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Tools for Thinking Sensibly about Scripture

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Read Bible

NOTE: Over the past several months, we've had lots of combox discussion about how Catholics read and interpret the Bible. To help us all make sense of this question, we began a multi-part series on the topic. Once a week, for the next several weeks, Mark Shea will unpack how Catholics authentically read the Bible. Last week he offered a general introduction, today he outlines three specific guidelines, and next week he'll begin covering the three main spiritual senses (or lenses) through which Catholic interpret the Bible—allegorical, moral, and analogical.


 

For some folks, including not a few Catholics, it takes a lot to dispel the myth of the hyper-controlling Church that only permits Bible study after the insertion of the Vatican Orbital Mind Control Laser Platform chip in the frontal lobe of the brain. Indeed, it may come as a shock to such folks to discover that the Church offers Catholics only three guidelines when pointing toward reading Scripture for its literal sense. Dei Verbum tells us:
 

1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”;
 
2. Read the Scripture within “the living tradition of the whole Church”; and,
 
3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.

 
That’s it. That’s all the Church offers. What do these guidelines mean? In part, as we saw last week, they mean that when you read the Bible, you need to pay attention to what sort of literature you are reading. But other things come in as well.

The Bible is a sort of organism, like a goldfish. Many moderns don’t think of it that way, insisting instead that it's just a collection of human writings from widely divergent sources that got stitched together pretty roughly and is therefore “full of contradictions”. Many Bible students, both Catholic and atheist, concern themselves almost entirely with looking for the “contradictions” and shabby seamwork. This can sometimes get pretty silly, as when A.N. Wilson discerns a fraudulent claim that Jesus was a “carpenter” since “no carpenter in real life came anywhere near to having a plank sticking out of his eye".

From the perspective of sane biblical study, this entire approach (technically known by Catholic theologians as the “hermeneutic of suspicion”) is sort of like looking at a goldfish and seeing only a circulatory system, an excretory system, a pair of gills, a pair of eyes, some randomly distributed fins, a bunch of scales, a nervous system, and various connective tissues, all of which just happen to be crammed into a goldfish-shaped space—and then spending all your time looking for “junk DNA” in the goldfish cells while steadfastly ignoring the swimming, living fish.

In fact, the remarkable thing about Scripture is the organic unity of growth one sees in it. Seen from the Catholic perspective, it looks pretty much like what it is: the written record of a Tradition that is growing just like the mustard seed and revealing the gradual revelation of God to man, culminating with the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Yes, you can see the stitching at times, as when Genesis combines two accounts of creation. (But so what? That’s only a problem if you believe the Bible is a purely divine book, not a book written and edited by humans.) So, to be sure, the human authors of Scripture display change over time. But it is the sort of change one expects in a growing thing, not a mutating thing. Ideas found in seed form early on (such as “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”) break out in huge leafy branches later on (such as the conviction found in the prophets and the books of the Maccabees that God will defeat death and even raise the dead at the end of time).

We discover, as we read, that the Bible is an immense conversation across the ages. For Catholics, the Old Testament longs for and looks forward to the New and the New is only comprehensible in light of the Old. In short, there really is a unity to the whole of Scripture. So all of us, regardless of our religious worldview, do well to read it with that in mind. Each verse is related to the verses before it, each paragraph is related to the paragraphs before and after, and each book, especially in the New Testament, is not really comprehensible if you don’t know the other texts to which the author is alluding. So a return to the understanding of Scripture as a single organism, and not merely as a collection of loosely connected cells or systems, is the first order of business for effectively reading the Bible.

The next order of business is realizing that a living goldfish won’t live long outside the water. If you want to get to know the goldfish of Scripture better, the paradox is that you cannot do so by removing it from the Sacred Tradition of the Church, which is the water in which Scripture swims. The absolute worst way to read the Bible is to just go off with it by yourself and ask, “What does this text mean to me?” Catholics approach the text by finding out, as best we can, how the author and his readers would have understood it.

We know to do this with other books, but something goes awry when it comes to the Bible. Many people believe that the Tradition—that is, the fruit of millions of lives of prayer and sanctity, not to mention scholarship of a very high order and even, in some cases, personal familiarity with the apostles themselves—is absolutely worthless if it contradicts one's strongly felt intuition about what the Bible really means.

This faulty approach is primarily a fault of the will, not the intellect. It affects Catholics and atheists alike, and the solution requires humility and a basic reorientation away from self and toward God's revelation through his Church (not just a vague admission that, now and then, the Church gets it right by agreeing with my view of the Bible.) Such a reorientation is vital because without it, the biblical reader inevitably winds up depriving the Scriptural goldfish of the water of Tradition which it requires in order to live.

But let's move on. To keep the water of Tradition from being spilled, the Church tells us to “be attentive to the analogy of faith”. This cryptic remark means, basically, “hold on to the defined teaching of the Church”. The “analogy of faith” is the goldfish bowl that holds the water of Tradition. Without it you’ve got water all over the floor and, soon, a dead goldfish.

So what’s the “analogy of faith”? Well, an analogy is a thing that’s like something else. So a photo of my wife is an analog of my wife. It looks just like her, but it’s not her. The Church proposes various analogies of the Faith to us, such as the Creeds or the dogmas of the Church, to give us a sense of what is and is not part of apostolic Tradition.

A dogma is not the forbiddance of thought (as is commonly supposed) but the conclusion of thought: it’s what you get when you are done thinking something through. Periodically, questions arise in theology as they do in every field. When they do, the Church thinks the problem through and, when the occasion requires it and the Spirit wills it, the Church defines its teaching. The first time this happens is recorded in the book of Acts. The Church is confronted with the question, “Do Gentiles need to keep the ceremonial laws of Moses?”. The Church arrives at the momentous conclusion that Christians are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by circumcision, keeping kosher, and so forth. They promulgate this decision in the shocking words, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...” meaning that the dogma promulgated by the apostles and the elders is the authentic guideline for understanding the meaning of the Tradition with respect to this question.

Where do they get off talking this way? Well, to be fair, they formed the impression because of what they heard from Jesus Christ, who told them “He who listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10:16). So it’s pretty much in the DNA of the Church. It appears Jesus had enough foresight to know that the Church would need a permanent teaching office to navigate the waters of history, just as the American forefathers knew the country would require Congress, judges, and a President to interpret the Constitution through time.

So that's a brief introduction to the three guidelines Catholics use when properly interpreting Scripture. Next week we'll begin exploring the three spiritual senses, or lenses, through which Catholics read the Bible.
 
 
Originally posted at Catholic Exchange. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Go2Grace)

Mark Shea

Written by

Mark Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. He has written more than ten books including his most recent works, The Heart of Catholic Prayer: Re-Discovering the Our Father and the Hail Mary (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012) and The Work of Mercy: Being the Hands and Heart of Christ (Servant, 2012). Many of Mark's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Mark currently lives in Washington State with his wife, Janet, and their sons. Follow Mark through his blog, Catholic and Enjoying It!

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  • Ben Posin

    "The Bible is a sort of organism, like a goldfish. Many moderns don’t think of it that way, insisting instead that it's just a collection of human writings from widely divergent sources that got stitched together pretty roughly and is therefore “full of contradictions”. Many Bible students, both Catholic and atheist, concern themselves almost entirely with looking for the “contradictions” and shabby seamwork
    [...]
    In fact, the remarkable thing about Scripture is the organic unity of growth one sees in it. Seen from the Catholic perspective, it looks pretty much like what it is: the written record of a Tradition that is growing just like the mustard seed and revealing the gradual revelation of God to man, culminating with the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ."

    This strikes me as an unsupported, self-serving claim, and completely counter to a natural reading of the Bible. I guess I'm a "modern" because I think, on its face, the bible sure looks like a collection of writings from different sources that got stitched together, and yes, it IS full of contradictions despite Mr. Shea's very unworthy attempt to dismiss this with a strawman. This so-called "organic unity" and "gradual revelation of God" seems a pure invention of the Catholic church (to the extent this actually reflects Catholic doctrine), and I have zero faith in interpretations of the Bible that are based on this principle.

    • David Nickol

      This so-called "organic unity" and "gradual revelation of God" seems a
      pure invention of the Catholic church (to the extent this actually
      reflects Catholic doctrine), and I have zero faith in interpretations of
      the Bible that are based on this principle.

      For Catholics to read and interpret the Bible in the way Mark Shea describes is to bring to it something that is not found in the text itself. It is to assume the Bible as a supernatural text that cannot be read like any other text in existence. This approach virtually assures that those who are not Catholics (or members of another Christian denomination who read the Bible similarly) can't possibly agree with Catholics on what the Bible "says." Also, in effect, this approach to the Bible results in the Bible not meaning what it says, but in meaning what the Church wants it to say. I want to make clear that I am not saying the Church invents doctrines and moral requirements out of whole clothe and cynically manipulates biblical passages to invest them with scriptural authority. But especially regarding the Old Testament, the Catholic approach in effect gives the Church the power to pick what it wants and discard what it doesn't want.

      Ultimately, it means the Bible (as interpreted by the Church) has great authority for Catholics, but as any kind of authority, it has no authority at all for anyone who doesn't regard it as the Church does. Consequently, for Catholics to cite the Bible in debates with "non-Catholics" is quite pointless.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        I think that this method of interpretation can make sense if the Bible contains eternal truth. If it really does, then ideally it can be interpreted for us as well as for the original authors, and the interpretations should change over time, not because the truth changes, but because we change. If this is the case, then it would make sense to have a guiding authority in place, and this could be consistently confirmed by the Bible, in principle anyway. Because no matter how culture changes, the Bible would still contain eternal truth and the God-established guiding authority would remain the guiding authority, even in the human authors' own minds.

        • David Nickol

          It is difficult for me to imagine how this would work in actual practice if scripture is the authoritative word of God. How could "eternal truth" mean one thing in one age and something else in another age? There would have to be some "core meaning" that remained the same, otherwise it would just be a matter of the interpreters being the authority and the Bible being a mere prop—the way some people think the Supreme Court makes use of the Constitution.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            For some nerdy examples (they first to come into my mind): Invariant physical principles give different results when applied to different initial conditions. Differential equations have different solutions, depending on the boundary conditions.

            I do agree with you that something from the original message would have to be preserved. Otherwise, as you suggest, you might as well just have the authority and not the book.

          • m8lsem

            Not to steal might be illustrated with a sheep in the Bible. We are to discern the generality the Bible tries to teach, and not get mired down in details helpful 2,500 hundred years ago for communicating a timeless principle. It would be error to say the Bible teaches nothing about automobile theft.

      • Danny Getchell

        Very well said, David.

        When asking about the Bible, skeptics have to ask a similar-but-different question of Protestants:

        How do you reconcile your understanding of God's nature with these deeds of His as recorded in the Bible??

        versus Catholics:

        Why do you think that these Biblically recorded deeds of God may be disregarded when describing His nature??</I

      • DAVID

        For Catholics to read and interpret the Bible in the way Mark Shea describes is to bring to it something that is not found in the text itself.

        I think that what you are saying is easy to refute. The books of the Bible are clearly the story of a nation, from the generations leading up to the nation's founding, to the first generation of Christians that came out of this nation. Also, clearly, the books of the Bible center around a relationship with God, the God of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." These facts, alone, are enough to see how the Catholic Church reads the Bible as an organic whole.

        • Geena Safire

          These facts, alone, are enough to see how the Catholic Church reads the Bible as an organic whole.

          Actually, no, DAVID. The Catholic Church states that the entirety of the Old Testament is to be read through the lens of the claimed truth/promise/revelation of the New Testament.

          • DAVID

            How does that contradict what I'm saying?

          • David Nickol

            How does that contradict what I'm saying?

            Catholics read the Bible as if it were the unfolding of a great plan known to the authors of the Bible in advance (unless, of course, they were writing but not understanding what they wrote), including not only Jesus's birth, but his death. In reading the history of a country or a people, one can look back and make plausible theories about how one historical event or trend led to another, but that is quite different from looking back and saying, "This happened so that that might happen." If I said the Founding Fathers found the Articles of Confederation inadequate and as a result wrote the Constitution, that would be uncontroversial. If I said that God caused the Articles of Confederation to fail so seriously that the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, and it was all part of the plan for the Articles of Confederation to fail, that would be bizarre.

          • DAVID

            The OT and NT presume a relationship with God. In the NT, the relationship is even a human one, through the Incarnation. Who is to say that God is not allowed to act through the events that befall the Israelites? Why can't He?

          • Geena Safire

            Why can't He?

            Sure, why not? An invisible, metaphysical, supernatural, undetectable entity can be said to be pretty much 'consistent' with anything that happens.

          • DAVID

            Consistent with anything? I think I'd have to be a pantheist to agree with you.

          • Geena Safire

            Consistent with a world full of faith, hope, joy, morality. Consistent with a world with genocide and child deaths in the millions and human trafficking. Consistent with a 6,000 year old creation. Consistent with the Big Bang. Consistent with evolution.

            Can you think of anything that would not be consistent with the existence of the Christian deity?

          • DAVID

            But the genocide, human trafficking and death is precisely not consistent with an all-good, omnipotent God. Christians do not believe that God created evil. That's why I said that I'd have to be a pantheist to agree with you.

          • Geena Safire

            DAVID: You claim that God exists. And this world exists, with genocides and 25K children dying daily and human trafficking.

            I didn't say you like it or that he likes it. But you claim they both exist. Therefore, the existence of God is consistent with the human misery that exists on earth, in your opinion. Because it would be consistent with anything that exists or happens.

            Apparently, for you, there isn't any thing or situation or event that would indicate or prove that this deity doesn't exist. It is a non-falsifiable claim.

          • DAVID

            That's not completely true. Belief in God is falsifiable to the extent that it can be shown to be self-contradictory. I have found that it isn't.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Belief in an omnipotent god that is the source of all Creation is incompatible with human moral responsibility, but both of those concepts are integral to Christianity, ergo the Christian god is self-contradictory. And reciting the words "free will" is not enough to reason away the contradiction.

          • DAVID

            If I understand you, it doesn't seem to be a contradiction so much as something which is difficult to understand. After all, if God can communicate free will to humans, then there really is no problem. On the other hand, I think that what you mean is that God cannot give free will to humans.

          • m8lsem

            unless the omnipotent God decided that humanity should have free will, that there'd be no purpose in creating a race of puppets. Puppets would be boring. Free actors would be interesting.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            m8slem: Sure. But that doesn't resolve the logical self- contradiction.

          • David Nickol

            Puppets would be boring. Free actors would be interesting.

            Are you suggesting that God gave creatures free will for their entertainment value? Are creatures with free will more amusing than creatures without free will?

            Plus, ant colonies, bee colonies, chimpanzees, and almost any living think you can think of that interacts with its own kind and far from boring.

          • DAVID

            What's more, there are positive proofs for God which have been showcased in other articles on this website.

          • m8lsem

            We were endowed with freedom to make our own decisions, for the better, or for the worse. Ergo.

          • David Nickol

            Who is to say that God is not allowed to act through the events that befall the Israelites? Why can't He?

            If Catholics are correct that God exists and that he is as they understand him, then God can do anything he wants (with the obvious exceptions of logical impossibilities and things that are against his nature). Far be it from me to declare that an omniscient, omnipotent being can't do something.

            But we are talking about interpreting the Bible here. I have been using the example of the "Protoevengelium," Genesis 3:15. Perhaps you could tell me if you see in it a reference to Jesus and/or Mary. If so, do you think that reference could actually have been discovered and interpreted correctly by anyone reading Genesis before the birth of Jesus? And if not, what would be the point of inspiring the author of Genesis to include a very obscure "prediction" about Jesus and/or Mary in the story of Adam and Eve that only Christians would later come to unearth?

            It seems to me that the fact that God can do anything works against a great deal of biblical interpretations, since no doubt if God had wanted to, he could have inspired the author of Genesis to write something that was either crystal clear from the outset, or became crystal clear at some later point.

          • DAVID

            Genesis 3:15 can refer to more than one thing. It can have immediate significance for the author and his audience. It can have prophetic significance as well. This shouldn't be surprising. Its not that unusual for someone to say something that is true without realizing all the implications of what they are saying. What they say turns out to be "more true" than than they knew.

            God can do anything but He generally seeks human cooperation, having created us with free will.

          • DAVID

            When you say that it could've become crystal clear at a later point, I think that some clarification is needed. Crystal clear to just anybody or crystal clear to those who have deeply studied the scriptures? I don't speak as a biblical scholar, myself, but from what I've learned, there's a great deal in the New Testament which doesn't make sense unless you understand all of the promises and prophecies of the OT. Also, practically every covenant in the OT is left only partially fulfilled, but is brought to complete fulfillment in the NT.

          • Argon

            I know many Jewish scholars who were certainly nonplussed by that Catholic interpretation.

          • m8lsem

            If God wants puppets, you are correct. Possibly it is Isaiah who discerned from tradition/early Torah what you allude to.

            Some folks' DNA has whiffs of Neanderthal, others' do not. When the first of homo sapiens came to produce children and experienced the Spirit they began to conceive of a who and a where and a how and a why 'we are', the creature 'oral tradition' and a re-unified consensus Jewish oral tradition came to be reflected as Genesis in Torah.

            If enmity is to exist between evil (snake, Satan) and the children of humans, and there is to be conflict (striking heel and head, a/k/a temptation and virtue), then it's fairly easy to see a prediction that God would send himself as Jesus to fix things. Isaiah makes it more clear.

          • David Nickol

            If God wants puppets, you are correct.

            I really don't buy (nor do I think anyone else should) the idea that a clear choice is not a free choice. It seems to me nonsense to say that God must provide just enough evidence of himself so that believers can believe, but not so much that nonbelievers can't not believe.

            Would a father who loved his children restrain the evidence and expression of his love so that the children would not somehow be "obliged" to love him back? When a man sees a woman as his potential life partner, or when a woman sees a man as her potential life partner, do they take care not to be too kind and loving toward the other so that the other can "choose" to love them rather than fall helplessly in love?

            Although I find the story of the creation of the angels and the fall of some of them extremely dubious, the angels who perceived God directly were obviously not "puppets," since (according to Catholicism) some of those angels chose to reject God. Apparently, to know Him is not necessarily to love him. But if he is perfectly and infinitely lovable, it is not making "puppets" of human beings who would believe in him and love him if they perceived him to manifest himself clearly.

          • m8lsem

            God is not a bricklayer. He is more of systems designer.

          • m8lsem

            and with the ears, the eyes and the context of the people of each respective time, and more for what is being taught, than what's being taught from.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        bring to it something that is not found in the text itself.

        This is only a problem for Sola Scriptura types. The Orthodox and Catholic churches did not discover their faith in the Bible. They discovered their Bible through their faith. The Orthodox do not even have a Bible, but have separate books of the Gospels, Psalms, Lectionary, etc.

        • David Nickol

          The Orthodox and Catholic churches did not discover their faith in the Bible. They discovered their Bible through their faith.

          Quite true, but at the time the canon was fixed for the New Testament, the Church could not possibly have foreseen all the uses it would be drawn on for. So once the canon was fixed, it was not merely a matter of "the Church created the Bible, not the other way around." In some respects, the Bible is the Church's "Frankenstein's monster," since it took on a life and significance of its own that the Church tried to control, but could not. Otherwise there would be no "Sola Scriptura types" at all.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Details found here:
            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1202.htm

            Not too mysterious, really.

            Sola Scriptura did not come about because the Ecumenical Councils, Church Fathers, et al. were unclear, but because the Grand Duke of Saxony wanted to be independent of the Empire.

          • m8lsem

            One of the 'nice things' about not being puppets, is that neither those who are 'in control', nor those sought to be guided/controlled, are insured against being stupid ... and the intellectual trait of reading things in 'then' context and seeking to apply discerned applicable underlying principle in 'today' context, is even today not conceived of by some, and besides which 'then context' was a lost datum for centuries.
            It must sometimes drive God up the wall, to see how we struggle with the to-him simple desires he has for us. When the various parts of the Bible were being put down on clay or parchment, the then scribes/authorities knew what they meant. Sola Scriptura types just have a little trouble conceiving what those ancient writers were thinking about in terms of the inspired King James Version they can read as if written yesterday by a newspaper reporter with a background in today's history courses and writings.

    • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

      Hey Ben - I wonder whether what Mark is describing is such an "unnatural reading" when seen in an entirely different context.

      Consider the paintings of Picasso. Would it be so "unnatural" and "unsupported" to insist that you look at his cubist paintings in light of the organic unity of his corpus, including his earlier works of realism? To listen to what painters and art historians have had to say about his works before presuming to interpret them yourself? To pay close attention to Picasso's own "analogy of expression" - what he has said his works express and signify? To my mind, nothing seems more natural and less "invented" than this mode of analysis.

      • Ben Posin

        Matthew,
        I think this Picasso analogy highlights some of the problem with this assumption in biblical interpretation. WIth Picasso, we have (1) a single known artist creating discrete works over time. It's certainly possible that these works make up some sort of "organic unity," but to find out we'd have to examine (2) Picasso's actual intent and (3) how successfully this intent was executed in the work he actually produced.

        We know that the books of the bible, on the other hand, were written at very different times by different men--so there's a difference at point 1. Maybe some of the more recent authors (New Testament, for example) desired their work to be seen as a capstone and organic continuation of the work of prior authors (Old Testament), but we have no good reason to think that this was the intent of the writers of the earlier works--so point 2 breaks down there. Then we have point 3--looking at the bible, it's not at all obvious to me, whatever the intent of the authors, that they have created a work that constitutes an organic whole, with unifying themes and gradual revelation. I'm open to hearing reasons why a Catholic might think this is the case, but the idea that anyone should just accept this as a starting assumption baffles me.

        • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

          You're right that there are major differences. I think it's a helpful analogy though. For instance, regarding 1) Artists are often "different men" now then when they were decades ago, just like all of us. Aren't you a different person than you were five years ago, after learning what you've learned in that time? 2) Artists also sometimes write things unwittingly in their earlier years that anticipate a kind of "consummation" in later works. TS Eliot's "The Wasteland" comes to mind. He didn't write it as a prelude to "The Four Quartets" - but in retrospect, you can't disentangle the former from the latter or vice versa, even though they're really different poems with different attitudes.

          The analogy is not perfect, of course - but I hope it shows that a similar method of interpretation is not a "self-serving invention" in other areas of life. It seems to me like a very natural and human way of learning about a subject, and avoids pitfalls of presumption and eisegesis.

          • Ben Posin

            Matthew,

            This seems a bit like reaching to me. Even if we ignore the other problems with the analogy pointed out by David Nickol for the moment: at bottom, do you really disagree that for purposes there's a difference between a set of works produced by different people over huge expanses of time and the works of a single human artist during his career? I get that you want to minimize it, but my suspicion is we agree on the basic point. Really, the response to that point I've been expecting from someone is the claim that all parts of the Bible are divinely inspired, and so effectively have the same author--but it won't surprise you that I find that approach somewhat problematic as well.

            But there's an equally important point that I'm not sure you're addressing: do you agree with me that, in the end, claims or intents aside, we need to look at the actual work and see if it's integrated, if it shows some sort of progress towards a goal, or unified narrative, or whatever it is Mark Shea is referring to with his talk of "organic unity"?? Because regardless of the authors' of the Bible's alleged intent, couldn't they have failed? Writers and artists in other contexts could...

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            I don't disagree at all that there's a difference. But I think there's also a crucial similarity: that correct interpretation involves a whole lot more than just "my reading" or "that guy's reading," and that this comes perfectly naturally to us as rational creatures who want to understanding a thing fully, and in its proper context.

            Yes, I think we can (and need to) look at the actual work and see if it's integrated and shows progress toward some goal. Check out the book "Crucified Rabbi," which shows the continuity from the Old Testament to New, and the lists the fulfillment of over three hundred prophecies in the life of Jesus.

          • Ben Posin

            Ah, prophecies. I don't feel like they move the ball very far, when those writing the new testament had access to the old! In fact, I've always found it a bit amusing that according to the gospels, Jesus did certain minor things with the deliberate intent of trying to fit an older prophesy. As I said before, I'm open to the idea that those writing the new testament intended it to be a continuation of the old testament, a culmination, and that they tried to hit certain prophecies in their effort to do that. But that doesn't mean that their culmination was what the old testament writers actually intended, either specifically regarding these predictions or much more importantly,concerning broader themes. Nor does it make the God/message/laws of the new testament consistent with the old, or a reasonable or planned evolution of same. It particularly fails to move me to think that the old testament is properly interpreted through the "lense" of the new testament, as opposed to the actual intent of the writers of the old testament.

          • Geena Safire

            [T]here's a difference between a set of works produced by different people
            over huge expanses of time and the works of a single human artist
            during his career

            Some consider the Bible to be the inspired work of a single deity. The various authors are just like differing canvasses, paints, and brushes.

        • m8lsem

          The guiding theme I see is only that there is a 'faith' in a 'living God' that is working its way through the Bible. All referenced in the Bible as simpatico were working on the same faith tradition as seen by them in the context of their day.
          If there is a one faith working its way in society as society evolved from a few people hunting with clubs and eating various bits of vegetation, down to today. At least until Torah wound up on tablets, it was wholly oral.
          As many oral traditions go, the tradition is a teaching tool, not a history lecture.The actual commission of the material to a physical form, likely began some six hundred years BCE, and ended (with respect to those used) sometime before the Christian Councils. Those who were doing Jewish writings that would become Jewish scripture after Torah would not have been ignorant of Torah nor of intervening later than Torah, but to-author-earlier writings. Jewish Temple culture would have seen to that.
          It is not that those inscribing tablets in Temple 600 BCE had a notion that Francis would be teaching from today's writings, it is rather that Temple culture existed a long time for Jewish continuity through the time of Jesus, who was Himself a devout Jew.
          We have of course ever since been mining older Jewish scripture for items that foretell Jesus or are the root of Christian teachings.
          What the intent of the Holy Spirit might have been from time to time we can not discern with authority, but neither can we assert with authority that the Holy Spirit was blissfully unaware/disinterested/helpless throughout history.
          So it's not looking forward that controls, but rather looking at the past as foundation and prologue for the new that controls. But that does not mean that someone in the past might through genius or inspiration-discernment have done good job of speaking to the future.

          • Ben Posin

            "But that does not mean that someone in the past might through genius or inspiration-discernment have done good job of speaking to the future."

            I have no basic problem with this idea as a possibility to consider when approaching the bible, in part or in whole. But it's something we should then try to confirm or disprove by looking at the text itself and the historical context, and cannot be reasonably asserted as an a priori guiding principle. THAT'S what I'm arguing against.

            I also happen to think it's the wrong conclusion to draw, but to me that's kind of a secondary issue at this point. Do you agree with the above point?

      • David Nickol

        The problem with that analogy is that Picasso, when he painted his earlier works, had not formulated a master plan in which he anticipated a Blue Period, a Rose Period, Cubism, etc. In his earlier work, he did not consciously include things and say to himself, "The world will not figure this out now, but they will look back on it years from now and see I was hinting at my Cubist works." It may make perfect sense to look at an artist's earlier work in light of his later work (and vice versa), but it is only in retrospect that the early work of a great artist foreshadows his later work.

        I have mentioned before a book called New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes. The concept makes perfect sense. However, what would not make sense (to those who had no belief that the Bible was a supernatural document) would be a book claiming Old Testament predictions of New Testament themes.

        And as I remarked the other day, even if one believes the Bible is a supernatural document inspired (authored) from beginning to end by God, who could fill the Old Testament with references to events that would be recorded centuries later in the New Testament, exactly what the point would be of including "predictions" in the Old Testament that were so obscure they could not possibly be recognized by their "human authors" or by anyone until the events actually happened is a mystery to me. (I have in mind the so-called Protoevangelium, Genesis 3:15.) It is rather insulting to the Jews who authored and compiled Hebrew Scripture to imagine that it was not actually for them, that they didn't understand what they were writing, and that to this day they don't "get" their own Scripture.

        • Alypius

          It is rather insulting to the Jews who authored and compiled Hebrew Scripture to imagine that it was not actually for them, that they didn't understand what they were writing, and that to this day they don't "get" their own Scripture.

          Well... except that it was for them too. I get what you're saying, but I don't think there ought to be any insult inferred from the fact that a person may, in hindsight, only have had a partial understanding of God's purpose for them in the arc of history. Given the way the Church understands the development of doctrine over time, even the authors of the New Testament didn't fully "get" their own Scripture.

          • David Nickol

            I think the only way not to look at the "Old Testament" in a way that does not insult the Jews is that God gave Hebrew Scripture "dual meaning"—there was one meaning for those who wrote and read (and continue to read) Hebrew Scripture independent of Christianity, and a different but "superimposed" message intended for Christians. But to claim the what the Old Testament is really all about is Jesus Christ is to say the Jews never understood their own scripture and still don't, even when that which was predicted has come to pass.

            Another problem is that Christianity jettisons a huge amount of the Old Testament, and even Jesus himself was answering questions about Jewish Law that no Christian is now considered bound by. John P. Meier, still working to finish the multi-volume work on the historical Jesus (A Marginal Jew) has said, "“The Historical Jesus is the Halakic Jesus.” Much of what Jesus said and did was interpret first-century Judaism, involve himself in disputes in first-century Judaism, and deal adeptly with challenges from various factions within first-century Judaism. That is all pretty much a waste when Jewish Law was to be dispensed with not long after his death. So not only are huge swaths of the Old Testament irrelevant to Christianity, so is much of what Jesus taught (about Judaism) during his lifetime.

          • Octavo

            "But to claim the what the Old Testament is really all about is Jesus Christ is to say the Jews never understood their own scripture and still don't, even when that which was predicted has come to pass."

            I've seen this taught at multiple Protestant churches, especially at churches that celebrate Passover.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Another problem is that Christianity jettisons a huge amount of the Old Testament, and even Jesus himself was answering questions about Jewish Law that no Christian is now considered bound by.

            No Jew would consider Gentiles bound by many points of the Jewish Law either. That's why the Noahide Laws exist. And Christianity does a very good job of presenting them.

            http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Issues/Jews_and_Non-Jews/Legal_Issues/Noahide_Laws.shtml

            Much of what Jesus said and did was interpret first-century Judaism, involve himself in disputes in first-century Judaism, and deal adeptly with challenges from various factions within first-century Judaism. That is all pretty much a waste when Jewish Law was to be dispensed with not long after his death. So not only are huge swaths of the Old Testament irrelevant to Christianity, so is much of what Jesus taught (about Judaism) during his lifetime.

            I think you need to establish this point. Most Christians seem to get a whole lot of good use out of pretty much every word Jesus said in the New Testament, so his teachings must not be too terribly confined to only the world of first-century Judaism. And for that matter, most Christians also appear to care quite a bit about the Old Testament, which seems to indicate that it's not as irrelevant as you might suppose.

        • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

          The problem with that analogy is that Picasso, when he painted his earlier works, had not formulated a master plan in which he anticipated a Blue Period, a Rose Period, Cubism, etc. In his earlier work, he did not consciously include things and say to himself, "The world will not figure this out now, but they will look back on it years from now and see I was hinting at my Cubist works."

          I'm confused - this doesn't strike me as describing the Catholic view of the Bible at all. Could you clarify?

          • David Nickol

            I'm confused - this doesn't strike me as describing the Catholic view of the Bible at all. Could you clarify?

            The Catholic view of the Bible is that it is one coherent work, and that the entire Old Testament is written in the light of God's foreknowledge of events that would be recorded in the New Testament. For example, Genesis 3:15 reads:

            <blockquoteI will put enmity between you and the woman,
            and between your offspring and hers;
            They will strike at your head,
            while you strike at their heel.

            The footnote in the revised edition of the NAB is as follows:

            They will strike…at their heel: the antecedent for “they” and “their” is the collective noun “offspring,” i.e., all the descendants of the woman. Christian tradition has seen in this passage, however, more than unending hostility between snakes and human beings. The snake was identified with the devil (Wis 2:24; Jn 8:44; Rev 12:9; 20:2), whose eventual defeat seemed implied in the verse. Because “the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8), the passage was understood as the first promise of a redeemer for fallen humankind, the protoevangelium. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. A.D. 130–200), in his Against Heresies 5.21.1, followed by several other Fathers of the Church, interpreted the verse as referring to Christ, and cited Gal 3:19 and 4:4 to support the reference. Another interpretive translation is ipsa, “she,” and is reflected in Jerome’s Vulgate. “She” was thought to refer to Mary, the mother of the messiah. In Christian art Mary is sometimes depicted with her foot on the head of the serpent.

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following:

            410 After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall. This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium ("first gospel"): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.

            411 The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the "New Adam" who, because he "became obedient unto death, even death on a cross", makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam. Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the "new Eve". Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ's victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.

            Now, for those interpretations to be credibly, the author of Genesis 3:15 had to write either with the knowledge that he or she was writing about a future event, or God had to inspire the author to write something of which he or she did not know the meaning—or at least the full meaning. This is, of course, not the only alleged reference in the Old Testament to Jesus and/or the Virgin Mary.

            Dei Verbum says, "The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy (see Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10), and to indicate its meaning through various types (see 1 Cor. 10:12)." So the Jews missed the "principle purpose" of their own scripture and still do.

            Since Jesus was a Jew, it was quite natural for his followers to try to understand him in the light of the Old Testament. What is problematic in my opinion is going back and trying to understand the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament.

            For Catholics, God "inspires" the entire Old Testament in full knowledge of what is going to happen in the future, dropping hints along the way. According to the Christian interpretation, God lavished attention on his Chosen People, the Jews, until the first-century A.D., when he sent them his only son, whom they rejected, and whom he knew all along they were going to reject. So if he promised a redeemer in Genesis 3:15, at the dawn of human history, and then cultivated the Jews as his Chosen People, he did so knowing that the Jews would reject the savior he promised in Genesis 3:15. Of course, in many ways it is foolish to ask why God did something (if indeed he did it), but still one wonders why God chose the Jews to reveal himself to and send a savior to knowing all along that it would be Gentiles who made up the Church.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Catholic view of the Bible is that...
            the entire Old Testament is written in the light of God's foreknowledge
            of events that would be recorded in the New Testament.

            No, rather that it is to be read in that light, not that it was necessarily written in that light. History is full of literature that was written for one purpose and later used for another.

          • David Nickol

            Is Isaiah 7:14 a prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus? Or was it at least a passage that, when God inspired the biblical author, was intended to bolster the faith of Christians hundreds of years hence?

            14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

            Do the references to the child in the following two verses seem to have anything whatsoever to do with Jesus>

            15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
            16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Thanks for clarifying David. I thought you were referring to the human authors of the Old Testament (not God's omniscience) when you said that there was "master plan" in mind, which befuddled me.

            Yes, Catholics do have a different interpretation of the Old Testament texts than the Jewish people. We interpret the Old in light of the New - that's axiomatic.

          • David Nickol

            We interpret the Old in light of the New - that's axiomatic.

            It is also something that no atheist (or non-Christian) could ever accept, let alone deem to be among the "tools for thinking sensibly about scripture." For an atheist, it is the antithesis of thinking sensibly to interpret scripture as a document of supernatural origin. So exactly how the principle figures in a dialogue between atheists and Catholics is a complete mystery to me. There are certainly many things that both Catholics and atheists could agree on when it came to reading the Bible "sensibly." Indeed, Bart Ehrman's textbooks on the Bible are still widely used in religious schools even though he has lost his faith.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Hey David - True, ultimately one's view of Catholic exegesis vis-a-vis a Jewish, secular, or otherwise non-Catholic reading of Scripture is bound to relate to one's acceptance or rejection of Christian Revelation - in that respect it is something of a moot point.

            On the other hand I think this is a very worthwhile series for Strange Notions, for two reasons.

            First, because Biblical literalism is rampant in evangelical Christianity, especially in America. Nearly half of the country believes the earth is 10,000 years old. So I think it's important to highlight how Catholic interpretation of the Bible differs, don't you?

            Second, atheists and Catholics can analyze this mode of explication together while bracketing the ultimate questions of faith. If nothing else, the Bible is - as literary critic Harold Bloom argues - a great piece of literature worthy of our attention as human beings. The upshot is that both sides will better appreciate this very ancient, very complex literary tradition - again, whether or not they turn around and accept it is as God's Revelation of God and man to man is a separate matter.

          • ladycygnus

            "Nearly half of the country believes the earth is 10,000 years old." Is this true? Is that all Creationism or is there a component who thought "I learned in school that it was a long time ago and that sounds like a long time!"

            I've always hoped it was a small subset of Christians who thought Creationism was true. If it is such a large segment it would explain the surge of new atheists in this country.

          • Andrew G.

            There really isn't any way to answer that question because the way that people compartmentalize their beliefs makes survey results inconsistent.

            For example, some people will answer "yes" to both the following:

            1) Dinosaur fossils are millions of years old

            2) God created the earth, including all animals, plants and people, within the last 10,000 years

            This compartmentalization is strongly correlated with both religion and politics (high-RWAs, who are more likely to be religious and are overrepresented in right-wing politics, are especially prone to it).

            So, only about 20% of the US public will answer "yes" to a survey question that asks if the Earth is only 10,000 years old but doesn't mention God or human origins, while nearer 40% will answer "yes" to "God created everything, including earth, stars, the sun, humans, animals, etc. in the past 10,000 years". To examine the data and tremble at its illogical glory, see:

            http://ncse.com/rncse/30/3/americans-scientific-knowledge-beliefs-human-evolution-year-

          • ladycygnus

            Honestly - if I were given that quiz I'd think it was a joke. A lot of the questions are next to impossible to answer T/F unless you are an Atheist.

            Like this one: "Some traits in humans were produced by intelligent design while
            other traits evolved by natural selection." An atheist will gladly answer False because he doesn't believe in ID. Depending on the Christian's understanding of ID they might answer True (clockmaker God types). Some might answer True because they know "False" will be counted as "Atheist". And the Christian like myself who thinks God uses natural selection to guide things? I have no idea what I'd answer - perhaps False.

    • Louis Tully

      I don't think Shea's "organic unity" necessarily argues for supernatural influence, but the fact that scripture developed along those lines seems almost too obvious to require explanation. That's just how culture works. Pick up an anthology of the sonnet. You'll see an organic development of the form from Lentini to Shakespeare and so on all the way to Don Paterson or Bill Knott. Now obviously any anthology will leave certain poets or developments out by necessity, and not every sonnet is going to neatly correspond to the overall growth and development if the form, but generally you'll find a broad, organic (!) movement of the form from its invention and roots on to the present day, with each poet inheriting what came before him (with varying levels of historical ignorance) and building on that to push the form into new places by developing ideas that older poets realized only in seed form. Like the use of the volta, for instance. A nice, tight shift of tone as you'd find in a Shakespearean sonnet might be likened to the clear, enumerated laws of Deuteronomy. But then along comes Jesus, (Don Paterson, lol) and explodes our notion of what the volta really is. He fulfills the idea of the volta.

      Everything in human culture develops this way if it develops at all. Again, that doesn't say anything about the Bible's supernatural (or not) origins, but it does mean that Shea's "organic unity" approach is in fact the only sensible way to read scripture, believer or not.

      • Ben Posin

        I hope you're not shocked that I disagree. I don't think human art over the centuries/ages, whether the sonnet, painting, sculpture, or what have you, could ever be seen as having "organic unity." What you're describing, the building on previous ideas and taking art into new places, is absolutely something that happens; and it makes sense to look at an artists influences when trying to understand his current work. But that's the polar opposite of what Mark Shea is talking about, when he says that we should look at the bible as a unified whole, which we here have taken to mean interpreting the old testament, the previous art, so as to be consistent with what comes later, aimed towards it. A modern poet may be thinking of Shakespeare when he writes, but it would be absurd to interpret Shakespeare by means of the unsupported assumption that Shakespeare wrote with modern poet's methods and beliefs in mind, and that his work should be interpreted accordingly.

        • Louis Tully

          I may be wrong about this, but my understanding is that Catholic teaching doesn't claim that OT writers "knew what they were doing". Their writings prefigured what was to come, but in ways they could never have expected (if they expected anything like that at all). In fact, Jesus does confound everyone's expectations of what the messiah would look like.

          • Ben Posin

            Well, now we're sort of at the nub of things. If the New Testament contains material that would have shocked those writing and living with the old testament, if it confounds their expectations, and is not consistent with it, it hardly seems obvious to me that we should consider the two texts to form one organic whole. It certainly doesn't seem obvious to me that we should, from the outset, conclude that interpretation of the old testament must be guided by this principle. THAT'S what I (and several others) are arguing against here. If you can go to the text and the historical record and show me a strong argument that this is how it all fits together, fair enough. But that's an unjustified position at this point in our argument, and I'm not going to give credence to interpretations of the bible that seem to go against what the historical record or text on its face is actually saying based on this unsupported guiding principle.

          • David Nickol

            In fact, Jesus does confound everyone's expectations of what the messiah would look like.

            Can you cite any Old Testament references to a coming Messiah?

          • Louis Tully
          • David Nickol

            Thank you for the link. But my question was, "Can you cite any Old Testament references to a coming Messiah?"

            Can you?

            I note that the document you linked to contains the following statement:

            The title "Messiah" (Heb. משיח) as a designation of the eschatological personality does not exist in the Old Testament; it occurs only from the time of the Second Temple after the Old Testament period.

          • Louis Tully
        • Louis Tully

          One more thought, lol: Is it that absurd to suggest that something like Shea's organic unity does occur in art? When Lentini sat down and devised the sonnet perhaps he was grasping at something he didn't fully understand. Perhaps he was dimly aware of the full potential of the form, even if he couldn't possibly have elaborated it. Our intuitions often contain much more potential than that of which we're aware. I think Catholic teaching about the unity of scripture operayes like that, with God as the force imbuing the OT writers with that intuitive potential.

          • Louis Tully

            So the aim (as in "aimed towards the new testament") is teleological, not intentional.

      • josh

        This would make the word 'organic' wholly superfluous since everything in history is an 'organic' outgrowth from what came before. No one says that you should read the New Testament as though its authors were unaware of the Old. But it doesn't mean that we can reasonably assume that the Old anticipates the New. (Or that different books in either collection are all interdependent in a cohesive way.)

        The sensible way to read the Bible is as a cultural artifact, shaped by personal and political concerns from many authors over the course of many centuries. The unreasonable way is to assume from the beginning that it is a congruous whole.

        • Louis Tully

          Aren't you begging the question? It seems like you're dismissing the Catholic option upfront. If it so pleased God, certainly He could have caused such a unity, even if the authors were unaware. Without God, of course it's silly to view the bible like that.

          In other words, if the Catholic view of God is true then Shea's organic unity is reasonable; if not, then it's not. Now let's drink.

          • josh

            "Aren't you begging the question?" No, I'm advocating against Shea's begging the question.

          • Louis Tully

            Shea isn't begging the question, he's following directions. The whole point of the post is to explain how Catholics read the bible. As I noted in my last post, if you're Catholic, then it's reasonable to read the bible in such a way. If you're not (especially if you're not a theist), then of course it doesn't make sense. Shea is really arguing anything; he's just explaining how Catholics do it.

            So are you saying that, within the Catholic worldview, Shea's organic unity doesn't make sense? Or are you saying that it doesn't make sense within a secular/materialist worldview? If the latter, then I totally agree with you.

          • josh

            "Shea isn't begging the question, he's following directions."
            Begging the question of whether those directions are reasonable and whether he should be following them.

            I'm saying the question is 'what is a reasonable way to read the Bible?'. It's not reasonable to say 'I adopt the Catholic view, which is that the Catholic interpretation is reasonable' therefore it is' The point is, we don't pick a world view out of some grab-bag, and then evaluate everything according to what the world-view has previously dictated. What we want to do is evaluate whether the world-view itself is reasonable. That means we need ways to test them for errors. That means not always assuming that conflicts within the system are resolved in a way that confirms the system. That means, e.g., not assuming unity in the Bible, when you should be thinking about how to test that proposition.

          • Louis Tully

            Yes, he is begging that question, because that's the point of his article: "Mark Shea will unpack how Catholics authentically read the bible". I think we just have a misunderstanding here. I originally thought you were critiquing Shea's approach within a Catholic framework, but it turns out you're critiquing the Catholic worldview in general. That's not a discussion I want to participate in. I thought we were having an inside baseball discussion about how Catholics, as Catholics, should read the bible. Mea culpa.

    • m8lsem

      There are indeed contradictions which those who assembled writings were fully aware of. And since we must assume they were proposing to teach truth with their recording of oral tradition, we are forced to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were regarded as non-material to what was to be taught. Thus a Jerusalem thought modified by generations in Babylon and the Jerusalem thought modified by generations in Egypt can be plumbed for the teaching of their commonality, with the different flourishes in each tradition being fully harmless to the message. (Must we either take a story as history, or discard it as fiction? Or may we to look for what was, and is, being taught?)

      • Ben Posin

        "There are indeed contradictions which those who assembled writing were fully aware of. And since we must assume they were proposing to teach truth with their recording of oral tradition, we are forced to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were regarded as non-material to what was taught."

        The contradictions I'm referring to are more about inconsistent general themes in the New and Old testament than random inconsistent passages, in say, the old testament. I can't tell in your response if I was clear about that, and that's what you're addressing, I suspect I wasn't. Though I do think it's worth keeping the other kind in mind too.

        The rest of your post seems to assume quite a bit about the motivations of lots of people long dead, but its summation seems to really back up my main points here. Sure, we can look at stories as allegories or myth, as fact, fiction, or something in between. We should look at what the writers/tellers meant when they told it, what their communities took from it. This means, you know, actually investigating these things, NOT starting from the assumption that it was designed to be part of a unified whole with the subsequent new testament.

  • Sqrat

    If you want to get to know the goldfish of Scripture better, the paradox
    is that you cannot do so by removing it from the Sacred Tradition of
    the Church, which is the water in which Scripture swims. The absolute
    worst way to read the Bible is to just go off with it by yourself and
    ask, “What does this text mean to me?” Catholics approach the text by
    finding out, as best we can, how the author and his readers would have
    understood it.

    In other words, ask not "What does this text mean to me?" but rather ask "What does this text mean?"

    That's fair enough. However, I am dubious about the appeal to "Sacred Tradition" as a guide to interpretation, as that seems to me nothing more than the fallacy of appeal to authority. Even the Sacred Tradition could be wrong. In each case, it is necessary to demonstrate why the reading according to the Sacred Tradition is supposedly right, otherwise it's just a matter of "This is what it means, we believe that's what it means, and that settles it."

    Besides "What does this text mean?", there is also a second question that needs to be asked, and it is the more important one: "Is this text true?" That's why the contradictions in the Bible are important. Whenever there is a genuine contradiction between what is said in one place and what is said in another place, then (at most) one of those pieces of the text can be true. In other words, the contradictions knock the props out from under any claim of Biblical inerrancy.

    I understand Shea to be admitting here, if perhaps a bit grudgingly, that the Bible is not inerrant. That opens the door for questioning the truth claims it contains, even in cases where there are no internal contradictions, and justifies our skepticism with regard to those claims unless confirmed by outside evidence, especially when they involve supposedly miraculous or supernatural events.

    • ladycygnus

      "I understand Shea to be admitting here, if perhaps a bit grudgingly, that the Bible is not inerrant."

      Not so much the Bible, but our Interpretation of the Bible is not inerrant. I heard it once described (perhaps by Shea) using the phrase: "I didn't say you stole the money." It *seems* quite clear what that means right? But it's not - think of when spoken with stresses what these could mean:

      "_I_ didn't say you stole the money" (Joe did)
      "I didn't SAY you stole the money" (thought it though)
      "I didn't say YOU stole the money" (I said Paul did)
      "I didn't say you stole the MONEY" (but those diamonds...)

      With such a simple phrase the meaning can be unclear - how much more-so a bunch of books written over 2000 years ago?

      • Sqrat

        I understood Shea to be saying something that went beyond simple differences in interpretation. He writes, "Yes, you can see the stitching at times, as when Genesis combines two
        accounts of creation. (But so what? That’s only a problem if you believe
        the Bible is a purely divine book, not a book written and edited by
        humans.)"

        There are two different accounts of creation in Genesis. The accounts are contradictory. Shea says that's because the Bible is not purely divine, but "a book written and edited by humans." That seemed to me to be a pretty straightforward admission that the Bible contains errors.

        • ladycygnus

          Yes, it's written and edited by humans, that implies different emphasis, style and tone. It implies the bias, culture and life experiences will play a part in how the person writes. It does not necessarily imply "error".

          I've heard it said several times that the accounts are contradictory - but I see it more as a matter of emphasis. Neither story is truly concerned with "which came first the plant or the man" - but what is God, what is all of creation, and what is man in relation to these two. So one has plants made on the 3rd day and another after man...it's not a cosmological origins textbook.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, it's written and edited by humans, that implies different emphasis, style and tone. It implies the bias, culture and life experiences will play a part in how the person writes.

            Certainly God could have used human agents to create a text over centuries that was of a consistent style and free of cultural biases and mistaken theories about the empirical world.

            So one has plants made on the 3rd day and another after man...it's not a cosmological origins textbook.

            And yet how often has it been argued right here on Strange Notions that the creation account in Genesis is consistent with the big bang theory? And how much more impressive would it be if God had inspired the authors of the creation accounts to be remarkably consistent with the theory of evolution. Believers do not hesitate to say claim that "let there be light" is consistent with the big bang theory, but then when it is pointed out that God creates "day" and "night" before he creates the sun and the moon, suddenly the details become unimportant and it is the overall message that counts. And of course we still have the problem of two "first parents," which in an entirely figurative account still seems to be taken literally.

            In some way the Bible is like a horoscope or a psychic reading for a "New Age" enthusiast who is willing to put some effort into "interpreting" what at first glance seems mistaken and discover in it a hidden truth.

          • ladycygnus

            I find it...eh...amusing is too weak and fitting too strong..."intriguing" maybe that Genesis 1 and the whole "light before the Sun" aspect is consistent with the Big Bang theory. It is not a necessary element for the interpretation of the passage.

            And it's quite obvious that "day" and "night" are not literal since there is no sun (or really earth for that matter) to create them.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            LadySwan, I know I would've recognized you if I'd seen you on here before. Love the name.

          • ladycygnus

            Thanks - it's one of my favorite constellations (because it's the first one to have a black hole identified in it and is also called the Northern Cross). I was here a couple times a few months back but wandered off to do other things for a while.

          • David Nickol

            And it's quite obvious that "day" and "night" are not literal since
            there is no sun (or really earth for that matter) to create them.

            What is to stop anyone from arguing that God invented the concepts of "day" and "night" to be certain chronological periods, and then created the earth and the sun to produce what we call "day" and "night" to fit in those chronological periods?

          • ladycygnus

            ...because they are not "chronological periods" in the strictest sense - the length of the day (as separate from night) varies depending on location and time of year.

          • Geena Safire

            Except that the Earth was there before the Sun. And plants, which exist via photosynthesis, were there before the Sun. And if the Sun had come before the light, you'd also be noting how intriguing that was.

            There's a list I could hunt up of about 23 things from Genesis that are not congruent with the factual universal evolution and so forth. Let it go. Whatever Genesis is, it isn't history.

          • ladycygnus

            never said it was history - in fact I've been arguing that it wasn't.

            Although I have played the thought game of "what would a ancient Jewish man have thought was going on with creation if he was given a vision of it?" Like upon seeing bacteria start growing: "Oh look Plants!" It's quite evident that based on our current knowledge of the universe this doesn't describe creation as a history account.

            Perhaps "intriguing" was too strong. The exact response is more like "huh - that's fun - what ancient person would have written that light came to be before a thing to create light (like fire or the sun)? And how about that - in the Big Bang there was light before you could really see what was causing it."

          • ladycygnus

            "And how much more impressive would it be if God had inspired the authors of the creation accounts to be remarkably consistent with the theory of evolution."

            You know what would have been even more impressive, if God had inspired the authors to write down the Newtonian equations of motion or describe quantum physics. "Now we are going to take a break from this whole 'salvation history' bit and describe in detail a random theory of science that people otherwise wouldn't develop or understand for several thousand years..."

          • David Nickol

            Do I detect a note of sarcasm?

            There is no reason whatsoever that an omnipotent, omniscient God could not have "written" a creation account that was at the same time figurative, poetic, and would also conform beautifully to the discoveries of modern science without technical language, equations, or hidden science of any kind that could not be understood until two millennia later. It wouldn't be at all difficult to rewrite the first three chapter of Genesis to make them compatible with what we now know through scientific discovery. And of course for a very long time, a great many people took Genesis to contain a literal account of creation. Many people still do today. So it is not at all laughable that the Bible might give an accurate account of creation. That is what was probably believed by most people until quite modern times. Why should the idea that God could have dictated an accurate creation account be laughable today?

          • ladycygnus

            "Do I detect a note of sarcasm?" perhaps a *wee* bit of a note.

            If, as the author of this post claims, Jerome thought the account was figurative, then there was a least one highly qualified dude during your time span of "a very long time a great many believed it was literal".

            I would be interested to know how many theologians throughout history thought it was literal (or what we currently think of historically literal). I have no doubt most would have said it's "true", but it really has no details about how God created anything - so calling it literal is a stretch.

            If the passage was trying to describe HOW God created I would want to see a more accurate representation, but it's not. It's describing the realms of creation (sky, water, earth) and the creatures that live in those realms (birds, fish, animals) as being created by God. In a poetic way it's telling us truths about creation.

          • Sqrat

            I think you're losing sight of the forest for the trees here. The question on the table is not actually whether the two accounts of creation in Genesis are contradictory, or even whether the Bible contains contradictions, but whether Mark Shea was conceding in his article that it does. It's not a matter of Biblical interpretation, but of Mark Shea interpretation.

            Now, if we wanted to deal with the question of whether Bible contains any contradictions, it is true that we might be able to find better examples of contradiction than the creation accounts in Genesis. Certainly we could find other examples. For example, we could point to the two contradictory accounts of the death of Judas Iscariot, as well as (in the same story) the two contradictory explanations as to why the Field of Blood had that name.

            There is a graphical representation of the supposed contradictions in the Bible here: http://www.project-reason.org/gallery3/image/105/. You can print it out as a poster. As a personal project, you might want to do so and try to explain them away. I am sure you could explain many of them away. Could you explain them all away? To your own satisfaction?

          • ladycygnus

            This poster would freak out a fundamentalist (once they figured out how to read it - really, red on black?!). I laughed a little at this one: "150. Is Salvation by faith alone?" Oh dear - the atheists disproved faith alone - my faith is RUINED! Oh wait - I'm a Catholic.

            This distinction is crucial - this poster is aimed at what atheism was born from: fundamentalist, bible-is-exact-in-every-way, protestant. Admittedly, growing up in a country strong in protestant christianity and being educated by many who were more protestant than catholic, this bothers me on some level. But then I see that psalms and proverbs are included and laugh again.

            Laugh? yes. Imagine someone reading this:

            "Tyger, Tyger burning bright
            in the forests of the night...
            What the hammer? What the chain?
            In what furnace was thy brain?...
            When the stars threw down their spears,
            and watered heaven with their tears,..."

            And saying "This crazy author thinks tigers glow in the dark and their brains were made in a furnace? AND he thinks that stars have spears, throwing arms and eyes to shed tears! Why would anyone call this reliable? Stupid people there is no truth in this!"

            Poetry is not a science nor a history textbook. You expect hyperbole, analogies and viewing things from an odd angle to tell a different truth - a deeper truth.

          • Sqrat

            I understand from your reply, as well as based on my own knowledge, that when fundamentalists and Catholics disagree over the meaning of a Biblical passage, the fundamentalists are perhaps more likely to insist on a literal reading, while Catholics (like liberal Protestants) may think that a non-literal reading is more appropriate. That does not always seem to be the case: Can you think of at least one example where it is not?

            I do gather from your reply, that you believe that Catholics are absolutely at one with the fundamentalists on the key point of biblical inerrancy: the Bible contains no mistakes. A contradiction would be evidence of a mistake, since where two passages contradict, at least one must be wrong. Therefore (according to Catholics?) the Bible contains no contradictions. If that is the case, I can understand your reading of Mark Shea as one in which Shea (presumably a good Catholic) is not admitting to the existence of Biblical contradictions, as I had thought he did.

            However, if that is his position, then it seems to me that he may be wrong to assert that Catholics are given only three guidelines the Bible "for its literal sense", because there's actual a fourth guideline: Read the Scripture with the understanding that no part of it is wrong. Thus, if some passage appears to be wrong "in a literal sense," then it should not be read in a literal sense. Moreover, if two passages appear to contradict, perhaps the contradictions can be resolved by taking no more than one of the passages literally, while the other passage might (must?) be considered non-literal. Fair?

            Don't you think you are painting with a rather broad brush by asserting that atheism was born from a tradition that is "fundamentalist, bible-is-exact-in-every-way, protestant"? Is there not also a stream of atheism born from a fundamentalist, bible-contains-no-mistakes, catholic tradition? And that is to say nothing of atheist traditions arising within, for example, Islam, or Hinduism....

          • ladycygnus

            We are given boundaries for scriptural interpretation, things like "Jesus is God" and "the resurrection is real". Within these walls we are free to interpret the bible as we see fit - literal or figurative. There is actually a whole lot of freedom and given two faithful catholics they might come up with two completely different ways of explaining a piece of text.

            It's certainly not a case of Catholics take everything figuratively - since things like the Eucharist are considered literal. One thing we are constantly told is to read the bible as a whole - not to just take a single verse from Paul and compare it to a single verse from Psalms and declare a contradiction. Look at the genre, context, author intent, and culture. Is this verse telling us a truth about how random guy named X died - or is it's main purpose something else entirely.

            Honestly - I know the Catholic Church doesn't require the bible to be inerrant on all things, but I don't know to what extent that means beyond this.

            "Don't you think you are painting with a rather broad brush by asserting that atheism was born from a tradition that is 'fundamentalist, bible-is-exact-in-every-way, protestant'?"

            They type of atheism I've encountered in America and online is of this variety. There are certainly atheists who don't come from this tradition, but if they seek out other atheists at all I find it hard to believe they would remain far from this influence for long.

            A: "How do you explain this contradiction between Ps 340:2 and Jk 32:1?"
            C: "That's not how Catholics read the bible."
            A: "Humor me! Explain it away!"
            C: "Ok - psalms are poetry - so that is probably figurative."
            A: "Now you are just declaring everything figurative."
            C: "We don't read the bible like that either."
            A: "Well explain this..."
            C: "It *really doesn't matter* what my opinion on that passage is."
            A: "But if the bible can be disproved you religion is false."
            C: "No - that is protestant thinking because all they have is the bible."
            A: "But what about THIS passage..."

          • Sqrat

            It's certainly not a case of Catholics take everything figuratively - since things like the Eucharist are considered literal.

            Yes, that was one obvious case that came to mind where a Catholic would interpret a Bible passage literally, whereas a Protestant fundamentalist might interpret the same passage figuratively.

            Honestly - I know the Catholic Church doesn't require the bible to be inerrant on all things, but I don't know to what extent that means beyond this.

            I've been trying to apply my search engine skills to the question of what the Church says about biblical inerrancy and was having difficulty coming to a conclusion. One source, for example, asserted that the "traditional position" is one of absolute inerrancy and was articulated by Leo XIII thus: "For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; and so far is it from being possible that any error can coexist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and Trent, and finally and more expressly formulated by the [First] Council of the Vatican.”

            The same source went on to say, though, that "There is a liberal view that limits inerrancy to those truths only which
            are for our salvation, allowing for Scriptural errors in the areas of science and history" and cited Dei Verbum: "Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." Since Shea cited Dei Verbum in his article, perhaps he was indeed admitting that the Bible contains factual errors after all.

            Given the Dei Verbum approach, perhaps the Church might acknowledge that there is, indeed, a contradiction in the New Testament about how Judas Iscariot died, but it doesn't matter, since that's "history" and not a matter necessary for salvation. It's not clear how far that is to be pushed, though. For example, aren't the claims that Jesus walked on water or raised a man from the dead matters of both "science" and "history"? Is a belief that Jesus performed miracles necessary for salvation? If not, then it seems to me that the "liberal view" would leave open the door to the possibility that the Gospels are simply in error to assert that he did. I really can't tell.

            The type of atheism I've encountered in America and online is of this variety. There are certainly atheists who don't come from this tradition, but if they seek out other atheists at all I find it hard to believe they would remain far from this influence for long.

            I read a joke once that in Northern Ireland, if someone says he's an atheist, the response is likely to be, "Yes, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?" I am sure that atheists who were raised in or once belonged to a particular religious tradition have views about religions in general that reflect their own backgrounds. It would also impact their ability to interact with people of other religious traditions. I have no background in Islam. I would not attempt to discuss atheism/religion with a Muslim, because I would scarcely know where to begin. I'm willing to leave that job to the "Muslim atheists." I admit to being slightly out of my depth in discussions with Catholics, because my own religious background, such as it is, is Protestant (although not particularly fundamentalist).

          • ladycygnus

            "For example, aren't the claims that Jesus walked on water or raised a man from the dead matters of both "science" and 'history'?"

            Well a matter of history yes. It's only a matter of science in that science first says "you can't walk on water" and thus defines the parameters for which a miracle (in the strictest sense) can rightly be called such.

            So "the bird flew" is not a miracle because science tells us that birds are capable of flight. "The nun flew" however *could* be a miracle because science tells us that nuns are not capable of flight unless aided by an outside source. Science then investigates whether that outside source is natural: "was she in a plane? Really small and blown by a strong wind? etc..." If no natural explanation is found only then should a supernatural explanation be considered possible. "Do we have evidence that something supernatural (outside of nature and thus the realms of science) cause the nun to fly?" If so it could, quite possibly, be a miracle.

          • Sqrat

            If no natural explanation is found only then should a supernatural explanation be considered possible.

            One of my pet peeves is the claim that the supernatural is ever an explanation for anything. It could only be an explanation if one could describe how it works, but of course no one who believes in the supernatural actually has any idea how supernatural feats are supposedly performed.

            The supposed supernatural is, of course, completely outside the realm of acceptable discourse of either science or history, as disciplines. A Catholic historian might believe that Jesus performed miracles, but he cannot, as a historian, assert in his academic work that Jesus performed miracles, or he is not doing history right.

            The most likely explanation for the statement, "The nun flew," is not that a miracle occurred -- that, as I said, is not even an explanation. If the nun did not fly by plane, or balloon, or kite, or on the wind, or by means of some anti-gravity device, or by some other naturalistic means, then the most likely explanation for the statement that "The nun flew," if it was meant literally, is simply that the statement is false.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Yes, yes that is Hume's argument too. "If you didn't see it, it didn't happen. Even if you did see it, you probably didn't." (ok I made up that last sentence. You could obviously never see a miracle because it could never happen!)

            It always struck me as a little disingenuous. Then again, I'm sure you'd say the same about my belief in flying nuns.

          • josh

            Are you talking about Hume's argument against miracles? Because that's not it. The argument is that you could never rationally believe in a miracle (defined as a violation of the natural order) because your evidence that the miracle occurred would have to be sufficient to conclude that your understanding of nature was incomplete. You could never tell that a miracle happened as opposed to a non-violation of the natural order which you hadn't previously understood.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Because you could never trust someone enough to believe it when they told you. Ergo, if you didn't see it, but you heard about it, you definitively cannot believe it. It was simplified, but that was it.

          • josh

            But it doesn't have anything in particular to do with trusting someone else. You could say that's a special case, but the point is, even if you saw it yourself, that's not sufficient evidence that you had in fact seen a miracle. It's not the report, it is the interpretation that matters in Hume's argument.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            When he applies it to Christianity, however, he's evaluating it in terms of a reporting of a miracle.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            It theory that is true. In reality you might be stretching it. For example, if you were one of Jesus' disciples and saw him touch the sick and they get healed. You could say that some previously not understood thing is going on. But the context of the events happening right after Jesus touch or Jesus' words would make it really hard to believe that some law of physics is going to explain it all. Hume might demand you have to believe it but at some point it becomes less than rational to do so.

          • Sqrat

            You could obviously never see a miracle because it could never happen!

            I have often thought that something very much like that is a good way of characterizing miracles.: a miracle is an impossible thing. Therefore, if something actually occurred, it wasn't a miracle.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Though, I would say a miracle is a naturally impossible thing, therefore, if something occurred, it was other-than-natural.

          • Sqrat

            But naturally, that's impossible :)

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Naturally.

          • ladycygnus

            Supernatural, by the very word, means "above nature".

            So are you saying the following?

            "I've determined that nothing is above nature because I cannot define by the laws of nature that which people say is above the laws of nature. Thus, since nothing is above the laws of nature by my fiat, their statements are false."

          • josh

            Nothing is above nature because the definition of natural can always be expanded to include new phenomena. 'Supernatural' is a common phrase we use to associate with gods, ghosts and other traditional 'mystic' forces. But it's not really a valid category when it comes to discussing evidence.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Say "metaphysical" then. Beyond nature.

          • Sqrat

            What we call the "laws of nature" are the rules according to which things happen in our universe. Supernatural events are event which supposedly occur in defiance of those rules. This raises the question of whether supernatural events are events that are supposed to be events that are subject to different rules than the ones that apply in our universe, or are subject to no rules whatsoever.

            The book of Genesis says that God made man by shaping him out of clay and then blowing the breath of life into his nostrils. If there are no rules, then, even if what the book of Genesis says is not literally true, it could have been literally true, because God could have done it that way. Or perhaps he could have done it it any of an infinite number of other ways (because, if there are no rules, there are no apparent limits on how something can be done). I once found myself chuckling over the idea that God could have created Adam by farting the stench of life into his nostrils.

          • ladycygnus

            "This raises the question of whether supernatural events are events ... that are subject to different rules than the
            ones that apply in our universe, or are subject to no rules whatsoever."

            I like this question - makes me think. The non-thought-through-completely version because I have to finish a project at work is that they are subject to the rules of logic (can't have a supernatural event of the existence of a square-triangle). They should also adhere to a consistent metaphysical theory.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Not logic, per se, but the principle of non-contradiction would apply, as it must.

          • ladycygnus

            why not logic?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            I was just preempting a possible objection, also noting that logic writ large encompasses more than what we mean here. Your example of the square-triangle is appealing to non-contradiction, but a miracle could violate "logic" in the sense that it's not logical that the sun would dance and the rest of the solar system stay in place.

            Just narrowing down the parameters, is all.

          • ladycygnus

            "but a miracle could violate "logic" in the sense that it's not logical
            that the sun would dance and the rest of the solar system stay in place."

            That wouldn't be a violation of logic, just the laws of physics. But point taken because there does appear to be a violation in the laws of logic in that the sun literally dancing would be observed as a localized phenomenon and not a global one. Although, I believe atheists, in their attempt to explain this away, offered a possible solution that there was an atmospheric lensing phenomenon that gave the appearance of the sun dancing.

          • Sqrat

            It has been a matter of scientific speculation for some time that it would be possible to create a universe in a laboratory. Such a universe probably wouldn't have the same laws as ours. Those laws might be a little different, or they might be very different, than our own.

            The act of creating the new universe would occur outside the laws of the new universe, but it would presumably occur subject to the laws of our own universe, and thus would follow definite rules. Indeed, the scientific speculators think that we already have a rough idea what those rules are, which is why they think that the whole thing is possible.

            It does not seem to me that it would be proper to refer to the act of creating another universe act as "supernatural" or a "miracle," much less to refer to the members of the scientific team that created the new universe as literal "gods" of that universe, and even less to claim that they would have some kind of inherent moral authority over it.

          • ladycygnus

            "then the most likely explanation for the statement that "The nun flew,"
            if it was meant literally, is simply that the statement is false."

            The appropriate response from a historian is to remain silent - for he is just recording what happened. If the nun flew then she flew - whether he believes it was a miracle, aliens or psychic forces not yet discovered is irrelevant to the description of the event in question.

          • Sqrat

            If she flew, she flew, but the historian can't directly address the question of whether she actually flew. It was an event that happened in the past, to which neither the historian nor anyone else has direct access.

            If the event happened in the distant past, prior to the birth of anyone now living, what the historian has to address is not "the flying nun," but, most likely, a document or group of documents in which it was written that the nun flew. If he or she is only given the choice between two stark alternatives, the historian qua historian both must and will choose the alternative that says that what was written in the documents is false, not the alternative that says that the nun actually flew. That is based on the simple methodological principle that the natural is always inherently more plausible than the supernatural, to the point that even if no natural explanation immediately presents itself, it would be assumed that one nevertheless existed and could in theory be found, rather than to resort to the supernatural non-explanation.

            Thus, for example, if the document says that Jesus walked on water, the historian would be obligated to deal with it as a false claim. Or rather, he or she would be obligated NOT to deal with it as a TRUE claim. Again, that is simply according to the canons of the historical profession. The historian might believe, as a matter of faith, that Jesus walked on water, but can't argue professionally that this is or might be a historical fact. "No supernatural event actually occurred" is a reasonable default explanation for the text in some document X that asserts that a supernatural event occurred, although if the historian is dealing in detail with document X, he or she might want to go beyond that and suggest a particular naturalistic hypothesis as to why someone might have written in document X that a supernatural event occurred.

          • ladycygnus

            So...the historian should apply his "no supernatural exists" bias to the text and determine the event didn't happen? Should he not consider the evidence for or against the claim before asserting that it is impossible?

          • Sqrat

            I think that most historians would prefer to take the out of NOT asserting that it is possible, or that it occurred.

          • ladycygnus

            RE: Biblical interpretation - I *personally* hold the view that the bible is probably a lot more true than even I give it credit for. Given that I have only a very limited knowledge of the culture, language, and styles used it seems likely that my explanations on any particular passage will be of little use. I have a background in computers and science - not ancient Mediterranean cultures and literature.

            One time someone, knowing my background in studying astronomy, tried to justify *astrology* by saying the "gravity from the stars and planets effects us". Given how upset, insulted, and frustrated I got in that conversation I can only imagine how stupid I sound to biblical scholars when *I* try my hand at things I've not studied.

            This is actually what kept me Catholic (oddly enough). I was thoroughly convinced God existed, but couldn't figure out what "interpretation" of scriptures were correct. I realized that if I, a rather intelligent woman, could not figure it out then there needed to be some kind of authoritative body to decide. If there wasn't - then God didn't exist and I would need to become an atheist.

            Well, there is this hodgepodge of idiots, jerks and sinners who claim to have this ability - and despite their faults have somehow kept going for 2000 years. And really, it would take divine intervention to make that happen. I don't see any other way given human nature. What other governing body (even/especially religious ones) has not completely fallen apart within 200 years?

          • Sqrat

            I was thoroughly convinced God existed, but couldn't figure out what "interpretation" of scriptures were correct. I realized that if I, a rather intelligent woman, could not figure it out then there needed to be some kind of authoritative body to decide. If there wasn't - then God didn't exist and I would need to become an atheist.

            Clearly you understand that another theoretical alternative -- ask God to explain to everyone what interpretation of scriptures is correct -- ain't never gonna work.

          • ladycygnus

            Yes, clearly that does not work.
            Evidence: thousands of protestant denominations
            Logic: humans cannot agree on dinner - let alone something more important.
            Theology: Given our ability to ignore, justify, or lie to maintain our comfort, happiness or just our pride in being right, it would take an overriding of the human will to accomplish this. Since we are given free will so we can freely choose to love - to override free will would eliminate our ability to love.

            Solution: God establishes and upholds a church to teach truth in matters of faith and morals - and we have the freedom of assenting to that authority or not.

          • Sqrat

            Well, I agree that I have the freedom to speak and act as though I believed that what the Church teaches about matters of faith and morals is true. In other words, I could dissimulate. However, I do not have the "freedom" to believe something that I actually do not believe.

            I could say that the proof of that latter proposition is an exercise left to the reader, but, just for fun, allow me to suggest that you try the following thought experiment: Use your free will to believe that you are a flying nun. Believe it for the next week. Then use your free will to to stop believing it.

          • ladycygnus

            I said "assent to the authority" - we may not understand it, or even fully accept it as true, but we can certainly acknowledge that someone has the authority to teach truth and act as if it is true.

            In one of my physics classes there was a young man who insisted on understanding the theory before he would accept it as true. The teachers reply was, "that comes in grad school - now you just need to learn the equations and principles so you CAN understand them later. You need to learn far more math and other physics before you can fully understand why it works - and the easiest way to learn that is to work under the assumption that this as true for now."

          • Danny Getchell

            Another poster here had a great suggestion. There should be a Catholic bible with the verses color coded. For example:

            Black (just like my copy of the KJV) means "This really happened, exactly as it says" (i.e. the resurrection of Christ)

            Blue means "This happened in some real sense, but is retold here in a figurative way" (i.e. Adam and Eve)

            Green means "This is a hypothetical showing how God relates to man. Our faith would not be undermined if it were shown to be a fiction" (i.e. the Tower of Babel)

            Red means "No way. The author got God all wrong" (i.e. the slaying of the Amalekites)

            Would be a useful study aid for the discussions here on SN.

          • ladycygnus

            From a comment below: "We are given boundaries for scriptural interpretation, things like
            "Jesus is God" and "the resurrection is real". Within these walls we are
            free to interpret the bible as we see fit - literal or figurative.
            There is actually a whole lot of freedom and given two faithful
            catholics they might come up with two completely different ways of
            explaining a piece of text."

            Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of freedom in Catholicism - people disagree because they keep trying to climb over certain walls. The rules of the church are like the walls of a playground sitting on a cliff. The walls may seem confining, but they allow for the freedom to play without fear of falling to one's death.

          • Danny Getchell

            Within these walls we are free to interpret the bible as we see fit . . . . . Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of freedom in Catholicism

            That may in fact be true. But I suspect it represents the situation of serious thinkers among the Catholic clergy and laity.

            I do not think it is the message that has generally been taught to the vast majority of the Catholic lay population down through the centuries.

          • ladycygnus

            My religious education involved a lot of "Jesus loves you" and coloring pictures...in high school. Just because there is an entity that is protected from teaching error in faith and morals doesn't mean it's protected from being stupid or for hiring people to teach who decide to teach something else.

          • Danny Getchell

            I'd accept the preponderance of evidence. If it can be shown that the Catholic laity has usually been taught, down the years, that there are large portions of the Bible which the individual Catholic is free to interpret according to his or her own lights, then I would certainly refrain from accusing "the Church" of teaching something different.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin
          • ladycygnus

            The entire history of the church is one long "debate" over what things mean - only to be decided if necessary. Theologians go back and forth for centuries before a council is called to decide on the topic (if ever).

        • ladycygnus

          One thing to consider when looking at Gen 1 is that it is first explaining that God created 3 realms of creation (sky, water & earth). On the next three days the "rules" of those realms are created (birds, fish, animals). Man is created with the animals but is meant for the Sabbath day - the wedding day - the 7th day (in Hebrew the word for "swearing an oath" is also "to 7 oneself"). God is creating a covenant with all creation.

  • David Nickol

    They promulgate this decision in the shocking words, “It seemed
    good to the Holy Spirit and to us...” meaning that the dogma promulgated
    by the apostles and the elders is the authentic guideline for understanding the meaning of the Tradition with respect to this question.

    More fully, the passage from Acts 15 is as follows:

    28 ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, 29 namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’”

    What is interesting is that although it comes directly from the "holy Spirit" and the apostles and is recorded in scripture, this directive is not followed today and had fallen by the wayside by the time of Augustine. See this interesting piece by John W. Martens that appeared on The Good Word blog on the America Magazine web cite a few years ago.

  • Steven Dillon

    I believe it's fair to say that the way of interpreting the Bible that Mr. Shea has outlined requires something like the belief in Biblical inspiration: it's surely not a method that secular scholarship could countenance. But, then, I wonder, how does the Church recommend we interpret the Bible before becoming Catholic? If secular hermeneutics require us to view a goldfish in such a silly manner, how can such a mistaken position get us to the Catholic interpretation?

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      The bible can lead us to God even when interpreted badly. Still knowing how Catholics have interpreted it since the beginning should not be information that you ignore because you are not Catholic. You can read it that way as part of the evaluation of Catholicism.

      • Andre Boillot

        A principle I take it you've applied to all the other religions featuring scriptural traditions?

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          Actually I examined other protestant traditions quite closely. I was raised a Calvinist. I did come to the conclusion that only Catholic tradition is logical, historical, and biblical. It is rooted in the offices of bishop and pope that are at the core of the church Jesus started.

          • Andre Boillot

            So, no study of say Jewish or Islamic traditions?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Only at a very high level. I started with Jesus and came to the conclusion He was legit. Then I asked myself how I could know the real Jesus. If He was God would He not have prevent His word from being corrupted? What would that look like?

          • picklefactory

            Indeed, what would it look like? Is this a case of 'same evidence, wildly different conclusions'?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Yes, I rejected all the ad hoc arguments. That is if Calvinism could not explain why I should listen to it and not Lutheranism then I would reject it. That eliminates a ton of conclusions. Essentially Catholicism just stood out as the most solid tradition by any measure. It was the oldest. It has the most impressive list of adherents. It was not restricted to one culture or country. It was bold. It was the obvious choice.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "So, no study of say Jewish or Islamic traditions?"

            It's easy to rule out other faith traditions without deep study if they contradict Christianity at a basic level. For example, if one studies the Resurrection and becomes convinced that it's a real, historical event, that fact necessarily falsifies Islam. The Koran teaches not only that Jesus never rose from the dead, but that he never died on the cross. If convinced of the Resurrection, you don't need to study Islam further to determine its veracity.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            Randy was advising that the Bible be investigated as Catholics understand it in order to evaluate Catholicism. Specifically, he seemed to be making an appeal for the withholding of judgement until a deep study of material in accordance to Catholic tradition was made. I was just curious as to whether he had applied the same principles to other faiths.

            Obviously, once one has accepted the truth claims of a particular religion (it sounds like Randy has always been a Christian), it becomes quite easy (as you point out) to dismiss the truth claims of others. I wonder if those who have spent all their lives accepting Jewish and Islamic truth-claims find it just as easy to rule out Catholicism. I suspect they do, and that they make arguments very similar to your own.

          • Geena Safire

            It is surprisingly easy for an animal to acquire a belief. It is extremely difficult, however, to extinguish it, once acquired.

          • ladycygnus

            I thought the purpose of the article was to explain how Catholics read the Bible so atheists don't fall into common mistakes when debating with them. For example, Catholics aren't required to believe that the world was created in a literal 7 days some few thousand years ago and, in general, don't. So to bring up that point is a rather empty strawman.

            Another thing we don't do is say "read this book and you'll feel the truth and believe!" as some Mormons once tried with me. In general you shouldn't believe because some book (that could be false) said so, you should believe because the evidence supports belief. In this article he is not going through the reasons for belief - only an explanation of how we read and understand the book our Church put together.

          • Andre Boillot

            Lady,

            "So to bring up that point is a rather empty strawman."

            Did you mean somebody else? What point do you feel I've brought up as a straw man? I've made no mention of biblical literal-ism or the creation story.

          • ladycygnus

            I seem to have written that poorly and have edited it - please see the edit.

          • Andre Boillot

            Yeah, I'm still not understanding your point. What strawman have I employed? I certainly made no reference to Creationism.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            I think she just means in general, it would be a strawman argument.

            Don't get so defensive, Andre, we're all friends here.

          • Andre Boillot

            Uh no...I'm really at a loss here. I made no mention of Creationism.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Again, it's an example of how Shea's post would be useful for atheists moving forward, not necessarily countering what you said here and now.

            Never again use the Creationism argument (though you didn't use it here, don't use it later, either).

            Now go and sin no more.

          • Andre Boillot

            I mean... I wasn't addressing the post, I was asking Randy some questions, and then responding to Brandon's. I have no idea what the point of her comment to me was.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            STOP TALKING ABOUT CREATIONISM

          • Andre Boillot

            My tombstone will read:

            "Here Lays [Lies?] Andre Boillot.

            He talked about Creationism.

            Like, a lot.

            Nobody knew why."

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            "Not even him, sometimes."

          • ladycygnus

            Creationism actually wasn't the point - it was just an example that came to mind since it was being discussed in another thread.

            Looking back at the thread I see I skipped a person (I'm bad at seeing the names change). It started with "If secular hermeneutics require us to view a goldfish in such a silly manner, how can such a mistaken position get us to the Catholic interpretation?". At one point you said, "Randy was advising that the Bible be investigated as Catholics understand it in order to evaluate Catholicism."

            Both quotes I was replying to because their THEME was "Read the Bible in THIS way - see it's true - believe in Catholicism" - which as you both were pointing out doesn't work. My response was "that wasn't the point of the article."

            Aside: In reply to your questions about reading non-Catholic religious books as the writer intends, I don't see why you wouldn't. When the Mormon's gave me their book and told me how it was to be read (wait for the spirit to burn inside of you) - I accepted their idea and dismissed the book (I need more than heartburn as evidence that something is true).

          • Andre Boillot

            "Looking back at the thread I see I skipped a person"

            Ah, everything is starting to make sense again.

            "Aside: In reply to your questions about reading non-Catholic religious books as the writer intends, I don't see why you wouldn't."

            I'm not sure you understood my questions. [EDIT: because you'd already read the suggested response] I wasn't arguing against reading religious texts as interpreted by their own traditions, I was making a point that, when looking at the religious texts of others, one is surely biased by already having accepted their own religion's truth claims.

          • ladycygnus

            Again, it is the theme behind your question I was addressing (rather poorly I suppose).

            In the deciding whether something is true or not you do more than look at their scriptures - in fact you should have a pretty good idea if it's even worthy of considering before opening their book - but if you are going to look at their scriptures you better read them as they intended them to be read.

            Before even opening the Bible someone could have a pretty clear historical, philosophical, and anthropological case for Catholicism having the potential to be true. The Bible is part of the Catholic liturgy, a piece of the tradition of the whole and without the rest it becomes distorted and quite useless (as seen in the many different interpretations among Christians).

            The idea that you can read a religion's book (as they intended or not) and know the truth in the religion is backwards. For there is no reason to trust the veracity of the writings if you first don't trust the people who wrote and compiled it.

          • Andre Boillot

            "In the deciding whether something is true or not you do more than look at their scriptures"

            Which is why I asked how much of Jewish or Islamic (to name just two) *traditions* Randy had immersed himself in.

            "The idea that you can read a religion's book (as they intended or not) and know the truth in the religion is backwards."

            Again, I wasn't just advocating mere familiarity with various scriptures, rather traditions.

            "For there is no reason to trust the veracity of the writings if you first don't trust the people who wrote and compiled it."

            I think this is pretty close to the point I'm trying to make. As Brandon points out, if you have first come to believe the prophets of Christianity, you're forced to rule out other religions straight away, if their prophets disagree with the Christians'. However, if one where to have been raised Muslim, I imagine that they would have been given a clear historical, philosophical, and anthropological case for Islam having the potential to be true. If through the reading of their scriptures, in accordance to their traditions, they become convinced of the truth of their prophets, I think it's quite reasonable to assume they will dismiss Christianity with similar ease.

            TLDR:
            -Randy implied that you should not dismiss interpretive traditions when reading the scriptures of others.
            -I asked if he'd taken his own advice with regards to Judaism or Islam (answer: no).
            -Brandon then stated that it was "easy to rule out other faith traditions without deep study if they contradict Christianity at a basic level".
            -I then pointed out what I thought were the problems with this approach.

          • ladycygnus

            Fair enough - I didn't realize you were playing devils advocate.

            Side note - technically to some degree to immerse yourself in the culture of the Bible is to immerse yourself in early Judaism.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            I feel like we've let this conversation get away from us.

          • Andre Boillot

            Happens every time I try to bring up Creationism.

          • ladycygnus

            Thanks for the defense it was an example. However, I think the point I was making would have been more appropriately posted to the person a couple levels up since Andre was discussing something -eh- different.

      • Steven Dillon

        One man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens: studying the Bible and Church history played a large role in my deconversion from Catholicism.

        • ColdStanding

          "played a large role" but
          not total role. Let the other shoe drop. What was the small thing,
          for if there is a large thing there is also a small thing, that lead to your
          apostasy?

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I didn't know that this forum required a court jester! Glad you could make it.

          • ColdStanding

            What is one more fool among so many?

          • Steven Dillon

            Disenchantment.

          • ColdStanding

            What!? That's it? Disenchantment isn't loss, it's progress.

          • Geena Safire

            That depends which end of a pathway you consider the destination.

          • ColdStanding

            Tell me what you think the "pathway" looks like.

          • Geena Safire

            You were the one who claimed that disenchantment is not loss but rather progress. It seemed that you had a specific pathway in mind. I was only commenting on a potential labeling of the ends of your pathway. What do you think the "pathway" looks like?

            (p.s. CS, I would prefer if you phrased your requests as requests instead of commands.)

          • ColdStanding

            Hmm, fair enough.

            I'm just often amazed at how little some people will give up on their Christian vocation for. Which is to say, how ill-equipped they are for the inevitable challenges that they will face. In all other areas of their life they will struggle mightily, such as poverty or lack of education, but when it comes to surmounting a recognized spiritual deficit, even the slightest discomfort is too much.

            Disenchantment, to me, is an emotion bespeaking of only mild discomfort.

          • Octavo

            "Disenchantment, to me, is an emotion bespeaking of only mild discomfort."

            I don't think this is the common usage. Often "disenchantment" is used to indicate that the rose colored glasses have been removed from one's eyes.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • ColdStanding

            I see that, when you yoke disenchantment to a kind of romanticism. I am just expecting that people in general are going to have experienced a fair degree of disenchantment/disappointment in the normal course of life. I am surprised when people seem to expect it won't happen in the spiritual life.

          • Octavo

            You're reading way into his comment. Disenchantment can mean many things. It doesn't mean that he wasn't expecting disappointment and ragequit his religion when it didn't make him happy.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • ColdStanding

            That is possible account, but you'd be guessing as much as me. But point taken.

          • Andre Boillot

            "but when it comes to surmounting a recognized spiritual deficit, even the slightest discomfort is too much."

            You being a self-described flagellate, I'm not sure how valid the average person will find your notions of "slightest discomfort".

          • ColdStanding

            Few people posting on this site would be grouped at the middle part of the bell curve that is named average. Some people are physically athletic, others are spiritually athletic. Some bench a lot. I can, by the grace of God, to a degree that is a little better than average, endure the cries of the flesh in self-mortification. It isn't something to boast of, but a normal outcome of a serious reading of the spiritual works of the Roman Catholic faith. God will grant the strength and light to endure to those that sincerely ask Him for it.

          • Geena Safire

            God will grant to the strength and light to endure to those that sincerely ask Him for it.

            So let's just blame the victims -- Those who cannot endure long-standing agony "obviously" weren't asking sincerely enough for the strength and light.

          • ColdStanding

            You have the order wrong. The offended party is not man, but God. God is the injured party, the victim. All that He carefully and lovingly arranged and provided for human beings was trampled in an act of singular ingratitude. Even in the face of such a rejection of Him by man, He has continually striven to win back the love of individual men, the possibility of the love of all men for God, being lost.

          • Geena Safire

            Oooooookay... Sure. How sad for the deity. Got it.

          • Danny Getchell

            What would be the symptoms of God's being "injured", being "victimized"?

            Is he in some way less content with his creation if Danny, Geena and others do not come to him via the Catholic Church???

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    Why does it necessarily matter how the original authors understood the words they wrote? Maybe God inspires the words with a meaning that isn't identical to the author's meaning, and isn't realized until later.

    Recently, someone here mentioned retcon, retroactive continuity. According to Wikipedia, the term finds its origins in theology. A theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, applied the idea of retroactive continuity to interpreting the Bible. The idea is that the future interprets the past. If the Bible is supposed to contain eternal truth, and if there is general moral progress through history, then more modern interpretations are more likely to be accurate. Contemporary interpretations will agree more than ancient interpretations with the mind of God, even if they diverge from the mind of the temporal author.

    • Steven Dillon

      "Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Scripture is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says, if, even according to the literal sense, one word In Holy Scripture should have several senses." - Thomas Aquinas, Summa T. P. 1, Q. 1, A. 10, respondeo.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        Excellent point. Maybe, to follow, the divinely inspired interpretive authority can be determined by how well it keeps up with moral progress. It makes me want to be an Episcopalian. :D

      • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

        There's also the editor and the compiler who count as "authors" in a sense. The reason why pre-Second Temple myths were included in the Scriptures was that they "fit" those people's intention, and so their intentions have to be taken into consideration as well.

    • ClintLowell

      Wikipedia is a horrible source for authentic feedback ..

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      It does matter. It is possible that the text has meaning beyond the autor's intent. For example, Matthew finds meaning in the virgin birth while Isaiad may well have not meant virgin in that way (the Hebrew word can mean just a young woman).

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        I agree that an interpretive authority is necessary, but it would need to be an authority wedded to society's developing moral sense. This would, in my mind, invalidate the Catholic Church as a candidate.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          Why? The concept is that God leads man through the church. So moral development that happens eventually ends up in the church and part of doctrine. If moral thinking is not good then God will prevent His church from embracing it.

          What is the alternative? That we simply follow whatever ideas that society comes out with? That is not going to be like science because there are no experiments to sort out truth and error. It will be more like fashion. What goes out comes back in again if you wait a bit. It ends up being the opposite of moral development because well established ideas get overthrown in favor of the latest fad and they never really recover their old strength even when they come back in style.

          • David Nickol

            What I find a little strange is the idea the revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. So according to the Catholic interpretation, if God is the true author of the Bible, he put down his pen two millennia ago and is never going to pick it up again. That means that, according to the Catholic view, while the Church was given the authority to interpret the Bible and receives divine guidance in doing so, God is not going to say (or write) another word.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            That just is not true. God's final word is Jesus. So there will be no new covenant. Jesus is as good a revelation of God as we can get. Yet the church is there to continue to clarify and unfold God's word more and more. Everything taught will have its roots in the revelation of Jesus. That is why the bible is important. Yet we can have something like the immaculate conception that was hinted at in scripture but was not fully understood until relatively recently.

            We can also have responses to new technology like contraception. You might not like the responses but they are available. God offers us His word. He promises it will sound foolish to the ears of man and that has proven true a lot. Still He has not left us orphans. We have a living magisterium to lead and guide us.

          • David Nickol

            That just is not true.

            It is unclear to me what you are claiming is not true. I said, "What I find a little strange is the idea the revelation ended with the death of the last apostle."

            Here are paragraphs 66 and 66 from the Catechism, and the heading that precedes them here is quoted directly from the Catechism:

            There will be no further Revelation

            66 "The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ."28 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

            67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

            Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".

            We can also have responses to new technology like contraception.

            Humanae Vitae was not a matter of revelation. Even those who like to believe it is infallible cannot argue that God somehow revealed to Pope Paul VI the divine view on oral contraceptives (while, curiously, abandoning the panel that advised the pope to overwhelmingly come to the "wrong" conclusion).

            After nearly two thousand years, the Catholic Church has no answer to countless questions, for example, what is the fate of infants who die before baptism. A topic that interests me greatly is the ramifications of the doctrine (if it is one) that life, in the sense of personhood, begins at conception. We now know that up to 80% of pre-embryos die within a few days of conception. If they are all persons with immortal souls, the Catholic Church cannot tell us the fate of the vast majority of human beings. When the concept of Limbo was widely accepted, at least there was a place for the unbaptized infants to go. Now we just don't know the answer, and apparently there is no way to determine it.

            You might not like the responses but they are available.

            Would I be mistaken to interpret this as an implied ad hominem attack? The implication, reading between the lines, would be something like, "You know the Church give the true answers, but you have to deny it, because you don't like the answers. You don't accept them, but I do."

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            You would be incorrect to take it as ad hominem. I know most people don't like the answer on contraceptives. I get why. It took me a while to warm up to it too.

            I was pointing out that answers many people disagree with is not the same as no answer.

            The "We don't know" answer is also not the same as no answer. The limbo question is one we are free to disagree on. That means it is not part of the faith that we need to embrace. Neither is its negation. That is an answer.

          • David Nickol

            Well, then here are my three answers to deal with any and every question you can think of:

            Yes.
            No.
            I don't know.

            Is baptism necessary for salvation? First the Church said yes, absolutely. Then the Church said, yes, but there is "baptism of blood" and "baptism of desire." Now the Church says, yes, but it doesn't apply to people who could not possibly have heard of baptism but lead good lives. And now we can "hope" that somehow infants who are not baptized attain salvation, but it cannot be said for sure.

            If you are a Catholic woman who has a miscarriage or her husband—there are about a half million a year in the United States—the answer to what is the eternal fate of your son or daughter is, "We don't know." It may be heaven (we can hope), but it may be limbo, and for all the Church knows, it is hell.

            The question in my mind is, when an organization claims to answer the question of the meaning of life, how credible is it when its answer to many questions is, "We don't know, and since revelation ended in the first century, we don't have any way of finding out"?

          • Sqrat

            The "We don't have any way of finding out" is key. It's not as though we can ask God to answer such questions and expect to get an answer -- especially if we expect the answers to be something that everyone receives and knows to be coming from God.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            We still have all the ways of finding out that we had before. God has not chosen to communicate an answer through His church yet. We can still look at private revelation. We can look at creation. We can look at scripture. We can use various forms of prayer and discernment. None of that is taken away. That might lead to an answer one day be proclaimed by the church. It might not.

          • Sqrat

            Any supposed communication of God "through his church" would constitute an example of what they call "epic fail." No one outside "his church" is going to place any more credence in them than they would in whatever "revelations" might be given to the Mormon prophet of the moment.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            The Mormon's do make a claim similar to that of Catholicism. That does not mean it is equally credible. The existence of cheap imitations does not prove the authentic thing cannot exist. In fact, why would somebody imitate a fraud?

          • Sqrat

            Try telling that to a Mormon.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            I do. They don't come to my door anymore so I have to stop them on the street.

            Regardless, there are a lot of people convinced of this or that religion. It does not make them right. You need to do the work of digging into all the claims and seeing which make sense.

          • Sqrat

            How many Mormons have you converted by stopping them on the street?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            The "I don't know" answer does actually tell us something. When the church says "I don't know" about evolution it is saying we cannot limit the freedom of our fellow Catholics on this issue. It is also saying that the question is not that important for the integrity of your faith. You can be a fine Catholic no matter how you answer that question.

            On baptism. The important thing to know is that you should be baptized. It is the normal means of salvation. The rest is details.

            We are not told about the salvation of other people. I don't know whether my friends or family are saved. That is what God has told us. Evangelize but leave the judging to Me. Does that cause angst for people? Sure.

          • David Nickol

            When the church says "I don't know" about evolution it is saying we cannot limit the freedom of our fellow Catholics on this issue.

            And when it says "I know," that presumably means you can "limit the freedom" of fellow Catholics, even when the "I know" is not "I infallibly know." When the Church says "I don't know," it means Catholics are free to think for themselves, but when it says "I know," it means that Catholics are obliged to believe what the Church says, whether they find it credible or not. I won't go through the whole story, since I have told it once before, but one of the key moments in my Catholic education was having a teacher in high school (a Christian Brother) who could not convince the class of something say, "Well, I can't explain it, but this is what you have to believe!"

            On baptism. The important thing to know is that you should be baptized. It is the normal means of salvation. The rest is details.

            This didn't stop Augustine and Aquinas from weighing in on the question or my grade school nuns teaching me about Limbo. The old Baltimore Catechism said, "A. Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter heaven; but it is the common belief they will go to some place similar to Limbo, where they will be free from suffering, though deprived of the happiness of heaven." Now, they get points for not insisting that the Church definitively taught that unbaptized children went to Limbo, but on the other hand, they say flatly that they cannot enter heaven."

            It also didn't stop the Church from inventing the concepts of baptism of blood and baptism of desire and from getting into a major battle with (and excommunicating) Fr. Leonard Feeney over the interpretation of the necessity of baptism.

            We are not told about the salvation of other people.

            Except, of course, for those who are canonized, and correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that when someone is canonized, it is infallibly declared that they are saved.

          • Alypius

            FYI: Canonizations are not infallible.
            See for example:
            http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/zlitur373.htm

          • David Nickol

            Thanks for the reference. That is quite a lengthy answer to a "yes" or "no" question!

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            What is limiting freedom? If I tell you infallibly that the area of a circle is pi*r^2 am I limiting your freedom? What the church does is declares this to be a part of the faith. If you want to embrace the faith you need to embrace this as well. You are still free to reject the faith.

            What if you don't find it credible? Then you have a difficulty. You need to study and think and try and resolve it. Newman said you can have 1000 difficulties and not one doubt. Doubt is a lack of faith. Difficulty is a lack of understanding.

            So don't accept your teacher's inability to explain. Find an explanation. Yes it continues to be part of the faith even if you don't understand.

            Limbo seems to be big for you. My understanding is that it has never been infallible. It has been a favored theological opinion of the church for a while and now it is less in favor. I can see the nuns point. If someone remains stained with original sin then how can they enter heaven? Still God's mercy is great.

            Fr Feeney was excommunicated precisely because he taught his own opinion as dogma. He thought certain people were going to hell and he said so very definitively and questioned the faith of anyone who disagreed.

            Canonized saints are in heaven. So that is an exception but we are talking about just a few thousand people in a world of billions.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            It seems as though there are two ways to understand the Bible: The God of the Bible supports slavery, misogyny, homophobia and genocide. Or the men who wrote the Bible supported these things, but God, the true Author, did not. If it is the former, then I have no interest placing any modicum of faith in such a text, and if it is the latter, then it seems that the moral progression of western society, maybe from its Christian roots, indicates a better way to read and understand the Bible, a way of understanding Scripture that is morally superior to the way the ancients understood it.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            I would say Catholicism combines the best of both those ways. The problem with the first way is it prevents humanity from growing or progressing beyond the first century. The problem with the second way is it reduces the bible to a human plaything. Human wisdom comes first and judges whether what is in the bible meets modern standards. That means the bible is just one nice book among many and has no real authority.

            Catholicism provides a sacred tradition that grows and progresses. It includes some infallible statements so modern thinking can influence morality but there are limits. The bible continues to be God's word but we know God expects more of us than He did of people thousands of years ago. We are not above scripture but we are above slavery and genocide and other things that are in the bible.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            The problem is that I think that certain declared moral positions of the Catholic Church to be wrong, so I would have to throw the Bible out, look for another interpretive authority or hope that the Catholic Church is reformed.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            The other option is to reform yourself. I mean if the Catholic church is the legitimate church of Christ would you expect it to agree with you? I know I struggled with that. I never thought I was infallible but I didn't believe I could be THAT wrong. That is I assumed Calvinism was mostly right. I needed to see that as simple pride. Logically that made sense. Still it was emotionally very hard for me. Just admitting I and a lot of people I loved and respected were very wrong about things we were very sure about.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            To give a more extreme example, if the Catholic Church advocated murder or chattel slavery or a holocaust, should I simply accept the Church's teaching and claims on these matters, because I don't expect it to agree with me?

            I am currently convinced that the Roman Catholic moral beliefs about homosexuality are abhorrent, and so unless they can change their beliefs on that matter, and accept gay marriage and the morality of consensual and loving relations between two men or two women, then I cannot in good conscience accept their moral authority on that matter or any other matter.

            If you are convinced that I am wrong, pray for me that God shows me the error of my ways.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Is it at least possible you could be wrong on homosexuality? Or are you claiming your moral opinion on the matter is infallible?

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I admit that I could be wrong, but I'm not sure how I'd find out that I'm wrong, even in principle.

            I think that lying is wrong. What sort of argument disconnected from my moral intuition could, in principle, show me that I'm wrong about lying?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Only some better source of revelation about objective morality. That is precisely what the church claims to be. At least better in certain respects. There are some ways the human conscience could still be called better but on matters like this the church does claim to be better than the individual.

          • picklefactory

            To me this sounds like "Don't listen to your conscience, listen to us."

            When I ask "Why should I?" I usually just get an argument from authority.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            You always listen to your conscience. Your conscience is just your moral language. It is like telling you to speak Chinese when you have not learned Chinese.

            What we would do is tell you to let dogma help form your conscience. Make it part of your moral language. You learn to understand the thinking that led to the dogmas. You learn to trust the God that allowed the to be proclaimed. Then when you listen to your conscience you will naturally obey.

          • picklefactory

            What we would do is tell you to let dogma help form your conscience. Make it part of your moral language.

            Well, I got my argument from authority, I guess.

            Then when you listen to your conscience you will naturally obey.

            I already obey my conscience insofar as it's possible for me, a human being with flaws, to do so.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Great! You just need to let God, through His church, form your conscience and you will be there.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            But why should I let your church form my conscience as opposed to some other church, or no church at all? And do you propose I choose between these alternatives?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Because it is not my church so much as it is Jesus' church. That is a big claim. I have become convinced it is actually true. That God does want to form me at that level and use the church to do it. Every step us hard work though.

          • Geena Safire

            That is a big claim.

            No kidding.

          • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

            But why should I let your church form my conscience as opposed to some other church, or no church at all?

            I think you would have to come to the conclusion that the church had been right about enough other stuff that she was worthy trusting for the stuff you didn't understand. That's the conclusion I came to. It's similar to how you come to trust the university science departments about areas of science that are beyond your capacity.

            You'd have to study moral philosophy according to the absolute best you know now and see if it squared generally with what the church has been saying all along. If it does, then strongly consider trusting the church. If not, well, nobody can make you believe.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I understand that the Catholic Church claims to be more reliable than the individual in this case. I don't buy their claims.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            The human answer is that many minds are better than one. Not just many people but many different cultures and time periods. So you are not going to be unduly influenced by the time and place you were born.

            Then there is the supernatural answer. We can't become truly virtuous through mere human effort. We need God's grace. That grace comes through the teaching and sacraments of the church.

            We see this in the saints. You look at Mother Teresa and Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein and John Paul II. One think they all had was a sense of their own moral inadequacy. They knew very well they were sinners begging for grace. Maybe they completely misunderstood themselves and they were really good but just didn't know it. It is more likely that this grace thing is really important. That we do need God's help and it often comes to us through the church.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I respect what you say about paying attention to the past and learning from it, but it doesn't mean we need to take something seriously just because it's old. Living in Scotland right now, I see a lot about the royal family on the news. That's a pretty old institution, but I cannot take it seriously.

            The place in which I see greatest evidence of God's power in history is in the reformation of old and oppressive laws. Wilberforce fighting slavery. Martin Luther King fighting race discrimination. Harvey Milk fighting discrimination against gays. And so forth. This battle against division and for some sort of deeper social unity and recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of all people, and the removing of divisions on the basis of race (Jew or Greek), class (rich or poor), social status (slave or free), gender or sexual orientation (male or female), is where I see God. If God's anywhere, She's right there.

            When I think of the saints, I think the same thing. Their supernatural virtue is in their love, not in their baseless judgements (which some, like John Paul, were guilty of; I am as well sometimes).

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            I am glad you see God somewhere. That those causes were more than one particular political opinion winning the day. That there was something truly right about what they were fighting for.

            Religion is just about figuring that out. You say it is about love. It is. Still love must be informed by truth. To quote Pope Benedict:

            Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity...Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.

            So the trick is to find some trustworthy way of determining that truth.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think it's very important to recognize that we view revelation as a revelation of that which is already in your heart, i.e. it is a revelation of a moral intuition that you already have but do not yet recognize. The greatest and most important revelation ever (IMO) was that the principle of humble self-givingness is at the top of the hierarchy of all of our moral intuitions. Millions of years of evolution shaped our consciences toward this truth (my speculation), and I think all people recognize it as true once they hear it, but (further speculation, strongly supported by the teachings of my Church) the primacy of this moral truth was not clear until it was revealed.

            If you accept the primacy of this fundamental revelation / moral intuition, it gives you bedrock for evaluating all other moral claims. One must always ask: does this teaching open me up to more self-givingness, more reception of the self-givingness of others, more interconnectedness with that which is outside of me? Any apparent revelation / moral intuition that contradicts this primal revelation / moral intuition must be rejected.

          • Vasco Gama

            About sexuality and marriage probably you share a lot with the Church way of thinking, such as that not consensual sexual intercourse is wrong, that pedophilia is wrong (even if consensual), that sexual intercourse between people and animals is wrong. Or about marriage what make some types of marriages wrong, such as marriage between father and dauther, or between mother and son, or bewteen brother and sisters, or between an indiscriminate group of people (of one or various sexes).
            How do you rationally justify what is right or wrong, besides your personal disgust (or the peculiar moral view of society).

            What does it make a gay marriage be acceptable (and what does it have in common with the traditional marriage that makes it different form all the other possible relationships).

          • picklefactory

            that pedophilia is wrong (even if consensual)

            I find this construction bizarre; the reason pedophilia is wrong is because children cannot give informed consent.

          • Vasco Gama

            This is not bizzare, pedophilia is wrong even if the minor is willing (and someone might argue that he or she was very informed).

          • David Nickol

            This is not bizzare, pedophilia is wrong even if the minor is willing (and someone might argue that he or she was very informed).

            I think you are missing picklefactory's point. Pedophilia is considered wrong because, even if a minor is willing or eager, she or he is considered incapable of giving true consent. Think of signing a business contract. Suppose a 7-ear-old puts some videos on Youtube of herself singing and dancing, and she's immensely talented. Suppose a record company wants to negotiate a contract with her. They promise her all the Barbie Dolls she ever wants for life and a meeting with Justin Bieber. She may be more than willing to sign a 10-year exclusive contract on those terms, but in order to legally sign a business contract, a person must be 18 or older and of sound mind. No amount of proof that she signed the contract of her own free will would make it a legal contract, since the law does not (for good reason in this case) consider a 7-year-old to be able to give the kind of consent necessary to sign a contract, just as legally and morally, a minor can't give the kind of consent that makes sex with an adult "consensual."

          • Vasco Gama

            The introduction of the "even if consensual" condition was intended for people who find reasonable (and defend it to be moral) to claim that there is nothing wrong with pedophilia if consensual (which exists, although is not a popular opinion).

          • picklefactory

            Yes.

          • picklefactory

            What does it make a gay marriage be acceptable (and what does it have in common with the traditional marriage that makes it different form all the other possible relationships).

            I think love is an excellent reason to consider same-sex marriage acceptable.

          • Vasco Gama

            Love doesn't introduce any differentiation from any of the other situations (that can be considered loving and consensual)

          • picklefactory

            Not all of the situations you describe above are loving and consensual.

            I'm not sure I understand the point you're making. Could you give it another shot?

          • Vasco Gama

            «Or about marriage what make some types of marriages wrong, such as marriage between father and dauther, or between mother and son, or bewteen brother and sisters, or between an indiscriminate group of people (of one or various sexes).»

            In all these situations (and fell free to consider others, it is only limited by your imagination) the various people involved love each other (and consider that consensual means that those people besides loving each other are also willing to marry with each other).

          • picklefactory

            So this is a slippery-slope, you-think-anything-goes type of argument?

          • Vasco Gama

            not really

          • picklefactory

            OK, then. Love is an excellent reason to consider same-sex marriage acceptable. Leave incest and bestiality out of it for the time being.

          • Vasco Gama

            No, in fact love is an excellent reason to consider marriage, but it can't be the only reason. We humans are bounded by love to each other. It doesn't mean that this alone is a qualifier for marriage (unless you want to mean by marriage any vague relational association between diferent people, and there, with this argument alone we in fact include a large variety of people that can say love each other).

          • picklefactory

            OK. What's another necessary reason?

          • Vasco Gama

            That is related with the common understanding of marriage being directed to the constitution of a family (which is primarily driven to procreation, raising and education of children, in a way that fulfils our human nature).

            Unless you want to purpose any other alternate significance of marriage or family (that the other people should accept as reasonable).

          • picklefactory

            I have a family, but I don't intend to raise any children. Should I not have the right to get married, because (from your point of view) I don't intend to fulfill our human nature?

            I know a same-sex married couple that intend to raise their child together. Are they fulfilling their human nature more than I am mine?

          • Vasco Gama

            When we discuss morality, what is in question is how we relate with each other, and how we do it in respect of each other rights and dignity (and this is particularly important when one considers to affect the life of one child that is mostly unable to defend herself).

            I have nothing to say about you getting married or not, I guess you must think it out and act according to what is best for you and the persons that are related to you (or might be, such as children, even if you are not considering it at the moment).

            In relation to the “same-sex married couple” that you say intend to raise their children (here I don’t know exactly what you mean). I guess that they intnd to act in contradiction with their nature and then they should prevent themselves from considering to raise a child, for the love of that child.

          • picklefactory

            OK -- I'm done.

            I'm going to edit my last post and put 'human nature' in quotes.

          • David Nickol

            I think we should thank our lucky stars that there have been no extended debates of either abortion or same-sex marriage on Strange Notions. They never lead anywhere, particularly when Catholics take one side and atheists another. However, I would point out that incest is illegal not only in the United States but (so far as I know) in every country in the world. Therefore, in order to legalize father-daughter, mother-son, or brother-sister marriage, incest laws must be repealed first. Only then could these combinations marry. Do you think that is going to happen?

          • Vasco Gama

            I hope not (and I don't think it is possible)

          • Geena Safire

            Let's not forget that Aquinas was quite adamant that masturbation was a greater sexual sin than rape because, with the rape, the semen gets to the right place so it is in alignment with the God's will for intercourse.

          • Vasco Gama

            I guess I wouldn't agree with that statement

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Vasco, if you're going to ask this, I think it's only fair for you to lead off by explaining what makes an opposite-sex marriage acceptable.

            And I'll give you a heads-up: if you answer "procreation," I'll be quick to ask why elderly couples are allowed to marry, or why a number of states allow opposite-sex first-cousin marriage only if the couple can prove that they can't procreate.

          • Vasco Gama

            The opposite sex marriage is acceptable as long as it fits in the general purpose and meaning of constituting a family, which is primarily driven to procreation, raising and education of children, in a way that fulfils our human nature.
            But nothing of this is strange to you this is the natural family that give rise to almost everyone that you know (and I).
            Of course we are entitled to question our concepts of marriage and family, but the changes must produce some new meaning that perfects and improves our previous concepts, not just any absurd abuse that seems remotely acceptable.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Well, I gave you a heads up: Why do you think elderly couples should be allowed to marry, or couples who know they cannot procreate?

          • Vasco Gama

            Because of the presumption that they would if they could.

          • David Nickol

            Because of the presumption that they would if they could.

            Why can't that presumption be made regarding same-sex couples? In fact, many same-sex couples do want to procreate, and you don't want them to.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            And what about same sex couples who can say the exact same thing?

          • Vasco Gama

            The same sex couples by its own nature are sterile. Marriage is recognized by society as contract to frame rights and duties, and was created as response to a particular reality that does include same sex couples. It is only in this sense that it mustn't be treated as if it was something else. If it was the case society should frame the similar rights to every association between humans.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            The same sex couples by its own nature are sterile.

            Same for elderly couples.

            Now I'm back to why you're okay with allowing elderly couples to marry.

          • Vasco Gama

            Are you pretending that elderly couples shouldn't marry? Or that they should be allowed to adopt children? Or that people should do fertility tests before society recognize their right to marry?

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            No, I'm pointing out that such things are the natural consequence of your reasoning.

          • AngelaT

            The way I see it has to do with the nature of the sexual act itself. A major key to understanding the Catholic approach to marriage has to do with how they see the marriage union as actualized in the sexual act, an act of which the ultimate end is procreation. Vasco referred to it but I don't think he was clear. a sterile couple, except by miracle, is unable to have children, but there is nothing that differentiates their act from intercourse in a fertile couple. the act in itself points to its end, but in the sterile couple, what prevents them from having children lies not in the act but a health (and this includes old age) defect in one or both bodies. By looking at the nature of the sexual act itself as the consummation of marriage, one can then see how a same-sex union radically differs. please, enlighten me. How does one consummate a same sex union? I know that seems like a crude understanding,, and I know that most people see marriage as essentially being about love, but I also think that any view grounded on reality must take into account the very nature of the relationship we are dealing with. Again, what consummates a homosexual union? any act will by its nature, and not by health/age, be fruitless procreation-wise. any sexual act will involve the use of parts which are not naturally ordered to work in an essentially united fashion towards procreation. This point on consummation also answers why it is that the church allows infertile couples to marry, but that it does not allow an impotent to marry. He is simply unable to consummate the union.

            Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that love is not necessary. It most certainly is, and I would say it too serves as an end in marriage which, though meant to work in conjunction with the procreative end, does not lose its value when a couple loses its fertility. Also, I am not saying that gay couples cannot have meaningful and loving unions . The catechism, being the size that it is.,, has only three paragraphs dedicated to homosexuals. one condemns sexual acts between people of the same sex, and considers homosexual desire to be disordered on the grounds that it is the desire aimed towards a sexual union intended to be procreative, but is in practice applied to a person of the same sex.. But the other two command respect and understanding for homosexuals, and encourages them to engage in valuable friendships (including same sex ones) which support them in their striving for holiness.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            This point on consummation also answers why it is that the church allows infertile couples to marry, but that it does not allow an impotent to marry. He is simply unable to consummate the union.

            I don't understand that at all. It seems circular, or at least question-begging, making assumptions about "the very nature of the relationship we are dealing with" rather than explaining it.

            I've also never understood the fascination with the mechanics of consummation that some people have in modern times. Why is this such an issue?

          • picklefactory

            Why is this such an issue?

            I figure it's because authoritarian followers tend to center their morality around purity/disgust lines, and focusing in on this part helps reduce the cognitive dissonance and question-begging involved in these appeals to natural law theory.

          • Danny Getchell

            their morality around purity/disgust lines

            One of the important lessons we need to learn in a free society is:

            Anyone is entitled to freely say "I think behavior X is disgusting". One can also say that "If you engage in behavior X, you can't be in our club." But neither of those statements support the position that "Behavior X should be prohibited to all".

          • AngelaT

            I guess because the mechanics have implications. You have an act here which unites two people in a way like no other, which has the ability to create new life. That's something which can't simply be flaunted around as if consequences weren't involved.

            Regarding circularity, I will admit that I did not provide a complete underlying argument behind the nature of the relationship as one being of consummation (that would take a long time, and my posts are already long enough). My point was to show why the Church considered an infertile couple eligible for marriage, but a same sex couple not.

            But ultimately, I don't think the church's complete argument is circular, and here is why. we often think that the homosexuality debate hinges around the definition of marriage; it does not. rather, it hinges around the level to which we can consider a same-sex union to be the same as a heterosexual union, and which sex acts are considered moral. In the case of a heterosexual couple, you tend to have a consummation which tends towards procreation, and a stronger bond of love for the couple which itself solidifies the family. this is a peculiar relationship, and it is what me have come to designate as "marriage." Rather than marriage being defined arbitrarily, it is a term used to encapsulate this concept. You don't start with a definition (for if you did, then yes, the argument would be circular), but rather with a reality. Now, same sex unions have a reality of their own. And while there are definitely similarities between these two unions, other realities underlying them both are nonetheless rather different. recognize them for what they have in common, but do not consider them to be the same thing, since ultimately, that does an injustice to both kinds of unions

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            For infertile couples, the sexual act does not tend toward procreation. Furthermore, you can't generalize the couples with children have a "stronger bond of love" than couples who do not.

            The church's reasoning on this always sounds to me like a de facto justification that doesn't match up with the reality of human relationships.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Rob, have you read the definitive book by Princeton professor Robert George, Sherif Gergis, and Ryan Anderson titled "What Is Marriage?"

            It offers a clear and robust philosophical defense of the conjugal view of marriage (and it responds to your assertion in the first sentence of your comment.)

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Brandon, I've read the scholarly article, not the book. I found it embarrassing as a scholarly work, and at times frankly dishonest. When the article came out, I wrote a lengthy 14-part critique of it that appeared in several blogs and was referenced extensively.

            If you're interested, you can find it here: http://wakingupnow.com/blog/category/robert-george/what-is-marriage

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Brandon, if you don't want to wade through all 14 parts, here are the bits that might interest you most:

            Why George's notion of "comprehensive union" is fatally flawed.

            Why George's rationale for infertile couples is fatally flawed.

            Where George is dishonest (if you believe dishonesty can be a sin of omission).

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Rob, thanks for the reply! I don't have time to read through your proposed rebuttals--and I don't want to get too off topic from the original thread--but can you send me your email address (brandon@brandonvogt.com)? I'd like to ask you something off the record. Thanks!

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            I'll also encourage you to read the book if you'd genuinely like to understand the George/Gergis/Anderson argument. They spend several extra pages on the main objections you posed (including the "comprehensive union" and "infertility" objections), material that wasn't in the original paper.

          • AngelaT

            it does insofar as it is precisely the act which brings about life. The problem in the infertile couple is not the act itself, but rather the physical defects which prevent them from procreating.

            " Furthermore, you can't generalize the couples with children have a "stronger bond of love" than couples who do not." You misread what I meant. I mean that the love that arises from the union is a love that also brings together an entire family. It is a love meant not only to bring the two closer together, but also for creating a home to new life. I apologize if I was not clearer.

          • AngelaT

            anyways, it was fun chatting, but I really need to get off SN and do some work... If anyone would like to continue the discussion, he is free to do so.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            it does insofar as it is precisely the act which brings about life.

            Not if the couple is infertile.

            I mean that the love that arises from the union is a love that also brings together an entire family.

            So an infertile opposite sex couple who adopts is cut off from this love? If not, then why is a same sex couple who adopts?

          • BrianKillian

            Angela: " ...it is precisely the act which brings about life."

            Rob: "Not if the couple is infertile."

            Yes, it is the act which brings about life even when the couple is infertile. If they *weren't* infertile, that act would plausibly bring about life.

            But that's not true regarding whatever acts that two men or two women do with their genitals. Those acts cannot, strictly speaking, be said to be 'infertile' because there is no possibility at all for them to be procreative. For something to be infertile, there must first be a possibility to be fertile. And same sex acts have no such possibility. Procreation is impossible as a result of same sex acts or alternative heterosexual acts.

            A man and a woman who are permanently infertile will never have that possibility actualized. But that possibility is still there. It is still exists as potential reality.

            But the sex acts of two men or two women don't even have that possibility at all. That's the difference. The presence or absence of a possibility, NOT the presence or absence of actual children or actual pregnancies.

            And yes, the point of difference is metaphysical.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Yes, it is the act which brings about life even when the couple is infertile. If they *weren't* infertile, that act would plausibly bring about life.

            But they are infertile, so it's not an act that brings about life.

            A man and a woman who are permanently infertile will never have that possibility actualized. But that possibility is still there. It is still exists as potential reality.

            This looks like a self-evident contradiction to me: What is not possible is a possibility?

            This does not strike me as metaphysics. This strikes me as an an end run around reality in order to support an unsupportable conclusion that was never based on reason, but was handed down as custom and tradition, and based on a misunderstanding of gay people and their relationships.

          • Alypius

            Rob, this is more or less the same point of contention that you & I arrived at yesterday. So a quick thought experiment for you:

            Let's say I have a pet parakeet. It's in the nature of a parakeet to fly. My pet, however, had a broken wing a long time ago which didn't heal correctly. Consequently, when it flaps its front appendages, it doesn't go into the air. It is flapping its wings but it is definitely "not flying".

            Say, also, that I have a pet hamster. It's in the nature of a hamster to scamper about on all fours, and never to fly. Sometimes it sits there though on its hind legs and wave its front appendages about a bit. I don't know what its intent is in that motion but it is definitely "not flying" when it does so.

            Is the "not flying" of the parakeet the same thing as the "not flying" of the hamster?

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            No. Continue.

            But be very careful about your assumptions. Specifically, any assumptions you have about the purpose of genitals or sex. Because I'll be unearthing those with great care.

            Also, just to be cryptic, when you think about parakeets, make you sure thing about penguins as well.

          • Alypius

            This is a response to both Rob & David.
            Rob: Good call on the penguin, actually!
            David: it implies that it is in human nature to be built for sex ordered toward reproduction (just gonna call that conjugal sex from here on out). All members of type "human" have that nature, independent of whether given individuals have all the parts working correctly (or even whether someone happens to find that behavior desirable). You had an interesting point about adaptations which I'm intentionally bracketing off here (maybe a later time?) because the specific point that I'm trying to explain for Rob is why someone might think that infertile sex is a different sort of action altogether than gay sex. I'm not even trying to imply in this post anything about a judgment of moral rightness or wrongness. Just a judgment of "different thing".

            So to take the analogy one step farther: the "not flying" of the penguin is more akin to the "not flying" of the hamster than that of the parakeet, is it not? Despite superficial similarities, the wing of a penguin is simply a different sort of thing - a flightless thing by "design" (using that in quotes b/c I'm not an ID proponent!) than the wing of a parakeet. It is not in penguin nature to fly.

            Every kind of thing has a certain set of features that make it what it is (its nature) and a certain set of conditions that fulfill best what those features tend towards. The tricky thing is the fact that each species is made up of individuals which embody those features in greater or lesser amounts. The fact that an individual (or even a big chunk of individuals) of a species may have "naturally" developed a characteristic does not automatically mean that that characteristic is aligned with the "nature" of the kind of thing it is. That's kind of an important distinction. There might be a whole subset of parakeets that are born with wings that don't work right; that alone wouldn't make them into penguins or even necessarily "not-parakeets" (for lack of a better term).

            So the fundamental question is this: how does one discern which features, sexual or other, are part of a thing's nature and which are not? And the answer, as with the parakeet/penguin/hamster is by intuiting the "design" that is inherent in the thing. The form of the human male & female body makes absolutely no sense, apart from being complementary to the other. If you were an alien visitor to earth for the first time and you happened on a group of men that you observed for awhile you'd be like, "WTF? That looks funny." And then when you happened upon the first woman you'd be like, "oh! I get it now." Obviously we can choose to use our genitalia in a whole host of ways, but the structure of the design is pretty straightforward, is it not? Conjugal sex by its very nature unites opposite genders physically and emotionally, and it provides a context wherein new life can form. That design is still there (as with the parakeet wing) even when one or more of the parts are misfiring. In contrast, non-conjugal sex does not share that design (I don't want to specifically pick on gay sex here, btw. This distinction holds true for non-conjugal heterosexual sex as well.) Even with all of the parts working properly the result cannot, by its very nature, be the same. This is why one might think that infertile conjugal sex is still the same sort of thing as potentially fertile conjugal sex, whereas non-conjugal sex is a different sort of thing altogether, even though it, like infertile sex, won't lead to a baby 9 months later either.

            Heading to bed now. Rob - whether this gave things just a smidge more sense or whether you think it's still a bunch of bunk, I'll be happy to read about it in the morning. :-)

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            It still seems like a bunch of bunk. :)

            First, putting "design" in quotation marks doesn't help, because you're using it as if it weren't in those marks. For it to be clear to me, I'll need to see it explained without that word.

            Meanwhile, everything you've written makes a convincing case that it can be natural for men and women to have sex. (Though it would be unnatural for me to have sex with a woman, because sex is not merely about "parts.") However...nothing you've written convinces me that it is not natural for two men to have sex.

            Finally, I get that infertile opp-sex couple having sex behave the same as a fertile opp-sex couple having sex, but so what? All of the reasoning I've seen so far centers on the possibility of procreation and the creation of new life, so if that's your focus, the issue is not whether the actions look similar, but whether they are procreative. Thus, it seems to me that your reasoning puts same-sex and infertile opp-sex couples in the same category, as indicated by your own words

            Conjugal sex by its very nature unites opposite genders physically and emotionally...

            This can be true of sex for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, regardless of fertility.

            ...and it provides a context wherein new life can form.

            This is true for fertile opp-sex couples, but not for same-sex or infertile opp-sex couples.

          • David Nickol

            Doesn't this imply it is in the nature of a man with a homosexual orientation to have reproductive sex? There are birds that can't fly because they are injured, but then there are many species of birds that can't fly because they adapted to flightlesness. If homosexuality is a natural variant, and particularly if it can be shown to be adaptive for a species, homosexuals may not have been "meant" to have reproductive sex. It seems to me the arguments do not apply to homosexuals if it is the case (which many believe it is) that homosexuals were "intended" to be attracted to members of their own gender. They are like the hamster, not like the parakeet. There is nothing wrong with them.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            David, you're stealing my thunder!

          • Geena Safire

            The analogy I like to use in this situation is a compass. For most people, their compass points north. But consider if some people have a compass that points south.

            That doesn't mean that their compass is broken. It still works for orienting yourself, once you know which way yours points.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Yes, it is the act which brings about life even when the couple is infertile. If they *weren't* infertile, that act would plausibly bring about life.

            That seems to me as convincing as this:

            Writing with a pen is an act which produces a written text even when the pen is dry. If the pen weren't dry, that act would plausibly produce a written text.

            But that reasoning does not convince me that writing with a pen is an act which produces a text even when the pen is dry.

          • David Nickol

            That's the difference. The presence or absence of a possibility, NOT the presence or absence of actual children or actual pregnancies.

            Of course, to those who are do not understand or do not accept the Catholic view, it is a difference which makes no difference. There are some major questions about the "open to life" requirement. First, why should each and every sex act, even of a fertile couple, be "open to life"? Even the Church acknowledges married couples have a right to space their children at reasonable intervals and make a reasonable decision as to how many children to have. Second, why should infertile couples be required to have "baby-making sex" when they cannot have babies? Sex, according to the Church, has two major purposes that must always be accommodated—unitive and procreative. Why? I am trying to think of another human act that has two major purposes that must always be accommodated. What it boils down to is this question: Where is the evidence that the two main purposes of sex are unitive and procreative, and if there is adequate evidence for that, what moral principle says those two aspects must always be present even when procreation is impossible?

            Also, it must always be kept in mind that the majority of married Catholics (including "good" Catholics—i.e., those who attend mass weekly) do not agree that "artificial" birth control is wrong, and the vast majority of Catholic married couples who are still in their childbearing years use artificial contraception. Gay people may be forgiven if they are puzzled by all of the arguments against homosexual acts promulgated by Catholics who deliberately thwart their own fertility or by a Catholic hierarchy that tacitly accepts the use of artificial contraception by heterosexual Catholics while actively campaigning against same-sex marriage.

            I do hope someone can come up with an analogy to sexuality in which a human act has two principle purpose which must always be present together to avoid mortal sin. What are the purposes of eating, for example? Surely the primary one is nutrition, so something like chewing sugarless gum or drinking diet soda should be sinful. Is it sinful for those who cannot speak and hear to communicate with sign language? Is it sinful to use an antiperspirant to thwart a natural bodily function? If any human action has one principal purpose, is it always necessary for that purpose to be realized in every instance of that act? If any human action has two principle purposes, is it always necessary for those two purposes to be fulfilled in each and every instance of that act? As best I can tell, the principle applied only to sex.

          • BrianKillian

            First, why should each and every sex act, even of a fertile couple, be "open to life"?

            There's enough ambiguity in these kinds of discussions to add one more from a bad translation of the Latin text. So instead of 'open to life' let's use 'ordered to life'. That emphasizes the relation of the act to life, rather than the consequences of any particular act.

            why should infertile couples be required to have "baby-making sex" when they cannot have babies?

            I find it easier to ask why infertile couples should desire to have 'baby-making sex' , even when they cannot have babies.

            And they should desire it because there is a lot of value in performing that act which is ordered to life. It is an act that they have the privilege as human beings to participate in freely, an act which connects them to one of the fundamental religious mysteries of the cosmos - the generation of new life and existence. Life and existence are the domain of God, and so anything so intimately connected to life and existence are sacred by that very connection.

            Note that the act is that kind of act regardless of whether or not they actually succeed in ever generating new life. The act just is the sort of act that tends to generate new human life - even for infertile John and Jane. Therefore, it can still be valuable to them in the absence of children ever being generated.

            But it's especially valuable to them because it's an act which joins their bodies together in a whole that is impossible by themselves - that whole is referred to in the Bible as being 'one flesh'.

            And that's especially valuable because love seeks real unity. By performing that kind of act which is ordered to life, and the only sexual act which is ordered to life, they have a deep, fleshy symbol and expression of their love. Because biologically they become 'one flesh' they can spiritually become 'one flesh'. That's pretty valuable wouldn't you say?

            That's just not possible by any other sort of act that human beings can think of doing with their genitals.

            Sex, according to the Church, has two major purposes that must always be accommodated—unitive and procreative. Why?

            Because sex is not a lump of play-doh that you and I can just squeeze in our hands and make it into any shape that we please. It has an objective biological reality, it is procreative.

            That's its natural aspect. You could say that sex also has a personal or spiritual aspect that transcends the natural - that's the unitive aspect.

            The unitive depends on the procreative, the spiritual is rooted in the natural, grace builds on nature, etc.

            You could say alternatively: 'Keep it real' and 'Keep it love'.

            You can only keep it love by keeping it real. And if it's not real, it ain't love.

            I do hope someone can come up with an analogy to sexuality in which a human act has two principle purpose which must always be present together...

            The analogies that are generally helpful here IMO are language, love, and liturgy.

            In language, love, and liturgy there is always this same relationship between the natural and personal or the expressive, or the symbolic, or the spiritual, or whatever you want to call it.

            The 'rule' of the two purposes of sex is like a universal and general law of the person applied to sex.

            Natural laws aren't the only laws in the universe.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            When you introduce a phrase like "ordered to life," you should understand that many of us have absolutely no idea what you mean. The distinction between "open to life" and "ordered to life" is utterly lost on us. So instead of swapping out one word for another, we'd fare much better with a fuller explanation of what you mean.

            The act just is the sort of act that tends to generate new human life - even for infertile John and Jane.

            Here's the thing. This sentence, which obviously makes complete sense to you, makes absolutely no sense to the people you're talking to. For infertile John and Jane, this act is clearly not an act that tends to generate human life. This seems so obvious from the meaning of "infertile" that we can't fathom what would make you say such a self-evidently contradictory thing.

            I've been hitting this point again and again with many different commenters (while getting thumbs up from people who apparently experience the same reaction of "WTF?" as I do). So if you want to convince us, you'll have to explain how on earth infertile couple's sex could possibly be an "act that tends to generate new human life" when we've definitely ruled out such an outcome by establishing the couple is infertile.

            I am not being hyperbolic when I say we literally don't know what you're talking about.

          • David Nickol

            The act just is the sort of act that tends to generate new human life - even for infertile John and Jane. Therefore, it can still be valuable to them in the absence of children ever being generated.

            One can imagine infertile John and Jane, if they actually want children, not being so ecstatic about being allowed to perform an act "ordered to life" when for them it cannot create a new life. It is difficult to imagine an infertile couple that wishes to have children of their own saying, "How privileged we are to go through the motions of this act that is ordered to life even though we are sterile!"

            While I don't want to mock the idea that there is something wondrous about creating new life through sex, I would point out that dogs, elephants, houseflies, snakes, and bats (among thousands of other creatures) do it. It is awesome in its way, but I don't believe sterile creatures going through the motions of doing it is a great privilege or a sacred experience for them.

            But it's especially valuable to them because it's an act which joins their bodies together in a whole that is impossible by themselves - that whole is referred to in the Bible as being 'one flesh'.

            I do not believe the story intends to say Adam and Eve become "one flesh" when they are having sexual intercourse. I believe "one flesh" refers to marriage (which of course for the biblical story includes sexual intercourse). The talk of "one flesh" occurs in the story before Adam and Eve have sex and even before they know they are naked. If sexual intercourse makes a man and a woman "one flesh," then it makes them so not just in marriage, but also in fornication, adultery, and rape. And of course if a man and a woman become "one flesh" during sexual intercourse, so does a male and female rhinoceros.

            Because biologically they become 'one flesh' they can spiritually become 'one flesh'. That's pretty valuable wouldn't you say?

            As I said, I don't believe the story of Adam and Eve tells us that a man and a woman become "biologically 'one flesh'" during sexual intercourse. Also, remember that in the case of Adam and Eve, Eve was made from Adam's rib. They were already "one flesh." No doubt whole books could be written on the implications of Genesis 2: 23-24, and sexual intercourse would no doubt figure in the mix, but having intercourse is not becoming biologically one flesh.

            The unitive depends on the procreative . . .

            Obviously not, for sterile couples. Sex for couples past their childbearing years can be unitive, but it cannot be procreative. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that artificial contraception separates the unitive from the procreative, not that sexual intercourse in which contraception is employed is not unitive. Unless some extremely technical definition of unitive is used I see no reason why nonprocreative sex (including same-sex acts) cannot be unitive. I see no reason whatsoever why each and every sex act must be both unitive and procreative. (In fact, I see no reason why each sex act must be unitive and/or procreative. One of the oddest things I have ever read was in a book about Catholic bioethics and the methods of obtaining a sperm sample from a man for analysis by fertility doctors. Since masturbation to provide a sperm sample would be neither unitive nor procreative, a man who wants to have his sperm analyzed must bring his wife to the clinic, where they have sexual intercourse using a punctured condom. Since the condom is punctured, the act is still "open" or "ordered" to life, but some of the sperm will remain in the condom, and that can be analyzed. I find the idea that God would be offended and consign a husband to hell because he masturbated to to provide a sperm sample to his fertility clinic bizarre.)

            Because sex is not a lump of play-doh that you and I can just squeeze in our hands and make it into any shape that we please. It has an objective biological reality, it is procreative.

            It strikes me as tautological to claim that sex must always be procreative because sex is procreative. Homosexual sex is quite common in nature, and it is not procreative. The idea that sex is procreative and must always be procreative is not derived from studying how sex functions in the real world. Sex can be procreative, and certainly that is an essential part of its nature, but clearly sex need not be procreative to be important, otherwise there would be no homosexual sex and no sex in humans after their reproductive years were definitively over. Nature, or natural selection, or God has separated sex and procreation in humans as evidenced by the fact that human females are sexually receptive whether they are fertile or not, and males are just as eager to have sex with females who are temporarily or permanently infertile as they are with females who are fertile. Women do not go into estrus (heat).

            Finally, even accepting all you said about the value of sex acts that are "ordered to life," there was nothing to explain why sex that is not "ordered to life" is mortally sinful according to the Catholic Church. You made a case about how valuable and meaningful it was for humans to have sexual intercourse in a way that is "ordered to life" (even when the creation of a new life is impossible) but you did not explain why it is such an evil act to have—only once, and even when it makes no practical difference—sex that is not ordered to life. You also didn't explain why, if having sex that is ordered to life is such an awesome experience that leads to deeper love between man and wife, why the vast majority of married Catholics in their childbearing years use contraception. The vast majority of Catholics (and other human beings) do not cherish the thought of having sex that is "ordered to life" when they do not, in fact, want a new life to begin.

            The 'rule' of the two purposes of sex is like a universal and general law of the person applied to sex.

            The alleged two purposes of sex were not always recognized by the Church, and if I am not mistaken, the unitive purpose of sex was only very recently (Vatican II) put on the same level as the procreative purpose.

          • picklefactory

            Because biologically they become 'one flesh' they can spiritually become 'one flesh'.

            If you are being literal, I cannot imagine what you mean by the first part of this sentence.

          • David Nickol

            I don't know if I made clear, in my extremely long reply to BrianKillian, that two becoming "one flesh" is a metaphor, not a biological fact. The New American Bible translates the line as follows: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." A footnote explains: "One body: literally 'one flesh'; classical Hebrew has no specific
            word for 'body.' The sacred writer stresses the fact that conjugal union
            is willed by God."

            If humans literally become "one flesh" or "one body" when they have sexual intercourse, it happens in marital sex, fornication, adultery, and rape. Also, mating hippos or skunks also become "one flesh." Sexual intercourse was around for millions of years before human beings were. This is not to say humans cannot invest human sexuality with meanings it doesn't have for other mammals (or reptiles, or insects, etc.), but it does mean that, biologically, humans no more become "one flesh" than mating goats.

          • picklefactory

            I agree.

            But for the natural law argument to not fall apart, it has to be literal, biological fact.

          • AngelaT

            "Not if the couple is infertile"
            We seem to be on different frequencies here. All I am saying is that the way children come about is through sexual intercourse. both fertile and infertile couples can engage in sexual intercourse proper. The results may be different, but the act is not.

            .So an infertile opposite sex couple who adopts is cut off from this love? If not, then why is a same sex couple who adopts?
            What do you mean by being "cut off"? If by cut off you mean that the bond of the sexual act is separate from how they got the child, then yes. As great as adoption is, the parties involved are going to have to overcome some extra obstacles that a fertile couple need not overcome. The initial natural bond is not there, for one, the child may wonder about his birth parents, etc.. Love can fill in the major gaps, but we all know that adoption, however laudable, is something which rectifies something that was wrong, and not something which defines a norm. But I don't know what you mean here. clarify?

            (Of course, the difference then between a homosexual couple adopting and a heterosexual couple adopting will still be present if the presence of both genders vs. one gender has an effect on development. of the child. But I don't want to get into that at this point)

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            No, I'm going to have to go back to your original quote:

            " Furthermore, you can't generalize the couples with children have a "stronger bond of love" than couples who do not." You misread what I meant. I mean that the love that arises from the union is a love that also brings together an entire family. It is a love meant not only to bring the two closer together, but also for creating a home to new life.

            Here you seem to be saying that "the love that arises" is not available to opposite-sex parents because it is dependent on the production of new life. I disagree with that, of course, but is that what you're saying? And if it's not what you're saying, could you clarify again?

          • AngelaT

            no (I would disagree with that too.) what I mean to say is that the couple's bond of love is not meant for the couple alone, but also is meant for the child. I am not saying that the love which opposite sex parents experience is dependent on whether new life comes, but that the love between the parents itself creates that necessary environment of love for the child (or at least it ought to).

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            And how is that any different for same sex couples?

          • AngelaT

            you mean from heterosexual adoptive couples?

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            No, I meant same sex couples, but the question applies to opp-sex adoptive couples as well (specifically, I'm referring to, "the love between the parents itself creates that necessary environment of love for the child").

          • AngelaT

            the love I refer to here is the particular bond of love that arises from the sexual act which created the child. It is only in the fertile couple where the two aspects, having children, and the bond of love, are intrinsically linked, since the same act led to both.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            So same-sex and infertile opp-sex couples, then, cannot have "the love between the parents itself" that creates the "necessary environment of love for the child"?

          • AngelaT

            they can have a loving environment for the child as a fertile couple can, but their loving environment was not linked to the creation of the child.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Angela, I'm having trouble getting a handle on what you're saying. You've said, "the love between the parents itself creates that necessary environment of love for the child," and when asked to clarify you say, "the love I refer to here is the particular bond of love that arises from the sexual act which created the child."

            That seems to imply that only fertile couples can have a love that creates the necessary environment of love for the child, but you've backed off of that, in which case I don't know what we're talking about in this thread at all. What exactly is our point of contention? What is it that puts fertile and infertile opp-sex couples in the "marriageable" category while excluding same-sex couples and (just as important): why?

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Angela, that last reply was a bit gruff. Haven't had my morning caffeine. Sorry.

          • AngelaT

            That's ok. I can totally understand that (even though I don't regularly drink caffeine).
            To be honest, looking at this "tributary" in the river that is our thread, I don't think our contention lies here, so maybe we can put this end to rest. My feeling is that our contention lies a lot deeper than at any point you will find in the homosexuality debate, as seen on the other "tributary."

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I'm good with that.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            ...both fertile and infertile couples can engage in sexual intercourse proper. The results may be different, but the act is not.

            But the propriety of act depends on the possibility of procreation in this view, so if there is no possibility of procreation, then it cannot be considered in your view as sexual intercourse proper.

          • AngelaT

            the fact that an infertile couple cannot reproduce is based on some physical defect in one or both parties. but this defect is accidental to the sexual act, not essential to it. the thing that makes it sexual intercourse proper is... well, that they are having sex. They are engaging in the act required for procreation, which were it not for some extraneous health factor the couple cannot control, would likely result in new life. I don't really know how else to explain myself. I'm not thinking in terms of actual possibility as you say, but looking at the end of the act itself.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            But the end of the act itself for infertile couples is not procreation.

            the thing that makes it sexual intercourse proper is... well, that they are having sex.

            This is circularity par excellance.

          • AngelaT

            if you take that sentence in itself, of course it is.

          • David Nickol

            In the case of a heterosexual couple, you tend to have a consummation which tends towards procreation, and a stronger bond of love for the couple which itself solidifies the family. this is a peculiar
            relationship, and it is what me have come to designate as "marriage."

            And yet, infertile couples are allowed to marry even when it is known for sure that they are infertile (as, for example, when a woman has passed childbearing age). The argument, then is that only a man and a woman can perform the type of sex act (PIV, that is, penile-vaginal intercourse) that can be, under ideal circumstances, fertile. It does not make any difference whether the couple is actually fertile. It doesn't make any difference if the couple ever actually performs the act. (A "Josephite" marriage is a real marriage, because the couple is presumed to be able to perform PVI, whether they do or not. Consequently, the Catholic Church maintains that Mary and Joseph were truly married, though they never consummated the marriage.)

            So in Italy not long ago, a paraplegic man was denied a Church wedding because he was impotent. Yet a man who was not impotent could marry in the Church if he and his wife mutually committed never to consummate their marriage. (This, presumably, is extremely rare!)

            We get into similar kinds of reasoning over sex acts being "open to life." It is not that they must really be open to life, as in PVI between a man with a sperm count of zero and a woman past childbearing age. The act is "open to life" not because life can result from it, but because it is the type of act that, under "normal" or ideal conditions, could result in conception. The form of the act is correct.

            Consequently, the "rules" for licit sex are the same for fertile heterosexual couples and infertile heterosexual couples. Both must "go through the motions" of "baby-making sex," even though it makes no difference for the infertile couple. The moral theologian Germain Grisez has written on the topic What sexual activity is permissible for elderly married couples? in a way that I find a mixture of compassion and senseless "rules." What a great deal of it boils down to is that if the husband is incapable of having an orgasm, they may not do something that would "risk" the wife having one. Whereas if a husband can have an orgasm and the wife cannot, then there is no problem.

          • David Nickol

            Another brief thought. The underlying basics of the prohibition against homosexual acts are the same as the underlying basics of the prohibition of contraception for heterosexuals. Yet we know that about 95% of Catholic married couples practice some form of "artificial" contraception. Yet for all practical purposes, "contracepting" married Catholics are tolerated by the Church, while same-sex couples are not.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            "contracepting" married Catholics are in a state of mortal sin, if they know that the Church teaches that contraception is wrong.

          • David Nickol

            And yet, a majority of Catholics do not believe this—even a majority of Catholics who attend mass weekly. Do you know of any bishops who have officially decreed that Catholics who use contraception must refrain from receiving communion? How do you account for the absence of a "crackdown"? I have heard many conservative Catholics complain on Catholic blogs that they never hear anything about contraception from the pulpit.

            One does hear quite a bit from the Catholic Church about contraception (for example, the vigorous opposition to the Obama administration's "contraceptive mandate"), but it is very much my impression that the Church does very little to try to convince those who are otherwise in good standing with the Church that they are committing mortal sins by using contraceptives and that they must stop receiving communion until they go to confession.

            I can't cite too much data, but it is my impression that a great many priests (a majority?) do not support the Church's position on contraception, and many of them give parishioners permission in the confessional to follow their own consciences and use artificial contraception if they want to.

            Also, it is my understanding that the majority of Catholic couples who arrange Catholic weddings are already cohabiting.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            That used to be the case, about the priests, especially in the '70s. But that is changing, rapidly. It depends on your parish. Some are more orthodox than others, but it is definitively a mortal sin.

            Also, many parishes will not perform the wedding of couples who are cohabitating, but alas, some will. But just because some priests are wrong doesn't mean that it's a non-issue.

          • AngelaT

            i'm not certain what point you are trying to make. Are you just trying to present the implications as silly? or are you bringing up Josephite marriages to refute what I said? To be honest, I don't really know what to make of Josephite marriages. (On a different note, marriages consented to but not consummate have a different standing before canon law... such marriages, if I understand correctly, can be "dissolved" under certain circumstances since the consummation did not take place) I am familiar with them, and it seems to have something to do with, i guess the ability to consummate a union. I know that the explanation given regarding Mary and Joseph rested on the fact that their circumstances were extraordinary, and that there was some sort of "spiritual" consummation to say the least. How that works I am not certain. I am familiar with them, and it seems to have something to do with, i guess the ability to consummate a union. Is this what you are contesting in my argument?

          • David Nickol

            i'm not certain what point you are trying to make.

            I suppose my overall point is that to those who are not Catholics (as well as to many who are) the teachings of the Church on marriage and sexuality are overly "technical" or—I think this is the correct word—physicalist. For example, a couple (Mary and Joseph) can be truly married if they never consummate the marriage, but a couple cannot marry if they are incapable of consummating the marriage. Consequently, a man capable of sexual intercourse can marry a woman even if they agree in advance never to have sexual intercourse, but a man incapable of having sexual intercourse cannot marry a woman who wants to marry him knowing that is the case.

            The rules for sex raise interesting questions. For example, if a husband has an orgasm during sexual intercourse, he may licitly cause his wife to have an orgasm by just about any natural means available (I don't want to get too graphic here, but oral sex is one way), however it has to be in the same "session" as his own orgasm, although the criteria for what defines a "session" are vague.

            To an outsider (and many an insider), it looks like proper "form" is what is important, and not human feelings. "Unitive" is a technical term, and it does not have much if anything to do with bringing the husband and wife spiritually and emotionally closer. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia has written a book titled Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus in which he suggests more emphasis should be put on deriving sexual morality from the effects of sex on people rather than on what sexual acts allegedly offend God. Why, for example should mutually pleasurable sex between a married couple be out of the question if the wife can have an orgasm but the husband can't, and yet be perfectly licit if the husband can have an orgasm but the wife can't?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            1. Joseph and Mary were married under the Old Covenant, so different rules would apply. So a man cannot marry a woman sacramentally if he does not intend to have sex with her.

            2. Rules for a session may be vague, but it's one of those "you know it when you see it things." Trust me.

            3. The explicit purposes of marriage, and sex, in the Church are, to put it cutely, babies and bonding. So bringing them closer together is one of the two reasons. The other one is babies, which happens when the man orgasms. Can't happen without it. However, does bonding happen when the woman fails to achieve? Perhaps, depends on how the woman feels about it, I'd imagine.

            I'm not numbering to be belittling or anything, but as a mod I've now involved myself in 5 conversations over three posts, and am trying to keep everything straight.

          • AngelaT

            I can understand where you are coming from. Don't know how well I can address your concerns but here goes:

            "To an outsider (and many an insider), it looks like proper "form" is what is important, and not human feelings. "Unitive" is a technical term, and it does not have much if anything to do with bringing the husband and wife spiritually and emotionally closer. "

            I think the main point for the Church is that the unitive aspect of marriage involves persons in their entirety, not just the union of two souls, since we are not just souls. Given the current air of debate, it seems like the unitive is being applied only to the physical, but this is far from true in the teaching itself. Put in another way, the physical aspect of unity is necessary, but definitely not sufficient. Of course human feelings are important. and of course the ends of the sacrament of marriage center around the mutual holiness of the couple. The only reason the physical aspects are being talked about is that people are now questioning it. The Church sees in this a major problem since ultimately it separates the body from the soul in practice, and things are not bound to go well when you do that.

            "Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia has written a book titled Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus in which he suggests more emphasis should be put on deriving sexual morality from the effects of sex on people rather than on what sexual acts allegedly offend God."

            why not ground it on both? If we are right about what acts are morally wrong, then that should be compatible with what acts ultimately bring about positive or negative consequences, shouldn't it?

            "Why, for example should mutually pleasurable sex between a married couple be out of the question if the wife can have an orgasm but the husband can't, and yet be perfectly licit if the husband can have an orgasm but the wife can't?"

            I understand why you phrase the question as you do based on your previous post, but I think the question itself is a loaded question because it implies that the question is one about orgasms and not about the nature of marital union (and not merely a physical union). Am I confused here?

          • AngelaT

            also, unfortunately, I can't really continue the discussion. have too much to do by a certain deadline. Thanks for the engaging thoughts, though, and God bless

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Marriage is recognized by society as contract to frame rights and duties, and was created as response to a particular reality that does include same sex couples. It is only in this sense that it mustn't be treated as if it was something else.

            This, too, is reasoning that suggests elderly couples shouldn't be allowed to marry.

          • Vasco Gama

            I don't share your restrictive view on the right to marry, but...

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I don't share that view either. My question is why you don't hold that view, as it's a clear implication of the reasoning you've offered.

          • Vasco Gama

            Not really. I don't hold that view because I don't see any meaning in same sex couple association that is not related with self-satisfaction.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Why is this true for same-sex couples but not for elderly opposite sex couples.

            (And frankly, why is it true for same-sex couples at all?)

          • Vasco Gama

            Well give me a definition of the purpose, meaning and value of a same sex relationship (besides the self-interest) of those involved. And justify the special protection, rights and define responsabilities (besides child abuse) that should deserve any special consideration from society.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I've addressed that in a way too long to include in a comment box, but you can see it here:
            http://wakingupnow.com/blog/reply-to-george-xiv-justify-your-love

            Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear why you apply this "self-interest" argument to same-sex couples but not elderly couples.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I should also point out that even if it's true that marriage was created as a response to procreation, it doesn't necessarily follow that this is its only proper use. Many human creations are valuable for reasons not evident at the time of their creation.

          • Vasco Gama

            So what is your rational definition of marriage. does it extends to what can be remotely resembles marriage, is that it?

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I'm still hoping to work the contradictions I've pointed out your own definition, when you say that an inability to procreate is sufficient reason to deny marriage rights -- but only for same-sex couples, not for elderly ones.

          • Vasco Gama

            You can hope for it, but I accept the contradiction and if society would find reasonable to review the rights of the unions between elderly couples (call it marriage), I would oppose strongly to that.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            You accept the contradiction? That means you've offered a marriage theory that logically excludes both same-sex couples and elderly couples, but you oppose excluding elderly couples.

            In other words, you're offered a marriage theory that you yourself reject. Why, then, should anyone else accept it?

          • Vasco Gama

            That is an apparent contradiction, as there is a remarkable difference bewteen the two types of situations, one merely a sterile relationship while the other is meaningful, in the sense that is directed to the reality of human nature, where the male and female elements of the couple complement each other giving rise to mutual enrichment, regardless of the sterility to generate life.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            How much time have you actually spent with committed, long-term same-sex couples? Zero hours? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands?

            How many dinners have you had in their homes? How many times have you gotten spent the day with them and their kids?

            I'm asking this to find out how much actual, personal, first-hand experience you have in your evaluation of same-sex relationships.

          • Vasco Gama

            I have no relationship with same sex couples, for no particular reason. So if you imply that I can't be fair with them, I think it is not the case. As persons they deserve my respect (and affection if it was the case that I would be friend with them). This wouldn't mean that I wouldn't have to agree with and to be simpathetic with their views.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            My point is not whether you be fair with them or whether you respect them. Rather it's that you've made this comparison of same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and you've done so without ever observing same-sex couples in a close and personal way. You've never checked your reasoning against reality.

          • Vasco Gama

            My relations of frenship are not dependent on the particular agreement I have with people, particularly on issues such as morals, I often thend to disagree with people and show my disagreemnet (maybe I don't restrain much myself, but that is my problem). I have no problem with gay people, I know a few and it just happens that I can't consider myself very close to them, but this is circunstantial. As I said I am empathic to people and can understand their suffereing, while I don't see any point to abdicate my personal view of reality. Besides there are a lot of people that while homosexual don't support the cause of gay marriage and adoption.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            A lot of gay people don't support gay marriage and adoption? I know there are a few, but can you define "a lot"?

          • Vasco Gama

            This is a minority among gay people, but it was common among people (gay or straith) of my generation to look as marriage as hipocrisy of society and a variety of my friends refused to marry (as a principle), and remained like that. That would be the common understanding of the progressive generation of my youth. I am not pretending that this correpond to a significant amount of people (or that it is a better view), and these days it is supported by people who hold an anarchist philosophy (which is a small minority, that see the more popular gay cause as a reactionary aproach).

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I'm not asking you to abdicate your personal view of reality. I'm asking you to base it in reality -- specifically, the reality of same-sex couples as they actually exist.

          • Vasco Gama

            There is no reason to accept reality as possessing any intrinsic value, if something is wrong even if it is popular, it doesn't make it right.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I think you misunderstand me. I'm not saying that same-sex couples have value simply because they exist in reality. My point is completely different: It's that your view of reality should be based on reality, and the only way to do that is to make yourself familiar with the reality. The less you do that, the greater the potential for error (as in: The less familiar you are with same-sex couples, the greater the likelihood that you will be wrong about them).

            Anyway, I could do this all day and into tomorrow morning, until I collapse from lack of sleep. But I have to attend to my day job, so I'd best stop. Thanks Vasco. It's been interesting.

          • Vasco Gama

            Thanks

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I'll point out that this argument, even if true, is a departure from your procreation argument. Are you abandoning the procreation argument in order to keep elderly couples eligible for marriage?

          • Vasco Gama

            No, my argument departs from my understanding of what is human nature.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I didn't follow. Could you rephrase?

          • Argon

            One thing about these sorts of debates: I believe it is a category error to make naturalistic arguments for what is essentially religious presupposition. I understand the intention behind 'natural law' philosophy but it leaves me 'meh'.

            The reason for the Catholic position is because "that's what we believe of revelation". Period. Everything else is post hoc rationalization and special pleading, IMO.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            How do you rationally justify what is right or wrong, besides your personal disgust (or the peculiar moral view of society).

            That's my question. What alternative measure would you suggest? We can't use the Church off the bat, as a measure of the reliability of the Church, because that's circular (not to mention entirely unconvincing). We can't use simply my personal disgust. Besides which, I don't see a problem with members of the same family who love each other getting married, and neither did the Old Testament apparently.

            So what do we use?

            What does it make a gay marriage be acceptable (and what does it have in common with the traditional marriage that makes it different form all the other possible relationships).

            Marriage is the exclusive commitment of two or more people to enter into a relationship that brings about a new family. It should be centered on the love and mutual respect of the spouses, with an eye toward the raising of children, whether born from members of the family, a previous family, or adopted.

            The Bible already condones the possibility of marriage involving two women, and more than two people. Jacob, Leah and Rebecca. Whether you think that's a good thing or not, you at least must accept that marriage involving two people of the same sex is possible.

          • Vasco Gama

            «What alternative measure would you suggest (besides our personal feeling and the peculiar moral view of society)? I would suggest that one must rationalize the purpose and meaning of marriage (as it is directed to constitution of a family, which is primarily driven to procreation, raising and education of children, in a way that fulfils our human nature). We don’t have to accept the Church conceptions (apparently they have no special meaning to you, so it doesn’t make much sense to appeal for the insight of the Church).

            I have no personal problem with people that hold homosexual relationships (I think that their choice is wrong, and that in the end they will not be happy, but nothing else). However I am not sympathetic to their claim of rights that they are not entitled to, such as marriage (in the sense of what marriage means to me) or the adoption of children. An homosexual relationship is sterile (by nature), and once one finds reason to enter in such a relationship one knows that it is sterile, that no children can result from that relationship, so saying that that relationship is meant to form a family is absurd. There is no such thing as a right to have children (even in heterosexual relationships), one can try to generate a child, but we know how that works, and a child is always generated by the relationship between a men and a woman. By nature, once one chooses to commit himself to an homosexual relationship one excludes oneself from that possibility and overcoming nature in this respect is only possible by arbitrarily affecting and abusing someone else, such as the child that had to endure this mockery of a family.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            A new married couple forms a new family, whether they have children of their own, adopt children or whether they never have children, either by choice or by nature. A relationship between any sterile couple is sterile by nature; are you saying that all sterile couples have at best fictitious marriages? Finally, who said anything about a right to children? I don't think that's a right.

          • Vasco Gama

            You.

            «Marriage is the exclusive commitment of two or more people to enter into a relationship that brings about a new family. It should be centered on the love and mutual respect of the spouses, with an eye toward the raising of children, whether born from members of the family, a previous family, or adopted.»

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I fail to see where the word "rights" occurs in that statement. I can promise you that it is not my intent to imply that people have such rights.

          • Vasco Gama

            In fact you didn't refer to the right to have children, and I guess I took as implicit in what you said before, but maybe it is not the case, if it is not what you meant, then what I said doesn’t make sense, and I am sorry to suggest that it was the case.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            That's alright. It was a simple misunderstanding.

            To clarify, all I was trying to say about marriage and children is that the purpose of marriage in general (gay, straight, sterile or fertile, celibate or otherwise) has some connection to raising children.

          • Vasco Gama

            As we are humans we are naturaly driven to raise children (and that is not dependent on our behavour, we care for each other). This doesn't mean however that the way children are (or must be) risen is (or must be) equal and indiferenciate to whatever situation our imagination and desire may lead us to consider.

          • David Nickol

            As we are humans we are naturaly driven to raise children . . .

            The pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and priests and nuns are apparently not human.

          • Vasco Gama

            That is a sacrifice that they are called to do.

          • David Nickol

            That is a sacrifice that they are called to do.

            It seems to be against nature. Didn't God himself say, "It is not good for man to be alone?"

            1 Timothy 3:1-5:

            This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?

          • Vasco Gama

            It is against nature, that is why it is a sacrifice.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Are you saying that the way children are raised should not necessarily depend upon our imagination or desires?

            If that's what you mean, then I agree. So what do you think the way we raise children should depend upon?

            I think we way we raise a child should depend upon the child's own welfare. And I think that, all things being equal, a gay couple is able to provide for a child's welfare as well as a straight couple.

          • Vasco Gama

            «If that's what you mean, then what do you think the way we raise children should depend upon?»

            On our love for those children.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            If raising children is dependent primarily upon love, why not approve of loving gay couples who adopt children? Will two men or two women love a child less than a man and a woman?

          • Steven Carr

            To be fair, children raised in orphanages always turn out poorly because they do not have a married man and a married woman to look after them.

            I think that is the Catholic view.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            That may be the Catholic view on this particular, but why should people accept the Catholic view?

            I'll take it as given that children raised in orphanages often turn out worse off than children who are adopted. Maybe this is because a couple who adopts a child can provide more love and more quality time than the management for an orphanage? Do you think that a man and a woman can provide a more healthy and loving environment for a child than two men or two women?

          • Vasco Gama

            As for the love of the children loving gay couples should primarily abstain from pretending to adopt children, in fact the gay couples, as such, have a very particular understanding of love (reducing this commitment to include just another person, in a way that is in fact sterile, as not capable of sustaining what is a loving and life giving relationship), as if love is love for oneself and not love for the other as in fulfilling it with meaning and respect, clearly not the love for children they choose not to have, in committing to that particular relationship they choose. While choosing such a self-centred life style (that only makes sense in order to fulfil oneself particular desires and interests).

            Of course you might pretend to reduce this to something meaningless and trivialize what love is, as to a vague right to a masquerade of normality, and agreement with the social norm, and banalize it to be expressed in a few meaningless social rites (as like “marriage” and like “parenting”). As if it would be reasonable to see children rights and their formation as human persons with the same lightness and candour as if it deserves the same consideration as if someone just wants to have a new pet, just because it is nice and fanciful. Well it is neither nice nor fancy (although you might see it in that way), it is quite hypocritical and in fact is child abuse.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Gay couples don't pretend to adopt children. They adopt children in fact. Why would gay marriage necessarily be self-centered? Is marriage between a man and woman who know that they cannot have children beforehand selfish? Even if they decide to adopt? How is it selfish for a gay couple to want to offer a child a loving and healthy home?

            What about the gay couple who wants to adopt a child for the sake of making the child's life better, and not for any selfish reasons?

          • Vasco Gama

            It is that particular choice of relationship that is selfish and self-centered. I realize that the people that want to adopt children express their love for others, but their situation is not the best for the children (and ultimately it is child abuse, even if sanctioned by society).

          • CPE

            This is the kind of stuff that will eventually kill the catholic church in the civilized world. So, please keep it up. We will all benefit in the long run.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Those are extremely strong claims, and I hope you see why I don't find them convincing on the face of it.

            Do you have any arguments or evidence for (a) the inherent selfishness that grounds every marriage where at least one partner is sterile? Or (b) that a child being raised by a gay couple constitutes child abuse?

            Have you talked candidly about your opinions with a gay couple who raises children?

          • Vasco Gama

            «Do you have any arguments or evidence for (a) the inherent selfishness that grounds every marriage where at least one partner is sterile? Or (b) that a child being raised by a gay couple constitutes child abuse?»

            The same sex marriage is inherently self-centered, as being completely sterile in relation to the possibility of leading to the generation of life, and contrary to the development of the child (and to human nature).

            Child being raised by same sex couples is essentially motivated by the individuals self-interest, and contrary to the interest of the child, the fact that this unnatural situation is imposed arbitrarily to the child, is what make it child abuse.

            I am not pretending or implying that same sex couples are evil, or not willing to do good, of course that when they show interest in raising a child they do it with their best intentions and in the interest of the child. My only claim is that they are wrong and that they don’t have the right to do so.

            I don’t really know personally any same sex couple in this situation (with adopted children), it just so happens that I think it is a wrong choice (contrary to human nature). And in spite of the good will of people in that situation it is harmful for children, and that is my reason to oppose to the adoption by gay people. Even if I am really not familiar with that particular situation I know a variety of people that adopted children and came to realize that adoption is a painful and difficult process and very sensitive even for ordinary couples. My personal feeling is that society doesn’t deal with sufficient care with adoption even in case of heterosexual couples and that many of them are not up to the situation. In my view it makes no sense to introduce further trauma and suffering to those children.

          • Andre Boillot

            "The same sex marriage is inherently self-centered, as being completely sterile in relation to the possibility of leading to the generation of life"

            This statement manages to not only be an oxy-moron (self-centered marriage?), but a non-sequitur (children are not required for a marriage to be self-less).

            "contrary to the development of the child"

            Show your work.

            "Child being raised by same sex couples is essentially motivated by the individuals self-interest"

            So, when gay couples wish to raise children, it's selfish. When straight couples with to raise children, it's sacrifice, eh? How is it self-interest in one case and not the other?

            "that this unnatural situation is imposed arbitrarily to the child, is what make it child abuse"

            So, is it the 'unnatural' or the 'imposed arbitrarily' part that makes it child-abuse?

            "when they show interest in raising a child they do it with their best intentions and in the interest of the child."

            Starting to contradict yourself here. Either they are necessarily self-centered, or they have the interests of the child in mind. Pick one.

            PS. Be careful with your definitions of child-abuse. If a straight couple knows they are at significant risk of passing on debilitating disorders to a potential child, but risk doing so anyways, how is that not a self-centered imposition on the child? They are weighing their desire to have a child over the interests (health) of the child.

          • Vasco Gama

            Andre,

            Besides your emotional response that states that we clearly have distinct views on morality (in this case about the presumable rights of gay people). If it is the case that you are trying to discuss something, then try to engage in the dialogue in a way that makes sense. State your opinion and defend it rationally. If you want to stick to your views emotionally, it doesn’t make sense to debate anything.

          • Andre Boillot

            Vasco,

            You're ducking perfectly reasonable questions regarding your unsupported assertions by dismissing my response as emotional.

          • Vasco Gama

            No, I am not ducking anything. It is just that I have debating this issue with a variety of people, and I found your response that states a very emotional rejection of whatever I said. It just makes no sense to address what you pretend are your "questions".

          • Andre Boillot

            Here's a run down of my "emotional" questions:

            1. How can a marriage be self-centered? How would having children automatically make it selfless?

            2. Can you support your claim that same-sex marriages are contrary to the development of the child?

            3. How is raising a child is selfish in the case of the gay couple, and selfless in the case of the straight couple?

            4. Is it the "unnatural" aspect of gay-marriage that makes it child-abuse, or the fact that gay parents are "imposed arbitrarily" on the children? Both?

            5. How can one be inherently self-centered while having in mind the interests of another?

            6. Is it a self-centered, arbitrarily imposed, decision for a straight couple to try to have a baby when they know they run significant (or certain) risks of the potential child inheriting debilitating disorders?

            PS. All the above are real questions, they have ?'s and everything.

          • AngelaT

            May I try?
            1. It can when each spouse uses the other merely for his own benefit, but this is not something that is exclusive to same-sex couples, nor is it something, I think that all same-sex couples automatically have.

            2. So far, the studies which show no significant difference are significantly flawed (sample size, don't actually prove the point, selective sampling), and the studies that indicate a significant difference (ex: Regnerus, the recent study using data from the Canadian census) are methodologically better, but still flawed (Regnerus mostly suffered from a misinterpretation of his conclusions) if not inconclusive. There needs to be a lot more studying in this area before we can safely conclude anything empirically. My main question would lie in how a same-sex couple can address the development of a child when it comes to relating to different genders (which assumes, of course, that there are intrinsic differences between genders).

            3.It is not always selfless in the straight couple either, and at the very least, it is not intentionally selfish in the case of the gay couple (nor even always in any way selfish.) it hinges on the needs of the child, and depends on the answer to questions 2 and 4. If a child has a right to a mother and a father, then all things being equal, a gay couple (and a single parent) shouldn't adopt when a straight couple can, though it is definitely better than being in an orphanage, I would also say that when it is not possible to find a straight couple, that a child at least has a right to the next best thing.

            4. I don't know if I could go as far as to call it child abuse. this too depends on the answer to 2. the question, I think, lies on the the child's needs and rights. However, if it could be argued that sexual acts between two people of the same sex are inherently wrong, and that such a union could be tied to the development of the child (especially moral development), then I guess that could be included as well. The problem is that this is all so recent... we don't really have any substantial data to go off of, much less any common standards of what constitutes a proper development of a child.

            5. I don't think it could. But the interests of the other would have to involve what that other needs and to what he has a right.

            6. That depends... the probability of the risks, their gravity, the possibility of properly caring for the child, etc. are all factors to be considered.

          • Andre Boillot

            Angela,
            You may, of course! Thank you very much for your thoughtful responses. I hope you didn't find the questions too emotional ;)

          • Vasco Gama

            Angela,

            Thank you for answering Andre's questions, I couldn’t explain it better.

          • Andre Boillot

            There's a reason you couldn't: almost all of her answers contradict what you had said.

          • Vasco Gama

            like what?

          • Andre Boillot

            Vasco,

            Before I go through the trouble of answering in a manner you'll deem worthy of responding to, perhaps you should go back and read your comment which brought on my initial questions: http://www.strangenotions.com/tools-for-thinking-sensibly-about-scripture/#comment-1160597313

            Now read Angela's response again: http://www.strangenotions.com/tools-for-thinking-sensibly-about-scripture/#comment-1161197151

            Perhaps you'll spot the differences on your own. If you don't, let me know and I'll help you out.

          • Vasco Gama

            Your commentary requesting for answers from me came in the sequence of a variety of comments with various people (mostly as an emotional response to whatever I said, particularly when we both know that we differ in our views and perspectives about morals), and you thought that it was reasonable to question whatever I said, as if it was an isolated comment, as if the issue wasn’t framed previously on those discussions that started long ago, as if it is reasonable for me to address it as something new and answer the same questions again and again, to everyone (you included) that chooses to repeat the same objections and questions. Does it sound reasonable, not to me.

            But then you may well indulge my curiosity about issue of the contradictions between whatever I said and what Angela said.

          • Andre Boillot

            Vasco,

            Normally I would understand the frustration of somebody (me) jumping into a conversation mid-stream, asking lots of questions. However, I felt like you responded to Paul's request for arguments or evidence with a) no evidence, and b) no arguments that addressed his concerns. I felt that the arguments you did make were worth objecting to, independent of any context you might feel they were made in. Also, I'm not sure why you keep trying to portray my questions as "emotional".

            As to the contradictions between what you said, and Angela's responses to my questions [format: your comment (V); my question (#); Angela’s contradiction(A)]:

            V: “The same sex marriage is inherently self-centered, as being completely sterile in relation to the possibility of leading to the generation of life, and contrary to the development of the child (and to human nature).”

            1. How can a marriage be self-centered? How would having children automatically make it selfless?

            A: “It can when each spouse uses the other merely for his own benefit, but this is not something that is exclusive to same-sex couples, nor is it something, I think that all same-sex couples automatically have.”

            -

            V: “Child being raised by same sex couples is essentially motivated by the individuals self-interest, and contrary to the interest of the child,

            2. Can you support your claim that same-sex marriages are contrary to the development of the child?

            A: “There needs to be a lot more studying in this area before we can safely conclude anything empirically.”

            -

            V: “The same sex marriage is inherently self-centered”; “Child being raised by same sex couples is essentially motivated by the individuals self-interest”

            3. How is raising a child is selfish in the case of the gay couple, and selfless in the case of the straight couple?

            A: “It is not always selfless in the straight couple either, and at the very least, it is not intentionally selfish in the case of the gay couple”

            -

            V: “the fact that this unnatural situation is imposed arbitrarily to the child, is what make it child abuse.”

            4. Is it the "unnatural" aspect of gay-marriage that makes it child-abuse, or the fact that gay parents are "imposed arbitrarily" on the children? Both?

            A: “I don't know if I could go as far as to call it child abuse.” “The problem is that this is all so recent... we don't really have any substantial data to go off of, much less any common standards of what constitutes a proper development of a child.”

            -

            V: “Child being raised by same sex couples is essentially motivated by the individuals self-interest”; “of course that when [same sex couples] show interest in raising a child they do it with their best intentions and in the interest of the child.”

            5. How can one be inherently self-centered while having in mind the interests of another?

            A: “I don't think it could. But the interests of the other would have to involve what that other needs and to what he has a right.”

          • Vasco Gama

            Andre,

            To frame my answer to your questions I have to approach the fact that most probably we have a strong disagreement about morality.

            I think that what is best for us humans is to act according to our nature (say human nature) in the sense of what constitutes and basis the fulfilment of our lives is what is in agreement of our nature, in these sense that is very different from other beings, such as a tree, a fish, or a lion, the requirements from these life forms to have a harmonious and flourishing life is quite distinct from each other, and it must agree with their nature (and what is good for one is not necessarily good for the other, but it depends strongly on their nature).

            It is in this sense that I consider homosexuality (and homosexual relationships) as being disordered to our nature, and leading possibly to suffering of those that in a way or another are related with it (much in the same way as plating a tree in the desert is not good for the flourishing of trees or feeding a lion with carrots will not be good for lions). I realize that you don’t necessarily agree with me, but this is how I see this subject (and I find reasonable to show my disagreement rather than face it with indifference that society seems advising me to).

            As I said before to others I don’t think (or suggest in any way) that there is something wrong, ill intended, or evil in someone who is an homosexual, and I will quote myself in another comment on the subject:

            «Gay people are capable of loving, as much as everybody else there is nothing inherently wrong about gay people. It is just as in my understanding they choose to commit themselves with the intent of building a caring and loving relationship that is disordered (with this I mean that it is not able, by its own nature, to provide the real meaning and fulfilment of a life commitment that is achieved in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, that is can be more easily ordered to the human nature and capable of generating new life). When I say that it is disordered it is because it reflects on everything else of the life of people that are involved in it, as it necessarily leads to an incomplete life with inherent frustrations such as being a mother or a father (which is a reasonable and a desirable expectation for any human being).»

            or when “asked” about the choice of same sex relationship:

            « While the homosexual relationship per se doesn’t have to be harmful to nobody else that is not involved in it, and in this sense as respecting only to two responsible adults that choose to engage in it, it is no different than any other relationship and other people don’t have to agree or disagree, it is just not their business.

            Besides our private moral view, the main difference between this relationship and a heterosexual one is that the first is (by nature) sterile, in the sense that people while choosing to engage in it, know very well that is sterile, know that this relationship is unable to lead to a new life (and this is not dependent on disease, malfunction or an odd cruelty of nature). You might think that it is reasonable to change the nature of this relationship to make it equal and indistinguishable from any other relationship (but that is entirely arbitrary from you). You may say that those people have any right you want to attribute to them. I have the right to differ and that whatever you might think as an arbitrary right of those who want to follow this type of behaviour must not collide or overrun the right of other (in this case children).»

            And about adoption (from the comment you choose to address me):

            « I don’t really know personally any same sex couple in this situation (with adopted children), it just so happens that I think it is a wrong choice (contrary to human nature). And in spite of the good will of people in that situation it is harmful for children, and that is my reason to oppose to the adoption by gay people. Even if I am really not familiar with that particular situation I know a variety of people that adopted children and came to realize that adoption is a painful and difficult process and very sensitive even for ordinary couples. My personal feeling is that society doesn’t deal with sufficient care with adoption even in case of heterosexual couples and that many of them are not up to the situation. In my view it makes no sense to introduce further trauma and suffering to those children.»

            In view of this I can address your questions:

            1 “How can a marriage be self-centered?” When I said this it was merely to characterize the nature of a same sex relationship, an inherently sterile and unable to generate life (by its own nature), as in unable to produce anything else distinct from it.

            2 “Can you support your claim that same-sex marriages are contrary to the development of the child?” Not really it derives from my own concept of this type of “marriage” being against human nature.

            3 “How is raising a child is selfish in the case of the gay couple, and selfless in the case of the straight couple?”, it is selfish only by its nature, in the sense of being not directed (again by its intrinsic disordered character) to the generation of life.

            4 “Is it the "unnatural" aspect of gay-marriage that makes it child-abuse, or the fact that gay parents are "imposed arbitrarily" on the children? Both?” Again it is the intrinsic disorder of the situation, where the state can arbitrarily decide that it is a good and fair solution to consider the adoption of children (while I think it is not reasonable to consider adoption equally either it concerns a gay or straight “marriage”).

            5 “How can one be inherently self-centered while having in mind the interests of another?” This is inherent to its nature, as I said it is a sterile relationship, and in this sense it is absurd to pretend that it is directed toward this finality.

            6 “. Is it a self-centered, arbitrarily imposed, decision for a straight couple to try to have a baby when they know they run significant (or certain) risks of the potential child inheriting debilitating disorders?” Any couple has the risk of having a baby with debilitating disorders, and they choose to do so for the love of that life (in principle), the only way to prevent that is not having children (or to consider buying a child, from another couple, if it is conceivable).

          • David Nickol

            I would also say that when it is not possible to find a straight couple,
            that a child at least has a right to the next best thing.

            Angela,

            Are you saying that any opposite-sex couple would be preferable to any same-sex couple? Suppose there are four opposite-sex couples and one same-sex couple all willing to adopt one child. Are you saying the same-sex couple should be automatically disqualified because there are opposite-sex couples available? Or are you saying all other things being equal, an opposite-sex couple should be preferred to a same-sex couple?

            Or to put it another way, are you saying the absolute worst opposite-sex couple seeking to adopt is to be preferred to the absolute best same-sex couple?

          • AngelaT

            All other things being equal, I would say at this point. That being said. How much the fact that heterosexuality of a couple is important to the development is still hard to gauge.

          • David Nickol

            There needs to be a lot more studying in this area before we can safely conclude anything empirically.

            Angela,

            Suppose the conclusion is reached that children raised by same-sex parents fare slightly but measurably better than children raised by opposite-sex parents. Would you then expect adoption agencies to prefer same-sex couples over opposite-sex couples?

            In what other way do we use data from the social sciences to vet potential adoptive parents? For example, certainly a stable marriage is important for adoptive parents. We know that the divorce rate for nonwhite husbands and white wives is significantly higher than for nonwhite wives and white husbands or white husbands and white wives. So if you have two couples—a black husband and a white wife, and a white husband and a black wife—do you automatically prefer the second to the first? Or do you attempt to judge them as individuals rather than by using statistics?

          • AngelaT

            I would judge them as individuals of course. Other Studies also tend to show that male homosexual relationships tend to be less monogamous, whereas female homosexual relationships tend to break up more easily. So if I were in the position of being in an adoption agency, I would pay more attention to whether the couple has a stable relationship, since there is a higher chance they might not. . I would also pay attention to how a couple or single parent (whatever the issue might be) will address a possible lack arising from the nature of the family structure. A trend does not describe every single couple, of course, but if it is a common trend, it is something to watch out for.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            My problem is that I don't think this will introduce further suffering or trauma for the children. The larger problem is I don't understand your argument. I actually can't find an argument; simply the assertion that "Sterile couples have self-centered marriages because their marriages involve sterile couples." Can you explain your argument in a way that is not circular?

          • Vasco Gama

            Our different views on this subject are only concerned with homosexuality (and what concerns with homosexual relationships). For me homosexuality is an error, as it is not conformed to our nature as humans beings, and it doesn’t conduct to the fulfilment of our nature as human beings, further it conducts to suffering and misery of those who, willing or not get involved in it. This is our basic disagreement in this issue and everything else results from this. As in many other moral issues the problems that this type or errors in moral judgement is not so much as the errors directly related with the actions per se that may be seem not harmful and even can be considered pleasurable and loving, the problems reflect in the situation that derive from it, such as the adoption of children.

            While the homosexual relationship per se doesn’t have to be harmful to nobody else that is not involved in it, and in this sense as respecting only to two responsible adults that choose to engage in it, it is no different than any other relationship and other people don’t have to agree or disagree, it is just not their business.

            Besides our private moral view, the main difference between this relationship and a heterosexual one is that the first is (by nature) sterile, in the sense that people while choosing to engage in it, know very well that is sterile, know that this relationship is unable to lead to a new life (and this is not dependent on disease, malfunction or an odd cruelty of nature). You might think that it is reasonable to change the nature of this relationship to make it equal and indistinguishable from any other relationship (but that is entirely arbitrary from you). You may say that those people have any right you want to attribute to them. I have the right to differ and that whatever you might think as an arbitrary right of those who want to follow this type of behaviour must not collide or overrun the right of other (in this case children).

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I think our different views on this run a bit deeper, and are more on-topic with the original post. Assuming that the Bible is inspired by God, the question of interpretation can be handled in the following ways:

            (A) The Bible interprets itself with authority: This is the way many protestants answer the question. The literal meaning of the Bible, often seen as the plain meaning, is inspired in its entirety, and can be understood either in itself or by studying the culture in which it was written in order to determine the intent of the authors.

            (B) The Holy Spirit interprets the Bible with authority: More charismatic protestants and fundamentalists tend to accept this view. If someone is a Real Christian™ then their interpretation is infallible. Differences in interpretation arise because some people are not Real Christians

            (C) No one has interpretive authority: This is the view of many liberal Protestants and Reconstructionist Christianity, as well as Latterday Saints. No one is infallible, and it is impossible to know for sure whether any interpretation is perfect, or necessarily better or worse than any other.

            (D) An institution has interpretive authority: This is the position of Catholics, the Orthodox, some Anglicans and a handful of other Protestants. There's a Church or other institution that has infallible authority or inspired authority when interpreting the Bible. Their interpretation is to be believed over any individual interpretation.

            I think that either C or D is most likely, and if it's D, it's probably not the Catholic Church, because of their stance on gay marriage, among other reasons. Assuming that the Bible is inspired in the first place. I'm not sure it is. That's the big difference between both of us, I think.

          • Vasco Gama

            Paul,

            Addressing your points A-D, I would say that I would disagree with A (not the Bible or no book interprets himself, it requires the agency of intelligence, say a rational reader). I would agree that the Holy Spirit might help the reader in trying to interpret the Bible. I wouldn't agree with C, in my view the interpretation of the Bible can be a process involving a community of people (even if I don't agree with it necessarily). As for D this is the actual and more common knowledge between those who address the interpretation of the Bible, in spite of their disagreement about the particular interpretation they claim is the best, and the one they choose to follow.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I suppose I find it a surprising coincidence that those who accept the "purely rational" natural law arguments against gay marriage and contraception are almost all Catholics, and almost all non-Catholics reject these natural law arguments.

            Natural law arguments in themselves do seem rational, but they also seem flexible enough that you can get whatever conclusion you like depending on what you imagine human purpose entails.

          • Vasco Gama

            It may well be the case that you feel that way, but for me the alternative would be to consider morality to rely only in revelation (which wouldn’t make much sense to you, I guess, or to me as I am convinced that faith is rational) or to match whatever I would arbitrarily found convenient.

            EDDIT (added)
            Not all Catholics are supportive of the validity of Natural Law Theory, I would say that that is the view of a minority, in spite of corresponding to the traditional view of the Church.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            The flexibility of natural law is not something that I feel. It's what I think. It's based on solid reasoning. It may well be that my premises are bad (and we can discuss that), but the arguments are valid, as far as I can tell.

          • Vasco Gama

            I wouldn't agree with you.

            But morals are a complicated issue and one may get things wrong.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Would you like to see one of the arguments now (a natural law argument in support of contraception), or are you not presently interested?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            I am.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I found my notes. Let me format them and I'll put them here tomorrow.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            The basis of the argument is, as with all natural law arguments, simple on the face of it. The details, and replies to potential objections, can become complicated, and when I was Catholic I wrote a couple dozen pages on this form of the argument. Here I'll just show the argument itself, cite some of my sources, and then wait for replies.

            A natural law argument for the evil of an act can be represented as

            (Foundational Assumption) All human actions are oriented to an intrinsic end.
            (Definition) An act is evil if it is intentionally carried out in a way opposed to its intrinsic end.
            (Premise 1) Act X has the intrinsic end E.
            (Premise 2) Intentionally committing X in a way that frustrates E forces X to be opposed to E.
            (Premise 3) A possible component C included in X entails that X be committed in a way that frustrates E.
            (Prop) Intentionally including C in X forces X to be opposed to E. [Premises 2 and 3]
            (Conclusion) Intentionally including C in X makes that instance of X evil. [Prop, Premise 1, Definition]

            All natural law ethics use arguments similar to this, as far as I know. The problem is that many forms of natural law do not agree on the premises, especially Premise 1. They don't agree on the good of a given act, because they find the foundations to their natural law ethics in different places. We will explore changing Premise 1 only. The argument against contraception is very simple (T for traditional, premises as above).

            (TP1) Sex has the intrinsic end of procreation.
            (P2) Intentionally having sex in a way that frustrates procreation forces that instance of sex to be opposed to procreation.
            (P3) Contraception in sex entails that sex be committed in a way that frustrates procreation.
            (TC) Intentionally contracepting during sex makes sex an evil act.

            Different acts can have a lot of ends. For example, sex produces friction and that results in heat. Sex as an end of producing heat, but that's not the intrinsic end, because that's not why people have sex. That's not what makes sex good. But who is to say that procreation is the intrinsic good of sex? Maybe it's just something that comes along for the ride. It doesn't matter if procreation is connected to evolution and is necessary for species survival, because evolution is directionless (unless we are going to include religion with our natural law).

            Rather, the natural place to look for the intrinsic end of an act is something that is generally entailed in each act by each actor, and something connected to what people generally want. Most times, food provides nourishment, so it seems that nourishment is the intrinsic good of eating. Regularly and intentionally eating while frustrating that intrinsic good is called bulimia, and natural law arguments would find bulimia to be immoral.

            Most sex isn't going to produce children, and producing children may not be in each individual's best interest. Sex doesn't generally result in babies. It only does so on the off chance (that's why it has to be committed over and over). Also, having sex without having children doesn't mean that you are "doing it wrong". So sex can be seen to have a different intrinsic purpose. Maybe the purpose of sex is romantic pleasure for all partners involved. We'll call this RP1. In that case:

            (RP1) Sex has the intrinsic end of romantic pleasure for all partners involved.
            (P2) Intentionally having sex in a way that frustrates pleasure for all partners involved forces that instance of sex to be opposed to that pleasure.
            (P3) Contraception in sex does not entail that sex be committed in a way that frustrates romantic pleasure for all partners involved.
            (RC) Intentionally contracepting during sex does not necessarily make sex an evil act.

            There's a very simple natural law argument (probably more in line with Hobbs's ideas about natural law, or other non-Thomistic natural law theories). Its conclusion is that contraception isn't intrinsically evil. It's at worst morally neutral.

            So that we don't lose sight of what I'm arguing: I'm not arguing that contraception isn't evil. I'm arguing that natural law by itself is too flexible to show that contraception is evil. Revelation, in the form of religion or some other source, is necessary in order to determine what the intrinsic ends of a given act are.

            Natural law arguments without the Catholic or some Christian religion tend to conclude that nothing is wrong with contraception.

            SOURCES:
            The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
            ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/ )

            Beis, Richard H. "Contraception and the Logical Structure of the Thomist Natural Law Theory." Ethics 75.4 (1965): 277-284.

            Grisez, Germain Gabriel. Contraception and the natural law. Bruce Pub. Co., 1964.

            Pakaluk, Michael. "Is the New Natural Law Thomistic?." The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 13.1 (2013): 57-68.

          • Vasco Gama

            Paul,

            That is quite interesting, thanks for sharing it.

            But your objections to the argument, are in line whith your previous assumption about the "flexibility to conform to our desires" of natural law, but it is not really the case. I think that in your arguing you say that the intrinsic end is somewhat arbitrary (but in reality it is not arbitrary, it is clear and well defined, in spite of one may try to fool himself for any other reason).

            In the general course of action of humans we try to do good, and generaly when we do evil actions we only find reasonable to do those things as they appear to us as reasonable and moraly justified (as if they were good or neutral), we, as humans are not directed to evil,

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I'm not arguing that intrinsic ends are arbitrary. I'm arguing that different people have different ideas about what they may be, and there's no standard way to show who is right. It seems that religion needs to be introduced, or the intrinsic ends are determined by applying a scientific philosophy, or people conclude what's right and wrong according to their intuition about what's the intrinsic end. In other words, they conclude what they believe beforehand.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            I think you're right. The argument against contraception is not found in natural law. It has to do with the sanctity of marriage, which by definition is outside the bounds of natural law.

            Unless you wanted to cite the impending demographic collapse of several nations as a natural reason against contraception. Jonathon Last's book "What to Expect When No One's Expecting" paints a scary picture of the not-too-far-off future.

          • David Nickol

            I think you're right. The argument against contraception is not found in natural law.

            I think the Catholic argument against contraception isbased on "natural law." It also seems to me that Girgis, Anderson, and George's What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense is based on "natural law." (I put "natural law" in quotes because in many—but not all—respects, I find it to be a dubious concept.)

            It has to do with the sanctity of marriage, which by definition is outside the bounds of natural law.

            The arguments (which I do not agree with) have to do not with the sanctity of marriage but with the purpose of marriage (and sex).

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            The purpose of sacramental marriage, which is holy.

            Also, I don't think it's based ont he philosophical concept of natural law. Now, abortion on the other hand, is based in both natural law and supernatural law.

          • David Nickol

            If the argument against contraception is based on the sanctity and purpose of sacramental marriage, that would mean that people in purely natural marriages could licitly use contraceptives. So a Catholic married to a Jew or any other unbaptized person could use contraceptives. And all those in marriages between two unbaptized persons could also licitly use contraceptives.

            The Catechism says the following:

            Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . .

            I don't think the Church considers "total reciprocal self-giving" to be a requirement of sacramental marriage and not natural marriage.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            No, a marriage with a Catholic can be a sacramental marriage, regardless of the religion of the other participant.

            And you're right. There is a natural law argument to be made here. I'm fine with that too.

          • David Nickol

            No, a marriage with a Catholic can be a sacramental marriage, regardless of the religion of the other participant.

            No, a sacramental marriage can take place only between two baptized persons. If a Catholic marries a Jew or a Muslim, it cannot be a sacramental marriage. A Catholic can have a sacramental marriage only with another baptized person. The person doesn't have to be baptized as a Catholic, but he or she must be baptized.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            If it is approved by the bishop, they can be married in the Church.

          • David Nickol

            If it is approved by the bishop, they can be married in the Church.

            No, a marriage between a Catholic and baptized Christian of another denomination requires permission from the bishop. It will be a sacramental marriage. A marriage between a Catholic and a person who is not baptized requires a dispensation, and even with that dispensation, it will not be a sacramental marriage. Unbaptized people cannot receive sacraments.

            The Catechism says the following:

            1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) requires even greater circumspection.

            . . .
            1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage [i.e., a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized Christian] needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority. In case of disparity of cult an express dispensation from this impediment is required for the validity of the marriage. This permission or dispensation presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church.

            A marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person can only be a natural marriage, not a sacramental one.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            You got me. Good point.

          • Andre Boillot

            Unless you wanted to cite the impending demographic collapse of several nations as a natural reason against contraception. Jonathon Last's book "What to Expect When No One's Expecting" paints a scary picture of the not-too-far-off future.

            I'm not sure what is meant by the "demographic collapse of several nations". Surely Mr. Last is not suggesting that these nations themselves face collapse, just their traditional ethnic make-ups, right? What should be scary (let alone surprising) about the idea that future ethnic demographics are likely to be much different (likely more homogeneous)?

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Actually (I was going to say explicitly that he was not referencing France and Spain necessarily and their demographic switch...) talking about countries like Russia where even immigration is not replacing the population enough to keep it sustainable. This is not about any ethnic concerns, but economic ones. Just look at Social Security in the US. So many people getting older, not enough young people to replace them in the workforce to pay for their Social Security (regardless of political views, that's not important to this conversation).

          • Andre Boillot

            Ok, but then my question would be whether or not it's reasonable to characterize the situation as an impending collapse, versus regression to some more stable mean.

            I think it's a mistake to try to address these issues in terms of contraception use - and I would question the long-term effectiveness of trying to fix programs like SS in terms of growing the workforce through larger families. I would think you'd only be restarting the same 'boomer' generation cycle that's currently straining the system.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            It'd only be restarting the Boomer cycle if there was another drop off...

            But I said no politics.

            A collapse would lead to a regression, I think that's right. The question is whether or not the event in between is disastrous or not. Jonathon Last thinks it will be. So does Putin (cf Russian Family Love Day, they brought Boyz II Men in to try and help Russian couples make babies, or something. I'm not sure what their role was, but it was there).

          • Andre Boillot

            "A collapse would lead to a regression, I think that's right. The question is whether or not the event in between is disastrous or not. Jonathon Last thinks it will be."

            Having not read the book, what's the scary bit? Populations that had arguably grown to an unstable size then regressing isn't what I think of as scary. Is he predicting the collapse of civilization in Russia? Would that look markedly different from what we see now?

            "So does Putin"

            Repugnant thug. Also, Russia's fertility rates aren't the problem, rather it's their mortality rates.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia#Demographics

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            If we want to get technical, it's neither rate. Or both, rather.

            I can only say read the book. Mostly because I know Jonathon (met him after the book came out) and he's a great guy. Don't want to spoil any potential sales!

          • Paul Boillot

            Also, if we're going to be discussing long-term collapses: how does Catholic reproductive policy fit into sustainability metrics for this planet?

            We're already over burdened, our *current population* is only possible due aggressive and intensive exploitations of current resources.
            1) Food consumption.
            A)Hydrocarbon-based industrial farming. We can and will run out of hydrocarbons in the near future, by all predictions and models I've seen. Hydrocarbons run our industrial farming machines and provide the fertilizer that grows the crops they harvest.
            B)Fishing. The damage we've already done to our oceans is staggering. We are running out of satisfactory fish stocks to plunder at a truly spectacular pace. Most of the world gets its protein from the seas, and we're running out of things to eat.
            C)Genetic problems/GMO/Globalized food distribution networks. We're going to lose our current version of the Banana relatively soon. The bananas popular in the 20s are already proto-extinct. Having rapid global transportation has made a hash of localized evolutionary balances between crops and parasites.

            2) Health.
            Over use of antibiotics, re-emergence of old diseases through untreated areas of the globe getting plugged into the transportation arteries, cultural resistance to scientific disease-prevention methods. Corruption and institutional inertia surrounding current health care research. Mounting heal problems from industrial pollution spreading through the developing world.

            3) Power.
            Nuclear research stagnant, current generations of technology are horrendously expensive and waste is difficult to treat/store. Hydrocarbons are running out. Wind/solar are currently unfeasible (maybe never will be). Alternative methods taboo/poorly funded due to petrochemical governmental influence/inertia.

            This is only the most cursory summary of a wide-range of problems which are hurtling towards us as we type. If we were able to cap population and freeze environmental damage/change where it is right now, we would run out of resources to keep people alive at current living standards in under 1000 years by the *best* estimates I've seen.

            But population growth is not going to stabilize. Nor is it going to increase by the same amount that it did last year. This is not a velocity problem, well it is, but it's a velocity over time problem, a distance over time over time.

            Acceleration.

            There was a point in time, X, where the world population and consumption rates were sustainable indefinitely. We're not just moving away from that point fast. We're moving away from that point, every year, faster than we were moving away from it the year before.

            We're not cruising at-speed, we've got our foot on the pedal.

            How does Catholic theology affect the reproductive habits of a planet which is not just rapidly moving away from sustainability, but which is moving away from it one year faster than it did the year before?

            You're worried about demographic collapse due to over-use of rubbers? What about the demographic collapse when people have to start killing each other for food again?

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Thanks for the response. Also, that's a great title for a book.

          • Steven Dillon

            I want to believe in Natural Law theory. It'd fit well with the broader Aristotelian worldview I've been synthesizing with polytheism.

            But, I just don't understand why we 'ought to' conform to the way our nature is disposed to be.

            It seems to me the most we could say is that if we don't conform with our nature, we'll be unhappy, perhaps guilty of some kind of irrationality (practical?). But, that's not a moral theory: there's nothing morally wrong in choosing to be unhappy.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Well, within the Aristotelian worldview is the idea of teleology, and that to be a good ______ you must strive to achieve the telos of ______. If you don't, you are a bad ((naturally) evil, lacking, insufficient) _______.

            Right?

          • Steven Dillon

            Well, it seems to me that Aristotelian teleology minimally involves substances with inherent causal dispositions (i.e. the teloi). To this minimal picture, A-T metaphysics adds various philosophical positions, such as the goodness of what we're inclined to be and our duty to conform to it.

            On a full blown Aristotelian view, our teleology would involve the moral values and duties you described, but I think a more restricted Aristotelianism needn't. E.g. Our nature would be causally directed toward being a certain way, but there'd be nothing inherently morally valuable about that way, nor any duty to conform to it.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            I was just trying to answer your question, of course if you're looking at it more restrictively, you can. but there's a path for it.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Whether you think happiness and morality are connected or not depends on your meta-ethics.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Steven, do you believe that morality only has to do with others, or does it also involve how we treat ourselves?

          • Steven Dillon

            I think morality also involves how we treat ourselves.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            I do too. I wonder if then if you could argue it is morally wrong to choose to be unhappy, especially if that unhappiness did not serve some higher moral purpose.

          • josh

            I cannot downvote this enough. Ignorant bigotry sets my teeth on edge.

          • Vasco Gama

            Josh, charming as usual.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            When I see this response, I think of John Corvino,
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1b6w2q4FGI

          • josh

            No problem, I appreciate the people who are willing to sit down and try to argue things out with the other side, even the gratuitously insulting ones. I just don't have the patience with Vasco right now.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            gay couples, as such, have a very particular understanding of love (reducing this commitment to include just another person, in a way that is in fact sterile, as not capable of sustaining what is a loving and life giving relationship), as if love is love for oneself and not love for the other

            This notion that gay people somehow cannot or do not love each other the same way that straight people do is so mindbogglingly offensive and false, not to mention based on your confessed lack of personal experience with gay people, that it is no longer a statement about the character of gay people as it a statement about your own.

            Is that harsh? It's surely less harsh -- and much more evidence-based -- than this terrible slander you've uttered against me and every other gay person in the Strange Notions community.

          • David Nickol

            I agree. If someone were to generalize about Catholics (without knowing any!) in the same way, everyone would realize it was anti-Catholic nonsense.

          • Vasco Gama

            Rob,

            If you read whatever I said and wrote, nowhere you will find the mention that “gay people cannot or do not love each other the same way that straight people”. People gay or straight are equally intended to love other persons. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with gay people, as people, the only thing that is wrong concerns homosexuality per se, this is what is the problem, as this behaviour is not a proper behaviour leading to the fulfilment of human nature, not of the person who found reasonable to follow that behaviour or for anyone else that is affected by it.

            Here I would have to add that you naturally disagree with me, you might say that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality that morally it is intrinsically no different than heterosexuality and that people must accept this behaviour with any sort of reservations. I would say to you that what you ask is fair, that I must not oppose or criticise homosexuality. I would have to say that I don’t oppose to homosexuality or to gay relationships between consenting adults, as long as it is a consensual behaviour between two responsible adults, that affects and respects only the persons involved (in this sense this relationship is no different than any other heterosexual relationship). I would think that that would be wrong anyway, but I should respect the choice of those persons.

            The problem changes drastically when society tries to impose this personal choice (that is acceptable as it concerns only to those involved) to third persons not involved in those choice, in this case arbitrarily assigning children to be adopted. My opposition to this situation (adoption) is not that I find homosexual persons to be evil, or unable to love, is that the situation is wrong in itself and that it may lead to harm the children that are assigned to it. I am not saying that the child will be better in any other family. My claim is only that it is unnecessary to introduce any other sources of problems to the children that while in the adopting process already suffered a great deal.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Vasco, you wrote that gay people love "as if love is love for oneself and not love for the other." That we "have a very particular understanding of love." That our relationships are "not capable of sustaining what is a loving and life giving relationship."

            That's a harsh and terrible slander, and it amounts to saying that gay people cannot or do not love each other the same way that straight people.

          • Vasco Gama

            Rob,

            I am not pretending to say that gay people are not capable of love, if you understand it this way, probably it is because I didn’t explain myself correctly. Gay people are capable of loving, as much as everybody else there is nothing inherently wrong about gay people. It is just as in my understanding they choose to commit themselves with the intent of building a caring and loving relationship that is disordered (with this I mean that it is not able, by its own nature, to provide the real meaning and fulfilment of a life commitment that is achieved in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, that is can be more easily ordered to the human nature and capable of generating new life). When I say that it is disordered it is because it reflects on everything else of the life of people that are involved in it, as it necessarily leads to an incomplete life with inherent frustrations such as being a mother or a father (which is a reasonable and a desirable expectation for any human being).

            I am not hoping that you find reasonable to share my particular notion of moral. In some sense I realize that you have to find it troubling, and maybe you find no reason to be sympathetic with whatever I say. It is the coherent perspective that I have from my own morality, I am sorry that you may find it harsh that was not my intention.

          • Alypius

            If you're defining "love" as "having benevolent feelings for " then no, two men or women will not necessarily love a child less, and might well love them more. Certainly it is not hard to find many same-sex couples that are hard-working and dedicated to the welfare of their adopted children.

            But the greater question is whether a child is owed, in justice, a mother and a father. And if the answer to that is yes, then no amound of benevolent feelings toward the child will make up for the objective fact that, with two same-sex parents, the child is deprived of one or the other. In fact, in many IVF surrogacy situations, the child is created under circumstances that intentionally deprive them of one or the other.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            The question about adoption (to stay on topic) would then be whether there's any real difference between a child having a mother and a father, or two mothers, or two fathers. There is no convincing reason (at least nothing convincing to me) why two mothers or two fathers cannot provide as healthy an environment as a mother and a father, all else being equal.

            But if it is the case that children adopted into a family with two mothers are worse off than a child adopted into a family with a mother and a father, then statistical studies of the welfare of adopted children should eventually show this. If studies clearly show that children with same-sex parents are worse off than children with both male and female parents, then that would be a good basis to give preference for adoption to a man and a woman over adoption to two men or to two women. Adoption isn't a right. The welfare of the child is paramount.

          • David Nickol

            What is offensive to me is the idea that no same sex couple can be the most desirable parents for any infant. It is often said (and I believe it to be true) that same-sex couples are more willing to adopt "special needs" children. Suppose there is a "special needs" child who will never develop beyond the intellectual and emotional level of a 3-year-old. Say there is a same-sex couple who wants to adopt this child, and one spouse is a pediatrician and the other is a therapist who works with "special needs" children. The child in question will never even understand the concept gay, but Catholic adoption agencies who insist that they will not even consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents will either let the (hypothetical) child remain in foster care or in an institution or place the child with a married couple who is clearly less well equipped to deal with a special needs child.

            How many times would such a choice come up? Perhaps rarely, but the very essence of unjust discrimination is to judge individual cases based on a generalized perception. If there are some merely conceivable situations where specific same-sex parents would be the best choice for the child's benefit, then to automatically exclude all same-sex couples from consideration as adoptive parents would be unjust discrimination.

            Incidentally, many argue that adoptive children (in fact, all children) have a "right" to be raised by a mother and a father. And yet some of the Catholic adoption agencies who refused to consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents placed children with single mothers or single fathers. What happened to the right to have both a mother and a father?

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            This is an excellent point, and shame on me for glossing over it.

            I think it is possible to show via statistical studies that a male-female couple might be preferable to a same-sex couple if both are available. If only the same-sex couple is available, and the couple isn't abusers or criminals, then two moms or two dads is clearly better than no moms or no dads.

          • Alypius

            And yet some of the Catholic adoption agencies who refused to consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents placed children with single mothers or single fathers. What happened to the right to have both a mother and a father?

            I agree with this being something of a double standard.

          • Alypius

            Adoption isn't a right. The welfare of the child is paramount.

            I agree with this 100%. On the topic of empirical evidence, most studies thus far are very flawed. I think in 30 years we'll probably have enough to say what the effect really is. 'til then, we're just embarking on one big social experiment.

          • picklefactory

            And if "love" is instead defined as "willing the best good of another" it would then not be authentic love to intentionally bring a child into that situation.

            Perhaps instead of defining one's way out of this question and requiring others to accept the Catholic Church's idea of authentic love, one could come up with some empirical evidence to support the assertion that children of same-sex couples suffer a disadvantage.

            I want to live in a secular society and this is the way I have to approach religions that want to make the rules for other people.

          • David Nickol

            By nature, once one chooses to commit himself to an homosexual relationship one excludes oneself from that possibility and overcoming nature . . .

            Suppose a man and woman fall in love, and for some reason one of them is incapable of having children. If they marry, will it be a "mockery of a family"? May they not adopt children?

            If a couple marries and later discovers they are infertile, should they divorce because they are a "mockery of a family"? May they not adopt a child?

            If a man marries a woman past childbearing age, is it a "mockery of a family"?

            overcoming nature in this respect is only possible by arbitrarily affecting and abusing someone else, such as the child that had to endure this mockery of a family.

            I am somewhat "conservative" and question most ART (assisted-reproductive technology—artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and so on), but people who consider ART immoral should oppose it across the board. It makes no more sense to oppose same-sex marriage because a same-sex couple might use ART than it does to oppose infertile heterosexual couples marrying because they might use ART.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            A third possibility is that the Church's teaching on homosexuality has something correct at its root, but that it has been expressed and prioritized very poorly. For example, I could imagine the Church would one day re-express the teaching that "homosexual acts are a grave sin", as something more along the lines of: "Homosexual acts fall just short of the total self gift that is present in heterosexual consummation in exactly the same way that heterosexual co-masturbation falls short of this goal. As such, both types of acts involve a degree of incompleteness. However, these sins are so subtle that only an advanced spiritual master should worry about them. In particular, those like Jim (hillclimber) who spend their work hours on SN and who are thereby breaking one of the Ten Commandments by effectively stealing from their employers have far bigger fish to fry". Something like that.

            You might say this is fanciful thinking, but we currently have a Pope who has essentially said, "We're not wrong, but we risk great damage by talking about this in the wrong way. Let's just shut the hell up about it for a while."

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I think that would be far better. After all, if you are Muslim you can't eat pork, Jewish mothers have to get their boys circumsized, Maybe for Catholics men can't have sex with men. It's one of those arbitrary rules that all religions have. If it was just that, I could respect it. The problem seems to be that Catholic Church teaching involves that homosexual activity should be actively condemned even outside the boundaries of the religion.

          • Alypius

            The reason the Catholic Church condemns certain sexual activity outside of its own boundaries is precisely because it doesn't see it as an "arbitrary" rule at all. Catholics have plenty of "arbitrary" rules (e.g. no meat on Fridays, go to Mass every Sunday) that you don't see anyone trying to force on the general populace.

            While its true that Pope Francis may be saying "lets send a few resources to other battles at the moment" the reason the Church has always (and will undoubtedly continue to) advocate in public for certain proscriptions on sexual matters has more to do with Aristotle than the Bible, actually. The Church is committed to the idea of there being a Natural Law accessible to human reason, not requiring faith.

            Whether Natural Law exists (and what it might consist of) is, of course, a much deeper philosophical question. But my point here is just that the Church is not trying to impose the requirements of Club Membership upon an unwilling populace.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            No religion sees its own rules as arbitrary. Ask an Orthodox Jew about circumcision. Ask a serious Muslim about drinking beer.

            I'm not saying Catholics see it as arbitrary. I'm saying I do (and am willing to further discuss why, and why you may think it's not so arbitrary; how do you understand natural law?). And that's why I'm not joining the club. I'm glad that Catholics won't try to make me.

          • Alypius

            There are a couple general approaches to religion:
            1) Faith alone
            2) Faith + Reason

            Approach #1 justifies its positions & customs based solely on its sacred writings & the promulgations of its leaders
            Approach #2 justifies some things based on faith but carves out a big chunk of space for basing positions on reason

            Historically, most major religions have embodied both approaches at different times in different places (e.g. Islam for a time followed #2 but after the 12th century things changed). Christianity for the most part has strived for #2. The Catholic Church especially has done so (e.g. Catholic doctrine states that you can know of God's existence through reason alone, without faith).

            So, that said, I don't think anything one arrives at through reason alone is "arbitrary" (even if it would happen to be wrong). When it comes to ethics the Church recognizes a whole sphere of knowledge of good and evil accessible through reason alone. This is the "natural law". Elsewhere on this board you mentioned your belief that lying is wrong. Perfect example of an ethical principle obtained by reason alone. Another (I presume you would agree on) is theft. You don't need the commandment "Though shalt not steal" to know that's wrong. So, if a nation ever wants to pass a law saying "its ok to steal from your neighbor sometimes" and the Church spoke out publicly against that, it would not feel "arbitrary" to you, right? You would recognize the "universal applicability" of that ethical principle, and not an imposition of Club Membership. I'm guessing that, up to this point of this post, you & I would be in agreement. So the issue here is not "whether" the Church should speak out about natural (i.e. non-arbitrary) ethical principles, the issue is determining what those actually are.

            When it comes to sex the Church also sees natural law principles. Really, the reason why the Church speaks up in public about things like abortion and marriage has way more to do with Aristotle than with the Bible. So the question remains: why does it seem "arbitrary" to you? The sexual ethics promoted publicly by the Church are at odds with those views you, using reason alone, hold. At root, it has to do with a difference of metaphysical presuppositions about ethics. A different starting point will lead to a different conclusion. Down below (http://www.strangenotions.com/tools-for-thinking-sensibly-about-scripture/#comment-1159725804 ) I tried to explain to Rob how an approach in line with Aristotle differs on some of this stuff. Not sure how clear it was, but the point I wish to draw out is just that the Church is not trying to impose its own faith-based stuff on others here. That's why I see a clear distinction between this and, say, Islamic prohibitions on alcohol based on the Koran.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Reason alone is still reason from some axioms (as you acknowledge above). If the axioms are arbitrary, the result will be arbitrary as well, regardless of the quality of the reasoning. You claim that my position on lying is obtained via reason alone. How is this accomplished? You ask why the Catholic position on marriage seems arbitrary. Because that's the way it looks to me from here. Show me good solid reasoning for the Catholic position on marriage from a set of common assumptions. Or at least assumptions that seem grounded in sense, or experience, or a common intuition, or something that doesn't seem like a random starting point or made-up rules.

            What are the necessary assumptions for an ethics based on the natural law?

          • Alypius

            You claim that my position on lying is obtained via reason alone. How is this accomplished?

            You tell me - what axiom(s) is your belief against lying based on? I don't want to put words in your mouth. :-)

            At some level, every system of reasoning gets down to fundamental axioms where it has to admit it can go no further. The "first principles", if you will. But of course everyone has different first principles and so the determination of who has the "correct" first principles is the interesting question.

            Necessary assumptions for natural law ethics (at least of the sort in line with Aristotle, Aquinas & others) would include:
            1) Ethical truths exist
            2) We are rational creatures of the sort that can know ethical truths
            3) Ethical truths are binding on all rational creatures

            Do you find any of these controversial? (They do conflict with certain relativist or skeptical modes of ethical inquiry.)

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            It's not entirely axiomatic. On the level I can defend, I think that the good is what will make me happy, and what makes me happy is determined by my psychology. It turns out that lying generally makes people unhappy, therefore lying is wrong.

            There's a deeper level I cannot defend, the idea that lying involves some transcendent moral principle. This is a matter of intuition, in my case, and not reason. My intuition is also that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality.

            I can accept your axioms as sound, if they are to be understood in this way:

            1) Ethical truths exist. Meaning, certain activities are likely to make people happy or unhappy, regardless of what effect they want those activities to have.

            2) We are rational creatures of the sort that can know ethical truths. Meaning, we can discover using our senses and reason what is likely to make people happy.

            3) Some ethical truths are binding on all people. Meaning that some behavior will affect people in a common way.

            If your axioms are supposed to be understood differently, then I will have to find out how you understand them, before knowing whether they are arbitrary or not (they may be well grounded even if I do not share them).

          • Alypius

            I've been thinking over your response, Paul, and I'm having difficulty ascertaining how much overlap there is between you & me at a fundamental level. I think we're close but a couple caveats:

            First, I'm highly uncomfortable with what appears to me to be an equivocation between "the good" and a subjective psychological state. Yes, over time, acting in accordance with the good will tend to produce happy psychological states. But there can be instances where at a subjective level, frankly, it doesn't. And even when it does, the psychological state is not identical with "the good".

            Second, what does "intuition" mean to you? Is it somehow opposed to rationality? I'm a little confused by the way you formulated your response. Its as if you admit belief in transcendent moral principles but don't think they are "defensible" because they are intuited and not based on deeper axioms. So you retreat a tad and seem more comfortable defending ethics (like the no lying thing) on somewhat utilitarian grounds (a calibration of what actions tend to produce certain desired results like human happiness). The reason I'm scratching my head is because behind that strategic decision are certain unspoken assumptions (e.g. Happiness is a good thing in principle; The happiness of others counts too, and not just my own.), which upon analysis are probably "intuited" as well (and if so, aren't they also unable to be defended?). If your own intuitions on the immorality of lying do not plug yourself into something transcendent, then why would these intuitions do so? Perhaps you can explain that a little clearer.

            So bottom line, I might agree with your reformulation of 1,2,&3, depending upon certain subtleties. I detect a whiff of utilitarianism in them in the "what is likely to make people happy" part which as I said makes me uncomfortable. But I also detect a universal applicability (e.g. "affect people in a common way") and at least a partial assumption that we don't get to choose our own human nature (e.g. "regardless of what effect they want") and on both of those accounts I applaud. I want to be clear about one thing: for someone like me (more or less in line with the classical natural law perspective) "transcendent moral principles" are not something top-down, imposed from the outside. Rather, they are built in from the bottom up. In the same way that it is in the nature of fish to process oxygen from water (some of course doing it better than others), it is in the nature of rational creatures to perceive ethical truths and act upon them (once again some doing it better than others! and unfortunately some perceiving them but ignoring them.).

          • picklefactory

            But my point here is just that the Church is not trying to impose the requirements of Club Membership upon an unwilling populace.

            Well, no, it is; it's just saying that it isn't. Just saying that a given rule isn't arbitrary doesn't mean that it's necessarily so.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Only on the kids. It's not very forceful on the adults.

          • picklefactory

            I disagree. I think it's precisely as forceful on the adults as it can manage, see for example the USCCB and contraception brouhaha here in the states, or the one in Ireland about Savita Halappanavar, or Tamisha Means in Michigan. (To be fair, though, it's hardly as though the Catholic Church is the only one that uses this tactic.)

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I think it's very manipulative but not forceful (although maybe manipulative is as forceful as it can manage anymore). In my experience, most Catholics just ignore what the Church says when they want to, so the manipulation is not all that effective.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Do heterosexual acts between two opposite sex partners who know they cannot procreate also fall short of this total gift? If not, why not?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi Rob,

            I'm very hesitant to approach this topic at all, so I hope you will accept if I come at it a bit indirectly. I would rather focus on sins that I myself regularly commit, because it gives me some "skin in the game", if you will pardon the pun. I'm not saying the sins I'm about to describe are entirely analogous to homosexual acts, but I think there is some overlap in the applicable principles.

            I thought for a long time that the Catholic prohibition on lusting after women other than my wife was a bit silly. It's certainly a natural inclination at one level, and it seemed to be pretty harmless. I have always been faithful to my wife at the physical level, so what was the harm in indulging in a few fantasies? Fast forward a bit and I now see a strong connection between this apparently harmless sin and a near addiction to pornography that I had for a while. Internet pornography is - there is no other way I can say this - the clearest activity of Satan in the world of first world men today. At the same time, I realized that my natural inclination to indulge in harmless fantasies was actually at odds with another stronger natural inclination that I had to shape my life into beautiful and totally cohesive story. Long story short, I can now see that the silly teaching of the Church on my harmless sin was actually correct.

            Now, finally, to your question. Is the incompleteness of heterosexual actions the same of incompleteness of consummation for an infertile couple? The answer I want to give is, "that's not for me to say", but I can see that would be a dodge, so let me try to answer that at least indirectly. This is totally TMI, but I've had a vasectomy (I know, bad Catholic), so I can speak to the infertility piece. I do believe (I would even say I know), based on my own experience that, even having had a vasectomy, the level of completeness of mutual self gift that we convey through vaginal sex is greater than the completeness of self gift that we convey to each other by other types of, shall we say, self-giving, though I have happily sinned in the latter way many times (again, I know, bad Catholic). The physical metaphor just can't convey the same reality, in my experience.

            Is homosexual self-gift limited in the same way? To be honest, I think that it probably is. But, please let me stress again, this is such a subtle point! The world has far bigger issues to worry about. I say with all sincerity that most homosexual sinners probably sin far less, and in far less serious ways, than I do.

            Peace brother,
            Jim

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Is homosexual self-gift limited in the same way? To be honest, I think that it probably is.

            Why?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            What I was trying to express in my message is that, reflecting the different levels of completeness associated with my own heterosexual experiences, I can clearly see that vaginal sex supports (without guaranteeing) a completeness of expression that I have never experienced in any other heterosexual activity. Now, I've never partaken in any homosexual activities, so I am admittedly extrapolating based my own experiences of less-than-complete heterosexual expression. Extrapolation is always a dangerous thing, so I could be wrong. Rob, honestly, I don't know. I'm just offering my guess based on the data of my own subjective experiences. Those guesses seem to be confirmed by the teachings of my Church. I allow for the possibility that my Church has not expressed Her truth correctly on this point, and I allow for the possibility that my extrapolation is wrong. I am not God, so I can't know the truth for sure. For those reasons, as I mentioned initially, my strong preference is just to not say anything at all on this topic and instead focus on my own sins.

          • David Nickol

            I don't wish to be harsh, but can you imagine how many gay people might feel being told that heterosexual sex rendered infertile "artificially" is superior to homosexual sex that is infertile because gay people are not sexually attracted to, or sexually aroused by, members of the opposite sex? Most married Catholics choose infertile sex most of the time when they are naturally fertile. Gay people are not deliberately thwarting their fertility like the vast majority of straight people. Would you recommend that gay people marry partners of the opposite sex so they can have penile-vaginal intercourse because it is somehow better or more complete? Gay people are playing the hand they were dealt. According to Catholic teaching on sexuality (which I understand but disagree with), straight people who deliberately suppress their fertility are not.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            "Gay people are playing the hand they were dealt."

            I know David, I know. I am playing the hand I've been dealt too, and I fail every day. I am not judging, I'm just speculating (because I was asked to) on why the teaching might make sense.

            Look, what do you want me to do? The Church is like my mother to me. I know Her heart is true, and so I can only assume that when She does things that make no sense to me, either I am misunderstanding, or She is acting in a way that is not reflecting her true self. In any event, in exactly the same way that I wouldn't leave my mother because of a disagreement, so it would also be a complete denial of my own being if I ever left the Church. Even if I wanted to, where would I go? Do you think there is a faith community anywhere out there that I will agree with 100%? I work from within my faith to correct what I believe is not part of the Church's true self.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Rob, let me add thing to my comments below.

            I might say that under Benedict, the Church was doing the equivalent of teaching advanced graduate level courses in theoretical self-giving. Great stuff for aficionados, but hard for the uninitiated to put into practice. Finally, under Francis, we have someone willing to teach "Applied Self-giving 101".

            As in the sciences, applied Catholicism is always in a conversation with theoretical Catholicism, and the conversation moves in both directions. A relevant practical observation of my own is that I experienced my vasectomy very much as a gift to my wife. It was a very concrete confirmation that I would never be a biological father to any children other than hers (certainly implied by our marriage vows already, but confirmed rather strongly in this action), and that I cared about her health after having three children. She certainly interpreted my gift in this way, and I have no doubt that it strengthened our marriage.

            Possibly, Catholic theoreticians will continue to tell me that I have applied the principle in the wrong way in practice. Possibly my practical experience will bubble up to the top some day. I don't know. I'm part of the Living Body of Christ either way, I know that. I think there is hope that a similar applied theoretical dialogue will occur on the topic of homsexuality.

          • Alypius

            No. Opposite sex partners, in the consummating of their marriage, are still inherently open to procreation, even if it does not actually happen.

            Imperfect analogy but its a bit like the difference between planting a flower garden and planting grass. If you plant flower seeds not every seed will sprout and you may or may not (depending upon external factors) end up with a bunch of flowers. But if you plant grass there is no way it could ever be a flower garden, because it is not in the nature of grass to be a flower.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Same-sex partners can be open to procreation, even if it does not actually happen.

          • Alypius

            not with each other, they can't.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Why can't same-sex couple be just as open to procreation as elderly couples, or opposite-sex couples involving people who are sterile?

          • Alypius

            I hope this comment didn't come off as snarky. It wasn't meant to be that way.

            Note here, by the way, that all the differences of religion (God/no God; Scripture as inspired word/human construction) aside, there is a fundamental (and deeper) difference in how one approaches ethics which is causing the differences of opinion on this sex stuff.

            Do the ethics of an action depend solely upon what one "intends" and possibly a calculation of the likelihood of a particular result? Or do they depend upon something deeper and intrinsic to the nature of the act?

            It's Aristotle vs. John Stuart Mill & others. And the reason the Catholic Church is at odds with the moral calculus of many today is because the Church sides with Aristotle.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Thanks for this, but I'll need you to connect a few more dots before I can link it to the rest of this conversation.

          • Alypius

            You are using the notion of "openness to procreation" here more like the stated "wish" or "intention" that people might have. I'm using a notion more rooted in biological human nature. The body of a properly functioning human male united in consummation with the body of a properly functioning human female is a situation which, by its nature, is both unifying for the participants and open to the creation of new human life. The case of an infertile couple is simply a case of something not working (or no longer working) properly, like an arrow shot toward a target that misses. A same-sex couple cannot even unite their bodies in consummation, so its more like the lack of a target to even shoot for than that of a missed target, even if they might "wish" it to be otherwise.

            I understand though that this way of thinking about it probably sounds foreign to many ears because the end result (no baby) is exactly the same in both situations.

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            If you're rooting your notion of openness in biological human nature, then elderly couples have no openness to procreation. Nor do infertile couples.

            Also, this line of reasoning is not foreign to me, as I've spent quite a bit of time picking apart Robert George's "What is Marriage" article. My response is too long to put into a comment box, but if you're interested you can see it here.
            http://wakingupnow.com/blog/reply-to-george-x-why-infertile-straights-get-to-marry

          • Alypius

            Rob, that's a very well-written response. Kudos to you for engaging with the issue. And I'll admit: George's thoughts are basically my own on this.

            I've seen this same conversation go like this many times and this question of "what's different about same-sex vs. infertile" usually is the point where the discussion stops and both parties stare at each other, blinking, completely unable to fathom how the other party holds the views they do. :-)

            I noticed a couple things in your response that I wanted to just draw out b/c they are exactly the spot where the disagreement occurs. and my apologies here if I'm covering ground you've already covered elsewhere.

            The general view of the world that is historically traceable to Aristotle (and is held by George, me, and others, including the Catholic church) is a view that is thoroughly teleological. That is, everything in existence has predefined ends or directions that are "built-in" to them. Today we might describe this using scientific language ("hydrogen is inherently combustible", "gills inherently process oxygen", etc) but its getting at the same thing. These ends are discerned by watching what things in nature consistently do, and also sometimes by analogy with the ends that humans give to the artificial constructions that we make (i.e. the end of a computer is information processing). But even though those are compared by analogy, they have a fundamental difference: in the former case, the ends are built-in from the ground up; in the latter the ends are superimposed upon them by human intention. The end of a gill is built into it in a way that the end of a computer chip (which is just a human assemblage of parts, although each part of course has a built-in end to it that humans did not impose upon it. Silicon by its nature tends to transfer electrons; the particular configuration is what we have imposed upon it). A whole semester could be spent exploring this, and whether it is true or whether this type of analogy is a valid way of discerning truth (plenty philosophers would disagree!); I'm just pointing it out as the starting point of the difference.

            So when George uses the analogy of a baseball team with the goal of winning and applied it to sex he was not saying they were the same in each and every way. Your response to him was more or less that his analogy applies only to those trying to conceive. But that is not in fact what his view is and what he was getting at with the analogy (and this is the part that is admittedly hard to explain about our POV). The difference between baseball and sex is that the goals of baseball are imposed by humans by the outside. There's nothing inherent in hitting a ball with a bat that makes it a game. What makes it a game is that all the players "wish" it to be so, and therefore impose "gameness" onto it. When it comes to sex, he & I & others would say that the "end" is built-in to it from the inside, and is actually independent from whatever the participants "wish" the act to have. The act itself by its nature has a procreative end, even if the people participating don't want it to in that particular instance!

            So the crux of your disagreement is with this sentence: "PIV is not a generative act for an infertile or elderly couple!" And he and I (and presumably Aristotle!) would actually say "yes it is". It is generative "in potency" even if it is not generative "in actuality". Any other type of sexual act is not even generative "in potency". (Hence the "missed target" vs "no target at all" kind of analogy.) That probably sounds startling to you, but there it is.

            I wish there was an easy way of reconciling these wildly divergent ways of approaching morality, but it doesn't seem there is. :-(

          • http://wakingupnow.com/ Rob Tisinai

            Thank Alypius. I understand that it's not George's view that his analogy only applies when people are trying. He believes just the opposite. My intent was to show that he wrong in believing that about his analogy.

            As for the purpose or teleology of sex, I completely agree with you that we should look at things in nature consistently do. And this is precisely where George's reasoning breaks down. Because for human, humans are the "things in nature," and humans use sex for procreation probably a minority of the time.

            I've written about this, too. You've been generous enough to check out my other post. If you're interested, you can read this one too at http://wakingupnow.com/blog/on-purpose

            (And Brandon I promise not to link to myself again today).

            Thanks for this exchange. As I told Vasco, I could go on about this all day but I have to get busy on my day job (if you reply, I'll be glad to read it, but won't time to write out a response).

            Thanks again.

          • Alypius

            Another engaging post, Rob.

            Just an FYI that the Aristotelean approach George & I share would not discern the ends of something just by looking at what people choose to use it for (intent). It would primarily look at what it actually does, regardless of intent. But I get the difference.

            This is why teleology is a really thorny issue in philosophy!

          • josh

            Strangely, the church allows you to scatter seeds in winter on frozen ground, knowing they won't germinate, but not to put a tarp on the ground with the goal of preventing germination. Also strangely, it doesn't have a prohibition against doing these things with actual seeds, although that would have to be as 'intrinsically disordered' as anything you could do with your genitalia.

          • Alypius

            are flowers rational creatures?
            Therein lies the difference.

          • josh

            Flowers are as rational as human embryos. But you'll have to clarify your statement; so far I can't see that it addresses my comments.

          • Geena Safire

            The Catholic Church did accept chattel slavery, which was justified in the Bible, but they called it by nicer names like 'bringing God to the heathen savages.'. It also gave Catholic Adolf Hitler a pass (with a secret accord) on his Jewish policy (although they might have been, early on, ignorant of the scope and scale of his plan) because of their deep-seated anti-Semitism which was only officially abjured in the 1960s (and is still supported by conservative Catholics like Mel Gibson)..

          • Octavo

            Do you have a reference to that secret accord?

          • Geena Safire

            Google accord vatican hitler.

          • Octavo

            As far as I can tell, the only secret part was the bit saying that Hitler couldn't conscript priests.

          • Andrew G.

            The secret part of the Reichskonkordat only addressed the issue of what rights Catholic clergy would have in the event of military conscription; this was secret because Germany was forbidden to militarize. While some people like to make a big deal out of this, I don't think that's necessarily justified.

          • ladycygnus

            This is blatantly false - there is plenty of evidence to the contrary: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/433777/20130211/pope-benedict-xvi-hitler-pius-xii-jews.htm (this is an annoying news website that starts playing stuff in the background - but the general info is there).

          • Octavo

            That website does not address the Reichskonkordat, although the actions the Pope took as described by the article were certainly very laudable.

          • Andrew G.

            It strikes me that the Catholic treatment of Jews at the time has a lot in common with its current official attitude to homosexuality.

            For example, it objects to charges of [antisemitism/homophobia] by stressing that it has nothing against [Jews/homosexuals] as people; it simply regards them as [christ-killers/objectively disordered] and condemns [international Jewish financial conspiracies/the "gay agenda"].

            So the pre-war Vatican's activities run parallel to the modern Catholic church's backing of, or failing to oppose, oppressive anti-gay legislation (e.g. in Uganda and Russia) and opposition to marriage equality and other non-discrimination laws, while still denouncing instances of actual violence against individuals, without understanding the connection between the two issues.

          • ladycygnus

            "although the actions the Pope took as described by the article were certainly very laudable." Well, good to hear. My history is a bit rough so I looked on Wiki for the definition - what exactly is the problem with a treaty with the German state? Did no other country sign a treaty with Germany at that time?

          • Octavo

            The shortcomings of the church in WWII is a complicated topic. I thought this article by a Catholic priest of Jewish descent was enlightening.

            http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/the-holocaust-what-was-not-said-10

            ~Jesse Webster

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Can you cite an example of the Catholic Church saying slavery was a good?

            Even Alexander VI, one of the most infamous of pope's (of Borgia fame) spoke out against slavery in his time. Of course, the US Southern bishops chose to reinterpret his teachings, but...

          • MichaelNewsham

            "We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents,
            with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search
            out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other
            unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their
            kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...]
            and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.[4]

            Dum Diversas; Pope Nicholas V

            "..since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso -- to
            invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and
            pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and
            the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all
            movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to
            reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate
            to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties,
            principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them
            to his and their use and profit --"

            Romanus Pontifex: Nicholas V

            "In 1545 Paul repealed an ancient law that allowed slaves to claim their freedom under the Emperor's statue on Capital Hill, in view of the number of homeless people and tramps in the city of Rome.[14]
            The decree included those who had become Christians after their
            enslavement and those born to Christian slaves. The right of inhabitants
            of Rome to publicly buy and sell slaves of both sexes was affirmed.[15] Stogre (1992) asserts that the lifting of restrictions was due to a shortage of slaves in Rome.[16] In 1548 he authorized the purchase and possession of Muslim slaves in the Papal state". Wiki

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Thank you!

            This is interesting, since it came after Eugene IV declared anyone engaged in the slave trade as excommunicated.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Alexander_VI#Slavery

          • Alejandro I. Sanchez

            Suppose the Catholic Church changed "their" pos on homosexuality, how could you, or anyone, in good conscience, accept their moral teachings?, since it would be obvious the change occurred only to reconcile people unhappy with the Church's former stance and not because the Church truly believed it was the correct moral stance.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            The change may have been a moral development, a continued better understanding of revelation along the lines of realizations the people of God made about slavery or about divorce, that the old rules were acceptable because of a hardness of hearts but that the deeper truth is "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

            In this sense, the Episcopal Church seems to be a more likely candidate as an interpretive authority than the Catholic Church precisely because it isn't stagnant. If our understanding of a "truth for all time" cannot be revised or reinterpreted, then the truth is not an eternal truth but a dead truth. That is, truth that is not true at all.

            (EDITED FOR CLARITY)

          • Alejandro I. Sanchez

            Okay, I see where you're coming from. Thank you, Paul.

          • AngelaT

            typically, rules made out of the hardness of hearts were concessions made by Moses in Deuteronomy, after the Israelites again and again proved themselves incapable of following previous injunctions, and Jesus' "changes" were actually stricter that the Mosaic counterpart. That is important to note... also all those examples which you mentioned earlier? again, we moved from tolerating these things (i don't think advocating is the right word here) to rejecting them upon further thought.

            You are right about about truth needing a dynamic development in order for it to remain true, yet a contradiction does not a development make. And as far as I can tell, I don't see how the church could "develop" its views on homosexuality in the way that you advocate without it contradicting itself...

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I think recognizing gay marriage would be more difficult for many Christians than denying it. I also think that Christian marriage brings with it some strict rules. Allowing gays to marry places a certain moral weight on their relationship that may not have been there before.

            But the main difference between the Torah and Christ's law is that of love, and recognition of the plain reality and spiritual and ethical value of gay marriage seems far more loving than denial of its possibility.

            Divorce went from being possible to impossible. It cannot be both possible and impossible at the same time. Sacrifice and circumcision went from being necessary to being optional. An act cannot be both necessary and optional at the same time. Christ came to remove the divisions between slave and free, Jew and Greek and male and female. If those divisions are truly to be removed, then marriage should be possible between two men or two women, more so because it is a picture of Christ's Church; the Bishops representing the Church are married to Christ as a bride. It is the very picture of Gay Marriage.

            The fact that the Catholic Church is so ossified that it may not be capable of this moral realization suggests to me that the Catholic Church has very little moral authority and very little insight into the mind of Christ, at least on this matter.

          • AngelaT

            "But the main difference between the Torah and Christ's law is that of love, and recognition of the plain reality and spiritual and ethical value of gay marriage seems far more loving than denial of its possibility."

            While there is a transference from the law of Moses to the law of the Spirit, I do not think that the difference is love. The greatest commandment in the law is "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength, and the second one is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the law and the prophets."

            "Christ came to remove the divisions between slave and free, Jew and Greek and male and female. If those divisions are truly to be removed, then marriage should be possible between two men or two women..."

            When Paul said that there is no more slave or free, male or female, Jew, or Greek, but all are one in him, he was not saying that Christ rendered any distinction null. Rather, he was saying that salvation does not hinge on any of these distinctions, for what marks us as children of God is the gift of faith. this was a big deal in Paul's time where there were questions regarding the soteriological status of Gentiles entering the church. yet when it came to other aspects of Christian life, Paul does carry a rather marked distinction. Look at the way he speaks of women in the church, or how he talks about presbyters and bishops as set apart for a certain function. Gal 3 implies nothing about marriage (other than perhaps saying something about the dignity of both husband and wife), much less gay marriage. Your argument does not necessarily follow.

            " more so because it is a picture of Christ's Church; the Bishops representing the Church are married to Christ as a bride. It is the very picture of Gay Marriage."

            This does not work, for the very simple reason that the bishops representing the Church represent the "bride" of Christ. symbolically, the bishops, and the Church as a whole, assumes a feminine role here. The same occurs in the prophets where God is seen as the husband of the people of Israel, who is presented as an unfaithful wife. Our relation to God is scripturally depicted as a woman's relation to her husband.

            "The fact that the Catholic Church is so ossified that it may not be capable of this moral realization suggests to me that the Catholic Church has very little moral authority and very little insight into the mind of Christ, at least on this matter."

            well, neither I nor the Church can change your mind. maybe I am simply too simple-minded to see what others see here.., is there a possibility for a greater insight into same-sex unions? I can see that, but I think we get so hung up on trying to equate these unions with marriage that we forget there may be something else going on here. In its pure form, it may look more as a brotherhood than anything, which when done consistently with the Church's sexual morality can really be a beautiful thing. But again I don't know... being the ossified person that I am

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            The law of love, as the essence of the commandments, allows the New Testament to be organically connected to the Old Testament. Gay marriage is therefore better aligned with the heart of the Bible as a whole, and with the Spirit, if not the letter, of the Law.

            About Paul's statements concerning women, Paul may have been a misogynist, but that doesn't mean God has to be. Maybe Paul's intended meaning and God's are not the same. And God's meaning would be the one that matters.

            If Bishops as men can assume the feminine role as bride of Christ, then I see no problem with a man, as man, assuming the feminine role in a marriage. It seems as though Christ and the Church form an ideal model of the first gay marriage.

            Simply because your church has ossified doesn't mean you are, and if you are, you don't have to remain so.

          • AngelaT

            "Gay marriage is therefore better aligned with the heart of the Bible as a whole, and with the Spirit, if not the letter, of the Law." Again, this does not follow. you make a leap from love to marriage, as if the imperative to love one another implied the the permission to marry one another. this is obviously not the case. Another Biblical example: consider Paul's rebuke of the Corinthians for the presence of incest in their community. Is love between mother and son required? yes. does this permit marriage or a sexual relationship between mother and son? no.

            "Maybe Paul's intended meaning and God's are not the same. And God's meaning would be the one that matters." Except Paul's intent does matter, according to the Church, as the human intent also is protected under the doctrine of inerrancy, and the relation between the divine and the human is not one of contradiction but rather one of synergy. Think of the practical implications if one disregarded the human writer. Anything can be taken as wrong, and we just apply a meaning which seems right to us instead, but which is not part of the text. This approach to scripture which you mention really takes away from the doctrine of inerrancy its teeth. It assumes a Gnostic reading of the scriptures, and renders inspiration superfluous and not intrinsic to the text. Are you willing to go that route?

            "If Bishops as men can assume the feminine role as bride of Christ, then I see no problem with a man, as man, assuming the feminine role in a marriage. It seems as though Christ and the Church form an ideal model of the first gay marriage."

            The difference between the marriage between bride and Christ and a woman and her husband is that the first is understood by analogy, where the second is not,though the elements of the sacrament point to the union of the first. furthermore, are we really going to think that such a view of gay marriage really does justice to the relationship at hand? the whole point is that the two are of the same sex. such a view which renders to one of the partners the role of the opposite sex would make the nature of union analogical rather than univocal. it really proves rather than disproving my point. there is much more I could say about this, but I don't really know where to begin...

          • AngelaT

            either way, I can't continue the discussion... I have to much on my hands but if anyone want he can fill in for me... peace out

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Since I would choose to understand Galatians 3:28 as God's removing any fundamental ontological distinction between male and female, there would be no barrier to marriage between two men or two women, that intimate expression of love from one spouse to another. I am not saying that love requires that there be marriage, but allowing marriage between two men is more loving than refusing it. It is also not that all possible marriages are good, but that marriage between men and marriage between women is possible, and some such marriages are good. Furthermore, the way I would interpret the Bible, marriage between people would provide the analogy of the marriage between God and his Church (that every marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, more than that the Christ and the Church is a picture of every marriage), and not the other way around. Just as God and his Church do not exclude gender, so marriage between any two or more people need not exclude gender. I would argue should not exclude gender.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Randy (below) may be right, but I would suggest a slight different tack on this. Whether or not pride is really the source of my (relatively few) disagreements with Church teaching (I don't think it is, but maybe I'm just too proud to see it), the important point to me is that I allow myself to be challenged by the teachings of the Magisterium. I'm allowing something outside of me to challenge my fundamental assumptions. This is not fundamentally different from my approach with any teacher that I respect as a valid authority. I trust them, I attempt to listen with humility, and all that, but if I can't "own" a particular teaching at the end of the day, well, I just let it set there for a while (after all, it could be that what I'm really objecting to is only my errant *interpretation* of a Church teaching, so there's no obstinate disagreement here). I'd suggest that as a place to start, at least.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I respect that we come from different places, and that will change our respective analysis. I think the only place I can start is outside the Catholic Church, because that's where I am. I don't find its claims very convincing to begin with, so it's not a matter of pride on my part. I try to humbly defer to one particular authority outside myself: the authority of sound reason and evidence.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's a good place to start. All of us have no choice but to start but "where we are". And let me come out stronger than I did in my previous message and support you on this point: It is NOT always a matter of pride that prevents people from accepting the Church as an authority. We all have to use our sincere discernment to determine who is a valid authority and who is not. There is no escaping this. You should indeed trust your own powers of discernment. I do question whether it is really only reason and evidence that you trust (if you were lost and hungry in the hills, would you be willing to trust a guide, maybe even one you had never met?), but maybe that's a question for another day.

          • picklefactory

            Yes. Every word of this.

          • MichaelNewsham

            Catholics here have been saying we should put our trust in the Church when it comes to matters of morality, when in the past the Church has engaged in and supported torture, slavery, burning people alive for holding different beliefs, anti-semitism, and so on.

            And the answer to this is, apparently, "Well, that was then but now we've finally got it right, so trust us on everything else."

          • MichaelNewsham

            That was supposed to be a reply to way farther back on this topic

  • Raphael

    Why do atheists read the bible?

    • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

      Because Christian's keep telling us that it holds the answers to the ultimate questions in life if we just read it properly. Also to counter misrepresentations by Christians. Many many ignore it completely.

      Also, many atheists became atheists by reading the Bible and investigating apologetics.

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

      I'm not a Bible believer. I read the Bible because it is the most important book in Western history and the King James Bible is one of the greatest literary works in the English language. I read the Bible daily.

      • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

        Good answer.

    • David Nickol

      Why do atheists read the bible?

      Whether one is a Jew, a Christian, or an atheist, the Bible contains literature that is fascinating merely as literature, and it has also been an extremely influential text influencing many aspects of Western Civilization (literature, art, government, and so on).

    • Octavo

      Atheists read it for engagement with a corpus that has informed the development of our lives, our friends' and family's lives, and of history and culture at large. That said, after four years of Christian college and 20+ years as a Christian, I'm not really interested by the bible anymore. The apocrypha are still fun, though.

      ~Jesse Webster

    • Raymond

      Athiests may read the bible (I'm using a lower case "b" because you did) because family members, close friends, and people they come in contact with every day profess to be Christians, and it behooves them to have some understanding of the context in which they view the world. Many athiests do not "preach" their world view to others, but others DO preach their world view to athiests, and it makes sense for them to study and understand the underlying "documentation" for their own knowledge and self defense.

    • Danny Getchell

      Because the claims of Christianity, be they right or wrong, are serious claims and deserve careful scrutiny.

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    Well I do not understand what religious people mean when they use the word faith. Sometimes it means trust, other times it is some mystical illuminating force which I'd utterly alien to me. It is therefore exceedingly unhelpful as an interpretive tool.

    Used in this context it appears to be the extra element that is required for a THEOLOGICAL reading of certain texts. Without this element we have the tools we use for any other text. Historical and literary analysis taking into account as many factors and influences as we can. I see no reason to add an "analogy of faith" unless you need the text to say something other than it would be objectively interpreted.

    • ColdStanding

      "It is therefore exceedingly unhelpful as an interpretive tool."

      Faith isn't a tool. It isn't a methodology (intellectual tool), either.

      Faith is a spiritual illumination that impinges upon soul.

      Why should you be surprised that Faith does not correspond to what you know of tools when it isn't a tool in the first place. You can not understand the Bible without, minimally, the Christian faith. It is a needed element, yes, but the sun is a needed element, too, that is not properly understood as being a tool, either.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        I'm not the one suggesting it is a tool or that it is accessible to me as a reader.

    • AngelaT

      just want to let you know, that as a Catholic, i too have difficulty what is meant by "faith." I'd say that it has different meanings, some referring to trust, some to the content of faith, some to belief (in which case I don't see what is virtuous about it), and yes, some referring to a faith as a supernatural gift from God that illuminates us and allows us to see things with his mind (I say this very loosely, mind you). It may include all of these things... I'm working on figuring it out.

      I partially agree with you about faith and interpretation. The key is that looking at a text with the eyes of faith corresponds to what Catholics hold about the scripture, namely its dual authorship. We hold that the scriptures were written both by men and by God who inspired them (how is really complicated, and ultimately mysterious), so we, in a sense, need both a human and divine hermeneutic. The human side is understood precisely through such analyses which you mention; it involves seeing with the eyes of the mind in order to arrive at the meaning of the text. Yet if these scriptures are inspired, then what the eyes of faith see in them are not "something other than [something] objectively interpreted," but rather something inherent in the text, rendering a theological reading just as objective as the rest. I'm not going to write how, since that would take too long, and also because it is likely to be covered in the next section about the spiritual sense... but for now, I hope this helps, somewhat... if not forgive me for wasting a few minutes of your reading time :-D

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    From what I can tell the Bible seriously lacks unity. The early chapters of the Old Testment are polytheistic. We then get a God who is bent on favouring one group at the expense of others and often to their annihilation. He is rule based, harsh and petty. We then get a New Testament in which we now learn he has always favoured everyone, even those who will be utterly ignorant of home for 1500 more years. The authors of the gospels all seem to have different agenda and interpretations of Jesus. We have numerous texts that are excluded from the canon, not because they are historically less reliable, but because they do not conform with contemporary theology.

    This is not unity. It is a hodge podge of various vastly different world views over thousands of years, suggesting not some unifying deity, but different people trying conform developing and changing values with ancient traditions.

    • AngelaT

      it is a unity, at the very least, in the way you can see those developments building upon previous ones. early texts may presume the existence of other "gods" but a more accurate statement would be that they were monolatrist. this is a really easy thing upon which to build a monotheistic theology. later texts constantly refer to the substance of the earlier texts, and while the Jews have a special place in the old, there are several places that show a universal divine economy which includes Gentiles as well as Jews. If you think that God is harsh in the OT, he does not get much better in the NT. The book of revelation, and intensification of the law in major aspects point to this. That and the NT is full, and I mean full,, of references to the OT, not just in its prophecies, but also in its moral teaching. You need to be steeped in its thought in order to see it, mind you. When one pours himself into the scriptures with an open framework, he will begin to see all the connections within it.The problem is that we are, in a sense, foreigners to the biblical world. we don't catch allusions, and see everything as a disunity. I think of it like what happens when a foreigner attempts to watch certain shows which make allusions to pop culture. He wont get the references, the nuances, the idioms, etc. .

      Why should it surprise you that the authors have a different agenda/ interpretation? they wrote to different audiences, first of all, and were different men.,yet their interpretations seem compatible, much like how the perceptions of a man by four people close to him, yet related to him differently, may be compatible. the texts excluded from the NT canon were definitely of a different sort, for several reasons 1)obviously written in a post apostolic era,(the latest texts in the NT were still within the first century, the earliest texts of these non-included (and not respected) works were well into the second) 2) were not used in the ancient liturgies, 3) not preserved, or at least not preserved as being apostolic 4) theology was off (I concede this point, but it is only one of several). Plus... Have you every read any of these gnostic/ apocryphal texts? They are pretty outlandish in their style as well.. It's like reading Jesus fan fiction...

  • severalspeciesof

    A dogma is not the forbiddance of thought (as is commonly supposed) but the conclusion of thought: it’s what you get when you are done thinking something through.

    The first part is true (A dogma is not the forbiddance of thought). It is the demonizing of further thought that could nullify or change that thought once it's accepted as dogma. It can become the beginning of circular reasoning...

    Glen

    • ColdStanding

      Or, it can be the settlement of a controversy, once and for all, that enables all men of good will to move on.

      • severalspeciesof

        Then apparently in the field of theology, there are no dogmas. Que the thousands and thousands of different religions as evidence...

        Glen

        • ColdStanding

          The Roman Catholic faith guards and tends the supernatural deposit of truth given to Her by Our Lord and Redeemer. It is Her exclusive right to make dogmatic pronouncements on points of controversy that arise in the minds of men. That men prefer the lesser in matters of theology when the best is available is their fault, not the Roman Catholic Church's.

          • picklefactory

            This is not actually an argument.

          • ColdStanding

            Cesi n'est pas une pipe.

            Your point?

          • severalspeciesof

            I think picklefactory's point is that your reply doesn't address what I pointed out, (but I'll reword it) namely that as of yet there are no dogmas in the theological world since there aren't any universally agreed upon conclusions. Certainly there is not a universally agreed upon definition of what god is. That, I would think, would be the starting point in regard to anything beyond. If the starting point is vague and not agreed upon, everything that follows will be too, in the totality of things pertaining to a god... The church may have a 'right' to proclaim dogma, but it really can't be 'Universal Dogma' until everyone agrees with it, per the definition of dogma put forth by the above article.

            Glen

          • AngelaT

            everyone? I don't see universal belief as part of the definition present here in the article... Even then, I don't think that the dogma ought to depend on universal agreement... it's like the truth of something depending on universal agreement. Something is true whether or not one believes it to be.

            obviously the difference in religions makes it impossible for all to completely agree on theological matters,but why would the thousands of religions make dogma something that doesn't exist in theology? Is your problem more one that deals with theology itself as a system of knowledge? After all, it seems like the problem you pose, if this is it, is present in other fields, particularly those in the liberal arts.

          • severalspeciesof

            I don't see universal belief as part of the definition present here in the article...

            Yes, after reading it through again, you are right in that there is no explicit reference to the idea of universality. But here's where I think, because of the history regarding dogma, it implicitly does: "A dogma is not the forbiddance of thought (as is commonly supposed) but
            the conclusion of thought: it’s what you get when you are done thinking
            something through." The church wants its 'concluding' thoughts to be universally accepted, and one can see this with regard to the church's responses to those who have questioned and not accepted the 'concluding/done thinking' dogmas. In worst case scenarios those not accepting the 'Dogma' have been killed. The church wants dogma with a capital D, equal to truth with a capital T. No one can claim truth with a capital T, as to do so would require all knowledge. No one has that, NO ONE. I did push in the word 'universal' without thinking that part through, so yes you are correct in that the truth of something is not dependent on universal agreement. I will try to respond to your last paragraph later, thanks for pointing out these things...

            Glen

          • Paul Boillot

            Hah, recursion is the best!

  • Geena Safire

    I have to note that this article was nice to read. I agree with some and disagree with some but I didn't feel like throwing things while reading.

    [T]he Church offers Catholics only three guidelines when pointing toward reading Scripture for its literal sense

    That is true but only in the same sense as loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself contains all the Law and the Prophets or as evolution is explained by natural selection.

    The 2,700 words contained in the catechism for Part One - The Profession Of Faith, Section One - "I Believe" - "We Believe", Chapter Two - God Comes To Meet Man, Article 3 - Sacred Scripture provide a bit of supporting verbiage.

  • Raymond

    "This faulty approach is primarily a fault of the will, not the intellect. It affects Catholics and atheists alike,"
    Are those the two options, Catholics and athiests? Are there not others who study and attempt to interpret the Bible? (I used a capital B because Mark did.) It almost sounds as if Mark is setting up the dichotomy as between Catholics and athiests because he does not want to sound like he is accusing Protestants of misinterpreting the Bible.

  • Slocum Moe

    I can read, listen to a lecture on or engage in a discussion about doctrine, dogma or scripture and then decide how I interpret it and whether or not I believe it or choose to abide by it. I have never met a single religious person who believes whole cloth, everything taught by their religion.

    • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

      My name's Daniel, nice to meet you!

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Hi Daniel,
        The simplicity of your response is clever and powerful, and perhaps appropriate to the audience, but I would be interested to hear some elaboration. In my view, the teaching of the Church includes what I learn from lifelong Catholics like my wife, my father-in-law, my grandmother. It includes what I learn from problematic but sincere theologians (I would even go so far as to say that Church teaching includes Martin Luther's 95 theses). ALL of that is the teaching of the Church. Certainly, those sources must defer to primal constitutional expressions of the Church, such as the Creed and infallibly taught dogma, but they cannot be discounted as being not part of the teaching of the Church. Given the complexity of reconciling all of this teaching, I can only pray (and I do!) that I am living in accordance with the true (but never perfectly expressed) teaching of the Church. It would be nonsensical for me to say, "I have checked all of the boxes, and I know for sure that I agree with it all". I think this is an important point to convey. Would you agree?
        Jim

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

          Yes. And no.

          There are things taught by members of the Church, and then there is the teaching of the Church. The teaching of the Church would be the dogmata. I don't think I'm being unfair in saying that.

          Your point is well taken, though, in that the distinction should be made. Do I believe everything taught by members of the Church? No, of course not, especially since much of the ancillary material can be contradictory. But the core, the teachings of the Magesterium, the dogmata, yes, that I do believe whole cloth, all of it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But (sorry if my ignorance is coming through here), if the teaching of the Church is ONLY the dogmata, doesn't that exclude the Catechism? Is that not also the teaching of the Church, or do I misunderstand what dogmata means?

          • David Nickol

            The official word is that inclusion in the Catechism gives teachings no more weight than they already had. There is dogma included in the Catechism, and of course it remains dogma. But "authoritative doctrine," just because it is included in the Catechism, does not become any more authoritative, so of course it does not become dogma.

            Although it seems to me the Catechism does place more emphasis on some teachings than others, in general it does not classify Church teachings into the "hierarchy of truths." So you may very well have to look outside of the Catechism to determine whether a particular teaching is dogma or not.

            Once something is identified as dogma, it still may be wide open to interpretation. I just used this as an example: "Christ ascended Body and Soul into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father." That is identified as a dogma, but few if any theologians would say that if you could see heaven, God the Father would be seated on a heavenly throne with Jesus sitting next to him.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks David. That was certainly my understanding as well. I guess what I was trying to get at is this: any reasonably honest interpretation of what "Church teaching" would naturally give absolute priority to dogma, relatively lower priority the particular elaborations and implications of dogma found in the Catechism, and generally lower priority still to the interpretations of the laity. But it all seems to me to be part of "Church teaching". Even dogma must be interpreted via a process of sincere communication with the whole Church. For example, all of the RCIA teachers who helped me come into an understanding of Church dogma were lay people. They were (at that point) the voice of the Church for me. It seems not helpful to distinguish between "the teaching of people in the Church" and "Church teaching".

            I don't want to descend into a hell of legalisms. I want to spend my time proclaiming the Risen Lord. Let's keep it simple. Sincere Catholics can use their common sense to triangulate the truth, making a reasonable effort to give proper weighting according to authority.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Teachings by individual Christians don't in and of themselves hold the same weight as infallibly proclaimed truths from the Magesterium? I think I'm confused about where we're differing.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think we probably are not differing in our fundamental view of reality, but maybe a bit with respect to preferred language. I was preferring to use "Church teaching" to refer to all articulations of dogma by people of faith, which naturally made it difficult for me to conceive of agreement with all "Church teaching". You were using "Church teaching" (I think) to refer only to dogmata per se. That almost sounds like you agree with dogmata that are unmediated by interpretation, but I'm pretty sure I get what you mean. Perhaps, as David suggested, "assenting to dogma" rather than "agreeing with dogma" would be a better way to say it in that context. I think you clarified everything in your remarks, and I honestly don't want to quibble about language - these are just my rambling suggestions for ways of talking about it that might make the faith a little more accessible. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Hey, that's what I'm here for.

          • David Nickol

            But the core, the teachings of the Magesterium, the dogmata, yes, that I do believe whole cloth, all of it.

            Wouldn't it be more accurate to say you accept dogma with the "assent of faith"?

            At the end of this message, so as not to interrupt the flow (if there is any!) from By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful by Richard R. Gaillardetz that I have reproduced on Strange Notions before on levels of Church teaching (given below in bold) and the required response of the believer (given below in italics), from highest level to lowest level.

            I think it is a rare Catholic who can classify everything he or she knows into dogma, definitive doctrine, and authoritative doctrine. I can only imagine that there were some Catholics, for example, who thought the Limbo of Infants was a matter of dogma and felt obliged to believe it "whole cloth." They were dismayed when Limbo was "abolished," since they had believed it, whether because it made sense to them or because they felt obliged to believe it as a teaching of the Church.

            Some people claim that certain papal pronouncements meet the test of infallibility, while others disagree. I dare say that there are dogmas (or at least alleged dogmas) that most Catholics have never been taught, so it would be somewhat meaningless for a Catholic who did not know a particular dogma to claim he or she believed it. Also, this is listed as a Catholic dogma: "Christ ascended Body and Soul into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father." Exactly what does that mean? Does God the Father sit? Does he have a right hand? What does it mean to believe this statement as dogma? And what does this alleged dogma mean? "Since Mary's Assumption into Heaven no grace is conferred on man without her actual intercessory co-operation." It sounds like Mary gets to make all the decisions as to who gets what graces. It sounds like a nightmarish administrative duty rather than an honor.

            Here is the chart I spoke of:

            Dogma - Assent of Faith [The believer makes an act of faith, trusting that this teaching is revealed by God.]

            Definitive Doctrine - Firm Acceptance [The believer "accepts and holds" these teachings to be true.]

            Authoritative Doctrine - "A Religious Docility of Will and Intellect" [The believer strives to assimilate a teaching of the Church into their religious stance, while recognizing the remote possibility of church error.]

            Provisional Applications of Church Doctrine, Church Discipline and Prudential Admonitions - Conscientious Obedience [The believer obeys (the spirit of) any church law or disciplinary action which does not lead to sin, even when questioning the ultimate value or wisdome of the law or action.]

            I think it may possibly be meaningful to say you give an "assent of faith" to propositions that you do not know or understand. But I do not know how it is possible to say you believe such things.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Maybe I fail to understand the distinction between "assent of faith" and belief.

            I did write a post on Assen here at SN and for me, that's exactly how I define my belief in this context (I also believe that the sun will rise tomorrow but, different context, different use of the word, casually).

            But I've tried to be diligent about my studies of dogma. For example, some people would say that the teaching about an all-male priesthood is not dogma, but I would argue that it is, because a look at papal documents throughout history all reflect the same thing, and so on. That's not the point of our talk.

            Your chart is good. Why can I not say I believe in the Incarnation, or the rest of the Church's teaching? If it's simply a (non-trivial) semantic distinction, then I'd say belief in this context is equated with an assent of faith. If that's what you mean, I can try to expound further?

          • David Nickol

            Maybe it is matter of semantics, but first, I don't see how you can believe what you do not know. And second, I don't know what it means to believe a proposition you don't have at least some understanding of. But I can understand how you could assent or trust that they are true.

            In the first case, I am assuming you do not know every Catholic dogma and know with certainty everything that a particular authority says is a dogma is in fact dogma. (Maybe I am wrong!) Here is one list,but of course no one has infallibly declared this list definitive!

            In the second case, I gave an example: "Christ ascended Body and Soul into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father." I would say that clearly it is not to be taken literally, so what does it mean to believe it? To me, it implies that Jesus is extremely important, but subordinate to the Father, which I think theologically cannot be true. No one person of the Trinity can be subordinate to another. (Can they?) Or how about: "Souls who depart this life in the state of original sin are excluded from the Beatific Vision of God." That would seem to contradict the proposition that we can at least hope infants who die without baptism can be saved. Of course, we could get creative and say that God intervenes to remove original sin before the unbaptized die, in which case, what is the point of having the original dogma?

            What I could understand, to make a human analogy, is that the police show up to question my brother about something I know nothing about, and I could say, "I know my brother. He tells the truth. Whatever he tells you will be true." Or someone comes to ask my brother about chemistry. I don't understand chemistry myself, but I know my brother is a professor of chemistry and a world-famous chemist. I can say, "Whatever he tells you will be right." And if he says something that is totally over my head, I can say, "I don't understand what he says, but I assure you you can take his word for it." I don't have to understand it or claim to believe it, but I can trust that it is true. It seems to me that someone who embraces the Catholic faith can say, "When I became a Catholic, it was because I believed that the Church was infallible in faith and morals. I don't know everything the Church teaches, and a lot of what I know, I can't really claim to understand. But I believe the claims of the Church, and if the Church says something is infallibly true, then I accept what the Church says.

          • http://backroomcatholic.com/ Daniel McGiffin

            Newman says that we can give assent by our knowledge of the principles in a statement (that's what he says, more or less. He says it much better.

            To the first point, I think I do know all of the tenants of dogma, but if I can't recite them offhand, I can look into them, and if something comes up that I am unsure about, I have the tools to discover whether it is or is not dogma (analysis of papal teachings, in communion with the College of Bishops, or taught by the College and the pope together since the inception of Christianity). I recognize the police analogy, it makes sense. But in that case, you're saying you believe whatever your brother says, no? Maybe semantics.

            Your second point is better in terms of discussion, though, I think.

            To the second example first, about infants, the Church believes they are removed from original sin, through a baptism of desire. As a perfectly innocent creature in every sense, given the choice, they would want to be baptized. Now you can argue that they would only want to be baptized if Catholicism is true (which is a given in Catholicism) and God is loving, and since a baby is just born to know love (of a mother, father, etc) that they respond to God's love in kind.

            But your first example, and with any mystery of faith, we can assent to the mystery without fully understanding the proposition as a whole, because we can understand the individual tenants. In the case of, say, the Trinity, how can you understand Three Persons, One God, unified yet somehow distinct, etc (if I'm mistaken and this isn't analogous to the mystery you raised, please let me know). Newman says we can understand the Trinity because we can understand the tenets that make up the Trinity, of which he lists nine.

            1. There are Three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word or Son, and the Holy Spirit.

            2. From the Father is, and ever has been, the Son.

            3. From the Father and Son is, and ever has been, the Spirit.

            4. The Father is the One Eternal Personal God.

            5. The Son is the One Eternal Personal God.

            6. The Spirit is the One Eternal Personal God.

            7. The Father is not the Son.

            8. The Son is not the Holy Ghost.

            9. The Holy Ghost is not the Father.

            All of these can be fully understood on their own, so assent can be given to the mystery, without fully understanding it's intricacy.

            Does this make sense? Newman's whole book is a study of assenting to religion, even without fully understanding. He's one of the most brilliant writers I've ever read, and his whole corpus is online for free. http://www.newmanreader.org/Works/grammar/

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I'm a whole cloth believer, too, Moe.

  • Octavo

    1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”;
    2. Read the Scripture within “the living tradition of the whole Church”; and,
    3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.

    How does these guidelines apply to questions regarding the existence of a literal Adam and Eve, or a whether God killed most of humanity with a literal global flood, or whether Moses actually wrote the Pentateuch?

    ~Jesse Webster

    • ladycygnus

      That is the whole point of this post. For Catholics these are essentially non-issues because we don't read the Bible like a fundamentalist. That is the whole point of the post.

      • Ben Posin

        Humor Jesse, and me. Apply these guidelines, and interpret for us, in whatever non-fundamentalist way you feel appropriate.

        • ladycygnus

          Oh kay. Context of the whole scripture can roughly be summed up as "the story of the salvation of man" - that is the important part we want to gain. The question is "why was this written and included as inspired - what does it matter for salvation?"

          Adam & Eve - point of the story is that at some point in our past man rejected God's plan and choose a lie over the truth, which darkened his mind and heart. Whether or not it was an exact person named Adam 6,000 (or whatever) years ago is rather irrelevant to the question of "what are we meant to be, what are we now and who's fault is that?"

          The church doesn't stipulate much on that point beyond that someone started the ball of sin rolling. I tend to hold the opinion that there was a group of proto-humans into which two were given a spark of divine life, the ability to choose to do good, and they failed to do so. If you've ever started a bad habit you know how hard it is to stop and thus man's ability to choose good was crippled. This crippled nature was passed to his children.

          Flood - I put it in the "most likely mythical" box (and note - I use myth in the sense of a story that tells a deeper truth). It's entirely possible it was loosely based on some kind of historical event (like a flood of the region or something). There are a whole lot of interpretations of this out there - proto-baptism - inability of man to rise from sin on his own - etc.

          And whether Moses wrote the Pentateuch...why should we think otherwise? Pretty standard belief for all of Christian tradition and most certainly seems to be from his POV. I fail to understand the oddity in this - unless it's a complaint that parts of Genesis came from other sources - which given he's talking about events that happened before his time would make sense.

          • Octavo

            "And whether Moses wrote the Pentateuch......why should we think otherwise?"

            Because many scholars who study the texts of the Torah have come to the conclusion that it was written by four different authors (sometimes known as Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and the Priestly source.)

            It seems to me that while Catholics are not as mired in literal readings of the Bible as are the Protestants, the methods of interpretation listed here are not very scholarly or engaged with academic research.

            I doubt that this is the case throughout the church, though. Perhaps, Brandon can get an Catholic bible scholar to post here?

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Ben Posin

            As Octavo says, it looks like even the Torah may have had multiple authors, and for that matter, archaeological evidence doesn't support the Exodus story, so "Moses" as described doesn't appear to have existed.

            Thank you very much for taking the time to do that interpretation. My take on it is it looks very roughly principle based to the extent that you are trying to fit everything into the fall/redemption story of Christianity, but under that rubric you seem free to interpret it as it best makes sense to you. I'm not sure that's what this article says you're supposed to be doing, but hey, I'm not Catholic.

          • ladycygnus

            "My take on it is it looks very roughly principle based to the extent
            that you are trying to fit everything into the fall/redemption story of
            Christianity, but under that rubric you seem free to interpret it as it
            best makes sense to you."

            That's pretty much how I've always understood it. There are very few passages that the church has definitively said this is what this means (or does not mean). I'm not a biblical scholar - but I see no reason not to believe the Torah was at least compiled by one man. But even if multiple people wrote it - why the issue? Finding the exact author doesn't matter.

            And for "archaeological evidence doesn't support the Exodus" the only thing I've seen is that they have no evidence for or against it. What we have found so far is silent on this topic. And we all know that a missing link disproves the theory right ;-)

          • David Nickol

            But even if multiple people wrote it - why the issue? Finding the exact author doesn't matter.

            Virtually everyone worthy of the name "biblical scholar" agrees that there were multiple authors for the first five books of the Bible.

            The idea of multiple authors, editors, compilers, redactors, and so on does complicate the idea of divine inspiration without killing it off altogether. Suppose (as is generally believed) the first five books of the Bible were "stitched together" from four sources (usually called J, E, P, and D). Were they all divinely inspired? If so why do we not have all of what they wrote, instead of just pieces stitched? Or were J, E, P, and D not divinely inspired, but rather the editor who selected and assembled parts of what J, E, P, and D wrote? Were they all divinely inspired? Of course, an omnipotent and omniscient God can do anything he wants to, but the old theory (depicted in Christian art) of a biblical author holding a quill pen over a scroll with God or an angel hovering above and telling him what to write doesn't work when there are multiple authors and editors.

          • ladycygnus

            The entire bible was stitched together - bible is short for something in Latin like bibliotheque (I took french) which means library. Why should anyone be surprised if the first four books are likewise compiled?

            Faith is not based on the Bible - Faith is based on the resurrection of Christ.

          • David Nickol

            Faith is not based on the Bible - Faith is based on the resurrection of Christ.

            So anyone who lived before the resurrection couldn't have faith? And Jews and Muslims don't have faith?

            How do we know about the Resurrection? Is there any mention of it outside the Bible?

          • ladycygnus

            "So anyone who lived before the resurrection couldn't have faith? And Jews and Muslims don't have faith?" I'm sorry - *Christian Faith* is based on the resurrection.

            "How do we know about the Resurrection? Is there any mention of it outside the Bible?" There is plenty of evidence that Jesus existed, lived and was crucified - as well as evidence his disciples thought he was alive and were willing to die for this. The only reasonable explanation is that he really did rise from the dead......or aliens - aliens might have been able to pull it off.

          • Andre Boillot

            And for "archaeological evidence doesn't support the Exodus" the only thing I've seen is that they have no evidence for or against it. What we have found so far is silent on this topic. And we all know that a missing link disproves the theory right ;-)

            All things being equal, I'm very sympathetic to the 'absence of evidence != evidence of absence'. However, in this case, it really does seem like it's the silence that kills you. When the biblical account would have you believe that well over half the population of Egypt picked up and left, you'd expect to be able to find some evidence for that...or some sort of archaeological evidence for the supposed 2 million people that wandered about the desert - for a quite a long time, we're told.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exodus

            PS. Your quip about 'missing links' would have more weight if we had similar amounts of evidence for the time frames we're discussing.

          • David Nickol

            Absence of evidence can be evidence of absence. If you tell me there was a terrible snowstorm last night, and I go outside to find the temperature mild, with no snow on the ground and all the pavement dry, I am going to conclude (justifiably) there was no snowstorm.

            If something like the exodus and the conquest of the land of Canaan should have left evidence, and that evidence cannot be found, then there is no reason to claim that the silence of the archaeological record is meaningless.

          • ladycygnus

            Bad example - on Sunday night we had a bad ice storm - on Monday there was nothing left and I had to go to work. I was really hoping for a delay at least...the pain is still fresh :'-(

            Agreed, there should be evidence if the story happened literally as written. But given the bible's heavy use of numerology - my initial suspicion is that the actual events were much smaller and "insignificant" in the eyes of the world and thus easily overlooked.

            I suppose one way to look at it is that there is a whole lot more "false" in the bible than the Bible literalists like Fundamentalists would be comfortable with --- and there is also a whole lot more truth than the Bible literalists like the atheists would be comfortable with.

          • Andrew G.

            Why would we believe that Moses didn't write the Pentateuch? Because we don't have any reason to believe he existed; we have strong reasons to believe there was never any large-scale exodus of Israelites from Egypt; because all the archaeological evidence points to an account of Israelite origins that has absolutely nothing in common with the biblical version of events; because the Pentateuch is vastly anachronistic, with peoples and places from the 1st millennium BC ascribed to much older periods (such as the Philistines, who showed up c. 1200 BC in reality, being included in Patriarchal narratives); because we have very strong reasons to believe that the Pentateuch was written not earlier than the 1st millennium BC and that it is a compilation from four distinct traditions; and so on and so on.

          • MichaelNewsham

            Question: is there any part of the Old Testament that Catholics accept as true?

            Note special meaning of "true" here; it does not mean "teaches a wonderful moral lesson" or "deeply illuminates the heart" ; it means "actually happened".

            Is there any part of the New testament that Catholics don't accept as true? (same meaning as above i.e.if you had been standing at a gravesite near Jerusalem you would have seen dead people hanging around from Friday afternoon to Sunday)..

          • Alypius

            It would be mighty handy, wouldn't it, if the Catholic church would just publish a version of the bible with all the sentences highlighted in different colors which signified "literally true", "figuratively true" etc. :-)

            Well, that won't happen, precisely because that's not how the Catholic Church reads scripture. I don't doubt that, to an outsider, it probably seems "squishy" becaue one can almost never pin down what exactly the "official" interpretation of a passage is (obviously there are some exceptions; the resurrection accounts are intended to be recounted as historical fact) - and very often multiple interpretations allowable within the boundaries of Catholic theology.

            The history of Catholic engagement with modern biblical scholarship is kinda long and convoluted, but initially the Church was a bit critical of it (i.e. Pope Leo XIII was a bit harsh in 1893 in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus) but later much more open to it, within boundaries (in 1943 Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu actually encouraged it). But even during the "critical" period the Church was still engaging with it. In 1906 the Pontifical Biblical Commission, in fact, addressed the question of the authorship of the Pentateuch and while affirming Mosaic authorship, more or less defined "authorship" broadly enough to allow for the source material to have initially come from multiple sources.

            FWIW, the Documentary Theory referenced elsewhere in this thread (Pentateuch being compiled from sources J,E,P & D), while still being prominent in biblical scholarship, is no longer as dominant as it once was. There are other theories that are getting some airtime (none of which, by the way, require that Moses penned each word with his own hand).

            This is a few years old now, but for an example of a Catholic way of approaching this question, here's an article from Catholic theologian Rev. William Most. Obviously it's not "official" in the sense of being promulgated by the Pope. But it gives an idea how these sorts of questions are explored from a Catholic perspective.
            http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/most/getchap.cfm?WorkNum=216&ChapNum=4

          • Danny Getchell

            all the sentences highlighted in different colors which signified "literally true", "figuratively true" etc

            This. +1000.

      • Steven Carr

        I see.

        So when 2 Kings 17:25 says your god sent lions to kill non-believers, you don't take the word 'lions' to refer to big cats of the species Panthera leo?

        Instead, you read a story of your god sending lions to kill non-believers and say 'Praise the Lord!'?

        • MichaelNewsham

          From what I understand then, the Catholic position is
          1) Adam and Eve actually existed, and all human beings are descended from them.
          2) Mary was impregnated by God
          3)Jesus was crucified and resurrected and ascended into Heaven

          Everything else is optional.

          • Octavo

            In point one, I think that "Adam and Eve" can mean several things to different catholics.

  • Steven Carr

    So which Bible is the True Bible? The Protestant Bible or the Catholic Bible or the Greek Orthodox Bible?

    • David Nickol

      The distinction between Catholic and Protestant Bibles is pretty much a thing of the past. The difference between the two is that Catholics accept a handful of rather obscure books as canonical and Protestants do not. The books comprise the "Apocrypha" (or, to Catholics, the deutero-canonical books). Some "Protestant" Bibles include those books in an appendix (considering them holy but not inspired) and some don't include them at all.

      Catholics today can use any Bible that contains the deutero-canonical books. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, which used to be the Protestant Bible in the United States, is available "with the Apocrypha" (as it usually says on the spine or title page). When I was growing up (1950s), to a Catholic, reading a "Protestant" Bible was unthinkable. Now the RSV is the favorite translation of many Catholics, including very conservative ones.

      While I suppose the "official" word is that Catholics should buy only Bibles with the Apocrypha, I am sure most reasonable Catholics would think it far better to buy and read a Bible without the Apocrypha than not to buy and read a Bible at all. It is not that Bibles without the Apocrypha are forbidden. They are just missing some books from the Old Testament, and the average Catholic probably can't even name the books of the Old Testament or tell you which are deutero-canonical.

      • Steven Carr

        'The distinction between Catholic and Protestant Bibles is pretty much a thing of the past. The difference between the two is that Catholics accept a handful of rather obscure books as canonical and Protestants do not.'

        In other words, the distinction between Catholic and Protestant Bibles exists today.

        Which is the True Bible?

        • David Nickol

          So much for a nuanced answer.

          The Catholic Bible is the true Bible, and anyone who says otherwise will be consigned to eternal flames! Any Catholic who owns a Bible without the deutero-canonical books must burn it and then go to confession.

          • Steven Carr

            You just have to tell me which Bible I should be reading to avoid reading the wrong one.

            Is that so hard to ask?

          • David Nickol

            You just have to tell me which Bible I should be reading to avoid reading the wrong one.

            In choosing between "Protestant" and "Catholic" Bibles—that is, translations—there is no "wrong one." If you want to read a Bible, get the Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. If you are a Catholic, and want to read the whole Bible, then read the whole thing. If you are a Protestant and want to read the whole Bible, read the whole thing, but when reading the Apocrypha, think of them as ancient holy books but ones that were not divinely inspired.

          • Steven Carr

            So if I get a Bible without 1 Maccabees (spelling?) I have the wrong Bible.....

            Why not just read the first couple of books, use your brains, and decide that it is barbaric nonsense, full of god killing people.

            That is just as valid a method as reading it, deciding it is barbaric nonsense, and then asking Catholics to tell you what you should think about it.

          • David Nickol

            So you really didn't want an answer to your question; you were just setting things up to make an attack. I am quite skeptical about things like biblical inspiration myself, and I think it is difficult for religious people to explain why God is depicted as doing some monstrous things in the Old Testament. However, I am making a mental note to ignore your comments from now on, since they are clearly not written in good faith. You didn't care how I answered your question. You were just looking to create an opportunity to write the above message, and you needed someone to take the bait.

          • Danny Getchell

            Steven, the answer you would get here if you asked that same question politely would be something like, "Well, ummmmm .... those books were written by primitive people who did not have the benefit of church teaching to enable them to understand God's true nature. Let's just skim them quickly, and go right to the more positive parts of the Bible."

      • Abe Rosenzweig

        This is sort of a strange description of the differences in canons. I am not sure why you call them "obscure." There are books treated as canonical in both bibles that are more obscure than some of the apocryphal ones, many of which have a great deal of cultural resonance.

        • David Nickol

          I am not sure why you call them "obscure."

          Obscure is a relative term. If you took a poll of a significant number of Catholics selected at random, and you asked them to name all of the books of the Bible they could think of, how many would name a deutero-canonical book? If you asked the average Catholic or Protestant on the street to name the apocryphal books of the Bible, how many do you think could name even one?

          My answer was directed at someone who asked which was the true Bible, the Catholic or the Protestant, which was no doubt intended as a "gotcha" question. I wasn't writing for biblical scholars. I think the focus for most Catholics (and most Christians) is on the New Testament or even on just the Gospels.

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            Oh, sure--it's just that by that standard, "obscure" would apply to almost all of the books apart from Genesis, the gospels, and maybe a few others. It's not a feature particular to the apocrypal texts.

          • David Nickol

            Yes.

            I probably should not have said obscure, but it was a "quick and dirty" way to make my point. But most people, if they read anything at all from the Bible, probably don't read the deutero-canonical books. If someone were to compile a list of the most quoted books of the Bible, the deutero-canonical books would not be on the top of the list, even among Catholics. A Catholic will not be led astray by reading a good translation of the Bible that omits the deutero-canonical books, and a Protestant will not be led astray by reading a translation that includes them.

          • ladycygnus

            Actually Tobit is quite popular at weddings. Probably still not the "most quoted" - psalms, gospels and Paul's letters would rank higher - but as far down as one of the prophets like Nahum (yes I had to look that up).

  • m8lsem

    Too many wish to read the Bible as if written by a number of modern newspaper reporters about each then alluded to event. This is sort of a casual history book view. Our author correctly notes that the Bible is one giant context for itself, all to be read/understood in the context of the all. And each part is to be interpreted in the context of the then audience. Material from the ages before our present age, cannot be read in modern context of the modern literary world. Thus it is not science fiction, and it is not history, as those labels are understood today.

    It is 'sacred history', the story of faith, the setting out of things more to be learned from, than learned, becoming more history like in Maccabees' and Act's descriptions of events, than in Genesis'. One can even discern when Scripture was first written down, and why, in the story of the 'finding' of Torah in the Temple when the Jews liberated from Babylon exile, and other Jewish refugees returning from Egypt to no-longer Babylonian-occupied Palestine, and the exile and refugee groups comparing their oral traditions.

    'Truth' can take many forms, whether from folk tales all over the world teaching there cultural norms, or from Scripture telling the story of faith in form applicable to the Judeo-Christian culture.

    • Ben Posin

      "Our author correctly notes that the Bible is one giant context for itself, all to be read/understood in the context of the all. And each part is to be interpreted in the context of the then audience."

      These two sentences seem to be contradictory, unless you think the different parts of the Bible were written for one audience at one time.