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The Top 5 Problems with Contemporary Christian Apologetics

I spend a lot of time criticizing contemporary Christian apologetics. Since I am myself a Christian apologist, that might seem a bit strange. But it is, in fact, simply a practical outworking of my commitment to what I call the 50/50 Rule:

50/50 rule: devote as much time to (a) defending the beliefs of your opponents and critiquing your own beliefs as you devote to (b) critiquing the beliefs of your opponents and defending your own beliefs. (Read more here)

In short, the 50/50 rule is an attempt to embody the Golden Rule in civil discourse by debating and dialoguing with others the way you’d have them debate and dialogue with you.

With that in mind, this article is focused on a type of self-critique, though in this case not specifically critique of my beliefs, per se, but rather of some weaknesses in current Christian apologetics more generally. And so, without further ado, I will now count down the top five problems with contemporary Christian apologetics.

5. Lack of imagination

I’ve touched on this problem before in the article “Apologetics and the Problem of the William Lane Craig Clones.” The basic problem is that there is an inordinate focus on a limited set of arguments and topics. For example, while I think the Kalam cosmological argument and the argument from intelligent design are both interesting and well worth debating, they both receive excessive attention at the expense of many other worthwhile arguments.

This is not a new problem: in the above-linked article on the “Craig Clones”, I make reference to a famous paper by Alvin Plantinga from more than thirty years ago in which he challenged Christian philosophers to explore more arguments and lines of evidence for theistic and Christian belief. And I’ve certainly tried to do that in my own works as in my defense of an argument from answered prayer (in God or Godless) and an argument from the mathematical structure of reality (in An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar).

One of the points I’ve often strived to emphasize is that the strength of arguments is always contextualized. I summarize the point in 59 seconds here. In that brief, 59-second treatment, I point out that good arguments must be accessible and persuasive. But both accessibility and persuasiveness are relative to individuals and that means we should be seeking to explore and develop more diverse arguments for our views. Most skeptics are already familiar with the Kalam and intelligent design arguments. So perhaps it is time to explore some other arguments that might find a more welcoming reception.

4. Excessive Focus on Debate

These days, so much of apologetics is focused on debates. When I first got into apologetics in the early-mid 1990s, it was primarily by way of watching VHS cassettes of William Lane Craig debates from our university library. Everybody loves a good dust-up, right?

Perhaps, but on the downside, the entire debate format tends to reinforce tribalism (more on that anon), competition, and spin-doctoring/motivated reasoning to the end of winning the debate. Set against that backdrop, is it any surprise that both sides often think they “won”? For further discussion of this problem, see my article “The Problem with Debates.”

3. Lack of Focus on Emotional Intelligence

I find that many amateur apologists focus a lot of effort studying arguments and evidence, memorizing various formal and informal logical fallacies. But they spend little time pursuing the emotional intelligence required to read a room, to identify the intended audience of an exchange, and to present oneself in a savvy and winsome manner so as to appear persuasive to that audience.

In my opinion, every apologist should put some readings on emotional intelligence and persuasion psychology on their reading list. What good is it if you win every argument but lose your audience?

2. Tribalism

Tribalism refers to heightened in-group loyalty to the point of discouraging critiques of in-group members and their arguments. Thus, time and again I encounter atheists and skeptics who are surprised that I devote significant time to critiquing various aspects of Christian apologetics. Consider, for example, my extensive and unsparing critiques of William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide or my critique of Andy Bannister’s claim that a recognition of human dignity requires belief in God.

While people are often puzzled that I would critique Christian apologists like Craig and Bannister, the fact is that Christian apologetics is not served by remaining silent when you disagree with the arguments of your fellow Christians. And when we challenge those on “our side” who offer dubious arguments, we undermine tribalism and raise our own credibility as honest and fair-minded people who really care about getting at the truth rather than merely reinforcing tribal boundaries.

1. Fundamentalism

This is the biggest problem, in my view. And it is exemplified in Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently published new edition of Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (I review the book here.) In that review, I define fundamentalism as follows:

“When I use the term, I intend to signal a position that evinces a particular set of characteristics commonly associated with the Protestant fundamentalism that arose a century ago and which has remaind [sic] a significant force among North American Protestants for the last several decades. These characteristics include biblicism, biblical literalism, rationalism, triumphalism, and binary oppositionalism.”

In my experience, most (Protestant) apologists either lack any formal theological study or their only exposure to Christian theology is through fundamentalist theologians (e.g. Wayne Grudem) and conservative institutions (e.g. Biola University).

As a result, many of these individuals end up with a narrow understanding of the Christian tradition which is manifested in a tendentious understanding of “biblical inerrancy”, a skepticism of evolution and contemporary science, a simplistic soteriological exclusivism, a single theory of atonement (penal substitution) and posthumous judgment (eternal conscious torment), and so on.

And the next step is that these apologists often confuse and conflate their own Protestant fundamentalist tradition with the broader Christian tradition. (For a particularly telling example, see my review of the book An Introduction to Christian Worldview.) But the Christian tradition is far broader and more nuanced than many Christian apologists realize. In short, they have yet to understand, let alone defend, that which C.S. Lewis called mere Christianity.

Dr. Randal Rauser

Written by

Dr. Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary where he has taught since 2003. He is the author of many books including What on Earth do we Know About Heaven? (Baker, 2013); The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (InterVarsity, 2012); Is the Atheist My Neighbor? (Cascade, 2015); An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything (Prometheus Books, 2016); and his most recent book, What's So Confusing About Grace? (Two Cup Press, 2017)"Randal also blogs and podcasts at RandalRauser.com and lectures widely on Christian worldview and apologetics.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • OMG

    When most sentences contain some variation of "I, me, my," many readers lose much interest.

    • So you don't like writers using first person pronouns. Presumably, you prefer a plural of majesty?

      • Rob Abney

        In my experience, most (Protestant) apologists either lack any formal theological study or their only exposure to Christian theology is through fundamentalist theologians (e.g. Wayne Grudem) and conservative institutions (e.g. Biola University).

        In your experience, do Catholic apologists have the same problems or different problems?

        • I don't think there's any question that on the whole, Catholic apologists have a better understanding of systematic theology, church history, hermeneutics, philosophy, and other related disciplines. Twenty + years ago Protestant historian Mark Noll wrote an influential book lamenting "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind", and one can see the same problems continuing today in evangelicalism and evangelical and fundamentalist apologetics. (See also Christian Smith's 2010 book "The Bible Made Impossible".)

    • Too bad for those readers. There is much they could learn that they never will. Some lessons cannot be taught except by references to the teacher's personal experiences.

      • OMG

        Excusez moi. I did not intend to discount personal testimony. It has its important place. My initial comment represented a brief moment in time to communicate an essential argument which I hoped to make but had no time to develop. I should have kept my lip zipped. Lesson learned.

        In addition to personal testimony represented by the "I" in speech or writing, there is that of authorities and experts who possess greater knowledge, experience, and skill than many an "I" in the room. Teachers should share their personal experience but not to the extent that the AUDIENCE itself and expert authorities are relegated the back seast of dialogue. In essence, "I" as a teacher of English, support Dr. Rauser's thesis. Whether subjects or objects of the plural of majesty, we ought to attend to our audience. Speaking often and only of "I" closes rather than opens doors of communication.

        I have noticed and admired that you often do a very good job of seeing and seeking to understand different points of view. Kudos to you for that.

        • Martin Zeichner

          "Excusez moi. I did not intend to discount personal testimony. It has its important place."

          Yes

          "I should have kept my lip zipped. Lesson learned."

          No. Do not keep your lip zipped. Keep talking. Keep questioning. Your voice is important. Vote. Make noise. Be the squeaky wheel. Don't just stand around and admire it.

          I learned this at my own expense.

  • OMG

    St. Francis (Note the "St."): Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

    With sincere apologies, Dr. Rauser. The above is more in line with what I hoped to suggest; the post was not intentionally personally directed.

    My education and experience as an English teacher lead me (and statistically so for most others) to engage less when speakers and writers do not follow your 50/50 rule. Statistical analysis also suggests that first-person pronouns are used more frequently in our post-post-modern day than in prior time periods.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    @Randal_Rauser:disqus

    Dr. Rauser,

    Some excellent points in your article. Your observation about "emotional intelligence" is solid. In decades of teaching experience, one thing I have usually tried to do is to determine where my students are coming from and address my presentation to what they already believe in as a starting point.

    If most are intellectually viewing the world from the perspective of positivism and natural science, it does little good to begin with the intricacies of metaphysics and epistemology. One has to, hopefully, demonstrate that you know their position as well as or better then they do themselves, and then use rational argument to point out the inadequacies of that position and show how a different viewpoint might be better.

    I also concur with your point about lack of imagination, or even knowledge, causing many to use the same old argument repeatedly. For example, I keep running into the Kalam cosmological argument, as it it were the only proof for God's existence available. The classical proofs for God do not rely on the world being created in time. So, focusing exclusively on trying to prove God the Kalam way misses the fruitful alternatives that can be very profitable. Reading St. Thomas Aquinas' First Way as if it went back in time through a series of moved movers is a case in point, since his argument simply does not proceed in that manner. All moved movers move and are moved simultaneously, and the chain of movers does not go back in time. So, many people think they are rejecting all proofs for God's existence when they are, in fact, addressing only one argument -- and certainly not the strongest one in my opinion.

  • David Nickol

    Something that interests me is the relationship between evangelization and apologetics . . . if any! One would think that apologetics would be part of evangelization, but I often get the impression that evangelists and apologists are two quite separate groups. I can't make a claim to have data to support it, but it often seems to me that works of apologetics are written primarily (or at least read primarily) by people who are already believers. It is not unusual for the more popular works of apologists (say, Evidence That Demands a Verdict) to receive hundreds or rave (five-star) reviews on Amazon, for instance, but I would be amazed to find any that say, "This book convinced me to become a Christian." (By the way, I highly recommend Randal Rauser's review of Evidence That Demands a Verdict.)

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Just so you will know that some people do pay attention to what you write, at your urging, I just finished reading Dr. Rauser's fine review of Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

      And it was a fine and finely nuanced review!

      I was pleased to see his recognition that apologetics should properly begin with what Catholics call the preambula fidei, the "preambles to the faith," that is, the defense of the philosophical truths which are presupposed by any act of faith in religious revelation. Such truths include, above all, the proofs for God's existence -- since it is hard to have divine revelation without a God to do the revealing.

      • David Nickol

        Thanks.

        I do know that people pay attention to what I write, since responses to what I write general get from one to three up-votes, the meaning of which, I assume, is, "I read that, and I am so glad you set him straight!"

        • Dennis Bonnette

          A simple up-vote expresses at least appreciation of your comment, at least agreement with some of the insights contained within it. As you know, I don't agree with everything you write (just as you don't agree with me) -- so a simple up-vote might not address possible reservations about some aspects of your comments. Usually, I find a certain richness and correctness about many of your comments that I wish to applaud -- but I would not over interpret my meaning! Still, it is at least an acknowledgement of sincere respect.

  • David Nickol

    Regarding fundamentalism, it seems to me that conservative Catholics have a sort of biblical fundamentalism of their own, although it is rather different from Protestant fundamentalism. And of course Catholics have "infallible" Church teachings and dogma that allegedly can never be changed. It is of course quite legitimate for Catholics in "dialog" (arguments) with non-Catholics to make reference to dogma, but sometimes it seems almost to be deployed as an attempt to end the dialog, as if those arguing against Catholic teaching were somehow obliged to assent to Catholic dogma.

    I am reminded—not entirely sure why—of an exchange I had once in a forum not unlike this in which somebody said to me, "I'm not telling you my opinion. I'm telling you God's opinion!"

    • OMG

      If dogma has the power to silence, I wonder which one the Pope heard.

      • David Nickol

        Your snarky remark (with an upvote from DB, no less) directed against your own Pope had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote. If you need me to clarify what I was talking about, I will, but I am pretty sure you understood me and did not really intend to comment on what I was saying. If you want to criticize the one you call the Vicar of Christ, I am sure you can find some way to do so other than using my comments as a springboard.

        And in any case . . . .

        Pope's cardinal advisors say Vatican will soon respond to Viganò allegations

        Vatican City, Sep 11, 2018 / 10:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ group of cardinal advisors have issued a statement saying the Holy See is preparing an answer to current debates, presumably referencing questions raised following allegations by Archbishop Carlo Viganò. . . .

        • OMG

          You made me blink at 'snarky,' but before I could completely close my eyes, I saw you defending my very own Pope. Who are you to judge?

          P.S.: Thanks for the breaking news.
          P.S.S.: It was a joke. Lighten up.

          This is not the first time I've seen explosions. Is everything okay?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I upvoted your comment precisely because I thought it was a clever note of humor based on the Holy Father insisting that he would "say not one word" about the Vigano letter. But we all know it is a bit early to judge what the ultimate response of the Vatican will be. Any explanation that lends transparency to this sensitive matter would be welcome.

            Actually, the "silence" of Pope Francis that is of greater concern to me extends well over a year now. That pertains to the teaching on marriage in Amoris Laetitia. I am not accusing him of false teaching in that document. What concerns me is the evident pastoral chaos that has ensued, where bishops appear to be implementing ambivalent pastoral practices in its name.

            It would be most helpful if the Holy Father would simply reaffirm in clear language that those who have a previous valid marriage are not permitted to live in conjugal relations with another person, and, at the same time, to receive Holy Communion. No one need judge individual cases in the process. It is just that continued absence of unequivocal reiteration of the traditional moral theology in this sensitive matter is a silence which has extremely negative pastoral implications. Certainly, it should at least be made clear that silence does not mean consent.

          • OMG

            Thank you for your succinct clarity. As you say, the problem of doubt due to silence on AL heightens the current crisis. There has also been silence on the German inter-communion proposal.

            Pieper: "As soon as people really "speak," they are assuming their ability to recognize truth, if not that they have already recognized it. For speaking means to make reality recognizable and to communicate it. And truth is nothing but reality's being known." (Death and Immortality, p. 115, St. Augustine's Press, 2000)

            An imaginery picture of a family (Ezekiel 4:12 inspired): Our very own Papa sits at the head of the table. We children yearn to know where is Mother - sad that we only catch glimpses which show her to have changed. We ask Papa about Mama, but he won't talk to us. Papa has invited the neighbors, and the neighbors have been fed, but we are hungry. We heard that a bomb exploded at his place of work. We heard that he's looking for the criminal. Police sirens scream in the background and news-copters whirl overhead. We've heard that Papa may leave or lose his job. Papa's friends are lined up at the door; they all want to talk to him. He asks us to pray for African rain. And keep silent. We're hungry.

            Thank you for your up-vote. I'm glad you enjoyed a nugget of humor. That's the best I could give.

          • Rob Abney

            The bomb exploded a number of years ago, the place has been cleaned up but the ingredients for another bomb are still in place. Papa's friends are waiting at the door but none of them seem too friendly. So we have to say trust Papa, mother won't let him do anything drastic.

          • Richard Williams

            The "Holy Father"? This is the sort of thing that turns people who believe in the Bible as the word of God completely off As far as moral issues are concerned, I am grateful that I have the ability to challenge anyone with the word of God who is not living beneficially for themselves or others without having to depend on some wrongly elevated human being to tell us what is right and what is not.

          • Jim the Scott

            I got this Doc.
            @drdennisbonnette:disqus

            I find that claim amusing & Protestant hypocrisy in that regard never fails to gaul me. Anyway what does the Bible say?

            In the OT the Kings of Judah had a Prime Minister figure a "Master of the Household" who ruled the Kingdom on their behalf. Here is what the Bible says about that office.

            “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 23 I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat[a] of honor for the house of his father. Isaiah 22:20-23

            Interesting? Is there any other place in the Bible where the Son of David and King of Judah gives Keys to a man (There by implication makes him "Father over the People")?

            Hey there is! "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

            19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matt 16:18-19.

            Well that is what the "Word of God" says (it clearly teaches a Papacy) and there is the challenge before you. Are you going to submit to it as a "Bible believing Christian"?

            We shall see. Speaking for myself. I will be an Atheist before I will be a Protestant. Because like belief in Scientism/Positivism it's a belief system that is just obviously wrong. Not that I question the Protestant's love of Jesus but I have to go with the Word of God and not an offshoot of an offshoot etc.

        • michael

          Attention everybody: Do you really think The Nile river was changed into blood? Are you comfortable telling your kids something so strange? And it been any other book besides The Bible would you consider someone who believed this reasonable?

          • It is considered bad form to repeat your comments like this; the top-level one was sufficient.

          • michael

            Repetition in different places spreads info to more people, people who might nota hv looked at the top if the comments section but did look at "replies to my comments".

          • Imagine if everyone were to do this.

          • Martin Zeichner

            You don't have to imagine it. It's already happening,

          • Martin Zeichner

            Sounds a lot like the old show biz principal of "Tell the audience what you're going to do, while you're doing it tell them what you're doing, and when you're done tell them what you've just done."

            Or the principal behind all news drive time radio. Repeat the cycle every twenty two minutes.

            All of which goes to support my contention that these fora are set up so that we entertain each other. The company just sets up the server using open source code and we provide the content. Easy peasy. You can do it too from your home with about five thousand bucks worth of equipment. You don't even need a business plan if you have the computer savvy.

            This is the age of the everyman. The best of times and the worst of times.

      • Martin Zeichner

        "If dogma has the power to silence..."

        If only.

        I prefer my own slogan "If you ask someone for their opinion, they will tell it to you."

        Sometimes at great length, eh, Dennis?

  • Robert_Caritas

    Thanks for this article. I have also noticed that most Catholic apologists, even though they tend to do great work, are working within the neo-thomist synthesis framework which was normative from St. Pius X to Vatican II. Yet, with the council and especially the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the center of Catholic theology has radically shifted to the Fathers of the Church and authors like de Lubac and von Balthasar. The eminent testimony of these two great popes strongly suggests that this shift was also for the better, and that we are shooting ourselves in the leg by not integrating it more into our apologetics.

    Bishop Robert Barron is the notable exception to this (he intentionally takes a Balthasarian approach), and I think this makes it no wonder that his reach and appeal are as broad as they are.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Interesting comment Robert!

      It may not be fair to ask you to do this in a combox, but I wonder if you could hazard a brief summary of what is distinctive about this new Balthasarian direction in comparison to the "neo-thomist synthesis framework"?

      • Robert_Caritas

        I will try to do my best, though it will be especially difficult since I am still really discovering all of this, so please take this as more of the personal impression which motivated my comment than a learned summary ! Though the more I am learning about this kind of theology, the more I am seeing that it is what has motivated the most inspiring Catholic figures of the past decades, such as John Paul II or Benedict XVI. The book that introduced me to it is Catholic Theology by Tracey Rowland. I can't recommend it highly enough.

        Though to take a quick stab at how I see both approaches as contrasting, neo-thomism seems like a strange form of rationalism sometimes. It tried to build a system in which everything in the faith could be almost mathematically analyzed, and even demonstrated to the extent of course that the faith allowed it. It created an extremely complex but very rigid system. In fact, it sometimes feels that these authors are competing with the logical positivists in this respect. And it is probably not a coincidence that the heyday of neo-thomism co-incides with that of logical positivism. It sometimes feels like these were theologians trying to out-do the spirit of their age at what it was best at. Most traditionalists fail to grasp that the kind of theology they are usually drawing from is in fact quite modern.

        The Balthasarian direction as you put it takes a much broader view on Tradition and tries to integrate it all (Balthasar seemingly studied and wrote about everyone, from John of the Cross, to Origen, to St. Therese of Lisieux, etc.), but seems to give a priority to the Church Fathers' way of doing things. Aquinas has an important place in it, but only alongside many other great saints and thinkers. It is a more spiritually grounded approach, and tries to start by seeing how God actually interacts with mankind throughout history, rather than create very philosophically complex idealizations of how this might happen. Most people do not encounter faith through elaborate rational considerations, as the neo-thomist approach sometimes seems to suggest (though these often have their place in aiding the act of faith), but in a personal encounter with the Glory of God. Balthasar says that this experience is "self-interpreting", which anyone who has been graced to have it can understand. We do not take our rationalist measuring stick and validate what we perceive, but rather we experience something totally new and realize "this is Truth." And it is also this experience which can then help us understand the whole of reality. All the truths discovered by mankind cohere with it, and must if they are genuinely truths, even though it is so far beyond them. For Balthasar, we have to build up from this self-interpreting experience of God's Glory, and somehow, when this perspective is taken, it really does seem that everything falls into place : metaphysics, science, history, etc.

        Part of the relevance this can have for apologetics is that it can take the emphasis a little off of trying to win arguments, and more towards trying to be a channel for the manifestation of God's glory to the people we are speaking with. To put it more simply, if the powerful arguments we give are not clothed with charity, goodness and beauty, they will simply help someone solve a mental puzzle. On the other hand, if we can approach apologetics doing so, then we will not only help people intellectually move close to God, but also feed their intense hunger for meaning, and this will be profoundly life changing. I think that Chesterton is a good example of someone who understood this to a certain extent.

        Most people are sick of hearing postivistic sounding syllogisms. They instinctively make them run in the other direction. On some level they feel that the enlightenment and the 19th century overemphasis on reason led to the Gulags and the Holocaust. They are starved for Goodness, Beauty and Love. If we can give them that, and on top of that show that these things are truly real because God is, then I think we will be able to evangelize the world. Neo-thomist inspired apologetics are playing a very important role today, but I feel that they mostly help unusually intellectual people and those who already believe and want to bolster their faith. Thank God people are doing this work, but we need to go way beyond this to respond to the challenges of today.

        In more concrete terms, this means that apologists must not only have faith-related knowledge, but they need to be cultured in a broad way : art, literature, history, secular philosophy, science, etc. Think of how effective having at least some of all of this, and a lot of some, made Ven. Fulton Sheen. They also need to be people who truly take Jesus as the rock of their lives, the one whose Glory gives meaning to everything. Because then they will start seeing reflections of it in many things people love, and they will be able to show them that these are really arrows pointing to something higher, filled with not only that goodness but so much more.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Excellent summary, thank you Robert!

        • Martin Zeichner

          I would like to join Jim (hillclimber) once again in saying that that was an excellent summary. Thank you.

          You already seem to have answered the second one of my questions. but I would just like specific confirmation if you would be so kind.

          No need to apologize about doing your best. All any of us can do is our best. You seem to have high standards for yourself and I can sympathize.

          • Robert_Caritas

            Hi Martin, thanks for your thoughtful replies. The "neo-thomist synthesis" refers to a version of Thomism which was made official under St. Pius the Xth to fight modernism. Not really knowing how to handle this new threat from within (modernists basically keep most of the words and rituals, but redefine everything), the Church's reaction at the time was a disciplinary one : they took their most powerful thinker, St. Thomas Aquinas, and made a particular interpretation of his thought official. This interpretation also seems to be formulated to specifically respond to the modern mindset. This is a pretty unusual situation in the history of Catholic thought which usually encourages bold intellectual exploration as long as certain basic truths are respected (the most important periods of Catholic thought, that of the Church Fathers and Scholasticism, have an incredible diversity of approaches and systems).

            Though to reply to your other comment, while I deeply agree with the utmost important of promoting unity among people, I do think that the issue of theism is important. This is primarily because I have experienced myself, and seen over and over in others, the incredible difference that having a relationship with God makes. It is like the person has been plugged into a fountain of life. If they go on to develop a deep spiritual life, it becomes even more striking. Thinking that God does not exist prevents this from happening – like thinking that a person next to you does not would keep you from relating to them. And like any fountain, the one that emerges from a relationship with God rejuvenates everything around it. So the issue of theism really does relate back to that of love and peace. I think these can only spread in the world to the degree that at least a sizeable minority of people have deep relationships with God (not that they are the ones doing all the loving, far from it, but biblical imagery suggests they are like routers so-to-speak, from which God can pour his gifts into others nearby).

            Anyways, I'd be happy to talk about this if you wanted. Though I think a very intense debate-prone forum might not be the best place ! Don't hesitate to email me if you wish : c dot dessauce at mail dot com

    • OMG

      The most recent crisis has brought forth bold voices from Catholicism's traditional sector. In the prior five decades, these same trads seemed to grant Balthasar entrée but often it was an uneasy alliance. This probably stemmed from the difficulty reconciling Balthasar's universalist view of salvation with Jesus' own words in scripture.

      In very recent days, Balthasar's positions seem to strike trads as more suspect. 1Peter5 (I believe it was there...) this past week posted an essay arguing the trads are the ones who will fight for their church (as they have traditionally done). The uncatechized and the liberals in the pews have historically fallen away and most likely will do so again. Without knowing, believing, or seeing the validity of any motivation to fight, one may not. The future seems, therefore, to augur for a small group of strong believers vs. a very large group of seculars. Perhaps I am wrong.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        The uncatechized and the liberals in the pews have historically fallen away and most likely will do so again.

        I can only say that your experience has been different than mine. The pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI spanned 35 years. Throughout that 35 year period and continuing to this day, there are at least some parishes have survived primarily because of "liberal" Catholics who have stuck around to run and support the religious education programs, the fundraisers, the building maintenance, the liturgical support groups that handle music, altar servers, helping Father order flowers for Easter, ... and on and on. They have stuck around and contributed to the lives of their parishes despite 35 years of disagreements on matters of sexual morality, higher education, and dialogue with other religions, to name just a few topics that come to mind. They have stood by and supported their Church. These are not people who cut and run.

        Please don't indulge and sloppy and harmful caricatures whenever possible. Thanks.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          "...35 years of disagreements on matters of sexual morality...."

          You mean that those who dissent from the Magisterium of the Church are the backbone of the Church?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            They are part of the backbone of the Church, yes. Conservatives are also part of the backbone of the Church, of course.

          • John P Glackin

            Liberals are not really Catholics.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The Church is mater et magistra, mother and teacher.

            I disagree with / dissent from some of my mother's views. She is still my mother, and I still relate to her in a loving and respectful way.

            When I was a student, I disagreed with / dissented from some of the views of my teachers. I still respected their authority to lead their classes and I was not disruptive or disrespectful.

            Dissent does not entail disrespect, it does not entail failure to recognize authority, and it does not entail lack of love.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Here we have a basic difference about the nature of the Church and the obligation of Catholics, not merely to pay lip service to "respecting authority" in the Church, but to sincerely adhere to the Magisterium of the Church in matters of faith and morals, such as sexual morality.

            Vatican II explicitly addressed this question and settled it in clear manner in Article 25 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium):

            "Bishops who teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine and Catholic truth; the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops' decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated."

            Unfortunately, dissenting Catholics are simply disloyal ones.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That in itself is a teaching from which I dissent.

            The Magisterium is not the Church. The Magisterium is an office within the Church. The Magisterium is an institution. The Church is a living organism. I am part of that organism by virtue of my baptism, and I am loyal to that organism even when I disagree with the teaching office within it. I'm talking about my relationship with a living person, which is not a matter that you can adjudicate legalistically, even by citing lines from authoritative councils.

            You can call me disloyal, or call me whatever you want. I really don't care what label you want to attach to me. I'm a person who has been called by Christ and who is seeking to respond to that call as best he can, My participation in the Catholic communion -- however tainted by disloyalty or whatever -- is how I relate to the living Christ. If that makes me Catholic-ish rather than Catholic, or whatever, then so be it.

            Sorry, I'm not going anywhere.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I understand what you are saying and I have respect for that position. It is what in more recent times has been called "cafeteria Catholicism."

            In its original formulation, it was more correctly called "Protestantism."

            I do respect the sincerity of many Protestants who strongly believe in their sectarian interpretation of Christianity.

            But I also maintain that they correctly label their position.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, but tell me what one-word label best conveys all of the following:

            1. I was baptised Catholic and not only do I not wish to renounce that baptism, but I in fact believe that it signified a calling from God.
            2. Almost all of my theological views are predominantly and intentionally shaped by the Catholic tradition. For example, my views on sacramentality, salvation, biblical interpretation, grace and nature, the role of reason, etc, are all much more in line with what one would broadly characterize as a Catholic position. The catechism is often the first place I look when trying to develop an informed theological or moral opinion.
            3. The Catholic communion is the one that I participate in every Sunday. I believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I believe in the importance of liturgy.
            4. I am proud to identify with the broad Catholic tradition.
            5. I dissent from some teachings of the Church.

            Is all of that best summarized by saying that I am "Protestant"? "Catholic"? "Secular"? Obviously the best thing would be to avoid one-word descriptions altogether, but if you had to choose a one-word label for me that best conveys all of the above, what would it be?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It is what in more recent times has been called "cafeteria Catholicism."

            Almost all of the actual real living breathing Catholics that I know -- including the nominally conservative ones -- are cafeteria Catholics.

            For example, my father-in-law, whom I greatly admire (even while strongly disagreeing with him on some issues) is life-long "old school" Catholic. In the assessment of all who know him, he would most definitely be considered a "conservative" Catholic. These days he is a daily communicant. I'd be hard pressed to think of any lay-person I know who is "more Catholic" than he is. Yet even he had a vasectomy after my wife's youngest sibling was born, and he is still comfortable that he made the right decision in doing so. The Church that I know and believe in is populated by real people like this and not by mythical Catholics in perfect communion with the Magisterium.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Taking into consideration as well your comment below this one, my question to you is how precisely do you define what it means to be a Catholic?

            That is, how do you intellectually distinguish yourself from Martin Luther, or, much more to the point, the present Patriarch of Constantinople, since the Protestant Orthodox hold virtually all the same points of sacraments and rituals that you delineate?

            The defining note of Catholicism is all that you describe plus one added feature which you clearly deny, that is, acceptance of the primacy of the Pope in matters of faith and morals as well as Church discipline. This is not a matter merely of what was spelled out in Vatican II, but is based on the infallible dogma defined by Vatican Council I: Papal Primacy, (Denzinger 1831).

            The fact that you are related to someone whose conscience does not bother him about having acted contrary to Catholic moral teaching proves absolutely nothing, except that there are Catholics who don't follow Catholic moral doctrine.

            The issue is not the things that we do, since we are all sinners. The issue is what do we claim to be the authentic teaching of Christ's Church. If we dissent from defined Catholic teaching, specifically with respect to our obligation to accept papal teaching in matters of faith and morals, we are, at best, Catholics holding heretical beliefs.

            So that there can be no ambiguity about what the Catholic Church dogmatically teaches on this point, here is the exact wording of the dogma concerning the power of jurisdiction of the Roman Church in matters of faith and morals and ecclesiastical discipline as defined by Vatican Council I on 18 July 1870: Note my italics.

            Wherefore we teach and declare that,
            by divine ordinance,
            the Roman church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that
            this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both
            episcopal and
            immediate.
            Both clergy and faithful,
            of whatever rite and dignity,
            both singly and collectively,
            are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this
            not only in matters concerning faith and morals,
            but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world.

            And here is the exact wording of the dogma of papal primacy itself, from the same Vatican I Council:

            So, then,
            if anyone says that
            the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and
            not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this
            not only in matters of
            faith and morals
            , but also in those which concern the
            discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that
            he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme powe
            r; or that
            this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful:
            let him be anathema.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            On this point I take my cue (ironically, perhaps) from Church teaching. As I read Church teaching on this point, anyone who is baptised in the Catholic Church is thenceforth and forever a member of the one true Church, full stop. Obviously, demographers and sociologists may have different definitions that are also valid, but those are more derivative meanings.

            On that basis, we can only say that Martin Luther himself WAS a Catholic, in virtue of the same criterion that makes you and me Catholic. The fact that he became an excommunicated Catholic did not change that. Now, you asked more precisely what distinguishes me intellectually from Martin Luther. I am sure I could come up with a long list of intellectual differences, but one isn't Catholic or not in virtue of one's intellectual positions, so I'm not sure that would be relevant anyway.

            When it comes to distinguishing myself from the Orthodox, I frankly don't think there are many distinctions that really matter to me. If the accidents of my life had been slightly different, I suspect I could have easily been persuaded to join an Orthodox Church. But that is hypothetical. God has called me to this life that I am actually living. The accidents of history are not accidents. God called me to this Church, the one we call Catholic.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are absolutely right that being baptized makes one a Catholic. That is why children given Christian baptism are Catholics until they formally dissent from Catholic teaching -- as in the case of those raised in Protestant families.

            Catholics who formally and deliberately deny infallible teachings of the Church are, of course, no longer Catholics. Being baptized and adhering to those Catholic teachings one likes, but denying others, is not to profess the Catholic Faith.

            Concerning Luther, I think you have to ask yourself, not was he born a Catholic -- he was -- but, did he die a Catholic? If he was not a Catholic when he died, was it because he was formally excommunicated, or was he excommunicated because he no longer professed and adhered to Catholic doctrine?

            The Orthodox Christians were simply schismatic until Vatican I, when papal primacy was solemnly defined. At that point, they became, not only schismatic, but also heretical.

            I do not make any of these point simply to play some sort of gamesmanship here. God judges each of us according to the sincerity of our beliefs and how we live according to them. But if we are to serve God best, we must do it in HIS way, not OUR way. So, truth does matter.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But if we are to serve God best, we must do it in HIS way, not OUR way. So, truth does matter.

            I agree with this 100%, and in case I have given the opposite impression, let me clarify:

            When I say that I don't think there are any distinctions between Orthodox communions and the Roman communion that really matter to me, it is not because I don't think that truth matters. It is because I think that in this life I am only able to discern the truth vaguely, ("through a glass, darkly", in Paul's words). To me, trying to discern whether the Orthodox or the Catholics have things correct is like trying to use a household ruler to determine which of two grains of sand is larger. My instrument just isn't precise enough to be up to the task. And so, when faced with two positions that differ subtly but which both seem to be "in the right ballpark", I am disinclined to spend a lot of time worrying about the subtle differences. I am busy enough just trying to keep heading in the right general direction. Although I haven't actually read the book, I think my position here is in the same spirit as the "Mere Christianity" advocated by C.S. Lewis.

            That's all I will say for a while now, as I have to get back to work. Thanks for the conversation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I understand your proper time constraints, but I would be remiss in Christian charity if I did not leave you with one last citation from Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mystici Corporis:

            “Only those are really to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith and who have not unhappily withdrawn from the Body-unity or for grave faults been excluded by legitimate authority…And so, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered- so the Lord commands -- as a heathen and a publican. It follows that those who are divided in faith and government cannot be living in one body such as this, and cannot be living the life of its one divine Spirit.”(no. 23)

            The unity of truth renders impossible that contradicting teachings can come from, literally, tens of thousands of Christian sects -- not excluding the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. You are a scientist, I believe. Logically, either all must be wrong on one or more doctrinal points, or else, only one is the true teaching of God and all the rest contain one or more errors. This is simple logic. Since Christ is Truth Himself, the unity of truth demands a single voice of Truth.

            It has been good talking with you, especially, since we are usually mostly on the same side of the arguments with agnostics, skeptics, and atheists!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would be remiss in Christian charity

            reminds me of this line from The Crucible:

            "Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!"

            :-) Just giving you a hard time. I know your guidance is sincerely motivated and I thank you for it.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            On this point I take my cue (ironically, perhaps) from Church teaching. As I read Church teaching on this point, anyone who is baptised in the Catholic Church is thenceforth and forever a member of the one true Church, full stop.

            That's right from the Catechism:

            1272 Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Somehow, I thought I had already replied to this comment a couple days ago. Maybe not -- or maybe Disqus got me!

            At any rate, this is what I said above: "If we dissent from defined Catholic teaching, specifically with respect to our obligation to accept papal teaching in matters of faith and morals, we are, at best, Catholics holding heretical beliefs."

            Earlier, I had noted that those who dissent from Catholic teaching are called Protestants. Whether someone is formally excommunicated, like Luther, or not, entails theological technicalities I am not addressing.

            None of this is inconsistent, since Protestants are simply heretical Catholics. Let me explain. If a child is baptized in a Protestant sect, they are actually considered Catholics like the rest of Catholics until, and unless, they become old enough to embrace whatever heresies constitute their branch of Protestantism's deviation from Catholic doctrine. At that point, they become material heretics, probably through no fault of their own. Formal heresy may ensue as they become aware of how this distinguishes them from authentic Catholic dogma.

            In any event, it is true that someone baptized is a Catholic forever, even if they later fall into such heretical positions as to incur excommunication. Thus, Martin Luther died a Catholic, an excommunicated one. But most would simply call him a Protestant.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If a child is baptized in a Protestant sect, they are actually considered Catholics like the rest of Catholics until, and unless, they become old enough to embrace whatever heresies constitute their branch of Protestantism's deviation from Catholic doctrine.

            That's a very interesting point that I was not aware of. Thanks.

            But most would simply call [Luther] a Protestant.

            True, but most people don't think about this stuff very carefully.

            As you say, formal excommunication involves a lot of subtle technical details. I don't have quite the knack for litigation required to adjudicate whether I have excommunicated myself, so unless and until the pope shows up on my doorstep and tells me I am excommunicated, I am going to assume that I am not excommunicated. If I'm wrong, I'm prepared to face God and make my case.

            Protestants are simply heretical Catholics

            In that case, if it's all the same to you, I would prefer to be called a heretical Catholic. Preferably with the emphasis on Catholic.

          • David Nickol

            If we care about the souls of all of those innocent and helpless Catholic children being raised by Protestant heretics, we must do everything in our power to get them away from their parents!

          • Rob Abney

            If we care about the souls of all of those innocent and helpless Catholic children being raised by Protestant heretics

            Your position is already established.

          • OMG

            The family is the gift of grace, the gift of God. Only He knows how many souls have been lost because we failed to know, understand or accept the family He willed for our happiness.

          • Rob Abney

            True, but most people don't think about this stuff very carefully.

            I don't think that you can use that excuse for yourself though.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thank you for the sort-of compliment, but I think you are misunderstanding if you think I am putting forward an excuse.

            I am saying that the fact that "most [people] would simply call [Luther] a Protestant" is neither here nor there. Whatever it is that most people would or wouldn't say, thoughtful analysis reveals that he was a Catholic. (And he was, at the same time, a protestant reformer.)

          • OMG

            And to those baptized Catholics like Luther, this verse from Luke 12:48 may apply:
            But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

            Do I again indulge in slop? Please indulge me.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Or maybe - Luther was right. Popes and councils are not infallible. The whole argument is based on this premise that Luther was the one deviated from the teaching of Jesus and not the popes and prelates.

            Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?-Martin Luther

            The church was and remains corrupt. How many children need to be abused, while the perpetrators are protected for the Catholic laity to realize that they are supporting a corrupt institution. An institution that bears little resemblance to the Church of Christ or the early Church.

            I would think that one of the things these conservative Catholics would maybe learn from dialoguing with a handful of protestants is that protestants and evangelicals think they are the ones that are theologically closest to what Christ actually taught.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Or maybe the Reformation split was more analogous to slicing an apple right down the middle, in which case it makes no sense to ask which is the original half of the apple.

            Of course, in identifying myself as "Catholic" (scare quotes used per lack of resolution of my recent conversations here as to how I should label myself), I am signaling my personal judgement that most of the apple core was on the Catholic side of the slicing path. Obviously others feel differently, and I respect that.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But most believers are not committed to believing in an infallible authority on faith and morals. The conservative side can't believe that they have anything but the full apple. Protestants have part of the truth and the RC has all of it.

            The conservative analogy would be that the protestants took part of the apple and discarded the rest, while the RC kept the whole apple.

            At the end of the day, most thinking people will either embrace a more liberal view of religion or leave it all together. Dogma and doctrine don't square with critical thinking.

          • Rob Abney

            It seems that you are describing yourself, and surely most critical thinkers are just like you!
            Most former Catholics are nothing like Luther, he didn't think the Church had the power to forgive his sins whereas most quit today because they assume they have no sins.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No, I'm describing the Catholics I've met and the religious authors I've read.

          • Rob Abney

            Which religious authors are you referring to?
            It's good to have you here to discuss again but more specifics are needed for a good discussion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Dogma and doctrine don't square with critical thinking.

            I'm a bit surprised to see this from you because I know you know that "doctrine" just means teaching. Teaching and critical thinking are surely not antithetical to each other.

            And as far as dogma goes, you know the drill here, right? You are proposing that your statement, "Dogma and doctrine don't square with critical thinking." is a bedrock, take-it-to-the-bank, irrefutable statement. That means you are proposing that as a dogmatic statement.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm a bit surprised to see this from you because I know you know that "doctrine" just means teaching.

            Infallible doctrine was implied.

            proposing that your statement, "Dogma and doctrine don't square with critical thinking." is a bedrock, take-it-to-the-bank, irrefutable statement. That means you are proposing that as a dogmatic statement.

            So is triangles have four sides. Critical thinking is definitionally opposed to having doctrines that you must assent to on pain of punishment. Critical thinking requires that you are able to reject teaching that you don't agree with. This is not allowed in conservative Catholicism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Critical thinking requires that you are able to reject teaching that you don't agree with. This is not allowed in conservative Catholicism.

            OK, but then your quarrel is with "conservative Catholicism" and not with doctrine and dogma per se.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            My quarrel has always been with conservative Catholicism.

            If Dogma is something that you must believe, than I have quarrel with that as well. So if you are Catholic therefore you believe in Catholic Dogmas - I take issue with something like that.

            If, on the other hand, you say I believe that Jesus was God and that Catholicism is the best expression of my understanding of God than I have no quarrel. What comes first the label or the beliefs. In my opinion it should be the beliefs.

            Then if the beliefs change the label can change as well.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, speaking perhaps only for myself, I read it more this way: to profess faith in the Catholic Church is (among other things) to profess faith that her dogmata are reliable (*) signposts leading you to communion with God. If one doesn't have faith in the reliability of those pointers, then one doesn't have faith in the Church. So, in that sense, belief in the dogmata is essential to Catholicism, but not in the coercive sense that you associate with "conservative Catholicism". As you said, if one's beliefs change then they change and that's that, and the label has to be revised at some point ... though exactly at what point the label must be revised is a matter of debate.

            (*) I think "reliability" can be left somewhat vague and imprecise. Because dogmatic statements are generally succinct creedal statements, they can only serve as "Cliff Notes", accurate in some sense but not sufficient on their own, providing a reliable point of departure toward fuller study, fuller prayer, and a fuller adventure with God and reality.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Oh Rob. You're such a disappointment. The moment that I think that you are actually turning into a critical thinker...:

            "Your position is already established."

            you turn right around and show that you are not:

            "I don't think that you can use that excuse for yourself though."

          • Rob Abney

            I must not be a critical thinker because I don’t even understand what your point is!

          • OMG

            Re MZ's post? Perhaps he's read too much of the Sartos book DN suggests.

            Sartos has co-authored with Richard Rohr (of famed Sufi mysticism and Gnostic musings) a book called "Why Be Catholic?" There is a subtitle. Patrick Madrid also has a similarly titled book (without a subtitle), both released in 2014, I believe. Just to add to the confusion.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Contrary to your assumption, I did not read the book that you refer to.
            However I do read and think for myself and so form my own conclusions however unpopular they may be. In the process of doing that I am willing to be corrected on any point where I am mistaken.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Then peace be with you.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I don't have quite the knack for litigation required to adjudicate whether I have excommunicated myself

            The offenses which normally result in self-excommunication can be found in canons 1364, 1367, 1370, 1378, 1382, 1388, 1398, and 1392 in Part II of Book IV of the Code of Canon Law: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_INDEX.HTM Exceptions are listed in canons 1321 - 1330.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I don’t want to fall into the appalling trap of winning an argument and losing a soul, but it is important for you to understand the implications of the position you espouse.

            You write that “until the pope shows up on my doorstep and tells me I am excommunicated, I am going to assume that I am not excommunicated.”

            Well, it isn’t a matter of formal excommunication, since the pope has already shown up on your doorstep and everyone else’s, when Pope Pius XII published the encyclical, Mystici Corporis:

            “Only those are really to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith….” (no. 23)

            While it is true that baptism places an indelible mark on the soul making us members of the Body of Christ, note that this alone does not make us “really to be included as members of the Church,” unless we also “profess the true faith….”

            Dissenting from the Magisterium, and particularly from any dogma, clearly means NOT to “profess the true faith.” And since papal primacy is one of the dogma, there is no “wriggle room” for those who are intellectually honest about the implications of dissent. (See the wording of papal primacy in my comment above.)

            Following the logic of both Mystici Corporis and, especially, the explicit wording of papal primacy (Denz. 1831), membership in the Catholic Church requires that there must be the practice of the Catholic Faith in its integrity, and adherence to the governing rulers and exclusive teachers of the Church, the pope and bishops in communion with him.

            Saying that Protestants are simply “heretical Catholics” was an unfortunate expression on my part, since “heretical” and “Catholic” are contradictory concepts, as I have just shown above. Of course, Catholics who out of ignorance or some other reason may adopt or follow heretical positions -- but who are in good faith and not pertinacious and still wish to be faithful to the Church’s Magisterium -- remain Catholics.

            The Church is a visible society of believers whose members are in visible communion with the visible head of the church (the Pope) and with their own local bishop. Anyone (Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Old German Catholic, and so forth), who is legitimately baptized is a Catholic, but as soon as they affiliate or associate with a non-Catholic communion, they cannot be considered Catholic, because they then lack formal communion with the visible society headed by the successor of Peter.

            If one’s “intellectual position” is at odds with the defined [magisterial] teachings of the Church, and represents a formal rejection of the Church’s teaching, and thus, of the Church itself, then such a person cannot be considered a member of the Catholic Church -- since he no longer shares in the visible (and invisible) Unity of the Church’s Faith.

            God calls all to visible Catholic Unity, and if one is called to be Catholic he is not called to be a dissenter from Catholic teachings or to be a “cafeteria Catholic” trusting in his own private interpretation of God’s Revelation.

            Catholics have the inestimable grace to be members of the Infallible Church founded and protected by Christ. He did not leave us orphans -- left to our own feeble resources.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Dennis, if nothing else, I admire your rigor and your love of the Church.

            Look, this is how it is: at the heart of the Church is a campfire, casting light and keeping us warm. At the heart of the campfire is The Cross and the Eucharist. I am just a hungry dog prowling around the edges of the camp, wanting more, refusing to retreat into the darkness. You are a guy who keeps a nice orderly camp, so that that fire can keep burning. What you do is needed. I get that. But please do have sympathy for us wild dogs.

            You are right to be concerned about my soul. And if I may lay it on a bit thick: please think also of the souls of my wife and three children, whom I currently accompany to Church each week. What exactly would you propose? If you just want me to stop calling myself Catholic, I don't know, maybe I can live with that. What else? Should I stop attending the Mass? Stop taking communion?

          • Rob Abney

            Dennis, if nothing else, I admire your rigor and your love of the Church.

            I agree, it's incredible that we have Dr. Bonnette here assisting so readily in our ongoing catechesis.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This is why I said at the beginning above that the last thing I want to do is to win an argument and lose a soul. Sometimes we need encouragement to accept the full meaning of Christ's message. Honesty does not allow me to dilute it. But Christ does not wish to drive away any soul. "The bent reed he did not break."

            I have no idea what obstacles to full embrace of the Church's teaching you have encountered, and that is not my business. But the reality of the Eucharist you still receive each week is, in its deepest meaning, the same as the reality of the Church precisely as she defines herself through the centuries with the guidance of Christ himself, who will never abandon her.

            I sense that you know in your heart that the one and only true revelation of God is found in the two thousand year old Church he personally founded in the pain and blood of his own Son -- and you do not want to leave her. So, the last thing I personally want to do is to drive you further from the heart of Christ as he gives himself to us in the Eucharist, which is the living bread of life, but which is found solely in the power of the priests which exists only because the Church exists. In a word, the Eucharist cannot be divorced from the Church and her priests who bring it to us -- nor from the living Magisterium of that same Church.

            My only hope would be that you find a way -- not to walk away from Christ and his Church, but to reconcile what you believe with what he teaches us through his Church. That is why before he ascended into heaven, he told his disciples to go forth and teach all nations -- not some, but all things that he had commanded them.

            It is like the Ten Commandments. I always wondered why those stupid Jews wanted a bunch of rules that would restrict their lives so much. But we now know -- in retrospect -- that a society that tries to live in breech of those rules self-destructs. The rules are a great gift from God for our own good, if we but can have the grace to see their wisdom and love as a sure guide to what will make us truly happy.

            Still, I recall the words of Our Lady to St. Bernadette: "I do not promise you happiness in this life, but in the next." I do not know a soul who does not bear a cross in this life. But I do not think I would be happier in the long run by trying to make the rules myself -- not if they differ from those given to me by him who made me.

            One final thought. I have a relative who can never receive Communion because she knows she is not living according to the rules of Christ's Church, which are actually his rules. But she goes to Mass every Sunday. I have great hope for her eventually finding peace and the salvation of her soul. For the sake of your dear wife and children, it is most important to keep that connection to the Mass and to the Church. You have no idea how many others also struggle the same way.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My only hope would be that you find a way -- not to walk away from Christ and his Church, but to reconcile what you believe with what he teaches us through his Church.

            You and I share that hope.

            I just hope you appreciate that it is not for lack of sustained effort that I find myself so far unable to reconcile my conscience with all of the teachings of the Church. I've spent the better part of a decade trying to examine the best arguments in favor of the Church's teaching on family planning. I remain unconvinced by those arguments. Please don't imagine that this is a matter of "doing what I want" versus "doing what God wants". This is a matter of discerning what God wants. God speak to me through Church teaching and God speaks to me through my conscience. Per the Church's own teaching, I am forbidden from ignoring either of those modes of God's communication. I have to strive to reconcile the two, and maybe some day I will find that resolution. But, in the meantime, so long as those two things remain unreconciled, life goes on. In the meantime, I cannot feign contrition for a sin that I don't truly believe is a sin. In the meantime, should I call myself a Catholic?

          • We don't ignore conscience or the church. Still we do recognize that discernment is more error prone in the case of conscience. We as individuals are far more likely to be wrong than the church. This is especially true when it comes to a sexual command we want to ignore. When Jesus says in Matthew 18:17 to take a dispute to the church he does not address the possibility that the church might get it wrong. He just says "if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Still we do recognize that discernment is more error prone in the case of conscience.

            That may be the case, but that doesn't negate the priority of one's conscience.

            I'm well aware that my ability to reason correctly is distorted by my selfish and sinful nature. I'm well aware that my conscience is likely to be malformed because of that. It doesn't matter. I am still absolutely obliged to follow my conscience.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Yes, you are correct that we must follow our conscience -- even if it is an incorrectly formed conscience. In that sense, there is an absolute primacy of conscience.

            But, we also have an absolute obligation to make sure that we have a properly formed conscience. For Catholics, the formation of our conscience in matters of morals is guided by the Church, and as you well know, we have a clear teaching from the Church that contraception is morally wrong.

            So, what does one do? I guess you have to ask yourself whether your certitude that your conscience is properly formed is right, or, is you certitude that the Church is actually the voice of God is right. I don't see how both can be simultaneously correct. As you should see from comments I made above in this thread, the clear teaching of the Church in repeated documents and dogma is that Catholics must accept the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals. "He who hears you hears me." Christ himself is involved here.

            The challenge is to find a solution that neither denies the reality of the Church nor the reality of one's existential situation -- while being fully intellectually honest about it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The challenge is to find a solution that neither denies the reality of the Church nor the reality of one's existential situation -- while being fully intellectually honest about it.

            Well stated! And it is challenging indeed!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Please be patient with me, but I want to give this matter the serious attention that it deserves -- meaning I do not want to cause some alienation that ends our discussion before all that is possible to help the situation has been done.

            To answer your question about should you call yourself Catholic first, let me simply duck the issue for now! You are a human being who loves the Church but also are presently not apparently acting or thinking in full union with the Church. I am sure there are many people in this situation today.

            I think one has to also remember that many Catholics down through history have simply continued in what they believed to be sinful practices, while being Catholics in full communion with the Church for the simple reason that, while they were not acting as Catholic morality teaches, nonetheless they did not make the intellectual claim that their actions were not sinful.

            Today, over contraception, we have many born Catholics who are making precisely that claim that the Church is wrong on this point, and yet, still appearing to be practicing Catholics going to Communion every Sunday.

            Perhaps, to put some of this in perspective, in the longer past, anyone practicing contraception had no such existential conflict, since they believed contraception was sinful and just did not go to Communion.

            One reason this teaching was not in doubt was that not a single major Christian church or sect ever claimed that contraception was morally acceptable until the Anglican Church's Lambeth Conference in c. 1931, which was the absolutely first church to do so! So, looking at a world today in which 85% of everybody uses contraception is a bit misleading to say the least!

            Also, you are apparently much younger than I am -- I recall the days when the lines at Confession were long on Saturday evenings, but the number receiving Communion Sunday morning were only about a quarter of the church. The rest stayed in their seats and no one thought that much about it.

            For now, I would suggest therefore that you work out your status as to whether you should call yourself a Catholic or not -- at a later date -- after you try to work out your present conflict.

            But again, as others have advised, please keep going to Mass and keep your family firmly connected with the Mass and their Catholic roots.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I guess you have to ask yourself whether your certitude that your conscience is properly formed is right, or, is you certitude that the Church is actually the voice of God is right.

            I am not 100% certain of either of those things. But again, my obligation to follow my conscience does not hinge on my certitude that my conscience is correct.

            More or less in passing, I'd like to note that there is also a third possibility, which is that the Church, while teaching infallibly in some general sense on this issue, has not taught infallibly on all of the specifics. I'm not really interested in pursuing this line of argument, but I do want to point out that that would be a theoretically possible resolution of the tension between my conscience and Church teaching.

          • What do you think conscience is? I ask this because the common secular usage of the term does not match up with the way it is used in Catholic theology. In common secular usage conscience means your gut feeling about what is right and wrong. That is not what is meant by conscience when Catholics say you are obliged to obey your conscience. It is part of it but the Catholic definition would also include moral reasoning that might well bring us to a place very different from where our moral feelings would leave us.

            So if you say you believe on faith that the church speaks accurately for God and that the church has said definitively and repeatedly that contraception is gravely immoral that is not something you can just ignore because your subjective moral feeling says it is OK. The totality of conscience should end up logically coherent. Do you believe God is speaking through the church or don't you?

            Think about another example. Suppose I told you I wanted to commit adultery. I saw a woman who was not my wife and I was feeling that sleeping with her was the right thing to do. I knew the church stood against adultery but my personal conscience was on the other side and created this dilemma. What advice would you give me?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Do you believe God is speaking through the church or don't you?

            I don't have a simple yes or no answer to this question. I believe that God speaks to me through the Church, and of course God's speech can only be synonymous with truth itself. However, I believe that the Church is an imperfect mediator of God's speech. A perfect signal plus an imperfect medium equals a message that is mostly true but not entirely true.

            Moreover, it is not always so clear cut what exactly "The Church" is. That is why we have the whole field of theology called ecclesiology. For example, Joan of Arc was ostensibly convicted and burned by "The Church", or so it would have seemed to anyone at the time. It is only in retrospect that we see she, and not Bishop Cauchon was the true voice of "The Church".

            I'm pretty well familiar with the Catholic concept of conscience as articulated, for example, in this talk by then-Cardinal Ratzinger: http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm. I am not reducing conscience to mere personal intuition. To borrow an expression from that talk, I would describe conscience as "a window through which one can see outward to that common truth which founds and sustains us all".

          • We do have the notion that different things are taught by the church with different levels of authority and therefore different levels of certainly. Yet you can’t just assume that the answer you seek has no certainty around it at all. Humana Vitae is about as strong a statement from the chair of Peter that we get. Particularly when it talks about wanting to remove the doubt young Catholic couples were experiencing in the issue. Then you have subsequent popes affirming this teaching especially with St JohnPaul II’s theology of the body. So what would it take for God to convince you?

          • David Nickol

            So what would it take for God to convince you?

            I found this an interesting passage from one of my most trusted references, Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church.

            Throughout the early Middle Ages most churchmen held virginity in higher esteem than marriage. On the one hand Christianity could not deny that God had told Adam and Eve to increase and multiply, and so marriage itself had to be good. But on the other hand marriage, as Paul said, distracted one from the things of the Lord, and he seemed to suggest that people should marry only if they could not quench the fire of sexual desire. So marriage in the Middle Ages was often viewed negatively as a remedy against the desires of the flesh rather than positively as a way to become holy, and those desires themselves were viewed as sinful or at best dangerous. Some bishops who blessed newly married couples recommended that they abstain from intercourse for three days out of respect for the blessing; others told them not to come to church for a month after the wedding, or at least not to come to communion with their bodies and souls still unlearn from intercourse. Most writers held that sexual activity which was motivated by anything but the desire for children were sinful, but most of them also believed that even here children could not be conceived without the stain of carnal pleasure.

            So the western theological tradition through the eleventh century taught that marriage was good even though sexual activity was usually sinful. . . .

            Why should anyone be convince that Humanae Vitae is infallibly true when the Church for over a thousand years had such a negative (and distorted) view of sex and marriage?

          • Rob Abney

            More about the author: After years of research into the myriad of biblical, ancient and medieval texts on which the Catholic sacraments are based, Martos reluctantly concluded that they are not what the church claims about them. The sacramental rituals do not do what they are suppose to do, and their theological explanations do not hold up under historical investigation. "Deconstructing Sacramental Theology and Reconstructing Catholic Ritual" proves its case.

          • People will attack the church. That is never a surprise. The church did value virginity and marriage. The tension between the two is evident and one can find strong quotes on both sides. Saying sex should be motivated by a desire for children is a stepping stone on the way to the Theology of the Body. People obviously lived it better than they taught it. So I would say at the time the Catholic Church had the best view of sex on the planet. It still does.

          • David Nickol

            @disqus_mfm0tDywva:disqus

            People will attack the church.

            Attack the Church? The book you and OMG are dismissing here is Doors to the Sacred, and far from being an attack on the Church, it is published by a reputable Catholic publisher (Liguori), has been around since 1981, and has been widely used in courses at Catholic colleges as well as used by Catholic dioceses for training for the diaconate.

            Martos himself has apparently in his later years become critical of sacramental theology, but Doors to the Sacred is a straightforward history and a very good one.

          • OMG

            Can you prove that this book has been "widely used in courses at Catholic colleges as well as by Catholic dioceses"?

            From what I've read in the Amazon reviews, this book deconstructs the sacraments and is inaccurate in its reporting of historical facts and understanding. Evidence and examples are offered to prove those claims.

          • Just because Catholic colleges and Catholic dioceses use it does not convince me of much. It may be a solid book. I just don’t know. Characterizations of what most churchmen believed are susceptible to bias. Even unintentionally there is a tendency for the most extreme quotes to survive better than the more orthodox ones. Then there is the tendency of anti-Catholic books to sell quite a bit better. It is hard to find good histories

          • David Nickol

            It may be a solid book. I just don’t know

            And yet, when I present a quote from it, you respond, "People will attack the church." Hmmmm.

            I hope you have read the summary and the quotes I have posted from Gratian's Decretum, which OMG seemed to think would refute the Martos book. They confirm it. Here is another enlightening summary from The Catholic Church on Marital Intercourse: From St. Paul to Pope John Paul II by Robert Obach (found on Google Books):

            Aquinas and the medieval theologians were skilled in the art of making precise distinctions. Thus they distinguished “seeking” pleasure from “experiencing” pleasure. It was thought that seeking sexual pleasure was an activity proper only to animals, not human beings. Therefore seeking sexual pleasure was “beneath” human nature because this was to seek something human beings had in common with animals. According to this medieval reasoning, sexual pleasure could not be seen as an authentic human good. Authentic human good could only be found in those activities that were directed toward “higher” or “rational” ends or purposes. It was rational to engage in sex for the end or purpose of procreation. But acting for the sake of sexual pleasure was not rational because the act lacked a rational purpose. It was a sin to act “irrationally.”

            Experiencing sexual pleasure was a different matter. According to Aquinas, when spouses sought those purposes that were properly human (i.e., the procreation of children or the rendering of the marriage debt), the accompanying experience of sexual pleasure was not sinful. In such a context the experience of sexual pleasure was justified because the spouses were seeking the purposes of sexual intercourse as had been determined by human reasoning. Following such principles, a husband had to make some very fine-tuned distinctions when he found himself becoming sexually aroused. He needed to ask himself if he was about to “use” his wife as his wife with the intention to procreate a child, or was he only intending to seek sexual enjoyment with her? If the latter, he committed a mortal sin. If he only intended to procreate a child, there was no sin. If he was intending both conception and pleasure, he committed a venial sin.

            Clearly, if the same standard prevailed today, Natural Family Planning would be forbidden. The requirement now is that each act of marital intercourse must be "open" to the transmission of life. To use ever-increasingly sophisticated technologies to determine a wife's infertile time of the month so as to avoid or postpone pregnancy is not at all compatible with having sexual intercourse with the intention to procreate.

          • Rob Abney

            Obach made a poor interpretation of Aquinas. This is from the Summa supplement:
            I answer that, No wise man should allow himself to lose a thing except for some compensation in the shape of an equal or better good. Wherefore for a thing that has a loss attached to it to be eligible, it needs to have some good connected with it, which by compensating for that loss makes that thing ordinate and right. Now there is a loss of reason incidental to the union of man and woman, both because the reason is carried away entirely on account of the vehemence of the pleasure, so that it is unable to understand anything at the same time, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 11); and again because of the tribulation of the flesh which such persons have to suffer from solicitude for temporal things (1 Corinthians 7:28). Consequently the choice of this union cannot be made ordinate except by certain compensations whereby that same union is righted. and these are the goods which excuse marriage and make it right.
            And:
            Reply to Objection 1. The end as regards the intention stands first in a thing, but as regards the attainment it stands last. It is the same with "offspring" among the marriage goods; wherefore in a way it is the most important and in another way it is not.

          • David Nickol

            I would very much like to hear your understanding of what Aquinas is saying here, because it seems to me to confirm what I have been saying. Also, I note that you left out the beginning of Aquinas's answer, which is as follows:

            On the contrary, Wherever there is indulgence, there must needs be some reason for excuse. Now marriage is allowed in the state of infirmity "by indulgence" (1 Cor. 7:6). Therefore it needs to be excused by certain goods.

            Further, the intercourse of fornication and that of marriage are of the same species as regards the species of nature. But the intercourse of fornication is wrong in itself. Therefore, in order that the marriage intercourse be not wrong, something must be added to it to make it right, and draw it to another moral species.

            But what is Aquinas saying here? In your own words.

          • Rob Abney

            The married couple are given a grace through the sacrament of matrimony.

            In those sacraments wherein a character is imprinted, power is given to perform spiritual actions; but in matrimony, to perform bodily actions.

          • Again, I am not sure he has St Thomas Aquila’s 100% right. Still if he does it is not problematic at all. It is a less developed understanding of sex which I would expect but not a wrong one. Pleasure is a lesser good. It is beneath the dignity of sex to engage in it just for pleasure. Yet the greater good of giving life can be purely spiritual. Still if you do something inherently sterile on the physical level that act is not going to be spiritually life giving. The two go together.

          • David Nickol

            Again, I am not sure he has St Thomas Aquila’s 100% right.

            Aquila? Never even heard of him!

            It is a less developed understanding of sex which I would expect but not a wrong one.

            The current Catholic view is that there are two aspects of sexual intercourse that must both be present or sex was sinful—the procreative and the unitive. Aquinas basically maintained that there was only one aspect—the procreative. His sexual ethics relied on that principle. As I noted elsewhere, I can't see how Natural Family Planning could be permitted based on Aquinas's understanding of sexuality. In my opinion, a "less developed" theory of morality that prohibits what is morally licit is wrong.

            Also, as I understand the Catholic Medieval view of sexual pleasure, it was the duty of husband and wife to keep the pleasure of sexual intercourse to a minimum. It was acceptable to passively experience pleasure if engaging in intercourse for the purpose of procreation, but it was considered sinful to do anything to make the experience more pleasurable.

          • Actually Catholic sexual morality says the procreative and the unitive are 2 aspects of the same thing. So you can’t have one without the other. NFP is permissible under Thomism because every act of sex is open to life. The fact that you don’t engage in sex when conception is most likely is not an abuse of sex because you are not having sex. Now the motivation matters so the reason why you are avoiding pregnancy needs to be compelling. Still if you grant the compelling reason there is no act that is inherently immoral in NFP.

          • David Nickol

            You are giving me the 20th century position, which I believe I understand as well as most Catholics. However, I am discussing the position(s) of Thomas Aquinas, who held that even in marriage, any sexual intercourse engaged in by a married couple had to be for the specific intention of procreation or it was at least a venial sin.

            Some here seem to be under the impression that everything taught by Aquinas is still considered Catholic teaching, and anything that uses Thomistic principles was taught by Aquinas. The whole point of my series of comments here is that Church teachings on marriage and sexuality have changed over the years. Catholics would see continuity and "development of doctrine." That's fine for those who want to make that argument, but development is still change.

          • The intention of procreation can mean wanting to embrace the whole procreative reality of sex. A couple who is past child baring years can do that. The church has never taught that that is wrong. Whether St Thomas speculated on this is less important.

            Development is change but it is a very different kind of change from what modern society suggests. Development affirms the previous understanding as right but the new understanding as more right. A change that repudiates the previous understanding would be a corruption. Development is consistent with God journeying with His people. Corruption means that relationship went seriously wrong at some point. Seriously wrong in a way that Jesus said He would never allow His church to go seriously wrong.

            It is a huge promise made by Jesus to His church. It is one we can look at history and see He has kept. It is proof the Catholic Church is a supernatural institution.

          • OMG

            David, I wonder if you could check the source material from which the author concludes the above. I've been looking through Gratian's Decretus --code of RCC cannon law compiled in the 12th Century and used throughout the Middle Ages, not comprehensively revised until the 20th C.

            I am not able to find support for the author's conclusions. Indeed, within Gratian's Decretus runs the idea that sexual consummation is necessary for a marriage to be considered valid (as we learned through another OP in this forum recently). That was true then and it is still true today. So the author concludes that sexual activity was 'usually' sinful, but isn't that true today too for sexual activity outside marriage? The Church teaches so. Where does the author find the proscriptions against intercourse within marriage during the Middle Ages? He says "Most writers," and I want to know who they are. Can you help?

          • David Nickol

            I will copy out pertinent reference works from the bibliography tomorrow, or as soon as I can muster up the will to do all that typing! Meanwhile, I stumbled on a book available on Google Books that might be of interest. It is called The Concept of Pleasure in the Catholic Moral Tradition. Chapter 2 gives a detailed overview of Catholic thought on sexual pleasure throughout history.

            Canon law is not going to tell you much of anything. In a nutshell, from the Father of the Church and particularly Augustine (very influential) up through and beyond Aquinas, the sole purpose of sex was procreation.. A man and wife having sex together, without the specific intention of conceiving a child, but for pleasure, was committing a (venial) sin. Today sex is considered by the Church to be unitive and procreative. The idea that sex has a unitive function is quite new in Catholic thought. This view does not carry over from Judaism but originated with Stoicism. Catholicism taught (and basically still teaches) that celibacy is a "higher state" than marriage (without, of course, teaching that everyone is called to celibacy). Judaism sees marriage as a duty in response to the command to "be fruitful and multiply."

          • OMG

            Cannon law of Medieval times WILL reveal a lot about mores if one is willing to accept the logic behind their worth. People looked Gratian Decretals to determine WHETHER sexual relations constituted legal as well as sacramental marriage! Inasmuch as the family constituted society's basic social unit, marriage laws reveal attitudes about sex.

            Because the church was the dominant secular institution at the time and because the church did value celibacy (BECAUSE it is difficult and because Jesus asked us to take up our cross and because He was celibate), that ascetic thread OF COURSE has always existed in Church thought. Since most writers and authorities were male clerics, so the focus on celibacy would have been forefront in writing of the time.

            ON THE OTHER HAND, because Christianity arose from Judaism, because it appropriated the OT, and because of the commandment to be fruitful, Christianity DID value the unitive function from the very beginning! Jesus spoke on the importance of marriage and divorce and adultery. The acknowledgement that one would be tempted to adultery is implicit in His caution against its mental indulgence. The idea that one could and should control this movement is also implicit.

            The Medieval concept of marital duty can be traced to Paul (I Corinthians 7:3-6): Let the husband render to his wife what is her due, and likewise the wife to her husband. A wife has no authority over her body, but her husband; likewise the husband has no authority over his body, but his wife. You must not refuse each other, except perhaps by consent, for a time, that you may give yourself to prayer, and return together again lest Satan tempt you because you lack self-control. Again the idea of control; obviously one does not need to control something already tame.

            More later, probably much. Too many other obligations to allow me here.
            But you're wrong in saying the church didn't see or allow pleasure in the marital sexual act. It was implicitly known and acknowledged. It was in need of control, sure, but within marriage, the marital duty implied that if one spouse desired it (and why might that be, huh?), the other ought comply.

            Augustine

          • OMG

            Thanks.
            In the meantime (I don't have much time actually--too many other obligations), Gratian's Decretals is a primary source of attitudes toward secular mores if one accepts that societal law reflects them! Medieval Cannon law was important in determining when secular as well as sacramental marriage was valid. Since marriage has been the basic social unit throughout history, of course the law tells a lot. Where else would you look?!

            Despite some insistence from certain quarters that Christianity ought not appropriate Jewish law or tradition or concepts, it has and it does. Jesus and Paul were both good Jews. Both were human and both knew the first unwritten commandment. Both spoke about sex. From Paul, the unitive function derived and was enshrined within cannon law's concept of marital debt. This concept has carried through to the current time (as we discussed in another OP in this SN forum).

            1 Corinthians 7:3-6: Let the husband render to his wife what is her due, and likewise the wife to her husband. A wife has no authority over her body, but her husband; likewise the husband has no authority over his body, but his wife. You must not refuse each other, except perhaps by consent, for a time, that you may give yourself to prayer, and return together again lest Satan tempt you because you lack self-control. But I say this by way of concession, not command.

          • David Nickol

            If you were going to base your argument on Gratian that the Church did not consider sexual pleasure generally sinful, and if this summary from Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia is accurate, I wish you luck!

            Gratian viewed sexual pleasure as a disturbing influence in human life, a temptation that distracted Christians from the goal of salvation, and an instrument the devil regularly used to entice souls into hell. The clear message of Gratian’s Decretum, therefore, was that sexual activity must be confined within stringent limits. Sex was lawful only between husband and wife and even then it must be carefully limited and controlled. A married person could properly engage in intercourse only under one of three conditions: to beget a child, to avert temptation to marital infidelity, or to accommodate the insistent (and probably sinful) demands of the spouse.

            All other sexual activity, within marriage or outside of it, as well as any sexual desire or arousal other than that permitted for lawful purposes between husband and wife, was sinful and under many circumstances might be subject to criminal prosecution as well. Thus, even within marriage, one had to be careful. The husband who loved his wife too passionately, according to St. Jerome, was an adulterer, and canonists strove to prescribe strict operational limits on marital activity. Among other things, for example, they focused on positions couples adopted during sexual relations. Medieval canonists and theologians were prepared to condone as “natural” only marital intercourse conducted in the missionary position. Intercourse in any position in which the woman lay or sat atop the man seemed to canonist “unnatural,” since they believed such a posture reversed the proper order of relationship between the sexes by making the female superior to the male. . . .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Can you cite a single authoritative teaching of the extraordinary, infallible Magisterium prior to Humanae Vitae which directly contradicts the essential teaching of Humanae Vitae?

          • David Nickol

            My attempt here is not, and has never been, to find conflicts between allegedly infallible teachings in Catholicism with which to try to undermine Humanae Vitae (which seems to be considered infallible by some Catholics and not others). My point is that attitudes toward sexuality developed considerably over the centuries, particularly in finding acknowledging a unitive function in sex in addition to a procreative one, which developments led to the use of what we now call NFP. It seems clear to me from everything I have read that Medieval authorities such as Aquinas would have considered NFP at least a venial, if not a mortal, sin. Do you disagree?

            It sometimes seems to me that some people here believe Aquinas said the last word on virtually every topic, and that every Catholic teaching of the 20th and 21st century can be explained by a long quote from the Summa, as if there had been no significant developments in Catholic theology since the 13th century.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not an expert on the history of the development of the attitudes you describe. It appears you have researched them, and so, that makes you better equipped to tell us what happened. What you say about the earlier views of NFP sounds pretty correct to me, especially since surely the female cycle was probably not well understood until fairly recently. Some who try to practice NFP would say it still is not well understood!

            As to the alleged "infallibility" of St. Thomas, let me assure you that no professional Thomist suffers that delusion. St. Thomas made many mistakes -- not in metphysics -- but in those philosophical and theological conclusions which involved premises taken from the contemporary scientific knowledge and cosmology of his day.

            The classic example I always cite is the question of "what if Eve, but not Adam had bitten the apple?"

            Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 81, a. 5 "Whether if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would have contracted original sin?"

            In the body of the article, he argues that since "the active principle of generation is from the father, while the mother provides the matter," it follows that " if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would not contract original sin."

            Now the underlying metaphysical principle that it is the activity of the agent which determines the character of the effect produced is perfectly true. But clearly the premise which is based on the absurd biological belief that the male is the only agent of procreation is false.

            Therefore, the conclusion, although it flows validly from the premises, cannot be known to be true in virtue of the premises -- since one premise is false. Still, the conclusion might be accidently true for reasons not contained in this specious argument.

            No, St. Thomas' teachings are not always correct, as every experienced Thomistic philosopher or theologian is well aware.

          • David Nickol

            Very helpful and informative. Thanks very much!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If I'm honest, the additional evidence that I would need consists in this: I would need to see more purveyors of these arguments bearing the fruits of the holy spirit, especially including joy, peace, patience, and gentleness.

            Secondarily, it would take a compelling moral argument that made a meaningful distinction between the technology of NFP calendars and thermometers on the one hand, and the technology of the urologist's knife on the other.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, here I detect that you do have a difficulty with understanding how NFP is distinct from contraception (or sterilization). Just a quick explanation:

            The essence of contraception is the placing of the sexual act, but in such manner as to take steps to assure that it will not result in conception.

            NFP does not do that.

            NFP entails a plan of action that seeks to avoid, but does not guarantee avoidance of, conception. Inherently, such a plan is not immoral unless it entails the essence of contraception.

            One "plan" to avoid conception would be never to have sex. Is that contraception? Of course not.

            NFP entails a "plan of behavior" in which sexual intimacy is divided into two distinct periods and behaviors.

            Period One: On those days in which it is expected that conception could occur, you just do not have sex. Is it immoral not to have sex? Of course not.

            Period Two: On those days in which your "indicators" tell you that conception is unlikely (I did NOT say impossible!), you do have sex, but do nothing physically or chemically to assure that conception will not take place. This is merely normal marital intercourse, with the attendant real possibility that pregnancy could occur.

            Neither the actions of Period One or Two are immoral in themselves, since neither behavior constitutes the essence of contraception.

            The overall plan of behavior, IF done for serious reasons, is not immoral because a plan of behavior that does not entail contraception is not itself contraception.

            Q.E.D.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            So, the crucial distinction you seem to make making is related to assurance of avoiding conception.

            Since no birth control method (including vasectomy) is 100% effective, none of them assures the outcome. I assume then that it is not the objective assurance per se but rather the intent to assure the outcome that is really at issue (?)

            And if I am correct about that, I have a follow up question: is there any meaningful moral difference between a couple using NFP with the intent of completely foreclosing on conception and a couple who uses sterilization with the same intent?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your excellent questions remind me of why I much prefer to do this in a classroom setting. And also why it is good that we talk about NFP before addressing contraception per se.

            Yes, it has to do with intent -- but also with taking physical steps to fulfill that intent.

            You see, it is hard to talk about this subject without a little background in metaphysics. Nature acts toward an end, and we know the nature of a thing by seeing its activities and its tendency toward ends. But the end is not measured by its achievement, rather by its tendency to the end. Thus, if I intend to shoot someone, but miss -- it matters not to my intention. That is why Our Lord condemns the desire for adultery as almost committing the act itself.

            In rational beings, like us, finality is measured by deliberate intention. But in subhuman things, we analogously speak of "intention of a nature," even when the thing involved has no cognition whatever. This confused modern critics, making them mock Aristotle for talking like a rock is avidly desiring to rush to the earth (gravity). But the words are used analogously and metaphorically, meaning that tendency to an end in unknowing things is like deliberate intention in rational agents.

            That said, yes, intent to prevent conception is important -- but it is using the means of contraception or sterilization that is forbidden.

            Both the couple using NFP and sterilization aim at the same goal: no conception. But, while sterilization and contraception entail using physical means to attain that end, NFP does nothing to actually prevent conception, except for timing intercourse.

            That is why you have to very carefully reread my prior comment. It has a lot of distinctions in it that bear considering. In NFP, you never, ever actually "do" anything to stop conception. No method is 100% effective, and so that is not the distinction. It has to do with the fact that in the illicit acts you actually take some physical means by which you somehow alter the physiological process itself so as to lessen or prevent the likelihood of conception. Whereas in NFP, you NEVER actually do anything to the physiology by any means whatever.

            Please let me know what you think. I hope some of this is helpful.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            In NFP, you never, ever actually "do" anything to stop conception.

            That doesn't seem to me to be the case. You do look at a calendar and you do look at a thermometer, and you take both of those positive actions with the intent of avoiding conception.

          • OMG

            If I may please offer a light note: You may also play music. Or turn the music off.

            Those things don't really count, do they?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think that you are right that those things "don't count" within any reasonable framework of moral reasoning, but I'm trying to hone in on precisely why they don't count. If you turn off the Barry White with intent to avoid conception, then you are taking a positive action to avoid conception. Why doesn't that "count"?

            (*) Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing would be a more compelling example, but Barry has the reputation for this stuff.

          • OMG

            This is all getting to be a bit too heavy for my lightweight brain. Because doesn't Marvin's husband end up with his wife at the end of the song?? It's all a bit above me top hat. I'll let you and Dr. B. carry on. Just thought it was a bit cute-funny that bit about looking at the calendar, out the window, at her dirty underwear, or smelling one's armpits. It all comes out in the wash in the end, I think. Good luck, God bless, and may you come to a good Catholic resolution. All the while enjoying marital bliss as He would wish.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            One can take the positive action of avoiding conception by simply not having marital relations.

            And, in fact, that is the essence of NFP. You simply don't have relations when you think you are fertile. It is not a sin not to have sex.

            The key to this whole matter is to understand precisely what contraception actually is. It means the placing of the marital act, while at the same time taking some positive action which physically impedes the natural tendency of all the biological components toward conception.

            That is why discussing the difference between NFP and contraception is important before addressing the moral problem with contraception.

            If we don't see the difference, there will be no way to grasp the intrinsically evil nature of contraception -- since NFP is licit, whereas contraception is not.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, so a defining aspect of a contraceptive act is that it physically impedes the conception, is that correct?

            Is there a more general moral principle from which one can deduce the decisive importance of physical impedance? What makes physically impeding factors morally distinct from other causal factors? Is it a matter of direct versus indirect causality, or something like that?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are thinking carefully, and that is good.

            The key is that there are three diverse "actions" to be considered.

            1. Those acts in NFP where fertility is not expected and intercourse occurs.
            2. Those times when fertility is expected and no intercourse occurs.
            3. Those marital acts that are placed, but with any such measures taken physically to impede conception.

            Solely number 3 entails actually physically interfering with the outcome of marital acts. The first two do not.

            Solely number 3 entails the will to place the act, combined simultaneously with the physically-effected will to prevent a conceptive outcome.

            Solely number 3 entails placing a procreative act in a deliberately anti-procreative manner.

            Number 1 places the act, but does nothing to stop conception.
            Number 2 simply does not place the act.

            Number three is of interest.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Number 1 places the act, but does nothing to stop conception.

            In "Number 1" it is only the case that nothing simultaneous to the sexual act is thwarting conception. Is simultaneity a key criterion to be considered here?

            (You referred to simultaneity previously, but your emphasis was on physical impedance, so I wasn't sure whether physicality or simultaneity (or both) was the decisive factor.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not trying to be subtle here. It just means that you have sex only at those times you believe you are infertile. The only simultaneity would be that you are having sex simultaneously with the time period in which you think you are infertile.

            With respect to those marital acts, you do nothing to impede their outcome. That, of course, includes not taking the Pill which would impede fertility constantly. Obviously, if you take the Pill, you are not employing NFP.

            Am I missing something here?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think light is dawning on my marble head ...

            Am I correct that the critical distinction lies in this:

            With NFP, one does take deliberate actions (looking at calendars and thermometers) to avoid conception, but one does not take any deliberate actions to prevent the sexual act from achieving its proper telos (or, assuming one grants the multiple teloi of procreation and bonding, one can still say that contraception prevents the sexual act from achieving one of its proper teloi) ?

            And would the general principal be that it is always wrong prevent a thing from achieving any of its proper teloi?

            If I have all of that correct, then I think you probably have check-mated me. If I'm misunderstanding the crucial distinctions, please let me know before I concede defeat!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Believe me, I am not seeking to checkmate you -- since this is not a game to win, but a mutual seeking of the moral truth.

            You have more adroitly than I expressed the essential distinction between what you term "avoiding" vs. "preventing" the sexual act from achieving its proper end. Perhaps, now you can see why I wanted to discuss the distinction between NFP and contraception first?

            "And would the general principal be that it is always wrong [to] prevent a thing from achieving any of its proper teloi?"

            Well, not quite. Otherwise, we would go to hell for cutting the grass. Men prevent all sorts of natures from achieving their proper ends all the time. This is but one of dozens of possible confusions that abound in ethical analyses -- especially as found in arguments about contraception.

            That is why we need to have a broader grounding in the foundations of natural law -- something that takes some time to unfold properly in a natural law ethics course, such as the one I am presently teaching in Lewiston, NY. We have been going at it for a couple months now -- and just now are coming to the study of the conjugal and domestic societies, wherein will be treated the ethics of sex, including contraception.

            So, please, realize that any descriptions I give you of natural law pertaining to what we are discussing are badly abbreviated and incompletely defended.

            But to shorten this comment, let me say this. It isn't the prevention of just any act reaching its natural end that is immoral, but rather it is the prevention of the exercise of a specifically human power from reaching its end that is immoral.

            A final example: The end of the power of nutrition is the continued physical constitution of animal. The sin of gluttony arises when we eat, but in such fashion as to reject the end of the act. Perfect example: the Roman vomitorium, where indulgent Romans would "step out" to empty their stomachs so that they could stuff themselves with more food. Such acts were "anti-nutritive nutritive acts," which represented the self-contradiction of a specifically human power given us by our Creator -- thus sinful in nature.

            Much more needs to be considered -- but you have grasped a critical insight.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, thanks.

            I appreciate that there is a much larger framework that you need to develop in order to respond rigorously and exhaustively to my questions. I'm mostly willing to trust that you are guiding me through the night city correctly as long as we get to stop and look very carefully under certain lamp-posts, which is what you are allowing. The reality is that I'm not going to put my life on hold to take a semester-long course in natural law, so this sort of practical compromise (on my part as a student, and on your part as a teacher) is important.

            The comparison to "anti-nutritive nutritive acts" resonates for me. So, the same principle underlying principle that makes it immoral to eat a bag of Doritos (and oh, how I love Doritos) is also the principle that makes contraception immoral.

            A question for another day perhaps: why is the sin of contraception considered to be so grave, while the sin of eating junk food goes unmentioned in Church teaching? By my lights, eating would seem to be at least as sacred an act as having sex (it is through eating that we ingest the Eucharist, after all).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Whoa! Go ahead and enjoy your Doritos! You are eating it for pleasure, but you are not vomiting it out after you eat it -- so you remain open to its nutritive effect (I am not defending how great its effect is compared to some great organic distasteful dish.).

            This is where my mind can see a bunch of side tracks one can chase here -- and I am trying to resist.

            You ask why contraception is grave matter whereas the Doritos is not? Well, the general answer is that everything to do with sex is serious matter. Why? Because, next to the obligation to preserve and protect life itself, nothing in the natural order is as important as sex -- since it is critical to the preservation of the species.

            One has to think, not merely in biological or psychological terms, but in terms of the entire reproductive powers of any organism. They are central to the preservation of the species, and thus, next only to the direct need for the individual to preserve and protect its own life.

            Thus, we have an obligation to take reasonable care of our own lives and those of others. So, too, in the exercise of our reproductive faculties, there is a rational order to be respected, and, in the case of contraception, that order is gravely violated.

            A contraceptive act is an "anti-procreative procreative" act. It means plunging oneself into the total exercise of the reproductive act, but at the same time committing the self-contradictory act of thwarting what we know to be its very aim and purpose: reproduction.

            In the broader context, God made us rational animals, meaning we ought first of all act in accordance with the reason God gave us. This fundamentally irrational and self-contradictory exercise of the rational totality of my being in this supposed-to-be reproductive act is, thus, a serious misuse of my very being in the sight of God.

            Enough for now....

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Fair enough, let's call it a day. (Or let's call it a week, maybe.)

            At some point I would like to come back to junk food with specific focus on junk food that is known to be harmful to health. In the meantime I will keep eating my Doritos.

            Also, when we come back at this: I agree that questions about sex and sexuality are decisive and fundamental to our being, but I think the same can be said with respect to eating. The process by which other things die and are ingested to become a part of our life is central to the mystery of our existence, about as central as it gets in my estimation.

            But, as you said, enough for now.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Fine. Good discussing this with you. I see more distinctions that have to be made. Get back to me at your convenience.

          • Rob Abney

            This has been a great discussion to follow, thanks for being persistent Jim.
            You seem to be at least partially convinced that Dr.Bonnette is giving you the correct reasoning and that that reasoning is consistent with the Church's reasoning. Now comes the more difficult part, aligning your will (and someone else's also) with your knowledge.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Rob, I know you mean well, but I think you would do well in a situation like this to let me connect my own dots in that regard. Again, I'm not questioning your intentions, but it comes off like moralistic finger wagging.

            What I think I can safely say is this: I will at least consult my priest about how to handle it in my specific situation. All that Dr. Bonnette and I have established is a general moral principle. How to apply that principle in a specific situation of medical risk is another matter. I would hope that everyone can let me pursue that specific line of inquiry on my own.

          • Rob Abney

            I’m not sure how you get moral finger-wagging from my comment, because I admire your courage and honesty and will be cheering you on through prayer. You have just gave a great testament to the truth. Your timeline is your own, my mantra is that we all have to convert everyday.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I appreciate the compliment and the prayers. Thank you for that.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Oh! I did not mean to stop our dialogue! I just meant "enough for now" for ME in that comment! Feel free to continue at your pleasure. There are more distinctions to be clarified. My only concern is getting too busy with the comments from my new naturalism article. There is the question of how to apply a universal ethical principle in light of the concrete situation -- without falling into the trap of a situationism that destroys all ethical universals.

          • OMG

            Others imperfectly reflect God. We need saints. Agreed. I'll look to you as you look to me.

          • What stikes me is that personal opinion is at the center of both those conditions. The first seems like an ad hominem. How could the rightness or wrongness of anything depend on the personal holiness of those who teach it? Another persons hypocrisy makes us feel better about our sin but it is still sin.

            The second tries to be rational but leaves it to you to define exactly what a meaningful distinction means. Lots of wiggle room there.

            Chesterton talked about needing a church that is right when he is wrong. If we are going to obey God we must give Him permission to tell us what we really don’t want to hear. Otherwise it is not obedience we offer God but just a willingness to listen to His advice and make the final decision ourselves.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The rightness of wrongness of the argument doesn't depend on the holiness of the arguer. That observation is relevant when one is using one's reason to adjudicate a matter.

            However, you have proposed (very reasonably) that I use the guidance of "The Church" so as to avoid being overly dependent on my own limited powers of reason. As I have pointed out, it is not always so obvious what is truly of "The Church" and what is not. I am saying that when a person does not bear the marks of the Holy Spirit, that is a good indicator that his or her argument is not really emanating from the heart of "The Chruch".

          • Actually the Catholic claim is personal holiness does not matter. This is good because judging holiness is quite problematic. This is especially true when one of the questions you are asking is what holiness looks like. Catholic teaching says it depends on the grace of God and not on the works of man. The grace coming through the divinely ordained offices of Pope and Bishop. So we do not have to know if Pope Paul VI was a good man or not, how could we? We just have to know he was pope.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Right, but my assent to the authority to the Pope is grounded in my belief that the the visible Catholic Church participates in, and mediates, the heavenly communion of the saints.

            To the extent that parts of the visible Church do not bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that challenges my belief in the continuity between the visible Church and the communion of the saints, it forces me to reassess my ecclesiological judgement as to who exactly the "People of God" really are, and it forces me to reassess my pneumatology of where the Holy Spirit really resides, and all that in turn challenges whatever assent I have given to papal authority.

          • Why? The church simply does not claim that you won’t be able to find sin at all levels of church leadership. Quite the opposite. So by what standard do you judge them? Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied Him. The rest of the disciples fled. None of that made them less legit leaders. The reason we can trust them is not because of them but because of God. Are they unholy enough that God can no longer protect His church from them? How could they be?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Let me ask you this Randy, since I know you are a convert from Protestantism. At some point, I presume, you had a moment of recognition that the Catholic Church was in some sense the "True Church". How exactly did that come to pass?

            You can correct me if I'm wrong, but my guess is that you must have relied on some combination of reason and scripture (and perhaps intuition, but let's not go there). To the extent that you relied on reason, you were surely subject to the same caveats that always apply when an individual relies on his own powers of reason. To the extent that you relied on scripture, you were surely subject to the same caveats that always apply when an individual relies on his own ability to interpret scripture. (And finally, to the extent that you relied on Catholic teaching to identify the Catholic Church as the True Church, you would have been engaged in circular reasoning). So then, what led you to the truth?

          • Well, it is a complex story. I did see the problem I was in when I needed to question the foundations of my thought yet how could I do that without using some thinking based on some foundation. What I did was throw out the ad hoc systems. Those that really had nothing special about them other than one particular set of opinions about scripture among many such opinion sets. Then I asked about the remaining contenders which looked more like what God would give us as a thing. The Catholic Church was old enough and remarkable enough and audacious enough and miraculous enough to convince me.

            Then once I became convinced, I mean really convinced after a long period of foot dragging. After that I went all in on the church being legit. To me it was either totally holy or a complete fraud. Nothing in between seemed plausible. In the end the complete fraud was not plausible either. So complete obedience was called for. Really it was not the end but the beginning.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, thank you for sharing that story.

            I would say that in articulating this criterion:

            looked more like what God would give us as a thing

            you are voicing a recognition that you have in you "a window through which one can see outward to that common truth which founds and sustains us all" (to borrow again from one of BXVI's descriptions of conscience).

            In other words, you are acknowledging an ability, however impaired and imperfect, to recognize the truth directly. Implicitly, you are also recognizing that your ultimate obligation is to the truth, or equivalently that all authority ultimately rests with God.

            When you assent to the authority of the Magisterium, you are assenting to the authority of that institution to mediate an even higher authority, that of God. To use a modern work analogy, "complete obedience" to the visible Church is akin to listening only to one's direct supervisor and forgetting that that supervisor's own authority is derived from the CEO of the company and/or forgetting that it is still possible for you to listen directly to the CEO of the company. The same unmediated access to God's truth that led you to recognize the (conditional) authority of the Church (a.k.a. your conscience) is still with you, and it still provides a valid basis for critique of your direct supervisor, the visible Church.

          • I like the CEO analogy except in my company I have never spoken to the CEO directly. All his communication is mediated. Still I am not given hugely detailed instructions on what to do. I lot of it is me exercising my best judgment. Still I never do the opposite of what the CEO has explicitly told me through his hierarchy.

            It is the same with the church. Conscience is huge because most life situations are not directly addressed by dogma. We need to think and feel and discern all the time. Yet when a direct instruction is given you follow it. You don’t pretend you know God’s mind better because you don’t.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            When you phrase it that way, I can only agree.

            However, that does not foreclose on the possibility of critique of one's supervisor. In my own job, I go to my supervisor from time to time and say things like: "This is not consistent with the mission of our company" (and I know that because we have our company "scripture" in the form of a mission statement and stated company values, etc), or "What you have asked me to do will not work. Here's why ...". That is the role of critique and dissent. It is not a subversion of the proper order of things. It is the means by which we strive toward the proper order of things.

          • Absolutely. Except at a certain point if you and your supervisor continue to disagree then you need to obey. That is why he is called the supervisor and you are not. You could decide you understand the CEO better and either secretly or openly do it your way anyway. Still then you are not accepting the CEO’s right to appoint a supervisor over you. So how loyal are you to him really?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Except at a certain point if you and your supervisor continue to disagree then you need to obey.

            Agreed. Well, either that or I need to leave the company.

            However, in real life that exact point of discontinuity is usually a matter of negotiation. In my own role as a supervisor, I generally would rather have people who hang on and keep working with me to try to hash things out, as long as they are making a sincere effort to do what's right. Obviously if it gets to the point where they are disruptive or fundamentally impeding our mission, then they gotta go. I've only ever fired one person. Generally my attitude is, work with me.

            That's kind of how I figure it is with me and the Church. I relate to the Church the way that I would want my direct reports to relate to me: as a person, not as an instruction manual or a litmus test. It's like, look, this doesn't need to be perfect, let's just keep trying to work it out. I think that's how dissent and critique should work.

          • There is a sense of what is important and what is not. Many things are OK to disagree about. Some things are not. A subtle Gnosticism is at the root of much of this. The idea that the physical does not really matter that much. Therefore sexual sins are not a big deal. They won’t really impact your spiritual life that much. The trouble is that is heresy. Catholicism has always taught that the physical does matter. Jesus took on flesh and physically died because it matters. What we do with our bodies sexually does matter. So whether it is a couple thinking a birth control pill is no big deal or a bishop thinking some questionable sexual choices by a priest can be ignored there is a gnostic assumption under it all that is just false.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            A subtle Gnosticism is at the root of much of this. The idea that the physical does not really matter that much. Therefore sexual sins are not a big deal. They won’t really impact your spiritual life that much.

            I believe this is a complete misdiagnosis of people like me. I would never argue (and have never argued) that the physical does not really matter much, or that sexual sins are not a big deal. I think I have always appreciated the sacramental aspect of marriage and sex and procreation. I think I have always appreciated the meaning of sex as an act of self-gift and self-revelation, and as a participation in God's ongoing act of creation. My point has never been that what we do with our sexual lives doesn't matter.

            My argument was on a subtle technical point: what exactly makes some methods of family planning licit or illicit. Doctor Bonnette has clarified the distinction for me, but I would point out that this this technical distinction was so subtle that even he, an experienced teacher of philosophy, seemed to struggle to articulate the distinction correctly (though he did succeed in the end, for which I am grateful).

            So yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is a sense of what is important and what is not. Whatever we may say about the different methods for family planning, they are surely not as central as, say, belief in the Resurrection, or in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or the Nicene Creed, or anything like that.

          • I did think it strange becoming Catholic that the church had such a huge importance on sexual sin. Masturbation was one that struck me. Sure it is a sin but why a mortal sin? I guess I was a child of the sexual revolution even in my conservative Protestant home. Yet the church says pretty much all the sexual distortions are gravely immortal. When you understand how sex is supposed to call us to pure love and ultimately to God then you start to get it. Perverting something so holy is always going to be a very serious matter.

            So no. The distinction on birth control is not a minor issue. Chesterton talks about small movements mattering a lot when you are balancing on a log. It makes the difference between balancing and falling. It causes your relationship with your wife to come out of balance. It causes your relationship with God to come out of balance. You end up in a much worse place.

            If it really was a small thing nobody would mind obeying the church. People object because they can see it does require a significant reordering of your sex life. It requires more love, more sacrifice and less instant gratification. At the end of the day it makes you a better person but it is harder. I know many who have gone down that road and they are glad they did.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK. Thanks for the engagement.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am humbled to admit that it was YOU, not I, who finally expressed the key point of difference between NFP and contraception very succinctly and precisely:

            "With NFP, one does take deliberate actions (looking at calendars and thermometers) to avoid conception, but one does not take any deliberate actions to prevent the sexual act from achieving its proper telos (or, assuming one grants the multiple teloi of procreation and bonding, one can still say that contraception prevents the sexual act from achieving one of its proper teloi) ?" JH

            Despite my years of experience, sometimes I know the direction toward a true solution, but no longer can even remember how to put it precisely. Dementia? I hope not!

            One word of caution. You point out that methods of family planning are not as central to the Catholic Faith as doctrines like the Resurrection. True. But family planning entails moral or immoral actions, whereas doctrinal matters entail beliefs.

            It is far easier to believe something we are told to believe than it is to live out our lives doing difficult moral actions. Few people go to hell for failing to believe in angels (which is a dogma), but many are lost through sins of the flesh.

          • OMG

            Hi Randy,
            I was discussing a book with Rob Abney, so maybe David is conflating our conversations with yours. I would verify the quotes prior to accepting them as definitive interpretations of Church truth.

          • OMG

            You say, "I believe that the Church is an imperfect mediator of God's speech."

            Be she imperfect, where else should you go?

            If God is found by, through, with and in the Church, it seems our arguments are with God, not with His church.

            1Peter 5 blog today suggests Eucharistic adoration as a method to meet and defeat the crisis of sexual abuse corruption within the Church. He's there waiting to listen and answer all our concerns and struggles. He waits for me and for you.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Be she imperfect, where else should you go?

            One has to triangulate the truth of what God wants by simultaneously considering (at least) scripture, tradition, and reason. No single component of that triumvirate is going to be decisive every time. The interpretive tradition conveyed by Church doctrine is indispensable, but the need for individual judgment in that triangulation process never goes away.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Without going too heavy into judgments about personal responsibilities, I would focus on a couple "speculative" matters I have dealt with for many years. Somehow I suspected that your concerns were about the matter of family planning, on which, as the father of seven and grandfather of 25, I have some experience in these matters -- not merely "book learning."

            First, when you say that you don't really believe contraception is a sin, you put me in a bind. Since you are personally involved with "family planning," I don't want to give you speculative arguments which may only serve to convert material sins into formal ones. On the other hand, I suspect you have been hearing or reading faulty arguments against contraception. Many such "arguments" have abounded since Humanae Vitae was published in 1967. And many laymen have imbibed these arguments so long that they are personally convinced that they are correct and that the Church is simply wrong on this point.

            The problem is that if the Church is wrong on this point -- and some theologians argue that HV was an infallible pronouncement, then the Church is simply not an infallible guide to faith and morals and, in a word, not the true Church.

            I know from studying and teaching moral philosophy for decades now, that contraception is morally wrong and an offence against both human nature and God. Moreover, since this is a matter of moral philosophy, not moral theology, this conclusion would be true even if the Catholic Church did not teach this doctrine.

            My problem is how to explain the ethics of this in short comments on this thread.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I appreciate the difficulty of addressing such a complex and "politically charged" issue in such small space. Maybe over time you can expose me to some of the more powerful arguments that you are aware of. I would be interested in that.

            However, I don't want to lose sight of the larger question that I keep coming back to. The fact remains that at present I am not able to reconcile Church teaching and my conscience on this issue. Maybe that will change. My commitment to Catholicism is such that I am not going to stop trying to find that resolution. Perhaps that resolution will come about as a result of dialogue with you, where you eventually persuade me. But that resolution, if it occurs, lies in the future. In the meantime, in the present, I must follow my conscience such as it is. Given that my fealty to conscience currently entails dissent from Church teaching, should I still call myself a Catholic?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            We are so deep in the thread now that I fear losing the comment/reply continuity -- but I want to add a digression before directly addressing the more contentious question of the intrinsic moral nature of contraception.

            I mentioned us having seven children and 25 grandchildren (thus far). I did not mention that one of our children and his wife have twelve living children with also a thirteenth who became St. Emily at just her 45th day on earth. Point being, we know a little about natural family planning (maybe not enough?!) Also, I give some mention of NFP in my presently ongoing ethics course.

            Being eighty years old our next birthdays, my wife and I are not too directly concerned about the subject, but I would like to share some observations about the little bit I do know.

            I know NFP is derisively described as "Vatican roulette," but it has come a long way from the initial rhythm method. The first point to address is whether it is actually morally distinct from contraception. It is, but I shall leave that to another time, since you may already know that.

            As to efficacy, there are studies in India that claim it is as effective as the Pill when used properly: 98% -- and, of course, people still get pregnant on the Pill. Then there is the not so minor problem that the Pill is also abortifacient when it fails to suppress ovulation. But that is another matter to discuss.

            For now, I would just observe that it appears the most modern techniques of NFP are highly effective -- provided you don't try to "game" the infertile period too widely. But the main point I would make here is simply that NFP is very effective for something not widely discussed, namely, spacing of children. At an 85% success rate as a "spacer," it is very effective for couples not absolutely trying to halt all pregnancies, but rather merely trying to rationally limit family size to perhaps five or six children.

            The problem is, I suspect, too many people quickly have three to five children, and then expect NFP to instantly "put on the brakes," while they have had no experience using it. My suggestion would be to have a couple children, and then start trying to use it for spacing (assuming, of course, that a sufficiently serious reason justifies its use at all!). Too many people just start trying to use it too late in the game and with no experience and insufficient knowledge -- and then decry its "uselessness!"

            As I said above, this is technically a side issue to the precise issue of the morality of contraception. Still, I doubt that my children who are raising a dozen children of their own and are still fertile would be too concerned about the challenges of raising only three or four.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It may be some time before I respond, so for now I just want to pass a note of appreciation for your thoughtful engagement and your willingness to share an aspect of your personal story.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It appears we are both rather busy for the moment anyway, so that is fine.

            I do want to address the purely rational philosophical arguments against contraception, but am hesitant for a couple reasons.

            Normally, I would deal with this in the context of an entire course in natural law ethics -- and so just giving the arguments against contraception, without that context, might leave them not properly grounded.

            The other alternative would be were I writing an entire OP on the topic, but then you have about 2500 words in which to catch all the nuances and objections.

            But in a short comment (I like to keep around 500 words, if possible) it is hard to make sure the case is coherent.

            Also, I don't know what arguments you have been exposed to, the nature of the objections, what points you already accept, and so forth.

            I am tempted to give just a one line explanation and hope you can fill in the details for yourself, but doubt that will work either!

            So, for now, we can wait a bit. If I do write a short version in a comment, I may just have to append it to some other comment you have made as an "off topic" reply -- otherwise we may just get lost in the thread!

            I respect your dilemma and wish only to help, not to confront or condemn. We Catholics should always have an exclusive passion for finding the truth. Right?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not yet addressing the philosophical arguments against contraception, but, am well aware that you insist that you remain "unconvinced by those arguments" in favor of the Church's teaching on family planning, and, for this reason feel justified in following your own personal conscience even though it is now formed against the teaching of the Magisterium on this point of sexual ethics.

            Are you aware that Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae specifically took such an objection into consideration and rejected it?

            Take a look at the wording of part of section 28 of Humanae Vitae:

            "In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the Magisterium of the Church. For, as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth. (39) And this, rather than the arguments they put forward, is why you are bound to such obedience. Nor will it escape you that if men's peace of soul and the unity of the Christian people are to be preserved, then it is of the utmost importance that in moral as well as in dogmatic theology all should obey the magisterium of the Church and should speak as with one voice. (Italics mine)

            Thus, Paul VI has anticipated your objection that you remain unconvinced by "the arguments" put forward, and insists that his teaching against contraception is to be obeyed because it enjoys "a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth."

            This should answer your question as to which voice you are bound to obey, since the Church insists that you listen to her voice as guided by the Holy Spirit, rather than your own personal arguments which you admit are not 100% certain.

          • David Nickol

            The passage you cite is clearly directed to priests, not to the laity. My no doubt crude interpretation is that priests are bound to teach Humanae Vitae even if they find it unconvincing, since it is the teaching authority of the Church that is paramount, not its ability to justify and explain its pronouncements. Some disaffected Catholics I have come across describe this as a command to "check your brain at the door when you enter the church."

            It reminds me of an anecdote from my high school years which I won't retell here, but the story ends with our class's religion teacher saying in exasperation, "Well, I can't explain it, but this is what you have to believe!"

            I believe I have read that Catholics are bound to obey authoritative teachings even if they dissent from them, unless such obedience would result in a mortal sin. It seems very much a dictatorship to me.

          • Rob Abney

            It's more like a king than a dictator.
            WHAT IT IS INCUMBENT UPON A KING TO DO AND HOW HE SHOULD GO ABOUT DOING IT

            [96] Let us then examine what God does in the world, for in this way we shall be able to see what it is incumbent upon a king to do.

            [97] Looking at the world as a whole, there are two works of God to be considered: the first is creation; the second, God’s government of the things created. These two works are, in like manner, performed by the soul in the body since, first, by the virtue of the soul the body is formed, and then the latter is governed and moved by the soul.

            [98] Of these works, the second more properly pertains to the office of kingship. Therefore government belongs to all kings (the very name rex is derived from the fact that they direct the government), while the first work does not fall to all kings, for not all kings establish the kingdom or city in which they rule but bestow their regal care upon a kingdom or city already established. We must remember, however, that if there were no one to establish the city or kingdom,’ there would be no question of governing the kingdom. The very notion of kingly office, then, comprises the establishment of a city and kingdom, and some kings have indeed established cities in which to rule; for example, Ninus founded Ninevah, and Romulus, Rome. It pertains also to the governing office to preserve the things governed, and to use them for the purpose for which they were established. If, therefore, one does not know how a kingdom is established, one cannot fully understand the task of its government.

            [99] Now, from the example of the creation of the world one may learn how a kingdom is established. In creation we may consider, first, the production of things; secondly, the orderly distinction of the parts of the world. Further, we observe that different species of things are distributed in different parts of the world: stars in the heavens, fowls in the air, fishes in the water, and animals on land. We notice further that, for each species, the things it needs are abundantly provided by the Divine Power. Moses has minutely and carefully set forth this plan of how the world was made. First of all, he sets forth the production of things in these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Next, he declares that all things were distinguished from one another by God according to a suitable order: day from night, higher things from lower, the sea from the dry land. He next relates that the sky was adorned with luminaries, the air with birds, the sea with fishes, the earth with animals; finally, dominion over earth and animals was given to men. He further states that, by Divine Providence, plants were made for the use of men and the other animals.

            [100] Of course the founder of a city and kingdom cannot produce anew men, places in which to dwell, and the other necessities of life. He has to make use of those which already exist in nature, just as the other arts derive the material for their work from nature; as, for example, the smith takes iron, the builder wood and stone, to use in their respective arts. Therefore the founder of a city and kingdom must first choose a suitable place which will preserve the inhabitants by its healthfulness, provide the necessities of life by its fruitfulness, please them with its beauty, and render them safe from their enemies by its natural protection. If any of these advantages be lacking, the place will be more or less convenient in proportion as it offers more or less of the said advantages, or the more essential of them. Next, the founder of a city and kingdom must mark out the chosen place according to the exigencies of things necessary for the perfection of the city and kingdom. For example, when a kingdom is to be founded, he will have to determine which place is suitable for establishing cities, and which is best for villages and hamlets, where to locate the places of learning, the military training camps, the markets—and so on with other things which the perfection of the kingdom requires. And if it is a question of founding a city, he will have to determine what site is to be assigned to the churches, the law courts, and the various trades! Furthermore, he will have to gather together the men, who must be apportioned suitable locations according to their respective occupations. Finally, he must provide for each one what is necessary for his particular condition and state in life; otherwise, the kingdom or city could never endure.

            [101] These are, briefly, the duties that pertain to the office of king in founding a city and kingdom, as derived from a comparison with the creation of the world.

            DE REGNO
            ON KINGSHIP
            TO THE KING OF CYPRUS

            by
            Thomas Aquinas

          • OMG

            Paul VI's Humanae Vitae encyclical was written for the "faithful of the whole Catholic world, and to all men of good will,..." as well as for clerics.

            Even were specific paragraphs directed to specific audiences, are other audiences prohibited from reaping harvest there? This reminds me of an argument that Christian appropriation and interpretation of the OT is somehow remiss.

            I've copied its front page:
            ENCYCLICAL LETTER
            HUMANAE VITAE
            OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
            PAUL VI
            TO HIS VENERABLE BROTHERS
            THE PATRIARCHS, ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS
            AND OTHER LOCAL ORDINARIES
            IN PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE,
            TO THE CLERGY AND FAITHFUL OF THE WHOLE CATHOLIC WORLD, AND TO ALL MEN OF GOOD WILL,
            ON THE REGULATION OF BIRTH

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I wish I could find your comment in the thread itself and not in Disqus, but will try to answer it here anyway (it won't even give me it in discussion!).

            I could see your point except for one thing, the text I cited from HV does not cite authority from the power of the pope to command obedience, for example, from Art. 25 of Lumen Gentium or from Papal Primacy dogma (Denz. 1831.). Rather, its wording is very clear: ", as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth. (39) And this, rather than the arguments they put forward, is why you are bound to such obedience."

            It say they are bound to obedience, not because of papal power or even the rational arguments put forth, but because the pope enjoys "a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth." In other words, it is neither the force of his argument nor his authority to compel obedience, but rather this is a clear citation of his special guidance by the Holy Spirit as pope.

            So, what I see he is saying is, "If you want to disobey, you have a problem with the Holy Spirit, not with my arguments or my authority."

            Pope Paul VI was intentionally here anticipating the objections against his reasoning or his authority to demand obedience. He was sidestepping such objections by pointing out that, as Pope, he has the inspiration of the Holy Spirit behind his teaching in matters of faith and morals.

            So, any objections to his arguments or to merely reducing this to a matter of obedience are irrelevant to the force of Humanae Vitae.

          • Jim the Scott

            > Should I stop attending the Mass?

            Keep going to Mass. That is aways the right answer.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Again I agree.

            Wasn't it John Milton's Satan that said, "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven"

            And (attributed to) Winston Churchill that said that 'History is written by the victors?

            If 'free will' means anything at all, it's the freedom to interpret scripture as you wish.

          • John P Glackin

            Martin Luther rejected the Catholic Church and died outside the Church.

          • May I ask what it would look like for the Roman pontiff to disobey the following:

            Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20–28)

            ? How about the Magisterium?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            How do you think the Magisterium is at odds with this text of Scripture?

          • I didn't say the Magisterium is at odds with this text. I asked whether it could happen by way of asking what it would look like. You could consider it an application of 1 Corinthians 10:1–13. Surely you agree that the Bible is harshest on religious and political leaders?

            One inspiration for this way of thinking is the principle of doubting self before other. So many Christians I see—Protestant and Catholic, as I don't read others much—seem to consider that the bulk of the problem exists outside of themselves. This applies 10x to those who would be anything like "intellectuals". If only they had listened to us (or to God, if we think our understanding of him is vastly superior to them), things would have been great! Or at least, they wouldn't have gotten so bad. I am growing incredibly, incredibly suspicious of this kind of reasoning—and I see it coming from secular and religious sources. It culminates in the binary us vs. them which Chris Hedges described in the excerpt I recently provided to @disqus_Tp4SsRBXFl:disqus.

            Another inspiration is the serious failing of Christians I see today, both Protestant and Catholic. (Again, I'm not well-aware of Orthodox, Coptic, etc.) The chief characteristic of this failing seems to be that the persons wronged felt powerless to do anything about it. This seems like a complete and utter inversion of Mt 20:20–28. Last night I was reminded of Mt 23:8–12, where Jesus commands nobody to be called 'rabbi', 'instructor', or 'father', because each of these places the so-labeled person on a higher plane than the common person. One of the consequences of being on a higher plane is that it [sometimes: partially] immunizes the elevated person from scrutiny and critique. That seems to be a key part of the problem for many scandals, both Protestant and Catholic.

            So, another way of asking my question is to ask what it looks like, and does not look like, for the following two things to happen among Christians:

                 (1) The greatest among you shall be your servant.
                 (2) Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

            After all, the actions we take provide most of the meaning to words we use. (I suspect Protestants are worst at this.) It seems that one of the best ways to keep the leaders in-line is for the followers to know, with some detail, what qualifies as "in-line". Perhaps you disagree?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It seems to me that you are alluding to the eternal challenge as to how teaching and authority can be perfectly melded with charity and humility.

            In Christ, clearly both are present perfectly. He tells us himself that "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve." And yet, did he not teach with absolute authority? Did he not give the great commission, telling his disciples to go forth and teach all nations everything he had commanded them?

            The problem, especially for Catholicism, is our belief that Christ gave to his Apostles that command to teach all nations, the power to forgive and retain sins (notice the constantly overlooked authority entailed in the power to retain sins?), and particularly, with reference to the pope, the power to bind in heaven what he binds on earth, as well as the authority to teach in Christ's name (he who hears you hears me).

            The exercise of the Magisterium simply is, in our belief, fulfilling the command to teach all nations -- with, at times, the infallibility that must belong to the authentic word of God.

            The question you seem to raise is how to square this with the command for humility and charity. It all depends on how one does it. If I tell you that 2 + 2 = 4, it is the truth. If I tell you that adultery is a sin and that adulterers risk eternal damnation, it is the truth. How do I sugar coat it? Christ himself taught the same kinds of things.

            As Dietrich von Hildebrand, whom Pius XII called the greatest theologian of the 20th century, once told me personally, "Excommunication is the greatest act of charity, since it tells someone the state of their soul." (Assuming the correctness of the verdict, of course.)

            There is no way to tell people the truth without risking offending their sensibilities at times. They used to call President Harry Truman, "Give them Hell Harry," because he told people the truth and they thought it was hell!

            Yes, the Magisterium speaks with authority. But so does the Ten Commandments. Yet, both are the greatest acts of charity, since they tell us truths necessary for the attainment of our eternal happiness.

            That all-too-human popes and prelates may be sinners themselves and even misuse their teaching offices (to the extent that the Holy Spirit permits it in the case of a pope) is a problem for the flock and for themselves before God. That is simply the condition in which God leaves his Church and its leaders, since we are all sinners and sometimes leaders commit serious sins.

            In a word, there is nothing wrong with the Magisterium itself, but the fallen human nature of those who exercise it may cause that it be exercised without the charity and humility that Christ commands -- and those who fail to use their high office in a proper manner will answer to the awesome judgment of God immediately after death.

          • Jesus taught with an authority which only resulted in physical force when it came to the money changers in the temple. The rest of the time, it appeared that all he did was try to convince. And he reserved his harshest words for those who claimed to most represent God. This reminds me of Revelation, where Jesus' sword comes out of his mouth—almost as if he will speak instead of cut flush. This would not be surprising if the war we fight is not one of flesh and blood.

             
            You haven't answered is what it would look like for the Magisterium or Roman pontiff to "exercise authority over" / "lord it over":

            But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

            Is this because what they do, by definition, could not possibly constitute "exercise authority over" / "lord it over"? If your answer is no, then what would it look like for them to do these things?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Outside of Vatican City, what authority does the pope exercise over anyone except moral authority?

            You may well know that the popes call themselves, servus servorum Dei: the servant of the servants of God -- and at least all papal bulls start that way.

            This in no way undermines the arguments that Catholics offer in favor of the successors of Peter having authority over the Church. In fact, in 1871, Vatican Council I dogmatically affirmed that the pope has supreme authority over the whole Church and all its members, not only in matters of faith and morals, but also with respect to ecclesiastical discipline.

            It is our belief that Christ as God explicitly gave this authority to Peter when he gave to him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and said that what you (Peter) shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.

            I realize that Protestants do not share that belief, but, of course, that is why they are not Catholics!

            Nonetheless, that does not mean that in exercising said authority, the Roman Pontiff is "lording it over" anyone, since I take Our Lord's rebuke to those "lording it over" others to refer to their sins of self-exaltation and pride in asserting that authority. Not only popes and bishops, but anyone in legitimate authority, can commit such sins of pride and abuse of inferiors.

            I hardly think it possible to have any form of civil society without there being someone in charge at the practical level. We Catholics believe Christ put Peter and his successors in charge in his Church. After all, Christ also gave his disciples the authority to "retain sins" confessed to them. Does that mean that they are "lording it over" the penitent? Or, seeking to help him permanently resolve to sin no more?

          • Dr. Bonnette, I appreciate the engagement. But you still haven't answered my question: what it would look like for the Magisterium or Roman pontiff to "exercise authority over" / "lord it over", per the Magisterium's interpretation of those terms in Mt 20:20–28?

            Let me say for the second time that I'm not saying such "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" is happening. Instead, what I'm looking for are standards of judgment, articulated by the most powerful, which can then be used to judge the most powerful, without those standards being so flexibly interpretable by the most powerful that they are actually useless in so-judging. Does that make sense? This is, incidentally, precisely what God seems [to me] to do throughout the OT. This attitude is perhaps inaugurated by only YHWH walking between the cut-up animals in Genesis 15: that Suzerainty treaty form communicated: "If I do not fulfill my part of the covenant, let it be done to me as it has been done to these animals." YHWH longed to contend with humankind:

            The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 22:29–31)

            Of course, YHWH wouldn't be inquired of by everyone—Ezekiel 20:1–32—but that's because sometimes humans don't actually want to hear what God has to say. Merely disagreeing with YHWH was not a punishable offense; indeed Moses changed his mind three times in so doing: Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and Num 16:19–23.

            As to "servus servorum Dei", I'm afraid that strictly speaking, it doesn't actually matter if someone merely uses the right words: Jeremiah 7:1–15 shows that one of the most central terms—'the temple of the LORD'—could be grossly perverted to mean basically the opposite of what was intended. If we live in any age, it is the age of suspicion, where words are seen as hiding instead of revealing. The aphorism "deeds, not creeds" gains strength when it does not appear that deeds are getting closer to creeds. If we are not actually approaching our ideals in any discernible way, then I see four conclusions: (i) we are using the wrong means; (ii) the ideals are somehow bad; (iii) we just don't have what it takes to get there; (iv) we need better discernment. It seems to me that the goodness of God rules out (iii) for Christians. I think I can take (iv) to be ruled out for the Christian elite—at least the pope & Magisterium. If it's just (i) and/or (ii), we have the question of whether the leaders are sufficiently correct on means/​ideals and it's the followers who are in error—or whether maybe that's not how blame should be apportioned. Well, how often does scripture portray the leaders as having it together while the followers just weren't up to snuff? I'm reminded of James 2:1–7, especially v5.

          • David Nickol

            I am not quite sure why the power of binding and loosing cannot in some way be used to find a way to permit the divorced and remarried to receive communion. I was reading from the excellent book Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church by Joseph Martos, and it struck me how much "development" Christian marriage has gone through over the centuries. During the first few hundred years, Christians got married and divorced the same way their non-Christian neighbors did. There was no such thing as "marriage in the Church." It wasn't until the 16th century or so that the rules for Catholic marriage as we think of began to be laid down.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I do not doubt that there was a development of practice about marriage in the early Church -- just as it took three centuries to get the doctrine of the Trinity properly understood.

            But as to the power to bind and loose, I am sure that it presumed that the Holy Spirit would assist the popes to use that power only in a manner consistent with natural law and the theological specifications which making marriage a sacrament would add to it.

            Ockham, Descartes, Luther, and Calvin were moral positivists, who thought that, if God wanted to make adultery morally licit, God could do so. This would also allow that, if God so willed it, two plus two could equal five.

            But, the position of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church has always been one consonant with natural law -- meaning what is ethically good or evil is based on the very nature of things, not on someone's will.

            Hence, even God himself, given the nature of the human beings he has created, could not make adultery a morally good act. For that reason, the power of binding and loosing could never allow that those who are validly married can then assume a sexual union with another party without them committing the sin of adultery, which would prohibit them from licitly receiving Holy Communion.

            All this presumes that things are as I define them -- and does not describe the situation of someone who was never validly married in the first place, nor does it make any moral judgment about those who presently have consciences that are ill-informed and, therefore, are acting in ways contrary to the correct moral order, but sincerely fail to grasp the illicitness of their actions.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I cannot speak for Protestants, but Catholics have a pretty good idea what "in-line" means if you are talking about what kind of conduct and teaching would be expected of our prelates and popes.

            The unique problem we have is that the ultimate authority to determine what what is orthodox teaching is the pope himself. We presume he can teach no essential errors, but as to conduct, history tells us that some popes must have been lucky if they even attained their own salvation.

            If you want a more sophisticated response than this, I suggest you find a genuine theologian to answer you -- not this simple philosopher.

          • I cannot speak for Protestants, but Catholics have a pretty good idea what "in-line" means if you are talking about what kind of conduct and teaching would be expected of our prelates and popes.

            I'm sorry, but this is meaningless to me. Here's why: those in power always say that the insiders know what is good and what is bad. A recent example is the "Dallas Statement", aka The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel., put out by John MacArthur et al. (some context) One of the biggest criticisms is that the statement never provides a robust definition of 'social justice'. Joel McDurmon offered this criticism on his blog; here's the response of one of the signers:

            ED: Anyone involved in the current discussion understands what the statement is saying.

            I say that the lack of articulate standards of judgment permits all sorts of badness. If you want another example, see Mark Zuckerberg's time in DC and in particular, the question of whether Facebook moderation is politically biased. He said he did not know of any such bias, but he said something else by Facebook subsequently producing detailed moderation guidelines—guidelines which had previous been secret, if even articulately formulated in the first place. One of the principles of social power is that the more ambiguity you can generate about standards of judgment, the more you have freedom to judge how you'd like.

            In contrast, God lays out his standards of judgment in the Bible quite thoroughly. Well, at least "thoroughly" for the ancient Hebrews and early Christians. But we all know that times change and metaphors intended to connect directly to the average person now seem rather foreign. Just read Song of Solomon—it seems downright weird, now. So, what I'm asking is for an updated version. What would be an example of prelates and popes "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", in the sense Jesus intended in Mt 20:20–28? What I don't want is a secret system like that of oaths whereby if you swear by one thing it's binding but if you swear by another it isn't. Jesus criticized that devious use of speech in Mt 5:33–37.

            Anyhow, you say I would need to consult "a genuine theologian", so I shall save a link to this discussion for if & when that happens. What I am becoming more and more aware of these days is how subtle social power actually is. I want to know (i) to what extent Catholic intellectuals know about this; (ii) to what extent they teach the rank and file about it. But for now, I guess my curiosity will have to go unsated. Thanks for the engagement!

          • OMG

            Dr. B.,
            Thank you for answering. I'm too busy for the next few weeks to do much here. My understanding is sympatico with yours.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Again with the labels. If you think in labels you can only earn a label for yourself.

          • OMG

            I see a big label on Dr. B.: "Catholic."

          • Martin Zeichner

            You see what you look for, whoever you are.

          • Martin Zeichner

            I guess that it's true then. People see what they look for.

          • John P Glackin

            The Holy Spirit cannot say two different things.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Unfortunately, once you declare one person to be disloyal, you start down a path that can only lead to declaring everyone that disagrees with you to be disloyal. It can only end in destruction of everyone other than yourself. What then is all the talk about forgiveness.

          • OMG

            Eternal destruction of ourselves and others is what Christianity counters. Christ through his church offers forgiveness and enables salvation. This is the teaching of Christ and of his Church.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Just for a moment. Just for the next two minutes. Look beyond Christianity. There's a big world out there. More things in heaven and earth...

          • OMG

            Maybe those who have no things of value need look beyond. I've found my treasure.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Then I wish you all the best.

          • Martin Zeichner

            I don't see much forgiveness here. Salvation is another story

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your specious argument would make even the very concept of having an authentic and identifiable doctrine in any church totally incoherent.

          • Martin Zeichner

            That's right, dismiss and disrespect me. I expected nothing else from you.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I objected to your argument, not yourself. Why the ad hominem reply?

          • Martin Zeichner

            "I objected to your argument, not yourself."

            That is verifiably not true.You're use of the word 'incoherent' is a testimony to that. I refer to my history with you as well as your record with others on this very thread.

            "Why the ad hominem reply?"

            This only shows that you do not understand the meaning of what an ad hominem argument is. It literally translates from Latin as 'to the man' But I am not so much interested in a direct translation as I am interested its form. What you might call it's essence; how it is used in real life.

            The form of an ad hominem argument is defined as 'You should not believe this person's argument because they are... a known liar, or a known swindler, or something to that effect. Totally inadmissible in a court of law.

            I have never thought of you as or accused you of lying. I think that you are quite sincere in everything in everything that you write. And I don't give a rat's ass what you believe. You can believe that the moon is made of green cheese for all I care. What matters to me is what you can demonstrate. And as far as I'm concerned you have demonstrated nothing except that you have learned how to use a computer.

            Anybody can push symbols on a computer screen around. Or use a typewriter. But when you make your beliefs public, they are as subject to criticism as any other beliefs. I don't mind if you criticize my beliefs because I don't have any. Since that frustrates you to the point of making ad hominem arguments yourself ((like what you did with Jean Paul Sartre, whose work will be remembered long after you and I are forgotten) I take some schadenfreude from the situation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I could offer you a point by point reply, but frankly I do not find it very fruitful to engage in disputes over how one is arguing. I would hope we both are simply seeking to discover the truth. So, you may have the last word.

          • Martin Zeichner

            " I would hope we both are simply seeking to discover the truth."

            "...frankly I do not find it very fruitful to engage in disputes over how one is arguing."

            Interesting. I was under the impression that you and I never got past that point.

            I was hoping that you and I might find some truth. You were trying to convert me into one of your sheep. It was never a balanced conversation.

            I can have perfectly polite and interesting conversations with Luke Breuer on this very thread. It's not your religion. It's not your ideology. It's you.

            "So, you may have the last word."

            What are you eight years old ? The last word. Where do get this stuff. The local schoolyard?

            Go ahead and pout.You can run but you cannot hide. (the book of Jonah I think) Not with google.

            Now that's what I call a bunch of ad hominem arguments. You're an amateur at this.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am glad you enjoy verbal swordplay for its own sake, but I do not. I find it curious to encounter someone who explicitly believes nothing at all. In your own words: "I don't mind if you criticize my beliefs because I don't have any. Since you not only don't have any, but also don't appear particularly eager to gain any, I shall leave you in peace.

            Yes, I know. I added more words. But I wanted to make clear why our discussion has ended.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Let's take these points in order, which I have done ever since our first encounter through Rob Abney in almost every one of my comments to you. After you didn't acknowledge my respect for you.

            I am glad you enjoy verbal swordplay for its own sake, but I do not.

            Then what are you doing here? Everything that we do here is 'verbal swordplay'. It's not debate. The way that debating skills are taught one must be able to address all sides of an issue from a stage. This and other internet forums are more like a place where people can go to express themselves. It's not letter writing because it's public. It's not book writing because it's a many-to-many technology, not one-to-many. By the time that we figure out what this medium is (as opposed to what it is not), it will be as obsolete as books and periodicals are now. Don't look now, it's already happened.

            Look at how many people don't participate. I keep seeing the same people (including myself and yourself) over and over again. Which goes to "you can run but you cannot hide."

            I find it curious to encounter someone who explicitly believes nothing at all.

            Now we're getting closer to the truth. But as we'll see it's still wide of the mark ( to use another ancient warlike metaphor ).

            Curiosity has had a bad reputation. Almost as bad as humor's reputation. It killed the cat. It's what gave the elephant's chile his trunk (read your Kipling). It's what Alice said with disapproval as she was falling down the hole following the White Rabbit. Alice was always such a prim and proper Victorian girl.

            That reputation is what religion uses in order to limit the questions that people may ask. I had this discussion about Galileo (a Catholic) with a professional historian. There have always been, and always will be people that are frustrated with the questions that they are permitted to ask. Some are called ministers, some are called priests, some are called rabbis (which, incidentally, translates to 'teacher') and some are called scientists.

            I, on the other hand, like yourself, am curious. But I find that I am curious about everything. Including curiosity itself. And I am curious about belief.

            Now, If theology is the precursor of philosophy, as I have heard at least one philosopher express and you seem to want me to believe that Thomas Acqinas and Aristotle share a metaphysical legacy then I am curious about why that as well.

            I ran into an interesting wording about that recently. 'The Thomist synthesis'. It doesn't mention Aristotle. A bit similar to the "Darwinian synthesis" which doesn't mention Gregor Mendel.
            Darwin became the villain to religion, but not Mendel. The churches of the world denied evolution. The catholic church as well. Until Pope John Paul II forgave Darwin's theory by saying:

            Magisterium Is Concerned with Question of Evolution for It Involves Conception of Man

            Of course Vatican II was also controversial in it's time.

            Also, there is the story about Fred Hoyle and the 'Big Bang' theory.

            Since you not only don't have any, but also don't appear particularly eager to gain any, I shall leave you in peace.

            Once again, it's all about how you see me. There is an old show biz joke, "An egotistical actor is having lunch with his agent. The actor says, But enough about me. What do you think of me?"

            This joke has many meanings.

            First, it's not all about you or your perceptions. 'Vanity, vanity, all is vanity' which is from Ecclesiastes, depending on which translation you prefer. Isn't that supposed to be what forgiveness is?

            Second it serves as a lesson to not give in to egotism. And so to have some humility. When I mentioned to Rob Abney that some people take pride in their humility, not a particularly original observation on my part, his response was "That's an oxymoron". To which I wrote, "No kidding".

            Third it is a joke, in which the protagonist asks a question. I may have mentioned that I like questions. Questions are interesting to me because they continue the conversation rather than ending it. So why are you ending it?

            Forth, I have noticed for a long time, from reading Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605 and 1615), a satire by Don Miguel de Cervantes in college, that when people are used to reading for a living that their view of the world is narrowed. It happens with Jews and it happens with every other person alive or dead. Or "The quick and the dead": from a 1526 translation of the New Testament.

            As you have probably noticed I like jokes. Some of the most insightful people that I know personally and through their work are also funny (n no particular order; my father, my Brother-in-Law's mother. Samuel Clemens, Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Edwin Booth, Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Oscar Wilde, Spike Milligan, Monty Python And many more.

            I also described myself explicitly to you as a skeptic. To me a skeptic is a person that not only questions other people's most obvious beliefs but also what they themselves (I myself) believe All movements start out by being skeptical of the status quo, then when the 'fellow travelers' fall away because the core believers see the others as being not as committed as they are, the core believers become the conservatives.The 'other side' becomes the 'damn dirty liberals' I may be unusual in that I am not just a non-believer in god, I am a non-believer in every idea that people believe in. I have a few exceptions, though. I'm working on them.

            There is no use asking me if that is what I believe. I do not believe that I have no beliefs. I conclude that I have no beliefs. I use the word in order to facilitate communication. In other words where it is appropriate to use it.

            Yes, I know. I added more words. But I wanted to make clear why our discussion has ended.

            Well, obviously, I can be as verbose as you. So that is not my main concern.

            Also, the discussion has not ended. Obviously.

            Almost forgot:

            I could offer you a point by point reply, but frankly I do not find it very fruitful to engage in disputes over how one is arguing. I would hope we both are simply seeking to discover the truth. So, you may have the last word.

            But I wanted to make clear why our discussion has ended

            You were quite clear the first time. Further explanation was not necessary. Which brings us to another discussion. What is an explanation? People, atheists and theists like to talk about 'the best explanation' all the time.

            A definition a word in terms of what is necessary and sufficient to describe the word. This is the kind of thing that makes me curious.

            I have always been dissatisfied with the definitions of the word 'explanation' that I've seen elsewhere. "That which explains" What is your definition?

          • John P Glackin

            Dissent within the Church is saying that God is wrong. No Christian can contradict what Our Lord has taught.

        • OMG

          catholic-pages.com/morality/fatal.asp

        • John P Glackin

          And these are the people that are changing God's truth and how Catholics are to worship. Ultimately their efforts will not bear true friut.

    • Martin Zeichner

      I too would like to join Jim (hillclimber) in saying that I find your comment interesting.

      I especially like the phrase 'neo-thomist synthesis'.

      Just as background, I am atheist. In do not identify as an atheist because of what I find to be the certainty and ego that I see among what might be called 'post (or neo-new-atheist' crowd). I like you consider myself to be a perpetual student; spending my life learning.

      As such a person I see the the issue of atheism vs theism as irrelevant rather than significant. What I find much more significant is the artificial divisions among people that are make to be significant.

      Having said that, I also have a couple of questions for you. Did you get get the phrase; 'neo-thomist synthesis' from somewhere or is it you're own neologism?
      Also "synthesis' with what?

  • Ficino

    Dr. Rauser, I appreciated many things that you wrote in your review of MacDowell and MacDowell.

    But the two seem to err on this, if they state exactly what you summarize here: "In reply, M&M first point out that evidence for the mystery religions is all second-century and thus after Christ."

    It is certain that mystery cults associated with Dionysos, which promised initiates an afterlife more "enhanced" than what most Greeks expected, existed at least by the fifth century BCE. That's because evidence for them has been found on inscribed bone tablets and gold leaves from 5th-1st cent. BCE in S. Italy and Greece. Pindar, Plato and other writers refer to such cults. There isn't much detailed evidence about their doctrines from those centuries, though, but some of the gold leaves give a decent amount of info. Dionysos was what we call a "dying and rising god."

  • Steven Dillon

    I enjoyed this, two thumbs up man. I'm a Pagan apologist and do much the same with the 50/50 rule. I'd love to see an exploration among Christian apologists of new or neglected arguments, especially as they relate to Paganism: we're often left with very little to interact with.

    • Rob Abney

      Steven, would you like to start by giving us a critique of paganism?

      • Steven Dillon

        Sure, let's start with theory. My main complaint is that Pagans have by and large failed to adopt philosophies that not only do justice to the variety and veridicality of Pagan religious experiences, but that provide any kind of satisfactory meta-narrative for reality, especially in its religious relevance. Instead, I see Pagans tending toward naturalistic and relativistic positions, even if not ultimately intended as such. So for example you'll see theories about how all Gods are really just psychological archetypes, manifestations of one God and one Goddess, or how they're finite and contingent etc.

        • Rob Abney

          Do you have arguments against those critiques?

          • Steven Dillon

            Against my critiques? Sure, there's the argument that philosophy should take its que from and follow the lead of science anyway, so it's not a problem to lack a TOE. Some will stress the *reality* of archetypes to reinforce their persuasiveness. Others will argue that polytheism has problems of its own, so that their theory shouldn't be seen as inferior etc.

  • John Paul Korb

    Dr. Rauser,

    I totally disagree.

    The biggest problems with contemporary Christian apologetics (or at least anglo-phone Christian apologetics) is that it takes its bearing from analytic philosophy and is therefore abstract, boring and, most importantly of all, apolitical. The biggest problem facing Christian apologetics is that it generally accepts the status quo of the liberal political tradition instead of bolding proclaiming the uncomfortable reality that Christianity is an intrinsically political phenomenon that cannot bow to the liberal privatization of religion without abandoning the Lord who reigns over all.

    In your post you seem to hint that you might understand this when you talk about the need for emotional intelligence. However, your suggestion that we all read books about persuasion psychology does not at all indicate that you understand the need for the type of overhaul of method that is sorely needed.

    My advice to Christian apologists is simple: GET POLITICAL! And not in a way that forsakes Christian particularity and demurely accepts secular pieties by framing arguments in terms of natural law and human rights, but in a way that is radically Christian. That is, Christian to the very roots.

    If anyone is interested, I blog on similar themes at:
    https://johnpaulkorb.com

    • Aurelian Parvu

      „My advice to Christian apologists is simple: GET POLITICAL!”
      They get political.For example.Pope is very concerned about global warming.He also wants milions of nonchristians to come and settle in the christian countries.

      • John Paul Korb

        That is a perfect example of how not for Christians to get political.

        The Pope is an aggressive agent of liberal, secular causes such as global warming without offering a distinctively Christian political response. It is my view that the greatest apology for Christianity is one that upends the liberal order by rejecting the privatization of religion and boldly proclaiming that the Lord reigns over all, that he is "king of kings and lord of lords". It seems clear to me that the Pope and his cronies would find such a strategy reprehensible. See the Spadaro/Figueroa piece about evil American conservatives mixing religion with politics. Or just think about why Francis is bowing to the Communist government in China. He defends the liberal order first and the faith second, if at all.

        For great examples of political theology of the type I champion, I'd recommend reading something by John Milbank or William Cavanaugh. For example, Milbank's latest, "The Politics of Virtue" was amazing.

        • David Nickol

          rejecting the privatization of religion and boldly proclaiming that the Lord reigns over all, that he is "king of kings and lord of lords".

          Thinking of Jesus as "king of kings" doesn't have much meaning for most of us any more. I think for most Westerners, the first and most preeminent monarch to come to mind is Elizabeth II. It goes without saying for Christians that Jesus is "lord" over every earthly ruler and indeed over everything, but I think we get the concept of Jesus as "lord" (or "king") from the way we think of Jesus, rather than getting an idea of Jesus from titles like "king" and "lord."

          Is there some implied idea in what you say that monarchies (or if only we could have it, a theocracy) is preferable to modern democracy?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I suspect that the Christian's reflexive use of "king" for Jesus arises from the thought that God is not elected. The Christian belief is that the divine order is monarchical, precisely not democratic.

            When you think about it, also, the most perfect type of government would be an infinitely wise and all-knowing benevolent monarch, who would appoint solely the most perfect assistants to implement his rule. The reason mankind has wisely abandoned such a model for our present human condition is the recognition that, since the Fall, human nature is wounded such that no mere human being can be trusted with such exclusive power -- and, perhaps, he never could be. To wit, note our apple-eating forebear.

          • John Paul Korb

            Virtually anything is preferable to modern democracy.

            I enjoy telling my liberal friends (especially American liberal friends) that I'm a theocrat. By this I mean that Jesus's kingship has immediate political consequences, something that flies in the face of the liberal political tradition from Locke onward. By theocracy I definitely do not mean that the state forces everyone to be Christian under threat of violence. Everyone's conscience should be respected.

            Most basically I want people to see that there is no authentic Christianity without Christendom. Christianity is fundamentally incompatible with the founding principles of the United States of America. What exactly a post-liberal Catholic social order looks like, I'm not sure. We can draw inspiration from the past (which is why everyone should read Before Church and State by Andrew Willard Jones) but obviously can't just go back to the Middle Ages.

            If what I'm saying sounds interesting to you check out a book by John Milbank or William Cavanaugh, two of my favorite theologians who for some reason receive no attention on this site and others like it.

            Milbank's book, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason is the tour de force of this school of thinking.

          • Martin Zeichner

            I think that it was attributed to Winston Churchill that "Democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the others"

            And to Benjimin Franklin that "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner.

            The problem with a dictatorship of any kind, benevolent or not, is that it may be fine for while the founding dictator is still alive. But what happens a few generations later when the nation is taken over by lesser people because the original founder is either dead or infirm? The nation can quickly go south. The nation may hang on for centuries. Rome still exists, but where is the Roman Empire. England still exists, but where is the British Empire. Greece still exists, but where are all the nations that Alexander the Great conquered?

            For all of the US's supposed greatness, our overweening hubris is destroying our empire.

            One more ironic quote:

            "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
            - George Santayana

          • The problem with a dictatorship of any kind, benevolent or not, is that it may be fine for while the founding dictator is still alive. But what happens a few generations later when the nation is taken over by lesser people because the original founder is either dead or infirm?

            In The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, Yoram Hazony makes an argument like this with respect to Joseph. Joseph trusted too much in political power and thus did not get his family out of Egypt before he died. A while later, something like what you described happened:

            Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” (Exodus 1:8–10)

            Political power is a fickle thing. But it is hard to see that and to believe that without enough history under one's belt. After all, if the government seems all gummed up, then surely giving more executive power to one's leader is the best option?

          • Martin Zeichner

            "By the way, you might be interested in Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought. For example, he references the "law of kings" in Deut 17:14–20, which I agree seems to push toward egalitarianism by commanding the king to not become elevated above his people via wealth, military power, or political alliances."

            I do find that Berman Book interesting. More to add to the reading list.

            "This confuses me: if the Tanakh is anything, it is a history of the religious and political elite going badly astray. Repeatedly. Despite copious warnings. If there is any people on the face of the earth willing to argue, it's Jews! This blind adherence you describe doesn't seem to match the majority of the evidence with which I am aware."

            I should mention that I have a refinement to my theory of art is that "every work of art, in order to be successful, must do (at least) two things:

            1. It must tell the audience something that it already knows. This is in order to establish it's credibility.

            and

            2. It must tell the audience something that it doesn't already know. Otherwise it's just plain boring.

            The balance between the two varies as technology changes. For instance, in vaudeville a performer can use the same material for their act throughout their lifetime. There is little need need for originality. Now between broadcast radio and broadcast television a performer is under pressure to have original material constantly. Thus Ernie Kovac's (attributed) remark that television is a is a monster with a gaping maw that constantly needs to be fed.

            It may be a case of 'familiarity breeds contempt' but from my experience, Jews are, if anything, more insane than Christians. They've had a about three to four thousand years more practice than Christians. I mean, Don't eat a cheeseburger because of the Exodus instruction not to boil a kid in it's mother's milk?

            Don't get me started on eating a bacon cheeseburger.

            You want more? Ever attend a passover dinner? Oy vey what a farce. Next year in the promised land? Gimme a break. That's just for starters

            On another forum I had a similar conversation about class snobbery. The other person tried to tell me about how jews admire scholarship. They do but only their own, not anyone elses'. If people need someone to look up to, they also need someone to look down upon. For a long time it confused me that the KKK and others were called anti-semitic. Aren't Palestinians, Egyptians and Arabs also semitic people? And then I realized that they really meant was anti-semantic. More of a territorial or a bigot thing.

            There are still many things that confuse me about US's relationship with Israel. But that's one that I figured out.

            "What do you do to keep yourself from being infected [as badly]? Pure cynicism seems scientifically questionable; if you never try to build with your ideas, how do you know they have any scientific legitimacy whatsoever?"

            Well, you're right. Pure cynicism is not appropriate for this discussion. On the other hand it depends on your definition of cynicism. I like Oscar Wild's definition: 'A cynic is person that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.' I don't know the price of everything, like stock market prices, even if I know the value of nothing. From a scientific point of view. From that point of view, nothing doesn't exist. See Lawrence Krauss for more details.

            Living in New York City, I learned from a very young age that you have to protect yourself from people like advertisers; those that earned advertising the reputation of being called the 'second oldest profession' . I recall being alone on the subway, I must have been about eleven years old, (it was a different time). Looking up at the advertisements (not so different) and thinking what would a person have to be like to obey the barrage of 'call this number today' or 'buy this,' 'buy that. Buy, buy buy. It was only later that I learned about satires on the advertising business like "What makes Sammy Run?" or "Bewitched"

            To this day. I look askance at ads and advertisers. I've almost gotten to the point that I can mentally filter them out.

            "What's especially bad is that the Enlightenment bequeathed to us the illusion that history does not matter—we can make a clean break and have utopia! Stephen Toulmin illustrates this in Cosmopolis by pointing out that the La Grande Encyclopédie entry on “Descartes, René” ignored any historical/​sociological formation of Descartes the man. This prejudice has been eroded in some sectors wrt the shaping of black culture in the US, but it still seems largely believed. Works like Albert O. Hirschman's The Passions and the Interests, which traced our current attitudes about capitalism to arguments in the 17th and 18th centuries, was radical in thinking that such history could possibly matter. Brad S. Gregory writes in The Unintended Reformation that making this sort of argument is incredibly difficult in hyper-specialized academia.

            I have to confess that I am not familiar with those works, but I have run into scientists and science communicators that have expressed disapproval of 'hyper-specialisation' in the form of advocating for more synthesists. I'm thinking of the late Isaac Asimov. This idea set me on the path of being skeptical (not cynical) about science as well as religion. When did I become skeptical about everything? I'll have to get back to you on that. In the meantime, some people are born skeptics, some achieve skepticism, some have skepticism thrust upon them. I'm sort of a mixture of all three.

            I'm becoming increasingly convinced that we have a trahison des clercs on our hands, affecting Christian and secular intellectuals alike. (I know less about other religions.) Maybe this is just totally naive, but I suspect that interested laypersons will have to pick up the baton of analyzing culture and tracing plausible causal influences. Instead of writing for the ivory tower, they will need to generate hierarchies of abstractions which can be explored starting at various concrete situations, such that one can climb the ladder of abstractions as far as one cares to and object to any given point of view as easily as possible. One result is that when a politician tells a story of what will happen, [s]he will be challenged to slot it into some system of models such that it can be tested as the years roll on. We can no longer trust [more than a few of] our elites. Most seem either captured by power, hyper-specialized to nigh uselessness, or relegated to insignificance via information glut (not to mention misinformation glut).

            Again, I am not familiar with that phrase but if it means what google tells me what it means then I agree. What would we do without google?

            I would only want to expand it to society in general, not just intellectuals. 'The easy way out' seems to becoming more and more popular and it's been going on for thousands of years. I remember reading an editorial that said that there was an ancient Babylonian stone with text that complained in translation that kids today don't respect their elders. I have no verification for that one. It was printed as a defense of the 'younger generation' back when it was called the 'generation gap'. Before I got a computer, much less an internet connection.

            I have to keep reminding myself of another Shaw quote: "The world will survive your disapproval." It's from 'Man and Superman' One of my favorites. I made the mistake of trying to do a google search on it but it turns out that the original quote is "England will survive your disapproval." I must have gotten hold of the international edition.

            If, on the other hand, I sound like an old curmudgeon. Sorry. It sounded better in my head.

          • I should mention that I have a refinement to my theory of art is that "every work of art, in order to be successful, must do (at least) two things:

            1. It must tell the audience something that it already knows. This is in order to establish it's credibility.

            and

            2. It must tell the audience something that it doesn't already know. Otherwise it's just plain boring.

            Doesn't the next quarterly release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics thereby qualify as "art"? I'm sorry, but I just don't see how your definition of "art" here is beneficial.

            It may be a case of 'familiarity breeds contempt' but from my experience, Jews are, if anything, more insane than Christians. They've had a about three to four thousand years more practice than Christians. I mean, Don't eat a cheeseburger because of the Exodus instruction not to boil a kid in it's mother's milk?

            That principle and many like it were originally intended to maintain the Hebrew identity as separate from surrounding nations. That has been accomplished to an astounding degree; what other people-group from 2500+ years ago has remained so distinct? When I survey the practices of various cultures through the history of time, what you complain about in Jews seems rather benign. What you describe as crazy also doesn't seem to have prevented Jews from making an outsized contribution to science.

            Ever attend a passover dinner? Oy vey what a farce. Next year in the promised land?

            I unfortunately have been unable to attend both Seders to which I have been invited. As to thinking that the "promised land" bit is a farce, I suggest you do a double-take and consider the Jewish attitude toward utopia vs. that which Christ Hedges describes.

            On another forum I had a similar conversation about class snobbery. The other person tried to tell me about how jews admire scholarship. They do but only their own, not anyone elses'.

            I suspect this is to an extent true, but have you investigated why? I'm reminded of the following from Alasdair MacIntyre:

            Christians need badly to listen to Jews. The attempt to speak for them, even on behalf of that unfortunate fiction, the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition, is always deplorable. (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, 11)

            There is also Yoram Hazony, who in The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture describes how the Tanakh is largely neglected by scholars in academia because of all the "Thus saith the LORD"s, despite the fact that we have Parmenides, Socrates, et al also saying they received at least some of their wisdom from one or more gods and goddesses. This is rank prejudice and bigotry and it is not at all surprising that in reaction, Jews would tend to circle the wagons and ensure that their own tradition is not trampled over. The Jews have succeeded remarkably well in preserving their cultural identity; maybe they have done what they had to in order to accomplish this? If we're going to celebrate the diversity of cultural identities, I demand that the Jews have an equal place. I say this as a Protestant Christian well-aware of Martin Luther's attitude toward Jews near the end of his life.

            If people need someone to look up to, they also need someone to look down upon.

            In that case, upon whom are you looking down? (obligatory XKCD)

            Living in New York City, I learned from a very young age that you have to protect yourself from people like advertisers …

            Sure; my immediate reaction to advertising is, "How are you trying to deceive me today?" It is to Christians' shame that they don't come out harder against advertising and offer something superior. Imagine if the vast amount of machine learning technology we are building could be used to help people crowd-source learning about what purchases really do increase life satisfaction and which do not! Sadly, the masses have no advocate except possibly for God, and if God exists, God rather obnoxiously expects them to mature instead of merely be served and taken care of. BTW, did you know about Barack Obama campaign claims two top prizes at Cannes Lion ad awards?

            I would only want to expand [trahison des clercs] to society in general, not just intellectuals.

            Sure; the Jewish(!) scholar Joshua Berman points out that the Tanakh appears unique in ancient culture in its insistence that the welfare of nation depends on the "the moral or spiritual fortitude of the population", and not just the leaders. (Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought, 141) You see this for example in Deut 17:14–20, which includes the goal that "[the king's] heart may not be lifted up above his brothers". I think part of the reason for the trahison des clercs is the assumption that there can be a class of leaders who are always more moral than the followers. This assumption can be found among plenty of Enlightenment philosophes—just look at those who thought that there could be atheism for the elites and religion for the masses. It is not without reason that the Bible is repeatedly harsh on arrogance and pride.

            If, on the other hand, I sound like an old curmudgeon. Sorry. It sounded better in my head.

            I find that old curmudgeons tend to be wiser than most other humans. I've practiced discerning what is καλός and what is κακός, so I'm used to filtering out the excessive cynicism. In my experience, youth and age tend to have compensating errors which together conspire to ensure there is a "Wisdom Propagation Problem"—a term I coined to refer to a pattern in the OT whereby no matter how righteous and just a generation is, by the third or forth at most, things have gone far downhill. King David → King Solomon → King Rehoboam is a good example: "My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs." (1 Kings 12) Suffice it to say that Rehoboam was not contrasting his finger.

            My challenge to old curmudgeons is to ask them whether they think there is any sort of "Wisdom Propagation Problem" and whether they'd rather be part of the problem or part of the solution. Merely bitching and moaning that them youths don't listen is to be part of the problem. However, this would require that the old curmudgeons admit that maybe not all of what they think is "wisdom" actually is, or at least that what was "wisdom" maybe isn't quite as wise in the new context. In my experience, few wish to engage in such humble analysis. It's hard, you see.

             
            P.S. Perhaps you write your responses on a phone, but if computer I suggest using <blockquote></blockquote> to make your responses easier to read.

        • Martin Zeichner

          "...Lord reigns over all, that he is "king of kings and lord of lords...""

          Now that you bring it up, I have always been uncomfortable about that line from having heard it in Handel's "Messiah" as it is sung around Christmas time. I think that the words, 'king' and 'lord' mean something different to us than they did to the people that wrote what eventually became the New Testament.

          The leader of the Roman Empire was an Emperor. So a king, like King Arthur, would have been the ruler of a smaller piece of land, possibly under the jurisdiction of the Emperor. Same with the word 'Lord'. 'Lord' comes to us in the form of 'landlord' in the context of a nation dedicated to preserving the rights of individual citizens, not only the elite.

          It gets even worse than that. I am told by lawyers that in New York City, where I live, in landlord-tenant disputes, the courts tend to favor tenants.

          Where was I?, Oh yes, This would have been a time, when the New Testament was compiled, when Enlightenment Philosophy was centuries into the future. The word, 'Egalitarian' in it's current form, as derived from the slogan of the French Revolution, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, did not exist.

    • Ficino

      I thought it's usually bad form to promote one's own blog on another blog.

      • John Paul Korb

        I think it's fine.

        I actually wrote a comment. It's not like I just posted a link to the blog with nothing else.

      • John Paul Korb

        And Dr. Rauser and I are just living in two totally different intellectual worlds. It's hard to express that much disagreement in a comment section

      • Martin Zeichner

        So much the worse for bad form. If obnoxious ads for anything and everything are permitted to invade discussion blogs, why not a personal blog?

        Not that Mr. Korb needs defending.

    • Martin Zeichner

      I agree with much of your assessment. I would only say that religion and politics have always been strange bedfellows. The interesting stories that came out of the centuries of the middle and late middle ages are the ones that are about the power conflict between The Church and the upstart royalty: For instance, Jean d' Arc, Henry II and Thomas a Beckett, Henry XIII and the founding of the Anglican church. I'm sure that there are many more. Thomas Moore. Sorry. That slipped out.

      I might even venture to say that before there was a state that had to be separated from the church, the church was the only thing that represented a civilized way of life. But that gets a bit abstract and I'm not sure what is the best way to argue it is.

      If you look at the history of philosophy you will find that Christianity has adopted the philosophies of the Ancient Greeks in the form of preserving them using the free labor of monks (who didn't know what they were doing so they made anonymous extraordinary illuminations that can still be seen in museums and private collections) in the early middle ages.

      Given that, Christianity, has had far more practice at contriving convincing logical arguments than atheists have. In the same way that Jews, followers of the old testament have had about three to four thousand years more practice than Christians.

      And also that only a fool plays the game that his opponent has already had far more practice at than the fool can have, I conclude that logic itself needs to be redefined. Logicians have already started to do that. I refer to the Wikipedia article on logical forms.

      Having said that, I like the way that you think and I plan to check out your blog thoroughly in the near future.

  • I would like to be wrong in this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of Christian apologetics serves to justify belief despite an apparent lack of power of God. Paul himself worries about the possibility of word without power:

    But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:19–20)

    One place you might expect to find such power is keeping marriages intact. Does such power exist? Here is Dr. Rauser's conclusion from two years ago:

    RR: To sum up, born again Christians and evangelicals either have comparable or slightly higher divorce rates to the general population.

    This was actually an amelioration of the original form of his blog post:

    (Why hypocritical? Well, you could start with the fact that evangelicals appear to have a higher-than-average rate of divorce.) (More than half of American Christians are now gay-affirming, prior to edit)

    Now, either version is concerning. But is either version true? This site, being Catholic, surely has a much heavier emphasis on action accompanying belief. And here's what shows up in Dr. Rauser's original (now removed) source:

    Research has consistently shown that religious self-identification is much less important than actual religious practice, said Wilcox. People who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce, he said. (CT: Are Evangelicals Bad for Marriage?)

    Dr. Rauser's response was to remove that source and slightly ameliorate his position. As far as I can tell, the resultant position nullifies the power of God in a key aspect of human life. If there truly is no such power of God available, that should cause us to ask whether God actually loves us. But if instead there is a kind of religion which honors God with its lips while its heart is far from him, then surely it would be better to use the sword that is scripture to show that religion for what it is. Then we could divide—noisily and imperfectly—between false religion and true religion. After all, we followers of Jesus know that the enemy will do anything and everything to deceive us—including into thinking that there is no power of God available to us laypersons. Maybe the saints get it.

    • OMG

      Hi Luke,

      The latter half of your last paragraph shows the power of God.

      We who are with Jesus, not against him, recognize many persons who honor God with their lips while their hearts and actions are far below honor. We see many a "Father" chipping away at the foundational feet of our "Mother." According to the sword of scripture, those feet are to crush the serpent's head. Sand will not suffice.

      • David Nickol

        This (the so-called protoevangelium, Genesis 3:15) is one of those things I just don't get. Take, for example, the RSV Catholic Edition translation:

        I will put enmity between you and the woman,
        and between your seed and her seed;
        he shall bruise your head,
        and you shall bruise his heel.

        Footnote
        3.15 he shall bruise your head: i.e., the seed of the woman, that is, mankind descended from Eve, will eventually gain the victory over the powers of evil. This victory will, of course, be gained through the work of the Messiah who is par excellence the seed of the woman. The Latin Vulgate has the reading ipsa conteret, “she shall bruise.” Some Old Latin manuscripts have this reading and it occurs also in St. Augustine, De Genesi contra Manichaeos, II, which is earlier than St. Jerome’s translation. It could be due originally to a copyist’s mistake, which was then seen to contain a genuine meaning—namely, that Mary, too, would have her share in the victory, inasmuch as she was mother of the Savior.

        Or take the NAB (Rev 2e):

        I will put enmity between you and the woman,
        and between your offspring and hers;
        They will strike at your head,
        while you strike at their heel.

        Footnote
        They will strike…at their heel: the antecedent for “they” and “their” is the collective noun “offspring,” i.e., all the descendants of the woman. Christian tradition has seen in this passage, however, more than unending hostility between snakes and human beings. The snake was identified with the devil (Wis 2:24; Jn 8:44; Rev 12:9; 20:2), whose eventual defeat seemed implied in the verse. Because “the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8), the passage was understood as the first promise of a redeemer for fallen humankind, the protoevangelium. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. A.D. 130–200), in his Against Heresies 5.21.1, followed by several other Fathers of the Church, interpreted the verse as referring to Christ, and cited Gal 3:19 and 4:4 to support the reference. Another interpretive translation is ipsa, “she,” and is reflected in Jerome’s Vulgate. “She” was thought to refer to Mary, the mother of the messiah. In Christian art Mary is sometimes depicted with her foot on the head of the serpent.

        The point is that the text of Genesis 3:15 was incorrectly translated by Jerome (which is reflected in the Douay-Rheims Version), and the idea of Mary crushing the head of the serpent simply is not to be found in the text.

        Apologies for all the quotes, but I found this on the EWTN site:

        When Pope John Paul II published the latest version of the Vulgate in 1999, the Latin reflects this ambiguity. It says “ipsum conteret” (he or it will crush), as does what follows “eius calcaneum” (his to its heel). While his promulgation of the Vulgate merely confirms the ambiguity of the scholarly trend, it is not one that should trouble Catholics. If the text says, “he shall crush the head of the serpent and it shall strike at his heel,” it merely affirms what the Catholic faith has always affirmed, the defeat of Satan is the work of Christ. In this, Mary’s role as his singular cooperator, as the Woman, the New Eve, is contained, not diminished. As many saints and mystics have said, her role will be uniquely important preceding the Second Coming, as it was preceding the First. That role depends on who and what she is in salvation history, and not on this text.

        It seems to me it is a real stretch to imagine the "offspring" that Genesis refers to is Jesus, but in any event, it is definitely not Mary.

        • David Nickol

          An additional thought about Mary.

          I watched a Michael Voris video a few days ago about the abuse scandal in the Church, and he said in a passing remark that Hillary Clinton had been expected to win the presidency, but Mary had prevented it. Putting all doubts aside and trying to imagine what I would think if I were a believing Catholic again, I don't really think I could bring myself to believe that the Virgin Mary determines the outcome of American elections, and I would find it difficult to imagine her favored candidate would be Trump if she did. Of course a majority of Catholics voted for Trump, and if Hispanic Catholics are excluded, 60% fo white Catholics voted for Trump versus 37% for Clinton.

          • Rob Abney

            I think that comment is about Michael Voris rather than Mary.

        • Rob Abney

          There are two conditions needed to crush the head of Satan, 1. That he know longer has the threat of death and the separation from God over humans, and 2. he has no influence over a person's will. Satan never expected to be able to defeat the Son of God but he did expect to take some of His prized possessions, humans. Mary certainly crushed his head, by doing only the will of God and then bypassing death.
          Now She is able to share Her abundance of grace with anyone who asks for grace.

          • David Nickol

            I am not disputing anything about the role of Mary in salvation. My point is only that Genesis 3:15 does not contain a reference to Mary.

          • Rob Abney

            Do you deny that the Genesis story of the fall points to a need for salvation? That would be the only way that you could not see a reference to Mary who gave birth to the Word Incarnate and then accompanied Him in so many of His earthly battles as He proceeded to The Salvific act.
            It seems that Jerome is more of a true feminist than many other bible interpreters.

          • David Nickol

            Do you deny that the Genesis story of the fall points to a need for salvation?

            Whoa! I am talking about the literal meaning of Genesis 3:15, not the entire interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve. I see no reason to expand the discussion to the Christian concept of the Fall. Here is an extremely literal translation of the verse from an interlinear translation from the Hebrew:

            And enmity I will put between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.

            The Hebrew word for "seed" can also be translated as "offspring."

            From the interlinear translation (and from previous translations I have quoted) it can be seen that the same verb is used for what the offspring of woman will do to the serpent's head (bruise) as what the serpent will do to the heel of the offspring of woman (again, bruise). There is no hint in the text that what is described as anything but an ongoing situation. That is, from the time God punishes the serpent for his part in the story, there will be enmity between the offspring of woman and the serpent. It does not imply that there will be enmity until at some point the serpent is "crushed." The enmity is between the offspring of woman (the human race) and the offspring of the serpent (future serpents). There is no hint that any particular descendent of woman will "crush" the snake.

            It has always seemed clear to me that the serpent in the garden is a serpent, since henceforth all serpents are cursed. God says,

            Because you have done this,
            cursed are you
            among all the animals, tame or wild;
            On your belly you shall crawl,
            and dust you shall eat
            all the days of your life.

            Why would God punish all snakes for something done by Satan in disguise as a snake?

            Of course, the serpent seems obviously a symbol. In Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J., says the following:

            No concept of a demonic figure such as Satan can be traced in Israelite belief of the period when Gn 3 must have been dated. Since the symbolic value of the serpent was so common in the ancient Near East, it seems altogether probable that both writer and readers would see symbolic value in the serpent of Eden; and here as elsewhere the symbolism must be identified from the literary context as it is from artistic contexts. Even in early Jewish interpretation the symbolism of the serpent was referred to the fertility motif; and identification of the primeval sin as the use or abuse of sex, which was so common in rabbinical and patristic interpretation, has a long history. The literary context of a nude couple suggests the symbolism of the fertility cult (unknown to the rabbinical and patristic interpreters), and the curse of both the man and the woman in Gn 3:15ff deals with the area of fertility: childbearing for the woman, the cultivation of the soil for the man. Some modern interpreters have suggested that the seduction of man and woman by the serpent is a mythological representation of the seduction of Israel by the deities of fertility, which to the writer of the story is the fundamental sin of Israel. It is not impossible that this motif is combined implicitly with the motif of the cosmic serpent. The serpent of Gn 3 is represented as a serpent (outside of his loquacity), but the curse of the serpent (Gn 3:14f) reduces him to his natural serpentine character, and it is conceivable that this is intended to be another version of the victory of Yaweh over the cosmic serpent.

            In sum, "they (or he) shall strike at (or bruise) your head" refers to how the descendants of Eve (all of them—not Jesus or Mary) will deal with the descendants of the serpent.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think we have to remember here that, not only are many texts in Genesis figurative in content, but also many are interpreted to have multilayered meanings -- so that, literally, more than a single "correct" interpretation may be found. And this multilayering is not a product of mere chance, but part of the intended effect produced through divine inspiration.

            Please don't ask me to give examples, but I am sure a qualified Scripture scholar could do so. Consider the following:
            http://catholicism.org/four-meanings-scripture.html

          • David Nickol

            You seriously refer me to an article on the site of the (Feenyite) Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that contains the following: "Any one who accepts the false theory of evolution cannot know the true literal sense of Scripture . . . ."?

            The site fails to mention, in its biography of Fr. Leonard Feeney, that he was excommunicated in 1953 and was not accepted back into the Church until 1972. He founded the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary during the time he was excommunicated. The site still maintains a strict interpretation of "outside the Church there is no salvation" and insists (for example) that "baptism of blood" or "baptism of desire" are not sufficient for salvation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            What on earth does all that have to do with the general truth that Scripture can have multiple levels of interpretation?

            I am no more of a Feeneyite than you are! I did not even notice that connection in the site. You are to be complemented for digging deeply into any source data, but I am sure there are other sources that make the same point, since I know it is true from general knowledge of Scripture that multiple levels of interpretation are considered authentic.

          • David Nickol

            What on earth does all that have to do with the general truth that Scripture can have multiple levels of interpretation?

            I thought it worth noting that you linked to a site called Catholicism.org that promotes a heretical (Feeneyite) view. One would think that a site named Catholicism.org would be trustworthy and "orthodox," but it is not. Surely you are aware who the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are.

            I have no quarrel with the idea that a biblical text can be interpreted on many levels, but I do have a quarrel with this statement in the article

            Any one who accepts the false theory of evolution cannot know the true literal sense of Scripture . . . .

            I suppose it is possible to interpret that as implying there are false theories of evolution and true ones, but given the fact that there are other articles on the site that state that evolution is false and in contradiction of Church doctrine, that would be an overly generous interpretation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As you may know from my own writings, I do not claim that evolution is a false theory -- especially since there can be several ways in which to embrace it without accepting Darwinian naturalism.

            And yes, "Catholicism.org" would seem to be something in the mainstream of the Church one would think.

            Of course, the fact that some interpretations of Scripture may be clearly false does not falsify my point about multiple levels of legitimate readings.

          • David Nickol

            Of course, the fact that some interpretations of Scripture may be clearly false does not falsify my point about multiple levels of legitimate readings.

            I have no quarrel with the idea of "multiple levels of legitimate readings" of scripture, although I doubt that you and I would be in accord regarding the exact nature of those different levels.

            However, the problem with this whole discussion has been that I have focused entirely on one single verse (Genesis 3:15) and its meaning. You have not made the case that your general point about levels of interpretation actually applies to Genesis 3:15, and furthermore, from my reading on this matter, it seems that many interpreters who do consider 3:15 a "protoevangelium" consider it to be a prediction that Christ, not Mary, would "crush the head of the serpent."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It appears that you are correct in seeing St. Jerome's translation here as a outlier in making it a "she" that crushes the serpent's head. Still, since all Christians share in Christ's triumph over Satan, Mary, as well as the rest of us!, can be said to share in the crushing. So, the concept of Mary crushing the serpent's head is theologically correct. See this explanation: http://catholicbiblestudent.com/2013/02/mary-crush-serpents-head.html

            That said, I concede that the point you make in this text is essentially correct, even though in declaring the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pius IX did make use of the image of Mary doing the crushing. One should realize that the Church normally does not engage in definitive Biblical explanations, but primarily only where such commentary is essential to defending some doctrine.

            You know the drill. Catholics are not wrapped up is Scripture commentary, but rather tradition and the Magisterium. Protestants alone engage in sola scriptura. Given the role of Mary in the Catholic worldview, it is hardly surprising that she is given a prominent role in our imagery, even when it entails a bit of "inventiveness." That in no way lessens the theological truth that all of mankind is saved through an Incarnation made possible by the consent of a young Jewish maiden.

          • OMG
          • Dennis Bonnette

            So, the case can also be made for "she shall crush...."

            Thank you.

          • David Nickol

            Just because it is interesting, here is Robert Alter's translation and commentary on the cursing of the serpent, differing in one respect (boot/bite) from any other translation I have run across:

            Cursed be you
              of all cattle and all beasts of the field.
            On your belly shall you go
              and dust shall you eat all of the days of your life.
            Enmity will I set between you and the woman,
              between your seed and hers.
            He will boot your head
              and you will bite his heel.

            Enmity. Although the serpent is by no means "satanic," as in the lens of later Judeo-Christian traditions, the curse records a primal horror of humankind before this slithering, vicious-looking, and poisonous representative of the animal realm. It is the first moment in which a split between man and the rest of the animal kingdom is recorded. Behind it may stand, at a long distance of cultural mediation, Canaanite myths of a primordial sea serpent.

            boot . . . bite The Hebrew uses what appear to be homonyms, the first verb meaning "to trample," and the second, identical in form, probably referring to the hissing sound of the snake just before it bites.</blockquote

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Thank you. It is interesting to see the richness of diversity in the field of ancient text translations. This is one reason I am much more comfortable with the certitudes one can reach in metaphysics! :-)

          • David Nickol

            Perhaps it would help if you could write out your understanding of Genesis 3:15 substituting nouns for pronouns. Here is the verse from the NAB:

            I will put enmity between you and the woman,
            and between your offspring and hers;
            They will strike at your head,
            while you strike at their heel.

            How do you understand the antecedents (if any) of the pronouns "they" and "you"? I would rewrite it as follows:

            I will put enmity between you, serpent, and the woman, Eve,
            and between your (the serpent's) descendants and the woman's (Eve's) descendants.
            The woman's (Eve's) descendants will strike at your (the serpent's) head,
            While you, serpent, will strike at the woman's (Eve's) descendants' heels.

            Another new question has just occurred to me. If God is promising a redeemer, why is he doing so in his address to the serpent???

          • OMG

            I would write as you have written EXCEPT that I would replace your Eve with Mary. Perhaps you missed my earlier post which should help explain why Catholics see Mary (not Eve) here. The serpent and his descendents are literary personifications for spiritual beings who choose opposition to the Will for the good of creation.

            Because from the beginning, spiritual beings screwed up. Here God is announcing his will, his plan, his love, and sets in motion the reason for the hope of the Jewish people for a Messiah. He announces it to all concerned parties.

          • David Nickol

            explain why Catholics see Mary (not Eve) here

            Please note that I am relying heavily on Catholic sources here, among them the New American Bible and Dictionary of the Bible by John McKenzie, S.J. Also, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says the following of Genesis 3:14-15:

            The snake is cursed, condemned to crawl on its belly, eat dirt, and be forever the enemy of the woman he deceived and of her offspring. he shall strike your head: "He" refers to offspring, which is masculine in Hebrew. Christian tradition has sometimes referred it to Christ, but the literal reference is to the human descendants of Eve, who will regard snakes as enemies.

            I think it is incorrect for you to imply you are giving the Catholic view and I am giving a "non-Catholic" view. I acknowledge that the view you espouse, that there is an explicit reference to Mary in Genesis 3 is widespread in Catholic writing including some papal documents. But I disagree that it constitutes an "official" Church teaching that requires assent from all faithful Catholics.

            I did read the article you linked to, but as you can guess, it didn't change my view.

            I find it difficult to imagine that the Holy Spirit would inspire the author of Genesis 3 to use a pronoun with no antecedent! No one could possibly understand the pronoun "she" in this context to apply to Mary, who would remain unknown for hundreds of years.

          • OMG

            Here is the earlier post which I wonder if you saw.

            The idea of Mary in Genesis 3:15 arises from different versions of early scripture and the fact that the Hebrew masculine word "He" at 3:15 may also refer to a woman. Many early Church Fathers interpreted this scripture as 'foreshadowing' Mary. Until the sin, the lady we call Eve was known as "woman;" only after the sin did Adam name her "Eve." John's Gospel has Jesus refer to his mother as woman at both the wedding feast of Cana -the occasion of his first miracle, performed at her mention of a problem - and also as she stood beneath his cross - as He gifts John to her and her to John (and through our brotherhood, to all Christians). The Book of Revelation also refers to the 'woman' who plays a pivotal role in end times.
            Because of these scriptural allusions, because of the common sense of these scriptural allusions, because of the early Fathers of the Church understanding Mary as the woman of Genesis 3:15, because of this tradition which has been handed down through the ages to us here today, because Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document which is Church teaching and which teaches the same of Mary, Catholics today generally accept the interpretation if they are informed and love their Church.

            In other places too Scripture contains prophecy which we don't completely understand since understanding is by nature weak and imperfect.

            The disciples didn't understand that Jesus' kingdom would be of the spirit. Immediately after Peter recognizes that Jesus is the son of God (the Messiah), Jesus breaks the news that the Messiah will suffer and die. Peter: "God forbid." (Matthew 16:15-23).

            The Book of Job and Isaiah's suffering servant (52:13-53:12) foreshadow a Messiah who will suffer rejection, torture and death at the hands of those whose very lives he had given. I'm guessing you've heard the cliché that God writes straight with crooked lines.

          • Rob Abney

            What is your position then on whether Christ has or will crush the head of the serpent?

          • David Nickol

            What is your position then on whether Christ has or will crush the head of the serpent?

            First, I would say that the authors and early readers of Genesis 3 had no idea of Satan as the concept evolved in much later Jewish and then Christian writing. So I do not take the serpent in the story of Adam and Eve to be Satan. Genesis 3:1 begins, "Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made." The serpent in Genesis is an animal. The serpent is to all future serpents what Adam and Eve are to all future humans (according to my reading of the story). This seems obvious because God punishes the descendants of Adam, Eve, and the serpent. If Satan took the form of a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve, why punish all the descendants of snakes? (Of course, this is looking at the story from the most basic, literal level, but that is where one has to start.)

            Second, I really don't understand the idea of crushing the serpent's head, or the idea of Jesus having to overcome Satan, if that is indeed what the symbolic meaning is. God is omnipotent, and he can control Satan with a single thought or the blink of an eye (figuratively). Satan has only the power on Earth that God allows him. Jesus didn't have be incarnated or to die to crush Satan.

            Also, what are we to make of Luke 10:18:

            Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.

            To which there is the following footnote:

            I have observed Satan fall like lightning: the effect of the mission of the seventy-two is characterized by the Lucan Jesus as a symbolic fall of Satan. As the kingdom of God is gradually being established, evil in all its forms is being defeated; the dominion of Satan over humanity is at an end.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            First, I would say that the authors and early readers of Genesis 3 had no idea of Satan as the concept evolved in much later Jewish and then Christian writing.

            Did "Moses" write about Jesus (John 5:46)? Did the Psalmist (Acts 2:24-36)?

            From the beginning of the Jesus Movement, Messianists saw Jesus Christ as the hermeneutical key to the Israelite Scriptures. That continued right down through the establishment of Christian orthodoxy and onwards. It's why orthodox Christians and Arians debated Proverbs 8:22 as a Christological text. They saw the Israelite Scriptures as texts that tell us about Christ and Christianity, so course they saw the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Old Testament, and of course they saw Satan there.

            St. Paul did not engage in historical-critical hermeneutics when he interpreted the Septuagint. Neither did the gospel authors, or any of the early Messianists. It is that hermeneutical tradition that gave us Christianity, and it is from that tradition that we see that what Genesis 3 may have originally meant according to a historical-critical exegesis isn't necessarily what it means in light of Jesus Christ and in the context of the Christian faith as part of a text that belongs to the Christian canon of Sacred Scripture.

          • David Nickol

            First, I would maintain that it is not necessary to have a broad overview or understanding of the Catholic approach to scripture in order to get to the bottom of understanding this single verse from Genesis (3:15). It is really a matter of understanding the literal meaning of the Hebrew. I have found it frustrating that to a large extent, those whose opinions differ from mine have paid more attention to Catholic approaches to interpreting Hebrew scripture than actually looking at this single verse.

            Second, it seems to me there are many different understandings of the Catholic (or Christian) approach to Hebrew scripture. I find Joseph Fitzmyer's comments in The One Who Is To Come to be quite reasonable.Unfortunately, I can't find my copy of the book right now, so I will give my own interpretation of Fitzmyers's view, which I would caution people is just that—my own interpretation.

            Christians and Jews should be in basic agreement about the most basic, literal interpretation of Hebrew scripture. I find it an odd view that God would have divinely inspired the authors of Hebrew scripture to write passages that would have been utterly unintelligible to them and their contemporary readers, and the meanings of which could only be determined later by believing Christians. (And according to some views, Jews today must be wrong when they do not read, say, Genesis the same way Christians do.) It seems to me to make more sense to believe that there are additional Christian meanings discovered for Hebrew scripture, the underlying (literal) meaning of which was intended by God to make sense to the Jews. (By "literal" here I do not mean "mindlessly literal" when it comes to metaphors and other figurative language.)

            So I would say it is at minimum bizarre to claim that the primary meaning of Genesis 3:15 is something like

            I will put enmity between you, Satan, and the Virgin Mary,
            and between your offspring and hers;
            She will crush your head,
            while you strike at her heel.

            To claim that this is the “real,” primary meaning of Genesis 3:15 is to claim the promise of a redeemer (with Mary as his mother) was given to people who could not possibly understand it. And just as an added aside, whom could possibly be meant by “your (Satan’s) offspring”? I can’t see any alternative to reading “your offspring” as the offspring of the serpent. Satan, as a fallen angel, doesn’t have offspring. And before anyone offers it, I would reject the interpretation that it could be read “your (metaphorical) offspring and her (literal) offspring.”

          • Rob Abney

            Have you studied this interpretation?
            Moreover, as again Augustine says (Super Gen. contra Manich. ii, 17,18), "his, that is, the devil's, punishment mentioned here is that for which we must be on our guard against him, not that which is reserved till the last judgment. For when it was said to him: 'Thou art cursed among all cattle and beasts of the earth,' the cattle are set above him, not in power, but in the preservation of their nature, since the cattle lost no heavenly bliss, seeing that they never had it, but they continue to live in the nature which they received." It is also said to him: "'Upon thy breast and belly shalt thou creep,'" according to another version [the Septuagint] "Here the breast signifies pride, because it is there that the impulse of the soul dominates, while the belly denotes carnal desire, because this part of the body is softest to the touch: and on these he creeps to those whom he wishes to deceive." The words, "'Earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life' may be understood in two ways. Either 'Those shall belong to thee, whom thou shalt deceive by earthly lust,' namely sinners who are signified under the name of earth, or a third kind of temptation, namely curiosity, is signified by these words: for to eat earth is to look into things deep and dark." The putting of enmities between him and the woman "means that we cannot be tempted by the devil, except through that part of the soul which bears or reflects the likeness of a woman. The seed of the devil is the temptation to evil, the seed of the woman is the fruit of good works, whereby the temptation to evil is resisted. Wherefore the serpent lies in wait for the woman's heel, that if at any time she fall away towards what is unlawful, pleasure may seize hold of her: and she watches his head that she may shut him out at the very outset of the evil temptation."
            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3165.htm

          • David Nickol

            I have read it a couple of times, and I will have to read it a couple more, but it seems clear to me that this interpretation is incompatible with OMGs.

            The seed of the devil is the temptation to evil, the seed of the woman is the fruit of good works, whereby the temptation to evil is resisted. Wherefore the serpent lies in wait for the woman's heel, that if at any time she fall away towards what is unlawful, pleasure may seize hold of her: and she watches his head that she may shut him out at the very outset of the evil temptation.

            OMG claims that the woman is Mary and (presumably) the seed of the woman is Jesus. Here the seed of the woman is the fruit of good works. If we substitute Mary for "the woman" (as I understand OMG to want to do) we have, " Wherefore the serpent lies in wait for Mary's heel, that if at any time Mary fall away towards what is unlawful, pleasure may seize hold of her (i.e, Mary): and she (Mary) watches his head that she may shut him out at the very outset of the evil temptation."

          • Rob Abney

            Mary is the first woman who is able to resist temptation, because she is so close to Jesus, a crushing blow to Satan.

          • OMG

            There is Mary and there is the seed of Mary. The seed of Mary is Christ and all Christians, since all Christians are his brothers and her sons and daughters in Faith. The fruit of good works is that which arises due to grace, the life of Christ, which is given to believers who aspire to become like him due to their love for him.

            My interpretation aligns with Augustine's. How do you see it as different?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Isn't it to be expected that Catholics will pay attention to Catholic approaches to the Old Testament? That involves reading Genesis and the entire Old Testament as part of the Christian canon, ie. as part of the story of Jesus Christ and His Church. At times that might also involve privileging the Greek translation of the Old Testament, since we know that from the time of St. Paul until the Old Latin Bible was replaced in the West by St. Jerome's Vulgate, the LXX held a privileged position within the Western church (and it still does in the East).

            "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)

            Things were said in the Israelite Scriptures concerning Jesus? That's what the New Testament tells us. Such passages are irreconcilable with Old Testament criticism.

            My two favorite Biblical scholars, both Catholics, both passed away, were diehard proponents of Biblical criticism. I respect and value critical methods of biblical interpretation, but those methods tend to tell us what some ancient documents that were eventually collected into "the Bible" may have originally meant, and not what Sacred Scripture means in the Catholic faith.

            For Catholics, the Old Testament really is about Jesus. Why? Because for the first Messianists, the Israelite scriptures were about Jesus, and they tell us that in verse after verse of the New Testament. They really believed that, and so do we.

            I find it an odd view that God would have divinely inspired the authors of Hebrew scripture to write passages that would have been utterly unintelligible to them and their contemporary readers, and the meanings of which could only be determined later by believing Christians.

            St. Paul writes in Ephesians 3:

            8 To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery HIDDEN from ages past in God who created all things, 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might NOW be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities* in the heavens.

            And in Colossians 1:

            24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, 25 of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, 26 the mystery HIDDEN from ages and from generations past. But NOW it has been manifested to his holy ones, 27 to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.

            For the first and second century Messianists and Jesus groups that produced the texts of the New Testament, the real, primary meaning of Old Testament scripture is the Christocentric meaning. And so it still is for the Church.

          • David Nickol

            Once again, even assuming everything you say is correct and the Catholic approach is the only true way to correctly understand the Hebrew scriptures, that does not mean that one (not the) Catholic interpretation of Genesis 3:15 is necessarily correct. Rob Abney below gives an interpretation by Augustin that is incompatible with the interpretation being defended here by OMG.

            There is a huge issue here, and I resist the idea that the Old Testament is really all about Jesus and can only be understood by Christians. We are certainly going to disagree about that, and we both could write volumes about it. But what does Genesis 3:15 mean?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            The book "Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons" is available in its entirety for free reading on Google Books. If you search for 3:15 within the book, you'll find a thorough explanation of the traditional, theological consensus interpretation of Genesis 3:15. There's a section on the text that begins on p. 356, but it also comes up elsewhere in the book.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Did you have an opportunity to look up the Protoevangelium in "Mariology", and if you did was what you read helpful at all?

          • David Nickol

            I am afraid it made things worse. I thought it got off to an unfortunate start by beginning with the Douay-Rheims translation of Genesis 3:15 instead of an authoritative modern translation or even the Nova Vulgata (which I confess I didn't know even existed until I read the footnote). It almost seems as if the Hebrew text isn't really important, and whatever can be done to justify reading it as the "protoevangelium" is legitimate. It just seems bizarre to me to claim to find in the Old Testament an alleged prophesy that could only be understood as such until after the events of the New Testament.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I'm glad that you gave it a look anyway.

            It just seems bizarre to me to claim to find in the Old Testament an alleged prophesy that could only be understood as such until after the events of the New Testament.

            That's why it's important to go back and start with the epistles of St. Paul, the earliest extant writings we have from a Messianist. He's writing as an Israelite, proclaiming that the true meaning of the scriptures were hidden until Christ. The Protoevangelium interpretation of Genesis 3:15 comes from within that hermeneutical tradition.

          • David Nickol

            That involves reading Genesis and the entire Old Testament as part of the Christian canon, ie. as part of the story of Jesus Christ and His Church.

            Explain why, then, Christianity jettisoned whole chunks of the Hebrew Scripture—the Law. Why don't Christians keep the Sabbath? Why don't Christians observe dietary law? If the "Old Testament" is all about Jesus and Christianity, why do Christians purport to extract only the "moral content" of Hebrew Scripture and reject the "ceremonial"? What does not wearing garments woven of two different kinds of thread have to do with Jesus?

            A question no one has been able to answer for me so for is the following. If John P. Meier is correct that "The historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus," one wonders why Jesus wasted his breath making pronouncements on the Law if it was to be inapplicable to his followers? I am unaware of any hints that, during his lifetime, Jesus did not think his followers were bound by Mosaic Law. He was interested only in making Jewish sinners into observant Jews.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Have you read the Pauline epistles? What about the Epistle to the Hebrews?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            A question no one has been able to answer for me so for is the following. If John P. Meier is correct that "The historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus," one wonders why Jesus wasted his breath making pronouncements on the Law if it was to be inapplicable to his followers?

            We actually discussed this on Strange Notions before: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/proofs_for_the_existence_of_god_ama_with_dr_edward_feser/

          • OMG

            Many Christians/Catholics do keep the Sabbath and the commandment to Honor It. One Catholic Church precept describes Sunday and Holy Day Mass attendance as a requirement. All precepts, if dishonored, are matters of grave sin. Christians also fast. Again, there are Catholic precepts relating to fast and abstinence; these are also matters of grave sin if not followed. Catholics are to follow the Commandments, as a BARE MINIMUM practice of their faith.

          • David Nickol

            Sunday is not the Sabbath. The earliest Christians (Jewish Christians) observed the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday) and met on the following day (Sunday, the first day of the next week) for eucharistic celebrations. This is from the old, online Catholic Encyclopedia:

            St. Paul enumerates the Sabbath among the Jewish observances which are not obligatory on Christians (Colossians 2:16; Galatians 4:9-10; Romans 14:5). The gentile converts held their religious meetings on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) and with the disappearance of the Jewish Christian churches this day was exclusively observed as the Lord's Day.

            This is from Catholic Answers:

            Catholics do not worship on the Sabbath, which according to Jewish law is the last day of the week (Saturday), when God rested from all the work he had done in creation (Gen. 2:2-3). Catholics worship on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week (Sunday, the eighth day); the day when God said "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3); the day when Christ rose from the dead; the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles (Day of Pentecost). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The Church celebrates the day of Christ’s Resurrection on the ‘eighth day,’ Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord’s Day" (CCC 2191).

            The early Church did not move the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Instead "The Sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday, which recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ" (CCC 2190). Sunday is the day Catholics are bound to keep, not Saturday.

          • OMG

            Sabbath for the Hebrew people = Sunday Mass for Catholics. The Commandment to Honor the Sabbath applies to Catholics attending Mass. Catholics interpret Sabbath as the day when the Lord rested; as God is our model, we rest and honor him on the Sabbath, Sunday.

            The point is that Catholics do follow the law, as revealed to us by Jesus who Himself followed the law. That may be found in another of my many answers to you. Enjoy!

          • David Nickol

            From Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J.:

            Judaizing Christians attempted to impose the Sabbath observance upon Gentile Christians; Paul affirms that no one may be called to account for Sabbath observance (Col 2:16), thus finally and completely liberating Christians from the obligations of the Sabbath law.

            It can certainly be said that the practice of observing Sunday as the Lord's Day is consistent with the idea of observing the Sabbath, since it sets aside one day of the week as a day of worship. But the earliest Christians, including Paul himself, as Jewish Christians observed both the Sabbath and the Lord's Day.

          • OMG

            Which proves what?

            Catholics observe the commandment to honor God the Sabbath, a day of rest to honor God who rested, to honor the resurrection of Jesus, to differentiate Christian worship from Jewish worship, and for other reasons too. In any event, the spirit of the law to periodically honor God with a day set aside for said purpose, is followed. Call it what you will.

          • Jim the Scott

            As a student of early Jewish Christianity I do wonder David what is your point?

            The OT did fortell a New Covenant. Moses made that prediction.

          • David Nickol

            As a student of early Jewish Christianity I do wonder David what is your point?

            I don't understand the question. My point here is that Christians do not observe the Sabbath. That is just a fact. As Catholic Answers said, it is a common mistake to believe that Christians changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. They did not. The Sabbath ceased to become a part of Christian observance as the makeup of the Christian movement changed from Jewish Christians to Gentile Christians.

            The OT did fortell a New Covenant. Moses made that prediction.

            To what are you referring?

          • Jim the Scott

            >I don't understand the question. My point here is that Christians do not observe the Sabbath.

            That is kind of historically debatable especially with some versions of eastern Christianity. Both ancient and modern(St Gregory of Nyssa observed both Saturday and Sunday)..but I am pressed for time so I will respond in more detail later. Also my daughter is having a bit of a melt down. Her timing is impeccable.

            Cheers.

          • Jim the Scott

            You know David I feel like a yutz because I kind of forgot what my point was...

            Yeh that is embarrassing, Sorry to bother you guy. Carry on.

          • David Nickol

            Looks like I dodged a bullet here! :-)

          • Jim the Scott

            Yeh my daughter had a meltdown when I was responding so I had to stop and i completely forgot my point. Also I have a short attention s.....oooohhhh! Shiny!:D

          • OMG

            You say the 'real' primary meaning of Genesis 3:15...was given to people who could not possibly understand it. Why would words of God as written in Scripture apply only to people to whom they were spoken at the time? Why should they not today applyto us? So Shakespeare should only apply to people who saw the plays performed in Elizabethan times? Further, is it really your view that God would talk to a 'real' snake and would really punish his descendents? If so, how do you see that He may have punished such a reptile?

          • OMG

            How does a snake talk? He may hiss, but he is not by nature equipped to speak. Satan's offspring are all those who choose to oppose God. It is a symbolic interpretation.

            The whole Genesis story is figurative, just as Aesop's fables. We suspend disbelief and momentarily accept that somewhere animals talk and act like people.

            Genesis is also prophetic, a foreshadowing of what is to come. It is the good Jew Jesus Himself who suggests that He Himself fulfills the Law of the OT . It has not been done away with; it is fulfilled by and through Him, we his followers are to follow it as He reveals it. He and His mother followed the Law; more importantly, they followed its Spirit, which Jesus surely knew.

            Luke 4:18-21: "The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." Then He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him, and He began by saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

          • David Nickol

            The whole Genesis story is figurative, just as Aesop's fables. We suspend disbelief and momentarily accept that somewhere animals talk and act like people.

            Absolutely.

            And in the myth or fable of Adam and Eve, the serpent is a serpent. The offspring of the serpent are serpents, and the offspring of the woman are people. Those who want to find deeper meaning in the story are welcome to do so, but it would not be accurate (or reasonable) to say that the serpent is "really" Satan in disguise. Genesis is not a roman à clef. Having said that, it is perfectly reasonable in late Judaism and then Christianity, when the idea of Satan as the fallen angel and agent of temptation had developed, to identify the serpent and Satan. A possible symbolic meaning of the fable of Adam and Eve is that early humans were tempted by Satan. But that is an interpretation added to the story. In the story, the serpent is a serpent.

          • OMG

            The serpent is metaphor. But if you insist on having it be only a serpent, so be it. Could God convey knowledge of a being without body to a materialist in any other way? If so, please explain.

          • OMG

            The OT Book of 1 Samuel 16:7 has God clearly telling his chosen people that He does not see as they see. There are hidden realities in addition to external ones.

            But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

          • OMG

            The key word here may be a symbolic fall of Satan. If we speak in symbols, surely God may do so too. A symbolic fall implies a rout, a defeat.

          • David Nickol

            Even accepting everything you write here and everything in the article you link to, that still does not mean that Genesis 3:15 tells us the serpent is Satan and it especially does not mean Genesis 3:15 tells us that Mary will crush the serpent's head. Even accepting that a biblical text can have multiple meanings does not in any way prove any meaning one chooses to find in the text is really there.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If there can be multiple levels of interpretation of a text, it is also possible that the Holy Spirit has guided the Church over the centuries to see an authentic meaning in this text which even the original text may not have strictly, literally expressed.

            It is much like the famous text in Exodus where the burning bush expresses the name of God as "I am who am." There are questions about the actual meaning of the text, but St. Thomas adroitly sees in it the absolute truth that in God essence and existence are identical. This leads to the general Thomistic reading of the text as expressing the simplicity of God as the one and only being who is Pure Esse. Is this the correct literal meaning of the text? Frankly, who cares? The insight obtained is licit and true and, one could argue, was an ambiguity intended by the Holy Spirit to lead later readers to see in it a metaphysical truth of deep meaning.

            So, too, the deepest truth of the role of Mary is that through her divinity was joined to humanity in a way that crushed the purposes of Satan in the world, despite evils initial triumph in the Garden of Eden.

          • OMG

            The idea of Mary in Genesis 3:15 arises from different versions of early scripture and the fact that the Hebrew masculine word "He" at 3:15 may also refer to a woman. Many early Church Fathers interpreted this scripture as 'foreshadowing' Mary. Until the sin, the lady we call Eve was known as "woman;" only after the sin did Adam name her "Eve." John's Gospel has Jesus refer to his mother as woman at both the wedding feast of Cana -the occasion of his first miracle, performed at her mention of a problem - and also as she stood beneath his cross - as He gifts John to her and her to John (and through our brotherhood, to all Christians). The Book of Revelation also refers to the 'woman' who plays a pivotal role in end times.

            Because of these scriptural allusions, because of the common sense of these scriptural allusions, because of the early Fathers of the Church understanding Mary as the woman of Genesis 3:15, because of this tradition which has been handed down through the ages to us here today, because Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document which is Church teaching and which teaches the same of Mary, Catholics today generally accept the interpretation if they are informed and love their Church.

          • Rob Abney

            In sum, "they (or he) shall strike at (or bruise) your head" refers to how the descendants of Eve (all of them—not Jesus or Mary) will deal with the descendants of the serpent.

            That doesn't seem like the type of story that would persist for thousands of years. But a story with a Savior seems more likely to.

          • David Nickol

            The depth of your scholarship is amazing!

          • Rob Abney

            Was that a compliment, because I could read it literally and consider it such. Or I could consider the context and realize that it was actually an insult.

          • David Nickol

            Was that a compliment, because I could read it literally and consider it such. Or I could consider the context and realize that it was actually an insult.

            My comment, not unlike the Bible, can mean anything you want it to.

          • Rob Abney

            If, as you say, the bible has the meaning only of the one interpreting it then why are you trying to persuade everyone that your interpretation is correct?

    • Martin Zeichner

      "...I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of Christian apologetics serves to justify belief despite an apparent lack of power of God...."

      For what it's worth. I think that you are completely correct.

      There is great power in the absence of power. When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose.

      It's the principal behind many martial arts, to be dangerous without weapons.

      The problems start happening when you *do* have something to lose.

      • The problems start happening when you *do* have something to lose.

        Would you elaborate on this?

        • Martin Zeichner

          Glad you asked. Sit down while I tell you a tale. Fair warning. You might not like what I write.

          Long story short:

          Every movement, religious, political, bowel, or otherwise starts at the bottom. Some are just more successful than others.

          The more successful ones are not necessarily the poorest ones. The US Revolutionary War in opposition of England for instance has been described as a conservative revolution; one in which the issue was private property. England was infringing on the rights of the upper class in the US for the same governmental representation enjoyed by the aristocracy back in the old country. England had already had problems with the pope because of Henry XIII. I am, I am. Further interpretation of Enlightenment principles brings us to today when egalitarianism demands first male suffrage, then women's suffrage and then civil rights for racial minorities. It took less than two hundred years to get to this point but people are slow learners.

          Another example is Christianity. It started out as a grass roots movement in a small middle eastern colony of the Roman Empire governed by a bureaucrat who wanted to be anywhere else other than the middle of nowhere. It grew, despite the competition, or maybe because of it, over the next ten centuries to be a wealthy and powerful land owner. Rivaling in power the upstart royalty. The Catholic church was so complacent evangelizing their way of life in foreign parts that they didn't see Martin Luther, one of the most zealous Christians alive, approaching the cathedral gates under their very noses. Now about 500 years later Religious people are shocked, shocked, I tells ya, to see their power slipping away once again. What did I say about being slow learners?

          Christianity, when it started out professed egalitarian principals. but when they had something to lose, those principals were quickly rationalized away.

          In the US the majority will insist on judging other people by their own cultural standards despite what their savior told them about judging.

          Or take Judaism. According to their own story they were slaves unto Egypt. Elitist to the core. Respect the literate, the scholars, no matter how weird or eccentric the instructions that ordinary people are given. Never eat a cheeseburger because it might be a kid boiled in it's mother's milk. Respect Yahweh by keeping your head covered even if it means wearing a hat that was designed around 1880. I could go on.

          This is just the middle east and western Europe. I had to skip over a lot of details for the sake of brevity. Like Africa and the Far East.

          I could give you Communism, Capitalism, whatever you like. Call me a skeptic. Call me a cynic. Sticks and stones. What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

          • Christianity, when it started out professed egalitarian principals. but when they had something to lose, those principals were quickly rationalized away.

            That provides quite the interesting gloss on Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. My interest is heightened further because I'm working on a series of "salons" (discussions with somewhat scholarly reading as homework) on the topic of "Theology & Power" with my pastor and a few other Christians. It all started by one of the guys blurting out during one of our weekly meetings to chat about theology and politics and everything else under the sun, "Theologians suck at understanding power!" The more I explore, the more this seems to be true. It applies, for example, to The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, recently put out by John MacArthur et al.

            By the way, you might be interested in Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought. For example, he references the "law of kings" in Deut 17:14–20, which I agree seems to push toward egalitarianism by commanding the king to not become elevated above his people via wealth, military power, or political alliances. Modern Christians may be naive about the connections between theology and power, but the ancient Hebrews were not.

            Or take Judaism. According to their own story they were slaves unto Egypt. Elitist to the core. Respect the literate, the scholars, no matter how weird or eccentric the instructions that ordinary people are given.

            This confuses me: if the Tanakh is anything, it is a history of the religious and political elite going badly astray. Repeatedly. Despite copious warnings. If there is any people on the face of the earth willing to argue, it's Jews! This blind adherence you describe doesn't seem to match the majority of the evidence with which I am aware.

            I could give you Communism, Capitalism, whatever you like. Call me a skeptic. Call me a cynic. Sticks and stones. What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

            What do you do to keep yourself from being infected [as badly]? Pure cynicism seems scientifically questionable; if you never try to build with your ideas, how do you know they have any scientific legitimacy whatsoever?

            What did I say about being slow learners?

            What's especially bad is that the Enlightenment bequeathed to us the illusion that history does not matter—we can make a clean break and have utopia! Stephen Toulmin illustrates this in Cosmopolis by pointing out that the La Grande Encyclopédie entry on “Descartes, René” ignored any historical/​sociological formation of Descartes the man. This prejudice has been eroded in some sectors wrt the shaping of black culture in the US, but it still seems largely believed. Works like Albert O. Hirschman's The Passions and the Interests, which traced our current attitudes about capitalism to arguments in the 17th and 18th centuries, was radical in thinking that such history could possibly matter. Brad S. Gregory writes in The Unintended Reformation that making this sort of argument is incredibly difficult in hyper-specialized academia.

            I'm becoming increasingly convinced that we have a trahison des clercs on our hands, affecting Christian and secular intellectuals alike. (I know less about other religions.) Maybe this is just totally naive, but I suspect that interested laypersons will have to pick up the baton of analyzing culture and tracing plausible causal influences. Instead of writing for the ivory tower, they will need to generate hierarchies of abstractions which can be explored starting at various concrete situations, such that one can climb the ladder of abstractions as far as one cares to and object to any given point of view as easily as possible. One result is that when a politician tells a story of what will happen, [s]he will be challenged to slot it into some system of models such that it can be tested as the years roll on. We can no longer trust [more than a few of] our elites. Most seem either captured by power, hyper-specialized to nigh uselessness, or relegated to insignificance via information glut (not to mention misinformation glut).

          • Martin Zeichner

            "That provides quite the interesting gloss on Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor."

            Not to open another can of worms, (we have so many open cans already) but this also brings up a point that interests me. From what I have read about textual analysis of the new testament and other writings from about the same time, almost all scholars seem to agree that some of the quotes attributed to Jesus are are actual and some are later glosses on the text. The question is how to determine which ones are which.

            According to Bart Ehrman, the criteria used is called the 'Principal of Embarrassment' In other words if a quote proves to be an embarrassment to the main tenets of the New Testament then it is more likely to have a grain of truth in the story. Like the incident of Jesus destroying the fig tree as told in Mark 11:12-25. This is interpreted as a miracle but you already know my feelings about miracle. Similar to Kant's.

            Have you ever run into this or similar line of thinking?

          • From what I have read about textual analysis of the new testament and other writings from about the same time, almost all scholars seem to agree that some of the quotes attributed to Jesus are are actual and some are later glosses on the text.

            I am somewhat familiar with the Jesus Seminar. I have read Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. He promised a lot in the beginning, and yet I could not find a single important theological doctrine which was threatened by his book. I've also read some of Otto Borchert's The Original Jesus, in which he argues that there is no good explanation for the Jesus we see in the NT; for example he could not have been considered kalos kagathos (an ideal person) by any of the following groups: (i) Jesus' disciples; (ii) Jewish masses; (iii) Jewish elite; (iv) Romans; (v) Greeks. When Richard Carrier came to SF on 2014-03-29 to talk about his book Hitler Homer Bible Christ, I presented Borchert's thesis and offered to give him my copy of the book. Carrier gave a weak-sauce answer and declined my offer. I had to buy a copy of Carrier's book to even ask the question.

            My confidence in the received version of the NT comes mostly from my testing of it in life, not from those who would argue against e.g. the Jesus Seminar. I don't think the believer's confidence was ever supposed to be located primarily in some scholarly stamp of approval. Indeed, I suspect God ensured that the scholarly stamp of approval would never be enough for many, because that would lend more authority to bad interpretations. If instead one only really has enough confidence with a sufficiently good interpretation, then sufficiently bad interpretations will naturally undermine themselves, given enough time. I believe that is what is happening, today.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "I am somewhat familiar with the Jesus Seminar. I have read Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. He promised a lot in the be ginning, and yet I could not find a single important theological doctrine which was threatened by his book."

            I hope that I can explain this properly.

            I think that that what you are saying here is a major part of the point. That, if not Ehrman is saying, I am saying:

            1. Textual analysis is an activity that any person can engage in and find value in. It makes no difference whether or not a scholar is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or even Atheist. It is a purely secular activity. However you choose to interpret it when the day's work is done.

            2. I like the fact that you find that none of the major tenets Of Christianity are threatened. In fact, you shouldn't. Feel threatened, that is .

            3.Textual analysis, any more than literary criticism, of any writing be it the Bible or 'Catch-22' should not be threatening to anyone's belief system, whether you call it a belief system or a religion or an answer to a single question.It doesn't matter. Jews look down on Christians and Christians look down on Jews. Same with Protestants and Catholics. And atheists and theists.They don't need any help finding reasons to dislike each other.

            4. No matter how you slice it. With logical or illogical thinking, with religious thinking, even with numerical or scientific thinking. What we seem to have before us, then is a conundrum:

            People are behaving as though they are threatened even though they have no good reason to. Why?

            How can we resolve this conundrum? Let alone solve it.

            We may not be able to, at least in any one person's lifetime. It' already been going on for at least a few hundred years The answer may lie in investigation of human and animal motivation like 'flight or fight'. Or, then again it may not. It may lie in people getting bored with fighting about it because they've found other things to fight about. Sometimes problems seem to go away by themselves or they lie dormant like a time bomb. Or not, I really don't know.

            Everyone has answers. Easy answers. None of them have worked, at least not so far. We always seem to look for the low hanging fruit and then call sour grapes when we don't

            Until this problem is solved (or we kill ourselves with a bang or a whimper) we have to figure it out ourselves. We can't rely on any other person, God, or space alien to do it for us. We just have to muddle along as best we can.

            "My confidence in the received version of the NT comes mostly from my testing of it in life, not from those who would argue against e.g. the Jesus Seminar. I don't think the believer's confidence was ever supposed to be located primarily in some scholarly stamp of approval."

            Good. I'm glad that you think that way. It takes courage to say to any authorities. "I can come to my own conclusions, thank you very much." I have seen many atheists and theists fail in this simple test.

            There are too many people that assume that the authorities have the last word. They can have a word somewhere in the middle, but not the first word or the last one.

            "If instead one only really has enough confidence with a sufficiently good interpretation, then sufficiently bad interpretations will naturally undermine themselves, given enough time"

            Patience may be an old-fashioned virtue. If Chronos is the father of time then truth (what ever it is) is the daughter of time.

            I know, Chronos is time, not time's father, metaphorically speaking. But never let a detail get in the way of a good story. There's also a song about it called 'I am my Own Grandpaw' and a satirical story about time travel and sex change called 'All you Zombies' by Robert A. Heinlein one of the great writers of Science Fiction in what was called the Golden age of Science Fiction. He even has a crater on Mars named after him.

            Anyway the story is about a man that is his own father and his own mother and his own grandfather and his own grandmother. As I recall, it doesn't mention his great-grandparents. (a minor detail) The story ends with the protagonist saying,"I know who I am, but who are all you zombies out there?" I like it because it's a creative twist on the stories of the time about identity.

            I don't think that this story has anything to do with p-zombies. I think that that derives from a different branch of zombie stories.

          • 1. Textual analysis is an activity that any person can engage in and find value in. It makes no difference whether or not a scholar is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or even Atheist. It is a purely secular activity. However you choose to interpret it when the day's work is done.

            I'm sorry, but I don't buy the "death of the author". Kill one author and you kill them all. Intent is not infinitely reinterpretable.

            People are behaving as though they are threatened even though they have no good reason to. Why?

            I don't think they buy the presuppositions which undergird your thinking here and I'm not convinced they should, either.

            We may not be able to, at least in any one person's lifetime. It' already been going on for at least a few hundred years

            The Enlightenment was piss-poor at understanding [social] power. It still is, even with the discovery that humans aren't the rational flowers and will never be the rational flowers which were lusted after. People actually care about their identity and history and traditions. Strip those away and what is a person? And yet you want to imply that those things have absolutely nothing to do with the results of textual criticism? I find that very, very hard to swallow.

            It takes courage to say to any authorities. "I can come to my own conclusions, thank you very much."

            It takes a lot of training and respect of those authorities to do so and have the end result of your dissent being positive instead of turning you into an obnoxious, cynical pest. It's almost as if God were helping those in the OT mature in this way, so that they could talk to him mano a mano. (e.g. Job 40:6–14) Indeed, if you fail to engage with authorities and scholars, you'll likely come up with some half-baked thing which is sort of like what plenty of others have figured out. We're not nearly as innovative as we pretend.

            There's also a song about it called 'I am my Own Grandpaw' and a satirical story about time travel and sex change called 'All you Zombies' by Robert A. Heinlein …

            Ummm … ok. I've seen a decent amount of time travel in fiction and I'm inclined to find it not that interesting anymore without some serious analysis to see if it makes sense. You can chalk this up to all the Christian theology I've encountered which seems deeply self-contradictory or a terrible fit to the Bible and/or reality [as I see it]. I'm reticent to train people to learn to tolerate such systems.

    • Martin Zeichner

      "I would like to be wrong in this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of Christian apologetics serves to justify belief despite an apparent lack of power..."

      It's not just Christian theists. I have observed the same behavior in atheists. What can we conclude from this? That this is human behavior, not just theist or atheist behavior.

      "....of God. Paul himself worries about the possibility of word without power"

      He should worry. Saying words to make things happen is not just power, it is magical power. (Now, it's almost a technology, but that's another discussion) A fantasy of humans since they started telling stories to each other.

      I have great respect for stories. In many ways we are our stories. The problems start when we start worshiping our stories. Then we are worshipping ourselves.

      • LB: I would like to be wrong in this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of Christian apologetics serves to justify belief despite an apparent lack of power...

        MZ: I have observed the same behavior in atheists.

        May I ask for some good examples?

        What can we conclude from this? That this is human behavior, not just theist or atheist behavior.

        I'm not sure if you're headed in this direction, but one possibility is that the stated model/​formalism/​story/​whatever is merely a façade to distract the majority of people from what is really going on. Exactly who is "in" on the falsehood is unclear; it's also unclear whether anyone can avoid becoming swept up in the falsehood. Another possibility is that the model/​formalism/​story/​whatever used to be a [sufficiently] good fit to the empirical data, but no longer is. It can take a while for bad fits to generate enough heat through friction to make themselves known; it can take even longer for sufficient breakage to happen for anyone to care enough.

        The above can take place psychologically within an individual: you have some problem you're struggling with (perhaps you think it's 'weakness of will') and you have been trying some strategy to overcome it. At what point do you admit to yourself that either you described the problem incorrectly and/or your strategy is a bad one? (I'm excluding the "it's hopeless" possibility.) There's a lot of wiggle room between model and data, both objectively and subjectively. One study observed scientists throwing out half their data. There is also Nancy Cartwright's essay "Fitting Facts to Equations" (How the Laws of Physics Lie). Things will only be that much messier in the psychological world than the laboratory where one can study only those phenomena simple enough and controllable to study scientifically.

        Problems multiply when it comes to social phenomena, as "knowledge is power" becomes dangerously true, there. I have heard sociologists tell stories of how they uncovered ick that the powers that be did not want uncovered. They were told to back off, on pain of bad consequences of one sort or another. So there is a lot of vested interest in keeping people from understanding what's really going on. Society is also ridiculously complex these days, so it's not clear that anyone has a particularly good understanding.

        I personally think we have exhausted the option of "just trust the experts", when it comes to building, maintaining, and constantly testing understandings of reality. There are simply too many bad incentives for both the experts and the non-experts, and a lack of sufficient good incentives. It's not that any group is particularly evil—I find people generally try to do a good job. It's more that you can shave off hundreths of a cent here and there (Office Space, anyone?) and via the magic of compound interest, big changes can result over time.

        The only promising option I see left is to try out Mt 20:20–28 & 23:8–12, with a key commonality being "The greatest among you shall be your servant." We call them 'public servants', but it seems fairly obvious now that corporate power is the served. What might be exploited in Jesus' metaphor is that incompetent masters eventually lose their servants. Masters who want to keep their servants have to be competent at the very least. They need to have expectations of how things are supposed to turn out and keep careful watch to see how well the expectations are met. But at the very least this requires a kind of long-term memory that most do not seem to have—even many intellectuals. So I'd say we have a long, long way to go before anything like Jesus' model could be tried on any appreciable scale. Fortunately, we Christians can agree wholeheartedly with Wayne C. Booth:

        Futurism is of course especially dangerous when the engineer is not personally required to share in present sacrifice. (Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, 22n15)

        Not only did Jesus share in present sacrifice, but all Christians are called to as well: Col 1:24, Rom 8:16–17, 2 Cor 4:7–12, and 1 Pe 3:17.

        LB: Paul himself worries about the possibility of word without power

        MZ: Saying words to make things happen is not just power, it is magical power.

        Just to be clear: I was thinking that propaganda can be "word without power". It's the verbal version of an elixir. Con men engage in this all the time. While the concept of 'magical power' is applicable in this situation, I think it's a rather attenuated form. I would prefer to maintain a rather large gap between "scientific thinking" and "magical thinking". Otherwise, we will have the situation that occurred when Democrats used the worst language they could to describe Mitt Romney, only to have Donald Trump come along. "Well," the common person might conclude, "Trump can't be any worse than Romney, can he?"

        I have great respect for stories. In many ways we are our stories. The problems start when we start worshiping our stories. Then we are worshipping ourselves.

        What does it look like to start down the path of "worshiping our stories", before we have made it very far?

        P.S. Here's George Herbert's A Dialogue-Anthem, a poem I adore and you might find at least interesting:

                                      Christian, Death

        Chr.   ALAS, poor Death ! where is thy glory ?          Where is thy famous force, thy ancient sting ?Dea.   Alas, poor mortal, void of story !          Go spell and read how I have killed thy King.Chr.   Poor Death ! and who was hurt thereby ?          Thy curse being laid on Him makes thee accurst.Dea.   Let losers talk, yet thou shalt die ;          These arms shall crush thee.Chr.                                           Spare not, do thy worst.

                  I shall be one day better than before ;          Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

  • michael

    Why spread atheism? Here's why: Google Sam Harris free online article "An atheist manifesto', "reasons atheists are angry", "atheism and anger", evil bible.com, and "exchristian.net final frontier".

    Attention everybody: Do you really think The Nile river was changed into blood? Are you comfortable telling your kids something so strange? And it been any other book besides The Bible would you consider someone who believed this reasonable?

    • Attention everybody: Do you really think The Nile river was changed into blood? Are you comfortable telling your kids something so strange?

      I think it is actually much more dangerous to tell your children that some people are evil and some are good. From Chris Hedges on the New Atheism:

      3:06 So I actually came towards these New Atheists fairly predisposed to accept the tradition that they said they represented. Upon reading their works, however, and engaging in a debate with them, I was appalled to find that what they had done is essentially replicate the fundamentalist beliefs of Christian conservatives with secular language, in secular garb. They had, like the radical Christian Right, created a binary world view, of us and them, of good and evil, of black and white. They externalize evil, in the same way the Christian Right does. Evil is not something within the human heart, endemic to all of us, something that we must all struggle against, but evil is a force out there that once we eradicate, will allow us to advance forward, morally, if not to a perfect society, to a more perfect society.

      4:10 This kind of utopian vision, wedded to the dangerous belief that violence can be used to advance this vision, to purify the world, is characteristic of most utopian movements. These movements have been the curse of modern societies since probably the Jacobins in France. It goes back of course to the Enlightenment itself. The Enlightenment was a blessing in many ways, a reaction to the anti-intellectualism, oppression, superstition, bigotry of the Church, but it was also a curse. What the Enlightenment did was that it adopted the linear notion of time, which is a peculiar product of the Hebraic and Christian traditions—the idea that we're moving towards redemption or salvation. This is completely foreign in Oriental religions and completely foreign to the Greeks, who believed that both individual life and societal or communal life is about birth, growth, degeneration, and death. There was a cyclical quality to existence.

      5:32 But what the Enlightenment did is it dropped the wisdom of original sin. It stated, probably most clearly by Augustine in City of God, City of Man—a great work—where he argued that the perfect society or the "City of God" could only be created by God, that it was incapable of being created by humankind because we were endemically flawed. The Enlightenment jettisoned this idea and put their faith in science, rational human beings, and knowledge as a way to advance humankind and create a more perfect world. This belief is extremely dangerous, because it is a short step—as the Jacobins proved with the Committee of Virtue and the Reign of Terror—that once you define certain groups of human beings as impediments to that progress, if you believe that they are incapable of being converted or reformed, then they must be eradicated. And I think the vast killing projects that we saw in the last century by Communists and Fascists is directly tied to that Enlightenment vision. (Chris Hedges on New Atheism, the God Debate, Science and Religion, and Self Delusion)

      N.B. Chris Hedges says in Q&A that "Religious systems are human creations; God is a human concept." (27:45)

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I listened to it, and I don't know what Croft means when he says that the institutional church is still protecting the accused.

    Most of the accused are dead, and there has been a steep decline in new allegations. That's unsurprising, since clerical sexual abuse peaked in the '70s and began to fall off in the '80s. You'd know that if you read the John Jay Report, but you haven't read it and never will.

    Here's a link that you won't look at: http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2018/08/pain-never-disappears-from-unhealed.html It shows that new allegations are down to a trickle.

    If you read "Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature", which the Policy and Programs Study Service published online, you'll learn that 5-7% of public school teachers in the US were sexually abusive in the past. That's 5-7% of public school teachers vs. 4% of Catholic clergy. I'm sure that you won't read it.

    For me as a Catholic, abuse by clergy is a unique evil that I see as inherently worse than abuse by a teacher, family member, coach, etc. I only mention the school teachers because you have never called for the government of my country to destroy the public school system the way you have called for the government of your country and the governments of the world to destroy the Catholic Church. Why not?

    Maybe Croft was referring to the support of some dioceses for statutes of limitations for sex crime allegations. The institutional church had nothing to with the creation of those statutes, but some dioceses have defended those statutes. I don't see why a secular humanist would automatically be against such statutes, which weren't created for anything having to do with religion, but if Croft is against those statutes he'll be happy to know that dioceses that have defended the statutes in the past are unlikely to do so now.

    Croft didn't mention any specific cases, so there's nothing more that I can say about his comments except that if a member of a clergy is suspected of criminality, he should be investigated. That's what happened recently with Bishop Kevin Rhoades:

    A Pennsylvania District Attorney says abuse allegations against local Bishop Kevin Rhoades were an honest mistake.

    Rhoades has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

    The investigation found Rhoades didn't even meet the person in question until he was an adult. It found no evidence of any sexual or intimate contact.

    The investigation looked into Rhoades' relationship with a man called only J.T. to protect his identity.

    It found that relationship was strictly professional.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    What excuses did I make? Please reply with quotes, and explain in each case how what I wrote excuses clerical abuse. Thanks.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I still want to know what excuses I made. Please reply with quotes, and explain in each case how what I wrote excuses clerical abuse. Thanks.

    At this point a great many of the people who were allegedly involved in the US clerical abuse scandal are dead, so the legal authorities have limited options, but I fully support any effort by the authorities to root out any remaining criminality within the institutional church.

  • Victor Reppert

    I wonder if the problems in Christian apologetics and debate with atheists don't in many ways mirror the kind diseased discourse we find in the political arena in America today.

  • Rob Abney

    Coaches have a higher rate of child sexual abuse than priests, I wonder why you didn't encounter any in your hockey league?

  • Rob Abney

    Based on your last sentence, you seem to prefer to paint with a broad brush.
    Here's an even broader brush, in the spiritual battle of good and evil the Catholic Church fights evil, but the opponents are numerous and include those within the Church who seek it's destruction.
    I support the Catholic Church because I want to win this battle, elimination of sexual assaults, and to win the war, eliminate all human evil. We need the graces provided through the Church for such a huge undertaking.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    We're accomplices in the necessary reform that is taking place in the US church and has already produced positive results.

    Here's a link that you won't look at: http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2018/08/pain-never-disappears-from-unhealed.html It shows that new allegations are down to a trickle.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I gave you a link to real research, actual data, and you've chosen to ignore it like a true denialist because you are a slave to your own biases, fully committed to living in a bubble of delusional, irrational, self-imposed anti-Catholic hatred and ignorance.

    You're telling lies about me Tara. The reality is that I have paid much, much closer attention to the crisis than you ever have or ever will, and I've done so because I'm a Catholic. These crimes are in-house for me. The Church is my family. So I've read the secular media coverage, the religious media coverage, read books, read studies, attended lectures and panel discussions, watched documentaries, and engaged in hours and hours of conversations in person and online all about clerical abuse. I'll continue to do so, while you'll continue to tell lies about me.

    • Martin Zeichner

      "These crimes are in-house for me. The Church is my family."

      I understand why you say this. But it is simply a conflict of interest to expect an institution like the Catholic Church to police itself. This problem is not confined to the US. It exists world wide. In Ireland and England as well. Some of these cases are already many decades old.

      The Catholic Church has a long history of moving very slowly when it comes to accepting culpability. It took the church something like 400 years to canonize Jean D'arc. And something like 300 years to apologize for what it did to Galileo And Giordano Bruno. Can you blame Tara for being Impatient?.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        You don't seem to realize that Tara isn't against the Catholic Church because of clerical abuse. Tara is against the Catholic Church because she's against Christianity itself, and against religion in general. She's told me in nearly every conversation that we've had that she is against Christianity and religion. In fact, when Tara interacts with a Christian online, you can be sure that she'll denounce Christianity during the conversation.

        Tara hasn't had much to say about clerical abuse until recently. Before she and I ever discussed clerical abuse at length, Tara regularly used our conversations as opportunities to denounce the Catholic Church and all of Christianity. She is explicitly against the person and gospel of Jesus Christ, and says so often. She is against the Bible too and routinely denounces it.

        Review Tara's past and current comments and you'll quickly see that clerical abuse is incidental to Tara's anti-Catholicism. Her anti-Catholicism is part of her anti-Christianity, and her anti-Christianity is part of her her anti-religious stance.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Yes, yes Tara. I have decades of experience in having ultimately pointless discussions with people who are hell-bent on maintaining their bubble of ignorance. That's why I said in my first reply that you wouldn't look at the research. I'm used to it.

  • Rob Abney

    You can deny that there is a war, but you only help the enemy by doing so.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    My conscience is fine, and I fully support any effort by the authorities to root out any remaining criminality within the institutional church.

    • OMG

      Do you support a rooting out of immorality? Where do I find your definition of immorality and criminality?

      • Arthur Jeffries

        I'm referring to the criminal, immoral acts that Tara believes define the Church.

        • Martin Zeichner

          Please don't assume that you know what Tara or anyone else believes.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            You're assuming that I don't know what Tara believes, as if she's kept her beliefs hidden. The fact is that Tara and I have had many conversations prior to this one. I have also read many of her other conversations and comments. She has been very open, clear, explicit, and detailed about her beliefs.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "You're assuming that I don't know what Tara believes...

            I suppose (I could be mistaken) that you think that turning my word (assume) against me scores debating points for yourself. I also used the word 'please' which you did not.

            I make no such assumption. If you are accusing me of assuming something in particular then I can only conclude that you are using the word as some kind of insult. And not being very polite about it.

            When I said "anyone else" I include myself.

            "... The fact is that Tara and I have had many conversations prior to this one. I have also read many of her other conversations and comments. She has been very open, clear, explicit, and detailed about her beliefs.

            "...as if she's kept her beliefs hidden."

            Are you absolutely sure that It's not you that is looking for your own beliefs in the wrong place? I think that you and Tara just have different points of view.

            "The fact is that Tara and I have had many conversations prior to this one."

            It may be a fact to you. But it is hearsay to me.

            I notice that you don't feel that it is necessary to any of the the points that I bring up to post a link to your previous conversations.

            How am I to 'know' that Tara is simply not explaining her beliefs in a way that you do not find to be acceptable?

            We (you, I and everyone on this, or any other internet forum) are still in the process of trying to figure out how to use this medium of posts and comments. It bears many similarities to other forms of communication that we think that we understand but there are also many differences. So before you make judgements about Tara or myself or anyone else, be aware that the universe in general and the earth in particular has, not only more things than we imagine, it also has more things than we can imagine.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            What was the purpose of your request if you were not making an assumption about my claim to know what Tara believes? Why write "Please don't assume...." if you didn't believe that I was making an assumption?

            Tara and I do have differing points of view. Anyone can see that. That doesn't mean that I am ignorant of her beliefs or that she hasn't clearly articulated what she believes. I'm not and she has. Please confirm those facts for yourself.

            Tara is a prolific commenter. Read her comments. You'll see that she and I have interacted many times and that she has not hidden her beliefs. Note that the beginning of Tara's conversation with me on this thread doesn't make any sense if she and I have not interacted before. What was the context of her initial comment? How did I know what she was referring to?

            Whether I find Tara's beliefs acceptable or not is a separate issue from whether I know what she believes or not. I don't care for her beliefs about Christianity and religion, but I am neutral on or supportive of some of her other beliefs. What matters is that her beliefs aren't secret and that I'm not making assumptions about what she believes. I'm not asking you to take my word on that. Tara has a lot of comments to browse through that will confirm that her beliefs aren't a secret. Why don't you read them?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    just like you can ignore the sexual abuse or defend the institute that enabled the sexual abuse

    I think that if anyone in the institutional church is proven to be a criminal then he should be treated the same as anyone outside of the institutional church who is proven to be a criminal.

    You seem to think that everyone in the institutional church is a criminal, which tells us a lot about your anti-Catholic hatred while telling us nothing at all about the people who make up the institutional church.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I'm a member of the Body of Christ, which I do not reduce to only its most corrupt members.

    As for those Catholics who are sexual predators, they will face justice for their crimes.

  • Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: "Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture."
    There is a lot of denominational baggage that needs to be unloaded to comply with this; both Catholic and Protestant.

  • Rob Abney

    The angels in their own nature stand midway between God and men. Now the order of Divine providence so disposes, that it procures the welfare of the inferior orders through the superior. But man's welfare is disposed by Divine providence in two ways: first of all, directly, when a man is brought unto good and withheld from evil; and this is fittingly done through the good angels. In another way, indirectly, as when anyone assailed is exercised by fighting against opposition. It was fitting for this procuring of man's welfare to be brought about through the wicked spirits, lest they should cease to be of service in the natural order. Consequently a twofold place of punishment is due to the demons: one, by reason of their sin, and this is hell; and another, in order that they may tempt men, and thus the darksome atmosphere is their due place of punishment.

    Now the procuring of men's salvation is prolonged even to the judgment day: consequently, the ministry of the angels and wrestling with demons endure until then. Hence until then the good angels are sent to us here; and the demons are in this dark atmosphere for our trial: although some of them are even now in hell, to torment those whom they have led astray; just as some of the good angels are with the holy souls in heaven. But after the judgment day all the wicked, both men and angels, will be in hell, and the good in heaven.
    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1064.htm

    • Dennis Bonnette

      This life is an "entrance exam."

  • OMG

    Authorities must first recognize certain behavior as immoral in order to respond to accusations. Your claim that a lack of action is morally repugnant is one with which I entirely agree. Our old loyalties are now horribly strained. Like you, I am a parent of a child, a child once under an authority who attempted a hostile takeover. I am also a devout Roman Catholic who will fight for my family and for what is right. My tactics will win the fight, but the battle may very well be bloody and long. Will you keep me company or will you choose a traitorous accomplice? I'll pray for you.

  • OMG

    I live in the U.S. Here many people are isolated and alone even when among others at work, at the gym, at school, in the neighborhood. Most of my acquaintances don't prefer solitude. Many seek diversion to divert themselves from themselves. (What is it about ourselves that we try to escape?) It takes effort to develop and maintain a social group, but we 'institutionalize' our common interests and activities. Once we've made the effort, virtually all admit the rewards. There is value in a formalized self-perpetuating social group - an institution.

    As you say, the 'nones' are growing, but why would we want to emulate that trend? The catholic church is a specific institution with a unique and irreplaceable charism. Jesus founded and gave His promise to abide with His bride, His body, his Church forever. He is there, so even if some throw stones at her, the Church is His and always will be.

    I detest this corruption within her ranks! The thought makes me vomit. Yet what can I do except seek the healing touch of God within that church? Others seek to smash Her bricks to smithereens! Okay, so let the buildings fall. Take our money; take it all! Her 2,000 year Sacred Truth shall never change, and that truth SHALL set us free. The Church is our mother. Jesus living within is our brother. Some will live and die for Her and Him. I will never become a none. If you want to be more than none, please write me. Wishing you the best, with prayer.

    "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." - Helen Keller

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Anyone who now supports the Catholic Church and knows how horrendously dysfunctional the institution is....is a willing accomplice imho.

    The Catholic Church is made up of people, most of whom are not predators. Your suggestion that the majority of Catholics who aren't predators should leave the Church because a tiny minority of Catholics are predators makes no sense at all. There's no reason that Catholics should surrender the Church to a psychologically dysfunctional minority.

  • David Nickol

    To expect 1.25 billion Catholics to give up on the two-millennia-old Church because of the abuse crisis, bad as it is, strikes me as absurd.

    You clearly mean psychologically dysfunctional, not physiologically dysfunctional.

    When a new commenter appears, I always like to take a look at his or her comment history. When it is hidden, I always wonder why. Also, Arthur Jeffries is using his real name, and you are attacking him from behind a pseudonym. Although it has never been enforced, one of the rules of Strange Notions is that commenters use their real names. If you continue to attack Arthur Jeffries in this forum, I encourage you to come out from behind your pseudonym and give your real name.

    • Martin Zeichner

      "To expect 1.25 billion Catholics to give up on the two-millennia-old Church because of the abuse crisis, bad as it is, strikes me as absurd."

      To me as well. I have no such expectations.

      "When a new commenter appears, I always like to take a look at his or her comment history. When it is hidden, I always wonder why."

      I applaud that. However in addition to my comment above:

      "As a secular thinker I will say that in the absence of information, people will make up stuff."

      That's where conspiracy theories come from.

      I would also say that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So be careful.

      "Also, Arthur Jeffries is using his real name, and you are attacking him from behind a pseudonym. Although it has never been enforced, one of the rules of Strange Notions is that commenters use their real names. If you continue to attack Arthur Jeffries in this forum, I encourage you to come out from behind your pseudonym and give your real name."

      I am using my full real name. You may google my entire history on the internet if you care to.

      I don't understand why you assume that 'Tara' is a 'pseudonym' Also, do you know for a fact that 'Arthur Jeffries' is not?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    How does any of that explain or defend your insistence that the majority should leave the Church because of the minority?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    For the thousandth time, the organization is made up of people, and if any of those people are criminals I believe that the legal authorities should act accordingly.

    All proven victims of clerical sexual abuse deserve to be compensated. The courts will decide.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I never claimed to be trying to convince you of anything.

    I'm quite happy and content to remain a Catholic. You hate the Catholic Church so much that you are unable to comprehend that.

    • Martin Zeichner

      I remember from my youth, people that would say, "America; Love it or leave it."

      "You hate the Catholic Church so much that you are unable to comprehend that."

      The word 'hate' is your word. Not Tara's

      How do you know that Tara doesn't love the Catholic Church so much that she is not afraid to criticize it? Seriously. This is not a rhetorical question.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        This isn't my first, second, or third discussion with Tara on the subject of Catholicism. It's one of many.

        Tara has repeatedly called for the Catholic Church to be destroyed to by the state, although she withdrew this demand yesterday and suggested that the Church should implode and "fade away into our past."

        Tara doesn't love the Catholic Church, neither is she simply a critic of the Church like many people I know. She's intensely anti-Catholic. The larger context is her opposition to all religion.

        • Martin Zeichner

          I see that you have made your judgement and are not about to change it.

          Mr Jeffries, please understand that I respect both your and Tara's point of view.

          May I respectfully request that you refrain from trying to influence me? I am capable of forming my own judgement and I dislike having what I call a second-hand relationship.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            May I respectfully request that you refrain from trying to influence me? I am capable of forming my own judgement and I dislike having what I call a second-hand relationship.

            Huh? Did you not want me to answer your question?

          • Martin Zeichner

            Huh? Did you not want me to answer your question?

            I do want you to answer my question. However, watching the two of you bicker back and forth reminds me of an old married couple having a spat. Mind you, I am not saying that that's what
            you are. I'm saying that that's what the two of you remind me of.

            When you answered that question, you conveyed more information than you intended. Sometimes I need a few days to formulate my answer. Not to mention that life has a way of getting in the way.

            What you (and Tara) seem to be doing is trying to one-up each other. sometimes with links, sometimes with rhetoric. But both of you are too committed to your respective point of view to back down now.

            I am not a therapist nor would I want to be. I just like to keep my eyes and ears open. Maybe there should be some kind of couples therapy for people on the internet that have long standing disagreements with each other. Wait, there already is. It's called a moderator. I am also not a moderator.

            At the risk of repeating myself, I sympathize with both of your points of view. However I am amazed that you, that claims to be the rational one does not recognize this situation for what it is.

  • Joe Hinman

    How can I dress this without blowing my own horn? I break every stereo type you mention but that's exactly why no one wants to read my stuff. They don't connect with me as being a valid Christian apologist. They can't recognize a cutting edge Christian apposition because I'm not arguing Kalazm but wired stuff they have never heard of, like Paul Tillich, God is being itself,and Schleiermacher;s feeling of utter dependence. I make a reverse Derrida argument using transcendental signified as a God argument they really can;t handle that. The main problem I face is not Christian apologetic but academia. I don;'t have my Ph.D. so I am not in the club so professors don;t care about my ideas,

  • Martin Zeichner

    The only place that I disagree with you here is:

    "....ARE physiologically dysfunctional people."

    I might say:

    ....are *socially* dysfunctional people.

    but I don't have the clinical background to say so.

    From a secular legal point of view. Those priests that you refer to are committing the crime. And should be tried using due process under the principal of "Render unto Caesar..." The Church members that are covering up the crime should also be tried as co-conspitirors after the fact. Neither will happen. The reasons why are up for speculation.

    As a secular thinker I will say that in the absence of information, people will make up stuff.

  • Every Idea that you see here and elsewhere is derived from something else.

    In a sense this is just evolution applied to ideas and it is to be expected if we live in an infinitely comprehensible reality. (I say Christians ought to be committed to this belief.) But there is a danger of supposing that the only such reality is a block universe, where nothing truly new ever happens. That is what many ancient Greeks believed, as well as Spinoza. In A Study of Hebrew Thought, Claude Tresmontant contrasts the view that any creation is degradation and so what really exists has always existed, to the God of the Hebrews who said "Behold, I am doing a new thing". If you want a solid example of "a new thing", see the thought of René Girard and specifically, his scapegoat theory. You could say that the book of Job introduces a new concept of 'innocence' to humanity, one which all non-Hebrew, non-Christian myths presuppose does not exist. This shows up hazily in the Day of Atonement Azazel goat and explicitly in Jesus' death. Given that we Westerners live in a "victim culture", it is very hard to understand that humans used to see things very, very differently.

    So, what I think we really need is discontinuity-amidst-continuity. There is scientific reason to suspect that if we encounter new patterns too different from what we've assimilated so far, we won't be able to see the new patterns for what they are. (Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness, partial tutorial) So the fact that Genesis 1–2 is similar to the Babylonian creation myth Enûma Eliš is probably crucial for comprehension. But as Girard notes, scholars seem to have a prejudice of focusing too much on similarity and thereby dismissing difference. All humans being made in the image of God (male and female!) is radically different from humans being created from the blood of a slain god to be slaves of the gods. Scholars who gloss over this difference are almost certainly being grossly incompetent.

    Now, can we detect discontinuity-amidst-continuity? Can we detect something truly new entering into reality? Or must we always trace it to something before, something which always existed? I'll bet these two contrasting mental approaches show up in Calvinist–Arminian debates, as well as free will debates. Science itself doesn't seem to allow for anything but determinism + noise. And here, 'determinism' means something very specific, which spawned [atheist] Geena Safire to describe ontological personhood as "hyperdeterministic". So I suspect that what's going on here is a philosophical choice, not an empirical conclusion. (more)

    My theory of art is that everything that humans had a hand in, can be considered art. There is no value in dividing art, from non-art.

    What good things come out of this choice, in your experience?

    It's been said that the only thing that we learn from history is that we don't learn anything from history. A bit flippant? Yes. Self referential? No question. Ironic? Absolutely.

    Is that completely true or only approximately true? If tectonic plates move sufficiently slowly, do we just declare that they don't move?

    So why do we continue to study history?

    There are almost certainly a spread of answers. In this context, I think the more interesting question is how a topic of study (scientific, historical, or otherwise) gets distorted when it becomes politically relevant. There's a kind of paradox here: the more a topic of study becomes relevant to human action, the more one can pull the study out of the ivory tower and really test it. The less a topic of study is relevant to human action, the more those involved can make truth a more important concern than pragmatic effectiveness skewed by ideological commitments and on-the-ground political exigencies. This phenomenon shows up with bug counts and programmer productivity: they can be a good indicator of productivity as long as they aren't used to determine salary or bonuses. Once you make them causally relevant, programmers are tempted to open and close more bugs, to work on easier bugs, etc.

    Cynical people will echo Voltaire's "History is but a pack of tricks we play on the dead" and they are not always wrong. The full position is self-defeating though—because how can we know that Voltaire said it?

    I propose an answer: Curiosity.

    Since my wife is a scientist engaged in "basic research" aka "curiosity-driven research", I know a few things about this on the science side. Curiosity does play some role, but I would look at the constraints these days. One huge constraint is that the number of faculty jobs are often far below the number of applicants. When this happens, tenured faculty can discriminate between candidates on matters that are nigh independent of what would contribute to actual competence in the job. This means that much more than just curiosity matters, which allows a tremendous amount of control that can greatly curb curiosity. Those over at Heterodox Academy started the site by examining ideological uniformity (and thus discrimination) in the academy. At least Christian apologists and Christian organizations are willing to lay out fairly explicitly what they believe; often this ideological uniformity is much more subtly enforced.

    Why? What were you thinking?

    I was thinking that giving the leader more power is a terrible option, rather like giving Caesar more power. But maybe it's the best option for the current situation if "The only promising option I see left" won't actually work. It does seem to be "a new thing". :-p

  • OMG

    WHY I DON'T CARE: Never heard of Bertrand Russell performing any miracles. Never heard of Bertrand Russell being put to death because his words cut like swords. Never heard of Bertrand Russell rising from the dead. Russell did write well. Now he's dead. I'm alive and live in Christ.

  • Martin Zeichner

    I agree with you that such people are dysfunctional but they still seem like that they are not physiologically so. That might imply a physical handicap of some kind. Or even a hidden physical disorder like a heart murmur or a brain tumor or a blood disease. Are you sure that you don't mean a mental disorder or a psychosis of some kind?

    Also, I followed both of your links and I agree with them as well. But I see that you have already found supplying links becomes a useless excersise with people that have already made up their minds. You may as well be hanged as a sheep as a lamb and just use your own words.

  • Martin Zeichner

    In he first place I wasn't saying that you would say those things. I was talking about other people that overreacted to student demonstrators in the sixties.
    In the second place, you should know that I belong to no organization that I know of. I am what you might call a loner (not loaner) atheist and I am happy that way.

    But I admire your writing nonetheless.
    Keep fighting the good fight.

  • mike henderson

    Interesting. I like your contrarian approach to apologetics! I have a relatively new blog that seeks to do the same. https://letterstotheskeptic.blog/
    I would be interested in your impressions, if you get a chance to read.

  • OMG

    Upvotes to Dr. B. and to Hillclimber J. for allowing us to share in your fruitful and informative discussion. If only I could posit the Medieval metaphysics of sexual pleasure within marriage to DN as I believe Dr. B. may do, I'd mentally rest and enjoy my Sunday Sabbath.

    Thanks, everyone, again. I'm glad there's a new OP (authored by the eminent Dr. B. - Thank you). The technology in this one is leading me to double-post and search interminably for old ones.

    Best to all.

    • David Nickol

      If only I could posit the Medieval metaphysics of sexual pleasure within marriage to DN as I believe Dr. B. may do, I'd mentally rest and enjoy my Sunday Sabbath.

      See Medieval Sourcebook: GRATIAN ON MARRIAGE (dictum post C. 32. 2.2)

      The response is as follows:- The first institution of marriage was effected in Paradise in such a way that there would have been "an unstained bed and honourable marriage" [Heb., xiii. 4] resulting in conception without ardor and birth without pain. The second, to eliminate unlawful movement, was effcted outside Paradise in such a way that the infirmity that is prone to foul ruin might be rescued by the uprightness of marriage. This is why the apostle, writing to the Corinthians says, "On account of fornication let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband" [I Cor., vii. 2]. It is for this reason that the married owe a mutual debt to each other and cannot deny each other. So the apostle says, "Do not defraud one another except perhaps by consent for a time in order to give yourselves [more readily] to prayer. But return to it again lest Satan tempt you. [However I say this] on account of your incontinence" [I Cor., vii. 5]. Therefore, given that they are admonished to return to the natural use because of incontinence, it is clear that they are not commanded to join together solely for the procreation of children. Yet marriage is not to be judged evil on that account, for what is done outside of the intention of generation is not an evil of marriage, but is forgiveable on account of the good of marriage which is threefold: Fidelity, Offspring, and Sacrament.

      Huguccio gloss ad "sine ardore" ("Without ardor"):

      For, if man had not sinned, union would have been like the union of other bodily members and would have been without the fervor and itching of pleasure just like the union of other members is. For member would have been joined to member ... just like a slate to a slate."

      Huguccio gloss ad "quod enim" ("Yet marriage"):

      The words are introduced by Master Augustine. But for better understanding, you should note with these words and the following points, that a man may know his wife for four reasons, that is for offspring, to pay the debt, for incontinence, or to satisfy lust and for the sake of pleasure.

      If for offspring, then coition is no sin, venial or mortal. Indeed, if done for love [caritas], it merits eternal life. The same is true when copulation is to pay the debt. Again, when it is for incontinence, coition is venial and the man sins venially. But when it is from lust or for the sake of pleasure, then the coition is a mortal sin and the man sins mortally. But whether the coition itself is a sin or not, it is never done without sin because it is always done and associated with some itching and pleasure. For in the emission of sperm there is always some fervor or pleasure which cannot be without blame.

      And these dicta assume that the man and his wife have sex according to the order of nature, for anyone who goes against nature always sins mortally and more seriously with his wife than with anyone else and should be punished more seriously...

      Note the difference between the two cases of husband-wife sex, for incontinence and for pleasure and lust ... In the second case, he seeks to procure pleasure with hands or thought or passionate uses and incentives so he can do more than just have sex with his wife. Some however say that in both these cases coition is only a venial sin and man only sins venially whether he has his wife for incontinence or for satisfaction of lust. If therefore it seems to say elsewhere that he sins mortally, this is either said for the encouragement of continence and in detestation of the crime of adultery, or it is to be understood concerning coition against nature, or because he acts as an adulterer when he burns like an adulterer even with his own wife. But I do not waver from the words of the chapter ... and I say that the next chapter is to be understood as referring to incontinence and what is properly to be understood concerning lustful enjoyment emerges later ...

      Glossa Ordinaria ad "His ita respondetur" ("The response is as follows": This is the second part of the Question, in which it says that marriage was instituted and permitted twice. First in Paradise simply for offspring. Secondly outside Paradise for offspring and to avoid the infirmity of the flesh, because marriage has a threefold good, Faith, Offspring and Sacrament. (John of Faenza) Casus: In this chapter Gratian distinguishes the institutions of marriage. One which was before sin and for the procreation of offspring. And the other which was given after sin for the avoidance of fornication. Wjichj is proved by authority of the apostle saying: "On account of fornication", etc. So those who are joined in this way [marriage] cannot practise continence except by mutual consent. Which is proved similarly by authority of the apostle. So those who join ("coniuncti sunt") to avoid fornication ought to be called "coniuges". See the next chapter for proof.

  • Martin Zeichner

    As Walt Kelly, one of the pioneers of cartooning, used to write. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Disqus didn't alert me of this reply until today.

    I would feel ashamed to be a member of an organization that did such horrendous things.

    I've already responded by explaining how you perceive "the organization" differently than I do. It's pretty straightforward. I don't agree with you that "the organization" is a bunch of criminals. Now is that something that you are incapable of understanding, or are you just unwilling to accept it?

    You are likely feeling ashamed yourself because you belong to such a group.

    You believe that it is likely for reasons that have everything to do with you and your perception of the Church and nothing to do with me.

    Some Christians regard atheists as theists in denial. You remind me of them. You're so convinced of the manifest correctness of your position that you've concluded that I know you're right and am in distress because I won't act accordingly. Again, this view of your's says a lot about you and nothing about me.

    What I said about "the organization" applies here to. You look at the group from the outside and for some reason you just see sexual predators. That's YOU, not me.

    That emotional angst has nothing whatsoever to do with me. It’s internal to you.

    I don't have any emotional angst because I don't see the "organization" or "the group" as a collection of sexual predators.

    ‘Fighting me’...won’t make it go away. You know what will.

    I'm not fighting you Tara.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I believe that there are bad people in the organization, but I don't reduce to the organization to just those people. That is why I don't have any "emotional angst" about my choice to stay.

    I have considered "other peoples views that were not within the group." I have friends and family members who are not within the group.

    I'm not trying to convert you Tara. I'm just responding to what you write.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Everyone in the Catholic Church who isn't a bad person is "complacent in the 'hateful' deeds, words, and beliefs that circulate within that organization"? How do you know that?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Clever, but what I have said about my actions within the Church vis-à-vis Her bad members that led you to conclude that I am complacent towards them?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I'm in the Church, therefore I'm not acting against the sexual predators in the institutional church? Is that what you're claiming, that only non-Catholics can work against Catholic sexual predators?

    I've spent hardly any time discussing this topic with you. I've spent much more time informing myself about clerical abuse and doing what I can to act on the knowledge that I've gained.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    What have I been doing in the Church? I've been working in the clean up crew. We're here to get the filth out.

  • Martin Zeichner

    I do love every single member...of every single organization, however.

    A much better thing to love, without a doubt.

  • Richard Williams

    "s a result, many of these individuals end up with a narrow understanding of the Christian tradition which is manifested in a tendentious understanding of “biblical inerrancy”, a skepticism of evolution and contemporary science, a simplistic soteriological exclusivism, a single theory of atonement (penal substitution) and posthumous judgment (eternal conscious torment), and so on."

    Excuse me, but is there possibly a problem with the writer of this article and their own particular perspective considering that they have a problem with some of these things that they have listed in what I have quoted? I think there is, from a biblical perspective. Although I might agree with Randal that a single theory of atonement could possibly be narrow (and the word "theory in itself is problematic considering that we should be looking for the truth of the atonement and not a mere "theory"), I am sure we would possibly disagree on some of those other things for a very good reason, from what I know.

    • Richard Williams

      I should add that there some things in this article I could agree with, but this particularly brings up alarm bells.

  • steve baughman

    Thank you for your comments on Josh and Sean McDowell. I find the father and son team to be such shallow tribalists.