Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Free Money!

You don't have to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for long before you start coming across phrases like "The Sacramental Economy" or the "Economy of Salvation."  What the heck is that?

The word "Economy" comes from a Greek word which means to manage your house, but the financial meaning can be a useful, although limited, analogy for understanding how salvation works.

I want you to imagine you've been given a project to do some good thing for the world.  You know, feed some poor people or build a school or restore a polluted beach. Something like that.  This is kind of like the deal with God the Father-  he created us to do good works.  He's the project manager.

But the thing is, you're saddled with all of this bad debt. You're buried in it, in fact, and there is no way that you could possibly get out of it.   You can't possibly even begin to do the work assigned to you, because you're just treading water-  and let's be honest, you're not going to make it.  So you declare bankruptcy.  In comes God the Son.  He accepts your bankruptcy claim, (confession) clears your bad debt,by paying for it himself, and gives you a fresh start.  That's what Jesus does when he redeems us from our sin.  And if you run into any more debt, he'll cancel it again-  just keep going back to Him!

So now all your debts are cancelled, you can get on with the project-  but you don't have any resources!  God the Holy Spirit steps in, and gives you an infusion of cash, in a lump sum called a sacrament.  In fact, he continues to give you these lump sums as often as necessary. This gives you what you need to continue working on your project.

Now here's where the analogy breaks down a bit... God the Father is the project director-  but he did not hire you.  You're not getting paid when you get your lump sums, you don't deserve it, you didn't earn it.  The Spirit is just giving it to you!  That's called grace, the free infusion that you need to get it done!  To fulfil what you were created to do!

Now, if there was bank that would cancel my debts and give me cash infusions whenever necessary to do awesome things... I'd totally go that bank.  That's free money.  And of course my response would be to tell everyone about that bank and invite them, sing it's praises, and I would be very grateful.  I guess if our response to God is anything other than adoration, praise and thanksgiving.... probably we don't understand how the economy of salvation is working in the first place!  Maybe we resent the project we've been assigned, and would rather just sit around.  Or maybe we aren't ready to declare bankruptcy yet-  we still think we can do it on our own, and hey, we have our pride!

But knowing that this bank is available-  let's not squander our resources.  the life that God has called us to-  of faith, hope and love- is possible because of what He has done for us.

Did Jesus come to abolish religion?

A few years ago a popular video was circulated called "Why I hate religion but love Jesus".    It was a spoken word poem, and was extremely well done.  A lot of people posted responses to it, including Catholics and Muslims, and the speaker, Jefferson Bethke, even wrote a book called "Jesus > Religion".  But since it keeps coming up in my circles, I thought I'd write a post about it.

The premise of his video is that Jesus came for a personal relationship with people, and that we get bogged down by religion and all of it's rules, and so we don't have a relationship with Christ.  He goes further and says that Jesus came to abolish religion.

I agree with almost everything that he says... but I think that he is fundamentally wrong in his premise that Jesus came to abolish religion.  In fact, Jesus said quite explicitly "I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it."  (The law and religion are almost synonymous to people who argue Jesus did away with them, but more on that later.)

Here's an analogy that I think helps to explain this phenomenon.  Imagine that you were a guy with a girlfriend or a wife.  You regularly bought her a dozen roses, maybe even weekly.  You remembered all the significant dates (anniversaries, birthdays, Valentines, etc) and lavish gifts upon her.  You tell her you love her, and keep your dates with her.  But really, you know and she knows that you're just doing all of this to keep her happy.  Your words are lies, your actions are lies, and you do it all because you feel like not keeping her happy is too painful, and frankly you know the routine.  To you all of these actions are just a "long list of chores" in the words of Bethke.

So one day you show up with your dozen roses, and the generic "I love you card" and she gets mad.  She tosses your flowers on the ground and says "I don't want your flowers!  I want your heart!"

I think that's basically the objection that Jesus was making to religious forms. God said "you honour me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me."  And as for the law and following a bunch of rules, he said "I want the law written on your heart."

So the real Gospel message is this-  by the grace of God we can be transformed so that our obedience to the law is not legalism and our religion is not empty ritual, but they reflect our love for God and for others. This is the fulfilment of the law that Jesus talked about!

It is foundational to a lot of protestant thought that we are saved by grace and not by works, meaning you can't earn your salvation.  As far as that goes it is true. You can't earn a relationship. But being in a relationship entails certain things.  And faith without works is dead.

This idea that protestants have comes from a deeper conversation, based mostly on Romans and Galatians and Luthers recognition that a lot of people had once again become like Pharisees-  honouring God with their lips, being white washed tombs, while their hearts remained far from God.  But Paul, who wrote the letters, was objecting to legalism which was huge with the Pharisees, and was also rejected by Jesus and John the Baptist.

But Jesus did not reject doing good works.  Read Matthew again, especially the Sermon on the Mount, or the separation of the sheep and the goats. It's all about the transformation of hearts and doing good works as fruit of that transformation!

So we could offer God teddy bears and flowers to express our love-  and frankly, if that is meaningful, it's probably OK. But we have rituals that are centuries old, loaded with significance, and... wait for it... instituted by God himself!!!

Sorry-  did God institute something He hates?

Read Leviticus, or the later chapters of Exodus, and besides the fact that you'll be bored to tears, you will recognize that God is establishing rituals and art and architecture that is loaded with meaning!  Jesus later takes those things, like the feast of Passover, and fulfils it by becoming the Passover lamb! (Last supper) And then he goes and says "Do this in memory of me..."  He institutes the ritual of the Mass.  And though that ritual has developed over the years, it is still foundationally the same as it was 2000 years ago.  Don't take my word on it... look it up.  Did the earliest Christians gather in an informal, religion free way, or did they celebrate a ritual which looks a lot like the Mass?

Some would argue that the book of Revelation is actually a description of the the Heavenly liturgy of the Mass and of the Heavenly temple-  the fulfilment promised by Jesus-  but that's a whole different blog entry!

Let's be honest, I don't know of any Churches that are without ritual.  If you have a weekly meeting with music, preaching, and then coffee... that's ritual.  If you meet at the same time every Sunday... that's ritual.  If you celebrate Easter or Christmas, if you play hymns, or the same songs more than once,  if you break out the fire tunnel and have everyone run through it while those on the outside yell "fire" and "power" and lay their hands on you... it's ritual.

So if Jesus did not abolish rituals, feast days, or the law... what exactly did he abolish when he abolished religion?

Back to my girlfriend or wife analogy.   Having rejected your flowers, should you therefore conclude that your girlfriend never wants flowers, never wants to hear "I love you", never wants you to acknowledge anniversaries? Or do you think maybe she wants those things as an outpouring of genuine affection rather than as an empty ritual?  

Jesus did not come to abolish religion, the man made invention.  He came, in part, to fulfil the religion founded by God himself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What does the Catholic Church teach about Chakras?

This question came to me in the context of a youth group meeting where we were talking about Harry Potter. I always let the High School students choose the topics that interest them.  I was explaining to the kids that though the Church has no official position on Harry Potter (it is easy to site sources both for and against it) there are many Christians who are wary about Harry Potter, because it appears to endorse witch craft and other occult practices.

One of my youth came to me with a question after the talk-  what does the Church teach about Chakras?  Now I happen to know that his mom is into those kinds of things, and I always hate to undermine a parents authority, but I decided to do some research and find out.

I am not an authority on this subject, and if readers have insights or sources that they recommend, I'd be interested to do more research and can make this a working document!

As part of my own research, I am reading the document "Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life".  This is the Vatican document that deals with New Age practices as a whole, and the title is a pun off the fact that New Age refers to the fact that we're moving out of the age of Pisces and into the Age of Aquarius.  The reader may be familiar with a catchy tune on that theme.

While this document focusses broadly on the dangers of New Age, I will just give my initial thoughts on Chakras here.

Chakras are energy centres located through the human body which channel life into our Aura.  If part of your brain shuts down when you read this language, I am with you.  I won't bog you down with a more detailed description of it, since that's all over the web anyway.  The idea of Chakras is rooted in Hindu spirituality.

Even while researching this stuff, a colleague looked over my shoulder and saw the diagram and asked what I was working on.  He believes in Chakras, and had some arguments for them-  like how you know someone is looking at you when you can't see them, or can sense someone behind you.

But I have to be honest, I am a skeptic.  I struggle to believe in things without scientific evidence.  Some people may see this as a contradiction, since I am a Catholic Youth Minister, but I've argued elsewhere for the evidence for Catholicism from a skeptical viewpoint, and I happen to think it is very compelling. I tend to think the scientific community is honest, and is seeking truth, and for the most part is not trying to quash the spiritual dimension of the world.  That there are skeptics who are skeptical as an avowed stance and will disbelieve anything spiritual despite the evidence... well, I don't think that's intellectually honest.

So when I consider something like Chakras, I immediately wonder what the scientific evidence for them is?  There is some evidence of course...  but it seems pretty shaky to me.  The consensus of the scientific community certainly does not appear to believe in these things.  If it is "energy", it should be measurable The immediate answer is "well, we don't have the technology required to measure this form of energy."  Maybe.  I believe that there are things that are by nature immeasurable by science.  I call those things "Spirits."

So if Chakra's are a spiritual reality rather than a physical reality, this gives me a different reason to be suspicious of them. As I said it is rooted in Hindu spirituality.  A lot of Hindu spirituality is in direct conflict with Christian spirituality- notably things like worshipping the destroyer. Within Chakra's themselves is a teaching about the "Kundulini Serpent" Chakra.  Considering the serpent in Christian spirituality is a symbol of Satan, I think it is obvious why a Christian would be suspicious of something that tries to tap into the energy and use it as a porthole to their aura...

At any rate, there is a very strong desire to reconcile differences in different faiths and come up with one uniform truth... and while that desire can seem admirable, if Christianity is correct about the very different realms of Good and Evil, then it is a dangerous thing to try to say they are all one, as is claimed by Hinduism, and Daosim, etc.

I wish I could give a stronger answer on this.  In truth I think not only Chakras, but yoga, acupuncture, and a number of other practices which invoke these same ideas, are to be avoided. I am well aware that this is an extremely unpopular viewpoint, and that I am ignorant in these regards, but I am not ignorant in regards to Christainity, and I think their assumptions are not reconcilable with the values of Christianity.  In fact I think these practices are rooted in presumptions that are occult, in that they call on spiritual powers besides God, atheistic, as they reduce God to an impersonal force, and may even idolatrous.

I do not want to go so far as some have done as to call these practices 'demonic', but I do have to ask the question-  if it is not a physical or psychological reality, then is it spiritual?  If it is spiritual but not rooted in a Christain understanding of God... then precisely which spiritual reality is it rooted in?  There are certainly some red flags here.

Here are a couple of quotes from the Catechism, that don't address Chakras specifically, but related ideologies.  Certainly some food for thought!

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

2126 Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God. Yet, "to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God...." "For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart."



Friday, March 14, 2014

How do you address the Mormon teaching about the Great Apostasy?

Actually, The conversation went like this:  (My lines are the bit in blue)

As you can see, it took place on Facebook, and by the end my student gave up on me and went to the Deacon!

But actually, Mormonism is a topic I am very interested in.  (Mormons are more properly referred to as Latter Day Saints, but they usually don't find the term Mormon offensive, and it is more efficient, so I will stick to that term).

For people who are unfamiliar with the subject, the "Great Apostasy" is the teaching that Christianity started out right, but somewhere in the Early Centuries it went off track, and started teaching 'false' things, like the Trinity, etc.  Centuries later, Joseph Smith was praying in upstate New York, and was wondering which of the Christian Traditions was the true one, and an Angel appeared to him and told him about some buried metal plates which had unknown scriptures on them.   When he dug up the plates, and translated them, he discovered an unknown history of the North American 1st nations, as well as of Jesus, and of course doctrinal implications.

So basically the Great Apostasy is the way that Mormons explain that Christianity went wrong, and even the scriptures passed down in Christianity may have errors in it.

The thing about the teaching is that if Mormonism is correct, than of course the teaching of the Great Apostasy is necessarily correct.  If Mormonism is wrong, well, arguments can still be made about the evolution of Christian doctrine, but it can't be conclusively proven one way or the other.  (Evidence available to us now, but not available to Joseph Smith, suggests that the Early Church taught much more consistently in line with modern Catholics than with modern Mormons.

So the question is-  is Mormonism true, or is it a man made religion?

I love having the Mormon elders to my house to discuss things, and recently had them coming on a weekly basis.  Eventually though they replaced one of the missionaries, as they are apt to do, and for some reason the new recruit was very defensive, and felt that I was too adversarial and that I wasn't interested in talking to them but only in Mormon bashing. It's too bad, because the missionaries who came to me before him did not seem to have that impression, and I try not to be that kind of person!

I tried to take the Mormons up on their challenge of reading the Book of Mormon while praying that God would reveal to me if it was true.  I really, sincerely did this.  Mormons have this idea that God will reveal truth to you by giving you an accompanying peace with a revelation.  A lot of Christians who beleive Jesus is God also hold this idea, but they come to opposite conclusions.  I admit I am suspicious of my emotions as a basis on which to determine truth, but I tried the experiment anyway.  And I avoided reading any other material on the subject, but just tried to see for myself if the Book or Mormon seemed to hold up.

The thing is that one of the major Mormon claims is that "all" (or one Elder adapted this to "Most") of the First Nation people are descendants from a few Israelite families who came over in a boat about 600 years before Jesus.  When I discovered this, I said to the elders "I'm not trying to set you up here, I really don't know the answer to the question...  but I bet you that geneticists have looked into this without any anti-Mormon bias, and that there is a prevailing theory as to the heritage of the First Nations. Can we look it up?"

Interestingly the missionaries at my house did not seem versed in Mormon apologetics, because they agreed, and had nothing clever to say about the fact that First Nations seem to be descendants from Asians who crossed a land bridge over the Bering Strait.

And this became a theme as I was reading.  There were references to concepts and materials that were unknown in North America before Columbus, and some that were even unknown to Israelites in 600 BC!  Horses, steel, satin....  even the fact that the people who came across were called "Jews" though that term does not appear to have come into usage until after the exile, and was a derogatory term for descendants of Judah.  I also thought that the fact that

All this I knew on my own, without doing research.

Since then, I have done research.  And on every verifiable claim made by Mormons, the evidence seems to point to Mormonism being a fabrication.  In fact, many of the ideologies which informed the Mormon faith were very consistent with popular thought in 19th century USA.  Speculation about the heritage of the first nations, and where the lost tribes of Israel got to, and how and when the world would end, how to interpret the book of Revelation, and false archaeological claims, anti-Catholic sentiments, racist sentiments, and the fabrication of religions as a type of con like people travelling and selling snake oils...  these ideas were all common place. If you were to try to imagine a religion being invented in 19th century USA, you'd probably come up with something like Mormonism.  On the other hand there is no other culture in history that would have brought those ideas together on it's own.  It looks very much like a product of it's times!

This is just speculation on my part, of course, but I would challenge the reader to look into it.

There's a lot of low hanging fruit about Mormonism and especially it's foundation years, the translation of the book of Mormon from an unheard of language into the precise form of English used in the King James Bible-  considered authoritative in 19th century USA, though people didn't speak like that at the time.  Or the book of Abraham. Or other things I won't even bother to mention.

The point is that when you check the verifiable information from the book of Mormon, it can be almost decisively proven false.  I wonder how long Mormonism will stand up against the age of the internet, where all of this information is available to them?

Other religions do not have nearly so many verifiable claims, having not 'faked', in my view, a historical document.  For Catholicism when I check a verifiable claim-  like say, the Stigmata of Padre Pio or the Miracle at Fatima or Our Lady of Guadalupe-  in my biased opinion the evidence comes up strongly in favour of believing in these things.  But for Mormons the evidence is very decisively not in their favour.

In short, I wouldn't really debate the Apostasy itself.  It's true if Mormonism is true.  It's not if Mormonism is not.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How the Pinocchio Story is similar to the Gospel Message

Luke 11:29-32

New International Version (NIV)

The Sign of Jonah

29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Jesus said that he would give the "Sign of Jonah", and in another place he says just like Jonah was in the Belly of the Whale for 3 days, so he would be in the earth for 3 days.  I think the story of Pinocchio is a neat allegory for Christianity. Think about it.

In Pinocchio, Gepetto makes a puppet, but he doesn't just want a puppet, he wants a real boy.  So the Blue Fairy gives him freedom, and a conscience.

God created us, but created us in His image and likeness, so not like puppets, but with free will, and a conscience, guided by the Holy Spirit.

But Pinocchio abuses his freedom, get's caged, then turns partway into a donkey, and is lost to his father.

We abuse our free will, sin, get trapped in sin, make Jack-asses of ourselves, and get cut off from our Father.

The Father goes after the Son, but in the process he gets consumed by a whale.

God comes for us, but in the process he gets killed, as in the sign of Jonah.
The Blue Fairy prompts Pinocchio to seek his Father, appearing as a white dove with a crown.

The Holy Spirit also appears like a dove, and prompts us to seek after God.

Once Pinocchio gets swallowed by the whale and escapes, he is restored, and then made into a real boy, by the Blue Fairy.

Only once we enter into the death and resurrection of Christ can God complete the good work begun in us by letting the Holy Spirit sanctify us back into what God wanted us to be all along-  his children, in his image and likeness.