Sunday, September 26, 2010

Methuselah and the Flood


The extraordinarily long lives of the ante-diluvian patriarchs have always elicited debate among scholars of Sacred Scripture, especially that of Methuselah, who was just shy of a millennium when he died. We read in the fifth chapter of Genesis of Methuselah, the oldest human being who ever lived; according to the Scriptures, he lived to be 969 years old (Gen. 5:27). Methuselah was the son of Enoch, the first human to be assumed into Paradise, and was also the grandfather of Noah. Here is the genealogy of Methuselah as presented in Genesis 5:25-32:
When Methuselah was one hundred and eighty-seven years old, he became the father of Lamech.Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years after the birth of Lamech, and he had other sons and daughters.The whole lifetime of Methuselah was nine hundred and sixty-nine years; then he died.When Lamech was one hundred and eighty-two years old, he begot a son and named him Noah, saying, "Out of the very ground that the LORD has put under a curse, this one shall bring us relief from our work and the toil of our hands." The whole lifetime of Lamech was seven hundred and seventy-seven years; then he died. When Noah was five hundred years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years after the birth of Noah, and he had other sons and daughters.
Aside from the question of whether these long lifespans are literal or not (and I see no reason why they can't be), there is a very interesting correlation here between the life of Methuselah and the coming of the great Flood. We know that Methuselah lives to be 969 years old. We also know that the Flood comes in Noah's 600th year, according to Genesis 7:11. If we work backwards from the Flood to the birth of Noah, we have 600 years. Now, from the birth of Noah back to the birth of Noah's father Lamech, Genesis tells us was 182 years. From the birth of Lamech back to the birth of his father, Methuselah, we are told that 187 years elapsed.

So, from the birth of Methuselah to the great Flood we have three periods, 187 years, 182 years and 600 years. If we add these three periods together, we come up with 969 years, the exact same span of time that Methuselah was on the earth.
What does this mean? It indicates that the Flood happened in the same year Methuselah died, which can be interpreted in two ways: (1) God (depending on how one interprets Gen. 6:3), seems to warn that man has only one hundred and twenty years left until they are judged. Since the Flood happened in the same year Methuselah died, we could not unreasonably conjecture that God was postponing the Flood until the death of Methuselah, not wanting to destroy the righteous along with the wicked. (2) Or, perhaps, as one of the students in my Sacred Scripture class flippantly suggested, Methuselah was one of the wicked who was washed away in the Flood. Since Methuselah was the son of righteous Enoch, who was assumed into Paradise, I am disinclined to think this is likely.

God was, therefore, probably waiting for Methuselah to die before He sent the Flood.  This is corroborated by ancient Jewish tradition; according to the Targums, Aramaic commentaries on the Old Testament, the Flood began after the seven days of mourning for the death of Methuselah were ended (source). By the way, if you do the math, Lamech, father of Noah, predeceased Methuselah by five years. 

I don't know why or if this is very important, but it is interesting to point out and reminds us that these lifespans given to the antediluvian patriarchs are not arbitrary.

Anselm also did an interesting post on the issue of chronology sometime ago, if you are interested (here).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pius XII, Teilhard and Ratzinger


Teilhard de Chardin's theory of the evolution of the cosmos towards the Omega Point. To what degree does this cosmology, which the Holy Office said 'offends Catholic doctrine',  influence our current pontiff's thought on the question of evolution?


In the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, "On Human Origins," Pope Pius XII allows us, by way of concession, to believe in the possibility that the human body could have evolved from preexisting biological material, so long as we adhere to the immediate creation of the soul by God in our first parents.

I have never ben entirely comfortable with this concession and have always opted for a more traditional, creationist view of things (though that doesn't mean I am necessarily a "Young Earther"). As I was explaining Pius' concession to a Sacred Scripture class I teach for high schooler's this week, I noted, too, that many of them were uncomfortable with it because they felt it introduced too much duality into man's nature. 

I recalled that Cardinal Ratzinger had once expressed a similar reserve in a book he wrote back in 1973 entitled Dogma und Verkundigung. If you are wondering how I came across this essay, it is because Ignatius Press somewhat disingenuously reproduced it, along with a series of other essays, in a book called Credo for Today: What Christians Believe. I say it is disingenuous because the book, which is a collection of Ratzinger's essays dating from the 70's and 80's, is marketed as if it were the writings of Pope Benedict. The cover shows a picture of Benedict as pope (not as a professor at Regensburg) and says "Pope Benedict XVI" on the cover. Those who didn't know better would think the book's contents were the pope's current thought and writings; one has to go all the way to the appendix before you find out that these are actually essays written over twenty years ago, for the most part. Furthermore, despite the subtitle of the book saying "What Christians Believe," the book contains some of Ratzinger's most speculative theology, stuff that can hardly be said to be what most Christians believe.

Anyhow, back to evolution. I cite this book because both Ratzinger and I have difficulties with Pius XII's concession in Humani Generis, but whereas I go one way to get around the difficulty, Ratzinger goes another.

Ratzinger begins his essay on creation with the very important point that theologians cannot simply ignore the question of the origins of life and issues surrounding evolution - they have to be dealt with. As an example of how modern theology can ignore the question of the origin of man, he cites those who say that how man was created is superfluous anyway; those who, when confronted with alleged contradictions between Genesis and Darwin, will shrug and paraphrase Augustine: "The Bible is meant to tell us who made the heavens, not how the heavens were made." It is certainly true that the Scriptures are meant to lead us to salvation, but that does not in any way mean that everything else it says is superfluous, or that things like the creation narrative are not also ordered to our salvation in various ways.

Ratzinger says this position of "it doesn't really matter how we take Genesis 1" is especially disingenuous since only a little more than a century ago there were a good many theologians, and even regional synods, insisting that the fixity of species and a literal reading of Genesis 1 were de fide. Ratzinger condemns those who "make a dishonest compromise and for tactical reasons declare the terrain that has become untenable as superfluous anyway, after having so short a time before insisted loudly on situating it as an indispensable part of the faith" (pg. 34). Therefore, the issue of creation and evolution must be dealt with somehow.

Where I diverge from Ratzinger is in his automatic assumption that the traditional view is "untenable." I wish he would not have brushed it aside so easily. But in any case, he goes on to the compromise permitted by Pius XII in Humani Generis, that the body could be the product of evolution but the soul could not. I personally have always been uncomfortable with Pius's compromise; I know the pope allows Catholics to maintain this position, but it is only by way of concession, as if saying that accommodating evolution to creation is an exception, not the norm. I also thought that this idea introduced too much duality into the human person - to say that the physical part of man was the process of evolution but the soul infused by God at a later time, whenever the human anatomy had reached a sufficient stage of evolutionary growth. In this view, God basically took one of the advanced primates already in existence and ennobled it by the infusion of a soul, not unlike what God did when He granted Balaam's ass the powers of speech and reason momentarily.

Ratzinger, too, finds a problem with the Humani Generis compromise. He says;

"Now some have tried to get around the problem by saying that the human body may be a product of evolution, but the soul is not by any means: God himself created it, since spirit cannot emerge from matter. This answer seems to have in its favor the fact that spirit cannot be examined by the same scientific method with which one studies the history of organisms, but only at first glance is this a satisfactory answer. We have to continue the line of questioning: Can we divide man up in this way between theologians and scientists--the soul for the former, the body for the latter? Is that not intolerable for both? The natural scientist believes that he can see man as a whole gradually taking shape; he also finds an area of psychological transition in which human behavior slowly arises out of animal activity, without being able to draw a clear boundary...Conversely, the theologian is convinced that the soul gives form to the body as well, characterizing it through and through as a human body, so that a human being is spirit only as body and is body only as and in the spirit, then this division of man loses all meaning for him, too" (p. 38).

The compromise that Pius XII allowed by way of concession holds little value for Ratzinger, even though many eminent modern theologians hold precisely this opinion. But Ratzinger is an honest theologian and will not admit of a concept so dualistic and problematic as the theory of the evolutionary creation of the body from preexisting matter. At this point, however, instead of reverting to a more (in my opinion) traditional understanding of the immediate and special creation of man, Ratzinger instead opts to go in a direction even further in the line of evolutionary thought than the concession allowed in Humani Generis.

To Ratzinger it seems that it must be one or the other - spirit must evolve along with matter, or spirit and matter both must be created apart from evolution. Since Ratzinger has already found the non-evolutionary arguments to be "untenable," he now turns to none other than the condemned Jesuit modernist Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, he whose works the Holy Office declared "abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine" (source). From Teilhard Ratzinger takes the idea that the universe represents the "self-actuation" of the Logos in time and space - that "the world as a whole, as the Bible says, comes from the Logos, that is, from the creative mind and represents the temporal form of its self-actuation...the world of becoming as the self-actuation of creative thought" (p. 44). From this Teilhardian idea, Ratzinger will build up his conclusion that spirit can, in a sense, involve from matter, since the developments we witness in the unfolding of the cosmos should not be seen as unguided evolution but as the self-actuation in time of a timeless Logos.

Don't think I'm connecting dots between Ratzinger and Teilhard that aren't there; Ratzinger cites Teilhard by name a little further on in this passage, saying that Teilhard's idea of spirit as the "goal" of an evolutionary "process" is "ingenious" and "quite accurate" (pp. 44-45). He is very clearly, unapologetically and enthusiastically in debt to Teilhard for some of these ideas. I know that just because Teilhard's writings have been condemned does not mean he may not have some valuable things to say; we still quote Origen and Tertullian despite some of their issues. But, really, could not the man who would become the Prefect of the CDF find a  more weighty authority to cite other than Teilhard de Chardin? Ratzinger borrows more from Teilhard later in the book, adopting Teilhard's terminology of the end of history as an "omega point" in his essay on the Second Coming (p. 113)

Anyhow, back to matter and spirit. So, if the world is in a process of "self-actualization" in relation to the Logos, then the emergence of spirit into the world of matter can be seen as an inevitable part of this development. This leads Ratzinger to posit "matter as the prehistory of the spirit" and he formulates his idea of spirit emerging out of matter in Hegelian terms of matter as a "moment" in the development of spirit:

"It is clear that spirit is not a random product of material developments, but rather that matter signifies a moment in the history of spirit. This, however, is just another way of saying that spirit is created and is not the mere product of development, even though it comes to light by way of development" (p. 45).

So the spirit is not simply infused into the ready biological material, as Pius XII allowed for, but neither is the human body created uniquely and infused with a soul. Rather, as the whole cosmos is tending towards a universal development towards spirit, the emergence of spirit into matter is something that is latent within the cosmos from the beginning, even if initially we see no traces of spirit. Spirit does not evolve out of matter, but is truly, in a sense, in potency with relation to matter, so that when matter has reached the proper developmental stage in its self-actuation, spirit is enabled to "emerge." Just as an acorn does not evolve into a tree, but rather, the tree is latent within the acorn; the emergence of the tree is the self-actualization of the acorn, not its evolution. He says:

"The appearance of spirit, according to the previous discussion, means rather that an advancing movement arrives at the goal that has been set for it" (p. 46).

It is this advancement that Ratzinger calls the "rise of the spirit." Thus, through this Teilhardian logic, we are able to at once affirm that spirit is not the product of evolution while maintaining that spirit can indeed emerge out of matter "by way of development" , as Ratzinger says. This is, says Ratzinger, how "the special creation of man can coexist with an evolutionary world view, or what form it must assume within an evolutionary world view" (p. 45).

So, how does this emergence of the spirit occur with reference to the human person, who would undoubtedly be the locus for the spirit's emergence? Having already discarded out of hand the traditional idea that God formed man immediately from dirt and infused him with life, as well as casting doubt on Pius XII's concession that God allowed man's body to evolve from preexisting matter, Ratzinger goes on to explain the emergence of spirit within man in the following terms:

"The clay became man at that moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought "God." The first "thou" that -- however stammeringly -- was said by human lips to god marks the moment in which spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed" (p. 46-47).

So, man becomes man as soon as man is capable of formulating the idea of God, "however stammeringly." Here we have Ratzinger's theory of the emergence of spirit out of matter and how non-human life forms crossed the ontological Rubicon from non-human into human existence.

On the one hand, Ratzinger is a much more intelligent person than I am, and so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt, keeping in mind as well that this essay was written in 1973 and obviously carries no papal authority nor even any magisterial authority. But on the other hand, I know when something smells fishy, espcially when Teilhard is invoked.

My first problem with Ratzinger's thesis is that, if we deny that spirit can develop from matter but admit that it arises out of matter by way of development, the fact is that it still evolves from matter. It is irrelevant whether the cause for the emergence of the spirit is extrinsic (somekind of random modification in biological matter that allows for the emergence of spirit), or intrinsic (an inherent principle of "elasticity" within matter that allows it to give way to spirit at a certain point, just as an acorn becomes a tree), the fact is we still have matter evolving into spirit. It doesn't matter (pun intended) whether the we say spirit evolved from matter or whether we say matter is a "moment" in the history of spirit. However you slice it, you still have spirit "emerging' out of matter, whether or not you say the change is blind evolution or a movement towards a goal. To me, this is still quite troubling.

Second, and more problematic, is the contrast between Ratzinger's conception of the first concept of God and Catholic theology on the state of our first parents before the Fall. Ratzinger states that spirit first enters the world at the moment that the first being, "however dimly" and "however stammeringly" uttered the word "God." This would coincide with the moment in the Genesis account when God breathes the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam and makes him a "living being."

However, is there not a problem here? According to the doctrine of Original Sin, man originally existed in a state of perfect justice and preternatural glory. Humani Generis reminds us that we must believe in the existence of two literal first parents who were created in grace but fell into sin. Thus, our first parents would have been brought forth in a state of natural perfection with their minds enlightened by grace and an infused knowledge of God; not simply of His existence, but of His perfections and of the fact that man is created to be in relation with Him. In short, our first parents had a very clear and unmistakable notion of God (otherwise how could have been guilty of sinning against Him?) - created fresh from His hands, enlightened in their intellect by grace and unmarred from sin, their understanding of Him in their perfected natural state was greater and clearer than most of us will ever experience. Can this vision of God which our first parents enjoyed prior to Original Sin be reconciled with Ratzinger's comments that the first conception of God emerged in the human species "dimly" and "stammeringly"? It seems to me that the first conception mankind ever had of God was a glorious vision, full of clarity and infused knowledge, that is unrivaled except by some of the holiest saints.

Well, Ratzinger wrote this stuff back in 73' and I haven't heard much on this by way of him since; for all I know, he may repudiate all this Teilhardian stuff. So don't accuse me of bashing "the Pope" or being a dissenter or anything; I can certainly voice my apprehensions about an essay written by Ratzinger twenty-five years before he ascended to the Chair of Peter. It bothers me that, when faced with dilemmas about reconciling evolution and creation, the tendency seems to be to grant more and more ground to evolutionary biology and relegate the creation story more and more to the realm of allegory, until it is, as Tolkien said, "tucked into a lumber-room of their mind as not very fashionable furniture, a bit ashamed to have it about the house, don't you know, when the bright clever young people called" (see here). If we are finding out, as Ratzinger did, that the concessions allowed by Pius XII in Humani Generis are too dualistic for Catholics to be comfortable with, then why not just go back to something more traditional instead of going further ahead into modernist evolutionary-theological hypotheses about "emergent spirit" "omega points" and the "Rubicon of anthropogenesis"? I don't know...I'm sure some will just say that I'm not a theologian and that I shouldn't try to apply my mind to these things. I don't deny that I am not a theologian. But like I said, I know when something stinks, and if I want to have a conversation about Creation and someone starts talking Teilhard, I definitely start to smell something.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Extraordinary Form at my parish!

Deo gratias! Three years now in the making, after numerous discussions, endless battles with various elements within the parish about things traditional, countless hours of training and much other sacrifice and labor, our parish priest was finally able to offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form this past Tuesday night. I was not able to attend this Mass, unfortunately (mainly because I didn't know about it), but the turnout was great (50 people) and I am certain that there will be more such Masses offered in the future; I understand that our pastor wants to make it a weekly thing, which would be great.

This is a true story of victory - six years ago, before our pastor came, we had a drum-set in the choir loft, the CCW offered incense to the four winds, the priest said Mass in tye-dye, there was liturgical dancing with streamers and our parish was hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red. In six short years we have an orthodox, reverent pastor, a music director who gives us a regular does of chant, communion rails are back up, Mass is ad orientam at a neo-Gothic high altar, the Extraordinary Form is back and parishioners are very happy with the state of things - in fact, our parish is out of debt and growing monthly, so much so that some Masses are standing room only.

Click here to read a little write-up on our TLM from the Detroit Latin Mass Community. Kudos to the Most Reverend Earl Boyea, our Bishop, who not only is friendly to the Extraordinary Form, but has offered it himself many times and actually requested that our pastor do so, a request that was directly responsible for what happened at our parish last Tuesday.

Te Deum!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Quran burning stupidity


I had originally decided to keep my mouth shut on the Quran burning controversy until I came across an articel by Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington entitled "Burning the Quran is a Bad Idea and a Sin", which you can read here.

I can certainly understand arguments to the effect that burning Qurans publicly might be a bad idea in the sense that it could lead to violent backlashes against Americans abroad. I don't necessarily agree with this argument, but I can at least understand it. My thinking is that if a huge group of people is going to be riled up to commit murder and terrorism because their holy book was burned, then this only demonstrates the degree to which they have a problem. It is the same stupid argument from Regensburg: the Pope says Islam is violent and Muslims react violently against the accusation - and it is the Pope who has a problem with intolerance!

But to say that burning the Quran is a sin? A sin, really? On what grounds does Msgr. Pope suggest that burning the Quran may be "sinful'? On the grounds that, to quote his article, "Intentionally giving offense is wrongI do not deny that there are problems in the Islamic world. But I also know that it is wrong to intentionally and grievously give offense to the religious traditions of others." So it is wrong to intentionally give offense to the religious traditions of others, according to Msgr. Pope.

This is troublesome to me because it seems that the entire religious tradition of Christianity is one that offends and gives scandal to those of other faiths; St. Peter calls Christ a "rock of offense" and a "stone of stumbling" (1 Pet. 2:8). How can we avoid giving offense to other religious traditions if we preach the Gospel message that Christ is the only way to salvation, that "there is no under name under heaven given whereby men might be saved? (Acts 4:12). How can Muslims, Buddhists and all the other pagans not be offended if we really believe and teach the words of Christ, Who said, "Amen, amen, I say to you: He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold but climbeth up another way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 1:10); yes, this means that Christians believe that you Muslims and Hindus, if you are trying to attain salvation in any other manner other than through Christ and His Church, you are a "thief and a robber" and your holy men are nothing other than false prophets

In short, Christianity, by its exclusivity and its demand of universal allegiance, puts itself into a state of permanent antagonism with the world and with the false religions of the world, notwithstanding whatever John XXIII might have personally thought on the matter. We have it from the words of Sacred Scripture and of our Divine Saviour: 

Wonder not, brethren, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)

If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15:18-19)

Know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world becometh an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

The Church is in a state of emnity with the world, and the world with it. Therefore, it is inescapable that the Truth will be offensive to the world. Now, I know that saying that the message of the Gospel will give offense if different from the offense giving from a Quran burning. Granted. But the question we are looking at it whether or not it is a sin to give offense, regardless of what the offense is over. Clearly, since Christianity's very existence presumes that offense will be given to the religions of non-believers, we cannot maintain that it is always a sin to offend people. We also must acknowledge that the default relation between the Church and the world is one of antagonism and enmity; in fact, it is a life or death struggle. It is not one of harmonious relation and mutual enrichment; when the world creeps in, the Church weakens and vice versa. 

So it is not wrong to give offense, especially if the offense has to do with the Truth of the Gospel. But what about Msgr. Pope's assertiont hat giving offense to the religious traditions of others in particular is wrong? I guess someone better tell that to Gideon when he smashed the altar of Baal, to the offense and consternation of his neighbors (see here); somebody had better chastize King Jehu for slaying the worshipers of Baal and turning their temple into a latrine; I guess Elijah the prophet was wrong to intentionally mock and tease the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, insulting their false god for being unable to answer their prayers. What of St. Boniface's intolerant destruction of the sacred tree of the Germans? What of St. Benedict, who destroyed a pagan temple to Apollo that was still being frequented by worshipers of the heathen god? Shall we say the founder of western monasticism was committing a sin to so offend the followers of Apollo by destroying their shrine? Or shall we accuse Pope St. Gregory the Great of intolerance and sin when he commands Augustine to destroy the idols of the pagan Angli, though allowing him to retain the structure (here)? What of the greatest of all the missionary saints, holy Patrick of Ireland, who smashed the great idol of Crom Dubh with a hammer and destroyed the shrine of the demon, to the anger of the Irish pagans? Surely Patrick would not have acted so hastily if he would have had the benefit of reading some of our post-Conciliar literature! Well, you get the point; throughout Church history there are so many examples of saints and holy persons destroying the temples and idols of the heathens, even to their great offense, that we could say that the consensus of tradition outweighs the words of Msgr. Pope, unless the Monsignor will assert that Gideon, Elijah, Jehu, Boniface, Gregory, Patrick Benedict and all the saints acted sinfully and errantly in "intentionally giving offense to the religious traditions" of the pagans by destroying their shrines and idols.

Even book burning specifically has been given at least implicit sanction by the Scriptures and explicit sanction by the papacy. If we look to the book of Acts, we read the following:

And many of them that believed came, confessing and declaring their deeds. And many of them who had followed curious arts brought together their books and burnt them before all. And, counting the price of them, they found the money to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and was confirmed. (Acts 19:18-20).

The message here is that some "religious texts" are worthy only to be burned. Somebody might object that here, it was not Christians burning the books of another religious group but rather converts burning their own books. I don't see this makes much of a difference; would the Islamic world be any less upset if Pastor Jones had been a Christian convert from Islam?

Furthermore, if burning the books of other religious groups were always bad, how could Pope St. Pius X command that Protestant Bibles be burned? In the Catechism of St. Pius X, we see the following articles:

32 Q. What should a Christian do who has been given a Bible by a Protestant or by an agent of the Protestants?

A. A Christian to whom a Bible has been offered by a Protestant or an agent of the Protestants should reject it with disgust, because it is forbidden by the Church. If it was accepted by inadvertence, it must be burnt as soon as possible or handed in to the Parish Priest.

33 Q. Why does the Church forbid Protestant Bibles?

A. The Church forbids Protestant Bibles because, either they have been altered and contain errors, or not having her approbation and footnotes explaining the obscure meanings, they may be harmful to the Faith. It is for that same reason that the Church even forbids translations of the Holy Scriptures already approved by her which have been reprinted without the footnotes approved by her.

Note that the reason St. Pius X approves the burning of Protestant Bibles is because they contain things that may be 'harmful tot he Faith." If this applies to a Protestant edition of the Sacred Scriptures, how much more would it apply to the Quran?

Msgr. Pope goes on to say that burning the Quran is a scandal because it will lead others to sin, meaning the Muslims, who will be so aroused to anger by the Quran burning that they will commit the sin of anger. Notice, however, that like the liberal media, Msgr. Pope places all the blame for the potential Muslim backlash not on Muslims, but on Pastor Jones. He says:

"Knowing that there are violent tendencies in sectors of Islam, it is wrong to inflame those tendencies and draw others to anger and violence. In effect Pastor Jones is tempting others to sin. He may have a right to do this but it is not necessary for him to do this. This compounds the sinfulness of the planned book burning. It is also wrong to endanger the lives of others by reckless behavior. It is a strong likelihood that hundreds, possibly thousands may die if rioting occurs. It is easy for us to say, “Well they shouldn’t get so worked up about it….see the problem is theirs.”  That is a debate for another time. But this action is sure to inflame passions."

How absurd! He admits freely that "thousands may die" in Islamic rioting, but if we question whether this may perhaps be a problem not with Pastor Jones but with Islam, Msgr. Pope brushes us aside by saying "That is a debate for another time." That's right! If Muslims threaten to riot and slay thousands, it is our problem, not theirs. We need to be more sensitive.

But let's go back to this issue of scandal. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that scandal consists not simply in leading one to sin, but in "something less rightly done or said, that occasions another's spiritual downfall" (STh II-II, Q. 43 Art. 1). Burning the Quran is a way of declaring that the book is full of falsehoods and is not worthy of the prestige Muslims assign to it, which is the truth. This is what Muslims need to hear; remember, these false religions are leading souls to hell daily and we have a duty to tell them the truth, even if that truth gives offense regarding their false religion. If anything, it would be scandalous to allow Muslims to go ahead believing that their book is full of valuable spiritual insights when in reality it is a Satanic deception. I would say that to not destroy the Quran when one has the means is scandalous.

We should also remember that scandal means one if led to spiritual ruin by the sin of another. So, to say that scandal occurs when our behavior leads another to sin is only a half-truth. Properly speaking, the sin of scandal occurs only when our sin leads another to sin. St. Thomas tells us that scandal can be of two kinds: active or passive. Active scandal occurs when one's sin leads another to sin. But passive scandal occurs when one is scandalized and led into sin by something other than sin. St. Thomas says that this can even occur with regards to a good deed:

Scandal is of two kinds, passive scandal in the person scandalized, and active scandal in the person who gives scandal, and so occasions a spiritual downfall. Accordingly passive scandal is always a sin in the person scandalized; for he is not scandalized except in so far as he succumbs to a spiritual downfall, and that is a sin. Yet there can be passive scandal, without sin on the part of the person whose action has occasioned the scandal, as for instance, when a person is scandalized at another's good deed. In like manner active scandal is always a sin in the person who gives scandal, since either what he does is a sin, or if it only have the appearance of sin, it should always be left undone out of that love for our neighbor which binds each one to be solicitous for his neighbor's spiritual welfare; so that if he persist in doing it he acts against charity (STh, II-II. Q. 43. Art. 2).

St. Thomas recognizes here that though sin may certainly scandalize (active scandal), it is possible for another to be scandalized and led into sin by something that is not sinful; Thomas gives the example of a good deed. In such a case (passive scandal), Thomas says that the one who causes the scandal is not guilty of the sin of scandal since the scandalizing action was not immoral. So, when the men of Gideon's village were outraged at him for destroying the idol of Baal, so angry that they wanted to kill him, it was not Gideon who was guilty of giving scandal but the Baal worshipers who were guilty of being scandalized by the truth.
If it is not objectively wrong to destroy Qurans (and based on what we have reviewed above from the Scriptures, the lives of the saints and the words of Pius X, there is no way it could be), then we must conclude that the ire aroused by the destruction of these books cannot be imputed to those Christians who burn them, but only to those Muslims who react hostilely to the burning of their false scriptures. I would go so far as to say that burning Qurans is a prudent thing to do (since the book is full of lies and blasphemies and leads souls to damnation) and that those Muslims who are angered at the burning of their book are actually guilty of sin.

We have to lose this softness of paganism and false religions: these religious systems hold people in spiritual (and sometimes political) bondage. They lead souls to hell. Mohammed is a false prophet, and to the degree that Mohammed was inspired he was inspired by a demon to mock and ape the true Faith. Am I saying we all need to go out and burn Qurans? That's up to you; if some fell into my hands I would probably destroy them, just like I do when I get a hold of a Book of Mormon or a New Kingdom version of the Bible (the Jehovah's Witnesses Bible). But let's not get all outraged with the liberal media about a Pastor who rightfully wants to make a stand against Islam, saying stupid things like Quran burning is a "sin." The Quran is an evil book and doesn't deserve respect. Period.

Please click here for Athanasius' post on the same subject.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Movie Review: Inception (2010)


I normally don't go out and see new movies that everybody is talking about; usually the fact that everybody is talking about a movie is a guarantee that the said movie is stupid, banal, etc. However, after hearing both Youth Group kids and many parents (whose opinions I respect), as well as some Catholic reviewers tell me how excellent Inception is, I decided to go out and see it.

This is advertised as a film that "makes you think" by playing with reality via dream sequences; i.e., creating a tension in which the viewer is never sure whether or not the main character is dreaming. This initially made me skeptical; the first film I can recall in my day that did this was the early 90's Schwarzeneggar flick Total Recall, which was alright but was kind of a dud. A decade later M. Night Shyamalan tried this again with The Sixth Sense, which everybody raves about to this day but which I found boring and unconvincing. Thus, when I heard that Inception had to do with dream sequences and alternate realities, I immediately thought of Sixth Sense and prepared myself for a stinker.

Boy, was I mistaken! Inception proved to be a true delight. Somewhat of an action movie, somewhat of a philosophical statement about our perceptions of reality and somewhat a love story about coping with loss, Incepetion is hard to categorize, but it is best understood as a modern take on the myth of Theseus. I'm not going to say too much more about this, but you'll understand if you see the movie.

I don't really want to give too much away about the film, save to say that it deals with the concept of individuals called "extractors" being able to get into other people's minds via their dreams in order to obtain access to hidden thoughts or (in some cases) to plant thoughts. The main plot has to do with the attempt of protagonist Tom Cobb (DiCaprio) and a team of expert "extractors" to get inside the head of the young heir to a corporate empire in order to plant a thought in his subconscious, a procedure called "inception." Why they want to do this is too complicated for me to go into here; the back story isn't too important. to get into, because all the viewer really cares about is the fascinating interplay between dream and reality as the extractors go deeper and deeper into the subconscious of the dreamer: a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream, each successive dream or "layer" getting more surreal than the last.

Despite all the talk about dreams, the film manages to deal with many interesting issues surrounding the topic without even once straying into the realms of the New Age or the paranormal, which would have been very easy to do.  Thankfully it doesn't go there; it's approach is more scientific and philosophical, not pseudo-spiritual.

It is also quite clean - there is absolutely no sexuality or sensuality at all. The name of God is blasphemed about three times. Blasphemy is always regrettable, but it is not gratuitous. What do I mean by this? Well, in some movies there is a lot of blasphemy simply because the characters are made to be blasphemers; so a character is made to blaspheme constantly in the course of normal conversation. This sort of blasphemy is especially reprehensible. But then there is a more "realistic" sort of blasphemy; for example, in this film, the main character takes the Lord's name in vain after witnessing his wife commit suicide (sorry for the spoiler). This, though still regrettable, is less offensive to me because I can readily imagine that a real person who witnessed their wife kill herself before his eyes might say God's name in this manner. It is way more realistic; I'm not condoning it at all, but I am saying that it is not gratuitous. I hope you understand what I'm getting at.

The film has one of those endings that leaves you on the edge and makes you walk away wondering. Beyond that I am not going to say much more.

This was one of the only films all year that is worth going to see in the theater. The plot was excellent, the movie was engaging, it had the right balance of action, thoughtfulness and tension; Leonardo DiCaprio did an excellent job and the film even managed to work in themes from Greek mythology. There is a very strong theme of warning about what can go wrong when one tries to pursue fleeting fantasies instead of the truth, and the protagonist Cobb, despite delving into the depths of the subconscious, remains committed to the existence of a ground of reality "up there." 

Except for the very few occasions of blasphemy, it was a great film. I give it three out of three papal tiaras (by the way, please note that tiaras are just my version of thumbs up or stars; the fact that I give a film two or three papal tiaras doesn't necessarily mean it's a Catholic film - it just means it was a good movie).

Saturday, September 04, 2010

On Lengthy Confessions



Why does confession take so long? I don't mean why are the lines so long, because often times they are not long at all; rather, I mean why does it seem to always take each person so long to make their confession? How come when seven people are in line it takes fifty-five minutes to get in? Today I sat in line for twenty-five minutes behind only two people, making an average of about twelve and a half minutes per confession. What's going on here? Do you readers of this blog find this normative in your experience? I have found that no matter what parish I go to and in whatever diocese, it seems that people take forever to go to confession.

Perhaps it is because Catholics today are so well catechized about the meaning of confession and how to make a good confession that they are pouring out their sins in such excellent confessions that the length of time it takes people to get through the sacrament is actually a blessing. I somehow don't think this is the case, however. I have spoken with a few priests about this phenomenon and they were in agreement that there is a general lack of catechesis on how to go to confession, even among otherwise orthodox Catholics.

To put this in perspective, the average confession time for St. Padre Pio, even when he wasn't reading minds, was two minutes. This means that St. Padre Pio could get through twenty penitents in forty minutes. At most parishes I know of, if there were twenty penitents in line it would take about two hours. Forty minutes would be about enough time for seven penitents. As I said, today I sat for twenty-five minutes behind two people, one of whom I am positive goes every single week. One time I saw a line where one person took twenty-seven minutes.

Perhaps these people had a lot to get off their chest; I certainly don't want to judge. But somehow I doubt that this is always the explanation since this phenomenon is so universal, especially when you see the same person going every single week and taking twenty minutes every time.

Based on what the priests I have spoken with said about this, here are the best five reasons I have heard:

1) People just don't know how to make confessions. Rather than list their sins, they go in there and tell the priest about their problems. The confessions turns into more of a counseling session. I suspect this happens in good deal of cases.

2) The problem is largely a female problem. Due to the breakdown in marriages and the loss of the art of conversation, especially in marriage, women take certain pleasure in confession because in the priest they have a man who will actually listen to them (presumably unlike their husbands).

3) Perhaps priests of questionable training are uncomfortable with the idea of hearing confessions and hide this fact by being extra conversational and overly "chatty" - sometimes I have asked friends who took a long time in the confessional what was taking so long and they said the priest was going on and on.

4) Elderly people, who are largely isolated and marginalized in our society, use confession as a means of meaningful communication. They take an extra long time because they are just happy to be talking to somebody. I have noticed that some of the longest confessions are from elderly persons.

5) Priests are by and large too busy to offer intense spiritual direction and many devout souls are hungry for it. Therefore, people abuse the confessional by trying to use it to get spiritual direction from the priest, subtly morphing the confession into a session of spiritual direction. My pastor has told me that this happens frequently to him.

Again, I'm not judging any one individual, but I do think that this is so universal that there must be something going on here. No matter which of the five hypotheses accounts for the problem, I think the solution is a more solid catechesis on what confession is and how to do it - back to basic Baltimore Catechism "number and kind"; some Catholics have never even heard the formula "number and kind."

Does anybody have any insight on this? I am particularly interested in hearing from those of you who attend Extraordinary Form parishes. Do your confessions take forever as well?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Charismatic Experience

I just discovered that an old article of mine on the so-called "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" is now available online at the website of the journal Antiphon, published by the Society for Catholic Liturgy. Although I hope that the quality of my academic writing has improved somewhat over the course of the intervening years, I still remain convinced of the conclusions which I reached five years ago. Some of you may have read this before, but in case not, here it is, this time available for general consumption and public debate:


Antiphon 9.2 (2005): 141-165.