Thursday, May 24, 2012

Refuting What I Deem As Silliness Part 1

I know, it's another one of THOSE posts. I'll try at least to be brief, but the general lack of "mind" the post-modern (or modern, depending on whom you speak with) displays is astounding. I saw this today:

This sort of thing makes me, sometimes, irrationally angry (to borrow a term from a friend) because it recognizes no nuance and clearly doesn't understand what the Church teaches. I mean the Catholic Church (which is more than just the Latin Rite by the by), because Protestants are more scrambled and less unified, so their answers reflect this. All of these points made by whomever wrote this are, in fact, refutable. They are VERY refutable. So, I will just go through each one and attempt to do just that.

1. If Jesus did not mention a subject, it cannot be essential to his teaching.
First of all, this is actually a fairly silly way to look at religious teaching in general. Lots of specific cases are not mentioned, because it is already hard enough reading Leviticus as it is (or any deep holy book, really). Can you imagine if the Bible had actually come down from the sky in fullness with a full summary of everything mankind would have to deal with past, present, and future? That would be a book big enough for me to climb and far too large for me to make out the words but from space. It would be as insane to conceive of as my hyperbolic description of it was. I, honestly, have no idea where that came from.

Christians, specifically Catholics and Orthodox, do not believe that about the Bible in the least. The idea is that the books of the Bible were written by authors inspired by God who used them as a vessel to communicate with people through words. These books were then gathered and compiled by equally inspired people who put them in a certain order after lots of thought, prayer, and discussion. Remember, Tradition predates the Scriptures. Scripture is necessarily the product of Tradition, the people would still have believed as they did, even if no one thought of writing anything down. This is true of both the Old and New Testaments. Also, please note that, just because they were not as scientifically or medically advanced as we are, doesn't mean that they are ignorant nor stupid. Acting as though the compilation of the Bible was done haphazardly done by idiot ancients is a slap in the face of history and pays little respect to the people who got us to where we are now. No one would be here without the ancients, so it is about time we showed a little respect and decorum.

So, since the Bible is not a book that was written covering every possible scenario (as it did not fall from the sky in a perfect form) we have to use what we learn from the Bible and Tradition to figure out how to approach various problems that arise in different epochs. The issue that this picture is talking about is Gay Marriage, because that is one of the hot button issues of the day, but thinking that no direct mentioning of homosexuality or various other sins means it isn't essential to his teaching is silly.

Remember, when Christ was on Earth, his first mission was to those who would already understand what he was talking about. If he showed up in Greece or Meso-America, the concepts of sin and repentance would have needed explanation. I don't mean that these people did not right from wrong, they did mostly, but the Jewish understanding of such things was actually rather revolutionary as most ancient religions just said that the world was simply the way it was. Jews and later Christians actually placed blame somewhere other than chance or the gods. Humanity was at fault for our current state of affairs and it was due to our ancestors committing foolish acts that brought sin into the world. Back then, that was entirely revolutionary.

People have trouble thinking in those terms, because they have heard or, rather more often, misheard what sin and redemption are in Christian terms. The Western World is a product of the Christian beliefs that their ancestors accepted and developed. What we have now, that other countries are just getting to, are a result of that background.

Anyway, Jewish theology and religion, as it developed, looked less and less like the religions that it had sprung up around. There was something quite odd happening with those people and Christ came to the people who would better understand and receive his message first. It is hard for him to dialogue with people who have different definitions for different terms.

So, the next question was what was Christ's message? Well, it appears that his focus was on repentance, learning to love God with everything, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is, arguably, one of the reasons he hung around the "sinners" of his contemporary Jewish society. Those were the people who really needed his message. He himself says this a few times. He came for the lost, not those who had an okay grip on things.

If those things were his focus, and we can admit that not every possible problem that will arise would necessarily be addressed, then we have to realize that, in calling for repentance, Christ was telling people to "Sin no more." His people, the Jews, had a true concept of this, one that the rest of the world was soon to receive. They had many laws that had been passed down way before Christ was born, and he would (besides the fact that he was God) have known about these laws. He tells people that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Does that sound like someone who is going to encourage people to do something believed to be a sin?

Now, about Leviticus (and Deuteronomy). I want to reiterate that the Bible was not compiled as books just popped out there. There was discussion, argument, etc. Just because people more often held mystical beliefs back then does not mean they were meatheads, though some SURELY were. The books (remember the Bible isn't just ONE BOOK, it is many) were written and placed in a certain order with a purpose. The Bible is also filled to the brim with many a literary genre. Not understanding this fact will not let you understand what the Scriptures are, nor what it took to compile it. The entire Bible is not meant to be taken literally, that is a fallacy that many Christians early on and many Protestant ones have fallen into (though it is worth nothing that their usage of literalism is selective).

Leviticus is a book of Law for the Hebrews as God's first people. It drags along with various stipulations, many of which are repeated and elaborated on in Deuteronomy. There were many specific rules that were all a part of helping the Jews be set apart. A notion Christians would later take as being a City on the Hill.

However, there are also many laws that were in Leviticus that were not simply laws for the Jews, they were natural laws, such as those involving sex being both procreative and unifying, something naturally lacking in homosexual relationships throughout all ages. Current homosexual erotic relationships have to have some money to conceive a child in unconventional ways or adopt in order to do something that will usually happen naturally in an heterosexual union (preferably in a marriage). Before we go on, let's note here and now that I am not saying that homosexual erotic love is not a reality or that what the people feel isn't real. That isn't even what the discussion is about. We feel lots of things, but that does not mean that we have to act on said feelings or, even more, that these feelings are what define us as human persons made in the image of God. The fact simply is, naturally speaking, homosexual couples cannot have children. (notice I don't blanket it on all those with SSA because some get into heterosexual marriages and conceive children that way)

That fact is a natural one and irrefutable. The reason why the Church still follows the Ten Commandments, but not all of the laws of Leviticus, is not because they just wanted to pick and choose like many people have desired to do through all ages, but rather because they are rooted in reason. Natural Law is all that we can deduce about proper conduct just from using our reason. Thus, murder etc. are wrong. So, in the Church's eyes, homosexuality is disordered because it takes the good of sexual desire and misaligns it. Everyone is aware that people can become infatuated or fall in love with things that it would be inordinate to be in love with. This is further tied to the fact that sexual congress is, on even an evolutionary level, used for the production of children. Other uses for sex evolved, but the core of it is still in passing on genes to a new generation and raising them up. That is the first and most important aspect. Homosexual congress clearly does not line up with this, and so must be disordered in some way. (Christians go further in the discussion of Chastity, but that is for another blog)

For a really good succinct explanation of why Catholics don't follow EVERY law in Leviticus go here:

A final note in this line of thought, Christ came to enhance our understanding of the law and often did things that the strict Pharisees disagreed with but, because of who He was, he was able to better define the law into the spirit behind these laws. (also, some of those laws were matters of discipline more than matters of sin. Is everything that is against any set of laws necessarily a sin? No.)

Now, my final point is this: the Bible, as I have shown, was not dropped in a complete form upon the heads of unwitting Jews. The same thing is true of the New Testament. The writers of the Gospels, which chronicle important aspects of Jesus' life in a condensed fashion, did not write those full accounts down until they were fairly old. It was done to combat heresy a lot of the time. Read the beginning of Luke to see this (he tells the dude he is writing that these are the really big points that happened so he knows the truth of the eyewitnesses).

Also, note that the Gospels were not biographies in the sense that we think of them now. They reported the facts, but focused more on a person's essence than reporting everything in supreme detail. The disciples likely took notes while Jesus was their rabbi, but it is obvious enough to know that those notes would be different, because different people remember and focus on different things. The points where they agreed on were probably the most essential, and one of the most essential parts of Christ's ministry was telling people to turn away from their sins. He told the woman at the well, who had been treating marriage like a hobby (joking), to go and sin no more. Turn away from that life.

So, what does that mean? Well, it means that every single, word-for-word, instance of Christ teaching or rebuking something is not going to be recorded and the goal of the Gospels was not to uncover every single stone. It was, instead done to show what was witnessed and done in a more condensed fashion than some of the biographies we read today. That said, what biography is going to be word-for-word, action-for-action, complete? People are going to remember different things, forget things, etc. Expecting ALL what Christ said and is foolish. A couple of the Gospels even have verses where they claim that Christ did this and many other wonders. They clearly saw more, but did not want to write for that long. They didn't have computers then, you guys!

Now, to wrap this up, here are the major points:

1. The Bible is not believed to have suddenly appeared in perfection with all questions answered. That is simply an improper way to view scripture.

2. You need to properly understand (though I am not perfect at this myself) what Christ's message was and take into account that the first people he brought it to were people with concepts that they could readily attach to what he was saying (though, again, done imperfectly. The disciples were often like WTF, Jesus?) Christ message wasn't simply a lazy "love" that accepts everything people do as okay, but rather a turning a way from such thinkings and learning to truly love. Abandoning sin and learning to live as we should. It is a message of the complete alteration of the self into what it is suppose to be. If you think Jesus was just like, be nice and "love" everyone, you have not read the right scriptures.

3. Understanding how the Bible was compiled, respecting the ancient compilers, and learning to distinguish between laws that really had to do with a man's soul and those of discipline are essentially to understand any of the Church's view on things. Christ did things that were "anti-Sabbath" but simply redefined them to help the people understand more. We know that fish does not ruin your soul, and neither do your clothes. In fact, in the words of 'Ye, "the prettiest people do the ugliest things." Many of those laws were not essential to the salvation of the soul. So, the Church had to form a new understanding with the advent of the Holy Spirit. (see: the Circumcision issue in the NT)

4. Natural law is often used by the Church to determine what is ethically acceptable or what is in proper order to its purpose etc.

5. Expecting every single word of a two year period to be exactly written down shows a misunderstanding of what Scripture is and a misunderstanding of what it is to be human. The Church wasn't expecting every single thing to be written down, but instead used what had been traditionally taught to see what Scriptures were inspired or not. Every single thing he addressed is not likely to make it into the writings, but a lot of really big important stuff is.

That's all I have for now! This is gonna be a multi-parter!


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Secular Law and the Christian

I would like to preface this post with the following: the United States was a secular government from its conception and the whole "under God" thing in the pledge and on our money was the result of an attempt to separate the US from Communist Eastern Europe. Additionally, most of the Founding Fathers were deists and did not believe in God truly interacting with His Creation. Franklin and Jefferson are prime examples of this.

Logically speaking, this means that what the Church says about anything does not matter to the American government, right or wrong. Most of the governments of the Western world are of this slant.

Now, here is what grinds my gears: As Christians, we are called to be in the world but not off it. We are also told to live justly under the laws set before us by secular governments we live under. So, whatever the laws end up being, we are to abide by them.

Here is the next issue, the United States in a Democratic-Republic where everyone is supposed to get their voice out there through various government officials. Whenever we vote, it is with the hope that, if our person gets elected, they will help steer our government in a direction we find desirable. For many liberals, this means that the Democrats need to be in power while most conservatives think that the Republicans need to be in power.

Whomever you believe is best suited to run the country is a decision that must be made based on one's beliefs, convictions, and conscience. As a Catholic, if you are as faithful to the Church as we all hope to be, this will put you into several binds.

First of all, you cannot vote in favor of things you find dubious or against your conscience. That would be ludicrous. Many people will do this out of pressure from the outside and internal struggles, but that really is not what is best for the soul. We are at our best when I hearts, bodies, minds, souls, and spirits are in proper relation to each other. People may disagree on what this relation is, but the fact remains that human happiness and health are connected to this fact.

The next bind comes in the fact that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love God with all our heart. The question is, what is it to love one's neighbor? The Ten Commandments give us a good starting point, and we can relate back to them in an effort to choose rightly, but there is still going to be a tension. Part of loving is being merciful and helping the oppressed. Part of loving God is going to be deploring sin and doing one's best to (with God's grace) rid one's self of sin and to help others, whether or not they are striving to do the same, do the same.

So, when it comes to our political practices, like voting, we have a lot to consider. These decisions should and will weigh heavily on us.

Now, let's look at a few hot button issues: abortion and gay marriage.

With abortion, we are clearly defending the right of an innocent, at least in our minds and hearts this is how we feel. To our opposition we are depriving a woman of the right to choose having children. No matter what, I know I will always vote against it, but I now would like to address the charge that we keep women from choice.

Pro-Choice is a misnomer and, as Sartre would say, a sign of an inauthentic life. The fact is, we are free no matter what the government says or does, right or wrong. A law being put in place that prohibits something no more deprives you of choice than parents telling their child they cannot date. Whether it is done in secret or with the full blessing of the law or one's parents. The choice will always remain, a law certainly does not change that or free-will is not a real thing.

Legislation disallowing abortions would make the decision that much harder, but it does not eliminate the possibility. Surely, most of us have been human long enough to realize that, in the very least.

This argument can be brought up with birth control as well. We will vote against or struggle against things that force us against our Church, but it does not eliminate the ability to choose to use birth control.

By the by, insurance being provided by employers is not, in fact, a right guaranteed by the Constitution. It is a wonderful, helpful privilege. Not all employers even provide that. I worked a full-time job at a small car shop for a full year and we had no insurance. We were on our own.

Now, for gay marriage. Christians are going to tend towards voting against it because we believe that ENGAGING in homosexual behavior is a sin. The attraction itself is uncontrolled and attraction itself is so complex in how it is formed it is foolish to blame someone for those inclinations. You are not condemned for having the inclination (and please do not site Jesus using hyperbole to counteract this).
However, choosing to engage or add those sorts of sexual relationships to your life is an offense.

This is still a sin, whether or not you are a part of the Church. In our view, these laws stem from natural and divine law, and it applies to all. So, that means we cannot show support for certain lifestyles. Don't get me wrong, this does mean we show hatred and do not love those engaging in said lifestyles, we just cannot give our blessing to it. It is great that you are happy, but we have something that will actually give you the happiness you look for. It is found within God. It takes a long time to grow accustomed to the fruit and life of Heaven, but it will be far worth it. Everything is much larger on the inside of the Church than you think. But, we have to be prepared to give things up.

So, I cannot vote for gay marriage as gay marriage. For the Christian, there really is no such thing. It is affirmed in the New Testament and evident in natural law that the primary purpose of a marriage is to sire and raise the next generation. People with natural inhibitors to this aspect of marriage, like those who cannot conceive, can still live in a holy marriage and are likely excellent candidates for adoptive parents. They may not be able to have children that are of their own blood, but they can certainly benefit children who are not.

The fact is, gay relationships are, naturally speaking, a dead-end. If the wording troubles you, think of it this way: for humans to be born, both the male and female must be united (egg and sperm), so it follows that naturally homosexual relationships will not produce progeny. They cannot naturally do so. We do have technology that can change this, but it is technology that I worry objectifies people more than anything. It is nice that someone can donate sperm to couples who cannot conceive, but there seems to be an underlying danger there. There are people who donate sperm often and have a bunch of children they do not know about. There seems to be something wrong with that picture. Sure, we are use to women raising kids on their own, but that is not the ideal. Also, using someone else sperm or egg seems to be bringing a third person into what is supposed to be a union of two.

Anyway, it is not something we can advocate. However, I think, since our government is secular and the Church and State are supposed to be separate, that civil unions should have similar rights to marriage. I am not married, so I am unaware of what the rights are, but I am plenty aware that those unions do not, in the Christian view, constitute what marriage truly is. This fact is why many Christians vote against gay marriage and that is not a bigoted or hateful view. I tired of people approaching such discussions with a chip on their shoulder and deeming anything they don't agree as hateful. It makes no sense, and I feel as though we can at least be sensible and just in such discussions.

So, the Christian is stuck between a rock and a hard place. We are citizens of the City of God, but we still live in the secular, post-modern world. We have to stand for our beliefs and live them out, and this seems to require us to get spat at and called hateful because we do not wish to condone choices that are actually more harmful to a person than they realize. It is as the Gospel said, is it not?


Monday, May 21, 2012

Bl3nding and The Iron Giant

I am currently listening to a song by the artist formerly known as Ton3x. It's called "Bl3nd" and appears on one of his last gospel records, before he completely gave into secularism. He now goes by B. Slade and still makes great music, but I feel like something is lost in it.

In any case, that is not what I want to focus on. I want to deal with the philosophical implications of this song. The message of the song is fairly simple: just be yourself and love yourself. It is a common message we hear these days, and there is a certain amount of truth in the idea. Don't worry about if you stand out a bit and don't spend your life just trying to blend in with people and losing yourself in the process.

I find that my reaction to this philosophy to be quite mixed. I do believe that you should be who you are and love yourself (doing so will surely be useful when you have to learn to love your neighbors and love the Lord Our God). You were created to be who you are.

I find the conflict I have about this philosophy is that it is one that necessary begs the question, a common logical fallacy. Unlike my wonderful girlfriend (hey, hannah), I would rather thoughts be followed to their logical conclusion than to just be rhetorically wonderful. This isn't to say that I do not enjoy good rhetoric, I just would rather be told the truth even if it is done terribly. Also, this is not an indictment on Hannah, she just is not as staunch about such things as I am.

So, what is the question that is hanging behind this "be yourself and love yourself" philosophy? It is probably more than one, but the most obvious one to mind mind is this: How do you know who you are? With this thought come others like: 'how do I know when I am being authentic?' 'What is it to be authentic?' The list, honestly, could go on for miles.

This question is especially important for the Christian. What does the Faith teach on the matter of who we are? There are some quick and dirty answers, like the fact that we are created in the image of our Creator, we are to love others and love God, and meant for connecting with our creator through worship.

However, there is a flip side to all of this, and that is the doctrine of the Fall. Adam's felix culpa is an event that shook the entirety of Creation in the view of the Church. With mankind's Fall, the entire game changed and suddenly things were not as they should be. The risk of having to cast mankind from Paradise was a very real thing from the moment we had the life of our Creator breathed into us. When mankind became mankind, however the creation process went, there was always that possibility that the silly creatures we are would ruin what was already Good.

Laying aside issues like the idea that the goodness that we can achieve now is of stronger stuff than the original paradisal good, it can be said that the fact that we call it the Fall indicates that we are not as we should be. Indeed, from a Christian point of view (inherited from God's original chosen, the Jews) it seems important to note that the entire story of all history is highlighted by God's attempts to restore humanity to its rightful place and relation to Himself.

I have heard it said that the whole story of mankind's redemption, with the climax being the Cross, is a story of mankind recovering from a terminal illness that only recently, in relation to our universe, was able to be fully cured.

Taking that metaphor a bit further, a sick person is not as they should be. Whatever sickness a person may contract in this life, it is a sign that something within the body has gone awry. Something is horribly wrong. A psychological disorder signifies damage to the brain and the soul and requires treatment to get it out. There is a reason Christ is also referred to as the Doctor of Our Souls.

So, as I have laid out just now, humanity has the illness of sin that is the world's worst Sexually Transmitted Disease. We pass it to our children, whether we like it or not, and try to fix it in various fashions (human and supernatural).

Now, I want to go back to the "be yourself, love yourself" philosophy. I have admitted that there is a lot of truth in the philosophy, but that it ultimately begs the question. I also think it is apparent, from what I have said about Christian belief on the state of mankind, that we truly are not ourselves yet. A healthy man does not need a doctor, but a sick one certainly does. The existence of evil itself and the misuse of our free will is constantly affirming that we are sick.

Christians believe that Christ is the cure to this sickness (being Catholic, I believe this "Christ Medicine" is administered through the various established sacraments) and, as I have said, the fact that we are sick means things are not working as they should be. So, if you tell someone to be themselves, what are you really saying?

In our society, this is usually used to sweep our various faults under the rug. At least, that is how it seems to me. I mean, the way our society says we should love and accept ourselves seems to glorify the faults. My father is a prime example of this, for he is known to say that he is simply the way he is and that's it. He leaves no room for growth. It saddens me that he has blocked himself in that way, but it is his choice and there is little that I can do about it.

This way of thinking reeks of materialism and fatalism, and I am not referring to the materialism of the mall rat, I am referring to philosophical materialism. The philosophy that claims that everything that there is is nothing but the physical world. A tight circle for many a madman. The logic in it is sound, until one realizes that it keeps you from even thinking or believing because there is no you. But, I digress.

Here is the point, materialism and fatalism both mean that there is no choice in the matter on who a person is. They are simply what fate, genetics, or whatever factors made them to be. They leave no room for choice and, as a truly Pro-Choice person (I'll explain this in another post), it confounds me and makes me shake my fists in indignation.

I believe in choice, which is to say that I believe in free-will. Anything that negates the fact that I have a say in who I become or what I become is repugnant to me. It is, quite simply, an abhorrent and sick idea to me. It is the height of foolishness.

That said, I was very much influenced by the movie "The Iron Giant" as a child. The theme of the movie was simply 'you are who you choose to be.' The giant was actually built as a weapon but, when he discovered himself, he did not wish to be a weapon. In a pivotal scene in the movie, the giant sacrifices himself to save people. The scene always brings me to tears. It's valiance in the purest form I may have seen.

This is what I am trying to hammer home, our bodies, genetics, upbringing, or whatever affect us, but ultimately it is going to be our choices that determine the sort of life we lead and who we become. The self is actually quite fluid, people can change if they so choose. This choice does not have to be conscious either. People who, say, become Goths may take on that persona consciously or they may be sort of pushed towards it by their reactions to various circumstances. I saw a woman who hates the color white so much that she could now have her wedding dress be white. She uses her tattoos and dark clothing to make herself stand out. Upon further inspection, it was shown that she started doing this as a reaction to how the popular kids treated her. Her current state was the result of conscious and unconscious choices. She created who she was in the moments that I saw her on this crazy wedding show my sister had on.

As I have stated, as a Christian, I have to accept that we are not as we should be, and the whole start of the Christian journey of recovering is the conscious choice to trust the Creator, and the Church He left for us, to heal us and help us recover ourselves. The problem I have with the beautiful song that prompted this craziness is just that it is likely steeped in how the world views the self. I was born this way, so you can't tell me it is wrong, is the mantra we hear worshipped so much these days. I am not responsible for how I have turned out, so just let me be. This is all false thinking and belief; and, it is actually quite dangerous for the mind. I won't go into those dangers, because this is already too long.

Who we are cannot really be decided until we die. That's my conviction, until we are in eternity, we will not know who we really were. The difference between a good man and an infernal one is not decided until the judgement. We still have many choices to make, so we should worry less about whether or not we stand out (be that a good or bad thing) and more about how we are living. How you live is a reflection of who you are, at least in those moments. Nothing is set in stone yet, so if you are someone you never wanted to be, stand up and change. I leave with a quote from one of the most influential Michael Jackson songs in my life:

"If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change."

This world's salvation begins in the changing of mankind's collective hearts.