Christ is the true Light of the world, but there is another, false light which ultimately leads one only into darkness. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world… yet the world knew him not.” (Jn 1: 5;9,10) And the reason it knew him not is because there has always been a competing, mendacious light in the world designed only to lead men astray. In the 18th century vicious pirates would sometimes light a fire at night along some rocky patch of shoreline hoping to lure unsuspecting ships to their destruction on the jagged shoals. Just so, the false light which the ancient enemy of God sets up as a guiding beacon is actually intended to lure unsuspecting souls into ruin on the spiritual shoals.
Such false beacons have taken various forms over the millennia, and one of the more dangerous of these deceptive “lights” has long been Gnosticism. Gnostic comes from a Greek word for knowledge, and Gnosticism encourages the notion that some secret learning or knowledge will somehow provide one the key to success and happiness. It treats the “light of reason” in the same way, as indeed a replacement for the Christian “light of faith.” Reason and knowledge is what will free one from this broken world of pain and evil. Sin is no longer a moral fault but merely the effect of ignorance. Spiritually this is a deadly notion because it deflects our attention away from combating sin, the real root cause of our unhappiness, and redirects the will to fighting other things like poverty and ignorance which are only the symptoms, not the real root of human problems.
Considering all the brouhaha over the question of pro-abort politicians being admitted to Communion and all subsequent hand-wringing by various bishops on what to do, the answer is simple. Enforce Canon Law #915 which clearly states that obstinate public sinners are to be denied Communion, not out of any meanness but in true charity for these souls which have put themselves in such grave danger. There is really no need for a study group or special commissions or joint statements. Each prelate in his own diocese holds both the power and the responsibility for preventing blatant sacrilege, while also seeing to it that the faithful at large are not unduly scandalized. No, it doesn’t take some special document to fulfill one’s apostolic duties.
One of the issues that seems to be muddying these particular waters, however, is confusion on the part of the laity about the nature of grave sin. Many so called “cafeteria Catholics” have convinced themselves and others that no one should have the right to determine what is objectively sinful. Moral relativism is the flavor of the day among too many Catholic politicians who seem to believe that persons ought to decide for themselves what is sinful and what is not. In this attitude they are confusing two very different things, objective sin and subjective culpability. I am no trained moral theologian, so I need simple illustrations to help me understand the distinction between objective sin and subjective culpability. I therefore imagined some kind of meter with a red line running down the middle marked 100%. Think of that red line as the objective sin boundary. Everything to the left, going from 0 to 99%, is less than grave matter and therefore not sinful (mortally). Everything to the right of the red line, 100% and above, is grave matter which, objectively speaking, represents mortal sin.
Living in a pluralistic society such as ours, a keen spirit of tolerance is essential to ensure social harmony. In fact, our American republic is founded on the presumption of mutual tolerance, something we pride ourselves upon. Yet how easy it is through excess for human nature to turn a virtue into a vice. The philosopher Karl Popper shrewdly observed that unlimited tolerance eventually produces intolerance. Popper warned about pursuing tolerance to extremities, for when that happens the thing turns into its very opposite, and brings about a culture of intolerance.
This is what we are quite plainly seeing in our society today, rife with its “woke” cancel culture. There needs to be some natural limit to what people will tolerate because unchecked tolerance does not produce social peace and harmony. Instead it empowers the most intolerant factions to weaponize tolerance against the very same well-meaning individuals who are busy tolerating everything and everybody. For the intolerant, tolerance is always a one-way street, namely the obligation of you to tolerate whatever I may say, do, or think with no corresponding obligation on my part to be tolerant of your views.
A good example of this lopsided dynamic has been the infiltration of liberal democracies such as France by radical Islamists who have taken full advantage of the freedoms provided by that liberal democratic state to impose their very illiberal Shariah law upon certain neighborhoods around Paris and other large cities. And once control is seized by an intolerant minority any real semblance of toleration evaporates like the morning mist. In short, unlimited tolerance fails to provide a secure peace because it enables and shields the most intolerant factions to bully the more tolerant population into submission. Such feckless tolerance refuses to confront evil before it assumes tyrannical proportions. And any protest after the fact is too late, and too feeble, to restore the necessary balance.
How is your “truth meter” doing these days? Do you feel like it may need a bit of re-calibration after a year of being dragged through a baseless impeachment, questionable health crisis, and disturbing irregularities in a presidential election? “Don’t get excited,” because the media assures us that it’s all for the good (“Nothing behind that curtain!”). We are quickly becoming a society that has lost its appetite for the truth; content to apathetically look the other way regardless of of any egregious outrage unwinding under our very noses.Has a half century of legalized abortion deadened our communal conscience so completely to seeing the truth? I would say that our “truth meters” have been desensitized to the point off accepting any proffered illusion as a verifiable truth.
Perhaps the problem is that Americans by and large have too long accustomed themselves to equating knowledge with truth, with hardly distinction drawn between them. Living in a science driven culture it becomes easy, and all to common, for us to make this mental switch. But in fact, there are many different kinds of knowledge, not all of them true. There is the knowledge of the trickster which is meant to deceive, create illusions, or even cheat others. The job of a propagandist is to make us believe some version of events or reality that may not be quite objective or accurate. For if truth itself were self-evident there would be little demand for rhetoric or the art of propaganda. Bread lines would be swollen with journalists and lawyers. Continue reading
If you’ve ever seen pictures of a Chinese festival you no doubt recall those huge dragons which can snake for several blocks as they wind through city streets. A closer look reveals hundreds of human feet underneath which propel the paper dragon along its course. (Sure, I know it’s really silk but we live in “virtual” times.) The people belonging to those feet remain hidden and anonymous so that all the spectators and frightened children see only see the dragon’s ferocious features.
The world today is being treated to another kind of paper dragon in the form of a coronavirus pandemic. This dragon is being contorted, manipulated, and directed by an unseen hoard of faceless bureaucrats and journalists whose sole aim seems to be capitalizing on the public’s fear and panic. Accompanying them is an administrative deep state which has by now become so entrenched that political leaders unquestioningly impose whatever draconian measures these mysterious figures may demand. It seems utterly surreal to watch formerly free societies buckle under their arbitrary, and often harmful, diktats like a bunch of new recruits in boot camp. Somehow I must have blinked when we adopted the North Korean rule of law but here we are, six months into a global boot camp with no end in sight. Continue reading
We live today in a relativistic world where truth, right and wrong are no longer considered absolutes but matters of personal choice. This approach can create troubling consequences, however. Take the example of married love. While a personal choice is initially exercised in deciding who to marry, total commitment is presumably part of one’s choice. Would you marry someone whose love for you was only ‘relative?’ True love is total and unconditional, not partial or circumstantial. It does not depend upon someone’s status, current mood, or credit rating but rather it accepts the other person in toto.
Truth, like nuptial love, is also not intended as a relative value. Love, in fact, depends on truthfulness in the form of trust. So, would you marry someone who was untrustworthy or less than truthful? Yet the high rate of broken marriages today suggests that such has quietly become the norm. Relativism has placed truth on very shifting sands by subjecting it to each person’s interpretation, which is to say an opinion. It therefore transforms truth from concrete, tangible reality into a matter of opinion. Continue reading
Today marks the 25th anniversary of my father’s death. Dad was a person of sterling integrity as well as tremendous love for my mother and their eight children. But the real legacy he left us was a deep respect for, and the unwavering pursuit of, truth. For dad the eternal verities were dearer than life itself. Perhaps I did not fully appreciate his true genius in my younger days, but time has a way of changing our perspectives. What astounds me today is that a quarter of a century has passed away which, in retrospect, feels like a year at best.
Back when my father was just a small child, Albert Einstein discovered the truth that time is not a constant but rather a variable. True, because for us time feels like something that becomes more compressed the longer we measure it. It behaves like those layers of silt and debris which settle and are flattened into geologic formations so that one inch of sandstone might represent 10,000 years of earth’s history. Continue reading
I am not a particular fan of Sigmund Freud’s theory of man which devolves around his so-called ‘Oedipus Complex’ and purports to explain some of man’s deepest primal drives. Nevertheless, the agnostic Freud clearly recognized a seemingly hard-wired cultural trait that repeatedly emerged among virtually every tribe, ethnic group, and civilization, namely the impulse to offer sacrifice. But what was one to make of this mysterious activity which made little sense to an enlightened ‘man of science?’ Hoping to distance this stubbornly recurrent phenomenon from its more natural psycho-spiritual moorings, the good doctor constructed an elaborate thesis to explain man’s predilection for sacrifice in psycho-sexual terms, Freud’s favorite home turf. He treats the subject extensively in his classic work Totem and Taboo which, despite its erroneous conclusions, does provide us with a compelling explanation of the causes and meaning of sacrifice. Continue reading
Fact: We inhabit a world filled with danger. Many of those dangers are remote or small enough that we can easily take precautions against them ourselves. Locking a car door or exercising care when crossing a busy intersection are obvious examples. But other dangers lie beyond our ability to personally control: criminal acts, cancer, or invasion by an enemy force. That is why societies maintain police, hospitals, and a standing military. We rely on doctors and pharmacists to protect us from diseases that we ourselves cannot even understand much less control.
If there were no threats to our life, security, and happiness such professions would have no reason to exist. But life, as we well understand the older we get, is beset by many dangers, both hidden and visible. Some dangers we can reasonably control, either personally or as a community, but what about those dangers over which we have no plausible control? To whom shall we turn for protection when a particular danger is so grave or overwhelming that no human power is adequate to deal with it? Continue reading
The unprecedented ascendancy of a Donald Trump in the American political equation raises some very interesting questions about the unfolding culture divide, namely that abyss between the ordinary people and a new ruling class comprised of intellectuals, tech wizards, and politicians which has widened into an insurmountable gulf. One of the more telling fault lines demarcating that growing schism involves the belief, or lack thereof, in a Divine Creator. In fact, religious skepticism has become a widely accepted creed among political elites and academics, many of whom who have adopted philosophical materialism, the belief that the only reality is material reality. That materialist philosophy is primarily buttressed by Darwinian macro-evolution, a corrosive philosophy that has been taught as a scientific certainty in virtually every public school and university in our country for decades. Continue reading