Getting Tested on a Quasi-Catechism

 

I’m skipping around in JT’s questions, so, today, let’s take a look at #2:

What parts of Catholicism do you now accept? Which do you reject?

Specifically…

  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Do you believe in heaven and hell? If so…
  • What are the criteria for entry into heaven? Into hell?
  • Were you to find out today that disobeying the ten commandments meant entry to heaven and abiding by them landed you in hell, would your behavior change? If so, how?

Any others you feel are particularly relevant would be awesome to read.

Let me take the last one first. My friend Squelchtoad posed a dichotomy to me as follows:

Suppose I could demonstrate to you beyond all possible doubt that one of the following two propositions was necessarily true:

  1. There does not exist a supreme being.
  2. There exists a supreme being (In the sense of an eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient creator of the universe) who commands that people rape one another, abandon any children they bear, and cause as much senseless pain as possible to humans and other animals

Would you—could you—hope that (2) was the case instead of (1)? Are you prepared to hope for an “objective” Moral Law if that law will be deeply contrary to your current (ungrounded) moral beliefs, or do you simply want those beliefs validated?

It’s not quite the same question as JT’s, but, from my point of view, it’s higher stakes.  I care more about right action than I do about reaping any benefits for taking right action.  So he (and all y’all) can pose follow-up questions to me here once you see the answer I gave Squelchtoad.

 

Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Yes, but this something I think is likely because I think Christianity is true, not something I was convinced of first that then upped the posterior odds that Catholicism was true, so I don’t have much interesting to say on this.  Back in the pre-conversion archives, I wrote a post explaining why I found the historical debate unproductive and unlikely to be convincing even if it were true.

Some Catholic claims are out of the realm of empiricism: there’s no test you can do to distinguish between a consecrated and unconsecrated wafer, so no one could ever be convinced of transubstantiation by physical evidence.  You end up believing it because you believe something else that either seems trustworthy enough as a truth-telling thing that you take their word for it or because you are convinced of the truth of some proposition from which transubstantiation logically follows or is highly likely to be followed.

The resurrection of Christ isn’t in quite the same category; the claim does have physical consequences, but I’m so far removed from them that they’re very difficult to check.   It’s easier to figure out ways that the claim could be falsified (no references to a resurrected Christ before, say, 4oo AD should be enough to make anyone doubt), but, absent those data, it’s a massively unlikely event that depends on the kind of evidence that tips the balance on transubstantiation.

 

Do you believe in heaven and hell?  What are the criteria for entry?

Yeah, but these are pretty fuzzy beliefs.  Dante’s Divine Comedy isn’t canon any more that Lewis’s The Great Divorce is.  And a lot of the source material is similarly allegorical.  So I don’t think any conception of the afterlife that gets down to the harp-and-halos level of granularity is very likely to be accurate.

I don’t care that much about what they’re like, not when the task of living a good life is already enough work to be going on with.  I don’t find it very helpful to thing about Heaven and Hell in goal-language (“What do I have to do to get in?”) since that triggers my sneaky, gaming the system ways of thinking.  I find it more useful coherent to use consequence-language (“In what ways do I fall short of being in heaven/sharing in the beatific vision/being Christ-like and how can I progress toward that fulfillment?”).

The Catholic church doesn’t claim to be the only channel of God’s grace, but it’s the only one we’re confident in.  So, analogously, if you had a headache, I wouldn’t be sure that rubbing your temples or standing on your head wouldn’t work, but I’d tell you I was only  confident in Advil, and that’s what I recommended you take.

 

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Skittle

    I saw this article in the Guardian, and thought you might be interested. The guy’s trying to sell a book, and I don’t agree with everything he says (I think emotions are insufficient for belief), but what he has to say about trying to explain his faith to atheists made me think of how you were trying to explain that your own belief in God is not something that you’ve proved. I thought it was interesting, as a perspective.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/31/trouble-with-athiests-defence-of-faith?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+theguardian%2Fbooks%2Frss+(Books)

  • Ted Seeber

    I often drive both atheists and fundamentalists nuts with the claim that if my Lord Jesus Christ sends me to Hell, I shall gladly go, to do whatever I can to minister to whomever or whatever I find there.

    Having said that, I follow John Paul II’s idea that Heaven, Hell,. and Purgatory are way more than just places- and we can experience all three in this life:
    http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2heavn.htm

    The eternal nature of Heaven and Hell comes from our own humility or pride, however, not from God. If we get so used to being apart from God that we wish to be apart from him forever, then he lets us go.

    Which pretty much makes JPII’s definition of Hell, the ultimate Heaven to an athiest- eternal separation from the concept of God and all those who actually believe enough in Him to want to be with Him.

    • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

      That statement will aggrieve orthodox Catholics no less than “atheists and fundamentalists nuts”. It is materially blasphemous and heretic.

      Saying something shocking isn’t a value in itself, sometimes the people shocked are simply right.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        Strangely enough, I can think of two saints who have said similar. Both of whom I would gladly follow into spiritual battle — Therese of Lisieux said she almost wished that God might send her to hell simply so that there would be but one person there to love him. Frances de Sales said that if we were to learn that our eternal destiny is hell, we should praise God for it.

      • Ted Seeber

        To switch to my other favorite spirituality for a second: If you are shocked into mu by satori, then you will never reach enlightenment.

        The point isn’t that I actually believe God would send me to hell. The point is that for me, serving good is more important than my eternal life.

    • deiseach

      Ted, first I would say that it’s not God who sends us to Hell, it’s we who do so. Now, if it pleases God that you should be a ministering spirit to the damned, that’s one thing – I don’t agree with double predestination and I’m assuming you do not mean the classical Calvinist notion that by His own will for His own reasons and through His own absolute sovereignity and omniscience – so that by knowing what will befall, God makes it happen – God condemns some souls from the moment of their creation to be damned (the modern understanding seems to be movoing away from this).

      The pains of Hell, however, are more than just separation from God; an atheist (or indeed anyone) who says “I’d prefer to be in Hell with the interesting people” will garner no enjoyment, because the damned lose all the good of natural life and so there is no pleasure or enjoyment to be found, even in what gave consolation on earth or in mortal life:

      “The poena damni, or pain of loss, consists in the loss of the beatific vision and in so complete a separation of all the powers of the soul from God that it cannot find in Him even the least peace and rest. It is accompanied by the loss of all supernatural gifts, e.g. the loss of faith. The characters impressed by the sacraments alone remain to the greater confusion of the bearer. The pain of loss is not the mere absence of superior bliss, but it is also a most intense positive pain. The utter void of the soul made for the enjoyment of infinite truth and infinite goodness causes the reprobate immeasurable anguish. Their consciousness that God, on Whom they entirely depend, is their enemy forever is overwhelming. Their consciousness of having by their own deliberate folly forfeited the highest blessings for transitory and delusive pleasures humiliates and depresses them beyond measure. The desire for happiness inherent in their very nature, wholly unsatisfied and no longer able to find any compensation for the loss of God in delusive pleasure, renders them utterly miserable. Moreover, they are well aware that God is infinitely happy, and hence their hatred and their impotent desire to injure Him fills them with extreme bitterness. And the same is true with regard to their hatred of all the friends of God who enjoy the bliss of heaven. The pain of loss is the very core of eternal punishment. If the damned beheld God face to face, hell itself, notwithstanding its fire, would be a kind of heaven. Had they but some union with God even if not precisely the union of the beatific vision, hell would no longer be hell, but a kind of purgatory. And yet the pain of loss is but the natural consequence of that aversion from God which lies in the nature of every mortal sin. “

      • anodognosic

        Frankly, it’s tough to express my irritation at this idea (also expressed below by Erick) that unbelief stems from some aversion to God, rather than intellectual rejection of the same. For all complaints that atheists are arrogant in their assertions (and I’ll complain of that myself!), I’ve seen nothing quite as condescending or as widespread in the atheist community as this utter presumption by believers.

        Because you must believe in hell, and in the justice of hell, you must believe that myself and all others like me–and here I don’t mean just atheists, but all non-Christians, and possibly even all non-Catholics–are actively rejecting God and goodness. We cannot be in honest error, because honest error does not merit eternity in hell. And so you must assume that I am perverse, because how else could I possibly deserve eternal damnation?

        I know you’re often one of the more civil, conciliatory voices around here, deiseach, but I’m sorry, this really, sincerely, disgusts me. And that’s not hyperbole: I feel your condescension, and the absolute cruelty of what you call justice, right in my gut, like something I want to vomit.

        • deiseach

          Does not intellectual rejection involve some aversion? I am not taking aversion to mean “Yuck, icky!” but “This idea is unpalatable to my intellect because of its absurdity and untruthfulness”. This is aversion in the sense of “turning away from”.

          There are atheists and others who are intellectually honest and say “I would believe, if my reason could be convinced.” There are atheists and others who say “I would not believe even if I saw evidence, since that would merely be evidence of a hitherto-unknown fact of science, and even were I forced to grant the existence of a deity, I would still reject it/him/them.”

          Now, is a non-Catholic/non-Christian actively rejecting God and goodness? Well, for a start, those who follow Islam are considered to be believers in the One True God, and are classed as an Abrahamic faith. Therefore they are not rejecting the idea of God per se; rather, they reject the Incarnation since they feel this is false pride on the part of humans to think that the ineffable and transcedent God, Lord and Creator of all, can have any part with His creation or that His creation can claim to be on terms of equality with Him (there’s a reason it’s “submission and obedience” or Islam). Indeed, they venerate both Jesus as a great prophet and Mary as His mother, so they do not denounce Him but rather those of us who they believe have mistaken His mission and words.

          You are correct that honest error does not merit eternal damnation. I can’t judge your soul and mind, not being gifted with supernatural powers. I do believe in the justice of Hell, which is that only those who deserve it will go there. Who deserves it – that is for God to say, not me. Now, if you make a regular practice every Sunday morning of trampling on a crucifix, burning a Torah, defacing the Qu’ran and screaming blasphemies at the top of your lungs – maybe you’re headed the wrong way. But even then, I can’t say “Yes, you’re definitely damned.”

        • Ted Seeber

          Hell isn’t justice. Hell is what we will upon ourselves. Which is why I included the link.

          • keddaw

            This kind of platitude annoys the hell out of me.

            Why would I, an honest truth seeker, be sent to hell for not believing in a creator of the universe at the time of my death simply because I found the evidence unconvincing? Why would I willfully separate myself from a source of such amazing knowledge simply because in the previous time I was alive couldn’t work out what it had done? Would I intentionally separate myself from Hawking, Einstein, Newton because they knew things I did not, or would it be more likely I’d seek them out once I knew of their existence to learn from them?

            No, this self-selecting hell is a bullshit concept that believers like to tell themselves so they can gleefully, or remorsefully, agree with their religion that they alone are the special chosen ones deserving of everlasting happiness and the eternal suffering everyone else gets, even the really nice people, is actually their own fault.

            Fortunately it’s not real, but it does foster an extreme ‘us and them’ attitude that can lead to all sorts of atrocities if allowed to fester.

          • Ted Seeber

            “Why would I, an honest truth seeker, be sent to hell for not believing in a creator of the universe at the time of my death simply because I found the evidence unconvincing?”

            Because you obviously *FAILED TO READ THE LINK*. You get that evidence in purgatory. If you still reject the evidence, then it is because you *want to reject the evidence*. Hell is only fire and brimstone to somebody who actually wants to be with God.

            “Why would I willfully separate myself from a source of such amazing knowledge simply because in the previous time I was alive couldn’t work out what it had done? ”

            I would sincerely hope that you wouldn’t; but sin has a tendency to become habitual. People don’t stop smoking just because the Surgeon General says it is bad for them either.

            “Would I intentionally separate myself from Hawking, Einstein, Newton because they knew things I did not, or would it be more likely I’d seek them out once I knew of their existence to learn from them?”

            You’ve already separated yourself from Aquinas, Augustine, and Clement, so why should I suspect you to be attracted to people who are smarter than you at all?

      • Ted Seeber

        There is a reason I included the link to Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday Audiences on the Last Things. The initial is a thought experiment- do you love God enough that if he sent you to hell, you would go? The second is the reality- it is not God that sends us to hell, but ourselves.

    • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

      Full disclosure: I used to believe in hell, and now I don’t.

      The problem I have with this idea of hell (and the idea that we send ourselves there) is that it denies our nature and God’s nature. Human beings are finite creatures who are only capable of finite actions. The idea that we could perform an action that merits infinite punishment denies our finite nature (or, conversely, there is no action we could perform that merits infinite reward). And again, it seems to be a denial of God’s loving nature that he could stop reaching out to try to save us. If we were capable of deciding something for all eternity, God’s outreach might be in vain, but God’s nature would still cause him to reach out.

      • Erick

        How do you reconcile the idea of stubborn habits, belief systems such as atheism, etc with your idea that it is impossible for finite human actions to produce long-lasting, even permanent in some cases, tendencies toward certain actions? In the case of heaven/hell, denial of relationship with God.

        How does it deny God’s nature to say that a person’s denial of God is so stubborn and complete that it frustrates God’s loving nature for eternity?

        • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

          I absolutely believe in long lasting tendencies. But long lasting tendencies are different from eternal tendencies. Have you ever come across a person who you KNEW could not be redeemed ever in a million years? Because eternity is a bit longer than that.

          As for God’s nature, have you ever met someone who had made a decision that they couldn’t go back on? That they couldn’t even regret. People, being finite, cannot make eternally binding decisions. People can be stubborn, but I think it denies God’s nature to say that human stubbornness could eternally frustrate divine stubbornness.

          Also, just caught this, but you’re writing about this on the blog of a converted atheist, so I think that’s one individual’s belief system that has proved less stubborn than divine love.

          • Dan Berger

            Liberal, you are not reckoning with free will. God seldom or never coerces, so that it is conceivable that someone could be stubborn for all eternity. It’s quite reasonable to expect, in hope, that Hell is empty; I hope so myself; but it denies free will to say that it MUST be empty or does not exist.
            And remember, too, the Dominical word that says that Hell is for the rebellious angels. If no human ever ends up there, it still exists and is populated.

          • Erick

            Liberal,

            Haven’t you ever met someone who persisted in some wrong belief their entire lifetime? I’m sure you have. How can you predict that their persistence would change after death? Have you ever seen it?

          • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

            Dan,
            I’m sorry, but you seem to be suggesting that a state of eternal punishment is the logical corallary of free will. That doesn’t really follow for me.

            Erick,
            First, wrong belief isn’t a moral failing, unless you believe that basically everyone before Newton is morally culpable for their view of physics.

            Besides that, I have never met someone who I thought was beyond the reach of God’s grace. Have you? Granted, I’ve never met a psychopath, but then again I don’t think people choose to be psychopaths either. Again, a state of eternal punishment is not a logical corallary to free will.

          • Erick

            Don’t try to deflect, Liberal.

            The wrong belief for Hell is obviously denial of communion with God. Wrong belief for physics does not denial of God make.

            Besides, I’m only asking you how you can be so certain that someone can stop persisting in a lifetime-long habit/belief/tendency after death? That is after all the basis for your idea that hell doesn’t exist.

            Denying the existence of a thing is a very strong, definitive statement. This is why we never deny the possibility of God’s grace and mercy reaching those outside the Church. Similarly, you have not persuasively proven that there is no such thing an eternal human action that would deserve Hell.

            My second problem with your idea of no eternal human action is the fact that it means there is no Heaven for humans either. Since humans cannot act in a manner deserving eternal reward.

          • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

            Erick,

            You said “some wrong belief.” Beliefs about physics are some beliefs. And while I get the distinction you were trying to make, I find the semi-gnostic emphasis on beliefs that some people hold to be damaging enough that I’m not going to help you make your argument.

            And all of us are out of communion with God in our actions. Being a little out of communion in some way does not mean God turns his back on someone.

            And I said that hell is inconsistent with God’s loving nature. Being against God’s loving nature seems to me to be sufficient reason to deny the existence of something (Not being a biblical concept is another reason).

            And of course humans don’t deserve heaven. What kind of Christian would say that we did? But heaven doesn’t violate God’s loving nature. And there’s a slight difference in terms of justice in dishing out unmeritted punishment and dishing out unmerited reward.

      • Crisler

        Here’s the problem with your heresy. Jesus sends people to hell throughout the Gospels. So you must therefore think he was lying– or bluffing– or something.

        • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

          Neither Gehenna nor Hades corresponds to the modern notion of hell, so I have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • Maiki

        For your first argument, finite beings can’t cause infinite damage, I posit an analogy. A small toddler doesn’t have the earning power or any other power to make a television costing several thousand dollars (or a priceless vase, or any other expensive thing), but they certainly can break it in a blink of an eye. And nothing they can do will repair or make up for the damage (at least, not while they are still young). Not saying a toddler has the mental culpability, but they definitely have the power to damage that far outstrips their capacity to repair. Yes, human beings are finite, but they live in a universe created by an infinite being, a universe that is good. Sin is damage to that good, not the creation of some unstoppable evil. A damage we cannot repair unaided, much like a toddler can’t come up with the money to repair a tv.

        As to your claim to the limits of God’s mercy, I don’t know — I pray all decide to be saved at the moment of their death, and if they do, God will grant it to them. But we perceive things as temporal, but He does not. Hell is not an infinite expanse of time, where God can reach out a few months later and change our minds — there is no “time” to change anything. Change belongs in time, not in eternity.

        • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

          Not to harp on this, but of course we can’t repair all the damage we do unaided. But God’s loving nature causes him to continually try to help us.

          As for there being no time in eternity, I can’t speak to that. But I can speak to there being time after we die. After all, the saints in Revelation are depicted as sending up their cries to God, an action which requires time. And Catholic theology usually includes a final judgement, which presumably would also require time. Then there’s the idea of purgatory. If there is no time in eternity, then I don’t know when it stops, but death isn’t it.

          • Skittle

            I’m not so sure.. That an apocalyptic prophet’s vision of Heaven involved things that took time, doesn’t mean that the things represented do. “Sending up cries” may simply represent the state they are continually in. Purgatory may or may not take time, although I suppose it might be said to exist in time in that it comes before Heaven, and things coming sequentially like that would seem to suppose time. The Final Judgement comes at the end of time from the point of view of Earthly life, but there’s no particular reason I can see why it couldn’t be the same thing as the Particular Judgement, from the point of view of the dead.

            Hmm, so the only near-certainty I can see is that Purgatory can come before Heaven, which suggests some sort of time in order for something to come before something else.

      • Adam G.

        If the soul is immortal, humans aren’t finite creatures in the sense you mean it. A finite creature would be *literally* incapable of everlasting torment.

        • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

          Fair enough, but people still aren’t capable of eternally binding actions. We can’t tie our hands permanently any more than we could the hands of our loving God.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      Yes, I reckon it settled Catholic teaching that any person in hell will never be raised to the state of grace, still less to beatific vision. So does the prominent 20th-century Catholic essayist Jacques Maritain. But in his essay (in the posthumously published book Approches sans Entraves) “Idées Eschatologiques”, Maritain defends the thesis that it is permissible to hope — even though in the NATURAL order the reprobate will have fixed himself in sin — that, BY MIRACLE, the reprobate will be converted — without being raised to the state of grace — from being morally evil to being morally upright, thereafter humbly yet nobly accepting everlasting deprivation from glory as just, and thanking God for this unasked-for pardon, one rendering the reprobate (“à la fois réprouvé et pardonné”) able to experience some joys of the natural order (science, art, friendship, etc.).
I find it significant that one Jean-Hervé Nicolas, O.P., even though disagreeing with this view of Maritain’s, has admitted that it’s not opposed to Catholic teaching.
(Untrammeled Approaches is the title of the book’s English translation.)

      • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

        I think it is also worth noting that while the Catholic Church clearly asserts that there is a Hell, it does not explicitly claim (at least post-Vatican II) that anybody is in it. There is not, for instance, any corollary to sainthood in which someone can be pronounced, with certainty, to be damned just as some can be pronounced with certainty to be saved.

        Further, Hans Urs von Balthasar—close friend of Benedict XVI and hardly a liberal theologian—has suggested that we might “hope that all men be saved,” even though he also cautions against any outright assertion of universalism.

        • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

          Interesting. But against the possibility of all humans ending up saved, some (as on this thread) argue that Judas Incariot constitutes a counter-example, apparently based chiefly on Jesus remarking that that it had been better for Judas had he never been born, and speaking of him as a “son of perdition” bound for hell.
          But these arguments are inconclusive. For Jesus did NOT say it would have been better for Judas had he never been CONCEIVED. And Columbus was bound for India. Does it follow that he arrived there?

          • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

            I agree that the case of Judas raises questions; though, as you rightly point out, it doesn’t seem to necessarily provide an absolute answer to those questions. However, the simple fact that we’re even discussing the fate of Judas—perhaps the darkest character in the Bible—seems to mark a movement away from many traditional conceptions of Hell that necessarily involve the eternal damnation of many, if not the majority, of people.

          • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

            Yes, Ma’am: “I’m persuaded,” said Jacques Maritain back in 1963 in a talk given in Toulouse, “that the idea of the greater number of the elect [l'idée du plus grand nombre des élus] is imposing itself and will impose itself more and more in Christian consciousness [à la conscience chrétienne].” (in ̂̂̂§ 8 of “À peopos de l’Eglise du Ciel”, in his book Approches …).

        • Adam G.

          You Catholics are missing a good thing. Having a public ritual for declaring someone one of the damned would be a hoot.

          • Ted Seeber

            We tried that pre-Trent. It didn’t work.

      • Ted Seeber

        If atheists wanted beatific vision, they would find it in this life. It is very prevalent.

  • Adrian Ratnapala

    I think Mr. Squelchtoad’s question (is he a Queenslander?) is a little trivial.

    The whole thrust of his question is to show that, at least for us humans, there is a standard of right and wrong that trancends theories, authority and well just about anything else. This is what Lewis called the Tao when he was being ecumenical and what he and other Christians usually call God.

    So if the anti-amphibian could prove his claims, then Christians should first give up Christianity and pick option (1). Obviously Christians don’t fear that they have to this, but even if they did have to – all it would prove is that the thing they really value (the Good, Lewis’ Tao) is not on necessarily omnicient, omnipotent, or a person. No big loss.

  • Ray

    “The resurrection of Christ isn’t in quite the same category; the claim does have physical consequences, but I’m so far removed from them that they’re very difficult to check.”

    I’m glad you haven’t fully cut yourself off from empiricism. That said, perhaps focusing on that particular miracle is letting yourself off too easy. At least at first blush, there seem to be other empirical predictions of Christianity that are easier to turn into anticipations, like these bits of the Nicene Creed?

    “from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” … “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

    Because you believe Christianity is true, do you believe there is some non-negligible probability that, within your lifetime, the dead will rise from the grave to be led by the Lord Jesus Christ to create His kingdom on Earth? (And of course, I don’t need to tell you that, if you believe this, every year the second coming does not happen is a little bit of evidence against Christianity.)

    And that’s just if you want to stick to the most minimalist of all statements of Orthodox faith. There’s also the issue of saints, every one of which, including some of the most recent is supposed to have performed a miracle. And, the Church at least claims to empirically verify these miracles before Canonizing a new saint. If you buy this part of Catholic teaching, then wouldn’t you also expect some of these miracles to be verifiable by a third party skeptic, like James Randi? And then there’s really weird stuff like, demon possession, which at least some Catholic Clergy seem to be big on. Again, wouldn’t any of this stuff being true count as evidence for Christianity, and if so mustn’t the lack of solid evidence for these things (the second coming, saintly miracles, demon possession) count against Christianity?

    • JohnH

      I suppose the reason that Luke 21 and Deuteronomy 30, along with similar scriptures in places like Jeremiah and Isaiah are not being constantly being brought up in debate with atheists might have something to do with the belief that the Jews lost the covenant with God and that it was transferred to Christianity. I can not understand why that belief didn’t die when the last of the generation alive when the crusaders took Jerusalem died nor do I quite understand how it got started given things like Romans 11. I guess there might have been some problem with that belief being the basis of many decrees of supposedly infallible councils. Given the more recent redefinitions of what it means to be infallible by the Catholics and statements by recent Popes after things like the Six Day War or the Holocaust forced the Catholic Church to reexamine the notion that God had rejected His people Israel then the Catholics should have no problem using such scriptures as a defense of the reality of God and the continued hope of the Second Coming, thought they certainly will have lots of problems with the way I said all of that.

    • deiseach

      Where on earth do you get the idea that the Second Coming has to happen within Leah’s (or any of our) lifetime? If this is some confusion with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I must inform you that Catholicism is officially amillenialist.

      I must also inform you that, outside of the United States and despite the fact that it originated in the preaching of an Anglo-Irish clergyman associated with the Plymouth Brethren, the notion of the Rapture and the whole pre-/post-/dispensationalist millenium idea is completely unknown to the vast majority of Christians of whatever stripe.

      • Ray

        Perhaps you missed the phrase “non-negligible probability.” Presumably you think it’s going to happen in someone’s lifetime, so why not yours? (Of course there is also plenty of scriptural evidence that 1st century Christians weren’t nearly so wishy-washy about the timing of the event. But whatever.) As far as the amillenialism thing goes. That’s a nice excuse, but it’s not what your creed says — and the wikipedia article you linked backs me up on this (amillenialism was systematized by Augustine who was born after the Council of Nicea.)

        But, even if you think you can lawyer your way out of that with a retconned interpretation of that most central statement of Christian faith (albeit one that seems to be approved of by the current hierarchy.), there’s still the issue of the saints. What is it about the Vatican’s empirical methods that makes them detect so many more miracles than the Randi Educational Foundation?

        • deiseach

          I believe in the Second Coming. I also believe that “”No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”, so that the various prophecies about “I’ve figured out the Bible code based on the book of Daniel so this time for sure!” don’t concern me one whit.

          Yes, the Second Coming might come in Leah’s (and my) lifetime. Or it might not. I don’t see how you jump from “Hey, Leah, do you or don’t you believe it will happen in the next twenty/thirty years” to “So if you do believe that and it doesn’t happen, then that means Christianity is false!”

          You also, or so it seems to me, seem to be trying to get an acknowledgement that yes, she does believe it will (not might, but will) happen in her lifetime, else she isn’t really a believer. That’s what I was trying to get at with the idea of amillenialism; these notions are of concern to a specific subset of Christians who are based in the United States and arising out of a revivalist movement in the 19th century. Trying to tie down someone who is inclining towards Catholicism to this group’s doctrines is like trying to say that if a physicist doesn’t like Bach, he’s not a real mathematician.

          • Ray

            Well if you’re going to quote scripture to answer questions about timing, I’ll see your Mt 24:36 and raise you a Mt 16:28. Maybe, the day or the hour is unknown, but anyone with a working understanding of the limits of human longevity ought to be able to guess the century Jesus was implying. Problem is, it’s already long past. But that’s neither here nor there.

            The main point I was trying to make is that there’s a slippery slope from what Leah has already accepted to some pretty out there stuff. You’ve got essentially risk free predictions, like the resurrection of Christ, you’ve got slightly riskier predictions, like the current Catholic eschatology, you’ve got highly dubious stuff like saintly miracles, and you’ve got outright falsified stuff like the eschatology of the Gospels and Flood Geology. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to which of these predictions are accepted by the modern Church above and beyond what you’d expect them to be able to get away with claiming in the absence of divine assistance.

          • deiseach

            I can’t gamble to save my life, but you raised Matthew 16:28 (““Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”) and for my own personal opinion, I think this was fulfilled in Acts 7:55-56 (” 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”)

            But this was a common confusion; the Gospels themselves mention it – John 21:22-23 (“Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”). And all the above is more Scripture than I’ve read in a long time :-)

            Frankly, if I can swallow the whale of the Incarnation, I am not going to balk at the sprat of “when will the Second Coming occur?” If you can point me to a definite date claimed by the teaching authority of the Church (and not the speculation of individual theologians) that this would be the definitive date of the Second Coming, I will concede the point (I know there was a certain amount of popular millenial panic around the beginning of the tenth century when the calendar rolled over to 1000 A.D. and people wondered if this was it, the end of the thousand years and the Second Coming, but I don’t know of any pope who made it a declaration).

          • Ray

            “and for my own personal opinion, I think this was fulfilled in Acts 7:55-56 ”
            That seems like a doubtful reading given Mt 16:27. In any event, even if we supposed Luke-Acts to be written by a competent historian, rather than a crude plagiarist whose biography of Paul disagrees with Paul’s own letters on a number of historical points, said historian would have no way of knowing what Stephen did or didn’t see immediately before being stoned to death.

            “If you can point me to a definite date claimed by the teaching authority of the Church (and not the speculation of individual theologians) that this would be the definitive date of the Second Coming”

            Well, I don’t know how official you consider Paul of Tarsus, but see I Cor 15:51. He doesn’t give a date, but he at least strongly implies that members of his congregation will live to see the resurrection of the dead. I’m sure you can rationalize that one away too, but I doubt you would even bother were it not for the undeniable fact that the second coming did not occur within the lifetime of his contemporaries.

          • Skittle

            Ray, you might compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3, which has some similar phrasing and ideas to 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, which is all tempered with endless exhortations not to get excited too soon, to persevere, that nobody knows when it will happen, etc, like in 2 Thessalonians 2.

            Obviously, different people bring different interpretations. I certainly agree that the early Christians believed that the Second Coming would be very soon, within some of their lifetimes.

        • Adam G.

          If a comet doesn’t strike the earth during my lifetime, is the likelihood that comets strike the earth measurably decreased?

          • Ray

            Well, first of all, lots of comets have struck the earth during your lifetime (just very small ones.) What do you think a meteor shower is?

            But, if you’re talking about large comets strictly, then probably not, but that’s only because we have independent ways of calculating that probability, based on far more empirical data ) than simply the lack of comets hitting the earth. We have historical observations of the average rate of large comets arriving in the inner solar system, and crater counts on the Earth and other celestial bodies. Quantitatively, the count of comets in the inner solar system alone gives hundreds of millions of times as much information, in the Bayesian sense, regarding the probability a comet will hit the earth.

            The second coming, on the other hand is not empirically constrained (assuming you ignore the fact that it’s impossible according to the known laws of physics which are in turn well supported empirically at the relevant energy scales.) Thus you can straightforwardly calculate that if it doesn’t happen within your lifetime, and you started out suspecting there was a 0.1% chance it would happen in your lifetime, then the alternative scenarios, most notably Atheism, that predict no second coming, would become more probable at the end of your lifetime by about 0.1%. Not necessarily a huge amount of data, but certainly some. That said, over the history of Christianity, this adds up to a sizable boost for atheism (at least 20%), especially considering the fact that the first Christians, on first principles, predicted a second coming was more probable than not within their own lifetimes. For example, if every Christian from the first 50 years onward could reasonably assume he was equally likely to be more than halfway to the second coming as to be less, an initially negligible probability of atheism would be magnified by a factor of several dozen times by this point. So even if you would assign a 98% probability to Christianity in the absence of 70 generations waiting in vain for a second coming, you should still be an atheist given the current information.

          • Darren

            Actually, yes it does.

            Were we to have no other empirical methods by which to determine the frequency of cometary impacts, then we could default to the method of:
            1. Wait for a comet to strike
            2. Count the number of years
            3. Divide one by the other and – Viola!

            So, yes, every year a large impact event does not happen decreases our estimated frequency of such occurrences, or inversely, decreases the percentage chance per year of large impacts.
            Extending this a bit, we could say something along the lines of, “Yes, large impacts happened in the past, but something has changed, and no further such impacts will occur.”
            A bold new theory, and almost certainly wrong, but every year a large impact does not subsequently occur would be evidence in support of it.

            Now, this does not really impact the Second Coming debate, as it is a unique event purported to only occur once. If only I could find a particularly devote believer who would be willing to put a small wager on the Second Coming occurring within the next year or so…

            Of course, to address the larger issue of the dates, no savvy Christian is going to nail down a date as the Risk / Reward profile is normally too slim. There is a long history of prophets claiming dates, and almost as long a list of those dates passing by with nothing to show.

            Natural Selection predicts that those leaders who assign near-term dates will be at a long-term competitive disadvantage to those church leaders who instead posit a Second Coming that is imminent, almost certainly within our lifetimes, but probably at least a year or two away. This is close enough to instill a suitable level of anxiety in ones followers, yet not so close as to incite panic or cause self-destructive behaviors in the flock.

      • Ted Seeber

        One recent interesting interpretation of amilenialism I recently heard in a homily (ok, it was 4 years ago, but 1/10th of my life is still recent to me) is the idea that Christ has already returned, several billion times over, and will return again and again in the future.

        He returns every time Two or More are Gathered In His Name.

        He returns every time a Soup Kitchen is opened.

        He returns every time a Christian Couple takes in an Orphan.

        Get the idea?

        I’d go on with the other half of that homily (that the end of the world comes 10,000 times a minute) but I think you get the idea.

        • Skittle

          Ted, I’d read 2 Thessalonians before getting too excited about that Homily.

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    I’m afraid I have to disagree on the last paragraph. In the words of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium 14)

    This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

    The “knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ” part is of course a huge exception. It’s even licit to hope (but not to claim for sure) that it might cover everyone not part of the visible Church. But it is necessary that they would join the Church if they knew what it is. So there is no room for some equally good channels of salvation being available in other traditions even if we wouldn’t know about it.

    • math_geek

      Leah is saying what you are saying but in the last paragraph but in her own way. We KNOW the Catholic Church will work, but do not know any other way of life will work. However, we cannot preclude the possibility that a Buddhist, Secular Humanist, or what-have-you will make it into heaven.

      I tell it to my non-Catholic friends like this. It’s absolutely possible to accept God’s salvation at death without being part of the Church in life, but preparing yourself for that acceptance in life makes it a lot easier, and the Church is the vehicle Christ created for that preparation.

      I realize that’s not precise, but I think it’s a good way to get someone to understand the general idea in 1 minute or less.

      • Ted Seeber

        I’m even more imprecise, but pointed:
        If Heaven is the Church Triumphant, then everybody in Heaven has converted to Catholicism, even if they weren’t Catholic in this life. So if you want to go to Heaven, why not shorten your conversion in Purgatory by practicing living in Heaven by attending Mass?

    • Erick

      I think you are missing something more basic in your interpretations. I know we like to think terms like belief, enter, remain are clear, black/white, and self-evident, but they aren’t.

      Does mentally believing in Jesus, but putting none of his teachings into action, constitute true belief? Is God truly limited to just the visible Church? If remaining in Church is dependent on the grace of God, why is it impossible to believe that grace provides leeway for those who don’t label themselves Catholic? These are all grey areas.

      • R.C.

        Erick:

        The Church’s historical opposition to gnosticism provides a good framework in which to understand the “belief/obedience” relationship:

        A gnostic thinks that only spirit matters and that created material stuff doesn’t matter at all. A gnostic thinks that a demiurge created matter and that God created spirit. A gnostic concludes that as long as you believe in your heart and mind and will, what your body does is irrelevant. A gnostic believes, after a fashion, in sola fide.

        But a Christian must not hold to any of that damned nonsense. A Christian believes in a bodily resurrection of the dead, that a human person without a body is an incomplete human person. A Christian holds, as James expresses in James chapter 2, that faith without works is dead in much the same way that a body without a soul is dead. A Christian believes that one must love God not only with one’s heart and soul and mind, but with one’s strength. In short: Faith without Works (always presuming there was opportunity to do some outward works and that the person wasn’t killed a split second after they came to faith) is not actually faith at all. If it had been, then there would have been works. A Christian must believe with his body as well as his mind, because he does not (like a gnostic) think his body irrelevant or contemptible.

        Or, to put it another way: If God calls you to Do X, and you truly believe that (a.) God knows everything with perfect knowledge, and, (b.) God loves you and intends your best, then the only logical conclusion is that you should Do X. Failing to Do X reveals not merely disobedience, but either a lack of faith or else faith in the wrong God. For a person who believes in a God who says “Do X” but who thinks that God is wrong about this is a person who doesn’t believe in an all-knowing, all-good God. He may have faith in a religious belief, but it isn’t the Christian one.

        So every act of obedience (done for obedience’ sake and not because it otherwise happens to be convenient) is an act of faith. In a gnostic view Faith without Works is Faith without some irrelevancy; but in Christianity Faith without Works is Faith without Faith.

        This perhaps is why Jesus said that the “work of God” is to “believe in the one whom He sent.” How is it that belief a kind of work and work a kind of belief? Jesus, apparently, was not a gnostic.

        Disclaimer: I know perfectly well that the definition of gnosticism used in the above is simplistic and that plenty of neo-gnostics are apt to disclaim it. Fair enough. Take it as a statement of a heretical view strongly historically associated with many strands of what was popularly called gnosticism, which Christianity rejected.

        • Erick

          I think you misunderstand my overall point, RC. It’s simply a rebuttal to Gilbert’s definition of that idea “outside the Church, there is no salvation”.

          I was merely stating that we here on Earth do not have and will never have the knowledge of what it means for individuals to be inside/outside the Church (i.e. who will be sent to hell and who to heaven). All the other terms we use to describe our relationship with God are not definite terms. They are all scaled, and we can never be sure when the scale has been tipped one way or the other.

          I was just using the example of belief against Gilbert. If we are commanded to believe in God with all our soul, heart, mind, and strength, how do you definitely measure that — even in the unbaptized? We can’t. They are too intangible.

          Even as Catholics we are told that we do not know our own fate… Joan of Arc’s famous “If I am not [in God's grace], may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”

  • Alan

    Are you so certain in only being confident in Advil that you wouldn’t consider recommending Motrin, Nutrin or Rufen? What about CVS brand ibuprofen? And you wouldn’t consider Tylenol (or any of the other branded acetaminophen products) despite the actual empirical evidence suggesting it is just as effective?

    Is it possible that Catholics (and that now means you) confidence that you have the one sure path is no more warranted than would be Pfizer’s confidence in Advil over other ibuprofen products and equally effective (and equally ineffective, as they are all short of perfect, maybe, possibly like any specific religion) substitutes?

    • leahlibresco

      I almost included the caveat about headache meds, and then I was worried it would distract from the analogy. So let’s step away from the analogy and I’ll say this: I don’t put limits on God’s grace and ability to reach people where they are, but I think the Catholic Church is the best access point.

      • Donald McBee

        The question is what evidence or justification exists to think the Catholic Church is the best access point?

      • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com Smidoz

        My question is similar to Donald’s, but I’m more interested in how you define the best, since it seems very vague. Is it morality? Wouldn’t Buddhism seem better, after all they don’t have a History of Crusades & inquisitions. Perhaps it’s empirical fact value, but you seem to have eliminated that. It seems to be a very subjective thing. Or even begging the question: I believe in the Catholic Church as a good moral authority because they make a strong claim to be one (provided we ignore all their transgressions).

        If Allah were the true Abrahamic tradition, surely Catholicism wouldn’t be the best route. They perhaps have no greater claim than Catholics either empirically, or morally. how do we define this best?

        • Donald McBee

          Not to contradict you too much, because I more or less agree, but Buddhism isn’t technically a better alternative, morally. The religion does have a history of oppression, wars, conflicts, and atrocities attached to it in similar ways as the various sects of Christianity. Its not monolithic, and, just like in all other religions, it was mostly to preserve political or ethnic power.
          The point being that while most religions(particularly the major religions) claim to be morally superior or “know what’s best” for humanity, they all fail.

      • Alan

        It may have disarmed the analogy – but may have been a better reflection of the truth. It seems to me that you captured it best with the two words there – “I think”. I was hoping for a more logical defense of what led you to not only theism in general but Catholicism in particular – but it seems it was more an emotional need once you decided that your moral framework could be justified by a divine moral being and that Catholicism fit close enough morally to acquiesce to the whole set of beliefs that come with it. There is nothing wrong with that, doesn’t seem a unique path, but it also doesn’t provide any compelling argument to those looking for reasons why Catholicism must be true.

    • deiseach

      If we’re talking about headache medicine, for me aspirin kills my stomach but works; ibuprofen , I might as well be taking water, and paracetamol (you call it acetaminophen in the U.S.) is meh: easy on the stomach but not 100% reliable.

      So by the same analogy, I can only be Catholic or nothing (okay, sometimes I joke about Tibetan Buddhism, because I’m not smart enough for Zen) but it’s that: belief or atheism, and for me, the only belief is Catholic Christianity :-)

      • Alan

        Doesn’t that then mean that whatever works for you is the only belief you can hold – unless multiple avenues work for you, as is the case for most people when it comes to relieving headaches, in which case any of those beliefs are equally fine?

        • deiseach

          People are suggesting to Leah “If you must hold beliefs in a supernatural entity, why not try something more reasonable like Buddhism or Unitarianism?”

          Speaking for myself, as you say – yes, the aspirin is the only one that works, even if it’s hard on my stomach. Straining the analogy to its breaking point, Buddhism would be paracetamol and Unitarianism would be ibuprofen. You can tell me that other people find Calvinism or Tylenol a great help, but when I’m prostrate with a sick headache, I’ll still be reaching for the Anadin as it’s all that works.

          • Alan

            If we can torture the analogy just a bit further – Anadin is a combination of aspirin and caffeine, maybe it is just the caffeine you need to cure the headache but because you have always had it wrapped in with the aspirin you never really gave it a fair try. And, if the tortured analogy isn’t clear the caffeine can be the basic morality that is common to many religions (built off the golden rule, or natural law, or whatever you think is the important part of it) and the aspirin is the details of Catholicism that make it unique like Jesus, the resurrection etc.

            Ok, that’s as far as I can stretch it which is probably several orders of magnitude past the original intent. At the end, for me, since her conversion was rooted in a strong desire to defend what she sees as the necessary objective morality, I hoped it would be premised on a more compelling objective reasoning – but that was probably unfair on my part. Belief is still belief.

  • Paul Moloney

    ” I care more about right action than I do about reaping any benefits for taking right action.”

    But, I thought your adoption of Catholism was for the philosophical reasons that you wanted a coherent objective moral code. But this suggest you would not follow that code if it did not “feel” right. So I’m not sure what was important about hunting for an objective moral code in the first place.

    P.

    • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

      Am puzzled over this point as well.

    • Doragoon

      I thought she was just talking about accepting the cost of doing the right thing.

  • john

    So, please correct me if I’m misunderstanding: basically all the beliefs you mentioned here are just along for the ride? i.e. you don’t have any specific reasons to think Jesus’ rising or heaven and hell are real, but you think the Catholic system is right about some other things (which, as far as I can tell, you haven’t said what these are yet or why) and are willing to believe the rest?

    It’s pretty hard to understand any of this without hearing your reasons for thinking the Catholic system is true, and what specific parts of it you think you have reasons for. You must have a hell of a reason–and one that really powerfully points to this one specific system, yet somehow does not include crucial facts about its central mythology. I am ever more curious.

    • Mitchell Porter

      To some extent this is what I was going to say, except I believe I understand more of Leah’s logic than you do. She has a strong conviction of the objectivity of morality – something which put her at odds with many of her atheist acquaintances. One day she discovered introspectively that (1) conceiving of morality as a divine person made sense to her as an explanation of this conviction (2) she was able to think this thought without rejecting it. So it became her working hypothesis and that was her conversion.

      Well, then there was the part where she chose Catholicism, and I don’t know the blow-by-blow logic there, but perhaps it struck her as the most “catholic” religion, and that a moral God, shaping history towards a moral end, would use that religion as its primary vehicle of intervention. Or perhaps choosing Catholicism was a more holistic judgement and not produced by any simple deduction.

      But it’s clear that the intellectual linchpin of her conversion was her metaphysics and phenomenology of moral realism and her discovery that a certain type of theism provided a subjectively plausible explanation of how that could be true and how she could know it to be true. Her basic reason for favoring all specifics of Catholic doctrine is just going to be “Catholicism is the most plausible such theism”. (Leah, if I’m getting you wrong, I hope you’ll correct me.)

      • leahlibresco

        Mitchell’s got a pretty good summary of my position.

      • john

        Yeah, I read on Camels With Hammers that she thought an objective morality existed (which I’d LOVE to understand some reasons for, whether they convince me or not) and that a moral lawgiver followed from that.

        As to Catholicism, I agree that her last post, when read in a squinty way, might indicate that she thought she knew a bunch of specifics about the objective morality that exists, and that the Catholic God is the one whose morals matched it most strongly. This particular post indicates that this evidence was strong enough for her to take salvation, resurrect, heaven, hell and all sorts of other things on the strength of that objective morality. But, I’m REALLY not willing to make assumptions like that about peoples’ reasons for things, especially things I don’t believe–I find when I predict their reasons I am wrong often enough to put people on the defensive unnecessarily, driving discussion into wrong turns of strawmanning and “you don’t understand me, so I don’t want to spend the time to talk with you.” And I am poorer for not having the conversation that could have been had.

        Plus, there’s a lot I (we) don’t know. Objective morality matching Catholic morality–even if you agreed with it–seems like a poor reason to believe the other stuff, but she might be other reasons in addition to a well-matched sense of morality, things which point to the existence of a lawgiver who exacts a terrible vengeance, atonement in the form of sacrifice, and salvation (which would be a stronger reason to think a Christian-themed religion is true–objective morality by itself seems like a poor reason to bring in all that other stuff). I have no idea what these things would be, but I’m not the one who felt they had discovered good reasons to become Catholic, so I’d really like to know them (again, whether I am convinced or not, I could learn something interesting :)

        • Iota

          John,
          I’m not Leah (and will be pontificating about her, so she’s entitled to tell me to pine up) but..

          > which I’d LOVE to understand some reasons for, whether they convince me or not

          I tend to think a solid part of the reason this blog exists (bits of epidemiology, maths and Seven Quick Takes aside) is Leah’s grappling with the problem of objective morality. :) I probably should assume you have read the archives or are a long time reader, but if not then I think it might be a good place to start. I mean, there must have been a reason why (apparently) her atheist friends used to tell her she’s crypo-Catholic, when she was actually an outspoken </b<atheist (also, I remember one of the commenters calling her a modernist, in the humanities sense of the word :)). And if what she had written before her conversion doesn’t work for you, I’m not sure whether it’s reasonable to expect that whatever she writes just now, will. It might, but I wouldn’t bet on in it.

          Another thing that sort of struck me is that so many people now seem to be demanding that Leah either suddenly become completely perfectly, no-moral-and-epistemological struggles Catholic (some of the new Catholic readers), with overtones of “If you don’t score well for us, we don’t want you on our team!” or that she should have a fleshed out explanation for her former atheist readers. I’m not sure that’s a reasonable expectation.

          Leah hasn’t, after all, completed RICA, gotten baptised, and applied for admittance into a convent to boot, just yet. :). All she did, at this point apparently (Leah, please correct me if I’m wrong), enter RICA and changed Patheos channel affiliations… In fact, if you read (maybe) Elizabeth Scalia post on the behind-the-scenes of the portal change thing, you’ll find Leah apparently believed that her announcement would result in “some reaction [...] but not enough to take up a whole day, so her main plan was to ‘sit on the porch and eat ice cream.’ “

          I have a nagging suspicion that now Leah has become, for some of her readers, a chip in the atheist-Catholic “battle” in a way she was less expected to be when she was actually an atheist, because then she wasn’t dynamically changing positions…

          In fact, I wonder: Leah, would you possibly have any interesting reflections on who your public statement and media attention turned out, with the benefit of hindsight?

  • Steve

    Just want to say thanks, been waiting for this post. As glib as it is, you at least addressed some of the substance of your conversion. (Unconvincingly, as you noted.) Best I can tell, your basis for belief is that you /want/ it to be true, for the sake of objective morality.

    Which makes it pedestrian, but at least respectable in the sense that so many others have walked down this self same blind alley. (‘scuse the pun.) So at least you’re in good company. :)

    Cheers and good luck in everything!

  • keddaw

    I’m pretty sure Catholics make some bold, testable claims about the Eucharist:
    1323 “The mind is filled with grace”
    1329 “all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him”
    1353 “those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit”
    etc.

    It seems to me that a double blind study would show whether or not the consecration of a wafer would have any effects on those taking it, i.e. one would expect that a wafer infused with the spirit of the creator of the universe would have consequences on those consuming it, and assuming Catholicism, those changes would be ‘good’. We have done it with prayer, so why not the Eucharist? Are people who consume the Eucharist more spiritual? Do they feel a one-ness with everyone/thing? Do they act better? In short, is there any difference between someone taking a consecrated Eucharist and someone taking a wafer? If not then there is no point to it other than metaphor and Catholics should stop whining when PZ does daft things. If so then atheists really have to re-examine what Catholicism says.

    • deiseach

      keddaw, once you invent a reliable, accurate and precise Grace-o-meter to measure the amount of grace in the soul before and after receiving Communion, sure we’ll run the tests!

      For myself, I can only quote the anecdote attributed to Evelyn Waugh:

      “After he had been appallingly rude to a French fan, Nancy Mitford asked him how he could be so cruel when he was such an avid Christian. “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I were not a Catholic,” Waugh said, “Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”

      • keddaw

        Mind =/= soul dear friend. Effects on the mind have actual, measurable, real world consequences.

        If a mind full of grace has no measurable difference to a mind not full of grace then we have no reason to accept the existence of grace. Which means the Eucharist is pointless outside of ritual and Catholics have to re-evaluate why they partake and what Catholicism gives them that another sect of Christianity doesn’t, there are a couple of thousand after all…

        • deiseach

          keddaw, you remind me of an experiment done in the Young Scientists’ Exhibtion back in the late 80s or so (here in Ireland, it’s a competition for secondary schools, something along the lines of American science fairs).

          This experiment involved growing plants from seed where one batch was watered with ordinary water and one batch was watered with holy water. Result? No difference – no better growth, disease resistance, etc. in the ones watered with holy water.

          Which is exactly the result you would expect and I’m really surprised no-one told them that before they started (then again, there are always a share of gimmicky experiments and ones done more for fun). Holy water will not make crops grow faster/more plentifully. That’s not what it’s meant for.

          Reception of the sacraments has an effect on the soul, not the mental state. If you’re receiving but just in a perfunctory way, and not sincere in the practice of your religion (which includes making genuine efforts of amendment), the Eucharist is not a magic spell or potion that will suddenly turn you into Little Mary Sunshine or Sunny Jim. In fact, you are warned that it can be deadly poison: 1 Corinthians 11: (“29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”)

          There are good, kind, virtuous unbelievers who never darkened the doors of a church in their lives. There are ‘attending every Sunday’ Christians who are unpleasant boors. That’s not the question. Nobody denies the natural virtues, we’re talking about the supernatural ones.

          And now I feel vaguely unCatholic for all this Bible-quoting – it’s a result of hanging around Southern Baptist blogs and having chats about the Rapture, worshipping Mary as a member of the Trinity, necromancy by praying to dead people and idol worship ;-)

          • keddaw

            Okay, so let’s have lots of unbelievers have lots of consecrated Eucharists and see if anyone’s body treats it as poison.

          • keddaw

            The Catechism says it has an effect on the mind. If you want to go against church teaching that’s your business, but don’t try to fool anyone about what the church actually says.

          • deiseach

            It seemed to strike P.Z. Myers in an unusual way, given that he went to all the trouble of having someone steal and send him an (alleged) consecrated host just so he could desecrate it and post the resulting pictures online.

            I’ve never felt any pressing need to go out and burn the Lutheran Small Catechism or even to find a picture of Oliver Cromwell to spit on. Hmmm, funny that!

          • victoria

            @deiseach — In fairness, P.Z.’s stunt was in a protest in reaction to an incident in which a student was assaulted and threatened with university disciplinary action for taking a communion wafer to his pew during a church service. Not just the result of an urge to desecrate a consecrated host.

          • Darren

            Very well, then control for those variables.

            Only devout Catholics participate. Each study participant maintains a log of mental well being, charitable actions, stress tolerance, “feeling of closeness to God”, etc. Double blind study. One group consecrated wafers, one group unconsecrated, one group dedicated to Satan, just to make it interesting. Run two months. Switch the groups around and run another two months. Switch again and a final two months. This will control for individual differences as each person get each wafer.

            Just to put our money where our mouths are… If a suitably vetted study is performed and shows a significant improvement in the consecrated group, I and my kids will start going to mass and taking communion.

            The point being, if there is _any_ purported benefit, then it should, in some way, be capable of testing. Now, the normal Christian answer is “pilling up treasures in Heaven” or some such “Invisible Dragon” excuse. I shall try a post a link to the Less Wrong “Belief in Belief” entry, which does a better job than I could to follow up this point. Forgive me if the link does not work.

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/i4/belief_in_belief/

    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

      Oh boy, wild misinterpretations and confusion (mind is not observable – inferences about the mind can be made based on bodily action. There’s a difference). Sign me up.

      Anyway, let’s fully quote the sections:

      1329 The Lord’s Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.143

      The Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meal, when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread,144 above all at the Last Supper.145 It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection,146 and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies;147 by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.148

      The Eucharistic assembly (synaxis), because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful, the visible expression of the Church.149

      1323 “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.’”135

      1353 In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing180) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit (some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis).

      In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.

      More here, for those wanting to read what’s actually said, in full context, not snippets being offered up by someone with an axe to grind.

      • keddaw

        Was anything I said wrong, misleading or in any way disingenuous, or did you just want to quote the catechism in full?

        Comments such as yours add nothing to the discussion or understanding of where anyone might have gone wrong and are not helpful in any way. Please add content or commentary.

  • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

    The Catholic church doesn’t claim to be the only channel of God’s grace,

    I’m pretty sure that it does, in fact, claim that. keddaw and Gilbert above have offered some good quotes on that topic. There’s also the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals; if the pope is in fact right, everybody who doesn’t agree with him has to be wrong, which pretty much positions Catholicism as the One True Faith. I can’t see any way that true Catholicism is genuinely reconcilable with a belief in multiple paths to God.

    Setting that aside, I have to say that I’m disappointed in your answers to this set of questions, which are the ones I was most looking forward to. If I understand correctly, you were looking for a basis for a moral code, and you found that Catholicism was better at that than any other belief system. If Catholicism does indeed match your map of the ocean (to hark back to an earlier post/analogy) better than, say, Buddhism or Unitarianism or atheism, then logically there must be one or more things specific to Catholicism things that set it apart from all the other options that also recommend loving thy neighbor and living a good life, that sealed the deal for you.

    However in this post you seem to sort of dismiss many of the things that, as I understand it, make Catholicism Catholicism. To say that you believe in miracles and Jesus rising from the dead because you believe the moral code associated with it seems more than a bit bass-ackwards.

    But maybe I’m misunderstanding something about either your thesis or your answers. I’ve nowhere near the depth and breadth of knowledge that’s on display in a lot of posts on this blog; quite often when I come here I feel like Socrates’ idiot sidekick who keeps asking, “But what do you mean by that, Socrates?” Then again, without the idiot sidekick, who would Socrates debate? So think of me as your eventual twelve-your-old child who will ask, “But why are you a Catholic, Mom?” and who expects answers they can comprehend without a degree in theology ;)

    • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

      You are, I think, partially correct in contending against the position that the “Church doesn’t claim to be the only channel of God’s grace.” Post Vatican-II, the Church does continue to hold to the affirmation of the Church fathers that “outside the church there is no salvation.” However, the Catholic attitude towards non-Christian religions (and Protestants, for that matter) has changed considerably from the pre-Vatican II days. Other religions are no longer viewed merely as “false,” but as conduits (albeit imperfect ones) of divine truth; for instance, the Catechism notes that

      The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a “preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

      Similarly, Lumen gentium (1964) suggests that salvation can exist outside of explicit membership or acknowledgement of the Church; though, again in the words of the Catechism, “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body”:

      Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.

      So, in short, the Church’s answer is a both/and: the Church is both the “one true faith” and other faiths also have the possibility of making available a legitimate relationship with God, in part because this relationship with God puts one in a certain relationship to the Church.

    • R.C.

      The Church does not claim to be God’s only conduit of grace in roughly the same way that proponents of Quantum Theory do not claim that quanta are particles but allows for them to be waves.

      The Church claims to be God’s only conduit of grace in roughly the same way that proponents of Quantum Theory do not claim that quanta are waves but allows for them to be particles.

      Roughly, I stipulate.

      But when you get to the fundamental nature of reality (even mere material/temporal reality), you should expect things to be incomprehensible in some degree. If they weren’t, it’d be good reason to suspect that you were missing something.

      In particular, fundamental realities can be expected to be resistant to usable simplification in a very ornery and (for a certain kind of person) frustrating way. It will always be possible to say simplistic things about them (just as it is possible to call an electron a “particle”). But one will always find that such simplistic statements can only be carried so far before they become entirely misleading (e.g. using the “indivisible lump of stuff” mental image to try to predict the outcome of the double-slit experiment).

      Likewise if God exists and if “God is One” and if “God is Simple” and if “God’s essence is his existence” and if “God is Love” and so on, one should expect that these statements will turn out to be true but true in a fashion that can only be taken so far. Just as there are some contexts in which General Relativity takes over from Quantum Mechanics and other contexts in which the reverse is true (and some contexts in which you’d think they should both apply but neither works correctly) so too we should expect a certain weirdness about God that keeps confounding our explanations and leaving us with certain explainable phenomena but frustrated when trying to extend particular explanations into all the imaginable dark corners of knowledge.

  • deiseach

    Well, now, if I can remember back through the mist of years to when the nuns were teaching us our catechism for Confirmation – there are grades of sorrow for sin and desire for heaven, and the most perfect is to love God for Himself alone (because He is all-lovable and the end of our being), not for desire of Heaven or from fear of the pains of Hell.

    Rummaging around the old 1913 online version of the Catholic Encylopaedia, there is this article on contrition, from which I excerpt the following:

    “(If) The detestation of sin arise from the love of God, Who has been grievously offended, then contrition is termed perfect; if it arise from any other motive, such as loss of heaven, fear of hell, or the heinousness of guilt, then it is termed imperfect contrition, or attrition.”

    The lowest form of contrition is fear of Hell (that is, I obey the rules not because I wish to please God or am convinced of their truth and justice, but because I do not wish to incur the pains of Hell). Next is the desire of Heaven (I want to go to Heaven to be with God, not for His sake alone, but because I want the bliss of Heaven). Highest (and probably rarest) is the perfect love of God, as evinced in these translations of an anonymous Spanish sonnet.

    Now, as to the question about obeying the commandments and going to Hell, that depends. Is the reason you break the commandments because you wish to obey God, or because you wish to go to Heaven? The trick of the question seems to be the assumption that this involves contradiction; God has given us ten ‘rules’ we must keep in order to avoid Hell and merit Heaven. How, then, can we reach Heaven by breaking the rules? Either the rules are wrong and we can get to Heaven without them (which means God, who gave them to us, is wrong as well) or they are a matter of mere caprice and God changes His mind.

    No, that’s not a contradiction. The commandments are the Law, but now we live under Grace. not Law. So keeping the Law and all the additions to it are of no avail for justification of sinners (and there are a ton of Protestant writings on the Epistles of St. Paul and how justification comes about if you really want to wade through them). The point is that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” – the Pharisees tried the same question about Sabbath-breaking and obeying God on Jesus and His disciples when they plucked the wheat to eat it on the Sabbath.

    See also the sacrifice of Isaac – God asking Abraham to kill his own son – and the dream of St. Peter about eating the unclean animals (Acts 10):

    “13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

    14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

    15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

    So there is no contradiction because (1) the one who made the rules can change them, as every legislature in every nation on Earth amends, alters, nullifies and creates new laws, even to changing constitutions and (2) the point of keeping the commandments is not to tick off the boxes on a sheet of rules but to do the will of God; if you are breaking a commandment because you wish to serve God or do what is His will, not because ‘this will get me to Heaven/keep me out of Hell’, then you are doing what is right.

    That does not mean, of course, that we can just go around breaking the commandments willy-nilly (there’s a reason for laws, after all) but – for example – there are cases where theft is not asin:

    “Reply to Objection 2. It is not theft, properly speaking, to take secretly and use another’s property in a case of extreme need: because that which he takes for the support of his life becomes his own property by reason of that need.”

    If I am stranded in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and I take food from an abandoned grocery store without paying, have I broken the commandment “Thou shalt not steal”? Yes. Have I committed a sin? No, because the necessity of having something to eat so as not to die of starvation compels me. See?

  • Fred

    All pagan cultures work according to the classical laws of thought. Our law, the dutiful love of self as neighbour is fundamentally different.

    In classical logic, the law of non-contradiction (LNC) (or the law of contradiction (PM) or the principle of non-contradiction (PNC), or the principle of contradiction) is the second of the three classic laws of thought. It states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense, e.g. the two propositions “A is B” and “A is not B” are mutually exclusive.

    Kierkegaard, Derrida and the Contexts of Context(s), by Kulak

    In Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard argues that in the Socratic doctrine of
    recollection, the self is viewed as the arbitrary, temporal point of departure for
    the other to learn that its relation to the truth involves the immediacy of self identity
    hidden in its eternal consciousness. The doctrine of recollection is
    Socrates’ response to the proposition that the truth cannot be learned: one cannot
    seek to learn the truth if one does know it, since one cannot seek to learn what
    one already knows; and one cannot seek to learn the truth if one does not know
    it, since one does not even know what one ought to seek. Yet the doctrine of
    recollection presupposes, as inexorable, the divided line between the eternal and
    temporal, form and appearance, divine and human, intelligible and sensible, and
    ultimately, self and self. The irony, or more properly, the contradiction
    constituting the Socratic doctrine of recollection is, Kierkegaard insists, that the
    truth of the self in the very moment that the self discovers it, is hidden away
    from the self in the eternal self-immediacy that cannot be sought, since there is
    no temporal point of departure for it. Eternal consciousness, rather than
    overcoming the contradiction between truth and learning, is in fact the
    expression and the demonstration for Socrates, not of knowledge but of
    ignorance. For Socrates, the self is the occasion for the other to learn that, since
    one’s eternal consciousness has no temporal point of departure, not only the
    other but also the self vanishes in the moment of recollection. In Kierkegaard’s
    terms, self and other never come historically into existence.
    The structure of recollection is repeated in the Socratic conception of love. In the
    Symposium, through his narration of the speech given by Diotima and his
    interrogation of Agathon, Socrates shows love to express the teleology—in being
    subject to the divided line—that renders all desire lack. Consistent with
    Diotima’s explication of love as the movement upward, in which the sensible
    appearances become steps to the intelligible forms, Socrates extracts from
    Agathon the agreement that love is necessarily the lack of the other whom one
    desires to possess. Just as recollection expresses the opposition between truth
    and learning, the teleology of love expresses the opposition between desire and
    fulfillment: it expresses the proposition that one cannot possess what one loves
    and that one cannot love what one possesses. The upward movement of Eros
    from the sensible to the intelligible is thus the reflection of the inward movement
    of recollection from the temporal to the eternal, in which both self and other
    vanish. Further, in presupposing the metaphysics of the divided line, the
    teleology of love reflects the conception of ethics that Socrates articulates in the
    Gorgias. There, in opposition to Callicles, who holds that it is better to do evil
    than to suffer evil, Socrates argues that it is better to suffer evil than to do evil.
    Yet despite his reversal of Callicles—precisely because he merely reverses
    Callicles—Socrates maintains the very opposition that is presupposed by
    Callicles. In remaining within the alternative of either doing or suffering evil,
    Socrates maintains the opposition, the divided line, between ruler and ruled,
    master and slave, as that which underpins his own conception of ethics; Socrates
    reverses, but he does not displace the terms of the ruler-ruled opposition. In
    determining the origin (history) of deconstruction, it is thus critical to recall
    Derrida’s insistence that the aim of deconstruction is not merely to reverse but to
    displace binary oppositions so that one does not merely reproduce, and thereby
    confirm through inversion, that which one opposes. In reversing, but not
    displacing the terms set forth by Callicles, Socrates is unable to conceive the
    alternative that, as we have seen, Derrida calls love, whose logic from the
    beginning heralds a space in which the relationship of self and other is conceived
    not as binary opposition but as absolute. This expresses the possibility, in
    Kierkegaard’s terms, that both self and other are the neighbor. It is because the
    displacement of the opposition between ruler and ruled is inconceivable for
    Socrates that Kierkegaard maintains that no intimation of the neighbor can be
    found in paganism—that “no one in paganism loved the neighbor,” for “no one
    suspected that he existed.”

    • Mitchell Porter

      An Objectivist who actually knew these authors might find the alleged connections hilarious: yes – they might say – any imperative to love everyone, undiscriminatingly, *is* based on violating the law of non-contradiction! And then would follow a screed about how objective values, like anything objective, must *start* from that law, and will inescapably lead to a pagan ethos. Perhaps the author should add “I’m Brian, and so’s my wife!” to his list of inspiring contradictions.

      • Fred

        it’s self…as…neighbour, not self is the neighbour nor self absolutley different from neighbour. sorry bud.

        • Mitchell Porter

          Kulak: “This expresses the possibility, in Kierkegaard’s terms, that both self and other are the neighbor.” Sounds like “self is the neighbor” to me.

          • Fred

            Sounds like “self is the neighbour” to me.

            You left out the other.

          • Mitchell Porter

            I took him to be saying “self is the neighbor, and the other is the neighbor”. But does he mean “self and the other, taken together, are ‘the neighbor’”? Anyway, let me quit the logic-chopping and try to produce a high-level response to your other comment…

          • Fred

            according to pagan ethics you’re either identical to someone else or different. the metaphorical “as” is a toughie.

      • Fred

        Are you even Brian?

        In logic, the law of identity is the first of the three classic laws of thought. It states that an object is the same as itself: A → A (if you have A, then you have A); While this can also be listed as A ≡ A (A if-and-only-if A,) this is redundant.[1] Any reflexive relation upholds the law of identity. When discussing equality, the fact that “A is A” is a tautology.

        For the understanding, identity tolerates no differece whatever, and the Law of Identity prescribes sheer monotonous repetition: A is A. Gertrude’s Stein’s insistence that “a rose is a rose is a rose” reveals no variety and is the acme of consistency, but it is hardly coherent. Featureless uniformity involves no contradiction and is immaculately self-consistent, but it does not constitute a whole and is the opposite of differentiated unity. If rationalty requires the latter it must reject the former. In fact, featurelss uniformity cannot maintain itself and collapses in nonentity, for what is real must have some distinguishing character, and what is featureless has none.
        Furthermore, when we look more closely, abstract identity, uniform consistency, is seen to contradict itself. “A is A is A is A” – the uniform sameness of distinct entites- is a contradiction in terms, for distinct elements, to be distinguished must differ, and so cannot be the same. Whatever occurs in such a string of professedly identical terms must be the same as A; but the second and third As are not the same as the first, and so of them we are compelled to judge that A is not A, violating the law of contradiction. Yet if the successive As are in no way distinct, the proposition cannot be proponed.; and if they are, they cannot be strictly and abstractly identical. A must be other than A, it must be not-A, or the Law of Identy cannot be enunciated.

        • Mitchell Porter

          Fred, at first I thought you might *be* Avron Kulak, who you quote above, but apparently you just like to quote. For those who are interested, here is the full article by Kulak. The passage immediately above, about “A is A”, apparently comes from an article about Brand Blanshard, but I don’t know if the thoughts expressed are his.

          Blog-philology out of the way, now let me try to fathom what is being asserted in these quotations, and what is being asserted by producing them here. I see references to many episodes from the history of the concept of “existence”, running from Aristotelian identities through Kierkegaard’s dialectic to 20th-century concern with difference. The latest quote, about why one A isn’t the same as the other A, is supposed to be a critique of Aristotle’s concept of identity. The earlier quote from Kulak is marshalled to support the idea that the Christian ethos arises from the application of some new, post-pagan logic, to the concepts of self and other.

          I would expect that most Christians find this sort of apologetics to be very dubious. It actually agrees with the “Objectivist” position that I caricatured earlier! Most people, including most Christians, go through life using conventional, non-dialectical logic. They would not agree that ordinary logic implies pagan selfishness, and that you have to use the “logic” of post-hegelian deconstruction to be a Christian. (Kulak may be saying the reverse of that – that deconstruction is a highly abstracted descendant of a conceptual maneuver originating in Christianity.)

          We could have a separate discussion just on the abstract ontological question, of how to conceive of existence, and of identity in difference. I think the right frame in which to approach the latter problem is first of all via the classic “problem of universals”; I suppose all the Hegelian wafflings about identity becoming difference might refer to something *phenomenological* or *conceptual*, something about the way unity-in-difference is experienced or understood. I don’t have any special insight on that aspect of the problem.

          • Fred

            The critique of the Law of Identity above is from Errol E Harris and yes he is critiquing Blanshard.
            “Most people, including most Christians, go through life using conventional non- dialectical logic.”
            Then they are not living by the golden rule.
            Here’s the rest by Harris, which comes immediately after.
            So likewise the law of contradiction becomes self-contradictory, for if A is not not-A, A and not-A must be different and opposed, but the difference must be significant if they are to be distinguished. We could write not-A is not A, and we could have an identity, not simply because what is not A is identical with not-A (which makes the proposition self consistent), but because there is no difference between the proposition and it’s converse, hence no significant difference between the terms. If so, the difference between A and not-A as distincta has been overriden. Either is not the other, so each is other than the other, and they may be transposed. For the purpose of mutual exclusion, they are the same; so the assertion contradicts itself, and the Law of Contradiction is contravened.

          • Fred

            sorry bud, once again, native as both native and stranger (leviticus) is not the same as a cannot be both b and not b in the same place at the same time. that only applies to time and space.

          • Mitchell Porter

            “Then they are not living by the golden rule.”

            That’s precisely what I’m disputing. It is perfectly possible to obey the classical laws of thought and to live by the golden rule. It’s a weird sort of philosophical sectarianism to think otherwise. Do you think someone like Aquinas would have agreed with you?

          • Fred

            it isn’t possible at all. once again, according to the law of contradiction you can’t be both the native and stranger

          • Alan

            Fred – I think you are engaging in an equivocation fallacy. You can of course be native and stranger at the same time in different contexts – for example, for some considerations green card holders are natives in our county while for others they are strangers.

            Living by an ethic or reciprocity doesn’t require you to metaphysically be two distinct entities at the same time.

          • Fred

            I would have a beef with Aquinas’ unmoved mover which is a product of the law of contradiction but not with his orthodoxy, “Lord, in my zeal for the love of truth , let me not forget the truth about love.”

          • Fred

            @ alan, “in different contexts” is following the law of contradiction. but the native and stranger exist in the same place(context),at the same time. and if two entites are identical there is no reciprocity, there is only one self.

          • Fred

            @ mitchell, how would the law of contradiction be consistent with the golden rule? according to the former, to love, like to seek would express lack of what is loved.

  • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

    …In reversing, but not displacing the terms set forth by Callicles, Socrates is unable to conceive the alternative that, as we have seen, Derrida calls love, whose logic from the beginning heralds a space in which the relationship of self and other is conceived not as binary opposition but as absolute. …

    Heh. Extra special thanks to Fred for so promptly validating my “quite often when I come here I feel like Socrates’ idiot sidekick” lament…

    • deiseach

      Now you know how I feel when it wanders into the Higher Mathematics (i.e. anything more advanced than 2+2=4).

      :-)

  • Steve

    Hogwas”The resurrection of Christ isn’t in quite the same category; the claim does have physical consequences, but I’m so far removed from them that they’re very difficult to check.”

    This is one of the most intellectually lazy statements I’ve read here. Perhaps you’re so far from ancient Greece that you’re uncertain if Pegasus was in fact a real flying horse. Hogwash.

  • David

    I read about this on cnn a while ago, and just thought I’d check again. It’s interesting to read the comments. But there’s only so much discussion I can read. If someone starts believing in elves, it’s not like you’re going to be able to convince them with any evidence that elves don’t exist. Because they’ve *already made* that decision to believe. It’s too late. They are emotionally invested and there isn’t really much common ground left.

    • Emily

      You bring up a good point that belief in the supernatural, miracles, etc. is a decision. In terms of believing in Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, I think that the comments saying, “but that doesn’t rationally follow from morality!’” are slightly missing the point – miracles don’t rationally follow from ANYTHING in the natural world, that’s what makes them miracles. Believing in them is a kind of choice of alliance, not a logical conclusion (in my experience, but I’m curious if other Christians disagree). If you want to change someone’s mind, you have to question their reasons for making that choice, or the consequences of the decision, but the argument that “miracles are illogical” is pretty irrelevant by that point.

      [Leaving aside the "believing in elves" issue because I don't know anyone who does, but if it's like people who believe in Bigfoot, maybe they actually do think they are part of the natural world, perfectly logical, empirically convincing, etc. No idea whether that is a valid analogy or not.]

    • deiseach

      Yeah, that’s why we all pretend to believe the impossible, because we’re emotionally invested. Unlike rationalists, freethinkers and atheists, who don’t have even the foggiest notion what an “emotion” might be, and come to the question with pure, cold, unaffected, impassible reason as their only guide.

      Oh, would that I could be so fortunate! I mean, I’m only believing I may very well end up in Hell because I need the emotional crutch of the sky fairy to reassure me that I’m living in a fuzzy bunny world of rainbows and lollipops. Er, I mean, I need the emotional validation of being an orthodox Catholic living in Ireland, where a politician recently told the Catholic Church to keep its nose out of any discussion about abortion and a radio talk show host went off on a rant about homophobia with no-one ringing in to say “Hey, we are a Catholic country, you cannot say that about something that is a sin!”

      No, I’m getting so much emotional validation from my religion, that I would be completely disorientated to even consider facing reality because I would feel so lost and unable to cope if I didn’t believe in fairytales.

      That’s the why, right enough.

      • Alan

        I think you are taking what he said too personally – maybe he did intend to single out Christians or the religious but I read it as describing an underlying truth of human nature. We all dig into our beliefs because of emotional investment and have a tendency to ignore evidence that contradicts those beliefs while overvaluing evidence that would confirm it. It doesn’t matter if the belief is in the son of god dying for your sins or the refs always being biased against your team.

      • Steve

        Deiseach… “Unlike rationalists, freethinkers and atheists, who don’t have even the foggiest notion what an “emotion” might be…”

        Is this sarcasm?

  • jose

    Looks like the core issue is the objective moral values that flow from catholicism. I would like to take a look at them.

    • Skittle

      You would like to take a look at the objective moral values that flow from Catholicism? Have at:
      http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm (searchable)
      http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM (on the Vatican website)

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        I really wish that more attacks on Catholicism were rooted in the Catechism and fewer of them on ignorance.

      • jose

        Hi, thanks. I’ve searched moral values, moral law, natural law, and objective values in that first page. But I think all I’m getting is plain assertions. I think this is a representative example:

        “Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good … The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man”

        It goes on in that style. The problem is to me that sounds like god of the gaps… we’re assigning the values that all humans share to God because… I don’t know. Because of something.

        Subsection 1965 leads me to the sermon of the mount, which includes more plain assertions and then a bunch of stuff that requires belief as a pre-requisite. For instance, Jesus says we shouldn’t store up wealth here on earth because this is only temporary, and we should instead store up in heaven because it’s eternal. That sounds loony to people who don’t believe in heaven. I know this can be interpreted by modern people to mean “just don’t be greedy”, but that value doesn’t belong to catholicism; specifically, it dismisses the part that makes it catholic, ie, the certain way you should live to go to heaven. Many examples like this, some a bit eyebrow-raising, like the part that says just thinking how hot that man is means you’re an adulterer, which I guess it’s supposed to be bad. Thinking a stranger is hot is a thoughtcrime. He just says it and leaves it at that.

        Anyway, regardless of whether the contents of the sermon are questionable, all that stuff is fine if you’re already a believer. If you go to Jesus and tell him “I believe objective moral values come from you, so will you describe them to me?”, and he tells you the whole sermon of the mount, then it’s all fine. But I haven’t found an explanation for their allegedly divine procedence, or for their objectivity either.

        • Skittle

          Oh, I see. You don’t want to look at the objective moral values of Catholicism, you want an explanation of why an atheist starting from no moral values would pick the Catholic ones? Or why, if you already believed in the same objective moral values as Catholicism (excluding the ones about loving God), you would then believe in the Catholic explanation for why they should be followed?

          Those strike me as being quite different to just wanting to look at the moral values themselves. I don’t think I can really help you much, but I’m sure others could. Thomas Aquinas is probably a good place to look for Orthodox Catholic explanations of that sort of thing. Or, there was a decent discussion of Natural Law on this very blog a little while ago.

          • jose

            Not so fast. The reason why I want to take a look at them at all is to see if they hold up, if they work as advertised, so to speak, in order to grasp why catholics say they are objective and come from a divine source. Otherwise there’s no point. The response to JT’s questions is that all that stuff is basically baggage that comes from believing that catholic values are objective and divine. Hence my curiosity.

            Thanks for the additional reference, but I don’t think Aquinas is going to be better than the testimony of Jesus himself as quoted in the bible. The other guy pointed me directly to the catechism and Jesus… Aquinas probably agrees with them anyway, no?

          • Skittle

            Well, you say you want to look at “why Catholics say they are objective and come from a divine source”. If you want to know what the objective moral values are, then the Catechism and the Bible are excellent sources. If you want to know “why Catholics say they are objective and come from a divine source”, then you need to look at more developed examples of Catholic theology and philosophy.

            It’s like if you said you wanted to look at the formulas for areas and volumes of various shapes which have come out of geometry and algebra, and I pointed you to somewhere that had clear diagrams and formulas showing how to plug the right numbers in to get areas and volumes. You then say that this doesn’t explain how these formulas were derived, or why you should trust them. I agree, because you would have to learn geometry and algebra, and follow some sort of course through these up to deriving areas and volumes of various shapes.

            You would likely balk at the idea of learning geometry and algebra just to understand where these formulae came from and why they can be trusted, but that is the only real alternative to simply trusting some published table (or checking several published tables to see if they agree). No careful examination of the published table will reveal how they were derived, if you never studied geometry or algebra.

          • jose

            Looks like Aquinas went in the opposite direction Leah went. When discussing eternal law, he says such a thing is obvious because he previously established that God governs the universe and God is eternal. Leah says she believes in God because of eternal law. So Leah can’t rely on Aquinas to make her case.

            If catholics have to prove God’s existence first in order to defend objective morality, then things are beginning to look bad. I went and looked at the part where Aquinas establishes that God governs the universe, and from there to the arguments for his existence. Which looks an awful lot, pardon me for repeating myself, like god of the gaps. We need a first unmoved mover because we can’t imagine how the first thing began moving: that’s God! Sorry, no.

            I feel this is not going to be productive anymore. I suck at searching but probably Leah has explained her position regarding objective values from catholicism in a previous post I can’t find. If somebody would be so kind to link me to it, that’d be great.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

    The objections/questions about morality being rationalist or command have been thoroughly worked over since Socrates in the Euthyphro (and briefly, God IS good, there problem solved). To make it more Catholic, the question in the middle ages was this: What if God commanded you to hate God, would you do it? The rationalist (majority, with Aquinas the Dominicans and others) opinion was that one would disobey this command because to love God is the whole point of human existence. The command must be disobeyed. The minority opinion (Franciscan) went with divine command. You obey because God said so. The minority opinion still exists in Catholicism, but the rationalist perspective is the more accepted one. And of course the rationalist caveat is that God would never command such a thing anyway so , whew, no worries.

  • Steve Schuler

    Like several other commentors have expressed, I have been following your blog in anticipation of when you might address some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, and if you found them credible. To keep the focus narrow and manageable if you would express your perspective on the foundational beliefs as expressed in the Nicene creed, or one of it’s derivatives, might be very helpful in allowing me and others, both Christian and otherwise, understand better what your relationship to Christianity is. In this post you seem to dismiss belief in the resurrection of Jesus as not being particularly significant, although I admit that I am reading between the lines somewhat to make that assessment. Frankly, I have the sense, perhaps mistaken, that you have been avoiding and sidestepping this issue. I hope that in some future post you can directly address just where you stand in relation to these foundational beliefs and the significance and weight that you attribute to them and how that affects your faith and your understanding of what Christianity is about beyond being a potential basis for an objective morality.

    Thanks for considering my request.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    I see no problem with the hope that the world is uncreated as being preferable to a world created by a monster. For, if the world is created by a monster, then the basic philosophical underpinnings of the universe are fundamentally different from those created by none and those created by a merciful creator. A beloved’s world is one one where beauty exists and it exists for the uplifting of man. A world created by none is a world where beauty does not exist, save as personal opinion, and the exaltation of man is mere convenience. A world created by a monster is a world where beauty cannot exist and its non-existence is part of the overarching work of the defamation of man.

    And, well, I am not prepared to *hope* for a depraved moral law. That would not be *hope*, or, if people did hope for that then I would argue that they are as depraved as the reality they are hoping for. If we lived in such a world (and I believe that the philosophical evidence suggest otherwise), then necessarily that would cause a re-examination of moral code.

  • R.C.

    I was surprised to see the assertion by Leah that there weren’t any references to Christ’s resurrection before 400 A.D.

    Leah, perhaps I misunderstood you?

    From where I stand, if we take the New Testament and the Early Church Fathers purely as ancient documents without according them special authority, we still inarguably have Christians saying that Christ rose from the dead long before the end of the 1st century.

    I say that, even after stipulating that we don’t have the original manuscripts and are working from copies of copies. Purely on textual grounds one can conclude it is highly improbable that these writings were written as late as the earliest of the gnostic gospels that got rejected as spurious, which are sometimes mashups of the accepted Christian writings and seem to have borrowed from them for the purpose of leveraging their well-known-and-accepted status.

    But I shouldn’t get too deep into the weeds, because I think I must have misunderstood your original statement. It looks like you were saying, “Nobody prior to 400 A.D. asserted that Jesus rose from the dead.” But that, so far as I can see, is such a wildly indefensible assertion that I can’t imagine a reasonable-and-informed person making it.

    So how have I misunderstood what you were saying in your parenthetical phrase, “(no references to a resurrected Christ before, say, 4oo AD should be enough to make anyone doubt)”?

    • Alan

      Without speaking for Leah, what I think she meant was IF there had been no reference to the resurrection before 400 AD than that would be enough to raise doubt. She did not say THAT there are no references from before then.

      • leahlibresco

        Bingo. Sorry for any confusion.

        • R.C.

          Leah,

          Thanks for the clarification. But in that case…

          (I apologize for asking this, you have so many other more pressing questions to answer in your very long queue, but still…)

          …will you, at some point, please explain what it is that you find so inaccessible (“far removed”/”difficult to check”) about the historical claim for the Resurrection?

          I mean, you say that you believe it because you already believe Christianity is true, not because you first stacked up the historical evidence and concluded Jesus rose.

          Fair enough; but it seems to me that the historical evidence available is, while not constituting mathematical proof (no proof for a historical event ever does), nor even constituting sufficient proof for such an audacious claim to stand on its own (as if the event came out of nowhere without any other context), still sufficient to conclude that the Resurrection was “unexpectedly likely.” I mean, to me, the Resurrection “smells unusual”: A bit too much evidence for an altogether legendary event but not glossy or glib enough for a conspiracy; it breaks the surface tension of history in a way that defies being written off casually.

          I mean, okay, granted, Lee Strobel’s book and McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict are pretty flawed from a “Less Wrong” perspective — and one could hardly deal with the evidence in a careful, LW kind of way while still making a consumer-friendly little book of the type Strobel wrote! Still, I don’t find the aftershock of whatever happened at Jesus’ tomb to fit naturalistic explanation comfortably.

          Do you feel similarly, even if you don’t find the evidence sufficiently persuasive (apart from already believing Christianity for other reasons)?

          Or does the evidence for the Resurrection really seem to you no better than, oh, I dunno…the mean evidentiary strength for the set of all legendary claims outside Christianity, from Nessie to Baby Krishna?

          • leahlibresco

            Can you read this post and then ask a followup?

          • R.C.

            Leah,

            Okay, I read the post you linked. Actually, I re-read it; my earlier question was the result of already having read it once and not seeing how you got from there to here. After reviewing it, I’m still unclear about something….

            Your original note on this came (I think?) from a period when you thought the Judeo-Christian God did not exist. Given that, well, of course no stories from the first century would result in a “Christ actually rose” conclusion.

            But when you say you had to believe “Christianity” in order to believe the Resurrection; well, the Resurrection is part of “Christianity”: You’re saying you had to believe the Resurrection in order to believe the Resurrection! That would (a.) be bad thinking and (b.) imply that the evidence for the Resurrection as a historical event was not only not persuasive, but was exactly as good as no evidence at all.

            I think one doesn’t have to believe all of Christianity (including the Resurrection) at the outset to find the evidence for the Resurrection to be unexpectedly good compared to other miracles of legend: An outlier, even if not persuasive by itself.

            Of course if one starts off denying the supernatural, any non-supernatural explanation is more likely. But if one holds God (as “God” is understood in Judeo-Christian thought, not the space-alien “gods” of polytheism) to be sufficiently likely, then one is left with the view that, when folk report martyrdoms and there seems to be no reason to doubt them, these martyrdoms probably did happen; and that the several persons who knew Jesus were more likely to have seen Him walking around resurrected (or thought they did) than they were to have lied and died uselessly.

            So is THAT, Leah, the kind of reasoning you had in mind when saying that the evidence for the Resurrection was unconvincing until you had first concluded that “Christianity” was true? That you first had to arrive (by other means) at such premises that Judeo-Christian God existed, before the evidence for the Resurrection could be evaluated, on account of needing to have certain “priors” resolved?

            Or do you really mean to say that Christianity, as a whole, has to be affirmed prior to affirming the Resurrection? That the martyrdom reports and earliest Christian writings (including the New Testament ones) count for nothing, probability-wise?

            That sounds, at worst, like a contradiction, and at best, an assertion that the evidence for the Resurrection as a historical event is no better than that for Tyr having his hand bitten off by Fenrir or Leda getting horizontal with Feathery Zeus.

          • leahlibresco

            I think the martyrdoms are probably true (though there have been a lot of matyrs for causes or religions I don’t buy, so that’s evidence of sincerity of belief, not correct belief). When it comes to the historicity of the documents I don’t have the expertise to sort out the conflicting claims about when the Gospels and subsequent books were written and by whom. I’m a bad judge of the data, just like I’d be a poor adjudicator of technical claims about quantum physics.

            If the scholars in the field were considerably more united, I’d be more comfortable accepting some of the stuff I couldn’t judge on the basis of “smart people I know who study this in depth become convinced.” But, to the best of my limited knowledge, that is not the case. So the historical evidence isn’t strong enough to move my priors on “a man was resurrected” very much.

          • Darren

            R.C., a question for you, and I am genuinely interested in the reply. You have reviewed the evidence for the historical resurrection of Jesus and concluded it is convincing. I have also reviewed the evidence, and found it unconvincing. Everything I have found amounted to – historical evidence that _Christians_ existed, and self-referential assertions that Christ arose (i.e. the scriptures and the writings of believers).

            I fall in line with Leah in my seeing many similarities between the “proof” of Christ and the proof of Mormonism. There is historical evidence that Mormons existed, they were persecuted for their beliefs yet did not waiver, and there are numerous documents from Mormon sources claiming the truth of their faith… So, pretty much the same level of proof as for Christ… better, actually, as we have better records that the Mormon communities existed and who was in them and their actions and so forth…

            So… Why not Mormonism? I would love to have your thoughts as to how the proof for Christ is more robust than the proof of Mormonism.

          • R.C.

            Leah:

            Thanks for your reply; that clears it up. I understand completely about the scholarly debate.

            I have only one remaining quibble, with respect to this comment: “I think the martyrdoms are probably true (though there have been a lot of matyrs for causes or religions I don’t buy, so that’s evidence of sincerity of belief, not correct belief). ”

            Naturally a martyrdom doesn’t verify that a belief is true; it only verifies that the martyr is quite confident that what they’re being martyred for is true and worth dying for. Any random Christian martyr is not visibly different from any random Muslim martyr in that.

            But I was thinking more of the martyrdoms, specifically, of folk who’d witnessed the Resurrected Christ. These aren’t in the same category as “any random Christian”; their martyrdoms indicate confidence in the historicity of an event about which they had firsthand knowledge. So I think that changes things a bit.

            Anyhow, thanks for your time.

          • R.C.

            Darren:

            I’m happy to reply about that…although, I wonder if you haven’t overstated Leah’s view on this. Leah said, in the other post, that one couldn’t take the rapid spread of Christianity as evidence for its veracity inasmuch as Mormonism (and other things, likely enough) also spread rapidly. I agree: It doesn’t make sense to reason from “X spreads rapidly” to “X is true”, not only because “spreads rapidly” can happen to two mutually contradictory things, but also because we can all of us cite examples of lies that got halfway ’round the world before the truth got its boots on.

            Also, keep in mind that if I had just the New Testament and the early reports of the Christian martyrs to go on, and thought that the existence of God (Judeo-Christian, not the part-of-the-created-order pagan variety) was improbable (say, 1%) then obviously the probability of God-plus-Resurrection would be even lower. So I’m not that far different from Leah. It’s not like I was an atheist who read reports of martyrdoms, and read the New Testament, and said, “Oh, well, obviously this guy really rose from the dead!” I was already philosophically predisposed to Aquinas’ notion of God. And I had a hazy opinion that something was uniquely peculiar about the story of the Jews that made me wonder if Aquinas’ God, whose essence is His existence and from whose existence all other existence is derivative, hadn’t had a hand in their story.

            So that prerequisite probability was already over 50% for me. That doesn’t mean that whenever I hear “corpse walking” I immediately think “true story!” But I didn’t have the same inclination to firmly rule it out that a hard materialist would.

            Having dealt with those caveats, let me answer directly about Mormonism:

            Keep in mind that Mormonism is quasi-Christian; it keeps the Christian Bible and adds the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s story about how that book came to be. So when you’re dealing with the probability of Christianity being true, you have one thing; but when you’re dealing with the probability of Mormonism being true, you aren’t dealing with an entirely separate thing. Instead, you have to start with the probability of the Christian story being true, and then alter that to factor in the probability of the Joseph Smith story being true.

            So, let us say (for the sake of argument) that you had reason to believe that every miraculous event recorded in the New Testament was 75% likely to be factual. (By this I mean that the odds of even one NT miracle not being factual are 25%.) If you knew that, you’d think it pretty good odds, right? Many folks would play Pascal’s wager all day with those odds and not feel dishonest doing so.

            But to say that Mormonism was true, we’d need to have not only the New Testament being reliable, but also Joseph Smith being reliable. As it happens, we have a lot of information about him, and it doesn’t look good. Let’s say (given his backstory and some of the defections and what looks like some “practice run” cons earlier on and the “translating the golden plates” scene) that the odds of his whole story not being a con are, to pick a nice round number, 10%. In that case, since Mormonism (10%) presupposes Christianity and a reliable New Testament (75%), the odds of Mormonism being true are 7.5%.

            Yes, I realize there’s a lot of detail missing in that. But you get my gist: If you think the truth of early Christianity is implausible, then Mormonism naturally becomes much much less plausible.

            But I think it gets worse than that, because you then have to take into account the probability of the Great Apostasy. This basically says that everyone who knew Jesus and the apostles personally, learned Christianity from them, were installed in leadership positions in the early church by them, and went on to write about it for the next 50 years, somehow uniformly got their doctrine wildly wrong…and it took Joseph Smith and the book of Mormon and the early Mormons’ writings to correct all this incorrect Christology and God-the-Father having a corporeal body and whatnot.

            Note particularly that a Great Apostasy that started from LDS’s theology and then deviated would tend to deviate in different ways in different isolated locales…and there’d presumably be somewhere where it didn’t deviate. You’d get stuff that looked mostly like LDS teaching in one place but deviating in soteriology; in another place you’d get something like LDS teaching with the soteriology intact but deviating in eschatology. And somewhere or other you’d find something really close to LDS.

            That’s not what we get. It’s pretty fair to say that when you examine the writings and practices of the persons that (a.) called themselves Christians and (b.) whom other Christians called orthodox Christians, as best as we can reconstruct them, they don’t look LDS anywhere. They look either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, not just in Antioch and Rome where you’d expect that, but in the Thomasite churches in India and the Tewahedo church in Ethiopia and all the way out to Spain. They aren’t identical, but where the information is available, such deviations as exist seem to be deviations from Catholic/Orthodox tradition, not from the LDS one.

            Memes don’t work that way. When they corrupt, they don’t corrupt the same way everywhere spontaneously. So that just drops the LDS plausibility a lot farther down, for me.

            Finally, realize that by having the New Testament in their canon, the Mormons have to argue that a canon formalized between 370 and 400 by a bunch of Catholic bishops, (partly on the basis of their antiquity and authenticity, but partly on their agreement with the theology of said Catholic bishops) was the correct canon.

            To me, that doesn’t jive: I’d have expected Joseph Smith’s revelation to have included a tidbit indicating that the Great Apostasy had resulted in a messed-up canon. Something like, “Oh, by the way: Revelation and Jude and Hebrews are spurious, and the Didache was supposed to have been in the canon all along.”

            So, there again, I don’t think Mormonism holds together.

            However, there’s one thing I think they got right when a lot of Christian sects messed it up: The Christian scriptures seem to presuppose a strong and authoritative united worldwide Church, able to make judgments and resolve disputes without fear of getting them wrong. A purely invisible unity with doctrinal disagreement preventing organizational unity is scandalous to St. Paul and doesn’t jive with Matthew 16 & 18 or Acts 15. So my hat is off to the LDS church for re-inventing the wheel (which is to say: the Catholic church) relatively effectively in that regard. I think it’s probably one reason for their rapid spread.

            And of course I think LDS does well with disaster relief and other forms of almsgiving. So even though I think their founder was a con man and their theology is not authentic to what Jesus taught his apostles (and they, their successors), my hat’s off to ‘em in a lot of other ways. I’m sure that doesn’t make my views about Smith any less irksome to a Mormon who is reading this, but I hope it’ll be taken kindly and as a sign of personal respect where due.

          • Ray

            I’ve got to say that I find the evidence from martyrdom even less convincing than Leah. In order for martyrdom to even be proof of sincerity of belief, you need evidence that the martyrdom was the result of willingness to die on the part of the martyr, rather than the martyr’s belief that he wouldn’t get caught. After all, Joseph Smith was martyred, and as you’ve said, we have every reason to suspect he was a con man.

            There is a secondary concern with regard to early Christian martyrs — they may not have believed what the modern believer thinks they did. The empty tomb story looks like a late invention (The rather conservative majority opinion of Bible scholars puts it in the 70s ad — after James, Paul, and Peter, were all dead — although it could well date from as late as the 130s.) The only account of the resurrection which is early enough for these people to know they were supposed to believe it was the one in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor 15.) This does not contain much detail about what Peter, James, and Paul saw — it could have been a dream, it could be the sort of hypnotically induced false memory you see in “alien abductees”. It could have been a similar face to that of Jesus seen from afar. And of course, Paul didn’t even know Jesus when he was alive — so his vision could be just about anything. Most importantly it says nothing about the circumstances of Jesus’s burial. The apostles most likely didn’t even know where Jesus was buried.

            But, returning to the first problem, The only account of the deaths of any of the three apostles mentioned by name in I Cor 15 (aside from hagiographic accounts written 100+ years after the fact, and a brief mention in one of the letters of Ignatius of the mere fact that Paul was martyred) is the death of James the brother of Jesus as described by Josephus: he was stoned to death as a lawbreaker by a political enemy during a brief power vacuum. Nothing about that account indicates that James expected let alone sought out martyrdom, or that he could have avoided it by renouncing or otherwise betraying his beliefs. In fact nothing there indicates his beliefs had anything to do with his being stoned to death in the first place.

            As for other martyrs who were supposed to have witnessed the resurrection — The historical evidence is too weak to even put a name to additional people meeting that description with any confidence.

          • Darren

            R.C., thank you for the thoughtful reply. I am afraid that I did not ask my question clearly.

            It was not my intent to examine Leah’s thoughts re. LDS, but rather my own, and it was only a coincidence that she had noted similar questions. My error.

            A minor descent into the weeds is probably needed, as I am very interested in hearing a reasoned answer and you seem likely to have one.

            I grew up Assembly of God, and so in those days to imply that Mormonism was in any way related to Christianity would have been unthinkable. The LDS church was only one more Satanic plot to undermine “real” Christianity, and its appropriation of and corruption of the scriptures only a disguise to allow it to better infiltrate society and deceive those without a sufficiently developed knowledge of God’s Word. Of course, the Catholic church also fit into the same definition, but it was not nearly as bad; the consensus being that God, out of pity, would probably still let the Catholics into heaven despite their numerous errors, but Mormons were destined only for the flame, poor things. Funny story, my Mother used to call the LDS church and ask for missionaries to visit so that she could try and convert them…

            So, bias on my part that I tend to forget that Mormonism is predicated on Christianity. Certainly, no argument that two unlikely events in series are even less likely.

            So, being a good fundy, I have read the scriptures through. New Testament multiple times, thought I will confess that some of the drier sections of the Old Testament only got a single read. Ten years back I had a layover in Salt Lake City and availed myself of the hotel copy of the Book of Mormon (under the principle that anyone who steals a hotel room bible probably needs to have one). It took a few months, but I did muddle through. I found it laughable. No offense to our LDS brothers, but come on. I concluded that it read like a book written by someone with an 8th grade education who was trying really hard to sound like the KJ bible. Which is pretty much the case.

            Now, I had already left the church at this time, so I read the Book of Mormon out of philosophical curiosity. As I said, I found it laughable. Then I began to think. Really, were the Christian scriptures any less ludicrous, if I were to have read them without having been conditioned my entire life to believe them to be the divine word of God? For that matter, would it be possible for anyone raised in the white, middle-class, American, culture in which I had been raised to read the Christian scriptures honestly, without at least some predisposition to take them more seriously than they might deserve? How can one doubt the Ten Commandments? We all _saw_ the lighting-bolt of God carve them for Charlton Heston, right? Well, it was pretty impressive in 1978 when I was 7…

            I read a few more books over the years: “Jesus: a Life”, “Paul: the Mind of the Apostle”, “Harlot by the Side of the Road”, and recently “The Case for Christ”. I am sure there were some others thrown in there, but this was only a sideline, really, and so not allocated significant time. I also read “Why I am Not a Christian”, by Bertrand Russell but found it only mildly interesting. It would have had more impact on me had I read it in college instead of 10 years after I had reached the same conclusions on my own. Overall, though, I found it a poor echo of Hume (who, BTW, gets primary credit for my atheism, and in fact, is probably the most influential person on my thinking for the last 10 years – who knew Philosophy 102 could have such life-changing consequences!)

            Now that I have divulged a bit of my life story, back to the task at hand. So, reading “The Case for Christ” (which I assume, among this learned body, is probably not considered to be the high point of Christian apologetics, or whatever category it fits into, but I found a copy at the Goodwill and figured it was worth a dollar and a few hours) it repeatedly struck me, “The purported evidence, and the standards against which that evidence is judged, could just as well be used to prove the truth of any number of other religions, even some really whacked out ones like Mormonism.”

            My assessments of the evidence presented in “The Case for Christ” boils them down to a few categories.

            1. Archaeological evidence, non-believer peer accounts, historians, etc. all agree that there were groups of people who believed in Christ, i.e. Christians. Since there were communities of Christians, therefore their belief, Christianity, is true.

            2. The scriptures describe events surrounding the life of Christ. The scriptures are true. Therefore the events happened and Christ was real.

            3. Lots of Christians, many of them quite intelligent, believed and some wrote extensively. Are you calling them liars?

            4. Many believers where persecuted, often killed, on account of their beliefs. No one would willingly undergo persecution for a belief that was false, therefore Christianity is true.

            I have probably missed a few, and perhaps I have mischaracterized the arguments, but I hope not. My intent is not to knock over a straw man. I am attempting to be a good Bayesian, and so it would be unproductive of me to attack arguments that were not actually made.

            Now, I hope I can ask the question again.

            Given the above categories of evidence, and the rather low standard required of that evidence, would this not apply just as easily to other religions? Granted, Joseph Smith _was_ probably a con-man, but then again, give the Mormon church another hundred years of historical fog and throw in a Council of Nicea to retcon all of the documents into shape, then fast forward another 1,700 years or so…

            The larger question, veering back to the topic of Leah’s conversation, would be – given a thoughtful, non-religious person, without cultural bias, why would one chose Christianity over, say Judaism, which is just chock full of thoughtful, well developed moral systems. Or, given Christianity, why Catholicism instead of, oh, Calvinism, or Presbyterianism? Sure, Catholicism has Aquinas, while Calvinism has, uh, Calvin, but is that it?

            I believe I have a gut-level understanding of Leah’s conversion. Had she grown up in a suburb of Denver instead of Long Island, Mormonism might have resulted instead of Catholicism. Then again, Catholicism does appear to be a strange attractor to intellectuals of a certain neo-Platonist bent, and I think she has suggested something along this line. I am a bit surprised it was not Kabbalah, though, as that would seem to fit the bill nicely, then again, Madonna kind of ruined Kabbalah for me, so it may be the pop-culture taint. Same probably goes for Buddhism and Richard Gere…

            Why not Shia Islam, though? Great mosques, mysticism, mountains of books, hidden imams, moral order out the hoo-hah, and she would not look bad in a Hijab…

            Never mind. Thanks for reading, I hope this is a bit less muddled. I look forward to your further thoughts.

  • http://livinginthebalance.blogspot.com/ Living in the Balance

    Hello people!

    I have recently become agnostic after a long period of hesitance. I was a Catholic most of my life and then became an atheist for almost a year. To really confirm my agnosticism I wrote a piece called “The Greatness of Agnosticism” in which I deal with the inherent problems of believers and atheists and conclude with a paragraph on why agnosticism is a union of opposites and the better choice.

    Check it out, I promise it’s worth it.

    http://livinginthebalance.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-greatness-of-agnosticism.html

    • R.C.

      Hmm.

      “Living,” with respect, are you aware that known refutations exist for both your arguments against Catholicism and against Atheism? That a serious Catholic or a serious Atheist would regard you to not have refuted either one?

      Good for you for openly confronting the serious questions! But just keep in mind that you’ve a long ways to go just to catalog where the conversation between Catholicism and Atheism and their various alternatives has gone up until this moment, and if you join a conversation by bringing up topics that other participants already exhausted some time previously, they won’t find those thoughts as persuasive as you do, having just arrived at them for the first time. Believe me, the analysis doesn’t stop there: You’re just getting started.

      A strong Atheist will have long since moved past the objections you list; Leah’s friend JT would knock them out of the park. Likewise a strong Catholic will be exasperated at the lack of catechesis that would allow you, a former Catholic, to have ever regarded the Greek “deities” in the same category of thought as the God of the Christian tradition. (In the Catholic view, it’s almost saying, “because there is no evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence, there is no evidence for the logical proposition that A is A.” But of course poor catechesis in the Catholic world is a cliché at this point, right up there with poor priestly formation and poor hymnody!)

      So: Good luck going forward, but don’t mistake a highway rest-stop for a perfect homesteading parcel.

    • Steve

      I’ll let the others speak of your arguments against belief. I’ll address a number of your arguments against atheism.

      “Atheists have failed to give a good explanation of why life exists…”
      First I’ll point out that you’re equating ‘scientists’ with ‘atheists’. There is quite a bit of cross over between the two groups, however one explains the universe through observation and experimentation and the other simply claims that there isn’t a supernatural being responsible for it all.

      That aside, let’s briefly discuss 2 types of ‘why’. The first ‘why’ as is ‘why life exists’ can be understood as ‘how is it that life exists’ or ‘which causal processes led there to be life when at one point there wasn’t any’. In this case you’re answers lie with what scientists tell us about the world. Cosmology & Evolutionary biology will answer these questions as best as we can based on the current knowledge available. Admittedly there are notable gaps (and it’s nearly a certainty that there always will be on some level) in that knowledge base such as ‘what caused the big bang’ or ‘how did darwinian evolution pick itself up from it’s bootstraps and get going’, however anyone who is ‘certain’ they know what fills those gaps is lying. At least scientists are honest when they say I just don’t know and attempt to honestly study gods creation in good faith, even if said god doesn’t exist.

      The second type of ‘why’, as ‘why life exists’ can be understood as ‘for what purpose does life exist’. Someone who believes our existence to simply be a product of countless natural explainable events (even if currently unknown) might think this question of life’s purpose to be odd. It’s like asking the purpose of a star or a mountain or anything else in the universe that is the result of creation, but with no inherent purpose.

      Were a flower vase fall to the floor you could make detailed observations of the result such as the dirt patterns splashing out in 1 directions or another, the way the water trickles to the lowest point in the room, the sound the vase made upon hitting the ground, etc. You might also hypothesize how the vase came to fall. Perhaps the table it was on was crooked or perhaps someone brushed against the vase. You might be able to convincingly paint a clear picture of causality and a detailed account of the result, but beyond that any ‘purpose’ you find there exists only in the sense that you’ve applied such purpose in yourself, not that it was there to begin with.

      Next… “How is it that from an inorganic universe, a group of molecules started reproducing and trying to survive?”
      This is a work in progress. The absence of that information says little to whether or not there is a god in the general sense, and certainly even less regarding a more specific god like that of Christians. Using gaps in our knowledge as a justification for ‘there is a god’ is the product of lazy believers. Using gaps in our knowledge as justification for ‘well… maybe or maybe not’ is the product of lazy skeptics. If you ‘don’t know’ about the existence of god or a god, just say it. Don’t try to justify that position on a knowledge gap.

      “Even though atheist biologists will deny it, there is a zero probability that something inert became alive because it interacted with other inert forces and substances, no matter how much time and randomness you factor into the equation.”
      There is a difference between an impossible event (ie a zero probability event) and a highly unlikely event. The universe coming into existence and life forming as a result is a highly unlikely event, but as the universe does exist and life has formed I’d say that the probability of that happening is greater than 0. Still, these are events worth examining. Countless lives have been spent and all the resources we can muster to paint the clearest picture we can by studying it. Thankfully there are many people not satisfied with some bizarre mythology.

      “It is silly to theorize that life just randomly appeared out of a bunch of molecules.”
      As it might have been silly to suggest the earth was round, that it revolved around the sun, or that space & time were not only linked, but flexible. Plently of ‘silly’ theories end of being true if that’s where the evidence points.

      “Besides, atheists do not have a good explanation for consciousness and the mind either. ”
      There are many explanations for consciousness. Again, atheists simply say whatever that explanation is, it has nothing to do with an imaginary character of god.

      “They claim that our existence is confined to our body and our brain, but that doesn’t explain why we seem to exist beyond that. ”
      What makes you think we exist beyond our physical form? Is it possible this is just a product of wishful thinking?

      “How is it that a bunch of neurons have gained awareness of themselves? How is it that a small part of the universe (the atoms that make up our bodies) has become conscious of its own existence?”
      This is really the miracle of creation. You don’t have to believe in god to be amazed at this. While science can answer many questions, these are among those that might not ever have a scientific explanation that could satisfy everyone. You can have a fruitful metaphysical discussion regardless of whether you believe in god.

      “Finally, even if scientific and natural explanations are found to the previous questions, who are we to deny with certainty all supernatural entities because we haven’t experienced them?”
      Who are we to claim with certainty about any such things? Richard Dawkins, one of the real faces of atheism, admittedly labels himself an agnostic, in that he doesn’t have concrete indisputable proof for the non-existence of god… and he then goes on to equate his agnosticism with regards to gods existence to his agnosticism on the existence of fairies & santa claus (I’m paraphrasing). Do you have any hesitation saying there isn’t a tooth fairy? What evidence would make you place god in a category of probability of existing?

      • http://livinginthebalance.blogspot.com/ Living in the Balance

        Hey R.C. and Steve,

        Believe it or not, I do really appreciate any constructive criticisms so I’ll save your comments in a document and think about them more thoroughly over these days. It’s good that there are at least a few sites on the Internet where you can have a nice discussion.

        Cheers,
        Living in the Balance

        • R.C.

          Living:

          Kudos to you, sir! I was concerned that I might have overstepped on the criticism despite trying to convey a polite and respectful tone. It happens sometimes that no matter how you phrase something, if it doesn’t come across as agreement the other person’s temper will flare.

          But your temper didn’t flare, and that’s just awesome. Friend, you get major points (on some scoreboard, somewhere) for that. If more combox warriors were able to respond in that spirit — including me, on some past occasions, I’m embarrassed to admit — it’d be a better world.

          I guess what I’d add to that document of yours (please pardon the presumption) is:

          Do your best not to consider a point-of-view refuted until the strongest form has been refuted. Unfortunately this is hard work: You have to go all Thomas Aquinas and know the most convincing form of your opponents’ position better than he does. I probably haven’t done that sometimes myself, because it is such hard work. But I try, or at least I try to try.

          Anyway, if you grew up Catholic, don’t conflate what kids (however bright and attentive they might be) absorb from a childhood of one-hour-a-week classes taught by unpaid volunteers or an overworked priest with the mature understanding of the faith as held by an apologist, a philosopher, or a theologian. You may need to approach it fresh, like in G.K. Chesterton’s proposed story of the man who discovers a strange country by accidentally landing in his homeland. (He discusses it both in The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy.)

          The Catholic faith requires far less math than, say, reading all the extant material on String Theory, but there’s a lot more conceptual material to cover, so it’s “deeper” topic to get a handle on, in that sense. And some of it’s nonintuitive in much the same way as, say, the Uncertainty Principle, which makes a mature grasp that much more challenging. If that’s not how it comes across to you, then you may have been wrestling with a strawman thus far.

          Put it this way: If you’d been sitting in a room offering your rebuttal before a panel comprised of Jimmy Akin, Stanley Jaki, Peter Kreeft, and Germain Grisez, would their faith have been shaken? Can you predict how they’d have replied?

          (And of course the same principle goes the other way: One wouldn’t patch together a view of atheism from what a thirteen-year-old remembered his atheist uncle saying over Thanksgiving dinner and call defeating that a true test of the Atheist view. Imagine giving your critique to a panel of the remaining three of the “four horsemen” evangelists of Atheism; can you predict what they would say?)

          But I’m starting to repeat my earlier observations. Sorry. Mainly I wanted to applaud you for the good-tempered response.

  • Owlmirror

    Speaking of heaven reminded me of Ted Chiang’s “Hell Is the Absence of God”. So I just thought I’d leave this link here:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20041208083410/http://www.nd.edu/~thanneke/2003c/chiang-hellistheabsenceofgod.htm

    Just in case Leah wanted to write about it.

    • leahlibresco

      I really like that story.

      • keddaw

        Story being the operative word.

        • jenesaispas

          I don’t think the word ‘story’ really has any bearing on whether it’s true or not.

          • keddaw

            The fact it’s full of eminently falsifiable claims that if even one of which held up to scrutiny would change the way science looks at the world and yet not one has been heralded as the seismic shift in our worldview that it so rightly would be if true means that either:
            1. Scientists are too scared to investigate for fear of having their materialistic worldview overthrown;
            2. There is a worldwide conspiracy of silence concerning the everyday occurrence of miracles; or
            3. The story is fiction.

          • R.C.

            keddaw:

            Well, sure, of course it’s fiction. It’s just one of those stories written to explore a clever idea, like The Last Question by Issac Asimov. (You didn’t think someone was proffering it as an example of a true event, did you?)

          • keddaw

            A plurality of Americans believe in angels and miracles, heaven and hell so how can one tell what people write as fiction when it includes such themes?

            At least SF starts with the premise that it is fiction.

          • R.C.

            keddaw:

            I can’t be sure if your question is rhetorical or not, so I’ll answer it directly: One can distinguish between fiction involving angels and eyewitness testimony involving angels in much the same way that one can distinguish between fiction involving car chases or submarine warfare and eyewitness testimony involving car chases or submarine warfare.

            How do you normally distinguish between the kind of writing found in a newspaper opinion column, the kind found in a news report, the kind found in a book of Shakespeare’s plays, the kind found on the lyrics sheet to a Yes album, and the kind found on the back of a cereal box? Attention to the style matters. Attention to the kinds of things being said matters.

            Did you notice the omniscient point-of-view in the story? Even if one were to argue that it was assembled from multiple eyewitnesses and then retold as an integrated history in the omniscient style, one would at minimum be left without an answer to the question, “What telepathic eyewitness was present in Hell to report that, after many years in Hell, Neil continued to love God?”

            Along the same lines, a person sensitive to the terms uses (angel, God, Heaven, Hell) would initially assume a Christian paradigm, but if they weren’t entirely ignorant of how Christianity understands the relevant terms and associated concepts, they’d immediately see a disconnect between the terms being used and the events described in the story. The angels don’t seem to act like angels except insofar as their names follow the -el pattern. The explosions and whatnot don’t fit the style. It’s like picking up a one-dollar bill, noticing that the portrait is of George of the Jungle and that the Great Seal depicted is balancing a ball on its nose, and saying, “Hmm, this doesn’t really look authentic.”

            The Chiang story reads as if it were written by a person who looked up the word “angel” on Wikipedia and then wrote a bad T.J. Hooker episode about it. And let Shatner direct it. Noticing those style attributes helped to confirm, pretty quickly, what kind of thing I was reading.

    • Craig

      I *hate* that story, not because he offends against my religion, but because he offends against the rules of SF worldbuilding. The way he sets up the rules of his world, someone who has God’s truth inflicted on them can’t go to hell.

      (Of course, I also get the queasy impression that Ted Chiang — and, perhaps more to the point, lots of Hugo voters — think that the story says something important about Christianity. But that’s just confirmation of something I already knew.)

      • leahlibresco

        Wait, how does that break SF worldbuilding?

        • Craig

          The rule (meta-rule?) is: you can set up the world any way you like in an SF story as long as you’re consistent and don’t suddenly change the established laws of the universe. So, for instance, once you’ve set up your time-travel rules to avoid paradox, you’re not allowed to change the rules and introduce a paradox because your plot or characters really need it to happen just this once.

          In Ted Chiang’s story, the people who go to heaven are those who love God. That’s the way the universe works. But then at the end, our protagonist gets the divine revelation he was looking for, and loves God, and God sends him to hell anyway. That’s an unforeshadowed breaking the of the law of the universe. In the story I thought I was reading, God’s disturbing arbitrariness is supposed to be expressed in the rule itself (love of God being more or less equal to brainwashing), not in occasionally disregarding His rules for no discernable reason.

      • R.C.

        Whoa, whoa, waitasecond…did I miss a chapter or two of this book, here?

        All I saw here was a link to some story I’d never heard of before written by some guy I’d never heard of before hidden on such an obscure corner of the Web that you had to use the Internet Wayback Machine to find it.

        So I naturally assumed it was just some random guy who’d written a quick little fic somewhere, on a lark, for fun, in order to toy with the amusing idea of whether a person still loving a God who sent him to hell would be, paradoxically, the fullest possible exhibition of unconditional love of God. It’s not a thought to take seriously. But it’s cute, the way that a pun is cute. It begs for a musical sting, a quick badump-bump-crash on the trapset, when you hit the last line. That’s about its level.

        I figured said obscure person had posted it on the Internet, forgotten it, got back to his day job, and Owlmirror had discovered it one day and was linking to it purely as a tangent. You know: “Oh that reminds me, look at this cute little thing I found one day by clicking ‘I Feel Lucky’ at Google!”

        Are you guys telling me that Ted Chiang is, y’know, a “somebody” in fiction writing, and that this story is in some sense widely known?

        UPDATE: Okay, I just found him on Wikipedia. Accomplished guy; how have I never heard of him? My bad. But…that story got a Hugo Award? Really? It’s cute, as I said earlier, but…the award is disappointing. It feels to me like a bunch of NCSA alumni honoring Sandra Bullock’s The Net.

        • Craig

          Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, Ted Chiang is among the best SF short-story writers working today — his small output is probably the reason you didn’t know him. His _Stories of Your Life and Others_ is almost certainly the best single-author SF collection of the last couple decades.

  • Kewois

    Leah:

    Are you sure that:
    >The Catholic church doesn’t claim to be the only channel of God’s grace, but it’s the only one we’re >confident in

    Really?

    ——————-
    Outside the Church there is no salvation” (extra ecclesiam nulla salus) is a doctrine of the Catholic Faith that was taught By Jesus Christ to His Apostles, preached by the Fathers, defined by popes and councils and piously believed by the faithful in every age of the Church. Here is how the Popes defined it:
    http://catholicism.org/category/outside-the-church-there-is-no-salvation
    ———–
    http://catholicism.org/eens-popes.html

    Pope Saint Gregory the Great (A.D. 590 – 604): “Now the holy Church universal proclaims that God cannot be truly worshipped saving within herself, asserting that all they that are without her shall never be saved.” (Moralia )

    Pope Leo XIII (A.D. 1878 – 1903): “This is our last lesson to you; receive it, engrave it in your minds, all of you: by God’s commandment salvation is to be found nowhere but in the Church.” (Encyclical, Annum Ingressi Sumus )

    Pope Pius XII (A.D. 1939 – 1958): “By divine mandate the interpreter and guardian of the Scriptures, and the depository of Sacred Tradition living within her, the Church alone is the entrance to salvation: She alone, by herself, and under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the source of truth.” (Allocution to the Gregorian, October 17, 1953)

    ————
    Extraordinary Magisterium (INFALLIBLE)

    Pope Boniface VIII in his Papal Bull Unam Sanctam (A.D. 1302): “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

    http://nosalvationoutsideofthecatholicchurch.blogspot.com.ar/

    ————————
    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html

    Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

    RESPONSE

    According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense[20].

    The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI

    Kewois

    • R.C.

      Kewois:

      You’re entirely correct in what you posted; what’s missing are two additional items:

      1. There is a “fuzziness” around the borders of the Church, the “fringe of her garments” so to speak. The Church has always hoped — and hoped, she felt, with significant plausibility — for the ultimate salvation of those Protestants who, while not in perfect communion with the Church, retain an imperfect connection to her by means of whichever of her sacraments they validly retain (e.g. baptism), and in other ways. Given two persons, one a self-described Catholic who is in such public dissent from the Church’s teachings that he has been instructed by his bishop not to partake of the Eucharist, and the other a Protestant who engages in anti-Catholic apologetics but was baptized according to the Trinitarian formula and lives a holy life, it remains an open question which one of them is more united to the Catholic Church in reality. God’s opinion of the boundaries of the Church, and man’s ability to demonstrate where those boundaries lie, are two different things.

      2. Once God has told us about the Sacraments, it is a rejection of God’s grace to reject them. But those who in genuine and unavoidable (“invincible”) ignorance do not participate in the sacramental life of the Church are nevertheless recipients of God’s grace by many other means. This is sometimes phrased, “While we are bound by the Sacraments, God is not.”

      So, yes, the Catholic view truly is extra ecclesiam nulla salus; and yes, the Catholic view is that some persons who do not self-identify as Catholic (or perhaps even Christian) will be saved; and yes, the Catholic view is that some persons who seem outwardly obviously Catholic will not be saved. Oh, and Catholics are forbidden to make pronouncements that any particular person went/is going to hell, largely because they can’t possibly know. (Art of the satirical or polemical variety, like Dante’s Inferno, admits of a certain flexibility on this.)


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