Sunday, March 8, 2015

The 21st Century Secular Inquisition

Secularists often point to the medieval Inquisition as the icon of what they believe religion, particularly Catholicism, to be––an interrogatory trial to force individuals to adhere to doctrines. For example, appearing in the Huffington Post, author Cullen Murphy condemns the Inquistion thusly: "The Inquisition was based on intolerance and moral certainty. It tried to enforce a particular view..." Even the recent "Cosmos" 'documentary' claims a monk of the Middle Ages opposed to Church doctrine fell into "the clutches of the thought police."

Interestingly enough, even before the medieval Inquisition period, the Church made statements such as:
[A Christian evangelizing a brother] does not drag him and force him, but leaves him his own master. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans, ca 390 A.D.)

The Lord is a just judge and orders no one unwillingly, or under compulsion, to come under the yoke of the Catholic faith. (Albert of Aix, account of the 1st Crusade, ca 1120 A.D.)
And even in the modern period:
It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents -- "without coercion, or dishonorable or unworthy pressure" -- far from being an attack on religious liberty is fully to respect that liberty, which is offered the choice of a way that even non-believers consider noble and uplifting. (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975)

Any approach to dialogue such as coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization. (Pope Benedict XVI, Doctrinal Note On Some Aspects Of Evangelization)
Pope John Paul II even apologized for improprieties during the Inquisition, insofar as they were historically accurate. He wrote:
The prayer I then addressed to God contains the reasons for the petition for forgiveness, which is valid both for the dramas linked to the Inquisition as well as for the wounds they have caused in the memory. (Pope John Paul II, John Paul II Letter on Inquisition Symposium, 2004)
Suffice it to say, in spite of any medieval improprieties, along with secular critics of the Inquisition, even the Church acknowledges the right of persons to be free of coercion.

Make no mistake, the Church communicates tangible, identifiable doctrines as organized, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is not a secret that the Church teaches, for example, that God is Trinity (CCC#232ff), Mary is ever-virgin (CCC#510), or that the Eucharist is sacramentally and truly Christ's body (CCC#1374). It is also not a secret that the Church has clear positions on hot-button issues of the day, such as that fornication is sinful (CCC#2353) or that abortion is the taking of a human life (CCC#2271). Since these are all matters of "faith or morals," they are recognized by the Church as truths, which means they cannot change. Any penalty, such as automatic excommunication, incurred by a member of the faithful for rejecting one of these teachings, is rooted in the fact that the Church's teachings are identifiable, and that Catholic Christianity posits certain beliefs for the faithful to hold.

In other words, Catholicism is a religion with certain beliefs. One cannot be a Catholic while obstinately rejecting dogmatic beliefs. Today, and through most of history, the only penalty for rejecting Catholicism was to cease to be Catholic. Makes sense, no? Consider an analogy. If I insist society should have an organized government, I can't really call myself an anarchist.

Many critics of the Church have expressed disapproval that the Church will not reverse some of her teachings. That brings us to the crux of this essay. Secularists who decry the Church for adhering to religious beliefs are themselves rigidly adhered to beliefs that are, practically speaking, "religious." However, unlike with the Church, such believers do not admit to holding religious beliefs. And the punishments for not adhering to such beliefs have proven to be quite severe in this 21st Century Inquisition for secular doctrine.

As we examine several modern examples, we can see that those who profess to be religion-free are themselves no less religious in the sense that they hold certain moral or faithful viewpoints just as a person who admits to religious beliefs. As much as many secularists cry for freedom from religious views or moral impositions, there really is no "neutral" religious or moral viewpoint. Often, when the State rejects one of the Church's teachings, it is not endorsing some "neutral" view that is nondiscriminatory to all beliefs. It is positing a particular view just as "religious" as the one it opposes.

Let's examine some of the secular doctrines and penalties in question.

The issue of contraception was largely covered here on TCV in posts tagged with HHS Mandate. That mandate by the U.S. federal government is iconic of the 21st Century Inquisition with regard to contraception. In its earliest form, the fed threatened institutions that did not provide in their health care plans coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs with the penalty of $2,000 per employee. This demand for businesses to embrace the secular doctrine suffered a narrow loss in the Supreme Court during the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case in 2014. Despite this, the mandate retains potentiality in other legislative forms and religious entities continue to spar for their religious freedom. Other religious entities, such as Priests for Life and Little Sisters of the Poor, have since suffered legal battles as well. (It it also worth noting, Catholic theology recognizes that taking a contraceptive drug for actual medical purposes and not as a contraceptive can be licit––thus the matter is not medical, but related to persons who want to live a lifestyle that causes their otherwise healthy and fertile bodies to malfunction.)

Next case. In 2011, the U.S. federal government defunded the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, which provides refuge for victims of human trafficking. At that time, U.S. Archbishop Timothy Dolan revealed that the fed had insisted that they provide a "full range of reproductive services," meaning contraceptives or abortions. The Bishops did not comply with the Inquisition's demand. The charity was subsequently defunded.

Next case. This past February 2015 saw the California legislature initiate an "investigation," (i.e. an "Inquisition") against the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. The diocese recently included a "morality clause" in hiring practices which seeks to hire staff that will support Church teaching. The State demands that the Archdiocese approve the hiring of educators who reject Church teaching and embrace the doctrines of the Inquisition instead, including abortion, contraception and gay "marriage." The lawmakers defended their imposition by declaring that the Archdiocese's desire to hire personnel that will not thwart Church teaching is "in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and it’s history." Apparently, the Bay Area's "values" include having the Church submit to the doctrines of the State. The legislators also called the Church's attempt to hire personnel who will not thwart Church teaching as "divisive." Apparently, the legislators believe "unity" is best achieved when others submit to their Inquisition. Archbishop Cordileone responded to the State. His statement included the correction of erroneous propaganda, such as "the falsehood that the morality clauses apply to the teachers’ private life." Then, after providing hypothetical scenarios clarifying the Church's position, the Archbishop ironically concluded his response letter to the legislators with, "I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you." One may be accurate to suppose that if the Church had told a politician that the politician must hire only staff that supports Church teaching, the Church would have been told some such or other about "separation of Church and State" or that the Church should not conduct an Inquisition demanding others embrace their doctrines. The penalties in this case, so far, have included political strong-arming and can be expected to include whatever demands are made by the State after the "investigtion," i.e. Inquisition.

Next case. In 2011, a British couple, Eunice and Owen Johns, were forbidden by a court from adopting children because they would not formally teach their children that homosexual behavior is good. The judges in question made no attempt to disguise their decision as anti-Christian. The judges stated:
It is important to realize that reliance upon religious belief, however conscientious the belief and however ancient and respectable the religion, can never of itself immunize the believer from the reach of the secular law.
Let us consider this statement from several angles. First of all, it is not only religious persons who do not condone homosexual behavior, thus the court's decision to reject the view simply because it is religious is faulty, not to mention bigoted. Second, the teaching not to kill is quite explicit in Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, yet the state does not reject this notion on the grounds that it is native to religion. Third, there is no "secular law" forbidding Christians to raise children. Fourth, the judge's opinion contradicts itself, because, as we are noting in this essay, a view such as endorsement of homosexual behavior, is itself equal to a religious view. They did not impose a neutral view. Their doctrine says that Eunice and Owen Johns would be harmful to children. For this, the judges were not able to substantiate cause. They gratuitously asserted that Christians are not suitable parents. The Inquisition merely lowered its gavel on the Christian and said, "Either endorse our doctrine, or pay the penalty of childlessness."

Next is a series of related cases. The United States recently has seen a barrage of Inquisition incidents against business owners. First, let's recall one of the sales pitches for gay "marriage." Last year, one of the gay "marriages" across the USA include Lake County, Indiana's Michelle Davies and her partner. Regarding her "marriage," Davies declared, "It doesn't affect anyone but us." In February, Nickson Chong, a writer for SMU's Daily Campus, chastised Judge Roy Moore for suspending gay "marriage" licenses prior to the Supreme Court's engagement of the subject. Chong declared: "Their love and marriage doesn’t affect you in the slightest way." He concluded with the universal order: "And if you still remain steadfast in your arrogant hate for same-sex marriage, then don’t get one."

Unfortunately, the idea that gay "marriage" affects no one but the couple in question is not true. First, the lexical definition of the term "marriage" has been amputated from any recognizable notion of sexual complementarity and fertility which is plainly native to the two genders. It requires no religious person to perceive this. Placing the onus of defining truth on the legal system is not a sound apologetic. This attitude toward malleability of truth is the same tradition in America that perceived blacks as 0/5 of a person on one day, 3/5 of a person on another, and 5/5 of a person on yet another. It attaches institutional definitions to cultural whims and fads. The movement is built on as shaky a ground as the emotional propaganda at its base. A reasoned apologetic related to nature, the human condition, and the concept of marriage is lacking.

Second, there are already multiple legal victims of the gay "marriage" movement, about which we were sold that no one would be affected beyond the couple. This is where the Secular Inquisition returns to impose its doctrines.

In 2014, Ireland's Ashers Baking Company, owned by a Christian couple, declined to bake a cake inscribed with "Support Gay Marriage." The "Equality Commission for Northern Ireland" then spearheaded the Inquisition against this couple and demanded they embrace the Inquisition's doctrine or face legal and financial consequences.

Going back to 2006, Christian photographer Elane Photographers in New Mexico declined to photograph a same-sex "wedding." New Mexico courts have since declared that the owners must subordinate their views to the State's doctrines. Hence, this Inquisition demands that the owners cooperate with a gay ceremony. Their failure to do so has earned them over $7,000 in fines from the State, as well as any legal costs and difficulties that continue to this day.

Stories like these two are common in recent years. The State and its accomplices attempt to treat this as an "equality" issue. You see the Orwellian term "equality" invoked in these Inquisitions regularly. And so, a person may ask him or herself, "Isn't this like not serving someone because of race? And thus a matter of equal treatment?"

The answer is no. Two other cases illustrate this clearer.

In February 2015, the owners of the 111 Cakery in Indiana closed shop. In 2014, they had declined to bake a cake for a gay "wedding." Subsequently, they endured a barrage of social media protests, as well as an in-person call for boycott, accusing them of "hate," "homophobia," and the like. However, the McGath's explained on their own social media page: "[T]his week we told a man that requested a cake for a same-sex ceremony that it was against our policy, but we would be happy to help him with anything else."

Keep that in mind as we look at our second case.

Recently, the State of Washington ruled against florist Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers. In 2013, she declined to make floral arrangements for the gay "wedding" of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. In February 2015, the State of Washington declared her guilty of discrimination. As a courtesy, this Inquisition offered to drop the case against her if she paid $2,001 in fines and also embraced their doctrine by participating in gay "weddings." Stutzman responded, saying her morality was not for sale and compared the "deal" to Judas betraying Christ for 30 pieces of silver. But what is key in understanding this case, is that Stutzman knew Ingersoll was gay. And Stutzman had served Ingersoll for almost ten years prior to him asking for her to participate in his wedding.

You see in the previous two examples, there was no discrimination based on the sexual orientation of the customer. Both vendors willed to serve those customers, the latter having actually done so for almost a decade. This issue is not comparable to segregation, in which a business would simply not serve a person of color. No, customers like Ingersoll were served without incident for years. The trigger in these cases was asking a person who does not believe a gay "wedding" is moral to be a willing participant in that ceremony. If a heterosexual customer had entered their businesses and tried to hire them to serve the same gay "wedding," the results would have been the same. The business owners would have refused. The sexual orientation of the customer was not a determining factor in refusing the business.

The Inquisition has thus committed the fallacy of equivocation in their verdicts, confusing a characteristic of a person with a controversial activity. A comparable analogy would be if a klansman demanded a black baker make a cake for a Klan rally, or if an animal rights photographer was demanded to film a pig slaughter. The offending request is not rooted in some arbitrary characteristic of the customer, but in the nature of the activity the customer is attempting to have the business cooperate.

The bottom line in these "wedding" cases is that the powers-that-be exhibit all the qualities of an Inquisition. They force a religious doctrine on the victim, in these cases business owners. If the victim will not embrace the doctrine, the penalty is inflicted.

Next case. Let's look at this Inquisition from one last angle.

In March 2014, a number of pro-life students at the University of California-Santa Barbara held pro-life signage. In a stroke of irony, they were standing in the campus "free speech zone." UCSB Associate Professor of Feminist Studies Mireille Miller-Young took offense at one of the signs. She proceeded to accost the students and steal the sign. When the students followed her, she attacked a 16 year old female, drawing blood from the young lady. At one point, Miller-Young told her, "I may be a thief, but you're a terrorist." Miller-Young eventually plead no contest to assault and, by a court, was assigned probation, community service, and anger management. What was the University's response through all this? In response to the professor's attack, UCSB Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael D. Young circulated a letter to students. In the letter, he places full attention on the pro-life students, saying they are "evangelical types," "self-proclaimed prophets, and provocateurs," "anti-abortion crusaders,"  "proselytizers hawking intolerance in the name of religious belief," and "outsiders coming into our midst." There actually is no criticism of Miller-Young in the letter. In fact, she's not mentioned at all. To this day, there has apparently been no sanction on this professor who robbed a student, physically assaulted her, and destroyed the stolen goods to boot. But, as the dean's bombastic and doctrinal letter reveals, the pro-life student is the enemy at UCSB. The dean associates their views with "outsiders." In this case, the violent professor had embraced the Inquisition's doctrines. She fought heretics of the Inquisition. And so the Inquisition's penalty is avoided.

The crux of this essay is to point out the religious quality of the State's and its allies' culture views. These views are not neutral, but doctrinal and, practically speaking, religious. Just because the State has not publicly declared they are imposing a State religion does not mean it has not practiced as much in the form of imposing specific doctrines. And we are seeing before our very eyes the 21st Century Inquisition against anyone with a different belief.

More resources and information on contraception: "Birth Control"
EWTN "What the the Church teach about birth control?"
EWTN "Contraception: What's allowed?"
Jimmy Akin "NFP vs. Contraception"
Catholic Culture "The Contraception Misconception"
Catholics, Contraception, and Feminisms?
Humana Vitae
The Catholic Voyager: Myths about Church teaching on contraception and the religious liberty at stake
USCCB Natural Family Planning (NFP) resources 

More resources and information on abortion: "Abortion"
The Catholic Voyager: Notre Dame professor's flawed argument for abortion
Catholic News Agency Abortion Resources
Local resources for pregnant mothers include such organizations as Waterleaf Women's Center in Illinois or Elizabeth's New Life Center in Ohio. One can also do a web search for pro-life pregnancy centers in their local area. Such organizations can help with finances, adoption, and more.

More resources and information on Gay "Marriage": "How to Make the Case for Marriage (Using Non-religious Language)"
The Catholic Voyager: Replies to gay marriage arguments 1
The Catholic Voyager: Replies to gay marriage arguments 2
An atheist identifies "the central problem with the gay marriage agenda"
Christian Anthropology And Homosexuality
Unintended Consequences: The Flaws in “It Doesn’t Affect Anyone But Us” Argument in Favor of Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage by Marianne M. Jennings, J.D. 

More resources and information on myths of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages:
Inquisition by Dr. James Hitchcock "Inquisition" more articles
Timewatch - The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition (BBC 1994)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Is faith belief without evidence?

The book C.S. Lewis vs. the New Atheists cites several skeptics' understanding of faith:
Victor J. Stenger asserts: 'Faith is always foolish...Science is belief in the presence of supportive is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in light of contrary evidence.' Christopher Hitchens portrays all religion as 'a surrender of reason in favour of faith.' A.C. Grayling states: 'Faith is a stance or an attitude of belief independent of, and characteristically in the countervailing face of, evidence. It is non-rational at best, and is probably irrational given that it involves deliberate ignoring of evidence, or commitment despite lack of evidence.'
The examples continue, but you get the gist according to these opinions: Faith is a belief absent of evidence, often in the face of contrary evidence. So some say.

While it is true these authors' propensity for high-flown bombast may betray the assertion of rationality proposed by these same authors, perhaps a less-dramatic skeptic or other layperson may still wonder whether or not faith is something necessarily lacking "evidence."

As always, this blog focuses on explanations of Catholicism. It is worthwhile to demonstrate whether or not the Church, when referring to faith, is asking souls to believe in the absence of evidence or in the face of contrary evidence.
So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit." Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind". (CCC#156b)
You see here that the Church does not ask for belief in the "absence of supportive evidence" as one of the above-mentioned critics asserts. And the Church proceeds to cite examples of evidence such as miracles, prophecies, holiness, and fruitfulness.

Let's take a look at a few examples of just a few characteristics: miracles, holiness, and prophecies.

Certainly, the idea of Christ's resurrection from the dead is a foundation of Christianity. St. Paul went so far as to say, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile..." (1 Cor. 15:17) Miracles in Scripture are manifold. And the account of believers described therein were often compelled by such evidences among others. But let's also take a look at a few modern examples, which occurred in an age where scientific advancements allow for empirical scrutiny.

St. Edith Stein
In 1987, two-year old Benedicta McCarthy "accidentally ingested 19 times the lethal dose of acetaminophen," or Tylenol. As Benedicta lay "near death from total kidney failure and a deteriorating liver," the family asked others to pray to a deceased nun and the child's namesake, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was born Edith Stein.

Recounting what happened as an adult, Benedicta explained her healing: "Like there was no gradual recovery. When they looked back at the doctors' notes, one of the doctors that had seen me that morning had wrote in the notes, this child has made a remarkable recovery."

The Church held tribunals to investigate the validity of this phenomenon as a potential miracle. Dr. Ronald Kleinman, the doctor who had tended to young Benedicta, explained, "I expected she would die..." and spoke of the human body's "hidden capacity to survive and when it comes it's for reasons we don't understand."

Additionally, Kleinman, said, "I don't believe in miracles in the Catholic sense. I don't believe in saints or intercession. I was blunt in saying that to the tribunals. But I said that I'm enough of a humanist and a scientist to feel that miraculous things happen beyond my understanding."

St. Marie-Marguerite d'Youville
Another modern case involves the intercession of Marie-Marguerite d'Youville, who would later be canonized a saint. A young woman was dying of acute myeloblastic leukemia. Her aunt had encouraged the girl to pray for the intercession of Marie-Marguerite. The girl was healed. This occurred in the 1970s.

In 1986, as part of the investigation as to whether or not this healing was miraculous, one of the scientists consulted was Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist and atheist. Without being told details of the patient's record, Duffin was given laboratory slides from the 1970s and asked to report on what she saw.

Duffin explained, "I reasonably imagined that this woman was dead," and said that this type of cancer was "the most aggressive leukemia known." When she continued to review more slides of this patient over time, she was dumbfounded that the patient had gone into remission, relapsed, and gone into remission a second time, something Duffin perceived as most unexpected.

Dr. Jeanne Drouin, who had been treating the patient, told Dr. Duffin that the patient was still alive those many years later. Duffin recalled, "I was like thunderstruck that the woman was alive. But I was not going to say this was a miracle." Although skeptical of supernatural intervention, Duffin testified to a panel of investigating bishops and priests. Duffin described the inquiry:
"They never asked me to say this was a miracle. They wanted to know if I had a scientific explanation for why this patient was still alive. I realized they weren't asking me to endorse their beliefs. They didn't care if I was a believer or not, they cared about the science."
Of her life experiences in the face of what she had seen, Dr. Duffin said, "I'm an atheist, but one who believes in miracles."

Eucharist in Buenos Aires
Another inexplicable event in recent history occurred in Buenos Aires. On August 18, 1996 a consecrated Eucharistic host was found dirty on the floor after the liturgy. The priest placed it in water in the tabernacle and waited for it to dissolve to later water a plant with it. Instead, after several days, red stains formed on the host. Over time, it appears to have transformed into human tissue and blood.

At a 2008 faith and science conference, Dr. Ricardo Castañón Gómez explained his examination of this host, which remains without decomposition to this day. Gómez testifies that he had the tissue sample sent to a laboratory in California, asking them to examine it. He "did not tell them this came from a host." They told him that the tissue was "muscle from the heart; muscle from the myocardium of the left ventricle." He later took the sample to Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner whose expertise includes determining cause of death based on forensics of the heart. Zugibe told him that the tissue indicates the person whose heart tissue this was had suffered many wounds. Catholics, of course, believe the Eucharist is truly the sacramentally veiled but true body of Christ, who underwent many wounds in his Passion. Gómez notes that Zugibe "didn't know this was a host" when he examined the tissue. Zugibe also asked Gómez how the latter was able to provide a tissue sample that was "alive."

Dr. Gómez describes the amazement of the moment, "Imagine me telling a person that a piece of wheat has turned into blood, coagulated, and become heart muscle!" In the above video, he describes other inexplicable characteristics surrounding the Buenos Aires Eucharist.

Gómez, once an atheist, since converted to the Church as a result of his studies. Also of note in this incident is that in 1996, when the miracle first occurred, it was Bishop Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, who helped initiate the investigation into the phenomenon.

Miracle investigations
A recent article at ScienceNordic examined the Church's propensity of applying scientific scrutiny to miraculous claims:
When a potential miracle is reported to the Vatican, the report includes testimonies from astounded doctors who cannot find a natural explanation for the phenomenon in question.
The cardinals then pass these testimonies on to the miracle commission, which then sends a delegation to the location where the unexplainable event took place. If the delegates fail to find a satisfactory scientific explanation for the strange phenomenon, they can call in external experts.
These inexplicable stories by no means come close to exhausting the hundreds of inexplicable testimonies throughout the centuries that have been understood as miracles, including those which have mystified science, even according to skeptical scientists. In light of the original critics' claim that "faith is belief in the absence of evidence," a number of questions arise in the face of these unexplained phenomena. Why, if faith is belief in the absence of evidence, does the Church bother to consult evidence? Why would the Church call on the scrutiny of skeptics? Why should these stories and testimonies not count as 'evidence'?

For the purposes of these examples, it is not critical to demonstrate that these inexplicable results were caused in some sense by a particular heavenly saint. Suffice it to say, it does not seem reasonable to dismiss such case studies as "non-evidence" with regard to the supernatural. The skeptic dismissing the evidence merely as something that has a natural explanation which has not yet been discovered must himself resort to a view that is itself speculative and absent of evidence.

St. Maximilian Kolbe
During World War II, the Franciscan Friar Maximilian Kolbe arranged for the shelter of some 3,000 war refugees, including 2,000 Jews, lamenting that they had been deprived of "even the most basic necessities." In early 1941, he was arrested by Nazi forces and was imprisoned at Pawiak prison in Warsaw. After enduring beatings for his faith, he was transferred to Auschwitz.

During his imprisonment at Auschwitz, three other prisoners escaped. To deter further escape attempts, 10 prisoners were chosen to starve to death. At hearing his name selected, one prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out for the wife and children he would never see again. Kolbe, who had not originally been selected for death, stepped forward and offered to take the man's place.

The guards accepted the exchange. Kolbe and the others spent their final days in a starvation bunker, known as the "death block." The priest led prayers and songs, emboldening the other prisoners. It signaled that his act of heroism was not merely a humanistic gesture, but rooted in the faith he lived. Kolbe was the last surviving selected prisoner. An interpreter and assistant janitor in the bunker, Bruno Borgowiec, described how Kolbe was given "an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Fr. Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner."

Another prisoner, Jerzy Bielecki, testified that the aftermath of Fr. Kolbe's martyrdom was "a shock filled with hope, bringing new life and strength. ... It was like a powerful shaft of light in the darkness of the camp."

St. Thomas More
In the early 16th century, King Henry VIII sought a declaration from Pope Clement VII that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was null, i.e. that it had never been a valid marriage. Henry and Catherine had no son and, according to the custom, could not maintain succession without a male heir. A 1530 letter from Henry's delegates to the Pope makes, not a theological appeal for an annulment, but a political one. It reads in part: "[Henry] will surely guarantee stability to the kingdom if he will be able to entrust its government to a male heir." At Catherine's request, the Pope authorized an investigation into the king's demand and did not grant the decree of nullity the king desired.

During this time, Sir Thomas More served as English chancellor and held much influence. Henry tried several times to obtain More's favor that the king's marriage to Catherine was null. More consistently refused. After much effort to acquire his decree of nullity from the Church, the king usurped for himself religious authority and also secretly "married" Anne Boleyn in 1533. In 1534, he issued an Act of Succession, which described valid succession of the throne through the king's "lawful wife Queen Anne." Soon after, the king issued the Oath of Supremacy, which declared the king "supreme head of the Church of England." All nobility and even clergy were called to take this oath. More was one whom refused to take the oath, insisting on a position of silence.

Eventually, More was imprisoned for over a year for treason. At the trial of Thomas More, the prosecuting attorney, referring to More's refusal to take the oath, said, "we have your silence, which is an evident sign of the malice of your heart: because no dutiful subject, being law­fully ask'd this question, will refuse to answer."

Aware of his fate if he refused to consent to the king's usurpation of religious authority over the Pope, More replied, "As to the principal crime objected against me, that I should say upon my examination in the Tower, that this law was like a two-edged sword; for in consenting to it, I should endanger my soul, and in rejecting it should lose my life."

It is this reckoning which More considers. He can preserve his life and gain high favor with the king if he simply complies with the king's decree. Yet More bears witness to a higher prize by accepting the ultimate temporal penalty when he could have easily obtained temporal glory. More was eventually found "guilty" and beheaded soon after the trial.

Another feature of the strength of Christian truth is the fulfillment of prophecy. Skeptics may insist that prophecies are too "vague" or some such, but this form of evidence does not stand alone, as we will review later. For now, let's look at a few examples:

The expected Messiah would come from Bethlehem.
But you, O Bethlehem Eph'rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king... (Matt. 2:1a)
If the Jews recognized that Jesus was from Bethlehem, as the record states, his fulfillment of the Mican prophecy would be strengthened. To this day, it is almost poetic for someone from a "little" town to rise to some degree of fame. Of course, a number of persons came from Bethlehem, but Jewish and Gentile converts didn't just follow any of them. This was merely one characteristic they expected their leader to have. It is evidence.

The Crucufixion
The expected Messiah would die by crucifixion.
Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet -- I can count all my bones -- they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. (Psalm 22:16-18)
Here we see some specifics that Christ's followers considered compelling evidence. The Gospels' account of the crucifixion reflects all this. Christ, surrounded by murderers, was crucified (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34-35), was mocked and put on display for staring (Matt. 27:37, 40ff; John 19:37), and had his clothing divided by casting lots (27:35). John also specifically describes the nails that pierced Christ's hands (20:25, 27), and in Luke, the resurrected Christ reveals his identity by showing his hands and feet to the disciples (24:39). What is worth noting is that there were prior attempts to murder Christ, such as by stoning him (John 10:31), but Christ escaped.

John, who was at the foot of the cross, also notes additional features of the crucifixion consistent with prophecies. Pilate had ordered that the legs of the crucified Christ and the two thieves be broken. But John recalls how the legs of the two thieves were broken, but they did not proceed to break Christ's (19:33). Why? Because Jesus already appeared dead and to test that diagnosis, one of the soldiers pierced him in the side with a spear (19:34) instead of breaking his legs as was originally ordered. In these two characteristics of the event, John recognizes two other prophecies of the crucifixion:
He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20)
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. (Zech. 12:10)
Incidentally, John also recognizes theological fulfillment in that Christ's bones were not broken, because he both recognized Christ as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb (John 1:29, 36) and that the Jewish custom of celebrating the Passover specifically called for a lamb with no broken bones (cf. Exod. 12:46; Num. 9:12).

The Gospel writer John asserts that he saw this incident with his own eyes (John 19:35). These features of the crucifixion prophecies constitute "evidence" that the Apostles and subsequent Christians have considered when measuring the identity of Jesus Christ.

Palm Sunday
Old Testament prophecy said the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem as a king, yet humbly on the back of a donkey (Zech. 9:9) which occurred (Matt. 21:1-11). The crowd reacted accordingly, crying out "Hosanna!" (i.e. "save us"). Matthew 21 also records the crowd shouting "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" This signals such Old Testament texts as Psalm 118 sung during the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast includes a procession of palms (also recorded by Matthew), which are offered for the saving Lord (cf. Lev. 23:40; 2 Macc. 10:6-8). Matthew records them laying branches on the road for this man on the donkey. In the context of these Old Testament texts, we can better see why the crowd reacted as they did for a humble man riding into town on a beast of burden. It was hardly the image of nobility, but they recognized what many of these details signaled.

Other prophecies
Many other articles about Biblical prophecy could be discussed here. Some include:
Fish Eaters: Palm Sunday
The Sacred Page: Jesus' Triumphal Entry, the Descent into Hell, and the Coming of the Messiah (Palm Sunday, Year A)
The Sacred Page: Luke 1-2: 490 Days and Daniel 9
Jimmy Akin: Who says Jesus couldn't predict the fall of Jerusalem
CatholicApologetics.Info: How Christ Fulfilled the Prophecies of Scripture
Dr. Brant Pitre: The "Ransom for Many," The New Exodus, and the End of the Exile (PDF)
Joe Heschmeyer: Three Prophecies About Christ That Could Not Have Been Made Up
Joe Heschmeyer: Daniel 2's Proof for Jesus Christ and His Church

Now, while many prophecies have the character in the form of a "prediction," that is not the only form. For example, taking a panoramic view of the Old Testament, we see the account of a certain rhythm of "two brothers," in which the firstborn or elder brother has high expectations. Examples include Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, or Esau and Jacob. In each example, the historical account of these firstborn sons describes how they ended up disinherited for one reason or other. This pattern, which finds its way into divine revelation signals the two covenants: The Old with Israel (the firstborn, cf. Ex. 4:22) and the New with Gentiles also (the younger son.) Christ is thus seen as the "firstborn" (Luke 2:7) son who finally succeeds and delivers the due inheritance of the Father. Parallels like these are manifold in Scripture and lend to the Christian faith a certain coherence and also prophetic magnanimity.

I will merely give one more example for the sake of brevity. The account of Matthew 12:40 records Jesus responding to a Pharisaical interrogation. He says, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."     

Not only does Christ predict his burial for three days,1 but the reference reveals the mission of Christ. For he follows the statement with "they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." (v. 41) The story of Jonah is thus not only historically prophetic in the story of "three days," but for identifying the importance of the coming prophet as one calling for repentance. As with stories of "two brothers," this is a theological prophecy which gives a certain credence, a certain coherence and consistent trajectory even from the Old Testament, and examples of evidence to the accounted record of Christian salvation history.

It is not uncommon to hear skeptics respond to any of the above arguments, or similar arguments from Christian apologists throughout history, by offering counter-explanations for each individual bit of "evidence" the Christian may posit.

For example, a skeptic arguing against martyrdom as evidence for the truth of a religion states:
The willingness of someone to die for a belief is not proof of its truth. For example, terrorists who blow themselves up or die in battle do not establish the truth of their beliefs. And believers of all religions have been martyred.
As it is stated, this conclusion is reasonable. However, I would submit at least the following two responses to this reaction.

First, this objection actually confirms that there is "evidence" to be assessed with regard to Christianity or even a different religion. The evidence is the reality of martyrs for a belief. But remember, our skeptics quoted at the beginning of the article insist there is "lack" of evidence or even contrary evidence. However, there is a difference between assessing the evidence in question and coming to a different conclusion than insisting there is no evidence to even examine with regard to this or that religion.

Second, the notion of trying to debunk a characteristic of Christianity or another religion by offering alternative explanations for the evidence is not compelling if one attempts to debunk each piece of evidence one at a time. In CCC#156 quoted above, the evidence for the faith includes the endurance of the Church, miracles, holiness in faithful members, signs in divine revelation, or other "external proofs," etc. The skeptic might react to this by arguing that there is also evidence of endurance in Religion A, evidence of miracles in Religion B, evidence of holiness in Religion C, and so on. Therefore, concludes the skeptic, the case for Christianity is equally convincing or unconvincing as any religion, and thus, none of them are compelling.

However, what is the problem if a skeptic rejected Christianity on the grounds that martyrdom is not unique to it? I submit the problem with this reaction can be seen in the notion of irreducible complexity. The term irreducible complexity has found its way into the vernacular with regard to evolution (see and In short, the idea says that an incremental notion of evolution, which says an organism naturally develops piece by piece over time, cannot explain the existence of an organism which ceases to function if any single piece is removed. In other words, a foot doesn't develop of its own accord, followed by a leg, and other parts later. These parts function as part of a complete system. This post is not to get into the details of that argument, but I bring up the term irreducible complexity because its principle relates to this subject of religion and evidence.

Permit me to offer an illustration of why it is specious to claim to debunk evidence for a religion by offering alternative explanations for each evidence one at a time.

Detective work
Let's say you are a detective investigating a crime. After interviewing the witnesses, you determine that the suspect is a male caucasian, six feet tall, with brown hair, and a tattoo on his left arm. Eventually, several candidates are brought in for a police lineup. Let's take a look.

As we examine our suspects here, we can see that suspect #2 has all 5 characteristics described. However, shall suspect #2 be dismissed on the grounds that #1 is six-feet tall and male? Shall suspect #2 be dismissed on the grounds that #3 is a caucasian male with brown hair. Suspect #4 is a male with brown hair with a tattoo, although on the right arm. Suspect #5 likewise has some of the characteristics of the description. She is caucasian and has a tattoo on her left arm. Shall suspect #2 be dismissed as the culprit on the grounds that all the other suspects have some characteristics that match his?

Of course, suspect #2 is the most likely culprit in this lineup because he has all the characteristics at once. The witnesses' description of the suspect is "irreducibly complex." Having only one or two of the characteristics falls short.

Now, let's return to the matter of faith. Should Christianity be rejected on the grounds that there are holy people in other religions? Should Christianity be rejected on the grounds that other religions also have martyrs? You see the parallel here. What is a compelling sign of the truth of Christianity is that it contains all the signal characteristics at once. Miracles. Prophecies. Holy followers. Martyrs. Historicity. Spiritual experience. Etc. The more characteristics a particular faith has that reasonably signal its truth and divine pedigree, the more compelling a case for that faith.

Thus, it is imprudent to reject Christianity, for instance, because other faiths have martyrs because to dismiss Christianity on these grounds is to dismiss suspect #2 in our above example on the grounds that he shares a characteristic with others.

Faith, even in the eyes of the Church, is not "blind," which is to say, something followed without seeing due cause. There are a number of evidences for the truth of Christianity. If someone were to reject the faith, or even embrace the faith, it would be prudent to do so in such a way as to confront these evidences as an irreducible total native to the Church. No doubt, the persistent quality of the Church throughout the centuries includes these compelling evidences among those who say with St. Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68)

1It is not uncommon to hear an objection that this prophecy did not come true in accord with the language of Matthew 12:40 on the grounds that Christ rose Sunday morning, and thus, three "nights" had not transpired. However, the phrase "day and night" is a Hebrew idiom in which part of a day encompasses all other parts of a day. The term is not necessarily understood in the same sense as a modern English speaker might insist. For an analysis, see Dave Armstrong's  Jesus' Three Days and Three Nights" in the Tomb: Is it a Biblical Contradiction?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

God the Father and Reconciliation

I spoke at St. Jude church in Joliet, IL on April 7, 2014 on the subject of God the Father and the sacrament of reconciliation. Below is the audio.

Right-click here to download an MP3 of the talk. (54:36 minutes)

Sunday, March 23, 2014