Friday, June 8, 2012

For Those Who Deride Christian Morals: Initial Response

An introduction:
Okay, so maybe I got a little out of hand with the length. In that sense I may consider streamlining and simplifying what I've done here.

That being said the overall purpose of this piece is to provide a response to those who ridicule, critique, or speak out against Christian morality and in turn posit a secularist/atheist/humanist morality as superior, more rational, or whatnot.

The problem I've seen is that most secularists (etc.) do not really understand morality (the science) and many Christians do not understand morals (the nature).

I seek, perhaps foolishly, to address both problems. As I mention above the scope is rather large and far-reaching. I revised and expanding on my central claims so much I had to split it up. The whole thing was intended to be 3-single spaced pages. The first theme ended up being that length.

Here I do not seek to call atheists (etc.) immoral or stupid, but I will challenge that the morality they propose is incomplete. The problem is that "faith" has becomes a quick word to mean gullibility, stupidity, or naivety by a number of people--I can't say that Christians have always acted or spoken valiantly to the contrary. Nevertheless, I am never one who intends or wishes to present a weak opposition to support what I believe--just the opposite.

This may be a bit tough and my worry is that it won't seem organized enough. I tried my best to keep focus on some important points but I fear some deficiencies will arise. That is why I feel this piece may require some revisions despite heavy revisions already applied.

I just ask that you try and follow me, asking questions along the way. ~M


There are those who might deride Christian morals in that Christians "follow God" or "follow the Church." They, in turn, might also say of themselves that "we're good on our own." Below I would like to address this contention in both a positive and critical way. I fear that the scope of this piece will be broad, so I will break it into smaller segments. Even then, I will touch on matters such as faith, community, Tradition, the Church, and morality, among other subjects. I will attempt to weave in and out of topics with care. My hope is that my reader will catch me when I falter and hold me accountable to providing a cohesive account.

What I will do is begin by introducing the context by which I see faith and morality. I will also do this in regards to the Catholic Church, meaning that I will give a (very) brief explanation for the importance authority and Tradition. This will all be done to confront and explain some of the notions that often serve as ground for critiques. These themes, however, will only be touched on in this first part but expanded after I introduce some critiques by secularists, humanists, and atheists in the second part. Therein I will address some of their arguments and, hopefully, show their deficiencies. At the same time, however, I want to clear up some confusion about the relationship of faith and morals that fuels some of these critiques—both Atheists to Christians and the other way around. I will then return to morality that is informed by faith and what that means. Finally, I will comment on what the "force" of morality is and where it comes from. There is little better way to begin than jumping right in.

When one says that Christians do things out of duty or obligation he is only half correct. But this is not a legalistic duty but a duty that comes about by a real relationship. If you love someone you give your all to that person or, at the very least, you learn to over time. Catholics are a covenant people, meaning that we enter into a relationship with our Creator such that "we shall be His people, and He will be our God" (cf. Ex 6:7a, Jer 30:22,  Lev 26:12). The language used is not one of servant and master, though we rightly call Christ master and teacher. Rather, the language Christ uses is very clear: he taught us to pray "our Father;" he no longer calls us servants but friends. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. The language concerning God and his people and Christ and his Church is used for a specific purpose and for a very important reason—one which I shall elaborate on later.

Now, amid the complexities of life and morals we trust the Church as she preserves for us the wisdom of many ages whether they are  temptations, failures, trials, or triumphs. We also train men (as priests) and men and women (as chaste religious) to guide us. These men and women are specially trained to know God, to know how to pray, to understand the human soul and, in humility, to serve others so they might know God. Just as good parents teach their children how to be good parents themselves, so too do we look up to the Church and holy and learned men and women to teach us how to love God better (and to love ourselves and others better as well). As such, we assent to their authority on account of their worthy actions and learning.

Yet, what son or daughter respects an abusive parent? So too, what man seeking God follows a man who cannot lead him? On the other hand, how many sons and daughters neglect the teaching of good parents? How many more faithful men and women, in closing their ears and hearts, neglect the wisdom and urging of holy men and women? This is why we need to form good relationships with one another.

Not only that, God, the Church, and all these men and women (clergy, religious, and lay), want to establish a relationship with each of us based on trust and love. Any relationship, though, involves a change and a transition. Because of this is has its own unique set of growing pains and how we deal with those pains can make the relationship a difficult and rocky one at times. We all know how difficult relationships can be with one another.

We Catholics must keep in mind specifically that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ—our relationship is not only as bride to bridegroom. But we are also related to each other, not only as brother and sister but as veins to the heart, arms to their sockets, and lungs to the mouth. We, as members of one body, members of the faithful, cannot survive without one another.

Faith plays an important role—it draws together many to God as well as to each other. Faith is more than trust in a proven idea or theorem. It is a dynamic trust in a person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says "Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person" (sec. 150).

I do not deny those who claim that there is a personal element to faith, but I deny that faith is and remains a personal element. Faith moves one to act just as faith itself is an action in response to something, namely God acting in our lives. This is true because "it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed are contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason" (CCC 154). One must hear the Word before he trusts the Word in its fullness. Faith is personal insofar as how we've come to know and believe but it is communal insofar as what is believed and whom we believe in.

So, to summarize, faith is a matter of community and relationships just as morality is. Is faith just a type of morality or something super-added to morality? I propose that faith is not a type of morality or something grafted onto morality, but I will claim that morality that is informed by faith is more complete, whole, and true. I am, however, perhaps getting ahead of myself. Let us consider some things before we turn to secularism, humanism, and atheism and their claims/critiques.

Here are some important primary considerations of faith and morality which will guide us beyond this point.

First of all, faith is an experience and a response. Just as Christ descended in the Incarnation he also rose at the Resurrection and Ascension. God comes to us and he raises us up. But, how was that rising possible? By following the will of the Father and responding to his grace. Remember that faith is a free assent to the truth. It is also a relationship between two persons, an adherence to God. In this manner faith is, as I have said, dynamic in a way that a relationship between two friends or spouses is dynamic—it is never always clearly defined but it is all the same a bond that is always present.

Secondly, we must talk about morality in greater depth. The word itself derives its meaning from the Latin word "mores" meaning custom or ways. The Greek similarly has "ethos" (custom, practice) [ethics] and "nomos" (custom, law) that came to describe personal character and make-up.

Thus, when we speak of morality we are talking about the character of the individual. Now, there are many schools about how a character, but what I propose is both the classical and normative consideration. One derives his character from three sources:

The first is order, that is to say learning precision and clarity in ones actions and decisions. When we are left to our own devices we might learn, but not without consequences. When we are taught right from wrong (properly) we do what is good and avoid what is bad or evil.

The second is habit, which is to say an action practiced such that it becomes a part of us.

The third is rules, principles, tradition, and customs. Conveniently these words are contained in one Greek word, "nomos." This is to say that a character is formed by principles and ideologies for action—and this is important—precisely because an individual's character is not limited to himself (as an island unto himself) but rather as a character who lives among other persons. It might be said that principles, traditions, and customs are the "voice of generations" who assert that this is the 'right way to live.' Now, this does not mean it is immune to a critical mind and eye, but we should respect the force of tradition—even if only for a little while.

Whether it is faith or morals, I argue that both of them deal with the individual but always in a lens that has the greater whole, or others, in mind. One does not have faith merely for salvation but to be "as Christ to others" and that means sacrifice, service, speaking the truth, and love. This too I will elaborate on later. For now we will shift our focus to critiques to these claims above as well as other critiques.

[to be continued in part 2/3]