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Thursday, February 23, 2012


I would love to see how many people view each of my blogs on a regular basis, so if you can follow/friend whichever blog (bab5guy-tvreviews, bab5guy-politics, bab5guy-personal) you read, that would be awesome. I will be putting this up on each blog. Thanks!

Monday, February 20, 2012

On "Cafeteria" Catholics

On, there is an opinion piece entitled "Media should challenge Santorum and Gingrich’s ‘cafeteria Catholicism'". ( The author, James Downie, argues that both Gingrich and Santorum are "cafeteria Catholics" because he thinks they reject certain teachings of the Church. While I can certainly see that in certain cases (Gingrich's 2 divorces and 3 marriages ring a bell?), based on what he says in the article he is totally off.

First off, a definition.  A “cafeteria Catholic” is a Catholic who picks and chooses which beliefs to follow and which to not follow.  This term (to my knowledge anyway) has generally been used to discuss progressive “Catholics” (most of whom aren’t really Catholic at all, but that is another story) due to their embrace of come more outlandish ideas.  So what the author is saying is that Santorum and Gingrich (as well as most conservative Catholics), are cherry picking what to believe or not believe based on their political ideologies.

The author clearly does not understand the levels of Catholic teaching and collapses different levels into one. This is not the place to get into an extended discussion of the levels of Catholic teaching, but let it suffice to say that not all statements made by the Church are of the same authority.  For example, where the death penalty is concerned, the Church’s official teaching (per the Catechism Paragraph 2267) says:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

In other words, capital punishment is not against Catholic teaching per se.  Rather, capital punishment should be a last option in necessary cases.  In the article, the author states that because Santorum and Gingrich agree with the death penalty, they are being “cafeteria” Catholics.  As can be seen above, they are not.  Rather, they are supporting what the Church has deemed to be legitimate, although it is not completely necessary.

I won’t go through every case that the author states, but I will point out that the author is basically using a politically liberal (maybe “progressive” is the more appropriate term here) stance to evaluate Catholic teachings.  The problem with this is that the Church cannot be defined based on the narrow political strata that the secular world uses.  The Church is both conservative and liberal depending on the issue, so to use either side solely to malign politicians is to do a grave injustice to the subtlety and nuances of the Church’s teachings.  The author’s unspoken assumption (though barely unspoken) is that it is impossible to be both Catholic and politically conservative.  He holds that the only truly Catholic solutions to social issues are the ones that the Left espouses.  This is blatantly untrue.  You can be against the welfare state and still follow Catholic teaching by helping private charities or helping the poor directly.  You can be against the state mandated minimum wage while still working for a living wage.  To embrace Catholic social teaching does not require you to become a political liberal or progressive.  To say otherwise is to twist the Church’s teachings in a way that they were never meant to be twisted.

Contraception and Church-State Relations

In this third part of my examination of the contraception controversy, I will focus on church-state relations.  Before I get to the meat of the matter, I feel compelled to mention something.  Given the limited space I have imposed on myself (no more than 2 pages), this part; like the prior parts; is of necessity cursory and in no way meant to be definitive.  This means that there will be issues that I don’t address due to space.  Consequently, I will be missing some of the subtleties and intricacies of the various areas as will happen when an immensely complex subject is boiled down to a brief area.

Now before I can properly address the current issues related to church-state relations in the United States, the phrase “separation of church and state” needs to be understood.  As a part of that understanding, it is necessary to look at the history of church-state relations prior to the enactment of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

Throughout history, church and state have generally been mixed.  From ancient tribes where medicine men and shamans held power to ancient India where Hinduism held sway to Greece where Socrates was executed for preaching against the gods to Rome where people were punished for atheism if they did not believe in the Roman gods to the Byzantine Empire and the Caesaropapism inherent in its system to the Peace of Augsburg and its ideal of “cuius regio, eius religio("whose realm, his religion", or "in the Prince's land, the Prince's religion") to the establishment of the Anglican Church by Henry VIII (and I could keep going) the history of having a state-accepted or state-dominated church was the norm.  Even when the Puritans came to America to practice their religion freely, they also established their church as the state church.  It was only in very few places that there was no official church, notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

Interestingly, it was in Roman Catholic Western Europe that the authority of church and state was the most bifurcated.  When the Western Roman Empire fell, there was no secular institution or ruler that could readily take its place.  Instead, the Catholic Church entered the gap and there were bishops who became local landlords and protected the population.  With this came the rise of feudalism and eventually the rise of the nation-states of Europe.  During the Middle Ages, there were several controversies related to church-state relations including the Investiture Controversy between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire.  Ultimately with the Concordat of Worms in 1122, the separate powers of church and state were delineated.

When the colonies revolted from Britain and the United States was formed, there were still established churches in many colonies.  With the adoption of the Constitution, this idea started to lose its hold.  In the Constitution itself (Article VI) the idea that there should not be a religious test in order to hold office is set forth.  In the Bill of Rights (Amendment I) the idea of an established religion is rejected as is the idea that people should not be free to exercise their own religion.  The phrase a “wall of separation between church and state” is never in the Constitution and is in fact based on the writings of Thomas Jefferson who took no part in the Constitutional Convention or in its ratification.  I find it confounding how the ideas of a man who was not present during the debates over the issues involved are considered dispositive; but then again I am not a fan of Jefferson, so that may have something to do with it.  Besides, the “wall” which Jefferson speaks of is not the modern unbreachable rampart imagined by so many secularists and atheists.  Rather it was a way of ensuring that people would be free to practice their own religion without government interference.  Put another way, it was meant to keep the government from interfering in the internal affairs of a church, *NOT* to ensure that the church had no part in the political sphere.

Put this way, it becomes easier to understand the position of the Catholic Church and other religious organizations towards the contraceptive mandate.  The religious organizations are objecting to the fact that they are being forced to pay for something that goes against their religious tenets.  Remember, the First Amendment (even according to Jefferson) was meant to protect the freedom of people to practice their own religion.  Therefore, forcing religious organizations to choose to either follow the law or follow the dictates of their faith is to interfere with their Constitutional rights.

Now, there are a lot of people asking about the people who work for a religious organization, but don’t share its faith.  Doesn’t it impinge on their rights to allow their employer to not pay for contraception?  The answer is no.  The Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception is not a secret and in choosing to work for a religious organization, they choose this path.  Also, they can still get contraception on their own.  No one is stopping anyone from purchasing contraception on their own.  In addition, free access to contraception is not a constitutional right.  The only right involved in contraception at all is the right to privacy as laid out in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).  To argue that something that is not even a right somehow outweighs an explicitly guaranteed Constitutional right is beyond ridiculous.

I do wish to touch on a very tangential point that I have seen raised in relation to this discussion.  That point is that churches have no part to play in public life and that if they do so, they should be stripped of their tax-exempt status because they are violating the “wall of separation between church and state”.  As has been demonstrated above, that “wall” was never meant to prohibit churches from expressing their ideas in the public marketplace, but rather it was meant to keep the government from interfering in the internal affairs of the churches.  So let us dismiss this argument as the nonsense that it is.

Contraception and Church Governance

Ok, now for part two of my four part exploration of the contraception controversy.  In part one I examined various non-sequiturs related to the controversy.  In this piece, I will examine the Church’s governance, particularly in how it relates to the aforementioned controversy.

The Church’s government is hierarchical.  At the top of the hierarchy (well, on Earth anyway) is the Pope.  The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and represents Christ on Earth.  Beneath the Pope are cardinals, then archbishops and bishops, then priests, then deacons, and finally the laity.  Members of religious orders fall outside of this particular hierarchy and do not directly affect the issues that are discussed here.  To boil everything down to its simplest form, the Pope is the direct head of the Church and the laity is the support.  Now, to a lot of people, this would seem to mean that the laity has been reduced to mindless drones, endlessly spewing forth ideas forced upon them by the hierarchy.  That is not true.  It is true that the Church is not a democracy and the laity does not decide on what is to be taught.  But that is not to be confused with the Church teaching that the laity has no voice at all.  In certain matters, it does.  But in matters regarding doctrine and dogma, the Pope and hierarchy have the final say on what is taught, period.

Before I go much further, I want to clearly set forth the Church’s teaching on contraception.  I am indebted to Sex and the Marriage Covenant by John Kippley for helping me to understand what the Church teaches.  The Church holds that sexual relations have two purposes.  The first is procreation; that is to make babies.  The second is as a renewal of the marriage vows.  If either (or both) of these purposes are blocked or hindered in any way, the sexual act has been desecrated.  This is why any premarital sex (or any sex outside of a marital relationship) is intrinsically disordered and sinful.  Contraception purposefully hinders the first purpose and is therefore sinful, period.  On a side note, this is also why the Church teaches that any form of artificial insemination or any surgical procedure that renders someone incapable of procreating is also wrong.

I know someone is going to bring up the idea of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and claim that it is “Catholic contraception” and that is entirely wrong.  In true NFP, every sexual act is open to the possibility that a pregnancy can result.  What NFP does is to track when the woman is fertile and abstain from sex during that time.  However, any sex which is had when the woman is not in her fertile period is still open to the possibility that she can get pregnant.  This mindset of trusting God is vastly different from the mindset of contraception which puts oneself in the place of God.

I saw one blog which claimed that since the bishops aren’t chosen by the people, they cannot represent them.  This idea shows a total lack of awareness of the realities of the governance of the Catholic Church as delineated above.  The Church is not a democracy where the leaders are chosen by the people.  Rather, as Jesus appointed Peter to be the head of the Church and the apostles to help him, the leadership is passed on to those who followed; namely the pope and the bishops.  Since the Church’s leadership has been bestowed directly by Jesus, it does not depend on any mandate from the laity to continue.  In a democracy the power of the government comes from the governed, that is why the governed have a right to speak up in what the laws are.  Since the Church was established by God Himself and gets its legitimacy directly from Him, there is no need for the laity to choose who leads them.  This is a crucial distinction that must be understood.

In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI in 1968, the Church reaffirmed her opposition to any artificial form of birth control.  This encyclical was preceded by Casti Conubii written by Pope Pius XI in 1930 in response to the Lambeth Conference, where for the first time in the history of Christianity, contraception was openly accepted as legitimate under certain circumstances.  After the Lambeth Conference of 1930, Pope Pius XI wrote Casti Conubii to reaffirm the Church’s traditional teachings in regards to sex.  Then in 1950, with the advent of the oral contraceptive, Pope John XXIII was asked to create a commission to look into the matter of contraception and he agreed.  I do not know the entire history of the Commission and will not pretend to.  What I do know is that any commission within the Church is not binding and that final teaching authority; as we have seen; lies with the pope.  In addition, the Commission included several non-theologians, all of whom sided with the majority report (see below).  In 1966, the Commission produced a report that advocated for a relaxation of the rules in regards to contraception and birth control.  A minority dissented and advocated for the rules to remain as they were.  This minority report was made exclusively of theologian priests and bishops or cardinals.  And so the matter was closed.  While people may not like the decision, all faithful Catholics are called to submit to it.

In the next piece, I will examine the idea of the separation of church and state and how it impacts this issue.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Contraception and Non-Sequiturs

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reading and hearing about the contraception controversy due to the new HHS mandates that require religious organizations that serve/hire members not of their own faith to include contraception in their health insurance.  The mandate does exclude churches directly, but schools, hospitals, or any other organization that provides health insurance and hires people from outside the faith are not excluded.  Obviously, there has been heated debate on both sides of the issue.  I come down firmly on the side of this mandate being unconstitutional.  I am not so much looking to address the reasons for its unconstitutionality as I am looking to refute the arguments of people who support the mandate.  These arguments boil down to three areas: separation of church and state, Catholic Church governance, and non-sequiturs.  Let me say that the last two have a lot of overlapping points, but I am splitting them up for reasons of length.  I will address each area in a separate post.  In this first post, I want to address the non-sequiturs.

The first non-sequitur is that a majority of Catholics (98% according to a Guttmacher survey [news release dated April 13, 2011]) use birth control.  Whether or not this is true, it is totally irrelevant to the discussion at hand (hence a non-sequitur!)  If the Catholic Church was an institution where the popular will decided what was or was not believed, then such a statistic would be relevant, but since the Catholic Church is not a populist/democratic institution, this is a pointless statistic thrown in to muddy the waters.  I will address this point at greater length as a part of the Catholic Church governance issue.

The second non-sequitur is actually a group of non-sequiturs with a common theme, statements which are so breathtakingly irrelevant that one cannot help but suspect that these people make these same points whenever something comes up related to the Catholic Church.  The first is about how the child abuse scandal makes them mad.  The second is a point about Catholic school children protesting outside of abortion clinics.  Both are so blatantly unrelated to this issue that one must wonder why they were even brought up. The only reasons that can be thought of is that the people making the points either have no other relevant points and so are relying on emotional reactions or the people bringing them up have an intense anti-Catholic bias and hatred that means that they cannot be talked with reasonably about this issue.  Ok, there is one other possibility: the person making the points is deceitful and dishonest and is relying on these issues to discredit the issue using guilt by association.  In any case, they can be easily dismissed from the current discussion.

In the next section, I’ll address church governance.