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. Catholic.com 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, Catholic.com, Ave Maria Radio, Patheos Catholic blogs, Catholicforuminc testimonials/episodes, Sonitus Sanctus audio, etc.) There's also a good, free discussion forum at Catholic.com, 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. 

5 comments:

  1. Very insightful, thank you for this
    blog, Sam.
    I think that we, Catholic christians
    will be judged more strictly b/c we
    have the fullness of the revelation
    of the deposit of Truth, and MUST
    be an accurate reflection of Jesus,
    the Truth, the Way and the Life,
    and lead others away from the false
    promises of the world, the flesh and
    the devil.
    in Christ,
    G

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  2. I once had a disagreement with someone in college when he refer to knowledge as wisdom, my comment to him was that, that was not wisdom. I meant by this that wisdom was a name for the Holy Spirit, However, after reading up on Catholicism since that time, I must say my mind have been cultivated in giving him this much: Knowledge is one of the many sisters and brothers(attributes) of the Holy Spirit and when looking at it like this, it opens up so much beauty in science. I recently downloaded one of the may free books you can from google eBooks and I never cease to be amaze how the science of chemistry was so much base on God's creation and wonders. It often fills me inside with tears as much of Catholicism does, not tears of sadness but the tears that leads to joy.The same tears that fills one inner soul and mind while contemplating Gods love or his son sacrifice for us who are filled with so much sins.

    Now as I once again became a Catechism at the old age of 50 and hope to join the Church and this time without the alcohol maybe I can get into some real debating on Catholic.com without getting kicked off there website. I sure would like to fix one entrance I made under the name donalddon5 when I mention one of my vision that was the cause of my quit drinking several years ago.

    Once again, everything you said is part of my life. Sort of like when I first discovered Catholicism thanks to that guy at college I mention earlier. His few simple words of maybe you should look under theology is what lead me to understand my experiences and eventually to Catholicism which I could witness all day and night for weeks on out about. Anyways, I thought I was being spy upon and in some instances I am sure I was and perhaps still am but those are some stories in-themselves. Right now, I just wanted to say your articles are straight-in-line with what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life, just like Scott Hahn's recording and writing and it is through these confirmation of my actions that strengthens me to battle Satan but more importantly to seek the word of God which is his Son and Our Lord, Jesus. Pray for me.

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  3. Great post! Just like to add that on of my fave marks of The Church is its catholicity. It's not just for British or Greek or Japanese or African- Americans from the Southern United States. It's not for a particular political party of class. It's for everyone everywhere! The Catholic Church is in every country. I love how The Church is both multicultural and universal. We are many and varied yet one. Another case where it's not an either/or it's a both/and.

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  4. Thank you all for your thoughts and kind comments. :)

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