Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Tradition" Is Not a Dirty Word

By Dave Armstrong (10-31-06)

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."


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: a Biblical Contradiction?

By Dave Armstrong (10-31-06)

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.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

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

By Dave Armstrong (10-29-06)

[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. Recently, I came in contact with him on the Against the Grain blog, talking about the issue of the intrinsic immorality of torture.

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. 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

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.]

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. All Protestants opposed it as grave sin till 1930)]

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 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

I'm a "Spiritual Predator" Who Wants to "Attack, Maim, and Torture" Because I Critiqued an Atheist Deconversion? (vs. RubySera Martin)

By Dave Armstrong (10-28-06)

[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.

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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Scientific Evidence of the Link Between Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer

By Dave Armstrong (10-24-06; greatly expanded and updated: 10-19-12)

Does this information come solely pro-life groups or Catholic bishops? No:

"BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation Carriers, Oral Contraceptive Use, and Breast Cancer Before Age 50" (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, Oct. 2006)

"Estrogen Carcinogenesis in Breast Cancer," James D. Yager, Ph.D., and Nancy E. Davidson, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine, 354:270-282, 19 Jan. 2006.

"If it's not OK for him to take steroids...why is it OK for her?" (Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, 2006)

"Oral contraceptives and breast cancer review and meta-analysis" (Cancer, American Cancer Society, 1 Dec. 1990)

"Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer Risk Among Younger Women" (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 31 March 1995) 

"Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk" (National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet)

"The Birth Control Pill and Cancer Risk" (Breast Cancer Health Center / WebMD)

"Federal Study Confirms Contraception-Breast Cancer Link" (Tim Drake, National Catholic Register, 8 Jan. 2010)

"Surgeon: birth control pill a ‘molotov cocktail’ for breast cancer" (Kathleen Gilbert, LifeSiteNews, 6 Dec. 2010)

"Study: Abortion, Hormonal Contraceptives Influence Breast Cancer Risk" (John Jalsevac, LifeSiteNews, 8 Sep. 2009)

"Major U.S. Study Shows Oral Contraceptives Increase Breast Cancer Risk 44 %" (Gudrun Schultz, LifeSiteNews, 25 Oct. 2006)

"Abortion, Birth Control Pills, Raises Breast Cancer Risk" (Pam Stephan, About.com: Breast Cancer, 8 Jan. 2010)

"Injectable contraceptive doubles risk of breast cancer, study shows" (Monica Dybuncio, CBS News, 5 April 2012)

Dolle J, Daling J, White E, Brinton L, Doody D, et al. "Risk factors for triple-negative breast cancer in women under the age of 45 years," Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009;18(4)1157-1166. [description]

Daling JR, Malone DE, Voigt LF, White E, Weiss NS. "Risk of breast cancer among young women: relationship to induced abortion," J Natl Cancer Inst 1994;86:1584-1592.  [description]

White E, Malone KE, Weiss NS, Daling JR. "Breast cancer among young US women in relation to oral contraceptive use," J Natl Cancer Inst 1994;86:505-514. [description]

Daling JR, Brinton LA, Voigt LF, et al. "Risk of breast cancer among white women following induced abortion," Am J Epidemiol 1996;144:373-380. [description]

"Cancer Risk Among Women Taking Contraceptives Measured in Study" (ABC News, 6 March 2012)

Immoral or not, if something (like, e.g., smoking) is shown to have a direct relation to cancer, rational folks will (hopefully!) start listening.

One might argue that it is common sense (even before scientific medical studies are brought into it) to see that our messing around with the divinely designed human reproductive system was bound to have negative health effects. Sure enough . . .

* * * * *

The Controversial "Torture" Issue and Catholic Development Concerning the Treatment of Heretics

This issue is currently producing ferocious controversy in the blogosphere (complete with all the sadly usual personal attacks on both sides). For the most part I have kept out of it, for several reasons, but I did want to make a few comments, because the dispute touches on areas which greatly interest me (particularly, development of doctrine and how religious tolerance is viewed). I did so elsewhere and now reproduce my observations here.

The best place to get most, if not all, of the relevant, important links to both sides of the discussion is Chris Blosser's superb three-part compendium at his blog, Against the Grain:

I cite Fr. Brian W. Harrison at length, in favor of my position. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

I'm no fan whatsoever of the Inquisition, the Crusades, or of coercion to believe anything, but I recognize that it is necessary to some degree (the smallest amount the better) in the present circumstances. We're in the real world. Certain clearly specified, morally acceptable forms of coercion in limited amounts for extremely important strategic and preventive purposes is no worse than warfare itself, which the Church has never condemned in toto.

I should add that even if the Inquisition-era sanctions are not infallible (I leave those sorts of technical questions to canon lawyers), there is still a big problem that such acts were sanctioned at all by the Church in any way, shape, or form.

That would mean the Church was on the side of (and an outright proponent of) an intrinsically immoral act. I don't believe (in faith) that this has ever happened (call me naive if you like, but there it is). If someone thinks that it has, I think it has implications at the very least, for their ecclesiology, even if infallibility is not involved.

* * *

One of the more temperate, sensible voices in the ongoing debate is Scott Carson, from the blog An Examined Life. His words will be in green:

. . . we may note that if it is possible for Veritatis Splendor to be mistaken about the moral status of torture because of the possibility of an appeal to fallible prudential reasoning, then it is equally possible for earlier documents "requiring" the use of torture to be mistaken in their use of prudential judgments to argue for the moral licitness of torture in defense of the common good. This renders the premise regarding the appeal to the alleged historical facts regarding earlier uses of torture either false or hopelessly ambiguous, and this vitiates the soundness of the argument.

It is worth noting at this point that the premise claiming that earlier "popes and councils" actually "sanctioned" torture is in itself hopelessly vague, even independently of its use in this particular argument. We are not told who these popes were, or which councils, or the circumstances under which they are being said to have "sanctioned" torture, or even what the alleged sanctions were other than threats of excommunication for "heresy". It ought to go without saying that this kind of premise is utterly useless if for no other reason than its manifestly controversial nature.

. . . the judgment of Veritatis Splendor, that torture is per se immoral (or, "intrinsically evil". . .), is not a prudential judgment, but a judgment about matters of faith and morals, the very domain in which the Ordinary Magisterium is regarded by faithful Catholics as indefectible. The judgments of earlier "popes and councils", however, to the effect that the use of torture is the correct way to safeguard the common good, are clearly matters of prudential judgment, matters in which the Ordinary Magisterium is not regarded as indefectible.

. . . if we are to regard the Church's Ordinary Magisterium as indefectible, we must take Veritatis Splendor to reflect the infallible teaching on the moral status of torture, and we must regard the actions of earlier "popes and councils" who threatened folks with excommunication for not using torture as misguided attempts to safeguard the common good.

("Who Speaks For the Church?", 10-21-06)

Hi Scott,

I believe I bypassed this objection in a brief comment on this issue that I made at Against the Grain. [see above]

I argued that even if various Church pronouncements on this matter are not magisterial, it is still an implausible state of affairs for the Church to have offered widespread sanction for this sort of thing (some sense of the word "torture" or "interrogation" - definition is crucial here) in the days of the Inquisition (even by St. Thomas Aquinas, if I am not mistaken), if, in fact, it is intrinsically evil.

That would mean that the Church sanctioned (even if only "non-magisterially") intrinsic evil, which would be akin to its sanction today of, say, abortion, or infanticide.

I make similar arguments regarding capital punishment and nuclear war. The Church has clearly sanctioned capital punishment in the past, and even today acknowledges that states have the right to permit it. Therefore, it cannot (like all war) be intrinsically wrong. That's more clear-cut, but there is still some analogy to the present discussion.

I think the Church either does, or comes darn close to, condemning nuclear war, in Gaudium et spes 80 ("Total warfare"). This may not be "magisterial" (I don't claim to know all the fine "canon lawyer" details), but even if it isn't, it remains the case that scarcely an orthodox moral theologian can be found who thinks that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are justifiable. So I think it is almost (but not quite) the case to speak of the "Mind of the Church" on that issue.

Bottom line: I think it is possible to envision some sort of "Mind of the Church" even if it is not technically magisterial, when there is a widespread consensus.

If you think that Church sanction of limited torture in the past was not magisterial, can you give me other examples where the Church sanctioned intrinsic evil and then later reversed itself? I don't find that plausible at all.

As far as I know, it never historically happened: not in its teachings (the Church never sanctioned, e.g., slavery, did it?). This is one reason I am a Catholic, because of the solid record on moral issues.

I agree with what Fr. Brian W. Harrison wrote, in a letter to Crisis magazine, in September 2005. It's consistent with my argument. I quote in part:

. . . we will search Scripture, Tradition, and the pre-Vatican II Magisterium in vain for any condemnations of torture (e.g., flogging) as a punishment for duly convicted delinquents, or as a means of extracting life-saving information from terrorists or other known enemies.

Fellow Catholics, I submit that we have a problem here. For the development of Catholic doctrine over time is supposed to flow harmoniously from what was taught 'always, everywhere, and by all,' according to the classic criterion laid down by Vincent of LĂ©rins. The Church is not supposed to be able to invent new doctrines out of whole cloth.

. . . our divinely authored Judeo-Christian constitution not only fails to prohibit the infliction of severe bodily pain, it explicitly invokes divine authority in mandating such practices: flogging, stoning, and even burning sinners to death (cf. Lv 20:1, 14; 21:1, 9).

. . . Also, if we are going to quote one ecumenical council (Vatican II) against torture, we cannot overlook the fact that another ecumenical council (Vienne, 1311-12) legitimized it.

. . . Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are clear that capital punishment, whatever authoritative prudential judgment may be made by the Church regarding its applicability under modern conditions, is not intrinsically evil. But how is this coherent with the contemporary teaching that torture is intrinsically evil? Is being flogged - even with the biblical 39 stripes (cf. Dt 25:2-3) - really a fate worse than death?

. . . I do not pretend to know the answers. I ask for help. The only positive contribution I have to make at this stage is to suggest that Mark Shea is mistaken in claiming that 'the Church has answered' this question definitively against torture. The word 'definitively' applies only to infallibly proposed teachings of the Magisterium (either ordinary or extraordinary). And I believe few if any orthodox theologians would regard the conditions for infallible teaching as being verified in the texts cited by Mr. Shea (Gaudium et Spes 27 and Veritatis Splendor 80).

Fr. Harrison provides copious biblical documentation sanctioning various forms of "torture" or infliction of pain, in a lengthier article. In Part II he presents the evidences from Catholic tradition. He sums up:

The fact is that in the course of nearly two millennia, no infallible teaching either for or against torture (for any purpose whatever) had ever been laid down by the Church in either her ordinary or extraordinary magisterium. What we have seen is a disappointing magisterial silence during the patristic period, followed by a merely authentic magisterial teaching (cf. B1) against confession-extracting torture which prevailed in the late first and early second millennia. But this was then obscured, in theory and in brutal practice, for another half-millennium by an opposing sententia communis theologorum which was endorsed up till the 18th century by even saints and Doctors of the Church. Meanwhile, the per se liceity of severe pain-infliction as punishment for known offenders was constantly and universally upheld without the perceived need for specific magisterial interventions.

. . . 20th-century Communist and Nazi regimes, along with many other petty dictatorships, especially in Latin America, Asia and Africa - not to mention any number of proscribed terrorist and criminal organizations - had been clandestinely refining, and ruthlessly applying, any number of new and horrendous torture techniques.

That, I suggest, is essentially the kind of torture contemplated and condemned by Vatican II, and then subsequently branded by John Paul II, as one example of "intrinsically evil" practices among others, when he quotes the Council word for word in Veritatis Splendor #80 (cf. B12 above).


He makes a number of excellent, insightful points in Part II: too complex to summarize. I urge everyone interested in this issue to read his articles, if for no other reason than their encyclopedic scope.

You touch on what I believe to be the most important points in this debate, but I certainly agree . . . that we have to proceed carefully here or else we risk attributing a contradiction to the Church's Magisterium.

I suspect that what we will find, if we examine the documents closely, is that this issue is not unlike the teaching on usury, which has also been pointed to as a case in which the Church contradicted herself. As a professional apologist, I'm quite sure that you know the full story on that one, and are as familiar as anybody with the reasons why it is not a case of change in teaching but development of doctrine.

In the case of torture, as I pointed out in one of my earlier posts, the difficulty, it seems to me, is not so much in determining the moral licitness of torture, but in determining what sorts of acts fall under the concept of torture, just as in the case of usury it is not a question of the moral licitness of usury but of what sorts of practices are nowadays constitutive of usuriousness.

At any rate, I thank you for your comment, and especially for your clear and concise survey of Fr. Harrison's work.

I think what you have written is right on. I'm confident that the truth of the matter is along the lines of what you suggested, and that is a welcome common ground.

Would you agree that Mark Shea's strong polemics on this issue are not helpful at all? I would like to see him exercise a great deal more charity towards those who have a different opinion. Having often been subject to wild, uncharitable judgments myself, I know that it does no good to further constructive discourse.

That's not to say that those who differ from him have been perfect in charity, either. But he seems to be the highest profile voice (non-clergy) in the current stink. Apologists who are excessively, erroneously dogmatic do my profession no good!

We already have several negative stereotypes to overcome (know-it-alls, academic pretenders, etc.). Mark's behavior (wholly apart from the merits of his case) does not help the apologetic endeavor at all, in my opinion.

* * * * *

Comments of Randy, on my blog, and my replies:

Mark has a lot more credibility in my mind because he is not simple defending Bush at all costs.

I didn't mention Bush at all in my posts. Political hypocrisy is also none of my concern: which is what the Church teaches.

It is often not the what that is being defended but the who. Choosing to defend JPII instead of GWB ruffles a few feathers even on Catholic blogs.

It's what exactly is being taught that is at issue. I hope most people out there are interested in truth rather than polemics.

I don't find it helpful to go back to some of the worst popes and darkest chapters in church history to try and find support.

Whether you think it is "helpful" or not, the Catholic must have some way of harmonizing past Catholic history with the present. No one is calling for the Inquisition again (least of all me). The issue is whether torture (however defined) is intrinsically evil or not, and what similar acts are not torture, in terms of how JPII defined it.

History judges acts. We know torture is soul destroying because we have been there.

How do you define it? Let's get at least one objective thing accomplished.

I think Vatican I limits the bounds of infallibility precisely because they knew there were dark chapters like this in church history. Infallibility was reserved to definitive teachings of popes and councils only. It seems like you are now trying to expand it.

My reasoning on this is precisely the opposite: I stated (and so did Fr. Harrison, whom I cited in agreement) that there is no infallible teaching on the subject. But there is still overwhelming consensus in past Church history, which cannot be ignored. You're trying to do so; so is Mark Shea. This won't do. A Catholic is not at liberty to thumb his nose at 2000 years of history. We're not (the more ahistorical type of) Protestants. We don't live in a vacuum.

Both sides can agree (as did Scott Carson) that we have to make some sensible synthesis of past and present.

* * * * *

Hi Fr. O'Leary,

I appreciate the qualifier and apology. Thanks. [see his comments here and here]
You wrote:

Personally, I attacked your reasoning - that because the Church has clearly allowed something not unlike torture in the past, at the highest levels, its infallibility would be impugned if it now declared torture intrinsically evil.

You have misunderstood my argument. I may have worded it poorly in places, but the issue is very complex, and so I had to explain in detail as I proceeded, what exactly I had in mind.

My argument is actually designed to bypass the infallibility issue altogether (I made that quite explicit and plain in my reply to Scott Carson), but at the same time to acknowledge that these things (coercion of some sort) had very wide sanction in the Church. There are development of doctrine issues here that apply, I think, even if magisterial and infallibility factors do not. Even Fr. Harrison stated that no magisterial statements can be had.

This logically entails that anything else the Church countenanced in the past cannot be declared intrinsically evil, or just plain immoral. Thus you would be forced to maintain that the following are moral: the massacre of Protestants in 1572; the judicial murder of natives in India, the Philippines and Latin America under the Inquisition; confinement of Jews to ghettos, forcing them to hear sermons on their blindness, and to wear a distinctive costume.

Not at all. You have misconstrued my premise, so this doesn't apply. These would fall under the past sins committed by Catholics, for which JPII often asked forgiveness. One can argue, of course, whether popes sanctioned some of these, particularly the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, which Popes Pius V and Gregory XIII had nothing to do with at all (nor even the French bishops). Catherine de Medici was responsible for that (though there was some sin in how it was in some sense "celebrated" - Catholic historian Warren Carroll sadly conceded this.). We get accused, for example, by the Orthodox for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, but it is not often noted that the pope did not in any way, shape, or form sanction it: it was an evil act by loose cannon crusaders.

In any event, my position doesn't require me to somehow wink at or be forced to condone any sins in the past. Even what I condone, is in the sense of "not intrinsically immoral." That doesn't mean that many of these coercive techniques could not have become sinful on other grounds: bad motives, excess, revenge, lust for power, etc. This is why I have always thought very little of the Inquisition and the Crusades, while recognizing that neither was immoral per se, and that both had legitimate justification in the framework of the medieval worldview.

Hi DelRay [see his comment],

I don't have the answers on all this. You ask excellent questions, and they deserve the best answers they can get. I would have to defer to some of the other treatments from those who have studied it more closely. But a few thoughts, anyway:

Here's the thing, though: an act that is not intrinsically immoral can be made immoral by the ends it seeks to achieve. (That is correct, isn't it?

Yes. In that case it would be the overall combination of the not-intrinsically-immoral act and the immoral purpose for which it is being used and the evil intent. The latter two are where the sin and evil are located.

if we accept the idea that "torture" (however defined) is not intrinsically immoral,

We must distinguish between the following two propositions:

1. Torture is intrinsically immoral.

2. Coercive techniques that the Church has widely sanctioned in the past (albeit not magisterially) in the Inquisition(s), etc., are not torture in the sense intended by #1.

[One should also add a "2b": to the extent that these were indeed torture, they were not magisterially-sanctioned, so that a reversal does not constitute a problem for Catholic ecclesiology]
Mark Shea (and to varying degrees, those who generally agree with him) are asserting (ad nauseum) #1, but committing the fallacy or error of denying (or simply ignoring) #2 and asserting its contrary, almost without argument, and with much unnecessary invective and aspersion of motives; while at the same time overlooking the fact that this appears to be a blatant historical contradiction.

Mark's opponents in the debate (including myself) pretty much assume #1, but assert #2 as an additional crucial factor that must be taken into account. Definition and particular discussion is absolutely central, in their (our) opinion. In criticizing Mark for ignoring or mocking #2, some of his opponents have slipped into their own excessive polemics and rhetoric.

As far as I am concerned, the heart of the discussion for a Catholic lies in the realm of #2. #1 should be discussed insofar as the definition used or assumed has to be determined. Everything hinges on that. In any event, the history of the Church and what has been believed on this has to be considered.

I don't believe, myself, that Pope John Paul II (the Great) has contradicted past development of doctrine regarding these issues. The approach that I believe solves the seeming contradiction lies in the analysis of Fr. Harrison and Avery Cardinal Dulles, in his First Things article, "Development or Reversal?" [Slavery]

The solution lies in understanding the subtle nuances in
Pope John Paul II's language and the necessary distinctions in magisterial and non-magisterial beliefs and notions in the Middle Ages up to the present.

Whenever issues are complex and nuances and subtleties are ignored, and an "either/or / dichotomous mindset" employed, there is a ton of controversy. Hence, the present one.

We see the same dynamic in the predestination debates, "faith vs. works", "salvation outside the Church" discussions. It's always the same: things are assumed to be contradictory when upon closer inspection, they are not. So it gets very heated because folks talk past each other, and it is mutual monologue.

When Catholics such as Fr. Harrison and Cardinal Dulles take the past seriously and incorporate consistent development of doctrine into the equation, then the way is open for a satisfactory solution.

But when the past is ignored or mocked and ridiculed (the theologically liberal tendency), complete with all the usual anti-medieval stereotypes that Chesterton noted, or when the present Mind of the Church is ignored or mocked and ridiculed (the "traditionalist" tendency), then there is a problem.

The orthodox Catholic is obliged to take both into consideration. I'm trying to do so, minus the invective and rancor that has characterized this discussion thus far.

Your argument seems to allow for corporal punishment (is this the same as torture?) for the purpose of inflicting a just punishment on a wrongdoer.

It is undeniable that capital punishment is not intrinsically immoral (nor is all war; only unjust war). This is one of the strong arguments on my "side": how can all coercive techniques whatsoever be intrinsically immoral when even capital punishment is not?

The medievals thought that heresy was so serious that it should be punished at least as severely as mere civil crime. The civil criminal stole property or took someone's physical life. The heretic could potentially harm someone's (or many people's) eternal soul. Hence, if the murderer could be punished with death; all the more so, the heretic: the murderer of souls.

This is perfectly self-consistent. We reject it now, either on inconsistent secular/liberal grounds (the mentality that loves abortion and euthanasia but despises capital punishment), or on Catholic prudential grounds (it didn't work in practice and led to much corruption, and religious liberty is also a great good to be cherished and promoted).

My own positions on capital punishment and coercive techniques are more or less wholly analogous:

A) I oppose capital punishment except in the most extreme cases (mass murderers, tyrants, terrorists).

B) I oppose coercion except in the most extreme cases (mass murderers, tyrants, terrorists).
A cannot be denied because capital punishment simply is not intrinsically immoral. Likewise, B, which follows from A by solid analogy, cannot be denied. John Paul II's language, must, therefore, be more closely analyzed, because a certain simplistic interpretation of it involves great contradiction with past history. I don't believe for a second that this is what he intended, nor that the words absolutely entail it.

Read Cardinal Dulles and Fr. Harrison!

* * * * *