Wednesday, February 09, 2011

extremely long response

A reader commented on my recent post, written in reaction to the New Yorker article about Scientology (which I still commend to your reading as it is simply interesting and well written). His response is here, and he makes three points which are paraphrased as such:
  1. An unchanging scripture is something that only certain members of non-Catholic Christian faiths hold.
  2. The Church didn't "re-write" history about Galileo or the Crusades, as evidenced by the late Pope's apology for Catholic action re. Galileo.
  3. The Shroud of Turin was not an important apologetic relic prior to the late 1800's and thus is inconsequential to my argument.

Those are my words, not his, but it gets across what I understand him to mean. Feel free to read his whole post here so you can decide for yourself if I've mis-quoted/understood.

Now, to address those issues. First, I was not ignorant of the first point, but I didn't direct my post at Catholics. I know Catholic theology well enough to know that a Catholic (at least, one who understands his own faith well) would never argue that the bible is a direct transmission from God in the same way the Koran is. However, the main gist of my post, while using mostly Catholic examples due to my own experience, was to draw similarities between ALL faiths, not just Catholicism and Scientology. Many people in Protestant denominations *DO* believe the Bible is the inerrant and perfect word of God transmitted through the hand of man, as is today. I think, in that case, my point still holds. In the book, Does Inerrancy Matter, the author writes,

Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives’

Considering the context of what I was comparing (the Scientologist explaining that while Dianetics had anti-gay writings in it, those writings were never supposed to be in it, so while they were, and still are, they're not "really" Dianetics), I think this explanation holds for Catholics and well as other religions. While a Catholic would say that the Bible took X years and went through Synods to become "The Bible", most Protestants (and many Catholics ignorant of their own faith) would argue vehemently that the Bible was given to us perfectly, as is, and cannot ever be changed. Muslims cling to this belief so strongly a Koran isn't "really" a Koran unless in antiquated Arabic and Bahia's believe the entire world will one day speak Persian so as to fully comprehend the full texts of Baha'ullah.

(In this sense, the Catholic understanding of the Bible (from what I know) is the closest to Scientology. While the Church would never simply expunge the homophobic and sexist passages, it takes great pains through apologetics to explain that the passages either 1. don't REALLY mean what they mean or 2. need to be taken in the context of the time and culture.)

The second point begins with an embarrassing admission. I switched the words Inquisition and Crusade. I know...a ridiculous mistake as they are quite different events. I hesitate to even address this point as we are talking about two different things, but I will as quickly as possible. Here, from the Catholic Education online is the explanation of how the Catholic Church never killed anyone during the Inquisition:

Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.
I won't elaborate further on this point since he thought I was talking about the Crusades. But, even if looking into semi-official writings about the Crusades, you can see where Catholic apologetics gets involved in explaining away any culpability. (This is an area Catholics have an upper hand on. Since anything not imprimatured by the Church isn't "official"--no matter how widely disseminated or spread--it's very difficult to challenge things. You can just say, "Well, that's not REAL Church teaching.")

When it comes to Galileo, the Catholic Encyclopedia (which IS imprimatured as official) has the following:

It is, however, untrue to speak of him as in any proper sense a "prisoner". As his Protestant biographer, von Gebler, tells us, "One glance at the truest historical source for the famous trial, would convince any one that Galileo spent altogether twenty-two days in the buildings of the Holy Office (i.e. the Inquisition), and even then not in a prison cell with barred windows, but in the handsome and commodious apartment of an official of the Inquisition.“…. It is wholly untrue that he was — as is constantly stated — either tortured or blinded by his persecutors — though in 1637, five years before his death, he became totally blind — or that he was refused burial in consecrated ground. On the contrary, although the pope (Urban VIII) did not allow a monument to be erected over his tomb, he sent his special blessing to the dying man, who was interred not only in consecrated ground, but within the church of Santa Croce at Florence.
So, while the classification of this as "rewriting history" may be a bit harsh, I think the sentiment still stands--there is a systematic attempt to whitewash or at least look at things in the best possible light in order to exonerate the Church from historical facts. So, while the Pope said that the Church apologizes for how Galileo was handled, simultaneously, there is still official Catholic doctrine which tries very strongly to weaken and minimize the role the Church played in his life. And, one of these two things is officially Catholic, and ironically it is NOT the apology of Pope John Paul II. Luckily, I believe if there is a God, he's probably not concerned with technicalities.

My point? While the above examples aren't as blatant as the one in the article, the intent and sentiment are the same.

As for the Shroud of Turin, I think this is a disagreement upon which we cannot find common ground. Simply put, belief in the Shroud or not is simply a matter of faith. And being such, I cannot PROVE positively or otherwise that there are people for whom belief in it is vitally important to their own overall sense of faith. I can claim to have met them, to have been one, to know them now or otherwise, but there is absolutely no way I can prove that statement. I would ask you (or anyone else) to take it on my word, but what good is that in a proper debate? So, technically speaking, you are right--the Shroud poses no apologetics value whatsoever and one can dismiss it as a hoax and still believe every article of faith.

To close, a vignette:

I had a very good friend at West Point who was absolutely insistent that since the Bible says the first rainbow was after the flood, there was no rain before the flood. I asked what happened before the flood, and how, if the Bible talked about agriculture, there was no rain. He explained that, prior to the flood, water bubbled up from the ground to water crops. He was insistent to the point of yelling until he finally left. Hours later, he called me and said that, after talking to his pastor, he now admits there WERE rainbows before the flood, and thus rain, but that the one after the flood was SYMBOLICALLY the first.

My point? The overall argument I made I think still stands--the self-convincing arguments that Haggis made to explain inconsistencies (scientific or historical) are the same self-convincing arguments people make everywhere. The entire process of fitting an octagonal peg into a square hole repeats itself over and over again. And, over the course of history, we see the same patterns--something inerrant and perfect (be it the Koran, the bible, the sura or anything else) either changes literally (like the Scientology example) or figuratively (as in Catholicism). The Church splits with some trying to reclaim "true" religion X and everything we consider good is then attributed to that "true" religion while everything bad is considered "bastardized" religion X. Instead of judging a tree by its fruits, we judge the fruit by the tree throwing out the rotten apples and keeping the good ones.

Which, to be honest, was the initial response I was looking for. While it's clear the commentator has a vested interest in the Shroud of Turin, my question was never answered--should Religions and Faiths be judged based upon the net impact on the world (is it a net positive or not) or should individuals simply judge based upon the value it has provided them individually?


Blogger -GRC said...

I am not a fan of "In God We Trust." "E pluribus unum" is so much more fitting -- maybe the fancy schamncy Latin is too "elitist" for some.

6:57 AM  
Blogger -GRC said...

Oops, meant this for the next post, but you knew that. ;)

7:02 AM  

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