Sunday, December 03, 2006

Historic Christianity & The Basis For Morality

I mentioned that the first 100 posts of my blog have been largely dedicated to defending my decision to convert to Catholicism. That first "phase" of my blog culminated with 2 posts, first: my conversion story and second: the summary of my defense. This next phase is an open ended one of course but I will start out focusing on refuting certain liberal ideas which have been creeping into Christianity (both Catholic & Protestant) for the last 70+ years.

Historic Christianity is what I intend to build my case on. So far, I have shown how I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the true church. I want to show that in this light, it is very significant what the early Christians believed and I will use that as my principle argument. (Although I would still contend that the beliefs stand on their own).

First, what the early Christians believed was significant whether you’re a Roman Catholic or a Baptist. Here is why the beliefs of the early church are significant. Assume for a minute that the early church got it wrong. In other words, some or most of the beliefs of the early Church were misguided. If that happened, who would believe that we somehow got it right 2000 years later? In my field (data mining) there’s a saying: ‘garbage in, garbage out’ and it applies here too. If you start with garbage, you end with it. If the early church was wrong, it's unrealistic to assume that we have it right today.

To be sure, Christianity could not stand on the premise that the immediate successors to the apostles quickly forgot or corrupted all that they had learned and then Christianity has been tainted from that point on and we are only gradually working towards the truth. Who (outside of Dan Brown) would believe such a ridiculous concept? That is exactly the antithesis of what I am promoting. I believe that the early church got it right. I believe that the immediate successors of the apostles believed as the apostles did! (Of course an alternate theory is one of gradual corruption but we'll leave that for another discussion since I believe that clearly leaves out the perpetual involvement in the Holy Spirit with His Church)

Furthermore, liberals may try to interpret the New Testament to fit their agendas since the New Testament is (relatively) ambiguous on several subjects, but they may not, with even an ounce of credibility, try to argue that the early church agreed with their liberal ideals. That is what I intend to show in more detail for those of you whom it is not already plainly obvious.

Now many people don’t understand exactly what the early church believed but there are those who do - even among liberal circles. In these circles, the liberals are most likely prone to believe that while yes, the early Church was very conservative, they were conservative in so far as they agreed with the culture of their time and now that times have changed, so have those values. See my first post on the topic of the ordination of women. There are a couple of problems with this mentality. First, there is an unjustifiable separation between types of morality. Second, while some things in the world have changed, the only possible modifiers of these issues have not.

When I speak of a separation of ‘types of morality’, I’m speaking of two types that contemporary people seem to like to classify: 1. The type that distinguishes me as either a moral liberal or conservative (abortion, homosexuality etc…) and 2. The type that everyone on the planet would agree on: (murder, adultery, theft). Are some areas of morality more ‘fuzzy’ than others? Sure. But you cannot start grouping ideas of morality into categories such as these. What Scripture teaches on homosexuality (for example) is no less culturally dependant than what it teaches on adultery. You cannot distinguish between the two as different types of morality (at least not without some very hefty evidence explaining how and the liberals haven’t even attempted to do so). In fact, I intend to show evidence on the contrary.

So even the liberals agree that the early church rejected polygamy(1) and therefore we reject polygamy today (while the Scriptures themselves do not reject it). But the early church also rejected homosexuality (as we will soon find) yet the liberals do not (and of course the Scriptures do very explicitly reject it)(2).

Modifiers: When I speak of ‘possible modifiers’ of moral issues, I’m talking about things that could affect (or modify) the state of whether something is permissible. What is an example of an acceptable modifier to a moral issue? We agree that taking the life of another human being is wrong but in times of war (specifically when you are fighting for a just cause) we all agree that killing is permissible before God. So ‘war’ or as a Catholic would say, 'just war' becomes a modifier for this moral issue (killing). So mathematically it may look something like:

Killing = Wrong
Killing + War = OK

War is the modifier. Now what is the modifier for… women being ordained as preachers? The distinction being made here (in prohibitions against women in authoritative roles) is between man and woman. What modifier has changed to possibly allow that relationship to be altered? Aren’t man and woman still the same? Of course. In order to be a credible modifier to this particular moral issue, something about the very nature of man & woman would have to have changed. Since we know that the early Church rejected it and interpreted the Scriptures to reject that (as if they don't stand on their own). We will go into more detail on this issue in later posts but also see above my link on the subject.

As the Scriptures say “there is nothing new under the sun”(3). Liberalism is based on the lie that “the world used to be like A, but now we are progressing and it has become like B” But both Scriptures and reason attest to the fact that the world has remained virtually unchanged since it’s creation (of course I’m speaking in very broad terms here). Furthermore there have always been liberals in society, they are not new and neither are their ideas.

These are the types of attitudes I intend to refute in the coming posts.

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Nate Wildermuth said...

"We agree that taking the life of another human being is wrong but in times of war (specifically when you are fighting for a just cause) we all agree that killing is permissible before God."

Actually, we don't! :)

The Church has been more and more outspoken against all forms of war - whether considered just or unjust, and it is only a matter of time before we return to the early church's prohibition against all killing.

I know your post wasn't quite about war, but still, I had to chime in.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Nate, thanks for the comments. I too am a pacifist and agree with the Catholic Church's teaching. However, to call all killing a sin would be to accuse God of ordering sin since He did in fact command killing in numerous occasions throughout the Old Testament.

Understandably, killing (regardless of circumstance) is NEVER a good thing. Neither is death.

Jesus of course preached a doctrine of pacifism I agree with you. Many like to discredit His doctrine of "turning the other cheek" by reducing it to a meaningless suggestion for handling verbal insults.

Re-reading my post I should have been a little more clear. I don't mean to say that killing is permissable before God. I do mean to say that there are (very specific) modifiers which can justify killing.

But lets just cut to the chase: what does the Catholic Church teach? It is clear that there are conditions (albeit not easily met) for justification in war.

From the Catechism:
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

- there must be serious prospects of success;

- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

Nate Wildermuth said...

Thanks for the great response!

I disagree with the idea that God ordered killing in the OT, but that's an open sort of question. I don't think we are bound to take it literally.

But as for the Church's teaching, have you read The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church? The Church's doctrines are developing on this issue...

Here's a post on my blog that mentions it and also gives the link:

Peace and <3, my friend!

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Nate, I have not read the compendium. I have lots of reading yet to do! I'm very bogged down with what I'm undertaking now in that department.

And thanks for the link I will read it when I get home. However, I do not understand how you can disagree with the clear orders God gave to kill in the Old Testament (I'm not saying they still apply, just that they existed at one time and for one people - Israel) and that if killing were universally evil in every situation (ie if it was a cosmic truth outside of God) A) God would be subject to an authority higher than Himself B) God would be guilty of this too since He himself kills.

Killing (like anything else) is only wrong because God says its wrong. But He has not condemned it in every single situation.

Now about the Old Testament:

If I cant trust that the words in Scripture mean what they say, how can I trust that what the Church teaching means what it says either? How do I even know what you're saying? Thats the whole purpose of language.

Words mean something. They have to in order for us to communicate.

It becomes a real problem when we start saying that the text doesnt mean what it obviously says.

And what does the text say?

"But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death." (Unambiguous, a direct command)

"Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death."

"Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death."

"Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death." (And Jesus reminded the Pharisees of this law in Mark)

I could go on for quite some time as there are tons and tons more examples.