Friday, January 30, 2015

Aren't all religions the same?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Do you think all religions are the same? They sure look the same, all that bowing and scraping and odd clothing and relics and shrines and pilgrimages and fundraising and rules. They sure seem the same to me.

Yours ever,  

T. O’Lerance

Dear “T”,

The answer to your question is a yes and no answer. All religions look the same because all people are the same. Funny, people look so very different from each other but really aren’t very different, and religions look so very similar but are really completely different from one another. People have taken to ignoring the Genesis account of creation because they think science has disproved it. Nonsense! The Genesis account got it exactly right. It is a poem about God’s love for humanity that says all human beings are descended from one man and one woman and thus are meant to be one family. 

We can be proud that we Christians have always believed it when people like Hitler and the pseudo-Darwinists believe that there are different species of humans, their species, of course, being the master race. Christian Scripture and tradition both teach that there is no such thing as race. There are certainly different cultures and religions, but we are all the same race: human. Religions look alike because people are alike. We all want the same things, a peaceful life for ourselves and those we love, health, a roof over our heads and a decent meal with people we enjoy, a good night’s sleep and fair weather.  

These are things we all want, though some of us want a little bit more, like Hitler who wanted Europe and beyond, or Stalin who wanted power over the lives of all others or Kim Jong-un or the Castro brothers who to live in luxury while those around them starve. We are all the same with the same basic needs and wants, but somehow something has gone terribly wrong when the world produces those who would be happy at the price of others’ misery. In short, we all want paradise; the question is how to attain it. Our desire is the same. Our methods differ wildly.

Buddhism, as I simplistically understand it, deals with human suffering by refusing to suffer, as did stoicism in the Greco-Roman world. Hinduism sees suffering as the result of bad behavior, bad karma, in a former life. The three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe that suffering is the result of sin, albeit my sin or perhaps others’ sins or the sins of our first parents. We monotheists all ask the question that Rabbi Kushner asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  His answer is that God is not really omnipotent. Islam answers the question by saying that God is omnipotent, but arbitrary. He can do what he wants. Who are you to question? 

Traditional Christianity has a completely different answer. Perhaps we are the most opposite to Buddhism. We don’t believe that suffering is to be escaped. It is to be embraced. Suffering is the currency of love. God allows suffering for the sake of love. Carefully trained by the romanticism of three centuries, we moderns think of love as a kind pleasure. It’s about how we feel, not what we do. Christians repudiate that definition of love. 

We believe that God sent His very heart to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In Him, God lives our life and cries our tears. Jesus defined love by a horrific death on the Cross. He was faithful to the end for the love of humanity and in trusting, loving obedience to his Father in heaven. On the Cross He redefined love. This is the sense in which we are different from all other religions. We define love by the Cross. This puts us in complete contradiction to the world in which we live. For this culture and even for many who claim to be Christian, suffering has no value. 

 We believe that love is always and only what you give away. Love has no expectation of return. It simply gives. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an offering for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  

When we look at Christianity and see nothing but the rules and rituals, we miss the point. So many people look at the rules and rituals of the faith and conclude that since they are merely human, they are unimportant. That’s the point! They are human. Our rules and rituals express human longing for ultimate truth. They lift humanity to the divine.

Christianity is the opposite of the religions of the world. Some religions deny pain, some try to explain it away. Christianity believes that God Himself embraced pain for the sake of love.  Christianity believes that you cannot know God without knowing the Cross. You cannot be saved but by embracing the Cross. The Mass, which is at the center of traditional Christianity, is the renewal of the sacrifice of the Cross.  We are allowed to be part of the cross of Christ by receiving Holy Communion. 

The whole discussion of who may and who may not receive Holy Communion forgets the basic truth. The discussion should be about who will embrace the Cross. It isn’t about my rights or my privileges. The Mass asks me to embrace His Cross. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  (1 John 4:8)  You cannot know real love, love as Jesus defines it, without knowing the Cross.  

Our goal as individuals and as a Church is to bring every human being to a saving knowledge of Christ. That saving knowledge is not simply to know a religion or a moral system, or to join a certain club. It is to know the Cross and to embrace it. Without the Cross there is no love, and all our religion becomes senseless. 

In the current religious disaster, I suspect that we, the Church have taken our eyes off the Cross, and wish somehow to reconcile our own narcissistic desires with the absolute demands of sacrificial love. We cannot do it and we are fools, or worse, to think we can.

Rev. Know-it-all

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Letter to Bonnie Ann Twerp: Bishop Bonny and the Magic Kool Aid (continued)

Not long ago I wrote an article about German Cardinal Walter Kasper who recently said that African Catholics “should not tell us (meaning the European white folks, I suppose) what we have to do.” He further admitted that the African bishops are not being listened to by the Vatican synod as it takes up family life issues.  Quelle dommage!  That’s French for, “What a shame!” I say it in French for a perfectly good reason. You need to start brushing up on your high school French lessons because it is thought that French is poised to become the most commonly spoken language in the world.  Let’s look at some fun statistics once again.

French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa is the last place on earth where people are still having large families as a rule. Niger, Mali and Somalia, Muslim countries totaling perhaps 45 million people, have a total fertility rate of six plus children per woman. The other exceptions among Muslim countries are Afghanistan (32 million with a fertility rate of 5.43 children per woman) and Yemen (a Muslim country of perhaps 26 million with a TFR of 4.09.)  Burundi, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan, Mozambique Ethiopia and Benin, all Christian majority countries, some with Muslim minorities, total 235 million people and have fertility rates between 5 and 7 children per woman. And then there is the giant of Africa, Nigeria 177 million people, about half Muslim and half Christian, a country where religious war rages as I write. 

So the bottom line: There are about 300 million Christians and about 160 million Muslims, all in sub-Saharan and southern Africa, with the exception of Afghanistan and Yemen, whose populations are expanding while the rest of the world is shrinking. Margaret Sanger, foundress of Planned Parenthood and her pen-pal, Adolph Hitler pushed eugenics, abortion and birth control because there were just too many dark skinned people in the world. By making artificial birth control and abortion acceptable in the developed, secular world, they have managed to insure that the future is African and probably Christian. 

This was first hinted at years ago, in a 2002 article, “The Next Christianity” (Atlantic Monthly, October 2002), in which Phillip Jenkins claimed that the future of the world is the southern hemisphere, is Christian and is Charismatic. So far he is right on track. The “white race” so dear to Hitler and Sanger is probably doomed to extinction because of them, while Christian Africa seems to be the wave of the future.  It sounds a bit racist even to talk this way, but quite the contrary; to me this is proof that racism invariably backfires. I am of the opinion that race does not exist, save for the human race.  I suspect that is exactly how our heavenly Father looks at it.  

This amazing demographic shift says something profound about human beings. It says that we are self-centered narcissists.  Let’s be honest for a minute. Kids are crazy making. Who would want more than one or two of them? They are constantly screaming and leaking. They don’t come housebroken. They cost a fortune to maintain. They have to be fed regularly until they are at least 18 when you can legally throw them out of the house. Sure, one or two of them are cute, but dogs are cute, and you can leave them tied up in the basement if you have to go out for few hours. Try that with kids and you’ll have the Department of Children and Family Services knocking at your door as soon as the nosy neighbors can look up the number. It’s easier to get a dog. They are easier to train and usually die after 14 or 15 years and then you’re done with it. And best of all they don’t talk back or want to drive your car.  

There’s no good reason to have a lot of kids, unless of course you live on a farm. Then they are useful as unpaid labor. On the farm, kids are an economic asset. In an urban setting, kids are an expensive luxury. They take up a lot of money, time, and well, let’s face it, love — real love, not the cuddly cuteness that one has with a nice puppy. Sure, kids are cute when they’re little, but face it, they grow up to be adolescents and there’s nothing cute about some know-it-all, surly teenager. Dogs are more loyal than kids. (The preceding is meant to be sarcastic, but it is certainly the way we are going. Have you notice that the pet food aisle in the super market gets bigger and bigger? It used to be that you owned a dog. Now you are a pet-parent. ) 

As the entire world urbanizes, as our food supply is increasing grown by machines on factory farms, there is less and less need to disrupt our self-centered existences by putting up with the care and feeding of children. There is simply no good reason to have large families, unless of course we love children. Therein lies the rub. We don’t love children. We prefer pets and one or two children are okay as pets, but more than one or two and we are like the weird cat lady who has too many cats living in a messy, smelly house. One or two suffice for our amusement, be they dogs, cats or children.  Better just stick with dogs or cats if you aren’t terribly needy. 

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matt 18:5.)  I like Africans. They like children. They have children for the sake of children as often as not. They welcome children and they are welcoming Christ by their millions. Kardinal Kasper and his friends should probably pay attention to the Africans and their bishops, because tomorrow and tomorrow’s Church belong to them. So I would recommend to the synod fathers, to Kardinal Kasper and to all those of his refined and aged ilk, that they take their dusty old textbooks from the dusty shelf and brush up on their high school French, because sub-Saharan French will probably be the lingua franca of the future.  I end with a phrase I learned in my own French studies of long ago:  “Où est la bibliothèque? La bibliothèque est tout droit, puis à gauche.” 

And don’t you forget it !  

The Rev. Know-It-All

PS. Here is a quote that you will probably ignore when you hear who said it, but it is a good quote nonetheless. The gist of it is that if we change what we believe to make ourselves more popular , as the German bishops and those like them seem currently to be doing, then it is no wonder that the faith is dead in Germany, no matter how wealthy the church may be.

If a Church changes doctrine and structure to follow its members views (or the pressures of the surrounding culture), it’s difficult to see the value of that Church and its religion.  Religions must claim to be true and, in their essentials, to uphold principles that are universal and eternal.  No church that panders to the zeitgeist deserves respect, and very shortly it will not get respect, except from those who find it politically useful, and that is less respect than disguised contempt.  --Robert Bork, 1992

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Did you see what Bishop Bonny said? - part 2

Letter to Bonnie Ann Tuerp: Bishop Bonny and the Magic Kool-Aid 

(I refer of course to the Jonestown Massacre in which a crazed religious cult leader convinced most of his congregation to drink poisoned Kool-Aid for their own good. I just wish I could convince my congregation to get to church on time.)

Think for a minute about another issue about which bishop Bonny implies that I and my like are out of touch with reality: the population explosion.  Everyone knows that there are too many people on the planet and the population growth is out of control.  Everyone is wrong.

The population has stopped exploding; it may well be collapsing. In order to continue to exist there must be around 2.1 children born for every woman in any given population. Remember that many women are not of child bearing age and not all women can conceive. Women are able to conceive and bear a child from around 15 years of age to about 45 years, though this is of course not a specific figure.  The global replacement rate is 2.33 children per woman. Every woman in the world must have to have 2.33 children to keep the population exactly what it is now.  That means that some will have to bear more children to “make up” for those who cannot or will not be mothers.  

This isn’t happening. The total fertility rate throughout the world is collapsing like my Aunt Zetta’s parsnip soufflé. There comes a point when a given population enters a kind of death spiral. When families have only one or two children, those children tend to think that’s normal. It is certainly easier than having 5 or 6 children. Two children per woman are not enough to maintain the population of the world. After having lived an economically easier life because of limited family size, it is doubtful that the world is suddenly going to say, “Hey let’s go back to the craziness and chaos of having eight kids in a mud hut!”  Face it. Kids are a lot of work. Two, or one, or none are plenty for most people. Two or one or none may be nice for me at the moment, but if the current trend continues, (and why would it not continue?) the world population will continue to grow from 7 billion as of this writing to 9 billion as of 2050. It will then plummet in the next four centuries to one billion. 

So what’s wrong with that? It will make expressway driving at rush hour a whole lot easier and I won’t have to wait in long lines at the amusement park. The problem is that there will be no amusement park. The 18 year-old creepy carnie who runs the ride will never have been born, nor will the kid who bags your groceries, nor the young Vietnamese girl who does your pedicure, nor the ambitious young Latino who cuts your grass, nor anyone who makes our indolent service oriented society so fat and happy.

It’s already happening. There is something called the Lewis Turning Point, named for Sir William Arthur Lewis, a twentieth century economist. Essentially it means that for an economy to keep expanding, it needs a supply of cheap labor. Gradually a society absorbs the cheap labor whose work becomes more and more valuable. In short, hardworking “have-nots” become “haves” who buy stuff instead of make it. The hard working young Latino who cuts your lawn works very hard and soon has a small landscaping business and soon has a nice house in the suburbs and a lawn that he has to hire someone to take care of because he is busy running his ever expanding lawn care business. 

Here we encounter another problem. Mexicans have discovered the joys of narcissism. Their total fertility rate is 2.22. That’s just about at replacement rate. That means that very soon they will have no spare Mexicans to lend us. We will have to cut our own lawns, heaven forefend! Wait, it gets worse! Virtually everything in your home and everything you wear is made in places like China and India. They have an indefinite supply of cheap child labor to keep our big box store stocked with the cheap household goods and clothing that we just adore, don’t they?  

Not no more!! India is having 2.50 children, and dropping from 6 children in 1960 to 2.5 children per woman in 2014. And what about China? China is becoming a nation of old folks. In 1970, 5% of China was over 65, now 9% of China is over 65. China is right on track to become the world’s most aged society by 2030 and by 2050, 25% of China will be made up of old folks. Soon there will be no one left to make those wonderful “some assembly required” book shelves that fill our homes. 

How about Japan?  Remember Japan? When I was a boy everything was made in Japan; cheapo stuff like transistor radios and watches and lamps and cars and everything — decent quality, bargain price. Japan got filthy rich, started buying their own stuff and stopped having babies. Now the label, “made in Japan”, is gonna cost you.  And soon there will be nothing made in Japan because all the Japanese will be wearing adult diapers. Last year there were more adult diapers sold in Japan than diapers for infants because the number of children born in Japan was the lowest ever recorded. Goodbye, Japan! 

Well, there are plenty of other countries left to take economic advantage of, no? Don’t count on it. How about South Korea? They make nice stuff real cheap. Bad news. South Korea and North Korea have both decided to commit suicide with TFRs (total fertility rates) of 1.25 and 1.98 respectively. This is down from a TFR of six children per woman in 1960. It seems that Koreans like the rest of us would rather own nice stuff than make nice stuff. Brazil’s fertility decline is just as astonishing. They went from 6.25 children per woman in 1960 to 1.81 in 2011.  

The same ethno-suicide is happening in the Muslim world as well. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country is at 2.18, right at the replacement rate down from around 6 in 1960. Iran is at 1.8, Saudi Arabia at 2.17 and Egypt at 2.7 children per woman all down from around six or seven in 1960.  

You may think all this is good news. If you think this is good news, then learn to weave your own clothes and raise chickens. Have you any idea of who will change your bed pan when you are at the Sunny Valley Home for Well-Heeled childless Old People?  Something huge is happening and we didn’t notice it. We have swallowed the Kool-Aid and are quietly lying down to die as the experts tell us we should. I worry that the Synod Fathers have developed a taste for the Magic Kool-Aid and are helping to prepare more. 

Let us look at Italy. Ah, Bella Italia, one of my favorite places in the world! Somewhere in the Bible it says that, though our Lord founded the Church in the Holy Land, the disciples moved the head office to Italy pretty quickly because that’s where the restaurants are. Italy, the cradle of western civilization, Italy home of art, literature and the Roman faith, Italy is dying. Italy has a TFR of 1.4 children per woman. There are whole towns for sale in Italy, collections of abandoned buildings, whole towns that are deserted, or only populated by a few old ladies who hang on to their memories of vanished families and futures. It is said that if you go into a country town in Italy with a baby in your arms what few old residents there are will come out into the street just to see a baby. 

Thus, I take the bold, even impudent step of asking a favor of the Synod Fathers when next they meet. Rent a few buses and drive into some of these towns. Perhaps it will remind them that the Synod is titled, “The Synod on the Family”, not the Synod on alternate lifestyles. What they do, and the decisions they make will affect the future of the world in ways they cannot even begin to imagine. 

I pray that they don’t succumb to the lies the world is telling them and us. Come Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Did you see what Bishop Bonny said?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

I heard that a Belgian bishop just wrote a letter to the pope asking him to recognize same sex marriage. Is this true?
Bonnie Ann Tuerp

Dear Bonnie Ann,

Yes and No. It is true that a Belgian Bishop wrote a letter to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, but it is old news that the media is just now noticing, and he deals with a lot more than same sex marriage. Johan Bonny, the Bishop of Antwerp, Belgium wrote the letter but it was dated September first of last year, 2014.  The letter is a twenty-two page reworking of the heady days after the council. It is a sort of a turning over of the manure pile of the “spirit of Vatican II”.  

I have tried to read all 22 complex pages of his letter to the pope and I must be reading it wrong. In it he doesn’t just ask for the recognition of same sex marriage. He asks that we face the reality of the world we live in, or at least of the world he lives in, in which people are making up the rules of marriage and family as they see fit. Allow me to allow him to state his intention in writing: “My aim is to expose the complexity of the evolving context in which relationships, marriage and family life occur today, and the expectations that many still have of the Church as ‘traveling companion’.”  

That evolving context includes the recognition of the reality of concubinage, (that means shacking up) second marriage, same sex relationships, artificial birth control and the whole list of improvements that the modern European/American culture has made to marriage. He goes on to say, “What do I expect from the forthcoming Synod? That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes.” 

I think he is urging that we lighten up on the rules by appealing to the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. In it are sections on the dignity of the human person, marriage and family and the proper development of the culture. Gaudium et Spes talks a great deal about conscience and the freedom of choice. For instance:

“For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin.; it has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice, constantly advises that all human talents be employed in God's service and men's, and, finally, commends all to the charity of all.” 

There is a problem here when I, an enlightened modern, hear the phrase freedom of choice; I think it means I should be allowed to do what I want. That’s not what the council fathers meant. By freedom of choice, they meant an atmosphere of liberty that promoted the freedom to choose the good, particularly the good of service and charity. 

Here’s another Gaudium et Spes zinger:

“Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.”

Here we find one of my favorite theological categories: “invincible ignorance.”  Invincible ignorance refers to someone so thick headed that no matter how much you explain that it is wrong to arbitrarily kick the cat or to light the dog’s tail on fire, they say, “I don’t get it.” They are invincibly ignorant. There is moral free choice and “blind choice”. “I want what I want and who are you to bid me nay. Buzz off!” This is not freedom of choice. It is narcissism.

Bishop Bonny seems to think that those who hold to an objective standard of behavior are simply outmoded and out of touch with reality. Again I quote:

 “Since the middle of the last century, couples have had access, for the first time in history, to information concerning fertility and methods of birth control. The problem of overpopulation and the spread of HIV have also complicated the issue. The present day legalization of civil partnership and marriage between people of the same gender has led to new situations and insights concerning marriage and family life. Add to this the fact that people are living much longer than before, whereby relationships are expected to survive the test of time far beyond those of their predecessors. For others, extended life expectancy makes it possible to enter into a new relationship in their middle age.”

Perhaps I am grossly misinterpreting this section of his letter, but it seems to say that birth control should be okay because it helps slow the spread of AIDS, and the world is overpopulated already and the government allows gay marriage and who are we to judge. Maybe we should catch up with our good and noble governments as people are living longer, you really can’t expect a fellow to stick with the old bat when he can afford a nice trophy wife for a second or third go around. He couldn’t possibly mean this, could he? If he does, he is the one out of touch with reality.  

Nothing has done as much to spread HIV as the promiscuous bar culture of the gay demi-monde. Does Bishop Bonny think that a couple of fellows just want to snuggle by the fire and grow old together? The bishop seems to believe the compassionate lie, “All they want is to be allowed to love and go to Holy Communion.” 

Perhaps Belgium is different, but here in the US things are not so good. I quote the Atlantic, hardly a conservative rag (“A Same-Sex Domestic Violence Epidemic Is Silent,” Nov. 5, 2013): “In 2013, the CDC released the results of a 2010 study on victimization by sexual orientation, and admitted that ‘little is known about the national prevalence of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking among lesbian, gay, and bisexual women and men in the United States.’” 

The report found that bisexual women had an overwhelming prevalence of violent partners in their lives: 75 percent had been with a violent partner, as opposed to 46 percent of lesbian women and 43 percent of straight women. For bisexual men, that number was 47 percent. For gay men, it was 40 percent, and 21 percent for straight men.” I suspect that same sex fidelity is as much a myth as well.  

We in the Church must certainly open our hearts to those who are afflicted with any sexual or emotional dysfunction. The real problem is not the dysfunction. The real problem is the refusal to recognize the dysfunction by insisting that it is just one more delightful option. People like Cardinal Kaspar and Bishop Bonny seem to be saying that we should just get over it and lower the bar. St. Paul writes “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Bonny and their sophisticated set seem to be saying that, “If all have sinned, it can’t be that big a deal.” 

I understand that it isn’t just obeying the rules that gets us to heaven; it is being conformed to Christ that gets us to heaven. Legalism isn’t the point. Learning to love sacrificially as He loved is salvific. I have known gay people who are deeply sacrificial. Part of their sacrifice is recognizing the dysfunction with which they live. The modern sexual movements aren’t doing this. The cohabiting-remarrying-birth controlling- sexual preferencing movement defines a person by his or her sexual activity rather than their reflection of the divine image. Thus it seems more motivated by “blind choice … and car(ing) but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.” (again, Gaudium et Spes

I am terrified that we are about to give in to a culture that is committing suicide and that we in the Church will join the dying culture in their suicide pact. 

Next week: Bishop Bonny and the Magic Kool-Aid