Sunday, September 14, 2008

People who claim to hate the Church don't hate it because it's bad, they hate it because it's easier than seeking the truth.

My mom called me this weekend to ask if I'd heard about the campus chaplain at Illinois's Newman Center being arrested for drug possession, since I had known some people there. I hadn't heard about it, but in reading the news articles online Saturday, I learned two things.

1. Don't go to a public news agency's web site expecting a high level of discourse, no matter how well written the article itself is.

2. To paraphrase Archbishop Sheen, most people who hate the Church, hate it mostly for what they imagine it is.

I'd like to share with you a few of the gems I found while looking through articles about this priest's arrest. Hopefully there's someone out there who might have read those comments and thought "Hey, you know, those are good points" who will now have one more place to go where a lucid rebuttal can be found.

What happens to the baptisms, the weddings blessed, the sins forgiven and the eucharists transubstantiated by this man?

Nothing. A sinful man was ordained a priest because all we have to ordain is men who sin. Even if he's laicized, he would still be able to confect the sacraments; it's just that he wouldn't be permitted to. Sure, we'd all like holy men to be our spiritual leaders, but the Church never taught that sacerdotal efficacy depended on the man being in a state of grace, nor on the magnitude of the sins he commits.

I can't tell if this question is supposed to accuse the Church of some kind of works-righteousness, or if it presumes an uncatholic superstitiousness and a distinction between mortal and venial sins to have its point made.

You have to think outside this box put around you...obedience to men will not get you into heaven.

Who told you that? A man? People outside the Church seem to have a frighteningly higher view of the clergy than Catholics do, and they don't see it when it happens in their own midst. Priests and bishops are not just running a company in the church business, but they're not superhuman, either; they are given a few charisms to aid in the life of the Church, but that's about it.

I won't bother with the related accusations about allegedly extrabiblical practices being unbiblical, which is obviously tautological but hardly ever explained as a truly bad thing. Perhaps another time I will address the atheist's related argument, the accusation that we let the Church think for us; it's been handled quite well by other people, but when I'm in a mood I might just toss in my two cents.

I can't be too uncharitable; I've known many Protestants whose prayer lives are fruitful and every bit as personal as they'd like yours to be when they ask what role Jesus plays in your life. Still, there's so much emphasis on the event of getting saved that it makes me wonder what kind of relationship with Christ they're effectively advocating. Can you imagine how it would look if you talked about a friend you had who was really great, and how other people should be his friend too, and all they needed to do was invite him to their house and he would carry the relationship? Doesn't that sound like it would be lame if you didn't already have a good idea of what Jesus was to us?

And, no, obedience to men is not a sufficient condition for entering the Beatific Vision...but I ask in reply: does being disobedient get you into heaven?

People put too much trust in men in everyday things as well as spiritual (even non-Catholics, as evinced by the plethora of ministers in the world) for this to be a meaningful accusation. Come back when you can tell me why I should listen to you telling me not to listen to anybody. I don't care if it's the Bible, history, or science.

The Catholic Church claims to be the one true church, yet its history says otherwise. What a shame they have not learned from the sex scandals that rocked them now it's drugs and again it's the children that are victims.

What does history say? That there is more than one true church? That there might be one true church, but it's not headquartered in Rome? That it really has no objective judgment on the veracity of Rome's claims?

I've read many comments about the sex abuse scandal, most of them of the "at least he was only selling drugs to college kids" variety. A close second, though, was of the "Drugs and sex? Being an altar boy is the most dangerous job today!" variety. Never mind that St. John's Catholic Chapel is not a community parish, and so is unlikely to have many people at all of that age in attendance. It's much more convenient to associate the whole of hierarchical Christianity, or even the whole of theists depending on your perspective, with whatever timely or unspoken historical corruption you prefer.

Reminds me of Protestants whose sole efforts in apologetics consist of, as far as I can tell, paraphrasing the table of contents of Boettner's Roman Catholicism. As if everyone knows what the real story is behind Rome's failings (just like what everybody knows about Galileo's trial), and we only need the reminder to endorse the accusations.

How very typical! First pedophilia, now drug-dealing! Bunch of perverts, hiding behind clerical robes!

Oh, so we can see now that homosexuals and pedophiles are latent drug users and pushers? Why don't we accuse the Church of working with the CIA to create AIDS, and with NASA to fake the moon landings, too?

Any stick will do to beat a dog, eh?

It is precisely because the Roman Catholic Church has been casting so many stones over the centuries that there is so much understandable and deserving backlash.

Understandable? Sure. Deserving? For the sex scandal, okay, there was too much emphasis on protecting the institution and its appearance in America (where, remember, the problem has been generally isolated), and not enough on protecting the innocent and powerless, but if you're going around misattributing vices to people, that's called calumny, and it prevents you from playing the "At least I'm not a hypocrite" card.

Further, if you really don't know the story behind Galileo, or the motivations and statistics pertaining to the Crusades or the Inquisitions, then maybe you can go the "I'm intellectually lazy, but at least I live up to my own standards" route, although that's not much of an improvement, and it's less than impressive if your standards are so low that you never fall short of them.

Perhaps these things are happening to bring to the public's awareness that ORGANIZED Church religiosity is NOT the answer...How impractical to expect young men and women to live celibate lifestyles. In Europe in the old monasteries, they've found corpses of infants sealed up in the walls...This article doesn't say he's accused of sodomizing and raping.

No, the article doesn't say that, but you're going to bring it up anyway, aren't you?

That first "perhaps" is interesting. It's almost as if a higher power were moving to immunize humanity from God doesn't want us worshipping together? If it's not God, I wouldn't want to be be learning whatever it has to teach us.

And again with the canard that celibacy is virtually impossible. Dawn Eden can tell you more about that than I feel like doing right now. Does anyone have any idea how widespread or isolated the instances of babies hidden in tunnels between monasteries and convents are? I think someone does, but I doubt it's the person who declined to tell us concretely how extensive the problem was.

I suppose it's more civilized for people who can't resist sex to kill their children in the womb and throw them in a dumpster or incinerator like so much suctioned fat or a malignant tumor.

Another prime example of the danger of putting all of your hope & faith in man, in a human being.

Wait, who did that? Those of us who are disappointed? I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised to learn that the priest has sinned. "People sin" is pretty much axiomatic in Christianity. Expecting better from a priest, even from this priest, isn't what got him into the situation. He got himself into the situation.

Just goes to show you that organized religion is pretty much useless.

If it had been a politician, would we be hearing about how the government is useless? I mean, as if it were proven by the arrest of a politician on drug charges. Do they say school is useless when a teacher is caught fraternizing with students?

Priests if anyone should be held to higher standard of living and exemplary life.

Fair enough--priests more than other people in positions of authority and trust are expected to be on good behavior, even if they are more attractive targets to the Enemy. Still, while it is interesting how many professed unbelievers express disappointment that a man of the cloth has sinned, it strikes me as a peculiar flavor of disrespectful to presume, almost gleefully, a guilty verdict was already all but pronounced (and, yes, most of the "He should have known better" comments I've read were coupled with a foregone conviction of guilt). I'm surprised I haven't already heard jokes about how he's going to enjoy the penal social life.

Monday, September 08, 2008

It's probably good that I don't venture into timely political ramblings very often

Like Mark Shea, I was primed to vote for a third party candidate. I tend to vote Republican these days, but it felt like the time was right to step back and find a third party candidate who better represented my political views, rather than voting for the one out of the two frontrunners who just seemed a little less unrepresentative than the other. I haven't followed McCain's campaign or the associated issues terribly closely, so I didn't develop quite the personally skeptical view of the GOP nominee that Mark has, but I thought it would be as good a time as any to make a sort of implicit vote of no confidence in the GOP. Maybe in the long run, failing to win on an attempted moralist platform against a candidate who wants to ride the fumes of electoral symbolism into utopia is just the wake-up call the GOP needs.

Then McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

I started thinking that these incremental but largely unfruited steps toward ending abortion might come a little more quickly with a serious pro-lifer in the White House. I'm not pleased that ending abortion is like turning back the tide, but I'll prefer being thrown a bone in the Supreme Court or someplace on rare occasions to having a real crusader for life never win and hardly even inspire his competitors.

I think McCain-Palin, out of the two teams that have a reasonable chance at the presidency, is the better one. Policies aside, McCain has some leadership experience from his time as a military officer, and Palin actually has more executive experience than Obama. They'd all be new enough to the job that it's anybody's speculation how they'll handle whatever the world abroad and at home throws at them in the next four to eight years, so I'm not sure it's really worthwhile to worry about things that the candidates haven't had to deal with or comment on during the courses of their current jobs. I'm still on the fence about some of the other issues that get dredged up from the candidates' personal and professional histories in order to show inconsistency in their current platforms, but that's always the case, and I've seen more politicians change their minds on their less environmentally protective policies than I have on their less child protective policies after hitting the national stage, so if you're keeping score, add that in.

There are a few other issues on each side that I don't want to get into right now, but suffice it to say things were looking as well as I could expect until I heard that McCain and Palin don't have a problem with intelligent design and think it would be a good idea to have it taught alongside the traditional stuff.

I'm not trying to put a national science curriculum on par with life issues, mind you; the preceding was just so that we may take the life issues as read.

All right, I can't resist one parallel.

We've got another case of "compromise by concession" here. We see it in the abortion debate not infrequently; the pro-choice side, attempting to leverage the label, claims tolerance of women who choose not to abort, and ask why pro-lifers can't extend the same courtesy; the problem is that in trying to split the difference, we still have abortion, which satisfies the pro-choicers, and merely a strong prevent-things-leading-to-abortion-except-the-fact-that-it's-wrong program, which pro-choicers still consider a good thing; meanwhile, pro-lifers get nothing but blame for being too focused on the real root problem (disdain for the dignity of unborn children, and all too often their mothers), and not enough on the superficial root problem (mothers who fall back on abortion because it's easier than giving birth and everything associated with that). It's not all bad; something isn't good or evil based on quantity, but it can be better or worse if there's more or less of it. It's just that one side gets closer to its ideal society, and the other side has to put up with being a stick in the mud for not settling for half a morality.

What's this have to do with science?

ID, I will remind you, doesn't.

There's no place for it in science. ID might even be true--as a theist I will never deny that what exists came to be through the action of an intelligent, powerful entity--but it's not science. Science is about gathering empirical data and repeatability in testing phenomena. The goal is to accurately, to reliably, describe nature. Intelligent design offers no theories that can be proven, makes no claims that can be properly tested and disproven. All it does is point to inadequacies in the state of the art and make an argument from incredulity. It's a parasite on science--it has nothing itself to offer except what it borrows from philosophy or steals from physics and biology.

In good science, the limits of our understanding are openly admitted (if not always with the most sincerity by enthusiastic researchers). In bad science, one is told either "what you cannot measure cannot exist," or more germanely, "science isn't up to the task of answering these questions," even though in some cases it only might not be yet, "so here's something else you can call science to explain what science can't."

If I were a science teacher required to cover ID, all you'd get out of me is "Okay, we don't have all the chemical kinetics down to explain the apparent rate of mutation and speciation; ID draws a black box around this puzzle and calls it God, or at least an Architect; this is a God-of-the-gaps argument, and advances in science on fronts X, Y, and Z would leave ID without a leg to stand on."

I don't mean to rehash the entire ID thing any more than I meant to beat the dead coach team of abortion and prudent voting. Let's take my concerns on the public school curriculum as read, as well, shall we?

I'm kind of back to holding my nose and punching the chads with R's next to them. In eight years Bush hasn't done a lot to compromise biology and astronomy programs in this country, so I can hope that the next four or eight years wouldn't be any worse.

While I hold out that hope, though, should I expect something different with abortion? With ID, opposition was fierce enough that it just couldn't get much traction; the pro-life movement wasn't in much of a different situation.

So here I am, hoping that the pro-life movement will be advanced in the coming decade, at the grassroots level if not at the Supreme Court, while hoping that whatever salient power the White House has in influencing the national science curriculum isn't used to bring about political compromise in the classroom--and I haven't even gotten to global warming.

It's hard to hope that a brilliant political gesture from a candidate is more than just a gesture, and that another political gesture from the same candidate is nothing more than a gesture. That's the essence of trying to make a prudential judgment, I suppose.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Softball Gospel

I will probably be adding to this list from time to time. I used to periodically post on boneheaded homilies and statements as they came up but didn't tie them together, but I think they deserve to be compiled. I will introduce this topic with three items:

  1. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish was Jesus inspiring people to share.

    No, it was the creation of a plenitude of food from a dearth. It doesn't make sense that so many people would show up with so much food but still expect catering, and it doesn't take direct intervention from God to goad people out of hoarding their lunches.

  2. Doctrine X hasn't been defined de fidei by the pope, so we're at liberty to disagree with it.
    According to the Pontificator's Tenth Law, "All dogmas of the Church Catholic are infallible, but some are more infallible than others." In short, it means that we are obligated to hold true whatever the Church teaches, even if it's not one of the few items that has gotten an ex cathedra stamp of approval. For many of us, on a number of issues, the best we can muster is "The Church says X is true; I disagree, but it is the Church's place to make that call, so I will live in obedience and work within the boundaries of the Church to get the issues I have resolved," and that's good enough.

  3. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came primarily to bring peace to the world. Take anything in the Gospel that sounds like Jesus being authoritarian or hard with a grain of salt. God is, after all, a Nice Guy.
    I like nice guys, I try to be one, but niceness is not the primary quality I want in a God or other authority figure. I didn't always (usually, but not always) think my dad was nice when I was growing up--and really, niceness is in the eye of the beholder--because he sometimes punished me or didn't let me do things I wanted, but it didn't make him a mean person, it just made him a good father--it made him right. I know my feelings are irrational, by definition, so while I like having them respected, I know that there are more important and better things to concern myself with than whether someone is every bit as polite and obsequious as I might like. I wouldn't want a doctor, either, that tried to comfort me by saying I wouldn't have to get some kind of major, risky surgery, but then let me die horribly from disease. So often today, though, genuine goodness is given no higher a definition than "be supporting of and unobtrusive to whatever people want."

This last item deserves a little unpacking. It ties in somewhat with the second item and something I heard during this morning's homily.

What trips people up on the third item so often is that last part--they use their conscience as an excuse to do whatever they want but still claim to be in good standing with the Church. On the surface, it's as silly as refusing to show up to work or badmouthing your product to potential customers and claiming to be an employee in good standing. I'm not talking about when people struggle to make the heroic effort to accept as true everything the Church teaches; it can take a heroic effort just to know everything the Church teaches. I mean that one's conscience is not an escape hatch from obedience. Yes, in principle you should follow your conscience, but if your conscience is properly formed, it will not disagree with the Church, and if you know it is badly formed, you shouldn't follow it in the first place--we see all the time in more secular arenas where people make errors in judgment, and no one bats an eye (okay, these days, not no one) when they're held responsible for their errors instead of being patted on the head and told "we understand, you must have been doing what seemed right for you at the time."

I think it's symptomatic of the "God is nice" school of theology. We see it also when people put an absence of physical violence at a higher priority than justice, or higher than an absence of moral violence--when people are expected to endure everything short of feeling a clenched fist or seeing a gun. We see it when people dissociate Jesus upsetting the moneychangers in the Temple from, well, Jesus upsetting the moneychangers in the Temple.

We also see it with today's Gospel reading:

If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector

The way I used to hear it explained, it was used sort of as a baseline for the practice of excommunication. The way it was homilized (is that a word?) to me this morning, Jesus was teaching His disciples how not to cause excessive harm--basically agreeing to disagree and avoiding situations where you and the person who you think did wrong might be forced together and have to bring the subject back up.

I'm not saying it's a bad practice. When you reach an impasse, all you can do is go away, pray, and try not to be a further obstacle to the other person's spiritual growth. While it's good advice for the laity, however, the Magisterium has additional responsibilities, so the bishops who come out and say "so-called Catholic politicians who support abortion will not receive communion if they present themselves for it" are not out of line. While the bishops who say "Abortion is contrary to Catholic teaching, but what more can we say if they do not listen?" are trying to be inclusive and warm and fuzzy, babies are dying by the thousands. While they're trying to give the benefit of the doubt to the errant member of their flock out of the fear that he might remain willfully in error, talking about how there's nothing more they can say, they are refusing to act to protect the lives of the children the politicians support the killing of (that is, to prevent the politicians from sinning in deed, since they cannot be prevented from sinning in thought), and they are refusing to protect the other Catholics from scandal.

This on the grounds that we are not to judge another's conscience? Please.

I can't judge a particular individual's conscience, but I don't need to be God to be shown a hypothetical person who thinks infanticide is a permissible means to achieving a comfortable economic end to know that the person's conscience is not properly formed. I don't have to try or pretend to look into a real person's conscience to judge that his actions are in fact bad; whether someone commits first degree murder or manslaughter, an untimely death has occurred, and to deny that it is a material evil is to lie, and to lie in order to protect someone's feelings is also evil.

The politician, or whoever, who steadfastly supports abortion has already cut himself off from the life of the Church. There is little harm one can cause a dead thing. We should not try to block any graces God might be sending an erring politician, but telling the unrepentant sinner that his sin is not so great that it needs to be forgiven is not doing him any favors, and allowing him to jeopardize the faith of everyone else who might get that impression does no favors to the Body of Christ, either.

Call me proud, but I'm not quite ready to say a spade's not a spade on the grounds that I am ignorant of the motivations of the digger.

Some look at excommunication as an outdated, barbaric exercise of power on the part of the Magisterium. I would point out that excommunication has been described, by greater Catholic minds than I, as analogous to amputation. Sure, cutting off a limb seems horrifically barbaric, but if the limb is gangrenous and does not respond to treatment, then removing it is necessary for protecting the health of the rest of the body. Neither would we want someone infected with a serious communicable disease to commune with healthy people who might be vulnerable to the disease; certainly, the ill man needs whatever help he can get, but "help" is not the same as "pretending there's nothing wrong and telling him he's fine, even if we find his raspy cough and oozing sores to be a little alarming in appearance."

Some translations don't use "Gentile," they use "pagan." Do we allow pagans to receive communion in the Catholic Church?

No, and we don't look the other way when they say Church officials don't have the right to deny them life in the Church (it is mortal sin that does that, not the Magisterium) and say "Hey, fine, whatever, but let's talk about something besides all the doctrines you don't believe in."