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 There are hundreds of historical documents that predate Constantine and Nicea- in fact, Nicea was called in order to settle the debate as to whether Jesus was God- a debate that could not have existed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!