Tuesday, December 18, 2012

If God is real, why is there no evidence for Him?

Q. If God is real, why is there no evidence?

A.  I suppose it depends on what kind of evidence you are looking for. 

A lot of people demand physical, empirical evidence for God.  But God Himself is not physical.  By his nature, he cannot be measured.  And empirical science can only deal with that which can be measured.  Philosophically, God is "existence", and so asking the question "What is the evidence for God's existence" is somewhat like asking the question "What is the evidence for existences existence."

I also do not actually think that there is irrefutable evidence for the existence of God.  Any evidence I could present, someone could say 'yes, but...'.  Christians believe that god is like this deliberately, that God for some reason wants people to have faith in Him, and trust what they do not see.  In deed, Jesus makes a really big deal out of faith, doing works for people with faith, not doing them for people who don't have it, scolding people who don't have it, praising those who do.  For some reason Jesus never made it plainly and irrefutably obvious to everyone that he was the Messiah.  I suspect that that reason is in keeping with why God does not reveal himself in a way that could not be rejected.

That said, I think there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God.  I think it is suspect that the evidence for God is routinely thrown out by those who would deny his existence.

I will start with the weaker evidence to my mind;

I will skip over the whole argument from beauty thing.  I think that arguing that God exists on the basis that there is so much beauty in the world begs the question why is there so much ugliness?

Argument from design-  young earth creationists in particular seem to like this one.  They will point to extraordinary animals; turtles with built in compasses, beetles with explosive compounds in their abdomens, giraffes with an intricate series of valves to allow blood to flow up and down it's neck according to need, wood peckers with tongues that begin by going down their throat, up around their brain, through a nostril, and out their beak... etc.  The argument goes that these animals have irreducibly complex systems-  systems that would fail if not all there at once so cannot be explained by the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  Microbiologists (notably Michael Behe) will point to the nature of the cell, of blood clotting, of flagellum, and point to the same logic of irreducibly complex systems.   Physicists will describe the laws governing our universe, and the fact that if any of these laws were adjusted by the slightest degree, life would be impossible.  And so they argue "Therefore there must have been an intelligent designer."

But the counterargument comes quickly that if conditions were not just so, there could be no one to ask the question, therefore they must have been so.  And they propose the idea of a multi verse, wherein different universes are potentially popping in and out of existence, and we naturally live in the one suitable for life.  In the end they tend to accuse us of believing in the "God of the gaps".  They suggest that we believe in God simply because we have questions that cannot be answered by science yet, and we assume that they never will be.  Then you get guys like Richard Dawkins who paint Christians as believing in God simply to explain the universe.

I think the 'unanswered questions' argument is fair, but I think it goes both ways.  If we cannot allow for unanswered and seemingly unanswerable questions about science to be evidence for the existence of God, I would challenge that unanswered and seemingly unanswerable questions about God are not evidence against.  Why doesn't God heal amputees? I don't know, but this does not mean He does not exist.   In fact, I would expect that if God were real, there would be things about Him that we could not understand.  If a religion successfully answered every question, I would suspect that it was man made.

Argument from Morality-  I've already exhausted this one in previous posts.  Much of morality, notably sexual morality and the concept of human rights-  depends on the idea that humans have a dignity above that of animals. Catholics argue that morals are intrinsic-  in something called 'natural law', and I think this is demonstrated clearly by the morals of non Christians.  But for Catholics our morals are based in something and are consistent-  atheists are left with the uncomfortable position that morals are subjective and decided democratically.

Argument from History- I would like to suggest that scripture is itself a type of evidence of the existence of God.  It is interesting how the Bible gets treated by those who doubt it.  They say "what evidence was there for the existence of Jesus outside of the Bible?".  And Christians tend to say something about Flavius Jospehus, a Jewish historian who made a very vague and unimpressive reference to Jesus.  But why would we reject scripture as historical documents?  Unlike most historical documents, scriptures have been painstakingly copied and preserved for centuries.  Many of the scriptures- Gospel of John, letters of Paul, Acts- claim to be written by people with first hand knowledge of what they are speaking about.  Others- Gospel of Luke- claim to be well researched.  I would like to suggest that scriptures are rejected as historical documents on the grounds that we reject their conclusions, therefore we cannot accept the documents.  I think rather we should treat them like historical documents, and recognize that this is a form of evidence which should be admissible.

Perhaps the most convincing argument from history is the sudden emergence of the Christian movement 2000 years ago wherein people were killed for making the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. 

Argument from miracles-  At the moment, this is the argument I find most compelling.  That's because miracles- at least the ones I refer to- are scientifically verifiable, and therefore provide the opportunity to disprove Catholicism, and yet they stand up to scrutiny!  In my discussions with atheists, I keep hearing this argument regarding miracles;  "Miracles are by definition impossible. If you rule out the impossible solutions, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be true.  For every miracle there is other possible, though improbable, explanations. We must accept that explanation, and reject the miraculous one."  In other words  "Miracles are impossible, therefore miracles are impossible."

It is remarkable to me that I keep coming across this line of thinking again and again.  I suspect that someone must be teaching it, because so many atheists seem to come to the same conclusion independently.  If what we are discussing is whether miracles are possible, we cannot allow for a premise 'miracles are impossible.'  I even had an atheist argue that Padre Pio's stigmata was not a miracle, because it could have been faked, or it could have been that 'contrary to the laws of nature, holes grew in his hands and in his feet in a way the emulates a crucified man.'  Although that is extremely unlikely, an extremeliy unlikely thing is more likely than an impossible thing, therefore it must be the true explanation.

A parallel is drawn to believing in UFO's based on what evidence is presented, despite the fact that it is extremely unlikely that if intelligent alien life did exist it would be able to visit earth, and would focus all it's attention on Americans.

So let's all agree that the idea of alien life forms coming to earth is extremely unlikely, to such a degree that we would sooner dismiss all claims as being those of lunatics or liars or people with faulty memory.   But supposing they produced evidence-  say they produced a spacecraft with technology hitherto unknown on earth, that could do things that even the American military, though they could duplicate, could only do so with great difficulty.  And let’s say there were some elements that they could not quite duplicate, but could make a fairly close replica of.   From that evidence, which can be scientifically tested, we would have to eliminate the lunatic and liar theories, and develop some others.  I think the reasonable theories to consider would be.

1.       This is an alien spacecraft

2.       This craft was designed by another country (Russia) or secret agency and was not meant to be discovered.

3.       The person holding the technology created an extremely elaborate hoax.
Now supposing the CIA and FBI and foreign intelligence agencies whatever scientific communities have a stake in it all claim to have no knowledge of where the thing came from or how it was made.

I would offer to you that this would be substantial evidence for the idea of aliens.  Not proof- but admissible evidence.  No longer could we assume that aliens don’t exist (or at least don’t travel to Earth), I think we would have to re-examine our biases.
I would argue that the substantial evidence for Catholicism is of that nature!  Not only that, but we have corroborating evidence!  Say in the alien example that we then found a ‘spacesuit’ which would not fit a human, is made of unknown materials, and is very difficult to duplicate, but is found 1000’s of kilometers, say in another country, from the craft find.  Add to this the ‘testimony’ of an eyewitness who says there was an alien in it, who stripped for a dip in the lake, and they stole it.  Then you find that the dimensions of the suit are compatible with the dimensions of the craft. And a photo on the spacecraft mantle depicts an alien wearing that very suit.

Shall we conclude that we have not only a hoax, but a conspiracy of hoaxes?
The Shroud of Turin, taken alone, is that kind of evidence.  So is Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The shroud can be duplicated-  with great difficulty and some level of inaccuracy.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, to my knowledge, cannot be duplicated.  Add to this Lanciano, incorruptibles, exorcisms, Marian apparitions, the confirmed miracles at Lourdes, stigmatists, and 2 scientifically verified miracles for every canonized saint. And they all point to the same consistent reality.  

The Church has had to rule on the subject, and has its own reputation to uphold which would be dubious if it ever claimed a hoax to be authentic.  Note it has not ruled on the Shroud, but did declare Padre Pio a saint.  If Padre Pio can be demonstrated to be a fraudster, then we will know for certain that the Church is wrong!  The Church cannot afford those risks… and so requires a certain level of scrutiny before authenticating something.  So the very fact that the Church would examine a miracle like Pio's stigmata, and still feel compelled to stake it's reputation on canonizing him, is itself an indication of the strength of the evidence.


If the Church were faking her miracles, or they were just fortunate coincidences, I would expect  to find such fortunate coincidences in other religions as well.  (When I've used this argument, people tend to say 'yeah, well there's miracles in other religions.'  So far I have not found a any compelling ones, and I've looked.  I'm open to suggestions.)
Conclusion-  I return then to my original point, which is this-  There is plenty of evidence for God, even a remarkable amount.  I submit that the tendency to reject the evidence outright usually demonstrates that we are using our conclusion as a premise.  It is my opinion that the evidence strongly points to the conclusion that Catholicism is correct, even if it leaves some questions unanswered.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is it possible for Christians to behave Morally?

I recently posted an article entitled "Is it possible for Non Christians to behave morally?"  Honestly at the time that I wrote it I thought that I would get explanations for foundations of ethics outside of Christianity and the logic of human dignity-  but I didn't!  I did however get one very interesting response, which included a link to this video-  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cumCZ4bAXZA.  In it, Christopher Hitchens (who was among the most respected and vocal advocates of atheism until his recent death) argues that it is in fact impossible for Christians to behave morally.  As usual, Hitchens communicates his points articulately and with a gravity and courtesy which demand respect.  He makes some very compelling arguments, some of which I have already discussed in "Why Catholics are right."  (Interestingly, the video contains a link to the original whole debate, but that link has been severed, so we only get one side of the argument).

However, I found that many of Hitchens' arguments-  in fact, almost all of them, are based on false understandings of Christianity.  Now Hitchens is an extremely intelligent man, and very well informed, so to make such a bold and sweeping statement may seem unfair.  But I think that a cursory examination of the ideas he assumes are Christian beliefs will quickly demonstrate my point.

I have found in my discussions with atheists that invariably when they raise an argument against Christianity, it is against fundamentalism, and not against Christianity as I understand it as a Catholic.  Maybe this is because the fundamentalists are the most vocal Christians, certainly here and in the United States and the UK.  The difficulty is that I disagree with fundamentalists often for the same reasons as the atheists, and can usually offer more reasons to boot!  Within Hitchens' errors most of them fall into that category, but not all.  In this article I intend to explain the Catholic viewpoint as best I understand it.  I do not intend to defend what other Christians believe, or what Hitchens thinks they believe.

The first error I came across is in Hitchens' understanding of redemption by Christ.  There is a very simplistic way of explaining why Jesus' sacrifice is atoning for our sins, and that is the courtroom analogy.  This works great for explaining the concept to teens and to new converts,  but actually what Catholics understand about the nature of Christs redeeming act is much more profound.  At least as far back as St Anselm (1033-1109) Catholics have been articulating why this explanation is insufficient.  I won't get into it all here, except to say that the scapegoat analogy is incomplete, and so the arguments Hitchens has with Jesus redemption are incomplete.  There are 2 major points that stand out to me.  One is that we do not cast our sins upon Christ, but rather He takes them on Himself.  We could not have sacrificed just any human, and indeed the sacrifice of Christ would not have worked if we had tried to make it work rather than Him taking it on Himself.  Secondly, sacrificing any other human would not have done it, and this is precisely why the sacrifice of Christ can carry with it the forgiveness of sins.  Hitchens argues that even if he could take on someone else's punishment, he could never forgive them their sins.  Of course not!  Hitchens is not God.  Jesus is.  The fact that Jesus claimed to forgive sins in his life, and passed that authority on to his apostles, is one of the most outlandish claims possible.  No one but God can do that.  And God forgiving us of our sins does not take away our responsibility for them, as Hitchens suggests.  In fact I would propose that the Christian view holds that we are much more responsible for our sins than a secular view would.  I suspect that this is in part why we ought to fear God, and if we had the slightest grasp of the immensity of our sins it would only serve to increase our aprecaition that he forgives them!

"If I do right it is only to evade punishment".  I highly, highly doubt that you would find a mature Christian that would agree to that summary of Christian morality!  In fact, this is largely the mentality that St Paul was arguing against when he spoke of 'freedom from the law'.  It is difficult to take on errors of such magnitude within a short blog entry, as I have to explain every background idea.  The concept in Christianity is that we have been created good and have been corrupted, and are being restored to our original state by submission to Gods will.  It is not legalistic like the Jews or Muslims.  The process is called Sanctification in the west, Deification in the East.  We were made in the likeness of God and are being restored to it.  And the likeness of God, his nature, is love.  So being sanctified is being restored to love!  Once restored to our original state, we will not even desire sin!  When Jesus speaks of freedom from the law, it is because if I do not desire to murder, than I have no need of the law "thou shalt not murder."  If I have no desire to lust, I don't need the laws regulating sex. It is ridiculous to think that the only reason Christians do not murder if for fear of punishment.  It is also ridiculous to think that the only reason Mother Teresa did what she did was for fear of punishment.  The doctors of the Church repeatedly taught that this servile fear stage is one of the first ones Christians go through, sometimes necessary at the start.  But if you remain in that stage, you will always be choosing good for selfish reasons, which is in fact sin and would frustrate your process of sanctification!

Hitchens also fails to understand the nature of the punishment of Hell.  He speaks of worldly punishments, which as he said 'somtimes follow axiomatically', but he does not realize that Hell follows selfishness axiomatically as well.  God does not send us to Hell, we effectively choose it out of selfishness! (Some of these arguments are so often stated elsewhere that it feels redundant to even bring them up.  I am not bringing anything new to the table, so surely Hitchens should have known better!)

 Hitchens complains about God's totalitarianism.  Why should we be forced to restore ourselves to sanctity-  we did not choose this state!  Why should we have to accept help from Christ.... we weren't there when he was crucified!  As if God were just another human setting up arbitrary laws.  I wonder if Hitchens thought it unjust that he was subject to the laws of physics, when these were not his own idea and he had no say in them?  The reality is for Christians that we are in need of redemption, and Christ gives us grace on the cross to receive it.  That's the starting point.  Arguing that it is not fair because you didn't choose it is like the child yelling at his mother "I didn't ask to be born!".    God wrote both the laws of physics and the laws of morality.  Through studying the laws of physics, we have come to the fascinating conclusion that in fact the universe would only produce life if the laws were as they are.  I suspect that if we accepted the laws of morality as they are rather than attempting to manufacture them we would discover the same principal applies! 

Hitchens argued that Christians think that we as humans have no innate sense of right and wrong, as if we did not know murder was wrong until we got to Sinai and received the 10 commandments.  It is hard to imagine where Hitchens even got that impression!  Christians have long held the principal of "Natural Law", which is precisely that we do have an innate sense of right and wrong. 

With humans being on the planet for 100,000 years, and Jesus only bothered to pop in for the last 2000-  that's his best argument, and I may one day dedicate a whole blog entry to it.  But again he fails to understand that Jesus redeeming act goes both ways, and that it is not necessary to know what Jesus did in order to benefit from it.  That latter notion is popular among fundamentalists and Jehovah's Witnesses but is not consistent with Catholic thinking. 

Lastly, he says that God fashioned us in filth and we are encouraged to be disgusted with our sexuality.  The former notion is held by Lutherans, and Calvinists, but not Catholics. As stated before, we believe that we are in the image of God an damaged by sin, but not disgusting. The latter notion is easily refuted by even a superficial examination of John Paul II's theology of the Body, that clearly Catholicism teaches that Sex is good and to be honoured, and that sexual ethics are routed in this notion, and not the one proposed by Hitchens.

In short, while I have no doubt that Hitchens would have handily defeated me in a live debate, most of his arguments against Christian Morality fall short when considered by someone who has an genuine understanding of Christian Morality. 

For people interested in going deeper into these ideas, I recommend the book "The Fulfillment of all Desire" by Ralph Martin.  It is not an apologetics book, but about maturing as a Christian and how the journey is explained by the doctors of the Church. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why is swearing a sin?

Q.
So yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend in one of my classes about swearing. He's an Atheist with this habit but he was really open to being told why it's wrong to do so, yet I still found I couldn't explain it to him. Obviously just saying "because it's a sin" wasn't going to work, but even looking at that, why is it a sin? The ten commandments say not to take the name of the Lord in vain, but they don't actually say not to swear. In fact I seem to recall that there are numerous times throughout the old testament where it says that the Lord swore an oath to different people. I guess the part that I don't understand is what the difference between saying shoot and saying something else is. What makes one word a swear and something you shouldn't say, while another very similar word is perfectly fine to use in it's place?

A. 
I don't actually think swearing is a sin, in and of itself.  Words come and go in offensiveness!  When French people speak about seals, are they swearing? 

I used to work in a group home for kids with behavior problems, and we had a swear jar.  The trouble was, while I had eliminated swearing from my vocabulary way back in high school, I did not regard things like "damn" or "what the hell" as swears.  So often the kids would catch me, and I would have to put in a quarter!  But who gets to decide these things anyway?

I think that it is obvious why using the Lords name in vain is disrespectful.  And by extension, using any Religious word like a swear word, as the Quebecois do-  the question is why do it?

A friend of mine once said (and probably quoted something) "Common cursing and swearing is an attempt on behalf of the inarticulate person to express himself."  When I was the Dean of Boys at Clear Water Academy, I had a student sent to my office for swearing in class.  I challenged him to compile a list of 10 professions where frequent swearing would not inhibit his advancement.  I expected him to come up with garbage man, trucker, etc-  professions that are respectable in their own right but which I knew he did not aspire to.  But he came up with actor, prostitute, drug dealer....

(Not implying anything wrong with acting!)

I find the words that offend me are different from those that offend others.  I consider it profoundly disrespectful to call someone a 'retard' or to say 'that is so gay', but don't mind as much terms like
sh-t.  It is an interesting education to young people who use the word 'faggot' to learn that the song "Money for nothin'" by the Dire Straits is no longer allowed on Canadian airwaves for use of the word, even while not only songs but radio hosts use a variety of other words traditionally considered swears!

The long and the short of it is this-  swearing is offensive, and therefore is uncharitable.  It is also considered undignified, and so is below the behaviour which should be expected of a Christian who is to be 'above all reproach'.  I think that Christians do ourselves a disservice by overreacting to swears. 

(At a staff meeting in the group home, we were discussing which words to consider swears, and I mentioned the Lords name.  One of my fellow employees said "We can't even say that anymore?  Jesus Christ!"  I looked at him and said "F--k you."  He laughed, and I think that response was probably the most respectable one I could offer!)

So, swearing is wrong because it is not courteous.  But what is courteous is likely to continue to change!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is there such a thing as a soulmate?


 
 
Any time you can start a blog entry with a Dilbert comic, it is a good day.
 
My original reaction to this question, frankly, is of course not, what a silly question.  But then as you think about it you realize just how profound the question really is. I'm going to be a little more personal than is typical, because in the end I don't actually know the answer!
 
I am very happily married to a beautiful woman named Catherine.  In a certain sense, it seems like we are 'perfect' for each other, like made for each other.  "You complete me", kind of a thing.  I sometimes think, what would happen if she died, or if in some parallel universe I had the opportunity to marry someone else, what kind of person would it be?  And I quickly realize that in truth, there is no one out of the thousands of women that I know that I feel better suited to.
 
Awwww.
 
But I also realize that this is in part because Catherine made me the guy that I am.  I believe strongly in simplicity-  that we have a moral responsibility to live simply so that others may simply live.   Evidence for this conviction is seen in the clothes I wear, the car I drive, the way I decorate my house, the kind of vacations I go on.  Catherine and I share these values, and so there is very little tension in them.  Honestly, I know very few women who would be happy to furnish their homes with free second hand furniture so that they can give more money away!
 
But I didn't care that much about simplicity until Catherine convicted me of it.  This, I believe, is one of the ways in which Catherine and I are sanctifying each other, as is the purpose of marriage.  (Purgatory is sanctifying, so when I proposed to Catherine I said "Will you let me be your purgatory?"  and she replied "I can't think of a better man for the job."  JK.)
 
My suspicion is that God is a lot less deliberate in the functionings of the world then many people think.  Everything that happens is within his 'permissive will', but not necessarily his 'active will.'  God allows a great number of things to happen without causing them.  This makes a lot more sense out of suffering, I think-  or at least it dismisses the notion that all suffering should make sense! 
 
So I think that while God blessed my idea to marry Catherine, I might just as easily have remained single, become a priest, or even married another woman.  This respects my free will.
 
But then there is that troublesome word, 'vocation'.  Vocation literally means 'calling', and so if my vocation is to be Catherine's husband, than this implies that God called me to that.  Another comic strip comes to mind, (couldn't find it), where in Fox Trot Jason is playing football with Marcus.  Marcus says "Go deep".  Jason "What is the relationship between fate and free will".  Marcus "Too deep."
 
There's also the problematic idea that God knew each one of us from before time. In Michelangelo's depiction of the creation of Adam, you will notice that under God's mantle looking over his shoulder is Eve.  The mantle is deliberately shaped like a human brain, indicating that even as God created Adam, Eve already existed in God's mind.
 
 I would love to dismiss the whole idea that God knew me  from before time, and had a plan for me as being just pious rhetoric, and not actually the teaching of the Church.  But Pope Benedict XVI recently said "Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary."
 
Here's the thing.... if each of us is willed, necessary, and known from before all time, including my daughter Lucia, doesn't this imply that from before all time Catherine and I were destined to be married?
 
On the other hand, chances are that each of us has at least one sinful copulation in our lineage.  In other words, we are all the result of sin, somewhere down the line.... did God predestine the sin?
 
You can dismiss some of this with the whole "God is outside of time", thing, but there is still the apparent deliberateness of vocations and of each of our existences.
 
I suspect that a clue to the answer may lie in the existence of imaginary numbers, but that is probably beyond the scope of this little blog!
 
So in answer to the question "Is there such a thing as a soul mate?" I have to say "Of course not, don't be silly.... but maybe."
 
PS.  Don't you love mysteries?  I have a sneaky suspicion that if someone had all the answers this would prove that they were wrong.
 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Is it possible for non-Christians to behave morally?

The answer to this question is very obviously yes, but I pose it anyway because it keeps coming up!  And as it does, I keep thinking of it from new angles!

Initially it sprang out of my reading on atheistic websites about how they are offended by the Christian assertion that as atheists they don't do moral good, and they cited examples of helping the homeless, etc, which illustrate that the idea is false.  Clearly, atheists (and other non-Christians, but I will focus on the atheists for today) have done and continue to do a lot of good things for the world.  They have done a lot of evil too-  they like to point to the Inquisition for Catholics, but we can point to Stalin, so we'll leave all that aside.

Some Christians, some protestants, do believe that non Christians cannot do anything truly good.  The Bible does say that apart from God we can do nothing, and that we cannot please God without faith.  But I think that interpretation is overstating it.  I believe that Gandhi was essentially good.  As was Socrates.  And millions of others.  I know a number of Non Christians who I admire for their virtue, especially since I think so much about it and work for it consciously, and they just seem to have it naturally!

(Interestingly, an Atheist the other day said he didn't think Christians could be truly moral, since we make decisions in order to attain Heaven and avoid Hell.  I agree that if we are good for selfish reasons, we are not truly good...)

The idea in some Protestant circles that non Christians cannot be good comes from the notion that we are totally depraved but for the grace of God, and that even the grace of God doesn't really sanctify us (make us Holy) but it does justify us (declare us Holy while not changing us really).   Catholics believe that by the grace of God we can be made holy, and further we believe that we are not totally depraved in the first place, but were created good and have a wounded nature which inclines us to sin.

Ok, so that aside, I think most people are essentially 'good'.  Then you get Jesus, who said "why do you call me good?  No one is good but God!"  Ok, so by that standard of good, no one is really good, we are all sinners in need of salvation.  But atheists and Christians are not really so far apart on the scale then!

But the question "Can an atheistic person be a moral person?" started to bug me.  The thing is, what if sexual ethics counts?  Obviously there are many Atheists who are pure, men and women of integrity, even by Catholic standards, but I began to wonder about what is the foundation of their ethic?

I gave a presentation a while ago to the grade 12 biology class at my High School, where I attempted to demonstrate from biology the foundations for Catholic Sexual ethics from Natural law.  One very intelligent student started debating me, showing that not everything that the Catholics hold to be moral necessarily follows from our natural tendencies.  That that is not exactly what moral law means will have to be expanded elsewhere.

He pointed out that we seem inclined as humans towards polygamy, and though he was not exactly advocating for that, he was saying that he could on the same grounds that I was advocating heterosexual life long unions.  And he had a point.  I quickly found myself bringing in logic from outside of natural law and biology, like the dignity of humans as created in the image and likeness of God.

And this is where the dialogue always breaks down in the secular realm.  As a Christian I have 2 foundations from which I build my ethics-  Love  (as in putting the other first, as opposed to the emotion) and the inherent dignity of humans.  I think, and would gladly be shown how I am wrong, that most secular people have as their foundation a form of the golden rule-  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But from that they conclude that as long as it doesn't hurt anyone, we should be free to do it.

And this is precisely why debating homosexuality in the secular realm seems to fail so dramatically for Christians.  Because the seculars will just point out that nobody gets hurt, so we should not impede their freedom.  Some would, and I think Christians often mistakenly do, try to prove that homosexuality does hurt others, themselves, society... but it allows for the base assumption, which is all that matters is that no one gets hurt.

The difficulty is that in a society where policy decisions are not permitted to be informed by religious convictions, our sexual ethic does not stand!  So, it seems most people in our culture, increasingly so, conclude that Homosexual Marriage is permissible and even honourable, and so Christianity is wrong!  It is interesting that we are not permitted to have our views on Christianity inform our views on homosexuality, but people always let their views on homosexuality inform their views on Christianity.

And so, the secular or atheistic moral foundation "don't hurt anyone" allows them to draw very different conclusions about homosexuality, divorce, abortion (where they dispute that 'anyone' is hurt), pornography.... and I think inevitably even polygamy and incest!  I know why as a Christian I am opposed to those things, but I think if you follow the secular logic to it's end, provided everyone in the situation is a consenting adult, that what foundation do we have for opposing polygamy or incest? 

This, I think, explains the state of sexual morality in our times, and predicts it's direction. 

But what if we continue to follow that line of thinking?  Truth is that even the assumption that morality depends on 'nobody getting hurt' and 'freedom' needs a foundation, and what is it?  What if more important than that was "progress", as was the priority for Nazis and Planned Parenthood in it's eugenics days,  or "The good of the whole", as was the priority for the communist regimes?  We have seen where those break down!

I am informed by the same thing regarding sexual morality, that is human dignity, as I am when I make decisions regarding slavery, prostitution, prison conditions, respecting graves, etc.  I wonder for atheists at what point human dignity kicks in and matters?  Why are babies protected, while fetuses are not?  Why are babies protected while cows are not?  If we are merely highly evolved apes, who happen to be the most destructive force on the planet, doesn't a cow have more right to life than a human baby?  After all, it is more self aware!  (Peter Singer has made that argument.)   I see no reason why it is OK to farm cows for meat, but not to farm humans for meat-  provided you kill them before they become more self aware than cows.

A few years ago, I had an encounter with a prostitute, who hoped I would be a customer.  I had a respectful conversation with her, even took her off the street and paid her for her time, but refused her services... and she wondered why.  I told her that I thought she was worth more than that.  She was high, but she said "yeah, me too."

I don't think it is right to hire a prostitute or look at a porn star just because they are consenting.  I don't think polygamous incestuous marriages, even for consenting adults, is right.  I would suggest to you that if you have the same moral convictions, but are not a Christian, than ask yourself what are the foundations of that morality? 

My conclusion, I guess, is this... I do maintain that an Atheist can be good, and many of them are and are better than many Christians.  But their foundation for their ethic does not line up.  A complete ethic depends on the notion of human dignity, which I think depends on an objective standard, that is being created in the image of God.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Q.  If God is all good and all powerful, why does he let bad things happen to good people?

A.  I think it would be naive to suppose that anyone could give an answer that is completely satisfying to this question.  You can never do so in a sensitive way to people's personal suffering, or in a way that adequately explains the intensity of suffering in the world!  Usually people say something about God's insistence on free will, and that suffering came into the world as a result of sin, but still I think people would object to a sinless person suffering, like an infant.  Another platitude is that "Everything happens for a reason", and so we may not see the plan of God, but it will all make sense some day, and if he allows suffering it is that some greater good may come of it.  This idea does have some scriptural basis "God works all things to the good for those who love Him", but I think there is a difference between God taking something bad and turning it into something good, and God sitting back and allowing bad things so that He can.  So maybe God allowed World War II so that humans would stop being so racist... but then why allow racism in the first place?

My sister put it like this.  What kind of loving father would sit back and watch as his daughter was raped and not intervene?  Again, if God did intervene it would take away our free will. And to be frank with you, I would not only intervene when a man was raping my daughter... I would even intervene when he was thinking lustful thoughts about her!  There are all kinds of ways that people hurt those we love, and if we could interfere, most of the time we would!  But this means that if I were God, I would not allow suffering-  but in preventing it, I would also take away free will. 

I have a suspicion that the answer to this question, and to many others, lies in a false assumption about God.  And that is that what God ultimately wants for us in this world, is happiness.  I do think God wants us to be Happy-  and I do think that we will be happy, when we get to Heaven.  I think God's original plan for us was to be happy-  in the garden, without suffering.  But when we chose to sin, we chose to live in a world where suffering was possible... and now what God really wants is for us to be holy.  To be restored to the righteousness and dignity that he originally intended.  I can almost imagine the conversation in the garden going something like this.

God "Adam, don't eat that apple"

Adam "But I want to"

God "But I gave you everything else.  The one condition of getting everything and being perfectly happy is that you have to receive what is given, and not take.  You can't be selfish."

Adam "yeah, but, I want to."

God. "I gave you free will, and you can choose what you want.  The question is, do you wanna call the shots, or do you wanna let me call the shots?  If I call the shots, I'll make sure that there is no suffering..."

Adam "I want to call the shots"

God "You would be choosing a world in which suffering is possible..."

Adam "Then I choose that."

Once suffering was possible, God stayed his hand.  Tectonic plates shift, earthquakes happen, tsunamis happen, famines happen.  Worse, Humans continued to choose to do things other than what God dictates.  Wars happen, rapes happen, structural injustice.

So how do we get back to the point where bad things don't happen?

"Thy will be done"

We adopt and attitude that says that whatever God wants is what I want.  Truth is, we are constantly making selfish choices.  God's mission for us is not that we would become happy, but that we would learn to love.  Remarkably when people suffer, this is an opportunity to love.  Even Jesus' obedience was made perfect through suffering.

I think the assumption that the ultimate goal of life is the "pursuit of happiness" is underlying many of the things we struggle with in Christianity-  like sexual morality and social justice and mass is boring and why do people suffer.  If on the other hand we ask the questions with the assumption that God's plan for us is to restore us to His likeness-  unite our will to His, all these things make more sense. 

That said-  I still think that if I was God, I would interfere a whole lot more in the world.  But I bet that if I spend my life uniting my will to His, instead of expecting Him to unite His to mine, I bet wisdom is to be found there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What are my obligations on Sunday for rest and to attend Mass?

Q:   I've been wondering about working on Sundays. I know the fourth commandment says to remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy, but what exactly does that mean? In a lot of places today employers won't hire you if you're unwilling to work Sundays, so are we then to restrict ourselves from all of these? Or is there something else we can do to "make up" for it?
 
A: This topic is one that has come up twice now in recent times, and to get the answer right I had to refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2184-2195. (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c1a3.htm#2192)
The reason it came up before was because of the Sunday obligation to attend Mass, and a student asked me if Hockey excuses him from this obligation. When you read the Catechism, the language about attending Mass is much stronger than that about resting, but both are listed as requirements! Basically, we should not commit ourselves to other activities if they will compromise our commitment to the faith. The CCC acknowledges that some people have to work on on Sundays- like poor people or people who work in restaurants- but states that they should put time aside for rest and family anyway.
Priests obviously have to work on Sundays, and so most of them take Mondays off. I used to do that as a Youth Coordinator, and I protected by day off jealously. God prescribed rest for us, because it is only with rest that we can grow in holiness. So instead of viewing this as a religious obligation, we can see it as a healthy lifestyle choice. It also happens to be the 7th Habit in Stephen Coveys famous "7 Habits of highly effective people".
So, I think that there is room for interpretation, and you need to make a choice for yourself with an informed conscience. (Most cases are like that.) Here is what I suggest; Apply for jobs that say you have to work on Sunday, and in the interview tell them that for religious reasons you require Sundays off. I suspect that in most cases they would not want to deny you employment for religious reasons. (Although I suppose if a Jew applies to work at a pig farm, but refuses to work with pigs, they will probably be denied employment) It would also witness to them about the importance of this Christian principal in your life, when our culture has largely abandoned it. I think it would be good for you to make reasonable sacrifices in order to have Sundays free, including financial sacrifices! If, however, you simply cannot find a job that allows for you to have Sundays off, then take one that does not. But do whatever is necessary to get to Mass on Sunday!
Again, that is just my advice- at the end of the day I think God wants us to make informed decisions in good conscience, so drawing your own conclusions would be a valuable exercise!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why Catholics are Right.

Q.  How do you know Catholicism is right?
A.  I don't.  But I choose to believe.

This might sound like an unfair leap to make, to draw the conclusion that it is right without absolute assurance.  I think if we are going to be honest with each other, everyone eventually chooses what to believe.  We choose to believe that some things are moral, and some are not.  We choose to trust people who's opinions reinforce our own, and think other people are wacky or stupid. 

I myself struggle with my faith, some times a lot. I wonder if I am really right.  And for some reason I seem to be a glutton for punishment.  I invite Jehovah's Witnesses over, and try to get them to convince me that I am wrong.  I listen to the Thinking Atheist podcast, and visit www.skeptic.com, and look up what other people think about the strong Catholic arguments.... and I find that consistently people argue against an inaccurate portrayal of what Catholicism is, instead of the truth!  I am repeatedly disappointed, I guess because when they set up Catholic arguments to look like straw men, so they can easily knock them down, they make themselves look like idiots instead!  I want meat, an intelligent refutation to the things I believe.  I guess I am surprised that the anti Catholic rhetoric out there is so weak.  Atheists even openly acknowledge that their strategy is to mock Christians out of the marketplace of ideas rather than to engage us.

So, here I am, throwing down the gauntlet.  I invite atheists and whoever else wants to to read this article, and dissect it, and tell me why I am wrong.  If you find yourself unable to comment on the blog, then send me an email!

First off, I admit that there are some pretty compelling arguments for atheism. In time maybe I will write whole entries on each of these arguments, but I won't waste time here.  I think the following arguments are very strong;

If God is all good and all powerful, than why do bad things happen to good people?
Why does God authorize atrocities in the Bible?
Scientists believe that humans have been on the planet for 200,000 years.  So why did Jesus only come 2000 years ago?
Why doesn't God heal amputees?

Interestingly, these arguments all make certain assumptions-  like that God's ultimate desire for us is that we be happy, and that we are reading the Bible the way that we should (see Bible Reading), etc.  But none the less, these are things I struggle with and frankly I find quite compelling.

That said, I am totally convinced of the truth of Catholicism anyway.  Because the more I think about it, the more I think the facts play in Catholicisms favor.

First thing you need to know is that Catholicism sees no contradiction between Christianity and the Theory of Evolution... so that is not a problem.

The thing is, evidence clearly shows that Jesus lived and rose from the dead.  And he continues to work through the Church!  Again, I will probably have to write a whole entry on each of these topics to flesh them out, but here are the things that convince me that the Church is right.

The way the New Testament is written.  Read Paul or Mark or John-  you cannot believe that they did not believe what they said.  They did not make it up-  no one would make up the gospel of Mark, and have such a strange series of events and characters who wander into the story never to reappear, and do not really play into the narrative as a whole.

Apostles travelled as far as Spain, Iran and India to spread the news that Jesus rose from the dead, and 11/12 of them died for saying so.  They profited nothing.

2000 years of non contradiction by Catholic Popes on matters of faith and morals.

The Shroud of Turin.
The Miracle at Lanciano.
Incorruptibles. (At least 96 of them!)
Stigmatists like Padre Pio.
Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Mother Teresa.  Christopher Hitchens wrote an Article arguing that she was not really a saint.  The man was a genius, but his arguments remain weak. I suppose that if you buy the line that the only way to end poverty is to hand out birth control and provide abortion, than Mother Teresa certainly did not do her job. Mother Teresa is only one example of thousands of Catholics around the world sacrificing everything for love. No one else can make a comparable claim.

Saints. the Catholic Church has more than 10,000 canonized saints. That's just a number... until you realize that every year in Christianities history 5 more people were canonized.  Each one either lived a life comparable to Mother Teresa, or died for their faith.  And the canonization process includes unexplained miraculous phenomenon indicating the sanctity of the individual in question!   Miracles that past the test of the Devils Advocate! (the guy who tries to prove that the persons life is a sham... used to be an office in the Church.)

Skeptics will point out that such and such an incorruptible may have been embalmed, or that such and such a miracle does not stand up to scrutiny....  but I think skeptics ought to apply their critical reasoning processes to themselves as well as others.  Are they arguing that in the thousands of documented miracles in the Church that could not be explained by science and stood up to harsh scrutiny that all of them are faked?  The Church has been running this scam for 2000 years, and no body squealed?  This takes a greater leap of faith than to believe that some of them are real.  And only some need to be real to prove the package!

So, in my opinion, it appears that it is the skeptics, not the Catholics, who are deceiving themselves and being intellectually dishonest.  I've made a straw man for you to knock down-  show me a contradiction in Church teaching.  Duplicate the shroud of Turin.  Duplicate Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Bring the evidence to bear! 

This is why, despite the compelling arguments of the Atheists, I find myself trying to understand them within the context of Catholicism, rather than letting them lead me to reject the Church.  I choose to believe.  And I will live out of my conviction.



Monday, October 1, 2012

If prophets lived today....


Movie scene-  In modern ish times, with Obama not for political so much as comical reasons.
New York City
Basement of a skyscraper.
Samson is seen tied to two pillars,  He is blind, and hangs his head in shame.  His hair, which is regrowing, hangs in front of his face. President Obama enters,  flanked by two secret service agents.

“Ok, Samson, you’ve been here long enough.  Tell me, where are the other prophets?”
“I will tell you nothing.”

“We have ways of making you talk.”

“You can do nothing to me”

“We have Delilah…”

“That double crossing…. I thought I loved her once.”

A secret service agent interrupts “Never trust a Columbian.”

Obama grabs Samson by the throat.  “You and your prophets are the last piece of resistance between me and complete rule over this country.  I will not be denied my Obama Nation!”
Just then Moses enters. Obama turns “How did you get in here?  This is a non-prophet organization!”

Moses orders “Let my people go.”

Obama “You can’t order me around.  I am the supreme ruler!”

“I work for a higher power now”

“Don’t tell me you are working for Bush…”

“In a manner of speaking….  I am.”

“Arrest him!”

But then Moses lifts his staff.  Suddenly frogs come pouring in through every entrance.  Obama and his men are momentarily distracted, and at that moment  Samson flexes, pulling the chains inwards, and collapsing the columns he was chained to. 

Obama ``Those were load bearing``

They all scramble outside the building before it collapses.  Moses and Samson join Elijah, Judah Maccabees, Elisha, Joshua, and others. 

Moses “Where’s Jonah?”
Elijah “He’s on an inside job.”

As the building falls behind them, Obama yells  ‘there they are!  Get them!”
Suddenly, the Prophets are being pursued by police and army and secret agents.  Moses leads the exodus, while Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind.  He calls for fire from Heaven.  A huge fireball consumes the army behind them.  Daniel yells “No!  Some of our people are back there!”  But Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego escape the fire unharmed.

As the prophets  retreat towards the Hudson, a number of skirmishes break out.  Samson fights using the Jawbone of a Donkey, while Joshua blows his horn, collapsing all of Wall Street, and Elisha calls for two bears who rip 42 of their enemies apart.
Cornered against the Hudson, Moses raises his staff, and the waters part.  But as they cross, they are suddenly confronted by a Massive army helicopter, hovering above the break in the water.  The Philistine 430 is nothing short of a flying tank, armed with automatic weapons and heat seeking missiles. The commander of the aircraft snickers when he sees his adversaries , with their long beards and dressed in bathrobes, carrying staffs for weapons.  It looks as though the prophets are trapped.  A young skinny David takes a stone and puts it into his sling, as movie goes into slow motion…..

How did Sola Scriptura undermine Scripture Reading?


Ok, so no one actually asked me that question, but since this blog is written in a question/answer format, I thought I would tackle it anyway.  This is a question that I have been thinking about for some time.  Every week for the past 2 months, Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door and we have a chat about the Bible and what it means.  While discussing scripture with them, we keep coming back to the fact that Catholics do not read the Bible the same way that Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses do.   I knew what was wrong with how they read it…. I just couldn’t articulate before what was different about how we read it!
“Sola Scriptura” was one of the battle cries of Martin Luther when he effectively started the Protestant Church.  Since Jehovah’s witnesses are basically an off shoot of American Fundamentalism, they just took Sola Scriptura to it’s logical end.  The idea of Luther was that the Church did not have authority on doctrinal matters, and so the only authority was the Bible.  (Sola Scriptura means “Scripture alone”.)  Simple apologetics on this matter; the Bible does not teach “Sola Scriptura”, and therefore the principle is self refuting, since the only thing you can accept as an authority is the Bible.  The Bible does teach that there is a teaching authority, established by Jesus- namely, the Church.  CF Matt 16:17-20, 1 Tim 3:15, hold firm to traditions, etc. It could also be pointed out that the Bible does not contain a list of books which ought to belong in it, and that this was determined by the Church.  So to accept the authority of the Bible, you have to accept the authority of the Church- at least up till then!
At any rate, Protestants begin with this precept, and then interpret the Bible as they see fit, and presumably guided by the Holy Spirit.  Now if this method worked, it would be demonstrated by the fact that all Protestants drew the same conclusions. The existence of Jehovah’s witnesses, who do not even believe Jesus is God, have demonstrated how this method cannot work, since no one has come to a consensus!
Part of the difficulty comes in how to interpret.  Protestants are reputed to have excellent scriptural knowledge.  They can site chapter and verse, and play games of scripture memorization in their Sunday schools. This is partly because they have taken a lawyer like approach to scripture.  Lawyers need to apply the law, and need to be able to reference particular sections of the law to make their point.  Since every protestant denomination exists because of a discrepancy of interpretation from another denomination, each one needs to be able to quickly site, chapter and verse, the basis of their argument.
And so they read the Bible in much the same way as an American Lawyer would read the constitution… which is not how the Bible was ever intended to be read!  Ironically, this way of reading has greatly limited the actual truths being revealed in scripture, because you end up with Fundamentalists, so called because they reduced the faith to a set of fundamentals we can all agree on, to allow for debate elsewhere.   And our friends the Jehovah`s Witnesses will quickly point out that even those fundamentals, like that Jesus is God, or that Hell exists, are not clearly illustrated in scripture!  An apologist, seeing this point, would quickly refute me by stating all the verses that do seem to indicate that Jesus is God or that Hell exists… and indeed there are plenty… but Jehovah’s Witnesses have made a whole institution of denying the points based on the same reading of the same (essential) Bible!  And protestants themselves will argue themselves silly about whether the world was created on Oct 23rd, 4004 BC, or whether the rapture is coming, or whether it is the millennium yet.  Again demonstrating the failure of the principal, Sola Scriptura.
So how do protestants get it wrong? They treat the Bible as though it contained all theological truth, neatly laid out for the reader to grasp.  How, then, do Catholics read it?
The way it was intended to be read by the author! 
Bold statement, no?
Everyone agrees that some sections of the Bible are historical narrative, some are apocalyptic, some are poetry, some are letters, some parables, some are Exultant prose.  Even the literalist does not believe that God has feathers.  Different sections were written with a different end in mind.
But here’s the thing… no part of the Bible can be described as “Catechetical” or “Doctrinal” or “Creedal”.  Sure, there are sections of teaching… but usually they are parables or teachings about moral behaviour or wisdom.  The Bible makes no attempt to explain the nature of the Trinity, or of the Incarnation, or the nature of Grace or eternal life.  I dare say it does not even attempt to explain the history and age of the planet!  So, to read the Bible as though this was what it was attempting to do, is to read it in a way that was not intended. 
The Bible does not have to explain doctrines like purgatory or sexual morality, because it was written for and read by people who were members of the Church.  It was to be read in the context of a community that already understood these things.  Scripture in fact presupposed the teaching authority of the Church!
The Church chose which books belong in the Bible in much the same way as it chose which Saints can be acknowledged as being in Heaven.  In both cases, it is called the “Canon”.  The books in the Bible were deemed by Church Authorities (who incidentally believed everything that Catholics still believe today!) to be worthy of being read within the Mass.  This is why for 2000 years, the Church continues to read from Scripture at Mass, while neglecting the much more concise writings of St Augustine or the other Church Fathers, or St Thomas Aquinas, or even Pope John Paul II. 
But here’s the thing…  if John Paul II can write in a way much more contemporary and concise, and explicitly apply teaching principals, then what makes the Bible such a big deal?
The thing about Scripture is that it reveals God in a much fuller, not so doctrinal way, than how it has been reduced by people who want to use it to argue.  For example, Christians have always read the Bible through the lense of typology, where they read something in the Old Testament and see in it a “type” of something in the New Testament.  
So, Noah’s ark is a type of the cross.  The Passover is a type of the last supper and Eucharist.  The Ark of the Covenant is a type of Mary.  These things can be demonstrated from scripture, but not proven.   If you are forced to read the Bible like a lawyer, to prove your doctrine, you cannot find these deeper meanings! 
God is revealed in Scripture, between the lines, between the pages, through it all.  Reading sacred Scripture is an encounter with God, as he has been revealed and continues to be revealed. 
Catholic apologists sometimes fall into the trap of reading the Bible the way that protestants read it.  Not only is this a more superficial reading of the Bible, but it actually gives to protestants the precepts upon which they built their whole argument.
I too can explain from the Bible alone the majority of contentious teachings of the Church.  But I do not need to.  Catholics don’t go to the Bible alone precisely because we wrote it.  It was written within the context of what we believe. 
Practically speaking, if I get in a debate about this, I point out that we cannot have the Bible without accepting the authority of the Church that gave it to us.  Then I demonstrate that the Church already taught and believed everything Catholics teach and believe when the Bible was written.  Authority is everything.  Without it, if we’re just guessing, the Evangelicals are as likely to be correct as the Jehovah’s Witnesses as the Seventh Day Adventists…. And frankly the likelihood that any of them are right is extremely slim!
I would encourage all my readers to read scripture in prayer, and to come to know the God that is revealed through it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why the Devil is Lucifer always portrayed as a goat man?

What do you get if you cross Darth Maul with Mr Tumnus?






Apparently, you get the Devil.

Some students asked me the other day why the Devil is so often represented with goat legs.  They told me that they were watching some horror movie, which was quite frightening, until the evil being revealed itself, and it was goat legged and a little ridiculous.

First off, the Bible does not tell you what the Devil looks like, and neither does the Catholic Church.  I think a lot of times the reason people reject the belief in something like the Devil is because when we were kids we saw him in Bugs Bunny, and we assume that how he is portrayed in Bugs Bunny is how he actually looks and what Christians believe in.  We know that he is a fallen angel, and that he was called "Lucifer", meaning "Bearer of light".  In the Bible he is portrayed as a talking serpent at one point and as a dragon at another point.  It's possible that before he was made to crawl on his belly, the serpent was a dragon.  Whatever the case, I don't think anyone believes that the Devil is literally a talking snake. People who think he has goat legs probably don't know much about Christianity either!

The reason that he is portrayed the way that he is is actually because he is a form of the Greek god Pan.  Pan was a pagan God of the Shepherds, who was usually worshipped in caves.  He could inspire 'panic', and so his name is the root of the word.  In Jesus' day, people worshipped Pan at Caesaria Philippi, which is where in Matt 16 Jesus makes Peter the first Pope, and he refers to the cave where they worshipped Pan as the "Gates of Hades". 

When Christianity spread to pagan places, it was not unusual for them to incorporate pagan ideas to better illustrate their points. So Paul told the people in Athens that the unknown god they worshipped was actually the true God, and Christmas was originally the celebration of the Winter Solstice, and was made Christian when we said "You celebrate that light is increasing in the world (Days are getting longer), well the light of the world is Jesus, so let's celebrate his birth."

So pagan symbols would become associated with the Devil, in some cases the pagan Gods would even be seen as demons. Jesus himself seems to have started the trend by referring to Satan as Beelzebub (Matt 12:25-28), who was actually a Philistine god. Interestingly, though, portraying Satan as being like Pan or a Faun dates back only to the 19th century, when Neo-Paganism was all the rage.

All of this begs a question, though.  Most people will have no difficulty accepting that our view of what Satan looks like is probably inaccurate and informed by paganism.  But I wonder if the same thing can be extended to our idea of Heaven, or of Hell?  When we picture Heaven, are we picturing the same thing that Jesus pictured?  I suspect that it would be a fascinating study to try to figure out what Jesus, and the Church, actually means by those words, and how much of it is just our presupposed notions.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Since NFP is so unreliable, why not give people another option?

Question
In grade 12 bio class we talked about contraception and birth control. NFP is the only form of this that is in line with the Catholic Church, which originally made sense. But then we were told that the failure rate was almost 20%, meaning that if 100 families use NFP for a year 20 will end up with a pregnancy. That caught me by surprise, because that sure doesn't seem like a very practical way for families who can't afford to have another child to keep themselves out of that situation, especially because the success rate for families trying to get pregnant is only about 25%. It seems like at that point, its no longer just a chance thing where God is saying "no just trust me and do this, there's a reason why its happening", but more so a given and almost expected. Someone brought up Andrew Greeley, because he was one who said that they Church should change its policies that were created back before population control was an issue, and if he'd stopped there I'd almost be able to see where he's coming from. It just seems like the Church isn't really giving people a practical option.... unless I've been misinformed somehow?

Answer

The 20% stat is inaccurate. According to a recent study by the Chinese gov, a group that is definitely pro population control and definitely opposed to the Catholic Church, the Billings method of NFP had a failure rate at 0.5%, as opposed to IUD's which had a 2% failure rate. http://www.woomb.org/omrrca/bulletin/vol27/no4/chinaEvaluation.html

I've seen other studies that indicate that the failure rate for condoms over the course of a year is 16%. (Only 2% if it is a brand new condom and used perfectly, but that is not the conditions most people use it in!)

The problem with NFP is that it incorporates a number of methods, including the long discredited rhythm method. The rhythm method assumed that women have a 28 day cycle, and so based on that assumption, couples would abstain from sex about 14 days after the woman's period. Decent logic, but deeply flawed because many (if not most) women have irregular cycles. So the failure rate with that method was quite high!

Educated people know that there are more advanced methods, and if you took an NFP course in Catholic Circles today it would almost certainly be Billings or Serena- no one teaches the rhythm method! Billings and Serena require the woman to chart when their period happens, and pay attention to biological factors like temperature, and the viscosity of their mucus, etc. (Maybe not something you want to bring up in grade 12 bio, but anyway...) These biological indicators are very strong indicators of whether a woman is fertile or not!

Like condom use, the failure rate may be higher due to human error... or lack of will power! It is true that a woman's sex drive is most powerful when she is fertile- that she will enjoy sex most- and that she sends of pheromones which make her more sexually attractive. And that the more she enjoys sex (if she climaxes) the likelihood of pregnancy is increased. I would argue though that all of this seems to indicate a reality- That God wants sex to be enjoyable, and wants it to be open to life! If the best sex is the most likely to result in babies... seems logical to me!

The thing is, once you are practicing NFP, and you have the urge to have sex, each time you want to have sex you have to ask yourself "Is she fertile?" and "do we want a baby right now?". You may have to discipline yourself and say no, but it will also shift your interior attitude to make you more open to life! Catholicism is not about a whole bunch of external rules, though people always try to reduce us to that. It is about an interior conversion. All of the rules should reflect an interior reality.

For Catholics, sex is an act of love that is open to life. So every sexual act should be loving and open to life. And Catholics definitely believe that self control should be used in sexuality! The assumption of our culture is that sex is primarily for pleasure (they may not say so, but you will notice that this is true) and that all of life is about pleasure, and so, why should people who are married ever abstain from sex? Thus all the forms of birth control, etc. It should be noted too that the legalization of the Pill in the 1960's was the catalyst for the sexual revolution, which resulted in the rise of divorce (which resulted in the breakdown of the family and the rise of crime and poverty), the rise of STDs (STIs), the porn industry, homosexuality, and a host of perversions and fetishes. Even the Catholic Church fell victim to this shift, as the vast majority of priests implicated in the sex abuse scandals committed their misdeeds at the height of the sexual revolution, when an attitude that sex for pleasure was the dominant cultural attitude.

Sigmund Freud once said something to the effect that separation of sex from procreation is the most basic of perversions. I don't like much of what he said, but I think he nailed it there. Chesterton actually predicted the sexual revolution as most of it's outcomes as early as the 1930's, when the Anglican Church reversed their policies on Birth Control. Until then all Christians were opposed to Birth Control!

This brings me to yet another tangent. If Catholics were to, like many other religions, change their standpoint on Birth Control, this would indicate that the Church could reverse their standpoint on other moral issues, which would indicate that she might be wrong, in which case morals would be reduced to everybodies best guess. The Church would not longer have any moral authority. Interestingly, the Church has never changed any of it's morals on anything!

To criticize the Church's teaching on contraception is somewhat like saying "The Catholic Church thinks that if you want to maintain a healthy body, you should eat well and exercise, but they are opposed to bulimia." Instead of indulging yourself but making sure that you don't get the things that the good thing you're indulging in was intended for, you practice discipline, and only indulge in measured ways which result in the desired end. Neither sex nor food are intended for pleasure alone, and the Church never condones self indulgence the way our culture does. Our culture is so steeped in hedonism that any number of church teachings, from sexual morality to fasting, are completely counter intuitive. We need to recognize that we are not created to maximize our own pleasure, but rather we are created for love, and within that context if you ask the question what is more loving? To have sex to satisfy your desire but deny the possibility of children, or to discipline yourself and develop and attitude that every sexual act is a full gift to the other and is open to life? Catholic logic plays out beautifully!

I think when people debate the Catholic rules of morality, they need to look at the underlying assumptions. Since we do not agree with our culture that the purpose of life is to have pleasure and get stuff.... we end up drawing all kinds of different conclusions!