Friday, April 29, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Infallibility—UPDATED

In discussing the teaching authority — the magisterium — of the Church, most people put up resistance to the idea that any single man or collection of men can be held infallible. This even holds true for many Catholics, whether their dissent is religiously conservative (SSPX) or liberal (Catholics For Choice).[1]

But as we remember from “The sola scriptura problems”, Jesus promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit to the Church (Jn 14:26, 16:13). If we hold the Holy Spirit — God — to be trustworthy and reliable (Rom 3:3-4; 2 Tim 2:13), then that guidance must necessarily impart infallibility to the Church’s teachings. And, indeed, St. Paul calls the Church “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Nor can the Church lose that guidance without breaking Christ’s other promise: “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:10 NIV).

Let’s consider it from another angle: Infallibility, in doctrinal terms, functions much like the American judicial principle of stare decisis (“let the decision stand”). Under stare decisis, lower courts aren’t free to controvert decisions of upper courts, especially not those of the Supreme Court. The only difference is, while SCOTUS holds itself able to overrule previous decisions at its own level, infallibility goes forward in time to bind future councils and popes: Pope Benedict could no more dispense with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception than he could overrule the doctrine of the Trinity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You don’t understand!

One response drilled into me by years of telephone customer service is to show empathy in response to complaints by saying, "I understand." Just often enough, though, the quick, biting rejoinder comes back: "No, you don't understand! How could you understand!"

I've been out of work, or employed for inadequate wages, and unable to pay my bills. I've been double-billed. I've been treated rudely by people who weren't cut out for customer-contact jobs. I've had the wrong product delivered; I've had things "fixed" that weren't fixed correctly or weren't broken to begin with. In one case, a bill collector kept calling my cell phone to reach somebody else, whom I'd never even met; when I told him that he had the wrong number, he told me furiously, "You're lying!" … a clear violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Oh, yes — I've been there. I do understand.

But that's not quite what many people mean by "You don't understand!" They mean, "If you really understood, you'd agree with me, you'd say 'yes', you'd give me what I want!" The abstract claims of reason, right and law, in their eyes, can't possibly equal or outweigh the concrete power of emotion; truth without passion is truth without traction.

Dumb "progressive" idea #637: Get rid of Hell

Back in February, I wrote in rebuttal to a silly piece of nature-worship fluff, “God loves us: this is a fact. But God desires us to become holy, for that is what’s best for us. To reject the path to sainthood because it’s difficult and causes us inconveniences — even suffering — is to reject Heaven. There is no third option, where we get to have our own way and still go on to some blessed comfort in the afterlife.”

The topic isn’t quite done.

Recently, TIME Magazine featured as its cover story a book titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, and its author, evangelical preacher Rob Bell. Bell was led to question the doctrine of hell by a note one of his parishioners left on a quotation of Mohandas Gandhi: “Reality check: He’s in hell.” Now, Bell speculates that Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice means that “‘every person who ever lived’ could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be.”

And even more recently, the University of Oregon released a study of the effect of one’s perception of God on moral behavior. Sure enough, they found that students who believed in a God who punishes are less likely to cheat than do students who believe in a God who forgives. (The study was designed so that students could express belief in a God who both loves and punishes.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The Real Presence

"I look at it under a microscope, and it still looks like bread and wine to me." I've heard this before; you probably will hear it yourself. It tempts me to retort, "Would you feel better about it if they looked and felt like flesh and blood?" (As has happened at least once, in Lanciano, Italy.)

As far as I know, only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches still maintain that the elements actually become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ through transubstantiation. The Lutherans and Anglicans go more for consubstantiation: Christ is present "with, in and under" the elements.

Other Protestant churches hold the Eucharist to be symbolic, and that Jesus intended it to be so. Theologically "liberal" or "progressive" Christians also tend to hold that the Eucharist is merely symbolic, generally operating on the presumption that a literal transubstantiation is superstitious if not barbaric.

The problem with both consubstantiation and mere symbolism is that neither is true to the beliefs of the apostles and the Church Fathers. Without a literal understanding, its power as a symbol diminishes, though it doesn't quite become meaningless.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Have this mind among yourselves

... Which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jesus the Anarchist Revolutionary-BORING!

For centuries, Catholics have looked on the Corpus of the crucifix and seen there the awful price of their salvation, the cost of their sins: the torture and death of God. “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him’” (Ac 2:38-39).

Jamie L. Manson, writing for the National Catholic Fishwrap, wants us to look up and see another oppressed proletarian victim of the system:

When I read the passion narratives of the Gospels, I don’t hear simply that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. Rather, I hear the four evangelists very clearly say that Jesus’ suffering and death was the will of those who conspired against him—those whose political systems he had undermined, those whose religious convictions he had offended.
Jesus’ passion and death is a result of deeply-human intolerance, jealousy, resentment, hatred, and, most of all, fear.
Jesus’ death may have been the will of God, but it was also the will of both powerful people and ordinary people who preferred unquestioning loyalty to rigid, oppressive political and religious regimes to the profound challenges of God incarnate.

Jesus as a first-century César Chavez. How mundane.

"Kill the Cathlics"

Various crimes have targeted Catholic churches in California in recent years. In January one or more vandals spray-painted the misspelled phrase “Kill the Cathlics” on churches in Anaheim and Irvine.[1]

Sometimes it seems that we Christians aren’t happy if there’s no way we can convince ourselves that we’re being persecuted. At least, that’s what many non-Christians believe, and there were times in the past I would have agreed.

But I felt a frisson climb up my spine when I read this paragraph in a story about the burning of St. John Vianney in Hacienda Heights, California. How is this different from “Kill the Jews” or “Kill the n*****s”? How is this different from any church burned down in the Deep South in the time between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act?

So okay, nobody’s died yet. No priest has been lynched; no bishop is sitting in a jail cell on trumped-up charges; Catholics aren’t wearing yellow crosses or being forced to the back of the bus. So why won’t my hackles lie flat?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The sola scriptura problems (Part VI)

Scripture and Tradition

In the last part, we talked about the reason that Scripture is insufficient to act as the sole infallible rule of faith: the apostles never expected to teach Christianity out of a book, or even a series of books. There are lacunae in Scripture because the writers took for granted things they expected their audiences to know without being reminded. Moreover, the vast majority of people in the Roman Empire were functionally illiterate or semi-literate; Christianity was not the religion of the elite.

Instead, for most people, learning the faith was a matter of learning symbols, experiencing the liturgy of worship—and oral tradition.

Doctor Timothy Paul Jones, a Protestant minister and educator, cites 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 to illustrate the oral tradition as Paul used it: "For I delivered to you as of first importance that which I also received …." "Delivered" translates the Greek paradidōmi, and "received" paralambanō, which were used in the context of oral tradition. The pattern of and … and … signals the repetition of things to be memorized: that the Messiah died in accordance with Old Testament prophecy, and that he was buried, and that he rose on the third day, and so forth and so on. The same pattern is also visible in the same letter at chapter 11, verses 23-26, where Paul relates the events of the Last Supper in words that are echoed at every Catholic celebration of the Eucharist.[1]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The sola scriptura problems (Part V)

Formal sufficiency of Scripture

In Part I, we saw how the basic premise of sola scriptura (only Scripture is infallible) must implicitly contradict Scriptural promises of either the Holy Spirit's guidance or the Holy Spirit's reliability to be true. In Part II, we saw how sola scriptura effectively and logically denies anyone the authority of the Spirit, including the Protestant defender of sola scriptura.

Part III addressed the question of human authority as it affects the composition of Scripture. And in Part IV we looked at the Scriptural citations common to defenses of sola scriptura, and found that you can’t prove the material sufficiency of sola scriptura from them. Ironically, sola scriptura fails the “Show me in the Bible where it says” test.

Let’s be clear on the point: To say it’s not materially sufficient isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a lot. Certainly Jesus, the apostles and the Church Fathers got a lot of mileage out of the Bible, and it’s still the most important resource of the Church today. Nothing that the Church has ever said about sacred tradition or the magisterium of the Church contradicts Scripture’s God-inspired nature; in fact, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were the first to uphold it.

But no one said getting a lot out of Scripture means you can get everything out of Scripture that you need.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The sola scriptura problems (Part IV)

Material sufficiency of Scripture

In Part I, we saw how the basic premise of sola scriptura (only Scripture is infallible) must implicitly contradict Scriptural promises of either the Holy Spirit's guidance or the Holy Spirit's reliability to be true. In Part II, we saw how sola scriptura effectively and logically denies anyone the authority of the Spirit, including the Protestant defender of sola scriptura.

Part III addressed the question of human authority as it affects the composition of Scripture. Again, the contradiction at the heart of sola scriptura denies the infallible authority of the Spirit to determine the canons: If the Church could be wrong about including the Old Testament deuterocanonical books, then all Christian churches could be wrong about denying a role for the Gospel of Thomas or the Book of Moroni.

In this part, we finally start to address the Scriptural backing for it. If we remember, the first principle of sola scriptura is: Scripture, taken by itself, is sufficient to act as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith. Although we haven't addressed this point directly, this is the key claim; if it's not true, then nothing else that follows from it can be true.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The sola scriptura problems (Part III)

Authority over the Bible

In Part I, we saw how the basic premise of sola scriptura (only Scripture is infallible) must implicitly contradict Scriptural promises of either the Holy Spirit’s guidance or the Holy Spirit’s reliability to be true. In Part II, we saw how sola scriptura effectively and logically denies anyone the authority of the Spirit, including the Protestant defender of sola scriptura.

Part III builds on both the previous parts, because authoritative teaching necessarily entails authority over Scripture’s interpretation and the doctrines that can be derived over it. Since Scripture is literally “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16, the
ópneustos), giving it God’s authority, the person or institution who attempts to fashion doctrine from it must also have God’s authority to do so if the exercise isn’t to be one of astounding chutzpah verging on hubris.

But before we can decide what doctrines are supported by Scripture, we must decide what books are Scripture. This isn’t as obvious as it looks; besides the Protestant emendations which cast several books out of the Catholic canon, other groups look to add or subtract as befits their needs. For example, the “Jesus Seminar” wants to add The Gospel of Thomas, and the Latter-Day Saints propose the Book of Mormon for our acceptance.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The sola scriptura problems (Part II)

Sola scriptura and the preacher’s authority

In Part I, we saw the contradiction at the heart of sola scriptura: If the Church isn’t infallible, then either the Holy Spirit has abandoned the Church in contradiction to Jesus’ promise to be with his Church “always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20), or the Holy Spirit’s guidance is unreliable. Either conclusion would contradict Scripture (and verge on blasphemy), so the Church must be considered infallible.

Doctor James R. White’s contention that sola scriptura doesn’t deny the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church is questionable, to say the least. Equally dubious is his claim that the doctrine doesn’t deny the Church’s authority to teach God’s truth.

To say that the Church has authority is to say that it has expertise, permission and power. Nor is this authority self-aggrandized; it’s implicit in Jesus’ commission to “go forth and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19). The gospel is to be taught, and the student is not equal in knowledge to the teacher.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The sola scriptura problems (Part I)

The biggest problem you’re bound to face as an apologist is resistance to the idea of an authoritative Church.

Intellectually, we know that Christ taught only one gospel message, that certain teachings must be authentic to Christ and others not. No matter how much lip service we give to “subjective truths”, we know some things are true whether we want them to be or not, and that refusal to accept a real, objective truth is not mentally healthy.

However, for many reasons, people don’t want to accept the possibility that a select number of people have been given authority from Christ to define, preserve and promote the gospel message. Sometimes the motive is pride; sometimes it’s based on a fallacious idea of authority; sometimes the motive is sociopolitical.

Regardless of the motive, the easy answer for many Christians is to create their own gospel truth based on their own Bible study. When they do this, they follow in the intellectual tradition of Martin Luther … even if the latter would have been horrified by some of the conclusions they come to.

If truth is subjective, what are they afraid of?

On February 28, I posted a think-piece whose premise was that gay marriage may be the issue which triggers a cascade failure of democracy, which in turn may turn our “culture wars” into a civil war. (Yesterday and today mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the War Between the States.)

I got a three-part jeremiad in reply from one reader. I’ll say this: it was coherent, though it was way off-topic. The first two parts of his reply had all the appearance of being “canned”; the third was such a misstatement of my thesis that it was clear he only read the title. And the writer’s basic assumptions about my education and intents were so insulting as to be infamous; it took all my moral courage to take them out of the spam folder (where Blogger had put them) and actually post them against my own stated policy.

I was reminded of this when I read how Equality Matters, a media and communications group for homosexual rights, hysterically claimed that Fr. John Hollowell, chaplain and teacher at Indianapolis’ Cardinal Ritter High School, of “spouting a stream of homophobic and offensive falsehoods about same-sex marriage and gay people in general to a classroom full of students.” You can access the YouTube clips of the class here at his blog site.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Assurance of salvation

One of the reasons Protestant Christianity has fragmented into so many different churches is that sola scriptura lends itself too easily to cherry-picking Scripture for “proof texts”. This tendency leads to two different logical fallacies: 1) quotation out of context, and 2) special pleading.

We should be familiar with out-of-context fallacies; we see them all the time with product and movie advertisements. The TV trailer tells us, “Roger Ebert says Thrill Ride is ‘A GREAT MOVIE … DON’T MISS IT’”. You go look up his review in the Chicago Sun-Times, and it says, “Thrill Ride is a great movie … except for the story, the dialogue, the acting, the cinematography, the editing and the score. I would tell you, ‘Don’t miss it’, except that I can’t think of a reason why it should be showing in the first place.”

Special pleading refers to an argument that, in its entirety, doesn’t give due consideration to countervailing evidence. In the blogosphere, that’s a hard charge to escape, simply because “due consideration” would make posts too long for the average surfer to want to read. In arguments between Catholics and Protestants, though, it chiefly crops up in the Protestant’s tendency to pin his entire argument on one or two proof texts.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Open letter to Rev. Roy Bourgeois, MM

Dear Fr. Bourgeois,

Like many other Catholics, I’ve read your letter to Rev. Edward Dougherty, the Superior General of your order. While I don’t doubt your sincerity, I do call into question your intellectual honesty as a priest of the Catholic Church.

Let’s step through the reasons you give that the Church should rescind its insistence on a male priesthood:

“(1) As Catholics, we believe that we were created in the image and likeness of God and that men and women are equal before God. Excluding women from the priesthood implies that men are superior to women.” 

Unfortunately, your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premise. Men can’t bear children; it doesn’t follow from that fact that men are inferior to women.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thoughtless answers to tough Irish questions-UPDATED

If the Catholics of Ireland are angry with their hierarchy, their grounds for it are obvious and indubitable. However, anger is a dangerous emotion, and is a poor state from which to suggest changes.

John L. Allen, Jr., who (sadly) still writes for the National Catholic Distorter, reports: “I’m in Dublin this week for a couple of speaking gigs, the centerpiece of which is an April 6-9 conference on the sexual abuse crisis sponsored by the Jesuits’ Milltown Institute titled ‘Broken Faith: Revisioning the Church in Ireland’.”

Okay, the conference is being hosted by the Jesuits. Right away, you’re given grounds for suspicion.

It doesn’t get better. A social worker and psychotherapist from University College Dublin blames the problem on a theology of sexuality which can fuel “self-hatred and shame”, a theology of the priesthood which “sets [priests] apart in an unhealthy manner,” and a “top-down model” of leadership. The acting president of the Milltown Institute demands “a reinterpretation of the faith and the Christian way of life”, especially a “more participatory church” (i.e., hecklers’ rights over magisterial teaching).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: faith vs. works

The role of works in Catholicism is a very basic fundamentalist/Evangelical concern, the answer to which should be in every Catholic’s apologetics toolkit.

At least once in your life, you’re bound to come across a Protestant who states that we Catholics believe we are saved by works. In all likelihood, this person will defend the error by exclaiming heatedly, “Hey, I used to be a Catholic!” Or, if she’s a cradle Protestant, she’ll appeal to the authority of Cindy Lou Apostate or Reverend Expriest over at the First Church of the Intolerant Master, and if they don’t know what Catholics really believe ….

Before you start, you should make clear how you’re using certain terms. The most important term to clarify is “works” itself, but I’ll save that for later. Right now, here are some basic concepts:

  • Concupiscence: The human tendency to sin, the legacy of original sin (CCC 1264, 1426, 2515).
  • Faith: The individual’s personal adherence to God and free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed (CCC 26, 142, 150, 1814).
  • Justification: The gracious action of God which frees us from sin and communicates “the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ” (Rom 3:22) (CCC 1987-1989).
  • Redemption: The price paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross to free us from slavery to sin (CCC 571, 601; cf. 517, 1372).
  • Salvation: The forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God (CCC 169).
  • Sanctification: The process of healing or “perfecting” our wounded nature, an action of God’s grace (CCC 1999).

Cohabitation versus conforming to Christ

In a clear contender for the Spinal Crosier Award of 2011, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe has issued a pastoral letter to his see, “Pastoral Care of Couples Who Are Cohabiting”.

In the letter, Abp. Sheehan forbids couples who are not married in the Church yet living together to receive the sacraments until their situations are regularized, as well as from acting as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and as godparents. Even more remarkably, he instructs pastors to “preach on the gravity of sin and its evil consequences, the 6th and 9th Commandments of God, and the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage”, and insists that “Our catechetical programs in our parishes—children, youth, and adult—must clearly and repeatedly teach these truths.”

Of course, we’ve already gotten a whine from the Fishwrap. In a comment hysterically titled “Sheehan’s threats to cohabiting couples”, Heidi Schlumpf (I’m not making this up; I swear that’s her name) sneers, “It seems Sheehan has no real interest in persuading or teaching, but rather only punishing those who disagree with him. Oh, and making those who already agree with him happy for ‘laying down the law.’” Father John Zuhlsdorf rightfully diagnosed Schlumpf’s complaint: “Bishops who talk clearly and straight, even when they are right … are mean.  They are mean old mean meanies.”

But my purpose here is not to take her argument apart; I leave that to Fr. Z and LarryD of Acts of the Apostasy. Rather, I’d like to compare it with a post recently written by Melinda Selmys of Sexual Authenticity, “God Made Me This Way”.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Only a Christian nation can protect Islamic moderates

In my last job, I had several immediate supervisors over the course of three years. All of them had their strengths and weaknesses, but they were all good people to work under.

My favorite was Shamain. It’s not completely irrelevant that she’s stunningly attractive, very photogenic. However, she’s also a beautiful person. She’s a very empathetic, likeable person with a great sense of humor; she and I, as the saying goes, got on like a house afire.

Her model-quality good looks, I say, aren’t completely irrelevant. Shamain is a Moslem married to a Hindu; under Shariah, Moslem women can't marry non-Moslem men. I would never have found out how beautiful she is, either inside or out, had she worn the burqa. The burqa not only hides women from men’s eyes, it interposes a social wall between them.

It’s because of people like Shamain that people like Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, are at pains to make distinctions between individual Moslems and Islam: “There are many moderate Muslims. That is why I always make a clear distinction between the people and the ideology, between Muslims and Islam. There are many moderate Muslims, but there is no such thing as a moderate Islam.”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Is "good without God" good enough?

I don't own the rights ... but here it is anyway ....
When I was a kid in the middle to late 1970s, the US Army was suffering from a lack of volunteer enlistments. Most of it was the aftermath of Vietnam … but part of it was also anemic advertising: “Today’s Army wants to join you.” “Join the people who have joined the Army.”

(To be upfront about it, I’m not wild about “An Army of One”, either. I can’t help thinking of George C. Scott’s speech at the beginning of Patton, taken from the general’s actual talks to his troops: “The Army is a team. It works, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This ‘individuality’ stuff is a bunch of crap!”)

It got a little bit better after the US hockey team beat the USSR at the 1980 Winter Olympics, and Americans started to feel good about being American again. Then the Army pulled out its best campaign ever: “Be All That You Can Be”.

Not “Be Most of What You Can Be”; not “Be the Vast Majority of What You Can Be”. The new Army campaign tapped right into the psyche of the people who wanted to prove themselves, who wanted to bring out their fullest potential. Enlistments skyrocketed after that.