Exercising human authority in a vacuum: This must stop.
An Italian court has struck down a ban on the use of donated eggs and sperm in assisted reproduction. According to the court, a couple’s right to reproduce must be preserved even if the couple is infertile. In exactly the same way, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to allow pastors to perform “any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform, where legal by state law.” Both decisions represent human authority exercised in a vacuum.
In Italy, the concept of human reproduction has become so detached from reality that even its biological processes are no longer viewed as powers of specific human persons. Now it seems that human beings have the right to do what they lack the ability to do. This is an even greater legal departure from reality than the separation of reproduction from an intimate union of a male and female. And of course it is miles astray from a life-long union of a male and a female which anticipates the familial love, protection and nurturing due to the child.
As for the Presbyterian Church, it has simply continued the now long Protestant tradition of proclaiming the content of the Christian faith to be whatever particular groups of people wish to believe. I do not mean to be harsh, but as a model of rational consistency in the treatment of Revelation, Protestantism has been bankrupt from the first. Different groups simply split from others and proclaim their own doctrines to be the ones that are really revealed, and then they happily proceed to alter their doctrines with the passage of time and changes in cultural values.
The steady and predictable adoption of mainstream cultural values by each generation of Protestantism is so obvious (varying only with the cultural enclaves each denomination represents) that we must assume that a great many of those trapped in this spiral do not become Catholics only because they no longer care if they are Christians.
Catholics have, of course, become remarkably secularized without the help of majority rule or official self-contradiction. By virtue of the Church’s teaching authority it remains possible to profess the Faith of the Church consistently from era to era, but the Italian example is still symptomatic of a major problem. Huge numbers of Catholics also routinely remodel their alleged principles of faith and morals to match changing values in the mainstream culture. They seem not to notice that every ten years their claims about what they know to be true contradict the same claims they made in the previous decade.
The Authority of God
We must keep in mind that the tenets of the Christian faith can be held only on the authority of God revealing. That’s actually true of the natural law as well, because we discern it in the very structure of Creation, which also comes from the hand of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. The natural law encompasses the morality built into reality which we can know by reason. The Christian faith encompasses those things which are beyond the ability of human reason to grasp and so depend on a supernatural Revelation from God. All truth inescapably depends on God.
When it comes to the natural law, we accept God’s authority by striving to understand the natural law through the conformity of our minds to reality (which is the definition of truth), rather than by creating propositions which satisfy our passions—such as our desires for pleasure, for fame, for acceptance, and so on. When it comes to Revelation, we accept God’s authority simply by giving Him credit for basic intelligence: If He chose to reveal Himself through His Son at a particular period of time and establish a Church to carry on His mission to all peoples in the future, then he must have also revealed some mechanism for keeping that mission on track.
The alternative, however sincere or insincere our claim to accept Revelation, is to make up our religion for ourselves.
Without God, there can be no moral structure to reality. An eternal material randomness can never be ordered, let alone moral, and so it can never be intelligible. If in fact reality is not fundamentally moral, and God does not care what we believe or how we live, then it is useless to proclaim the truth of our latest values, let alone enshrine them into law, which becomes the mere exercise of power. For this reason, all secular appeals to moral reality which do not attempt to ground themselves in the natural law are simply self-contradictory.
But if reality is fundamentally moral, then it comes from God (and vice versa). And if man in his essence is a moral actor (as everyone instinctively perceives), then it becomes a matter of the highest moment to establish moral principles in a clear, internally consistent manner, as independently as possible from the vagaries of time, place and culture. And if God does care how we live (which again everyone instinctively perceives), it is vital to seek some Revelation of His will, and some authoritive means for settling disputes about its meaning.
Finally, if we claim to be Christian, we also claim to have found this Revelation. It is therefore shameful to ignore the requirements of its proper interpretation.
I have no fundamental quarrel with those who perceive this moral urgency of the universe and genuinely seek the right solutions to the challenge it represents. But this habit of not caring enough about reality to take its moral content seriously must be abandoned—this habit of making things up as we go along according to various purely human authorities, this habit of changing our principles as we change the style of our clothing, and above all this habit of pretending to be Christian without really accepting God’s authority at all.
I am sure the first Christians wondered what Our Lord meant when He asked: “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18:8). I do not suppose anybody wonders about that now.
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Posted by: martin.kurlich4399 -
Jun. 22, 2014 8:43 PM ET USA
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, in considering the spiritual wellbeing of the grape juice and crackers crowd, we should ponder once again these words: “…UNLESS you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, YOU HAVE NO LIFE IN YOU”.
Posted by: martin.kurlich4399 -
Jun. 22, 2014 8:42 PM ET USA
“… as a model of rational consistency in the treatment of Revelation, Protestantism has been bankrupt from the first.” So true. Too bad the Catholic Church - clergy AND laity - rarely if ever proclaim this. I guess we’re too loving and sensitive to admonish against the following of an illogical and unscriptural heresy which could jeopardize their souls.
Posted by: lawrence_mosher4475 -
Jun. 22, 2014 11:00 AM ET USA
Thank you Jeff for the article. My question is," When will Homilies be presented from the pulpit as to What Is Sin and What is Not?" Being a convert from the Episcopal Church, I found solid sacramental foundation entering THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, at the Easter Vigil Mass 1991. Since then I yet to hear a Homily addressing my question. Is this a item that is forbidden to be addressed from Dioceses and Archdiocese? Would this be something that I can address to the Pastor?
Posted by: koinonia -
Jun. 21, 2014 10:11 PM ET USA
"Without God, there can be no moral structure to reality." Thus sooner or later the wisdom of the tough love of the Church's consistent, incorrigible defense of reality for centuries. The certitude, fortitude and charity in bearing witness has faded just as the means of communication in recent times have increased beyond comprehension. Without Jesus Christ there can be no..." And thus the inevitable reality check. "Who do you say that I am?" In reality the answer is all or nothing.
Posted by: Baseballbuddy -
Jun. 21, 2014 7:56 AM ET USA
Thank you, Jeff. This is a clear, concise expression of our situation. Also, disturbing is that, as we keep adapting to a mutable set of principles, we lose confidence in others. The sense of community is constantly broken and reformed. Catholics used to be united in what they believed but even that community has been fractured by its leaders who have accommodated dissent or downplayed its precepts, thus encouraging others to do so. If bishops are not sure of the truth, how can I be sure?
Posted by: TheJournalist64 -
Jun. 21, 2014 6:08 AM ET USA
People engage in sinful and unnatural behavior because it makes them "feel good." That is, it satisfies some passion (temporarily). They don't get a clear whack on the backside from God or nature so they figure they got away with it. They also band together politically with those who get addicted to the same or a different behavior, and elect those who enable the behaviors. Thus is the whole culture corrupted.