Some Basics of Christian Anthropology and How They Speak to Moral Issues of our Day (Part 2)

Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.

At its root, anthropology considers what human beings are and how they have interacted with one another and the world around them over time. While many think of anthropology as a secular study of cultures from ancient to modern day, I propose that there is also a Christian anthropology, one that considers who and what the human person is based on God’s revelation in His word and through our bodies. Indeed, our body is a revelation from God, and by and through it He teaches us.

This essay (consisting of both today’s and yesterday’s posts) is not a complete discourse on the topic. Rather, I selected certain teachings rooted in Scripture and the nature of our bodies that apply particularly well to moral issues of our day. In yesterday’s post we considered a few basic points; today we conclude with a few more.

Each human being exists because of a sovereign, loving act of God.

It is a biological fact that a unique human being comes into existence at the moment of conception. The DNA in that single-cell embryo contains all the instructions needed for it to develop, over the next twenty years or so, into an adult.

However, Scripture indicates that although we come to exist at a specific moment in time, God has always known and loved us: The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you’ (Jer 1:4-5). Scripture also praises God saying, For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14). Hence, each of us is specifically intended by God.

This makes every human life sacred. No form of unjust killing can be justified under any circumstances. Each of us is the result not merely of biological processes or human decisions but a sovereign, loving act of God. Our lives come from God and belong to Him. Therefore, abortion, murder, and suicide (including physician-assisted) are grave evils that we must combat. Even capital punishment must be opposed except in rare cases.

Our body is not our own.

A common assertion today is we can do whatever we like with “our own body.” However, Scripture reminds us, You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God with your body (1 Cor 6:19-20). Yes, Jesus redeemed us; He purchased our salvation at the price of His own blood and His own life!

Hence, our bodies are not tools to simply use as we please. Neither are they canvases on which to display tattoos, cuttings, piercings, and the like. We are not to degrade them by using them for excessive or illicit pleasures or to lure others into sin. I do not wish to divert this post into a debate about tattooing and piercing. While such things are not wholly excluded by Church law or Scripture, anything that deliberately, dramatically alters the appearance of the body we received from God is surely problematic. (The nearly permanent quality of such alterations is also concerning.) Such excesses are far too common today, at least in the U.S.

Because our bodies belong to God, we should ask ourselves, “Is God pleased with the way I regard, treat, and make use of the body He has given me?”

There is a nuptial meaning to the body.

We do not exist by ourselves nor only for ourselves. We are contingent beings and, as such, depend on our parents for our existence. Although we exist for our own sake and thus have intrinsic worth, we also exist for others. Our very body speaks to the most fundamental relationships of marriage and family. Simply put, there is a part of our body that is for another. The male and female reproductive organs are designed for each other. This is biologically evident, though sadly some have lost their way and refuse to acknowledge it.

The denial of the purpose of our body’s reproductive organs is manifest in the approval of homosexual practices that “close the sexual act to the gift of life [and] do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (CCC # 2357). It is also manifest in certain heterosexual practices that close the sexual act to the fruit of life and/or use the sexual organs in disordered ways, ways in which they were not intended to be used.

To restate, there is a nuptial meaning to the body. Our body says to us, “I am for another.” Most of humanity realizes this truth through monogamous marriage. A man leaves his father and mother, seeks a wife, clings to her, and the two become one flesh (cf Gen 2:24). Thus, through the husband and wife, completing and complementing each other, a new member of the human family is created. This is the most common realization of the nuptial meaning of the body.

For priests and for religious brothers and sisters who live celibate lives, the nuptial meaning of the body is realized in a spiritual but real way. Religious sisters are espoused to the Lord, the bridegroom of their souls. Priests and religious brothers take up a spousal relationship with the Church, the bride of their souls. Priests and brothers are not bachelors nor are sisters “single women.” No, each lives in a spousal relationship.

What about members of the laity who never marry? Here, I would argue, a distinction must be made. Because there is a nuptial meaning to the body, there is no vocation to the single life per se. However, those who are currently single (including those who may remain that way permanently), may by that state be available to serve the Lord and the Church or community in a more substantial way. For such individuals, the nuptial meaning of the body is expressed through that vocational service.

Marriage has its structure because children both need and deserve the stable presence of their father and mother in their lives.

God did not design marriage arbitrarily. He set it forth as one man for one woman till death do them part, bearing fruit in their children (see Genesis 2:24-25). He did this because that is what is necessary and best for children. Marriage by its nature is oriented to having children. The Lord’s first command to Adam and Eve was, Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28).

Obviously, there must be a father and a mother for a child to exist at all, but beyond the conception of children there is the necessary work of raising them. Children need to have their parents reliably present in their everyday lives so that they can depend on them and trust them. Further, a child needs a father to learn the masculine genius of being human and a mother to learn the feminine genius of being human. This is necessary for the proper and best human formation—psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally. Even an unbeliever should be able to see this. The structure of marriage is not an arbitrary arrangement by God for us to toy with at will.

Sadly, we have done just that. We casually separate what God has joined. God intends for children to be conceived in the sexual union of a husband and wife pledged to each other for life. Having sex and having children are inextricably linked to Holy Matrimony, yet today we have largely separated them. As a result of minimizing the relationship between sex and marriage, there are many marriages without children (by choice) and many children without parents married to each other. We do this through sins and misbehavior such as fornication, adultery, divorce and “remarriage.” The current practice of refusing to favor a married heterosexual couple over a single mother, a single father, or a same-sex couple when placing a child for adoption also severs what God has joined. As a result of all these things, fewer than half of children today grow up in a traditional family.

While children might lose their mother or father through death, to intentionally subject them to anything other than being raised by their own parents is a grave injustice.

The common objection to this teaching is this: “Are you saying that a single mother, a single father, or a homosexual couple cannot raise a child just as well as a married (heterosexual) couple?” The answer is, “Yes, that is exactly what we are saying,” for all the reasons stated above. Some will respond with horror stories that occurred with this or that traditional couple, but atypical occurrences do not alter general norms, and “hard cases make bad law.”

God intends sex, marriage, and children to go together. Having sex naturally leads to having children; this is biologically demonstrable.

Sex, intimacy, and procreation belong together and should not be separated.

Contraception, the artificial prevention of conception that naturally results from human sexual intercourse, is an attempt to sever the connection between sexual relations and having children. Even if not every act of sexual intercourse can result in a child, the bodily truth is that sexual intercourse is directed toward having children. That sex is also pleasurable and may be a sign of love and intimacy does not set aside this point. God joins pleasures to the things that are most necessary for us so that we do not neglect them. For example, the purpose of eating food is to nourish the body. It is also true that eating is pleasurable and sharing meals promotes camaraderie. This does not, however, mean that the primary purpose of food is something other than bodily nourishment. God joins pleasure to food because eating is necessary for our survival, thus they are to be together, not separated.

As an analogy, consider a person who was not particularly interested in the nutritional aspect of food, but rather just liked the pleasure of eating and/or keeping company at feasts. As a result, he would eat and drink to excess, vomit it all up, and then return for more. We all wince at such a horror. This is because eating has a purpose that is being trampled upon in favor of lesser aspects. The proper end, bodily nourishment, is subverted when a person eats to excess and merely for pleasure.

This is precisely what contraception does when it severs the relationship between sex, intimacy, and procreation. We would be similarly aghast at a couple who had sex without any love between them, merely for the purpose of making babies for profit (e.g. selling them for adoption or for use as laborers). This makes the same point: sex, intimacy, and procreation belong together and should not be divided as separate pursuits. Every child deserves to be the fruit of the intimacy and shared love of a stably married father and mother.

Contraception facilitates the violation of the norm Let no one separate what God his joined (see Matt 19:6). The legalization of contraception in the U.S. has led to the explosion of promiscuity and all of the accompanying woes, including sexually transmitted diseases, teenage parents, children raised in single-parent households, and the horror of abortion, which has become the “contraception of last resort.” All of this has gravely harmed or even killed millions of children. Some argue that it is perfectly fine to separate the procreative dimension of sex from its pleasure or its promotion of intimacy, but in separating what God has joined we have reaped a harvest of misery and death. Contraception promotes the exaltation of the pleasure and intimacy of sexual intercourse unmoored from its purpose: the serious business of having and then raising children within a stable marriage. The worship of pleasure and intimacy unmoored from their purpose has led to the unbridled lust we see today.

There will always be more to say about Christian anthropology, but allow the points made in today’s and yesterday’s posts to paint the bigger picture: God has set forth an understanding of the human person both in Scripture and through our very body and soul. We do well to take heed of what He teaches.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Basics of Christian Anthropology (part 2 of 2)

Basics of Christian Anthropology (part 1 of 2)

Creation of Adam – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1510)

Anthropology is, most simply, the science or study of human beings through time and space. Different specialties focus on the analysis of biological/physiological characteristics and the examination of societies/cultures. In the religious sense, anthropology deals with the origin, nature, and destiny of human beings.

In our times there are many moral issues emerging from viewpoints that diverge widely from our given nature, both physical and spiritual. Numerous false notions (e.g., “transgenderism”) have arisen that either disregard or even deny physical data. Other errors involve ignoring the clear evidence of humans’ spiritual nature, which so distinguishes us from animals.

A Christian/biblical anthropology, however, sees the created order—and the human body in particular—as revelatory. The body is not just accidentally or incidentally present. No, the body is a revelation because through it, God speaks to us of who and what we are and what we ought to do. To this revelatory quality of the body God adds His own words in Scripture, leading to the emergence of a Christian anthropology.

In this essay I would like to review certain aspects of this Christian anthropology. This is by no means a complete or systematic treatise. Rather, it touches on certain key points that address modern errors. The order of these observations is not a perfect progression, but I have tried to progress from basic to more complex points.

We are the union of a body and a spiritual soul.

We are not merely our body nor are we merely our soul. We are the union of the two. Gnostic and dualistic anthropologies seek to divide body and soul or to indicate that a person is only his body or only his soul. Although we can distinguish body and soul intellectually, in reality they are so together as to be one. It is much like the flame from a candle. Although one can distinguish the light of the flame from its heat, one cannot put the heat over here and the light over there. They are so together as to be one. It is like this with our body and soul.

What is the soul?

On one level the soul is the animating principle of any living thing. Hence, even plants and animals have souls. The soul is related to the mysterious principle we call life. Although we casually use words like “life,” “death,” “living,” and “dead,” life is a mysterious reality. Imagine that in one hand I hold and acorn and in the other a stone. From a great distance they may even look alike. However, the acorn has the mysterious spark we call life while the stone does not. If I plant each in the ground and water the area, the acorn responds: first a shoot emerges and eventually a mighty oak tree. In contrast, the rock will do nothing no matter how long I wait; it does not have the mysterious spark called life. Neither does it have the animating principle we call the soul.

If the mysterious quality called life is taken away, the plant, animal, or human “dies.” Because the life that organized him/her/it is gone, the body or what is left falls into disorganization and decay. The force we call “life” and what we call the “soul,” are deeply mysterious.

What makes the human soul unique?

The human soul is different from that of animals and/or plants in that it is a spiritual soul. Scripture says of man, In the image of God He created them (Gen 1:27). It also says, Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into [Adam’s] nostrils, and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7). To no other creatures are such attributions made. To say that we have a spiritual soul, that we have the breath of God within us and are made in His image, is to say that we have intellect and free will. It is our dignity to unite two orders of creation, the material and the spiritual, in our one person. Angels are pure spirit. Animals, though possessed of a soul (an animating principle), have no spirit and are thus material. Humans, however, unite the spiritual and the material. This is our glory and it is the central reason why our body will rise one day, gloriously transformed, and be restored to our spirit.

Sadly, there is a tendency today to equate humans with animals. Some say that humans are merely smart apes and that there are other creatures (e.g., dolphins) just as intelligent as we are. This is demonstrably false. You will know something by its fruits; you can see a cause by its effects. Humans are vastly different from all the other animals, even the highest primates, and this is evident in the effects we produce. While our bodies resemble other animals (especially mammals) in many ways, the similarity ends there. If the animals are just like us, where are their cities and farms? Where are their universities, libraries, and museums? Where is their art, their literature? Where are their legislatures where they pass laws or their courts where they hold one another accountable? Have they traveled to the moon and back? Have they learned and then handed on their knowledge to later generations? Where is their technological progress—or any progress at all, for that matter? Why are animals really no different than they were thousands of years ago?

Clearly there is a vast difference between human beings and other animals. This can be seen in the way we live and what we do, and in what they do not do.

Morally speaking, reducing humans to the state of animals not only robs us of our dignity but also our freedom, because it says that we are merely at the whim of instinct.

A common error today regarding the unity of body and spiritual soul is claiming that one is not one’s body but rather only one’s thoughts and feelings.

This is common among proponents of transgender and/or homosexual ideology. A certain man might say, “I am actually a woman.” A normally observant person would likely retort, “No, your body indicates that you are a man.” Yet, in transgender ideology, that observation is dismissed by saying, in effect, “I am not my body. My body has nothing to do with what or who I really am. I am my thoughts and feelings.” This amounts to a denial that our bodies are revelatory.

In homosexual ideology a similar error is encountered. A biological assessment makes it clear that the male and female reproductive organs are designed for each other. Further, an exit is not an entrance. Here, too, they dismiss the body as being of no relevance. This is pure Gnostic dualism: the body is of no account; one is only spirit, only thoughts and feelings. In such a world, what matters are intentions and thoughts; what the body teaches or indicates is of little account. This is an error because it dismisses the reality that the body presents to us.

The opposing but equally untrue claim is that one is only one’s body.

This is materialism and it denies the existence of soul. In this view, a person is merely a collection of chemicals and interactions between them. We only do what the chemicals and nerves “tell us” to do. We have no spirit and thus no free will. Because human behavior is said to be merely the result of physical interactions over which we have no control, there is no such thing as right or wrong. The absurdity of such a claim can be illustrated in this way:

Materialist: “You are just matter, a mere bag of chemicals.”

Believer: “I think that is dead wrong and an unfounded claim.”

(The materialist then becomes angry at the believer’s refusal to accept his claim.)

Believer: “Why are you angry? I am just a bag of chemicals and my behavior is just the result of the random firing of synapses. I am only saying and doing what those forces are making me say and do. Hence, I am not a responsible agent and your anger is unfounded.”

Obviously, the notion of right and wrong and of being accountable for our actions only makes sense if we have a spiritual soul that is able to rise above the effects of chemical reactions or nerve impulses.

We come in (only) two kinds.

In the creation of the human person, God says, So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Gen 1:27). There are not dozens of different sexes/genders, as some assert. In fact, until recently, the word “gender” was used almost exclusively as a grammatical term (in some languages, nouns, adjectives, verbs, and/or pronouns have a gender) while the word “sex” referred to the classification of organisms as either male or female. (If you doubt me, look in a dictionary that was published any time prior to the last ten years or so.)

Yes, we are either male or female, and it is God who designates this and creates it. Our bodies reveal to us our sex, as designated by God. There is no need for a lengthy study of this matter; it is quite evident from a simple look at the body.

Some object that there are people born with both genitalia or who are ambiguously equipped, but the existence of such abnormalities does not indicate that there is a third (or fourth or more) sex. It does not follow that every anomaly indicates a different kind of human being. For example, some babies are born missing an arm; from this we do not conclude that there are two different sorts of human beings, those with two arms and those with one.

Therefore, given God’s teaching that we are either male or female, any acceptance of “transgender” ideology is inimical to Christian anthropology. It rejects what God has revealed to us in our bodies and what He teaches us in His written word. We must refute claims that there are more than two sexes/genders and insist that people accept the reality of what God has done. There is no such thing as a female “trapped in a male body” or vice versa. Neither can one “transition” so as to “be” the opposite sex. No matter how many surgeries one endures or how many hormones one takes, no matter what sort of clothing one wears, one’s sex cannot be changed. It is written in every cell of the body. One does not simply declare one’s sex nor can one change it. No, each person must humbly accept his or her sex from God, who is Creator and Lord.

In tomorrow’s post we will look at some other principles of Christian anthropology and relate them to errors of our day.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Basics of Christian Anthropology (part 1 of 2)

The Danger of a World Without Walls

God’s commandments can be likened to defensive walls. Every ancient city had such walls to protect its citizens. Even though the walls limited movement, within them people could come and go safely. Outside those walls, all bets were off; things could be dangerous despite the open vistas.

Scripture says,

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you prosper. May there be peace within your walls, and prosperity inside your fortresses.” For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you” (Psalm 122:7-8).

Today, many relish in tearing down walls, not so much physical ones as moral ones, particularly moral laws that set boundaries and help to determine where one person’s space ends and another’s begins. The #MeToo movement has rightfully protested the fact that many people have transgressed proper boundaries. When that happens, the world is less safe, and abuse becomes commonplace.

Maybe God’s laws, which are like walls or boundaries, aren’t so bad after all. Perhaps we should not have been so joyful in tearing down the walls of God’s commandments through the sexual revolution. Maybe, just maybe, some walls are good.

This video clip presents a humorous picture of our iconoclastic times.

Why and How Does Satan Roam the Earth?

One of the more puzzling aspects of demonology is the freedom that Satan and demons appear to have in roaming the earth, causing trouble. If the condemned are consigned to Hell for all eternity, why is Satan allowed to wander about outside of Hell? Isn’t he supposed to be suffering in Hell along with his minions and the other condemned? Further, it doesn’t seem that he is suffering one bit, but rather having a grand time wreaking havoc on the earth. How do we answer such questions?

Some texts in Scripture do speak of Satan and the fallen angels as being cast into Hell:

  • God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).
  • And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 1:6).
  • Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [likely a reference to the age of the Church and the going forth of the Gospel to all the nations] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. (Rev 20:1-3).

Yet other texts speak of the fallen angels (demons) as being cast down to the earth:

  • But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. And the great dragon was hurled down—the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:8-9).
  • The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it” (Job 1:7).

Thus, though consigned to Hell, it would seem that some or all of the demons have the ability to roam the earth as well. Demons, however, do not have bodies and thus do not “roam the earth” the way we do. Their “roaming” is more an indication of their capacity to influence than their ability to move from one place to another. Further, Satan and demons are described as being “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness.” This is likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or “roam” is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, just that it is not unbounded. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!

Near the end of the world, Scripture says that Satan will be wholly loosed and will come forth to deceive the nations for a while; after this brief period, he and the other fallen angels will be definitively cast into the lake of fire and their influence forever ended.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, … their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:7-10).

So for now, demons do have influence, but it is limited. At the end, their full fury will be unleashed, but this is only to bring about their final, complete defeat, after which they will be forever sequestered in the lake of fire.

Why God permits some demons the freedom to wander about the earth is mysterious. We know that God permits evil as a “necessary” condition of freedom for the rational creatures He has created. Angels and humans have free, rational souls; if our freedom is to mean anything, God must allow that some abuse it, even becoming sources of evil and temptation to others.

For us, this life amounts to a kind of test: God permits some degree of evil to flourish yet at the same time offers us the grace to overcome it. Further, there is the tradition implied in Scripture that for every angel that fell there were two who did not (Rev 12:4). Thus, we live not merely under the influence of demons, but also under the influence and care of angels.

On account of temptations and trials, our “yes” to God has greater dignity and merit than it would if we lived in a sin-free paradise.

As to Satan having “a good time” wreaking havoc, it would be too strong say that demons and Satan do not suffer at all. Demons, like human beings, suffer both victories and defeats; there are outcomes that delight them and those that disappoint and anger them.

Anyone who has ever attended an exorcism can attest that demons do suffer great deal, especially when the faithful pray and make pious use of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., holy water, relics, blessed medals, rosaries). Faith and love are deeply disturbing to demons.

We all do well in the current dispensation to remember St. John Vianney’s teaching that Satan is like a chained dog: He may bark loudly and froth menacingly, but he can only bite us if we get too close. Keep your distance!

While these videos are light-hearted, their message is serious:

“God Wants Me to Be Happy” – A Reflection on a Deeply Flawed Moral Stance

One of the questionable, and unfortunately common, forms of moral reasoning today is the rather narcissistic notion that God wants each of us to be happy. Sometimes it is put in the form of a rhetorical question: God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He?

And this sort of reasoning (if you want to call it that) is used to justify just about anything. Thus, in pondering divorce, a spouse might point to his or her misery and conclude that God would approve of the split because God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He? Many seek to justify so-called same-sex marriage, and other illicit sexual notions in the same way.

Further, other responsibilities are often blithely set aside as too demanding, under the pretext that God would not make difficult demands because, after all, He wants me to be happy. Since getting to Mass is difficult for me, God will understand if I don’t go; He wants me to be happy, not burdened. Forgiving someone is hard and God does not ask hard things of us; He wants me to be happy. Refusing to cooperate with some evil at work would risk my income; surely God would not demand that I withstand it since He wants me to be happy, content, and financially secure.

The notion that God wants me to be happy thus becomes a kind of trump card, some sort of definitive declaration that obviates the need for any further moral reflection. Practically speaking, this means that I am now free to do as I please. Since I am happy, God is happy, and this is His will … or so the thinking goes.

There are, of course, multiple problems with the “God wants me to be happy” moral stance. In the first place, happiness is a complex matter that admits of many subjective criteria including personal development, temporal dimensions, and worldview. For example, a spiritually mature person can find happiness simply in knowing that he is pleasing God by follow His Commandments. On an interpersonal level, many are happy to make sacrifices for the people they love. To others who are less mature, even the smallest sacrifice can seem obnoxious and bring on unhappiness; pleasing God is not even on their radar, let alone something that would make them happy.

Happiness is also temporally variable. Most of us are well aware that happiness tomorrow is often contingent upon making certain sacrifices today. For example, the happiness one gets in taking a vacation is usually dependent upon having saved up some money beforehand. Making sacrifices today enables happiness tomorrow. If all I do is please myself in the moment, insist on being happy right now, my ability to be happy in the future will likely be seriously compromised. Setting no limits today might mean that I am broke tomorrow, or addicted, or unhealthily overweight, or afflicted with a sexually-transmitted disease. True, lasting, deep happiness in the future often requires some sacrifice today, some capacity to say “No” right now. Without any consideration of the future or of eternal life, “happiness” in the moment is vague, foolish, and meaningless, if not outright destructive. God desires our happiness, all right, but the happiness He wants for us is that of eternal life with Him forever. He has clearly indicated that this will often involve forsaking many of the passing pleasures and the “happiness” of this world.

More troubling still is the self-referential and narcissistic aspect contained in the simple little word “me.” God wants me to be happy.

Those who expresses this “me” notion might be surprised to discover that God has bigger things in mind. God actually cares about other people, too! He also cares about future generations and about the common good. Yes, there’s just a little more on God’s radar than you.

So the divorced man who might say, “God wants me to be happy” should consider that God might actually care about his children too; He might care about the culture that suffers due to rampant divorce; He might care about future generations that would inherit a culture shredded by destroyed families.

Wow, God might actually want others to be happy besides me! Even more shockingly, God might want me to sacrifice my happiness for them! He might actually want me to consider them and even regard them as more important that I am.

As a moral reference point, “me” is remarkably narrow and usually self-serving. And yet many today use this almost reflexively and authoritatively. “God wants me to be happy, so all discussions and further deliberations are over. God has spoken through my desires. He wants me to be happy. Who are you to dispute that? We’re done here; I will not be judged by you.”

“God wants me to be happy” is not a legitimate moral principle. It bespeaks a narcissism that is, sadly, too common today. Call it “Stuart Smalley theology.” You don’t know who Stuart Smalley is? This video shows it plainly enough. The bottom line is, don’t be Stuart Smalley.

Growing Crisis: Over 40 Percent of Babies Are Born Outside of Marriage in the US

I want to discuss a very alarming new study that indicates that over 40% of children are born outside of marriage in this country. This situation is growing very serious and needs to be addressed in our parishes and homes. Here is a brief excerpt of the article:

The number of children born outside marriage in the United States has increased dramatically to four out of ten of all births. Figures show that 41 per cent of children born in 2008 did not have married parents – up from 28 per cent in 1990. Researchers have concluded that although Christian values still play an important role in American society, public attitudes have changed. Having a child out of wedlock does not carry the stigma and shame it once did, they say.

The study also found that in America there is a declining number of teenage mothers and rising numbers of older parents….

The U.S. research, taken from census reports and health statistics by the Pew Research Centre, also outlines a trend of couples in western societies marrying later in life and delaying parenthood until they can afford it.

The share of births to unmarried mothers had increased most among white and traditionally Catholic Hispanic women.

The article can be read here: 41% Of Children Born Outside of Marriage in US

The numbers are really quite striking and increase from 28% to 41% in just 18 years. Note that the article lays the matter clearly at our feet, fellow Catholics citing that we have shown the greatest increase in unmarried mothers.

As a Church we have to do a better job of addressing this very serious matter. It would seem that we should address it by re-emphasizing some of the following things:

  1. Fornication and cohabitation are serious sins – We need to teach and re-emphasize that fornication (pre-marital sex) and adultery are very serious sins. They are mortal sins and,  if one commits them and dies unrepentant,  they are excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not the opinion of some grouchy old priest or Victorian parents it is the clear and consistent testimony of Scripture both in the Old and New Testaments. I have written on the Biblical teaching here before and you can read it here: Sober, Serene and Scriptural about Sex. I have also posted a PDF document that summarizes the Biblical teaching about pre-marital sex here:  Biblical Teaching on Pre-Marital Sex. To be sure, some commit the sin of fornication in weakness but have recourse to confession and strive to master what is surely a strong passion. That is commendable. Yet to be so bold as to live together outside of marriage hardly demonstrates a contrition or a firm pupose of amendment. We must simply be clear  that it is boldly sinful to cohabitate.
  2. Fornication and cohabitation undermine marriage – We need to demonstrate that cohabitation and fornication undermine marriage.  Sex is a gift from God to the married to strengthen the love,  loyalty and marriage of man and women. Since they share a great blessing and pleasure together their bonds are strengthened and their union encouraged. From this shared love and pleasure their children come forth quite literally as a fruit of their love. But when fornication and cohabitation and other sexual misbehavior becomes widespread and acceptable in a culture, one of the great and unique benefits of marriage (sexual intimacy) that serves as a kind of glue and incentive for marriage is thus removed.  That this true is demonstrated by the sky-rocketing of rates of divorce and further cohabitation.
  3. Fornication and Cohabitation give scandal– Many people today think that giving scandal merely means to shock someone. But that is incorrect. To give scandal means to cause some one to fall by encouraging them or leading them to sin. One of the most scandalous aspects of fornication and  cohabitation is that they NO LONGER cause shock. This means that this bad behavior is now having deep effects by robbing people of their shock and shame. It is very wrong to contribute to something that might cause my brother or sister to fall. Giving bad example or contributing to the notion that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex helps to lead others to this behavior. In the end we will be held to account for causing scandal or contributing to it unless we repent.
  4. Fornication and Cohabitation are an injustice to children– Many who engage in pre-marital sex say they will contracept (a sin in itself)  and so no children will be affected. But that is simply not true. First, as already noted, promiscuity contributes to the overall undermining of marriage which surely harms children. But more specifically, the fact is  that high numbers of fornicators and cohabitors DO conceive and this leads to higher rates of abortion and also single motherhood. It is a blessing if a child not aborted but it remains true that children born out of wedlock are born into less than ideal conditions. God has set forth that the best environment to rear and raise children is stable, faithful, heterosexual marriage. A child is best raised by a father and mother who are consistently present and who give complimentary witness. A father contributes to development in a way a mother cannot. A mother contributes to development in a way that a father cannot. To engage in risky and sinful behavior that places children at greater risk of abortion or incomplete homes is an injustice. We don’t often think of sexual sins as sins of injustice but they are. In the end, it is the children who pay.

You will no doubt wish to add to the list or perhaps nuance what I have said. But in the end I think we have to be firm and clear about the wrongful nature of this sort of sexual misbehavior. I will say that the Church was not as clear as she should have been with me when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. But I can assure you the fallen angel who is the devil, and our fallen culture ARE clear as to what they think.

It is tragic to think that almost half of the Children born in this country are born into situations that are far from ideal. It is even more tragic that this does not have to be. Many think we really can’t turn this thing around. I disagree. The example of a concerted effort at eliminating smoking has had significant impact. If we come together and agree and are firm and clear I am sure we can make a difference. Even just taking the PDF document on Scriptural teaching I have produced above  and sharing it with you teenagers can help. But we need to do more and better. Things are at a critical stage just now.

For further data and research read here: Child Trends Data  (NB Though the report written in 2001 indicates out of wedlock births had leveled off, that assertion has been superceded by the more recent data which shows it has now again spiked).

This video depicts an important parental connection in helping young people develop a proper notion of sexuality and how it relates to marriage:

The Evil of Envy

As we continue to read from First Samuel at daily Mass we encounter an envious Saul. Upon David’s return from slaying Goliath the women sang a song praising him. Saul should rejoice with all Israel but he is resentful and envies David as he hears the song: Saul was very angry and resentful of the song, for he thought: “They give David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship.” And from that day on, Saul looked upon David with a glarring  eye. Saul discussed his intention of killing David with his son Jonathan and with all his servants. (1 Sam 18:6-9).  His reaction is way over the top but this is what envy does.

What is envy? Unfortunately most people use the word wrongly as a synonym for jealously. But jealously is not the same as envy. When I am jealous of you, you have something I want and I wish to possess it inordinately. But the key point is that there is something good about you or something good you have and I want to have it for myself. When jealousy is sinful I want it inordinately or unreasonably. But envy is very different. Envy is sorrow, sadness or anger at the the goodness or excellence of someone else because I take it to lessen my own excellence. But the key difference with envy is that (unlike jealousy) I do not want to possess the good or excellence you have. I want to destroy it.

Notice in the reading above that Saul wants to kill David. He wants to do this because he thinks David’s excellence makes him look less excellent, less great. Saul SHOULD rejoice in David’s gifts for they are gifts to all Israel. David is a fine soldier and this is a blessing for everyone. The proper response to David’s excellence should be to rejoice, be thankful to God and, where possible imitate David’s courage and excellence. Instead Saul sulks and sees David stealing the limelight from  him and possibly even the kingdom. Envy rears  its ugly head when Saul concludes David must die. The good that is in David must be destroyed.

Envy is diabolical – St. Augustine called Envy THE diabolical sin since it seeks to minimize, end or destroy what is good. Scripture says By the envy of the Devil death entered the world (Wis 2:24). Seeing the excellence that Adam and Eve had, made in the image of God, and possibly knowing of plans for the incarnation, the Devil envied Adam and Eve. Their glory lessened his, or so he thought, and he set out to destroy the goodness in them. Envy is very ugly and it is diabolical.

Examples of Envy – I remember experiencing envy in my early years. Picture the scene. In every classroom their was always one student, sometimes a few, who got A’s on every test. They always behaved and the teacher would sometimes praise them saying, “Why can’t the rest of you be like Johnny? (or Susie).” We hated students like this. They made us look bad. So what did some of us do? We sought to pressure the “teacher’s pet” to conform to mediocrity. In effect we sought to destroy the goodness or excellence in them. We would taunt them with names and pelt them with spit balls.  If ridicule and isolation didn’t work sometimes we’d just plain beat them up. This is envy. Sorrowful and angry at the goodness of another student because they made us look bad, we set out to destroy what was good in them.

The Virtues which cancel envy – The proper response to observing goodness or excellence in another is joy and zeal. We rejoice that they are blessed because, when they are blessed, we are blessed. Further we respond with a zeal that seeks to imitate where possible their goodness or excellence. Perhaps we can learn from them or their good example. But envy rejects joy and zeal and with sorrow and anger sets out to destroy what is good.

Envy can be subtle – Envy isn’t isn’t always this obvious. Sometimes it is more subtle and something we do almost without thinking. When someone at work is a rising star we may easily engage in gossip and defamation to undermine their reputation or tarnish their image. We may do this at times in an unreflectove manner. Almost without thinking, we diminish and belittle others and their accomplishments by careless and insensitive remarks. We often do this because we need to knock others down to feel better about ourselves. This is envy. Sometimes we show envy passively by omitting to praise or encourage others or by failing to call attention to their accomplishments.

Envy concealed with a smile – Finally there is an odd form of envy out there that is particularly annoying because it masquerades as sensitivity and kindness. Go with me to a typical neighborhood soccer game or baseball game. The children are on the field and playing their hearts out. But on the sidelines a decision has been made not to keep score. Why? Because the kids little egos might be damaged by losing. Frankly, it isn’t the egos of the children we’re probably protecting here, it is the parents. The fact it that the kids know the score in most cases. But God forbid that on the sports field there should be winners or losers! The losers might “feel bad.” The solution is to destroy or to refuse to acknowledge goodness and excellence in some children because it is taken to lessen the goodness or excellence of the “losers.” This is envy and it teaches terrible things by omission. First of all it fails to teach that there are winners and losers in life. This is a fact. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Either way I should be gracious.  Secondly it fails to reward excellence and this is unjust for excellence should be rewarded and the reward should motivate others to be excellent. Much is lost when we fail to praise what is good. Another example of this envious practice is at school award ceremonies where sometimes (literally) hundred of awards are given out. There are the traditional Honor Roll awards but then a plethora of made up awards so that everyone gets something. I’ve even witnessed awards given for the nicest smile. But the problem is that when every one is awarded no one is awarded. Once again envy rears it ugly head but this time it’s wearing a smiley face. God forbid that some kids little ego might be bruised it he doesn’t get something. God forbid that someone else’s excellence might make me look less excellent by comparison. The bottom line is that it is envy: sorrow at someone else’s excellence because I take it to lessen my own. And frankly this isn’t the kids issue, it’s usually  parents and teachers projecting their own struggle with envy on the kids. But the fact is, there are simply some people who are better than I am a certain things. But that’s OK. I don’t have all the gifts, you  don’t have all the gifts. But together we have all the gifts.

Envy is ugly, even when it masquerades as kindness. It diminishes and often seeks to destroy goodness and excellence. The proper response to excellence and goodness is and should always be joy and zeal.

The Paradoxes of True Freedom

In our age freedom is a distorted and detached concept, a kind of abstraction. There is little connection of freedom to responsibility , to the common good or to truth.  To the modern world freedom is essentially understood as “the ability to do whatever I please.”  Now the absurdity of such a definition is usually evident in our time as my radical freedom bumps up against your radical freedom and suddenly we’re demanding laws!

For a Christian however freedom is the capacity or ability to obey God. Now this is paradoxical to be sure, especially for the modern world where obedience and freedom aren’t usually linked. But for the Christian, sin is slavery and the truth which God reveals sets us free. Consider these quotes from the catechism:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1733)…By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth (1740)

Consider too the words of the Lord who said,   Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. …[But] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-35)

The first paradox of freedom is that true freedom is experienced only in relation to what is good and true.

  1. It does not take us long to see how enslaving sin can be. There are bad habits, addictions, compulsions and tendencies that set in as we dabble in sin and these can be very hard to break. We may march under the banner of doing what we please but before long we have to do what our unruly passions demand and it becomes hard to break sin’s hold.
  2. True freedom is the capacity to obey God, to do what is right, to be free to speak the truth courageously, to have the capacity to be chaste, self-controlled, to have authority over our anger and other passions, to have the power to forgive, this is what it really means to be free.

The second paradox of freedom is that, since we are contingent and limited beings,  we can only experience freedom within parameters and by limiting our freedom to a certain extent:

  1. For example suppose I were to demand freedom from laws of  gravity. Suppose I simply wished to reject the limits that gravity imposed on me and in an act of revolutionary freedom and defiance stepped off a tall building. It would surely be the last act of freedom I ever exercised. Only by accepting the parameters of gravity can I really be free. To deny the truth of gravity and act as though it were irrelevant not only enslaves, it kills.
  2. Take another example. I am free to speak and communicate with you, but only if I stay within the limits of grammar, vocabulary, punctuation and so forth. In general with Americans I must limit myself to English properly spoken. Can you read this sentence: open to went found they they it the when was tomb?  Of course you cannot make sense of this “sentence” since the word order is so garbled. So, to be free to communicate with you I have to accept some of the rules of word order. Now at least these were  all intelligible words but what if I were to demand the ability to use whatever words and letters I wanted, whatever punctuation and so forth. Can you read this sentence: bey 887q99y0 eh ‘[;0! you to dsfhi piyt! ??  Of course you cannot read it. It may mean something to me, but I cannot really be free to communicate with you unless I accept some limits that language imposes and operate within them .
  3. Yet another example is driving. I am only free to drive if I operate within basic traffic laws and so do others. Unless we all agree to limit our freedom to drive anywhere at any speed in any direction, we really are not free to drive, there is simply too much chaos to get anywhere. Freedom is exercised only within limits.

The Third paradox of freedom is that my freedom today often exists due to prior constraint:

  1. I am free to play the piano today only because I constrained myself to years of practice. I limited my freedom to go out and play and disciplined myself to practice.
  2. I am free to spend money today only because I previously constrained myself to earn it and save it.
  3. I am healthy and in good shape today only because I limited my food intake and exercised regularly.

The Fourth and religious paradox of freedom is that we are only free by becoming slaves and servants of God:

  1. John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
  2. John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
  3. Rom 6:17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness….20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
  4. 1 Peter 2:16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God.

Conclusion: the absolute and detached freedom imagined by the world does not exist. Insisting on freedom without any connection to what is good and true does not free, it enslaves. True freedom exists within boundaries and guard rails. Some things must be held constant and unyielding if there is to be freedom. There must be some rules or freedom breaks down and is crushed by anarchy, chaos and power struggle. In the end, what makes us truly free is to obey the Father. This frees us from the slavery of sin and gives the capacity to obey God. Anything less is the slavery of sin.