Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Progressive fundamentalism and gay wedding cakes

On July 17 on the Patheos blog Unfundamentalist Christians, a blog dedicated to repackaging Christianity for greater feminist and LGBT friendliness, guest contributor April Kelsey’s bio proclaims her goal to be “to put the final nail in fundamentalist Christianity”. Well, everyone should have a goal in life, although it’s far more probable that progressive Christians like Kelsey will cease to be Christians even in name long before fundamentalist Christians cease to be fundamentalist.

However, Kelsey is unaware that she, too, is a fundamentalist, albeit one who skews her reading of the Bible leftward rather than to the right. Indeed, the last line of her post “Your ‘Deeply-Held Belief’ Isn’t Biblical” — “… [I]f it isn’t in the Bible, I don’t have to believe it” — is the most common expression of one of the “two pillars” of Christian fundamentalism: sola scriptura, “only Scripture”.[*] I too would like to see the end of Christian fundamentalism, because I’d like to see the end of Christian disunity, which sola scriptura helps to propagate.

Now, if you want to stop being a fundamentalist, you have to reject sola scriptura (and there are many reasons you should do so). There are really only three ways to accomplish this. One is to stop being Christian altogether. The second is to regard the Bible as fallible and make Christ your ideological sock puppet, like Jimmy Carter. The third is to become Catholic, or at least Eastern Orthodox, and let the apostolic tradition guide your understanding of Scripture. Whichever way you do it, you can’t say, “I only believe what I read in the Bible,” and still pretend you’re not a fundamentalist. Fundamentalist does not equal politically conservative.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Apologetics Toolbox: Sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation

Pope Francis hearing a confession.
(Image source:
The Catholic doctrines surrounding the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka Confession, aka Penance) present a challenge to many Protestants, especially those of the free-church/Evangelical lineage. “Why,” the Protestant asks, “must I go to a priest to have my sins forgiven? Why can’t I just pray to Jesus directly? After all, my sins are between me and God!” If the Protestant is an Evangelical of the “once saved, always saved” stripe, he may even say, “Jesus has already taken away all of my sins, past, present, and future! Why would I need to ask?”

Sin is not a private matter

I’ve already discussed the assurance of salvation elsewhere; if you need to, please consult that post first. The rest of the discussion will assume that a mere assertion of faith in Christ is not sufficient in itself to achieve salvation, that we can lose our salvation through our own fault.

Sins don’t occur in a vacuum or a void space. In all cases, there is at least one person other than God who is offended by a particular sin — namely, the sinner himself, even if he fails to recognize it. Most of the time, there is at least one direct victim of the sin; there are often witnesses. Many sins hurt the community, even when they’re not illegal. And sins done in public cause scandal in the classic sense: they testify against the Church and the Faith to non-Christians. Moreover, we know just from watching the news that many sins done in secret become public knowledge due to circumstances beyond the sinners’ control, becoming scandals in the common sense. How could you ever think that your sins are “just between you and God”?

So we’ve assumed that an assertion of faith, even a “conviction of salvation”, doesn’t of itself secure salvation, because “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27 NASB)[*] Only those who “persevere to the end” (Matthew 24:13), who “[do] the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21), will be saved. How then, does a Christian repair the damage and put himself back on the path?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Apologetics Toolbox: Catholic Answers for Slick Questions

A Facebook source led me to a page titled “Questions for Roman Catholics”, by Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. “The responses [I get],” Slick states, “vary from defensive tradition to ignoring them and hoping to go away. Some of the questions are easier for Roman Catholics to respond to, and others are not. I hope that these might be helpful in your dialogs with the Roman Catholics as you try to present to them the true and saving gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Well, it depends on the context in which Slick presents the questions; some are pretty intrusive. But overall, some of the questions are no-brainers, some misrepresent Catholic doctrine to some extent, and some just show how little Slick himself understands what he’s attacking. The overall presentation is supposed to lead the Catholic to question his faith and the Church. But it’s by no means an infallible (*ahem!*) wrecking ball. Here I present it with fearful fidelity, including Slick’s misspellings, along with the answers. (Note: Questions rendered irrelevant by the answer to a previous question — or, in the case of the oral tradition questions, based on a fallacious notion — are presented in strikeouts.)

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Benedict Option: Building a Catholic counterculture—UPDATED

Rod Dreher. (Photo: John Zak.)
Saturday, on the suggestion of Brandon Vogt, I read fellow Metroplex resident Rod Dreher’s “Critics of the Benedict Option”, in which Dreher attempts to further articulate what he confesses is “an inchoate phenomenon”. It's inchoate because, while the name is taken from St. Benedict of Nursia, the idea is not a return to the great monastic period.

Indeed, Dreher doesn’t really have anything specific in mind, which is why it drives poor John Zmirak crazy. Zmirak is trying to treat as a defective syllogism what is patently a hazy vision (and therefore can’t be logically proven or disproven).

The springboard for Dreher’s idea is a passage at the end of After Virtue, written by the late Alasdair MacIntyre in 1981. MacIntyre, Dreher writes, “described the state of contemporary moral discourse as irresolvably chaotic — irresolvably, because we have no common source of moral behavior anymore, and have decided, as a culture, that moral truth is something one arrives at by feeling.” Here is the part of the passage from the end of After Virtue which to me is truly relevant in discussing the Benedict Option:

A crucial turning point in [the late Western Roman Empire] occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead — often not recognising fully what they were doing — was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. [Bold font mine.—ASL]

And thus the Benedict Option: Christian enclaves, like Front Royal, Va., or Ave Maria, Fla., existing to mutually reinforce the faith in the new Dark Age.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The foolishness of Western secular morality

Greek philosophers. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons.)
The victory of the LGBT bloc in creating the right to “same-sex marriage” is simply the most recent and most potentially devastating consequence of a tectonic shift in Western morality. Like the culture that produced it, though, the morality which shattered the traditional definition of marriage is something of a cyborg — a half-organic, half-artificial construct produced by combining an intemperate worship of the natural with an equally unrestrained desire to dominate the natural through technology and social engineering.

Consider, for instance, the bill New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed into law extending the state government’s “yes means yes” rules to include private schools and universities. The “yes means yes” standard has more potential for court-clogging legal action than the older “no means no” because — theoretically, at least — the least unconsidered, not-previously-agreed-to touch could be interpreted as sexual assault.

However, the standard has become so widespread that, as Heather Wilhelm reports, one group has launched a “Consent Conscious Kit” which features breath mints, a condom, and (of all things) a sex contract by which college kids can lay out the terms and conditions of their sexual contact with each other. Thus, the “Sexual Revolution” degrades from “kicking the government out of the bedroom” to the state-sanctioned micromanagement of affectionate touching, even while maintaining the fiction that sexual restraint is neither possible nor desirable.

As another example, this past Thursday the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for the protection of the family as a fundamental unit of society, a resolution the US and most Western European countries opposed, by a vote of 27-14. The paradoxical nature of the opposition is highlighted by a sentence in a statement issued by the Sexual Rights Initiative: the resolution didn’t “[acknowledge] the harms and human rights abuses that are known to occur within families, or [recognize] that diverse forms of family exist.” Families are bad; yet a diversity of family types is good. The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

Before going further, let me make it clear that secular morality, as I use it in this post, refers to certain moral propositions that differ from traditional Judeo-Christian teachings (religious morality). Taking the whole of the moral sphere into consideration, there are arguably more points of contact between religious morality and secular morality than there are points of separation. Where secular morality separates from religious morality, religious and irreligious people can be found to some extent on both sides. Secular morality, then, should not be construed as held in full or part by all the irreligious, or rejected in whole or part by all the religious.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The end of the American experiment

I had to take my time with my reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (576 US __ [2015]), because there were some comments and criticisms that led me to suspect it was worse than I thought it would be. The suspicion was confirmed.

As expected, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the decision, which is the latest in the logical progression from Lawrence v. Texas (539 US 558 [2002]) through United States v. Windsor (570 US __ [2013]), the majority opinions of which Kennedy also wrote. Also as expected, Kennedy premissed his opinion on the dubious concept of “substantive due process”, the pre-eminent rationale for judicial legislation, and invoked the “equal protection” clause without bothering to explain — as, indeed, none of his decisions explain — how homosexuals qualify as a “protected class”. (Sorry, neither “Well, duh!” nor “Because I said” is a valid legal argument.)

In its way, Obergefell was an even greater assertion of SCOTUS power than was Windsor. As I explained at the time, Kennedy justified striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by arguing that the right to define marriage lay with the States, not explaining how the State’s authority to confer State benefits could rob the Federal government of its authority to decide who gets Federal benefits. Now, however, the States can exercise their authority only until the Court develops a “better informed understanding” (slip opinion at 19), at which time it can impose a school solution on everyone.

For Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French commentator on early America, the great danger of democracy was “tyranny of the majority”; i.e., the insufficiency of institutions to protect individual rights. The problem for the last few decades has been exactly the opposite — aristocracy, the rise of a self-selected élite willing to frustrate the democratic process, distort the plain meaning of the Constitution, and violate long-standing political rights in order to impose its superior mores. Obergefell signals the triumph of that élite and the functional advent of limited self-government.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Billy Joel biography “a hyperextended Rolling Stone article”

In my younger days, Billy Joel was one of those performers whose music you either loved or hated, mostly depending on your tribal affiliations, your musical expectations, and the depth of your musical exposure. Put simply as possible, if you were really only familiar with the cuts that made it to the Top 40 rotation, or were suspicious of anything the sweaty masses liked, or expected your music to defy musical conventions, or any combination of the three, you most likely hated him.

... At least until you lost some of your snobbish pretentiousness, became more familiar with his catalogue, and grew more appreciative of his craftsmanship.

Going to one of his shows would most likely shift you off your base. By the 1980s, Joel was already acknowledged an electric performer who could pump up the audience with his energy and showmanship. Now in his mid-sixties, Joel may not be able to do back-flips off a Steinway, and may be a little more careful about crowd-surfing or climbing the lighting gantries … but he can still rock the house down to the ground, bringing a fan base that now spans two generations jumping and screaming to their feet.

In a sense, then, how you appreciate Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography, by Fred Schruers (New York: Crown Archetype, 2014; $29.00), depends on your expectations of biography. If all you’re looking for is a recital of some facts of Joel’s life, his interpretation of those facts from his perspective in 2014, and some relation of his music’s lyrics to various events (particularly his failed romantic and business entanglements), Schruer’s work will suffice. If, however, you expect biography to expose the development of the subject’s character and craft, on that level Billy Joel fails; it’s little more than a hyperextended Rolling Stone article.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The smile on the lips of martyrs

I suppose we Catholic writers are socially expected to have a massive episode of cognitive dissonance over the news of the significant drop in religious affiliation over the years 2007 to 2014. Because, of course, this sort of thing has never happened before (he said while rolling his eyes melodramatically).

Religious revivals come and go. So do intellectual fads and ideological fashions. Leftist progressivism has been in the ascent in the last few decades, and irreligion has been riding its coattails as it’s risen. As I pointed out in my very first post on this site, neither atheism nor agnosticism offers us better arguments than they did a hundred years ago. However, the bar has been lowered. Scientific advances haven’t made Christianity indefensible; rather, pedagogical innovations and ideological indoctrination in the classrooms have left fewer Christians able to defend it.

When you’re not satisfied with an answer, it doesn’t take much to change your mind. Many if not most former Catholics didn’t leave the Church so much as they formalized a separation that had been there for many years, even from childhood. There’s now almost no social cost to abandoning religious practice; in some circles, irreligion is not only tolerated but expected. And, to be perfectly frank, the Church in the West made it easier by decades of poor religious education, clerical malformation, and episcopal cowardice.

By the same token, when you find an answer that satisfies you both intellectually and emotionally, the argument against it has to be very powerful in order to change your mind about its truth. No one has yet made an argument to Catholicism’s falsehood that I find remotely persuasive, let alone convincing. Indeed, many people seem more committed to mocking, berating, and shaming me out of my illusions than they are to showing me that they are illusions.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Murphy’s Law and Jesus in Hell

Okay, if we’re all done laughing about #SalonChristianitySecrets ….

The problem with clickbait headlines is that, all too often, they don’t entice you to read the story. Rather, they become the story. More often than not, the link is shared with other people, to be ridiculed or praised whether anyone actually reads the copy or not; their joy and outrage is sparked solely by the one or two deliberately misleading lines at the top of the page. Not even the lede gets a glance. Moreover, if someone does read the copy, their understanding is front-loaded by the headline, giving false strength to weak evidence and arguments.

Such was the case with Ed Simon’s “Jesus went to hell: The Christian history churches would rather not acknowledge”. Contrary to Simcha Fisher’s impatient dismissal in her National Catholic Register blog, Simon did do some research on Jesus’ descent to Sheol, and showed some understanding of the teaching. Knowing the teaching, however, isn’t the same as knowing the divisions in modern Christian culture. It’s here that Simon trips up in his analysis, leading himself to the theme from which someone at Salon derived the title, in all its conspiracy-theorist awkwardness … and to all the hoo-hahs of the Twitterverse.

(My two favorites: “BREAKING: Jesus flipped tables in a fit of rage one time. IS THIS YOUR CHRIST?” and “‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ #JesusMicroaggressions”)

For my own part, I suspect Simon is a Christian, even possibly one of an Eastern Orthodox communion. However, I suspect that he was raised in the West, and therefore infected by the materialism and reductionism in our culture. Certain aspects of Christianity strike him as weird because he expects everything to be rational, which no reasonable person would expect. The simplest, most readily-available cure for such an odd view of the world is to consult the many permutations of Murphy’s Law.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Indiana RFRA and the torn-down forest

As of this writing, it appears that the Indiana state government is taking steps to undermine its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to the Associated Press, Gov. Mike Pence has called for legislation “clarifying that [the RFRA] does not allow discrimination on his desk by the end of the week ... to address concerns that the law will allow businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians.” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, facing similar pressure, has already preemptively called for changes to an RFRA bill on his desk.

Nineteen states have RFRAs. Of these, eleven have non-discrimination laws at the city or township level, and two (Illinois and New Mexico) have state laws protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Another eleven have RFRA-like restrictions based on SCOTUS decisions. (Source: Daily Signal.) On the surface, the problem with Indiana’s RFRA is that it’s loosely written; critics claim that businesses can refuse gay people’s business, and that the civil-rights legislation and decisions of the last sixty years have determined that “you don’t have the right to choose who gets to sit at the counter.”

The truth of the matter, though, is that the other states all caught the RFRA wave at the right time, before SCOTUS’ decision in Lawrence v. Texas (539 US 558, 2003) made it “okay to be gay”. Now that wave has long passed; the LGBT lobby has command of a sizeable chunk of the culture factories, as well as the allegiance of the majority of our celebrities and politicians.

This makes the conditions most favorable for anti-RFRA moral posturing, along with its attendant obliviousness. For instance, the Daily Caller reports, “Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy will issue an executive order on Monday calling for a ban on state-funded travel to Indiana” … conveniently forgetting that Connecticut has an arguably more restrictive RFRA. Oops.