Saturday, April 4, 2015

Religious Liberty & Analytical Problem Solving

One of the basic tenets of the analytical problem solving process employed by our company is to carefully compare what is perceived to be a problem to what is perceived to be OK.  The more closely related the two things are, the more relevant the comparison. From here one can fret-out distinctions between what is seen as OK and what is seen as a problem and use those distinctions to formulate possible causes, or to help determine if there is actually any problem at all.

This kind logic can be applied to the religious liberty debates going on right now. If refusing to sell goods & services for a same-sex marriage celebration because of one’s personal beliefs should be illegal, then other similar “refusals” to other similar “events” should also be illegal.

THIS ARTICLE from National Review does a good job of presenting some relevant comparisons. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Are we prepared to handcuff a feminist photographer who won’t take pictures at a strip club event?
We may not know whether or not the photographer hates the people in the club or loves them, she just does not want her business to be associated with this specific kind of event. Should she be punished?
  • Do we respect a black jazz band’s choice not to perform at a Ku Klux Klan chapter’s “Negro Minstrel Show”?
Here again, the band members may not hate white people at all. They just do not want to be part of this performance in any way. Should they be punished?
  • Do we respect a pro–gun control photographer’s right to choose not to snap pictures at a “Sharpshooter of the Year” banquet organized by the local chapter of the National Rifle Association?
It’s not that the photographer will never take any pictures of any NRA members at any event. It’s the meaning behind this particular event that is the concern.
  • Do we respect a Jewish calligrapher’s right to choose not to produce hand-written invitations for a Hitler Day brunch organized by a local neo-Nazi group?
Once again, the ideology behind the brunch and what it represents is the problem.

The following would be a dissimilar comparison:
  • A restaurant owner refuses to serve gay people because he personally believes all gay people are evil.
So what is distinctive between the first four examples and the last one? The focus of attention with the first ones is some event or celebration and the ideology behind it, not the actual person(s) involved. In other words, it’s about the principle, not the person. The difference is vast.
The more our society accepts transcendent things, like right vs. wrong, as only opinions, the more we will accept a kind of soft tyranny where the government takes on the role of “moral compass". They will tell us which way is just and which way is unjust, fair or unfair and you will obey or be punished. Religious liberty is a founding principle of the U.S. and watching its own citizens leading the charge against people of faith into this oppression may be the saddest part of the whole mess.
You will obey or be punished!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Got Salvation?

I remember the first time I read Philippians 2:12. St. Paul’s instructions rang a bell, and once a bell rings it can never be un-rung.

“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In terms of salvation, “work out” implies some sort of process (not something that is instantaneous) and “fear and trembling” reminds us that it’s something that can be lost during said process. It seems St. Paul had a rather catholic understanding of salvation. But how does one receive salvation and eternal life? Is it really by faith alone as some might claim?

Perhaps the Bible alone will clear this up. St Peter’s speech at Pentecost made it clear as we read in Acts 2:38. After receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter said to the crowd “Repent and declare Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and ask him to come into your heart and you will receive salvation this very instant with no possibility of ever losing it.” Well, that’s not exactly what St. Peter said in the Bible, in fact, it is not written anywhere in the Bible.

So, are you saved?
How does one get saved?
What must we do?
What does the Bible teach?

Must you repent and be baptized, right?
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:38
How about just baptism alone?
“This prefigured baptism, which saves you now...”
1 Peter 3:21
Belief in Jesus alone?
“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.”
Acts 16:31
Belief in God alone?
“…whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.”
John 5:24
Words alone?
“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God.”
Luke 12:8
“By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Mt 12:37
 Works alone?
“Who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works”
Romans 2:6-7
“See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
James 2:24
“…those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.”
John 5:29
Grace alone?
“On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they.”
Acts 15:11
Obedience alone?
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.”
John 3:36
“But if the wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live. He shall not die!”
Ezekiel 18:21
Eating alone???
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life...”
John 6:54
Given all this, how can anyone claim, using the Bible alone, that salvation is by one thing alone? None of the above items can be dismissed as part of our salvation process, nor can any one item be emphasized at the cost of the others.

As a side, does the Bible really teach, or do people teach? If it is people who teach, it does beg some questions about who should teach, and by what authority, and would God provide for any such authority? The answer lies in the Church that teaches the fullness of faith as well as salvation in its fullness.

You're kinda lost without it...

Let’s now get back to the mother of all questions:
Are you saved?
Think of a man sinking in quicksand that wants to be saved and sees a rescue team on the way. He has every confidence that he will be saved and shouts “I’m saved!”, but he is not actually saved until he’s out of the mud. It’s this same with us as we “work out” our salvation as part of the Church militant on earth with great confidence that we will one day be members of the Church triumphant in heaven.

Much of the preceding post was inspired by a book called "Crossing the Tiber" by Stephen Ray; a former non-Catholic Christian turned Catholic apologist.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Obligation to Live and Give

A recent post on this blog dealt with the potential creep of the Right to Die movement  morphing into the "Obligation to Die" via four distinct stages of "progress". I recently found a glimmer of hope to share, but first a brief review of the four stages.

Stage 1: Voluntary – Passive

Once legal, physician assisted suicide is voluntary, but not applauded. This first stage would have been unthinkable many years ago and no one should be coerced into suicide, because that would be unthinkable today...but unthinkable things can always be "re-thought" tomorrow.

Stage 2: Voluntary – Active We need to think of what is best for everyone. We live in a free country and no one can force you to do anything, but as a society we have an obligation to encourage what is “right” and actively promote the common welfare.

Stage 3: Mandatory – Passive
As our population ages and health care costs consume ever larger amounts of money, at least some legislation must be considered to help address the root cause. Just a few carefully worded laws to help guide people through their final stage of life and their final obligation to the society just makes sense.

Stage 4: Mandatory – Active
Physician assisted suicide need not be limited to only desperate pain. The very old, very sick and severely physically or mentally handicapped should all be considered for legal and mandatory euthanization once the quality of life has been properly assessed by health professionals. We must actively promote the common good and do the “right thing” no matter how difficult it may seem.

Now here is the glimmer of hope that kicks in after stage 1 and during stage 2 to slow or even help reverse the direction. Check it out.


Stage 2 above is all about actively persuading public opinion to accept euthanasia as "good" and "normal" and don't think for an instant it cannot be done; consider cigarettes.

It is perfectly legal for people over 18 to smoke cigarettes today, but anti-smoking campaigns, legislation and taxation have done a good job of breaking the will to smoke over the years. The same can be done to break the will to live.

The video does the opposite. It presents euthanasia as a companion for quitters. The message is that true dignity is in living, to live & fight and not to surrender. That is dignity. God is the author of life and we are not free to take it, but we are free to live it and give it to others.

My favorite take from this clip?
The way a story ends changes the meaning of every page.

Live and give to the end.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Religion & Science ARE Opposed

“Religion and science are opposed . . . but only in the same sense as that in which my thumb and forefinger are opposed - and between the two, one can grasp everything.”
- Sir William Bragg
Faith & reason together is what helps us to “grasp everything”. Saying “everything” may be akin to saying “all of reality” and we can think of reality as having two parts, material or physical reality and immaterial or spiritual reality.

Physical reality has certain laws like…
  • Laws of motion
  • Laws of matter
  • Laws of energy
These laws are universal and unchangeable. Not knowing, not understanding or ignoring these laws will hurt our bodies. The more we learn about, understand and adapt our life to these laws the more we can live in harmony with the world around us and be happier. In a certain sense we never really break physical laws, they break us!

Spiritual reality has certain laws like…
  • Divine Law
  • Moral Law
  • Natural Law
These laws are universal and unchangeable. Not knowing, not understanding or ignoring these laws will hurt our souls. The more we learn about, understand and adapt our life to these laws the more we can live in harmony with the world around us and be happier. In a certain sense we never really break spiritual laws, they break us!

For the strict materialist, spiritual realities do not exist, at least not like physical laws. Things like morality, justice or goodness can only exist as concepts that evolve over time and different people have different concepts about how the world ought to be. With this logic of moral relativism one cannot grasp the most important parts of reality just like one cannot grasp a football without an opposing thumb. Our concepts of right vs. wrong are tied up in something that ought to be or ought not to be. For that concept to make any sense, you actually need an “ought”!

In a worldview with no spiritual reality, we may say that a group like ISIS has a certain concept of how the world ought to be that is likely different than yours or mine or Mother Teresa’s. Their concept cannot be objectively wrong because there is nothing to make it wrong (no outside system). A compass points north because an outside system (the earth’s magnetic field) makes it point north and there is only one north, not many “norths”. It does not matter what direction a group of travelers believes is north because the magnetic field is completely independent of the minds of the travelers.

What happens if a large group of interdependent travelers refuse to use the compass? They will go “somewhere” based on their beliefs and experience about traveling.  They may split up into smaller groups, but even the smaller groups need to decide what to do. The strongest will rule eventually, whether by physical force or via other kinds of peer-pressure, coaxing or bullying. It’s the same in societies. Even for the most stubborn and independent of individuals, the strongest will rule eventually, whether it’s a dictator by physical force or just a majority via laws and lawyers.

If we convince ourselves that spiritual laws do not really exist, we will live life on our own terms as much as we can get away with. This means we cease to be truly free and alive which is how we “ought” to be. We become small souls, locked in the prison of our ego and victims of a great lie.

 This post started with a notable quote and so it will end with another:
"Growth in faith is growth in the right perception of all reality."
– Thomas Keating


Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Obligation to Die

“On the morning of February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the law against assisted suicide was unconstitutional. Canada now joins a small, elite group of madly progressive countries in abandoning the most fundamental principle in all of nature.” – From THIS article in Crisis Magazine

It’s an overgeneralization, but I’ve always regarded "The Culture of Death" as simply employing death as "The Final Solution" to the problem of life. Could the right to die ultimately become the obligation to die? Of course, this is just a slippery slope argument and I was once told that slippery slope arguments are automatically invalid. If I let my kids play with matches, it will lead to a fire, which will lead to property damage, and someone getting hurt, and someone dying, but this is just more nutty logic from a slippery slope.

Regardless, euthanasia could head down the following slippery slope and finally hit rock bottom via four distinct stages.

Stage 1: Voluntary – Passive
(Completely voluntary, but not applauded)
Canada joins a small group of “enlightened” countries in stage 1. This stage would have been unthinkable many years ago, but doctors may now lawfully help competent adults to kill themselves if they are terminally ill. Certainly, no one would be forced to do it, because that would be unthinkable. There should be no coercion either, since it’s such a personal choice between patients and their doctor.

Stage 2: Voluntary – Active
(Completely voluntary and encouraged)
We need to think of what is best, not only for ourselves, but for our immediate families and the common good of society. We live in a free country and no one can force you to do anything, but as a society we have an obligation to encourage what is “right” and promote the common welfare. The “right to die” can now slowly morph into the “obligation to die”.

People are still free to smoke cigarettes today, but anti-smoking campaigns, legislation and taxation have done a good job of breaking the will to smoke. The same can be done for those who insist on living for no good reason. Persistent pressure to do the “right thing” will break the will to live.

Stage 3: Mandatory – Passive
(Mostly voluntary with some exceptions)
As our population rapidly ages and the health care costs consume ever larger proportions of government budgets, at least some legislation must be considered to help reduce the source of rising healthcare cost. Laws to guide the old and terminally ill through their final stage of life and their final obligation to the society just makes sense.

Of course, such laws would be very limited in their scope and only apply to the most desperate cases. In fact, such laws are not likely to even be enforced much, like some immigration laws or gun laws today, so there is certainly no cause for alarm.

This won't hurt a bit.

Stage 4: Mandatory – Active
(Mostly required with some exceptions)
Physician assisted suicide need not be limited to only desperate pain. The very old, very sick and severely physically or mentally handicapped should all be considered for legal and mandatory euthanization once the quality of life has been properly assessed by professionals.
Again, we must be mindful of the common good and do the “right thing” no matter how difficult it may seem. Why allow these poor people to suffer for no reason, even if they choose to suffer. Those in favor of such legislation will be called progressively “pro-health”. Those opposed will be said to have radical “anti-health” agenda.

We have been watering down the meaning and dignity of human life for decades and the stages above could take many decades more, but a slippery slope need not be as fast as the metaphor implies. A lava flow can be slower than 1km/hour, but will destroy everything in its path.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Abortion via Exception

I’m not a real Republican, but I play one on the blogosphere. Out of all the organized political parties that exist, which one is most likely to pass anti-abortion legislation? I always like to go where the data leads and the data for this question would lead to the GOP. Democrats have enough political power, but no will; in fact they will the opposite. There may be a third party (or parties) out there with plenty of will, but they are impotent in terms of political power.

Speaking of will and power, the Republicans had the political power early this month to pass a bill that would have basically banned abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy, but dropped the bill in a shameful display of cowardice in the face of some protests. How many pro-abortion bills have ever been dropped by democrats due to pro-life protests?

Some of the objections to the bill revolved around the rape/incest exceptions according to this article. The bill would have offered an exception for rape victims who already reported the crime to authorities. “But some Republicans, including female members of Congress, objected to that requirement, saying that many women feel too distressed to report rapes and should not be penalized…We have to be compassionate to women when they're in a crisis situation." What about the babies facing a pending abortion? Isn't that a crisis situation for them?

You may be familiar with common argument fallacies like in the graphic below, but I wonder if accepting legal abortion based on exceptions is a kind of exception fallacy.

Some small percentage of pregnancies are from rape or incest, therefore we must be able to legally kill ALL unborn children? The objection to the house bill seems to take this kind of exception to a new level. Some small percentage of pregnancies are from rape or incest, and some small percentage of those women are too distressed to report the rape, therefore let’s drop this bill and continue the status quo killing just as we do today.

This arguing via exception fits well for those who want to make us think they are pro-life, but are really pro-choice.
  • Premise: Killing unborn children is wrong.
  • Exception: Some women become pregnant via rape or incest.
  • Conclusion: We should be able to legally kill all unborn children.
If this makes sense for abortion, it should make sense for other things too.
  • Premise: Stealing is wrong.
  • Exception: Some are starving and they have a right to food.
  • Conclusion: It should be legal to take food without paying when you feel you need to make that choice.
  • Premise: Killing is OK in self-defense
  • Exception: Some feel too distressed to report they were attacked and should not be penalized. We have to be compassionate to those in a crisis situation.
  • Conclusion: It should be legal to kill whenever you feel you need to make that choice.
Those who display their pro-choiceness without deception will hide behind the made-up, non-scientific and nonsensical term of “non-person”. Scientifically, human life begins at conception as an objective fact. To say the first stage of one’s life or “personhood” begins at some other threshold of viability or consciousness is subjective; a matter of opinion. To declare something as important as this on something subjective is irrational (and devious), especially when an objective and observable beginning point clearly exists.

Basing common law on exceptions is incongruous and becomes diabolical when done to justify killing. To say unborn children MUST be declared “non-persons” because of certain exceptions is like saying oranges must be declared “non-round” because we have found some oval shaped ones.

As a side, one wonders how supposedly educated people can be BOTH pro-choice AND acknowledge science, reason & human rights all at the same time.
Baby at 20 Weeks
We have to be compassionate to BOTH women AND babies
when they're in a crisis situation.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Darkness As a Kind of Light

There is certainly no shortage of evil so far in 2015. Why does God allow it? Seems no explanation can suffice at times. It’s certainly better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but should we be cursing the darkness in the first place? I wonder. Like any mystery, darkness can be invitation to the mind.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that good signifies “perfect being” and evil signifies “the privation of perfect being”, so when someone acts with a lack of love, or a thing lacks something it ought to have, we perceive the deficiency as evil. For example, blindness is evil for a human because a human ought to have sight. Blindness or darkness relates to evil as vision or light relates to good. No allegory is perfect, but darkness as an allegory for evil is eerily close because no one can really give or bring evil, just as no one can give or bring darkness, one can only take away light.

Darkness is what leads us to seek light provided that we have the right disposition; it can open our hearts and make answers possible for us; it leads to knowledge. Since the mind is made for Truth, it tends to move in that direction if there is nothing to stop it, and darkness need not stop it, but nudge it forward instead. Darkness becomes a kind of light whenever it helps us to see.

We need a certain comfort level with darkness if we are to be led properly. If we insist on peering ahead on our path, calculating each step and determining our own goal, we forsake the guiding hand of God that will take us beyond our expectations.

I once happened upon a labyrinth while out for a stroll at a retreat center. If you don’t know, a labyrinth is a pathway which leads, via a winding route, to the center of an intricate design and back out again. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only a single path so it is impossible to get lost. The walls or edges keep you on the path. Once you reach the center, you have gone half the distance – you now turn around and walk back out.

Although the origins of labyrinth are pagan, I found it both thought-provoking and challenging to accept some “unknowing” and stay in the moment of each step, trusting that the path would guide me to the goal (the center) and back out again. My instinct was to peer ahead to see where the path was taking me, to calculate how much further I needed to go or how long it might take.

Without at least some acceptance of darkness we’ll try and shake free of that guidance that is trying to lead us to union with God and perhaps travel down a false spiritual path that becomes a mere figment of our imagination.

Once a soul basks in the light of God’s presence (beatific vision), he or she may come to know that the death of a person may have been a rescue of some greater evil had they lived. A painful romantic breakup may have been salvation from an unhappy marriage. The loss of wealth may have meant saving your soul from eternal loss. If you were blind and suddenly got your sight back, even the ugliest things would be appreciated.

“I will lead the blind on a way they do not know; by paths they do not know I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These are my promises: I made them, I will not forsake them” (Is 42:16)