Category Archives: Catholicism

We Are Not to Worry. But What Does That Mean?

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God is in control.    God is my co-pilot.   God is the navigator.   Not my will, but Your will be done.

I was reflecting on the Gospel reading from this last weekend:   Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 24-34.

I won’t quote it all here, but among the text are a couple key quotes:

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.

The Bible is an amazing thing, because it is all true and authoritative, but at the same time it is quite easy to take things out of context and in isolation.    The Bible has counterbalancing messages throughout.   One of the classic examples is the admonitions to feed the poor, and then Paul’s statement that says that if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t deserve to eat.   It is easy to pick one side and dig your heels in and apply that to everything, when in fact Jesus is talking about the less fortunate poor who either can’t work or would likely desire to earn a wage if offered, whereas Paul is focused on a community of able-bodied people who all need to do their part.

After Mass this last weekend a friend of mine, who knows I scrutinize finances and try to make sound financial decisions and plan for the future (and he is the same way), smirked a bit when asking me “how’d you like today’s Gospel?”    I could tell he was tweaking me a bit, and we engaged in it.   He was conflating “planning” with “worry”.   I disagreed with him, and I think by the end of our talk he was agreeing with me.

I think to read Jesus’ words here as some instruction to forego any and all planning is not only incorrect, but it’s actually counter to what He’s trying to get people to do here, which is to not worry, as in don’t be anxious.

My friend, as we talked, had the personal revelation that his planning is his way of actually not being anxious.    I agree with that.   Perhaps more important, good planning will help your loved ones not have to worry as much.   If I didn’t plan for the future, and didn’t have my affairs in order, it would cause grave headaches for my loved ones if something happened to me.   Stress, anxiety, and probably a bit of exasperation and anger would follow.

I always remember a personal example from our Homeschool group.   My wife was getting frustrated because they would schedule events and then they wouldn’t plan them.    The leader of the group at one point remarked about how they didn’t need to because the Holy Spirit just made it all come together at the end and somehow, some way, the events turned out fine.    While maybe this was true in its literalness, my wife’s observation was that she and a couple other moms always did 90% of the work because they would have been utterly embarrassed had everyone showed up to nothing.     So these three moms ended up feeling like they had to continue taking on this burden while the others extolled the wonder of the Holy Spirit bringing it all together.    There was finally a push for some structure and reorganization in the group that led to some rifts, unfortunately.   I guess my point is, if you think you’re living the gospel by not worrying, but your lack of attention in the name of not worrying leads to the anxiety of others, then you are not properly disposed to what you’re being called to do – in my opinion.

We Christians have struggled with this balance forever.  We are in constant conflict with the opposing ideas of the necessity of what we do versus what that means about our trust in God.    One can actually take this all the way back to the heart of arguments about predestination.

Here’s how I see it:   You should plan for the future and plan for contingencies.   We should do what we feel we need to do in prudent and responsible ways.   This is not lacking trust in God.   In fact, God is likely calling us to do some of these things.    But planning and taking action should ease your mind, and not burden it.    If you are not able to do everything you would like to do, but you are doing what you can, then you need at that point to not worry and trust in God.    If you are moving past prudence and trying to outsmart God by being ready for everything imaginable under the sun by relying only on your own wisdom, then you are trusting in yourself and not in God.   If you’ve planned for X and the unexpected Y happens, you need to trust that God will help see you through – or that this suffering has a greater purpose.   If you are obsessed with perfection, you need to relax and trust in God.

This covers a lot of areas, from finances, to married life, to health, to raising kids, and so on.   One should try to make good health choices.   That may mean you’ve decided to eat in a certain way, avoiding some foods not because they bother you physically but because you’re trying to stay healthy.  But at the same time if you are traveling or visiting and the food choice is not to your general health standards, and you become obsessed with the idea that eating that burger patty is going to take 2 years off your life, then you are not in balance.   That’s worry and anxiety and something of a lack of trust.

If you feel like a store of food and water is a good idea and you take some measures and you sleep well then that’s a good thing.    If you wake up every morning wondering what you haven’t done in the event that X, Y, or Z happens and you are never comfortable with what you’ve set aside or stockpiled, then you are out of balance.

My wife and I actually were talking on Saturday about the responsibility of raising kids.   The discussion turned to her concerns about them becoming godly persons, their salvation, and everything we may not be doing to make that happen.    I was agreeing that we need to do everything we can, but we’re humans and we will fall short and at some point we need to simply ask God to fill in for our deficiencies, and that He is not going to abandon them to the wolves just because we forgot to do this thing or that thing in the overall formation of their faith.    It was almost as if that Gospel reading on Sunday was for us.

So, you see, I may be a planner, but I’m really not a worrier.   My wife is.   I’m not speaking out of turn here – she’d say the same thing.   In fact, she may well say that I don’t worry enough, and I say she worries too much.   We’re both probably right.

If you do absolutely nothing, then that certainly can be trust in God.   But you should also assess whether or not it’s just simple laziness, and whether your lack of concern is affected others.   It could be argued at times that I am lazy.

Finally, I offer my preferred analogy of our participation in life with God.    It’s fine to recognize that “God is in control” as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to eschew your obligations.   I’m not the biggest fan of that phrase, not because I think it’s false, but I think it’s a bit misapplied to our purpose.   God is ultimately responsible for everything we are – He created us, has granted us our very life, has given us our abilities, and has single-handedly opened the doors of heaven to us.    He has all the power in the Universe to control every aspect of our lives.   But that doesn’t mean he exercises that power over all of our thoughts, words, and actions.   He doesn’t.   It doesn’t mean he moves us like pawns on a chess board, maneuvering us through every situation, while at the same time maneuvering those around us.    He may well intervene on occasion because He loves us, but the very fact that some of us end up sick or injured, or dead, is self-evidence that God allows things both in and out of our control to occur that bring with them certain undesirable outcomes.   I acknowledge that God is ultimately in control to the extent He desires it, and that he has the power of full control to the extent He exercises it.    He is also a navigator, but not necessarily “the” Navigator at all times, since we have a say in the direction we go.

The co-pilot analogy is also lacking a bit, since it sort of relegates God to a secondary back-up position in our lives.   I know that “co” can mean partnership and equality, but that’s usually not how co-pilots are referenced.   There is a pilot and a co-pilot.    It may be a better analogy to say I am God’s co-pilot.

I prefer the Navigator analogy, but with a twist.    If you imagine a ship with two rudders, one large rudder for large-scale directional movements and one rudder that allows quick reactionary movements along the broader path, I see God as the Navigator of the big rudder and we are navigators along the path we’re on.    I think God moves us directionally where we are to go.   I think we need to trust and not be anxious about that direction.    But that doesn’t mean all is clear sailing in a straight line.   We may need to navigate some rough waters or around islands or icebergs and what-not as we follow our path.   We can still crash on the path God sends us if we aren’t doing what we are supposed to be doing.   We have responsibilities to uphold to ensure that we get where we are intended to go.    And even that smaller rudder can ultimately change our direction if we continually push it in opposition to the big rudder.    God makes it difficult for us to move off the direction He has chosen for us, but not impossible.

So, don’t worry about planning.

Ninevah90 Warning

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I made a comment on another blog I was a bit wary about.   I dared question whether or not it is wise for everyone to jump right in and do the Ninevah90 program.

The response I received was actually not what I expected.   I expected to hear why everyone should be able to do it, and that not embracing it fully is a sign of weakness, which is all the more reason why you should do it.    But I received a lot of agreement.

Basically, what I said about it is that everything there is good.   I have no issues with anyone doing it.    But it’s also a LOT.    Depending on where a person is in their spiritual journey, it could be utterly overwhelming, and perhaps even counterproductive, to try and do it all.   We humans are fickle creatures, and some have a tendency to become demoralized and give up on the whole thing if we fail to do every last thing.   I suggested that, at least for some, it may be a wiser course to stretch yourself, but still make the additional devotions, prayers, and activities achievable.

I was happy I received such agreement in one respect, but then I got nervous about whether or not i was just encouraging an attitude of copping out…

The following is a follow-up comment I made, that I thought I’d reproduce here.

“I wanted to make sure I clarify my comment a bit. I guess I’m just a strong believer in proper balance. And I think we all get out of balance at times one way or the other and need to constantly self-correct.

In no way am I saying that nobody can take on the full Ninevah90 program. Nor am I saying one should easily or simply dismiss it because “it’s too hard.” Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t constantly challenge ourselves to do more than we are currently doing… to take that “Next Right Step” in our spiritual growth.

What I am saying is that we are all in different places on our spiritual journey, and we all have different responsibilities in life that we cannot disregard or replace with another time consuming activity, whether it is a holy one or not.

As an example, a friend of mine – a wonderful and committed Catholic – at one point in his spiritual life thought it was a good idea to try and do everything he read that other saints did. And he was demanding his family do the same. All were good things in and of themselves, but the sheer volume of things he was doing, and in turn asking his family to do, became a real stress and caused problems in the family: Hours of adoration, hours of volunteering, hours of prayer, attending this function and that function… My observation was that I thought I fostered a better relationship with my kids and family by simply being at home and talking with them or playing a game with them. Yes, we also incorporate prayer and other spiritual devotions into family life, and I am not saying we can’t do more – we certainly can. But he was not in balance, and I could imagine even the good Lord was saying “the saint you are trying to emulate was single and a monk. You can’t do what he did – go spend time with your family.”

The Ninevah90 thing is very good, and it’s a great challenge to take upon ourselves what we can handle, and perhaps that one thing more that we feel we may need to help have God lift us up to accomplish it. That’s the next step. But if one tries to leap over a tall building in a single bound from where they are now, there is a risk that you end up a spot on the sidewalk.

I’ve already seen someone on my Facebook page lament that already on Day 3 of the program, he is undergoing a lot of spiritual warfare. I have no idea what that means, and it may very well be a true statement, but I couldn’t help but think “or maybe you just took on too much.” If he’s truly being attacked in unforeseen ways, he needs my prayers. If his view of spiritual warfare is that he doesn’t have enough time in the day to fit everything in, then I’m afraid no amount of prayer will create additional minutes for him. But hey, I could be wrong.”

I’m reminded of some of the criticisms about Catholics by some other Christians about “piling up words.”   While this criticism is usually in response to devotional prayers, such as the Rosary, and is completely unfounded, there is nevertheless a risk that some people just believe that piling up devotion after devotion after devotion makes them more holy.    We risk getting out of balance.   The proper perspective of any devotion is that we are in a relationship with God, that we are participating in the work of salvation that He alone made possible, and that we are being His hands and feet to the world around us.    If we just do a bunch of stuff in order to satisfy all the daily requirements of a program and somehow think we’re now a better person for it…  well, there may be some truth to that in terms of a better understanding that you can do more, and forming good habits.   But it could also become this obsessive action that erroneously leads to a belief that you’re working your way to heaven.

So, whatever you do, make sure your life is in balance, and make sure you know why you are doing it and why this is an important thing.

 

Facebook Debate Review

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Over the weekend, a Facebook friend of mine, a Deacon, made the following post:

“I was saddened this morning to see how a young lady who went on mission trips with <our> parish and was confirmed, posted yesterday pictures of her supporting Planned Parenthood.    I know that she is unaware of the truths of abortion mill that they are running and how they are murdering children.   I am praying that she finds out the truth.”

As one might imagine, this was met with the full gamut of potential responses, from those in complete agreement with the sentiment, to those who felt he was shaming someone publicly, to those who thought they were being condemned for ever having gone to Planned Parenthood for any reason.

Every now and then I like to break down posts and comments.   Today, I’m going to do that.

My commentary:     This may be, broadly speaking, a sort of shaming.   No names were provided, but there were some details that could be identifying in nature.   There is an acknowledgment that the person may be ignorant of the truths about what Planned Parenthood engages in.    I don’t think the post is out of bounds, as it is right and appropriate to rebuke people engaging in sinful activity, as long as it is done with charity.   I do think, though, that the reference to the Parish should have been left off.   It immediately identifies the person as local.   Had he left it at just someone who he knew had been confirmed, and had gone on mission trips then in the minds of readers it could be just about anybody.

The first back and  forth was as follows:  

Responder 1:  I’m saddened that you would put it out on face book rather than talking to her personally.

Poster: I am more saddened that she would post a picture first without talking to me so that she was well informed.

Responder 1:  But you are the adult here.

Poster: She is an “adult” as well, and “adults” should know that planned parenthood’s main revenue is from abortions.   Period.   Too bad so many people are misinformed when it comes to that.

Responder 1: I guess I’m not OK with shaming on Facebook.   A private conversation with some give and take seems more logical.   As for the adult part, well I guess the older adult should set the example.

Poster:  No give and take on that subject – abortion is the murdering of a child – it only is a choice of life or death – and I do set the example of standing up for life.

My commentary:   I can actually see points on both sides here.   I actually agree that the preferred initial approach would at least have been to ask the person in question whether or not she was aware of Planned Parenthood’s activities.    Perhaps even ask outright if she supported abortion rights (in private) to see where she stands.    And as I mentioned, even if one chooses to use this as an example for public consumption, care should be taken to use it as a teaching example, while minimizing the risk of revealing who the “sinner” is.    Also, saying there can be “no give and take” on any subject I think is wrong-headed.   One can know with certainty that they stand for what is good and true and still have a give and take with respect to a discussion.    Give and take does not imply compromise – it can imply trying to have a reasonable discussion so you can gain trust and figure out exactly where they are.    To should someone down will do no good.   I don’t think “give and take” means what he thinks it means.

Having said that, it’s a ridiculous assertion that it is completely out of bounds to make a public statement about something that someone else willingly posted in a public manner, and it’s all the more ridiculous to say that you need to treat another adult with kid gloves just because you’re an older adult.

Responder 2: How is that shaming someone?   He stated facts without naming her.    And if she believes PP is such a great organization, why would she be ashamed at all?

My commentary:   Generally agree, with caveats as already stated.   Though, I will say that it would be possible for someone to still feel good about their own support of PP while feeling a little offended by being called out by a member of the clergy, essentially, as a supporter of murder.   It may be true, but there may have been a more charitable way to go about it.

The next responder’s comment will be necessarily broken up into multiple parts.

Responder 3: As a young adult, my mom took me to Planned Parenthood to receive regular health screenings.   Does this mean I am damned for life?

This doesn’t make any sense at all, which tells me it’s an entirely emotional response.   As for the source of the emotion (either guilt, or simply an inability to accept that just because an entity does some “good” it cannot erase the evil nature of it).   For one thing, nobody anywhere said anything about being damned.   And the phrase “damned for life” makes no sense at all.   You are not damned for life if you’re damned.   You are damned for all eternity.   Which means ALL of us should be doing everything we can do to make sure we’re right with God!   Eternity’s a long time.   Finally, just because you went to PP at some point to get assistance, depending on what it is you did there, there may be nothing morally wrong with it.   If you got some check-up or general health screening, especially if you were ignorant of the other things they do, then there’s not a problem.

Unfortunately, this is why many turn from organized religion because we all judge versus support our own.

She may be right that we all tend to judge.   But the “thou shall not judge” thing is also misapplied.   The entire context of Scripture makes it clear that we should judge what people are doing from the perspective of discernment, correction, and aiding in another’s salvation.   It is not an act of love to allow one to persist in sin.  It is an act of love to correct it.   However, on the flip side, many people do not convey that correction in a charitable way.   And flipping around again, many will be corrected charitably and will see it as an act of hate because they feel they should just be “accepted.”    We “support our own” in the faith by trying to get them to heaven.    When we see error, it can be a tricky balancing act to try and figure out how to go about correcting that error, for that person’s own good.    It is not an error of organized religion that we sometimes fail to act in charity.   It is a failure of people, in general.   But those who persist in sin after receiving correction cannot be “supported” with respect to accommodating that sin.   Yes, we still need to love them, but that doesn’t mean what they think it means, often enough.

Knowing God does not judge, the message that is being forced onto us from our church leaders is disappointing.

Um…   God doesn’t judge?    Then who does?    Is there no hell?    This is the epitome of relativism.   Only are we not to judge anything anybody does as right or wrong, but God doesn’t even do it, apparently.   This is dangerous thinking.

I miss the days of feeling welcomed to church versus hearing how horrible we are because we may not attend every week, don’t dress appropriately or may support Planned Parenthood for many of their other services that help millions of people.

My commentary:   Oh, where to begin.   First, I would be curious to know exactly how this person was made to feel like she is a horrible person.   It is possible that an uncharitable approach occurred, in which case that is problematic.   But I have an inkling – maybe more – that this person heard a perfectly charitable reminder about the importance of weekly Mass attendance, the importance of modesty in dress, and felt personally offended because she was unwilling to look inward and consider what was said with humility.    Now, I don’t know her and can’t know that for certain, but what I do know is that there are many people out there who react that way even if she is not one of them.

The other irksome argument about the good the argument about pointing out the good things about Planned Parenthood is the willingness to just turn a blind eye towards the evil that they do for the sake of the good.   Not to mention, many people put contraceptive services in the “good” column.   They aren’t.

But more to the point, at the heart of all these protests in favor of Planned Parenthood is whether or not there should be federal funding for it.   So, if you feel that strongly about PP, then write them a check or use their services, or volunteer for them.   But don’t ask me to fund an organization that doers evil things.

 

Anyway, there’s actually more, and I could go on.   Maybe I’ll continue this with another post if I feel like there’s enough worth talking about.

 

Well, Charlie Johnston Was Wrong, so Now What?

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I have written of Charlie Johnston here in the past, and you can find those posts here.

I will not rehash everything I’ve previously written, but if you are not familiar with him it would be worth revisiting those posts.

So, Charlie always, first and foremost, said his message was about a broader, greater, and more general message than the simple act of prophecy (in the sense here, of predicting specifics of what is to come).   His message has been pretty simple at the base level:   trust God, don’t get all stressed out about what’s going on around you – just know that we’re in a Storm, and with that sense of awareness take the Next Right Step.   (hence, the acronym TNRS for his followers as a short summation of what it means to live in these times).

All of that is well and good.   But Charlie made a claim along the way that he has been visited by Angels since his youth, and along the way would receive visitations by others as well, including Jesus Himself.   According to his own words, he has had Spiritual Advisors who have not considered him or his messages inauthentic.    A review of his diocese did not fully embrace him, but neither did it pull the plug on him.    Basically, the results of the review showed that Charlie has not stated anything heretical or against Catholic teaching, but since the nature of the claim to supernatural insight was unknown, he was restricted from speaking on Church property.   He was careful to comply in obedience.

From all accounts, Charlie is a good and faithful man who did not profit from his ministry along the way, nor did he seem to indulge in self-aggrandizement.   He was careful to tell people not to make any preparations for the Storm beyond their means.   However prepared we thought we could be, it wouldn’t be enough anyway and may serve as a distraction.

So, anyway, it is clear that Charlie certainly had and has a good sense of where we’re headed, and how we’re trending as a culture, country, and world.    It is clear that his message is sound, and very good.   And it is also clear that he cares very much for the Church and is obedient.

The difficulty at the moment is determining what we should make of the inaccuracy of his one real prediction:   That Obama would not finish his term, and that a peaceful transition of power would not take place with respect to the Presidency.   Further, the specific prediction of a Rescue occurring at the end of 2017 is not yet proven wrong, but certainly seemed to depend upon the former prediction.

What first must be said about this is that Charlie stated before Inauguration Day that if his prediction did not come to pass that he would consider himself unreliable and would withdraw from the public.    Once the day passed, he was good to his word.   He said he was clearly deceived, that for whatever reason the deception was undetected by him and also for whatever reason his error was left uncorrected.    He is taking that as a sign that he is intended now to suffer that embarrassment, withdraw from what he was doing, and pass the torch of the general message on to others.    He has done so.    In my view, this is the proper thing to do and I think it actually bolsters his credibility.    Too many times we have seen people make predictions, and then when it doesn’t come to pass, they act as if it really did come to pass but in some vague way that defines logic.   Charlie said he has no taste for that and made no excuses.

I met Charlie in Green Bay.   He visited for a talk and my wife and I decided to go with some friends.    It was nice to see him and introduce myself.   There was little he said that I didn’t already get from his blog, but sort of like how it’s fun to see a band in concert even though you have their CDs, it’s nice to see someone talk in person what they’ve been writing about.

So, having established that Charlie was wrong and there are no excuses, there are some things worth musing about, that falls under the category of “how wrong was he?”    Think about it for a moment:   Two years ago Charlie started saying that there would be chaos and there wouldn’t be a peaceful Presidential transition.   While that didn’t come to pass, the last two years in politics in the US have been absolutely mind-numbing.   Everything that happened, the devolution of civil discourse, protests, claims of hacking and voting disruptions, calls for Electors to ignore their duty…   I saw article after article by even mainstream publications openly wondering what would happen if Trump were assassinated at the inauguration, or predicting mass chaos in the streets no matter who won…   On all levels, this was bizarre.   Good, reasonable, and not particularly out-there folks were stocking food, and wondering whether or not something really changed, or if there would be some sort of anarchist revolt.   I know I have never lived through an election that came with so many twists, turns, threats of violence, and outright uncertainty.

All of that falls short of Charlie’s prediction.   But the very fact that people were openly wondering what in the world was happening still gives one a sense that Charlie knew something we didn’t, and started seeing it before it was self-evident.

So, here’s my musings:  Is the miss here because he simply doesn’t get the messages he claims?    That’s entirely possible.   And if true, it either means he was making it up, or that he really believes it and is delusional.   It would seem an odd delusion, since much of what he says went down the directive path that he spoke about.   But, it could be that he is simply a perceptive man with gifts and talents in the area of foreseeing cultural trends, and then conflating a supernatural element on top of it.   In any case, I find it difficult to accept he was just lying about it all.   But really, only he knows.    So, suppose he really does receive these messages.   The question, then, is how was he wrong?   Well, the simple explanation is that Private Revelation does not hold the same guarantee of infallibility as Public Revelation.    The errors here could be one of not understanding that the prophecy was conditional.   This means that if people responded with sacrifice and prayer, then the prophecy could be mitigated, delayed, or reversed.   Normally, the seer would understand the conditional nature of it because a message would be delivered with the conditions required to change it.    Further, Private Revelation is dependent upon the understanding and communication of the seer, so it could simply mean that he misunderstood what was communicated.   Whether the message was meant to be allegorical, for example.

Charlie maintains that he does receive messages, but he was simply deceived by a dark spirit, and that this deception went uncorrected.   If this is true, one might wonder on two questions:  (1) why would the spirit deceive him in the first place, and (2) why would he not be corrected?

Only God truly knows the answers to all these questions, unless Charlie was simply deceiving us, in which case he too knows the answers.    But supposing there was a supernatural deception here, it could well be to drive a wedge between Charlie and his followers and get them thinking all is really well with the world.    Charlie has brought to light the Storm.   We can all see it around us, and Charlie simply articulated what we all saw and helped give meaning to it.    To the extent people became better because of it, the evil spirits would wish to counter that.   One possible explanation is that he was too close to right, so he was deceived on the details exactly for the purpose of destroying his credibility.   Perhaps many who were girding their loins and preparing not just materially, but spiritually, have renewed doubts and will now relax.    Perhaps this  deception was allowed to find out whose faith was dependent on Charlie’s success and accuracy as opposed to simply focusing on the Gospel message.   Perhaps.    It could well be that Charlie will ultimately be right about the greater prediction that the next stable leader will not come from this election, and that there will be a time of chaos for which we need a Rescue.    But now we’re a little less certain about all of that, aren’t we?   And maybe God’s OK with that.

What I will say is that I believe signs and/or prophetic accuracy are important.    Not as important as truth – for deceivers may be able to work signs and give accurate prophecy.   But given truth in the messages, the apparitions that the Church have accepted came with these things.   God knows that we are surrounded by deceivers, and it is important that we do see something to hang our hat on.    We did not get it in this case.

No sense getting down about it.   We can still keep Charlie’s message in mind as something solid to consider, and move on to loving God and neighbor the way we’re supposed to no matter what anyway.

A View of Trump’s Immigration Policy

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Well, the whole world has blown up, apparently, now that President Trump has actually done what he said he was going to do – start restricting immigration from certain countries, and limiting refugees from entering the country.

As a Catholic, I think it is incumbent upon me to try my best to separate politics from the moral questions that come into play with certain complex issues.    I don’t think there is a strict right or wrong way to look at this.   It’s complicated, there are a number of considerations that come into play, and in many ways this is a good example of looking at an issue and trying to come up with the least problematic of bad options.

So, let’s start with our moral obligation to others, just on a general basis:   Every individual has the infinite dignity that comes with being made in the image and likeness of God.   Every individual needs to be treated with this dignity and respect.   Further, Jesus is very clear that we have an obligation to the poor.   In particular, those in dire situations who are the victims of war or civil/social unrest, forced to leave their homes are people who desperately need our help.   To completely turn our backs on these people is morally reprehensible.

Now, let’s move first to the administrative approach of the President’s order.   It is clear that there are some deficiencies in the details here.   Whatever one might think of the temporary ban of people from the seven specific countries and the stay on refugees, it is hard to imagine that it was intended that people in flight should be held indefinitely at an airport, or that anyone with an approved green card should be refused entry back into the country.    It certainly does seem like there are some holes in the declaration as issued, and that corrective action is in order.

Now, we get into the muddy waters of conflicting moral questions:  (1) Our obligations to help those in need of help, and (2) the safety and security of our nation.    The Catechism itself recognizes (and the Pope – sympathetic to the plight of immigrants as much as any Pope has ever been – recently recognized) the authority of a nation to define its border and immigration policy.   The Bible also recognizes the borders and governance of nations as being divinely ordained.    While this doesn’t automatically suggest that a country can do whatever they want without there being moral implications, it does suggest there is latitude that is given to countries to make governing decisions they feel is appropriate.

The question is one of intent.   In the medical field there is an issue of double-effect, when treatment for one condition could lead to the death of a fetus, or even the individual.   If the intent is to treat the medical issue, and the intent is NOT to cause death, then a death caused by that treatment is tragic, but not morally problematic.     Likewise, as a country, our leaders have primary duties and obligations, and the defense of our nation is at the very top of that list.   This primary duty has always been, in traditional times, defense against a nation-aggressor.    But times have changed.   The real threat of terrorism, and terrorists themselves saying they plan on coming into our country to do us harm, has made the defense of our nation more complex, and almost by the terrorists’ own intent intermingled with the debate on how to deal with immigration questions in our country.

People are concerned, and rightly so, that the Executive Order may cause harm to innocent refugees who now have one less place to go.   It is a difficult thing to say that “there is no room at the inn.”    People also are concerned that there is a purposeful targeting of Muslims with the Executive Order.   This also is a difficult question of intent.   Nobody who is rational can deny that the threat of terrorism rests squarely on Islamic extremism.   It can be a difficult thing to bifurcate the subset of perpetrators of evil from the whole set of the religion that they practice.    These concerns are considerations in the debate, but in the end they cannot outweigh the more rational consideration of what is the right thing to do to protect our nation.

There is a clear and obvious example on a personal level that has been used many times before, but is worth repeating.   As the father of my family, I have a lot of obligations.   Setting aside the obligation to raise children who believe in God and to set them up as best I can to live a life that gets them to heaven, I also have obligations in the material world.   Foremost among those obligations is to protect them as best I can.   If I kill an attacker who wishes to kill or harm in a violent way my wife or children, this is a tragic obligation.   But I also protect them in other direct ways, and in other passive ways.    Firstly, I may choose where my house is to raise my family in a safer area.   Some may see this as discriminatory or judgmental, because a safer neighborhood may look different from an unsafe one.    It may also place more distance between us, so my ability to help make that neighborhood a better place to live is more difficult.   That’s all too bad, but my primary moral obligation is to my family.   My obligation may change if I were single and only have myself to worry about.   But that is not the case.   Secondly, I lock my doors.   yes – I keep out those who I have not invited.   Not because I hate everyone outside of my home, but because I don’t know who might come in, or their intent.   People are free to come over, even uninvited, and make the case for why I should let them in.   But it is up to me entirely who I let into my house.  I may turn people away.   I mean no ill will, and perhaps my criteria for selection is overly cautious and even discriminatory.   But these considerations do not outweigh the assessment that this is what I must do to protect my family.    Now, I may be misguided in some ways, and I may learn to relax my standards, but nothing I have done is morally wrong.   (Now, this doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to offer aid and kindness to others.   I need to do that – it is an obligation.    But I will find other ways that do not breach the fundamental responsibility of protecting my family.)

This is directly analogous to our country and its borders.   Those who claim it is not are not thinking reasonably, in my opinion.

So, good and honest people can disagree as to what is the right or wrong way to go about protecting our country.    We can and should have a discussion about how we may be able to help people in other ways whom we otherwise refuse to let in.    We may even have a reasonable discussion about the moral balance of the position we are taking, and learn and grow from it so that we find the proper moral balance wherein we maximize our ability to help and aid others without compromising the primary obligation of defense.

What I am seeing, mostly, at the moment is not rational argument.    I am seeing horrible claims that if you worshiped Jesus on Sunday and you agree with the Executive Order, you are a hypocrite and un-Christian.   [Most of these claims come from people who aren’t particularly religious]    I’ve seen claims that you need to rip the Pro-Life sticker off your bumper if you agree with these immigration reforms.   [Usually these posts are from people who aren’t Pro-Life, except apparently in the case of Syrian refugees]

The main issue is the hyperbole of all this:

Jimmy Carter suspended immigrants from Iran.   Barack Obama (remember him?) suspended immigrants from Iraq.   This may be on a wider scale, but it is not without precedent.

The suspensions are temporary.    The idea is to ensure a vetting process sufficiently rigorous to better know who is coming into the country.

The suspension of Refugees is similar.   The order does not eliminate an inflow of refugees.  It puts the number (50,000) at approximately the levels prior to the previous couple years.

Yes, the countries are Muslim.   But what are you going to do?    It’s an unfortunate reality that these countries have produced terrorists.   If anything, it seems more reasonable to argue that this order didn’t go far enough.   Saudi Arabia, for example, is not on the list.   Nor is Pakistan.     If anything, the criticism might be that the countries selected are not internally consistent and other considerations were made that may have had more influence than it should have in our national security conversation.

The discussion is a good one, and Christians do need to step back and try and do whatever we can to make sure that our intent here is not to harm or discriminate, but to protect our country.   In my opinion, it’s a bit sloppy and needs improvement, but the primary goal here is to protect our country.   That there may be the “double-effect” of some harm to immigrants and refugees who could benefit from entry into our country is unfortunate, but it is not morally problematic because that is not the aim.    It does mean we have an obligation to expedite our vetting, establish clear parameters for entry, and do everything we can to aid them in other ways in the meantime.

 

Marching Women

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I have no issues with anyone marching or protesting on whatever it is they want to march and protest about.    It is one of our rights as a U.S. citizen to exercise our voice and freely express our opinion.

That doesn’t mean I find the free speech in question good or honorable.   It just means I believe in the rights of people to be wrong or make fools of themselves.

I have a few issues with the hundreds of thousands of people who marched on Saturday, supposedly to give women a voice.

  • There was no particular thing they seemed to be marching about. I have no issues with a desire for equal treatment, equal pay, equal dignity, etc.    But this seemed much more like a pro-abortion, pro-planned-parenthood march garnished with a general tantrum about the outcome of the election.
  • If you are claiming that being a woman is your unifying parameter, then women should not have turned away other women from joining in the march.    Women wearing Trump hats or carrying pro-life signs were turned away.
  • If you’re going to start a movement that endears yourselves to others and to change minds and hearts, adopting Madonna and Ashley Judd as your spokespeople is not a good place to start.

The Climate Change Pope, Part 3

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I’ve spent a couple blog posts giving the background on why I believe the Pope is wrong about climate change.   Let me start this post by stating my areas of agreement with the Pope.

  1. I am not deligitimizing the overall, general issue of stewardship of God’s creation.     I am not suggesting the Pope has no authority in this area, nor that he should be silent about these concerns.   I am not even saying that the Pope has no right to an opinion on whether or not human-caused global warming (or climate change) is real.    He, as does every person, has a right to an opinion.    As Pope, he has the obligation to instruct the faithful.   More generally speaking, it is proper and correct to challenge all of us as to whether or not we are striking the proper balance between respect for human rights and progress and respect for God’s creation.
  2. There should be many things that we see that should not be particularly debatable as either a good thing or a bad thing in the realm of stewardship of the earth.   Dumping of toxins, breaking the law, leaving a plastic bottle in the woods – some are clearly more serious than others, but all are wrong.   The Pope is correct to suggest that knowingly doing something that is harmful to the planet is sinful.    This statement is not Gaia-worship, it is a simple acknowledgment that we have a responsibility we need to take seriously to keep this planet as healthy as possible, because God made it good, and also because it’s in our best interest to do so.    No matter how pro-capitalism one might be, this should not be debatable.
  3. Consumerism is a somewhat strange word, but we should all be able to agree that, while the economic system is not inherently problematic, the human conditions of jealousy and greed are.   You can point to any economic system ever put in place anywhere, and you will have one thing in common:   greedy people will find a way to take advantage of other people, and will exploit the system to their gain.    I personally believe that the Pope is often a bit too hard on capitalism, as if the system itself is flawed.    Compared to any other system devised, I actually thing it produces the most superior of moral outcomes – you earn what you deserve (generally speaking) and it forces allocation of resources in the most efficient way for a thriving economy, which benefits everybody.     Clearly, there are shortfalls, as will be the case with every system, and we continue to try to create the perfect variant of a social-capitalistic system, which will never happen.   But having said all that, it is certainly worth noting the personal pitfalls of this system.   Capitalism does offer the opportunity for great wealth.   That’s not bad, but is the question is why is that wealth being pursued?     It’s one thing if natural interests or a great idea that can add to the quality of life of others is the reason for the pursuit.    It’s also another thing if an opportunity exists to make your life better without sacrificing other good things (God, family, etc.).   It’s quite another if the drive is purely materialistic, and the time and effort is sacrificing time and energy on more idealistic pursuits.   This is where capitalism, while not bad in and of itself, can be a source of temptation for those who may have a personal weakness in the area of covetousness or greed.    This goes hand-n-hand, then, with the stewardship of creation.   Most Corporations are good, all of which are filled with working people – I hate the generalization of all Corporations as somehow innately evil. This doesn’t mean that greed cannot infect the principal owners/board members of an organization.    As Christians, we can both believe in the goodness of capitalism while speaking out against environmental injustices when they happen.
  4. There are grey areas in the area of stewardship that can be legitimately debated.    Is it immoral to build a factory that will employ people who will be able to provide for their families if it means the endangered snail darter will be at serious risk?    Is it immoral to shutter the entire project, causing community disruptions, lost jobs, and so forth because of an overscrupulous view of stewardship?    Good and honest people will disagree on the moral high ground here.   Perhaps there is a middle ground that makes sense.    One thing is almost certain – not everyone will agree, and it’s almost impossible to say that one side is sinning and the other is not.

So, I think the Pope makes many great points, and challenges us to make sure we are not letting politics steer our religious or moral obligations.    However, where I do take issue is moving from the moral directives to a much more specific proclamation of what our obligations are as a world community, as governments, and as individuals in response to the threat of human-caused climate change.

It is one thing to take a position that dumping a known toxin into a river is a sinful action, and it is quite another to suggest that driving a car is a sin if the option of a bus is available.   If the moral instruction is based on a belief that fossil fuel use is causing destructive warming, it is understandable why that instruction takes place.   But if that underlying premise is false, then the moral instruction is also false.    Put differently, if I do not accept the science-based premise that leads to a particular moral instruction on the basis of that scientific premise – not on simply obstinate grounds, but on grounds of experience and research and (to the extent possible) unbiased human reasoning – then am I obligated to accept the moral instruction that is a response to the flawed scientific premise?    This is different from just saying “I studied the Bible and I don’t believe in Purgatory.”    That is not a scientific question that leads to a religious doctrine.   So, I am not saying that whatever I don’t accept I don’t need to listen to.  In fact, I accept that the moral issue of stewardship is an obligation on my part.   It is the specific nature of this issue that I have a problem with.

One may simply ask, “What’s the big deal?”    Well, it is a big deal, actually.    If the Pope gives moral authority to governments, the UN, and other secular organizations on this issue, it sets the stage for a much more aggressive response with the justification that the Vatican is on board.   I think the Pope, in his own way, has this vision of the goodness of they types of choices that will be made – people just decide to buy fewer things, drive less, think about the environment more, and participate less in the types of things that will drive climate change.   Governments will do reasonable things that benefit everyone.

There is good there, and the good things are the things we should do anyway, irrespective of climate change.   But going beyond personal choices, everything else is problematic even if the theory is correct.   And if the theory is wrong, then everything else is horribly flawed. Governments will tax – inefficient, and a displacement of resources that can help people.   Governments will regulate and restrict production, will deviate resources to unnecessary and expensive areas, and will be an overall drag on growth and incomes.   But far worse will be the continuation and escalation of social engineering:   (a) abortion on demand will continue, be promoted as a good, and will escalate in the areas of the world where it has yet to gain a foothold; (b) people will be encouraged to outright “fear” having children, further encouraging use of contraception,  (c) personal property rights and use of property will continue to be diminished and attacked, and (d) marriage will continue to devolve into an institution of self-happiness rather than as an institution of rearing the next generation.

Now, the Pope doesn’t want fewer children via an increase in abortion and contraception.   And he would condemn that approach.   But the secular world doesn’t care what the Pope thinks, except when he thinks something they can use to advance their agenda.   While it should not be the case that the Pope should never speak pastorally or on social justice issues due to the risk of progressives selectively choosing the words of his they want to use for their purposes, neither should the Pope dismiss or ignore the fact that this reality exists.   He should understand the consequences of his instruction, and at the very least make it clear that when he speaks of these things, he condemns absolutely a number of the human “solutions” or agendas around this issue.

He should, in my opinion, also not speak so absolutely about the truth of climate change as a result of human activity, but instead focus more generally on environmental stewardship and our moral responsibility.