Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why is swearing a sin?

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?

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.
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.