Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bias And Science

There is an interesting article at something called the Cultural Cognition Project
I study risk perception and science communication.I’m going to tell you what I regard as the single most consequential insight you can learn from empirical research in these fields if your goal is to promote constructive public engagement with climate science in American society.  
It's this:  
What people “believe” about global warming doesn’t reflect what they know; it expresses who they are.
He is close. I would not say it reflects who they are. I would say it reflects what tradition they adhere to. I prefer to say it that way because I have changed traditions and I believe I did it without changing who I am. 

The trouble is he goes in a typical direction with it. That is he decides we need to make people think apart from tradition. The trouble is that humans can't do that. What happens when they try and ditch tradition and embrace pure reason is they form another tradition. The difference is they deny it is there. Denying their tradition becomes part of the tradition.

We see this clearly in religion. Sola Scriptura was an attempt to eliminate all tradition, except for scripture which somehow didn't count, and arrive at truth through reason and the bible alone. You end up with lots of Christians who claim they do it. None of them do. All of them are heavily influenced by their church, their family, the school they go to, the radio station they like to listen to, whatever. Those influences push a person's reason in subtle ways so they think they are doing unbiased biblical interpretation but they are not. They all end up in pretty much the same place while they guys in the church church down the street all up in a different place but agreeing with each other. 

Dan Kahan, who writes this Cultural Cognition blog, displays the hallmark of this sort of thing. He wants to fight bias but he has no real recognition of his own bias. He and those who agree with him are using pure reason and it is all those other guys who have problems being biased by their tribe. He is from Yale Law School. Some would see huge bias in that. He does not. The problem is to get everyone to be as rational as he is. The trouble is that those on the other side tell he same tale. They would point to Dan Kahan as the biased one and hope to get him to yield to the light of pure reason.

The single most consequential insight is not what people believe expresses who they are. It is that human reason has a dark side. Reason can make us very sure of something that is false. We base reason on tradition that can make serious errors and we don't know that we have done it. We trust our conclusions so much. We can see the problem in others but cannot see it in ourselves. Dan Kahan does not look at this data and question his own tradition. It is very rare when someone does that. It is always the other guy that made the error. Our logic seems fine. Of course it does. The subtle twists in reasoning are so ingrained into our subconscious we can't see them. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Game of Thrones

This show gets a lot of talk. I read a bit about it because we have enjoyed dark TV series like Breaking Bad, 24, Downton Abbey, etc. What I found strange about Game of Thrones is that Catholics seem so confused by it. Many people who claim to be faithful Catholics watch it and recommend it. Yet nobody debates the basic facts. That is that it contains very explicit sex. There is a lot of it. That much of it is gratuitous. That is it does not serve the plot or character development in any way.  

The fact that it is so popular and so well reviewed is a frightening commentary on today's society. Yet you would expect at least serious Catholics to get it right. I mean we have bishops that talk about the dangers of pornography. Even the USCCB has a document on pornography. They must be talking about something. Why are they not talking about Game of Thrones? 

That is a hard question because nobody says there is any moral line Game of Thrones somehow fails to cross. That there is something they don't show that prevents it from being considered porn. They include a wide array of sexual perversions. They shoot the scenes leaving nothing to the imagination. If this is not porn then what is? Yet Catholics, including not a few priests, seem to feel they are somehow above being influenced by such material. Like we can somehow be immune to the deadly sin of lust. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stay With Us

In this Sunday's readings we are given the story of the travelers on the road to Emmaus. It is quite a journey. They are in despair. Jesus joins them and they don't recognize Him. It is a good thing they don't. It allows them to be very blunt about how disappointed they feel. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel. Despite the resurrection story already circulating they speak of hope in the past tense. 

Then Jesus begins to speak. He starts by saying, "How foolish are you! How slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken!" It does not sound that charitable. The truth is we need that kind of straight talk. We can make some pretty major errors. We can be slow to believe. If everyone is to polite to tell us then we will never correct our mistakes. 

These disciples listen. They take the time and go through a detailed logical explanation of why they were wrong. We are not talking about a couple of proof texts. It talks about "all the scriptures." Probably not literally every verse but the walk is a couple of hours long. We tend to want to take short cuts and not do serious theological study. They invest the time and are amazed by what they learn.

Then the key moment comes. They arrive at their destination. Jesus pretends to be going on. They ask Jesus to stay. That is so important. They don't know it is Jesus. Yet their hearts are burning within them. They are not able to articulate their feelings at this point but they feel something. They act on it. They invite Jesus to stay with them. To eat a meal. To spend the night. We don't know who this is but we sense the presence of God and we don't want to let it get away. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Two Descriptions Of Hell

When Christians preach about hell they talk about it as a place of eternal suffering. They want you to become a Christian and so they want to make you terrified of going to hell. There is lots of scripture and tradition around this idea. The picture is from Michelangelo's Last Judgement which still decorates the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. There are many more examples of hell as a place of suffering in Catholic art.

Then we get to apologetics. When atheists asks how you can believe in a God who would send someone to hell for not believing then the response describes hell quite differently. Hell is simply not being in heaven. Heaven requires completely perfect love from everyone who is there. In order to make us capable of such love God needs to change our hearts and minds in a profound way. So profound that it would be a grave violation of our dignity as human persons for Him to do that without us being totally willing and cooperative.

The trouble is that if hell is just for those not going to heaven people don't understand why it should be painful. Is God going to torture the occupants of hell for eternity just to give us extra incentive to choose heaven today? Is that what a totally loving God will do? Not at all.

The fact is we are wired for God. Augustine said, "You have made us for Yourself O God! Our hearts are restless until they rest in you!" That is true about people in this life. It does not stop being true about people in the next life. On one level you love your sin and on another level you hate it. You know you were designed for something better.

Think of an addiction. An addict wants to change and be able to live a normal life. That is a life where he enjoys relationships and tries to accomplish great things and admires beauty instead of being focused getting high all the time. Yet he can't do it. The addiction is too strong. How can you torture such an addict? You love him. That love inflames all the desires he has to be what he can't be. Nothing could be more painful.

In this life we can give him hope. The grace of God is stronger than any addiction and he can change. In hell that is precisely what is no longer there. God stops bugging people by constantly calling them to heaven. Yet God can not stop loving them. God is love. That love is torture for those in hell.

Now how should a Christian evangelist warn a person about such a thing? Do you tell him that the reality of hell might be superficially appealing? God gives us what we want so if people refuse heaven to pursue wine, women and song God might well let them have that in abundance in hell. The trouble is if you describe it that way you might get people thinking they would prefer hell. In his place of sinfulness he is not going to see the joy in loving God completely and worshiping Him forever. So what do you tell him? You tell him there will be pain. It will be intense. It will last forever. It is only fair warning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy is hard to write about because it is quite simple to state. God forgives our sin. Yet we have trouble going there. We know it intellectually but in our hearts we just can't accept it. We tend to go in two opposite direction. We like to tell ourselves that our sin is not that bad and we like to tell ourselves that God has not really and totally forgiven our sin. We can often have both these errors in our head at the same time while professing the truth that we are forgiven sinners.

It is a constant struggle. We start to grasp God's forgiveness and we do quite a bit better. Then we have a slip. What do we do? We go back to rationalizing. It was not that bad. Then we go back to guilt. I have blown it. I was going good but now I messed it up so God will stop blessing me. We forget that God's mercy is not just to get us started and then we can carry on using our own strength. We need His mercy every step of the way because we keep sinning. The good news is His mercy never runs out. We need to keep begging for it. We need to be constantly aware that we need it and constantly aware that it is infinite both in how long it lasts and how deep it goes. God cannot love us more. God will not love us less.

Grasping this is so important. People talk about how many personal problems are related to self esteem. Proper self esteem that is based on God's love and mercy enables us to love. It enables us to experience deep peace and joy regardless of circumstances. That, in turn, transforms all our relationships. We love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength because we know God gives us everything and we deserve nothing. Then we love our neighbor as ourselves to.

We often know it is offered yet we can't seem to fully internalize it. That is why the divine mercy feast is so close to Easter. The key to internalizing it is grasping the mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection. The Eucharist helps us do that but we need to get what the Eucharist is. If we don't see it as a sacrifice then it does not help as much to connect us with the seriousness of our own sin and the intensity God's great mercy. Other things help to, the rosary, contemplating a crucifix, etc.

Once we grasp God's mercy towards us it helps us a lot in grasping God's mercy towards others. They become fellow sinners. They will sin differently but we need to let go of the idea that they sin worse. They are in the exact same boat as we are. The only important difference is whether they have an accurate picture of their situation and whether we do. Their problem is the same as ours. That is they are not aware of Divine Mercy. That is they are not fully embracing it. When we see other this way we just want to offer them our own mercy.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Confirmation Promises

I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
I said these words 11 Easters ago when I was received into the church. I got to see this profession being made by a number of people yesterday at the Easter vigil. I was the altar server so I got a good view. It brought all that back quite powerfully. It was a hard statement to make and I was overjoyed that God had brought me to a point where I could pronounce a convinced Yes.

What I find strange is that cradle Catholics never make this declaration. Somehow it is not part of the confirmation liturgy when children get confirmed. It just seems so wrong. Why should entering the faith as a convert be any different from entering the faith as a member of a Catholic family? It is the same faith. We all have the same privileges and responsibilities.

I think it is even worse because there is a myth out there that converts need to worry about orthodoxy and cradle Catholics don't. It is silly but you run into it all the time. When people see that you take seriously the teachings of the church and they find out you are a convert they kind of write you off. Converts are like that. We cradle Catholics are different. We can be Catholic without making the actual teachings of the church such a big deal.

The liturgy should be designed to combat such myths and not confirm them. Yet we seem happy to process kids through first communion, first reconciliation and confirmation without really challenging them to embrace some of the more counter-cultural parts of the faith. We seem afraid to let kids seriously ask themselves if they are ready to confirm that they actually believe the faith their parents have formed them in. In fact, the parents often have a wishy-washy faith so that can be par of the problem. Still a sacrament of initiation should make very clear exactly what you are being initiated into. Having the kids make such a declaration would help a lot.

I would even go further. We renew our baptismal vows every Easter. Why not renew this profession? It seems the best time to do it would be Pentecost. Confirmation is associated with the Holy Spirit so renewing your confirmation every Pentecost just makes sense. The Holy Spirit leads the church into all truth and leads us to embrace that truth in our own hearts and minds.

Many Catholics deny central Catholic teachings when asked by pollsters. It is so easy to see how they would remain in the church and never be challenged to either admit they are not Catholic or submit to the teaching of the church as the word of God. We have created a culture that avoids confronting dissent. It creates tremendous confusion about what the Catholic faith involves. This would clarify things a lot. A simple statement that what the church teaches is revealed by God. All of it. If you believe that you are Catholic.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Last Supper

So much happens at the Holy Thursday liturgy. We struggle to contemplate it all. First there is the actual institution of the Eucharist. Pope Benedict writes something interesting on that and Scott Hahn has been highlighting it as well. 
If the Eucharist that Jesus instituted was just a meal, then Calvary was just a Roman execution. But if Jesus instituted the Eucharist to be the Passover of the New Covenant, then it had to involve both sacrifice and communion, as did the Old Covenant Passover,” he writes.
The words of institution show that Jesus established the Eucharist as the sacrifice of the New Covenant,” he continues. “As such, the Eucharist transformed Calvary from a Roman execution to a holy sacrifice — the consummation of his self-offering that was initiated in the Upper Room. Thus, he didn’t lose his life on Good Friday, since he had already given it — in loving sacrifice — on Holy Thursday. Jesus was not the hapless victim of Roman injustice and violence, but rather the willing victim of divine love and mercy.
That is the fact that the crucifixion makes no sense without the last supper. Really the death of Jesus was simply the completion of the Holy Thursday liturgy. That is where He gave us a new covenant. Good Friday is when Jesus paid the price that covenant demanded. 

Then we have the washing of the feet. An amazing object lesson. The teacher and master serves us in a most humiliating and a most personal way. Peter struggles to get it. So do we. How can we understand Jesus as the Lord of heaven and earth and also understand Him as our servant? Jesus' answer? Do it. When you actually serve those who are beneath you in some way then you will get it. Yet how often do we do it? 

Peter grasps the humiliation of being washed. We are not just dirty but we are unable to clean ourselves. We are like a child or a handicapped person who can't wash himself. Jesus basically says this is the only way it can work. You need to get clean and you can't clean yourself. He not talking about a one time cleaning either. That would correspond to baptism. This is constant, regular cleaning. We need that to. We get that in confession. Sacramental confession is important but also a personal daily examination of conscience. Even daily is just a minimum. If you fall into sin don't wait. Just like if your child fell into the mud you would not wait until their regular wash.

Then John records for us a long discourse at the last supper. It starts in John 13 and included John 14, 15, 16 and 17. Jesus knows the next few days are going to be hard. They will be hard for Him obviously but He does not forget His disciples. He wants to prepare them. They are mostly confused. He tells them the sins they are going to commit. Judas' betrayal is predicted. Peter's denials. The abandonment of the rest of the disciples. He tells them not to prevent them from sinning but to keep them from despair. Again it is humiliating. Jesus in His most trying hour gets zero help from the disciples but even then He has to be the helper.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Christian Persecution Complex?

With the recent firing of the Mozilla CEO for supporting Christian marriage and the increasing demonization of Christians in society there are more than a few people wondering how far we are from persecution of Christians. The response from secular people is often a psychological diagnosis. They say Christians have a persecution complex. It is common for non-Christians to speculate that Christians might be crazy. That was true of Jesus and many saints. Still they might be right. We might be a little to eager to take the role of the martyr. We need to watch out that we don't read into people's actions more anti-Christian sentiment than is actually there.

The problem is that Christian persecution is often done by people who don't see themselves as being unfair or intolerant. It is a subconscious thing. They think their opinion of things is simply right and to tolerate Christianity is to tolerate evil. It is always that way. Communists knew communism was simply right so to tolerate Christianity was wrong. Queen Elizabeth I knew Catholics were simply trying to overthrow her so executing them was needed for the good of the nation. You look at Mexico in the 1920's, you look at Nazi Germany, you look at Rome and the early church. They all thought attacking Christianity was a good and reasonable thing to do.

So the concern actually grows deeper when secular people don't see a problem. When they are so oblivious to the potential for a modern western society to drift into really serious human rights abuses. That is when it is likely to happen. When it is based on assumptions that are so deeply held by the intellectual elite that nobody dares question them. They believe their ideology won't blind them to immorality the way other ideologies have blinded other societies. 

That is precisely why our society is capable of great evil. They feel we have progressed beyond evil so there is nothing to worry about. Abortion can't be evil because it is accepted by the liberal elites. Same with pornography and divorce. It is progress. Anything that society labels progress has to be good. It is the secular version of infallibility. Yet there is no reason to believe we are moving towards good other than the fact that many others believe it.

Human rights is still quite sacred to most secular people. Even those that have doubts about abortion and sexual morality don't think we are capable of forgetting basic freedoms. Yet we do forget. The government searches personal information without warrant and without limit. Nobody seems concerned. The government executes people without any legal process or public disclosure. What could go wrong? The government seeks to narrow religious exceptions on laws to the point where even an order of nuns can't qualify. Who cares?

Will the courts be any different? Will they play their constitutional role of protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority? The trouble is they seem as blind as anyone to the problem. They can't see that establishing secularism as the only right way to think might violate the non-establishment clause. Why? Because they think that way. So forcing people to accept gay marriage is not considered religious discrimination. So far that is only true if you want to arrange adoptions or make wedding cakes. Still the precedent has been set. Christians can be excluded from any role in society if it can somehow be connected to gay marriage. Even if the connection is as thin as "you might have a gay person working for you" like it was for Mozilla.  

The truth is man is still capable of great evil. John Allen just wrote something on world-wide persecution of Christians. In the west we are not above it. In fact, the road we are on leads there. Will we go there? Either we do or we have a major conversion. Right now we are on a path of sin and we no longer believe in sin. We no longer see a need to come to God and beg for forgiveness. We need to get that back. If we don't society will just continue to get worse. Eventually grace prevails. Yet it often gets very ugly before it does. Have we really progressed? We will know when we find out how quickly we are able to see the error of our ways. Seeing the problem will be hard for many because secularism has no way to deal with sin. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sex To Clear Your Head?

I ran into a guy online who thought the best way to get into a good marriage was to find someone you have immediate chemistry with and "fornicate like rabbits" until that initial sexual desire diminishes. Only then will you be able to make good decisions about a long term relationship. It seemed silly to suggest that sex would make you more rational rather than less rational yet he was quite serious. The truth is that an unfulfilled desire for sex actually morphs into a very healthy desire to get to know everything you can about the person you desire. Like a teenager who desires a celebrity seeks out every bit of gossip on their life. If there is no chance at actual sex you end up much more liable to become interested in the things that can make or break a good relationship. Both those are important. To go deeper when the potential is there and to leave when there is good reason to leave. 

Sex early in a relationship tends to push people to one of two extremes:
  1. They either fall madly in love. They put the person on a pedestal and  become convinced this is the greatest love the world has ever known. 
  2. They become uninterested in the person and just interested in the sex. They think of the other as a whore. 
Both scenarios seem to happen for both genders but women are more likely to experience #1 and men are more likely to experience #2. My sense is that because of the changing culture that #2 has grown more common than it used to be for both genders. 

Now there are 3 possible combinations of these scenarios. They can both be #1, they can both be #2 or one can be #1 and one can be #2. First, if they are both #1 we have the dream scenario. This is the one we see in all the movies. We have two people madly in love. Yet they have not really vetted each other very well. There can be quite significant incompatibilities. You will have some couples who happen to be quite good together and they can have good marriages. They can declare themselves to be living proof that waiting for marriage is just silly. Still even they would have benefited from a slower path to intimacy. Then there are the couples who are not at all good together. They can get into marriage and children. It can be very hard and it can last a very long time. Perhaps the rest of your life. 

Another situation is where both people experience #2. They become focused on the physical and really lose interest in an emotional and spiritual connection with each other. They might continue for a while if the sex is good but really they are just using each other. Sooner or later they get bored and move on. They might not feel any remorse. They both had some fun. What is the big deal? 

The trouble is sex is supposed to be a big deal. It is supposed to draw you into the ultimate love relationship. You have made that harder to achieve. Your view of sex becomes self centered and disconnected from emotional intimacy. It is similar to the effect of pornography or masturbation. It also tends to effect your view of the entire human person especially the opposite sex. You use people and get used so you don't expect anything else. 

The last combination you can have is one person is in category #1 and the other in #2. That is when things can get really ugly. You can have a hard breakup. Breakups are always hard but these can cause serious psychological damage. Violence can happen. Serious depression. 

It can also become an abusive relationship. The person who is in position #2 has a lot of power especially if they are not clear about how they feel. They might not know themselves. If they want to keep the sex going they have an incentive to be less than honest. They can string their partner along quite easily and he or she, more often she, will put up with a lot of bad behavior and remain convinced they are in love. Even very smart people can stay in a destructive relationship for a long time. 

So what is the downside to waiting with sex until marriage? Sure you miss out on some pleasure but you are playing with your heart and mind and soul. Is throwing caution to the wind really such a good idea? Marriage is a big deal. It is worth some time and some sacrifice. Hormones are powerful things. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Abortion Hypotheticals

When you start to discuss morality these days you run into a lot of weird hypothetical scenarios. There is this notion that if one can find some strange situation, no matter how implausible, that makes the action seem OK then you have defeated the moral principle. It is not really true. I expect there are always such cases where people's moral intuition breaks down. So what? Well if you goal is not to arrive at the greatest good but rather to justify a bad act then it makes more sense. We will go to great extents to rationalize out behavior. The fact that we feel the need to do so it a good sign you are on shaky moral ground.

The abortion debate gets some of the strangest scenarios injected into it. So bizarre that you wonder how anyone ever thinks they are relevant to anything. Still they are repeated a lot. Often pro-abortion people think they are some great feat of moral reasoning. Strange days indeed.

One such scenario involves a violinist. In the hypothetical you are tied to a violinist for 9 months and if you free yourself the violinist will die. Obviously they believe people don't think that highly of violinists. It makes people think of a old man. The first rule about pro-abortion debating tactics is to remove the image of a baby being killed. You need to subtly change the picture to a less valued human being losing their life. Calling the person a violinist does this. A violinist could be a child prodigy but that is not what most will think. Most will think old, reclusive, etc.

If they wanted to make the parallel more exact then they would not only say the violinist is young but they would say he or she is your child. Would you feel obligated to spend 9 months tied to your child if that was the only way to save its life? Of course you would. It would be hard but not nearly as hard as having your child die. There are not many things as hard as that.

The goal of all this is to argue that even if a fetus is human that abortion is still OK. That the mother's right to bodily autonomy trumps any rights the child has. Yet we are talking about the child's right to life. If my right to anything trumps your right to life that is just unthinkable. Say you talked about the right to bear arms. Can that right be limited to safeguard another's right to life? Of course. We would never say you can use your firearms in a certain was even though we know it will cause a significant number of deaths. The right to bear arms does needs to be subordinate to another's right to life.

The reality is that the right to bear arms has a much longer tradition than any right to bodily autonomy. Really having a right to your body was unheard of before the abortion and contraception questions came up. It was a right made up to try and fit the abortion question in the framework of human rights. The rights that have long been recognized as fundamental should never be confused with rights simply asserted as a political ploy. Certainly if any right will trump someone else's right to life it should be a fundamental right and not a made up right. You might argue that freedom of speech or freedom of religion is worth the loss of some lives. It would be a hard argument to make but I could imagine it. Still how can you argue that one of these phony new rights can ever be compared to the right to life?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Coming To The Cross

It's hard to reflect on the Palm Sunday readings because they are so long. We not only have the crucifixion of Jesus which is 128 verses in Matthew but we also have the triumphal entry into Jerusalem from which Palm Sunday gets its name. There are just so many interesting and important details.

There is a progression where the hatred Jesus encounter's grows and grows. As it does you see the love of Jesus become more and more beautiful. You see the love of others for Jesus fail but the love of Jesus Himself never fails. He never stops caring , never stops praying, never looks for revenge but always for the good that can come out of this situation.

The other contrast I see is between freedom and bondage. Jesus is portrayed as in charge all the way through. He knows who is going to betray Him. He casual mentions He could call 12,000 angels if He wanted to. He lets Himself be crucified.

Judas and Pilate are the opposite. They are struggling to do the right thing but their sin is too strong. For Judas it is greed and for Pilate it is fear. Jesus gives them both huge opportunities to break free yet He lets them choose knowing they will choose to condemn Him. They are not consumed by hatred like the pharisees yet they just can't seem to do what they know is right.

The question then comes, who do you want to be? Do you want to be the one whose hatred turns to violence or do you want to be the one enduring suffering for the sake of love? Do you want to be free? Pilate was a governor but was powerless. Jesus was a prisoner yet was able to accomplish exactly what He wanted an touch a lot of lives on the way.

Judas was more the modern man. Let us ignore the rules. Rules limit my freedom. He ended up with money he literally could not give away and a conscience that led him to suicide. Modern society would blame Jesus for making him feel guilty. That is always the lie the devil tells. Don't blame your sin for your guilt feelings. Blame the nearest saint. They are the ones who made you feel bad.

The gospel ends with the death of Jesus. Willing to go all the way and give His life. We pause there. That is the way it goes with our little martyrdoms. When we sacrifice something for Jesus and it hurts. Then there is this pause. We need to believe that it is worth it. The evidence that is was does not come right away. We need to have faith that God will accept our offering and somehow turn this defeat into victory.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Being Gay And Being Protestant

How is being gay similar to being protestant? It terms of how they relate to the Catholic church they are similar in quite a few ways. Protestants have a spirituality that they often see as impossible to live in the Catholic church. Gays have a sexuality they often see as impossible to live in the Catholic church. Of course both are wrong. The Catholic church is for everyone. Partly they lack information about what it is actually like to be Catholic. What kind of diversity the church actually embraces often surprises people.

Even more-so, I would say they are both skeptical of the kind of lifestyle changes that being Catholic would involve. They don't see them as positive changes. They are so sure the changes would not be positive that they can't imagine God would be calling them to such a thing. Yet God can do things beyond what we can imagine. Can a gay person imagine a happy, fulfilled life as a celibate? Or, even harder to imagine, in a marriage that is not only opposite sex but open to life? Can a protestant imagine a happy, fulfilled spirituality that has the mass as the center? It can still have dynamic preaching and contemporary music and bible study as important ingredients but can the such a liturgical Sunday morning experience ever be satisfying?

There are examples, there are some gays who are happy celibate Catholics. There are even some gays who are married with children Catholics and happy that way. Of course, the number of protestants who have converted and are surprised by the joy they have as Catholics is huge. If you just count the pastors the numbers are in the thousands. If you include laypeople I wonder if it is millions. Again this year many diocese are reporting record numbers of converts. One difference is that there are many more protestants who want to talk about their story. I know of a few blogging gay Catholics but I suspect the vast majority want to keep it quiet. It is probably wise. There is no great need for their parishioners to know about their same-sex attractions.

Another similarity is that most of them are immersed in a subculture that constantly reinforces their ideas. People don't really grasp how much this effects their thinking. They feel they are being totally fair and rational yet they have an ideology that they are unable to question because contrary ideas simply get drowned out. It has the effect of making a person very sure they are right but it does not actually make them right. It is not entirely a bad thing. When I was protestant I was very sure I was right. To the extent I was right that served me well. Still it made me quite slow to seriously consider Catholicism. A lot of protestants and gays are in that boat.

One more parallel I see is a sense that their community has been abused by the Catholic church in the past. They are often unaware of the details. The truth is more complex. Yet there are many examples of the church treating homosexuals badly and the church treating protestants badly. I know the execution of Jan Hus was presented as evidence that Luther and Calvin were taking a big risk in breaking from Rome. Harvey Milk has been seen that way by the gay movement. You can multiply examples. None of these acts form official church policy now but there existence makes it harder to believe that Catholics are acting out of love when they try and evangelize these groups.

Another thing they both do is expose a problem inside the Catholic church. We have Catholics who don't believe in infallibility. We have Catholics who reject much of Catholic sexual morality. We are unable to evangelize in large part because as a community we lack faith. We don't really believe it ourselves. So how can we encourage someone else to risk everything to become Catholics. For many gays and many protestants it is their identity they are putting at risk. You need courage to take that step. How can we inspire courage when we can't even speak these truths clearly inside the church?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Essentials and non-Essentials

Called to Communion has been quieter lately in terms of posts but the comment boxes keep going. The guys there are very patient and just plain brilliant in the way they address the question of protestants about Catholicism. David Anders is one of my favorites and he has a post up about the World Vision controversy and how it masks a bigger controversy. World Vision assumed they could treat the gay marriage controversy like other doctrinal controversies such as differences over baptism. That is to just ignore the issue and accept everyone as Christian. 
Piper rejects the analogy. The sinfulness of homosexuality is non-negotiable. Differences over baptism are another matter. As a Catholic reading this debate, what strikes me is the incoherence of Piper’s hermeneutical objection. On what grounds does Piper single out one set of doctrines (sacramental theology) as negotiable and another (human sexuality) as non-negotiable? As a Catholic, I see this whole way of framing the issue as misguided. Protestantism has never been able to provide a consistent account of the distinction between “essential and non-essential.”
He goes on to give a number of examples from the history of Calvinism that show inconsistencies in what doctrines are deemed essential. He really does his homework. He is a professional historian who left Calvinism for Catholicism because the history of the church and Calvinism in particular raised so many questions.

This is a classic problem with protestantism that seems like it should not be that big but ends up being huge. The problem that true Christians are supposed to agree on essential doctrines and they just don't. So you have two ways to go. You can declare that the group that disagrees with you are not true Christians or you can declare that the doctrine in question is non-essential.