Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Should teenagers date?

I usually try to stick to material that the Catholic Church has officially weighed in on, and stay away from matters of opinion.  That way people know whether what they are reading is me or if it is the Church!  This question keeps coming back to me, though, so I figured I'd give my two cents!  While what I teach is grounded in Church teaching on stuff like Theology of the Body, and marriage, and the nature of love, to the best of my knowledge she does not authoritatively teach on dating!  (Seems unlikely that she would.)

This subject has come up lately as a number of the teens I work with have started dating each other-  or hope to start in the near future.  To be honest, I try to smile and be congratulatory when they share their news, but I always have misgivings.

One the one hand, if they have chosen someone good, I am happy for them because it is an affirmation of their own worth if someone good likes them and will commit to them!  If I don't think the person they chose treats them right, or has good values, or is too old making them creepy and immature to date a teen... well, that's another story.  But typically the teens I work with choose good people, and so I am conflicted-  I'm happy for them that they got a good catch, and are thus affirmed as being a good catch themselves-  but I dread the day that they break up!

According to Brad Henning (author and speaker on this subject) the average teen relationship lasts 2.5 months.  Most of the teens I work with seem to make it work longer than that.... but still, they break up in the end.  The question is, is it worth it?

From a youth ministers perspective, I'm working to build a little community of youth that reinforces their values to each other.  Typically when teens break up, they are awkward around each other afterwards, and often one or both of them will leave the ministry.  I hate that, and I'm sure it informs my bias.

But I also wonder if after dating the youth is more aware of their value, or do they just feel more rejected?  Are they trying to fill a void in their life with other people?

I dated a lot in High School-  6 girls in 2 years, with 'relationships' ranging from one day to 6 months.  Most of them were closer to the one day end of the spectrum.

After dating a girl for one week between grade 11 and 12, I decided not to date again until I was 'serious'.  I don't know why I made that decision-  I just felt that dating like that was beneath me.  And to be honest, in my adult years I no longer even regarded those relationships as 'real' after having had more significant relationships.  (Now being married, even my adult relationships look trivial!)

Catherine, on the other hand, never dated anyone before me-  although she did go on dates with guys who she knew she had a mutual attraction with. Technically though she never had a 'boyfriend'.  (Even the word 'boyfriend' strikes me as a juvenile term, indicative of a juvenile relationship, but the word 'manfriend' is even worse!)  I respect Catherine so much for not seeking the affirmation of other people in allowing herself to date in trivial ways!  Also, because Catherine never dated, not only was she a virgin when we got married, she had never even kissed anyone before me!  I feel so honoured by that, and wish that I had saved more for her. Incidentally when I did date, the more I respected the girl, the less I did with her.  I had French kissed a number of girls in High School, and was not even a virgin when I got married, but all of those girls were insignificant to me.  The ones I cared about I didn't mess around with.  Weird, eh?

The thing with dating is, it's supposed to prepare you for marriage.  When you get married, you make a vow to love the other person for the rest of your life, no matter what!  But when you date, you basically make a commitment that says "I promise to be faithful to you until you annoy me or I find someone else or I just don't feel like it any more, and at that time I will tell you that I am moving on before I do."  In other words, dating defines relationships by what you get out of them, rather than as a commitment.  Someone once said "Dating doesn't prepare you for marriage, it prepares you for divorce."  I think that's probably true!

I recognize that there's a lot of positives to dating too.... notably that it's fun and, hopefully, wholesome, and it teaches you to relate to the opposite sex. But I do not think the positives outweigh the negatives.

To be clear I don't think it's a sin for teens to date.  I respect the ones who choose not to more, as I think it shows wisdom, restraint, confidence, and maturity.  Ladies, there is nothing a man finds more unattractive than drama.  If you are prone to infatuation and wanting mens attention, ironically, that makes you less attractive!  On the other hand, there's nothing more beautiful than a woman who is confidently seeking God.  A Godly man will notice that.

So when should a teen be allowed to start dating, and what is the appropriate age of their significant other?

This is a little tongue in cheek, but here's the formula I like to use.  D= A/2 + 8.  Where D is the age of the person you can date, and A is your age.  So if you are 20, the youngest person you could date is D= 20/2 + 8 or 18.  If you are 30, the youngest you can date is D= 30/2 + 8 or 23.  If you are 16, the youngest you can date is 16.  But if you are 14, the youngest you can date is 15.... but they can't date you!  If teens accept this formula, they inadvertently don't allow themselves to date until they are 16.  But again, I'm joking.  I don't know what kind of rule I'll make for my kids... overall I think rules is the wrong way to go, and we should form character, and rules come into play where character is lacking.  So, I hope to raise my kids such that they see dating as something they don't want to do frivolously.

Here's the guiding principal.  Don't date someone if you think you will most likely break up with them!  If you think you will most likely marry them, then great!  Some teens do marry their high school sweethearts.  My parents did... sort of.   But you know something interesting?  I've been doing youth ministry now for 18 years, and have worked with hundreds of teens.  I can't think of a single example of a teenage couple from any of my ministries who married each other.... not one.  (I just checked.  Apparently one couple has been engaged since November 2004... so they may yet prove me wrong.)

So ask this question when you start dating-  do you intend to marry this person, or just to break up with them?  And if you're just going to break up eventually, are you loving them and loving yourself by dating them?

In the end, teens are teens, their relationships are frivolous, and maybe that's ok.  But for the teens I care about, I hope for more!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Do Catholics pray in tongues? What is it?

I decided to encase my answer to this question in a testimony of my own journey.  The Catholic Churches teaching on Tongues is not well defined, and usually I stick to things where the Church has given a clear definition.

I grew up in a Catholic Charismatic household, where I heard tongues on a regular basis.  Tongues basically sounds like gibberish, and can be spoken, chanted or sung.  People unfamiliar with it can find it really odd, but growing up with it it was normal to me.  I remember even as a kid attending a Junior High retreat, and coming home thinking that maybe I had gotten the gift of tongues.  My Mom asked to hear it, and I chanted "Hmmm mama hmmm papa",  and she encouraged me hold back for a few more years, as it may not have been an authentic gift!

In High School I attended a number of evangelical and pentecostal youth groups, which really formed the way I read scripture, but did not involve the Charisms.  So when I got to the charismatic John Paul II bible school, I started questionings the validity of tongues, but because of my protestant way of thinking I maintained that if they could be clearly defended from scripture, I would consider them legitimate.

To my surprise, there is tons written in scripture about the legitimacy of tongues and the other charismatic gifts!  Mark 16:17 Jesus promises the disciples that believers will speak in tongues, Acts 2 (Pentecost) the disciples begin speaking in tongues, In Acts 10:44 where the fact that Gentiles spoke in tongues indicated to Peter that Christianity was not just for the Jews but that the Holy Spirit was being poured out on all, and in Acts 19:6 where the Ephesians had their baptism fulfilled and received the gifts of tongues, possibly foreshadowing the Sacrament of Confirmation.

But to me the most telling passages were the ones in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14. The Bible was not written to a Catechism, or faith textbook, and so in none of the passages mentioned is there an explicit explanation of what is meant by the gifts of tongues, but in 1 Corinthians Paul is countering some of the abuses both in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the praying of tongues, and other things.  In doing so and describing what orderly worship should look like, he effectively explains tongues, and notably that it does in fact sound meaningless.  Consider 1 Corinthians 14: 2 "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit."  or 1 Corinthians 14: 14 which reads "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful."  Interestingly, brain scans have been done on people praying in tongues, and it was found that activity in the language and control areas of the brain decreased, while those in the emotion centers increased.

Someone reading 1 Corinthians 14 may get the idea that Paul is against tongues, but this would be a misread.  He is concerned about abuses of the gift, and even says "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you."  but then he adds "But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue."  ( 1 Corinthians 14:18-19).

A proper read of 1 Corinthians in context, and then in light of 2 Corinthians, was that Paul was saying that all of the liturgy and charismatic gifts had to be at the service of love, which is above everything else (1 Corinthians 13).  Incidentally, this teaching is reinforced by the Catholic Church in the Catechism, paragraph 2003 which says "There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit." Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church."

This brings me to the next step in my testimony.  I eventually realized that though something seems well argued in Scripture to me,  inevitably on any issue there will be a range of opinions about what Scripture means.  Trinity, Eucharist, Sacraments, nature of Salvation...  so on all of these issues, I differ to the authority of the Church.  (This is called giving your "assent of faith".)  A fun game to play if ever you are wondering what is the correct interpretation on a subject or arguing with someone who accepts the authority of Scripture, is to ask the question "I wonder what the Earliest Christians thought?"  If Christians clearly and authoritatively taught something before the Canon of Scripture was finalized (393 AD), well clearly anyone who accepts the canon of scripture ought to accept the authority of the Church who decided on it, therefore they ought to accept the teachings of that Church.  Anyway, be it purgatory or trinity or infant baptism or rapture or what have you, the teaching of the Church today is consistent with that of the Church in those early centuries.

So with tongues, what did the Early Church teach?   As always, it is perfectly consistent with what the Church today teaches, and that is... that it is inconclusive, undefined.  There were some, called Cessationists, who thought that the gift of tongues were for the times of the apostles, and had ceased.  These also maintained that other gifts, such as prophecy and miracles, had largely ceased. Among those who seemed to think that were Chrysostom and St Augustine, who described the gifts as being "adapted to the time".  [1]

On the other hand, Augustine also described what he called "Singing with Jubilation" which he described as "Singers...  being as it were filled with so great joy, that they cannot express it in words, then turn from actual words, and proceed to sounds of jubilation. The jubilee is a sound signifying that the heart laboureth with that which it cannot utter. And whom beseemeth that jubilation, but the Ineffable God? For He is Ineffable, Whom thou canst not speak; and if thou canst not speak Him, and oughtest not to keep Him silent, what remaineth to thee but jubilation ; that the heart may rejoice without words, and the boundless extent of joy may have no limits of syllables? Sing skilfully unto Him with jubilation."
—Augustine of Hippo on the 33 Psalm[2]
 Other Church Fathers, like Tetulian, Irenaus, Justyn Martyr, Eusebius, Hilary of Poitier...  refer to tongues and the Charismatic gifts as though they were an ongoing phenomenon their time.
Anyway, this is starting to sound way more academic than the tone I typically try to strike. 
Throughout history the Saints have continued to manifest other Charismatic gifts, like prophecy and miracles and word of knowledge, so the question is, are the charisms gifts that we should all be manifesting? 
The Church, as I have said, has not given a definite answer to this question, and so all opinions are welcome within the Church.  But the Church, and Popes, have given endorsements to what is known as the Charismatic movement. 
Here are a couple of Quotes; 
"Nothing is more necessary for such a world, more and more secularized, than the testimony of this “spiritual renewal”, which we see the Holy Spirit bring about today in the most diverse regions and environments." Pope Paul VI
“I am convinced that this movement is a sign of His action (of the Spirit). The world is much in need of this action of the Holy Spirit, and it needs many instruments for this action."  Pope John Paul II
"The emergence of the Renewal following the Second Vatican Council was a particular gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church." Pope John  Paul II
"We can, therefore, rightly say that one of the positive elements and aspects of the Community of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is precisely their emphasis on the charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit and their merit lies in having recalled their topicality in the Church.” pope Benedict XVI
"Tell Them I Love Them Very Much" Pope Francis to the Charismatic Renewal
So... the long and the short of it is this.  The Church, both historically and presently, while not clearly defining the charisms, welcomes and encourages them, but always with the reminder that our goal even in using them should be to grow in holiness, specifically in charity.  And just as Paul felt it was necessary in the Early Church to encourage the disciplined use of the charisms, so we should always submit ourselves to the proper authority and guidance of the church in order to avoid abuses.
So... back to me, at Bible School.  My mind mostly at ease about the charisms, I started opening up to using them, but didn't want to claim that it was God speaking in me when for all I knew it was just me or my imagination. 
On one occasion I was in Mass, and wondering about the nature of the Eucharist, when suddenly I felt that God was speaking to me, saying "Be Still and know that I am God."  That was a powerful experience, but did not have the pressure of making a particular claim.
But later that day a lady asked me why I never prophesied.  God apparently had put it on her heart that this was a gift I should be manifesting.  I made an excuse, but agreed that I would be open to it.
So that evening we had praise and worship, complete with charismatic manifestations, and I told God at the beginning that if he wanted to give me a prophecy, I would have the boldness to share it.
So then we're singing "These are Holy Hands", and I get the message "Know that I dwell in you always, and so you must glorify me in your body."  I was stunned and afraid.  The message came with all the accompanying sensations that people who manifest the gifts talk about.  But I still was not really prepared to take that risk with God and become vulnerable like that.
So after wrestling with it, I apologized to God and asked Him to give it to someone else.  The song ended and Catherine (who I would eventually marry) felt inspired by the Spirit, opened her Bible, and read "9 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. 
I said "I confirm that", which was vulnerable enough for me. But even then, I started doubting, thinking that maybe it was all a coincidence.  Until the lady behind me started singing "Be still and know that I am God."
I have had a number of experiences like that, which confirm both my faith in God and in the Charisms of God.  I once heard a man praying in tongues, and a friend of mine who did not know him informed him that he was speaking Slovak. 
But despite these proofs and the evidence of scripture and church endorsements, I for one still feel foolish and vulnerable when I step out and pray in tongues.  I think God's call for me is to put myself out there in faith and start letting the spirit work in me. My hope is that if I did that I would grow in the virtues of faith hope and love.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why do Catholics make such a big deal out of Mary?

Recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Phil Vischer podcast.  Phil Vischer is one of the founders of Veggie Tales and of the very enlightening “What’s in the Bible” series, which I recommend to anyone who wants a better understanding of Scripture.  The podcast's 3 regular hosts, Phil Vischer, Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor, and all three are very knowledgeable, thoughtful, and funny in how they communicate faith principles.  And they are very respectful of Catholics.  I almost never hear anything I disagree with on their podcast. 

But with the recent election of Pope Francis,  they were discussing him and his election, and Christian raised the fact that she was uncomfortable with the honour that Pope Francis immediately gave to Mary, which she likened to worship.  In the following podcast, Phil mentioned that he had gotten a lot of feedback from Catholic listeners about the fact that we do not worship Mary, but we do honour her, and Phil kind of said something to the effect that while he does not agree with the Catholic theology, he now understands better where we come from and he respects our viewpoint.

Well and good.  But why do Catholics give Mary so much honour?  And let’s be frank-  if kneeling before a statue of Mary, placing flowers before it, lighting candles, and singing words like “our life, our sweetness and our hope” is not worship, then what is?

Typically us Catholics will try to respond in an apologetic way, and stick with arguments based in scripture.  I think that there are plenty of good arguments found in scripture-  Like the fact that the angel greets Mary saying “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:28) effectively replacing her name with the title “Full of grace”, a greeting which troubled her.  Or that Mary herself predicted that “All generations will call me blessed”. (Luke 1:48)  Or that Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana at Mary’s prompting. (John 2)  That Jesus gives her to us as our mother with his dying breaths. (John 19:27).  Or that John seems to imply that Mary is thenew ark of the covenant (Revelation 11:19-12:6).  (A fascinating study on this typology, idea where something in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the new Testament, can be found in many of the Church fathers, such as Ephrem, Athanasius, Cyril, Ambrose, Hippolytus, etc- which show that while the original ark contained the manna, commandments, and rod of Aaron, so Mary contained within herself Christ, who fulfilled these three things as the true bread from heaven, fulfillment of the law, and the High Priest.)  Other types of Mary can be found in Old Testament queens like Esther or Bathsheba (as Solomon’s queen Mother) when they intercede with the king.

Anyway, tons can be said about that, and has been all over the place, which is part of the reason that I am not that interested in getting into it here, beyond making references to the passages and arguments, which once directed anyone can now follow up on.

The thing, though, about Catholics is that we are not limited to just scripture based arguments, and I think that even if you accept all the arguments above it still does not lead fully to what Catholics actually think.  To a Catholic, the idea that all doctrine is based on scripture is not only foreign, but it does not make sense.  This is because the Church existed, and taught, for 400 years before the Canon of the Bible was finalized, and it was in fact the Church which gave us the Bible, and not the other way around.  We cannot have read the Bible and then drawn our doctrines from it.  But instead all of our doctrines and the Bible itself were given to us at the same time, in what has been called the deposit of the faith.

To me, the authority of scripture is dependent on the authority of the Church who gave it to us.  So I always wonder how old a tradition within the Church is.  If it goes back to the Fathers, to before the finalizing of the Canon, this indicates to me that the doctrine was in the deposit of faith, and not some medieval development.  So can it be shown that honour of Mary goes all the way to the Early Church?

I already demonstrated that the ideas of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant does.  In fact, if you read the quotes I referred to, you will find lines like these;

 St. Athanasius (c. 296-373)

“Be mindful of us, most holy virgin, who after childbirth didst remain virgin; and grant to us for these small words great gifts from the riches of they graces, O thou full of grace. Accept them as though they were true and adequate praises in they honor; and if there is in them any virtue and any praise, we offer them as a hymn from ourselves and from all creatures to thee, full of grace, Lady, Queen, Mistress, Mother of God, and Ark of sanctification” (Orat. In Deip. Annuntiat, nn. 13, 14. Int. Opp. S. Athanasii) (Blessed Virgin, p. 80).

 “O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O (Ark of the) Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold!” Homily of the Papyrus of Turin.

Hesychius (lived c. 300)

“Behold a Virgin. Who is she? The most noble of women, the elect from among virgins, the splendid ornament of our nature, the glory of our mold, who freed Eve from her shame and Adam from the curse, who cut off the bold insolence of the dragon, she whom the smoke of concupiscence touched not, nor the worm of pleasure harmed” (Is.vii. 14). (Hesychius, Orat. De Virginis laudib. Biblioth. PP. Græco-Lat. Tom. ii. p. 423) (Blessed Virgin, p. 89).

I love reading the Church fathers, because they were so poetic and unapologetic in their expression of truth!

Marian devotion does go at least as far back as the 2nd century, with Origen coining the term ‘theotokos’ (Mother of God) before he died in 254AD.

The oldest known Marian Hymn, the Sub tuum praesidium, dates from about 270ad, and is as follows.


Beneath your compassion,

We take refuge, O Mother of God:

do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:

but rescue us from dangers,

only pure, only blessed one


I could go on in like manner for a very long time, citing early references to Marian veneration, but suffice it to say that Mary has been venerated by Christians since well before the Canon was finalized, seemingly from the beginning, and is universally venerated among the ancient Churches-  Catholics, Orthodox, Coptic, etc.


That’s enough apologetics-  meaning arguing for the legitimacy of the practice. Here on in I am going to articulate the Church’s teachings without bothering to defend them with scripture or history.  The question still remains-  why do it, and how is it not worship?


Catholics make a distinction between the honour we give to Mary and the Saints, and that due only to God.  In Latin, the one for God is ‘latria’ where the one for saints is ‘dulia’.  For Mary it is ‘hyperdulia’.  This distinction goes all the way back to the second council of Nicea in 787.  So the quick answer, that Catholics do not worship Mary, is quite right, in that the honour we give her is quite different from that which we give to God.  You may find, however, the occasional older document which refers to the worship of Mary.  This has to do with the changing of the meaning of the word ‘worship’ in English.  It used to just mean “worth-ship”, so giving one their due, but now it means that which is due only to God.  (For this reason to this day Brit’s call their judges ‘Your Worship’, where Americans call them ‘Your Honour’)

So if lighting candles, etc, is not the worship due only to God, then what is? 

Interestingly, every ancient religion had the offering of sacrifices as their highest form of worship.  Catholics do to, in that we offer the Mass, which is the fulfillment in Christ of the Old Testament offerings.  Catholics never offer the Mass to Mary.  I can understand that to a protestant, where for many their highest form of worship may be playing really moving music on the guitar and singing, they would regard what we do to honour Mary as a form of worship.  You have to understand liturgy (which also goes all the way back to the beginning) to understand worship from a Catholic perspective.

So, why so much honour?  The early Christians immediately honoured their saints-  if someone was martyred, their blood was preserved, bones were gathered, altars were built over their tombs.  When St Paul dropped a hanky, people kept it as a relic and brought it to the sick (Acts 19:11-12).  How much more with Mary?

The idea with Mary is that she was the first one to have gone through the sanctifying process which Jesus came for.  God’s plan for all of us is to become saints- to be holy, purified, have our will in complete union to His. Mary went through it first! In fact, she was saved before being conceived.  So she is what we will all be when we are completely purified.  But she is not God, she is one of us.  One of us that has been given the honour of being raised above the angels.  Notice that all honor due to her is because of what God has done in her-  as is clear in her own prayer, the Magnificat. (Luke 1:46-55).  You cannot understand Mary except in relation to Jesus, and Mary always points at Jesus. (Usually in art, she is even looking at Jesus.)  By analogy, Mary is the moon, which is only radiant because it reflects the light of the sun.

St Louis de Montfort explained that just as God originally deemed to send grace into the world through Mary the first time, so he continues to do so.  So Mary has become for us the channel of grace, won for us by Christ on the cross. 

This is confusing, because to many it seems that we are making Mary a mediator between us and God.  Indeed, she is even called the mediatrix. But Jesus is the one mediator, in the sense that only He can restore our relationship with God.  Mary is a mediator in the same sense that any other holy person could be.  We can ask her to pray for us, and she can.  And because of her special place, (the first to be fully sanctified, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, the mother of Jesus, the queen mother, the ark of the covenant, the new Eve… etc) her prayers have more power. 

I think to many people it feels like we should not have to ask Mary to pray for us, when we can pray directly to God.  Much like we should not have the sacrament of confession, when we can ask God directly for his forgiveness. We can go directly to God, and anyone who has ever listened attentively to the prayers at a Catholic Mass would find that almost every word is directed to God the Father.   But God’s salvation plan for some reason uses people other than himself.  We are needed to evangelize and pray for others. Priests to give the sacraments.  God uses angels for his tasks, despite the fact that he is all powerful.  And so God has deemed to make Mary a key piece in his plan for salvation, and she continues to hold that honored role even now.

I have a suspicion, and that is that the reason so many of us are uncomfortable with Marian devotion is because we are imposing certain philosophical ideas on God and the way that he works, rather than just watching to see what He is actually doing.  I suspect that if we could drop some of our own ideas, and just dive into the mystery of Christ and Mary’s role, we would come away with the same enthusiasm and love for her that the Early Church and all of the saints have had.  Then, guided by these more profound principles, we can return to scripture and discover a richness there that we had never before seen.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Is it wrong to not desire as many children as God can give you?

Q:Is it wrong for a woman not to want as many kids as God can give her? There are times when I feel as though, as a woman, I have more to offer the world than just simply making and having children, and therefore I find myself thinking that I will probably use contraceptives.

A: Uhhh...

The thing is, God can give you 20, 25 kids. I don't want 25 kids. Is that wrong? If you actually knew that it was the will of God to have more kids, and you chose not to anyway, then I suppose that would be wrong. I really like the saying that Maximilian Kolbe used to say. The equation for holiness is w = W. The small w represents my will, and the large one God's will. If my will equals God's will, then I will be holy. Since God created us to be holy, (and in the end we will become holy, if a little purgatory is required) then anything that puts my will before God's will is a sin... so if God wants you to have lots of kids, or be a nun, or be poor, or be a high powered lawyer who fights for justice.... whatever God wants, we seek His will, even if it means having 25 kids.

But I don't think God wants us to have 25 kids. Our attitude has to be that every kid is a gift- because of course each one is. But when you get married (the primary purpose of which is to build a family, and companionship is secondary) you are entering into a covenant with God. One of your vows is to be open to life. "Do you promise to receive children lovingly from the Lord?" "I do."

So it's like you enter into a bargain with God where he says "I'm going to put you in charge of growing a garden, here's a plot of land and the tools and the seed, I'll provide the rain and the sun, you take care of it." The attitude of contraception is like saying "gardens are a lot of work, I'd really rather not grow one. So I just won't plant the seeds" or worse "I will plant these seeds, but then I will spray round up on my garden so nothing will grow." The reason God gave you the plot of land is because he had a job for you!

On the other hand, if you just plant seeds all over the place, or in the wrong season, your garden can become over grown. So you do want to plan. I always hoped to have a large family, but now at three kids my wife's health is suffering. It is likely that we will have to stop at 3. But contraception is out, so we'll have to use NFP.

NFP stands for 'natural family planning.' Contrary to popular belief, this is not the rhythm method which assumes that every woman is on a 28 day cycle and so you just have sex when the woman is infertile, which you judge based on when she gets her period. It is true that a woman is only fertile for a few days of the month, but not true that every woman is on such a regular cycle. So there are much more sophisticated ways for knowing when a woman is fertile. I won't get into them here, and anyway I am hardly an expert, but suffice it to say that NFP takes into account the woman’s natural cycle, respects her body, and yes, abstains from sex when she is fertile if you are trying to avoid having kids for good reasons.

I think a lot of people fail to understand ethics and morality because they try to reduce it to a bunch of laws.  A major precept of Christianity was that Christ came to free us from the laws, and make us into a different kind of person.  So when you look at NFP vs contraception from a legalistic perspective, people think, yeah but it comes to the same end!  But it’s about the attitude that is concerning.  NFP teaches discipline, respect for the body, and openness to life.  Contraception is about avoiding pregnancy as though it was a negative consequence, but having sex regardless for pleasure or companionship. Even the words betray the attitudes in question-  Contra-Ception means “against conception”.  Whereas NFP is “Natural Family Planning”.  The Catholic attitude then is not that we are against having a family, but that we will responsibly plan a family.  And I cannot stress enough that having a family is the mandate of married people!  (Considered in this light, all kinds of other sexual ethics questions start making sense!)
This is going way further than the original questioner intended, but I do want to mention that the attitude for Catholics is that each sexual act must be open to life.  As in you can’t interfere with it to prevent life.  Having sex when a woman is known to be infertile, either from her cycle, or from age, or what have you, is fully acceptable.  But preventing life goes against natural law.  Natural Law can be summed up as God made the world a certain way, and ethics respects the way that it was made.
As to the comment that as a woman you have more to offer the world than simply making and having children-  this is true, but we have to be careful not to act as though making and having children is some small thing!  My vocation as a father should be prioritized like this- God, Wife, Kids, work (which in my case is ministry.)  Anytime I put these in a different order my life becomes ‘disordered’.

GK Chesterton wrote in the 1st half of the last century, and he described what would happen if Contraception became widely accepted.  (He lived in England, and the Anglican Church reversed its stance on contraception in the 1930’s.)  The attitude of contraception would lead to seeing children as a negative consequence of sex, and ultimately to abortion.  It would also remove the commitment that sex entailed, leading to casual sex, higher adultery rates, higher divorce rates, the use of sex for pleasure, men using women more, and ironically with that culture shift would come an increase in unwanted pregnancies, single mothers, the breakdown of the family, and seeing as the family is the building block of society, eventually the breakdown of society.  It is interesting how many of the things he predicted came true!  And I don’t think he even recognized how with all this would be the rise of pornography, (certainly he could not have predicted the internet as a means), the rise of Sexually Transmitted Infections, homosexuality, prostitution, human trafficking for the sake of prostitution (biggest form of slavery in the world today)…. Etc.

I think it would be over stating things to blame all of these social ills on contraception-  however contraception is one of the symptoms of a “Culture of Death”, as JPII called it. As stated before, reducing Catholic ethics to a list of rules misses the point entirely.  This is about an attitude, and a philosophy of life.  The proper Catholic attitude is that Sex is good and beautiful, even Holy, because it is through Sex that a man gives himself to a woman, and she receives him, and a new human life comes into the world.  The sacredness of this act is so profound that it is a part of the sacrament of Marriage. 

To the reader who is interested in learning more, I recommend you research John Paul II’s Theology of theBody.  Or if you are between 14 and 18, attend the Spring Retreat at Our Lady of Victory Camp, May 3-5 2013, where we will be diving into these teachings in depth!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How is God justified for killing innocent babies in the Bible?

Q. How do you justify God murdering babies and young children? This question is not meant to sound condescending, so I apologize if it does. I'm genuinely curious.

I'll cite the following instances.

1) God murdered the Egyptian first-born, just to prove a point.
2) If you believe that God flooded the world, then he drowned thousands of innocent babies to death.

Why is it okay for God to commit child-murder and sacrifice innocents?

Do you yourself feel morally okay bowing before an entity who slaughters babies en mass?

(This question was posed in the comments after Denmark does not exist. )

A.  This, I think, is one of the most challenging questions to the authenticity of Scripture and thus of Christianity.  I do not know of a perfectly satisfactory answer.  (I suppose if there was one, people would stop asking the question!)  I think part of the difficulty is that a very direct question is given, but the answer is very indirect and nuanced.  Seems that a lot of life is like that, especially regarding things like history and ethics and theology!  So someone like me tackles the question in an indirect and nuanced way, and it is exasperating and maybe the reader will not read to the end.  Others will attempt a more pithy answer, but fail to capture the true nature of the problem.

I can dismiss the flood scenario rather easily, by saying that as a Catholic I am not required to believe that the first 11 chapters of Genesis were intended to be taken literally, that their genre is epic poem, etc. (For more on this, read Sola Scriptura ).  But even as epic poem, it is included in Scripture because though it may not speak to literal history, it does speak to the nature of God, so the problem remains.  And it is even more explicit in Exodus when God kills the first born Egyptians.  This book, I would argue, falls clearly into the historical book form.

So, here's the first indirect, nuanced bit.  The Bible is not dictated word for word by God, but inspired and written by men.  (Unlike the claims about the Koran or Book of Mormon.)  So, the author of Exodus, for the sake of argument let's say Moses, is recounting a series of events but with his own interpretation.  In the ancient world, people would attribute causality to God, saying "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" or "God killed the first born." 

This is yet another difficult theological concept that I don't fully understand today.  What is the distinction between God's active will and His permissive will?  Does he actively Cause everything, or just allow everything, or is the balance somewhere in between?  But if God is who is (Yahweh), and the one in whom everything else that exists exists....  you get the gist.

All of that aside, let's just take the story at face value.  God says let my people go, Pharaoh says no, God warns of consequences, and a series of plagues affect Egypt.  (Each plague, incidentally, relates to one of the Egyptian gods, as if God were saying "I am bigger than your God.  You worship the Nile? I killed it, it's blood!  You worship frogs? Here's some frogs!  You worship the sun? I'll block it out!")  Despite the fact that Egypt is getting destroyed, the economy is collapsing, and everybody is sick, livestock are dead, Pharaoh still refuses to obey God.  So God keeps stepping it up, and finally does what he needs to do to establish justice.

I wonder what would have happened if God had not killed the first born?  Would the Israelites ever have become a nation?

I am always suspicious of the values that we hold today that were not held throughout history.  As we all know, history is replete with errors in the way the culture at that time thought.  I suspect that some of our ideas are wrong too-  and I don't just mean the ones I happen to disagree with.  I often suspect that even my own ideas might be wrong.

I think that if you read the Old Testament, you get a picture of God who is very unlike the picture we have of God today.  We emphasize so much God's love and compassion and mercy, that I think we might overlook some of his other traits, like justice and grandeur and holiness.  The Bible says repeatedly that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  It is thought by many that the most radical concept that was introduced by Christ, the one that got Him killed, and is still considered anathema by Muslims and Jews, was calling God "Father." 

Think for a moment about what modern physics has told us.  There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and 100 billion galaxies in our universe.  But apply this to theology, and God is much bigger and more powerful than any of our primitive notions ever allowed.  The idea that God would care about humans, and interact with them, and actually become one, is astonishing. 

The idea that we would demand that God comply with our notions about morality while we disobey Him is even more so. But this is precisely what we do.  When God fails to live up to our preconceived notions of who He is, we decide that rather than believe that He is different than we thought, he must not exist.

I suspect that we are wrong both in emphasizing God's mercy at the expense of His holiness, and on the other hand we downplay the guilt of our own sins.  I suspect that the magnitude of both are greater than our culture acknowledges.  (I also suspect that a cursory glance at the writings of saints and prophets would illustrate this point!)

So, how does this tie in with the Egypt story?  I think God, who created and holds the entire universe in existence, and every thing in the universe does His will perfectly, except those that he imbues with free will, who make slaves of each other, and stubbornly refuse to listen when He speaks, even when his words are backed up by miracles.... I think that God needs to act.  But He has put a limit on himself, which is free will.  He cannot simply override the will of pharaoh, pharaoh must learn to submit.  I wonder if to God the death of the first born is not so awful as it is to us. To God (presuming they go to Heaven) he's just bringing a bunch of children out of the broken world and to Himself. 

I suspect that to God, it is not an atrocity, but a mercy, and anyway it is the price necessary to change structural oppression.

So, I should sum up in a pithy way to satisfy the direct question:  God is enormous, and he is Holy, he demands righteousness, he mercifully gives us chances to comply, but He will not stand by indefinitely while we go on imposing suffering on others.  He will do what it takes. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why can't Catholics recieve communion in Lutheran Church?

Q.  What I was wondering about is Communion outside of the Catholic Church. At my Lutheran School there's Chapel activities three times a week, and on Wednesday's we do Holy Communion (There's only a 20 minute space available three times a week, so basically what we do is have mass in three parts throughout the week). Today I was told that as a Catholic I shouldn't be receiving Communion, and the person who said that didn't really know why. I get that there's a huge difference between Communion at a Catholic Church and a Lutheran Church, but I don't see how that makes it wrong to receive Communion at a Lutheran service. If it were the other way around, a non Catholic at a Catholic Church, I can see how that would be wrong. I also get how it would be a big mistake to replace or substitute for Catholic Communion, but that's not at all how it is. I'm not even thinking of them as the same thing; in my mind they're totally separate.

I guess it just seems haughty and almost arrogant to say "no, this isn't good enough for me because I have something similar and this is different" when instead it could be treated as something totally different, which really it is, not something that is taking away from or disputing the transubstantiation in Catholic Communion. It's not like the Lutheran Church is making a sacrilege of Communion by doing it the way they do, they're not even opposing any beliefs of the Catholic Church. Their Communion is just not as special, it's not as intimate. But the Catholic Church has nothing wrong with symbols, and that's all that their Communion is, so there should be nothing wrong with it. Because their Communion is merely symbolic and therefore not nearly as intimate, it is definitely no replacement and should never be thought of as such, but I don't understand what is wrong with participating.
A. I used to struggle with the same issue, when I was heavily involved in the Anglican Church.   Church teaching is that the reception in another Church would be superficial. It is not a put down to the other Church, but rather an acknowledgement that we are not in communion with each other! I think now a days we really emphasize the fact that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, which it is and that emphasis is important, but sometimes we forget that receiving communion also indicates that we are one, and one with the Church we receive it in. While out hope is to one day be in communion with all the protestants, we aren't right now and so it would be superficial to receive such an important symbol, while rejecting what it signifies.
Historically when someone was a heretic or a schismatic, they could be cut off from the sacraments, or ex-communicated. This was a really big deal- so much so that kings would stand barefoot in the snow to repent to the Pope and be welcomed back into communion! If you receive communion in a Lutheran Church, it is not only problematic because they don't share our theology, it indicates that you are one of them.
To be honest I sometimes think that if it were left to me, I would not make communion more accessible, but rather less. In Catholic Churches it is supposed to be the final stage of initiation into the Church (or confirmation is, depending). But we give it to every kid of the age of reason regardless of their own level of devotion to the Church, or that of their parents. And people receive it in an unworthy manner- either due to sin, irreverence, eating before Mass, or they are not Catholic- on a regular basis. The holiness of the sacrament gets undermined if we treat it as something that we have a right to.
I think that it is fantastic that Catholics and Lutherans can worship together, have fellowship, dialogue, etc. But it would be premature to say we are in full communion. I hope and pray for the day that we will be, and I think that will be a powerful and fantastic day, but let's not undermine the symbol in anticipation of something that is not yet!

(The original questioner has kept the conversation going...)

Q:  So the big problem with it then is that it signifies that we are all united as one, even though we aren't? And that's what makes it superficial? That doesn't really make sense to me. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves of free- and we were all made to drink of one spirit." (1 Corinthians 12: 12-13). Christ came to die for all of us, not just Catholics, so why do we separate ourselves from other Churches? I think the part I don't understand is what you mean when you say "While our hope is to one day be in communion with all the protestants, we aren't right now". To me it seems like, just as the verse says, we are all one body in Christ, we are all saved by grace just the same, and though we are different, we are all united. St Paul repeats this idea when he says, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another." (Romans 12: 4-5). If we are all united as one body in Christ, why do we reject this symbol of unity?

Actually it's because the Lutherans separated themselves from us. It begs the question about how much theological agreement there needs to be to be in communion with each other. For example, suppose we allow that we hold enough in common with Lutherans and Anglicans to be in communion... despite the fact that many Anglicans deny that homosexuality is wrong. Should we also be in communion with the United Church, many of whom deny the trinity and thus the divinity of Christ? Or the Jehovah's Witnesses, who think Jesus was Michael the Archangel? Or Mormons, who think that the Church is in a state of apostasy for denying true revelation? To Luther, the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon. While you will not find many Lutherans who hold that position today (though you may find evangelicals) if you receive their communion you are affirming everything they believe- and vice versa when they receive ours.
This is precisely why we have Church authority, because while Luther may have meant well and sincerely believed that if we read the Bible by ourselves and guessed at the truth, the Holy Spirit would guide us, history and the proliferation of denominations and new teachings have demonstrated otherwise. This is a major difficulty for ecumenism. While Lutherans and United Church can both acknowledge one another as Christians making their best guess at it, the Catholic Churches claim is that the Church was granted authority to interpret scripture and pass on teachings. So when I say I hope we will all one day be in communion, in truth I mean that I hope one day protestants will stop protesting and will come back to the Church that Jesus founded and guaranteed the truth to!
I don't know how all of this works for the idea that we are all 'one body'. Within the Church we can say that we are one precisely because we receive the one body, but Lutherans do not receive the one body. Their baptism is valid, so in a sense they are certainly Christian and part of the Christian Church. But they have broken their apostolic lineage, denied the authority of the Church and of the sacraments, and in effect cut themselves off from the sacraments.
I think that if we receive their communion, we affirm them as being not only Christian but just as right as Catholics. Of course, everyone wants to do this... but if you really believe that the Church is infallible, then only Catholicism is fully right, which means by definition all other denominations are defective, to greater or lesser degrees. (The Church released a document in 2000 called Dominus Iesus,  which expounds on this.)
So again, it is a huge difficulty. There is hope that that Churches that are very like minded with ours, like the Lutherans, can be reunited. Pope Benedict XVI even invited Anglicans to become "Anglican Catholics"- like Ukrainian Catholics. This let's them keep their rites and liturgy, etc, while acknowledging the Church and her authority to teach, therefore affirming whatever the Church has taught authoritatively. I do not think it is impossible for a right like "Lutheran Catholics" (though probably under a different name!) to exist. They would be, effectively, Lutherans who are back in full communion. It may happen, or something like it, but it would be premature for you or I to declare that it has happened just because we hope it will. But Ecumenism can go too far- I don't think we will ever have "Mormon Catholics" or "Muslim Catholics", because they are too contradictory.
There are many who, in the name of ecumenism or open mindedness, would undermine the infallible truth of Catholicism. Infallibility is a major stumbling block for these movements.... however, it is the assurance given us by Christ that we can get it right! Otherwise it is anyone guess. And it is not difficult to see from the Anglican Church or the United Church what democratizing the faith actually does to unity and fidelity to truth.
Often in North America where Catholics are a minority it feels like we should move to join the protestants. But worldwide we are the largest religion, and that with 2000 years of non contradiction, and the (apparent) blessing and guarantee of teaching from Christ. While we have a responsibility to worship with, and dialogue with, our protestant brethren, whatever distinctions there are between our faith and there's was introduced by them, and it is up to them to reconcile them if we are ever all to be one, as Jesus prayed.
If you check history, where major movements in Christianity were declared "Heresies" or "Schismatics" I think the Church has demonstrated a remarkable openness to Lutherans- at least in recent decades. That may be a balm for the wounds, but I suspect it will be decades more before the healing is complete.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is God a Genie?

I was surprised the other day to discover that in Richard Dawkins, in his video "the God Delusion" visits Lourdes and asks about the number of miracles which had occurred there.  He is told that there have been 67 confirmed miracles, and 2000 unexplainable scientific phenomena. This does not include people who are healed of things which could be explained by science, like depression or arthritis, etc. Rather than challenge the miracles, he points out that compared to the number of people visiting Lourdes for the past century this is not statistically impressive.

But I would argue that an average of more than one miracle/ month is pretty darn good!  None the less, this fits in with a greater trend that I have noticed.  That is that while there are thousands of documented miracles in the history of the Church, they are still not common.

I find this really interesting.  On the one hand, I regard the number and nature of the miracles, and their predominance within Catholicism as evidence of the truth of Catholicism.  But it is not insurmountable proof.  It is as though God wants people to have the real freedom to choose what to believe. But that's another train of thought all together.

I do think that what this should indicate to us Christians is that miracles are rare!  There are many Christians who believe in miracles, and that they will happen in answer to all or most of our prayers. But if you read the lives of the saints, it is important to note that not all of them performed miracles.  (At least not while alive) And those that did for the most part did not perform many.

In fact, even Jesus points this out! "I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosyg in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27) (jesus point was different from mine, but it still illustrates what I am talking about.)

 There were many widows....  And "That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases." Mark 1:32-34.  Many?

Maybe Christians do ourselves a disservice by expecting God to perform miracles when it has always been rare. I think many Christians believe in a God who is like a Genie, who has ultimatre power but is just there to serve our needs.  And I think the athiest apologists are right to argue that such a God does not exist-  or at least the whatever miracles there are in Christianity they remain statistically irrelevant.

But the challenge to this is where Jesus says "Whatever you ask for in my name will be granted you".

  I suppose we have to ask; What it even means to ask for something in Jesus name?  Does it really mean just tacking on "in Jesus name" to the end of a prayer?  If someone went to my wife and asked for something in my name, but it was inconsistent with what she knew I wanted, would she grant it?  In fact, no one would do that unless they were authorized by me and in union with my will.
I suspect that therein lies the answer.  I suspect that the saints who were able to perform miracles had achieved a level of sanctity, of union of will with God, that they could actually ask for things in Jesus name.  As for the rest of us, perhaps we should seek first the kingdom, and all these other things will be added.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Denmark does not exist!

I discovered something astonishing.  Denmark does not exist!  It is a conspiracy by cartographers.  (Line borrowed from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.)

Think about it.  Probably you, like me, have grown up thinking Denmark was real.  But have you ever been there?  No?  Know anyone who has?  Suspicious, isn't it?  I met a girl once who claimed to be from Denmark.  Beautiful and deceptive.  I guess I just never thought of it before.

But where is the logical evidence that Denmark exists?  Maps?  Referring to maps is a fallacy, called "Call to authority."  How do I know that cartographers aren't all in on it?  And more likely, they are just all copying each other anyway.  Have you ever noticed that some maps have a distorted picture of Denmark compared to others? Like the risk board?  Think about it!

So maps can't be trusted.  What about people who claim to have seen it or visited it?  I don't want to say they are all liars, but they might be naive.  What they thought was Denmark could just as easily have been Sweden. I mean, it's remarkably similar, by all accounts.

But then there is the Danes- like that girl I met.  Some of them no doubt are just naive and have been lied to.  But a lot of them, notably the leaders and teachers, must be deliberately lying.  After all, there is no proof!  There's photos and videos and things, but these are all hoaxes.

How do I explain then the worldwide phenomenon of people claiming to have first hand experience of Denmark?  I'm sure there is an answer to that question.  Just cause I don't know it, though, proves nothing.  Don't argue from ignorance!

I even suspect that Shakespeare was aware of this, and he let on by saying "There's something rotten in the state of Denmark."  I'm gonna write a book about it, call it "The Shakespeare Code".

OK, so I am having fun with this....  but have you ever noticed that people argue against Christianity following these lines?  They say "There's no proof."  We say "There's documents, eye witnesses, authority of the Church, scientifically authenticated miracles, ".   They say "Documents could be faked, eyewitnesses could lie, don't use call to authority, and just cause a phenomenon that seems to demonstrate the very thing you are claiming-  well there could be another explanation for it so don't argue from ignorance."

Hmmm.  Fascinating!  

Now granted, there is better reason to doubt the existence of God than to doubt the existence of Denmark.  But unless you've decided to throw out the evidence for God ahead of time, there's actually quite a bit!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How can God demand obligatory love?

This is one of the questions asked by Hitchens in his arguments against the morality of Christianity, and it was recently asked me by one of the youth I work with.  But the nature of the question shows that the very understanding of God and the love he 'demands' is skewed.

The first place where there is an error is the idea that God rewards or punishes us based on our performance, with Heaven or Hell.  This is not exactly accurate.  The most accurate analogy for God's love, and the one most frequently used in the Bible, is the love that a spouse has for another.  Being in Heaven is simply being married to God-  united with Him forever.  Being in Hell is being in no relationship with God.

So take the perception people have of how to please God and extend it to the concept of marriage.  Supposing my wife were to say to me "I demand that you love me at a satisfactory level, or I will divorce you."  Fair enough, in a sense.  If I don't love her, I cannot be in a relationship with her.  So in a sense love for her is obligatory.   But it would still be a rather demanding and unloving attitude she had toward me to say such a thing.

Instead, in order to be married to her, I had to choose to love her in the first place.  I had to make a commitment to her that said "I promise to be faithful to you, yada yada yada."  (Turns out the words yada yada yada are not precisely in the Catholic ritual, but you get my meaning.)   In other words, I had to choose to commit to love her!

I consider it a duty to love my wife, and to love my children, and to love my God.  Is this what is meant by obligatory love?  Am I obligated to love my kids?

Part of this too is confusion over the term love.  To a Christian, 'luv is a verb' (classic DC Talk), as well as a virtue, a commitment, the nature of God.... the emotion of love comes pretty far down the ladder. Though I doubt many Christians would deny the existence of the emotion.  if love is reduced to being merely an emotion, how could you demand it of anyone?  Contrariwise, how could you commit to it when you get married?

So the long and the short of it is that Heaven is not exactly a reward for being good-  it is the logical end of someone pursuing a relationship with God and therefore being with Him for all time.  Neither is Hell a punishment, but it is no relationship with God, the natural consequence of rejecting His offer of a relationship.  This is also what is meant by the way when people say that God does not send you to Hell, you choose it. You may not fully realize what you are choosing when you reject God, but it is what you are choosing!

Here's the troubling thing.  Hitchens debated all kinds of Christians in his lifetime.... how come no one told him this?  I suspect that they did.  I suspect he knew it even before he raised the question the first time.  I suspect that he was deliberately misleading when he misrepresented Christianity in his statements.  I know that most people are ignorant about what Christianity really teaches.  Most people have a concept of Christianity that they developed by the time they were 12, and they expect that true Christianity has no more meaning or maturity behind it than their 12 year old interpretation.   But I think Hitchens must have known better, and Dawkins must, and so when they refute the Christianity of 12 year olds, I think they are being deliberately disingenuous.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why is it that when a culture get's more educated they reject Christianity?

I think the implied answer to that is obvious- that Christianity is just medieval superstition that does not stand up to the scrutiny of reason.  I think "The Thinking Atheist" said it best-  "You pray for me, I'll think for you."

However, obviously I am not going to draw that conclusion.  Truth is that while educated cultures do seem to move away from faith, they do not do so at nearly the speed that was anticipated 100 years ago. Atheists continue to lament that they cannot understand how people who are otherwise so intelligent in the world of business, economics, politics, and yes, even science, can continue to hold to religions. America is said to be the most advanced country in the world, while at the same time the most religious. How can this be?

Of course, I don't think religion is stupid.  Honestly, I think Catholicism is the intelligent answer to the big questions.  Unlike some other religions, Catholics welcome the scrutiny of reason because they believe that both faith and reason can lead to truth, and truth cannot contradict truth. I will not in this post defend why I think Catholicism is the intelligent answer-  I have done so at length elsewhere.  But I will take on the title question.

So, if the rejection of Catholicism by educated cultures is not indicative of Catholicism's foolishness, what is it?  We could go the root of "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Cor 1:27) because even in Biblical times teaching people that Jesus rose from the dead sounded foolish.  But I think there are other reasons yet.

One is that there are certain assumptions made by some academics, which are used as the framework within which discussions can be had.  For example, for natural Science to explain the origins of the universe, they need to construct a system that is only dependent on natural science, they cannot bring in a super natural or metaphysical source-  say God.  They succeed in explaining the universe, for the most part, without God and this is taken as a proof that God does not exist.  Anthropologists apply a similar framework when they study the origin of religions-  they assume that the religion must have been invented over time, and do not include the possibility that God actually did reveal elements of the religion. 

You see manifestations of this all the time.  When Hitchen's and Blair debated whether religion was good for the world, at no point did they ask the question 'Is it true?'.  The debate assumed the proposition that religion was a man made construct, and went from there.  I wish Blair would have noticed that.

What I am saying is that often in academic circles the question of religion does not even include the possibility that it is true-  it is necessarily excluded for the purpose of the science.

However, I would like to suggest that there is a bigger reason why Catholicism is rejected among educated cultures.  Furthermore, I would like to suggest that Jesus predicted this.

As a culture gets educated, the importance of money increases.  In fact our whole western culture and system is dependent on consumerism, and consumerism has become the assumption that is unchallenged by Christians.  never mind verses like "The love of money is the root of all evil." or "You cannot serve both God and money."   I would like to suggest that the reason our culture is rejecting God is because they are so wholeheartedly embracing the service of money. 

Jesus pointed to this in his parable about the sower in the field.  In that parable, some of the seed falls into the thorns, where it sprouts up, meaning cares for the word and embraces it, but the thorns choke it.  Jesus says the thorns are 'the deceitfulness of riches and the lust for other things.'

So according to Jesus, when we get too concerned about worldly things, the faith is choked in us and does not bear fruit.

It is interesting how the phenomenon of development works anyway.  Along with development (I will not enter the debate of causality) comes the sexual revolution.  As our values shift to seeking personal comfort and the elimination of suffering, so we choose to have smaller families, or no families at all.  But we still want sex. So we begin to value sex for it's physical and emotional pleasure that it gives, but divorce it from it's original meaning.  And the further we go down this path, the more our sexual values challenge that of Christianity.  40 years ago the Church's teaching on contraception was for many the biggest to accepting the validity of the faith.  Now I suspect it is becoming increasing the teaching on homosexuality.

So as we become educated our values shift more and more from those presupposed by Christianity.  And I think that even we Christians begin to make assumptions that are not in keeping with Christianity, and based on those assumptions we lose faith in Christianity.

I don't know about you but that last paragraph made my brain tired.

I have also found that when I personally am outside the state of grace due to some sin, by faith suffers as a result.  I think that our over attachment to money is sinful, and so as a culture our faith will suffer!

So in conclusion-  I do not deny that there are very intelligent reasons to doubt the faith.  But I think there are intelligent reasons to keep the faith as well.  I suspect that what is tipping the scales is not education but the values that come with it!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Is the Shroud of Turin real?

At the schools where I work I have a talk series called “unsolved mysteries” wherein I investigate 
Front view of the Shroud of Turin
some of the miracles or apparent miracles that seem to confirm the truth of Catholicism. If you have been following my blog, you will see that I regard these remarkable phenomena as evidence for Catholicism- and to me each one is so convincing that even looking at one of them should produce real credence in the claims of Catholicism in the mind of a skeptic.  Here is a bit about my favorite one, the Shroud of Turin.  I decided to write about this based on what I know and from having done some investigating online.  I will try to represent the facts as accurately as possible, but please don’t hold me to the high standards expected of professional journalists or investigators!  If I am wrong about something, I will gladly admit it and amend my article. If you want a more precise article, I suggest Wikipedia.  I have every intention of presenting a biased account, while not being misleading!

The Shroud is believed to be the one that Jesus was wrapped in when he was crucified. The theory goes that when he rose his image was left on it, and so the shroud is a long piece of linen which had the brownish imprint of an apparently crucified man. The first thing that you need to know about the Shroud of Turin is that no one knows if it is real.   The Catholic Church has not made a claim one way or the other.  This is important, because even if the Shroud were proven to be false, this would not disprove Catholicism.  In my mind some of the other miracles would!  If Padre Pio’s Stigmata, or Our Lady of Guadalupe were proven false, this would have massive implications because the Church has declared Padre Pio and Juan Diego (who gave us the Our Lady picture) to be saints.  If they turn out to be charlatans, this calls into question the whole authority of the Church to teach on matters of faith and morals, and it could even be reasonable concluded that the Church knew they were fraudulent and was in on the hoax.  None the less, it should be stated that while the Church has not made a formal statement on the matter, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI clearly seemed to believe in it themselves.

The shroud first appears in undisputed history in France in 1390.  Immediately we should be suspicious of this, since this is an era where relics and faked relics are turning up all over Europe, as people cling to the hope found in Christ while the black plague takes its toll.  Add to that the fact that the Bishop of the region declared the thing a fake and says the forger confessed, and we should really have a closed case.  But none the less, the thing survived and was revered, burned in a fire, damaged by water, repaired by nuns, and analyzed by 20th century science.   Notably in 1988 it was subjected to  carbon dating, wherein a sample was taken and sent to 3 separate labs, all of whom concluded that the shroud was created in 1260-1390AD.  At this point of course many people declared the shroud a fake- but the intrigue goes on.  While the accuracy of the science goes largely unchallenged, the theory is that there was a ‘sampling error’- that they took a piece of the cloth that was not from the original cloth, possibly from a patch.  One of the scientists who worked on STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) even published an article in 2005 saying that "The worst possible sample for carbon dating was taken.”

It should be noted that since that time, a nuymber of other mechanical and chemical tests have been performed on the Shroud, dating it to between 280 BC and 220 AD, according to CNN.

Whatever the case, it seems that much the evidence presented so far is against the shroud, and indicates that it is a fake or at least a likely fake, and not really good evidence for Christianity.  A part of me would like to say that the Carbon Dating was so conclusive that whatever else, the thing is not real. But when I started looking into this I found the evidence to be overwhelmingly in favor of considering the thing to be real-  so much so that I could not so easily dismiss it, and began to take seriously the sampling error argument!

There’s a lot of evidence that I am not particularly interested in, although they support the argument;

·         The linen was of a type consistent with 1st century Jerusalem.

·         The chemical signatures of dirt found on the cloth are identical to those in 1st century limestone tombs in Jerusalem.

·         There is pollen and a flower imprint on the shroud consistent with springtime in Jerusalem- and some consistent with Edessa and Constantinople, where the shroud is believed to have travelled before going to France.

·         In 1902 the image was declared “anatomically flawless”, and while since then there have been arguments both in support and against this, most people, even skeptics, agree that this is the case and therefore the image must have been created using a real human body.

·         NASA scientists detected impressions of 1st century Palestine coins on the eyes.

And so on.  But what fascinates me the most is the way the image was created!  If you do your homework you will discover that the image has been, to some degree, duplicated- by painting a man in olive oil and wrapping a linen shroud around him and baking the shroud in the oven for several days.  So it could have been faked- but consider the following;

In 1898 the shroud was photographed for the first time by a man named Secondo Pia.  While developing his photos, Secondo Pia made an astonishing discovery- The shroud was a negative!  For those of you too young to remember film cameras, when a camera would take a picture, it would appear on the film with all of the colours reversed- light would become dark, yellow would become blue, etc.  You may have an app on your smart phone that allows you to do this even now.  Take a negative of a negative, and you get a positive.  Here’s the question that bothers me- why would some hoaxer in the 14th century make his image a negative when technology to discover that will not be invented for 500 years?  Granted, it could be done, with the whole olive oil and oven thing- but why bother?  How would you even think of that in the first place?  Why not just paint the thing?

On the other hand, if it was real, it makes sense that at the moment Jesus rose he emitted some super powerful light that left the imprint on the cloth just as happens on film in a camera.  Even then no one knows quite how it was done, but it is believed that the high resolution indicates that the light source lasted only for hundredths of a second.  (There are some who propose that Leonardo Da Vinci created the hoax himself, using an Arab photographic technology.  The fact that we have a clear historic record going back to 1390, well before was born, does not appear to be an issue. In my opinion theories like that do more to hurt the skeptic’s case than help it!)

The implications of Secondo Pia’s discovery were such that he was accused himself of fraud, until he was vindicated in the 1930’s.  In 1978, STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) was created to conduct scientific tests on the shroud.  As is consistent with other miracle investigations in the church, scientists were selected who were unbiased, many of them not even holding that Jesus rose.  I once heard a fascinating testimony by a Jewish photography expert asked to analyze the shroud, who protested that he did not believe in it, but after his analysis he declared it authentic.

In 1976 the shroud was placed under a VP8 Image Analyzer, used by NASA to create 3-dimensional images of the moon.  Astonishingly, it created a 3 dimensional image of a man.   This is astonishing because even other photographs fail to do that.  And they could not duplicate it.  More incredibly, the image has since then been made into a hologram, which is supposed to be impossible for 2-d objects.  The hologram reveals even more about the shroud.  The thing that stood out to me when I saw it (in a museum in Rome) was that the body appeared to be hovering over the cloth, not right against it. The implication is that it was photographed at a small distance- as if Jesus body somehow began hovering, with the shroud ballooning around it, then emitted the radiation which caused the image, possibly at the moment that he rose.

The other piece that astounds me is the evidence of the blood. First , the blood was on the shroud before the image. (Some dispute this). This would be extremely strange for someone to fake- paint blood streaks down where the arms will be, and arms on after.  The blood from the wounds, including the scourging, is consistent with the tortures described  in the passion narrative, to a degree that is not described and should not have been known to a 14th century fraudster.  Such as the nature of the roman scourge. Or the fact that he is pierced through the wrist, not the hand, as he was always portrayed in medieval art.  The blood from the side is separated into red blood cells and serum- as happens when someone dies, and as is attested by John “blood and water came out.”  Which by the way can only be determined under UV light.  The rest of the blood is from a living person- rather, they were living when the man bled.  

So, suppose someone was faking this.  They would have had to get a living man’s blood onto the shroud, then a dead mans, in the exact right places such that 21st century science could not conclusively show it to be wrong, scourging marks accurate, pierced through the wrist, include undetectable serum on in the side wound, then photograph the whole thing using technology newly introduced from the Arab world, such that it would create a negative image with a high enough resolution to create holograms, and then they have to bother to include flowers and pollen and coins….

Does it take more faith to believe that this is real, or to believe that it was faked?

So why does it only appear in 1390?  I would suggest that it was known about all along.  We know of something called the “Image of Edessa”, which was said to show the face of Christ. That disappears, and then Constantinople claims to have the burial cloth of Jesus.  That too disappears during the crusades, when Constantinople is sacked in 1204.  A French knight claims to have the burial cloth in Lirey in 1353.  Is it possible that it is all the same cloth?  I would put to you that it is possible and reasonable to think so.

In fact, I think there is evidence that this is the case in Byzantine Icons.  Judge for yourself the similarities in the images- shoulder length hair parted in the middle, long thin nose, thin mustache, gaunt cheeks, often a 2 part beard.  Anyone ever ask you how we know what Jesus looked like?

But what’s really striking are the eyes.  Often Jesus’ left eye is distorted in Byzantine art.  Notice that this is also the case on the shroud!  Is it possible that when Jesus was arrested that he was struck on the cheek, and his left eye was swollen?  That artists who created the icons copied the shroud, and ended up with the same line- unintentionally distorting his left eye?

To me the evidence is remarkably in favor of regarding the Shroud as genuine.  Furthermore, if it is genuine, this indicates that Jesus really rose from the dead- and of course the implications of that are staggering.  I admit that the evidence of the Carbon dating is strong-  but to me it does not outweigh the body of evidence in favor of the authenticity of the shroud, especially in that  there are such strong indications that there was a sampling error.   I leave it to you- is the shroud real, or just an utterly remarkable fake?