Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cafeteria Catholicism

Rea Nolan Martin defends Cafeteria Catholicsm on HuffPost. I don't like the term much but it has become common. It refers to people who claim to be Catholic yet deny some of the major tenants of the Catholic faith. Ms Martin accepts it in her article so I will to:

I know, I know. Shame on me for ordering my doctrine off the a la carte menu when the prix fixe would buy me so much more salvation, right? If only my conscience weren't so lax, my lifestyle so self-serving, and my spiritual practice so undisciplined. If only I weren't so lazy, ignorant and uneducated about my religion, I might understand the benefits I'm missing when I refuse to order the items that stick in my throat.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Is Being Good Selfish?

In a discussion with an atheist and he made an interesting comment. He talked about me acting according to my conscience as trying "to appease your own moral sensibilities." In other words being moral was actually being selfish. How does that work? In his world morality is purely in your own mind. There is no good or bad. There are just some things that feel good or feel bad according to your moral sensibilities. So being moral is really about pleasuring yourself. You think it is right to give to the poor so you do so and it stimulates the moral pleasure center in your brain and you feel good. It is all about me.

It gets worse when the moral act involves another person. Maybe I am convincing others to give to the poor as well. Then I am using other people to pleasure myself. But isn't that selfish? To push other people into doing things just because it gives you pleasure? Can you see how this turns morality on its head? Doing the right thing becomes the wrong thing because it is selfish and potentially using others. But not helping the poor does not seem right either. 

So what is wrong? Morality isn't just about what makes us feel good. It is about actual good. People say morality is all in your brain and yet they don't realize the logical problems that creates. It is not self-contradictory but it violates our intuition about right and wrong quite dramatically. In this case being moral is selfish. Why not? If it is limited to our own brain then it just becomes another thing our body desires like food or sex or approval of other. Those things can bring out selfishness in us. Why should or desire for moral goodness be any different?

Many have this theory about other people's moral sensibilities.  Very few have it about their own. When they feel moral outrage at sexual abuse they don't catch themselves and say, "Well, I am just being selfish expecting others to act according to my morals." No, they get that there is an absolute moral standard being violated and they are right to be outraged at it. Yet when it is a moral principle they want to ignore, like homosexuality or abortion, then they get upset because your observance of the principle makes their ignoring it that much harder.

There really is no comfortable place for the atheist to land on the moral question. Saying morality is an illusion is logically consistent yet almost nobody wants to seriously take that position. If you want to say morality exists then there are a ton more questions. Where does it exist? Is it in the material world or is it immaterial? If it is material then how can matter and energy create a virtue? If it is not material then you need something other than the physical sciences to try and know anything about it. Atheist almost never want to go there. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What's The Big Deal About Jesus?

This Sunday we meet Simeon. He is totally overwhelmed with joy at seeing the baby Jesus. He says he is ready to die now that he has seen the baby. Do you ever wonder about that? I mean Simeon was not  a bad man. Luke tells us the Holy Spirit was upon him. So what difference will Jesus make? He already has the Holy Spirit?

What he predicts for Jesus and for Mary is not that great either. The falling and rising of many? A sign that will be contradicted? A piercing of a sword? What is there to be overjoyed about?

The answer is that God is with us. God is here to tell us what we ought to be. What is truly good. It is a word that will be resisted yet it is worth it because it is what we are meant to be. Before this people had the law and the prophets but now they had the living presence of God on earth.

The other think Jesus brought was atonement. He paid for our sin with His death and resurrection. He opens the door to heaven and allows us to experience friendship with God.

We can miss this because we have lost it to some extent. God's living presence on earth continues in the church. She is the body of Christ where we can hear the word of God not as it was written to some other people group years ago but addressed to us now. We have a living magisterium that speaks for God.

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross continues as well. It is made present to us at every mass. We get to experience heaven on earth in a special way.

The trouble is we don't really embrace that. Protestants have taught that we are back on the Old Testament situation. That is we don't have a living teacher of God's word but we only have the scriptures from long ago. That we don't have the real presence of Jesus in the sacraments but only a symbol. Even when the Catholic church still claims to teach the true word of God and to perform true sacraments we can kind of buy into the idea that all we have is human opinion about God's word and all we have is a symbol we like to think of as Jesus' body and blood.

We can be more comfortable that way. The resistance to God that Simeon prophesied is not just out there. It is in out hearts as well. If God is really with us then our own idea of what God is like can be falsified pretty quickly. That becomes most clear when we give an ascent of faith to the teachings of the church or perhaps when we fail to do so. It also happens when we have to surrender out hearts and minds to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Jesus' coming was a big deal but only continues to be a big deal if we understand how He is still with us in His mystical body. That is how God is still with us. He still blesses us and He still offends us in a way that didn't happen in the Old Covenant.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thy Kingdom Come

The gospel starts with some bad news. John the Baptist has been arrested and Jesus has withdrawn to Galilee. He is on the run. He might be arrested next so he heads for the hills. Galilee is a pretty remote part of Israel and there were a lot of Gentiles there back then. So it looks like a humiliating retreat for Jesus.

What does he do? He begins to preach. He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The strangeness of it is lost on us. Herod is winning. He is the king. If you are going to make such a bold statement as proclaiming a new kingdom should you not at least do it in Jerusalem and have some kind of army behind you? I mean one guy coming into some village in the middle of nowhere declaring the kingdom of heaven is here? Isn't it a bit much?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ordinary Time

We leave the Christmas season now and enter what is called ordinary time. That is where we experience most of our journey with God. We remember the big moments. The moments of conversion and the spiritual highs. They are the exception and not the rule. Spiritual growth needs to happen primarily in the slow and steady mode of ordinary time. We get on the road when we convert but it is the walking of that road day after day that really changes our lives. The Christmas and Easter Catholic can never make spiritual progress. This is why the church makes clear that in order to remain in a state of grace you need to go to mass every Sunday.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Magic And Christianity

I went to see Frozen with the kids. It is not a great move. We saw it for the same reason most families do. It was the only movie in the theaters that works for small children. Anyway, as you might expect, I am especially sensitive to religious themes in movies. This movie had a number of explicit religious references. There is a picture of St Joan of Arc that gets highlighted. There is a liturgy around the coronation of a queen that involves a priest. You don't see that often so I thought it was good.

It did make me think. What are we attracted to about this story? We are not attracted to the liturgy or the pictures. We are attracted to the magic. One main character has an amazing gift that she needs to learn to control so she can use it for good instead of for evil. To me, that is implicitly religious. We are all gifted by God with amazing powers we need to learn to control. Our propensity for righteous anger is an awesome gift if we control it. Same with our capacity for romantic love.

The trouble I have is the religion in the movies is never associated with the magic part. The religion we see is associated with the boring part of life. The stuff society wants you to do that really does not fulfill you. When a character finds their true self and discovers they are powerful and beautiful beyond what they ever imagined that tends to happen in an act of rebellion against religion among other things.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Baptism Of Jesus

Jesus begins His public ministry but submitting to baptism. John the Baptist is confused. John's baptism is a baptism of repentance. In fact, we see just a bit earlier in the chapter that people often confessed their sins when they were being baptized by John. Obviously Jesus does not need a baptism of repentance and John knows it. So why does it happen?