12 Claims Every Catholic Should Be Able to Answer


12 Claims Every Catholic Should Be Able to Answer.

12 Claims Every Catholic Should Be Able to Answer

DEAL HUDSON

Freedom of speech is a great thing. Unfortunately, it comes at an unavoidable price: When citizens are free to say what they want, they’ll sometimes use that freedom to say some pretty silly things. And that’s the case with the 12 claims we’re about to cover.

Some  of them are made over and over, others are rare. Either way, while the proponents  of these errors are free to promote them, we as Catholics have a duty to respond. 1. “There’s  no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for you may not be true for me.”

People use this argument a lot when they disagree with a statement and have no  other way to support their idea. After all, if nothing is true for everyone, then  they can believe whatever they want and there’s nothing you can say to make them  change their minds. But look at that statement again: “There’s no such  thing as absolute truth.” Isn’t that, in itself, a statement that’s being made  absolutely? In other words, it applies some rule or standard to everyone across  the board — exactly what the relativists say is impossible. They have undone  their own argument simply by stating their case. The other problem with  this statement is that no relativist actually believes it. If someone said to  you, “There is no absolute truth,” and you punched him in the stomach, he’d probably  get upset. But by his own creed, he’d have to accept that while punching someone  in the stomach may be wrong for him, it might not be wrong for you. This  is when they’ll come back with an amendment to the original statement by saying, “As long as you’re not hurting others, you’re free to do and believe what you  like.” But this is an arbitrary distinction (as well as another absolute statement).  Who says I can’t hurt others? What constitutes “hurt”? Where does this rule come  from? If this statement is made based on personal preference, it means  nothing for anyone else. “Do no harm” is in itself an appeal to something greater — a sort of universal dignity for the human person. But again, the question  is where does this dignity come from? As you can see, the further you  delve into these questions, the closer you come to understanding that our concepts  of right and truth are not arbitrary but are based in some greater, universal  truth outside ourselves — a truth written in the very nature of our being.  We may not know it in its entirety, but it can’t be denied that this truth exists.

2.“Christianity is no better than any other faith. All  religions lead to God.”

If you haven’t heard this one  a dozen times, you don’t get out much. Sadly enough, the person making this claim  is often himself a Christian (at least, in name). The problems with  this view are pretty straightforward. Christianity makes a series of claims about  God and man: That Jesus of Nazareth was God Himself, and that he died and was  resurrected — all so that we might be free from our sins. Every other religion  in the world denies each of these points. So, if Christianity is correct, then  it speaks a vital truth to the world — a truth that all other religions  reject. This alone makes Christianity unique. But it doesn’t  end there. Recall Jesus’ statement in John’s Gospel: “I am the way,  and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” In Christianity,  we have God’s full revelation to humanity. It’s true that all religions contain  some measure of truth — the amount varying with the religion. Nevertheless,  if we earnestly want to follow and worship God, shouldn’t we do it in the way  He prescribed? If Jesus is indeed God, then only Christianity contains  the fullness of this truth.

3. “The  Old and New Testaments contradict one another in numerous places. If an omnipotent  God inspired the Bible, He would never have allowed these errors.”

This is a common claim, one found all over the internet (especially on atheist  and free-thought websites). An article on the American Atheists website notes  that “What is incredible about the Bible is not its divine authorship; it’s that  such a concoction of contradictory nonsense could be believed by anyone to have  been written by an omniscient God.” Such a statement is generally followed  by a list of Biblical “contradictions.” However, claims of contradictions make  a few simple errors. For example, critics fail to read the various books of the  Bible in line with the genre in which they were written. The Bible is, after all,  a collection of several kinds of writing…history, theology, poetry, apocalyptic  material, etc. If we try to read these books in the same wooden way in which we  approach a modern newspaper, we’re going to be awfully confused. And  the list of Bible “contradictions” bears this out. Take, for example, the first  item on the American Atheist’s list:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to  keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8 Versus… “One man esteemeth one  day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded  in his own mind.” Romans 14:5

There! the atheist cries, A clear contradiction.  But what the critic neglects to mention is something every Christian knows: When  Christ instituted the New Covenant, the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant  were fulfilled (and passed away). And so it makes perfect sense that Old Testament  ceremonial rules would no longer stand for the people of the New Covenant.
If the critic had understood this simple tenet of Christianity, he wouldn’t  have fallen into so basic an error. The next item on the American Atheist  list is similarly flawed:

“…the earth abideth for ever.” Ecclesiastes  1:4 Versus… “…the elements shall melt with fervent heat,  the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

So,  the Old Testament claims that the earth will last forever, while the New says  it will eventually be destroyed. How do we harmonize these? Actually, it’s pretty  easy, and it again comes from understanding the genre in which these two books  were written. Ecclesiastes, for example, contrasts secular and religious  worldviews — and most of it is written from a secular viewpoint. That’s  why we find lines like, “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and  money answers everything.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19) However, at the end of  the book, the writer throws us a twist, dispensing with all the “wisdom” he’d  offered and telling us to “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the  whole duty of man.” (12:13) If a reader stops before the end, he’ll be  as confused as the critic at American Atheists. However, since the viewpoint that  gave birth to the notion of an eternal earth is rejected in the last lines of  the book, there’s obviously no contradiction with what was later revealed in the  New Testament. (And this is just one way to answer this alleged discrepancy.)
The other “contradictions” between the Old and New Testaments can be answered  similarly. Almost to an item, the critics who use them confuse context, ignore  genre, and refuse to allow room for reasonable interpretation. No thinking  Christian should be disturbed by these lists.

4. “I don’t need to go to Church. As long as I’m a good person, that’s  all that really matters.”

This argument is used often,  and is pretty disingenuous. When someone says he’s a “good person,” what he really  means is that he’s “not a bad person” — bad people being those who murder,  rape, and steal. Most people don’t have to extend a lot of effort to avoid these  sins, and that’s the idea: We want to do the least amount of work necessary just  to get us by. Not very Christ-like, is it? But that mentality aside,  there’s a much more important reason why Catholics go to Church other than just  as an exercise in going the extra mile. Mass is the cornerstone of our faith life  because of what lies at its heart: the Eucharist. It’s the source of all life  for Catholics, who believe that bread and wine become the real body and blood  of Christ. It’s not just a symbol of God, but God made physically present to us  in a way we don’t experience through prayer alone. Jesus said, “Truly,  truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his  blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal  life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54). We’re honoring  Jesus’ command and trusting in that promise every time we go to Mass.   What’s more, the Eucharist — along with all the other Sacraments — is only available to those in the Church. As members of the Church, Christ’s visible  body here on earth, our lives are intimately tied up with the lives of others  in that Church. Our personal relationship with God is vital, but we also have  a responsibility to live as faithful members of Christ’s body. Just being a “good  person” isn’t enough.

5. “You  don’t need to confess your sins to a priest. You can go straight to God.”

As a former Baptist minister, I can understand the Protestant objection to confession  (they have a different understanding of priesthood). But for a Catholic to say  something like this…it’s disappointing. I suspect that, human nature being what  it is, people just don’t like telling other people their sins, and so they come  up with justifications for not doing so. The Sacrament of Confession  has been with us from the beginning, coming from the words of Christ Himself:

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent  me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said  to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;  if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

Notice that Jesus gives His apostles the power to forgive sins. Of course, they  wouldn’t know which sins to forgive if they weren’t told what sins were  involved. The practice of confession is also evident in the Letter Of  James:

“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the  church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the  Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise  him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your  sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James  5:14-16)

It’s interesting that nowhere does James (or Jesus) tell  us to confess our sins to God alone. Rather, they seem to think that forgiveness  comes through some means of public confession. And it’s not difficult  to understand why. You see, when we sin, we rupture our relationship not just  with God, but with His Body, the Church (since all Catholics are interconnected  as children of a common Father). So when we apologize, we need to do so to all  parties involved — God and the Church. Think of it this  way. Imagine you walk into a store and steal some of their merchandise. Later,  you feel remorse and regret the sinful act. Now, you can pray to God to forgive  you for breaking His commandment. But there’s still another party involved; you’ll  need to return the merchandise and make restitution for your action.   It’s the same way with the Church. In the confessional, the priest represents  God and the Church, since we’ve sinned against both. And when he pronounces  the words of absolution, our forgiveness is complete.

6. “If the Church truly followed Jesus, they’d  sell their lavish art, property, and architecture, and give the money to the poor.”

When some people think of Vatican City, what they  immediately picture is something like a wealthy kingdom, complete with palatial  living accommodations for the pope and chests of gold tucked away in every corner,  not to mention the fabulous collection of priceless art and artifacts. Looking  at it that way, it’s easy to see how some people would become indignant at what  they think is an ostentatious and wasteful show of wealth. But the truth  is something quite different. While the main buildings are called the “Vatican  Palace,” it wasn’t built to be the lavish living quarters of the pope. In fact,  the residential part of the Vatican is relatively small. The greater portion of  the Vatican is given over to purposes of art and science, administration of the  Church’s official business, and management of the Palace in general. Quite a number  of Church and administrative officials live in the Vatican with the pope, making  it more like the Church’s main headquarters. As for the impressive art  collection, truly one of the finest in the world, the Vatican views it as “an  irreplaceable treasure,” but not in monetary terms. The pope doesn’t “own” these  works of art and couldn’t sell them if he wanted to; they’re merely in the care  of the Holy See. The art doesn’t even provide the Church with wealth; actually,  it’s just the opposite. The Holy See invests quite a bit of its resources into  the upkeep of the collection. The truth of the matter is that the See  has a fairly tight financial budget. So why keep the art? It goes back to a belief  in the Church’s mission (one of many) as a civilizing force in the world. Just  like the medieval monks who carefully transcribed ancient texts so they would  be available to future generations — texts that otherwise would have been  lost forever — the Church continues to care for the arts so they will not  be forgotten over time. In today’s culture of death where the term “civilization” can only be used loosely, the Church’s civilizing mission is as important today  as it ever was.

7. “Dissent is actually a positive thing, since we should all keep our minds open  to new ideas.”

You might hear this argument a lot  today, especially in the wake of the abuse scandal in the Church. Everyone wants  to find a solution to the problem, and in doing so some people are advocating  ideas that are outside the pale of our Catholic faith (i.e., women priests, being  open to homosexuality, etc). A lot of people blame the Church for being too rigid  in its beliefs and not wanting to try anything new. The truth is, a lot  of the ideas for reform that are floating around today aren’t new. They’ve been  around for a while, and the Church has already considered them. In fact, the Church  has spent its entire life carefully examining ideas and determining which ones  are in line with God’s law and which aren’t. It has discarded heresy after heresy  while carefully building up the tenets of the Faith. It should come as no surprise  that there are thousands of other Christian churches in existence today — all of them had “new ideas” at one point that the Church had decided were outside  the deposit of faith. The Church has an important responsibility in protecting  the integrity of our Faith. It never rejects ideas out of hand, as some dissenters  would claim, but has two thousand years of prayer and study behind the beliefs  it holds to be true. This doesn’t mean that we can never disagree on  anything. There’s always room to discuss how best to deepen our understanding  of the truth — for example, how we can improve our seminaries or clergy/lay  interactions — all within the guidelines of our Faith.

8. “Properly interpreted,  the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Rather, it weighs against promiscuity — whether homosexual or heterosexual. Therefore, we have no reason to oppose  loving homosexual relationships.”

As homosexual activity  gains greater acceptance in our culture, there’ll be more pressure among Christians  to explain away the Bible’s clear prohibition against it. It’s now the standard  liberal party line to claim that the Bible — when understood correctly — doesn’t disallow homosexual activity. But this claim flies in the face  of clear passages in both the Old and New Testaments. The first, of course, is  the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah. If you recall, two angels were sent by  God to Sodom to visit Lot:

“But before [the angels] lay down, the  men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last  man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came  to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’ Lot went out of  the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers,  do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let  me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these  men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they said, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came to sojourn, and he would play the judge! Now  we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the  man Lot, and drew near to break the door. But the men put forth their hands and  brought Lot into the house to them, and shut the door.” (Genesis 19:4-10)

The  message of this passage is pretty clear. The men of Sodom were homosexuals who  wanted to have relations with the men inside the house. Lot offered them his daughters,  but they weren’t interested. Shortly thereafter, Sodom was destroyed by God in  payment for the sins of its people — namely, their homosexual acts. This  fact is confirmed in the New Testament:

“Just as Sodom and Gomorrah  and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural  lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 7)

But these certainly aren’t the only passages in the Bible that condemn  gay activity. The Old Testament contains another unambiguous condemnation: “You  shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22).
And these statements aren’t reserved to the Old Testament alone.

“For  this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural  relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women  and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts  with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)

It’s awfully hard for a liberal Christian to explain  this away. There’s simply no mention here merely of gay promiscuity or rape; rather,  Paul is weighing against any homosexual relations (which he describes as “unnatural,” “shameless” and “dishonorable”). Liberal Christians are  in a bind. How, after all, does one harmonize homosexuality with the Bible? Their  solution, it appears, is to strip the Bible of its moral power, and run in rhetorical  circles trying to escape its clear message.

9. “Catholics should follow their conscience in all things…whether  it’s abortion, birth control, or women’s ordination.”

It’s true — the Catechism says quite plainly, “Man has the right  to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented  from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters’” (1782).  This teaching is at the heart of what it means to have free will. But  that doesn’t mean that our conscience is free from all responsibility or can be  ignorant of God’s law. This is what the Catechism refers to as having a “well-formed conscience.” The Catechism assigns great responsibility  to a person’s conscience:

“Moral conscience, present at the heart  of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil….  It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to  which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens  to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking” (1777).

In other words, our conscience isn’t just “what we feel is right”; it’s what we  judge to be right based on what we know of the teachings of God and the Church.  And in order to make that judgment, we have a responsibility to study and pray  over these teachings very carefully. The Catechism has a section dedicated  entirely to the careful formation of our conscience — that’s how important  it is in making right decisions. And in the end, whether right or wrong,  we’re still held accountable for our actions: “Conscience enables one to assume  responsibility for the acts performed” (1781). When properly formed, it helps  us to see when we’ve done wrong and require forgiveness of our sins.   By seeking a fully-formed conscience, we actually experience great freedom, because  we’re drawing closer to God’s infinite Truth. It’s not a burden or something that  keeps us from doing what we want; it’s a guide to help us do what is right. “The  education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart” (1784).

10. “Natural  Family Planning is just the Catholic version of birth control.”

Natural Family Planning (NFP) has enemies on all sides. Some believe that it’s  an unrealistic alternative to birth control (which they don’t think is sinful  anyway) while others think that it’s just as bad as birth control. NFP has had  to walk a fine line between both extremes. First of all, the main problem  with birth control is that it works against the nature of our bodies — and  nature in general. It aims to sever the act (sex) from its consequence (pregnancy),  basically reducing the sacredness of sex to the mere pursuit of pleasure.
NFP, when used for the right reason, is more of a tool used for discerning  whether a couple has the means (whether financially, physically, or emotionally)  to accept a child into their lives. It involves understanding your own body, taking  careful stock of your situation in life, discussing the issue with your spouse,  and, above all, prayer. Rather than cutting yourself off from the full reality  of sex, you are entering into it with a better understanding of all aspects involved.
People who favor birth control point to those people who can’t afford more  children, or whose health might be at risk from further pregnancies. But these  are perfectly legitimate reasons to use NFP — situations where it would  be perfectly effective — and the Church allows its use. Other people  think that taking any sort of control over the size of your family is like playing  God, rather than letting Him provide for us as He sees fit. It’s true that we  must trust God and always accept the lives He sends us, but we don’t need to be  completely hands-off in that regard. For example, rather than throwing  money around and saying that “God will provide,” families carefully budget their  finances and try not to overextend their means. NFP is like that budget, helping  us prayerfully consider our situation in life and act accordingly. It’s part of  our nature as humans to understand ourselves and use our intellect and free will,  rather than passively expecting God to take care of everything. We’re called to  be good stewards of the gifts we’re given; we must be careful never to treat those  gifts carelessly.

11. “Someone  can be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time.”

While this may be one of the most common myths Catholics hold regarding their  faith, it’s also one of the most easily dispelled. The Catechism minces  no words when talking about abortion: It’s listed with homicide under crimes against  the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” The following passages  make this clear: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the  moment of conception” (2270). “Since the first century the Church has affirmed  the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains  unchangeable” (2271). “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.  The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against  human life” (2272). It can’t be stated more plainly than that. Some people  might argue, however, that being “pro-choice” doesn’t mean being in favor of abortion;  lots of people think abortion is wrong but don’t want to force that opinion on  others. There’s that “what’s true for you might not be true for me” argument  again. The Church has an answer to that, too: “’The inalienable rights of the  person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority.  These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do  they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human  nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which  the person took his origin’” (2273). The sanctity of life is a universal  truth that can never be ignored. Advising someone to get an abortion, or even  voting for a politician who would advance the cause of abortion, is a grave sin,  because it leads others to mortal sin — what the Catechism calls  giving scandal (2284). The Church stands forcefully and clearly against  abortion, and we as Catholics must take our stand as well.

12.“People’s memories of their past lives prove that reincarnation  is true…and that the Christian view of Heaven and Hell is not.”

As society becomes increasingly fascinated with the paranormal, we can expect  to see claims of “past life memories” increase. Indeed, there are now organizations  who will help take you through your previous lives using hypnosis. While  this may be convincing to some, it certainly isn’t to anyone familiar with the  mechanics of hypnosis. Almost since the beginning, researchers have noted that  patients in deep hypnosis frequently weave elaborate stories and memories, which  later turn out to be utterly untrue. Reputable therapists are well aware of this  phenomenon, and weigh carefully what the patient says under hypnosis.   Sadly, though, this isn’t the case with those interested in finding “proof” for  reincarnation. Perhaps the greatest example of this carelessness is the famous  Bridey Murphy case. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a quick outline: In  1952, a Colorado housewife named Virginia Tighe was put under hypnosis. She began  speaking in an Irish brogue and claimed to once have been a woman named Bridey  Murphy who had lived in Cork, Ireland. Her story was turned into a bestselling  book, “The Search For Bridey Murphy,” and received much popular attention.  Journalists combed Ireland, looking for any person or detail that might confirm  the truth of this past-life regression. While nothing ever turned up, the case  of Bridey Murphy continues to be used to buttress claims of reincarnation.
That’s a shame, since Virginia Tighe was exposed as a fraud decades ago.  Consider: Virginia’s childhood friends recalled her active imagination, and ability  to concoct complex stories (often centered around the imitation brogue she had  perfected). Not only that, but she had a great fondness for Ireland, due in part  to a friendship with an Irish woman whose maiden name was — you guessed  it — Bridie. What’s more, Virginia filled her hypnosis narratives  with numerous elements from her own life (without revealing the parallels to the  hypnotist). For example, Bridey described an “Uncle Plazz,” which eager researchers  took to be a corruption of the Gaelic, “Uncle Blaise.” Their enthusiasm ran out  though when it was discovered that Virginia had a childhood friend she called  “Uncle Plazz.” When a hypnotized Virginia began dancing an Irish jig,  researchers were astounded. How, after all, would a Colorado housewife have learned  the jig? The mystery was solved when it was revealed that Virginia learned the  dance as a child. As the Bridey Murphy case shows, the claims of past-life  regression are always more impressive than the reality. To this day, not a single  verifiable example exists of a person being regressed to a former life. Certainly,  many tales have been told under the control of a hypnotist, but nevertheless,  evidence for reincarnation (like that for the Tooth Fairy) continues to elude  us.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Deal  Hudson. “12 Claims Every Catholic Should Be Able to Answer.” Crisis e-letter (June, 2003).

This article was reprinted with permission of Deal Hudson.  To receive Crisis Magazine’s free e-letter click  here.

THE AUTHOR

Deal  W. Hudson is the former publisher of Crisis magazine. He is now Executive  Director of The Morley Institute for Church and Culture. He was associate professor  of Philosophy at Fordham University from 1989 to 1995 and was a visiting professor  at New York University for five years. He taught for nine years at Mercer University  in Atlanta, where he was chair of the philosophy department. He has published  many reviews and articles as well as five books: Understanding  Maritain: Philosopher and Friend (Mercer, 1988); The  Future of Thomism (Notre Dame, 1992); Sigrid  Undset On Saints and Sinners (Ignatius, 1994); and Happiness  and the Limits of Satisfaction (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996) and his autobiography, An  American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003).

Copyright © 2003 Deal Hudson

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