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Friday, April 21, 2017

Resurrection skeptics and "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

       He is Risen!

       He is Risen, indeed!

Except, there are some folks, especially now that they have the very convenient platform of social media, who proclaim their skepticism at the idea of Jesus rising from the dead.  

Their rejection is summed up here:

Image result for carl sagan extraordinary claims

And here:

Image result for hitchens extraordinary claims

That is, "We're not going to believe that extraordinary claim that your Jesus rose from the dead until you provide us with some really, really, amazing, extraordinary evidence.  That's only fair, right?"
However, in a rather delicious irony, it turns out that this oft-repeated doctrine "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is actually not true. Instead it's statement of faith*--an atheist heard another atheist say it, who heard another atheist say it, but no one ever stopped to consider the evidence for this statement.

This is what is the correct formulation:  "Extraordinary claims require sufficient evidence".

All that is required to believe an extraordinary claim is that there is enough evidence to support that claim.

We know this from our own experience.

Let's take some examples of extraordinary events:  

All of these folks experienced something extraordinary, and we believe them because we've seen the video.  And a video is not, by any means, any kind of extraordinary evidence.  All it is is sufficient proof that the person is telling the truth.

(If a skeptic responds to the above by saying, "You offered videos of astonishing events, near misses, all caught on video.  Well, I'll believe in the resurrection if you can offer a video of the event!"...we can respond by telling the skeptic that he's missing the point.  The point of the examples caught on video was to demonstrate that ordinary means can provide proof of very out-of-the-ordinary events.)

Christian apologist/philosopher William Lane Craig presents a beautiful and pithy refutation in a short video here: Don't Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence?

And, in fact, sometimes, even for extraordinary claims, no proof is required.  All that is required is faith* and belief in the testimony of someone.  For example, if your loved one came home and related some really, really bizarre event had happened to her, most of us would believe her based on her testimony alone.  

That, too, is not extraordinary evidence.  It's rather ordinary indeed.  But we believe the extraordinary claim because we trust the deliverer of the story.  An extraordinary claim (like Jesus' resurrection) does not require any extraordinary, mind-blowing, in-your-face type of proof. It just requires sufficient proof, like every other claim does.

Finally, just a quick rejoinder to Hitchens' last comment "...what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence":  we say, "Yes, you are essentially correct here, but we do have evidence for what we believe."  Hitchens is attacking a straw man that faith is "belief without evidence". No Christian ought to embrace the elements of the faith without evidence.  The definition of faith being "belief without evidence" is NOT what is the foundation of Christianity.  We "always have a reason" (or defense) of what we believe, as 1 Peter 3:15 says. 

And Christianity has done a wonderful job offering sufficient apologia for Jesus' resurrection from the dead.  

There is proof indeed that He is Risen! 

*(Clarification:  it's true that in refuting Hitchens' straw man of our faith I've rejected the definition of faith being "belief without evidence", yet earlier on in the text I do use "faith" in this manner.  That is, when I assert that atheists who proclaim "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" have made a statement of faith (they haven't examined the evidence), and when I say that we might believe our loved one's bizarre story based on faith alone (that is, without any corroboration that her story is true), I AM using the definition of faith as "belief without evidence".  Suffice it to say that, like "love", there are many definitions of "faith".  But Christians do not base their doctrines on "belief without evidence", as Hitchens is alluding to.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easter and the Pagan Wars (again)

Every year as Easter approaches commentary appears about the pagan roots of Easter. Fundamentalist Christians who view all-things-Catholic as an abomination proclaim that Easter is actually a pagan fertility celebration.  

Accusations look like this:

This is simply gaga, lala nonsense.

Firstly, the above accusations have their foundation upon a very narrow Anglo-centric objection involving our use of the word "Easter". Most of the Christian world doesn't speak English and doesn't call this holy day "Easter" at all, so the alleged link to a pagan goddess is non-existent for most of Christendom. Most of Christianity refers to Easter as some derivative of the Latin and Greek word Pascha, which references the Passover. In Spanish it's called "Pascuas"; French "Pasques"; Afrikaans "Paasfees", Italian "Pasqua", Icelandid "Paska", Turkish "Paskalya....

Secondly, EVEN IF the origins of the Christian celebration are pagan, this is not ominous or sinister in any way.  Christianity has taken the pagan meaning and made it holy.  Just like Christ took a pagan world and sanctified it. If Fundamentalist Christians can say, "I'll see you at Bible Study tomorrow, Diana!" without inadvertently worshipping the Roman goddess of the woodlands....and can walk down the aisle of their wedding carrying a bouquet without believing she's superstitiously trying to ward off evil spirits... then good Christians can certainly celebrate Easter without unwittingly participating in a pagan fertility rite.

The best apologia I've seen for Easter in these annual "Easter is pagan" wars comes from a member on the Catholic Answers forum named "PrayerWarrior":  

I love how some folks think that English is the official language of the ancient world. Not. Come to think of it, English wasn't even the official language of the Church. Why is this important? "Easter" is an English word. In many languages, if not most, the Feast of the Resurrection is named after the Hebrew word Pesach which means passover. In Latin, the official language of the Church for centuries, the word is Pascha. So the fact that the English word may have been derived from a germanic goddess of the spring equinox means pretty much nothing at all. (I, personally, do not think Easter is named for the goddess but rather for April which was Eostremonat. Whoever decided to use the name "Easter" was probably thinking that passover is usually in April and that is why they went with that name---not because april was a month dedicated to the fertility goddess, Oestre.) 

By the way, in some light research, I found that Eusebius noted that there were problems with the timing of the feast of the Resurrection around 190ad. This had to do with the Church's celebration of the Resurrection as related to the Jewish celebration of the Passover. So, the issue was clarified by the Council of Nicea in 325. I think we can be confident that it was not called Easter by the Eusebius nor by the Council of Nicea. Nor do we have any reason to believe that the Feast had anything to do with a germanic pagan fertility goddess, since the Feast was well in place prior to the conversion of the germanic people's associated with that particular goddess. The first hints of Christianity among the Germanic people was in about 337. And, as far as England, who borrowed the word from the germans, they didn't convert until even later (according to Bede; the same source who tells us about Oestre)

Bottom line, the Feast of the Resurrection was in place at least in the 2nd century (probably was celebrated from the beginning). The germanic worship of Oestre would have had no bearing on the "creation" of the feast as the germans had not even been converted yet. Oh, and I didn't see any germans as attendees of the Council of Nicea either...

Now if you want to talk about how Easter is celebrated by secular society (and yes, many churches have joined in), it is completely obvious that pagan practices are still alive and well. Eggs are a sign of fertility, for example. However, I would challenge anyone to find a Catholic teaching any where in history, that instructs the faithful to participate in Easter egg hunts...

Thus, any link to pagan rituals (true or alleged) is irrelevant because we aren't pagan anymore, and we have taken these pagan customs and made them Christian. 

Also, my understanding is that the reason we celebrate Easter with the custom of eggs is because our Eastern Orthodox brethren fast from meat, dairy and eggs for the ENTIRETY of Lent (not just from meat on Fridays as we do in the Western Church).  As hens would continue to be laying eggs throughout Lent, a surplus of these eggs would exist by Easter, and thus, when Easter came, there was a veritable feast of eggs!

So, nothing menacing, malevolent or devil-inspired going on with celebrating Easter with the tradition* (i.e. custom) of enjoying a few dyed hard-boiled eggs.  


*"tradition" should not be confused with Sacred Tradition.  It's simply a custom to have eggs at Easter.  It's not part of the Sacred Deposit of the Faith, the Word of God handed down to us through Sacred Tradition.  A Catholic can never ever eat a single Easter egg yet still remain a faithful, practicing Catholic!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sedevecantists vs Scripture

Christ: I will not leave you orphans.
Sedevacantist: We are orphans.
--Scott Eric Alt

Thursday, April 6, 2017

(Revisit) Prayers of Petition

Lately I've been seeing a lot of discussions from skeptics who mock and deride believers for praying.  

Some comments from atheists look like this:


The atheistic meme is this:  your prayers are useless because your God's going to do what God wants to do anyway...and even you Christians admit this with a resigned shrug when you don't get what you pray for..."I guess it wasn't part of God's will".  So what's the point of praying?

And the Christian response is often, "We pray because it changes us.  It doesn't necessarily change God, who is all sovereign, all powerful".

That's a good response.  But I think there's also a very, very big apologetics rejoinder is often forgotten:

                                Prayer can indeed cause God to change his plan. 

Now, this of course needs to be understood with some nuance. 
In one sense God is indeed sovereign, and his will immutable.  

But in another sense, God does allow us to change events by our prayers.  God gives us the "dignity of causality" (one of my favorite phrases!)--that is, we have been given the great privilege of actually being able to cause events to change because of our actions.

In fact, we see this evident every day, if not necessarily in our spiritual lives, but in our natural lives. We see that when we plant seeds for corn, we get corn on our plates.  We don't just assume, as Ricky Gervais implies, "Hey, God knows I'm going to need corn on my plate, so let me just sit back at the dinner table, and God will provide it!"  We plant seeds, and then we get corn.  God is indeed sovereign, and if he wanted, he could send corn down from the sky, but we have been given the privilege of actually causing corn to grow in our fields, so we take actions to effectuate this process. If we don't plant the seed, we most likely aren't going to get the corn.

Similarly, we see that when we plant seeds for a cure for our loved one, through a novena, for example, we get a cure "on our plate".  We don't just assume, "Hey, God knows that we want a cure for Aunt Martha, so let's just sit back and wait for her to come home from the hospital!"We "plant the seeds" for her cure by our Prayers of Petition.  Without the prayer, we may not get the cure.

If you say that we should not pray because God already knows our needs, then as CS Lewis says, " would be equally foolish and impudent to put on a mackintosh - does not God know best whether you ought to be wet or dry?  The two methods by which we are allowed to produce events may be called work and prayer. Both are alike in this respect – that in both we try to produce a state of affairs which God has not (or at any rate not yet) seen fit to provide 'on HIS own'. And from this point of view the old maxim laborare est orare (work is prayer) takes on a new meaning. What we do when we weed a field is not quite different from what we do when we pray for a good harvest."

Finally, a quick comment regarding the inane "You pray for me, I'll think for you" meme--this taunt creates a peculiar (and ubiquitous) Either/Or false dichotomy.  For some weird reason atheists have decided that one cannot both be a prayer AND a thinker.  The Catholic response is, "We are perfectly capable of the Both/And.  We can pray and think at the same time!"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Isn't it enough to just be a Christian vs Only Catholics go to heaven!

                  “Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, 

         and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Continuing in the theme of previous posts regarding "Outside the Church there is no Salvation", or Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Sallus (EENS)...I (coincidentally?) happened to come across an article on EENS from Catholic apologist Mark Shea today.

Below is an excerpt (bold emphasis mine).  The article in its entirety can be found here: Mark P. Shea: Just Exactly Where is the Church?

But suffice it to say that the answer to the thread title's questions are:  No, and no.  *:) happy

It's not "enough" to just be a Christian.  And one can be in heaven without being Catholic.

(Regarding the word "enough"--here's what Mark Shea says:  "Depends on what you mean by 'enough'. If you mean 'enough to be saved' then I submit this is Minimum Daily Adult Requirement thinking. No lover asks 'What's the absolute bare minimum amount of contact with my Beloved I can get away with?' "

That is, asking your spouse, "Isn't it enough that I said I love you and I see you once a week?" is the exact WRONG question to ask.  #sleepingonthecouchthatnight)

More on that now:

Just Exactly Where is the Church?
--Mark Shea

Unam Sanctam is the sort of document that gives our Protestant brothers and sisters a real jolt, primarily because it looks at first blush as though it teaches that Catholics cannot have Protestant brothers and sisters. Written by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302, this papal bull concludes with this shocking dogmatic definition:
"We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff."
The average modern reader concludes these words mean: "We know exactly where the Church both is and is not. It's in the visible Catholic communion and only members of the visible Catholic Church go to Heaven." After this basic assumption has been made, most people go on to assume it is simply a matter of deciding what you think about that proposition. Generally, people fall into one of the following groups:
1. Those nice people who say hopefully, "That statement was not dogma, but just Boniface's opinion."

2. Those Progressive Dissenting Catholics who say, "That statement used to be narrow-minded Catholic dogma but Vatican II thankfully contradicts all that. How the Church has grown!"

3. Those anti-Catholics say derisively, "That statement used to be unbiblical Catholic dogma but Vatican II reversed all that. How the supposedly infallible Church has flatly contradicted the Bible and itself!"

4. Those Reactionary Dissenting Catholics who say, "That statement used to be glorious Catholic dogma but Vatican II betrayed all that. How the Second Vatican Council has corrupted the One True Faith!"

5. Those orthodox Catholics who say, "Unam Sanctam's definition is still dogma and the teaching of the Second Vatican Council does not contradict it or the Bible. Rather, the Council develops the Faith of the Church infallibly taught since the apostles, a faith which has never demanded we believe that "The Church is found solely in the visible Catholic communion, nor that only members of the visible Catholic Church can go to Heaven."

Or,...if one is a Christian at all, one is, as Lumen Gentium says, in some kind of union with the Church, the Body of Christ. This is why the Church teaches and has always taught that "outside the Church, there is no salvation". For the Church is the company of the saved.

 To talk about salvation "outside the Church" is like talking about swimming outside the water. It is the logical consequence of Jesus' statement, "He who is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30).

It therefore follows that to be subject to the gospel to any degree is to be in union, to that degree, with the office of Peter since the office of Peter was created by Christ for one purpose only, to help bring people into subjection to Christ. It is therefore impossible to accept Christ without accepting the authority of Peter's office to some degree or other. 

Naturally, it will be noted that such union with the Roman Pontiff is, for Protestants and Orthodox, imperfect. 

So is this partial and imperfect unity enough? Depends on what you mean by "enough". If you mean "enough to be saved" then I submit this is Minimum Daily Adult Requirement thinking. No lover asks "What's the absolute bare minimum amount of contact with my Beloved I can get away with?" Similarly, if, as the Church claims, the fullness of revelation subsists in the Catholic communion, then "How little contact with the fullness of revelation can I get away with?" is the exact wrong question for somebody who is serious about discipleship to Christ. Our goal, according to Scripture, is not to achieve bare minimums of love, fellowship and discipleship with Christ and His Bride, but to "attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;… we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love" (Ephesians 4:13-16). When people tell us "I'll be there in spirit!" we know they mean "I won't be there." Similarly, a merely partial spiritual unity, while a good start, is a bad finish. That is why we must all continue to work toward full unity in Christ, neither denying our commonalities nor papering over our differences...

"So does all this boil down to saying the Church thinks Catholics are going to Heaven and non-Catholics aren't? Or does it really mean the Church is now saying that everybody is saved?

Again, both of these are the wrong questions: which is to say they are nonsense questions. The Church makes no comments on infernal population statistics. Rather, the Church teaches that because validly baptized non-Catholics are real members of the Body of Christ, they share in the life of the Blessed Trinity and therefore share with Catholics the Hope of salvation.

That said, mark that it is Hope, not certainty, they share with Catholics. For it is important to remember that Catholics don't even assume that even Catholics are automatically going to Heaven. The whole point, as Paul says, is that Hope means we have not yet, in this life, attained what we hope for.
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25)
Catholics don't believe in "once saved, always saved" any more than in salvation by demographics. So the mere fact that somebody says they are a Christian, whether non-Catholic or Catholic, doesn't mean we assume they are going to Heaven. Till we die, we retain the radical freedom to reject the grace of God and end up among the damned. So Catholics leave God to judge all that.

But by the same token, Catholics also don't assume that anybody (even a non-Christian and indeed even an atheist) is going to Hell. The Church has always believed that those who do not know Christ by name may yet respond to the promptings of His Spirit and so ultimately be saved by Him. She believes this because it was taught by Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which describes the judgment of people who had no idea they were serving (or rejecting) Jesus as they answered (or refused) the demands of conscience with respect to "the least of these". That is why both the saved and the damned in the parable reply with astonishment to the King, "Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?" (Matthew 25:37-39). Some of the saved, says our Lord, are going to be astonished at their salvation. They just thought they were doing the right thing and had no idea they were, in fact, answering the prompting of the Holy Spirit to obey the will of Christ. As Paul says, "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:14-16). In short, what matters incomparably more than calling Jesus "Lord, Lord" is obeying Him. Or as St. John of the Cross put it more sweetly, "At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love."

But,again, that doesn't mean, "It doesn't matter if you are Catholic or not." We live in a fallen world and are fallen creatures who need every bit of help we can get from the grace of God to become the glorious love-filled creatures God calls us to be. And even with that help, history demonstrates our genius for being schleps and sinners. We are like patients in a hospital requiring intensive care, but with the hope and promise that the full panoply of modern medicine could give us back our life if we cooperate with the Divine Physician and let Him use all the treatments He has tucked away in His little black bag. That little black bag is called "the fullness of Christ's revelation in the Catholic communion". It includes the common life, common worship, and common teaching of the Church, including the seven sacraments, the accumulated wisdom of the Tradition both in Scripture and in the life of the Church, the Magisterium (including the Papacy), and the "riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18). Other Churches and ecclesial bodies like to use various items out of that black bag (say, the Bible, or Baptism, or the doctrine of the Trinity, or some particular moral teaching like the indissolubility of marriage, or predestination, or free will) in various combinations and to varying degrees and believers do well to avail themselves of as much of God's treasury in the Church's Tradition as they can lay hold of.

But if you are mortally ill (and the whole human race is mortally ill with sin), it's kind of crazy to say "I find that I'm most comfortable when the Doctor prescribes aspirin, and I do like his penicillin now and then, but I don't want his other prescriptions and treatments and I won't allow him to send other hospital staff to treat me." If we were mortally ill, we'd want whatever the Doctor has available to heal us.

Likewise, though the Catholic Church rejoices that real elements of the saving gospel are present and working in other churches and ecclesial bodies, though she even rejoices that the semina verbi or "seeds of the Word" can even be found in the various non-Christian religious and philosophical traditions of the world,she nonetheless points out that the best thing of all is to lay hold of the fullness of His gifts. So the Church, of course, encourages anyone who can do so to become Catholic. It doesn't presume to judge those who do not, for we mortals cannot know the reasons why others make the choices they do. People may refuse the Church out of ignorance, or woundedness, or some other cause that renders them inculpable for rejecting her. However, it is only sensible to point out that, everything else being equal, if we say we want God, but refuse the fullness of His gifts, then it is worth asking ourselves if we really want God after all or are, in fact, seeking something else.

As an Evangelical who discovered how much truth was in the Catholic faith and how much I agreed with it, I came to the realization that it was not enough for me to say "I share the same goals as Peter, so I am 'spiritually subject' to him already and do not need to be sacramentally and ecclesially subject as well." I realized that the very essence of what Peter proclaims is that the Word became Flesh. Moreover, I came to realize that there was, in fact, nothing in the Church's deposit of Faith that was either opposed to reason, nor anti-biblical. So I eventually concluded that it was therefore my duty, in obedience to Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, to enflesh my faith by becoming really, tangibly, physically, sacramentally joined to the visible Church our Lord commended to Peter's care and feeding. For myself, I could no longer say "I'll be with you in spirit" to the Pope if I was not also willing to really be with him in body as well.

Catholics do not say, and never have said, that they are the sole possessors of revelation. Indeed, the Church does not "possess" revelation at all. Revelation possesses her and that revelation, who is Christ, has (she teaches) committed Himself fully to her. "God," said the great Protestant writer George MacDonald, "is easy to please, but hard to satisfy." On the one hand, God is delighted when the most miserable sinner takes the smallest serious step toward the love of God and neighbor. On the other hand, He will not be completely happy until every last person He came to save is completely perfected in the image of Christ and overflowing with perfect love for God and neighbor. This same pattern is supremely evident in the Catholic Church's understanding of her relationship with her members, whether in full or very imperfect communion. For the Church is happy to recognize even the smallest commonalities she may share, not only with other Christians, but even with non-Christian religious traditions and the great philosophical traditions of paganism. The Church can even find things to affirm in virtuous atheists. But at the same time, the Church is acutely aware that there is a real difference between imperfect and perfect unity and so she too--easy to please, but hard to satisfy--labors toward that Day when all the members of the Body of Christ will be perfected in faith, hope and love.

Till That Day, we know where the Church is; we do not know where it is not.