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A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

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What is Love?

http://www.cleveland.com/brett/blog/index.ssf/2014/05/catholic_school_teachers_fear.html

Short answer to the billboard: Yes.

Short answer to the billboard: Yes.

This opinion piece is about the morality contract for teachers of Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Cleveland.  Teachers, whether they like it or not, are roll models for children.  They teach not just reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, but they also teach how one should live their life.  Part and parcel of a Catholic school teachers job is therefore to model the morality children are supposed to be learning in Catholic schools.

This morality is not arbitrary, but is founded on love.  Let’s look at the case the author brought up, that of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

To begin, my 7th grade science class taught me that pregnancy, “results when a mature egg is fertilized by a mature sperm” (Thanks Stanford University!).  That newly formed zygote is already either male or female; and has eye color, hair color and so forth already determined because this human zygote (soon to be embryo) has it’s own unique DNA, just like you and me.

For IVF, many eggs are harvested and fertilized, creating many embryos.  These embryos each have their own unique DNA, and if allowed the womb to grow, could become fully functioning adults.  However, many of these embryos are cryogenicly frozen in case the first attempt to implant embryos in the womb fails.  While one might be, “blessed with twin boys through in vitro fertilization”, there are many other sons and daughters that remain on ice.  

(N.B. – I use the terms “son” and “daughter” because the embryo is already either male or female through DNA, even if the respective male and female parts haven’t yet grown).

How cruel is it to make over a dozen daughters and sons when one will only raise one or two?

“What kind of church wouldn’t see that?”

Apparently the church desired by the author of this opinion piece.

In our understanding of what makes an action loving is the fulcrum of the matter.  The Catholic Church has received the teachings of love from Jesus Christ and passed them onto us. Some things didn’t exist when Jesus was around, so the Church looks at the handed down teachings and looks for whatever doesn’t contradict them to guide us in our new settings and with our new technology.  Who would doubt that it contradicts love to conceive but not raise a child?   Those people are called deadbeat dads or moms, and are justly scorned for such behavior.  Orphans are given a protected status in the Scriptures, and children created but abandoned by parents are orphans.

The protestations of some Catholics to redefine the teachings of love handed down to us from Christ are because we are ignorant of the richness of our theology.  Therefore our Catholic teachings become ungrounded and so gain the patina of arbitrarity instead of having the love which is their foundation shine forth like the dawn.

Now then, in the unlikely event the author will read this piece, I challenge her to become a more loving person so that she can make a reality of the Church becoming more loving.  I challenge her to love the 400,000 frozen up like Stallone and Snipes in Deomolition Man as much as she loves those she can see and touch.  If she and I and every Catholic manage this great love, then the Church will indeed become more loving.

Clerical celibacy could end, but should it?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/opinion/keller-sex-and-the-single-priest.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I was given the above article by a friend, and it is really quite good.  It is about the potential of Popes to end clerical celibacy.  At root this is an issue of discipline rather than dogma, so unlike issues like women priests or same sex marriage, this could actually happen.

There is, however, one misstep and one point of ignorance that I thought would be wise to clear up for readers of this blog.

This misstep is that clerical celibacy has anything to do with the horrific sexual abuse scandal.  The article states “Celibacy — by breeding a culture of sexual exceptionalism and denial — surely played some role in the church’s shameful record of pedophilia”.  While intellectually plausible it is a claim that is empirically deniable.  In fact, there is some evidence that if we wanted to reduce pedophilia, we should all be celibate, as priests abuse at a lower rate than the general population.

Moving on, the point of ignorance is about the spiritual impact of the practice of celibacy.  The article states: “John told me that if celibacy had been optional back in the ’60’s, ‘most of us would have remained in active ministry’ (although ‘most of us would also have gotten in hot water’ over other disagreements with Vatican policy).”  The subtle message this gives is that priestly celibacy is still a good idea.  If permitted sexual license, heretical priests would have stayed in the church.  This subtly suggests that by demanding celibacy, only those truly committed to the ideals of Catholic Christendom stay within the fold.

Benjamin_Franklin_by_Joseph-Siffred_Duplessis

In part, this is the Benjamin Franklin effect.  By giving up sexual intercourse priests become more attached to the Church.  The more strict the demands are, the greater the attachment.  In demanding a lot from priests, the Church ends up with priests more committed to the goals of Christianity and more willing to self sacrifice to attain those goals.  These are good things, and the article seems to ignore the point that priestly celibacy has been good for the Church in this major way.

All together then, the article seems to ignore what science has to say about celibacy in favor of populist arguments.  Science says celibacy seems to reduce sexual abuse of minors and suggests that celibacy might increase devotion of priests to the the cause of our Faith — both good things.  The article, while correct that maybe it is time to end celibacy, sadly uses some arguments that contradict this research.

Is Islam theolgically more violent than Christianity?

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/24/us-kenya-attack-idUSBRE98K03V20130924

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With great relief I can write that it appears the hostage situation in Kenya is over.  Sadly, at least 62 innocent people have died.  Because of the reports that those reciting the Muslim creed were set free, it seems appropriate to look at whether the differences theologically between Islam and Catholicism lend any more violence to Islam.

By looking at the distribution of violence, we can learn about one possible aspect of it.  The National Counterterrorism Center gave a 2011 report suggesting that extremist Sunni Muslims commit 56% of all terrorist violence and 70% of all terrorist related deaths.  Also in the report is that Muslim countries had the largest amount of attacks involving more than 10 deaths and that attacks on Christians dropped 45% since 2010.

Against this backdrop of information, we can see that the violence is predominately Sunni Muslim against other Muslims.  To help fill in the background, of the two major sects of Islam, Shias are more like Catholics and Sunnis are more like Protestants.  I say this because Shias and Catholics both believe our clergy to be divinely guided in determining the truth.  There is a sense of certainty about the truth that Protestants and Sunnis don’t share.  This works out in such a way that Shia have a stronger hierarchy than Sunni, just as Catholics have a stronger hierarchy than Protestants (of which some denominations have no hierarchy at all).  Also, Shia have an sort of intercession of the saints (limited to 14 “saints”, but still…) whereas Protestants and Sunnis don’t.  There are also many foundational similarities between Sunnis and Shias just as there are many foundational similarities between Protestants and Catholics.

From this perspective, the initial violence between Sunni and Shia can be seen as similar to the initial violence between Catholics and Protestants.  Because it took 1500 years for the Catholic-Protestant split to occur, it was much more bloody than the split between Sunni and Shia, who split almost immediately after Muhammed died.

The counterterrorism report suggests that most violence is within Sunni majority communities, but it doesn’t tell us if the deaths are predominately Sunni or Shia.  There is no substantial history of interdenominational violence among Protestants, so I would guess that what we see with the Sunni’s and Shia’s is similar: A majority Muslim community is beating up on a minority Muslim community just as majority Christian communities would beat up on minority Christian communities after the Protestants split from the Church.  This fits well with the fact Afghanistan and Iraq both have large splits in their populations and face the largest amount of attacks and deaths.

Sunni are light green, Shia are dark green

Majority Sunni are light green areas, Majority Shia are dark green areas.

This is not to suggest these branches of Islam were always at war, rather it is to suggest that Islam is no more inherently violent than Christianity.  Even in the 1920’s there was still Anti-Catholic violence going on in America, which was 400 years after the split in Christianity.  For there to be intermittent violence in 1400 years of split between Sunni and Shia makes sense against this comparison.

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Hence, from this very limited comparison, I find no reason to assume Islam is theologically more violent than Christianity, even if current Islamic practice is more violent than current Christian practice.  I am, however, open to be proven wrong.  I’ve looked at parallels between Islam and Christianity and how they have coped with internal heresy to come to this conclusion, and any analogy so broad is bound to have errors.

The dead are asleep

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-hannah-anderson-memorial-20130824,0,5767278.story

In this story, the author seems to not fully understand Catholic belief as he writes about the “memorial” service.  As Catholics, it’s up to the family do memorial services with eulogies, if it is at the church with the priest presiding, it is a Mass for the dead.  There is a very good reason for this, and it is that our faith teaches us we live in Christ even if we die.  The sacrifice of a Mass isn’t just a remembrance of things and people gone by, but a promise of meeting them again in the future by our union with Christ, who has already risen from the dead.

St. Paul dealt with the heresy that we aren’t going to live on in his first letter to the church at Corinth, so this is about as old as our faith.  It also could be seen in more modern terms as an expression of Materialism, where there is no soul to arise at the end of time.  All faith and reason teaches us our souls were made for eternity.  At the end of time, we believe everyone will rise up out of their graves.  Some will rise up having lived an earthly life desiring communion with God and their friends.  These are resurrected to a life of eternal communion (perhaps after grinding off the rough edge of hating one’s enemy by a temporary stay in purgatory).  Others dislike the impact their neighbor has on their life, as Sartre wrote “hell is other people”.   These will have what their earthy life showed they desired: solitude and lack of communion.  Truely being forever alone.  This burning loneliness is pictured with fire in our iconographic tradition, but the young kids are using the updated iconography below: