Friday, November 28, 2014

Should I go to my cousin's wedding?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

My cousin Nigel is being married in a forest in Colorado by a druid. I am being urged to go to the wedding by the whole family. Nigel was raised as a Catholic as was the whole family, though he and most of the family go to church only sporadically. Still, they claim the name of Catholic. His girlfriend with whom he has been living for the past two years has no religion to speak of and doesn’t want to jump through all the hoops that the Catholic Church requires, marriage preparation, classes, letters from pastors, forms to fill out, affidavits to swear. She says it’s all just man-made rules and why should those really matter when two people are in love and planning a life together.  The family is furious with me. They say I am ruining the whole event with my disapproval. Should I go just to be supportive and to preserve family unity?

Phil Anderer
Dear Phil,

Why should all the Catholic rigmarole really matter when two people are in love? Simple. They won’t be in love for long and if they aren’t interested in the rigmarole and the hoops, what makes them think that they will stay together when it is no longer convenient?

For Catholics marriage is, or at least used to be, a big deal. I was raised on stories of St. Thomas More, a most embarrassing saint for our time. He gets in the way of so much, like ecumenism. His canonization is a reminder that the Church of Rome, founded on the rock of Peter is different than the Anglican/Episcopalian Church founded on the hormones of Henry the Eighth of England.  Rent the movie “Man for All Seasons” if you’ve never heard of Henry and Thomas, two friends if ever two there were.  Henry was a king, a great renaissance king, madly in love with his queen, Catherine of Aragon.  Catherine and Henry had child after child, but only one survived infancy, a girl, Princess Mary. Henry was worried that he had no male heir to succeed him, and face it, Catherine had put on little weight and wasn’t quite the beauty she used to be. Renaissance kings had no problem finding a date on a Saturday night, married or not. Henry had quite a few special friends and quite a few children by them. Still there was no heir.

Henry apparently had a child by a girl from a noble family named Mary Boleyn. After the baby was born Henry lost interest.  Mary did have a younger sister, Ann, who was fascinating.  She however was not going to be one more in a string of royal mistresses. She wanted a ring on her finger and a crown on her head. She got what she wanted, though that crowned head was cut off after a marriage of about three years. She made herself far less fascinating by yelling at the king and failing to produce a son. She only managed to produce another daughter, Elizabeth. Still, before the disaster unfolded, Henry was besotted and having failed to receive an annulment from the pope, he declared himself head of the church in England at Ann’s urging and gave himself an annulment from his marriage to Queen Catherine.  All his subjects were expected to swear an oath of supremacy, declaring the King the Supreme Head of the English Church. Sir Thomas More resigned his position as chancellor of England and refused to swear the oath. All the bishops of England save one bishop, John Fisher, and all the members of the government and even all the members of Sir Thomas’ family swore the oath. Thomas alone refused. 

He was accused of the sin of pride. He alone would not swear.  Did he think himself better than all the Christians in England, better even than all the bishops, save one, of England? When asked why he would not swear the oath, he simply said that his conscience would not allow him to do so.

They asked, “Is your conscience better than all others?”

Thomas replied, “No, but it is my conscience. You must answer to God for your conscience and I must answer to God for mine.”  

“Sir Thomas, will you not come along for the sake of fellowship?”

To which Sir Thomas said, “If I go along with you for the sake of fellowship and one day we stand before God, and you are admitted to heaven for following your conscience, while I am sent to hell for disobeying mine, will you then come along with me for the sake of fellowship?”  
I am a Catholic. I believe that marriage is an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman that can be ended only by death, if that relationship in fact exists.  I believe that relationship exists not simply for the mutual good of those who enter it, but that it exists primarily for filling heaven with children for God and for the stability of the human family in which those children of heaven are nurtured.  My ancestors have believed this for 1,300 years since St. Boniface cut down the sacred oak tree 25 miles from where they lived. All my ancestors have taught me that marriage is a religious covenant, not simply a civil contract. Remember that a contract means “I give you that you might give me.” When the transaction is ended, the relationship is ended. Prostitution is a perfectly reasonable contract.  A covenant means “I give you myself that you might give me yourself.”  It ends only when there is no more self to give, at the death of one of the covenanters. I believe that marriage is a covenant, and since it is a covenant it is profoundly religious. It does not admit divorce.
Civil marriage permits divorce and thus can never be more than a contract, an exchange of goods and services. It is never religious. In my understanding it is not even marriage. Why ever would you expect me to be a witness to a parody of my most deeply held beliefs? Civil marriage is a novelty invented by the French Revolution in its attempt to destroy the Catholic Church. Why would you ask me to participate in an event designed to destroy the  institution I hold most dear and has given birth to my culture and even my very self? Why would you ask me to violate my conscience, when I have not asked you to violate yours? If you understand things differently, I have no objection. I simply disagree because of my conscience.

What is a civil marriage, a marriage that admits the possibility of divorce? I don’t understand civil marriage. Once it had to do with inheritance. Those born outside of a civilly recognized marriage could not inherit. This is no longer so. Virginity and chastity were once respected. People were looked down on by society if they lived together without some form of marriage. This is no long true either. It is quite common; in fact it is the norm for people to have sexual relations and to live together without any form of marriage.

So what is gained by marriage? Civil marriage and most non-Catholic marriages, including Eastern Orthodox marriages admit the possibility that the marriage will fail. As far as I know, only Catholics say that by marriage, two people are entering into an indissoluble marriage. Only Catholics, as far as I know, believe that save for the intervention of death, marriage is something that can be entered only once.

Civil marriage means nothing in our times. It does not mean that now we can begin physical intimacy, nor does it mean that we will be committed to each other for the rest of our lives. As far as I can tell it means nothing, except for perhaps the good intentions and wishful thinking of all involved. 

Why must I deny my conscience and thus risk my immortal soul in order to attend a party with friends and family? I don’t disapprove of your actions. I simply don’t understand their purpose. Please hold me excused. I bow to your conscience. At least let me keep faith with mine. I ask no less than I am willing to give. I will not try to stop your civil marriage. I will not interrupt the ceremony. I will assume that you are obeying the dictates of your conscience.  But don’t ask me to accept your conscience as my own. You will surely go to heaven if this marriage you are entering is done in good conscience. I will surely go to hell for participating as a witness in what I regard as violation of my own conscience. 

In 1535, Sir Thomas More became Saint Thomas More when, for the sake of his conscience, he was beheaded at the order of his good friend, King Henry the Eighth. His last words were “I die the King's good servant, but God's first.”

 Dare I echo his final words:  Let me live as your good friend, but God’s first.

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, November 21, 2014

Conservative, liberal, orthodox what does it all mean? Can’t we all just get along?

Note to the humor impaired: Don’t take this article too seriously. It’s full of sarcasm and attempts at irony.)
Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I am tired of all the name calling and the negativity in the current dialogue. Conservative, liberal, orthodox what does it all mean? Can’t we all just get along?
Ann T. Kreisst
Dear Ann,
The situation has gotten a bit odd, what with cardinals being put out to pasture and all. I have a suggestion that might help. Years ago, a dear friend who had become interested in Catholicism wandered into a very progressive parish, where he took instruction in the Catholic faith. He was quite well read and was fascinated by the idea of transubstantiation. When he mentioned this, the pastor said most progressively, “You don’t have to believe that!”
The seeker asked, “May I believe I if I want to?
To which said progressive pastor, replied, “I suppose you can if you really want to.”
 This kind of tolerance leads me to think that perhaps we should do what our Jewish friends have done for more than a century. They disagree with each mightily about points of theology and religious observance, but still manage to recognize each other’s Jewishness without getting too upset.
I warn you that the following is a huge simplification, but I will try to explain how they manage. Just take, for example, Orthodox Judaism. It has adherents called Hasidim, Haredi, Mishnagim and more. Among the Hasidim you have Sattmers and Lubavitchers. Among the Lubavitchers you have those who believe that the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson is the Messiah and you have those who don’t. It is really more complicated, but the inaccurately convenient divisions of Judaism boil down to a major four: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and a new variation, Reconstructionist.   
Orthodox Judaism gets its start with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the destruction of the Jewish state in 132AD.  Rabbinic Phariseeism seems to have gathered steam in the exile in Babylon centuries before the birth of Jesus. In short, Rabbinic Phariseeism developed a way to be an Israelite without a temple. When the temple was destroyed, the other forms of Judaism, such as the Sadducee-ism and the Essenes lost their reason for existence. But Rabbinic Phariseeism was good to go. It became the normative form of Israelite religion. It rejected the messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth and insisted on the literal application of the 613 commandments found in the book of Moses and the rabbinic interpretations thereof that eventually comprised the Talmud.
This was Judaism for about 1400 years from at least 200 AD until 1837 when Rabbi Abraham Geiger invented Reform Judaism. He believed that Judaism should evolve and shed the anachronistic restrictions of orthodoxy, especially regarding dietary laws and “ghetto-ization.”  This new more adaptive approach to Judaism really took off in the New World. Some poor wandering Jew trekking across the frontiers of America had a hard time keeping kosher. Half the animals he encountered were unknown in the old country. Does a beaver chew the cud and divide the hoof, or what?  One could starve on the frontier while wondering whether a prairie dog could be eaten or not. Reform Judaism was a boon to the Jewish pioneer. If Rabbinic Phariseeism was “how to be and Israelite without a temple” then Reform Judaism was “how to be an Israelite without a Kosher Delicatessen.” 
The other two modern forms of Judaism are Conservative, (tradition, though not absolutely essential, should be respected. Perhaps Reform Judaism has gone too far.) It should be noted that “Conservative” here refers only to things Jewish. It has no political connotation. One can be a Conservative Jew and still vote liberal.  Finally, we have Reconstructionist Judaism (Reform Judaism enough. Belief in God should be optional.)
All these different kinds of Jews still manage to call each other Jewish and keep their squabbles to a reasonable minimum.  Perhaps this would work for us. We could have Orthodox Catholics who would divide themselves into those who want Mass only in Latin and those who want Mass in English, but still don’t approve of gay marriage. Then we could have Conservative Catholics who like the smells and bells and funny hats, but don’t want to miss the party when their cousin Bruce marries his boyfriend.  They could call themselves “conservative” and still vote for pro-abortion candidates.  Then we could have Reform Catholics who say “and also with you” instead of and “with your spirit.” They could have married lesbian women priests and giant puppet head Masses and sing all the new songs like “Sing a new church into being” and “Come dance in the forest and bump into trees” and all that groovy new music from the 1960’s. They could call God “mother” and dance around in diaphanous robes. 
We could put signs out in front of churches, like “St. Eudoxia’s Orthodox Catholic Church: No hand holding at the Our Father, please.
Or you have a church down the road with a sign in front of it: “St. Perfidia’s Conservative Catholic Church: a nice liturgy, but no excessive moral demands
How about, “Church of the Spirit, Reformed Catholic: Come on in and be surprised!  
We could even have a Reconstructionist Catholic church. You celebrate all the major holidays, like St Patrick’s Day and Halloween without actually believing anything at all. You could still dye your beer green and get misty eyed about Irish history, though you reject the faith on which that great culture was built. The sign outside could read, “Catholic Reconstructionist Church of the Assumption: We assume there is a god, but we’re not really sure. 
It would be truth in advertising. No one would be unnecessarily subjected to Latin chant or liturgical dance against their will. As Chairman Mao said “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” 
There are only a couple drawbacks to this eminently reasonable solution. Eventually the demographic factor will kick in.  Orthodox Jewish birthrates in just the last few years have soared according to Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen.  27% of Jews younger than 18 live in Orthodox households.  Orthodox Jews actually like having big families! Part of Orthodox Catholicism would have to be an acceptance of Humanae Vitae and its prohibition of artificial birth control, whereas conservative Catholicism would of course wink at artificial birth control. Reform and Reconstructionist Catholicism would have a special blessing for birth control devices.
Eventually, to be Catholic would be the same thing as to be Orthodox Catholic at least that’s what seems to be happening among our Jewish friends. In the long run it might not work, but it would get us through the next couple centuries with at least the appearance of unity.  I close with a thought from a great man, my bishop. “If you invent your own religion, eventually you will find that you are worshipping yourself.” 
“May You be with you.”  
“And also with you.”
Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wars of Relilgious -- again

This is a Rev. Know-it-all re-run. The Rev. Know it all has had an exciting week. 

I was shocked to discover that most of the wars in the world today are religious wars. Religion is the source of everything bad. War, the Crusades, the Inquisition, overpopulation, persecution, prejudice; it’s all religious. I have no idea whether or not there is a God, but if religious people would just leave the rest of us alone, we would all be fine. 
Bella Koes

Dear Bella,  

Let us first define our terms. We read in James 1:27 that, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”   
The Greek term, (remember them, the Greeks, precise to the point of tediousness?) is “threskeia”, which means “worship, religion, especially expressed in (religious) cult, that is, ritual.”  Translating the text into Latin, the word is religio, whence comes our word religion. Religio meant holding scrupulously to the ceremonies due the gods. There is no clear agreement among scholars as to the origin of the word. It seems to come from “re” and “ligare” thus would have something to do with holding back, or tying down.Above that the word “religion” may actually mean to restrain or tie back. 
In the Church, we talk about the virtue of religion, which is a dimension of the virtue of justice. Justice is that virtue which gives to each his due. It is impossible to give God what He is owed, but our attempt to do so is called religion. In the common understanding religion is “...all that God stuff, do unto others etc.” It can be thus argued, that Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, is not itself a religion, but a faith and a fellowship that has a necessary religious component. (Boy is this boring. What is he talking about? ) Just this: you’re assuming that you know what religion is, and you don’t. “It’s all that God stuff, no?” 

 We need to define our terms. There are lots of religions. In the above mentioned passage, St. James says that some religion can be foolish. You are making the claim that religion is the source of human suffering. Which religions? Let’s look at the question of war and religion in tedious detail. The United Nations seems most interested in wars that involve a thousand or more fatalities a year, so we’ll start there. In this list are included  1) the Arab-Israeli Conflict with a grand total of 50,000 - 90,000 fatalities since its inception, then  2) the Somali Civil War, 300,000 - 400,000 fatalities, then  3) the Afghan Civil War 1,500,000–2,000,000 fatalities, a war into which we have recently jumped with both feet and a patriotic smile, though it was originally a Muslim vs. Communist war, then  4) the civil war in Darfur, Sudan, 450,000 (+/-) fatalities, then  5) the Iraq War, 500,000 - 1,500,000, then 6) the war in North-West Pakistan 13,900 dead and, finally, 7) the Mexican Drug War 10,000 fatalities or so.  

There are many other smaller-scale armed conflicts that are currently causing a smaller number of violent fatalities each year, but still worth an honorable mention.  8) The Colombian drug war 50,000 to 200,000 fatalities;  9) the Communist/ Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines about 120,000 dead; then 10) the Kashmiri Insurgency in India, perhaps 60,000 gone; then 11) the Niger Delta and 12) Baluchistan conflicts, (who knows how many dead?) and finally in India, the 13) Naxalite Maoist insurgency whatever that may be!
I have not mentioned the Northern Irish situation, because at the time it seems to be over, but the famous conflict between Protestants and Catholics was not what it seemed.  Many of the so-called Catholics were actually Maoist Communists. The conflict seems to be ending because the combatants are just getting too old to continue. You can only do so much damage from a wheel chair.
So, of the twelve wars listed above, 10 involve Muslims, 1 involves Communists, and two involve drug dealers, admittedly in Catholic countries, though I suspect the drug lords don’t attend church that often. In the above list there is not one Vatican-paid Swiss Guard mentioned. So those miseries cannot be directly pinned on the Pope.
I would venture that some religions, like Islam, make war a positive virtue. Remember that Mohammed was himself a general who mandated beheadings. Other religions seem to restrain the impulse to kill. Jesus and Buddha seem downright opposed to war, though their followers occasionally ignore them. Still, I would venture that Christian/Catholic religion performs the function of restraining what seems to be the favorite pastime of humanity: murder on the grand scale. Where Catholicism has been practiced, war, though not eliminated, has been held back. Have you ever heard of the Peace of God and the Truce of God?  
The Peace of God was the protection from military violence won by special groups in medieval society. These included the clergy and their possessions; the poor; women; peasants along with their tools, animals, mills, vineyards, and labor; and later pilgrims and merchants: in short, the vast majority of the medieval population who neither bore arms, nor were entitled to bear them. The Truce of God, while often confused and later merged with the Peace, protected certain times of the week and year from the violence of the feudal class: no private or public wars were to be waged from Wednesday evening until Monday morning, during certain Saints’ days, during Advent, Lent, and Rogation days, also Holy Week, Easter Week and the 12 Days of Christmas, with its partridges and pear trees. This peace, though often broken, extended from the 800's until the Reformation in the 1500's. The Pope could excommunicate violators and people actually worried about such censures for almost 700 years. 
The History Channel and Hollywood have convinced you of the myth of the scheming evil popes bent on world domination who were overthrown by the glorious Reformation and the still more wonderful Enlightenment. Look at the numbers. If conducted by the rules, medieval wars were not much more violent than modern English soccer matches. (I’m joking, but not by much.) Remember you could only kill other knights and the technology of killing had not yet benefitted from the Enlightenment of the 1700's and the wonderful scientific revolution which has made our lives so much richer and our war so much more deadly. Medieval wars just didn’t kill as many people as modern wars do.
War in Europe really came into its own when the papal domination of western Christianity was overthrown. That’s when the “wars of religion,” really got rolling, principally in France, Germany and England.  These probably killed 10,000,000 (ten million) over the course of a century, certainly an inspiring achievement, but nothing compared to the progress we’ve made as we gradually shake off Christianity altogether. Take away the pope, and ten million die. Let’s see what happens when we take away Christianity all together.  
There is an interesting little book about the death toll caused by Communism entitled The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. The introduction, by editor Stephane Courtois, himself a former Maoist/Communist, asserts that “...Communist regimes... turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government.”   He cites a death toll which totals 94 million, give or take, not counting the “excess deaths” (decrease of the population due to lower than the expected birth rate). The breakdown of the number of deaths is as follows: 65 million in the Peoples Republic of China; 20 million in the Soviet Union; 2 million in Cambodia; 2 million in North Korea; 1.7 million in Africa;1.5 million in Afghanistan;1 million in the Communist states of  Eastern Europe; 1 million in Vietnam; 150,000 in Latin America; and 10,000 deaths “resulting from actions of the international communist movement and communist parties not in power." 
Courtois claims that Communists are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including Nazism. Let us remember that both Communism and Nazism are socialist systems that deny the claims of God on humanity. The state is supreme, not God. Communism has killed about 100,000,000 (One hundred million) for political reasons. We’re not talking war here, just political ideology. Nazism “only” killed 25,000,000 (twenty five million) for political reasons, 6 million of them being Jews. This does not include the 40,000,000 killed as a result of combat in the Second World War.
So, take away the pope, ten million dead. Take away God, two hundred million dead, counting war. There are a lot more wars and religions we could go into, but enough is enough. I think you get the picture. Still, it is worth mentioning a religion that incorporates war as a divine mandate, such as Islam. Communism has been responsible for the deaths of maybe 100 million people.  Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam says, “Approximately 270 million nonbelievers died over the last 1,400 years for the glory of political Islam.” If he is correct, Hitler comes in third, a mere piker, a veritable camp fire girl. 
Wait a minute! You papists can’t get off that easy! What about the Crusades, the Inquisition and the conquest of the Americas? Aren’t I always warning you not to get your religion from the Discovery Channel? The Inquisition, though not something to be proud of, really didn’t give it everything they had. The Vatican has opened up meticulous records kept over the 400 years of the Inquisition’s heyday and in Spain and Portugal perhaps 2,000-3,000 were killed. 
How about the Crusades? In the course of two centuries perhaps one or two million died, and let us remember these were defensive wars. A very political religion burst out of the Arabian Peninsula with the express intention of taking over the world, a hope still warmly cherished by many Muslims. Christian lands were conquered and Christians killed. Remember that the Middle East was solidly Christian at the time. Around 1000 AD, Caliph Hakim of Cairo killed the entire Christian population of Jerusalem, burned every Christian shrine in the Holy Land, and hacked the tomb of Christ to pieces. Imagine what would happen today if a Christian tried to destroy the Ka’aba in Mecca! For us the Tomb of Christ is comparable to the Ka’aba, the central shrine of Islam.
Those assaults started the Crusades. If not for the Crusades, the slaughter of Christians would have continued unabated, until the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace, were either dead or converted to the banners of the armies of Islam. The crusades lasted 200 years. Jihad is with us today after 1300 years. There’s no comparison either in terms of violence or motive. Crusade and Jihad are not moral equivalents Take a look at Professor Bill Warner on Jihad vs Crusade on Youtube.  Interesting. 
As for the conquest of the Americas, true, there were atrocities on the part of gold-crazed conquistadors, but the rights of the native Americans were defended by the priests and friars who followed in the wake of the conquerors. Most of the dead were killed by microbes, and that encounter between the microbes of the old world and the people of the Americas was inevitable.  
So there you have it. Where Catholic Christianity has been practiced, the murderous human spirit has been restrained. Where secularism and warrior religions are practiced, the deaths are counted in the hundreds of millions. 
Once again, I would like to remind you, don’t believe everything you see on television.  

Rev. Know-It-All