Sunday, July 31, 2016

Galileo? Schmalileo!

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Why does the Catholic Church oppose science, and why did the Catholic Church torment poor innocent Galileo who was just stating the facts?


Cyrus “Si” N. Tifique

Dear “Si”,

You are almost as mistaken as was Galileo. Allow me to reproduce here one of the most cogent and brief explanations of the Galileo/Vatican silliness I have ever received.

The Big Lie is everywhere that the Church fears science and that she shut-up a heroic scientist. Never mind Nicolaus Copernicus’ dedication to Pope Paul III in his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, 1543). And that Copernicus's work was used in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to reform the calendar. Now, we know that today, everybody is an expert! As they’d say back in the shtetl, “A dog without teeth will also attack a bone.” 

Okay, in brief: Galileo lied to the Pope. He first promised to not publish his work until he could correct a few but large mathematical errors. Then he went ahead and published his work without emendations. He knew that there were flaws in his theory; but he was sure his supposition was true. He lacked evidence to prove that the Earth had both rotation and translation motions. He was able to show some flaws in the full geocentric model, and he did leave us a legacy of observational astronomy; but he did not prove that Earth rotates on its axis or revolves around the Sun; nor did he even answer the arguments against those positions that had been well-known for 2000 years.

Pythagoreans suggested heliocentrism 2000 years prior to Galileo, but he offered no reason beyond numinous clap-trap in its defense. Aristotle had rebuffed the Pythagorean idea for the same reason that, centuries later, the Church would hold in abeyance Galileo’s: it lacked necessary evidence to support it.

I hold that Galileo is remembered and celebrated by academic circles less for his contributions to knowledge than for his usefulness as anti-Catholic propaganda. Consider Galileo’s higher standing in academia against that of Tycho Brahe, and his student Johannes Kepler, who far more ought to be known and read in schoolbooks.

Galileo's own argument for heliocentrism was grounded in the tides: Earth moves since water moves. Can one think of a more laughably inadequate stab at proof? For one thing, it proves little and for another it falls apart as a theory. Galileo dismissed the suggestion that the tides' motion was due to the moon, as put forth by (Saint) Thomas Aquinas and Tycho's student Johannes Kepler.

Consider the case of Galileo versus Galileo, and that the man never saw the contradiction. On one hand he considered that ocean tides might be the consequence the Earth's rotation. He dismissed as astrology suggestions that tides were influenced by the moon. Yet, his theory ran counter to his better arguments concerning why we cannot feel the rotation of the Earth.

Even if one insists against facts that there had been any fault of Rome’s in the Galileo—Pope Urban VIII controversy, the matter serves to point out an anomaly and not a pattern. No related experience preceded or ensued.”

So you see, the church wasn’t going to bless Galileo’s theory until he could prove it. Why wouldn’t they take a leap, and why were they so hard on Galileo?  Simple: the world was being torn apart by religious war that masqueraded as religious reform. Italy and Spain were free from the wars of religion that ravage Germany, France, England and Holland. The reformers were governed by the principle of sola scriptura (bible alone). To call the common understanding of Scripture into question without adequate proof was inviting the chaos that was destroying northern Europe.  The Church told Galileo to calm down until he could prove his theories, lest they lead to social chaos. Galileo stamped his feet like a two-year-old and said “NO! I’m right even though I can’t prove it. I don’t care who dies or lives.” 

The church has always encouraged real science. Most recently, the discoverer of the Big Bang was a Catholic priest, Georges-Henri Lemaitre. The church has always been supportive of learning, but has resisted pseudo-sciences like the pseudo-science of 19th century Darwinism which laid the ground work for Nazism and the Holocaust, or the social pseudo-science of Marxist-Leninism which murdered and enslaved untold millions. Then, of course, there is the pseudo-science of Freudianism which has convinced the world that it is not to blame for the chaos of the present age. Or how about the latest pseudo-science of gender studies? How much harm will that do before we come to our senses?

You like science? Science is an unmitigated good? Tell that to the dead and wounded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tell that to the ghosts of the Nazi Holocaust, the Nazis were very scientific. They made a true science of genocide. Science unleashed without a soul is not necessarily a blessing.

The Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, July 24, 2016

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain!’(Lk 12:54)

Letter to Jennifer “Jen” E. Russ, enough already…

It’s time I ended this harangue and moved on to other cultural train wrecks. I apologize for what has become a helpless, whining meander on my part, but my confusion was summed up nicely by a blues musician who just returned from touring Outer Mongolia with a Christian rock band. (I am not making any of that up. He is constantly traveling the world sharing the Gospel by means of music. I think he is on his way to China in a month or two.) He said all the meetings and committees are just a recognition that the Church is dying and no one knows what to do.

I don’t think the Church is dying. He doesn’t either. He said that where it has been recently persecuted, it is thriving. It is among most Europeans that it is dying. In the term Europeans I include the citizens of Europe, especially Western Europe and their colonial descendants, the Americas, Spanish, Portuguese, French and English-speaking. Christianity flourishes in South America the protestant evangelical/Pentecostal variety, not the Catholic but among us Europeans the cloud of God’s glory seems to have moved on.

It’s time to get used to it. We have rejected the culture of our forebears. This means that to be culturally Catholic or Christian is completely impossible because the culture is dying. One can no longer be Catholic because one is Italian, or Spanish or Belgian. One can only be Catholic or Christian for that matter because it is true. It is time to drop the fantasy that because one has a baptismal certificate one is a Catholic.

When I was boy, in another century, one was excommunicated that is booted from the church if one failed to receive Holy Communion during the Easter season. One could only receive communion if one was in a state of grace, which meant assisting at Mass on a weekly basis and, if married or sexually active, living in a faithful and sacramental marriage. That meant for most of us one could only be Catholic if one went to confession at least once a year. To fail to receive the sacraments of penance and Holy Communion annually meant, in effect, to no longer be a Catholic.

I have no idea which of those assumptions is still true. We redefine things constantly in hopes of keeping the body count up, but we are fooling ourselves. In an urban area of 8 million we count two million plus as Catholics. We claim that 20% of Catholics go to Mass every Sunday. It is probably more like 15 percent if one includes tourists, occasional participants and pastoral padding of the statistics. Let’s see, 15% or 20% of an area population of 8 million. I think that comes to about 2.5 percent or less. We are already a Church that has faded to insignificance in this part of the world. Face it. 

Why has this happened? There are a lot of reasons. If I could pick one, it would have to be the sins of the clergy. The clergy have always sinned, but there are times when the sins of the clergy become so offensive to God and to the people that reaction is inevitable.

In the Middle Ages there were a lot of holy priests. Still there were enough who thought the faith was their private plaything that the reformation and the centuries of religious war ensued. Similar things happened with the decadence of the 6th century that a religion roared out of the east and swept away most of the Christian world. The Cathars were such a contrast to the decadent clergy of the twelfth century that, had it not been for the poor and holy followers of saints Dominic and Francis, the Church would have perished. And now we in the 21st century are paying for the sins of 20th. I am not referring to the sins that are so popularly reported by the vultures of the press. The scandals of the late 20th century were only symptoms of the rot. The rot had already festered for a century and more. We slowly lost the vision of piety that inspired the first missionaries to this land and we cannot recoup until we recover that piety.

The faith is not about breaking the whole world into small discussion groups. It is about holiness, and that holiness has to begin with the clergy.  About the early disciples, the Romans were wont to say, “…these men have been with Jesus.” Until once again that be said about me and my fellow clergy, the decline will continue inexorably. I have two reasons to hope: St John Paul the Great and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In the horror of the 20th century the Lord gave his orphaned children both a father and a mother. Of them it could be said, “These had been with Jesus.” 

Evangelism is to bring people into a saving knowledge of Jesus, the Messiah, not a theological, a social, a political or historical knowledge, but a SAVING knowledge, a knowledge of Him that causes us to be ashamed of our sins and to long for the change that only grace can achieve. It is not a knowledge that conforms His image to current perversions, but a knowledge of Him that delivers us from the perversity, violence and ugliness of these times.  “Be not conformed to this present age but be transformed by a renewal of your mind.” (Rom 12:2)

To evangelize is not complicated. It is simply to learn how to pray with people. If we talk about Christ, we are wasting our time, but if we can get those who are lost to talk to Christ, they will be saved from this dying culture of death. To evangelize is to move a person from saying “Him” about Christ, to saying “you” to Christ.

It is that simple. All the committees in the world won’t help an iota, but one mother Teresa and one Karol Wotyla who could invite people to trust Christ by their very presence and make all the difference. If we don’t learn to be holy and to invite people to meet the One whom they see that we truly love, the Catholic Church in America will become an arcane club, interesting only to historian and medievalists. If we the clergy do not repent and return to the Gospel, the thing is up. I have one more cause for hope. I believe the Lord will give us a second chance.

It seems the Church flourishes in persecution. I believe that He may just bless us with real suffering, it seems to have already begun in Canada and Europe and America, where an increasing number of laws threatened those who would be faithful to the faith that we have received from Christ and the apostles. I suspect that being a Christian in the post European world will become very uncomfortable. Perhaps sooner than we think we will have, as Pope Benedict suspected, a smaller but holier and, I would add, more real Church.

It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

The sky is darkening and it has already started to drizzle. I suggest we get out the umbrellas.

The Rev. Know-it-all 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Communication in an era devoid of beauty

We Catholics are in the odd position of being counter-cultural. Catholicism is the foundation of western culture, but now that the world in which live is rejecting the culture of its ancestors, we Catholics are, or at least should be, something different. I can never quite understand why we think we have to offer the current non-culture more of the same. There is an interesting study of contemporary music. It makes the point that current popular music has a far less complex structure than music of even a few years ago.

The non-culture of the current era communicates by means of text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. which limits the numbers of ideas that can be communicated simply for technological reasons. I have no idea whether or not this will ultimately make us smarter or dumber. It is however taking the place of face-to-face communication. The word person derives from the Latin word for face. Perhaps to forget the face is to lose the person. Faces are beautiful every face as every mother knows.

Was it Dostoevsky who said the world will be saved by beauty? There is nothing beautiful about the new technology of communication as far as I can tell. It is useful, but I can’t think of it as beautiful. So much is communicated in the human smile, in the frown, the eyes, the tilt of the head. The human face is beautiful, even when it seems at first not to be. The grimace of laughter has its own unique beauty. All these disappear in the cold light of the display screen on a smart phone or computer. “The facts, mam, just the facts.”

The world has become ugly. The violence perpetrated in the name of religion, of race of political power is ugly. The secularization of the culture has created a whole new opportunity for ugliness by making sex a kind of industry of empty pleasure and self-expression. The means by which life is given, about which poets have sung and artist have painted as long as human beings have made art of any kind, has been made a way to defy nature, to defy God, a way to shake our fist at heaven.

It has made a curse, slavery to passion of the “…one blessing not lost by the sin of Adam, nor washed away in the waters of the flood.”  It is impolite to say that divorce, and certain practices I would rather not mention are not good things. We might offend if we point out, not that the emperor is naked, but that the emperor’s clothes are ugly, even filthy. Heaven forefend lest we offend!  Beauty is everything. God saw the world and it was good. We see the world and say, “I don’t like it. I want it done my way.” And what do we offer the future? We offer an accommodation with ugliness. Young people get enough ugly in the world. It’s time to start offering them something better.

A critic said once said that the Church, in her struggle to maintain traditional morality, “is out of step with the times.”

Well, hurrah for the Church! The times stink.