Monday, February 23, 2015

Religion & Science ARE Opposed

“Religion and science are opposed . . . but only in the same sense as that in which my thumb and forefinger are opposed - and between the two, one can grasp everything.”
- Sir William Bragg
 
 
Faith & reason together is what helps us to “grasp everything”. Saying “everything” may be akin to saying “all of reality” and we can think of reality as having two parts, material or physical reality and immaterial or spiritual reality.

Physical reality has certain laws like…
  • Laws of motion
  • Laws of matter
  • Laws of energy
These laws are universal and unchangeable. Not knowing, not understanding or ignoring these laws will hurt our bodies. The more we learn about, understand and adapt our life to these laws the more we can live in harmony with the world around us and be happier. In a certain sense we never really break physical laws, they break us!

Spiritual reality has certain laws like…
  • Divine Law
  • Moral Law
  • Natural Law
These laws are universal and unchangeable. Not knowing, not understanding or ignoring these laws will hurt our souls. The more we learn about, understand and adapt our life to these laws the more we can live in harmony with the world around us and be happier. In a certain sense we never really break spiritual laws, they break us!

For the strict materialist, spiritual realities do not exist, at least not like physical laws. Things like morality, justice or goodness can only exist as concepts that evolve over time and different people have different concepts about how the world ought to be. With this logic of moral relativism one cannot grasp the most important parts of reality just like one cannot grasp a football without an opposing thumb. Our concepts of right vs. wrong are tied up in something that ought to be or ought not to be. For that concept to make any sense, you actually need an “ought”!

In a worldview with no spiritual reality, we may say that a group like ISIS has a certain concept of how the world ought to be that is likely different than yours or mine or Mother Teresa’s. Their concept cannot be objectively wrong because there is nothing to make it wrong (no outside system). A compass points north because an outside system (the earth’s magnetic field) makes it point north and there is only one north, not many “norths”. It does not matter what direction a group of travelers believes is north because the magnetic field is completely independent of the minds of the travelers.

What happens if a large group of interdependent travelers refuse to use the compass? They will go “somewhere” based on their beliefs and experience about traveling.  They may split up into smaller groups, but even the smaller groups need to decide what to do. The strongest will rule eventually, whether by physical force or via other kinds of peer-pressure, coaxing or bullying. It’s the same in societies. Even for the most stubborn and independent of individuals, the strongest will rule eventually, whether it’s a dictator by physical force or just a majority via laws and lawyers.

If we convince ourselves that spiritual laws do not really exist, we will live life on our own terms as much as we can get away with. This means we cease to be truly free and alive which is how we “ought” to be. We become small souls, locked in the prison of our ego and victims of a great lie.

 This post started with a notable quote and so it will end with another:
"Growth in faith is growth in the right perception of all reality."
– Thomas Keating


 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Obligation to Die

“On the morning of February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the law against assisted suicide was unconstitutional. Canada now joins a small, elite group of madly progressive countries in abandoning the most fundamental principle in all of nature.” – From THIS article in Crisis Magazine



It’s an overgeneralization, but I’ve always regarded "The Culture of Death" as simply employing death as "The Final Solution" to the problem of life. Could the right to die ultimately become the obligation to die? Of course, this is just a slippery slope argument and I was once told that slippery slope arguments are automatically invalid. If I let my kids play with matches, it will lead to a fire, which will lead to property damage, and someone getting hurt, and someone dying, but this is just more nutty logic from a slippery slope.

Regardless, euthanasia could head down the following slippery slope and finally hit rock bottom via four distinct stages.

Stage 1: Voluntary – Passive
(Completely voluntary, but not applauded)
Canada joins a small group of “enlightened” countries in stage 1. This stage would have been unthinkable many years ago, but doctors may now lawfully help competent adults to kill themselves if they are terminally ill. Certainly, no one would be forced to do it, because that would be unthinkable. There should be no coercion either, since it’s such a personal choice between patients and their doctor.

Stage 2: Voluntary – Active
(Completely voluntary and encouraged)
We need to think of what is best, not only for ourselves, but for our immediate families and the common good of society. We live in a free country and no one can force you to do anything, but as a society we have an obligation to encourage what is “right” and promote the common welfare. The “right to die” can now slowly morph into the “obligation to die”.

People are still free to smoke cigarettes today, but anti-smoking campaigns, legislation and taxation have done a good job of breaking the will to smoke. The same can be done for those who insist on living for no good reason. Persistent pressure to do the “right thing” will break the will to live.

Stage 3: Mandatory – Passive
(Mostly voluntary with some exceptions)
As our population rapidly ages and the health care costs consume ever larger proportions of government budgets, at least some legislation must be considered to help reduce the source of rising healthcare cost. Laws to guide the old and terminally ill through their final stage of life and their final obligation to the society just makes sense.

Of course, such laws would be very limited in their scope and only apply to the most desperate cases. In fact, such laws are not likely to even be enforced much, like some immigration laws or gun laws today, so there is certainly no cause for alarm.

This won't hurt a bit.

Stage 4: Mandatory – Active
(Mostly required with some exceptions)
Physician assisted suicide need not be limited to only desperate pain. The very old, very sick and severely physically or mentally handicapped should all be considered for legal and mandatory euthanization once the quality of life has been properly assessed by professionals.
 
Again, we must be mindful of the common good and do the “right thing” no matter how difficult it may seem. Why allow these poor people to suffer for no reason, even if they choose to suffer. Those in favor of such legislation will be called progressively “pro-health”. Those opposed will be said to have radical “anti-health” agenda.

We have been watering down the meaning and dignity of human life for decades and the stages above could take many decades more, but a slippery slope need not be as fast as the metaphor implies. A lava flow can be slower than 1km/hour, but will destroy everything in its path.
STOP!
 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Abortion via Exception

I’m not a real Republican, but I play one on the blogosphere. Out of all the organized political parties that exist, which one is most likely to pass anti-abortion legislation? I always like to go where the data leads and the data for this question would lead to the GOP. Democrats have enough political power, but no will; in fact they will the opposite. There may be a third party (or parties) out there with plenty of will, but they are impotent in terms of political power.

Speaking of will and power, the Republicans had the political power early this month to pass a bill that would have basically banned abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy, but dropped the bill in a shameful display of cowardice in the face of some protests. How many pro-abortion bills have ever been dropped by democrats due to pro-life protests?

Some of the objections to the bill revolved around the rape/incest exceptions according to this article. The bill would have offered an exception for rape victims who already reported the crime to authorities. “But some Republicans, including female members of Congress, objected to that requirement, saying that many women feel too distressed to report rapes and should not be penalized…We have to be compassionate to women when they're in a crisis situation." What about the babies facing a pending abortion? Isn't that a crisis situation for them?

You may be familiar with common argument fallacies like in the graphic below, but I wonder if accepting legal abortion based on exceptions is a kind of exception fallacy.



Some small percentage of pregnancies are from rape or incest, therefore we must be able to legally kill ALL unborn children? The objection to the house bill seems to take this kind of exception to a new level. Some small percentage of pregnancies are from rape or incest, and some small percentage of those women are too distressed to report the rape, therefore let’s drop this bill and continue the status quo killing just as we do today.

This arguing via exception fits well for those who want to make us think they are pro-life, but are really pro-choice.
  • Premise: Killing unborn children is wrong.
  • Exception: Some women become pregnant via rape or incest.
  • Conclusion: We should be able to legally kill all unborn children.
If this makes sense for abortion, it should make sense for other things too.
  • Premise: Stealing is wrong.
  • Exception: Some are starving and they have a right to food.
  • Conclusion: It should be legal to take food without paying when you feel you need to make that choice.
 
  • Premise: Killing is OK in self-defense
  • Exception: Some feel too distressed to report they were attacked and should not be penalized. We have to be compassionate to those in a crisis situation.
  • Conclusion: It should be legal to kill whenever you feel you need to make that choice.
Those who display their pro-choiceness without deception will hide behind the made-up, non-scientific and nonsensical term of “non-person”. Scientifically, human life begins at conception as an objective fact. To say the first stage of one’s life or “personhood” begins at some other threshold of viability or consciousness is subjective; a matter of opinion. To declare something as important as this on something subjective is irrational (and devious), especially when an objective and observable beginning point clearly exists.

Basing common law on exceptions is incongruous and becomes diabolical when done to justify killing. To say unborn children MUST be declared “non-persons” because of certain exceptions is like saying oranges must be declared “non-round” because we have found some oval shaped ones.

As a side, one wonders how supposedly educated people can be BOTH pro-choice AND acknowledge science, reason & human rights all at the same time.
 
Baby at 20 Weeks
We have to be compassionate to BOTH women AND babies
when they're in a crisis situation.
 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Darkness As a Kind of Light

There is certainly no shortage of evil so far in 2015. Why does God allow it? Seems no explanation can suffice at times. It’s certainly better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but should we be cursing the darkness in the first place? I wonder. Like any mystery, darkness can be invitation to the mind.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that good signifies “perfect being” and evil signifies “the privation of perfect being”, so when someone acts with a lack of love, or a thing lacks something it ought to have, we perceive the deficiency as evil. For example, blindness is evil for a human because a human ought to have sight. Blindness or darkness relates to evil as vision or light relates to good. No allegory is perfect, but darkness as an allegory for evil is eerily close because no one can really give or bring evil, just as no one can give or bring darkness, one can only take away light.

Darkness is what leads us to seek light provided that we have the right disposition; it can open our hearts and make answers possible for us; it leads to knowledge. Since the mind is made for Truth, it tends to move in that direction if there is nothing to stop it, and darkness need not stop it, but nudge it forward instead. Darkness becomes a kind of light whenever it helps us to see.

We need a certain comfort level with darkness if we are to be led properly. If we insist on peering ahead on our path, calculating each step and determining our own goal, we forsake the guiding hand of God that will take us beyond our expectations.

I once happened upon a labyrinth while out for a stroll at a retreat center. If you don’t know, a labyrinth is a pathway which leads, via a winding route, to the center of an intricate design and back out again. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only a single path so it is impossible to get lost. The walls or edges keep you on the path. Once you reach the center, you have gone half the distance – you now turn around and walk back out.

Although the origins of labyrinth are pagan, I found it both thought-provoking and challenging to accept some “unknowing” and stay in the moment of each step, trusting that the path would guide me to the goal (the center) and back out again. My instinct was to peer ahead to see where the path was taking me, to calculate how much further I needed to go or how long it might take.

Without at least some acceptance of darkness we’ll try and shake free of that guidance that is trying to lead us to union with God and perhaps travel down a false spiritual path that becomes a mere figment of our imagination.

Once a soul basks in the light of God’s presence (beatific vision), he or she may come to know that the death of a person may have been a rescue of some greater evil had they lived. A painful romantic breakup may have been salvation from an unhappy marriage. The loss of wealth may have meant saving your soul from eternal loss. If you were blind and suddenly got your sight back, even the ugliest things would be appreciated.

“I will lead the blind on a way they do not know; by paths they do not know I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These are my promises: I made them, I will not forsake them” (Is 42:16)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Not the Season for Figs

It’s not uncommon to read a part of the Gospel that has been read many times before and see something entirely new. Such is the case with the cursing of the fig tree as described in a book called To Know Christ Jesus, by lay apologist Frank Sheed

“When he was going back to the city in the morning, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And immediately the fig tree withered.” (Mt 21:18-20)
 
 
 
This appears to be a time when we have a “not so nice” Jesus demonstrating an irrational display of power; almost a kind of tantrum triggered by the Lord’s hunger and him not finding the fruit he wanted. The Gospel of Mark adds a detail that makes this incident even stranger. “It was not the season for figs.” (Mark 11:13) It was not as though this fig tree lacked some perfection it ought to have, meaning it should have had fruit. It was not the season for figs, so it would have been, in fact, unreasonable to expect to find any. But the Lord cursed the tree anyway.
 
Showy leaves with no fruit
Sheed suggests that Jesus was once again teaching his disciples by way of parable, but this time by acting it out instead of telling it. He was teaching, not about fig trees, but about us. It was a warning in “fig tree language” about what would happen to us with only an outward showing of religion (a bunch of large pretty leaves) with no real religion (good fruit). As far as the season for fruit, there is no off-season for mankind as there is for fig trees. We can and should be always about the business of loving God and neighbor.

The Twelve were amazed, but when they called attention to the withered tree, Jesus only answered how they would do greater and more astonishing things, provided that their faith does not waver. One is reminded of the same kind of promise made to the Twelve during the last supper discourse (John 14:12).

What kind of “things” could the apostles do that are greater than some things Jesus did? The specifics are not listed, but I should think the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist might be two of those things being foreshadowed. Raising the dead spiritually from sin is a greater fruit than raising the dead physically. Feeding the multitudes with the body & blood of Christ is far more impressive fruit than feeding the multitudes with ordinary bread. Either of these is much more remarkable than making a fig tree wither.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mercy: How God Loves


In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus asks the scholar of the law, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” and the scholar replied “The one who treated him with mercy.”

The use of the word “mercy” here may seem puzzling. What mercy was due to the victim by the Samaritan whom he had never before met?


In Cardinal Walter Kasper's book Mercy The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, chapter 5 is entitled "Systematic Reflections" and discusses several ways in which mercy interrelates to other attributes and characteristics of God.


Cardinal Kasper makes the connection between how God is Love and what this means in terms of Mercy. He begins with how the inner life of the trinitarian God is one of love (Kasper 91). 

The expression of love outside of the Godhead to mankind is his mercy. That is, the way God loves is to give way kenotically to the other, to become less, making room for the other (93). We hear more of kenosis, or self-emptying, in Philippians 2:7, where Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance." It is the nature of love to empty oneself to make room for the lover.


The proper response to the love of God is to mirror this same self-emptying back to Him. John the Baptist expresses this in a similar way when he says "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30).

As we make room for Him, God is able to enter into us and we into Him (cf. John 15:4). This love is now a mutual indwelling and is His mercy because He is always with us. He walks with us in all our trials and suffering. He gives all of himself to us. 

In my experience, mercy had seemed to be a negative proposition. That is, mercy meant to not prosecute a wrong or to refrain from taking offense. Someone losing a fist fight and is taking a beating might cry "Mercy!" meaning "Stop!" or "Don't hit me!" He is pleading for the other person to not do something.


In Cardinal Kasper’s view, mercy is a positive assertion. Mercy is walking with another in his suffering. It is entering into a suffering that is not your own and giving comfort by virtue of your presence and sympathy (Kasper 119). In the example of the person losing the fight, his crying "Mercy!" could also then mean "Step into my shoes. I am hurt. Feel what I am feeling." It requires a radical transformation of the relationship. 

This is incredibly powerful. It is precisely the “mercy” in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was the only one who entered into the suffering of the robbery victim: he lost money with the victim, he lost time, he allowed himself to walk with him without a prior claim or obligation. 

This mercy is a "love-in-action" reflective of how God loves because he is always with us.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Beware the Boy MOST of All

“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom…”
- Ghost of Christmas Present

Many of us may reflect on The Christmas Carol this time of year. We are given an ominous warning about “our business”. Mankind is our business, the common welfare, charity, mercy, forbearance and more. We are to help “the girl”, but our doom seems to stem ultimately from “the boy”. Why? Because what we know directs what we do.

If God is Truth, then Truth should direct the will. If love is an act of the will, then to love or judge something, we need to know it. The primacy of the intellect is important in order to love and judge things in the right way. If we are ignorant of what is true, how will we direct our will? What is our criterion for judging, other than our own desires?

Scripture gives us a subtle warning on the topic. “My people are ruined for lack of knowledge!” (Hosea 4:6). If we chose to ignore “the boy”, then doom will engulf us all, because it all starts with ideas, and ideas have consequences. “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Mathew we hear, “For I was hungry and you gave me food”. This is certainly about physical food, but also about the spiritual work of mercy to feed the intellect. One can think of the truths of our faith as a kind of health-food for the mind.

The seeds of God’s image & likeness are in every person, so we have a natural hunger for truth/knowledge. Stop and contemplate “hunger” for a moment. What happens to people if they are hungry enough, for long enough? They’ll eventually eat something; they’ll eventually eat somewhere, but will it be good food or will it be garbage? Will they care where the food comes from as long as it gives some satisfaction?

The Fall of Man has dimmed the intellect and weakened the will; as a result the human soul easily grows flabby and tired. In other words it is natural for us to be spiritually stupid and lazy. We then default to our animalistic sensibilities and have the habit of replacing God with other masters since it seems to save us so much trouble.

We all like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers, but people are like sheep and everyone eventually sits at the feet of a master. Who will feed our intellect about the right to life, human dignity, the nature of marriage, just war, capital punishment, etc.? Will we sit at the feet of Jesus through His Church or will it be some politician or political party, a celebrity or talk show host, a television evangelist, your favorite college professor, or will it simply be the always "infallible" majority? Who is your master?

Whoever it is, be prepared to give an account for what you believe. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.” (Mat 12:36)