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.