't understand how that is in any way plausible to anyone. So much so that by the time we get to the climax the story is too detached from any possible reality to have anything to say about anything.

Yet somehow modern culture loves this story. Why? Modern thinkers are like little children. They inherit a great western intellectual tradition. Yet they love to thumb their nose at centuries of serious scholarship without even trying to understand it. Saying, "The emperor has no clothes!" is just a great way to do that. It asserts a completely implausible stupidity on the part of everyone else. Somehow because there is an implausible fable to illustrate your implausible theory then you can get away with it.

Of course this line of reasoning has been used to write off religion quite frequently. I would say it is a mistake even if you are not inclined to believe in God. I tend to think the foundational teachings of Islam are false. Does that mean everything a Muslim writes can be ignored? Not at all. You assume people are not crazy. The Emperor story has the implicit assumption that everyone else is crazy. So crazy that they cannot even recognize a naked man when they see one.

So when you come to a modern skeptic and talk about God they don't consider in the plausibility factor the reality of so many people throughout history have believed in God. In fact, many would be more willing to accept the idea of God if you were the first one ever to advance such a notion. New ideas are inherently more plausible because ... well just because.

Now it occurs to me that this post could be turned around. I am saying modern skepticism has no clothes. So I don't want to assume all modern skeptics are just crazy. That would be committing the same fallacy I am accusing them of.

In modern times we are more aware of the many different ideas around religion and morality. We can see biases and unquestioned assumptions have led to some problems. So we try and question our own belief system more intensely. But there is a difference between questioning and expecting an answer and simply assuming nobody asks this question and just dismissing the whole thing.

There is an idea out there that people of faith don't ask questions. True faith, at least for Catholics, does not fear questions. If you really believe it is true then the questions should have answers. So assuming people only believe because they have never really asked the hard questions, that is one of those assumptions we should question.

The other assumption we should question is whether skepticism is the best approach. We need some way of arriving at truth. Is demanding rigorous proof of everything the right answer? Can you prove it is?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Humanism And Nihilism

There is a bit of controversy about the Yale Humanist Community. One of the things that really surprised me about the group was the rejection of Nihilism. From their website:
Morality vs Nihilism.  Who knows what reasoned experience ultimately leads to.  But whatever the result, the Humanist believes that the jury comes back concluding that there is morality and purpose in our lives.  So while the universe may be aimless, our own lives are no less meaningful and compassion, honesty and other virtues have no less value.  Ethics and purpose then becomes a human centered enterprise which we must work together on.
The makes remarkably little sense. It is trendy to be a humanist at places like Yale so a lot of smart people are signing onto this. OK, maybe not that smart because they misspelled "nihilism."  (I fixed it). Actually I am going to skip over the morality bits and focus more on purpose.

It starts by saying "there is morality and purpose in our lives." Great. But then it says "while the universe may be aimless, our own lives are no less meaningful." How does that work? No less meaningful than what? Than the meaning life would have if we were here for a purpose? How can that not make a difference? 

It talks about a "human centered enterprise." What does that mean? Which human is in the center? I am guessing it is yourself. But there is an obvious problem. In terms of purpose the problem is death. If purpose is a human-centered enterprise then how do you deal with the issue of human death? 
The trouble is that when you leave everything up to human reason all bets are off. How do you know reason will not lead people to Nihilism? You don't. Many will end up there because that is where the logic goes. If you take the skepticism you applied to God and apply it to meaning and purpose then you can conclude they don't exists either. The same problem of a lack of material evidence applies. 

So why assert that we will follow our reason wherever it goes except we are sure it won't go here? It is not because reason cannot go there but rather than reason has gone there. There would be no fear of Nihilism if it had not already happened to more than a few humanists. It is like when the church condemns a heresy. It is not because it is impossible to reason your way there from the scriptures. It is precisely because people have. Arianism was condemned because there were Arians. 

Really you have all the problems of protestantism present here in just a slightly different form. You can really see Bl John Newman's idea that orthodox Catholicism and strict atheism are the only two logical positions on each end of the spectrum. Stopping anywhere in the middle leaves you open to the questions. Why not go further this way? Why not go further that way? There is no logical reason. It is just an arbitrary place to stop.

Monday, October 7, 2013

God And The Pope

The secular world has been predicting the end of Catholicism for a long time. Some might date such predictions back centuries and maybe even back into the middle ages. Still when all the mainline protestant churches caved in on contraception, on abortion, on divorce, on homosexuality, etc. then it seemed like a safe bet the Catholic church would follow suit eventually. It didn't. It has held to its traditional doctrines despite the public opinion even among Catholics.

Why has that happened? It is not because we are so smart. It is by grace. God protects the Catholic church from error because He promised to do so. Other churches enjoy no such protection so they are vulnerable to cultural forces. Catholics are not completely immune to them but they can't damage the core teachings of the church. The key is that this is a God thing and not some property of us as Catholics.

So what happens when Pope Francis makes some statements about this or that? People panic. Why? Because they don't get that it is a God thing and not a human thing. They really worry about the secular predictions of the church inevitably succumbing to cultural pressure.  But if it was God protecting the church through the past few decades and centuries and millennia then why would God stop protecting the church now? It does not make a lot of sense.

One thing was that the conservative wing of the church had its own inevitability narrative. That is that the conservatives would gain in church political power over time and the liberals would go down in humiliating defeat. That seemed to be coming true over the last decade or two. Now it is all in doubt. So what? God's presence in the church does not depend on this one political faction.

It comes down to pride. We cannot boast in ourselves but we can boast in Christ. So we can be proud to be Catholic because that is a God thing. We don't earn it. It is a gift. But when we are proud to be a member of this group within the church that is saving the church from ... well ... the rest of the church. That gives us problems. When God shows us that He does not view things quite that way then we get confused.

So what is God doing? I don't know but I have a guess. There is an old saying that only Nixon can go to China. That is the most anti-communist politician can get away with negotiating with the communists. The same might be said for more conservative doctrines. I think Pope Benedict was useless as a teacher to progressive Catholics. He was just written off as a conservative and  no matter how good his arguments were they were never seriously interacted with by liberals.

Pope Francis might change that. He might put a better face on traditional Catholicism that can get secular people both inside and outside the church to reconsider the Catholic position. How many will do that? Hard to know. In other mainline churches there were not that many. Maybe he will do better. The truth is that often God makes big effort even when few or even zero people respond. He keeps sending messengers. He is not ready to give up on those people.

So far step one is working. Liberals are falling in love with Pope Francis. But do they love him enough to accept any teaching from him? That will be seen over time. They certainly love to point out stuff he says that they agree with. The question is will they rethink their position when he says something they disagree with? That is when it gets hard. I suspect most will balk at that point but even if a few are drawn into the fullness of the faith it will be worth it. At the very least it should be fun. The man is just such a joy to read about.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pope Francis

Cardinal George makes a great point about Pope Francis.
Before his election, Cardinal Bergoglio warned his brother cardinals about the danger of a “self-referential” church, a self-absorbed church that speaks more about itself than about Christ. Today, ironically, it seems that many are speaking more about the pope than about either the church or Christ!
What is going on is that papal interviews are coming so fast and furious that they are consuming a lot of attention. The trouble is that when we talk about Pope Francis we are actually doing exactly what he does not want us to do. We are focusing on the political dynamics of the church and not focusing on being Christ to the unchurched the way he wants us to.

The trouble is Pope Francis' way of speaking makes hard to ignore. He says a lot of things that need to be clarified. People take things out of context and intentionally or accidentally trumpet this great new papal teaching that is actually not what he is saying at all.

Sometimes it is a person who is panicked that the pope might be destroying the church. There really is not need to panic. Pope Francis is a solid Catholic. Besides, it is God's job to preserve His church. It is not ours. So if Pope Francis is taking the barque of Peter off course the Holy Spirit will correct it back. Of course there is also the chance you could be wrong and his course turns out to be exactly right for the church. We always tend to underestimate how likely that is!

So what do we do? Don't fight about what he said. Just do what he does. Try and interact with people who are on the edge of the church or completely lost. Be yourself. Don't be overly focused on theological precision. Just love people and let your love for Jesus show. Don't worry about the details. Don't worry about looking foolish. You are a new creation. Show yourself off!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Reasons 1-5 Why Contraception Is Bad

Over a year ago I wrote 50 Reasons Why Contraception Is Bad. The post was quite popular and that the #1 complaint about it was not enough detail. So I thought I would add more detail. I didn't really want to commit to writing 50 posts so I thought I would try 10 posts that would each expand on 5 of my quick points. We shall see how it goes.

1. It prevents you from glimpsing the beatific vision in your sex life. That is what sex was meant to be. A foretaste of heaven. It can't be that if you distort it.

God wants to do something awesome in your life through sex. We all know that but we think way too small. God is, at His very core, a love relationship. God is love. That is the most basic truth about Him. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. The Holy Spirit is the life that proceeds from that love. CS Lewis describes God as a dance. Not something static but constant action and reaction. But God's love is more than a dance. It is fruitful. So God's love by its very nature is not closed in on itself. It is always overflowing to bless something outside itself.

You can see how sex is like that. It draws us into a love relationship. Yet sex is by its nature not just something between a man and a woman. It naturally becomes fruitful. It overflows and blesses the world with children.

Now the physical reality of this is obvious. The important thing to know is it also happens spiritually. When our bodies join together our souls join together and we become spiritually fruitful. This dynamic is the closest thing to heaven on earth because it is parallel with what happens in the interior life of the trinity. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The husband loves the wife and the wife loves the husband and the child proceeds from the husband and the wife.

The highest human good is to become a partaker of the divine nature. Embracing marital love in its full fruitfulness does precisely that. Conversely, rejecting marital love in its full fruitfulness becomes a huge desecration of such an amazing gift. We trade a slice of heaven for a few cheap thrills.

2. It makes Christian sexual morality incoherent. Why wait until marriage if sex is not about children anyway? Experience has shown that it takes time but eventually premarital sex becomes the norm. It is even happening among evangelicals. 

Why is sex outside marriage wrong? It is the traditional Christian position and it is right. Only few protestant denominations question it. Yet most protestants say contraception is OK. So then why should a couple that is not ready for marriage not have sex? You can come up with some reasons like the potential for any couple to break up but the reasons can sound pretty lame to a young couple in love. A lot of the arguments focus on immaturity. They apply to teens OK but not so much to young adults.

What happens is people start having sex early. At first it is just a little bit early. Couples engaged and maybe just a few months from marriage. But it begins to creep up earlier and earlier. Studies show this is a big problem. Single evangelicals aged 18-30 are almost as likely as unchurched people to have had sex in the last year. It is just a whole lot harder to obey a command that does not make sense.

This is a progressive thing. If sex can become common among evangelical young adult singles then why not among teens? Everything that happened to the unchurched a few decades ago is happening to evangelicals now. More slowly but just as surely things are becoming unraveled. An illogical teaching cannot stand up over time.

3. It can make you marry the wrong person. Dating becomes more about who would I like to have sex with rather than who would I want as a life partner. So you make bad choices. 

Once Christian sexual morality breaks down we get the next phase. Sex becomes part of the dating culture. Guess what? It completely messes up dating. Dating becomes more and more short term focused. The possibility of having sex with this person sometime soon becomes way more relevant than whether or not I am being smart in my search for a life partner.

People get locked in serial monogamy. That is they commit enough to get sex but not permanently.  So they move from one sexual relationship to another. They get scarred and cynical. It is good preparation for divorce. It is lousy preparation for marriage and lousy preparation for religious life.

4. It reduces marriage from a commitment to spend your life populating the world with people like your fiancee to simply committing to live with that person.

Living with someone and sleeping with them are kind of mild sacrifices. For those waiting for marriage the alternative is sleeping with nobody. For those not waiting the alternative is finding a new partner every once in a while as you get older. Either way you can see a permanent arrangement being attractive even if you didn't really love the person. You get something and you give something but it is limited.

Children are unlimited. Especially if you have the notion that marriage is about children. That you  should accept as many as practical. Then you are talking about an endeavor that will consume much of your life. What is more, the children involved will be a lot like the person you are going to marry. So that person had better be quite something. If you don't believe your spouse is a true blessing to the world then it is not going to make sense to put out so much effort to make more people like him or her.

5. It opens the door to gay marriage because marriage is no longer about children.

We talk a lot about redefining marriage. Really when artificial contraception came along marriage was redefined. It changed the focus from children to sex. But even the nature of sex was redefined. It is now something that can be manipulated. So if you can manipulate sex a bit then why can't you manipulate it a bit more? That is all homosexuality really is. It changes the nature of sex but all those lines were already crossed in contraception. So the argument against homosexuality becomes incoherent. Really the biggest difference does become the number of people involved. There are more people who want to contracept then who want to have homosex but that is a pretty weak difference. It held up for a while but it isn't making sense anymore.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sam Harris And The Science Of Morality

Sam Harris has made a challenge around his book The Moral Landscape. Lots of internet talk about it. Leah Libresco. Ross Douthat. The challenge is to write an essay that convinces Harris he is wrong. Good luck with that. He is wrong of course. The trouble is he can't see it. The problem is not that he is not smart enough or that he is dishonest. The problem is assumptions he has made and cannot question because he does not know they exist.

What he starts with is the idea that humans seem to have some moral impulses embedded in them. He has noticed that moral thinking has not really focused on those impulses over the centuries. It has not ignored them but the focus of moral reasoning has been around other moral inputs. Around revelations from God, around attempts to construct a rational model for morality, around duties and virtues and utility and on and on. There has been very little study around our moral selves.

Harris thinks that if we really understood our moral impulses and where they come from then what is moral or immoral would become obvious. This gives another reason why it is hard to prove him wrong. How can you know something won't become obvious after much study? I think we can know that but only because I accept some things about morality that Sam Harris does not. So I can prove it if he gives me a premise or two but my expectation is he won't do that. In fact, he has explicitly denied some of the premises I would assert.

First of all, morality has to have some foundation that points to goodness. He wants to use the human person as a foundation. That is not always bad. The trouble comes when you couple that with evolution. Actually even evolution is not a problem. It is evolution that lacks teleology. That is evolution that is not ordered towards something good but just happens to go where it goes.

If you find something in the human person. Say they love life and hate death. How did that thing get there?  Now if you say man was created in God's image then you know that got there because God loves life and hates death. That makes it a moral principle. If you believe in an evolution without a goal then that means a lot less. It means sometime in the history of our species there was a survival advantage to loving life and hating death. It does not mean it is good for us now. It just means it is easy for us. We are equipped to do it. It does not even mean it was ever good for us in an absolute sense. It just means it helped in survival in some situations. Not that it was the best thing or even a noble thing. Just that it was a useful thing at some point in time. 

But what happens when somebody says he has discerned some higher good and we need to kill people in the service of that higher good? We know we have an impulse not to kill. So what? People have always had that impulse and still many killings happen. We know where our impulse comes from? We are assuming greater scientific knowledge so say we know what gene it is associated with and what  brain dynamics are going on when we feel this impulse. Does that help? Maybe a little. We might be able to see that killing permanently damages the brain. That we can't just put the soldier or the torturer back into society and expect all to go well. So that science might give us something to think about.

What science will not be able to construct is a firm moral principle. A simple principle like, "Thou shalt not kill" can't be the result. Science can only describe cause and effect. It cannot say the effect is wrong. Something else needs to tell us that. It can make us understand the consequences of killing better and that is a good thing. Still it can never tell us the impulse not to kill is right and we should trust it more than we should trust these guys who promise us a better society if we just kill a few people.

So what Sam Harris calls  the science of morality isn't really morality at all. It is simply saying that moral issues will go away if we understand the brain a little better and understand other cause and effects a little better. Salvation through science.

Behind that we have an assumption that moral feelings don't point to some bigger reality of moral goodness. That moral feelings point to nothing at all. They just are. If we manipulate them we don't have to worry about making sure they lead you into what is right. We just have to worry about the feelings themselves bothering you.

So if you feel bad because you lied the problem is not that lying is inherently bad. The problem is the feeling itself. Telling the truth is one way to feel better. What if science could give you a pill that made you stop feeling guilty after lying? Would that make lying OK? I don't know if Harris would say Yes but under his understanding of he should say Yes. The human moral impulse is gone so the moral issue is gone.

It is a bit like people have tried to do with sexual morality. If you can deaden you conscience on sexual matters then the moral issue is just gone. They call it getting over your hangups or just growing up. But what you have done is the same thing as taking a pill to make you stop feeling guilty about lying. You have not changed the moral nature of the act. You have just changed your feelings.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Jesus And History

Just reflecting on how remarkable it is that Christianity didn't begin its rapid growth until after Jesus had died. It is remarkable even if you believe in the resurrection and the apostles as eye witnesses of the resurrection. But what if you don't? What if you believe Christianity is false and started from completely natural phenomenon? How does Jesus end up in the center of it? When He dies the movement is small and localized in Galilee. Some would even suggest He never lived. This is hugely different from founders of other movements. Islam was a major force before Mohammad died. Joseph Smith led a community of Mormons for a long time. Jesus is alone among religious leaders in many ways but this is a big one. He never established a strong following during His life. The book of Acts suggests even after the resurrection all His followers could fit in one room. They had almost no political power or organization.

The other thing that Jesus did not do was write. Again, the classic parallels with Mohammad and Joseph Smith break down. They wrote a lot. Their writings still take a central place in the religions they started. As far as we know Jesus wrote nothing. There is one reference to him writing on the ground in John 8. That is the only evidence we have that He knew how to write. St Paul was the first Christian to really write anything serious and that was not until maybe two decades after Jesus' death.

So how does Jesus end up as the center of this religion? Why are they not called Paulians rather than  Christians? Paul was doing the most serious work. He was writing. He was evangelizing. Planting churches all over the Roman empire. In fact, it is not clear why he needed Peter and John and the rest of the apostles. If you believe his story of his road to Damascus experience then it is clear. But what if you don't? What if you think that story was made up too?

If you believe in a Jesus who made a few nice sermons and died then you have to believe in an early church that really played fast and loose with history and theology. The idea that Jesus did miracles, Jesus claimed to be God, and rose from the dead, those became standard talking points pretty quickly. But changes didn't continue to happen. In fact, Christianity resisted changes proposed by gnosticism. It was criticized and persecuted by Rome for some other things yet they didn't just change. This is the same religious community that accepted these massive changes to their belief system about the resurrection of Jesus, the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the feeding of the 5000, etc. Really not one community because the many churches across the empire were basically independent because of the state of transportation and communication. So we have many churches independently exhibiting this schizophrenic phenomenon of being totally open to some ideas and totally closed to others.

Yet somehow when we get to the 4th century we get a fairly unified church. When they hold a council at Nicea they know who to invite. Those who are legitimate successors of the apostles. They know who they are. How does that happen? We know about schisms in the church. We know how easily they happen and how hard they are to fix. Once you have schism one thing you cannot agree on is who are the legitimate leaders of the church for the purposes of resolving doctrinal disputes. So the church's ability to convene the council of Nicea shows there is no significant schism. Why not? They all share the same faith that came down from Jesus and taught by the apostles and their successors. That makes perfect sense if you believe that story is true. But what if you don't? How does that kind of thing get started? We know it can start with a charismatic man who truly believes it. But if Jesus was not that then how does it start?

You don't see these questions addressed in modern historical scholarship. Whether from a liberal Christian perspective or a secular perspective historians just duck these questions. They look at the source documents and argue that they are not reliable. Then they go into a big hand waving exercise to say the Christian story just grew up over time. When were the 4 gospels written? You get different answers. But the question of how someone writes such a thing and it is just accepted by the church as authentic while other gospels are rejected as forgeries. The church does not divide over which ones to believe. They know. Again, makes sense if it is based on fact. It is hard to envision if it is not.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Is Catholicism Like Science?

What happens when you accept science as a source of truth in your life? First of all, you accept what previous scientists have settled on. Sure those findings are not really considered infallible but you can't credibly call yourself a science person if you think NASA faked to moon landing or dinosaurs walked the earth 6000 years ago. So practically speaking you have to accept a lot. What you are really accepting is not a bunch  of random facts but you are accepting the validity of the scientific method. That truth arrived at in the past through this method is going to be trustworthy. You also are accepting that truth arrived at in the future through this method will be trustworthy. So there is any number of facts science will discover and you don't know what but you plan to ascent to these as well because you think the method is sound.

Now nobody says that if you do so then you have made a choice to stop thinking. That you are just being told what to think and you no longer use reason or intelligence. We know that scientists use their intellect a lot. While there is a ton of accepted scientific knowledge there are many more questions that are not settled. We are not even close to having settled everything. Even if we did there would still be the matter of applying it to your life. We would still have to think a lot.

So what about Catholicism? When you become Catholic you accept the church as a source of truth in your life. First of all, you accept what Catholics have settled on. Sure those findings are not often considered infallible but you can't credibly call yourself a Catholic if you don't believe abortion is wrong or Jesus rose from the dead. So practically speaking you have to accept a lot. What you are really accepting is not a bunch  of random facts but you are accepting the validity of God revealing Himself through the church and specifically through the popes. That truth arrived at in the past through this method is going to be trustworthy. You also as accepting that truth arrived at in the future through this method will be trustworthy. So there is any number of doctrines future popes will teach and you don't know what but you plan to ascent to these as well because you think the method is sound.

Now you will get many people saying you have stopped thinking.  That you are just being told what to think and you no longer use reason or intelligence. Do those people think theologians don't use their intellect? You wonder. If you are Catholic you know while there are many theological questions settled there is much more that is still being discovered. Even if we settled everything there would still be the matter of each person applying it to their own lives. We would still have to think a lot.

I think the parallels are huge. You just have to get your mind around the idea that false thinking needs to be corrected. In one environment it is corrected by experimentation. In the other environment it is corrected by the church condemning false teaching. The rest works basically the same. Yet somehow people get this idea that one involves reason and the other does not. It is laughable to anyone who actually does theology. But it is not funny because such a lie blocks people from the great joys of Catholicism. Literally the greatest joy in this life and the next.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Soul Sex

I wrote a post a while back reflecting on Ted Seeber's language in talking about sex. I didn't let him know mostly because there were already some very long conversations with him going on at Patheos and my aim was not to start one more but to reflect a little deeper on one aspect of it. Well the topic just didn't go away. Strangely enough, about 9 months later it seems to have given birth to something. Ted got a chance to read my post and seems gung ho to use my terminology.my post ends with:
Really we need 2 words. One for good, Catholic sex that we want to use very positively. Then we need one for the opposite kind of sex. The sex that is not good enough and is therefore immoral. That can be a bigger challenge because you want to use this word negatively. You don't want to be insulting or judgmental but you do want to highlight a significant lacking in many sex acts that are not typically seen as lacking much. I am wondering whether to offer a suggestion. All I can think of right now is soul sex and soulless sex. There has to be something better.
Then Ted's response:
Oooh, I'm going to start using that. I wish I had found this last November.

Soul sex and Soulless sex- and the physical proof of that soul sex is 9 months later you have to give it a name and it won't leave until it's grown up and ready to get married itself.
Not sure where that will go but it should be an improvement over the language of rape that he has been using for quite a while now. I do think we need some good words to communicate the much misunderstood Catholic philosophy of sex.

There is another interesting fact. Micheal Sean Winters over at NCR wrote something on one line in the mass liturgy.  The word "soul" is part of the line and part of his reflection.
Our word “soul” does not capture the Latin word “anima.” And, our own word “soul” has now largely been displaced in our understanding of the human person by the word “mind,” as Edward Reed detailed in his extraordinary book of the same title, “From Soul to Mind: The Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James,” a book that should be on every bookshelf.
“Anima” is our deepest self, our “I” if you will, which is why the previous English translation rendered the phrase “and I shall be healed.” But, “I” does not capture it either or, to put it differently, the “I” in the modern West has taken on its own trajectory and acquired a meaning that is too ridden with autonomy to capture what is meant by “anima.” "Anima" is something that unites the human race and the "I" is not understood that way. And, as noted, in the biblical passage, the phrase is “my servant shall be healed.” So, what are we to do? If there is no imperfect rendering of the word, let us at least try to excavate what is meant: In our deepest, darkest, most broken selves, the parts where we do not want to let the light shine, where we prefer not even to consider because it just hurts too much, Jesus can shine His light and bring healing. “My soul” or “I” is not the key, is it? The key is the healing.
Read the whole thing. It is very good. But the passage strikes me as getting at what we mean by Soul Sex. Something that really impacts us at a level that we don't even dare contemplate. That is so deep that only Jesus can get us into contact with that part of ourselves. Sex and marriage are powerful enough to let us connect with our spouse at that level. That connection is agape love which is the essence of God Himself. The same love that unites the 3 persons of the trinity into one God can unite man and woman into one flesh. That is soul sex. That is what we should be aiming for when we enter into the sexual embrace.