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A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Category: Gnosticism

Science of Morality

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scientists-show-facebook-is-downer

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.

no-more-facebook~~~

http://mindhacks.com/2013/09/29/the-effect-of-diminished-belief-in-free-will/

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.

free-will

~~~

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?

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Sad story of 6 year old rejected by mother.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/argentina/10339296/Six-year-old-becomes-first-transgender-child-in-Argentina-to-change-identity.html

To begin the discussion of this article, it is first important to recall what a 6 year old is capable of.  From the PBS website for child development (see also the subpage on science, and social and emotional growth):

  • “Shows ability, though not consistently, to support claims with evidence”
  • “Recognizes that a living thing has needs and that those needs must be met if the living thing is to survive”
  • “Begins to recognize that each living thing goes through a cycle that includes birth, growth and development, procreation and death.”
  • “Scientific discovery for children this age is affected by their tendency to straddle the world between make-believe and reality.”
  • “start to display an increasing awareness of their own and others’ emotions and begin to develop better techniques for self-control.”
  • “Sense of security is reliant on relationships with close adults.”
  • “Describes self based on external characteristics, such as physical attributes, name, possessions and age (e.g., says, “I am six and I have brown hair.”). Often evaluates own abilities highly (e.g., when asked if he is good at painting, he looks somewhat mystified and says, “Yes, I am a good artist.”); such evaluations can be inaccurate or based on limited views. Copes poorly with failure and does not take criticism well.”
  • Mature understanding of sexuality and sufficient reasoning to make complex sexual decisions.

Oops, that last one isn’t on the PBS website, but it is implicit in the news article.   Apparently, instead of correcting her sons mistaken notion about his masculinity when he first “started talking” (according to the article), the mother reinforced this view.  Instead of teaching her son to love his body, she taught him to reject it.

keep-calm-and-love-the-skin-you-re-in

This Gnostic like rejection of the physical world as exemplified in ones own body is bad enough, but to not correct a child who still “straddle(s) the world between make-believe and reality” seems more like abuse than acceptance of a non-standard identity.  Like never telling the child that the Easter Bunny is just a story and going along with it for their whole life, even so far as getting the government to release a statement as to the Easter Bunny’s authenticity.  How cruel!  Children at this age say all sorts of weird stuff, that doesn’t mean we should accept what they say as truth.

I don’t mean to imply that gender identity needs to be correlated to specific roles or colors.

I love a good pink tie.

I love a good pink tie.

But rather I mean that male is good.  Female is good.  We shouldn’t reject our own bodies, our own selves, and instead we should love ourselves.  We need to be who we are, and no one else.  Because of the unity between body and soul (after all, one is a singular person, not two parts stuck together) our body tells us something about our soul.  To reject this boy’s body and to go along with the fictional story that he’s really a she is to reject this boy’s person.  For a mother to reject her own six year old is quite a wicked event.  Sadly, by rejecting this boy’s masculinity, she does just that.

A tragic fall to heresy.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/church-dumps-rebel-priest-20130920-2u5jp.html

This article talks about a an ex-priest.  The article is non-chronological, so I’ll discuss the issue in chronological order and some of the important heresy related ideas.

It appears that the priest was laicised because he believed it is possible for same sex couples to engage in marriage and that it is possible for women to be priests.  Both of these misunderstand the nature of male and female, which is one of the major errors of our day.  The core of both heresies held by this ex-Catholic is that male and female are interchangeable, the feminine is no different from the masculine.  Hence male and female aren’t necessary categories for understanding the Sacraments of Marriage or Holy Orders.

Postgenderism as expressed in the TV show Vexed.

Postgenderism as expressed in the TV show Vexed.

In the extreme it means no longer being able to recognize the difference between male and female.  From The Dialectic of Sex, “[The] end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself.”  I have reservations about this former priest going all the way into postgenderism and the elimination of all distinction, but he does make the first steps in that direction.

This is heretical because it is a type of dualism that divides the body from the soul.  The body is no longer the instantiated soul, but something set off from and divided from the soul.  In this mindset, the body becomes a lesser thing than the soul, and one might therefore see how the Church would be opposed to such a denigration of the human person as a whole.  Creation is good and sanctified by God himself who stepped into creation.  Jesus shows us the value of the material world by existing as a person, in a physical body.  To deny our physical bodies is to deny the value of the physical world.  To say our masculinity or femininity is not part of who we are as people is to reject the meaningfulness of our physicality.

Humans come in two flavors: Male and Female.

Humans come in two flavors: Male and Female.

Hopefully there are no priests who deny the value of so great a good as matter.  The fact this ex-priest denied that good by denying the good of male and female bodies shows how rightfully he was laicised and his abilities to effect the Sacraments curtailed.  It is not good to have a pastor who is so far astray himself.  Catholics have a right to authentic Church teaching in the Mass, and this man was unrepentantly no longer doing that.

body-of-christ

In addition, this now ex-preist was not satisfied denying the physical world, he proceeded to deny Jesus himself.  As St. Joan of Arc proclaimed, “About Jesus Christ and the Church I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”  To continue to give homilies and say Mass was to deny the authority of Jesus Christ as expressed through his body, the Church; which took away those privileges in the laicisation process.  The willful denial of Jesus Christ is a very grave matter, because it cuts to the quick of Christianity.  Why masquerade as a Christian if one denies Christ?  The Church codified this rejection of Jesus in an excommunication, so he might more clearly see where his actions were taking him.

St. Mary MacKillop, pray for us.

St. Mary MacKillop, pray for us.

Far from being excommunicated like St. Mary MacKillop, for false allegations of alcohol abuse; This man was excommunicated for something he admits is true: denying the Church.  His disdain for the Body of Christ oozes through when he says, “In times past excommunication was a huge thing, but today the hierarchy have lost such trust and respect”.  I could understand a non-Catholic or badly formed Catholic thinking such things, but someone with his education should understand how big a deal it is to be cut off from the Jesus Christ himself.  It goes to show how far he has fallen theologically, and it is quite tragic that even the dramatic step of excommunication cannot reawaken his understanding.  It is a pitiable man who leans so firmly upon his own thoughts that he is no longer held up by all the hands of those before us — the continuity of believers. Such a person is bound to fall because we are designed to live in communion.

The communion of Saints

The communion of Saints who have gone before us.  I want to be like them!

Dear Reader, to close, please pray for Greg Reynolds: that he might learn how wonderful our bodies (both female and male) are, and thereby return himself to Christ present on this earth in the communion of his followers.

Germany: where one can be any religion as long as one is atheist in practice.

http://www.wnd.com/2013/09/all-outdoor-christmas-decorations-banned/

The heresy in this article is focused around the following sentence by Social Democratic Party Councilor Martin Becker: “Why should religious festivals be celebrated in public?”  This brings us back to the mystery religions and Gnostics which flourished during the Pax Romana.

A central focus of both the mystery religions and gnosticism is that there is a secret knowledge about faith that is held back from all non-believers.  Scientology is a good modern example of a faith where the truth of their beliefs are slowly revealed over time.  Masonry is another, where each degree progressed grants access to more of the organizations beliefs.

Some see all religion in this same way.  Faith is a secret matter between God and his believers.  From this mindset, it is easy to think there is no reason any religious act should have any component of publicity.

Christianity (as well as Islam and some other faiths) stands in sharp contrast to this.  While in the early years of Christianity it was necessary to keep some secrets (such as the Sacrament of the Eucharist) from unbelievers, this was done out of fear of persecution rather than as a necessary component of faith.  The command of Jesus was for Catholics to make disciples of all nations and to teach them all that Jesus taught.  All of the Church teachings are public, right on the Vatican’s website.  While priests are taught more in-depth (roughly 7 years of schooling, similar to a medical doctor), they are not taught anything different from what the laity are taught (again, similar to a doctor).

This transparency of belief is to be lived out in transparency of life (we aren’t dualists, so belief and action are intertwined).  Our belief in God is the bedrock of who we are, the core definition of ourselves: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  The other aspects of our identities become subsumed into our Christian identity.  To not live out ones faith in a public manner would be equivalent to not living out ones gender or race in a public manner.  Our belief is expressed in our actions.

Next on the legal chopping block, gender reveal cupcakes.

Why should gender of a child be celebrated in public?  Is it time to ban gender reveal parties?

It is a bold claim to state Christian belief is as foundational as gender or race, so let’s look deeper at that claim to see why Christians believe it to be the case.  We believe we have life as a gift from God.  In our sin, we reject God, the source of our life.  Therefore, because we cut ourselves off from the source of life in our sins, we deserve the natural consequence of that, which would be death.  If one cuts a river off from the spring that feeds it, the river dies — so too with our life, we die if we are cut off from the source of life.  Jesus came to fulfill our naturally required death and to therefore restore us to life.  By becoming one person with Jesus, he partakes of the death we deserve and we partake in the resurrection has brought about.  As St. Augustine wrote, “Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself.”  The Christian and Christ are made one.

If we are one with Christ, to conceal that oneness would be similar to concealing other core parts of who we are.  Shall we hide wedding rings as we are also made one with our spouses?

Out of concern for non-married people,

Out of concern for offending single people, “Why should marriage be celebrated in public?”

That Christianity is such a core aspect of identity exposes one of the dangers in confusing freedom of religion (where one can be any religion or none at all, and express those beliefs openly) and freedom from religion (where one can be any religion or none at all, as long as one only expresses being none at all).  We should all have a right to express who we are and how we define ourselves, whether that identity be Christian, German, Gay, or Construction Worker — we should be free to express how we define ourselves.  To be forced to conceal our identity out of concern for others opinions is a dangerous precedent to set.

The only acceptable haircuts in Germany.  Oops, I mean North Korea.

The only acceptable haircuts in Germany North Korea.

Pope Hats

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/08/pope-francis-pontiff-catholic-editorial

This editorial ticked a pet peeve of mine: making comments on the pope’s hat and home: “But the mood music is altogether different and not just because of his personal charm and the decision to eschew all the fancy ecclesiastical haberdashery and grand palaces”.

Only European Imperialists hate this papal hat.

Only European Imperialists hate this papal haberdashery.

At root of this distrust of papal hats is the heresy of dualism.  The physical world isn’t seen as connected to the spiritual, and the particular heresy in this article has a gnostic bent because it sees hats (which are part of the world) as as bad.

The Catholic lens for seeing these things is that external clothes indicate a spiritual truth.  For instance, the Papal Triple Crown (last worn in 1963):
Triple-Crown
Rather than a sign of papal opulence, the crown shows how the pope (like all the baptised) partakes of Christ’s triple role of Priest, Prophet, and King.  Historically it was particularly important in showing those with only one crown (Kings) that they didn’t have authority over the Church.  At various points in history, States regularly attempt to dictate to the Church what she should believe or who should be in charge of her.  Even today China suppresses the Church by choosing Bishops instead of the Pope. If Pope Francis met President Xi Jinping wearing the Triple Crown, perhaps it might influence China to restore freedom to the Church because China would see outwardly how important it is to us inwardly.

The pope’s miter also has spiritual significance:

Pope-Francis

It is a sign of his office of Bishop, and these outward signs are much like how Prince Harry has a hat and clothes to denote his office in the military:

Move along girls, he's too much of a bad boy to be marriage material.

Move along girls, he’s too much of a bad boy to be marriage material.

Using clothes to denote who we are internally has been studied extensively by sociologists.  The seminal work was The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman.  We all use aspects of our clothing to tell our life story because we are all human:  our souls and bodies together make up who we are.  This aspect of ourselves is what makes it easy to tell a hipster from a jock, or a cowboy from a gangster.  In our daily life, we don’t live as dualists, so it seems foolish to me that a writer would expect a Pope to live up to a heresy any more non-Catholics live up to a heresy.  The “haberdashery” is an indicator of who the pope is.  Any change is not superfluous or merely external, but an indicator of his nature.

Because the popes nature has been transformed by his ordination to be the very vicar of Christ, he deserves (by his nature, not necessarily by his actions) the best we can offer.  If he chooses anything less than that, it indicates personal humility.  If he chooses to accept our best (and maybe wears that triple crown again!), it indicates to us the change in nature he has undergone.  Either way it is a teaching moment to us.

The PostSecret Confessional

http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/us/postsecret-police-search

Used Without Permission From: http://www.postsecret.com/

Used Without Permission From: http://www.postsecret.com/

I enjoy PostSecret quite a bit.  It nicely reveals the deep needs of people.  It’s authenticity of feeling usually provides rich ground for contemplation.  The site in general, and this particular secret, shows the need people have for confession.

Confession is a sacrament that Protestants removed  because of the focus on individualism (brought about by the philosophy of Ockham).  This emphasis worked itself out in a type of dualism that goes back to the Gnostics — the world and physical things are bad, the spiritual is good.  One outcome of this dualism is the destruction of sacred art.  For instance, in all of Scotland all medieval stained glass (excepting four small coats of arms tucked away in a private chapel) was destroyed by Protestant Reformers.  The distrust of physical things works with individualism to remove the physical element of confession.  Confession was reduced to an individual asking pardon from God in total seclusion and even possibly without spoken words.

Web sites like PostSecret show that this extreme individualism isn’t who people are.  We aren’t called to be solitary individuals, but we are called to communion.  We have a longing in our hearts to confess in a physical as well as spiritual form and therefore we need a person to confess to God through.  This urge of communion causes some to confess their sins to others via PostSecret.

Further, confession to others makes sense because we are both body and soul.  Sacraments all have corporal and spiritual aspects because recognize a total person, body as well as soul.  By removing the physical aspect of confession, Protestantism denies our physical body and keeps us from confessing with our whole self.  Any attempt to confess with one’s whole self is, because of our body/soul nature, bound to include a physical component.

Consequently, by attempting to take communion out of the act of confession (by removing the physical element), Protestantism resulted in eradicating wholeheartedness from confession (by allowing only the spirit and not whole person to confess).

Enhanced Punishment is Death

http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2013/08/enhanced-punishment-can-technology-make-life-sentences-longer/

In seeking to find punishment for criminals, the above article expresses an heretical view held by the Valentinians, who were Gnostic in nature.  Their leader, Valentinus, lived around the year 150.  The core of his system of thought is that we are chained to this physical world, and Christ came to free us from that so we could be solely spiritual.  In his dualist idea of the world matter is evil, spirit is good, and through a special knowlege we can be freed from matter.

In the article, the special knowledge is Science, and it might one day free prisoners from their bodies by uploading their consciousness to computers.  The writer of the article suggests we do this so that we might punish criminals for much longer lengths of time than a body can survive.

The separation of body and soul to better punish the soul is based in heresy because Catholics believe the body and soul together make up the human.  Separation of body and soul is death.  Therefore, an uploaded mind is just a simulation of the real deal, because it is missing its body.  Running simulations does not enforce justice.  Similar to running simulations of a person to punish them would be to take their dead body and torture it to punish the person.  The person is dead, body and soul have been sundered, so beating up upon a dead body does no punishment just as beating up a computer simulation does no punishment.

In our world often follow this Valentinian ideal and think it is the mind that makes the person.  Our Catholic faith has been fighting this for over 1850 years, and sees the body as no less important in the make up of a person than the mind.

That’s what I was going to say!

http://spectator.org/archives/2013/08/23/christies-shaky-signing

Sometimes my work is done for me, and the above post is one example.  Governor Christie’s signing into law a bill to ban helping those who experience same sex attraction does express our countries increasing fondness for the heresy of gnostic dualism.  As the article states, it “confirms the growing gnostic assumptions about human reality, enshrining feelings and impulses as sacred, while instrumentalizing the human body”.

Gnostic dualism splits the person apart into body and soul.  In this particular article, it sees the soul as “feelings and impulses”, which is a bit different from historic gnosticism, which saw the soul as mainly knowledge and will.  Regardless, the soul needs to triumph over the body, which is why the article talks about “instrumentalizing the human body”.  For Gnostics, the body is a thing to subject to the soul, because the body is material and therefore imperfect.  While I doubt modern dualists would say the body is imperfect, there does seem to be a clear understanding that the body needs to match the soul, and never vice versa.  So with the Pill, the soul doesn’t want children, so the body must be made sterile.  Or with people who are transgendered, the soul dictates what the body should look like.  This even is true with most cosmetic surgeries, which don’t restore damage from an accident but rather take away the signs of how old the soul is.

That said, the article might go too far in their support for conversion therapy.  Science seems to suggest an epigenetic component to homosexuality.  Recognizing what a body is and what its desires are is important.  One shouldn’t follow Marge Simpson’s advice:

“It doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know. It’s what shows up on the outside that counts. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you’re almost walking on them. And then you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you. And happiness will follow.”

This would be to take dualism too far in the other direction, where the body dictates everything to the soul.  It is the heresy of Materialism, which places the whole of a person in the body and excludes the soul as a source of truth.

To attain the middle between Gnostic and Materialistic dualism, the Church teaches that “Homosexual persons are called to chastity” (CCC 2359).  They aren’t called to change their attractions, but to have the Courage to live chaste lives, just as all people are.  Priests sometimes talk about the “Sublimation” of their personal desires.  Because priests are people, they have sexual urges.  The approach used is not to push that urge away (which might make the urge express itself in an impure way), but to recognize the urge for what it is, and then use that sexual energy in another and holier way; such as to go for a run, or do some repairs around the rectory, or pray.  In this way, priests can be authentic to who they are while dissipating that energy in a positive way.  The body is recognized for it’s influence, the soul is recognized for its influence, and the person as a whole acts in a pure manner.

Cissexism means we love our bodies and souls together

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/17888-not-everyone-who-has-an-abortion-is-a-woman-how-to-frame-the-abortion-rights-issue

This article says that we discriminate when we consider a body as meant to go along with a soul.   It is cissexist (cis-, meaning from the same side [the opposite of trans-]; and sexist, to discriminate based upon sex).  To assume a body and a soul match gender is therefore discriminatory and unjust.

To me, this sounds a lot like Gnosticism.  Marcion (born 85 – died160), a self-styled “Christian Gnostic”, believed that the world is quite evil.  We can get away from this evil by coming to knowledge (gnosis in Greek, hence the word Gnostic) of who we are and of who God is.  One major consequence of this is that Gnostics believe God would never debase himself by taking on this evil fleshy and physical existence we have.  This denial that Christ became like us in all things but sin is why Gnosticism is a heresy.

If matter is evil and doesn’t match our true spiritual self, then it becomes obvious that the matter needs to be changed.  This is because matter is the bad evil part of a person, not the good holy part, and therefore the bad part should be made to match the good part.  Here is where we get transexuals (and hence from the article, “men” who might abort their offspring).  The knowledge of who they “really” are trumps the corrupted body, which doesn’t match this supposed truth.

Contrast this with the Christian vision: that God made the world good, and men and women very good.  The fall of humans through sin corrupted the world, but did not destroy its inherent goodness.  This means we are who we are supposed to be, and no one else.  This is a truth Christians have inherited from our Jewish ancestors in the faith.  Rabbi Zusya once said, “When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ Rather he will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”  Our teleological end is to be ourselves, and that is what God desires of us.  I don’t need to be St. Francis (or any other holy person) to get into heaven, I need to be me.  If I faithfully lived out the life of St. Francis, I doubt I would make it to heaven because I am not called to be St. Francis, I am called to be me.

Your body could be considered an enfleshment of your soul, or an ensoulment of your flesh.  You are one person with two aspects of that one personhood.  To deny the bodily part of you, to say things like “I’m really a skinny person” or “I’m really the opposite gender” or “I’m really a different race”, is to deny who you are.  Your body is just as worthy as your soul, because they are both aspects of the one you.  I happen to have the body of a male, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also have a soul that enjoys “The Princess Diaries II“.  I do best to deny neither part of me, but to accept the whole me.

I therefore see cissexism as a badge of honor, we should all be cissexist.  I accept the whole person, and don’t exclude their physical parts.  I am not a Gnostic who believes your body is evil and should be rejected, but rather a Christian who will embrace the whole you.  For some 1900 years Catholics have embraced the whole person, it’s sad to see some aspects of Gnosticism still around today, still rejecting who people are.