Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who's Deluded?

I saw a young man with a copy of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins while I was at the Y the other day. While part of me wanted to tak to the fellow and gauge his interest and motive in reading the book (to determine whether I should recommend other reading), I thought it was really about time that I read the book myself to determine how I would respond to Dawkins' premise.

So "premise" is perhaps the wrong word for what I've found so far in the first 64 pages of the book. In fact, you can pretty much throw out anything to do with argument or debate because Dawkins doesn't present one, at least not this early in his screed. I call it "screed" because so far, that's all I've read: just one hystrionic claim after another.

First, he presents a completely one-sided view of God and religion. You won't find a word about charitable works, about mercy (on the part of God or His followers), or about how theology developed with the aid of philosophy. None of that seems to exist. A case in point is his claim bout the doctrine of the Trinity. He starts by throwing up the word "consubstantial" and debating its meaning:

What on earth could that possibly mean, you are asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very litte' seems to be the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for a century, and the Emperor Constantine ordered that all the copies of Arius's book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs—such has ever been the way of theology.


I'm not sure Arius had an actual book to burn, though I'm sure that there were plenty tracts. However, Dawkins acts as if this was the last word about trinitarian theology. He completely skips over the remaining 1600 years of theological development to make the following claim about St. Gregory the Miracle Worker's description of the trinity:

His words convey the characteristically obscurantist flavour of theology, which—unlike science of most other branches of human scholarship—has not moved on in eighteen centuries.


So he mentions the council at which the definition of the Trinity is defined and clarified, then backs up one hundred years to take the description of the saint who was not exposed to the language of the council and claims that the theology had not moved on? Much less to make the claim that it hadn't moved along in 1800 years? He completely jumped over the work of the scholastic theologians (most notably, St. Thomas Aquinas), acknowledging that they had spilled much ink on the subject (not to mention blood), yet there was no development in trinitarian theology all that time.

Oddly, he accuses theologians of intellectual dishonesty and cherry picking (of statements by prominent scientists) while ignoring the substance of theological work. To him, it doesn't merit attention as a discipline of its own; therefore anyone can engage in theological speculation. So much for epistemology. Nevermind that many theologians historically were also philosophers of the highest mark. The best are rigorously logical in their methods (the Holy father being one such example, not to mention the aforementioned St. Thomas).

In one paragraph, he calls readers to pay attention to terminology. In this, intends to point out how believers tend to latch on to the language in which something is stated rather than on the meaning the speaker intended, noting specifically Einstein's comment that "God does not play dice." He even offers what he considers the most apt interpretation of the statement: 'Randomness does not lie at the heart of all things" (p. 18). This from a biologist that believes that all life evolved through a random process without the aid of any intelligence at the outset or anywhere along the path. Perhaps this is just an acknowledgement that the epistemology of physics differs from that of biology. He makes no bones about not ranting theology the same level of respect.

I'm sure he will eventually come to an actual argument. However, in a scant 64 pages, he's already managed to do poison the well, resort to argument by authority, and cherrypick his own bit of evidence.

So far, not impressed. I'll let you know what I think in 310 pages.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Church—Horizontal and Vertical

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has some interesting thoughts on the horizontal and vertical parties in the Church. As one who tries to do both corporal and spiritual works of mercy, I have to agree wholeheartedly.

By the way, he's moving to Wordpress.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How PC is Idaho?

Not so much.

Orofino is the location of Idaho State Hospital North. And what is Orofino High School's mascot?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Funniest Comment About Obama's Speech

Overall, I think it had some good points as a piece of rhetoric, purely in a stylistic sense . In terms of sincerity, I give it lower marks.

Kathy Shaidle has probably the best comment I've seen yet:

Not only is there no "there there", there's barely a "her" or a "the".

John Wright Gets His Secret Decoder Ring

And now, he's looking to become an albino assassin. I wish him the best of luck.

He chose the name Justin Martyr. Now that's setting a standard for yourself.

Speaking of confirmation names, what's yours and why did you choose it?

Mine is Francis, for two reasons. First, St. Francis of Assisi has always been of interest to me, perhaps due to the influence of Sr. Shirley. As an adult, I found that his life story resonated with me. However, I also chose the name to honor my grandfather on my mother's side. My daughter also chose St. Francis as her confirmation name.

Hmmmm, maybe this should be a meme. Any takers?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Okay, just ONE more

I really was going to hang it up until Monday, but this story on Simcha's blog is just too funny not to share.

So how's the Triduum different than usual?

Well, that's because I'm intentionally not blogging for the duration.

I did have a good blog burst yesterday (at least, good for me).

Have a blessed Triduum.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arinze on Inculturation

Fr. Z has an article by Fr. Ray Blake on Cardinal Arinze's recent speech in Kenya.

Fr. Trigulio has a blog?

Over here.

I had no idea. And he appears to have a few more books in mind for his series...

or maybe someone else's series.

On a happier note...

I've been talking to someone from the Salesian Missions and may soon be able to set up a link where you can donate to the Salesian Technical School in Bethlehem. This might be the start for me of some serious fund raising!

Prayers for Brianna

Anita has been asking for prayers for Brianna for some time. Brianna is 10 years old and now faces an infection which, if it gets any worse, may require her colon to be removed. As Anita says, that's quite a lot for a 10 year old to face. Please pray for Brianna.

Please pray for Anita's job situation as well.

Thoughts on Remorse

I'm really good at regret—perhaps too much so. One reason for that is that I've given myself so many opportunities over the length of my life for it. Now, before you bring up the matter of scrupulosity, please understand that I know I've been forgiven. I'm not talking about the nagging fear that I haven't stated each and every sin in exactly the right formula to be absolved, or the rather odd pridefulness of a notorious sinner that resists God's forgiving grace (although I have been guilty of both before). I'm talking about having those moments of remorse when I remember some event, action, or word that may have injured someone. In some cases, I will confess these sins again, not because I fear the need for absolution for them again, but because in remembering them, I frequently understand the sin in a deeper sense. Reconciliation is a way for me to reconcile myself to my own actions and my own fault, as well as to be reconciled to God. Maybe a better way to put it is that by confessing the specific instance of a sin and my newfound understanding of its sinfulness, Christ can heal me more deeply.

I remembered one such instance of this today. Following the completion of my master's degree (in the early 90s), I taught English composition as an adjunct instructor at the local university. One of the assignments I gave (a research paper) involved taking a tour of the school library and listening to a presentation by one of the research librarians. (For those of you in school who do not yet know about these angels of the library (biblioangeles?), believe me, they are one of the greatest resources available at the library when you are first learning how to do research.)

The librarian for one of my sessions was one of my favorites, a bit older and classic bibliophile. One of his more notable features was his tie selection. He had a large collection of unusual ties. Some were on the zany side, others just from periods in which tastes were simply... er, different.

I chatted with him for a moment before he began to explain what I felt they needed to know (in addition to whatever he felt also might be pertinent). When I introduced him to the class, I mentioned his qualifications and his assistance to me as a graduate student. Then I added an offhanded comment about his tie collection, something to the effect that he had the most obnoxious or loudest ties imaginable—something to that effect. I was making a small joke at his expense to entertain my class, my students... my audience.

He looked as if I had just punched him in his gut.

I knew at the moment that I had wounded him. His tie collection might've been a bit colorful and zany, but it was an expression of something in this well-educated, gentle man that he otherwise hid in this environment—a side of him that perhaps felt a bit more vulnerable and didn't feel he could freely share through much more exposure than a simple garment.

He let it go quickly and jumped right in to the presentation, and in a few minutes, the moment was past, and I forgot about it.

But that moment has come back to me a few times over the years, and I've come to understand that I didn't just make a harmless joke at someone's expense. I callously stepped on something fragile in him.

I wonder how often I do that without any recognition, just in the process of daily life, step on others around me. I think this is why I revisit some of these past sins, not to wallow in my sinfulness, but to understand just why something that seems so small is such a great offense to God.

I tried to explain this concept to my brother a week or so ago. He's grappling with his own faith right now, trying to determine just what he really believes, what it means to sin, and if God even cares about the minutia of our daily lives. I likened God's reaction to our sin to that of a father seeing one child do something hurtful to another. Surely, the father loves both children, but the harm one child does to the other also hurts the father. This is why there are no victimless crimes or sins that affect only the sinner. The Father sees the harm each sin does to all of us, and it causes Him pain.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

St. Augustine on the Old Testament Canon

Of course, most Catholic apologetics sites have documented the overwhelming evidence of the canon of OT scripture noted by the early Church fathers. In case, we've forgotten, that dangerous Irish Catholic, Danny Garland, posted a little reminder for us from St. Augustine (On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapt. 8).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thought my blog viewing would be a bust today...

Especially with the Ironic Catholic taking the week off.

Then Julie D. noted that Maureen is back on line!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Random Stuff about Me-me

Anita has tagged me with the Random Stuff about Me meme.

Da rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
5. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

Here are six random things about me.

1. I had no memorable experience of life outside of a military base until I was 11.

2. I was a vegetarian for about 10 years, but I've never cared much for green vegetables.

3. I stack my dishes in the diswasher all facing in the same direction.

4. I tear up at most sappy movies and even some that aren't all that sappy.

5. I've studied three foreign languages and can speak none of them with any level of competence.

6. I occasionally used to wear colonial-style clothing when I was in elementary school.

The hard part--finding other people to meme. How about Paulinus, Paul Cat, Elliot, Catholic Teuchtar, Dorian (come back soon!), and Will Duquette.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Parable Meme

Mark at Dominican Idaho. I've been remiss about responding to memes, but this one is pretty simple.

1. You name your five favorite parables
2. You tag one blogger per parable.
3. It would be nice if you linked back to this post.

I'm going to be a bit redundant on my first and say

1. Prodigal Son

Like many who return to the faith as adults, this one just describes my experience.

2. The Vinyard and the Tenants
3. The Good Samaritan
4. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
5. The Tares (Weeds) and the Wheat

Tagged: Julie D., Adoro, Rufus, Dale, and paramedicgirl

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Some Thoughts on Liturgical Creativity

I emphasize up front that I am not a liturgist and am simply stating my worthless opinion, lest our Roving Medievalist take me to task for elevating myself to the state of Magisterium of One.* I'm not an expert, and my opinions are based on what little reading I've done in the GIRM, the Holy Father's Spirit of the Liturgy, and my limited understanding of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

I'm sure all of you are familiar with priests who innovate at various stages of the liturgy, whether it's the injection of more drama into the Liturgy of the Word or the alteration of certain prayers and formulas during the Liturgy of the Eucharist to emphasize some teaching of the Church. Some priests also feel a need to change the tenor of the liturgy to something less formal—more chatty and personable. When these priests are confronted about these innovations, they often see the concerned faithful as being pharisaic—too concerned with the "letter of the law" rather than the spirit of Christ's Church.

Of course, being part Pharisee myself, I can't help but interject my own opinion.

Interestingly, today's gospel reading (John 9:1–41) has something to say about this—albeit paradoxically. In the reading, Christ heals a man blind from birth, who based on this act comes to believe in Jesus as Christ. The Pharisees witness the results of this miracle but are so tightly enclosed in their own understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Law cannot accept that a Godly man would heal someone on the Sabbath. Christ indicates that these who claim to know are blind in their sin. The point of the story, clearly, concerns the ability to recognize and embrace the truth when it makes itself known.

To have this teaching juxtaposed to liturgical innovation, then, would seem to support the notion that those of us desiring more faithfulness to the norms are like these Pharisees who are so stuck in their ways and unable to see outside of their liturgical boxes. We can quote from the GIRM or the VII constitution on Sacred Liturgy, but we're unable to see anything because we are so stuck in habit or refuse to accept anything that isn't by the book.

No doubt there's some truth to this in some quarters. However, those who pose the desire for reverent worship as a somehow empty adherence to form are blind to something as well. The desire for innovation in liturgy stems from at least two possible sources: from a desire on the part of the celebrant to interject himself into the liturgy in a personal way, and from a desire on the part of the celebrant to make the liturgy more meaningful to the laity. The first is a preoccupation of the priest with self-expression; the second, a desire to engage or even entertain the laity. Both positions are misguided.

While the liturgy is in part an expression of the community of the faithful, it is primarily an offering from the faithful to God and His Son. The focus is on the Son in two aspects: the Son as the Word and the Son as the Bread of Life. The desire of the celebrant for self-expression misdirects attention away from the proper focus on Christ and redirects it on the priest. Many theologians, priests, bishops and even the Holy Father have noted that celebration ad orientum tends to lessen this tendency as the priest is facing with the people toward God instead of drawing the vision of the people to himself.

I assume (or sincerely hope) that few priests would openly acknowledge that they see the liturgy as a moment of self-expression. Many of the innovators might not even recognize this motivation as the individual spirit has been so ingrained in us over the last 40 years. I suspect that more of them innovate for reason number 2. They're trying to make the liturgy more meaningful or attempting to engage the laity.

This is where the blindness comes in. As I mentioned previously, the focus of the liturgy is to be on Christ as the Word and as the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. We have two mysteries present to us here. Christ is the Logos, the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. In Christ, God said all that needed to be said. We cannot say it better. What we need is help to recognize the Word in our world. We need to recognize the Truth. Dramatic readings will not drive this home. Authoritative interpretation of the Word will.

Second, innovation in the liturgy suggests that something is missing. Some of the laity want to be entertained, to have music that makes them want to move or to have jokes and anecdotes. Maybe most of the laity want this. The popularity of Protestant megachurches suggests that this is at least partly true. In many, you can go grab a latte and hear some excellent Christian music performed as well as any other live professional performance. The latter is rarely the case in a Catholic church. (I would hope the former were rare as well, but I've seen more than one Starbuck's-toting parishioner at Mass—Eucharistic fast notwithstanding.)

If we come to Mass seeking self-expression and entertainment, we are blind to what the Mass gives us. Instead of seeing the mysteries of the Word and the Eucharist, we're looking for human ends. We're missing the big picture. We're stuck in our everyday box and unable to rise out of it for the transcendent moment that the liturgy offers us. We're as blind as the Pharisees because we attempt to live our faith as if it were something earthly rather than something Divine.

Of course, so long as the Eucharist is there, it's still worth it. If we get bent out of shape because of a few irregularities (barring overt heresy or abuse), then we're just as blind—more concerned about the broadness of our phylacteries and the length of our fringes.

*This note is not intended as a jab in the least at Jeffrey S. I think his assessment of the Catholic blogosphere is pretty accurate.