Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Did the Pope say We Should Not Evangelize Jews?

In several reports regarding “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable” (GCGI), released by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, media outlets wrongly summarized and reported that Christians “should not evangelize Jews”.

Blogs and media outlets from every corner burst out with half-informed op-eds, and all the reactionary comments that go with them, reporting and commenting on a wrong conclusion by an  author who chose to write an article on a topic he/she had not taken the time to fact check. Are we surprised?

Of course, I won’t pin all the blame on the media. Most Catholics have come to expect statements from our current Pope to be less than crystal clear and easily misrepresented. Most media outlets don’t recognize the difference between the various Vatican documents, either. I doubt that more than a handful would have recognized GCGI “…is not a magisterial document or doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church, but is a reflection prepared by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews on current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council”, despite the fact that it says exactly that in the preface to the document.

Thankfully, there do still exist authors who DO like to fact-check and study things in their entirety before reporting on them. Jimmy Akin is one such person, and he did a great job at it in this particular situation, as he always does. You can read about it HERE.

So, what are the facts? First, the backdrop of the document (i.e. the context) is exactly as stated in the preface. The Church has a Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and it is reflecting on theological questions that developed. Second, the document released by the Holy See, without the shadow of doubt, states that all Christians are called to evangelize. This includes the duty to evangelize the Jewish people.

Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah [i.e., the Holocaust]” (GCGI 40).

The call to be a member of Christ’s Church is for ALL, including Jews, and ALL nations are to be given the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Jesus . . . calls his Church from both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph 2:11-22) on the basis of faith in Christ and by means of baptism, through which there is incorporation into his Body which is the Church” (GCGI 41).
It is and remains a qualitative definition of the Church of the New Covenant that it consists of Jews and Gentiles, even if the quantitative proportions of Jewish and Gentile Christians may initially give a different impression” [GCGI 43].

So, where did the notion that Christians aren’t supposed to evangelize Jews come from? It came from a carelessly cherry-picked statement taken out of context. (Again, are we surprised?) “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews” (GCGI 40).

Did you happen to notice the paragraph this came from (GCGI 40)? It’s in the same exact paragraph that goes on to say, “Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews…”

What, then, does this quote mean? What did the Holy See mean by “the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews? It means that the Church doesn’t teach that we should ONLY share Christ with Jews, or that we should single them out. We share Him with ALL nations. The Church, as Jimmy Akin explains, “draws a distinction between the Church supporting particular efforts directed to Jewish evangelization and the ordinary, organic efforts of individual Christians in sharing their faith with Jews.

So, the Church doesn’t have a specific mission to Jews, but at the same time “Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews”.

Jimmy summarizes, “Far from rejecting the idea that the gospel should be shared with Jesus’ own people, the new document calls for individuals Christians—Jewish and gentile—to share it with them, and in a loving and sensitive way.

To read more on this topic, please visit Jimmy Akin’s well researched and highly informative article linked above (in the word "HERE").

You might also benefit from reading the actual document that was released by the Holy See: The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable.

It should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said: do not be misled. “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit (Lk 6:39)?" Know the facts, ALL of the facts, and test what you are told against them.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Terrible Things in the Bible and Morality: Atheistic and Theistic Views

This is a slightly paraphrased transcript of a friendly conversation that took place between Frank Turek and an atheist (see 6-minute video linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynJwvv7wlFc ). This is very similar to what any Christian or atheist could expect in an actual discussion (and very closely mirrors actual discussions I have had...minus the conclusion) about morality and whether morality implies or “needs” a God.

Why would a person be an atheist if they ‘might possibly know’ that God exists?

-The fact that there are so many terrible things in the Bible, like when God condones/approves the torturing of slaves, even with no reason given for the ill treatment of them. Why would anyone want to follow such a God if He ‘might possibly exist’? Why would you follow such a God?

Okay, let’s not even look at the context of the passage you are referring to. Let’s assume what you just said is 100% true.
As an atheist, why is that wrong?

-Morally, one would think that each and every human being is the same, with equal dignity and rights, wants and needs. We should all be treated the same, given the same moral treatment. Especially with a God, we should expect that He would have a higher standard for this.

Okay, but you seem to be assuming that there are certain things that are really “right” and that people have certain rights, even if there is no God. How do you justify that? What’s your standard of “rightness”?

-My standard of “rightness” would be a fair society.

What do you mean by “fair”?

-By “fair” I mean everything is equal. For example, I find nothing wrong with a communistic state. I don’t think it’s something to be afraid of. All people should be the same, treated with equal dignity, rights, etc.

Okay, so that’s your thought of fairness. What if Hitler has a different idea of fairness? Is Hitler wrong?

-Hitler isn’t “wrong” in his opinion. We should take a utilitarian point of view and go with a “what is best for the majority of us” ideal.

Okay, but what do you mean by “best”?

-By “best” I mean the greatest positives for the most amount of people.

Okay, but you’re assuming there is a “best” out there. You are assuming a moral law. Where does that moral law come from, if there is no God?

-I think humans beings should be able to make up their own laws. People throughout history/time have found their own moral laws and they become better and better over time.

Yeah, but you wouldn’t even know what “better” was unless you knew what “best” was. So what is your standard of “best”, to say that certain people are closer to the “best” or better than others. What’s the standard? Is it just your opinion, or is there something beyond your opinion which says “this is good”?

-Well, we’ve all heard about utopias and a perfect society, which would be great. Huxley’s book, “Brave New World” describes this. In the perfect world there would be no war, no murder, etc.

Okay, but the question is, what’s wrong with murder/war if there is no God? Why shouldn’t I kill others to get what I want, if there is no God?

-Because it doesn’t help society.

But why do I care about society if there is no God?

-Because as a group, we should worry/care about society and making a betterment of ourselves.

But you’re importing a moral law into a frame that has no moral law. As an atheist, you’re trying to say “there is no God”, which means there is no standard of rightness out there. [In defining a morality], this is saying, “here is my personal standard of rightness”. Which means that someone else can come along like Hitler or Stalin and say, “if there’s no standard beyond you or me, then I can do whatever I want, including killing you to get what you have”.

-That’s a good point. I can see where you are coming from. But I don’t think that God is needed in the sense of humans working together and knowing how to treat one another to better society. I don’t see the need for a “perfect identity up above” in order to know right from wrong.

Okay. I’m not saying an atheist can’t be a good person and know right from wrong. The point is, it seems difficult to justify what “rightness” is, if everything is reduced to human opinion. Which human gets to decide what is best? It’s just subjective. If there’s not an external reference to say “this is good, or this is evil”, then we’re all just here fending for ourselves.

A lot of people will say “we all need to cooperate to get along”. But that’s not true. Take someone like Stalin, for example. He cooperated with very few people, just his henchmen, and he killed 20 million people to get what he wanted. And then he died on his deathbed at the age of 74 shaking his fist at God one last time. He never paid for his sins in this life.

You and I and everyone else in the world can know what is right and wrong; and we don’t need to believe in God in order to know that. We just need there to be a God to justify it.
I can know what a book says, and deny there’s an author. But there would be no book to read unless there was an author. The same is true for morality. You can know what the right thing to do is, and deny there is a God; but there would be no “right thing to do” unless there was a God. Does that make sense?

-Yes, I guess I can see your point.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Scripture Short - Fasting

In THIS article, I discussed fasting and abstinence in Christian tradition and explained how this practice is NOT at odds with 1Tim 4:3. Here, I simply provide some of the Scriptural passages that pertain to fasting, and let the Bible speak for itself.

Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the Lord; they fasted that day until evening. (Judges 20:26)

So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. (1Sam 7:6)

Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.(1Sam 31:13)

They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.(2 Sam 1:12)

David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground...[21]Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.’(2Sam 12:16,21-22)

When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. (1 Kngs 21:27)

[A]ll the valiant warriors got up and took away the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. (1Chron 10:12)

So we fasted and petitioned our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. (Ezra 8:21-23)

At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God... (Ezra 9:5)

When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Neh 1:4)

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.[(Neh 9:1)

Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. (Tobit 12:8)

And every man of Israel cried out to God with great fervor, and they humbled themselves with much fasting...[13] The Lord heard their prayers and had regard for their distress; for the people fasted many days throughout Judea and in Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty. (Judith 4:9,13)

She fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the day before the sabbath and the sabbath itself, the day before the new moon and the day of the new moon, and the festivals and days of rejoicing of the house of Israel. (Judith 8:6)

In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. (Esther 4:3)

They fasted that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and tore their clothes. (1Macc 3:47)

When they had all joined in the same petition and had implored the merciful Lord with weeping and fasting and lying prostrate for three days without ceasing, Judas exhorted them and ordered them to stand ready.(2Macc 13:12)

But as for me, when they were sick, I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom...(Ps 35:13)

When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so. (Ps 69:10)

My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt. (Ps 109:24)

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. (Is 58:4)

Then they wept, and fasted, and prayed before the Lord; (Baruch 1:5)

Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him. (Dan 6:18)

Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Dan 9:3)

I had eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, and I had not anointed myself at all, for the full three weeks. (Dan 10:3)

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; (Joel 2:12)

Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? (Zech 7:5)

He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (Mt 4:2)

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:16-18)

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Mt 9:14-15)

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. (Mk 2:18-20)

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. (Lk 2:36-37)

Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.” Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (Lk 5:33-35)

They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer. (1Tim 4:3-5)

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)

And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe. (Acts 14:23)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Scripture Short - Drinking Wine

Many Christians come to face the question of whether it is okay to drink wine/alcohol. The Bible is clear that, while some wine drinking is good and approved by God, drunkenness is not.

“Then he said, ‘Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.’ So, he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.” (Gen 27:25)

“In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish – oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.” (Deut 14:23-26)

“You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden then human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15)

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)

“Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.” (Proverbs 31:6-7)

“Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do.” (Eccl 9:7)

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” (Is 25:6)

“Ah, you who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger in the evening to be inflamed by wine…[22] Ah, you who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant at mixing drink…” (Is 5:11, 22)

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Lk 7:33-34)

“Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’” (Jn 2:2-10)

“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit…” (Eph 5:18)

“No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1Tim 5:23)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Defining "Evil" on My Own Terms, and Using it Against God: Part II

In Part I, I described the video I had shared which made a logical case against denying God’s existence simply on the basis that “evil” exists and discussed a definition of evil which excludes God and relies on our own subjective opinions.

It’s worth repeating that, without an objective definition of “evil”, all you are left with is subjective opinion (…how I perceive something…which may differ from how someone else perceives the same thing).  Subjectively defining evil becomes a meaningless mash of opinions which destroys any definition of evil.

And this is where the dialog with “MC” comes in.  I had addressed this to another friend of mine [Jay], but it was “MC” who replied.
Dave:  God’s existence can’t logically be denied just because there is evil in the world.  In fact, wouldn’t you agree that the existence of evil implies that there is a way things are “supposed to be” (a.k.a. “good”)? 
And if there is a way things are supposed to be, that implies a plan [for how things are supposed to be], which implies a planner (God), who can redeem us from evil so that we can live our lives the way things “are supposed to be”.  Evil, then, serves as indirect evidence for God. 

Even [Jay’s] claim that God must be evil or sadistic requires that you accept a “way things are supposed to be”, except you don’t have an objective basis to say how things should be.  What would be your evidence that God’s actions were evil or sadistic?  That they went against His own plan of how things “should be”?  Or are you basing this on a subjective opinion of an act being good or bad?
MC:  Gotta say that the logic of "if there are bad things in the world, God is implied" is completely illogical, and is a HUGE leap of faith.  The concept of evil is more easily defined as the things we don't want done to us, or others.  The worse the indiscretion, the more evil we perceive it to be.  Those ideas can and do exist without God.  To say that I need God in order to know that killing, stealing, etc, is bad is to give away your common sense to a man in the sky.  We know it's bad because we can see the effects it has on people everyday.  They're tangible.  They affect us.  To accept that there is a "way things are supposed to be" is incredibly naïve.  People shouldn't hurt each other because people know what it feels like to be hurt.  That's logic.  Anything else is just arbitrary reasoning for things you don't, or can't understand.
Dave:  It’s a huge leap of faith to say that the presence of evil implies that there is a way things are supposed to be [where there is not evil]?  And if there is a way things are supposed to be, it’s a huge leap of faith to say this implies a plan for the way things are supposed to be [which implies a planner]?  I don’t see that as a leap of faith.  To me, that’s simple logic.
MC:  "You consider your beliefs, of which you have NO proof, more logical than to just believe that conscience, or lack of conscience dictates behavior?"
*After this point, “MC” stated he was not interested in continuing.  While I proceed as though it were a continued discussion, it should be noted that I have no expectation for him to respond, and this is more for an example of how to respond to such comments as above. Had we continued, I would have addressed his comment on “proof” and then gone back to discuss his previous comment more in depth, like this:*

It’s interesting that you mention “proof” in regards to belief.  I would say that you have no “proof” for what you believe either.  You only have “evidence”.  For example, do you believe that genocide is wrong, and can you give me the scientific “proof” that genocide is wrong?  While I agree that Hitler’s choices were evil, I don’t think you can give any “proof” for that.    
As to the existence of God, there are actually 5 philosophical proofs that Aquinas put forward.  But there is another argument used by John Henry Newman that you actually bring up in your own argument.  You said that “conscience…dictates behavior”, as though all humans share in this moral arbiter.    I happen to agree.  I define conscience as the compelling inner voice of God…His moral law written into the hearts of all men.  You might define it as some abstract notion that all men happen to share in, but if the conscience is not objective in what it tells us, then it means nothing at all.  A subjectively defined “conscience” need not conform one’s conscience to anyone else’s (same as a subjective definition for “evil”).    
You said, “To accept that there is a "way things are supposed to be" is incredibly naïve”.  Okay, then on what basis do you complain against evil?  If there isn’t “a way things should be”, that means that the evils of the world are no less natural than anything else in the world; so on what basis can you complain against it?  You might as well complain against the sun rising too late in the winter.
People shouldn’t hurt each other because people know what it feels like to be hurt”.  So, if I don’t know what a specific hurt feels like, it’s not evil?  Each kind of evil doesn’t exist until each of us feels the hurt of each evil act? 
Let’s look back at stealing, killing, etc.  You said, “Those ideas can and do exist without God.  To say that I need God in order to know that killing, stealing, etc., is bad is to give away your common sense to a man in the sky”. 
First of all, I don’t believe in a “man in the sky”.  If you want to set up strawmen so you can pretend to make a good point, go for it.  But if you want to have a rational and logical discussion, you should address what I actually believe.  But in case you were not resorting to fallacy:  is your only problem with God that you believe Him to be “a man” who “lives in the sky”?
For the actions of stealing and killing, etc., you are saying that the morality of these acts is based on individually held feelings, (…because people know what it feels like).  If they are, then your definition of evil means nothing because many different people have many different definitions/examples of/feelings about things they “don’t want done” or that they DO want done.  Your definition of evil can change from person to person, from era to era, from culture to culture…and it therefore means nothing
We know it’s bad because we see the effects if has on people every day”.    Maybe you didn’t realize it, but you just said that something isn’t evil until someone recognizes it as evil.  Until we see the effects is has, it’s not evil.  Taken to the logical end, I could use your definition to exclude myself from any guilt by simply not seeing the effects that my actions have. 
The concept of evil is more easily defined as the things we don't want done to us, or others.  The worse the indiscretion, the more evil we perceive it to be”.  So, if I don’t want something done to me, it’s evil.  But if you do want the exact same thing done to you, it’s not evil?   And if I perceive something to be a worse indiscretion, it is more evil…but only to me, not to you who DOES want the same thing?  Again, your definition of evil doesn’t actually mean anything. 
And finally, you began with, “Gotta say that the logic of "if there are bad things in the world, God is implied" is completely illogical, and is a HUGE leap of faith”.  I gotta say that the misrepresentation of what I actually said is a huge strawman, but let’s go with.  [What I actually said was, “…the existence of evil implies that there is a way things are “supposed to be” (a.k.a. “good”)…And if there is a way things are supposed to be, that implies a plan [for how things are supposed to be], which implies a planner (God)”.]
So, in short form, I said, “x implies y”.  And your position is, “x implies not-y”.  What does “not-x” imply?  Do you believe that if there was no evil in the world, that this would be evidence for God?
So, what is “evil” and why doesn’t it disprove the existence of God?  Evil is, to quote Thomas Aquinas, “the privation of good”.  It doesn’t disprove God for the reasons noted at the beginning of this article.  But more to the point in this article, it actually implies God, because it implies the way things should be [without evil], which implies a plan for the way things should be, which implies a planner (God).  Take away that logical implication, and all you are left with is a mish-mash of subjective opinions that don’t mean anything at all, and then “evil” can’t even logically be said to exist because it has no meaning.

Defining "Evil" on My Own Terms, and Using it Against God: Part I

It began with a video posted to a friend’s FB wall.  https://www.facebook.com/joshua.feuerstein.5/videos/549242585178428/?pnref=story
In this short [scripted] video, a young lady demonstrates that evil and suffering in the world are not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God (logically).  One might as well not believe in dentists because of all the tooth problems, she claims.  The dentist remarks that he can’t help those who don’t come to him for help, and thus the analogy is made that evil is simply the result of people not turning to (or turning away from) God.

Obviously the analogy falls short, because analogies tend to do that.  She couldn’t really deny the existence of the dentist because she’s at his office.  (Though, that wouldn’t stop someone who has never experienced a dentist from not believing.)  But the point is a logical one.  Denying God’s existence because of the evils of the world is fallacious because 1) it presumes that man has no free will to choose against God and 2) it presumes that God, if He exists, must necessarily force His help on people who don't want it. Denying God because of evil also presumes that there is no good effect of suffering, if “evil” is defined to include all suffering.  These premises are false.
There is another reason that “evil in the world” cannot disprove God.  That reason is that, in order to make a logical case for this, we have to objectively define “evil”.  Objectively defining “evil” presumes objective Truth…absolute Truth.  Take God or Truth out of it (i.e. something is evil because…[some reason other than objective truth]…) and all you are left with is subjective opinion (…how I perceive something…which may differ from how someone else perceives the same thing).  Subjectively defining evil becomes a meaningless mash of opinions which destroys any definition of evil.  Take the following definition for example, offered by a friend I’ll call “Pat”:

Pat:  To define “evil” is childishly simple: “to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them”.  Pat continued by explaining that the ideal, (the “way things should be”, as I had put it) was simply “the lack of unnecessary harm”.

Using this definition, a couple folks pointed out to Pat that, therefore, anything that someone doesn’t want done to them, that they believe is harmful, is therefore evil.  Inoculating children who don’t want a shot, punishing Hitler, disciplining children, capital punishment, abortion, etc…all “evil”.  It was also pointed out that having an ideal of “the lack of unnecessary harm” begged the question:  Who gets to decide what is “necessary” or “unnecessary harm”?  When this was pointed out, Pat clarified the definition:

Pat:  Not “WHO”, “WHAT”?  Reason and logic [decide this].  Inoculation [and discipline, etc.] causes temporary discomfort (pain) in order to achieve a ‘greater good’ – protection from a disease.  If the same result could be achieved without that pain, then it would be “evil”, because the pain would not be necessary anymore.

Dave:  So, what you are saying is that not all harm is evil, and that some harm can lead to a greater good [which happens to be the Catholic position]. 

But you also have not answered the question you begged, and you begged it again.  WHOSE reason and logic decides which harm leads to a greater good?  Some people believe that killing someone will lead to their greater good.  Some people believe that inoculations are more harmful than good.  Some Muslims believe it is harmful for someone to take their photo.  From either view, these are actions by another "to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them".    

Pat:  Logic and reason are not contingent upon who professes it.  There is no “whose”.

I am aware [of the above scenarios].  Do they have objective EVIDENCE to support their claim?  Just because they do not want to be inoculated it does not follow that the inoculation is harmful.  Fortunately there are protocols which can be used [to determine] if a procedure is harmful or benevolent.

Dave:  Then how does logic decide what is necessary vs. unnecessary harm?  I think you will find quickly that "who" plays the deciding role here, because ultimately, a "who" is going to have to interpret that logic and reason and apply it.  Or can "logic and reason" apply itself without a "who"?  And how exactly would that happen?

As for “EVIDENCE”, I would bet that they would say they have "logic and reason".  And since you think that "logic and reason" decide this, I wonder on what grounds you would disagree with them?

But you defined evil as "to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them". By your own definition, it's “evil” according to that person being acted against, regardless of whether someone subjectively uses evidence to show the act is beneficial.  To THAT person, it is "harm to him/her, who does NOT want it to be done to them".  Are you saying that people are not free to decide for themselves what is good vs. harmful to them?

As to “protocols”, whose?  And why do they matter?

Pat’s answers to my questions repeated the same thing over again:  irrational fears don’t constitute evil against a person.  Their fears must be evaluated by rational people to determine if the act is truly harmful.  Never mind who these “rational people” are, and who gets to decide which fears are irrational, and on what objective basis they decide.  Basically, “evil” is subjective until someone “rational” disagrees, and then their judgment supercedes someone else’s whom they deem less rational.  And if we’re going to narrow it down to a “who”, then Pat is it (in this case).    

Dave:  How are you going to reconcile your own definition of evil with the fact that you won’t allow it to apply when someone disagrees with you?  It is YOUR definition of evil that justifies their fears [of an inoculation, or a photo, or whatever] as a legitimate evil against them.

Pat:  The opinion of irrational people does not count.

Dave:  This means (logically) that your definition of "evil" is:  "...to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them, except when Pat determines on his/her own authority that the "someone or something" is irrational, at which point their opinions don't count".

This discussion with Pat was completely separate from the one with Jay and MC (discussed in Part II).  But in the end, Pat proved the point I made in the other discussion (which I had also brought up to Pat).

Dave:  Pat, your position is exactly what I contend.  You DO believe in a "god" to say what is really evil or not, and that the presence of evil [absence of good] really does imply a plan for "not evil" [good], which implies a planner.

The difference, from what you have been saying, is that you believe YOU are that "god".  I, on the other hand, believe God is.

...Unless, of course, you are going to stick with the "subjectivity" angle, and then admit that there is no longer such a thing as "evil", and therefore no reason to disbelieve in God on the mere basis that some people subjectively think that some things are "evil”. 

It’s worth repeating that, without an objective definition of “evil”, all you are left with is subjective opinion (…how I perceive something…which may differ from how someone else perceives the same thing).  Subjectively defining evil becomes a meaningless mash of opinions which destroys any definition of evil.

And this is where the dialog with “MC” comes in. Part II .   

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why is Abortion Wrong?

The following is a written version/adaptation of Trent Horn’s short 6-minute video “When Does Life Begin?” on Catholic Answers. (There is an even shorter version HERE.) I have attempted to maintain the integrity of that video, presenting it here in written form for those who like to have the text available. While this may not be a word-for-word reproduction, it’s fairly close.

The question of why abortion is wrong is tied directly to the question of when human life begins. When asked when life begins, abortion advocates will give any number of answers: “Once the baby has fully formed organs”; “…when it has a heartbeat”; “…when it’s identifiable as a human”; “…the moment a baby can breathe”; “we can’t really know when life begins”, etc. (In fact, I have even heard similar answers from pro-life advocates.)

‘Because we can’t really pin-point when life begins’, so they say, or ‘because it begins at [some random point selected by any given person]’, the imposition of pro-life views about life beginning at conception is seen as a religious imposition. But it’s not.

It is a scientific fact that life begins at conception/fertilization. At the very moment of fertilization, the result is something that is 1) alive, 2) human, and 3) a whole organism.

It’s alive! The unborn take up nutrients and grow via cellular reproduction. These are signs of life.

It’s human! The unborn organism is the offspring of human parents and has human DNA. Left alone to grow, it can become nothing other than a grown human with the same potential as any other human to become a mature member of its species.

It’s a whole organism! Just like you and me, the new life is a whole organism with human tissue. It is not “tissue”, itself, like a sperm cell or egg cell, but is comprised of tissue, just like us. Just like adults and infants, the unborn are human organisms with an intrinsic capacity to develop as human organisms. Body cells (sperm, egg, or other body cells) do not have that capacity.

These facts are true even if we die before becoming mature members of our species. No matter how much time and nutrition is given to body cells, they can never develop into a mature member of the human species. That’s because they aren’t organisms. Rather, they are body parts which belong to a larger human organism. It is the human organism which, provided nutrition and time, has the capacity to develop into a mature member of its species. And it is this human organism that deserves the right to life. From adult, to child, to zygote, humans in every stage of development deserve to be treated equally, because they are all human beings, regardless of the developmental milestone they have reached.

Experts, including those who believe in a right to abortion, agree that life begins at conception/fertilization:

The standard text, Human Embryology and Teratology, states, “Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed”.

Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud’s textbook, The Developing Human, states, “Human life begins at fertilization”.

Development begins with fertilization” according to Langman’s Medical Embryology.

Chapter 4 of Scott Gilbert’s Developmental Biology is simply titled, “Fertilization: Beginning of a New Organism”.

In A Defense of Abortion, Philosopher David Boonin states that “the most straightforward relation between you and me on the one hand and every human fetus from conception onward on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus, after all, is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development”.

It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being” according to pro-choice philosopher Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics.

When does life begin? For humans, it begins at fertilization/conception. After fertilization, body parts (sperm and egg) cease to be, and in their place is a new whole body/human organism. This raises the question:

Should ALL human organisms, regardless of how able-bodied they are, or how mentally developed they are, regardless of their age, race, sex, or any other factor, be treated equally and have a basic right to live?

The reason abortion is wrong is because it violates the right to life of these very small human beings who are simply waiting to be born.

Many thanks to Trent Horn and to Catholic Answers for their hard work in protecting the right to life of all humans. For more information, resources, or help with your own struggle, visit Arizona Right to Life's resources or visit the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life at http://www.coalitionforlife.com/

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Child Sexual Abuse - Where Should Our Focus Be?

I once read a comment from a combox in a discussion about clerical abuse that read something very similar to this: “When Catholics are attacked about the sex-abuse scandal, we should only focus on the Church, not other organizations, because it only comes across as ‘making excuses’ or trying to draw the focus off of ourselves. It doesn’t help the cause.”

I could not disagree more. I think we should focus on ALL areas where child sexual abuse is occurring. Anything less would be hypocrisy.  We should absolutely hold the Church accountable and keep a watchful eye. But ONLY focusing on the Church will only harm the cause, because we otherwise neglect over 62,000 other victims each year.

There are an average of 8 reported sex abuse cases each year at the hands of Catholic Priests (see item #3 in that link), according to the CARA report. That’s obviously 8 too many, and we need to continue to do something about it. But in ONLY focusing on the Church here, we are doing two things wrong: 1) we are ONLY focusing on the ONLY organization, religious or otherwise, who has taken the degree of proactive action against child abuse that the Church has taken and 2) we are ignoring the other 62,000+ victims that are sexually abused each year in our schools, in our communities, even in our homes. HOMES? Yes, homes. Over 80% of child sexual abuse happens in the home.
How many of you, as children growing up, had that family member, parent's "significant other", friend-of-the-family, or neighbor that just gave you a weird feeling…an unsafe feeling? How many of you were abused by that person, or suspect that someone else was, or know someone who was? How many of you allow such a person to be around your own children just because you think “they’re safe as long as they’re in the house” or “surely not him/her”? Maybe that person really is/was safe, but this isn’t the area of life that you want to say “oops”. Better to err on the side of safety when your gut is speaking to you and the red warning flags are waving; and if they are truly offended by your caution, then chances are they weren’t safe to begin with.
Heck, how many of you reading this actually know the warning signs to watch for? Guess which organization actually teaches volunteers, parents and children, students and teachers, clergy and lay ministers to recognize the warning signs? (If you guessed “the Catholic Church”, you are correct. Fortunately, the Church isn’t the ONLY organization teaching these things.)

We aren’t “making excuses” by focusing our attention on where sexual abuse is actually taking place. No one (with any rational thought) is trying to “draw the focus off the Church”. In fact, the Church has actually drawn the focus onto itself SO THAT sexual abuse can be stamped out within it. On the contrary, failing to shine the light on the other places where sexual abuse is still happening and NOT being addressed serves to excuse people/organizations for their lack of action. It serves to accommodate the behavior because, hey, no one seems to care if a teacher molests a student these days*…as long as they aren’t Catholic teachers in Catholic schools. No one seems to care if a child is sexually abused by a parent or legal guardian in their own home. (Does it ever make you wonder if this country’s infatuation with pornography has something to do with this? I have a strong hunch that it does.)
*(There are exceptions to this of course. I have a friend who is a vehement watchdog against pedophile day-care workers, and the like, who abuse children and make child pornography with those tiny victims.)

For folks who want to ONLY focus on the Church and give a free pass to (or otherwise ignore) other organizations, I like to put things in perspective (while still focusing on the Church):

Given the fact that over 62,000 children are sexually abused in the US each year, and only 8 of those are reported to be from Catholic Priests, and in the face of all that the Church HAS done and continues to do to protect our children and punish abusive Priests; what has YOUR community (religious or otherwise) done to protect children from child abuse? Has your faith community (or secular community if you are a-religious) hired outside law firms to conduct internal studies on sexual abuse in your own group/community? Has your community begun educating children on the signs of abuse and how to report it? Has your community, religious or otherwise, sought to hold sexually abusive teachers and neighbors accountable? 
Or have you bought into accommodation, only chiding the Catholic Church while you give everyone else a free pass in the name of "gray areas" like USA Today did? Or is this too uncomfortable a topic to bring up in your schools, churches, and neighborhoods, so you just hope that focusing on the Catholic Church will magically make other religious communities, your schools, and your public communities fix their own problems as well?  (Guess what, they haven't been addressing it like they should...so your silence there isn't working.)  Or have you outright accepted it as normal like the Man-Boy Love Association has, or do you support the NAMBLA's "rights" to their own opinions?

Aside from chiding the ONLY organization who has so actively sought to stamp out the sexual abuse of children (the Church), what have YOU done to protect our children?

Where should our focus be? Our focus should be anywhere and everywhere...where child abuse is happening.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

United in Christ: What Can I Do?!? (Michael Henderson)

United in Christ: What Can I Do?!?: When I look around I feel like we are losing the fight. Yes, we are in a fight. Evil seems to be winning. There is division everywhere. Our...[click link to continue reading].

Michael Henderson is a husband and father to six beautiful children of God (one of whom is still enjoying the comforts of her mommy's womb at the moment). The Henderson family has recently accepted the call of God to become Catholic Missionaries, and you can find out more about them HERE on their Family Missions Company portfolio page.  Donations to support the Hendersons as they do God's work are welcome, and can be given on that page. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Is the Gift of Tongues THE Sign of a True Believer?

Some groups of Christians believe that every saved person speaks in tongues, and anyone who does not, isn’t really saved. Here’s an example of what I have been told by such a person:

When we receive the Holy Spirit or we are filled with the Holy Spirit after being born again, the initial evidence is speaking or praying in tongues. Anyone who cannot pray in tongues does not have the Holy Spirit within them. Acts 2:4, 10:45-46 and 1 Cor 12:28 list the ministry gifts. The last one is diversities of tongues. Praying in tongues is your own personal prayer time for your edification. Every Christian can do it at will (1Cor 14:4,14.). The other 3 gifts are done as the Holy Spirit wills.

But does the Bible really say that ALL Christians will speak in tongues, or even be able to? Is there any indication that this will be THE sign that a person is saved or has received the Holy Spirit? Let’s look at the passages cited and see what they say. This person (a Pentecostal) cites Acts 2:4, Acts 10:45-46, 1Cor 12:28 and 1Cor 14:4,14. I will use the KJV translation because it was the one referenced in the above quote. I will also use a broader citation of Scripture so that we have more of God’s Word to reference and to get a better idea of what God’s Word is actually saying. (I will use italics on the exact verse cited.)

In Acts 2:1-6 we have the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. This passage says:

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. [2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. [3] And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. [5] And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. [6] Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:1-6).

So, we see the Apostles and the disciples of Christ, gathered in one place, and the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and they speak in different tongues. But does it say that all Christians will do this? No, it doesn’t. There is no suggestion here that all Christians will speak in tongues upon receiving the Holy Spirit. It only says that these did on this occasion.

But look what else this passage says about speaking in tongues. It says that those who heard it could understand it in each one’s particular language. This was not a personal prayer for each of their own “edification”, and it wasn’t any gibberish or random sounds like I have heard from Pentecostals and others who claim to “speak in tongues”. These men and women were proclaiming the “works of God” to other people who spoke in different languages, and those people understood what was being proclaimed to them (cf. Acts 2:8-11, read the whole chapter).

What about Acts 10:45-46? Let’s see what it says.

“[44] While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. [45] And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. [46] For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, [47] Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? [48] And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days” (Acts 10:44-48).

Again, is this passage saying that all Christians will speak in tongues after receiving the Holy Spirit? No, it only says that these Christians did. And the context of the whole chapter gives us a clue as to why.
This was evidence that Christ had come also for the Gentiles, not only for “they of the circumcision”. And Peter, recognizing that Christ had come to save also the Gentiles, evidenced by the Holy Spirit coming upon them, orders them to be Baptized at once. This is definitely a great example of the Holy Spirit pouring out His gift of tongues on believers, but it is no indication that the Holy Spirit pours out this gift on every believer. And, as we are about to see from the next citation, we are actually told the exact opposite.

In 1 Cor 12:27-31, we read:

“[27] Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. [28] And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. [29] Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? [30] Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? [31] But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1Cor 12:27-31).

This does not suggest that all will speak in tongues. It clearly says that “some” will, yet even among these it places them after Apostles, prophets, and teachers. In fact, speaking in tongues comes “after” miracles, healings, helps and governments. Shouldn’t the Pentecostals expect all believers to be able to perform miracles before speaking in tongues? If they are going to cite 1Cor 12:28, and they want to be Biblically consistent, then yes, they should. Why don’t they? Why do they claim that these other gifts are done at the Spirit’s Will, and only make the exception for tongues? Scripture clearly makes no exception here. Could it be that “tongues” is simply easier to pretend?

And look at what Paul says after listing these out. Paul asks the question with an obvious answer of "NO."  "...Do all speak in tongues [or do all have the other gifts]?” Obviously not is the answer. Paul clearly tells us that NOT all will be prophets, teachers, workers of miracles…and NOT all will speak in tongues.

What about 1 Cor 14:4, 14? After reading this passage, I wonder if this person (in the initial quote) has ever read this whole passage. If he’s using it to defend his claim, then I wager he has never read any of 1Cor 14 other than those two single verses…and not even the entire verse 14.
Here’s what those passages say:

“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. [2] For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. [3] But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. [4] He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (1Cor 14:1-4).

Sure enough, a man can speak in tongues to God for his own edification. But what good is that for the Church as a whole? Speaking in unknown tongues doesn’t do anything as far as spreading the Gospel, because no man understandeth him”…he isn’t preaching the mysteries. Paul makes it sound like this is a private form of prayer, not something to showboat or to use as “evidence” of being saved. He also puts a higher emphasis on prophesy. So again, why do Pentecostals (and/or others) only make an exception for speaking in tongues? And why do they only focus on the private prayer of unknown tongues instead of the gift at Pentecost and with the Gentiles…the one that actually showed the evidence of the Spirit coming down upon those people…which other people could actually understand in their own respective languages?

Paul goes even further to say that such a person (speaking in unknown tongues) should pray that he will interpret instead, because his understanding is unfruitful" who prays in unknown tongues:

“[13] Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. [14] For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful” (1Cor 14:13-14).

Paul continues in the very same chapter: "[19] Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue...[22] Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not...[23] If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? [24] But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: [25] And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth...[27] If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. [28] But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God" (1Cor 14:19-28, emphasis mine, click previous link to read the whole chapter in context).

How many of these people speaking in tongues have interpreters to tell others what is being said, for the edification of the Church? How many obey the Scriptural command given by Paul to keep silent in the Church (speaking only to himself) if there is no interpreter of his "tongue"?

1 Cor 14 is directly in line with what Paul just got finished teaching in 1Cor 12 about the various gifts of the Holy Spirit; that not everyone will necessarily have them in common. There is nothing in those passages that suggests that all who receive the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues; only that some do. In fact, if the whole of Chapters are read in context, Paul is actually saying NOT all will speak in tongues, nor is it preferable.

So, what do these passages really say? They say that 1) some Christians will speak in tongues, 2) the people who hear it will be able to understand what is being said except in the less preferred instance of private tongues, and 3) not everyone will have the same gifts or be given the same office/duty in God’s Church.

Speak in tongues if the Spirit has gifted you in such a way. But don't use that as the litmus test for whether someone has received the Spirit or not. Scripture doesn't support such a test and I’m certain you won't find any other early Christian writings that support it either.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A World Better Off Without Religion?

I once had a discussion with a friend of mine who believed that the world would be better off without any religion.  I think I figured it out, he said.  “[The one thing humans can] do away with that would make the world a much safer, brighter, happier, more progressive and innovative, and loving world [is religion]”. 

 Going with my own understanding of “religion”, I asked, How could the world be safer, brighter, happier, more progressive/innovative/loving by doing away with a relationship with our Creator? Seems like that would be a step in the opposite direction.

 We ended up talking about several different topics at once (whether we really know our Creator; whether He created evil/sin; the nature of free will; the state of humanity; etc.) but the main focus was religion, and whether the world would be better off without it. 

 I said, Let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing:

 ‘Religion’:  from the root word ‘relgio’ which means ‘to bind oneself’ or to enter into ‘relationship with’.   It is also the means by which we express our bond to our Creator. 

 So, when you say we are better off without religion, or that we should abolish it, I hear you saying that we are better off without a relationship with our Creator and should abolish that relationship.  Is that what you mean? 

Or are you referring to having “rules” and “systems”…that we are better off without those things and should abolish all rules and systems?  What do you mean by “religion”?”

 By “Religion” , he clarified, “I refer to all belief systems from all cultures throughout history.”  He wasn’t so much saying we should do away with a relationship, per se.  He didn’t actually believe we had such a relationship with Him to begin with.  Even so, I wanted to make sure he really meant “ALL” belief systems, or just certain ones.

 “Something tells me that you don’t really believe that, but that you have specific systems in mind.  For example:  the cultural belief system that tells people that slavery and pedophilia are morally wrong, or that we should not steal/murder/etc., and that we should help those in need.  You would not say that humanity is better off without that belief system, would you?  Surely you are referring to a specific set of beliefs, and not ALL of them?

 “No I mean all”, he replied.  His belief was that, without any religion/belief system, “morality and humanity would remain and grow in some cases.”  He brought up a contention that some belief systems which condemn certain acts had also condoned those same acts at one time or another.   “Don’t forget that some of the popular cultural belief systems that condemn some of the things you talk about also once condoned them.”  As an analogy, he offered the comparison to a cancer:   “…when cutting out cancer, you don’t cut away 80% of it and hope things get better. You get it all.”  In other words, certain religions/belief systems had led to some evils in the world and so proved the need to do away them all.  At the heart of this, I believe, was the fact that he believed religion to be a man-made construct.

 I understood what he meant from that perspective, but I was a bit puzzled.  He was promoting the disposal of belief systems for the purpose of a better world because he was blaming religions for the evils done in the world.  But at the exact same time, a belief system would be absolutely necessary in order to determine that those “evils” were actually evil in the first place.  You can’t very well say something is either “good” or “bad” without some objective belief that something is good or bad.

 It was his understanding that, without any belief system in place at all, people would naturally do “good”…that “morality and humanity” could only remain and grow.  It sounded really nice in a utopian sort of way, but not realistic.  The proverbial elephant in the room stomped loudly:  without a “belief system”, how does anyone decide what is “moral” or not?

  I pointed out the fact that some people who reject religion/belief systems ALSO commit acts which he and I would consider immoral, and they use the same argument he was using (abolish religion for increased happiness) to defend their immoral behavior.  “Pedophilia Chic and the Man-Boy Love Association, for example, say that their adult-child sexual relationships are not immoral…USA Today summarized that adult-child sex is a “grey area”.  I also pointed out the sad, but real consequence of having no accepted belief system:  “If you condemn the pedophile, all you are doing is enforcing your own moral belief system/religion on someone who thinks pedophilia is okay.  Without a belief system/religion in place (which has objective Truth), you have no basis upon which to claim that something is moral or not, and your only remaining option (if you are logically consistent) is accommodation.

 Then there was the issue of his analogy, comparing religion to a cancer, begging the question because it wrongly presumed that ALL religion is bad.  The better [analogy]”, I continued, “would be:  ‘…when removing the cancerous cells from the otherwise healthy cells, you don’t destroy the entire person/organ, you only remove the cells that are cancerous, or those which pose a danger, and preserve and protect the remaining cells in that person/organ.’  Likewise in religion, you don’t abolish all religion/belief systems, or even an entire single one, just because there are ‘cancerous cells’ within one.”

 I then asked several pointed questions, only two of which were pertinent to this particular part of the discussion:

- By what objective moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, can you say something is moral or immoral?

- Do you honestly believe that a life without religion/belief systems has led anyone to more happiness?  Are there any cultures or people in the history of the world who truly found happiness (with progress, innovation, increased love, etc.) without a belief system/religion?

 He made sure I understood that, when we talk about religion in general terms, we are talking about many religions, not just mine.  “It seems to me when I say religion you hear “Just your religion” and you argue or defend your side, which is fine but I want you to know that when I speak to the abolishment of all religion I speak to many Religions such as Scientology, Christianity, Zionism, Islam and so on. So when you defend Religion…you are also standing up for those as well.”  This was a fair point, and one I had considered.  But my goal at that point was not to determine which belief systems were evil, just that not all of them are, and that some of them have good and bad aspects, and that it is only the bad parts that need to be removed…not “religion” as a whole. 

 He then made a comment which I took to be ad hominem, but perhaps he didn’t mean it that way.  In the context of my mention of specific examples of evils, and my Catholic identity, this sounded like a jab at the Church:  “You are basing morality off of Religion which saturated in sins and hypocrisy. Are these the morals you talk about?  I’m sorry, but doesn’t the Catholic Church have a history here? Along with a few other religious faith cultures, they just don’t make it public. Poor example man.”  His point here was only a superficial one.  Yes, there were Priests in the Catholic Church who sexually abused children and these evils were handled improperly.  (I actually wrote an in-depth and well-researched article on this topic some months back.)  But his comment missed two very much larger points:

 1)  Those Priests were acting against Church teaching (against their religion]; the Church has never condoned such evil; in fact, it was only because the Church taught it to be sinful that it was so scandalous.  The religion wasn’t the problem, sin was.

2)   Without a belief system/religion in place to call this act evil, there would be no logical basis to claim that those Priests did anything wrong.  [Recall that it was ALL belief systems he wanted to abolish.] 

 The morals I am talking about, I clarified, “are what YOU would consider “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “evil”.” It was right back to that looming question:  By what objective moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, can you say something is moral or immoral?”

 While he didn’t address the facts regarding “Pedophilia Chic” and the “Man-Boy Love Association”, he did comment on the USA today article.  “USA Today is a magazine trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator for ratings while balancing key highbrow topics to bring in the most revenue. The words they print are for sheep-people to keep them entertained. If they can mix one side up to make more magazines sale then that’s what they are going to do.”

 I agreed with him 100% about that.  But that wasn’t the question at hand.  The question was whether they were right or wrong to call adult-child sex a “grey area”.  Was the Man-Boy Love Association, who thinks that adult-child sex is okay, right or wrong?  And by what moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, were we measuring this morality?  Those questions were not answered.

 He summed up with a “perfect scenario” that might naturally occur without religion:  Tomorrow’s here: Religion is gone, the wars, the feuds, the church rivals, the hate, the hate of indifferences begin to melt away. Logic steps in, people come together to celebrate that which was once though so hateful. Wars fade, countries become one, nations become brothers, and people look after one another and thrive together. A world unity taking us into the future safely and harmoniously.”

 It sounded great, but it wasn’t reflective of the reality.  I pointed out that “a recent sociological study published in “Criminology” shows that people who identify as “not religious” are more likely to commit crimes.  Why?  This goes back to another question:  Are there any cultures or people in the history of the world who truly found happiness (with progress, innovation, increased love, etc.) without a belief system/religion?  Nope.  Your futurist scenario sounds great, but it’s not realistic.”  

 All the moral evils of the world are not a religion/belief system problem, they are a sin problem; and it is God’s Church which He gave us that helps us recognize sin and root it out from our lives.  God gave us “religion”.  It’s how we bind ourselves to Him and it’s the means by which we express our bond to our Creator.  We don’t need to do away with religion in order to be happy; quite the contrary.  What we need to do is our level best to root out sin from our societies.  Without a belief system/religion in place to say what is “good” or “evil”, we have no other logical choice but to accommodate every act as nothing more or less than “neutral”.