No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Month: October, 2013

Ms. America and Slut Shaming


The above blog post discusses the terrible slut shaming that recently occurred regarding Ms. America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, on the Home School Legal Defense Association‘s Facebook page.  It seems similar to what happened with the Ms. World 2013 contest.

At root is the idea that beauty is a bad thing to display.  Beautiful people should cover it up so that people aren’t provoked into lust.  This is why we have the Ms. America scorned because she “adorns her self in such a way as to draw attention to her looks and her body” and has “allowed the devil to undress [her] in front of the multitude”. This is a type of the excessive scrupulosity that many heresies espouse.

However, I think the real interest lays in a comparison between a rejection of the beauty of the body and Marcionism.  Marcionism was a very early heresy, around 140 AD.  He rejected the physical world as a creation of a lesser god than the God of Jesus Christ.  In this sense, he was a type of Gnostic.  His distrust of the body was so intense he thought Jesus couldn’t have been God, because God would never debase himself so greatly as to become flesh.  This contrasts with the Catholic view that our bodies are a good created by God.  He shows us this goodness by stepping into creation and existing in flesh.

These two contrasting intellectual views offer contrasting practical views for people and clothing.  For Marcion, the body would be something to conceal and reject because of how it can provoke sin.  He went so far as to reject baptism for married couples.  From this viewpoint, a woman is condemned for having a physicality which can lead others into sin.  As one commenter wrote about Ms. America, “You WILL be held accountable on Judgement Day” (emphasis in original).

The Catholic view stands in balanced contrast to this.  We hold it isn’t a sin to recognize truths about the world, such as a person’s beauty.  It becomes sinful when one mentally takes the next step of desiring to posses that beauty, such that thoughts and actions move from loveliness to carnality and base animalistic pleasure.  The sin comes out of the heart, not in from the eyes.

Teeter tottering with the sin residing in the viewer rather than the viewee is the responsability we have to help keep our neighbor from sin.  This means dressing modesty is not a fixed standard as some would suggest, but rather updates with what might be reasonably expected to provoke lust in both men and women.  It also means dressing modestly is a courtesy accorded to others, to help those of us with less self control.

A woman wearing these shoes:

stripper_shoesbut otherwise fully clothed is more immodest than a woman wearing this:


because the first is meant to be sexually arousing while the second is meant to be cute swimwear.  The purpose of modesty is to help other, weaker people to control their thoughts.  Deliberately dressing to break their self control is cruel in a similar way to how eating a candy bar in front of a dieting person is cruel.

In this way there is respect for the rights of all.  If a woman dresses appealingly, it’s okay for a man to appreciate that.

The reverse is also true, so lady readers, I hope you appreciate this guy.

The reverse is also true, so lady readers, I hope you appreciate this guy.

A woman or man doesn’t need to feel they must hide themselves in their clothes or risk the wrath of God.  Beauty is one of the things God placed on this earth for our innocent pleasure and isn’t a bad thing.

If God didn't want us to enjoy beauty, churches would be sinful.

If God didn’t want us to enjoy beauty, churches would be sinful.

However, the line of courtesy dictates that dress shouldn’t be used to intentionally sexually stimulate anyone excepting one’s spouse; because it is cruel to weaken someone’s resolve to see the beauty of a person rather than to lust after them.  I find it hard to accept that beauty pageants are about driving people to lust instead of recognizing beauty.  There is no need to feel shameful about being beautiful and dressing to accentuate that.



What do we sacrifice for?

Kali, goddess of destruction.

Kali, goddess of destruction.

This article is about a man who sacrificed his infant son to the goddess Kali.  One of the wonderful things about Christianity is that it helps to put an end to these sorts of brutal actions.  In the Catholic faith we recognize the need for blood to be spilled, but thanks be to God it is his and not ours.

When we cut ourselves off from the divine life through sin, the natural consequence is death (i.e., we experience the absence of life because we cut ourselves off from the source of life).  This man recognized that absence of divine life in childless couples and sought to rectify that.  He therefore committed some of the most ancient sins.  He sought to be like God without God’s help, just as Adam and Eve.  He sought to reconcile God with Mankind by his own actions, just like the Tower of Babel.  The battle of the Christian has already been won, she just needs to accept it.  This is one of the hardest parts of confession: accepting absolution.  The blood for us has already been spilled.

Carthage child sacrifices, the brutality of the Roman games, the violent barbarians, all were tempered by the Christian understanding that the sacrifice has already been finished.  It was never a complete conversion of Europe, and it took a long time, but great progress was made until our current era, where again we practice child sacrifices to our gods.

Our modern gods are our own whims.  Healthy females die merely for being female, and not only in Asia.  Our backwards and regressive modern society rejects the value of the feminine, and so sacrifices healthy infants on the altar of personal desire.

As horrid as it is to kill your son with an axe, at least this guy did it in a misguided attempt to help others.  The parents of the children sacrificed over gender preference are not so noble.

As with older gods, our modern gods also have state support, with the EU considering treating abortion as a human right.  I defy you, dear reader, to find anything either “human” or “right” about terminating a life because it is female instead of male.

Again, it is an issue of people putting themselves in the place of God.  The phrase, “I want a boy, so we’ll abort any girls”, treats children and commodities instead of as people.  Children become chattel to accessorize our lives with rather than a divine gift of life to nurture and love.

This doesn’t relate to a particular heresy, but underlies many.  Anglicanism was created because Henry VIII wanted to divorce and re-marry (thus putting himself ahead of Christ’s teaching), Liberation Theology can sometimes think we might build our way to heaven through structural reforms on earth, and so forth.  All of these try to supplant the gifts God has given us and place our whims before love of God and neighbour.

I Am My Brother’s Keeper.

The above blog post is about a poll that found about half of Catholics believe bed and breakfast (B&B) owners should “be allowed to refuse accommodation to people based on their sexuality”.  I think this type of belief borders on Donatism.

The Donatists thought that for priests to validly administer the sacraments, they needed to be perfect.  The sin of a priest would nullify the sacrament.  In a similar way, the suspected sin of tenants of a rented room would be enough to nullify the teaching of the Church that, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their [i.e., homosexual people] regard should be avoided.”

The argument that the blogger makes is that it is a just discrimination to help people avoid a near occasion of sin.  If you know I have a problem with a certain sin, it is your responsibility to help me avoid that sin.  Unlike how Cain thought, you are your brother’s keeper.  This is a good and correct argument.

However, I don’t think this argument holds in this case because if it did, Catholic hotel owners would be required to not rent rooms to heterosexual unmarried couples, to divorced and then remarried people on their honeymoons, and so forth.  The fact that this particular set of B&B owners wasn’t in the news earlier for rejecting an unmarried couple out on a tryst I think indicates that their discrimination against a same sex couple is unjustified.  Further, if we must help others avoid near occasions of sin, Catholic hotels wouldn’t be allowed to have internet access, as most men I know struggle with pornography.  This seems draconian and contrary to what our Pope has said, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently”.  Instead of building a bunch of small rules about who we do and don’t give shelter to at night, we need to focus on the big rule of God’s love.  As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “When you break the big laws you do not get freedom. You do not even get anarchy. You get small laws.”  We would be wise to follow the big laws to avoid the small ones.

An example of a small law.

An example of a small law.

The obligations we have to different groups of people are different.  To children, it would be justifiable to separate them into different rooms if they bring home partners they aren’t married to (same sex or otherwise).  Likewise it would be justifiable to discriminate based upon age and not give children internet access because of what they might seek out.  To adults, our obligation is to enlighten their consciences, not to force them.  As with Ezekiel, we must speak out about what injures people, but then allow them the flexibility to make their own decisions and then exist with the consequences of their good or evil actions.

Which brings me full circle, in that the B&B owners shouldn’t be forced to violate their consciences, but rather we should help enlighten their consciences so that they refrain from unjust discrimination in the future by their own free will rather than the heavy hand of the law.

Pew Pew Pew

This article laments the loss of the pew.  To really appreciate the change, some history is needed.

One of the best innovations of Protestants.

One of the best novelties of Protestants.

Christians originally met up in houses.  The first church buildings were not based upon the pagan temples, or even the Jewish temple, since these were the homes of gods/God. Instead, Christians built the first churches with a basis of public halls.  Basilica comes from a Greek work for “ruler”, and was the description of a building from which a magistrate would sit at one semicircular end to rule and provide justice and mercy.  The chair of the bishop was in place of the magistrates chair, and through him Jesus was considered to reign over the people.

The chair of the emperor would be to the very far left.

Example of a basilica from the Roman Forum.  The chair of the emperor would be to the very far left.

Note the absence of chairs shown in the diagram, as this was a meeting hall where people would chatter about.  Also note how the columns are placed similar to many great medieval cathedrals.

See the collumns in the floor plan?

See the columns in the floor plan?

Due to the persecution which faced the early Church, occasionally the meetings were forced underground.  It is not probable that the Roman authorities didn’t know where they met, but rather that all the tunnels were hard to adequately police and therefore escape was easier.  One underground catacomb church basilica could handle upwards of two thousand people!  Sadly, the catacomb method didn’t always help escapes, as Pope Sixtus and four deacons were caught in the catacombs and promptly executed.

As time passed, the basilica style had arms (transepts) added to turn it into a cross.

transeptStill, people would normally stand or kneel during a service, but not sit; although some wealthy people would bring chairs.  Slowly, starting in the 13th century, benches were added at the sides, and these then shifted to the middle of the church so that the majority of people could sit down for parts of service.  However, this was mostly a Protestant innovation (after the early 1500’s) — with Catholics picking up on the idea only later on.

Because the wealthy used to bring chairs, initially pews were rented out.  The church would provide the pew for a fee so that the wealthy wouldn’t need to pack up their chairs every week and bring them to church.  Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why there are Free Methodists.  Part of why the Free Methodists split from the Methodists in 1860 was because they rejected the idea of renting pews.

One large reason for the addition of seating in churches was that Protestants shifted worship away from Jesus present in the Eucharist and towards an understanding of Jesus present in his Word (i.e. the Bible).  This mostly takes place in the form of sermons on a variety of topics, as opposed to Catholics using the homily technique of only teaching about the readings for the day.  Not coincidentally does the Catholic reliance upon homily cause great consternation among Catholics on the political right.  There is not much room to talk about abortion or same sex “marriage” if one is limited to talking about the readings prescribed for the day.  The use of a sermon allows bringing in a much wider variety of biblical passages, and therefore themes politically relevant today are easier to touch upon.  To sum up, Catholics hear much less teaching on Sunday, as we focus on the consecration which requires our reverence by standing or kneeling.  Protestants are more likely to require chairs or pews because their services don’t require the physical participation of the congregation and their sermons are much longer than our homilies, so require rest.

We now enter a new phase in churches, in which the economy of a bench is giving way to the flexibility of chairs.  As Catholics view their sanctuary as sacred, it is unlikely we’ll have chairs in Catholic Churches any time soon.  The reverence necessary for the Eucharist means the Sanctuary won’t be turned over to a soup kitchen.  However, it is admirable that those without the real presence of Jesus do turn their sanctuaries into dining rooms for the hungry, as mentioned in the article.  I hope that trend continues.

More Science of Morality

In contemplating Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, we might think a science of morality is far off.  The work, however, is already under way as the above articles point out.  In the past I pointed out how science tells us to drop Facebook and reject a materialist understanding of our consciousness, and this post continues to show how the science of morality shows us some new things while substantially backing what Catholicism teaches.

The first of the three articles points out how reading great fiction works can help us develop empathy.  The first thought of Atheists when reading that should be to crack open a Bible and read.  Even the Atheist Richard Dawkins says the Bible is, “not so much on my shelves as continually off my shelves, because I open it so often: sometimes to quote it, sometimes for sheer literary pleasure — especially Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.”  This is good, as science teaches us that reading these stories, especially when read as allegory, teaches us empathy.  A fundamentalist reading of the Bible isn’t good, but Catholics aren’t fundamentalists, so science backs the fact that Scripture reading is a healthy activity.

Science tells us that to cultivate empathy, we should read our Bibles 'till the look like this.

Science tells us that to cultivate empathy, we should read our Bibles ’till the look like this.

The second article tells us that superstitious people feel better about the future than non-superstitious people.  Here science goes against the grain of religion, which teaches “Superstition in some respects represents a perverse excess of religion.”  John Paul II once said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition.  Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes”.  Sadly he is no longer correct, as science today tells us we need to multiply superstitions to maximize our sense of well being.

For good luck, after a big discovery never wash your lab coat again.

For good luck, after a big discovery never wash your lab coat again.

On the plus side, many atheists believe all religion is superstition.  Therefore the ranks of the religious will soon swell with those atheists who try to adhere to what science teaches about well being.

The third article is science about divorce.  This article is looking only at men, which limits its applicability, but it shows how horrible divorce is for men.  This contradicts our culture but fits in with Catholicism — which denies divorce is even possible.

If he thinks he's sad becoming married, wait until he becomes divorced.

If he thinks he’s sad becoming married, wait until he becomes divorced.

Science shows us that to maximize well being, we need to drastically limit divorces in our country.  It is exciting that Atheists and Catholics might get together to change our laws and drop the divorce rate.

To recap, science is already telling us what we need to do to find happiness.  Read the Bible, become superstitious, and don’t get divorced.  It only remains to be seen if Atheists simply pay lip service to science or if they will actually follow through with what science teaches and join a faith.

“I am a Person”, not “I do Personhood”

In a strange misunderstanding of person-ness, a professor at a Catholic university things dolphins might be people.

Relatedly, dogs are also seen as people by a professor at a university founded by Methodists.

The first image in my mind when someone says "two people hanging out"

Surprisingly, this is not the first image in my head when someone says, “Two people going for a swim.”

Both of these professors appear to have their conception of personhood corrupted by Capitalism, where function overtakes existence (in that the value of a person is related to how much capital they can generate).  In these articles dogs and dolphins do functions that people do (emotion and introspection, respectively), and are therefore assumed to be people.  In Capitalism and in these articles, functionality is seen as the defining characteristic of the value of a person rather than any inherent property.

In contrast to this, Catholic thought considers people to be people based on essence, not based upon capability.  Cats can walk, and people can walk, but that doesn’t make cats people because personhood is existential and not based on performance.  A human who has the brain functioning of an African Grey Parrot is still a person because we exist as persons, we don’t “do” personhood.  To say “I am a person” means my being is a person’s being and isn’t related to function — as “am” is a conjugate of “to be” rather than “to do”.

Relaxing confident in the knowledge she's still more "person" than a parrot.

Relaxing confident in the knowledge she’s still more of a person than a parrot will ever be.

Confusing who we are with what we do is one of the greatest dangers of Capitalism.  It means the wealthy, the successful, the powerful are all more “people” than the poor, the failures, and the the weak.  This view creates a hierarchy of people, where those only 3/5ths successful are only 3/5ths a person.

We all know what happens when some humans are seen are more "person" than others.

We all know what happens when some humans are seen as only 3/5ths of a person.

These are dangerous times we are living in, where some places already kill off the sick an the old at a rate nearly equivalent to the 6th leading global cause of death.  Rather than comforting those who feel they are a burden or who struggle with life, our societies agree and therefore kill them.  Death with dignity looks like this:


Not like this:


Until we throw off the dangers of Capitalism for some better system, we will face a constant struggle to remember our personhood and value come from our existence and not our contributions to society or our personal achievement.



Love in the Time of Materialism

I have noticed a trend wherein most discussion of dualism veers into Gnosticism — the soul trumping the body.  This article is about the reverse problem of dualism where the body trumps the soul.

In this tabloid story, a man considers himself “married” to a doll, and keeps another doll as a “mistress”.  This is a result of his consideration that women are, “an enormous investment of time, money, and emotion, and I’m not interested in having someone in my life who may bail at any time, or who transforms into someone unpleasant.”  In these words we can hear a man too afraid to risk anything for actual love, and so make-believes love with a bit of silicone.

It's silly to "marry" silicone.

It’s silly to “marry” silicone.

The whole story is quite disturbing because it considers the best woman as one who is without any desires of her own.  The website to order these dolls even boasting, “never complains” and “always available”.  “Marrying” dolls dehumanizes actual women by creating this evil ideal where women are simply the playthings of men.

This contrasts greatly with Catholic teaching on authentic love, which is necessary for joy in life.  A man in love goes so far as to lay down his life for those he loves.  Manly love is about sacrifice to help others and not about using people as things to meet ones own desires.  This is not love:

He stubbornly clings to his own desires and doesn’t sacrifice himself for his wife.  It is not manly love to demand others lay down their hopes for you.  Manly love reaches out beyond oneself to the other.  In doing this laying down of selfish pride to meet the needs of those we care about we paradoxically can find contentment and peace.  This sacrifice of self is why this man learned that his child with down syndrome was “the light in the darkness”, and why he ended up happy his wife had the child despite his pressuring her to abort the child’s life.  The sacrifice of true love brings us to joy.

“My body was telling me something was wrong”

I’ve talked in general about birth control, but this article lets me narrow in on a specific point: Some forms of birth control work by destroying a healthy body, and it is bad to destroy health.  While many women can destroy their health in ways that aren’t painful, some face the negative consequences as shown in this article.

This particular form of contraception involves putting one of the following in each of a woman’s two fallopian tubes:

essureThe body responds by trying to seal off the intrusive metal with tissue growth in a process that is little understood.  This tissue growth seals off the tube so that eggs both cannot be fertilized nor drop into the uterus to implant.  No wonder the articles lead source says, “My body was telling me something was wrong”.  The end result is that healthy fallopian tubes are filled with metal and tissue and damaged beyond repair.  The self mutilation is on par with Aboriginal tribes who cut holes into penises so that they leak and cannot deliver sperm unless plugged.  It is the destruction of a good and healthy body part.

It is a sad world that has men and women self mutilating their healthy bodies to find love.

Science of Morality

This first article from today’s two part special is about how scientists have shown interacting over a computer doesn’t provide the benefits of interacting in person, but instead causes harm.

Therefore, I call on Sam Harris to follow through on his Moral Landscape claims and delete his facebook page.


This second article talks about how belief in free will causes people to behave better.  The truth of free will isn’t necessary, just the belief.



Together, the two articles tell an interesting story about the development of a science of morality to replace religion.  In brief, it foreshadows that at a certain point Science might become Gnosticism.

As science around our well being develops, it will show us what helps and what hinders our enjoyment with life (as in the first article).  However, at a certain point, it might tell us that we are happiest when we don’t know what science actually says.  Take free will, for instance.  Science only measures the matter of the brain, so our thoughts are all simply synapses firing in response to stimuli.  The non-material soul provided by religion, which provides free will in Catholicism, is excluded.  Science can only offer the reduction to materialism so science might easily conclude one day that there is no such thing as free will.  However, according to the second article cited today, science also tells us that belief in free will makes our lives communally better.  These two beliefs are at odds with each other.

At that point, there are two paths to take.  Scientists could offer society the truth as found in science and we could all be worse off for believing there is no freedom of will; or scientists could lie to us, telling us we have free will even if the scientific findings say it isn’t so, so that we have a better life.  Scientists would then become like the Gnostic Priests who held back secret information about how the world really works.

Since the lies of scientists would bring us to a moral peak, I think Sam Harris would like us to be lied to.  However, abstract truth might be considered a moral good that would outweigh the pragmatic damages caused by believing we don’t have free will.  Therefore there might be a moral case for being told the scientifically determined truth despite how it could damage us.  Atheist readers, what course of action do you think is better?  How would you resolve this potential dilemma?

Sing of Mary

This is an amazing article about how individuals have multiple genomes, not just one.  The quote that provoked my thoughts on Mary is this one: “It’s pretty likely that any woman who has been pregnant is a chimera”.  This means that Mary, the mother of God, had a unique union with her son.  The two of them, in a particular sense, were one; as parts of Mary shared the cells of Jesus even after he left her womb.

The goal of Catholicism, as I have mentioned before, is union with God.  As I am fond of quoting St. Joan of Arc, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”  Mary had that oneness with God in a way that illustrates our own union with God in Communion — we become one body.

By science teaching us about this gift of Jesus to his mom, we can learn to appreciate even more Mary’s place in the Church.