Friday, October 30, 2009

What the Kalām Argument Accomplishes

Kerath25 had some good insights regarding the Kalām argument. I've included the points he's referencing, in blue:

Makes great sense. There's a good book on the subject by Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator.

A few extra notes on your points:

Point 6 [Arguments for an infinite regression of universes break down as senseless. They're a more complex way of trying to count from negative infinity]: It is easy to discount this one by the concept of entropy. If this universe could have come from an existing one, it has already been demonstrated that it cannot return to such. Modern research on the subject continues to affirm that our universe will not pull itself back together. (There is a mathematical proof for this, but it's too long to write here).

Drawing on the observations from points 2 and 3 [If you see a chain of dominoes falling, you realize that they fall because the one before them fell. But you also realize that this cannot extend on for infinity, or they never would have arrived at this point. So premise two is certainly true. So there must be an agent external to the chain of dominoes who flicked the first one. Put another way, if you begin counting at negative infinity, you'll never arrive at 2009. Ever. Even in an infinite number of years. So if the universe had begun an infinite number of years ago, it never would have arrived at this point.], we can easily determine that this is not an allowable state. If we are counting infinite universes, they can't stop. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that if any other universes existed before ours or will exist after it, they have no bearing whatsoever on this universe.

Ah, it is always fun to discuss faith with agnostic or atheistic physicists or mathematicians.

One thing that I have noted from such discussions is that, while they demonstrate the need for the uncaused cause (God), they do nothing to explain what we should do with that information. A good friend of mine admitted, after four hours of discussion on the topic, that the argument was sound, but refused to acknowledge that the existence of God had any bearing on his life. To accept that would mean that he would have to change his life.

Thanks

I agree on Lee Strobel's book. And you're right, for sure, that the Kalām argument doesn't prove Christianity true, obviously, since Aristotle and Averroes weren't Christians. But it does take atheist materialism off the table as a viable option. And it takes a whole slew of other religious theories off of the table, as well. All of those "creation" myths where the gods just rearrange things which are already there: the whole "building the earth on the back of a turtle" kind of story? They're out. It also, in my opinion, takes Mormonism off the table as a viable option, but will be a post for later (later today, if I've got the time).

Hopefully, the Kalām argument will make atheists stop and say, "Ok, if this universe was created by some sort of Creator, why? Why did He/She/It bother? What's the purpose of the universe, and how can I know for sure?" That response should create a discursive space to present the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are Sign Language Masses Valid?

I found this topic pretty fascinating. A friend of mine from highschool, Noah Buchholz, is deaf, and gave a sermon at a Baptist church that I went to. Watching him express words and thoughts physically and visibly, while a translator assisted those of us who can't understand sign language was pretty fascinating. He's a really passionate speaker anyways and was speaking on a topic which he cared about (if memory serves, it was about creating Romanian sign language Bibles for the deaf in Romania, since deaf syntax is usually really different than non-deaf syntax), so it was almost like watching "living words," if that makes sense.

The Catholic Mass is a different animal, of course. While empassioned homilies are nice, they're not at the center of our worship. And more importantly, for a valid Mass to occur, the priest must speak the words of Christ, "This is My Body..." and "This is My Blood...," in the language that the Mass is said in. But what if the priest is deaf, and speaks only in sign language? Can that constitute a valid Mass?

This isn't just some ivory tower hypothetical. There are deaf Catholic priests, like Fr. Paul Zirimenya. Matthew Hysell, himself a deaf Catholic, summarizes his Master of Theology thesis why sign language counts as a valid language, and thus, why signing the words of consecration validly transubstantiates the Eucharist.

Kalām!

The Kalām cosmological argument is one of the best arguments for God that there is. It's based on Aristotle's work, picked up by the Kalām school of Islam before coming to Christianity (most famously, by Averroes, the philsopher whose work was so well-respected that Aquinas refers to him in the Summa simply as "the Commentator").

Here's how the argument works:
Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

I think that Premise 1 is something everyone agrees upon, although the wording of the premise is pretty important.
  1. Bertrand Russell and John Stuart Mill based their opposition to the (related) First Mover argument by asking, "Who created God?" But the Kalām argument doesn't deny that there can a non-created Entity; it just argues (in Premise 2) that space-time cannot be entity. If we argued that God created Himself, that'd be nonsense. We don't. He describes Himself as "I AM," suggesting that He simply exists, not that He created Himself. I'll explain that a bit more below.
  2. If you see a chain of dominoes falling, you realize that they fall because the one before them fell. But you also realize that this cannot extend on for infinity, or they never would have arrived at this point. So premise two is certainly true. So there must be an agent external to the chain of dominoes who flicked the first one.
  3. Put another way, if you begin counting at negative infinity, you'll never arrive at 2009. Ever. Even in an infinite number of years. So if the universe had begun an infinite number of years ago, it never would have arrived at this point.
  4. Atheists will argue, "why isn't that true of God as well?" But we don't believe that God existed from negative infinity B.C. onwards. We believe He exists outside of time and that He created space-time. This argument, then, necessarily establishes the Creator as immaterial (that is, not made of matter), immortal, and not bound by time or causality (since causality is a function of space and time). Arguably, it establishes Him as omnipotent as well (since He created the entirity of space-time).
  5. The Big Bang theory, as it is generally formulated, supports this argument. It says that there is no 13.8 billion years ago. That is, 13.7 billion years ago, time came into being, and that the argument "what came before the Big Bang" is sort of nonsensical, since "before" has temporal implications, like saying, "what happened before there was a before and after?" Or "what domino fell on the first domino?" So for the Big Bang to be the source of all space-time, something or Someone must have caused the Big Bang, and must exist outside of space-time. Existing outside of space-time gets us to those characteristics of God which we described before.
  6. Arguments for an infinite regression of universes break down as senseless. They're a more complex way of trying to count from negative infinity.
  7. Lots of atheists argue for a multiverse: they say that the Big Bang created a massive number of universes, which is why we ended up with one so bizarrely well-suited for life. This argument isn't intended against the Kalām argument, but I thought I'd mention that even someone who believed in the multiverse would have to acknowledge that the multiverse began to exist, and thus, needs a cause.

Does this make sense? I think that the usual debate over it makes it needlessly complex, but maybe I'm missing something.

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Jen at Conversion Diary raises the question, and an interesting discussion follows.

I tagged this post with my "liturgical year" tag because of the All Saint's Day connection, which probably signals some of my bias. I view it in the same way that I view Mardi Gras, as a feast (of sorts) before a fast. And that can be a wholesome thing - the Coptic Church does it well, from what I've heard - or a sinful thing (as any American knows from Mardi Gras).

In my mind, I guess that makes it pretty much the same as any party. The passion of festivities can be inflamed by the Holy Spirit or by the burning desires of the flesh (perhaps it can also be motivated by neutral reasons: a birthday party isn't a religious celebration, but it's obviously not sinful). A party can be a place where you celebrate and enjoy God's goodness and Christian fellowship, or it can be a place where you drink too much and find a partner for premarital sex. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal seem to do quite well with Catholic Underground, in my opinion, at creating a festival space that's still holy and wholesome. They start the night off with Eucharistic adoration, and an interesting mix of Latin chant and modern (Protestant-style) praise and worship songs. After that, everyone progresses to a different area to listen to music, peruse Catholic books, eat snacks and chat with one another. The bands are typically Catholic, although not all of them sing specifically Catholic (or even religious) songs.

Still, despite everything that they do well, I wouldn't be totally shocked to hear that some of the young people who met there then went to the bar, got drunk, and had sex. So I get the Puritan impulse to demonize festivities. It just happens that the Lord of Hosts doesn't buy into that impulse, as we see from the Old Testament celebrations.

Halloween, though, is a different issue. Here, you've got all the usual "parties are dangerous" hesitations coupled with people who definitely celebrate Evil on Halloween. What say you, readers? What's the appropriate Christian response to Halloween?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Eucharist for Those Suffering From Celiac Disease

I was trying to find out what the radical Society of St. Pius X thought of Canon 844, which permits those not fully in communion with the Church to share in the Eucharist under a very limited set of circumstances (they fiercely oppose it, unsurprisingly). But then I noticed something a couple questions down, which I thought that they answered quite well:
Would a person with Celiac disease be protected by transubstantiation from being harmed by gluten in the host?

The argument that the accidental qualities of bread cannot harm the intestine of one who suffers from Celiac disease (due to non-tolerance of gluten in wheat bread) is false. It is of course true that the substance of the bread does not remain after the consecration of the sacred species. However, all the accidents remain, which include not just the exterior appearance, but everything that is subject to the senses and that science can investigate, including the chemical composition. The chemical effects of the gluten on the intestinal wall will consequently still remain, just as much as the appearance and texture of bread, for they are just as accidental to the real nature of what is there as the appearance and texture. Here lies the miracle and the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist. It would be a miracle if the accidental qualities of gluten were not to harm the intestine. Although such miracles can happen, we cannot depend upon such an extraordinary intervention of Almighty God. Consequently, a person who suffers from Celiac disease needs to ask the priest to give him or her a very small portion of the host. It is never allowed to manufacture the host out of rice or a non-wheaten material that does not contain gluten. Such hosts are not valid matter for the Holy Eucharist. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Well said. In churches which offer both species to the laity during Communion, it may be prudent for those sufferring from Celiac disease to commune under only the species of wine, just as perhaps those recovering from alcoholism ought to commune under only the species of bread. [If you're not familiar, by species of bread, I mean Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread, and with the material properties thereof]. This makes sense: after all, you're not obliged to take the Eucharist is it's been poisoned, etc. - Question 3 here addresses what to do in those sort of worst-case possibilites (in short, you're supposed to dilute the poisoned Eucharist in water until it no longer contains recognizable species of bread water). Obviously, an allergy to wheat isn't the same as a foreign poison being added, but Celiac disease is potentially fatal, so the same prudential judgment ought to apply.

However, there's a catch. The priest celebrating the Mass is required to receive under both species. Which has mean that those with Celiac disease have an additional barrier to the priesthood, since that disease tends to worsen over time. Thus, the Church has cautioned bishops to "proceed with great caution before admitting to Holy Orders those candidates unable to digest gluten or alcohol without serious harm." That's because to validly consecrate the bread and wine, it must be actual bread and wine. No Zima, no grape juice, and no fake-bread. To count as bread, it must contain wheat. So what to do about the issue?

Enter Sister Lynn Marie D'Souza and Sister Jane Heschmeyer of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. As you can probably guess from that funky last name, I'm a bit biased here (Sr. Jane is my aunt). Aunt Jane (calling her "Aunt Sister Jane" sounds creepy) had been working on trying to design a Celiac-friendly host, when Sr. Lynn, with a background in biomedical science, joined the postulancy. Together, the Holy Spirit worked through them to create a type of host which contains only .01% gluten, safe enough for almost everyone suffering from Celiac disease. PBS interviewed them, and there's a 6-minute video here that's pretty cool. Deo Gratias!

Bart Stupak (D-MI) Speaks Out Against Abortion in the Healthcare Bill

A lot of people are arguing that all the talk about abortion being covered by the proposed healthcare bills is a partisan political ruse, designed to derail Obamacare, a legislative defeat which could send his entire agenda reeling in the months before midterm elections (yup, they're already talking about that here in D.C. - it's a constant campaign cycle). But here's Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan validating the pro-lifers' claims with a pretty specific explanation.

What's more, he says he's willing to lose his job fighting against abortion funding, even if it means fighting against the healthcare bill as a whole (which he'd like to support). And he's not alone - he's leading a coalition of 40 pro-life House Democrats. It'd be wonderful to see the Democratic party, with all of its historic connections to Catholic, especially inner-city Catholics, embrace a platform compatible with basic tenets of Catholicism.

If Stupak's right: if he can get and keep forty pro-life Democrats, and if he can get the Republican support he's predicting, he could have upwards of 220 House members willing to stop a pro-abortion version of the bill from going forward. I'll be honest that I'm a bit skeptical, since the pro-choicers already narrowly beat him once (30-28 in committee; although he'd won the first voice, they used House procedure to get a second, and leaned on committee Dems, if memory serves). In any case, he's doing the right thing. I don't think Stupak's job's really is in danger (he's won his last elections handily), but I'm sure he and the other brave Congressional pro-lifers can use your prayers and support.

EDIT: Perhaps I spoke too soon. He's left open the option of moral cowardice coupled with a mere nod towards pro-lifeness. We shall see.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maureen Dowd Goes a Bit Nuts Against the Pope

A friend of mine asked me on Sunday what I thought of Maureen Dowd's piece in the New York Times. She's convinced that since there's an Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious, and there's no priestesses, the Vatican must hate women.

I've been working sporadically on a response, and may post it eventually, but Michael Sean Winters' reaction piece at America is superior to anything I could hope to write. It's great, and that's from someone who finds Winters' writings too abrasive most of the time. If you're interested, Fr. Z has a pretty decent post on it, too.

Animals in the Book of Mormon

I. A Possible Mormon Source?

Seth R. writes:

Animals in the Book of Mormon:
http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Anachronisms/Animals
Bother to actually research the Mormon responses before making claims.
I've talked with both LDS friends of mine and with Mormon missionaries on this issue, and was unaware that FAIR existed (although I'll try and make us of it in the future). I didn't go more into depth on that issue because it wasn't the primary point of that post. That said, Seth, I appreciate you providing the link as something you consider the Mormon response. I'll address their specific claims. This way, hopefully, I can't be accused of straw-manning, or choosing the worst possible Mormon apologists.

The paragraph in question from my earlier post:


Their Scriptures include reference to "all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats" (Ether 9:18), as well as "horses, and asses, and [...] elephants" (Ether 9:19) being in the New World prior to Columbus - none were. This is pretty easily provable, particularly for horses, since their introduction shortly after Columbus' arrival revolutionized the lifestyle of the Plains Indians and many other groups. The mental image we collectively have of Native Americans riding horses and hunting buffalo is an image only possible after Columbus' arrival. Their lifestyle prior was radically different.

In addition to that, I make a similar argument about honeybees, which are strangely important within Mormonism. Let's see how the LDS apologists he cites over at FAIR respond.

II. "Loan-Shifting"
Their major argument is that:

"In the first place, one should not reject the possibility of "loan-shifting," in which a name for a familiar species is applied for a new species. This is a well-known phenomenon — for example, Amerindians called European horses 'deer' when they first encountered them. The classic example is, of course, the hippopotamus, which name the Greeks gave to an animal they called a "river (potamus) horse (hippo)." Critics who scoff should ask themselves how anyone could mistake a hippopotamus for a horse — the answer, of course, is that the Greeks knew perfectly well that the hippo was not a true horse, but the name stuck.

In other words, sure, the animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being in the Pre-Columbian New World weren't actually there. But here are some animals that did exist which were sort of like those animals. Donkeys weren't there... but tapirs were! So the argument reads like a cop-out.

But there's a bigger question: who's doing the "loan-shifting"? Mormons claim that the angel Moroni translated some pre-Columbian golden tablets out of "Ancient Egyptian" for Joseph Smith, Jr. So three parties may be "loan-shifting":

  1. The Original Pre-Columbian Authors
  2. Moroni, Prophet-Turned-Translating Angel
  3. Joseph Smith, Jr.

None of these choices make sense.

  1. FAIR mentions that "Amerindians called European horses 'deer' when they first encountered them," but you'll note that Amerindians didn't refer to deer as horses... because they didn't have any contact with horses. So the pre-Columbian Authors, unfamiliar with Old World animals, wouldn't have referred to the animals they knew by comparing them to animals they'd never seen. If anything, this loan-shifting should be going the other direction: calling Old World animals by New World names. Unless, of course, the author if familiar with European animals.
  2. Moroni was a pre-Columbian New World prophet, so the same argument applies to him. Plus, by the time he's translating for Joseph Smith in the 19th century, we know the difference between a tapir and a horse, and have names for both. There's no reason that an angel sent by God to translate pre-Columbian books into English couldn't know the names of the animals he's translating in English. Sure, if the translation were going on before Columbus, there weren't English words for these animals. But by the time he's translating, there are. Under what possible explanation can we explain him loan-shifting?
  3. Finally, Joseph Smith himself is a possibility, but he claims that he's just writing down what the angel tells him. And it's far-fetched to imagine him being like, "'Tapirs,' Moroni? Let's put 'asses' instead."

I'm fine with the general idea of "loan-shifting" in anthropology and cultural studies. People often compare animals that they don't know with animals that they do (although in the case of the hippo, the Greeks used "water horse" to denote it as a separate animal than a horse, in the same way we say "seahorse"). But that explanation makes no sense at all here, and signals that even LDS apologists can't defend what Joseph Smith claims that the angel Moroni told him in English.

One final note on this: there's one time where the Bible does use loan-shifting. Whales are referred to as fish, although there are some Christological reasons for this (the sign of Jonah), so this loan-shift is intention. But it doesn't occur in the Book of Mormon: Ether 2:24 mentions whales. So it seems that the Book of Mormon isn't "loan-shifting." When the original books were written, there wasn't a word for whales, but when the angel Moroni translated, he used the now-existant word. Why wouldn't he do that for all the other animals, if he meant things like tapirs?

EDIT: The single best argument against this occurred to me right after I posted. Ether 9:19 says "And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms. " Cureloms and cumoms are animals who appear nowhere outside of the Book of Mormon. From an LDS perspective, they're animals known to the ancient people but not known to modern readers. Note that the writers don't rename cureloms and cumoms into European animals.



III. The Animals, One By One
All right. Let's look at how FAIR defends each animal, using their order:

A. Ass (Donkey)
FAIR says something very important at the outset: "The only clue to the role of the 'ass' in Nephite society comes from Mosiah 12:5 and Mosiah 21:3, in which those in bondage bear burdens like 'a dumb ass.'" So we're looking not only for pre-Columbian donkeys, but pre-Columbian donkeys used as pack animals. Otherwise, why would a pre-Columbian author make that sort of analogy? How does FAIR answer this problem? They suggest it's the tapir. The problem is (1) they're loan-shifting; (2) tapirs aren't very much like donkeys at all; (3) tapirs aren't herd animals, which they acknowledge; and (4) tapirs aren't used to carry things. They're only three feet tall as adults! It'd be like trying to use a labrador as a pack animal. Tapirs were, and are, used as a food source in Latin America. This is yet more evidence that they weren't pack animals, since cultures usually don't eat the animals they use to get from place to place.

Finally, have you seen a tapir? Here's one next to an adult in children. They're about three feet tall, fat, and would be hard to transport things on, even if they weren't known to be violent.

B. Bees
First, FAIR claims that they're only mentioned as having them in the Old World. But Ether 2:3 mentions the Jaredites taking them to "the promised land," which is in the New World. Their fallback position is that:

Some studies suggest, however, that bees were known in the ancient New World. Bruce Warren, for instance, notes that there “are many references in the Maya region to honey bees in ancient times, and these references occur in ritual contexts, i.e., are of native or pre-Spanish origin." Other New World scholars have observed that “not only was the domesticated bee in ancient America but that there were gods of bees and beekeepers . . . Honey was considered a real treat for the Indians. Equally important was black wax taken from the hives which was often traded for other commodities."

This paragraph is taken from MormonFortress.com, but FAIR omits some of the original source's citations. If you're wondering, the citations are to:

  • Bruce W. Warren (1963), “Further on the Claims of the Book of Mormon as to the Origin and Characteristics of its First Civilization,” Progress in Archaeology: An Anthology (Provo; Brigham Young University).
  • Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics (Bountiful, Ut; Horizon Pub., 1986).

Both are Mormon apologists, not some neutral "New World scholars," as they're portrayed.

Note what Ether 2:3 describes: the bringing of honeybees from the New World to the Old World. Arguing that there were other species of native bees in the Old World does nothing to advance this argument. FAIR builds upon the Mormon Fortress paragraph with their own citation, and provide one non-Mormon source: F. Padilla, F. Puerta, J. M. Flores and M. Bustos, "Bees, Apiculture and the New World," in Archivos de zootécnica, 41/154 (1992-extra): 563–567. That source does nothing to help the Mormon claim. In fact, it says:

The arrival in North America of the first beehives is well documented. In a letter dated 5 December 1621, sent from the Council of the Virginia Company in London to its Governor and Council in Virginia it states We have by this ship and the Discovery sent you... and beehives, probably these beehives contained the A. mellifera mellifera.
The bees brought to America progressed rapidly. The climate in the colonies was good and they developed quickly. The rapid expansion of the european bees was probably due to their predominance over the indigenous insects, or more likely to the absence of competitive insects.

So when Old World honeybees are brought to the New World, they take over the ecosystem, displacing any honey-producing insects or bees which previously existed [there are insects which can be technically considered honeybees in the New World, but they're not the species we know as honeybees, and they're not from the Old World - they're indigenous to the New]. Remember that Ether 2:3 claims that the Jaredites brought bees from the Old World to the New. If this were true,

  • (a) Why is there no ecological evidence of these Old World honeybees? Shouldn't these superior bees have still been around when Columbus arrived, or at least, shouldn't the bees have left some sort of trace (perhaps hybrid bees, like we've seen with the introduction of Africanized honeybees, etc.)?
  • (b) Why were the indigenous insects still the norm when the Virginia Company sent Old World bees, given how easily they were dominated by Old World bees?
C. Cows/Cattle.
FAIR argues that these cows and cattle were just buffalo and other buffalo. But of course that loan-shifting makes no sense here. FAIR even points out that Amerindians knew what buffalo were and not what cows were, so they called the cows "buffalo" (not, you'll note, the other way around). All parties - Joseph Smith, Moroni, and the ancient writers - would have known what a buffalo was. Two of the three parties (including the two who allegedly wrote and translated it) had never seen a cow. And we're supposed to think that they used the word "cow," instead to refer to buffalo? FAIR claims that "As with many other animals in the Book of Mormon, it is likely that these Book of Mormon terms are the product of reassigning familiar labels to unfamiliar items..." To whom was a buffalo unfamiliar?

Besides that, Enos 1:21 says that "And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses." And we're supposed to conclude that they're buffalo farmers?

D. Elephants (Or Mastodons)
FAIR claims that there is non-Mormon attestation to ancient elephants, and that the prophesies in question are referring to so long ago (pre-2400 B.C.) that maybe elephants (or mastodons) might have existed. I'm skeptical, but I'll give them this one - I think they're arguing against the overwhelming majority of knowledgable and unbiased researchers, but they raise good points (art, etc.) for their side. Plus, in this case, loan-shifting would make sense. 19th century readers wouldn't know what a "mastodon" was, and had no word for it,* and so an inspired writer or translater might use a descriptive term instead of a biological one. Again though, this only makes sense because 19th century readers don't know what mastodons are. They do know what donkeys, buffaloes, and such are. Do I think elephants existed then? No. But I can see how someone might.

E. Horses
FAIR's first argument:
"As mentioned, one should not reject the possibility of 'loan-shifting,' — candidate species for 'horse' under this interpretation include the tapir, deer or llama."
As usual, loan-shifting doesn't make sense here. And the fact that they're trying to say both "tapirs are called 'donkeys' in the translation of the Book of Mormon" and "tapirs might be called 'horses' in the translation of the Book of Mormon" signals how much they believe their own arguments.

FAIR's second argument: "However, the case against pre-Columbian horses may not be as 'iron-clad' as the critics assume: " To support this argument, they include a long quote on the alleged evidence: for example, the Mayapan site which allegedly "yielded horse bones in four spots. (Two of the lots were from the surface, however, and might represent Spanish horses.)" The source for this claim? Anonymous, "Out of the Dust," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): N/A–N/A. Right. So an anonymous author for a "Journal of Book of Mormon Studies" cites some second-hand (now third-hand) evidence for the evidence of horses, while admitting that Spanish horses may have been on these spots.

There's still a glaring problem. A civilization riding on horses easily dominates horseless civilizations. How did all the horse-owning civilizations disappear, along with all of the horses? FAIR argues that "Conspicuously absent is any role of the horse in the many journeys recorded in the Book of Mormon. Nor do horses or chariots play any role in the many Nephite wars; this is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel. "

The argument is that these horses were raised just to eat, and for their hides. But look at what the Book of Mormon actually says:

Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots. And he said unto Ammon: Come, I will go with thee down to the land of Middoni, and there I will plead with the king that he will cast thy brethren out of prison. (Alma 20:6-7)

That sounds very, very much like a role for horses in transportation. They're not just riding horses (which is fairly basic) - they've got chariots (which is very advanced). Bear in mind: the New World didn't have chariots before Columbus. How do we know? They didn't have the wheel. Lamoni, with his horses and chariots, doesn't need to "plead with the king" for anything. He's armed with the pre-Columbian equivalent of a suitcase nuke.

Finally, chariots are used for war. And they're mentioned in 3 Nephi 3:22 as one of the things that the people bring with them when they go to defend themselves. To be fair, they also bring cattle, but it's unlikely they're going to eat the chariots.

FAIR's Third Argument: Since everyone knows that horses didn't exist in the New World, that means Joseph Smith was telling the truth, because this is too stupid to be a lie. Ok, they actually say, "Besides, 'everyone knows' there were no horses in the Americas before Columbus. Joseph Smith would have understood this common belief. If he was trying to perpetuate a fraud, why include an element that nearly everyone would have heard about, especially when it plays such a small role in the book?"

Except that not everyone in the 19th century was cognizant of this fact. For that matter, it's easy for anyone, even today, to make that mistake. The image of Indians as horsebacked warriors is deeply rooted, even though it's anachronistic. How many of Mormonism's early opponents do we see even raising this as an issue? This third argument is very weak, and again, points to their own discomfort with these horses and chariots.

IV. Conclusion
For the ass and cow, FAIR puts all of their eggs in a leaky "loan-shift" basket. For the bee, they use shaky evidence to argue for the existence of Old World bees, bees which (if they did exist) were eliminated by the New World bees after the Columbian Exchange. Even if this evidence were true, it would only support the idea that the bees in the New World pre-1492 weren't brought over by the Jaredites or anyone else. And for the horse, they try both the loan-shift and shaky (and anonymous) archeology, but are unable to plausibly explain why horses and chariots weren't found in 1492.

Ether 9:18-19 reads,
"And also all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats, and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man. And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms. "

In FAIR's redaction and revision, it reads:

"And also all manner of buffalo, of buffalo, and buffalo, and of sheep,* and of pisote, and of goats,* and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man. And they also had tapirs, and tapirs/deer/llamas/horses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms. "

All that animal substitution renders the passage absurd. And it still leaves domesticated sheep and goats, animals unknown to the New World. (There were wild sheep in the New World, but they were never domesticated). So now we're left with the obvious. Why translate English words like "buffalo" and "tapir" into wildly misleading terms like "cattle" and "horses," and then not translate "cureloms" and "cumoms" into English words at all? The only two terms it makes sense to "loan-shift" are these two, and they're the only two which aren't.

---

*CORRECTION: Gentleman Farmer notes that "the mastodon or mammoth was actually quite famous in early 19th Century America. The first complete skeleton was mounted by Mr. Peale in 1801." Ok, so looks like loan-shifting doesn't make sense there, either. FAIR is still left with claiming that elephants did in fact exist pre-Columbus, which I think is rather far-fetched, but at least sort of defensible.

Monday, October 26, 2009

National Catholic Reporter's "Young Voices": An Exercise in Dissent

In its continued assault on the Catholic Church, the National Catholic Reporter has published yet another hateful piece in its "Young Voices" section (it's the third bullet point below). If you're not familiar, Young Voices is the worst part of NCR's editorial section. It's staffed by four young people: Nicole Sotelo, Kate Childs Graham, Mike Sweitzer-Beckman, and Jamie L. Manson. All four write in opposition to Catholic teaching. By this, I mean that they don't just happen to privately hold some doubts about the Catholic Faith. I mean that they, while in the employ of a nominally-Catholic newspaper, use that same newspaper to attack the Catholic Faith. That newspaper is then distributed to parishes around the country spreading misinformation and dissent. Here's some examples from all four authors:

Diogenes at Catholic Culture made mincemeat of the piece. For starters, the parish worker in question, Ruth Kolpack, was allowed the opportunity to defend her orthodoxy, and the "accusers" in question are probably the 11 and 12 year old students in her CCD class who realized that something was amiss. You see, Kolpack is a feminist in favor of inclusive language in the Mass, in favor of women's ordination, gay "marriage," and is a member of the heretical organization Call to Action. After enough complaints, the bishop of the diocese felt that Kolpack wasn't passing on the Catholic faith. They talked to her priest, and when he failed to correct the problem, they talked to both of them together, a conversation which ended in her refusal to recant her doctoral thesis (which had attacked the Early Church Fathers and Aquinas, as well as Luther and Barth, as sexists while seemingly placing the blame for some modern sexism on the masculine terms for God found in the Mass) and her termination. Since the Catholic Culture article was published, the Diocese of Madison finally broke their intentional silence: they'd kept quiet to protect her reputation, but she used her termination as a chance to attack her bishop.

Sweitzer-Beckman can hold that Kolpack should keep her job if he wants. It's not itself a heresy to think heretics should be allowed to instruct kids in orthodoxy: it's just a stupid idea. But the bigger problem is that to arrive at his baffling conclusion, he's forced to misrepresent and exaggerate many elements of the case. By passing along one party's statement about what happened, he damaged the bishop's good name when, in fact, he was performing his job as shepherd of the flock.

  • Nicole Sotelo wrote in response to Benedict's proclamation of the Year for Priests: Pope Benedict has declared June 19 as the beginning of the Year of the Priest. He has proclaimed that “without priestly ministry, there would be no Eucharist, no mission and even no church.” I hate to be the one to inform him, but Eucharist, mission and church existed long before the rise of priesthood.
I'm pretty sure that Benedict isn't poring over the pages of National Catholic Reporter to learn about Church history, so Nicole has nothing to worry about. She won't be "informing" him of anything more than that there's a lot more work that needs to be done restoring Catholic education. Nicole herself doubles as a member of Call to Action, where she's actively involved in the push for women's ordination. So on the one hand, women should be priestesses; and on the other hand, priests weren't ever intended by Christ. Or, as Nicole condescendingly puts it, "Perhaps the pope has forgotten that Jesus was not focused on priesthood. He was focused on ministry," omitting that this ministry included Twelve specially chosen men separate from His other disciples, and who viewed themselves as not simply members of the laity (I think the Book of Acts stands for that proposition well enough that I need not elaborate?). It's hard to see these contradictory goals (eliminate the priesthood / expand the priesthood to include women) as anything other than an assault on traditional Catholicism: and it's not even a logically consistent assault.


  • Jamie L. Manson writes in response to the Vatican's Apostolic Constitution: Misogynist? Homophobic? We’ve got the church for you!

Manson claims to be Catholic while serving as director of Social Justice Ministries at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church in New York, and a member of the national board for the Women’s Ordination Conference (an ostensibly Roman Catholic group). How one claims to be Catholic while (a) on the dole of a mainline Protestant church, (b) mocking the Catholic Church, and (c) seeking to ordain Catholic women as priestesses (knowing, of course, that this action will result in their excommunication) is unclear to me. She tries to answer this question (which she says she gets asked a lot) in an article called Why I still call myself Catholic wherein she writes:

For me, there is nothing to “leave.” I cannot leave my Catholic tradition any more than I can leave my Italian tradition, which also formed my vision and imagination, my way of seeing the world, my way of relating to others. One can argue that I have left the Catholic church since I no longer accept the authority of the hierarchy. However, I feel equally left behind by the institution. As a woman and lesbian, I have no voice in this institution, and I am denied the ability to make a substantive contribution to it. Rather than speaking about leaving the church, I believe is time to call the institutional church to accountability for how many people it has left behind.

Right, but she's not Italian. She just was raised by an Italian-American family in New York and happens to like elements of Italian culture. She also disagree with the Church on fundamental issues, self-ascribes as a lesbian, and doesn't accept the Church's authority. She's describing herself as a cultural or nominal Catholic. And she goes on to say, Unlike many of those fighting for reform in the Catholic church, I’m not aiming to “take back my church.” I’m not sure that the institution and its endless tomes of rules, its privileged priesthood, and its propensity for uninviting people from the Eucharistic table is something worth re-inheriting because I’m not convinced these functions were ever conceived or practiced with God-centered intentions. I don't even have to explain that she doesn't believe what the Catholic Church believes, anymore than I need to explain why she's not eligible to vote in Italian elections. It's just a cultural heritage that she looks back on (sort of) fondly.

  • Of the four, perhaps the biggest disgrace is Kate Childs Graham, who wrote an article entitled "I am a prochoice Catholic"

An authentically Catholic publication never would have permitted this. Period. To even leave it on the website, to not publish a retraction, signals that it's possible (or even acceptable) to be pro-choice as a Catholic. At that point, the Reporter is actively on the side of the culture of death. She writes, "Finally, I am a prochoice Catholic because my Catholic faith tells me I can be. The Catechism reads, '[Conscience] is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.'"

I'm torn here. Does she honestly not know that the Church doesn't teach "whatever your conscience tells you is right"? Because if She did teach that, why bother to publish a Catechism at all? Why not simply say, "Do whatever your conscience tells you!" She's either intentionally misrepresenting the Cathechism's stance on abortion (and on conscience), or she's been duped into supporting mortal sin. And worse, given a soapbox to do so from the largest "Catholic" newspaper in America.

Had she read any of the rest of the Cathechism, or listened to the Church's teachings on how sin can mar one's conscience to the point that you consider evil good and good evil, she would know better. But I'm not convinced she's been exposed to the rest of that: I think she knows some cut bullet points of what the Cathechism and Saints taught, presented to her in a way that made her think this was acceptable.

Patrick Madrid, thankfully, responded to this with a much needed correction. Could the Catholics at the Reporter not be troubled to do the same for her? Nothing less than this young woman's soul hangs in the balance. Was it really better to try and score some cheap political points against the Catholic Church?

Of course, Young Voices is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's wrong with the National Catholic Reporter. Some of the worst of the worst - Joan Chittister, Richard McBrien, and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton - have regular columns. I know that a number of dioceses still carry the Reporter. My question is: why? Why pay money to a newspaper whose editorial board continually undermines Catholic teaching?

Gay Marriage and American Indians

Front Porch Republic has a pretty insightful piece of gay marriage and liberal culture.

I. The Invisible Moral Code
Jeremy Beer makes the point that modern liberalism presents itself as content-neutral while, in fact, propping up a number of break-them-if-you-dare moral rules. The same person will claim to be a moral relativist, where what's right for you is right for you, and use claims of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. as an argument-ender. This latter behavior, whether acknowledged or not, is similar to a Christian saying, "A-ha! But now you're violating (this Bible passage, this Creed, etc.)!" It's an appeal to an absolute truth which both parties can be expected (even required) to play by, all under the pretense of "there are no absolutes, even this one" moral relativism.

When it comes to gay marriage, then, proponents are so convinced that allowing gay marriage is so blantantly and obviously right that to deny it is to violate the absolute ban on Heterosexism. And the only reason they can imagine for violating this ban is, you guessed it, hate. So it doesn't matter one's views on homosexuality or homosexuals. Even a practicing homosexual who thinks that gay marriage is a sham marriage must hate homosexuals. If you don't believe me, read the writings of everyone upset with traditional Anglicans and Catholics - you would think that the Nazi Party was opening the doors for Klansmen.

II. The Cultural Other
Jeremy Beer compares all of this to the notion of the Cultural Other: that once you've created a cultural monolith, it's easy to view anyone outside of it as barbarian (indeed, the term barbarian comes from the Greek's mockery of what non-Greek languages sound like). He says, for instance, that:
Gay-marriage proponents appear to be irrationally angry, but think of it this way: they are disgusted by the fact of opposition to same-sex marriage much in the same way that, say, American pioneers on the prairie were disgusted by the culinary habits of the American Indian (eating dogs, digging in to a freshly killed buffalo and eating its raw organs, etc.). The ways in which the cultural Other thinks, the things he believes, if they are intelligible at all, are usually simply abominations, and that is that.

The links he provides support his allegation. For example, when Monica Hesse, a bisexual reporter in favor of gay marriage, did a piece showing that some opponents of gay marriage (she spotlighted one Brian Brown) aren't, in fact, hate-filled monsters, she was herself bombarded with such vile hate mail that it brought her to tears. Attempting to put a human face upon the Other is a violation of the Unbreakable Rules that no one acknowledges exist.

By painting the Other as an inhuman monster, it permits the party (in this case, gay marriage advocates) to treat them in an uncivilized way. So when the American Indians went from being nations we treated as virtually our equals (in the 18th century) to simple and cruel savages (in the 19th), it meant we could do increasingly disturbing things. Cowboys in the Southwest were said to have mass raped Navajo women so frequently that it stopped being news-worthy. How did they justify it? The Navajo were the savage ones. We see it again in the Iraq war: by imagining the Iraqis are sub-human, we allow ourselves to treat them in a way which violates their human dignity, as we saw in Abu Gharib.

We're only beginning to see the implications of this in the gay marriage debate, since it's still a relatively young movement (it's hard to dehumanize everyone who doesn't think the same way as you when you yourself were raised thinking the other way; it's much easier to dehumanize the Other a generation or two in). But already, look at the way that Mormons were treated for their position on California's Prop 8. Gay marriage activists ran offensive TV spots ("In the spot, a pair of Mormon missionaries knock on the door of a lesbian couple, rifle their drawers and shred their marriage certificate in front of them. "), shockingly offensive print ads (by a group called Californians Against Hate, no less), and started a push to remove the LDS Church's tax exemption... just for its opposition to gay marriage. That, mind you, is without the LDS Church donating a dime to the political effort - just lending its considerable organizational capacities to fight for marriage (something which Mormons care deeply about, in no small part due to their belief in eternal marriage). The Washington Post coverage comes pretty close to defending the on the basis that Mormons are more unliked than gays. In other words, it's okay to attack them because they're the Other.

III. Behaving as the Other
But Beer's got a second point, perhaps even more important than the first. He recounts two weddings he attended: the first, a secular wedding in which the female celebrant declared the bride and groom's sorrow at the lack of gay marriage; the second, an Evangelical wedding which contained an anti-gay marriage sermon. In both cases, the parties marrying were heterosexual, and the politicization of this most solemn and personal of occassions is highly suggestive. But Beer's analysis on the second example, the Evangelical wedding, is worth consideration:
Like cornered Indians pushed into mountain retreats, many of our Middle Americans are retrenching, engaging in ancient rituals now out of anger and dismay as much as piety, lashing out, and with all of this thereby confirming to the dominant coastal Other their basic inhumanity.

In other words, there's a risk that in opposing gay marriage, we'll start to engage in behavior which (a) turns gay marriage proponents into faceless monsters beneath our contempt or our shared humanity; and/or (b) behave in such a reactionary way that it confirms the Barbarian Myth against "Middle America" and gay marriage opponents. In part, this is the classic "how can we be tolerant of intolerance?" dilemma. But it's more dramatic, in that the forces of intolerance are the cultural majority and have a much easier time presenting their views.

The media typically covers pro-gay marriage extremists, pro-gay marriage moderates, and anti-gay marriage extremists. When those, like Monica Hesse, dare to consider anti-gay marriage moderates, they pay a steep price in stigma and vitriol. Presenting an authentic Christian message that God loves homosexuals, we love homosexuals (and if we don't, we're sinning), and that homosexuality is harming society, and that gay marriage is harming society is hard. Loving the sinner and hating the sin seems paradoxical, and those who hate morality and hate the moralizer find the whole paradox suspect. But perhaps that's why it's all the more important to do so, and in such a humble and noble way that it can't be mistaken for hate-mongering by any but the most blind.

Once Saved, Always Saved and Revelation

I've heard Evangelicals try and use the last chapter of Revelation to claim that sola Scriptura is, in fact, Biblical. Specifically, Revelation 22:18-19 says:

18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

The claim is that Catholics add to the prophesy of the Bible, and therefore suffer the punishment described. The error in using this to defend sola Scriptura should be obvious, because it's one of the two errors almost every argument for sola Scriptura runs into.* The "this book" in question is the Book of Revelation, not the "Good Book." The Bible is a collection of books, and what's being condemned here is adding or removing part of the prophesy - that is, tinkering with the text of the Book of Revelation is what is forbidden. Believing in something in addition to Revelation isn't a sin, and it's done by both Protestants and Catholics. After all, nobody has a one-book canon of just Revelation. And even if this prophesy were about adding or removing from the canon of Scripture, that'd be an argument against Protestantism, since the 66-Book Protestant Bible is based on removing books from Scripture (seeing as how that precise Bible isn't found in the early Church).

But it occurred today that if anything, this passage is an excellent argument against Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS). Look at Revelation 22:19 again. The curse on anyone who removes part of the prophesy is that "God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." For God to take away his share in the Tree of Life requires that the man in question previously had a share in the Tree of Life, and that God removes it, and he no longer does. So far as I can tell, this passage is unambiguous enough to get around the two usual OSAS responses,** because it seems to be pretty clearly related to salvation, and pretty clearly dealing with people who were, in fact, saved.

This passage, connected with Psalm 69:28, suggests that individuals can be in the Book of Life, and then get their names removed. And Rev. 20:15 and Rev. 21:27 make it pretty blatant that those in the Book go to Heaven, and those not in the Book go to Hell. This seems too obvious. What am I missing?

*Those two assumptions are:
  1. Assuming that the "word of God" refers only to the written Word, or conversely, that "Tradition" refers only to things which are not written down.
  2. Assuming that any reference to Scripture is a reference to the 66-book Protestant Bible.
Read some of the defenses of sola Scriptura, and I think you'll find that a great many of the arguments fall a-foul of one of these fallacies.

**Those two responses are:
  1. The passage in question isn't really about individual salvation, but about (a) corporate salvation, or (b) individual non-salvific curses/blessings.
  2. The people who become unsaved weren't ever really saved.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Study in Contrasts (and a Blog Worth Checking Out)

Taylor Marshall, who asked the question I just addressed, is a former Anglican/Episopalian priest who became Catholic in 2006. He now runs an aptly-named blog, Canterbury Tales. He recounts his reaction to the news of the Apostolic Constitution here:

I was teaching Moral Theology this morning when I learned that the Apostolic Constitution for Anglicans had been officially announced by the Holy Father. I was so overcome with emotion that I had to leave the classroom. The Holy Father is so generous and desires so deeply "that they all might be one."

It's sort of a study in contrasts from my earlier post, where a self-proclaimed Roman Catholic assails everything originating in Rome as evil, no matter how accepting it may be.

Until yesterday, I hadn't read any of Marshall's stuff. But from what I've read, it's pretty great. He's got a lot of worthwhile insights, and I'm interested in his book The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. It sounds very good (he recounts here how a meeting with a rabbi was one of the instrumental steps in his conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism).

Finally, I'm sure that some readers are ready for me to talk about things other than Anglicanism and the Apostolic Constitution. I'll get there. I'm just still glowing from the news. Once I calm down, I'll mix things up a bit more.

Prescience, pt. 2

Taylor Marshall asked, "Did Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei prophesy the Anglican Ordinariates?"

The "prophesy" in question is from a 1958 quote by St. Josemaria, recounted by Msgr. Bill Stetson (incidentally, the head of the Catholic Information Center, where I go to Mass during the week, until 2007 - I just missed him). While visiting an Anglican church, St. Josemaria remarked, "If we don't lend them a hand, the Christian Faith will die away in fifty years." I'm not positive I'd call it prophetic, but it was certainly clear-minded foresight. And frankly, for all of the coming turmoil which St. Josemaria accurately predicted, it remains the case that fifty years later (2008), the Anglican Church still had a faithful remnant, a remnant which we're appealing to with this Apostolic Constitution.

Dr. Hunt, "Catholic," Against the Welcoming Home of Anglicans

I. Introducing Dr. Hunt
I try and avoid calling into question anyone's claim to be Catholic. I might say that they're a dissident, theologically liberal, or even heterodox Catholic, but I don't like saying "Catholic" with quotation marks. God knows their heart, and if we start parsing through everything they've said to compare it with Church doctrine, well, a lot of people who think they're holding to the Faith of the Church probably misunderstand bits and pieces. It's really a question of "Where do we stop?" and since I'm not the authority God's entrusted to interpret whose in full, visible communion with Rome, it's not my place to answer that question.

I'm going to make an exception to that today. Dr. Mary E. Hunt (left) is a "Catholic," not an actual Catholic. She considers herself "a Roman Catholic active in the women-church movement," which is to say, "a Roman Catholic who actively opposed to the Roman Catholic Church." Her bio mentions that she "lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her partner, Diann L. Neu, and their daughter, Catherine Fei Min Hunt-Neu," so fighting the Church isn't something she does just from 9-5: it's not just a job, it's her self-made vocation. While the Church may never have sought her out and excommunicated her, her views aren't even remotely Catholic.

In fact, her work seems to be exclusively focused on taking down the Catholic Church. It's not as though there are a handful of issues where her nominal Catholicism actually manifests itself with any authentically Catholic ideas. She doesn't even write on those things which liberals love about the Catholic Church, like Her opposition to the death penalty (in most cases), or Her support of organized labor. No, every article she's written for Religion Dispatches attacks either the Catholic stance on the issue, or the Catholic Church or Pope directly, with titles like "Sex and the Seminary: Wake Up and Smell the Incense," and which contain purposely misleading information. Take this article, which suggests that bishops like Abp. Burke have "too much time on their hands" when they enforce canon law against those who flaunt it by attending and supporting women's ordination. An accompanying picture to the article reads, "Two Roman Catholic women, ordained in Minneapolis in 2007." Really? Because the Roman Catholic Church claims that they weren't ordained, that women's ordination isn't possible, and that these two women were excommunicated for this blasphemous mockery of the sacraments. So calling them "Roman Catholic women" who were "ordained" seems... inaccurate.

In the same article she scoffs that "most thinking Catholics have moved on from the notion that the institutional church dispenses the sacraments the way a gas station provides fuel for a car. " In place of the "institutional church" (read: Roman Catholic Church), she offers the alternative of the "Women-Church movement," which "consists of house churches in which small groups of women (and some men) engage in sacrament and solidarity as per the Catholic tradition without any structural connection (adversarial or begging acceptance) to the Roman Catholic institution," and which includes, she boats, "people from a variety of faith traditions." Whatever "Women-Church" is, it certainly isn't Roman Catholicism.


II. Dr. Hunt's Take on the New Apostolic Constitution
One would think that if the Vatican did something like accepting like-minded Christians into the Church, particularly while allowing them to keep their own liturgical contributions to the global Church, a sane liberal Catholic would love it. After all, they're affirming what we affirm, and yet they make the global mural of Catholicism a little more interesting. Aren't liberal Catholics supposed to love multiculturalism in the Church? And isn't that exactly what's going to be happening here? For starters, a huge number of those Anglicans viewed as likely to convert are from Africa, so there's more racial/ethnic diversity, which is certainly a positive; but the unique history and liturgy of traditional Anglicans seems like it would be something we'd want to add, right? Aren't all voices welcome, and all people welcome at the table in liberal Catholicism? Well, apparently not - at least, not if they're conservative voices, even not-yet-Catholic religious conservatives. Or perhaps it's even simpler than that: the whole "Vatican = Bad" brainrot that substitutes for critical thinking and prayerful discernment have made this diversity bad not because of who's included, but because of who's sending out the invites. The following is Dr. Hunt's take (in red), followed by my responses (in blue):
  • "Vatican’s Come-Hither to Anglicans: A Theological Scandal"
This is the title, I kid you not. And it's my first clue that she has no idea what she's talking about. The traditional Anglicans in question have already affirmed their full faith in everything in the Cathechism, a standard which Dr. Hunt can't remotely meet. If anyone's inclusion in the Catholic Church amounts to a "theological scandal" due to their dissident views, it's not the newbies.
  • Let history record this theological scandal for what it is. Touted by Rome as a step forward in ecumenical relations with a cousin communion, it is in fact the joining of two camps united in their rejection of women and queer people as unworthy of religious leadership.

If all it took to be Catholic was a rejection of "women and queer people" religious leadership, the Reformation would have ended really quickly. A whole slew of Protestant churches still reject priestesses and practicing homosexual ministers. If Hunt looked at, say, Evangelicals, rather than the smaller (and shrinking) liberal "mainline" Protestant churches, she'd realize how silly this statement was.

  • Current policy allows Lutheran and Episcopal married priests to jump the fence with the family in tow. Yet Roman Catholic men who wish to marry, never mind Roman Catholic women who might even agree to celibacy, are prohibited from being ordained. No Roman Catholic official seems to be able to say in a straightforward way why this is the case. They mumble something about tradition and certain distinctions.

Entire books have been written on this, like Stefan Heid's Celibacy In The Early Church: The Beginnings of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West. Granted, he's not a cleric, by why hold to that arbitrary standard? It's not as though clerics are the only people who proclaim traditional Catholicism. As for women, that's a whole other issue, and it's dogmatic, not disciplinary. The pope wrote an apostolic letter on the issue, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. And he was a cleric. And he's not mumbling here at all. Is Hunt unaware of the arguments, or just ignoring and downplaying them? And which speaks worse of her scholarly prowess?

  • In no way does the Vatican engage the issues that led to the English Reformation in the sixteenth century. Rather, Rome pretends to be flexible and modern about all this, gracious and accommodating like a fox.

Again, these Anglicans have communally affirmed the substance of Roman Catholicism (I'm referring specifically to the 400,000+ member body Traditional Anglican Communion). It's not like anyone who happens to be Anglican is automatically Catholic now, regardless of their beliefs. It's still necessary to hold the Catholic Faith, whole and inviolate. It just so happens that "the Latin-Rite Mass is the only acceptable Liturgy" isn't a part of that Faith.

So where, again, is the pretending? "Rome" is doing anything but pretending to be all modern. That ridiculous clamoring for modernity, that infuriating flexibility towards evil, is why these Traditional (notice that word, and how dissimilar it sounds from "modernist") Anglicans are thinking about bailing out en masse. Only someone who blindly equates "good" with "flexible and modern" could make such an obvious mistake.

  • When the property fights begin, I predict the niceties will give way to some serious struggles and we will see just how accommodating Rome can’t be.

We'll see. Personally, I think if the Anglicans got to take Canterbury Cathedral and so many other awesome churches when the head of the national church changed religions, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, particularly if any of the churches which convert worship in historic Catholic churches. It'd be interesting to see Anglicans justify the logic "when Catholics turned Anglican, Anglicans take the property; now that Anglicans are turning Catholic, Anglicans take the property." But again, we'll see.

  • In this case, the low-hanging fruit is British Anglicans who have not figured out how to reorganize themselves in light of their denomination’s changes. Early word from the US group led by the Rev. Martyn Minns of Virginia is that they are in fine shape, thank you, setting up their own structures so they will not need to convert.

Actually, the link says nothing about them being in "fine shape." Rev. Minns said that: “[For] 40 years I belonged to a church that has forgotten these timeless truths. My own church became what I have heard called the church of Utopian Unitarian Universalism.” He then said that “division within the Anglican Communion has been painful. Here in the U.S.A. it has been agonizing.” But looking at the bright side said, “Out of the confusion and decline, exciting new life is emerging,” in the form of groups like CANA (his own group) and the similar Anglican Mission in America. That's not saying anybody's in fine shape, but that God can work with anything. Besides all of this, the article is from over a month before the Vatican's announcement, so it's hardly the response she paints it as. "Early word," indeed, Dr. Hunt.

That said, Minns has responded, saying that, " This move by the Catholic Church recognizes the reality of the divide within the Anglican Communion and affirms the decision to create a new North American province that embraces biblical truth. While we welcome the positive response from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the Vatican’s provision, we urge Lambeth Palace to move swiftly to fully endorse the efforts of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and the Anglican Church in North America to keep the Anglican family together." So the ball's in the Anglican Church's hands now, in Minns' opinion: they can act, or risk splitting up the Anglican family. Where's the "we are in fine shape, thank you," again?

  • One wonders how long they can resist Rome’s charms. Imagine the real estate opportunities as US Roman Catholic churches close and conservative Anglicans need buildings. Think of the brilliant solution to the priest shortage as guaranteed-to-toe-the-line Anglican priests replace the Roman boys as they die off and/or think for themselves.

Right. I'm sure that there are a lot of Anglicans thinking, "we need a new church... let's switch denominations!" Remember that bit from my post yesterday about how Anglican priests are looking at something like a 65% pay cut. Then try and swallow this "they're just being sneaky and selfish" line.

  • Conjure the sight of high mass with a raft of altar servers and incense so abundant it makes parishioners forget there ever was a Vatican II.

Quick: find the part of Vatican II that said "get rid of altar servers and incense"? Can't find it? Me neither. But I guess (the "spirit of") Vatican II = flexibility and modernism = good. That silly little formula leaves little room for the content of the actual Council documents.

  • What is to prevent other denominations from following Rome’s lead? For example, what if the Anglican Communion set up a Catholic wing where those Roman Catholics who believe in the ordination of women and same-sex loving clergy could be Anglicans of the Roman Catholic Rite? The Mennonites might create a Catholic rite for those who follow them on peace issues, resulting in Catholic Mennonites.

Nothing. If the Anglican Church wants to make it easier for Catholic dissidents to join, nobody is stopping them. Oh, how I wish Abp. Rowan Williams is reading this right now. (On a serious note, we mourn the loss of those who stray from the Catholic Faith, but it's possible to stray without formally leaving - both forms of straying are tragic). The Catholic Church, like most churches, tends to hold to the idea that religious denominations are based on what you believe. So if you... you know, don't believe in Anglicanism, and believe in Catholicism, it's not that crazy to become a Catholic. Or vice versa. This "stand in the place where you were" form of ecumenism is just nuttily arbitrary.

  • It is more likely that Rome might decide that one does not even have to be Christian; that discrimination against women and gays is enough of a common bond to create some Catholics of the Muslim rite, for example.

Is she serious? Does she understand that these Anglicans, to enter the Catholic Church, must believe what the Catholic Church believes? Is it possible to be Muslim and do that? That said, Muslim converts to the Faith would be more than welcome, and if entire Muslim churches wanted to become Catholic, heck yes, we'd accept them. Given Spanish history, it looks like we'd even let them keep their mosques, replacing their minarets with Church bell towers.

  • The permutations are endless but the result is the same: a perversion of everything the ecumenical movement has stood for in the last hundred years. Ecumenical Christians have tried to learn about one another’s traditions and find positive places of agreement—not little pockets of shared prejudice.

I'll note that the Anglicans in question found such "positive places of agreement" that they're converting. That's the ideal of ecumenism, isn't it? That all may be One? This is the ultimate one-ness. As for "little pockets of shared prejudice," what she's calling prejudice, the rest of us call "traditional Christianity," or "Biblical Truth."

  • I feel sorry for Rowan Williams if he did not know what he was up against when he engaged in bilateral relations with Rome, only to be subject to its treachery.

What's the difference between dissenting Catholics, anti-Catholic Fundamentalists, and New Atheists? Not their views on"Rome" (never "the Catholic Church"), for sure. They all share a Dan Brown-level paranoia of those sneaky, treacherous, Romans. Of course, the Fundamentalist Protestants at least get to hang out in our "little pocket."

So I've at least found someone who explains why she thinks that the Vatican's Apostolic Constitution was a bad idea. It just so happens that her conclusions are (a) terribly misinformed, (b) paranoid, and (c) logically flawed beyond belief.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Price of Converting to Catholicism

I'd wondered how anyone could oppose the Vatican's action in making things easier for Anglicans to convert. After all, they sent a letter stating their collective desire to become Catholic, but wanting to keep their flock together. Certainly, you can legitimately think that the right thing to do is for these Traditional Anglicans to patch up the Anglican Communion from the inside, and not leave when the going gets tough. But that's really their choice; what the pope's done is to make choosing Catholicism cost less.

After all, those switching to the Catholic Church are sacrificing a lot already, particularly the clerics . This is true for virtually anyone converting, but let's look at the costs facing a Traditional Anglican congregation considering crossing the Tiber:
  • For starters, there's the pay: "A job as a clergyman in the Church of England comes with a stipend of £22,250 and free accommodation. Catholic priests earn about £8,000, paid by their parish and topped up by a diocese where the parish cannot afford even that." That's a nearly 65% pay cut. (In US dollars, this is the equivalent of going from a $36,439 yearly stipend to a $13,101 yearly stipend).
  • Then, there's the closing of doors, and potential loss of ecclesial office: married priests won't be allowed to become bishops, and so if a married Anglican Bishop converts, he may be ordained a married Catholic priest, but not a bishop.
  • The risk of in-fighting and the dispersing of the flock. It seems pretty unlikely that a full 100% of these churches will come over, and so even under the best of circumstances, a move towards Rome is a move away from Anglican loved ones. Jesus warned in Luke 12:53 that this is sometimes the cost of Discipleship, but it's most painful when it's Christians against Christians. These Traditional Anglicans have stuck together as a faithful remnant within Anglicanism for a few years now.
  • The cost of stigma. It's normal to be Anglican in England: a bit unusual to actually believe a lot of Anglicanism's traditional doctrines, but simply calling yourself Anglican is like calling yourself Catholic in Boston - it means about as much as saying you're Irish (or English, in the Anglican case). To publicly become Catholic is to make a statement, whether one means to or not, and that statement's a pretty unpopular one right now.
  • The costs of liturgical change. Switching from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to the Catholic "Anglican Use" Book of Divine Worship is less dramatic than switching to say, the Novus Ordo Mass, but it's still going from a quasi-Protestant liturgy to a
The Vatican's move offsets the costs somewhat: it's easier for congregations to stick together, and the valued liturgical elements are largely preserved. It also increases the benefits: the move validates a lot within the Traditional Anglican structure, and seems to keep that which is wholesome and edifying. Plus, at the end of the day, we have the Eucharist, and we'll never have priestesses.

Married Priests? Probably Not Where You Think.

Phil Lawler examines the implications of the Vatican move to ease the process for Anglican clergy (including married priests) to become Catholic priests. His thoughts: this won't lead to the Latin-Rite priests being married, will lead to few (if any) Latin-Rite raised Catholics switching Rites to marry and then become priests, but might lead the Eastern Rite Catholics to end their moratorium on ordaining married priests. Right now, the Eastern Rite churches will ordain married men to the priesthood in their home countries, but don't do it in the US out of respect for their celibate Latin Rite brethren (there are married Eastern Catholic priests in the US, but as I understand, they weren't ordained here). However, if "the Pope's new apostolic constitution brings a large number of married Anglican priests into the Catholic fold, it will no longer be a novelty-- or a cause for raised eyebrows-- to encounter a married Catholic priest. So the reason for the old agreement with the Eastern Catholic churches will no longer exist." Lawler's guess: this could lead to the Eastern Catholic churches ordaining married priests in the US.

If he's right, this could lead to some sort of awkward situations, like Catholic seminaries with houses of formation for English-Rite (or whatever it'll be called) and Eastern seminarians. The Latin Rite students will be planning to live as eunuchs for the Kingdom while at least some of their English/Eastern classmates may be going home to their wives.

Bella: A Great Movie With Some Great Actors

There's a tendency to hold anything and everything coming out of Hollywood to the lowest moral standards. As religious people, the Hollywood desert of secularism and godlessness can be so dry that we're lap up anything. Patricia Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond is a good example. She's great on a whole slew of life issues: she's pro-life, anti-death penalty, and anti-euthanasia. But she's not perfect: she's for gay rights and birth control. I really don't mean to knock on Ms. Heaton - she's surely hurt her career by being so pro-life, and she's a great person to have involved in Feminists for Life due in part to her recognizability from her acting. But I think if she were almost any other pro-lifer who was raised devout Catholic and now thought gay rights and birth contol were ok, we wouldn't be as thrilled with her outspokenness. There's certainly something of a double standard for famous types, particularly actors/actresses.
We do this in other areas, trying to derive a Christian message from movies which are often morally ambiguous, at best. I respect Mark Shea's Catholic reading of The Truman Show, but I'm not sure that's what anyone involved in the making of that flick intended.

I. Bella
I mention all of this so that when I say that Bella is a fantastic pro-life movie, I don't just mean "it's got a good message by Hollywood standards." I mean that it's a movie you can stand behind 100%. There's no language, no sex, nothing I need to caveat, other than that there's a lot of really emotionally riveting stuff, and a few pretty sad scenes. So keep the tissues handy, I guess. The film is subtle and compelling, not bang-you-over-the-head preachy: even pro-choicers should be able to appreciate the film's message of the joy of birth, the struggle of women facing abortion, and the tragedy that is abortion -- regardless of their feelings on whether that tragedy should be facilitated as some sort of "necessary evil" or not.

I don't want to give away too many of the details, but basically, the story revolves around Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a young woman who gets fired the same day she finds out she's pregnant, and José (Eduardo Verastegui), a [former] co-worker, and the brother of the guy who fired her. Nina's pretty sure she wants to have an abortion, and José, who clearly doesn't agree with this decision, seems to be torn on how to even approach the topic.

Bella happens to be a really captivating movie in its own right. Regardless of the topic, the cast of this movie was virtually perfect: it's a great slice-of-life of the Latin parts of New York City, without hamming it up or going overboard. Even Nina's boss, who fires her, is presented in a sympathetic light. This movie won the prestigious Toronto Film Festival (previous winners include other great movies like Hotel Rwanda and Life is Beautiful), and was one of the top ten grossing independent films of 2007. IMDB rates it a 7.4/10, with the biggest criticism that not enough happens; I don't find it particularly slow, but it's definitely a character-driven drama, not an action-packed flick. In any case, 7.4's not a half bad, given that it's the average given by users.

II. Behind Bella
After the film, I sort of took it all in while half-watching the credits. I was surprised to see some names I recognized on the list of people they were thanking, like Scott and Kimberly Hahn (Scott has called Bella "a window into Grace"). Anyways, since the people behind this film were obviously aware of its pro-life and Catholic-affirming message, I decided to see what the actors involved were like. After all, Jim Caviezel, star of The Passion of the Christ is a daily Mass-goer who describes himself as "shamelessly Catholic" (which would be a good name for a blog), and says things like: "You, my friends, by God, you must fight with Mary and with Christ as your sword. May you fight with St. Michael and all the angels in defending God, in sending Lucifer and his army straight back to hell where they belong!"

It turns out that the star of Bella is just as awesome. Known as "Mexico's Brad Pitt," this former Calvin Klein model and Latin pop star has turned his life over to Christ:
Today, the 35-year-old actor is a daily Mass-goer, committed to abstaining from sex before marriage, who flies to Darfur to help the starving, provides financial help for women considering abortions and organises house-building missions in Mexico.
“I wasn’t born to be famous, or to be a movie star, but to love and serve Jesus Christ,” the former model and singer once listed as among the top 50 “hottest” Hispanics by People magazine will tell a gathering of young Catholics on his first visit to England this weekend.
It was Verastegui's English language coach for the movie Chasing Papi who lead to his reversion to Catholicism.

“She used a Socratic method, just asking me questions: why had I wanted to become an actor in the first place? What did I think the true meaning of life? Was I really making the best use of my God-given talents.” Initially, Verastegui resisted. The crunch moment came when the coach asked if he believed his body “was a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“I replied “yes” he recalls, and she said “then why are you living in a way that breaks the Commandments and offends God? For the first time I saw how my lifestyle had insulted the Lord,” says the actor, who next sought out a Mexican priest and poured out, in a three-hour confession, past sins.
Filled with a “a sense of gratitude” at “the immense mercy of God” in forgiving his sins, Verastegui told his confessor he would give up Hollywood for life as a missionary in the Amazon jungles of Brazil.
“But my confessor said “Hollywood is your jungle, we already have people working in Brazil. So what had been my dream became a sacrifice,” Verastegui explains. For four years, he renounced all roles that conflicted with his Catholic and his Latino values, eventually co-founding with two associates Metanoia films.

Bella was Metanoia's debut film (the word means "conversion" or "repentance"), and not a bad way to kick things off at all. Verastegui credits Pope John Paul II's prayerful intercession for the film coming together:

"It was a beautiful experience," Verástegui says. "I asked him to please pray for us and for Metanoia Films, so we can do movies that will bring people closer to Christ and elevate the dignity of Latinos. And just ten days later, we met Sean Wolfington [the entrepreneur who would finance the film's $3 million budget]"

III. Beyond Bella
Bella is only the beginning of Verástegui's unique apostolate. This year, he released a short film, The Butterfly Circus, which explores the problem of pain (and particularly, physical disability) in a particularly touching way. Verástegui stars alongside Australian actor Nick Vujicic. Vujicic has his own incredible conversion story. Born with no arms or legs, he struggled with depression before turning his life over to Christ. Today (at only age 26), he's a preacher, and the founder of Life Without Limbs, which is worth checking out. His featured video is on the dual problems of AIDS and the rape of virgins in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, shot while he was on a mission trip there.

Like Vujicic, Verástegui stays active outside of the world of film. Besides the activities mentioned above (he "flies to Darfur to help the starving, provides financial help for women considering abortions and organises house-building missions in Mexico"), he's also narrarated a 3-minute pro-life video on Obama, on the impact of abortion on Latinos. He also made an ad called "Just One Judge," hammering home the terrible importance of the 2008 presidential election. In the latter, he speaks in front of a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of our best hopes for an end to abortion (after all, as a teenage single Mother, she said yes to life, and Life).

So rent (or buy) Bella, check out The Butterfly Circus, and find out more about these powerful voices for God - Jim Caviezel, Nick Vujicic, and especially Eduardo Verástegui.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Vatican's Shaking Things Up!

Dr. Jeff Mirus over at Catholic culture puts the pieces together, arguing that the Church is "on the prowl." Rather than sitting back and waiting until the next scandal hits, or focusing on maintaining the Status Quo, we see the Vatican reaching out actively in a number of areas:
  • Vatican diplomats at the UN have denounced the "population bomb" myth, and turned the tables on the sex abuse scandal (arguing that much of the problem is, in fact, homosexuality within the priesthood, and that the organizations criticizing the Catholic Church have beams in their own eyes on this very issue);

  • The appointment of Cañizares and Burke to the Congregation for Bishops, with Phil Lawler accurately assessing the importance of that move here;

  • The Apostolic Visitation of American women religious;

  • And of course, the pope's new outreach to hundreds of thousands of Anglicans on the verge of the Tiber.

Add to this list the Vatican's willingness to sit down and debate (in private) the leaders of the Society of St. Pius X on the subject of Vatican II, with talks beginning October 26th. Apparently, three qualified (and orthodox) experts affiliated with the CDF (including Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, vicar general of Opus Dei) will address their grievances head-on, instead of giving them the runaround.

Taken as a whole, the Vatican is showing willingness to preach the Gospel in season and out, to those within the Church (and even within the Roman Curia) as well as to those outside the Church (whether schismatic or, like the UN, secular) - and it's being done by people who are seemingly unconcerned with their own image as enlightened, diplomatic clerics. It seems that Benedict has really found his style. All of this is shaping up to a be a very exciting time for the Church!