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Sick and Distorted Forms of Religion

October 22, 2012

Over the past two weeks, Pope Benedict XVI has made reference to the Second Vatican Council in various addresses and written documents..  A number of these were collected by Sandro Magister, the Italian Vaticanista, in his blog.    One of these caught my eye for the interesting turn of phrase quoted in the title of this post.  Writing about the decree Nostra Aetate, the Pope wrote

The task that it involves and the efforts that are still necessary in order to distinguish, clarify and understand, are appearing ever more clearly. In the process of active reception, a weakness of this otherwise extraordinary text has gradually emerged: it speaks of religion solely in a positive way and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion which, from the historical and theological viewpoints, are of far-reaching importance; for this reason the Christian faith, from the outset, adopted a critical stance towards religion, both internally and externally.

What, precisely, does the Pope mean by this, and why is this a “weakness” in Nostra Aetate?  While I can think of a few things he might be referring to—such as the fundamentalisms which affect both Christianity and Islam—I wonder if he does not have further things in mind.  What do you think, from the perspective or religious freedom, he has in mind?

Moreover, what do you think the Pope means when he says Christianity has “adopted a critical stance towards religion”?   Indeed, until Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate, I think it is fair to say that the Catholic Church was quite uncritical of itself in this regard.

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143 Comments
  1. October 22, 2012 4:49 pm

    I had not seen this before David, and reading it makes me feel uneasy. What does he mean? And yes, the uncritical view of self in regard to the church… that makes me uneasy as well.

    I’m off to read more, to think and to pray. Where are we headed?

  2. October 22, 2012 5:02 pm

    I think what the Holy Father is alluding to are those weak stances of men who say “well, religion is a good thing,” for whatever reason — it’s social utility, it’s technological mindset (or lack), &c. — that uncritical view that “well we all basically believe the same thing. Islam is good for some people, or Buddhism, or whatever, and we’ll be Christian here.”

    The missionaries of old did not convert the Romans (or the Germans, or the Slavs, or the Mexica) by saying “well, Zeus and Odin and Quetzalcoatl are alright, but…” They thundered! they roared! They said that they were worshiping demons, beings bent on destroying their immortal souls! These cultures (for whatever natural nobility they had), were sick and rotten — infanticide, casual murder, human sacrifice being the result of their honoring devils. If that’s not a critical stance on “religion” (whatever *that* means!) I don’t know what is.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      October 23, 2012 12:34 pm

      Indeed. By definition, all non-Catholic religions/belief systems are sick and distorted. There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church, that leaves the rest of them pretty well worthless objectively speaking.

      It has been correctly said in the VII documents that these other groups have elements of truth, which is absolutely true. These elements, taken in good faith, can do nothing but lead towards the fullness of truth, kindly and patiently and not necessarily on our timelines.

      The missionary spirit of old (it still exists, I know) was largely pushed by the honest and firm belief that there is no other place to go, our Lord has the words of eternal life and He entrusted them to His Church, outside of which there is no salvation. Why did St. Francis Xavier go across the world to baptize the pagans? Salvation. They *might* be invincibly ignorant but that is far from a done deal. If you do not believe, you will be condemned.

      Internally, one need only look at the distortions that arise ever so often. In our own time, we have our own “fundamentalists” in the radtrad groups who separate themselves from Rome or the liberal Cafeteria Catholic types who do likewise for different reasons-both are serious distortions of the One True Church. In the past, we’ve had various heresies that have gained traction within the Church and were supported by kings, emperors, and even bishops and Cardinals like Jansenism or Quietism that needed to be rooted out, or like Aufklarung Catholicism and Modernism.

      So, of course there is plenty of sick and distorted religion internally and externally. We need to be on constant vigil not to fall into these distortions or God forbid, leave the Church for any of the various false sects that are set up outside of Her.

  3. October 22, 2012 5:15 pm

    I think he must be hinting at the limitations on religious liberty. We can’t allow Muslim fundamentalists to blow people up, for example. Catholics need to, perhaps, rediscover the notion that “not all religions are created equal” and that we can’t be so universally optimistic about their social value. Some religious ideologies (or ideologies in general) are something to fight, not something to embrace with that naive optimism which is the biggest weakness of ALL the Vatican II documents.

  4. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    October 22, 2012 5:34 pm

    You seem to be in agreement with the pope. The quote indicates it is a weakness that the document treated religion only in a positive sense and did not address the negative aspects. I assume that includes extreme fundamentalism, torture, war, cultish sects, etc. this is also your position, correct?

  5. October 22, 2012 7:47 pm

    In the spirit of Rene Girard, I don’t think that Pope Ratzinger thinks of Catholicism as being a “traditional religion.” However, he would better remember that when he starts denouncing other Christian faiths for not having a “true ecclesiology.” I have a number of Protestant friends–believe it or not–who are deeply offended by his statement that their denominations are not “true Churches” at all. in terms of “ecumenism,” his pontificate has been a disaster.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      October 23, 2012 12:18 pm

      And why, pray tell, should we care that Protestants are “offended” that their denominations are not true Churches? If they think they are on the right path (which by their actions it would seem they think they are) they shouldn’t care what the head of some other group thinks. Is that anything new? Well…aside from the silly season of ecumenism that tried to sweep everything under the rug that was Catholic and “divisive” and just waste time playing kissy face with each other.

      On the contrary, his pontificate is a godsend though much still needs to be done. Enough of the mealy-mouthed garbage of the likes of Kaspar the Friendly Ecumenist.

      • trellis smith permalink
        October 24, 2012 5:42 am

        Prods in fact don’t care for a false ecumenism anymore than RomanTrads. But polemical apologetics gives more heat than light. There are more effective more honest ways to engage in dialogue without resorting to a zero sum game. Trying to take advantage by using word definitions to override an adversary’s position may make for an effective stratagem in negociations but serves little in advancing an ecumenical disscussion.
        While when first ennuciated ” ecclestial communities” was an advance over heretical it appears silly and juvenal to talk of the separated bretheren as not church goers but ecclesial community attendees. Calling the Episcopal Church by its self referential description need not be an acknowledgement of its ultimate status but extends to its members the same courtsey when not referring to the Archbishop of Canterbury as the high layman.

        My Irish mother observed for me that the only two European countries that remained neutral during WW2 consisted of the God fearing Irish and the cowardly Swedes…. which seems to be the approach you favor.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          October 24, 2012 11:56 am

          Ecumenical discussion is worthless if not grounded in clarity and truth. Polemics is one thing, but they weren’t even used in the pre-Conciliar statements on the issue (witness Mortalium animos or Pope Pius IX’s letter to non-Catholics inviting them to Vatican I). Heretics? That’s just an accurate statement. “Ecclesiastical communities” is also an accurate statement. We can say that the Patriarch of Constantinople is in fact a real bishop at the head of a real Church, albeit in schism with the Roman See. We cannot extend the same, in truth, to the “Archbishop” of Canturbury and the Anglican “Communion”.

          Courtesies are one thing, in official communications, Rowan Williams would be called the Archbishop of Canturbury but they have to know (and I’m sure they do) that we do not consider him to be validly ordained or validly consecrated and thus is ontologically equal to any other layman.

          Some groups are just a joke, and while I’m all for courtesies at the official level, it seems to me beyond the pale of ridiculous to refer to The Episcopal Organization (and other like minded groups) as a “Church” on account of the enormities they trot out. Once they finally throw off the final Roman yolk of a valid baptism and start “baptizing” people in the name of Wymynspirit Rising, then we can put them with the Interfaith disscussion groups where they belong.

          As A Sinner pointed out, the only people we should bother to have serious discussions with are the E. Orthodox and I would add the Anglicans who are serious about swimming the Tiber. The rest of the groups can wonder around in la-la land but we’ll always be around to welcome individuals from those groups to Rome once they’ve seen past the ruse.

          As to your analogy, Spain was neutral and so was Switzerland (among others). I fail to see how what you said applies anyway.

        • trellis smith permalink
          October 25, 2012 3:24 am

          As to my analogy, your quibble misses the point but then there is no need or way to explain it that wouldn’t deflate the punchline. I definitely had Puis IX in mind as the ecumenism you spout that is unidirectional and can never be open to a discussion of truth and clarity when one side is so blinded by its own arrogance, and in your example,misogny.The most conservative Anglicans have as great a hatred of your brand of catholicism as you evidently do of the Episcopal Church which doesn’t lead to a civil discourse let alone an ecumenical one.
          The divisions, the tortures and the murders were wrought by both sides of this divide in which saints and sinners, kings and popes in hatred and ignorance all participated. All are broken and in some way defected. Neither you nor the Roman Catholic Church have any standing to be either denigrating or smug.

        • October 25, 2012 12:38 pm

          Except we do. The Church claims to speak for God, infallibly.

          If you can’t accept our self-concept even AS just our self-concept, then you are the one excluding the possibility of any real ecumenical dialogue.

    • October 23, 2012 12:27 pm

      Psh. Ecumenism with the prots is never going to succeed anyway. The Orthodox are our best bet, and things have warmed on that front.

      • Doc Fox permalink
        October 26, 2012 3:12 pm

        Dear A. Sinner … permit me to remind you that ‘infallibility’ applies only to those few things a Pope has pronounced while on his throne and saying he is speaking infallibly — thus only to a handful of items.

        • October 26, 2012 5:57 pm

          Not exactly. Infallibility is a negative protection, so it means heresy has never been promulgated as dogma. It applies to many statements, moreso by Councils than by popes acting unilaterally. The Denziger is a good source, and it has thousands of passages of dogmatic source material, albeit many say the same thing and really dogma can probably be boiled down to ~400 distinct articles (see Ott’s list for example).

      • trellis smith permalink
        October 28, 2012 4:48 am

        If infallibility is really such a defining characteristic that would hopelessly impede dialogue then I don’t understand your albeit guarded optimism regarding the Orthodox churches. Other than anti- Catholic vitriol of certain Protestant bodies the Protestant churches accept the Roman Catholic church as a church of Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against.

        Yet, infallibility is an interesting concept wherein the qualifications render it to never seem to mean what is says and seems ever expansive in its applicability. Not to go over the types or gradations that are erroneously claimed- infallible either is or it isn’t. But even there where one can be most certain- ex cathedra, it still is not absolute as Avery Dulles observes, “absolute infallibility (in all respects, without dependence on another) is proper to God….All other infallibility is derivative and limited in scope. I wonder to what purpose it really serves the Church? It binds it to an irrevocability, an imposition from the past on the future. Is this really its defining character or a will to power and control which would be far from Jesus’ admonition to James and John.

  6. October 22, 2012 11:00 pm

    I think what the Holy Father means is both extremes within the Christian Faith and outside of it: One end has extreme militantism or legalism to the point that it violates the purpose of religion, turning it into a weapon of war and a more “holy than God/the pope” religion, devoid of love. It then becomes an engine of fear and guilt, making people feel imperfectly contrite in their mistakes, and worse, possible soldiers “for the cause.” I would also throw in extreme trad Catholic groups such as the SSPX and the SSPV as well at this end.

    At the other extreme you have extremely liberal, pagan, or touchy-feely beliefs that make it not a religion at all or a very loose one at best, solely focused on the self or allowing you to have elements/parts of, or a watered-down, truth and be satisfied, without truly embracing the full truth and eternal salvation of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (without the liberal elements that is).

  7. October 23, 2012 7:10 am

    What it sounds like is a kind of dogwhistle, if you will, for walking back the teachings on religious freedom promulgated at Vatican II, and working to re-establish confessional states. That might be reading too much into it, but one thing that has totally astounded me since I’ve been reading and commenting here is the number of people (and I realize the blogosphere isn’t representative) willing to defend persecution of heretics, confessional states, and so on, while lamenting the collapse of Christendom. It is exactly the teaching on freedom of conscience that is one of the sticking points in the breakdown of negotiations with the SSPX. I wonder if this is directed at them.

    Obviously, there is such a thing as “sick and distorted forms of religion”. The scandal of 2002 has certainly revealed a lot of that. Further, I’d never defend, say, Scientology. Still, statements like this are dangerously close to saying, “We need to be slinging more anathemas.”

    I think at its best, Christianity is indeed “critical towards religion, both internally and externally”. The books of Episcopal theologian Robert Farrar Capon argue that in a sense Christianity came to do away with religion. That is, in the terms in which Capon defines it, “religion” is human-initiated actions that assume that human action (making the right sacrifice, saying the right incantations, going to Mass every Sunday, etc.) somehow “merit” or “earn” spiritual benefits; when ultimately the teaching of Christianity is that it all comes down to God’s unmerited grace. God’s grace works through sacraments that have the appearance of transactions, but when we view them transactionally, we miss the point–e.g., I don’t go to Confession, then do a penance to “work off” my sin. Rather, God graciously absolves me through the Sacrament, and the “penance” is just a sign of that. Anyway, I think Capon has a good point–he tends towards a more Protestant view of grace, but I think he’s not out of bounds. In this sense, you could say Christianity does “adopt a critical stance” towards religion, including itself when it’d doing what it’s supposed to do. As you point out, thought, it’s been a long time since it has done that, prior to Vatican II; and I sincerely hope it’s not moving backward.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      October 23, 2012 9:50 am

      Turmarion, I share your reservations about slinging anathemas, but take heart: for all the hand-wringing about Vatican II rollback, that is ultimately impossible. I’ve just written about this here.

    • October 23, 2012 12:20 pm

      Turmarion, I think your mention of Capon is on the mark. For Gerhard Lohfink (and I think for Ratzinger too), Christianity is not a religion but a faith. Religion refers to the efforts of man to stretch for the transcendent, but without responding to the prior movements of the Transcendent in faith, mankind’s religiousity tends to divinize the created world and projections of itself. For Ratzinger, humanity’s first “religious” action is always listening, receiving God’s self-revelation and grace.

      I don’t have it with me now, but I bet reading Truth and Tolerance would help to clarify what he is getting at here.

    • October 23, 2012 12:34 pm

      “one thing that has totally astounded me since I’ve been reading and commenting here is the number of people (and I realize the blogosphere isn’t representative) willing to defend persecution of heretics, confessional states, and so on, while lamenting the collapse of Christendom”

      Oh for the love of…how arrogant can you get?? “Astounded”?? Really?! At least those of us whom you are talking about are not “astounded” that the “other position” exists. In fact, I understand that position quite well and it makes a lot of sense that, human nature being what it is, it exists. “Astounded” though! What a narrow view. I remember again the story my dad told me about the Nixon election. He knew all these East Coast liberals and when Nixon won they all said, “How could this be?!? I don’t know ANYONE who voted for Nixon! It must be fraud!” HA! As if their anecdotal self-selected sample was representative. “Astounded.” It is you who are narrow minded if you think your position is so “obvious” that no one could disagree.

      • October 23, 2012 2:49 pm

        I grew up among conservative Protestants. I never heard any of them saying that there should be no religious freedom, or that burning heretics or such was OK. In college I was around moderate to liberal people, and none of theme expressed such views. Most history books I’ve ever read had an attitude of “well, they did that kind of thing back then, but thank God our society has long got past that sort of thing.” I’ve always read widely across the ideological spectrum, and never encountered such views. I used to read First Things a lot, from the time it first began publication, and it could never be accused of liberalism by a long shot, but I never saw such views there.

        The first place I ever encountered such perspectives was in New Oxford Review. I thought that was kind of a fringe phenomenon. Dale Vree, from there, got into a big hoo-hah with Fr. Neuhaus over the possibility of universal salvation (the former denied it even as a possibility or legitimate hope). Once more, Neuhaus was a theological conservative and didn’t endorse such views.

        I can honestly, truly say that until I started hanging around here, that I never saw such a quantity of defense of suppression of religious limits, etc. Maybe I need to get out more; but I was not swimming in some PC liberal head-up-my-posterior bubble. In fact, I live in a very conservative state. Conservative Protestants, at any rate, would tend to oppose such concepts because they’re anti-Catholic and associate such things with the Church; so it’s not just a matter of “conservative” and “liberal” as such.

        At least those of us whom you are talking about are not “astounded” that the “other position” exists.

        But the other position is the default in our culture, right? So why should you be surprised? Once more, maybe I’ve been sheltered or need to get our more or something. In any case, it’s not a matter of arrogance–just stating honest surprise. Btw, if I thought my position were obvious–in short, if I thought your perspective were tantamount to arguing that the Earth is flat–I wouldn’t have spent so much time arguing against it, would I? From a historical perspective, the notion that everybody ought to be uniform in religion is probably more “obvious” than the idea of religious pluralism. Thank God that’s not so in the First World any more.

        • October 26, 2012 6:02 pm

          But why doesn’t it? What new moral datum do we have? What sets the core/exploitationist societies of the modern democrocapitalist world system (ie, the First World) apart from all those societies where it has been obvious?

        • October 26, 2012 9:00 pm

          In other words, I suspect the third world countries would love a Church with supra-state power to stand up for them against the imperial core, which is served by having no such universal voice with real teeth. (Of course, this is different than the Church being established under each Third World regime separately, which has only bred corruption and serving the elite)

  8. October 23, 2012 11:51 am

    You’re right, Julia–your article is good, and makes good points. It is discouraging how things seem to be an unending back-and-forth struggle, but in the end we move on, one way or another. I do think “sick and distorted” was rather strong language to use without further qualification. I mean, is a “sick and distorted form of religion” an abuse of religion–such as shooting abortion doctors or flying airplanes into skyscrapers or catering to the wealthy at the expense of the poor, etc.? Or are whole religious traditions to be seen, in a blanket way, as “sick and distorted”? We can all think of relatively small “cults” such as the People’s Temple or Heaven’s Gate, or in some cases larger organizations such as Scientology, which could be characterized as “sick and distorted” as a whole. However, it gets dangerous when people want to argue (as some Fundamentalists do), for example, that Islam as a whole is demonic, or that the Jews are the “synagogue of Satan” (as the ultra-right-wing Catholic E. Michael Jones claims), or things of that nature. Magister quotes from the Pope without giving the full context, so maybe there are subtleties that are lost; but the language still bothers me.

    Robert, Paul, in addressing the Athenians in Acts 17 did not do what you describe. He actually complimented them on their solicitousness in religion, and pointing to the altar to the “Unknown God” told them that they worshiped what they didn’t know, whereas he came to proclaim what it was they’d unknowingly worshiped. Moreover, while it has been claimed that all pagan deities were demons in disguise, not all Fathers believed that, at least not uniformly. It may be the case in some situations, especially where human sacrifice was involved; but I don’t think one is obligated to think that was the case in all or even most situations. In fact, Pope St. Gregory specifically told Augustine, on his mission to England, not to disturb things unnecessarily, and to take any thing that could be used for good from the pagan culture.

    Finally, I think it’s one thing to say that freedom of religion doesn’t extend to flying planes into skyscrapers (no sane person thinks it does) or that “not all religions or ideologies are created equal” (once more, no reasonable person thinks that–I gave some examples above, in fact); and on the other hand to talk about “questioning the social value” of other religions or ideologies, or stating that they are “something to fight”. If you read most proclamations before Vatican II, all religions and ideologies were to be questioned as to their social value and were “something to fight”. Vatican policy was to get concordats establishing the Church as the state religion when possible, while limiting the rights of other groups, even of other Christian Churches; and if it couldn’t do that, then to secure rights for Catholics in majority non-Catholic states. It was the same ideology as held by the Puritans, and in fact, as held by some Muslims–play up religious freedom to protect Catholic rights in non-Catholic societies, while trying to exterminate or at least hamper religious freedom for non-Catholics in majority Catholic societies. One doesn’t have to think that religion is all sweetness and light, that all religions are totally equal, or that extreme behaviors (plane-crashing, human sacrifice, etc.) can’t be proscribed to emphatically reject the pre-Vatican II mentality.

    • October 23, 2012 2:08 pm

      But why should we? What do we know now that we didn’t know then? There’s been no new Revelation. You seem to think “we” (whoever that is) know better now, but how? Why didn’t more people emphatically reject it then, and what has changed so that more do now? It’s the result of nothing but an increase in human sinfulness.

      • October 23, 2012 7:52 pm

        Even you admit, to your obvious frustration, that the documents of Vatican II at least admit of the interpretation that we do, in fact, “know better” on such issues now. Maybe over the next century or so such a view will be more clarified. Certainly the rejection of the postconciliar teaching on religious freedom was a sticking point re the SSPX. And that “more people didn’t emphatically reject it then” isn’t an argument. They didn’t emphatically reject geocentrism, either, but that doesn’t make it right. Beyond that, you know my arguments regarding this; and I stick to them.

        • October 24, 2012 6:30 pm

          I guess my real objection is not the idea that we know better (we know better than some medieval theologians on the Immaculate Conception, for example; obviously. And any change in prudential opinion is made under the assumption that the new is better)…but, rather, how do we know THAT we know better?

          In other words, I don’t object (at least not on grounds of orthodoxy) to someone saying that “the better opinion prevails today,” but rather to the formulation in terms of “knowledge,” as if there has been some sort of new datum or discovery or irreversible proof that irrefutably validates the new position over the old, rather than merely saying that, for whatever reasons, the modern climate has made a different opinion (based on a different prudential weighing of prioritize and relative value and proportion) more popular, but that both remain tolerable.

        • October 25, 2012 8:54 pm

          [H]ow do we know THAT we know better?

          How do we know we’re not in the Matrix? How do we know anything outside us exists? How do we know anything? Any epistemology at some point depends on some sort of “leap of faith”. Even “Cogito, ergo sum,” makes the assumption that there is an “ego“, an I that is doing the thinking. Buddhists (and Hume) deny even that, arguing that it’s just a stream of thoughts, sensations, etc. that thinks it’s a “self”.

          Everyone needs to make some kind of epistemological leap of faith–“God exists”, “matter and energy are all there are”, “the world is an expression of Brahman”, or whatever. There is no external point to stand and look down on all the metaphysical starting points and decide which one is “right”–one’s subjective judgement is always involved. There’s no unshakable vantage point–“it’s turtles all the way down.”

          On the basis of common sense, I posit that the world I experience is real. On the basis of my understanding of mathematics, I think that a real, objectively existing immaterial realm exists. The best explanation for all this seems to me to be God. My understanding of God is that He is infinitely merciful and loving. My understanding of what the last sentence means and what implications come from it is that God desires nothing but peace, health, happiness, and love for everyone. Obviously that brings up issues of theodicy, but prescinding from all that, I think that implies that the less torture, persecution, religious suppression, etc. there is in a society, the better that society is, since such things (as well as the fact that to me, humanity’s free will and intellect are its most sacred manifestations of the Image of God) lead away from peace, health, happiness, and love, as well as besmirching the Image of God in us. Given my assumptions and the corollaries from them, it seems to me that a society which has discarded torture, burning heretics, etc. is objectively better in those areas, at least, and its people “know better”.

          Now, any of my basic axioms may be wrong; and the implications I derive from them may be wrong if my method is faulty. Obviously you or anyone else may disagree with my axioms and choose others; but metaphysically, none of us are more or less likely to be “right”, at least with what we can know now. Of course, one might argue that this puts us in a postmodern world in which, à la Michel Foucault, there is no “truth” and it’s all about different claims jockeying for the power to implement its vision. I don’t necessarily buy that; but if it is so, I’m glad that the vision getting implemented is not the Medieval one. I’m not saying there aren’t “better” ones than the current one; but that doesn’t mean I want to go back, either.

        • October 26, 2012 6:58 pm

          “the less torture, persecution, religious suppression, etc. there is in a society, the better that society is”

          But of course, I agree with this, all other things being equal. But that’s the catch isn’t it? You might say a society with the fewest arrests is the best, but how do you respond to crime that IS immediately present. In the ideal world there’d be no State, and everyone would know the Truth clearly. But we don’t live in that world, and surely there are other values to weigh too.

          As for your “leap of faith” thing, I agree here too in some sense (as a “Kierkegaardian existentialist). I was just discussing this with a doubting friend the other night.

          However, which axioms we leap TO is the question, as you say. I leap to the axiom of the Church, to Public Revelation, to Faith in the deposit of Faith founded on God’s self-revelation in Christ through the Church made infallible by the Spirit.

          Now, you vaguely would indicate this too, I think. You seem to say your beliefs about Christendom derive from your beliefs in a benevolent (Christian) God.

          And yet, everyone in Christendom believed in that God and that Revelation too as their starting axiom. So, what new datum have you added to Revelation (and, apparently raised to its same level of authority) that allows you to say with such absolute certainty that “we know better now”??

          It’s not merely belief on a benevolent God, because that belief has clearly admitted the alternate interpretation at some points in history.

          in reality, I suspect it’s that you’ve adopted new dogmas into your system (from the “enlightenment”/liberal democracy narrative) which then, for you, make one interpretation decisive where Revelation alone is not sufficient to whittle it down beyond prudential opinion (with tolerable disagreement).

          It’s sad. In reality, I’m no fan of physical coercion of heretics. But I don’t need some progressive narrative and dogmas of the enlightenment to say that. Saints and popes themselves said that until the high Middle Ages, actually, and the church really only engaged in that for 3-400 (out of 2000) years. My deep suspicion of the State and cooperation with it makes me inclined to see the handing over the heretics to the secular arm as, if well intended, mainly just serving the State’s entirely secular goals via a vis legitimacy and warfare with rival States.

          Now, I probably am more “understanding” of what happened. Let’s remember that in the 16th and 17th centuries, religion became a POLITICAL affiliation; a Catholic almost certainly WAS treasonous, politically, against Elizabeth’s England by that very fact, and likewise a Protestant in Spain. There was no notion of pluralism within each State, rather, States started jockeying for power by withdrawing allegiance from Christendom (wherein the Church had acted as a sort of “United Nations”) and allying themselves in blocs based on sect. In this climate, fighting to defend oneself doesn’t seem absolutely wrong. While Henry was sacking the monasteries and martyring Catholics and making gestures of conquest toward Catholic lands…is it really so unreasonable that an associated Protestant on Spain would be seen, by that very affiliation, as a CIVIL threat whose loyalty (even in temporal matters) in that climate was suspect? Or that the Church would turn them over when it had done its part?

          I’ll add, the phenomenon was not so much medieval as Early Modern. But even in our own century is it really so hard to imagine? Communists were monitored by the US government, of course, and perhaps with good reason. Not because the US needs to enforce ideology, but because that affiliation was almost certainly seditious; back then, American Communists were almost certainly social malcontents who would have toppled the US government or sold us out to the Soviets IF given the chance. The same can be said, perhaps, for people who embrace fundamentalist radical Islam today; it would be stupid not to see this affiliation as indicating a high chance of sedition or potentially treasonous allegiances. Holocaust denial in Germany too.

          If you think a 16th century Protestant in Spain was just a sincere well-intended believer who otherwise could be an entirely good citizen and loyal to his own country (rather than the Protestant bloc)…I’d suggest you’re naive and don’t know your history.

          That being said, as I said above, I dislike the idea of religious affiliation being a political issue IN GENERAL (which is why I prefer the Church as supra-State “referee” model, which is what it was in Christendom; but that requires religious uniformity).

          I can’t throw out the idea of a confessional State. I think if Education and Healthcare can receive funding from the state (and some level of its coercive assistance to ensure participation in those systems), then the Church should be too. It should stand alongside education and healthcare as a Public rather than Private institution. But a Public NON-STATE institution. That’s so crucial. Frankly, I find it troubling that School and Medicine are seen (the latter more so in Canada and Europe) as organs of the State (which may, at best, tolerate private alternatives) rather than as Public Non-State institutions merely assisted BY the State in funding and enforcing participation (compulsory enrollment, etc). The Church should have this standing too, ideally (and, indeed, the Church used to run the schools and hospitals, not the State).

          But, I suppose, I will admit that this gets problematic when you try to implement it only in One State. For this to work, Church (and, indeed, Education and Medicine) would need to be recognized as supra-state entities that exist IN and ACROSS States, with States merely protecting and supporting them. Otherwise, all three suffer “under” the State (ie, State religion ala the established Church of England; just an organ of its State). But, the Church having been reduced to a private institution, essentially (albeit the Holy See is considered a sovereign subject of international law still, and not merely because of the Vatican City-State) the only such entity which exists “in and across” (rather than under) States today…is the Market. And I’ve already described how THAT creates the exploitationism we see in the world economy today. No, the Church must be Sovereign (and indeed, under the sloppy terminology “temporal power,” this was almost promulgated a dogma at Vatican I until papal infallibility was chosen, diplomatically, for dogmatization instead). Having only State and Market be Sovereign (n practice) is very dangerous.

          I think this vision is very different from the confessionalism that played out in the Wars of Religion. But, at the same time, I do believe there were sincere parties who believed they were fighting to restore a universalism (even if they were just serving the interests of the State in the end).

          However, all this possible nuance is simply anathema under a system (as I fear yours to be) which bases its renunciation of religious hegemony on alleged new moral/ethical data in the form of “dogmas of the enlightenment.”

          As much as I’ve played devil’s advocate, I don’t really disagree with your position in itself. But I have grave reservations about its sources, about which authorities it is arrived at from, and about what alternate vision it thus offers.

        • gadria permalink
          October 27, 2012 6:41 am

          A Sinner quite a revealing display of your various ‘ under construction’ areas. Seems to me that the pieces do not fit- to say the least.

        • October 27, 2012 4:07 pm

          I’m not sure what you mean gadria. I chided turmarion before on another thread for viewing me through some sort of essentialized lens.

          It would seem odd to engage in dialogue with someone with whom you disagree (and are trying to either/both convince to change their position or/and find common ground with) and then tease them or question their credibility when the discussion does, in fact, lead to an evolution (or at least nuancing or moderating of) opinion. I mean, I’d think that would be the whole point.

          This isn’t a “debate,” I don’t think, it’s a dialogue. The point is not (or, at least, has never been for me) to “win,” it’s to discern the truth or clarify our positions through the very dialectic process of successive “arguments” put forth for our own “default” position, and then having the other person expose weaknesses that require modifications or explanations.

          Unfortunately, the pluralistic “marketplace of ideas” model allows little room for this, based as it is on a “competition” that just polarizes and seeks a sort of memetic darwinism that rewards only the lowest common denominator, and involves everyone seeing themselves as a “salesman” of their idea or values, as if this is some sort of political debate where points are won for “consistency.”

        • gadria permalink
          October 28, 2012 5:37 am

          A Sinner honestly I should perhaps not even comment – in essence I find that you open up pretty much a can of worms in each paragraph these days. It certainly seems insurmountable to have a meaningful dialogue in comboxes that gravitate towards 1″ width. It might be fun to have a beer with you and let it all freely flow but in this format it all is very exhausting and simply too much.
          To take just one issue you seem to be contemplating- I find a clear separation of church and state very important -simply too many flavors of religion out there to even contemplate the alternative.
          You might also take the fact that Religions are tax exempt into consideration- which is of a real tangible monetary value.
          While I find it interesting and informative that orthodoxy and fundamentalism appeal so deeply to you these days this is not a good format to discuss such fundamental points of disagreement. Sorry

      • trellis smith permalink
        October 24, 2012 4:08 am

        While I agree that to dismiss Christiandom for the dreadful practice of burning heretics. witches et al would call into question our own pretensions to civilization, it’s equally absurd to see that something that was intended actually was accomplised or assume that idealistic aspirations were fully realized. You may only see an enduring eternal Revelation but there were a thousand other historical revelations that may have culminated in an updwelling of the Spirit at the end of World War 2 and the Holocaust that necessitated the change. Previous wars of religion, thirty years or 100 years war tend to be exhausting. and a 19th century ecclesiolgy of entrenchment may be good for the religion but rather crimping for the faith. Pope John approached the imperative for the council not from the perspective of theology but from his area of expertise, that of an historian.

        • trellis smith permalink
          October 24, 2012 4:20 am

          Correction: ” Pope John approached the imperative for the council not from the perspective of a theologian but from his area of expertise, that of an historian.”

    • dominic1955 permalink
      October 24, 2012 12:12 pm

      St. Gregory the Great told the English Mission that they were to smash the idols and re-consecrate their temples and holy places as churches. By keeping the areas the locals considered holy (even if only superstitiously) a continued holy place by “baptizing” it into Christian use, he does not rashly uproot and disorient the people. There is much to be said about maintaining habitual places or dates in the service of the Faith. It is much easier to break a people of their idolatry if you baptize what is morally neutral or good into the service of God.

      • October 24, 2012 4:14 pm

        So the the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the friezes on the Parthenon, the Venus de Milo, and pretty much all art of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt ought to have been demolished ? All copies of say, the Iliad and the Odyssey ought to have been burned? A lot of ancient statuary and literature was lost forever in just that way. Is that a good thing? Should it all have been destroyed? And if so, how’s that different from the Taliban dynamiting the Buddhas of Bamiyan? Or was that a good thing? too?

        • dominic1955 permalink
          October 25, 2012 9:55 am

          Think about it for a second-we’ve never been hell bent on destroying every vestige of pre-Christian art. St. Gregory was referencing idols in usage. It would be akin to St. Boniface chopping down the sacred tree in what is now Germany.

        • October 25, 2012 1:33 pm

          So should art that depicted pagan gods–friezes on the Parthenon, mosaics, etc. have been destroyed? Or just neutral art? And as to the friezes on the Parthenon, which was a pagan temple–they might not have been “idols in use” like the statue of Athena within, but they were certainly part an edifice directed at the worship of a pagan deity. In that capacity should they have been destroyed? The Iliad, Odyssey, Theogony, and such were, while not sacred scripture quite as the Bible or Koran is, were considered sacred works by the pagan Greeks. Should they have been destroyed?

          In fact, the Buddhas at Bamiyan originally were “idols” in usage. Were the Taliban right in (belatedly) dynamiting them? Or put it another way, would the original Islamic invaders have been right to destroy them at the time? Or if you don’t want to answer that for Muslims, what if the invaders had been Christian? Should Afghanistan have been cleansed of all Buddhist imagery?

          Almost all of Egyptian art–pyramids, the Sphinx, the necropolises, the temples–was devoted to pagan deities or the Pharaoh worshiped as a god. During the six centuries or so that Egypt was Christian, were they slacking in not destroying them?

          Finally, were the Christian artists of the Renaissance wrong in reviving pagan images and stories as subjects for paintings and statuary? Are we wrong to teach classical mythology or make movies about the pagan god Thor? If you can’t give some general guidelines as to what pagan stuff is “acceptable” and what should be smashed or burned, then I don’t see much use in what you say.

        • October 26, 2012 7:12 pm

          Oh come on, that’s easy. Idols should be smashed when they present a clear and present danger of (continued) idolatry. If there’s no real danger of people worshipping them to sustain paganism after conversion…they’re just art. This decision should use subsidiarity though: the best idol smashing is the converted individual smashing HIS OWN former idols as a sign of his renunciation. The next best would be a village coming to this decision collectively about their own local idol, etc etc. Imposition without consensus on this question is probably bad.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          October 29, 2012 1:30 pm

          Exactly, its a prudential judgment. Sometimes its best by imposition (i.e. St. Boniface and the tree, Archbishop Lefebvre and the witch doctor’s hut) and sometimes its best to let it alone as art. Sometimes “reducing” them to art is the best way to destroy their influence as idols. When folks use African tribal masks, or kachinas, or buddhas as decor pieces, it probably works more effectively to sap their “power” than condemning and torching them ever would.

          For example, the buddha statues were not a danger of fostering idolatry. They were akin to the statues on Easter Island. Thus, I wouldn’t have destroyed them but I also do not loose sleep over it. It was a destruction of art, valuable in itself but not the same as desecrating a church or something. What they did was akin to someone knocking a hole thourgh his house, stupid undoubtedly.

  9. Agellius permalink
    October 23, 2012 12:37 pm

    “What, precisely, does the Pope mean by this, and why is this a “weakness” in Nostra Aetate?”

    It’s seems obvious to me. He means that not every religion is wonderful in every way, and it’s a mistake to operate on the assumption that they are. We need to exercise critical judgment on other religions just as we do on our own, using objective standards.

    “what do you think the Pope means when he says Christianity has “adopted a critical stance towards religion”? Indeed, until Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate, I think it is fair to say that the Catholic Church was quite uncritical of itself in this regard.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “in this regard”, but I would say the Church has always been critical of itself, in the sense of constantly judging this practice or that belief in the light of revelation, tradition, natural law, etc. I would suggest the Pope is saying that we should not be afraid to do the same with other religions. For example when people of another religion adopt beliefs or practices which are false or contrary to the moral law and therefore harmful to people, we do not owe such things respect merely on the ground that they are a part of someone’s religion.

  10. Bill Wilson permalink
    October 23, 2012 1:53 pm

    For me, religion is about creed, code and cult, about regulations and ritual. This is what the Pharisees and Saducees were about in the time of Jesus. This is why he excoriated them as whited sepulchres. Pope Ratzinger loves this understanding of how we relate to God, however you define that concept, because it allows him to delude himself into believing that he can bind the Holy Spirit to his own constricted, Tridentine understanding of what it means to be a Christian Catholic. Jesus said the Spirit blows where it will. In this regard, I don’t think the Vatican is a very drafty place.

  11. Môlsem, OFS permalink
    October 23, 2012 2:46 pm

    I think we will have to listen carefully to anything further said by the Holy Father or by the Synod presently meeting, or both. I do not think he means to denounce all other faiths, for reaching that conclusion would eviscerate Nostra Aetate which speaks thus of our relations. I specifically believe nostra aetate calls upon us to recognize other flavors of Christianity, and Judaism, and Islam as all descended visibly from the some ancestor, all Abrahamic religions so called. This does NOT mean that all are equally in possession of and honoring The Truth, yet we must acknowledge that our own understanding of The Truth includes identified Mysteries. What is does mean is that there are points of common understanding, that there are beliefs moral or otherwise that we share. And one thing we do share is an understanding that the God the Old Testament refers to as Elohim or Yahweh is the God we all worship in common.

    As for the comment above which described a view of evangelization in Central Europe as not trying to merge pagan Gods into our God, I would offer a softening. The commenter evidently never met French Jesuits. When French Jesuits came to the Algonquian peoples of Quebec and Vermont, and began discussions of faith, they discovered the Algonquian belief in a monotheistic creator-deity (Dabaldak) and in spirits which inhabited people and much of the rest of creation. The Jesuits took the approach of ‘we agree, and yet we know more!’ And proceeding in essence to teach that Dabaldak was merely the indigenous name for God and the spirits were the Holy Spirit and the angels. I prefer to think the Jesuits were not lying, but were interpreting what they heard as a different expression of the same things.

    We need to be equally alert that we not start fighting over different labels, when at the level of meanings we are in agreement.

  12. October 23, 2012 2:53 pm

    dominic1955: By definition, all non-Catholic religions/belief systems are sick and distorted.

    And why, pray tell, should we care that Protestants are “offended” that their denominations are not true Churches?

    Enough of the mealy-mouthed garbage of the likes of Kaspar the Friendly Ecumenist.

    Speaks for itself–a perfect example of the reason the Pope’s statements bother me, in that they feed such attitudes. Funny that conservative Catholics don’t have a problem slinging slurs such as “mealy-mouthed garbage” against Cardinals. I guess it’s inappropriate or disrespectful only when progressives do it.

    • October 23, 2012 7:10 pm

      Of course that’s how it works. There’s a huge difference between condemning people for being decadent, and condemning them for not being decadent enough.

    • grega permalink
      October 23, 2012 9:38 pm

      The pope clearly decided that it is not worth accomodating the sensitivities of us secular leaning catholic liberals – why do we in turn even bother waiting for some reasonable signs from Rome? The dominics and A Sinners of this world require a black and white orthodox setup to deal with their own insecurities – same is true for plenty of fellow fundamentalist in all the other major religions – these folks can afford the intellectual laziness of such a rather simplistic view due to the fact that plenty of folks actually bother to attempt to tackle or at least embrace the real complexities of our societies and religions.

      • dominic1955 permalink
        October 24, 2012 12:50 pm

        Typical. Calls for clarity (which didn’t seem that difficult a few short decades ago) dismissed as some psychological conflict with personal insecurities. Golly gee, where’s my blanky…

        I really doubt that (for lack of a better term) the “pre-conciliar” theology or even that of Pope Benedict XVI can be dismissed as intellectual laziness. You might not agree with it, but that is a different issue. When one says, “secular leaning catholic liberals”, it should make a person wonder. Do you mean, apostate? What even defines “Catholic” for you? Could you even sign on to something like the Tridentine Creed or the Credo of the People of God?

        If I can indulge in a little in kind ad hominem, maybe there will be a time where folks like you finally hit the brick wall of reality that not everyone worships at the altar of your personally self-evident Enlightenedness. Until then, cast your Anathema to the troglodytes, O great Stupor Mundi!

    • dominic1955 permalink
      October 24, 2012 12:30 pm

      Well, start looking at the pre-Conciliar papal and conciliar documents and pronouncements on the fate of those outside of the Barque of Peter. Maybe eternal damnation doesn’t have the urgency to others as it seems to have for me, I don’t know. I do know, however, that no one is really served by the ultra-fine distinctions of the likes of Cardinal Kaspar. I know the appeal to the scholarly or learned side, I know the distinction between ecumenism and evangelization etc. etc. Yet, just a few short decades ago, Vatican academics could be crystal clear and still charitable in their verbage. Is it too much to ask to get statements of their successors to be something less akin to nailing jell-o to the wall? People of today (and I’m sure every epoch) hear what they want to hear. Maybe it does a bit of good to make them uncomfortable in their position? Maybe they would actually recognize the cognitive dissonance of their purported (and charitably admitted in good faith) faith in Christ yet separation from His Bride.

  13. crystal permalink
    October 23, 2012 9:04 pm

    I think the pope has been rolling back on this issue for some time. He’s distorting what V2 had to say about other churches and other religions.

    If there are religions that are sick and distorted, the Catholic Church should be judged along with all the others.

  14. October 24, 2012 6:29 am

    Over at Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative is an interesting post about journalist Graeme Wood and his relationship with a Salafi Muslim in Egypt. Here’s some of what he quotes from the original article (my emphasis):

    I never asked much of Hesham El Ashry, and Hesham never asked much of me. All I wanted was some conversation about religion and Egyptian politics with someone who had strong views on both. All Hesham wanted was one more chance to describe in grotesque detail the fate that awaited me and everybody I loved: Our skin would thicken, not with callouses but with soft, thin, tender layers, each more sensitive than the last. Eventually the accumulated layers would be miles deep. And then God—not my god, or the god of the vast majority of so-called Muslims, but the one true Allah, worshiped by Hesham’s fellow Salafis—would burn off those layers individually, savoring the pain until he reached flesh. Then Allah would restore them again, like Prometheus’s liver, so he could blister and rip them away for eternity.

    “Do you feel that?” Hesham asked me once, gently handing me a scorching glass of Lipton, poured straight from a whistling kettle. He never missed a chance to illustrate a point. My fingertips burned, and I recoiled a little, losing a splash of the tea. “You feel why Allah chooses heat,” he said. “Because it’s the worst torture there is.”

    Hesham is a squat little guy, 52 years old and usually smiling, as guys who think a lot about hellfire and how they are surely going to avoid it often do. Though he is not rich, he spends his time and money freely in an effort to convert new Muslims, and for the last year, I have been a special project. His goal is as much spiritual as hygienic—a quest to purify Islam and the world of heresy and disbelief.

    Every couple months, I visited his tailor shop in downtown Cairo for instruction in the narrow, rigid take on Islam known as Salafism. As a Salafi, Hesham explained, he is concerned not only with replicating the ways of the prophet and his companions, but also with erasing all religious “innovation” (other Muslims might call it “development” or “progress”) that has perverted Islam since the eighth century. He always greeted me cheerily, with a “Salaam” and a handshake. Eventually, we achieved a sort of unconventional friendship. “I hate you,” he told me in August, with a smile. “I hate all Jews and Christians, anyone who is not a Muslim.”

    I don’t think anyone here would say they hate non-Catholics or non-Christians; but mutatis mutandis, that’s not a long way off from stuff I’ve heard said. A. Sinner, in a discussion we had on his blog, told me how he expected, in Heaven, to rejoice as his unsaved loved ones–including, in all probability, his father–writhed in agony in Hell, their faces melting off and coming back and being burned off again, etc. Those are his words, not mine. Hesham in the piece quoted above could hardly have said it better. He may have moderated his views since then, or not; but he expressed that view recently. On this thread dominic has explicitly said that all other religions are “sick and distorted” and that we shouldn’t care about what Protestants think of us. Several commenters here and on other threads have stoutly defended suppression of religious freedom in principle, and some have seemed to think it would be a good idea in practice. I’m sure Hesham would heartily agree, parting company only over which religions ought to be suppressed.

    I’m sure this will upset some people, and I’m sure they’ll say, “But that’s unfair–that’s different from what we’re saying.” I think it’s not different–different in degree, and different in prescriptions (no Traditionalist calls for terrorist acts), but not different in principle. In fact, I’d respect it more if someone said, “His basic attitude is right–he’s just playing for the wrong team.” In any case, I find such attitudes abhorrent whether they’re expressed by Muslims, Catholics, Baptists, or anyone else. If we all went back to a pre-modern perspective, all faiths would be literally at war with each other in a zero-sum struggle to “purify the world of heresy and disbelief”. There are lots of things that are bad about secular modernity; but its lack of a religious war of all against all is a pretty big selling point in my view.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      October 24, 2012 1:14 pm

      Well, St. Catherine of Sienna said something to the same effect (sorry, I don’t have my copy of her Dialog in front of me), but the Elect will have a certain holy “hatred” for the damned because the Elect will know exactly why the Reprobate are there, why they are in heaven, and the exact nature and extent of their loss, the extent of their folly, the whole shebang. Here we cannot know someone’s soul or where someone ended up, but in Eternity we will if we are numbered among the Elect because all will be revealed. This is why an eternal separation (heaven vs. hell) between earthly family/friends will not at all be unbearable. While nothing is new under the sun, it seems to me that this issue is brought up with a rather odd reaction-folks would rather not be in heaven or cease to exist rather than be separated from their folk! Preposterously emotive and juvenile, but it tells us the extent of the degredation of a notion of the divine and spiritual/metaphysical things in the minds of the people. It makes sense that folks who have been fed the pablum of the Enlightenment and materialism (in an admittedly impure and vulgar form) would have a difficult time seeing heaven as little more than some pre-Christian happy hunting ground where all of our material and temporal joys are present and if that isn’t the case then they’d rather just not even “go”.

      Hesham’s basic attitude is right, if that’s what he believes then he should work to convert people to the One True Faith. That is the implication of following one’s conscience even if it is malformed, no? Of course we’d say he’s playing for the wrong team and that he’s not really the exact equivalent to “our side” but at least he has convictions. One would have to figure out what his presuppositions are in order to figure out if dialog is appropriate.

      However, attitude and principle are different things. Again, I don’t know much about Salafi Muslims, but Catholicism was never engaged in a “zero sum game”. Our gain is no one’s true loss, our gain is their gain and that need not involve shooting at anyone. In an ideal world, there would be no Muslims, or Protestants or Hindus, would there? All would be converted to Christ, all would have the Church as their Mother.

      • October 24, 2012 4:52 pm

        While nothing is new under the sun, it seems to me that this issue is brought up with a rather odd reaction-folks would rather not be in heaven or cease to exist rather than be separated from their folk!

        “For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Romans 9:3, Douay-Reims version. Too bad how “preposterously emotive and juvenile” the Apostle Paul seems to have been.

        I’m aware of what St. Catherine said–St. Thomas said something similar. I disagree with them.

        Hesham’s basic attitude is right….

        I respect that you are upfront and clear in saying this. A lot of people would hem and haw and be unwilling to come right out with it.

        All I can say is what I’ve said many times before–I know all the logic, the theology, the philosophy, the explanations, etc. etc. etc. At the end of the day, a God who makes sapient, sentient beings whom He purportedly loves infinitely, for whom He supposedly wishes perfect good, and none of whom, purportedly, He wants to be lost, knowing in advance that many or most of them will be lost and be tormented in horrible agony for all eternity is a monster in whom I have no interest. I give A. Sinner kudos for coming out and admitting this–in our discussion about this on his blog, he in effect said, “Yes, God is a monster, but He calls the shots and makes the rules, not us; and His love is the flip side of His wrath, anyway.” If that’s what you want to worship, be my guest. If all the good and noble people who were not Christian burn forever–if I am a horrible, awful, “preposterously emotive and juvenile” heretic, who will split Hell wide open–if you guys are right, then I guess you can have a blast roasting marshmallows over us forever. If you’re wrong, then I hope it doesn’t take you too long to get over the shock, and that you deal with it better than the Prodigal Son’s brother did. In any case, we’ll eventually see, one way or the other.

        In any case, regardless of who’s right, I’m glad we live in a secular, pluralistic society in which people like Hesham or dominic are not calling the shots. Were that so, a lot of people might start experiencing hell before death.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          October 25, 2012 4:03 pm

          Concerning Rom. 9:3, see Haydock-

          http://haydock1859.tripod.com/id153.html

          So, you disagree w/ two Doctors of the Church? Well, this point is not defined, but it would seem that one is in rather poor company to brush such high opinions aside especially since you say you know the logic, theology, etc. It seems (note I said seems!) that at the end, you cannot emotively accept what has been passed down to us by various Saints, Fathers, Doctors, Visionaries, etc. We have intellects that are supposed to properly order the passions, no?

          “Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? Gird up thy loins like a man, I will ask thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? tell me, if thou hast understanding.”-Job 38:2-4

          On this side of eternity, believe me, I’m not banking on roasting marshmellows. I myself hope to just get to heaven, by God’s grace. Dum spiro spero for you and me both.

          Now, not to toot my own horn as I am under no pretentions of being a great statesman or somesuch but if I were calling the shots, it wouldn’t be hell on earth of my making. It seems to me that the best way to be truly tolerant (in a virtuous way) is to rule from convictions rooted in truth.

        • October 26, 2012 7:53 pm

          The link you give is one interpretation of what Paul meant. I’m not sure it’s the most probable.

          If the definition of God’s “love” means “bringing about the eternal torture and punishment of creatures whom He infinitely loves, despite the fact that even before He created them, He knew how they’d react and how they’d end, and still created them anyway”; or if the definition of “love” involves joy, however parsed, at the eternal punishment even of family and loved ones; then the meaning of “love” has been stretched to where it has no meaning. In this context, yes, I most definitely “brush aside” the teachings of those who would make God and His elect be such monsters.

          It seems to me that the best way to be truly tolerant (in a virtuous way) is to rule from convictions rooted in truth.

          Agreed–we appear to differ on many issues as to what that truth is.

      • grega permalink
        October 25, 2012 3:04 am

        “In an ideal world, there would be no Muslims, or Protestants or Hindus, would there? All would be converted to Christ, all would have the Church as their Mother.”
        As you know in the real world this notion has not exactly panned out -properly orthodox Catholic Spain under Franco comes to mind for example- one can perhaps even wonder why the most menacing and evil government developed particular in the ‘predominantly catholic European heartland of Italy, Spain and Germany?
        Fundamentalism and Orthodoxy in my view are actually part of the problem and not the solution at all. In the real world, real humans actually seem to have quite some difficulties bridging a strong personal religious conviction with the need to deeply respect the fellow brother and sister who -certainly in a global context- predominantly does not share ones faith.
        That is not much different from biblical times when it took the Messiah to point out that the accepted status quo of Jewish orthodoxy and deep disrespect for the non-believer was actually not o.k.
        Non of us should get onto too high of a horse here -we all have plenty of ‘Dreck amd Stecken’ as they say in my native Germany. In reality it is a good assumption to expect saintly humans equally distributed throughout the world and its various cultures, religions, convictions. Plenty of saintly atheists to ballance the properly cathecised catholic jerks. And yes plenty of liberal catholic jerks and saintly orthodox. In other words the border between heaven and hell does not run through any coherent group but is a highly individualized affair. And – come to think of it -that sort of view cuts to one of the inner catholic problems we all seem to have which each other.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          October 25, 2012 10:37 am

          But that doesn’t speak to the “ideal”. I’m saying that Catholicism teaches it it the one true faith, no other religion is a real way to commune with the divine. Thus, if everything was perfect (and we know its not, since the Garden) there would be no other religions. Franco’s Spain wasn’t an attempt to set up a properly Catholic State, it was an attempt to build a bulwark against the Reds and if Catholicism was useful to that end, then lets use it. The Nazis were intentionally anti-Catholic/Christian and cultishly pagan. Mussolini’s fascist government was also anything but an attempt to build a Catholic society. If there truly was no non-Catholic religions and the whole world was Catholic, there would be no Statist or Fascist governments that are, in reality, profoundly liberal and anti-clerical/Catholic.

          Jesus said he that believes and is baptized will be saved and that he who does not believe will be condemned. He was ushering in a new and eternal covenant, the old was a foreshaddowing of the new. Jewish “orthodoxy” was supposed to point to his coming, but they didn’t know the time of their visitation.

          You are correct in that salvation is partly individual. It is not up to us to judge individuals fate. We do not know if the “saintly” atheist is invincibly ignorant, but we do objectively know that we are not saved by our own human merit and that the Church was given the Great Commission to convert the world to Christ.

    • October 24, 2012 6:45 pm

      I’ve often been tempted to fundamentalist Islam, turmarion. I’ve been accused of seeing Islam as “everything Christianity might apostasize from” (or which it already has). Perhaps it is the wave of the future. The truest religion is that which people are MOST willing to die for.

      • October 25, 2012 9:05 pm

        I appreciate your honesty, Sinner. Not that it necessarily has to do with what religion is true, but I strongly suspect that people’s temperaments have a greater influence on what religions or philosophies appeal to them than they’d like to think. Logic, careful weighing of truth claims, and such, perhaps move us less than we think. Honestly, the older I get, the more I’m aware that my temperament is far, far more strongly Dharmic (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh) than Abrahamic. The older I get, the more I find in the Abrahamic faiths that is frustrating, obnoxious, odious, or just totally wack. If it were not that I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus and that I am more powerfully drawn than I can easily express to the idea of the infinitely loving God who loves us so much that He dies for us in all our nastiness, even while we’re still sinners, I’d have nothing to do with Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. It seems to me that for whatever reason, the central message of these faiths has a very high propensity to get overlaid with jihads, crusades, violence, intolerance, and all other kinds of nastiness, to a degree beyond what you see in most other traditions (which are not clean as driven snow, either, of course).

        The truest religion is that which people are MOST willing to die for.

        I disagree. First, the more people are willing to die, the more they seem willing to kill, too, historically speaking. Second, there have been zealots willing to die (and kill) for all kinds of horrors. Does that make the People’s Temple or Heaven’s Gate or the Branch Davidians even truer than Christianity or Islam?

      • digbydolben permalink
        October 26, 2012 7:14 am

        With that, I think you’ve said just about enough for everyone to understand that your “religion” is a psychosis. The “truest religion” is the one by which one can live and help other to live, no matter what their creed or confession. Others here have attempted to “dialogue” with you because they apparently feel that something of Christ’s message can be salvaged from your cruel zealotry. I don’t feel that that is possible, because you are, in point of fact, an idolator–an idolator of an institution that is at least half human, and subject to human failings and which, being human, CANNOT possess the fullness of “Truth”; only God can do that, and the Catholic Church is not God. Idolatry of your kind, which is, indeed, similar to that of the jihadists, leads inevitably to DEATH, because it cuts itself off from nature and nature’s God.

  15. Ronald King permalink
    October 24, 2012 9:33 am

    Turmarion and Julia, for what it’s worth, I agree with you. My problem with the Pope’s statement is his vagueness when making the statement about Nostra Aetate. However, the ambiguity of that statement does bring to light what is in our hearts. In regard to religious freedom, it appears that the freedom he discusses is the freedom which occurs internally when we are freed from our delusions and attachments to our identities formed from our relationships with the people and systems of this world as a source of our meaning and our actions. The martyrs were free even though they were tortured to death. JP II was free even though he lived in a communist country.
    Pope Benedict stated, “”Holiness is not confined by cultural, social, political or religious barriers. Its language, that of love and truth, is understandable to all people of good will and it draws them to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of new life.”

  16. Dave permalink
    October 24, 2012 11:43 am

    Presumably, the Pope is trying to make a distinction between religion that promotes the common good, and the flourishing of people, and those that cause strife, division, intolerance and hatred. But a question that must come up is “are even the sick and distorted religions afforded religious freedom”. These are important and very relevant questions that are not easily answered but should cause all of us to think hard about our own Faith and how it intersects with others and the common good – including others with different religions.

    • October 24, 2012 8:36 pm

      But a question that must come up is “are even the sick and distorted religions afforded religious freedom”.

      Yes. I’ve said in the past that there are not infinite limits–e.g. it would be acceptable to take action against a religion that practiced human sacrifice, or something like the People’s Temple. Short of massive danger of this sort, or gross violation of the civil law, all religions, regardless of what we may think of them, should be afforded religious freedom. Period.

      • October 25, 2012 12:46 pm

        Again, you can’t act all high and mighty as if you’re taking some grand absolute stance on principle, when in reality, by the very fact of admitting any exceptions, you are actually conceding the principles, and the disagreement then just becomes one of where the line is to be drawn, which is a prudential judgment about relative proportionality.

        • October 26, 2012 8:19 pm

          If my prudential judgement is that we should stay back from the edge of the cliff, and yours is that you can tap dance on the very edge, and you fall to your death, the fact that we both made “prudential judgements” doesn’t mean mine isn’t right and yours wasn’t wrong, objectively. My prudential judgement is that except in very, very narrow cases (human sacrifice), religious oppression is always and everywhere wrong. That it may be a prudential judgement doesn’t mean it’s not (in my view) always and everywhere right.

          Part of my process of determining the prudential judgement is that there be as few acceptable instances of religious oppression as possible. If you wanted to put it in double-effect language (which I don’t, but still), I’d say it’s intrinsically wrong to suppress or prevent someone’s freedom of conscience, and that situations of preventing, say, human sacrifice are preventing the greater evil the only way possible while foreseeing (but not intending) the evil of religious suppression. It has to be a far greater evil you’re combating, in the same way that you remove a leg because of gangrene or cancer, not because of a sprained foot!

          You don’t seem to think that such oppression of conscience is an intrinsic wrong, so for you it’s not necessarily about the lesser evil or keeping incidences of such suppression as few as possible. That’s where I take issue with your analysis.

        • October 27, 2012 2:10 pm

          Incorrect, and I’ve said this before. In fact, I do recognize freedom as a good (politically and otherwise) among other goods. It’s limitation is thus in one sense an evil. However, “among other goods” is the thing.

          Society is always balancing goods, limiting some for others (freedom vs. order, freedom vs. equality, etc). In the eschaton the Gordian knot will be cut, since these values will not contradict, but in this fallen world…

          The irony is, I probably don’t disagree with your practical conclusions that much. But as I’ve said, I have deep suspicion of the sources and authorities of yours.

          My position sees all the political values (freedom, order, equality) as values and won’t absolutize any one. I consider this the “holistic” view of Goods or value; no one has any sort of absolute priority, various goods are irreducible.

          So people are free to debate on how to weigh and prioritize them and it may be contextual or with no one right answer as long as the conclusion is arrived at in a “procedurally” correct manner.

          Your position seems to have been arrived at through the dogmas of Liberalism (only vaguely Christianized through your “image of God” connection) which give an ABSOLUTE priority to freedom over the other political values, and thus is required to parse any limits on freedom in terms of protecting other people’s freedom only (but never for any other values).

          In practice your conclusion is certainly tolerable and not far off from my own. But how it is arrived at is “procedurely” problematic, and this leads to huge differences in attitudes over time, I sense.

        • October 27, 2012 5:31 pm

          Just to be clear: I’m not saying freedom as such such is an absolute value. In fact, I think our culture has made an idol of it, in many ways. There are areas (for example, the massive proliferation of pornography and the pathological behavior of the NRA) in which I think it is manifest that obsessive quests for ever more freedom have had very bad effects on society. It’s freedom of conscience with respect to religion that I’m talking about. That freedom I would say trumps everything but the most extreme and concrete considerations.

          As to your suspicion of my sources, well, people will differ there. To use your language, it’s a matter of prudential judgement how much we can legitimately appropriate from the pagan, secular, or non-Christian societies around us, be they 2nd Century Romans and Greeks, 5th Century feudal Germans, or 18th Century French philosophes. People of good will inevitably will disagree as to how much can be “baptized” from these sources and others. I tend to be more suspicious of certain pre-modern sources, and you of the post-Enlightenment milieu. We’re each probably partly right and partly wrong. In any case, we pays our money and takes our chances.

        • October 28, 2012 9:40 am

          “It’s freedom of conscience with respect to religion that I’m talking about. That freedom I would say trumps everything but the most extreme and concrete considerations.”

          Again, you’d have to define “religion” here, and “conscience.” It seems to me these might be artificial categories.

          For example, all education involves inculcating beliefs (as all knowledge requires accepting some authority on faith, albeit not necessary supernatural faith).

          Yet, no one cries “freedom of conscience” when a school fails a kid for not properly internalizing the belief that George Washington was the first president of the United States.

          There are rewards and punishments our society gives people for having the right or wrong beliefs or the right or wrong desires ALL THE TIME. If someone says, “It’s my religion that I get to take stuff for free from stores!” how is this different? Or (to use an example you have done similarly) an engineer who says, “The Bible says pi is exactly 3!” And how DO you handle Creationists within public school science curricula trying to teach evolution?? Some of this stuff suggests that the line between “religious belief” and knowledge/belief about the world IN GENERAL…is artificial.

          “As to your suspicion of my sources, well, people will differ there. To use your language, it’s a matter of prudential judgement how much we can legitimately appropriate from the pagan, secular, or non-Christian societies around us, be they 2nd Century Romans and Greeks, 5th Century feudal Germans, or 18th Century French philosophes. People of good will inevitably will disagree as to how much can be ‘baptized’ from these sources and others.”

          That’s not really the question, though. You’re not “baptizing” the sources with reference to the Church, rather you are “secularizing” the Church with references to the sources, it seems to me, in terms of which direction your judgment works. You’re reading the Church through their light rather than them through the Church’s light.

        • October 28, 2012 8:14 pm

          I actually have had students tell me, when I was teaching science, that they objected to evolution. I told them 1. that is in the state standards for science, 2. it is part of the course and is there whether they like it or not, 3. there is no necessary conflict between science and religion, properly understood, and 4. their beliefs on their own time are their business, but if they want to pass the course, they need to give the correct answers, not the answers their church gives.

          Beyond that, you’re being pedantic. To say that we can’t ever reeeealy define “conscience” or “religion” or draw clear lines is the argument of the beard. If I start plucking hairs out of my beard one by one, there’s no clear point at which I suddenly cease to have a beard. To say therefore that it’s impossible to distinguish between one of the guys from ZZ Top and a clean shaven face is the fallacy. That a category has fuzzy boundaries doesn’t mean that it’s not clear enough for most practical purposes. I think most people know perfectly well that you don’t get to shoplift or pass engineering if you think π = 3, and that “freedom of religion” doesn’t cover such cases. I’ve told you my parameters many, many times–I don’t see how it’s not clear. I’m not saying there aren’t hard cases–do we allow use of drugs in a religious context? What about Christian Scientists and medical care of sick children? These aren’t easy. However, one can’t use such hard cases to say that it’s OK, even in principle OK to burn heretics, have a confessional state, etc.

          As to principles, I wonder if some of the brutality of the Middle Ages was a “paganizing” of the Church, rather than a baptism of paganism.

        • October 29, 2012 6:14 pm

          The middle ages were no more brutal than any other age, and in some spheres a great deal less. I also don’t know where your absolute condemnation of “confessional States” is coming from. Not supporting the burning of heretics qua heretics I understand, and may even agree on (I’m still working that out in my head, in and through these discussions). But a confessional State is something a lot less menacing or gut-level revolting, isn’t it? I mean, many Western European countries have (palsied) established churches still, yet I don’t think liberals object to Scandinavia or to the idea that a Lutheran bishop of some sort carries out the coronation of their king and gets some money from the State, or to the idea that Orthodox Rabbis control the marriage laws in Israel, etc.

          As for “if they want to pass the course, they need to give the correct answers, not the answers their church gives,” I can’t believe I’m reading this from you, actually.

          What if all the Public schools were run by the Church (private schools would still be tolerated) and all the kids had to take a religion class (if you want to opt out, then pay for the private school!), and we told them, “Yeah, go ahead and believe what you want on your private time, but that won’t stop us from failing you, affecting your chances to go to college and join the ruling class, etc etc.” I wouldn’t advocate, in the modern world, anything more coercive than that! Indoctrination works much better than active persecution anyway (which often tends to only strengthen people in their resolve.)

          There are many ways for the State to throw its authority behind values besides actively punishing people as criminals for not holding them. And indeed, in most cases, it seems in practice like the values of society become whichever the State throws its legitimacy behind, even if it is nothing more than lipservice, even if it’s nothing more than Father State looking up from his newspaper and saying, “Listen to your Mother, children.”

          Yet would this not be a massive institutional structure of “[educational] coercion”?? Yet how is it distinct from your policy other than that yours dealt with a religious objection to an empiricist/materialist philosophy, whereas a religion class would be religion-on-religion? What is the principle behind the trivial distinction THERE?

        • October 29, 2012 7:23 pm

          The age of the earth as billions, not thousands, of years is a demonstrable fact. Likewise, while we don’t know everything there is to know about the origins of life, no one who understands the science doubts evolution. Surely you’re not a young-Earther? We debated polygenesis, but you don’t deny evolution as such, right? Saying, “Believe what you want on your own time, but you have to give the correct answers to pass the course,” is much more irenic than saying, “Your faith teaches you untruths” or “Your religion is scientifically illiterate and believes moronic hogwash”, don’t you think? That’s nothing at all like a postulated school system controlled by religious groups mandating teaching religious doctrine for all.

          Turn it around–you’ve taught, are going into education, right? What if you had a student who believed the Earth was flat, or that the sun orbited it, or fill in any absurdly and demonstrably false proposition, on the basis of his religion. What would your response be?

        • October 30, 2012 12:48 pm

          But trusting empirical science and accepting its authority as “fact” is a philosophical belief, a particular epistemology not everyone holds. But, the State and its schools hold and indoctrinate based on that philosophical judgement (and that’s just fine, in this case, as I agree with science.)

          What would I say? I’d say “well, science says otherwise, and this class and school recognize the authority of science in this sphere and operate according to that philosophy’s principles.”

          But for me that’s unproblematic, as I’M fine with public institutions operating according to certain philosophies and upholding certain truth-claims and authorities. And since the Church recognizes Science’s authority in this sphere too, I’m all for it! Go right ahead and fail kids who won’t likewise at least pay lipservice to the principles of that truth-source, that epistemological authority.

          But as someone who claims to NOT support forcing the acceptance of various truth systems or authorities on people…it seems mighty coercive!!

        • October 30, 2012 5:47 pm

          See post at bottom.

  17. crystal permalink
    October 24, 2012 2:53 pm

    I think most religions do ideally promote the common good and the flourishing of people, including Islam, but that the way the religious institutions or individuals act isn’t always in accordance with those stated ideals. For instance, how does covering up sex abuse promote the common good, a non-Catholic might ask – does that mean Catholicism is a sick religion?

    About religious freedom, it’s one thing to allow a religion to believe and even to teach anything it wants to, but in a pluralistic society, there can’t be the religious freedom to harm others through acts.

  18. Jordan permalink
    October 24, 2012 4:54 pm

    Graeme Wood’s article (via Rod Dreher, via Tumarion) has reminded me why I am no more, and will never again be, a religious fundamentalist. Any religious fundamentalism at the root is the compensatory “belief” or “faith” of persons filled with self-hate and self-loathing. Religious fundamentalists attempt to protect themselves from their inner demons by projecting the same demons onto every person and situation they encounter. The “diabolical” actually resides in the fundamentalist’s psyche and not in an absolutely contrary-to-fact and utterly delusional manichean world in which “true believers” are pitted against an irrevocably debased society.

    Wood’s earnest Salafis have constructed their own delusional alt-narratives. Wood’s candid observations of the Salafis’ relationships with other people betray the profound daylight between the fundamentalist’s psychotic funfair and life actual. The Salafi clique’s woman abduction scheme in particular implicitly speaks volumes about their profound social maladaptation. I strongly suspect that a fear or inadequacy with regard to human friendship and intimacy overshadows the Salafis’ rabid hatred. Intimacy, and especially adult consensual sexual intimacy, requires a complete surrender to another and an Other. Intimacy requires an unreserved acceptance of the fragility of another human being, his or her sins, his or her past. No person will ever escape the fiery anathemata of the Salafis. Are their condemnations worth self-fulfilling social isolation?

    Religion has become “unmanageable” whenever a person is impelled to hate his or her deepest and most constitutive desires in order to maintain a real or imagined doctrinal ideal or “win” the approval of a deity or human authority figure. This latter term “unmanageable”, often heard in twelve step programs, implies that religion itself is not the source of sickness. Rather, the misapplication of belief and faith creates a dual-headed hammer which crushes the hate-filled person’s psyche while he or she crushes others with hateful and exclusive statements.

    When I threw off the weight of Catholic fundamentalism, I suddenly realized that I could not only bear social stigma, but bear it more proudly and with more courage. Why? When one intimately knows his or her untouchability, no curse carries any sting.

    • October 25, 2012 12:57 pm

      Oh how ridiculous. If non-fundamentalists are so secure in themselves, why should the ravings of fundamentalists “crush” them??

      Psychologizing people is patronizing. I’m a fundamentalist because I choose to be, on a completely free choice not reducible to any other motives (other than grace).

      That is the very nature of free choice, that it utterly subsumes into self-agency any other causes external to the self which, prior to the process of free will, might have been seen as contributing. In other words, it is an “irreversible encryption” which totally erases any of the original input, any other cause-attributions, and makes them irrelevant under the “black box” concept of will alone. For will alone is supreme.

      Anyone who does not view their choices this way is in bad faith, and not truly free.

      Every idol will be destroyed.

    • Ronald King permalink
      October 25, 2012 1:56 pm

      Jordan, I totally agree with what you have stated, especially about repressed self-hatred and the formulation of a fundamentalist view. What you have described is the dynamic which analysts name the “basic fault”. This occurs quite commonly in western cultures where there is an early emphasis placed on independence for the developing child. Wlhen there is a break in a safe rewarding attachment to one or both parents, due to the influence and integration of an individualistic and narcissistic value system, the child will experience an absence which is integrated into the construction of the foundation for the child’s identity. This absence or void creates a state of chronic anxiety which also must be prevented from being exhibited due to the danger of possible further damage to the fragile relationship with the parents. The belief begins to develop that she or he is made wrong and there is nothing which can fix this person. A false self is then developed to interact with the world and the vulnerable self becomes hidden for protection from possible threats.
      Those who have high intelligence and have had their identities constructed through these dynamics have an extremely complicated and impenetrable wall of defense which can only be deconstructed through divine intervention or through risking being vulnerable and open as you have demonstrated in the past. They must look inside and see what is in them that needs to be loved. Fear prevents this from happening.

    • October 25, 2012 9:23 pm

      Excellent post!

    • Jordan permalink
      October 26, 2012 2:21 pm

      A Sinner [October 25, 2012 12:57 pm]: For will alone is supreme. Anyone who does not view their choices this way is in bad faith, and not truly free. Every idol will be destroyed.”

      Rather, we are our own idols. We must continuously destroy our false conceptions of self and rebuild ourselves despite extreme confusion and vulnerability. You, I, and no person has mastery over the will. Fundamentalism, which is a chronic fear of intellectual independence as Ronald [October 25, 2012 1:56 pm] has noted, disables a person’s ability to profit from risk.

      Again, per Ronald, only the willingness to make the self vulnerable heals self-hatred. This concept is utterly paradoxical but crucially liberating. When a person seizes and exalts his or her most vulnerable aspects, then the healing and growth towards self-acceptance begins.

      The greatest day of my life was when I said, “I am vulnerable because of my sexuality”. At that point, I gradually became aware of the needs of others, as the space taken up by self-hatred filled with charity and selflessness. The path to self-respect must pass through the annihilation of the false “fundamentalist self” who appears strong and powerful but is less powerful than even the greatest despair.

      • October 26, 2012 7:26 pm

        I guess I can’t exactly call witnesses here, but trust me, I’ve exposed myself to emotional vulnerability constantly, including in (especially in!) the fields you seem fixated on or traumatized by.

        Indeed, I would stand with Kierkagaard in saying that ONLY a “Knight of Faith” is capable of doing this. Only zealots can be hopeless romantics.

        Indeed, the example I’d proffer of how “fundamentalism” AND this sort of vulnerability are compatible (and, indeed, mutually necessary) is the same Kierkegaard offers: Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac in the sheer absurdity of that obedience.

        • October 26, 2012 7:36 pm

          Basically, my opinion is that we must be willing to give up our loved ones to the flames, to damnation, yet without giving up our love or hope (not just for the next world, but indeed in this). Like Abraham with Isaac. Only then will salvation come, not just for us, but for our loved ones too (God stays the knife only in our willingness to slay/sacrifice, not a moment sooner.) This is how I’m also a “soft universalist.”

        • October 27, 2012 1:58 pm

          I tried to read Fear and Trembling, and the part about Abraham is where Kierkegaard lost me. I just think his take is cracked.

          I submit this story from the Mahabharata (from here), with my emphasis. Briefly, Yudhisthira and his family are the good guys, who have been noble and righteous throughout the epic, and Duryodhana and his family have been the evil antagonists:

          Indra [king of the gods] took Yudhisthira to heaven in his chariot. As soon as he stepped into heaven, he was surprised to see Duryodhana there and he asked Indra how a person like him could be in heaven Yudhisthira couldn’t see Draupadi [his wife] and his brothers anywhere and he questioned Indra about them. Indra called a guard and asked him to take Yudhisthira to his brothers and Draupadi. The guard took Yudhisthira through a foul-smelling path strewn with the bodies of dead animals. Yudhisthira was finding it very difficult to follow the guard but did not say a word. Suddenly, he heard some cries and familiar sounds. He heard a voice saying , ” I am Bhima” and another one said, “I am Abhimanyu.” Yudhisthira realised that his brothers and wife were in hell. Furious to see his loved one suffering he said, “I have no right to live in heaven while my loved ones are suffering here.”

          Suddenly, Dharmaraja appeared and the foul smell changed to a sweet fragrance. He blessed Yudhisthira and said that he had put Yudhisthira through a test by showing him that his brothers and Draupadi were suffering in hell. Since Yudhisthira had decided to stay with them in hell. Dharmaraja had come to bless Yudhisthira in person. He continued, saying, “None of your loved ones are in hell. This is just an illusion to test you. You have always been an ideal king and it is essential for you to see the suffering people go through in hell.” Yudhisthira was delighted to hear that his brothers and Draupadi were in heaven and he joined them there.

          Yudhisthira displays a greater nobility in this test, IMO, than does Abraham, or the knight of faith, or one will to consign his loved ones to Hell in the hope that they might possibly be redeemed, anyway.

        • October 27, 2012 7:36 pm

          It’s not a “might possibly.”

          As wikipedia summarizes:

          “Kierkegaard’s Silentio contrasts the knight of faith with the other two, knight of infinite resignation (infinity) and the aesthetic ‘slaves.’ Kierkegaard uses the story of a princess and a man who is madly in love with her, but circumstances are that the man will never be able to realize this love in this world ever. A person who is in the aesthetic stage would abandon this love, crying out for example, ‘Such a love is foolishness. The rich brewer’s widow is a match fully as good and respectable.’ A person who is in the ethical stage would not give up on this love, but would be resigned to the fact that they will never be together in this world. The knight of infinity may or may not believe that they may be together in another life or in spirit, but what’s important is that the knight of infinity gives up on their being together in this world; in this life.

          The knight of faith feels what the knight of infinity feels, but with exception that the knight of faith believes that in this world; in this life, they will be together. The knight of faith would say ‘I believe nevertheless that I shall get her, in virtue, that is, of the absurd, in virtue of the fact that with God all things are possible.’ This double movement is paradoxical because on the one hand it is humanly impossible that they would be together, but on the other hand the knight of faith is willing to believe that they will be together through divine possibility.”

          “In the same paradoxical act of committing murder, which would humanly kill off his son, Abraham believed, through virtue of the absurd, he would still have his son alive and well. Abraham was willing to risk everything for God. He was willing to act and in his action he received the highest good, his eternal happiness.”

          It can only be a paradox. We have to give up hope to maintain hope, and have Faith in many going to Hell in order to have the same in everyone getting to Heaven. This is a “structural” part of the Christian logic. Abraham’s choice to submit to the death of Isaac coincided with a faith in having him alive, a mutually contradictory belief; but that’s Faith. It’s leaping beyond your silly little dialectics into the absurdity of the Divine.

          “The more you love someone, the more you want to kill him.” This isn’t just a tongue-in-cheek line from Avenue Q. Anyone who does not understand the paradox regarding the nature of desire and the will that it represents.

          In fact, if you want to talk about Eastern religions, this was written by a philosopher I greatly admire, that gets at what I’m talking about I think:

          “Perhaps this is what interests me about Buddhism, the teaching that desire is the cause of suffering, and that it must be extinguished. In this case, the desire is represented by a candle. But I think, for me, I am not a Buddhist because desire is not, ultimately, a candle. It is the object of desire that burns brightly, whereas desire is utterly dark.

          My attraction to Buddhism is that it teaches that the human is ontologically empty. I suppose I began to consider my identity as empty as well. As I’ve said before, I feel, at times, like the shape of a shell, or a mere open curvature. But I’m not sure Buddhism even admits the container in which the insatiable void of desire could be hosted.

          But what if desire can not be extinguished because it isn’t a flame, but a space? Then, the maxim desire = suffering would take a very different picture. It is the object of desire that would have to be extinguished, the thing that attracts us, if there is to be peace.”

          It is only the absurdity (yes, the monstrosity) of the Divine which can solve this, but that absurdity can only exist in the “Abrahamic” tension of wishing Isaac dead and believing he will live, of loving humanity so much that you can only wish humanity destroyed by the destruction which is Hell (yet, in that very renunciation, getting everything back in return; “If you lose your life, you will save it” and all that).

          There is a story that people who jump off the Golden Gate bridge and survive don’t try it again, because in their head they have already crossed the threshhold. Psychologically, they have already committed suicide, and it is really THAT “breaking,” the “crossing through the veil,” in their mind which matters. When they do survive then, they’re already on the other side.

          I don’t know if that’s true about jumpers, but either way it makes for a good image of how the spiritual life is supposed to be, what “death to self” (and to The World) means. It means going forward with actually NO objective certainty (such as Faith might give, even) of any particular outcome and yet having ABSOLUTE subjective certainty in the form of ones free and total choice. It means jumping off the cliff NOT already knowing that God is going to catch you (in fact, assuming He won’t), but doing it anyway in total trust.

        • October 28, 2012 12:46 pm

          My response to this is at the bottom, since the boxes are getting too narrow.

  19. David Agnew permalink
    October 25, 2012 8:31 am

    One might think the Pope just watched this video:

    But in all seriousness, while we are to be critical, constantly reforming ourselves, and willing to admit others have errors which need to be reformed, this idea that religions is “negative” is a very modern, and dangerous ideology. It’s taking secularism and approving it and saying “we are not a religion, everyone else is.” It’s something I’ve seen Christians try, but not just Christians, you can find it in many religious traditions. It’s a very telling and sad sign when religion is seen as a negative from the head of a religion itself.

    To say “we are a faith, not a religion” is just equivocation going on. Christianity has always seen itself as a religion — indeed, the term itself as we know of it came from Christian missionaries. The idea of religion as religion is a Christian conception and it is used to help promote the good in other religions traditions. Yes, in the other traditions you have negative issues which must be worked out — Aztec human sacrifices are not acceptable — and Nostra Aetate did not reflect this. But I think the reason is simple: Nostra Aetate is rejecting secularism and its rejection of religion.

    Pope Benedict has been critical of secularism. But you know, with apologetics, often one begins to be shaped by one’s opponents. Sadly, it seems this is what we have here.

  20. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    October 26, 2012 1:56 pm

    “for this reason the Christian faith, from the outset, adopted a critical stance towards religion, both internally and externally.”

    There would seem to be no historically coherent way to understand this statement. Nor the very fact that the person writing it — if we take as evidence historical matters like the Charlie Curran Affair- somehow could avoid the descriptor “fundamentalist” in reference to his own tradition.

    • October 26, 2012 7:31 pm

      All the Statement means is that Christianity has not been afraid to sit in judgment (“take a critical eye towards”) of belief, both external belief systems, and beliefs which cropped up within the church. Sometimes there was appropriation or acceptance as spirit-inspired, other times there was condemnation as pagan folly or heresy. The Church has been constantly critical of belief and religion, both non-Christian and Christian).

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        October 27, 2012 5:05 pm

        Do you mean to say, mutatitis mutandis, that an Auto-da-Fe should be now considered a “form of critique”.

        There is a practical relevance to such ways of thinking, related to recent headlines. Catholic historians have been hard at work in recent decades trying to erase any real meaning to anything historically it seems in may ways. Now it would seem that tendency is bearing terrible fruit. They can’t even get, for instance, decent people to agree in contemporary settings that someone like JZ Knight’s lunatic and evil rantings against the Catholic Church and its members are beyond the pale. If the Catholic Church’s mistakes like destroying pagans and their temples are not to be seen in a truly critical fashion now, but only that destroying a pagan temple was a “form of critique”— then how in the world world can they get people to condemn people like JZ Knights lunatic calls to “destroy St. Peter’s” Temple (!!–as if it were a pagan temple).

        Btw the way, this is very first time I have agreed with the American Papist thomas Peters on anything, per his story on this crazy harridan.

        • October 28, 2012 9:42 am

          We condemn JZ Knights’ call while not condemning the pagan-temple-destruction…because we believe Catholicism is right and paganism is wrong. Is it a double standard? Yes, entirely! But so what? We believe the two things are different, and have two different standards; the True Faith should be protected, whereas error has no rights.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          October 28, 2012 10:33 pm

          A sinner,

          There is a Dominican with a show on EWTN called “Both Servant and Free” that is making a point similar to yours here. He is a cross between Friar Tuck and Jack Benny. I understand the etiology, believe me, all too well. But it is just schtick. The whole epicene lot of priests and theologians would not last one minute under some Inquisitor’s scorn in Salamanca. It is just American schtick and group identity. That is what I have come to understand. Kind of like rooting for the Yankees or the Cardinals. Nada mas….

        • October 28, 2012 10:46 pm

          See, after all the nuances and complexities and more irenic statements, you come out with something like this–smashing all those temples was OK, and error (which of course means everything non-Catholic) has no rights. See why some of us get a little edgy about your belief system?

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          October 28, 2012 10:54 pm

          Some evidence: If Archbishop Carranza the chief ecclesiastic of Spain could be arrested for “error” and imprisoned, I doubt you or Fr. Jack Benny the dominican would escape. The whole thing is a pose, made possible by the luxuriant freedoms alloted to ya’ll by people far more sage and decent than you are. I think you and Fr. Benny of the “Servant and Free” show might as well take up collecting beanie babies, it is about as serious in a religious sense.

        • October 29, 2012 1:11 pm

          Well I was actually being a bit tongue in cheek there. I can’t think of any cases of “pagan temple burning” by Catholics, nor of any prominent Catholic hierarch who has, in fact, condemned JZ Knight.

          Part of the question we should consider is who owns the temple? Private group on private land? That’s one thing. But if we’re talking about temples which were Public property (State or otherwise)…then who is to say it can’t be destroyed? The collective owns it, the (converted) collective no longer wants it (even if a few individuals still do)…what’s the problem? Historical buildings are sometimes torn down in spite of protest by some.

          But there is a double-standard from our perspective, as this same logic of public property would not apply to churches. Henry VIII confiscating monasteries and martyring the remaining Catholics was wrong, even WITH public support.

          Of course, none of this applies to the good old US of A. All religious property here is conceived as private anyway. But in a world where religion was a Public institution, the partisans of Error have no right to demand that the collective preserve “their” temple, because its not theirs, it is the collective’s.

          I mean, it’s like…if there was a town community center used mainly by a small troupe of actors, and eventually the town bores of them and decided “Nah, we want a public gardens there instead.” The troupe has no right to say “you can’t, that’s OUR community center.” What the community establisheth, the community may take away.

          But the Church, unlike all other religions, is established by God, not man. Church property literally belongs to God, in one sense. Therefore, even if Catholics become a minority population, the State or collective has no right to secularize or alienate the property, from a Catholic perspective.

          A Norse village that converts to Christianity can raze its temple to Thor, because they realizes there is no Thor, and thus the temple belongs to them collectively to do with what they want (but agreement need not be 100%; the stubborn believers have no more right to the COMMUNAL temple than the acting troupe did to the community centre).

          But the churches belong to God. “But what if the community stops believing in Him, like they did with Thor?” Well, too bad, from the Catholic perspective, they’re wrong and so have no right to do it even with a majority.

          I’m sure the Thor believers thought the same thing when most of their neighbors converted. And we’ll see, in the next life, whether we meet a Thor angry about his rights being violated, or a God angry about His.

          The basic point, I suppose: no individual has a “right” to some sort of absolute veto regarding the disposal of communal property. Only a higher power has that, but which higher power has such trumping rights will depend on which you believe in; there will always be a “double standard” in this regard, at least in communitarian settings where God is not just one private citizen among many.

        • October 29, 2012 1:19 pm

          I mean consider when there are two claimants to the throne. The followers of the Pretender don’t acquire some “right” to host their coronations in the traditional spot, or to have their guy live in the palace, from the perspective of the real government. Yet from their perspective they do! And if they’re notion of legitimacy is correct, it’s true, and someday claims could be made.

          This is what “error has no rights” means. It would be silly to establish a government in England which was “neutral” towards whether Elizabeth or the Jacobite claimant was really the monarch, or to act as if the latter (in error, from its perspective) had any rights based on that erroneous claim.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        October 29, 2012 11:20 pm

        A Sinner,

        I don’t even know how to answer that! Not that I think it is at all rational or correct in any way. There are no words.

        But your animadversions did stimulate a memory I had long forgotten, and it relates to your funny notion of “community property” of places of worship. One of my first rips to visit my German grandparents in Duesseldorf was when I was not even an adolescent really. I loved going to all the Baroque Churches in the city, and listening to Mozart. But one large Church near their place was actually closed because it was closed down because it was so close to St. Andreaskirche where my grandparents went, which was run by Dominicans who were entertaining preachers and thus no one went to the other church any more. My grandparents told me that the closed Church had lots of beautiful art in it, which they remembered from many years ago. I came up with the archetypal silly-kid idea, that maybe no one wanted the art, and that maybe if you just asked for it you would get it. My grandfather, who was a wonderful sly old man (on Germany’s International War Reparations Court as Judge), was very amused by my idea. He encouraged me in my equally silly idea that I should write to the Vatican and let them know that I would be willing to take some of the art from that closed church off their hands, as a devout young man from Florida. So I actually wrote to the Vatican!!! Amazingly, we got a reply only a few weeks later!! I wish so much that I had saved that letter– boy do I wish I had it now! I remember a bit of it from memory nearly 40 years later, because my grandfather read it aloud over and over laughing at one particular line. Something like “While we are sure that the intentions which motivated this request are quite good, we do not …..{give away our art].’ It was signed by an Archbishop even, I remember! The moral being that I do not think that any religious group has ever thought about its places as “communal”. In fact the notion of “communal” is a modern creation. It was just “ours” in the more basic sense of “you can’t have it.” And that is what the Archbishop let me know, much to grandfather’s amusement.

        • October 30, 2012 12:34 pm

          But Peter, that’s exactly my point. They wouldn’t give it away to a private individual, because it is the Church’s, it belongs to the community.

          Someday if the gates of hell did prevail, though, and Catholicism were extinct, I assume then that the people of Dusseldorf could make whatever decision they wanted about that Church.

          I also assume that if there were only 100 Catholics left in the world…most places would not recognize a right of these 100 alone to ownership of all the millions of churches, and all that land! From a Catholic perspective, they would, but from even the “common sense” of everyone else, it would seem unreasonable for 100 people to claim all that as “theirs” just because they were the institutional remnant.

          Likewise, in Ancient Rome, should the last pagan priest and his motley little band really have been able to claim all those temples just because they were “still” pagan, when the community as a whole had changed and wanted otherwise? That seems unreasonable, and to be a very “capitalist” notion of corporate ownership.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          October 31, 2012 11:20 am

          A Sinner,

          Ironically, I think you quite misunderstand what is different about the Catholic perspective in light of the history of ideas. Catholicism slowly evolved (yes, evolved, because it did not have it until the 12th century roughly) a notion that ANY concept whatsoever (of ownership, of faith, you name) could be dialectically engaged an an endless continuum between persons and things, including the Deity. What this meant practically is that no concept was fixed, except quasi-juridical ones of the right of the Church to decide what it felt right to decide in any moment. This was a very slippery slope, and Nominalism was its progeny.

          But it has allowed the RC church to be virtually unsinkable in any situation. I see it as something conceived in the mind of some very savvy monks somewhere with a lot of foresight. All these issues of “community” and Property” are utterly besides the point next to this central dialectic. It is why there could be two Catholics like Biden and Ryan with opposed views on virtually everything. It is why the American Bishops can virtually tools of the Republican party and yet somehow feel they are taking a high road. That is why the RC Church will never go away. It is just there. Whether that makes it the proverbial “bad penny” is a matter of perspective.

  21. October 26, 2012 9:20 pm

    It’s not merely belief on a benevolent God, because that belief has clearly admitted the alternate interpretation at some points in history.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Traditional theology says that God’s love is manifested in the eternal torture and punishment of many, perhaps the majority of the human race for all eternity (remember the Gate of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, which says that “love” made it). Even if we hope, in this model, that God saves all somehow, it is as exceptions graciously given; but the policy that many or most of His creatures still deserve to burn in infinite torture for infinity is still there. He just grants exceptions to that policy for everyone, we hope. If such a policy can be reconciled with “love” and “benevolence”, then those words have no meaning. Any interpretation that says they can is, in my mind, horribly, hideously wrong, no matter who said it—St. Thomas, Popes, whoever. I am aware of arguments that such ideas can be reconciled—on my blog I even spoke of one, a book called Hell: The Logic of Damnation. As I said there, it makes the best possible case for that notion; but sufficient cleverness can make an argument that black is white, too, and it’s not too hard to prove algebraically that 1=2. Such arguments, are, of course, wrong.

    However, which axioms we leap TO is the question, as you say. I leap to the axiom of the Church, to Public Revelation, to Faith in the deposit of Faith founded on God’s self-revelation in Christ through the Church made infallible by the Spirit.

    I would tend to see these, aside from God’s self-revelation in Christ, as more qualified than you would. The Astonished Heart and the Romance of the Word by Robert Farrar Capon, though I don’t agree with him completely, pretty much express how I look at it. I’d tend to view Public Revelation and the deposit of Faith, especially infallible statements, as very, very, very narrowly delimited.

    I suspect it’s that you’ve adopted new dogmas into your system (from the “enlightenment”/liberal democracy narrative)

    Pagan antiquity had its faults—lots of them—but the Church took over a lot of its good traits. “Came from paganism” and “antithetical to the Church” are not necessarily synonyms. Likewise, not everything about the Enlightenment was bad, and I think it re-emphasized some things that had to be re-emphasized, and clarified some things that needed clarifying. In short, I think it had a few good ideas.

    I can’t throw out the idea of a confessional State.

    I can. I’d also point out that the Albigensian Crusade and the massacre of the innocents at Montségur was in the 13th Century, long before Protestantism. I don’t think the Cathars were a threat to the state. I still support religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

  22. October 27, 2012 4:50 pm

    “Traditional theology says that God’s love is manifested in the eternal torture and punishment of many, perhaps the majority of the human race for all eternity (remember the Gate of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, which says that ‘love’ made it).”

    It does, yes. It’s why I’ve said I’d rather go to Hell to prove there was one than live in a cosmos where there wasn’t one at all. I could not love a God who wasn’t willing (at least, conditional on my mortal sin) to damn me.

    Such a God would not truly “love” me in any sense I understand, because love means holding accountable, for starters, means accepting the other as responsible and as a truly free agent with the power to reject us. If God has not made a Hell, then God has not made truly made Himself vulnerable (to our rejection), and has not given us true Subjecthood.

    It is your notion of “love” or “benevolence” which objectifies God and Man and which has absolutely no meaning or recognition for me. Love is free, so it’s also hard to see how you reconcile it with your big “free will” push. If love means forcing someone to be happy, then why doesn’t it also include forcing someone to know the truth? That’s essentially what a “hard universalist” God would be doing.

    But of course, we CAN’T force either. I’ve said this before: when Vatican II says we can’t coerce belief, this is a statement of FACT, not a statement of principle. It doesn’t mean that we “shouldn’t” coerce belief. Rather it means that we CANNOT (by the very nature of belief as free) truly ever coerce it. If we are able to “persuade” people by ANY means into belief, this can never actually be “coercion,” because belief by nature is free. The most we can do is change the circumstances by adding rewards and punishments to the scales to make one free choice or the other more or less appealing. But at the end of the day, that’s still free.

    But of course, if we separate ourselves from ontological Good, if we reject that, there can be no goodness in our experience. No good feeling, no good thought, that’s why Hell is so infinitely painful. The only good we still have is our existence. “Why doesn’t God just annihilate the damned?” Ah, but that’s just the thing: we still have the one good of existence, because our existence is based on God loving US (and thus, for that one thing, OUR stance towards Him doesn’t matter). So to suggest that God annihilate the damned “out of love” is actually asking Him to STOP loving them, and thus a contradiction.

    You’ve heard all this before though, I’m sure. You seem to reject it for “emotional” reasons involving anthropomorphic conceptions of God, but it is metaphysically robust when God is understood simply as the ontological Good which is the object of fulfillment of all will, which He is.

    “I’d tend to view Public Revelation and the deposit of Faith, especially infallible statements, as very, very, very narrowly delimited.”

    But the Church doesn’t, and she’s the one who gets to “delimit.” The sort of religious individualism you’re advocating just doesn’t work. If you’re going to play the game, you have to play by the rules. Letting people just run around the soccer field all making up their own rules, or deciding which they like and which they’ll dispense with personally…just doesn’t make for a good game. And if you don’t like soccer, then go join a rugby league. But don’t mess up our soccer game.

    “Pagan antiquity had its faults—lots of them—but the Church took over a lot of its good traits.”

    It did. Post-Christian critiques OF Christianity are a bit different, however. And I’d also add that those pagan values were always viewed through the lens of the Faith. The Faith was the references point or meta-value which these appropriated values were judged FROM and which they were made to conform TO.

    What I feel like you are doing, on the other hand, is standing on a reference point or value EXTERNAL to the Catholic system, and judging the system in light of that rather than the other way around. THIS is the ultimate root of my problem with your sources.

    If you made your critiques from entirely “within” the system, that would be one thing, and could be entirely orthodox (whether or not we agreed on the prudential conclusions). However, standing on some foreign concept or value and judging the Church based on it…is problematic.

    “I’d also point out that the Albigensian Crusade and the massacre of the innocents at Montségur was in the 13th Century, long before Protestantism. I don’t think the Cathars were a threat to the state.”

    Maybe not. I haven’t investigated the particulars too much, actually, but just to advance dialogue I’ll concede the point gratuitously. In this case, at least, what happened was wrong, and should have been seen as such even by Catholic voices at the time. Let’s say this was a case of the principles being either ignored or applied with entirely IMprudent judgment.

    I would still suggest, in such a case, that if we investigated it, the REAL causes or motivations were likely to have been political or socio-economic, and that invoking Church teaching (in a questionable interpretation) was basically a fig-leaf for this.

    Furthermore, this doesn’t change what I said above about the 16th and 17th centuries: that “religion” as punished in heresy was not punishing heresy AS SUCH, as a sincere religious belief, but rather heresy AS treasonous affiliation with rival States.

    Like the Communists in the US in the 50s. If they were punished (informally), it wasn’t for holding some idea in the abstract. It was for the allegiance that associating with that idea reasonably implied; ie, that these people were loyal to the Soviet Union rather than the United States, the “ideological” question being merely a badge or result revealing this POLITICAL identity.

    If you don’t think that a Protestant in Spain was essentially a “sleeper agent” for England (or, likewise, Catholics in England for Spain)…again, I find this naive. Parsing your treasonous allegiance (likely based, actually, on social class) to a hostile foreign power in the form of “religious beliefs” is just an abuse of the name of religion AND conscience.

    Indeed, this is probably why the Romans sacked the Temple. It isn’t because they really CARED whether the Jews believed in the pagan gods or worshipped Caesar (indeed, they tried to be tolerant for a long time), but rather because Jewish “religion” came to just be (in that context) inextricably tangled up with Jewish NATIONALISM and things like the Revolt.

    Now, national self-determination is another question. But, if you’re trying to hold a society together, and people are using “religion” as a rallying cry for secessionist and seditionist movements, I’m not sure it’s possible to condemn “religious persecution” in this context, because it is not religion in the abstract being punished, it’s the political affiliation inseparable from it in some cases, no?

    And sometimes urgency prevents us from being able to play the game of determining the fine distinctions between whether this Wahabi is merely a law-abiding citizen who advocates a World Caliphate only in the abstract through peaceful teaching, whose support for terrorists around the world is merely theoretical, or whether he actually gives concrete aid and comfort to terrorists, or will be a terrorist himself, or would side with them IF it came down to a battle in the streets.

  23. October 27, 2012 6:16 pm

    What I feel like you are doing, on the other hand, is standing on a reference point or value EXTERNAL to the Catholic system, and judging the system in light of that rather than the other way around. THIS is the ultimate root of my problem with your sources.

    Maybe this is where the issue is. For metaphysical reasons (including the great mathematician Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem), I don’t think any system that can be comprehended by finite humans can ever be “closed”—that is, it can never be totally self-contained, perfectly consistent, and completely comprehensive based solely on the internal premises. The only closure or comprehensiveness or consistency would be God Himself; but of course, we can never know God’s essence. Even God can’t do things that are metaphysically impossible, such as creating a married bachelor, or making 2 + 2 = 5. Given that metaphysical closure is impossible at any level less than the ultimate infinity of God qua God, it follows that even He can’t make a perfectly closed, self-contained, perfectly consistent system that can be intelligible to finite humans—not even the Church.

    In this regard, I’d recommend Rudy Rucker’s excellent book, Infinity and the Mind.

    On the other hand, there is no external “objective” standpoint on which a finite human can stand and judge everything else. As I said, we all make epistemological leaps of faith. I tend to view it as a dialectic. We find the “best” position we can, by our lights—for me, it’s the Church—but remain open to outside factors as “correctives”. Since God is the god of everything, He can be found everywhere. I think that if one prayerfully and discerningly “listens”, that one can make certain judgments in regard to one’s own tradition without staying strictly inside its bounds, but without it being a free-for-all, either.

    [If] people are using “religion” as a rallying cry for secessionist and seditionist movements, I’m not sure it’s possible to condemn “religious persecution” in this context….

    Which is why it’s good in our society that people aren’t doing that. In the post-reformation context, it’s understandable, but still wrong, morally speaking.

    It’s why I’ve said I’d rather go to Hell to prove there was one than live in a cosmos where there wasn’t one at all. I could not love a God who wasn’t willing (at least, conditional on my mortal sin) to damn me.

    Well, that’s your metaphysical choice. It’s totally alien to me, as I imagine the inverse is to you.

    If love means forcing someone to be happy, then why doesn’t it also include forcing someone to know the truth? That’s essentially what a “hard universalist” God would be doing.

    I disagree. Von Balthasar, in Dare We Hope All Men Be Saved and Mysterium Paschale, postulates that in the experience of Holy Saturday, God, in Christ, Himself experienced the ultimate alienation—the very Hell of which you speak. From here, my emphasis:

    The most striking chapter of the book [Mysterium Paschale], and certainly the one that has received the most attention, is his description of Holy Saturday. For Balthasar the experience of Holy Saturday is preeminently about the credal phrase descendit ad inferna (Christ’s descent into Hell). While belief in the statement is a matter of dogmatic obedience, the Church has not been clear on exactly what Christ’s going to Hell entailed. Balthasar’s thesis hinges on two given facts. First, in order to redeem man Christ must take on the penalty of death merited by man’s sin. Second, the penalty for sin is not just death of the body, but also death of the soul.
    The experience of Hell is that of abandonment by God. More precisely, the soul has chosen to separate itself from God in the very act of sin. God is both our efficient and final cause, so eternity spent in the absence of this God is greater than any suffering of which we can conceive, and certainly greater than any physical suffering.
    Because Christ in his saving act must go through the entire experience of death, with the eventual result of its conquering, he must not only suffer and die a bodily death, but also must suffer a spiritual death, a death that is the complete abandonment by God. The whole idea becomes more profound when we consider that Jesus is God. As such, his “closeness” to the Father is perfect, and certainly much more intense than our own relationship with the Father. While two separate Trinitarian Persons, they are in fact one God. In this sense, Christ has a much greater loss when he is abandoned by the Father in Hell than any non-divine man could experience. (Note that only in a Trinitarian theology can we even begin to grapple with the idea of God being abandoned by God.)

    Thus, for von Balthasar, God truly, experientially knows what Hell actually is; and on the basis of this He can relate perfectly to the the most debased, alienated sinner. Given His infinite time, resources, ability, and understanding, coupled with His true and infinite understanding of damnation itself, God is ultimately able to non-coercively win over even the most hardened sinners through His infinite love over infinite time and His total solidarity with them. Btw, Balthasar was working from within the system, and was never condemned, and was also JP II’s favorite theologian. In the foreword to later editions of his book, he also took issue with your statement above. He said it puzzled and distressed him how vehemently people opposed him by suggesting that there just had to be a Hell, or the faith was meaningless. I don’t know if you’ve read either of these books, but you really ought to when you have a chance someday.

    Thus, I don’t think I’m being sentimental, or anthropomorphizing God inappropriately or just tossing out what I don’t like. FWIW, I probably go to confession more than most people I know, and obsess more about my flaws and sins. That I intellectually am a universalist doesn’t mean that the deep, gut-level feelings of someone raised in a fundamentalist Protestant milieu isn’t operative at times. I’m certainly not advocating some kind of la-de-da antinomianism. I just can’t accept the view of God you’re describing. It’s really alien to me. In any case, all either of us can do is try to live the best life possible, pray for ourselves, and each other, and everyone, and hope for the best. I don’t think Mary would have given the prayer at Fátima asking Jesus to “lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy” if it weren’t God’s desire and a fairly likely thing to happen.

    • October 27, 2012 6:17 pm

      Ah, HTML. The second blockquoted section is me, not a quote from the link I gave. Sigh.

      [Fixed... - Matt]

    • October 28, 2012 10:07 am

      This is fascinating; it makes me really want to get a hold of some Von Balthasar and read him.

  24. October 28, 2012 10:10 am

    “Maybe this is where the issue is. For metaphysical reasons (including the great mathematician Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem), I don’t think any system that can be comprehended by finite humans can ever be ‘closed’—that is, it can never be totally self-contained, perfectly consistent, and completely comprehensive based solely on the internal premises.”

    The applicability of Godel’s Incompleteness theorem to anything other than strictly syllogistic systems is debateable, and Revelation is not like that.

    Now, I actually sympathize with the “incompleteness” idea nonetheless. I don’t think the Faith is “closed.”

    However, you seem to be applying it very sloppily. The theorem says a mathematical system cannot be both complete AND consistent. You seem to be applying this to the Faith something like “Therefore, the Church can’t be internally consistent!” But, really, the way it is applied to most mathematical systems (besides trivial ones) is that it is recognized that they ARE internally consistent, and that what the theorem proves they lack is “completeness” (because you could always add another axiom.)

    I would never claim the Faith is “complete” in the sense of knowing every possible Truth (or Truth about God). But it IS consistent. Therefore, any “supplementing” you want to do cannot CONTRADICT the Faith.

    “Consistent but not complete” is obviously different than “neither consistent nor complete” which (applied mathematically) would just imply an invalid sloppy system, not some profound metaphysical truth based on Godel.

    “The only closure or comprehensiveness or consistency would be God Himself”

    No. Again, God might be the only thing that has BOTH consistency AND completeness. Even assuming Godel is applicable to philosophy and not just math/strict logic, other systems can, under that theory, have one OR the other.

    Usually, in math, the priority is given to consistency. There is a recognition that there are always other True statements nevertheless non-provable within that system. But the system doesn’t contradict these other true statements or prove the opposite, it just can’t rigorously prove them from its own axioms.

    Seeing Faith as “open” rather than “closed,” is very different from saying it is inconsistent or non-infallible or has ever been wrong. Euclidean geometry is consistent and correct. It’s just that there are other valid non-euclidean geometries (for doing things on the surface of a sphere, etc) that contain Truths it can’t.

    No one is claiming Revelation contains INFINITE Truth. In fact, that’s why we do have this category of “prudential judgment” to decide in cases where the principles themselves cannot actually definitively winnow down this or that interpretation based on the concrete contingent facts.

    “Which is why it’s good in our society that people aren’t doing that. In the post-reformation context, it’s understandable, but still wrong, morally speaking.”

    Again, you’d have to tell me how you’re parsing the distinctions. I might admit it’s wrong if you were really punishing a sincere believer who posed no threat. But when affiliation with an ideology was in reality just a thinly guised POLITICAL affiliation, or totally confused and entangled with such a political affiliation…we have to ask what was “really” being punished; was it the belief, or was it the geopolitical affiliation?

    The Church punished heresy QUA heresy in the Inquisition with excommunication or censure, etc. The State seemed to have not been punishing heretics for beliefs in the abstract, but for the political affiliation with rival States that went along with the beliefs (and the order of the causation for each individual there is unclear; did they become protestant as a political decision, or were their political loyalties because of their independent religious beliefs? And does it even matter?).

    Again, do you really believe that the US was persecuting communists “for their beliefs” in the 20th century? Or by “communists” do we just mean “People who were politically loyal to the Soviet Union rather than the United States” with “communist” affiliation just being a badge coextensive with that political treason?

    In other words, even if punishing “heresy” as such in the abstract is wrong and beyond the scope of the temporal power of the State (something I think can be argued)…is punishing “treason” wrong? Or does punishing treason somehow BECOME wrong just because that treason uses religion as a fig leaf or is coextensive with a particular religious affiliation?

    To get very concrete: do you think the Rosenbergs were martyrs for conscience, for their belief in communism? Or were they criminal traitors (who just happened to have a belief affiliated with their treason)??

    “Well, that’s your metaphysical choice. It’s totally alien to me, as I imagine the inverse is to you.”

    No, as I’ve said before, the inverse is not alien to me at all. I TOTALLY understand your belief and its appeal, including intellectually (not just emotionally). I just think it’s wrong. The fact that the reverse isn’t true for you, that my beliefs are simply “alien” to you suggests to me that I have more knowledge here, because my system understands yours, but your system doesn’t understand mine.

    I’m all for Balthasar, and do dare “hope” that all men be saved. I don’t think it means hard universalism though, and neither did JPII.

    Indeed, your “Infinite time to win non-coercively” thing seems, to me, to imagine a rather objectified notion of Heaven. I think the “afterlife” is not so much something “after” life, but rather is a sort of asymptote we orient ourselves toward even IN this life. Eternity is NOW, in some sense (obviously, the very concept of eternity is an eternal present, not an eternal future). As such, God really DOESN’T have “infinite time” for us. Our final trajectory is determined by THIS life. Positing some infinite after-world of possible redemption is almost a form of reincarnation (its just that the “other lives” are spiritual rather than carnal). But that’s exactly what Christianity rejects in our “scandal of particularity.” We only have one life to life, one finite space within which to make our choice for or against God.

    • October 28, 2012 9:09 pm

      The mathematical analogy wasn’t supposed to be rigorous. As a matter of fact, as I’ve said in the past, I think there are theological inconsistencies in the Church’s teaching, but I don’t feel like beating that dead horse.

      I TOTALLY understand your belief and its appeal…. The fact that the reverse isn’t true for you, that my beliefs are simply “alien” to you suggests to me that I have more knowledge here, because my system understands yours, but your system doesn’t understand mine.

      Invalid. It could be–no offense intended–that you’re crazy! Suppose a madman firmly believes that orange shirts are evil, people who eat asparagus are involved in a plot to hasten the Apocalypse, and that Justin Bieber is the Antichrist. After a long, patient discussion with me, he says, “Well, I can understand your beliefs perfectly well, but you don’t get mine–therefore I have more knowledge, the more comprehensive view!” Well, no–he’s mad! So maybe you do have more knowledge than I; or maybe you’re mad; or more likely, you have a system that seems intelligible to you because you make certain assumptions that I don’t, and which is in my view wrong. That I don’t “get” it says nothing one way or the other about its likely validity.

      I understand that “eternity” isn’t infinite linear time. Of course (I’m plugging the Rudy Rucker book again, and his discussion of Cantor’s transfinite mathematics) there are different levels of infinity–some are more infinite than others. In any case, I don’t think God is limited in the ways we think, and I think He can accomplish what we think is impossible. You yourself have admitted that your system is “monstrous” and that you doubt most people would like to accept it. Majority vote doesn’t make it (or any other system) right. However, I stick by what I’ve said, here, above, and below on this and all the other threads). I’m sure your heart is in the right place, and it’s good that you at least hope and presumably pray for the salvation of all. All we can do is go by the best light we’re given and see what happens in the end.

      • October 29, 2012 6:29 pm

        “The mathematical analogy wasn’t supposed to be rigorous.”

        I’m not sure what the point of it was at all, then. You invoked it as some sort of epistemological argument about the inherent limits of knowledge systems, but in a way that was totally invalid. You seemed to imply it meant that systems can’t be internally consistent. But they can (they just won’t be complete) and in fact science and math put great premiums on their systems being consistent (and, if the logic is checked rigorously, they usually are).

        The Faith thus COULD be internally consistent. It won’t be “complete,” but no one is ever claiming that there aren’t Truths which are not articles of faith or Revealed, of course there are.

        If you believe their are inconsistencies as a matter of fact, fine. But don’t trot out invalid arguments based on mathematical/logical theories to imply that the Faith COULDN’T even be internally consistent, on principle, based on some sort of intrinsic limit to truth-systems…when that’s not what the theorem actually says at all.

        An internally consistent faith is not a logical impossibility. If you find the faith inconsistent, it’s simply because you personally choose to dissent and disagree, not because some grand epistemological reality prevents any system from being internally consistent as a rule, and you should admit this (as it’s a club you’ve swung before). It does, however, take some of the post-modern claws out of your argument.

        “I don’t think God is limited in the ways we think, and I think He can accomplish what we think is impossible.”

        Ah, so now logic is just being thrown out the window entirely. I annoy rationalists with reason long enough, and they always wind up pulling the rug out from under themselves in the end, becoming the most Mystical Mystics of the them all.

        • October 29, 2012 7:42 pm

          What I had in mind with Gödel is that a system always has propositions that cannot be validated from the axioms within the system. X might be true, but it can’t be proved thus from within the system. Infallibility is like this. Why is the Pope infallible? Because Vatican I said so. But why does the fact it said so make it true? Because Ecumenical Councils can rule infallibly. But why can they do so? Because the Tradition says so. Really? There is somewhere in the Fathers or Scripture where it says, in so many words, “Ecumenical Councils are infallible”? Well, no, but that’s the traditional understanding of X, Y, and Z. But according to whom is that traditional understanding true? Well, Tradition…. You see how it goes. No amount of argumentation can demonstrate it. You either make a leap of faith and accept it fully, or partially, or not at all. It can’t be demonstrated from within the system, though.

          If you find the faith inconsistent, it’s simply because you personally choose to dissent and disagree….

          But my disagreement isn’t ipso facto wrong. Greater minds than either of ours have found aspects of Catholic teaching inconsistent. That doesn’t mean Catholic doctrine couldn’t in principle be perfectly consistent (although as I’ve said before I don’t think any system of ethics or beliefs can be expressed in a way that’s totally consistent); just that I think it’s not. It seems to me that the only way to make some of the aspects consistent is if one accepts certain axioms; but to me, that boils down to begging the question. If one, e.g., accepts the idea of a moral object, several other things fall into place; but the idea of a moral object itself is incoherent to me. It seems designed to assume the conclusions it reaches. For that reason (as well as others), I don’t accept it; and thus the teachings seem to have fatal inconsistencies.

          I don’t claim everything has to be totally “logical”. As Chesterton said, the problem with a madman isn’t that he’s not logical, but that he’s only logical. However, if we want to keep strictly to logic, even with a non-linear infinity, you haven’t shown me why God couldn’t in principle eventually (and non-coercively) win over everyone.

          Bottom line: I can admit as a hypothetical possibility that I am making all these arguments out of pure emotion, mauvaise foi as you love to put it, and obstinate refusal to see the truth that’s right in front of me because of my selfish attachment to my own ego and immersion in sinful pride, having blinded myself to the truth. In all truthfulness and honesty, I don’t think that’s the case; but it could hypothetically be so. Can you admit that just possibly, I am trying to be as honest as I can and that according to my own lights I am seeking truth and to the best I am able to discern, honestly and in good faith am persuaded that I’m actually right? Heck, I’ll admit that you could be right; though I don’t think you are. Can you do do the same?

        • October 30, 2012 7:20 pm

          “What I had in mind with Gödel is that a system always has propositions that cannot be validated from the axioms within the system.”

          Well, not exactly. A system has axioms, and the axioms themselves cannot be proven. Likewise, there are statements that are true, but unprovable by any finite set of axioms, etc. I’m not sure if you’d consider such statements propositions OF the system, however, they’re just truths the system doesn’t cover.

          “That doesn’t mean Catholic doctrine couldn’t in principle be perfectly consistent (although as I’ve said before I don’t think any system of ethics or beliefs can be expressed in a way that’s totally consistent)”

          But why?? If not Godel (which DOESN’T prove that), then why. If it’s not “in principle” then why do you go on to say “I don’t think…can be…” ?? That’s a pretty big epistemological assertion! (And the word “can” makes it sound like it IS meant as a statement of principle). It’s not supported by Godel, so what IS it supported by??

          “However, if we want to keep strictly to logic, even with a non-linear infinity, you haven’t shown me why God couldn’t in principle eventually (and non-coercively) win over everyone.”

          He may, in one sense: I have hope that everyone will freely make the choices they need to make, in response to grace, to get to heaven. This is not, in principle, impossible. But it’s impossible to on principle to guarantee because the very concept of freedom means that this, in some sense, is up to us. Human freedom is not infinite, even conceptually, so Hell is a necessary concept as the metaphysical limit on human freedom.

          I’ll answer the other question re: “Can I say the same” later tonight. But short answer: no, that would be tantamount to the mortal sin of doubt. My faith is absolutely certain. Otherwise it’s not faith, just opinion.

    • October 29, 2012 1:55 am

      So you don’t believe in Purgatory? Come on, admit it!–you don’t, or else you find it to be contrary to the sense and temperament of your orthodoxy. Did you know that Aldous Huxley has traced the medieval doctrine of Purgatory (which isn’t, as the Prots say, in the Bible at all) to the influence of Christianity’s first encounters with Buddhism? The temper and spirit of orthodox Catholicism runs away from your dour, Augustinian religion, toward the liberality and joyfulness of Thomism. It’s really high time you found your real spiritual home–in Protestant Fundamentalism and its tempermental affinities with the jihadism you claim to respect so much–the religion which, like yours, is a death cult.

      • October 29, 2012 1:24 pm

        Purgatory doesn’t saved the damned, digby. It isn’t a “second chance” to choose a different trajectory. The trajectory of the Holy Souls is already set.

        • trellis smith permalink
          October 29, 2012 9:13 pm

          I think Robert Capon might disagree with you about second chances
          “The Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world not just those who happen to get their act together and die as perfect peaches. I will not — because Jesus did not — locate hell outside the realm of grace. Grace is forever sovereign, even in Jesus’ parables of judgement. No one is ever kicked out at the end of those parables who wasn’t’ included in at the beginning”.
          I enjoy your juxtaposition of a the eternal and time as the kingdom is not of this world (eternal) and yet the kingdom of God is within you (present) therefore I see no reason why grace is not operative after death. Is grace only temporarily operative. Afterall we pray for the repose of the soul.

        • October 30, 2012 9:40 am

          Excellent, trellis. I like Capon a lot, and I’d recommend his books to all and sundry.

        • trellis smith permalink
          October 31, 2012 4:14 am

          What I like about Capon is that he works under the Reformation sola trifecta of only Grace, only Faith, only Word but is able to veer far from any crippling fundamentalism and arrives at an understanding that posits the radical and scandalous nature of Christianity that doesn’t offer cheap grace but grace that is absolutely get out of jail. free.
          And really nobody believes it, We are taught that we are loved unconditionally and then we immediately start piling on the conditions
          One thing in this regard I have always found almost disheartening in the bible stories, is that after a radical exposition of unconditional non judgmental all forgiving love for the sinner, it always ends with a -, “Go and sin no more “,,
          I sometimes feel it’s an interpolationary sop to avoid scandalizing the pious.

    • October 29, 2012 7:42 am

      I’d add a slight addendum about the Reformation era you keep bringing up. It is true that politics in inextricably entwined with religious affiliation. For example, while Martin Luther had legitimate complaints about the corruption of the Church, it can be cogently argued that the reason the Reformation took off is that he was protected by German princes cynically wishing to get out from under the yoke of the Church for monetary gain. I wouldn’t debate that. What I’d say is that it’s emblematic of a deeper problem even than politics–that is, the Church’s attitude towards dissent. This goes back to the Roman desire for imperial uniformity in religion to insure social unity. The pattern was set when Constantine started intervening in Church councils, and later emperors would banish or suppress heretics. I think this was a bad idea.

      The model for dealing with dissent ought to work like this: If a heretic arises, all efforts at discussion, negotiation, and dialogue ought to be tried. If a rapprochement is reached, then all to the good. On the other hand, if no solution can be reached, then the Church needs to say to the heretic and his followers: “Well, we must regretfully deny you the right to teach in the Church or propagate your doctrines here. You must go. However, go in peace, and if your beliefs are of God, you’ll prosper no matter what we do; otherwise, you won’t. If you ever change your mind and submit to what we believe is correct teaching, you are always free to return. Go in peace.” I am basing this on Gamaliel’s course of action, described in Acts 5:27-42, only without the flogging.

      Had this been the regnant model, it’s more likely that dialogue with Luther would have been successful. If not, it would have avoided the worst nastiness of the Reformation era, since rather than taking shelter behind princes with ulterior motives, Luther could have preached his doctrine freely.

      Of course, I guess the downside of such an approach would be that it might result in dozens, hundreds, or thousands of different groups all claiming to be the “true” Church…oh, wait–we have that already, only with lots more bloodshed for a couple of centuries there.

      Thus, I’m not saying that the Reformation era as it actually was could have been much different given the underlying situation; I think that all the religious treason stuff shows that the whole model of dealing with dissent and heresy was wrong to begin with, and set in motion the forces that shed so much blood.

      Regarding the Rosenbergs: Guy Fawkes was going to blow up Parliament. I’m sure he was sincere in his beliefs as a Catholic, and to that extent a martyr for his beliefs; but that doesn’t exclude that he committed treason (from the perspective of the State) as well. The Rosenbergs may have sincerely believed that Communism would in the long run make the world a better place, and that in order to do so the current order in the U.S. had to be brought down; that doesn’t preclude that by passing on state secrets they committed treason. They may have been martyrs of conscience (from their perspective), but though I’m no friend of capitalism, I think what they stood for was worse, so I think they were martyrs to the wrong cause (just as the Protestants thought Fawkes’s cause was wrong) and got what they deserved. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and; and one can be a real martyr to a mistaken or even evil cause.

      • October 29, 2012 7:47 pm

        “It is true that politics is inextricably entwined with religious affiliation. For example, while Martin Luther had legitimate complaints about the corruption of the Church, it can be cogently argued that the reason the Reformation took off is that he was protected by German princes cynically wishing to get out from under the yoke of the Church for monetary gain.”

        Well, exactly.

        “What I’d say is that it’s emblematic of a deeper problem even than politics–that is, the Church’s attitude towards dissent.”

        I think that’s a bit of a leap. Don’t you think the Church’s attitude towards dissent was exactly BECAUSE it knew that if States could exempt themselves from Her aegis, they would do so, thus destroying the Church’s role as a “United Nations” in Christendom, as the referee everyone could agree upon?

        “Well, we must regretfully deny you the right to teach in the Church or propagate your doctrines here.”

        Where is “here”? Just the church courtyard? But what if the whole village square IS the church courtyard? What if the whole civilization is?

        “it would have avoided the worst nastiness of the Reformation era, since rather than taking shelter behind princes with ulterior motives, Luther could have preached his doctrine freely.”

        I’m pretty sure the princes, itching to be freed to pursue their selfish ends, would have simply then found ANOTHER heretic to serve their purpose.

        “I think that all the religious treason stuff shows that the whole model of dealing with dissent and heresy was wrong to begin with, and set in motion the forces that shed so much blood.”

        But it’s not the Church that started it. Heresy couldn’t be treason until their were blocs of STATES allied based on sect. (This is why I might agree with you about the Cathars, etc). But when you have a Henry VIII dissolving the monasteries and martyring Catholics for the sake of his own political agenda (totally opportunistic, not based on religious conviction at all; in fact, Henry CREATED his heresy in order to justify his political ambitions)…how is it the Church which “started this”? And yet, once the gauntlet is thrown down like that, how are the states which WERE still loyal to a supra-national Christendom supposed to respond to Protestant-traitors in their midst? The heresy was a cloak for politics. Treating heretics nicer wouldn’t have stopped this, the greedy princes would have just found a different cloak!

        “The Rosenbergs may have sincerely believed that Communism would in the long run make the world a better place, and that in order to do so the current order in the U.S. had to be brought down; that doesn’t preclude that by passing on state secrets they committed treason. They may have been martyrs of conscience (from their perspective), but though I’m no friend of capitalism, I think what they stood for was worse, so I think they were martyrs to the wrong cause (just as the Protestants thought Fawkes’s cause was wrong) and got what they deserved.”

        But I AGREE here!!!

        But this is the meaning of “error has no rights.” It means erroneous beliefs don’t create any rights you don’t already have.

        The Rosenberg’s may have thought they were serving a higher calling or value, so from their perspective they thought they had a right to do something (treason) which normally is not allowed. But for the rest of us, who believe that (whatever their subjective belief and/or culpability) they were OBjectively wrong…their subjective belief doesn’t suddenly require the rest of us to recognize or bow down to the requirements of that belief (which a recognition of a “right” based on their erroneous belief would imply).

        On the other hand, from the perspective of one (such as a Catholic) who DOES believe that his subjective belief is also the objective truth or good…then it IS assumed (from the perspective of anyone agreeing about the objective truth, at least) to give a right. That is to say, I’d have no requirement in justice, as a private business owner, to give 7th Day Adventists off on Saturday, but I would have an obligation in justice to give fellow Catholics off on Sunday. Because they have a right to that, from my perspective. Now, it might be CHARITABLE to give Adventists an ACCOMODATION for not working on Saturday, but that is technically distinct from a Right in Justice. Error doesn’t give you any special rights based on the error. (Though, broader rights might cover things; like I said in one thread, the constitution contains no “right to sexual liberty,” but if there is a reasonable right to Privacy, that might be practically covered).

        Someone can’t claim their religion excuses them from paying taxes. What I mean by “can’t” is that, a State who doesn’t recognize their belief as true…is under no obligation to “facilitate” that belief. Now, from THEIR perspective, they are right and have a right (and thus the State is wrong to persecute them by pursuing tax collection). But for those of us who don’t believe they are right, their error doesn’t suddenly create a right for them (a right to not pay taxes) based on that error. Again, reasonable accommodations may be charitable (or socially prudent), but they are not a Right in Justice.

        And this isn’t just a Catholic thing. I’m pretty sure EVERYONE, all groups, believe this. We all believe that our beliefs give us a right to do whatever they oblige us in conscience to do, because our beliefs (from our perspective) are objectively right, and thus the State is wrong when it persecutes us for them (and thus we can ignore it morally). But for everyone who DOESN’T share our beliefs, we know that there is no obligation in justice to (ie, no right for them to expect that we’ll) roll over and just let them do whatever if, according to our beliefs, it is wrong and harmful. We MAY recognize the idea that they are in good faith, that they sincerely believe from THEIR subjective perspective, are inculpable in the internal forum, and so in charity may accommodate them as much as possible. But error does not create new rights based merely on the fact of belief. The Rosenberg’s don’t gain a “right” to treason (except from THEIR perspective) based on their error which compels them to it. From THEIR perspective, we assume THEY thought they had a right to ignore the State since THEY thought it was wrong. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us in that State are wrong for supporting punishing them. Because their belief was (from our perspective) error, and thus doesn’t give them any “right” to do things which, from our perspective, are wrong and harmful.

        As a Catholic, I don’t have to facilitate Islam or Hinduism or communism.

        • October 30, 2012 9:50 am

          In Appalachia, where I’m from, if a faction in (for example) a Baptist congregation disagree and can’t resolve it, they move down the road or across town, buy some land, and build their own church. Problem solved. What’s wrong with that model?

          I’m not necessarily sure I see being a “referee” among nations as the Church’s proper role. That’s not what happened in Byzantium; and it didn’t always work out in the West.

          Bottom line: if the model had been like in India, for example, where you can call dissidents anything you like, but you can’t keep them from going their way in peace and founding their own congregation elsewhere, there’d have been much fewer problems. Greedy princes would have found other covers, and blood might still have been shed, but at least it wouldn’t have been in the name of religion.

          That is to say, I’d have no requirement in justice, as a private business owner, to give 7th Day Adventists off on Saturday, but I would have an obligation in justice to give fellow Catholics off on Sunday.

          I disagree. You’ve said in the past, what if a state naturally and organically became all one faith—what then? Well, I’d say it still should pursue the policy I advocate towards other faiths. Of course, in practice, they might not; but that’s another argument for a pluralist, secular state.

          As a Catholic, I don’t have to facilitate Islam or Hinduism or communism.

          Communism isn’t quite the same, since it’s a political ideology (and no, I don’t want to parse all the infinite nuances of that); but in the case of Islam or Hinduism, you don’t have to facilitate them, but you don’t get to hamper them, either.

        • October 30, 2012 1:37 pm

          To add something I should have said before: Jesus says we are to emulate God, who makes the sun shine on the just (and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims and Hindus and Catholics) and the unjust, and the rain to fall on the good and the bad (and the above groups). I think one can say therefore that we are obligated to give the same treatment in terms of employment, etc. to all, regardless of religion. Now, yes, there are some situations that might be exceptions–an Catholic MRI tech couldn’t religious medals because of the magnetic fields, a Jain might not be able to hold a job that requires anything that might kill animals, etc.; but I’m not talking about things where a specific Catholic (or Jain or Muslim or Hindu) practice actually interferes with the job.

          One might analyze it as saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses do have a positive right to get Saturdays off; or one might say that Christ gives us a positive commandment to show charity by giving them the day off, whether or not they have a right to such; but the end result is the same. Thus, to me the analysis is relatively uninteresting.

        • October 30, 2012 9:52 pm

          “they move down the road or across town, buy some land, and build their own church. Problem solved. What’s wrong with that model?”

          At first, nothing. Then a disagreement comes up about whether to allow abortion, what days are to be designated as off-work, whether to teach evolution in the schools, and what philosophy to use to judge whether a war is justified.

          Either the State makes these decisions based on a robust moral/ethical theoretical framework and tradition, or it just bases it off a sort of contradictory hodge-podge of “consensus” legitimized by the procedures of voting and such.

          Now, I’m not saying the latter, the pragmatic method, couldn’t be the most prudent in certain situations that were already pluralistic.

          But to say that ON PRINCIPLE State decisions cannot be guided by an official State value-system (other than consensus fought-out in a marketplace of ideas; a clearly capitalist model) just seems absurd to me, especially since secularism clearly DOES have a value-system that it just masks under its “pragmatic consensus” pretensions.

          “you don’t get to hamper them, either”

          But what does “hamper” mean? What if part of the life of the community is that work takes place on certain days and not others. Suddenly, these people come along with a totally different religious calendar with its own sabbaths of prohibited labor? Is saying “no, we all work that day” hampering? What if they claim they don’t want to pay taxes? What if they don’t condemn usury and demand to be allowed to charge it? What if they raise their sons with no respect for chastity and they start seducing our daughters? What if they demand to bury their dead in a way that will lead to other people becoming ritually impure according to THEIR beliefs?

          Basically, you seem to come from the premise that religion is a private thing without much social effect, which in our society may be true. But it’s forgetting how powerful and important a social phenomenon it can/should be.

      • trellis smith permalink
        October 29, 2012 9:37 pm

        I don’t think enough credit goes to Elizabeth the first in regard to burning heretics. Her intital reaction was “not to peer into men’s souls” and executed few until the Pope excommunicated her and released her subjects from obedience to the state.

        • October 30, 2012 9:13 pm

          Indeed, yet something I’m not sure he actually had the authority to do. I don’t think popes can unilaterally dethrone kings. At most he can judge that the subjects have already been released by the very fact of the State being tyrannical (such as by dissolving the monasteries, etc etc)

  25. October 28, 2012 12:44 pm

    I think Kierkegaard is rather inhumane, and sets a standard that few could follow. For most people, the brewer’s widow is as good a match. It’s worth pointing out that Kierkegaard seems to have exhibited a lot of neuroticism in his relationships, in light of which the analogy is interesting. Anyway, I can’t see how an entire society of “knights of faith” could even function.

    Whoever it is that you quote, I’m not quite sure he accurately grasps Buddhist thought. Since everything is interconnected and nothing has independent existence (dependent origination), everything is void. There is no self, no other, no desire, no object of desire, no cessation of desire. It’s all śūnyatā, “emptiness”, “the Void”. When one experientially realizes this, and also the impermanence (anitya) of everything and the non-existence of self (anātman), then desire (tṛṣṇā or taṇhā, better translated as “craving” or “clinging to”) is ended because one realizes that there is no clinger, no clinging, and nothing to cling to.

    The more you love someone, the more you want to kill him.

    All I can say is that this is unintelligible and that I disagree. Anyway, there’s the old Orthodox story which you can find here:

    In the Old Paterik there is a story where St Anthony the Great hears the voice of the Lord, telling him that he hasn’t yet reached the measure of a tanner who lives in Alexandria. St Anthony goes to Alexandria, finds that tanner and asks him, “Tell me how do you live, what kind of works do you do, because for you I have come here from the desert?” The tanner answers that he does not know any good thing he does. “Every morning when I go to work, I say, all the people of this town will enter the Kingdom of heaven for their good deeds and only I shall go to hell because of my sins. And when I go to bed, I say the same again in my heart”. On hearing this, St Anthony blesses that man and says that really that tanner is greater than him.

    There’s also an old Hindu story of the guru who gives his disciple a powerful mantra and warns him never to divulge it to anyone. Upon being asked why, the master answers, “If you reveal it, everyone who chants it will go to Heaven when they die, but you will be condemned to Hell.” Immediately the disciple goes out and starts telling the mantra to everyone he encounters. Another disciple, seeing this, questions the guru about it, and the guru smiles and said, “He has learned everything I could teach him—he will be a great holy man!”

    To me, willing to die, to go to Hell, to empty oneself, to annihilate oneself if it will save others is love; not a desire for them to die! I certainly don’t see how losing your life to save it logically entails wishing “humanity destroyed by the destruction which is Hell” The desire to abnegate or annihilate oneself for the sake of others–such as Paul’s statement in Romans 9:3 that he could wish himself lost for the sake of the Jewish people, or the complete self-abnegation of God Himself as discussed in Mysterium Paschale–to give oneself fully so that others may live–that to me is the heart of Christianity, the “leap of faith”, the paradox of losing your life to save it.

    All I can say is that this is how I see it, and I really don’t get your perspective. I think your Existentialist viewpoint has some weird and negative effects on your theology; but in any case, you’re welcome to it. I heartily disagree.

    • October 28, 2012 9:48 pm

      “To me, willing to die, to go to Hell, to empty oneself, to annihilate oneself if it will save others is love; not a desire for them to die!”

      But turmarion, they’re the SAME thing!

      Remember what Chesterton points out about the Suicide:

      “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. THE MAN WHO KILLS HIMSELF KILLS ALL MEN; AS FAR AS HE IS CONCERNED HE WIPES OUT THE WORLD. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer.”

      But while Chesteron is right about suicide, he does not go on to examine the implications of this fact for ALL deaths.

      If I die, in a certain sense the world is destroyed “for me,” from my perspective, “as far as I’m concerned.” From the subjective perspective, the cessation of my consciousness, is also the destruction (to me, at least) of the World.

      But then that leads us to an interesting paradox: being willing to die for someone also means, in some real sense, being willing to have THEM cease to exist (at least, as far as we are concerned, because after that there might not be a “we” to be concerned at all, and thus no meaningful “reality” or “existence” from our perspective.)

      Of course, Christian hope in Heaven is the “answer” to this paradox in some sense. With heaven, my death is NOT the destruction of the world, because I WILL keep existing, there will be a meaningful sense in which there is a reality which outlives me, even from my perspective, even as far as I’m concerned.

      But to get to heaven, we have to be willing to die. But being willing to die also means, from the fallen solipsistic perspective of a living organism (whose every instinct yearns for self-preservation, whose very inner-logic of consciousness cannot bear the thought of itself being extinguished), being willing to destroy the whole world, because from that subjective perspective…our death IS the destruction of the world. Our consciousness ceasing also ends reality (at least, “reality” as meaningful to us.) And yet it is only THROUGH this willingness, this leap, this willingness to die (to the world and, yes, THE WORLD TO US) thus destroying the world, that we have heaven, which saves both us and thus the world.

      And let’s remember God died too. Not in His divinity, technically, but in a real sense as Christ upon the Cross. God accepted death. But accepting death in a certain real sense (as Chesterton points out) means annihilating the world too. And not just for Him, but from an “objective” perspective for all of us (He being God and all, and God’s subjectivity being our objectivity). This is how God “has overcome the world,” this is how He “became sin” and died on the Cross. By dying Himself, He also killed all of us. By going through Hell, He also damned us all. And yet by doing it FOR us, out of love for us, He merited the Resurrection, not just for Himself but for us.

      To die for someone is to, in a very real sense, to will their annihilation too (“at least as far as we’re concerned.”) But it is in that leap that the meaningfulness of continued “reality” for both of us is assured.

      • October 29, 2012 12:06 pm

        I was going to write a more detailed response, but this is just quasi-existentialist, subjectivist nonsense. Frankly, the passage you quote was always, in my view, one of the weaker ones Chesterton ever wrote. Anyway, if you can’t see the difference me between taking a bullet to save my daughter’s life at the price of my own, and taking her up a mountain so I can sacrifice her because I think God told me to do so, then you’re just being perverse, or are too much in the grip of theory, or just not getting it. Therefore, when you say ” To die for someone is to, in a very real sense, to will their annihilation too,” all I can say is, puh-leeze!

        • October 30, 2012 5:15 pm

          I understand the difference, turmarion, but only because I leap.

          Without a leap, pure solipsism is the “default” metaphysic of fallen human consciousness. Chesterton’s suicide is a solipsist, so it’s very true for him that to extinguish himself is to extinguish the world.

          However, this is true for ALL of us on the level of pure instinct. We only experience the phenomena, not the noumena, so as far as we know on the basest gut level, only experience exists, it could all be our dream.

          It takes a leap AGAINST the solipsistic imstinct to accept that it’s not. To accept that the world has been and will be without us in it.

          But that’s the paradox of dying for a loved one: it requires doing something that our fallen solipsistic self-enclosed consciousness tells us, on the most primal instinctive infantile level (infants don’t have “object permanence,” remember; the ball does not exist when they can’t see it) will also annihilate the loved one.

          So it must needs be a leap beyond solipsism, a leap into something our instinctual core screams “this will end your self and thus all the world!” in order
          to save both ourselves and the world in the faith that existence is independent of us, that it is God’s.

          I dunno if you’ve ever been on a glass floor in a high place (tourist attractions have this; Sears Tower, CN tower, Grand Canyon) but its tough to take the first step because your instinct is screaming “don’t!! You’ll fall!!”

          In a certain sense, we are asked to “run into the fire.” The only way to die for a loved one or save ourselves is to make a leap that instinct tells us will destroy both. You have to let go.

          It’s like the gimmicky plot device in some sci-fi or fantasy where a character tells a friend that they have to swing at them with a sword, or whatever, in order to SAVE them (some deeper magic being there to save them all). But the hero’s instinct still (rightly, in one sense) resists against crossing that line, because in normal circumstances that course of action would mean murder.

          But, usually they wind up trusting and swinging the sword anyway, saying the day.

          To save a loved one via death requires overcoming or “leaping through” a very powerful instinct. Not just the instinct of SELF-preservation, but indeed the solipsistic instinct that tells us that dying will also mean the cessation of the world (and our loved one in it). So yes, in some sense to say that (on the level of faith) you are willing to die (or even cease to exist yourself) for someone is to say that you are willing (at least, according to the fears of solipsistic instinct) to extinguish the world and them with it.

          That philosopher I respect once said something like, “only those who can live without heaven deserve it.” I might agree if we replace “live” with “die”. To merit heaven or the sure hope OF heaven (same thing, in one sense) we must be willing to leap WITHOUT any such guarantee. Likewise, to save a loved one by dying, we must be willing to die without a guarantee our effort will succeed (indeed, even knowing we risk the opposite effect occurring).

          If the outcome of the leap were guaranteed, it wouldn’t be a leap. If the result is sure, there is no bravery.

  26. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    October 30, 2012 12:29 pm

    I just want to repeat this great paragraph from “grega” the way they teach you to repeat lines for emphasis in sermon-preaching classes. It nicely sums up how one should look at all of history:

    “Non[e] of us should get onto too high of a horse here -we all have plenty of ‘Dreck amd Stecken’ as they say in my native Germany. In reality it is a good assumption to expect saintly humans equally distributed throughout the world and its various cultures, religions, convictions. Plenty of saintly atheists to ballance the properly cathecised catholic jerks. And yes plenty of liberal catholic jerks and saintly orthodox. In other words the border between heaven and hell does not run through any coherent group but is a highly individualized affair. And – come to think of it -that sort of view cuts to one of the inner catholic problems we all seem to have which each other.”

  27. October 30, 2012 6:13 pm

    But trusting empirical science and accepting its authority as “fact” is a philosophical belief, a particular epistemology not everyone holds.

    So you’re telling me that maybe the Earth is flat, or the acceleration due to gravity is not 9.8m/s2, or that 2 + 2 is not 4? I mean, there are epistemological aspects of science that are problematic (e.g. the Problem of Induction); but that’s a long way from saying that what empirical science finds out should be put in scare quotes. It’s funny how you harp on objective this and TRUTH in caps, and then on something like this you get all relativist. I mean, down this road ultimately lies solipsistic madness. However, at the end of the day, if I jump off a building or drink strychnine or try to flap my arms and fly to the moon, gravity, chemistry, and astronomy don’t care what my epistemology is.

    But, the State and its schools hold and indoctrinate based on that philosophical judgement (and that’s just fine, in this case, as I agree with science.)
    So to teach a kid that 2 + 2 =4 or that water is made of oxygen and hydrogen is indoctrinating them? To teach someone how things actually are is “indoctrination”? To correct a child who thinks that 2 + 2 = 7, or that water is made of sulfur and titanium is “coercion”? I mean, that’s pure hogwash.

    What would I say? I’d say “well, science says otherwise, and this class and school recognize the authority of science in this sphere and operate according to that philosophy’s principles.”

    So in the 2 + 2 = 7 scenario, you’d say, “Well, mathematics says otherwise, and this class and school recognize the authority of mathematics in this sphere and operate according to that philosophy’s principles”?! As if to imply that in some other spheres maybe the Earth is flat and 2 + 2 is 7??!!

    But for me that’s unproblematic, as I’M fine with public institutions operating according to certain philosophies and upholding certain truth-claims and authorities. And since the Church recognizes Science’s authority in this sphere too, I’m all for it!

    So you’re saying that if the Church didn’t so recognize the authority of science in these areas, you wouldn’t, either? How does that make you different from a Fundamentalist who believes a six-day creation or Jonah being swallowed by the whale is literally true? Or does it make you any different? It reminds me of the famous quote from St. Ignatius Loyola (my emphasis):

    That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtingly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same….

    St. Ignatius is a great man and a great saint, but I simply cannot respect this perspective. Blind faith of this sort is the exact thing that enabled the abuse crisis, got Galileo put in house arrest for life, and many other bad things. God revealed truth in the Church; but also in our senses, in mathematics, in the sciences, etc. A God that gives us intelligence and wishes us to use it but then monkeys around so that “what appears to our eyes to be white” is taught by His Church “to be black” is a crazy manipulator who doesn’t sound to me like the Father of Christ. And note what St. Augustine said, my emphasis:

    Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

    But as someone who claims to NOT support forcing the acceptance of various truth systems or authorities on people…it seems mighty coercive!!
    Teaching what is is not coercive. Now there areas of disagreement in the sciences—I wouldn’t, for example, teach the existence of dark matter or string theory as absolute facts, since the verdict is not yet in on them. No one who knows the science denies evolution or a multi-billion year old cosmos. Therefore, I teach truth as truth—that’s not coercion; I teach opinion or controverted material as opinion or controverted material (that’s certainly not coercion); but on the grounds of freedom of conscience (which I’ve discussed ad nauseam before), I think no one gets to force anyone. So I’m against coercion all the way; perfectly consistent.

    I notice you didn’t actually answer my question, btw. Do you believe that the cosmos is billions of years old, that evolution happened, etc? Would you be OK with things like that or say geocentrism (like <a href=”http://galileowaswrong.blogspot.com/” this crazypants Catholic believes) being taught as matters of opinion?

    • October 31, 2012 9:06 pm

      “So you’re telling me that maybe the Earth is flat, or the acceleration due to gravity is not 9.8m/s2, or that 2 + 2 is not 4?”

      I do not have the certainty of supernatural faith on these matters. The last proposition is self-evident logic, but the other two are things I know with certainty based on natural (ie, human and fallible) faith in the authority of the experts, the proofs of which are so ample I give my unqualified assent.

      But not everyone will make that choice, just like many people choose not to believe even when offered heaven and threatened with hell. According to your logic, we just have to say, “Okay, and you can spread your error and drag other people into Hell with you! Cheers!”

      Hell is horrible, turmarion, absolutely horrible, and you know that. We should all gladly suffer for billions upon billions of years if it were to avoid Hell. Yet to avoid it, you won’t even assent to a simple moral teaching of the Church.

      “It’s funny how you harp on objective this and TRUTH in caps, and then on something like this you get all relativist.”

      I’M not relativist on this point. As I said, I believe science with natural certitude and I’M fine with “imposing” the Truth through education, so I have to problem with this.

      I brought it up as the example of double-standard. You’re willing to impose Truth that is only naturally certain (because of its certainty) but won’t impose Truths that have an even deeper certainty, that of supernatural faith??

      The only explanation is that, in the end, you are LESS certain of the truths of faith than you are of the truths of science.

      But if that’s the case, you don’t really have Faith, by definition. You just have opinions.

      “at the end of the day, if I jump off a building or drink strychnine or try to flap my arms and fly to the moon, gravity, chemistry, and astronomy don’t care what my epistemology is.”

      Yes, and at the end of the day, if you support contraception, God doesn’t care what your epistemology is.

      “So to teach a kid that 2 + 2 =4 or that water is made of oxygen and hydrogen is indoctrinating them? To teach someone how things actually are is ‘indoctrination’?”

      If teaching them how things actually are in the realm of the spiritual is, yes. The only distinction between these truths and the truths of faith is the natural/supernatural distinction. But the supernatural character of the latter give them MORE certainty, not less. And, as you say, there is nothing wrong with teaching kids how things actually are.

      “To correct a child who thinks that 2 + 2 = 7, or that water is made of sulfur and titanium is ‘coercion’? I mean, that’s pure hogwash.”

      Sayest thou. But I would answer in turn that correct a child who thinks that God does not exist or that contraception is okay or that all humans properly so called have not shared even one pair of common ancestors early on or Christ did not curse the fig tree…is not “coercion” either. To me, there is no difference in the “reality” of these truths.

      “As if to imply that in some other spheres maybe the Earth is flat and 2 + 2 is 7??!!”

      No, no. I just meant that Math has authority over knowledge about arithmetic, and Science over the biological questions. And likewise, about religious questions, I’d say, in a Catholic school, “This School, and myself personally…accept the Church’s authority over moral issues, so if you want to pass this Religion class, you’d better give the right answers there.”

      “So you’re saying that if the Church didn’t so recognize the authority of science in these areas, you wouldn’t, either?”

      Come now, that’s not the question. The point is that I’m FINE “imposing” scientific beliefs (about, say, evolution) on kids whose WRONG (and almost certainly thus wicked) religions teach otherwise, because I do believe science is the Truth, and therefore don’t think there’s anything wrong with punishing people who cling to an error (even if that clinging is because of their religion).

      It’s perfectly fine for a science teacher to reward the Truth (ie, the current scientific orthodoxy) with good grades and punish error (like Creationism) with bad grades.

      And I’d hold the same standard for religion in a Catholic school system (in a Catholic State or not). It would be totally fine to reward orthodoxy with good grades and punish heresy with bad grades. Dividing religious knowledge and truth from scientific knowledge and truth here is artificial. Both are truth, and reality is integrated, not compartmentalized.

      “Blind faith of this sort”

      Of course, the authority which is the formal object of Faith is only “faith and morals,” so that’s why science has authority over other types of questions, etc. I don’t actually believe Ignatius is literally correct here, as “black and white” is not a faith or morals issue.

      “God revealed truth in the Church; but also in our senses, in mathematics, in the sciences, etc.”

      Indeed, I agree with all this. But while science has authority over “is” knowledge and the natural world, as it were, the Church has authority over knowledge of the “ought” questions as well as supernatural happenings. So on a moral question, there is one authority, and that’s the Church (on the other hand, I’d never ask the Church how to build a space-ship!)

      “Teaching what is is not coercive.”

      God is. Christ is. The immorality of contraception IS. The fact that the entire human population has had (not just one, but many) pairs of common ancestors since very early in its history IS, and in fact this last one is not even doubted by SCIENCE currently!!!

      And yet, you insist not only on dissenting personally on these questions from the relevant authority which has competence over that sphere of knowledge (ie, the Church), but on saying that to threaten children with failure for not towing the line here (at least, “giving the right answers”) would be coercion??

      “Therefore, I teach truth as truth—that’s not coercion; I teach opinion or controverted material as opinion or controverted material (that’s certainly not coercion); but on the grounds of freedom of conscience (which I’ve discussed ad nauseam before), I think no one gets to force anyone. So I’m against coercion all the way; perfectly consistent.”

      But, kids who give the wrong answers fail???

      “Do you believe that the cosmos is billions of years old, that evolution happened, etc?”

      Yes.

      “Would you be OK with things like that or say geocentrism being taught as matters of opinion?”

      Well, it’s not a violation of religious orthodoxy. But, like you say, it’s crazy, and I sure wouldn’t that nonsense being taught to my kids (though, “geocentrism” is sort of a moot issue now that we know there is no absolute frame of reference).

  28. October 30, 2012 10:16 pm

    “Bottom line: I can admit as a hypothetical possibility that I am making all these arguments out of pure emotion, mauvaise foi as you love to put it, and obstinate refusal to see the truth that’s right in front of me because of my selfish attachment to my own ego and immersion in sinful pride, having blinded myself to the truth. In all truthfulness and honesty, I don’t think that’s the case; but it could hypothetically be so. Can you admit that just possibly, I am trying to be as honest as I can and that according to my own lights I am seeking truth and to the best I am able to discern, honestly and in good faith am persuaded that I’m actually right? Heck, I’ll admit that you could be right; though I don’t think you are. Can you do do the same?”

    If you could sign the catechism and take the oath the CDF requires of theologians, I grant latitude on all non-essentials. I’d even omit the Anti-Modernist Oath since it is no longer officially prescribed. But I’d especially need to see a renunciation of your dissent on contraception and monogenism.

    On these essentials, admitting you could be right is impossible while maintaining Faith. Faith is absolutely certain, and admitting it even “could be” otherwise would be a choice of Doubt on my part, destroying the virtue of supernatural faith and leaving my beliefs merely opinion.

    This is also where I can’t believe you are honest. Belief is a CHOICE. You know what the Church teaches, yet refuse to give submission of intellect and will because you trust YOUR OWN intellect more. You use Maritain as an example, and yet he SUBMIT to the Church after. Faith never fully “satisfies” the intellect. Belief is not about “being convinced” in that sense; at most that can be a motive of credibility. But ultimately Faith is a CHOICE to believe unconditionally that the magisterium of the Catholic Church speaks for God (in varying degrees) and to CHOOSE to submit intellectually to that authority. You don’t have to buy this or that argument against contraception, least of all mine, (though since you seem hung up on moral object, have you read Vertatis Splendor where John Paul explained it??) But you still have to reject it at the end of the day even if the arguments don’t satisfy you.

    Without that, you’re just some guy who has a lot of quirky opinions, many of which happen to resemble Catholic beliefs, but some of which do not. And that’s not faith. As the formal object of faith is not primarily the articles but in submitting intellectually to the authority which teaches and interprets them.

    I find it dishonest for you to claim to be Catholic without this formal element which you blatantly reject. I know I am in communion with my bishop and with Rome. I know you are not in communion with me. If you tried to teach your beliefs publicly, you could be censured. What other conclusion am I supposed to draw?

  29. October 31, 2012 11:32 am

    Belief is a choice, in some ways, but I can’t “choose” to believe that 2 + 2 = 5, not even if the Pope himself threatens me with excommunication if I don’t. If by “faith” you meant that in regard to the Church, “if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black,” then, no, I can’t endorse that. I don’t think God wants that attitude, either. You insist that unless one is willing to destroy those he most loves, that “the more you love something, the more you want to kill it”, that unless one does that, one is a solipsist. There are plenty of people–most, in fact–who’d disagree, who aren’t solipsists, who (like me) would think that an appalling thing towards which to leap. All I can say is that we are in such completely different places that discussion in a meaningful way seems to be impossible. It really would be fascinating to be able to take this discussion in person to a round-table of theologians, spiritual directors, and such–and pick them as conservative as you like. Even then, I don’t think mine would be the only opinions that would rasise some eyebrows. But, of course, it’s not about majority rule, etc. I think all than can be said on the topics of this thread have been said. Anyway, all I can say is that you are free to view me as a heretic fake Catholic who will doubtlessly split Hell wide open; that’s you’re prerogative. Meanwhile, we each pays our epistemological money and takes our metaphysical chances. I wish you well and will keep you in my (doubtlessly ineffective) prayers, and eventually God will decide the issue.

    • October 31, 2012 9:34 pm

      “Belief is a choice, in some ways, but I can’t ‘choose’ to believe that 2 + 2 = 5, not even if the Pope himself threatens me with excommunication if I don’t.”

      True. Read the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Faith. Some truths are self-evident, others have so much evidence behind them the will CANNOT move the intellect to assent otherwise, because the will can only choose things that are good.

      However, faith and morals questions aren’t of that sort. That assent is always already to something beyond the natural comprehension of our intellect, and so (given the grace of faith) we can always choose to accept them, as the only evidence we have is the authority anyway.

      “If by ‘faith’ you meant that in regard to the Church, ‘if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black,’ then, no, I can’t endorse that.”

      If you’re talking about literal black and white, that’s fine. If you mean about faith and morals questions (which we can have no real “evidence” or “argument” about APART from some Authority anyway, given that they are only accessible objects of belief to us BECAUSE of the testimony of said authority) then you are admitting right now that you have no Faith. On questions of faith and morals, the Church is the only possible authority or source of truth in those spheres that we have.

      “There are plenty of people–most, in fact–who’d disagree, who aren’t solipsists, who (like me) would think that an appalling thing towards which to leap.”

      I think you misunderstand my point. I don’t think you actually are against such a leap; I mean, you support the idea of dying for someone. To die for someone means to “run towards the fire” as it were, and not just the fire of our own self-destruction, but of the annihilation of the world. Our instincts scream out against such a choice. Our instincts tell us that such a choice means both our destruction and the extinguishing of the whole world.

      It is only on this level I mean. Reason and Faith both know that such a choice does NOT actually mean the annihilation of the world (nor, indeed, our own). But like stepping out onto a glass floor, this is a “mind over matter” (or “spirit over matter”) choice, because our instinct is telling us how suicidal it is. Yet, like in any “belly of the beast” situation, we must, as it were, numb the INSTINCT of self-preservation in order to actually preserve ourselves! We must numb the INSTINCT that says “Reality will cease!” in order to actually save it. And yet, such instinct-numbing (even to accomplish the effect the instinct is designed to do) surely requires a little bit of sociopathy.

      But then, it’s been pointed out before that being a medical doctor requires a bit of sociopathy too. I mean, surgeons literally CUT INTO BODIES, an extremely violent act. Now, of course, they do it to HELP the patients. But in order to do so, they have to break the strong instinctual TABOO which is in place AGAINST cutting into human bodies (because our instincts assume it means harm rather than help.) Therefore, surgeons must numb an instinct or taboo that, generally, it would be considered sociopathic to have numbed. And yet they’re doing it out of altruism. At the same time, they take a “spiritual risk” for the sake of that altruism, as it should trouble us to imagine a person for whom slicing open chest cavities is mundane, who can do that without batting an eye. And yet, for surgeons, that’s how it is.

      This is all I meant. For a surgeon, for example, the more he loves someone…the more he has to be willing to cut them open with a knife! (an act that his instinct or a powerful primal taboo nevertheless tells him is HARMful rather than helpful). But treading on sacred ground like that (such as human life) is always a dangerous proposal, even if we’re doing it for a GOOD reason, because it requires crossing the boundary from profane to sacred. And yet that’s a boundary that, for good reason, is imbued with terror and taboo. Isn’t this, in some sense, the spiritual danger that a Priest is faced with, inasmuch as there is a risk to his own individual piety from the very fact of crossing the boundary into the sanctuary (which, from childhood, he had been trained to treat like an electric fence?) That he must touch the Host (which he had, from childhood, thought was something which brought instant lightening from heaven) for the sake of others means that he must be willing to break the taboo of profanation in his own mind. And that’s dangerous. That takes a leap.

  30. Per Signum permalink
    October 31, 2012 11:58 am

    A Sinner “Basically, you seem to come from the premise that religion is a private thing without much social effect, which in our society may be true.”

    I think part of the goal of the Enlightenment philosophers was precisely to make “religion without much social effect” and this, no doubt, as part of their response to the insanity of all the bloodshed and internal political strife on account of beliefs which they did not see as holding up to the standards of reason.

    And again, I think you continue to drive the point home that a secular order that concedes to pluralism and makes the broadest conessions possible to accomdate the greatest number of beliefs without sacrificing the neccessary cohesiveness for society to function JUST MAKES MORE SENSE. I think you continue to create, albeit inadvertenlty, an argument for a reduction in our criteria of what is neccessary to be a participant in public space. It is not just that Christendom had different criteria (orthodoxy) for being a political participant than today, and so we can therefore just talk about our modern and medieval epochs as two different but equal ways of assembling the same set of lego pieces. Rather, the break down of the Medieval authority gives rise to a fundamental realization about the nature of authority itself that demands a new model.

    As multiple and contradictory beliefs about the nature of invisible and unprovable things proliferate, there emerges the possibility of making them less pertinent to the public sphere; a pragmatism emerges that says “we can order ourselves without agreeing on what happens at, say, the consecration”. This pragmatism involves a transfer of how political authority is imagined– now imagined as something coming from the people who have the power to renegotiate the terms of public order.

    This is the essential difference between Christendom and the modern political order– the conception of authority and where it is located. In other words, the failure of any divine power to uphold a Christian consensus reveals that the human being is and always was alone in his construction of the state. Once this is acknowledged, everything that came before can, at best, be seen as a kind of productive mistake, a miscognition of the paths of power and its distribution. The realization that human beings create the criteria of political participation, that there isn’t nor ever was a Chain of Being, can not be recalled. In this sense, there is an asymmetry a “point of progress”, if you will, between the modern and medieval political order.

    • October 31, 2012 1:26 pm

      What happens at the consecration is of little concern, politically, in itself. What value-system the State should make policy decisions based on is another question. The State is there for temporal justice, but what constitutes justice is a decision that needs a framework of the Good to decide (is abortion unjust? Is this war unjust? Is usury unjust? Etc). The State is not there to enforce dogma or even any of the other virtues necessarily. But it is there to ensure justice (at least temporal and external) and that requires it holding a philosophy of what justice is; in other words, a system of ethics at least, if not morals.

      Pluralism’s pragmatic “consensus” model winds up devolving into the lowest common denominator. The only things all value systems will agree on as part of this grand consensus are the ones rooted in pure selfishness: “don’t kill me, don’t take my stuff, give us things we want like roads.” Of course, it also means might is right; people without a voice (say, the unborn) don’t actually vote or contribute to this consensus regarding justice.

      In itself, this sort of “bare minimum consensus” might be prudent for peace and order in the modern socio-economic situation. If it really were a bunch of robust and sincerely held religious traditions agreeing in their common ground, with maximum latitude otherwise, okay. The problem is that this “bare minimum” or lowest common denominator, being the publicly upheld Good, starts becoming held by people NOT merely as the compromise between groups, but as people’s actual private standard too. “Well, since I can’t judge Bill the Protestant for his divorce, I guess that means it really isn’t bad, and so I as a Catholic am free to do it too.” Or, at best, the morality that isn’t shared as common ground becomes just a sort of private “ritual purity” or “meatless Fridays” discipline that isn’t truly felt to be a matter of virtue or the urgency of salvation.

      In itself, this makes some sense; the idea of salvation in the human psyche is rooted in the idea of communion, of being in good standing with the community. However, of course, for Christians “the community” that communion with ultimately matters…is the Church specifically, not The World (in the sense of wider society which may not be coextensive with the Church).

      Having Church and society-at-large not be coextensive is thus a mixed bag. On the one hand, it avoids the problem of confusing The Church with The World. On the other hand, it can put people into cognitive dissonance (like yours) regarding which communion should ultimately claim our loyalty in order to be good/saved people; the community of the Church or the community of the World? since the two are no longer coextensive and may conflict massively.

      As for stuff about “killing over invisible realities” puh-leeze. Henry VIII started sacking churches and martyring Catholics because he couldn’t get an annulment. But that wasn’t because of theology, but merely because Catherine’s uncle was the HRE and so had the pope under his thumb militarily. I can’t believe you buy into the notion that the wars of religion were “over belief about invisible things” rather than that just be an “excuse” for class tensions and geopolitical realignment to play out (according to the most base ). There’s been plenty of cruelty in the name of Liberty (French Revolution, etc) and plenty of wars to “spread/defend democracy”…and yet no one is saying this proves democracy is naturally inclined to bloodshed or is a failed political experiment. Why the huge double standard?

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      October 31, 2012 3:17 pm

      I agree with Per Signum almost completely. There will always be a place for religion, but at the center of society is not it. Strangely, those who would like to revive its central position are also the ones who are most mistrustful of government centrally to help with anything (even hurricanes!). Naturally, they have been scheming for this mostly under the cover of academia. I say “scheme” here unapologetically, for it is not a conspiracy but a well-announced plan which they get away with only because they are hidden in academia. Even one guy who held forth on this very blog once, Theodore Kozinski, is clear as a bell about it. He seems to feel that only those who are “baptized” can participate in a workable civil society. At this point in history such views can only be called lunacy. And a Church that allows them, while at the same time claiming rights of a more pluralistic civil order, is not engaged in conspiracy, but in a simple shell -game with the rest of us. No one likes a huckster.

      • October 31, 2012 8:35 pm

        “Allowing” is exactly what the pluralist order wants, though! By “tolerating” THIS position, the Church is being rather pluralistic internally, ironically!

        Religion has a place at the heart of society. In a capitalist order, maybe not. But in a just society (founded, in my mind, on the principles of social credit) it would happen naturally (since these sociological realities tend to just be emanations from the deep economic sub-structure), in a “third way” that was neither the feudal regime, nor the capitalist (and certainly NOT the path the Communists imagine taking, which is the exact opposite).

      • October 31, 2012 10:28 pm

        PPF writes, “Even one guy who held forth on this very blog once, Theodore Kozinski, is clear as a bell about it. He seems to feel that only those who are “baptized” can participate in a workable civil society.”

        What you say is a gross mischaracterization of what Kozinski said, assuming that this is the post to which you’re referring: http://vox-nova.com/2011/02/01/pluralism-and-the-confessional-state/

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          November 19, 2012 12:31 am

          Agellius,

          I was out of the country for the elections, or I would have answered this sooner. Thaddeus Kozinski (apologies for the Freudian slip of Theodore– he’s not that bad!) has indeed made this point. Naturally, it is in the form of academic prolixity, but the point is clear. From an essay on Remi Brague he wrote:

          “However, the desacralized, religiously pluralistic, secular state supposes that authentic political peace is possible without the majority of citizens’ spiritual rebirth through Baptism and the infusion of sanctifying grace that comes primarily through the Church’s sacraments—and without the formal guidance of the Catholic Church on fundamental moral and political issues.”

          Apparently on Thaddeus’ view, to be read from his contradistinction, civil and political “peace” is not even possible unless society is mostly NOT religiously pluralistic. As he sees it, “peace”, which is another word for unbothered political participation and co-existence in society, is ONLY possible if the “majority” are by contrast, of one faith….the Christian one. But Thaddeus goes even further! “Peace” is not possible unless the “majority” are not getting an “infusion” from the “Church’s sacraments”!! (He must be unaware of history, and the teensy and rather unpeaceful problems brought about by those participating in those sacraments differently. Utraquists be damned! As I said, this is lunacy. It is just fanaticism. It is also a very superficial understanding of modernity. It is dangerous because this country just came close to electing another skewed thinker in Paul Ryan as veep. Maybe not really close, but within shouting distance. That is why somebody has to keep a wary eye on these people.

  31. Ronald King permalink
    October 31, 2012 8:24 pm

    “Pluralism’s pragmatic “consensus” model winds up devolving into the lowest common denominator. The only things all value systems will agree on as part of this grand consensus are the ones rooted in pure selfishness: “don’t kill me, don’t take my stuff, give us things we want like roads.” What you describe is not the effect of pluralism it is the effect of selfishness. Pluralism is inclusive and selfishness is exclusive.

  32. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    November 1, 2012 7:15 am

    I would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful replies. However, the recent exchanges have grown long, repetitive, and it seems fruitless. I will give the main players one wrap up comment each, and then I think it is time to move on.

    • November 1, 2012 7:54 am

      That seems best. This conversation has been fruitful for me. In spite of seeming to advocate a theocracy sometimes, I’m actually just playing devil’s advocate a lot of the time trying to figure things out. My “default” sympathies are with the medieval over the modern, and dissent and heresy just make me even more suspicious of “the other side,” but at the end of the day I’m seeking a synthesis. This conversation has helped, but I’m sure those ideas will appear at later dates when more refined.

  33. November 1, 2012 9:32 am

    Agreed, David. No wrap-up necessary–I stand by what I’ve said here, and leave it the the readers (temporally) and God (eternally) to judge the merits.

  34. trellis smith permalink
    November 2, 2012 2:37 am

    The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

    Thus by its nature is the mercy of God freely given without compulsion and as here the appeal is made without recourse to the “law” but to grace. It is this grace that undermines all religions and all theologies for by grace no one remains uninvited to the feast.

  35. Agellius permalink
    November 19, 2012 2:13 pm

    Peter: Welcome back. I assume you’re pleased with the outcome of the election. : )

    Kozinski says that *authentic* peace is not possible. Not having read the article I can only judge by the excerpt you provided. But presumably in using “authentic”, he’s defining “peace” in a particular way, and not merely as the absence of violence in the streets; just as the Church also defines authentic liberty not as secular democracy defines it, as the freedom to do what you like, but rather as the freedom to do what’s right. I don’t know exactly how he’s defining peace, but probably it includes not murdering a million infants in the womb every year, at a minimum.

    He doesn’t say that the absence of pluralism that makes such peace possible, but the presence of spiritual rebirth, primarily through the Gospel. He pretty much has to believe that the Gospel makes people better, otherwise there would be no point to it.

    But note that it’s not the sacraments per se that give spiritual rebirth — otherwise it would be our bounden duty to go around pouring holy water on people’s heads and cramming Hosts down their throats in order to make them righteous. No, he’s talking about the worthy reception of the sacraments. For one to worthily receive Communion, for example, requires doing good and avoiding mortal sin. If everyone received Communion worthily every week, there would be no murder, rape, adultery, etc. etc. I for one don’t know how I would avoid many sins, if not for love of God and the fear of unworthiness to receive Communion.

    Again he doesn’t say that the availability or partaking of the sacraments automatically makes people peaceful. Just that without them there is no hope. Obviously, if you look back over the 2,000-year history of the Church you will find numerous instances of Catholics acting badly. Of what culture continuously existing for that length of time could you say otherwise? The question is whether it would have been better or worse without the faith.

    I do think it noteworthy that Catholic European culture is the one out of which modern pluralistic democracy grew. We are still living off the moral capital of that culture, though we’re getting down to the dregs. I too am not terribly optimistic about what our culture will turn into once that’s finally exhausted.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      November 21, 2012 2:29 pm

      Agellius,

      Excellent and admirable response. Kozinski needs to be sent to detention study- hall with you. He has about ten conceptual demerits, but “teach” can set him right. Can you get him to stop chewing that miraculous gum he got fro Medjugore in class too?!

      Seriously, it occurs to me, that if Catholics (and their Bishops especially) were to start thinking about political involvement in the ways you mention, they could actually be a force for good in this culture, instead a major annoyance or just irrelevant. If they would own up to their own historical mistakes, they could also claim the Catholic soil out of which, as you not, many good things in Western culture emerged. But that would mean accepting that they were really “bad parents” in a lot of ways of these cultural tendencies, and actually worked to destroy what had been birthed in their own conceptual womb. Till they own up to that complex past, there is little hope for them. Amen.

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  1. A Helluva Post on the Rectification of Names « The Chequer-board of Nights and Days
  2. The formal object of faith precludes doubt as to its material objects « Agellius's Blog

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