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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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Stuck Between the Rock & a Hard Place

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Who are we going to punish? I worry about this as a priest in reference to the distribution of Holy Communion, absolution in the sacrament of Penance and in terms of preaching a faith message from the Scriptures that might immediately be interpreted as “hate speech.” Passivity and toleration is not enough to appease certain people… it is being demanded that conventional Christians become advocates for sinful behavior. If a priest gives the sacraments to anyone, no matter what their views and lifestyle, then does he not become an accomplice in their sin? Would he forfeit his own immortal soul for causing scandal and violating conscience, the commandments and his sacred duty? For the sake of accompaniment, can a bishop or even pope force a priest to say or do something that he views as sinful and wrong?

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England Consecrated to Our Lady

mason
Freemason Service at England’s Mother Church on Same Day as Consecration to Our Lady

I was told once that there are no coincidences.

Responding & Praying for a Critic of Catholicism

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PAUL:

You know Father Joe, you sound a lot like the secular scientist Richard Dawkins who if you don’t just take his word as fact without any REAL evidence, then “you’re stupid!”

You have only church practices to back your claim about Mary’s holiness.

If I’m not wrong, doesn’t God say, “There is none righteous, not a single one”? Doesn’t he say, “All have fallen away”?  Doesn’t he say, “All have fallen short of the glory of God”?  Now I’m sure you’ll have a very convincing argument for Mary’s not being included there but is that based on biblical teachings or the churches practice?

What did Christ day about the teachers of the law? Be careful to judge others Father Joe lest you be judged likewise!

There’s only 1 Judge I know. I’d appreciate you not praying for me thanks as you’ll probably go in front of a statue of Mary to do so. It’s no wonder Jesus called the teachers hypocrites!

P.S. If you can’t reply without so much anger in you, maybe it’s time for you to shut down your blog eh? FATHER and LEADER of the flock!

FATHER JOE:

Ignorance is not the same as stupidity, or at least it need not be.  We can be properly informed and grow in the truth.  Dawkins negates any philosophy or religion that falls outside of his limited scope for truth.  Dawkins does not deny all evidence, but he does throw out much of the richness that belongs to human culture and genius.  I throw nothing out.  We can be informed through science, philosophy and religion.  We can be edified by mathematics or a poetic sonnet.  We can learn from dissertations or from fanciful myths.  I believe that God speaks to us in natural law and in his revealed Word.  How is it then that I am like Dawkins?  Indeed, would you not be the one to show him essential agreement and kinship in discounting Sacred Tradition and the teaching role of the Magisterium?

Actually, in regard to Mary’s holiness, we have the testimony of Scripture, as I have earnestly attempted to demonstrate to you.  You are the one who would question Mary’s divine election as the immaculate Mother of our Savior.  Why would you question God’s providence or his power to give his Son a pure vessel through which to enter our world?  Original sin was passed to us through human generation.  It would make no sense for Christ as the All Holy One to take his humanity from sinful flesh.  The privilege of the Immaculate Conception was not simply to honor Mary but to protect the divine dignity of Jesus Christ.  Mary is hailed by an angel as “full of grace.”  She is the most favored daughter of God chosen to be the holy Mother of the Messiah.

Yes, all have fallen short of the glory of God.  Yes, we are sinners.  It was precisely for this reason that Mary calls Jesus her Savior.  However, in her case there is prevenient grace.  Mary is preserved from sin by the same saving Cross that transforms us through faith and baptism.  Mary does not save herself.  Jesus does for her what he will do for us who believe in him.

The testimony of Scripture comes to us through a living Church.  It must be understood within the context of the tenets and worship of that faith community.  Your rejection of the Church and her traditions results in numerous false interpretations.  However, I doubt you will appreciate how the disjointed interpretations you give are severed from any kind of logical or authentic hermeneutics.

Our Lord criticized the Pharisees and Scribes as blind guides and hypocrites, but he did not deny that they received their authority from God.

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).

The Pope sits in the cathedra or chair of St. Peter, to whom our Lord gave the keys of the kingdom and renamed as the ROCK upon which he would establish his Church.  The Magisterium is composed of those bishops who teach in unity with him Priests are also given apostolic orders and are charged to teach what the Church teaches.  Thus, you may not think much of me, but if you were consistent, you would take seriously to observe what the Catholic Church teaches.  Instead, you ridicule the messengers and reject the message.  If you do so from ignorance then you may still be open to Christ’s mercy.  If you do so from enmity, then the warning about judgment also applies to you.

Christ will judge souls, but the teaching Church and her ministers are charged to proclaim the truths of faith.

Why would you reject my offer of intercessory prayer for you?  Is it just because of an expressed malice against Mary?  I fear that a proper discernment of spirit would disclose a poorly disguised diabolical oppression.  On this account I will redouble my efforts.

“Dear Lord Jesus, you made yourself a slave so that men might be free.  You were renounced by the crowd so that we might be claimed by God as his children.  You were mocked by the soldiers and crowned with thorns all so that we might be made members of your kingdom.  You suffered the scourging and passion so that a broken world might be healed.  You died on the Cross so that we might live.  Dear Jesus, you are the SAVING NAME, and we ask you to open the eyes and to soften the heart of Paul who has commented on this Blog.  Let him know the love you have for him.  Forgive his sins and join him ever closer to the family of faith.  We offer this prayer in Jesus’ Name, the one who is the Son of God and the Son of Mary.  Amen.”

Again, I will extend to you the Peace of Christ.

Jesus, Mary & the Apostles

A discussion with Paul on some matters about which he has a dispute.

PAUL: What is the true meaning and definition of being an Apostle of Jesus?

FATHER JOE:  There are varied definitions given but Catholicism would tend to restrict the term to the chief Disciples of Christ.  The Church is apostolic in the succession of Holy Orders through the “laying on” of hands, in the perpetuation  of Jesus’ ministry and in our constant teaching from the deposit of faith revealed to the early Church and passed down to us.

PAUL: Doesn’t it mean walking with and following the actual person you are trying to emulate?

FATHER JOE:  Yes, but that is a generic dictionary definition of the word apostle, not a theological or doctrinal distinction.

PAUL: I think that we have been called disciples and based on the true meaning of apostle, no one on earth, at least present day earth, can be called an apostle.

FATHER JOE:  The Catholic Church believes the authority of the Apostles is passed to the Bishops of the Church.  Pope Francis is singular among the Bishops because he is viewed as the Successor of Saint Peter (and for that matter, Saint Paul).

PAUL: So if Jesus, as the Catholic Church says, interchangeably meditates/intercedes for us to the Father then why do we also need Mary to pray/intercede/meditate for us? In regard to Jesus this is biblically based as is the fact that the Holy Spirit speaks to the Father in groans that words cannot express. Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in full nature also God.

FATHER JOE: 

(I think by “meditates” you actually mean “mediates.”)

The problem with your statement is that it does not sufficiently express Catholic teaching.  The Word became flesh and in his mortal life Jesus revealed to us the face of God, how to pray and how to live out our discipleship.  He prayed in his humanity because it is an essential element to the incarnation and our humanity.  However, after his Paschal Mystery (suffering, death and resurrection), Jesus the Lord ascended to his place at the right hand of the Father.  He transforms and facilitates our approach to the Father.  We do not ask Jesus to pray to God for us because he is God.  We address our prayers to the Father in Jesus’ name.

Jesus is a divine Person, as is the Father and Holy Spirit.  There are three eternal generations in the Blessed Trinity.  Remember the classical definition from the councils of the Church:  there are three divine Persons but one divine Nature in God.  God is still one.

We can intercede and pray for each other.  Indeed, Mary and the saints in heaven can do so for us still in earthly pilgrimage.  God is still the direct object of all prayer, even intercessory.  Asking others to pray for us does not displace God from his dais.  We are all creatures, even the angels, although they are spiritual and not composites like ourselves.  The saints of heaven share in our Lord’s risen life and continue to love us and to pray for us

The mediation of Christ is not interchangeable with sanctoral intercession.  Christ is the Mediator, Lord, Redeemer and Savior.  We approach him both individually and with a communal faith.  The latter is very much the purpose for which he instituted the Church.  We do not approach God alone.  Just as God called to himself an Old Testament people— so too does he claim the Church as a new People of God.  Church membership includes the faithful on earthly pilgrimage, the souls in purgation and the saints of heaven.

We offer our prayers to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.  Christ is the bridge between heaven and earth.  He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  If it were not for the Holy Spirit there could be no faith and no prayer.  We could not say “Jesus is Lord” if it were not given us by the Holy Spirit.

PAUL: By the way, I find NO biblical reference to Mary being our spiritual mother. Thank you.

FATHER JOE:  I have already written at great length about the Blessed Mother and would invite you to search the pages of my site.  Mary is given to us as our Mother at the Cross through our emissary Saint John.  A phrase I repeat again and again is that “the Mother of the Redeemer becomes the Mother of all the Redeemed.”  Mary will always be the Mother of Jesus.  Believers are members of the Mystical Body of Christ (which is extremely biblical).  Mary is the Mother of Christ where ever he should be found.  If we are grafted to Christ and have been transformed by grace into his likeness then she sees something of her Son alive in us.  We imitate Christ’s filial relationship of love to Mary.  We are made members of the royal household of God.  Through faith and baptism we are made adopted sons and daughters of the Father.  Thus, Christ the King becomes our elder brother in faith and Mary assumes her crown as the Queen Mother.  Peace!

Clarfication on Intercessory Prayer & Salvation

Praying to Mary
Intercession of Mary & the Saints
How is Praying to a Saint NOT Like Praying to God?

BUIMIRA:  Here is a crucial point which should be clearly understood. With respect to the older posts, if we have a good relation with Jesus, and pray ONLY to Christ, and not to any saint, angel, or even to Mary, then we can count ourselves still confidently saved! This is the point that you missed, or did not make it clear. You shouldn’t have missed it in your articles.

FATHER JOE:  No, this is not Catholic teaching. While all prayer is directed to almighty God, we do invoke Mary, the angels and the saints to assist us and to intercede before God. This is reflective of a “corporate” relationship we have with each other and God. Certain Protestant sects wrongly privatize or overly personalize faith. We are called to both a personal and communal relationship with the Lord. As for being saved, Catholics do not subscribe to the Protestant understanding of Blessed Assurance which flows from a rigorist Lutheran view of justification by faith. Such relies upon a notion of juridical imputation while Catholicism insists upon being born again as a new creation. While there is life, we can abide in the sure and certain hope of our salvation. The problem is that genuine faith can sour. We pray that we will faithful endure until the race is over. This is different from the presumption which you seem to espouse.

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.