Friday, November 20, 2015

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

7 21st century reasons to consider the Church

Edit 11/9/2015 to add:
Listen to my interview about this blog post on The Don Johnson Radio Show from 11/6/2015 at MP3 archive here. My segment begins at 35:30, but I encourage anyone to listen to the whole episode or any other archive of Don's show.
The centuries have seen manifold ways by which converts, reverts, and lifelong Catholics experience a spark of faith ignited into a fiery love story. This post is intended as a thought exercise with regard to some reasons that may compel the ponderer to consider Catholicism. These are by no means all the reasons someone might be moved to consider Catholicism. Theses are by no means even necessarily the best. Also, these are in no particular order. These are merely reasons perhaps pertinent to 21st century themes and attitudes.

1.  The Church is pro-science
The current talk of water on Mars reminds us how much scientific discussions are prevalent today. Despite what stereotype you may have heard, the Church has been overwhelmingly an advocate of science throughout the centuries. Hundreds Catholic scientists are listed here, and those are just the clergy. Many don't know even the Big Bang theory was spearheaded by a Catholic priest (here he is hanging with Einstein). I've profiled a few others on this blog.

The Galileo affair seems to be a totem of sorts, used by those who seek to paint the Church as anti-science. But not only would that, if true, be among the exceptions of the Church's pro-scientific history, but it's not quite true. The Church didn't reject Galileo's view simply because it was scientific. Many articles have been written to clarify the subject (e.g. or even by atheist writer Tim O'Neil who details where Galileo's proofs fell short).

Nevertheless, our focus here is on modern times. Are you a believer in, say, biological evolution, but afraid you might have to forfeit that view if you joined the Church? Worry not. Pope Benedict XVI said, "there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such." Pope Francis, who has a degree in chemistry, has likewise acknowledged no opposition between faith and science. Prior Popes have made similar sentiments.

As discussed in prior posts, the Church avails herself to science when scrutinizing claims of miracles. Priests with scientific backgrounds even operate the Vatican Observatory. Recourse to science is not an exception for the Church, but the norm.

2. No "hashtag" theology
Have you ever found yourself yearning to understand someone's view, but the best you can get is some hashtag or bumper sticker slogan in response? Maybe the extent of your colleague's view is nothing deeper than changing their social media photo to some symbol. You want to know how your colleague's view accounts for a fair question or two. But if you challenge that view, you get either the slogan repeated, or perhaps you are called a bad name. And you wonder to yourself, if my colleague's view can't account for any scrutiny, how baseless must it be?

Yet, often, the Church is accused of offering a faith without evidence. Not so. If you've ever taken the time to pick up an encyclical or document of a Church council, you can expect depth of reason. Even in the Catechism, which is more of a summary of doctrines, the paragraphs build upon one another. A great doctrinal thesis like St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, written in the 13th century, is fraught with opponents' arguments against any doctrine. It's very structure confronts multiple "objections" at every turn.

The Council of Trent in the 16th century was largely a response to clarify and fortify doctrines in the face of Protestant objections. So, for instance, when the Church was accused of worshipping saints or icons, the Council assured objectors: "not that any divinity, or virtue, is believed to be in [the saints], on account of which they are to be worshipped..." Or when the Church was accused of abusive sale of indulgences, the Council confronted the scrutiny and conceded:  
And being desirous that the abuses which have crept therein, and by occasion of which this honourable name of Indulgences is blasphemed by heretics, be amended and corrected, [the Council] ordains generally by this decree, that all evil gains for the obtaining thereof, whence a most prolific cause of abuses amongst the Christian people has been derived, be wholly abolished.
Reason and consideration of objections is nothing uncommon in the Church. Even at the first Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35), Peter and James elaborated on circumcision, the relationship with Gentiles, and salvation with much reason and recourse to Scripture.

Perhaps one considering the Church's position on this or that doctrine still disagrees. But one could not accuse the Church of offering an explanation with the mere depth of a hashtag. Nor could one accuse the Church of turning a blind eye to objections. Wouldn't it be characteristic of a Church that brokers in truth to have no fear of objections, nor fear of delving deeply into those truths?

3. No "yes-man" mentality
It's election season. And if you're old enough to remember any election, you can probably think of a politician's promise that somehow never made it to the table. Maybe you can think of a lot. Or perhaps you've been with a date who just affirmed everything you did or said, having no perceptions of his/her own. Or if you're a boss and you have one of those "yes-men" underlings, who are only interested in making you feel good about yourself, even if the truth would otherwise help you.

It's no secret the Church is willing to say things many people don't want to hear. Don't think it's just about hot-button issues like "gay marriage," toward which the Church is perceived to take an "unpopular" view. There are plenty of other people who don't like hearing the Church's stance on fornication, masturbation, confessing sins to a priest, or even the existence of hell. Perhaps you don't like those views yourself. You're still invited to study, scrutinize, and give an honest examination of the Church's views on any moral or faith-based doctrine. If the Church was into mere membership numbers, all of these teachings might go out the window. But the point here in reason #3 is that you can expect answers from the Church not founded on coddling or patronizing you. Does that kind of directness sound refreshing?

4. Consistency
Tying into reason #3, you will get consistency from the Church on matters of faith and morals. There has never been a single defined teaching on such a matter that was ever reversed. The Church has studied the Scriptures and the Apostolic deposit of faith for centuries, deriving truths from that single "wellspring." So, for instance, the Church never has said God is not Trinity after defining God as Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. We're celebrating the 1690th anniversary of that dogma this year. Divinity of Christ? Articulated at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Happy 1584th anniversary to that dogma. Many other teachings have been taught consistently throughout the centuries or through other councils and documents.

In the early days of the "gay marriage" debate, Slate, which is not by any stretch a champion of all things Church, published a harsh critique of those who do not support "gay marriage." Of those critiqued, the author conceded, "Only the Catholic Church has maintained logical consistency" with regard to sexual teaching. The author refers to the Church's view that the proper context of a sexual act is within marriage and open to life. Thus, for centuries, the Church has taught as disordered not only something like a "gay marriage," but fornication, masturbation, adultery, contraception, etc. Not every supporter of "traditional" marriage bears this consistency.

So the Church doesn't change faith or moral dogmas. Perhaps a flippant skeptic would simply accuse the Church of stubbornness. On the other hand, if the Church claims to posit sacred truths, one of the characteristics we should observe is consistency. Water is not H2O on Monday and something else on Tuesday while still called water. The purpose of this particular post is not to give a thorough defense of this or that dogma, but to invite souls to consider what the Church is proposing. Isn't consistency something you seek in a truth?

5. Don't worry about hypocrite Christians
We've heard it before. Someone tells you they reject Catholicism on account of this or that scandal by this or that priest, friend, or whomever. They don't want to be part of the Church of which that person is a part. Christian hypocrites misbehaving on Saturday but back in church on Sunday were actually used by Anton Lavey as a reason for founding of his brand of Satanism. The Hindu leader Ghandi is known for stating some version of the quote: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Even the well-known Catholic convert and theologian, Dr. Peter Kreeft, when asked what is orthodox Christianity's greatest obstacle, replied, "Our own sins."

First, I'd like to note there are many holy persons in the Church, practicing the faith heroically in charity and persistence. The skeptic should grant these souls due consideration as well. In fact, these souls are those about whom Dr. Kreeft says, "Only saints can save the world." If you think you can be one, please consider the Church! We can use more saints!

But let's return to the notion of sinful Christians. The bad news is, there are Christian hypocrites. The good news is, our faith is not founded on the sins of the Church's members. Our faith is founded on Jesus Christ. There is no other. As Scripture states, "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:11)

As well, there is no institution free of sinners. To reject the Church on account of sinful members is to embrace some other sinful body, including the self-governed irreligious individual. Thus, rejecting the Church on account of sinful members cannot be a deal breaker.

It's also worth clarifying what "hypocrisy" actually is. A person who sins and is Christian is not automatically a hypocrite. I think some critics make this mistake. Consider this analogy. A father addicted to cigarettes is not a hypocrite if he tells his son not to smoke while confessing the harm of his own smoking. Rather, he would be a hypocrite if he tells his son not to smoke while justifying his own smoking.

But wait, says the skeptic, the Bible also says, "you will know them by their fruits." (Matt. 7:20). So that's proof the Church is bad! But is the sinner practicing Catholic teaching? No. But wait again, says the skeptic. You're just saying Christians who sin aren't acting Christian. That's the "No true Scotsman fallacy!" Not so. Catholicism has identifiable moral doctrines. One can read summaries of these in the Catechism. (See the Catechism index here for an alphabetical topic list.) It is Catholic teaching that stealing is sinful. If a Catholic steals, he's not practicing Catholicism, even if he is a baptized Catholic. The Scotsman fallacy refers to making up false or arbitrary criteria after the fact in order to protect the original claim.

Let's consider another example. This is fitting, because the Church often refers to herself as a "hospital for sinners" (a moniker which admits to the sins of members, by the way). Let's say there is a certain fever going around in a village. A doctor visits and prescribes a medicine. After a month, 90% of the villagers still have the fever. So the medicine is faulty, right? Not so fast! We need more information. As it turns out, 90% of the villagers stopped taking the medicine. The 10% who took the medicine no longer have the fever. In this example, one can't judge the medicine based on the actions of those not taking the medicine. Similarly, one can't judge Catholicism based on occasions when Catholicism is not practiced.

6. Never be a pawn of your time
Have you ever heard someone say, "The Catholic Church needs to get with the times?" or something like, "Too much Church teaching is out of step with 21st century thinking..." And you wondered, if the 21st century has the "right thinking," what happens when a flippant 22nd century blogger says "get with the times"? And what happens to, say, the idea that it is wrong to steal because the 18th century B.C. decried it in Hammurabi's Code?

And then, perhaps you asked yourself what relevance does a calendar date have on the soundness of a moral teaching?

If you ask these kinds of questions, then perhaps you prefer to live in accord with sound morals regardless of whether some other century taught them.

The early 20th century Catholic philosopher and convert G.K. Chesterton, in his essay "Why I Am a Catholic," said one of the reasons he became Catholic was: "[The Church] is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."

This is not to say that a good development of moral thought cannot occur in the present day. But this is to say the date a moral teaching is asserted does not make it right or wrong. A person who attempts to align his teachings merely on the cultural zeitgeist of his day is indeed a "degraded slave," as Chesterton says. He is merely a pawn whose morals are on as firm a ground as the calendar date about to change.

That the Church is accused of not conforming to "the times" is indicative that "the times" are not a basis for the Church's teaching. Since, as we have posited here, moral truth is not subject to "time," it would be expected that one who asserts that truth would not use a clock to test its validity.

7. No coersion
In the 21st century, like many others focused on freedom, whether or not someone wishes to join the Church or depart is up to that person's free will. This is a long-standing Catholic teaching, as has been cited on this blog previously. e.g.:
[A Christian evangelizing a brother] does not drag him and force him, but leaves him his own master. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans, ca 390 A.D.)
(See similar quotes) To consider Catholicism is an enterprise in discernment. It is to examine the Church based on characteristics that would be native to a true Church. Previously on this blog, in "Is faith belief without evidence?" several evidences and qualities of a true Church were reviewed. There are many online resources collecting source material, Church documents, bloggers, multimedia, and more (e.g. Vatican, NewAdvent, EWTN,, Ave Maria Radio, Patheos Catholic blogs, Catholicforuminc testimonials/episodes, Sonitus Sanctus audio, etc.) There's also a good, free discussion forum at, frequented by this blogger, where visitors can converse with other Catholics and inquisitors about all things Church.

And the considerer of the Church may depart whenever he/she wishes. It's a type of "money back guarantee," if you will, without ever having to put up any money.

I invite anyone considering the Church or seeking to engage truth to make a list of what traits would be characteristic of truth. Test that criteria. Scrutinize it. If it fails logical fallacies, discard it. This is a good way to purify ones views and develop a sense of examining doctrines as true/false or right/wrong, and never merely something like "modern," "popular," or "comforting."

To quote Chesterton once more:
The difficulty of explaining 'why I am a Catholic' is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Does a Catholic have to agree with everything the Pope says?

Does a Catholic have to agree with everything a Pope says? A number of comments by Pope Francis since his installation have given rise to this question.

It can be a dangerous question, because some Catholics may ask the question in order to seek the "minimum" to believe, and the rest can be rejected outright, as if 180 degrees wrong. So I would caution against that motive and we can see why in a moment.

I would also say, from one angle, a Catholic doesn't have to believe any teachings the Pope declares. A Catholic doesn't even have to stay in the Church. He or she can walk away and reject the faith any time. I wouldn't recommend it. But simply being Catholic does not eliminate one's free will. But this essay will focus on believing the Pope while remaining a Catholic in communion with the Church.

Also, some do not understand why a Catholic would be perfectly reasonable in embracing the Church's teaching on abortion, but not a Pope's view on a socio-political situation. Hopefully, this essay will clarify that matter as well.

In Catholic teaching, it is believed the Pope exercises a charism of infallibility when, as a function of his office as St. Peter's successor, he defines a teaching of faith or morals for the whole Church to believe. (see CCC#888-892; Vatican I, 4.4.9; and prior discussion on Fallacies on Infallibility). This is not a reference to anything special about the Pope, who is, was, and always will be, a fallible mortal. This charism is a trust in God, who Catholics believe in Christ to have promised this divine assistance to the Apostles and their successors, especially Peter, i.e. the first Pope.

So when a Pope meets this criteria on a matter of faith or morals, yes, a Catholic is obligated to believe that teaching. There is no gray area. For example (in all subsequent quotes, bold emphasis is mine):
Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful." (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus)
That Mary was preserved from original sin is not an "optional" teaching for the Catholic faithful. It is a defined matter. It is a matter of faith. And remember, the guarantee of this truth is the Holy Spirit. We believe the Pope's teaching on this matter because Christ promised to speak through his Church in such a way.

Faith and morals are a good factor in identifying teachings that are representative of the Church versus an individual clergyman's opinion, even the Pope's, on a social or political or scientific matter. In fact, the Catechism teaches the following:
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (CCC#892)
So you see how even matters taught by the Pope in non-definitive ways require a "religious assent," if that teaching is a matter of faith or morals. This is why it is imprudent to act as if a Pope's non-infallible statement is 180 degrees wrong. But the text does not say to offer religious assent if the Pope speaks on a matter of science, for example. Such matters are external to the Church's teaching authority. But keep in mind the rule of thumb to always look at a teaching and ask whether it falls under the category of faith or morals.

Now, let's look at less-defined propositions. In the Summer of 2015, Pope Francis stated:
Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. (Pope Francis, Address at Expo Fair Santa Cruz de la Sierras, July 9, 2015)
Quotes like these have been used by media to say the Pope condemns capitalism as a whole since capitalist societies produce many wealthy citizens. But if one examines the Pope's comment, the part that is a "moral obligation" is to strive for "just distribution" of goods. That is a very broad concept. In principle, the moral issue of justice (cf. CCC#1807) is obligatory for a Catholic to believe. Discussions of what government, social, political, or other solutions should prevail give rise to matters beyond the underlying moral issue.

In other words, a Catholic is not obligated to embrace nor reject "socialism," for example, as the solution to a problem of injustice. A Catholic is not required to embrace nor reject "capitalism" as a broad concept. Yes, a Catholic must oppose injustice, but methods of remedy are external to that moral crux. Even in that same speech, Pope Francis emphasized how the human person should be the focus when forming economies: "The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples."

We can even see in the Pope's own words, for example, that capitalism, which he has often decried to the degree it does not serve people, still merits further understanding on his own part. On a plane ride from Paraguay to Rome, a reporter asked of his economic views: "This is perceived by Americans as a direct criticism of their system and their way of life." Pope Francis replied:
I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I heard about it, but I haven’t read about it, I haven’t had the time to study this well, because every criticism must be received, studied, and then dialogue must be ensue. ... Yes, I must begin studying these criticisms, no? And then dialogue a bit with this.
Later in the interview, someone asked him about the economic situation in Greece. He conceded to not having had a good grasp on economics:
On Greece and the international system, I have a great allergy to economic things, because my father was an accountant and when he did not manage to finish his work at the factory, he brought the work home on Saturday and Sunday, with those books in those day where the titles were written in gothic. When I saw my father I had a great allergy and I didn’t understand it very well.
So, you see in such an example, a Catholic can take the Pope's words and make a prudential examination to discover the parts that are religious (i.e. the concept of justice) versus parts that are economic or political (i.e. the U.S. economic system or the Greek economic system). Comments on religious concepts are in the scope of the Pope's teaching authority. Comments on economic concepts are not.

Let me approach this from one more angle. If you happen to read in the media that the Pope is against "income inequality," and thus pro-Socialism, one should not assume the Pope is endorsing any particular economic philosophy. Or, at least one should not assume what economic philosophy the Pope appears to endorse is a required belief for Catholics. We can deduce this with emphasis if we compare two quotes. On the plane ride just a couple days ago from Cuba to the U.S., Pope Francis said of his economic views:
I am sure that I have not said anything that is not present in the social Doctrine of the Church. ... My doctrine, on all of this, on Laudato Si, on economic imperialism and all of this, it is that of the social doctrine of the Church.
And if we take a look at some of the Church's teaching on Socialism and income inequality in the past, we see such examples as:
It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such unequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition. (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891, #17)
So here we see Pope Leo speaking how income inequality, per se, is not automatically an injustice. In fact, he says, a society needs the variation in order for business to have the capacity to function. And we have Pope Francis saying his teaching aligns with the Church's teaching. So where income inequality, for a Catholic, would become a concern, is where that inequality is the result of injustice.

The same can be said of the issue of "climate change," which appears frequently in the media, including with quotes from Pope Francis. (Note: An argument can be made that there is not scientific consensus on this matter either.) On this issue, the underlying moral principle is to have proper respect for creation (cf. CCC#2415), which is related to the commandment of "thou shall not kill." In Pope Francis' encyclical Laudatio Si, he acknowledges that he does not claim to teach a scientific solution to any ecological problems. He finishes with a caveat. He says on the ecology:
Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. ...there is no one path to a solution. ... On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.
So on climate change, much as with economics, a Catholic only need give assent to the underlying moral issues relating to the 7th commandment on climate change and the matter of justice. The views a Catholic holds from there, with regard to ecological or economic systems, should be held with those moral principles in view.

Remember, when listening to a Pope's comments, one should examine the content to identify whether or not the comment is religious (i.e. a matter of faith or morals) or something else, such as economic, political, or scientific. If the Pope is teaching a principle of faith or morals, the Catholic's assent is required. If the Pope comment is about an economic or scientific matter, the Catholic's assent is not required insofar as any economic or scientific claims or solutions to problems. The Catholic needn't scruple over such things.

Dr. Anne Hendershott (an excellent speaker and writer on Catholic thought in this blogger's opinion) made the following statement recently:
I am a huge fan of Pope Francis because I actually read what he writes and it's wonderful. And he's so affirming and so loving. I'm not crazy when he talks about capitalism. I'm not crazy when he talks about climate change. But I don't really pay much attention to that stuff because that's not the non-negotiables. (Dr. Anne Hendershott, Professor of Sociology at Franciscan University, Sept. 2, 2015, on the Drew Mariani Radio Show (MP3))
If a Catholic wishes to formulate an view on economic or scientific matters, that view should strive to satisfy moral principles of justice or the commandments where applicable. If one does this, he or she is already on the same page as the Pope and needn't worry about an explicit endorsement or condemnation of that view from the Pope.

The principle of faith and morals also should illuminate those who question Catholics who accept Church teaching on abortion (i.e. a moral matter) but not necessarily every Papal suggestion concerning climate change, income inequality, or other social, political, or scientific issues (i.e. not religious matters).