Friday, 17 June 2011

Explaining the catholic church to an atheist: Al responds

Following on from this post.

Al responded to my answer with this:

I can see the logic of a church acting as a kind of keeper of standards like a professional association. (Just like homeopaths really do need an authoritative body to tell their members that they must not tell people not to take anti-malaria vaccines.) I get all that. (Leah’s blog).
But how on earth does one get from a position of deep scepticism to one of regarding a church as ‘a truth-telling thing’? That is the area I am interested in.
Honestly. I don't really know.
That's like telling someone how to fall in love. I'm not sure how to break this down. I don't think I can.
I'm sure this is where faith is a gift of God's grace, a work of the Holy Spririt enlightening the mind and quickening the heart.

Here's how I answered him. I don't think it's aa very satisfactory answer, and I don't expect it will satisfy him. Again, any thoughts out there, please chime in!
I think there are maybe two simultaneous routes.
Firstly, the Catholic church itself.
If there is such a thing as Truth, then we ought to recognise it. It has a power that we should feel when we come across it.
When I read the writings of the Church they have the ring of truth. I find them stirring some inchoate sense of truthfulness that leaps inwardly at the sound of it.
Perhaps you have read pieces of wonderful writing that evoke a similar response in you. A sort of gratitude that the writer has articulated something that you feel to be 'true'.
There is some reading here but it is very heavy.
And the Catechism is here.
I don't think it is necessary to be a catholic, or even a believer of any sort, to appreciate the weight of the words, which, at the very least demand our attention. There really is little point reading it in a cynical frame of mind though.

The other route, which could be undertaken simultaneously, is to discern whether the God of the bible is true. And therefore also, whether the Jesus of the bible was who he claimed to be. That's a big one, and obviously a huge stumbling block for someone who is an avowed atheist.
I will say that there are innumerable very sane and level headed atheists and agnostics who came to believe through being persuaded by the biblical account of the resurrection.
Once that falls into place, you can accept the idea of a God who entered space and time and remains with us in some way.
All Christians accept the concept of a church, but they have different concepts of what that means. Some Christians see the church as being a purely spiritual thing. An invisible body of believers, rather than an actual institution.
Catholics see it as both.
The catholic concept of church however, is much more congruent with the scriptural accounts and also with the historical church, about which we know a great deal.
I'm wrapping up quickly here because it's so late and I need to get off the computer .
There is a great deal to say about this and I can't put it all in one comment.
More anon, but feel free to add any other objections etc.

(Edited to add this video by Fr Robert Barron.)
I just came across it this evening.
He makes some very interesting points contrasting the weighty and serious existentialism of Satre and Camus with the new atheism which he sees as more frivolous and shallow.
He also presents an argument from desire.
He says that our restlessness and seeking after happiness, even when we get all the material satisfaction that we want, proves that we are wired to seek God.:
" That we desire something which transcends the limitation of this world means that we have within us a sort of participation in the eternal..
Hunger is not a sign that food is a projection, in fact hunger proves the existence of food.
Your hunger proves the reality of food.
It doesn't mean that food is some sort of subjective projection, or an illusion.
So our desires are not misleading us, our desires order us to reality."

My next project

I've got this little statue of Our Lady in a corner in the back garden. 
But although it's only a year or so old, already it is showing a few signs of weather damage.

I've just seen this video of the little home made shrine that taylor Marshall made with his children.
I think this is just the ticket to save my poor little statue from any further deterioration. 

And it looks so pretty. I think it would be fairly easy to knock something like this up, and the more rustic the better.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Holding the press accountable: Please complain!

I have just submitted my first ever complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

For background read here.

A recent article appeared in the Guardian newspaper, written by Clare Murphy who is head of public policy for BPAS. In her article she claims 'protesters waved their banners of dismembered foetuses at women as they entered our British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic in London.'
40 Days for Life held a recent prayer vigil over 40 days outside BPAS Bedford Sq. It was peaceful and prayerful. We informed the police, and they informed BPAS. The vigil was a great success, and at least 7 women rejected aborting their child. These are the ones we know about but there could be others.
We would like to categorically state that 40 Days for Life and those who have joined our prayer vigil have never used images of aborted foetuses and waved them in the faces of women going into BPAS. A particular feature of 40 Days for Life is precisely that we do not use any graphic images of abortion. We would also like to add that we held a peaceful prayer vigil, not a protest. 
We do have a set of 9 artistic images showing the development of the child in the womb. These images were on display during the vigil. You can see the images for yourself here. They are excellent and very well made, with useful information about child development at various stages during pregnancy. We highly recommend them and encourage individuals and groups to invest in a set. We found that passers-by, mothers, and couples going into BPAS were intrigued by such an educational and touching display. Along with these poster images, we also think that child development model sets are very useful for educational purposes in a variety of contexts. An example is 'How you Began' which can be viewed here. We will be investing in a child development model set for our next vigil.
We would very much like Clare Murphy to inform us whether: she has been badly misinformed on this matter, or has problems with her eyesight, or has simply written lies against 40 Days for Life and discredited the peaceful, prayerful and compassionate nature of what we do and the good intentions of those who have participated. We also expect Clare Murphy and the Guardian to withdraw the section saying we used images of aborted foetuses. It is utterly unacceptbale to write and print something so patently false.
We encourage our supporters to make a complaint to BPAS, the Guardian Comment is Free editors, and the Press Complaints Commission.

I have just emailed ALL the editors on the Comment is Free section, and submitted a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.
Please do likewise! Lets let them know that we will hold them accountable for inaccurate and unfair reporting.

Here is the letter I submitted to the editors. It  is very short. and I really don't have time to put together anything punchier because it's late and I need to get off the computer, but I couldn't let this pass.

I have just read this article by Clare Murphy in the Guardian online "Comment is free" section.
I cannot let such a grossly innacurate article go uncorrected.
Clare Murphy starts her article by saying:

"There is a moral divide between freedom of speech and deliberately intimidating women at a difficult time – as we found when protesters waved their banners of dismembered foetuses at women as they entered our British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic in London last month."
She is referring to a peaceful prayer vigil organised by a group called "40 Days For Life", which is in no way a protest.
One of the principle features of this group is that they NEVER have any gruesome pictures such as the one Clare Murphy describes.
She must know that this is a flat out untruth and is playing to the stereotypical, and rather repugnant images that many people have of anti abortion protests.
This  very serious distortion of the truth has prompted me to submit my first ever complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

Yours sincerely (etc).

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Home ed: free stuff online.

I've just printed out this fantastic, free PDF  art study based on the popular Mike Venezia books on famous artists. I found the link on Elenas blog and I'm so glad I did. It's a treasure trove, look at all these printables!

The artists covered in this study are: Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollock, Monet, Matisse, O'keefe, Michaelangelo and Da Vinci. It looks great,  and just what I need as our art study has been drifting a bit of late.
I'm really looking forward to starting on it with Colmcille.

I am astounded at the quality of work that some blogging homeschooling mothers come up with. Not to mention the generosity with which they share their hard work with the rest of us less talented numpties.

Speaking of sharing resources, one of my favorite bloggers is Shell, of Thinking Love No Twaddle.
She hits all the bases: politics, catholicism, mothering, frugal household management and of course lots and lots of posts about how home education works for her.
In addition to all this she creates great worksheets which she shares online through this website
I have recently printed off her "Brief history of the priesthood".  It is VERY very good.
It isn't for small children. In fact, I have been reading it prior to giving it to Gabriel ( who is 13) and I have found it fascinating and informative.
I will use it for Colmcille, but I need to read it properly myself first so that I can modify it a bit for his level of understanding. It is PACKED with information.

Shell also happens to be living with  a debilitating illness to which she occasionally gives little more than a passing mention.
I don't know how she does it, she's a powerhouse.
To Shell, and Kalei and  this blogger whose name I don't know, and all the other blogging mothers out there who generously share their hard work with the rest of us: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Korea's Got Talent

This makes my heart ache for suffering humanity, and all the children who never make it off the streets.
This young man has a great voice, and a heartbreaking story. His rather downcast expression, and very quiet and humble responses only hint at the suffering that he has endured.
It also makes me smile to see a Korean And and Dec though.

HT: Mommy Life

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The dictatorship of relativism: Dawkins vision unfolds.

Old Ma Dawkins, scourge of the faithful, has announced Year Zero for secularism.
Yesterday I read about his new college which will be like Oxford, but not, and yet twice the price.. So only for the children of very wealthy people who didn't manage to get in (The shame! And dash the pesky meritocracy!)
Oh and it will be led by devout atheists and will naturally be free from the taint of Thor or Zeus or any other god.
Today I read in the Irish Times:
FREEDOM OF expression and of religion “should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others”, according to the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life, adopted unanimously at the World Atheist Convention yesterday.
The declaration also states that “the sovereignty of the State is derived from the people and not from any God or gods”.
Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, well-known atheist Prof Richard Dawkins said the Irish Constitution should be reformed to “remove all influence of the Roman Catholic Church and all other churches . . . incorporating tolerance for all religions”.
Referring to the oath that must be taken by Irish presidents and judges, he said they might as well take an oath “to Zeus or Thor” as to God.
He “rejoiced” at the growth of secularism in Ireland and when he read the papers “about the pathetically diminished number of priests”.
He hoped the churches would “wither away”, describing the Catholic Church as “an evil institution . . . by far the worst where the churches are concerned”.
The three-day convention also launched Atheists Alliance International, a newly restructured umbrella group for atheists worldwide, whose first chairwoman is Tanya Smith of the Atheist Foundation of Australia.
Keynote speakers included Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, American science blogger PZ Myers and Iranian activist Maryam Namazie, of the British Council of Ex-Muslims.
Other speakers included Prof Dawkins, Danish neurobiologist Lone Frank and Indian author Aroup Chaterjee.
Organised by Atheist Ireland, the convention was attended by 350 delegates, many of them Irish, with a preponderance of young people in their 20s.
On education, the Dublin declaration says State education should be secular and “children should be taught about the diversity of religious and no-religious beliefs in an objective manner, with no faith formation in school hours”.
Children should also “be educated in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge. Science should be taught free from religious interference.”
It says “freedom of conscience, religion and belief are private and unlimited” and that all blasphemy laws should be repealed. “There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law.”
Under the heading “Secular Democracy” it says: “The only reference in the Constitution to religion should be an affirmation that the State is secular.”
Public policy “should be formed by applying reason, not religious faith, to evidence” and “the State should be strictly neutral in matters of religion, and its absence, favouring none and discriminating against none”.
Religions, it says “should have no special financial consideration in public life, such as tax-free status for religious activities, or grants to promote religion or run faith schools” and that “membership of a religion should not be a basis for appointing a person to any State position”.
Where law is concerned it says “there should be one secular law for all, democratically decided and evenly enforced, with no jurisdiction for religious courts to settle civil matters or family disputes”.
 I have some questions:
It seems that according to Dawkins secularist vision,  we must in our ethical decision making, dispense with the religious values which have always informed them until now.
Since our ethical values are, at the ground, JudeoChristian, how do we make decisions on ethics?

The declaration also states that “the sovereignty of the State is derived from the people and not from any God or gods”.
If the will of the people is paramount, what does an avowedly secular state do when the majority want religion?
Is this a further step towards what His Holiness Benedict XVI, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church calls "The Dictatorship of Relativism"?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Explaining the Catholic Church to an atheist: my response to Al

I wrote here about a question that was put to me on a local neighbourhood forum by a very convinced atheist called Al.
I won't bother copying here the preamble, in which I explain that the following answer is only partial, but will likely be best fleshed out in response to any questions, or objections he has.
As I said in my earlier post, I got some great input from some posters at The Catholic Spitfire Grill .
Here's how I responded to Al:

Firstly, I want to briefly address the doctrine of infallibility.
Infallibity is not to be confused with impeccability ( although it usually is)

Catholics can acknowledge the shameful episodes in church history, bad priests and wicked Popes  and still see the Church as an institution that is divinely ordained and inspired ( Dante, who was a devout Catholic and believed that the Pope and the church were divinely inspired, placed at least one Pope in hell).
The doctrine of infallibilty refers to a negative protection. It holds that the Magisterium ( that is, the teaching authority of the church that rests in the College of Bishops, in communion with the Bishop of Rome) is infallible when it teaches on matters of faith and morals that have been passed down in unbroken succession from the apostles. In other words, our faith does not change. Our understanding may deepen...but teaching must always come DIRECTLY from the teaching of the Apostles as it has been passed down to us in unbroken succession.
So the church can be in error, and they can make mistakes ( like electing a Borgia) and get things wrong ( the Crusades and the inquisition were not the churches finest hours) But even if these things were bad ( although, in the context of the times, it is possible to make a reasonable defence of the Crusades) they did not result in a corresponding change in doctrine/dogma.
Even the very wicked womanising, murdering Popes did not attempt to change church teaching in order to make their bad behaviour permissible.
So a catholic can be sharply critical of the church,  and yet also be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church. In fact we have some famous saints who rebuked their Popes.
Actually, considering the history of the church, catholics often regard the fact that the Catholic church is still here 2,000 years later as something of a miracle in itself.
We do not see the authority of the Church as earned, but rather that it is a gift that no human institution, by itself, could ever live up to.

Leah is an atheist who blogs here.
She is a student at Yale who is dating a catholic boy. Her blog strapline says " A geeky atheist picks fights with her catholic boyfriend"
It's a fascinating read. Some of it is a bit over my head, but I really love following the conversations of egg heads like these.
During the course of her blog she has had many conversations about catholicism and has aquired an impressive grasp of some very complicated catholic issues.
She belongs to an email list that I am a member of and I was interested to know how she would explain the need for church authority.
I really liked her answer so I am going to c&p it here:

Even as an atheist, it makes a lot more sense to me that Christianity would be better served when people were anchored in a church rather than left to their own devices. It's an error check, at the very least. You might tell your atheist friend that belonging to a church isn't that much different that the idea of peer review in science. Both systems substantially delay the acceptance of any new idea, to prevent large numbers of people from suddenly going wrong. A new teaching has to clear a high standard of evidence and be convincing to the people with the most experience and relevant knowledge. The scientific process of peer review is constituted the way it is because people so frequently go wrong on their own. And, presuming Christianity is true, the consequences for going wrong on your own are a lot smaller if your field is theoretical physics instead of theology/ethics.

It may take a lot more doing to convince your interlocutor that the Catholic church is 'a truth telling thing' as Chesterton said, but it might help to convince him that Christianity, like any field of study, needs some kind of regulatory institution

To that, I want to add that sometimes the authority of the Church is compared to that of an umpire or a referee. You can see that the authority that rests in the umpire, or referee, does not require him to be personally without any fault or flaw, but nonetheless the game depends on his authority in order to avoid descending into chaos.
Al has responded to say that he is reading through it and will take his time, and will give me his thoughts in due course.
I'll post here when he does.
I just want to add that I'm keeping a copy of the discussion here, not to heap scorn on Al's position, but to keep a copy of an interesting exchange, and  perhaps also because it might be of interest to other readers.
My thanks to Patricius and Part Time Pilgrim for  their thoughts on the first post.
Again, if anyone has any thoughts on this I would be interested to hear them.

Theology of the Body: Third International Symposium 2011

I'm having a busy weekend.
Amongst the usual domestic obligations and weekend activities, I have managed to steal away and attend a few of the talks at the Theology of The Body symposium 2011, Which, this year is taking place this year at St Mary's college, Strawberry Hill, in Twickenham, my husbands old Alma Mater,.

I think it's a great venue. Near enough to central London, but far enough out that there is plenty of space, and parking isn't a problem. And I hope the visiting Yanks, who usually appreciate a bit of ye olde historye, will  enjoy Horace Walpoles magnificent, and slightly spooky, Gothic castle.

The weather has been glorious as well which is a great bonus. Although our visitors probably all packed their kagouls and fleeces expecting London drizzle, not this continental heatwave.
We Brits like to surprise our American friends.
Surprise and fear, fear and surprise. No one expects to pack for the Costa del Sol when they come to England.

I've taken so many notes and I really want to take a moment to blog about it so that I can remember some of the points that really made an impact on me.

I will say that Christopher West is a great speaker. He does an excellent job of presenting his material in a way that those unused to the rather fusty language of academia can easily grasp.
I am very glad that he is back in the saddle after his sabbatical.

Tomorrow, husband dearest is going in the morning on his own, and then I plan to follow a bit later with the children. If I'm lucky I might manage to leave the youngers with the older ones for a bit, and nip in to hear another speaker and then we'll all go together to the closing Mass at 12.30.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Explaining the Catholic Church to an atheist

I have been having a discussion on a local forum about belief in God. As far as I can tell, I seem to be the only one who is an out-of-the-closet theist. There may be others lurking, but no one else posting apart from me.
It's a very small neighbourhood forum , but nonetheless it's interesting that the overwhelming concensus appears to be agnostic/atheist.
There was one Christian called Laurence who posted for a while. But we tangled a bit over doctrinal issues ( I felt that he just couldn't help taking side swipes at the Catholic church, even when he thought he was being reasonable) and I think I got the better of him and he seems to have decided to lie doggo for a while.
In all honesty, I think that's probably a good thing because he really was inclined to be a bit of a cartoon fundie and grist to the atheist mill. He spoke in the lingo that felt completely normal to him but often sounded quite alienating and patronising to anyone outside that milieu. As a consequence, some of the responses he elicited were quite sharp put downs and then he'd get huffy, and the conversations that ensued tended to generate more heat than light.
Anyway, he seems to be taking a back seat for a while, so I'm the resident Christian.
That suits me fine.
I have the 'joie de combat' and I enjoy a fesity back and forth, and tend to feel more exhilarated than wounded by the opposition. I think it's been good for me to cut my teeth ( apologetically speaking) in this way, on a small forum, but one where the people are mostly known and therefore tend to be a bit more accountable for their words.

It's a very local forum and they meet up fairly frequently in local pubs. Although I've only gone along once, I've met a few of them and will be going again in a few weeks time.
The most recent discussion has been about belief in God, but it's just about to morph into a discussion about the Catholic Church in particular, and the rather audacious claims that she makes regarding herself.

I thought I'd make copies here of the conversation as it unfolds from this point.
If anyone is interested in reading the earlier parts of the conversation you can find that by clicking here which is where it starts.

Al is  a pretty conscientious secularist, friendly with Keith Porteous-Woods and Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society and was very supportive of the "Protest the Pope" campaign just prior to the Papal visit last year. 
I like him very much and I can appreciate that most of his objections to religion in general, and to the Catholic church in particular, are grounded in a rather noble ethical perspective. Nonetheless, I believe he is quite mistaken about the Catholic church, and I hope that I can begin to show him reasons that will lead him to reconsider his opposition.
His objection reminds me of Archbishop Fulton Sheens observation that "there are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing."

So here's the comment  I made that Al took issue with:
The concept of being a bible believing christian without an authoritative church doesn't stack up at all.
A bible only christian runs into the sand very quickly when he tries to maintain an infallible bible without an authoritative church.
You can't squeeze infallible bible juice out of a fallible catholic orange.
The church came before the bible. The early christians weren't wandering around with a bible tucked under their arms going off to bible study groups on wednesday evening.
The early church was Jewish and the Jewishness of Christianity is still very present in catholicism and in the catholic mass.
That is not the case in 21st century nu church which tends to revolve around a stirring sermon and worship songs.
That is the short answer, but I will try to put more flesh on the bones later.

Al responded:
I have as much difficulty with this as I do with bible-believing Christians of the fundamentalist persuasion. If I believe in anything it is the need for critical thinking, the necessity of questioning authority and orthodoxy, so the concept of an 'authoritative church' that includes a Pope who can be 'infallible' is, for me, well beyond the pale. And I don't want to get into a slanging match about your church, but with things like the Inquisition in its history, its record is a long way from impeccable and so I would have thought its 'authority' has simply not been earned.

I wrestled a bit with how to answer him. Not because I was stumped ( ha! as if!) but because I was a bit daunted by even beginning to answer.
There is simply so much to say and so many ways to say it.
I posted a question on an email list I belong to ( The Catholic Spitfire Grill) and asked for some thoughts about how I could answer this in a way that would make sense to an atheist.
I think that part of the problem I was having is that the question of the churches authority, presupposes a belief in God.
I'm quite used to having a discussion like this with other Christians, but Al doesn't believe in God.
The conversation was moving away from answering questions about the existence of God, and why theists are well within their rational rights, to specifically defending the Catholic Church and her claims to be a divine institution.
That felt a little strange to me, as I could see that, without believing in God to begin with, that could all easily sound deeply potty.
I got a couple of answers from the Spitfire Grill that really helped kick me off in the right direction.
In the next post I'll talk about how I responded to Al,
And meanwhile,I'd really like to hear any thoughts that anyone else has about how they would answer a question like this, and especially if there are any points that you think ought to be included!