Good Stuff from “blah blah blah blog”

December 28, 2009

Don’t let the name of the blog fool ya. Rob’s story adds to my already firmly held belief that should more people read Hilaire Belloc and so become aware of religious history, then we’d have more Catholics. Particularly the kind of orthodox apologetic kung fu ninjas we need.

Part of Rob’s conversion, influenced by Belloc’s The Great Heresies, in which he writes regarding heresies:

“The Catholics were right and they were wrong. Horribly wrong. Insidiously wrong. And yet, what an amazing stroke of fortune that the one time the Catholic Church was wrong in condemning a heresy was the one time when I was the heretic.”

Ah, we’ve all been there, Rob. Even non-converts will encounter a time when they disagree with the Church’s teaching. When we choose to follow the Church’s teaching instead of our own ignorant views, that’s trust, not blind, unthinking faith like some people accuse us of. Trust based on the knowledge that it is more likely an institution we perceive to be the hand of God on Earth has got it right rather than we, a solitary and sometimes stupid, emotional, and definitely biased person we know ourselves to be, have got it right.

In another post, he writes along the lines of lamenting the Modern Mind:

“As I said previously, everyone just keeps bringing up the Science Trump Card without, you know, actually talking about science.  But, trust them, they heard it from a friend’s neighbor’s mother’s postman’s scientist niece that Science says so.  So it must be true.”

With respect to the Pope’s stance on AIDS and abstinence, he writes Pope Does it Again:

“They’ve been told the science is on their side, but haven’t bothered to double-check.  And so you get mealy-mouthed nonsense from the French about how the Pope is unscientific and intolerant (their greatest curse).  Intolerant?  What’s that got to do with anything?  “You’re unscientific.”  “No, you’re unscientific.”  “Nuh-uh.”  “Yah-huh.”  “Well your momma’s ugly.””

Sound familiar? 🙂

Hilaire Belloc and “The Modern Mind”

December 27, 2009

It’s a funny thing that Hilaire Belloc is now one of my favorite Catholic authors. When I ordered the books for Chris, it was purely to humor him for Christmas, several years ago. I didn’t really want to order the dirty Catholic books. And now, my recourse in times of intellectual exhaustion is to the clear hand of Belloc.

We’ve all dealt with people who insist that something is true because “everyone” knows it. For instance, Catholics worship Mary, right? And religion is responsible for violence and evil in the world, like Richard Dawkins says. And the existence of pedophile priests shows that celibacy is a bad thing. I groan internally every time I hear these all too common assertions. What’s worse is that most people, when confronted about the falsity of these things, continue to adamantly defend their baseless position. The truth seems to mean very little to them, and evidence is too easily brushed aside. More important to them is the testimony of others who “must know” what they’re talking about, or worse, what seems likely in their estimation of history and reality. All too often, people are content with the version of the truth that is handed to them on a platter or conjured up in their own imagination, with no critical thinking, investigation, questioning, research, or evidence. It’s sad to see this disinterested regard for the truth, and frustrating to engage it. Belloc writes about this invincible density of mind in his essay “The Modern Mind” (highly recommended reading). Some of my favorite lines:

“It is the spirit which lives on bad science and worse history at third hand. It is the spirit, not of the populace or of the scholars, but of the half-educated…

Its three ingredients are pride, ignorance, and intellectual sloth; their unifying principle is a blind acceptance of authority not based on reason.

Pride causes those who suffer from this disease to regard whatever they think they have learned, whatever they have absorbed, through no matter how absurd a channel, as absolute and sufficient.

Ignorance forbids them to know with any thoroughness what men have discovered about these things in the past, and how certainly.

Intellectual sloth forbids them to examine an argument, or even to appreciate the implications of their own assertions…

I have said that its unifying principle was the acceptation of false authority: blind faith divorced from reason. The “Modern Mind” takes for granted without examination a number of first principles — as, for instance, that there is a regular progress from worse to better in the centuries of human experience, or that parliamentary oligarchies are democratic, or that democracy is obviously the best form of human government, or that the object of human effort is money and that the word “success” means the accumulation of wealth…

Why is this mood so dangerous to the Catholic Church? That patently it is so, we see. It inhibits men from so much as understanding what the Faith may be, and bars the action of a true authority by the unquestioned acceptation of false; we can see it doing that every day before our eyes…

It is a peril because true faith is based upon reason, and whatever denies or avoids reason imperils Catholicism…

The “Modern Mind” is confirmed in its folly by the fixed idea that someone or other somewhere “proved” its errors to be truths and that the proof was final and obvious…

What are you to do with a man who always argues in a circle? Who tells you that some political arrangement is good because it is “democratic,” and when you ask (a) whether it is as a fact democratic, (b) why democracy is an evident good, answers you by saying that you are sinning against democracy and its holy name.

What are you to do with a man who does not recognise his own first principles? Who tells you that he believes a thing on the authority of a name or a bit of print, and who, when you ask him the grounds of his confidence in such, answers you by giving another name and another bit of print?”

When you decide to search for the truth, you may find that religion is not responsible for all the evils of the world, nor are science and religion at odds. And just because you can pull out a Bible verse to “prove” something doesn’t mean that’s what the Bible teaches. Also, the existence of sinful people in the Catholic Church who do not follow their own religion do not disprove Catholicism:

And priestly celibacy does not cause pedophilia. The profiling of pedophiles discounts any situational causes other than having experienced abuse as a child for the psychosexual disorder. Nor is the Catholic Church more rampant with pedophiles than any other denomination. In fact, it would appear as if the Catholic Church has a smaller percentage of pedophiles:

  • The Wisconsin Psychological Association’s survey found offenders distributed among the following professions: Psychiatrists 34%, Psychologists 19%, Social Workers 13%, Clergy 11%, Physicians 6%, Marriage Counselors 4%, and Others 14%.
  • US Catholic clerics (priests, deacons, bishops, etc.) accused of abuse from 1950-2002: 4,392.
    About 4% of the 109,694 serving during those 52 years.
  • The Center for Domestic Violence found that 12.6% of clergy said they had sex with church members. 47% of clergy women were harassed by clergy colleagues.
  • The Presbyterian Church stated that 10-23% of clergy have “inappropriate sexual behavior or contact” with clergy and employees.
  • The United Methodist research (1990) showed 38.6% of Ministers had sexual contact with church members and that 77% of church workers experienced some type of sexual harassment.
  • The United Church of Christ found that 48% of the women in the work place have been sexually harassed by male clergy.
  • The Southern Baptists claim 14.1% of their clergy have sexually abused members.

The above statistics are a good example of a need to think critically about information given. The statistics are similar, but taken from different sources and different surveys and ultimately testing slightly different things. They can’t be used to make a definitive comparison between denominations about sexual abuse. Instead, they only suggest that Catholic priests are not the only and possibly not the worst predators out there. It also points out that sexual predators find positions of trust from which they can find their victims. More shocking in the first statistic is the number of mental health professionals who abuse their patients.

I would have more people ask the questions “Is that true?” or “How do they know that?” when they hear proposed statements, read primary sources instead of third hand accounts and opinion pieces, and not reiterate common soundbite knowledge without finding out if it’s true or not. Until then, my friends, do your best to wrestle with this fog. All we can do is challenge the common knowledge that “everyone knows” and hope people listen.

Isn’t NFP Just Another Birth Control?

December 15, 2009

My most recent RCIA class was on the subject of marriage. When we got to the bit about the Church’s teachings banning contraception, there were questions. One woman in particular asked, “Isn’t using Natural Family Planning to avoid a pregnancy the same as using birth control to avoid a pregnancy? Isn’t it just another birth control?” I so badly wanted to answer her, especially because I could see that she was where I was three years ago, but my raised hand was lost in a sea of hands and too little time. I went to find her after the class, but she had left in the middle. What I would have said to her, I can write here for everyone who asks google the difference between postponing births by birth control and postponing by Natural Family Planning.

Proponents of NFP say the ends don’t justify the means, such that postponing births or spacing children doesn’t justify birth control. They usually don’t say exactly why the birth control means is bad except to say that it isn’t open to life. But if you’re trying not to have kids with NFP, you’re not very open to life either, except to the miraculous 0.1% life that may still be conceived. So why is birth control bad? Some say if you use birth control, you’re withholding your fertility from your spouse. But… aren’t you withholding your fertility from your spouse if you don’t have sex with them when you’re fertile?

The difference between NFP and birth control is that with birth control you have sex, but change the act itself such that you deny the natural consequences of sex. When my husband presented this argument to me, telling me that contraception destroyed the natural order of the sex act, I didn’t see what was wrong with changing the natural order of things. After all, we change the natural course of diseases with medicine as best we can, and that is good. Why can’t we achieve the good of postponing births when needed through the same means? There is that difference between pregnancy and disease though. Pregnancy is a good thing for which we were designed. Disease is a malfunction, our bodies falling short of how they are supposed to work. Regardless, I saw pregnancy as sometimes undesirable, and didn’t see why we can’t interfere during that undesirable time the same as when we interfere with our undesirable medical problems.

The “natural order” of sex refers to the natural observation that sex is both unitive and procreative. It brings a man and woman together physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It also is for the creation of new life. This is what the Church teaches, and this is the natural order that they preserve with their teachings. We should not interfere with the natural consequences of sex, whether it be during a fertile or infertile time. Neither should we change and distort the sex act itself to be merely for pleasure, objectifying our partner.

Contraception changes the natural order of the sex act, and its primary goal is to eliminate the consequence of children. If we can change the nature of the act itself to avoid children, then why can we not also change the act itself for other reasons? With contraception it’s easy enough to have sex whenever you want, with your spouse, for pleasure alone. Why not have sex however you want for pleasure? With this goal in mind, there’s no reason to believe things like masturbation and pornography are wrong. When it’s used for pleasure alone, why not have sex with whoever we want, premaritally even, since it becomes merely a recreational activity with no other consequences, procreative or unitive. When we define sex by what we want it to be, not by what it is naturally, there is no objective way to determine where to draw the line. Moreover, all of these steps are extensions of the same line of thought. They all separate sex from its consequences and change the God-given order. They are all attempts for us to define what sex is instead of accepting what God has ordained.

Arguments would not have changed my mind. What has changed my mind is my experiences showing me that changing the natural order of sex leads to evil. I’ve seen the mindset that people fall into when they think it’s their right to distort sex. I’ve seen the extent people will go to in order to avoid the consequences of sex. Because of this, I’ve come to realize the wisdom of the Catholic Church’s teaching.

A breakthrough in my understanding the value of NFP came when I was battling the recently proposed pro-abortion Freedom of Choice Act. In researching things, I read up on Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood. Although much of Margaret Sanger’s work was done at a time when there was poor health care and women often died from childbirth, her work was done in the name of sexual freedom. She believed women were suppressed by men through child-bearing and that only through controlling their reproductivity absolutely could women be free and in turn lower the population and better society. In particular, she believed society would be bettered by lowering the poor and non-Caucasian population. In this, she believed that women should have “no gods and no masters” and be “the absolute mistress of her own body”. Although she thought sexuality was a weakness, she wanted to control the “negative side effects” and worked hard for sex without consequences.

Sanger believed that her most sacred goals of sex without consequences and total individual autonomy would bring happiness to us all. This is the “contraceptive mindset” and it’s alive and well in varying degrees throughout the world. You can see it in the ordinary couple who uses birth control to postpone births, because they want sex without the consequence of children. You can see it at strip clubs when men go objectify women, separating sexuality even from a partner, because they want sex without unity. You can see it in abortion clinics when pregnant and single women go to eliminate the natural consequence of sex, because they want sex without children. You can even see this attempt to change the natural order and have things the way we want it when couples use in vitro fertilization to have children. Many end up with multiples and sadly they are three times more likely to divorce. Our attempts to be our own master, have things the way we want it, and pick and choose what consequences we accept inevitably end in pain because we are trying to have our own will instead of God’s will. Only God’s perfect will entirely contains His own perfect goodness and can bring us whole happiness.

So the Catholic Church has drawn a line. Do not separate the sex act from its natural and good God-given consequences. During infertile times, there is usually no natural consequence of having a child. During fertile times, if you are unable to handle the natural consequence of a child, don’t have sex. They haven’t created these rules to make things hard on people or make them feel guilty. They haven’t created these rules to overrun the Earth with an enormous population of cradle Catholics. They have guided Catholics in these matters because there is a right and wrong way to handle our sexuality, like every other created thing. There is no Catholic corporate conspiracy motivating their stubbornness regarding contraception. It is only that they stubbornly lead Christians in God’s truth. It is a Christian ideal to surrender your self to God’s will, not to grasp at being your own master. It is Christian to accept the good consequences that God has ordained for our actions, not to try to take what we want and leave what we don’t, inevitably perverting His goodness. I’m able to accept these teachings now because I’ve seen that contraception grasps autonomy and leads down a road of avoiding consequences. I’ve seen that the contraceptive attitude is anti-Christian in nature, because the Christian attitude submits our own desires and will to God’s perfect will.

This post doesn’t address other factors that come into play with NFP, it was really only written to answer the question, “What is the difference between NFP and birth control?” The answer is that NFP does not change the nature of the sex act itself. You abstain from sex instead of separating sex from its consequences. It is the sex act itself that left intact when postponing children with NFP. That is better and more holy than dissecting sex, taking what you want, and leaving everything, including your soul, in pieces.

Now I feel I understand the reasons for using NFP, but it doesn’t always make it easier to follow through on it. Not that it’s difficult or ineffective. By actually doing it, the concerns I had about that beforehand are laughable now. I know a time will come when after we’ve had our five or six children on the menu, we’ll be “done”. We won’t want to have any more. Considering the fact that Chris and I began our marriage eight months pregnant, I know that I will not be open to life indefinitely. I know that there will come a time when I want just me and him, and that will probably be before I go through menopause. After years of practice, continuing to use NFP will not be difficult, but I know my attitude will not be right. I know that I will be using NFP with a contraceptive mentality, wanting to take control of my life and have sex without children. My intent will be selfish although the method will still be good. I pray God will give me the grace to be ready for this challenge by the time it comes, and I will do my best to accept His will in all things and to trust Him.

Out of the Closet… Mostly

December 13, 2009

Today I told my parents I was joining the Catholic Church. In the smoothest way possible, of course. I was very casual, choosing my words to match their image of church-going. We all attended mass together so we could watch my daughter’s Christmas program. During mass some leading questions were posed by my dad, which made it an opportune time for exposing my Catholic intentions. Afterwards, I said I was becoming a member of our church at Easter and they were welcome to come. My dad responded only that they’d love to come, and they’re happy to be there for all our big occasions. The conversation smoothly glided over this, and I almost wish there had been a bigger response so I’d know where they stand. But, I suppose, I do know.

My parents, like I did when I was a Protestant, view the Catholic Church as another denomination. They think there are Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, charismatic non-denominationals, Presbyterians, Calvinists, Catholics, Episcopalians, etc. Granted, they disagree with a lot about the Catholic Church, but then, they disagree with a lot about the current church they attend. Quoting my mom, they believe there “is no perfect church or perfect people”. In a way, I agree. There’s no perfect human side of any church. But I depart from their view in that I believe there is one perfect divine, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. There is no way for them to understand that I believe this based on me telling them that I’m becoming a member of the Catholic Church. In their experience, people join churches and leave them. Membership is fluid, negotiable, and non-committal. You retain your ability to pick and choose your beliefs and disagree on particulars with what they teach.

Although I haven’t told them the extent of my Catholic-ness, I know they’re starting to see it more and more. Today, they attended a regular mass with us for the first time, in order to see Isabel’s Christmas program. They have been to mass with us before when Chris joined at Easter vigil three years ago, but that was a largely different experience with candle lightings to distract them from things like the consecration. Today, they saw me ask Blessed Mary ever-virgin to pray for me. They saw me profess belief in one Church and one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. They saw me genuflect on entering and kneel in the liturgy. When my dad asked why some people took only bread and not wine, my explanation told him that I believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. He responded by jokingly saying he was conflicted about these weird things – the whole Body and Blood thing, he can’t take communion, I’m not taking communion and I’m not a member of the Church. He said he didn’t know what to do about it, and I told him he doesn’t have to do anything about it. My mom and he were snickering that they had to pray hard for me. I told them thanks, I need it, I pray hard for them, too.

There’s comments like that, and like later at home when my dad said (again jokingly) that he felt ostracized because of all the pointing and staring at him that the Catholics did. I told him it was probably the neon sign blinking over his head, to which he added “saying ‘heathen'”. Chris piped in that maybe he wanted to go take a shower after spending time with all those dirty Catholics, but my dad said some of their sanctity wore off on him, he was probably okay.

Maybe this tells me a little their real problem with the Catholic Church. It professes to be the true Church, Christ’s Church. They know they’re on the outside, and as I get in on it, they know I see them this way. Maybe this idea I have that they’re not exactly pro-Catholic comes from the knowledge that I’m not exactly pro-Protestant. I’m afraid to let them know how I feel about what they believe and how they raised me, and less afraid to tell them what I do believe now.

I’ve been so afraid to tell them that I’m becoming Catholic. I’ve built it up in my mind with a lot of accompanying anxiety. I don’t think I was giving them enough credit. Obviously, they’ve said things to show they disagree with and are uncomfortable with some things Catholic. This is no different to them than any other church, though, and of course it’s going to get under their skin that Catholics believe they have the truth. Although they’ve made negative comments, they’ve also praised the bishops for their public stance on the health bill and Pope Benedict for his stalwartness. I think this has softened their view of the Catholic Church along with our various discussions over the years. Their improved view of the Church, the fact that I’m a big girl and they know they can’t control my decisions, and that I’ve become increasingly obviously Catholic, helped my big reveal become a rather small reveal. I was prepared for more, but I think this was what I was expecting. No big deal, just some sarcastic comments as issues come up. And I expect that I’ll have that for years to come.