The Advantages of Catholic Guilt

Well, I’ve got nothing else to talk about today so I’m going to ramble on about Catholic guilt for a bit. I was raised Catholic, so I am quite familiar with this notion. The Catholic Church has a whole laundry list of sins, both serious and trivial, or, as the church calls them: mortal and venial sins. I’m not a priest or a theologian (despite the fact that I think I’m the antichrist), but here’s kind of how it works as I understand it. The church endorses a rule, like don’t commit adultery; you ignore the rule and commit adultery and you’ve committed a sin. Upon reflection you realize that and start to regret it; you feel shame and guilt at your failure. Metaphysically, the sin is like a stain on your soul that needs to be cleansed. It can only be cleansed through the sacramental rite of Confession in the church.

There is something of a problem, though, with this. The list of sins recognized by the Catholic Church is quite extensive. Adherents to the Faith are sometimes accused of obsessing over such sins so that they are constantly dragging around a great burden of guilt. I’m not a psychologist either, but I’m kind of under the impression that modern psychology treats guilt as bad, an unnecessary psychology burden. But is it?

In this modern world of ours that emphasizes acceptance and non-judgment the question arises: Is there a place for Catholic guilt? Or, rather, does Catholic guilt have an advantage that can validate it in psychological circles. My answer is yes, it does. However, I doubt I can treat the subject with the depth it deserves in the space of a single blog post and, since I am neither a psychologist nor a priest, I won’t be taken seriously anyway.

Nevertheless, here we go:

I guess the crux of the matter comes down to whether or not we wish to encourage “sin” or not. I realize that “sin” is not a psychological term, but religious, but I think it still has value. Too many people today associate morality almost exclusively with sex. Since the Sexual Revolution sexual morals have loosened significantly. Years ago, pre-marital sex was considered immoral—a sin—not so, anymore. I really don’t want to get in a discussion on sex here, I just want to point out that there is more to morality than sex: theft, murder, lying, and maybe even impiety. If we ignore the sex, do we wish to encourage thieves and murderers? No, I think not. Such would be a recipe for moral disaster.

Anyway, to return to the original question, Catholic guilt can be a useful mechanism to improve an individual’s soul. Murderers, through regret and guilt, may put down the gun and learn to live peacefully with their neighbors. Thieves may stop thieving; liars, lying. And what is dark and putrid within, in time, may be replaced with light and kindness. This kind of improvement is only possible through a desire for positive change. And what can stimulate such a desire but a recognition of a shortcoming in one’s own character? Catholic guilt provides this. It can be a powerful tool for spiritual improvement.

At least, that’s what I think.

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Book Review: Who Am I To Judge by Edward Sri (4 *’s)

The book Who Am I To Judge by Edward Sri can be summed up by its subtitle: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love. It is written with purposes that coincide with my own: the utter destruction of the philosophy of moral relativism. To that end, Edward Sri produces a powerful work to aid the modern anti-relativist and, more specifically, the modern Catholic, in that effort.

The book doesn’t consist of a series of inescapable arguments against relativism. There are a few such arguments in the book, but the author’s purpose is more to give the reader a framework and a means to engage the relativist. Indeed, he admits in the beginning of the book, something that took me a considerably long time to learn—that logical arguments, like pointing out that “It is true that there is no truth,” is a blatant logical contradiction has limited usefulness. Between the state of the current culture and the lack of critical reflection in many people, “winning” a logical debate just doesn’t carry that much weight.

As a philosophy major back in the day, a lot of what he wrote was familiar to me. His basic strategy was to compare the classic approach to ethics and living based on Catholic teaching and the best of the ancient philosophers, with that of relativism. It is a powerful technique. He gives a brief overview of things like telos and virtue and similar such concepts.

Ultimately, he boils things down and gives the non-relativist seven different “keys” with which to engage the relativist all based on the real-life consequences of relativism, the advantages of the classical approach, and similar such considerations. Again, a powerful approach.

I enjoyed the book and found it a worthwhile read. I recommend it to anyone struggling with the relativism issue. The writing was good; the reasoning was sound. It was a great refresher for my old philosophy days and even taught me a few new things. Anyway, I gave it four stars out of five.

The Problem with Miracles

Once upon a time, I was at a religious retreat. I’m not sure where exactly; I think it was Camp Guggenheim, wherever that may be. My whole class went there (I attended Catholic schools). I don’t remember all the events, and classes, and workshops that went on. One of them, though, I do remember.

I remember they divided our group of students into two groups. One of the groups was supposed to come up with reasons in support of the Bible and Jesus and why you should believe in them. The other was supposed to come up with reasons AGAINST believing in the Bible or Jesus. The point of the exercise was to prove that reason can’t decide such an issue; you have to rely on faith. I’ve never been big on faith, but that was the lesson.

I don’t remember all the reasons that were given back and forth, I just remember I was in the group that was supposed to give reasons against. I came up with one. I said, “All miracles can be explained by science.” The other group said something like, “How can you explain multiplying loaves of bread or walking on water?” And thus they claimed their victory for that point.

But not really. If I were in the same situation now, I would ask, more precisely, “How can you be sure that there is no scientific explanation for absolutely every miracle?” Once upon a time, rainbows were believed to be miraculous. Now, we have a scientific explanation for them. Walking on water? Doesn’t that defy the laws of gravity and physics? Well, the thing about science is that it is continuously evolving and changing and improving. What was regarded as impossible one day is regarded as real and explained the next. Eclipses were terrifying miracles of great significance in ancient times. Now we know that they are just the interposition of the sun and moon in alignment with Earth. So, if science keeps explaining more and more wonders, who is to say that it won’t eventually explain the multiplication of loaves or the walking on water? If you view science as total and complete (which it most emphatically is NOT), you will view those miracles as inexplicable. But if the scope of science is always increasing, as is its explanatory power, explanations of such things may be just around the corner.

Maybe psi-phenomena are real. Maybe a sufficiently well-trained psychic could walk on water. After all, I have read reports (anecdotal only, of course) of levitations, so maybe it is possible and inherently explainable. We’ve explained a lot of other mysteries in this universe; why not miracles?

The point of all this? Don’t base your Faith on miracles alone. That can very likely lead to disillusionment and disaster. Find something stronger to base it one.

Muslims In America

I don’t quite know how to introduce this topic. It is somewhat delicate. Are all Muslims terrorists? Obviously not. But it is my impression that most terrorists are Muslim. There seems to be a sickness in the Islamic Faith that needs to be treated. As an outsider, I can’t remedy it. All I can do is jump up and down, rant and rave, and point at it. It is the Muslims who must fix and reform their Faith. And it is indeed in need of reform.

To those that say the terrorists have nothing to do with real Islam, I think you might be being deliberately naive. I seem to recall that one of the heads of ISIS (I think he is now dead) had a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from one of the most prestigious Islamic Universities in the world. That speaks volumes to those willing to listen. Likewise, most of the terrorists claim to be Muslims and they point to the Koran to justify many of their atrocities. Does the Old Testament have “questionable” passages? Yes, but neither Christians nor Jews are currently killing witches nor are they stoning adulterers. Islamic extremists, on the other hand, are currently waging jihad against the “Great Satan” in significant numbers.

What do we do about it?

Currently, there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. I don’t have a problem with any Muslim provided he/she renounces Sharia Law, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and, of course, suicide bombing. Sharia Law is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. The other acts listed are barbaric and should be universally condemned—and they usually are. Furthermore, such practices should not be protected by the 1st amendment, no matter what the relativists say. If they are protected, we need a serious discussion about that and perhaps even a constitutional amendment to change that. I mean, if we have spell out that killing in the name of religion is not protected by our laws, where are we?

Politics in a Nuclear Age

We all dread confrontations between nuclear powers, and rightly so: Several countries on this planet have within their arsenals the capacity to destroy the entire planet themselves, or, at the very least, trigger a confrontation that leads to its destruction. This is no laughing matter.

North Korea is a nuclear power. And it is also a rogue nation bent on causing problems on the global scene. There is no doubt that the U.S. arsenal is far superior and numerous, but North Korea still has nukes. They also have a stunningly vast arsenal of conventional weapons. As a result, between Seoul and Tokyo, they are effectively holding 60 million people hostage.

I recently had a conversation with one of my brothers. He was a little hawkish on the matter—not because he’s a bloodthirsty barbarian, but because he has a number of very practical, well-reasoned points. Basically, if we do nothing, nothing will change. North Korea will continue to increase its armaments, including its nukes, so that dealing with them in the future will be even more difficult and dangerous. High-end estimates of their arsenal currently put it at sixty warheads. How many will that be in ten years? 100? 200? 600? Those are increasingly frightening numbers. And don’t forget, the populations of Seoul and Tokyo aren’t likely to pull up stakes and just wander away in the intervening years. They’ll still be under an increasingly deadly threat of annihilation. And if that’s not enough, consider other nuclear-powers-in-the-making, like Iran. They’ll be watching how we deal with North Korea. If we can do something effectively, we might disabuse Iran of the notion that its nuclear program is worth pursuing. Finally, there is the population of North Korea itself. Don’t we have some humanitarian concern to free them from a dictator?

To be honest, I don’t know how to resolve the issue. Maybe our military can do something, but … I’m just not comfortable with that idea. So much could go wrong.

The problem is: science. Or knowledge. Or technology. Whatever you want to call it, it is spreading across this planet and growing in leaps and bounds. Sooner or later, if we don’t figure something out, every country on this planet will have the means to develop nuclear weapons. And that’s not a situation likely to promote the health of this planet. We need some method of dealing with rogue nations or even other nation with whom we have severe moral disagreements, whatever they may be.

The carrot? Or the stick? The carrot? Or the stick?

In my view, nuclear weapons are just too treacherous to mess with. They eliminate the stick. So, we are left with a carrot. What can we use?

I had a notion the other day that maybe we should do something like the United Nations, but instead of every nation on the planet, only allow democracies to join. Under this umbrella, formalize a joint agreement to pursue the development of Space. Currently, most nations have their own space programs, each one at its own level of progress. If we join forces with other serious powers based on democratic principles we can develop a carrot designed to wean rogue nations like North Korea away from their more sinister ways. If all the democracies of the globe are sharing technology, research, and what-have-you amongst themselves, but not with bad actors, we will quickly outdistance such bad actors in technological development and thereby create an incentive for the reform of such nations. Because nuking them, just isn’t a good option.

Anyway, that was my thought, and I thought I’d share.

The Statue Controversy

The country probably isn’t looking for the input from a crazy man, but here’s my two cents anyway on the Statue Controversy.

Trump was right. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are now coming under fire because the two men owned slaves. Yes, many of our Founders owned slaves. But it’s worth pointing out that these same Founders gave us the documents and the philosophical groundwork that led to the eventual freeing of said slaves. History consists of a series of steps taken by mankind, a gradual evolution of thought and moral theory. We can agree that slavery belongs on the trash-heap of history; yet, at the same time, we should recognize the historical context in which the Founders lived. At the time, slavery was accepted throughout most of the world. You can’t expect radical change overnight. As I said, moral evolution takes place only in small individual steps.

Sure, men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but that is not the reason we remember them. No, we remember them for the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and the founding of this nation. All men (and women) are sinners. Clearly, they had faults. I think it is worth remembering that. Maybe we should take a step back, take a breath, and just agree we will honor people for their achievements and not their failures. We cannot demand perfection from our heroes. If we do, we will quickly find their ranks emptied.

Consider Martin Luther King Jr. He was a great Civil Rights Hero. But he also committed adultery. Are we going to tear down his statue, and cease celebrating his holiday because his failures are offensive to many of the Christian Faith, as well as (I think) Jews and Muslims? What about Feminists? What is their view of MLK Jr? Granted, adultery is not as serious a sin as slavery, but do we want to “honor” an adulterer? I say yes, because he achieved great things.

Do yourself a favor and ignore the failings of long dead men and women. Remember them for their achievements and contributions not for their faults. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a world without heroes. How dreary a place that would be.

Trump

Donald Trump was not my first choice for President of the United States. But he was elected. Now that he holds the office, the bias of the media against him is very clear, so much so, I feel inclined to point something out.

According to my phone, the current GDP of the U.S. is about 19.4 trillion dollars while the current national debt is about 20 trillion dollars. In other words, the debt exceeds the GDP by over one-half trillion dollars. That’s roughly the GDP of Argentina or Taiwan (the excess of our debt, that is). I barely understand the economics of the problem (my training was in philosophy and math, not economics); all I know is that it is immense and I would have no idea how to deal with it, if I were POTUS (thankfully, I am not).

Donald Trump is a business man. A very successful business man who has earned over a billion dollars. That is a staggering accomplishment. So much so, he might actually have the skills to fix our debt situation. If he can’t, or if he doesn’t, I honestly don’t think we’ll get another chance. Now that the debt exceeds the GDP, the problem will get worse and worse at an increasing rate. Indeed, the mathematics of interest rates is usually exponential in nature. Everyone should be familiar with such from high school. An exponential curve is one that increases faster and faster the farther along it goes (My math is rusty; it might be geometric in nature; regardless, it’s still bad).

Anyway, the point is that it will reach a point where the debt will be increasing faster than the GDP is growing. At that point, it becomes impossible to pay off the debt and collapse is inevitable. I don’t want to live through an economic collapse and neither should you nor members of the media.

So, with that in mind, I think a more conciliatory tone toward POTUS should be used; or, if not conciliatory, perhaps less paranoid. So, media, put your ink-stained sabers away for the moment and give the president a break. I don’t think he is as crazy as you make him out to be, if for no other reason than that we did not have a nuclear war with North Korea.