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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Are We Validly Married?

Couple-Kiss2HENDRIX:

I got married to a woman I knew through my first wife (whom I didn’t married in a Catholic Church). When I and my first wife were separated, I got married to that women knowing fully well that she got married in Catholic Church before, although she divorced her first husband. For more than two years now, I and the woman are not living together again due to her aggressive nature. Is our marriage valid or invalid according to Catholic Church teachings?

FATHER JOE:

Your comment is a bit confusing as to which woman and lacks significant details.  Thus, it is very hard to give you a precise or clear answer.

Are you Catholic?  Were the other parties Catholic?

A Catholic must get married in the Catholic Church for a bond to be both licit and valid.  Prior bonds aside, marriages outside the Church (as before a civil magistrate or Protestant minister) are deemed invalid. They are not regarded as married either by the Church or God.

Marriages that take place in the Catholic Church are regarded as binding until death.  If an annulment is granted through the Marriage Tribunal then they might be free to get married again.  Otherwise, divorce or no divorce, they are still considered as married.  That means that attempted secondary or tertiary marriages are regarded as invalid.  It is as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Matthew, an opening to adultery.

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 7

A continuation from part #6.

MISS ATHEIST

I’m glad you agree that megalomaniacs are the same, religion or not. Which shows that your claims that atheism is somehow at fault for millions of deaths is simply not true. You make claims that megalomaniacs somehow find comfort in the vacuum of atheism. How does that work? Or is this just one more vague claim that you can’t support, using it to tar atheists unfairly? And I wonder, just how can puny humans “exploit and corrupt religion” when this god of yours supposedly kept people from doing that by killing those who would do such things. It is notable that your god mysteriously doesn’t do what it is claimed to have done in its myths.

FATHER JOE

All I was trying to say is that deaths at the altar of atheism or religion are both heinous. I would no more condemn all atheists or communists for atrocities under Stalin and Mao than I would blame the Pope and the Church for the many sins of those who claimed to be Christian. Did I say that megalomaniacs find comfort in the vacuum of atheism? Actually, I think the message of any religion or philosophy can be twisted or corrupted. Errors in thinking may have a greater proclivity for such manipulation but no ideology or belief system is immune. I am trying to recall, did I actually say that atheism is a vacuum? Yes, it is true that God is deleted from scenarios; however, it seems to me that something else is always deposited in his place— like nature itself or mankind. It is in this sense that it can become a form of faith, albeit without a supernatural deity.

I believe that God makes possible through grace the reform and transformation of believers. However, we must also be disposed to God’s intervention. There is no guarantee that every believer will become a saint and go to heaven. God will not force his friendship upon anyone. Catholic doctrine stipulates that in Christ all are redeemed. But this is different from the question of salvation. There is a universal call to salvation. This does not mean everyone is saved. While Christ has conquered sin and death; this does not mean that sin and death have been utterly undone. This latter expectation must wait until the final consummation of the world.

MISS ATHEIST

I can criticize humans as a group when they kill, and again I can point out that your religion advocates killing others. You might have an argument if the bible wasn’t always showing this god killing and insisting that its people kill. Atheism is nothing more than concluding that there is no god. There is no morality attached to it. Atheists vary greatly on what their morality is, it is not atheism that makes people want to kill others. I don’t and thus we have evidence that your claims that atheism does make someone somehow amoral are false. What is there about Marxism that says to commit genocide? Marx saw religion as a complex thing, that it could be bad but it also could be good, a solace to the working class. It was when Lenin came that atheism was added. And then Stalin was a lunatic and if you wish to go there, one can say that people also can corrupt and exploit atheism.

FATHER JOE OFFERS QUOTES:

Karl Marx

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

“Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.”

“The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.”

Vladimir Lenin

“Atheism is the natural and inseparable part of Communism.”

“Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.”

“Religion must be declared a private affair. In these words socialists usually express their attitude towards religion. But the meaning of these words should be accurately defined to prevent any misunderstanding. We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned. Religion must be of no concern to the state, and religious societies must have no connection with governmental authority. Everyone must be absolutely free to profess any religion he pleases, or no religion whatever, i.e., to be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule. Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated. No subsidies should be granted to the established church nor state allowances made to ecclesiastical and religious societies.”

Josef Stalin

“I believe in one thing only, the power of human will.”

“The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”

FATHER JOE CONTINUES

My religion is the Catholic faith. Catholicism is not a book religion as treated by some of the Protestant denominations. Even before there was a New Testament and a complete Bible, the Catholic Church was preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Lord’s Supper and making converts. It was the Church and her bishops that determined the canon of the Bible. We believe that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church in the truth regarding faith and morals. Just because certain matters were tolerated in Scripture or because sinful men compromised their faith in history does not detract from the truth of the faith. It is what it is, even when men fail to live it out. Focusing not upon Scripture or past history, tell me who today or what group does the Catholic Church want killed? The Church is a living thing. Look at the here and now. My religion does not advocate killing others. Indeed, she is attacked for defending human life and dignity from murder in euthanasia and abortion. She admits wrong and asks for forgiveness in regard to past wrongs committed by Christians. The famous “mea culpas” of Saint John Paul II and now the present pope speak to this. She argues for peace in a world racing toward war. Now there are militant Moslems who argue for forced conversions and Jihad or Holy War. Pope Benedict XVI said in Turkey several years ago that this concept must be rejected. He was charged with attacking the Koran and over a million people around the world protested and made death cries against him. The Church would try to protect you as much as any of its own against such challenges to human freedom, conscience and life.

You contend that atheism is merely the claim that there is no deity. However, like religion, there is no generic brand. It is most often informed and promulgated in various defining ways. Technically some believers may be practical atheists; they live as if there is no God. Other atheists believe in the laws of nature and it is to this group that the Church actively dialogues and seeks collaboration for an ethical society. Then there are atheists who buy into the fads and fashions of a secular and somewhat hedonistic society, all with little or no real mental reflection. There are also atheists who literally raise man to the divine dais. Science can manipulate man and prolong his life. Ethics become merely the laws we agree upon through legislation or judicial activism, regardless of precedent or claims of a natural law and order. Communism was often connected to atheism in the popular mindset, but unrestrained Capitalism combined with a liberal secular humanism can make an equal claim upon atheism. I have not made a great study of the question but I can talk about those whom I have encountered. Traditionally there has been the atheist who approaches the issue with a clear head and in a logical manner. Often he is more an agnostic than a full-fledged atheist. He will politely debate the question. He will contradict you but not insist upon converting you. However, it seems that such a one is being replaced by a more aggressive or activist atheist. The discussion is not enough for him. He feels that religion rots society like blight. He dreams of a utopia that has cast aside religion and its restraints. Frequently this atheist is also a lobbyist for abortion or gay marriage or other matters opposed by Christian churches. Agnosticism is a sub-category of atheism. Such a person just does not know if there is a deity or not. He does not see how it changes things one way or the other. He may ask the question, is there a God? But he is doubtful of a definitive answer. How would we know? How could we communicate? His perspective frequently vacillates. Religion is viewed as the enemy.

Religious people are defined as stupid or gullible or wrong-headed. Their churches or temples or synagogues or mosques are attacked as bastions of ignorance. Religion is faulted for all the major crimes of past history. Religion and believers are denied influence upon society by rules that protect secular humanism by criminalizing religious influence as a violation of Church-State protocols. Religion is equated with the obsolete and backward moving. Such an advocate views himself as enlightened and as if he has a proprietary hold on rationality. He and his kind are increasingly aggressive and want to force their views down the throats of others. Their attitude toward believers is anger, mockery and dismay. “How can you believe? How can you be so thick and stupid? Look at all the suffering and death in the world! Do you really believe a good god would allow this, if he existed? Where is he hiding? Why is it that he does not show himself?”

Some atheists show no interest in religion or arguing about it. It is just not a matter on the table. I have known other atheists who see value in the Ten Commandments, at least those dealing with human interaction, and find wisdom in the words of peace from Christ. Jesus becomes an important sage or philosopher, but not Messiah, Savior or Lord. This is reckoned the only life we will ever know; and within this understanding they try to live a happy life and to be a good neighbor. These atheists may sometimes practice religious rituals or go to church. But it is not to worship an invisible God, but to sustain family and social harmony. Cultural Catholics might fit into this category, men and women who approach the altar only at Christmas and Easter. It speaks to a cultural identification and an attachment to various familiar rituals.

MISS ATHEIST

Per a Pew research report, there are 67 million Christians in China (as of 2010), quite a few for being “persecuted.” It does seem that the Christians whose church got bulldozed weren’t entirely blameless, if they did indeed take more land than they requested. That may or may not be true, and we both know that Christians aren’t always honest and upright citizens. Is it okay to take something that is not yours? You also complain that the communists somehow dismiss the values of the Gospel. Now what are those values, since Christians don’t agree about what they are at all? As I have pointed out, the gospels do say to kill those who aren’t Christians. That’s as much of the gospel as “do to others as you would have done to you,” an idea older by far than Christianity. Indeed, communism is what Jesus preached. The big C communists did screw that up, though from human failure rather than that the idea was bad.

FATHER JOE

So after all the misdirection you are a supporter of Communism?  There are indeed millions of Christians in China. They have suffered their churches being destroyed and crosses torn down. The Roman Catholic Church is still illegal on the mainline and Catholics are forced into the so-called Patriotic Church. But I am sickened at this discussion as you would now side with the atheistic Communists against suffering people of faith. Communism ultimately says that nothing is yours. In one town local agreements for a church were nullified by the Communist party and the new facility was bull-dozed. I suppose you would cheer such a dark eventuality. Our Lord did not preach Communism. Communism makes the person the property of the state and yet we belong to God. Your true colors are now shown.

MISS ATHEIST

Hitler was indeed a Christian. He certainly didn’t seem to want to destroy the RCC when he was having his picture taken with the cardinals and didn’t bomb the Vatican or even bother it. What secular religion did Hitler want to start? I’m well read about Hitler and the Nazis and it seems that having “Gott Mitt Uns” on one’s belt buckle doesn’t seem very secular. Indeed, he was quite enamored of the idea that the Jews killed Christ, something that is quite biblical as is Paul’s insistence that the “Hebrews” are quite awful people. I’ve read “Mein Kampf,” a piece of crap but certainly it is Hitler’s manifesto.

FATHER JOE

Hitler spoke out of both sides of his mouth. His grandmother may have had him baptized but he was not much of a Christian. Like so many politicians, even Stalin, he used religion for political and pragmatic purposes. Catholic League President, William A. Donohue wrote in February 4, 1999: “Hitler was a neo-pagan terrorist whose conscience was not informed by Christianity, but by pseudo-scientific racist philosophies. Hitler hated the Catholic Church, made plans to kill the Pope, authorized the murder of thousands of priests and nuns, and did everything he could to suppress the influence of the Church.” He spoke of Christianity as “the Jewish Christ-creed with its effeminate, pity-ethics.” This paganism has a greater kinship with a liberal secular modernity than it does with Catholicism. Hitler’s plans included the establishment of a state religion with himself as its head.

MISS ATHEIST

Hmmm, you claim that totalitarian movements are somehow on the increase with the rise of atheism. Where is the evidence supporting this? It seems that you are quite ignorant on what secular humanism is, when you try to lump it together with rampant commercialism and materialism. But that is not surprising at all.

FATHER JOE

I make no claim to personal infallibility. However, the rise of secular humanism has emerged hand-in-hand with a rampant commercialism; indeed, persons are frequently reduced to commodities. When the spiritual is denied, everything is limited to the material. I suspect that many tyrants found atheism appealing in that it released them from the restraints of a moral code that they rejected. Communism could make people pawns of the state and unrestrained Capitalism could categorize people as assets or liabilities for profit. You fall short in appreciating this because you care more about swinging mud than pondering serious questions of philosophical meaning.

MISS ATHIEST

Oh, and now we get the typical and false claim that atheists are only rebelling— anything to imagine that atheists don’t have plenty of reasons not to believe in any gods. I certainly have no problem in standing up against humans who want to claim that their imaginary friend disapproves of things that they personally hate, and does their best to use ignorance and fear to make people obey. As I have said, Christians want to claim that only their version is the truth, and without evidence. Humanity constantly gets better and goes beyond what was called the “truth” a thousand or a hundred years ago, and religion has to keep up, claiming that their holy books really did say what humans now believe, trying to retcon their hidebound ignorance into modern mores.

FATHER JOE

Well, YOU are rebelling. You would tear down structures of faith that go back into time immemorial. You rebel and resist religion and, by your own attestation, would make impotent the religious voice in our society. If what you said were true, there would be a commonality in values between the Church and a modern secular humanism.  However, upon issue after issue, there is a conflict.  Until now you seemed to acknowledge this disconnect.  The Church is not fabricating teachings or altering the past to catch up with the secular present and future.  The issue is that civilization is increasingly on a different moral trajectory from the Church.  The Church’s teachings both reflect religious themes and a particular philosophical understanding about what constitutes humanity and its place in the created order.  While elements of this might be shared with those outside the Church, the real fight is with those who have a wholly different assessment regarding human identity and the basic meanings associated with natural law and existence, itself.

Most of this dialogue has avoided the reasons for atheism. That is unfortunate because such would make for a more dynamic and reasonable discussion. But this is less about atheism than it is the attack upon religion and people of faith. You should acknowledge that believers in gods or in men are all vulnerable to human weakness, villainy and inordinate desires. Catholicism does not use fear to make our point. Rather, we employ a reasoned defense of truth. The Church has never settled with imperfect contrition. It is so much better to love God than simply to fear the fires of hell. Catholicism has embraced learning in all its forms: theology, philosophy, science, language, art, music, etc. We employ the entire human experience to make our point and to help seekers to acknowledge the divine spark. Atheists will sometimes say that believers have no evidence; but in truth what happens is that they redefine what constitutes evidence. That is a slippery way to refuse believers any ground for their argument. At the same time, the atheist has gaps in his own appreciation of reality. He must trust in the brains of smarter atheists because few men can unravel the twists and turns of quantum physics or decipher the math of string-theory.

The deposit of faith is set but there is no dishonesty in the development of doctrine. God respects where we are and how much we can understand. Hopefully our theological reflection draws us ever deeper into the divine mystery. The seeds planted in the Gospel are real… blossoming into profound teachings about the sanctity of human life, the dignity of persons, and the need to be good stewards of the gifts given us.

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 6

A continuation from part #5.

MISS ATHEIST

Philosophers do indeed reason from causality, motion, existence and from the mind; that doesn’t mean that what they come up with is always true. I know that there are plenty of philosophers you don’t agree with so your attempt to claim that I have to believe whatever a philosopher comes up with is weakened by your own actions. In that you use special pleading to excuse your god from all of those things, means that there is no reason to agree with your claims.

FATHER JOE

Here is an immediate instance of how irrational is your so-called rationality. You write: “I know that there are plenty of philosophers you don’t agree with so your attempt to claim that I have to believe whatever a philosopher comes up with is weakened by your own actions.” Did I ever say that I accept all philosophies? The local university even has a course called “The Philosophy of Star Trek.” Philosophy like science has its frauds and fools. The brand of philosophy espoused by the Church speaks to the mind’s ability to know the world and to deduce elements present but not directly seen. We take nature seriously. As our empirical knowledge of the world around us changes and grows, we move beyond the world of the Scholastics, still trusting that man is a rational animal (albeit ensouled) who can know objective truth and ultimate meaning. Philosophies that reject such concepts would obviously not find much room in the Catholic tradition, just as they would be in conflict with the world view of science and/or physics.

MISS ATHEIST

There is nothing about complexity that requires a god or your god in particular. You wish to pretend that your god always existed and that’s how things started. There is no reason not to make the same assumption that physical laws have always existed too and that’s how things started, no god needed.

FATHER JOE

Here you make a presumption that infinite regressions or progressions are possible without a source. Many of us would view this as an absurdity. The notion of God as a Prime Mover is often misunderstood as it would not place the Creator God within the spatial-temporal order but outside of it.  God does not simply knock over the dominoes, but fashions them and gives them space to fall.  You appear to make matters more cut-and-dry than they actually are.

MISS ATHEIST

You might be amazed that someone can disagree with you and love— so? 

FATHER JOE

Did I say this? No, but my faith does inform how I love. I would love sinners without approving of their sins. I would love freedom but not at the cost of human rights as with those of an unborn child. Hopefully I would love as Jesus does, in a sacrificial way. Trusting that there is something beyond this world makes it easier to do so.

MISS ATHEIST

That’s only an appeal to personal incredulity and the usual sad attempt by a theist to claim that atheists are somehow less than human. I hate to break it to you, but non-Christians are just as happy and loving as Christians are. It is sad that it seems that many Christians have to make up things about atheists so that you can feel better about yourselves.

FATHER JOE

Again, these are your words, not mine. My contention is not that the atheist is less than human but rather that he might sometimes too narrowly define what it means to be human. As for happiness, it is about more than transitory delights or satisfaction. If people like yourself are so happy then why would you rob others of what makes them happy, believe in it or not? Why should you be their (uncertain) arbiter over reality? You condemn the resolution of believers, but do not offer anything in return that matches up to it. You do not know the joy that Christians possess, and while a subjective experience, that does not mean necessarily unhinged from reality. You are intent upon nullifying the experience of faith and any relationship with God that others have just because you do not believe or feel it. You may be the more dogmatic one in this argument.

I am only a parish priest. Greater minds than mine would have to tackle the questions of faith, doubt and disbelief. Nevertheless, I have come up with some questions for such a discussion:

  • What is prayer and does it work?
  • Are miracles real and how do they relate to natural laws?
  • What is the resurrection and how has it impacted upon believers?
  • How does creation and providence interact with human agency?
  • Does the human mind and desires speak to the existence of the soul?
  • How can we know the true God?
  • How do we reconcile a good God with suffering, pain and evil?
  • Can truths in science, philosophy and religion complement each other?
  • Is intelligent design compatible with modern scientific views?
  • In what ways does our view of creation allow room for evolution and the human condition?
  • Do the things we say about God have a lot to say about ourselves?
  • How can we relate to a God outside of space and time?
  • Given both a mental and material world, can we substantiate a spiritual world of meaning?

MISS ATHEIST

I see you make a claim that there are extra-biblical sources and good archaeology for the events of the salvation story but you do not present them. Now, being a student of archaeology and those extra-biblical sources, I know your claims aren’t true. We have forgeries in Josephus. We have claims that since Christians exist and are mentioned that it has to mean that the salvation story is true, which would mean that since believers of other gods exist, those gods have to really exist too. We have claims that the Talmud mentions Jesus, but Christians fail to mention that it gets the details wrong. We have no archaeological evidence for Jesus or of Noah and the flood, or of the existence of Israelites enslaved in Egypt, etc.

FATHER JOE

There are three passages in Josephus about which authorities argue. However, it is generally admitted that these works provide valuable insight into first century Judaism and the early days of Christianity. This makes me wonder what kind of student you might actually be. I do not hide my identity and background. Since you make claims of professional standing, why not tell us who you are and what your credentials might be? It is easy to attack from the shadows. Who are you? The term “salvation history” has a meaning that seems to elude you. It does not mean a kind of video news recording of the past. It speaks to the stories and testimonies of saints and sinners. We encounter prophets and patriarchs, and eventually the fulfillment of an ancient promise. Even the manner of the telling is part of this legacy, with all the hyperbole and cultural trappings. It speaks to a God that has inserted himself directly into human history. You would throw it all away, claiming there was no primordial flood (although there is evidence in the Mediterranean basin), no Moses and miraculous escape from Egyptian bondage (that takes care of the commandments), and no Jesus (even though believers died professing the risen Lord). It is here that you show your true face. You are not a rational atheist. You are a bigot who so hates religious themes that you would negate not only the supernatural but the meaningful tangible human experience. You are to be pitied.

MISS ATHEIST

Now, I’ll ask you since you make the claim of good evidence, what dates did these events happen? If we have good evidence, then you should know. Then we can look for evidence around those times. If a strong earthquake, and the darkening of the sun, and the dead were walking on a single day, we should be able to find evidence of it. If your messiah did have thousands of people meeting just outside of Jerusalem, more than a legion’s worth of men, plus women and children, one would think that the Roman occupiers would have noted it. If there were hundreds of thousands of people walking around an area the size of half of Pennsylvania for 40 years, we should be able to find at least a few latrines.

FATHER JOE

This has already become a long discussion, mostly an elongated clarification or correction of your misconceptions. Note the differences in the Gospels. While truth is proclaimed, it is done in a way that reflects different communities and their emerging theological traditions. Sources outside of the Bible give credence to the people and events in the Scriptures, but details are sometimes wrapped up in numerology, a limited worldview and science.  While the Jews appealed to an invisible, spiritual God; nevertheless, an unavoidable anthropomorphism sometimes entered into what they thought he demanded of them. Archeological finds emerge every day but we should not underestimate how centuries upon centuries can effectively bury much of the past. The torn veil, the darkening sky, earthquakes, well maybe, but these are not the determining elements of Christ’s story. The crucial mystery is the saving death and resurrection of Christ. God keeps his ancient promise to redeem a people. As for signs among the Romans, the greatest empire on the earth would be converted by the new faith and the old Rome of Caesar would after several centuries of martyrs’ blood make room for the new Rome of Peter and Christ.

There are all sorts of writings that point to the Christ-event. Josephus, already mentioned, in book 18 of his work speaks about John the Baptizer and Jesus, although he merely termed the latter as “a wise man” and a “doer of wonderful works.”  The Babylonian Talmud (200 AD) refers to Jesus as one executed for practicing “sorcery” and threatening the Jews with “apostasy.”  There are many extra-biblical writings from the Romans about the early Christians, even if the pagans did not understand what they were about: Pliny’s Letter to Trajan (111 AD), Suetonius (110 AD) on the persecution of Christians, and Tacitus on the Christian “superstition” in the Roman Annals (115 AD).  There was also Eusebius, and of course, there would be volumes from the early Church fathers, other Christian apologists and the heretical Gnostics.  Clement (a papal successor to Peter) penned a letter to the Corinthians that is purportedly older than the Book of Revelation!

MISS ATHEIST

I see you mentioned the Barna report. Now, if one looks at the paragraph you gave one can make some interesting observations on how they chose to present the data. Churches are considered charities, the problem is that most of the money just goes to the church and only benefits its members.

FATHER JOE

And where are your facts to base up this claim? Restricting ourselves to Catholic charity work in the United States, estimates vary from 17 to 34% of all non-profit social-service charities. That is not counting the efforts of other Christian organizations as well as Jewish ones. Worldwide it is estimated (in 2010) that Catholic charity efforts amounted to $171,600,000,000 (The Economist). When you look to what actually reaches the needy and what is spent for administration, figures show that most is spent to make a difference in people’s lives. A very small percentage goes to administration, which not all operations can claim. We do not seek to benefit just our own. We do not ask a beggar on the street for his denomination before giving him a sandwich.

Where you would fault the Church is that she is tax-exempt and that not everything given the Church is for social services or charity. Parishes have churches and schools to maintain. We have salaries to pay. Also, we are not social workers. We are about spreading the Gospel, about worship and about teaching certain moral values.

MISS ATHEIST

Churches do fund actual work that helps others, but not to the degree they fund themselves. If they did give as much to others, then my local mission wouldn’t have to beg for money from everyone, when there are ten pages of churches in my local yellow pages.

FATHER JOE

You want me to substantiate even the smallest of claims, no doubt an effort to make a response so ponderous that none could be made with any practicality; however, you do not hold yourself to the same standard. You remain anonymous and neither offer identification of your charities nor what they do? Is Planned Parenthood one of your charities? They would not only rank as a Fortune 500 corporation but sell baby parts for money, too.

MISS ATHEIST

If the claims of Christians are true, and that the US is a Christian-majority country, that means that Christians are in those groups that Barna singled out, except of course for the atheists and agnostics. Christian young people, Christians who didn’t go to college, Christians in the northeast, Christian Asians and Christian Hispanics didn’t give to charities. What is amusing about this is that “25% or more” didn’t give but 75% (or less) did give. Since Barna is a religious group, there is a reason that they write the way they do. They also don’t show their numbers, which is always suspect.

FATHER JOE

I am no apologist for Barna but I can speak to the fact that many claim to be Christian or Catholic when in fact, they are not. It has been my experience that the most fervent believers have been the most generous with needs.

MISS ATHEIST

To which group does the “or more” apply? By how much more are we talking? Now, another study was done and it broke down giving to church and non-church non-profits, “Connected to Give: National Study of American Religious Giving Frequencies.. Unsurprisingly, when that was done, there wasn’t much difference at all. Again, if one actually follows the evidence, and does not have a presupposition, the truth to be found is quite different. Christians don’t have a lock on charity work at all. Christians aren’t funding soup kitchens and homeless shelters to the exclusion of everyone else. What they are doing is falsely trying to claim credit for the actions of all humans.

FATHER JOE

Other than those operated by the government, how many independent (non-religious) shelters and soup kitchens do you know? How many strictly atheist groups run charity operations for the homeless and hungry?  My parishioners regularly feed the homeless at SOME, an operation started in DC by a Jesuit priest. Today it invites people of all faiths or none at all to assist in the work. President Obama made an appearance and dished out food. I am not saying there are no good-hearted atheists. I am saying that religious believers are the main movers and shakers for the bulk of charities in our nation. You have shown nothing to prove otherwise. Indeed, you have given a caricature of a self-seeking and narcissistic Christianity that is a far cry from the REAL witness of faith that I have seen and experienced.

See part #7 that continues this topic.

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 5

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A continuation from part #4.

The debate about theism or belief and unbelief faces serious arguments from both sides. However, too often we end up swatting flies instead of dragons. In any case, believers should always be ready to defend their faith. Our posture must be a reasoned one that takes the discussion seriously, even when the protagonist lacks discretion and/or charity. Not knowing the genuine identity of my adversary, I merely call her Miss Atheist.

MISS ATHEIST

You make the argument that religion has been “misused.” This might be a good excuse if the bible itself and the words of the Pope and other Christian leaders didn’t say that slavery was fine, genocide was fine, killing unbelievers was fine, killing people for supposed “sins” was fine, etc. The true face of Christianity and Catholicism is that of violence and intolerance *and* charity *and* decency. Having been a Christian and having read the bible as a believer and as not, I know this very well.

FATHER JOE

What brand of Christianity was it to which you belonged? It is obvious that like fundamentalists you might know some bible verses but you do not know either the Bible or the true face of Christianity. God’s revelation takes man where it finds him. The seeds planted by the Gospel would eventually blossom in a Christian anthropology that would leave no room for slavery, forced conversions or unjust aggression. We are all brothers and sisters, even if the family of man should sometimes be dysfunctional in how it communicates. Our Lord himself offered correctives as with divorce, complaining that certain things reflected our hardness of hearts and not the direct will of God.

MISS ATHEIST

Millions have died because of the words of the saints to kill Muslims and Jews and claims of the Catholic Church that one should not use contraception. Christianity has been the voice of oppression just as many times as it has been the voice of the oppressed. At best, religion breaks even on causing harm and good because of the beliefs of the religion. That shows that religion is not objectively good. It shows that it is no more than another human invention, filled with the same decency and humaneness and violence and hatred as any other invention.

FATHER JOE

The crusades lasted two centuries and there may have been as many as 200,000 deaths at most. However, numbers are unsure and there may have been less than that. Islam was the Red Threat of its day and its adherents threatened to swallow up Europe. The crusades sought to keep passage to the holy sites open for Christians. Eventually an accommodation would come through St. Francis and his Order. Abuses, particularly because of greed did occur. But like so many bigots, as with those making outrageous Reformation claims, you throw out “millions” as the number of casualties. As for artificial contraception, all of Christianity condemned the practice until the Anglicans voted to approve it for married couples in 1930. Who are the millions who have died at the Church’s hands for promoting contraception? Your anti-Catholicism has reduced your calumny to silliness and brings disgrace back upon yourself.

I would be no apologist for all religion. However, I do personally believe in freedom of conscience and religion. I would never force adults to my brand of worship and faith. Even parents can only instruct and share faith. Ultimately their offspring must decide for themselves to follow or to abandon what they were given. Such liberality does not imply a religious indifferentism or an overly expansive ecumenism. I believe in Catholic Christianity and its claims as true religion. Other belief systems may have elements of the truth, albeit mixed with error. Yes, I know, from your perspective, it is all foolishness. So be it, no one can force you to believe otherwise and as a Christian I regard faith as a divine gift. You either have it or you do not.

I am not convinced that Christianity breaks even as we cannot know what the world would be without Christ and the apostles. A broken world might be even more nightmarish. The Christian faith is an antidote to many of the world’s problems but most believers are either more formed by the world, caught up in their own selfishness and sins, or are too afraid to be the signs of contradiction that we are called to be and need.

The Christian faith and the Church are good because God is good. We view the Church as both a divine and a human institution. It is human with practical laws because it seeks order and fellowship over sinners. It is divine because it is imbued with the Holy Spirit which preserves the truth and gives efficacy to the sacraments in a communion that is the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church is holy because Christ is holy.

MISS ATHEIST

Just because you write the word “real” in capital letters doesn’t make your claim true nor does it impress anyone. You have yet to show that your god exists at all. There is no more reason to think your god is real than there is to think that Allah is real or Vishnu or Coyote or Amaterasu or Tezcatlipoca. You do try your best with Pascal’s Wager, but until evidence is shown that your god is real and no other gods are, it fails because it requires fear of something that can’t be shown to exist. If I don’t worship a god that insists that others should die for supposed sins, I gain tolerance and I am not a murderer. I don’t waste time and resources on trying to impress a god with megachurches and cathedrals. I can use that time and those resources to actually help people. I gain quite a lot in not believing in something that does nothing. You assume that it is your god that is the Creator. All religions do this and none of you can show that your claim is the real one. All point to the universe and say “my god did this.” Why should I believe you?

FATHER JOE

I am not seeking to impress anyone. I am merely sharing my faith. You seem to object to this. Just because you assert there is no God, your saying it does not force me to concede or make it truthful. There are various proofs or ways to understand God’s existence; but I do not see why I should have to give a full blown course in cosmology and the philosophy of God. It is true that I do not find the assumptions of atheists as credible and I will often say so. This does not mean that atheists are wicked or bad neighbors. I do lament the belligerency that is entering discussions, particularly online. My background in world religions is limited. Christianity would claim the same Father God as the Jews and the late Saint Pope John Paul II taught that this is also the same God of the Moslems. The situation is less clear with other purported deities. The very definition of a deity varies between the religions. Catholicism would define God as of one divine nature but generating three divine Persons. We would also argue that he is the source and perfection of the various goods we see in creation: all knowing, all loving, all powerful, etc. He is existence itself, and the one in whom all created things find their being through participation. An almighty deity must by definition be one because any plurality would imply sharing or something lacking in one or the other. The gods of ancient mythology were of this sort and thus not real. The early Christians conjectured that they might be demons, fallen spiritual creatures, pretending to be deities.

But why am I telling you about this? You regard it all as mythology or fiction. You would try to explain your existence without a deity. I would see a necessity for God from contingency and motion.

While I would prefer Aquinas’ Five Ways, Pascal’s Wager (which you mention) always reminded me of Anselm’s Ontological Argument, as neither is really a proof, but presuppose certain factors of belief or elements in the definition of God. Although Pascal was a Catholic, gambling on God’s existence does not satisfy my appreciation of what faith means. Could feigned faith genuinely please God or save you? Certainly God knows the sincerity of our hearts. As for Anselm, the presumption of a God makes other assertions far too easy. I worry that the transition from the intentional to the actual may be missing a middle term or come too readily. I have similar reservations about mathematics as a means to explain creation without a God.

The way you describe God is very foreign from how I and most Christians understand him. Further, you would negate the subjective experience of relationship that believers have with Christ. I suppose you would classify it as delusion or mass deception. But many have loved this God you dismiss and have allowed that love to flow over into love of neighbor. They have practiced a sacrificial love that imitates the oblation of Jesus. Yes, we are sinners, but we trust that ours is a forgiving God. The posture of the creature to the Creator is one of humility and praise. We obey God and while our sights are on heaven, we try to better the immediate world around us. The true history of the Church and Christianity is not found in cases of hypocrisy and inhumanity to men; but rather, it is the story of the many martyrs and saints. They are the ones who present the real face of the Church and Christ.

I would be curious as to how you do not waste time as an atheist. What is it that you actually do to make a positive difference for others? What are these Christian charities you said you support? My life is an open book. You’re an anonymous critic on the Internet. What I believe is substantiated by my life and my open profile. I am a Catholic priest who embraced both celibacy and obedience to serve God in his people. I am the pastor of a small church and together we try to make a real and positive impact upon the lives of others. We raised money and sent aid to the Philippines and to Haiti. We have volunteers who collect food and feed the homeless regularly in DC. We raised money and supplies for a local family shelter. We have fundraisers for the local pregnancy crisis center. We support the maternity home nearby. We offer counseling to those who need it. We are an inclusive community, educating and making room in our pews for those with physical and mental challenges. We operate our own food pantry. We collected and bought coats for poor kids. We have members who are involved with justice issues, racial toleration, immigration and jobs, etc. The list goes on and on. Over the years I tutored kids at a Boys Club, counseled children at a juvenile detention home, educated the residents at a facility for the mentally challenged, visited patients at the local nursing homes and hospitals, and so forth. I do not feel that I am wasting time by saying my prayers or celebrating Mass. Indeed, these activities empower my ministry and the witness of the parish. Sorry madam, you really do not know what you are talking about.

MISS ATHEIST

I certainly do throw out certain claims of evidence by theists. What is amusing is that you do the same thing if that evidence is claimed for another god.

FATHER JOE

You may amuse yourself any way you see fit but your posture is not mine. I neither throw out immediately the claims of other theists nor those of researchers in archeology, biology and evolution, astronomy or physics. I may struggle to understand thinkers from other disciplines, but I take seriously the beliefs and rational assessments of others. This is particularly the case when they are offered in a manner that respects others and civil discourse. It is true that I have certain presumptions as a Catholic priest but I am not afraid of the truth. Obviously, I share much in terms of faith with other Christians and maintain a profound respect toward our Jewish origins. Other religions, as I said, may have elements of truth, albeit mixed with error. My Catholic faith is informed from many sources: Scripture or divine positive law, Tradition or those beliefs and practices passed down from the apostles, the Magisterium or teaching authority instituted by Christ, Philosophy or a rational approach to questions of meaning that presume that what we know is real and that we have the capacity to make deductions from material creation and existence, and Science which explores the world around us by making observations, experiments and by pondering the math behind reality. I may sometimes be critical of the claims of other religions, but such is an expression of my faith and not a judgment against other human beings. Indeed, I can respect the beauty and insights of other belief systems while not placing personal credence in them or their view of God. Of course, with the Buddhists we are talking more about a state of being and abandonment or letting go than a traditional deity.

MISS ATHEIST

How can you show that you and you alone correctly interpret the evidence and that no one else does?

FATHER JOE

I do not do any such thing. Mine is not a religion of one.

While my faith is not spoon-fed but requires spiritual reflection, it is one that is widely shared and has a long history. The evidence is assessed by many Catholics in the various disciplines and they collaborate. Thus Catholic theologians, philosophers, and scientists work together in evaluating what we know and in seeking a complementarity in truth.

MISS ATHEIST

Your argument is nothing more than the god of the gaps argument when you claim that microscopes and telescopes can only see so far as your “evidence” for your god. Again, you try to attack a strawman atheist when you falsely claim that atheists throw out the aesthetic and the sense of awe. I still have a sense of the aesthetic and I still feel awe when I look at the universe. I just don’t assign that awe to a god or make believe that this god only created the beautiful. I see the universe as it is, pretty cool and often pretty horrifying when I think about guinea worms, bot flies, etc.

FATHER JOE

No, I would not make a so-called “god of the gaps” argument. The atheist Dawkins argues that such is a fallacious approach. My emphasis is merely that there is too much that science does not know for it to make dogmatic statements against a deity. I would argue that God’s existence is better realized in what we know other than by what we do not know (the gaps). Catholic philosophy hinges not on the unknown but upon what we know. Christianity is not a stark materialism, but we take the physical world very seriously. How else could it be for a religion that accepts as credible the world around it and that professes an incarnate deity? Of course, many non-Catholic Christian fundamentalists would resist the value of philosophy as an intrusion or competition to faith. Indeed, they might judge science in similar ways as with the evolution debate and cosmology questions. However, Catholicism has long since moved beyond such a naïve interpretation. I suppose part of the confusion in the debate here is how we use the word mystery. We do not use it in terms of the detective novel. The supernatural mysteries touch upon what we know and/or what has been revealed but also upon that which cannot be exhausted by our knowing it. While mystery might defy rational demonstration, logical arguments can always be made to show that it is possible.

There is also a “science of the gaps” that extends from the ridiculous to the probable. The ridiculous is often evidenced on the Discovery Channel that mixes real science programs with conjectural shows on Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot and Ancient Astronauts. Among the more probable or credible research (but often corrected by scientists themselves) are inquiries into human missing links and the origins and ultimate plight of the universe. The professionals themselves conjecture and disagree as they seek to fill gaps. Everyone hopes that there is a forward movement or advancement in the truth.  The theories and assumptions might be logical or based upon what we already know, but the gaps remain.  Will the gaps always be there?

The brokenness of the world is not something foreign to the Christian. We know full well there is a disharmony. But as horrible and terrifying certain elements of creation might seem to be; even here we find order and beauty. I would suggest that your sense of the aesthetic is weakened. You would ascribe to accident or chance that in which I see order and design.

MISS ATHEIST

It’s rather sad when you try to claim that the only rational people are those who agree with you.

FATHER JOE

I am not arguing that only rational people would agree with me. My argument here is with you and those critics like you.

See part #6 that continues this topic.

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 4

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A continuation from part #3.

I sometimes wonder about the utility of debates.  Each side makes its jabs or points, and opponents may even run away from issues they would rather not admit.  Too often the target switches from the topic to the persons, themselves.

MISS ATHEIST

Where have I mocked anyone’s sacrifice? It seems that you have resorted to making up something in order to attack me.

FATHER JOE

Impugning the values of Christianity is to mock the sacrifices of believers. I am not surprised that you fail to see this. Many atheists fail to see any overriding importance to religion, although a few acknowledge it as a power (even if in potency) for good. Religion can also be disfigured or corrupted. The more worthwhile and truthful a religion the more monstrous it becomes when mangled and misdirected.

MISS ATHEIST

I find that anyone who dies because someone else thinks that their religion is the only right one is a tragedy.

FATHER JOE

Look at what you write. I am sure you are thinking of the Moslem extremist killing a Christian when the threats of forced conversion have failed. The followers of Islam do believe that their religion is true. But note that the Catholic and Coptic Christian also believe that his faith in Christ is true. He dies because he believes his religion is the right one and that it is worthy of sacrifice. Belittle the faith and you mock him. Martyrdom is a tragedy but it is a powerful and even inspiring witness for the Christian. Catholic or Christian martyrdom means dying while forgiving your murderers. This is a far cry from the Islamic view of martyr put forward by the Koran and extremists as someone who dies killing the infidel (enemy).

I am unsure as to whether or not anyone is currently targeting atheists, but the radical Moslems are battling Christianity, not only because they believe in forced conversions but because they have declared war against what they call “the nation of the Cross.” The reason for the murder is not just because of their interpretation of faith but about how it fuels a hatred of others who are different. Moslems can attack the Church with the sword while atheistic secular humanists resort to verbal propaganda and legal manipulation.

MISS ATHEIST

Atheists vary with that they think about religion. I think anyone should have the right to worship as you wish but you do not have the right to force your religion on others and I will always stand against that.

FATHER JOE

The problem with what you write is how you might think religion is pressed upon you. The Church in the United States makes much of our legacy for religious liberty. The American bishops feel that recent measures by the current administration undermine the ability of believers and the Church to live out their faith. Abortion is not merely a religious issue but a human one. The sanctity of life is essential and basic; strip it away and all other rights disappear. Homosexual unions and no fault divorce touch upon how we define human sexuality and the meaning of marriage and the family. How we treat immigrants and the poor speak about our appreciation of human dignity and the right to work with a livable wage. The Church is attacked for intrusion on all these points. Now the Holy Father is facing assault for reminding us that we must be good stewards of the planet and our environment.

Religion is more than worship. Faith cannot be locked behind doors or trapped between the walls of a church. Catholics are not forcing their worship upon you. You are not being compelled to participate at Mass or to receive Holy Communion. No one is forcing you to kneel before the tabernacle in the sanctuary. How does any of this apply to your right to worship or not to worship?

How does a display of a Menorah or a Cross or a Crèche or a Buddha really hurt you? Even if they are not always my religious symbols, I see in them elements of our cultural richness and diversity. I respect them and the good people behind them just as I hope they would do the same for me. No, the real issue is that some do not want people of faith to share their ethical views as citizens in the public forum. I am similarly grieved that ISIS has destroyed ancient archaeological sites and idols, not because I placed faith in them but because they were part of our human legacy and history.

MISS ATHEIST

So, I *do* exactly what you would wish I would do. It would be nice if you would do such a thing too, to defend the rights of all men and women to practice any religion that they choose or none at all.

FATHER JOE

Here you are wrong about me and my faith. But you are wrong about a great many things.

MISS ATHEIST

You don’t do that, you try to claim that atheists are no better than Stalin or Mao.

FATHER JOE

No, I did not say that. Rather, I refuted the claim that atheists have no blood on their hands. Just as the recent Popes have made “mea culpas” for the sins of Christians in the past, we all have to acknowledge our faults and shortcomings.

MISS ATHEIST

Your church spends millions on trying to remove the rights of others to worship or not worship as they choose.

FATHER JOE

And how is it that we do this? Again, what is worship and what is religious practice? The deception here is yours.

MISS ATHEIST

Christians spend millions trying to convert each other. I always found it bizarre when my church sent people to countries that were almost entirely Catholic— so much for wanting religious freedom.

FATHER JOE

While your former church may have done so, the Catholic Church does not actively proselytize. We do not stand outside of synagogues or mosques seeking to convert Jews and Moslems. We do not try to steal the congregants from other Christian communities. Indeed, even when we go door to door, our efforts target fallen-away Catholics and the un-churched. If people are happy in their church, we pray with them, share our love for the Lord and then go to the next door. It is true that people from other churches often come to us, entering our catechetical programs. We respect their decisions. After a year of instruction, they are free to become a Catholic or walk away. We place no force upon them other than instruction and dialogue. We respect their faith journey. Parents are urged to raise their children in the faith but when it comes time for Confirmation, it must be the decision of the youth. Faith cannot be forced. I would urge you to read the Vatican II document  on religious liberty and the universal Catechism freedom of conscience. While we are not responsible for the bigotry of other denominations; Catholicism is a religion that has matured over the last two thousand years just as we have seen an organic development of doctrine. The deposit of faith is fixed but our understanding is not.

MISS ATHEIST

There is no evidence of any Christian “holocaust” and to try to make believe such a thing devalues the term holocaust and those people who really were exposed to hatred and genocide. I’m not sure where the Israeli prime minister made any reference to a Christian holocaust, though he did claim that making a deal with Iran would cause a second Jewish one. Perhaps you can show me the correct quote.

FATHER JOE

I can appreciate the sensitivity of Jews in regard to the label “holocaust” but denying the mass murder of Christians and others is just as heinous as those who deny the Nazi murders that targeted an entire people. The early Church suffered persecution first under the Jews and then under pagan Rome. Believers died like flies. Hitler’s regime killed six million Jews and at least 11 million others rated as sub-humans, like the Slav Gypsies. Pope Francis was criticized recently by the Turks for mentioning the murder of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. Almost a million Cappadocian residents were also killed (Greek Orthodox). As many as 7 million Ukrainians died under Stalin. As many as 3 million Igbos (many who are Christian) have been starved or killed outright in Nigeria. There are many other terrible efforts to murder populations of people as well. The Irish Catholics view the Great Famine as an act of genocide, given that they were dispossessed from their own land by the British government. Food was exported when people were starving.

We read in the news from Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) (AFP) (AFP) – “Pope Francis called for an end to what he said was the ‘genocide’ of Christians taking place in the Middle East and beyond.” Whatever word we use, the horrific nature of what is happening should not be dismissed.

CNS News reports: “‘Christianity in Mosul is dead, and a Christian holocaust is in our midst,’ said Mark Arabo, a Californian businessman and Chaldean-American leader. In an interview with CNN’s Jonathan Mann, he called what’s happening in Iraq a ‘Christian genocide’ and said ‘children are being beheaded, mothers are being raped and killed, and fathers are being hung.’”

There are images and videos all over the Internet. If you fail to appreciate the gravity of this contemporary horror then your bigotry has strained your relationship with the human family and the needs of the hurting. In light of such blindness, I suppose it is the sensitivity of PM Benjamin Netanyahu to the plight of Christians in the Middle East that gives me cause for hope, especially as he connected the lines between the evils of Hitler and the threat from Iran and ISIS. Many of us were moved by his address to Congress and his Christmas message to Christians. This time Christians and Jews must stand together and become fully aware of the danger that threatens us… particularly if we do not want the mistakes of the past repeated in the present.

MISS ATHEIST

You again make false claims about atheists and me in particular. I am indeed about charity and justice. I find that justice is very important, and that is one of the reasons I find that the Biblical god is anything but just or fair; damning people for the actions of others. I give to charities to help my fellow humans. What does it say about Christianity when you make false claims?

FATHER JOE

I can judge your words but I do not know you or what charities, if any, you support. But if there be any false claims, they are yours… especially in denying the horrific suffering of Catholics and Coptics under ISIS. But it should be added that Christians are suffering in Africa and Asia as well. Your comment was longer than my initial post, forcing this elongated response.

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MISS ATHEIST

I was on the national mall for the atheist gathering. I know that your claims of all atheists making strawmen attacks are false, for a strawman attack would mean the words of the speakers weren’t true, and that is not the case. Which speaker cursed your god’s name? Which speakers were “dropping the “F” bomb? I’m sure there were people in the crowed, but on stage? Again, I was there and I do not recall this happening. Care to support your claim with names and quotes?

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FATHER JOE

You want me to object to ridicule and obscenity by giving them a forum on my blog? That will not happen. I am a big fan of the show Mythbusters with Adam Savage. Savage is a vocal atheist. Just mentioning him, we can look at his speech at the so-called Reason Rally on the Mall. Among his facts he lists “E equals MC-f-cking-squared.” Why the vulgarity? He hurts his point about civility and shared values. Then you add his beliefs, as with “You cannot teach kids about sex by telling them not to have it.” What’s the alternative, saying it is okay? Next he states, “I believe that people have an inalienable right to choose what to do with their own bodies.” There is a truth here but what about the bodies of unborn children?

MISS ATHEIST

Carl Sagan may have been an agnostic, but he said you were wrong just as strongly as any atheist. He pointed out that your religion is based on false claims, no more worthy of belief than the claim of having a dragon in his garage. What he considered a possible god was not the god of Christianity, an existential entity that controls the flights of birds; his god was that of Einstein, the sum total of physical laws of the universe. He may have worked with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (when was this? And what was the difference made in the world since I cannot find one mention of this on the Internet?), but again, I have donated money to Christian charities. I don’t damn people doing good works just because I don’t agree with all of their claims.

FATHER JOE

Sagan was wrong to criticize the Church for the destruction of the great library at Alexandria, but I have no issue with him or anyone else in expressing views in a civil manner. It is precisely that civility that we are currently lacking in the exchange of ideas. Note here that you immediately discount my beliefs and compare theism to claiming a dragon in the garage. You do not acknowledge a reductionism in what constitutes proof and reasoning. You do not acknowledge how truth is strained through varying hermeneutics. Catholicism would claim that ours is a “personal” God but also the author of the universe and of the laws that we can discern through observation or extrapolate through higher mathematics. We would not claim that the laws of the physical universe themselves constitute a deity as this would be a form of cosmic pantheism. You seem to question every assertion I make as if this were a college dissertation, even Sagan’s collaboration with the Church for science and peace. Before his death he was also helpful with the Vatican’s plans to modernize its observatory.

I could load you down with questions, but I accept your word that you give to charities, even Christian ones. If I were to wear your hat I would immediately ask which ones and how much? I suppose in that sense the respect here is not really mutual.

MISS ATHEIST

It seems that you have a problem with atheists who dare to show you wrong, Father Joe. You want nice docile atheists that sit down and shut up when told. Those days are long gone, and we have no problem in saying that the emperor has no clothes. We aren’t afraid of the stake anymore and we’ve never been afraid of your impotent god.

FATHER JOE

No, I have a problem with atheists who lack civility and suffer from hubris. I am somewhat incredulous that there should be such venom against a deity that you say does not exist. I am also unaware of any great list of martyrs for atheism. It is unfortunate that people of religious faith should have sometimes opposed each other in violent ways; but for most of human history atheists were not even on the radar.

The news is currently reporting about the so-called Devil in Detroit. While there are Satanists and occultists excited about this, the major proponents for the statue are atheists. It is a ploy to strip Judeo-Christian symbols like the Cross and the Ten Commandments from public memorials. It is actually quite a cunning plan, although as a Catholic I have to wonder if there might be a demonic manipulation behind the scenes. This statue is made to shock and upset Christians, especially with figures of children looking up at it with trust. The group that fabricated the $100,000 idol insists that they do not really worship Satan. Rather, their leader says, “We believe in a metaphorical, literary construct of Satan. He’s a symbol for rebellion, a symbol of human nature, the thirst for knowledge.”

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See part #5 that continues this topic.

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 3

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A continuation from part #2.

It has been argued that conservative Christians are paranoid, thinking that atheists and progressives are sneaking up on us or out to get us.  But we are only paranoid if we are wrong.  Sometimes we need to check our backs.

MISS ATHEIST

I think most Christians, Jews and Muslims don’t want to kill each other over religion. The problem is that their holy books say that their god wants this to happen. Happily, most theists don’t obey their religions to the degree that they once did, realizing that such xenophobia and violence isn’t how they want to live.

FATHER JOE

Where in the New Testament does Jesus or a Christian shepherd demand the murder of anyone over religion? Jesus speaks about loving our enemies and forgiving our persecutors. Indeed, this was one of the elements of Christian belief that made pagan Rome wary of the new faith. Today the Jews seek to defend themselves and the state of Israel. Is that so wrong?  The crusades have been over for centuries and the Catholic Church is often a lone voice crying out for peace. You simplify matters to the point of error.

MISS ATHEIST

It is certainly true that all religions have had their extremists and Christianity still has them. From their words and actions, Christians have yet to prove that they can tolerate and live in a non-Christian world. For example, it is secular law that keeps Christians from forcing their religion on others and keeps them from attacking others here in the US (usually, we’ve had enough murders by Christians against others).

FATHER JOE

You have matters quite backwards. The problem is that an increasingly non-Christian west is less and less hospitable to Christianity and to Catholicism in particular. There has been widespread dissent and calumny in reaction to Pope Francis’ severe critique of rampant greed that promotes commercialism and materialism over the rights of immigrants and the poor. The late Pope John Paul pleaded for peace and begged the west against attacking Iraq and yet we went ahead and are still struggling with the deadly consequences. Our society prizes license and caprice against both natural law and divine positive law. Lost is the sense of order implanted in creation. Under the banner of choice, millions of unborn children are murdered in the womb and advocates would silence the Church. Most atheists dismiss the rights of unborn children for the right of selfish mothers to kill their babies. Is this the toleration you want? Catholics in the U.S., going back to the Edict of Toleration in Maryland, have sought to live in peace with their neighbors. But there are some issues that go beyond sectarian doctrines and reflect basic truths about what it means to be human. Unfortunately, even these matters are being questioned and denied. Is pornography bad and harmful to society? Is marriage an institution solely between a man and woman? If not is marriage still a viable social institution? Is gender interchangeable? Is the matter of homosexual activity entirely morally neutral? How far does the state go to force people of faith to accept the values of a narcissistic secular humanism and modern hedonism? Many call themselves Christians but as the old saying goes, some can “talk the talk, but do they walk the walk?” Just being baptized does not make a person a perfect Christian. People are people, regardless of what they believe. Notice that I say “what they believe” and do not add “those who believe in nothing.” Atheism can be broken down into its own various forms of belief, even if it avoids overall existential questions and focuses upon isolated experiments with lab rats and lenses with increasingly powerful magnification.

MISS ATHEIST

I do not see where the world has become less tolerant of Christians. I suppose you may construe less tolerant as not blindly accepting what Christians claim and holding Christians accountable. If Christians are to be believed, they are a major world religion, with billions of adherents. I do think that there is intolerance and most of it comes from Christians often claiming that their fellow believers aren’t “true” Christians. I am sure you have run into anti-Catholicism, where Christians of other sects are quite sure that Roman Catholics are Satanists, sun worshippers, polytheists, etc. Each sect defines Christianity differently. I have no problem with Christians. You just can’t claim it’s your right to force your beliefs on me and to create laws based on them.

FATHER JOE

If you do not see how the world has become less tolerant of Christians than you are blinded by bigotry. Here are some recent news headlines showing the escalation in tension:

Syrian Christian leader tells West: ‘Stop arming terror groups who are massacring our people’

Christian pastors on trial in Sudan moved to high security prison

Two Chinese house church Christians given jail sentences, accused of cult involvement

Religious Freedom in China: ‘alarming increase in systematic, ongoing abuses’

Imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini’s 35th birthday wish is for revival in America

Christians in the Middle East at risk of extinction, party leaders warned

India: Hindu nationalist politician calls for sterilization of Christians and Muslims to control numbers

Tackling religious persecution is a moral necessity

Report highlights harassment against Christians in Nigeria

China: pastor on trial after protesting removal of church crosses

Pakistan church bombing protests escalate, 10 more Christians killed

India: Elderly nun asks God to forgive those who raped her

Iran: Persecution of Christians as bad as ever, despite President’s promises

Our Christian beliefs are under attack from influential and militant atheists

The USCCB addresses the issue of threats to religious liberty on its website:

http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/current-threats-to-religious-liberty.cfm

You speak as if there is a vast demarcation between religious rights and natural rights. The difference is that we would respect nature as stewards while certain atheists would manipulate or curse nature as masters. Of course, Christians are not uniform in their opinions. Catholicism would seek to make distinctions between those things that belong to variable or subjective human whim and those that are objectively true for all. But when one rejects a divine agent behind nature, would atheists then not treat nature as something entirely subject to their charge?

MISS ATHEIST

Secular humanists do not all wish to strip the Roman Catholic Church of its voice, and it does seem that you think that the only true Christianity is your “Church.” What I, as a secular humanist, and an atheist want is to also have a voice in the public forum, something of which theists are very afraid. You may make your claims but they are now countered, the RCC no longer is unopposed when it tries to claim that it is the only arbiter of morality.

FATHER JOE

While we recognize our common baptism, Catholicism views itself as the true Church instituted by Christ. It is in that sense that Catholicism does view itself as having a privileged place in the Christian landscape. Historically it was the Catholic Church that discerned a new economy of images and gave the emphasis to the Eighth Day or Sunday (the Lord’s Day) over the Hebrew Sabbath. Because of the incarnation and resurrection, the emphasis changed because in Christ, God has a human face. Our re-creation in Christ takes precedence over our creation in Genesis. It is this Church that assembled the canon of the Bible. It is this Church that claims a magisterium protected by the power of the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals. If you have read the documents of Vatican II then you would know that the last half-century has seen an intensified interest in defending freedom of conscience and religious liberty. Going back to Pope John XXIII, the Church has appealed not only to Scripture but to natural law in speaking about peace. This effort was to acknowledge those who are not believers but who want to be co-workers in making this a better world. The Church does not claim to be the only source of truth when speaking about morality. However, she does speak loudly when she sees violations of human dignity and the right to life. The Church has no issue with coming to the table with atheists. However, there are certain non-believers who would take away our chair. You cannot compare Catholicism either to radical Islam or to fundamentalist Protestantism. We see the world very differently.

MISS ATHEIST

Where are a “million Christians” you speak about as exiled and on the run? Are they in the Middle East? It seems that that number is an exaggeration, but it could be true.

FATHER JOE

It is true and your hesitation to admit it shows how hardened your heart is regarding believers and injustice. If there were a million atheists on the run for their lives, I would be just as upset and involved with efforts to protect them and to care for their families. This is the sentiment of the active Christians I know and with whom I associate. Our thoughts are not only about heaven but about the struggles of people here on earth. Catholicism takes seriously the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of humanity. Similarly the Catholic Church expends millions for food, water and health supplies for the hurting around the world, even Moslems who have little love in their hearts for Christians.

Christians are being attacked in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The plight of Chaldean Christians, both Catholic and Coptic, is described in  BREITBART NEWS.  We read, “Since the U.S. invasion in 2003, over 1 million Christians have been exiled from Iraq, leaving only around 300,000 left in the country.”

MISS ATHEIST

Thousands have had their heads chopped off? Where?

FATHER JOE

Where have you been? I still remember the sadness of a Holy Cross priest-friend who had to identify the bodies of four seminarians on summer assignment in Africa. They found them beheaded in the jungle. Chopping heads seems the violence of choice used by ISIS against Christian men. Do we have to post the grisly pictures for people like you?

Google it and you will find plenty of photos and videos.  An article in USA TODAY quoted the murderous terrorists as chanting:  “We will conquer Rome with Allah’s permission!”

Not all religions are the same. The development of Catholic doctrine has been in the direction of dialogue, cooperation and peace. While we would not want to fault all Moslems, it must be admitted that this radicalization is worldwide and frightening. While others are also their victims, they see their efforts as part of a war against what they call THE NATION OF THE CROSS. Catholics are marked with the Arabic “N” marking them just as the Nazis marked the Jews for elimination. The “N” stands for “Nazarene” after Jesus from Nazareth.

MISS ATHEIST

There may indeed be as many as you say and what is sad is that so many Christians claim that they are “in exile” in their own country and are threatened here in the US, when that is anything but the truth, devaluing real persecution. It’s always curious when people make such claims when there are thousands of Christian media outlets, pages upon pages of churches in the yellow pages, billboards on highways, etc.

FATHER JOE

What you are now arguing is how much persecution is tolerable and okay. Sorry, it is all wrong. When an Oregon baker is fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for lesbians, loses her business and then is placed under a gag order not to talk about the issue— then yes, Christians are being persecuted here at home. Religious liberty and freedom of speech are precious to American democracy and yet in practice, they are increasing threatened. The lesbian couple could have easily gotten their cake elsewhere. But they wanted to destroy these people who believed and thought differently than they did. The courts helped them to perform this task.  This is just one case, but similar instances of oppression are happening across our society. Toleration of differences is one thing— but now Christians are told that they must compromise their values, or else.

MISS ATHEIST

It is not a radical Islam that insists on conversion and death; that is just Islam, though most Muslims ignore those parts. Judaism and Christianity also insist on conversion and death. The OT is full of the Judeo-Christian god commanding just that. Jesus himself says that people who do not accept him as their king should be brought before him and killed (Luke 19). And of course, there is Revelation which is all about the killing of anyone who doesn’t accept this god. Happily, most Jews and Christians ignore those parts.

FATHER JOE

There is nothing in Luke 19 about killing people who reject Jesus as king. You misread a parable which emphasizes using the gifts given us for the sake of the kingdom. A failure to use these gifts will bring shame and death. Everything that Christ offers brings life and hope. The third servant in the parable allowed his fear to get the better of him. We cannot be passive in the faith, but always about spreading the Good News with our words and witness. The story of the servants is a bit different in Matthew. While it employs allegory, it may have been based upon a real event, the succession of Archelaus after the death of his father, Herod the Great. Archelaus went to Rome and stood before Caesar asking to receive the title “king.” A Jewish delegation opposed him. Albeit without the title, he is made the leader of Judea and Samaria. Luke makes it clear that Jesus is not on his way to establish a new military kingdom in Jerusalem. He is not seeking earthly kingly power. First he must go away and return from a distant country (his Parousia); only then will there be judgment. The verses to which you refer are Luke 19:26-27: “I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.” This is not an order to kill anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus as king. It is a reference to the judgment of souls that comes either at death or at the consummation of the world. The acceptance of Christ brings life. Rejection of God’s mercy brings eternal death or hell. It is something brought upon us in the light of divine justice.

Revelation is apocalyptic language and much of it about the persecution of the Church by pagan Rome. While there is a reference to an End Times confrontation, I am unaware of any New Testament teaching about forced conversions. The final confrontation is with powers and principalities. The battle is not merely physical but spiritual. Historically, not everyone who is Christian has respected the rights of others. Often nations and leaders used religion for their own purposes. But the Church is composed of sinners and this is to be expected.

Ultimately faith is a gift and should not come through coercion or violence. Parents have an obligation to share their faith with their children but we have to respect the decisions they will make as adults. Even if there should be disagreements about religion, it should be no barrier to love and mutual concern.

The difficult sections of the Old Testament say more about the primitive people called than any blood lust from God. The Hebrews fought over things like land. They never had a strong insistence upon evangelization or conversion. They judged their own harshly, especially in regard to sins against the marriage bed and idolatry. However, in this they were little different from many other ancient people. Revelation comes through the prism of a people and their culture. It cannot be read as if it is dictated word for word from heaven.

Islam and the Koran speak about forced conversions and Holy War. When Pope Benedict XVI urged that this concept be rejected (while visiting Turkey) there were cries for chopping off his head. Hopefully this only reflects the militant arm of Islam and not the majority. But I cannot speak for them. As a priest, I can only speak directly about the claims of Catholicism. When it comes to other faiths, it is my trust that there can be peaceful toleration and efforts at real collaboration toward a better and more peaceful world.

I can appreciate the scandal in how Christians sometimes behave. G. K. Chesterton lamented that this cannot be interpreted as a failure of the faith, just the weakness of believers. He is observed, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

See part #4 that continues this topic.

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 2

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A continuation from part #1.

Certain atheists must think that all Christians are gullible idiots.  They delight in espousing evolution as if that alone nullifies the message of Genesis and a Creator.  Unlike Fundamentalists, Catholics do not insist upon a 6,000 year old world or view the extinction of dinosaurs as the fault of an Ark that was too small to contain them.  It may be that these monsters were long gone when the first man stood upright.  Of course, the Jurassic Park movies and DNA research would suggest a modern meeting between these two creatures that alternately controlled the world.  Catholics believe that the Bible is inspired and contains salvation truth.  This is not the same as cosmic or archeological truth.  It is as the old saying would remind us, “The Bible does not teach us how the heavens go, but rather how to go to heaven.”

We are finding it the case in contemporary society that atheism is both on the rise and is more willing to actively engage believers. Previously, their attitude was largely one of silence. Those that spoke out were frequently associated with “godless Communism.” However, now that Asian Communists are largely and wrongly off our radar and the Red Threat has been exchanged for Islamic Extremists, many feel it is safe at home to espouse an atheism that places theism under the gun. It is a bit perplexing that atheism has become increasingly evangelical, seeking new avenues to spread its message, making converts, and ridiculing believers as stupid or uninformed. Given that they do not believe that God exists, is this not literally (from their perspective) a lot of talk about NOTHING? Why not allow the faithful to believe in God just as little children believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? What difference should it make to them?

Have atheists been personally wronged by people of faith? I remember one complained to a crowd that it was unfair that Christians, Jews and Moslems had recognized holidays and there were none for the atheists. An old man in the assembly shouted back, “But you do have a holiday!” Taken aback, the atheist critic stopped and asked what that might be? The old man answered, “The first of April, April Fool’s Day!” He quoted the Scriptures saying, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Instead of a “live and let live” attitude, there are militant atheists who feel offended by any expressions of religious faith. Their ire erupts at the thought of public prayer, displays of the Ten Commandments, menorah’s, crèche’s and sometimes even Christmas trees. They are active in online social media and in law, doing all they can to restrict or eliminate the religious witness. These critics portray believers and especially Christians as ignorant fools who threaten modern liberties and sensible thinking. Believers are imaged as deluded or out of touch with reality, seeking to enslave minds to a fundamentalism that opposes the findings of experiential sciences. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially given the many great minds that have benefited Western culture, even though they were people of faith.

Is this payback time for all the times that Christians mocked or challenged people without strong religious convictions? I cannot say. Certainly the elements of respect and common courtesy have been strained on both sides of the debate. I cannot imagine how a person would want to live in a world without a God or without an existence beyond this world where mercy and justice is substantiated. Similarly, it seems the atheist is unable or unwilling to view religion as anything more than wishful thinking and empty myth. They become angry at what they interpret as muddled thinking and delusion. They wonder why we cannot be more like them. Christians might wonder why these men and women have been deprived of the gift of faith. Have they closed every window to their souls?

The mockery and inflammatory language really does not help. We saw much of this on the mall in 2012 when atheists gathered from across the U.S. The Reason Rally speakers and signs paraded all sorts of vulgar language and images. God’s name was taken in vain and more. There really was very little about reason or logical thinking. It was meant to shock and insult.  One participant was dressed in a costume that depicted Jesus riding a dinosaur.

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While there are some decent atheists who engage in respectful and civil dialogue, we are seeing the emergence a much more vulgar and shocking movement. They mock the message and the messengers. While they do not believe in God they employ language which insults him. The try to use the Bible in their attacks but often do not have the tools to understand or interpret God’s Word. Not only is the meaning of various texts twisted beyond recognition, obvious half-truths or exaggerations are expressed to make Christianity look silly and impoverished. Why the condescension and arrogance? The motives of Christians are questioned and the faith is discussed as a scam to rob simple people of their hard-earned money. Believers in the pews are disparaged as ignorant or mentally ill. Having noted their many assertions at gatherings, these are the kinds of things we hear:

“We should not be forced to abide by myths and fairytales!”

“Catholicism is a superstition at war with reason and science!”

“Christians would force their oppressive nonsense upon the rest of us, forcing us to live by their rules!”

“Religion is a delusion that lies to people so that they never grow up!”

“Christianity would have people suffer here and now for an imaginary pie in the sky in a life to come!”

“Our minds must be liberated from the shackles of religion!”

“Religion is never the answer but the root cause of our many problems!”

“People of faith are like lemmings jumping off the cliff or drowning themselves in the sea!”

The irony in all this is that the critical atheist has narrowed the parameters of truth even as he ridicules the believer’s understanding of reality and ability to logically reason. The believer has already been prejudged as a fool and religious slave. They cannot imagine how any person of even mediocre intelligence could disagree with them. Atheism as a belief of its own, has replaced popes and bishops with certain scientists, authors and media celebrities. Most atheists are not first class minds but like other types of believers, following others who are more persuasive and charismatic. Religious people may by and large fall into the same game park. Astrophysicists and mathematicians may impress them with facts and jargon that they, themselves, could never comprehend left to their own resources. An analogy might be cars and computers. We might like to drive cars and surf the internet on computers. But how many of us could build a car or computer from scratch or even repair one? We all have our pet ideas but also rely upon differing authorities who claim to see further or more clearly than the rest.

While Catholicism would insist upon a complementarity of truth, there is definitely a prejudice from atheists as to what they regard as acceptable. Many reject philosophy altogether while others will acknowledge certain Marxists and/or materialists. I have noted in discussions their quotes from Bentham, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Rand, Russell, Sartre, and Schopenhauer. Rosenberg, Singer and Harris are still alive and speak for themselves. They tend to reject theology as a legitimate area of study and categorize Christian philosophers as tainted, not true philosophers but as theologians in disguise. Unfortunately, this throws out a great deal of the intellectual inheritance from Western culture: Augustine of Hippo, Frederick Copleston, René Descartes, Étienne Gilson, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Jacques Maritain, and Thomas Aquinas, etc. While outside the Catholic tradition, contemporary philosophy must take into consideration the contributions and genius of Immanuel Kant, i.e. about matters like human knowing and the philosophy of God.

Science is divinized by certain atheists, but not by all, as the only genuine source of truth. But we are often quick to assume that mankind has the capacity (or at least a few individuals) to pierce the deepest mysteries. There might also be a reduction of truth to the mathematical or that which can be empirically proven. Because of assumptions and missing links, critics have sometimes charged atheists with fabricating a non-theistic faith or religion. This undermines their claims of objectivity and critical or logical reasoning. Should truth be reduced to the methodology of experiment, trial and error, or a math that requires what may be fictional multiple dimensions to make the sums come out straight?

There is a wonderful intellectual tradition that has been fostered by the faith. The posture of the creature to the Creator is not merely one of fear but of awe. Claims may seem unsubstantiated, but ours is a faith seeking understanding— not a faith at war with truth or reason. Of course, the believer has a heightened appreciation for the nature of mystery. We encounter one whom we will never completely comprehend. The finite is called into relationship with the infinite.

The slurs against Christianity often shock and confuse me. There seems to be a terrible disconnect from the faith I know and live out each day. The message of Christ and the apostles is one of sacrificial love and boundless mercy. We are to forgive beyond measure. We are to place the needs of others before ourselves. Fear of the Lord does not mean running away from God in terror. It means a reverence toward God as the source of our lives and the gifts we cherish. It is true that we are servants of the Word, not its master. We do look to God and not to man as the arbiter of our discipleship and morality. But the face that God shows us is one where everyone is loved and everyone is deemed to have an immeasurable dignity. During the first days of Christianity, there was a heresy where some claimed that the apparently harsh God of the Old Testament was not the gentle God of Jesus in the New. This falsehood was condemned. There is but one God and he does not change. However, while human nature and sin remains the same, the minds and hearts of men were changing and being prepared for the fullness of truth in Christ. Ours is the God of love and forgiveness. He sends his Son so that he might be in solidarity with us, both in the sorrowful and in the joyful. God is not out to smite us but to call us back to him as his children.

Is religion only empty myth? Invisible does not mean non-existent. We cannot see the air either but it makes possible our breathing and the wind. When God does show his face, he does so through one who has entered the human family. While the Gospels give us different theologies and traditions, they also testify to the hundreds of witnesses to Christ’s teachings, miracles and his resurrection. The apostles and so many others were willing to witness with their lives. Men and women would not die for a lie. They had seen, touched and eaten with the Risen Christ. The eye witnesses and their accounts affirm the validity of Christian claims. They knew his risen presence and had a real personal and corporate relationship with him.

But, as I have so often taught, faith is a gift. It cannot be merited by good works or manufactured with education and printed degrees. This being the case, atheists might still debate or even deny the faith; however, they should do so objectively. Atheists shame themselves when they offer attacks against persons, demonstrate overwhelming disrespect, and employ visual and verbal ridicule or mockery.

The website Athiests.org states that “WE ARE ATHEISTS BECAUSE…

“Godism had to be fought when humankind made its successive steps toward science, liberty, and reform.”

“Godism was invented in the earliest days of mankind’s ignorance.”

“Godism is consistent with crime, cruelty, envy, hatred, malice, and uncharitableness.”

tumblr_m1g2k6ZGDN1qd7hayo1_500Critics see the faith in the very opposite way that believers do. The Church makes possible virtue, compassion, love, good works, and charity. Indeed, the faith is no enemy of ethics but a necessary guide. The Church urges a study of both divine positive law and natural law, promoting inquiry and logical thinking upon the nature of things and the order we find. The charges made against Christianity and believers are not realized in the Church but are made manifest in her enemies and their intolerance. The argument is made that all things religious must disappear. Believers are told that they can practice their faith within the walls of their churches but not outside. Christian morality is dismissed and believers are punished for rejecting a secular modernity and its new values. Thus, prayer is stripped from schools and contraception education is inserted into the curriculum, with condoms replacing abstinence training. Employers must pay for abortifacients in health plans in stark contradiction to the Gospel of Life which they believe. An instance of this intolerance was recently taken to absurdity with bakers in Oregon fined 135,000 dollars for refusing to bake wedding cakes for lesbians, and then stamped with a gag order, suffering the loss of job and home. Knights of Columbus halls are told that they must rent to homosexual wedding receptions or face legal action from the government. Now Catholic schools and parish ministries are being informed that they must allow those who live deviant lifestyles or who advocate abortion to be employed. An atheist professor goes on YouTube and urges teens to steal the consecrated host from churches so that he can shows pictures of desecration online. The lists go on and on. Where is the real hatred and bigotry? It seems to be on the other foot. Many atheists teach a false freedom. They have toleration for their own and those who share their agenda; however, they interpret any freedom in Christ as a bondage that cannot be tolerated.

See part # 3 that continues this topic.

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