Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gun Control: Yes or No?

The recent Aurora shooting has sparked calls for gun control. The logic behind gun control is simple: guns, especially assault weapons, can be used to kill a lot of people efficiently, and makes it easier for people to kill one another. Therefore, in the interest of public safety, powerful guns such as assault weapons should be banned or at least heavily regulated.
One common objection to this, the “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” meme, is overly simplistic. (And I loathe overly simplistic memes with a fiery passion.) People do kill one another with a variety of weapons, but guns make killing people a lot easier. It is a lot easier to pull a gun on oneself or another than to stick a knife in someone’s back.
Catholics are called to be pro-life in all aspects of their lives. Since guns are often used to take lives, the question arises: Should Catholics support responsible gun control in order save lives, protecting the common good?
There are two must better reasons to oppose gun control. The first is the deterrent effect of guns. Criminals deliberately seek to get around laws, while ordinary citizens obey them. Thus, a society which embraces gun control will, in the long run, have widespread gun ownership only in the hands of those willing to break the law.
Further, a disarmed populace is unable to defend itself effectively against shooters. A criminal is far less likely to attack a person who has the possibility of being armed than otherwise. The example of Switzerland is often cited as proof that widespread gun ownership of guns acts as a deterrent – gun crimes are comparatively rare in Switzerland, yet gun ownership is widespread in that country.
The second argument against gun control is more compelling. Guns allow individuals to protect themselves against tyrannical states.
A state in which gun ownership is outlawed is a state where government can oppress its citizens without any effective check on its power. Without gun ownership, citizens cannot effectively band together to defend themselves against the police power of the state.
Thus, widespread, responsible gun ownership acts as a check against tyranny.
The common good is therefore best served by widespread, responsible gun ownership, as both a deterrent against criminals and a check on governmental overreach.
In an ideal world, guns would be completely unnecessary. People would not need to live in fear of one another and of the government. But the world is not ideal, and people are imperfect, so widespread gun ownership, paradoxically, serves as a guarantor of peace and order.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Christianity is Rational!

I recently found this rather childish comment about a post concerning the fallacy of the popular “Love is Love” justification for homosexual marriage.
Here is the comment, in full:

“This argument is flawed because it displays a glaring fallacy in its justification. To say that homosexuality is simply sexual attraction couldn’t be any more wrong and it’s simply misinformation. The feelings many gay couples have for each other is often the same that straight couples do. Of course sexual attraction is something that gays feel, but you can say the same of heterosexuals. There are plenty of gay relationships built purely upon romantic interest. In fact there are quite a number of gay relationships with more love, care, and undying devotion that some straight couples. It just seems wrong to deny some people love (because that’s what it is) just because people have been misinformed and because it goes against what a book says. But that’s just my two cents.”

Ignore for a second the fact that polyamorous units and incestuous couples can (and do) make the same exact claim about love, care, and undying devotion, which was the entire point of my original blog post in the first place! The last part of the comment is far more intriguing, because it reflects a fundamental misconception about the nature of Christian belief.
“It goes against what a book says.” This comment is, of course, a welcome relief from the false charge that Catholics don’t believe in the Bible. But it perpetuates the false claim that Catholics believe in the teachings of the Church because of a blind belief in the authority of the Magisterium or the Bible.
We don’t.
Christianity is eminently rational. Christian theology and morality is logically defensible. Catholics believe the truths of the Faith because they are true, not because the Church teaches them, per se. As the Act of Faith states, “I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them You [God] can neither deceive nor be deceived.”
Christian morality on contraception is defensible, both from a natural law and a Darwinian standpoint. So is Christian morality regarding homosexuality: Darwinian theory and natural law both argue against it.
But all of Catholic theology is compatible with human reason. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Fides et Ratio, expresses this truth beautifully, writing: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” Theology, the systematic study of God, religion, and religious truths, requires the use of the intellect to come to a greater understanding of God.
The mysteries of the Faith also prove to be no stumbling block to a rational mind. It makes perfect sense that a God who created us would be beyond our understanding. The saying “Credo quia impossibile,” commonly attributed to Tertullian, perfectly describes the attitude of Christians towards Christianity. We believe because we cannot understand God fully, because God must be beyond our understanding by His very nature.
It behooves us as Catholics to understand our faith as best we can through the gift of our human reason. St. Peter says that we should be “ready always to satisfy everyone that asketh a reason of the hope that is within you.” (1 Peter 3:15) We should obey – God gave us the gift of human reason to be used to understand our Faith!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Plea for Mercy

The recent horrific shooting in Aurora and the case of Jerry Sandusky has sparked cries for justice for these horrific criminals. Cries that these and other criminals tortured to death, dismembered, raped, have been loud and frequent, and predictions that Hell is in their future are many.
This is a natural human reaction. We want bad people to suffer for their sins. We want them to experience what they put others through. We demand justice for them.
But if we call for justice, we shall in turn receive justice. And none of us can stand under the test of justice, as the Bible notes: “If thou, O lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who should stand it?” (Psalm 130:3)
I call for mercy for myself and others, because I know all of the horrible things that I have done, and that I have been spared from a horrible by many people who have shown me mercy.  The words of Our Savior are always before me: “For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:2)
We must, of course, punish criminals such as the Aurora shooter and Sandusky, by keeping them away from harming society, and giving them time to think on their evils. But we must remember that our own sins are many, and that we are not so far removed from them as we might like to think. 
Before calling for mere "justice" for evil individuals, let us always take a good look in the mirror and remember our own faults.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Are All Gay People Doomed to Hell?

Readers of this blog know that I am an extremely vocal opponent of gay marriage, and that I believe in (and strongly adhere to) the Church’s teaching regarding homosexuality.
This might lead many people to conclude that I believe all gay people are evil, and are therefore going to Hell.
Is that true? No! A thousand times no! A "gay" sexual orientation is not an automatic ticket to Hell. Indeed, I am absolutely sure that there are “gay” people will go to Heaven, just as I am sure that there are “straight” people who will go to Hell.
But does not the Bible explicitly condemn homosexuals? If the Bible condemns homosexuals (see 1 Corinthians 6:9), then aren’t all gay people doomed to Hell?
The answer is no.
It must first be noted that the question should be more accurately phrased. The word gay, as the word is commonly accepted and understood, refers to sexual orientation. But the word “gay” implies acceptance of one’s homosexual condition. It implies that sexual attraction is irresistible, and that those who are gay automatically engage in homosexual behavior.
The technical and far-more accurate term is same-sex attracted (SSA), which implies no such thing. Not everyone who is attracted to the same sex engages in same-sex physical interaction, just like not everyone who is attracted to the opposite sex engages in heterosexual physical interaction.
The question should be rephrased to ask: Are all people who experience same-sex attraction people going to Hell?
Once again, the answer is clearly no. Same-sex attraction constitutes a persistent temptation to sin, for individuals who have it. For this reason, the Church considers it “objectively disordered.”  But temptation is NOT sin.
I can be tempted to commit all sorts of horrible acts – murder, theft, jealousy, deliberately spilling Gatorade. But that does not mean I actually commit those sins. Man has free will; he can accept or reject sin as he pleases. Temptation is not irresistible – and it is insulting to argue that same-sex attracted individuals are incapable of resisting temptation.
It is true that all those who willingly participate in same-sex relations, knowing the Church’s teaching and accepting the Church’s authority, AND who die unrepentant of their sin, will go to Hell. Those who knowingly break the law of God cut themselves off from the Kingdom of God.
The same is true of “straight” people who commit adultery, if the same conditions are present. The same is true of those who deliberately kill, who practice idolatry, and who miss Mass on Sunday. Sexual sin is not the only thing that keeps people from God; the Kingdom of Heaven is not reserved for the "straight" alone.
Those who suggest otherwise should consider Jesus’s warning to the self-righteous Pharisees: “Amen, I say to you, that the publicans and the harlots shall go into the Kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31) Indeed, those suffering from temptations of the flesh (and unwilling to acknowledge their faults in that regard) may be far closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than those of us inclined to spiritual pride.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Necessity of God

President Obama recently made a controversial statement about the role of the individual in his own success, declaring: “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.” and “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
While the president’s implied argument falsely elevates government to the primary source of human activity, Obama is right to note that no one builds anything on their own. God is the source of each and every human activity. Without Him, we can truly do nothing. (John 15:5)
Nothing we do is, strictly speaking, our own individual achievement. God directs and provides the necessary tools for us to reach our goals in everything we do. Our intellect, ingenuity, and will are free gifts which God gives to us to accomplish tasks for His glory. Even our very existence is radically dependent on Him.
God places other men and women in our lives for our own benefit. He
tells us that he will take care of our material needs. (Matthew 6:25-34)
We owe God a much greater debt than we could possibly owe the government. We human beings can survive without the help of government, but there is no possibility that we could survive without our Creator.
Our “fair tax” to our Creator should be our willingness to use these gifts in the service of God and neighbor, and to glorify Him as much as is possible in our every moment.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Gift of Persecution

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “every generation needs a revolution,” arguing revolution was necessary to keep democratic principles alive. A similar argument can be made for the Catholic Church - periodic persecution is necessary for Her long-term survival.
As Catholics still free to practice our Faith, we weep for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who face suffering and persecution. However, at the same time we also rejoice for them – those who adhere to Catholicism in the face of persecution are stronger and better Catholics for the trials they face. The victims of persecution are a beacon to non-Catholics open to truth, and an inspiration to lukewarm souls to live out their faith more fervently.
We, like our brethren, face persecution in the near future. The first symptom of the coming persecution is going to be dealing with the effects of the HHS mandate. If current trends continue, the HHS mandate is only the harbinger of a systematic persecution of Catholicism. Cardinal George of Chicago has even predicted that his successor will be martyred within two generations.
But the coming persecution will not crush the Catholic Church; trials and persecutions are beneficial to Catholicism in the long run. She has stood resolute for two thousand years against the assaults of the devil; this coming persecution will not faze Her.
Persecution will mean that the number of people who call themselves Catholic will decrease, perhaps dramatically. But those who remain faithful will be stronger, more devoted followers to the call and message of Christ.
As Catholics, we must steel ourselves for the coming combat against the foes of the Church, and accept this coming persecution as an opportunity to grow in holiness. May this coming persecution be not just a trial for us and for the Faith, but also a gift.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Poetry Session - Lightning Edition!

I’ve always loved lightning; the raw power of a lightning bolt is a beautiful and terrifying sight to behold. Here is a very poor tribute to these potent and beautiful acts of God, and the powerlessness of humans before the lightning.

Lightning Strike

You frolic in the field, unaware,
Not noticing the subtle shift in air,
Then watch the wind rise, rushing like a colt,
Announcing the arrival of the bolt.

The day turns into dark, the rain pours down.
Rush headlong from the field lest you drown,
Then hear the very air roar in revolt,
Protesting the raw power of the bolt.

The thunder crackles from a cloudy sky,
The storm-lord picks his target from on high,
Then feel your frail body bear the jolt,
Endure the fiery glory of the bolt.

A surge of lightning ripples through the veins,
Short streak of fire leaving lethal pains.
Then smell your blackened skin, observe it molt,
As you take on the essence of the bolt.

Collapsed upon the ground, twitching in woe,
Rendered immobile by a shocking foe,
There taste the aftermath of every volt –
Brought low before the power of the bolt!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Failure to Desire Goodness...

There are days I hate my brain and my body with a fiery, flaming passion. Today is one of those days. My stupid brain and body have gone haywire again. Or, more accurately, I should say that my disordered desires are pulling my brain in destructive directions.
St. Paul's dictum comes to mind: "For the good which I will, I do not, but the evil which I will not will, I do." (Romans 7:19) But St. Paul was apparently a far better man than I am. I wish his obvious desire to do good were present in me. It is not.
For I am not even at that point where I want to do good - and in my heart, I know it. Deep down in my gut, I want to hurt those who have done me injury, even perceived injuries long since past. I want to gratify my own desires, whether for food, drink, or excessive sleep – or even baser desires. I still want my own way, without hesitation.
What makes this situation worse is that I know what God wants of me. I know I should be helping others come closer to Christ, denying myself pleasures instead of gratifying them. I know I am called to service, not selfishness.
But I want the pleasure, but not the pain; I want the pride of success, but not the mission; I want Easter, but not the cross. And I act accordingly.
St. Thomas Aquinas, when asked how to become a saint, famously wrote: "Will it!" But to will sanctity, we must desire it first. God grant me, and all who suffer with me, the strength to will this desire.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Gray Matters!

It has now officially been one year since Gray Matters was created. During its first year, Gray Matters has collected over 10,000 pageviews – not bad for a site that was mothballed on several occasions, due to the nearly insuperable laziness of the chief blogger/editor.
I hope and pray that this blog has helped you, to understand Catholicism a little better. I know that it has helped me understand my own limits and frailties, in coming to grips with the incredible beauty and richness of the Faith.
I must thank you, loyal readers, for taking the time to read through the rants contained within. Gray Matters would not exist without your prayers, support, and readership. 
Some individual thank yous are also in order. My brother Thomas and my sister Grace have both proven to be invaluable editors, assistants, and critics. Jeff Miller, who blogs under the name Curt Jester, gave me extremely helpful advice on how to start Gray Matters, and was kind enough to provide a link to it. Mark Shea, who blogs at Catholic and Enjoying It!, was also kind enough to provide his wisdom, expertise, and approval during the formation of Gray Matters. (Insert subtle hint to visit their sites!) The blog would much diminished without their efforts.
Those of you who have linked to Gray Matters from your own sites, thank you as well for your seal of approval, and may God bless your own efforts and your generosity.
As Gray Matters enters its second year, may it continue to serve the purpose for which it was formed – helping souls come to understand Christ and his Church better.
Once again, I place my unworthy work at Your service, O Lord. May it prove fruitful in helping men and women come to know and love You better.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Can Women Be Priests?

The recent trend towards equality and the interchangeability of the genders has prompted calls for women’s ordination. If men and women are truly equal in the sight of God, why can’t women be priests?
The question of "Why can't women be priests?" is flawed. All baptized Christian women are indeed priests.
When they are baptized, Christians are appointed with the triple office of priest, prophet, and king. The office of priest granted by the sacrament of baptism is part of the “common priesthood of all the faithful,” to be lived out in “a life of faith, hope, and charity.”
So Christian women can be priests – indeed, they are designated as priests through their very baptism, sharing in the common priesthood of the faithful. However, they cannot be ordained to the ministerial priesthood, granted by the sacrament of Holy Orders.
This raises the question of why women can’t be ordained to the ministerial priesthood in the Catholic Church. After all, women are quite capable of dedicated service to God - why can’t they serve God on the altar?
The answer is deceptively simple, depending on the reality that the genders are not interchangeable. Men and women were created by God equal in dignity, but with very different roles to play.
Just as there are certain things men cannot do by their very nature as man that women can do (i.e., give birth) so too there are certain things women cannot do by their very nature as women that men can do.
The Roman Catholic priesthood falls into this category. The Catholic priest is an “alter Christus” – to be another Christ. When presenting the sacraments to the faithful, the priest quite literally takes the place of Christ.
Christ came to this earth as a man – he did not come as a woman. The role of the alter Christus demands that the practitioner be a man – as Christ was a man, so too must those taking the place of Christ be.
Thus, while all baptized men and women are priests, only men can be ordained to the ministerial priesthood.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Catholic Death Penalty Dilemma

For Catholics, there are several non-negotiable positions, such as abortion, gay marriage, and the death penalty. And then there are unsettled issues, such as the contentious death penalty question.
On one hand, we have the clear desire of the Catholic hierarchy (most notably Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI) to eliminate the death penalty and respect even the lives of murderers.
On the other hand, we have the knowledge that the Catholic Church, in medieval times, has handed individuals over to secular authorities to execution (i. e., during the Inquisition), and that saints such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas argued in favor of the death penalty.
How is the faithful Catholic to resolve this seeming discrepancy regarding the death penalty? Very simply.
The death penalty, properly implemented, is designed to purge society of those who may be dangerous to it. But criminals are rendered less dangerous by technological advances in keeping prisoners captive.
In ancient and medieval times, societies were far more lawless than today. Dangerous individuals were more likely to escape from prison, or inspire followers to rescue them. In the modern era, however, prisons can be built to restrain all but the most desperate of criminals.
Accordingly, in situations where the public welfare is not endangered by keeping prisoners under guard, the death penalty can be eschewed.
The death penalty could and should still be brought into effect – but ONLY in very rare circumstances, namely in cases where international terrorists are present, or in the case of extremely dangerous, cunning and violent prisoners. In foreign countries which are more lawless, the death penalty might prove more common, as a deterrent to crime.
But the death penalty should not be used frivolously or for the purposes of revenge. Human life, even including the life of a murderer, is sacred, and should be protected.
The Catholic Church always errs on the side of human life – as it has done in every age. Her position concerning the death penalty throughout the ages reflects that fact. She seeks to protect the sanctity of human life, even those undeserving of it - yet she understands the danger murderers pose to civil society, and understands and approves society's right to protect itself from those criminals.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blowing Up Foolish Memes, Libertarian Edition

Recently, I stumbled across this little gem of what is a clearly libertarian meme regarding social issues. Quoted in full, it reads:

Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one.
Don’t like cigarettes? Don’t smoke one.
Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one.
Don’t like sex? Don’t do it.
Don’t like drugs? Don’t do them.
Don’t like porn? Don’t watch it.
Don’t like guns? Don’t buy one.
Don’t like your rights taken away?
Then don’t take away anyone else’s.

The meme implicitly argues that "solitary" vices hurt no one, and thus should be allowed by society.
Is this a compelling argument? Not if you take it to its logical conclusion. Here are some other examples of similar, “solitary” vices.

Don’t like suicide? Don’t commit one!
Don’t like bulimia? Don’t binge eat and throw up!
Don’t like cutting? Don’t cut yourself!
Don’t like gluttony? Don’t overeat!
Don’t like the choking game? Don’t play it!

These vices, like the previous vices (at least, the vices among them; guns, sex, and cigarettes are not vices) harm no one except the practitioner. Should individuals simply be allowed to engage in these activities without criticism?
The answer is obviously no, because self-harm is not a fundamental human right. One does not have the “right” to hurt himself. It is a moral duty and a spiritual work of mercy to warn people (at the very least) of when they are engaging in self-destructive behavior.
But the argument fails on a deeper level. Human beings do not exist in a vacuum. Our every action (good, bad, and neutral) affects others for good or for ill. If we harm ourselves through our failures, those around us are harmed as well. Thus, the Christian refusal to accept "solitary" moral evil is beneficial and even necessary for society. 
Like other slogans such as “love is love” and “government in the bedroom,” the “don’t like this, don’t do this” meme is a lazy emotional appeal masquerading as cogent argument.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Are Relationships Political?

One of the most destructive follies of modernity is the notion that sexual relationships are at their heart matters of power and politics. Many feminists treat sex and relationships as political acts, and view and attempt to hinder women from working so as to attain “independence” as constituting a “war on women.”

The notion that sex and relationships are political in nature stems from the demonic attitude that human relationships are zero-sum games, where one person’s gain is another person’s loss. From this viewpoint, men and women attempt to assert their own power over the other through sexual activity.
But the relationship between a man and a woman is not meant to be a zero-sum relationship, but a mutually enhancing, joyful bond between two freely giving and receiving partners. In a Christian romantic relationship, the man is called to give himself entirely to his woman, and the woman gives herself to her man in return. Both are made complete by their mutual self-gift.
In Christian romantic relationships, men and women are not competitors – they are lovers, helping each other attain happiness.
But those who confuse sex with a power trip (men seeking to assert their masculinity by sleeping with myriad women, or women who use “vagina politics” to gain independence and control men through the power of the bedroom) transform couples into competitors, seeking personal pleasure or power. And in the long run, this creates division among males and females, who see each other as obstacles to happiness.
In making sex into a political act, prideful men and women have sown hatred, dissension – leading to a massive increase in divorce, infidelity, spousal discord, and a host of other societal evils.