Sharing the Faith at a Gay-Pride Parade

Protesters at the Pride Parade

Last month I was going for a jog in Balboa Park here in downtown San Diego when I noticed the park was more crowded than usual. I headed toward the sounds of music and noticed more and more rainbow flags as I neared Cabrillo Bridge. “Maybe, just once,” I thought, “this will be a festival celebrating God’s covenant with Noah!”

Not so much.

It was San Diego’s 40th annual “Gay Pride Parade,” which this year boasted 300,000 participants who marched through San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood (known for its LGBT flair) to Balboa Park for a concert.

The participants were joyful and carefree—until they walked by a group of Christians protesting their event. The Christians, who I assume were conservative Evangelicals, held signs that said things like, “Jesus is the only way to salvation” and “Love is self-giving.”

They weren’t doing anything I considered offensive or outrageous, but I also thought their approach would not be very effective—and I was right.

An unexpected springboard

As the Christians preached through bullhorns, most of the LGBT festival-goers walked by laughing or saying things like, “You know you’re probably gay!” or “God is love!” They also said a lot of other things I can’t repeat without diving into indecency.

Others stopped to yell at the Christians or even just plead with them. One woman said, “There are real sinners down at the county jail. Why aren’t you there?” The Christian responded, “I go to the jail all the time. Lots of Christians do that, too. I’m here today to help you people.”

As the police stood warily nearby, I watched and observed alongside the festival attendees, getting a feel for the whole situation.

Suddenly I had a flashback.

Deja vu all over again

After college I used to travel the country with a pro-life group named Justice for All. We would setup exhibits with large pictures of unborn children before and after abortion and talk with college students about the pro-life worldview.

During those outreaches I would sometimes walk around and act like a student on campus. I wouldn’t lie about who I was, but I also wouldn’t immediately say who I was with, either. I would just ask students looking at the pictures, “So what do you think of this big ugly thing?” Pretty soon we were off to the races having great conversations.

So I wandered around the pride parade asking people who were staring at “the big, ugly Christians” a simple question: “What do you think of those guys over there?” I ended up having several conversations about the Bible, same-sex morality, and faith in general.

One young man, whom I’ll call Greg, was especially memorable.

What does the Church say?

I asked him what he thought of the Christians, and we began to talk, along with his two male friends. All three of them identified as being gay, and they asked me what I was doing at the festival. I said that my wife was out of town and I decided to go on a jog through the park until . . .

“Until the gays showed up!” one of the young men interjected.

“Something like that,” I said.

I explained that I worked for an organization called Catholic Answers and that my job is to explain and defend the Catholic Faith. One of them then asked, “So what does the Church say about me being gay?”

I was nervous but also felt the Holy Spirit giving me the right words and tone.

“Well, the Church makes a distinction between someone’s desires and someone’s actions. We can’t control our desires, and so they shouldn’t be central to our identity. You also can’t say someone is sinning just because they have certain desires because, like I said, you can’t control them. I wouldn’t say that I’m straight or that you’re gay, but that you and I are men made in God’s image with different desires for sexual intimacy.”

Wrong even for straight people

They nodded, so I continued.

“So our desires don’t define us, and they don’t condemn us. But our actions do define us, and we can be held accountable for them. Or, as Batman would say (switch to guttural Batman voice), “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

We shared a laugh.

“It’s actions, not desires. This is important, because the Church teaches that we shouldn’t use sex for a purpose it wasn’t intended for. That means it’s wrong for anyone to engage in same-sex behavior, even if they’re straight.”

They raised their eyebrows at the unexpectedness of what I said, and I went on.

What is sex for?

“For example, if a straight guy has been in prison for a long time and he just wants sexual release, he might have sex with a man, even though he says he’s not gay. But that would be wrong, because sex isn’t just for satisfying your urges. For me, the big question I ask when I think about tough issues like same-sex attraction is: What is sex for?”

To my surprise, one of the young men said, “Procreation?”

My eyes lit up.

“Yes! I mean, that’s not the whole reason, but for me it makes sense to say that sex is ordered towards making babies and uniting men and women for their good and the good of any babies they might create. That’s also why as a Catholic I’m against contraception, because it goes against what sex is for.”

Rather than be offended, the three young men pondered what I said and seemed to appreciate the reasonableness of it, as well as the fact that I didn’t just quote a Bible verse and rest my case.

A pebble in the shoe

We talked a bit more, and then Greg and I talked one-on-one for a while. We discussed his religious background and his decision to leave the Mormon Church (which was motivated by his same-sex attraction but also by critical examination of the Book of Mormon).

As our conversation came to a close, I encouraged him to visit the website of Courage, which I described as a nonjudgmental ministry that helps Catholics who have same-sex attraction lead chaste lives. I said, “They really try to meet people where they’re at. They’re not about ‘praying the gay away.’” Greg said he was relieved they weren’t “like that” and said he’d check them out.

We parted ways, and I walked back to Balboa Park across the Cabrillo Bridge, remembering that conversion happens slowly, bit by bit. Sometimes the best we can do is plant a “pebble in their shoe” or a thought in the mind that will roll around until the person has an “epiphany moment.”

As I walked I also thought about how amazing it would be to take two dozen Catholics, well-formed in their Faith and trained to engage people in civil and compassionate dialogue, to an event like this. It would be a time to not try to win arguments but to win people and show that, even if we disagree about sexual ethics, we can still treat each other with respect and kindness.

Maybe next year . . .

Priests Should Not Be Forced to Break the Seal of Confession

Confessional_bourgesAccording to the Catholic News Agency a priest in Louisiana may be forced to reveal what was said during a confession when he testifies in an upcoming civil suit. The article says,

In May, the state Supreme Court ruled that the priest in question, Fr. Jeff Bayhi, may be subject to mandatory reporting laws regarding sexual abuse, and cannot invoke the privilege of confidentiality regarding an alleged confession made to him about sexual abuse by a young girl.

The diocese explained that a priest is under the gravest of obligations not to reveal the contents of a confession or if the confession even took place. He cannot do so even under threat of imprisonment or civil penalty, and incurs automatic excommunication if he breaks the “seal of confession.”

I’m not going to comment on the specifics involved in the case with Fr. Bayhi because, frankly, doing so would be irresponsible. Most stories covering this case take advantage of the fact that both dead men and priests who hear confessions can’t defend themselves. Instead, of focusing on what Fr. Bayhi allegedly said in the confessional, I’d like to focus on a broader issue. Namely, when a priest learns about child abuse in the confessional, either from a victim or a perpetrator, should he be legally compelled to report that abuse to the authorities? Should he be compelled to testify about what he heard in the confessional in a courtroom?

Debating the Seal of Confession

For most Catholics the issue is cut and dry, summarized pithily in the Catholic code of canon law – “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” (Canon Law # 983. §1)

But among secular observers it’s not so clear. They say that, yes, communication between clerics and penitents is privileged, but so is communication between doctors and patients. However, in most states the law mandates doctors to report any suspicion of child abuse. This also applies to other professionals like teachers, therapists, and law enforcement. Should priests be treated differently than everyone else just because of their religious views?

Now, it’s certainly true that we should act in any reasonable way to protect children from child abuse, but we can think of many things the government should not do even when it comes to the lofty goal of protecting children from abuse. For example, the government should not secretly make audio recordings in our homes even if the goal were to protect children from abuse because losing the good of privacy outweighs any possible good that could come from such a tactic (not to mention it being an affront to the rights we have under the fourth amendment).

Even if doctors and teachers are required to report child abuse, there may be some groups who should not be required to report it because the harms of requiring them to report would be too great and certain fundamental rights would be violated as a result. I can think of one group this would apply to besides priests, which shows that such an exemption is not unfair or unheard of — defense attorneys.

Will the Defense Rise?

As far as I know, no state requires a defense attorney to report suspected child abuse if he learns about such abuse from his client. Of the nearly 50 kinds of people required to report suspected abuse in California, none of them are defense attorneys. One 2006 article from the New Mexico Law Review even says such mandatory reporting would hurt domestic violence victims.

Of course, an attorney is free to stop working with a client he suspects may have abused a child, but he can’t divulge what the client told him about the past crime to anyone else. This is part of a confidentiality privilege that has existed for a long time in the law called attorney-client privilege. According to Geoffrey C. Hazard,

The attorney-client privilege may well be the pivotal element of the modern American lawyer’s professional functions. It is considered indispensable to the lawyer’s function as advocate on the theory that the advocate can adequately prepare a case only if the client is free to disclose everything, bad as well as good. The privilege is also considered necessary to the lawyers function as confidential counselor in law on the similar theory that the legal counselor can properly advise the client what to do only if the client is free to make full disclosure.

Now, there are exceptions to attorney-client privilege. One exception includes communication that involves both the client and attorney planning to commit a crime together, such as plans to destroy evidence or to “cover up” a past crime. Another exception would be if the client says he plans to commit a future crime that will cause serious harm, which; in that case, the attorney must then report to the authorities.

But in general, communication about a past crime to an attorney is privileged and must remain confidential — but why? Isn’t reporting child abuse more important than helping criminals and their “sleazy” defense attorneys?

Stopping abuse is important, but it’s not worth overturning one of the fundamental components of our justice system. It’s not worth losing the role of an advocate who will provide someone accused of a crime, be he guilty or innocent, the best possible defense in a court of law.

So how does this relate to priests being forced to divulge what they learn in confession?

Rights of the Accused and the Damned

Just as forcing defense attorneys to report suspected child abuse would have the chilling effect of discouraging those accused of abuse from seeking legal counsel that can help them stay out of jail, forcing priests to report suspected child abuse that they learn about through the confessional will have the chilling effect of discouraging those who have committed those crimes from seeking absolution that can help them stay out of Hell.

While it’s important to stop child abuse, we can’t accomplish that goal through the deprivation of our fundamental rights (such as government surveillance of our homes that I mentioned earlier which would violate our right to privacy). For Catholics, this includes the right to see a priest and through him have God forgive us of our sins. While the seal of confession is inviolable in a way attorney-client privilege is not (since it allows for no exceptions), this makes sense because the stakes are infinitely higher.

Confession exists so that anyone, if he genuinely repents, can be forgiven of his sins no matter how heinous they may be. If the Church is accused of hiding abusers because of this narrow confidentiality privilege, then we can say that law firms are guilty of hiding abusers when they don’t turn in every client suspected of past abuse who confides in an attorney.

As Catholics, we aren’t asking for a sweeping exemption so that everything ever said to a priest is “off the record.” We are just asking for, oh, I don’t know, a wall of separation between Church and State. Specifically, a wall made up of the dark enamel of the confessional that lets us make “personal decisions” between ourselves, our priest, and our God without government interference.

If a man can be granted secrecy with his legal counsel so that he can protect his freedom, then that same man should be granted secrecy with his religious counsel so that he can protect his very soul.

Senator Rubio is Right – Human Life Does Begin at Conception

inset_article_lifer_2Last week senator Marco Rubio said on the Sean Hannity show that “Science is settled . . . human life begins at conception.” While some people who support legal abortion might scoff at the senator’s remarks, the fact is that all the evidence stands firmly behind what he said.

Now, science can’t prove a valuable human being, or a person, or someone with an immortal soul begins to exist at conception because concepts like “the soul” “value” or “person” are immaterial and are therefore outside the realm of science (even thought they are still real concepts). Instead, science shows us that biological human beings begin to exist after sperm and egg successfully unite to form a zygote, or a one-celled human organism.

Make Your Case

Pro-life advocates should avoid making simplistic claims such as “Abortion kills a life” or “Life begins at conception.” This leaves them open to a rebuttal such as this one from atheist Carl Sagan:

Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago.[1]

While it is true that living cells or human cells have a long history, the same is not true for individual human beings. Sagan’s criticism is overcome if we drop the assertion “Life begins at conception” and say instead “A human organism begins to exist at conception” or “The life of an individual human being begins at conception.” This may seem like semantics, but it is important to use this vocabulary with pro-choice advocates who may think an embryo is alive in the same sense that sperm and egg are alive.

This mistaken set of assumptions may cause the pro-choice advocate to think that an embryo’s life never really began at conception. He might instead think that at conception life in the form of sperm and egg was rearranged and became life in the form of an embryo. For them, the newly formed embryo might have the same value as egg or sperm until it “becomes a human being” later in pregnancy.

When it comes to defending the claim that an individual human being begins to exist at conception, I don’t recommend only making appeals to authority such as “Science says life begins at conception” or “All scientists agree life begins at conception.” The members of your audience may simply not believe you, or they may think the authorities you are citing are simply wrong.

Instead, I recommend using a simple argument that shows that at conception two body parts (sperm and egg) recombine and form an entirely new body that is a living, whole, human organism who is growing and developing into adulthood. After making this argument, it is then helpful to cite authorities which show humans begin their lives at conception (or twinning in the case of identical twins).

A Ten-Second Apologist

My favorite argument for the humanity of the unborn is based on Stephen Wagner’s “10-second pro-life apologist.”[2] Steve was once flustered that he could not defend his pro-life beliefs in a conversation that took him by surprise, so he went home and crafted a 10-second sound bite that goes like this:

  • If it’s growing, isn’t it alive?
  • If it has human parents, isn’t it human?
  • And human beings like you and me are valuable, aren’t we?

Sometimes, Steve’s sound bite will do the trick, and the person with whom you are talking will accept that the unborn are biological human beings. Other times you may have to use more evidence to prove that the unborn are (1) alive, (2) human, and (3) whole organisms.

Clearly, the unborn are alive, because they are receiving nutrients from the woman that cause the fetus to grow via cellular reproduction. And they are human because they came from human parents and have human DNA. Some critics will say in response to this, “Yes, the fetus is alive and human, but every cell in my body is alive and human. Is every cell in my body a human being?”

Not Just Any Cell

But this false argument confuses parts and wholes. Saying, “A fetus is alive and human. Sperm and egg are alive and human. Therefore, a fetus is a body part like sperm and egg” is as fallacious as saying, “A truck is made of metal. Nuts and bolts are made of metal. Therefore a truck is a car part like a nut or a bolt.” Because two things have traits in common does not mean they are the same kind of thing. Sperm, egg, and other body cells are parts of a human body. In contrast, a fetus, embryo, or even a one celled zygote that exists after conception is a whole human body that is able to develop itself over time.

The unborn are not mere tissue or body parts like sperm, egg, or skin cells. They are also not like cancerous tumors that can grow and even sprout body parts such as hair or teeth but have no potential to develop into an adult human.[3] Instead, an unborn child, when given time, nutrition, and a proper environment (i.e., not outside the uterus) will develop into a mature human being if he does not die prematurely, which is not true of sperm, egg, or body cells. Embryologist E. L. Potter says,

“Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite, a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition.”[4]

The fact that some embryos and even other born children die before they become adult humans does not negate the fact that they are human beings. They still are human beings because they have the intrinsic capacity to develop into a mature human being even if their development is tragically cut short.

Pro-choice bio-ethicist Peter Singer agrees:

“[T]here is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being,” he says, “and the same is true of the most profoundly and irreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an infant who is born anencephalic—literally, without a brain.”[5]

Call in the Experts

Once you have defended the claim that from conception the unborn are biological human beings by using the ten-second pro-life apologist, it is more than appropriate to augment that argument with appeals to relevant authorities. For example, in Planned Parenthood v. Rounds (2008), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that requiring abortionists to say that the fetus is a “living, separate, whole human being” does not force an abortionist to espouse an unconstitutional religious viewpoint. The court ruled that this statement was a biological fact that even physicians affiliated with Planned Parenthood accept![6]

Distinguished scientists and philosophers also back up the court’s opinion. The standard medical text Human Embryology and Teratology states, “Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed.”[7] (Among embryologists, the preferred term for the beginning of life is fertilization instead of conception).

Keith Moore and T.V.N Persaud’s textbook The Developing Human states, “Human life begins at fertilization” and Langman’s Medical Embryology also states that, “Development begins with fertilization.”[8] The fourth chapter of Scott Gilbert’s textbook Developmental Biology is simply titled, “Fertilization: Beginning of a New Organism.”[9]

Finally, David Boonin, the author of A Defense of Abortion, writes, “Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you and me on the one hand and every human fetus on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus after all is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.”[10]

Case Closed

The fact that an individual member of the species homo sapiens, or a human organism, begins to exist at conception (a.k.a fertilization) is, as philosopher Robert George once said, “A stubborn fact of science.” But science can only tell us what something is, not whether it is valuable or has any rights. At this point you should ask your pro-choice friend, “Is there anything wrong with saying that all human organisms, no matter how old or young they are, should have the same basic rights and be treated equally with one another?”

Now you’re on the right track to make a powerful “case for life.” To learn more about how to make such a case, check out my DVD, “Making the Case for Life” available from Catholic Answers.

Notes


[1] Carl Sagan. Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. (Random House Publishing: New York, 1997) 201.

[2] Stephen Wagner. Common Ground without Compromise: 25 Questions to Create Dialogue on Abortion (Stand to Reason: San Pedro, CA, 2008) 69.

[3] These tumors are called teratomas which comes, not surprisingly, from the Greek word for “monster.”

[4] E.L. Potter, M.D., and J.M. Craig, M.D. Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant (3rd Edition). (Year Book Medical Publishers, Chicago, 1975)  page vii.

[5] Peter Singer. Practical Ethics. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 85-86.

[6] The court ruled: “Planned Parenthood’s evidence at the preliminary injunction stage does not demonstrate that it is likely to prevail on the merits. . . . The State’s evidence suggests that the biological sense in which the embryo or fetus is whole, separate, unique and living should be clear in context to a physician. . . . Planned Parenthood submitted no evidence to oppose that conclusion. Indeed, Dr. Wolpe’s affidavit, submitted by Planned Parenthood, states that “to describe an embryo or fetus scientifically and factually, one would say that a living embryo or fetus in utero is a developing organism of the species Homo Sapiens which may become a self-sustaining member of the species if no organic or environmental incident interrupts its gestation.” Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota; Carol E. Ball, M.D vs. Mike Rounds, Governor, in his official capacity; Larry Long, Attorney General, in his official capacity” United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit No. 05-3093 Section I Filed June 27, 2008.

[7] Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller. Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd edition.(New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001) 8. The full quote reads, “Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a “moment”) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.”

[8] Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud  The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 9th edition. (Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2013). 2. The full quote reads, “Human development begins at fertilization, approximately 14 days after the onset of the last normal menstrual period.” T.W. Sadler. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 11th edition. (Williams & Wilkins: Baltimore, 2010) 13. The full quote reads, “Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote.”

[9] Scott F. Gilbert. Developmental Biology. 10th edition (Sinauer Associates, Inc: June 30, 2013).

[10] David Boonin. A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2003) 20.

How Jesus Became God: A Critical Review

9780061778186_custom-28b4317067be2a2fb7edbfcd7c35ce7bfbda9842-s6-c30Most Christians say the apostles came to believe Jesus was God after seeing how Christ’s resurrection vindicated his claims to divinity. But Bart Ehrman’s newest book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, offers another theory.

Ehrman is popular New Testament textual critic who was once a Fundamentalist Christian and is now an agnostic. Ehrman’s big claim to fame came with his 2005 book Misquoting Jesus, where he argued that the text of the New Testament was corrupted through the scribal copying process. He then argued that this corruption jeopardizes our orthodox understanding of the Bible. The book has sold millions of copies, and you’ve no doubt seen or heard Ehrman on late-night television, including the Colbert Report.

Ehrman’s thesis in his latest book is that the divide between human and divine in the ancient world was not as clean cut and “uncrossable” as it is for modern religious believers. According to Ehrman, in the ancient world it was common for the divide to be crossed in either the “gods come down in the likeness of men” direction or the “men go up and become gods” direction. Within this cultural milieu it was not improbable for the apostles to believe that their good rabbi had become “God.”

I enjoyed the book, and I think it’s disappointing how many Christians jump into an automatic “pan-the-heretic” mode before reading it. Don’t misunderstand me: I think Ehrman is wrong, but his book is well-written.

Gods and men in the Ancient World

The first two chapters describe the malleable barrier between gods and men. The first few pages left a sour taste in my mouth. Ehrman begins with a story about a first-century miracle worker whose disciples believed he was the Son of God and had survived his own death. But, surprise! Ehrman’s not talking about Jesus but another supposed miracle-worker and contemporary of Jesus named Apollonius of Tyana. This sets the stage for Ehrman to talk about how in the ancient world men who become gods and vice-versa were really a dime a dozen.

However, Ehrman neglects to mention that although we have multiple sources for the life of Jesus we only have one source for Apollonius. Ehrman says this source, Philostratus, recorded what eyewitnesses said about Apollonius, but neglects to mention that the only eyewitness mentioned is one Damis from Nineveh, a city that didn’t even exist in the first century (which means Damis probably did not exist either). Ehrman also doesn’t mention how the wife of emperor Severus commissioned Philostratus to write the biography of Apollonius over a century after Apollonius’s “death.” The Life of Apollonius was probably created as a competitor to the Gospel accounts of Jesus which, by that point, were in wide circulation across the Roman Empire.

Ehrman acknowledges this theory in a footnote but then claims that all he is doing is showing how belief in “God-men” was easily accepted in the Roman cultural context; but I find this answer unsatisfying. If belief in a God-man like Apollonius was only easily accepted because it was crafted to imitate Jesus, it still doesn’t explain how Jesus’ divinity came about.

Perhaps the most striking concession Ehrman makes in this section is that Apollonius is the only story of a true “God-man” like Jesus. Ehrman writes, “I don’t know of any other cases in ancient Greek or Roman thought of this kind of “God-man,” where an already existing divine being is said to be born of a mortal woman.” If the story of Apollonius is parasitic upon the story of Jesus, then that makes the story of the “God-man” Jesus all the more exceptional and difficult to explain without recourse to a miracle.

The Resurrection of Jesus

In chapter three we get a crash course in “historical Jesus studies” or the use of objective criteria to find what the nineteenth-century Biblical critic Martin Kähler called “The Jesus of History” (as opposed to the supposedly non-historical “Christ of faith” who inhabits the catechism). At about this point I noticed that some of what Ehrman was discussing also popped up in his previous book, Did Jesus Exist?

I think it was New Testament critic Burton Mack who said that the greatest mystery of Christianity is the question of how Jesus came to be worshipped as God so quickly after his death. Mythicists who deny Jesus existed have a simple answer: he was always worshipped as God and the human part was added later. Ehrman rejects that view, but has to find a way to get Jesus up the “ontological totem pole” at a very fast rate. Ehrman claims to be able to do this in his analysis of the Resurrection, an “event” that he says was necessary for Jesus not to be remembered as just another failed messiah.

Ehrman is adamant that this was not a fluffy “resurrection of Easter faith,” nor was it a “spiritual resurrection” as other critics try to make it out to be. It was instead a real bodily resurrection that the apostles proclaimed. He is careful to say, however, that it was belief in the resurrection that caused the apostles to think Jesus was God, and not the resurrection itself. Ehrman then devotes two chapters to providing a natural explanation for how this belief in the resurrection came about.

His main point is that although he once believed that we could know Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, he has now changed his mind and says we can’t know that for sure. He says we simply can’t know what happened to the body of Jesus. We can know, however, that the apostles had visions of Jesus after his death, but that was probably because they were bereaved and such visions are actually quite common. He says the answer to the question of whether or not these visions were real or hallucinatory is beyond the reach of the historian.

My Thoughts on the Resurrection

I’m not convinced by Ehrman’s arguments against the authenticity of the burial tradition. Hesays that because Joseph and the empty tomb are not mentioned in the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, this shows it was probably a legendary development. But the creed’s use of the word buried (in Greek, hetaphe) implies something formal and ceremonial, not a mere chucking of a body into a ditch. In addition, there’s no reason to include those details in 1 Corinthians because they were not needed. When the creed says “Christ appeared” it’s natural to ask “to whom did he appear?” The creed answers this question with a list of witnesses. When it says Christ was buried, we don’t need to know who buried him, just as we don’t need to know who killed Christ (something the creed in 1 Corinthians also doesn’t mention).

In regards to the visions, how do we know that the disciples would have been bereaved and not angry that Jesus turned out to be a fraud instead of the messiah? I’m sure the disciples of John the Baptist mourned his death and may have felt guilty for not aiding him during his imprisonment, buttheir grief did not lead them to proclaim he had risen from the dead.

Overall, Ehrman’s treatment of the resurrection is good when he goes in depth about a subject and poor when he gives an off-hand response to an objection. For example, his cursory write-off of the resurrection accounts being contradictory and therefore not being reliable is not compelling because the accounts only differ in secondary details. Many ancient histories do the same. For example, among Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio we have three different accounts of where Nero was when Rome burned, but that doesn’t mean Nero wasn’t in the city when it happened.

The Path to Orthodoxy

In chapters eight and nine Ehrman narrates the struggles within the early Church as Christians sought to lay out in specific detail what they believed about God and Jesus. If you ever take the time to read the canons from councils like Nicea and Chalcedon, then you see how it’s really difficult to describe orthodoxy correctly. It’s really easy, however, to make your view a heresy. What is the Trinity? Are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each gods? Nope! That’s tri-theism. Are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each a part of God? Nope! That’s modalism. While Ehrman’s description of the early Christological controversies is fairly useful, there are parts where I think he oversimplified to the point of error.

One of those would be his assertion that the third-century popes endorsed the heresy of modalism, which claims that there is one God who is one person and that this person appears in different “modes” or roles.  In this view of God, there is no relationship between the Father and the Son since they are the same person (God) just as my role as “husband” has no personal relationship as “son.” Ehrman says that Pope Callistus I (218-223) endorsed this view, but our only source for this charge is Hippolytus, who, Ehrman neglects to tell his readers, was a bitter opponent of Callistus—making his charges unreliable. Callistus was certainly no modalist because he excommunicated Sabellius, one of modalism’s primary proponents (another name for modalism is Sabellianism). J.N.D. Kelly’s Oxford reference book on the popes gives a good description of the matter here.

Closing Thoughts

There’s a lot more to discuss here (especially Ehrman’s view of Paul’s Christology), but overall I think Ehrman’s work represents the typical “Jesus was a failed end-times prophet” approach that is popular within historical Jesus studies. Ehrman does part ways with some of his like-minded colleagues, such as Dale Allison (see page 185 of How Jesus Became God), and at those points it’s nice to see Ehrman put forward a compelling argument instead of just lobbing an assertion.

For readers who want a fuller treatment of the arguments in opposition to Ehrman’s case, I’d recommend the following resources:

How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. As the tile suggests, this book represents the viewpoints of five authors who disagree with Ehrman’s thesis. Kind of a mixed bag when it comes to quality, but Craig Evans’s essay on Jesus’ burial is worth the whole price.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. This book by Richard Bauckham is a must-read for anyone who glosses over Ehrman’s claim that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses and so cannot be trusted.

The Resurrection of the Son of God. The well-known New Testament scholar N.T. Wright gives one of the most comprehensive treatments of both the resurrection and the surrounding cultural context that makes a natural “legend-based” explanation of the resurrection very implausible.

A Manual for Creating Atheists: A Critical Review

A_Manual_for_Creating_AtheistsSince it’s release last November, Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists has quickly become one of the most popular new books on atheism (as of now it has 200 reviews on amazon.com). As someone who has also recently written a book on atheism, though from a far different perspective, I was eager to see Boghossian’s method for “creating an atheist.” In this book review I’ll cover the good, the bad, and the ugly in A Manual for Creating Atheists.

The Good

Surprisingly, this book isn’t about creating atheists . . . per se. According to Boghossian,

“The goal of this book is to create a generation of Street Epistemologists: people equipped with an array of dialectical and clinical tools who actively go into the streets, the prisons, the bars, the churches, the schools, and the community – into any and every place the faithful reside – and help them abandon their faith and embrace reason.”

Epistemology is a discipline within philosophy that focuses on defining knowledge and analyzing how we know what we know. Rather than blindly shout conclusions (which Boghossian no doubt thinks street preachers do), a “street epistemologist” helps others reliably acquire knowledge about the world. When it comes to that goal he’ll find no opposition from me.

Boghossian’s strength lies in his treatment of the Socratic method, or the artful use of questions in order to lead someone to a particular conclusion. This appears to be something he has a lot of first-hand experience in using. According to Portland State University’s website (where Boghossian teaches), he earned a doctorate in education while developing Socratic techniques to help prison inmates increase their reasoning abilities in order to see the error of their ways and to hopefully commit fewer crimes in the future. Boghossian’s ability to use the Socratic method is on display in most of the chapters through sample dialogues between himself and people who exhibit “poor reasoning abilities.”

Boghossian also gives his would-be street epistemologists advice that I would also give to anyone learning apologetics — you don’t need an answer for every objection and you should humbly admit ignorance when it occurs. In Boghossian’s words, “You need to become comfortable in not knowing and not pretending to know . . . “

But Boghossian’s street epistemologists have a very specific mission beyond just helping people think more clearly — “Your new role is that of an interventionist. Liberator. Your target is faith. Your pro bono clients are individuals who’ve been infected by faith.”

And that’s where the book starts to go downhill . . .

The Bad

Throughout the book Boghossian says that the quickest way to make someone an atheist is to attack not their religion or their idea of God, but their faith. This is because faith is ultimately what grounds all religious claims. So what is faith? According to Boghossian, faith is belief without sufficient evidence because if you had the proper amount of evidence then you wouldn’t need faith. I’d respond by saying that religious faith is a trust in God and generic “faith” is just a trust in someone or something. For example, we have “faith” that the laws of nature are uniform across time and space even though we don’t have nearly enough evidence to confirm that belief (see the problem of induction).

Now, Boghossian vehemently denies faith is a kind of trust and claims it is instead a kind of knowledge. I disagree and would simply say that faith is the way people justify their claims of religious knowledge. “How do you know Jesus lives?” The believer might say in response, “I have faith in what the Bible or the Church says” or “I have faith in what Jesus has revealed to me in my heart.” Clearly faith is just a trust in a certain kind of evidence that is used to justify religious claims, be it testimonial or experiential.

Boghossian also gives the issue a rather nasty spin when he says faith is, “pretending to know what you don’t know.” The use of the word “pretending” seems inaccurate because it assumes the religious person knows deep down that his beliefs are not justified and he is engaging in a kind of malicious charade. This stands in contrast to the person who “thinks he knows what he knows but is actually mistaken.” When it comes to false religious beliefs, I think the overwhelming majority of those beliefs are a product of “thinks he knows, but is mistaken” instead of “pretends he knows, but is wrong.”

So this is the main issue Boghossian must answer, “Is the faith religious people have justified? Do they have a rational basis for holding these beliefs?”

I’ll admit sometimes they might not, but you need a serious argument to say religious belief is never justified. Boghossian’s main argument for the claim they are never justified is that because knowledge acquired by faith arrives at contradictory conclusions, such as the Christian’s affirmation of Jesus as the Son of God and the Muslim’s denial of that claim, this means that faith leads many people into error and so it can’t be trusted. But by that logic, reason is unreliable because philosophers use it and arrive at very different conclusions about all sorts of things. All a lack of consensus proves is that some people make faulty inferences based on faith, no that we shouldn’t have faith in either religious testimony or religious experiences.

I also didn’t think that Boghossian interacted enough with Alvin Plantinga (who he refers to as a “Christian apologist” instead of as one of the world’s most famous philosophers of religion). Plantinga’s reformed epistemology claims that if God exists then religious belief in God is justified because God has the ability to make belief in him “properly basic,” or justified apart from inferences based on evidence. In response, Boghossian simply tosses out the “Great Pumpkin” objection to reformed epistemology (an objection Plantinga himself has addressed) and calls it a day. But because the justification of “faith-based” beliefs is the central topic of Boghossian’s book, I think his reply to this kind of epistemology should have been more extensive.

Refutations That Are Greatly Exaggerated

What if the street epistemologist encounters someone who has “given a reason for the hope that is within him” (1 Peter 3:15) and doesn’t just rely on a gut feeling?  According to Boghossian, the street epistemologist needn’t worry about those reasons because,

“in the last 2400 years of intellectual history, not a single argument for the existence of God has withstood scrutiny. Not one. Aquinas’s five proofs, fail. Pascal’s Wager, fail. Anselm’s ontological argument, fail. The fine-tuning argument, fail. The kalam cosmological argument, fail. All refuted. All failures.”

That’s quite a claim. I was excited to turn to the footnote and see the evidence for this claim, but when I got there I was dumbfounded. Aquinas’ arguments are simply described. Boghossian neither critiques the arguments nor even provides a reference to such a critique such as Anthony Kenny’s book on the subject or even the terrible critiques Dawkins offers in The God Delusion (although I believe critiques like these have been ably answered by scholars like Ed Feser).

According to Boghossian, Victor Stenger is said to have refuted the fine-tuning argument in his 2011 book The Fallacy of Fine-tuning, but other writers have posted their own rebuttals to his arguments. In addition, Stenger doesn’t refute the fine-tuning argument so much as he attacks its central premise that the universe is finely tuned for life. In doing so, he goes against other well-known non-theistic cosmologists (like Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees) who at least accept that the universe is fine-tuned for life (even though they don’t think God is the fine-tuner). This should give us caution about Stenger’s conclusions.

In regards to the kalam cosmological argument, Boghossian simply says, “The possibility that the universe always existed cannot be ruled out” and then calls this the “death-knell” of the argument. He makes this claim without bothering to critique the scientific and philosophical evidence for the finitude of the past or even reference someone who has done that (like Wes Morriston).

I was hoping that chapter 7, which is called “anti-apologetics 101,” would provide at least some solid answers to arguments in defense of the faith, but here too I was sorely disappointed.[i] In answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing,” Boghossian simply quotes Adolf Grunbaum and says there’s no reason to think a state of something has to be explained and pure nothingness does not. To me this just shows a woeful lack of understanding of both the principle of sufficient reason and the philosophers who have addressed the issue.

While there are serious and thoughtful critiques of natural theology, Boghossian fails to make one and, distressingly, doesn’t seem to even be aware of such critiques.

The Ugly

Finally, the anti-religious rhetoric in the book is over-the-top. Boghossian says that if a street epistemologist doesn’t convince someone to give up his faith, then the person is either secretly giving up his faith while trying to “save face” or the person is literally brain damaged (chapter 3). In a chapter called “Containment Protocols,” Boghossian says we should stigmatize religious claims like racist claims, treat faith like a kind of contagious mental illness that should be recognized by medical professionals, read apologist’s books but buy them used so they don’t make a profit (“Enjoy a McDonald’s ice cream courtesy of the royalty from my purchase of your book, Pete!”), and promote children’s television shows where “Epistemic Knights” do battle against “Faith Monsters.”

The advice I would give atheists who are interested in this book would be to model the Socratic approach Boghossian teaches but don’t use his rhetoric when you’re talking to believers. For believers, I’d say that this is a good window into the attitude of popular “skeptic-based atheism.” Knowing what’s in this book can help you explain to the “street epistemologist” that you aren’t brain damaged. Instead, you have good reasons to think that what you believe is true and the street epistemologist should examine those reasons with an open mind and charitable attitude.


[i]The only other references Boghossian makes to critiques of arguments for the existence of God are Guy Harrison and John Paulos’ books on the subject, both of which are definitely for the layperson and are not very rigorous in their critiques. Though, to his credit, in his recommended reading sections Boghossian does mention some books that I think are at least decent critiques of theism, such as Victor Stenger’s book God: The Failed Hypothesis.

How God Can Use Protesters

leonard2A few weeks ago I gave a presentation on same-sex marriage at a university in the Midwest. My goal was to provide the audience with the non-religious reasons behind the Church’s efforts to keep marriage from being redefined in order to accommodate same-sex couples. Throughout the presentation I took great pains to be charitable. I also exhorted Catholics to not let their opposition to same-sex marriage turn into mean-spirited attitudes towards people who identify as having same-sex attractions.

Unfortunately, about halfway through my presentation two female students decided to protest my case for marriage by passionately embracing and kissing in front of the audience.  I’m not sure why they were doing this because in my talk I made it clear that same-sex marriage and the morality of homosexual behavior were two separate issues. In fact, I included in my presentation quotes from people with same-sex attractions who also oppose redefining marriage.

As a university employee approached them and asked the students to leave I invited them to stay and dialogue with me about my presentation during the Q+A session afterwards. They refused saying that I was “twisting the truth.” When I asked them to give one example of said twisting they refused.  Their goal was to simply disrupt what I was saying and not engage me in rational argument.

Pray for Those Who Persecute You

This incident made me think about how God can use anything, even protesters who are diametrically opposed to what the Church teaches, to accomplish his will. Consider the picture above of Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard being doused by protesters while taking part in a panel discussion at a university in Brussels. According to one news outlet:

Four women, representing the pro-abortion and homosexual group FEMEN, took to the stage at ULB University in Brussels where the archbishop was participating in a debate on blasphemy laws. The women disrobed to reveal black-painted slogans on their bare chests and backs, such as “my body my rules. “Waving signs that read “stop homophobia,” the women doused the archbishop with water from bottles formed in the image of the Virgin Mary.

In the minutes before the women could be forced off stage, Archbishop Leonard sat drenched with water, eyes closed in prayer. The archbishop then kissed the image of the Virgin Mary on one of the water bottles that was used in the attack.

“He was very calm and maintained a position of prayer. I have to believe he was praying for us,” one of the attackers said to reporters.

What I find amazing is that if these protesters had not disrupted the event where the archbishop was speaking, then it would have probably gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. Ironically, their act of protest did not hurt the Catholic Church or portray it as the “evil villain” these protesters think the Church is. Instead, the protesters made themselves look like a bunch of bullies and the world was able to see the holiness of someone who has sought to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

The Difference We Can Make

While I faced a much milder disruption at my own talk on same-sex marriage,  those two women provided an opportunity for everyone in attendance to see a Catholic handle critics with graciousness. I did not chastise these women or verbaly berate them. Instead, I invited them to have a dialogue with me and present their toughest objections in front of everyone. Afterwards, many people, including critics who disagreed with me on same-sex marriage, said they were impressed not just with my arguments but with “how I handled myself.”

The fact that I wasn’t defensive but graciously encouraged criticism impressed many people and it made them curious to learn more about the Church’s position on this issue. I’ll leave you with an email from a young woman that helped me see that when we present the truth in love God can use our actions to build up his kingdom in ways we may never see.

Tonight I was granted the honor of listening to you speak on my home campus! I also had the nerve-wracking chance to invite along a non-Catholic friend, who has (or maybe I should say “had”) a very decided opinion about same-sex marriage. After you concluded your talk, I summoned the courage to ask my friend for their thoughts on your speech. My friend’s response showed the impact of being deeply impressed with your charisma and with how you handled yourself and presented your material!

This led to a conversation that lasted nearly three hours on topics generally surrounding why Catholics believe what we do. When we finally called it a night, I knew that my friend’s beliefs about same-sex marriage had changed and that they had even started looking at Catholicism in a better light!

Granted, I have been trying to talk to my friend for months (years, if you count since the beginning of our friendship) and have never been able to spark an interest. As with many college students my age, my friend usually brushed off all attempts or changed the subject. After tonight, however, your God-inspired words left my friend’s heart open to the truth! My friend even hinted about wanting to know more about our faith!

Thanks be to God’s grace and all praise to the One who inspired your profession!! I cannot thank either Him or you enough.

In Christ,

an Amazed College Student

From My Wife

***The following post is a guest post from my wife, Laura, about our recent loss.***

Originally when Trent and I found out we had been blessed with conceiving a child, I was immediately overwhelmed at God’s blessing. I told Trent within the first hour of finding out, “I just can’t help but think it’s not fair that my little baby is safe with me, but so many other little babies are not safe at all in their mothers’ wombs. The babies are just swimming around in there, but they have no idea if their moms will decide to keep them.” During mass the day we found out, I pondered at how caring for another makes someone holier. I suddenly wanted to go to daily mass more frequently to get my baby communion, and prepare myself spiritually for the innocence and purity of this new human being. I silently promised my little one that if he does have to go home, I wouldn’t let his death be in vain. I’d try to be as holy as possible because I know his dad and I are the only people he’s ever known, and if he continued on to pray for us, I didn’t want those prayers to be unnoticed, like a mean mom or dad who rejects their preschool child’s best try at art.

I was pregnant during the 41st anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the monumental court decision that made abortion legal on a federal level in America, and my heart was heavy the entire day. I continued to dwell on how unnatural it would have to be for a woman to want her pregnancy to end, and how sad it is she would have to suppress the love she feels for her unborn child with fear that had overcome her. I entertained thoughts of what it would be like to walk into a clinic and come out “not pregnant.” It was getting to be too much, so I, like many, stopped thinking about it.

A week later, I was volunteering as a nurse at a free medical clinic in El Cajon, and used the restroom only to find out I had started to lightly bleed. The doctor understood and immediately dismissed me to go to my primary care provider.  When I arrived, my doctor suggested an ultrasound and I be started on progesterone, the hormone necessary to sustain pregnancy. Trent and I have practiced natural family planning, so I knew my body had expressed signs of low progesterone in past cycles. My sister also struggles with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which requires her to receive progesterone during all of her pregnancies. I eagerly went to collect my urine sample, so I could move on with the ultrasound to hopefully see my little baby I called my poppy seed. I looked down only to see a pool of blood, and just like that I knew it was over. My miscarriage was beginning. My breath escaped me instantaneously, and I could do nothing but sob. I walked into the ultrasound room to see my husband and the nurse preparing for an ultrasound that surely would show nothing. The nurse explained it’d probably be best to wait before trying to see what happens. The next few moments were a blur of shattered hopes and pain that only someone who has experienced loss can understand. I was told I could expect to bleed for about two weeks, and to come back on Tuesday. The doctors were empathetic and professional, and I am forever grateful.

Trent and I tried to pass time by going to see the movie Saving Mr. Banks and walking around. I found it difficult to walk, so I sat frequently. I had an epiphany about what this all means to me in relation to the pro-life movement. Trent and I met doing pro-life work, and we’ve given our entire lives over to defending the unborn together. Often times Trent and I both hear from post-abortive women, “I’ve had an abortion, so do you think I’m a murderer?” The answer we give is always “no” and includes us trying to reassure them that we’re very sorry about what happened to them and the child they’ve lost. If they have any logical reasons to defend legal abortion, we address those as we would with any man/woman who hasn’t had an abortion. But as I miscarried, I also recalled the times when pro-choice advocates have defended their positions with rhetoric such as “it’s not a baby,” “it’s not alive yet,” or “it’s not even a person.” I immediately couldn’t help but become really angry at these arguments that belittle what I was feeling about my unborn child. If the pro-choice view is correct, women who miscarry are mourning nothing but the possibility of becoming pregnant, not an actual child she just lost. This is a lie, and it is insulting. Trent approached me, knowing something was wrong. “I think we need to start making this personal.” I told him. He was confused, but I continued, “I mean I think in the pro-life movement, we need to start using personal examples to be the voice of our children. We need to start saying statements such as ‘So you’re telling me when I miscarried, I have no right to think I actually had a baby I lost?’” A lot of people are advocates for legal abortion because they have intellectual arguments, but more people are defenders of legal abortion because they have emotional arguments. It’s time we start being emotional right back, and showing them what the death of a child looks like. It looks like a sad mom and dad who were excited to welcome a child into the world and would died to see him live. From now on, when someone tells me, “It’s not a human yet” I will counter with the question, “So you’re saying when I miscarried, I had nothing to be sad over because I didn’t lose my human child my husband and I tried for months to create?” We need to start making people uncomfortable with their views, because chances are, they’ve doubted what they think is true at some point and time. When they had doubts, there was probably a pro-choice person to reassure them that “a woman has a right to choose” or that “it isn’t a baby, just a clump of cells.” We need to start being there as the people who have or know someone who have lost a human being, and will not back down that that human being was special, and it’s sad they are dead. Women who have had abortions were lied to, and to cover up that lie, she’ll have to do some more serious lying to herself and create a vicious cycle. This will continue until she finally faces that it’s okay to miss her baby she never got to hold. She’s not a monster, she’s a mother, but she has to start spreading truth from her loss, and not helping other women make the same mistake she did. The pro-choice view is belittling to mothers and fathers who have experienced loss, and we need to start making them uncomfortable by calling pro-choice advocates out on it. My baby’s death will not be in vain.

When Trent and I found out we were expecting, I bought journals for us to write to our baby in hopes we could give him his journal when he was older. I read Trent’s first entry. He wrote to our child:

                Dear Baby,

When I first found out you existed, I hugged your mom tighter than I had in a really long time. I was so happy to know that you had come into our family, and to know that our future would never be the same. Even if God decided that you were to return home to Him before birth, you will still always be a part of our family.

I have so many questions about the future, but for now I will be like Mary and “ponder these things in my heart.” I love you so much little baby, and I can’t wait to meet you soon.

                -Dad

And that is why I’m mad people belittle the unborn and their parents’ feelings by being pro-choice.

My New Pro-life DVD

making_the_case_for_life_shop_imageHere’s the description of my new DVD. To order a copy, click here.

No matter how hard you try, talking with your friends and family about abortion too often winds up at one extreme or the other—either tempers and emotions get out of hand or to keep the peace you agree to disagree and move on to another subject.

Neither approach serves the pro-life cause, says Trent Horn. In his new DVD, Making the Case for Life, he shows you how to avoid those extremes, presenting a roadmap for talking about abortion that really gets people engaged on the gravest moral question of our age.

Using field-tested techniques honed through thousands of encounters in college pro-life ministry, Trent shares practical tips for persuading others to recognize the unborn’s fundamental right to life, including:

  • Using scientific and philosophical facts (when they expect you just to quote the Bible)
  • Employing empathy to break down defenses and defuse hostility
  • Dealing with “hard cases” and other common pro-choice claims
  • Three foolproof approaches that will make even the most hardened pro-choicer listen to what you have to say

. . . plus bonus real-world footage of Trent putting his techniques into practice!

Above all, Making the Case for Life will teach you not simply to win fruitless arguments but to leave other people receptive—perhaps for the first time—to the truth about abortion.

Should Catholic Schools Be Allowed to Discriminate?

BensalemPA_HolyGhostPrepSchoolSignThe short answer: Of course they should.

Now, let me define what I mean by “discriminate.” In one sense, to discriminate means to note a difference between two things. When a Catholic school doesn’t hire an incompetent applicant, they discriminate between that applicant and a more qualified one (just as your taste buds discriminate between chocolate and sulfur). However, when most people think of discrimination, they think of unfair discrimination, or using an irrelevant difference in order to judge someone’s worth.

So what is the difference between fair discrimination and unfair discrimination?

I ask that question because in the last few years several Catholic schools have been accused of unfair discrimination. The complaints usually come when a school terminates an employee who broke his employment contract by engaging in behavior that violates the principles of the Catholic Faith.

The latest example came this past Friday when foreign language teacher Michael Griffin was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory High School in Pennsylvania (pictured above). Apparently, Mr. Griffin announced in an e-mail to administrators that he was going to be late to school because he was on his way to file for a license in order to marry his boyfriend.

Similar terminations at Catholic schools include a couple at a Massachusetts school who were fired for conceiving a child outside of marriage and an Indiana woman who was fired for trying to use the school’s health plan to pay for in vitro fertilization treatment.

Fair or Unfair Discrimination?

I think it’s clear that these are cases of fair discrimination because these teachers were not terminated for who they were. They were terminated for their actions.

Take the case of Mr. Griffin. The Huffington Post says, “[Mr.] Griffin was fired essentially for being gay,” and lists the story under the topic “fired for being gay.” But Mr. Griffin wasn’t fired for “being gay.”

If a school fired a teacher because it found out he attended Courage, a Catholic support group for people who experience same-sex attractions, then that would be a case of firing someone “for being gay.” Instead, Mr. Griffin was fired because he chose to publicly violate Church teaching and took steps to marry another man. This is also true in the other cases I listed where teachers violated their employment contracts by engaging in behaviors that violate what the Church teaches.

Critics of these schools have put forward several arguments for the view that these cases are unfair discrimination. Let’s examine some of those arguments:

1. Your employer has no right to tell you what you can and can’t do outside of work.

Depending on the state where a worker lives and the public or private nature of his work, it is true that employers generally cannot intrude into their employee’s private lives. However, if the employee’s off-duty actions reflect negatively on the company, then, in most cases, disciplinary action can be taken.

Because of the nature of their work, Catholic schoolteachers represent their schools both on and off work time. If a teacher were engaged in scandalous public behavior that violates the school’s mission, then it would make sense to let that teacher go. Furthermore, these teachers usually sign a contract with a “morality clause,” and breaking that contract can also be grounds for either termination or the decision to not renew the contract.

2. Morality clauses in contracts are illegal. Catholic schools shouldn’t force their employees to uphold Catholic values outside of work. As long as what these employees do is legal, then it is none of the Church’s business.

An employee can represent his employer in an unfavorable way even if he is engaged in something that is legal. An example might include being publicly associated with a porn company outside of office hours. Likewise, most companies don’t allow their employees to work for a competitor, even if such work is legal, because it creates a conflict of interest.

In addition, morality clauses are well known in the world of contracts. Lance Armstrong lost many of his sponsors precisely because his drug use violated the morality clause in his contract with those sponsors. Morality clauses protect companies from being harmed by employees who damage their reputations. A Catholic school that is unable to terminate a teacher who creates a scandal could be harmed when the parents of prospective students choose to not enroll their children in the school for that reason.

However, I think Catholic schools should carefully explain to their teachers (who themselves may not have been well-catechized) what does and does not violate a morality clause in an employment contract. This is especially the case with IVF and other medical practices that some good-hearted Catholics may mistakenly think are not immoral.

3. I bet these schools don’t fire teachers who use contraception or masturbate.

Just because some teachers might violate their contracts in a private and undetectable way does not mean teachers who violate their contracts in a public way cannot be disciplined.

4. Terminating employees for their religious beliefs, marital status, or pregnancies constitutes illegal discrimination under the 1964 and 1968 civil rights acts. Choosing to not hire someone based on these classes is also illegal.

It’s true that employers usually cannot base hiring or termination decisions on the fact that an employee belongs to a “protected class” of people (such as belonging to a certain race, religion, nationality, sex, etc.).  But there is an exception.

It has long been held in the United States that when it comes to hiring practices there is a “ministerial exception” for religious organizations. In order to protect freedom of religion, the government cannot tell churches who can and cannot be ministers. This is why radical supporters of female ordination cannot sue the Catholic Church for the “job” of priesthood.

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the ministerial exception could also be applied to teachers in parochial schools, even if they primarily teach a nonreligious subject.

I think that makes perfect sense. In fact, more Catholic schools should view their teachers as “ministers of the gospel” along with being academic instructors. Theological topics can easily find their way into other subjects like art, English, literature, history, and science. The teaching of Romance languages like Spanish or French, which is what Mr. Griffin taught before he was terminated, could easily incorporate Catholic materials originally written in those languages.

Even if they teach a subject like calculus, Catholic schoolteachers are still respected by their students as role models. These teachers have ample opportunities to share their worldview with students before and after class, such as when the math students erupt into an impromptu discussion about the morning assembly presentation on chastity.

Genuinely Catholic

Pope John Paul II said during a 2004 visit to the U.S. bishops:

It is of utmost importance, therefore, that the Church’s institutions be genuinely Catholic: Catholic in their self-understanding and Catholic in their identity. All those who share in the apostolates of such institutions, including those who are not of the faith, should show a sincere and respectful appreciation of that mission which is their inspiration and ultimate raison d’être.

Catholic schools have the right and the duty to protect their Catholic identity by retaining employees who, at the bare minimum, do not violate what the Church teaches. However, the ideal would be for those employees to not merely tolerate the Faith but to celebrate it and serve as a witness of it in their classrooms.

Rush Limbaugh Doesn’t Get Pope Francis

In a recent segment on his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh talked about the pope’s new apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. I don’t have the space to address everything Limbaugh said, but what struck me was his mischaracterization of Pope Francis’s comments about economics.

The fundamental problem was that Limbaugh chose to quote not what Pope Francis wrote but a Washington Post article on the exhortation, which stated:

Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. . . . In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money.”

Limbaugh responded by saying, “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope. Unfettered capitalism? That doesn’t exist anywhere. ‘Unfettered capitalism’ is a liberal socialist phrase to describe the United States.”

Comrade Francis?

Granted, it takes hours to read this massive document but, for someone whose words are heard by millions of people, before calling the pope a “Marxist” a simple use of the control+F function would have been warranted. If Limbaugh had done that, he would have found that the phrase “unfettered capitalism” does not appear in Evangelii Gaudium.

Neither is the global economy the main theme of this exhortation; rather, it’s only one area where Pope Francis is calling on the Church to evangelize the world. He describes specific financial and cultural challenges facing the human community and then addresses the temptations of pastors who must face these challenges. Nowhere does the Pope blame humanity’s woes on the concept of the free market or demand a Marxist government to save mankind.

A Betrayal of John Paul II?

Limbaugh later said, “[J]uxtaposed against the actions of Pope John Paul II, this pope and the things that he released yesterday or recently are really striking.”

No, they aren’t.  In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II reflected on socialism and capitalism in light of the recent fall of the Soviet Union. Although he acknowledged that profit has a “legitimate role” in the function of a business and that “the Marxist solution” to economic inequality had failed, he also spoke of the “inadequacies of capitalism” and said that profit is the not the only indicator that a business is doing well. The human dignity of workers matter too, and if capitalism is left unchecked it becomes “ruthless” and leads to “inhuman exploitation.” Pope Francis’s words are consistent with John Paul’s.

Limbaugh continued:

You talk about unfettered, this is an unfettered anti-capitalist dictate from Pope Francis. And listen to this. This is an actual quote from what he wrote. “The culture of prosperity deadens us. We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle. They fail to move us.” I mean, that’s pretty profound. That’s going way beyond matters that are ethical. This is almost a statement about who should control financial markets. He says that the global economy needs government control.

But the Pope is not saying that. He is saying that a global economy needs global control, not government control in the form of some creepy one-world government that runs everything. Pope Francis said, “If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation [emphasis added], ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few (206).”

A Complex Question

The Church teaches that the dignity of the human person and the management of global economies is more complex than just choosing “capitalism” over “socialism/communism.” What is required is an approach that respects individual freedom without allowing that freedom to become some all-consuming monster that tramples the weak and poor.

In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II was asked if capitalism should be the dominant economic model in light of the fall of the USSR. His answer is insightful, and I think it’s an excellent parallel to Pope Francis’s attitude on the subject. Pope John Paul II said:

The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

The reality is that the Catholic Church, and Pope Francis included, cannot simply say it is for or against capitalism. It’s a complex question. While the Washington Post said Pope Francis issued a “decidedly populist teaching” the Pope said in Evangelii Gaudium that he was not arguing for “an irresponsible populism,” or a solution that naively pits the poor against the rich (204).

On the other hand, while the Pope might agree with Limbaugh that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” can lift some people out of poverty, it can also strangle the life out of the poor, and so the Pope says in that same paragraph that we can no longer trust the market alone to ensure that all people are treated with dignity.

In closing, I think that the following paragraph from the Pope’s exhortation is something that should be mailed to Limbaugh and maybe we can turn down the heat just a little bit:

If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth (208).

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