Sunday, September 19, 2010

He that is faithful in that which is least,
is faithful also in that which is greater: and
he that is unjust in that which is little, is
unjust also in that which is greater. If then
you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon;
who will trust you with that which is the true?
And if you have not been faithful in that which
is another's; who will give you that which is
your own? No servant can serve two masters: for
either he will hate the one, and love the other;
or he will hold to the one, and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

Luke 16:10-13 (D-R)

In how many ways do we serve mammon instead of God? It doesn't have to be money, many things in our society take the place of God in our lives. It could be fame, or sex, or objects like iPods and designer clothes. It could also be people, those around us who we look to for validation and whose approval we seek when we should be looking to God. How much better would our world be if we sought God in the same way we seek out the latest celebrity news? How many could be converted if we approached evangelization with the same energy that we bring to seeking our own wealth? Even among Christians, there are many who look to personal advancement while rarely thinking about what God may want from us. Many see religion as only involving an hour's obligation on Sundays, while they spend the rest of their time behaving no differently from any of their non-Christian neighbors. We cannot be devoted to God while we're also devoted to the things of this world, and if we become obsessed with the pleasures of the physical world then we risk pushing God out of our lives. You cannot put your trust in God and the world at the same time, because they stand in opposition and seek to eliminate the other's influence on us. We must remember that the world provides benefits that are fleeting and only of this life, while God's benefits are eternal.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It seems that Christopher Hitchens has decided to resurrect the old hate-mongering in anticipation of Pope Benedict's visit to the UK, namely that the Pope is guilty of crimes against humanity and should be arrested when he sets foot on British soil. Never mind the fact that nobody has been able to lay any blame on our current Pope for the abuse crisis, no matter how much they've tried (and how they have tried!). Never mind that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith only received jurisdiction over cases of child abuse by clergy in 2001, long after most of the cases were alleged to have occurred, and every indication is that Cardinal Ratzinger pursued justice for the victimized pretty quickly after being given the authority to do so. Never mind that Pope Benedict has, in his five years as Pope, shown himself to be committed to justice and has repeatedly made it easier for cases to be investigated and if necessary turned over to civil authorities. People like Hitchens don't really care about the victims, they only care about punishing the Pope for being conservative and brow-beating Catholics into bowing before their destructive brand of hedonistic narcissism. I will quote and respond to particularly egregious sections of the article below.

I came across the following passage from Cardinal John Henry Newman's classic statement of belief, his Apologia Pro Vita Sua:

The Catholic Church holds it better for the Sun and Moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die from starvation in extremest agony … than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.

I doubt that Hitchens is operating under any misunderstanding, rather I think that he is intentionally mischaracterizing Newman's statement in an attempt at character assassination. Newman obviously wasn't saying that Catholics want people to starve and suffer, rather that we hold apostasy to be a horrible thing and do not desire it to happen to any person. We certainly don't enjoy the suffering of human beings, but so much more than that do we deplore the loss of souls to sin.

As we have recently been forcibly reminded, the Roman Catholic Church holds it better for the cries of raped and violated children to be ignored, and for the excuses and alibis of their rapists and torturers indulged, and for a host of dirty and wilful untruths to be manufactured wholesale, and for the funds raised ostensibly for the poor to be paid out in hush money and shameful bribery, rather than that one tiny indignity or inconvenience be visited on the robed majesty of a man-made church or any limit set to its self-proclaimed right to be judge in its own cause

We've recently been reminded, actually, that human beings are sinful and that applies as much to human beings in the Church as it does to those outside. Peter Tatchell, a leading opponent to the Pope's visit, has said in the past that nine year old children could consent to sex with adults. If a Catholic priest said that then Hitchens would put the blame for it directly on the Pope, and yet I hear nothing from him about his ally's reprehensible beliefs. Hitchens is also overlooking, of course, the many actions that have been taken by the Pope to safeguard children in the wake of the abuse scandal. Not only has the Pope raised the statue of limitations to 20 years, an action that Hitchens would hail if it had been undertaken by civil leaders, but he has also put together concrete rules governing the removal of accused priests and religious from their positions. When he was given responsibility for these cases as head of the CDF the Pope essentially had to create rules from scratch, and personally I think that he's done an admirable job of it.

I asked a simple question in print. Why was this not considered a matter for the police and the courts? Why were we asking the church to "put its own house in order," an expression that was the exact definition of the problem to begin with?

That's exactly what has been done. In fact, in many cases the accusations were brought before the civil authorities and they either declined to prosecute or else investigated and found no basis for an indictment. There was certainly a cover up in some dioceses, but the blame for a lack of prosecutions lies in the hands of civil government at least as much as in the Church's hands.

I followed this up with a telephone call to Geoffrey Robertson, a British barrister with a second-to-none record in international human rights cases.

Robertson is the moron who tried to stoke anti-Catholic hatred in England to gain support for his plan to put the Pope on trial at the Hague, solely to increase his own name recognition and make himself look good without any concern for those who actually suffered from the actions of clergy. I am not at all surprised that Hitchens would be allied with this guy, after all they're birds of a feather.

Consider: The now-resigned bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, stands revealed by his own eventual confession as being guilty of incest as well as rape...Very belatedly, a few months ago, the Belgian police finally rose from their notorious torpor and raided some ecclesiastical offices in search of evidence that was being concealed. Joseph Ratzinger, who had not thus far found a voice in which to mention the doings of his Belgian underlings, promptly emitted a squeal of protest—at the intervention of the law.

The problem that the Church has with the civil investigation is in its methods, not its motives. In executing their warrant the police violated the crypts of two bishops, a horrid sacrilege without justification. The Church has no problem with civil authorities investigating accusations of abuse, so long as they don't intentionally insult our religion in the process. How would Muslims react if the Belgian police had desecrated a Koran in a search for evidence? How would Jews react if they had searched for evidence by tearing apart the ark that contains the Torah scrolls?

Robertson's brief begins with a meticulous summary of the systematic fashion in which child-rape was covered up by collusion between local Catholic authorities and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, an office that under the last pope was run by Ratzinger himself.

Funny, considering that the CDF did not gain jurisdiction over such cases until 2001 at around the same time that many of the cases came to light. During most of the time of cover-up, and in fact when the vast majority of cases were alleged to have been committed, the responsibility for investigating cases and bringing them to the attention of law enforcement fell on individual bishops rather than any central Church authority. That was the problem, and giving the power to the CDF and then-Cardinal Ratzinger was the solution.

The Catholic authorities have now rudely disinterred the bodies, finding nothing that had survived decay or could serve as a relic.

Hitchens seems crudely satisfied at this fact, as if it proves that Newman wasn't a saint. Of course, the Church does not teach that a saint's body must be incorruptible in order for that person to be a saint. Many saints have shown such incorruptibility, and it can be seen as a sign of sainthood, but it is not required.

The sun and moon don't need to fall and the species doesn't have to die in agony in order to expiate this sin—a little application of simple earthly justice is all that is required. Will it really continue to be withheld?

Hitchens hates the Catholic Church, and in spite of his protestations to the contrary his words and actions scream hatred for those who choose to believe in the Church. Since he can't brow-beat the Pope into renouncing the faith and dragging its followers down with him he'll try to destroy the Pope by putting him on trial for false accusations and making him rot in jail. May God bless the Pope in his journey to hostile lands, and if he must be martyred by Hitchens and his pagan friends may his martyrdom obtain blessings for the Church and conversion for the English people who so desperately need it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Then he said, "A man had two sons, and the
younger son said to his father, 'Father,
give me the share of your estate that should
come to me.' So the father divided the
property between them. After a few days, the
younger son collected all his belongings and
set off to a distant country where he
squandered his inheritance on a life of
dissipation. When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country, and he found
himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to
one of the local citizens who sent him to his
farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his
fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody
gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought,
'How many of my father's hired workers have more
than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from
hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I
shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against
heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be
called your son; treat me as you would treat one of
your hired workers."' So he got up and went back to
his father. While he was still a long way off, his
father caught sight of him, and was filled with
compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and
kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have
sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer
deserve to be called your son.' But his father
ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest
robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and
sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and
slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to
life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then
the celebration began.

Now the older son had been out in the field and, on
his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the
sound of music and dancing. He called one of the
servants and asked what this might mean. The servant
said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your
father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he
has him back safe and sound.' He became angry, and
when he refused to enter the house, his father came
out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in
reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not
once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me
even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But
when your son returns who swallowed up your property
with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened
calf.' He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me
always; everything I have is yours. But now we must
celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead
and has come to life again; he was lost and has been
found.'" Luke 15: 11-32

Today's very long Gospel reading contains a very important message, and I hope that you all heard the long version so that you were exposed to this parable. One of the Devil's most favored tactics to separate us from the faith is to tell us that we are beyond hope, that we have sinned so much that God has given up on us and we are certainly damned. The idea, of course, is that a man without hope of salvation has no reason to behave like a man in search of salvation. This is, of course, a lie, and what we find in the parable of the Prodigal Son is a God who loves us and never stops seeking us out no matter what we do against Him. It doesn't matter how many sins we commit, how far we drive ourselves away from God and His Truth, because He will always be there waiting for us when we return. It is also good to look at the Second Reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, where Paul gladly acknowledges his own sinfulness because he knows that God's mercy and love are most apparent when we come to him in our sin and ask for His forgiveness. We all sin and fall short of what we should be, but that is no reason for despair because God is Love and He will never abandon or disown us. We are His children in our sin, even in the moment of our commission of sin, and He is always waiting to rejoice when we come to our senses and seek Him out again. How blessed indeed are we to have this wonderful gift, to know that our God loves us so much that He will suffer infinite disrespect from us without ever rejecting us or turning His back on us.

Monday, September 6, 2010

So apparently Christopher Hitchens is at it again. I'm constantly surprised at how many publications seem to view this hack as a genuine thinker, having seen his hatred spilled on the pages both of the Washington Post Religion Section and also on Slate. It is on Slate that I found this particularly objectionable bit of atheist rambling. Not content to satisfy his superiority complex with internal derision of us foolish theists, apparently Hitchens feels that it is his duty to neuter those of us who dare to believe in what he doesn't. Never mind the fact that he is dead wrong, Hitchens feels he has the right to dictate to religious groups what of their doctrines can and cannot be carried forward into the future. Perhaps he can call it the "Bright" Man's Burden, his obligation as an intellectually advanced person to bring enlightenment to us pathetic throwbacks who haven't gotten it through out heads to abandon religion and embrace hedonistic naturalism. Personally I just call it hubris, and I pray to God that he gets over it before he goes to meet his maker. I'll bring attention to the more egregious statements that he makes below, along with my responses.

Take an example close at hand, the absurdly named Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...Thus, to the extent that we view latter-day saints as acceptable, and agree to overlook their other quaint and weird beliefs, it is to the extent that we have decidedly limited them in the free exercise of their religion.

It is true that the Mormons have had some strange beliefs in the past, beliefs that were framed as eternal dogma right up to the point where prophetic revelation exiled them to the dustbin of history. Still, the elimination of these objectionable doctrines had more to do with the internal decisions of the hierarchy than it did with any kind of governmental intervention. The US government may have made it clear that a continuation of polygamy would have doomed Utah's chances at statehood, but Utah could have carried on as an independent country if Mormons really wanted to keep things the way they were. In a like manner, they could have very easily maintained their beliefs against black people just as many small religious groups have to the current time and while it might have made them unpopular it probably wouldn't have lead to governmental intervention. Plenty of religions do things that are considered discriminatory against one group or another, the Catholic Church's exclusion of women from the priesthood being one example, and none of them have the police knocking on their door for it. Hitchens, who is British, may not fully understand what freedom of religion means, but it is solely limited to governmental action. Mormon beliefs about homosexuality may make them unpopular with the "No on 8" crowd, but that doesn't mean that their freedom of religion is being limited unless the government starts arresting them or otherwise impedes their free exercise. In other words, they limited themselves to be popular and weren't really forced to do so by the government or even by society.

One could cite some other examples, such as those Christian sects that disapprove of the practice of medicine. Their adult members are generally allowed to die while uttering religious incantations and waving away the physician, but, in many states, if they apply this faith to their children—a crucial element in the "free exercise" of religion—they can be taken straight to court. Not only that, they can find themselves subject to general disapproval and condemnation.

Hitchen's argument in this case conflates two very different things, the governmental prevention of faith-based violence against children and what he advocates as the societal neutering of faith in general. Later on in the article he brings up non-Christian examples, such as the disgusting practice of metzitzah b'peh in Orthodox Judaism and female circumcision in Islam, as examples of cases where religious exercise is limited. Of course, what he misses is that public safety has always been a limitation to most of the rights granted in the Constitution. Freedom of speech has always been thought to exclude "yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater" or other such threats to safety, and all but the most rabid NRA supporters would agree that limits on gun possession in certain buildings and areas are perfectly reasonable. On the other hand, when public safety isn't affected the law is quite clear in granting religion a wide latitude. The government can stop a church from performing human sacrifice, but current interpretation doesn't even allow them to force religious groups to abide by zoning and historical preservation laws as recent cases in Pemberton, NJ and Washington, DC attest.

We talk now as if it was ridiculous ever to suspect Roman Catholics of anything but the highest motives, yet by the time John F. Kennedy was breaking the unspoken taboo on the election of a Catholic as president, the Vatican had just begun to consider making public atonement for centuries of Jew-hatred and a more recent sympathy for fascism.

Always one to appeal to base emotion and hatred, Hitchens once again brings up the idea that the Church was a big fan of fascism. One must wonder what he thinks of Mit brennender Sorge and the other cases where Popes Pius XI and Pius XII spoke out against nationalism. I guess that he could be talking about Franco's Spain, which was supported by the Vatican, but I'm not sure what he expected when Franco's opposition was extremely anti-clerical and wanted nothing more than to burn the Pope at the stake. It would be akin to Hitchens allying himself with fundamentalist Christians who want to kill him for not believing in God. At any rate, the Church still has many views that Hitchens hates (like, for instance, being the Church in the first place), so I guess our socialization isn't quite finished.

t is generally agreed that the church's behavior and autonomy need to be modified to take account both of American law and American moral outrage.

I don't know if I'd call this "generally agreed." It is obvious that Church leaders can be held accountable for breaking civil laws, as the Church has admitted and is assisting in the cases of child sex abuse. Still, "moral outrage" is vague and could apply to anything from forcing the Church to turn over abusers all the way to compelling the Church to accept women priests and stop believing in the Real Presence. I doubt that most Americans support the latter, in fact I'd guess that it's only popular among cynical atheists like Mr. Hitchens.

The Church of Scientology, the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, and the Ku Klux Klan are all faith-based organizations and are all entitled to the protections of the First Amendment. But they are also all subject to a complex of statutes governing tax-exemption, fraud, racism, and violence, to the point where "free exercise" in the third case has—by means of federal law enforcement and stern public disapproval—been reduced to a vestige of its former self.

First of all, the KKK isn't a religious organization. At best it's a fraternal order like the Freemasons or the Elks and is therefore protected under Freedom of Speech rather than of Religion. Still, it is not a limitation of free exercise to force people to abide by legitimate laws. Preventing violence isn't a violation of religious freedom any more than preventing speech that endangers public safety is a violation of free speech.

There's an excellent chance of a healthy pluralist outcome, but it's very unlikely that this can happen unless, as with their predecessors on these shores, Muslims are compelled to abandon certain presumptions that are exclusive to themselves. The taming and domestication of religion is one of the unceasing chores of civilization.

There is a huge difference between forcing religion to abide by laws on the one hand and on the other forcing religion to become assimilated to the moral sensitivities of the majority. The first is perfectly reasonable, the second is not. Hitchens seems to want both, but if the Catholic experience is a sign then the second part will never occur. Catholics have plenty of beliefs that are objectionable to the world, and yet we still believe them centuries after we came here. Hitchens wants to neuter religions by forcing them to get rid of things that are "exclusive to themselves," removing its potential by removing its distinctiveness. While this may have worked on mainstream Protestants, making it almost impossible to tell between a Lutheran and a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian and a Methodist, it will never work on the Catholic Church and certainly not on Islam. We are all different, and while he'd like to subjugate us to secular control he'll always be disappointed.