Friday, July 31, 2015

Shouldn't my brother go to this family wedding?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
Can you knock some sense into my brother? He is one of these “traditional” Catholics who look down their noses at the rest of us real Catholics who know that catholic really means open minded and welcoming. He is refusing to go to our nephew’s wedding. Our nephew Nigel is a splendid young man, we are all so proud of him. He is a great outdoorsman and has a wonderful destination wedding planned in Minnesota in the early autumn, in a grove of sacred oak trees. The ceremony will be performed by a local druid, or shaman and it is just a perfect fit for the young couple. In addition we five siblings are getting up in years, and this will quite possibly be the last time we are together. We are heartbroken that our youngest brother will not be there. To top it all off he is Nigel’s godfather! What would Jesus say to my Neanderthal brother? Can you say something that will change his mind?
Frieda Doolittle
Dear Frieda,
No, I cannot say something to knock sense, as you describe it, into your brother’s head. Neither can I say anything that will knock sense into your head, because “…the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will pile up for themselves teachers according to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2Tim 4:3)  Why would you want to rub his face in the fact that, as the lad’s godfather, your brother has failed to share his faith with his godson something he solemnly swore to do, by having a wedding in the woods in a made up pseudo-religious ritual. The family is repudiating him and the faith he believes in. I assume young Nigel was raised in the faith to some degree and by this action rejects it.
I imagine that for your brother this is a decision of conscience. I will give Nigel and his intended the benefit of the doubt, that their decision to have the wedding in some mosquito-infested wilderness is likewise a decision of conscience and not some fantasy from bridal magazines about the garden wedding in a meaningful place instead of a stuffy, old, boring Catholic church in some boring outdated ritual. I remember something attributed to St. Thomas More, martyred by Henry VIII, a very popular saint when we were all still young and still part of a universal faith. When questioned, Thomas More explained that he could not assent to the wedding of Henry and his mistress Ann Boleyn because of his conscience. His friends asked if he thought his conscience was superior to those of the king, the courtiers and all but one of the bishops of England. The brave Bishops of England had all signed the Act of Supremacy that made Henry the head of the Church in England, thus allowing him to give himself an annulment and marry his current girlfriend.
St. Thomas responded, “No, I assumed the king and bishops and court have done the right thing and are all obeying their consciences, but my conscience forbids me to sign the Act.”
“Then,” they asked. “Will you not come along for fellowship’s sake?”
Thomas replied, “When you and the king and the court and the bishops all enter heaven having obeyed your consciences and I am dammed for having disobeyed mine, will you accompany me to hell for fellowship’s sake?”                                            
Let us assume that Nigel has a well formed conscience which he is obeying, just as you are obeying your conscience. Does your brother not have a conscience? Why do want him to obey your conscience and not his own? I doubt that he would ever ask that sacrifice of you. Think about what your brother is giving up. He is risking rejection by the people that mean the most to him his own family. I imagine that he wishes he could go and be at this important moment with the people whom he has known and loved all his life. Do you think that this does not hurt him? Do you think that the loss of favor that is bound to result from his glaring absence at a family event makes him happy? I imagine that he wishes he could celebrate the event, but cannot celebrate their rejection of the faith he holds most dear by the people he holds most dear. Perhaps he is taking the Gospel a little too seriously. He cannot seem to forget the words of Jesus,”Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:37)
You are going to a wedding. He would be going to a funeral, a funeral of the faith of your parents and grandparents for a thousand years. It is, in effect, the celebration of the death his world. You want him to violate his conscience for this? 
“But it is the last time the family will be together!” 
Do you think your mother and father, who are long dead, would be happy about this? Would they rejoice to see you reject that faith and those customs they tried so hard to share with you? If what we believe as Catholics, that all the saints in heaven attend every Mass, is true, it is sad to think that Nigel has failed to invite his grandparents and their ancestors for a thousand years to attend their marriage. You may think that it is narrow-minded of your brother and his outdated Church to have such legalistic demands in this modern era, but it is the Church that has created your family and your culture.
A pseudo-pagan forest wedding may seem harmless to you, but it is a return to paganism. If they want to be free of the shackles of Catholicism and tradition, so be it! If they want paganism, paganism they will get, with its slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism. I can see you rolling your eyes! Cannibalism!?! Impossible in this enlightened age.
Didn’t you see the video of a Planned Parenthood executive in L.A. lunching and munching in a chichi restaurant while discussing the sale of fetal body parts for human medical purposes? I think at one point she humorously coos that she someday hoped to buy a Lamborghini. (For the drivers of used cars a Lamborghini is a wildly expensive luxury car, the price of which starts at $200,000)
“She was just joking, and they were just talking about the medical use of fetal tissue? What’s wrong with that?”
 It’s human tissue they are selling, taken from a live human being, for God’s sake!!! Have you allowed your conscience to become that dull?  What are the rules for? The rules keep us from returning to paganism and devouring ourselves. It’s just a wedding? No, for your brother it’s a violation of conscience and each violation of conscience make the next violation of conscience just a little bit easier, until we have killed our own individual consciences and then the conscience of society as a whole. We become Nazis.
I knew Nazis in Germany. They had very easy consciences. They were happy to go along to get along.
“Why fight it? Everybody is doing it. Everybody agrees with the current political wisdom.”
Do not forget that Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger, a collaborator with Hitler and his program of eugenics. The Nazi Mengele was happy to do experiments with the tissue of children aborted or not. Hitler returned Germany to its pagan roots and encouraged the worship of Germanic nature spirits. Germany is now a dying pagan country, and the Catholic Church in America is not far behind.  Let your brother keep his conscience, it is a rare and precious thing these days.
One more good reason for your brother not to attend the Druid wedding in the woods: it is lousy symbolism. I imagine that Nigel and his true love are doing this because it has so much meaning for them. A Catholic ceremony, with all its silly requirements and paperwork and its ridiculous refusal to allow an outdoor weddings would just have no meaning for them.
You want to know why we Catholics generally don’t allow outdoor weddings? There is an altar in a church. Altars are where one makes sacrifice and marriage is a sacrifice.  Marriage is a gift given not just by bride and groom to each other, but to their children, to the third and fourth generation and beyond. It is a sacrifice made for humanity and for history, but we have reduced it to a narcissistic fantasy from bridal magazines the size of telephone books. The basic building block of Christendom has become a plaything for wedding planners and for aging children, to the third and fourth marriage.
Cardinal Francis George quoted someone; I don’t remember whom, saying that when one invents one’s own religion, he generally ends up worshipping himself. I prefer to worship at the living temple built by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and by their descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of Mary. I will not bow down with you at the shrine of Nigel’s invented religion.
Has it occurred to you that perhaps you are the one looking down your nose at him? Why do you want to force your brother to worship at your Temple of the Easy Conscience? At least leave him his religion. He doesn’t seem to have much else.
The Reverend Know-it-all

Friday, July 24, 2015

Did you see the debate with Hitchens? part 2

Continued from last week…
Dear Horst,
The Catholic approach to evangelism, Mother Teresa’s approach, was simply to live among and humbly serve the poor of any nation. She said nothing about the Gospel, until she was asked why she was doing this. She would simply respond that she wanted to be like Christ. As often as not the person she was serving would say, “I want to know this Christ.”
True evangelism is different from the quasi-governmental coercion that Mr. Hitchens so hates. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach Christ always. If necessary, use words.” St. Peter says as much in his first epistle. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) 
The true evangelist lives the Christian life long before he opens his mouth. He opens his mouth to speak Christ only when asked. This is how the faith spread in the first three centuries, and it is how the faith has ever really spread. Perhaps religion can be spread by the sowing and shouting, but faith cannot be. 
Mr. Hitchens tried very hard to spread his religion by argument, but I would not want his religion for anything. He seemed so sad, and his last years seemed consumed by his amused hatred for people like me. Booze and cigarettes and sadness, I suspect, ultimately killed him at age 62.
He posed a question that I think I can answer. “What can a believer do that a non-believer cannot?”  I would answer that a believer can make a claim that a non-believer cannot. That’s all just make a claim. I can claim that I am seeking another person’s highest good, which is how St. Thomas Aquinas defined love. 
An atheist cannot claim that. Even if the believer is wrong and there is no God, even in his delusion he can make a claim that an atheist cannot. Logically, reasonably, a non-believer cannot claim to know the highest good because he does not admit to the existence of a highest good. If, for the atheist, the highest good is survival, then it must be my survival or at best our survival, which might necessitate the death of another, or others. I learned this from my friend Rabbi Lefkovitz. He said that Jesus’ saying, “Do unto others what you would have them do to you,” is a terrible thing. How do I know what you want? Perhaps what you like best is repugnant to me.
So, an atheist shouldn’t do unto others. Your highest good might decide that my very existence was not congruent with your highest good as did the above mentioned heroes of Nazism and Marxist atheist theory. You may want to die for the cause but please leave me out of it. It is true that tyrants have used the teachings of Jesus as an excuse for the violent aggregation of power. However, they have acted contrary to His will. In slaughtering the millions, the Revolutionists of the 20th century acted in perfect harmony with the teaching of their founders. I assert that the misery of the modern era and every era can be placed right at the feet of man unrestrained by the ethical teaching of the Judeo/Christian moral code. One may dress tyranny up in the trappings of Christianity, but he is not a Christian.
We deluded Catholics agree with St. Thomas Aquinas that to love is to seek the highest good of another. There is the one ethical behavior that a logically consistent atheist cannot do. He cannot love. If love is to seek the highest good, then godless love is not a real possibility. I can enjoy, take pleasure in, desire another. I can strive for our shared well being. I can strive to please another or to make them happy. 
The Christian believes that the highest good of another may not always be pleasing to that other, just as a vaccination may displease a squirming five-year-old. The ancients admitted many different types of love among which was Eros, the love that desires to possess the beloved, and philia, the love that finds comfort mutuality and pleasure in another. Much rarer was the word Agape, the love that hopes for no return on its investment in the other. Eros and philia come easily to the atheist, but Agape may not even be a possibility for the atheist untainted by the Judeo Christian ethic.
I may be wrong, but there may be another thing of which the true atheist is incapable: awe. Hitchens mentions some line about, “the stars not giving a damn about whether or not I go to hell.” For the materialist/atheist everything can and will be explained. The universe is just a collection of random rocks, some of which may have the ability to will things. Contrast this with what blogger Fr. Longenecker posted on July 8, 2015: 
I like evangelists, faith healers, weeping Madonnas and the Shroud of Turin… Such things irritate all those who worship at the altar of good taste. They annoy the heck out of the rationalists who insist there must be a material explanation for everything…..Apart from anything else, believing that weird things happen makes life so much more fun. How entertaining to think that things are unpredictable, that there are gaps in the curtain between the worlds where angels can get in. What a thrill to believe that the universe is open-ended and that anything can happen. The gospel says, "With God all things are possible." You could read this as meaning, "With God anything can happen." He’s the God of Surprises, the eternal Wild Card. On the other hand, how dull to believe that everything is cut and dried. What a waste to never worship. How prosaic never to pray. How boring to live in a closed universe. You might as well be living in a coffin. On the other hand, what an adventure it is to believe that miracles happen—that with God all things are possible, that it's possible to walk on water, calm the storms, feed five thousand people with a tiny lunch and rise again on the third day.
Wishing does not make it so, perhaps I am wrong. There are lots of reasons I think I’m right, but Mr. Hitchens seems to be doing a lot of wishing himself, such as wishing that all religions and all religious people are the same, that there is only one kind of evangelism, that Atheism is a kind of religion, except of course for his atheism, and on and on and more.
Perhaps his most basic assumption is that I think he is going to hell if he doesn’t join my church. I don’t think he is going to hell. I think he was in a hell of his own making when he did that interview. Where he is or if he is now I don’t know. All I know is that when Christ found me, I found a way out of my own hell. I hope Mr. Hitchens found a way out too.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, July 17, 2015

Did you see the debate with Hitchens?

Dear Rev Know-it-all,
I saw a wonderful presentation. I am not sure if it was a debate or an interview. In it the world renowned atheist with the cool British accent Christopher Hitchens debated a rather large fellow who was a Roman Catholic. At first I thought the rather hefty Catholic might be you, but he was a whole lot more liberal than you. I would love to know your opinion of the presentation.
Horst Raes
Dear Horst,
For your sake, I endured the entire hour and a half video. I think Hitchens was mistaken about three premises. His portly Papist friend just nodded and agreed with Hitchens’ egregious non-facts.  First, Hitchens asserts that religion in general and Catholicism in particular is evil and no different than fascism or Marxism which, though atheist, are also religions and are the fault of Christianity wherein Hitler and Stalin learned all their nasty oppressive habits. This is clear as we see the collaboration of the anti-Semite Pius XII with the Nazis and the fact that Stalin was a Russian Orthodox seminary student for less than a year. This is nonsense. Hitchens was wrong about Pius XII, who was credited by the state of Israel with saving 600,000 Jews when no one else was saving any. He hid Jews in every nook and cranny of the Vatican. Read “A Special Mission: Hitler's Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII” by Dan Kurzman, or Rabbi David Dahlen’s “Myth of Hitler’s Pope.”   Hitchens didn’t do his homework, or was indulging in wishful thinking. As for Stalin, I suspect his mother made him join the seminary.
The second assumption is that the Jews rejected Jesus. Hitchens makes the point that both Mohammed and Jesus first spoke to Jews and were rejected by them. He claims that the first people to whom Jesus and Mohammed spoke must not have been very impressed by either prophet of the new religions because they didn’t join the new religions. Though this may be true for Mohammad, it was certainly not true of Jesus. The sociologist Dr. Rodney Stark, made a careful study of tombstones and name lists in the first three centuries after Christ. The documentary evidence indicates that many, perhaps most Jews in the Roman Empire accepted the messianic claims of Jesus. At the time of Christ there were at least 5 million Jews in the Roman Empire. A few centuries later there were less than a million.  This means that either 3 to 4 million Jews became Christian or just disappeared. Stark believes the available evidence indicates that Greek speaking Jews accepted the messianic claims of Jesus and blended into the Greek speaking population of the empire, and this at a time when Jews had a favored status among the Romans while Christians were persecuted. There was no coercion to become a Christian, quite the opposite. There was good reason to remain Jewish. Jews had a protected status in the empire even after the destruction of the temple. Christianity was an illegal often persecuted sect. There was no reason other than faith for a Jew to become a Christian.
Christians did not advertise. They hid. Non-Christians were not even allowed to attend certain Christian services. Christians by the year 200 were famous throughout the empire for the respect in which they held marriage and for their power to heal the sick for which they asked no money. People, including Jews, sought out Christians, not the other way around. Mr. Hitchens seems never to have encountered this kind of evangelism.
Mr. Hitchens asks the listener to assume that his opinions are indisputable and these two assertions are quite disputable.  This leads to a third assumption. Mr. Hitchens assumes that if I am a good Christian, I cannot rest until I know that he is going to heaven. He assumes that evangelism is an intellectual exercise to convince the heathen that the Christian is right, and that the heathen is wrong and if he does not finally agree with me and joins my religious club, he will go to hell. That seems to be what Mr. Hitchens thinks is evangelism. It’s certainly not the way I define evangelism. I suspect Mr. Hitchens understands this as evangelism because it’s the only evangelism he has ever encountered. He has also never encountered a church that was not a political church. The god he rejects is an Anglican god, a god invented by the Tudors.
Herein I suspect we find the source of his unhappiness. The first three centuries of the faith, when it overcame the Roman Empire, were free of political involvement. The Roman state practiced Mr. Hitchens’ brand of evangelism. Worship the emperor or you are not one of us and must die. Christians hadn’t the power to coerce conversion and it was in those first years that the faith grew exponentially. I suspect that if one must believe, one cannot believe. If I have no option but to be a church member, my membership cannot be based on faith. It is based on fear of governmental reprisal. When a religion becomes the tool of the state, as it did in Anglican England, the coercion that repelled Mr. Hitchens takes the place of faith.  I join Mr. Hitchens in his dislike of politicians who wear vestments. Unfortunately it seems that is the only kind of Christianity that Mr. Hitchens has ever known.
Mr. Hitchens aims his big guns at Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a woman whom he admits even non-religious people like except of course for Mr. Hitchens. He blasts her for going to Ireland, a country about which she knows nothing and there telling the Irish not to accept divorce and abortion. She should, he implies, mind her own business and not try to force her religion on the Irish. Mother Teresa, I suspect believes that abortion and divorce are bad for children. They are not her religion. They are her perception of the common good. Had she gone to Nazi Germany and told Hitler to stop killing Jews, would Hitchens say that she should mind her own business. Those who disrupt family life and commit abortion are hurting children at least that seems to be the opinion of Mother Teresa.
In his condemnation of Mother Teresa, Hitchens must certainly think that children in the womb are somehow subhuman and that children have no rights to a stable home situation. I also assume that therefore he would not claim the right to have criticized Hitler who devoutly believed in his Nazi religion, as Hitchens understands religion, that taught Jews were subhuman and, along with gypsies, had no right to any kind of safety or stability.  Certainly Mr. Hitchens would not have forced his religion down the throats of Nazis, and that is most certainly what Mr. Hitchens’ atheism is: a religion. He is an aggressive anti-evangelist who would argue me into accepting his religion and would save me from delusions about a Supreme Being.
Mr. Hitchens was an evangelist or perhaps better a de-evangelist cut from the same cloth he despises.
(To be continued)