Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Bottom Line On Salvation

I saw a video on Facebook of Larry King grilling semi-televangelist/semi-New Age Guru Joel Osteen about the question of salvation. A lady caller, apparently a Christian, asks Osteen to be clear on whether he believes Jesus is the only Savior and it’s necessary to believe in Jesus to be saved, essentially pressing him to answer whether he’s really a Christian. King hounds Osteen on the question, from the other angle, of the infamous, “So are you saying Jews are going to HELL???” Osteen, thrown off his guard, stammers out a pathetic answer about yes, that’s what he believes, but he also believes God judges each soul individually??? The video is presented as “Osteen Denies Jesus is the only Savior,” but he doesn’t really deny it. He just fails to articulate any competent theology. Further, for a guy who built his name on his “discovery” that there’s no such place as Hell, Osteen even refers to Hell. For a guy whose whole message is a twisted form of universalism, that “It’s OK to live as you like, because if you don’t go to Heaven, you just cease to exist! Yay!”–you’d think he’d have a ready answer for those questions.

All it showed me about Osteen is that he’s a shyster and an idiot and has no theological competence, but it raises some questions about that underlying notion.

It actually ties into something else I was reflecting on. I watched _Star Trek V_ the other night, and was reading up on it in the “Memory Alpha” and “Memory Beta” wikia pages. Now, Star Trek has never been friendly to Christianity, except in a more allegorical way, but I have always appreciated stories like _The Final Frontier_ that at least show the characters open to God’s existence. In the late 1990’s, Pocket Books published a series of novels–Q-Space,Q-Zone, and Q-Strike, which tried to explain some of the mysteries of “Q” in Star Trek the Next Generation as well as, as “Trek” fiction often does, provide explanations for other Trek phenomena. The back story is that, millions of years ago, “Q” was part of a band of higher-plane beings who terrorized the galaxy for millennia until the Q Continuum finally punished them and put various restrictions on Q’s companions (Q himself was exonerated for helping the Continuum fight his former friends, and his punishment was to undo the damage he did by training growing civilizations, including humanity). One of those companions was the entity from _Star Trek V_, and at one point one of the characters says, “He’s the guy who invented monotheism.” I’m glad I never read the books.

It’s an intriguing notion, for pretty much anyone with a non-Abrahamic worldview (and even some who claim a Judeo-Christian worldview), that monotheism was a deception by a power hungry “higher power” who wanted to shut everyone else out.

Monotheism, as Larry King attests and Joel Osteen shies from, is a challenge. When Pharoah Akhenaten tried to introduce monotheism to Egypt, he was solidly opposed, and the reforms he enforced were disposed of soon after his death. The Jews were a thorn in the Romans’ backsides because they were monotheists. The Romans didn’t care what you believed as long as a) you acknowledged the divinity of the emperor and b) you tolerated everyone else. Judaism held that there was one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose Name is the great Tetragrammaton, and that one should have no other gods besides Him. And while Jews did not seek to convert Gentiles to their faith, they still looked down on the Gentiles. Christians took it a step further and said that a guy the Romans crucified was the son of God–the very title of the Emperor!–and that He should be worshipped, *and* the Christians called for the Gentiles to adopt their faith and turn away from other gods, including the emperor. This was a major problem for the Romans, just as it is for today’s “multiculturalists.”

Judaism doesn’t officially even address the question of “salvation”, as the Sadduccees would gladly point out. For Sadduccees, the notion of Heaven and Hell was as troublesome as the notion of Purgatory is for Protestant Christians, for the same reason: they didn’t see where it was in the Bible. Of course, Jesus showed Sadduccees how the Resurrection is implied in the Torah, and Catholics are constantly trying to show Protestants where Purgatory is implied in the Bible. But the point is that the Hebrew Scriptures do not even directly teach about resurrection, so if Osteen stood by his teachings, and King stood by his own religion, they ought to be able to shake hands in agreement, that Larry King, if he remains Jewish, will not go to Heaven, and he will not go to Hell: according to Osteen, and the literal reading of the Old Testament, he will simply cease to exist.

The Abrahamic tradition is radical in claiming there’s only one God, but the Old Testament primarily deals with the worldly consequences of failing to properly worship that one True God. Christianity is radical in introducing the notion that there is One Savior, that no one can come to the Father except through Him, and that, yes, people will go to Hell simply for not believing in Jesus.

This is because the underlying thought of people like Larry King and Joel Osteen is that, whatever they may say, their minds are deeply secular, and they still see religion as ultimately a more sophisticated form of “Santa Claus” and the “Tooth Fairy.” People call me a nut for saying it, but this is the teaching of Freemasonry, as I say time and again. It’s one of the main points in the original Papal documents condemning Lodges from the 1700’s: the notion that all religions are equal and exist primarily to make people good citizens. This notion has so deeply infested our society that even sincere people of faith think it.

I’ve also written many times of how Our Lady of La Salette predicted these New Age “Near Death Experiences”. She said, back in 1846, that in the late 20th Century, people would claim to be back from the dead, bringing stories of the afterlife that contradict the Faith, and not to believe them because they would be possessed. So, today, people “come back” with stories of seeing “beings of light,” or “Illuminati” or “Enlightened Ones” or whatever (clear-cut Freemasonry), or people who say they saw family members, or people who say “If you’re a Christian, you see Jesus. If you’re a Muslim, you see Mohammed.” Now, there *are* true Near Death Experiences: Saint Augustine had one. Lots of people have authentic visions of nearly dying and encountering Christ and nearly going to Hell or possibly tasting Heaven, but these modern stories exist to muddle the truth.

Another common falsehood is this image of people dying and being judged by St. Peter, a popular misinterpretation of Matthew 16:19. If anything, the words of the ancient Roman liturgy say that the dead are guided to judgement by St. Michael, the Standard-Bearer, but they are still judged by Jesus, and Jesus alone. God does not sit off in an office somewhere. His eye is in the sparrow. He counts the hairs on your head. He’s going to be there when you die and not a mysterious distant person in a metaphorical office. And He’s going to be there in the person of Jesus Christ.

The plain fact is: Jesus is real.

That is the answer Joel Osteen should have given. There is One God, and One Savior, Jesus Christ, and He is a real being, a Person, whom you will encounter directly when you die, and how you react to Him when you meet Him will determine your eternal destiny. St. Faustina said Jesus told her that, in the split seconds before people die, He calls out to them three times. The Catholic Church allows a priest to administer extreme unction or even baptism for a certain period of time (I’ve heard 30 minutes) after death since we do not know when the soul leaves the body. St. Teresa of Avila says that each person, when he or she dies, will see Jesus and react instantly in either fear or love, and that is what Judgment will be.

So, that’s all there is to it, Joel and Larry. When you die, you face Jesus. It’s entirely possible that at this moment, there are some Muslims, atheists, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Pagans making their last breaths, and they’re seeing Jesus face to Face and saying, like C. S. Lewis’s Emeth and Orual, “Really? It was You, all along? I was so wrong. I’m sorry, Jesus. I love You.” And it’s absolutely certain there are lots of Christians at this instant facing the Man they claimed to love and worship, and like Victor Hugo’s Javert, reacting at disgust that the Person they thought they were serving was not at all like what they expected, and choosing to go to Hell rather than spend Eternity with a God who disgusts them.

That’s the answer to Larry King’s question. It’s all about a Person, the Person of Jesus, and, yes, it does matter in this life, because even though there are lots of Christians in Hell and, while there may be plenty of people in Heaven who only became Christians in the seconds before death, the better we get to know Jesus *now*, the better we will react to Him when we meet Him

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We Owe an Apology to Richard Nixon

Watched James Taylor’s _One Man Band_ concert the other night. It was pretty entertaining up until he started talking about Richard Nixon, at which point I hit the FF. For 40 years, Democrats have been defining themselves by hatred of Nixon, and it was because of Nixon that the media broke their longstanding tradition of complete deference to the president. For 40 years, Watergate has defined American politics.
And what was Watergate? A scandal about a cover-up of a break-in that was intended to cover up the fact that Nixon had an “enemies’ list” and was using the CIA to spy on US citizens. Nixon got blamed for the genocide that happened because he got us out of Vietnam, *and* he gets blamed for Vietnam itself, which John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson got us into (consider how one of the proofs John Kerry has lied about his Vietnam record is that he’s attributed to Nixon decisions that were LBJ’s).
The media, and whichever party has not had the presidency at the time, has tried to make various scandals into the “next Watergate.” So there was “Irangate,” or “Iran Contra,” a scandal involving the Reagan Administration supposedly trading arms to terrorists for the release of hostages. Then there were the very scandals of the Clinton Administration, which involved an awful lot of mysterious deaths surrounding corrupt business deals, though most national attention was given to Clinton’s sexual escapades to distract from the real scandals.
Then there’s George W. Bush. Demonocrats supposedly hate Bush for getting us involved in the Vietnam-esque conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and, admittedly the Neocon Dubya is the first Republican to get us invovled in such a quagmire, where the military actions authorized by his father and Ronald Reagan were efficient and ended when the “mission was accomplished”).
Bush gets blamed, rightly, for spying on US citizens, expanding the powers of the president, getting us into two wars, and giving massive bail outs to huge corporations (bail outs that Congressional Democrats pushed for).
So, now we have Barack Obama.
Obama’s done everything that Bush, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton did (except maybe the sexual stuff), and worse.
We have more wars, entered into with no justification.
We have unmanned drone strikes.
We have “Fast and Furious,” a scandal about outright giving guns to drug lords and terrorists, guns that were in turn used to kill US agents, without the benefit of trading them for hostages.
We have Obama’s cover-up of the administration’s inaction regarding the Benghazi embassy attacks.
We know that Obama not only has an “Enemies List” but has established various online initiatives asking his loyal followers to turn in their neighbors who oppose the president’s policies.
We have an administration that now says it’s OK for the government to unilaterily assassinate not only foreign nationals but US citizens if it deems them threats, with “Attorney General” Eric Holder saying that their determination someone is a threat is sufficient for “due process.” We have Congress almost unanimously approving a law allowing indefinite detention of US citizens. And Nixon was in trouble just for spying on US citizens.
Oh, and Bush’s Patriot Act makes law what Nixon did.

Yet for Obama, the media have amazingly returned to the old tradition that had them covering up the flaws–whether cosmetic (FDR’s wheelchair) or genuine (JFK’s adultery and drug addiction) of former presidents. Will anyone in the mainstream media finally pick up on Benghazi? Will a contemporary Woodward and Bernstein have the courage to bring down this wannabe tyrant? Will the scandals of Obama cast the shadow on the Democratic Party that Nixon’s scandals have cast on the GOP?

Ruth Graham famously said that if God doesn’t do something to certain US cities, He owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah. Well, if Barack Obama is not impeached, the American people owe an apology to Richard Nixon.

November is a Good Month To Die

Still reeling from the news I learned this morning that yesterday, the infamous anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, my “therapy buddy,” Sofie Ross, passed away after several years in a nursing home. 16 1/2 years ago, we had the same surgery within a month of each other.

Sofie was a dynamic little old lady who would go to Mass every morning, and then walk several miles. She was a regular visitor in our home during the afternoons.

While my parents often experienced the frustration of loneliness and helplessness dealing with my Marfan syndrome and my mom’s health issues–a loneliness and helplessness my wife and I feel in spades between my ever-declining health, our eldest’s battles with Marfan syndrome, and now 3 children diagnosed as severely autistic, as well as my wife’s own struggles with metabolic problems and a possible connective tissue disorder–Sofie had become a bright spot even before our surgeries, often stopping by late in the morning or early in the afternoon to share a cup of coffee with my mom and chit chat.

Then, in May 1996, shortly after we had been told that I had to have my aortic root replaced, Sofie passed out one evening while watching the news, blood coming out of her mouth. At the hospital, they said her aortic valve, damaged by scarlet fever in her childhood, had ceased working. They put in a St. Jude valve. I’m pretty sure it was a month to the day before mine.

My surgery was on June 10, 1996. Ironically, the weekend before the surgery, we watched one of those pseudo-documentaries on end times theories that mashed up various Y2K theories, fundamentalist theories, real or alleged Marian apparitions and Mayan calendar. The show speculated that, since Mayan mythology said the previous era of human civilization had been destroyed by an uprising of animals, the prophecy might be fulfilled by an uprising of technology, and it showed a hokey dramatization of people being attacked by small appliances.

At the time, I thought how irrelevant that was to me, since I probably wouldn’t live to see December 2012. Well, the jury’s technically still out on that, but it’s funny how God works. Mary always says how she thinks we live in a novel, and I say, “Of course we do. We live in God’s novel.”

Both of us opted out of doing formal physical therapy, and instead we would take walks together. She’d call up and say, “ready to walk?” and Mom and I would meet her at the mall.

And when it got tough, we would talk each other through it. Sofie, the old lady who’d always thought of herself as the picture of health and now had to cope with having a health problem; I, the sickly Marfan kid who’d grown up with this aneurysm looming over my life and now had some semblance of hope that I could be “healthy.”

After those first few years, and a miraculous healing that I’ve recounted before on this blog, I of course met Mary, got married and enjoyed about 5 years of relative health.

In 2003 or 2004, I started suffering the severe migraines and various neurological problems that were eventually identified as stemming from an enlarged venuous structure in my left motor cortex, as well as a tortuosity in my carotid artery and possibly a brain aneurysm, though as with many such issues it took years of being told it was just stress, hypochondria, etc.

Then I developed my descending aortic aneurysm in late 2006/early 2007. After 5 years in Virginia, my wife and I moved back to South Carolina and found out that Sofie had suffered a massive stroke the year before, which left her unable to remember the past several decades and thinking that she was in her 40s.

I went to visit her in the nursing home once. She recognized that she knew me, but she didn’t know why. She said, “I was really good friends with your mom, wasn’t I?” I said that was right. “How did I know your mom? Did she work with me? That’s right. I think your mom was my boss.”

It was really tough. I visited her husband several times at their house, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back to the nursing home because of fear.

I’ve never had much, and my brain has always been my compensation for the torture my body puts me through. What I’ve lost the past 8 years from these aneurysmal areas in my brain has been frustrating enough. It’s often difficult to retrieve basic information like my name. In some respects, I’m as sharp as ever, but since the problem is with my motor cortex, I struggle to express the kind of information that should be “rapid response” like, “How old are you” or “Please sign your name here”. I have to stop and think about those questions just as much as about questions of philosophy or theology or literary criticism.

When I visited Sofie that one time in early 2007, I already knew that the neurological problems I was having probably indicated brain aneurysm, and I knew that brain aneurysms are almost impossible to detect by most scanning techniques, so I didn’t expect the doctors to find anything–and when they did finally find it, and get me to the right neurologists to talk to, all they could do was offer me the peace of mind that this was all real. But by that time my descending aorta had dissected. I was already on tons of blood pressure medication, so there wasn’t much else they could do, and of course the two areas as I well know, and they’re afraid to say directly, contraindicate surgery to each other. Why go through surgery on my aorta and have the brain aneurysm burst afterwards, or vice versa?

So I’ve been enduring this limbo and trying to live my life as best I can. The other day, I went grocery shopping and couldn’t make it through the store without chest pain. Then yesterday, I couldn’t even open the car door without feeling like I was lifting a heavy box. And, as always, there is so much to be done and I have so little, and one woman cannot handle the many things that my dear wife has to shoulder.

And for the past 5 years, I’ve constantly thought of Sofie in that nursing home, living in a mental limbo that paralleled my physical one. I have lived in fear of suffering a stroke and losing my brain, and I have envied the kind of bliss that such a state might ironically provide.

And as we always felt a bond over our surgeries, and as there have been so many parallels in our journeys since then, I felt there was a link in our sufferings, that as much as Sofie represented a fate I feared more than anything, perhaps she was living that fate for me.

Emotions are strange things. In the past 6 months, three dear ladies from three stages of my life have passed away, the first the newest friend, a lady the same age as my mother, whom I had hoped to have the chance to know for years to be the influence in my childhood that some of my parents’ older friends had been for me. She had spent a whole day with our kids less than two weeks before her death, fulfilling an offer she’d made months before to watch them for a day so we could get a break. Then the lady who introduced my parents to each other, whom I hadn’t seen in over 20 years, who had retired to Florida, passed away the same weekend we learned of our Make a Wish being granted.

Now, Sofie’s gone to her reward, and as I feel my health slipping away daily, I’m not so much afraid of death–though admittedly that comes and goes, and usually comes in the form of fearing that God will say I haven’t done enough–I fear becoming more and more of an invalid, and becoming more of a burden.

As it is, I’m an awkward obligation to my family: a pathetic shell of a man, a reminder of all the potential my mind gave me that my body constantly took away, with too many personal debts ever to repay, and a messy house, and that is my epitaph.

When it comes to the old Native American saying about walking a mile in someone’s mocassins, Sofie Ross was one of the people who truly walked many miles in my shoes–we walked them together–and I will miss her greatly till I see her again.

“What is Truth?”

Someone just accused me of believing I’m right just because I’m Catholic, and, well, yes, he’s right.

Peter Kreeft, in a lecture we listened to on EWTN this past weekend, says that moral relativism is more than an intellectual error: it is a literally damnable lie from Satan. It is Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

The person in question is a so-called “Emergent Christian,” who professed to be a libertarian-socialist-Christian, and in response to my challenge that those three terms are mutually contradictory, merely insisted that they aren’t because he says so, and that I’m wrong to try and force “my” definitions on other people. Ironically, this all sprung from a discussion of whether Barack Obama is a “Marxist.” I merely asserted my position as it has been for the past 4 years: that Obama is philosophically a Marxist; whether he’s a Socialist, or a Leninist Communist is another matter. So it would seem that this person would want to agree with my insistence that a political philosophy is defined by its underlying principles and not by its policies. For example, many on both the Left and the Right try to say, with varying approval or disapproval, that Leo XIII, John XXIII, John Paul II or some other pope is actually a socialist because the Popes are pro-labor and pro-helping the poor.

My contention is that it is their *reasons* for wanting to help the poor that matter.

Anyway, as the conversation inevitably got down to the fact that all the thinkers who most influence me are Catholics, and therefore I’m a Catholic, the person accused me of thinking my “denomination” is better than everyone else’s.

Why would one be a member of a “denomination” UNLESS one believes it to be TRUE? Why would one be a member of a “denomination” UNLESS one believes it to be “better than everyone else’s”?
My mind boggles at the prospect. The very reason why relativism has come to such prominence in the modern West is that Protestantism is an inherently relativistic religious view. As soon as each individual is able to be his own Pope, able to declare that his interpretation of the Bible is directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and represents the Truth, Truth becomes something dependent upon the individual, and therefore subjective.

In that same lecture, Kreeft suggested a little Socratic exercise he’s done with his students. He’s polled them on why a proposition is worthy of belief. Most of the time, the majority answer that a proposition is worthy of belief because it makes one feel good to believe it (this is, of course, the argument of atheists who hold that all religion is “wish fulfillment”). The second most popular answer was that the proposition *is* good. Very few ever answered that a proposition is worthy of belief because it *is* true.

“Do you believe in Santa Claus?” Kreeft would then ask.
“No,” said his students.
“Well, Santa Claus makes you feel good, doesn’t he?”
“Yes.”
“And Santa Claus is good, isn’t he?”
“Yes.”
“So why don’t you believe in Santa Claus.”
“Because it’s not true.”
“Let’s expand that out a bit . . . .”

People in our society have been trained to believe that truth is unknowable, and, while it is often claimed that “young people” are somehow more prone to this intellectual disorder than older people, I usually find myself arguing most vehemently about these issues, not with people my own age or younger, but with people older than I am (the fellow in question claims to have “found the Lord” in 1984, though I avoided the temptation to suggest he was arrogant to suppose he’d “found the Lord”, and therefore had to be at least a few years older than I am). That’s not to say I haven’t found it in people my own age, as well.

Back in high school and college, I often heard my classmates assert that anyone who professed to know — or even seek after — Truth, anyone who even presumed there is such a thing as objective Truth, is “arrogant.” Funny, that. I always thought that submission of one’s own will to a higher truth is the epitome of humility. Indeed, Aquinas says it’s the definition of humility (but who is *he* to define humility?)

Yet this person I was arguing with this evening insisted my definitions were not those of everyone else, and I was living in a fun house, and when I tried to cite the various thinkers from whom I learned my definitions, he said my citations were meaningless to him, and he compared it to getting one’s ideas from Kim Kardashian.

Raised in Agnostic household, Dietrich von Hildebrand converted to Catholicism while he was still a student, nearly a century ago. He told the priest, “I accept everything the Catholic Church teaches, except its ban on contraception. I believe that’s totally irrational.”

“Well, then you can’t become a Catholic,” said the priest. “The Catholic faith is all or nothing.” Well all know how this would have turned out *today*. Thankfully for the Church, DvH did not have the attitude of a postmodernist or an “Emergent Christian.” Instead, he said, “I say with St. Augustine, ‘I believe that I may understand.'”

Of course, DvH went on to become one of the greatest exponents of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and one of the biggest influences on Bl John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

When German theologian Fr. Karl Adam presented his classic _Spirit of Catholicism_ to the Holy Office (now Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith), they nearly forbade its publication, noting a few areas that they found questionable or heretical. He humbly accepted the Holy Office’s corrections and resubmitted it. The book received full approval. Was it arrogant of Adam to submit his personal opinions to a higher Truth?

No. Arrogance is the insistence that one does not have to listen to the Church.

My exchange with this individual tonight was not uncommon. Because I am convicted of my Catholic faith, and because I am confident in my own understanding of what the Church teaches, people often accuse me of arrogance or of refusing to entertain other ideas. That’s not true: I quite often consider other ideas, and if I find my own views are not in line with what the Church actually teaches on some subject, I change my views. If I find that, in an area where the Church has no specific teaching, someone makes a better argument than the one I’ve been making, I either adjust my argument or change my views accordingly.

Over the years, I’ve changed my views on many subjects, as I’ve learned and grown, but I also hold fast to G. K. Chesterton’s saying that “The object of an open mind very much like that of an open mouth: is to shut it on something solid.”

What is the point of believing something unless one believes it to be true?
What is the point of believing something to be true unless one has confidence in one’s own ability to perceive truth?

Kreeft, again, says that moral relativism, which echoes Pontius Pilate’s rhetorical question about Truth, is close to the unforgivable sin, and that makes sense, since one aspect of the sin against the Holy Spirit is the sin against Truth. Despair, the Sin against the Holy Spirit, is the refusal to believe in God’s power to save (which is why Jesus brings it up immediately after the Pharisees question His ability to forgive sins). God cannot save if God is not True.

Our Lord says that it violates the Fifth Commandment to call another person “Fool” or “Raqa” (the Aramaic word “Raqa” means “a person completely incapable of learning,” and is equivalent to the contemporary English “Retard”). There’s a reason for that. Every person’s faith in Christ ought to be based upon that person’s conviction of the Truth of Christ. To challenge another person’s capacity to think or learn is to challenge that person’s ability to perceive Truth, and therefore challenge that person’s ability to know Christ.