Saturday, June 25, 2016

I Agree with Pope Francis

Pope Francis recently said the following, “a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” (or “some of our sacramental marriages are null” according to later Vatican editing of the text) 1, and I agreein a certain sense.


Technically, for a marriage to be both valid and sacramental all the following criteria must be satisfied:

  • Both parties are baptized
  • The spouses are free to marry
  • They have the intention to marry for life
  • They have the intention to be faithful to one another
  • They are open to having biological children together
  • Consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
But is it possible to have a valid marriage without a valid understanding of marriage? I think it is.

In the U.S. we become legal adults at age eighteen and are treated as such under the law (with some exceptions like purchasing alcohol). This is good since we need clear definitions to avoid endless debates about what being an adult really means. But do all “valid” eighteen year olds act in an adult manner? Does something instantly change about our mind, body or soul on our eighteenth birthday? Could we not find some seventeen year olds that understand what it means to be an adult more than any number of people over the age of eighteen?

Whether defining marriage or adulthood, I think it’s very common to meet a quantitative definition without a qualitative understanding, and I think this gap in understanding for marriage can be best expressed in terms of covenant vs. contract.

The story of God and man can be spoken of in terms of covenants. This is what many of the stories in the Bible are all about. In the Catholic view, the Bible is not a science book or a history book; it’s more of a story about a relationship between God and man. Simply put, covenants are about God reaching out to bond with man over and over again. For example, Moses was a covenant mediator for the nation of Israel that didn’t turn out as planned; King David was a covenant mediator for the Kingdom of Israel that also had its difficulties. In fact, every covenant of the Old Testament ended up less than stellar, but the convents were valid nonetheless.

For clarity, it should be emphasized that a covenant and a contract are two different things that are worlds apart. A contract is a promise you make binding your name, often via a signature. It involves the exchange of goods or services, like building a house for example. A covenant is swearing an oath invoking God’s name, and it involves an exchange of persons, like marriage. So a covenant carries much more weight in terms of blessings and curses. Hence the reason why people use terms like, “I swear to God”, or “I’ll be damned”, when they are very serious about something. 2

How many understand the bullet points above, and at the same time think of marriage as something that can be brought to an end and forgotten with some time, money and lawyers? So one could be in a valid marriage, but hold an invalid view of marriage as a social contract, and regrettably, I think this wrongheaded approach is indeed the case for “a great majority of our sacramental marriages”.

Look!
We are validly married!


  1. Benedict Nguyen, National Catholic Register [Website], “Are Many Marriages Today Invalid?” (20 June 2016), Site address:http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/are-many-marriages-today-invalid/#ixzz4CJfI6j9J
  2. Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises (Beacon Publishing, 1998) p. 24.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Same Sex Anniversary Cards Now Available!

I’m actually not sure this is new, but it’s new to me. I was looking for a wedding anniversary card at a popular card shop and I saw this:


I was surprised, but then again, not so surprised. Once passed my not-so-surprised-ness, I thought, “Why have a special section dedicated just for this?” There is no special “opposite sex” card section. Many of the anniversary cards are not specific about any kind of sexual preference. They say things like, “To the one I love”, “For my husband/wife” or “For my spouse”. The one I purchased in the “non-same sex” section said, “You’re the one for me!”

Why did I see this for the first time this June? Is it because of the SCOTUS ruling last June? Maybe so, but suppose it suddenly became legal in all 50 states for people over age 18 to marry people under age 18 without parental consent. Would we need a special under 18 anniversary card section with cards that say things like, “For the special minor in my life…”?

A same sex anniversary card section is not needed for someone to find an appropriate card, but it is certainly helpful in the ongoing effort to normalize homosexual behavior. It’s the same with marriage rights. A legally recognized civil union that grants the exact same rights as marriage laws is not good enough. It must be called marriage just like heterosexual marriage. The same word must be used, even though it is not the same thing. Using the term civil union in place of marriage is seen as “back of the bus” stuff. Don’t forget about our public schools in the normalization process. They need to teach our young and impressionable children about what is normal and what is not, right?


Is homosexual behavior really normal? Is heterosexual behavior really normal? What would make it normal? What’s the trigger or the mechanism that says it’s normal? What can we use to judge fairly and accurately? Consider “design”. If we observe the physical design of the human body in terms of sexuality and then we note the facts about certain sexual acts (without going into too much detail), we can say that some physical acts are deviant to the design. It really does not matter if one believes we were designed by almighty God or by almighty evolution. The same goes for things like infertility or impotency. They too can be called abnormalities without any discussion about morality or the intrinsic value of the person involved. To call these kinds of things normal is not only unreasonable, but also irresponsible. Remember that the first step in dealing with any problem is to admit there actually is a problem.

So what will be next—a same sex section in the family planning aisle of your local drug store? Probably not.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Book Update II: The Contract!

And so…I now have a contract in hand from a Christian publisher for the book based on the blog. There is still work to be done in terms of revisions, formatting, cover design, title debates, etc., but I’ll keep you posted (literally). I'm an "outsider" as a book author, so maybe I’ll be the Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders of Catholic book writing.  ;-)

The book is about Catholic faith and reason with a unique twist. The twist I speak of relates to the rational process we use where I work for problem solving and decision making. I'm also certified to teach the method to our technicians and engineers. This kind of reasoning has helped to see the clear thinking found in Catholicism and I wrote a book about it with this in mind.

Over the weekend I ran across the meme below, which reminded me of the impetus for this project. What’s wrong with this picture?


Do you see it?  ALL people have a belief system or a “philosophy”, a set of values, or a world view. ALL people believe things that they can’t necessarily prove, at least not empirically or via a scientific method. Where do they get these belief systems from? They come from other people. It doesn’t need to be from their parents necessarily. It could be from their friends or teachers or community or others. It’s part of the human condition, yet we can and should explore how reasonable the base premises are for particular ways of thinking and how well they stand up when pressed under deliberate questioning.

That’s what the book is about, and you will see how Catholicism stands up rather well.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Splendid...

It seems to me that just about any science documentary will express a kind of "Alice in Wonderland" amazement about nature. This often goes hand in hand with a kind of unconscious dogma of meaninglessness, which holds that all things in the end come from nothing intelligent and with no intended purpose, regardless of how brilliantly it is put together. The unspoken premise is that the finely-tuned universe, our planet, and the first life forms just magically appear by themselves given enough time for matter and energy to jostle around. Once life creates itself, it evolves thoughtlessly into many things including us. It seems mindlessness can create things better than the human mind can.

For once, I’d like to see a science or nature documentary on main stream television with a different and more rational premise; one that presupposes “intelligence”. If you know of one, let me know. In the meantime, below is a link to a new and splendid article in the Catholic Herald by John Beaumont about science, faith, reason and Fr. Stanley Jaki.
My favorite part…
A fellow philosopher announced that he didn’t believe in free will. Fr Jaki responded, “Did you say that freely?”

Friday, April 15, 2016

Of Restrooms and Reason

Recently, the topics of gender and restrooms came up where I work during some required “diversity training” sponsored by our Human Resources department and the companies’ legal team—I was inclined to call some parts of it the “comply or be punished training”.

There are currently no transgender employees in the building I work in (that I know of), but as a policy our company will allow any such individuals to use whatever restroom they best identify with. One of the presenters said something to the effect of “Just deal with it. You’ll have your own private stall anyway”. I thought, “Why can't the transgender individual just deal with it (“it” being the restroom that best matches their body)? They’ll have their own private stall anyway.”

The situation reminded me of a book called Ten Universal Principals; A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues by Fr. Robert Spitzer and how the first three principals can be used on just about any topic. Regardless of the situation, some things can be universal to any thinking process and can proceed without invoking any specific belief system. The first three principals are the “Principles of Reason,” and they underscore the universality of rational thought.

The Principle of Non-Contradiction (Plato & Aristotle)
Valid opinions or theories have no internal contradictions.1

If I said I was a married bachelor and we were clear on the meaning of “married” and “bachelor”, then a married bachelor is an internal contradiction. There would be no need for you to investigate my life to see if my claim was true or false. It would be the same situation if I said I could draw a square-shaped circle. If we are clear on the definition of these shapes, then we know that drawing a square-shaped circle is not possible. No further probing required.
So if I’m a man, saying I’m a woman and using the ladies room would enter into the realm of contradiction, right? Not really; if we simply change the definition of gender to exclude (or make subordinate) any physical aspect of the human body, we can avoid this embarrassing conundrum. But don’t definitions need to make sense to be accepted as true? No; consider pro-choice thinking. If we can accept that a person in his or her first stage of life ought to be lawfully referred to as a “non-person”, we’ll accept any incoherency about the human condition.

The Principle of Objective Evidence (Plato & Aristotle)
Non-arbitrary opinions or theories are based upon publicly verifiable evidence.2

Data accessible only to you is subjective. Data accessible to everyone is objective. If I say I’m a man, what objective and publicly verifiable evidence can I show to support my theory? There is genetic data, hormone data, size/shape and also physical body parts that can be publicly verified…hopefully in a way that will not violate public nudity laws. But here again, it comes down to “definitions”. Words are important! Revenant data cannot be sorted from irrelevant data without first defining categories clearly. If gender is defined as primarily existing “between the ears”, then a note from my psychologist saying that I truly believe I’m a woman may suffice to comply with this second principle of reason.

The Principle of Complete Explanation (Socrates, Plato & Aristotle)
The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data.3

Are all opinions equally valid? No, some are more valid than others. If my explanation is better than your explanation, it is more valid. Simply put, “better” means being able to explain the most facts using the fewest and simplest assumptions. I would argue that a restroom is a physical place in which we do physical acts, ergo the restroom we choose should best match our physical bodies. If this is coherent, then there should be a certain universality about it. If I go to the gym (physical place) for a workout (physical acts) the equipment I choose should match, or be adjusted to match, my physical body.
Of course, if not for the urinals all the restrooms would be physically the same, but such is not the case where I work and in most places. Even if they were the same or if a person had a full sex-change operation, reflect upon explaining who we are based on whatever we self-identify with in terms of public policy.

The philosophy that says “I think, therefore I am” makes the reality of our being dependent upon our mind. If my mind determines my being, then the old saying follows that “perception is reality”. If this is true, then there should be a certain universality about it. If I think I am a cat, then I am a cat. But who thinks that? Let’s be practical; if a Caucasian man was raised by African Americans in an African American community and he also self-identifies as an African America, then this is the reality. He is an African American and should have access to any and all affirmative action benefits. Agreed?
 
Always remember that perception is not reality; it only informs our response to reality.

In God we trust…all others bring “data”.


1. Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), p. 11.
2. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles, p. 14.
3. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles, p. 9.

 

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Resurrection and Apollo XIII

“Who would believe what we have heard?”
—Isaiah 53:1
 
The Resurrection of Christ certainly makes for a riveting story, but is it reasonable?  In the end what is reasonable or unreasonable depends on the base premises involved. For many, the Resurrection generally adheres to one of three premises—lies, lunacy or legend.
  • The early Christians intentionally deceived others about the risen Christ.
  • Or they were delusional enough to actually believe it.
  • Or stories about Jesus were exaggerated over time into an elaborate myth.
Remember that early Christians were not converted by the sword. In fact, it was the precise opposite. If you did convert, you would face “the sword” or at least by ostracized from your already established culture and community. In the logic of the human condition, people will follow the path of least resistance without a strong impetus to do otherwise. Would mere stories convince so many without other compelling evidence? There are exceptions to every rule, but it’s easier to do nothing than to turn your life upside-down listening to the legends of liars and lunatics. But suppose they already felt ostracized by their culture and were desperately looking for a revolution and a savior? This would have plausibly appealed to the “fight or flight” instinct, but the new Christian faith was not about taking up weapons or running away from problems.
The other leg of “legend” or “myth” was covered in my last post. I think the myth theory runs into a serious problem with “time”. Some may still dispute the first-century date for the Gospels, but no one disputes that Paul's letters were written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Christ. If so, there is not even one generation with which to build-up such a fantastic myth as the Resurrection, which was indispensable to the early Christian faith.
The Resurrection might still be dismissed as not credible simply because that sort of thing just doesn’t happen. The paradigm that says “that just doesn’t happen” is one reason for using analytical problem solving, which trains people to go wherever the data leads, and on occasion it leads us to places in spite of our intuition and our experience. One of the case studies we review in a problem solving class I teach where I work is the Apollo XIII disaster. I’m more familiar with accident than the average person and one aspect of it reminds me of the Resurrection.
Apollo XIII was well on its way to the moon when at fifty-four hours and fifty-two minutes into the flight the origin of that famous phrase was born; “Houston, we have a problem.” The word “problem” is an overgeneralization; the first specific deviation reported to Houston was “Main Buss B undervolt”. This meant that one of the two main power distribution panels for the command module had fallen off in electrical output. A “large bang” was another deviation reported at the same time as the first. A few minutes later another deviation was reported; Main Buss A undervolt. Apollo XIII was suddenly losing electrical power and no one knew why.

Engineers on the ground immediately began some incident management (action to the effect) by reducing electrical consumption on the ship. About thirteen minutes after reporting the first deviations more came in. There was a sudden loss of oxygen in one of the two main cryogenic oxygen tanks and a gradual loss of oxygen in the other (oxygen was used on the ship not only for breathing, but also to generate electricity. I’d imagine this was because batteries powerful enough for the ship would have had been too heavy to take into space). The ship’s crew also reported that the ship was “venting” something out into space. With the ship rapidly losing both electricity and oxygen 205,000 miles away from earth the situation could hardly have been any more critical.
While putting contingents in place to deal with the problems effects, NASA engineers also began analytical problem solving to find the cause. This was done even though they had no possibility of amassing all the data they would have liked. After analyzing whatever relevant data was available, the number two oxygen tank suddenly bursting was a possible cause that explained all the observed deviations better than anything else suggested. There was one difficulty with this proposed root-cause. NASA engineers knew that their equipment was the best and safest ever invented. The very idea of a main oxygen tank just bursting in deep space was simply not credible; this is what their experience and intuition told them.
 
Faulty instrumentation or what we might call “bad data” was another proposed cause.1 This idea may have made some people feel better. If true, it would mean that the gauges and alarms were just malfunctioning. If the gauges and alarms were “lying” or “acting crazy” so-to-speak, then there was no real danger and the mission could probably continue. Although I’ve never dealt with a life and death situation at work, I can relate to the true cause of a complex and costly problem eluding us because it was counter intuitive; it flew in the face of our knowledge, experience and intuition. When this happens the natural tendency is to pick a theory you like better and then build-up assumptions until it fits all the available facts. Preferred possible causes tend to be under scrutinized, while unwelcome possible causes tend to be over scrutinized.

The cause was indeed a rupture of the number two cryogenic oxygen tank. This cause could have been easily dismissed because “that just doesn’t happen”, but this is where all the data lead and the engineers were disciplined enough to go there. Clear-headed logic in a crisis saved the crew. Had the true cause remained unknown much longer, it would have delayed the planning to get the crew back home and there was no time to spare.
Houston celebrates the return of the Apollo XIII crew.
If there were no oxygen tanks on board, one bursting would truly be impossible. Someone insisting that the tanks did not exist would first need to be shown otherwise. Once it is made clear that the tanks are actually there, one rupturing could be at least considered. I think the same can be said in regard to Christ, His followers and the Resurrection. Even if you believe in God you can still ask questions. Were they liars, lunatics, legends or speaking “Truth”? One could answer “I don’t know”, but those willing to believe a particular theory would do well to remember the purpose of the historical method and a principle of analytical problem solving. An historian or problem solver cannot always “prove” or recreate past events. In such a case, he or she works to present a theory that will best explain the most data.
Without being either gullible or cynical, which theory explains the most data given no possibility of amassing all the data you would like to have?
“Thought is dangerous. Thought can bring you to the door of truth. There are all kinds of reasons for wanting that door to stay shut. Men cannot endure the light.”
—Anthony Esolen

1 Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, Lost Moon, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), p. 96.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I See Dead People

This is the time of year when many speak of the Resurrection. Some speak of the wonder of such a great miracle and others just wonder why so many are gullible enough to believe in such a zombie-like fairytale.

Of all the miracles in the New Testament, people rising from the dead must be the most fantastic. Even with today’s medical marvels, someone getting up as good as new after being dead for days would certainly make some headlines. Aside from the Resurrection of Christ himself, Jesus raised the son of the widow in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:41-42, 49-55) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). St. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead in the town of Joppa (Acts 9:36-41) and Eutychus was raised from the dead by Paul (Acts 20:9-12).

Real...or staged?
Think how much money a phony faith healer could make if he or she could hoax a resurrection? How famous would an illusionist or street magician become if he or she could do the same? Why have they not done so? I think it would be just too difficult to pull off. People know what death is in every age and take it very seriously. It reminds me of those who have claimed that the Apollo moon landings never happened; it was all a government hoax. I find the moon landing hoax conspiracy theory unreasonable because too many key individuals would need to be in on the hoax for it to be true. They would all need to keep their stories straight about a very serious matter for a very long time. The same would be true for a series of resurrection hoaxes, especially a series of hoaxes with specific names, places and details given. Christians had plenty of enemies back then who might act as today's political “fact checkers”; people who would be more than happy to seize upon the mistake of giving specifics to prove it was all a sham, but this never happened.

Perhaps the authors of the New Testament were not hoaxers and were not insane, but were just writing down the legends and myths that were exaggerated by the early Christians. I don’t see how a myth writer would end up with such specific names, places and details, but beyond that I think the myth theory runs into a serious problem with “time”.

Some may still dispute the first-century date for the Gospels, but no one disputes that Paul's letters were written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Christ.i If so, there is not even one generation with which to build-up such a fantastic myth as the Resurrection, which was obviously indispensable to the early Christian faith as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” Additionally, over five hundred eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. If we hold the premise that 1 Corinthians was written about 20 years after an alleged Resurrection and that the Resurrection never really happened, we can invent a modern day example to give us some perspective about the timing and scope of such an extravagant myth.
The risen MLK?
What if followers of Martin Luther King Jr. began spreading stories about him rising from the dead and ascending into heaven shortly after his assassination in 1968? Imagine all sorts of other miracles and fantastic stories were also circulated about him during his life on earth. Suppose photography and other recording devices had not been invented yet (no selfies with the risen MLK either). Would thousands of people just accept these stories even if Dr. King’s body went missing somehow? In addition to this, imagine if believing in this resurrection meant being ostracized from your community and risking ferocious persecution for both you and your family. Would people just go along with this fable without more compelling evidence or some other impetus?

Now imagine that letters were published around 1988 (20 years after the assassination) articulating how there were hundreds of eyewitness to the resurrected King, many of whom would have been still alive in 1988, and how his resurrection is now an essential part of a new and radically different religion. Is it reasonable to think that thousands of people would really give their lives to these myths? If yes, would not a rapid spread of this new religion trigger Christians and atheist alike to descend upon those poor delusional people and all the so-called “eyewitnesses” to discredit their claims or perhaps find that the eyewitnesses do not even exist?
If you hold that the Resurrection of Christ is only a myth, then this type of scenario is where your logic leads. If you hold that the Resurrection was real, then you follow a natural path of reason. More on the reasonableness of the Resurrection in a week or so.

i. Arnold Lunn, The Third Day, (El Cajon: Catholic Answers Press, 2014), pp. 120, 145.