Monday, November 29, 2010

Responding to Hitchens in the Hitchens-Blair debate

The following are my responses to some of the accusations made by Christopher Hitchens. This is kind of "what would I do" in that particular case.

1) Northern Ireland
I think this was one of Tony Blair's biggest blunders. He brought up Northern Ireland to defend religion as a good thing for peace. Basically he said that religious leaders got together to bring peace to North Ireland. In his rebuttal, Hitchens picked up on this to ask rhetorically where the violence came from in the first place. In fact, Blair was responding to an audience member question concerning violence in Africa. Obviously if I were in that situation, I would not have voluntarily brought up Northern Ireland.

However, if the topic came up and I had to address it I would say religion in North Ireland was an incidental part of the conflict. The lines were drawn between Catholic and Protestant but the reason was that the conflict had to do with whether Northern Ireland belonged to the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain. The Catholics happened to be from Ireland and the Protestants were from Great Britain. Therefore, the conflict didn't originate because the Catholics were using rosary beads, but because those of Irish and thus Catholic descent were being treated unfairly by Protestants and perhaps the other way around. But it was not primarily or even partially due to religion.

2) Religious conflict in general
the topic of religious conflict was brought up often. It was said to cause division. It was implied that if people didn't have strong religious beliefs or any, then there would be less conflict because people wouldn't kill each other just because they are the wrong religion.

However, this relies on many glaring fallacies. One implication is that without religion everyone would just "get along" and there would be no conflict. However, this is absurd. Most wars are not caused because of religion. In fact, a recent analysis found that only 10% had religion as an effect on wars. Most of the time it involves land or resources. In fact, the study found that religion actually reduced wars because it formed a type of commonality among people. Take Europe for instance. Europe is separated by country, region, language, way of life, dialect, etc. but the one thing that united it was its Christian religion. Everyone in Europe felt united by this fact. Yes, there were conflicts, but with this commonality, it actually reduced conflict.

3. Non-religious regimes
Blair made a good point here by saying that many atheistic regimes (you know, the most violent and destructive regimes in human history) had at their core the goal of eliminating religion. To believe that non-religion will bring peace is absurd. Just look at history at the factions which attempted to destroy religion.

4. Religion and its effect on human behavior
Hitchens said that religion causes people to feel guilty about natural instincts and urges and that this is a terrible thing. I do not believe that Blair rebutted this point adequately. Yes, the Church does believe in self-control and not acting on all instincts. But then again, who does? I may feel like relieving myself, but no one would consider it "repressed" if I waited until I reached a bathroom to do so. In fact, they may thank me for not urinating on their carpet. Married men are expected not to cheat on their wives. Do we see this as repression also? If a man does this behavior, is it bad that he feels guilty? The point is, there are many behaviors which we control in order to bring more happiness in the long run. To make it seem like religion somehow "represses" us by not letting us act out every urge is absurd.

5. Root of Good and Evil
One point that wasn't addressed by Blair was the root cause of good and evil. I acknowledge that atheists or agnostics can do good works for charity and so on. But the question is what is right and what is wrong? Where do morals come from? I do not think an atheist can answer such a question. They can only say that it is a social convention or a group decision, but there can be no imperative reason to do these things. Biologically, wouldn't it make sense for me to kill all men around my age to increase my chance of passing my genes down through as many women as possible? Why is this wrong? What if I decide it isn't wrong? Who can challenge my decision? I believe there are universal, unchangeable morals that are not just social conventions, and therefore there is a power greater than humanity, the morals are not just in our mind, but they exist in the universe.

6. Hitchens says to keep religion out of public
Although Hitchens attempts to appear as though he agrees with Tony Blair that we ought to respect religious freedom, he in fact does not. He goes on to say that he does not want religion taught to children in schools or for any religious talk to happen in public. So what does he propose replace religion in schools? Obviously atheism, which is itself an ideology. By banning any talk of religion in the public sphere, what will replace it? Obviously non-religious or atheistic talk. See, when it comes to these issues, it is impossible to just "remove" religion. It is instead replaced by another philosophy.

7. Religion has a real impact
I believe the point that Tony Blair really failed to make was that religion really does cause a difference. So many religious people have given up all material possessions to follow God more closely. People like Mother Teresa and St. Francis. They gave everything to the poor and made it their life work. But they were also very personally holy. They bore wrongs against them patiently, they prayed for those who persecuted them. Our greatest example is Jesus Christ. Even as he was being killed, he prayed for his captors. I think the level of self-giving and good that is brought to society through religion is far greater than what comes from non-religion. This is not about a competition, it's about the source of motivation. I think religion has transformative power.

For an example of this, look at the Roman empire. Christianity insisted on ending the gladiator games which saw thousands of people killed, not to mention lots of animals. Christianity forbade the common practice of infanticide. It set up hospitals, not just for the rich who could afford it, but for all people rich and poor. Schools were established by religions. This did not spring forth from the secular non-Christian society of the time. Without religion the world would be a much bleaker place.

8. People of faith only act out of fear of hell or desire for Heaven

This is an old canard which is used by Hitchens. I say it's an old canard because, as Tony Blair points out, Christians generally do not think along these lines. Generally Christians see the examples of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints, and feel those people are most fully living their humanity, and that their actions make a world a much better place. They then seek to emulate these great examples and bring peace and love to the world. Hitchens presents the Christian motivation in very crass and selfish terms. As though the only reason a Christian helps a stranger is because they will get to heaven that way.

However, this is clearly false. Mother Teresa clearly did not believe that the bare minimum she must do to get to Heaven is to devote her entire life to helping the poorest of the poor in India. In fact, Catholic doctrine is very generous in this regard. Although the Church supplies countless examples of heroic virtue, we are simply expected to avoid committing serious sin and to follow Christ's commandments. However, many Christians go well beyond this to do things which are truly extraordinary. This is not the mark of someone doing something just to get a reward.

A good analogy would be that in order to receive a chocolate bar from a charity, a person must pay $1. If everyone only paid the minimum $1, we could perhaps claim they are just paying the $1 to get a reward. However, if some people have paid $100 or $1000 to the charity and only took one chocolate bar, it would be safe to assume they really truly wanted to give to that charity for its great work.

9. Pope and Extra Ecclasiam Nulla Salus
Hitchens called Pope Benedict's comments that the Catholic Church is the one true Church "positively sinister". Perhaps even more puzzling is that Hitchens implied that the Church "used" to teach that, then stopped and now Benedict is "restoring" it. That's absolute nonsense. This has always been a Catholic teaching. Many people may find the statement offensive, but if you think about it, it's not that shocking. The Church is saying that it's teachings are correct because of its holy mandate. Other religions also have truth in them, but only the Catholic Church has the "fullness of the truth". How could it be otherwise?

10. Faith as surrender of reason.
Hitchens uses another old canard by claiming the false dichotomy between faith and reason, or science and religion. But this is a nonsensical distinction. The Church believes in science and many top scientists have been Catholic, even priests. The father of genetics, the originator of the Big Bang theory, many seismologists, sinologists, etc. have been Catholic priests. To pit faith and reason as adversaries really contradicts reality and history.

11. Oxfam, Doctors without Borders, etc.
Hitchens said he supports non-religious organizations which do good work. He used this to prove his point that you don't need religion to help others. Well, Oxfam was actually started by Quakers. Amnesty International was founded by a Catholic.

Religion has been a catalyst since its start for charity throughout the world. I believe Christianity best exemplifies this because of its witness to goodness and truth. It revolutionized the way the world thinks about poverty and helping one another. To ignore this fact is to ignore reality. However, we must not confuse religion with charity only. Charity stems from the beliefs of a religion. In Christianity, our belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God opens our ears to his words. We listen not just to his advice on charity, but on all other topics as well.

We've experimented with eliminating religion and we've seen the results. Human life is devalued and there are tens of millions of deaths. Religion is a force for good because it unifies people and teaches us how to treat our adversaries with love. Not everyone follows the rules of a religion, but that is not a defect on the part of that religion, but of the people perpetrating crimes.

The Christian Church truly shaped our Western civilization. The ideals we live by and which other countries strive for are rooted in our religious beliefs. To know history is to know that religion is a force for good in the world.

Were the odds stacked against Tony Blair in his debate with Hitchens?

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, a few days ago, there was a debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on whether religion was a force for good in the world or not.

I believe the odds were somewhat stacked against Blair in this debate for several reasons. However, despite these, I do think Blair did reasonably well.

Here are some reasons:

1) Most of the audience started out in favour of Hitchens.
According to a pre-debate poll, 57% of attendees were in favour of Hitchens' proposition that religion is not a force for good in the world. Only 22% agreed with Blair that religions is indeed a force for good. Right from the start the audience was more in favour of Hitchens. However, both gained around 10% by the end of the night, which was half each of the undecided watchers. But this represents a greater win for Blair, since it is about a 50% increase. For Hitchens, it represents around 20%.

2. More applause for Hitchens
Hitchens could hardly open his mouth without being met with applause from the audience. This is because after the opening remarks, the moderator allowed applause. Obviously part of the reason for this is that there were 3 times more fans of Hitchens than of Blair. Sometimes Hitchens had to tell the audience to stop clapping so much.

3. Blair had to defend all religion
This was a difficult task because no one claims to be an adherent to ALL religions. Therefore Hitchens could bring up very violent religious sects to try to prove that religion wasn't a force for good, and Blair was forced to defend those.

4. Blair has less experience in formal debates
I'm not sure if this debate is considered "formal", but what I mean is this particular debate type where two speakers address a particular issue in a certain order. Hitchens is well known for hundreds of debates, but I'm not sure the same can be said of Blair. Blair was prime minister of course, but the prime minister can use many techniques to appeal to people which do not necessarily involve logical debate. I think Hitchens has more debate experience plus this is really his area.

Given the circumstances, I think Blair did a good job.

What Tony Blair did wrong in his debate with Christopher Hitchens

A few days ago, Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens met in Toronto to debate whether or not religion is a force for good in the world, with Blair of course arguing the affirmative.

Being a Catholic blog, my main critique will be of Tony Blair's presentation of religion and how well he did and a rebuttal of some of Hitchens' points.

My overall reaction is that Tony Blair could have done better. Hitchens used many of the arguments he has used in past debates, and the main theme he was espousing was that religion is unnecessary, and indeed can be contrary, to world peace.

Here are some things I think Tony Blair did wrong:

1. Blair was too conciliatory
Often times it was hard to tell if Blair was arguing that religion was a force for good or whether religion can be just as good as non-religion. He spent far too much time affirming that non-religious people can be "just as good". I think he should have left it up to Hitchens to make these types of points. In fact, much of the time Blair seemed to make points in support of Hitchens' position and Hitchens even acknowledged this at one point.

It was really up to Blair to show why religion does GOOD in the world, not why it isn't really that bad. Hitchens even joked that he was bargaining down Blair from his original position.

2. Blair defended ALL religion
Another mistake I think Blair made was that he lumped all religions into one big category. Now this may have been necessary given the broad topic. But I think it would have been wiser to defend one religion. The reason for this is that by defending all religions, Hitchens took advantage and brought up Wahabism as an example of a religion, which Blair is then forced to defend.

Blair should have taken Christianity as his main religion of defense, since he is Christian and knows more about it than other religions.

3. Blair kept saying religion has done bad things
Again, I'm not saying he's necessarily wrong, but I think Blair spent an inordinate amount of time repeating that religion has caused a lot of problems in the world. This point can be, and was, made by Hitchens, and I don't think he needed any help.

4. Blair equated Humanism with Religion at times
Of course humanism, the secular kind anyway, is inherently atheist. Hitchens advocated in the debate that humanism was the correct path instead of religions. However, instead of indicating the problems with humanism, Blair basically said some people might do good because of humanism but some people do good because of religion. He failed to differentiate the two.

I think Blair needed to make stronger points and not try to be so conciliatory and non-offensive. He did not show strongly enough why religion was UNIQUELY able to be a force for good in the world, rather than a "possible" force.

However, I do think there were odds stacked against Blair to start with, which I will explore in my next blog post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why the Church is right about Condoms

Over the past few days, much hoopla has been made about the pope's most recent comments where he spoke about condom use. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts here and here, the pope did not say condoms are now permissible.

In this article I will explore why the Church's stance on condoms is the correct one.

The Church is officially against the use of artificial contraception, including condoms. It is important to make some distinctions here. Officially, the church is only concerned with marital relations, because sex outside this context is considered grave matter. This means objectively it is sinful, although subjectively it may not be. Therefore, official teachings concerning the specifics of a gravely immoral act would usually be superfluous. For example, the Church has not yet made any comment on the use of a condom during a homosexual act, because homosexual acts are considered gravely immoral anyway, and the use of a condom is irrelevant in this case.

Having made those clarifications, let's explore the main point of this article. The pope said last year that condoms are not the solution to AIDS in Africa. He was met with outrage over these comments. The reason is many people rely on the following mentality when dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic:

1) HIV and AIDS is a serious problem in Africa
2) People spread HIV through promiscuous sex, which is human nature and thus unchangeable
3) Condoms reduce the risk of transmission in a given sex act
4) Condoms are the solution to the problem.

Anyone would agree, which includes the pope as well I would assume, that the first and third premises are correct. It is scientifically shown that a condom reduces the risk of transmission of HIV/AIDS in a particular sex act vs. not using one. Nobody believes that the rate of transmission stays the same with or without condom use. Of course, everyone also agrees that HIV and AIDS are a serious problem in Africa.

It has been shown that condoms are 85% effective against HIV/AIDS, so naturally if there is a given sex act, there is a reduction in the risk of transmission.

Above, the conclusion (4) that condoms are a solution, automatically follows if the other three premises are correct. However, I believe, as does the pope, that premise #2 is false, and that is the specific premise that is being challenged by the pontiff. He believes the only real solution to the AIDS crisis in Africa is through a change in behavior.

This change includes not having sex outside of marriage. Just imagine if the rate of AIDS in a country started off at 1%. If everyone followed the rule of waiting until marriage to engage in sex, at most the rate would go from 1% to 2% and then drop. The disease could only spread to another partner and that's it. What happened in reality though was that the 1% infected many others who then infected many more and so on until the rates grew exponentially.

If condoms were introduced, the exponential growth would not stop, but would only be slowed. There is an 85% rate of effectiveness with condom use, and therefore a 15% failure rate. That means that with everyone using condoms, AIDS would be spread at 15% the normal rate, assuming behaviors do not change. This may sound great, but really it is only delaying the inevitable. Also, I am assuming a lot here. I am assuming a 100% rate of use within a country from a 0% rate to begin with, which is unheard of. However, this is the goal of many organizations such as the UN. Many people believe that with complete condom use, AIDS will decrease. It will not. Even if the rate of transmission slows, it is still there. Their perfect solution just reduces the rate of spread, based on the assumption that behavior is unalterable. Plus, it will continue to grow exponentially by definition.

Let's take the rate of HIV transmission for heterosexual sex without a condom of around 0.75%. The UN and others' perfect solution is to reduce this rate to 0.1125% and leave it at that. Of course, once again, this is assuming the country goes from 0% use to 100% use. The main problem with this "solution" is that the rate will continue to increase. Think of it like interest rate. If you are getting a 0.75% interest rate, your money will grow faster, but with 0.1125%, your money will still grow and continue to grow faster and faster. This "perfect" solution does not solve the problem at all.
On top of this, using condoms have been promoted as "safe sex". They are not presented as offering a reduction in the risk of infection, but rather as solving the problem. People use them as complete security against disease and therefore people are far less inhibited when it comes to sex. It gives them a sense of invulnerability.

Of course, everything I've said so far has been based on the assumption that people are incapable of changing behavior. That going from promiscuity to fidelity is impossible. But I disagree. I have much more confidence in people than others do. I think society can change for the better.

What the pope is proposing is a perfect solution. If people waited until marriage to have sex with a single partner, there would not be an exponential growth of the AIDS epidemic. It would flatline and eventually disappear.

Some may ask about married couples where one partner has AIDS. The Church would say that the loving thing to do is NOT risk infecting one's partner with a terrible illness. Whether that risk is one in 150 or one in 900, putting someone at risk of contracting a lethal disease is always immoral.

Therefore, if people listened to the Catholic Church, AIDS would cease to spread COMPLETELY. It is not an 85% solution, it is a 100% solution.

In order to really understand the Church's stance vs. the rest of the world, we must look at real world examples. In Uganda, there was a dramatic reduction in AIDS cases, unlike anywhere else in Africa. Why? Because they started to employ the ABC strategy, which is Abstinence, Be faithful, and if necessary, use a Condom. This is unlike other African countries whose main focus was the distribution of condoms. The countries with the highest use and availability of condoms experienced an increase in infection rates. Only Uganda which focused on Catholic values saw a reduction.

In this case, we can see that people really can change behavior, and the impact is positive. If condoms were the solution, Africa would have been rid of HIV and AIDS long ago, or at the very least there would be no new cases. However, that scenario is a mere dream. The rates have actually increased. They say it is easier to find condoms than it is to find clean water in Africa. Billions of Western dollars flood Africa with money for condoms every year with little impact.

What the pope is constantly saying is that the real and sustainable solution to the AIDS epidemic is a change in values and actions. If people were faithful to marriage and those with HIV/AIDS did not infect others, the disease would disappear completely. Why must we have such little confidence in humanity?

Some believe that the pope is unconcerned with AIDS in Africa, but the fact is most people suffering from AIDS receive treatment from the Catholic Church. Many scientists have explicitly or implicitly confirmed what the pope is saying. A Stanford University study found that the ABC approach was the most successful because it emphasized abstinence and faithfulness, as the pope has.

Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, said the evidence shows that the pope is correct in his assertion that condoms are not the solution.

This debate is rarely about science, it's about ideology. Condoms are seen as sexually liberating. No longer must a couple be completely committed in order to have sex, but sex can be enjoyed as a casual activity between people. Condoms in some way undermine the old paradigm of sex being connected with birth and have "liberated" us sexually. It's a fairytale that, despite the evidence, has continued to survive. To suggest that the solution lies in sexual morality is anathema to modern society's notion that sex is only about self-gratification. I believe most of the attacks on the pope are motivated less out of concern for HIV and AIDS patients in Africa but more out of a fear of religious conservatism which argues that not all sexual activity is permissible. If you doubt this theory, I suggest you read comments on articles concerning the pope on condoms. Nearly all of them are personal attacks on the pope and refer to his age or position and say he has no authority on sexual matters. Rarely do these comments reflect a concern for the people of Africa unless they are accusing the pope of somehow indirectly killing them.

The world needs a strong moral voice instead of more condoms. I hope the pope continues to speak up for what is right despite voices of opposition.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Other religions on the Trinity

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is an important one because it shapes how we understand God. The formulation often cited is Three Persons, One God. This concept is not readily understandable and presents challenges. However, by studying Scripture and through the teaching of the Church, Christians give their assent to this idea.

The belief is that in all ways the three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are united as one God. They act in unison and are of the same being. The persons are in no way separate. St. Patrick used to represent the trinity as a shamrock. We do not say there are three shamrocks, but one, and each is the same, acting in unison in all things.

Some have said the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, can be compared to God, his Word, and his Wisdom. One priest I heard one time said it's like the lips to speak, the words, and the sound. They are all one, yet different.

However, none of these concepts give a perfect analogy, because each one implies a difference in the three, which there is not.

Back to my original topic, and that is how other religions view the Trinity.

In Islam, there is an incorrect understanding of the Christian Trinity. Mohammed writes, in Sura 5:116-120:

And behold! God will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God'?" He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.

This says that some believe Jesus, Mary, and God the Father make up the Trinity. However, this is a view held by no Christian Church in recorded history. As mentioned above, the Trinity consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Having said that, Islam is strongly against the concept of the Trinity. In many verses, the trinity is presented only to be rejected.

Hinduism has its own form of trinity, involving Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destoyer. This is not the same as the Christian trinity, in that each of these gods have their own separate roles and do not act in unison. Also, they cannot be called "one God", but rather three separate gods. Also, Hinduism is pantheistic so ultimately everything is a part of Brahmin, which is the supreme being that encompases everything.

Judaism does not affirm a belief in the Trinity either. However, they do still wait for a messiah and believe in God's spirit.

A rare religion that began as an offshoot of Hinduism in the 19th century, Ayyavazhi has a concept of a trinity to which is adheres.

They involve:

* The Soul - The Soul of Ultimate God
* The Spirit - The Spirit (Karana Sarira) of Narayana
* The Body - The Body of Muthukutty (Human Being)

As far as I know, most of other religions do not have a concept of a trinity. It is interesting to see how various religions would relate to this Christian doctrine.

Good video to watch:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pope Benedict and Condoms Video

4 Things about the Pope and Condoms

There's been a pile of controversy over the pope's comments about condoms in a book coming out on Wednesday. Most of it has been misinformation which has snowballed into an all-out lie. Here's the top 4 things you need to know:

1) Artificial Contraception not approved by Church
The pope did not approve of condoms to be used as contraceptives. The church clearly forbids all forms of artificial contraception and nothing the pope said violates this.

2) Comments referred only to male prostitutes
The pope's comments referred only to male prostitutes. Obviously the Church has made numerous comments on the immorality of homosexual sex, plus the fact that these acts are inherently nonreproductive, the use or non-use of condoms becomes a moot point. The main objection to the use of a condom is its contraceptive quality. In a situation that can be nothing but non-contraceptive, the objection becomes moot.

3) Pope did not say it is good for gay men to use condoms
The pope did not say a gay man using a condom to prevent the spread of AIDS or HIV is doing something morally good. Rather, the intention behind him using it can be the beginning point of a sense of morality. Basically the thought of the gay man to protect the health of his partner is at least the beginning of a sense of morality on the issue, even though everything about the situation is immoral.

4) Not official teachings
These are the personal thoughts of Pope Benedict, and in no way can be construed as a change in Catholic teaching on the issues of artificial contraception and birth control. In order for something to be an official church teaching, the pope must declare it using formal and official Church channels such as publishing an encyclical or papal bull. In order for something to be declared infallible, the criteria is even more stringent and is very seldom used.


The media is having a field day with this as usual. There are broad pronouncements that the Catholic Church has completely altered its teaching on condom use and contraception in general. However this has not occurred. This is being completely blown out of proportion. To get my broader treatment of this, please go here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI did not say condoms are acceptable

Yesterday news came out that Pope Benedict has changed the Church's stance on condoms and that they are now allowed under certain circumstances. However, this assertion is false, and I will show you why.

The BBC has proclaimed the following:

"Some parishioners have welcomed Pope Benedict's remarks over the acceptable use of condoms in exceptional cases, to prevent the spread of HIV.

The Vatican has long opposed condoms as an artificial form of contraception but the pontiff has suggested using condoms might not always be wrong."

The Guardian, another British paper wrote an article titled "Pope Benedict's condom U-turn"

Others have gone even further stating Pope Benedict now allows condom use.

Is this accurate? I think it's important to be objective to find out exactly what the pope said and meant. It's not about what I want him to have said or what I think he should have said, but what he actually said. And the same goes for other groups as well.

The pope was, in a very rare event, being interviewed by reporter Peter Seewald, who asked him about his comments on condoms. Here is what was said:

Seewald: . . . In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

Benedict: . . . In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

Then later, the interviewer asks a follow-up question, and it goes as follows:

Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Of course, the media cannot detect nuance and make clear distinctions about what the pope is or is not saying. The pope is not talking about using condoms, but rather the intention behind it. He says the intention to reduce harm to another human being is a first step.

That would be no different than talking about the good intention of a man who is euthanizing his suffering wife as a first step toward compassion. The intention of the man is to reduce suffering which is a good intention, even if euthanasia is never permissible. So it's not contradictory.

As a preeminent theologian, Pope Benedict realizes that a good intention is a good first step for any action, even if the action itself proves evil. A woman who prostitutes herself to make money to support her child is another example. The intention to help her child is a good first step.

The subtlety was sorely missed by the media who threw the baby out with the bathwater by declaring the Church is now in favour of condom use.

It's also important to note that the pope's comments do not constitute an official declaration by the Church. This may be a concept that's hard for non-Catholics to understand, even some Catholics. The pope was not speaking in an official magesterial way when he was doing this interview, so it does not carry any legal force. It was not an encyclical, or papal bull. It's similar to if President Obama made a comment on the weekend to a friend. It wouldn't immediately become law in the United States.

This reminds me of the evolution debate with regards to the Catholic Church when blaring headlines asserted that Pope John Paul II believes in evolution or the Church officially accepts evolution, etc. But again, the subtlety was missed. All the pope at the time said was that evolution can be an acceptable theory on the physical development of the human body as long as it does not violate Catholic priniciples. However, he further clarified that the Church does not take any official stance on scientific issues so that is up to each individual. That does not mean that the Church officially endorses evolution, but that it does not forbid anyone from believing in certain scientific theories. The Church "accepts" evolution no more than it "accepts" Young Earth Creationism. The Vatican stays out of the business of science, unless it conflicts with faith and morals.

Beware any time you see a newspaper article declaring that the pope has reversed a decision or changed a teaching. It's probably a misunderstanding on the part of the paper.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Catholic freedom in China

A major issue for Catholics in China is freedom. The communist government first introduced by Mao Zedong does not allow Catholics freedom to worship, but only the illusion of such. Loyalty to the Pope is forbidden and high ranking officials have been imprisonned. Others have been martyred, such as Fr. Beda Chang, from the Society of Jesus.

Of course, the government of China wishes to maintain an image of freedom by offering its own version of Catholic Churches. These churches are forbidden from recognizing the Supreme Pontiff of the Church and must follow rules set out by the government. Many priests have been forced to take menial jobs to support themselves.

This all started in the late 1940s when Mao came to power and forcibly introduced communism. During this violent and tumultuous time, Mao went after religious institutions including the Church. One very disturbing video I saw showed Chinese government agents destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary and replacing it with Mao's official portrait.

People even today in China bow before statues of Mao. He replaced religions with worship of him, a most distasteful practice. Mao specifically targetted Christians more than Buddhists because he wanted to demonstrate that Christians were less welcome because they came from outside, even though the Church has a relationship with China going back to the 8th century.

China established its own imitation Catholic Church called the Chinese Patriotic Church. On the surface, it appears quite similar, however there are differences. The Church was founded in 1949 and does not accept theological development made by the Church after that date.

It does however accept the revised version of the Catechism and the Code of Canon Law. Also, some have reported that the Pope is prayed for by name, which is a positive sign.

There is however an underground Church, which completely follows the pope. It is illegal and those caught can be prosecuted. When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he had named a cardinal in secret, it had not been publically released and is referred to as "in pectore" (close to the chest). I believe only that cardinal knew. However, upon the death of the pope, the name will remain hidden. Many have speculated that the named cardinal could have been from China, given the lack of religious freedom.

China must allow freedom of religion if it is to advance as a modern nation. People are innately born with freedom and this includes freedom of worship.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Did God create evil?

In the Bible, it says that God created everything and that everything he created was good. So what about evil? Did God create evil? We would say that anyone who creates evil is a sinner, so has God sinned?

A simple syllogism is presented:

1) God created all things
2) Evil is a real thing
3) God created evil.

It seems inescapable. So we are faced with a dilemma. Fortunately, there is a solution.

St. Augustine, one of the most important Christian figures, wrestled with this idea for a long time. He once belonged to the Manicheans who believed there were two Gods or two forces, one Good God of the New Testament and one Bad God of the Old Testament. But orthodox Christians affirmed that God is one and there is but one God. So more thought was necessary.

The solution to the question is that Evil is not a thing. It is a privation of good. Is it possible to take a number of things which are all good and by using them against God's will, we deprive them of their good.

A good analogy I read tonight is that evil is like blindness. Blindness is not a thing, sight is. Blindness is the absence of sight, but that does not make it any less real. It is the absence of something good. Another example is light. The absence of light is darkness, so in that sense darkness is not a thing, but an absence of something. If you could remove dark, there would simply be more dark.

Another interesting point is that it's the misuse of something good that renders it evil. A knife is good, a hand is good, people are good, even movement including thrusts are good, but if a man thrusts a knife into another man, the action is evil. As we can see, there is no thing in this scene that is evil. Only the choice is evil.

We have free will. Otherwise, we would be automatons. Some believe that God has absolute control over our every action. If that were the case, how could we justify the existence of hell? Without free will, what choice did they have? I believe this hypothesis is absurd.

God is good and from him only good comes. I heard a story about a nun who said when she took her final vows, she was marrying Jesus. She said it wasn't like a normal marriage because she always knew that if something was wrong, it was her fault.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

My new video on the Canon of the Bible

This was a major project for me. Please support me so I can continue to make these videos.

Birth Control is contradictory

Because those who use it have no interest in either birth or control.

- Bishop Fulton J. Sheen