Monday, December 13, 2010

How do Christians deal with scientific theories, like we came from monkeys and the big bang?

This question is follow up from what ifscience contradicts scripture

I've got two questions for you. A) How do we deal with the idea that we came from Monkeys? B) How do we deal with the idea that the universe just appeared?

AnswerA) How do we deal with the idea we came from Monkeys?

By in large, there is alot of resistance to the idea of "Macroevolution" -that is, whole new species coming from other species. Christians have no problem with 'micro evolution'- like that all dogs from chihuahuas to huskies can trace their genetic heritage to wolves.

But again, this is Science, so you can believe in Macroevolution if you like.

But Humans have an immortal nature which is different from monkeys or other animals. So you pretty much have to assume that if our bodies did evolve, then at some point God stepped in, and did something particular.

The requirement from the Church is that we have to believe in a first set of parents- at some point, there were 2 primates who were human, and thus capable of sin, and they did sin. we don't have to believe that they were named asdam and Eve, spoke to a talking snake, and ate a fruit. (see how that part sounds like myth?)

They did something that forever changed human nature, started original sin, and made us need a saviour. This is how the church accounts fro suffering and sin in the world- this part is very linked to the whole church teaching.

Fortunately, so far, science seems to support the idea that we are all decended from one mother, and to a lesser degree, one father, and that these lived in Africa.

B) That the universe just appeared is problematic for scientists. One of the traditional proofs for the existence of God, is that everything is caused by something else, but there must have been an original 'uncaused cause'. (The opposite of this is called 'infinite regress'- the idea that you can go back for eternity saying what caused that?, what caused that?) It's kinda like at camp when kids go "Who mad God?" At some point there has to be someone or something that was not made by anything else.

This, as St Tomas Aquinas says, is God. God is "existence"- that's why he said his name is "I AM". God is the only thing that by it's very nature has to exist, because God is existence. Someone once asked the question, what would happen if God ceased to exist... well, the question does not make sense since what we mean by God is existence. What would happen if existence ceased to exist? See the problem?

The big bang theory was first proposed (but not called that) by Georges LemaƮtre in 1927. The other popular theory was 'steady state'- that the universe had always been the same size, and was in fact itself the uncaused cause. Since that time, science has demonstrated that the universe is in fact expanding, and the general concensus is that there was at some point a big bang.

But this does not eliminate the need for a God to start it. As they say "I believe in the big bang. God said it, bang, it happened." If the Big Bang theory is correct- and Catholics have no problem with that- then what caused it? Unfortunately all the laws of physics break down when the mass opf the entire universe is condensed into a single point the size of a pin point- called a singularity- so we can only speculate about what was happening before the big bang. The theory is basically that the singularity was under so much pressure from gravity pulling it in, that eventually the pressure was so great that the singularity exploded- roughly 14 billion years ago. And it is still expanding. Some say it will one day start contracting again, and eventually form a second singularity, and start all over again...

So anyway, there could be a cycle of big bangs and big crunches, but again we end up with infinite regress! What started it all?

I should point out that many of the greatest physicists do think it is possible to eliminate the need for God to explain the universe. Fair enough. But Catholics have no problem believing in the big Bang, we would just say that God caused it. What is debated is to what degree God is guiding the development of the universe!

Again the problem for 'empirical scinetists' is that by definition (empirical means measure) they can only deal with things they can measure. Since God cannot be measured, they can't place God in the equation. So, they have to come up with theories that exclude God. But just because they do and are limmited to them, it does not thus follow that God does not exist. Their whole discipline makes the non existence of God a foregone conclusion, because he can't be a factor.

Imagine if God manipulated everything that happened, and was totally arbitrary about it. It would be impossible to posit a 'law' of physics, since things would never happen the same way twice! As Einstein said, The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.

I suspect that God deliberatley made science possible, for the same reason that a parent builds a playground. God wanted us to be able to play! I find it more blievable that an intelligent mind made a universe that intelligent minds could understand, than that a series of accidents resulted in beings that could actually figure out where they came from. But that's just my opinion- others would, and do, disagree.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What is our obligation to the poor?

What are the major driving forces in life? What motivates people to do what they do?

I can think of several. I believe Freud limited it to 'power' and 'sex', but I think that tells you more about him, then about the general populace. I believe that hope, love, pride, anger, selfishness, greed, justice, vanity.... and I could go on... are major driving forces. But I want to suggest that the biggest driving force for Christians in our society is comfort.

Now which one do you think God thinks it should be?

"Seek first the kingdom" "Make love your aim".

(Incidentally, if you consider that we are intended to make love our aim, and not comfort, it makes a lot more sense out of why a good God would allow suffering.)

What I am proposing is a hard message. I think it is harder and more imperative than the Churches teaching on birth control. Orthodox Catholics love to give convicting messages about birth control, but I can't figure out why Orthodox Catholics are essentially skipping this message.

Just as some of us are called to celibacy, but all are called to chastity, so some of us are called to holy poverty, but all are called to simplicity.

Orthodox Catholics, or Evangelical Catholics, if you like, love to go around saying "We are all called to be saints" and "JOY is an acronym for Jesus, Others, yourself" and "I am third", but let's be honest. When I spend $20 on a luxury for myself, while other people in the world starve, and that $20 would feed them for 20 days... who am I putting first?

Am I making love my aim?

I say that Christians put comfort before love because we all want to retire in a nice house with nice stuff, and the freedom to go on nice vacations, and the majority of the major decisions we make are directed towards those things. When we do consider the need to be charitable, we think of those who are close, how we should be patient with irritating people, and buy our rich family members nice gifts, etc. Of course, charity starts at home... but it should not end there. The world is a global community now. I have the means to help people in Burkina Faso- which means that people in Burkina Faso are my neighbors!


Some people argue that giving to charity only enables them to be dependent, reinforcing a welfare state. Fine, than give intelligently. Make micro loans, or build a school or a water treatment plant or something. We all know that it is only because of imperialism that we are so rich anyway, and we continue to live off the fruits of others unpaid labour. I'm not talking about boycotting Walmart or Nike or only buying fair trade coffee. Let's get real. The only thing that is going to break the cycle is if we stop being consumers who never put restrictions on their consumption! We need to stop making excuses, and start coming up with solutions, starting with taking seriously the importance of putting others before ourselves.

I am so convicted of this, and there are so many quotes from the Bible and Church Teaching that support my views. (In fact, I bet no one can find as many quotes from scripture advocating chastity as I could advocating simplicity and justice... which are the same thing.) I'll tack a bunch of quotes on at the end of this, in case you think I am taking it all out of context.

What I can't figure out is why so many other Church leaders- priests and evangelists and lay missionaries- not only seem to be not on board with this, but argue against it! I can only think of one decent argument against my conviction- and that is that if it were true, there would be a papal encyclical saying so.

Well, maybe you know of one that I don't.

I am not proposing that we never spend $20 on another luxury. I am suggesting that we put a cap on it. I would like to suggest a rather generous $100/month. (That's what Catherine and I have decided on.) You may choose to quickly point out my hypocrisy, that I spend on unnecessary luxuries on average each day enough to feed 3 children in Africa. But it's kinda like prayer, or any other matter of conversion. If you go for perfection right off the start, you're liable to get discouraged and give up.

$100/month is a lot... and it's not. If I want to spend it all on fast food and movies- then it's a lot. But if I want a new computer, or car, or clothes, or an instrument, or a vacation, or a cell phone, or to renovate my house... and I don't need it... therefore it's a luxury... well, you get the picture.

I used to do a lot of apologetics, and one of my protestant friends, if he wanted to 'agree to disagree', would always say 'well, it's not a salvation issue'. Don't drop these arguments- I think they might be a salvation issue. In Matthew 25, Jesus separated the goats from the sheep- that is the damned from the saved- by asking "did you feed me, did you give me drink, did you give me clothes".

Here's an interesting side note- The etymology of the word Luxury goes back to the 14th century, and it meant "lasciviousness, sinful self-indulgence".

Pray about it- I'd be very interested to receive comments and feedback and refutations.

Here are the quotes I mentioned!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (1 Tim 6:10)

Lazarus and the rich man- please note that the rich man was damned for not doing anything, but living in comfort- (Luke 16)

Jesus' apparent disdain for people who tithe, but give out of their abundance rather than sacrificially. (Luke 20:45-21:4)

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mat 19:24)

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-15)

There are plenty more... for fun, run a search on the word 'money' in a bible search website, and see for yourself. In particular, there are many exhortations in the New Testament against "lovers of money", and in the old Testament it appears that a major part of the reason that Israel broke the covenant over and over was not just idolatry, but actually structural injustices- (consider Ezekiel 34). Homilies on this subject are usually along the lines of warnings about too much attachment to money, but let's consider. If you had two children, and one of them starved while the other ate luxurious foods and went on vacations and bought fancy cars- and the latter said "Yes, but I was not too much attached to money..." what would you think?

If I were God, I would be extremely angry. I would say, that the latter loved money more than the life of their brother or sister.

Lastly- some quotes from the Catechism and other Church Documents, some of which are in turn from saints and Popes. Most of these quotes come from the Catechism section "thou shalt not steal"-

2439 Rich nations have a grave moral responsibility toward those which are unable to ensure the means of their development by themselves or have been prevented from doing so by tragic historical events. It is a duty in solidarity and charity; it is also an obligation in justice if the prosperity of the rich nations has come from resources that have not been paid for fairly.

2445 Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you.

2446 St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs."

"The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity' (Vatican II)

When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice. (Pope Gregory the Great)

“Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account.... Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice” (Pius XI, 1937, Divini Redemptoris, No. 49).

Works of charity…are in effect a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and [are] a means of soothing their consciences while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights. Instead of contributing through individual works of charity to maintaining the status quo, we need to build a just social order in which all receive their share of the world’s goods and no longer have to depend on charity. (Benedict XVI- God is Love)

"The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help." (St. Basil the Great)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can the Church contradict it's own teaching?

Question The Church is protected by God from making an error in teaching and basic principles, but the people running it can still mess up, just as long as this mistake doesn't go against the teaching of the Church?

Answer The Church can still sin, even against it's own teaching. It just can't teach the wrong thing. This applies to matters of 'faith and morals'- ie:, things you can't prove by science or discover on your own, like "the trinity" and "abortion is wrong". But a pope could still be evil- he could even be a murderer! But if the Pope speaks with the authority of the Church, or if all the Bishops unite in a council, they can't teach the wrong thing. (An individual bishop, ior a Pope teaching just on his own, could make a mistake. It's like the disclaimer in my blog, that what I teach may be just my ideas, and not the teachings of the Church or even OLVC. That way if I make a mistake, no one can accuse the Church of being wrong!)

Suppose there was a Pope though who wanted to undermine Catholicism, for some reason. He says he's teaching with the full authority of the Church, and he says that the Eucharist is just a symbol. Theoretically, he would die before he could teach the thing- or go mute or something. In fact, aprantly rthere was a pope who wanted to teach error, and he died suddenly. There have evem been Popes who believed error- that Jesus was not God- but for some reason they never taught it!

Can we achieve perfection on Earth?

Question So the difference between Catholics and Protestants ideas of salvation is that Catholics have hope of becoming perfect in this world, which might inspire us to try to make a difference, whereas Protestants think this to be impossible so it isn't worth trying, and therefore are less likely to make a difference? How is it possible for us to become perfect on earth? If we need the grace of God to be made perfect, why do we believe that we can work towards our own salvation? Basically what it comes down to then is that we will try harder if there is that hope, right?

Answer Sort of. Very few people actually aspire to perfection on earth... but we should try to be as righteous as possible. The difference is that Catholics think their efforts make a difference, and that if the process isn't finnished on earth, it will be in purgatory. Protestants still try to be righteous, as an expression of their faith, but they don't think 'salvation' is hinged on that. Some protestants- Calvinists- don't think they can do anything about whether they are going to Heaven or Hell- they think God just predestined them before all time, and they just have to put up with it!

I suggest you read the gospel of Matthew (7,8,25) and the letter of James (2) while thinking about this- and you will see that Jesus and his apostles clearly taught that works make a difference! While we may never be totally perfect in this world, we can gain in virtue and eliminate vice, and we should always push on towards that.

How are the body and soul connected? What is the teaching on statues?

Question So at the end of the world when bodies and Souls are reunited. In the Eucharist the bread and wine take the form of the body and blood of Jesus. This is how there is a direct connection between physical and spiritual. How is that same connection present in things like statues?

Answer The human person is composed of 3 parts- body, soul, and spirit. Most people don't realize that there is a difference between soul and spirit. God is pure spirit, as are angels. Animals are body and soul, but no spirit. Because of the spiritual nature of the human soul, our soul will live forever, whereas an animals cannot. We are also capable of truly loving, considering our own existence, and therefore sinning. This is what is meant by "Created in the Image and Likeness of God"

JPII taught that our bodies are 'sacraments' of our spirits. A sacrament is a physical thing that shows a spiritual reality. So our bodies indicate something about our nature- (this means that men and women are not jsut different physically, but spiritually as well!). Your sould is that bit which 'animates' your body- in fact the word 'anima' is greek for 'soul' and is where we get the word animal. So your soul is your life. It is your personality. But if you damage your brain, it will effect your personality. So the two are totally linked! It's like saying that your soul is the neurions firing in your brain, and your body is the grey matter- they are completely linked, but have different names to describe different functions.

That's what is meant when we say that the soul is not trapped in the body- it's kind of part of it. You can't seperate them, isolate them and say here's one and here's the other.

Statues do not have souls or spirits- they are just symbols. The reason Catholic and Protestants have a difference about statues goes back to John Calvin. He was a reformer who saw the commandment "Though shalt not make images..." (against making idols) and thought that any statues or pictures in Church must therefore be wrong. That's why even today protestant churches tend not to have any. It ignored the fact that shortly after that God commanded Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant- complete with statues- and that the temple itself had statues and images in it.

It became deeply political, and entrenched- in Holland. At that time, Holland was being run by the Spanish. So the dutch threw off the Spanish and the Church at the same time- and when they did, they ransacked Churches, destroying all the artwork and statues and stained glass. Catholics of course were very sad about this, and it created considerable tension between the denominations in Holland.

Why do protestants believe in Sola Scriptura?

Why do Protestants believe the only source of truth is the Bible, given the clear contradiction to that idea you made? Do they not believe in the trinity either? (see How can the Church teach things not found in Scripture?)

When Luther seperated, one of his mottos was "Sola Scriptura". I don't think he forsaw the difficulties this would raise. Protestants read the bible, come to a conclusion, and when they find out that The Catholic Church has a different conclusion, they say 'well the Church must be worng'. So basically, they have to keep believing in just the Bible, or change too many other things they believe in!

Luther still believed in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (though slightly different than Catholics)- but even in his day, Calvin and Zwingli came to different conclusions using the Bible alone- so they formed new denominations! Nowadays, there are thousands of protestant denominations all with their own teachings- all using 'just the Bible'!

So, most of them still believe in the Trinity, but not all. Jehovahs Witnesses (usually not considered a denomination, but a cult) think Jesus was St Michael the Archangel, and not God. The United Church officially stated that they don't know for sure.

The problem is they grow up proving everything they believe in scripture to each other, and learn to argue so intensely from the Bible that they never even ask the question if it can stand alone or if the Bible ever intended to teach on things like the trinity. Catholics do this too, so that when Protestants ask us to defend our faith, we show them scripture passages that support our teaching, even though at the end of the day some of the passages were not written to do that. We basically treat scripture like a countries constitution- a basis from which to debate. And we read it like we're a bunch of lawyers. This is not how Catholic have traditionally read scripture- it is not to argue about theology, but rather to come to know the person who is God. This is why we ordain preachers- so that we can say they officially represent what the Church has to say, and we know when we hear a preacher that they are not just spouting off their opinion!

How does the Catholic Church settle arguments that protestants can't settle?

Question Take the example of all of the disagreements you said protestants have (Whether or not homosexuality is right or wrong, whether or not we should be allowed to divorce, have women pastors, how much to give, who gets saved, sacraments, honor Mary, etc.). How do we, as Catholics, know the answers to these?

Answer Again, we have the authority of the Church which has never contradicted itself. The Church is inpsired the same way as scripture- so if something is not explicit in scripture, the Church herself can teach on it. We don't have to read the Bible to find the truth- but rather God directly insp[ires the Church. You can see how this idea is offenseive to protestants, but on the other hand you can see the Church teaching the same thing all over the world and all throughout history, where protestants acknowledge that they do not have that authority.

Why can't women be priests?

Question Why can't women be priests? Isn't this incredibly sexist and something that as a society we've evolved away from?

Answer This goes back to the idea that our bodies reflect our spiritual nature. While men and women are perfectly equal, we are not the same. You should know that feminists like to argue that men and women are the same, and that saying otherwise is sexist. In fact, the president of Harvard was recently fired for making the outlandish claim that men and women are different. It's funny because it is so obvious that we are different, it's actually pretty ridiculous to imply otherwise!

So, in being different, it should not be surprising that our roles are different. Jesus, for some reason, only chose male apostles. Some people say that he was just going according to his culture, but then he did choose tax collectors and ignorant fishermen for apostles, and hung out with prostitutes- he didn't seem too concerned with the culture!

The Catholic Church claims to be inspired by God- but God only made male priests! (Might as well ask why men can't have babies- isn't that sexist? God decided) We don't have the authority to change what God did. If God wants women priests, than theoretically he could tell the Church that, and we could start making women priests- but so far God has not told us that, and I suspect He never will!

The significance of the difference between Men and Women is that men have to give love to accept love, and women have to accept love to give love. This is true physically- and that is a sign. The man has to penetrate the woman. It's also just how we are- men want to pursue, and women want to be pursued! (I bet when this is on my blog I will be eventually called sexist for writing this stuff.)

So because of this, we always refer to God in the masculine, even though God is pure spirit, and so technically neither male nor female. We always refer to the Church in the feminine. The preist is in 'personal Christi'- the person of Christ, so he represents Christ. He is a much better symbol as a male.

There's this funny notion out there that the Catholic Church should change her teachings according to culture. But again, the Church is above and outside of culture- we don't sway with the tide. JPII pretty much settled the debate on women in the pristhood when he said (quoting Pope Paul VI) "She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church." Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

Why do protestants believe in 'once saved always saved'?

Question You said that we do not believe in 'once saved always saved', that even once we are Christian we can still fall back into sin and away from God. So then being saved is kind of like it is in flag wars- you get freed, but can get caught again? Given this passage, why do Protestants believe "once saved always saved"? wouldn't it make more sense that the passage would be interpreted in this way? (Follow up on Can we work for our own salvation?)

AnswerThat's a decent analogy, except remember that the word 'saved' means healed, forgiven, rescued, freed.... so depending on the context in scripture, it could be refering to any number of things.

But protestants tend to use the word only in the sense of 'rescued', like from Hell.

The Calvinists taught (teach) that we are predestined, and can do nothing to contribute to out own salvation. This idea is scriptural, in that we can't possibly deserve salvation and it is only because of the mercy of God that we can be saved- but it ignores the fact that scripture tells us to wortk for our salvation and that we will be judged and saved according to what we did. For a Calvinist, if you're 'predestined' it means that from before all time it was decided, so it is impossible to lose your slavation. So, "once saved, always saved". When confronted with someone who obviously was a Christian and later rejected Christ, they just say that he was never really saved in the first place, he was never really predestined.

It is a problem, because scripture does refer to the 'elect', and 'predestination' (Eph 1). Like anything the ballance has to be struck between two extremes. One is that we can totally earn our way to Heaven, the other that we can't do anything and we just passively recieve salvation. Catholics are somewhere between these two extremes, and we say that anything good we do is done by the grace and prompting of God, grace builds on nature, but nature must cooperate with grace. I don't think we'll fully understand this until Heaven. (Though it'd be interesting to look into further...)

What is the Church teaching on tatoos?

Question Levitiucs 19:28 says that we should not get Tatoos. I've heard that what the Bible was getting at was that it was a costomery thing to do where they would tattoo pagan things on those ready to die or dead to prepare them for death or something like that, and this violated the first commandment about not having any false gods. Does that make sense to you?

AnswerI think it's good to look at the passage in context:

27“‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
28“‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.
So, if people take seriously the admonision against tatoos, they would also have to believe that men should all have beards, and long hair at the sides of their heads (like Orthodox Jews). Most people, Protestant and Catholic alike, would agree that these rules were to set the Jewish people apart, as a seperate people, who lived differently from the rest of the culture. They are like the rules of Kosher foods, or circumcision. In Acts 15, the Church specifically dealt with these things and said they were not binding- especially not on non Jews who were becoming Christian! So those laws are not universal moral laws, but rather customs for a certain people in a certain period of history. Christians need to learn to distinguish between these.

(That's part of the debate about homosexuality and womens ordination- are they universally binding laws, or just customs for the time? Without someone to answer that question difinitively, that's how you end up with the wide range of beliefs among protestants, and churches like the Anglican one splitting over it!)

If Luther did believe that Jesus was physically present in the Sacrament of the Alter, then how come protestants today don't belive this?

Question If Luther did believe that Jesus was physically present in the Sacrament of the Alter, then how come protestants today don't belive this?

Answer Lutherans still believe in the true presence, and so do most Anglicans. The problem with Sola Scriptura is that everybody decides for themselves what they other protestants dissagreed with Luther. Zwingli was a famous protestant who lived at the same time as Luther, and this was one of their big debates. Even if you talk to Anglicans, though they are all part of the same church, they can't agree on what they believe (even though the Anglican book of common prayer says that transubstantiation is 'repugnant to holy writ").

The problem with protestants is that no one has any real authority to translate for anyone else. You should hear this guy on the radio called the 'Bible Answer Man'- people ask him questions and he answers as though he knowsd the answer, but often he speaks out against what other famous protestants teach.

The homosexuality quesition is so big that it's causing the Anglican church to break up- and the head of it, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently lamented that he needed the authority to teach like the Pope has. But since he doesn't have it, all he can do is try to govern the varied opinions- he can never settle a debate.

Harry Potter, good or bad?

Question; One more quick thing, harry potter, good or bad? I've heard that it should be shunned by the Church because it has magic and that's evil, but to me it seems like trying to live in a bubble of protection from the world is impractical. The more aware of what's around us, the better equiped we can be to fight it, right? And I don't even think it's that bad, as long as we realize that magic isn't real at all and that nothing can contradict God's power. what do you think? and for when I try to bring this argument to school, how do Protestants view this "dilemma"?

Jesus prayed for us that we should be 'in the world, but not of the world'- so in a sense you're right that we shouldn't create a bubble around ourselves. I think one of the things that most discredits Christianity and our message is our unwillingness to intelligently dialogue with people of opposing views- and that the consequence of this is that we are considered irational, and shoved out of the marketplace of ideas.

The Church doesn't take a stand, per se, on things like Harry Potter, but there is a healthy debate in the Church. The most intelligent argument I have heard against it is that witches are actually real (and they are) and their power is not from God, but is of a supernatural nature, so it is thus from Satan. If someone wrote a kids book about drug dealers, but they were good drug dealers... of course, everyone would object. But if there are characters that are using power that essentially comes from Satan, but using it for good, we are all OK with it. This blurs the distinction between good and evil, and lends itself to relativistice thinking.

However, Catholic writers such as Tolkien also employed Wizards for good, and treated magic as though it were fantasticv and not real, which is what happens in the Potter series.

I think as Christians the more we object to this kind of stuff, the more ridiculous we look, and the more we effectively promote the stuff by stirring up controversy. I myself am listening to the series on CD as I drive back and forth from Wetaskiwin. (I also deliberately read both the Dan Brown books). I would not choose it as reading for my kids, as there is a lot of bettre stuff out there, but I don't think I would ban it either.

I think my opinion is pretty much in keeping with the Church- there is no definitive answer, and frankly it's not a big enough deal to care. By the time my kids are old enough to read, Harry Potter will just be a vague cultural memory. Something worse will have come along!

What if science contradicts scripture? What about evolution?

Question I was reading in your blog and you said that St. Augustine said that if science contradicts scripture then we need to re-interpret scripture. How can this be? What then is the Catholic Church's teaching on evolution? If everytime there is a new scientific discovery we have to re-interpret scripture, it seems to me like it won't be very long and scientific "proofs" (like in the 1960s how black people were scientifically proven to be dumber than white people because of their head shape) will contradict the entire bible, and then what?

Answer Evolution is the perfect example.

Evolution is science- not faith and morals. The Church- and indeed, even scripture- purport to be authorities on faith and morals, but not on science or history, or these other things which can be known without the dirrect inspiration of God. So if science were to 'prove' that evolution happened, then the Church would have no problem with that since it is very easy (in fact easier) to inrterpret the creation story in Genesis as poetry than as science or history.

Read Genesis 1, and you will quickly discover that it is written in a very poetic style, complete with repetion and timing, etc. A literal interpretation begs someimportant questions. If we were meant to believe that each day was a 24 hour time period, then how do we know this when there were no people to measure the time, and no sun to rise and set? If God told Moses that that is what happened, (which is what most literalists believe), well scripture also says that to God one day is like a thousand years, so who is to say that it was literally one day?

There are Christians, and even Catholics, who believe that the world is literally 6 thousand years old, and was created in 6 days. They have to account for things like dinosaurs and the extreme ages that people lived before thf flood, by what is generally considered to be 'pseudo science'- and claims that maybe dinosaurs were mostly killed off by the flood, but of course some God on tha ark (2 of each kind), but when the flood receded climate had changed so drastically that they couldn't survive, as the iceage was now started, so most dinosaus died out, but maybe the occaisional ones survived in Africa or Peru, where the Ice Age didn't effect the climate as much. Then some of Noahs decendents went to cold places, like England and America,
and became Cave Men, where as other people went to warm places where farming was possible, like Egypt and India and Babylon, and built great civilizations, so that these great civilizatioons and cave men lived on Earth at the same time. It is a facinating discussion, which I do not have time to delve into here. (Note the picture of the human riding a dinosaur, purportedly a 500 year old image from Peru)

Evolutionary scientists have a different bias. They want to explain the existence of everything, but cannot use anything imeasurable (science only deals with measurable things) so anything which is pure spirit, like God, is outside the realm of science. So they try to explain how everything got here but they absolutely cannot entertain the idea of God- so evolution is really the only theory that works.

So, literalists have to believe that everything in the bible is literal. Athiestic evolutionists have to account for the universe without the possibility of God. Catholics have the advantages of both schools of thought, without the dissadvantages. We are not required to believe that everything in the Bible was even meant top be taken literally, much less that it should be. the first 12 chapters of Genesis are generally considered to be possibly more myth than literal history. However, discerning what should be requires mature and honest inspection. If you read Lukes account of the story of Jesus, it is very obvious that it was meant to betaken literally, and as Catholics we obviously do take it literally. You can't lump the whole Bible into one genre of literature.

In short the Church does not have a teaching on evolution, excpet that it is a possible and highly respectable idea, because the Church is not and does not claim to be an authority on science. Incidentally, there were many who though a heliocentric (sun at the center) universe was contrary to scripture, and this is what caused some of the problems for Galileo. (The Pope he had a conflict with, though, just said he should present his views ballanced with the traditional view that Earth is at the center. Galileo refused, and effectively printed documents where the pope was being called a simpleton. The Pope was a worldly authority, so had him arrested. Galileo was never tortured, that's a myth.)

Science cannot possibly 'disprove' matters of faith and morals, simply because faith and morals are about things which are immeasurable, which science cannot deal with. So science and theology are 2 completely seperate disciplines, but they both lead us to truth. That is the Catholic standpoint- if it is the domain of science, listen to science, if it is the domain of faith and morals, listen to the Church. That way you get the fullness of truth!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Zietgeist video- was the Jesus story just an evolved version of the ancient Egyptian Horus story?

Question- Hey Peter I know this is against everything we believe but I just wanna know what you think about it.

As I was watching this, I noticed a remarkable similarity between these videos and those that claim that 9-11 was an inside job. A conspiracy theory. Imagine my surprise when at the end of the video, it moved into the 9-11 conspiracy! (If you continue watching the video to the very end, you will actually find that it goes from facinating to laughable in a very short period.)

At first I found the whole thing fairly convincing- however, the more I watched, the more I realized how much they were deliberately fudging the facts, and misrepresenting them. Some of the errors were very obvious to me, and would be to anyone with even marginal Christian knowledge. What the creators of the documentary are depending on is that people will not actually know the truth, so their lies will easily get past people. (And frankly, they are probably right- most people would buy the whole package. But it does not take muchr esearch to discover the errors.)

For example- the documentary claims that Horus and others were' crucified'. I do not find that in the research I did, and moreover I was fairly convinced that the stories of Horus by far predate crucifixion- and it turns out I was right. Crucifixion goes back to about 500BC, and was used by the Persians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Macedonians and Romans. Not the Egyptians. Here are some other major problems:

The major precepts of Christ were invented at the council of Nicea in 325- Interestingly, the novel "The Davinci Code" makes a similar argument, but still maintains that Christ existed, and even has decendents! I would place the credibility of this video about on par with the Davinci Code- that is to say, they are both clever fictions.

The problem is that the gospels, as every scholar wuill agree, by far predate the council of Nicea- and they include the major points that Jesus was born of a virgin, baptized at 30, crucified, and rose again. So it is ridiculous to claim that the romans made that story up to control their population. There are hundreds of historical documents that predate Constantine and Nicea- in fact, Nicea was called in order to settle the debate as to whether Jesus was God- a debate that could not have existed if they hadn't 'invented' the person of jesus yet.

Jesus never existed.

First of all, the historic document from Josephus is not a settled forgery- it's authenticity is debated. The documentary overstates it's case, which to a thinking person undermines its case.

Secondly, take a look at the gospel of Luke and the book of acts for example. These are both carefully placed in their historic context- they do not speak like myths at all. In fact, the author (Luke) becomes a part of the story in the book of acts- in other words, the events that are happening are first person accounts!

Take Pauls testimony as well, which you can read first hand in Galatians. He claims that Jesus apeared to him, and that's what changed his life. These letters, and the gospels themselves, are in fact historic documents- it's ridiculous to claim otherwise, and no serious scholar would do that. Simply because evryone who recorded the information about Christ also happened to believe it does not mean it didn't happen! (In fact, it seems to increase the likelihood that it happened.)

Easter is when it is because of the coming of spring.

Jesus' life fulfilled the Old Testament. He is the 'lamb of God" because he takes the place of the passover lamb, and he dies when the passover lambs are sacrificed. Jews still celebrate the passover when Christians celebrate Easter. Shall we suggest that Jews are also part of the conspiracy- celebrating Passover when they do to lend credence to Christians?

Jesus was born Dec 25th

It's pretty well known that we don't actually know when Jesus was born, but that we celebrate it Dec 25th precisely because we adopted the Pagan feast of Light, when the days begin getting longer. As Christianity spread and took out paganism, Christians would refer to things already familiar in the culture and adopt them if they lent themselves well. So, we made the winter solstice our clebration of Christs birth. This is like in contemporary times when Christians will produce rap music- we are just trying to make the faith more palatable to contemporary culture. Scriptures don't tell us when Jesus was born- that was a later tradition.

3 Kings-
The story of the three kings is a tradition. In scripture, there are 'wise men", not kings, who come to Jesus, and the number is not specific. It is possible, I suppose, that the later tradition that they are three kings could have derived from the constellation, but the innitial story is different.

South Cross- The idea that the setting sun lines up with the south cross constellation- this constellation is actually not even visible anywhere north of 25 degrees north latitude- in otherwords, while it would some times be visible from Egypt, it is never visible from Israel, or Europe.

Europeans did not discover and map it until the 'age of dicovery', when the portugeuse were exploting Africa, in the 15th century.

Noahs flood story is taken from the epic of gilgamesh

First of all, the epic of giglamesh is from Babylon, not Egypt. secondly, suppose there really was a world wide flood? Wiould you not expect other cultures to have myths about it?

However, for the record, Catholics are not required to believe in a literal workld wide flood. There are parts of the bible that apear to be alegorical, and other parts that are clearly historical. As I mentioned, the Gospel of Luke is clearly historical. The first 12 chapters of Genesis, from Creation to the tower of babel, are not written in a historical but more in a allegorical/poetic style. You may belive in them literally, but you don't have to. I personally don't.

Fundamentalist Christians believe the world is only 12000 years old.

Most fundamentalists actually think the world is 6000 years old, because if you add up all the ages of all the people in the OT, you can figure that out. But again, as Catholics, we don't have to believe that those first few chapters are literal history- they are not even written in such a way as to imply they were intended that way! Science seems to very clearly indicate an older world. St Augustine (who lived around the time of the council of Nicea, interestingly) said that if we discover that science states something contrary to scripture than we need to reinterpret scripture.

The way some protestants read the bible comes from the reformation- where Luther said that the Bible alone is the authority. Since then protestants have taken that assumption, and used scripture as a means of arguing, which has forced them into a very legalistic and literallistic interpretation of scripture, much like americans and their constitution. Catholics do not think that way, and don't have to.

As for the guy ridiculing what Christians think about dinosaurs- I find that they took the most ridiculous argument possible, and treat it like all Christians agree. But ask around- I bet you can't get a single Christians to say that dinosaur bones were put on earth to test our faith! (Or that they were manufactured by the devil to trick us, which may be the other potential ridiculous argument.)

The 12 apostles are a parallel with the 12 zodiak signs

Like I say, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. There is a type of theology called "typology" where you look for parallels between somethingb in the OT and how it was fulfilled by Christ- so Joseph was a 'type' of Christ- as was Adam, Moses, Abraham, Melchizedek, David... etc.

Jospeh had 12 borthers, who's families became the 12 tribes of Israel- this is purely history, and the fact that there are 12 zodiac signs are clearly a coincidence. You cannot read the OT and seriously think that the 12 tribes are allegory.

Jesus established a new covenant, and had 12 apostles to represent the 12 tribes. that's why there were 12.

Believe it or not, there's way more, but taht's just the stuff I pretty much knew right off the bat!

There are a lot of funny conspiracy type theories out there, and unfortunately in this age of digital communication anyone can make a documentary to represent 1/2 truths that support their theories and ignore the facts which contradict them I remember being fairly convinced that 9-11 was a conspiracy, then seeing other documentaries that debunk the conspiracy ones and feeling ripped off because the conspiracy ones were preying on my ignorance, and assuming that I would not do the necessary research!

There are other schools of thought along the same lines: 2012, the world is only 6000 years old, man on the moon was faked, great depression was orchestrated, the Davinci Code, Elvis is Alive, Paul McArtney died before the Beatles disbanded, JFK was taken out by the FBI.... etc, etc, etc. Once you realize how many there are, and that you can't get to the bottom of them all, I think the responsible thing to do is not to become paranoid, but take a look at what the serious scholars think, and go from there. Do not rest too much credence in these documentaries! The point is, the ones who attack Christianity are really inconsistent, and actually contradict each other too!

At the end of the day, we have a choice. Either Catholocism is true, or it is a deliberate lie, and all the popes and cardinals are for some reason deliberately proliferating the lie. I, obviously, find that harder to believe than that Christ is real!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What does the Catholic Church teach about Tatoos?

QuestionTatoos have kind of been getting really popular at my school, and I don't know what to think. I know that somewhere in Leviticus it clearly states not to mark yourself with ink or engrave the dead in your skin, which makes sense from a Catholic mindset but not a Protestant one, due to their not seeing the connection between physical and spiritual. I also don't know for sure whether or not that passage was literal or just a metaphor for not forgetting that God made all, and takes all away, and that he should be our focus and not necessarily loved ones who've passed away. The biggest arguement I hear is, "Well if it's meaningful and I want to remember my grandma then why can't I?" Especially when most of these people are Protestants who don't get that connection between physical and spiritual. I don't want to be like the person in the one scripture who was supposed to alert the city of any invading armies and failed to do so, so the city was overthrown, but at the same time everyone should be free to do and act as they so choose right? What should I do when these kinds of conversations come up?

AnswerI'm pretty sure that Catholic don't take a stand either way on tatoos. Some funny moral things come from a group of protestants called 'puritans', who thought tatoos, playing cards, dancing, any alcohol whatsoever... that all these things were wrong. It's not founded in the Bible, and Jesus himself drank alcohol (obviously), King David danced (2 Sam 6:14), and some people even think St Paul haed a tatoo, because he said "Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Gal 6:17). I seriously doubt that Paul had a tatoo, but there you go. Tatoos are not bad- alot of protestants think things are bad, but don't really know why. (Ever see the Simpsons where Homer and Bart go to Catholic Heaven? Gives you an idea!)

Does the Church have authority to release souls from purgatory?

Question Does the Church have authority to release souls from purgatory? How far does this authority extend?Doesn't the idea of indulgences and the Church being capable of just "sending souls to Heaven" contradict the idea of being made just rather than declared just?

Answer This is like the question of forgiving sins. When Jesus forgave someones' sins, the scribes asked how he could be doing that, since only God has authority to forgive sins. (Mark 2:6-12). Yet later he gives this authority to his apostles! (John 20:23). So something that only God could do properly, he has given authority to the Church to do.

This is also what is meant by the keys of the kingdom in Matt 16. When the king went away, he would give the keys to someone else (prime minister) in order to indicate that they were responsible and had the kings authority to make decisions. Jesus gave the keys to Peter, the first pope. So the Church only has that authority because Christ has given it to them.

But to be clear, the Church cannot arbitrarily declare that someone is in Heaven. For all we know, they may have gone to Hell. What the Church can do is offer the means to pay the debts we have incurred through our sins. (Though we are forguiven our sins, we still have to make up for the damage caused. If I sleep with someone other than my wife, and she and God forgive me, it will still take a long time to rebuild the relationship with Catherine, get rid of the images of the other girl, etc. And she may get pregnant, or I could get an std. So being forgiven does not remove the consequences of sin.)

Suppose you stole a Ferrari from some rich person, went on a joy ride, and smashed it. Afterwards you go back, and ask forgiveness- the person forgives you, but you still owe them the Ferrari! You will never be able to afford to pay it... so the rich person says "I tell you what. For the next 2 months, you come hear every day and work for me from 9-5, and we'll call it even." The wages you would have earned are not nearly equal to what you owe- but the rich person gives you the means of paying the debt.

So God gives us the means of paying the debt through indulgences, that would otherwise have taken a very long time. basically what it means is that we can use our suffering, work, prayer, donations, etc, and get way more value out of them then we actually deserve! We are still being transformed- it is still a process- but God is helping with the process.

How do Protestants interpret the binding and loosing passage?

There are several ways of interpreting this passage. One is that priests have the authority to forgive sins. (Jesus was explicit in John 20:23 that Apostles have that authority). Another is the authority to teach- because if a rabbi 'bound' something, that meant he was making that the rule. If we bind and loose on Earth, then it is bound or loosed in Heaven- in other words, what the Church teaches as true actually is true. Another is the strange idea that the Church can distribute graces. It's like God gave the Church a storehouse of graces... so the Church can make a decision like creating indulgences, etc.

Another interpretation which would probably be more popular among protestants is the binding and loosing of demons. For a lot of protestants, demons are not just what you picture in exorcisms and stuff, but are actually the source of bad moods, inconveniences, anger, illnesses, etc. (Catholics tend to just attribute these things to nature). There is even a joke, how many pentecostals does it take to change a lightbulb? 5. 1 to change the bulb, and 4 to cast out the spirit of darkness. So you'll often hear proetstants binding and loosing' spirits- something you don't often hear Catholics doing.

What is the biggest difference between Protestants and Catholics?

I'd say the biggest difference is the authority of the Church. Protestants believe in 'Sola Scriptura"- only the Bible is the source of truth. Catholics believe in the Church as well. Amongst protestants, there is a huge variety of ideas, because they all interpret the Bible differently. If Sola Scriptura worked, all the protestants would agree. But by in large, they can't figure out if homosexuality is wrong or not, or whether they should divorce, have women pastors, how much money to give, sacraments, who gets saved, honour Mary..... etc. Protestants are really all over the place! Jehovahs Witnesses even use the same bible, and come to completely different conclusions, like that Jesus was not God, and only 144,000 people go to Heaven. So the bible alone is not only unscrpitural- it has been demonstrated to not work! Whereas in 2000 years, all over the world, the catholic Church has always (officially) taught the same thing. (I say officially because there are always wack jobs who claim to be Catholic, but teach their own opinions instead of truth.)

What is the body/spirit connection?

Question What is wrong with thinking that there is no connection between physical and spiritual, and that is only symbolic? If we believe it to be a physical sign of a spiritual reality, then isn't it symbolic? I can understand how it is a more special symbolism than other kinds, but isn't is still symbolism rather than an actual connection?

AnswerIt's kind of like the passage where Jesus spits and makes mud to heal a blind man. He didn't have to do that- but he uses physical things because they make sense to us. The Bible is full of counts of people doing something physical- lifting their hands, bathing in the Jordan, touching dead bones of a prophet.

Humans are both spiritual and physical. Though God is pure spirit, for our sake, he relates to us at both these levels. Some people (dualists) think of the body as like a prison for the soul- and when we die, we shed the prison. But the body is actually as much who we are as the spirit- this is why even the body will rise again at the end of the world.

It's like the fact that Jesus took on a body, and really, physically dies. He could have saved us without doing that- but He chose not to. These things indicatethe value of our physical nature.

The body-spirit connection have been very understated historically- this is why Pope John Paul II worked so hard to develop the Theolo9gy of the Body, that our bodies are 'sacraments'- physical signs- of our spiritual realities, and the two are intrinsically linked.

Does everyone get saved?

Question Do Protestants believe that everyone will be saved and immediately go to heaven?

Answer Everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord. It begs some important questions about what happened to people who never even hear about Jesus, through no fault of their own. Catholics believe that God can save those people too, by his grace working through them, but they may not realize that is what is happening.

How can the Church teach things not explicitly in Scripture?

Question- If purgatory isn’t explicitly biblical where does it come from and why do we believe it to be absolute truth?

Answer The Trinity is not explicitly biblical either. The idea that something has to be explicitly biblical came from Luther, because he didn't believe the Church was inspired the same way the Bible is. The problem is, the Bible was never written to teach us everything we could know about God, and the idea that everything would be in the Bible is not in the Bible, so it is actually self contradictory!

Catholics do not believe that all of revelation is explicitly in scripture. That would actually pose major problems- for example, where in scripture does it tell you which books belong in scripture? It doesn't- someone needed to decide that! (There were other books written about Jesus in the time of the apostles that did not make the cut, for example.) Because the Catholic Church is inspired, and can't make mistakes, it chose the books which are now in the Bible. By the time they did so- 300 years after Jesus- people were already arguing about stuff like the Trinity. However, it should be noted that stuff like purgatory and the honour of Mary and the true presence in the Eucharist were already well established!

So, in short-

The authority of the Bible does not make sense without the authority of the Church who gave us the Bible. The authority of the Church also taught us about purgatory.

Can we work for our Salvation?

Question What is wrong with thinking we can't work towards our own salvation? Is it just that then we don't try as hard and don't worry about hurting God? Is this the same idea with why we must be made just rather than declared just? What is meant by "once saved always saved"?

Answer One of the things that Luther objected to was the fact that people were trfying to 'earn' their way to Heaven. as if we could ever be so good that we could 'deserve' a relationship with God! He was right that we can never deserve it, but God through his grace wants to make us perfect anyway. We could never do it on our own. Lutherans and Catholics agree that we are saved by Grace (God's free gift) and not by works. But Luther thought that grace can 'declare' someone 'saved'- ie, perfect, prepared for Heaven- even though they are not perfect. Whereas Catholic teach that grace is working to make us perfect- and if the job is not done on Earth (which it hardly ever is) there is purgatory to finish the deal.

Some protestants (not all) say that since all you need to be 'saved' is to accept Jesus as Lord, then once you do this it is impossible to go back. You say it, and you can be absolutely certauin then that you will go to Heaven. Obviously, some people accept Jesus as Lord, and turn their backs on Him later- those protestants would just say that person was never really saved in the first place. That's what is meant by 'once saved always saved'.

For Catholics, since salvation is a process and not a one time thing, we continue to fight our sinful nature throughout life, and put all our Hope and trust in God that He can and will save us, but we have to fight for it. This is why scripture says things like

" out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12b-13)

The idea of process I think gives humans more diginty because we are part of what's going on, and is better for this world because it includes the promise that people can be freed from corruption here- so if we want to transform the world, there is hope that through bringing people to Christ this can happen.

Why is the Church Corrupt?

Question Ok, so first off, the Church was historically corrupt primarily because it was an authority of two opposing values,the religious and worldly power, which makes sense because straight out of the Bible it says how one cannot serve two masters, for he will either love one and hate the other, or hate one and love the other. So the corruption can be blamed on this, right?

Answer The Church has had corruption in her history for a number of reasons. The fact that power was found in the Church is a major one, but I wouldn't say it's the only cause. Worldly power, money and respect would attract the wrong sort, so it should not be surprising that when the Church was at its most influential, there was more corruption. Even today you will find more corruption in Africa then in N. America, because in Africa there's more wealth and power associated!

But, at the end of the day, there's sin in the Church because God chooses to use people to acomplish his mission, despite the fact that people are sinners. It's kind of like suppose there was some scandal at OLVC- say, I was pocketing the registration money. It's not because God is not using OLVC, but rather because He has chosen to use people, and I myself can be corrupted. Even in the Bible, St Paul had to confront St Peter on a sin he was commiting. (Gal 2:11-21)

I suppose it would be more effective for God just to by pass our corruption and do everything Himself. Just like, it'd be easier for me to just give all the talks at OLVC, rather than train people. But even if people will make mistakes, I want to raise more people up to be leaders- and so does God! (Even just now I let my 2 year old 'help' me unload the dishwasher. I could do it better and faster myself, but it gives her some dignity, and she will eventually learn.)

This is the difference between being 'infallible' and being 'inscrutible'. Infallible means you are protected from ever making a mistake in teaching, so that when the Church teaches something complicated like the Trinity or 'abortion is wrong', you don't have to wonder if they are right. Without this, it would be anyones guess what the truth is. But if God made the Church inscrutible as well, He would essentially be overiding the free will of the Popes... and then the very people who want to teach us how to overcome temptation, and grow in virtue and love God- would not even be capable of those things!

Monday, November 1, 2010

My friend is gay, but wants to come back to church- how can I help him?

Question Hey, Peter! I noticed that you've started a blog and I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something about a friend of mine.
One of my friends is Catholic but he hasn't been going to church recently. Before school started he told me that he wants to start going back to church and getting involved in the faith again. But there seems to be something that he feels is getting in the way...
Well...he also happens to be gay. He's been keeping it a secret from his friends and co-workers, so I'm a little surprised that he was able to tell me something so personal about himself! He also told me it's not exactly his favorite thing about himself - hence why he doesn't tell people.
Do you have any advise for what I could do or say to help him get his foot back in the door?

AnswerFirst of all, I want to congratulate you that as a Catholic, you are so open and genuine with your friend, that he is willing to come to you with this without fear of being judged.

I would suggest first of all that you remain frank with him- you can even tell him that you are doing so. People hate duplicity, like when you can tell that someone won't come right out and say something, but they are hinting at it. So, you regard homosexual actions as sinful- don't gloss over that. You want your friend to come back to church- tell him that! If he knows that you are being honest and straight up with him, you give him permission to have a similar degree of openess with you. Of course in this, you don't have to tell him about negative feelings or thoughts you have. Hopefully you don't have any! If you do, recognize that you are being judgemental, and repent of that. What you want is to consistently speak the truth, without judgment.

We need somehow to get the message out that homsoexuality is objectively sinful, and as such that it is self destructive. People will tell him that to be homosexual is who he is, that he should take his identity in it, and therefore if you reject the action as sinful, you are effectively rejecting him as damned. This is ridiculous, of course. It would be like if a cancer patient felt judged because you said 'cancer is a disease.' But this is genuinely how homosexual people feel- that if homosexuality is seen as anything less than on par with heterosexuality, this must therefore be a condemnation.

As a Catholic you have an opportunity to do powerful outreach with him. You said he does not like the fact that he is homosexual. Perhaps this is in part why he has come to you. Perhaps he does not want to hear the nonsense that that's just who he is and he should not only cope with it, but take pride in it. Maybe what he wants is hope.

I know of a case of a crossdresser, who had been cross dressing since he was a kid. He rejected that action as sinful and as a psychological dissorder, and now, through his Christian faith, he has been able to put that fetish behind him. On the other hand I know of a kid who is a crossdresser, and was brought to counseling where the counselor gave him womens clothes to wear, as 'therapeutic play'. Rather than helping him get out of this strange habit, she worked to entrench it by telling him that it's who he is and there is nothing he can do about it.

I know of similar cases with homosexuals. I have a friend who is homosexual, but sees the action as sinful, and so is living a fairly contented celibate life. This is the hope that Christianity offers- freedom from sin. The message of the homosexual community is that you are your sin, and thus there is no hope for you. This is frightening, since we know that despair is the unforgivable sin. If you give up hope that God can change you, then you refuse to ever repent and be changed. And of course, if you start with the premise that you can't be changed, you will have to reject Christianity and it's God which declare that you can!

To be clear, though, it is likely that your friend will continue to have homosexual desires, even if he lives a pure life. Just as a married man will still be tempted to look at porn or have extramarital sex. But God is faithful- he gives us the grace to get through it! God may no more 'heal' your friend of homosexuality (though he sometimes does) then He would heal a blind man or a schizophrenic. God has, for whatever reason, created all sorts of people with all sorts of dissorders, but each has to learn to live out their life in a way glorifying to him inspite of all this!

So, your message has to be one of love and hope. Invite him to Church, listen to him, validate his feelings, and continue to communicate the truth. He may reject you, but I suspect he has come to you out of a desire for truth and release in the first place. Beyond that, there are groups that specialize in helping homosexuals to put the homosexual lifestyle behind them. I am not personally aquainted with the various agencies, so I would be reluctant to recommend any particular one, but I would suggest that your friend look into that.

Keep praying for him, and above all, keep loving him and listening to him!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The catholic church sold indulgences and were historically corrupt. How do you know it is right?

Question: Hey Peter, I saw your blog and I think it's great! The one question I have that isn't really answered up there is this. Why Catholicism? I know I'm really firmly rooted in my Faith, I just don't really know what Faith that is, if that makes sense. Basically I guess just hearing about how corrupt the Catholic Church was and in some cases still is makes me wonder. I definitely believe in the Bible and that everything actually happened, it just seems like the Catholic Church has taken advantage of people and been hypocritical at times, at least from some of the conversations I've had with some of my Protestant friends. Maybe I just don't have the facts right? Take the example of indulgences. What I've heard from a fairly reliable friend was that the Catholic Church used to sell them, telling people that they'd go to Heaven sooner or at all as long as they bought these indulgences. Is this true?

Answer: Excelent question. I sort of did deal with that question, under the headimg "How do I know I am right"- However, that article does not address the historical aspects that you ask about.

This question is so complicated, with so many facets, that my answer will be long, and will likely only serve to raise more questions.

I think it should be first acknowledged that the Church does indeed have a scandalous past- and indeed, present. The Church is full of sinners, and their is corruption in every level. This does not necessarily mean that what they believe is wrong... don't judge the medicine by who it fails on, but by who it works on. Somehow the Church mannaged to produce Mother Teresa and John Paul II and Padre Pio.

Some people would sort of sidetrack the issue by saying the Church was really not that bad. Often you'll hear the Church described in say the crusades or the inquisition, in an eroneous (some times even maliciously eroneus) manner. When you hear this stuff, look up the real history- people like to repeat the most scandalous stuff! Consider that the Church was not only a spiritual, but also a worldy authority- and so there was a lot of money and power to be wielded by bishops, which would attract corrupt people. Looked at in their historical context, these things make a bit more sense. (I sometimes wonder if the Church won't some day be frowned upon for not doing enough to stop abortion...) But, we really did sin in the crusades, and arguably even more so in the inquisition.

So, I think we have a responsibility to do 2 things- first, learn about the mistakes we have made in the past. (For this I suggest you get some cds from Mastthew Arnold, They are fantastic!) Secondly, we need to see that the Church is infallible, not inscrutible.- that is to say that it cannot make an error in teaching, though the Pope or even the church as a whole can sin.

As for indulgences... I'll explain the teaching first, and the abuses you refered to later.

This is a hard teaching to grasp, in large part because we have a protestant mindset nowadays. We read the Bible like protestants, we seperate the spiritual world from the physical world, like protestants, we think that we can do nothing to work towards our own salvation (Phil 2:12-13), like protestants. Alot of Catholic do not even realize that they are doing this.

Protestants do not believe in purgatory, in part because it is not explicitly biblical, and in part because it does not agree with their idea of 'justification'. Luther essentially taught that we are 'justified by faith (Rom 3:28)'- meaning, by his definition, declared just by believeing in Christ. Catholics understand both justification and faith differently. We think justification means we are actually made just rather than just declared just, and that this is a process. It is by faith insofar as we have to trust God that He will do what he says he will do in us, and so we have to cooperate with grace- the thing that sancifies us, or makes us just.

So because it is a process, and not just a one off thing (this one off idea gives protestants all kinds of problems, as they then have to wonder about 'once saved always saved', etc)- I say, because it is a process, if the process of sanctification is incomplete in this world, we have to complete it in the next.

So this is what your friend meant by 'getting to Heaven faster'- the purification process gets sped up. However, people who would have otherwise gone to Hell, could not have changed their destination through indulgences.

The seperation of physical and spiritual plays in, because protestants do not understand things like sacraments and relics, or even statues, because they effectively don't get how the physical realm is linked with the spiritual realm. In fact, they don't even understand sex! This is why they don't see that birth control is wrong. Interestingly, most protestants still believe in water with baptism, but they don't know why besides that Jesus said to do it that way. The Catholic understanding is that a sacrament is a physical sign of a spiritual reality- that it effects what it signifies. In other words, a physical thing has a spiritual effect. You can see how this makes no sense to the protestant mind set.

Lastly, they do not think that the Church has any real authority. The Catholic Church claims to have authority from Christ to 'bind and loose',(Matt 16:19) which means (in part) to release graces and make decisions about them! This idea is totally ludicrous to the protestant mind set- just as the idea that the Church has the authority to forgive sins is ludicrous. I should point out though that Jesus' contemporaries thought it was ludicrous too(Mark 2:1-12)- yet Jesus did it, and gave authority to his diciples to do likewise. (John 20:23). The Church does not presume to have this power- rather it is invested in them through Christ.

So, amazingly, the Church has the authority to release graces, and to set conditions for the release! Moreover, another thing protestants don't understand, is that one persons suffering can benefit another, and so we can become a source of grace for each other. So I can meet the required conditions, achieve an indulgence, and even transmit those graces to the soul of another. Today is Halloween... in 2 days it is "All Souls Day". Within a week of all souls day, I can gain a plenary indulgence (get out of purgatory free card) by going to confession, attending Mass, praying in the graveyard, praying for the intentions of the Pope, and having no attachment tio sin. I can get another plenary indulgence every day for 8 days, and get 8 souls out of purgatory! (Again, I must reiterate, the reason this idea seems so incongruent with your ideas about God and your soul is because you are already thinking like a protestant, not like a Catholic. You'll notice, however, that the Catholic mode of thinking can make much better sense out of Jesus' death on the Cross and how it saves us.)

Historically, however, abuses set in. It stands to reason that if you can gain indulgences by saying certain prayers or going on a pilgrimage, likewise you could get them by giving money to charity. And it may be that that charity would be, say, the building of a Church. Around Luthers time, St Peters Basilica was being built in Rome. Pope Leo X offered indulgences to people who gave alms to rebuild St Peres. People started effectively selling indulgences, and pocketing some of the money. It should be noted that even before this, Popes had been trying to reign in abuses like the sale of indulgences... so it would be somewhat misleading to say 'the Church sold indulgences', since really it was people in the Church and not the Church per se. You cannot 'sell' anything blessed, because that is the sin of simony. Likewise, you can't sell the blessed sacrament, or graces. Indulgences for alms should not be seen as puschasing grace, but rather as being rewarded with grace for generosity. But agian, people abused it and 'sold' indulgences. Anyway, this was one of the major things that outraged Luther and started the reformation.

As it stands, the Church affirms the idea of indulgences, but recognizes that the practices at that time were abusive. Shortly after the reformation started, the council of Trent was called, and they looked at this whole practice. They said that only the magisterium could 'publish' induilgences, and eventually added that these could never involve any fees or financial transactions.

So, there you have it. Indulgences is one of a miriad of historical examples where people are outraged by partial information and understanding, but if you do the research, you find that the Catholic position actually makes sense- even if people in practice abused principles found in theology.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Should I wear purple on purple day?

Question: K so this morning brought a dilemna my way and I wanted to know your opinion on it and the decision I made. So today is like wear purple day to stand up for those boys who committed suicide after coming out about being gay and then being bullied about it. Where my dilemna lies is that although as Catholics we do not think suicide is the right choice so we would support an anti-suicide thing, we also don't believe it is right to be gay. So do we support this purple thing or not? Yes I feel bad for those people and it wasn't right for them to be bullied because of their sexuality and it wasn't right for them to committ suicide, but I also don't think it's right to be gay. Kinda difficult. I sort of talked to a friend about it this morning because I didn't think as a Catholic I should support it, and she agreed, but was that the right call? Let me know what you think.

Tough question. I think that if you wear purple it would suggest to people that you support "gay rights", and thus that you are endorsing homosexuality. On the other hand, while as Catholics we think homosexuality is sinful, we do not think homosexuals ought to despair. Suppose there was a similar day as a consequence of, say, prostitutes who felt desperately trapped in their prostitution, and so commited suicide. If we wore, say, Red, on that day, to show our solidarity, I don't think it would be seen as an endorsement rather than as an indication that we want to be there for, and help and love the prostitutes. Whcih is exactly how we should be for the gays! (To be clear, we should also make the distinction that it is not bad to be gay, but to have gay sex. Heterosexual sex is also wrong in many circumstances!)

So, what we somehow have to do as Catholics is clearly communicate a stance that we are supportive and loving of the homosexual person, while still regarding homosexual actions as sinful. Like Christ when He spoke to the woman caught in adultery, and said "Go and sin no more." He clearly loved her, much more so than the religious radicals who were all too happy to condemn her for her sin, but did not endorse or encourage her sin.

I never heard that it was wear purple day. I think at some level I would say that yes you should wear it, coupled with some symbol of Catholicism (crucifix, etc) but then have the courage to stand up for what is true and to tell people what you think when asked. The problem is for the homosexual they are only recieving 2 messages; One, that they are OK, and their whole identity is homosexuality, therefore they are little more than their sexual drives. The other that they are perverted and despised and damned. The truth is somewhere between those 2 extremes, and frankly the only place for hope is in the truth. We have to get the message out!

I think too that the gay community deliberately wants to polarize the argument- if everyone who does not endorse them appears hateful and 'homophobic', then in the name of tolerance everyone will be too scared to take a stand. We have to somehow outsmart that trap!

I guess this answer is probably longer than what you were looking for, and still vague. I'm of two minds on the subject, and have been sorting my own thoughts as I type! I don't have any purple myself, so it's not an issue for me, but I would suggest that whichever way you chose to go, you're probably good, provided you're prepared to speak for truth!

How do I know I am right?

Considering that people all over the world believe different things, and believe them strongly, how do you know that what you believe is right?

I often wrestle with this very idea- and frankly, I do not know that I am right! That said, I would be willing to die for what I believe.

The difficulty is that, we have to make a decision one way or another. Faith is a virtue, not an emotion, subject to our circumstances. That means that by its very nature, Faith is , at least in part, a choice. (It is also a gift, but that's another discussion!)

There is a sense that we should not commit to any one thing being true until we are absolutely certain that it is. The difficulty is, that I think absolutel certainty is impossible- therefore, adopting this philosophy we will live and act as though nothing were true!

We do have to make a choice at some point. Supposing there was a group of people lost in the woods. Each had their own idea of which way was the way, or the best way, out. No one knew for certain. For our analogy, let's suppose that no one was looking for them. The idea that they ought to just sit tight and wait for the way out to become aparent is a mistake. They will die lost. However, if they can apply their reason, determine which idea is most likely true, and follow it- that's probably their best chance.

Here the reasone why I think Catholocism is the most likely thing to be true, thus I choose to believe it and act accoridngly.

1. Miracles: There are some miracles, notably Our Lady of Guadalupe and the miracle at Lanciano, that I do not know what to do with unless I believe that they are true. They only other possibility in my mind is that they are very elaborate and well done hoaxes. (I will not humor the notion, espoused by Richard Dawkins, that the molecules just happened to rearrange themselves in the shroud just such that an image appears there, and all the other anomolies...). The difficulty is, supposing 500 years ago, Juan Diego thought he should decieve people into Catholocism by painting a picture on his robe... how is it that the illusion continues to persist and amaze under scientific scrutiny some 500 years later? Either the Catholic faith is true, or it is deliberately and continually deceptive. Either divine or diabolical.

I have also had personal 'miracles', but we'll leave those where they are for now, since they cannot undergo any scientific or objective scrutiny.

2. Logic. I suspect that if there is a spiritual reality, which by its very nature cannot be percieved by science, than either we would have to guess at it, or it would have to be revealed. Guessing would have no assurance whatsoever, so this leaves revelation.

Here's the difficulty with that. If truth is revealed, then it would have to be revealed by a good and personal God. (An impersonal God would not bother to reveal truth, and a God that is not good may not tell the truth). This immediately eliminates all the Eastern religions, Buddhism or hinduism, for example, which do not hold that there is a good and personal God who would revel 'himself' to us.

The western religions, including Christianity (and the sects- Jehovahs witnesses, Mormons, etc), Islam and Judaism. I will not here get into how Christianity fulfills Judaism,but there is remarkable evidence for that. I would argue however that Christianity- which holds that God is not only good and personal, but moreover is love, which may be said to be a perfection of those qualities- In Christianity, God by His nature suddenly wants to know us, and thus to reveal Himself to us. These ideas are ludicrous to Islam, which holds it as nothing short of blasphemy that Christians refer to God as Father.

So if the only way we could know truth is if God was good and personal, does it follow that the most good and personal God, ie, that of Christianity must necessarily be the right one? I guess not- it's not water tight, but it seems extremely likely to me!

Lastly, within Christianity. Supposing it really mattered to God that we know the truth, and moreover that we are united. (Jesus certainly indicated that this was important.) Either one of 2 things would make this happen. Either God would reveal Himself, and thus truth, to every honest and discerning person who sought Him, and thus all Christians would come to the same conclusions. I think history has demonstrated that this has not happened. The second option is that Christ would make a church infallible- that is, give it His assurance that it would never be wrong. Again, we can see if by history this has happened.

So far as I know, there are only 2 churches making that claim- Catholics and, to some lesser degree, Mormons. As to Mormons, they have also to claim that for several centuries this protection was lifted, and so there was no assurance of truth, and it was only recently restored.

I guess the question is, which Church has never contradicted itself on matters of faith and morals? It should be so remarkably easy to demonstrate that Catholocism has done this... unless it hasn't.

So, the long way around, it comes to this. I do not 'know' the truth, in the scientific, objective sense. I do know my experiences, but those don't weigh much objectively against the experiences of countless others who disgree with me. But in light of history and logic, I have made a decision, and hope to grow in the virtue of faith by living by that decision.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I am a girl, with a girlfriend. Does God still Love me?

The thing about homosexuality, when it comes to sex, is that it is not perfectly chaste. This is because sex is supposed to be at least open to children. Since homosexual sex cannot possibly create children, it likewise cannot possibly be chaste. That being said, niether is sex before marriage, since it is not commited. Or sex within marriage using contraception. Or so on and so forth. Any kind of sex that is not part of a loving, commited relationship, or open to life, is sinful. (It gets pretty technical beyond that.... like a man and woman in marriage can have oral sex, but the act must end in intercourse, so that the act is open to life...etc.)

That said... Gods love is unconditional- period. Having a girlfriend does not affect the degree to which God loves you. But I would suggest to you that it is a sinful practice. (I say suggest, because the Church does not teach extensively on dating, or really at all, leaving alot of it open to interpretation.)

So I will tell you my opinion. Any sexual act outside of marraige would be sin- whether hetero or homosexual. Marriage to another woman is impossible. Obviously there is legal marriage, but it is not sacramental. If you get married legally, but not in the Church, than as far as the Church is concerned, it is still 'extramarital'. Our culture does not readily understand this... they think everyone should simply be permitted to do what they want.

But the Church has 7 sacraments, each of which celebrates something Holy. Heterosexual sex actually consumates the marriage, which is part of the reason that it is kept for marriage. It is Holy, and is in fact part of the sacrament.

Since homosexual sex has always been regarded, in scripture and in Church tradition as a sin, what our culture is asking the Church to do is to say "Something that was once sinful is now Holy." This is a blatant contradiction, and the Church claims to be infallible- which means it can never be wrong. If it can never be wrong, or even if it makes the claim, this means it can never contradict itself. If it did, then you would know that it was full of it, and frankly why would you have to believe anything else it said?

The purpose of dating is to lead to marriage- so dating another girl means setting her up to be broken up with. Or deliberately planning to one day live in sin- which would actually be sinful now. What you are doing then is choosing to put her before God.

This is an incredibly difficult thing, and I have no doubt that your feelings are deep and real, if you say they are. However, the longer you are with her, the deeper the feelings will become.

No one knows what exactly 'causes' homosexuality. In fact, it is something that people cannot even speak openly about. If a psychologist, say, proposed a theory about it, other than 'they were born that way', he could be labelled homophobic, and ostracized from his community. In fact the gay movement has effectively used the word homophobic to make sincere dialogue on the issue impossible. Since I published this response on my blog, people may accuse me of homophobia and hate mongering.... that is the degree to which the discussion has been killed.

I like to say that I am not a homophobic, since I do not fear homosexuals, neither do I hate them, neither am I suspicious of people of being homosexual when they are not. People who like to label people like me homophobic in fact show those symptoms towards me- thus I would say that they are homophobophobic.

Be that as it may, homosexuality is like anything else- the deeper you go, the deeper it gets. I do believe that, though you would have a very hard struggle, that it is not impossible for you to leave this relationship, and future relationships with girls. The gay movement will tell you to 'come out', and essentially identify yourself as gay, and act as though this attraction is what defines you. Take your identity in Christ and nothing else!

Consider, I also have attractions to women- besides my wife, even! I sometimes may be in a situation where, nothing sexual is happening, but I know that I am fostering a relationship with a woman. So, because of my state in life, I also have to choose not to allow those attractions to develop. Celibate men and women are evidence of something that our sex crazed culture cannot accept- that it is possible to live a celibate life!

So what's the deal then? Yes, God loves you, as much as anyone else, and more than anyone else will ever love you. But you do have a difficult road ahead of you, especially in the short run. You do need to choose between God and your girlfriend. I will pray for you that you have the grace to make the right choice.

God loves you whether you're dating or not, right?

QuestionGod loves you whether you're dating or not, right?

Answer I think you know already that Gods love is unconditional. This means that no matter what, he loves you. Even if you're Hitler- which I hope you're not.

Dating is also not a sin, as far as I know. I should tell you that I generelly advise against it for teenagers... dating is supposed to prepare you for marriage. But when you're a teenager, more likely than not, the relationship will end in a breakup. So, something that is supposed to train you for life long commitment instead trains you for divorce, because dating couples think that as long as they are excited about each other, they should stay together, but if the novelty wears off, or they start getting annoyed with each other, or one of them gets excited about someone else.... then they should break up. Alot of people get divorces for these same stupid reasons.

That said, if you are in a relationship, use it ot train you how to love. Just don't think of it in selfish terms!

But alot of teens also feel that their value is somehow hinged in how attractive they are to the opposite sex. So if they don't or have never had a boyfriend or girlfriend.... they think they are less attractive, thus less lovable, less valuable, etc. That is a lie! You should know that men actually find women more attractive if they date less. For example, Catherine never dated anyone before dating me. But she is very beautiful- and in her case, it was not for lack of opportunity. The fact that she said 'no' to other guys spoke to her fine quality in my mind!

But your value should never be hinged in some external thing. People take their identity in all kinds of things- popularity, sports, intelligence, faith, wealth, jobs, etc. You should try to take your identity in Christ, which means this....

If you wonder how good you are, or how beautiful, or any number of like questions, ask Christ. If you don't hear Him answer, try to guess which answer He would give. Jesus is truth, so He cannot lie. The fact that we can guess what He would say indicates that we actually already know the truth- but people and our culture lie to us so much, and we repeat those lies to ourselves so much, that sometimes the truth gets drowned out by lies. Choose to speak and believe the truth!

How do we persuade people to love God?

QuestionI beleieve that love is more a matter of will than feelings. So how does one convince another to fall in love? You can set two people up on a date based on similar interests but how do you actually persuade them to love each other...particularly when you think it should be easy if it is simply a choice.

How do you see our role as Christians being carried out in evangelization without being "salesmen" for Christ?


I once made the mistake of thinking that if Love is a choice, than I should reasonably be able to choose who I would fall in love with. I noticed that if I had an interest in a girl, and it was not reciprocated, I could pretty easily get over it. (Looking back, that's probably because I had not invested enough emotionally in the first place....)

So one day, a fairly attractive, Christ seeking woman began pursueing me. I was not interested. Women like to know the reason why, and I think that if I were to offer a reason, it would be jusdging her or based on my pride, and I knew that. She sincerely desired holiness and loved God, and I did find her objectively attractive, so I decided to make a go of it, and choose to love her.

It was an utter disaster. Now I think that there is an element of love, I call it 'spark', which has no rational, and is not really subject to the will (though you can choose to be romantic...) but is kind of- supernatural. I still think the will is very highly involved- even being married now, I can choose to dwell on my wifes faults, or I can focus on her virtues. You can imagine which one will fan the spark into a flame, and which one will smother it and put it out. But the spark itself has to be there.

This causes problems for loving God, if you follow the analogy all the way through. But this is actually a theological question for me anyway. The Bible says "You did not choose me, but I chose you." So how can we choose Christ anyway? This is actually a massive debate among Christians, and the churches teaching on the matter is unclear to me. But I think that it can basically come down to the same thing as with my wife- did I choose her, or did she choose me? We both choose.

I think that if we want people to want Chrsitianity, if we are going to effectively evangelize, we have to do it as lovers, not as salespeople. You can't sell Christianity. You can only tell people how wonderful Christ is and how glad you are to be in love with Him, and hope other people will eventually fall in love with Him too. I already do that with my wife- tell people how wonderful she is, and hope people will love her. (but not as much as I do!)

As a youth coordinator, I kind of 'set people up on dates', if you will, with God- set the environment, create the occaision, then sit back and hope that they meet God themselves.