Tuesday, June 18, 2013

About Luther

Gary is a Lutheran that I responded to. He replied again but kind of changed the subject. So I thought I would give this reply its own post as well.
Hmmm...very interesting. My post on your blog was not directed at Catholics but to any Baptists who were trying to sway your readers to believe otherwise. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians stand together on the crucial issue of baptismal regeneration.
Lutherans and Roman Catholics actually have much more in common than Lutherans and other Protestants. We believe in baptismal regeneration. We believe that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and spirit, in the bread and wine of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. We believe that sins are forgiven in the Sacrament. We are the only Protestants who hold these two "catholic" doctrines. 
We Lutherans consider ourselves Catholic, just not Roman Catholic.
Lutherans are in many ways  halfway between Catholics and the bulk of protestants. They are much more sacramental than most protestants. I don't actually know how they believe what they believe about baptism, Eucharist, and apparently also confession and square it with a denial of the sacramental priesthood. If sacraments do real things then the person who performs these sacraments has real power. Not just anyone can have that power. There needs to be some group that will understands and respect this power. Anyway that is a big topic that is discussed at length by Tim Troutman. but it always seemed to flow for me that to have sacraments you needs priesthood and then you need some way to ordain priests. The dominoes start falling and you end up with at Catholicism.
So how are we different?

Lutherans do NOT believe that "sola scriptura" means that the Bible is the only authority on Christian doctrine. However, unlike Roman Catholics we believe that the Bible is the only FINAL authority. Church Councils and bishops certainly are valuable authorities. But the pope and Church Councils are not EQUAL authorities to Scripture.
The different forms of Sola Scriptura don't matter that much. They all boil down to yourself as the real final authority. Any time there are competing opinions on what the bible says there is nothing but your own preference to decide between the two. The opinion of the church is respected but can be discarded. Same with historical Christianity, we respect the early church fathers but they can be wrong. So there is no mind higher than my own in discerning God's truth.

Just reading the quote on the graphic above you can get the egocentric nature of it. Unless I am convinced. I stand as the judge. What is scriptural? I will decide. What counts as plain and clear reasons and arguments? I will tell you. I am in the center.
Look at the early Christian Church in the first 300 years after Christ. The bishop of Rome had no higher status than the bishop of Antioch or the bishop of Alexandria. No bishop placed his word as equal to God's Word.
I don't think so.You had St Cyprian talking about the chair of Peter around 250. He is the main one but Tertullian makes some statements as well. In the second century you have Irenaeus talking about succession of the bishop of Rome. Earlier you have the Corinthian controversy where they went to Clement, the bishop of Rome, to resolve their dispute. Even Paul in Rom 1:8 talks about how the faith of Rome is proclaimed in all the world. (Update: David Anders has something on this too.)
The bishop of Rome gained power and influence once Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. Then with the fall of the Eastern Byzantine Empire, the eastern bishops lost influence, while the power of the bishop of Rome increased to the point that he ruled essentially as a secular ruler.
I am not sure what your point is. The fact that political forces were involved in establishing the primacy of Rome does not mean it is not God's will. The question is more whether the petrine office should have succession. That is, did the blessing Jesus gave to Peter in Mat 16:17-19 continue after Peter died? If the chair of Peter continues to be something Christians should respect then that means Rome.
The early Church Fathers say NOTHING about the bishop of Rome having authority over the entire Christian Church!
The exact way the primacy of Peter is exercised would change over time. Local bishops ruled. They did so in unity with the bishop of Rome. Councils were important and the pope played a special role there. Still almost all decisions were made by the local bishop without and input from Rome. That is not the question. The question is did they see the papacy as a legitimate office? They did. If you accept that then when popes change the way they govern the church you will accept that too. That is what governance looks like. Dramatic structural changes can be made. They may or may not be prudent. But the grace of the office remains intact.
The idea that the bishop of Rome is the "vicar" of Christ on earth, possessing not only total control over the entire (western) Church but total civil control also brought the West in the sixteenth century such corruption and vice equal to any brothel or criminal mob.
The notion of the vicar of Christ did not bring corruption. The church has always had the potential for corruption even at the highest levels. Lutheran churches have this problem too. It is called sin. It did not show up in the 16th century. The 200 years just prior to the reformation was a time where it was particularly bad for an extended period. There were anti-popes. There were inappropriate alliances between France and the pope with the papacy actually moving to France for a while. That tested the faith of Catholics especially in England and Germany who were political enemies of France. 

Still the graces of the papacy remained intact. The church was in desperate need of reform in its practice. Its doctrine remained true. Its sacraments remained valid. Its role remained legitimate.
Martin Luther, a devout Catholic, was appalled by what he saw on his visit to Rome. He was even more appalled when Pope Leo X sent his emissaries to Germany to raise money to build St. Peter's by telling people that they good buy an indulgence, which would absolve them, or a loved one, of the temporal punishment of sins (decreased time in Purgatory).
You don't buy an  indulgence. You get one for doing some penitential act. The traditional penitential acts are prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Now one can see that in the case of alms-giving people might be confused into thinking they are buying an indulgence because they give up money and receiving an indulgence. Tetzel actually added to this confusion because he saw that doing so added to the amount of money he collected. So bad theology was taught for bad reasons and the pope did nothing to stop it for the same bad reason, namely money.

This goes back to the earlier topic of corruption. Popes can make bad decisions. That does not invalidate the entire papacy. In fact, authority only becomes real when a decision is made that we don't like or even respect.Obeying authority that we agree with is hardly obedience at all.
Luther spoke out against abuse and corruption. Did the pope heed his advice, and "clean house" in the Church? No, he excommunicated Luther, and along with him, other devout Catholics, seeking a return to the faith of the Early Church.
It was a bit more complicated than that. Luther could have stayed. He would have had to agree to stop teaching his views. He had quite a few fairly radical things he wanted changed about the church. He was right about some of them. The trouble was that he was sure he was right about everything and was not willing to be charitable about it.

Did Pope Leo handle it well? I don't think so. I think both men handled themselves more like school children than like clergy should. Lots of crude insults. More anger than substance.
That is why the Lutheran Church exists today. We did not leave the Holy Mother Church. We were kicked out my corrupt, immoral Churchmen.
At the end of the day the pope is still the pope. Luther was too proud to recognize that. It is a hard thing. Church history has many examples of people being punished for disagreeing with the church and some of the time the church was eventually see to be wrong. That is what Luther need to do. Trust God that He will protect the church. He will root out error in the church. We just need to worry about rooting out error in ourselves.
The Church you know today as the Roman Catholic Church today, is not the same Church as it was in the days of Luther. It soon saw that if it did not want to lose all of Northern Europe it would have to clean up its act, thus the Council of Trent.
The church did reform. Luther could have helped reform it from within. He chose not to so the reform took a little longer. God was faithful but Luther was not patient enough.
And by the way, the Pope and conservative Lutherans have so much in common that talks have begun on reconciliation. The Pope has lost hope in the liberal Protestants.
I am the same way.  I have more hope for conservative protestants. They actually believe in solid truth that does not change. What they don't realize is that when you define that precisely what truths Christians can question and what truths they must accept on faith you end up with very Catholic thinking.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Baptismal Regeneration

Gary from a blog called Luther Was Not Born Again has responded to something I wrote on Baptismal Regeneration and Development of Doctrine. That article is very old so I thought I would bring the response forward.
Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

I ask you to consider these points:
I am actually Catholic, not Baptist or evangelical. I doubt many of them read this blog.The original post was Dr Bryan Cross addressing Presbyterian pastor Wes White. So we have a lot of traditions around here. A lot of different teachings on Baptism.
1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?
Gary here conflates the ideas of translation and interpretive tradition. Translation does not need to be just language to language like from Koine Greek to English. It could be from biblical English to practical, modern English. But the point he makes is a good one. Did God just leave the scriptures here on earth or does He continue  to be concerned with how His word is translated and taught?
2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??
Again, he is concerned with translations, like there is some sort of gift of infallibility there. It is natural when you believe in Sola Scriptura and you are not trained in the biblical languages to be concerned about translation. You are really at the translators mercy. When somebody claims the Greek really says something different then what seemed like a solid biblical argument can instantly become flimsy. So he appeals, not to the intelligence of the translators, but to the grace of God. God would not allow all English translations to be misleading.

He is right that God does give us grace to prevent His word from being corrupted but that is not the way it works. He does not give us linguistic experts we can trust. He gives s spiritual leaders we can trust.

He does make a good point that baptismal regeneration does seem like the most natural reading of scripture. That you have to explain why texts that seem to tie baptism to salvation don't really mean that. Being consistent with the plain reading of scripture is supposed to be one of the strenghts of Protestantism. It does not always work out that way. Typically, Protestants can see this in other Protestant traditions. Here you have a Lutheran pointing out the problem in Baptist theology. It exists in them all. The plain meaning of scripture is just not the best way to be certain who is right. It would work here. Baptismal regeneration is the right doctrine and it is most consistent with scripture.
3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?
It is interesting that he goes back to the first 800-1000 years of Christianity. It is on his side. Baptismal Regeneration was the universal doctrine of the church during that time. But what about when it is not on his side? What about the Lutheran understanding of the role of ecumenical councils? What about the role of the pope and bishops? What about Sola Fide?

On the last point David Anders has an article on various doctrines that the early church agreed on that contradict Justification By Faith Alone. Just one example of how suggesting Christian tradition in some form is trustworthy will get a protestant in trouble. Christians tradition teaches doctrines protestants want to reject. Yet they see the logic in appealing to it when it is on their side. If God leads His church then looking at how God has led His church should tell us something about God.
4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?
Of course this is what happened. I don't think the year 1000 has much to do with it. This is more about the radical reformation in the late 16th century. After Luther and Calvin challenged the Catholic church then the Anabaptist movement challenged them. That was the process. What is wrong with it? Trying to make various parts of scripture fit is something theologians do a lot. Often it involves deciding where to start. One biblical idea is seen as literally true and another one is seen as true only in terms of analogy. But which one is which? The bible does not tell us.
Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?
The "both" solution is not as simple as it seems. Salvation is tied to many things in scripture, faith, baptism, Eucharist, good works, predestination, etc. It does not deal with the questions of what happens when someone has some of these and not others. Where does our assurance of salvation come from? Luther was obsessed with that question.

The truth is our assurance is found in our connection to the body of Christ, the church. We can be sure about things that are physical and visible. It is pretty hard to be sure of things like faith that are purely psychological. Do you believe in God enough or are your doubts too serious and too frequent? I believe in God enough to submit to baptism, to come to mass as often as the church tells me is appropriate, to go to confession when the church says it is needed, to avoid what the church teaches are gravely immoral actions. These things are all rooted in faith. Their power comes from God's grace. Yet we are made certain they are enough because the church accepts them as enough.

Without knowing which church is true than how can you know your baptism is valid? Baptismal Regeneration is the truth but it makes that question important. Is infant baptism OK? Do you need a priest or can anyone do it? Do you need to be immersed or is sprinkling OK? If you believe in Baptismal Regeneration then these questions need solid answers. The prevailing theological opinion of your denomination is not good enough. You need to know you have received the washing of regeneration that Titus 3:5 talks about or the being born of water and the spirit that John 3:5 talks about.

Protestantism has no way to answer those questions with any certainty. That is why Baptismal Regeneration is not a common belief for protestants even though it is taught by scripture and confirmed by tradition. I am not sure why Gary thinks his Luther an denomination can give him assurance on the matter.
God bless you and keep you!
  Thanks for the good wishes Gary.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Problem Of Evil And The Seriousness Of Sin

Strange Notions has an interesting article up on the problem of evil. It is actually written by Joe Heschmeyer of Shameless Popery fame. His main point is that to make this argument you have to believe in objective evil and that creates a huge problem for the atheists. It raises all sort of questions like how do we know this objective evil? Where does it come from? How did we get ordered in such a way that good and evil are important? These are questions atheists don't want to address so it is quite fun.

Of course many atheist commenters ignore the problem Heschmeyer points out and just soldier on with the problem of evil. One such guy is Josh who writes:
The problem of evil is much stronger than stated here, it's devastating to Catholics. The problem is not just to show that in some abstract sense 'evil' could exist because 'mumble mumble free will'. The problem is to show that the amount of evil in the world is consistent with a perfect, omnipotent loving creator. Natural evil/suffering can't be separated out because, if God is a creator, it is a moral evil on his part. 
Now I tried to point out the reality and the seriousness of sin to Josh. He was not buying it. He thinks we are pretty good. We are not perfect but we certainly don't deserve a world as bad as the one we have.
Sin isn't everywhere. Most people go about their lives in a perfectly decent fashion. They may not be your ideal people but they aren't terrible and they don't deserve the level of suffering that we see in the world. Moreover, most of the harms people commit are inextricably linked to their circumstances in the world: they are hungry, afraid, uncertain, foolish, denied dignity, etc. and those are circumstances beyond their control but not God's. The suffering and 'evil' that we see are not logically entailed by 'sin'. Free will cannot solve your problem. We can say that a Tsunami can't be the result of evil. It isn't required by the existence of evil so a perfect God wouldn't arrange that random calamity.
I find this quite refreshing. People raised in a church would feel this way. They might even think this way. They certainly would not talk this was. They know that the right answer is our sin is so so bad that the result of suffering and death and hell is quite justified. They know it but at some level they don't really believe it either. They don't actually believe they are that bad even thought their creed says so.

This is why atheists are such a gift to the church. They say plainly what we don't dare speak out loud. I'm a pretty descent fellow. Most people I know are nice guys too. Can't God give us a better world than this one? Why is life so hard? It is hard for us and we turn on the news and see it is way harder for many others. Is this the best God could do?

The trouble is we have tried to solve the problem of sin by lowering the standard. It is like a class that says you have to make the exam easier or nobody will pass it. But maybe that is the right answer. Maybe you all deserve to fail. That is where we are at with God. He is so good that none of us approach His standard. Yet He refuses to lower the standard. Instead He gives us a way to get to that higher standard.

Our culture tells us 2 things. One is that we are basically animals that have learned a few tricks. The second is that we need to have high self esteem. So it is not surprising that we have trouble accepting the idea that there is a standard there that we are all failing to meet. We don't like to give out failing grades. We have come to the idea that it is not the loving thing to do. We just tell people to believe in themselves and hope for the best. Even in the church it is hard to find good teaching on sin.

The truth is we are called to an amazing life of love. It is something so amazing that we can't even begin to try it without God's help. It is the supernatural agape love that Jesus showed us and Jesus wants to give us. That is what can save the world. It's absence explains why the world is in such bad shape. So saying "perfectly decent" people don't deserve suffering misses the point. God does not want them to remain perfectly decent because they can be and should be so much better. Suffering is God telling us all is not well. God has also made it the road to our salvation. First of all, the suffering of Jesus but our own suffering as well.

When we see that. When we realize that we have a long way to go and suffering will help us get there. We still have questions. Mostly emotional questions about why this particular person is being given this particular cross. At the end of the day we don't know much about why things happen. We need to trust the heart of God. Still it is possible to imagine reasons. Often speculating on such reasons to people in grief or pain is not helpful but it helps to know there are some ways that could could come of this.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Old Testament Genocide

Jake and I were having a comment box discussion on Unequally Yoked about some of the divinely commanded massacres in the Old Testament. His last comment was pretty long so I thought I would respond here.
God has a right to kill people on a whim. He does not.
Except when he does. Flip to a random page in the old testament and dollars to donuts, you'll find an example. Moreover, even if this were true, it still wouldn't salvage your moral position- replace "God" with "the North Korean government" and this is a clearly absurd claim. What does it even mean to claim the right to do something and then say you can't do it by definition?
If it's not wrong for God to kill people, then why doesn't he? If it's not a moral consideration, then give me a reason that God doesn't kill people that doesn't ultimately reduce to "because it's wrong."
People die all the time. God is omnipotent so He could prevent any death. He does allow people to die because it is part of the curse of sin.  He also uses His wisdom to decide who should die when. Often we don't understand His wisdom so it might seem like a whim to us. We trust God. We don't trust the North Korean government. So making that claim about them would be absurd.

I know atheists compare God to the North Korean government more often. That is a very mistaken idea of God. I would be an atheist to if I thought God was like that. God has power but also intimate knowledge of what is best for us and self sacrificing love. North Korea dictators are just raw power with a highly suspect desire to do good and a very limited knowledge of what is actually good for its citizens. We tend to think our plan for our life is better than God's plan for our life. When we do we turn God into Kim Jong un. 
He[Mohammad] claimed it was normally immoral but God gave him a free pass. Christianity does not accept that.
You mean like Abraham sacrificing Isaac? Or Jephthah sacrificing his daughter? Or the mass genocide and rape of conquered nations? Those thing are all "normally immoral" by any reasonable definition.
Abraham didn't sacrifice Isaac. God commanded him to but reversed Himself at the last moment. It was obviously an object lesson. What kind of sacrifice will it take to conquer sin? Animal sacrifices are something but not enough. They point to the bigger sacrifice of Jesus. Here God hints at what that bigger sacrifice will look like.

Jephthah sacrificing his daughter? That is more a descriptive event rather than a prescriptive event. God did not tell Jephthah to do that. Even then it is not clear whether she was killed or whether she remained celibate and sacrificed married life.

The mass genocide and rape of conquered nations? I don't know that God ever commanded rape. He did command genocide. Was it immoral by the standard of the day? No. That was something that happened in war. Today, thanks the Christianity, we have the concept of a just war and humane treatment of prisoners. That is applying modern moral standards to a very different time. God did not offend the consciences of Israelite soldiers when He gave the command. He would not command modern Christians to do this. He would have those people killed another way. Remember God has the right to take life. The only issue is why He did it by commanding what we now know to be an immoral act.
This is why I take great pains to point out that what God is calling men to is increasing over time. We are called to a higher standard of holiness than Joshua was. Things like polygamy were fine back then but are not fine now. That should be our reaction when we read such passages. That we have come a long way by the grace of God
I have seen you point this out several times. The trouble is that a) this is a deathblow for any sort of claim of a meaningful objective morality,
Not at all, objective morality exists. It is being revealed over time. We know more about what it means to be moral than we knew in the time of Joshua. Catholicism believes in developing doctrine and morals. St Thomas Aquinas didn't believe in the immaculate conception.Why not? It was not part of the deposit of faith until the 19th century.
b) you have no justification for thinking that what you currently believe is right, since it will likely be superseded by future revelation,
The superseding revelation never completely contradicts the current revelation. Killing is wrong except in wartime. That remains in force. What has changed is the "except in wartime" has been refined to say that some killing in wartime is also wrong.

This is a complex topic. The definitive work on the subject is done by Bl John Henry Newman. He tries to make precise exactly what kinds of changes can be considered developments and what kinds of change should make you conclude that the source of revelation is problematic. That means either it was wrong before or it is wrong now. I think that is the problem you refer to. It can exist but does not always exist.
c) this is directly contradictory to your earlier claim that "If what you claim is from God contradicts scripture, sacred tradition, and the magisterium of the church then you must have heard God wrong,"
Not at all. God does not tell us to do something that He has previously told us not to do.  He won't tell a man to take many wives. He might have before polygamy was declared immoral by the church.
d) this makes no sense if you're claiming an omnipotent and time-independent God
Why not? God does not change in nature but man changes. So He deals with us at the level of moral development we currently have.
e) there's no actual reason morality would need to be revealed gradually, and
I can think of lots of reasons. Morality is complex and even small improvements in moral behavior seem to take a long time for a society to internalize. God takes individuals on a journey of moral development. Why would he not do so with mankind?
f) this looks suspiciously the exact same as it would look if God did not exist.
Not even close. You really need to read that Newman link. He describes what doctrinal and moral change would look like if it was driven by purely human reasoning. Then he describes what it looks like when it is driven by an infallible, unchanging revelation. He argues that Catholicism is the only religion that matches the second description. He concludes that every religion except Catholicism and atheism make demonstrably false claims. Catholicism is not proven true by this analysis but the odds of any religion passing such scrutiny for such a long time just by chance is virtually zero.
I do wonder why you are so exercised over the notion that God controls life and death.
I am excised because this is a dangerous belief. I wasn't kidding earlier- this is exactly the belief that allows radical Muslims to blow up civilian areas. While I do not expect you to do anything of the sort, the proliferation of this idea that anyone has the right to murder needs to be fought wherever we find it. At the very least, this is a warped morality that allows you to stop thinking of other people as human, and think of them instead as God's property.
Being human means being created and loved by God. That does not mean I can murder them. It means murder offends God in addition to all the other problems it causes. In fact, I can imagine convincing myself that all the other problems don't apply in some case or other. I can't imagine convincing myself that any killing would not offend God. That is why it is always the Christians who balk at justifying killing. Abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, etc.

Muslims don't believe that all people are loved by God. Mohammad never hesitated to kill people to advance the cause of Islam. He is their moral example. Jesus claimed he could call 10,000 angels to save him from the Romans and Jews and yet He chose to die. It is not that He didn't have the right to do that. He did. He just chose something better.
Who else would control it?
This presupposes a God who is actively maintaining and controlling every single thing that happens. I don't agree to that claim, but fine, let's roll with it. Even if God is actively maintaining everything, I suppose we can agree that he's set up laws that reality follows? Gravity, Strong Force, Weak Force, Electromagnetism, etc.? Then there is a categorical difference between the laws of nature existing in such a way that person X dies at time Y, and between the conscious agent God actively intervening to cause the death of person X at time Z. He's breaking his own rules to murder people.
How God physically does things is not really the issue here. If you are trying to remove God's love and justice and mercy from consideration because certain scientific laws exist then you end up with a kind of Deism. We don't believe in that. We believe in a God who intervenes in history. He often does it in ways that have scientific explanations but not always. If the laws of nature say person X dies at time Y that does not get God off the hook. He wrote the laws and can override the laws. So every death only happens because He permits it.
BTW, your justification of why murder is wrong is very easy to throw out. If you made that argument to someone all they would have to say is "I disagree."
Yes. The only thing standing between us and utter chaos is empathy and societal norms. This is just blatantly true- an observable fact about the world we live in. This is how life worked for the first few billion years before social animals evolved. This is how life still works for the vast majority of species on the planet. You do what you want, and the strong survive. We humans have found what we consider to be a better way of doing things, a way to make everybody more happy. And that's what it means for something to be moral. It is categorically and unequivocally wrong to murder someone, specifically because of the reasons I mentioned, and not because "God said so." But that doesn't mean people can't say "I disagree" to me any more than they can't say it to you.
The trouble is we get wrapped up in our emotions and start to think we are an exception to the normal rule against murder. If the immorality of murder depends on a logical argument then all you need to do is convince yourself that one of the premises does not hold in this case. Then anything goes. This is what happened with Hitler and Stalin. It will keep happening to atheists.

People can still say "I disagree" to the "God says so" argument. This is especially true when you have a bad understanding of God like I mentioned with Islam. The solution is a better understanding of God. That is why bad theology needs to be fought wherever we find it. Atheism is the worst theology in terms of preventing murder.
What if a people group really does need to be eliminated for the good of humanity? Who is to say that situation won't happen?
Gulp is right. The truth is Catholicism can say this will never happen. God creates people for a purpose and that purpose is good. To say you need to eliminate people is to say God messed up. If you don't believe in God then you just need to say evolution messed up. That is a perfectly rational thing to say.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Virginity And Sexual Shame

Patheos is going on and on about a post Calah Alexander did about abstinence-only sex ed programs. Apparently Elizabeth Smart criticized such programs for making her feel bad after she had been kidnapped and raped. That is obviously a very sad case. Nobody wants to disagree with a rape victim especially if you are male. Still that is how sentimentalism works. Someone has a feeling and nobody dares contradict them because they don't want to hurt anyone. Calah herself has a lot of negative sexual history. It is common in today's society.

The first problem is to try and understand where guilt feelings come from. Ms Smart blames the church, in this case the Mormon church, for making her feel guilty. Many people blame the Catholic church or various fundamentalist churches depending on what religion they were raised in. Do churches make you feel guilty? Not really. In today's society they rarely have that much power. At some point in history they might have but not with the modern skepticism that is so prevalent. What makes people feel guilty? Their conscience. That is formed by church teaching but it is also directly spoken to by God. A rape victim does not need to be taught that she has been violated. She knows. The rapist knows it too. Deep in their hearts they both know there is something messed up about what is happening.

There were a lot of objections to describing the messed up nature of things as dirty. I don't really have a problem with that image. The thought was women would get the idea that all sex was dirty. They might. All teaching on sex runs that risk. The danger of not drawing the right distinctions between sexual things that are good and sexual things that are immoral. We see so much sex in our culture and the vast majority of it is immoral so it is very easy to give that impression to kids by accident. That is kind of a separate question. The image of dirty/clean is not really any more error prone in this regard than other images.

Then there is the question of virginity. Do we want to talk about the importance of remaining a virgin or just talk about the value of chastity? The trouble is when some in your audience have already lost their virginity. They are going to feel bad. This is where protestants and Catholics should differ. Virginity is an important concept in Catholic tradition. Protestants don't value tradition and don't really understand holiness so they are not going to get it. When they talk about virginity they immediately add on "secondary virginity" which is not virginity but rather chastity.

The Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine, Cecilia, Barbara and Ursula 
Why does the church celebrate virginity? Starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary and including many female saints the fact that they were virgins is frequently highlighted. Why? It has to do with holiness. Yes, sexual sins are forgiven but there is still something that has been lost. Forgiveness does not remove all the damage caused by the sin. Suppose you drive too fast and crash your car. Then you go to confession. God will forgive you. You car will still be broken. That is true even if you didn't drive too fast but somebody else did and crashed your car. That is totally unfair but your car is still broken.

It is the same thing with virginity. Something of value gets lost. It does not get restored with forgiveness. Virginity is not the center of holiness. Love is. So it is not something we should despair over. Yet we should be sad about it. That should be true regardless of whether that loss was due to rape or bad choices on our part. But has not a rape victim suffered enough without being told they have lost something important? Actually their loss of virginity is a big part of their suffering. Denying the reality of their loss is not the right response. If somebody lost a leg in an attack would it be right to deny the significance of losing the leg? You don't do that. You accept it is a huge loss and it is totally undeserved but we still need to get on with life.

One last point, Elizabeth Smart talks about being dirty and being afraid to come back to her family. That is a big problem. We should always make clear that kids and even adults can come back. That they will be accepted. It does not mean they are not dirty. It is more of a matter of no matter how dirty you are we will love you. It does not matter if it was your own dumb fault or if something bad happened to you. You should never be ashamed to come home. Shame is real but it should always be reduce rather than increased by coming home.

That needs to go for our biological families. It also needs to go for our church families. The home and the church need to be the safe places people can go in their hour of shame. Elizabeth Smart didn't understand that. I don't think that is because of the curriculum so much as it is because of the underlying spirituality. Grace is a lifestyle. Grace does not mean watering down the law. It means not kicking people when they are down. Kick them when they need motivation but not when they are already remorseful. That is when we need to focus on forgiveness and healing.