Monday, August 16, 2010

“You're going to Hell.... Not.” I'm Catholic, not Puritan. Thank you.

[This is an article on what the Catholic Church believes, to the best of my knowledge. If you disagree with the tenants of the faith spelled out, if you dislike what they say, dislike what the Church says, disagree with the qualifications of what is or is not a sin, or if you do not believe that there is a God period … okay, that's cool. I'm not trying to convince you of any of the above, just trying to give you Catholic positions in layman's terms. Thank you. The disclaimer ends.]

I enjoy having other people tell me what I believe. It's amusing.

Recently, I was told that “hardcore Catholics think everybody's going to Hell.”

Hi, um, no.

Granted, my “hardcore” status involves going to Church on Sundays and Holy days, and knowing more about Catholic philosophy than the average bear. Aside from that... meh, not really.

But, for the record, unlike Dante Alighieri in The Inferno, the Catholic Church has never pointed to any person and said “He's in Hell.” The strongest the Church has done to anybody has been excommunication— which is a societal pressure, mainly used to get someone's attention, and requires that the penitent have done something REALLY messed up. The Church of Rome believes that it represents God, NOT that is IS God. No one knows what is in another's heart, head, or conscience.

And there's the usual anti-sex, anti-gay mythology.

1) No one is going to hell for BEING gay. A sin is an ACTION, not a state of being. You have to DO something. Nathan Lane has stated that he his gay, Catholic, and celibate.... but on the other hand, he could barbeque puppies for fun. On the other end of the spectrum, if anybody (gay, straight, male, female) is having sex with large amounts of people per month, I have several, non-religious things to say to them – and my mother's a microbiologist, I can footnote everything. One of the major concerns I have I share with most of the priests I meet, gay author Harvey Fierstein, and lesbian/former NOW President (LA) Tammy Bruce: promiscuous activity, which really isn't a gay/straight male/female problem, it's pretty much everyone. And many of my arguments come from one place-- the microbiology lab.

2) Sex. Ask at the Vatican, getting a (non-medical) abortion is a sin. So is using a condom, and so is (PREMARITAL) sex. Are any and all of those people automatically going to hell? Take Angelina Jolie: when she was fourteen, with a boyfriend, her own mother told her to take the master bedroom and “have fun, it's better than the back of a car.” I am hard-pressed to imagine anyone condemning her behavior at fourteen, and given what (very little) I've heard, I think it would be more reasonable to think “Wow, I'm surprised she's not REALLY screwed up.”

Do I believe that sodomy, premarital sex, condom usage, abortion, et al are sins? Yes, and I think that most of them are bad ideas independently of religion, mostly based on psychological, sociological reasons, and personal observation. But that's another story. Am I going to Judge those people who partake / have partaken of those acts and say they're going to Hell? No, no, no, and Hell no.

I think a lot of this can be covered under “conscience”-- con (with) (science) knowledge... There is something called “invincible ignorance,” something doesn't register on the conscience, for whatever reason. I naturally assume that (for example) teenagers are too stupid to know right from left, to hell with knowing right from wrong. which means that, yes, one can be too stupid to know one is doing something wrong. Now, who knows what evil lurks (or doesn't) in the hearts of men (and women) ....

God does.

No one else.

Have a nice day.

To make my point, I will use a personal example. I'm Celibate. An ex of mine slipped me a drug for the purposes of having me sleep with her. Am I going to say she's going to Hell? I can't say that one way or another, mainly because I know how utterly and totally screwed up she is. Looking at it from the distance of time, she's a LOT more than “standard” crazy, and I should have seen it coming. I can't say she's evil, because I know that she is lonely, believes that if someone (non related) isn't sleeping with her, they don't love her, and she's really screwed up in the head. I don't know what she was thinking at the time, since I wasn't going to have an extended conversation about it.

A lot of the misconception about the Catholic Church comes from the line “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” It's a phrase that people like to throw around a lot. However, if you talk to any cannon lawyer, you know there's a caveat to practically anything. “The Church” is defined as the “mystical body of Christ”.... take out the fancy language, the Church is God. God covers a LOT of territory. If you look up the phrase “Baptism of Desire,” even Wikipedia comes close: it comes about with an “act of perfect love and contrition which automatically cleanses the soul of all sin.” There is also the “baptism of blood;” Protestants have been accepted as Catholic saints and martyrs because they were “died for Christ.”

So, yes, the Catholic Church put in a loophole. A few loopholes. “Outside the church there is no salvation”... but. I know a few atheists, some who are probably better people than I am. Oddly, I think one was a better Catholic than I am.

Oh, and as several Popes have mentioned over the years, Jews are “inside the Church” because God does not renege on His deals ... we are not Fred Phelps and his incestuous, attention-seeking media-whore cult.

However, I have heard stories. “Catholics” who are holier than that, and think Protestants should be burned at the stakes for heresy, but that they, themselves, have never read the bible, “That's what the priest is for.”

Statements like that want to make me find these people and drop Aquinas's Summa Theologica on them.... all fifteen feet of shelf space worth.

The short version, if I may paraphrase Chesterton, is that the Catholic church doesn't work because people are perfect, it works because people AREN'T perfect. That goes back to St. Augustine, of the VERY early Church, concluding that it doesn't matter if the priest is a sinner (since, hey, we're human, we're sinners), because the power of the religious ministries he performs comes from God.

Being Holier than Thou isn't the sign of a “hardcore Catholic.” It's the sign of a stupid one.

For those unfamiliar with the Bible, look up the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee (high ranking religious figure) stands in the temple talking about how perfect he is, thanking God that he wasn't some dirt bag like the tax collector. On the other end of the temple, the tax collector beats his breast, apologizing for being a sinner. In that example, the IRS fellow is the model held up as the better person. Also, Jesus had an instruction that, when someone prayed, they should seek out privacy (actually, He suggested praying in a closet) rather than go out into the street to make a public spectacle of themselves.

The Holier than Thou people remind me of the lesser half of each of those examples.

You have, on the other hand, the traditional Puritan, whose model of religion was that, not only were they saved, they had to SHOW other people that they were saved. This later turned into a logic that said “Well, if we are saved, then obviously God is going to grace us, so we should be prosperous as well.” A train of thought which makes me wince.

So, the next time that someone says that they're Catholic, and that “you're going to hell,” you can tell them that they make a better Pharisee/ a great seventeenth-century Puritan, or that they should consider praying in the nearest closet.

But “hardcore Catholics” not only believe in God, and Heaven, and Hell, and sin, and going to Church, and Jesus Christ, and the Pope, but they also believe in mercy, compassion, gentleness, and understanding. They can understand that good people can do bad things, and that we can condemn a sin without necessarily condemning a sinner. And that God is the only person involved in Heaven and Hell, no matter what Fred Phelps thinks.

Catholics believe that there is Justice, and Justice takes all things into consideration. To understand all is NOT to forgive all, but it plays a part.

And I have fifteen shelf feet of the Summa, in hardcover, with a dual translation, to back it up.

The "Ground Zero" Mosque. Or: Why I hate Politics.

Thriller writers seem to be dragged into a lot of politics. Vince Flynn, because his protagonist is a government counter terrorist agent; Lee Child, because his protagonist is a former Military Policeman, and deals with a lot of army politics.

I personally hate politics, but, since I've already started by having a discussion on the Church, the Pope, and handling priests, I figured I'm due for another round....

Some may not know, and fewer may care, but there is talk of a mosque going up in downtown Manhattan, on what is currently a vacant lot, or a giant hole in the ground, depending on your point of view. Yes, someone wants to put a mosque at Ground Zero, the site of the New York City 9-11 attack.

There are multiple points of view on the matter, but I would like to address the one that no one else seems to be considering: The Muslim point of view.

Yes, I know I'm Catholic, but I'm turning on my empathy for five minutes. And it's not too hard. For example, we can break down the Islamic world into three camps: those who want to kill us, those who don't care, and those who rather like America and who have either already moved here (or want to).

From the “kill them all” camp (terrorists, supporters, sympathizers, Ron Kuby), I can only imagine a mosque over the scene of the biggest, most successful terrorist attack on American soil would be like planting a flag over captured enemy territory. From their point of view, a mosque would be a great idea, the bigger the better. Party time..

From the “I don't care” camp, I could only imagine a reaction of “What the....?” This mosque is going to be fourteen stories tall in the middle of downtown Manhattan— bigger than St. Patrick's Cathedral. Nearby areas consist of Greenwich Village, Chinatown, Wall Street, and a very Little Italy. Now, unless the Village has undergone a drastic demographic shift, or the official religion of China has become Islam, I can't imagine too many people going to this great big mosque. There's a heavy Muslim population in New York... in Brooklyn, on Atlantic Avenue. I would imagine that someone, somewhere out there, is wondering “Whose bright idea was this? And why couldn't we get them to build this near a major Muslim population center?”

The “moderate Islam” we hear so much about, who like America, hate terrorists, and came to this country to FLEE customs in the homeland, I can imagine being disturbed. I know that if my coreligionists had launched a terrorist attack on my country of residence, I would want as much distance between my faith and the attack site as possible. I could imagine this side of the Islamic spectrum viewing the mosque like the terrorist viewpoint, as a flag of victory, and consider that a very bad, disturbing thing.

Someone is going to try to put any of the above statements into my mouth and proclaim them mine. So I'll make my viewpoint clear...

In the biggest attack on American soil, Pearl Harbor, we have a war memorial. One of the ships that was irrevocable lost is still there, hull partially out of the water, one drop of oil coming up every minute or so. We did not put a Shinto shrine. With another slaughter, Gettysburg, it's also a war memorial, of sorts. We did not put up a Christian church; I believe there are smaller, individual crosses for the deaths of people who all happened to be one variety of Christian or another, but no massive Cathedral (I couldn't find one, feel free to check).

It isn't possible to make a war memorial in lower Manhattan on the scope of either of the above mentioned, since the real estate rates are somewhere in high orbit. If you built another World Trade Center with a war memorial in the lobby, and antiaircraft batteries on the roof, and make the rest of the building dedicated to standard business practices, I think that would cover all bases. The original lobby was huge, and all the things you need for a memorial are already constructed: I recall that we have a Vietnam-style wall with the names of those lost, we have a cross made out of I-beams that was put up by the construction workers (I would put it there less for religious reasons and more for the fact that it was created from pieces of the Twin Towers), and believe we have a statue of the iconic image of the three firemen raising the flag at Ground Zero. You get a memorial to the dead, patriotism, and a physical piece of what was lost.

As for the mosque itself, I'm more curious about other things...

(1) Are there really so many Muslims in lower Manhattan that we need something the size of a small skyscraper? If you take the terrorist attack out of the equation, building the Mosque anywhere in lower Manhattan isn't the brightest move. When the biggest groups are the Chinese, Wall Street, and the people of the Village, it's a bloody stupid idea.

(2) If there aren't “so many Musilms”, whose bright idea what this? I can tell you people who support it, but I can't tell you who's funding it. It's possible it's funded by someone who doesn't know New York City demographics, or someone with cross-cultural public relations problems, or someone who really does want to plant a flag on Ground Zero.

(3) Do American Muslims really want to put a mosque that close to an area of mass slaughter? I would think that would be up there with putting a temple on top of a graveyard.

(4) Before everyone plans for the war memorial, the mosque, or anything else, I would like the politicians to do one thing: BUILD US ANOTHER WTC.... I don't care if it's the 1776-foot tall “Freedom Tower”, or if they just build the originals again.

My position is simple: it's been nine years and three Governors since we lost the World Trade Center, and construction should have been started at least five years ago (count four years of red tape). Someone, get to work....

Oh, and no matter what designs are picked, I want the battery of Surface-to-Air-Missiles... and a giant sign that says “TRY AGAIN. PLEASE.”

Please feel free to comment; I put in as much data as I could find, and everything I can think of without going into a rant. If I have any Muslim fans of the book, I want to hear from you in case I missed something; like I said, I turned my empathy on for five minutes, so the above analysis of opinion is, essentially, a guess.

UPDATE [1-31- 2011]

And, maybe, just maybe, someone should tell this Imam how close he is to the village before he starts talking like this.