Friday, July 24, 2015

Did you see the debate with Hitchens? part 2

Continued from last week…
Dear Horst,
The Catholic approach to evangelism, Mother Teresa’s approach, was simply to live among and humbly serve the poor of any nation. She said nothing about the Gospel, until she was asked why she was doing this. She would simply respond that she wanted to be like Christ. As often as not the person she was serving would say, “I want to know this Christ.”
True evangelism is different from the quasi-governmental coercion that Mr. Hitchens so hates. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach Christ always. If necessary, use words.” St. Peter says as much in his first epistle. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) 
The true evangelist lives the Christian life long before he opens his mouth. He opens his mouth to speak Christ only when asked. This is how the faith spread in the first three centuries, and it is how the faith has ever really spread. Perhaps religion can be spread by the sowing and shouting, but faith cannot be. 
Mr. Hitchens tried very hard to spread his religion by argument, but I would not want his religion for anything. He seemed so sad, and his last years seemed consumed by his amused hatred for people like me. Booze and cigarettes and sadness, I suspect, ultimately killed him at age 62.
He posed a question that I think I can answer. “What can a believer do that a non-believer cannot?”  I would answer that a believer can make a claim that a non-believer cannot. That’s all just make a claim. I can claim that I am seeking another person’s highest good, which is how St. Thomas Aquinas defined love. 
An atheist cannot claim that. Even if the believer is wrong and there is no God, even in his delusion he can make a claim that an atheist cannot. Logically, reasonably, a non-believer cannot claim to know the highest good because he does not admit to the existence of a highest good. If, for the atheist, the highest good is survival, then it must be my survival or at best our survival, which might necessitate the death of another, or others. I learned this from my friend Rabbi Lefkovitz. He said that Jesus’ saying, “Do unto others what you would have them do to you,” is a terrible thing. How do I know what you want? Perhaps what you like best is repugnant to me.
So, an atheist shouldn’t do unto others. Your highest good might decide that my very existence was not congruent with your highest good as did the above mentioned heroes of Nazism and Marxist atheist theory. You may want to die for the cause but please leave me out of it. It is true that tyrants have used the teachings of Jesus as an excuse for the violent aggregation of power. However, they have acted contrary to His will. In slaughtering the millions, the Revolutionists of the 20th century acted in perfect harmony with the teaching of their founders. I assert that the misery of the modern era and every era can be placed right at the feet of man unrestrained by the ethical teaching of the Judeo/Christian moral code. One may dress tyranny up in the trappings of Christianity, but he is not a Christian.
We deluded Catholics agree with St. Thomas Aquinas that to love is to seek the highest good of another. There is the one ethical behavior that a logically consistent atheist cannot do. He cannot love. If love is to seek the highest good, then godless love is not a real possibility. I can enjoy, take pleasure in, desire another. I can strive for our shared well being. I can strive to please another or to make them happy. 
The Christian believes that the highest good of another may not always be pleasing to that other, just as a vaccination may displease a squirming five-year-old. The ancients admitted many different types of love among which was Eros, the love that desires to possess the beloved, and philia, the love that finds comfort mutuality and pleasure in another. Much rarer was the word Agape, the love that hopes for no return on its investment in the other. Eros and philia come easily to the atheist, but Agape may not even be a possibility for the atheist untainted by the Judeo Christian ethic.
I may be wrong, but there may be another thing of which the true atheist is incapable: awe. Hitchens mentions some line about, “the stars not giving a damn about whether or not I go to hell.” For the materialist/atheist everything can and will be explained. The universe is just a collection of random rocks, some of which may have the ability to will things. Contrast this with what blogger Fr. Longenecker posted on July 8, 2015: 
I like evangelists, faith healers, weeping Madonnas and the Shroud of Turin… Such things irritate all those who worship at the altar of good taste. They annoy the heck out of the rationalists who insist there must be a material explanation for everything…..Apart from anything else, believing that weird things happen makes life so much more fun. How entertaining to think that things are unpredictable, that there are gaps in the curtain between the worlds where angels can get in. What a thrill to believe that the universe is open-ended and that anything can happen. The gospel says, "With God all things are possible." You could read this as meaning, "With God anything can happen." He’s the God of Surprises, the eternal Wild Card. On the other hand, how dull to believe that everything is cut and dried. What a waste to never worship. How prosaic never to pray. How boring to live in a closed universe. You might as well be living in a coffin. On the other hand, what an adventure it is to believe that miracles happen—that with God all things are possible, that it's possible to walk on water, calm the storms, feed five thousand people with a tiny lunch and rise again on the third day.
Wishing does not make it so, perhaps I am wrong. There are lots of reasons I think I’m right, but Mr. Hitchens seems to be doing a lot of wishing himself, such as wishing that all religions and all religious people are the same, that there is only one kind of evangelism, that Atheism is a kind of religion, except of course for his atheism, and on and on and more.
Perhaps his most basic assumption is that I think he is going to hell if he doesn’t join my church. I don’t think he is going to hell. I think he was in a hell of his own making when he did that interview. Where he is or if he is now I don’t know. All I know is that when Christ found me, I found a way out of my own hell. I hope Mr. Hitchens found a way out too.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, July 17, 2015

Did you see the debate with Hitchens?

Dear Rev Know-it-all,
I saw a wonderful presentation. I am not sure if it was a debate or an interview. In it the world renowned atheist with the cool British accent Christopher Hitchens debated a rather large fellow who was a Roman Catholic. At first I thought the rather hefty Catholic might be you, but he was a whole lot more liberal than you. I would love to know your opinion of the presentation.
Horst Raes
Dear Horst,
For your sake, I endured the entire hour and a half video. I think Hitchens was mistaken about three premises. His portly Papist friend just nodded and agreed with Hitchens’ egregious non-facts.  First, Hitchens asserts that religion in general and Catholicism in particular is evil and no different than fascism or Marxism which, though atheist, are also religions and are the fault of Christianity wherein Hitler and Stalin learned all their nasty oppressive habits. This is clear as we see the collaboration of the anti-Semite Pius XII with the Nazis and the fact that Stalin was a Russian Orthodox seminary student for less than a year. This is nonsense. Hitchens was wrong about Pius XII, who was credited by the state of Israel with saving 600,000 Jews when no one else was saving any. He hid Jews in every nook and cranny of the Vatican. Read “A Special Mission: Hitler's Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII” by Dan Kurzman, or Rabbi David Dahlen’s “Myth of Hitler’s Pope.”   Hitchens didn’t do his homework, or was indulging in wishful thinking. As for Stalin, I suspect his mother made him join the seminary.
The second assumption is that the Jews rejected Jesus. Hitchens makes the point that both Mohammed and Jesus first spoke to Jews and were rejected by them. He claims that the first people to whom Jesus and Mohammed spoke must not have been very impressed by either prophet of the new religions because they didn’t join the new religions. Though this may be true for Mohammad, it was certainly not true of Jesus. The sociologist Dr. Rodney Stark, made a careful study of tombstones and name lists in the first three centuries after Christ. The documentary evidence indicates that many, perhaps most Jews in the Roman Empire accepted the messianic claims of Jesus. At the time of Christ there were at least 5 million Jews in the Roman Empire. A few centuries later there were less than a million.  This means that either 3 to 4 million Jews became Christian or just disappeared. Stark believes the available evidence indicates that Greek speaking Jews accepted the messianic claims of Jesus and blended into the Greek speaking population of the empire, and this at a time when Jews had a favored status among the Romans while Christians were persecuted. There was no coercion to become a Christian, quite the opposite. There was good reason to remain Jewish. Jews had a protected status in the empire even after the destruction of the temple. Christianity was an illegal often persecuted sect. There was no reason other than faith for a Jew to become a Christian.
Christians did not advertise. They hid. Non-Christians were not even allowed to attend certain Christian services. Christians by the year 200 were famous throughout the empire for the respect in which they held marriage and for their power to heal the sick for which they asked no money. People, including Jews, sought out Christians, not the other way around. Mr. Hitchens seems never to have encountered this kind of evangelism.
Mr. Hitchens asks the listener to assume that his opinions are indisputable and these two assertions are quite disputable.  This leads to a third assumption. Mr. Hitchens assumes that if I am a good Christian, I cannot rest until I know that he is going to heaven. He assumes that evangelism is an intellectual exercise to convince the heathen that the Christian is right, and that the heathen is wrong and if he does not finally agree with me and joins my religious club, he will go to hell. That seems to be what Mr. Hitchens thinks is evangelism. It’s certainly not the way I define evangelism. I suspect Mr. Hitchens understands this as evangelism because it’s the only evangelism he has ever encountered. He has also never encountered a church that was not a political church. The god he rejects is an Anglican god, a god invented by the Tudors.
Herein I suspect we find the source of his unhappiness. The first three centuries of the faith, when it overcame the Roman Empire, were free of political involvement. The Roman state practiced Mr. Hitchens’ brand of evangelism. Worship the emperor or you are not one of us and must die. Christians hadn’t the power to coerce conversion and it was in those first years that the faith grew exponentially. I suspect that if one must believe, one cannot believe. If I have no option but to be a church member, my membership cannot be based on faith. It is based on fear of governmental reprisal. When a religion becomes the tool of the state, as it did in Anglican England, the coercion that repelled Mr. Hitchens takes the place of faith.  I join Mr. Hitchens in his dislike of politicians who wear vestments. Unfortunately it seems that is the only kind of Christianity that Mr. Hitchens has ever known.
Mr. Hitchens aims his big guns at Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a woman whom he admits even non-religious people like except of course for Mr. Hitchens. He blasts her for going to Ireland, a country about which she knows nothing and there telling the Irish not to accept divorce and abortion. She should, he implies, mind her own business and not try to force her religion on the Irish. Mother Teresa, I suspect believes that abortion and divorce are bad for children. They are not her religion. They are her perception of the common good. Had she gone to Nazi Germany and told Hitler to stop killing Jews, would Hitchens say that she should mind her own business. Those who disrupt family life and commit abortion are hurting children at least that seems to be the opinion of Mother Teresa.
In his condemnation of Mother Teresa, Hitchens must certainly think that children in the womb are somehow subhuman and that children have no rights to a stable home situation. I also assume that therefore he would not claim the right to have criticized Hitler who devoutly believed in his Nazi religion, as Hitchens understands religion, that taught Jews were subhuman and, along with gypsies, had no right to any kind of safety or stability.  Certainly Mr. Hitchens would not have forced his religion down the throats of Nazis, and that is most certainly what Mr. Hitchens’ atheism is: a religion. He is an aggressive anti-evangelist who would argue me into accepting his religion and would save me from delusions about a Supreme Being.
Mr. Hitchens was an evangelist or perhaps better a de-evangelist cut from the same cloth he despises.
(To be continued)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What's with the Church's record on slavery? part 2

Letter to Ray Sizzehm continued...
We Americans are proud of our repudiation of slavery, and that we fought a Civil War to end it.  I am not so sure that we were told the truth in high school history classes. Slavery in the United States didn’t end with the Civil War.
It is interesting that Abraham Lincoln did not talk about the complete abolition of slavery until he had safely won a second term as president. He seems to have been opposed to slavery since his youth, but he knew that if he prosecuted the war, in a way that was a “war to free the Negroes” (the phrase then current) the average Northern soldier would have laid down his weapons.  He didn’t like slavery, but liked blacks even less, just as he disliked Catholics, Jews, and the Irish. Illinois among other states passed laws to keep free blacks out of the state during the Civil War.  The fact is that in many places a kind of slavery was reintroduced after the Civil War that kept African Americans in servitude. This system didn’t begin finally to break down until my childhood in the 1950’s.  A rose by any other name….

I am afraid that the Catholic Church has never fully repudiated slavery, at least until modern times.  That, I believe has to do with the fact that slavery is alive and well and you, dear reader, are its beneficiary.   Slavery is defined by the United Nations as: “debt bondage, serfdom, forced marriage and the delivery of a child for the exploitation of that child are all slavery-like practices and require criminalization and abolishment.”  The 1930 Forced Labor Convention defines slavery as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily".
 I think the definition given by Lincoln two years before the Civil War in the Lincoln Douglas debates is the clearest and simplest definition:

They (slavery and freedom) are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
 Allow me to quote the New York Times, Dec. 2, 2014, that’s a year and half ago. 
Modern-day slaves include construction workers in the Persian Gulf, girls from Nepal trafficked into prostitution, shrimp fishermen on Thai ships, children in India working in brick kilns and garment workers in Bangladesh. Slavery is also present in prostitution rings, and even in private homes that employ domestic workers in the United States and Europe….. Despite laws that clearly make the practice illegal, slavery is increasing. Women and girls account for 70 percent of those trafficked.  Just five countries account for 61 percent of the world’s slaves. India has, by far, more enslaved people than any country — more than 14 million. Three million are enslaved in China; two million in Pakistan; 1.2 million in Uzbekistan and one million in Russia. In Mauritania, which made slavery illegal decades ago but remains prey to an entrenched tradition of slavery, 4 percent of the population is enslaved.
 To that list, I would add Sudan where Christian boys from the south are sold, last I heard for about $50, though I imagine with the war slowing down and inflation, the price has gone up. Also on the list Iraq and Syria where Muslims sell Christian girls as young as three and four to fill the harems of the Muslim world and our friend Saudi Arabia where people, especially young Filipino girls come to find work and then to their surprise are not allowed to leave despite horrible abuse. Let us not cluck our tongues and shake our heads. 
As I write this I am sitting at a desk that comes from Indonesia (some assembly required) wearing cheap polyester blend clothing made probably by underpaid forced labor or by prisoners in China as does the coffee cup which keeps me awake with its blessed tawny nectar. I am wearing sandals made by little Indonesian girls who are locked in a factory and paid 22 cents an hour. The sandals are very nice. They cost almost $30.00. The shoe stores and the manufacturers divvied up $30 and gave a few cents to the forced child labor that made them. I have not reputed slavery nor have you. “You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.” As Lincoln might have said today, “You make shoes and I’ll wear them, you make laptops and I’ll sell them you make chairs and I’ll sit on them.”  We have not repudiated slavery in this country. We have just moved it to places where it can’t be easily seen.  
Every time you buy a new pair of sneakers or fill up your gas tank you are enjoying the fruits of slavery. Stop your pious liberal belly aching.  Wherever the Christianity has flourished and Catholicism in particular, slavery has diminished. The Catholic Church was perhaps the first major organization in the world to condemn slavery Pope Benedict XIV condemned slavery in the papal bull Immensa Pastorum in 1741.  The other great world religions seem to have no problem. Islam to this day permits slavery and it is primarily among Muslims that slavery is being given new life through the efforts of the new Muslim Caliphate in the Middle East. Hinduism seems to have no problem with slavery and the great new world religion of secularism which has just given us gay marriage, seems particularly fond of a more subtle kind of slavery.
Catholicism has, however condemned something that we overlook, something that when combined with slavery produces one of the most evil institutions ever devised.  The Catholic Church has condemned racism by its very existence. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". (Galatians 3:28)  Notice St. Paul does not say you are the same, but that you are one in Christ. 
Christianity admits the existence of difference, but insists that it is not the central reality of human existence. Race for the Christian does not really exist except as an external factor, and no institution on earth has more consistently taught this than the Universal, that is catholic, Church.  People who claim to be Catholics may have been horrible racists, but as soon as European Catholicism encountered the completer other, they insisted that those others were also children of God with rights and dignities. In 1402, when the Spaniards “discovered “the Canary Islands they promptly started to enslave the “Guanches,” the indigenous inhabitants of that place. The pope condemned the practice. Regarding the Guanches, Eugene IV in 1435 wrote in his bull, Sicut Dudum
“...They have deprived the natives of their property or turned it to their own use, and have subjected some of the inhabitants of said islands to perpetual slavery, sold them to other persons and committed other various illicit and evil deeds against them... We order and command all and each of the faithful of each sex that, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands...who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money.”
 When Europeans moved on to the Americas and “discovered” the great empires of the New World, Pope Paul III condemned the enslavement of the indigenous peoples in 1537. In the bull Sublimus Dei, Pope Paul III prohibited “unjust” kinds of enslavement relating to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and all others. He called enslavers allies of the devil and condemned attempts to justify slavery.  What did he mean by “unjust kinds of slavery”?  He meant precisely the kind of slavery that we practiced in the United States, chattel slavery based on race. “Chattel” means property. Chattel slavery makes a person a thing.  What the Church has always tried to do is to guarantee that even those who are enslaved have basic rights. They may not be treated as things. We have always insisted that every human being is a person, not a thing. To enslave the other because he is not “us” has always been condemned by Catholicism, though individuals who claim to be Christian have often ignored the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, as they still do today.
As we human beings try to extricate ourselves from the economic predicament of slavery, which  is now and will be for the foreseeable future a major part of the world’s economy, Christianity has said for the very beginning that the other is human and that all people are descended from a common origin and are thus a  family.  Nazis and all other forms of racism deny this. The Church has always championed the universality of the human person. The saints of the Church have always represented the many nations and languages of the earth. Sanctity has never been based on so-called race. The bishops of the Church are the most truly international organization in the world today, despite the pretensions of the United Nations.  The world is trying its best to bring back slavery. Thank heaven for the Church which will always resist the spread of slavery. 
A word of caution to those who want to destroy the Church:  who will struggle to keep you free if you succeed in destroying her?
Rev. Know-it-all