Sunday, November 1, 2015

You can't be too careful

I've been a little cagey on this blog about anything that might actually deconvert anyone.  Losing your faith is hard, and until you're actually in that situation, you might not be aware of how many parts of your life would be affected.

But it occurs to me that I shouldn't be taking that burden on myself.  After all, it isn't my job to make sure you stay Catholic.  It's yours.  And I have to warn you: if the most important thing in your life is to stay Catholic, you can't be too careful.  There are dangers everywhere.  I ought to know.

For instance, it's well known that comparative religion courses destroy people's faith.  It can be a big blow to find out that other people believe things you know are wrong, but feel just as sure about them as you do.  You find yourself wondering how you can be sure yours are right and theirs are wrong.  So don't study other religions, except apologetics books that show you how to respond to them.

Going to college at all correlates with loss of faith too.  There's a lot of discussion about why that is, but to be safe, you'd probably better not go to college if you haven't already.

Even using the internet correlates with loss of faith.  So maybe you shouldn't just give up this blog, but all blogs.  It's possible that by carefully clicking on Catholic links only, you can stay safe, but I should warn you that I did try this and it didn't work for me.

We all know having a non-religious parent makes you more likely to disbelieve.  Of course you can't help that, but you can do your best to pick a spouse who believes exactly what you do and hope they won't change their mind.  That will give your kids a fair shot at keeping their faith.

It's much easier to believe when all your friends do, too.  Harness that positive peer pressure and drop your unbelieving friends.  They might give you the impression that unbelievers can be as virtuous or more than Christians, or mention an argument you can't answer.

Don't be methodical about the way you think, at least not in a scientific, empirical sort of way.  If you get in the habit of expecting your beliefs to come from evidence, of changing your mind when you learn new information, of listening carefully to the cognitive biases that may be affecting the way you think, you might start expecting your religion to meet the same standard.

If you have kids, you should probably make sure to be very strict and harsh with them.  If you breastfeed them, like I did, you won't be able to spank them because you're too attached, and that will drive you to read liberal namby-pamby parenting books and websites.  Do that, and you'll realize kindness and freedom work so much better than threats and punishments.  And once you've come to that conclusion, you'll find yourself asking, What the heck was God doing throughout the whole Old Testament?

Don't buy into secular notions like liberty, religious freedom, or equality.  You'll notice that the Church hasn't always been fans of any of them, and in fact it's arguable that it's still a bit suspicious of these ideas.  To be a Catholic without doubts, you're going to have to accept that slavery and forced conversion are, at the very least, not a huge deal.

Don't study history, at least not thoroughly.  If you do, you'll learn the level of independent historical attestation that's necessary to confirm past events, and you'll find that the Gospel accounts fall quite short of this.  You can still choose to believe, but it will be made more difficult.

Pray, of course.  It will help.  But don't get too serious about your faith either, because if you take it really seriously, you'll realize that there is no excuse for spending any of your time and energy on worldly things when eternity hangs in the balance.  You'll start nitpicking ever smaller and smaller things you do, and the motivations behind what you do, and develop scrupulosity -- a disease no one outside of religion ever gets.  That will encourage you to abandon your faith because you can't be "balanced" about something that matters this much.

Don't read the bible too much, at least not without a guide to help you.  God's inerrant word is very dangerous and hard to understand.  It might be best not to read theological books either, because some church teachings look like the opposites of other ones.

If something seems contradictory, don't admit that, even to yourself.  Say that you are too stupid and uneducated to understand it, and seek out someone to explain it to you.  Don't google it or you might get the wrong kind of answers.

And whatever you do, never read anything that amounts to anti-apologetics.  Read The Case for Christ, and don't ever google "answers to The Case for Christ."  Read Peter Kreeft and no Richard Dawkins.  That sort of thing.  Never click on anything with the word "atheist" in the title.  Some people say it's a sin, and anyway, do you want to take the chance it might convince you?

* * *

However: if your main goal is to believe what is true and do what is right, rather than to remain in the religion you are currently in no matter what -- if the reason you stay Catholic is because you think it is good and true -- then you don't need to worry about any of the above.  If the Catholic faith is true, it can handle exposure to any new information or argument.  As people used to tell me, the Truth is a lion, it doesn't need to be defended.  You don't have to try to believe what is apparent.

Sure, if you make seeking the truth your first value, above staying Catholic, you run the risk that in the case they conflict, you'll have to leave the faith you love and find fulfillment in.  That will break your heart.  But that's only true if the Church is wrong.  If you're sure it's right, you don't have to be afraid.  You could read all the stuff that I've read, which made me think the things I currently think, and then keep searching till you've satisfied yourself that I am wrong.  The information has to be out there.

The question you should answer, right now, is this: if the Church were wrong, would you want to know?  If the answer is no, you can't be too careful.

16 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

My version of "If the Church were wrong . . ." has to do with the Ordinary Form of the Mass leading to invalid sacraments and the possibility that many men who think they are priests weren't validly ordained after Vatican II. And if what the extreme Traditionalists are saying is right, then yes, I would want to know. But I don't think that others would, so I'd keep very quiet about it.

Given how much I may have already said here, the idea of me being quiet about it may be very funny to you. But I really just do it here! A few months ago, I tried bringing it up with a friend who continually surprises me by how much more stereotypically "Trad" he his than I ever guess--and though you'd think that would be a "safe space," it wasn't. I asked, "If the Novus Ordo liturgy is said perfectly, is the consecration valid?", and he replied, "DON'T ASK ME THOSE QUESTIONS! I don't want to drag anyone into my muck." And I knew exactly what he meant. What I have now is a big theological muck, and it seems unprecedented in the history of the Church. Fellow Catholics I know in real life would be shocked if they knew everything I think. But if I don't tell them, it's not because I fear being written off as a crank, but because I fear being believed. I certainly don't enjoy thinking that thousands of people in the Church are receiving invalid sacraments; why would I want to pass this on to others?

Anyway, I do think the Traditionalists are making the most watertight arguments, which is why I'm probably already one of them and just in denial. But I also think they're just too dang weird to be the ones I throw my lot in with. (Yes, I know how this sounds coming from me!) As much as I love my new friends, I don't think they understand what it takes to function in a normal human society, and their understanding of being "as wise as serpents" strikes me as overly defensive, to the point of being paranoid. Not absolutely everything in the modern world is a tool of Satan!

To be even more honest, my new interactions with a homeschooling mother (my closest friend in the community so far) have actually steered my sympathies away from homeschooling! They've also caused me to remember a very passionate French mother I had exactly one conversation with: she said that she let her children watch many awful TV shows because she didn't want them to grow up unable to relate to everyone else in the country. Makes sense to me.

If God wanted to save His Church through a tiny remnant while the rest implodes, well He seems to have picked the sort of people who will ensure the remnant is as tiny as can be! =P

Sheila said...

Oh, I know what you mean about traditionalists. When I first got to know John, he was super trad and so I tried to get into it too. But the people at the Latin Mass were just so WEIRD! And they believed the most ridiculous conspiracy theories, from 9/11 conspiracies to John Paul I having been assassinated and even chemtrails .... which is my "loony test." A smart person might be convinced by one or two conspiracies, but if you think chemtrails are real, I will write off whatever you say after that. (You don't, right? If you do I can argue it with you. While I believe that some ideas are so stupid as not to deserve respect, I don't think ANY ideas are so stupid that they aren't worth engaging with, if only to prove them wrong.)

Ditto homeschoolers ... I love homeschooling but can't meet up with the homeschool group in my town because they seem to be homeschooling out of fear, rather than a desire to actually do something different educationally. So we have almost nothing in common. And I knew some very strange people in my homeschooling days....

And I understand what you mean about traditionalist arguments being convincing. I also find them convincing. It's just that, if the sedevacantist argument is correct, Christ has abandoned the Church, which he promised not to do. It basically destroys any argument for being Catholic at all. Though I think the real reason I never became traditionalist is that I like the modern church better than the pre-Vatican-II church, so even though the older one has slightly better cred, I'm not tempted by it.

But I don't understand why you wouldn't share this. Isn't it better to get valid sacraments and encourage others to do the same? What is the advantage of going to sham Masses, and why do you want to make sure others do so? Is it just because you're not entirely sure and want to hedge your bets against the possibility that you're wrong? Because that, I understand. I wish more people would do this instead of doing potentially destructive things without considering the costs if they're in error.

Belfry Bat said...

I do have a priest friend who reports that the Devil believes the validity of sacraments as celebrated according to the new books... take from that what you will.

The impression I get in reading about the theology of the sacraments is that they're rather resilient things in themselves; to confect the Eucharist, for example, takes an ordained priest meaning to do so, wheat bread and grape wine, and eleven words in Latin; the rest of the Mass is a temple of liturgical solemnity to keep the sacrament fittingly housed and covered.
----
Yes, there's a bunch of weirdos amongst the traddies. And weirdos need God, too!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- I'm not at all on board with the sedevacantists, for the reasons you mention here. I do believe that all the Popes we've had since Vatican II are indeed the successors of Peter, even if I really kind of would prefer Alexander IV to one of them. (Full disclosure: Okay, I did flirt with the "Siri Thesis" for about twenty-four hours.) But I also agreed, long before I went down this path, with the idea that when, for instance, a religious order abandons its unique charism, even if its for something arguably worthwhile, the Holy Spirit abandons the order. And we've seen a lot of religious orders doing that since V2. I think I could make a good case for the men who have held the office of the papacy doing that as well. Which isn't to say that I think the Holy Spirit has abandoned the Church altogether (because I don't), but that things we have trusted to be sources of grace (from religious orders to the sacraments) may be letting us down without our knowing it. To flip around what I said about Satan and the modern world: not everything that comes from the modern Church is from the Holy Spirit.

The two reasons I don't share my thoughts are: a) I'm still not 100% certain; b) I'm betting (probably foolishly) that God will be merciful to those who are ignorant--so unless they're truly endangering their own souls, I don't see why I should disturb their peace. (And even then, I'd probably go for the sin itself instead of their ignorance.)

I don't even know what "chemtrails" are. Should I look them up?

Bat -- Remember that my question for my friend began, "If the Novus Ordo is celebrated perfectly . . ." If it is not--and I think we have all personally experienced cases when it is not--then there really is a problem. And I'm not even talking about the rest of the Mass; I'm referring to the rite of consecration alone.

There is also the possibility that a bishop or two fooled around with the rite of ordination. If a man says the Ordinary Form consecration perfectly but is not validly ordained, then there is still no sacrament, is there?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I didn't finish because my first break at work was over, but now that I have a few minutes again, I do want to add that the one thing I'm almost 100% about is Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. I think valid baptism is that vitally important.

So why don't I share that? Well, the last time I did, I was chased out of a community, remember? =P But aside from that, I think the essential thing is not to change people's minds but to get people baptized. And I stand with all the legendary nuns in Catholic hospitals who secretly baptized the newborns of non-Catholic couples. (A funny story now. A former friend from that community angrily told me that I was suggesting that salvation was a "sucker's game" in which "winning" depended on being born to "the right parents." But seriously, how does anyone in the world know for certain that he is not baptized? There is at least one existing convert who was told, after he declared his intention to be Catholic, that he had already received baptism in a neighbour's home. So even if you happen to have "the wrong parents" [Just borrowing the other person's words!], as long as others in your community believe in #EENS*, your parents' lack of belief alone likely didn't damn you.)

Finally, if a sham Mass were undoubtedly a sham (e.g., it had a woman playing priest), then you can bet I'd speak out. But if it's about something that is still being hotly debated, I'd shut up. I really don't know.

*I put hashtags on all my acronyms now. #sorrynotsorry =P

Sheila said...

You really think God's that much of a stickler? I always felt that God gave avenues of grace to help us, but didn't consider himself in any way restricted from handing out grace and salvation to those who didn't have the sacraments. I can't imagine him looking at a person who, through no fault of their own, never knew about him and was never baptized, and saying "Dang, I'd like to save you, but my hands are tied"!

Of course then I trip over another stumbling-block -- I want salvation to be *entirely* based on our dispositions and choices, and not at all on baptism, because that doesn't come from within, but from without. And obviously that's not a Catholic opinion.

I've been talking to a certain professional apologist lately (no need to name names, because he googles himself often and would hate for him to follow me home) and I found that when he was pressed on the issue of salvation by atheists, he would say, it's entirely based on works. No one goes to hell unless they're really extremely bad. But in his catechetical works, intended for fellow Catholics, he was very strict about hell and said it was jam-packed. I feel like the lines get moved. But if you don't mind my asking, does it seem fair to you for God to damn someone for something that wasn't their fault? Does it seem like something a loving God would do? Why or why not?

(I can't ask the aforementioned apologist, because he recently banned me. No, I wasn't rude. I don't know what his deal is.)

Oh, and chemtrails is the conspiracy theory that all jet planes are dusting us with chemicals intended to stop global warming, make us dumb and compliant, or something. Since I can easily account for all the facts they use as proof (for instance, white trails behind jet planes are just water vapor) and not a single pilot or engineer has come forward to spill the beans, I think it wins the award of most ridiculous conspiracy theory ever. You can google it if you like. The lady who runs our little Catholic shop here in town has articles about it stuck up in her window, which makes people shake their heads about "those superstitious Catholics" and makes Catholics fume. (Anti-Catholic sentiment is kind of strong around here.)

Belfry Bat said...

Well, my impetus to respond at all was the very loud "run away!" character of your friend's answer; that is, you actually set him an easy question and he seems to have reacted as if it were really hard --- or perhaps he was afraid that it was a leading question. Not that you were leading the questions in a bad way. But, we can say: it takes a very definite defect of will to invalidate a sacrament. There probably is a class of negligence that would do so, and there definitely is a class of malice that will. Neither of these is a new problem, nor specific to the Novus Ordo.

As far as the pragmatic question of living our lives is concerned, we should object (with patience and forebearing) to defects of form and other sacrilege; and we should never mind about defects of will in others, since the only mortal who can know such a defect can also lie about it either way.

And for the rest... the (very remote/small, but nonzero) probability of inattention at the wrong moment is why episcopal consecrations are ordinarily not a solo act --- e.g., there is in the eighth century a letter from the two then-surviving bishops of North Africa asking Rome to send them a third, so they could get on with things.

---

"chemtrails" are what some worried folk think the cloud that forms following a jet airplane is. I've no idea what they think is IN these clouds. (most turbojets burn kerosene, so the exhaust is only C0₂ and water) It is just a little unfortunate that airplanes have been used to spread things like DDT and "agent orange"...

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- Well, obviously the Harrowing of Hell after the Crucifixion means that countless souls who had never been baptised made it to Heaven. So I don't say that God holds a lack of baptism against a soul with good will. But this doesn't give us an excuse: failing to baptise others or creating hindrances to baptism would be held against us. We got an explicit instruction from Jesus Himself, after all.

We also have at least one case of people who didn't believe through no fault of their own being reached through supernatural means: members of a Native American tribe claimed that "a lady in blue" told them to present themselves to the recently arrived Spanish missionaries for baptism. Who knows how many such "missions" took place, for the sake of those for whom the natural course of history would have been too slow a medium for the transmission of the Gospel?

It is also my personal opinion that a lot of people whom common sense would say are not baptised actually are. Hospitals all over the world are crawling with Filipino medical professionals. And I'm sure there were other mercy "networks" before the Filipino diaspora.

In short, I think that God goes to extraordinary and even miraculous lengths to make sure that people don't go to hell just because of the accidents of their births. And this is totally what a loving and just God would do. But now we have the irony that the same idea of a merciful God is being used to argue against EENS--and perhaps many people who might have baptised others, had they believed in the importance of the sacrament, now wouldn't even think of it. If so, this actually makes it harder for God's will to be done.

Bat -- If it makes you feel any better, I asked the resident weirdos at Latin Mass the same question, and they immediately said, "Yes . . . IF the priest saying Mass was validly ordained." And then one of them told me about the time he attended an ordination in which the Bishop did not lay hands on any of the young men, but merely hugged them.

I was born too late to compare and contrast pre-V2 ages with our own, but I wonder whether the oft-repeated assertion that Catholics of our time put up with things that Catholics of the past would have tarred and feathered a priest over is so true as to make invalid sacraments a particular scourge of our time.

Belfry Bat said...

How would that make me feel better??? I was feeling fine before...

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You seemed really concerned that I hadn't received an answer from the international Latin Mass contingent. So I was showing you that I had.

By the way, my first friend kind of gave me a definite answer. After his "DON'T ASK ME THOSE QUESTIONS!" line, I pressed, "Is it because I won't like your answer, because your answer would complicate my life, or a third reason?" And he replied: "Yes, yes, and yes." LOL! I know he doesn't exclusively hear the Latin Mass, but I don't know about his Communion habits. And about that I would never ask!

Belfry Bat said...

I seeee. In many ways, Enbrethiliel, you and I are very different people... to clarify one more thing, it was the here's another example of a dopey bishop... dynamic, just then, that annoyed me. The new story leaves out what was done about it. I can understand the young ordinandi being too in the midst of things to make any noise about it, but... if this traddy person noticed... what did they do... and... come to think of it, I don't know what I'd be brave enough for... you see, you've started a whole new story and left it in a Joycean state!

----

Dear Sheila, just for the heck of it, I'd be interested in how robust this pattern is, of college disturbing faith --- if one enters college a believing nihilist, e.g., is one likely to emerge retaining that position? And how long is its history? Are there testable parallels in the Medieval Universities, such as at Salamanca or Paris?

In any case, we've been a long time saying "a little learning is a dangerous thing".

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You and I are certainly very different people because it didn't at all occur to me to ask what the Traddy person did about it!

In his place, I would have felt totally helpless. What do you do when the bishop himself is in error? Tell him to his face? ("Um, hey, Your Eminence, um, I think you forgot to lay your hands on the ordinandi just there, so maybe the ordination didn't take and you need to do it again?") Tell the young non-priests? ("I'd call you 'Father,' but, um, you're NOT! PSYCH!") Tell a journalist? ("Hey, are you interested in another sort of Catholic scandal?")

Oh, since the original topic is, as Bat reminds us, the disturbing of faith . . . The latest big story at my Latin Mass community is from when they jointly sponsored a Latin Mass at another church that usually doesn't have one. The other sponsors were some little old ladies from that church, who were feeling nostalgic for it. Anyway, one of the little old ladies happened to ask one of my Latin Mass friends why the latter was so passionate about the old Mass, and my friend answered, "I don't go to the Novus Ordo because it destroys people's faith." Well, *someone else* overheard that, told the parish priest of that church, and now my Latin Mass group is no longer welcome! LOL!!! Seriously, there were many people who left the Church after the Mass was changed. And since Sheila has exclusively gone to the Novus Ordo since long before this became an issue, I think it should go on the list! ;-P

Sheila said...

I was just remarking to John this morning, that if I'd been a trad I couldn't have stayed Catholic nearly as long as I did. All the things I object to about the Church are the pre-Vatican-II things -- and I am not consoled by the fact that they changed, because they were a part of the Church once. And it was actually contact with traditionalists that first got me thinking that maybe the Church didn't agree with me as I thought it did, and in fact perhaps it has changed more than it claims to have changed, and thus is less trustworthy than I thought it was.

In short: you can't put my loss of faith down to just one thing. There are many things that had to come together: Regnum Christi, Christendom, having kids and thus getting into natural parenting, living amid a very Catholic community and watching the damage that was done to people's lives not despite but because of following Church teaching, having a friend who deconverted, conversations had on this blog, and googling to find my answers. Which is why I was warning people off ALL those things -- if you want to be safe, you'd better avoid everything I did just in case, right?

Bat, I don't know the figures on conversions in college; it certainly is a time for big shifts in belief. I do know that college-educated people are more likely to be atheists than high school graduates. Perhaps you could find more information out there. All I know is the sort of stuff that Christendom's marketing brochures told my parents .... "College is a place where people lose faith! Come to our college where it's guaranteed that won't happen!"

I bet they're wishing by now that they'd pushed me into something a little cheaper.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

So . . . are you officially gone now? No more even going to Sunday Mass and hoping something happens?

Sheila said...

I still go to church mostly, because we are a family and we go together. I don't have much hope or expectation that anything's going to happen, though. I don't know how to answer the question "are you Catholic?" I don't bring it up with people. I haven't said a word on Facebook. But it would be sort of ridiculous to characterize the list of things I believe and don't believe as "Catholic."

In answer to your question .... I am not sure to how to answer your question.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I was just wondering if there was already a definite answer.

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