Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Pray for Tsunami Victims

This is the most horrific natural disaster I've heard of in quite some time. Please keep the people of southern Asia in your prayers, and prayerfully consider other ways of providing aid.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Short Christmas Reflection

A couple of days ago, Elena offered a beautiful reflection on God's fatherly love as she came to experience it in her grandfather.

While she was ultimately trying to answer the question of why women can't be ordained, and I ultimately did not buy the argument, her reflection on the experience of God's love was wonderful, and even stunningly so.

The priest who delivered the homily at midnight Mass last night began by telling the congregation that he was given a strange gift one Christmas. He stated openly that he is not very good with children. One parishioner gave him the gift of children's toys, explaining that he had nothing in his office for the kids.

He went to say that the real intent of the gift was to make him a bit like a loving parent - to help him come to experience the joy of children at play that so much of his married flock knows.

Then, he went on to explain that God does the same by giving us Jesus. Through a babe in a manger, God evokes the love of a parent for child to teach us how to be like him.

I was holding my newborn daughter throughout the Mass, and was simply overwhelmed by two things: 1) my own love for her, which is completely unearned, and 2) a hope that the comfort she seemed to be experiencing is already something like Elena's experience of being held in her grandfather's arms.

If God's love for us is even slightly like this, it should bring us to our knees in joyful awe!


Friday, December 24, 2004


On the Eve of the celebration of the incarnation of God in human flesh, let us call to mind God's love for us.

Contemplate the incomparable dignity of the human person that God reveals in joining our condition. We are the center of God's attention!

As you imagine the little babe in the Blessed Mother's arms, recall that God is revealed in the simplicity of a little child and the acts of everyday love expressed in such events as family life.

Think on these things as you receive Christ in the sign of simple bread.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth!


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Sanctification Through Suffering?

Is suffering injustice quietly a holy decision?

My wife likes to read Essence magazine, which is the African-American version of Cosmo and other women's magazines. I happened to pick up her December issue and noticed an article by Reverend Renita J. Weems entitled Sanctified and Suffering.

The article begins with two stories of women who chose to remain in abusive relationships with men because they find spiritual meaning in being victims. One is married with two children, and her husbands has beaten her and threatened to kill the entire family. The other is a woman who feels called to ordained ministry who will not pursue her dream because her pastor says women cannot be ordained.

I don't want to really touch the women's ordination question in this post, and the question is not the central theme of Weems' article.

Weems highlights the things women hear and take to heart in the pews of African-American Christian churches: "God doesn't put on you what you can't bear"; "We'll understand it better by and by"; "What doesn't kill you strengthens you"; Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning"; "No cross, no crown"; and "The story of God's people in the Bible is the story of a people who were lead from a struggle, through a struggle, to a struggle"

We Roman Catholics could add to this list: "Offer it up (for the souls in purgatory)"; "The one who denies him (or her) self will find him (or her) self"; "Pick up your cross"; and "Humility is a virtue".

We could also add: "What God wants is your obedience (to Holy Church)"; "Suffering is meritorious"; "Mary wept"; "Jesus wept"; "Blessed are those who are persecuted and insulted (and who are poor, who mourn, or who persevere)"; "Do your penance"; and "Think of all Christ did for you on the cross" as directly and indirectly related to encouragement for long-suffering victimization.

Ironically, the idea of making yourself a permanent victim is simply not Biblical!

Start with the book of Genesis. When Dinah is raped by Shechem in chapter 34, Jacob's sons massacred Shechem's entire family. I'm not advocating violent solutions here - but I am pointing out that the Bible clearly portrays rape as a grave crime worthy of death!

Move on to the Book of Exodus. The entire book is about God freeing a people from the tyranny of slavery. Throughout the Old Testament, people suffer, and God delivers them. There is no sense in the Old Testament that one simply accepts one's lot by suffering quietly.

Indeed, every single one of the prophets suffered, but they complained and kicked and screamed about it. Suffering was a sign of sin and injustice, and the prophets lashed out at the king, even though he supposedly had a divine right to rule. They lashed out the priests who defended the king. They lashed out at the wealthy. They lashed out against other nations. At times, they even cried out passionately to God as though accusing God of unrighteousness!

Look at Jesus. We do not have a person here who quietly submits to victimization. He grows angry enough at the injustice of money changers ripping people off in the very temple of the Lord that he flips over tables and shuts down their operation for a day!

Jesus calls those who would lay up heavy religious burdens on others a brood of vipers, whitened sepulchers full of dead man's bones, and even sons of Satan!

There is such a thing as just anger and holy zeal and righteous rage inspired by the Holy Spirit that compels action!

The Gospels tell us to forgive a person seven times seventy times, and to turn the other cheek when struck. Yet, the Gospel also tells us to confront evildoers: first in a private one-on-one conversation, then with a witness, then before the Church and court if necessary!

Turn the other cheek, and if struck on that one, say something!

You can't really forgive someone if there is no acknowledgement that a wrong was done. When a man beats a woman, that man has done an objectively evil thing. He needs to be told that what he did hurt another and is evil - plain and simple. The person primarily responsible for telling him first is the very woman he beat!

I understand the fear we all have in regards to confronting a person directly who has hurt us. We all are tempted to avoid confrontation, and most people fall into the temptation to avoid conflict through much of their life.

However, make no mistake: avoiding conflict is not holy. It can be a sin!

Denying yourself and picking up your cross is not quietly becoming a doormat for sin to walk all over.

You deny yourself by mustering the courage you do not naturally have to confront evil face-to-face and call it what it is.

You pick up your cross by mustering the inner resources to face the possibility that the other may kill you as you tell him that the sin absolutely, positively has to stop immediately!

Quietly accepting victimhood permits the sinner to remain in his sin. By quietly accepting victimhood, you are participating in damning your abuser to hell, and that is not loving or holy.

Furthermore, if a man abuses a woman with children, it hurts the children to even merely suspect it is occurring. You owe it to your children to protect them from this. Justice demands it!

I am a believer in non-violent resistance to evil, or premeditated reconciliation.

Some people want to call me a pacifist, but I don't like that term because it implies passivity. I do not believe in being passive in the face of evil. You must do something, even if violence is not the solution.

I am not for a moment advocating that a woman in an abusive relationship take a gun to her abuser, nor even that she hit him back with her fist.

Nor am I saying we do not forgive and reconcile with our enemies. We can and should, and if we are confident the sin has stopped, a relationship can be rebuilt.

Nor am I saying that we shouldn't be gentle as lambs and wise as serpents when we confront others.

What I am saying is to carefully plan it to try to keep the situation from escalating. Know what you want to say, when you want to say it, how you want to say it, where you want to say it, etc...A counselor can help with all of this.

There is a difference between hitting an abuser and saying, "You hurt me you son of a bitch, take that" and calmly but firmly saying "You hurt me, and this has to stop or I'm leaving you"

I think that in most cases, the latter is better, at least the first time around.

Whatever choice of words you make, I also think it is vitally important that you do exactly what you say. Do not threaten a person that you will leave them and then fail to carry out that threat.

What I am saying is that there is absolutely no merit in being a quiet doormat. Period.

Playing the victim indefinitely is wrong, unholy, and a temptation to be overcome!

Isn't it perhaps unmerciful to leave an abusive relationship?

Christ tells us we cannot be his disciples if we are not willing to leave family behind for the sake of righteousness. He tells us to shake the dust from our feet when evildoers will not repent.

Leaving an abusive spouse is perfectly acceptable and that is exactly what you should do at any time where you think your life may be threatened. Jesus left town at one point when he thought he was going to be stoned (see John chapter 8).

While he did not leave Jerusalem because of the Passover, he did not want to die. He prayed that the cup would pass!

This is an important point as well. Jesus did not allow fear to alter his own behavior where something of value to him was at stake. He longed to celebrate a Passover in Jerusalem with his disciples. This was an important event to him deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. He was not about to allow a death threat alter his plan.

On the other hand, where he left town due to a death threat, there was no compelling reason to stay just to be victimized. Jesus did not voluntarily submit to victimization solely for the purpose of being a victim.

I oppose casual or unnecessary divorce, and the Church takes a strong stand against divorce in general, even encouraging people to work out troubled marriages. But even the Church acknowledges that divorce and separation to get out of a situation of abuse is morally permissible.

What about the way Saint Paul tells slaves to obey their master, and even sends an escaped slave back to his master?

Paul was no pushover. If ever there was a rabble rouser, it was Paul. His own personal example does not really indicate that he fully bought into a theology of quiet victimhood.

The situation with the slaves was one where the masters and slaves were all supposedly Christians. Yes. He did tell the slaves to remain where they were, but he also told the masters to treat the slaves as brothers in Christ.

Today, the Church has come to question whether Paul gave the best advice, because the advice he gave became a rationalization for the institution of slavery itself for centuries.

In historical context, however, we need to remember that Paul thought the world would end before he saw death. What was important to him was not whether the institution of slavery is accepted. He thought the institution was coming to an end in the very near future.

What Paul was concerned about was the fact that there was a ruptured relationship between two Christians based on their state of life before conversion. He was not telling the slave so much to accept victimhood, as he was telling two Christians to reconcile with one another and work together for the common good of the household.

I have absolutely no problem with women who stay with a husband who has abused her in the past if it has definitely stopped. I do have a problem with women thinking that they need to accept ongoing abuse. That is wrong and based on ridiculous theology.

The same thing applies if the abuse happens to go the other way - with a wife battering her husband.

The Gospel says that the one who loses him or herself will find him or self.

Losing our self does not mean total annihilation and self abnegation. It means overcoming the fear, sadness, guilt, anxiety, or misplaced anger that paralyzes and becomes a false self. It means losing the victim mentality to become a survivor!

At the other end of the cross is resurrection, and the cross is just one more executed criminal without the resurrection.

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Everything Jesus said or did was aimed at restoring health and wholeness to the mind, body and soul of those who would receive it.

There is a place for so-called "tough love", but it need not be shown to the victim. Tough love is for perpetrators of injustice, who need to be told that they are hurting others and that steps will be taken to stop the situation from happening again, even if it means severance of the relationship.

I've probably said enough. Let me just make one more quick point. Being a quiet and submissive victim of social injustice is not more meritorious than being a quiet and submissive victim of personal injustice.

The Bible is clear on the existence of social sin and the wrongness of inequity. So is the Sacred Tradition of the Church. The Bible is clear that economic, political and religious authorities can and often do foster injustice, and God calls up prophets to speak against this type of injustice when it occurs.

Those who are currently victims of injustice are right to speak up and challenge the structures of sin that place them in a position of victimhood. In speaking and doing so, they become prophets rather than victims!


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More Hope for a Purple Nation Blending Red and Blue Issues

New York Times liberal columnist, Nicholas Kristof, urges fellow liberals to back the leadership archconservative Christian and Kansas Senator, Sam Brownback is taking regarding international human rights.

Among a number of good things the Senator is promoting is legislation to curtail global sex slavery. Brownback took the lead on this issue from liberal Paul Wellstone after his unfortunate passing.

Brownstone and other conservatives have long called for addressing the issue of injustice in Sudan. Liberals should help.

Both liberals and Brownback want an aggressive stance against North Korea's human rights abuses and nuclear proliferation, and both belivee there options other than military intervention.

Brownback is working with Ted Kennedy on AIDs and malaria in Africa, and Brownback is concerned about the conditions of brutality in Uganda, where he has visited.

Brownback even supports a national African-American museum and an apology to African-Americans!

As Kristof points out, working with people like Brownback beats the heck out of sulking for the next four years.


Hope For a Red and Blue State Merger into a Purple Nation

William Stuntz is an Evengelical Protestant and describes his church experience as being as red state as one can be.

He is also a law professor at Harvard, who describes his university experience as being as blue state as one can be.

He starts with personal anecdotes that highlight the divide. A fellow church goer asked him in all seriousness if being a Christian lawyer wasn't like being a Christian prostitute. A colleague stated in all seriousness that Stuntz was the only Christian he knew that wasn't stupid.

Stuntz points out areas where churches and universities are alike, what they can learn from one another, and how they could unite into a powerful political force.

In a nutshell, the points of agreement are that both churches and universities are places where people engage ideas. They are also places where individuals share a concern for a community greater than themselves.

Stuntz suggests that churches could learn from universities how to better test their own ideas through internal argumentation and tough minded hard questioning. This will help ensure that only the best ideas come to the top.

Stuntz suggests that universities can learn humility from the churches. He points out that good preachers in his tradition are always pointing out their own faults and mistakes as part of the testimonial, and reminding the congregation that they are simply sinners stumbling along by the grace of God. Stuntz sees this as not only good preaching, but sincere - and more effective at reaching people than the arrogance of some university professors.

Where Stuntz sees the possibility of an alliance is in economic justice and care for the poor. Stuntz believes that universities and churches both know what is wrong with our current government's response to poverty, and both take a critical stance toward government platitudes on reducing poverty.

Helping the poor is supposed to be the left's central commitment, going back to the days of FDR and the New Deal. In practice, the commitment has all but disappeared from national politics. Judging by the speeches of liberal Democratic politicians, what poor people need most is free abortions. Anti-poverty programs tend to help middle-class government employees; the poor end up with a few scraps from the table. Teachers' unions have a stranglehold on failed urban school systems, even though fixing those schools would be the best anti-poverty program imaginable.

I don't think my liberal Democratic professor friends like this state of affairs. And -- here's a news flash -- neither do most evangelicals, who regard helping the poor as both a passion and a spiritual obligation, not just a political preference.
Stuntz suggests that a politician or party that could shift the agenda from abortion to real solutions for poverty would win the hearts and minds of both universities and churches. Maybe he's right.


Paralysed by Panic by Madeleine Bunting

This article from The Guardian uses the current Christmas celebrations in Europe as a springboard to explore the challenges faced by Catholicism in a de-christianized secular Europe where a rising tide of Islamic influence is becoming felt.


Another Progressive Catholic Blog

Nathan is a self professed gay Catholic and much of his site centers around the debates on homosexuality. What is interesting is his willingeness to engage many of St. Blog's members in respectful dialogue on the issue. Go bless you Nathan!


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Will Santa Come to the Cecil Household?

As many readers know, my wife is from Tanzania in East Africa. We just had our first child in October.

A little known fact in America is that Santa Clause does not really go around the whole world on Christmas Eve.

He apparently can't stand heat, and never made it to those countries near the equator in Africa.

I checked around with some parishoners from Africa, and it seems to be confirmed. Santa doesn't seem to go where it is hot.

Maybe the reindeer will die in a tropical climate. I remember seeing that on television once.

Or, maybe Santa is worried about malaria and yellow fever, since I'm pretty sure he's made it as far south as Texas and Florida, if not Mexico!

Even after my wife's family moved to America, it appears Santa never made a visit to their house.

If they got a lump of coal, I'd say they were naughty, and that would explain everything. However, they didn't even get a lump of coal, nor even a switch!

Besides. My wife knows she was nice, and he still didn't come.

I'm thinking Santa hasn't updated his data-base with the names of families originating from those warmer climates.

I think Santa failed to update his data base with my own new address too, because I haven't received a thing since I left my parents' house.

This is partly my fault though, because I keep forgetting to write him a letter. I need to stop blogging and sit down and write my letter.

I think I missed the deadline for this year - just like last year. I wonder if Santa will even remember me anymore.

Maybe there's an application procedure these days, and I don't even know where to get one!

Anyway, I think Santa is having a problem keeping his data base current, and there may be millions of people from warmer climates who never got in the data base at all!

An outdated data base is the only logical explanation I can think of other than denying his existence.

And we all know that if you don't believe in him, he definitely won't bring you anything.

This creates a dilemma for us. This year, our little girl's too young to think about it, so we'll just wait and see what happens. I'm getting a bad feeling he ain't coming though.

Assuming he doesn't arrive this year, we aren't sure whether we can assure our little angel that Santa is coming to our house as she grows older. She's bound to ask sooner or later.

We certainly don't want to lie to her and promise he will come if he won't. My wife feels strongly that we can't lie to her.

Who knows, maybe some little elf will update Santa's data-base with the new arrival information to America?

One would hope that someone at the North Pole updates the records with hospital records for new baby information.

Maybe he'll hear about our little angel through a nice little American girl. Lord knows she'll hear about Santa from a nice little American girl.

What will we tell her if all her friends get presents from Santa and she doesn't?

Should we just say nothing, neither affirming nor denying he's coming?

We can't be the only people in America wondering if Santa will make it or not.

If he didn't get my wife's family's information, nor my new address, I think there must be a whole bunch of people who never got added or updated in the data base.

Somebody should do something!

If anyone else has faced this problem, I'd be interested in how you handled it.


The Ghost of Christmas Past

This is an interesting article from The New York Observer. I don't know how accurate it is, and I have never seen this point of view before. Describing the history of Christmas celebration in America, the author asserts:

Until Christmas was transformed in the 1830’s and 40’s, it was not unlike Mardi Gras. Men dressed as women and vice versa; off-key, discordant, squeaky, tub-thumping bands marched through the streets; liquored-up groups of revelers would force their way into the households of honest burghers to demand money, food and drink. When they managed to get what they came for, it wasn’t Christmas alms or charity, but something close to extortion—the same begging by menace that New Yorkers, prior to Rudolph Giuliani’s administration, used to have to put up with.
The author also states that there were efforts, usually initiated by the churches, to outlaw Christmas throughout early America.


44% of Americans Believe in Religious Discrimination in Applying Civil Rights

I don't know what else to say other than anyone who thinks that civil rights should be applied unequally based on religion is calling into question THE very principle upon which this nation was founded.

This is a wholly un-American and unpatriotic point of view, and it is not what our troops were lead to believe they are dying to defend.

Likewise, this a point of view that would find absolutely no support in Church teaching. Paragraphs 2104 through 2109 of the Catechism make it clear that religious liberty is a natural right that should be enshrined in civil law.


Is Social Security Really in Peril?

Molly Ivins argues that the idea that Social Security is in danger of running out of funds is basically baloney.


A Reader Writes:

I'm glad to see a "progressive" Catholic on the Internet.

Here is an email I recently sent to friends:

All long, I've been unconcerned by the political
activism of the red-state-of-mind evangelicals.
I respect them--not the usual extreme fringe that the
media reports on exclusively, but the rank and file
like the ones living in my neighborhood and the
one's I know at work. And, btw, they are every
bit as diverse as any other group of their size.

But now that I started my own blog, I've
discovered several Catholic themed blogs
out there on the Internet. I estimate that there
are between 500 and 1000 "Catholic" themed
blogs by Americans, out there on the Internet.

Most aren't interesting. Most are lousy. Many,
especially the popular ones discuss politics and
religion together.

Believe it or not, these bloggers tend to be
well educated and well informed on current events
(but by no means expert or scholarly). By and large,
they are every bit as "red state" as the Bush
supporting evangelicals. Their tone is very
strident and dogmatic which really bothers
me. In many places I see the phrases
"Conservative Catholic" or "Family centered
Catholic" linked together with "Republican
Conservative." The implication is that you're
not a good Catholic or at least not acceptable
to them unless you're a Republican Conservative
as well. It is disconcerting. I guess the reason
I am discombobulated by these people and not
by the evangelicals is that these are supposed to
be "my" people.

There is even a list of blogs by Catholic priests,
and by-and-large whenever one of them says
something political they sound like small-minded,
right-wing jerks. There is one guy who is a
Benedictine Monk who has a fairly popular
blog. I naively assumed he might have an
intelligent, insighful blog. Boy was I ever wrong.
Though an ordained priest, he is full of fear,
paranoia, homophobia, and misogyny (and
packs a gun!). He makes Rush Limbaugh
look like Jimmy Carter.

Some (anti-war) Christian & Catholic bloggers
are pushing the idea that the Pope made a statement
condemning the war with Iraq. ( btw, I think the
real issue is one of semantics. he may not have
explicitly used the word "condemn," but he used equivalent
words to express his opposition it. If you read
his statements before the war began, there
was no question that he was absolutely opposed)
Well, my point is this, a bunch of the right-wing
Catholic bloggers are now banging ther heads
against the wall trying to prove that the Pope
did not condemn the war. This is from a bunch
of people who are obsessed with obedience to
official church teaching (and just to set the record straight,
a simple Papal statement like the one against the
Iraq war does not constitute official church reaching
I'm trying to be as fair to these right-wingers as
possible). No "Jesuit obedience" here.

There was a time when most Catholics in this
country were immigrants or the children of immigrants.
All these people tried hard to be American or good
Americans. But back in the 1950's, it was recognized
that many Catholics in America had some priorities
backwards. Many thought and acted as though
being a good American somehow made them a good
Catholic (Thomas Merton).

Not to run off with too many cliches, but God is not
on our side. The phrase, "God Bless America," is not
a statement of fact but a plea.

What I'm getting from many of these Conservative
Republican Catholic blogs is that rather than using
their Christianity to inform their politics, they are
using their right-wing politics to inform their
Christianity. And that is scary! As a matter of
fact, this is exactly what the Islamic terrorists are
doing--calling their politics religion.


New Catholic Blog

Stephen tries to provide the perspective of an "ordinary Catholic".


Monday, December 20, 2004

How Much Could We Know PRIOR to War??

In numerous debates I have had with people before and since the elections, I am accused of two things.

1) They accuse me of reading into Bush's motives for war based on left wing sources.

2) People accuse me of arguing the case that Iraq possessed no WMDs and no ties to Al Qaeda only with 20/20 hindsight. They argue it was "impossible" to hold that position in March 2003.

The link above is to a site that I discovered prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq.

I hate to say "I told you so", but the point of this entire post is to address these two accusations. I knew from right wing sources that the war in Iraq was wrong, and I figured it out before the war began!

The site is maintained by Bush supporters and contains links to information about the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

PNAC is a group of neconservative Republicans that include many members of the Bush Administration such as Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Libby Scooter, Jeb Bush, as well as some prominent Catholic figures like Michael Novak and George Weigle.

Referring to a draft document by Paul Wolfowitz written in 1992 for Bush the Elder and entitled Defense Planning Guidence, the site says the following:

This draft called for the United States to use its unmatched military power to prohibit any other nation in the world from rivaling the power of the United States, the only remaining superpower after the fall of the Soviet Union, and to safeguard "access to vital raw material, primarily Persian Gulf oil."
Wolfowitz wrote this as Under Secretary for Policy in the Department of the Secretary of Defense, who at the time was Dick Cheney.

This statement alone should have made everyone skeptical about whether the war was really about oil, and it comes from a right wing source!

Wolfowitz became the "ideological father" for the neoconservative think tank called The Project for the New American Century.

As we can see on the pro-Bush and pro-PNAC website, some of the goals of PNAC since 1997 are as follows:
- Withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, stop the reduction of nuclear missiles, develop new nuclear weapons, and deploy a national missile defense system.

- "Fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars" as a "core mission."

- Keep all peacekeeping and rebuilding missions within the power of American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations.

- Take military control of the Persian Gulf region through the establishment of permanent bases.
I don't know about anyone else, but it seems to me that withdrawing from anti-ballistic missile treaties and wanting to fight multiples wars around the globe for the purpose of controlling Persian Gulf oil and asserting supremecy over the UN does not even hint of just cause for war in my mind.

On page 14 of the rather lengthy, Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century, it is admitted that the reasons for a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq transcends the regime of Saddam Hussein. The paper asserts that the United States must assert economic and military superiority over all competition, including the emerging European Union.

Under the oil for food program, France, Germany and Russia were legitmately permitted to purchase oil from Iraq. Oil from Iraq went to France through the Balkans.

Part of the resistance of France and Germany to the war in Iraq was that they wanted evidence that the United States was not merely trying to assert military and economic superiority over the emerging European Union and the United Nations.

They wanted hard evidence that Iraq was an imminent and grave threat that either had direct ties to Al Qaeda and/or possessed WMDs.

Personally, I found the evidence Bush was presenting to the American people and to the United Nations very unconvincing.

I am not an expert on science and technology, but I did take enough science in college to find it hard to believe that WMDs can be manufactured in the back of a truck. Turns out I was right.

I also found the supposed meetings between an Iraqi diplomat and Mohamed Atta to be circumstantial evidence at best, and outright dubious at worst. Turns out I was right.

Let's also not forget that Bush first threatened Iraq claiming in public that he wanted weapons inspectors to return to Iraq. Saddam let the inspectors into Iraq, and they found nothing: zilch, nada, absolutely nothing worthy of concern!

Bush publically raised the notion of a pre-emptive war in June of 2002, and I immediately wrote him and my legislators that there is no such thing as a just pre-emptive war.

Just war doctrine only allows a non-international body one justification for war, and one justification only: defense against a grave and imminent threat of unjust aggression. To inititiate war for any other reason is a war of unjust agression in itself, plain and simple.

Given the fact that there was strong evidence of wrong motives for war (such as control of oil and asserting U.S. supremecy over the UN and EU), and the fact that the entire notion of pre-emptive war is a departure from the just war tradition, many of us felt that the evidence for WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda had to be far more than plausible.

The evidence had to be incontrovertible, absolutely certain, beyond any reasonable doubt, and the threat had to be known with absolute certitude to be imminent and grave.

So there were three reasons to question Bush before the war began:

1) The Church calls into question any war of aggression, which whould have given Catholics a bias against Bush's entire notion of pre-emption.

2) Key members of the Bush Adminitsration had made public reasons for war with Iraq that were wholly other than defense of America from terrorism or humanitarian reasons. Those reasons had to do with power and money.

3) The evidence for Bush's claims against Iraq was weak on its own merits, with strong counter evidence presented by the UN weapons inspectors.

There were conservatives who admitted all three of these premises in 2002 and early 2003, and still backed the war believeing at the time that Bush knew things he could not reveal.

We now know that was not the case.

I was arguing prior to war that the President had absolutely no right to hide information that would help the UN and the American people decide that a war was just.

To order American troops to kill large numbers of people through shock and awe tactics without this level of absolute certainty of grave imminent threat was, quite simply, an evil act.

On Septemeber 22, 2002, I started a thread at The Catholic Community Forum trying to raise questions among Catholics about the upcoming vote in October authorizing war.

Another thread in the Catholic Community Forum contains my thoughts on the day the war began in March of 2003.

By May of 2003, I had started blogging, and one of my earliest posts was against the war on May 2, 2003.

I post these things not to rehash debates from over two years ago, but to prove that I was questioning Bush's justifications for war even before it started, and I was referring to right wing, rather than left wing source material.

More recently, on October 8, 2004, I summarized what the Bishops and Pope had been saying in my Church Teaching on the War in Iraq.

The goal here was to give voters something to consider. We see that nearly every Bishop's conference on the planet questioned Bush before the war actually began, as did the Pope and the UN.

How can anyone argue that we could not possibly know what we know now back in 2002?

Many of us did know or strongly suspect that Bush was wrong on fact in 2002, as well as on morals!

Why I Voted For John Kerry explains why a passionately pro-life active and informed Catholic could decide that the war in Iraq was a more important issue than abortion.

Of course, those readers who have been following my blog for a long time know that I was questioning this war from the moment Bush started talking about it. Throughout 2004, I posted something on the war almost daily.

My point in today's post is to remind frequent readers and inform new readers that there were many of us who believed this war was wrong long before it started.

I believe that knowledge of the PNAC website, which is a RIGHT WING source, AND knowledge of the Church's traditional teaching on just war SHOULD have lead every single conservative Roman Catholic in America to oppose the war before it started, and to DEMAND much stronger evidence for Bush's claims BEFORE war bagan.

In saying this, I am not judging anyone. I believe many people were ignorant of who PNAC is or what they believed. Many people were equally ignorant of the Church's teaching on war. One cannot be in sin if one is ignorant.

To those who now argue that the war is justified for humanitarian reasons or due to abuses of the oil for food program, I respond that these were not the reasons Bush publically claimed in 2002 through most of 2003.

Bush has continually "flip-flopped" on the reasons for going to war. Yet, those who opposed him are labeled flip-floppers, when all of us have held a consistent position. It's sickening how politics work.

As already stated, a nation cannot morally wage war with another nation for any other reason than defense against agression. There's no flip-flopping on this, and this is exactly what Kerry and many Democrats voted for in October of 2003.

A war for humanitarian reasons or for abuses of a UN provision must be waged by an international body. Period. The Church is extremely clear on this (see the link to Church teaching on the war in Iraq already mentioned). So was Kerry clear on this.

While one may not be in sin, one can still be mistaken. Some people won't even admit a mistake was made.

There were other mistakes made after the war began. Bush was far too slow to bring in UN aid, and even spurned their help when it was offerred at first. To this day, we do not have adequate troop strength for the type of mission. Abu Ghraib and other incidences raise questions not only about the ad bellum justification for war, but the in bello conduct of the war.

These things were foreseeable as well, and Bush's own military advisers warned about these issues prior to the beginning of war.

When discussing these issues, I cannot pretend I did not know who PNAC was and what they stood before the war began. I did know.

I also knew Church teaching which prohibits wars of aggression.

Knowledge of these two things made me extremely skeptical of the claims of the Bush Administration, and therefore I rejected the scanty and weak evidence presented to the U.N. just like the French.

It was possible to know, or at least strongly suspect, that Bush was wrong in 2002.

Maybe those who supported Bush find that hard to imagine, but there were many of us who believed him wrong at that time, and continue to believe he is wrong today.

Though I am accusing nobody of sin, given the fact that no WMDs were found, and no ties to Al Qaeda were found by the 9/11 Commission, I am wondering why so many people refuse to this day to admit that they were mistaken.


Joe Feuerherd Examines Democrat Shift on Abortion

I think all of this is good news for conservative pro-lifers, liberal believers in the seamless garment, and the great mass of people who are ambivalent on abortion. Only NARAL could get upset with this trend in American politics.


J. Cecil for Prez in 2008!

As far as I know, I only garnered approximately one vote in California in the 2004 election, but I threw my hat in the race rather late.

No. I did not vote for myself. A reader emailed me that she was giving me her support.

Why not vote for the newly formed Catholic Peace and Justice Party in 2008?


Juries Aquit Peace Activists

This is a victory for the rule of interantional law, as well as a victory for the peace movement.


NCR Editorial: Openings on Values Front

This article is short enough that I can't summarize it without taking up as much space. It's well worth taking a moment of time to read.


Friday, December 17, 2004

God Loves Us: The Hierarchy of Truth as a way to Common Ground

I have been pondering for some time the issue that the Roman Catholic Church teaches a few critical principles that seem to get lost when conservatives and liberals debate one another.

These principles are as follows:

1) The fullness of truth necessary for salvation is expressed within the institutional boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church is gifted with the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ to communicate salvific grace to humanity. Apart from the Church, salvation is not possible. Even for those who may be saved outside of the Church, the Church plays a mysterious role in their salvation.

2) The Church instituted by Jesus Christ is an invisible mystery that subsists within the institutional boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church, but extends beyond those institutional boundaries. There are members of the true Church of Christ who are not Roman Catholics. These members of the one true Church make vital contributions to building up the body of Christ.

3) Jesus Christ is the source of all salvific grace. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. The Church is the body of Christ, apart from which there is no salvation. Salvific grace extends outside of and beyond the visible body of Christianity, and Muslims, Jews and others are mysteriously united to the true Church of Christ. To use the term of Karl Rahner, there are "anonymous Christians" in the world who are being saved by Christ but do not even know Christ by his proper name. Of course, these people may believe we know God imperfectly from their perspective.

4) Flowing from these principles, it follows that there is a hierarchy of truths, meaning some truths are more important to salvation than others. Just as little children or the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament era were saved with an incomplete and imperfect knowledge of Christ, there are people today who are being saved who have incomplete and imperfect knowledge. In some cases, it could be argued that some Catholics have incomplete and imperfect knowledge.

From these four principles, we can begin to grasp that there is a distinction between grace and knowledge of truth. This should be somewhat obvious.

That "two plus two equals four" is a true statement, but not necessarily salvific.

Even on an issue of doctrine, knowledge that God exists is not salvific. The demons know God exists. Faith is not mere knowledge that God exists, but a trust in the one true God.

Faith, hope and love are infused virtues given with the gift of grace.

Grace is defined in the Catechism as the free gift of God's life within us. It is nice to know the definition, but the important thing is that my heart is open to grace even if I can't define it.

Grace is the living power of the living God that works an inner transformation that actually redeems a sinner and works to justify, sanctify, glorify, and divinize the receiver, drawing the receiver deeper and deeper into relationship with God and the mystery of incorporation in the body of Christ, which is the Church.

What the Church is saying is that grace can be received without knowledge of the truth. If this were not true, why baptize babies?

One can have faith in God without knowing all the truths there are to know about God.

For example, a child trusts his or her parents even if he or she does not know all of the biographical details about his or her parents. Even if the child has misperceptions about her or his parents, the child most often trusts the parent. In a like manner, we can trust our heavenly Father without knowing much about him. We can even trust him if we hold some misperceptions about him.

It is our trust that is inspired by God and works towards salvation, rather than our knowledge.

There is an aspect of knowledge that helps to inspire or reinforce trusting faith. Knowledge should be sought for its own sake apart from salvation. Knowledge can also lead to or sustain faith. I cannot trust God if I doubt God exists. Nevertheless, the mere knowledge that God exists is not salvific in itself, and one can trust without knowing all the details.

I do not know if the Church has yet defined the order of the hierarchy of truth. I've been contemplating a bit how I would order the hierarchy of truth if I were a Pope asked to do so.

The first truth necessary for salvation is actually a sort of complex truth, meaning that it is not a single precise statement, but a combination of three truth propositions taken together:

1) One must have knowledge that God exists, and
2) that there is only one God, and
3) the one God cares for us enough to earn our trust.

To sum it up in a single traditional Catholic phrase: "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."

Stated even more simply, the first truth at the top of the hierarchy of truth is that God loves us!

I would actually say that given that there is a possibility of salvation for Jews and Muslims according to the second Vatican Council, this is the only truth that is absolutely required for salvation. The rest of the Catholic Christian message is meant to support this one truth.

I think this personal trust in God is what Protestants try to convey when they speak of turning one's life over to Jesus and accepting him as your personal savior.

I think personal trust in God is what Muslims speak of when they speak of peaceful submission to Allah.

I think personal trust in God is what Jews mean by living according to "the covenants" of God.

Perhaps eastern religions convey this when speaking of losing one's self in the ground of all that exists.

I think personal trust in God is what people mean when they say they are spiritual, but not religious.

I think personal trust in God is the ultimate aim of all of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

Perhaps, babies and the mentally retarded know an experiential trust in God's love that they cannot define or put into language. Grace and saving faith may be strongest in a person who cannot possibly express what it is that is happening in his or her heart.

I would say that faith in the revealed message of the resurrection is second in the hierarchy of truth, and serves as the formal line of demarcation between explicit Christian faith and the more general implicit faith in God. The resurrection of Christ is the Gospel - the good news!

Faith in the resurrection affirms the first truth in the hierarchy. If a man was raised from the dead by divine power, such an event is the ultimate revelation of the love of God for humanity. It is this essential truth that becomes for the believer the cause of our trust in God.

In saying the resurrection is the second truth in the hierarchy of truth, I am speaking of more than an intellectual conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. I am speaking of an experiential encounter with the Risen One.

Though we Christians believe that salvation comes under no other name than Jesus, who says that we have to know the name of a life-guard before he will jump in the water to save us. The entire point of the good news is that God is trustworthy and we can relax and let God take over.

Jesus rose from the dead to inspire trust in the one true God, and it is trust in God that saves us. Anyone who has personally encountered the risen Christ will find it almost difficult to fail to trust the power of God who raised him.

Belief in the resurrection is salvific because an encounter with the Risen One conveys and inspires trust in God.

If someone can trust in God without intellectual knowledge of the resurrection nor trust in its verbal and thematic message, that person can still be saved if they encounter divinity as a higher power and trust in that power. Such a person may be in ignorance or even error from a Catholic point of view, but such a person can still be saved.

The third truth in the hierarchy is that what has happened in Christ through the resurrection is such a definitive revelation of the goodness, love and power of God that we can rightly claim that Christ is the Word of God incarnate.

The letters on the pages of a Bible are not the ultimate word of God. Rather, the resurrection of Christ is the revelation that Christ, himself, is the Word of God for us. We interpret Scripture in light of the resurrection event. Christ is so much the Word of God that we can rightly say that this man, who was fully human, is the divine incarnate. The divinity of Christ is third in the hierarchy of truth.

The divinity of Christ reveals that humanity is the center of God's attention. God loved us so much that God became one of us. We are so made in the image of God that God would choose our form and nature to enter into his own creation.

The fourth doctrien in the hierarchy of truth is probably belief in the Holy Spirit and her activity in the community of faith, which is the true Church of Christ subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church and extending beyond her institutional boundaries.

Nothing that flows from this basic belief is equal to the fundamental premise that God continues to make himself present to us by the Holy Spirit, which is the spirit of Christ and the spirit of the Father.

These four truths taken together affirm that humanity is the center of God's attention and love. These four truths taken together communicate the notion that God dwells with humanity and that each human person has an incomparable dignity revealed in the incarnation event.

Other religions may express this message in other ways. The message behind the events is more important than the events themselves - even as we Christians affirm that the events are real and happened in our concrete historic existence.

At its core, Christianity as a formal belief system and organized religion is meant to communicate a spirituality of high humanism.

We proclaim that a human being is divine, because God loved humanity so much that he joined our condition, died for us, and conquered sin and death in the resurrection. God is trustworthy precisely because Christ is trustworthy.

One who has received the grace to trust in God and to love his or her fellow human beings as images of God is being saved even if they do not know Christ explicitly, and even if they do not know many other lower truths in the hierarchy of truth.

Only after we come to faith in these fundamental premises does it even begin to make sense to have a discussion about whether the Bible with the New Testament is divinely inspired writing, or whether water baptism is necessary, or whether Christ is really present in the Eucharist, or whether Mary, the mother of Jesus, is worthy of veneration, or whether the Pope is infallible in certain instances, or even whether certain moral precepts are true, etc....

These other truths can be valid, but they are less important than the first four.

What does this mean to us?

It means much.

First, it means that when we share our faith, we are always trying to accomplish two main objectives at most: increase love of God and/or increase love of neighbor.

Second, it means that the core of "orthodoxy" and the meaning of a true "return to faithfulness and fidelity" or a return to "the fundamentals of faith" is contemplation of the simple truths at "the top of the hierarchy", or the center of our faith.

Orthodoxy is simple, not complex.

The martyrs shed their blood over these simple truths. There were no martyrs in the early Church who died to defend the definition of transubstantiation!

I actually prefer to think of the truths less as a pyramid with the greater truths at the top. I prefer to think of the truths as a circle, with the greater truths in the center.

The closer we are to the core truths, the surer we can be of freedom from error. As we move to truth further "down" the hierarchy, or further from the center of the circle, I believe that our certainty should be based on an ability to trace a logical line back to the fundamentals.

The core truths are the trustworthiness of the One true God, revealed in the raising of Christ from the dead, who is the human face of God, and who gave us his spirit until he comes in glory, and the love for one another that is implied in God's love for each one of us.

The core truths are what we Roman Catholics call "THE mystery of faith" at the center of our Eucharistic prayer - the central form of our worship. It is the kerygma: "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again."

How fitting that THE mystery of our faith should be proclaimed in the very center of our central act of worship - and act of worship that continually affirms the core and fundamental truths at the top of the hierarchy of truths, or the center of the circle of truth.

The kerygma is expressed in the creeds. The creeds sum up simply and succinctly these four core truths and add a bit to them from the hierarchy of truth. These are the truths that define us as Christians and Roman Catholics, and much of what we argue about in the day to day is nowhere near as important as these fundamentals.

Some will argue that this is reductionist thinking that does not distinguish between the Protestants, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. I am not arguing for reductionism.

There is a danger among liberal minded Christians of denying truth for the sake of emphasizing a more fundamental common truth with others. Even as I define myself on the liberal side of Christianity, I recognize the possibility that we can throw the baby out with the bathwater by watering down truth. Even when one truth is less important than another, it still remains true.

Yet, in typical liberal fashion, I believe we must not ever lose sight of the fact that even if something is true, it may not be important or necessary that another person believe it.

For example, I do not believe anyone's salvation hinges on whether they know the names of the nine choirs of angels, understand the theory of limbo, or whether they believe indulgences can be gained for the deceased.

As a Catholic, I believe as true certain doctrines that are rejected by either Protestants, Orthodox, or both. Our differences are real and even important. They should be discussed and even debated vigorously.

Pope John XXIII used to quote a Protestant who said, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things charity."

We sometimes try to make the non-essentials into essentials, and in doing so, we sometimes lose sight of charity. We do this with fellow Christians and we do it with non-Christians.

None of us should lose sight of the fact that we are speaking with fellow Christians - fellow members of the body of Christ who share in the same Holy Spirit, place our trust in the same power of resurrection, and trust in the same God revealed by Christ.

This same principle applies to the debates between liberal and conservative Roman Catholics - except that in the case of two Roman Catholics, there is far more that is shared in common in the hierarchy of truth than there would be between a Catholic and a Protestant.

Whether liberal or conservative, two Catholics will share a doctrine on grace and justification that is markedly different than a Protestant.

Two Catholics, one a liberal and one a conservative, will have a far more common view of Biblical inspiration and interpretation than any Catholics shares with a conservative, fundamentalist Evangelical Protestant.

This is not to say that none of us can find common ground with such a Protestant, and a conservative Roman Catholic will often agree with the Protestant against the liberal Catholic on the interpretation of a specific passage of scripture.

However, against the conservative fundamentalist Evangelical Protestant, the liberal and the conservative Catholic will have similar views on the role of the Bible in the Church and the nature of revelation itself and the use of modern Biblical scholarship that such a Protestant does not share.

For example, few Roman Catholics, even among the most conservative groups, believe the world was literally created in six calendar days. Those very few Roman Catholics who might hold this opinion do not consider their own opinion a dogma that must be accepted by all Roman Catholics in order to belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

We will share a belief in numbering the sacraments at seven, and hold a similar view to what the sacraments are and what they do that most Protestants do not share (though the Orthodox will largely agree with the Catholics on this more fundamental issue).

Liberal and conservative Catholics share more in common with each other than we share with anyone else outside of the community of faith called Roman Catholicism. We are family, whether we like one another all the time or not.

If we are mysteriously united with those outside of Roman Catholicism in the mystery of Christ's true Church, how much more are we united to one another when we share so much in common within the institution where we both agree that the true Church "subsists" and the fullness of truth can be found?

Recall, that in saying that Roman Catholics hold a very different view of Biblical revelation or other doctrines from a conservative fundamentalist Evangelical Protestant, I am not saying that such a Protestant is not saved. Such a Protestant can certainly hold to the key truths summed up in the kerygma and the creeds. Such a person can have salvific grace operating within them.

It is even possible that such a person can better articulate one of the core truths in the hierarchy of truth than the average Roman Catholic. Such a Protestant may be better able to explain and defend the truth of the proposition, and lives according to the trust inspired by such proposition so intensely that his or her life inspires the Roman Catholic to greater faith. As individuals, we can learn from individual Protestants.

In a like manner, we can even learn from non-Christians. What Catholic in today's world isn't moved to examine his or her own prayer life when we see images of Buddhist monks at meditation, or Muslims bowed en masse at daily prayer?

As we move down the hierarchy of truths from the top four, it is even possible that Protestants in general or Orthodox in general, or even non-Christians express a particular truth better than Roman Catholics. We can learn from others as individuals, but we can also learn as a collective body from other collective bodies.

Though the fullness of truth subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, it does not follow that a particular truth is optimally expressed within the Roman Catholic Church. Some truths may be better expressed collectively by another religious body. We not only can learn as individuals from individuals of other denominations, but we can learn collectively from other collective bodies.

Our ability to learn from others does not imply that we do not already possess the truth.

I learned to wrestle when I joined the wrestling team my freshman year in high school. In that year, I learned the basic moves and the fundamentals of the sport fairly well, and was shown many moves that were not basic and which I was unable to master my freshman year.

I became better at the fundamentals by my senior year, and I became proficient at many of the other moves. There were still moves I had learned but not completely mastered in my senior year. The point is that I developed and added to the basics.

In a like manner, our faith and the life of grace is constantly growing and developing within us. This is almost obvious. I could recite the creed in first grade, but had nowhere near the depth of faith or understanding of the creed that I have today as I approach my fortieth year. Those simple truth propositions I learned as a child continue to unfold with deeper and deeper meaning each passing year.

What I am trying to emphasize is that there is more that unites us than what divides us, and what unites us is sometimes so taken for granted that we forget its profundity and its basic point!

If I were to pick one common - though not universal - "fault" of many of those who label themselves "conservative Catholics", or who lean to the positions of the conservative Catholics, that one fault would be an overemphasis on our divisions to the point where we question each other's salvation and integrity.

If the fault of liberals is a tendency to deny the truth to find common ground, the fault of the conservative is to so highlight non-essentials as to emphasize our divisions and imply that dialogue is nearly impossible.

Dialogue is always two way. It is not a dialogue to try to merely convince another of his or her errors. A dialogue gives and takes, admitting error on both sides and truth on both sides and trying to learn from one another.

Some conservatives become convinced that they alone possess the truth and that there is nothing left to learn, even if they might be mistaken on what the Vatican itself actually teaches.

Some conservatives sometimes think that since the fullness of truth is possessed by the Church, and since he or she is a member of that Church, he or she therefore possesses the fullness of truth. We convince ourselves that we need not look anywhere else to learn truth, other than perhaps the texts authorized by the Vatican.

Even in examining Vatican texts, there is seldom dialogue with those who interpret the exact same text another valid way. This creates division where there should be unity. The real unity is not in embracing the exact same interpretation of a text, but in the common quest for truth from within the same text.

It is not in proposing an alternate interpretation of a text that division is created. It is in calling the alternate interpretation a heresy that division is created!

We should always remain very hesitant and slow to accuse another of heresy.

Some Catholics confuse a narrow range of interpretation of texts and truth propositions with orthodoxy and insist that anything deemed unorthodox by this standard is worth dividing over in an irreconcilable fashion.

They reason, "I'm right, and you're wrong, and until you admit it, you have no right to call your position Catholic."

Orthodoxy is assumed to be intellectual assent to a specific interpretation of texts. It is as though one is saved by knowledge of the correct interpretation of doctrinal statements.

In taking this position, the conservative Catholic begins to confuse knowledge of truth for what really saves. If we want to talk about heresy, this comes dangerously close to Gnosticism.

Knowledge by itself is not what saves. It is grace that saves. Knowledge of truth is only important to the extent that it inspires and nourishes grace.

Indeed, a truth proposition expressed at the Council of Trent is that we are saved by grace alone!

Furthermore, even if the fullness of truth necessary for salvation does subsist in the texts authorized by the Vatican, this does not mean that the same truth may not be expressed more clearly elsewhere.

Besides, the truth subsist in the Church, and not merely the texts. The Church is the community of living believers, not the Catechism.

Likewise, even if the fullness of truth necessary for salvation did subsists in the texts authorized by the Vatican, this does not mean that there may not be unintentional errors co-mingled in those texts. Those errors may be easier to identify in dialogue with others.

While nobody deliberately seeks error, and knowledge of truth for its own sake is a good, and all of us should strive for "orthodoxy" in God's eyes as his voice in conscience dictates, no amount of mere intellectual knowledge can save a person.

The ultimate thing we seek to "learn" in this life is mastering the art of the grace filled life. We do not seek orthodoxy (right thought) so much as orthopraxis (right character).

What all Catholics, liberal or conservative, need to learn is the virtue of humility.

This virtue would lead each and everyone of us to our knees in the realization that while the fullness of truth necessary for salvation subsists in Roman Catholicism, it is hard collectively and individually to discern this truth, even for an insider. As individuals and as a collective body, we need help.

God gives us help.

Who is to say that God doesn't send that help in the form of other people who hold very different world-views than us?

We trust our Almighty Father to provide us help in discerning truth based on the promise of the Christ to be with us until the end of time and to send his Spirit to guide us into all truth.

Yet, this trust does not in any way imply that we will not apprehend or learn or develop our knowledge of the truth from others - even those outside of the communion of faith.

Knowing that the fullness of truth subsists in the Roman Catholic faith, it is not necessary for us to ignore the world and bury our heads in the sand and think it is safer to avoid the errors of others.

There is an alternative. To avoid error as best we can, we can take what appears true in the viewpoints of others and test it in the light of natural reason, and then in the light of faith. We may find that a seed has been planted in our own faith tradition that is already a full grown plant in another tradition.

The fullness of truth in the Roman Catholic Church may include truths that are currently in seminal form. Perhaps we even need to weed around that seed to help it blossom into a plant as lush as the plant in another religious body.

Often, we will find that the truth taught in another religion or another field of study is not entirely inconsistent with the truth expressed in Roman Catholic teaching. Indeed, it may be that a truth expressed in Roman Catholicism already is expressed better in another organization. This deeper understanding of the same truth can enrich our own Catholic faith. In a like manner, others can learn from us where we express a truth better than they.

Thus, the real motive of the missionary and evangelizing impulse in the Church - the reason Christ sent disciples out with the good news - is not simply to diffuse a truth where it was never known.

Rather, in going out and entering in dialogue with others, we ourselves come to encounter a deeper understanding of truth and greater mastery of the life of grace. The other person becomes a sort of sacrament to us, and we to them.

Within the Church, liberals and conservatives can learn from one another, just as surely as Catholics and Protestants can learn from one another.

Generally, I have stated many times and in many ways that I think conservative Catholics are right about abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and the sanctity of human life.

While I may argue about married and women priests, gay unions and contraception within marriage, I think conservatives are basically right about the sanctity of committed love and the holiness of the sacrament of marriage.

I may wish we could agree to focus more on reducing unnecessary divorces and exploitation of women and children instead of worrying about gays and happily married couples who contracept. Nevertheless, the conservatives are largely right about the general value of family, the value of celibacy to the Church, and the decadence of American culture in regards to sexuality.

Conservative Catholics have much to teach some liberals about the power of contemplative prayer and traditional piety. Much of the traditional language describing the effects of the sacraments conveys important truths about these encounters with the risen Christ.

Many conservatives live their life with intense integrity bearing obvious fruits of the Holy Spirit demonstrating growth in grace.

The concern of the conservative to maintain loyal unity and to express humility in obedience to tradition is not entirely wrong. Loyalty and obedience can be virtuous.

Conservatives may overemphasize these virtues at times, and when loyalty and obedience leads to psychological denial, inconsistencies, repression of truth, cognitive dissonance, or intellectual dishonesty, they are no longer virtues but vices. Yet, in saying this, we should not deny that loyalty and obedience can be virtuous.

The list could be expanded, but the point is that we can learn from one another.

What I wish conservative Catholics would acknowledge is the strength of liberalism is often rejected as a weakness. At its best, liberal Catholicism aims to put doctrines in their proper place in the hierarchy of truth and raise questions about our levels of certainty as we move down the list from highly important truths to lesser important truths into the bottom of the list where error may even be co-mingled with truth.

The reason for doing this is that at the highest levels of truth, we share much in common with "outsiders", and at those highest levels of truth, we come to realize that we are absolutely obligated to intensely and passionately love those on the outside - deliberately seeking reconciliation with those divided from us with urgent, constant and heartfelt longing.

In all that we do and say, let us never lose sight of the fact that our lives should communicate that God loves each one of us and flowing from this, God is worthy of our love, and we should love one another. The entire law and prophets is based on these truths.


Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church

I read this excellent book on the airplane this week. It is written by Father Donald Cozzens, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest's Crisis of Soul, and is even better IMHO.

I was never ordained, but I did spend six years in formation for priesthood and lived with many priests throughout this period. Based on my experience, these two books accurately reflect the challenges of being a priest today, the issues that matter most to priests and the Church, and a vision where to go from here.

In Sacred Silence, Cozzens is arguing that the Church needs to have a more honest internal discussion about authority and academic freedom, married priesthood, the role of women in the Church, the abuse crisis and what it means, clericalism, and homosexuality among vowed celibates.

He is not necessarily arguing for a change in disciplines or doctrines. Rather, he is arguing that the forced silence on these issues within clerical culture is destroying the Church from within.



In the Face of War by Larry Rasmussen

This article published in Sojourners explores what peacemakers are called to do in light of Bush's re-election. The author does some excellent re-framing of issues.

One point made almost almost immediately is that being a Christian is not embracing a life style denying one has enemies, nor a life-style of avoiding those who are enemies of our Christian way of life.

Rather, the very essence of being a Christian is acknowledgement that one has enemies, and one can and will reconcile with those enemies.

The only real question, then, is whether there is an effective "ethic for enemies," to use Donald Shriver's term. Or, to sharpen it the way Jesus did, whether love of enemy is a life imperative itself and reconciliation of structured enemies the only way to a new creation.
Another interesting point the author makes is to raise the question whether we are mistaken in assumptions about the current strategy of the Bush Administration that expanding international trade and democracy promotes peace.

Rasmussen distinguishes two goals here: international trade and democracy are not identical, and we need to ask whether either promotes peace or war by itself, and what the real effects of combining these two distinct goals are.

At a deeper level, Rasmussen examines the common ground and points of divergence between advocates of just war theory and Christian pacifists. This is where I think he does the best at re-framing the issues.

I have never defined myself as a pacifist, insisting instead that I am a believer in active non-violent resistance. Rasumussen recognizes what people like myself are trying to say, while also trying to do justice to those who advocate just war doctrine at its best:
Just as "pacifism" is wrongly taken by some to mean "passive non-resistance," so "just war" is wrongly taken to be about justifying war.
The advocate of just war doctrine, at its best, is never attempting to justify war.

Instead, Rasmussen argues that just war advocates are really describing a "just use" of deadly force theory that aims to reduce the effects of violence when it erupts. For this reason, the just war doctrine in bello tends to be further developed and more strictly advocated than the ad bellum arguments.

Even more interesting to me than his re-framing of the traditional position is his re-framing of the Christian pacifist position. He calls is "premeditated reconciliation".


That's an even better way of putting it than calling it "active non-violent resistance".

He emphasizes that this philosophy is a way of life.

Those who believe like I do are not simply opposed to violence. We do not define ourselves solely by the negative (non-violence). My philosophical position is active and an entire way of life.

The aim of those who opposed to all use of deadly force is not merely to avoid conflict. Indeed, we would seek conflict!

However, we seek conflict with an intentional aim of reconciling the conflict and changing the dynamic of the relationship from that of enmity to friendship without using violence as part of the process.

We practice our philosophy not only in national and international politics, but in our families, business dealings, and everything we do. Rasmussens article highlights that these daily activities of "premeditated reconciliation" need to continue despite the re-election of G.W. Bush.

Rasmussen believes that those like myself raise the right ad bellum questions by focusing primarily on right intention to go to war and, more importantly, the criteria of last resort.

To his list, I would add questions about proper authority to declare a just war, which in the post-modern world, may often reside in international bodies rather than nation states.

From this point, I am departing from the content of Rasmussen's article to further define my own thoughts on the subject.

On the important issue of last resort, I have long held that since the age of Ghandi and Martin Luther King and other successful attempts at "premeditated reconciliation", we can never, ever, under any circumstances claim that a war is a just war until and unless active non-violence has been tried and failed.

Only if active non-violent resistance has been tried and failed can we possibly say that we are using the last resort.

In stating this, I am affirming the tradition that a just war can theoretically exists, but more rigorously restricting it by affirming that "premeditated reconciliation" or "active non-violent resistance" absolutely and always must be tried first.

My biggest problem with the war in Iraq is that we invaded them when not one single American had died at the hands of an Iraqi - neither from an unprovoked attack, nor as a result of Americans practicing "premeditated reconciliation".

We were not attacked, nor under grave imminent threat of attack, nor had we attempted premeditated reconciliation with a failed result. I honestly believe with all of my heart that it is impossible to say your own nation is fighting a just war until and unless the other nation has killed your own.

More pointedly, I would say you cannot declare a just war until and unless you have had individuals intentionally place their lives at risk in an effort to promote peace, and those specific people were killed.

In other words, even if the Iraqis directly attacked us, that alone would not be sufficient cause for war in our day and age.

I do not believe a just war can be declared until an unarmed American intentionally stood in front of an armed Iraqi and was killed after effectively saying: "I do not want to fight you, and I will not do you any harm, but I also will not get out of your way. You will have to kill me to move me"

I acknowledge that the Vatican has not made authoritative statements that would lead to the conclusion that "premeditated reconciliation" or "active non-violent resistance" must be tried and failed before a just war can be declared by the proper authority with a just intention.

However, doctrine develops.

Just war or just use advocates seem to be arguing in the case of the war in Iraq that the "strict and rigorous" criteria for a just war outlined by the Church in the Catechism does need development.

These strict and rigorous criteria require as a first principle that war is never waged except as a defense against aggression.

Catholics like Weigle and Novak have argued that in light of contemporary terrorism and humanitarian violations, the "strict and rigorous" conditions in the Catechism no longer apply, and the development of doctrine that needs to take place is an expansion of the reasons a nation may wage a just war.

I argue that this would not be a development of doctrine, but a regression in the development of doctrine.

Traditional just war doctrine has never developed in an expansive direction. Historically, this doctrine has always developed in a more restrictive direction, while the "premeditated reconciliation" position has doctrinally expanded to the point of formal acceptance at Vatican II and the Catechism and the writings of Pope John Paul II.

Thus, while the Church has not yet formally defined that a just war cannot be waged until "premeditated reconciliation" has been tried and failed, it seems that this is the direction that Church teaching has been headed for centuries.

In conjunction with the growing restrictiveness of just war doctrine concurrent with the expansion of "premeditated reconciliation", the Church has also been developing firmer teaching on the importance of international institutions to promote a just peace and human rights inherent to human person.

Thus, I would argue that any war that is not defense against an attack can only be authorized or declared by an international body like the United Nations.

In the United States prior to the civil war, the states once had their own militias with no federal armed forces. Each state acted more like an independent nation, sometimes even imposing tariffs on one another. The states were unified in a federation by the Constitution, but Americans thought of themselves primarily as residents of their state first, and of the federation second.

Only after the civil war did Americans begin to truly think of themselves first as Americans, and only secondarily as residents of a particular state. The North fought more for the sake of the union than the abolition of slavery. The South was fighting more for the traditional notion of state rights over and against the union, rather than the right to own slaves specifically.

The expansive notion of a federal union was better in the long run for Americans than it would have been to continue to seeing ourselves almost as independent nation states.

In a like manner, I believe we are being called in today's world to see ourselves as global citizens first, and American citizens only secondarily. Our allegiance to the United Nations should come before our allegiance to the United States, in a similar manner to the way our allegiance to the United States already comes before our allegiance to our state.

Of course, there are real problems with the United Nations and the way it operates. There have been problems historically with the United States federal government as well. Problems are not a reason to withdraw from the institution or its processes. Rather, problems should be addressed by internal reform.

If Americans find aspects of the United Nations troubling, we should not try to assert national supremacy over the institution. Rather, we should work to correct the problems in the United Nations, or work with the member nations of the U.N. to build a better system to replace the current structure.

In the meantime, if we have humanitarian reason to intervene in the affairs of another nation, "premeditated reconciliation" should be tried and failed prior to resorting to military options.

In the case of Iraq, before spending $87 B to blow up Iraq, we should have used that $87 B to create economic incentives for Iraq to disarm and liberalize. Before sending in armed troops, unarmed Peace Corps volunteers should have been sent into Iraq to stand with those oppressed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Humanitarian aid to the oppressed should have been supplied prior to military supplies.

The list could go on, but the point is that until these things had been tried by the United States and the United Nations, a war would not be just. If these things were tried and failed, then and only then would the U.N. and the U.N. alone be authorized to consider if prudential judgment would lead to the conclusion that just use of deadly force is an option for defending human rights.

Meanwhile, the United States cannot go to war on its own or apart from international institutions unless it or its allies were directly attacked and "premeditated reconciliation" was tried and failed.

There are those who criticize my view because it demands that American die before a war can ever be waged justly.

That's exactly right.

I believe that a follower of Jesus Christ should find it abhorrent to ever use deadly force until deadly force was not only threatened but used against you. Our prime example is our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, who laid down his own life for the sake of reconciliation.

To act in any other way is place your own private judgment above that of Jesus Christ. While this may make sense if you reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it makes absolutely no sense for a Christian to claim that right action is something other than what Christ actually did and taught.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Technical Question on Infallibility Directed at Fellow Believers in the Doctrine

This question has been formulating in my mind over the last year or so, and I don't really know the official position of the Vatican on the issue.

I decided to post the question because of recent comments to articles in my sidebar attacking the notion of infallibility.

This question is directed at those who believe in infallibility. I respectfully ask that those who reject the doctrine of infallibility please refrain from responding, because I want the conversation to be a focused "in-house" discussion among believing Catholics who accept the doctrine.

Let me clarify some assumptions before stating the question.

My first assumption is that there is a distinction between different types of teachings in the Church, and that not every position or opinion expressed by the Vatican is to be taken as an infallible definition.

There is a full range of levels of authority ranging from infallible definitions through authoritative teachings to mere theological opinion. Only those teachings defined through extraordinary magisterium, whether papal or universal, can be known with certainty to be infallible.

For example, the creeds were defined through extraordinary universal magisterium at Ecumenical Councils. Marian doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were defined by extraordinary papal magisterium.

My second assumption is that there can be truths that are infallible from a God's eye perspective, but have not yet been defined as such by the Church with extraordinary magisterium.

Our understanding of the deposit of faith is in development and what may be uncertain today may be known with greater certainty tomorrow. For example, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception took close to 1,900 years of debate to finally initially be defined infallibly. The doctrine may still undergo further development in the future. Trinitarian doctrines underwent centuries of ongoing development in Ecumenical councils.

My third assumption is that mixed with those truths that are on their way to being known with infallible certainty, there are also teachings that contain some degree of error in expression today.

The error may not be fully apparent in this point in time, and the teaching in question may be considered authoritative. This condition can create a conflict in conscience for those Catholics who begin to contemplate the possibility of error in an authoritative teaching, and simultaneously seek to remain loyal and obedient to the authority God gave the Church. For example, the Church held erroneous opinions on slavery at a non-infallible but authoritative level. Many liberals believe the Church's teaching on contraception contains error.

Now my question.

Are there some things that are true that simply cannot be possibly defined with infallible authority?

On the surface, even most conservative Catholics might answer "yes".

For example, the earth is currently believed to be round as opposed to flat. This is a matter of scientific investigation, and even most conservative Catholics will argue that only those matters that fall in the category of "faith and morals" can be defined as infallible doctrines.

However, my question goes a little deeper than this.

In the realm of morals, the Church teaches that some moral issues can be discerned through natural reason without the aid of divine revelation. This is called the doctrine of natural law. The doctrine of natural law is a belief that God has written certain moral imperatives on the human heart that can be discerned through natural reason.

Revelation may affirm the precepts of natural law and help one to discern the truth of a particular moral precept in a similar fashion to looking at the answer in the back of a text-book to a math problem. Nevertheless, one could derive the right answer to the problem without looking in the back of the book.

The Church also teaches a rather obscure doctrine that there are primary and secondary objects of infallibility.

I'm not entirely certain I understand this doctrine fully. As I currently understand it, I think a primary object of infallibility refers to a divinely revealed truth, such as belief in the resurrection of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, or the belief in real presence in the Eucharist.

A secondary object of infallibility seems to refer to a truth that is derived as true as a natural and logical consequence of believing a primary object of infallibility. For example, based on what we believe as primary objects of faith regarding each of the sacraments, we number the sacraments at seven.

Here's a rephrasing of the critical question already asked in bold above:

Can a truth known through natural law possibly be considered an object of infallibility?

The issue is that if the natural law can be discerned through natural reason without reference to revelation, than anything that falls under natural law is like knowledge that the earth is not flat, or that the earth revolves around sun.

Any moral precept known through natural law is a matter of rational investigation. It is not directly revealed like a primary object of faith, nor is it a truth that can solely be derived from a primary object of faith, in the manner of a secondary object of faith.

If this is true, then it is literally impossible that the Church's teaching on artificial contraception or homosexuality could be infallibly defined. If this is true, it wasn't defined infallibly in the past, and it simply cannot be defined as such in the future.

In saying it is literally impossible, I do not mean that the teaching is in error. Two plus two equals four whether the Church affirms it infallibly or not. The earth is not flat even though the Church does not define this infallibly.

What is important here is that even if these teachings are true, if I am understanding the issue correctly, it is not merely the case that the Church has not yet defined its teaching on contraception infallibly. Rather, she never can define it infallibly, because the truth of the teaching is not a revealed truth!

Perhaps the notion of natural law itself could be defined an infallible doctrine.

Yet, if such a doctrine were defined infallibly, the specific precepts of the natural law could never be defined infallibly because they are not revealed truths nor derived from a revealed truth.

The specific precepts are not even derived from the specific doctrine of natural law. Rather, the natural law doctrine affirms that the truth of the precept itself can be known apart from any reference to any form of revelation.

If a moral precept requires faith in revealed truth to understand and believe, as secondary objects of infallibility require, then the moral precept is no longer something that can be known through natural law. Natural law precepts, by definition, do not require the assent of faith in revealed truths.

As soon as one admits that such a thing as a natural law exists, whatever precepts are derived from it remain outside of the authority of the Church to define infallibly - ever.

I know I am using the language of certainty to formulate this question, and I am not really certain of my position. I am open to the possibility that I am misunderstanding what is meant by objects of infallibility. Maybe I'm missing some critical point. I don't know. That's why I am posting the question. Does anyone know the answer, and if so, can you provide a resource to back up your position?


Monday, December 13, 2004

I Can Use the Help of Conservative Catholics

As I state below, I am a bit busy this week, and won't be blogging as much as usual.

There has been a rash of comments posted to the articles in my sidebar dealing with Church teaching on slavery and issues of papal authority.

I was caught completely off guard by these arguments. In time, I came to realize that at least a few of the commenters are non-Catholics.

At first, I thought the arguments were coming from "conservative Catholics", because they were arguing against my more liberal positions and trying to pin me down into admitting that what I thought were current non-infallible teachings might have been defined infallibly already.

It turns out that these commenters are really people who reject infallibility in entirety.

This is where conservative Catholics may want to help me out while I am busy. I do believe in the doctrine of infallibility, and these folks do not.

I'll warn you. These commenters have a longer list of grievances against official Church teachings than I ever posted - and everything they argue seems accurate and well documented.

Some are worthy opponents in debate.

They are right about much, except that the teachings they try to use to embarrass the Church on infallibility, while authoritatively taught or common practice, were never infallibly defined, or were not even "doctrines" at all, but simply wide-spread errors in practice.

We're talking about issues like the use of torture in the inquisitions, etc...

Yes. It happened. Some bishops even taught erroneous theological theories to justify it.

That it happened is a sin and ought to be a crime. Structural reform was needed to stop it, and more structural reform may be needed to prevent it in the future.

However, the vehicles that the Church claims can define a doctrine infallibly were never used to define torture as a good nor the doctrinal underpinnings of the inquisitions.

The commenters are troubled by the fact that if I am correct about which teachings are infallible and which are not, then there is nothing they can use to embarrass the Church on the specific issue of infallibility.

On the other hand, they are delighted with my own willingness to admit that the Church has erred in the past and may be in error in the present.

At least one of them seems troubled by this stance, because she doesn't understand the difference between error and a lie.

The way I see it, there are both liberals and conservatives that can answer the questions, and conservatives might find it fun. I'll check back in a couple of days and see how it's going. Have fun!