Friday, October 8, 2010

A Catholic Reads "What Does the Bible Really Teach?"

My Qur'an project was interrupted by some Jehovah's Witnesses who left a book called "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" It's is an evangelization tract, about 200-pages long, with lots of pictures printed in full-color. I finished reading it a few days ago.

Like many other Christians, the Jehovah's Witnesses believe Christianity apostatized almost immediately after the Church came into existence. Mormons believe this explicitly. This belief seems more or less implicit among Protestants.

Like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses also have explicit belief in a general apostasy. The "Bible Teach" booklet has numerous references to so-called "apostate Christianity" and seems to take special interest in attacking the oldest liturgical Christian communions: Catholic and Orthodox.

  • For example, the drawing of the mitered bishop with a pectoral cross, that they use as a symbol of religious pretense and place alongside drawings of people engaging in sinful activity. (p. 91)
  • For a second example, the photograph of a cross and a statue of Mary alongside other images that they use to represent idolatry or false worship: a Buddha, ceremonial masks, a shrine with food and incense offerings. (p. 155)
  • For a third example, they seem to have a special enmity toward any kind of religious celebration, especially the two highest feasts of the liturgical year: Easter and Christmas. (This is recurring theme addressed specifically on pages 222-223.)

The Bible, in their view, is completely pure of any pagan influence, but anyone can verify for themselves this understanding of the Bible's relationship with paganism is a little off. The sacred authors of the Old and New Testaments borrowed freely from the symbols of their pagan neighbors without scruples.

  • Consider that the first account of creation deliberately follows the pattern of "Enuma Elish", a Babylonian creation myth.
  • Second, consider that the Old Testament makes numerous references to Leviathan/Lot(h)an/Rahab, a sea creature from pagan mythology.
  • Third, consider that the New Testament frequently quotes Greek poets, philosophers, and other persons of the pagan persuasion.

But, they have what I see as an even more serious problem: the fact that their canon for the New Testament is directly dependent upon this so-called "apostate Christianity". It's a historical fact that Christians didn't settle upon a working New Testament canon until local councils that occurred about 400AD (Rome, Hippo, Carthage). The Catholic Church didn't define its canon of Sacred Scripture dogmatically until Trent.

Why do the Jehovah's Witnesses, with all their scruples against pagan influence, put so much confidence in the composition of the New Testament canon considering its "apostate" source? Why do they not put even more confidence into doctrines that were developed and defined by the same church at a much earlier time, such as doctrines concerning Baptism, the Eucharist, and the Divinity of Jesus Christ?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Singing the Mass

This is awesome! I'd love to see my own parish make more use of sacred music, especially Gregorian Chant and the Latin language, and Musica Sacra has some wonderful resources.

Music can make a big difference in prayer, and the Liturgy should create the ideal conditions for prayer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Catholic Reads the Qur'an: Sura 1

The first "sura" (chapter) of the Qur'an is short enough to quote in entirety:

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being,
the All-merciful, the All-compassionate,
the Master of the Day of Doom.

Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succour.
Guide us in the straight path,
the path of those whom Thou has blessed,
not of those against whom Though art wrathful,
nor of those who are astray.

This is the first sura in the "traditional" ordering of suras, however, I get the impression that most students of the Qur'an don't believe this traditional ordering to reflect the historical order of authorship. I also read that some scholars believe some suras to be composite works. As a student of the Bible, this is not terribly surprising to me because the Bible has some of these characteristics as well.

I have so many questions already, but the biggest one of them all is, "Who is speaking?"

The second sura is a lot longer than this one. I might need a lot more time to read it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where am I going to find time to read the Qur'an?

A lot of forces are working together to pressure me into reading the Qur'an.

First, you've got Pastor Terry Jones at Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, FL, who's planning to burn copies of the Qur'an in just three days (on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks).

Second, a very large number of Americans seem to think we should not apply the the first amendment to the constitution in the case of a proposed Muslim community center three blocks from Ground Zero.

Third, there is the remarkably strange project.

Fourth, there are a billion Muslims on the planet. As a human being, shouldn't I be somewhat interested in the religious beliefs shared by a billion other human beings? There seems to be some element of moral obligation here. At the very least, it's a requirement of "cultural literacy".

Fifth, after all of the extremely negative things I've read about this book and its Prophet, I really do have a moral obligation to check the source and give the other side a chance to speak for itself.

Monday, February 8, 2010

object, End, and circumstances

When assessing the moral quality of an act, we often partition the act into "object" (what the agent physically does), "end" (the intent of the act), and "circumstances" (other mitigating factors).

A morally good act requires a good object AND a good end AND good circumstances. The absence of any of these three imparts a negative quality to the morality of the act.

My greatest struggle is with my "ends." Evil intentions from disordered passions often rise up inside of me---at terribly inconvenient times---threatening to pollute an action with good object and circumstances the very moment before I perform it.

Holy people are probably not this complicated.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Loss of "Original Solitude"

This is from Chastity and the Common Good: True Freedom in Being Bound to Another by Ann M. Hanincik M.T.S:
With the Fall and the emergence of sin came not so much a loss of solitude, as the distortion of its original meaning. A new kind of solitude emerged, one that celebrates separation, autonomy, and the with to be "left alone." Karol Wojtyla explores this sham of solitude in a profound way in his play The Radiation of Fatherhood. In the play, the character of Adam laments his responsibility toward others and longs for the solitude that is autonomy. He cries out to God: Ah, to stand apart from everything, so that I could be only within myself!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Freedom and the Law of God

If freedom and obedience to the Law of God are one and the same, it may be because the Law of God commands us to act in precisely the way that makes us most free.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Canon Question (@ Called to Communion)

This piece is long without wasting words. It was most definitely worth reading even though I could have spent that time on my reading assignment for Tuesday's class.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conversion Fragment 6: Free Will

I cannot be a materialist because there is nothing I know with more certainty than my free will. Really, nothing could be more obvious than I have freedom and I make choices about how to exercise it. In fact, I just freely chose to delete this sentence and rewrite it in a very different way than how I initially (and freely) put it down. It seems equally obvious to me that you have free will as well.

The axiom that human beings are free is completely incompatible with the idea that human beings are no more than material, merely automatons, just objects (albeit highly complex objects) enslaved to the law of physics and enmeshed in its web of causes and effects.

And, if my freedom is completely illusory---what does it matter? I find myself making illusory choices about how to exercise my illusory freedom, and this "insight" saves nothing save the attachment of the unnecessary and uninformative adjective "illusory".

Ideology vs Philosophy

Some systems of thought take birth from human desire, others take birth from truth.

There are several advantages I can see in systems of thought that take birth from truth.

The first advantage is that truth (if it is really worthy of the name "truth") gives one the foundation to decide and act in the world. It's much better to decide one's course based upon true data rather than what one desires to be true.

The second advantage I see is that truth (if it's really "truth") is true for everyone. Truth unites persons in community while desires (at their best) produce temporary, cellular, utilitarian relationships of mutual self-interest.

The third advantage I can see is that truth---unlike human desire---doesn't change.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Portrayal of the Positive and Negative Principles Principles in Buddhism

I think this author goes too far with his message, but we always find truth intermingled with falsehood, so I thought I’d pass this along with caveat.

I can agree with him up to the point that there’s an artificial selectivity in the way most authors present Buddhism to the West. They focus almost exclusively on the essence of what Buddhism is trying to be (much of it sublime!), while turning a blind eye to its actual living expression (much of which has disappointed me).

I’ve read Thomas Cleary, who’s unafraid to discern between what he calls “cultic” Buddhism which has nothing but the exterior appearances of Buddhism, and a classical Buddhism that has actually succeeded in communicating something authentic. This makes a lot of sense to me because there are too many centuries and too much geographical territory to allow us to reduce Buddhism to a unity without introducing significant error.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Conversion Fragment 5: Purpose

There was a point in my life when I became wearied with inventing goals and achieving them. There was something terribly false and unsatisfying about a purpose conceived in the mind. A purpose conceived in the mind seemed to be an imaginary purpose and I was hungry a purpose that was real, substantial, and objective---a purpose having reality outside the electro-chemical activity of my brain.