Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Tradition" Is Not a Dirty Word

Evangelical Protestantism holds, by and large, the view that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are somehow unalterably opposed to each other and, for all practical purposes, mutually exclusive. This is yet another example of a false dichotomy which Protestantism often (unfortunately) tends to create (e.g., Faith vs. Works, Matter vs. Spirit). The Bible, however, presupposes Tradition as an entity prior to and larger than itself, from which it is derived, not as some sort of "dirty word."

It is one thing to wrongly assert that Catholic Tradition (the beliefs and dogmas which the Church claims to have preserved intact passed down from Christ and the Apostles) is corrupt, excessive and unbiblical. It is quite another to think that the very concept of tradition is contrary to the outlook of the Bible and pure, essential Christianity. This is, broadly speaking, a popular and widespread variant of the distinctive Protestant viewpoint of "Sola Scriptura," or "Scripture Alone," which was one of the rallying cries of the Protestant Revolt in the 16th century. It remains the supreme principle of authority, or "rule of faith" for evangelical Protestants today. "Sola Scriptura" by its very nature tends to pit Tradition against the Bible, and it is this unbiblical notion which we will presently examine.

First of all, one might also loosely define Tradition as the authoritative and authentic Christian History of theological doctrines and devotional practices. Christianity, like Judaism before it, is fundamentally grounded in history, in the earth-shattering historical events in the life of Jesus Christ (the Incarnation, Miracles, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, etc.). Eyewitnesses (Lk 1:1-2, Acts 1:1-3, 2 Pet 1:16-18) communicated these true stories to the first Christians, who in turn passed them on to other Christians (under the guidance of the Church's authority) down through the ages. Therefore, Christian tradition, defined as authentic Church history, is unavoidable.

Many Protestants read the accounts of Jesus' conflicts with the Pharisees and get the idea that He was utterly opposed to all tradition whatsoever. This is not true. A close reading of passages such as Matthew 15:3-9 and Mark 7: 8-13 will reveal that He only condemned corrupt traditions of men, not tradition per se. He uses qualifying phrases like "your tradition," "commandments of men," "tradition of men," as opposed to "the commandment of God." St. Paul draws precisely the same contrast in Colossians 2:8: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***

The New Testament explicitly teaches that traditions can be either good (from God) or bad (from men, when against God's true traditions). Corrupt Pharisaic teachings were a bad tradition (many of their legitimate teachings were recognized by Jesus - see, e.g., Matt 23:3). The spoken gospel and the apostolic writings which eventually were formulated as Holy Scripture (authoritatively recognized by the Church in 397 A.D. at the Council of Carthage) were altogether good: the authentic Christian Tradition as revealed by the incarnate God to the Apostles.

The Greek word for "tradition" in the New Testament is "paradosis." It occurs four times in the Bible: in Colossians 2:8, and in the following three passages:

1) 1 Corinthians 11:2: ". . . keep the ordinances, as I delivered {them} to you." (RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, NKJV, NASB all translate KJV "ordinances" as "tradition{s}").

2) 2 Thessalonians 2:15: ". . . hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."

3) 2 Thessalonians 3:6: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us."
Note that St. Paul draws no qualitative distinction between written and oral tradition. There exists no dichotomy in the Apostle's mind which regards oral Christian tradition as bad and undesirable. Rather, this false belief is, ironically, itself an unbiblical "tradition of men."

When the first Christians went out and preached the Good News of Jesus Christ after Pentecost, this was an oral tradition proclaimed orally. Some of it got recorded in the Bible (e.g., in Acts 2) but most did not, and could not (see John 20:30, 21:25). It was primarily this oral Christian tradition which turned the world upside down, not the text of the New Testament (many if not most people couldn't read then anyway). Accordingly, when the phrases "word of God" or "word of the Lord" occur in Acts and the epistles, they almost always refer to oral preaching, not to the written word of the Bible, as Protestants casually assume. A perusal of the context in each case will make this abundantly clear.

Furthermore, the related Greek words "paradidomi" and "paralambano" are usually rendered "delivered" and "received" respectively. St. Paul in particular repeatedly refers to this handing over of the Christian tradition:
1) 1 Corinthians 15:1-3: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; (2) By which
also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (3) For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures."

2) 1 Thessalonians 2:13: ". . . when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received {it} not {as} the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."

3) Jude 3: ". . . ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."

(Cf.Lk 1:1-2, Rom 6:17, 1 Cor 11:23, Gal 1:9,12, 2 Pet 2:21)
Far from distinguishing tradition from the gospel, as evangelicals often contend, the Bible equates tradition with the gospel and other terms such as "word of God," "doctrine," "holy commandment," "faith," and "things believed among us." All are "delivered" and "received":
1) Traditions "delivered" (1 Cor 11:2), "taught by word or epistle" (2 Thes 2:15), and "received" (2 Thes 3:6).

2) The Gospel "preached" and "received" (1 Cor 15:1-2, Gal 1:9,12, 1 Thes 2:9).

3) Word of God "heard" and "received" (Acts 8:14, 1 Thes 2:13).

4) Doctrine "delivered" (Rom 6:17; cf. Acts 2:42).

5) Holy Commandment "delivered" (2 Pet 2:21; cf. Mt 15:3-9, Mk 7:8-13).

6) The Faith "delivered" (Jude 3).

7) "Things believed among us" "delivered" (Lk 1:1-2).
Clearly, all these concepts are synonymous in Scripture, and all are predominantly oral. In St. Paul's writing alone we find four of these expressions used interchangeably. And in just the two Thessalonian epistles, "gospel," "word of God," and "tradition" are regarded as referring to the same thing. Thus, we must unavoidably conclude that "tradition" is not a dirty word in the Bible. Or, if one insists on maintaining that it is, then "gospel" and "word of God" are also bad words! Scripture allows no other conclusion - the exegetical evidence is simply too plain.

To conclude our biblical survey, we again cite St. Paul and his stress on the central importance of oral tradition:
1) 2 Timothy 1:13-14: "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. (14) That good thing which was
committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us."

2) 2 Timothy 2:2: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
St. Paul is here urging Timothy not only to "hold fast" his oral teaching "heard of me," but to also pass it on to others. Thus we find a clear picture of some sort of authentic historical continuity of Christian doctrine. This is precisely what the Catholic Church calls Tradition (capital "T"), or, when emphasizing the teaching authority of bishops in the Church, "apostolic succession." The phrase "Deposit of Faith" is also used when describing the original gospel teaching as handed over or delivered to the apostles (see, e.g., Acts 2:42, Jude 3).

The Catholic Church considers itself merely the Custodian or Guardian of this Revelation from God. These doctrines can and do develop and become more clearly understood over time with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 16:13-15). The development of doctrine is a complex topic, but suffice it to say that although doctrines develop, they cannot change their essential nature in the least. And doctrines with which Protestants agree developed too. For example, the Trinity was only established in its definitive and lasting form in the 4th century, after much deliberation. It was always believed in some sense, but came to be understood in much greater depth and exactitude by the Church, as a result of the challenges of heretics such as the Arians (similar to Jehovah's Witnesses) who disbelieved in it partially or totally.

Protestants who are perplexed or infuriated by the seeming "corruption," "excessive growth," or "extra-biblical nature" of some distinctive aspects of Catholic Tradition, must read an extraordinary book by John Henry Newman, a brilliant Anglican clergyman who converted to Catholicism after writing it in 1845. It is called An Essay on the Development of Christian
Doctrine (a misnomer since it runs about 450 pages!) - well worth the time for anyone seeking to fairly examine the Church's philosophy of organic development and its denial of the Protestant tradition of "Sola Scriptura."

The New Testament itself is a written encapsulation of primitive, apostolic Christianity - the authoritative and insired written revelation of God's New Covenant. It is a development, so to speak, of both the Old Testament and early oral Christian preaching and teaching (i.e., Tradition). The process of canonization of the New Testament took over 300 years and involved taking into account human opinions and traditions as to which books were believed to be Scripture. The biblical books were not all immediately obvious to all Christians. Many notable Church Fathers accepted books as part of Scripture which are not now so recognized (e.g., The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement). Many others didn't
accept certain canonical books until very late (e.g., Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, and Revelation).

Thus, the Bible cannot be separated and isolated from tradition and a developmental process. Christianity does not take the view of Islam, whose written Revelation, the Q'uran, simply came down from heaven from Allah to Mohammad, without involving human participation in the least. Some extreme, fundamentalist forms of "Sola Scriptura" have a very similar outlook, but these fail the test of Scripture itself, like all the other manifestations of the "Bible Alone" mentality. As we have seen, Scripture does not nullify or anathematize Christian Tradition, which is larger and more all-encompassing than itself - quite the contrary.

In Catholicism, Scripture and Tradition are intrinsically interwoven. They have been described as "twin fonts of the one divine well-spring" (i.e., Revelation), and cannot be separated, any more than can two wings of a bird. A theology which attempts to sunder this organic bond is ultimately logically self-defeating, unbiblical, and divorced from the actual course of early Christian history.

Jesus' "Three Days and Three Nights" in the Tomb: Is it a Biblical Contradiction?

Many people think that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Wednesday (or sometimes Thursday), in accord with the "three days and nights" of Jonah's stay in the fish's belly, or that it was not possible for Jesus to be crucified on a Friday. Orthodox Christianity has always held that Jesus was crucified and died on a Friday afternoon (hence, Good Friday), and rose from the dead in the very early morning on the following Sunday (hence the Christian day of worship and Easter Sunday). The reason for this is as follows:

"Three days and three nights" is simply Hebrew idiom. The phrase "one day and one night" meant a day, even when only a part of a day was indicated. We see this, e.g., in 1 Sam 30:12-13 (cf. Gen 42:17-18).

We know that Jesus was crucified on a Friday because Scripture tells us that the Sabbath (Saturday) as approaching (e.g., Mt 27:62, Mk 15:42, Lk 23:54, Jn 19:31 - the "day of preparation" is Friday, the day before the Sabbath: Saturday, and the Sabbath was considered to begin on sundown on Friday, as with Jews to this day).

We also know from the biblical data that the discovery of His Resurrection was on a Sunday (e.g., Mk 16:1-2-,9, Mt 28:1, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1). And we know that "three days and three nights" (Mt 12:40) is synonymous in the Hebrew mind and the Bible with "after three days" ((Mk 8:31) and "on the third day" (Mt 16:21, 1 Cor 15:4). Most references to the Resurrection say that it happened on the third day. In John 2:19-22, Jesus said that He would be raised up in three days (not on the fourth day).

It would be like saying, "This is the third day I've been working on painting this room." I could have started painting late Friday and made this remark on early Sunday. If I complete the task on Sunday, then the chronology would be just as Jesus' Resurrection was. The only difference is the Hebrew idiom "three days and three nights" which was not intended in the hyper-literal sense as we might mistakenly interpret it today.

In fact, to say that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon (apart from the biblical difficulties of this assertion) will not solve this problem for those who wish to interpret hyper-literally without taking into account idiomatic and non-literal, non-"scientific" expression. The only way to get three literal 24-hour days would be for Jesus to rise at the same time He was crucified, and then (technically) He would be rising at the beginning of a fourth 24-hour day, whereas the Bible says this happened on the "third" day.

But He died at about 3 PM (Mt 27:46, Lk 23:44-46: "the ninth hour" is 3 PM, because it was figured by the Jews from 6 AM). So a literal "three 24-hour day" interpretation of a Wednesday crucifixion would have Jesus rising at Saturday at 3 PM, and a Thursday crucifixion would have a Sunday, 3 PM Resurrection (or the discovery of same, at any rate). The Bible, however, has the disciples discovering that the Lord had risen early on Sunday morning (Lk 23:56: they rested on the Sabbath; Lk 24:1: at "early dawn, they went to the tomb"); so early, in Mary Magdalene's case, that it was still dark (Jn 20:1).

The understanding of idiom explains all this. For both the ancient Jews (6 PM to 6 PM days) and Romans (who reckoned days from midnight to midnight), the way to refer to three separate 24-hour days (in whole or in part) was to say "days and nights." We speak similarly in English idiom - just without adding the "nights" part. For example, we will say that we are off for a long weekend vacation, of "three days of fun" (Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday). But it is understood that this is not three full 24-hour days. Chances are we will depart part way through the first day and return before the third day ends. So for a Saturday through Monday vacation, if we leave at 8 AM on Saturday and return at 10 PM on Monday night, literally that is less than three full days (it would be two 24-hour days and 14 more hours: ten short of three full days).

Yet we speak of a "three-day vacation" and that we returned "after three days" or "on the third day." A literal "three 24-hour day trip" would end at 8 AM on Tuesday. Such descriptions are understood, then, as non-literal. The ancient Jews and Romans simply added the clause "and nights" to such utterances, but understood them in the same way, as referring to any part of a whole 24-hour day.

Thus the "problem" or so-called "biblical contradiction" vanishes.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fr. Paul Ward: Catholics May NOT Vote For Pro-Abortion Politicians

Fr. Paul Ward is my parish priest. Yesterday he delivered this powerful "hit right between the eyes" homily. I've also included below a similar editorial from his home page, an earlier pro-life homily, along with some angry letters and his responses.

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Upcoming Elections and Moral Obligations of Catholic Civil Responsibility

I just wish to remind all present that to give political power to any person to commit abortion is matter of mortal sin. It is not an option for a Catholic. Take your consciences to the election poll, for you will be judged by God after your death for what you do in private: for punishment or for merit. But nothing, absolutely nothing, ever can or ever has or ever will justify the murder of a baby in his mother's womb. This isn't one issue, it is all the issues, for if a child is aborted, every other private or civil good is forfeit.

I gave a twenty minute homily on this once at another parish, and of course the pro-abortion, or shall I say pro-murder, Catholics were outraged. Well, let them be outraged: abortion is an abomination and a grave sin against God, it destroys child and mother and father. They should be outraged at abortion itself.

Preborn child at 8 weeks gestation. Many abortions are performed from 8-12 weeks (third month / end of first trimester). The human heart starts beating at about 18 days after conception. Brain waves are present from six weeks. You can see the hands fully formed and the eyes far along in development. This is a person. To kill him or her is murder. To vote for those who do so is to be an accomplice or enabler of murder.

One fellow was furious with me, and he said, "Well, Father, you haven't given us many options at the poll." So I clarified: "No, perhaps your preferred political party hasn't given you many options at the poll; and for this, it is completely illogical for you to blame the Church. Blame your party. Stop blaming the Church for your own problems. Talk with your party, and get into the political debate responsibly, and put some pro-life options on the board." But the Catholic Church will never say that abortion is good, or even tolerable, until Moses returns and takes away the fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."

Perhaps these weeks preceding our elections will inspire some of our parishioners to form a pro-life team of apostolate, which St. Joseph parish to this day does not have. Jesus Christ has given us only one Gospel which will save us, and this is a Gospel of Life. Let abortion cease; let Catholics stop supporting it; let the perpetrators turn to the mercy of God and repent; and let us all do what is just and prudent to bring abortion to an end. Amen.

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True Repentance and Abortion: Considerations on Abortion Before the November 2006 Elections

Maybe the problem is that there is not true repentance . . . let me start with a story, a true story that happened with me.

"But Father, you haven't given us many options!" So the protestation of a parishioner at one of my previous parish assignments after I had given a homily on pro-life. I had informed the entire congregation, with long proofs, that it is matter of mortal sin to vote pro-abortion.

[See homily here, see some discussion it generated here. See my response to this gentleman here, down below towards the end of the page.]

If there's a political party out there which happens to almost always, to a man, side with death instead of life, side with sexual perversion instead of the family, side with communism instead of the free society, let no one say that I am the one who gave them few options.

Really what has happened, is that man, and many like him, may have a preference for a certain party, but instead of getting into the fray and keeping their party out of the evil waters of death, perversion, relativism and communism, they simply blame everyone else that their preferred party has these problems.

Recently a Catholic priest addressed some other priests among whom I was included. He said that we have to silence the pro-life message, that it hurts the many women who have committed abortions, that fields of white crosses only showed that the given parish was "not friendly," and so on. A woman, a good woman, addressed us also, who had had an abortion and deeply repented from it, and sided with father on how bad priests were for making post-abortive mothers feel bad.

Of course, "feeling good" in my Archdiocese is the supreme law of morality, liturgy, sexual ethics and canonical observance. But that's a topic for another day.

There are many women out there who have been wounded by abortion, much like there are many children who have been killed by abortion. It went worse for the child than for the mother. Yet some of these women want to pull their lives together again. And among these, there are two types.

One type has come to grips with the evil she has done, she doesn't stop to blame boyfriend or mom or dad or doctor or anyone else, she knows it can never be undone, and empties herself of her self-love with profound sentiments of repentance. This woman is not on the road to healing: she is healed, spiritually by the sacrament of reconciliation, and emotionally and socially by her deep embracing of the truth.

Another type is still angry at everyone in the world for making her feel guilty. For her to feel bad about her abortion is a bad thing; and if someone makes her have sad feelings, that's a bad person in her book. She blames everyone else for what she herself did. She cannot admit to herself or to God the great and irreversible sin they have committed. She can't even bear to say she has sinned, perhaps. Maybe she'll mention it in a confession, but with many excuses. When she is reminded of her sin, by a field of white crosses, a well delivered homily, a commercial, a piece of mail, she fails to admit her sin, return to her repentance, and confide in God's mercy, and she does not confess her moral misery and abandon herself to her Father's mercy; rather, she gets angry that she is confronted once again with the truth of her actions, and says it's Fr. Pavone's fault, Right to Life's fault, and so on. It's all about, "I'm not a bad person . . ."

This is a spiritual phenomenon which may occur not only to those who have fallen into abortion, but into many other sins, even shameful ones, especially the sexual ones. There was an initial repentance, but it's imperfect. One sees it is imperfect, because of the anger, the rejection, the sadness the soul experiences when brought to the memory of the sin he had committed. Perfect repentance is different, for it embraces the truth of man's moral misery, of one's own moral misery, not with the disappointment of "I can’t believe I committed that sin . . ." which is in fact only pride and spiritual vanity. Perfect repentance requires coming to grips with our incredible sinfulness, so as to apply to ourselves the blood of our Loving Savior. Perfect repentance means admitting with profound conviction, "I am a bad person, for I have sinned. And it is for sinful persons like me for whom Jesus shed his blood. The more I am a sinner, the more his blood was for me. Praised be the name of God, who has loved a sinner like me!"

And so it is that the more we realize how sinful we are, and the infinite malice of our sins, so much more will we realize how great God's love is, and how meaningful the sacrifice of the Son of God is. To reach this point in the spiritual life, it is necessary to live a penitential life, and to beg God for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially fear of the lord and understanding.

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The evil of abortion in private life and in public policy

The Holy Catholic Church teaches on matters of faith and morals guided by the Holy Spirit, who preserves her from error when she preaches on these matters to the whole world, obliging her teaching to be kept. Among the teachings of the Church are those that deal with society, family and civic responsibility. And among these teachings are those that pertain to the governing of civil society. As elections are coming up, it is important for us to review the principles the Church teaches and renew our assent in faith, especially when we’re in the privacy of the voting box, where only God sees our deeds.

I didn't want to discuss this issue now, but I wanted to wait until later. But a recent article in the Detroit Free Press, with the scandal, uproar and outrage it causes, has forced me to deal with this issue now. Many of you have insisted that these issues be dealt with now, and in prayerful discernment I think you are right.

There are some, however, that insist that in the homily, the only thing that one should discuss is the ten or twenty verses from the Bible we read that day; well Canon Law, the law governing the Church, defines the homily and its content. The homily is there so that the clergy, fulfilling their priestly office in the Church, explain the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life based on Scripture. Discussing Catholic social teaching fulfills all those requisites.

The article I mentioned in the Free Press read, "Catholics allowed pro-choice vote They can back abortion-rights candidates, if they agree on other issues." The article went on to tell us all that Cardinal Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI], of all people, was the one who gave us permission to do that. Never once did the article textually cite the Cardinal, nor did she say how he said this, nor to whom, nor when. So I called the reporter to find out what she was referring to, and she very cordially answered my questions by e-mail. It was as I suspected: the reporter stated the total opposite of what the Church teaches, by misinterpreting Card. Ratzinger's letter.

Today therefore, we need to answer two questions: why is abortion evil, and why is it matter of sin to vote for it in the voter's box. I will answer these two questions appealing to reason and to faith.

Before I proceed, I must make note that there may be some of you who have been wounded by abortions, women and men. A certain Mary DelPup, who works for the Archdiocese, has in her time collaborated in "Project Rachel," a mission to support those who suffer for the sin of abortion. She wrote me saying, "Most women that I have worked with in Project Rachel see [abortion] as the unforgivable sin. They have beaten themselves up for years, used drugs to numb the pain, may have gone through one or two divorces because they see themselves as despicable human beings." To one and to all I proclaim the infinite mercy of God. There's no sin he can't forgive; all he needs is your repentance. His love is powerful, and can rebuild on foundations the whole of humanity may have given up from. Be not afraid of the love of God!

But now, to the first question, why abortion is evil, let me begin with what abortion is. "Procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth."[1] It is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Nothing can ever justify that. No matter what. The Church understands human life to extend from conception until death. [2] "From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth." [3] It's a person, body and soul, created by the hands of the loving God himself, with the loving cooperation of husband and wife. Three documents of the Church stand out for the clarity with which they outline the truth that life starts at conception making procured abortion a sin against the fifth commandment, the 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion, the 1987 letter on bioethics entitled Donum Vitae, and the great encyclical of 1995, The Gospel of Life. These can be found very inexpensively at Catholic book stores, at Amazon.com, and on for free on the Vatican's web site.

So why is it sinful to vote for a pro-abortion candidate? Again, starting with the definition of terms, let's get something clear. There’s no such thing as pro-choice. A person may have a choice of whom they are to marry, of what they will do with their time, of what's the best way to raise one's own kids. This is a legitimate exercise of freedom, where we discern among goods and pick one as reason tells us is best. To use freedom to choose evil is not to use one's freedom, but to abuse one's freedom. One never has the freedom to do evil. The more you do good, the more deeply you experience your freedom. Freedom is not defined by choice, but by love. So no one has the choice to kill an innocent baby, because it's always evil. And for those who think that women have all sorts of choices and arbitrarily decide that they will go get an abortion, I say you are misinformed. How many abortions happen because of the pressure of boyfriends or husbands, or their lack of concern; or because of wicked advice from doctors, pressure at work, situations of poverty, the chains of raw fear? These abortions didn't happen with a whole lot of freedom, and we need to have some realism when considering this.

Some say that the issues of life cover more than just the question of abortion. Life covers euthanasia, and many "quality of life" issues, such as poverty, health, taxation, ecology, environment, housing, racism, and so forth. A popular metaphor has included all these things as a continuous whole, a sort of "seamless garment," and consider "abortion voters" to be "one issue voters," which the Church has always and wisely discouraged.

It is true that all these can be moral questions, and that the Church does not want us to be "one issue voters." But that's not the problem. See, abortion is all the issues. Aborted children cannot experience any other good in life, such as gainful employment, health, money, homes, environment, culture, or anything else. Without life, there is no other good. Abortion is not the narrow view, it's the widest possible bird's eye view. It's the dominant issue, as Deal Hudson calls it. [4] Indeed, issues even as grave as war are second to abortion. War can sometimes be just. Further, it might even be a duty that you take up arms to defend your family, your property, your neighbor and your nation, lest evil repel the common good. But abortion is never just, never a duty, and never good.

To vote for abortion is to collaborate in one of the gravest of all evils known to man. Such a voter becomes an accomplice in every abortion civil society commits, by endorsing it and giving civil power to those who support it. And it is never good to do evil.

Cardinal Razinger said that in some situations, where there are "proportionate reasons," one could tolerate voting for a pro-abortion candidate. Therefore there must be an equal proportion of evil, or of ignorance. For example, if you vote for a candidate and, after trying to educate yourself on the matter, do not really know that he is pro-abortion, no sin is incurred even though an objective evil, with all of its consequences, has taken place. You can't sin on mistake. Or if there are two candidates that are equally pro-abortion, you don't have to abdicate your right to vote, though you should do so attending to the need to procure the lesser evil. Other such extreme cases can be imagined, and may happen in other parts of the world - remember America and our political reality is by far not the only situation the Church intends to address when preaching the message of the Gospel.

The Pope's Encyclical also informs politicians - which in America includes us, since we all enjoy the power to vote and so govern our own land - that it is even possible to vote for a law that, even though it is pro-abortion, limits the exercise of abortion when no real pro-life option is possible.

But the principle is this: Jesus Christ preached a Gospel of life, and we need to proclaim that Gospel to the world, in words and in deeds, because it's good and it's true for all peoples of all places. So, no, we are not allowed to vote pro-abortion. The Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Fr. McClorey, responded officially on behalf of the whole diocese, correcting the Free Press' representation of Catholic teaching.

Our Pastor, Fr. Patrick Halfpenny, has written a letter concerning some of these things in this week’s bulletin, so please take a few moments to read it with reflection.

I know I may have opened a whole can of worms here, and if you have any questions I'm always eager to speak with you one on one. I will not talk to you about politics, but I will speak to you about the Church's social teachings and moral teachings as it relates to civil society, and I will do so fearlessly. Be strong, and trust in the Lord!

[1] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 58 (cited hereafter as EV)

[2] Ibid., EV, 61, citing Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), I, No. 1: AAS 80 (1988), 79.)

[3] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), Nos. 12-13: AAS 66 (1974), 738.

[4] See Deal Hudson's Sed Contra in Crisis Magazine, June 2004, p.9. Cf. www.CrisisMagazine.com.

[from homily delivered on September 11-12, 2004]

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Father Ward - today's Free Press reports that you, like many other Catholic clerics, have instructed your parishioners that voting for a politician who supports legal abortions (which is, after all, the law in our country) is "evil". Thanks for once again confirming for many of us exactly what the Catholic Church stands for. I am not Catholic, but my wife is. She also supports pro-choice politicians. That her Church would seek to impose its own views on her, in direct contradiction to every principle of democratic government in this nation, is simply outrageous. Padre, this is not the 14th century. Catholics, nor anyone else, do not need preachers instructing them how to vote. Once again, we see the the Catholic Church leadership is totally isolated, irrelevant, morally corrupt and oppressive. Most of your parishioners are probably too polite to tell you to go to hell, even if they do believe it, but please allow me to do it for them.

* * *

As a Catholic I Do not Support Abortion However, I Do Support The Seperation Of Church And State. If I Wanted To Be Instructed Regarding My Voter Choices I Would Ask Jerry Fallwell.Please Stay Out Of The Voting Process.

* * *

Dear Father Ward:

I was personally offended by your official directions, as our associate pastor, on which candidates we should support in the upcoming election.

Among other things (and I read your entire homily online), you stated:

"To vote for abortion is to collaborate in one of the gravest of all evils known to man. Such a voter becomes an accomplice in every abortion civil society commits, by endorsing it and giving civil power to those who support it."

In reality, Father Ward, American voters have neither the capacity nor the luxury of simply voting "for" or "against" abortion. Citizens may only vote for candidates who, as human beings and political leaders, necessarily have viewpoints on a myriad of "grave" issues, not the least of which includes the morality of the pre-emptive war in Iraq, which continues to take the lives of innocents.

Based upon your homily, I suppose you would have us support a candidate who opposes abortion, and yet supports and funds an unjust foreign war (according to Catholic doctrine and as espoused by numerous authoritative Catholic writers), favors the legalization of capital punishment in all states (undisputably against the Catholic stance on "life"), opposes reasonable gun control laws, supports the deprivation of basic civil rights to hundreds of uncharged Arab-Americans, adopts policies which irreparably damage our environment, and opposes laws which would afford basic health care insurance for the needy. And with that, Father Ward, I honestly cannot agree.

For the record, I do agree with the Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life. However, fervent advocates on both sides of the abortion issue have done much to heighten the rhetoric and hostility and little to reduce the incidence of abortions (and the social ills which foster
them), which, in my view, is where common efforts should lie.

Your suggestion (along with those of other priests recently) that we, as mere lay members of the Church, somehow lack the intelligence or resourcefulness to understand the complexities of the many serious issues that face us as voters is repugnant to me. Let me assure you that I have done my homework, as a Catholic and American voter, and as a citizen of the world, on ALL the issues and will make up my own mind on which candidates are best.

Condemning those of us who make their decisions in good conscience as "sinful," "collaborators of evil," and "accomplices in all abortions" is not only a gross overstatement, but is thoroughly inconsistent with teachings of our merciful Lord.

Respectfully, N.

* * *

I can't help but post my response to this one:

N., in Christ,

Thanks for taking the time to write. A couple reflections from your note.

1. First of all, I appreciate you actually reading the homily online. I think more than a hundred have written to me, the VAST majority have been supportive. (I put a few of the responses, friend and foe, on my web site, to continue the exchange for those who are interested) A few have written to me based on the freep article, or what a friend told them. I appreciate the effort you put into it, I sincerely mean that.

2. There's no need to get personally offended. All I did was present the Magisterium's teaching to all. I never insulted you, nor did I accuse you or anybody, that they "somehow lack the intelligence or resourcefulness to understand the complexities of the many serious issues." I appeal precisely to that intelligence knowing that, the more one thinks about the abortion issue seriously, the truth will eventually triumph.

3. First a moral principle. Among people in first world western nations, I have observed, there's a rampant problem of "proportionalism." This is a moral philosophy that tries to measure the "amount" of evil deed A has vs. deed B and whichever seems to be worst, based on some subjective and arbitrary criterion, is considered evil, and whichever seems to weigh less is called good.

This is an error very clearly condemned by the Church, who teaches on faith and morals infallibly because of the gift of the Holy Spirit. But I'm sure your studies in Catholic Theology have covered both proportionalism and ecclesial infallibility, so you understand these arguments well.

4. Now, some questions.

How can you honestly compare the execution of criminals to 1.5 million executions of innocent babies every year? Even a proportionalist would lean radically in favor of putting the abortion issue not only first, but way first. Besides, capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, whereas abortion is. The Church teaches the nuances involved here in CCC 2267. But I'm sure that, as a well educated Catholic, you have read this and are familiar with its context and know the history of the debate in Catholic Theology since the times of St. Augustine. For your ease, you can find it here. Incidentally, you can find some points about abortion a few paragraphs up; it's the section dealing with the commandment, "thou shalt not kill."

Next question. How can you compare the owning of a gun to an abortion? I think a more serious reflection about the use of force in civil society, and other related questions, is due. But as you are a well educated and intelligent person, I'm sure that with reflection you'll see what I mean.

Next question. How can you compare imprisonment, environment, and health to abortion? When one kills a baby in his or her mother's womb, that baby will never enjoy freedom, nor the environment God created so beautifully, nor health, nor love, nor possessions, nor friends, nor homes, nor language, nor anything. Furthermore, not all these things are intrinsically evil.
I'm sure you're familiar with the term "intrinsically evil" from moral theology, as a technical expression. But as refresher: For a moral act to be good, it needs to be good in all three of the following:

* THE OBJECT (the thing done, what the will chooses to actually do)

* THE END (the finality, goal, reason why or ulterior motive)

* THE CIRCUMSTANCES (place, time, etc.)

Intrinsically evil acts are those whose object is evil. That is, in all times and in all places it's wrong, and nothing can justify it. Some things are good, for example, the chaste and loving embrace of spouses who engage in the marital act posing no unnatural obstacle to life. Change the circumstances, and that which is good becomes evil; if it is done in public, filmed and sold for pornography, etc. Abortion isn't like that: it's always evil. There's never hope for any good to come of it.

My last question. Supposing that war is an intrinsic evil - which it is not -, and supposing the war in Iraq is unjust, just for the sake of argument: do you seriously think we kill 1.5 million Iraquis every year? If we killed as many Iraquis as we have aborted babies in America, Iraq would have had a population of zero long, long ago. I know you are too intelligent, however, to imagine a bunch of soldiers just walking down the street killing millions of people; you know that's not the case. And if you have a Dan Rather version of the war in Iraq, I encourage you to look at it again a bit deeper, starting about the sixth century. But I'm sure you have done that, as you are a well educated and intelligent person.

Further demonstrations of why it is immoral to vote pro-abortion are found in Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of Life") and Veritatis Splendor ("The Splendor of the Truth"). But since you are a well educated Catholic, I'm sure you have read these encyclicals already.

5. A few no's are in order.

I wish to inform you that, in fact, you do not agree with the Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life. Otherwise you would agree with these things. It is this teaching which obliges those who have the political power of a vote to use it in favor of life. I invite you as Jesus said in the beginning of his public ministry: "Do penance, and believe the Good News!"

No, it's not rhetoric. Tell me it's rhetoric when someone's trying to kill you. These are acts, an average of about 4000 acts a day in fact, not words. And much has been done to save countless lives, if you don't know what that is, don't say that it's not happening; admit simply that you don't know it's happening.

No, you don't vote in good conscience. You openly reject the demands Jesus Christ has made in the Gospel, a Gospel of Life, a Gospel which the Church has passed on to me and which I have passed on to my brothers and sisters in the faith. A good conscience follows the precepts of revelation; it's very reasonable to do so, especially on such an easy to understand problem like abortion.

Indeed, without life, THERE IS NO OTHER GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN A SOCIETY for whom a government can make laws. But as you're an intelligent woman, the simple logic of this assertion, you will realize, is irrefutable.

Indeed Americans don’t have the luxury to vote on other political things because of the abortion issue; you have it backwards, as logic demonstrates.

* * * * *

See the related papers:

How on Earth Can Christians Vote for Pro-Abortion Candidates? (Dave Armstrong)

Dialogue on the "Hard Cases" of Abortion (Particularly Rape) (Dave Armstrong vs. Sogn Mill-Scout)

On Politicians (Like Mitt Romney) Who Waffle on Abortion (Dave Armstrong with "CPA")

Abortion and a "Progressive and Humane Nation" (Al Kresta)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Case Study in Liberal Catholic Dissent: Fr. Joseph S. O'Leary

[Fr. O'Leary's words will be in blue]

I don't spend much time refuting Catholic liberalism because, frankly, I don't think it deserves the dignity of a reply, as it is fundamentally wrongheaded and intellectually dishonest, and tries to pretend that the Catholic faith is something that it clearly is not. Nevertheless, as a Catholic apologist, I can't totally ignore it, much as I would like to (as with anti-Catholic Protestantism and Catholic "traditionalism" - concerning which I have very similar feelings). And so I have a web page devoted to it and roughly half of one of my completed book-manuscripts.

If you want to see encapsulated in one person all of the standard, typical, droningly and cloningly predictable characteristics of this tragically mistaken mindset, you could do no better than Fr. Joseph O'Leary. I have written about him once before: "NeoCaths" and Old Liberal Nonsense: Challenges to Fr. Joseph O'Leary's Trashing of Orthodox Catholic Apologetics. Recently, I came in contact with him on the Against the Grain blog, talking about the issue of the intrinsic immorality of torture (see, particularly the discussion thread).

Fr. Joseph S. O'Leary (The real one this time!)

During the course of that discussion, we actually discovered that our positions are very similar. I'm happy to report that he did apologize for the worst remark that he made. And as a result of his critique I changed some language that was poorly-worded on my part. But wait! I noted in accepting his apology, that he still had his offensive remark posted on his blog, and should remove it, after my clarifications; but it's still there, as of writing:

By this reasoning [my own, that he cited], any evils the Church has blessed - for instance the massacre of Protestants in 1572 and the judicial murder of natives in India, the Philippines and Latin America under the Inquisition - are rendered innocent and we are free to commit them ourselves. Confinement of Jews to ghettos, forcing them to hear sermons on their blindness, and to wear a distinctive costume, would be a moral practice according to David Armstrong. Neocaths are poisoning our religion at its source and turning it into a form of Talibanism - torture and all.

Isn't that wonderfully tolerant and charitable? That's odd, since we all know (from endless self-trumpeting) that liberals are the most tolerant, winsome, unassuming people around, and far more tolerant than we wicked conservatives or (Fr. O'Leary's preferred term) "NeoCaths."
Here are further exchanges with Fr. O'Leary. Note how this man thinks and argues, and the falsity of his presuppositions. This is the ragged, pathetic face of liberal dissent. If we don't understand how wrong and misguided such heterodoxy is, we may be taken in by it.

* * * * *

Your hermeneutics of forcing Catholic morality into the dimensions set by the past could lead to a rehabilitation of slavery, persecution of Protestants and Jews, etc.

Not at all, as stated. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm as committed to religious liberty and tolerance as anyone on earth, including you. My goal is simply to understand the Inquisition within its historical context, and to understand the reasoning behind it, not to extol its virtues, or bring it back today. Furthermore, I live out my view on tolerance by trying to treat anyone I dialogue with respect (including atheists and those who despise me as an apostate, etc.).

I may vigorously argue my point, and utilize sarcasm and satire if it is appropriate (as Cardinal Newman did, and also St. Paul and Jesus), but I don't accuse opponents of nefarious motives sinply because they take a different view than I do. This all flows from my intense commitment to ecumenism and mutually-respectful dialogue, which in turn is a result of a certain approach to religious tolerance.

* * *

"When news of the St Bartholomew's day Massacre... reached Rome, [Gregory XIII] celebrated it with a Te Deum and thanksgiving services as a victory for the church over infidelity as well as the defeat of political treachery; and he actively subsidized the Catholic League against the Huguenots. When his dreams of an Irish invasion of England collapsed (1578 and 1579), he gave his personal support to plots to have the queen assassinated." Kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes.

I don't know if all this is true or not. This is a Protestant work by a pretty good Anglican historian (J.N.D. Kelly) but one, it should be noted, with a pronounced bias against the papacy. It should be understood accordingly.


A Te Deum was sung in Rome after the [St. Bartholomew's Day] massacre, if I remember correctly.

That is correct, but the question is, "what was it sung for? According to Catholic historian Warren Carroll:

Pope Gregory XIII ordered a Te Deum said in thanksgiving for the deliverance of the French royal family and Christendom from Coligny's alleged plot to murder the king, seize the crown, support the rebels in the Low Countries, and march on Rome.

However, the Pope was horrified by the cruelties of the massacre, sheeding tears and saying, "I am weeping for the conduct of the king [Charles IX], which is unlawful and forbidden by God." Spanish ambassador Zuniga described him as "struck with horror" at the details of the massacre. Later the Pope said he wept for the many innocent dead, and refused to receive the assassin Maurevert in audience.

(The Cleaving of Christendom, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 370).
But Carroll also notes that a procession of thanksgiving took place in Rome and that the pope "celebrated the event in a special bull, though it was worded to praise only the execution of the leaders, not the slaughter of the two thousand." (Ibid., 370-371)

As usual, the truth of the matter is both more complex and interesting than the myth.


* * *

Note that Fr. O'Leary's remarks must be understood within the total backdrop of his extreme, antiquated 60s-style theological ultra-liberalism. Here is a sampling from just one article of his:
The Decline of the NeoCaths.

Americans are hungry to torture Islamic bodies, though each tortured body causes a thousand new "terrorists" to spring up. Neocath priests are happy to pander to this bloodlust, much as Taliban mullahs no doubt whitewash the tactics of terrorism.

David Armstrong, lay "apologist" (for the Gospel?) writes: . . .

[then he rehashes the "textual criticism" that I have now replied to by removing unclear portions of my paper. You gotta love the "apologist" in quotes routine: used by critics of mine from all sides, as if I am not what I am, or that it is somehow an unsavory endeavor to do apologetics as a vocation]

* * *

Benedict XVI has indeed fulfilled the neocath dream in one respect: it now looks as if the entire Curia has devoted itself to the "inquisitorial" task of ensuring orthodoxy.

[heaven forbid! We can't have popes engaging in such outrageous, "Byzantine" activities as that! What is the Catholic world coming to anyway?]

They have taken on a distinctly sectarian cast, regularly calling into question the legitimacy of Vatican II, and pouring scorn on other Christian denominations and other religions in a manner not only incompatible with Vatican II but with the entire ecumenical labor of the Church over the last eighty years or so. . . . Neocaths, who constantly attempt to undermine the authority of Vatican II.

* * *

The sterility of the neocath mindset is seen in the prodigious labors they devote to showing that official Catholic doctrine has never contradicted itself. See especially [Mike Liccione's blog]. These extraordinary exercises, predicated on the alleged infallibility of Humanae Vitae, stand refuted by the clear facts of history, as found for instance in Charles Curran, ed. Changes in Official Catholic Moral Teachings, Paulist Press, 2003. Cardinal Dulles, favorite neocath theologian, carries this Parmenideanism so far as to maintain that the Church today, as in 1866, upholds the compatibility of slavery with divine and natural law.

The neocaths used to present themselves as responsible thinkers on sexual ethics. But increasingly it has become apparent that the most primitive homophobia, based far more on Sodom'n'Gomorrah biblical fundamentalism than on any responsible consideration of Catholic tradition, is the bottom line in their sexual thinking.

* * *

The leading neocath thinkers are converts from Anglicanism or Protestantism, who speak of their former denomination in tones borrowed, at their most charitable, from the quite out-dated polemic of Newman against Anglicanism; see especially [the Pontifications blog]. They bring to Roman Catholicism a testy, superior attitude, . . . They really feel it is their mission to save the Roman Church from the evil "Protestantizing" influence of Vatican II.

[Fr. O'Leary, of course, being an obvious paragon of tolerant virtue. I'm against Vatican II [???] - myself being one he lists as a "NeoCath" - , when I have always credited my friend John McAlpine for being the primary human influence on my conversion, precisely because he was following Vatican II's ecumenical injunctions for sensible discourse with Protestants, in terms they can understand? Hmmm; very curious.]

* * *

A Church that recognizes the charisms of women and of gays is surely one that points to the future.

In contrast, the neocaths cling desperately to fetid relics of a half-imaginary past.

And in comments:

I urge the superiority of loving and faithful sexuality, which is why I back committed unions among gays over the promiscuity that is in practice valorized by the homophobic brigade. Recently it has been discovered that a huge percentage of hate crimes against gays are motivated uniquely by religious concerns. The neocaths have their share of blame to bear for this.


Chris Sullivan wrote:
Instead of ad-hominem attacks on Fr O'Leary "extreme, antiquated 60s-style theological ultra-liberalism" . . .
I concede that, technically, this is ad hominem, but note that it is perfectly acceptable and standard practice to highlight a person's stated predispositions as a factor in how he approaches things.

Fr. O'Leary, after all, returns the favor. He calls me a "NeoCath" which is, as far as I am concerned, a rank insult. Not only that, he feels perfectly free to make asinine, absurd generalizations of this supposed class, as if, e.g., ones he wrongly classifies as "NeoCaths" make it their life's mission to blast Vatican II. I've rarely seen a more ridiculous portrayal of my own position (and that's saying something if you know the history of many folks who have criticized me).

I only call myself a Catholic, or (if it must be clarified) an "orthodox Catholic." I don't appreciate having self-serving polemical qualifiers attached to the label I am extremely proud to wear.

But in Fr. O'Leary's case, he is clearly a theological liberal, or (if you will) a dissenter (however you protest against my flower-powery descriptions). Or do you deny this? And I think he would be proud to readily identify himself as such (or some equivalent high-sounding term, like "progressive").


In fact there are no specific moral teachings of the Church that have been pronounced infallibly - if there were Humanae Vitae would be a prime candidate.

The Doctrine of Infallibility is actually saying that VERY, VERY RARELY can the Church claim infallibility. Even the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception may not meet the criteria for infallibility laid down by Vatican I.

[See Fr. O'Leary's entire post from which these were drawn]

Etc., etc. This comes from a priest (God help us): Fr. O'Leary. I'm not gonna waste my time arguing with viciously circular liberal dissent of this sort.

Excuse me, but this is a smear. The vast majority of Catholic theologians hold that Humanae Vitae is not an infallible document. Very many theologians believe that Humanae Vitae is a mistake; . . .

[there are plenty of liberal theologians. ut they don't ultimately determine Catholic doctrine and its authoritative interpretation. As to whether this document is infallible, see: The Ex Cathedra Status of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, by Brian W. Harrison]

Theologians of the stature of Fergus Kerr OP have argued that the two Marian doctrines I mentioned do not meet Vatican I's criteria of infallibility - for instance there was no fluctuatio in the minds of the faithful which the infallible decision was to resolve.

I'm interested (the vast majority of the time) in discussing matters with orthodox Catholics or those (including many Protestants) who take Catholic doctrine seriously and don't transform it into Liberal Anglican Lite.

I'm content that Fr. O'Leary and I (despite his atrocious dissenting views and my orthodoxy) basically agree on the "torture" issue, and will leave it at that. One can't have a discussion on Catholic doctrine when one party picks and chooses what he will from the body of infallible Catholic teaching.

I'd much rather have a discussion with an atheist. At least he doesn't attempt to pretend that his own ostensible belief system is not what it is.

A = A. Fundamental to any logical, constructive discussion.

Catholicism = Catholicism, not a watered-down, insipid, grotesque version of Broad Anglicanism with more smells and bells and ecumenical councils that supposedly usher in the New Glorious Liberal Age.

Scoffing at ecumenical councils is a very very uncatholic thing to do.
"My orthodoxy" proclaims Dave - he should remember Karl Rahner's warning that the next great heresy in the Church would come from the right - from magisterial fundamentalists unable to accept the open horizons of Vatican II.

Let him who thinks himself to stand take heed lest he fall.

Neocons and neocaths are the same breed, part of the same disease that is rotting the American soul.

The current American tragedy has been oiled by biblical fundamentalists and be magisterial fundamentalists . . .


And who has hurt Americans? Bush and his neocons, and their christianist dupes.


* * *

You are openly dissenting on crystal-clear Catholic dogma.

Untrue. I point out that (a) the two Marian dogmas of 1854 and 1950 in their definition may not meet the criteria of infallibility, according to some theologians; (b) that the Church has corrected its official moral teaching on many points and could well do so on the topic of Humanae Vitae; dissent from Humanae Vitae is not an issue concerning dogma and is very widespread in the Church - indeed, it is probably the majority position.

[the Catholic Church does not operate by majority vote. Elsewhere, Fr. O'Leary griped that the Vatican was difficult to deal with because it wasn't operated along democratic lines. Catholic dogma is proclaimed upon and authoritatively interpreted by the solemn authority of the popes and bishops in union with popes in ecumenical councils]

This is scandalous and a disgrace for a priest such as yourself, charged with teaching the true Catholic faith to the faithful. You'll stand accountable to God for how well you do in this regard (James 3:1). I have the same burden, insofar as I am a teacher, as an apologist (though to a far lesser extent than a priest, I would say).

Lots of people are reading my writing, and if I am leading them astray, I'll stand before God and have to give account for why I did so. That's enough of a prospect to sober anyone right away.

When I say you are guilty of "viciously circular liberal dissent" you tell me this is a "smear."
Perhaps it is. But you need to prove it to me. If you are right, then surely you can clarify for me your views on the following related issues, and then you will have my profound, sincere, public apology if indeed I have misrepresented you and you are, in fact (like - as it seems like you would have us believe - Charles Curran), no dissenter at all:

He is not a dissenter in any heretical sense; like a long list of eminent Roman Catholic moral theologians he calls for development of the Church's thinking on a number of subjects. I understand that his condemnation by the Vatican was taken out of the CDF's hands by direct intervention of John Paul II, in response to two decades of black propaganda against Curran. He remains a priest in good standing and a deeply respected teacher and author.

1) Are the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception in fact infallible and de fide dogma?

They may be [my emphasis], but some theologians have expressed doubt as to whether they meet the criteria of infallibility set out by Vatican I. Indeed, other texts such as could be seen as meeting those criteria, yet no one now thinks Unam SanctamUnam Sanctam in infallible or even true. In practice, infallibility functions as a limiting marker, as Newman already pointed out - Newman was a dogmatic minimalist in that he believed our interpretation of magisterial documents should limit what is binding de fide in them to the strict minimum. Dogmatic maximalists were a plague in his time and made life hell for him.

[they are, of course, infallible. There is no question about this. They were proclaimed with the very highest authority. Cardinal Newman - like St. Thomas Aquinas - also thought that one could not deny any dogma of the faith without losing the faith and the supernatural virtue of faith. See: Is a Catholic at Liberty to Selectively Choose Which Catholic Dogmas He Will Abide By? Fr. O'Leary can hardly scoff at Newman's opinion, since he obviously admires him highly, having written two lengthy, meaty articles on him that seem quite educational and helpful (at least in glancing at them):

Newman on Education and Original Sin

Impeded Witness: Newman Against Luther on Justification]

2) Are all Catholic faithful bound and obligated to accept the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception?

Yes, but the question is whether this is an obligation de fide or one of obsequium religiosum that we bring to non-infallible teachings. Again both of these doctrines can be interpreted in a way that makes them quite easy to believe - "Mary shares fully in the glory of the risen Christ and thus stands before us as a symbol of our own future state as the heavenly church"; "Mary was filled with God's grace from her childhood". The standard way of presenting these dogmas does not fit in with contemporary understanding of scripture or of theology - which is why professional theologians tend to avoid referring to them - but a liberal interpretation could make them quite biblical and could obviate the need to have them thrust on people by "infallible" decree.

[It's obviously an obligation de fide because that is the nature of the documents! Pope Pius IX stated that the Immaculate Conception was "to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful." In fact, he goes so far as to say that anyone who "should presume to think in their hearts otherwise than we have defined (which God forbid) . . . they are by their own judgment condemned, have made shipwreck concerning the Faith, and fallen away from the unity of the Church . . ." - Ineffabilis Deus, 8 December 1854.

The de fide proclamation of the Assumption as infallible dogma at the highest level is even more explicit:
[44] . . . by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith. . . .
47. It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul. - Munificentissimus Deus, 1 November 1950]
3) Are the Catholic faithful at liberty to question the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception?

They are not only at liberty but have the duty to rethink and reinterpret these doctrines in the context of an integral biblical faith; in doing so they will find the truth of these doctrines in a way that will obviate the obnoxious use of these doctrines as some kind of exercise in theological bullying or brinkmanship. The issue of the infallibility of these two doctrines is a red herring, a product of the unhappy history of ultramontanism. The doctrines make sense as part of a biblical apprehension of the glorious figure of Mary and make little sense when ripped from that context.

[sheer nonsense. This "possibility" was already disposed of above. It's perfectly possible to - as I try to do in my apologetics - present these doctrines in a biblical context and to help make them more understandable and acceptable to Protestants. But Fr. O'Leary doesn't like apologetics much, so he cuts off his nose to spite his face. Martin Luther himself accepted both of them, so it is hardly inherently "unProtestant" to do so]

4) Can the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception ever be reversed or nullified?

Our understanding of these doctrines has been changing a lot, so rather than needing to be nullified, this new understanding will reinstate them within an integral vision. It is a mistake to treat these doctrines as dogmas on which the church stands or falls. They are way down on the hierarchy of dogmatic truths - indeed, they are more declarations of devotion than of dogma. When that has happened, no one will want to nullify them, for they will have been properly understood.

[unbelievable. It is unnecessary to reiterate to anyone who has the slightest knowledge of how Catholic dogma functions and operates, to note that it is impossible for them to be reversed. No amount of wishful thinking from liberals will change that. This is a quintessential, classic example of liberal doublespeak. Fr. O'Leary doesn't want to be so obvious as to state outright that they could be reversed, so he plays the usual liberal game of talking about our "understanding" bringing about a gradual change amounting to a reversal. Orthodox Catholicism, on the other hand, holds that development can occur, and increased understanding, but never to the extent that a de fide doctrine can ever be fundamentally changed at all, let alone nullified or rejected. Development is not evolution]

5) Even if I grant you for the sake of argument that Humanae Vitae isn't infallible in the ordinary magisterium (which I don't believe), are the Catholic faithful, nevertheless, bound to it or can they dissent in good conscience?

They are bound to it by a religiosum obsequium, but as many episcopal conferences pointed out, they are free to dissent in good conscience.

[no, they're not. Conscience must be formed in the framework of a Catholic understanding. See:
Conscience: The Catholic Church's (and Newman's) View]

6) Is contraception an objectively mortal sin according to historic Catholic Tradition prior to 1968?

Probably not, or at least not universally, since even abortion was not seen as an objectively mortal sin by such influential theologians as Alphonsus Liguori (nor was torture or slavery).

[this is simply historically incorrect. See: Contraception: Early Church Teaching, by William Klimon, and a paper about the strong opposition even of Luther and Calvin (all Protestants opposed it as grave sin till 1930); see also, The Biblical Evidence Against Contraception]

7) If you answer "yes" to #6, did it cease to become mortal sin, and indeed, sin at all, at some point in the past?

8) If so, when did this momentous event occur?

9) On what basis do you conclude #8 (if you do)?

[since Fr. O'Leary denied that #6 was true, he didn't have to reply to #7-9. But it is impossible to deny #6. So he is in historical delusion on this]

10) If someone asks you whether they should confess that they have used contraception, do you tell them they don't have to, because it is a good thing, and not a sin at all?

I tell them that the matter is for their own conscience to decide. In fact no one has asked me this question in the last thirty years, which suggests that Catholics no longer think it is a matter for the confessional or for seeking clerical advice.

[See my reply under #5 above]

It is my job as an apologist to defend the holy Catholic faith, received from the apostles and passed down infallibly by Holy Mother Church, led by and protected by the Holy Spirit.

If someone clearly dissents from that, be he priest or even bishop in some cases - heaven help us - , then it is my duty to point that out, because, I, too, am accountable to God as a Catholic apologist and author, and I take my responsibilities extremely seriously.
Catholicism = Catholicism, not a watered-down, insipid, grotesque version of Broad Anglicanism with more smells and bells and ecumenical councils that supposedly usher in the New Glorious Liberal Age.

Scoffing at ecumenical councils is a very very uncatholic thing to do.
Of course I didn't do that. Anyone who reads the above, and who has read my past comments with you, and certainly if they have read a thousandth of my apologetics in favor of Church authority, and in glowing acceptance and advocacy of Vatican II, would know this is untrue.

The key and crucial word is clearly "supposedly." I'm not opposing the council in the slightest. I am opposing the liberal hijacking and co-opting of an orthodox council, for the nefarious purpose of making it heterodox, so as to further their own lamentable, destructive agenda. That's why I used the sarcasm of "New Glorious Liberal Age."

Vatican II is NOT liberal. It is orthodox. The liberals have twisted and distorted what it teaches for over forty years now. And again, it is my responsibility as an apologist to detest this and defend the council against its hijackers.

It is precisely because of the damage people like you have done to the council, that we have nuts on the "right" who think it is a liberal council. So the far right and far left on the ecclesiological spectrum think it is liberal, but we in the radical orthodox center understand that it is perfectly orthodox, because, as an ecumenical council, it stands in the tradition of all of the ecumenical councils.

(Fr. O'Leary's replies: 10-28-06)

* * * * *

Fr. O'Leary makes statements elsewhere that suggest he is confused and tragically mistaken about far more than just Humanae Vitae and the Marian dogmas. For example:

Religious pluralism is a genuinely threatening reality for Christian theology. It has a relativizing and demystifying impact comparable to that of the theory of evolution. It is not surprising that much of the reaction to it takes the form of denial, phobia, and panic. . . .

Church authorities would like an edifying, spiritual encounter of faiths that would leave no doctrinal feathers unruffled. But I suspect that acceptance of religious pluralism will force us to face up to the historicity of our beliefs in a radically unsettling way . . . If one places the doctrine of the Trinity in historical context, noticing how other ancient cultures also speculated about the divine voice and breath (Sanskrit vac and prana), which in Christianity are the Logos and Pneuma (Son and Spirit), then the doctrine appears as a culture-bound construction and retrieval of its objective truth in today's cultural contexts becomes problematic. The idea of "God" is equally relativized when set in the context of its historical emergence and contrasted with religious discourses that have done without it (notably that of Buddhism).

("Religious Pluralism and Christian Truth," 1999)

The dogmatic foundations of Christian theology are relativized in a post-metaphysical world. Divine revelation is fragmentary, pluralistic and tension-ridden rather than a self-contained set of insights that can be adequately formulated in any set of dogmas. Interreligious dialogue reinforces the relativization of dogma's status. This raises issues about central Christian doctrines such as the Incarnation and the Trinity.

. . . A retrieval of dogmatic tradition in the contemporary epistemological horizon whittles down the claims of dogma to a minimum. Dogma becomes the grammar or syntax of a prior language of faith. It no longer puts forward ulterior grounds that go behind the scenes of faith. It no longer projects a heavenly pre-history of the immanent Trinity or the divine decrees of predestination, which would overshadow the actual revelation of God in history. That revelation is not a rounded, self-contained sum of insights that dogma can formalise. Rather it is pluralistic, fragmentary, tension-ridden in its texture. Can dogma complete it, filling out the missing parts and tying up the loose ends? No, its role is only to clarify the story as received, in order that it can be continued in further dialogue and exploration.

. . . If no human being is an island, the Son of man less that any other can be separated from his fellows. Christ emerges from the humanity that we are, and if he is called an incarnation of the divine Logos, this means that the Logos has become incarnate in all human history. The Incarnation cannot be confined to the (non-existent) limits of a single human life. Rather than a concord of the human and divine natures at the moment of Jesus's conception, the Incarnation can be conceived as the dwelling of the Word among us across the entire historical career of Jesus, one of us. His 'divinity', like his 'resurrection', are better thought of as events or as emergences of meaning than as ontological attributes. Divinity does not attach itself to another thing; it is not a transferable quantity. The claim that Jesus Christ is 'true God' has no clear meaning on its own. Its meaning resides in the entire history in which the figure of Jesus is set.

The 'flesh' of John 1:14 is not the physical flesh of a single human being but the entire historical world in which the Logos pitches its tent. This 'Logos' is at work in all history, but lodges there in a definitive way through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The Logos is incarnate in Jesus in the totality of his relationships. Here the distinction between Jesus of Nazareth and the paschal Christ is of crucial import, for it appears that Jesus grows into his role of incarnate Logos and fully assumes it only after Easter (see Rom 1.3-4; Acts 2.36; John 7.39; Heb 5.8-9). The reality of Christ's historical humanity may oblige us to use a somewhat 'adoptionist' language here, but a Nestorian disjunction of the human subject and the divine Word can be avoided by saying that the ultimate meaning and identity of Jesus is that he is God's Word spoken into history. [emphasis added]

. . . Rewriting the classical accounts of Christ's ontological constitution and the logic of redemption in this key of emptiness, we may find that they are brought into accord not only with Buddhist sensibility, but with our own contemporary sense of reality. A liberating readjustment may occur, as when Newtonian physics is translated into relativistic and quantum terms. If the image of Christ has been fading, it is not because of any lack of power in the Gospel but because of the archaic ontological categories in which we have allowed Christ to become imprisoned, and because instead of rethinking Christ we have been content with a surface facelift, using existential, liberationist or eschatological rhetoric without undertaking the necessary fundamental reorientation at the level of the underlying ontological presuppositions. The interreligious context is what at present most forcefully points the way to such a reorientation.

("Dogma and Religious Pluralism," 1996)

Transdenominational theology would focus primarily on the Christian fundamentals on which all Christians can agree, providing a reservoir of thought on which such a pan-Christian Council could freely draw. Claims specific to an individual denomination would be treated as secondary matters, and presented in the broadest horizons of ecumenical discussion.

Such a theology would be rejected by fundamentalists and by neocaths who believe that theology begins with the acceptance of the infallibility of the episcopal and Roman magisteriums. But the vast majority of Christians, including Roman Catholics, should accept it in view of its potential contribution to church unity, interreligious understanding and world peace.

("The Role of Theology in Preparing the Next Ecumenical Council," 2005; emphasis added)

Vatican documents of this kind, ever since Pascendi (1907), tend to erect theological questions or problems - problems usually posed by the realities of the cultural context or by the results of historical research - into fixed "presuppositions" forming a system of errors to be overthrown. These errors are then dismissed by citation of the Creeds or of other Vatican documents, citation which can be highly selective (witness the fate of Paul VI's left-leaning texts, Populorum Progressio, Octagesima Adveniens, Evangelium Nuntiandi in contrast with the use of his Creed of the People of God as a litmus test of orthodoxy). The hermeneutics implied in this procedure is one of circular transparency between modern questions and ancient texts. There is no recognition that the ancient texts, unless sensitively interpreted for the modern context, have an abrupt and rather scandalous character, due not to the truth they contain but to the inadequacy of its archaic expression. The same unresolved question of the need for translation of ancient creeds into modern categories underlies the skirmishes between the Vatican and hermeneutically alert theologians such as Rahner and Schillebeeckx. Of course it is very frustrating and discouraging for theologians to have to explain the elements of hermeneutics to uncomprehending church authorities again and again, especially when their patient clarifications are rewarded with contumely.

. . . The encounter with Buddhist thought enhances the hermeneutical task of theology, by opening up the possibility that Christian truth today can be more luminously presented in a discourse influenced by Buddhist analytical methods and ontological insights than in the old frameworks formed in dialogue with Greek ontology.

. . . The pontifications of theologians about inclusivism, exclusivism, pluralism, relativism, are part of that in-house ecclesiastical wrangling that is the mark of a theology disengaged from a living context. I would add that the dogmatism of liberal theologians who discard the notion of truth or who treat tradition as Henry Ford treated history could equally be a symptom of disconnection. The encounter of Buddhism and Christianity is an encounter of truths embodied in historical trajectories. The self-critical labor forever going on within each of the traditions is enhanced when they embrace in mutual appreciation and critique. Traditions may appear as conventional, contingent, culture-bound human constructs; yet they provide a necessary defence of and medium of transmission for the breakthroughs of truth in primary enactments of spiritual vision. A tradition is a finger pointing at the moon, fragile, provisional, changing as the moon moves across the sky. Yet without that fragile indicator few would see the moon, and there would be no sharing of the vision. The errors and distortions of tradition can be overcome only by a respectful hermeneutical retrieval of tradition, drawing on its salutary core to overcome these darker aspects. Theologies that escape from the historical concreteness of tradition and the critical labors it demands of us, and theologies that substitute a benign relativism for the scholarly and spiritual weight of inter-religious encounter, may create an atmosphere in which new questions are opened up, but more often their vacuous rhetoric is an obstruction to the advance of theological insight.

The symbiosis of religions may take the form of a mutual aid wherein the weak points of one religion are healed and corrected by another. To say that Buddhism has no right to play that healing and correcting role towards Christianity is like saying that the Samaritan had no right to bind the wounds of the man left for dead on the Jericho road. In real life the religions need each other, whatever their utter self-sufficiency on the plane of abstruse theological claims. The religions, as human historical trajectories, are inevitably marked by incompleteness and tragic failures. The tensions between them are not to be suppressed by dogmatic self-affirmation, but to be interpreted as the tension of "truth" itself, making itself felt within the finitude and brokenness of the human language striving to express it. Just as a married couple give each other a sense of perspective and prevent each other from falling into megalomanic egocentic delusion, so Buddhism and Christianity in their irreducible otherness are good for one another, helping to keep each other open-minded and sane. It used to be said that a good Catholic needs to be a Protestant while a good Protestant needs to be a Catholic; today, we might add, a sane Christian needs to be a Buddhist.

("Towards a Buddhist Interpretation of Christian Truth," 2002; emphases added)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Now I Am a "Spiritual Predator" Who Wants to "Attack, Maim, and Torture" Because I Dared to Critique an Atheist Deconversion (vs. RubySera Martin)

[RubySera's words will be in blue, John Loftus's in green, and my older cited words in purple]

If one dares to critique an atheist's "deconversion" from Christianity to atheism one will prove oneself (in the eyes of some - dunno how many) atheists, to be evil incarnate, the scum of the earth, and a most unsavory personage. "RubySera Martin", a former Christian herself, leaves no stone unturned in savaging my person for this outlandishly evil sin that I have committed.

John Loftus's "reply" to my critique of his deconversion was ridiculous enough ("He doesn't think I was sincere. I'm probably not even a person to him. . . . You're a joke. I'm surprised you have an audience. . . . To think you could pompously proclaim you are better than me is beyond me when you don't know me. It's a defensive mechanism you have with people like me. . . . damned psychobabble . . . drivel . . . It's called respecting people as people, and Dave's Christianity does not do that with people who don't agree with him. . . . self-assured arrogant idiots out there, like Dave, who prefer to proclaim off of my personal experience that they are better than I"), but this goes beyond merely ridiculous, to surreal and hysterical. And the sad thing is that it is again based on a massive misunderstanding that doesn't follow from the words and arguments I used.

That's ME, folks: the devil! Betcha didn't know that. I have you fooled, too . . . he he he.

So now, rather than rationally discuss the issues at hand, I have to prove I'm not the devil. See how it works? I wish I could just ignore this, but it is so absurd that I just don't have it in me. It's one thing to honestly disagree, but when a person has to literally demonize someone because she is unable to properly understand what they are arguing, then someone must speak out against that. It's a true shame, after having just discovered an atheist (Jim Lazarus) who doesn't have to resort to this hogwash, and who chided atheists for personally attacking Christians. That post, documenting his wonderfully tolerant statements, was, in fact, the one just previous to this one on my blog. But now we are back to atheists who want to resort to personal attack and insult.

SIGH. Here is RubySera's post, in its entirety, with explanations from me clarifying how what I wrote does not justify her jaded interpretation. Once again, we'll see that context was utterly butchered, and little attempt was made to grant good faith to me, because, after all, I am a Christian, and I committed the unpardonable sin of critiquing an atheist's deconversion story. I didn't know it was the unpardonable sin according to atheists till I did it. Now I know.

Spiritual Predators

following was said by a Christian about a person who deconverted from Christianity:

So he grew up being "taught to believe in the Christian faith" yet this is how he ended the later years of his youth? Doesn't sound like a very compelling Christian upbringing to me. Something was deficient there somewhere. On the other hand, I was a very nominal Methodist growing up, and even stopped going to Church at age 10 (because my parents also did) and was almost a practical agnostic; at the very least exceedingly secular in outlook (though never an atheist). Yet I never remotely got into this much trouble (pursuing the occult was about the extent of it).
That can be about the most scathing thing seekers face. They make themselves vulnerable, they bare their souls, hoping for understanding. Instead of understanding they are mocked for being the way they are.

The author, Dave Armstrong, claims elsewhere that he was only critiquing. No, he was not critiquing. He was being skeptical of another human being's honesty regarding that person's own personal experience of life. In other words, he was being skeptical about another person's interpretation of his own life experience.

This is a complete distortion of what I was trying to do, and my interior disposition. I was not mocking at all. This is implied in the fact that I concluded my own not very stellar example of religious background. My point was that there was likely some deficiency in how John was taught the Christian faith, because, as a rule, those who are taught it properly, don't get into all the trouble that he did ("I had dropped out of High School, and was arrested six different times for offenses like running away, theft, and battery. I had also hitchhiked around the country with a friend. I was heavily into drugs, alcohol, sex, fast cars, and the party scene"). This was all prior to age 18. I used myself as an analogy; in effect, arguing: if I wasn't properly taught religious things and got into relatively little trouble, it stands to reason that John probably wasn't, either, since he got into a load of trouble."

This doesn't involve my allegedly "being skeptical of another human being's honesty regarding that person's own personal experience of life." Not at all. And that is because the statement, "I grew up being taught to believe in the Christian faith" is capable of including within it many possibilities as to factual variables: possible deficiencies in doctrine, in ethics, in bad example from those teaching it, in hypocrisy of those teaching it, etc. It is a subjective statement. I only had so much information to go by and responded accordingly.

It's true that I am skeptical of the nature of this faith that he was taught. I highly suspect that there was something wrong there (in the teaching, not with him as a supposedly rotten, evil person), that led him to go astray in his youth. Most people who see a young person go so far astray will immediately look at the parents and what they have been doing. But this doesn't entail some unsavory claim that John is not honest, or that he is deliberately misrepresenting his past. That simply doesn't follow. It was a very general statement. What I am skeptical of is whether he was properly taught Christianity. Perhaps he was. I assumed he would clarify that later, since, after all, he asked me to critique his deconversion in the first place, and we were getting along fine (so I thought) until I did so. He could easily have done so, but instead we had an explosion of irrational and emotional invective.

RubySera says I was "
being skeptical about another person's interpretation of his own life experience." Again, this is not true. The above observation doesn't require this sort of reading at all. I was simply reacting to the general statement that he was raised in the Christian faith, combined with his own report of his mischief and lawbreaking, and stating aloud that something doesn't connect there. I don't place that in his sincerity, but in problems in what he was taught, or something along these lines.

I do see, however, that there were two things I could have expressed in a better way: the use of the phrase, "on the other hand," which can (I see now) be taken to imply that I was contrasting myself (by this phrase) as (an inherently) "good kid" over against John as a "bad kid" (and then using this presumption of his "badness" to dismiss his reasoning thereafter). But that was not my intention at all. I intended the phrase to contrast the two following things, by reverse analogy:
1. John: good Christian upbringing - wild youth.

2. Dave: nominal Christian upbringing - relatively docile, trouble-free youth.
My reasoning (I grant that it is not totally clear) was that good religious teaching usually corresponds to kids getting into less trouble. So if John got into a lot, I was saying that maybe the teaching or the environment in which it was presented wasn't that great. He may have sincerely thought that it was. But reasonable people can differ on that.

RubySera herself was brought up as a very conservative Mennonite (she describes it as a "
horse and buggy Mennonite community"). She now thinks it was a terrible thing. So why is it unspeakably evil for me to simply question whether there were deficiencies in John's upbringing, too? It's only permissible for atheists to critique such things, but Christians dare not, on pain of being publicly savaged and demonized as wicked scoundrels? Atheists can critique errors in practice of Christians, but Christians cannot?

The second thing was my use of the word "deficient." I meant it strictly to imply to the teaching he received. But I can see how, grammatically, it is possible to think that I was referring to John as a person. I was not. Even if I were, this would make little sense in the context of a Christian understanding, because we say that everyone is subject to original sin, and everyone actually sins (except for Mary in Catholic theology and the unfallen angels). We're all sinners in need of a savior. I might make judgments that a person is lacking in this or that quality, if it is repeatedly manifest.

But I can't imagine saying "x is a deficient person." I don't think I've ever said since I have been a serious Christian (almost 30 years): "I'm better than that person." That's just not the way I talk or approach people, so it wasn't what I meant here. It's completely foreign to my worldview and thinking processes. I would say (and have, many many times), "we're all sinners; myself foremost; Exhibit #1." But I recognize that it could legitimately have been misunderstood here, and to that extent I accept my share of the responsibility and even offer an apology for the poor wording, leaving myself open to be misunderstood.

But even that, in my opinion, doesn't excuse how RubySera has responded to me. We'll know shortly if my explanation if she continues her savaging of me personally after having read this clarification. That will prove (if so) that there is more to it than a few badly-chosen words. She will then have the choice of whether or not to believe my report of my intentions, just as she is protesting against my imaginary doubting of John's personal report. So stay tuned for that. It'll be very interesting either way.

Before we proceed further, let's look at the context of my remark. This is easy, because there is only one additional paragraph, right after what was cited, before moving onto other sub-topics. Here it is. Note the information that gives a quite different impression from the one RubySera drew from the isolated paragraph. It's a classic study in quoting out of context:

I'm not questioning John's sincerity; only saying that something was missing for this sort of rebellion to have occurred. It could still occur even in a profoundly Christian home (e.g., Billy Graham's son Franklin, who later straightened up and became a minister), because we all have free will, but generally this indicates a less-than-stellar foundational Christian teaching. And that, in turn, influences one's thoughts and opinions, which has relevance to a "deconversion" and sad descent into atheism.
First of all, one observes my making very clear that I am not questioning John's sincerity (first five words). The choice, then, is to either believe my report of my interior disposition and opinion of John or not. I am being chided for supposedly not granting this charity and benefit of the doubt to John. But ironically, now I find myself being subject to the same thing I am being falsely accused of. We're supposed to believe that atheists are sincere in their stories, but Christians are not in their critiques? If not, why does RubySera continue?:

That is outside the boundaries of anyone except for the individual who has the experience. Telling a person that he did not experience things that way is like telling someone, "No you are not cold when you are cold." It denigrates a human being's perception. We must protect ourselves against that kind of person. They are destructive in all their ways.

But I didn't do this! I just stated that I don't question John's sincerity! I even granted that there are exceptions to the rule of the "kid gone astray" (thus, John's case may have been one itself). There is no question that youth go astray overwhelmingly when there is some serious deficiency in the home. This could be either from teaching or disciplinary chaos or lack of one parent or druge use. It could be any number of things. But it is completely rational to suspect that something seriously wrong (i.e., from the parents) went on. If anyone doubts this, go interview juvenile delinquents or adult criminals and ask them about their childhoods. Only a fool could deny the connection. I don't know more particulars about John's childhood unless he decides to let me in on them. But it was entirely rational and reasonable (and, I say, not unethical or uncharitable) to suspect what I did, based on the information I had.

Secondly, one phrase makes it clear that I was concentrating on the Christian teaching (or lack thereof) when I referred to something being "deficient": "generally this [rebellion] indicates a less-than-stellar foundational Christian teaching." I think this easily explains my use of that word, in context. But by omitting the second paragraph, RubySera could have a field day in distorting my intentions, and then moving on to "argue" (based on this false premise) about what wicked, evil - indeed, even "dangerous" - person I allegedly am. I think it also explains the intent of my phrase "on the other hand."

Nevertheless, I'm happy to acknowledge that one might misinterpret those words; particularly because it is an emotional and personal topic, etc. That often causes lapses in logic and reading comprehension. If John (and/or RubySera) immediately got angry with my first paragraph, then they read the rest of the paper in that fog of misguided anger. I'm saying that it was ultimately unjustified. It certainly is now, at any rate, after my elaborate explanations. But if they insist on having an axe to grind against me, on a groundless basis, all of this won't amount to a hill of beans.

In our search for what is right for us we need clear-headed, honest people to help us understand ourselves. People who talk in the tone of voice Dave Armstrong talks are among the most dangerous people to listen to. The problem with not listening to them is that they will get emotionally vicious. They will make personal attacks. They will threaten that bad things will happen. Those are a few of the things they will say.

I did none of these things whatsoever. I just didn't. It's amusing to me that she talks about "tone of voice" when that is precisely the thing that is lacking in written material. Anyone who has met me would never say this nonsense. I appeal to those who know me in person, just as John has done. Even two fellow atheists in the very thread discussing my critique recognized that I was not intending to attack John personally. Matthew Green, for example, wrote on John's own blog:
". . . the tone of Dave's critique is a bit pleasant and not really nasty, . . . At least Dave Armstrong seems a likeable kind of a guy, . . ."
And "whizler" wrote:
I don't believe Dave Armstrong's response was directed at you personally.
So this personal interpretation is often wildly subjective. These are four atheists all looking at the same exact thing. John and RubySera go nuts and start attacking me personally, whereas Matthew and whizler make rational comments and form a very different impression.

Moreover, I made it very clear in my comments underneath the critique on my blog, that I do NOT hold the unsavory opinions about John, attributed to me:

Dave, as i read this I thought to myself, he doesn't think of me as an equal.

Quite the contrary; we're all sinners. No one is any better, at bottom, than anyone else. Whatever good is in us is because of God's grace, not our inherent superiority to someone else.

He looks down his nose at me.

Not at all. I simply disagree with your positions and your denigration of Christianity. Your position is not you. If you write about such things publicly, then do you not expect that Christians will respond to them? You actually encouraged me to respond to your deconversion, so I did.

As I'm writing he looks for loopholes. He doesn't think I was sincere.

Really? That's news to me. I never remotely implied such a thing; nor do I believe it. Your problem (at least insofar as this version of your story suggests) is intellectual, not a matter of dishonesty.

Bad premises lead to bad conclusions. I didn't see anything that would bring any Christian doctrine into question at all. Sorry, that's my honest opinion. Or am I dishonest?

I'm probably not even a person to him.

Wow. Well, I know one thing: you are extremely sensitive to Christian critiques, even when done respectfully and not attacking you as a person or immoral scoundrel, etc. I can understand that, but it has the effect of alienating those (such as myself) who simply don't have the attitudes you are attributing to them.

I understand that many Christians have treated you rottenly. I've seen some recent things that shocked me and were terrible witnesses to Christianity. That's contemptible. But I am not among them. I don't share their attitudes. I never said you were especially evil (more than any other sinner, of whom I am foremost) or damned, etc. Catholics (to their credit, and we have many faults, believe me) generally don't do that. We leave those judgments up to God.

[Of, course the net is impersonal anyway so some of this is excusable].

This is true. But I take great pains not to fall into the common shortcomings of Internet discourse. You think I've attacked your person? Good grief. You should see the amazing things that are written about me. And the worst comes from fellow Christians (some of them even Catholics).

I dare say Dave that if YOU were to write about your CONVERSION story I could pick it apart no matter how much you write too IF I DIDN'T CONSIDER YOU TO BE A SINCERE AND HONEST AND THOUGHTFUL PERSON.

. . . Now get this straight, John (in big capital letters):


. . . Got that? Now if you say I am lying, then obviously all discourse is over. But it wasn't because of me. God is my witness for that, and also (since you think He doesn't exist) all who have read our exchanges.

RubySera could easily have read that, if she is so interested in figuring out exactly what my intentions, opinions, and interior dispositions were. Instead, we get her ludicrous attack. It ends with this ultra-absurd rant:

I call them spiritual predators because that is exactly what they are. They attack, maim, and torture. Only when they have their victim completely within their power to do release the pressure. It is possible to escape even then, but it is extremely difficult and dangerous.

Further comment on this paragraph would obviously be superfluous and futile and would be an insult to my readers.

There is nothing to these charges. But if it floats RubySera's boat to falsely demonize me based on no evidence at all that I hold these alleged opinions (and much flatly-stated evidence to the contrary), what can I do about it? All I can do is use reason, as I have, and hope that fair-minded fellow atheists like Jim Lazarus (and many others I have met) will try to persuade this woman that she is only hurting herself and the cause of atheism by this sort of groundless attack.