Thursday, February 28, 2013

Atheist Meme #2: On the many Gods of Man

I received this meme from an Atheist over my twitter feed:

The picture lists about 230 names of deities from different cultures and time periods, followed by a quote by Stephan F. Roberts. Now if you are like me the first thing you will ask yourself is :Who is Stephan F. Roberts? I recognize names such like Russel, Nietzsche, Frey or Dawkins but  Roberts? Is this a new Atheist philosopher I do not know? Of course a quick Google search produces this link. As it turns out this is just a guy who thought about this "witty" phrase, and time has enshrined it in the pantheon of Atheism "arguments" against theists. This only shows you the depth of contemporary Atheism's thought.

The meme itself is trying to make an argument I have heard many times. It goes like this: Throughout history there have been many deities. In fact almost each culture has developed their own idea of an omnipotent being. How are you certain that your God IS the right God? What about the others you dismiss?

I could go into a long explanation but I will let solid Catholic doctrine do the talking. Here is what  the Catechism of the Catholic Church, has to say about this:


27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.

28 In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being.
40 Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking.

41 All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man, created in the image and likeness of God. The manifold perfections of creatures—their truth, their goodness, their beauty—all reflect the infinite perfection of God. Consequently we can name God by taking his creatures’ perfections as our starting point, “for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.”

Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed.) (13–14). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

So as you see it is quite simple, the multiplicity of Gods in many cultures is the result of man's desire to know God. Responding to this desire many cultures have given an expression to their own, sometimes warped, always incomplete idea of a supreme being. So in a sense all "Gods" are a "shadow" of the one true God.

Of course now the question of how to know the One True God from this list becomes simple. You look at which one in this list revealed Himself into human history. A quick historical review yields of course Jesus the Christ, who "Became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14).

One last comment about this meme. Looking at the list itself you will find some amusing points. For example, the list includes Yahweh, Jesus and El. Whomever composed this list didn't know that El is just the ancient name of Yahweh, . (This is why the names of archangels end with El such as in Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Micha-el and of course the name of the Jewish people Isra-el). Also some significant contemporary deities are missing like Ya, and Haile Selassie, the Rastafarian deity.

I hope this helps :-)

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Helping Atheists Understand the Bible: An ntroduction.

My atheist Twitter friend, (Lets call him TA) liked the answer I gave to one of his previous tweets (Luke 12:47-48: Was Jesus in Favor of Slavery? )so much  that he gave me another "problematic" passage. Here is his tweet:
Here is the passage in which he finds reason to think that Jesus advocated the killing of children:

Matthew 15:1-20

That Which Defiles

 1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

It is obvious TA heeded the advice from my previous post: "when quoting the Bible: a text without a context is a pretext". As you can see this time he gave a whole chapter as "context"! However, I feel that perhaps he over reached a bit. Looking to his passage, it is clear (to me) the only relevant parts are the ones I underlined in the text, so I will limit my comments to these. I was going to include my response in this post but it was getting to long so I will address my answer in a future post.

However before delving into this text, I feel some preliminary statements about the reading the Bible (Or any ancient work for that matter) are in order. Many atheists (and many Christians too!) make two fundamental mistakes when reading the Bible. First, they approach it as if the Bible was composed in the same manner as any other modern work of literature. Why shouldn't they follow this approach? Simply put, the Bible is not a book. The Bible is a collection of documents, composed by many peoples at different times and influenced by many different societies and cultures. The history of the Bible spans from about 1600 B.C to 120 A.D. During this time many were the hands, minds and voices who contributed to this work, with their own styles and levels of inspiration. When reading this work, consideration must be given to all these people, times, and cultures, especially when trying to find the universal principles this work presents.

The second mistake some people make when reading the Bible is what in hermeneutics is known as  "Presentism" or "the uncritical tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts".  We saw an example of this when TA claimed Jesus advocated slavery because he used the first century, Judaic concept of slavery as examples in his preaching. In TA's presentist mind Jesus' cavalier attitude towards slavery  meant  tacit assent to this institution. TA ignores the fact that 2000 years ago slavery was part of the social and cultural fabric of the time, and that Jesus is just using what his audience knew about this institution to convey an idea. Absent in TA's interpretation of the text is the consideration that this institution was vastly different to what we understand as slavery, like the fact that people could sell themselves into slavery to pay debts, or to have a master to take care of them. It is needless to say that biblical scholars and serious scripture students are always avoiding, presentism. A quick advice to my atheist readers: If the experts don't interpret this way, perhaps it is best for you not to do it either.

So the question is then: How should we read the Bible? For the serious student, it is of the utmost importance to realize that the Bible can not be read like a regular book.When teaching about Holy Scripture this is the very first principle I give my students. In the Bible you encounter all sorts of literary styles; some of which are not in use anymore. Among these you encounter: historical works, song collections, poetry, law codes, genealogies, liturgical texts, apocalyptic literature, and many others. If you do not know how to read these, or the differences among them, perhaps you might be better reading a book ABOUT the Bible, before you actually read the Bible.  To me the best approach to follow when reading Scripture is this: read it as you read the newspaper.

When one reads the newspaper, one never reads the editorial in the same way the sports section is read; or the cartoons, the gardening section, or the obituaries. And most people do not start with page 1A and end on page 20E. People tend to read the sections that interest them the most first, and then finish the less important sections later or even completely ignore some. Like the Bible, each newspaper section has their own style which, if not respected, could lead to a lot of errors and mis-interpretations. Imagine what would happen if people were to read the Obituaries in the same way they read the Cartoons section!. This is why when atheists make outrageous claims about the Bible, some Christians with scriptural knowledge find these statements embarrassingly laughable. Quick advice to my atheist readers: When reading the Bible, or any ancient work for that matter, one must respect the "voice" of the document, while seeking the universal truths this voice is trying to convey.

I would like to make one last point. Just because the documents collected in the Bible are the product of different ancient cultures. This is not to say that the inspired ideas these people received do not apply to us, on the contrary it is very easy to show that these principles are in fact universal and that they are as much relevant to us as they were to them.

By now you might be thinking: What does all this biblical interpretation stuff have to do with the original post? Well, these preliminary considerations will be of great help when I answer TA's tweet, which I will do in a future post.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Sunday, February 24, 2013

2nd Week of Lent

Here is the homily I preached  this weekend. For the sake of full disclosure, parts of Benedict XVI story are as reported by the Baltimore Sun in April 26, 2005

Gospel Lk 9:28b-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen. 

The week after Pope Benedict was elected to the Chair of Peter, he had his very first audience with a group of German pilgrims, to whom he told this story. During the conclave, as the trend in the ballots slowly made him realize that, to use his own words “the guillotine was going to fall on him”; he started to feel quite dizzy. In his mind he was convinced that his life's work was done and that now he could live out his last days in peace.
          He recalled that in prayer he had told the Lord “Don't do this to me. You have younger and better candidates who could take up this great task with a totally different energy and with different strength.”
         As the secret deliberations continued, a fellow cardinal wrote him a note, reminding him of the sermon he had delivered during the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II.
        The note said “If the Lord should now tell you, "Follow me," then remember what you preached. Do not refuse. Be obedient.”  Benedict recalled that this note touched his heart and made him realize that, and here he gave us one of his most memorable quotes. “The ways of the Lord are not comfortable, but we were not created for comfort, but for greatness” And so, he decided to accept the Papacy if elected, of course we know the rest of the story.
          I mention this anecdote because today’s reading remind of Benedict’s words.  In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus taking some of his apostles to a mountain, not to rest or to enjoy themselves but to prepare for what was going to come in Jerusalem. In this mountain he transfigures, he shows himself in all of his glory, as the Son of God. Moses and Elisha appear to him and they discuss what it is to happen in the coming days.  Peter, seen all this, instead of asking Jesus “How can we also prepare for the days ahead?” Focuses on how good it is to be with Jesus transformed in this way and offers him…comfort, offers to make three tents: one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elisha. You see, Jesus knew very well that the ways of The Father are never comfortable; this is why he went to the mountain to pray. Peter on the other hand wants to hold the moment for as long as he can; why go down of the mountain to the struggle of ordinary life, when we can stay with Jesus, Moses and Elisha? Peter does not understand what Benedict realized that day when the cardinals elected him Pope: the ways of God are always challenging, they get us out of our “comfort zone” so that we can find the reason why God called each one of us into existence, so that we can find the greatness he created us for.
        My brothers and sisters, the temptation for comfort, for things that are familiar, and safe, is a constant in our lives, mostly because we live in a culture completely oriented towards providing us with the most pleasure and comfort possible. This is why during lent the church encourages us to get out of our comfort zones, by fasting, prayers and alms giving. These things do not come out of a desire to punish us, but to help us refocus in what is important. Too much comfort in our lives make us, content, satisfied of the way things are, and it deprives us from reaching the true greatness God desires for all of us.
       I’m not saying we as people do not need time for relaxation and rest, after all this is why God ordered us to rest on the seventh day of the week. Relaxation and rest are important, but when we make this the only goal of our lives, we lose sight of the greatness God is expecting from each one of us.
      Two weeks ago Pope Benedict announced his resignation. There has been much speculation about why he made this decision. I believe that Benedict, once again, realizes what is God’s plan for him, how to reach greatness. The last 8 years have not been easy for our Pope, because he has always been a voice for truth against the storm of relativism, and public opinion. He has shown us what greatness is, he has shown that when we sacrifice our comfort for the good of the kingdom, we can achieve great things.  And now, by resigning, in his last act as Pope, Benedict has shown that all this time, it has not been about him. It takes a great man to realize that the time has come for more capable hands to do the job that needs to be done. He could have taken the easy road and “Retire in place” by letting others run the Church for him. But that is not the way of greatness; that is the way of comfort. So… as we continue our observation of lent may the memory of Benedict’s last actions as Leader of our Church be a source of inspiration and strength to help each one of us reach the greatness God is expecting from each one of us. Amen.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Helping Atheists Understand the Bible: Luke 12:47-48

Luke 12:47-48: Was Jesus in Favor of Slavery?

  If you ever engaged an atheist in an argument, you might have experienced this: In the middle of an intelligent conversation, all of the sudden, they will make a claim about the bible, religion or Jesus that make you stop and say  "What????". This was the case a couple of weeks ago as I was debating  a fellow on Twitter and he presented me with this "gem".

Imagine my surprise when I read this statement. Advocate? Jesus? Slaves? BEATINGS?? How did I missed this part of the gospels??? Of course I had stop our discussion and ask for a source, which in fact I was given.

Luke 12:47-48

47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
 Ok, so, I will admit that this passage, if taken in complete isolation, and one has no idea of who the speaker is, to whom is he speaking, and when and where these words were spoken, one could end up with all sorts of erroneous interpretations. Especially if one is trying to find fault in Jesus teachings.  Atheists do this all the time, they use isolated passages from scripture to make all sorts of outrageous claims, unaware that, when it comes to quoting the bible:  "A text, without context, is just a pretext" for their own prejudices.

I wish twitter would have given me the opportunity to address this passage, but at 140 characters, you have to keep your focus in one topic. However, I made a mental note to address it later. So the next time I'm confronted with it, I just provide a the link to this article and move on. So here it is:

Luke 12:47-48: Was Jesus in Favor of Slavery?

To understand this passage  correctly one needs to be aware of two things:
  1. The way Jesus taught.
  2. The kind of audience he taught.
Jesus spoke to a 1st century, middle eastern audience, composed mostly of peasants and fishermen. Because of this, Jesus had to present his teachings in a very simple way.  Parables are ideal for this, since this form of exposition is short and to the point. In his parables, Jesus used real life events, objects and people, so that  his audience could understand and relate to what he was trying to teach.

The parables of Jesus present and explain important and difficult moral and theological truths. He used vineyards, farmers, fields, figs, tax collectors, Samaritans and even the social constructs of his time, such as the masters-slave  relationship. In the Luke passage I was given, this is what Jesus is doing, he is using the relationship between a master and a slave, the way masters treated their slaves to make a theological point.

One would have to make a gigantic mental leap to assert, like my interlocutor did, that since Jesus used these things as examples, this is an indication that he approved of them. If this were the case them one would have to assert other things about Jesus, such as that he also approved stealing because he said:

Mathew 12:29

Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

Or that he approved of the rich more than the poor because he said:

Mathew 25: 28-29

Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away.

But why stop with Jesus, if we were to interpret every parable in this way, one would have to assert that Frederik Nietzsche believed in God since he wrote in his famous parable/book "THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA:A BOOK FOR ALL AND NONE" the following:
 "Bless me, then, thou tranquil eye, that canst behold even the greatest happiness without envy"


"Now I love God"

I hope you see my point. One can not take isolated passages from Jesus parables or any other author and use them to assert something about the character or belief of its creator. Parables are stories created for the benefit of the listening audience and not a reflection of what the author approved or disapproved. Doing this completely  misses the point the author is trying to make.

My recommendation to my atheist friends? Learn to interpret parables before using any of its parts in you arguments.

I hope this helps.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"