Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Thoughts on the Jesuit General's Apparent Relativism, and a Reply to His (non-Catholic) Supporter

A little over a month ago, a very controversial interview with the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, was released. In it, Fr. Abascal claimed that all Church doctrine must be subject to discernment. While technically true, he failed to mention that all need to submit to what the Church has declared. That is so, because Jesus is Head of the Church. All doctrine that the Church gives us comes directly from Jesus Christ Himself. Here are a couple relevant excerpts:
Q: So if conscience, after discernment, tells me that I can receive communion even if the norm does not provide for it… 
A: The Church has developed over the centuries, it is not a piece of reinforced concrete. It was born, it has learned, it has changed. This is why the ecumenical councils are held, to try to bring developments of doctrine into focus. Doctrine is a word that I don't like very much, it brings with it the image of the hardness of stone. Instead the human reality is much more nuanced, it is never black or white, it is in continual development. 
Q: I seem to understand that for you there is a priority for the practice of the discernment of doctrine. 
A: Yes, but doctrine is part of discernment. True discernment cannot dispense with doctrine. 
Q: But it can reach conclusions different from doctrine.
A: That is so, because doctrine does not replace discernment, nor does it the Holy Spirit.
After reading the full interview of what the Jesuit General had to say, I have to say I find his words very disheartening. It sounds as if he's completely embraced moral relativism. Fr. Dwight Longenecker made some good points:
"This is astounding. Let’s be clear. While Fr Abascal thinks Jesus’ words are difficult to understand, Fr Abascal’s are easily understood. He is saying that we can’t really know what Jesus’ words were so it is all up for grabs."
The Scribe Stood to Tempt Jesus- James Tissot
Nobody recorded the Resurrection on video, so how do we know that happened? We know what the meaning behind Scripture is because of our faith in the Church that Jesus founded. I also think it's ridiculous that he doesn't like the word "doctrine". How sad. The definition of doctrine is literally "the knowledge imparted by teaching." If Christ is our teacher, and if we are to emulate him, how could we dislike these teachings? The obvious answer would be concupiscence, but Fr. Abascal takes it a step farther and makes it a dirty word, which is absolutely scandalous to come from a priest in such a position as he is in. It's as if it's no longer "politically correct" to mention the word "doctrine".

I think it's interesting to note, that if "discernment" is the end all, be all, and there is no absolute truth, why are we only seemingly drawing the line at issues of sexuality?

I found a blurb on Lifenews the same day this interview was released, which was describing an article that was in Esquire Magazine a couple years ago. It tells the story of conversion of a Dr. Willie Parker, a Christian who left his job as a obstetrician to become a full time abortionist. He has discerned, against timeless Christian doctrine, that he is helping people by carrying out abortions. He is doing abortions not in spite of being Christian, but because he is Christian:
Dr. Parker: "And I address this [that some women are torn up by the fact that they don't believe in abortion but they're about to have one] because if those people are getting inside your head and you're feeling conflicted, if you are not comfortable with what you're doing, you may be processing this far longer than you need to. There's nothing immoral about taking care of your health. There's nothing immoral about making the decision to not become a parent before you want to become one. There's more than one way to understand religion and spirituality and God. I do have belief in God. That's why I do this work. My belief in God tells me that the most important thing you can do for another human being is help them in their time of need." 
"The protesters say they're opposed to abortion because they're Christian," Parker says. "It's hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I'm a Christian."
Parker obviously doesn't believe that both the human being that is the mother, and the human being in the womb should be helped. His outlook on what a human being is:
When she [a patient] leaves, he points to the screen. Triplets. He's seen lots of twins but never triplets. Some women think multiples are more special, so they get more upset. 
After another scan, he points at the tiny blob on the screen. Eighty-nine percent of pregnancies are that small or smaller at termination. "That's what we're fighting about. To people against abortion, that's a person." 
When the triplets arrive, he points out one sac, two sacs, three sacs. 
But then he brings in one that's nine weeks and there's a fetus. He points out the scattered parts. "There's the skull, what is going to be the fetal skull. And there are the eye sockets." 
Floating near the top of the dish are two tiny arms with two tiny hands. 
Parker continues to examine the tissue. He points to a black spot the size of a pencil tip. 
"That's an eye." 
"That black spot?" 
"That black spot is an eye. And here's the umbilical cord."... 
Growing reflective, he continues to study the parts. "The reality is we've disrupted a life process. There are recognizable fetal parts, right? The capacity for this development is always there. After five weeks, you just have the sac. At six weeks, you have a fetal pole with cardiac activity. At seven to eight weeks, it's just a larger fetal pole. By nine, it's differentiated." 
But here's the vital question: Is it a person? Not by the standards of the law, he says.
So how would Fr. Abascal address this concrete situation? Parker is a Christian. Christian doctrine since the beginning has taught that the killing of children is morally wrong. Parker has discerned that abortion is not morally wrong; it is actually a righteous thing to do because he believes the murder of the child in utero is helping the mother. Should he continue to follow his conscience? Would Fr. Abascal direct Parker in this situation to "recognize the priority of [his] personal conscience" (as Fr. Abascal noted in his interview) in the same way he would a person who, while living in a state of adultery, believes they are doing nothing wrong by living more uxorio and discern they can receive the Eucharist?

Jesus Among the Doctors- Albrecht Dürer
If he does not direct Parker to follow his conscience, and exhorts him to stop murdering a human being in its earliest stages of development, how can Fr. Abascal be logically consistent in saying that all doctrine and teaching of the Church is up for debate? That there are no such things as moral absolutes? I feel like the Church is entering a very trying time. We should all continue to pray for our leaders and clergy.

On one social media site, a non-Catholic posted the following response in favor of Fr. Abascal's words. However, this person went much farther than the Jesuit General did. This person's words (we'll call him Tom) will be in red and my replies back to him will be in blue:

Tom: Imho, there is a solution to this. 

The problem, as I see it, is that we don't want a solution, we enjoy the ideological conflict too much to let it go. The worst thing that could happen to many of us would be that everyone agreed with us, because then we'd have no way inflate our own sense of fantasy superiority.

What's the solution then? It comes in a single word. Love.

Which of us has completed the process of mastering love? Anyone wish to raise their hand here? Jesus gave us plenty of work to do. None of us have finished that work. Arguing about ideology is just a place to hide from the job. 

There is no need for discernment or faithful loyalty to some pile of papers in the Vatican if we'd just keep our focus on the job we're supposed to be doing.

That's how it discerns to me anyway.

Nicholas: Yes, the solution is Love; but not in the warped way you've presented here...

1. God is love (1 John 4:8).
2. Jesus is God, the Word, made flesh (John 1:14).
3. Jesus said if we loved Him (Love/God incarnate), we would keep His commandments.
4. God the Son (Jesus) promised to send God the Holy Spirit (also love) to guide the Church, which He founded and is Head of, "in all things" after His Ascension. This same Holy Spirit will also bring to remembrance all things Jesus has said (John 14: 15-31).
5. Jesus, God the Son, is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. Jesus did not say He is several truths, but one Truth (John 14:6).
6. Therefore, following the commands that come from the Truth, God the Son Who is also Love, is the most supreme act of love any human can accomplish.

However, you may reject all this as I see your religion is listed [simply] as "human". Perhaps you could elaborate on it, but the way I presently interpret your religious affiliation is that you place humans above God, making the human race into gods themselves. This is why it's so easy for you to buy into the morally relativistic notions set forth by the Jesuit General. 

Your caricature of Catholic doctrine, "a pile of papers at the Vatican", proves you have no idea what you're talking about regarding the Catholic outlook on truth and love. Catholics believe in the deposit of faith, and this is where we receive our truth, our doctrine, and our Sacred Tradition. It's not stored on a desk at the Vatican. Please stop misrepresenting and belittling Catholic beliefs. [You] mischaracterize true love as being some kind of negative ideology.

Tom: "1. God is love (1 John 4:8)."

There you go, that's all we need to know. We can forget the rest of it.

Please note precisely what John said.... "God is love".

Please note that he didn't say, "God is tradition, dogma, doctrine, ceremony, rules, clerical authority, a trillion dollar real estate empire, the mass production of sanctimonious platitudes, rank title and fancy costumes etc etc".

If we let go of all that stuff then the only way to be a Christian would be to love, serve, and surrender. And the decision we'd face would be ruthlessly simple. We either do it, or we don't.

But luckily, thanks to the Pope, the Church, and many of you guys, I don't have to love, serve and surrender. Nope, I can just endlessly type wonderful intellectually clever sermons all over this forum and convince myself, and maybe even a few of you, that I'm interested in the teachings of Jesus. I don't know how to thank you guys, because typing is SO MUCH easier than loving, serving and surrendering. Phew! That was a close one. Thank God for The Church, my get out of jail free card!

Guys, seriously, if Jesus wanted to do all this... 

...tradition, dogma, doctrine, ceremony, rules, clerical authority, a trillion dollar real estate empire, the mass production of sanctimonious platitudes, rank title and fancy costumes etc etc...

He would have joined the Jewish clergy, because they already had that operation up and running.

Nicholas: Tom, you said: "There you go, that's all we need to know. We can forget the rest of it. Please note precisely what John said.... 'God is love'."

Wow, how truly sad that you just decide on your own to "forget the rest of it". "It" being the Bible, as well as the Church that Jesus founded. You can't follow the logical conclusion that stems from point one because you have a warped view of what love is. Define it. But you never responded to my request for an elaboration on what you mean by your religion being "human". So I'll ask you straight up:

What's your religious affiliation? Do you believe in God? If so, do you believe that Jesus is God?

And it's also disheartening how you completely mischaracterize the Catholic Church yet again, throwing up so many strawmen that it would take a book to refute the bald assertions you've made in just a few sentences: 

Christ With Singing Angels- Hans Memling
I'm not going to bother having a conversation with someone who presents a complete caricature of what it means to be a Catholic Christian, so please stop with the nonsense about "real estate empires" and the like. Catholics believe that Jesus and the Church are one, and Jesus is the Church's Head; we are the members of the Body of Christ. You can't separate Jesus from the Church, plain and simple. This is what Catholic Christians believe, and I encourage you to study more about our faith before you present a complete caricature of it. You act is if "typing" (I would hope we could call it a respectable dialogue) and "loving, serving and surrendering" are mutually exclusive. You don't even seem to consider the notion that "typing" can in fact be one in the same thing with "loving, serving and surrendering". But perhaps your own "ideology" won't allow you to see that?

You said: "Guys, seriously, if Jesus wanted to do all this... tradition, dogma, doctrine, ceremony, rules, clerical authority, [etc.]..."

Well, yea... He did. Just not in the way you mischaracterize it, i.e., seeing "rules" as a negative thing. You forget that Jesus was a practicing Jew. He observed all the Jewish ceremonial and moral laws. A cursory reading of the Gospels would tell you that. See for yourself:
"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5: 17-19)"
And before you or anyone thinks that Jesus' law and His "rules" are too hard or do not lead us to a greater love of our fellow man, consider Jesus' words here: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 5: 29-30)"

Tom: Everybody decides on their own how to relate to these issues. I didn't invent it! 

Are you aware that Jesus never once led a church construction fund drive? Did you know he never wore fancy garments to announce his elevated status to the world? Did you know that Jesus showed no interest whatsoever in building a global real estate empire? Did you know that Jesus never even wrote anything down? Did you know the word "Catholic" was never uttered by Jesus and does not appear anywhere in the Bible even once?

...I don't believe in belief. I believe in love.

"I'm not going to bother having a conversation with someone who presents a complete caricature of what it means to be a Catholic Christian..."

This is agreeable to me. Peace be with you.

Nicholas: Tom, you said, "Everybody decides on their own how to relate to these issues."

And if you believe that each person's interpretation on how to relate the these issues are correct, even the ones that contradict each other, then you are a moral relativist. Since I submit that there is such thing as absolute truth, I reject the notion that everyone's conclusions are valid or right.

[And] again, [you present] a caricature. And a bad one at that. So many falsehoods here that I won't take the time to refute. Again, if you want to have a real conversation, pick a talking point and I'll be glad to discuss it with you.

You said, "I don't believe in belief. I believe in love."

You don't believe in belief. Yet you have a belief, and that belief is love. 

Wow. Now you're just contradicting yourself. You evaded my question and couldn't simply answer yes or no if you believed in God or not. You have me at a disadvantage. You know my beliefs; I don't know yours. In turn, you give a non-answer, and can't even define what love is.

If you don't want to continue further, that's your call. If you ever want to have a good discussion about the Catholic faith without all the invective and insulting claims you keep peppering in, and how many of us not only "talk the talk" but "walk the walk", as you say, send me a PM.

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