Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Family Feud

I recently came across the following on a forum and liked it so much I got the author's permission to post it here! The author and his family have been having a back and forth debate on Protestantism and Catholicism and when he finally decided to speak his mind this was the result:

Dear [redacted]

Please don’t take anything I say personally. When I heard you two fell away from the Church I was sad and disappointed, but at the same time I was also glad you were taking the life’s journey so seriously. I respect a bold decision, even if I feel it’s the wrong one. The worst thing a person could do is treat the question of God\heaven\hell with indifference (God spits out the lukewarm). Furthermore, I don’t know the crosses you bare, so what right do I have to approach you with a condescending tone? St. Francis once said if anyone else was given the same graces he received they would be a greater man; I feel the same way about myself and so I am more worried about my own failures then looking for yours. I also remind myself that Paul murdered Christians and St. Augustine was committing sexual sins IN Churches late in their 20s and in the end they both became saints. So who really knows the path God has for you? I sure as heck don’t know! But I do want to express my thoughts on all that has been said so far. Take what good you can find in it.

I chose not to engage in this dialog on the Biblical lines because I don’t believe your objections are Biblical. It’s more a spiritual block (like a mental block). I have come to this conclusion not just with listening to you, but also from talking to other Christians throughout the years. One example, I have constantly heard how literally Protestants take the Bible (as opposed to Catholics), but then John 6 comes around and all of a sudden Jesus is speaking figuratively. It seems awfully convenient the passages that are most explicitly Catholic suddenly become some sort of figure of speech. If Jesus was ever absolutely clear anywhere in the Bible it was in John 6 (constantly repeating himself); and when people walked away (supposedly misunderstanding the message) He doesn’t stop them to clear up any misconceptions (He can read minds so he knows what they are thinking). It just doesn’t make sense to me to not take him literally about the Eucharist. A second example, I have also heard Protestants cite the passage “Peter you are rock and on this rock I build my Church” and say since the word “rock” is two different words (little rock vs. big rock) Jesus was not talking about the creation of a literal Church built upon Peter but rather a spiritual Church built upon some vague sort of faith he had in Christ. But in the original translation (Greek) no distinction is made (same word twice). Therefore the message could not have been clearer and the Protestant teaching falls apart. Naively, I brought it up with Protestants and figured that would be the end of that line of argument, but without fail they ignored my point. That specific teaching of Protestantism is built on a TRANSLATION of the Bible and not the original text and that doesn’t seem to matter. I have many more examples, but those two stood out. Overtime I just realized it was not the text of the Bible that is the stumbling block for many fallen away Catholics, but a mental or spiritual block on certain teachings of the Church and therefore there was a tendency to twist passages’ meanings and selectively ignoring others in order to come to a predetermined conclusion. Therefore, I don’t see how to overcome that obstacle without addressing some of the bigger issues first.

There is a misconception with the [the author and his siblings] that we are cradle Catholics. It might appear we took the faith of our parents blindly and just ran with it. That isn’t exactly the case. Some of you might not remember but my grandpa (on our Mom’s side) was a pastor to a Protestant church. To a kid, when two religions are possible (mom Protestant\dad Catholic) then ALL religions are possible. I vividly remember being younger and tossing aside the Catholic faith and “starting from scratch”, but I could never get too far from the Church. Something always pulled me back. I would always try to examine humanity through God’s perspective (who HE is and who we are in relation to Him) and it just made sense within the context of the Catholic Church. Too many things happened in my life not to believe in Christianity (Jesus), so I used this one fact as a starting point in my quest to understand my faith: Jesus is God and He came to earth as a human man to rescue us and then died for our sins. Using reason, I built up from that singular fact and these were some of my realizations:

1) Everything Jesus did was physical: He was conceived. He was born. He was baptized in water. He ate. He drank. He laid hands on the sick. He died a physical death. He physically rose from the dead and ate again. Jesus was joining himself to the physical world and transformed it; He didn’t distance Himself from it, so it only makes sense that He would create a physical Church on earth and not just a vague notion that the Holy Spirit would guide all Christians. The physical nature of the Sacraments reinforces this reality (water, bread, wine, rings, oil, etc.). The apex of this humble physical union with man is the Eucharist. It is not just the way He administers to man (baptism, marriage, anointing of the sick, etc.) but His very presence. Removing it doesn’t seem consistent with everything else He has done on earth and it would seem to me a story without a climax.

2) A loving, all powerful God would always need some presence in the world and he would insure it. A loving God would not disappear for hundreds or thousands of years, and so I discard religions that appeared out of nowhere (Mormonism, Scientology, etc.). I also hesitate when faced with the sudden change in fundamental Catholic doctrine, that resulted in many new Protestant churches almost 500 years ago; and in which changes in beliefs and teachings continue to result in new churches at the slightest whim. Many believe God was so rejected by man or sin was so powerful that the Church was beyond repair and a spit was necessary. We give ourselves too much power to think our sin could thwart God’s will, especially when He made it clear that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. Sure, many people will be lost because of sin (sin has consequences), but God’s ultimate victory cannot be stopped by our little sins. It’s important to remember that the line of Judah contained sinful acts. God didn’t need sin to accomplish His will, but he does use it to prove a point. You have to remember sin’s master plan was to kill Christ once He came to earth, but rather than thwart God’s plan it brought about our redemption. Sin played right into God’s plan for our salvation.

3) On the issue of the Bible I agree with [redacted]; it’s all about Authority. When I first attended Franciscan University I attended a “basics of philosophy” class. One of the things we learned was that the most important aspect of Divine Revelation was authority (regardless of the religion). That idea confused me so much that I got the question wrong on the finals. I just couldn’t get my head around the concept. Then one day it hit me. How do we really know the Bible is any more divine than the Koran? If an alien came to earth how would he distinguish one divine book over another or one Bible over another? It all comes down to authority. There would need to be a “chain of custody” from God to the Divine book. I figured the all-knowing God would understand our confusion so He would provide a concrete, visible institution to act as that bridge, to point to the correct book, and provide the necessary interpretation. I have heard many times that the Holy Spirit is that bridge; but millions of people “guided by the Holy Spirit” has led to dozens of versions of the Bible, hundreds of interpretations of each passage and at least a thousand different Christian Churches (many in stark contrast to each other). I should note my pastor grandfather, “guided by the Holy Spirit”, believed abortion was ok.

That experience also led me to realize that a Protestant needed to be a theologian, making their own determination on teachings, to even know what church they belonged to. If one changed his understanding on infant baptism, his beliefs would put him out of line with his current church but perhaps in line with a new one. To be Protestant, one first has to ‘shop around’ to find which type of Protestant church matches his current beliefs and is free to again ‘shop around’ should he decide his beliefs have changed (i.e. beliefs on gay marriage, contraception, abortion, cohabitation, premarital sex). In contrast, the Authority of the Catholic Church gives us a concrete belief system which, if rejected, would render us no longer Catholic. This same Authority calls Catholic’s to be faithful to the Church’s teachings without always understanding every aspect of them. This leaves the faithful much room for deepening their faith and understanding within their spiritual lives. Christ would not demand all people be theologians. His Church would accommodate all intellectual levels. St. John Vianney, for example, was very holy but not very smart. So he probably had to take more of the teachings on faith without understanding them fully; but St.Thomas Aquinas immersed himself intellectually into the teachings of the Church with a far greater understanding than most will ever have. The Catholic Church can accommodate both types of people; regardless of the level of understanding, the teachings will be the same.

4) I will be honest, given what all Christians have in common, I never understood the hang-up on the True Presence. First, to clarify the teaching of the True Presence for you; at the Consecration the REALITY of the bread and wine is replaced with Christ. It still has all the accidental properties of bread and wine but the REALITY is that the host IS Christ. I understand that is hard to embrace and it sounds crazy, but it is no more crazy than believing God became man. If God were a magician it would be like His first trick making the Statue of Liberty disappear and you totally believe it, but when we say he pulled a rabbit out of an empty hat you are suddenly a skeptic. The MUCH bigger leap of faith is that belief that Christ became man and not that Christ comes to us in the form of bread. The same logic you use to say we are bowing to a piece of bread also applies to Jesus to man; by worshiping the human Christ are we worshiping humanity? Obviously not. We are worshiping the Divinity behind it.

(I should note I do recognize the distinction between the Eucharist – Christ replacing the reality of the bread and wine, and the Incarnation – Christ joins himself to humanity fully so the reality of man has been enhanced and not replaced. So the analogy is not perfect, but the faith required to believe both is the same).

5) Lastly, I want to mention devotion to Mary and the Saints. I don’t remember it being addressed directly but I believe it’s related to the current discussion. Protestants are obsessed with the idea that Catholics give devotion to people other than Christ and, therefore, are idol worshiping and not giving our full attention to Christ. The truth is that God loves to share his glory with others. If God was obsessed with getting all the attention the Bible would be written differently. It would not mention the Marys and Veronicas and Simons, etc. Often times, in the Bible, when people listen to Christ and follow him God makes a point to mention them by name. Veronica, for example, with one small act of kindness was forever remembered by name in the Gospel. God didn’t need to mention her but He wanted too! They also serve another purpose. They show the different aspects of God. St. Theresa shows us how to love God through simplicity, Paul and John the Baptist show how to love God with grand gestures. Each saint shows us something about God (His power, or His mercy, the depth of His love, and sometimes even His sense of humor!). God is like an onion; layers and layers till infinity. Saints help us unpack those layers, and in turn God’s love for them allows them to share in His glory. If you gathered all the saints together in a room I believe we would be surprised by the diversity. No two saints are alike. The thing they all have in common is their humility and devotion to God. They would give all credit to God! If the community of saints were a tree, each saint would be a branch but all branches ultimately lead to the trunk which is Christ. Therefore, any devotion shown to the Saints, is ultimately another way of glorifying God. The analogy I once heard was to compare two kings sitting side by side. One in a blank white room, and one in a room full of diamonds, gold and art. In the second example, those treasures take your eye off the king but which king seems more magnificent? Rather than take away from the kings glory they add to it.

I hope some of my insight helps in your search for Truth. God Bless!

So there you have it, another Catholic defends some of the doctrines I have been having a hard time articulating adequately. I hope you found this enlightening.

3 comments:

  1. I’m sorry, this really doesn’t do anything for me. I get the part about Christ coming to earth making for a physical corporeal church—Calvinists have always been about a very physical, established church. And I would agree that Christ preserves his church on earth.

    But I can’t agree with the lengths to which he takes this. His second point largely boils down to: “The RCC is the oldest church and therefore the right one.” God might preserve his church, but he doesn’t make it incapable of error, even grevious error. This is also the problem I have with the third point... it seems to be saying that the only reason we believe the Bible is because the Pope and tradition tell us to. Unless he’s saying that a pope is necessary because then we’d all have to actually study the Bible and figure it out for ourselves (be theologians), but that seems even more outrageous.

    His explanation for the Eucharist explains nothing and is intended to explain nothing, simply saying that God can do anything. And while I can see his point with Mary and the Saints, at the same time I can’t help feeling that, even in a JEWELED throne room, you don’t venerate the gems, or speak to the gems, or ask the gems to intercede to the king for you. No, when faced with the King, you speak to the KING. The jewels add to his glory, but they’re not what you should be paying attention to.

    I’m sorry. I did appreciate the bit at the beginning, about who knows about the path God has set, and that one should never treat matters of faith lightly. So... this is me, not treating faith lightly.
    --Afalstein

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  2. This is a nice letter. But I take real issue with some of these points.

    Points 1 and 2 I'm mostly ok with. Naturally I disagree about the eucharist, and I also disagree with the notion that ideas can be dismissed based on when they were devised.

    Number 3 is entirely incorrect, and here's why:

    The only reason you should believe anything is because it is true.

    Regarding the first part of #3: the reason the Bible is correct and the Quran is not is because the statements written in the Quran are not accurate. Logic, morality, and history are ways we can deduce this. We can determine the Bible is correct in the same way (it also benefits from containing scarily accurate prophecy).

    The reason the Bible is divine is because without divine guidance no such book, by so many authors, over so long a time, could be written so accurately and artfully.

    As for the second part of #3: how many churches or people agree or disagree on a given thing has NO relevance to whether or not that thing is true. This is a matter of correlation, not causation. Other humans' beliefs is not a metric of truth. He is literally arguing that the Protestant way is to remain faithful to their own beliefs and that Catholics should not.

    This attitude that because theology is too hard we can forget about understanding religion is lazy and anti-intellectual. We exist to be devoted to God; why should we not pursue understanding as best as we can? He says "This leaves the faithful much room for deepening their faith and understanding within their spiritual lives". Deepening your faith and understanding your spiritual life IS learning theology.

    That is not to say that an unintelligent person cannot be saved. We are judged according to what we are given, like the parable of the servants and the talents. The unintelligent person should try their best, just like the rest of us. None of us can understand everything. For those things that are you suspect are true but are too baffling to understand, it is okay to accept it... provided that you continue to re-evaluate and do not blind yourself to facts that might contradict it. Whatever the most efficient process for discovering truth is, we should follow it.

    Hoo! That's a heckuva lot of diatribe. I disagree with some parts of 4 and 5 but that's not as important. My objection to number 3 is so lengthy that I would rather not distract from it.

    Thanks for reading, and thanks for posting.

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  3. Interesting essay!

    Many believe God was so rejected by man or sin was so powerful that the Church was beyond repair and a spit was necessary. We give ourselves too much power to think our sin could thwart God’s will, especially when He made it clear that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.

    That's more than a little unfair to the Protestant narrative. In particular, it seems to put a lot of the blame for the split on Protestants - i.e., "a split was necessary" - and rather ignores the RCC's role in excommunicating or, y'know, outright executing those who argued for a different path. Quite a few Protestant denominations have as their root that the Catholics felt that they couldn't coexist theologically in one church!

    As well, few on the Protestant side would argue that hell has prevailed against the church - but many would agree that there's lots of historical precedent for segments of the church (indeed, even majorities of it) to fall into false belief. As long as we don't assume that preservation of the church requires the theological perfection of all branches of that church, there's not a contradiction here.

    It all comes down to authority. There would need to be a “chain of custody” from God to the Divine book. I figured the all-knowing God would understand our confusion so He would provide a concrete, visible institution to act as that bridge, to point to the correct book, and provide the necessary interpretation.

    I think it's interesting that, again, the appeal here is to what "I figured" and not to Scripture. It's nice that the author figured there'd need to be a mediating organization - but as he's not authoritative, what does that really matter?

    As well, this line of argument seems just to punt on the question of authority: "Ah, how are we to know that the Bible is authoritative? The RCC says so!" Well, all right, but how are we to know that the RCC is authoritative? The question of personal judgment, informed by the Spirit, is pushed back a notch but not eliminated.

    In contrast, the Authority of the Catholic Church gives us a concrete belief system which, if rejected, would render us no longer Catholic.

    Sure. And the Southern Baptist Convention gives us a concrete belief system which, if rejected, would render one no longer Baptist.

    I mean, you yourself "shopped around" to Catholicism! How is this critique any less true of Catholics than it is of anyone else? As well, why is searching for a body of believers who think as you do a bad thing?

    That experience also led me to realize that a Protestant needed to be a theologian

    All Christians are students of theology, to some degree, aren't they? We pursue answers, at minimum, to whatever degree satisfies us that Christianity is true, to whatever level enables us to "give a reason for the hope that you have."

    Certainly we could point to simple or unlettered Protestants as well as Catholics - and surely they could rest on the theology of their denomination as easily as could a Catholic on his. So, again, what difference is there here?

    The MUCH bigger leap of faith is that belief that Christ became man and not that Christ comes to us in the form of bread.

    Doubting a claim that God has done something does not equate to doubting that God could do it.

    If God was obsessed with getting all the attention the Bible would be written differently. It would not mention the Marys and Veronicas and Simons, etc.

    One might suggest that, if God thought it was appropriate that we direct our prayers to fallen Christians, the Bible would also be written differently - to, say, include any examples of such.

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