Are Some Temptations Too Difficult to Bear?

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Orodruin ("Fiery Mountain")

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Is it possible to experience such a powerful temptation to evil that it is practically impossible to resist? St. Paul does not think so; in in I Corinthians 10:13 (KJV) he writes: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Normally I would accept such a statement as is–after all, St. Paul is in the canon of Scripture, and I am not. So what he says must be taken seriously. Some distinctions are necessary, however, before proceeding. First, what would it mean for a temptation to be “impossible to resist.” Possibilities include the following:

1. Temptations logically impossible to resist–This does not make sense, since whether a person resists or does not resist temptation is not a matter of logical necessity or logical impossibility–there is no logical contradiction to say, “No temptation is impossible to resist.” Nor is it a logical contradiction to say that “Some temptations are impossible to resist.” Logically these are contingent statements that may be either true or false.

2. Temptations naturally impossible to resist: This is not a likely interpretation either. Natural law may be involved if certain temptations are impossible to resist, but it is not the only or deciding factor.

3. Temptations practically impossible to resist: This is the most likely meaning of there being some temptations that a person cannot resist. Some have such power that no human being, short of Christ Himself, could resist them. Theoretically a person could, but de facto this is not practically possible. The issue arises of whether there are such temptations.

J. R. R. Tolkien believed that some temptations are practically impossible to resist. He says explicitly in his letters that Frodo Baggins could not have resisted the temptation of the Ring, and that some radically contingent act such as Gollum‘s cutting Frodo’s finger off and falling into Mt. Doom was the only way the Ring could be destroyed. Tolkien had no problem extending this reasoning to actually existing human beings as well. Thus, he did not agree with St. Paul on this issue. With deference to the authority of the Catholic Church if I am wrong, I must agree with Tolkien. There are some temptations which a person cannot practically bear. I will give some examples.

1. A person who has, but is unaware of, a strong genetic propensity to alcoholism takes a drink. He craves more, and figures another drink is okay. He continues to drink until he is thoroughly plastered. Now if he knew he had such a propensity, perhaps he would not have begun to drink in the first place. But it is, I would argue, practically impossible for him to stop drinking once he starts due to the strong craving his body has for the drink.

2. A married man meets a married woman. She is charming and manipulative, and he trusts her. She has an almost intuitive grasp of what he wants in a woman, and plays that particular role to perfection. He feels safe, figuring that they are both married. She, however, leads the man along slowly, flirting very little at first, but raising up the seduction level so slowly that the man does not notice the web being spun. How he should know better–but perhaps he has mild autism or Asperger’s Syndrome and does not read people well. He is drawn in and starts to have feelings for the woman, and she encourages those feelings, backing away when he gets scared. When she finally offers him her body, he finds he cannot resist the temptation.

Now there is no logical or physical impossibility to resisting these temptations. But I would argue that at a practical level, some people simply cannot resist them. Everyone has a particular issue concerning which they are tempted the most. With some people it is money; with others, power. Others may be tempted by sex; still others by envy or malice. Apart from a near supererogatory effort, the person cannot resist a strong temptation in his most vulnerable area of temptation. Now I am not tempted by money or power, but I have other areas in which I would be vulnerable, and in the right (or “wrong”!) combination of circumstances, it would be practically impossible for me to resist temptation–mea maxima culpa. The sin would still be my fault if I committed it, and I would blame myself and pray for forgiveness–even if a temptation were too hard to bear, I would still be responsible for the sin–there is no logical of physical necessity in my yielding. At a practical level, though, the difficulty in fighting off some temptations may be so high that it is practically impossible to resist such temptations. If someone yields to temptation in those situations, he should take responsibility, repent, and find strategies to avoid such temptations in the future. Human beings are “miserable sinners,” fallen creatures. The fact that with their damaged (but not destroyed) nature they are unable to resist every temptation to sin should be no  surprise.

Churches of Christ, Integrity, and Identity

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Although I am no longer a member of Churches of Christ, I have a deep love for my childhood church. The reason I left is that I could not agree with the Church of Christ’s central tenant of Restoration–the idea that they had “restored” the first century church. I did the honest thing and left–first, for the Disciple of Christ, which were theologically too liberal, and for the last seventeen years I have been a member of the Anglican Catholic Church.

The Churches of Christ separated from the Christian Churches beginning in the late nineteenth century over the issues of mechanical instruments of music in worship and the missionary society. The Christian Church accepted both; the Churches of Christ opposed them. Churches of Christ and the Christian Churches were recognized as separate churches in the 1906 U. S. religious census. Even after that date, there was quite a bit of fluidity, even over names–there are Disciples churches and Christian Churches that still have congregations called “Churches of Christ” today. As late as the 1920s, there was sporadic cooperation between the two churches. There was a third split, between the Disciples and the group later known as Christian Churches and Churches of Christ–de facto this occurred with the 1927 meeting of the North American Christian Convention in Memphis, and de jure after the 1968 centralized reorganization of the Disciples. The chief source of that dispute was the theological liberalism of the Disciples. The Disciples long ago renounced Restorationism. Both the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ and the noninstrumental Churches of Christ accept Restorationism, but differ on its application.

Here’s the problem I have: in a number of Churches of Christ, ministers and some elders openly oppose Restorationism. In Churches of Christ institutions, this is even more common. Now personally I agree with them, but what is bothersome is their attempt to “reform” Churches of Christ in a way that destroys their identity while remaining members of the Church. If these leaders had integrity, they would leave Churches of Christ for some other church. I am Anglican Catholic; if I ever disagreed with one of that church’s fundamental teachings (such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper),  I would leave the ACC. That is the honest thing to do. I remember Tom Holland at David Lipscomb University saying that it is hypocritical for a teacher there to oppose what the founders of the university wished the identity of the school to be–and I agree. I know many well=meaning revisionists in the Churches of Christ would disagree. However, I find it hypocritical to remain in a church and try to subvert its principle doctrines. Better to guide individual members who agree to a different church body or leave oneself.

The same problem exists in Catholicism–Roman Catholics who deny the essential theological and moral teachings of the church should leave instead of trying to subvert it from within. Thus Roman Catholic politicians openly support abortion and homosexuality, and Roman Catholic scholars deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. This, too, is hypocritical. If you don’t agree, leave. Otherwise, shut up and stop sneaking around to destroy an institution’s identity.

Academics and Closed-Mindedness

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There is a thin line between open-mindedness and giving up reason, but closed-mindedness is always a threat to reason. College and university education should be the ideal place where open-minded but rational professors help students to think. This implies that professors love truth above professional success, fame, and other temptations. There are many professors who do place truth above finite goods–thank God for their presence in the academy. From my experience, other professors are locked into their world views and refuse to think outside the box, placing acceptance by their colleagues above seeking the truth.

One area in which such narrowness is found is politics. The vast majority of humanities professors are liberal Democrats; some are Marxists. Although some of these professors are “true liberals,” allowing students to express contrary opinions, others are intolerant of difference. Those who oppose liberals position on entitlement programs, for example, are labeled as “racist” by these professors, who obviously have no idea what the term “racist” really means. The situation is worse concerning moral issues: opposition to abortion can get a student labeled as a “pro-life nutcase.” Opposing practicing homosexuality automatically gets a student labeled as a bigot, and the student may be punished. Some faculty members have been fired for even bringing up arguments opposing homosexuality, although one such case was overturned by a court and the professor was rehired. Professors who count themselves as “trendy” are really the most conformist people of all. They are more predictable than religious Fundamentalists, and emotionally they have the same mindset.

Speaking of religion, there is a bias among many academics against traditional religious beliefs. Academics may have no problem with a watered-down liberal Protestantism or liberal Roman Catholicism, but may detest traditional Christian beliefs and morality. And even though Muslims hold traditional moral values, the academic left is not as critical of them because they are non-Christians. Religion is considered to be a crutch, an opiate (to use Karl Marx’s term), an excuse for persecuting the poor,  a denial of reality, and an enemy to society in general. What religious expression there is is relegated to the private realm–woe be to the faculty member who mentions his Christianity in class, and the same often applies to students, especially to traditional Evangelicals and to traditional Roman Catholics.

Some professors are guilty of other kinds of prejudice. Psi phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis are well-documented to the point that parapsychologists mainly do process studies to show how psi works rather than proving that psi exists. Yet many professors dismiss a student or colleague who accepts the reality of psi as a “new-aged nut.” “I don’t know what happened to him, but somewhere along the line he went nuts.” Such conclusions are reached without an open and honest examination of the evidence for and against psi phenomena. The sciences have been the most closed-minded disciplines concerning psi. And although there was a period in the 1970s in which the humanities were more open to psi, today the situation has reverted to the same kinds of prejudice found in the sciences. Papers that accept the existence of psi  are usually only accepted by psi journals and at psi conferences, although recently there have been a few exceptions among psychology journals. Opinions contrary to the establishment are silenced by lack of publication, a death-knell to any instructor seeking tenure.

A third area in which there is closed-mindedness in academia is medical ethics. It is more and more difficult to find an article in a mainstream bioethics journal from a traditional moral perspective. One major exception is the UK-based Journal of Medical Ethics which has published articles from many different points of view, including morally conservative ones. Looking over issues of the Hastings Center Report, the premier bioethics journal in the United States, the articles in the 1070s reflected far more balance between traditionalists and nontraditionalists in ethics than the articles today. There was a greater role for theological ethicists, such as the late Paul Ramsey, to have their say. On the issue of health care allocation, The New England Journal of Medicine has served more as an apologetics journal for Mr. Obama’s health care program rather than a journal that presents a balanced point of view. From the point of view of the university professor, it is easier to get articles published in mainstream journals if one is in favor of abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research, physician assisted suicide, and even, as Jonathan Hardwig, in favor of a “duty to die,” including a duty to commit suicide if one’s illness is financially and emotionally harming one’s family. Would a pro-life professor have any chance to become department head at a major state university? I doubt it. Traditionalists are forced to take jobs at the few Roman Catholic institutions that affirm traditional morality or at an Evangelical Protestant school, and even the latter are moving to the left on moral issues. I am not opposed to a moral liberal, a religious liberal, and/or a political liberal being in academia. But there are other positions out there that need to be heard so that students have a more balanced perspective. Maybe one day the legacy of the 1960s closed-minded radicals who ruined much of academia may change–the sooner the better.

The Arrogance of Heresy

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Heresy” is a dirty word to many Americans. It brings forth images of heresy trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and the burning of Michael Servetus. Yet the concept of heresy is essential for Christianity unless one waters down Christianity to the point that it merely means, “Be nice to one another.” As I heard Stanley Hauerwas once say, “If all Jesus said was that we should be nice to one another, why the hell was he crucified?”

The word “heresy” has to do with division–a heretical doctrine is any false doctrine that, if taught, leads to division in the church. Heresy is dangerous in that heretical doctrines, if followed, can oppose teachings essential for salvation. For example, teaching that Christ was not raised from the dead implies, as St. Paul put it in I Corinthians 15, that “we are of all men most miserable…. and we are yet in our sins.” To deny the Virgin Birth leads to adoptionism and denies the full divinity of Christ. If Christ was not divine, how could He save people from sin and death?

The true source of heresy is arrogance, human pride, the primal sin. It is man wanting to go his own path instead of following St. Vincent of Lerin’s formula, “what all men have at all times and everywhere believed must be regarded as true.” It can be an intellectual arrogance–“I am too sophisticated and modern to accept miracles.” It can be an anti-authoritarian arrogance–“I am not going to accept what a bunch of church politicians said at a council 1500 years ago.” It can be an arrogance of someone wanting to live a life in opposition to traditional moral standards: “I know the church condemns abortion, but I think it’s okay in certain situations, and the church is just wrong on that issue.”

Now if a Christian holds heretical opinions but keeps them to himself, he is not a heretic–a person becomes a heretic when he teaches false doctrine. If that person, once warned, does not stop teaching false doctrine, the Bishop, if he so chooses, can excommunicate that individual. A heretical priest or bishop might be defrocked. One of my huge problems with the Roman Catholic Church is that it allows too often heretical teachers and churches to prosper. Why is John Dominik Crossan still a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church even though he denies the bodily resurrection of Christ? Hans Kuhn is a raving fundamentalist compared to Crossan. Why are priests who openly support practicing homosexuality allowed to remain as active priests? Why are Roman Catholics who openly espouse abortion allowed to take communion? That is for the Roman Catholic Church leadership to answer–they may have Jesus’ attitude that God will separate the wheat and the tares at the end of time. But what about the present when heretical teachers are leading sheep astray from the truth?

Mainline Protestantism, especially in its seminaries, is doing better than in the past–many younger professors are quite orthodox. It is oftentimes the older teachers who deny fundamental doctrines of the faith such as the bodily resurrection of Christ. Renewal movements in the United Methodist Church have worked wonders in taking it away from the liberal Protestant theology it had adopted from the 1950s through the 1980s. Thomas Oden of Drew University has been a leading voice for restoring a “catholic” (in a broad sense) orthodoxy to the Methodist Church. There are orthodox voices at some mainline Presbyterian seminaries now, something that was nearly unheard outside of Union in Virginia years ago. To his credit, Pope John Paul II did a great deal to reverse the radical trends asserted in “the spirit of Vatican II.”

I pray that these renewal movements will continue and that Christians will be humble enough to accept the wisdom of men and women over the centuries whose collective voice is wiser (and reflects the influence of the Holy Spirit) than anyone’s individual notions of what Christianity is. Only with humility toward God, toward Christ and His apostles, and toward Holy Tradition can one overcome the sinful pride that results in heresy.

Mixed Feelings about “The Exorcist Files”

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The Discovery Channel will be premiering a series, The Exorcist Files, which will consist of dramatizations of actual exorcisms conducted by the Roman Catholic Church as well as commentaries from both exorcists and theologians. Depending on how the program is presented, such a series can have both good and bad aspects. On the good side, the series may convince some people that a spiritual world exists. Open-minded agnostics may read further about the phenomenon of exorcism and come to believe in God, a necessary preamble to the Christian faith. This is probably the motivation the Vatican had in cooperating with the series producers. In a radically secular society, it is sometimes necessary to convince people that the world is more than a space time matter-energy framework.  Also, if the exorcists are shown to be successful, this will reveal the Roman Catholic Church’s ability through those in Holy Orders to expel demons in the name of Jesus Christ.  People curious about the ancient churches’ (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican) use of exorcism may be converted to those bodies–and others may find conservative Protestant groups more amenable. Another positive effect could be that people believe in the reality of evil and will take its threat more seriously.

Overall I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives, but there are negatives. Some people who watch the series may falsely believe that Satan‘s influence or demonic influence in temptation lessens one’s responsibility for sin. This is false; even if one source of temptation is demonic influence, an individual always has free will to resist the temptation and is responsible for the sin if he doesn’t resist. Another danger is that individuals will become so fascinated by demonology that they will make it an idol that dominates their lives and interferes with their relationship with God. Others may be so attracted to demonology that they are drawn into the darker aspects of the occult. However, these dangers pale in light of the massive secularization, first of Europe from the 1789 French Revolution onward, and the United States today, where regular church attendance has dropped into the high 30% range and where there is a growing movement toward agnosticism and toward outright atheism. If The Exorcist Files can do anything to reverse such secularization, then more power to it.

A Shortage of Exorcists

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At http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/a-shortage-of-exorcists is an article concerning the shortage of exorcists in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Apparently a number of dioceses have reported a need for more bishops and priests trained in exorcism. Why is there such a demand?

A skeptic might answer that superstition is spreading throughout the U. S. and a greater number of exorcisms is evidence of increased credulity. Such a skeptic might also claim that exorcisms are risky because they are a form of malpractice in treating those who are really mentally ill.

Another option is that demons (fallen angels) not only exist in reality, but that they can also possess a person who is spiritually vulnerable or who invites the demon in either by corruption of character or by intentional or unintentional invitation. Those who saw the original version of the movie The Exorcist may remember that Regan, the possessed child, became possessed after playing with an Ouija Board, in which the demon pretended to be a playmate and called himself “Captain Howdy.” Some individuals believe that using an Ouija Board, or even using other forms of automatic writing, invite entities in, and that not all of those entities are friendly.

There is also the possibility that, with God’s permission, a demon could possess the body of a good person, as was the case in the movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The idea was that if Emily Rose manifested the demon in such a way that people could not deny its existence, materialists would be open to the possibility of a spiritual world that is beyond the material. And that opens the possibility not only to the existence of demons, but to the existence of God. I do not know if the priests involved in the “real Emily Rose case,” the exorcism of Anneliese Michel, had such an end in mind. It seems to me that they sincerely tried to help her, but unfortunately she died of dehydration and starvation during the exorcism.

Why does there seem to be an increase of apparent demonic activity in the U. S.? I believe it is because the United States is becoming more and more a “Me! Me! Me!” society. Selfishness and pride are the primal sins, and they are always destructive. Humans are naturally social animals, and attitudes that harm family and other social relationships can be one causal factor in mental illness. Another possibility, which is a live option for me, is that the self-centered attitude of many Americans is a way of inviting demons into their lives in a more direct way. If that is the case, and I believe that it is, then more Americans are becoming possessed by demons–literally. Does that mean that all exorcism cases are of the demonically possessed rather than of the mentally ill? Of course not–in my judgment, Anneliese Michel, for example, suffered from mental illness and was not truly possessed. But having talked to priests who have extensive experience with exorcisms (and could not mention specific cases but referred in general to the things they had witnessed), priest whom I trust, I believe that some exorcisms succeed in expelling a real demon (for you philosophers, I do mean “ontologically real,” literally) from a possessed person.

Christians should not dwell on fears of being possessed, but should focus their lives on becoming Christlike with the help of God’s grace. As for unbelievers, it may be that God is allowing demonic activity to show, as William Peter Blatty tried to show through his novel The Exorcist, that there is a spiritual realm. In an ironic way, then, demon possession can result in bringing a nonbeliever or a doubter closer to Christian faith.

Should Churches Discipline Heretical Members?

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The word “heresy” is considered politically incorrect these days in a world in which the only “heresy” is orthodoxy. As someone in a traditional Christian church (the Anglican Catholic Church), I would hope that the church would act against the threat of heresy, including excommunicating someone who openly promulgates heresy despite warnings.

“Heresy” means “division.” It refers to doctrines, which if taught by church members, oppose the central teachings of the church. Now church members can hold heretical opinions, but they do not become heretics until they publicly espouse such opinions. So a member of the Anglican Catholic Church may not believe a central doctrine such as the bodily resurrection of Christ and happily take communion as long as he keeps his mouth shut about his position. But if he publicly proclaims his views, then he is a heretic and should be, first of all, warned to cease proclaiming heresy. If that does not work, formal church discipline, up to and including excommunication, can and should be administered.

Now what if an ACC member publicly supports the moral rightness of abortion? That person should be warned, and the rationale behind the church’s condemnation of abortion should be explained. If he still proclaims the rightness of abortion in a public setting, then the Bishop may impose other penalties, including barring the individual from taking communion. If the behavior continues, excommunication may be the only viable option.

Some bishops read the parable of the wheat and tares and figure that God will sort out the wheat from the tares at the end of time, so why discipline heretics now? The problem is that a failure to discipline a heretic becomes, in the mind of the public, evidence that the church either approves what the heretic says or at least that the church does not consider what the heretic proclaims to be that important. This sends the wrong message.

I would argue that a weak approach to dealing with heresy has harmed the Roman Catholic Church. It routinely tolerates those who openly speak of their public support of abortion. It allows heretics who deny the resurrection of Christ to openly proclaim their views while still allowing them to partake of communion. I realize that the Church may fear a societal backlash if the Bishop excommunicates heretics in his diocese, but I believe that the public would have greater respect than before for the Roman Catholic Church. A group that stands up for itself would be a group that many American people would find refreshing. I hope that the Anglican Catholic Church does not repeat Rome‘s mistake and that it will always maintain church discipline.

Will Traditional Christians be Persecuted in the United States?

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Attacks on the values of traditional Christians (and Jews and Muslims) appear constantly in the mainstream media. A Roman Catholic professor in Illinois is fired due to his presentation of the natural law argument against practicing homosexuality in his class. Just north of our border in Canada, it is illegal for anyone to speak against homosexual practice, including preachers in the pulpit. Violators are arrested for “hate speech.” Churches in California opposing homosexuality have been physically attacked by radical homosexuals. Those who affirm that abortion is murder are routinely mocked by the media and Hollywood. In some fields, such as academia, you must be careful to whom you speak about traditional moral values. If the government ever rules out some traditional values as “hate speech,” as Canada has, then the United States will be in the business of persecuting traditional Christians. We are teetering on the edge of an abyss of darkness, with the nation divided about 50-50 between two hostile value systems. I am concerned that in the future, intolerance in the name of tolerance will be enshrined in law. If this is not done by Congress with the help of a radical president, it may be accomplished by radical judges on the federal bench.

Although such a situation would be tragic for freedom of expression in the United States, it may end up separating the wheat from the chaff among Christians. Christians who have rejected their Christianity and still call themselves Christians (theologically and morally liberal Roman Catholics and Protestants) are irrelevant anyway–they might as well be militant atheists. But among members of traditional groups, those who would rather go along with the crowd will leave the church in droves when persecution comes. But the wheat, those dedicated to what is right no matter what, will, like Medieval monks, keep a dim light of remaining Christian civilization alive. I hope the country does not reach that stage. But it is difficult to reverse the trends of the 1960s, and after 1968 there was such a radical cultural shift I’m not sure it can be reversed. The scum of 1968 and its intellectual descendants now control the academy and most of the media. To this point, traditionalists have helped check the decline–but the battle has been two steps forward, three steps back. I suppose part of the problem is the nature of fallen man–it is easier to be bad than to be good. When intellectuals and the media offer excuses for someone to be bad, that person’s natural tendency is to say “Sure” and act on moral evil. I do not claim moral purity; I have made many mistakes in my life–but I do not claim that what I did was morally right simply because I did it, which is the tendency of morally rebellious Americans. These Americans resent traditional Christians and other traditionalists challenging their lifestyle, and they desire to silence them. If ordinary intimidation does not work, they will make use of the law. The time may not come in this country where Christians, like St. Peter and St. Paul, sing hymns from a prison cell. Yet it may, and may God help us if it does.

The Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Roman Catholic Church

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I do not remember who said that “Anti-Catholicism is the antisemitism of the Left,” but that is an accurate assessment of liberal opinion leaders in the United States and Europe. The media has taken full advantage of the sex abuse scandal to bash the Roman Catholic Church as whole. This is not to say that a significant number of bishops did not adequately oversee the priests under their authority. To reassign a priest to a parish after credible allegations of sexual abuse by that priest is unconscionable. That happened in some dioceses. Those bishops who failed in their oversight should be held accountable for their actions, just as priests who violate the laws of God and man by abusing altar boys should be punished for their actions.

The problem is not with blaming where blame is due; the problem is condemning the entire Roman Catholic Church or the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy for the actions of a few perverted priests and a few irresponsible bishops. Liberals do not have problems with liberal Roman Catholics, who believe almost nothing of traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. If you put a liberal Roman Catholic, a liberal Protestant, and a Reform Jew side by side you see triplets–all three believe the same vacuous creed of tolerance but little else other than a quasi-Marxist conception of “social justice.” These Roman Catholics are no threat to liberalism. But traditional Catholicism is a threat to liberals, and if they can successfully place blame on the entire church for what a small minority of priests and bishops have done (or failed to do, in the lack of action shown by some bishops).

Another fact liberals ignore about this controversy is that most of the altar boys were older teens–sixteen or seventeen-years-old, at the time they were abused. The problem with the priests who abused them was not as much pedophilia as it was old-fashioned homosexuality. But liberals do not want to hear that since it goes against their view that homosexuality is benign and harmless, merely a different “orientation.” Calling what the guilty priests did “pedophilia” protects liberals in their support of the homosexual agenda, and it also makes the priests look as if they are guilty of even more perversion than they actually were, thus making the Roman Catholic Church look worse. What the priests did was terrible–there is no excuse, given power disparities between altar boys and priests, for priests to violate their oath of celibacy with those who may have felt powerless to resist. But for the most part, unless a priest were extremely perverted, priests were not sexually abusing eight-year-olds.

Liberals are experts in selecting only the facts that strengthen their attack on the Roman Catholic Church. They attack Rome’s position on clerical celibacy, which is issue Rome must deal with, not non-Roman Catholics. I am Anglican and believe in married deacons, priests, and bishops. If I were Roman Catholic I would encourage the Pope to rethink the rule requiring clerical celibacy, a rule that is a matter of order and not a matter of essential doctrine. But I am not Roman Catholic and am hesitant to tell that church’s leadership what it should do. Overall, despite the fact that there was failure of leadership and discipline in some dioceses and parishes, I highly respect the Roman Catholic Church. Like any institution with human beings as members, it will be not be perfect–the same follows for all other religious bodies. But humans with flaws are found in nonreligious institutions–nonreligious bodies, such as civic organizations and quilt guilds, have members who do very bad things. Christians should do better–and the Roman Catholic Church should have done better in screening potential priests, in hiring, and in assigning–that is not being an arrogant outsider, but a common sense approach that may have avoided the problems from which Rome is now suffering.

The Roman Catholic Church will get past this scandal. Bishops will be told firmly to meet stronger discipline against clergy who sexually abuse church members (this can occur with female members as well as with male members). The RC Church is a large, slow operation, lumbering around like a giant turtle, but it must (and I believe will) take steps to improve its handling of accusations of sexual misconduct by priests. I am sure the liberals will say whatever Rome does is not going far enough–and once this scandal fades into memory they will find another way to attack the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.

The Freedom of Christian Orthodoxy

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Over and over I hear opinion leaders say that traditional religion is constricting, and I will admit that some forms of traditional religion are. Radical Islam, radical Fundamentalist Christianity, and other fringe movements have given traditional religion a bad name. But I found since entering the Anglican Catholic Church in 1989 that orthodox Christianity is freeing, not binding.

All my life I have been a thinker, a philosopher, someone who wonders at the hows and whys of the world. Growing up in Fundamentalist Christianity was not healthy for that kind of thought. But neither was my short stay in liberal Protestantism. For liberal Protestantism, there is no place to set one’s feet. Sands shift, opinions blow in the wind, and the only heresy is orthodoxy. Speculation without some foundation from which to speculate turns into anarchy, which is every bit as imprisoning as Fundamentalism. Contemporary liberal Protestantism reduces Christianity to a distortion of social justice, with the mantra of “race, class, gender” the only words that its brainwashed adherents can speak. To say that there is anything about Christianity that is important other than the political will get you excommunicated from liberal Christianity. I felt like a puppet on a string–I had more intellectual freedom in Fundamentalism.

When I discovered orthodox Anglicanism, I discovered the richness and breadth of the Catholic tradition. Within the boundaries of the great Creeds–the Apostle’s, the Nicene, and the Athanasian–and under the teaching of the bishops on moral and theological matters I could speculate to my heart’s content as long as such speculation did not become an idol. Within Christian orthodoxy, I can accept any metaphysics compatible with the basic teachings of Christianity. I am a Thomist along the lines of the late Fr. Norris Clarke of Fordham University, but I could hold many other metaphysical frameworks and still remain an orthodox Christian. There is even room for psychical research and parapsychology–even the most traditional Anglicans have been generally open-minded about psychical research in England, and European Roman Catholics, including Pope Pius XII, had no problem with research on electronic voice phenomena. If someone at the Rhine Center or SPR asked me how I could be such a traditional Christian and still accept psi and be open to the existence of ghosts, I would ask that person, “Why not?” Orthodox Christianity has boundaries, of course, but knowing those boundaries makes me comfortable in exploring what I can within those boundaries. The world remains full of wonder, and like a child I can explore it to my heart’s content as long as I remain within the limits God has set. I am grateful for that.

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