Mike Kueber's Blog

November 5, 2012

Sunday Book Review #88 – Catholic Christianity

Filed under: Book reviews,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 12:05 am
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My youngest son Jimmy is attending a Catholic university in Ohio – Franciscan University at Steubenville.  It recently dawned on me that his tuition amounts to $2,500 a course, which amounts to more than $50 for each 50-minute lecture.  Talk about an inefficient institution crying out for reform.  (Not just Franciscan, which is relatively inexpensive for a private school.)

One of Jimmy’s courses is titled “Foundations of Catholicism.”  Although that might sound narrow-minded for someone pursuing a broad liberal education, I disagree.  When I was a freshman at the secular University of North Dakota, I took a course titled “Introduction to Philosophy,” with one large section devoted the study of logic and one lecture devoted to “the historical Jesus.”  Jimmy’s study of Catholicism, if properly done, can provide him with a similar grounding in philosophy, reason, and logic.

Jimmy returned to San Antonio this weekend for religious retreat involving a bunch of kids that he worked with last year as a youth missionary at St. Francis of Assisi church, and I asked him to bring along his “Foundations of Catholicism” textbook.  I had studied the Catholic catechism when I was a kid back in North Dakota, and I wanted to refresh my memory, plus determine how academically rigorous the course was.

Jimmy’s textbook, which was published in 2001, is titled Catholic Christianity. It is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992.  Its author Peter Kreeft suggests that his book supplements, but does not replace the Catechism – “Let no one read this book instead of that one.”  Essentially, Catholic Christianity attempts to make the teachings of the CCC more accessible to college students.  Jimmy told me that his class is studying both.

There are three parts to Catholic Christianity:

  1. How Catholics Think (Catholic theology) – 140 pages
  2. How Catholics Live (Catholic morality) – 125 pages
  3. How Catholics pray (Catholic worship) – 140 pages

This trilogy in the context of other religions is often characterized as (a) faith, morality, and the spiritual life; (b) creed, code, and cult (liturgy); or (c) words, works, and worship.

The Catholic Morality is what interests me most.  I have often heard skeptical nonbelievers declare that, although Christianity espouses problematic, supernatural beliefs, its morality is as well-conceived as any other philosophical set of beliefs. 

What does the Catholic Church say about its morality?

  • You can be moral without being CatholicIn fact, you can be moral without being Christian, without being religious at all….  But it is not easy!  Your chances of succeeding in doing anything are always increased when you know more truth.  So you are much more likely to live a good life if you have better knowledge of what “a good life” really means, from divine revelation
  • Sinners are punished on earthThe two-thousand-year-long historical narrative of the Old Testament proves one unmistakably clear principle: whenever God’s people obey his laws, they are blessed; whenever they disobey, they are punished, to bring them to repentance and obedience and then blessing again.
  • America is losing its wayIncreasingly, in the last few centuries in the West, Catholics have been behaving no differently from the secularized world – and have been steadily losing that world.  Statistics show that in the United States, the West’s most religious nations, Catholics murder, rape, commit adultery… at the same rate as everyone else.  Can anyone who knows Scriptures wonder why God is not blessing the Church of the United States?  Muslims, Mormons, Protestant Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, who are living and behaving differently, distinctively, “counter-culturally,” are growing in numbers and vitality, even though they have defective theologies, because they are obeying God’s moral laws.
  • Man instinctually has a conscience and desire to worship, but only the Abrahamic religions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) have been able to unify these instinctsBoth man’s moral instinct (conscience) and man’s religious instinct (to worship) are innate and natural to man and, therefore, present in all times and places in human history.  But these two eyes of the soul have not always worked in united vision.  Their perfect union was accomplished by only one people in ancient times: the people God chose to be his collective prophet to the world, to reveal his true character as moral and good and holy and demanding holiness from us.  Today, nearly half of humanity knows this God, for the world’s two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, learned of him from the Jews.  But before Christ only Abraham and the people of God formed from him knew the true God.  Morality was not central to the pagan religions as it was to Judaism.  The gods of the pagans were as immoral as the men who made them in their own image.
  • Morality without religion is doomed to failure – 1While the common error of ancient times was to separate religion from morality, the common error of modern times is to confine religion to morality and to reject or ignore religion’s supernatural elements.  The two main motives behind this “modernism” were an unjustified embarrassment at the supernatural as supposedly unscientific and a justified embarrassment at the history of religious warfare, persecution, and hatred, which modernists thought came not from sin but from the contradictions between different theologies and the belief that theological orthodoxy was important and truth was objective.  If we ignore theological dogma and reduce religion to morality, the modernists argue, we will find unity and peace among the different religions of the world.  But this good end does not justify the less-than-honest means.  We cannot ignore truth.
  • Morality without religion is doomed to failure – 2On one hand, there has been substantial progress not only in science and technology but also in morality….  On the other hand, especially since the so-called Enlightenment, Western civilization has been increasingly secularized and de-Christianized, morally as well as theologically and ecclesiastically.  The attempt to preserve Christina morality without Catholic doctrine, Catholic authority, or Catholic sacraments has not worked.  Today the secular media, the mind-molders of our civilization, are increasingly skeptical of traditional morality, especially sexual morality; of the very idea of any certainty or any absolutes in morality; and the idea of morality as God’s commandments rather than man’s ideals.
  • There are three levels of loveWe can love what is greater than ourselves (God), we can love ourselves and what is equal to ourselves (other human persons), and we can love what is less than ourselves (things in the world).  The essential moral rule for right loving is to love according to reality.  This means adoring God, loving persons, and using things.  The things of the world are to be loved proportionately to what they are – for example, we should respect higher animals, which have feelings, more than lower animals such as insects, which do not; we should respect animals more than plants (we kill plants to feed animals but do not kill animals to feed plants); and we should respect living things more than non-living things.  Good created things to be used by people.  When things such as money are treated as ends, people usually treated as means.  This reverses the order of reality.  Things can be loved too little (not appreciated) or too much (treated as ends); persons can be loved too little (used as means) or too much (worshipped as gods), but God cannot be loved too much, only too little.
  • There are three universal moral rules (obvious to every morally sane individual and culture)(1) One may never do evil so that good may result from it. (The end doesn’t justify the means.). (2) The Golden Rule – whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.  (3) Charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience.
  • There are four cardinal virtues(1) Prudence (wisdom); (2) Justice (give their due to God and neighbor); (3) Fortitude (firmness); and (4) Temperance (moderates the attraction of pleasure).
  • There are three theological virtues(1) Faith (believing in God); (2) Hope (desiring the kingdom of heaven); and Love (the greatest of the virtues).
  • Evolution – maybe yes, maybe noThe doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution do not necessarily contradict each other.  We do not know how God arranged for the world he created to come to perfection.  He could have used the evolution of species by natural selection (“the survival of the fittest”) to produce the human body….  Insofar as evolution explains bodies, it does not contradict the doctrine of creation.  Insofar as it claims to explain souls, it does….  There can be no contradiction, ever, between true science and true religion, because truth can never contradict truth.
  • There may be hope for non-believersThe Church explicitly teaches that many who call themselves non-Catholics are saved – “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of the conscience – those too may attain eternal salvation.  We do not know exactly how God saves non-Catholics or how many are saved….  Fundamentalists send out missionaries because they claim to know that all are damned except those who consciously know and accept Christ.  Modernists send out missionaries, if they do, just to do good works.  They also claim to know the number of damned: none.  Catholics make neither claim.  They just preach the truth.
  • You can’t wish away hell.  C.S. Lewis says about the doctrine of hell: “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of Scripture, and, especially, of Our Lord’s own words.  If hell is not real, then Jesus Christ is either a fool or a liar.  God forgives every sin – if only we repent while there is still time….  There is no second chance after death because there is no more time.
  • The Ten Commandments.
  1. I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods and no graven images.
  2. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.
  3. Keep the Sabbath.
  4. Honor the father and mother (family).
  5. Thou shall not kill (life).
  6. Thou shall not commit adultery (sex).
  7. Thou shall not steal (property).
  8. Thou shall not bear false witness (communication).
  9. Thou shall not cover thy neighbor’s wife (sex).
  10. Thou shall not covet they neighbor’s property (property).
  • The economic morality in the 7th and 10th Commandments sound more Democratic than RepublicanPrivate property is designed for more than private enjoyment; it is designed for common good.  “The ownership of any property makes the holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.”  Families exist partly to train us to overcome our natural “original selfishness” in this first, closest level of charity.  On the other hand, “the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property.  Private property is a natural need and a natural right.  This is why communism is unnatural.  Animals have feelings, but they do not have immortal, rational, or moral souls; they are not persons….  It is likewise unworthy to spend money of them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery.

Because I spent only a few hours reviewing Catholic Christianity, I did not have the opportunity to read most of the teachings.  Based on a closer examination, I would be interested in knowing the Church’s explanation for why a good God would create a world that contains so much pain for animals.  I would also like to know the Church’s explanation for why there is almost no objective evidence that God intercedes in life’s happenings.

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