Monday, December 29, 2014

What Serving for the Pope and Trees Have in Common

Just before Mass, inside the Chapel of the Pietà.
Who...Me?

After nine prayerful, awe-inspiring, and frankly, exhausting days in the Holy Land with my twenty-six fellow pilgrims, I had expected that my six days in Rome would be fairly laid back and less overwhelming. Boy, was I was wrong! When it first became official that my brother seminarians and I were going to be serving at the Papal Christmas Eve Mass, my initial reaction was a mixture of "Is this for real?" and, "I'm not worthy to do this!" Having the privilege to meet Pope Francis and assist him in the liturgy was the icing on the cake of my Christmas break. In the midst of all the excitement and anxiousness over the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and after the experience was over, the question that the other seven seminarians and I kept asking ourselves was, "Why us?" How did six guys from You've-never-heard-of-it, Illinois, one from Evansville, and one from Cincinnati merit an invitation to be a part of such an important celebration? The answer is: we didn't.

We Aren't Worthy of Anything

During and after the Mass, I reflected on my unworthiness to travel to the Holy Land, to attend Masses at the holiest places on earth, (from the cave where Christ was born to the tomb where he was buried and resurrected), and to serve at a Papal Mass. I immediately perceived a parallel between my own unworthiness in these special circumstances and the unworthiness that we all share as human beings in everyday life. None of us, not even the greatest saint who ever lived, has done anything to merit our being created, our continued existence, and our redemption. As Saint Paul wrote, "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rm 3:23). In fact, the whole story of our existence is complete unworthiness being met by incomprehensible Love––from the Fall of our parents Adam and Eve and our own sinfulness to the total self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ in his Passion and Death. The truth is, if you're waiting until you feel worthy before you act on what you perceive to be God's will for your life, then you'll never move!

A Drop in the Ocean of God's Blessings

In our fast-paced, noisy, and image-saturated modern world, the vast majority of us (myself included) have a severely underdeveloped sense of wonder. We are taught from a young age to get excited about the "next big thing," be that a new gadget, clothing style, car, music album, film, you name it. While none of these things are necessarily evil in themselves, they often rob us of our childlike sense of wonder and curiosity towards natural beauty. The Christmas Mass was absolutely beautiful. St. Peter's Basilica, the decorations, the vestments, the liturgy, the music––everything was beautiful and in its proper place. While keeping all of this in mind (if that's even possible), I was later considering the beauty of a single tree. (Next time you're outside near a tree, just stop and look at it more closely). Consider the way its roots plunge deep into the ground, reaching out to scavenge for vital resources, the roughness and shape of the bark that protects it from insects and harsh elements, the strength of its branches, which reach up into the sky like arms towards their Creator, and the soft yet durable leaves through which the plant regularly performs feats of chemistry so efficient that our best scientists cannot even dream of replicating them in a state-of-the-art laboratory. This tree, along with the trillions upon trillions of other plants in the world, are constantly carrying out the photosynthesis that produces the oxygen necessary for our survival. The question is, what did we do to deserve this? Nothing. What's my point? We are infinitely more worthy to meet any famous person, visit any site, or participate in any event then we are to receive any of the countless blessings that are constantly being communicating to us at any given moment in our lives. The difference is, our hearts are fickle, and we quickly become complacent and take for granted all the tremendous blessings in our lives, which are right in front of our eyes at every moment. Hopefully, it doesn't take something such as serving for the Pope for us to realize this great truth! 

Serving at the Papal Christmas Eve Mass was, to be sure, a totally unexpected and inspiring experience, and one that I will forever remember and treasure in my heart. However, what's even more amazing is the gift to be sitting here at my laptop right now, still existing, taking another breath, and having the opportunity to live another moment doing whatever I choose to do for the glory of God.  
...let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col 3:15-17).
Don't Wait!

Whenever we feel unworthy to receive God's gifts or to be used by him, let us remember who Jesus founded his Church on––a sinful, impulsive, and uneducated fisherman. Rather than listening to the lies of Satan and the world, which tell us that we aren't good enough and would have us believe that greatness is something we're born with, let us instead respond to the call of Christ the way Peter did: 
"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken...And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Lk 5:8-11).
Let us pray to Jesus, that he may give us the grace to leave everything behind, not necessarily all of our material possessions and relationships like the apostles had to, but above all, our preconceptions, doubts, fears, and sinfulness, and follow him. God Bless you, and Merry Christmas!


From left to right:  Michael Trummer, Chris Trummer, Dominic Rankin, 
Braden Maher, Luke Hastler, Dominic Vahling, Michael Meinhart, John Paul Hennessy, and Willie Jansen.

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer



Sources:

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Salvation Outside of the Church


"Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus."

This Latin phrase translates to, "Outside of the Church there is no salvation." It's original use comes from Saint Cyprian of Carthage, who was a 3rd century bishop and one of the Fathers of the Church. Does it sound harsh? Extreme? Archaic? Exclusive? Judgmental? All of the above? You may be surprised or even (but hopefully not) scandalized to hear that the Catholic Church maintains the truth of this statement to this day. The problem is, most non-Catholics today, and unfortunately many Catholics, don't understand what is meant by the word "Church." When most people hear the word "Church," they are probably thinking of: 1) the building where people gather to worship, 2) the hierarchical or institutional structure of the Church, or 3) the collective group of people who make up the Church, the Body of Christ. The correct definition of the Church is: all of the above––and more. In Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council said the following of the Church:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it (LG 14).
Salvation Comes Through Christ Alone

Jesus Christ said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father, but by me"(Jn 14:6). Saint Peter later testified to this truth of Christ being the only source of salvation: "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved"(Acts 4:12). Rightly then, the Catholic Church has always upheld and taught the truth that salvation for each individual person is only possible because of the merits of Jesus Christ, namely, because of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. That being said, what are we to make of the billions of people who have lived and died without having any explicit belief in or even knowledge of the person of Jesus Christ? Are they simply "out of luck" as it were? Did God will that some people would be born in non-Christian or even anti-Christian environments, and expect them to, against all odds and in spite of all psychological, social, and cultural obstacles, come to believe in Jesus Christ and be received into the Catholic Church? What happens to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and all other non-Christian or even non-religious people when they die? Given the fact that Christians only comprise approximately one-third of the world's population, these questions are extremely relevant, unless we are content to write off two-thirds of humanity to damnation. It is important that we try to understand God's plan of salvation for humanity and the Church's role in bringing that plan to fruition.

God Wills That All Be Saved

First, let's review our data about God's plan for humanity. In Saint Paul's first letter to Timothy, he writes that God "...wills that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth"(2:4). What is Saint Paul saying here? Is he endorsing "universal salvation," the theory that everyone will eventually be saved and that there effectively is no hell or eternal damnation? Absolutely not! When God created human beings with free will, He necessarily gave up the possibility that His will would always be done, which is why we pray during the Our Father, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" - if it were already being done, there would be no need to pray for it! What Saint Paul is saying here is that God has made it possible for every person to be saved. If God wills the salvation of everyone, and He is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing), then salvation must be at least possible for everyone. In other words, if someone isn't saved, it can only be their fault, not God's. So, where does Jesus fit into all of this? Well, if a person did not know Jesus during their lifetime, because they never heard the Gospel or at least never heard it presented in an intelligible way, then when they die, while they might not be saved, they will not be condemned on the basis of their lack of belief in Jesus Christ.

Objective Fact vs Subjective Knowledge

This brings up an essential distinction about salvation and Christ. The distinction is between the objective fact that Jesus Christ is the only possible source of salvation and the subjective knowledge that each individual must possess in order to secure that salvation. The Catholic Church teaches that it is possible for persons who have no subjective knowledge of Christ to be saved:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience––those too may achieve eternal salvation (LG 16).
Let's be clear, acknowledging the possibility of salvation for non-Christians does not change the fact that, if such persons are saved, they are saved only by the merits of Jesus Christ. For example, if a Hindu is saved, he or she is not saved by Hinduism, but by Christ. If a Muslim dies and is received by God into Heaven, he or she is not "bypassing" the need for Christ as a savior, they simply must have accepted Christ implicitly by the way they lived their life, seeking to do God's will and admitting their need for forgiveness. Some people reject this idea entirely, and instead argue that a person cannot be saved unless they explicitly profess belief in Jesus Christ, (and in some traditions, pray the "Sinner's Prayer"). The problem with this idea is multi-faceted. First, there is the problem of the retroactive application of the salvific grace of Christ's sacrifice. In other words, what about the people who lived before the time of Christ, such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, the prophets, and the rest of God's chosen people? Obviously, none of them believed in Jesus in any explicit way, because he wasn't even born yet! But wait, didn't Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus during his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor? Yes, they did, and so apparently they had been saved. Clearly then, there must be more to salvation than just believing in Jesus and reciting the Sinner's Prayer.

If Knowledge, How Much?

There is another problem with the idea that subjective knowledge of Christ is necessary for salvation. If a person must have personal knowledge of Christ in order to be saved, the question immediately arises, "How much knowledge?" Do you simply need to believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher or guru and try to imitate him, or do you have to believe that he was Divine and the Son of God? Can you believe that Jesus was half God and half man, or do you have to believe that he was fully God and fully man? Do you have to believe in his literal, bodily Resurrection, or can you believe that he "spiritually rose" in the hearts of his disciples? Can you believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol of Jesus' body and blood, or do you have to believe the Catholic doctrine that the Eucharist substantially becomes Jesus' body, blood, soul, and divinity? In other words, where do you draw the line? If a certain amount of knowledge is necessary for salvation, that would imply that when you die, God effectively gives you a theology exam; if you pass, you go to heaven; if you fail, you go to hell. Somehow, this just doesn't seem right! Is God judging our souls or only our minds? Is a self-righteous and heartless rich man who believes in Jesus and goes to Mass on Sundays closer to being saved than a homeless and desperate addict, who steals food to survive because he doesn't know what else to do, but is trying to seek help? As usual, our friend Saint Paul is here to help us answer these difficult questions. In his letter to the Romans, he explains the expectations of those who do not believe in Jesus or know about his teaching:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Rm 2:14-17).
Saint Paul said that "what the law requires is written on their hearts." This means that they can know what is essential to living a moral life by their own conscience and human reasoning. He then says that the conflicting thoughts of men who do not believe in Christ can "accuse or perhaps excuse them" when they are judged by Christ. This means that those who did not know Christ during their earthly lives will not be surprised or dissatisfied with the way they are judged, because their own conscience has already condemned them, and they unfortunately refused to listen.

The Two Natures of Christ

There is one last element that is crucial to understanding God's plan of salvation for mankind, and that is the nature of Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus Christ? Was he the 33-year-old Jewish carpenter who was condemned to death for blasphemy and executed almost 2000 years ago? Yes, but he is so much more than that! Jesus Christ is fully human, but also fully divine. He is the Son of God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. While he became incarnate as a human infant at a specific time in history, he always was, is now, and always will be, God. He was not only a historical figure, but the Eternal Word of the Father, by whom and through whom everything that exists was created. Saint John explains this beautifully in the prologue of his gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:1-3).
What does all of this mean? A lot, actually. If Jesus is the source of everything that exists, then it makes sense that there would be numerous ways of knowing him. In other words, a person can know Christ in ways besides knowing him as the 33 year-old Jewish carpenter, even if that is an important part of the complete truth about who Jesus is. Saint John wrote that Christ can be known in some way by all people, regardless of their education, culture, and when or where they lived:
In [Christ] was life, and the life was the light of men...The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world (Jn 1:4,9).
The Logos and the Tao

Saint John wrote that Christ is the light that enlightens all men, not just a select lucky few who happened to live in the towns where he preached, taught, and worked miracles. How can this be true? It's true because Christ is the Eternal Logos (Word), and therefore is not bound by the space, time, and material limitations that he willingly embraced during his time on earth. In many Asian countries, there is a belief in the "Tao" (pronounced "dow"), which is the "way" or "path" that creates and orders everything in the universe. The Tao is considered to be the source of everything in reality, and those who follow the Tao strive to live in a way that conforms to it's way or pattern. Such conformity consists of doing things in accordance with their nature, which creates "effortless action." Living by the Tao is supposed to bring the person peace and render morality, in the sense of rules, laws, and government, obsolete. There is an interesting parallel between the Taoist concept of the Tao and the Christian concept of the Logos. In Saint John's gospel, when he writes that Christ is the "Word," the Greek word that he actually used was "Logos." Logos can be translated many ways, including: word, thought, speech, way, and path. When Christianity spread to China, and the Chinese people came to understand who Jesus Christ was, they translated "Logos" as "Tao" (e.g., "And the Tao became flesh, and dwelt among us.") This marriage of Asian philosophy and religion with the very heart of Christianity is very significant, and beautifully so, because it reveals a universality in the human search for God. If we are made from love, by love, and for love, then how could any honest person's search for the truth lead him to anything other than Love himself in the flesh, Jesus Christ? Later in John's gospel, Jesus speaks about how he wants to reach out to all people, even those normally excluded by the Jewish mindset:
I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (Jn 10:14-16).
Don't Limit God!

As we can see, God's plans are bigger and better than ours! We tend to limit God, to put Him in a box made of our preconceptions and narrow-mindedness. If a sentence starts with: "God wouldn't...", "God can't...", or "God doesn't care about..." then it's probably wrong. Much of our spiritual growth is the continual process of shedding off our old ideas about God, adopting new ones, finding them insufficient, shedding those off...and repeating the cycle. This should come as no surprise, since we are finite beings and God is infinite, we can never have a complete understanding of Him. This includes God's means of bringing about salvation, and how His universal love for all of mankind is made manifest in our world of spatial, temporal, and material limitations. Hopefully, through prayer, study, and life experience, we can eventually learn to "let God be God," and instead of asking with the apostles, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"(Lk 13:23) we will instead get out into the vineyard, where "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few"(Mt 9:37).

The Church is All-Inclusive

When we say that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church, let us realize that this is not an exclusive statement that condemns the lost sheep or those who are "of another flock," but rather, an inclusive statement, one that signifies just how universal the reach, responsibility, and mission of the Catholic Church is in the world. There is no need for us to fully understand how and if a non-Christian will be saved before we can witness the truth of Christianity to him or her, so what are we waiting for? Jesus gave us no reason to delay!
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:19-20).

† Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer



Sources:

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Christmas Means to Me


In the midst of the annual chaos that has become a trademark of this time of year, it's important for each of us to ask ourselves, "What does Christmas really mean to me?" Is it just a time for delicious food, sweet deals at all of the stores, and the chance to get my hands on the latest gadget or other gift that I'm hoping to receive? The "real meaning of Christmas" has been at the forefront of my mind, so I'd like to share my thoughts here. 

First and foremost, I see Christmas as a celebration of the turning point in God's great narrative of Creation. The birth of Jesus Christ in history marks the beginning of the climax in "the greatest story ever told." God's story has the most epic plot twist, but unlike other plot twists, which involve unexpected encounters between the characters in the story, this twist involves an unexpected encounter between the characters and the author. Peter Kreeft pointed out this idea in his talk, "Shocking Beauty," when he made an analogy between the story of Creation and The Lord of the Rings:  "Imagine Frodo Baggins meeting, not Gandalf, not Aragorn, but Tolkien; Macbeth meeting, not King Duncan, not Macduff, but Shakespeare." This is exactly what did happen almost two thousand years ago, when God, the divine author of all Creation, seeing that we were helpless against our enemy, sin, wrote himself into his own story as the human character of Jesus Christ. 

This is what separates Christianity from every other religion, namely, that the truth of it rests entirely on historical claims. If the Jewish prophets never actually foretold a coming Messiah, then no one would have recognized Jesus as someone special, since moral teachers and all types of gurus were extremely common during that time. If Jesus never actually taught his apostles everything contained in the Gospels, then there would be no Christianity. If the Resurrection never actually happened, then thousands of early Christians wouldn't have been willing to endure persecution, torture, and death at the hands of their Roman oppressors. Obviously, all of these historical claims depend on the fact that Jesus really existed, that he was actually born into the world at a point in history.

While all of this is certainly important, knowing that Jesus existed is not what Christmas itself is all about, and certainly not what Christmas means to me. I would argue that, rather than being primarily about the fact that God entered into his Creation, Christmas is more about celebrating the way in which God chose to enter Creation. While the theological concept of the Incarnation may seem somewhat abstract and difficult to understand, the birth of a tiny baby boy to a teenage girl in a little town in Israel is simple, concrete, and beautiful. That is why the same simple hymns bring joy to our hearts and tears to our eyes year after year. "Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!"

Christmas is the annual retelling of the greatest story ever told: We are lost sheep, and the Shepard has come. Let's pray that we may all experience the birth of Jesus as a concrete event, one that changes our hearts and the way we view the world. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, "The one who has hope lives differently." Hope is exactly what we have when we live the reality of Christmas. Emmanuel! God is with us!

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Four Views on Suffering


The existence of suffering, or "problem" of suffering as it's known in philosophy, is a puzzling and unavoidable fact of reality. Nobody questions that we suffer, the question is, "Why do we suffer?" This question has weighed heavily on the minds of human beings since the dawn of our existence. The answer to this question is found in how we view reality, more specifically, in how we view human beings. This isn't to say that the answer is only relative to our personal beliefs, but that if suffering does have meaning, then its meaning must be bound up with the rest of reality. To help us understand suffering more clearly, let's use Jesus' parable about Lazarus and the rich man as a model, and consider how four different world views would understand the story. The question we need to keep in mind while examining these four different world views is:  What is a human being?
There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead’ (Lk 16:19-31).
Buddhism

Let's begin with Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama (who is considered the original Buddha) founded an entire philosophy-religion (neither term describes Buddhism exactly) on the idea of suffering (dukkha), so surely he can provide us with some insights. Buddha believed that all suffering is the result of ignorance and attachment. This ignorance is of the fact that there is no human "self," and this attachment is a craving for the permanence of the self and the material world. Buddha then discerned a way by which one could eliminate all suffering – by eliminating all desire. In an effort to eliminate the effect, suffering, he had to eliminate the cause, desire. That's an awfully high price to pay, considering how deeply our desires are engrained into our human nature. Buddha believed that ignorance resulted from "grasping at what you can't have" and "avoiding what you cannot avoid," and yet the whole purpose of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism is an attempt to grasp at what one cannot have–a life free of all suffering–and to avoid what one cannot avoid–suffering–even if achieving this means viewing all of physical reality as an illusion. When trying to understand reality, we naturally seek to have a clear picture of everything, to come up with an explanation that takes into account all of the data. The problem with Buddhism then is that it does not account for all of the data. A good Buddhist would try to relieve Lazarus' suffering by helping him realize that his body is an illusion. This seems to be an extreme case of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Most people, especially those educated in Western countries, simply can't accept the idea that the world around them, which they experience constantly and directly through their senses, is an illusion. It is no coincidence that the physical sciences failed to take root for so long in Eastern countries; the total skepticism towards any knowledge derived from observation, which consists of sensory data, is directly opposed to the scientific method (for more on this topic, see my post, "How to Suck at Your Critique of Religion").

Hinduism

Next, let's consider how a Hindu would see Lazarus in the parable. Lazarus would be considered one of the Dalits, or "outcastes." In the traditional Hindu caste system, people are understood to suffer more or less based on which caste they're in, which is determined by the amount of "karma" they have accumulated in their past lives. In order to achieve moksha (liberation) from the Samsara (reincarnation) cycle, a person must "burn off" all of their karma through suffering, which might take literally thousands of lifetimes. With this understanding, any attempt to relieve the suffering of another person would be seen as an interference, since doing so would only prevent them from burning off their karma, and so ultimately prolong their suffering. The Dalits are so low in the Hindu view of human beings that they are not even part of a caste, hence the term,"out-castes." For centuries, approximately 25% of the Indian population were considered to be Dalits, until about 60 years ago when the Indian government abolished the caste system. Unfortunately, there is evidence that the caste mindset is still very much present in India today. From the standpoint of history, we know that every widespread violation of basic human dignity and rights has been made possible by the redefining of a group, class, or race of people as "subhuman" or even "non-human." The fact that this redefinition is even necessary testifies to the universal truth of morality that is written on the heart of every person. Knowing this, along with our human tendency to justify our behavior whenever possible, it's easy to see how the Hindu caste mentality can be a tempting ideology (if suffering is what liberates people, then I'm not obligated to help relieve their suffering). However, if the way we view human beings clashes with our natural inclinations to ensure justice and relieve suffering, then we should reevaluate our world view – not disregard our inclinations. The best Hindu advice on how to treat Lazarus would be, "Ignore him, he needs to burn off his karma." Somehow, this just sounds like a cop out, because instead of motivating us to help the suffering people who we encounter, it simply lets us off the hook and enables us to be selfish. The Hindu solution to the problem of suffering is a very human one.

Atheism

Now, let's have a word for our non-believing friends, the atheists. First, let's answer our guiding question, "What is a human being?" from an atheist standpoint. Who better to speak for atheism than Bertrand Russell? Russell was a British mathematician, logician, philosopher, author, and one of the most influential atheists of the twentieth century. He wrote the following about what a human being is:
Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built (Free Man's Worship).
"...no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand." Since the dawn of the twentieth century when Russell wrote this, the number of people who attend church services regularly in modern countries has indeed decreased, along with the number of people who identify with a particular religious tradition or denomination. However, Russell probably would have been shocked (and disappointed) if he were still alive today, because the number of people who claim to be atheists has barely increased in modern countries, and hasn't increased at all on a global scale. Theistic philosophies still dominate the world, and they don't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. However, the question still remains to be answered – was Russell right? Are we nothing more than collections of matter resulting from blind and random purely physical processes? Without getting into a lenthy philosophical discussion about materialism and naturalism, let's limit ourselves for the time being to the implications of holding such a world view. 

An atheist cannot describe suffering as being objectively "worse" than happiness, because in his view,"suffering" and "happiness" are just labels that human beings created to describe reality. In the case of happiness, this set of neurons is firing in the brain, in the case of suffering, a different set of neurons is firing. Once you begin to describe one scenario as "better" than the other, you have stepped into the realm of value and meaning, which cannot be real and objective in a purely material universe. Atoms are not good or evil, true or false, so neither is a collection of them, however intricate and complicated their arrangement may be. If atheism is true, then Lazarus, while we might label him as a "human being" who has "dignity" and the "right to life," is really nothing more than a collection of matter, a group of chemical reactions that happen to be existing together in the same location. Therefore, for a consistent atheist, the most humane thing to do with Lazarus would be to either ignore him or to put him out of his misery, since he otherwise might become a burden to other "collections of matter." We do this with our pets all the time, and it's usually considered loving and merciful – why not with human beings? What makes killing them so wrong? Dostoyevsky famously summarized this in his epic novel, The Brothers Karamazov:
If God does not exist, all things are permissible.
If reading this makes you recoil, that's good – it means that you haven't lost your sense of humanity. The reason that our conscience has the authority to command us to sympathize with, assist, and love our fellow human beings, even when doing so does not provide us with any perceivable advantage in terms of survival, is because our conscience is not simply a biological faculty. The realm of morality is so evident and immediately experienced by us that only very intelligent people are usually clever enough to fool themselves into believing it doesn't exist. By asserting that human beings are nothing more than matter, the atheist inadvertently denies the existence of human personhood. If suffering, along with all human efforts to explain and understand it, is nothing more than a material phenomenon, then the answer to the question of why we suffer is, "There is no answer, suffering is as meaningless as the rest of reality."

Christianity

Now that we've examined the problem of suffering from the standpoint of three other world views, let's answer the question, "How would a Christian see Lazarus?" One of the luxuries of the Christian world view is that, when determining how a Christian should see something, one need only answer, "How would Christ see this?" Jesus Christ did not claim simply to know a way to happiness, or the truth, or what constitutes authentic human living. He claimed to be "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6). If Jesus is the truth, what is his answer to the problem of suffering? His answer comes not in word, but in action:
Christ Jesus...though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Php 2:5-7). 
When Jesus' friend Lazarus (not the same guy from the above parable) died, even though Jesus had the power to raise him from the dead, and even though he must have ultimately known the meaning and value of suffering, his reaction was described in just two words: "Jesus wept" (Jn 11:35). Those two words tell us a tremendous amount about what God thinks about human suffering. It is difficult. Being optimistic, knowing the temporary nature of the suffering, and even knowing its cause does not make enduring it easy. This is why even Christ prayed that he wouldn't have to suffer his passion and death: "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22:42). One of the unfortunate effects of limiting your view of reality to only material or natural explanations is that it closes your mind off to one of the most powerful and uniquely human capacities – the ability to recognize symbols. A symbol is something that points beyond itself, that has its meaning outside of itself. You can see a simple yet profound and beautiful example of this right now as you read this sentence – language. Like the words of a love poem, a captivating novel, or the lyrics of a beautiful hymn, everything in the physical world, suffering included, points to something beyond itself. All of reality is like a story, and that suffering, an ever present and undeniable part of that reality, should have meaning simply fits the narrative better. Other world views try to downplay or even deny suffering, Christianity transforms it. Christ did not come to rescue us from the suffering of this life, as if suffering were something to be avoided at all costs, but to plunge us deeper into the mystery of it, since entering fully into that mystery is the key to unlocking the meaning of life. If God exists, and he is all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful, then the reason we suffer must be because we need to. However, God does not leave us to fend for ourselves, even in this life. By the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ, and by his death and resurrection, we can have the sure hope that our suffering has meaning, and that God is capable of bringing good out of even the worst sufferings in our lives. Saint Paul, who suffered terrible persecution and was eventually beheaded for his faith in Christ, had the following to say about suffering:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rm 8:18).
Not worth comparing. How could Saint Paul say that? Did he live a sheltered life or something? Was he just delusional? No. He could say it because he had come into contact with infinite love, with Love itself – Jesus Christ. In the face of infinite love, finite suffering is literally "not worth comparing." At the end of his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder spelled out the two possible explanations of the problem of suffering in the following way:
Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods we are like flies that boys kill on a summer day, and others say that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.
Both cannot be true. How do we live our lives? Do we trust that God is ultimately in control and that Saint Paul was correct in saying that "in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose?" (Rm 8:28). Let's ask God to give us the grace to trust him with everything, even with the suffering in our life, which too often confuses us and makes us doubt his infinite love for us.


Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer




Sources:

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.

Russell, Bertrand. Free Man's Worship. 1903.

Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. 1927.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Suck at Your Critique of Religion



This post is a response to “How to Suck at Your Religion,” an anti-religious comic strip from the website "The Oatmeal," created and ran by Matthew Inman. I read it recently after noticing a link to it on Facebook. After explaining a couple of my objections to the friend who posted it, I decided that it would be worthwhile to give the comic a more thorough treatment. This is not a rant or an emotional lashing out, but a calm and calculated response intended to set the record straight on some misinformation and misunderstandings.  I will list all the questions posed in the comic and give a short response to each.  To see the comic for yourself and get a better sense of Mr. Inman's approach, you can click here.*

* Please note that the comic contains some offensive and vulgar language.

"Does your religion make you judge people?"
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get" (Mt 7:1-2).
Since Jesus clearly taught us not to judge other people throughout the gospels, the answer is no, my religion does not "make me judge people"–it forbids me to do so. The fact that there are many hypocritical Christians who are judgmental, especially in modern countries like the U.S., is an unfortunate reality that tells us about those people, but not about Christianity itself. Saint Paul also warned the early Christians in Rome against judging others:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things (Rm 2:1).
"Does your religion hinder the advancement of science, technology, or medicine?"

Christianity provided the conceptual framework necessary for the use of scientific methodology, evidenced by the way science flourished in the Christian West as opposed to the non-Christian East, where the dominating philosophies typically saw physical reality as less predictable and intelligible. C.S. Lewis summarized this framework well:
Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator (Miracles).
The Catholic Church founded the college system, the Laws of Evidence in science, and the first hospitals. Also, numerous Catholics throughout the centuries have been at the forefront of scientific progress. This is a list (but by no means an exhaustive one) of some of the most noteworthy Catholic men and women scientists:

Mariano Artigas (1938–2006) – Spanish physicist, philosopher and theologian who received the Templeton Foundation Prize in 1995.
André-Marie Ampère (1775–1836) – One of the main discoverers of electromagnetism
Stephen Barr (1953–present) – Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware and a member of its Bartol Research Institue
Henri Becquerel (1852–1908) – Awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his co-discovery of radioactivity
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608–1679) – Father of modern biomechanics
Louis Braille (1809–1852) – Inventor of the Braille reading and writing system
Gerty Cori (1896–1957) – Biochemist who was the first American woman win a Nobel Prize in science (1947)
Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis (1792–1843) – Formulated laws regarding rotating systems, which later became known as the Coriolis effect
Charles-Augustin de Coulomb (1736–1806) – Physicist who developed Coulomb's law
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) – Catholic cleric and first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology
René Descartes (1596–1650) – Father of modern philosophy and analytic geometry
Alberto Dou (1915-2009) – Spanish Jesuit priest who was president of the Royal Society of Mathematics, member of the Royal Academy of Natural, Physical, and Exact Sciences, and one of the foremost mathematicians of his country.
Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) – Awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work in induced radioactivity
Georges Lemaître (1894–1966) – Priest and Father of the Big Bang theory
Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) – Priest and Father of genetics
Johannes Peter Müller (1801–1858) – Founder of modern physiology
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) – French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher
Anthony Rizzi (?–present) – Physicist who solved the problem of angular momentum in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (1997), and founder and president of the Institute for Advanced Physics
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) – Anatomist, scientist, mathematician, and painter
Alessandro Volta (1745–1827) – Physicist known for the invention of the battery

Given the large number of groundbreaking scientists who believed in the teachings of the Catholic Church and worked under her patronage, it's safe to say that the Church does not hinder the process of science, technology, or medicine. Here is the Church's view of science and its practice:
Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are (Catechism of the Catholic Church 159).
Following this question, Inman digs up the dead horse of the Galileo controversy for beating. While there were certainly bishops and other people in the Church who opposed Galileo, their primary disagreement was on the grounds that he had not successfully proven his theory, which was true, since the observational technique he was using at the time, stellar parallax, could not definitively prove whether the Earth revolved around the Sun or vice-versa. Also, contrary to what the comic suggests, Galileo did not "spend the rest of his life in a dungeon." He was actually put on house arrest, and was treated quite well. This sentence was given to him because his work was being funded by the Church, and he disobeyed the pope's request that he wait until he had conclusive evidence to support his theory before claiming it to be fact. Galileo not only prematurely claimed his theory to be true, but openly mocked the pope with a cartoon character named "Simplicio," which is Italian for "simple-minded" or "idiot." Non-Catholic historian of science, Gary Ferngren, concluded the following about how the Galileo affair has been historically understood:
The traditional picture of Galileo as a martyr for intellectual freedom and as a victim of the Church’s opposition to science has been demonstrated to be little more than a caricature (Ferngren).
"Did you choose your religion, or did someone else choose it for you?"

From the time I was a young child until my later teen years, I was Catholic more or less because my parents were Catholic. As we mature, we have to decide whether or not we really believe what we've been taught by our parents, whether we will claim the faith of our parents as our own or abandon it. To claim that a belief is false because of how that belief originated is known as the "genetic fallacy," a mistake commonly made by atheists when criticizing religious belief. The reason the genetic fallacy is so common is that it allows the person making it to think they have invalidated a person's beliefs, and so think they are justified in not listening to that person's actual reasons for believing. In addition to this point, there have been multitudes of highly educated people throughout history, as well as in modern times, who were not raised as Christians or even theists but came to believe later in life.

In this section of the comic, Inman also uses one of the most cliché and misunderstood images for God––an "invisible bearded flying man." This is such a mediocre oversimplification of what any serious monotheist means by the word "God" that it really doesn't even merit a response. However, there is at least one unintended but positive consequence of an atheist's use of images like this for God (and similar ones, e.g. the cosmic Santa Claus, sky fairy, flying spaghetti monster, etc.). The use of such images prevents the waste of precious time in argument, since the person who uses them immediately reveals that they know very little to nothing about theism or the classical arguments for the existence of God.

"Does your religion give you weird anxieties about your sexuality?"

The only anxieties I've had about my sexuality were present during my high school and early college years, when I had bought into the secular culture's idea of what the purpose of human sexuality is, namely, to provide pleasure and the immediate gratification of any and all sexual desires, regardless of whether or not they conform to the design or purpose inherent in the human body. The Church's teachings about human sexuality, especially as articulated by Saint John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, provide a clear, consistent, and complete understanding of the purpose and meaning of intimacy, marriage, and sexual unity between men and women. Without a basic understanding the Church's overall view of human nature, which is the foundation for her moral teaching as regards sexuality, it's difficult for non-believers to have productive dialogue with Catholics. It is no use to extract one specific teaching of the Church, say, the immorality of using contraception, and complain that it doesn't make any sense. To do this is to take out of context one piece that was meant to be understood as part of a whole, like examining a human kidney on a table and wondering, "What the heck is this thing for?" Observe it inside of a body and you'll find out.

"Do you validate your beliefs by constantly trying to convince other people to believe the same thing?"
Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...” (Mt 28:18-20).
While it may not always be prudent or effective to go door-to-door like the followers of some religious traditions, as Inman pokes fun at, Jesus commanded (not suggested) that his disciples go forth and spread the Good News, the Gospel. Also, while it is uncharitable to "force your religion" on other people, it's a mistake to equate all efforts at evangelization to forcing or imposing. The role of the Church is to propose, not impose, Christ's message of Salvation to the world, and her mission is nothing other than the salvation of souls. This of course is only possible if Catholics are willing to take the time and effort to reach out to other people.

"Do you mock other religions for believing crazy things?"

I sincerely try not to mock other religions, although I have to admit that I am guilty of this at times. Again, far from being a feature of Christianity, the mockery of other religions by Christians constitutes a failure to love on their part. Also, it's hypocritical that Inman is condemning mockery here when he harshly mocks religion and religious people throughout this comic. The Catholic Church has a high respect for other religious traditions and their followers, as indicated in the following quote from the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions:
Other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ 'the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself (Nostra Aetate, p. 2)
"Do you vote based solely on your religious beliefs?"

Given how foundational religious beliefs are to a person's understanding of reality, is it really any surprise to the skeptic that religious people would vote primarily on the basis of those beliefs? A person's religious beliefs include their understanding of what human beings are, what our purpose is, what constitutes authentic human flourishing, and what our natural rights are based on these factors. That being said, what ideas could be more fundamental that a religious person should vote based on those instead? I can think of none. For example, if my beliefs tell me that all human beings have the right to life, even unborn children, then I can only conclude that abortion is a gross violation of basic human rights and dignity. Therefore, while there are certainly other important issues in need of consideration, none of them can take political precedence over an issue as paramount as abortion.
  
"Are you so dangerously extremist that even a silly web cartoonist can't draw a picture of your prophet without fearing for his life?"

This is clearly a shot at Islam, and at Islamic extremists in particular, so I don't feel that it's necessary for me to offer a response on behalf of Christianity. In fact, this is one of the few questions that I actually found to be a fair one, and any Muslim who is that extreme and violent should certainly reexamine himself or herself, because such conduct is by no means a necessary or even mainstream interpretation of the Quran.

"Would you die for your religion?"
Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2473).
If by "Would you die for your religion?" the question means, "Would you die before renouncing your religious beliefs?" then I would like to think that, if faced with either rejecting my faith in Christ and living, or remaining faithful to Him and dying, I would choose the latter and be counted among the countless martyrs who have witnessed to Christianity over the last 2000 years. However, since I can't begin to imagine being in such a terrifying situation, I can't say definitively that I would die for my religion––I might be too much of a coward. Dying for what you believe is by no means unique to Christianity, and a willingness to die for your beliefs does not in itself prove that your beliefs are true. However, it does prove that you are sincere in your belief (liars make terrible martyrs) and so the person who objects to your beliefs must do so on grounds of reason and historical evidence, instead of attacking your motives for believing.

"Would you kill for your religion? [Or] hurt, hinder, or condemn in the name of God?"
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire" (Mt 5:21-22).
It is necessary here to distinguish between killing as a means of conquest, terror, or oppression, versus killing as a means of self-defense or defense of innocent life. The former is clearly inconsistent with the teachings of Christ, while the latter can be justifiable, according to Catholic moral teaching, provided certain conditions are met. These conditions are outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (p. 2309), and they include:
  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  3. There must be serious prospects of success;
  4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition
To answer the question then, if I perceived a threat to my life or the lives of other innocent people, and the above conditions were met (as well as I could determine given the amount of time I had to respond), then yes, I would take another person's life. It is because of this understanding that I have no reservations about being a member of the Illinois National Guard, in an infantry unit that has deployed for combat operations to both Iraq and Afghanistan (before I was there).

"Does your religion inspire you to help people?"
"If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3:17-18).
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Php 2:4).
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).
It's ironic (but not surprising) how this question presupposes that helping people is good and something that we should all do. When Christians fail to help others whom they are fully capable of helping, they are failing to love as their Savior commanded them, and therefore living in a manner that is inconsistent with their worldview. On the other hand, atheists who fail to help others whom they are fully capable of helping are living in a manner consistent with their worldview, since their view maintains that human beings are randomly evolved collections of matter that have no real purpose or destination. Regardless of what a person believes about God, everyone believes that you should always obey your own conscience. This uniquely human faculty puts us in touch with objective moral values and duties that are real and binding, regardless of time, place, or culture. This is why, despite the efforts people make to avail themselves of it, they find the moral law inescapable. Saint Paul had this insight:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Rm 2:14-16).
"Does it make you happier?"

Having spent several years chasing happiness using all of the world's methods, including popularity, money, possessions, drinking, partying, shallow relationships, with a pervading sense of selfishness throughout, I can say with confidence that my religion makes me happier. The happiness does not come from delusion, like the popular delusion of spending all of your time worrying about your looks, your car, the number of "likes" on your Facebook post, or your favorite sports team, none of which offer any real or lasting meaning. Rather, the happiness that my faith gives me is in the hope that comes from placing my trust in God, admitting to Him my brokenness, experiencing His love and forgiveness, and striving to love him more each day. As Saint Faustina wrote in her diary:
I want to love You as no human soul has ever loved You before; and although I am utterly miserable and small, I have nevertheless cast the anchor of my trust deep down into the abyss of Your mercy (Diary, 283).
"Does it help you cope with the fact that you are a bag of meat sitting on a rock in outer space, and that someday you will DIE, and you are completely powerless, helpless, and insignificant in the wake of this beautiful cosmic [crap]storm we call existence?  If it helps you with that, carry on with your religion – just keep it to yourself."

This is a textbook example of "begging the question," which is a type of circular reasoning in which the conclusion is assumed to be true. The person asking the question hasn't established the truth of part of their question or argument. An example of this would be the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" One of the funny things about this comic is that, with all of the questions it asks about "your religion," it never bothers to ask about the truth of any religion. Is it true? The only reason anyone in the world should ever believe anything at all is because it's true, not because it suits your personality, makes you feel better, or because it is useful to yourself or to society. The comment at the end, "If it helps you with that, carry on with your religion," is not a gesture of good will but a patronizing insult, a pat on the head as if to say "Aww, isn't he just adorable with his cute little religious beliefs!"

The Problem With Skepticism

Instead of an honest search for the truth and an openness to the possibility that what some religion teaches might actually be true, or at least have some elements of truth in it, skeptics like the author of this comic presume from the outset of discussion that all religion is unreasonable and ridiculous. Typically, such people maintain that they will only believe something if it can be shown to be true by the scientific method. This view, known as "scientism," is self-destructive, since it is itself not a scientific claim but a philosophical one, and therefore not provable by the scientific method. This philosophy is a convenient one to hold, and is often the mark of an intellectually lazy or prideful person. Instead of promoting a fruitful dialogue, the skeptic merely affords himself the luxury of sitting back and criticizing the beliefs of everyone else, spending all of his time on the offense, since he has no positive content of his own to defend. When your world view exists only as a negation or rejection of another world view, you're inevitably going to find yourself becoming increasingly close-minded, negative, and incapable of relating well to others.

Mr. Inman did well to add the words "someday you will DIE" in this last question. Indeed, some day we will all die. I can only hope and pray that he, along with his audience members who criticize and mock religion and religious people with such pride and confidence, approach their own deaths with much greater humility and openness. This comic is nothing more than a collection of myths, clichés, and misunderstandings. However, it may be useful for at least one thing––as an exercise for students in an Intro to Logic class to help them recognize logical fallacies. Hopefully, through continued efforts in education, especially in the areas of history and philosophy, websites such as The Oatmeal will eventually have no audience through which to spread such gross distortions about religion and religious people. That is one of the downsides of the internet, that it makes it possible for people with little to no credibility on a subject to spread misinformation about it like a cancer. Fortunately, even a cancer can be treated and put into remission.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer



Sources:

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994. Print.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000. Print.

Catholic Church. Nostra Aetate. Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

C.S. Lewis. Miracles. London & Glasgow: Collins/Fontana, 1947. 2002 Edition. Print.

Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy In My Soul. Marian Press, 2003. Print.

Ferngren, Gary, ed. Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction. JHU Press, 2002. Print.