The Danger of Religious Pluralism

four-religionsDistinct from syncretism, which reflects the blending of elements of unrelated faiths, pluralism affirms that different religions offer alternate paths to the same god, or to salvation. I once heard a priest use the analogy of a group of siblings, representing different religions, arguing with each other over who father loves most. Dad, representing God, then walks in on the quarreling kids and assures them that he loves them all equally.

It’s one thing for members of different religions to engage in dialogue as a means of promoting peace, but quite another to disregard their disparate and competing claims to the truth and declare them equally valid. It’s intellectual anarchy, like insisting that 2+2=5. The danger is that it crosses a line after which one’s own religion is unavoidably diminished in value.

This may be particularly true with respect to moral instruction. How important to the aforementioned priest do you think the Church’s moral teachings are if he thinks that contradictory religious systems are of equal value in God’s eyes? I don’t think it is merely coincidental that religions that are open to pluralism or a related notion tend toward moral positions that are contrary to Christian teaching.

A fairly recent study by the Pew Research Center examined the positions of various religions on the matter of abortion. Those who hold to some notion of pluralism, such as reformed and conservative Judaism, Buddhism, Unitarian, United Church of Christ, and most mainline Christian Churches, support legal abortion to some degree. Churches that are exclusivist, like Roman Catholicism, Southern Baptist, Mormon, etc. oppose abortion (the exception is Hinduism).

In a separate study, however, we see that these reflect official positions and are not necessarily held by all the practitioners. While only 18% of Jehovah’s Witnesses and 27% of Mormons surveyed supported abortion rights, extremely exclusivist religions, 48% of Catholics took a pro-abortion stand. Why do so many Catholics think that they can maintain positions on moral issues that are inconsistent with Church teaching? views_about_abortion_by_religious_groupThe answer may be that there are too many theologians and Church authorities opening the door to religious pluralism, the consequence of which is a decline in respect for the authority of the Church.

St. Teresa of Calcutta and the Priest of Kali

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The Kalighat Home for the Dying

A middle-aged priest from Calcutta was celebrating mass at my church several years ago. His homily centered on a short story about Mother Teresa with whom he seemed to be close. I remember the homily because it deeply moved me.

Calcutta is named after the important Hindu goddess Kali and means “the city of Kali”. She is worshipped as the “Mother of the Universe”. The priest recounted that when Mother Teresa began her service to the poor she and her few sisters had very little money or resources. Every day they would go to a nearby temple of Kali and serve the sick and dying on its doorsteps; it was where they congregated. The head priest of the temple resented the Christian nuns and stirred up the anger of the locals to the point that they would throw rocks. But the numbers of the sick kept growing so the Kali priest complained to authorities. Teresa, however, was able to convince them to give her the old abandoned temple that was on the same grounds; they knew that her work was badly needed by the people of Calcutta. She called it the Kalighat Home For the Dying.

The Kali priest continued stirring up opposition, trying to convince the police to get rid of her and her sisters. Then there was an outbreak of leprosy and in a panic people fled the area (the priest said it was cholera, but one of her biographers said it was leprosy). Teresa had found out that the Kali priest was still in the temple and had contracted the disease. She went in and found him suffering alone and treated him as she did the others, keeping him clean and fed. Some days later he was waking out of a deep sleep after his fever broke. He had a look of astonishment and exclaimed to Mother Teresa “I have seen Kali! I have seen Kali! He kept repeating it until he finally declared, “it’s you, you are Kali!”

He recovered and became a friend and benefactor. Catholics are blessed with a new saint, whose work will continue.

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…rjt

 

New Book Available October 1, 2016!

cover6From the back cover:

“Held hostage by feudal customs and threatened by the Cathar heresy, the institution of marriage at the outset of the twelfth-century in Latin Christendom was in urgent need of reform. Liberating Christian Marriage in an Age of Heresy reveals for the first time the role Hildegard played in the Church’s efforts to establish its jurisdiction over the institution and restore marriage to its Christian ideal. With little consensus on matters such as indissolubility and divorce, marital consent, contraception, clerical marriage, etc., the battle for marriage would not be easily won. Called out of her cloistered life and invested by the Church with the authority of an Old Testament prophet, abbess Hildegard, guided by mystical visions, reinforces the efforts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the reforming popes to restore marriage to the institution God originally intended it to be.”

The book will be available for purchase October 1, 2016 through Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Killing Sodom and Gomorrah

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Sodom was saved?

In a speech presented at the World Youth Day in Poland, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, General-Secretary to the Italian Bishop’s Conference, recounted the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in a way that irritated Father Z. The bishop had concluded the story at the end of Genesis 18, the dialogue with Abraham,  saying, “…The city [Sodom] is saved because some righteous ones are there, even though a few of them.” I would have guessed that the bishop may have accidently misstated himself, but he repeats again in the next line “the city was saved”. Genesis 19, which concludes the story with the destruction of Sodom, was omitted.

This should not come as a complete surprise. It was and is still commonly taught in the universities that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was a legend, along with the Tower of Babble, creation story, Noah’s Ark, etc. Since elements of many of these stories can be found in the mythological literature of other Ancient Near Eastern religions, it was assumed by many Biblical scholars that by the time they were written down, the Hebrews had simply adapted these fables to their unique monotheistic conception of God. Particularly for older theologians, like Bp. Galantino, interpreting these Biblical accounts literally would be naïve, thus leaving them open to creative interpretations or to be disregarded as anachronistic and irrelevant to today’s world.

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Ebla Library

With respect to Sodom, however, proof of its existence appeared in the 1980s. An archaeological site in present day Syria had uncovered a Middle Bronze Age city-state named Ebla. In it they found a library containing tablets that included geographical guides, and a list of cities that included Sodom.

In fact, archaeologists might have actually found Sodom in the Southern Jordan Valley, a Middle Bronze Age site known as Tall El-Hammam. One of the archaeologists working on the project, Steven Collins, concluded it was Sodom based on information from the book of Genesis:

“Theorizing, on the basis of the Sodom texts, that Sodom was the largest of the Kikkar [the Jordan ‘Disk’, or ‘well-watered plain’ in the Biblical text] cities east of the Jordan, I concluded that if one wanted to find Sodom, then one should look for the largest city on the eastern Kikkar that existed during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of Abraham and Lot. When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el-Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to ten times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region, even beyond the Kikkar of the Jordan.”

He sees evidence of a sudden abandonment of the city and no subsequent re-population of the area for 700 years. He notes also that the site,

“…included a large monumental complex in the lower city/tall, remains of a mudbrick palatial structure in the upper city/tall (called the ‘red palace’ because of the color of the mudbricks due to a fiery conflagration).”

While evidence of destruction by fire is common to Near East archaeological sites, bsodom3roken pottery shards have been found that were melted down by a heat level that would have to have been much higher than that of a normal fire, even a kiln.

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Lot’s wife

Less likely the site of Sodom is an area on the west side of the Dead Sea traditionally called the Mountains of Sodom and the Cave of Sodom. It’s a desolate area primarily comprised of salt. How this area came to be identified with Sodom is not clear; there are no remains of a city in the area. However, since it is on the coast of the Dead Sea, there are many pillars of salt, many of which eerily take on a human-like form. One in particular is even commonly referred to as Lot’s wife.

Bishop Galantino naturally prefers to talk to the kids about God’s mercy (Genesis 18), but is it helpful to ignore His judgment (Genesis 19)? Doesn’t the former necessarily imply the latter? The sin of Sodom was that as a sovereign city-state it had legitimized sexual behaviors that were contrary to divine natural law. But isn’t that exactly what sovereign Western states are doing today by means of their courts and governmental authorities? At some point following this Year of Mercy could the West experience a Year of Judgment?

…rjt

St. Hildegard’s Vision of the Moment of Consecration

eucharist1Listening to Hildegard explain aspects of the conversion of bread and wine to the real presence of Christ reveals the uniqueness of the visionary’s prophetic gift as well as how that gift was viewed by Church authorities in the twelfth-century.

While the doctrine of transubstantiation can be traced back to apostolic times, because of its mysterious nature theologians have had a difficult time explaining it. They employed philosophy and logic to draw their conclusions and thus had little success in making various aspects of the miraculous transmutation understandable. In his discourse on the subject, Hildegard’s contemporary, the early scholastic theologian Peter Lombard wrote, “If, however, it is asked of what sort this conversion is, whether formal, or substantial, or of another kind, I am not capable of defining it” (Book of Four Sentences, Book IV, Distinction 11). Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s Vision of the Moment of Consecration”

Cohabitation, Concubinage, and the Council of Trent

wench2Sociologically speaking, little comparison can be made between the form of concubinage that was popular in the Middle Ages and today’s marital alternative known as cohabitation. The medieval pastime endured for centuries and was deeply rooted in feudal society’s pagan history. It generally took the form of a nobleman, unmarried or married, keeping a woman of lower rank or from the peasantry in his home to provide sexual favors. Unsurprisingly, medieval concubines produced many illegitimate children, with many of the bastard daughters growing up to become concubines themselves.

The concern for maintaining a family’s social status meant that concubinage would rarely lead to marriage. In most cases of modern cohabitation, however, there is an intention on the part of the couple to eventually get married, giving the relationship some sense of permanence. Recent statistics demonstrate, however, that a majority of cohabitating couples eventually break up, including couples that eventually do get married. One well known fact about remarried people is that their second marriage is more likely to end in divorce, the third even more, etc. The same goes for cohabitating couples. Advocating cohabitation is giving dangerous and costly advice. Continue reading “Cohabitation, Concubinage, and the Council of Trent”

The Validity of a Marriage is Determined by Proper Consent

marriage2Marriage as we know it today originated in the twelfth-century. It was the result of the efforts of the Gregorian reform movement to wrestle full jurisdiction over marriage from the pagan-influenced customs of the feudal nobility. The latter treated marriage as means of forming strategic alliances with other families, or as a way of keeping wealth within an extended family. Arranged marriages precluded consent which often meant that it precluded love. They were often arranged before the child (usually the daughter) had even reached adolescence.

Church authorities used a variety of strategies to accomplish its goals, one of which was that fact that within Latin Christendom it was the Church that determined whether a particular marriage was valid or not. People wanted their marriage to be valid; it determined the legitimacy of their children and their ability to inherit. The Church knew this. But its problem was that it did not possess a uniform definition of what constituted a valid marriage. Continue reading “The Validity of a Marriage is Determined by Proper Consent”

St. Hildegard’s Vision of Today’s America

Eight centuries ago St. Hildegard experienced a prophetic vision of a period of time similar to our own. She called it the era of the Black Pig, the fourth of five symbolic animals representing successive historical periods of time that precede2pig the Antichrist. The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Visions of Modern Society lays out a compelling case that these eras have been unfolding in the recent history of Europe and North America. According to Hildegard, they are brief eras with distinct temporal rulers.

In comparing the eras to recent history, three particular years within the twentieth-century make dividing it into four separate historical periods an easy task. 1914, 1945, and 1991 are natural dividing lines marking major social and geopolitical changes in the Western world. There is a general consensus among historians regarding the momentousness of these years and how they serve to divide up the century. Hence, it can be divided into four eras which we choose to begin with the year of the loss of the Papal States in 1870: (1) 1870-1914, (2) 1914-1945, (3) 1945-1991, and (4) 1991-present. All are geopolitically distinct and brief. Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s Vision of Today’s America”

Why Social Engineering is Intensifying in the U.S.

Future historians analyzing our recent history will notice that Western leaders of the 1990s and after (e.g. Clinton, Blair, Cameron, et al.) reflected a major shift away from their predecessors on moral questions. There was still a shared acknowledgement of the Judeo-Christian foundations of the West, but it obviously had become less of a guide for positions on moral issues. What social historians in particular might note is that these government book1administrators were the first generation of graduates that were educated in institutions saturated with the phenomenon known as political correctness. Students in the major universities from about 1970 on were being increasingly indoctrinated as to what were the acceptable opinions on race relations, sexuality, homosexuality, cultural values, etc. This was exposed by University of Chicago professor Allen Bloom in his widely-read 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind.

Compare the moral outlooks of two contemporaries, Barack Obama and David Cameron, with two other contemporaries, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Can you picture the latter two defending the government’s attempt to impose a legal right for transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their new sexual identity? One can imagine hearing Thatcher’s response to the notion —  “preposterous!”. There is a precise reason behind why we are seeing the social engineers of today intensify the force of their efforts to impose their agenda on American society and why it will continue to increase in severity. Continue reading “Why Social Engineering is Intensifying in the U.S.”

Contraception and the Guilt of Homicide

lightningSt. Hildegard wrote that in a period of time that precedes the Antichrist the Catholic Church will be punished for many sins, noting three in particular: fornication, rapine (theft or plunder), and murder (Scivias Book III, Vision 11, Chapter 13). The case for the first two as being present today isn’t difficult to make: the clerical sex abuse of children is probably the worst sexual scandal in Church history, and the well-documented troubles of the Institute for the Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank) should be a cause of embarrassment and anger for all Catholics (see Gerald Posner’s recent book, God’s Bankers). But what about homicide?

The murder accusation could be made for a number of reasons, like supporting an unjust war or the uncovering of murderous intrigues within the higher levels of the hierarchy. The latter likely only occurs in mystery novels and the former isn’t very conceivable; on the question of war the Church seems to be moving in the direction of pacifism.

But what about the refusal of Church authorities to enforce the its prohibition on the use of artificial birth control? Continue reading “Contraception and the Guilt of Homicide”