Christianity

Catholicism and Libertarianism

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If there is one thing that the 2016 Presidential election taught me, it’s that, as a Catholic, I feel politically homeless.  As our two party system continues to become more polar, Catholics often straddle the line between the two in a gray area where neither party truly represents them.  Personally, I’ve always leaned to the conservative side of the spectrum, but I found myself losing faith in supposedly conservative political entities.  It is a sinking feeling to come to all of these realizations, because it feels like the current political structure has de facto placed a sign on its door that says “Catholics Need Not Apply.”  Something started to go missing, and I needed to take some time to reflect in order to put my finger on it.

After gathering my thoughts, and with the political turmoil engulfing the country, I realized that my views weren’t necessarily “conservative.”  Conservative, by its very nature, is a nebulous term, since any major change in law or policy technically changes who is the conservative.  As Hannah Arendt once said, and I’ve probably quoted multiple times throughout the years, “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

On this most recent journey of introspection, I found that my views were actually better defined as libertarian.  After that revelation, I also found that both major political parties have essentially abandoned most notions of libertarianism, despite it being the core of this nation’s founding.  As most libertarians would agree, I realized my political leanings were not so much about left and right, but rather state and individual.  What truly surprised me, though, is how much libertarian principles can be seen in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

A.) A CATHOLIC UNDERSTANDING OF INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY

I think most, when asked, would not associate the Catholic Church with libertarianism.  Catholicism often gets associated with some form of strict legalism or moralism.  However, nothing can be further from the truth, and there is a great deal of detailed thought under the misunderstood surface.  Catholicism actually has a great deal to say about the concept of freedom, and this is born from the very root of its understanding of the human person.

The United States of America, from the moment of the Declaration of Independence, prefaced everything on defining the core concept of freedom and rights being innate in human beings.  Everything flows from first laying down that foundation, which was so elegantly laid out centuries ago:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their CREATOR, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The truth, which is self-evident by virtue of our very nature, is that we are endowed with certain rights.  While the “CREATOR” part can be left out for other debates, it is still important in understanding that rights are innate in our being and, therefore, NOT defined or granted by others.  If they were, then they would not be unalienable and would be rendered meaningless through relativism, since they could be changed or redefined on a whim based upon the views of whoever held power at the time.  Human beings intrinsically have, therefore, a right to freedom in their lives, most notably to pursue the ever elusive idea of happiness.

This freedom provided to us by our unalienable rights is actually at the very heart of the Catholic understanding of the human person through how Catholicism views man’s creation.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”

“Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.” –St. Irenaeus

This is rooted in Biblical teaching in Sirach 15:14, which reads:

When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice.

Again, leaving aside any debate about the existence of God, the Catholic Church clearly teaches man is free and has control over his own actions.  After establishing that mankind has freedom, the Catechism elaborates on it further by defining it:

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

This was intended and desired, with man having the ability to freely choose his path in life.  There is, of course, the hope that we will seek the good with that freedom, in which the Catholic Church believes freedom can find its perfection, but if we were forced in that direction we could not then argue that we are free by nature.  Being free, then, leaves open the possibility of making right and wrong choices:

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

Although expressed by the notions of good/evil and perfection/sin, this is no different than pointing out that, even though we are free to act, we are not free from the consequences of our actions.  Freedom is a necessity, but the ability to act or not within our will can (and is) abused when used in a way contrary to what is good.

So, there is a great deal in common between what has been expressed in the Catechism about the nature of freedom and libertarianism: man is, by its very nature, a free entity, and man has the natural right to freely act according to his will.  In other words, man has personal autonomy.  It is true that Catholicism takes that and applies it to what we should do with our freedom, but it never abandons the fact that true freedom of action to shape one’s own life, as opposed to force, is the key to our very being.

B.) A CATHOLIC UNDERSTANDING OF RIGHTS AND LAW

The above notions of personal autonomy establish a fundamental understanding of the human person in terms of our innate rights to life and freedom, but the world contains more than just one of us.  We work together, have relationships, and, unfortunately, we sometimes butt heads.  Inevitably, then, the conversation will turn to what role our human institutions and governments have in relation to the freedom of the individual.  Libertarian ideals seek to maximize the amount of personal autonomy and limit government power over the individual, so chief among government’s roles is the protection of our freedoms.  Again, the Catholic Church agrees:

1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect.  The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.

Even with acknowledging the right to exercise our freedom and the necessity of recognizing it and protecting it, Catholicism largely doesn’t give a blueprint on how government should do so.  Different Popes at different times have railed against the wrongs they see in different systems, whether it was St. Pope John Paul II speaking about socialism or Pope Francis warning of the materialism that can come with an idolization of money.  The criticisms are for different reasons, whether it be a lack of protecting the right to exercise our freedom or the abuse of the freedom we do have protected.  Still, some of the greatest Catholic thinkers have pondered the limits of human laws, and there are, again, libertarian overtones when these issues arise.  St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, had the following to say about law and morality:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like…

The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous, viz. that they should abstain from all evil. Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils: thus it is written (Proverbs 30:33): “He that violently bloweth his nose, bringeth out blood”; and (Matthew 9:17) that if “new wine,” i.e. precepts of a perfect life, “is put into old bottles,” i.e. into imperfect men, “the bottles break, and the wine runneth out,” i.e. the precepts are despised, and those men, from contempt, break into evils worse still.

The natural law is a participation in us of the eternal law: while human law falls short of the eternal law. Now Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5): “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence. Nor, if this law does not attempt to do everything, is this a reason why it should be blamed for what it does.” Wherefore, too, human law does not prohibit everything that is forbidden by the natural law.

Limiting the scope of law, particularly when it applies to “victimless crimes,” is an ideal that many libertarians share.  Aquinas pointed out, succinctly, that human law is not designed to make man perfect and that it is also not necessary to legislate all of morality.  In fact, in man’s flawed existence, you couldn’t possibly legislate man into a state of virtue.  So, the real focus of the law should be for the most serious offenses, and should also be further focused on those offenses that harm others.  This is reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s definition of rights and liberty:

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

In essence, if each person is represented by a circle, we form a massive Venn diagram where the equal rights of others intersect.  In those intersecting areas is where you will find the most proper use of law to protect the public from, as Aquinas put it, the most grievous of vices or to adjudicate disputes.

C.) SUBSIDIARITY: A CATHOLIC UNDERSTANDING OF GOVERNMENT’S ROLE

Elaborating on the freedom of the individual and the importance of government to protect that freedom within a limited human law, it should be apparent that the Catholic Church views personal autonomy to be not only important, but integral to the very dignity of the human person.  Therefore, logically, any infringement upon man’s freedom robs him of his dignity, but there are many ways freedom can be attacked.  We often think of clear examples, such as slavery, but there are far more insidious ways freedom can be indirectly extinguished.  One such way is by usurping man’s activities and responsibilities.

Although not called by the name subsidiarity, Pope Leo XIII prepared the foundational principles of the concept in his 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum.  Rerum is a direct commentary on socialism and its inevitable effects on man, where Leo XIII defends private property ownership and the importance of man’s labor.  Through that defense, he wrote the following:

The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error. True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth. In like manner, if within the precincts of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, public authority should intervene to force each party to yield to the other its proper due; for this is not to deprive citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them. But the rulers of the commonwealth must go no further; here, nature bids them stop.

Forty years later, as the name literally states, the condemnation of a usurpation of man’s actions was expanded further by Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo anno:

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of “subsidiary function,” the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State.

All of Quadragesimo is a very detailed piece about man and government, written at a time that saw the rise of Nazism and Communism on one hand and the entrenching and expansion of capitalism on the other.  In it, Pope Pius XI also warns against the reduction of all things into the two spheres of the individual and the state, making the case for multiple social units between them.  This includes everything from the family to local governments, non-profit organizations, and corporations.  This hierarchy of social order, between individuals and the State through various social structures that promotes “Industries and Professions” for man to exercise his freedom with others, strikes a balance between statism and complete individualism.  In more clear terms, subsidiarity as a concept presents a strong case for limited government.

Between the two documents, a picture of limited government is painted that places as much focus as possible on the smallest units of social life.  Government’s limited role, then, is only to support smaller units in those functions that they cannot handle on their own.  To take away a smaller social unit’s function is to rob the individuals of their usefulness and dignity.

The commitment to the concept of subsidiarity didn’t end there, as St. Pope John Paul II wrote Centesimus annus on the 100th anniversary of Rerum.  The position remained the same, notably:

In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called “Welfare State”. This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the “Social Assistance State”. Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

The principle of subsidiarity has had a large effect on institutions outside of the Church as well.  The European Union uses subsidiarity as a core concept in its functionality as a governing body.  Also, the United Nations has even noted its usefulness, stating in its Development Programme’s 1999 report:

Decentralization, or decentralising governance, refers to the restructuring or reorganisation of authority so that there is a system of co-responsibility between institutions of governance at the central, regional and local levels according to the principle of subsidiarity, thus increasing the overall quality and effectiveness of the system of governance, while increasing the authority and capacities of sub-national levels.

Many libertarians hold that self-governance is an important principle, and subsidiarity is largely a parallel concept that guides how limited a government should be with its responsibilities.  It by no means ends with Papal encyclicals, either.  Many great Catholic writers and thinkers, from G.K. Chesterton to Dorothy Day, have added their thoughts on the matter.  Unfortunately, even amongst modern Catholics, the idea of subsidiarity is not discussed much, but hopefully that will change as we continue to live under an ever-expanding bureaucracy.

D.) CATHOLIC LIBERTARIANISM

It is, of course, difficult to reduce 2,000 years of thought into a single essay on the subject of man’s nature and social interactions.  However, what should emerge, from examining specifics, is that the Catholic Church does share many core values and teachings with the principles of libertarianism.  Both see the individual as a free entity, both see the government’s chief responsibility as the protection of those individual freedoms, and both desire that the protection of that freedom arises from a limited government that leaves man able to best express and utilize his freedom.

Libertarianism is a large umbrella with a diverse people underneath it, and although there may be disagreement on moral principles in the end, Catholicism undeniably agrees on the value of freedom to pursue the truth through man’s own rational thought as a means.  Many issues today are best left to that realm, through discussions between human beings in a more broadly social context rather than by the force of law.  Evangelization, at the end of the day, is based on that principle.  No one is mandated to be a Catholic, but Catholics believe we are to help others seek truth.  Whether it is a religious issue or a broader social discussion, reaching out to people on a personal level about what you believe and finding the truth toegether can only be truly preserved in a society where men are free to search themselves in order to decide on their own.  Catholics and other libertarians may disagree on where ultimate truth resides, but both support the mechanisms of freedom that allow us to have that conversation.

As a Catholic, I have come to the conclusion that I need to follow my conscious on the principles of the condition of the human person, on the law, and on the concept of subsidiarity in the greater context of Catholic social teaching.  I’m not sure that the current two party system presents an option for those ideals, nor could a binary system ever accomplish that.  In the end it is, of course, up to the individual, but I think the time is right for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to stop being politically homeless and search for another option that fits them more closely.  Considering what Catholicism has taught, and seeing how it is written on the very heart of the United States in its founding principles, perhaps libertarianism can provide the roof Catholics have been missing for so long within our political system.  I think the time is right for many groups of people, including Catholics, to start building their own custom homes rather than accepting the two cookie-cutter models.

Finding the Peak of the Slippery Slope

I hesitated for a long time typing out my thoughts on the recent marriage debates after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.   The topic is such an emotionally charged one, with such polarizing opinions, that to take a stance or have an opinion necessitates a reality whereupon you will find yourself in a trench with bullets flying in your general direction.  It was viewing the debate as such, reminiscent of World War I trench warfare, that made me change my mind in discussing the matter.  World War I is an analogy that is apt because it makes a person take defined sides and, even though it implies a person will be fired upon, it also assumes that they will be firing back.  I, however, plan on taking the madman’s course by waltzing between the trenches.

I sincerely believe we all need to take a step back and holster our emotions for just a moment to try and refocus our efforts in discussing the topic with some rationality.  I call it the madman’s course because, by finding out where we truly stand today and how we got here, it may involve being shot at by everyone.  However, if we look at things a little more objectively, we may find out that we’ve helped dig each other’s trenches before we open fired, and the goal is to get people to stop shooting and reevaluate.  With that in mind, I hope my thoughts can be read with an open mind and as a thought-provoking dialogue more than any kind of judgmental attack.

A.) SUMMING UP OBERGEFELL V. HODGES

At the core of Obergefell is the dilemma presented by any discussion of tradition: is tradition set in stone, or is it one that evolves as society changes?  For the defender of tradition, Justice Kennedy succinctly sums up the position after discussing the history of marriage: “That history [of marriage] is the beginning of these cases. The re­spondents say it should be the end as well.”  Such is an argument for status quo.  Meanwhile, on the other side, Kennedy also sums the position up nicely: “Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities.  And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex mar­riage is their only real path to this profound commitment.”  Such is an argument for change of the status quo by including something new to the traditional understanding.

It may go without saying that the discussion revolves around possibly altering the tradition of marriage, but it is important to remember the absolute necessity of knowing what it is that we are seeking to change before we argue about whether or not to change it.  So, looking at marriage historically and philosophically is vitally important to frame the discussion.

There is a key difference between marriage in a philosophical sense (what I like to call capital-T “Tradition”) and marriage in a legal sense (what I like to call lowercase-t “tradition”), and it is imperative that we figure out which one we are talking about when we discuss change.  Justice Kennedy does, without outright acknowledging it, make a distinction between the two, by stating the revelation through history of the “transcendent importance of marriage.”  He then delves into his personal opinion of what that importance entails as a backdrop:

The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secu­lar realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

Furthermore, he says that marriage acts by “binding families and societies together,” using examples from two culturally different historical perspectives.  First, from Confucius, in stating that marriage lies at the foundation of government, and then in a quote from Cicero, stating “The first bond of society is marriage; next, children; and then the family.”

Unfortunately, the discussion ends there on the philosophical side.  Justice Kennedy provides the smallest and most shallow framework possible before diving into the subject at hand.  In his writing, a philosophical look into marriage is almost completely glossed over.  This is problematic on multiple levels, but more seriously because the subject is so fundamental to human existence.  It deserves a lot more attention than it was given. While the language is flowery and the attempt to tie culturally diverse backgrounds together is intriguing, is it adequate in helping to define Traditional marriage?

Kennedy’s treatment of traditional marriage is not much better.  Essentially, a paragraph is devoted to examples of times laws and customs around marriage have changed over the years (in contrast with eight paragraphs detailing the recent history of the gay rights movement).  While the few references to changes in marriage customs and law are interesting individually, the reason for mentioning these changes is as a rationale that marriage can, and should, continue to change as society does.  Changing marriage is good in of itself, because:

These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understand­ings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new genera­tions, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.

So, with all of that on the table, how does Kennedy ultimately define marriage using this background?  It can be summarized most by his closing paragraph, which reads as follows:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod­ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be­come something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.

That definition is a good parallel to the celebrations that broke out after the rulings and the slogan that came forth: love wins.  Marriage, in the end, is about love.  Fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family, but most of all, love.  How can one argue that, and isn’t that what Traditional marriage has always been, even if traditions around marriage have changed?  Are we changing Traditional marriage at all, and are we merely changing the laws to correct a flaw in our historical thinking in how to treat it?

B.) THE REAL HEART OF MARRIAGE

Even though the sentences are literally right next to each other and there is an attempt to make them sound similar when discussing the philosophical roots of marriage, Kennedy’s take on marriage is actually quite different from the historical sources he quoted.  Kennedy, in his comment that marriage acts by “binding families and societies together,” presupposes the existence of family and society while marriage is essentially the glue.  It gives rise to a notion that marriage is a societal construct designed to keep itself whole, and I would venture that many today feel that way.

That is not, however, the way marriage is portrayed by Confucius and Cicero.  Later in Kennedy’s opinion, he also quotes de Tocqueville, who ironically contradicts the notion that Kennedy presents in succinct fashion:

[Marriage is] the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.

For each of them, even from backgrounds that span from China in 500 BC to more modern times, marriage is seen as the foundation of society itself and is the primary human relationship that society builds upon.  In fact, marriage is not just the foundation of society, but gives birth to it.  Each person quoted succinctly states that marriage is, in fact, needed for society to exist, and is not merely a construct to hold it together.

What is particularly stunning in Kennedy’s opinion is that Judeo-Christian thought, regardless of one’s opinion of it, was instrumental and vastly influential in regards to marriage in the Western world.  Yet, it is not even mentioned in Kennedy’s all-too-brief history of marriage as he skipped 2,000 years of thought and discussion that occurred during the time period between Cicero and himself with a brief mention of de Tocqueville in the middle.  That is not to say that Judeo-Christian thought needs to be used as a basis for any form of decision, but when exploring it and its influence on the philosophy of marriage, one would see great detail in the implications that are left out in the short statements of Confucius, Cicero, and de Tocqueville.

Let’s work our way backwards from an end point of a society that is already in existence.  Human beings are inherently social creatures, and with higher functioning, we group together and establish rules, both written and unwritten, that govern our interaction between one another.  In order for society to function, it requires a population of individuals who have been raised and socialized towards the end of maintaining society.  That population does not spring forth on its own, nor does it arrive at common societal norms and behaviors through its own devices.  That population needs to be birthed and raised by others.  And there, in its patently obvious yet blindingly forgotten form, is the implication of those earlier quotes: at the root of society, at its very foundation, is the formation of new human beings to take part in society.  Without them, there are no future generations to whom we can pass society and tradition down.

There is, furthermore, biological obviousness that seems to escape modern dialogue as well.  Only one relationship can produce offspring to add to society, and every single living person is the fruit of that natural relationship.  We are inherently sexual creatures, and not only that, we are complimentary.  We have entire systems devoted to the creation of new human beings that need to work together towards that end.  Furthermore, humans have an added dimension of not just working towards sexual maturity and biological adulthood, like the animal kingdom, but also emotional and societal maturity.  Apart from some longer lived species, human beings spend an inordinate amount of time working towards that holistic maturity (about a quarter of our entire lives, in fact).  This requires others for leadership and, coming full circle, to pass down the traditions and norms of the society that new human beings have been birthed into.  With our innate desire to know where we have come from, both physically and societally, the most logical and best suited individuals for that task are the ones that brought that person into the world.

This isn’t a new revelation.  This is the inherent implication of marriage as a foundation of society and the very substance of where its Tradition arises.  It is inherent in the word itself, which finds its roots not only in joining together, but also mating and impregnation.  It is found in the language that surrounds marriage, including husband and wife.  It is the first human relationship, and the relationship from which society continues to spring forth and to maintain itself.  It is not merely a binding together of societal participants.  And, beyond that, the reason that so many philosophers from such wide cultures came to that same understanding is because it is imprinted upon us as a part of natural law.  To use the definition used by the Catholic Church, which fills much of that 2,000 year gap in Western thought between Cicero and Justice Kennedy:

Marriage is that individual union through which man and woman by their reciprocal rights form one principle of generation. It is effected by their mutual consent to give and accept each other for the purpose of propagating the human race, of educating their offspring, of sharing life in common, of supporting each other in undivided conjugal affection by a lasting union.

That is why marriage is the foundation of society.  Society needs people, and the very relationship that is the ideal for bringing those people into society is marriage.  It is a natural order, and there is only one human relationship that can be ordered in that way.  This very notion is also at the heart of the treatment various philosophers have given it, as noted throughout the dissenting opinions of the court case, and is the basis for many religious views on the subject.

To go back to an earlier statement I made, there is no hatred or malice in stating that and it is not meant to elicit an emotional response.  Rather, it is a simple declaration of the order inherent in our very being, one that was seen by Confucius, Cicero, and de Tocqueville.  I have not ventured to state anything that falls outside of the natural order is immoral.  We, of course, don’t live in a perfect world, and some things do go askew.  Children lose parents, couples can struggle with infertility, some parents struggle with being a parent at all or are not capable of properly raising or caring for their own.  However, the existence of these things, as tragic as they are and worthy of empathy, do not invalidate the natural law in the same way that a broken rule doesn’t render a rule meaningless.  Even in the bleakest of situations we can still orient our actions towards their natural ends.

That is true Traditional marriage, the one which is imprinted upon humanity and which society, throughout history, has tried to promote.  However, this is not the basis that has been used in any of our current debates.  The situation is, unfortunately, much more complicated than that.

C.) THE SLIPPERY SLOPE PREDATES GAY RIGHTS

Many of the arguments proposed by those who oppose gay marriage center on three main notions: 1.) if the person who opposes gay marriage is religious, they often find that it violates the sanctity of the institution as they believe it to be, 2.) marriage is between a man and a woman, and 3.) gay marriage is a slippery slope towards other forms of relationships that may be morally unacceptable.  The trouble is, the Traditional marriage they are trying to defend has actually been changed long ago by the very people trying to defend it.

In terms of the holy nature of marriage in a religious sense, a counter argument often comes up in regards to things like divorce.  How holy can an institution be if divorce is acceptable?  This is a very valid point, but it actually goes much deeper than that.  Here are a few quotes that show this point:

“Lastly, there is matrimony, which all admit was instituted by God, though no one before the time of Gregory regarded it as a sacrament. What man in his sober senses could so regard it? God’s ordinance is good and holy; so also are agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, hair-cutting legitimate ordinances of God, but they are not sacraments.”

“No one indeed can deny that marriage is an external worldly thing, like clothes and food, house and home, subject to worldly authority, as shown by so many imperial laws governing it.”

“Not only is the sacramental character of matrimony without foundation in Scripture; but the very traditions, which claim such sacredness for it, are a mere jest.”

“Marriage may therefore be a figure of Christ and the Church; it is, however, no Divinely instituted sacrament, but the invention of men in the Church, arising from ignorance of the subject.”

The first quote is from John Calvin, the rest are from Martin Luther.  We like to think that reducing marriage to a societal or governmental construct is a modern invention, but in reality, a reduction of its religious character and placement in the hands of man truly began within the ranks of the very same people today who wish to now argue that marriage is of a special, holy nature.  It is the starting point of the thought that marriage Tradition, at the time, was a misunderstood facsimile of some other religious tenet, was entirely worldly, and was no different from other works such as agriculture and shoemaking.  Whereas the Catholic Church viewed and still views marriage as a sacrament, or an outward sign of inward grace instituted by Christ for our sanctification, the Reformation began the path of removing the sacramental nature of marriage and handing it over to the world.

Divorce follows along these same lines as marriage continued its journey from the ecclesiastical courts of the Middle Ages towards modern day.  Whereas marriages could not be dissolved without special declarations through the religious side of governance, we have seen more prevalence in divorce rates as they continue to trend towards the civil.  Whether it be Henry VIII breaking away from Rome and starting his own church because the Pope would not go along with his divorce or the institution of no fault divorce, recent history is full of examples of the dissolution of the institution of marriage that detracts from any kind of discussion of it as holy.  Even though divorce rates have declined recently, there is a strong correlation with the decline of people even getting married in the first place.  Marriage is not in a holy state, and people are right to dismiss that argument if they are being asked to hold their own view of marriage up to it.

The true turning point in modern marriage, though, was the widespread acceptance of birth control, particularly of a pharmaceutical nature.  Whereas there have been various more natural methods of birth control for longer periods of time, the ease and greater reliability of the pill created a large shift.  The Constitutional right to privacy, which came from overturning a law against contraceptive medication and instruments, didn’t become law of the land until 1965 in the Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut It wasn’t until years after that that the same rules were found to apply to unmarried couples.

Even though the current state of birth control is relatively modern, how have religious institutions treated it?  The first Christian denomination to accept it as permissible was the Anglican Communion in the 1930 Lambeth Council.  Since then, other Protestant denominations have mostly followed suit, either permitting its usage or staying silent on the matter.  The Catholic Church still actively opposes it and is usually lambasted by others in holding onto what is seen as an archaic belief.  Several encyclicals, including Pius XI’s Casti Connubii in 1930 and John Paul II’s Humane Vitae in 1968, have been written about the subject during that timeframe.

I bring up birth control and its history not as a moral argument here, but rather to show that we have as a society accepted not just divorce in a physical sense, but we have also philosophically divorced procreation from marriage.  It is no longer connected to it at all as a purpose of the institution in the modern mind, but is rather something that can or may happen during a marriage.  In fact, modern society doesn’t even associate it with marriage at all, as having children outside of marriage grows in acceptance.  Procreation has become a separate choice.  The dissenting opinions in the Obergefell case were quick to pick up on this as being the core of the Tradition that is being changed, but no one traces it back to a root cause nor realizes it has already been changed before they put pen to paper.  The root cause is that modern birth control options have simply allowed us to separate procreation from marriage, and it has facilitated the transformation of the nature of sex from procreation to recreation.

Kennedy’s decision is riddled with the assumption that procreation is separate from marriage, and he isn’t necessarily wrong in interpreting society’s modern stance in that regard.  Discussions of children permeate the document, but never in connection with the relationship that actually brings forth the children.  They almost appear as free flowing entities that deserve the dignity of having legally recognized parents, but are wholly disconnected from their own generation through biological ones.  However, it reflects that removal of procreation from the marriage discussion, which can be summed up in his passage in regards to it:

An ability, desire, or promise to procreate is not and has not been a prerequisite for a valid marriage in any State.  In light of precedent protecting the right of a married couple not to procreate, it cannot be said the Court or the States have conditioned the right to marry on the capacity or commit­ment to procreate. The constitutional marriage right has many aspects, of which childbearing is only one.

Again, childbearing is something that can spring forth from marriage, but is not a part of its core.  They are separate.  So separate, in fact, that you have a right to abstain from procreation entirely.

If you have no issue with the separation of procreation from Traditional marriage, but yet still believe marriage is between a man and a woman, then the question is this: why?  What special place does the relationship of a man and a woman hold if the natural order of marriage no longer has anything to do with procreation as a part of it?  What are you left with, besides sharing life in common and supporting each other?  What you are left with is virtually no different than what Kennedy has defined marriage as in his opinion.  What we are left with is defining marriage by the other things that are born from it, one of which is love.

In short, the definition of marriage changed decades before the civil rights movement, and modern Christianity is a part of those that did it.  And with that definition, the one which removes the nature of the relationship between man and woman from marriage entirely and merely tries to place a moral license on sexual activity, it is an untenable position to then say gay marriage is not acceptable.  Gay marriage, in this case, is a mirror for what we have already made marriage.  So, when arguing from that position and saying that gay marriage is a slippery slope, one must realize that they are already halfway down the hill.

D.) THE SLIPPERY SLOPE DOESN’T END HERE

Although gay marriage mirrors the concept of marriage that society has already changed, there is truth to the argument that it opens the door to further broadening.  Much of the focus has been placed on how “man and woman” is merely traditional, and traditions change.  However, with the changing of the traditional sense of that phrase, one must realize there are a number of other implicit traditions that can tumble with the same precedent.  And, according to Kennedy, can that not only strengthen marriage further?

It has already been discussed that modern society has entirely removed procreation from the concept of marriage, and therefore it is hard to argue that the distinction of “man and woman” should continue if that is the case.  However, if procreation is no longer any part of marriage, incestuous relationships should no longer give anyone pause.  Many of the arguments against incestuous relationships center on biological issues via procreation, but how can that be an argument when procreation is no longer in the picture?  What if they are two brothers or two sisters anyway?

And what about numbers?  Even though “man and woman” has been removed, the implication of marriage being between two people still exists.  Can multiple people not love each other, show fidelity, be devoted, sacrifice, or have a family?  Isn’t polygamy just a new dimension of freedom that will become apparent to new generations?

If we’ve moved beyond Traditional marriage and are beginning to reshape it using the traditional, let’s look at Kennedy’s four main points for allowing gay marriage:

The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.

If personal choice regarding marriage is inherent to individual autonomy, how can we possibly deny anyone their personal choices when marriage is involved, regardless of the number of people or family relation?

The right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.

Based upon all of Kennedy’s arguments, and how we are now acknowledging marriages ever-changing nature based upon how society views it, how is a two-person union a valid part of this argument?  Nowhere after he mentions two-person does he expound upon it.  It is an assumption.  And, through his other arguments and explanations, it is an assumption that can no longer hold water.

It safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and edu­cation.

After making this statement, Kennedy’s entire argument is based upon childrearing and the dignity that children deserve by having legally recognized parents.  Oddly enough, even though the right to procreate is mentioned, it is followed up with the notion that there is a right not to procreate.  Kennedy cancels the two out in short order by saying one necessitates the other which, again, already flows from modern society’s take on the matter where procreation is no longer an integral piece of marriage.

This Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order.

Kennedy goes on to say how marriage is something society blesses with a constellation of benefits to “protect and nourish the union.”  Not allowing access to those benefits, therefore, demeans gay couples and teaches that they are unequal in important respects.  Don’t we demean other forms of marriage between adults by blocking them from the same benefits?

Short of continuing to hang onto “two-person” marriage as a vestigial organ of the Traditional marriage, many other kinds of relationships fall under the same criteria Justice Kennedy outlined.  Furthermore, they fit into Kennedy’s definition of marriage.  There is often a bristling over the implied moral equivalence of certain relationships, but truly, they are a natural logical end to the path we are already treading regardless of anyone’s personal opinion on their morality.  And, truly, don’t they fit the modern view?  If love wins, then shouldn’t we open the door for all love?  If you deny other relationships the same rights, you are no different than those who oppose gay marriage.

E.) WE’RE IN THE TRENCHES TOGETHER

The marriage debate has turned into the quintessential example of Matthew 7:3-5:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

On the one side, we refuse to acknowledge the changes to Traditional marriage we have already instituted and become complicit with, yet we yell at others who actually mirror what we’ve already changed it into.  On the other, we decry the hypocritical views of our opponents, yet refuse to acknowledge the door is now wide open.  The truth is, both sides are in the same trench, and that trench is a world where procreation, children, and the continuation of society are no longer at the heart of marriage and how it is ordered.

Hannah Arendt once said “the most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”  The revolution has occurred, and now Kennedy’s take on tradition reemerges.  This history of marriage is now the beginning of future cases.  Should it be the end as well?  If we are constantly finding new dimensions of freedom, will we eventually find them all and reach the TRUE definition of marriage, or is it always changing, amorphous, and has no definition at all?

To reiterate, I am writing not to preach or enforce a particular morality on those who are reading this.  I am endeavoring to refocus the debate, and I’m calling for a larger introspective look at how we treat marriage through recognizing the logical progression of how we got here today.  We all need to take a moment and reflect on recent events.  It is hard to argue that we are undergoing social change at a rate that has most likely never been seen before.  One thing we should reevaluate is our own lives, particularly before we point at others.  We need to stop shooting at each other and remove the planks from our own eyes.  Reevaluation is important because we, at some point, need to realize that it is other human beings we are shooting at in the trenches, and each human person should be afforded the same dignity regardless of their opinion or of their actions.

I’ve said to friends before, I hope that everyone can agree on one thing: the reason we argue about marriage is because we all feel marriage is important and that it has deep roots in the human soul. Both sides are, in fact, aiming for the same goal of solidifying that importance, albeit from different angles and for different reasons. We all feel it is important because, deep down, we know that marriage gave birth to society and was not created by it.

So, each of us are endeavoring to do that one thing, which is building a foundation on which our future society will rest upon. Let’s all continue to come to an answer together and recognize that the vast majority of people are not arguing from a position of malice, but are instead trying to solidify a society that they feel is ordered towards the good of man, for ourselves and for our future.  We simply need to realize that we can never accomplish that without deep reflection, a proper understanding of all sides, and most importantly and regardless of the outcome, a common notion that everyone deserves the dignity of the human person.

The Measure of Man

There are a lot of things out there in the world today that are in a state of crisis.  That word gets thrown around a lot.  We usually declare a crisis based upon a series of events or symptoms where instability or volatility is pretty observable, but it usually involves something definitive in terms of a possible outcome.  What often gets lost in declarations of crisis is that you have to sort of know what you are transitioning from and what you are barreling towards.  It’s usually taken for granted that those two end points need to exist, since it is intuitive that something preceded a series of events and something predictable will happen if there is change.  How can you know if a current situation is a crisis without knowing what it was like before or where it might lead?  Maybe it’s just the normal state of affairs?

So, with that in mind, we have the existential crisis of manhood.  There are many that acknowledge it as a current problem.  For instance, this article in the Telegraph, oddly enough written by a woman, points to things such as suicide statistics to provide evidence for men feeling lost and incredibly unhappy.  On a more religious side, you have Catholic groups who also feel this crisis is a major problem, so groups like the New Emangilization Project have been taking root to address it.  The NEP contains many interviews and articles about the ongoing man-crisis.

Although they are two very different sources, there is a common thread to both of them: neither address what a man truly was, is, nor where men are heading.  All they discuss are observable symptoms of a problem, but again, you can never understand a crisis without knowing where you started or where you are going.

A.) ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION

The true question that needs to be addressed is this:  what exactly is a man, and what does it even mean to be one?

The article in the Telegraph has many common themes in terms of how men are viewed in society today.   What you’ll notice is that, contrary to the popular self-esteem boosting phrase “you are not your job,” men are described as, well, their job.  The entire discussion centers on man’s loss of worth when they are removed from their work or their relationships.  There is an implied dependence upon external things, therefore the implied solutions revolve around coping with changes to those external things.  So, the name of the game is acceptance of change, and the crisis is occurring because of a stubborn refusal/laziness when it comes to that.  What’s lacking in that, of course, is that we still don’t know what a man was and, if change is necessary, what they should be.  All we see are symptoms of unhappiness and attempts at diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the New Emangilization Project falls into the same morass.   They have a list of core questions in terms of their project, and they all mostly revolve around diagnosis and man’s relation to external activities:

What is state/health of the faith life in men in the Catholic Church?  If there is a “man crisis” in the Church, what are the root causes?  How are men different (if at all) to women in terms of engaging in Catholic/religious life?  Does the evangelization of men require a different approach than women?  Are targeted efforts necessary?  What is the status of the evangelization efforts of Catholic men in the Church?  What kinds of specific evangelization techniques are effective in drawing men to Jesus Christ?  What role do the Sacraments play in the conversion of men?  Stepping back from the details, what are some guiding principles for the New Emangelization?

This is largely a list of actions to be performed on men or by men.  Although there is an effort to try and find root causes and a general state of affairs, the answer really lies in the seemingly simple question they are not asking: what is manhood?

In total, these give two very different spins on the man-crisis depending on your view.  Either a.) what we perceived as “manhood” was, in fact, wrong, and it needs to change to what it really is, or b.) we are trying to change manhood into something that it is not, and we need to return it to what it was.

B.) SUBSTANCE IS NOT ACCIDENTAL

What I do want to do is refocus the discussion on that core topic: defining manhood.  Maybe we’ll stumble upon an answer along the way.

A good philosophical basis for defining anything can revolve around the Aristotelian/Thomasian concepts of accidents and substance, mostly because someone hasn’t come up with a better model in the time between then and now.

Nor are they big enough to pick up entire buildings.

Nor are they big enough to pick up entire buildings.

Essentially, what something truly is, what defines it, is its substance or essence.  An accident, on the other hand, is a property that has no necessary connection to the essence of a thing.  So, for instance, having four legs doesn’t make a chair a chair, since a chair can have any number of legs (or none at all).  Therefore, having four legs is an accidental property of a particular chair and not really a part of its substance or “chair-ness.”  It’s a mere adjective, but not a part of its true definition.

What’s truly interesting, from that Aristotelian approach, is that you begin to realize how difficult, if not impossible, it is to truly define the substance of any object in its fullest capacity, whether it be because of the limits of language or our inability to drill that far down conceptually.  A lot of it boils down to you just kind of “know one when you see one.”  This is partly because of a combination of counterintuitive truths, in my opinion, that come together when trying to define something: 1.) we base our understanding of substance on our senses, 2.) we cannot fully understand what something is without also understanding what it is not, and 3.) we can’t understand what something is not without something to compare it to.  So, without a full knowledge of everything in the universe, we quite possibly can never fully understand or fathom the substance of any given object or concept (although we can get close enough) because we can’t fully define what it is and is not.

For example, imagine nothing exists.  Zilch, nothing, nada.  Kind of impossible to do, but get as close as you can.  Now, imagine that, all of a sudden, a circle bursts into existence out of the nothingness and becomes the only thing that ever existed.  How would you describe it?  Some easy things come to mind, like saying it’s round.  But, can you conceptualize round when the only thing in existence is round?  Does round have meaning when there is no such thing as something that isn’t round?

"What if you drew a giant circle?  What if it went around all there is?  Then would there still be such a thing as an outside, and does that question even make any sense?" -They Might Be giants

“What if you drew a giant circle? What if it went around all there is? Then would there still be such a thing as an outside? And does that question even make any sense?” -They Might Be giants

To gain meaning to any possible description you could give that circle, you need something else to compare and contrast.  Let’s visualize a square next to the circle.  Now, round has a whole different meaning, because we now know what “not round” looks like and it looks kind of pointy.  That meaning is still limited further, though, if we consider everything in existence, because we all know there are a whole host of objects that exist that are either round or not round.  So, quite literally, your concept of round changes with each new thing that you discover that either shares, or does not share, that trait.  Imagine how bad your head would hurt if you thought everyone had brown hair and met your first blonde person.  Your concept of what defines people would completely change.

With each new concept we add, the image comes more into focus.  When we started with one lone object in existence, accidents and substance kind of blend together and are one in the same because every trait is unique to that lone object.  Much like peeling off layers of an onion, we slowly start taking away things that we think are substantive, but we later figure out are accidental, because we find something that shares that characteristic.  Essentially, we’re striving to get to the core where no more layers exist, because that is the substance of the object.

What this path leads us to is that the substance of any thing or concept has to be unique and exclusive to it, because two things of the same exact substance would necessarily have to be the same thing.  It has to be a property that is necessary; something of which if you took it away or changed it, would make it no longer be the same.

C.) MAN DID NOT COME FIRST

This core philosophy about substance is present all throughout theology.  It’s present in the concept of transubstantiation in Catholicism, where there is a belief that the substance of the bread and wine change although the accidents do not.  It is part of the reason why there were recent translational changes in the language of the Nicene Creed used at the Mass, where consubstantial holds more meaning in regards to something being the same thing as something else (in this case, Christ and God) than the phrase “one in being with” because it conveys that they are the same substance.

We should be able to apply these same concepts to man.  What does man possess that is unique and exclusive to him?  Where is the core?

Regardless of one’s belief, the Bible paints a beautiful picture that flows well with this line of thinking.  When we read the creation accounts in Genesis, we are given two slightly different pictures as to the creation of man.  In Genesis 1:27, the event is not very detailed for this purpose:

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Mankind is what is created as the core concept, and we are further delineated as male and female.  Male and female, in this case, share in the substance of mankind.  Neither has exclusive ownership over humanity, and both can claim to be created in God’s image.

In Genesis 2:18-23, we are given a more detailed account:

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

In this passage, we get a glimpse of the shared substance of man and woman in terms of being members of mankind like in the earlier chapter through a different lens.  There is a quite literal transfer of substance through the rib of the man.  However, in this account, we are first given a notion of difference between man and woman in terms of the “suitable helper” description, a descriptor used for one but not both.

What’s telling, here, is that the writer shows that there was a period of time where mankind, much like the circle in my above example, only had one feature in existence: man.  However, man had no distinction or true definition apart from the concept of mankind, for he was the only part of mankind and there existed no other.  So, arguably, the concept of “man” did not exist yet.

When God declared that it was not good for man to be alone, there is an inherent recognition there that something else was needed to give mankind greater meaning.  And so, woman was created.  It’s easy to look at this and think that woman was created second and man first, but that is not the case.  Truly, just like Genesis 1:27, mankind was created first, and then man and woman.  Man did not come into existence until woman did, which then gave something for man to compare himself to and contrast.  Man’s “helper” in fact was the thing needed to give man his substance.

D.) WHAT WOMEN CAN TEACH US ABOUT MEN

If we look at woman through the same lens as man, can we determine her substance?  Will that help us arrive at a conclusion?

Woman holds a unique advantage over man in this discussion because woman has a very physical, tangible exclusivity that man cannot share: pregnancy and childbirth.  Only women can experience new life growing inside of them, become intimately connected physically through an organ that grows for the sole purpose of supporting new life, and, until the recent advent of formula, only woman could nourish the young child until it was old enough to eat food on his/her own after birth.  Much of the physical body completely revolves around this process as a woman constantly goes through cycles of preparing to receive new life if it should arrive.

This isn’t to say that having children is the woman’s sole purpose in life.  That is hardly the case.  Rather, it is simply a core trait that is completely exclusive to them within the realm of mankind that man cannot ever touch.  Much of current cultural debate actually centers on this very fact.  The battle for reproductive rights, as it were, is at its core about issues of maintaining autonomy over woman’s very substance, whether they choose to partake in it or not.  Likewise, it is emotionally and physically challenging whenever a woman finds out that they cannot have children when they desperately wish to bring new life into the world because it cuts to their very core.  However, this substance is physical and tangible, and the progression into discussion of motherhood, including childless motherhood, can certainly be made.  It can assuredly provide a foundation to further the discussion.

Can man say the same thing?  Physically, yes, men are different, but is that man’s core?  In terms of reproduction, other than mode of delivery as it were, do women not share the same substance in new life by supplying half the genetic code?  Isn’t reproduction, the forming of new life, something that is shared by man and woman as members of mankind?  There does not seem to be much that man can claim in the realm of the physical that women don’t also share in terms of substance as a member of mankind, whereas the opposite cannot be said because of the very intimate connection women have with new life upon its creation and afterwards.

This leaves us in a conundrum.  Any description you can use for man, you need to ask yourself: can women do it too?  Are women also the same in that regard?  We define the world around us with our senses, yet it’s difficult to find something substantive about the physical when it comes to man.  Everything man can do, woman seemingly can as well.  If we cannot observe substance there, that leaves us with a lot of things that are merely accidents in terms of the observable.

Anything you can do I can do better.  Including tangible substance.

Anything you can do I can do better. Including tangible substance.

Interestingly enough, turning to the Catholic Encyclopedia, we find the same dilemma.  If you look up “man” there is an article about mankind in general, but no article specifically as it relates to man himself.  The opposite is true of woman, which has an entire article dedicated to the philosophy and role of womanhood (although slightly antiquated, there are still a lot of great philosophical points).  It is only in the article about woman do we find a discussion about the role of man.

In there, we see familiar themes: duties, none of which are tangible.  Leadership.  Support.  Protection.  Can a woman lead?  Can a woman support the family?  Can a woman protect?  Besides that, these again are all duties, but they all carry the same core concept in the fact that they are entirely external to man.  How can one lead without anyone to lead?  How can one protect without something to protect?  How can one support with nothing to support?

In its own odd sort of way, not being able to find a discussion of man except in the article about woman is a microcosm of the entire problem.  Whereas woman appears to have a strong, physical, tangible foundation that is exclusive to woman, man does not.  It’s a thread that is carried the whole way through, from Genesis onto this point, and that thread is this: man’s entire core is dependent upon things outside of himself.  Man is entirely reliant upon the differentiation that was created when next to woman.  Man is reliant on externalities, while woman can rely on internalities.

E.) SOMETHING FROM NOTHING

Perhaps then, in a strange way, man’s very substance is not in exclusivity to any role or duty.  Man’s entire substance lies within the fact that he is dependent upon woman to give him meaning.  In other words, man can’t claim to hold exclusivity over those duties, but rather man’s exclusivity lies in the fact that those duties are all that man can do.  Therefore, it would seem that man’s core substance is one of complete sacrifice and complete reliance upon helping others, and that is the essence of manhood.  Woman can sacrifice just as well as man, but only man is completely defined by it.

It comes full circle in light of Ephesians 5:25, in the stunningly short, yet beautiful verse:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Isn’t that the core of what Christ did?  Did he not love the church in a completely self-sacrificial way, giving his entire being to his duty?  It is the highest of standards, but even if you are not a Christian, it is arguably the very substance of man.  Man’s very substance is dependence, because sacrifice is meaningless without something or someone to make a sacrifice for.  And, arguably, we would never fully understand or comprehend the sacrifice of Christ without that substance.

The article in the Telegraph and efforts like the New Emangilization Project, then, are kind of on the right track.  Man is, to an extent, his duties.  Perhaps the true crisis lies not in admitting that we are our jobs , but rather that we have forgotten why we are our jobs and how we should conduct them.  Then, perhaps those middle aged men could find happiness again, because even after all of these years, Aristotle was right.  Happiness is obtaining virtue and using it, and that’s the substance of man in the end.

Separation of Church and State?

This article on MSNBC came across my radar recently.  It’s called “This Week in God, 10.4.14” which, without spending too much time, suggests that it is a weekly thing.  Reading it over didn’t make me really want to dig too deep to see if that’s true, in part because I don’t think I will ever understand how anti-theism could bring anyone joy other than the satisfaction of tearing someone else down.  And it also spouted some of the same claptrap that proves, time and again, that if you say something mangled enough times people will think it’s true.

I will say, though, kudos to Antonin Scalia for always sending the other half of the political spectrum into a tizzy.  It always cracks me up to see it happen, as they also turn a blind eye to Justice Ginsberg for virtually the same thing that they accuse Scalia of doing: politicizing the bench.  The difference is that they agree with Ginsberg.  However, that’s neither here nor there, because the real crux of the article is that religion is out to get you and Scalia is hell-bent on tearing down that grand old Constitutional wall of separation between church and state.

The face of evil for people that...don't believe in evil.

The face of evil for people that…don’t believe in evil.

A.) THE INVISIBLE WALL

For those with a short memory, not that long ago a Senate candidate was the subject of much derision for questioning where the “separation of church and state” is in the Constitution.  Christine O’Donnell was roundly ridiculed (and actually laughed at) when she questioned “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” during a debate.  That is how ingrained the notion is today, to the point where a person is considered a fool for “not knowing” that the First Amendment is, in part, about separating church and state.

The trouble is, the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” is actually nowhere in the Constitution, so the question is legitimate.  The first article quotes the Constitution as being a “secular document, which separates religion and government”, so it should be pretty evident from reading the Constitution that there is a big wall somewhere.  The only two places religion is mentioned in the Constitution are Article VI, Section 3, which states:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

And the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

One will notice that, quite literally, the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” appears nowhere in the Constitution.  So where did it come from?

B.) WALLS TAKE TIME

To understand where the phrase came from and how it entered our legal lexicon, it requires a bit of history and a timeline:

1776 – The United States gains its independence.

1788 – The Constitution is ratified.

1791 – Bill of Rights enacted, which included the First Amendment.

1802 – Thomas Jefferson reflects on the First Amendment in a letter to the Danbury Church, first using the phrase “wall of separation between church and state.”

1868 – The Fourteenth Amendment is passed, incorporating the Bill of Rights (including the First Amendment) into State law.  Previously, all portions of the Constitution only applied to the Federal Government.

1878 – Reynolds vs. U.S., which is the first case of First Amendment jurisprudence that uses Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state.”

1947 – Everson vs. Board of Education, which is the first case to apply the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to a State law under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

So, there is nearly a 100 year gap between the writing of the Constitution and the first incorporation of the notion of “wall of separation between church and state” in the legal history of the United States, and that entry was via judicial opinion and not some founding document or amendment.  An interpretation is not the same thing as the statement being interpreted.

Still, none of that means it’s necessarily wrong.  Thomas Jefferson was one of our founding fathers, and his opinion on the First Amendment should hold sway, particularly for a self-proclaimed originalist like Scalia.  So what’s the deal?

C.) ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION

First, you have to look at the First Amendment itself, which prohibits laws respecting the establishment of religion.  What one needs to understand is that, at the time of the writing of the Constitution, there were in fact “official” churches in the various colonies.  Many of them retained the Church of England as established churches, whereas others (like Connecticut and Massachusetts) had established Congregational denominations.  Some of them were not disestablished until well into the 1800’s (on its own or because the First Amendment did not apply to the States until the Fourteenth Amendment’s passage).  There were, of course, people who opposed disestablishment.  They were called antidisestablishmentarianists, and I’m only pointing that out because come on, how often do you get to say antidisestablishmentarianists?

You'd do the same thing if you were me.

You’d do the same thing if you were me.

Furthermore, James Madison’s initial proposed language was to prohibit the establishment of a “national religion.”  This was opposed by the Anti-Federalists, who strongly disagreed with the creation of a stronger, central federal government under the notion that hey, didn’t we just fight a war to get away from a strong national government?  The word “national” was quite contentious for those who want a federal state where the individual member states retained a great deal of sovereignty, but it showed a key point.  The Establishment Clause was really about not having an official state-sponsored church or religion.

D.) WHAT IS A WALL, ANYWAY?

So, coming from a position that the First Amendment was trying to avoid the Church of the United States, we come to Thomas Jefferson’s phrase in the letter to the Danbury Church.  But before we dive into that, let’s think about something that seems readily apparent and is often glossed over: what exactly is a wall?

A wall, by definition in this context, is a brick or stone structure that separates one area from another.  So, wall of separation is kind of redundant.  But that’s beside the point.  The point is, one person builds a wall to keep crap from one side from getting into the other.  The Great Wall of China is a great example.  The Chinese built it to keep people like the Mongols the heck away from them.  So, the “wall of separation” begs the question: WHO built it, and WHO were they attempting to keep out?  I doubt you’ll find many cases where two parties set aside their mutual hatred to build a wall together, shake hands when they finished, and then flicked each other off as they went back to their own side.  Or times when someone built a wall to protect someone else from the dangers of the people building the wall.

Thank goodness.  Those people on the other side are now safe from our plundering and pillaging.

Thank goodness. Those people on the other side are now safe from our plundering and pillaging.

We already know the parties in this one: church (religion) and state.  So, did people build the wall to protect state from the church, or did people build the wall to protect the church from the state?  Oddly enough, Jefferson answers this question in his letter to the Danbury Church, a minority Protestant denomination afraid that their rights to religious freedom were in danger:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

Jefferson, in keeping with his general opinions that government = eventual tyranny, wanted to protect religion, a right of conscience and a natural right, from the powers of government in his above reassuring statement.  The wall is there to protect the right of conscience, that natural right to religion that is between a man and his god.  In fact, that was the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights, which Jefferson supported:

“A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.”

The founding fathers had a unique opportunity in front of them: after fighting the tyranny of government, and needing to build a new one out of necessity, they stood as free men with the ability to build a cage for the monster before the monster was even born.  A monster that they knew would inevitably rear its ugly head, even if it were a necessary evil.  So, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution as a whole, is meant to protect the rights of the people from government.  The whole thing is a cage built of walls of separation between the rights of man and the state, built by free men as a necessary protection of their liberty.

E.) SHIFT IN POLARITY

Somewhere along the line, though, the whole wall got turned on its head.  Somehow, we now think as if the Great Wall of China was built by the Chinese to protect the ways of the nomadic tribes to the north.  In Reynolds vs. U.S., the wall of separation phrase was first used in a judicial decision, and it focused on a different portion of Jefferson’s statement: namely that the powers of government reach actions and not opinions.  So, it was ruled that an anti-bigamy law could stand against a Mormon claim that it violated the free exercise of his religion.  There is certainly truth to that argument that government could restrict action, but the question arose as to whether the action by the United States trampled the free exercise of the religion of Reynolds.  So, it was centered on whether or not the state breached the wall protecting the right to free exercise, again showing the distinction about who the wall is there to ultimately protect.

The focus on action is certainly a legitimate one.  The argument was made by the court that allowing any action under the auspices of religion could eventually lead to someone making the argument that human sacrifice was a-ok because it was a religious practice.  The distinction here, though, is that the action being discussed is between citizens.  The rights an individual has as it pertains to other human beings is not the same as the rights a person has in relation to the government.  So, the first citing of the wall had little to do with the notion of keeping religion out of government, but rather if government overstepped its bounds.

Everson vs. Board of Education (again, a case from 1947) was really the decision that truly defined the modern view of the wall and that it applied to both the Federal Government and the States.  The language and tone in the majority opinion, which ruled that reimbursement for transportation to private schools was allowable even though a large percentage of those private schools were parochial, stands in pretty stark contrast to the language cited thus far:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.”

The first sentence is the exact meaning of the Establishment Clause: no state church.  However, it then starts down the trail of aiding any or all religions, forcing people to go to or stay away from church, profess a belief, etc.  This was really the turning point, because it shifted the focus of any and all state action to the Establishment Clause, i.e. any action is de facto establishing a state church.  Which seems silly in the context of transportation reimbursement somehow converting the State of New Jersey into a Catholic state deferring to the Vatican.

So is it ok for the government to force someone to go to church?  Of course it isn’t, but I truly think the court came to the right decision for the wrong reason, and we’ve been spiraling ever since.  Every single one of the things cited by Justice Black in the above statement, after the first sentence, deal with the violation of the right to free exercise of religion by an individual, NOT the establishment of a state church.  Can the state pass a law which aids one religion?  Probably not, because it probably violates the free exercise rights of others who aren’t getting that aid, not because it makes an official state church.    Can the government force someone to go to church?  No, because that violates their free exercise rights under the First Amendment, not because it establishes a state church.

It may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it truly isn’t.  On the one hand, from a free exercise perspective, the focus is on individual rights and protecting them.  On the other hand, you are declaring that the wall of separation was built to protect the state from religion.  It changed from protecting religious freedom, to a declaration of complete neutrality and, quite frankly, antipathy towards religion.  Combining everything under the Establishment Clause has led to the current conundrum, because it has now bled even further from simply prohibiting passing laws to virtually any action by any member in public office.  We can no longer balance free exercise of religion with keeping it away from the public sphere because they now clash.  They wouldn’t clash, however, if the view of the wall didn’t shift.

F.) WHERE WE STAND NOW

The notion of this wall keeping religion out of the state, instead of keeping the state out of the conscience of free men, is beginning to even further decay to the point where we are now seeing the exact opposite of the original intent.  Our current President has referred to religious freedom again and again as the “freedom of worship.”  This may seem like no big deal, but in actuality it is the next step in thinking after the polarity switch (whether knowingly or not).  The insinuation is that you are free to worship, and you worship at your place of worship.  It is an entirely private matter behind closed doors and away from the public sphere.  So, we have now gone from protecting the religious rights of individuals from the state by walling off the state, to protecting the state from the religious rights or people, to an even further point where we are building the walls around religion to entirely hem them in.

The whole modern notion of a complete removal of any religion from the public sphere has led to a sort of absurdity in this regard.  If I was a Lutheran, and I was deeply religious, what am I supposed to do if I get to become an elected official?  How does one check his entire moral worldview at the door when taking public office, which in large part deals with moral dilemmas on a daily basis?  Is using my Lutheran principles to guide my decisions in passing legislation, no matter how it is backed by Constitutional authority, a violation of the Establishment Clause?  However, that’s where we are.  We certainly haven’t legislatively disallowed any religious views for an elected official, but in practice we are acting that way when we have converted the freedom of religion into the freedom of private worship.  It was never intended that a public official should check their religion at the door.

You’ll notice something that wasn’t discussed: atheism.  In actuality, atheism is an absence of something, namely an absence of a belief in any deities.  By its very nature, you cannot exercise a non-belief because they are mutually exclusive activities.  Belief requires some actual thing to be believed, and atheism at its core declares there isn’t a thing to be believed in.  So, where does that stand in terms of the First Amendment?  How has the right to be free from religion somehow weaved its way into the free exercise of religion?  How is religion-neutral, which is essentially no religion at all, the new standard?  This is in stark contrast, again, to the original intention of the founding fathers, which was to protect the religious rights of the people, but it is a natural end to the hemming in of religion we see today.

So here we stand.  The state must be protected from religion, and we are slowly getting to the point where we are declaring the natural state of the public is religion-neutral.  Which, is quite honestly, a large difference from where we started.  For those who aren’t religious, this is no big deal.  However, one should probably step back and marvel at how a right, in the Bill of Rights, has morphed so much even though a single written word of it has never changed.  Don’t think for a second that this can’t happen in the future to other rights: all it takes is one court decision, with a couple of justices who think about something differently than you, to some day declare that 2+2=5 and make it the law of the land.

I guess I need to circle back to the beginning after such a long rant.  Was Scalia wrong?  I guess opinions can differ, but I think it’s safe to say a morphing Constitution, for better or worse, is a modern reality, when you can take one thing and make it mean something completely different over time.   Not to mention convince an entire public that a phrase exists in the Constitution when in actuality it can’t be found anywhere in the document.  Or convince an entire public that they should be thankful that that wall is there to protect the wolves from the sheep.

The Heresy of Declaring Heresies

So, the entire Christian world seemed to go into collective riot-mode when comments by Victoria Osteen went viral.  The main thrust of her comments was that what we do as Christians is not about God so much as it is about our own happiness, because God’s ultimate desire is for His people to be happy.  This pretty much goes along with the main tenets of Prosperity Theology.

Name it, claim it!  Dibs on hair gel.

Name it, claim it! Dibs on hair gel.

Oddly enough, I was more intrigued by the outcry than what I heard from Olsteen.  What particularly caught my attention was a post by blogger Matt Walsh, entitled “Joel Osteen and his wife are heretics, and that’s why America loves them.”  Heresy is a strong word, but even without using the word, the outcry had to do with exactly that: labeling the Osteens as heretics.  I’m not about to say I agree with Mrs. Osteen, or anything that Mr. Osteen preaches, but I think the outpouring of disdain should make Christians take a step back and think about a few things.

A.) THE PRESCRIPTION AGAINST HERETICS

One thing that reading the Early Church Fathers does is give someone the humbling realization that nothing they think is novel.  The issues we face today in Christianity are as old as Christianity itself.  So, when reading Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD), what you will find is that heresy shouldn’t be shocking in the slightest.  Not just in a limited scope of American Christianity as Matt Walsh was addressing (heresy isn’t uniquely American), but as a whole throughout history.  In fact, it should be expected.  In making reference to 1 Corinthians 11:19 in the Prescription Against Heretics, Tertullian stated:

The character of the times in which we live is such as to call forth from us even this admonition, that we ought not to be astonished at the heresies (which abound) neither ought their existence to surprise us, for it was foretold that they should come to pass; nor the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause is, by affording a trial to faith, to give it also the opportunity of being approved.

So, there really is no reason to be shocked that there are people out there who say heretical things not just in America today, but ever.  It was foretold, and they provide a trial for the faithful to lead to the very approval of their faith.  However, what exactly is heresy?  St. Thomas Aquinas summed it up pretty well:

There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity: the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity, common to Pagans and Jews; the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ’s doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics.

Essentially, the way of the heretic is the way of the salad bar.  It’s when one picks and chooses what they want on their salad and then insists Italian dressing is pronounced “EYE-talian” dressing.

So, heretics are those who pick, choose, and interpret what they want to believe.  And, you should put away your shocked face when you hear about it.

B.) WHAT IS THE NATURE OF HERESY?

That’s all good.  I think most people take the view of “I know heresy when I see it.”  Which is why so many were quick to condemn the Osteens.  However, that being said, look at the pronouns in that sentence.  They are all first person pronouns.  Which, of course, points to the very nature of heresy, which is the same today as it always has been: individualism and vanity.  It may look different today, but it smells the same.

Again, that isn’t a new revelation at all.  Tertullian, in his aptly named work mentioned earlier under the heading declaring heresy as “Self-Will”, pointed this out as well using references to the teachings of Paul:

Of these the practical effects are false doctrines, called in Greek heresies, a word used in the sense of that choice which a man makes when he either teaches them (to others) or takes up with them (for himself). For this reason it is that he calls the heretic self-condemned, because he has himself chosen that for which he is condemned.

Heresy is choosing what is right for you and you are condemning yourself because of it.  It is because of one’s Self-Will, an appeal to one’s own delusion of his or her own correctness, that lies at the heart of heresy.

C.) HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE RIGHT?

So, it truly begs the question: who the heck set up the salad bar in the first place, and who gave you the authority to tell that guy he can’t call it EYE-talian dressing?  I think most Christians would agree: Christ set up the salad bar.  Which is true.  But even in that simplest of answers you are still not answering the question.

Even in a recognition of Christ there is still a danger of Self-Will, because we still haven’t determined if we are actually talking about Christ or if we are talking about your definition of Christ.  What if one person doesn’t think olives are even included in the salad bar?  Maybe we even agree on the ingredients, and you have avoided picking and choosing the ingredients of your salad.  However there is a second part to heresy, which is fashioning doctrine as you please.  Maybe you did pick up the olives, but you are supposed to eat them, not put them on your fingers.

Googling "olives on fingers" proves that heretics are mostly children.

Googling “olives on fingers” proves that heretics are mostly children.

Heresy, as an offense, is offensive to orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy is the tenets of Christianity.  So, at some time, in some place, someone had to decide what those tenets were.  Which points toward how to solve the dilemma: authority.  Orthodoxy can’t exist without authority to declare it.  So, as Christians, we really need to sit back and ask ourselves not just about whether or not we are right, but by who’s authority?

Again, the Early Church Fathers were on that like olives on the fingers of a heretical child.  Tertullian, in the same breath as the last quote above, discusses this:

We, however, are not permitted to cherish any object after our own will, nor yet to make choice of that which another has introduced of his private fancy. In the Lord’s apostles we possess our authority; for even they did not of themselves choose to introduce anything, but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ.

This is very important.  Tertullian had access to the epistles written by Paul, and quoted them frequently, but he does not state that his authority comes from those documents in of themselves.  A document is an inanimate object.  It needs an author and a reader.  Tertullian, rather, states that authority comes from Christ, and through Him the very men the Lord entrusted with His message.  The ones who were directly taught and formally appointed by the Son of God himself, something no one else can claim.  Those men received the gospel and delivered it from Christ not just by written word, but by actual teaching.  They did not get their answers from some modern theologian’s commentary, not from a best friend, not from their local pastor, but from Jesus.

Human beings, though, can’t be everywhere at once (or live forever) so as the apostles delivered the message to the nations, they directly taught others what Christ taught so the flock had a shepherd and the message could continue to be spread.  The importance of this was tantamount to the Early Church Fathers.  Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 117 AD), who was a student of the Apostle John (in other words, one person removed from Jesus), said this about the bishops who were entrusted with those flocks:

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

A ton of emphasis was placed on the shoulders of those ancient message-bearers, and there is a good reason for that.

D.) WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE IS GOOD FOR THE GANDER

Matt Walsh and others are making the argument against the Prosperity Gospel by pretty much asking how it can be true when Christians elsewhere suffer horrific things because of their faith.  It is a good question, and I think we need to carry that same question when we discuss authority.  If it applies to a Christian at A, it should apply to a Christian at B.

The reason for the focus on the apostles and those the apostles taught in the writings of the Early Church Fathers is rather simple: Christianity predates the written Bible.  The Church in Corinth existed before the letters to the Church in Corinth were written, although the ability to mail a letter to a place that doesn’t exist yet to talk about things that haven’t happened yet is pretty cool to think about.

So, let’s say you converted when you heard the Good News for the first time from one of the apostles.  After hearing the message, you go back home to tend to your day-to-day duties with a newfound set of beliefs filling your sails.  But wait.  What did he mean by what he said exactly?  To whom should the question be asked?  You had no Bible to refer to (it wasn’t readily available at the bookstore yet) and may not even have a deep understanding of the Old Testament if you were a Gentile.  This is the point where heresy first springs to life.  Some would take what they heard and answer their own questions or interpret what they were taught to explain what was really meant.  Some would ignore certain things to fit their own worldview.  Heck, maybe some people just didn’t even hear things correctly.

Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

There was truly, at that time, only one way to know what was right, and that was to ask the people who were directly told what was right and entrusted with the mission to tell the nations that message.  It was the only way to know, and you knew because that was where authority was derived.  And as time progressed, those people in authority passed their authority onto others, and they passed it along to others, etc.  In Catholicism, this is called Apostolic Succession, which is the unbroken link between Christ himself and the priests we have today.

E.) THE OSTEENS ARE A SELF-INFLICTED WOUND

Unfortunately, Joel Osteen is the natural end of the individualism and personal importance that is perpetuated by an ever-spiraling schismatic approach to Christianity.

Again, Christians should really ask themselves how they can use that heresy word.  Heresy? Against what? A theologian’s personal interpretation of scriptures? Heresy against Baptists?  Heresy against my opinion?  Heresy can only exist where there is authority, and the Self-Will of modern Christianity killed authority long ago when EVERYONE claims to be the authority.

Just like following the money, Christians should always follow the authority trail.  This pastor said this and I think he’s right.  How do you know he’s right?  Because he was taught at seminary.  How do you know the seminary is right?  Etc.  Keep going back as far as you can.  If your chain ends at some individual in history and goes no further, and does not end in Christ himself, then there’s a pretty good chance that your authority is nothing more than the perpetuation of Self-Will.  It’s even more readily apparent and easy to see the end of that chain when your belief structure is described by using the last name of the guy that came up with it followed by the -ism suffix.

That kind of perpetuation of Self-Will has led to the unfortunate predicament we’re in today.  For instance, the PC(USA) recently affirmed same-sex marriage.  Forget the actual content of what that means in terms of gay marriage or any current debate for a moment and look at what such a decision truly means as a matter of faith, which is nothing short of a lose-lose situation.  It forces a member of that denomination to have to do one of two things: 1.) admit the PC(USA) was always wrong up to this point and has now gotten it right, or 2.) always had it right and has now gotten it wrong.  In either scenario, depending on (again, Self-Will talking) your personal belief on the subject, you are forced to admit that your denomination, your Church, and, in actuality, since you choose to be a part of that denomination, true Christianity was wrong at some point.  How can the proper teachings of Christ with proper authority (which I assume one would feel their denomination has proper authority if they choose to be a part of their denomination) ever be wrong or allowed to be wrong?  How can a matter of faith, 2,000 years after Christ’s death, be screwed up from the beginning by the first people to teach it or, alternatively, screwed up now?  The answer is that somewhere, you will find the corruption of Self-Will.

And so we continue.  It makes me sad every time I make my way through a town and see a street lined with churches.  Those people, although they outwardly call each other brothers and sisters in Christ, believe something so different from each other that they refuse to worship under the same roof.  And the unfortunate truth is, at the heart of each of those denominations, you will eventually find a guy who started it with his own Self-Will.

In conclusion, take Tertullian’s words to heart.  Do you believe in the Christ that was introduced to you through the private Self-Will of yourself or another, including personal opinion and interpretation?  Or do you believe in the Christ who’s message He entrusted to us through the apostles, and accept it all, including the easy and the hard?  The latter can help you discern what is heresy.  The former is heresy.